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.

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Solstice in Anchorage

 

 

Visitors Center resizedOn June 21, we have 19 hours and 22 minutes of sunlight in Anchorage, Alaska, which is a really big deal because exactly six months prior, and six months into the future, we had, and will have, 19 hours and 33 minutes of dark. That’s  a whole lot of dark.  So, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that we celebrate Summer Solstice.  Big time.

The annual traditions include the Mayor’s Midnight Marathon, with half-marathon and a 5K, ball games, music and mass partying in general. One of my favorite celebrations is a street fair downtown.

This year, I started my street fair tour at the Visitor’s Center log house. As you can see, Anchorage likes flowers. A lot. In fact, we have a municipal greenhouse where our municipal gardeners grow flowers for planting in public spaces. We have planters in front of public buildings and baskets hanging along the sidewalks. In the winter, the municipal greenhouse is a popular, albeit small, wedding venue.
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Anchorage has a 1% for Arts program, to wit: all public construction project must dedicate 1% of its budget for art purchases. We are constantly building and rebuilding, so we have a lot of public art.  This is a life-size painted bear in front of the historic City Hall. I especially like the forest on his leg.

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For Solstice, Town Square became a giant playground. There was a rock climbing wall and those bouncy house things plus music and booths selling food and T-shirts etc.

 

Fire engine contest resized - CopyI hung around the Hero Games for quite a bit, not because I like seeing firemen in their big boots and baggy fire pants with suspenders, and not because I like to see buff cops in tight black t-shirts, but as a celebration of how their service protects and improves our lives. Thank you, gentlepeople. Here is the fire engine pull contest. We have the one pink fire engine. It takes a very secure man to ride around on that. Fortunately, Anchorage has many very secure men.

 

Petting zoo resized - CopyOne street was blocked off for a petting zoo and chalk drawings. These geese did not want to get petted. They kept positioning themselves between the horse at top and sheep on the left to get away from the kids.

Clay moose resized - CopyAnd, there was stuff to buy. Food booths and cool stuff vendors. I feel very strongly that there is a place in my home for one of these moose. Don’t you agree?

If you didn’t make it to Anchorage for the Solstice Fair, fret not. Next weekend is the Scottish Highland Games, which has become so big they had to move it to the state fair grounds. Besides the throwing of big heavy objects by men in skirts, another one of my favorites, (I love those twirling skirts), there is a British car show, bagpipe competition, a parade, more kid entertainment, and a ton of booths.

In early July is the Girdwood Forest Fair. Girdwood is a little ski town down the road from Anchorage. Booths are strung along a path meandering through forest. Girdwood is kind of an old hippy community, so there are a lot of pottery booths. One expects to see Robin Hood come thundering through the trees at any minute.

The next weekend is the Eagle River Bear Paw festival. One event is the smelly sneaker contest, often won by a teenage boy (or his mom). If it’s really hot, the fireman will uncap a hydrant and the kids get to run around in the water spewing twenty feet into the air.

Reminder: in Alaska, we love our dogs. This is not my dog. Nice looking dog, though.

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So, Mysteristas and readers, how did you celebrate Solstice? Or if not Solstice itself, do you enjoy a summer celebration? Tell us.

Maeve Malloy’s Walking Tour of Anchorage

Maeve's officeIn DEADLY SOLUTION, my protagonist, Maeve Malloy, is an attorney in private practice in Anchorage, Alaska. Her office is on the second floor of an older building just a block down from the courthouse. I imagine it to be in the corner office facing us just over the Trustees for Alaska sign.

At one point in my career, I had an office in that building. In DEADLY SOLUTION, the first floor was vacant. Nowadays, it houses Snow City Café — a trendy breakfast/lunch place with excellent coffee.  It is so popular that Obama stopped in to pick up some pastries for his secret service guys: Obama visits Snow City Café. So if you ever come to Anchorage, you too can buy pastries, or even a sandwich, in the same café that served the secret service. And, by the way, it has the best coffee in the neighborhood.

Adorable bears at Boney Courthouse

There are actually two courthouses on Fourth Avenue standing side by side. The “old” Boney Courthouse takes up half a block with a lovely garden and walkway in front of it. I say “old” because when I started practicing, the Boney Courthouse was the new courthouse. We thought it was quite flashy: it had elevators!

The old courthouse was the Kalamarides Courthouse which sat where the garden is now. It was demolished because it was so unsafe in the event of an earthquake, some judges refused to go in it.

On the nextCourthouse block is the new, new courthouse, the Nesbett Courthouse. Tourists love to take their photos with the totem poles. By the way, the totem poles depict the Tlingit lovebirds, Eagle and Raven. This is the courthouse described in DEADLY SOLUTION. The hallways on each floor run the length of the south side of the building overlooking Anchorage and the Chugach mountain range, and there are stained glass embellishments in the windows of each floor. It is quite a pleasant place to hang out, if you have to be at court. If you’re visiting, you can go inside and look around.

Captain CookIf Maeve turned left when she left her office building instead of turning right to go to court, she could walk around the corner to visit a statue of Captain Cook staring nobly towards the direction of Hawaii, where he visited after leaving Alaska, and where he was murdered by the locals.  In Alaska, we prefer our tourists to go home happy and tell everyone about their wonderful adventure. So, just tuck that into your hat next time you go on vacation. Hawaii or Alaska?

Up the street from late, great Captain Cook and around the corner is the Oscar Anderson house, an adorable little — I mean little — craftsman built in 1915. It is one of the oldest houses standing. Tours are given in the summer: Oscar Anderson house.

 

Oscar Anderson house

 

True story: I was on the elevator at Left Coast Crime in Reno, Nevada, a few months ago wearing my lanyard that identified me as coming from Anchorage, Alaska, when a man asked, “You’re from Anchorage?”

“Yup”, I said.

“Know the Oscar Anderson house?”

“Yup.”

“I used to live there.” And then the elevator stopped and he strode off into crowd before I could think of something to say.

So, former resident of Oscar Anderson house, if you’re reading this, your house is still there, it’s being landscaped even as I write this and it’s just as adorable as ever.

And for the rest of you tourists, if you come up by boat, you’ll probably stay in the Captain Cook hotel directly across the street from the Boney Courthouse and a block away from Snow City Café (remember: best coffee downtown) and Maeve Malloy’s fictional office. Hope to see you in your travels!

Gerry-rigging Hotel Coffeemaker

I don’t know about you guys but I cannot stand hotel coffee. The stuff in the rooms tastes like used engine oil. The stuff in the conferences is more like stewed gym sox.

So I’ve taken to bringing my own coffee, pre-ground back home. Which works out just fine if they give you the old-fashioned Mr. Coffee: paper filter, pour in grounds, add water, and voila! But those are less common these days.

Nowadays, the room coffeemakers have these funny little pods. Not Kurig-style pods, which would make life so much easier, but flat little paper pods. During my last trip, hoping to find a Kurig-style maker, I’d brought some pods of my favorite coffee, Deathwish.

Alas, no such luck.

So I developed a method for gerry-rigging the hotel room coffee maker utilizing coffee from the Kurig pods. I present you a photographic tutorial:

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Step 1: You will need a coffee filter, coffee pod, the plastic tray that comes with hotel coffee and a paperclip.
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Step 2: Throw out the hotel coffee.
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Step 3: Using the paperclip, saw off the coffee pod lid and pour coffee into the filter placed in the plastic tray.
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Step 4: Fold coffee filter into an envelope.
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Step 5: Make coffee!

Stay tuned for my next blog post: how to construct a ball gown out of duct tape.

Malice Domestic 30: A Very Good Time!

Malice Domestic, the mystery convention, celebrated its 30th anniversary April 27-29, 2018 in Bethesda Maryland and I was there along with 600 mystery fans. Check out book bag that is given (filled!) to every Malice attendee. Attendees included Guest of Honor Louise Penny, Poirot honoree Brenda Blethyn, Lifetime Achievement honoree, Nancy Pickard, and the author of the Vera and Shetland books, Ann Cleeves. It was a three-day fan-girl extravaganza.

On Thursday night before the conference opened, BritBox treated us to a special screening of Vera, season 8 episode 3, with real British Cadbury candy bars for everyone in the audience. Mine was eaten quickly so as not to distract me from the show.

Friday, Toastmaster Catriona McPherson opened the convention, setting the party tone as only she can do with that intelligent and off-beat humor only she possesses.

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You Got Fan Mail panel: Nancy Pickard, Louise Penny, Catriona McPherson, Brenda Blethyn, Verena Rose

There were too many panels to mention, but one of the highlights was You’ve Got Fan Mail with Brenda Blethyn, Catriona McPherson, Louise Penny and Nancy Pickard. I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. That afternoon, Martin Edwards, author of the award-winning The Golden Age of Murder, interviewed Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn. What a treat it was to learn about how it was sold to ITV, the production of the show, and the fierce protection of “their” Vera character from the the lady who created her and the one who brought her to life.

Saturday was the long day with many panels from 9 AM to 4 PM, and then an interview with Louise Penny by her good friend Rhys Bowen during which I came to understand whence the gentle and kind, but formidable, Inspector Armand Gamache came. That evening was the Agatha awards banquet, during which Louise Penny touched all our hearts speaking about the writing journey she traveled with her late husband, Michael, who inspired Gamache. I sponsored my own table, bringing my Alaska-themed swag bags (birch syrup candy, a fridge magnet and a small vial of gold flakes). I thought about collecting some moose droppings and covering them in glitter. Maybe next year. Or, maybe not.

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My banquet swag bag

My panels were on Sunday morning. In the new author breakfast sponsored by Mystery Scene Magazine, newly published authors are interviewed for a few minutes about their book while everyone is treated to fruit and baked goods. Then, I had a lot of fun serving on the Law & Order panel with moderator Robert Downs, and authors Bruce Robert Coffin, Roger Johns, Catherine Maiorisi and Michael Rubin.

That afternoon, Lori Rader-Day interviewed Catriona McPherson. Who knew Catriona has PhD in Linguistics? Who knew her thesis had something to do with things that don’t exist (it was way over my head.)? And that she quite a teaching job at a university to write, moving to an old farmhouse that she wrote into The Child Garden? And that she’s releasing three books this year! The very funny Scot-Free, the next Dandy Gilver coming out soon, and a new stand alone in the autumn.

I always stay for the Agatha Tea on Sunday afternoon complete with finger sandwiches, scones and pretty little cakes. Like any good party, no one wants it to end, and the tea is another chance to linger.

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Official photographer framing the Agatha tea goodies

The new digs, Marriott Bethesda North, was easy, convenient and made us feel welcomed. Ellen Byron and Gigi Pandian escorted this frightened-of-the-big-city Alaskan through the metro (underground railroad) from the airport to just across the street from the hotel. The metro isn’t that bad! It’s kind of like the Disneyland monorail – without princesses.

The hotel had five elevators, all of which worked, a breakfast buffet that included tasty gluten-free choices, a gym that I walked past several times, and a small Starbucks stand. The convention center is attached to the hotel and is mostly above ground. It only took ten minutes to travel from my ninth-floor room to the banquet rooms on the first floor and then another few minutes downstairs to registration, the dealer room, hospitality room, and smaller meeting rooms. And, room service delivered warm, delicious food within 20 minutes of ordering no matter how busy the restaurant was.

Good thing UPS sets up a shipping room on Sunday. There was no way I could get my haul into the one bag I had brought.

Big thanks to Alaskans Patricia Watts and Glen Klinkhart who both donated their books along with mine for our Alaska-themed silent auction package. Together with the other silent and live auction bids, a total of $22,000 was raised for Keen Greater DC’s children literacy program.

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Our Alaska silent auction donation

Mark your calendar for Malice Domestic 31: May 3 – May 5, 2019. Registration discounts are available until 9/30/18. And if you sign up before December 31, you will be asked to nominate your favorite 2018 releases for an award. Visit the website: www.MaliceDomestic.org.

Mooses, Wolves & Bears: Oh My!

mooseDo I see wildlife in urban Alaska? Why, yes, I do!

This wretched ungulate is moseying away from my front yard after having eaten my roses. I’m not a wildlife biologist, but I’m getting the idea that when a developer drops a subdivision in the middle of a moose trail, the moose don’t care.

I’ve lived in this house for twelve years and every winter, a cow and a calf wonder down the hill every night in the exact same pattern. First they eat what used to be my maple tree and is now a maple shrub, then they come across the my driveway and forage the front yard. Used to be they ate my lilac, so I moved it to the backyard thinking they would be discouraged. But nope: they eat roses too.

I’ve seen one wolf up close in the wild and that was on my back deck when I had a condo that overlooked a lake. The property wasn’t fenced in the back. He just leapt up on to the deck, looked in the window, looked around and left. I was so stunned, I didn’t think to grab a camera. People will tell you wolves are shy. But here in Alaska, they kill dogs, stalk humans and have killed a few, so I’m glad the glass was between us.

bear

I’ve seen more bear up close than I care to, mostly back in my hiking days. In my first bear confrontation, we met a mother black bear with three cubs climbing a tree. She charged us but we held our ground waving our walking sticks, yelling and making ourselves look big. I was yelling, “Please don’t eat me, Mrs. Bear.” It worked.

The second time, a bear chased a rabbit in the brush. There was quite a bit of trashing — I think the rabbit lost. We went the long way around to avoid the scene.

The third time, we were coming downhill and the bear was going uphill on another trail just a couple of feet parallel to ours. The woman in front, not me, was too busy talking to see the bear so it was four feet away before we all noticed each other. It didn’t care and kept going. We quit hiking at that location.

In my last bear encounter, a woman known as The Old Hag and I were hiking in springtime when we were stalked. We knew it was a bear because it was making lots of noise in the brush but it wasn’t tall enough to see. And that was the last time I went hiking in bear country.

We have nice wildlife too or at least wildlife that doesn’t want to eat people. There are eagles nesting somewhere near my house. I see them teaching their babies how to fly every summer. The geese pass through Anchorage and some hatch their young here. In Alaska, traffic stops for a goose and goslings and it’s a perfectly acceptable reason to be late to work. Just the other day, I had to brake when a red fox ran across the road in front of my car.

What about you, Mysteristas? Do you have any wildlife, urban or otherwise, where you live?

Springtime in Alaska: Sundogs and Potholes

Sundog FB

Glorious, isn’t it?

This is a sundog. If the sun is high enough in the sky, it will be completely encircled by a rainbow. Most of the time, however, sundogs appear when the air is crisp and cool, which means late winter, which means the sun is hovering just above the horizon in Anchorage, Alaska, and blinding you if you have the misfortune of driving south on your way home. You learn to drive with one hand blocking the sun.

In Alaska, we don’t call spring “spring”. We call it “break-up”. Not because a long winter is hard on relationships (it is), but because river ice starts moving. The television show Northern Exposure called this time of year “crack-up”, the premise being that all of the characters were stressed to the max until the river started moving and then they felt relief because of some mystical relationship with the river ice. Unfortunately, there is no sudden relief from cabin fever in the spring. It ebbs away slowly.

So very slowly. Especially this year. But I digress.

Up Fairbanks-way, someone got the great idea to freeze a tripod in the middle of the Nenana River and connect it to a clock on land which is triggered when the tripod starts moving. I am not making this up. It’s been going on since 1917. Here’s the website: Nenana Ice Classic.

Betting on that exact date and time has been a popular spring pastime. The tickets don’t cost a lot and I must admit that I’ve entered on a few occasions, but the disappointment at having not won isn’t worth the $2.50 expenditure, especially if one’s cabin fever has not ebbed away yet. Which it hasn’t. So I quit playing.

potholes

Another prominent feature of break-up are potholes. Freeze and thaw are hard on pavement and most roads are completely repaved every three to five years (it seems), which leads to the season known as “road construction” (“summer” to the rest of you).  Potholes are everywhere so there is a lot of weaving on the roads trying to avoid them when snow first melts because they will destroy your car. The City of Anchorage even has a pothole hotline for people to call in reports and it is pretty good about getting them patched quickly.

And this is how my break-up is faring this year: more snow, sundogs and potholes.

How is it going in your part of the country? If your tulips are coming up, I really don’t want to know. Tell me something horrible. Make it up if you have to.