Monday, November 5, 2018

Mystery Novels set in California

Though I’m partial to mystery series set in England, I also follow several set in the US. It’s hard to beat my long-time favorite, Robert Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone mysteries set in the Boston area, but two LA series also rank high on my list.  Published in 1992, Michael Connelly’s “The Black Echo” introduces Hieronymous Bosch, an LAPD cop, named for a Renaissance painter by that name.  Who does that to a child? Fortunately, he goes by Harry. Bosch is Connelly’s protagonist in twenty novels with the 21st coming in October this year.

In the first book, we learn Bosch was a tunnel rat in the Vietnam war. Both the war and the early death of his mother were defining experiences for Harry.  In twenty novels, Connelly explores Harry’s complex personality and what drives him. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book and have binge-watched each season of the Amazon original series “Bosch” starring Titus Welliver. Fair warning, both the books and the Amazon series are dark. If Harry ever smiles, it’s a fleeting expression.

Connelly also wrote five novels with defense attorney Mickey Haller as the lead character. “The Lincoln Lawyer” was the first and was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey. Bosch is a darker character than Mickey, but both series are enjoyable.

Robert Crais’s series, also set in LA, starts out a bit quirkier, a bit more humorous than Connelly’s.  That’s more a product of his main character Elvis Cole’s quick wit than it is of the plots. Elvis is closer in personality to Parker’s Spenser, witty but with a code of honor that drives him to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost.  In the first book, readers discover that Elvis has a Felix the Cat clock in his office, the one with the tail that wags.  I see that clock as emblematic of his personality.

Spenser has Hawk, and Elvis has Joe Pike. Starting in 1987 with “The Monkey’s Raincoat,” Crais has published seventeen Elvis Cole/Joe Pike mysteries, and we learn more about the personalities and histories of the two as the series progresses.  From time to time, Joe Pike takes the lead, and Elvis has his back instead of vice-versa. 

When I have the opportunity, I like to start with the first book in a series. In doing so, I’ve been able to notice the Elvis Cole stories grow in complexity and seriousness. That makes this recommendation from Robert Crais intriguing:

“I always suggest [readers] begin with “L.A. Requiem, or even one of the standalones like “Demolition Angel” or “The Two Minute Rule.” It isn’t that I feel the earlier books aren’t as ‘good’ as my more recent efforts—I am intensely proud of those early novels—but my newer books are richer, broader in scope, and way more complex in their structure, so I believe them to be more representative of the work I am doing today.”

If I were reading this today without having read any of the Crais novels, I know I’d still follow my rule of thumb and start at the beginning.  I often discover an author new to me by picking up a book at a library sale and starting in the midst of a series.  When I enjoy the book, though, I set out to find the early ones and read them in order. Whatever your preference, if you enjoy crime novels and serious mysteries, Connelly and Crais are good authors to try.

PS. Don't miss out on the e book sale of Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch through November 15, 2018.

Find “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch” and “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” on Amazon. Contact us at, and follow us on Facebook,

Thursday, November 1, 2018


DOG LOVER ALERT: "Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch" is on sale! The e-book, not the dog! 
ONLY through November 15. 
And for my European friends, it's on sale on too!!

Treat yourself TODAY.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Princess Puddin's perspective on black cats

Princess Puddin'
I’m happy to be a beautiful calico cat who’s considered to be good luck.  How cool is that?  But what about those poor black cats?  How did they get such a bad rap? The answer requires a brief history lesson.

We cats started hanging around humans 10,000 years ago when you first started growing food instead of hunting it.  Cats were observant and noticed rodents wherever corn and wheat were stored, and rodents meant a meal. Soon enough, cats grew to like people and vice-versa.
Most everyone knows that the Egyptians worshipped cats.  They realized we made fine pets but still had minds of our own. Does that sound like the cats you know?  I mean, do we come when called? 

The Egyptians also worshipped gods and goddesses that were part human and part cat.  The goddess of violence and fertility, Bastet, was one of those combos, and one of her favorite colors was black.  Don’t ask me how you combine violence and fertility.  Humans come up with the strangest ideas, but Bastet is why black cats were seen as special. Note, I said special, not bad luck or evil.

Perhaps it was this pagan affinity for cats that caused medieval Christians to distrust us. Distrust is too mild a word.  Heck, they accused us of participating in sex orgies with the devil.  From then on, it got worse for cats, especially black ones. We were all described as favorites of the devil and of witches, and you know what happened to the witches, don’t you?

By the 1800's, cats were better appreciated with intelligent people like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain holding us in high regard.  Having a few admirers still didn’t do away with most people’s fear of cats, black ones in particular, and Edgar Allan Poe’s horror story “The Black Cat” didn’t help matters.  I mean, honestly, he described a dead black cat driving some poor human mad, and people believed him.

Even today, black cats remain unpopular. Because they’re the least likely of all cats to be adopted from shelters, August 17 is Black Cat Appreciation Day in the US, and October 27 is Black Cat Day in the UK to encourage folks to adopt black cats.

I guess superstitions die hard, and just as people avoid walking under ladders or visiting the 13th floor, some also avoid black cats. Seeing black cats as Halloween decorations along with witches and monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein likely reinforces this aversion.

There’s never been any proof to support these wrong-headed beliefs about black cats, but then, when have humans ever needed proof? My mum, of course, has never believed any of this hooey.  She once had a stunning black cat named Sheba and loved her dearly. Just because Mum went on to own a white cat and two calicos doesn’t mean she thinks there’s anything wrong with black ones. 

The fact is all cats are magnificent creatures, and black cats are exceptionally striking; though, of course, not quite as striking as we calico kitties. We all know cats are highly intelligent, and this smart kitty has a suggestion for the Humane Society: Run a one-month ad campaign in August to coincide with Black Cat Appreciation Day or in October to counteract all the Halloween hoopla. The slogan? A black cat for every lap. 

Now that I've done what I can to help the black cat population, it's time for me to head to Dad’s lap for a well-earned recovery snooze. 

Princess Puddin’ Penn resides in Georgia with her dad, her mom Kathy Manos Penn, and her canine brother Lord Banjo. Similar stories can be found in “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch” available on Amazon. Please send comments, compliments, and questions to