Whale Watching

whale tailLast summer, the family and I traveled down the road to the sleepy port town of Seward for whale watching.

Seeing a gray whale is a mystical experience. Here you are in modern motor boat, drinking coffee from a paper cup and dressed to the gills in nylon rain gear, and just a few yards away are mammals that could well be 50-70 years old, cruising along doing exactly what whales have done since time immemorial, sentient and sensitive beings who well may be more intelligent than humans in different ways. It made me feel small, insignificant and very fortunate to share the planet with these creatures. There is something deeply peaceful about being in their presence.

Seward sits on Resurrection Bay, a fjord which is deep enough that migrating gray whales and orcas visit in the summer. It is the home of the Seward SeaLife Center, a research and public education facility that was funded by settlement proceeds from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The SeaLife Center also takes in orphaned sea animals that would not survive on their own.

One popular exhibit at the SeaLife Center is the stellar sea lion whicStellar sea lion and cute kidh is so big, I couldn’t get it all into the camera frame. Check out the Alaska SeaLife Center.

There are a variety of cruises that can be taken from Seward to view the whales and other sea creatures. You can go on a half-day cruise or a full day cruise. One of the cruises will take you to Fox Island for lunch at the day lodge so you can walk on the beach after feasting on prime rib, king salmon and king crab. I haven’t done that cruise but I hear the food is really good.

So here are some photos of wildlife we saw on the whale cruise: two orcas, a gray whale surfacing close to Seward (The locals go sit on the beach with a cup of coffee to watch the whales. Nice life!) and seals.

Question of the day: If you could spend a day in Seward, what animal would most like to see? The barking seals? Puffins, the sea parrots? Orca, the sea wolves? Or, the ancient and majestic whale? Me, I’m a whale person. 




Past Tense by Lee Child

Past Tense Lee ChildJack Reacher is doing a little research into his family history. The journey takes him to Laconia, New Hampshire, the town where his Marine father grew up.

At the same time, Patty Sundstrom and her not-very-bright boyfriend Shorty Fleck escape their boring lives in Canada in a worn-out Honda Civic heading for New York City with nothing more than a plan and a big heavy suitcase. When the car overheats in New Hampshire, they see a make-shift sign for a motel and follow the road through a tunnel, then into gloomy woods, and eventually pull up to a fixed-up old roadside motel which is unoccupied but for the owners. The next morning, their car mysteriously will not start.

In Laconia, Reacher finds trouble as Reacher tends to do. He interrupts an assault and puts the bully in a hospital. Unfortunately, the bully is connected with Boston mobsters so the local police try their best to shoo Reacher out of town before retribution rains down. Jack, always just a guy trying to get along, promises to leave. Several times.

Meanwhile back at the motel, the innkeepers are becoming creepier and creepier. Patty and Shorty attempt various plots to escape, but they are thwarted at every juncture. And then, the other guests start showing up.

The two stories intersect in a glorious and elegant battle between good and evil.

For me, Patty and Shorty’s story was uncomfortably reminiscent of the Bates motel and I found myself wanting to reach through the pages and shake some sense into the characters shouting: “Have you never seen a Hitchcock movie?” The release of tension was welcomed when we return to Reacher’s journey into his father’s past. It almost feels cozy to follow the footsteps of the giant with a hair-trigger temper. In the end, I enjoyed the book very much.

Mysteritas: do you read thrillers? What do you like about them?

Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday


Doc Holliday

Lisa Balamaro is an intelligent and gifted, albeit rudderless, young attorney who has drifted into a successful art law practice in San Francisco. A dream come true, right? One day, her cowboy client, former art forger, Tuck Mercer, brings her a deal: negotiate the sale of the recently discovered long-lost love letters of Doc Holliday to a western artifact collector. Recently discovered, these letters between Doc and his cousin, Mattie, who allegedly was the inspiration for Margaret Mitchell’s character, Melanie Hamilton, are highly desirable.

No big deal. Lisa flies to Arizona with Rayella Vargas, the owner of the letters, to meet the buyer at a remote hotel of his choosing. As soon as the conference room door is closed, all hell breaks loose.

Faced with layers of deception and intrigue Lisa does not yet comprehend, our young lawyer does what she knows how to do best: files suit and goes to court. While she’s lawyering, every other character is doing what they know how to do best: the crooked judge, the shyster lawyer, the cowboy vigilantes, and a small squad of battle-hardened Marines at the beck and call of good old Tuck.

The novel alternates between the contemporary story and gorgeously-written letters as they trace the separation of the star-crossed lovers. For those who enjoy the beautiful use of language, there is much to be enjoyed.

The author also masterly renders an out-of-control courtroom drama weaving in the attorney’s thought processes as she runs through procedures and arguments in a way that is understandable to the lay person, credible to an experienced attorney, and creates an exciting tension-filled scene. After court, the drama continues to escalate all the way to the end. It’s one of those stories that I know will stay with me for as I sort it all out.

Drop by Mysteristas tomorrow when the author, David Corbett, will be our guest.

Hollywood Ending by Kellye Garrett

Hollywood EndingThings are looking up for our hero, Dayna Anderson. Day is a former spokesperson for the Chubby’s Chicken franchise who had until recently, when she was unceremoniously let go, her own fame and fortune. Now she’s the girl that people think they remember from high school.

But losing her job didn’t get slow Day down. She and the love of her life, the up and coming actor Omari Grant, are now together. Her BFF and roommate, the reality star Sienna a/k/a Ms. Lady of the Red Vine, upgraded to a nicer apartment providing Day with a new and improved “bloset” (bedroom/shoe closet). The former cop and quirky guy, Aubrey S. Adams-Parker, whom she met in HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE, has agreed to form a private investigating firm with her. And she has fabulous shoes.

In HOLLYWOOD ENDING, the publicist Lyla Davis was murdered at an ATM late one night after a party. Together with Aubrey, Sienna, and the former child star now recluse computer geek, Emma, Day treks through the glitter and glam of a Hollywood award season complete with pre-awards swag parties, appearances, and media interviews while Day’s arch nemesis, Omari’s publicist Nina Flynn, positions and connives to get him nominated for an award. Nina’s efforts are the perfect cover for Day’s investigations, if only Nina didn’t hate her, so Day is forced to walk a thin line as she tries to please and/or avoid Nina long enough to get her foot in the door.

Kellye Garrett, the self-described “recovering TV writer”, uses her inside knowledge of the entertainment business’ behind-the-scenes machinations to provide an authenticity and excitement to these Hollywood tales. Her protagonist, Dayna, is spunky, intelligent, resourceful, and downright laugh-out-loud funny and someone whom I look forward to following as this series continues. Hoorah for Hollywood!

Wrecked by Joe Ide

Wrecked by Joe Ide

Isaiah Quintabe (IQ), a young private investigator, is smarter than everyone else. He serves his Long Beach community by solving his neighbor’s problems, and he is very good at it – but not so good at getting paid, often as not accepting trade or goods in lieu of money. While he’s still waiting on a promised reindeer sweater, his long-time running buddy Dodson offers to join the otherwise successful one-man agency and turn it into a profitable enterprise while at the same time solving his own cash-flow problems. Just as IQ and Dodson’s mutual past is catching up with them, IQ’s attention is caught by the artist Grace, a complicated young woman who happens to need a private investigator. Her long-lost mother is wanted for murder. The story opens with a punch, takes off running and doesn’t let up. I read it in two days.

Each of the IQ novels is unique. The first book, IQ, is a fresh take on traditional mystery and has been nominated for just above every award out there, winning the Anthony, Macavity, and Shamus. RIGHTEOUS, a psychological thriller and second in the series, was aptly described as part Tarantino, part Sherlock Holmes.

WRECKED, the third book, is as gritty as the others, maybe even a grittier, yet also explores more tender topics. Why do people reach out to each other? What makes them resist? What bonds them? What destroys those bonds? Good and evil, love and hate, altruism and avarice, art and atrocity, loyalty and betrayal, and that strange phenomenon when someone recognizes of a kindred soul are all mixed together with two life or death ticking clocks in an ever-tightening web.

Set for publication in October of 2018, WRECKED is a thinking, feeling thriller with plenty of action and a satisfying ending. Five stars.

True Crime

finding bethany“A murder is the culmination of a lot of different circumstances, all converging at a given moment at a given point.” – Agatha Christie, Towards Zero

I’ve been on a true crime story kick lately. Not the badly-acted cable version where the husband offs his wife, drives her body and her car to a remote place, makes a call on her cell to establish her last sighting (and ostensibly his alibi) and then drives away in the stashed getaway car forgetting to have turned off his own phone so his location is quickly triangulated. Do those guys even watch TV? I think not.

Not that kind of true crime. Lately, I’ve gotten into stories that explore the personalities, motivations, how the people involved got where they came to, all those things “converging at a given moment at a given point” and then their disassembly afterwards. Fascinating.

Three stories I have to recommend to you: one book, one podcast and one Netflix series. The book is told from the detective’s point-of-view. The other two are told from the accused’s.

Finding Bethany is a memoir written by my friend, retired homicide detective Glen Klinkhart. Bethany’s story and Glen’s dogged pursuit of her killers was feature on ABC’s 10/10, CNN.TIME and Dateline NBC. I remember when this crime happened. A young woman from the tiny hamlet of Talkeetna moved to Anchorage to start college. She disappeared shortly after. Her parents were frantic. They plastered every public surface with missing posters. The news shows broadcasted updates daily. The updates were: nothing happened. She hasn’t been found.

What were the police doing? From the public’s perspective: a whole lot of nothing. But that wasn’t true. I didn’t know how hard they were working until I read this book.

The detective assigned, Glen Klinkhart, had for years borne guilt and feelings of helplessness after his own sister, Dawn, was murdered. The memoir is about how over the course of his police career, working from case to case, he acquired the skills and insight to solve murder cases culminating in the tracking and capture of Bethany’s murderers. If you want to know what a real murder investigation looks like from a real cop’s point-of-view, this iswest cork the book for you.

West Cork is a podcast series offered by Audible. The body of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, a French filmmaker, was found on the road in front of her house in County Cork, Ireland, her head bashed in. The podcast chronicles an investigation into her murder by husband and wife journalists, Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde. This book is a rare opportunity for you to see inside a botched police case, to hear the voice of the suspect, the witnesses, and the loved ones left behind and the police, and to consider the evidence for yourself.

For the crime fiction writer, there are several reasons to give West Cork a listen. It is primer of how bad police procedure can botch a prosecution. There is also some truly great lawyering. In one clip from one of the trials, an attorney cross-examines Bailey in the deadliest witness examinations I’ve ever heard because the lawyer is so very nice. The interviews and witness testimony provide opportunities to hear the voices of two overly helpful witnesses who turn out to be unreliable and it is a rare opportunity to hear how the accused’s voice when he admits some things, denies other things and changes his story.

Finally: The Staircase, The-Staircase-396x586Netflix a documentary which follows Michael Peterson through his arrest, trial, appeals, and ultimate plea deal involving the death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson.

The documentary presents several interesting questions: The prosecution was rotten with misconduct. If Michael Peterson was guilty, why did the prosecution have to cheat? Peterson had enough money to pay for the best defense money could buy. Is justice for sale? Finally, did the possibility of media rights influence Peterson?

As his defense attorney stated, everyone wants to know what the truth is because this is a murder mystery, and everyone loves a mystery, but the truth does not always leave evidence behind. For the fiction crime writer, this series is an excellent study of flawed characters, motive, plot twists, the justice system and how the camera’s intrusion influences the story.

Mysteristas, do you have any favorite true crime books, movies or series? Tell us in the comments what makes them so good.

Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan

I was lucky to score an e-ARC of #TrustMe a few weeks ago. It’s coming out in August and garnering great reviews. This is mine:

trust-me-225Former journalist Mercer Hennessey is grieving the worst tragedy that could befall a wife and mother. Now a recluse in her family’s home, every morning she writes a number in the steamed-up bathroom mirror: the number of days since it happened.

One day, publishing friend Katherine persuades Mercer to write a true crime book about the sensational Baby Boston murder trial. Party girl Ashlyn Bryant stands accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter because the toddler had got in the way. Cabling is installed in Mercer’s study so she can watch the same feed news people watch without leaving her house, and she settles behind her desk, researching, writing and watching the trial. The book will be publish-ready two weeks after the verdict. By closing argument, Mercer is convinced Ashlyn is a nut case and guilty as hell.

But Ashlyn is acquitted. Katherine comes up with a new scheme to salvage the book: a tell-all, a story of redemption, as told by Ashlyn Bryant to Mercer Hennessey. That’s when it gets scary.

This book is psychological thriller at its best. Riveting. Suspenseful. A morphing reality. No physical violence, but an exploration of the shadowy canons of two women’s grasps on reality and those dark places where monsters lurk. During the trial portion of the book, the author masterfully weaves three timelines, Mercer’s present, Ashlyn’s backstory and Mercer’s backstory. By the time Mercer must rewrite the book, these three versions of reality, yours, mine and the truth, are so blended, the smallest shifts threaten Mercer’s sanity.

Writers especially will appreciate how the delicate blending of timelines is achieved by shifts from past tense to present tense, and how once the present tense is established and we are in Mercer’s mind, each turn makes us doubt what we had believed was true.

Five stars. This book should be taught in creative writing courses.