Green Fees: A Merit Bridges Legal Thriller Cover ImageAustin attorney Manning Wolfe has brought her considerable legal expertise to the crime fiction genre, and the result is a smart, fast-paced thriller series featuring Texas Lady Lawyer Merit Bridges.

In her latest, Green Fees, Wolfe spins a story of lies and treachery that reflects the perfect blend of humor and chills.  Austin is terrorized by a serial killer named The Enforcer who continues to elude law enforcement, but Merit is distracted when her predilection for younger men leads her to  become involved with the much-younger golf pro Mark Green. When Mark accepts help to pursue his PGA dreams, he becomes indebted to the wrong person—Russian loan shark Browno Zars—and comes to Merit for help. She uses every legal trick she can think of to loosen Zars’ grip on Green, not realizing that her actions have brought her to the attention of The Enforcer. As she’s captured and held against her will, facing certain torture and death, Merit has to dig deep within to confront pure evil.

The award-winning Wolfe strikes all the right notes with this series. Merit is surrounded by complex, relatable characters–like Betty, Merit’s colloquialism-spouting, Ann Richards-hairdo sporting office manager. Merit is mostly serious (she has an illustrious legal career and is a devoted mother to her dyslexic son Ace), but she also knows when to let her hair down and just go after that young man while sipping on some fine red wine. There’s a satisfying variety of characters that operate on all points of the spectrum spanning right and wrong. And as a bonus for those of us here in Austin, Wolfe’s deep love for the city shows in her meticulous and glowing descriptions of our town’s scenery.

A Borrowing of Bones: Interview with Paula Munier

Some authors I interview, including one I’m questioning later this month, write a novel after a career with no connections to the publishing world.

A Borrowing of Bones: A Mystery (Mercy and Elvis Mysteries #1) Cover ImageThat’s not the case with Paula Munier, who has written advice columns for other writers, worked as a literary agent and had other jobs related to publishing before writing this new novel, the start of a series. Paula, also a former journalist, also wrote or co-wrote more than dozen books.

As befits an author in the industry, even the story on how this book came to be is a good yarn, as you can read in the interview.

Paula was kind enough to let me interview her about this engrossing, engaging new book, A Borrowing of Bones, about soldier Mercy Carr. Mercy lives with Elvis, a bomb-sniffing dog who belonged to her fiancé, Martinez.  Martinez got killed and Mercy got shot while serving overseas. Martinez’s last words to Mercy were “Take care of my partner.”

As the book begins, Mercy and Elvis are in Vermont on a hike when they come across human bones and an abandoned baby. They work with a game warden, Troy Warner, and his search-and-rescue Newfoundland, Suzie Bear, as this discovery takes them in unexpected places.

Scott Butki: How did this story come together?

Paula Munier: I was writing a book for Writer’s Digest Books called The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings. And I needed a first chapter of a novel that I could use for exercises over the course of the book. While I was using a lot of short opening snippets from celebrated works, I couldn’t use one of those for this. So I needed to write one of my own. I had just been to Leo Maloney’s fundraiser for Mission K9 Rescue, a wonderful organization that rescues bomb sniffing dogs from bad situations. Many of these working dogs are not Army dogs, but are rather procured through defense contractors, and when they come home they are often abandoned in shelters.

Meeting all of these dogs and their dog handlers was wonderful. I’m grateful to Leo—a fabulous thriller writer, by the way—for allowing me to meet these great dogs and their handlers. Soldiers and bomb sniffing dogs, as well as law enforcement and their working dogs. I feel in love with the dogs and the handlers, and so when I had to write this sample chapter, I figured I’d write about these dogs and handlers. Never dreaming that this sample chapter would become the first chapter of the first book in my new mystery series.

Scott: Which came first for you, the characters or the plot?

Paula: First came the dogs. I based Elvis, the sniffer dog, on a Belgian Malinois that I met at the fundraiser. I based Susie Bear, the search-and-rescue dog, on Bear, the sweet Newfoundland Retriever mix we rescued a couple of years ago. I also wanted to write about a veteran, having grown up in the military and having enormous respect for our military men and women. And I wanted to write about a game warden and the forest in Vermont, because I love game wardens and I love Vermont. At the time I had no intention of making this opening into a novel, so I just made up anything I wanted.

Scott: Was the plan, when writing this, always for it to be the start of a new series or did that thought come later?

Paula: As I’ve explained, there was no thought of a book, much less a series, at the beginning. That said, my agent read The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings in manuscript and said, “Boy, I like that chapter, you should keep on writing that.” Once she said that, I knew I had two great series characters in Mercy Carr, the female veteran, and Elvis, the Belgian Malinois sniffer dog. So I dreamed big.

Scott: I take it, considering you also wrote about dogs in Fixing Freddie and other books, that you’re a dog person. What do you think is the best way to have dogs be characters in books?

Paula: There are so many ways to write about dogs. In novels, dogs can be part of the family, dogs can be part of the plot, dogs can even be the protagonist. In a book like The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, the dog is the point of view character. In Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series, Chet is also the point of view character, the sidekick and smarter half of the private investigation team, supposedly headed by Bernie.

There are all kinds of dogs and all kinds of dog books, and I tend to love them all.

Scott: How did you go about researching this book?

Paula: I started with Mission K9 Rescue, and working dogs and their handlers. I talked to lots of people in Vermont, and of course I went to Vermont, which is one of my favorite places to go anyway. I talked to dog trainers and game wardens and security experts and explosive experts, and both active and retired military and former law enforcement. I met the dogs and I met their handlers, and I met with the people who work with these dogs and train them as well. Bear and I did our obedience training with a fabulous trainer who also trains dogs for search and rescue as well as law enforcement.

I also read anything and everything I could about working dogs and dog handlers, from Roger Guay and Kate Flora’s A Good Man With a Dog (a memoir about Roger’s time as a game warden in Maine and the dogs he trained to help him do his work) to Sergeant Rex, which is a true story about an amazing sniffer dog.

Scott: Where did the idea come from to have the book published on 9/11?

Paula: That was the publisher’s idea. I had nothing to do with that. That said, one of the things I wanted to do in writing the book was to honor all working dogs and their handlers. And the book is dedicated to them, as well as to my father, to whom I attribute my love of dogs.

These dogs and their handlers do military and law enforcement work, but they also are often first responders, doing search-and-rescue and recovery. Good work and in honoring this work, I hope to honor all such efforts, from 9/11 and beyond.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book? Did you want them to learn that animals can have PTSD?

Paula: First, I wanted to tell a good story. But I also wanted people to understand the length working dogs and their handlers go to in the name of keeping the rest of us safe and secure. I do think it comes as a surprise to many that animals involved in this dangerous work may suffer from PTSD. I think it’s good to know. When they retire, they need patience and care and love in safe forever homes.

Scott: How has your prior work in journalism, literary and publishing fields, helped you in writing this book and getting it published? Can you talk about some of your jobs in those fields?

Paula: I started off as a reporter a million years ago, and went on to write and edit for magazines and newspapers. I got my first job in book publishing as a managing editor on the production side, and then went on to a career in acquisitions. Acquisitions editors are those editors who acquire projects for publishing houses. Over the course of that time, I did a lot of writing and editing and acquiring and developing book projects, etc. I loved every minute of it. Eventually my own agent, Gina Panettieri, founder of Talcott Notch Literary Services, asked me to join her agency. Being an agent was something I’d never considered doing. But I have to say, it’s my favorite job of all.

All of my experience as a writer and an editor and a publishing executive really help me an agent and an author, if only because I understand everyone’s perspective at the table. I think the most important things I learned along the way were the elements of storytelling and the nuts and bolts of publishing. And I suppose it taught me patience if nothing else, because I learned firsthand how protracted the process can be—that is, going from word one to books in stores.

I also learned through working for Disney and WGBH and other media companies that there are lots of ways to tell a story. When I first started out as a writer and a reporter, I thought of writing really as wordplay, not as drama. I had to study how to dramatize scenes, and learn to tell stories in scenes. Which has been of course essential for me as a novelist.

I’d advise anyone who wants to become a writer to explore all avenues and all formats until they find their sweet spot. It took me way too long to figure out that dogs are my sweet spot, although the signs were there all along.

Scott:  What’s it like getting early praise from such masters as Lee Child and Lisa Gardner?

Paula: I have been blessed certainly and honored by Lee Child and Lisa Gardner and lots of other fabulous writers who have supported my work early on: not just Lee Child and Lisa Gardner, but also Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan, William Martin, Jane Cleland, Spencer Quinn (aka Peter Abrahams), Larry Kay, among others.

As I told Lee Child, I’m going to have his review of A Borrowing of Bones – “a compelling mix of hard edges and easy charm” — engraved on my tombstone. Or maybe tattooed somewhere.

Scott: What are you working on next?

Paula: I’m at work on Book Two in the Mercy and Elvis series right now, which everyone says is the hardest book you’ll ever write. Let’s hope I get through it.

Thank you so much for inviting me to chat about A Borrowing of Bones. It’s been lovely!



Reed Farrel Coleman has put his own literary stamp on Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone. In the latest, Colorblind, he has the Paradise police chief in AA and encountering a new character who will change his life, all while dealing with a case that puts him up against a hate group when his black officer is accused of shooting the leader’s unarmed son. Reed will be at BookPeople September 16th at 5PM. We got to him ahead of time to talk about the book and the new paces he is putting Jesse through.

MysteryPeople Scott: In Colorblind you tackle the issue of race relations. Did you have a certain approach or aspect in looking at it?

Reed Farrel Coleman: The amazing thing here is that I turned this manuscript in a full month before Charlottesville. And for me, I’m not really tackling an issue. I don’t write message books and readers can take from the book what they will. My intent is always how the issue approaches the protagonist—in this case, Jesse Stone—not how the protagonist approaches the issue. I was also harkening back to the very first Jesse Stone novel, Night Passage, written by Bob Parker in the late ‘90s. I suggest readers go back to that book and see the connection between it and the new one.     

MPS: Is there anything you have to keep in mind as a writer when your dealing with events that mirror what is in the news?

RFC: As per my first answer, I turned the book in a month before Charlottesville, so I wasn’t actually writing a  “ripped from the headlines” book. But I did realize that this was a sensitive issue and that as deplorable as Jesse finds racism, his job is to first uphold the law and to protect the citizens of Paradise. And if that means allowing public demonstrations by groups he doesn’t agree with, he does it. I put Jesse in a very difficult spot. That’s the whole point, putting one’s characters in difficult and/or dangerous situations and letting them deal. The big challenge here was to bring some level of humanity to the “bad” guys. If all characters are is evil, then they are boring to write and boring to read.     

Robert B. Parker's Colorblind (A Jesse Stone Novel) Cover ImageMPS: The big change in this book is that Jesse is in AA. How was it writing him on the wagon?

RFC: Writing Jesse as drunk was easy, but it was getting played out in the same way that Jesse’s  constant on again off again relationship to his ex-wife Jenn was getting stale. The series needed a shift. What makes this book different is that unlike other “dry” periods in Jesse’s life, he has made his desire to stop drinking official, for lack of a better term. He is committed to it and when Jesse Stone commits to something, he hangs in there. For Jesse this is now a lifetime thing and his struggle is no longer with drinking, but with not drinking. We’ll see how that goes.

MPS: Jesse is also dealing with a young man who comes into town as well as the case and his drinking. What do you enjoy about having your protagonists having so much to deal with in a story?

RFC: Life is pretty complicated for all of us. We’re never dealing with just one thing. My dad had a form of bone cancer from the time I was four years old, but that wasn’t the only thing in his life he had to manage. He had his job, his family, he still loved sports. Why should we let our protagonists have it easy by dealing with just one thing? What’s fun for me is watching Jesse juggle all the new stuff in his life with the old stuff and the crimes at hand.

MPS: I was happy to see Suitcase come more into his own. I think that’s the one character in the series that can easily be mishandled and you have always given him three dimensions as well as growth. Do you have to approach him in a certain way?

RFC: I approach Suit the way I approach all my characters. Anyone who has ever heard me speak or teach a class on writing has heard me say, “There is no such thing as a minor character.” I never think of my characters as cartoon-ish. For me, they all have full internal lives and that’s how I think of them when I write them. It’s easy to love Suit, the big guy, the earnest guy with the big heart who is kind of goofy and envious. But he was always so much more than that for me as a reader and I wanted him to become more realized in my Jesse books. He is brave and loving and I wanted to show that. I think I’ve accomplished with him what I set out to do.

MPS: You often have more than one iron in the fire. Is there anything we need to look out for?

RFC: Well, yes, I’m writing the prequel novel to film director Michael Mann’s magnum opus crime drama Heat. It should be out sometime in 2019. Also other big projects ahead about which I am very excited, but about which I cannot speak.  


The Suspect (Joseph O'Loughlin #1) Cover ImageIn September, our Murder In The Afternoon book club will be introduced to one of the most complex and believable series characters in modern crime fiction. Joe O’Loughlin, created by Michael Robotham, is a psychiatrist who assists the British police as a way to deal with his early onset Parkinson’s disease. We will discussing the first O’Loughlin novel, The Suspect.

It is in The Suspect where Joe gets his diagnosis and is first asked by D.I. Ruiz (another great character) for help. The victim turns out to be a nurse who was a colleague and former patient of O’Loughlin’s. As he digs deeper and darker he becomes the chief suspect and the killer targets his family. The book proves to deliver Hitchcock style suspense grounded in an emotional character study.

O’Loughin and Ruiz should give us a lot to talk about. You can join us for a discussion on BookPeople’s third floor on Monday, September 17th, 1PM. The Suspect is 10% off to those planning to attend.

Q&A with Sarah Pinborough

While Cross Her Heart was my first time reading a book written by author Sarah Pinborough, it definitely won’t be my last: Her plotting, pace and twists were amazing.

Cross Her Heart: A Novel Cover ImageAmid best selling authors like Gillian Flynn working with unreliable narrators I find myself wondering, when reading new books with female protagonists, if THIS is an character I can rely on. And this one avoided the clichés, the predictable twists of many other authors and instead provided a completely original book that will keep you reading all night.

As the Independent wrote, “Once the first reveal hits you in the face, you’ll be lucky if you can put the book down to go to bed.”

The author, who has also written 20 novels and novellas and written for the BBC,  was nice enough to let me interview her via email.

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?

Sarah Pinborough: The central subject matter – which I can’t really talk about without giving away the twist! – has always fascinated me, especially the fallout and how people continue to live their lives in the aftermath. In the UK in particular we have a fascination with these cases and I always wanted to write something that explored it. God, this is so hard to answer 😉 But once I had that the core twist in place, the rest of the story came easily.

Scott: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?

Sarah: Often I’ll start with a situation, or a scene, but the characters are very close behind. It’s very symbiotic. But when writing thrillers you need to have the engine of the plot and then house it with characters that people will care about. They don’t have to be likeable for me, but they have to like themselves, even if that particular character is an awful human being. Then you have half a chance that the reader will root for them.

Scott: How do you come up with so many disturbing ideas for novels?

Sarah: Ha! Sometimes I think I’d love to write something funny but my brain tends to go to darker places! When I was a kid I never slept because I was always scared of the monsters in the dark, and that endless death-like quality of night, so I figure I’m just destined to think of the terrible things rather than the fun ones. I hope that there are some uplifting moments in my books, though!

Scott: Am I right in guessing that you outline your books? I would think you would have to do in order to plan the twists and keep the pacing at atmosphere going.

Sarah: Yes, I definitely plan. I don’t always stick to them but they help point out the problems if nothing else. I always have to have the end solidly in place before I begin and that never changes once it’s locked in. If the ending doesn’t feel right I can’t really start. I do screenwriting as well, and there structure is everything, and that has carried over into my novel writing. I kind of get key beats in place but they often change as ideas or characters change!

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

Sarah: Mainly, I hope they just have a few hours entertainment. Entertainment is much under-rated in this difficult world we live in, and I love to get lost in a story, and forget about any problems I have, and hope that my readers have the same experience. But, also, the story stays with them for a while, or makes them think about people in a different way, that’s good too.

Scott: You have quite the collection of past works. What prompted you to write modern re-tellings of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty?

Sarah: Well, that was actually my old editor at Gollancz’s suggestion! We’d both been watching the first scene of Once Upon a Time and loving it and she asked if I’d ever consider re-telling fairy tales and they’d want to publish them if I did. I didn’t think I’d be able to write something like that but then I was thinking about Snow White and wondered what kind of man would fall in love with a dead girl in a glass coffin, and then I had my way in. I’m very proud of that trilogy, and it was fun to be able to write dark, saucy humour.

Scott: I understand Stephen King was one of your earlier writing influences. What’s it like to have King, along with Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Harlan Coben and others, praising you?

Sarah: Oh my gosh, it’s just amazing. There’s always lots of fear in this business (I mean, I’m not bigging up writing, it’s not brain surgery or saving people from fires etc, but we have fragile egos and always worry) and whenever i have a moment of wondering if I’m making a mess of a story or if it’s all going to go wrong I think, ‘Well, at least all these people I admire have at some point enjoyed what I’ve done.’ It’’s a great way to calm down. 😉 I love all of them, but having grown up in total awe of Stephen King his words almost made me cry!

Scott: What are you working on next?

Ah! Well, I’m describing it as Big Little Lies meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It’s fun and sexy. It’s set in America, and it’s lots of terrible, wealthy people doing terrible things to each other … but I love them. Especially the main women characters.  It is a change because it’s third person past rather than first person present and it doesn’t have past chapters like the last two books but thus far, I’m pretty pleased with it. I think it will be a bit different.

3 Picks for September

Depth of Winter: A Longmire Mystery Cover ImageThe Depth Of Winter by Craig Johnson

Sheriff Walt Longmire marches into Mexico’s narco territory with a ragged band of misfits and several moral compromises to find his kidnapped daughter and settle things with long time nemesis Tomas Bidarte. Even at his grimiest and grittiest, Craig Johnson finds the humor and humanity in his characters.




Robert B. Parker's Colorblind (A Jesse Stone Novel) Cover ImageRobert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

Police Chief Jesse Stone, who just quit drinking, has to contend with a hate group when his black officer is accused of shooting the leader’s unarmed son. Coleman weaves Jesse’s personal struggle into a timely plot that examines race for a satisfying police mystery with real characters and emotion. Reed Farrel Coleman will be at BookPeople on September 16th at 5PM, to sign and discuss Colorblind.



Charlesgate Confidential Cover ImageCharlesgate Confidential by Scott Von Doviak

The robbery of a Boston art museum in the forties reverberates through  four generations in the Charlesgate apartments. Von Doviak uses Boston lore to weave his story lines, creating a mix of The Big Chill and The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. Scott Von Doviak will be with Edwin Hill (Little Comfort) on Saturday, September 22nd at 6PM to sign and discuss their books.

PICK OF THE MONTH- George Pelecanos’s Man Who Came Uptown

George Pelecanos has become one of the top humanist authors when it comes to crime fiction. His ability to link the believable emotions of his characters to ours and represent his working class folks with dignity makes a true poet in the genre. His latest, The Man Who Came Uptown is a fine example of this.

The Man Who Came Uptown Cover ImageHe gives us a protagonist who can go in several directions. Michael Hudson, a small time crook, awaits his trial in jail. As a way to pass the time, he develops a a love of books with help from the librarian, Anna Kaplan. Michael’s case is thrown out, due to Phil Ornazian, a PI for his lawyer. Michael wants to work at his restaurant job, figure out a good straight life for himself, and read. Ornazian has other plans for him. The detective has a side hustle of robbing pimps and dealers and wants to put Michael to use a a getaway driver. If Michael doesn’t do as he’s told, Ornazian can put him back in jail. As Michael struggles to find a way out, he develops an awkward relationship with Anna.

Pelecanos has his characters and situations unfold in a very real yet dramatic way. He avoids any of the standard ways this story would move, searching for the quieter moments in tale and unearthing them like precious jewels. He explores honest, human connections, and feelings like Michael’s pride in finishing a day’s work or Orzanian’s time with his wife. We see both the sinner and saint in his players, making the lives precious during the violent moments and tragic when it is snuffed out. Even those moments are played down, yet they are no less direct and brutal. It is simply part of the dance these people have found themselves in.

Some of the most moving parts in the book are when Michael reads. Pelecanos captures how reading develops a point of view as he interacts with Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling, an Elmore Leonard western, and others. He shows the quiet beauty of escape the act performs. You also get a lot of great book suggestions.

The Man Who Came Uptown has both grit and heart. Its characters struggle for a better life as they see it, some with misguided tactics. Many of their dreams aren’t lofty, yet are worthy. Pelecanos finds the value in all these people, mainly through their most intimate moments.