Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Well, it's that time of the evening here in lovely Cambridge, Mass., when the day's wet snow/freezing rain storm has begun to glaze the sidewalks, turning our charming brick sidewalks into so many uneven picturesque death traps. But even though I learned, yet again, that my favorite walking winter boots do, in fact, leak, I am not going to despair. This weekend is Sleuthfest in Deerfield, Florida. And so I have compiled my Top 10 reasons to love Sleuthfest:

10. Sunblock is more fun than polar fleece.
9. I don't get to see my Great Aunt Ruth often enough!
8. Average temperatures in the double digits.
7. The forensic/autopsy speaker is advertised as "post food."
6. Two words: Windchill factor.
5. Holing up with Oline Cogdill to discuss "The Wire."
4. Guest speaker Lee Child: Jack Reacher could shovel my walk any day.
3. Saturday morning "Beast-iality" panel with the charming Blaize Clement.
2. Cocktails by the pool (Freddo: "How do you say 'banana daiquiri'?" Michael: "Banana daiquiri.")
1. Books+ Readers = Heaven.

See you there!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mma Ramotswe meets Guido Brunetti

That's my take on Michael Stanley's new "A Carrion Death," the first in a proposed series featuring the absolutely cuddly Detective Kubu. But even if Kubu (a nickname that means "hippo" in his native Setswana) loves opera, good food, and his wife, a la Donna Leon's Venetian detective, his Botswana is hardly the gentle place of Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." An enthralling start to what should be a great series, this book pubs in April, and my full Globe review will run then. Worth checking out!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

rock & roll observation of the night

Has anyone else out there thought that the lyrics to the Foo Fighters' song "The Pretender" go: "One of these things is not like the other"? Dave Grohl as Cookie Monster?

I mean, as we used to say in lit class, contrast and compare. Am I right, people?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I know I'm associated with cats, and I do love me some felines. But when I was much younger, I also had a serious thing for toads and lizards (not snakes, I like legs). I still remember my pet toad, Dyatt (pronounced "Dwight") fondly. And so, for the hidden herpetologist in all of us, I am thrilled to present this news story about a gigantic prehistoric toad, Beelzebufo!

(the above is an artist's rendering of the 10 lb. Beezlebufo facing off against the largest modern toad, with the pencil for reference. Seems to me, this modern toad could be eaten whole by a cane toad, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thank you, Jennifer Ryser

Jennifer Ryser of Wetumpka, Alabama, won the right to name a cat in the upcoming Theda Krakow mystery #4 at the Murder on the Menu silent auction, sponsored by Friends of Wetumpka Library, by making a donation to the Crime Lab Project. Thank you, Jennifer! And here's a picture of Simon, her Siamese, who will be making a guest appearance in what I'm now calling "Probable Claws."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dirty carpeting and outdated computers

In her Annie Seymour mysteries, Karen E. Olson gets the world of contemporary newspapers right. (Though she is gentler than the brilliant "The Wire.") Guess that's why it was such a pleasure to read this piece about her in the Connecticut Post.

Oh, and speaking of crime fiction in journalism settings, here's my review of the new Denise Mina, "Slip of the Knife," from the Boston Globe.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Why I am not in Birmingham

After a very long day in airports, I am back home and not in Birmingham.

In brief, I was supposed to fly out of Boston at 2 and, after an hour's layover, make a connection in DC for Birmingham at 4:45. I have the beginnings of a cold, but it's not that bad and I'm psyched to go. I took drugs and a multivitamin, left the house at noon, was at Logan before 1 and all checked in. We had snow here this morning, but not that much. I gather the United planes were largely tied up in the big Midwestern snow storm (that's what they told us), and they keep pushing our flight back - 2:25, 2:30, etc.

I ask repeatedly if I will make my connection. I am told not to worry. Even the last time, when the new flight time is posted as 2:40, because "we were taking off shortly, and we'd probably make up time in the air." If I miss my flight, they can put me on a USAir flight out of Dulles that will stop in Charlotte, but then I can make a connecting flight to B'ham. I'd get in at 10:30. I figure, well, that's late, but I'll call my ride and just take a cab to the hotel. Should I buy a ticket? No, don't worry. There are "plenty of seats." We finally board, but of course we have to wait another 10 minutes or so for de-icing (which always creeps me out anyway).

We get into Dulles at about 4:40. While waiting to get off, I ask a flight attendent, who tells me, "Maybe your other flight is late too. It's at Gate A1. Go for it!" I have to take a shuttle to another terminal and then run hell for leather all the way down the A wing to gate A1. Only to find that the B'ham flight leaves from A4. Run back, only to be told I've missed it. (I could see the plane was still there, by the way, but they weren't letting me on.)

At that point I'm not concerned, just sweaty, and go to Customer Service. Maybe there's another flight direct o B'ham that the United gate woman didn't know about! They seemed to be having trouble finding me any flight to B'ham, so I give in and tell them about the USAirways flights - Charlotte at 7:30, then the connecting flight to B'ham, get in at 10:30.

"Well," I am told, "We can get you to Charlotte. But there are no seats on the flight to B'ham. You could go to Charlotte tonight, and we could probably get you to B'ham tomorrow."

We could probably get you to Birmingham tomorrow.

By this point I am literally dripping sweat , I had run through Dulles Airport and had blisters on my feet. (Nice shoes, just not running shoes.) And my cold is really kicking in. Plus, the conference in all day Saturday – and I'm on a morning panel! So I ask the nice Customer Service man if he can just get me home.

There is a 6:35 back to Boston, but that is already full, and I am promised I can have a seat on a 9:30 back to Boston. He prints me out something that looks tickety and when I ask he explains that I definitely have a seat but I can't have a boarding pass. I'd have to get that at the gate. This sounds iffy to me, so I walk to another Customer Service booth and am told that in fact I am on standby for that 9:30 flight and that's the best they can do.

Now, I am sweaty. I am near tears. I beg. Customer Service Guy #2 has pity and cuts me a boarding pass. I go to the D wing to wait, and while telling my husband the news, I look at my new boarding pass and realize it is made out to Michael Simpson. I trot, slowly, back to Customer Service and luckily find the right guy. He says, "They would have let you on anyway." Really? But cuts me a new one. In my real name.

It is, by then, about 5:30. I think, maybe it's worth a shot, and go to the gate for the 6:35 flight, figuring I'll see if they'll put me on that wait list for standby. Just as I get there, they are announcing that the "plane has been downgraded and that while they thought they could take 70 passengers, they are only going to be able to take 50 to Boston."

Okay, then. I go to the gate for the 9:30 flight and camp out for the next four hours, refusing to move. At around 9 p.m., we board, and while telling my story to my seatmate (who had a similar story about United), I repeat the above. The man in front of me turns around, "I'm Michael Simpson. You had my boarding pass?"

A little later, just as we are about to take off, I hear a commotion. A couple a few seats back calls for the flight attendent. I don't hear all of it, but I do hear. "Yes, if it says Orlando, then your luggage is going to Orlando."

My apologies to Margaret and Tammy, and all the other folks at Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu. Maybe I'll make it next year. Always check your documents. And don't fly United.

I'm sitting here, at home, and get a United automated flight update. My flight today from B'ham to Washington/Dulles is supposed to get in at 4:37. How nice of them to tell me! I just checked: it was SUPPOSED to get in at 2:47.
My flight home from Dulles to Boston leaves at 5:05. I wonder if I would have made it?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Birmingham bound

This Friday, I'll get to escape dreary New England and all the post-Superbowl sadness and head to Alabama!

Two smaller events have joined forces to make up a weekend. On Saturday, Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham (that's the "magic city," the website explains) will mix and match about 20 authors and about 90 fans for panels, chats, a lunch, and the kind of up close and personal that we don't usually get at the larger conferences. Then, on Sunday, we're all carpooling out to Wetumpka (a suburb of Montgomery, I am told) for the Murder on the Menu lunch, where we authors will jump tables and chat with everyone. What fun! And it's got to be warmer than here, right?

(Just found out: The Birmingham event has about 70 people signed up and tickets are still available! Not sure about the Wetumpka lunch, which already has about 125 people signed up. But you could ask.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy Mardi Gras!

Tune in, turn on, and drop out! If you've done your time and sewed, sewed, sewed, this is the day to put on your new suit! Don't bow down on that dirty round! And make a donation, why don't you!