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Mystery course October 29th!

Okay, it’s been forever since I updated the website. We had some problems with it, but even then you know I’m not always good about updating. I do good for awhile, and then I look focus.

Anyway, I’m teaching a course in The Basics of Mystery Writing this Saturday, October 29th, at the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library (40 E. St. Clair Street), starting at 3 pm and going for an hour and a half. The workship is FREE. We’ll touch on everything from setting to plot and in between, and for those who maybe a little more advanced and have a manuscript in hand, we’ll talk about query letters, synopses, and agents. I’ll also be signing copies of SAINTLY REMAINS during the noontime author fair. For more information, check the IMCPL website by following this link: My part in the fair is sponsored by the Writers Center of Indiana.

Viper by John Desjarlais

As he did in BLEEDER, John Desjarlais takes a contemporary mystery and expertly intertwines a supernatural one.  VIPER features Selena De La Cruz—insurance saleswoman, shoe fashionista and former Drug Enforcement agent—who is forced back into police work when a hit list is discovered and her name is on it. The nine people on the list have one thing in common—they all had a run-in with a drug dealer called the Serpent.  As Selena and her colleagues try to track down the dwindling number of people on the list to stop the killings and learn who is behind them, they must deal with a young girl whose visions of a Virgin of Guadalupe-type apparition precede each death.  Are the little girl’s messages of a veiled vengeance real?  Are the apparitions somehow connected to the deaths, or is this event being used by the killer to cover each murder?

Desjarlais keeps you guessing as the action accelerates faster than De La Cruz’s souped-up vehicles.  When Selena becomes the last woman standing, she must either figure out who is behind the killings or fall victim to La Serpiente. VIPER strikes fast and sinks its teeth in you. You won’t be able to put it down.


Printers Row Literary Festival

The Printers Row Literary Festival is Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5, in downtown Chicago. I’ll be there signing books both days. Please stop by the Mystery Writers of America booth if you’re in the area. We’re in tent V, near the intersection of Dearborn and Polk.

The MWA booth has a lot of readings and signings going on during the day, but one especially fun event will be the Flash Fiction contest on Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.  Barb D’Amato and Sara Paretsky will be the judges; I’ll be the MC.  Anyone can participate. You don’t have to be an MWA member.

How does it work?

Take one of five opening sentences and come up with a short story – so short that you can read it in five minutes or less. We’ll be timing you, but if the story is good enough we just forget to look at the clock.

Here’s the opening sentences, you can make them any gender you want:

1) He wasn’t going to make it.

2) It was the smell that got to her.

3) Digging a hole six-feet deep was harder than he thought.

4) He’d have done it different if he’d known how much weight she’d gained.

5) They say a goldfish will eat anything.

Judging will be completely arbitrary and potentially quite unfair. But regardless it’ll be awesome because we have two of the most distinguished authors in Chicago history, Barb D’Amato and Sara Paretsky. So no, no pressure here. Nope, none at all.

What can you win? All participants will likely win prizes and there will be one grand prize awarded – a $25 Starbucks gift card.

Anything else? We’re limited to at most 12 participants due to time. There will be a sign-up sheet at the tent, but first come, first served.

Hope to see you there!

Buffalo West Wing by Julie Hyzy

Julie’s fourth entry in her White House Chef Mystery series is her best book to date. With a new administration taking office, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in the Executive Mansion, and a box of buffalo wings intended for the incoming president’s young children is left in the kitchen. While the box is from a reputable restaurant, Executive Chef Ollie Paras knows that nothing is to be consumed unless it is known how it got to the White House. Ollie’s decision makes the children unhappy, the First Lady unhappy and even members of the staff unhappy. Ollie puts the wings away, but one of her assistant chefs retrieves the box and gives it to the laundry women and two of the butlers. They later become deathly ill and are rushed to a nearby hospital. The hospital comes under siege almost immediately and the White House patients are taken hostage.  The terrorist group wants their leader set free from a Wisconsin prison.

The poisoned wings were clearly meant for the President’s children, but the Secret Service wants it kept quiet while they investigate who the traitor is among the White House staff. This means that the First Lady, still unhappy with Ollie, has no idea that her children would have been the hostages had it not been for Ollie’s decision to follow protocol. Ollie must also wrestle with a troublesome personal chef the First Lady has brought in to prepare the family meals. The man happens to want Ollie’s job. Toss in the stress of new Secret Service agents haunting the kitchen, a strained relationship with her ex-boyfriend, a potential new love interest, and an upcoming state dinner for officials from the country that spawned the terrorists, and Ollie is once again over her head when trouble finds her on the front lines of protecting the First Family.

The thing I loved most about this book was how skillfully Hyzy weaves all these elements into the story. We know some of them will turn out to be red herrings in terms of who the insider traitor is, but all of these elements are important to Ollie and therefore important to us. It’s a fun read that never loses its momentum, has lots of good twists, and reaches a satisfying conclusion where Ollie once again feeds the First Family and saves the world. Don’t miss getting hooked on this series and especially don’t miss out on this book.

Kiss Z Cook Hoisin-Glazed Pork Chops

Last night I received an early birthday present from my wife Debbie — Date Night at Kiss Z Cook, where we (and eight other couples) prepared Asian-influenced dishes under the direction of Chef Sean Bartosiak.  It was a wonderful experience. Debbie and I worked on the Hoisin-Glazed Pork Chops–awesome recipe.  Here’s a photo of Debbie and me with the result.

I’m hopeful there’s no problem with me posting this recipe as long as I attribute it to them. They gave us the recipe at the end of the evening.  We served it over Vegetable Chop Suey, which we also made, but I think it stands on its own.

Ingredients (serves 12)

Hoisin Glaze
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons curry powder

2 cups water
2 cups soy sauce
2 cups sugar
5-6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons coarse cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 to 6 lbs pork loin
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish.

For the marinade: In a container large enough to hold the marinade and the pork loin, combine the marinade ingredients and add the pork loin. Cover and allow to marinate for 4 hours.

For the glaze: in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the hoisin sauce, honey, vinegar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from heat.

To cook: Grill the pork loin indirectly over medium heat, turning after 5 minutes.  After ten minutes, start basting them with the hoisin glaze until the meat is done. A few minutes before they are finished, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Remove the loin from the grill and slice in the bias. Serve warm, drizzled with additional hoisin glaze.

Taco Soup

I haven’t posted a recipe in a while.  Even though the calendar says it’s spring, it’s gotten really cold here in Indiana (again), so I’m making this for supper. This is an incredibly easy recipe, it makes a bunch, and the leftovers freeze well. Could you ask for more?

Taco Soup

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 can Rotel
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can pinto beans
1 can Ranch style beans
1 pkg. dry taco seasoning mix
1 pkg. Ranch dressing mix

Directions:  brown ground beef and chopped onion.  Drain fat.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

Seriously, it’s that easy.  Here’s a photo of the simple ingredients and the resulting soup.

A couple of notes: while it’s not really high in calories, you can lighten it up by using a combination of lean ground beef and lean ground turkey (I use 93% lean turkey; it’s cheaper than the 99% lean and adds only a little fat); I posted a ‘hotter’ version of this on Amy Alessio’s website,, back in January to help promote my friend Molly MacRae’s new book Lawn Order. This is a tamer version that I prefer.


Running Dark by Jamie Freveletti

Running Dark, Jamie Freveletti’s second novel, is just as captivating as her first. It features the same characters that were in Running from the Devil now a few months into the aftermath of their Colombian experience. Cameron Sumner is still with security company Darkview, but this time his assignment is on a cruise ship believed to be carrying pharmaceuticals. When the ship is attacked by Somali pirates, it becomes apparent these are not ordinary pharmaceuticals, but maybe a new kind of chemical weapon. To find out what’s there, a chemist needs to be transported into the danger zone. Emma Caldridge, fresh from an ultramarathon in South Africa where she was unwillingly injected with an experimental drug, volunteers to be that chemist and to be with Cameron again. Behind the scenes, a United States Senator is trying to bring down Darkview because of the Colombian pipeline destruction in the first book. To keep this from happening, Darkview executives Edward Banner and Carol Stromeyer are dancing as fast they can, trying to avoid giving up incriminating documents—and trying stay alive. Both are in danger of being killed by an organization that wants revenge for their earlier successes.

Freveletti’s characters are likeable and sympathetic, and the action never stops. You will not—I repeat NOT—be able to put this down. Don’t even try it. Just give into the delight of reading something this good.

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Starvation Lake, Bryan Gruley’s debut novel that was nominated for just about every award in the mystery field, is every bit as good as advertised.

The protagonist Gus Carpenter, editor of the Pine County Pilot–circulation 4,733–doesn’t expect he’ll face the controversies he did during his stay at the Detroit Times, where he took a fall that continues to haunt him. The Pilot, based in his hometown of Starvation Lake, is more apt to run an article on a guy who believes in Bigfoot than hard-hitting news. But when pieces of a snowmobile that went down with Gus’ former hockey coach years ago washes up on the shore of a different lake from where the coach was believed to have drowned, Gus finds himself investigating the death. Was it murder? Gus, who was goalie for the team the coach led to the losing end of the state championship finals, discovers the coach had a secret so terrible that people who knew it likely wanted him dead. Gus is forced to confront his own fiends and former teammates to find out who wanted the coach’s secret buried—not just then, but still today.

Gruley, who is the Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, makes Gus a convincing journalist and adds layers of intrigue to the story that keep the pages turning. In the end, Gus is an investigative hero in the mold of Woodward or Bernstein, refusing to bend to higher powers that threaten to silence him if he won’t stop digging. His daring determination to learn the truth provides an uplifting end to a story set in a cold, blue-collar town that’s dying in more ways than one. Hockey fans will love this book, but as evidenced from all the awards it’s garnered, hockey is not the main reason readers are skating into Starvation Lake to find out who iced who.

Prologue for Saintly Remains


The answer was not in the pattern. The answer was in the exception.

Keri Schoening, age sixteen, dead in a Columbine-style massacre, was that exception. The non-jock, the non-bully, the sweet, loving young woman who answered “yes” when asked if she believed in Jesus, was the only one of the five dead students who didn’t fit the pattern.

So no one asked, what if she was the reason for the massacre?

I’m Nick Bertetto. I’m a freelance investigative reporter, and I didn’t ask the question, either. Not that I was looking for the answer. It wasn’t my story, not until five months later. And even then, I was asking a different question when I stumbled upon the answer.

The shootings occurred one gray Indiana afternoon on January 23 at West Jasper High School, the alma mater of my wife, Joan. Two students returned to school after lunch, shot five students, then shot themselves. None of the victims survived.

It was heartbreaking. The school closed for the rest of the semester. Students were transferred to Jasper High, the other community high school in town. Though there had been rumors the killings were the work of a Satanic cult, the police found no evidence of it, other than a cryptic verse of no known origin left on the wall of the library:

“When night is at its lowest ebb,

And Vict’ry’s sung from heav’nly tower,

Then evil spins its strongest web,

And Satan has his finest hour.”

The authorities believed that the two students who did the shootings sought revenge on athletes who had bullied them. It was said that, for years, the slain had inflicted misery on the shooters and their friends—and that, as in Columbine, the school had ignored what the popular jocks had been doing.

That’s what the police and the media concluded. Keri Schoening, huddled under a table in the library with other students, had been an afterthought. The wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We took the news of the massacre hard, especially Joan. Keri had been the daughter of one of her good friends from high school. Susan Schoening and Joan were close enough that when we were in Jasper, our families always got together. Keri had treated our daughter, Stephanie, like a little sister and even babysat her on occasion. Steph, like all kids Keri came in contact with, really liked her. We’d had eggnog at the Schoening’s house after Midnight Mass on Christmas morning. A month later, Joan and I went to Jasper for the funeral.

Not one of us asked, what if Keri’s death was not the exception?

Because we saw the pattern instead, the evil that had been in the boys lived on unnoticed. It lay low for a short while, but that time was very short. Just five months later, it resurfaced.

What my playlist says about me…

As I ran this morning at the gym (aside: I only run outside in good weather), I was listening to my iPod Shuffle and wondering what those around me were listening to. What you listen to says something about you, whether you wish it did or not. Of course, if I could hear what the other runners were listening to, I’d probably make some kind of judgment based on what I heard.

So what kind of judgment would someone make if they heard what played on my iPod this morning? Here’s what I listened to:

1. Bringin’ da Noise by *Nsync.

2. Overkill by Men at Work

3. Down Under by Men at Work.

4.  Come Alive by Mark Schultz.

5.  Don’t Cross the River by America.

6.  Closer Than I’ve Ever Been by Mark Schultz.

7.  Syndicate by The Fray

8.  What About Now by Daughtry.

9.  Lovers in Japan by Coldplay.

10.  Supernatural by Daughtry.

11.  What I Like About You by Lillix.

12.  Message in a Bottle by The Police.

There’s definitely a nostalgic component to my music, and that surprised me. I don’t dwell in past, but … songs by *Nsync and the Backstreet Boys end up on my Shuffle because they take me back to a time when my kids were in middle and high school and we used to take these long, cross-country vacations. We listened to their music in the van sometimes. Lillix’s “What I Like About You” is also from that time, from the Freaky Friday soundtrack. My kids (and Debbie and I) really enjoyed that movie, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis and the now-disgraced Lindsay Lohan.

Add to that Men at Work, America, and The Police, and this list practically screams nostalgia. Those groups were popular back when Deb and I were in college and then out on our own, before kids, back when we were cool. (At least, I thought we were cool. Deb says we were never cool.)

But there’s a good mix of up-to-date music in there, too. I love the contemporary Christian scene, especially artists like Mark Schultz and Chris Tomlin. I make no secret I’m a Christian, by the way. If you’ve never read them, my books straddle the line between mainstream and inspirational.

And I LOVE the Fray. Can’t wait for their next album. The Coldplay song is from Viva la Vida, which I got largely because of the title track, but I really liked “Lovers in Japan” as well. And Daughtry.  He is SO much better than American Idol, and I’m glad he lost the competition and is proving to be more popular than a lot of those who won. His thoughtful lyrics and driving melodies are really appealing.

So, in short, here’s the analysis based on my iPod playlist: I enjoy revisiting the past, because so much of it—especially concerning Debbie and my kids—was so enjoyable. But I don’t spend my life there. I live for today, and find good in as many places as I can.

That’s what I want to believe, and I’m sticking to it.