Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cartoon of the Day: Crime Scene

A Series that Rose from the Bread: Ann Myers

With the Day of the Dead coming up shortly, I asked Ann Myers for an essay about her Santa Fe Café Mysteries. Perfect timing for the launch, also, of her third book in the series. The first book in the series, Bread of the Dead (2015), introduced café chef and reluctant amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. Rita and her friends stir up more trouble in Cinco de Mayhem (March 2016) and Feliz Navidead (October 25, 2016). Ann lives with her husband and extra-large house cat in southern Colorado, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, and cozy mysteries. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnMyers.writer/ Website: www.annmyersbooks.com/

Ann Myers:
A Series that Rose from the Bread

I’ll confess, for someone who’s written three holiday books, I lag on the festive curve. I tend to hide from Halloween. I rarely get Christmas cards out on time (if at all). And though I have endless intentions for seasonal crafts and décor, the days get away from me. When I do get decorations up, I like them so much I don’t take them down. Yes, I’m that person. I’ve had paper snowflakes on my windows and blue solar Christmas lights on my front porch since last winter. But hey, it’s getting chilly again so I’m okay, maybe even momentarily ahead.

However, there’s one holiday activity I don’t let drop: baking. I adore holiday baking, especially desserts and breads, which is partly how Bread of the Dead was born. The first book in the Santa Fe Café Mysteries takes its name from pan de muerto, a rich brioche-like bread flavored with orange and anise seed. It’s delicious and can be shaped like a skull and crossbones, which is just plain fun to watch rise in your oven.

The sweet, buttery bread plays a key culinary role in tempting the ancestors to return during Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This Mexican holiday has ancient roots in the Aztec festival of the dead that coincided with the fall harvest. Over time the holiday was blended with the Catholic traditions of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2).

On these days, souls of the departed are said to return to earth. Families welcome their deceased loved ones with altars featuring festive foods, flowers, and photographs and favorite items of the deceased. Other traditions include cleaning gravesites and holding graveside feasts and vigils. In the U.S., the holiday is probably most known for its skeleton art and images. Such imagery puts a lighthearted spin on death, prompting us not only to remember those who’ve passed on but also to enjoy our fleeting time on earth.

In Bread of the Dead, Rita Lafitte, a chef at Tres Amigas Café in Santa Fe, is busy decorating sugar skulls and taste-testing pan de muerto for an upcoming Day of the Dead baking contest. Life is sweet until her friendly landlord, Victor, is found dead next door. Although the police deem Victor’s death a suicide, Rita knows something is amiss. To uncover the truth, she teams up with her octogenarian boss Flori, the town’s most celebrated snoop.

The sleuths return in Cinco de Mayhem to tackle a food-cart bully and a murder that has Flori’s daughter taking the heat. From the dead man’s disgruntled former employees to a shady health inspector, the suspect list grows long. Rita scrambles to find the killer, while also worrying that her impending dinner date will fall as flat as her practice round of Cinco de Mayo-themed green chile and cheese soufflés

In Feliz Navidead, Christmas brings treats such as bizcochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie, and Rita’s Midwestern mom, in town for a visit. Rita hopes to charm her Santa Fe-skeptic mother with twinkling farolito lights and fun activities like watching her teenage daughter perform in the Christmas pageant. What she doesn’t plan for is murder. Although Rita initially vows to stay clear of the case, she discovers her daughter and others could be in danger. With Flori’s help, Rita strives to salvage her mother’s vacation, unmask a murderer, and stop the festive season from turning even more fatal.

Rita is a whole lot braver than me and a much better multi-tasker too. But like me, she doesn’t always get her decorations up and her soufflés sometimes flop. She’s always ready to bake, share, and eat holiday treats, though. Oh, and in case we don’t get those holiday cards out, happy holidays everyone!

Monday, October 24, 2016

What Happens When You Enter the Witness Protection Program?

Thought I'd share this very interesting article and review about Witseec: Inside the Witness Protection Program.

Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program is a rare insider's account of the Witness Protection Program, and the book begins with this story of Gerald Shur’s unsuccessful attempt to charge Sonny Franzese with extortion.
Gerald Shur was struggling to convince his witness to testify. The year was 1961, and Shur, an attorney focused on organized crime at the Department of Justice, was talking to the owner of a New York trucking company who claimed that Johnny “Sonny” Franzese demanded half the profits of his business. Franzese’s men had vandalized his trucks and beaten him unconscious with baseball bats until he complied, and now the owner hoped that Shur could offer him a way out. But when Shur suggested testifying against Franzese, the witness responded, “Testify?”

He had good reason to be incredulous. For Franzese, a member of one of the “Five Families” of the New York mafia, extorting a small business owner represented low-level crime. An associate wearing a wire would later record Franzese discussing the best way to commit murder: he would cover his fingertips with nail polish, wear a hairnet, and dismember the body so that he could run it through the garbage disposal. 

Shur suggested that the owner “did not really have a choice.” Only by testifying could he protect his business. But the owner did have a choice, and not crossing a high-ranking mafia member seemed the wiser course. 

While frustrated, Shur could understand the decision. His own father, a worker in the garment industry and a trade group leader, had learned to accept the mob’s presence; several gangsters attended Shur’s bar mitzvah. Shur’s office also contained gruesome photos of some of the 25 government informants killed over the past five years. 

As Shur and his colleagues drove away after failing to gain the business owner’s cooperation, Shur said, “There’s got to be a way to get witnesses to testify against the mob.” Another agent replied, “Would you?”