The Big Brush-off: A Jake & Laura Mystery

brushoffTwo years ago, Michael Murphy introduced us to Jake Donovan and Laura Wilson, two New Yorkers who hit it big as a detective turned mystery writer and a Broadway actress/movie star. Since that time, Murphy has been prolific, giving us four Jake & Laura mysteries in locales as varied as New York City, Los Angeles, Hawaii and now, in The Big Brush-off, Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Part of the fun of the first three novels were the glitzy, glamorous settings, but in The Big Brush-off, Murphy demonstrates he can write an engaging murder mystery without relying on exotic locales. Jake and Laura have enough glamour and chemistry to carry a story all by themselves.

Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

The premise of The Big Brush-off is that Jake has lost his touch as a writer. Maybe he’s lost focus because of his recent marriage to Laura, his support for her blossoming career, and the distractions of getting drawn into several, “real-life” murder mysteries in need of his detective skills. Whatever the reason, his New York editor tells him his latest work stinks, and he needs to find inspiration or move on to another career.

Jake  decides to pursue a change of scenery by heading to Hanover, Pennsylvania, which has haunted him for a decade. He failed to solve a murder case involving a teenage victim. When the girl’s dying mother asks him to try again, he finds it impossible to refuse.

Laura comes along, even though she’s being summoned back to Hollywood to discuss the biggest role to date of her short movie career. She’s a bit of an amateur sleuth herself, and she wants to be part of the adventure.

Hanover is good for Jake’s writing, and he finds a way to breathe new life into Blackie. He and Laura continue to grow in a relationship that started when they were kids.

Once again, Murphy serves up lots of crisp, sassy dialogue, intriguing plot development, and some interesting characters. If you’re a mystery buff, and you enjoy historical settings, give this book and the rest of Murphy’s Jake & Laura series a try.


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Study Guides for C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters

screwtape image(Thanks for coming by, and click here to learn more about my new novel, Red Metal.)

I recently led a class at my congregation, La Casa de Cristo Lutheran Church, on C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. It’s a clever, insightful series of correspondence between Screwtape, a mentor devil, and his apprentice, Wormwood.

Whether you believe in a real cadre of devils or not (Lewis did), you should find the book to be a worthwhile look at all the temptations we face that pull us away from God and good. Throughout the book, Screwtape emphasizes that his main strategy is to get a person to focus on himself or herself and away from God and others. To Lewis, hell exists, and each inhabitant’s attention will be turned in totally on himself. The way to train a person for hell is to start developing that habit during his lifetime.

Below are links to the study guides I developed for the class. They’re really nothing more than a distillation of the major points from each chapter. For the first week, because no one had yet had a chance to read the book, we reviewed some common themes that appear throughout all of Lewis’s Christian writings.

Beneath the study guides, you’ll find links to blog posts containing other study guides I’ve written for previous classes.

The Screwtape Letters, Week One

The Screwtape Letters, Week Two

The Screwtape Letters, Week Three

The Screwtape Letters, Week Four

The Screwtape Letters, Week Five

The Screwtape Letters, Week Six

Here are links to other C. S. Lewis study guides that might interest you:

The Great Divorce

Mere Christianity

The Problem of Pain


And here are study guides for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship.

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My book club’s selections for 2015

bookclubHere are the books my book club read in 2015. Check them out. You might find a few to be of interest. At the bottom of the article, you’ll find links to the books we read in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

JanuaryThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The story of how the University of Washington rowing team overcame numerous obstacles to win the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Great writing and strong characters make this book worth your time.

FebruaryAn Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. Historical fiction that tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair in France, in which a soldier is unfairly accused of treason, convicted and imprisoned while his superiors cover up their knowledge of his innocence.

MarchRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. You know about this one, right?

AprilEinstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. A surreal read and
a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. Each story provides an insight into Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

MayThe Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss. A detailed examination of the plot against Julius Caesar and what happened to those who carried out the execution. Hint: The friends, allies and relatives of Caesar fared better than his enemies.

JuneThe Nigger of the Narcissus by Joseph Conrad. Excellent tale of a group of sailors on a voyage from Bombay (yes, now Mumbai) to London. A short novella, but it requires intense concentration!

JulyDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. Great telling of the attack by the Germans on a British luxury passenger ship during World War I.

AugustThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Up until the very second they achieved controlled flight, most of the world proclaimed it to be impossible. This is the fascinating story of the men who proved the world wrong.

SeptemberBilly Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow. Fictionalized story of New York gangster Dutch Schultz as seen through the eyes of teenager Billy Bathgate, who was recruited for a brief time to be part of the Schultz gang. We read this in honor of Doctorow, who died during the summer of 2015. A brilliant writer!

OctoberThe Map Thief by Michael Blanding. Edward Forbes Smiley III parlayed his considerable knowledge of maps into a profitable business. His margins improved exponentially when he cut costs by stealing valuable maps from libraries throughout the world. This book provides an insightful look into who he was and how he achieved his thefts.

NovemberFortune Smiles by Adam Johnson. A collection of imaginative short stories. We previously had read Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Orphan Master’s Son, which provided a look inside life in North Korea. Great writing!

DecemberEuphoria by Lily King. This novel explores a love triangle of three young anthropologists working in New Guinea in the 1930s. It is loosely based on events in the life of Margaret Mead.

Let me know what you’ve read this year and what you’d recommend. I’m interested!

Book club selections in 2014

Book club selections in 2013

Book club selections in 2010

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