Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Manhattan Well Mystery: The Coldest Unsolved Case in American History




History, mystery and a host of fascinating characters—Paul Collins latest effort, Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery, entertains as it illuminates the early years of the United States.  At its core is Manhattan Well Mystery, the death of a young woman that remains unsolved more than two hundred years after its commission, making it the coldest case in American history.

The time frame of the crime coinciding with the death in 1800 of national hero President George Washington presents a backdrop for Collins to shine light on the foibles and strengths of another pair of founding fathers, Hamilton and Burr, and their tumultuous relationship that ultimately ended in Hamilton’s death in 1804.  This slice of history shows the two men working side-by-side to overcome the inadequacies of a newborn justice system struggling to distinguish itself from the judicial order of the Crown.

The accused, carpenter Levi Weeks, had already been convicted in the court of public opinion and was at risk of harm from mob violence, a common remedy of the times.  Levi could not testify on his own behalf because the judicial system he entered considered the defendant's word to be inadmissible because it was biased against conviction.  His legal team, Hamilton, Burr and Henry Brockholst Livingston, were all that stood between Levi and the hangman.


The story of how this lowly craftsman managed to assemble such a stellar group of attorneys in his fight for justice gives a startling glimpse into the political, economic and judicial realities of post-colonial America.  It is a riveting tale that you will not only enjoy reading but will look forward to reading over again.  I devoured Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins one delightful chapter after another and recommend it without hesitation

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Call of My Heart


A funny thing happened to me last March.  I was riding in the car heading from Virginia's coast to the western part of the state.  The moment I saw the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon, the word "home" reverberated in my head.

That single word was soon followed by a song from Toni Price's Midnight Pumpkin CD.  A piece of the lyrics of Call of My Heart, written by Shelley King, summed up how I felt at that moment:

"The call of my heart is calling me home
Taking my hand and leading me back
Where I belong.
Been too long that I've been gone.
Gotta make a new start cause
The call of my heart is calling me home."

Then, when I arrived at my destination and held my new grandson, Simon Fanning, in my arms, I knew I wanted to act on that call.  Out here in Texas, I had missed many moments in the lives of my first two grandchildren, Cameron Harper and Ben Warren, I did not want to lose those memories again.  I thought, too, of my 87-year-old mother-in-law, Marilyn, whom I love dearly and desperately wanted to see more often while I could.

I returned to Virginia in April, in my opinion the most glorious month of the year in Virginia, when everything comes alive in brilliant shades of green and in the flamboyant colors of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths.  It reminded me of the second favorite time of year in that state--autumn, when there is a crispness in the air and the woods are alive with flaming color.  I realized then how much I missed the changing of the seasons.  Yes, the winters can be pesky things but the payback is a spring and fall that fills me with awe.

I know there will be some Texans who won't understand how I could leave their great republic but I think if they stop to think about what stirs up that primitive longing for "home" in their hearts, they will understand my need to respond to this call to my heart.
View from my new porch

The twenty-one years I have spent in Texas have been a welcome part of my life that I will never regret and the friends I've made will never leave my heart.  But for everything there is a season and my time here is done.  By the end of this month, I will be moving into my new home in Bedford, Virginia.  From my back screened-in porch I have a clear view of the Peaks of Otter.  Across the street in the front, the popular local fishing hole, City Lake. 

I bounce daily between excitement, fear and a bittersweet longing that pulls me in two directions.  But throughout it all, the call of my heart keeps pulling me eastward to begin a new chapter in life in a place called home.

"Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith." -- Margaret Shepard

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ANNE PERRY AND THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY: Recommended Read




Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham is a fascinating read.  I’ll admit that initially I thought the title was a bit over the top—there are a lot of homicides that could challenge that claim.  However, when I realized the book was written by a New Zealand author, I realized that in the context of that country, it did live up to its billing.

This well-written, captivating book plunges you into the disturbed lives of two teenage girls, Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, who felt justified in killing Pauline’s mother, Honorah Parker, in 1954.  Graham explores the vagaries of the adolescent mind as well as the now-antiquated notions of the psychiatric profession of the time and the dynamics of two families in different social strata whose mingling ended in violence and death.

Graham conquered the many challenges inherent in crafting an historical true crime book, creating a portrayal of this unique homicide set in an amazing idyllic locale and happening in a far more innocent era.  It’s no wonder that this case remains a frequent topic of conversation in New Zealand and a cause célèbre of the lesbian community there. 

Beyond the telling of the crime itself, Graham escorts you through the trial, the incarceration and to the discovery of the two women who adopted new names and had built new lives halfway around the world.  The story is captivating without the added notoriety gained by the identity of one the girls—the woman we now know as the highly successful and admired author Anne Perry. 


It is obvious that Perry has overcome the darkness of her past but Graham points out the psychological contortions she had to do to achieve that victory: mentally and emotionally distancing herself from her role in the murder and denying the complexity of the relationship between Juliet and Pauline.  I highly recommend Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.  If you’re like me, you won’t be able to put this one down. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sleep My Darlings: The True Story of a Mother Who Murdered Her Children in Cold Blood


This weekend, the driving bass of boisterous music echoed across the canyon and into my house.  It made me think of Calyx Schenecker because the reason for the noise was the Relay for Life at New Braunfels High School, a fundraiser benefiting the American Cancer Society.

Calyx was an ardent supporter of this event at C. Leon King High School.  She lead a team of Harry Potter enthusiasts in 2011 but was not able to participate herself, because on January 27, 2011,two months before the special day,  Calyx lost her life.

She and her brother Beau were shot dead at point blank range by the one person who should have been intent on preserving their lives--their mother Julie Schenecker.  It is clear that Julie premeditated this crime, purchasing a hand gun, waiting through the three days until she could take possession of it and then executing her children.

Her actions were cold and heartless.  But did Julie see that clearly?  Or was she driven by the insane thoughts generated by serious mental illness?

Today, St. Martin's Press releases SLEEP MY DARLINGS, an exploration of the dark mind of a middle-aged, upper middle-class woman who, on the surface, seemed to have it all.

Pick up a copy at your favorite book store or find paperback and eBook versions at all the regular places on line.

And if you are anywhere in my general area, please come see me.  I'll be glad to autograph your books and answer your questions.  This coming weekend, I'll be at Barnes and Noble Round Rock on Saturday at 2 pm; and at the Twig in San Antonio from 1-3.  See other scheduled book signings on my calendar

SLEEP MY DARLINGS will make you question your notions about motherhood and your understanding of mental illness.  Researching this story shook me to my core and filled me with gratitude for my mother, my children and my sanity.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Free Books for the Celebration of 2013



The winning continues during the Celebration of 2013, the year of my 20th book.  So far this year, I've given away three of my books: Wrong Turn, Mistaken Identity and Bite the Moon along with Angel Sometimes by Helen Ginger and Gone the Next by Ben Rehder.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 19), you get a chance to win And Then She Killed Him, a true crime book about Miriam Giles, a seductive, charismatic widow with a dark side, by Robert Scott.  For your chance to win "like" my True Crime Books page on Facebook, pick a number from 1-300 and leave your lucky guess.  Only one entry per day--contest starts tomorrow morning and ends 48 hours later on Thursday morning, March 21.

And that does not end the giveaways this month.  The following week, I'll be giving you a chance to receive a copy of any one of my titles that I have in stock.  That contest will run simultaneously on all three of my Facebook pages: Diane Fanning, Lucinda Pierce and True Crime Books.

In April, you'll get another chance to win your choice of my most recent true crime, Her Deadly Web, or the latest Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce novel, Wrong Turn.  In addition, that month, you could score a copy of new book from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig: The Ashford Affair, a page-turning novel about two women in different eras and on different continents who are connected by one deeply buried secret.  

Then St. Martin's Press releases my 20th book, Sleep My Darlings, on April 30, and I'll give away one copy every week in May.

But the winning won't end then--it continues all year--and includes a special contest for eBook readers, If You Were Here by Alafair Burke, the April release from Iris Johansen, and much more.  At least two book giveaways every month until the end of this fabulous year.

Join me on Facebook where the winning is only beginning.



Monday, January 14, 2013

Missing Person: Shattered Lives

Eight years ago today, Mike Severance disappeared.  That weekend, he was supposed to fly from Texas with his wife, child and stepson to visit his family in Maine.  He never arrived.

Twenty-four-year-old Air Force Staff Sergeant Mike Severance survived five missions in the middle east, landing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Uzbekistan.  As a C-130 crew chief, he participated in 515 sorties and 232 peacekeeping missions, accumulating 922 flying hours with a 99 percent departure reliability rating.  By all accounts, he was an outstanding airman.

Mike was much more than that.  He was a doting dad to his son, a loving father-figure to his 4-year-old stepson, a devoted son and brother and an unflappable friend.  He was generous, kind, responsible and fun-loving.  Each person I talked to about Mike Severance had a funny story to tell about him. Everyone could easily cite one or more reasons why Mike was a special part of their life.

For seven weeks--fifty interminable days--family and friends did not know Mike's whereabouts, did not know if he was alive or dead, did not know if they'd ever see him again.  It was an agonizing time for the Severance family.

To take another person's life is an abhorrent act.  It is even worse when the perpetrator conceals the body and, by doing so, magnifies the pain of everyone who cares about the deceased with the slow torture of not knowing.

Once Mike's discarded body was found, investigators arrested Wendi Davidson and charged her with his murder.  The family could now grieve and lay their Mike to rest.  They were devastated by their loss but, at least, they no longer were lost in the wilderness raging a battle between hope and dread.

I encourage you all to find a missing persons organization that you can support by volunteering time, spreading the word about the missing or sending a contribution to help them in their work.  When I attended a CUE Center for Missing Persons conference last year, I talked to a lot of families living in the limbo of not knowing what happened to one of their own.  Across the nation, many people depend on the organizations who are dedicated to helping locate the missing  and they depend on you. Let them know you appreciate their efforts and lend your support whenever you can.

I wrote about Mike Severance and his murder in my book, A Poisoned Passion.

Enter to Win a copy of Wrong Turn


I am giving away a copy of the sixth book in my Lt. Lucinda Pierce fiction seriesWrong Turn. Lucinda Pierce struggles with the possibility of wrongful conviction in two cases that refuse to remain closed.

It's easy to enter.  Just like my Lucinda Pierce page and pick a number from 1 to 300 and leave your  guess as a comment on that page.  You have 72 hours to post your answer--one entry per person.  Whoever gets the number or gets closest, wins an autographed copy of Wrong Turn.

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