Wicked Wednesday – Crime Podcasts

NEWS FLASH: Ginny C is the winner of Brooklyn Bones from Triss! Check your email, Ginny.

Happy Wicked Wednesday! A while back, I’d mentioned podcasts in a blog post. One of our readers said they’d love to hear about the Wickeds favorite podcasts – so here we go! This week we’re talking about – what else – our favorite crime podcast. So Wickeds, what’s yours?


Barb: It’s strange to me that though I don’t like true crime on television, I love true crime podcasts. Like many people, I got hooked with season one of NPR’s Serial, which Bill and I listened to in two obsessive days on our annual drive from New England to Key West. Now one of my major favorites is CRIMEandSTUFF created by sisters Maureen and Rebecca Milliken. Mystery author Maureen’s journalism background shines through in this well-researched crime podcast, and both sisters know their popular culture cold. There’s a focus, though not an exclusive one, on New England crime, so I am often hearing much more indepth stories on events I’ve read one or two articles about, or have vaguely heard happened in the past. They’re on summer hiatus now, but there are thirty-one episodes stockpiled for you to enjoy. Totally recommend!

Sherry: I haven’t ever listened to a podcast. I’m always intrigued by the ones I heard about but never get around to listening to them. One day…

Liz: Barb, like you the first Serial hooked me. I’ve been dying for something just as good! I did like S-Town, though I wouldn’t consider that a true “crime” podcast, even though it was an amazing story. I have a whole list of new ones to try though, including Criminal and Missing, which got great reviews.

Edith: Like Sherry, I’m not a podcast convertee. I did sign up with (or is it, downloaded the app for? #mustgetwiththeprogram) a podcast service on my phone, but I only used it once to listen to and episode I’d missed of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” the NPR news quiz show I adore. I always listen to the show on Saturdays, so I guess I was utilizing their podcast as an archive.  Like with TV – when would I listen to podcasts? When I walk I listen to birds and talk to myself about my plot. When I drive, it’s either all that news I didn’t catch at home, or on a long-distance solo drive I snag an audiobook from the library.

Readers: do you listen to podcasts? What are your favorites?

Guest: Triss Stein, Inspired by Facts

Edith here, happy to welcome Triss Stein back to the blog! She has a new mystery out – Brooklyn Wars – in a series I love. And she’s giving away a copy of either this book or Brooklyn Bones, the first book in the series, to one commenter here today.BrooklynWarsCover-ONLINE

From the earliest days of the Republic until the administration of LBJ, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was, proudly, both an arsenal of democracy, in FDR’s words, and the creator of 70,000 local jobs. In time it became best known as the scary place New Yorkers had to locate to rescue their impounded cars. And then it came back to life, but not without a war.
Erica Donato, under pressure to complete her dissertation about changes in Brooklyn neighborhoods, watches as a community meeting becomes a battleground over plans to redevelop the once-proud Yard. That night, on the Yard’s condemned Admirals’ Row, she witnesses the shocking murder of a power-broker.
 Erica once again discovers “what’s past is prologue” to both murder and to her life.



What do these random items have in common?

  • A flock of bright green tropical parrots live on a chilly northeastern urban college campus. No one knows where they came from. Sometimes they take a little trip over to a nearby park-like cemetery
  • A long-rumored, legendary underground tunnel at a major transportation hub was rediscovered found some years ago. Pirates? Bootleggers? John Wilkes Booth? All are suspected
  • Valuable stained glass windows have been stolen from old cemeteries and churches.
  • During World War II, damaged ships brought to a huge navy yard sometimes still held the bodies of sailors trapped below when the ship was hit
  • Before the Civil War there was a flourishing hamlet of freed slaves. Then it vanished into the growing city.BrooklynSign

Have you guessed? They are all about Brooklyn and they are one of the reasons I write mysteries that take place in different Brooklyn neighborhoods. How can I resist making these odd bits of history part of a story?

One of them made it into a book (in fact, inspired one), one made it into a story in my publisher’s anniversary anthology, Bound by Mystery, and three, well, I haven’t figured out how to use them. Yet.

TreeWhere did they come from? One was a story an old man remembered hearing as a boy, and two were in newspapers, and I am the person who remembered and looked for more. I worked for awhile in the neighborhood near a third. Those parrots? I’ve seen them in Green-Wood Cemetery, sitting all over the huge Gothic entrance and making quite a racket.  But I found out there are conflicting stories about their origins by researching online.

used to

Photograph by Anthony Russell, used with permission.

For the brand new book Brooklyn Wars, I did much research the old fashioned way. In the library. The book is set against the history of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, a large piece of real estate, and, at different times, a source of Brooklyn pride, of politics and of contention. I went in to Brooklyn history room and said, “Give me everything you have on the Navy Yard. ”  I spent a day taking notes, making copies and jotting down the names of books I might be able to buy on used books sites.

I looked for inspiring photos that captured a moment. Did I find them?? How about Senator Truman and his family, dedicating the USS  Missouri? How about some of the first women workers there, striding proudly out the gate?  I even found an old dissertation about the heated politics of the closing of the Yard.  Dry academia? There were dozens of possible plots in those pages.

poster3I love spending a day like that, looking for that one odd fact that focuses  a whole story. I always find one and sometimes several. My protagonist, Erica Donato, is a history grad student still working on her dissertation. She loves spending a day that way too.

It’s not impossible that writing these mysteries is an excuse to indulge my inner history geek . At least it gives me a reason to explore odd facts and odd places.

The next book, just getting started, will be about Brooklyn Heights, one of the oldest parts of Brooklyn and the very first official Historic District in New York city. And this is, after all, Brooklyn, a place where people have opinions. It was quite a battle.

Here is a Brooklyn Heights urban legend I was told by a colleague many decades ago, when I lived at the corner of Orange Street. It turns out to be, probably, true: an elderly descendant of an old Brooklyn family objected to streets being named for other old families. She objected so much she would take the street signs down late at night. The city finally gave in and renamed them for fruits.

Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

high res MIR copy

Do you know a surprising or fun fact about your town? And if you are a writer, have you ever felt compelled to write about it? Remember, Triss is giving away a copy of either the new book or the first book in the series to one commenter!

Triss Stein grew up in northernmost NY state but has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. This gives her a useful double perspective for writing mysteries about the neighborhoods of her constantly changing adopted home. In Brooklyn Wars, her heroine Erica Donato witnesses a murder at the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard and finds herself drawn deep into both old and current conflicts.


By the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea

by Barb, at the Jersey shore

What is it about the connection between human beings and bodies of water? Why do so many of us find a quality of peace and relaxation when staring at the ocean, or a favorite lake, that we find nowhere else? What is it about a rushing trout stream on a spring day that carries our troubles away with it? Is it because we’ve depended on the water for millennia for food, transport, cooling on hot days? Is it because our bodies are 60% water and we need it to live? Is it because we came from the oceans originally and that memory is somewhere buried deep in our primitive brains?

Our personal histories play into it, too. When I was growing up, both sets of my grandparents had places near the ocean, my mother’s parents in Sea Girt, New Jersey, and my father’s parents in Water Mill, Long Island.

My grandmother Ross would pick my brother and me up on the last day of school every year, and drive us out to the end of Long Island. We knew all the landmarks along the way, the strawberry fields, the windmills, the building shaped like a giant duck that was a market that sold, well, duck, what else? My grandmother’s father would visit her for the same two weeks, so I grew up knowing my great-grandfather well. His hobby was painting tiles and he would let my brother and I paint them, too and then we would take them to be fired. My grandparents belonged to a beach club on Flying Point Road and a part of every day was spent there. Then we’d stop at a friend’s pool on the way home, diving for pennies my grandmother threw in the deep end. Whatever we retrieved we kept to spend at the Penny Candy Store on the way home. I can still taste the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Later in the summer, my mother would deliver us for two weeks with her parents in Sea Girt. The Jersey shore was a different sort of place, more organized and built up in those days, with a boardwalk. In the mornings my grandmother did household chores while my brother and I agitated for the beach. If the day was overcast she would say, “Go out on the lawn and look up. If you see enough blue to make a Dutchman’s pants, we’ll go.” I’ve never heard the expression since, and I wonder if it is a New Jersey thing, vaguely insulting to the original settlers? My grandmother shared a rental umbrella and two lounge chairs with her friend, Rose Bigley, which would be set up by lifeguards with white zinc oxide on their noses while we waited. Rose and my grandmother would sit in the chairs and talk of grown-up things while my brother and I played in the sand and the ocean.

My parents started the tradition of renting a house for a week in Stone Harbor. It was their way of corralling a family that was spread out, of making sure the cousins grew up together. We evolved our traditions, of mini-golf and cut-throat Scrabble games, and, of course, daily trips to the beach, often two a day. For years a trip to Cape May kicked off my annual Christmas shopping. We did it for a decade and then the kids grew up, had summer jobs and the tradition ended.

When my mother died, my sister-in-law had only one request. “I want to go back to the beach.” And so we have, indoctrinating new in-laws and a new generation of grandchildren along the way.

From this experience, maybe, decades from now, when my granddaughter looks at the ocean, she’ll feel at peace. Or maybe that’s already inside her.

Readers: Do you have a location by a body of water that’s special to you?




Ask The Expert — Retired Detective Sergeant Bruce Coffin

Today we welcome back Bruce Coffin who is celebrating the release of his second novel in his Detective Byron Mystery series, Beneath The Depths. I really enjoyed the first book in the series Among the Shadows.

Bruce recent helped me get my police procedure details right as I was writing my sixth book. He is here today to answer more questions. Thanks so much, Bruce!

Did you always want to be a police officer? 

Not initially. I had actually planned to become a writer and attended college with that goal in mind. It wasn’t until I had a less than positive experience with a creative writing professor that I changed career direction.

What was the process for you to become a police officer?

I took the test for several of the local police departments before being offered a job with the Portland PD. Candidates are required to pass a number of things before they are sent to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Two written tests, polygraph test, psychological test, background check, credit check, criminal check, driver’s license check, several interviews (including the captain’s boards), a physical exam performed by a doctor, and a physical assessment. I’m still wondering how I ever passed the psychological (twice). Maybe they graded on a curve.

Has the process for becoming an officer changed since you joined the force?

Not all that much. The process itself has remained the same. The biggest difference today is the number of people turning out to take the exams. When I tested to become an officer literally hundreds of people would take the test. Many local departments have trouble getting even thirty people to show up. This shortage of candidates has resulted in many officers transferring laterally from other agencies.

What are three things we should know about being a police officer?

It can be the toughest of jobs when things go wrong. It can be the most rewarding of careers when everything is going well. And policing is a front row seat to the greatest show on earth, the human condition. I don’t regret a single day of my twenty-eight years on the job.

What was your favorite part of the job? Any interesting experiences you can share? 

Ha! There are too many to list. As for interesting experiences, you’ll have to read my novels.

If I get pulled over what should I do? 

Do what I do when I’m pulled over. Shut the car off. Keep your hands where the officer can see them. Stay in the car. Be polite. Traffic stops are one of the most dangerous things an officer can do, especially at night when visibility is bad. Don’t add to the officer’s stress level by acting out or arguing. Court is the place to make your case, not on the side of the road. Treat the officer like you would want to be treated. Remember they have no idea who you are or what else you may have recently been doing when they approach you. I know an officer who pulled over a driver for failing to dim their vehicle’s high beams. That particular driver was returning home immediately after raping a murdering a woman.

What do people get wrong when they are writing a character who is a police officer?

I get asked this question a lot. If I had to sum it up quickly I’d tell you to write a real character first. After you’ve created a believable character turn his or her world upside down by making them a cop. All writers are readers first, just as all cops are people.

How do you use your expertise in your books? 

The plots for my novels are fictional but I use as much of my own experiences as I can to make the stories as realistic as I can for the reader. Obviously I have to take a few liberties for the benefit the reader. In real life murder investigations sometimes go unsolved, but if I were to write my novels that way no one would want to read them. I make it a point to delve into the human and ethical struggles that police officers must confront every day. My novels are a way for those with no police experience to jump into the car with John Byron and Diane Joyner and race toward trouble from the safety of your couch.

How are you alike and different from your protagonist John Byron? 

I constructed John Byron by throwing myself into a blender along with some of the officers who trained me when I was starting out and a few of the officers I worked with over the years. The traits John and I share are that we tend to look at things the way many veteran detectives do and we both have an irreverent streak especially when it comes to interference in our investigations. As for our differences, John is struggling with alcohol addiction and his failed marriage. I am blessed with a supportive and understanding wife. And the fact that she has put up with me and my craziness for more than thirty-five years makes me one lucky guy.

What are you working on now? 

At the moment I’m hard at work on the manuscript for the third Detective Byron mystery, tentatively titled Beyond the Truth. I am almost three quarters of the way through first draft. Oh, and for those of you wondering, I have already begun plotting Byron number four…

Readers: Do you have a question you’d like to ask about being on the police force or about Bruce’s great series?

Bruce Robert Coffin is a former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11th, Bruce spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive.
Bruce is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mysteries from HarperCollins. The debut novel in the series, Among the Shadows, was released to rave reviews, appearing in several Amazon bestseller lists and topping the paperback fiction list in the Maine Sunday Telegram. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies including the 2016 Best American Mystery Stories.


Cliffhangers — A Love Hate Relationship

By Sherry enjoying unusually nice summer days for August in Northern Virginia

Almost everyone my age will remember the summer of “Who Shot JR” from the TV show Dallas. JR (a nasty, manipulative man) is shot, but the audience doesn’t see the killer and had to wait until the fall to find the answer. I don’t even remember who the killer was, but I do remember all the speculation.

The first cliffhanger I remember in fiction was in a Janet Evanovich novel High Five. At the end of the book Stephanie Plum calls a man and asks him to come over. He shows up, but we don’t know if it’s Joe or Ranger. I remember getting to the end and having mixed emotions about having to wait a year to find out. You can bet I bought the next book in the series as soon as it was published.

Shows from Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead to Friends to Downton Abbey have ended seasons with cliffhangers. And authors such as Susan Collins (Hunger Games series), Stephan King (Dark Tower series — readers had to wait six years for the next book), and J.K. Rowling have all ended books at a suspenseful moment.

There is some disagreement about what a cliffhanger is. Some people think it’s any ending that leaves an unanswered question which means books like Gone with the Wind, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Gone Girl are books with cliffhanger endings. To me those endings seemed more ambiguous than cliffhanger. While researching cliffhangers I came across a Pub Crawl blog by Erin Bowman. You can read the full blog here. She makes a distinction between hooks and cliffhangers. It resonated with me.

One of the reasons cliffhangers are on my mind is because of how my fourth book, A Good Day to Buy, ends. The reaction to the ending has been interesting. People either enjoyed it or hated it – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. I wrapped up the crime, but I didn’t wrap up Sarah’s relationship woes. When I started writing the book it wasn’t with the idea of ending it with a hook big or small. It just came about naturally as I wrote the book. Sarah has a big life decision to make. I didn’t have room for another 20,000 words to resolve it. And I’m not sure seeing every little details of her though process/angst would make for interesting reading.

People are passionate about the topic. If you search “cliffhangers” you find lists of books and TV shows. One list on Goodreads is: Ending That Make You Want To Scream.

Novelist Charles Reade said, “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.”

Readers: How do you feel about cliffhangers or hooks at the end of a book? Have you ever used one in your writing? How did readers react?







Wicked Wednesday – Favorite Murder Method

It’s Wicked Wednesday again! Some of you might remember the time the Wickeds were interviewed for the Boston Globe. One of the questions we were asked was, What’s your favorite murder method? So I thought it would be fun to revisit the question and see if any of our answers changed!

So Wickeds, what’s your favorite way to off someone?

Julie: I am old school. I like poison. I find it fascinating, unexpected, a bit passive aggressive, and confounding.


Barb: I don’t think I have a favorite murder method. I remember being flummoxed by the question from the Globe. But for the Maine Clambake Mysteries, I like to tie the murder weapon to the subject of the books. I used the clambake fire in Boiled Over, and the victim gets tangled in the lines under a lobster boat in Musseled Out. There’s another murder weapon like that coming up in the seventh Maine Clambake Mystery, Steamed Open, but no spoilers!

Edith: Like Julie, I like poison. I’ve taken inspiration from Luci Zahray, the Poison Lady, a Texan pharmacologist who gives talks to writers about readily available poisons. In recent books I’ve used liquid nicotine (yes, that stuff you put in vaping “cigarettes”) and rosary peas, and worked Tylenol and whiskey into a short story. I blogged about her a few years ago here.

Sherry: I don’t think I really have a favorite method but have had a few of people die by getting whacked on the head. Many of my killers have struck out in anger instead of carefully planning out a murder. It seems to me that is how most murders occur — in a moment of crazed thinking. I love that the murder weapon is on the cover of my first book, Tagged for Death.

Jessie: No question, blugdeoning. It allows for endless creativity of improvised weaponry and it makes it far more possible for a wide range of suspects to have done the deed as it requires no specialized knowledge and often uses heft and momentum to aid smaller killers in going about their tasks It’s a total win in my book. Or books!

Liz: I continue to be fascinated by poison, but like Barb, it depends on the book and the victim. And, of course, the killer. I have to say, I did like the method I used in my second book, A Biscuit, A Casket – a nice scythe to the chest!

Readers, do you have a favorite murder method? Tell us in the comments!

Guest Karen Olson – Writing a Strong Sense of Place

Hey, it’s Liz and I’m so happy to welcome Karen Olson to the blog today! She’s talking about writing a strong sense of place. Take it away, Karen!


As the former travel editor of the New Haven (CT) Register, I love books that have a strong sense of place, like Laura Lippman’s Baltimore, Sue Grafton’s Santa Teresa, Dennis Lehane’s Boston, Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles. I want to feel like I’m really there, like I’m really in that scene walking down a particular street, the details on the page coming alive in my imagination.

I set my first mystery series in New Haven, which was the obvious choice. I’ve lived in the area my whole life, I’ve worked here. I love the city with its distinct neighborhoods and history and amazing pizza. I wanted to bring the city alive to my readers, most of whom might never get to see it in person. My next series setting wasn’t such an easy choice. I was going to write about a tattoo artist, and I felt that the location needed to match the edginess of the character. I picked Las Vegas, despite having been there for only two days 12 years before. It’s easy, I thought, because Vegas is everywhere: on TV, in movies, in other books. But about halfway through writing The Missing Ink, I told my husband, “We have to go to Vegas.” It was the right choice, because the words flowed onto the page after that, and I feel that the series evokes the craziness that’s Vegas.

All series come to an end eventually, though (Sue Grafton’s on Y now, and we all know what that means), and I struggled a little with what I was going to do next. I’d written some pages a few years before, and my agent urged me to finish it.

It was set on Block Island.

My husband and I spent our honeymoon there, and we’d visited again after that. But it was after I took a press trip to the island and wrote a piece for the newspaper that I decided to set the book there. “I’ve been missing for 15 years,” is the first sentence in HIDDEN. I had no idea who she was or why she was missing, but I knew where she was. The story grew out of that one small sentence, and Block Island was a perfect place for someone who was off the grid, concealing her identity—and, as it turned out, her crime. As I wrote, I closed my eyes and could see the stone walls, the lighthouses, the marinas, the tiny airport, the bar where she meets her friend Steve. I could feel her fear as she tries to hide from her past.

I wish I could have left her there. But my editor wanted a series, and she was already sequestered on a small island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, another idyllic place that I’d traveled to.

My Black Hat Thriller series has become a travelogue of sorts, as computer hacker and fugitive Tina Adler is always on the move. From Quebec, she goes to Miami, then to South Carolina, and then to Paris. Google street view is my new best friend, as I pore over my photographs and notes from my travels. I’ve probably got some things wrong, but the sense of place is what I’m striving for. I want my readers to feel like they know a place after putting down my books, like I feel when I’ve spent time in Rob Hart’s Prague or Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh or JA Jance’s Seattle or Carl Hiaasen’s Miami.

What is your favorite book with a strong sense of place?

Karen E. Olson writes the Black Hat Thriller series. She won the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for best debut mystery and has been nominated for a Shamus Award. She balances writing with working full time at Yale University Press. She is empty nesting in Connecticut with her husband and cat Eloise. Please visit her website at www.kareneolson.com.