Dead Lil’ Hustler By Victoria Houston: Review/Interview/Giveaway

Jul 5, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cynthia Chow

This week we have a review of Dead Lil’ Hustler by Victoria Houston, and a fun interview with Victoria. Details on how to win a copy of Dead Lil’ Hustler at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase the book where a portion goes to help support KRL.

Dead Lil’ Hustler: Loon Lake Mystery Series By Victoria Houston

Review by Cynthia Chow

The summer in Loon Lake, Wisconsin was already off to a rocky start when kayakers discovered human remains and a behavioral ecology graduate student named Liam Barber is reported missing by his very concerned father, Jake. Retired dentist Paul “Doc” Osborne’s grandson Cody came down with what his daughter had initially thought was a cold but turned out to be a form of meningitis, devastating Doc as that was the same illness that cost him his own mother. With Jake Barber frantic over the possible loss of his own son, Doc willingly puts aside his own concerns to help in the search for Liam. That the police chief happens to be Lewellyn “Lew” Ferris and Doc’s girlfriend does of course play a factor, as does Doc’s frequent assignment as the on-call forensic dentist when the coroner goes on his usual

The “Lil’ Hustler” of the title actually refers to a type of fishing lure used by jack-of-all-trades Ray Pradt, but it could also definitely apply to Bud Jarvison, whose wife’s family’s wealth has dwindled due to his failed schemes and investments. He not so subtly hovers around the hospital and Doc, hoping to eavesdrop or scavenge every investigative crumb that falls nearby. Lew, Ray, Doc, and Jake all do what they can to solve the fate of the murder and Liam, encountering the seasonal – and very deadly – mating sites of wolves.

While the series’ trademark humor is still prevalent, the theme of loss and its impact resounds throughout the novel. Heroes and criminals alike are affected by the death of a son, even Doc himself. The loss of his bitter and psychologically abusive wife sent him reeling into alcoholism, and as much as he loves his daughters and grandchildren, it is Cody whom he most envisions as the son Doc once dreamed of having. The possibility of losing Cody is unimaginable, and it is with admiration that he looks upon his daughter’s ability to cope and continue to function. Doc’s relationship with Lew has also continued to evolve, to the point where he is even willing to give her up if it means that she would be with someone closer in age and more successful. Nevertheless, readers will enjoy following the characters with whom they have grown to know and love.

The author’s affection for fishing again shines though, as she introduces the meditative allure of reel-less tenkara. The fourteenth in this series continues to maintain its charm, compelling plots, and very likable characters.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Interview with Victoria Houston:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Victoria: Since I was in second grade and wrote a two-paragraph story, for which I won a gold star. This prompted my mother to say to a friend with whom she was having coffee: “See, Vicki is going to grow up and be a writer.” So I got my direction then – and have been forever grateful I hadn’t just done a great job cleaning the toilet. (Of course, people who sell septic systems make more money.)

KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?

Victoria: Dead Angler was published in 2000, followed by Dead Creek. When I submitted Dead Creek (the first one written) to my agent, I apologized that I didn’t think anyone would be interested in a mystery set against a background of fishing much less Wisconsin but that it proved I could write fiction. To my surprise, it turned out Berkley Prime Crime, my first publisher, had been looking for a fishing mystery for two years – mine fit the bill! They had approached many outdoors writers but those folks did not know how to “show not tell.” Dead Creek was not published first because Berkley found it too dark – I managed to tone it down; i.e. I dropped all the hermaphrodites that had caused the marketing team to scream “Yikes!”

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?

Victoria: In the mid-seventies, I started free-lancing feature stories and some investigative reporting for magazines and newspapers. I became an art critic for The Kansas City Star. My first book was non-fiction and was published in 1985. LOVING A YOUNGER MAN was published in the late 80s and did quite well. Eventually, I wrote seven non-fiction books (including ghosting two) before turning to mysteries.


Victoria Houston

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.

Victoria: After trying for four years to write a mystery, nothing worked until I set the story in the region where I grew up (and live today) – which is in the northwoods of Wisconsin, the heart of the fishing culture. I like to say my stories are about murder, mayhem and fishing – fly fishing for trout as well as bait fishing for walleye, muskie, bass and bluegills.

I have three main characters, all of whom fish! They are distilled from memories of people I grew up with. Doc Osborne is a retired dentist who moonlights as the deputized coroner. My father, grandfather and uncle were dentists and I worked in the dental office as a teenager. Teeth remain the gold standard for identifying dead bodies. Police Chief Lewellyn Ferris is a fly fisherman (and romantic interest for Doc Osborne). She is tough. Ray Pradt is 32 and a fishing guide who wears a stuffed fish on his head and tells tasteless jokes – also an excellent tracker.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Victoria: I write to give readers an escape and I hope my books both entertain and strike an emotional chord in people.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Victoria: I write five to six days a week for a concentrated two hours at a time. Then I may do research, take notes and I’m always thinking about the story.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Victoria: As a character-driven writer, I do not work from an outline. After combing through newspaper clips and story ideas that I’ve jotted down over a year, I sit down and write a one-page synopsis of the crime that opens the story, secondary characters that are lurking in my mind and what might be happening in the lives of my three main characters. I move through the story intuitively and find the first half goes very slowly. Midway through (I always feel the same arc to my stories; i.e. 16 to 20 chapters building, 16 to 20 resolving), I print out the story to that point and, after reading through, say “oh, shit! How did that happen and what happens next.” I call it my “oh shit” moment.

KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Victoria: Early morning – after a full pot (six cups) of black coffee).

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Victoria: I have a very good agent who sold my first non-fiction books. When she felt I had done good work with Dead Creek, she sold it within a few months. But it took me four years to get her approval.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Victoria: Sure. I submitted my first mystery attempt to my agent and she returned it saying “it has a few problems.” On the occasion of my fourth rewrite, she told me “this is so bad, don’t even show it to someone who loves you unconditionally. Face it, you’re a non-fiction writer – not a fiction writer.” Of course, I refused to give up. Finally stumbled on a good mystery-writing workshop in NYC. Only took me a year to learn how to “show not tell” on the page. I taught a workshop last year and guess how long it took my students to learn that? Two days.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Victoria: The day a gentleman there for the signing suddenly pulled up his T-shirt to show me and everyone around “the damage a shotgun blast can do.” Turns out the poor guy had attempted suicide and survived. We were all speechless.

KRL: Future writing goals?

Victoria: I hope to continue to write my series and make a living at it. I love my characters, my publisher and my readers.

KRL: Writing heroes?

Victoria: Willa Cather — her O Pioneers and My Antonia are my “textbooks” for clear, contemporary prose. Love Ross Thomas for his grit and humor and terrific evocation of place. Early Hemingway is a favorite and anything by Graham Greene. Just read my first Kent Haruf – Benediction. Authentic, honest and moving.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Victoria: Pretty detailed on the elements driving my stories – I read the daily NYT’S, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and my local papers – combing for articles that might trigger a good idea. Then I Google for accuracy on any subject from serving a search warrant to wiring the brake pedal on a car in order to kill someone.

KRL: What do you read?

Victoria: While writing a mystery, I avoid books by my contemporaries. Currently reading Greene’s The Quiet American. Have Bill Bryson on my stack, poetry by Mary Oliver (for sure!), Edith Wharton and more books by my favorites mentioned above.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Victoria: I was/am a huge Sopranos fan; currently addicted to The Americans. Also enjoying House of Cards. And, of course, Modern Family as well as Two & A Half Men. For movies, anything by Alexander Payne; i.e. The Descendants, Nebraska.

KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Victoria: Aside from the old adage: “keep your butt in the chair” – I recommend The Writers Market, which is updated annually and was an excellent guide re approaching agents, etc.

KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?

Victoria: Love it – I am selling more e-books as my readers appreciate being able to adjust the typeface. Also, the world is going digital and we need to stay tuned in.

KRL: Do you read e-books yourself?

Victoria: Not yet – but I promise I will. I have Marcus Aurelius on my Kindle. And Oyster on my iPAD. Guess I am inching my way there.

KRL: Anything you would like to add?

Victoria: Only that the world of mystery readers and writers is a warm and welcoming one that I appreciate every day.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Victoria: I got kicked out of high school my junior year but as a senior I graduated second in my class. That means two things: I’m not perfect; I never give up.

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Victoria: My website is I have an FB page – Victoria Houston’s Mysteries. I do not blog or Twitter as it’s hard enough to find time to write a book.

KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?

Victoria: Do my best to write a good book and I am fortunate to have a supportive publishing team behind me in Tyrus Books, an imprint with F& W Publishing. Our secret, if we have one, is to continue to build our regional presence in the northern Midwest and to stay connected to the men and women who enjoy mysteries set in the outdoors, especially those who fish whether it’s fly fishing or fishing for muskie, walleye, bass and bluegills. Murder, mayhem and fishing in the Northwoods of Wisconsin – that’s me!!

To enter to win a copy of Dead Lil’ Hustler, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Hustler,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 12, 2014. U.S. residents only.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.


  1. Water sports are always fun, sounds like a good read – thanks for sharing with us!

  2. I enjoyed a talk Victoria Houston gave some time ago in Kansas City and I’ve read most of her books. Would enjoy reading this one. Thanks for the opportunity to win the book.

  3. l love books set in the Midwest. This series sounds perfect for me.

  4. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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