Friday, December 19, 2014

The "Are You an Author?" Weekly Link Round-Up

Last Friday I set out for The Poisoned Pen to attend their 25th birthday party. There was lots of food, plenty to drink, and a steady stream of authors (like Craig Johnson, Jenn McKinlay, Donis Casey, Diana Gabaldon, Dana Stabenow and many, many more) who were all more than willing to chat with all us readers who showed up. 

Author James Sallis and his band arrived early to set up their equipment, and although some of the older celebrants voiced unease at the possible type of music that would be played-- as well as its volume, I remained optimistic as I watched guitars, banjos, mandolins, violins, cellos, and other instruments being lovingly unpacked and set up.

I recognized and chatted with many fellow readers who showed up to celebrate, and I met many new faces, too. One of the things on many folks' agendas seemed to be picking everyone's brains for new authors to read. (Excellent idea since there were so many of us there!) For a little while I felt as though I'd posted a "Book Recommendations Here" sign above my head, and at one point I had a little group around me writing my suggestions down in notebooks. I noticed a second group standing outside the one that was currently picking my brain, but all I could do was smile. One person took advantage of an opening between bodies and a lull in the questions, and she stepped up to ask me, "Are you an author?"  "Oh no, I'm just a reader!" I said. That seemed to confuse everyone in that second group when she went back to make her report. 

All the people attending this party made it a roaring success. It's what happens when book lovers get together. For twenty-five years, Barbara Peters and the staff of The Poisoned Pen have given our community so much. I'm looking forward to the future with great anticipation.

And while I'm doing that (and smiling about many things that I didn't tell you about the party), I'd better share all these links. Head 'em up! Move 'em out!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits
  • J.K. Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling is going to be turned into a series for BBC television.
  • HBO is inviting fans to collaborate on the Game of Thrones Compendium
  • Researchers at the University of Leeds (UK) have found what they believe to be the first travel-sized library.
  • What kind of reader are you?
  • I love this Scottish crime fiction map, and the wit who stated that some of these authors write "in a darker shade of plaid."
  • Blessings on all those who are involved in the running of these nursing homes. Nursing homes are NOT warehouses! 
  • I know the photograph was taken in Arizona, but it sold for $6.5 million
  • Summertime readers turn away from eBooks. I think the person who wrote the article missed out on an obvious reason.
  • On the other hand, the maritime industry embraces eBooks and digital newspapers.
  • This tongue-in-cheek article stating a Native American council has offered amnesty to 220 million undocumented whites made me laugh, but it also points out the reason why so many people need to get off their high horses when talking about immigration woes. We are ALL immigrants. Immigration problems are not new. They haven't been for a few centuries.
  • Why do some people avoid commercial eReaders?
  • Australians have shown the world exactly how to respond to terrorism with #IllRideWithYou.
  • The bookstore that bewitched John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Greta Garbo.

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones
  • Two new species of pseudoscorpions have been found in a cave on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. (And here you thought new species were only being discovered in places like the Amazon rainforest or Borneo....)
  • Archaeologists have been investigating the lost ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion, which sank under the Mediterranean Sea thousands of years ago.
  • These people discovered treasure under the farmhouse, and they had no idea it was even there.
  • The eerie underwater ballroom of a Victorian mining tycoon.
  • They've found a Revolutionary War-era time capsule in the Massachusetts state house. 
  • Just what exactly can you deduce from the art on a 2,400-year-old Egyptian coffin
  • A newly discovered dinosaur had an eagle face and was the size of a crow.
  • While doing some renovations, these Czech homeowners discovered items hidden by Jews during World War II.
  • I know I told you about the man who discovered a long-lost masterpiece when he saw it being used as a prop in the film "Stuart Little." Well, the painting has been sold in Hungary. 
  • Here's why Roman concrete has lasted for 2,000 years.
  • French archaeologists have discovered the tomb of a royal wife in Luxor, Egypt. 
  • Still in Luxor, restoration is complete, and for the first time in 3,200 years this colossal statue is standing once again.

The Happy Wanderer
  • The 15 best drone photos of 2014. 
  • Here's what the Grand Canyon looks like when it's completely filled with fog.
  • Although some of these are too over-the-top for me, some of these 25 mesmerizing outdoor Christmas lighting displays are quite nice.
  • 12 must-do experiences in Arizona. (My list is longer-- especially since most of these seem to be in the Tucson area. Tucson is great, but Arizona is a big state!)

I  ♥  Lists & Checking Them Twice

Book Candy
  • Serious Temptation #1: an I Brake for Bookstores license plate frame. 
  • Serious Temptation #2: an I Brake for Libraries license plate frame.
  • Too bad most homes are too small for one of these "book couches" (and I imagine the shipping from Italy would be pretty steep, too).

That's all for this week. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ho Ho Humbug by Sue Ann Jaffarian

First Line: Suddenly, my life had become a John le Carré novel.

If you like a little murder and mayhem during your holiday season, author Sue Ann Jaffarian has served up two digital Christmas short stories that fill the bill.

Both star plus-sized series character Odelia Grey, a paralegal who solves mysteries in southern California. Do you have to know anything about Odelia before you begin reading? Not at all! (But don't be surprised if you find yourself looking for the books afterwards.)

The first story, "Ho Ho Homicide" has Odelia being acccused of killing Santa at the local mall. The second, "Ho Ho Hell" brings Odelia back to the very same mall with her mother where a near riot breaks out over a parking space.

Both stories are light-hearted fun that highlight experiences we've all had while shopping for gifts. (Well... maybe not that being accused of murder part.) They're perfect for some me time after doing your own shopping. Sit down, put your feet up, sip some hot chocolate, and enjoy reading a few pages. You deserve it!

Ho Ho Humbug by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Arakel Press © 2014
eBook, 26 pages

Short Stories featuring Odelia Grey
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Double Fault by Judith Cutler

First Line: If this was retirement, why had he ever hesitated?

The police are facing more budget cuts, and if the force in Kent were any more short-staffed, they'd have trouble sending an officer out to issue a traffic ticket. All this couldn't come at a worse time for Chief Superintendent Fran Harman. Her wedding preparations are entering the final stages, and the multiple skeletons found in her garden have yielded a clue that a serial killer may be on the loose. Fran's case load  takes on yet another investigation when the young daughter of the tennis coach disappears from fiance Mark's club. It won't do a bit of good to look to the chief constable for support; all she can do is put her shoulder to the wheel and put in as many hours as it takes to get the job done, hope for the best, and remember to bring her crutches along.

When I think of the best crime fiction series that combine British police procedurals with the domestic lives of a wonderful cast of characters, Judith Cutler's Fran Harman series is one of the first two that come to mind. (The other is Deborah Crombie's Kincaid and James series.) If you're the type of reader who likes all the plot threads to be knotted and tied off by book's end, you may want to give Fran Harman a pass. Since her life is every bit as important as the cases she solves, some of those plot threads can take two or three books to resolve themselves. But if you're like me and love to bury yourselves in marvelous, nuanced characters and their lives-- as well as solve intriguing mysteries-- you're going to love this series. (It would be a good idea to read them in order, too.)

Fran's fiance Mark has retired from the police force, and one of the ways he's found to decompress and get some exercise is by joining the local tennis club. His expertise is badly needed when the little girl goes missing. For Fran, this case is of primary importance, and she purposely sets the case of the possible serial killer on the back burner while all stops are pulled to find the little girl before it's too late. One of the most interesting points made in Double Fault is how Mark's presence is both blessing and curse because, since he's retired,  some of the officers on the force consider him some sort of traitor. (Oh, that wonderful office politics!) There's a sense of urgency and foreboding in the little girl's disappearance that really increases the suspense and makes the pages turn faster and faster.

Of course Fran gives all her considerable talents to both cases, which have become mired in those budget cuts, staffing problems, and wranglings for promotion. Cutler does an excellent job of showing how the odds are increasingly stacked against officers who want to keep people safe. Many crime fiction authors who write police procedurals seem to stick with obnoxious superiors and leave the difficulties at that, but Cutler digs much deeper to show readers what all the problems are-- without once bogging down the plot.

From Fran, who can bring you out of your chair with one brusk command, make you laugh with one of her observations, freeze you with an icy glare, or wrap you in a hug; to Mark, who's dealing with family issues and the problems of the newly retired; to the women like Caffy Tyler who renovated their cottage and became honorary family; and on to suspenseful and absorbing investigations, I was completely wrapped up in this book. I can't wait to get my hands on the next one.  


Double Fault by Judith Cutler
eISBN: 9781780104805
Severn House Publishers © 2014
eBook, 224 pages

Police Procedural, #5 Fran Harman mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Borrowed Time by Jenn McKinlay

First Line: Lindsey Norris, director of the Briar Creek Public Library, strode across the library with her keys in hand.

Christmas time is fast approaching in Briar Creek, and library director Lindsey Norris has her hands full getting the library ready for the holidays and juggling the two men fighting for her affections. When her beloved world-traveling brother goes missing, all the preparations and juggling get cast aside. There's no question that Jack comes first.

Since police involvement could spell trouble for her brother, Lindsey begins to investigate this very strange case concerning the South American coffee business, but she's going to need the help of her book club buddies and her two eager suitors to save Jack.

On Borrowed Time has more of what we've come to expect from author Jenn McKinlay: a fast pace, endearing characters, a book lover's dream setting, and plenty of humor. She's even pushing the envelope a bit-- and with some success, too.

Lindsey's brother Jack has been alluded to in previous books in this series, but readers haven't had the chance to meet him until now. I liked Jack, although I have to admit that I had misgivings about the plot revolving around him. Bringing international intrigue into a cozy traditional mystery is definitely pushing the envelope, and I would imagine that it's not going to set well with some of McKinlay's fans. I can go along with it because there's no law saying that characters in traditional mysteries all have to have small town jobs. It's more likely that someone like Jack-- who's an economist and travels the world-- would encounter murder and mayhem than a small town library director in Connecticut. Moreover, Jack's piece of the story brought me smack into the middle of the scene I liked the best: Lindsey and friends' plot to foil the villains, which takes place at sea. In fact, there's more than one scene taking place on open water, and I thought both of them were excellent. There's a bit of a thriller writer in McKinlay, methinks!

It may be wishful reading, but I also detected signs pointing to the end of Lindsey's romantic triangle. Ever since Janet Evanovich's neverending  Stephanie/Ranger/Morelli tease (that I got sick of and stopped reading many books ago), I find I have extremely little patience for that particular narrative device. In On Borrowed Time, Sully's and Vine's behavior was childish, and I just wanted to smack both of them and make them go stand in the corner.

I'm looking forward to the next Library Lover's mystery with a great deal of anticipation, but I also feel that McKinlay's wanting to try something new. Whatever she decides to do, I'll be one of the first in line to find out what it is!

On Borrowed Time by Jenn McKinlay
ISBN: 9780425260739
Berkley Prime Crime © 2014
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #5 Library Lovers mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Kind of "ist" Are You?

You Are a Realist


You are a very down-to-earth person, and you are the type most likely to simply accept reality. Like everyone else, you have dreams. However, you are determined to work with what you have... not with what you might get.

You live in the moment, and you often are tapped into all your senses. You experience everything fully and completely. You look for the middle path, as difficult as it may be to find in life. You see moderation as the key to happiness.


Jeff Cohen (AKA E.J. Copperman) at The Poisoned Pen!

In this age of budget cuts and knotted purse strings, publishers are loathe to send authors out on tour, preferring that publicity be done through social media. Therefore, in order to spread the word about their books, many authors have to pay for their own tours, and that's exactly what Jeff Cohen (also known as E.J. Copperman) did this past week. My favorite bookstore was one of his five stops, so Denis and I hustled over to The Poisoned Pen on Wednesday, December 10, so I would be able to see this author who's made me laugh so  much.

This jet-lagged man showed up an hour early. He reminded me a bit of me during my coast-to-coast training days, showing up in unfamiliar places to look for unfamiliar faces so that I could start doing what I was there to do. To my surprise, he sat down with Denis and me to chat, and before we knew it, it was time to join the other fans who'd shown up. What a very special treat for me (and I sincerely hope I didn't bore his socks off)!

"We need a new you...."

L to R: David Hunenberg and Jeffrey Cohen

The entire event felt like an informal chat amongst friends, partly due to the smaller size of the group and partly because none of us held back with questions or comments. One of the very first questions Jeff had to field was about writing under two names. Jeff has written two series as Jeffrey Cohen-- the Aaron Tucker books about a former investigative reporter and aspiring screenwriter, and the Double Feature mysteries about the adventures of Elliot Freed, the proprietor of an old movie theater. As E.J. Copperman, Jeff writes the Haunted Guesthouse mysteries, and the first book in his Asperger's series, The Question of the Missing Head, was released in October. The sixth book in his Haunted Guesthouse series, Inspector Specter, has just been released. A New Jersey man, Jeff has set all his series in his home state.

Before his first Asperger's mystery was released, his publisher approached him about using a different name. Basically the publisher told him, "The problem with your books is you're you, and we need a new you."  Having talked with other authors who write under more than one name, I knew that some publishers prefer this, believing that if an author is writing a new series that's completely different from the series he's already known for, it's better to release those under a different name. It's always interesting to learn all the different reasoning, isn't it?

"It never comes up."

Available Now!
Cohen's Haunted Guesthouse series was a departure from his previous two series in that he writes these books in a woman's voice. Cohen gets asked how he can do that all the time, and he told us about meeting Spencer Quinn at a convention. Quinn's books are written from the dog's point of view, so Jeff asked him, "Do you ever get asked about how you can write in a dog's voice?" Quinn looked at him and replied, "It never comes up."

In all the work leading up to the release of the first Haunted Guesthouse mystery, it was decided that Cohen should publish these under a different name. There are many women who won't read books written by men-- much to the puzzlement of everyone in the room. (The general consensus of us all was "Why limit yourself?") Jeff said that the search for a new name was a long and painful one. Someone didn't want initials to be used because that's supposedly a dead giveaway that someone of the opposite sex is writing the books. In the end, no one could find a name that they all agreed on, and "E.J. Copperman" was born-- a combination of the names of Cohen's son, daughter, and dog.

As originally planned, the main character in the Haunted Guesthouse series was going to be a house flipper who'd buy a house in a different town in each book. It's a good thing that idea wasn't used because three months after everything was signed, sealed, and delivered, the real estate market tanked.

"I don't remember if the ghost was my idea or my editor's," Cohen told us. "But having one of the ghosts be a detective is what they call the franchise idea, and it gives the main character Alison a reason to get involved in solving the mysteries." 

"I'd rather make you laugh."

Jeffrey Cohen
"I'm not interested in writing scary books; I'd rather make you laugh," Cohen said. "That's why the ghosts in this series are more annoying than anything else."

One person in the group said that she admired Alison for all her do-it-yourself know-how in fixing up her old house. Cohen just happens to live in an old house. "I have knowledge and can do things, but Alison is much better at fixing things than I am. And now there's a contractor who lives right across the street--"

One of our group nodded wisely and said that's where most of his money goes now. Cohen said, "I refer to it as adding to his child's scholarship fund," which made us all laugh in sympathy. Jeff and his family had lived in that house for about a year when a leak developed in the bathroom off the kitchen. The plumber went down to the basement to find out more about the leak and came back to tell Cohen that there was nothing underneath the shower to hold it up. No joists, no floor-- nothing. A shower that had been used at least once a day for a year. Everyone's imagination began to run riot, picturing how they would react to that news. "Alison's now running into things that I don't know how to do," Jeff said. 

The seventh book in the Haunted Guesthouse series is now at the publisher and needs a title. It doesn't contain a renovation project. Jeff solicited us for possible titles as well as a possible renovation project for the eighth book. (Someone suggested an outdoor shower since the guesthouse is so close to the beach, but the author didn't look very enthused at the idea.) In books one through six, Paul the ghost detective was always the enthusiastic one about pursuing the investigation while Alison didn't want any part of it. The seventh book sees a reversal in this pattern when someone Alison idolized as a teenager is involved.

"The Alex Trebek of detectives..."

Available Now!
The main character in The Question of the Missing Head is Samuel Hoenig, a young man who wasn't diagnosed as having Asperger's until he was in his teens. Even if he'd been diagnosed earlier, he couldn't have been given the early intervention treatments that are available today. 

Samuel believes that his condition is a personal disorder and people should just get over it. He opens a business called Questions Answered. "Samuel is the Alex Trebek of detectives," Cohen said. "He will only help someone if the person words his request properly in the form of a question." It takes someone from a cryonics lab a while to figure this out and finally ask Samuel who stole one of their frozen heads.

Cohen's son has Asperger's, but the character of Samuel is nothing like his son. "I just wanted to get inside the head of someone who doesn't think like everyone else," Jeff told us. 

"I don't do research."

Jeffrey Cohen
Jeff certainly knows how to grab people's attention. "I don't do research," he said. "If you've come to my books for actual hard facts, you've come to the wrong place." 

Momentarily thrown off stride by his remark, one member of our group mentioned that many of Cohen's characters are parents. "Yes, I write parents a lot," Jeff admitted. "I truly enjoy being a father. Alison's dad is based on my own father, and I get to spend time with him this way."

Back on track, Cohen mentioned that most people diagnosed with Asperger's have at least one area of intense focus. In his new series, Samuel Hoenig's fixations are the Beatles and baseball "because I know enough about these subjects to avoid doing research." As he paused, he was asked about the cryonics in The Question of the Missing Head. "I did lie. I had to look up cryonics," he replied.

The second Asperger's mystery-- The Question of the Unfamiliar Husband-- is at the publisher's now and will be released next fall, with the next Haunted Guesthouse book due out next December.

When asked if he'd ever considered writing a non-humorous book Cohen said, "I can't do serious. I can get depressed on my own; I don't need help. I write comedies that have mysteries in them. My books are all about the characters and being funny while whodunnit is important because it drives the plot."

"Just get it done and fix it later."

David Hunenberg and Jeffrey Cohen

Cohen then chatted a bit about the craft of writing. He's written twenty-four screenplays but has yet to sell one. He made his living writing for newspapers and magazines, and the first hint that he could actually write a book came when he took a ghostwriting job for someone in Los Angeles.

Since Cohen writes series published by two different companies, he was asked what his relationship with his editors was like. "I love my editors. The first three books I wrote were handled by an editor working out of his basement in Baltimore. And I'm crazy about Shannon [his editor at Berkley]-- she lets me get away with nothing."

The author also teaches screenwriting at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "My best strength is writing dialogue," he confessed before going on to tell us about how he sold his first book.

"I went to and typed 'mystery novel' in the search box. The search results listed 150 publishers who accepted mystery novels. If there's one thing that freelance writers know how to do, it's how to write a great cover letter. I wrote one and sent it to every single one of those 150 publishers. I got one response. The man told me 'Make me laugh in the first ten pages.' I sent him ten pages. A few minutes later I got his response: 'I laughed on page 3. Send me the whole book.'"

Jeff is an old hand at writing. He knows that if he writes 1,000 words a day in three months he'll have a manuscript that will be turned into a book. "I usually write in the afternoon or at night, but I can write at any time as long as I have some sort of premise. My philosophy is just get it done and fix it later, which is why I don't believe in writer's block.

"When I write, I like to paint myself into a corner and then have to figure my way out." He wrote a scene in one of his Aaron Tucker mysteries in which Tucker-- in an attempt to impress the police that he knew what he was doing-- talked about obtaining DNA at the scene of the crime. "The police tell him, 'We did. We got a hair from the scene. We got a hit from that hair, a man in Texas who killed six people.' Aaron said, 'Go arrest him!' The police officer replied, 'He was executed in Texas seven years ago.' And that's an example of having to write myself out of a corner!"

It was so much fun talking with this man, but all good things must come to an end, so after one of the group won an Inspector Specter T-shirt (complete with a quote from beloved New Jersey resident Bruce Springsteen), we had our books signed, and the event was over. 

It's one that I'll remember for a long, long time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Just Like Riding a Bicycle Weekly Link Round-Up

Just last week I was telling a friend that I'd neglected to get around to knitting the scarf garland for my Christmas knitting tree even though I've had the yarn and needles for almost a year. In fact, I was worried about being able to remember how to knit. You see, it's been a good thirty years since I've handled a pair of knitting needles!

Tonight after coming home from The Poisoned Pen (and another fun event that I'll tell you about Monday), I decided to bite the bullet. As you can see by the photo to the left, my brain evidently thought knitting was related to riding a bicycle. The bright red "eyelash" yarn that I'm using definitely gives it a tinsel look, and I'm going to leave it on the needles and attach it to the yarn ball topper before draping it around the tree. Once I got started, I didn't want to stop! When I'd done about four rows, I laughed and held it up so Denis could see it. "Look!" I exclaimed. "I feel like I'm making caterpillars!"

I did have some bright idea about how to smoothly transition between my knitting and the links I've rounded up for you, but short term memory obviously isn't in the same league as bicycle riding and knitting.

Head 'em up! Move 'em out!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits
  • A remake of Stephen King's It has been confirmed by the producer. (I didn't have too much of a problem with clowns until I read this book....) 
  • Another example proving that death isn't always the answer: killing wolves to keep them from killing sheep is backfiring. The interesting part is why.
  • An unpublished Raymond Chandler story has been discovered in the Library of Congress.
  • Here's an infographic showing what kids want in books.
  • Libraries are reinventing themselves in the Digital Age. 
  • A digital library is opening in Omaha, Nebraska, next fall.
  • Sixteen years ago, a doctor published a study. It was completely made up, and we've been getting sicker ever since.
  • The future of used eBooks will be determined on December 23.
  • The book collection of Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing is being given to libraries in Zimbabwe.

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones
  • 540,000-year-old shell carvings may be our human ancestors' oldest art.
  • An ancient pond and a bronze fingernail cleaner hint at a Roman settlement in England.
  • The ongoing work on a subway line in Rome is uncovering all sorts of goodies like an ancient farm and tools, and a huge water basin.
  • Sixty classic cars have been found in France in what's being called the King Tut of barn finds.
  • A mysterious "ghost" ship has been rediscovered off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. 
  • You may know that Coco Chanel was one of the premier fashion designers in the world, but did you also know that she was a Nazi spy? 
  • Why would a town in Poland have a huge Jewish festival when none of its residents are Jewish?
  • Chicago's Field Museum has lifted the lid on an Egyptian coffin containing a mummy. 
  • Six people have been arrested for looting antiquities from Israel's Cave of the Skulls.
  • A surface survey conducted at Old Sarum in England has revealed an underground medieval palace.
  • A 150-foot-long Viking feasting hall has been unearthed in Sweden. 
  • Scientists are now able to find all sorts of secrets hidden within parchment.

The Happy Wanderer

I  ♥  Lists
  • 17 cozy reading nooks to get you through the winter. 
  • Do you have some literary stockings to stuff? How about bookmarks

That's all for this week. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll share a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Skin Deep by Timothy Hallinan

First Line: In that crowd, Mr. Beautiful and the Korean girl shimmered like millionaires in disguise, minor gods slumming incognito.

It's bad when you really need the money and the only job you can get is one you definitely don't want. Private investigator Simeon Grist is down to his last dime; otherwise, he would not accept the job of playing watchdog/nursemaid to Toby Vane, the sweetheart of prime time television. Toby has a secret that could bring ruin to his fame and fortune: once in a while he likes to beat up a woman-- and almost any woman will do. 

When some of the women who hang around Toby start turning up dead, Grist needs to find out if he's protecting a killer, or if one of Vane's enemies is setting him up to take a hard fall. When the beautiful Nana appears on the scene, the whole thing turns extremely personal within the blink of an eye.

When you love two series that an author has written and you discover that he's written a third, you're going to go out of your way to find the books in that unsampled series. That's what I did when I found out that favorite author Timothy Hallinan had written the Simeon Grist series well before I fell in love with his others featuring Poke Rafferty and Junior Bender.

What I found in Skin Deep was a beginning effort by someone who was trying to make his writing fit into the standard P.I. format. Skin Deep has its problems, but it shows a lot of promise and hints of Hallinan's later heroes, Poke and Junior. 

The pacing of the book was slow at times and could've been tightened up, and although I liked Simeon, there wasn't enough background on him. (Probably rule #1 in the P.I. author's handbook: Never give too much away about your hero.) I have to be honest here and say that what I disliked most about the book are things that I usually don't like about P.I. novels-- everyone seems to be a sleezeball, the violence, and that arch tone that makes me grind my teeth. So if you love the standard private eye novel, chances are you're going to enjoy this one a lot more than I did.

What I did enjoy was catching so many glimpses of the writer Hallinan was soon to become. He is a writer who doesn't really fit within the confines of any one standard genre, and it took him a little time to figure out how to turn things to his (and our) advantage. The unconventional-- yet very satisfying-- solution reminded me of things Poke Rafferty and Junior Bender would do in future books. And-- like Junior Bender-- Simeon Grist knows Hollywood gossip, legends and history. On the surface, Simeon Grist looks and maybe even sounds like one of those 1930s tough guy gumshoes, but down deep he has the soft heart and smarts of those two Hallinan characters I've already mentioned. 

Skin Deep may not have been a completely satisfying read for me, but I did enjoy going back to see one of my favorite writer's "origins."

Skin Deep by Timothy Hallinan
ISBN: 098283022X
Hallinan Consulting © 2010
Originally published in 1991.
eBook, 318 pages

Private Investigator, #1 Simeon Grist mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Amazon