A New Mexico Mystery Review: Murder on Frequency by Patricia Smith Wood

murder-on-frequency

A New Mexico man long missing and presumed dead seems to have come back to broadcast on ham radio, only to fade out as if something terrible has happened to him.

Patricia Smith Wood has crafted another tight puzzle of a mystery in this third in the Harrie McKinsey series, once again blending multiple mystery genres—a touch of cozy, a touch of police procedural, and now a touch of the PI story as well. Amateur sleuths Harrie and Ginger, the Albuquerque police department, and the FBI come together on a complex case with help from a new character, private investigator Bernie Thomas, a former member of the APD. His role as a liaison between the professionals and the amateurs is an effective device. The amateurs take some risks, and they use their brains and their ability to gain trust and talk with people, but they don’t do what’s better done by the pros.

Harrie and Ginger, who are studying to become amateur radio operators, are naturally and believably drawn into investigating the apparent broadcast from the missing Alan Whitney. I like a mystery that gives me glimpse into a hobby or occupation I previously knew little about, and this book provides a fascinating exploration of amateur radio without ever losing the pace. Wood slips the exposition into the energetic dialog as part of a page-turning plot.

 Much of the detective works, realistically, takes place through interviews, asking the right people the right questions, and through research and the use of creative intelligence to understand the clues. Most of the violence takes place offstage, though there are suspenseful scenes in which danger threatens characters the reader comes to care about. While this isn’t in the category of a humorous mystery, there is humor in the characters’ banter, and one of the criminals was an incredibly amusing diversion. He’s a bit like someone who walked out of a 1940s black-and-white movie in a way, and yet also wholly original.

 Wood is the master of the chapter-ending hook that makes you want to keep going. Surprises kept coming around the corner right to the very end. If you like to challenge your brain to solve a mystery, Patricia Smith Wood is an author you’ll come back to again and again.

To read more about this author, see my interview with her and my reviews of her first two books, The Easter Egg Murder and Murder on Sagebrush Lane

 

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A Little of Everything

Today I’m a guest on fellow mystery writer Jim Jackson’s blog, answering ten questions about writing and reading. I had fun with this, and hope you will, too. Once you get to his blog, you can also find interviews with many other writers, including some of my favorites like DV Berkom. These Q&A posts could be great way to discover some new writers as well as get to know those whose work you enjoy.

Happy Tuesday.

 

 

Book Review: Snake Face

before the second sleep

Snake Face (Book III in the Mae Martin Mystery series)

Mae Martin is moving into the next phase of her life, what she’d been planning when last we saw her in Amber Foxx’s second psychic mystery, Shaman’s Blues. College in New Mexico has started and she cautiously enters a new relationship with Stamos, a fellow student with whom she later plans a road trip, given their destinations not far from each other.

snakeebooknew.jpgSnake Face, B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree

Very soon after the novel’s opening, Foxx utilizes a blend of dialogue and omniscient narration to bring readers up to speed on where Mae has been until now, and it works like a charm. The passages also introduce the above-mentioned Stamos Tsitouris as he and Mae get to know each other and work out an agreement for cross-country travel. Stamos provides background regarding his former wife and Mae recalls Jamie Ellerbe—known professionally…

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A New Mexico Mystery Review: The Clovis Incident

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Until I read this book, all I knew about Clovis was that it was home to the Norm Petty recording studio, where Buddy Holly recorded his hits. It’s not one of New Mexico’s more famous places and seems unlikely ever to be one. This makes the premise of the book immediately appealing. Freelance PR pro Sasha Solomon is trying to get a gig promoting flat, unimposing Clovis as tourist destination.

She was doing PR for a health care company that included alternative therapies in it coverage, and in true Albuquerque/Santa Fe area style, she tried out so many shamans and other mind-body-spirit healers she had a kind of psychic meltdown, making her mental boundaries so porous she now hallucinates under stress. She’s been fired, and she needs the Clovis job.

The story gets more and more eccentrically New Mexican as Sasha looks into alien abductions as part of her PR plans to promote alien-seeking tourism in Clovis, (Her visit to alien-centric Roswell is a small but delightful part of the book.) Alien abductions also figure in a murder investigation, as do Sasha’s strange visions, when the body of a Singaporean military officer is found on a friend’s land.

The less colorful aspects of life in Clovis, from the military base to the farms and ranches, are portrayed with respect and realism in the framework of a humorous mystery. In a crucial scene set in the midst of a large-scale dairy farm, suspense and comedy run neck in neck.

Author Pari Noskin captures characters brilliantly, whether they are major players or walk-ons. Sasha is an original creation, likeable but far from sweet. Detective LaSalle grew on me. The longer Sasha had to deal with him, the more he was revealed in the slow, natural way strangers get to know each other.

Underlying themes include mother-daughter relationships, friendships, rural life, and romance in middle age, tied together through the mystery and laced with an inside look at the PR business. The mystery is multi-layered with so much entertainment that I sometimes forgot to try to solve it. I know a book is working when I respond to it as a story rather than a plot. It turns out that I did suspect the real culprit, but I never felt that the author had made it too easy to figure out.

Noskin turns some off-beat phrases, with a style unlike any other. Aside from Sasha’s appalling habit of taking shots of whipped cream straight from the can, I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

*****

My interview with the author will be posted in the next week to ten days. Meanwhile, you can buy the book and enjoy an unconventional trip to Clovis.

Lucky Me!

I’m taking time to reflect on the good people and good fortune that enhance my creative life.

I am grateful for:

  • Having had parents who loved books and theater and a grandfather who was a poet. I was raised on Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes and taken to plays before I was in first grade. Language was valued in my family. My mother advised me not to cuss because it made me look as if I had a limited vocabulary—a far greater sin than saying a dirty word. My father was a late adopter of all things electronic and claimed to be a member in good standing of the Lead Pencil Society, which made him as good a letter writer as he was a conversationalist, full of wit and good stories.
  • Discovering Sisters in Crime when I was just getting started on my first book. I bought How I Write by Janet Evanovich, even though I may be the only person alive who doesn’t like her Stephanie Plum series. I told myself: “She’s successful. I could learn from her.” She mentioned SinC in the book, and I joined, and through them I have found many of the people I’m grateful for, listed below.
  • My first critique partner, an editor and writer. She was supportive of the potential she saw in my early efforts that didn’t turn into a polished book until I’d worked on it for over for three years. She edited it and all my other books, and has taught me about the craft of writing in the process.
  • My current and former critique partners, who can tell me when something works or falls flat, offer insight into my plots and characters, and not only help me create better work, but reassure me that I’m not alone in caring about it.
  • Readers. Without them I’m an actor in an empty theater. Having my characters live in someone’s mind and heart means a lot to me.
  • Readers who review. They don’t have to do it. It takes time to organize thoughts and post them on a review site. They help other readers think about my work and often help them decide to buy the books.
  • Tara at Draft2Digital customer service. She’s cheerfully solved many little problems for me, and she remembers me. I’m not just some author with a question. I’m a person.
  • My job. Most writers need a day job, and I am blessed to have one that gives me summers off to write. When I’m grading papers until nine at night I tend to forget that—but I am grateful.
  • My whole life. From the annoying people who inspired antagonist characters, to the losses and loves and joys that enable me to tell stories with a heart.