Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mystery Author Interview: Les Roberts

Les Roberts
Les Roberts.
Photo courtesy of
Les Roberts.

Les Roberts is the author of fourteen mystery novels featuring Cleveland detective Milan Jacovich, as well as nine other books of fiction. The past president of both the Private Eye Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League, he came to mystery writing after a twenty-four-year career in Hollywood. He was the first producer and head writer of The Hollywood Squares and wrote for The Andy Griffith Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., among others. He has been a professional actor, a singer, a jazz musician, and a teacher. In 2003 he received the Sherwood Anderson Literary Award. A native of Chicago, he currently lives in Northeast Ohio.

In the latest mystery in the Milan Jacovich series, King of the Holly Hop, published last month by Gray and Co., Milan reluctantly attends the 40th reunion of his St. Clair High School class at a downtown hotel. When one classmate is found murdered and another becomes the main suspect, Milan takes on the unpleasant job of investigating old friends in search of the real killer.

We had a chance recently to talk to Les about his books.

Mysterious Reviews: If you were introducing Milan Jacovich, the private investigator in your Cleveland mystery series, to someone, what would you say about him?

Les Roberts: He's a decent, ethical man---frequently lonely, mostly because he tends to view everything in black and white, which is how he, and most of us who live here, see Cleveland, too.

The Milan Jacovich Mystery Series
Les Roberts: Pepper PikeLes Roberts: Full Cleveland
Les Roberts: Deep ShakerLes Roberts: The Cleveland Connection
Les Roberts: The Lake EffectLes Roberts: The Duke of Cleveland
Les Roberts: Collision BendLes Roberts: The Cleveland Local
Les Roberts: A Shoot in ClevelandLes Roberts: The Best Kept Secrets
Les Roberts: The Indian SignLes Roberts: The Dutch
Les Roberts: The Irish Sports PagesLes Roberts: King of the Holly Hop

From Milan's first appearance in Pepper Pike (1988) to his most recent case in King of the Holly Hop, how has he evolved as a character?

Just like me, and probably you, too, he's grown older, wiser, and more mellow. However, that maturity gave him a crystal-clear view of life, and as a result he's grown less patient with the things and ideas that hit him in the heart.

Do you outline your books first, writing from the outline? Or are you the type to simply write first then edit (or not) later?

I don't ever outline, but I live with the book in my head for several months, taking notes as I go. When I begin, I always know where I'm going, i.e. who is the killer---but I never know how to catch him/her until I'm at the keyboard.

You were the winner of the first St. Martin's Press Private Eye Novel Contest in 1986 resulting in the publication of An Infinite Number of Monkeys a year later. Was this a manuscript that you had already written and tried to publish, or did you write it specifically for the contest?

I'd written it about six months previous to ever hearing about the contest, but living in Los Angeles I had no clue as to how to go about marketing it. A friend told me about the contest and I said, "Real people don't win contests!" but she convinced me to send it in. I did so, and promptly forgot about it until St. Martin's called and told me I won.

You were a successful screenwriter and producer in Hollywood before moving to Cleveland. What prompted you to try your hand at mystery fiction?

Some would/be producer had urged me to come up with a private-eye story. I did so, then found out he was nowhere near producing it, so I began writing the screenplay myself. A little voice in my inner ear said, "This is a BOOK," and when I started writing it I discovered prose fiction was my heavy-duty addiction. I've never looked back.

An Infinite Number of Monkeys featured a Los Angeles-based private investigator named Saxon. At about the same time, you started a separate series with Milan Jacovich, alternating books between the two characters for several years. The Saxon series stopped after 6 books. What was the reason for discontinuing the Saxon series?

Two reasons. The Milan books were outselling the Saxon books about 3 to 1. Besides, I moved from Los Angeles to Cleveland and found that I related more to Milan than I ever did to Saxon. I miss the guy sometimes, but Milan is my best friend.

Cleveland is more than just a setting in the Milan Jacovich series, it's almost another character. Other than referencing local landmarks, in what ways do you try to incorporate Cleveland into your books?

Anyone can buy a guide book and write about Cleveland landmarks---but in my books Milan's mind-set, along with that of most of the other characters, is specifically and peculiarly Cleveland. Most locals who say they enjoy my work don't mention Terminal Tower and the Flats and the West Side Market, but they invariably react to something that happened in the books, saying, "I related to that! The same thing happened to me." Cleveland is a lot like Chicago in many ways, only smaller---but Clevelanders can (and do) get mad as hell when anyone puts down "their" home town.

When you travel, where do you go? Do you use any of these places, or the people you meet there, as potential ideas, or even locales, for your books?

In the past four years I've traveled to California, Colorado and Hawaii for vacations/family. I probably wouldn't set any books in those locales unless I got to know them better, but I always use people I meet, or even just see in a restaurant or the airport or on the street, as inspiration for my characters. That includes those I see here; every character I create is based on someone I know, or met, or just saw somewhere---otherwise I'd be peopling my books with Martians.

What does the future hold for Milan Jacovich?

I have the next one all planned out in my head. After that, I'm certain there will be more ideas about him, as there always are. At his advancing age he'll probably pick up a younger, tougher assistant along the way---one can't take a beating at sixty the way one did at forty. But I figure I'll be writing Milan books until they put me in a box and trundle me out of here.

We'd like to offer our special thanks to Les for taking the time to visit with us. For more information about Les, visit his website at LesRoberts.com. You may also download the first three chapters from King of the Holly Hop by using this link. Click on the book covers above for more information about any of the titles in this series or to purchase them from Amazon.com.

Date of interview: June 2008.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Foreclosure by Jacqueline D'Acre

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Foreclosure by Jacqueline D'Acre. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Foreclosure by Jacqueline D'AcreBuy from Amazon.com

Foreclosure by
A Bryn Wiley Mystery

Stargazer Press (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1-897424-00-0 (1897424000)
ISBN-13: 978-1-897424-00-1 (9781897424001)
Publication Date: April 2008
List Price: $20.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): What do murder, horses and Lila's Creole Diner have in common?

Head down to St. Tremaine Parish, near , and find out! Meet Bryn Wiley, a mild equine writer, who discovers a show horse breeder facing financial ruin, foreclosure and far worse! Then the sheriff fingers a champion stallion as a killer...but Bryn believes otherwise! Wherever there are horses, there is money, deception and powerful secrets.

Can Bryn unmask the real murderer before the stallion gets a lethal injection? In the sultry Lousiana heat she roams New Orleans seeking a slayer--in a desperate race to save the stallion! The story drips with sweat, Spanish moss, a voodoo queen, blooded horses and quirky Deep South characters.

Review: With New Orleans as its backdrop, Jacqueline D'Acre introduces equine writer Bryn Wiley in Foreclosure, an explosive example of the differences in people who own and raise show horses, first for the love of the horse and second for the money that may be made, either in shows or in the breeding of the stallion.

Bryn, the owner of a Morgan trotter, is an accredited equine writer for local papers. She also fancies herself as an amateur sleuth who gets involves in mysteries, especially where a horse is concerned. Such is the case when Marcie Goodall, owner of Once-in-a Lifetime, a beautiful stallion and winner of three championships, is found dead in the horse's stall, covered with hoof prints on her face and body. The sheriff immediately blames the stallion and has him taken into custody to have him put down. Bryn had witnessed the love Marcie had for her horse and the reciprocation from “Once.” She will not allow herself to believe that “Once” killed his owner and sets out to prove that a human killed Marcy. And she must hurry before the sheriff can have “Once” put down.

During her search for clues Bryn discovers the dead woman was about to lose her horse farm including her prized champion stallion. But she also encounters spousal abuse by the mortgage holder, his gambling with heavy losses, and legal deceits. When Bryn isn’t stretching the law, she works quite well with the sheriff and his deputy to find the real killer.

Foreclosure has a good story with interesting characters. But one "character" is particularly unusual and rather annoying: Bryn's gut feeling which she refers to as a second brain and which speaks to her with an Australian accent. The second brain aside, Foreclosure reads easily, has an unexpected plot twist, and is a pleasant way of spending an afternoon with a mystery to solve. 

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of Foreclosure and to Stargazer Press for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

For more visit Mysterious Reviews, a partner with the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books which is committed to providing readers and collectors of with the best and most current information about their favorite authors, titles, and series.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Head Wounds by Chris Knopf

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Head Wounds by Chris Knopf. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Head Wounds by Chris KnopfBuy from Amazon.com

Head Wounds by
A Sam Acquillo Mystery

Permanent Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-57962-165-1 (1579621651)
ISBN-13: 978-1-57962-165-0 (1579621650)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $28.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): Sam Acquillo can hide in his windswept waterfront cottage all he wants, but the demons of his past are going to find him. Worse, they've teamed up with some pretty nasty demons of the present, including a very determined Chief of Police whose top detective has Sam caught in the crosshairs.

Part-time carpenter, full-time drinker and co-conspirator with an existential mutt named Eddie Van Halen, Sam tries to lead the simple life. But as always, fate intervenes, this time in the form of Robbie Milhouser, local builder and blundering bully who shares at least one thing with Sam — an irresistible attraction to the beautiful Amanda Anselma.

Peel back the glitz and glory of the fabled Hamptons and you'll find a beautiful place filled with ugly secrets. This is Sam Acquillo's world. Moving effortlessly across the social divide with wry pal Jackie Swaitkowski and rich guy Burton Lewis, the ex-boxer, ex-corporate infighter seems doomed to straddle the thin red line between envy and love, hate and forgiveness, goodness and greed.

And sometimes life and death. Only this time, the life at stake is his own.

Review: Independent carpenter Sam Acquillo is accused of murdering a Long Island real estate developer with his own staple gun in Head Wounds, the third mystery in this series by Chris Knopf.

Ex-boxer Sam, who's had his head knocked around too often and is in danger of permanent damage with just one more fight, tries to avoid just that one evening after dinner with his neighbor and sometime girlfriend, Amanda. Robbie Millhouser had been hitting on Amanda earlier and Sam put him in his place, hardly without lifting a finger himself though not without some minor damage to Robbie. A couple nights later Robbie is found with considerably more damage, his head bashed in with a staple gun belonging to Sam. Worse for Sam, he was reportedly seen in the vicinity of where the victim was found. Means, motive, and opportunity are all the police need to arrest Sam for murder. Out on bail, Sam begins a quest to determine who else may have had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill Robbie, and to his regret, Amanda seems to have all three.

Head Wounds is an exceptional novel, in both character and setting, but most importantly in how the plot develops. There are only half dozen or so principal characters, but the author deftly links them in relationships that make the story sufficiently complicated without making it confusing. A surprising suspense element is introduced early: Sam was, in fact, out and about and in the vicinity of where Robbie, the murdered man, was found, but he vehemently denies it later. Is he, in fact, Robbie's killer and is trying to find an alternate reality for the police to believe? Or is he simply a victim himself, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Many of the chapters in Head Wounds end with marvelous examples of literary engineering, sentences that could in another context seem over the top but here simply add to the mystique of the story. Consider the following. From the first chapter, "I let it stand at that and finished my drink, then one or two more to be on the safe side before letting the encyclopedia of irresolvable quandaries that continually cycled through my consciousness shift into a dream state, thereby maintaining continuity of torment from wakefulness to sleep." And from late in the book, "For them it was a simple meal, for me a type of last supper. Or maybe just a welcome distraction, depending on how the next few days would turn out, which version of the truth would emerge from the tangle of potentials, the competing sets of assumptions, all paradigms - shifting and otherwise - up for grabs." Like a great wine, some of these passages are meant to be savored.

The plot is carried along in such a way that the denouement, while in retrospect is not surprising, surprises nonetheless. It's all exceedingly well done. Head Wounds is definitely one of the best mysteries of the year and is highly recommended.

Special thanks to Chris Knopf for providing an ARC of Head Wounds for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

For more visit Mysterious Reviews, a partner with the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books which is committed to providing readers and collectors of with the best and most current information about their favorite authors, titles, and series.

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Mysteries on TV: The Big Easy and The Vice

Mysteries on TV

, your source for the most complete selection of detective, amateur sleuth, private investigator, and suspense television mystery series now available or coming soon to DVD, is profiling two series that have season DVDs being released this week. 

Set in steamy and sexy and based on the 1987 film of the same name, starred Tony Crane as Remy McSwain, a freewheeling Cajun cop not above committing a crime to solve one. The series also starred Susan Walters as his love interest, federal agent Anne Osborne. A series of murder mysteries, The Big Easy aired on the USA Network for two seasons during 1996 and 1997.

The Big Easy Season One DVD set of 4 discs contains all 22 episodes of the first season that aired from August 1996 through March 1997.

Award-winning actor Ken Stott starred as Detective Pat Chappel in , a series that profiled a dedicated vice squad of the London Metropolitan Police Force. The Vice aired for a total of 5 seasons on ITV1 from 1999 through 2003. (In 2006, Ken Stott would go on to portray Detective Inspector John Rebus in , a series that remains in production today.)

The Vice Season Two DVD set of 3 discs contains all four 2-part episodes of the second season that aired during January and February, 2000.

Visit the Mysteries on TV website to discover more currently available on DVD.

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Mystery Godoku Puzzle for June 23, 2008

Mystery Godoku Puzzle for June 23, 2008A new has been created by the editors of the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books and is now available on our website.

Godoku is similar to Sudoku, but uses letters instead of numbers. To give you a headstart, we provide you a mystery clue to fill in a complete row or column (if you choose to use it!).

This week's letters and mystery clue: A D F G L N O R Y. Dean Koontz, writing as K. R. Dwyer, wrote this 1975 thriller about a conspiracy to murder the world (9 letters).

New! We now have our puzzles in PDF format for easier printing. Print this week's puzzle here.

Previous puzzles are stored in the Mystery Godoku Archives.

Enjoy the weekly Mystery Godoku Puzzle from the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, and Thanks for visiting our website!

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mystery Book Review: The Mark of the Pasha by Michael Pearce

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Mark of the Pasha by Michael Pearce. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Mark of the Pasha by Michael PearceBuy from Amazon.com

The Mark of the Pasha by
A Mamur Zapt Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-444-9 (1590584449)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-444-6 (9781590584446)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): The Great War has ended, and the army is keen to be demobbed. Willoughby, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, hasn’t been long in his job. The Khedive is affronted when Britain refuses to receive rival delegations fueled by rising nationalism. A state of emergency has been declared. Some Armenians and Copts have been attacked. So have some English Civil Servants.

Gareth Cadwallader Owen is the Mamur Zapt, the Head of the Khedive’s Secret Police. Unlike his British colleagues, Owen works for the Khedive. It’s not a comfortable perch as agitation for political and social restructuring grows. Furthermore, Owen is married to a pasha’s daughter, Zeinab, herself straddling a cultural divide.

The Khedive has declared a procession. He’s going to drive around Cairo with his Ministers. Owen, who has spent his career defusing political time bombs, learns from his agents, some Greek and Egyptian, that the streets have been made dangerous by threats of real bombs. The first order of business is to ward them off. The second is to insure the safety of an impending major European delegation to the capital. What does it all have to do with Owen’s shiny new motor car?

Review: Egypt finds itself in a period of political unrest in 1918 and Gareth Owen, the Mamur Zapt, head of the Egyptian Khedive Secret Police, has his hands full dealing with members of the British High Commission and protecting the Khedive from assassins in The Mark of the Pasha, the 16th mystery in this historical series by Michael Pearce.

The Great War has ended and the Egyptians are anxious to regain control of their country from the British. The Khedive, nominal ruler of Egypt, is planning a procession of motor cars through the city together with other Egyptian royalty in a public display of solidarity. Owen discovers a plot to bomb the motorcade and persuades the Khedive to change his route at the last minute. A bomb is indeed found, fortunately harming no one, but setting Owen on a quest to determine its source. What he finds, however, are the seeds of a religious insurrection. While Owen agrees in principle with their demands, he understands that change, while good for some, would be bad for others unless done so through proper channels. When the leader of the rebellion is found murdered, Owen's position is even more tenuous as he seeks to solve the crime.

Meanwhile, Owen's new wife, the only daughter of a pasha, a honorific title typically given to important, wealthy, or politically connected (sometimes all three) Egyptians, is trying to live the life of a modern woman who dresses in the style of Europeans and who works as an administrator in a hospital. In a country so heavily tied to tradition, her attempts at change are, not surprisingly, met with resistance.

The Mark of the Pasha is not so much a mystery with a puzzle to be solved as a mystery with a story and characters to be enjoyed. There's a certain intrigue to the setting that is undeniably appealing. The political aspects of the story are, at times, difficult to understand, maybe appreciate is a better word, but they don't interfere with following the basic plot. It is a fine addition to this fascinating series.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of The Mark of the Pasha and to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

For more visit Mysterious Reviews, a partner with the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books which is committed to providing readers and collectors of with the best and most current information about their favorite authors, titles, and series.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Mystery Bestsellers for June 20, 2008

Mystery Bestsellers

A list of the top 15 for the week ending June 20, 2008 has been posted on the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books website.

Minor shuffling among the top 3 with last week's bestselling mystery Phantom Prey by moving into third position and 's 12th mystery in the Jack Reacher series, Nothing to Lose, assuming the top spot.

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich

Coming in at number 9 this week and certain to be number 1 next week is the long anticipated 14th mystery in the Stephanie Plum series, Fearless Fourteen by . The Crime: Armed robbery to the tune of nine million dollars. Dom Rizzi robbed a bank, stashed the money, and did the time. His family couldn’t be more proud. He always was the smart one. The Cousin: Joe Morelli. Joe Morelli, Dom Rizzi, and Dom’s sister, Loretta, are cousins. Morelli is a cop, Rizzi robs banks, and Loretta is a single mother waiting tables at the firehouse. The all-American family. The Complications: Murder, kidnapping, destruction of personal property, and acid reflux. Less than a week after Dom’s release from prison, Joe Morelli has shadowy figures breaking into his house and dying in his basement. He’s getting threatening messages, Loretta is kidnapped, and Dom is missing. The Catastrophe: Moonman. Morelli hires Walter “Mooner” Dunphy, stoner and “inventor” turned crime fighter, to protect his house. Morelli can’t afford a lot on a cop’s salary, and Mooner will work for potatoes. The Cupcake: Stephanie Plum. Stephanie and Morelli have a long-standing relationship that involves sex, affection, and driving each other nuts. She’s a bond enforcement agent with more luck than talent, and she’s involved in this bank-robbery-gone-bad disaster from day one. The Crisis: A favor for Ranger. Security expert Carlos Manoso, street name Ranger, has a job for Stephanie that will involve night work. Morelli has his own ideas regarding Stephanie’s evening activities. The Conclusion: Only the fearless should read Fourteen.

On our bestseller page, we've added an icon next to every title that is available for immediate download onto the Amazon Kindle. To learn about this wireless reading device, visit the Amazon Kindle page for more information. And don't forget to check our page where you can save an additional 5% when you purchase your mystery books prior to their publication date.

The top four mystery bestsellers this week are shown below:

Nothing to Lose by Lee ChildCareless in Red by Elizabeth GeorgePhantom Prey by John SandfordThe Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver

Please visit the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books where we are committed to providing readers and collectors of with the best and most current information about their favorite authors, titles, and series.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Shadow Waltz by Amy Patricia Meade

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Shadow Waltz by Amy Patricia Meade. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Shadow Waltz by Amy Patricia MeadeBuy from Amazon.com

Shadow Waltz by
A Marjorie McClelland Mystery

Midnight Ink (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-7387-1249-3 (0738712493)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7387-1249-9 (9780738712499)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $13.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Newly betrothed and looking forward to the future, wealthy Englishman Creighton Ashcroft and mystery author Marjorie McClelland would like nothing better than to enjoy some quiet time in which to write about their adventures and plan their impending nuptials.

Fate has different plans for the couple when a young mother shows up on Marjorie's doorstep asking for help to find her missing husband. Accepting the case, Marjorie and Creighton are led to an abandoned house and the dismembered body of the husband's mistress. When the husband is convicted of murder, Marjorie feels a nagging doubt that he might not have been guilty. Can her fiancé keep Marjorie's sleuthing nature under wraps or will he be willing to jump in and help her solve another mystery?

Review: Though planning her upcoming nuptials, mystery writer and amateur sleuth Margorie McClelland takes time to help a woman find her missing husband and child in Shadow Waltz, the third mystery in this series by Amy Patricia Meade.

The young women is Elizabeth Barnswell who, after reading about Marjorie's success in helping the police solve recent homicides, comes to her door and pleads for her help. She has been to the police but since her husband, Michael, and infant son have only been gone for a few days, the police are reluctant to help. Marjorie and her fiancé Creighton agree to help her. Elizabeth gives Marjorie a key and a slip of paper with an address on it to get them started. They find the house and they also find a mutilated woman's body. Detective Robert Jameson, Marjorie's ex-fiancé, and his partner have also been drawn to the crime and have begun an investigation. The competition begins again for Marjorie and Robert: Who will identify the body first and who will apprehend the murderer?

The police, of course, have systematic methods of deduction, but Marjorie has her gifted insight. When the dead woman is identified as Michael's lover, the police waste no time in locating him and arresting him for her murder. Marjorie's intuition, however, tells her to look further. There's more to this than meets the eye.

Shadow Waltz serves up a reasonably complicated romantic murder mystery yet is easy to read. It's also somewhat comedic offering plenty of laughs. It would be a perfect book to enjoy while on vacation this summer, even if "vacation" is just a few hours relaxing in the backyard.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of Shadow Waltz and to Midnight Ink for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

For more visit Mysterious Reviews, a partner with the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books which is committed to providing readers and collectors of with the best and most current information about their favorite authors, titles, and series.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Evil of the Age by Allan Levine

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Evil of the Age by Allan Levine. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Evil of the Age by Allan LevineBuy from Amazon.com

Evil of the Age by
The Charles St. Clair Chronicles

Heartland Associates (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1-896150-51-9 (1896150519)
ISBN-13: 978-1-896150-51-2 (9781896150512)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: C$22.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): In the sizzling summer of 1871, New Yorkers talk about only two things: a murdered woman cruelly stuffed into a trunk and Tammany Hall’s insidious corruption.

Journalist Charles St. Clair travels from the mansions of Fifth Avenue to the brothels of Soho on the trail of both stories. But what he uncovers proves to be even more shocking than he ever imagined.

Review: Historian by profession, mystery writer by avocation, Winnipeg author Allan Levine has shown in his previous novels his masterful marrying of both followings. Now, in Evil of the Age, the first of the chronicles of a mid-1800s investigative journalist, 35-year-old Charles St. Clair of Fox’s Weekly, Levine has done it again. He has seamlessly crafted an amazing mix of historical lore, credible views of the seamiest settings of old New York, an intertwined plot of murderous suspense and political corruption, and with a population of unique characters, good, bad, ugly and everything in between. For history/mystery fans it’s a book that leaves its readers begging for the next of the St. Clair chronicles.

When the mutilated corpse of a young woman is found decomposing in a trunk at the NYC Hudson Depot railway station, St. Clair and his boss, 55-year-old Tom Fox, the editor/owner of Fox’s Weekly newsmagazine are incensed. The gruesome crime, a botched abortion, is for them another example of abortion as “the evil of the age,” an evil they are dedicated to exposing along with the increasing graft and corruption of the city’s Tammany Hall power brokering. For St. Clair the grisly find is a tragic reminder of his wife, Caroline, and her death from an abortion to which he eagerly consented because of her increasing dependency on laudanum. Fortunately for him, however, his brother-in-law, Seth Murray, on the outs with a corrupt supervisor, is the detective assigned to the current case. Together they track the clues of a monogrammed handkerchief, a blood-soaked newspaper advertisement, and two blood-soaked gems found with the corpse to uncover the identities of the victim, her lover, her alleged abortionist, and eventually, her killer and the motives for her murder. Their quest leads them through brothels, bars, and hotels and into the opium dens of the Cercle Francais de l`Harmonie, the offices of the Tammany Hall politicians of the day, even into the homes of the rich and famous where socialites dance “the German.” While the fictional story moves forward with threats and physical assaults on St. Clair, Tom Fox and others, and with a red hot love affair between St. Clair and an undercover agent Fox has hired for the abortion investigation, references abound to real life people, places and events of the 1800s. Trysts take place at dives like the Hole-in-the –Wall pub and Billy McClory’s Armory Hall. Civil War veterans are beggars on the Five Points’ streets. The Credit Mobilier scandal plays prominently and facts and figures of the graft and corruption in the building of the Courthouse are quoted. Procuress Hester Jane Haskins is mentioned in the same breath as “Red Light” Lizzie, and politicians such as Oakes Ames, Vice-President Schuyler Colfax, even President Grant are implicated in the Credit Mobilier ruse. Susan Anthony, "a school teacher in upstate New York," sends letters and handwritten articles to Fox for publication in his Weekly. Arguments for and against abortion rage around Madame Phillipe, alias Anna Jacoby, a refugee from Frankfurt’s Judengasse (Jew’s Alley) ghetto, and against a backdrop of the Tombs, miscarriages of justice for blacks and the NYC Draft Riots of 1863. And for anyone familiar with the history of Tammany Hall, the model for Grand Sachem, “Boss” Victor Fowler, the head of the Ring and the master-mind villain of Levine’s story, will be readily recognizable.

As a nineteenth century prototype of the hardboiled sleuth, chief protagonist Charles St. Clair is a warts-and-all hero. He’s guilt–ridden over the role he played in his wife’s death, imbibes far too much and more frequently than he should, carries a pistol for protection, enjoys sexual relations with a woman he’s barely met, literally and figuratively, gets high on hashish at Miss Kate’s House of Southern Belles, and has lost hundreds of dollars at a local gaming house, a debt that almost gets him killed. But inside the hardboiled exterior there’s sufficient marshmallow to give him a softer edge when needed. And he's good, darned good, in his role as an investigative journalist willing to turn corrupt politicians on their collective ears and to track villainous vermin down their historical paths. His chronicles are potentially classic

Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham ([email protected]) for contributing his review of Evil of the Age.

Review Copyright © 2008 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved — Reprinted with Permission

For more visit Mysterious Reviews, a partner with the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books which is committed to providing readers and collectors of with the best and most current information about their favorite authors, titles, and series.

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Mystery Author Interview: Jim Michael Hansen

Jim Michael Hansen, Esq., is a Colorado attorney emphasizing civil litigation, employment law and OSHA. Jim is also the author of the Laws novels, which are hard-edged legal/crime thrillers featuring Denver homicide detective Bryson Coventry.

Jim Michael Hansen
Jim Michael Hansen.
Photo courtesy of
Jim Michael Hansen.

We had a chance recently to talk to Jim about his books.

Mysterious Reviews: You're a practicing attorney and your books incorporate the law in both the title and the plot. Yet your protagonist, Bryson Coventry, is a homicide detective. Why did you decide not to have a lawyer be your lead character?

Jim Michael Hansen: Legal thrillers, as a genre, don’t appeal to me much. Plus, I wanted my books to be realistic. In real life, cases move slowly and aren’t very exciting. Authors that attempt to inject cases with excitement and surprises usually have to bend reality a lot more than I’d be willing to do.

So I decided to make my main character a detective—Bryson Coventry, to be precise. That doesn’t mean I ignore what I know, meaning the law. Lawyers appear in most of my books, but mostly as characters as opposed to professionals working a case. My background as an attorney allows them to be portrayed very realistically as living, breathing people. I can also come up with dilemmas that lawyers might find themselves in that lay people wouldn’t (e.g. knowing the identity of a killer but not able to tell anyone because of the attorney-client privilege). So lawyers usually play a role in my books, hence the “Laws” title, but a secondary one.

The Bryson Coventry
Mystery Series
Jim Michael Hansen: Night Laws
Jim Michael Hansen: Shadow Laws
Jim Michael Hansen: Fatal Laws
Jim Michael Hansen: Deadly Laws
Jim Michael Hansen: Bangkok Laws
Jim Michael Hansen: Immortal Laws

Mysteries are typically categorized by genre. Your books are frequently listed as hard-boiled thrillers. Would you agree with this?

I’d agree with the “thrillers” part but not necessarily “hard-boiled,” which conjures up (at least to me) an image of emotionless, one-dimensional people. My characters tend to be very complex, multi-dimensional and realistic. If one of them sat down next to you in a restaurant, you’d recognize him/her. Instead of “hard-boiled,” I’d say hard-edged. They’re definitely not cozies.

How has Bryson Coventry changed since his first appearance in Night Laws?

Bryson Coventry’s basic nature and basic philosophy of life do not change from book to book. He always drinks too much coffee, has a sense of humor, hunts for Beatles songs on the radio, takes care of the people who work for him, wants to get (or does get) a 1967 Corvette, falls in love on the spur of the moment, etc.

However, he’s a very complex person, and what does happen is that he appears in so many different types of conflicts, and has so many difficult and interesting decisions to make, that the reader gets to see a new or deeper side to him with every book.

I guess the best way to put it is that he’s always the same, but there’s so much to him that the reader is always seeing something different.

How do you go about writing your books? In other words, do you create a detailed plot outline and write from that, or do you allow the story to play out as you write? Are any of the plots based, however loosely, on cases your law firm has handled?

It usually starts off very simple idea. For example, Immortal Laws started out with a simple thought—Everyone likes vampires, how about something with a vampire theme? Ancient Laws was—How about something in the nature of an archeological adventure? And Voodoo Laws was—What would happen if someone put a voodoo curse on Coventry? Who would do that and why? Would it affect him?

Next, I make a one-page diagram of who’s in the book and how they relate to one other. That stays on the table next to my computer the entire time I write the book.

Then I develop the backstory, which is the stuff that has already happened before the book began. That’s usually in an outline form, about 2 or 3 pages. Then I drop the characters in Chapter One, with the backstory already in motion, meaning the characters already have drivers, conflicts and events to react to. That allows the book to be exciting from page one. At that point, I let the characters go where they will, within the general confines of the book, and tend to follow them around more than guide them. I do the more detailed plotting at the writing takes place. A lot of the plot ends up to be character driven.

Your website lists upcoming titles in the series through 2010, with one coming out every 6 months. This seems like an aggressive schedule for any writer, let alone one who maintains a law practice. How do you manage your time?

I write my novels very quickly, generally within 2-3 months from start to finish. For me, that’s the best way because I can keep everything fresh in my mind, meaning I don’t have to keep going back and reacquainting myself with the plot or the characters. Having everything fresh in my mind also lets me plot better, and play better off what already happened, because much of my plotting takes place during the writing process. Also, at the end of the project, I don’t rewrite or edit much, in fact hardly at all. Ninety-five percent of my final book is exactly as it went down the first time. Because of that, the book retains a raw and even somewhat edgy feeling to it, which fits well with the story.

Your most recent book, Bangkok Laws, though set in Denver, involves a subplot set in Bangkok. You've mentioned in your blog that your recently completed Ancient Laws is set entirely outside of Denver, in Paris and Cairo. A future book has Hong Kong in the title. Have you visited these places, and, if so, did they provide an inspiration for the plots of the books?

I always try to set the scenes in my books in places that I know very well, and bring those places to life, via weather, streets, traffic, bars, etc. Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of traveling and know a lot of places, so you’ll find scenes not only in the U.S. but also outside the country. Sometimes I have to set a scene somewhere I haven’t been. In those instances, I always find someone who has spent time there and get the firsthand scoop. I’m also not above pulling information and photos from the net, travel books, etc.

Your next book, Immortal Laws, is already available as an electronic book for the Amazon Kindle though it's not scheduled to be published until September 2008. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of e-books, and why did you decide to make Immortal Laws available so early?

A paper book has a long drag time after the text gets finalized. That time is spent getting the book printed, into the distribution stream, etc. That drag time doesn’t exist in the digital form, meaning the book can be made available as soon as the text is finalized. Why not make it available at that time?

Everyone has an opinion on digital books and their ultimate impact or lack thereof on the publishing landscape. Although we are in the infancy of that form of media, it seems pretty obvious to me that changes are coming and they will be huge. A new era is upon us, starting with the Amazon Kindle and ending who know where. Digital books are easy, “green” and cheap.

If you're browsing for books to read, what kind of books do you look for? Are there any authors whose books you buy as soon as they're published?

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to read a book in the last 10 or 15 years. There are pros and cons to this. The downside, from a writer’s perspective, is that I have no idea what other authors are doing or how my books compare to theirs. The upside is that I don’t get subconsciously contaminated with anyone else’s plots or characters.

Thank you for allowing me to be interviewed by such a fine organization as Mysterious Reviews. Visit me at www.JimHansenBooks.Blogspot.com. My books include Night Laws, Shadow Laws, Fatal Laws, Deadly Laws, Bangkok Laws, Voodoo Laws, Ancient Laws and Hong Kong Laws, with more on the way. Stay well.

We'd like to offer our special thanks to Jim for taking the time to visit with us. For more information about Jim, visit his website at JimHansenBooks.com.

Date of interview: June 2008

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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