Launch Party for “Down To the River,” New Crime Fiction Anthology

That’s crime novelist Tim O’Mara with my amazing wife Patricia Smith at New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop last night. We were there to help launch the publication of Down to the River, a great short story anthology of crime fiction in which every yarn involves a river.

A story Patricia and I collaborated on is included along with new work by Reed Farrel Coleman, Chris Knopf, Charles Salzburg, and many others.

All of the proceeds go to American Rivers, an environmental group.

You can order the book here.


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My Review of “Black Mountain,” New Crime Novel by Laird Barron

“You don’t teach a child to become a killer by rote lectures,” Laird Barron writes in his new crime novel, Black Mountain. “To create a predatory machine, you foster an appreciation of the natural world and our minuteness upon its canvass. . . . We are as nothing and that permits us to do anything.”

Like a lyricist, Barron excels at manipulating the tones and cadence of language. Like a Gothic novelist, the mood he creates is often bleak. It should come as no surprise, then, that he wrote both poetry and horror before turning to crime fiction.

To read the full text of my Associated Press review of this fine novel, please click here.

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High Praise for “Down to the River” Crime Fiction Anthology

Thriller writer Jon Land praised Down to the River — a new anthology that includes a short story by Patricia and me — in his book review column for The Providence Journal:

“The splendid anthology “Down to the River” (Down & Out Books, 242 pages, $15.95), edited by Tim O’Mara and with an introduction by Hank Phillippi Ryan, features 20 crack crime stories centered around rivers with an eye toward preserving America’s waterways. Kind of like a Go Green version of the old Alfred Hitchcock collections I grew up on.

“But since these are crime stories, expect some red sprinkled in for good measure, as is the case in the fabulously titled and terrific Blue Song, Edged in Woe by Bruce DeSilva and Patricia Smith. DeSilva is a former Providence Journal reporter and Smith, his wife, is a poet.

“Featuring two characters amorphously called Girl and Boy, this lyrically-etched, gothic tale of a violent sexual encounter and its aftermath rings of John Hart in wondrously depicting the costs of impulse.

“Or Reed Farrel Coleman’s The Righter Side, which chronicles a dark world that has none. Then there’s Charles Salzberg’s No Good Deed, classic postmodern noir featuring not much good at all around New York’s East River.

Down to the River features 17 more tales that share varying levels of moral morass rising from the very waters around which they’re set. An early candidate for the best crime-mystery anthology of the year.”

You can order the book by clicking here.

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A New British Edition of “Incendiary Art”

My wife Patricia Smith’s latest book of poetry, “Incendiary Art” — the one that won the LA Times Book Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize –has just come out in a new British edition.

It’s got a brand new cover, the photographic illustration created by our multi-talented actor, author, photographer, college professor, musician, and Marine combat vet buddy Benjamin Busch.

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Tears For A Building

When the Twin Towers fell, my tears were for the people trapped inside. Today is the first time I ever wept for a building.

(Photos of the Notre Dame Cathedral I took on family trips to Paris.)


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My Review of “The Perfect Liar,” a New Crime Novel by Thomas Christopher Greene

The great thing about being an artist, Max tells his students, is that you can imagine things into being. But only he knows the extremes to which he has taken that.

Max lacks the academic credentials for his job as a college professor, but he has more than enough intelligence, boldness and charisma to sustain the fraud. Everything will be just fine as long as no one finds the body of the real Max buried on a New Hampshire mountainside.

Thomas Christoper Green’s The Perfect Liar is a taut, well-written thriller, but this novel is more than that. It is also a textured examination of the lies people tell to those they love and a reminder that it is never easy to escape the traumas of a troubled childhood.

You can read the full text of my review for The Associated Press here

You can learn more about the author here.

And you can order the book here.



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My Review of Joanna Schaffhausen’s New Crime Novel, “No Mercy”

No Mercy is Joanna Schaffhausen’s second compelling novel in a series featuring FBI profiler Reed Markham and Woodbury, MA, police officer Ellery Hathaway, whom Reed once rescued from a serial killer.

The story is told in vivid, precise prose, the characters are well drawn, and the suspenseful plot is resolved in ways that readers are unlikely to see coming. But the most appealing part is the complicated, evolving relationship between Ellery, a damaged woman who shuns romantic entanglements, and Reed, a recently divorced man who is both protective of the girl he once saved and increasingly drawn to the fearlessness and beauty of the woman she has become.

Schaffhausen, a science journalist with a doctorate in psychology, explores this thread

Joanna Schaffhausen

with such insight and sensitivity that readers will be eager to learn what happens between them in the next installment.

You can read the full text of my review for the New York Journal of Books by clicking here.

You can learn more about her on her website here.

And you can order the book here.


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I Thought He Would Live Forever

Steve Parisi

At my age, old friends and colleagues die with such frequency that I have almost become numb to it, but somehow I thought that Steve Parisi would live forever.

He was a big, boisterous man with a luxurious head of silver hair, a passion for good food and drink, a closet full of Hawaiian shirts, and an addiction to rock ‘n roll. He loved his friends more than most people love their families, and he had enough of them to fill a sports arena. He was a devoted family man, doting on wives, children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces even–or perhaps I should say especially–when circumstances landed some of them on his doorstep at an age when child rearing is usually a distant memory. He was generous to strangers. His out-sized personality dominated every room he ever lumbered into.

Every time I saw him, he had a huge, ain’t-life-grand smile that rarely faded.

We met as teenagers, members of the 1964 graduating class of Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High in Massachusetts. That should have made us lifelong friends, but we weren’t. Looking back on it now, I realize that our 100-student class was a bit cliquey, although I don’t recall any meanness to it. Students in college prep classes just tended to socialize together, and Steve wasn’t one of them.

After graduation, I didn’t see or hear from him for 46 years. So I was taken aback when he got in touch in 2010, after my first crime novel was published, and invited me to dinner at Adino’s, his favorite Italian restaurant in Providence, R.I.

A few days later, as I strolled into the place, I saw a bombastic sixty-something holding court at the bar. Whatever he was saying had an audience of drinkers and barkeeps enthralled. He turned, somehow recognized me (although I looked nothing like I did in high school) and said, “Hey, I was just braggin’ about knowing you.”

I stuck out my hand. He ignored it and wrapped me up in a spine-cracking bear hug.

“Come on, let’s get a table,” he said, leading me through the restaurant to a four-top. On the way, everyone in the place shouted a greeting (“Hi, Steve!” “What’s shakin’, Steve?”) as if he were some mix of the mayor and the Godfather.

After he ordered drinks for us both, the waitress, who he knew by name, handed us menus and asked if we wanted to hear the day’s specials. Steve’s grin got wider, and he rattled them off.  She raised an eyebrow.

“Hey, I was here for LUNCH!” he said and treated the whole room to his booming laugh.

Signing a book for Steve at the Providence Public Library.

And then we talked. About my work and his. About my family and his. About the Red Sox and the Patriots. About being young and growing old. By the time I left, we were already the best of friends. And that, I gather, is how it usually went when anybody met Steve.

Over the last eight years, we met nearly every time I came to Providence, sometimes to promote my latest novel, sometimes to visit family that lived nearby. When I spoke at local bookstores or the Providence Public Library, he didn’t just come. He dragged a crowd along with him. Nearly every time, we had lunch or dinner at Andino’s. Always, I had to fight him for the check, and most times I lost. I ended up naming a recurring character for him in several of my books.

Steve the rocker

It would take more time than I’ve got, and more words than you would want to read, to tell you everything that is worth knowing about Steve’s life.  About how he went to work after high school for his father’s little basement waterproofing company and transformed it into a firm that worked on major restoration projects including Providence’s Biltmore Hotel. About how he sang in local clubs for years with a rock ‘n roll band. About how he beat throat cancer and returned to the stage, belting out 1960s classics in a voice that sounded like hard water flowing over gravel. About how he always spoke his mind and didn’t give a shit whether you liked it. About how almost everybody seemed to love him.

Steve died unexpectedly sometime over the holidays. I got the news late, alerted by a friend on Facebook. I’ll be forever grateful for his friendship and forever regretful that I didn’t get to know him sooner. I’m sure I’ll never stop missing him. If he could see me now, I think I know what he’d say. He’d tell me to buck up, order a martini, cue Dylan on the stereo, and have a good laugh.

But I have to go now and find a quiet place to be sad.

You can see Steve perform by clicking here.


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My Review of Carol Potenza’s Debut Crime Novel

Hearts of the Missing, Carol Potenza’s debut novel, is a yarn wrapped in Pueblo Indian mythology, forensic evidence, ancient rituals, DNA tests, evil spirits, greed and violence. The story involves so many characters and such a plethora of twists and turns that readers may find it difficult to keep track unless they pay close attention — and maybe even take notes along the way.

For my full review of this book in The Washington Post, please click here.


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Killed by Illegal Abortion: May Burns, My Great Grandmother.

Before Roe v. Wade, untold numbers of America women died from illegal abortions. One of them was May Burns of Middleboro, Massachusetts, shown here in her only surviving photograph.

She was my great grandmother.

May, an Irish immigrant, was married to William H. Archibald, the son of a Scotsman who crossed the Atlantic to Nova Scotia before taking his family south to find work in Massachusetts in the late 1800s.

When William grew to manhood, he got a job as a steam shovel operator on road projects. He and May had four children together.  John, the oldest, was my maternal grandfather.

After May’s youngest, Anna, was born, she didn’t want more children. Raising four in Middleboro, MA, was difficult enough on her husband’s meager pay. Unable to find anyone to help her, she performed an abortion on herself. John was seven years old when she died in the last year of the 19th century.

Because what she did was considered shameful, it was a closely-held secret on my mother’s side of the family. My grandfather would say only that she died in childbirth. But when abortion laws became a topic of national debate in the early 1970s, Aunt Lois, my mother’s younger sister, haltingly told me the truth.  My Aunt Anna, May’s youngest, also grudgingly acknowledged it. Only then did I get a lip-quivering confirmation from my mother.

There is a widely-held misapprehension that abortion was illegal in America until Roe V. Wade, but the truth is quite different. Abortions before “the quickening,” when the fetus begins to move in the uterus, were legal in colonial America and then in the United States until the mid-1800s.

The first state to ban abortions in nearly all instances was Massachusetts, and the others soon followed. But in the 1960s, some states loosened their strict anti-abortion laws. By the time Roe v. Wade was decided, abortions were already legal (under varying circumstances) in 17 states.

The number of women who died from illegal abortions during the century of strict, nationwide anti-abortion laws is widely disputed, and the true number can never be known

What is known is that abortion was listed as the official cause of death for nearly 2,700 American women in 1930, However, because the procedure was both illegal and considered shameful, many such deaths were almost certainly attributed to other causes. The official total dropped to 1,700 in 1940 and declined sharply after that as antibiotics became widely available for post-procedure infections.

Various studies put number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s at 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. Many were performed by physicians (who did so at the risk of their licenses and their freedom), so only a small percentage were fatal. But deaths were more common among poor women who could not afford physicians—or find one willing to break the law for them.

Of course, deaths don’t tell the whole story of the suffering. In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City to be treated for botched abortions. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was decided, 130,000 American women had illegal abortions. At least 39 of them died.

Soon, those days may no longer be a relic of the past.

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