Sunday, May 9, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger - Dean James!

Dean James is a virtual dean of the mystery field. An Agatha Award winner, he has contributed to anthologies (Delta Blues and the upcoming Lone Star Noir) and co-authored thoughtful non-fiction, including By a Woman's Hand (a guide to mystery fiction by women) and The Robert B. Parker Companion. He has penned 14 mystery novels under his own name and two pseudonyms (Jimmie Ruth Evans and Honor Hartman). A working medical librarian (with a PhD and MSLS), Dean has also served as a manager for Murder by the Book in Houston, Texas, one of the country’s oldest and largest mystery bookstores.

This August, Dean is launching a new mystery series that many people (including me!) are looking forward to reading. MURDER PAST DUE is the first book in Dean’s "Cat in the Stacks" series, which he is writing under the pseudonym Miranda James. To tell you more about it, I am delighted and honored to give you our guest for the day, Dean James.   ~ Cleo Coyle


I blame Nancy Drew for my life of crime. Reading it and writing it.

I was ten when I borrowed The Secret of Shadow Ranch from a cousin. It was the first mystery I ever read, and I was hooked. Then, to my delight, I discovered this was only one of a long series of adventures in which Nancy solved mystery after mystery. Just as exciting, I soon found other amateur mystery-solvers: the Hardy Boys, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, Trixie Belden, and many more. By the time I began reading adult mysteries, my love of the amateur detective was completely entrenched.

When I decided I wanted to write a mystery myself, I knew my main character would be an amateur. After all, I’m not a policeman, or a lawyer, or a private detective. But I do have a healthy dose of curiosity about the world around me and the people in it. Charlie Harris, the sleuth in my new “Cat in the Stacks” series, is just like me in that respect. He’s also about my age (fiftyish, if you must know), he’s a librarian, he grew up in Mississippi, and he has a Maine coon cat. That’s as far as it goes, however. (I have two cats, by the way, neither of which is a Maine coon.)

While my life is pretty predictable, Charlie’s is far more interesting. He finds himself involved in the occasional murder in his hometown of Athena, Mississippi. He also lives in a big old Southern house and has enough money so that he really doesn’t have to work in the library for a living; he just does it because he likes to stay busy. Plus he gets to take his cat, Diesel, with him everywhere he goes. (I can imagine how well that would go over if I took one of my cats to work with me. Diesel is so much better behaved than either of my two.)

But all this is part of the fun of having an amateur detective. I know a lot of mystery readers don’t think amateur detective stories are very realistic, but I’ll let you in on a big secret. I’m not writing realism – I’m writing escapism. I don’t know about you, but I read to get away from the “real” world. I have a lot more fun tagging along with an amateur than I would shadowing a homicide cop trailing a grisly serial killer.

I also have a lot of fun writing stories about amateur detectives, and I hope my readers will enjoy themselves as they tag along with Charlie and Diesel in Murder Past Due.

I love books and reading, and as a good Southern boy, I also have a taste for good Southern desserts – and there’s none I like better than a lemon icebox pie like my mother used to make. I thought I’d share her recipe with you, and if you have a chance to make it, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Lemon Icebox Pie(without meringue)

1 can (14 ounces) Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
½ cup lemon juice (about 4 fresh lemons will give you this)
2 eggs, beaten by themselves

Mix the beaten eggs with the sweetened condensed milk, then add the lemon juice and mix well. (If you want to be completely certain the eggs are cooked, pop the mixture in the oven for a few minutes at 350 degrees F. or whisk over low heat in a saucepan.) Then pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust. Set into the icebox until firm.

Note: If you’d like to make the mixture fluffier, add either cream cheese (2 to 4 ounces) or whipped cream (up to 10 ounces). The Lemon Ice Box pie that you see pictured had 1 cup of heavy cream added. With an electric mixer, the cream was first whipped into a thick froth, then the lemon mixture was slowly blended in until a smooth pie filling formed.

Graham Cracker Crust:
1 package graham crackers (about 1-2/3 cups crumbs)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Combine crumbs and sugar first, then add melted butter. Press crumb mixture inside 9-inch pie plate and spread evenly over bottom and sides. (Optional: The crust that you see pictured was also baked in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. The baking is optional. It will harden the crust a bit and add a slightly toasted flavor.)

Thank you, Dean!
And to all our visitors
and followers...

Happy Mother's Day!


  1. Lemon icebox pie! You *are* a Southern boy! Yum. I remember eating these growing up...and still indulge whenever possible. Thanks for sharing the recipe with us, Dean! I'm looking forward to Murder Past Due.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Definitely a Southern boy with a recipe like that. Sounds and looks delicious. Love the new series and can't wait to read it. Best of luck.

    Thoughts in Progress

  3. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the first book in your new series.

  4. Thanks, everyone! You can't get more Southern than a recipe based on sweetened condensed milk. This pie is so easy to make, even I can't mess it up. I hope everyone will enjoy the new series.

  5. I don't know which looks better - the book cover or the pie. Guess I need both. Great post, Dean!

  6. Thanks, JB. I love the cover; I'm so lucky that Berkley does such great covers.

  7. Dean, I love lemon pie and love how you wrote about escapism! That's it exactly! From Nancy Drew to present. Thanks for joining us today.


  8. Can't wait to read the book and try this yummy pie recipe! My Maine Coon, Kitty wishes Diesel all success! I love cozies with books and kitties! Must pre-order!

  9. Mmmm. Icebox pie ... delish! I've got a cookout coming up and I'm always the one bringing dessert - I think I now know what I'm making!

    Thanks for the recipe!

  10. I'll definitely be reading Murder Past Due. How can you go wrong with a librarian and a cat? And Berkley does some of the best covers in the business, if you ask me, Dean.

    Love that pie! It's one of my favorites. I'm a BIG fan of it, and of lemon. MMMMM. Thank you, Dean.

  11. Avery, it's my pleasure, especially to be among such compatible company!

    Anna, best wishes to you and your Maine coon! Hope you both like the book and the series.

    Wendy, hope the pie works for you. I could eat a whole one myself....

    And Lesa, thanks for the kind words. They're much appreciated, as we all appreciate your blog, too!

  12. That recipe is virtually identical to mine for Key Lime Pie--with Key lime juice instead of the lemon juice, of course. And in mine, you separated the eggs, using only the yolks, as I recall (haven't made it since we left Miami and our key lime tree). The whites were used in a meringue, if you chose to add it.

  13. Great post, Dean! Yummy looking pie. Looks so easy, even I could make it. Looking forward to getting the book in my hands. I already know it's great!:)

  14. Terry, you can separate the yolks from the whites for my recipe too, if you want a meringue. I don't really like the meringue, though, so no use wasting them.... :-)

    And Laura, thanks as always for the kind words and support!

  15. Dean, this recipe looks mmm mmm good. Best of luck with the new book - can't wait to read it!

  16. The pie and the new series both sound absolutely delicious, Dean (aka Miranda) Can't wait to enjoy both on a lovely summer day. The whole idea of the cat in the stacks caught my attention and held it!

  17. Hi Dean,

    Fellow librarian/writer here! Welcome to the kitchen. I love lemon pie -- this just looks scrumptious!!!

  18. Gorgeous cover for your new book, Dean! I agree with Lesa, Berkley has terrific covers.

    Thanks for sharing the pie recipe, too. I can't wait to try it!

    ~ Krista

  19. Dean your book is definitely on my wish list. And I agree that pie recipe is perfect.

  20. I love Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, lemon pie, cats (I had a Maine Coon cat, named Samantha) and BOOKS! Your new series sounds great! And I love the cover.

  21. Thanks, everyone, for all the kind comments. It's great to be among like minds ... and even fellow librarians. Jenn, I had no idea you were a librarian, too!

  22. Hi, Dean, not only am I a librarian, but my husband and my mother are, too. We call it
    the "family business". I'm only PT, since we
    have wee ones, but I can't imagine my life
    without libraries.