The best mystery series with protagonists who are haunted by the past

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up reading mysteries and quickly realized that, for me, the best stories were those that peered into the very heart and soul of the protagonist. I also favored books with deep roots; I wanted the present-day crime to be linked to the past. Through work and personal experience, I also understood the heavy toll of loss and grief and found myself drawn to writing a mystery series that related both in a way that was honest and real. When readers tell me that my protagonist’s pain is their pain, that his story is their story, I am both humbled and honored.   


I wrote...

Book cover of Death Stalks Door County

What is my book about?

On an idyllic Wisconsin peninsula noted for turbulent waters and boreal forests former big city cop Dave Cubiak hopes to escape the ugly stench of death. Six people die under mysterious circumstances on the cusp of a big summer festival, but Cubiak refuses to get involved. Grief and guilt over the deaths of his wife and daughter have dragged him into the depths of alcohol and despair. 

When an encounter with a lost child makes him realize that she's a potential victim, his moral compass swings back and he starts to hunt for the culprit. Digging beneath Door County’s travel brochure veneer, Cubiak uncovers the trail that leads both to a clever killer and to his new future as sheriff in the first Dave Cubiak Door County mystery.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Broken Places

Patricia Skalka Why did I love this book?

Tracy Clark’s reference to Hegewisch, the unheralded blue-collar Chicago neighborhood where I grew up, means that she knows her city well.

Add to that, her complex and fast-paced story featuring her sassy, smart protagonist Cass Raines in a debut novel confirms her talent as an author who knows how to fashion an engrossing mystery that gets the details right.

Not just about inner-city crime, but also about the Chicago Police Department that Cass once was a member of and the enduring pain of a child who watches her mother die of cancer and her father walk out of her life. 

When the popular local parish priest who’d taken her under his wing is murdered, Cass, now a private investigator, swings into action. Book one of an exciting four-book series. 

By Tracy Clark,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Broken Places as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Former cop Cass Raines has found the world of private investigation a less stressful way to eke out a living in the Windy City. But when she stumbles across the dead body of a respected member of the community, it’s up to her to prove a murderer is on the loose . . .
 
Cops can make mistakes, even when they’re not rookies. If anyone knows that it’s Cass Raines, who took a bullet two years ago after an incompetent colleague screwed up a tense confrontation with an armed suspect. Deeply traumatized by the incident, Cass resigned from the Chicago…


Book cover of Fast Track

Patricia Skalka Why did I love this book?

Lark Chadwick is my kind of protagonist – gutsy, smart, and burdened with a past that won’t let go.

When the aunt who raised her dies, Chadwick refuses to believe that suicide was the cause. Digging into the circumstances surrounding one death she discovers the truth about the deaths of her parents who were killed in an accident that only she survived.

A fledgling journalist, Chadwick talks herself into a job with the local paper, a first step in the many adventures that follow her in an exciting series that takes her all the way to the White House. Author John DeDakis, a former veteran CNN journalist, infuses the award-winning series with real-life drama and authenticity.

By John DeDakis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fast Track as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Orphaned as an infant, sexually assaulted as a naïve college student, strong-willed, impulsive Lark Chadwick is vexed and trying to figure out what to do with her mixed-up life. When she discovers the body of the aunt who raised her, Lark goes on a search for answers.

She is stunned to learn from a 25-year-old newspaper clipping that she’s the “miracle baby” who survived a suspicious car accident that killed her parents at a rural railroad crossing in southern Wisconsin. Lark convinces Lionel Stone, the crusty Pulitzer-Prize winning editor, to let her do a follow-up investigation of the crash. Two…


Book cover of The Streel

Patricia Skalka Why did I love this book?

My late husband was a child immigrant, and for many years I listened as he and his family shared their experiences of balancing the opportunities this country offered with the deep and abiding loss they felt for the world they left behind.

Perhaps that’s why The Streel struck such a deep chord. It’s a mystery –and the first book in an enticing new series – but it’s also the story of young Bridget Reardon, an Irish immigrant who gives up all she holds dear to build a new life for herself in the tumultuous America of the 1880s.

I empathized with Bridget as she ached for the past, cheered her on as she outsmarted a clever killer, and look forward to her continuing saga in Mary Logue’s next volume, The Big Sugar 

By Mary Logue,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Streel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Women Writing the West WILLA Award Finalist

From "the reigning royalty of Minnesota murder mysteries" (The Rake) comes a striking new heroine: a young Irish immigrant caught up in a deadly plot in nineteenth-century Deadwood

When I was fifteen and my brother Seamus sixteen, we attended our own wake. Our family was in mourning, forced to send us off to America.

The year is 1880, and of all the places Brigid Reardon and her brother might have dreamed of when escaping Ireland's potato famine by moving to America, Deadwood, South Dakota, was not one of them. But Deadwood, in the…


Book cover of Yesterday's Echo

Patricia Skalka Why did I love this book?

I’ve never been able to resist the allure of a mystery with the fast, hard-driving pace of a Chandler-style noir story, the kind that Matt Coyle serves up in Yesterday’s Echo, the first in his Rick Cahill series.

Cahill is the perfect old-style protagonist: tough, honest, noble, and haunted by the past. An ex-cop and one-time suspect in his wife’s murder, he’s spent eight years building a new life when a beautiful woman tempts him with love.

After she’s arrested for murder, Cahill is drawn into a vicious web that again paints him as a potential killer and pulls him back into the blurred limelight of his wife’s death.

The story is superbly crafted and opens the door to an award-winning series. Not to be missed.   

By Matt Coyle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Yesterday's Echo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Novel

A dishonored ex-cop's desperate chance for redemption

While never convicted of his wife's murder, Rick was never exonerated either. Not by the police. Not by the media. Not even by himself. Eight years later, police suspicion and his own guilt remain over his responsibility in his wife's death.

When he meets Melody Malana, a beautiful yet secretive TV reporter, he sees a chance to love again. When she is arrested for murder and asks Rick for help, the former cop says no, but the rest of him says yes and he…


Book cover of Signs of Murder: A Dana Demeter Mystery

Patricia Skalka Why did I love this book?

At my daughters’ elementary school, sign language was part of the curriculum both for hearing and deaf students, so I was intrigued to see how A. F. Whitehouse used her knowledge and experience as a former sign language interpreter in Signs of Murder.

The book, the first in an intriguing new series, features Dana Demeter, a Chicago homicide detective who grew up hearing in an all-deaf family.

Demeter struggles with her grief over a miscarriage, her anxiety over the future of her marriage, her concerns for her aging parents, and a penchant to drown her sorrows in alcohol even as she searches for the person who killed her father’s deaf friend.

A solid and satisfying read, with a twisting trail of clues into a puzzling mystery and profound insight into the world of the deaf. 

By A F Whitehouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Signs of Murder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the only hearing person in an all-Deaf family, Dana Demeter assumed a position of authority at a young age--interpreting for her parents, alerting to sounds that meant trouble, absorbing slights aimed at her twin brother.

A protector.

Now as a Chicago homicide detective, matters beyond Dana's control begin to pile up: Her father's Deaf friend is murdered and the lead investigator rejects her help, bungling the case; her husband refuses to return home until Dana deals with her grief over a miscarriage; and her Lieutenant suspends her for ten days citing a claim she was drinking on the job.…


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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by…

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


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