Stories of Murder and Mayhem

My wife, Lonni Lees, has murder on her mind. Fortunately for me, her thoughts go into novels and short stories. This article is a review of her four published books. The first, “Deranged” and her most recent, “Corpse in the Cactus” both won first place honors from a group of professional crime writers, the Public Safety Writers Association. Two of the novels, “The Mosaic Murder” and “Corpse in the Cactus” are set in Tucson.

 The Mosaic Murder (Amazon)(Barnes & Noble)

Mosaic Murder coverSynopsis: The artists’ reception at the popular Mosaic Gallery in Tucson, Arizona is a great success, but the next morning, when the body of Armando, the owner’s husband, is discovered, things start turning ugly. Every artist becomes a suspect, and each of them has their own reason to want the man out of the picture. But who disliked him enough to want him dead? And who stole the fake Mexican artifacts and the sculpture of the goddess Gaia? Gallery owner Barbara Atwell is devastated at her young husband’s death, and turns to her friends, Adrian and Rocco, for support. An unseasonable Arizona heat wave keeps everyone’s nerves on edge as Police Detective Maggie Reardon juggles a disastrous personal life while trying to solve the crime. She even finds herself attracted to one of the suspects as she sifts through a long list of colorful, Bohemian characters to determine who had the ultimate motive for murder. But when she’s viciously attacked in her own home, she begins wondering whether she’ll survive long enough to find the culprit. The first of a great series of detective novels set in the sizzling Southwest!

Reviews on Amazon:

1) This is Lonni Lees’ third book and her second novel. I’ve had the pleasure of reading them all as well as her online and print stories, but I have to say this one is my flat-out favorite. Lonni lives in Tucson and writes her descriptions of the area and its harsh beauty, plants and weather with a sure hand. And the best thing about that is her exercise of self control, showing us that the right amount of atmosphere is just enough, leaving her room to draw the character of Detective Maggie Reardon in detail–flaws and strengths alike, just as in all human beings. Maggie is no superhero hard-boiled dudette in sexy clothes, but a smart, interesting woman whom we end up caring a great deal about. In fact all the characters in this book are well described and believable, even if some of them are a bit weird. But then, who are artists and gallery hangers-on if not umm, “unique” individuals? Its a great milieu for a mystery and Lonni keeps us guessing all the way.

It’s great to see a new writer getting this much better with each outing, and word is that Lonni has another of Detective Reardon’s adventures in the pipeline. I’ll be waiting!

2) “The Mosaic Murder” is a captivating murder mystery novel that left me guessing until the very end. A man is found murdered in a Tucson art gallery, and the list of suspects is long. Detective Maggie Reardon is on the case; she is portrayed as the no nonsense loner cop who doesn’t take crap from anybody, least of all her ex-boyfriend! Her character is witty, sarcastic, and easy to relate to on many levels which makes her even more likeable. As she investigates the case, one particular suspect catches her eye in an unexpected way and leaves you rooting for them by the end of the story.

The story is written so descriptively that it’s easy to envision each character and how their personal stories unfold in the hot desert sun. When the temperature rises in Tucson and time grows short on the investigation, there is only one murder suspect left for Maggie to bring to justice. Fantastically written with a twist! Great job.

The Corpse in the Cactus (Amazon)(Barnes & Noble) This is a sequel to “Mosaic Murder.”

Corpse in the cactus awardSynopsis: Detective Maggie Reardon is back, in the sizzling sequel to The Mosaic Murder!

The murder that Detective Maggie Reardon just solved at a local Tucson art gallery has already created repercussions, complicating her life both legally and personally. Her new lover dropped to second place when a new man entered the picture. A dead man whose body had been found at The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum lying under a bed of cactus. What at first appeared to be a tragic accident was quickly starting to smell like murder.

And dead things always smelled worse under the hot Arizona sun.

Losing wasn’t her game, but she’s been dealt a nameless victim with no witnesses, no suspect, and no apparent cause of death. As the evidence unfolds, Detective Reardon battles a hostile fellow cop, determined to see her lose her badge.

The mixture adds up to a scorching southwest recipe guaranteed to sear your taste buds — but leave you begging for more!

Reviews on Amazon:

1) For this reader one of the great pleasures of reading P. I. or Police Procedural novels in series is the opportunity to move along with a good writer as she develops the character of her protagonist and those close to that person. That’s why I was so glad to see that up-and-comer Lonni Lees has continued to flesh out the intriguing character from 2012’s “The Mosaic Murder”–Detective Maggie Reardon of the Tucson P.D. And this book is even more compelling than the first book in the series, because as Ms. Lees has deepened our attraction to a believable and likeable cop with a heart, she now provides Det. Reardon with a lightly drawn but troubling back story that promises a more complex psyche than is at first apparent. Something powerful happened to Maggie to form her toughened vulnerability somewhere along the line and I want to know what it was!

Lees has also pared down and sharpened her mystery this time, making it more puzzling–and ultimately more satisfying– than most of the tired tropes and standard plots we have to plow through while looking for a gem like this. This time we also have a few dark and somehow interconnected weirdos inhabiting a sort of parallel world in the darker corners of Tucson. Ms Lees brings to this underground some of the ways with horror stories that she displayed in earlier books like 2011’s “Deranged” and in some of the short stories she’s published online in magazines like Yellow Mama (where she also does illustration work) to add to the mystery in front of us.

There’s a bit of Jim Thompson here, some Stephen King too, but much more Lonni Lees than anyone else.

When I got my copy from Amazon I was going to crack it and see where it would go in my book pile; on the table in my workroom or the nightstand next to the bed. I ended up in a comfy chair in the living room pleasurably ingesting the first three chapters before I had to get back to the real world. I finished the book in short order though, and it was a joy to read, reading in bed as a cap to my day. I like shorter books that get to the story right away, that don’t try to trick you or make you read lots of detail–books that fit Elmore Leonard’s parameters in his Ten Rules of Writing (Google it!)

This one is a good example of that kind of storytelling. I highly recommend it.

2) Police Detective Maggie Reardon is alone again. Just when she thought she might have found Mr. Right her captain called her in and put the kibosh on the whole kit-and-caboodle. Rocco was, after all, a witness in the murder of the proprietor of the Mosaic Gallery, the case that she just solved.

Sure, she has blown her chance at romance, but Reardon was delighted to find out that Rocco was willing to place a hiatus on their budding romance until the case went to trial. Buoyed with the notion that someone was willing to wait for her she set out on the next grisly discovery, the body of a man found discovered in the javelina pit at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Always determined to send waves through the department, the newly minted female detective in the Tucson Police Department challenged the findings of the senior officer on duty, who wrote off the body as an accidental fall. When her leads show they had a victim with no identification, multiple state tag numbers in his trunk and no witnesses, she has her work cut out for her.

By the time she puts together the unidentified body with an apparent runaway, skulking in a cheap south-side motel, she is able to help solve not just a missing persons case but prove the cold-blooded killing of the corpse in the cactus.

Lees’ fact-filled little novellas, featuring Detective Maggie Reardon, are fast becoming a favorite read of mystery fans in the Old Pueblo she features, Tucson, Arizona.

Deranged, a novel of horror (Amazon)(Barnes & Noble) -Lonni’s first novel

Deranged cover awardSynopsis: Just an ordinary-looking man, Charlie Blackhawk is really a monster inside–a cold-blooded killer who likes to use a knife. When his path crosses that of Meg Stinson and her 12-year-old daughter, Sabrina, their lives are changed forever. What’s the connection between the Stinsons and a girl named Amy? Do Amy’s nightmares hold the key to Sabrina’s survival? A chilling, thrilling exercise in unrelenting horror and suspense. “A harrowing ride, mixing crime with horror, horror with crime, in a way you won’t soon forget.”

Reviews on Amazon:

1) This is the first novel by Ms. Lees but I expect there will be many more. An imagination this active will surely not be contained within the pages of just one book! Perfectly titled, Deranged is a nerve wracking descent into the mind of a unique madman as he pursues some ordinary people for reasons that–well, you need to read it to fully comprehend, and perhaps you may never be able to. I’ve read Lonni Lees’s stories before, and whenever I see her name on a magazine I know I’m in for a well-crafted adventure to the dark side. I was very happy to find that she is expanding her reach to the longer stuff. If you like psycho-horror, you’re going to LOVE this book!

2) Deranged is a thrilling and horrifying tale of a twisted madman named Charlie, a beautiful young girl named Sabrina and the strange dreams that haunt a frail child named Amy. Their journey through this story is captivating, I couldn’t put the book down! Each scene is described so well, it literally transports you into the action like you’re watching a movie. I really enjoyed the way Ms. Lees pulls you into the story and makes you realize that it’s not a black and white world out there; there are many shades of gray, and Charlie lives in one of them. Watch out! Can’t wait for her next book, I’m sure it will be as exciting as this one.

3) This was a great read. Highly recommended. This book has a great plot, well developed characters, catches your interest right away, a compelling psycho-thriller. I hope to see more novels from Ms. Lees in the future.

There are 10 more reviews.

Crawlspace and other dark stories is an anthology of noir-style short stories (Amazon)(Barnes & Noble)

Crawlspace coverSynopsis: Crawlspace is an exquisite collection of stories in the noir style. Each shows a slice of life and each ends with an unexpected twist. The stories get you into the head of each protagonist whether sympathetic or contemptible. Each story is very entertaining and you will want to read them again.

This story originally appeared in the Arizona Daily Independent.

Independent review: Deranged

Deranged coverLast July I announced a new novel called “Deranged: A Novel of Horror” by Lonni Lees, my wife. The book is her first novel. Her book has now received an independent review by Brendan Matley, editor of an online literary magazine called A Shot Of Ink in Britain.

Here is Brendan’s review:

When first sitting down and sinking my teeth into DERANGED I must admit that I was a little surprised. I was surprised at how good it is.

Now don’t get me wrong, Lonni Lees is a talented writer of short stories (check out her story ‘Desert Venus’ elsewhere on A Shot of Ink), but this was her first full length novel. As any writers out there will testify; creating a novel is a very different skill to writing a short. The plot has to be strong enough to interest the reader over a vastly longer word count, and the characters must be well developed and have suitable depth to carry the narrative. This is where Lonni Lees shines.

The plot involves a psycho named Charlie Blackhawk kidnaping a twelve year old Sabrina Stinson. Meanwhile, a girl named Amy is suffering terrible nightmares that possibly hold the key to saving Sabrina.

The book is beautifully plotted, with Lees leaving the actual kidnaping until relatively late in the story. This allows her to explore the characters and their various interactions with friends and family, leaving the reader with a true sense of caring about their fates. By the time the abduction happens the reader has gotten to know Sabrina quite well so you really feel for her and her family.

The protagonists in DERANGED read as real people as opposed to a cast whose sole purpose it is to forward the plot. I must also mention the secondary players, most notably; the Stinson’s friend Betty and Amy’s friend Freddy. Both of them ooze warmth and likeability tinged with a melancholy that is hard to describe without spoiling the plot. These peripheral characters fill the world nicely; adding extra layers to a relentlessly dark environment.

The story runs at a pitch-perfect pace with a special mention going to chapter fourteen which breathlessly switches between characters giving a wonderful sense of foreboding that only a great book can achieve.

The main players in DERANGED are very well written. Sabrina is a precocious little thing that you can’t help but love. Her grit and determination coupled with her obvious love for her mother make her a well rounded heroine.

Meg (Sabrina’s mother) and Charlie both share a history of sexual abuse, although both have grown into very different adults. Meg is still somewhat of a victim as an adult although she allows herself to commit sexual acts in order to further her career as an actress.

The star of the show, for this reviewer at least, is Charlie Blackhawk. He is a wonderfully creepy villain that exudes a sense of menace whenever he is on the page. Lees weaves his back-story throughout the novel and succeeds in making him both evil and slightly sympathetic; a very difficult trick to pull off.

DERANGED is a curious mix of both horror and crime fiction and fans of either genre will not be disappointed. It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel as it is written with the confidence of a seasoned professional and reads as such.

A Shot of Ink heartily recommends DERANGED as a riveting read. It is available now from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Deranged is available from the publisher Wildside Press and from Amazon as a print book and as a Kindle ebook, or may be ordered through your favorite bookstore. It is also available from Barnes & Noble here.

Book Review: DERANGED, a novel of horror by Lonni Lees

Deranged coverI have written several book reviews on this blog, but this is the first time I review a work of fiction, that is, intentional fiction. This book, a first novel by Tucson author Lonni Lees, is a psychological thriller. Lonni has published many short stories of the noir genre, in Hardboiled Magazine and in anthologies such as Deadly Dames both published by Gryphon Books.

I recommend this book because it is a good page-turning thriller and because Lonni is my wife and owns many reference books on poisons, weapons, and murders.

The Story is a chilling, thrilling exercise in unrelenting horror and suspense.

 Just an ordinary-looking man, Charlie Blackhawk is really a monster inside, a cold-blooded killer who likes to use a knife. When his path crosses that of Meg Stinson and her 12-year-old daughter, Sabrina, their lives are changed forever.

What’s the connection between the Stinsons and a girl named Amy? Do Amy’s nightmares hold the key to Sabrina’s survival? Within these pages the reader is in for a dark and dangerous ride.

 Praise for DERANGED:

“DERANGED is a hell of a good read by a bright new talent. It’s a harrowing ride, a first novel mixing crime with horror and horror with crime in a way you won’t soon forget. Bravo!”

Gary Lovisi, HARDBOILED magazine and Gryphon Books


 “Lonni Lees sends chills down my spine!”

Terrill Lee Lankford, Novelist and Film maker


Deranged is available from the publisher Wildside Press and from Amazon as a print book and as a Kindle ebook, or may be ordered through your favorite bookstore.

Lonni will have another book out in a few months. It will be an anthology of short stories by Lonni and her sister Arlette Lees, also a published author.

Lonni is working on another novel, a murder mystery, that will take place in Tucson.