Thursday, January 26, 2023

Finished: Noel Hamiel's 'South Dakota's Mathis Murders'

 It's always neat when you can read a book that features characters you know personally or knew of. It's even neater when you also know the author.

So it was with Noel Hamiel's true-crime novel "South Dakota's Mathis Murders." I've known of Hamiel for many, many years, but never met him until this past year after he retired to the Black Hills. Since meeting him we've talked on the phone and messaged a few times. He's a wonderful man.

The Mathis murders took place in 1981, when I was a senior in high school, so I remember the incident being in the news but don't really recall following it. When you're 17 in the 1980s there were much more important things in your life and they generally had big hair and wore tight acid-washed blue jeans.

Back to the book:

It was perhaps the most infamous murder case in state history. Ladonna Mathis was shot twice in the head at point-blank range inside the family's metal shed serving as their makeshift home. Two of her three children, ages 2 and 4, were also shot in the head. The brutality of the killings shocked the state and set off a frenzy of law enforcement activity. Despite its intensity, the investigation never found the murderer or the murder weapon. Though charged with the crime, the husband was acquitted, leaving the door open for endless speculation about what really occurred on that late summer morning of Sept. 8, 1981.

With renewed insight from those involved, veteran South Dakota journalist Noel Hamiel explores this cold case of murder and mystery that still haunts the Mount Rushmore state.

I was surprised to learn that Jeff Masten testified on behalf of the defense in the case - in regard to ballistic tests run by the FBI for the prosecution. Not that Jeff wasn't a brilliant man but he also went on to be Lincoln County State's Attorney and the first to use DNA testing in the state and ultimately put a man on death row. I've always thought of him as a prosecutor. My mom worked for Jeff for many years in Canton, including during that time. A sign of how small our state is, Jeff's sister lives in Rapid City. Her son and my son went to school together in Rapid City, played baseball together and were good friends. Her son (Jeff's nephew) also interned in my office. Small world.

Back to the book. I really enjoyed it. It's only a hundred pages or so, easily readable over the weekend. Noel's life was spent in the newspaper industry and the book reads like a well-researched newspaper story. 

Famed South Dakota historian Jon Lauck (who I also work with on my day job) has a blurb on the book saying it rivals Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." I think Jon is being considerate or never read the second-best selling true crime novel of all time, but I recommend both books.

Everybody who reads "South Dakota's Mathis Murders" is going to be asked: Did he do it?

I don't think the prosecution proved he did (especially going up against some of the societal mores of those days) but I think subsequent analysis and comments from his father suggest he did.

Read it and tell me what you think.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Finished: Patterson's 'Triple Cross'

 The detective Alex Cross novels are the only ones I read from James Patterson any more. His latest, Triple Cross, was pretty good but could've been a hundred pages shorter.

James Patterson's #1 bestselling hero Detective Alex Cross hunts down a serial killer who targets entire families—and who will next be coming for the Crosses. 

A precise killer, he always moves under the cover of darkness, flawlessly triggering no alarms, leaving no physical evidence.  

Cross and Sampson aren’t the only ones investigating. Also in on this most intriguing case is the world’s bestselling true-crime author, who sees patterns everyone else misses.

The writer, Thomas Tull, calls the Family Man murders the perfect crime story. He believes the killer may never be caught. 

Cross knows there is no perfect crime. And he’s going to hunt down the Family Man no matter what it takes. Until the Family Man decides to flip the narrative and bring down Cross and his family. 

Honestly, it takes me a bit to get things straight when starting Cross novels because I often confuse him with Lucas Davenport from the John Sandford series (which I personally prefer). While this one didn't knock my socks off, Patterson's writing style makes for quick reading, even in books over 400 pages like this one.

I gave it a 7 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.5 out of 5.

Monday, January 16, 2023

'Bags of Shots' hits Amazon

 I have good news for you devotees of Bags Morton and the Bags series of novellas. The fourth installment is now available as an e-book on Amazon.

For just $1.99, basically the cost of a chicken egg, you can read "Bags of Shots." If you are a Prime member, you can download it for free. You won't be any smarter when you're done reading it, but you will have chuckled several times, rolled your eyes a couple more, and perhaps snorted once or twice.

In this one, the latest worldwide pandemic has finally reached southwest South Dakota, but Bags is largely oblivious to it. Reality hits him between the eyes, though, when his babe, Bobbi Jo, starts getting hot, and not the good kind of hot. The Tehran Fever has hit and there's no cure, except hospitalization to help with the symptoms and help patients hopefully ride out the storm. You can't be admitted until the fever hits 103 and Bags can't find a thermometer anywhere to even measure it.

While searching for one in the unlikeliest of places, FEMA trucks with medical supplies are being hijacked, and the state epidemiologist is kidnapped. That triggers a call from Bags' former boss and buddy, the governor, enlisting Bags and his unconventional (some would say illegal) methods in finding the doctor. If he can find her, Bags hopes to put her expertise to use on Bobbi Jo.

But the clock is ticking and the fever is rising.


Do you need to catch up or start at the beginning (not necessary, but fun):

Book #1: Bags of Bodies

Book #2: Bags of Rock

Book #3: Bags of Stone

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Not earth-shattering, but I hit a little milestone

 I recently went over the 1,000 books sold mark on and feel pretty good about it. Sure, James Patterson sneezes and sells 1,000 books, but, on the other hand, I write my own books. That number doesn't include what I've sold on Amazon and other platforms.

I've just had a soft spot for smashwords. I joined them in 2011 shortly after their start-up. I liked the freedom they provided, the much higher author payment per book, and admired their grit in taking on the industry giants. They've been very successful, as now almost 200,000 authors are represented there.

It's still not a household name, but as part of its business model it gets you to the household names. If I upload a book to, they distribute it to other retailers like Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Scribd and public libraries. So it's pretty cool.

There's a lot of stuff on there I wouldn't read (there's something for everyone) and the quality range is pretty wide. But it's worth checking out and I urge you to.

If you're one of those 1,000, thank you very much.