Sunday, December 31, 2017

An end-of-the-year Listicle: New words added in 2017

Zoë Sharp

Derbyshire village in the winter mist.

This year has been an interesting one. For me it's been one of change, with more travelling, yet another house move, and lots of upheaval. But it’s also seen the publication of a new Charlie Fox book, FOX HUNTER, and a plan in place for several new projects in the early part of the New Year. I’m not making any resolutions for 2018, but I see a great deal of scribbling in my immediate future.

One of the many other things that have taken place this year is the addition of new words to the dictionaries. They may have been in use previously, but now they’re official. Here are a few of my favourites. Let me know the ones I’ve missed, or that you particularly like:

Bokeh, meaning ‘the blurred quality or effect seen in the out-of-focus portion of a photograph taken with a shallow depth of field.’

Craptacular, which is something that is especially bad in a highly visible way.

Fake news, meaning a sensational story, reported as fact when it is fiction.

First World problems, which is a minor or trivial problem or frustration (implying a contrast with serious problems such as those that may be experienced in the developing world).

Ghost, meaning ‘to abruptly cut off all contact with (someone, such as a former romantic partner) by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc.’

Listicle, meaning ‘an article consisting of a series of items presented as a list.’

Microaggression, which is ‘a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.’ It is usually something that is invisible to the perpetrator, who may be convinced that they do not possess such a biased attitude.

Mumblecore, meaning ‘a genre of narrative film focusing primarily on the intimate lives of young characters and featuring scenes of ample dialogue and minimal action.’

Pareidolia, which is ‘the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern’ much like a Rorschach test.

Sausagefest, which is ‘an event or group which is predominantly male.’

Squad goal, meaning someone seen as a role model to a person or group, often used as a hashtag.

That’s it for this year from me. Wishing you Health, Luck and Happiness in 2018!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Noel is past, now on to Novel


Yep, it’s time to move on into a New Year, and for me to wish each and everyone of you the very best of what’s to come in 2018.

And speaking of what’s to come—cue the coronets—January 2nd is the publication date for Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis’ ninth mystery-thriller, AN AEGEAN APRIL, and this is my annual official opportunity to blatantly promote my work on MIE.

Hard to imagine it’s already #9, but I guess time flies when you’re having such a good time chasing one intriguing villain after another across the Greek isles.  I’m particularly proud of how this story came together, for it “has taken on the task of making a very complex set of circumstances comprehensible, showing us why it matters, and done both well.”  Those aren’t my words, they’re Thomas Perry’s, with whom I’m proud to be sharing the launch of An Aegean April on January 4th at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale.

Thomas Perry, author of "The Bomb Maker"

It’s a novel told against the backdrop of a continuing human tragedy far too often put out of mind by the phrase “The Refugee Crisis;” a story that brings to life the moneymakers, human traffickers, fearful families, NGO activists, local islanders, politicians, press, and cops caught up in this epic catastrophe.

Petros Tsakmakis/InTime News via AP

It all begins one evening on the eastern Aegean Greek island of Lesvos, close by Turkey, when the patriarch of a prominent shipping family, with a plan for shutting down the lucrative refugee trafficking pipeline between Turkey and Lesvos, is struck down in his own garden by a swishing sword.

When a refugee-turned-NGO-aid-worker is found at the scene, splattered with the victim’s blood, he’s immediately arrested by the local police, but his NGO boss convinces Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis to take over the investigation, and we’re off on a nail-biting ride through Byzantine island politics, deteriorating diplomatic relations, and a world on fire amid the intrigues and brutality of a cool, resourceful, ruthlessly villainous narcissist, who keeps you in fearful suspense until the very end.

And now, an example the stellar reviews that have me smiling from ear to ear.

vividly depicts the political and economic issues involved in the European refugee crisis. VERDICT…outstanding crime novel.”—Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Ripped from the headlines…a winner.”—Publishers Weekly

“Brimming with suspense and a distinct sense of place.”—Kirkus Reviews

An Aegean April zeroes in on today’s Greece, at the heart of the refugee crisis, and takes no prisoners. Jeff is so adept at capturing the plight of Greece and its crises, while at the same time, showing his love for his adopted country. This book will make you rethink what you know about the refugee crisis and its accompanying players. Jeff knocks it out of the park once again.”— Windy City Greek

On January 4th I kick off my An Aegean April tour, taking me to Scottsdale, Tucson, Pasadena, Denver, Orange, San Diego, Seattle, Berkeley, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, and Minneapolis.  Details are below. Hope to see you along the way.

Now off to work on #10. 



Jeff’s Upcoming Events

My ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, publishes on January 2, 2018 and here is the first stage of my book tour:

Thursday, January 4 @ 7PM
Poisoned Pen Bookstore,
Scottsdale, AZ (joint appearance with Thomas Perry)

Saturday, January 6 @ 2 PM            
Clues Unlimited
Tucson, AZ

Monday, January 8  @ 7PM
Vromans (on Colorado)
Pasadena, CA

Wednesday, January 10 @ 7PM                   
Tattered Cover (on Colfax)
Denver, CO

Saturday, January 13 @ 2 PM                      
Book Carnival 
Orange, CA

Sunday, January 14 @ 2 PM
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, January 17 @ 7 PM      
Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park)
Seattle, WA

Thursday, January 18 @ 7 PM
Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Literary Salon
Berkeley, CA

Sunday, January 21 @ 7 PM
Book Passage
Corte Madera, CA

Thursday, January 25 @ 6:30 PM
Mysterious Bookshop
New York, NY

Friday, February 2 @ 7PM
Centuries & Sleuths (Forest Park)
Chicago, IL

Saturday, February 3 @ 12 PM
Once Upon A Crime

Minneapolis, MN

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Royal Days Of Christmas

If you have ever wondered how the Royal Family do Christmas, then wonder no more.

Queenie puts out a three line whip* for attendance at Sandringham  for all three days of Christmas.  That’s the country estate in  Norfolk, 20 000 acres bought by Queen Victoria in 1862 for £220 000 (about £19 million in today’s money).  It’s a very remote place with one big house which holds the social events while the guests stay there or in  one of the many properties on the estate. Now with grandchildren and partners, some royals have to go in staff quarters and the staff double up.  Separated other halves ( Diana and Fergie) were allowed to stay on the estate so they could see their children. They were not invited to dinner but the Queen would pop in on them to have a cup of tea.

Phil and Liz stay at the farmhouse, pottering around the garden  for the months of January and February. Liz  arrives by  public train ( 1 hour 40  mins)  on the 23rd of December, then stays until the anniversary of her father’s death in February 1952. He died there, so she likes to have that memory to herself in private.

2017 was a big year for the Royals. Their 70th wedding anniversary, Philip retiring from public life. He’s 96 and his last assignment  involved him standing in the pouring rain for hours watching the Marines march past. There was the announcement of a third kid for  Kate and William.

And then the engagement of Harry and Meghan-  Oh! An American divorcee…. So no comparisons to be drawn there. But Edward 8th  was a king in a different time.

To prove that, Meghan has been allowed to breach Royal Protocol. She’s the first Royal to be invited to the Christmas do at Sandringham when not part of the family. Engagement doesn’t count- they have to be married. And they were allowed (shock horror) to stay in the same room.

The three days are all timetabled to the minute. The Queen has spent the weeks before  at Buckingham Palace overseeing the decorations of all the royal residences. Including their huge fir tree (a tradition from Victoria’s time).  Both Her and Philip sign their Christmas cards – hundreds of them.  He signs Philip, she signs Elizabeth R. ( For Elizabeth Regina)

When her train brings her to Sandingham, she travels the last 7 miles by car. All the staff, Philip clothes and presents will all have gone on ahead.


On Christmas eve the guests start to arrive. They arrive in reverse order of importance. The juniors first and  Charlie and Camilla arrive last.  You need to remember that they are a military family so there’s a clockwork timetable and if you are not punctual, you don’t get asked back.

In the afternoon they decorate the 20 feet tall spruce, all in together,  kids puts the baubles on the lower branches, and Philip  puts the gold star on top. Many of the decorations are historic and sentimental like Queen Victoria’s Glass Angels.

At  6pm, the Queen calls them to the drawing room to open presents. These are  silly humourous gifts;  toilets seat ( Anne to Charles), toilet roll holder ( Diana to Margaret), Big Mouth Billy Bass ( to the Queen), make your own girlfriend kit (Kate to Harry), a comb ( Harry to his baldy brother).
The entire staff get the same present each; a silver mustard dish or crystal glasses.

Then they change for dinner, something formal, long and classic for the ladies. Black tie for men.
For the weekend, a lady might need 10 or 12 changes of ‘dress’.
Lots of good frocks needed.

At 7.30 pre-dinner drinks are poured by Philip. The Queen has martini. Philip himself likes a pale ale but rarely drinks.
The dinner is by candlelight. The  menu is in French. They eat until ten but it is protocol that a guest cannot go to bed before the Queen ( or Margaret when she was alive) so it wasn’t uncommon for them to still be having a sing song round the piano at three in the morning.


 Up early to open stockings full of small gifts and fruit. All the corgis get a stocking too.  Breakfast is  on a huge sideboard and everybody helps themselves. Except the Queen who is served. This residence is the only one where  the Queen attends for breakfast, in the others she  stays in her quarters an eats privately while working.

At 11 am, they all go to church watched by huge crowds ( some folk have been going there for forty years to see them and it’s well known the Queen is likely to talk to you if you bring your dog. The next year she will remember the name of the dog and have little memory of you!) and the worlds media. It has become a kind of living history. Who’s married, divorced, dead,  badly dressed etc. When Queenie walks in to the church the  national anthem starts. The church was built in the 1500’s and at the moment, the royal family take up 25% of the seats. They sing hymns chosen by the Queen.

Then back to the house for Christmas Lunch; 12.45 pm. 1.15 turkey. ( the royals have 2, the staff have 8 and yes, they do cook the turkey’s first as they need the room in the oven for the veg later(
 The queen does a strict seating plan. Host  at top and bottom, then next senior  bing bonging down the table. Charles next to queen, Camilla next to Phil. No married couples are allowed to sit next to each other.

 Just in case you are invited- never point with a knife, never scoop with a fork, hold a wine glass between finger and thumb by the stem,  salt goes on the side of the plate,  napkins for men are folded with fold near the waist,  napkins for ladies has the fold at the knee so they can dab at their mouth and keep the lipstick stain from being visible.

When the Queen puts her knife and fork together EVERYBODY has to stop eating.

Then the Christmas pudding, alive with flames, (same recipe for three hundred years!!) is carried in  and everybody cheers.

By  2 45pm dinner is over,  then they have crackers. The jokes are still rubbish.

And by 3pm, they are all watching the Queen on the TV. The film crew call her ‘One Take Windsor.’
Then they take the dog for a walk,  loads of wellies. The Queen goes for a lie down before more eating and charades. It’s rumoured that the Queen does a good impersonation of Mrs Thatcher, which would be interesting as the Queen always thought Mrs Thatcher was much posher than the Queen had ever been.

And they are all in  bed by  midnight.


More breakfast and then the men go out and kill things. The ladies join them for an outdoor picnic to eat things that had been killed previously.

Then Charles goes to Scotland for New Year, Kate goes home to see her mum.

By the 27th only Philip and Queenie are left.

And you thought your Christmas  was busy!

       In case you were wondering a three line whip is what parliament does in a close vote- MPs get dragged out of sick beds and back from holidays. Free vote, One line whip, two line the three line depending how close/ how important and how interested they are.

     Caro Ramsay  29th Dec 2017

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Murder in Africa

Michael - Thursday

As the year crawls to a close through the hiatus between Christmas and New Year, I thought back over some of the mysteries I’d read in 2017.  Most of them are African, and that’s partly because every month I write a piece called Africa Scene for the International Thriller Writers e-magazine The BigThrill.  The idea is to feature books (and their authors) set in Africa.  Most of the authors do live on the continent, but there are several who live elsewhere, but choose Africa as their setting for a variety of reasons.  I’ve discovered some really good authors, and have an excuse to fire questions at them. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve met many of them and enjoyed that a lot as well.

Hopefully, readers of the magazine are intrigued enough to try some of the books, and experience a bit of sunshine noir.  African thrillers and mysteries have a lot to offer, and they are different!

So here’s a rundown of this year’s articles to give you a flavor. If any catch your fancy, click on the month for the author interview and more details about the book.

Lagos island
Our own Leye Adenle talked about Easy Motion Tourist, his debut thriller set in Lagos. Prostitutes are being murdered. It seems to be for muti—witch doctors’ potions.  But there’s a lot more to it than that as Amaka, whose mission is to keep prostitutes safe, and Guy, from the UK and the easy motion tourist, discover. Nigeria provides a fascinating backdrop for an original plot with a twisty ending.

Antipoaching team
February featured Paul Mendelson’s The History of Blood.  Paul has such a deep grasp of South Africa’s history and culture, to say nothing of Cape Town itself where his thrillers are largely based, that you’d have to believe he’s lived here all his life. No. He’s from England, but this is South African crime fiction at its best.

The body of a girl is discovered at a seedy motel with slit wrists. Suicide is assumed, but the autopsy reveals she has swallowed masses of cocaine wrapped in condoms. The hunt for the mule runners leads to other smuggling and the remains of an elite military group from the apartheid days. Paul’s detective has to unravel this nasty mixture, with lots of surprises along the way.

Kibera, Kenya
Michael Niemann was born in Germany and now lives in Oregon, but along the way he’s spent a lot of time in Africa. His protagonist Vermeulen investigates fraud for the UN, and pretty soon it leads him into very hot water. Legitimate Business was set in the refugee camps of Darfur; Illicit Trade, the second in the series, concerns human trafficking from Africa.

Uranium ingots
April brought us back to South Africa with Jassy Mackenzie’s heart stopping thriller Bad Seeds. During the apartheid era South Africa developed nuclear weapons, I guess for the same paranoid reasons that North Korea does today. After the government changed, the weapons were dismantled, but the nuclear material is still around. This story is as believable and scary as tomorrow morning’s headlines.

Any time Mike Nicol comes out with a new book, it’s an event. Agents of the State is very close to home, and its honey-loving president-for-life (of South Africa) is very close to someone else we know around here. Mike explores how this sort of state operates, and how the agents of the state get away with what they do. We’re not sure who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and real life is like that. If you like sunshine noir and haven’t read Mike Nicol, you’re missing out.

Sally with friend
For a complete change of pace, take Sally Andrew’s second Tanie Maria mystery, The Satanic Mechanic. Everyone loves Tanie Maria and her luscious recipes from the Karoo. But she has real issues too, and the crimes she needs to solve are anything but cozy. Alexander McCall Smith called her first book “a triumph.” 'Nuff said.

One of Hayden Stone's problems
Arthur Kerns started his career in the US Navy, spent many years with the FBI, and then consulted with the intelligence agencies. He doesn’t like to say which ones, but there are no prizes for guessing the answer.  If anyone knows how this stuff works he does. His freelance agent, Hayden Stone, gets into all sorts of trouble with his unconventional methods of sorting out the bad guys. He’s all over Africa in The African Contract.

Weather map by Alex Latimer
Something completely different. Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer, both South Africans who usually write in other genres, team up as Frank Owen to write South, a dystopian and scary alternative history thriller set in the US. Okay, I said all the books are set in Africa, but I lied. Yet the book has very African roots. You’ll recognize apartheid in the South, walled off and isolated from the North as deadly viruses are blown in by the wind. And the wall across the country precedes Donald Trump.

Kwei Quartey lives in Los Angeles, but spends time in Ghana researching his novels and visiting friends there. Death by His Grace is the next in his police procedural series featuring Darko Dawson. We’ve been amazed at how his themes and ours often overlap although Ghana and Botswana are so far apart. Great sense of place when you join Kwei and Darko to visit Ghana.

Meeting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Paul Hardisty is a Canadian who lives in Australia, but he shares with Paul Mendelson a deep knowledge and grasp of South Africa. Reconciliation for the Dead, based on the real story of “Dr. Death” from the apartheid era, exposes a gruesome plan from that time. Paul’s novels are passion driven; this one may be his best so far.

Martin Steyn is a young South African Afrikaans writer and Dark Traces is his first book in English. It’s a dark serial killer novel—he admits they fascinate him—but it’s the struggles of his detective with his past and the death of his wife who was the center of his life, and his problems fitting into the new police system, that make this book memorable.

(By the way, Michael Stanley's Dying to Live was also featured in another section of The Big Thrill in November.)

Dam at Amanzi
The year finished with the remarkable book Fever by Deon Meyer, South Africa’s best known crime writer. It’s a standalone set in a small town in South Africa in the near future when most of the population has been wiped out by a virus. I’m betting it’s his breakout book. This is what the London Times said about it:
‘It’s a crime thriller, but it’s far more. The first sentence is: "I want to tell you about my father's murder." The actual crime takes place more than 400 absorbing, emotional and atmospheric pages later; the solution comes even later than that. The narrator, who is aged 47, tells of his teenage years when his father founded a small settlement, safe from a virus that has killed most of the world's population. But as the community grew, so did their problems, their jealousies and the moving relationship between father and son. There are shades of Cormac McCarthy's superb The Road, but Fever grips even more.’

What can I say? If you don’t like African mysteries and thrillers, you haven’t been reading them!

Happy new year everyone, and happy reading!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Hipster dessert

Happy Day after Christmas!
We had a bit of German influence this year for dessert:
after  baking we twisted the form and dipped in chocolate

alongside we made a rote Grütze berry compote with a tapioca-like sauce and cinnamon star.


Wishing all my blog mates and you a wonderful new year and here is my resolution courtesy of Voltaire

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas in Florence

Annamaria on Christmas Day!

My little tree, decorated and waiting for me when I arrived.

Young guys dressed up as Santas ride their bikes through
the city, spreading joy to the children.

Adorable, tiny decorations on a cheesecake.  (See the reflction?)

The view from my terrace--this season with a splendid light show

And projections

The scene of our Christmas Eve afternoon tea.

Wishing all of our MIE tribe--writers and readers--peace and 
comfort and JOY!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Life, Death, Hope and Joy

-- Susan, every other Sunday

It's an honor to be the MIE blogger who holds the field on Christmas Eve, and I spent some time considering what angle to take on this holiday post. I'm in Tokyo at the moment, and the Japanese love of all things culturally Christmas offers fertile ground for yuletide blogs, from the Bavarian Christmas markets:

Tokyo Christmas Market

To the forest of magical Christmas trees that spring up around the city:

A 20' tree composed entirely of living flowers. Because Japan.

I also considered blogging about the amazing desserts -- for which Tokyo is famous at any time of year.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (Hopefully some of you are old enough to get the reference...)

But sometimes, the post picks the author instead of the other way around. This afternoon, while walking through the inner garden at Meiji Shrine, a different post chose me.

Winter in the inner garden, Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine is famous for its iris garden, which features over a hundred different varieties of iris. In May, visitors come from all over Japan (and other countries also) to view the lovely blooms.

This is a photograph of the iris beds I took today:

World famous flowers. But you'll have to take my word for it.

In winter, they look more like a cemetery than a world-famous garden. The labels identifying the blooms stand guard above the barren earth like tombstones over the flowers' graves.

Gravestones - er, markers - identifying the irises.

And yet, as I stood there in the freezing wind, I saw something more valuable than flowers, more encouraging than death.

I saw faith, hope, and patience: the very things we celebrate--and anticipate--at Christmas time.

The newly-tilled earth revealed the gardeners' belief that, in due time, the flowers would return. They churn the ground in hopes of easing the passage of the tender shoots.

Newly-turned earth around each flower's bed.

They wait, with patience, for the warmth of spring to chase away winter's chill, and for the warmth that will encourage these precious plants to grow again.

Japanese irises in spring.
At its heart, Christmas is the same. Those of us who celebrate it do enjoy the trees and cakes and presents. If we're fortunate, we feast and make merry with the ones we love. But there's more to this celebration. Beneath the sparkling decorations, twinkling lights, and Christmas cheer we find a deeper message--one that shares a root with other faiths' and cultures' celebrations that take place this time of year:

From darkness, light. From death, new life . . . for those with the patience to wait and to believe.

The message of the iris beds transcends religion and belief. It speaks to a deeper truth embedded in the fabric of the world: hope can survive in even the most barren of times and places, if people have the faith to maintain it and the patience to see it through.

Whatever (and whether) you celebrate, my wish for you, this Christmas Eve, is that you have health, happiness, and joy in the year to come--and hope and faith sufficient to sustain them for many years to come.