I Read/I Wrote: James Ziskin

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

I Read: A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum

Edgar finalist Robin Yocum’s A Welcome Murder is an engaging jigsaw puzzle of a novel. Both a satisfying mystery and hilarious romp, A Welcome Murder introduces a roguish cast of losers, sad sacks, nymphomaniacs, drug dealers, and unscrupulous politicians, all against the backdrop of decay in a once-proud Ohio steel town.

The wonderful book gave me hours of enjoyment, thanks to the exceptional plotting, wordsmithing, and humor. Yocum chronicles the rise and fall of fortunes, fueled by ambition, bad behavior, and even worse decisions, with seemingly effortless skill. He paints the corners of the plate like a Cy Young Award winner, achieving a rare balance between police procedural and social farce that truly works. Rich and complex, A Welcome Murder is a joyful portrait of dreams fumbled and recovered.

I Wrote: Cast the First Stone (Seventh Street Books 2017)

I’m proud of this book. I wanted to deal with a topic that still resonates today: discrimination and hatred aimed at the LBGTQ community. I wanted to shine a light on the sowbugs, silverfish, and centipedes that hide under rocks until they’re ready to spew their ignorance against those who simply want to love whom they love.

Cast the First Stone was 2018 finalist for the Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity awards.

February 1962: Tony Eberle has just scored his first role in a Hollywood movie, and the publisher of his hometown newspaper in upstate New York wants a profile of the local boy who’s made good. Reporter Ellie Stone is dispatched to Los Angeles for the story. But when she arrives on set to meet her subject, Tony has vanished. His agent is stumped, the director is apoplectic, and the producer, Bertram Wallis, is dead. Murdered.

Ellie is on the story, diving headfirst into a treacherous demimonde of Hollywood wannabes, beautiful young men, desperately ambitious ingénues, panderers, and pornography hobbyists. Then there are some real movie stars with reputations to protect. To find the killer, Ellie must separate the lies from the truth, unearthing secrets no one wants revealed along the way. But before she can solve Bertram Wallis’s murder, she must locate Tony Eberle.

James Ziskin is the author of the Anthony® and Macavity Award-winning Ellie Stone Mysteries. His books have also been finalists for the Edgar®, Barry, and Lefty awards. A linguist by training, he studied Romance languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his graduate degree, he worked in New York as a photo-news producer and writer, and then as Director of NYU’s Casa Italiana. He spent fifteen years in the Hollywood post production industry, running large international operations in the subtitling/localization and visual effects fields. His international experience includes two years working and studying in France, extensive time in Italy, and more than three-and-a-half years in India. He speaks Italian and French.

James lives in Boston. He is represented by William Reiss of John Hawkins and Associates, Inc. For more information, please visit jameswziskin.com.

I Read/I Wrote: Kathleen Valenti

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Traditional Mystery

I READ: In the Woods by Tana French

For me, choosing just one mystery book that I loved is akin to picking a favorite child. Impossible! There are several books that had a significant impact on me as a writer, however, including In the Woods by Tana French.

Strictly speaking, I write medical mysteries/thrillers. Not-so-strictly-speaking, I consider myself an author of traditional mystery, a genre that fits the bill for In the Woods.

What made this book so compelling for me was the writer’s voice. Ms. French not only captured the musicality of the Irish accent and dialect, but also bridged the gap between literary and genre fiction with a distinctive style that kept me turning the page to discover the next beautifully-turned phrase, as well as the next plot point.

The book pulled me in right from jacket copy. The premise: three children fail to return from a shadowed wood. The police find only one child, a boy wearing blood-filled sneakers, who is unable to remember anything of the terror in the trees. This boy grows into a homicide detective who must investigate a case that is remarkably similar to his own unsolved mystery, giving him a chance to untangle the case before him and resolve the past that’s haunted him.

Captivating, no?

I thought so, and have re-read the book several times hoping the author’s rich, atmospheric prose will rub off on me.

In the Woods isn’t Ms. French’s most popular book, nor is it her most celebrated. However, I find it one of the finest examples of how voice transcends genre and elevates craft.

I WROTE: Protocol

My debut mystery novel is called Protocol. It’s about freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley, who embarks on a career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.

With help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.

I’ve been writing for more than 20 years, first as a nationally award-winning copywriter and now as a mystery novelist. A firm believer that deadpan can be dead-on, I combine funny with frightening to craft page-turners of mystery and suspense.

My debut mystery, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, examines the flaws of technology, the price of modern medicine and the depths of greed to uncover what happens when the invisible among us disappears. In my second book, 39 Winks, my protagonist Maggie O’Malley comes to the aid of her best friend’s aunt after she discovers her husband murdered during a sleepwalking episode.

I live in Oregon with my family, where I pretend to enjoy running.

For more information, please visit www.kathleenvalenti.com.


I Read/I Wrote: Becky Clark

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Humorous/Cozy Mysteries

I READ: Class Reunions Are Murder by Libby Klein

I loved Libby Klein’s funny mystery, Class Reunions Are Murder. The main character is Poppy McAllister, “newly widowed and stuck in a middle-aged funk.” She gets an invitation to her 25th high school reunion. She has no intention of attending, but thinks it’s a good excuse to go see her delightful Aunt Ginny. But Poppy gets a weird letter from the mean girl who made her life miserable all through high school, personally asking her to attend. Weirder still is when the mean girl winds up dead in front of Poppy’s old locker. Poppy really should have stayed away from that reunion.

I’m a sucker for funny books and Klein had me laughing all the way through. Funny phrases, funny situations, funny characters … it’s the complete package. This is the first in the series and I can’t wait to read the rest!

I WROTE: Fiction Can Be Murder

Fiction Can Be Murder, the first book in my Mystery Writer’s Mysteries, was published in April 2018. At least two more are scheduled, Foul Play on Words in April 2019, and Metaphor for Murder in April 2020.

In Fiction Can Be Murder, Mystery author Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo thinks the twisty plots and peculiar murders in her books are only the products of her imagination — until her agent is found dead exactly as described in Charlee’s new, unpublished manuscript. Suspicion now swirls around her and her critique group, making her confidence drop as severely and unexpectedly as her royalty payments.

The police care more about Charlee’s feeble alibi and financial problems than they do her panicky claims of innocence. To clear her name and revive her career, she must figure out which of her friends is a murderer. Easier said than done, even for an author who’s skilled at creating tidy endings for her mysteries. And as her sleuthing grows dangerous, Charlee’s imagination starts working overtime. Is she being targeted too?

Becky Clark is the seventh of eight kids, which explains both her insatiable need for attention and her atrocious table manners. She likes to read funny books so it felt natural to write them too. She surrounds herself with quirky people and pets who end up as characters in her books. Readers say her books are fast and thoroughly entertaining” with “witty humor and tight writing” and “humor laced with engaging characters” so you should grab a cocktail and enjoy the ride.” They also say “Warning: You will laugh out loud. I’m not kidding,” and “If you like Janet Evanovich, you will like Becky Clark.” For more information visit BeckyClarkBooks.com.  


I Read/I Wrote: Vivien Chien

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Culinary/Cozy Mystery

I READ: On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle

On What Grounds, first book of the Coffeehouse mysteries, was the very first cozy mystery I’d ever read. In the first installment, you meet Clare Cosi, the incredibly loveable protagonist who is heading back to New York City after ten years of suburban life. Her return is brought on by a proposal from her ex-mother-in-law who owns a coffeehouse she would like Clare to manage. To make matters interesting, Clare is unaware that her ex-husband will also play a part in the business and force them to be a part of each other’s lives once again.

The appeal of cozy mysteries tends to come from a variety of reasons including themed interests, justice prevailing, and a focal point of solving the puzzle itself. Another great appeal to this sub-genre is the protagonist being an amateur sleuth, giving the reader an opportunity to identify with a character that is an “everyday man.”

In my case, it was a little bit of all the above that attracted me to the genre. And with this series, the main attraction for me was coffee! The series is filled with fun facts about coffee, its production and even includes recipes!

I WROTE: Death by Dumpling

Death by Dumpling is the first book in the Noodle Shop mysteries and takes place in Cleveland, Ohio.

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead—after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy—to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out—it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.

Vivien Chien first started writing simple stories about adventures with her classmates when she was in elementary school. As she grew up, her love of books and the written word increased, leading to the attempt of her first novel at age 16. After many struggled beginnings and several different genres, she found her passion in the mystery world. She currently lives in Cleveland where she is hard at work on the third book in her Noodle Shop series and writes side-by-side with her toy fox terrier.

Visit her at www.vivienchien.com.

I Read/I Wrote: Keenan Powell

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Legal mystery

I READ: The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty

Sean Duffy, a Royal Irish Constabulary sergeant, is newly stationed to Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, during “The Troubles.” A Catholic, he defied societal norms by joining the police and then purchasing a council house in a Protestant neighborhood.

Sean’s wit is revealed early.  In the first scene, after poetically describing a night riot, (“Arcs of gasoline fire under the crescent moon. Crimson tracer in mystical parabolas. Phosphorescence from the barrels of plastic bullet guns.”), he observes, “It was perfect. It was Giselle. It was Swan Lake. And yet… And yet we had the feeling that we had seen better.”

Duffy uses humor to establish his position in the male-only force. Amusing his comrades, he wittily retorts in response to one constable’s prejudice. To his superior, he plays the wise-cracking jester. Yet, he is no fool, clearly intelligent, knowledgeable and comfortable with command as he sets about solving a murder mystery.

What I love about Duffy is that he, in his own small way, is affecting a one-man solution to sectarian violence. He never stoops to join the conflict. Instead, he makes friends with Protestants he meets impressing them with his sincerity.

I WROTE: Deadly Solution

Less than a year after drinking sidelined her career as a public defender in Anchorage, Alaska, Maeve Malloy is asked to defend an Aleut Indian accused of beating another homeless man to death. With no witnesses to the crime and a client who claims to have no knowledge of the night of the murder due to a blackout, the case is stacked against them.

As Maeve works to maintain her sobriety, she and her investigator Tom Sinclair search for answers in homeless camps, roadside bars, and biker gang hangouts. When they uncover more than a few people with motives all their own for wanting the victim dead, they are determined to prove their client’s innocence before he is sentenced to a life behind bars for a crime he swears he didn’t commit. When Maeve and Tom discover there may be a link to an unusually high number of deaths among the homeless community, the search is on for a killer hunting among the most vulnerable members of society.

My first publication were illustrations in Dungeons and Dragons, when still in high school.  Art seemed an impractical pursuit (not an heiress, didn’t have disposition to marry well, hated teaching), so I went to law school instead. Right after graduation, I moved to Alaska.

Earlier in my career, I defended criminal cases, including murder, for several years. I still practice law in Anchorage, Alaska.

In 2009, there was a string of homeless death which the Medical Examiner had ruled were the result of “natural causes.” While attending a seminar, I learned of a little-known law that permits the ME to rule natural causes without autopsy. These deaths and this loophole were the inspiration of my debut, Deadly Solution, published by Level Best Books in 2018.

For more information, please visit keenanpowellauthor.com.


I Read/I Wrote: Kellye Garrett

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Private Investigator

I READ: One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich introduced the world to my favorite Jersey Girl, Stephanie Plum. Stephanie is an out-of-work lingerie buyer who blackmailer her cousin into letting her become a bounty hunter. Her first assignment? A cop who also took her virginity.

I still remember the first time I discovered the series as impressionable high school student in a since-closed Barnes and Noble in Livingston, New Jersey. I’ve happily followed Stephanie’s adventures for twenty five books now and I’m always amazed at how Evanovich is able to make you laugh even in the most scary situations. #WriterGoals

I WROTE: Hollywood Ending

Hollywood Homicide and Hollywood Ending are the first two books in the Detective by Day Mystery series from Midnight Ink. The series centers on a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life: private detective. The first in the series, Hollywood Homicide, won the Agatha, Anthony, Lefty, and IPPY awards for Best First Novel. The second, Hollywood Ending, came out in August. As you can imagine from above, I was thrilled when Library Journal wrote that “fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series will feel right at home” reading Hollywood Ending. #HeartBeStill

Kellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life: Homicide Detective.  The first, Hollywood Homicide, won the Agatha, Anthony, Lefty, and Independent Publisher “IPPY” awards for best first novel. The second, Hollywood Ending, was released on August 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for Cold Case. She now works for a leading media company and serves on the Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime as the organization’s Publicity Liaison.  You can learn more at KellyeGarrett.com and ChicksontheCase.com.

I Read/I Wrote: Jennifer Kincheloe

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Historical Mystery

I READ: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

I stumbled on Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody series by randomly downloading titles from the Denver Public Library. These books have it all–intrigue, fine prose, romance, a rich historical setting, and, above all, hilarity. My husband and I giggled all the way through them.

The books are set in late 19th century Egypt and feature Peabody, an eccentric English Egyptologist, and her beast of a love interest, Dr. Emerson. The author herself was an Egyptologist so her world building is vivid and accurate. Crocodile on the Sandbank comes first in the series, but you can read the books out of order. I devoured these books before it ever occurred to me that I could write novels, and they were the strongest literary influence on my own mystery series. I highly recommend the audiobooks narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.

I WROTE: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

It’s 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc is the kind of young woman who devours purloined crime novels–but must disguise them behind covers of more lady-like reading. She could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals.

Determined to break free of the era’s rigid social roles, Anna buys off the chaperone assigned by her domineering father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate. Seizing her one chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself.

If the police find out, she’ll get fired; if her father finds out, he’ll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he’ll cancel the wedding and stop pouring money into her father’s collapsing bank.

Anna must choose–either hunt the villain and risk losing her father, fiancé, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose.

Jennifer Kincheloe is a research scientist and writer of historical mysteries. Her novels take place in 1900s Los Angeles among the police matrons of the LAPD and combine, mystery, history, humor, and romance. Her books have won or been finalists in multiple awards including the Lefty Awards, the Macavity Awards, the Colorado Author’s League Awards, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Mystery, the Mystery and Mayhem Awards, and the Colorado Gold. She lives in Denver Colorado with her husband and two kids. There she writes books and studies the jails.

For more information, please visit jenniferkincheloe.com.

I Read/I Wrote: Bruce Robert Coffin

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Police Procedural

I READ: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

This was one of the best mystery books I read all of last year. Told from the view point of a young boy during one hot summer, it evokes a similar feelings as To Kill a Mockingbird. Rich in its descriptions of the small town and its inhabitants, the writing is fabulous.

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

I WROTE: Among the Shadows

First in the Detective Byron Mysteries, the novel introduces us to Detective Sergeant John Byron.

Fall in Portland, Maine usually arrives as a welcome respite from summer’s sweltering temperatures and, with the tourists gone, a return to normal life—usually. But when a retired cop is murdered, things heat up quickly, setting the city on edge.

Detective Sergeant John Byron, a second-generation cop, is tasked with investigating the case—at the very moment his life is unraveling. On the outs with his department’s upper echelon, separated from his wife, and feeling the strong pull of the bottle, Byron remains all business as he tries to solve the murder of one of their own. And when another ex-Portland PD officer dies under suspicious circumstances, he quickly realizes there’s much more to these cases than meets the eye. The closer Byron gets to the truth, the greater the danger for him and his fellow detectives.

Bruce Robert Coffin is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron mystery series and former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11th, Bruce spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive.

His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2016.

Bruce is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. He is a regular blog contributor to the Maine Crime Writers and Murder Books blogs.

He lives and writes in Maine. For more information, please visit www.brucerobertcoffin.com.

I Read/I Wrote: Peg Brantley

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Thriller

I READ: The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

“Those who clump thrillers and mysteries into a lower-echelon genre are generalizing from the worst of the books. If ‘serious novels’ were evaluated the same way, the genre would look like junk—and obviously that would be unfair. The thriller/mystery form is a time-honored structure that stretches characters thin enough to make them transparent, one of the primary purposes of fiction. Oedipus Rex and Hamlet are murder mysteries. Macbeth is a thriller. I don’t want to hear about ‘genres.’ I want to hear about ‘books.'” — Timothy Hallinan, on genre

The Queen of Patpong is book #5 in an amazing series based in Thailand, primarily Bangkok. Queen was nominated for an Edgar (should’ve won) and anchors the Poke Rafferty books in an incredible way.

I began reading this series with the first book, A Nail Through the Heart. The strength of the stories lies in how delicate they are. A tapestry that is both powerful and vulnerable, and expands with each book.

This is Rose’s book, a beautiful woman with a tragic past. She and Poke (a travel writer from America) have finally married and it seems like their adopted daughter, Miaow, a former street child, is finally settling into the new family.

Tim writes the little girl with unbelievable skill, and invokes in Rose a dignity that should have been shattered during her time as a Patpong dancer. If you read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and were blown away by his ability to channel women, you will be doubly blown away by Timothy Hallinan’s portrayals.

Warning: Don’t start chapter 19 just before you go to bed. Because you won’t.

I WROTE: Trafficked

Sex trafficking.

Not Thailand. Or the Philippines. Or Russia.

It’s America.

Rich or poor, black or white, girls disappear across this country every day, pulled into the nightmarish world of prostitution and drugs.

Mex Anderson is back, tasked with finding three missing girls before it’s too late. Three girls. Three girls who could live in your town, your neighborhood, or your own home.

Jayla is fifteen. A smart kid from a poor part of town who has to fend for herself. She’s headed for college and a better life than her mother had.

Alexis is seventeen. Money has provided everything she could ever want except functional parents. Alexis has the world by the tail and she knows it.

Livvy is twelve. She’s a middle child who dreams of being a veterinarian when she grows up. But right now she just wants someone to notice her, maybe even to love her.

Caught up in a cruel system fueled by lust and money, all three young women must find the courage within themselves to survive. And Mex must come to terms with his own loss and face his demons head on—or he might not have the strength to save them.


With intent to bring credibility to her stories, award-winning author Peg Brantley graduated from the Aurora Citizens’ Police Academy, participated in the Writers’ Police Academy, interviewed crime scene investigators, FBI agents, human trafficking experts, obtained her Concealed Carry, studied topics from arson dogs to Santeria, and hunted down real life locations that show up in her books. For more information, please visit pegbrantley.com.

I Read/I Wrote: Leslie Karst

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Snarky Cozy/Traditional

I READ: A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

By the time I came upon Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi (published in 1982), I’d read plenty of mysteries, but they’d all been either Golden Age traditional/cozies written by women (e.g., Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers) or hard-boiled/noirs by men (e.g., Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler).

So Grafton’s debut came as an awakening. Here was a book in the traditional “weary PI” style, yet written by and featuring a woman. And as I read on, I realized she’d created a sort of hybrid between the hard-boiled and the cozy—the story of a private investigator with no strings attached (“My apartment is small…. I don’t have pets. I don’t have houseplants.”) yet with a big heart (“I’m a nice person and I have a lot of friends.”). But most important, the novel was full of humor—a tad on the snarky side, yes, but who doesn’t love that?

Numerous authors have since emulated Grafton and, as a result, the line between “soft” and “hard” crime fiction is now far less rigid, allowing for a variety of new genres, such as what I like to call “snarky cozies” and “heartfelt noir.”

I WROTE: Dying for a Taste 

After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery. Managing the front of the house, however, is far from her dream of running her own kitchen.

Then her Aunt Letta is found stabbed to death at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is astounded to learn she has inherited the place. But there’s a problem: the Gauguin sous chef is the prime suspect in Letta’s murder. Convinced of his innocence and dependent on his expertise to keep restaurant afloat, Sally is determined to clear his name.

Delving into her enigmatic aunt’s past, she is thrown into the unfamiliar world of organic and sustainable farming, Chez Panisse-style restaurants, and animal rights activists—not to mention buried family secrets. And as her list of suspects grows, Sally begins to realize that—as Gauguin’s new owner—she may be the next victim on the killer’s list.

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts.

Putting this early education to good use, she now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries, a culinary series (yes, snarky cozies) set in Santa Cruz, California. For more information, please visit lesliekarstauthor.com.