Sleuths United – Two / Too

Linda’s choice of favorite detective—Sherlock Holmes—was surprising.  I’d never have guessed she actually liked mysteries.  Yes, we’re private investigators, but that’s our job, our profession.  Simply because we solve cases doesn’t mean we have to read about them or experience them vicariously.

It’s JJ and it’s my turn to post about my preferred detective.  There are two vying for the favorite spot and they date back to the 60s and 70s, courtesy of Aunt Sue Lou and her love of retro TV.  When my sister Reena Jean (God rest her soul) and I were young, we spent a lot of time with aunts and cousins (like Rey) at various campsites, cottages and winter chalets.  Aunt Sue Lou loved her detective shows, all the more if the guys were cute.  She saw nothing wrong with the kids watching clean-fun crime shows before bedtime.

Of the many series we were exposed to back then, Columbo (Peter Falk) and Mannix (Mike Connors) were my favorites.  Still are.  While they took place in different decades, they didn’t seem dated.  It was more a view into another era; neither came across as stilted or contrived, like some others.  These days, I don’t get to watch either very often, but from time to time, I manage to put on an episode or two.  WPWedUse1

Columbo was a classic show, a non-whodunit—everyone knew who did it from the get-go.  It was hard not to like the perceptive LAPD Homicide cop with the rumpled and crumpled [ugly] raincoat, cheap stogie, and just-got-out-of-bed look.  Appearance-wise, he was a bit of a mess (you had to wonder why Wifey didn’t put her foot down about that).  His detecting manner leaned toward clumsy—he was forever misplacing a pencil or notebook, determining where to place ashes, or forgetting a question—but he was far from inept.  And he always got his man or woman, often with shows of respect from both parties when all was said and done.

Joe Mannix, on the other hand, was a ruggedly handsome and well-put-together Los Angeles private eye who was honorable and conscientious, as well as suave and kind of sexy.  During the eight years the show graced the TV screen, he suffered a slew of punches, a stabbing and shooting or two, and 55+ knock-outs.  Pretty and amiable Peggy Fair, his secretary (played by Gail Fisher) was the perfect complement.  The various LAPD cop friends he had always seemed more like buddies than antagonists (as often portrayed in other shows) and that was an appealing component.

Both shows were innocuous and entertaining.  Still are.  It’s particularly fun to watch them now because you’ll discover big-named actors—some already popular then and some just starting out.

Linda ended with a favorite quote from Sherlock and that got me to thinking of ones for my two detectives.  Unfortunately, neither had any, save for Columbo’s frequent, famous “Ah, one more thing” line.

So, I’ll leave you with my two favorite episodes.

Columbo: “Murder by the Book” (with Jack Cassidy and Martin Milner). A mystery writing duo go splitsville when one murders the other.  Directed by Steven Spielberg, it was classic Columbo and is [still] thoroughly entertaining.

Mannix: “Out of the Night” (with Joyce Van Patten and James A Watson Jr).  I liked this one because it gave Peggy a chance to shine and play something other than a calm, dependable, and perky secretary.  To assist in breaking up a narcotics ring, she goes undercover as a prostitute, exhibiting spunk and pluck.

If you haven’t watched either—or it’s been some time since you have—take another gander.  Both shows are a pleasant diversion—but no less engaging—from the gritty and excessively violent ones we have today.

Sleuths United

Because The Boss wants to take off a few days from posting, she asked us if we’d each post about our favorite detective—be he or she from books, TV, or films.  (Writing about Nancy Drew got her to thinking about sleuths and private investigators.)

Rey, JJ and I took turns playing rock-paper-scissors to see who’d post first, second and third.  I won—“I” being Linda, of course.  For me, it has to be the ever-brilliant “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Although I enjoyed reading classic literature in my teens, I was never into mysteries or detectives, but once I began working as a screenwriting assistant, I hung around with film people who were into classic films.  Through them, I was introduced to a wonderful world of B&W movies . . . and Basil Rathbone.

A bit of trivia: Rathbone, along with Nigel Bruce as sidekick Dr. Watson, played in 14 films between 1939 and 1946.  The first, The Hound of the Baskervilles, was my favorite.  Rathbone’s exploits, coupled with Bruce’s wit, prompted me to pick up the stories with—yes—The Hound being the first.  I was hooked immediately.  For a short spell, I was even a bit of a Sherlockian.  There’s a cool site, by the by, called Sherlockian.net (“The Portal About the Great Detective”).

I took a quick gander and based on a 2009 CNN Entertainment piece, Sherlock “The Game is Afoot” Holmes has been played by 75 actors in 211 films.  Wikipedia claims 254 times as at 2012.  That’s pretty damn impressive. WPshusetoo

The quintessential Sherlock Holmes for yours truly, however, was Jeremy Brett, who played him in 41 episodes from 1984 through 1994 (when Brett passed from heart failure).  I thought the series seemed like the real deal in terms of how I imagined 221B Baker Street and Victorian England to look and feel.  Others did as well apparently; praise was provided in spades re adhering to original concepts and Brett received accolades for his portrayal.

As an FYI, Brett once stated that “Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played—harder than Hamlet or Macbeth”.  Additional minutiae: Brett was the only actor who played both Holmes and Watson.  <LOL>  Rey’s usually the film enthusiast.  Hmm, speaking of, I wonder who she’ll pick as her favorite.  She wouldn’t tell us and simply said we’d have to read her post.

With that, I leave you with one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes quotes (from The Man with the Twisted Lip): “I confess that I have been blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”  Linda1

Who Doesn’t Like a Little Inspiration?

A wee while back I posted about Nancy Drew, the amateur sleuth who inspired me to write mysteries.

Feeling nostalgic, I ordered a few of the many I’d read as a kid (gotta love Amazon).  Written in the 50s and 60s by Carolyn Keene, a pseudonym of the various authors that wrote both Nancy Drew mysteries and The Dana Girls mysteries, they were “frolicsome” adventures for the young [aspiring] Sherlock within.

Having read three so far, the ones I recall having been my favorites back then, I thought I’d provide then-and-now reviews.

The Haunted Showboat

The first Nancy Drew read by yours truly had me so riveted, I spent the entire weekend in my bedroom with it.  It took me to New Orleans, which sounded so exotic to a kid living in cold, gray Toronto.  It provided action and excitement, a world where a “girl” could lead an exciting adventurous life, have (and easily make) friends.  She was pretty, smart, and oh so [enviably] likable; with two affable sidekicks, Bess and George, a darling dad and kind housekeeper, life seemed more than perfect.  While solving the mystery with them, I learned a few facts, too.  It was a 5/5.

I have to admit—YA writing style aside—it was still an enjoyable read, save for some politically incorrect words/terms/portrayals.  During the period, using them in books or on TV seemed the norm; today, whoa, not at all acceptable.  Ignorance of the times?  A topic for another post.  A 3/5 (for taking me back to the bayou).

The Clue in the Old Stagecoach

Nancy, Bess and George attend Camp Merriweather where the trio attempt to locate—yup—a clue in an old stagecoach.  In fact, finding it might just help save a town.  They detect while pursuing camp fun and encountering requisite villains—which is somewhat reminiscent of those 60s beach flicks with cute crooning Frankie and perfectly-coiffed Annette.  Must be nice to have moneyed parents that can send you to fun/faraway places.  <LOL>  The trio—with the assistance of their ever-faithful beaus—solve the case with stellar results, natch.  I’d probably have given it a 4/5 back then.

Stagecoach wasn’t quite what I remembered.  Flat and not overly eventful (with some annoying characters), a 1/5 would be about the best I could offer today.

The Moonstone Castle Mystery

This one accompanied me to Germany when my mother and I flew over to attend her mom’s funeral.  It had the same drawing power as Haunted Showboat and I was captivated as the three young women traveled to Deep River to locate a girl missing since childhood.  Yes, there was a moonstone (a gift sent to Nancy by someone unknown) and a mysterious, rundown castle reputed to be haunted.  A sundry of exciting events occurred, including the stealing of our titian-haired detective’s car, a chase or two, and some questionable characters.  Oh, of course, the aforementioned beaus made an appearance again—for that “romantic” component I suppose (but, quite frankly, unnecessary).  It was a 5/5 then and is a 4/5 now.

As an only child with few friends and parents who didn’t much know what to do with a child they’d not planned for (a fact and not stated with malice or regret) the stories provided pure escapism—distant and intriguing places, and opportunities to allow [a burgeoning] imagination to develop.

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What a pleasant diversion these last two weeks have been, an entertaining [if not enlightening] jaunt back in time.  There are a few additional Nancy Drew mysteries to read.  As time permits.  Perhaps there’ll be more reviews, too.  <LOL>

For those penning and/or reading mysteries, happy sleuthing.

Forever Poi, Forever Hopeful

It’s Linda on post patrol today.  The Boss is still under the weather, but then the weather in her neck of the woods is under-whelming.  <LSMH>  (Winter’s on its way and she’s not overly excited about it.)

Given I’m a food and wine blogger when I’m not a P.I., I thought I’d post about poi—firstly, by explaining the significance of “Forever Poi”, the fourth Triple Threat Investigation Agency case and, secondly, providing a little background about poi (with recipes).

The Boss explained it quite nicely, succinctly, in her new Smashwords interview: “In terms of me: it’s an homage to Hawaii.  Poi is a Hawaiian staple, a delicious food made from taro.  Hawaii [a hope, a dream] is in my heart and soul and always will be; hence, forever poi.”

In terms of the case, there’s mention of “Forever Poi” as associated with a comment from an intriguing [if not dangerous] individual who shall remain nameless.  (Alternatively said: please read our new adventure.)

The three of us enjoy poi different ways.  I love poi as “cereal”, sprinkled with raw sugar and cinnamon.  Rey prefers taro in the form of chips.  And JJ likes it in the form of soft-serve ice-cream or mooncakes.

For those not in the know about poi, it’s an essential Hawaiian staple, made from the underground plant stem of a root vegetable known as taro.  There’s a lot of fascinating information re its origins and where and how it’s used, but I’ll leave that for another time.  Feel free, however, to go Googling.

A quick note, though: traditional poi is made by mashing the cooked corm (plant stem) of the taro.  The time-honored method is performed on a wooden board with a pestle (pounding implement) while the modern method involves a food processor (I’ll opt for traditional anytime, thank you).  You can enjoy it fresh or allow it to ferment.

There’s an intriguing way of measuring consistency: “one finger”, “two finger”, and “three finger” poi relates to how many fingers are necessary to scoop a mouthful of the delicious mashed product.  The thicker the poi, the fewer the fingers.  Thickness or runniness is a purely personal preference.

Now that I’ve condensed a plethora of info into a pint-sized post, let me share some easy-peasy recipes: Simple Poi (a fav of mine), Simple Poi Mochi (a fav of JJ’s), and Simple Poi-Nut Bread (a fav of Rey’s).  . . . Can you tell the three of us really like “simple”?  <LOL>

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Simple Poi

♥ 4 lbs taro root 2 ½ tbsp coconut oil   ♥ 2 ½ tbsp butter   ♥ 2 tsp sea salt or pink Himalayan salt   ♥ 6-8 tbsp celery or asparagus juice   ♥ water

⇒ Preheat the oven to 300°F.     ⇒ Wash the taro root and pierce consistently all over.     ⇒ Bake for about 2 hours (until soft all the way through).     ⇒ Cut open the taro root and spoon out the taro into a large bowl. Throw away the skin.     ⇒ Add the salt and juice.     ⇒ Mix well.     ⇒ Cover with a cloth and leave to ferment for a minimum of 24 hours.     ⇒ Once fermented, melt the butter in a saucepan.     ⇒ If you’re going traditional and mashing the taro with a wooden board and pestle, do so, and then add to a bowl.  If you’re going modern, add the taro to a food processor and “mash”.     ⇒ Add the oil and butter.     ⇒ Add the water and blend to the desired consistency.

(You can add various “flavors” or serve it as is.  As mentioned, I like sugar and cinnamon, but anything’s doable.  Feel free to experiment.)

Simple Poi Mochi

♥   1 lb poi, ready-made/bought or homemade (see “Simple Poi” recipe above)   ♥ 2 cups water, give or take   ♥ 2 10-ounce packages Asian sweet rice flour   ♥ 1 ½ cups sugar   ♥ 1 quart canola oil for deep frying

⇒ Combine everything except the oil.     ⇒ Add water slowly (you want a thick batter).      ⇒ Drop by the teaspoon into the heated oil and deep fry until slightly crisp.     ⇒ Drain.     ⇒ Makes about three dozen pieces.     ⇒ Feel free to dust with sugar or a sugar-spice combination.

(You can add various “flavors” to the mixture before frying.  JJ likes red-bean paste.)

Simple Poi Nut Bread

♥ 1 lb poi, ready-made/bought or homemade (see “Simple Poi” recipe above)   ♥ ¾ cup water   ♥ 2 cups flour   ♥ ¾ cups brown sugar   ♥ 1 tsp cinnamon   ♥ 1 tsp nutmeg   ♥ 2 tsp baking powder   ♥ 1 tsp sea salt   ♥ 3 eggs, beaten   ♥ 1 cup oil   ♥ 2 tsp vanilla   ♥ 1 ½ cups macadamia nuts (or substitute your favorite nut, or a combination thereof)   ♥ ½ cup currants (or dried fruit of preference)

⇒ Mix the poi and water together.  Let stand in a bowl.     ⇒ In a second bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt.     ⇒ Combine both mixtures.     ⇒ Add the remaining ingredients.     ⇒ Add to an oiled/buttered pan and bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes.

Hope you enjoyed the post about poi.  It’s a bit of a departure from the usual, but what’s wrong with digressing now and again?

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Happy Halloween from Honolulu Hawaii

The Boss would have been real proud to come up with that heading—she’s into illiteration.  . . . Huh?  Oh.  JJ says it’s “alliteration”.  <LMAO>

Anyway, the three of us are here to share what we’re planning for Halloween, which is always a majorly fun to-do time on Oahu.  There’s a costume party with a bunch of HPD pals, so we’ll pop over around midnight, but during the day and evening, we’re gonna explore what Oahu has to offer, something we’ve talked about in past, but never much done.  Each of us has come up with a Halloweeny event to pursue, so Linda, you start.  What have you got planned for us?

Ever since I watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown as a kid, I’ve wanted to visit a pumpkin patch.  So I’m driving us to Waimanalo Country Farms where they’ve got pumpkin picking, hayrides, and a country market, among other things.  The little girl in me can’t wait!  It’ll be a hoot, I’m sure.  What about you, JJ?

I’m sorry to say I got the dates mixed up re the annual Chinatown “Hallowbaloo”—a costume street festival with music/entertainment, art and food—so it’s at the top of the list for next year.  We’re heading over to Haunted Plantation, reputed to be the “scariest haunted attraction”.  Sixty-plus actors haunt a village with what sounds like—ahem—ghoulishly frightening results.  <LOL>  Linda, your face is paler than that of a cartoon ghost!

Yeah, it looks like it did last night, when we did the “Zombie Apocalypse” at Coral Crater.  What a blast!  For those who haven’t experienced it, you gear up and wipe out zombies overrunning a village.  Then, you zip-line to safety.  Like, how cool is that?

I’m just not as huge a fan of zombies and zip-lining as you, Rey.  But once my heart stopped thumping like a snare drum being struck by an eager marching band drummer, I have to admit, I did enjoy the adrenalin rush.  . . . So, are you finally going to tell us what you have planned?

I am indeedy-do, Lindy-Loo.  Given I’m an actress when I’m not P.I.ing, I had to go for something “theatrical”.  I got tickets for—ooh, this is so-o much fun!—a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show hosted by Tita Titsling, who’s touted as the “Premiere Moustache Queen of Chinatown, Honolulu”.  How exciting is that, I ask?  . . . And on that note, everyone, the three of us from the Triple Threat Investigation Agency wish you an absolootely hairy-scary Halloween! WPUSEtoo

Sprees

. . . not of the shopping sort—though I love those—but the crime sort.  Hey, it’s Rey here.  With Linda.  The Boss is getting over a nasty cold and asked one of us to pen the post.  JJ’s off for the weekend on some sort of business course, so the two of us are partnering up and shooting the sh—

Linda:  Breeze!

Rey:  Whatever.  I’ve got some emails and texts here with the snail mail.  A few folks have asked about our last four cases—okay three, ‘cause The Connecticut Corpse Caper wasn’t really a case, but our first non-pro detecting venture.  They were multiple-murder-spree cases, ones where the killers were either uber-focused on not being caught or making serious money the easy way.  If someone got in their way or proved of some financial advantage, they got offed.

Linda:  You may also want to mention that they favored “crazy”, too. 

Rey:  Crazy?  They were out-and-out nutbars!  Remember the Gruesome Twosome in Can you Hula Like Hilo Hattie?

 Linda:  Or the other equally Gruesome Twosome in Coco’s Nuts! 

Rey:  We’ve met a few Gruesome Twosomes in our private eye adventures, haven’t we?

Linda:  That we have.  They were certainly challenging if not creepy.

Rey:  And fascinating.

Linda:  People do tend to have a fascination for bizarre or eerie killers.

Rey:  Like serial killers.

Linda:  Which, technically, we haven’t really dealt with.

Rey:  Sure we have.

Linda:  But that didn’t really come out until after the fact.

Rey:  True enough, but I think we’re divesting.

Linda:  You mean digressing?

Rey:  Whatever.  Do we want to talk about our cases?

Linda:  Serial killers make a good topic, given it’s Halloween next week.  You know, how we have a fascination with them, how they—and we, in turn—lean toward the macabre and the morbid and the scaryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Rey:  Ha-ha, ha-ha.

Linda:  That’s the Triple Threat Investigation Agency’s next case.

Rey:  One I’m looking forward to.  But back to serial killers, why do you think we like them so much?

Linda:  Curiosity to start; they’re intriguing.  We wonder how they’ve been able to get away with multiple murders for so long, what motivates them to do such dastardly deeds, why they choose certain victims over others.  They’re so extreme in what they do, we can’t help but be drawn.  Constant news coverage—which is often provocative if not enticing—becomes riveting.

Rey:  The strange thing is, some of them seemed—and seem—so normal.

Linda:  Another reason we’re captivated . . . in that aforementioned macabre, morbid way.

Rey:  I’m not sure I’d like to meet a real one. 

Linda:  And I’m not so sure they’re all that different from the killers we’ve met solving cases.

Rey:  Or the suspects we’ve encountered, come to think about it.  Some have been real—as Great-Cousin Clara might have said—wing-dings.

Linda:  Like the person we’re pursuing in HA-HA-HA-HA.

Rey:  Yikes.  Can you spell s-p-o-o-k-y?

Linda:  Many ways.  But before we prattle on forever—

Rey:  Prattle!?  We’re posting!

Linda:  You say poh-tay-tow, I say poe-taw-toh—

Rey:  Yeah, yeah.  . . . Hey, lookie here!  Gail’s email says Nordstrum’s having a sale!  Catcha later!

Linda:  Uh . . . well, it appears my BFF has caught the $ale$ bug.  So much for posting.  Have a great weekend everyone and to quote Rey: catcha later.

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Trailer . . .rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs

Not the transport sort, but the ad kind.  Is it important to have a trailer when doing a book blog tour or launching a book?  Is it a viable marketing/promo tool?

Frankly, I’ve only viewed a handful.  A couple were cheesy (usually, I like cheesy), the odd one kind of cool, and some simply “uninspiring”.  They didn’t influence me enough that I’d have bought or read the book.

It’s said that, generally, trailers don’t promote sales, but they can certainly put your product out there . . . create an awareness factor as it were.  This appears to hold true whether your budget is minimal or you invest serious $$$ into one featuring actors, high-end graphics, and the like.

It’s also said that videos are more memorable than text.  People will recall images more readily than words.  Food for thought.

If your budget is minimal or nonexistent like mine (LOL), you can make your own, but they can prove tricky, so technical and program savvy would be in your definite favor (alas, not in mine).  Of course, as suggested above, you can invest some bucks and pay someone—but, if you’re going to take this route, as I always state, please do your due diligence.  Learn who excels at them and who doesn’t (check out buyer-beware sites before committing to a particular one).  If you’re going to spend money (and as an FYI trailers can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, depending on whose services you go with), get the best bang for your buck.

Another alternative is to simply tape yourself and talk about your book.  We’ve seen vids of this nature and some can certainly be entertaining if not informative.  It depends on the presentation—how you portray yourself and your product.  A low-budget look may have merit, depending on the arrangement.

An alternative is a webinar—a slide show or video with audio, which is somewhat reminiscent of a workplace endeavor.  But again, if done properly, a webinar could prove a feasible endeavor.  For ideas, check out what others have done.

One thing we should NOT do when going solo: cut and paste our book cover and photo, and away we go.  When creating our own book trailers, we should apply the same rules applicable to good writing.

Be:

  • crisp and clear (with words and sound/music)
  • short and sweet (don’t yammer on incessantly).

Ensure images are first-rate and that the final product communicates what your book is all about, without giving away too much.  Remember: you want to inspire people to WANT to learn more.

One last note: be aware of copyright laws re music and graphics.

Happy trails . . . er . . . trailers. WPtrailerboxB

Book Tour Blog Travels

So you’re thinking of promoting your book by doing a book blog tour?  Awesome!  Given I’m doing one in the next while for Can You Hula Like Hilo Hattie?, I thought we could touch upon—review—relevant blog-tour “pointers”.

You’ve completed your first e-book.  You’ve got it properly formatted and the front and back covers look amazing!  How exciting.  Now, you’d like people to read it . . . create excitement . . . get reviewed . . . make sales.  A book blog tour is a great way to make these goals happen.

Now, if your goal is all about making sales, you’ll want to create a buzz before the book is released.  If you want pre-orders, get started a good two-three weeks before the book is released.  If you want books to be purchased upon release, then start your blog tour the day the book is out.

A tour (which can last from one week to several weeks) takes work.  It’s not simply a matter of sending out multiple copies of your e-book.  You have to plan, network, and organize.

Sure, you can pay someone to do it for you (personally, I’m not Rockefeller-rich—not yet, LOL—so I’d prefer to keep my pennies in Mr. Piggy).  If you’re going to pay someone, make sure he/she is reputable: do that due diligence and thoroughly research blog-tour sites.  Get feedback and also check out “buyer beware” sites.  Remember: you get what you paid for.

That said, there are book-tour bloggers who’ll do this for free—t’is true!  You just need to—yup—do that due diligence.  And network.  Learn who’s looking.  Get to know fellow writers/bloggers.  Read blogs regularly.  Comment and participate.  You’ll be amazed how supportive fellow bloggers/authors can be.  Within no time, you’ll have connections who will help you organize a tour . . . but you’ll still have to put in serious effort.

Whether you go solo or have someone assist, be prepared to have the following items ready:

  • review copies of the finished product
  • front cover
  • bio
  • author photo
  • excerpt(s)
  • posts (for guest spots and your own blog to promote the tour)
  • interviews (you’d want at least two, and they should be different)
  • tour banner
  • book trivia (not necessary, but nice)
  • trailer (not necessary, but nice)
  • prize/giveaway (not necessary, but it’s been known to increase traffic)
  • gratitude—be continually thankful.

Don’t forget to promote the tour on social media.  Make sure to follow-up.

There’s a lot to discover on the Internet about book tours, but don’t get overly caught up in all the details.  Become familiar with “ground rules” and plunge in (doing is the best way of learning).

. . . How do you measure your success?  Track comments and blog/media coverage if you like (not my thing, personally, but to each his or her own).  It all depends on what your initial goals were.  Maybe you’d be delighted with one awesome review or stellar guest post versus several here’s-a-new-book posts.  Maybe you’d be glad with a handful of positive comments.  Success—accomplishment—is all about what pleases you.

Happy touring!

Who’s Laughing Now?

Not us gals at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency—we’re embarking on our next big case: HA-HA-HA-HA.

Now, it may take some time to solve (given The Boss has those time constraints), but we’re keeping the faith it’ll get done sooner than later.

It’s Rey by the way.  Hope you’re all doing well.  We certainly are.  In fact, JJ and Linda and me are super stoked—and, as that once popular saying used to go, we’re are so-o ready to rock’n’roll!

Here’s how it all begins . . .

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“What an f’g jackass.”  Shoving her thumbs in her ears, melodramatic Cousin Reynalda thrust out her tongue and wiggled long, slender fingers.

Standing alongside a looming, leafy shrub that served as target practice for strident feathery friends gliding and bounding nearby, Detective Sammie Sallo chose to turn just then.

Out came the thumbs and in went the tongue.  With a Hollywood [dazzling] smile, Rey waved with both hands, then tucked them into the pockets of daisy-imprinted cut-off shorts.

“Next time, sister, that tongue better mean business.”  With a buffalo snort, he pulled out a mouth-to-lung e-cigarette bundle.  Sallo resembled Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer, right down to the mustache and fedora, an odd hat to be wearing on Oahu.  It arrived with him when he moved here two months ago from NYC to replace Devoy Hunt, a detective we’d just gotten to know.  He’d opted to move to “quieter, calmer” Kauai, the Garden Isle.

“Jackass,” she muttered, turning sideways.  “Why’d he have to choose the same time as us to come and check out the murder scene?”

“Timing’s everything,” Linda said gaily, giving him the finger when he turned back to view the canal.

The three of us—private eyes from The Triple Threat Investigation Agency (Rey’s choice of name)—hadn’t been officially hired for any particular case.  We had, however, received an odd email at 8:30 p.m. two nights ago that read: The game’s started, ladies.  Check out the area on Laau around the Ala Wai Canal.  I suggest you head there now.  HA-HA-HA-HA  Your loving GrimReaperPeeper.

Tourists, joggers, and strollers with frolicsome dogs utilized the sidewalk on the maiki (south) side of the canal.  On the mauka (mountain) side was a golf course, community garden and park, and boating facilities, among other things.  Sadly, people didn’t—couldn’t—swim in the Ala Wai anymore.  To do so could prove hazardous, because the 1.5-mile-long canal was a breeding channel for bacteria, heavy metals, and pesticides—never mind garbage.  Kayakers and canoe paddlers, however, seemed fearless, overlooking the fact that getting canal water on your skin or in your mouth could result in rashes and gastro-intestinal issues.  Hazards aside, it was a lovely stretch . . . although we might never quite few it the same way again.

GrimReaperPeeper had sent a message at the completion of our last major case, the third in the agency’s short history that involved bad-ass murderers.  Curious, we drove to Laau Street and checked cautiously around.  Given the vague directions, there’d been considerable ground to cover and as we were about to give up, Linda had stumbled upon four bodies stretched out before the canal by the Fisheries Management area—four bedraggled, bruised, blotched bodies with loose puckered skin as white as the underbelly of a perch and as translucent as a jellyfish. 

Forty-eight hours in the canal, which served as both drainage ditch and tidal estuary, would have contributed to multi-hued patterns on regions still resembling human parts after aquatic inhabitants had feasted.  Would have, but didn’t.  These four souls had taken their initial swim elsewhere, before necrophagous insects came to feast and spawn.

The two couples had been missing since March twenty-fourth and had been dead since March twenty-sixth, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianoaole Day.  That had been the initial determination and it hadn’t, yet, changed.

Detective Sammie Sallo drew on an e-cig and exhaled at length.  Fumes twirled upward like coolant smoke flowing from a tailpipe.  Strolling back to join us, he eyed Rey’s face with obvious interest.  “Looked kinda like beached whales, didn’t they?”

An image of the humpback whales that migrated to Hawaii this time of year came to mind.  The migration was comparable to an Oregon cattle drive of yesteryear, a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, or even a run of the grunion, marine fish related to the mullet that spawned from March to August on the first four nights after the highest tide of each full or new moon.  They were so predictable the California State Fisheries Laboratory published a timetable indicating when they’d appear.

Well, these four grunion had made it to shore all right, but they’d not completed their quest.  There’d been no dissolved oxygen to fan their blood, no sand to begin the regeneration process from, no purpose or hope to keep them alive.  And this ending was far from predictable . . .  although there had been a full moon that night.  Given that unusual things were reported to occur during one, was that significant? 

It had been two days since the discovery of the bodies.  We’d returned this breezy afternoon to take daytime photos, poke around, and get a feel for what might have happened; Sallo, unfortunately, had had similar thoughts. 

The fifty-year-old believed that the four had partied hardy, so he’d stated a few times that night.  Given his next words, he was still of the same mind.  “There was probably a group of them.  They got caught up in too much booze, maybe drugs too, and started playing weird cult games.  Maybe they were paying homage to the great god of Ecstasy and/or praying to Mr. Full Moon.  I’ve seen shit like this before.  Booze and drugs make people do bizarre things.”  He picked up a large coffee perched alongside a small plumeria tree, noisily gulped back what was left, and belched. 

When it came to class, Sallo had as much elegance as Archie Bunker, a character that retro television wouldn’t let anyone forget.  Rey, Linda and I had met him three times in the last few weeks and while Detective Ald Ives (or “Hives” as Rey mockingly called him) seemed to get along well enough with his colleague, we found Sallo as abrasive as steel wool.

Linda smirked, tossing raspberry-red, shoulder-length waves.  “You really think a group of them got into ‘cult games’?”

“It sure looks that way, Royale.  Remember the marks on their chests?  In their fucked-up states, they’d probably thought it was a fun, freaky thing to do.  Matches the tatts on their arms and probably other body parts we’ve yet to see.”  He eyed her with dark amusement, like a deranged despot might his lackey. 

“So friends just left them there after moon-and-drug worshipping, and what?  Went home to sleep it off?”

“Why not?  Come the morning, they realized how carried away they’d gotten.  They’re either now having issues coming to terms with it or they don’t give a rat’s ass.” 

They’d been found facing the canal with arms folded neatly over chests.  Four black fabric roses, glossy and delicate, had been pinned to tops and shirts and all four had had floral designs incised into chests, possibly with a roulette—not the gambling game, but a small toothed disk of tempered steel attached to a hilt and used to make a series or rows of dots, slits, or perforations.

I kicked pebbles as I eyed the crime scene ahead, thinking it was time to visit an upset-irate client whose wayward hubby we’d finally caught being wayward—with her sister.  We’d promised to arrive around 4:15 to provide background, a report and invoice, but given Mrs. Starzeneiss’ “high strung” personality, we’d probably have to stick around to soothe ruffled feathers.

“Isn’t it possible they were murdered by a sadistic killer?”

He scowled, threw the coffee cup onto the concrete pathway, and popped a Tic-Tac. 

With a sigh, I swallowed a rebuke.  Pulling a warm bottle of water from a Hawaiian print backpack, I took a long swallow and eyed fluttering, ripped police tape wrapped around several trees and shrubs.  A yellow ribbon tied around an old oak tree it wasn’t.  What it was, was jarring.  A reminder that something terrible had occurred.

There were often obvious if not improbable gaps in Sallo’s hypotheses, but he wasn’t the sort you could argue with—not without wanting to bang your head against a wall or three.

I nodded to my Jeep parked several yards down, under a bright lemon-colored sun.  Thankfully, the sunroof and windows were open (I didn’t much care for A/C).

“Catch ya later, Detective S,” Rey purred.

“Whatever.”

She blew a raspberry and the three of us moseyed to the car.

“Can you spell jerk?” Linda asked, pulling an apple banana from a large crocheted tote.

“Yeah.  S-a-l-l-o,” I replied wryly, opening the passenger door.

“What’s up, buttercup?” a baritone voice boomed from behind.

Rey spun, ready to pounce. 

Linda and I exchanged amused glances. 

“You always pop out from behind parked SUVs like that?” I asked.

Jimmy Carcanetta, a freelance writer and blogger Linda had gotten to know in the last couple months, grinned like a toddler who’d just be given a huge slice of cake.  His pumpkin-shaped head bobbled like a fishing bobber.  “Nothing like the element of surprise.”

“What brings you here?” 

“The same thing that brought you guys here: a need to piece things together and get a feel for what happened.”

“Your article on the murders was good.”

“For a food and wine reviewer,” he chuckled, pulling a new Canon camera from a faux-leather bag.  “Thought I’d take a few more pics, for context.”

“Any new findings or thoughts?” Linda asked, leaning into the passenger door and taking a chomp from the apple banana.

“Not yet.  Just mulling over facts.  They’d been missing two days and died on the twenty-sixth, or thereabouts.  They’d been meticulously mutilated—and please don’t attribute it to cult games or weird rites.  I heard that from the ass back there the other day.”  With a glower, he jerked a thumb rearward.  “What crap.  . . . Any thoughts about the fact they’d been so neatly arranged, with roses yet?  That seems very specific, as if the killer were leaving a calling card.” 

“Maybe it’s the creep’s way of saying goodbye, a ceremonial or funereal kind of thing,” Rey offered. 

“Who says the roses came from the killer?” Linda added.  “They might have been a club or party signature thing.  The four may have been wearing them before they were done in.”

“Yeah, but the incisions resembled flowery embroidery.”  He scanned the end of the street.  “I’m thinking there was a connection between the two, even if Sallo won’t admit it.  Why though?”

“Why won’t he admit it?  Or what’s the connection?”  I smiled drily.  “I have a feeling the detective’s going to prove a thorn in many people’s sides.”

“Thorn?” Rey asked sarcastically.  “How about spike?”

WPWedHA1

Review & Interview: James J. Cudney and Academic Curveball

Academic Curveball: A Braxton Campus Mystery is the first cozy from James J. Cudney IV (Jay) . . . a big winding curve from suspenseful family dramas Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure.  While Glass and Father lean toward the poignant and WPJayUseAenthralling, and occasionally dark, Academic successfully captures the feel of a cozy— with subtle humor and the requisite amateur sleuth, quaint settings, curious characters, clues and red herrings.

Jay’s graphic descriptions of Wharton County and Braxton pull us into various locales; we can clearly envision the picturesque campus and dwellings, feel the chilly November air dance across our skin, and experience the ouch-y smack upon accidentally hitting our head on a wooden bedroom beam.  This author has a gift for creating vivid images.

Thirty-something protagonist/narrator Kellan Ayrwick returns to Pennsylvania from California for his crusty father’s retirement from Braxton College.  Leaving his five-year-old daughter Emma with in-laws, he demonstrates the care and concerns of a loving single parent.  It’s easy to like calm and affable Kellan and want to follow his “inadvertent adventures” when a murder occurs.  When his boss requests he remain and cover the dastardly deed for their TV show, he soon discovers that anyone—family and friends included—is a viable suspect.

Before we know it, we’re eagerly ambling along the sleuthing trail with Kellan, attempting to figure out “whodunit” . . . and hoping the one person who didn’t “dunit” is Nana, his wonderfully [hysterically] eccentric grandmother.  This woman is a dynamo, reminiscent of Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur.  (I could see this quirky gal carrying her own cozy series.)

The book leaves a few openings and storyline possibilities for future Braxton mysteries, which we know are [happily] coming.  I’m looking forward to pursuing Kellan’s next “case”.

   Rating: save save save save save

Intrigued by our author’s prolific blogging and writing projects, I felt compelled to conduct a mini—most interesting—interview.

What served as the inspiration for Academic Curveball?

I love cozy mysteries and book series. I’ve been reading them for ~25 years now and find myself always looking for the latest edition or drama in recurring characters’ lives. I think it’s because I am an only child that I love seeing the continuous bond within families and friends in small towns. I’ve always wanted to be a professor, but I waited too long to go to graduate school. I don’t have the energy or time to go back for advanced degrees now, so I wanted a way to feel like I was back on campus. When I combined all of this together, I thought… maybe that should be my new book series! The first plot evolved out of another dream where I pictured the killer and his/her reason for committing murder, then I built an entire story around it.

Did you envision yourself as Kellan during the writing of Academic Curveball—i.e. are you the protagonist putting the pieces of a puzzle together or are you the creator/author providing twists and turns for your main character? 

It’s a combination of both. There are tons of things about Kellan that are 100% me, both in how I speak, my level of sarcasm, and how I analyze situations. I’m not nosy by nature, so I had to push those elements. Someone could say “I think X is so angry with Y, they’ll kill her.” I’d ignore it and not want to get involved in someone else’s drama. Kellan is different. He’d have 100 questions and never stop trying to guess what could happen. Since I draft an outline with scenes described chapter by chapter before I begin writing, I’m definitely creating the twists/turns, but Kellan’s voice surprises me. Sometimes he says things which make me as the author realize I have to alter a scene because he’s smarter than me.

Do characters/characterization come naturally (instinctively) as you write, or do you spend time developing and crafting them?

Both. Each character has 3 or 4 traits (physical and personality) before I write a scene. When they begin to act in the scene, their individual personalities also emerge, then I go back and update prior chapters so it’s consistent. Minor characters never have a look and feel during the outline stage unless I see them as long-term. After the first draft, I read slowly and keep a list of all things I’ve said about a character, then I apply a ratio-formula depending on their number of scenes or future longevity. I want everyone to have enough traits that readers get a good picture but have room to fill in the blanks, too.

Some authors simply go with the flow; their fingers fly furiously across a keyboard.   What’s your writing style?  Do you let the story and characters tell the tale or do you give considerable thought to scenes/scenarios and how they’ll play out?

After writing a one-page summary of the plot and characters, then I write a ~25 page overview outline. It has details about the murders, the suspects, and the cliffhangers. I also have a chapter by chapter and scene by scene bullet list of what needs to happen. Sometimes it only lists one character and then I decide who (s)he interacts with in the scene in order to build the drama or cover the cozy aspects of the town’s life. In this book, I deleted two chapters by merging their content in with others, then I also added six scenes to help with transitions between chapters. It becomes a puzzle trying to figure out what order to make things happen to keep up the mystery.

On a non-professional note, what inspires you, James J. Cudney?

Outside of reading and writing, I love genealogy, cooking, and history. I am an expert in nothing, nor a jack-of-all-trades. I know a lot about a bunch of things, but I still sometimes need the basics to round out what I am interested in. Inspiration usually comes in the form of seeing a beautiful picture, thinking about where I am and where I want to be… generally analyzing people, places, and things. I am very much in trapped my head and often forget to be a social person. Autumn is my favorite season, so I’m thrilled to enter it these days… I hope it sticks around for a few months.

For those unfamiliar with Jay, he’s an amazing—inexhaustible (!)—author and blogger residing in NYC.  The short link for Academic Curveball on Amazon is http://mybook.to/ACurveball while Goodreads’ link is https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41564460-academic-curveballWPJayUseB

The new book Broken Heart Attack will be available December 2018 and is also on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/series/242493-braxton-campus-mysteries (but the cover won’t be added for approximately four weeks).  Last but by no means least, his stand-alone novels, the aforementioned Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can also be purchased on Amazon.

Jay’s what I (and many bloggers/authors) aspire to be.  He’s also a kind and encouraging individual who selflessly offers constructive advice and [much] appreciated support.

Visit his blog (https://thisismytruthnow.com) to find—among other things—reviews and read-a-thons, and the introspective 365 Daily Challenge: “365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.”