Sunday, April 30, 2017

5 Fearless Female Sleuths You Don't Want To Mess With

I like to think that I've created some pretty bad-ass female sleuths in my mysteries, but there are some pretty tough cookies in other great books that I would not want to cross. I've come up with a selection of some of my personal favorites. Each is formidable in her own way.

Hester Latterly Monk from Anne Perry's William Monk series

When we first meet Hester, she's just returned home from serving as a battlefield nurse with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, so we already know she's made of stern stuff. Even those who like Hester find her infuriatingly stubborn. But it turns out that fierce determination and fearlessness come in handy when solving crimes on the mean streets of 1850s London.


She meets her match in permanently cranky amnesiac detective William Monk. Readers will figure out that these two frenemies need to get a room several books before they do, but it's perfectly clear that Monk admires her toughness, loyalty, stubbornness, and her determination to right society's wrongs all along. It just takes him some time to figure out that those qualities are not only admirable but kinda hot.

Hester won't take you out with a right hook or a pistol shot, but she can stealthily gather info to bring about your downfall if you're doing the wrong thing.  And she never gives up. 

Nora Charles from  Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man

Despite being a character in several movies, Nora actually only makes one appearance in print. Nora is young, wealthy, and living the booze-fueled high-life with her older husband, Nick Charles. But she's no spoiled princess. 



When a mobster breaks into her bedroom at night and holds her at gunpoint, she barely bats an eye. Not even when her husband socks her in the jaw to knock her out and get her out of the line of fire. Nora's just mad that she didn't get to see Nick take the guy out.  Nora matches former Pinkerton man Nick quip for quip and drink for drink until they get to the bottom of what really happened to the thin man. (who is not Nick Charles, but a missing inventor)  

If you think the 1930s was somehow a more innocent time, you'll want to check out this 1934 book by Dashiell Hammett.

Lady Juliet Linton  from Emma Jameson's Marriage Can Be Murder

Lady Juliet is as stubborn as Hester and born into wealth and privilege like Nora, but she's still struggling to find herself in a small English village at the start of WWII. An exceptionally tall, strong woman, she feels more like a clumsy horse than a fierce Amazon. It doesn't help that she seems to have been cursed with the world's worst fashion sense and a knack for always saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.



But she's also blessed with a sharp mind, good heart, thirst for adventure, and the natural ability to take charge. Juliet is interesting because unlike the rest of the ladies on this list, she's not fully aware of just how strong and beautiful she really is yet.  But we're only a few books into the series, and she's starting to wake up.  Now that she has some mystery solving under the belt of those trousers she insists upon wearing, Juliet is even more of a force to be reckoned with.


Precious Ramotswe from  Alexander McCall Smith's  #1 Ladies Detective Agency

 Unlike the previous three fearless sleuths we've talked about, Precious isn't investigating murders, kidnappings, or other dastardly crimes.  This traditionally-built resident of Botswana focuses more on solving personal crises. Armed with only red bush tea and a keen understanding of human nature, Precious is able to see what others might miss.


 Her only weapons are compassion, confidence, and unbridled optimism. Still, she's just as formidable an adversary as the other ladies on this list. More so, because she's likely to turn you from an adversary to an ally without your realizing it's even happening. The first book in the series was also made into a charming HBO series.


Rae Spellman from Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files

 Teenage Rae grew up in a family of private detectives, so it's no wonder she's able to conduct surveillance like a pro before she's even old enough to drive. This precocious private eye  is an expert at gathering evidence to use in what she likes to call "negotiations."  (You might call it blackmail.)


The true master of the art of the deal, Rae has a way of inserting herself into potentially dangerous situations, yet somehow managing to come out completely unscathed.

 Now, I happen to think that Police Chief Andrea Taylor from Killer ClownsFrom Out Of State fits nicely into this category. But if you aren't convinced of that yet, wait until you see what I have planned for Chief Taylor in the sequel, "Vegas Vexation."  In fact, it was procrastinating working on that book that led me to write this article. Shame on me!  Enjoy my slacking and let me know who your favorite women sleuths are in the comments. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pig Lickin' Cake - from Aunt Joyce's recipe box.

I've embarked on a quest to work my way through my Aunt Joyce's recipe box. Losing her is still fresh, but the connection I feel to her through her food is strong and makes me feel as if she's right next to me.  I polled the relatives as to which recipe they'd like to see first. Right up there at the top of the list was her Pig Lickin' Cake. (No clue where the name comes from. Alas, no bacon is involved.) What it does have is oranges and pineapple and an incredible frosting. The food snob in me wants to replace the Cool Whip with real whipped cream and the cake mix with homemade yellow cake. But I've promised my self not to alter her recipes. And after tasting this, this thing needs to alteration. As Shakespeare said, "Love does not alter where it alteration finds." And I love this cake.

The ingredients are simple. A box of cake mix, (The recipe called for Duncan Hines. I bought Betty Crocker - thereby breaking my rule about not changing up the brands the first time you try a recipe) a box of instant vanilla pudding, eggs, oil, Cool Whip, canned Mandarin oranges and crushed pineapple.

Here's the handwritten recipe card.

It bakes at a lower temperature than a typical cake.   Preheat the oven to 325.  The recipe calls for three 8" round pans, which is what I used here. But it also says you can do two larger rounds or make it as a sheet cake. The baking time will vary depending on the size of the pan. You could probably even do cupcakes.  Grease and flour the pans. Consider using baking parchment paper. I had a little trouble getting the cakes out of the pan and really wished I had lined them with parchment first.

The ingredients:

4 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 package Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 11 ounce can of Mandarin oranges with juice
1 20 ounce can Dole crushed pineapple in juice
1 16 ounce tub Cool Whip
1 3.4 ounce package of instant vanilla pudding mix

Put the cake mix, eggs, oil, and entire can of Mandarin oranges with juice in a bowl. Most cake mix boxes call for 3 eggs, but you'll need 4 for this one.

Mix by hand or in a mixer. I went with the mixer, since Joyce loved her Kitchen Aid.  It only takes a few seconds to blend together by mixer and about two minutes by hand.

Divide evenly between the pans.

Bake for around 30 minutes at 325. Then put cakes on a rack and allow to cool completely.

While the cake cools, let me tell you about Walt and Joyce. They dated for nearly 20 years before getting married. For 15 of those years, Aunt Joyce was serving as a caregiver to my Mammaw. Every night, Walt would come down to the house and sit around with Aunt Joyce and Mammaw in the living room watching TV. Walt still lived at home with his mother and two of his adult siblings.  After Mammaw passed away, Joyce assumed a marriage proposal would be forthcoming. She waited about 5 years and no ring materialized.

So one day, Joyce came up to my house to bake an orange chiffon cake and have a discussion with Mom. I was politely told to bug off so they could talk, but fortunately the walls were thin. Especially if you listened hard. 

Mom suggested that Joyce should just break it off. If Walt wanted her, he'd have to pony up a ring. Joyce must have listened, because she called Mom one night the next week and they had a long talk. A few minutes after that, Walt called the house. Walt NEVER called the house. He was not much of a talker.

I only heard Mom's end of the conversation, but the part that stayed with me was, "I don't know what's going on Walt. Maybe it's time to s#%! or get off the pot."

Then Mom called Joyce and they made exciting plans to head out to the Ramada Inn for dinner.  Walt apparently called later and asked if he could see her the next day. She told him that she had plans with Mom.

It seems the next day, Walt showed up with a ring in hand. Smart move. They tied the knot that summer and were happily married for 23 years until Walt passed away.

Now, on to that amazing frosting. It sounds like a hot mess, but it is unbelievably good. Dump the package of pudding in a bowl.

Dump in the can of crushed pineapple and juice and mix it all together with a spoon until thoroughly combined.

The fold in the Cool Whip.

Do your best not to eat the whole bowl of frosting. It won't be easy.  Put filling on each layer. Don't over-fill the middle or it will squeeze out the side when the next layer goes on.

Frosting the sides was tricky. Next time I might go the sheet cake route, though this looks spectacular. By the way, the cake is sitting on my Mammaw's milk glass cake plate.

Put it in the fridge to chill for a bit before serving.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Life and stuff...

I've been pretty quiet on social media as of late. It's been a pretty rough time for me and my family. Our Aunt Joyce passed away. It was unexpected, even though her health had been in decline for some time. She was a tough old gal, we thought she'd bury us all.  She was more than an auntie to me. My mom passed away right after I turned 21 and she filled that role in my life since then. When I got the call that she'd been admitted to the emergency room, I hopped in our van and began the five-hour trip down home.

I fully expected that she would no longer be with us by the time I arrived. I was upset that I'd never had the chance to show her the dedication to Best Served Cold - it was dedicated to her. She didn't do the eBook thing, so I was waiting to see her in person and show her a the dedication in the front of a hard copy of the book.

I was surprised to find her in good spirits when we arrived at the emergency room. She was admitted to the hospital and spent the next day visiting with her nieces, nephews, and friends and receiving phone calls from concerned friends and relatives. Not to mention giving her nurses a hard time. I even got to show her the book dedication. She was very touched. All indications were that she would make a recovery, but we lost her due to complications during a routine procedure that evening.

Joyce had no biological children, though plenty of nieces and nephews and adopted nieces and nephews. Since I was the one trusted with taking care of her estate, and most importantly, finding a home for her beloved cat, I've been busy.

My aunt was an incredibly cook. I've got my hand on her recipe box and I plan on sharing her recipes with the world. At the least, in blog form. If I follow through on my ambition, in the form of a cook book.

But other things were going on as well.  Something Red, the third book in the Goode-Grace series, was released.

And the day before her funeral, American Goth jumped to #9 on the Kindle best-seller list in the Women Sleuths category. One of the high points of my life happening right at the same time as one of the lows. Life is very strange sometimes.

But I've found a great home for the cat. And the recipes are secure. Life will go on, but it won't be nearly as interesting as it was before.

Below is the obituary I wrote for her. It gives a few details of her life, but it doesn't come close to describing the funny, cranky, stubborn, loving person who was my Aunt Joyce. Some day I hope to get around to doing her justice. It's just a little too hard right now.

Joyce Ratcliff Imes, 78, of New Boston, Ohio went home to be with her savior on April 7, 2017. She died peacefully at SOMC, surrounded by her loved ones.

She was born July 23, 1938 in Portsmouth Ohio and attended Portsmouth City Schools. She spent many years as a devoted caretaker to her late mother, Grace Skaggs. She worked for many years at the Fashion Bug in New Boston and then worked at Jade East restaurant until she retired. Joyce loved animals, cooking for her friends and family, and was a renowned amateur food critic.
Joyce married Walter Imes in 1982. He preceded her in death along with sister, Alma Constantino, brother Bill Ratcliff, sister-in-law Virginia Ratcliff, and nephews Gary and Larry Ratcliff.
She is survived by her nephews Dan (Debbie) Ratcliff, David (Retha) Ratcliff, Bill (Patti) Ratcliff, and Ralph Imes, Jr. along with her nieces Debra (Butch) Keene, Pamela Ratcliff, Carolyn Ratcliff, Carolyn Jenkins Ratcliff, Cynthia (Tim) Mackley, Jennifer Imes, and Holly Imes, numerous great and great-great nieces and nephews, plus a host of other "adopted" nieces and nephews who were glad to call her "Auntie Joyce," brother and sister-in-law Roy and Pat Imes, and sister-in-law Margaret Imes.
Her special neighbors Rob, Barbie, and Mia Wright were a loving support to her.

If you'd like to remember her, consider a donation to the American Heart Association 's Go Red For Women Campaign or to the organization of your choice that helps care for animals. Or just turn on The Ten Commandments when it airs next Saturday at 7 p.m. and raise a glass of sparkling grape juice.

*note - by the time you read this, it will be too late to watch The Ten Commandments on ABC this year. You can watch it next year or enjoy via streaming or DVD.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Something Red

Below is the message I sent to my amazing cover artist Melanie Dunn of Cuttlefish Graphics.

"I'd like to replace the pitchfork in Trinity's hand with a wedding bouquet with some red and white in it. I'd  like to stick a wedding veil  on her.  And replace the house with the classic shape of a country church."

Gotta love it when your vision comes to life. Yes, we have a wedding planned in this book. But we also have an execution, a kidnapping, and problems with the centerpieces.