Saturday, May 22, 2021

Hairdresser Sleuth Trims Down Suspect List in Death at the Salon by Louise R. Innes


Scott D. Parker

Daisy Thorne owns the Ooh-La-La hair salon in the small English town of Edgemead. As is her routine, she takes care of her last customer, cleans up the place, and, on that evening, amid a torrential rainstorm, leaves out the back door. It is there when she discovers Mel Haverstock, lying on the ground, Daisy's own cutting shears jutting into the victim's back. 

Well, that's not good. But, she does the dutiful thing and reports the crime to the local police. DCI Paul McGuinness arrives and surveys the evidence. By-the-book guy that he is and despite their prior relationship in solving another crime, McGuinness does the only thing the evidence suggests: brings Daisy in for questioning. She's got motive: Mel and Daisy were not the best of friends back in high school. She's got the weapon: those were Daisy's scissors in Mel's back after all. She's got no alibi: she was alone in the salon. And Daisy's DNA is on the victim's clothes. What's a cop to do? 

Well, what's an amateur detective to do but clear her name while staying often one step ahead of McGuinness's own investigation.

As I've mentioned before, I'm reading lots of cozy mysteries in 2021, a genre I've barely read in the past. I call it Cozy College and the primary reading list is the Cozy Corner subscription service through Houston's Murder by the Book. This book list is curated by the bookstore's own John McDougall and Death at a Salon is the April selection. To date, John has selected first-in-series books, but Death at a Salon by Louise R. Innes is the second. The first book's events were referenced through this current book, but you really don't need to have read Death at a Country Mansion to enjoy Death at the Salon.

And boy did I enjoy this novel. Up until now, my favorite of the Cozy Corner books was February's Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop, but Death at the Salon might take the top spot. I'm a fan of the various BBC mystery shows that make their way across the pond so that probably plays a factor. This book has all the Englishisms I've seen in those shows, like tea drinking, small-town settings, and a nice and varied cast of characters. But if you don't like the lead character, any book or TV show falls apart. Happy to say that Daisy is delightful and instantly likable. 

She keeps her cool under pressure, but still comes across as real. She fears for herself were she not to clear her name and hurts when other things happen to folks she knows. Author Louise Innes plays out the subtle romantic thread between Daisy and Paul very well, especially as the events put a strain on their delicate relationship. For his part, Paul is nicely characterized not simply as a gruff policeman nor as the hunk Daisy pines for, but as one who likes Daisy yet still has a job to do. Those two positions clash within him as the story goes on, and it's fascinating to see how it plays out. 

Interestingly for an amateur sleuth, Daisy is actually pursuing an criminology diploma at a local college. I'm guessing it's because of her solving the first case, but I'm not sure. Thus, throughout the story, she'll drop some nugget she learned from her studies and apply it to the current case, even when that something is used against her, like when she's arrested for the crime. I found that to be actually realistic. 

What I especially loved was the ending. Taking a page from Agatha Christie herself and with the flair of Nick Charles from the Thin Man movies, Daisy and Paul bring all the suspects into the same space. I'll give you zero guesses as to the location. There, the true culprit is revealed. Innes does a great job at keeping the villain hidden from the reader, compelling you to keep turning pages. She is the author of twenty-five novels so she knows how to pace a story. It is effortless here and carried me to the last page.

Which is where I jumped off and found her website. She writes different styles of books under variations of her name. What's great about the site for the Daisy Thorne series is you can get a free ebook prequel by signing up to her newsletter. Done. You can also purchase the first book in the series, Death at a Country Manor. Done. And, later this year, the third book in the series, Death at Holly Hall will be published. I'll eagerly be waiting.

In the accompanying postcard he includes with the paperback, John mentioned he wanted to feature a story not set in America. I reached out to John this week and asked him why he selected Death at the Salon. "Part of the reason was the release date. Because cozy readers tend to stay up on new releases I'm trying to pick current titles that they hopefully haven't picked up yet. But I also really loved the first in the series. There are some great British cozies that revolve around bookstores and libraries, but a salon is a perfect setting for a cozy, and I'm surprised we don't see more of them. They're ideal community hubs for gossip and sleuthing. I'd been looking for the right non-US set book to feature, and Innes's combination of setting and characters is really wonderful."

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Beau loves Dove Season


This week Beau takes a look at Johnny Shaw's excellent Dove Season.

A dying man might ask for anything: forgiveness, a compassionate ear, a cold glass of water.  Jimmy Veeder’s father asked him for a Mexican prostitute.

DOVE SEASON is a contemporary crime novel set on both sides of the Calexico/Mexicali border.

It has been twelve years since Jimmy set foot in the desert.  But as his father’s cancer spreads, Jimmy returns to share what little time they have left.  He never expected to be sent into the Mexicali underworld in search of a hooker named Yolanda.  With the help of his erratic-at-best childhood friend Bobby Maves and too much beer, Jimmy stumbles among the violent, the exploited, and the corrupted of the border town.

Finding Yolanda proves to be the easy part.  What follows forces Jimmy to confront family secrets and question everything he held to be true about his father.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Dana King on Leaving the Scene

Scott's Note: Dana King is back at Do Some Damage this week, talking about his new police procedural and sharing some of his ever-evolving thoughts about the form.

Happy to have him back, and here's Dana:

First, thanks again to Scott for providing a place to flog the new book. Leaving the Scene, Volume 6 in the Penns River series, drops May 17 from Down & Out Books. Scott’s routine generosity is much, and always, appreciated. 

The eternal debate about realism vs. entertainment has long been a favorite topic of mine. Over time I have concluded it’s a false choice; there is no reason realism and entertainment can’t go hand-in-hand. 

Shows like CSI and NCIS lean too far to the side of entertainment. Much of what they pass off as state-of-the-art technology either doesn’t work as depicted or doesn’t exist. On the other hand, a blow-by-blow description of an investigation would be, as Mark Billingham once said, “dull as ditchwater.” First, lone wolf cops and detectives breaking stone whodunits happen about as often as total eclipses. Cops—and most PIs—work in teams, and quite often a computer is a key part of the team, and it’s not like the goofy chick on NCIS typing like a maniac for ten seconds before telling Mark Harmon who their suspect is, what he looks like, his criminal and military records, where he lives, where he is right now, who he’s dating, who he’s cheating with, how he likes his steaks, and his favorite color.

There’s a happy medium. You can’t write a contemporary crime story and ignore technology; it’s too pervasive in society. The trick is in how much to use, and in what level of detail to describe it. The Wire was superb at this. The cops talked about PEN registers in such context they never had to explain them. All we needed to know was there is a thing called a PEN register that lists all calls made and received by a given number. Not who called or what they said, just the number. Often that’s enough to lead to the next stage of an investigation.

Sticking with The Wire, there was the matter of cloning pagers. Again, no bells and whistles. When the other cops didn’t know what that meant, the one who did (Lester Freamon, I believe) simply told them it’s setting up a computer so that any page received by the cloned pager comes to yours as well, and that it required a court order. That’s all we needed to know.

I set my police procedurals in impoverished Penns River in part because I don’t want to have to deal with the current state of the art, nor do I want the stories to be outdated by the time they’re published. Cops still most often break cases by asking questions and following up until they eliminate everything but the truth. A lack of cutting-edge technology can actually help such a story. For instance, DNA tests often take from six-to-eighteen months to come back. That makes them unwieldy to use in a fictional investigation (real cops aren’t crazy about it, either), but it can be a useful plot device. At the very least, I can write about the availability of DNA, sending it out to be tested, then having my cops acknowledge they’re not going to wait on the results.

Fingerprints are another example. Fiction implies a decent set of prints—sometimes even a single print—will lead to a suspect’s name. If only that were true. The database often sends back twenty-five (or so) likely matches; it’s up to the cops to winnow them down. How they pick through the chaff deals with people and dialog, which is far more entertaining.

There are multiple advantages here for fiction writers. First, and most obvious, is how we can add red herrings or send stories down interesting, but blind, alleys (which happens to cops only all the time), allowing you to add plot twists that are not only surprising but believable.

The second advantage may be the most important. Readers may show up on juries. How would you like to be a defendant in a case where jurors feel they are experts in criminal procedure because they’ve seen every episode of Law & Order? We all share some responsibility to reflect the real world as much as possible, as most people think art imitates life a lot more than it does. True, we can’t afford to be a slave to realism (remember “dull as ditchwater”) but we pride ourselves on our creativity. Use the skill to bend realism to our needs instead of feeling constrained by it.


Dana King has earned Shamus Award nominations for two of his Nick Forte novels, A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. He also writes the Penns River novels, of which Leaving the Scene is the sixth. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, most recently The Eviction of Hope. You can get to know him better on his website, blog, Facebook page or Twitter (@DanaKingAuthor).

You can get Leaving the Scene here.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Compelling Collections


Sometimes it's better not to commit. Take a little time to figure out what your looking for or what's right for you. An anthology can be a great way to meet new writers, as in the JUKES & TONKS title or read several tales by one author, as in the Junji Ito collection. Jump in and start reading. 

edited by Michael Bracken and Gary Phillips

Crime Fiction Inspired by Music in the Dark and Suspect Choices

Publication Date: April 19, 2021

The stories in Jukes & Tonks introduce you to many sinners and few saints, love begun and love gone wrong, and all manner of unsavory criminal endeavors. What the stories have in common is that they plop you down in worlds where the music pulsating from the compact stage—if there’s a stage at all—provides the backbeat for tales that are unsparing, heartbreaking, twisty, and a few are as dark as the night, and the blinking sign offering live music is an invitation to the unexpected.

Contributors include Trey R. Barker, Michael Bracken, Jonathan Brown, S.A. Cosby, John M. Floyd, Debra H. Goldstein, Gar Anthony Haywood, Penny Mickelbury, Gary Phillips, William Dylan Powell, Kimberly B. Richardson, and Stacy Woodson.

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection 
by Junji Ito

Publication Date: April 20, 2021

An innocent love becomes a bloody hell in another superb collection by master of horror Junji Ito.

Ryusuke returns to the town he once lived in because rumors are swirling about girls killing themselves after encountering a bewitchingly handsome young man. Harboring his own secret from time spent in this town, Ryusuke attempts to capture the beautiful boy and close the case, but…

Starting with the strikingly bloody “Lovesickness,” this volume collects ten stories showcasing horror master Junji Ito in peak form, including “The Strange Hikizuri Siblings” and “The Rib Woman.”

Houses Burning and Other Ruins 
by William R. Soldan

Publication Date: May 07, 2021

Desperation. Violence. Broken homes and broken hearts. Fathers, junkies, and thieves. In this gritty new collection, one bad choice begets another, and redemption is a twisted mirage. An ex-addict takes a detour with his young son and comes face-to-face with an old drug dealer and an unsettled debt. A down-on-his-luck gambler visits his estranged sister while figuring out his next play. An Iraq War vet fights a personal battle to reconcile life as a civilian. Three boyhood friends stumble upon a dark secret in a rural dump. These and the other troubled characters that inhabit the streets and alleys of these stories continually find themselves at the mercy of a cold, indifferent world as they hurtle downward and grapple for hard-won second chances in a life that seldom grants them.