Barbeculinary Thoughts

First published on Ink-Stained Wretches

I know, you’re asking yourself what barbecue has to do with mystery writing, my other beloved topic. Barbecuing, like writing (see K.P. Gresham’s wonderful recent blog), is a solitary pursuit.

And a mystery. And we barbecuers want it that way. We have our little ways. We know exactly how those baby-back ribs should go limp when done, go kind of...


Are You Hungry? Food Idiosyncrasies and Local Flavor

Why, exactly, do we take such interest in what our favorite detectives eat or what a character like Aunt Agatha grabs for first at teatime at Melrose Plant’s country house? (Answer: fairy cakes.)

Some say that cooking distinguishes humans from other speciesor at least played a role in our...


This author is happy about two strong reviews of Ghost Cat.

“With her extraordinary and narrative driven storytelling style, author and novelist Helen Currie Foster once again exhibits her mastery of the mystery genre with the publication of "Ghost Cat", the newest addition to her consistently entertaining 'Alice MacDonald Greer' series of deftly crafted suspense/thriller novels. An inherently fascinating read filled with many an unexpected twist and turn, "Ghost Cat" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community...


Please Take (a) Note!

Lately I’ve been thinking about remarkable people who never got to see the significance of their work, regardless of its brilliance. People whose minds moved so fast their words didn’t compute, for most listeners. People whose contributions went unrecognized for many years. And if they hadn’t written down their ideas? Maybe eventually someone would have made the same discoveries, but when?

Here are just three.

I’d never heard of Simon Stevin until I read Michael Pye’s...


The Uses of Disguise

So, did you dress up for Halloween? Did you buy a mask in New Orleans, or Venice, perhaps one with feathers? What would you wear to a costume ball?

“Man is a make-believe animal—he is never so truly himself as when he is acting a part.” William Hazlitt

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth.” Oscar Wilde

Both statements have some truth. Maybe Oscar Wilde meant that when we can hide our faces, or adopt a disguise, we feel free to do what we want––without...


Love in the Time of Coronavirus, or Pulling Poems Off the Shelf

Maybe you recall an interview like this, a chance for a fellowship.

Three dour English academics at eight a.m., staring skeptically at me, sitting tense in my penitentially hard wooden chair.

First question: “Do you like poetry?”

“No!” I blurt.

“Not even Keats?” – the horrified response.

I try, fruitlessly, bootlessly, to explain, a la Marianne Moore. Poetry requires the reader to take a deep dive, to concentrate, commit time, hoping the poet isn’t just producing a clever...


Discussion Questions, Ghost Dog

1. Have you encountered a dog with the kind of loyalty shown by Pardner?

2. What does Pardner’s behavior suggest about the missing singer/songwriter Blanton Geddes?

3. The protagonist, Alice, feels Pardner’s trying to tell her something. Have you had that experience with a pet?


Tell Me a Story!

P.D. James, Talking about Detective Fiction, 2009

“Tell me a story,” begs the child.

“Tell me a story about before you met me,” the lover entreats the loved one.

“Tell me the story about how you met,” we ask the new couple.

“Tell me the scariest moment,” the reporter demands of the returning explorer.

“Tell me a story,” we whisper to the books on the library shelf.

After an astounding career as master of detective fiction, P. D. James finished Talking about Detective Fiction in 2009, when she was...


Ghost Next Door, about to be released as the fifth novel in the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series, takes readers to the first official barbecue cook-off in Coffee Creek. Research required, of course! That included driving with my husband to the 5th Annual Spicewood BBQ and Chili Cook Off, held out under spreading live oaks, with music in the air.

We walked past big smokers, where contestants tended brisket, then into the historic Spicewood community center—a 1907 schoolhouse, now restored. Announcement over the loudspeaker: “Volunteers needed to judge chili!” Yes!...


The Backward Dive, or Pulling the Threads

A one-hour Sunday school class for Lent? Okay, I thought, how about an hour on British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs?

Vaughan Williams set to music five brief poems by the “metaphysical poet” and English cleric George Herbert (April 3, 1593-March 1, 1632). The music blew me away when Austin’s Panoramic Voices choir performed it. So did the poems, rich in Elizabethan word-play (Herbert might have seen Shakespeare’s company perform) and metaphors that grab a Lenten heart.



The Deep Dive

I’m so used to the pressure of fast-moving fiction. “Does this scene advance the action?” “Should I pare down this description?” Now and then I’m reminded, though, of the need to take a dive. A deep, deep dive.

Interconnectedness is not something we always grasp. But in writing, we’re struggling to understand, to make sense of, the interconnections of people, events, timelines. A deep dive into nature can give new vocabulary. The Brits, never slouches at nature-writing, offer some virtuoso examples. One is Robert MacFarlane (...


Well, dear readers, “suspenseful reading” and “Foster’s entertaining sequel to Ghost Cave” is what Publisher’s Weekly calls Ghost Dog!

The fifth volume of the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery Series, Ghost Mine, is nearing completion. This time Alice is back in the Texas hill country, charged with writing rules for the First Annual Coffee Creek Barbecue Competition. But the rules forgot to prohibit murder…


  • Late afternoon thundershowers...hummingbirds fiercely diving for the the YMCA of the Rockies in July. A long tradition! I'm in the throes of the fifth Alice MacDonald Greer mystery. An Estes Park resident--a true mountain woman--inspired one of the characters.
  • I'm interested in barbecue competitions for this one.
  • Bear alert: mama bear, golden in the dawn light, was escorting her cub across the dirt road, just where I'd seen bear scat the day before. Both gorgeous.
  • Life abounding, spied by...

Free public libraries – what a great idea. And I’m so pleased you can find my books in Texas at the Dripping Springs Community Library, Lake Travis Community Library, and Lakeshore Library at Buchanan Dam, and the Estes Park Valley Community Library in Estes Park, Colorado. It’s always stimulating to talk to readers, whether at libraries or book clubs—because readers just can’t help it: they’re interesting, interested, challenging, thoughtful, curious, and imaginative. Happy Fourth, gentle readers!


  • I’m very excited that Ghost Cave and Ghost Dog are now both available as Audible books on Amazon!
  • Take a listen, and visit Amazon to get them!
  • Right now I’m getting ready to upload Ghost Dagger, with Ghost Letter following in August!

  • Now Ghost Dagger is available on Kindle as well as in print! If you like it, please consider a short review…and if you have comments, please email me at! I’d like to hear from you.

Ghost Dagger is out!

Available on Amazon now, on Kindle by March 26, and at BookPeople in Austin by March 30!

Amazon link.

Lawyer Alice MacDonald Greer visits the Scottish coast, at her mother-in-law’s request, to investigate some disturbing occurrences at the family farm, a place Alice’s deceased husband loved.

Barely arrived, Alice overhears an argument in the mist. After local land...


Here’s the cover for Ghost Dagger, fourth in the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery Series, coming out next month! Alice is out of her comfort zone, in Scotland, where bodies keep turning up….


  • I’m looking forward to meeting library patrons, reading, signing and discussing Ghost Letter on Tuesday, May 24, at 2 pm at the Lake Travis Community Library. It’s always great to meet readers and share reactions. Especially when chocolate chip cookies are involved.
  • Here’s the link:

  • The Invention of Love.
  • Reading Tom Stoppard's play The Invention of Love kept me up last night. Aren't there some plays we need to read, as well as see?—because they go by too fast! Stoppard's A.E. Housman is so quick with a quip, usually based in Latin declension, that despite vivid memories of Miss Bertha Casey's fierce instruction in third year Latin I had to read and re-read. And the banter among rival professors Jowett, Pater, Ruskin, Pattison, as they play croquet (great image of professors treating as a game the lives and futures...

What are you reading. I'm deep in the Bronze Age! For a corrective to our frequent underestimation of our human ancestors—their ingenuity, artistry, energy—try Cyprian Broodbank's The Making of the Middle Sea and Adam Nicolson's Why Homer Matters. Both include treasures: fascinating pictures of the gold leaf masks which accompanied the wealthy dead—even children—into their Bronze age tumuli; exquisitely detailed Greek jars showing gods in action, bringing myths to life; and weapons, more than ever before, almost mass produced. Both raise such questions about human...


Midwest Book Review says this about Ghost Letter: “A deftly crafted mystery suspense novel that reveals author Helen Currie Foster to be a true master of the genre, Ghost Letter is the third in a series of Alice MacDonald Greer stories. Impressively well written from beginning to end, Ghost Letter is an exceptionally compelling and thoroughly absorbing read that is especially recommended for the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs and would prove to be an enduringly popular addition to any community library Mystery/Suspense collections. . . Also...


  • Kirkus Review says about Ghost Dog, and Alice,
  • “A lively and laudable protagonist will have readers hoping that she’ll soon stumble upon another murder.”

Midwest Book Review

“A genuine ‘page-turner’ of a read for all mystery buffs”—

That’s what Midwest Book Review calls Ghost Dog in the December 2015 issue of "Small Press Bookwatch", Mystery/Suspense Shelf.

“Simply stated, Helen Currie Foster is a master of the mystery/suspense genre and Ghost Dog is a riveting novel replete with unexpected twists and surprising turns that will prove to be a genuine 'page-turner' of a read for all mystery buffs. Of special note is the inclusion of two original poems at the end of the book. Very strongly...


"Why Homer Matters," by Adam Nicolson! He explores the eternal debate: who was Homer? Was there one Homer, or many? Was the Iliad only oral, or was it written down earlier than we've thought? Nicolson argues that the Iliad is much older than 850 BCE, and reflects the years when warring warrior chiefs of pastoral nomads came down from the steppes of the north to encounter settled, richer cultures, urbane and urbanized, around the Aegean. But the main point, and it's hard-hitting, is the continuing power of the poetry, and its reflection of continuing human drives to conquer and dominate,...


Thank you, Frances Mayes, for your memoir “Under Magnolia” of growing up in tiny Fitzgerald, Georgia. Any children of the South who picks up “Under Magnolia” will be pitched headfirst into their own memories of gardenias, camellias, trespassing in forbidden creeks and rivers, eavesdropping on the adults and desperately trying to puzzle out race, economics, politics, and what it means to grow up. Mayes’s vivid description of embarking on higher education at Randolph-Macon will capture anyone who attended (or dated anyone at) a woman’s college in the sixties. The book has obvious appeal for...


Just finished The Meaning of Human Existence by E. O. Wilson, born in June 1929 and still striking sparks with his thoughts on human evolution, our ceaseless search for meaning in the universe, music and religion, free will, instinct, and the distinctive contributions of science and humanities. My copy bristles with sticky notes. He says multi-level evolution explains that internal/ eternal conflict in our brains between selfishness benefiting the individual, and altruism benefiting the group. Favorite chapter title: “Humanity Lost in a Pheromone World,” where he paints a striking picture...


Very exciting for Ghost Cave to be named No. 8 for Local Fiction in the “Austin American-Statesman’s” Sunday Bestseller’s list!


Wonderful for Ghost Dog to receive 4 stars out of 4 stars in the official review, on February 22! Said the reviewer, “The quirky, folksy characters of Coffee Creek are written so vividly that I felt like I lived there. In fact, after reading this book, I wanted to live there!”

Here’s the link -

Heading for MoRanch this weekend, just below the headwaters of the Guadalupe River. Taking along Patrick...


It’s sleeting in the Hill Country, with mini-icicles on gates and cedars. Still, little rosettes of bluebonnet leaves are huddled on the caliche, waiting for warmth. Last Friday, before the sleet, I found a straggly but magical bush of chimonanthus praecox luteus blooming on a street in west Austin. And, Gentle Readers, I admit I snitched a small sprig, because the haunting scent has to be held and sniffed to be believed.

Joyful moments: La Follia, presenting all four concerti of Vivaldi’s The Seasons, with his companion sonnets! Never again will I not know those are little birds in...


In the space between Christmas and New Year’s I’ve been looking through the “Children’s Picture Dictionary,” which my dear friend Dr. Megan Biesele helped get done – it’s a communal effort by the San people of Namibia/Botswana to produce a written children’s picture dictionary of their unwritten language. It promises to be a model for other languages which have as yet no dictionary. Wonderful children’s drawings of animals – the hartebeest, spotted hyena, striped mongoose, blue wildebeest – and that’s just the first two pages! Also fire-making sticks, ostrich egg, gemsbok tracks, thumb...


Christopher Clark’s “Sleepwalkers,” about the “great powers” somnambulating (for whole nations, including the millions of their citizens who would die) into World War I.

Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila.”

Just finished Sarah Stark’s “Out There”...I love this character Jefferson Long Soldier, and his grandmother. I seriously recommend this book.

Also just finished Louise Penny’s “The Long Way Home,” with its interesting use of a “tenth Muse,” and the characters’ search for a personal muse.