Tracee de Hahn:Writing What She Knows About Switzerland and Kentucky

RJ:        I’m happy to welcome Tracee de Hahn back to MurderBooks, today, where she shares her thoughts on the often-stated, often-debated advice to writers: “Write what you know.”


TD:       I tune in to Murder Books to hear from ‘those in the know.’ The men of Murder Books have been there, in the thick of crime and investigation, from a variety of perspectives. When they say that’s how an officer of the law, or an attorney, or a PI would react, I trust them.

This fits with the trope write what you know. That said, it is commonly acknowledged that there are limits to this advice. After all, we hope no author tests the waters of murder in order to create a compelling villain. Write what you know is often modified to write what interests you. Genuine interest brings the author into the space and place of the story.

RJ:        You started your fiction-writing career with mysteries set in Switzerland where you got an inside view of life and culture there. What was that like?

TD:       I write a mystery series set in Switzerland, a place I know well having lived there for several years with my Swiss husband. When I think about Agnes Lüthi and her life and the lives of the people around her, I focus on what intrigued me. As a non-native I remember what stood out as particularly novel or iconic. I know the native habits that made me laugh (or tear my hair out). These aCoverArt(SV)re the details sprinkled in to bring the places to life: fondue as a real meal (check), extreme interest in everything the neighbors do (check), obsession with timeliness (double check). Luxury watches, fabulous art collections, ancient castles, picture postcard scenery and international boarding schools. All there.

RJ:        So, what’s coming next from the pen of Tracee de Hahn, and does it fit into the write-what-you know universe?

TD:       Right now, I’m working on a mystery set in Kentucky, where I grew up, attended college, and lived for many years afterward. This is as near to write what you know as I can get. What have I learned from the experience? First, that many things that are regarded as interesting and distinctive by ‘outsiders’ are so much a part of the everyday fabric of life in Kentucky that it is easy for me to gloss over them. When you truly know a subject it is easy to presume others are as familCoverArt(WTM)iar. I’ve learned to slow down and fill in the pattern. What is background to me, is foreground for a reader less familiar with the place and its people: thoroughbred race horses and bourbon distilleries blending tradition with modern life, the cosmopolitan culture of the city of Lexington sharing state borders with the isolated mountain culture of ‘bloody Harlan.’ And I haven’t even touched on the state religion, basketball. Writing about Kentucky has been a lesson in examining the details of a life I know well.

I hope the Kentucky series will find a home in the publishing world. I’m anxious for this part of my past to see the fictional light of day and promise to paint a picture that is just enough reality mixed with invention to satisfy the natives and the arm chair travelers equally. (This is where I add: Go Cats!)

Tracee de Hahn is the author of the Agnes Luthi mysteries set in Switzerland where she will spend this fall, testing the fondue and sampling local white wine. For more information visit her at

Author Survival Tactics

Brian Thiem: When I entered police work some four decades ago, instructors and supervisors stressed Officer Survival, principles, tactics, and mindset that would allow us to survive a career that is full of perils. Among other things, they talked about having and using the right equipment to prevent, or at least mitigate, physical injuries as we did our job.IMG_0639

We writers don’t face threats of having bullets puncture our bodies, tearing our knees during foot chases, or destroying our backs when wresting with resisting subjects, but I know many writers with back, neck, wrist, and eye problems caused by long hours, day after day, and week after week sitting and working on a computer.

When I began writing a few years after retiring, I quickly began suffering pain and discomfort after a few hours of work, likely exasperated by the damage already done to my body by my previous career. I needed a solution.

Writing Space: Not all writers have the luxury of their own dedicated writing space. Stephen King wrote his first novel sitting in a chair in his laundry room with a typewriter atop a board balanced on his knees, and I know successful writers who cart their laptops from coffee shops to the living room sofa to the kitchen table.

I was lucky to have my own home office with a desk and computer table, a place where I could control my environment (noise, light, temperature), and surround myself with all the stuff I needed, like notebooks, post-its, dictionary, thesaurus, and other reference books and materials.IMG_0640

Chair: When I was working Homicide, I suffered a debilitating back injury. I spent months in physical therapy, and the first two doctors the city sent me to recommended me for a disability retirement. I gutted it out and was allowed to stay, but the city sent their OSHA people to my office to examine my workspace.

He was appalled at the thirty-year-old desk and chair I sat in. He ordered risers to lift my desk two inches so I could sit up straight and sent over an ergonomic chair. Within a few months, my pain subsided a bit once I sat erect and stopped hunching over my work.

External Monitor: Years ago, I gave up my desktop computer for a laptop, allowing me the flexibility to write when traveling or even outside on nice days. However, writing on a laptop brought me back into a hunched over position. That was fine for short periods but caused back and neck discomfort when I worked that way for weeks on end.

I bought an external monitor, attached it to my laptop, and set it up level with my eyes so I could sit with my back and neck straight. The other advantage was the screen was large enough to have two windows open simultaneously, so I could work on my manuscript on one side while referencing the internet, my plot outline, or character information on the other.

Eyes: One of my favorite reporters came to my office one day when I commanded the homicide unit. He complimented my office layout, with my ergonomic chair, raised desk, editor’s desk for writing and reading, but noted I was squinting. He told me that he had the same problem, since he also worked in an office with ancient overhead florescent tubes—lights that actually flicker on and off many times a second. Some people’s sensory systems can detect the flickering, which can cause eyestrain and headaches. He suggested I get a super-bright desk light, as he had, which cancels out the effects of the dimmer overhead tubes. It worked.

I never needed glasses until I was in my forties. First, I needed them for reading, but by the time I had retired, I wore progressive lenses. I could see my laptop screen okay with my glasses, because it was about the same distance as something I read, but the external monitor was farther away. After developing neck pain and headaches when working for a few hours, I realized I was tilting my head up to bring the sweet spot of my progressive lenses in line with the screen.IMG_0638

My ophthalmologist had me measure the distance between my eyes and the computer screen when I sat straight, and he set me up with single-vision computer glasses.

Keyboard, Mouse, Docking Station: Once I started using an external monitor, I needed to get a separate keyboard and mouse. I went to Staples and paid around $20 for both. After a few years, they stopped working, so I spent another $20 and got new ones. Then a writer friend told me about keyboards used by professional gamers and computer programmers. You know, those guys and gals whose fingers fly across the keys with super speed and precision (not that my fingers do). I tried one and fell in love. Every key clicked audibly when depressed and each one required the exact same touch. No longer did I miss a letter because my fingers didn’t hit a key exactly right, and no longer did I end up with unintended letters because my finger touched a key accidentally. I spent nearly $100 for one and never regretted it for a minute.

I also use a wireless mouse on a pad with a nice wrist rest, which I find very comfortable when editing and doing a lot of cutting and pasting.

When it was time to replace my laptop a few years ago, I splurged and added a docking station. No longer do I need to unplug a half dozen cables when I want to take my laptop on the go. With the docking station, all I do is press a button and the laptop is free. When I return, I snap it in place and I’m reconnected to all the amenities of a desktop computer.

Rest Breaks and Exercise: I take a break from the computer every hour or two when working. I get up, walk around, maybe get a drink (normally ice tea), and stretch my back, neck, legs (anyone else ever get hamstring cramps when writing?), and shoulders. I might check my phone for emails and calls before I sit back down. And I do something physical every day, gym workouts, golf, walking, or bicycling.

I’m jealous of those who can draft a novel on a laptop resting on their thighs as they sit cross-legged in bed or slouched on the sofa without becoming a cripple. But I need every advantage available if I want to continue my new writing career without adding any new physical ailments.

Brian Thiem, wishing all writers a healthy and pain-free future.

Being Published

Bruce Robert Coffin: The other day I was scanning through some of my old blogs when I came upon Being Published. I wrote this three years ago, after receiving an invite to guest blog for the Maine Crime Writers. As the two year anniversary of the publication of my debut novel approaches, I couldn’t think of a better blog to revisit.

The other day someone asked what it felt like to have one of my stories published. I told them it felt great. Of course. What else would I have said? My answer was short and direct, although as I think back on that moment, not entirely truthful. The truth is beyond words.

My writer friends have been a constant source of encouragement. Saying things like, “don’t worry it will happen,” and, “your writing is good, it’s just a matter of time.” But as the years passed I began to worry. Do I really have what it takes to break through the barrier? The unpublished writer’s corner? I wondered…

In spite of the ever present specter of doubt, I worked hard on rewriting and re-editing my first novel, crafting new short stories and rewriting and re-editing those, again and again. I had trusted friends and relatives read my work and offer their opinions and advice. I continued to enter contests and submit my work to publishers and agents. And I continued to add to my collection of rejection e-mails.

If you’ve never received one, I can tell you first hand that notices of rejection from the publishing world are funny things. They look suspiciously like Dear John letters. Designed to soften the blow, they say things like, “We thoroughly enjoyed your story,” or “your work shows real promise.” Well written and pleasant, but rejections just the same. As painful and heartbreaking as if they’d come from an ex-girlfriend to someone actually named John.

You can drive yourself crazy. I reacted differently each time I received a rejection. Sometimes I’d feel depressed. Other times I’d be angry. Pissed that they’d failed to recognized the brilliance in my writing. I thought, what possible story could someone have penned that was better than the one I’d submitted? Jeesh. But then I’d take a step back. Eventually, reading the work of the writers they did publish. Wow, I’d think. That story really was better than mine. I’d love to write a story that good. Then I’d look at the rejection e-mail again. It wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe they really did like my story.

So, I climbed back into the saddle of my trusted steed (my IPad), vowing to continue my quest. To push on toward that holy grail of publication. Being able to hold my head up high as I walked among the published writers, knowing I belonged. That I was one of them. From that day forward whenever someone I’d just met asked what I did, and I answered that I was a writer, I could mean it. When they asked the enviable follow-up question, where can I find your work? No longer would I have to mumble, oh, I’m not published yet, before slithering away to some dark corner in search of alcohol or a high ledge. I’d be able to actually tell them! Maybe they’ll want a signed copy of my work? Sure, I’ll say. Happy to do it. Who should I make this out to?

The truth is, when I awoke on that memorable Tuesday morning and checked my email, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The word congratulations hung there on the screen. Surely this must be spam that somehow made its way into my inbox. Who else begins an email with congratulations? Certainly not a publisher. Obviously, In my pre-coffee state I was hallucinating. The SPAM must have been right next to another rejection email and I’d jumbled the words together in my mind. I was sure that when I looked back the email would tell me that I’d won a free four day trip to the Caribbean, or maybe a surprise gift, all of which would only cost me three easy payments of $999.99.

I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Congratulations. It really was from a publisher. I jumped out of bed and did a short awkward version of the Snoopy dance. Thankfully, there were no witnesses. I located my wife in the next room. Wanting to appear nonchalant, I calmed myself first. When I told her the news, she let out a squeal of delight. I think I might have let out a squeal too. I was over the moon. Giddy with excitement. Insert any other tired cliché for thrilled that you can think of, here.

Time has passed. I’ve read that email at least a hundred times. Shared the news with others and tried to get a handle on the idea of finally getting published. What does it mean? What it means is working harder. Writing more and honing my craft. In the past week I’ve penned a new short story and returned to the task of re-editing my first novel. Neither of which feels like a burden any longer. Now that I’m a published writer.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, this newly published writer has a lawn to mow.

Re-Reading the News

The Trial of the Month for August reminds me that social issues, like human virtues and flaws, may never be completely original. They merely represent a repackaging of our time-weary conflicts.

At the end of the 19th Century, Chicago teemed with militant labor unions. Many of the low wage employees of the city’s factories were recent immigrants to the country, mostly of German descent. The workers’ push for an eight-hour work day brought them into conflict with the manufacturers and industrialists of the city, chief among them, Cyrus McCormack. Chicago had fallen into a depression in 1884. Class awareness, the struggle between haves and have-nots reached new heights. Labor organizers maintained that the wealthy lived extravagantly while cutting wages for their poorest workers. Strikes and violence became common. The newspapers for both sides claimed the others printed false claims and sensationalized.

By the Spring of 1886, the push for the eight-hour day had swept the country. Chicago braced for Emancipation Day, the May 1st strike day in support of limiting the number of working hours. Huge crowds attended, and the day ended peaceably.

The speeches and rallies continued. On May 3rd, striking workers roused by speeches from the labor organizers clashed with replacement workers outside the McCormack factories. The police arrived, shots were fired and at least two strikers were killed.

Furious and aroused, a pamphleteer, August Spies, produced leaflets describing his version of events, finishing with the words, “To Arms, to arms, we call you.” Copies of the leaflet were delivered throughout the city, including to Grief’s Saloon, where a group of German immigrant anarchists met. They called for a meeting in Haymarket Square the following night, where “Good speakers will denounce the latest atrocious act of the police.” 149186-004-8001C041

On the night of May 4th, the rally began at 7:30. Overcast skies threatened rain. The crowds were relatively small, estimated at 3-4,000. August Spies led off the speakers. He stood on a wagon above the crowd and emphasized that this was to be a peaceful demonstration. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss and not to provoke a riot. He was followed by another labor leader, Albert Parsons. Although he concluded with a call for all Americans who love liberty to arm yourselves, his remarks were considered tame. After Parson’s speech, Chicago’s mayor who had observed the rally from atop his white horse saw no threat to public safety in the gathering and rode home.

The final speaker, Samuel Fielden, took a different approach. Although the impending rain reduced the crowd to approximately 300 listeners, he urged them to “lay hands on [the law] and throttle them until it makes its last kick. A police captain stepped to the foot of the wagon and shouted orders for the gathering to disperse peaceably. Fielden reportedly agreed to end the rally. riotscene

As he concluded, a bomb flew over the crowd and landed among the assembled police officers. The explosion killed and wounded the police. They began firing into the crowd, hitting and scattering civilians. The Haymarket Riot lasted only a few minutes but by its conclusion seven police officers died and at least sixty more were injured. Many were shot by officers firing wildly.  At least four civilians were killed.

“Let us whip these slavic wolves back to the European dens from which they issue, or i[n] some way exterminate them,” read an editorial in the Chicago Times. August Spies was arrested. Fielden, recovering from a gunshot wound he received, was also taken into custody. Parsons fled into hiding before he could be arrested. In all, twelve men were charged with conspiracy including one man, Louis Lingg who was believed to be the bomb maker and thrower. (Rudolph Schnaubelt was also fingered as the bomber. He was arrested twice i53_766_873_595n the investigation and released. He fled Chicago and escaped to Europe. He was never tried.) Another defendant testified for the government. In all, eight men went to trial in the Haymarket case.

After the defense motions to try the defendants separately were denied, Parsons walked into the packed courtroom and joined his co-defendants at the defense table. He had been persuaded by the lead attorney, William Black, that his flight cast a pall of guilt over the defendants.

Things did not begin well for the defense. None of the jurors selected were immigrants, laborers or held radical political beliefs. The defense attorneys likely overplayed their hand during the trial. They labeled the police “knaves” for supporting the industrialists. They compared the defendants to Jesus, “the ultimate socialist.”

One witness claimed to have seen Spies light the bomb. Another allegedly saw him talking to Schnaubelt, the believed bomb-thrower. Most testified that the bomb did not come from the speakers’ platform and that Spies and Fielden remained there until the riot. The prosecution also overwhelmed the jury with dangerous bombs and radical literature. The defendants testified, denying knowledge of the bomb or participation in the horrific events at Haymarket Square. Although Parsons and other conspirators had left by the time of the bombing, the prosecutors argued that they created the climate of violence.

The judge gave the jury his instructions on August 19th, 1886. The defense attorneys argued that the prosecution’s case was built on passion and prejudice. They challenged the jury to abide by the rule of law or “it will haunt you to the grave.” The prosecution, meanwhile, urged the jury to convict. Acquittals would bring radicals into the streets “like rats and vermin.”

By noon on August 20th, the jury returned verdicts. Convicting all eight and sentencing seven of the men, including Parsons, Fielden and Spies, to death. Parsonsexecution labeled the proceedings “judicial murder.”

Governor Ogelsby of Illinois subsequently commuted the death sentences of Fielden and another conspirator. They were the only two who asked the governor in writing for relief. Lingg committed suicide by biting a dynamite cap that had been smuggled into his cell. The remaining four defendants were hung together at noon on November 11th, 1887.

In 1893, the three surviving defendants were pardoned by then Governor Altgeld. He lost the next election. Forty-five years later, in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act imposed the eight-hour work day.

Literature has chronicled the Haymarket Riots and the subsequent trial. Howard Fast, most famous for the story of the Roman slave Spartacus, wrote The American, a story of Governor Altgeld. The novel lionized Parsons, the defendant who emerged from hiding to join his comrades.

The trial and the events leading up to it, present claims of biased reporting, fake news, the link between immigration and terrorism, xenophobia as well as police/community relations and police use of deadly force.

Rather than a novel about the Haymarket, perhaps I’ll read my local paper. Most days I find the same issues there.

Mark Thielman

Absolutely Certain


The New York City subway system has made me a smarter person.

Bold statement, perhaps, but allow me to explain.  In this previous blog post, I shared about my still recent quasi-move to New York.   As I’ve settled in to life in the big city, I’ve had to make some adjustments to my daily routine.  As I’ve written about frequently here, I travel.  A lot.  To make me feel a bit more connected to home, my normal routine had been to spend my morning ablutions and commute streaming one of my local radio stations from Louisiana.  Ever since my early private eye days, listening to either radio or audiobooks during long surveillances and long commutes had become an ingrained habit, and this one small step made me feel closer to home.

But here, the commute is not in a rental car between yet another airport and yet another hotel.  No, here the commute is spending quality time with a couple of hundred strangers locked in a metal can leagues under the surface of the earth.  Yeah, it’s just as much fun as it sounds.  Among the multiple surprising, um, benefits this commute has to offer is the lack of consistent wi-fi or cellular data.  No streaming local radio show.  Bye bye, routine.

So, it was time for a new habit.  I elected to explore podcasts I could download to my phone and enjoy independent of an internet connection.  With the near-infinite selection afforded me, I chose to be very intentional about what topics I would explore.  None of the stand-up comedians’ shows.  None of the entertainment industry updates.  And for the love of all Republican and Democrat gods, nothing political.  Instead, I committed myself to things that would truly stimulate some worthwhile thinking.

The podcast world, in all its splendor, did not disappoint.  Each one I’d pick would engender additional recommendations based on my choices.  Freakonomics, TED Talks, Stuff You Should Know, Curiosity, Hidden Brain, and so many more.  I found myself engrossed in discussions about a myriad of topics I never would have even thought to wonder about otherwise.  Can animals use currency?  What does drowning feel like?  Did Lizzie Borden really give her mother forty whacks?

Between my own conscious choices and the creepy-but-dammit-it-works Apple algorithms, I came to recognize a pattern in the podcasts now dominating my mornings and evenings:  we humans don’t know what we think we know.  “Facts” from historical events that we all just knew were true, simply weren’t.  Things we’d dismissed as merely folk legends might just have a horrifying basis in truth.  (Do some research into the actual facts behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin and then try to sleep – go on, I dare you.)

But I found this pattern to be true on a more personal, social level as well.  Most Americans agree that the mainstream media is biased against a certain political view.  But what if I told you that both the right and the left believe this?  They can’t both be correct, can they?  No sacred cow was safe from the Founding Fathers, to gun rights, to immigration reform, to Climate Change, to very modern debates like Net Neutrality:  the generally accepted “facts” are sometimes based on little more than vapor.

But the real disturbing things come when you look into our own brains and how they work.  We’re so certain of our own memories.  But example after example, double blind study after double blind study, they all indicate that the things we remember with such certainty are just plain wrong sometimes.

We humans can be tribal.  We want our tribe to be right.  We want to answer those nagging questions so much that, I believe, sometimes we forego critical thinking in favor of accepting more comfortable “truths.”  As an investigator, it’s impossible for me not to think of the times when everybody “knew” what had happened, but the evidence painted a different story.

This disconnect, this feeling of all our certainty being stripped away, can be unsettling.  Frightening, even.  For a people who want all the answers, having to admit we don’t know something can go against the grain.  We want to know that we’re right, and that our opponents are wrong so much that all our so-called certainty divides us so starkly that there can never be common ground.  I’ve come to believe there’s a form of arrogance in that sort of certainty.  There can never be dialogue if we can’t even admit that maybe, just maybe, the other side might have a point.  But if we can do that, if we can excise ourselves from these new Towers of Babel dedicated to our oh-so-impressive modern intelligence, then I think real wisdom awaits us.

The ancients knew this.  My personal faith tradition’s sacred texts tell me to “lean not into my own understanding, and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Socrates told us that “wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”  All of these sentiments agree that true wisdom begins with the recognition of something beyond ourselves.  I think my favorite musing on this topic comes from a decidedly more modern source.  Don Henley sings, “the more I know, the less I understand.”  That resonates with me to my core.

When it comes down to it, I do believe in absolute truth.  But I’m wary on the human that claims to have the definitive lock on what that absolute truth is.  Everything I’ve been reflecting upon suggests that there is such wonder, grandeur and beauty in our world that refuses to be confined in our tiny, finite brains.  The sooner we can accept that with humility, the sooner we can begin to understand it on a deeper level.  I truly believe this.

In fact, I’m certain of it.


-Ben Keller

Interview with Sherry Harris: Wicked Cozies, Garage Sales, and the Redneck Riviera

Please join me in welcoming Sherry Harris to the blog, today. Sherry is the author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries, published by Kensington Publishing. Her debut, Tagged for Death, was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Along with a grouSherryHarris(HeadShot)p of New England mystery writers, Sherry is one of the WickedCozyAuthors bloggers. In early September, Sherry will become national president of Sisters in Crime. Please join me in welcoming Sherry to the blog, today.

MB: You have a new series coming out. What’s the premise? Who is the main character? Where will the stories be set? When will it be out?

SH: The main character is Chloe Jackson. She promises a friend that if anything happens to him in Afghanistan she will go help his grandmother run her beach bar in the panhandle of Florida aka the Redneck Riviera. When he dies Chloe arrives in Florida to find out her friend’s grandmother doesn’t want her there. Chloe doesn’t know a Manhattan from a Tom Collins and can barely open a bottle of wine. But her background as a children’s librarian gives her an uncanny knack for dealing with difficult patrons. It will be out sometime in 2020.

MB: How did you come to write mysteries?

SH: Growing up my house was full of mysteries and thrillers so they were my first love when it came to reading. So as an adult when I decided to try writing a novel it was a natural choice to write mysteries.

MB: Tell us a bit about your next book.CoverArt(GunAlsoRises)

SH: The sixth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries is The Gun Also Rises. I was so excited to incorporate a bit of history – the Hemingway manuscripts that disappeared in 1922 never to be seen again. That is until Sarah finds them in the attic of a house. However, they are quickly stolen again setting Sarah on a dangerous journey to find them.

MB: Where did the idea for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries come from?

SH: I confess the idea for the series came from my Kensington editor, Gary Goldstein. However, I’ve always loved garage sales and the first three chapters of the book magically whooshed out of me. If only all writing was that easy.

MB: What’s the coolest thing you ever bought at a garage/yard sale?

SH: Oh, this is such a hard one. I’ve been asked before and I think I give a different answer every time depending on my mood or recent purchase. But in the early 1990s we were living in San Pedro, California. A friend and I went to a garage sale in an exclusive neighborhood. I found a claw and glass-ball foot table with a ‘price firm’ sign on it. I bought it anyway. A few weeks later I found an identical one at an antique store priced seven and a half times higher than I paid for mine. It still makes me smile.

MB: Your website says you’re a patent-holding inventor. What did you invent, and how did your “inventiveness” come about? Will there be more inventions?CoverArt(BidLastSummer)

SH: Swapz is a fashion accessory that allows you to change the look of your eyewear. You can switch your look to match any mood or occasion. Support your favorite team one day, celebrate a holiday the next, show off your bling or indulge your wild side with leopard print, all with quick snap on front or side pieces. I came up with the idea when I was shopping with my daughter. She was looking at two pairs of sunglasses and couldn’t decide between a pair with a leopard print running across the top or a pair with rhinestones. I said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just switch those top pieces out?” I mentioned the idea to friends and we’ve been working on it since. I do have other ideas taking up space in my head. The valuable lesson learned with Swapz is how long it takes to get a patent and how hard it is to bring something to market.

MB: What are you reading, these days? Who are some of your favorites, outside the mystery genre?

SH: I just finished Dark River Rising by a guy named Roger Johns. I loved it and I can’t wait (really any old ARCs laying around? Or word documents? Just kidding I’ll wait, but I’ll be first in line) for River of Secrets to come out on August 28th! As for other genres – I was just looking over my reading list and it is almost all mysteries and thrillers. I do occasionally read some women’s fiction (I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine this year) and romance. I love Jane Austin and Shakespeare.

MB: What advice do you have for folks who want to write cozy mysteries?

SH: Find a fresh twist and voice. Write about something you love or are interested in researching. Study the genre and the craft of writing.


MB: Your dog, Lily, is the cutest dog in the solar system: Strongly Agree or Strongly Disagree

SH: Ha! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this.

MB: Later this summer you will be installed as the national president of Sisters in Crime. Congratulations and best wishes for your time in office. What has your journey to this position been like, and what motivated you to get so deeply involved in this organization?

SH: Thank you! Many years ago, at Malice Domestic, I met Julie Hennrikus who told me about Sisters in Crime and encouraged me to join. I’ve met so many wonderful people through that chance meeting. I was first involved at the chapter level when I joined the New England chapter. When we moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake chapter and eventually became their president. I volunteered for a position with National and the rest is history. I believe I was published because I joined SinC – the networking opportunities and the friendships led me to a publishing contract. Otherwise, I might still be sending out query letters and getting rejected.

MB: Can you give us some insight into the initiatives and challenges that will come before the membership during the Harris administration?

SH: I want to make sure that all crime fiction writers find SinC a welcoming home, a place to respectfully exchange ideas that pertain to our mission to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers. The ongoing challenge is to make sure people know who we are and that we are here to help them in their writing careers.

Sherry Harris is an independent editor, a member of Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime New England, Sisters in Crime Chesapeake, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. Her fifth Sarah Winston Mystery, I Know What You Bid Last Summer, was released in February 2018. You can find her books wherever books are sold. Please visit her at

Sherry was interviewed for MurderBooks by Roger Johns, the author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books.

Blessed Be the Wicked: A Fine Start to a New Series and a Great New Voice in Crime Fiction

by Roger Johns

DABartleyHeadshotI really enjoyed reading Blessed Be the Wicked. Books that promise to take me on a journey into a place, and a culture that I’m not familiar with certainly have the power to intrigue, and this one definitely delivered on that promise. The author of this tale well-told is D. A. Bartley, a member of Daughters of Utah Pioneers who traces her family history back to the earliest days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though she spent much of her childhood in Utah, she has also lived in Scotland, Germany, France and Russia, and now lives in New York. D. A. has worked as an attorney and an academic, but her life-long love of mysteries finally lured her into the fold of crime fiction writers, and we should all be glad of that.

This book opens with a stunning crime. A prominent businessman is found dead in the closet of a brand new McMansion in Pleasant View, Utah – his throat slit. It might be murder. It might be suicide. Whatever happened, nearly everyone in the Mormon-dominated local police department is uneasy because the scene is steeped in the trappings of a controversial ritual once practiced by some members of the Latter-day Saints. Everyone agrees that they must get to the bottom of the death, but the powers that be, fearful the truth will portray the Church in an ugly light, want the investigation kept low-key and wrapped up fast.

Abish Taylor, a prodigal daughter who left Utah, left the Church, and distanced herself from her family whose roots extend back to the early days of the LDS, has recently returned from the big city to become the sole detective on Pleasant View’s tiny police force. From the start, her quest for the truth puts her at odds with her superiBlessedBeTheWickedCoverArtors, her father (a prominent Mormon scholar), and high-ranking members of the LDS hierarchy.

In Blessed Be the Wicked, the setting and the investigation are inseparable elements of a story that gives the reader a fascinating view into LDS history and practices, how it touches and shapes the lives of contemporary members, and how it fits into the secular society that surrounds it. All of the characters, even the secondary ones, are rendered with such clarity and authenticity that it’s easy to be drawn into their world and easy to understand the power that social and religious forces bring to bear on individuals and groups.

Tension runs high between the needs of the investigation and the wants of the community and keeps the pages turning. More than once, Detective Abish Taylor’s fierce devotion to principle made me think of the against-the-odds and against-the-prevailing-norms battles fought by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jake Brigance in A Time to Kill. This is a really well-done debut mystery, and I’m hoping it’s only the first of many encounters with Detective Abish Taylor. She’s complex, determined, and very human. And even though her investigation leads her into some rather dark places, this story has some light-hearted and tender moments that make the book very absorbing. Bartley’s attention to detail and her obviously deep knowledge of her subject matter make Blessed Be the Wicked nearly impossible to put down.

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