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 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!


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Stories Behind the Stories #1

Double Mountain

People have been telling me that I should write some of the true stories that are behind the story of my novel, Gilt Ridden, and other stories that inspire my writing. So, I’m writing a series of blog posts that I’ll call The Stories Behind the Stories.

This is the story of the first rattlesnake that I found in our house when we first moved to our Double Mountain ranch. I included it in some of the first drafts of the book, but later I omitted it and just referred to it in dialogue. People said I had too many rattlesnake scenes already.

We had moved to our ranch Easter weekend. The weather had been hot and dry, but a cold front brought much-needed rain and a drop in temperature. Unfortunately, rattlesnakes were looking for a warm place too.

My husband was off at work at his job in Sweetwater, a 45-minute drive away, and my son and I were playing on the floor of the playroom. We had been playing on the floor for probably a couple of hours and I decided to plug in the phone. (Yes, that was back in the days of phones in the home.) I was looking for the phone outlet and pivoted the couch away from the wall to get to it. I was shocked to find a curled-up rattlesnake. I looked at it for a couple of seconds because my mind didn’t want to register what I was seeing. It was happily asleep, no worries.

I picked up my son and placed him on his bed. He was three at the time. I told him to stay on the bed and I explained the situation. He wasn’t having it. He wanted to stay by my side.

I went back to the playroom to check on the snake. I think it was awake now and not happy with me, but it still not moving. At this time in my life I had seen many rattlesnakes. We had also lived on another West Texas ranch years before, but I had never killed one. My husband had always been around to do it. I tried calling him from the kitchen phone but his employer had not paid their phone bill so my husband’s business phone was not working.

I probably said a lot of cuss words, at least mentally. (Son was still stuck to my leg, not wanting to leave.)

I knew there was a shovel on the porch because we had killed a rattlesnake on the porch a couple of days prior. It had been raining when we were moving in (of course) and it had come up onto the porch. The door had been wide open as we brought things inside. I remember thinking at the time how lucky we were to have found that snake before it had gotten into the house!

So, I got the shovel, went to the playroom, kid still stuck to my leg. I told him to move away and he wouldn’t let go. I yelled at him and stomped the floor to emphasize the importance of listening to me. That only made him hold on tighter. And the stomping on the floor was irritating the snake and he started uncoiling to move to another location.

I think I actually said some curse words aloud at this point.

So, I moved forward and planned my attack. I remember standing there, thinking that I was glad that he was a regular-sized snake, maybe two and a half feet, so his striking distance wouldn’t be far. Even though the shovel was a regular-sized shovel, my arms are really short, I wanted as much distance between us as possible. As I planned my attack, I learned something. Sometimes the more that you think about doing something that you’re afraid to do, the more you can start scaring yourself. I didn’t want to be there. But if I left, then who knows where the snake would hide? And then we’d still be faced with having to get rid of it.

I knew I had to attack before I got too afraid. I hit it with the flat side of the shove, and it got really mad. The second thing I learned that day, killing a rattlesnake on padded carpeting is a lot more difficult than you think it would be. All I did was make it really mad. It started winding and unwinding himself, trying to figure out who the hell I was, why did I wake him up, and what did I have against him?

Since that wasn’t working, I used the edge of the shovel blade. I placed it right behind his head and pushed down. Nothing. So, I pushed harder and sawed back and forth. As my son was still grasping my leg, I was thinking that at least if it left a bloody spot on my new carpet that it would be hidden under the couch. (Hey, I worked really hard to find that good carpet at a decent price!)

I think at this point I had it incapacitated enough that I scooped it up and take it outside to finish the job. After it was over, I had a discussion with my son about the importance of listening to me. Unfortunately, over the next six years we were faced with the same dilemma six more times. But every time I told him to get on his bed until I gave the all clear, he did it. He also got very good at spotting rattlesnakes that I didn’t see.

Maybe for the second story I’ll tell you about the second half of this day and how I learned about the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup.

Thanks for reading this if you’ve made it this far! One of the reasons I write the stories about West Texas is to show the world what it’s like.


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A Review of The Secret Lives of Cats

One thing I like about being in a book club is that I get a chance to read books that I hadn’t heard of. And since I hadn’t heard of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story, The Secret Lives of Cats, I’m glad that it came to my attention and I had a good excuse to read it.

 

Amazon describes it as: Winner of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award for 2008, this Anthony-nominated story was one of the most talked about stories of the year.

 

I can believe it. I was drawn in by its first sentence. “Homer Ziff didn’t believe in old adages, but after his long and eventful spring, he couldn’t help but think that whoever put the words “curiosity,” “cat,” and “kill” in the same sentence had to be onto something.”

 

I like curiosity, cats, and of course crime fiction. So I’m there! You got me. (And look at this awesome cover. I love it.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 3.04.41 PM

I like the premise. Ziff wonders where his cats go during the day so he attaches a small camera to each cat’s collar. The camera takes still photos, not video. (This was written when GoPro was still new and incredibly expensive.) Every day he downloads and saves many of the photos to see where they go. He notices that they go to a place where other cats congregate and sit there. Are they looking at something? What are they doing? He’s fascinated and after several days it becomes apparent that what they are looking at are bones, human bones.

 

He calls the police. “When the operator answered, he said, “I think there’s a dead body in my neighborhood.” And that brought the detectives to his door.”

 

He has to explain to them that the cats have found a dead body, but he doesn’t know exactly where it is. And he has to do this without sounding crazy or guilty. Fortunately for him, one of the detectives understands right away.

 

I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out what happens. I thought it was a full-length book so I was a little disappointed that it was a short story, only 33 pages long. I wanted more! I liked everything about it, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot. I thought it moved right along.

 

I highly recommend this short read and I’ll definitely be reading more by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I was curious to see what else she has written and was thrilled to find that she also writes a lot of sci-fi. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a Trekkie so I was tickled to see that she’s written a few ST books too! (Insert The Original Series music here. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhh.)

 

So go check out The Secret Lives of Cats and the other books listed on her site. https://kriswrites.com/

 

Happy hunting and live long and prosper!


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World War I Era Mysteries

These books look so good that I wanted to share this with you. Parts of my book, Gilt Ridden, also take place in West Texas during this era. CrimeReads is a great source for learning about old and new books.

https://crimereads.com/9-mysteries-set-in-the-immediate-aftermath-of-wwi/#


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Review of Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

photo courtesy of marthahallkelly.com

The first thing I have to say about this book is, wow! Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel gets a solid “A” from me. The second thing is that I can tell she did a lot of research. On her Goodreads page she says she did ten years of research for the book. (That’s right. You can go to Goodreads and ask authors questions!) If you’ve ever tried to write any historical fiction, you will often find that getting the details right can be time consuming and frustrating. Kelly has masterfully layered bits of history and details of places that put the reader right in the environment of the time. And a third observation, the voices of the three characters are unique. You see the world through their eyes and the reasons they make the choices that they do.

 

The three women that we follow are:

 

  1. Caroline Ferriday who is a New York socialite. The kind of socialite that can walk around the block and go to the fundraiser at the Vanderbilt mansion. Yet Caroline and her mother work hard to save orphans in France and later, the Rabbits of Ravensbrück.
  2. Kasia Kuzmerick is a teen in Poland. Her father works at the post office and her mother is an artist. She’s close to her younger sister, Suzanna. Their world of Girl Guides and boy crushes ends abruptly when the Nazis invade Poland. They both get sent to Ravensbrück and become one of the famous Rabbits.
  3. Herta Oberheuser is a young German doctor fresh from medical school who’s trying to find her way amid the male-dominated field of medicine. She takes a government job at Ravensbrück thinking that she will have more freedom to pursue her love of medicine and help people. The moment she arrives she realizes she’s made a mistake.

 

And to steal a quote from the Lilac Girls Goodreads page:

 

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten. 

 

 

Again, Kelly does a fantastic job of weaving details of time and place into each story. It’s evident that she’s done extensive research like what the Vanderbilt mansion looked like, and idioms that people said in New York, Poland, and Germany. She paints pictures that put me right in the scene. I could clearly smell and hear the action. Of course, that includes fetid and cold Ravensbrück too.

 

I kept reading because I was interested in each character and I wanted to see how all three stories finally came together. Kelly’s story about the Ravensbrück Rabbits is based on real events and people. Caroline Ferriday was a real person that worked for the justice of the Rabbits, Kasia and Suzanna were based on the two Polish sisters, Nina and Krystyna Ivanska, and Herta Oberheuser really was a medical doctor at the camp. I won’t tell you what happens to them because I don’t want to spoil anything. But their stories of love and survival are compelling, Even more so since it really happened.

 

Why is it titled “Lilac Girls”? There’s a quote near the end of the book, when Ferriday is working in her garden.

 

 

But it’s fitting in a way- Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter.

 

 

In Kelly’s Author Notes she says she first learned about Ferriday from a 1999 article in Victoria magazine about Ferriday’s house in Bethlehem, Connecticut called The Hay. She couldn’t get it out of her mind and drove up there to see it. She was lucky on the day in May, she was the only visitor and got to tour the grounds at her leisure. There was a picture of Ferriday posing with some women. The guide told her the story about the Rabbits. The story stuck with her.

 

And I’m not the only one who’s glad it did.

 

 

If you would like to learn more—-

 

The Ferriday house- http://www.ci.bethlehem.ct.us/bellamy_ferriday.htm

 

An article about when Kelly met one of the women- http://www.marthahallkelly.com/one-of-the-last-ravensbruck-rabbits-tells-her-terrifying-story/

 

Ravensbrück- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravensbr%C3%BCck_concentration_camp


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What I’ve Been Doing, And Changes To Come

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I thought I’d give you an update on what’s going on and tell you about the change I’m going to make on the blog.

So what have I been up to? Hoo boy, let’s see.

In September I went to Bouchercon in New Orleans. It was a blast! I’d tell you more but what happens in New Orleans, stays in New Orleans. 🙂 But I can say it was cool meeting so many nice and talented people.

Laura Oles and I starting the road trip to Bouchercon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austin Mystery Writers is working on a new anthology. I’ve written a short story about a Texas Ranger who is asked to save a girl who has been kidnapped by a villain. (historical crime fiction.) I think the anthology will be out sometime this year.

 

 

A short story of mine, Kay Chart, was published by Mystery People. Here’s the link to it. (This one I’d categorize as historical suspense.) It’s really short, only a couple of pages long. I hope you like it. I had fun writing it. It’s creepy!  https://mysterypeople.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/crime-fiction-friday-kay-chart-by-valerie-p-chandler

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early November attended the 2nd Writer Unboxed UnCon in Salem! It was a blast to see my many friends again. It was filled with so much information and wisdom, that I couldn’t give it justice if I tried to explain it. So instead, I’ll provide a link that explains the events we had and lessons learned from the writers who attended. The conference focuses on the craft of writing. Writer Unboxed- Author in Progress.

My beloved Writer Unboxed Mod Squad fellows. <3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the conference was the launch of the Writer Unboxed book, Author In Progress. I’m honored they asked me to participate in the project. It’s full of essays on the process of writing. Lots of big names in there like Donald Maass and Lisa Cron. It’s available in all major books stores and online. Here’s a brief article about it. 

 

Author In Progress! I’m honored they asked me to provide some comments on essays.

 

 

Gale Albright

The week after the UnConference, Austin Mystery Writers did a presentation at the Wimberley, Texas Library. It was a small gathering but we had an interesting back and forth about the process of writing, and we talked about Murder on Wheels. After the event, members of AMW gathered at a local restaurant and had lunch. I’m glad we did that because we hadn’t gathered for a few months. Little did we know that a two days later we’d lose fellow member Gale Albright. She was participating in NaNoWriMo and suddenly had a heart attack. Gale was such a strong force in AMW (Yes, like a Gale force wind.) that suddenly losing her took the wind out of my sails. I had trouble writing anything for a couple of months. That’s another reason why I haven’t written a blog post in a long while. It’s still unreal to me. I hear her voice and her laugh. I can hear her telling me to get with it and get work done. I push things away so now, four months later, it’s starting to sink in.

 

 

In other news, I’ve made a few videos, and more are to come. I know they aren’t great, but I have fun thinking about them and making them.

  • Here’s one called Reflection (from Mulan), about my main character, Kay Stuart. Reflection
  • Here’s another. I was just having fun in my car. I like the vintage look I gave it. (It’s a horrible angle! But c’est la vie.) It’s one of my favorite songs, singing with Queen Latifah’s version of Baby Get Lost. 

I’ve got a couple of more videos coming soon.

 

So now I’ll talk about some changes I plan to make here on my blog. I plan to post about once a month, but instead of trying to come up with a topic, I’ll write a book review. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time. There are so many good books our there, I’d like to share them with you! Not all of the books I’ll be talking about will be mysteries. I’m more than just a mystery writer! I like all kinds of sub-genres of fiction. I also think this may provide some interesting discussions. Or maybe it will at least provide you with a new book for you to enjoy. Not all of the books will be new. In fact, I may just choose one at random from my Goodreads list.

I’ll also keep you up to date on the music I’m writing and the jewelry I’m making. That’s right. Because I don’t have enough to do, I want to try my hand at jewelry.

Oh yeah, and I’m still progressing on my book, Gilt Ridden. If you’d like to keep up to date with my progress, sign up for email notifications.

Ciao!


Posted in Conference, Event, New Book, New story, Video, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , by with 1 comment.
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