Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Anatomy of Innocence: What Causes Wrongful Convictions?

Reprinted with the kind permission of inSinC, the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, March 2017. I wrote this article for the "Fact to Fiction" column, and have added this photo and a few additional links below.

Photo Credit: KConnors on MorgueFilefile5161250743654.jpg

Anatomy of Innocence: What Causes Wrongful Convictions?

With the release this month of Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, edited by SinC members Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger, I’ve decided to briefly describe some of the reasons the innocent may be wrongfully sentenced and imprisoned.

Like Sara Paretsky, Gary Phillips, SJ Rozan, Lee Child, LaurieKing, and others writers who contributed to the book, I interviewed an exoneree and wrote a chapter based on his experiences. I had the honor of working with Alton Logan, and his ordeal haunts me — just as his courage and ability to survive inspire me. (The proceeds of Anatomy of Innocence benefit Life After Innocence, a nonprofit which helps the wrongfully convicted to reenter life after exoneration.)

This brief column cannot replace the book, but I hope to interest writers and readers in taking a look at these issues. You wouldn’t be reading or writing crime fiction if you didn’t think about justice. For writers, there are many story ideas here, and opportunities to raise awareness of ways we can make criminal justice more just. Writers who fail to research these problems can inadvertently lend weight to questionable practices, giving readers a false sense of assurance about them. “Of course hairs can be matched!” Readers then take those assumptions into the jury box.

Here’s a quick look at three leading causes of wrongful convictions — I’ve included links for sites where you can learn more:

Eye-Witness Misidentification

According to a study by the Innocence Project, 70% of the wrongful conviction cases later overturned through DNA evidence were the result of eye-witness misidentification. Of those, 43% were cross-racial misidentification, and 32% involved multiple misidentifications of the same person.

The problems with eye-witness identifications have been scientifically studied for a long time. Hugo M√ľnsterberg, who taught at Harvard and was a pioneer in forensic psychology, published On the Witness Stand over one hundred years ago. This collection of his articles and essays discussed the fallibility of human memory, the ways in which an individual’s perceptions can be changed by circumstances, jury research, and more. M√ľnsterberg found that even in controlled, low-stress environments, the ability of individuals to accurately observe and recall events is far less reliable than we assume it to be.

Hundreds of other studies have shown that human memory is not unalterable and we are not the “walking video recorders” we seem to believe witnesses to be. Factors known to affect observation and memory are many, and include lighting, distance, stress, fear, trauma, the presence of a weapon, and a difference in race between the witness and perpetrator.

Preventable problems with eye-witness identification are sometimes created by those in law enforcement. Line-ups should be administered by someone who does not know who the suspect is — it is too easy to introduce bias otherwise. Careful line-up composition, video recording of witness interviews, and other steps can be taken to prevent misidentification.

Faulty Forensic Science

Forensic science has faced challenges as DNA evidence has repeatedly shown that some courtroom “science” hasn’t been based in science at all. Other forensic tests have never been subjected to rigorous evaluation. Statistical significance of findings has been misstated.

A 2009 study by the National Academies of Sciences enumerated many weaknesses and problems in the field of forensic science. This led to efforts to ensure that all forensic science disciplines have a strong scientific foundation.

These changes have not been without resistance in some quarters, especially from some of those who have been testifying as experts in questioned fields. Still, 46% of the wrongful convictions later cleared by DNA evidence were attributed by the Innocence Project to invalid or improper forensic science.

Among others, areas questioned include bite mark evidence, microscopic hair comparisons, and firearms tool mark analysis. In 2015, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department and the FBI acknowledged that 26 of its 28 microscopic hair examiners overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed. Of those cases, 34 defendants had been sentenced to death and 14 of those had been executed.

Faulty chemical tests, sold cheaply and used by police departments across the country, have recently come under fire by ProPublica’s investigativejournalists, who found that “tens of thousands of people have been jailed based on a $2 roadside test” that routinely produces false positives.

Polygraphs, also known as “lie detector tests,” are not admissible in federal courts, but are in many state courts. These tests have been widely criticized as being unreliable and without scientific basis. 

False Confessions

It is nearly impossible to convince jurors — and judges — that people who are innocent may confess to crimes they did not commit. And yet when the Innocence Project examined its first 311 wrongful conviction cases cleared by DNA evidence, more than 25% of them included false confessions.

The reasons for false confessions are many. Nearly anyone may give a false confession under certain circumstances, but children, adolescents, the mentally disabled, the mentally ill, and those who are drunk or high are more likely to produce false confessions. Police interrogation methods and the length of interrogations are factors. Police are legally allowed to lie to suspects about what evidence they have, including telling them they failed a polygraph test, another factor that influences false confessions. Ignorance of the law, threats of harsher sentences, and fear of violence are also factors.

Suggested remedies include mandatory video recording of all interrogations, changes in the current law so that prosecutors would be required to tell the defendant of exculpatory evidence in plea deal situations, and adopting less adversarial  interrogation methods, such as those used in Great Britain.

There are other reasons for wrongful convictions —time spent researching them will be time well-spent. Anatomy of Innocence will give you an inside look at what happens when we convict the innocent, and why we should be concerned.

Links and Sources:

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Live audience recording of Crime & Science Radio

If you live in the Los Angeles area, join Professor Donald J Johnson,  DP Lyle, MD and me for our first recording of an episode of Crime and Science Radio before a live audience. So Cal MWA is sponsoring this event, to be held at the Tam O'Shanter Restaurant on August 7, Noon-2:30 PM. The luncheon event is open to the public.

Professor Johnson was a senior criminalist for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department,where he spent years scientifically investigating evidence in violent crime cases. He left to work as a professor at CSULA, where he and his students are doing amazing research and developing new forensic science technology.  We'll be interviewing him and taking questions.

For more details and to make reservations, visit:

If you don't live in LA, watch the Crime & Science Radio website for this and other shows!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths: Write Now! 2016

I'm excited about the upcoming Desert Sleuths conference, which will be held in Phoenix August 12-13. You can sign up and learn more about it at

I'll be speaking about using forensic science in your novels.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Crime and Science Radio

Dr. Doug Lyle and I usually host Crime and Science Radio, but in September, Hank Phillippi Ryan turns the tables and interviews us!

You'll be able to hear her interview with me on Saturday, 9/5 at 10 AM Pacific and two weeks later, she interviews Doug.  Always fun to spend time with Hank — join us!  

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Holy Cow! A new post coming your way soon.

Yes... I'm starting to catch up with a few things.  See you soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Some Plain Speaking About Forensic DNA and Our Longing for Perfection

People who want the best of all possible criminal justice systems have goals for forensic science. We may understand that they aren't always achievable, but we long for them all the same, and some of us actively work toward them.

We want to feel assured that we are convicting the right person, the one who did it.  

We want the innocent to be freed and exonerated (which are not the same thing). 

We want to correctly identify the deceased, to find some measure of justice for victims, and to prevent those who harmed them from harming others. 

Because we never want to be mistaken in these essentials of justice, we want to believe that our methods of evidence examination are going to deliver the truth. If we have doubts here and there, most of us feel sure that modern science has found at least one method that is perfect: DNA. 

DNA is lauded in this way, and it is not uncommon to hear it spoken of as the "gold standard." I cringe every time I hear that. 

DNA evidence has much to recommend it over many other types of evidence, but it isn't always useful. For example, although most of us want to believe strangers are more dangerous to us than our loved ones, studies have shown that most murder victims knew their killer. This isn't a matter of Homicide Begins at Home barely edging out the Danger From a Stranger competition -- 

From 1993 to 2008, among homicides reported to the FBI for which the victim-offender relationship was known, between 21% and 27% of homicides were committed by strangers and between 73% and 79% were committed by offenders known to the victims.

What does that have to do with DNA? We all leave our DNA (and microbes, and more) in the places where we live. For example, a husband's DNA will be present in the home where he murdered his wife. It would be really odd if his DNA wasn't present. Finding his DNA in the home, on the victim, even on the weapon -- especially if it is an object that has been in the home for a while --  does not prove him guilty of anything but living at his own address, touching his wife, and handling objects that belong to him. Not evidence of a crime.

And despite what you've seen in a television drama, in the unlikely event a complete stranger shoots you, the odds of crime scene investigators finding useful amounts of DNA on anything but a bloody shell casing at the scene (and that the blood is the shooter's, not yours) are not great.

DNA is also (at present, anyway) a relatively expensive form of testing

Ignoring the economics of the criminal justice system is not an option. IMHO we make a tremendous number of utterly asinine, penny wise and pound foolish choices about forensic science budgeting — paying the extremely high costs of continued violence, lengthier and more labor-intensive investigations, wrongful convictions, suffering of victims and families, property damage, public health problems, and other safety issues because we won't properly staff and equip labs, let alone spend much to research forensic science or educate our police, courtroom personnel, and public health workers — but alas, no one has put me in charge of all of that yet. Sadly, there is no line item in a county budget called "all the longterm expense and human misery your dumbass decisions cause" to show how wrongheaded a lab budget cut can be.

Still, costs and limits of applications aside, the forensic use of DNA continues to amaze us, and for good reason. It's a fantastic tool. It has helped us solved cold cases, freed the innocent, helped families learn the fates of missing loved ones, identified kings buried under car parks and given us a feeling of certainty in convictions. 

It is that last that becomes problematic, because we should never forget that human beings work at crime scenes and in laboratories. And human beings make mistakes.

Over the years, as certain vulnerabilities became apparent, forensic scientists have worked hard to institute controls for quality, to ensure that mistakes were prevented or caught, not just in DNA testing, but in other areas of forensic science as well.  But pressures from police and prosecutors, politics within the criminal justice system, budget cutbacks that do not provide the needed level of quality assurance, and other problems can counter those efforts.

If you'll be at the California Crime Writers Conference next month, I'll be talking about this issue and other matters in my forensic science track session, "The Forensic 25." I hope to see you there (Don Johnson and Beatrice Yorker are also be on the conference faculty.)

But if you can't wait or can't make it there, here are a few stories and website links to help you learn more about the ways DNA can go wrong -- or at least, how the humans who work with it go wrong. This isn't, I'm sorry to say, a complete list:

So, as in all human endeavors, striving for perfection in forensic science is admirable -- after all, the consequences have to do with lives and liberty -- provided we remember that humans aren't perfect, and that we remind our city, county, state, and federal legislators that   we must provide what is needed to both remedy and safeguard against errors.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Updating the Site and more

I've been busy.  Writing, real life, and ... I'll bet you've been busy, too.

I've just completed sending in a load of edits on my website to the talented folks at, so you should see a few changes soon.

Doug Lyle and I have been recording some great interviews for Crime and Science Radio.  We'll also be together for a fundraiser for the Friends of the Placentia Public Library on March 7th.  You can buy tickets for the luncheon at the library.  More schedule details here.

Since I know you want a new book, I'll keep this brief.  Thanks for your continued support!


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Africa and Ebola

Does the above look like most of Africa to you?

I'm offering links to two items I really hope you will take a look at.  This will require no more than a few minutes of your time.

1) an easy to view graphic, showing the size of Africa by overlaying the United States, China, and other countries for comparison:

2) this article with a map showing where Ebola outbreaks are — and are not — in Africa.

Perspective is important.

Monday, November 03, 2014


Image result for free vote clipart images

I hope my readers in the U.S. who are eligible to vote will do so tomorrow, November 4.

Please recognize all the sacrifices made on your behalf for the right to vote, a right not shared everywhere, and hard won over the years of this country's existence.

To sit back on election day and let others decide the matter is to hand power over to people whose views are most likely extreme — studies show those on the political far ends of the spectrum are more likely to vote in election years like this one. You of more moderate opinions outnumber them.

No complaints then, if you fail to take this easiest of steps to be heard.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Halloween — and a couple of recommendations

Hope you all have a happy Halloween tomorrow. (Yes, my parents had the coolest furniture ever.)

I'll be away from the blog for a couple of days. 

If you are looking for a fascinating book to read in this haunted season, I highly recommend Deborah Blum's Ghost Hunters. At the end of the 19th century, and in the face of scorn from other scientists, William James — renowned Harvard professor of psychiatry — and a group of eminent scientists decide to study ghosts, spiritualism, and psychic phenomena in an empirical way. 

This is one of my all-time favorite works of nonfiction.

I also hope you'll listen to Crime and Science Radio on Saturday (10 AM Pacific, 1 PM Eastern, 5 PM GMT) -- our guest is forensic anthropologist Marilyn London.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Coroners and Medical Examiners Keep You Alive: Five Things You Should Know About Death Investigation in the U.S.

"So You Wanna Be A Coroner? Almost Anybody Can!"

That's the title of a humorous -- and informative -- YouTube video by commentator and comedian Eunice Elliot, who is part of the team at WTVM in Birmingham, Alabama.  Her video was inspired by a brief article I wish I could put into the hands of everyone in the U.S. who can read: Leada Gore's "Does it matter if the coroner is a Republican or a Democrat?" at

I have been talking about problems with death investigation for years, mostly over at the Crime Lab Project website --, and I'm not the first (for example, a 1928 National Academy of Sciences report said we should get rid of the coroner system). I'm far from the only one who is concerned.
Here are five things I wish people knew about this subject:

1) In most states, coroners do not need medical training, legal training, or forensic science training. A large number of jurisdictions require no training of any kind.
There is no consistency whatsoever.  In many places, it's a political plum handed out by appointment, in others, an elected position with no other requirements than "18 years of age, resident of the state, registered to vote."
In Indiana, if a veterinarian takes the job of coroner, the Office of the Attorney General has ruled that "A licensed veterinarian is a 'physician' within the meaning of the statute and is entitled to one and one-half times the base salary for a county coroner."

2) Not all medical examiners are doctors, and many medical examiners who are doctors are not trained forensic pathologists.
In Wisconsin, a medical examiner is appointed, a coroner elected. That's the only difference between the two, although some counties have greater restrictions:
In many states, there is no requirement of forensic pathology training. Gynecologists, dentists, general practitioners, and others have served as medical examiners. 

3) The autopsy rate in the U.S. is abysmally low. We really don't know why people are dying.
Autopsies rates in the U.S.A.
Declining autopsy rates affect medicine and public health
More Deaths Go Unchecked as Autopsy Rate Falls to “Miserably Low” Levels

4) The work of coroners and medical examiners keeps you alive. 
Saying coroners and medical examiners work for the dead is a statement of ignorance. (And doubly so for those who add, "The dead don't vote.") The dead don't need anything. The living seek justice on their behalf if they are murdered, but that's also because if someone is running around killing people, the living want to know that. Death certificates help decide how medical research will be funded. They allow families to collect insurance and deal with the estate of the deceased.
Here are just a few additional examples of how their work benefits the living:
Public health -- recognition of health problems and disease outbreaks
Mass disasters -- mass disasters bring about mass fatalities
Safety -- recognizing potentially fatal dangers in the workplace, cribs, toys, amusement parks, in automobiles and elsewhere helps the living
Missing persons -- putting a name to the unidentified dead not only helps the families of the missing, but allows investigators to solve cold cases

5) Death investigation should not be given over to morticians with little or no forensic or medical training, especially if no firm ethics requirements are in place.
Problems arise when there is a conflict of interest and money to be made from the families of the dead. But that's just the beginning. Death investigation cannot be handed off to someone on the basis of having the equipment to do body removal and the stomach handle remains. This is a serious and important matter than affects the justice, safety, and health of living individuals. Certification and accreditation are important, and voters should demand them.
Many homicide, accident, and public health investigations begin when a body is discovered. Someone with training should be on the job.

Further reading:
ProPublica Post-Mortem Series

The Death Quiz

National Academies of Science (2009) Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward  "Chapter 9: Medical Examiner and Coroner Systems: Current and Future Needs" Can be read for free here:

Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007) Special Report:

Eighteen on Audio

I'm so happy about this review in Mystery Scene Magazine for the audio edition of Eighteen, from Brilliance!

You can buy this edition from Audible, AudioBookstand, Amazon, and Indie Bound -- and other audible book dealers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spot the Station

I never fail to feel a deep sense of wonder on those nights when, for a few minutes, I have the good fortune to see the International Space Station passing overhead. Good fortune and advanced notification from NASA. Perspective changes, thinking of the crew high above.

If you would like to see the ISS, visit NASA's Spot the Station page and sign up to receive text notifications when the station's journey makes it visible in the part the world where you live. The site includes instructions that will help you understand the locating information in each text.

Look for a bright object arcing across the sky, moving fast. You don't need a telescope or any other aid to see it. If you have a compass or know where north, east, south and west are, you'll be able to figure it out. The site will tell you everything else you need to know.

Image above from and is used courtesy of NASA.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bouchercon 2014 Schedule

Bouchercon is the largest of the crime fiction fan conventions, and this year it is being held in Long Beach, California. I hope you'll plan to attend! Click here for information on registration, accommodations, programming and more.

November 12 
I'm starting that week as the coordinator of Sisters in Crime's SinC into Great Writing workshop, which this year is an all-day forensic science program that is available for $50 for members of the organization.  If you aren't a member, join for $40 and you'll still get a great deal. I posted about the event here and will have more to say about the event this week.

Here are the panels I'll be on:
November 15
On Saturday at 1:30 PM, "Getting it Right: How Authors Make Sure the Details Are Correct."
The moderator is Chris Aldrich and other panelists are Reed Farrel Coleman, Julia Dahl, Roger Hobbs, and Tammy Kaehler.

November 16
On Sunday at 10:00 AM "Do You Write What You Know? A Conversation About Research and Thinking Beyond the Everyday." Our moderator is Janet Rudolph and other panelists are Barry Eisler,  Laurie R. King, and Elaine Viets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I'm Reading

Tim and I read together (and separately as well). We just finished Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, which we have read many times before. I never grow tired of it, even if there is always that point when I want Marianne to get over herself sooner than she does.

The books still in progress are appropriate for this haunted month.

We haven't read Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October as many times as Sense and Sensibility. I think this is our third or fourth time through it. We are better able to appreciate his skill with each reading. The humor still makes us laugh, the unsettling still unsettles, the anticipation of the next chapter remains. We notice something about the way it builds, the masterful hand at work. Like many other readers, we tackle it one chapter each night through the month.

New to us, but completely captivating and beautifully written is Peter V Brett's The Warded Man (first published in the U.K., as The Painted Man). This is the first book in the Demon Cycle Series.
I am grateful to my friend and talented author Lia Matera, who recommended The Warded Man so enthusiastically, I had to give it a try. Lia's brilliant. Give her books a try, too.

The lovely photo above was found on Morguefile, and is the work of GaborfromHungary, who kindly gave me permission to use it here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Real Life Cases: Learn More About Cold Cases

The National Institute of Justice is offering a free two-day online seminar through the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence.

"The Science, Law and Politics of Cold Case Investigations on October 30-31 in order to answer critical questions about cold cases and what it takes to resolve them."

The course is free and open to all.  Here's a link to learn more about the program:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Only 12 spaces left in SinC Into Great Writing, and they're going fast

Register online before Halloween for Sisters in Crime’s day with forensic science experts, a homicide detective, a cadaver dog handler, and an arson investigator – to be held just before Bouchercon, on Wednesday, November 12!

Hear from outstanding professionals on processing crime scenes, trace evidence, medical serial killers, cadaver dogs, homicide investigation, and arson investigation. Try your hand at going over a crime scene. All of our experts have experience in the fields they’ll be talking about. You don’t need a science background — just an interest in how scientists and investigators do their work!

Sisters in Crime is sponsoring this all-day forensic science workshop for its members on the day before Bouchercon.  You’ll not only hear from these outstanding experts, you’ll have opportunities to ask questions, learn how to get more information, and get tips on use forensic science research in your writing. A box lunch is included.  An all-day forensic science seminar, including a box lunch, for $50.00! The event will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Long Beach.

Register on the Sisters in Crime Website.
Sign in as a member, then click on the SinC Into Great Writing VI link, then on “Workshop Registration” just below the title of the event. (Not a member? Join! See the website to learn all about the benefits of membership.)

Here’s what we have planned:

7:30 - 8:00 am:     Registration

8:00 - 8:10 am:     Welcome and introduction by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Logistics announcements by Jan Burke

8:10 - 9:00 am:   Crime Scene Processing with Donald Johnson
Don Johnson is a professor of forensic science at CSULA and director of the criminalistics program there. 

9:00 - 9:50 am:    Medical Serial Killers with Beatrice Crofts Yorker
Internationally recognized expert on medical killers, Bea Yorker is the Dean of of the College of Health and Human Services for CSULA, of which the university's forensic science programs are a part.

9:50 - 10:05 am:  Break

10:05 - 10:55 am:  Trace Evidence with Katherine Roberts. 
Like our other experts from CSULA, Dr. Roberts is an extraordinary forensic science researcher with practical experience. She will tell us all about the latest breakthroughs in trace evidence, and what can be learned from it. She is the interim director of the California Forensic Science Institute.

10:55 - 11:25 am:  Question and Answer Session for morning speakers
11:25 - 11:55 am: Lunch Break (box lunch provided)

11:55 - 12:40 pm:  Hands On Death Investigation: "Two dead at scene."
You are the trainee detective called out to investigate a double murder.  Be on time! Be prepared! Bring your notepad and pen!  Veteran LASD Homicide Detective Elizabeth Smith will provide an interactive experience for you in crime scene investigation.

12:40 - 1:30 pm:  Working with Dogs to Find Human Remains 
Cat Warren is a cadaver dog handler and the author of a fascinating book on working dogs, What the Dog Knows.  

1:30 - 1:45 pm:     Afternoon break fruit/sodas/coffee/tea provided

1:45 - 2:35 pm:  Arson Investigation 
Bob Cheng, Captain of the Arson Investigation Unit of the Long Beach Fire Department, will talk to us about the science of fire investigation.

2:35 - 3:15 pm:    Question and Answer Session for afternoon speakers

3:15-3:30 pm Break 

3:30-4:30 What Writers Need to Know about Forensic Science and How to Learn More About It 
This will be an interactive session. Jan Burke will talk to you about both the benefits of using forensic science in your writing and some pitfalls to avoid. She’ll tell you how to research forensic science and spend time answering your questions.  She’ll also be available after the event to offer you further help. 

Yep, I missed a day. So two today.

I had a long day on Sunday. A good day, but a long one.
About eight hours of traveling or being in airports.
So yeah, no post. But there will be a long one a little later.

Thanks for your patience!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Brief Saturday Evening Post

I want to thank all of you who sent suggestions for improving the new  sidebar. I will be incorporating them over the coming week. 

Meanwhile, what am I reading?

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.
 "...his will was read, and like almost every other will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dennis Palumbo on Crime and Science Radio

Doug Lyle and I interview therapist Dennis Palumbo on Crime and Science Radio on Saturday, 10/18.  Details here:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

As I Prepare to Do A Little Traveling

I spent today trying to catch up on a lot of errands and knocking stuff off of the To-Do list.

Picking up the shoes from the shoe repair place might have to wait, but at least the sidebar for this blog is cleaner.

Feel free to let me know if you think there is some other question I should answer under "In case you wondered," to your right.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Justice Done

Justice Done

This is the newest of my series of six ebooks.  Justice Done includes four stories and is only $1.99.

You can purchase and download it here or buy it from your favorite e-bookseller.

The stories are: 

The Quarry
Two Bits
An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart

"The Quarry" is a new story about Bunny Slye, a character you met in my story in A Study in Sherlock.
I fell in love with World War I veteran Boniface Slye and his friends Dr. Max Tyndale and Aloysius Hanslow, and their world of the 1920s. I hope you'll enjoy watching them work together to solve the murder of the owner of an abandoned quarry, a neighbor for whom Bunny has no love.

The last three are reprinted from Eighteen, a collection of my first eighteen short stories.

"Miscalculation" takes place on the Queen Mary. The story has lots of true statistics about the ship and information about its history woven into it, and the key to the mystery is based on a little known fact about its wartime use during World War II.

"Two Bits" was nominated for an Anthony for Best Short Story. Writing it gave me a chance to solve a historical crime — the most infamous kidnapping in American history prior to the Charles Lindbergh, Jr. case — to my own satisfaction by using it as the inspiration for this one.

"An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart" is set in the Regency period in England. I'm hoping it will make you laugh and feel a little unsettled all at the same time. I love reading Georgette Heyer, and while I don't pretend to possess her wit, I loved being able to give a nod of appreciation in her direction.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two November Notes

The event I mentioned yesterday has changed its name.  It is now the Veterans Benefit Book Fair.  You can learn more about it here:

On the Wednesday before Bouchercon, Sisters in Crime is sponsoring SinC into Great Writing VI, an all-day program about forensic science and crime scene investigation at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Long Beach.  I hope members of the organization will take a look at our terrific lineup.  It's only $50, includes a box lunch, and a program that will allow you to talk to leading experts and professionals in their fields.  Please let me know if you have questions about the event.
More information and a link to online registration (which closes on 10/31/14) can be found here:

I'll be describing this event in great detail over the next two weeks.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Come to the Military Book Fair!

Today I drove to San Diego to meet with family and friends, and to drop off a donation of books for the upcoming Military Book Fair.  I hope you'll be able to join me for this event, which will be held on the U.S.S. Midway Museum on 

Saturday, November 8th 9:00-5:00 PM

Get full details here:

Admission: free with admission to the U.S.S. Midway Museum, which is $10 for San Diegans, and $20 or less for others. See this site for the ticket prices (and buy tickets online and save:) 

I'll be on a panel at 10:00 AM with J.T. Ellison, T. Jefferson Parker, Charles Todd, Bob Hamer, and Andrew Peterson. Our Panel Master is W. Craig Reed.

Iris Johansen, Catherine Coulter, James Rollins, Dale Brown, Ted Bell, Grant Blackwood, D.P. Lyle, and Andrew Kaplan are among the many other authors who will be there, along with some amazing veterans, Navy Seals and Marines.

You can help veterans, meet some of your favorite authors, and more! Plus, you get to tour the Midway Museum

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Real Life Cases: Help Solve A 1983 Homicide By Helping Phoenix Police Identify The Victim

Did someone resembling this woman disappear from your life in 1983? In August of that year, witnesses discovered this woman's body by a canal access road near the 4300 block of East Williams Field Road in Phoenix.  She is believed to be a Native American, Caucasian or Hispanic woman, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall, and she weighed 142 pounds. She had brown eyes and curly, shoulder length brown hair. The woman had extensive dental work and a lower front teeth bridge implant.

Please spread the word.  Her case is part of a series in the Arizona Republic Newspaper, which has teamed up with the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office to help solve cases involving the unidentifed. You can find more information here: 

Report information to 602-534-2121 and ask to speak with Detective Stuart Somershoe.  Anonymous Tips can be made by calling Silent Witness at 480-948-6377.

Medical examiner and NamUs case number 83-1480.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Saturday Evening Post: Why I Love Reading: Zelanzy's Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October

The man had a strange way of regarding one's face, one's clothing, one's boots; and of listening.

As a watchdog, I could appreciate the mode of total attentiveness he assumed. It was not a normal human attitude.  It was as if his entire being were concentrated in the moment, sensitive to every scrap of intelligence our encounter furnished.  

Snuff, a character in Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October, describing a meeting with the Great Detective. 

A fine, concise description of Sherlock Holmes, wouldn't you say? If it is Holmes. (Of course it is.)

Snuff is a watchdog. And more. As he tells us from the beginning:

I like being a watchdog better than what I was before [Jack] summoned me and gave me this job.

You'll have to read the book to figure out who Jack is, but I believe Zelzany's to be one of the freshest approaches to that legend, too.

My husband and I reread this book, a chapter each night, throughout this month. Max Gladstone wrote a fine appreciative post about it here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Convicted: new short story ebook includes an Irene Kelly story

ConvictedFor those of you who want to read more about Irene Kelly, "The Anchorwoman," a new short story about her, is out today in Convicted. It's one of four stories in the ebook collection, which costs $1.99.

In "The Anchorwoman," Irene is a journalism student who hears a comically strange story from someone she knew in high school — a story that Irene comes to believe is no laughing matter.

The collection also includes "Revised Endings," "The Muse," and "Devotion." "Devotion" features Frank Harriman, Ben Sheridan, and Bingle.

For ordering information, click here to go to

Sunday, March 30, 2014

All Kinds of News! 3 Stories and 2 Events

Until April 14, 2014, you can read Caught Red-Handed for free! 
Pocket Books is offering the opportunity to read this ebook, which contains a new short story about Frank Harriman, for free on their XOXO After Dark site for a limited time.  Click here to read more about the book and to read it free.
Apprehended, the next ebook in this series, is now available for $1.99.  Apprehended includes "The Unacknowledged," a new Irene Kelly short story.  Click here to learn more about it!

Another new short story, "Stepping Into the Dead Zone," appears in Games Creatures Play, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner will be available on April 1. This anthology brings the supernatural together with games and sports. I chose Dodgeball. I will be blogging soon about this story. 

I'll be participating in the North Carolina Literary Festival.
First, on Friday, April 4 at 8:00 PM, I'll be one of the storytellers at The Monti. The other storytellers  include R.L. Stine, Davey Wreden, Jami Attenberg, and Karen Fowler.Visit the site to learn more and purchase a ticket ($15).

Then, on Saturday, April 5 at 12:15 PM, at I'll join Cat Warren, Deborah Blum, and Lisa Mayhew for the Forensics Panel at the North Carolina Literary Festival. Visit this site for more information and to see what else is happening at the festival.  This event is free and open to the public. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New ebook out next week: Apprehended includes a new Irene Kelly story!

Apprehended, a new ebook containing four short stories, will be available for $1.99 starting on  
St. Patrick's Day: March 17, 2014!

Apprehended includes four short stories.  One of them, "The Unacknowledged," a brand new short story featuring Irene Kelly as a young journalism student learning the ropes from Jack Corrigan.  You may remember Corrigan from Bloodlines.  

I think you'll enjoy seeing Irene at this early stage of her career!

You can learn more about the ebook on Simon & Schuster's Website, and see options for ordering it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Places I'll be, things you can read, good stuff to listen to

Having enjoyed my weekend with the Baker Street Irregulars and Forensic Fest with Orange County Sisters in Crime, I thought I'd let you know some of the places I'll be over the next few months.  More will be added as details are confirmed!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Left Coast Crime 2014 Writing Workshop (I'm teaching with Jerrilyn Farmer)
Portola Hotel & Spa
Two Portola Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940

(Please note that space is limited -- register now!)

March 20-23, 2014
Portola Hotel & Spa
Two Portola Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940

Saturday, March 29, 2014, 8:45 AM to 4:00 PM
Huntington Beach Hotel  (near Bella Terra Shopping Center)
7667 Center Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

April, 2014
North Carolina Literary Festival – more information soon!

June 6-7, 2014
Hilton Garden Inn, Baltimore/Arundel Mills
7491 New Ridge Rd
Hanover, MD 21076

July 8-12, 2014
Grand Hyatt New York
109 E 42nd Street (at Grand Central Terminal)
New York, NY 10017

November 13-16, 2014
Hyatt Regency Long Beach
200 S Pine Ave
Long Beach, CA 90802

And if you haven't already ordered my new ebooks, such as Caught Red-Handed, available now, remember that you get four stories for $1.99, including a new story about Frank Harriman in this first book, and a new one about Irene Kelly in Apprehended. (Apprehended will be available March 17, but can be preordered now.)

Finally, I hope you've visited Crime and Science Radio's site and listened to the ten shows we've already posted there.  You can listen to them free a number of ways: from the site, on BlogTalkRadio, from Suspense Magazine's site, or via iTunes (under podcasts, use the search term "Crime and Science Radio Suspense" and the free download options will come appear).  

To name a few of the interviews you'll find there: Marcia Clark on legal matters; Leslie S. Klinger on Sherlock Holmes and Forensic Science; Deborah Blum on The Poisoner's Handbook, Cat Warren on What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs; David Corbett on being a private eye; Katherine Ramsland on The Devil's Dozen, the psychology of serial killers; Jefferson Bass, aka Dr. William Bass and Jon Jefferson, on forensic anthropology; and next weekend, Dean Giamalas, director of the crime lab for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.  We also post additional links for further information.

I've loved doing this show with DP Lyle, MD and Suspense Magazine Radio.  I hope you'll give it a try!