Favorite Quotes on Books and Reading

"A book is a gift you can open again and again." Garrison Keillor

Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.” Jane Yolen

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." Oscar Wilde

Monday, March 2, 2015

Guest Post: Lou Berney, author of THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE

The Book Diva's Reads is very pleased to host a visit from Lou Berney, author of The Long and Faraway Gone. Mr. Berney will share some thoughts on finding the right way to write the story.

When I sat down to start writing my third novel, The Long and Faraway Gone, I felt pretty confident. I'd already written two novels, after all, and I hadn't died during the process. But then, a couple of weeks into my new book, I felt like I was going to die. I realized I had no idea what I was doing.

My first two novels, you see, were fast, twisty crime capers in the vein of Elmore Leonard. The Long and Faraway Gone, though, was very different. It was a mystery – three mysteries, to be exact – and I'd never written one of those before.

So what did I do? Exactly. I re-read (and re-re-read) all the writers I love who know what they're doing when it comes to mystery. I started with Raymond Chandler and worked my way up to Laura Lippman, Kate Atkinson, and Tana French (among many others).

At some point, during that process, it clicked for me – that there's a simple distinction between two different kinds of storytelling. In capers and thrillers and suspense, the question that keeps the reader turning the page is usually this: What happens next? When a mystery is central to the narrative, though, the question is very different. It's: What already happened?

As a writer, looking ahead (What happens next?) has always come naturally to me. But if I had tried to write a mystery that way, it would have been a disaster. It had been a disaster so far. I understood now I had to go back, toss out all my old outlines, and start from scratch. I had to know how the novel ended before I could begin it. How would my private investigator know if a clue was important if I didn't know it?

So that was the big – and simple – breakthrough I had with this novel. And, yes, it's something I probably should have already known, having been a writer for twenty years: Every story is different, and you have to find the right way to tell it.

Author Bio:
Lou Berney is the author of two previous novels—Whiplash River, nominated for an Edgar Award, and Gutshot Straight, nominated for a Barry Award-as well as the collection The Road to Bobby Joe and Other Stories. A television and film screenwriter, he also teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University.

Catch Up:

About the Book:

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
ISBN:  9780062292438 (paperback)
ISBN:  9780062292445 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00FOPS3XW (Kindle version)
Publisher: William Morrow & Co.
Publication Date: February 10, 2015

With the compelling narrative tension and psychological complexity of the works of Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, Kate Atkinson, and Michael Connelly, Edgar Award-nominee Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone is a smart, fiercely compassionate crime story that explores the mysteries of memory and the impact of violence on survivors—and the lengths they will go to find the painful truth of the events that scarred their lives.
In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved.
Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors' lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt's latest inquiry takes him back to a past he's tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.
Like Wyatt, Julianna struggles with the past—with the day her beautiful older sister Genevieve disappeared. When Julianna discovers that one of the original suspects has resurfaced, she'll stop at nothing to find answers.
As fate brings these damaged souls together, their obsessive quests spark sexual currents neither can resist. But will their shared passion and obsession heal them, or push them closer to the edge? Even if they find the truth, will it help them understand what happened, that long and faraway gone summer? Will it set them free—or ultimately destroy them?

Tour provided by:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Showcase: SECRETS OF THE PORCH by Sue Ann Sellon

Secrets of the Porch by Sue Ann Sellon
ISBN: 9781629945453 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781631222344 (ebook)
ASIN: B00IX0D2KY (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Tate Publishing

Sixteen-year-old Sophie Mae Randolph has been in a downward spiral since the death of her mother a year ago. Placed in an abusive foster care situation, she took to the streets, and soon landed in more trouble than she experienced sleeping under a bridge. Caught robbing a gas station with her boyfriend Gabe, she accepts a compassionate judge's sentence to a year on the Nebraska farm of the grandmother she didn't know she had: Lila Mae Randolph.
Even though she'll avoid the juvenile detention center, Sophie is none too happy at first, disliking everything from the smell of the chicken coop to the fact that she must do chores and attend church. Eventually, however, she settles into farm life and opens up to the love offered her there. With a dog named Hunner by her side, she explores the pond and plants a garden, and in high school, she meets a new boyfriend named Blake. Along the way, she discovers that Lila harbors her own secrets. Why is Lila silent about the Gerard family when she drives past their farm? What are the mean-spirited church ladies holding against her? Before she leaves the farm, Sophie hopes to discover the answers to these questions.
In the meantime, she excitedly accepts Blake's invitation to the prom, and they attend the long-awaited event. But when he brings her home, they find Lila beaten and bruised on the porch, and when Blake goes to call for help, he fails to come back. The past invades the present in the form of Gabe, who reappears and beats Sophie, leaving her for dead on the porch with her grandmother. Then he retreats into the house in a drunken stupor.
As they console each other through the night, Sophie and Lila share their deepest secrets, and the mysteries of the farm are revealed to Sophie. Unlocking their secrets frees both of them.
Help arrives in the morning, as the past again meets the present. This time it is Lila's past, in the form of her previous love Charles Gerard, whose story Sophie now knows.
Police and paramedics are summoned, and Blake is found injured but alive, but as they learn later, Hunner did not make it through the night. Before Gabe is taken away by the police, Sophie—feeling peaceful and finally free from her past—tells him she forgives him. No longer stuck, she is ready to move forward.
In the ensuing years, Sophie and Blake attend college, marry, and have a daughter, Lilly Mae. Lila and Charles also marry, and he helps her fulfill her lifelong wish to own her own bakery. Eventually, he succumbs to cancer, and Lila soon follows him in death. Sophie and Blake scatter their ashes at the pond, as they had wished.
Afterward, Sophie returns to the farm, where she walks from room to room, reliving their lives together. She finds a note addressed to her from Lila, telling her that while Sophie was searching for healing and peace on the farm, Lila found her own healing and peace. Sophie also discovers the necklace Charles gave Lila for her birthday, along with his love letters, which Lila gives Sophie permission to share with others. Love transformed not only Sophie, but Lila as well...

About the Author

Sue Ann Sellon was born in Nebraska City, Nebraska, nationally recognized as the birthplace of Arbor Day. Writing poetry and short stories came to her naturally as a young girl lying beneath the large oak trees near the Arbor Lodge Mansion. She recalls these memories as some of the best of her childhood. You may still find her there from time to time resting in a cool spot on a blanket with her fingers tapping away on the keys of her laptop.

Married to her husband and best friend, Dr. Paul Sellon, together they share a love and interest in their historical home and a taste for cooking. Sue Ann previously owned her own restaurant, as well as a fashion franchise. Creative by nature, she also loves painting, decorating, and restoring vintage furniture. She refers to herself as an expert in the arena of estate auctions and garage sales. However, she remains loyal to her first love...writing.

Secrets of the Porch, an inspirational romance, is Sue Ann's second novel. Her first novel, Carly's Calling, was released in 2003. Sue Ann hopes to write many more stories that speak to the power of faith and the endurance of the human spirit.  

Sue Ann is currently engrossed in two writing projects. Her next novel, Blue Skies, Wheat Fields & God is underway as well as her first stab at writing a comical screenplay titled, "It's Over at 50."

Author Website      |     Facebook      |     Twitter      |     Goodreads 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Guest Post: Mark de Castrique, author of RISKY UNDERTAKING

     The Book Diva's Reads is pleased to host a visit by Mark de Castrique, author of Risky Undertaking. Mr. de Castrique will be discussing narrative point of view as a reader and as a writer. 

What's the Point? 
by Mark de Castrique

A friend of mine was standing in line at the sales register of a local bookstore. The woman in front of her was checking out, and the clerk made a suggestion for a novel. She handed her customer a display copy and the woman quickly thumbed through a few pages. "Oh, this is written in first person. I don't read first person." She pushed the book aside.

"What?" I exclaimed when my friend related the incident. "She just threw out Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and The Sun Also Rises, not to mention that icon of all mystery detectives, Sherlock Holmes."

What was the point for making such a sweeping, excluding statement? The point was for some reason the first person point of view kept this woman out of all stories. As a writer who primarily tells his stories in first person, I believe point of view should have the opposite effect. It draws the reader into the story through the connection established between the narrator and reader.  For me, first person is the most intimate and personal form of storytelling.

But, to be fair, point of view should be chosen for its contribution to the impact a story has on the reader. Thus, there are objective reasons for choosing from a variety of subjective perspectives. Going back to my English grad school days, I learned point of view is a distance set between a narrator and the story and thereby a distance set between the reader and the story. It provides a place for both the narrator and the reader to stand.

First person in a traditional detective novel puts the reader inside the head of one character and one character only – usually the detective with great exceptions like the ever-faithful Dr. Watson. The reader discovers evidence and corresponding solutions along with the detective. As a writer, I've found first person provides an easier entry into my character’s world, especially when that world is unfamiliar. My latest Buryin' Barry novel, Risky Undertaking, is set on the Cherokee Reservation in western North Carolina. Part of what occurs in the novel involves Barry encountering unique cultural traditions as well as complicated working relationships between sovereign tribal police and off-reservation law enforcement. I wanted those experiences to be filtered through Barry's perspective so his telling provides a personal narrative journey into the world of the Cherokee.

I realize first person point of view isn't the only and certainly not the most prolific narrative device. Third person opens up limitless options for taking the reader into multiple minds and locations not privy to the protagonist. For the thriller, third person sets up the suspense when the reader knows more than the protagonist and is well aware of the danger lurking ahead. I chose third person for my thriller, The 13th Target, for that reason.

Yet, there is not just one point of view labeled third person. This plurality of viewpoints is both the strength and potential weakness of third person. To keep me immersed in the story to the desired extent that I forget I'm reading, the narrative perspective needs to be consistent. Otherwise the perspective becomes overly manipulative and frustrating. Information and character thoughts are inconsistently revealed and withheld.

For example, third person can be a close third person. The story stays with the view of one character but no thoughts are revealed for any characters. This point of view is used masterfully by Dashiell Hammett in The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade appears in every scene, but the narrative style is one of objective description only, like a camera following Spade throughout the whole story. If you read the novel with point of view in mind, you'll become aware of how often the descriptions are of characters' eyes. These "windows of the soul" are as close as Hammett gets to revealing internal thoughts. Why? Because Hammett played absolutely fair with his readers! At the dramatic conclusion, the culprits come to realize they had misjudged what was motivating Sam Spade. But by keeping Sam's viewpoint free of his thoughts, Hammett surprised the reader as well. The impact was heightened because Hammett not only wrote a great novel; he knew how to tell it with the most powerful point of view and he kept that view consistent.

So, point of view isn't arbitrary. Whether it's close third person like Hammett's, or limited to the thoughts of certain characters, or omniscient in all regards including narrator opinions, the choice should be made in service to the story and in service to the reader. How a story is told is inseparable from the story itself.

Which brings me back to the woman in the bookstore. In my opinion, she separated point of view from the potential power that the narrative style brought for the most impactful way to experience the story. She built the first person point of view into a wall and refused to accept it as the author's gateway into the world he or she created.

And that, my friend, was the author's point to begin with.

About the author:

Mark de Castrique is the author of the critically acclaimed Barry Clayton and Sam Blackman mystery series, both set in his native North Carolina mountains. He is also the author of the D.C. political thriller, The 13th Target, as well as mysteries for Young Adults.


Catch Up with Mark:

Risky Undertaking by Mark de Castrique
ISBN:  9781464203060 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781464203091 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00OPEFSCC (Kindle version)
Publisher:  Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date:  November 4, 2014

When Cherokee burial remains are unearthed on the site expanding a local cemetery, the dual occupations of Barry Clayton, part-time deputy and full-time undertaker, collide. Then, during the interment of the wife of one of Gainesboro, North Carolina's most prominent citizens, Cherokee activist Jimmy Panther leads a protest. Words and fists fly. When Panther turns up executed on the grave of the deceased woman, Barry is forced to confront her family as the chief suspects. But the case lurches in a new direction with the arrival of Sheriff Tommy Lee Wadkin's Army pal, Boston cop Kevin Malone. He's on the trail of a Boston hit man who arrived at the Cherokee reservation only days before the murder. Malone is convinced his quarry is the triggerman. But who paid him? And why? 
The accelerating investigation draws Barry onto the reservation where Panther's efforts to preserve Cherokee traditions threatened the development of a new casino, a casino bringing millions of dollars of construction plus huge yearly payouts to every member of the tribe. Leading an unlikely team—his childhood nemesis Archie Donovan and his elderly fellow undertaker Uncle Wayne—Barry goes undercover. But the stakes are higher than he realized in this risky undertaking. And the life of a Cherokee boy becomes the wager. Barry must play his cards very carefully…

This tour sponsored by:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Showcase Post: CAUGHT DEAD by Andrew Lahn

Caught Dead

by Andrew Lahn

on Tour February 1-28, 2015


Book Details:

Genre:  Mystery

Published by:   Poisoned Pen Press

Publication Date:   November 11, 2014

Number of Pages:   283

ISBN:  9781464203305 

Series: A Rick Van Lam Mystery, 1

Purchase Links:    


One of the beautiful Le sisters is dead.

Hartford, Connecticut’s small Vietnamese community is stunned. Mary Le Vu, wife of a poor grocery-store owner, is gunned down in a drive-by. Her twin sister insists dutiful Mary “wouldn’t be caught dead” in that drug-infested zone. The police rule it an unlucky accident. Skeptics hire private eye Rick Van Lam to get to the truth. Amerasian Rick –his father an unknown US soldier –is one of the Boi Doi, children of the dust, so often rejected by Vietnamese culture. But his young sidekick, Hank Nguyen, a pureblood Vietnamese, can help Rick navigate the closed world of Little Saigon. Surrounded by close friends –a former-Rockette landlady, his crusty mentor, and his ex-wife Liz –Rick immerses himself in a world that rejects him, but now needs his help. Especially when a second murder strikes in Little Saigon. Rick and Hank delve into the families of the Le sisters, one poor, one very rich, and uncover a world of explosive ethnic tension and sinister criminal activity ranging from Hartford’s exclusive white suburbs to the impoverished inner city. To solve the murders –and bring closure to Mary’s grieving circle –Rick looks to long-buried memories of his Buddhist childhood for the wisdom that will lead him to a murderer. Caught Dead starts a smart, unusual series.

Read an excerpt:

(Strong language)

Chapter One

Everyone had heard of the Le sisters. Even outside the closed Vietnamese community in Hartford, “the beautiful Le sisters,” as they were called, were talked of. They’d been stunners in their twenties, but even now, well into their forties, they caught your eye. So when Hank phoned me one night, waking me from an early sleep, all I heard him mumble was “the Le sisters,” and I supplied the obligatory adjective: beautiful.

“Rick, wake up,” Hank yelled. “Mary Le is dead.”

I wasn’t fully awake. “What?”

I could hear annoyance in his voice. “Mary Le Vu. You know, one of the beautiful Le sisters.”

One of the beautiful Le sisters. Twin sisters. I scratched my earlobe, sat up on the sofa where’d I’d drifted off to sleep around nine.

“What?” I yawned.

“You listening to me?” Hank yelled again into the phone.

I tried to picture the sisters. I’d met them a few times, usually at some Vietnamese New Year’s wingding, some Tet over-the-top frenzy, once at a wedding where all the men got drunk, another time at a Buddhist funeral.

“I’m sleeping,” I explained.

“It’s not late.”

“I had a long day.” I’d gotten up to jog at six, avoiding the hot, relentless August sun of a heat wave that was in its third day.

“She’s dead,” he blurted out. “She’s been murdered.” He waited. “Did you hear me?”

I was awake now. “Xin lỗi,” I mumbled. I’m sorry. I knew the sisters were distant cousins of Hank’s mother, a vague connection that reminded me that many of the Vietnamese in metropolitan Hartford were somehow biologically (or emotionally) connected—intricate family bloodlines or spirit-lines that somehow radiated back to the dusty alleys of Saigon and forward to the sagging, fragmented diaspora of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Sometimes, it seemed, everyone was an uncle or aunt to everyone else.

“Which one was she?” I stammered.

He didn’t answer. “Can you come to my house?” he asked. “It’s important.”

“What happened?”

Again he didn’t answer. “Can you meet me here?”



* * *

After throwing on shorts and a T-shirt, retrieving my wallet and keys, I drove from my Farmington apartment to the poor East Hartford neighborhood off Burnside where Hank lived with his family in a small Cape Cod in the shadow of Pratt-Whitney Aircraft. I knew better than to refuse Hank’s request. Not only the insistence—and mild panic—of his voice, but the unsaid message that told me that Hank, the dutiful son, was doing this for his mother. In his early twenties, spending the summer off from the Connecticut State Police Academy where he was training to become a State Trooper, Hank was a former student of mine in Criminal Justice at Farmington College. He’d become my good buddy.

He opened the door before I knocked, shook my hand as if we’d just met last week, and nodded me in. A lanky, skinny young man with narrow dark brown eyes and prominent cheekbones, he was dressed in sagging khakis shorts and a T-shirt. It was a sticky August night, even though the sun had long gone down, and he was sweating.

His mother, Tran Thi Suong, embraced me, and then burst into tears. “Rick Van Lam.” She bowed. “Thank you.” Cảm ơn. Hank looked uncomfortable. His grandmother, quiet as a shadow, drifted in, nodded at me, and then disappeared. She was wearing her bedclothes, a small embroidered white cap on her white curls. As she left the room, she touched her daughter on the shoulder, and whispered, “Y trời.” God’s will.

His mother said something in garbled, swallowed Vietnamese, burst into tears again, and turned away. Hank, almost bowing to her, motioned for me to follow him out of the house. In the old-fashioned kitchen with the peeling wallpaper, I took in the narrow makeshift shrine high on the wall by the door with the plaster-of-Paris Virgin Mary next to a tubby Buddha, both surrounded by brilliant but artificial tropical flowers, a couple of half-melted candles, a few joss incense sticks, and some shrill blood-orange tangerines. Scotch-taped to the wall nearby was a glossy print of Jesus on the cross.

Outside, sitting in my car, Hank apologized. “I’m sorry, man,” he breathed in. “Let’s drive. I didn’t realize my mother would, well, shatter like that when you walked in.”

I was rattled now. “Hank, what the hell is going on?”

He drew in his breath. “I told you. Of the two beautiful Le sisters—murdered.” I winced at that. “Mary was my mother’s favorite, someone she was close to as a small girl in old Saigon, someone she would meet on Sunday morning for mi gá and French coffee.” Chicken soup for the Asian soul.


He sighed. “Mary was murdered earlier tonight at Goodwin Square in Hartford, you know, that drug-and-gang neighborhood. It seems she got caught in some gunfire, some drive-by shooting with local drug dealers who...”

“Wait!” I held up my hand. “I’m not following this.”

He looked exasperated. “Mary, who never left her home in East Hartford or her husband’s grocery in Little Saigon, for some reason wandered into that godforsaken square and somehow got herself shot.”

“In her car?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why was she there?” I knew the notorious Hartford square: shoot ‘em up alley.

“Hey, that’s the million dollar question, Rick. She knew better. Everyone in Hartford, especially the Vietnamese, knows better than to go there. That’s no-man’s land. You know that. It’s not even near Little Saigon.”

We hadn’t left the driveway, the two of us sitting there, now and then staring back at the house. His mother’s shadow slowly moved across the living room. A woman who couldn’t sit down.

“Where are we going?” I turned on the ignition.

“To the scene of the shooting.”


“Well,” he dragged out the word, “when the news came tonight, an hour or so ago, Uncle Benny called and then it was on the news. Grandma held her hands to her face and said, ‘No!'”


“She was quiet a long time and then she said ‘No!’ again. When I asked her what she meant, she told me, ‘This is not easy as it seems. If this seems to make no sense, then there is nothing but sense involved.’ I said, ‘Grandma, I don’t get you.’”

I smiled at Grandma’s words. In my head I could hear her soft, melodious rendering of ancient wisdom. Hank was raised a Catholic by his father, but his mother’s mother held to the tenets of Buddhism, the two religions co-existing in the often volatile household, with Hank caught in the middle. The Virgin and the Buddha.

So now I said to him, “Well, Hank, she’s telling you she thinks something else is going on here.”

“I don’t see it.”

“What I don’t see, Hank, is why I’m here.”

He smiled, a little sheepishly. “Your name came up.”


“Grandma always thinks of you. You know, you and her, the two Buddhists in the house. In fact, she said something about a hole in the universe that only you can fill.”

I groaned. “Wait, Hank, she expects me to find the drug-dealer with a semi-automatic and a posse behind him? In Hartford? Where the local economy is sustained by drug trafficking and life insurance?”

“You are an investigator.”

“I do insurance fraud.”

“But you know Grandma. She thinks you can see through plywood.”

“And she asked that I get involved?”

He smiled again. “As I say, your name came up.”

* * *

At Goodwin Square, off Buckingham and Locust, the late-night drug dealers always on duty had decided to go for coffee or to oil their revolvers in the privacy of their own cribs. A beat cop stood by his lonesome on the southwest corner of the square, outside the obligatory yellow tape. A crew of evidence technicians, scurrying back and forth to a van, were still working the scene, photographing, charting, measuring. But the body had been removed, I noticed. There was some slow-moving, rubber-necking traffic, a few local idlers huddled nearby, but the square was eerily quiet. Storefronts looked beat up and tired. Just a narrow block of broken sidewalks, flickering streetlights, hazy neon signs with burned-out letters, and two stripped, abandoned cars by an alley. And some fresh blood stains. Satan’s little acre, the locals called it.

Hank glanced at the old-model Toyota, all doors opened. Mary’s car, I figured.

“Just talk to the detective,” H stepped closer to the yellow tape.

“All I see is a cop.” I pointed. “And he’s looking at us like we’re the Yellow Peril.”

I approached him, leaning in to catch his name: Lopez. An unfriendly look. “Help you?”

I told him that the murdered woman was a relative of Hank, and I was a private investigator from Farmington.

“From Farmington?” he asked in a clipped voice, saying the name of the moneyed suburban town with a hint of contempt. “What do you investigate there? Lost stock portfolios?” He looked pleased with himself.

“Who’s the detective on this case?”

He pointed over his shoulder, past the yellow tape, past the busy evidence team, through the plate-glass window of a storefront that announced: “Cell Phones! Phone Cards to South America!” I saw a short, wiry man, late fifties, mostly bald with a fringe of hair over his collar. He reminded me of an aging fighter, a tough bantam rooster. He looked bored. He scratched his belly absently, and then, for some reason, licked his index finger. When he walked out, the cop called him over and nodded toward us.

“Family,” the cop said, “and a country-club P.I.”

The detective didn’t look happy to see us. “Yeah?” He stepped around the yellow tape, yelled something to one of the members of the evidence crew, and then purposely stood ten feet from us, watching us.

“My name is Rick Van Lam.” I was bothered by the space between us. “And this is Hank Nguyen, a relative of Mary Vu’s. I’m a P.I. with Gaddy Associates, and the family asked...”

“It’s a drive-by.” He cut me off. “Some loser drug dealer speeds by, maybe sees competition strolling on his turf, opens fire, bang bang, and the innocent lady who just got out of her car and didn't seem to know where the fuck she was—well, she gets it in the head. The lowlife scum drives off to annoy another one of my days.” He reached for a cigarette from a crumpled pack, lit it, and exhaled smoke. His face relaxed for a second. “Satisfied?” He turned away.

“How do you know all that?” I spoke to his back.

He looked back. “Witness.”

“In this neighborhood?”

He grinned. “I’m very charming. People tell me their life stories.” He nodded at Hank. “Sorry for your loss, son.” But he looked away as he spoke, glancing over Hank’s shoulder, eyes hooded, checking out the street, scanning the walkers and loiterers, a couple teenaged hip-hop kids in baggy jeans sagging around their ankles. Eyes vacant, they looked straight ahead. I followed the detective’s eyes. This was an old pro, I realized, someone who grasped a message in the flick of an eyelid, the sly twisting of a mouth corner, the turning of a lip. “I’m Detective Tony Ardolino.” He walked closer. We shook hands.

He agreed to talk—"for a minute”—in a bodega/café across the street. “Could use a cup of coffee. Christ.” He strode across the street with the cockiness of someone who knew no car would dare smash into him. Hank and I followed. Inside the small café, a place with three lopsided tables for coffee drinkers and a light fixture that hummed loudly, we sat by the front window. “The fact of the matter,” he summed up, sipping ice coffee and twitching for a cigarette he couldn’t have, “Mrs. Vu was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He wiped his sweaty brow. “Fucking heat.” He looked up at an air conditioner that seemed to be dying.

“But why was she there?” I wondered.

“We guess—that is, I guess—she was headed for Little Saigon where her husband got this grocery, and got confused—got lost or something.”

Hank protested. “But she’s done it many times before.”

I added, “And Little Saigon is in the West End, not near here.”

He shrugged. “What can I say? People get lost.”

“But,” I explained, “she would have had to make a couple of wrong turns.”

“It happens.”

“It doesn't make sense to me,” Hank said.

“Hey, she just got lost. As I say, it happens. The wrong neighborhood. You know, they've closed off some streets near the highway—detours. Construction. Maybe she couldn't read English.”

Hank got angry. “She reads English just fine.”

Ardolino narrowed his eyes. “Hey, I’m just talking. It’s getting a little dark. Like eight o'clock. It’s goddamned boiling. She’s low on gas. She gets lost. We’ve had four drive-by murders here in the last year. Four—count ‘em. All drug-related shit. One just a month or so ago. Remember the little girl that got shot?”

It came back to me: the horrific drive-by in Goodwin Square that got national attention. A father pulls up before a bodega around midnight, his wife running in for milk, his three-year-old daughter crawls into his lap, half asleep. A gang car passes, the driver thinks he spots an enemy, opens fire, and the girl is shot in the head. Big news on CNN and FOX. Welcome to Hartford.

“You ever get the killer?”

“What do you think?”

“And Mary Vu’s the fifth?” I asked.

“A real sad case, this one.” He sighed. “For me, at least.”


“Hey, she was a simple woman, caught in the crossfire among assholes. The punk kids selling drugs go their merry way.”

“So the odds of catching her killer are what—minimal?”

“At best.” He grinned. “Surprised?”

“So where’s this going?” Hank asked.

“Well, we’ll do the routine. Round up the usual suspects, but don’t hold your breath.”

“So that’s the conclusion you’re making?” I asked. “And the matter is dead?”

Detective Ardolino locked eyes with me. “What are you saying, P. I. Lam? Like she was murdered on purpose?”

I shook my head. “Yeah, that does seem farfetched.”

He chuckled. “Like from out of space.”

“Are you gonna talk to the Vietnamese community of Hartford?” I asked.

“Sure. I talk to everyone. My job. I am curious how she ended up here, but we may never get an answer to that.”

“They can be a little nervous around cops,” Hank said. “Some don’t speak English well.”

“We’ll see.” Ardolino was getting ready to leave.

I slipped the detective my card. “If you need me to be, well, a liaison, I’ll be glad to help.”

The cop slid the card back to me. “I don’t share my work with amateurs.”

I started to mention that I was once a New York cop, now a licensed P.I. in Connecticut, but I stopped. The look on Detective Ardolino’s face was telling: closed in, tight, the eyes cloudy. He looked at his watch. Hank started to say something, but I touched his wrist. I stood up and Hank, clearly angry, did too.

I pushed the card back across the table. “Don’t close off all your options, Detective.”

Hank and I left.

“Asshole,” Hank said, once outside.

“We’ll see.”

* * *

It was almost midnight when I dropped Hank off at his home, and he rushed out of the car, already late for his job. He was spending the summer vacation doing kitchen prep overnight and some early evenings at a Chinese take-out in Glastonbury, a job his dad secured for him in repayment of some cloudy family obligation. Hank hated it—he had wanted to be an intern with a local police force. Or, in fact, to do nothing but tag along after me as I did routine insurance fraud investigations that were the bulk of my daily workload. But his severe father was adamant. Hank worked for meager wages paid under the table and put up with the mercurial spurts of anger and irrational demands of the entire Fugian family that ran the restaurant. “They claim chopping bok choi is an art form,” he complained to me. Mornings, he told me, he went swimming or played tennis. “There has to be some summer for me.” So now he waved goodbye to me, yelling back that he’d call in the morning to check in.

“Check in about what?” I yelled back.

“What you’ve learned.”

“I’m not on this case, you know.”

“Oh, but you will be. You love Grandma.”



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Author Bio:

Ed Ifkovic writing as Andrew Lanh:

Ed Ifkovic taught literature and creative writing at a community college in Connecticut for over three decades, and now devotes himself to writing fiction. A longtime devotee of mystery novels, he fondly recalls his boyhood discovery of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series in a family bookcase, and his immediate obsession with the whodunit world. CAUGHT DEAD is his first novel under the name Andrew Lanh. Previous books are all Edna Ferber Mysteries: LONE STAR (2009). ESCAPE ARTIST (2011), MAKE BELIEVE (2012), DOWNTOWN STRUT (2013), and FINAL CURTAIN (2014)

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell
ISBN: 9781940210025 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781940210049 (paperback)
Publication date: February 4, 2015
Publisher: Maiden Lane Press

Set in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is the story of two young mothers, Hazel and Vida one wealthy and white and the other poor and black who have only two things in common: the devastating loss of their children, and a deep and abiding loathing for one another. Embittered and distrusting, Vida is harassed by Delphi's racist sheriff and haunted by the son she lost to the world. Hazel, too, has lost a son and can't keep a grip on her fractured life. After drunkenly crashing her car into a manger scene while gunning for the baby Jesus, Hazel is sedated and bed-ridden. Hazel's husband hires Vida to keep tabs on his unpredictable wife and to care for his sole surviving son. Forced to spend time together with no one else to rely on, the two women find they have more in common than they thought, and together they turn the town on its head. It is the story of a town, a people, and a culture on the verge of a great change that begins with small things, like unexpected friendship.

Two women in 1950s Mississippi have seemingly little in common. One is a white upper-middle-class white woman born in poverty. The other is a black woman living in abject poverty. On the surface it doesn't appear that these two women could have anything in common, but looks can be deceiving. Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is the story of an unlikely friendship borne out of despair during a turbulent era.

Vida Snow led a somewhat glorious and sheltered life for a black child growing up in the 1950s in Mississippi. She was doted on by her father and treated like a princess. All that changed one evening in her fourteenth year of life. She was brutally raped. Vida ends up a mother before she turns fifteen and is devoted to her child Nate. Unfortunately for Vida and her son, the sheriff is willing to do anything to ensure his "child" is never exposed to the powers that be (namely his father-in-law). Vida eventually suffers one more indignity at the hand of her rapist and the father of her child, the loss of that child. The indignities are heaped on the Snow family when her father, the local minister, is accused of helping the NAACP, branded a militant, and ostracized by blacks and whites alike.

Hazel Ishee Graham was one of fourteen children born into a poor farming family. She worked hard to remake herself into a beauty and was determined to live a life better than the way she was raised. After marriage and the birth of two sons, Hazel is overwhelmed by her familial responsibilities. She doesn't know how to cook and isn't sure she knows how to raise children. Hazel doesn't have perfect grammar and doesn't quite fit in with the other women in town. The only thing she is good at is driving around town and looking good. It isn't long before Hazel begins to seek solace in alcohol and driving. After the death of her youngest son, her desperation peaks. Hazel's husband isn't quite sure how to deal with the situation and hires a maid, Vida to see to it Hazel is taken care of (meaning medicated and kept away from alcohol). The only thing that Hazel and Vida have in common is they have both lost a child and that neither one is quite sure where they belong in a system that subjugates women to their husbands and societal rules and mores. When the story of Rosa Parks filters down to Mississippi, the Rosa Parks League (a small group of Black domestics) is born. This small group of Black women, with the assistance of one white woman, begins to fight for the right to vote and endures scorn, ridicule, and humiliation after humiliation.

It would be easy to say that Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a bit like The Help. Don't get me wrong there are similarities (black domestic help and white women who hire the help), but the similarities are purely superficial in my opinion. Mr. Odell has provided a story that deals with racially inequality but this is ultimately a story about survival and friendship. Both Vida and Hazel overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles in their lives: poverty, the loss of a child, and more. Both Vida and Hazel are victims of the society they live in and it doesn't really matter that one is white and the other black. I found Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League to be an intriguing story and one that pulled me in from the first page to the last. I actually read the entire story in one afternoon and simply refused to put the book aside until I was finished. (Yes it is that good.) There are parts of this story that will bring a tear to your eye, parts that will make you laugh, and parts that will make you cringe. I strongly urge everyone to read Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, not because of the subject matter or themes, but because it is simply one fantastic read.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."