I’m an voracious reader which means I’m rarely without a book close at hand. It’s an addiction. I have to have my word fix every day. I have books in my office, on my nightstand, in the kitchen (I sometimes read while I’m cooking dinner, between stirs and seasonings), in my truck, in bed, etc. Actually, my day ends with a bit of reading before closing my eyes to sleep.

I like different genres, especially literary and historical fiction, but a good mystery/thriller/suspense story is hard to beat. After all, who doesn’t love a well-written and convoluted whodunit?

Recently Read

I recently completed Ordinary Grace, a beautifully-told emotional tale by William Kent Krueger (highly recommended). It’s a literary novel that will linger in your mind for quite a while after devouring the final page.

Krueger’s Ordinary Grace takes us into a world where a boy becomes an adult far before his time. It’s murder, betrayal, and lies that send him on a convoluted path that bypasses what should have been a childhood filled with innocence.

And, speaking of innocence …

When Fiction and Real-Life Collide

I’m currently deep into John Grisham’s new book The Guardians, a tale about a group of lawyers who fight for the wrongly imprisoned—innocent men and women who’re serving hard time for crimes they didn’t commit. Along his journey, the lead character finds the paths leading to justice for his clients are pockmarked with danger.

The writing and voice in this novel are stellar.

As I plow through The Guardians, nearly every page reminds me of Ray Krone, a man who served 10 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Some of you may recall that Ray wrote of his horrible experience here on this blog in an article titled Ray Krone: A Decade On Death Row. 

Ray’s story and Grisham’s fictional tale run parallel to the current state of courts in the U.S., where criminal suspects, due to massive caseloads, are pushed through the system at near blinding speeds, rates that move more quickly than the science that’s often used to place them behind bars.

Bite-Mark Evidence

In Krone’s case, his conviction was based solely on bite-mark evidence, “science” that, like hair comparison, has been found to be unreliable. In fact, approximately three dozen or so exonerations have resulted from a re-examination of cases whose basis or, basis in part, for conviction were on the forensic comparison of bite marks.

For example, the cases of William Richards in California, who spent 25 years behind bars for his wife’s murder, and Keith Allen Harward in Virginia, who was sentenced to 33 years behind bars for a rape and murder. And then there’s our friend Ray Krone, an innocent man who was was 35-years-old at the time of his arrest, and didn’t walk as a free man again until the age of 45. All based on what many now call junk science.

Grisham’s book is an eye-opening read. It’s also a tale that’ll keep the reader turning page after page, hoping the attorneys will find a way to have their clients’ cases re-examined (a larger than massive uphill battle). And with the turn of every page I can’t help but think of Ray’s ordeal, sitting behind bars waiting to be put to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Imagine being confined in a concrete and steel box without sunshine or fresh air, with no control whatsoever of your own life and how you’ll live it. Grisham, I think, captures a great deal of this, including bite-mark evidence, in the book.

I also wonder how many more innocent people are in circumstances similar to the characters in Grisham’s book, and those who, like Ray Krone, wake up each day one step closer to the electric chair, gas chamber, or cocktail of drugs designed to kill. And, even more horrible is to wonder not if, but how many innocent people have already been executed.


“Cullen Post travels the country fighting wrongful convictions and taking on clients forgotten by the system. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for. Powerful, ruthless people murdered Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy Miller exonerated.

They killed one lawyer twenty-two years ago, and they will kill another without a second thought.”

“‘Ordinary Grace’ is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.”

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Winner, Edgar Award for Best Novel
  • Winner, Anthony Award for Best Novel
  • Winner, Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel
  • Winner, Barry Award for Best Novel
  • School Library Journal Best Book of 2013
Lisa Gardner sends D.D. Warren to 2016 WPA

Lisa Gardner is a writer who tackles research head-on, and she’s so serious about learning proper police procedure and forensics that, for two years in a row, she attended the wildly popular Writers’ Police Academy.

Lisa strongly believes in and continues to support the event in many ways, including helping me secure our 2016 guest of honor/keynote speaker, who, by the way, is an international bestselling author who’s known as a master of suspense writing.

Detailing the exciting and heart-thumping experiences had at the Writers’ Police Academy is nothing new. Articles about the event can be found all across social media, blogs, and national print media. After all, no other event in the world can compare to the WPA. One article, though, stands out a bit and it was written by, of course, Lisa Gardner. In the piece, she describes how and why her book, Crash and Burn was inspired by the Writers’ Police Academy.

Lisa Gardner: Starting with the Technicalities

Actually, Lisa, regards the Writers’ Police Academy so highly that she has now sent her protagonist, D.D. Warren, to attend as an instructor. You can read D.D.’s recap of the experience, her most intimidating adventure to date, in Gardner’s latest release (the ebook released today), 3 Truths and a Lie.


Lisa treated me to a preview of 3 Truths and I have to say it is a wonderful read, which is a standard for Lisa Gardner. No surprise there. So please, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of the book and then tag along with D.D. Warren as her workshop for writers turns into one of her most twisted cases—a case that involves a seedy motel room, drugs, prostitution . . . and a severed leg.

Click here to begin your journey with Det. D.D. Warren. Enjoy!


Lisa Gardner investigates a murder on the grounds of the Writers’ Police Academy.


More fun at the Writers’ Police Academy.


Details of the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy to be announced very soon. Registration is currently scheduled to open on February 14, 2016. Remember, the event typically sells out very quickly, so please be ready to sign up the moment the registration link goes live. Last year the event sold out within one hour!

By the way, we’ve outdone ourselves this year. The event is over-the-moon exciting and action-packed! You will not believe your eyes when you see what we have in store for you.

New Picture (1)

Volunteers are a big part of the reason the Writers’ Police Academy is successful. Author Linda Lovely is one of our veteran volunteers, who not only works extremely hard during the Academy but for months in advance helping with chores like registration, newsletters, and the Golden Donut short story contest. This takes away from the time Linda has to promote her own books. So, I’m lending a hand with her Kindle Scout promotion. She submitted LIES, a suspense novel set in 1938, to Amazon’s Kindle Scout program.

If LIES earns enough “nominations” on the site, the odds are good that Amazon will publish and promote the e-book version.

Which brings me to YOU. Here’s the link to check out her novel: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/27OEA8N10JKGD If you like the descriptions and the opening chapters, just click on the Nominate button. If Amazon elects to publish LIES, everyone who nominates it will get a FREE ebook. So what do you have to lose? It’s a way to say thank you to a hard working WPA volunteer. e-book version.

Please, please, please support Linda.


*     *     *

New Picture

Following a career in PR, Linda Lovely now focuses on her first love—writing crime fiction. LIES, her new 1938 novel, is set in her hometown, Keokuk, Iowa. Her prior books are current-day Marley Clark Mystery novels and Smart Women, Dumb Luck romantic thrillers. She belongs to Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She credits her attendance at the Writers’ Police Academy with helping her make all of her mystery/thrillers more accurate and realistic. Plus she says the Academy is some of the most fun a mystery/thriller writer can have and it’s all legal. Linda and her husband live beside a Carolina lake, where she loves to read, swim, and garden, and dream up ways to do away (on paper) with the folks who annoy her.

A killing at cotton hill

In the flavor of J.A. Jance, mingled with a pinch of seasoning similar to the styles of other top shelf authors, Terry Shames offers readers a wonderfully-told tale that kept me turning pages until I reached the last. Sure, the book features a clever mystery, and the characters were so realistic they seemed to crawl off the pages to sit beside me, whispering their dialog into my ear. But what kept my interest more than anything was the writing. It was absolutely superb.

A Killing At Cotton Hill ( Prometheus Books/Seventh Street Books, trade paperback, July 2013) is the story of Samuel Craddock, a former Jarrett Creek, Texas police chief. Craddock’s reign as the area’s top cop ended long ago, but he’s still ten times the lawman as the new chief, good ‘ol boy Rodell Skinner. And when Craddock’s neighbor winds up dead, well, let’s just say that widower Craddock takes it upon himself to see that justice is served, and he does a fine job of winding his way through a well-crafted mystery.

Craddock’s journey to the end of the book takes us through Texas farmland, shady real estate dealings, and into dimly lit roadside bars. And, for an interesting twist, into the world of fine art.

Readers are introduced to a lovely set of characters who keep the story moving along at a brisk pace, with absolutely no boring filler and unnecessary prose. Each word in the book has purpose.

Now for the other side of the coin. The author takes a few liberties with law enforcement procedures, but hey, it’s a work of fiction. I notice the little things related to cops and criminal investigations because that’s my thing. The majority of the general public, though, would not give a flying flip if a police chief was dropped to earth from an alien spacecraft, as long as her abrupt arrival fit the storyline.

Speaking of “her” arrival…author Terry Shames tackles her first book from the perspective of a male protagonist. Normally, I can tell when one gender writes as the other, but not with seasoned authors like J.A. Jance who, by the way, is one of the best in the business, if not the best. Shames can now join the very small group of authors who’ve fooled me, and that’s a good thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I did think, however, that the ending came a bit too quickly. In fact, the final few pages seemed a little hurried. But it wasn’t enough to matter. Not at all. Actually, there was a surprise twist at the end that tied up everything in a neat little bow.

I believe today is release day for A Killing At Cotton Hill, so, if you’re looking for an addition to your TBR pile, this one will fit in nicely. Be sure, though, to clear your calendar before opening the book, because there’s a good chance that you’ll not want to put it down until you’ve devoured every single word.

Last days of Ptolemy Grey

I enjoy a variety of books written by a variety of authors, and I like a variety of genres. I know, you probably expected that I’d stick to crime-type novels featuring cops, robbers, mystery, and gun battles. Actually, my sagging bookshelves are filled with everything from biographies to memoirs to mystery, suspense, thrillers, and even the classics. I like Agatha Christie, Mark Twain and Poe. I also like Annie Proulx’s writing. The Shipping News is a fantastic book, as is Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants. Poetry has a permanent place on my shelves, nestled among novels, true crime tales and other non-fiction.

My favorite authors include many of you, and that list is practically endless.

When I open a book I want to go on a journey with the characters. I want their words to take me away from the troubles of the world, and it doesn’t hurt if they also send my emotions on a brief roller coaster ride.

I do think I tend to look at books from a perspective that’s different than that of the average reader. I say this, because in my lifetime I’ve experienced a good deal of things that most people do not. In fact, many of those experiences haven’t been at all pleasant. And I certainly hope you never have to see or learn of those things first hand. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that my experiences have provided me with the opportunity to meet an array of people, both good and bad, with some living their lives in the middle of the road.

As an investigator, I’ve had the opportunity to study a wide variety of people, prying into their backgrounds, learning their innermost secrets and private behaviors. I’ve searched for weaknesses and strengths, and throughout my career I’ve found that the ability to “read” people can be the key to solving crime. And, the ability to read people—to understand their motivations and actions and why they do what they do—makes me look at characters in books as if they were living, breathing people. It’s a habit. I take the time to study an author’s characters and their behaviors—the way they speak and move, their thoughts (if the author allows us to see them), and how the characters interact with others on the page.

Walter Mosley is an author whose characters ring very true to me. He has an uncanny ability to use dialog, dialect, and setting to breathe life into his stories. Sure, other writers are able to achieve similar results, but it is Mosley who somehow knows the “walk and the talk” that many others can’t quite seem to grasp.

The Last Days Of Ptolemy Grey is the story of an elderly black man who’s walking that fine line between dementia and reality. At 91, the walk is quite difficult, and Ptolemy often slips to the bad side of the line. He’s both physically and mentally frail—as fragile as a tiniest of silk threads.

A man of Ptolemy’s age did most of his living when times were different than what today’s generation experiences. It was a time when black men and women were treated badly and unfairly, even more so than what goes on today. Mr. Grey’s mind slips between today and “back then.” One moment he’s living in his filthy rat- and roach-infested apartment in a crappy L.A. neighborhood where muggings are part of daily life, and in the next instant he’s back in Mississippi watching as a mob lynches and sets fire to his beloved uncle and mentor.

Grey sleeps on the floor beneath the kitchen table because there’s no room anywhere else in the cluttered apartment. Besides, his bedroom is the room he shared with his precious wife who died long ago. He couldn’t stand the thought of sleeping in the same bed where he opened his eyes and saw her laying beside him, dead.

Ptolemy Grey’s days consist of listening to a single news station on the TV, and a classical music station on the radio. He doesn’t change the channels because he doesn’t know how to return the dials to his favorites. His entire world revolves around the war in Iraq and Mozart, and young healthy men killing one another in the streets over drugs and money.

Grey’s grandnephew, Reggie, is his only connection to the outside world. Reggie drops by once in a while to take the frail old man to do his grocery shopping. Grey’s life is quickly turned topsy-turvey, though, when Reggie is killed in a drive-by shooting. Another nephew shows up to help Grey with his shopping, but he steals most of his uncle’s cash, thinking the old man won’t know the difference. This nephew also takes Grey to Reggie’s wake where Ptolemy, a child in an old man’s body, meets a 17-year-old girl, Robyn, who is all alone in the world. The two form an instant bond and Robyn takes it upon herself to help Ptolemy regain and retain his dignity during his final days.

Ptolemy is obsessed with “making things right” with his life before he dies, and he knows the time is near. He’s nearly 92, after all. And he’s aware that he slips between today and “back then.” He understands that he sometimes gets confused and doesn’t remember the simple things.

So, Robyn gives Grey’s apartment a thorough cleaning, and she sees to it that Ptolemy’s basic needs are met. She takes him to a doctor who offers the old man an experimental drug that will tame the dementia, but only for a short while, because the drug will eventually kill him. Grey agrees, believing he’d made a deal with Satan, and he begins his quest to make things right. With a new found spring in his step, Grey also decides to seek revenge against the man who killed Reggie.

The Last Days Of Ptolemy Grey is a love story. It’s also a story where the reader is allowed to see the world through the eyes of someone suffering from dementia. It’s about family (or the lack of), and their selfishness and/or selflessness. It’s a tale that kept me turning the pages until I had the last one in hand, wishing for more.

Walter Mosley delivered Ptolemy Grey to the world back in 2010 when this book was first published, and meeting him was an extraordinary experience for me, because as a police detective I’ve met numerous Ptolemy Grey’s—each living in squalor, desperately trying to speak the words they once knew. They were frail men who could barely shuffle their way from a kitchen littered with dirty glasses, cracked plates, and iron skillets caked with bacon grease and rodent droppings, to the bedroom where a 5-gallon lard tin served as a toilet. Their nephews and nieces stole their guv’ment checks and made fun when their uncle’s sentences came out as a jumble of nonsensical babble.

To many, Ptolemy Grey is merely a character in a book. However, there’s a real-life Ptolemy Grey living somewhere near you. Sure, his name will be different. In fact, the neighborhood kids probably call him Mr. Jones, or Mr. Taylor. But they’ll all know where the old man with the walking stick lives. The old man who says crazy things at times.

Don’t believe he exists in your town? Well, ask a police officer if he/she knows him. I’ll bet they do.

*The Last Days Of Ptolemy Grey was published in 2010. It’s just as powerful today as it was then.


James Lee Burke's Creole Belle

I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it again here…open the cover to a James Lee Burke novel and you’ll instantly be doused with swamp water and the combined scents of meat fires and crab boils. Burke is undoubtedly the master of painting vivid pictures using words as his choice of medium, and a blank page as his canvas—he’s Manet meets Norman Rockwell.

Creole Belle is a tale of passion for the bayou and rage toward anyone who dares to threaten Dave Robicheaux’s precious Gulf coast. It’s a convoluted story with intricately detailed flavors of the mob, stolen and forged art, white slavery, Nazi war criminals, BP’s oil gushing into the waters of the Gulf, tar balls, the blues, and the love of fathers for their daughters, even if one of those daughters is a hired “hit-woman.” Actually, Burke unleashed a plot so splendidly thick and layered and lavishly decorated with all the trimmings, that readers may worry about the book’s bindings giving way at any moment. But the danger of the book coming apart is, as always, held together by the extremely strong friendship between Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell.

Dave and Clete plow through the pages, searching for Tee Jolie Melton, a young blues singer. Along the way, Clete finds the daughter he never knew, Gretchen, and Dave is bursting-at-the-seams-proud of his daughter, Alafair, who’s hard at work writing a novel.

During the hero’s journey, there’s plenty of action, plenty of heartache and angst, and plenty character flaws that ring true on many levels.

There’s also plenty of violence in this book; however, it’s violence that, while sometimes over the top, forces the reader to turn the pages again and again.

Clete barrels his way to the final chapter in traditional Purcell style—sex, drugs, alcohol, and a little Boogie-Woogie to help it all go down. Dave, on the other hand, pushes back when his old nemesis—alcohol—comes calling. But his determination and drive shoves him down the only path he knows, the right one. And he’ll stop at nothing, short of killing an innocent person, to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the crime du jour.

Emotions run high in this book, as high as the Spanish moss that lifts and flutters in the pre-storm breezes, like fine lace gently sprinkled over the branches of live oaks. Ghosts from both Dave and Clete’s past appear in the story to remind us of the daily struggles facing soldiers who’ve seen the worst of the worst.

I highly recommend Creole Belle. Sure, Dave’s a little off-center when it comes to following department rules and regulations, and, to my horror, Burke actually brought out the dreaded “c” word (cordite) in a line on page 363—“Clete and I had stayed high on booze and racetracks and the smell of cordite and…” Still, the book is a great read.

I feel I must warn readers who may be new to Burke’s work…this may not be the best book to start your journey with this author. I suggest dipping your toes in the water first, by picking up a copy of one of his earlier works. Then hang on tightly, because James Lee Burke is an author who, once his writing sets its hooks in you, will never let you go. You’ll be a fan for life.