Please help me welcome mystery author, Kay Kendall, as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. She writes the Austin Starr series and recently released a prequel to those stories, After You’ve Gone that I reviewed here last Sunday. Since the story takes place during Prohibition, I thought we could try a common drink of the time called The Bee’s Knees. It was made with bathtub gin, which didn’t taste very good, so lemon juice and honey were added.
I’ll take mine with bottled gin, but the lemon juice and honey sound good. Join me if you’d like.
Now, here’s today’s post from Kay.
When I write mysteries, I focus on human emotions and motives rather than technical gadgetry. I care much more about why someone committed a crime than how. That inclination makes more sense if the book takes place before the time CSI techniques existed.
Luckily history intrigues me.
Even if you disliked your own history classes, I try to entertain you in my mysteries as I offer bits of history as background to my murder plots. If you’re caught up in the search for a killer, and also grasp a little about the past—plus how it all led to where we are today—then I’m delighted.
I love considering how women’s lives have changed throughout history. Offer me a costume drama in movies or on television and I will watch. Bring it on! Imagining what my life would have been like, for example, as a pioneer wife in Texas (where I live now) fascinates me.
Actually, thinking about my Texas grandmother’s life in the early years of the twentieth century eventually led me to develop a crime novel set during Prohibition and the Jazz Age. My grandmother was a strong, bold woman. I have photos of her dressed as a boy when she was in her early teens, and even as a mature woman she went deer hunting and spent hours in a rowboat with her husband, fishing on the lakes north of Dallas. At the same time, she was a church-going mother of three who wore big picture hats and lacy dresses. Yet she could shoot, fish, and ride horses as well as any man.
Small wonder then that she became the inspiration for the protagonist in my new book, AFTER YOU’VE GONE. Born on the second day of the new century—January 2, 1900—Walter MacGregor (named for her father and known as Wallie) is twenty-three when the book opens. An avid fan of Sherlock Holmes, she longs for more adventure than her hometown of Gunmetal, Texas, offers.
When a freak accident horrifies the town, Wallie believes she sees a scene that shows evidence of foul play. Annoyed that no one agrees with her—including the sheriff and her dad—she sets out to prove her theory. Soon she’s knee-deep in flappers and floozies, Chicago thugs sent south by Al Capone, and a crime lord in the sinful port city of Galveston.
This mystery is a prequel to my Austin Starr Mystery series because Wallie becomes the grandmother of Austin Starr. In the first book, Desolation Row, the heroine Austin Starr is a new bride whose husband is jailed for killing an anti-war activist in 1968. She is forced by circumstances to prove his innocence. No one else believes in him, least of all the police.
Austin Starr’s second case is detailed in Rainy Day Women. Her best friend joins a women’s liberation group and becomes the prime suspect when the group’s charismatic leader is killed. The reader goes along with Austin when she visits her first meeting of the feminist group and experiences the power of the ideas she finds there.
The subject of women’s rights and the motives for murder in this particular book are shockingly fresh and topical. Women’s struggle for equality is still news. Sexism is still alive, despite many advances for women. I hope my books will not only entertain you—but also inform about women’s lives back in the day. The similarities and differences just might surprise you.
I live in Texas with my Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and a spaniel named Wills. I’m terribly allergic to the bunnies but love them anyway. Before I wrote fiction, I did international public relations—in the US, Canada, the Soviet Union, and Europe. I worked in Moscow during the Cold War. Earlier I’d turned down a job with the CIA in order to attend grad school and study history. Because of my degrees in history, I take pains to get historical settings and details right—no anachronisms allowed. I am a member of the national board of Mystery Writers of America and president of its southwest chapter. I blog with the Stiletto Gang and am a contributing editor to The Big Thrill, the online monthly magazine of International Thriller Writers. Visit me on my WEBSITE and find me on The Stiletto Gang BLOG, You can also find me on FACEBOOK * TWITTER * and LINKED IN
After You’re Gone
Austin Starr Prequel
Paperback: 278 pages
February 12, 2019 $14.95
BLURB: When a long-lost relative turns up on the run from his rum-running mob boss and soon dies in a freak accident in small-town Texas during Prohibition, only 23-year-old Wallie believes it was murder. Driven by her love for Sherlock Holmes tales, Wallie pursues the truth and in doing so encounters flappers and floozies, Chicago thugs sent by Al Capone, and a crime lord of the sinful port city of Galveston. Indulged by her father the judge but urged by her prim aunt to be a proper lady, Wallie plays amateur sleuth while courted by two eligible suitors. Will she stay alive long enough to figure out which one is her true love?
REVIEW: It was a delight to step back in time and meet Wallie, who is named Walter after her father. There was never a son to pass on the name, so Wallie, an only child, becomes the lucky inheritor. She doesn’t mind, though. She adores her father and is sure the male name gives her more strength and freedom than some silly girl’s name.
Her Aunt Ida doesn’t agree, wishing that Wallie would take seriously the importance of being a proper young lady, and when we, the reader, meet Aunt Ida, we are sure that she will be a thorn in Wallie’s side throughout the story. How nice it was to see that Aunt Ida actually becomes an ally in Wallie’s quest to find out who killed her uncle and why. Those two women are a formidable pair as they encounter gangsters and gangs that are intent on murder.
The book is heavy with dialogue, which is something I enjoy, especially when the voices are all so distinct. One would not confuse Aunt Ida, with Athalia, the cook, or even Wallie. Likewise, Walter spoke differently than his brother, Rory. All of them are well-drawn characters who make this romp through murder and mayhem a a fun read.
Wallie is a good role model for women of any age, in any era, who want to push the boundaries of what is expected of them and step out into something new and challenging. As I read her story, I couldn’t help but think of some strong women of today who are making such a difference in government and business. Kudos to all.
This is a fun, rollicking mystery, and fans of the Austin Starr mysteries will enjoy meeting Austin’s grandmother, as did I.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kay Kendall writes the Austin Starr mystery series. The first two books capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. Desolation Row (2013) and Rainy Day Women (2015) show Austin as a young Texas bride who is forced to the front lines of societal change by her draft-resisting husband. Austin copes by turning amateur sleuth. The latter mystery won two Silver Falchion Awards in 2016 at Killer Nashville.
Kay’s work in progress, Tangled Up In Blue brings Austin and her grandmother, Wallie, together in 1970 to solve a family member’s murder in Vienna.
In her previous career, Kay was an award-winning international PR executive, working in the US, Canada, Russia, and Europe. She has graduate degrees in Russian history and was a Woodrow Wilson Scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Kay and her Canadian husband live in Houston, Texas. They’ve rescued abandoned pet bunnies for twenty years and currently have three rabbits and a bemused spaniel, Wills. You can find out more about her on her WEBSITE and find her on The Stiletto Gang BLOG, Visit her on FACEBOOK * TWITTER * and LINKED IN
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Come back on Wednesday when Kay will be my guest with a post about how women’s lives and roles have changed over time. Like me, she celebrates strong women in her writing and this is an interesting article.
The Shaker Murders
Hardcover: 240 pages
February 1, 2019, $28.99
Series: Will Rees Mysteries (Book 6)
BOOK BLURB: A peaceful Shaker community is rocked by a series of bizarre accidents, but is there more to them than first appears?
Fresh from facing allegations of witchcraft and murder, travelling weaver Will Rees, his heavily pregnant wife Lydia and six adopted children take refuge in Zion, a Shaker community in rural Maine. Shortly after their arrival, screams in the night reveal a drowned body … but is it murder or an unfortunate accident? The Shaker Elders argue it was just an accident, but Rees believes otherwise.
As Will investigates further, more deaths follow and a young girl vanishes from the community. Haunted by nightmares for his family’s safety, Rees must rush to uncover the truth before the dreams can become reality and more lives are lost. Yet can the Shaker Elders be trusted, or is an outsider involved?
REVIEW: The story opens just as Rees and the family arrive at the Shaker community and right away the reader gets a sense that the transition from living outside in the World to being in the strict confines of the Shaker life will not be easy. Rees is accustomed to having his family around him, and the separation of men and women and children is hard for him, as are the other restrictions such as no unnecessary talking. We meet the first murder victim, Jabez, then quickly afterward meet Jonathan and Solomon, the two elders who impose rigid controls on Rees even after they give permission for him to investigate.
As someone who has not read the previous Will Rees mysteries, I wanted a little more information in the beginning as to how they came to the Shaker Community, and why, as well as where their former home had been. It’s explained that they are fleeing persecution in the city where they’d had been living, but there was no reason given for choosing to come to the Shakers. I also had a hard time figuring out the time period, and I think just a few more details would have helped me get oriented to the time and place. It took a couple of chapters for me to get fully invested in the story, and I would definitely recommend that readers start this series with the first book.
That said, the mystery was well-crafted, and the author did a great job leading us, and Rees, down a number of paths before he was able to focus on the real culprit. The characters were also deftly drawn and interesting, as were some of the sub-plots that complicated things for the family beyond the murders and disappearances.
This is a series well worth the read.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition for A Simple Murder. The author of five previous Will Rees mysteries, she is the Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange County, New York.
Visit her on her WEBSITE
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Please come back on Wednesday when Eleanor will be my guest with an interesting post about the Shakers. If you’re like me, your knowledge of them ends with just knowing the name of of sect.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 5, 2019)
This very engaging story has several major characters, but the plot really revolves around Nell. She is reeling after losing a baby in the third trimester, as well as the guilt she feels over what she has hidden from her husband, Josh, about money spent on fertility treatments. Desperate to find a job and start paying off the credit card debt, Nell sees an ad for a job as a director for a new nonprofit called the Mansion Hill Artists’ Colony.
The colony is the brainchild of the late, unconventional society dame Betsy Barrett, who left behind her vast fortune and a killer collection of modern art to establish an artist-in-residency program to be run out of her lakeside mansion where she had spent most of her life. Three artists have already been approved for the first session, and Nell has little time to prepare for their arrival after being given the job and the keys to the mansion the same day she interviews with the attorney handling the trust.
Each of the artists has personal issues to work through while at the Colony. Odin a metal sculptor from Minnesota is trying to get past his grief over the death of his soul-mate who was so much more than just a girlfriend. The grief stands in his way like a giant, blocking Odin’s attempts to get past it.
Paige, a gifted visual artist who has no confidence in her work, or herself, struggles to find a way to believe in what she is capable of creating. She is also trying to figure out why she scuttles every personal relationship she has ever had.
Annie, the oldest of the trio and a successful artist who has let work languish for a few years, is determined to do her art her way. Her medium is photography, and she is working on a project that she has been advised to abandon to work on something “safer.” She has been taking pictures of people who are dying as part of her photography retrospective about death, and she makes this observation to support her interest, “Isn’t that what art is all about? Trying to create just a snippet of something real and true and permanent?”
Another quote that I found meaningful was one from Betsy Barrett, who said, “Art is like life. It’s fragile, but that doesn’t mean you should never take a risk.”
In addition to wonderful lines that made me stop and smile and ponder, there were so many other life lessons in this book about love, relationships, and what it takes to pursue a creative endeavor and stick with it.
As the story progressed, I really enjoyed seeing the way the characters’ lives touched and how that touching gave them each something they needed. It was real, and intense at times, but so satisfying to a reader.
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That’s all for me for today, folks. Check back on Sunday when I will have another book review. Be safe. Be happy.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY
It’s a day early, I know, but I wanted to send the wish out anyway. Will you be doing anything special to mark the day? I may let the day pass without much attention, as celebrating without the person you loved for many years is so hard. I know I am not alone in that boat, so I will be thinking of all my friends who have lost their partners and find this day difficult.
Love can be shown in so many different ways, and Slim Randles is here today with a sweet story about how a little act of kindness goes a long way. I know these cowboys don’t often like to see “sweet” attached to them or a story, but there is no other word for it. Enjoy…
Steve was walking down the sidewalk the other day to get from the barber shop to where he’d parked his pickup. It was a nice kind of day. Chilly, of course, but not bolt-freezing cold.
His mind was on what he had to do that day. In addition to the usual ranch chores, he had to catch up the horses and give their hooves a mid-winter trim. There are only a couple of horses shod at the moment, in case one is needed, and the others will get iron on them before the spring gather.
Steve stopped and turned to see a girl about seven or eight years old coming up behind him.
“Hi there,” said Steve, smiling.
“Mister, I think you dropped this.”
She held out her hand, and there was an old pocket knife. It was old and beaten up and Steve automatically slapped his left-side vest pocket.
“Thank you so much,” Steve said, taking back the old, worthless pocket knife that had been handed down from his grandfather. He put it back in the vest and buttoned the pocket shut.
“Can I give you anything? A dollar, maybe?”
“No thanks,” she said smiling. “See you later.”
Steve thought, she did this and didn’t even know my name. Well, I don’t know hers, either. But that was really nice of her.
Sometimes love can be just a little thing like handing a knife back to someone who dropped it.
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Slim Randles writes a nationally syndicated column, “Home Country” and is the author of a number of books including Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. That title, and others, are published by LPD Press. If you enjoy his columns here, you might want to check out the book Home Country. It has some of the best of his offerings through the years he has been writing columns.
Every late winter/early spring I used to pull the first new grass for my horse as the fresh green blades were so good for helping him to shed his winter coat. Now I pull the grass for my cats. Outdoor cats can nibble on grass whenever the urge strikes them, but since mine are indoor cats, I need to bring the treat to them.
Sammy and Lily are grass fiends. They get so excited when I come inside with a handful, you’d think I was bringing the fanciest of cat foods. They dance and coo, telling me to hurry up and put the grass down.
There are several reasons cats eat grass, and I found this fact on the Animal Planet website. “The juices in grass contain folic acid, a vitamin essential to a cat’s well-being. Folic acid, also present in the mother cat’s milk, aids the production of oxygen in the cat’s bloodstream.”
If you’d like to know more about cats and what plants are okay for them to eat, check out this post from Pretty Litter. I did not know that the houseplant commonly called a spider plant was okay for cats, but now I know why the two I have brought inside for the winter now have most of the ends of the blades gone. 🙂
So, we’re facing the threat of another government shutdown because negotiations over the border wall are falling apart. What is happening here with our government holding the people hostage over this situation is not all that dissimilar to what the Venezuelan president is doing. While thousands of his countrymen are starving, he is refusing to let humanitarian aid cross the border into the country, literally holding the food for his people hostage so he can maintain power.
Why does everything that happens in the world have to come down to who’s got the power and who can keep it at all costs? Millions of people suffer from starvation, torture and are massacred just so those at the top can stay at the top. And most of those people at the top, including our government leaders, have no idea of what it is like to be the common person on a neighborhood street. Even if they were once one of those common people, they have long forgotten, and are willing to put all the everyday folks on the line of this dangerous game of roulette.
My mind simply cannot grasp how people can do this in good conscience, but then, maybe that’s the problem. They have no conscience. At least no one even close to that of the common person on a neighborhood street.
The latest news from PBS Newshour indicates that budget talks are underway again, but there is noting to cheer about yet.
Okay, end of rant. I’m still trying to recover completely from the medical procedure I had last Friday, so this will be a short blog today. Coming up on Wednesday will be another post from humorist Slim Randles. Then on Friday and Sunday, I’ll have two book reviews. Until then, I’ll leave you with this joke from The Laugh Factory:
A magician worked on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The audience would be different each week, so the magician did the same tricks each week. However, there was a problem, the captain’s parrot saw the shows each week and began to understand how the magician did every trick.
Once the parrot understood, he started shouting out the secrets in the middle of the show, “Look, it’s not the same hat.” “Look, he is hiding the flowers under the table.” “Hey, why are all the cards the Ace of Spades?”
The magician was furious but couldn’t do anything, it was, after all, the captain’s parrot. One day, the ship had an accident and sank. The magician found himself with the parrot, adrift on a piece of wood, in the middle of the ocean. They stared at each other with hatred, but did not utter a word. This went on for a day, then another, and another.
Finally, after a week, the parrot said, “Okay, I give up. Where the heck is the boat?”
That’s all for today. Be safe. Be happy.
I’m going to be in Dallas today getting nerve ablations that will hopefully ease some of the pain on my face and head and get me off some of my meds. In addition to Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, I suffer from a condition known as CRS (can’t remember shit.) Many people on high doses of nerve-blockers have cognitive issues, as do people on some other medications. Not a fun place to be.
My doctor explained how this one medication, Gabapentin, interferes with our ability to hang on to words and a train of thought, and he acknowledged how difficult that is for someone who works with words all the time.
I love him for that. He is a good, compassionate doctor.
Anyway, since I will be out of pocket for several days, I thought I’d resurrect a post from 2011 about service dogs and get it scheduled before I close down my office. Enjoy…
When I was just out of high school, I worked for a veterinarian and had many occasions to see service dogs. The very first time I saw a golden retriever was when his owner brought him in for shots, and I was so impressed with the noble dignity of these dogs trained to assist humans in so many ways.
I lived and worked in Michigan just north of Detroit, and found out that Leader Dogs for the Blind are trained in Rochester, not too far from where I worked. I made it a point to go there whenever I could to watch the training and pick up some tips for training my dogs. I still use some of their methods, which are based on positive rewards and repetition. There are no choke collars or harsh treatment used. It was incredible to watch those dogs change from rambunctious young pups to mature, dependable leader dogs.
What I never thought about at the time was what happens to those service dogs when the owner dies. And I only thought about it recently because a friend shared a touching story with me about the devotion of one of those dogs. She had just attended the memorial service for one of her friends who had a dog that was trained to be a companion for someone with emotional issues. The dog had lived with this family for five years and had formed a close bond with the man who suffered from PTSD. At the gathering after the memorial service, the family kept noticing how the dog was pacing and softly whining. The dog would walk to the front door, then back to a chair where his master used to sit, then back to the door.
After watching this for a little while, one of the daughters had the idea to put the dog in his “uniform.” So they got the saddlebag and harness and put them on him. According to my friend, the minute the dog was in the uniform, he jumped to attention like a Marine coming on duty. Then the dog walked over and put his head on the widow’s feet. He stayed near her for the rest of the afternoon.
My friend said that watching the dog was one of the most poignant experiences she had had in a long time, and it brought tears to my eyes as she related the story.
I asked my friend what was going to happen to the dog now, and she said that her friend will be able to keep the dog. She has been taking him out for daily walks with his “uniform” on, hoping that soon he will realize that his job now is to be with her and share the memory of the man they both miss.
I hope you enjoyed the story of that special dog. If you have a story about a leader dog you’d like to share, please do. Have a great weekend. Be safe. Be happy.
Slim Randles is here today with his friend, Windy, who likes to fracture the English language like nobody else. I admire the guys at the Mule Barn Truck Stop who can follow the conversation with Windy and reply with hardly a moment’s hesitation. More power to them.
Let’s join the guys with a cup of coffee and have a listen.
“Well,” said Steve, polishing off the last of his coffee, “what should we discuss this fine morning?”
“I’m awful glad you asked, ol’ pard,” came the cheerful voice of Windy Wilson, emerging through the swinging doors that came from the kitchen of the Mule Barn truck stop. “Yessir. Awful glad.”
Steve and the other members of the world dilemma think tank looked in amazement as this old camp cook and cowboy came over with the coffee pot and topped off their coffee mugs. Windy had found a dish towel and wrapped it around his waist, too.
“Windy?” said Doc. “Mighty fine-looking dish towel you’re wearing.”
“Thanks, Doc. I cornsider it the aplex of dining room fashion for a volunteer coffee guy. Took me a while to talk Loretta into lettin’ me wear it, howsomever. I guess she ain’t up on dining room fashions.”
“Let me guess,” said Doc. “This must be your helping day, right?”
“Right as grain, Doc,” Windy said, cheerfully. “I thought about it and decisioned I’d devote my helpin’ day to the good ol’ Mule Barn.”
We all knew Windy dedicated one day each week to helping others. This sometimes meant helping them when they really didn’t need it, but hey, the older folks in our town get some trash picked up in the yard and some kindling split. You know.
“So fer a conservational subject this sparklin’ a.m.,” Windy said, “I believe I’d meanderate through the mystericals of ancient history, beginnin’ with them Egypt guys. Whadda ya think?”
“Might just do that, Windy,” said Steve. “But if you don’t mind me asking, why are you helping out with the coffee in here rather than cleaning up somebody’s yard.”
Windy looked around to see if the other 43 people in the café could hear, then leaned down toward Steve. “Lot warmer in here than it is in somebody’s yard, and thassa fact.”
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Brought to you by Ol’ Max Evans: The First Thousand Years. Available at unmpress.com
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Check out all of Slim’s award-winning books at www.slimrandles.com, and in better bookstores and bunkhouses throughout the free world.
All of the posts here are from his syndicated column, Home Country, that is read in hundreds of newspapers across the country. I am always happy to have him share his wit and wisdom here.