Five-legged frogs, pregnant fifty-year-olds, and centenarians on longevity drugs, plus a murder or two—

Author Betty Jean Craige

Author Betty Jean Craige

Five-legged frogs, pregnant fifty-year-olds, and centenarians on longevity drugs, plus a murder or two—that’s what I wrote about in my new murder mystery Downstream.


According to publisher Black Opal Books, my novel is a “cozy mystery” in that both the crime and the detection take place in a nice, small community where all the characters know each other. The reader does not witness the murder itself, so he or she must use his or her brains to figure out who the murderer is on the basis of the information provided. I like this kind of novel because I prefer solving crimes to watching them transpire.


Downstream, which I’d originally called “We All Live Downstream,” focuses on the medication of our DOWNSTREAM coverplanet. The drugs that some of us take to improve our health get into everybody’s water supply—I won’t say how—and then into the bodies of others who don’t have prescriptions for them. So humans of all ages, and birds, bees, bears, frogs, and fish, all take estrogen, anti-depressants, and tranquilizers. Some of the fish get happy, some of the frogs develop five legs. Some of the humans, with the help of their husbands, get pregnant after menopause.


The conflict in 2015 between proponents of the longevity drug Senextra and defenders of the natural environment happens in a town I called Witherston in mountainous north Georgia. It is here, in southern Appalachia, that two centuries ago white settlers stole gold and land from the Cherokees in the 1828 Georgia Gold Rush and the 1830s Land Lotteries, and then in 1838-39 force-marched them to Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma) on the “Trail of Tears.” Those events of the early nineteenth century form the historical context of the environmentalists’ fight against the pharmaceutical industry.


Here’s the situation. At the celebration of his hundredth birthday, local billionaire Francis Hearty Withers announces to the people gathered on the front lawn of Witherston Baptist Church that he has finalized his will. In it he bequeaths $1 billion to the municipality of Witherston and another $1 billion to be divided up equally among the town’s 4,000 residents—in recognition of their support of a Senextra pharmaceutical factory. Senextra is a drug that enables individuals to lead healthy lives well into their second century. The group listening to the geezer do not all applaud. One person carries a sign that says SENEXTRA VIOLATES MOTHER NATURE. Another, KEEP SENEXTRA OUT OF OUR SYSTEM. A third, WE DON’T NEED MORE OLD MEN. Withers flies into a rage. He vows to change his will and disinherit the community. Two days later he is found dead.


Detective Mev Arroyo begins the investigation. But she has a health issue of her own, so she allows her fourteen-year-old mischievous twin boys, Jaime and Jorge, to do much of the detective work. The boys pore over old documents, interview suspects, and provoke the killer into revealing himself.


I’ve been told that all the characters in Downstream are “quirky. I reply that I view them as normal.


Dr. Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art.  She is a scholar, a translator, a teacher, and a novelist.



Review: The Trade by Colby Marshall

thetradeThe Trade

Colby Marshall

ISBN: 978-0-9888777-3-3Colby Marshall

Stairway Press

Kindle; 415 pgs.

Release date: 6/11/13; $7.95

Reviewer’s name: Gina Metz

McKenzie McClendon is a journalist with The Herald.  After breaking a huge story the previous year of an assassination plot, McKenzie is fighting to stay at the top and prove that she has more than one story in her.

New York City is being plagued by a murderer dubbed The Cradle Robber since he is slicing up pregnant women and leaving them to die once he has removed their babies.  The Cradle Robber is the story McKenzie is currently chasing.

Jonas Cleary is McKenzie’s high school sweetheart.  Jonas contacts McKenzie as he believes his wife was one of The Cradle Robber’s first victims.  The police think Jonas is just grasping at straws since his wife was not pregnant at the time of her death.  However she had their infant son with her when she was murdered and his body was never recovered.  Jonas believes that his son was sold on the black market.  Thus begins Jonas and McKenzie’s investigation into the murders and the possibility that the babies are being sold.

The Trade is a fast paced thriller that the reader will not want to put down.  This is Colby Marshall’s second book in her McKenzie McClendon series.  I will be purchasing the first book, Chain of Command, and look forward to other additions to this series.

Review: Killing Instinct by Darcia Helle

Killing InstinctKilling Instinct 

Darcia Helle

Quiet Fury Books; 2013, 323 pgs.

ISBN:  9781484951910Darcia Helle


Reviewed by Gina R. Metz


In Killing Instinct, Sandman and his partner run an internet business where they provide a secure location and victims to clients who for the right price can turn their fantasies which include things like rape, torture and murder into reality.   Sandman’s personal fantasy revolves around a woman named Maria Milan who he feels ruined his life years earlier.


Michael Sykora and Sean Riley run a business where they provide justice for crimes like rape and murder when the legal system fails.  Sean Riley is a hit man born to kill.  Michael got into the business after his fiancé was murdered.


Sean accepts a contract to torture and murder Maria but finds he cannot complete the job.  Now it is up to Sean and Michael to track down Sandman and shut down his organization before someone else can locate and kill Maria.


Killing Instinct is the third book in Darcia Helle’s Michael Sykora series but is designed to read well as a stand-alone.  Killing Instinct is a fast paced thriller that captivates the reader from the start.   I thoroughly enjoyed this read and will be purchasing No Justice and Beyond Salvation which are the first and second books in this series and I look forward to future installments.

Review: Breaking Silence by Linda Castillo

breaking silenceBreaking Silence 

Linda Castillo

St. Martin’s Press; 2011, 302 pgs.

ISBN:  978-0-312-37499-0Linda CAstillo

Reviewed by Gina R. Metz

Breaking Silence begins with what first appears to be a terrible accident.  Solomon Slabaugh, his wife Rachel, and brother Abel Slabaugh are all found in the pit of hog manure in the barn.  It is initially assumed that one of the brothers fell into the pit and the other brother and wife have succumbed to methane gas asphyxiation while trying to rescue the other.  However, when the bodies are removed, the Coroner discovers a head wound on Solomon Slabaugh that had occurred just prior to his death and the accident turns into a murder investigation.

Police Chief Kate Burkholder suddenly finds her hands full with the murder investigation and a series of hate crimes against the Amish at the same time.  The state sends in agent John Tomasetti, Kate’s boyfriend, to help in the investigation of the hate crimes and find out whether the Slabaugh murders are related to these crimes.

Breaking Silence is the third book in the Kate Burkholder Amish series.  This is a fast paced book that will keep the reader engrossed waiting to see what will happen next. It is full of twists and turns and will leave the reader surprised at the ending.   As the series continues the books just get better and better.  I am looking forward to reading more in this series.

Earl Staggs

Earl Staggs

Earl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.  Email:

Interview with Tall Chambers

by Earl Staggs

Recently, I’ve been intrigued by authors interviewing their characters.  I thought it was such a neat and interesting thing to do I decided to interview Tall Chambers, the main character in my Mystery/Thriller novel, JUSTIFIED ACTION.Justified Action

JUSTIFIED ACTION is a serious novel dealing with serious issues.  Tall works for an agency which tracks terrorists and puts them out of business before they strike.  He puts all that aside, however, when someone close to him is murdered.  Then it becomes a personal matter and nothing will stop Tall from finding the killer.

In spite of the seriousness of the story, I decided to have some fun with this interview.  I think you’ll learn a little about Tall and the story that plays out in the book.  I also hope you’ll find a chuckle and a grin along the way.

* * * * *

EARL  — Thanks for coming in for this interview, Tall. (stands, smiles, offers hand)


TALL  —  (shakes hands, sits) Not at all.  Thanks for inviting me.  Nice place you have here. What do you do?

EARL – I’m a writer. I sit here at my computer all day and punch out stories.

TALL – Interesting. Good luck with that, Carl.

EARL —  Uh. . .it’s Earl.

TALL – Sorry.

EARL – That’s okay, but speaking of first names, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you get that unusual one you have?

TALL  –  I don’t mind a bit.  A lot of people ask me about that.  My real name is Tallmadge, an old family name my mother picked out. As soon as I was old enough to talk, I asked people to shorten it to Tall. Everyone did  (grins) . . .except Mom, of course.

EARL  –So it’s not just because you actually are tall.

TALL  – No. I’ve been six foot three since I turned fifteen, but I was thin as a stick. In fact, my nickname was “Splinter.”  In the Army, I learned how to exercise and work out to build myself up.  I still work out an hour or two a day when I can.  I don’t want to become like one of those people who sit at a computer all day and. . .sorry.  No offense.

EARL  – Oh, none taken.  I really should exercise once in a while.  Do you miss the Army?

TALL  – Yes, I do. I didn’t agree with everything they did, but I felt part of something important and thought that in some small way, I could make a difference.

EARL —  But you left the Army. Why?

TALL —  I was reprimanded and demoted for striking a superior officer.

EARL – Oh, my.  Why on earth would you do that?

TALL – I had no choice.  He was doing something that could have ruined his career.  I only wanted to stop him, but he started throwing punches at me.  I threw one back and that was the end of the fight and my career in the Army.

EARL  – I understand after you left the Army, you joined a special agency that does something pretty important.

TALL  – The agency I’m with now is not one of those everyone knows about like the CIA or FBI. This agency keeps a low profile. Very few people even know it exists. I hope you understand I can’t say much about it.

EARL  – So, if you told me, you’d have to kill me?  (laughs)

TALL  – (shrugs – doesn’t laugh)

EARL  – (gulps)  Okay, moving right along.  Can you tell us what this agency does?

TALL  – We track subversive and terrorist groups both here and overseas.  If we determine they’re a threat to innocent lives, we put them down.

EARL  – (grins)  When you say “put them down,” do you mean. . .?

TALL  – (shrugs – doesn’t grin)  Unfortunately, most of them choose to die for their cause rather than go to prison, so we accommodate them. If they want to meet Allah and collect their virgins, we put them in the express lane.

EARL  – (gulps) I see. How do you feel about that?

TALL  – I don’t enjoy it, but it’s necessary. We have a motto:  kill one terrorist, save a hundred lives.  After a while, you learn to think about the lives saved, not those taken.

EARL  – How do you go about doing. . .uh. . .what you do?

TALL  – The usual. Guns, explosives, whatever it takes.

EARL  –  The book is called Justified Action. Is it all about taking out terrorists?

TALL  – (hesitates, looks away) No, not for me. Someone very close to me is murdered. After that, my only focus is finding the people responsible and making things right. I use the resources of the agency, but it’s completely my own personal operation.

EARL  – (gulps)  When you say “making things right,” do you mean. . . ?

TALL  – (shrugs – doesn’t reply)

EARL  – So are you able to find who was responsible and make them pay?

TALL  – (looks away again) Not exactly. It gets complicated. A lot of people are involved, some in high places.

EARL  – How high?

TALL  – As high as you can go.  I can’t say any more than that. I hope you understand.

EARL – I understand completely.  Let me ask you about—

TALL — (looks at watch, stands up) I’m sorry, but I have to go now. I have a job to do just across the street. (smiles, extends hand)

EARL  – (stands, shakes hands)  Uh, okay.  Just across the street? When you say you “have a job to do,” do you mean. . . ?

TALL  –(turns, walks to door)  You’ll hear a lot of noise. I wouldn’t go outside for a while.

EARL  –(gulps, watches him go)

* * *

Thanks for letting me take up some space here, PJ.  I enjoy the interviews and articles you do, and I appreciate the opportunity to make an appearance.

If I may, I’d like to invite your readers to come over and visit my website where they can:

. . . . .read Chapter One of JUSTIFIED ACTION featuring Tall Chambers.

. . . . .read Chapter One of my Mystery novel, MEMORY OF A MURDER.

. . . . .read a short story called “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer.” Some say it’s the funniest story I’ve ever written.

. . . . .read another story there called “White Hats and Happy Trails,” about the day I spent with my boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.  There’s even a picture of me with Roy to prove it’s all true.

. . . . .and more.

Here’s where:

 Hey Earl – you are welcome here any old time! And how bout this all of ya’ll who’ve now had the pleasure of meeting Tall Chambers. Why don’t you leave us a comment and tell us who you think he looks like? Better yet, send a photo! I bet I can wrangle Earl into a drawing for something free for someone. Let’s hear it!

The Border Lords by T. Jefferson Parker

The Border Lords

A Charlie Hood Novel

T. Jefferson Parker

New American Library, 2012, 400 Pages

ISBN No. 978-0-451-23556-5

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid

Sean Ozburn (Gravas) is undercover for Operation Blowdown.  Sean is one of the best undercover operators but Charlie Hood is taken by surprise when Sean begins acting totally out of character.  Sean operates a “safe house” in Buena Vista, California, a border town.  The house has been wired for sound and video.  The current occupants of the house are four gunmen who are members of the North Baja Cartel, the organization, Sean and ATF are hoping to put out of business.  Sean was in the habit of checking in with Operation Blowdown on a daily basis but he hasn’t checked in for a few days and Hood is concerned that Sean’s undercover identity might have been blown.

Charlie Hood, still on loan from the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, was monitoring the live feeds from the “safe house” when the monitors and audio went dark.  After the team requested an unmarked police car to drive by the house, it was decided it would be best to check out the house on their own.  All of the occupants of the “safe house” had been killed.  Hood found a “Love 32” in one of the bedrooms.  The machine gun was the same as ones he had seen being packed for shipment at the Pace Arms factory in Costa Mesa.  He suspected many of the guns had been sent to Mexico and were now being used by the Cartel.  After an inspection of the house, it was found that someone had shut off the video/audio system with a key.    When the team viewed the tape from one of the cameras, they were stunned to see Sean smiling into the camera as he reached up to cover the lens.

So begins the bizarre story of Sean Ozburn and his wife Seliah.  Hood works with Seliah to try to get Sean to come in.  Hood hopes that he can trust Seliah but is unsure that she is being honest with him.  As the story develops, the reader becomes aware that Sean is suffering from a disease that he has been infected with and soon his wife is a victim.  Bradley Jones and his wife Erin play small but important parts in this novel.

The Jaguar is the next Charlie Hood novel and there is a brief introduction to the book at the end of The Border LordsThe Border Lords can be read as a stand-alone.  L. A. Outlaws, The Renegades and Iron River are the first three books in this series.

Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman

Hurt Machine 

Reed Farrel Coleman

Tyrus Books, 2011, 320 Pages

ISBN No. 978-1440531996

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid

When Carmella Melendez, Moe Prager’s ex-wife and former PI partner, shows up at Moe’s daughter Sarah’s pre-wedding party he finds himself reliving the past while trying to keep the future at bay.  Carmella needs a favor from Moe.  Her sister has been murdered but the police don’t seem concerned about finding her killer.  Unable to resist Carmella’s plea, Moe decides to try to find out who killed Alta.  This decision does not sit well with Pam, a PI from Vermont and a woman that currently holds a special place in Moe’s life.

Carmella took her son Israel, a child close to Moe’s heart, and went to Canada to live leaving Moe behind.  She had also cut her family out of her life with the exception of her grandmother so it was a puzzle to Moe why she was so concerned with her older sister’s murder.  Alta and her partner Mayna Watson were EMTs who had refused to give assistance to a dying man at a downtown restaurant. The man’s family were furious and the public had no sympathy for Alta or her partner as evidenced by the ton of hate mail Mayna turned over to Moe to help his investigation.

Moe moves forward in his investigation taking him to places that have held a lot of meaning to him in the past.  Moe also renews old acquaintances while making his inquiries.  However, his thoughts are always touching on his own future or even if he will have a future.  Moe has recently discovered that he is suffering from stomach cancer. This is a fact that he hasn’t shared with his family so he is carrying the burden alone. Carmella has left town and gone back to Canada without saying good-bye.  Mayna, Alta’s partner, is uncooperative and only wants to be left alone.  It seems no one really cares what actually happened but Moe is determined to find the answer.

It is as if finding Alta’s killer is keeping the cancer at bay in Moe’s mind although his body continually reminds him that the cancer is there and demanding more of his strength daily.  He finds all the answers he is seeking and learns why Alta was murdered.

I am hoping that the fact that Moe has cancer is not an indication that the series will be ending.  The author’s website states that The Hurt Machine is “reportedly the next-to-last Moe Prager book.”  If this statement is true, it is a disappointment to me but it looks as though I will have one more book to read in the series.