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Psi no more…

This is the third Emmie Reese Mystery and may be my favorite. Emmie, now an aspiring writer, finds her path to fame and fortune barred by a variety of obstacles. Her solution is to take over a lapsed literary magazine and use it to publish her own work. Since I was self-publishing my own work, a lot of her feelings and frustrations were ones I was similarly experiencing.

I think Fanny—the woman who flunked out of Emmie’s college but stayed on just the same—made a fun character. And the literary-minded captain. Also, Elizabeth makes an appearance, her relationship with Emmie now thoroughly soured. But the best part of the whole thing may be the resultant issue of Emmie’s magazine, which isn’t included in the text, but can be seen online.

The mysteries Emmie encounters in the course of the story are all fairly silly, until the last: the murder of Fanny’s French-Canadian valet. (The culprit of that crime makes a reappearance in the next novel.) Overall, a fun, quick read that was a joy to write.

There’s more on Psi no more…, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.

Kalorama Shakedown

This is the third novel in the Harry Reese Mystery series, and it was with this book that I felt I’d hit my stride. It’s more farcical than the earlier novels and the writing came more easily. That’s not to say there weren’t multiple drafts and revisions, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process and was very pleased with the results.  

Emmie’s school chum Elizabeth again plays an important part in this book, but she’s soon eclipsed
by the even more impressive Countess von Schnurrenberger und Kesselheim, a young British woman who not long before was a notorious jewel thief. She and Emmie get into a sort of contest, with Emmie getting the upper hand by book’s end.

There are a number of scenes I feel came out especially well, such as Harry’s interview with the lobbyist Easterly, who explains that “The average first-term congressman arrives as an ego with shoes and a hat.” Also, the conversation with Samuel Chappelle, an African-American who runs a numbers operation and offers a précis of the current state of his people’s condition. Then there’s the recurring motif of newspaper reporters trying to leave Harry with the bar tab, and most of all the scene where Emmie uses the cliché “Take a message to Garcia” as a euphemism for going off to use the toilet.

The two murders are somewhat tangential to the general goings-on, but that’s true of all my books and has become something of a hallmark. And Harry is only partially involved in solving them. As in all the books, he isn’t so much an actor as an amused observer.

This is my favorite book in the series. Not only did I have fun writing it, but I can pick it up, flip through the pages and come upon bits I find amusing, not just sentences I wish I had worded less clumsily.

There’s more on Kalorama Shakedown, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.

Hidden Booty

This second short story told from Emmie’s point of view recounts the couple’s abortive trip to France. Emmie loses the money meant to finance the trip gambling and she and Harry find themselves destitute in a resort town on the north coast of France. Then Emmie learns of a gold theft aboard a French ocean liner and manages to persuade the insurers to hire Harry to find the gold during the ship’s return voyage to New York.

As Harry seems to go about the investigation in his usual lackadaisical manner, Emmie works to solve the crime herself, and at the same time make some money wagering with the other passengers on the ship’s daily run. In the end, Harry does find the gold, but it’s Emmie who names the culprits.

My original conception for this book was to use three points of view: Emmie’s, Harry’s, and that of the ship’s chief rat. Each chapter would have three versions, and the (online) reader would be randomly served one version. I would use cookies to keep track of which versions of each chapter the reader had been served. So he or she could read it a second and a third time without ever reading the same version of a chapter twice. I even worked out the mechanics for the Web pages.

But there were two hurdles to overcome. First, the three versions of each chapter would need to be synchronized in that the progressive revelation of clues needed to occur with the same timing. Second,  since each chapter needed to be written three times, I pictured them as each being fairly short. But switching voices at brief intervals seemed disruptive when reading it.

In the end, I just fine-tuned Emmie’s version and made it a short story in that series. I think it came out reasonably well, with some nice bits, such as how both of them end up being rewarded for their work, but in a back-handed sort of way. And I still have my test pages, so I might revisit the idea of multiple versions with some other piece later on.

There’s more on Hidden Booty, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.


This is my second novel, and with it I was still trying to find a balance between keeping  the mystery compelling and the tone light. I began it thinking I needed to introduce more tension into the plot, that Harry should be made to experience a certain amount of menace. But I soon realized that my tone made that all but impossible.

As with the first novel, I allowed my extensive research to lead me off on tangents. Which is why this may have been the hardest of the books to write—there was a great deal of cutting and reworking before I had something I thought presentable.

Emmie’s friend Elizabeth was introduced with this book and she’s proved to be one of my favorite characters. (I’m just finishing a new series which features her, or rather Emmie’s fictionalization of her.) Also, the episodes with Mrs. Warner came out especially to my liking, particularly this exchange with Emmie:

“Well, I mean, if someone is going to kill my husband, I think it should be me. Don’t you agree?”
I do indeed,” Emmie said. “I made the same argument myself just a week ago.”

Mr. Demming aka Larabee is another amusing character. And I was quite pleased with my construction of the crooked roulette wheel, which gives the sharp player the false sense that he’s taken advantage of the house.
There are too many slow scenes in this book, and the denouement is a bit of a weak point—somewhat rushed  and lacking the humor I’d managed to inject into that of Always a Cold Deck. But overall, I think it’s still an amusing read.

There’s more on Crossings, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.

The Birth of M.E. Meegs

This is the first Emmie Reese Mystery short story, and the first piece written in her voice. I spent some time imagining just what that voice would be like. First off, she doesn’t start at the beginning, but at the end. And the whole thing comes on in a bit of a rush.  

The mystery which Emmie solves has little to do with the bulk of the story—it just sort of asserts itself every now and then. It centers on a tontine, something used in many mysteries because the death of one member benefits each of the survivors, providing an author with an automatic motive. One line I was particularly pleased with was Harry’s response when Emmie asks what a tontine is:

“A tontine is a kind of primitive insurance fund, combined with a sort of lottery. And while it has many flaws as a financial scheme, as a literary device…”

My favorite parts of the story involve  Mr. Larabee’s complicated scheme to take advantage of inefficiencies with the odds offered by bookies at the horse races and the “literary sweatshop” Emmie visits out on Long Island:

I was greeted by the Ulmers’ eleven-year-old daughter, a girl of remarkable poise. Mrs. Ulmer was busily typing a manuscript that needed to make the evening mail and after welcoming me, in a very friendly manner, she returned to work. There were two other children and Mr. Ulmer, who was writing the manuscript just as his wife was typing it. The youngest child, who could have been no more than five or six, had the task of relaying the handwritten pages from his father to his eldest sister, who would quickly scan them for errors, and from her to his mother. The middle child, a little girl of seven or eight, lay on the floor with a large dictionary and would look up words when called upon by her parents or sister.

I had encountered the term “literary sweatshop” in an article in The Independent (a tongue-in-cheek piece about low wages paid to authors) and it struck me as something with possibilities. This story  is a quick, fun read and I’m very pleased with how it came out.

There’s more on The Birth of M.E. Meegs, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.

Humbug on the Hudson

Chronologically, this short story immediately follows the opening book in the series, Always a Cold Deck. It was also written just after that book was completed, when I was still enjoying my initial wave of enthusiasm. Again, the action begins with a real event, a large fire in Glens Falls, New York. But from there, the story lapses into a series of farcical situations as Harry and his colleague, Ed Ketchum, try to solve the mystery of the arson. Not surprisingly, the solution involves an absurd bit of theatre, which in turn uncovers a murder and second mystery in need of solution.

The chapter titles all refer to various literary works of that period, or earlier in the 19th century. For instance, “A Day in Ten Bar-rooms” pokes fun at Ten Nights in a Bar-room (1854), a mawkish temperance novel that had become a target of ridicule by 1900. Unfortunately, few 21st century readers are likely to catch the allusions without referring to the crib sheet available through the links below.

There’s more on Humbug on the Hudson, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.

Always a Cold Deck

This is the first Harry Reese Mystery, and the first fiction I’d written since school. Needless to say, the manuscript required a great deal of work before it was presentable. If my wife hadn’t been an editor (and a very patient one), the production costs would have been prohibitive. That’s true of the rest of the books, but particularly true of this one.

Always a Cold Deck
I had three objectives in mind for the book (and each of the subsequent ones as well): it should be a satisfying mystery; it should be faithful to the period; and it should be humorous. I soon found this to be more difficult than I had expected.

I began hoping to include as much historical detail as possible, and sometimes I let interesting bits of research entice me to stray from the plot. The first part of the book centers on a fire at the Eastern Elevator Company in late July 1900. This was a real company and the fire did take place as depicted. That was the story that first caught my eye. Some of the shadiness depicted is also based on truth—it had defaulted on the mortgage, and there had been a stock scandal involving manipulation of its share price. Though much research went into the depiction of Buffalo, its buildings, entertainment of the time, transportation, etc., I gradually learned to keep the overt references—like the visit to Dr. Linn’s Museum—to a minimum. That meant a lot of the research was left unused for the good of the mystery. Once the idea of smuggling comes in, the story is almost purely fiction.

Harry is meant to be a sort of everyman. He has no outstanding talents or eccentricities, but he is reasonably intelligent and seems never to lose his sense of humor. The introduction of a love interest was always in the back of my mind, but once Emmie entered the book she took on a life of her own. With hindsight, it’s obvious she was the essential element, and later I went back and trimmed the opening chapters so her appearance came all the sooner.

One minor part of the book, but which I look back on fondly, occurs when Harry and Emmie visit a concert saloon:

Just about then a piano player got going. He sang along with himself. Not well, perhaps, but one could understand the lyrics of each song and that struck me as rather novel for a concert saloon. These were the usual tunes one would hear in any parlor, but the artiste had taken certain liberties with the lyrics. In his version of the old standard She Loved Not Wisely, But Too Well, “she” also did it quite often.

That piano players would take liberties with lyrics was my conjecture—an educated guess based on the fact that those of published music were absurdly tame, and yet there were an infinite number of rowdy places of entertainment. Later, I found confirmation of this in Mark Sullivan’s  Our Times.

In some ways, this was the most enjoyable book to write. My expectations were modest and my enthusiasm unchecked by subsequent disappointments. And though I didn’t feel completely satisfied with the finished product, I did take a great deal of pride in having completed it.

There’s more on Always a Cold Deck, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.