Summer Book Recommendations

(Originally posted on Austin Mystery Writers)

I’ve been reading this summer and wanted to share some great books with you!

The Blessing Way is book #1 of the famous Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman. This series has been in my TBR (To Be Read) pile for years and I’m happy to say that I finally got around to it! I knew that it would be good because everyone I’ve talked to has loved these books. Even knowing that, I was pleasantly surprised. Leaphorn is interesting and has an inherent understand about people and what makes them tick. His internal dialogue also teaches the reader about his heritage and culture. I honestly found that aspect of the story to be entertaining and enlightening. It was also full of suspenseful action. There’s a seen where a character is stalked by something or someone in the night. That scene was the best in the book! It was chilling and creepy. I loved it. *happy chills*

I’m currently reading book #2, Dance Hall of The Dead and it’s just as creepy and suspenseful.

Good Reads description of The Blessing Way: Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high lonely place, a corpse with a mouth full of sand, abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues. Though it goes against his better judgment, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn cannot help but suspect the hand of a supernatural killer. There is palpable evil in the air, and Leaphorn’s pursuit of a Wolf-Witch is leading him where even the bravest men fear, on a chilling trail that winds perilously between mysticism and murder.

The second book that I recommend is The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott. It’s also the first in a series, the Chris Cherry series. While it also has a landscape that’s remote, isolated, and vast, this book is quite different. The story is told in alternating chapters from different characters. It took me a bit to get the characters straight, but once I did that, it took off. Scott does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the west Texas landscape and its people, especially bullies in small towns. As most good books, there’s a showdown of sorts and my nerves were raw, waiting to see what happens. It’s not a small book but you’ll be turning pages.

Good Reads description: Seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross is adrift in the wake of the sudden disappearance of his mother more than a year ago, and is struggling to find his way out of the small Texas border town of Murfee. Chris Cherry is a newly minted sheriff’s deputy, a high school football hero who has reluctantly returned to his hometown. When skeletal remains are discovered in the surrounding badlands, the two are inexorably drawn together as their efforts to uncover Murfee’s darkest secrets lead them to the same terrifying suspect: Caleb’s father and Chris’s boss, the charismatic and feared Sheriff Standford “Judge” Ross. Dark, elegiac, and violent, The Far Empty is a modern Western, a story of loss and escape set along the sharp edge of the Texas border. Told by a longtime federal agent who knows the region, it’s a debut novel you won’t soon forget.

Recommendation #3 is South California Purples by Baron R. Birtcher. It’s set in 1973 and starts out with an easy feel of a typical traditional Western. Then rancher Ty Dawson gets conscripted into helping the county’s law enforcement, who seems to have no interest in dealing with the growing problem. When time after time Dawson doesn’t get help from the local cops, Dawson decides to handle matters as he sees fit. If you’re looking for a mix of hard-boiled with a Western, this book fits the bill. Biker gangs vs. cowboys. You know it’s full of action. *trigger warning- it does deal with rape*

From Good Reads: Cattle rancher Ty Dawson, a complex man tormented by elements of his own past, is involuntarily conscripted to assist local law enforcement when a herd of wild mustangs is rounded up and corralled in anticipation of a government auction, igniting the passions of political activist Teresa Pineu, who threatens to fan the flames of an uprising that grows rapidly out of control.

As the past collides with the present, and hostility escalates into brutality and bloodshed, Ty is drawn into a complex web of predatory alliances and corruption where he must choose to stand and fight, or watch as the last remnants of the American West are consumed in a lawless conflagration of avarice and cruelty.

I hope this helps you find some new books. And remember, whenever possible, please try to purchase your books from local, independent bookstores. Thank you!

V. P. Chandler


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Introducing The Dark Beat Podcast

Like most crime fiction authors, I’m interested in true crimes. And if you recall a few posts ago, I listed my current favorite podcasts. True Crime Podcasts Worthy of Binge Listening

In addition, about a year ago my friend and suspense author, Alexandra Burt, mentioned that she was writing about a crime that had happened in her hometown in Fulda, German, in 1983. An anthology was asking for short stories, so she submitted it and it was accepted into the publication.

(As mentioned in the interview by Laura Oles- An Interview with Crime Writer Alexandra Burt)

Working on that story got her to thinking about things back in Germany and she did some poking around and well, there were some revelations and things got crazy. So, what did I do? I said, “This is fascinating. We should start a podcast!”

And if you know me, I’m always eager to try my hand at something new. (Hello, cello and bass guitar that I bought a few years ago, even though I’m 50+ years old.)

So, … we started a podcast! Not only will we be discussing the crime in Germany, we will be interviewing authors and even law enforcement professionals. We’ll be talking about crimes, solved and unsolved, that happened long ago and in the recent past. And because we are who we are, we’ll also be poking around to get to the truth. We plan on being meddling “kids”.

I think we have a Scooby Doo.
Will we need a Fred or a Shaggy?

(I’ve always thought of myself as a Velma. I think Alexandra is more like Daphne, the newer version who knows martial arts.)

We are both excited about our new endeavor. But don’t worry, we’ll still be writing scary stories.

So please follow us as we investigate crimes! All of the information and links can be found on our Anchor page.

And you can get updates and additional content on our Facebook page, here on my website, or at thedarkbeat.com.

“Check. Check. Is this mic on?”


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Characters Inspired By Real-Life People: Eldon Chandler

 / VPCHANDLER / EDIT

VP Chandler

by V.P. Chandler

There are a wide variety of fiction writers. Some are “pantsers”, who don’t write an outline and just write whatever pops into their heads. And others are “plotters”, who write outlines and make sure that the story follows a three-act structure or whatever structure they think is best. (I’m in between. I do a little of both but try to stay on track.) But I think that we all have something in common. I think that we use real life people as inspiration for our characters.

While writing my first novel, Gilt Ridden, I needed a character that was wise, experienced, and knew how to make bullets. Did I know anyone like that? There was no question. I based the character on my husband’s father’s cousin, Eldon Chandler, and named him accordingly. The Eldon in my story is a throwback to the era of cattle drives and skirmishes with native tribes. And like men of his day, he made his own bullets. The real Eldon was not much different. He grew up in West Texas when it wasn’t much different than the cattle drive days.

Eldon “Slim” Chandler was a living example of integrity and grit. He was born in 1926 just outside of Lubbock, and like most kids of that era, he was tough and resourceful. He grew up to be a big bear of a guy, with a barrel chest, and had a deep voice to match. He was over six feet tall and extremely strong. He told us a lot of stories about his life and one that sticks in my mind was when he drove a beer truck. Instead of using a dolly to carry the kegs, he’d put one under each arm and carry them inside the bar. He liked the surprised looks on people’s faces when they realized these were full, not empty, kegs of beer. He always laughed when he told us the story.

He was an excellent marksman and an award-winning trap shooter. Once when I was fishing with his son, Victor, Victor told me that they did trick shooting as a family for a while. The kids would practice twirling wooden guns while they watched Bugs Bunny cartoons. I love that image. That’s such a “Chandler” thing to do.

So, I guess it’s also no surprise that back when I married into the Chandler family and was living on a farm/ranch in the middle of rattlesnake country, Eldon gave me my gun that I’ve used to kill hundreds of rattlesnakes. It’s a .410 shotgun called a “Snake Charmer”. I remember when he was visiting and gave it to me. I liked how it handled. It’s a small shotgun and perfect size for me. He said, “Keep it. It’s for you.” No, it’s too much. “I got it for you. You’ll need it.” And he was right! I think of him every time I take it hunting. And to go along with all of those talents, he also became a craftsman at making homemade knives. He could take an old oxidized butcher knife and turn it into a work of art.

You can see where he imprinted his name.

In 1945 Eldon had married Othella Owens, who was equally an incredible person. She was tall and artistic. I never saw a woman who wore so much turquoise. She’d wear large turquoise and silver rings, earrings, and necklaces, sometimes all at once. It would have looked ridiculous on someone else, but it was somehow flawless on her. She was amazing. She could paint anything or take a bunch of horseshoes and somehow turn them into art. They were a perfect pair.

And Eldon, like most Chandlers, took his family bond seriously. Like I said, Othella was an Owens. Well, back in 1927 her uncle, Jake Owens, had been a deputy sheriff. Sheriff Robert Smith and Deputy Owens had arrested two men for stealing a bale of cotton. They were decent lawmen and they took the suspects home to change clothes before transporting them to jail. But one of the suspects had gotten a gun and concealed it in his clothes. In route, he pulled out the gun and shot Sheriff Smith in the head, killing him. Deputy Owens jumped from the vehicle but was gunned down. The sheriff and Deputy Owens were buried side by side. The suspect was eventually sentenced to death and electrocuted at the Texas State Prison in Huntsville on October 17th, 1930. The second suspect was released 14 years later. Some time, I assume after Eldon married Othella in 1945, Eldon learned that the second suspect was working in a shop in Odessa. Eldon drove the long distance and paid him a visit at the shop. With his words and his presence, he told the guy that he needed to make himself scarce, he wasn’t welcome. The guy tried to act big. When he asked who Eldon thought he was to make such a proclamation, “My name is Eldon Chandler and I’m married to an Owens.” That was enough for the man. He never returned to the shop and hightailed it out of West Texas.

Thank you for letting me tell you about a wonderful man who leaves behind a legacy of faith, love, grit, humor, and art. My character only played a small part in my story, but since he was a larger than life person, I’m sure that I’ll use the real Eldon for inspiration in other stories. I also used his father, Price, briefly in my novel. I had forgotten at the time that Price was Eldon’s father. I just remember a lot of funny stories about him and wanted to use someone who was humorous yet wise.

I’ve had people ask me if I was ever bored in West Texas. No. And whenever I write a story, I try to capture the spirit of the place, both good and bad.

Link to more info about Deputy Jake Owenshttp://www.officerdown.net/fallen.cfm?id=12527&sh=y&CFID=419308&CFTOKEN=54583677

Originally published on Austin Mystery Writers.


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True Crime Podcasts Worthy of Binge-Listening

by V.P. Chandler

Originally posted on Austin Mystery Writers

Several years ago AMW member Laura Oles suggested that I might like listening to true crime podcasts. She kept talking about one titled, Serial.

“Yeah, yeah, I don’t really do the podcast thing.”

Then our family was scheduled to take a trip to West Texas. It’s not exactly a short drive to get there, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to try it out. I downloaded the whole first season onto my iPad and we were off. And ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

Serial’s description of season 1 (2014) from their website,

“A high-school senior named Hae Min Lee disappeared one day after school in 1999, in Baltimore County, Maryland. A month later, her body was found in a city park. She’d been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was sentenced to life in prison. The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae’s body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth. Many others don’t.”

And let me tell you, Serial has won many awards and they are well-deserved.

As we left the rolling hills for flat roads flanked by mesas, we were pulled into the story. After each episode, we’d dissect the new evidence and theories. We felt like detectives. Are the witnesses telling the truth? Who is lying and why? Is there other evidence? Why would they make such bad decisions? Hearing the voices of the real people involved made it even more real. Sometimes we’d be certain that someone was going to lie, but after their interview, we were sure that they were telling the truth. *conundrum* It’s not easy being a detective.

And while we were caught up in the drama and intrigue, there were also somber reminders that these were real people who have been caught up in horror and heartache. When you hear how much they hurt, that they just want answers, it pulls at you. How can detectives and reports handle talking to them? I don’t think that just anyone could put together one of these investigative reports. It takes months and even years to follow leads. And it also takes a special talent to walk that thin line of pushing to get answers, and yet remaining sensitive to the feelings of friends and family. The reporters often say to the listeners that they purposefully hold back in order not to re-traumatize people. I think that’s extremely important to mention. And all of the podcasts that I mention follow that rule of conduct. I’m constantly amazed at the editing skills of these shows. Their sense of story is strong. They know how to piece it together while still uncovering new evidence.

Here are other podcasts that I’ve enjoyed. They are fascinating.

S-Town

“John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.”

It doesn’t go like you think it will. But it’s a peek into a fascinating man’s life and the people that know him.

Missing and Murdered

I thought that this show was called “Finding Cleo” and I was confused that the first season was about a woman named Alberta Williams. So don’t let that confuse you.

Season 1  “Sparked by a chilling tip, Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams? is an eight-part podcast investigation that unearths new information and potential suspects in the cold case of a young Indigenous woman murdered in British Columbia in 1989.”

The second season is about finding out what happened to a girl named, Cleo. “Like many Indigenous children, Cleo’s brothers and sisters were taken from their community, displayed in advertisements, and sent to live with white adoptive families across North America, through a controversial program called “Adopt Indian and Metis.” They’ve reconnected as adults and are determined to find their missing sister and penetrate the secrets shrouding the truth about Cleo. CBC’s Connie Walker joins in their search, uncovering disturbing new details about how and why Cleo was taken, where she wound up, and how she died.”

Both of these stories are about indigenous families in Canada and the suffering that that communities still experience. I knew that there is an epidemic of women being killed and their plight is just now getting media attention. But I hadn’t known about the Highway of Tears. It’s a highway in British Columbia where many indigenous women have either been killed or dumped. The reporter, Connie Walker, is Cree, so she brings an extra knowledge and sensitivity to her work.

Your Own Backyard

“A documentary podcast series investigating the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student, Kristin Smart.” It’s Only 7 episodes long, so it goes fast. Trust me, you’ll end up binge-listening to it.

Someone Knows Something

This series has 5 seasons. I’ve listened to the first two seasons.

Season 1
“In 1972, five-year-old Adrien McNaughton vanished while on a family fishing trip in Eastern Ontario. Despite an intensive search and investigation, no sign of Adrien was found, no clue as to where he might be. The case has hung over the area like a dark mass ever since, especially in the small town of Arnprior, where the McNaughton family lived.”

It was sad and fascinating. I learned a lot about cadaver dogs. (It’s not as gruesome as it sounds.)

Season 2

“On December 31, 1997, at a New Year’s Eve party broadcast on live TV, Sheryl Sheppard accepted a marriage proposal from her boyfriend, Michael Lavoie. Two days later, she disappeared. In Season 2 of SKS, David Ridgen joins Sheppard’s mother Odette on her search for answers.”

I’m very impressed with his laidback technique for speaking with people. He’s a good reporter.

The next one I’ll be listening to is

Uncover

(I’m interested in season 6, Satanic Panic, but I’m sure I’ll start with season 1. I always have to start with the first one.)

So there you have a list of very good true crime podcasts that will keep you busy. I’ve found that they make a long drive or doing housework more enjoyable. *Forewarning, not all mysteries are solvable. Unlike fiction, they can’t be solved and wrapped up in a bow. I think that adds to the tension and desire for a conclusion. But it also gives the listener a sense of what families and police face in trying to find the truth.

Do you have a favorite? Please, let me know. I’d like to add it to my library.


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Review of Boar Island by Nevada Barr

Here is a link to my most recent book review on Austin Mystery Writers

https://austinmysterywriters.com/2020/03/24/review-of-boar-island-by-nevada-barr/


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It Was A Good Day

Stories Behind the Story #2

You know how somedays are good and you think to yourself that you’ll remember the day and how perfect it is, but you don’t? Well, I remember this day.

It was a cool and sunny Spring day before we had moved into the house at our Double Mountain ranch. We were living in Sweetwater while building and renovating the place. Because it was springtime, knew that it was liable to be a “snaky day”.

By the time we arrived, our two-year old son had fallen asleep in the car. So we parked in the shade, rolled down the windows, and let him sleep. We took the opportunity to scan around the property for snakes and look at the progress that had been made on the house.

While I was in the kitchen, I heard a loud buzzing from somewhere outside. After a few seconds it donned on me what it was, a rattlesnake. But it was unusually loud. I followed the sound and stood on the porch. At the bottom of the steps was a large roadrunner who had cornered two rattlesnakes. (So cool!)

I turned around and ran to find my husband. He grabbed a shovel and I checked on our son. He was still blissfully asleep.

I heard the sound of the shovel against concrete and checked on husband’s progress. I was surprised to see that the roadrunner stayed by his side. The bird was focused on those snakes!. I swear he was cheering my husband on and giving directions. The snakes were quickly dispatched.

Husband walked over to me. “Let’s go get some lunch in town and leave this guy to his business.” I agreed. We wanted the roadrunner to feel comfortable. (Of course I daydreamed about how cool it would be to have a roadrunner who hung around the house.)

We had a nice lunch at the local café, fifteen miles away in Aspermont. We went back to the house and the snakes were gone. We walked around and puttered on the property for the next couple of hours, always mindful to keep an eye out for more snakes.

As we were cleaning up and closing the house, I took another walk around to make sure we hadn’t left any tools out and looked for more rattlers. There was some English ivy growing on the side of the house and it bothered me. Now I know that some people love ivy and the idea of it covering the west side of the house can be practical, especially in the Texas summer sun. But long ago I read an article where ivy had worked its way into a house’s brick facade and caused the entire wall to pull away from the house. It took two hundred years, but I still didn’t like the idea of ivy working its way into the siding. I didn’t want it to damage the century’s old home, so I began to rip it off. I pulled ivy off for several minutes, working my way down to the ground. It was denser at the bottom and more work intensive.

I lifted up the ivy to rip away a big section and there was the prettiest pink, contented, sleeping rattlesnake. I pulled back my hand like I had touched a hot stove. I stepped back six feet and stared at the ivy, expecting the snake to crawl out. How had it stayed asleep? I called my husband over and he killed it.

All day long I had been so careful and for a brief moment my precautions went out the window when I had been preoccupied. We used the situation as a teaching moment to our son and inwardly I chastised myself. I had my own teaching moment. It didn’t fully dawn on me how lucky I was until I was thinking about it later. On the way back to Sweetwater, I said to my husband, “We had a good day. It could have been very different, and I could be in the hospital right now.”

“Yup.” He didn’t have to say anything else. The look that he gave me told me plenty. I don’t know how he does it. But I swear, with one look he can show disappointment, fear, love, and gratitude. No wonder he’s a man of few words. I think he was tempted to scold me but I think the look on my face said plenty too.

I know that we think that we’re in control of our lives. And I think that we are, but only to a certain degree. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be vigilant. But sometimes I still think it’s up to fate as to whether or not the snake is asleep.


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Review of A Dangerous Road: A Smokey Dalton Novel

Originally posted on Austin Mystery Writers

As with many other books, I’ve been late on the scene with this series and author. A Dangerous Road made its debut in 2001 but I just discovered it recently. I was fortunate that my book club chose it. So not only did I get to read a great book, I got to read an intriguing mystery that kept me turning pages! And I got to discuss it with good friends.

I primarily write historical mysteries, usually Westerns, but this one takes place in Memphis in 1968. A turbulent time and place. There was a lot that I didn’t know about this time and I can tell that Nelscott did her homework. For example, there was a strike among the garbage collectors and trash began to pile up. The smell and inconvenience added to the tension of the story. The impending marches and the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are churning up hostilities between the races, and among the races. Add to that a black male P.I. who has a white, attractive, female client, Laura Hathaway, and the tension mounts!

The mystery part of the story is about $10,000. Laura Hathaway demands to know why her mother would leave $10,000 to Smokey. He has no idea. He doesn’t know the Hathaways. Could Mrs. Hathaway have been the anonymous benefactor who left him $10,000 ten year prior? It seems like too much of a coincidence. And why would she do that? Laura decides to hire Smokey to find out about her family background, what secrets they were hiding and how he is involved in it, if he is.

That’s what kept me turning pages. I had no idea where it was going to go!

The book starts with scenes from the premiere of Gone With the Wind in 1940 in Atlanta. (I didn’t know that it premiered there! Did you?) It takes a while until it becomes clear why this event was important to the story. But it’s pivotal.

Which gets me to what I admired most about the book. Not only was it a mystery, but it deftly maneuvered through and around the worlds of 1940 Atlanta and 1968 Memphis. Both eras are complicated. Dalton and the black community have to constantly be alert and careful what they say and do. And not all dangers are outside their own community.

Nelscott dances her way around and through the story, taking the reader with her. I was impressed with its complexity and how she was able to keep the tension throughout. I was not surprised to learn that it won the Herodotus Award for Best Historical Mystery and was short-listed for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

This reader and writer will definitely be reading more of the Smokey Dalton stories!


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New Project! Bullet Books

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to participate in a project, a collection of novellas that are sure to get your blood pumping! Each book is co-written with Manning Wolfe, author of the Texas Lady Lawyer series.

My story is about a substitute teacher who wants to make the world a better place. That’s not surprising, right? 😉

Here’s more information about each book. Look for The Last Straw!

Learn more about Bullet Books and book #11, The Last Straw

To be released in October 2019. I’ll keep you posted!


Posted in New Book, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , by with 4 comments.
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