Category Archives: Writing

Mystery Monday Book Review — Neptune’s Ridge by William Florence

Neptune’s Ridge — Murder on a Cruise Ship

My good friend, and fellow mystery author, William Florence has done it again. He has produced yet another superlative mystery novel for his Max Blake Mystery series, this time aboard the cruise ship Bonanza. This adventure is book nine in a series of entertaining and fun novels, and it’s titled Neptune’s Ridge. Indeed, every Max Blake/Caeli Brown mystery Bill writes has “Ridge” somewhere in the title. Bill also has a series of Max Blake Westerns, but the Max Blake in that 19th century setting is a distant forebear to the Max Blake in his 21st century mysteries — a bit like how Britt Reid (The Green Hornet) is the grandson of Dan Reid, who was the murdered brother of John Reid (The Lone Ranger). Anyway, you get the picture — Bill’s Westerns have a distant connection to his modern mysteries.

Neptune’s Ridge is a direct descendant of that wonderful English literary invention known as the cozy mystery. It’s fun, and Max Blake is the type of sarcastic and witty type of protagonist that I just love. If you’re a fan of Nelson DeMille‘s John Corey then you’ll feel right at home in this novel. The characters possess the perfect blend of whimsy (the two little old ladies who insist upon helping the investigation), menace (Bonanza‘s security officer and his loyal henchmen), reluctant allies (Bonanza‘s I.T. expert, the captain, and the ship’s doctor), and enough suspects and misdirection to keep you guessing for much of the novel.

The setup:

Former journalist/retired journalism professor/true crime author Max Blake and his adventurous wife and fellow former journalist Caeli Brown are on a month-long cruise to Hawaii and destinations in the South Pacific. With them are Max’s publisher “Bulletproof” Bob Beauvais, his good friend retired Portland, Oregon chief of police Bill Kohlmeyer and Bill’s wife Skyla, and fellow author and friend Peter Eichstaedt. Max and Peter are traveling gratis because they’ve been lassoed by Bulletproof Bob into participating in a series of authors forums for their fellow passengers. Also aboard is … well, let me just quote this from the novel’s Cast of Primary Characters in the front matter — R. Doug Wicker: Noted Author and Peter’s friend. No. I’m not making that up. I’m in on the mystery. Bill twisted my arm. By “twisted” I mean he asked, and I was greatly honored to acquiesce to his generous request.

The plot:

Bonanza sets sail in early 2020, and it isn’t long into the voyage before the first body shows up — an inconspicuous college professor who has been poisoned. Max and Caeli are pressed into investigative service, and things start going rapidly downhill from there. En route to Hawaii more poisonings and other mayhem occur, and an epidemic has erupted from China and is rapidly encircling the globe. Yes… it’s that epidemic — Covid 19.

The fun:

Max and Caeli must reveal the culprit before Bonanza makes Hawaii and the killer escapes. Clouding the issue are a multitude of suspects, multiple motives, menacing and malignant crew, and a foreboding sense that the two detectives might just be next on the killer’s List of Greatest Hits. For me, the real fun was the Epilogue: An Opulent Feast; this is where I found out what fate awaited me as Bill tied up the few remaining loose ends from Chapter Thirty-Seven: Cleanup on Deck 4.

Cozy mysteries are great fun. They’re perfect for the beach or by the fireplace, quick reads, and, most importantly, they’re entertaining. And Bill has mastered the formula to perfection while modernizing that formula for today’s audience. His plotting is tight. His protagonists are fun and witty. His villains are menacing and motivated. His herrings are the appropriate shade of red. For a mere $2.99 (Kindle price) you can’t do much better for several hours of engaging fun.

Who know? If you give this a try you might just have found a new favorite author, because Bill’s talents will definitely have you coming back for more.

A little background on Bill and me: We met online way back in early September 2009. We are both Walther enthusiasts, and he was a super moderator for Walther Forums. When he gave up that position, he asked me to take over his duties, which I did for quite some time. Even though Bill quit visiting Walther Forums, as have I, we’ve remained in touch and we occasionally compare notes on cruising and international travel. I look forward to the four of us (including our wives, of course) meeting up one day and cruising together to some exotic locale. How about it, Bill?

By the way, I included that tidbit about Walther Forums and moderating a firearms site because it’s relevant to Wednesday’s article — a rant on bad moderation and blatantly dangerous advice from a self-proclaimed “expert” who directly contradicts instructions set forth in owner’s manuals as set forth by the true experts who actually design, test, and manufacture the guns in question.

Слава Україні! (Slava Ukraini!)



Filed under Author, Books, eReaders, Opinion Piece, R. Doug Wicker, Writing

Fun Food Friday – End-of-Cruise Valencia Paella for Lunch and a Bit of Humor

Back in Valencia, Spain

We had one full day left on our visit aboard Vision of the Seas, and we were once again in Valencia, Spain. We’d stopped off here nine days earlier, during our transatlantic voyage. This stop was in conjunction with our follow-on Mediterranean cruise. And as we’d been here before (follow this link for the beginning of that series: Transatlantic 2022 — Valencia; Our Next Port of Call), Ursula and I opted this time to just set out on foot, look briefly around, and enjoy the dish for which Valencia is famous, Valencia paella. But, first, let’s look around:

Now it’s time for some Valencian paella. As we wandered the streets near the port, we bypassed the obvious tourist choices along Calle del Dr. Josep Juan Dómine. Instead, we turned north onto a smallish street. Here we discovered a charming little establishment with two outdoor tables. After searching Google Maps, I’m about 95% sure that the place where we lunched was Ca Rakel on Calle del Dr. Llurch. As neither Ursula nor I were particularly hungry (we were, after all, on a cruise ship), we decided to split an order.

As we sat outside awaiting our paella, a lovely couple from I believe Slovenia took the next table. I was a bit concerned when I saw the wife had placed her purse in such a manner that it could be easily snatched (Europe, especially southern Europe stretching from Greece through Spain, is notorious for pick pockets and purse snatchers. I advised her that perhaps she might want to better secure her purse, which she did. This led us all to striking up a conversation that lasted through our meals and a little beyond even though my Slovene leaves a lot to be desired. I hadn’t spoken Slovene since George Santos and I were sent to Station L (Ljubljana) for some late Cold War wetwork back in the early ’90s.

Just kidding, of course. I’ve never been to Slovenia, and I’ve never done wet work for The Company. Thus, poor George went to Slovenia by himself. That was back when he was a contractor for the 00 Section of MI6 using as cover his Goldman Sachs credentials as an international financial expert. Don’t believe me? I’m quite sure that’s on his résumé. Here’s George on his return from his much-decorated mission to Ljubljana:

George Santos with a few of his post-mission awards

Anyway, I don’t speak Slovene. Not even a little. Rather, it was our charming neighbors who expertly switched over to English. We discussed post-Cold War conditions in the Slavic nations, international affairs, children, careers, places we’ve traveled, and a whole lot more. The time just flew by. But I’m sure your more interested in lunch, so here it is:

Слава Україні! (Slava Ukraini!)

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A Spillane Christmas Carol (Humor)

Time for a repeat of a little more Christmas humor. Below is the investigation into the murder portrayed in yesterday’s poem. A little inside joke contained therein: this story was originally written for a contest that had a 1,500 word-count limit. That was up from a 1,000-word limit the preceding year. So, here is:

A Spillane Interpretation of A Dickens Christmas

It was the best of times, Christmas.  It was the worst of crimes, murder.  She was a store clerk at the Old Curiosity Shoppe.  Her name was Lenore and she lay dead upon the floor, strangled with a ribbon of rain checks by an irate Christmas shopper.  The suspect’s name was Ollie, and I knew then that this murder had a twist.

It was time for the “bad cop” routine so I slipped into the role, not that it required much acting on my part.  “Okay, Ollie, what’s your last name?”

“Co . . . Co . . . Copperfield.”

“This your first offense, Copperfield?  Murder goes down easier if it’s a first offense.  You’ll probably be looking at two to ten.”


“Weeks.  Probation.  This is California, you know.  Now spill it.”

“I’ve never been in trouble before today.  Well . . . except for those two incidents, one in London and the other in Paris.”

“Just what I don’t need right now, a tale of two cities.  Let’s keep it simple, Copperfield.  Why’d you do it?  Passion?  Robbery?  Lust?”

I secretly hoped it was lust.  I’m kind of partial to lust.  Passion comes in a close second.

“No,” Copperfield whined.  “It wasn’t any of that.”

Rats, I thought.  Another long story with, like, no gratuitous . . . well, you get the picture.  “Start from the beginning,” I prodded.

Copperfield yelled in anguish.  I turned off the prod.  “Come on, spill it.”

“It was my son, Quasimodo.”

“Wrong author.  Save Dumas for next year’s contest.”

“Actually, that was Victor Hugo,” Copperfield corrected.

I shook my head impatiently.  “Never mind.  Go on.  We only have 1,242 words remaining to wrap this whole thing up.”

“And last year, you would’ve only had 742.”

I’d had enough of this.  I started to prod Copperfield for more information.

“Wait,” he yelled in anguish.  “I’ll talk.”

I put the prod back under my coat.  I yelled in anguish, then reached inside and turned it off.  It was a shocking miscalculation on my part and now I was really burned.  “No more stalling, Copperfield.”

“Quasimodo wanted this year’s hot toy . . . .”

“You mean the Super Fly-A-Saur?”

“You know it?”

Know it.  Been trying to lay my hands on one of those damned, cursed, hellish things for three weeks.  I got a nephew in Newark who wants one.”

Copperfield’s face twisted in horror.  “Newark . . .  how awful.  Tough break.”

“Precisely.  Poor kid would’ve been better off as an orphan in London.  He should get whatever he wants.”

“Well,” Copperfield continued, “I didn’t even start looking for one until yesterday afternoon.”

I was incredulous.  “Let me get this straight . . . .  You didn’t start looking for the most popular toy of the year until Christmas Eve?”  I gave him a suspicion-filled glance.  “You settin’ up for an insanity plea?”

“No . . . .  It’s true.  I swear.”

“Quasimodo . . . he got any brothers or sisters?”

Copperfield nodded.  “He has a tiny brother named—“

“Let me guess.  Tim, right?”

“No.  Pickwick.  Pickwick Chuzzlewit Copperfield.  We call him ‘Boz’ for short.”

“Of course you do.”  I was duly impressed.  A four-fer.  Very good.  Tim would’ve been too easy.

It was then that my partner, Nick Nickleby, entered the crime scene.  Nick was the consummate “good cop.”  He never prodded the suspect.  He immediately grabbed Copperfield by the lapels and propelled him into the nearest wall.  “Sing weasel, or you’ll be looking at hard times.”

I grabbed Nick’s arm.  “He’s singing already.  Relax, would you?”

Copperfield massaged his head.  “The chimes.  I’m hearing chimes.”

Nick laughed.  “You idiot.  You hit the wall of the cuckoo clock section.  Of course you hear chimes.”

“Oh, yeah.”  Copperfield straightened.  “Silly me.”  He brushed the cuckoo bird from his mouth, removed the chain from around his neck, the weight from his left nostril, and spit out a feather.  “I was in the middle of my confession.”

“Ah HA,” Nick crowed.  “Then you confess.”

“He just said that.  We’re way past that, Nick.  We’ve already established intent and opportunity.  We’re working on motive.  Now, go sit down before I prod you to do so.”

Nick’s eyes grew like saucers.  He quickly stepped back.  “Don’t mind me.  Just pretend I’m not even here.  I’ll just listen while you question our mutual friend.”

I nodded approval.  An obscure reference, but well placed by a relative novice.  I turned back to Copperfield.  “You were saying?”

“Well, this store clerk, Lenore Dorrit, led me to believe she had some Fly-A-Saurs in stock.  I mean, just look at the window.  They’ve got ads for it hanging all over the place.  I’d been to twenty-seven stores before this and I was desperate, even though their advertised price is 1,200% above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.”

“So, you entered the store with great expectations.”

“Precisely . . .  only to have those expectations dashed upon the rocks like some sixteenth-century galleon caught in a South Pacific cyclone.”

“You’re losing focus again.  We did Robert Louis Stevens last year.”

“Defoe.  That was a Daniel Defoe reference.”

I started to prod, but Copperfield hastily continued.  “Anyway, she led me on.  She enticed me upstairs in the worst way.”

“In the worst way?”

“Yeah.  I mistakenly got on the down escalator.  Took me half an hour to make the trip.”

“Wow.  You were desperate.  Then what happened?”

Copperfield pointed to the raven-haired beauty.  “See those coupons?”

I nodded.  “Rain checks.”

“That’s what she had.”  He broke down sobbing.  “I went through hell, and all she had to offer was a rain check.  Can you imagine little Boz playing with a rain check on Christmas morning?”

Suddenly there was a commotion at the doorway.  A little, gray-haired old man burst through the tape and brushed past Nick.  Actually, the little squirt picked Nick up by the lapels and smashed him into the nearest wall.

“Get out of my way,” the old man yelled.

Nick rubbed his eyes.  “I’m seeing stars.”

I shook my head in disgust.  “Of course you are, you idiot.  You’re in the autographed celebrity pictures section.”

“I thought I was having a religious experience.”

“Get out from under that Madonna poster.”  I turned to the intruder.  “And you are . . . ?”

“Barnaby Rudge.  I got over here from Bleak House as soon as I heard.”

I nodded my approval.  I was wondering how in the world I was going to get those obscure works into this.  “What’s your connection to all this?”

He pointed to the body.  “My automated sales clerk.  She’s been destroyed.  Who did this?”

My jaw clenched.  I shook.  My knees went weak.  I reached inside my coat and switched off the prod again.  Damned faulty switch.  Someone was going to pay for this.  “You mean to tell me that thing’s a robot?”

“Yep.  Made for me by Dombey and Son.”

This guy was good.  Really good.  I’d have been lost without him.  I walked over to the body.  “Yeah . . .  now it all makes sense.”

Nick rushed over.  “What?  What makes sense?”

I pointed to that irritating service smile locked on her lips, the one that just drives you nuts.  “She’s still smiling.  She looks like a damned Barbie doll.  I should have known.  And look at what she was ‘strangled’ with.  That roll of rain checks should’ve broken before she even started to turn pink.”  I turned back to Mr. Rudge.  “I’ve never seen one of these.”

“They’re brand new, different models for different occasions.  The ‘off/on’ switch is in the throat.  This one is the Carol model, specifically made for the holiday season.”

“Ah . . . .” I nodded knowingly.  “A Christmas Carol.  Tell me, why did you name her Lenore?”

“Why, that’s easy.  It’s the raven hair.”

I slapped my forehead.  “It’s so . . .  so . . .  obvious.”

I turned to Copperfield.  “You’re free to go, sir.  I won’t be prodding you for anymore answers tonight.”

“Thank God.”  He hurried off, lest I change my mind.

Nick clasped my shoulder.  “Come on, partner.  Let me buy you a drink.  Martini, right?”


“Olive or twist?”

My eyes narrowed.  “Been there.  Done that.  Let’s go.”

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