Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review: Skulduggery by Carolyn Hart

Skulduggery.  Carolyn Hart.  With a new introduction by Carolyn Hart.  Seventh Street Books, Amherst, NY. November 2012. Paperback ISBN: 978-1-61614-706-8, $13.95.  E-book: ISBN: 978-61614-707-5. $9.99.  176 pages.

Here’s a treat for mystery lovers: the earlier stand-alone mysteries and romantic suspense novels by Carolyn Hart.  Skulduggery was originally published in 1984, one of ten books that Carolyn said had seemed to disappear into a black hole before she began to win prizes for her Annie and Max Darling series set on a island off the coast of South Carolina.  Five Star brought out many of the early ones around 2000, and now Seventh Street Books is bringing some of them out through their Carolyn Hart Classics series.

Here is what Carolyn says about the difference between a mystery and suspense in her introduction to Skulduggery:  

I feel fortunate over the course of a long career to have written traditional mysteries, suspense, and romantic suspense. In recent years, my focus has been the traditional mystery but I recall writing scenes of derring-do with great pleasure. The traditional mystery celebrates goodness; the suspense novel celebrates courage.

What affords suspense? Tales of war, adventure, and, always dear to me, the hunt for treasure. I have always been fascinated by the idea of treasure. Treasure figures in a number of my books. A very particular kind of missing treasure inspired Skulduggery, the long lost Peking Man bones that disappeared in the early years of WWII and may have reappeared briefly in New York in the 1970s.


I have now read several of these early books, and I highly recommend them.  What did I especially love about this book?  I liked learning about the real situation in Chinatown in San Francisco in the 1980s.  The problems of the poor, many of them elderly, stirred my compassion, and I liked seeing compassion in the main characters as they encountered Chinese people in desperate straits.  I also liked the difficult decision the heroine, Ellen Christie, an anthropologist working for a San Francisco museum, had to make between following her intuitive grasp of the situation she was in versus turning away and choosing the conventional, “safe” way of putting her career first.

A young Chinese man, Jimmy Lee, follows Ellen and persuades her to come with him to see an old skull.  It turns out that she is sure, intuitively, that it’s the missing Peking man’s skull, the remains of which were found in China near Peking not long before World War II began, and then the Japanese invaded China in 1941, and these very ancient bones (Sinanthropus Pekinensis, the Chinese man from Peking) appeared to be lost after World War II was over.  There were several theories as to how they could still exist and possibly be in the U.S.

What creates the suspense is that someone in Chinatown learns about the bones Jimmy is trying to sell and their extreme monetary value.  This man sends his thugs to find them.  Both Jimmy and Ellen are at risk, but Ellen lets go much of her cautious, predictable lifestyle up to that point and not only trusts Jimmy and his brother, Dan, but joins them as they try to outwit this man who’s willing to kill to get to the bones.
The book also is a wonderful model for a woman who uses all her wits and resources to outwit a dangerous enemy.  For those who, as I do, like a little romance in their suspense novels, you will find that present, too.

I highly recommend this powerful book.  


Carolyn Hart is the author of 50 novels. Her 50th novel - DEAD, WHITE AND BLUE, 23rd in the Death on Demand series – was published in May. 

Recent titles include DEATH COMES SILENTLY, 22nd in the Death on Demand series. Forthcoming in October 2013 will be GHOST GONE WILD, 4th in a series featuring the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous red-headed ghost who returns to earth to help someone in trouble. 

LETTER FROM HOME, a stand alone novel set in Oklahoma, was published by Berkley in 2003. Gretchen Gilman is 13 in the summer of 1944 and working on the small town newspaper. Murder occurs on the street where she lives, changing her life forever. LETTER FROM HOME was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University Tulsa. Letter from Home won the Agatha for Best Mystery Novel of 2003 and was a New York Times notable book. 

Hart was one of ten mystery authors featured at the National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington D.C. in 2003 and again in 2007. In March 2004 she received the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She has twice won the annual Oklahoma Book Award for best novel. In April 2004 she spoke at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on mysteries in American culture. She received the Ridley Pearson Award at Murder in Grove, Boise, Idaho, in 2005 for significant contributions to the mystery field. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic in 2007 and the Amelia Award in May 2013. 

Hart is a native of Oklahoma City, a Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a former president of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Authors Guild, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Crime Writers Association, the International Thrillers Association, and the American Crime Writers League. She taught professional writing in the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism from 1982-85. She is the author of 50 mysteries, winner of three Agatha Awards for Best Novel, two Anthonys and two Macavitys. 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Re-Learning To Be Intrepid

Judy's hens last winter, near their coop.  Photo: John Ewing.


I turned seventy-six the end of May, and for some months–a year or so–I’ve been aware of another aspect of aging besides forgetting names and words (which eventually float back up from the recesses of memory) and having to do various exercises for the sake of my lower back, my balance (standing on one foot), and my knees, circulation, and general health (walking).  What’s new is a tendency to be less brave, less intrepid, more vulnerable, less confident that I can do things I’ve always done without giving it a moment’s thought.

Sometimes it’s traveling.  Or it can be standing on a chair to change a lightbulb (will I fall off?) or simply coping with the nitty gritty problems that come along to plague mortals and test their flexibility and resilience.  The back door gets stuck in the closed position. The hens have discovered a way to get over their flexible string fence but not how to get back.  At first it was only two or three hens doing this and laying their eggs hither and thither in the orchard. 

Then one morning this past week, I found only six hens in the coop instead of thirteen (two were already committed to orchard living).  

The next morning when I went to feed the orchard hens, here came the missing nine.  I’ve stopped chasing them to get them back.  I don’t want to fall on my face.  I do check the fence for holes but no problems there.  I did not want to cope with this.  I took stock.

They haven’t bothered the blueberries, covered by bird netting, though they had laid some eggs under the blueberry bushes, sneaking in under the netting.  They may well help themselves to the figs on the lower branches that touch the ground.  They love figs.  So far no predators (six last year–a raccoon and five possums had come over the outer chainlink fence).  I think Robert’s goats, eating the weeds out behind the orchard have kept the predators off.  One of my chicken workshop participants, Lisa, suggested that goats nearby would do it, and so it has.

So I said to myself, what the hell, and I let down the flexible fence, laid it on the ground for about fifteen feet, so the hens could easily get into and out of the orchard, return to the coop to lay eggs, and if they wanted to roost in the trees, why not?  I’m sure it’s cooler.

They’re laying better than in many weeks and now all the eggs are in the coop nests.  They’re obviously happy, exploring every niche and corner of the orchard, finding bugs, eating grass and weeds, and some do roost in the trees as well as some in the coop.  So I solved that one.

In fact, I begin to see a pattern.  I was talking to my friend Gene about it.  He works with elderly people through Hospice, visiting them in their homes, especially when they live alone.  He says the elderly often find it harder to deal with these little unexpected problems that come up, that are part of living, and they tend to withdraw into themselves.  I didn’t want to do that.

I admitted that these surprise problems bother me, too, more than once.  I had several slow drains, and I know that I can use my plunger and get them unclogged, yet I postponed it from day to day, but it was also depressing me, as the chicken problem had been, too.  I don’t want to get despondent because some things that I did easily before are now harder.  I either have to muster more courage and/or grit and do them myself or ask someone to help.

I finally did solve the hen problem.  It’s a risk, but life for me, and for the hens, is risk.  I can live with their eating a few figs.  If they get eaten by a predator, I’ll have to rethink the situation. All six predators last year were caught in the hav-a-hart, and only one hen was killed.  I went to work and cleared the drains.  

By asking on our local Chatham Chatlist, I found a wonderful handyman named Jim Nitsch to fix the back door locks.  I had to be patient while he finished a big job and use my front door to go to the backyard, but he was cheerful, friendly, inventive, gave me choices depending on how much money I wanted to spend and did everything quickly and for a reasonable price.  

I asked a friend to put in the new lightbulb.  She thought it wise not to stand on chairs to change bulbs if my balance wasn’t perfect. My exercises help, but I sometimes lose my balance, though I haven’t fallen since I started the exercises.

Now I feel better about these dips my mind takes into feeling vulnerable or inadequate.  I simply have to go ahead (the sooner, the better) and do what needs doing.  Then I feel good, and I re-experience my own competence and courage.  Those qualities are still there in me, but I need to use them, not sit around stewing.  The sooner I act, the sooner those vague feelings of inadequacy will pass.  They do pass.

I want to live a long time, and something tells me life is going to get harder for Planet Earth-dwellers, given climate change and some other things already on our horizon.  I do want to live and write as long as I can, so I shall have to be intrepid and tough, canny and inventive, keep my close ties to others, ask help when I need it but challenge myself to solve clogged drains, chicken dilemmas, balance problems, and the ordinary round of life’s interruptions. 

Some of those surprises may well lead to more happiness than I can now imagine.  You never know.


Hens in winter, near coop, bare fig trees in orchard behind them. Photo also by John Ewing.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Farm Fresh and Fatal Pre-Sales

Cover image


FARM FRESH AND FATAL, the second Penny Weaver traditional mystery novel by Judy Hogan

Publication date: October 1, 2013.  Pre-sales now!  See below.

Trade paperback: 978-0-9895804-0-3 $15.95
Ebook: 978-0-9895804-1-0 $2.99

When Penny Weaver joins the new Riverdell Farmers’ Market to represent their neighborhood garden, squabbles break out among the farmers about their places.  The county poultry agent tries to sort them out before Nora, the market manager, arrives, infuriating her.  Penny discovers that there may have been racism behind her friend Sammie’s almost not being accepted to sell her flower bouquets.  After the third market, the poultry agent is found dead of food poisoning, apparently from drinking the punch provided by Nora.  That and her fights with him cause her to be arrested.  Meantime Penny is skeptical of her daughter’s new sponging boyfriend, and her husband Kenneth confesses to being homesick for Wales.

Penny and Sammie work to uncover the real poisoner and to release Nora.  Derek, the lead detective and Sammie’s husband, wants them to stay out of it.  The poultry agent was unpopular with the quirky farmers, with the exception of the genetically modified seeds man and the baker/jelly maker.  Penny and Sammie discover that the poison was black nightshade, but which farmer grows it and who put it in the poultry agent’s punch?  The state ag department threatens to close the market if the case isn’t solved. 

Praise for Farm Fresh and Fatal:

Farm Fresh and Fatal features an appealing protagonist, an intriguing background, and well-realized characters.  Readers will enjoy these characters and empathize with their successes and failures.  In the tradition of Margaret Maron.  –Carolyn Hart, author of Dead, White, and Blue.

In Farm Fresh and Fatal Hogan serves up a complex dish that is flavored with community and family drama.  It is spiced with intrigue, finished with mystery and delivered right off the vine.
–Lyle Estill, President, Piedmont Biofuels and author of Small is Possible

Judy Hogan delivers again in her fearless Farm Fresh and Fatal.  Through a story built on a strong foundation of research she tackles difficult issues, all the while giving us a first-rate read.  And that authentic voice her readers have come to expect shines on every page.  
--Lane Stone, author, Tiara Investigations Mystery series.

Judy notes that she likes to take up social issues in her mysteries, and this one takes up genetically modified foods.  She knows even more now about how dangerous they are in our food supply, using herbicides like Roundup and pesticides built into the seeds.  The only safe food now seems to be organically grown.  

Opening page:

Monday Morning, April 1. A fight broke out during the second market, but the opening day of the first farmers’ market in Riverdell went relatively smoothly. The third market was when the murder occurred. 

Penny and Kenneth were searching madly for snails in the lettuce when Nora Fisher, their new market’s manager, drove her yellow pickup in and parked near their garage apartment. “You go talk to her,” Kenneth said. “I’ll keep checking the romaine. The red lettuce was the hardest. All those curlicues.” He was moving slowly on hands and knees down the rows they’d cultivated with the rototiller only the night before. 

When Penny caught up with her, Nora was out of her truck and standing at the chain link fence that kept their neighbor Leroy’s chickens in the orchard. “These White Rocks yours, too, doll?” Nora wore faded blue bib overalls over a man’s white shirt rolled up at the sleeves. Her closely cropped curly brown hair gleamed in the sun. 

“Hi, Nora. Welcome to Greenscape. The chickens are Leroy’s, but he’s part of our operation. He has to work today. Mostly he has them like this, out in the orchard, to pick bugs and fertilize the peaches and apples.” 

“How exactly does it all work? Andy lives next door?” 

“Yes, he got us started when he became Shagbark’s first sustainable ag agent about three years ago.” She pointed to where she and Kenneth had been working. “Our vegetable garden takes up most of his and Jan’s backyard.” 

“Who’s the guy working in the lettuce?” 

“My husband Kenneth.” 


To pre-order: $17 to pick up signed copy (includes tax) to Judy Hogan, PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559-0253. $20 to have signed copy shipped.  Shipping before October 1, hopefully.  For more info: call 919-545-9932 or

Judy Hogan bio:

Judy Hogan helped found and was first president of the N.C. Writers’ Network (1983-7), as well as founding Carolina Wren Press (1976-91) and co-editing Hyperion Poetry Journal (1970-81).  She has published five other poetry books and two prose works with small presses.  She has taught creative writing since 1974. Her first mystery, Killer Frost, finaled in St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest, appearing from Mainly Murder Press in 2012. Farm Fresh and Fatal is the second novel in her Penny Weaver series.  She will be reading throughout the Triangle area from her two new books this fall.  She farms and writes in Moncure, N.C.


judyhogan at

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wisdom Inside

 Waterfall photo by Richard Hayes.  Sometimes we have to live with inner waterfalls, of pain, worries, fear, or love, bounty, good fortune.  Any of these can throw us off track.  The poem below written seven years ago comforts me now, but I don't feel very wise at the moment.  I hope to be like that fishing heron, live with my inner waterfalls and keep my eye out for fish.



September 17, 2006

I used to think of myself as resting on a pivot.
When something disturbed me, I leaned away
from my center; when I made peace, I returned
to resting easily on this inside pivot.  I also
described this experience of inner certainty
and balance as like standing on a shelf of rock.
From that deep place inside me any turmoil in
my inner world settled.  I could see what I felt
and knew what I needed to do.  But I don’t
remember having, until recently, this feeling of
repose, of my whole self being at rest, yes, on
a pivot, but less inclined to motion than what
rests on a pivot is.  Closer may be Plato’s metaphor
for justice in the state.  He compared it to the body
where every part is carrying out its work and is in
harmony with all the other parts.  It’s like that
but quieter.  All that I am–body, soul, feelings, mind–
rests like the natural world outside the window rests.  
I am inside the peace I feel; the harmony of my 
parts is what I’m living.  I do struggle, I have, I will.
This state comes as a reward for the struggle, for
the living out of what I know I need to do.  What
I do each day–and often it is hard for me to do–
makes possible this enjoyment, so quiet I can barely
feel it, so without motion, that it’s hard to say it’s
an emotion.  It is serenity, as in the prayer about
asking for the courage to change what can be
changed, the strength to accept what can’t, and
the wisdom to know the difference.  I am not that
wise yet, but something in me holds this wisdom
in its heart of hearts and sends me moments like
this, when I, as a being, am still, clear, peaceful,
at rest, serene at that level where a fountain rises,
illogical, miraculous, to water every parched place
in my soul, quiet every doubt, calm every worry.
The unrest will return, the striving to change
what can be changed.  I will lean far to one side
on the pivot, and have to take the shelf of rock
for an assumption I can’t prove.  But when an hour
arrives to give me rest like this, I’ll know that I now 
am who I need to be, the person my growing pains 
urged me to become, the full-fledged woman:
human, loving, wise.  

Judy Hogan