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America’s WWII Blackout Cars

by M. Ruth Myers

While working on my current Maggie Sullivan mystery, I wanted to make sure when World War II blackouts went into effect in the United States, especially in Dayton, Ohio, where the series takes place. After all, private eyes wouldn’t be private eyes if they didn’t do a great deal of creeping around at night!

What will be book #6 in the series takes place in the spring of 1942. Despite nationwide fear of air attacks, however, local historian Curt Dalton writes in his book Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II, that the city’s first total blackout wouldn’t take place until a year later, on May 27, 1943.

Ah, but here’s where researching historical fiction yields countless collateral dabs of information that can enrich a story — and make the creative process just plain fun!

Note the lack of shiny surfaces on this WW2 “blackout car”.

Although buildings and streetlights weren’t blacked out until 1943, vehicles were. I’m not talking about extinguishing headlights and taillights. I’m talking about creating what a whimsical turn of mind could view as the 1940s version of stealth technology. Applied to cars.

Just a few weeks before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, production of new 1942-model cars had begun. It screeched to a halt as the US government almost immediately classified chromium as a strategic material since it was needed in the manufacture of stainless steel and necessary to the war effort. The nation’s auto manufacturers were ordered to eliminate “brightwork”, the chrome and stainless trim on cars, within one month. They would have to end production of passenger cars altogether in two months in order to switch to production of military trucks and ambulances, tanks, and aircraft engines.

The few thousand new cars produced in the weeks between when the supply of shiny parts ran out and early February of 1942 when US passenger car production ended entirely are known as “blackout specials”. Normally shiny parts were painted black, gray, olive drab or similar dark color. In some cases the trim was a color that looked attractive with the car’s background color, a decidedly unflamboyant relative to today’s pin stripes and detailing. Surviving cars, and even photographs, are rare.

The same flat, non-reflective painted trim was used on military vehicles as well.

What color do you think Eli and Calvin at Wheeler’s garage paint the trim on Maggie’s DeSoto?



Maggie Sullivan mystery #1 shows woman private eye
Get Maggie Sullivan mystery #1 FREE!

A .38, a nip of gin and sensational legs get 1940s private investigator Maggie Sullivan out of most scrapes,
until a stranger threatens to bust her nose, she’s hauled in on suspicion of his murder
and she finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadistic crime boss.  Amazon  iBooks  Kobo  Nook

Pearl Harbor Attack Brings War to an Ohio City – Part II: Immediate Response

M. Ruth Myers

The speed with which the city of Dayton, Ohio, responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunning, especially when contrasted with the slow pace of communications detailed in Part I. The extent to which the city was prepared to step onto a war footing was equally amazing.

Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner, Dayton, Ohio

Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner, Dayton, Ohio


Within hours of receiving initial word of the attack, the city’s entire police had been mobilized. All vacations were canceled. Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner activated a plan which he and a few other members of his command had worked on quietly for more than a year. During that time, two members of his detective bureau had been assigned anti-sabotage investigation duties and had been in constant contact with the FBI. Now, almost immediately, police patrolled to protect the city’s numerous manufacturing and research facilities.

I was able to show the outer results of that planning in Maximum Moxie, the latest book in my Maggie Sullivan mystery series, which is set in Dayton. What I couldn’t show was the wealth of activity going on behind the scenes that was unknown to my detective and other characters.


Just outside the city lay Wright Field and Patterson Field, military installations vital to operations of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Wright Field was headquarters of the Materiel Division, the branch of the Air Corps which developed new aircraft, equipment and accessories. Nearby Patterson Field was the center for Air Corps aviation logistics, maintenance and supply. They, too, had been making secret preparations, which now went into effect.

At word from Washington, both airfields put aerial defenses in place and added ground reinforcements to boost security. Armed aircraft were stationed at both bases. All civilian planes were grounded. All military leaves were cancelled until further notice.


A Home Defense Auxiliary already had been established. It now was called into service. This force consisted of 100 members of the American Legion and V.F.W. They were organized under four commanders who held a rank equivalent to those of police sergeants. Other civilian groups organized quickly.

By Dec. 9, less than 48 hours from first word of the attack, the city’s Volunteer Defense Office issued a public appeal for 200 women to train as nurses aides. Both married and single women were welcome. Training classes would be held for six weeks Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-12 a.m. Volunteer office help also was needed from 7-9 p.m., and would work in the lobby of the Municipal Building.

Also on Dec. 9, the Citizens Protective Committee appealed to all owners of motor vehicles to register, giving name, address and phone number. They could be pressed into service in the event a forced evacuation of the city was needed.

As I sat reading the long-ago newspaper announcements of those initiatives, I found myself wondering over and over: How many cities, faced with a similar catastrophe today, could match that kind of speed and efficiency?

— Book of the Week —


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Mystery Set in Ohio Captures America’s Entry into WW2

by M. Ruth Myers

Maximum Moxie, shiny new addition to the mystery series featuring the 1940s detective with great legs, Maggie Sullivan, has just landed in digital bookstores.  This fifth book in the series opens when the private eye takes on a new case days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and provides an unusual portrait of a mainland city left dazed but resolute.


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The Story:

Days before the Pearl Harbor attack plunges the U.S. into World War II, private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find a missing engineer in Dayton, Ohio. Has Gil Tremain been kidnaped, or has he turned traitor — to his employer and maybe his country?

As Maggie pieces together his last movements, she finds there are secrets the man’s ex-wife and his employers don’t want uncovered. Maggie herself is attacked and an innocent witness is murdered. The ruthlessness of her opponent — or opponents — becomes even clearer when there’s an attempt to abduct Tremain’s young daughter. Still more chilling, Maggie’s investigation suddenly attracts the attention of a local crime kingpin.

The attack on Pearl Harbor presses every cop in the city into service protecting manufacturing and research facilities. Stunned by the knowledge their nation will soon be at war, even fearful the mainland itself will be bombed, people cling to family and friends. Schedules and routines shatter. Amid the disruption, alone and aware she can’t count on help from the police, Maggie races to save a man who has now become a liability to his captors.

Maximum Moxie, fifth book in the author’s popular Maggie Sullivan mysteries series, gives readers fast-paced twists and turns along with a rare and vividly painted closeup view of a watershed event in 20th century American history.

3 Women Private Eyes You Don’t Want to Miss

woman sleuth peers over fence

If you’ve run through your supply of mysteries featuring smart, competent women private eyes, here are a few more for you to try. It includes two lawyer-sleuths.

I’ve never really considered such hybrids private eyes since they have another income source, but Private Eye Writers of America accepts them as P.I.’s, so it’s hard to quibble. Plus the plain truth is, I’m a fan of the ones listed here:

Arapaho Lawyer

Vicky Holden, lawyer protagonist of an extensive series by Margaret Coel, is a woman well-versed in two worlds. She’s Arapaho, but has lived for a decade in the outside world before returning to the Wind River reservation and her people. Cases take her across the reservation, through the vast, bleak distances surrounding it, and into Denver. It’s great to be able to truly visualize a setting. I can with this series because from age eight until graduating from college I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and had an Arapaho friend from the reservation who visited me.

Baltimore Attorney

On the other side of the country, Baltimore, Maryland, is the setting for one of my favorite detectives, Sam (Stephanie Ann) McRae, the creation of NY Times best-selling author Debbi Mack. Sam also is a lawyer, a tough, gritty one who can hold her own in rough blue-collar neighborhoods as well as snooty ones. One of the reason I like her is her empathy for others and her understanding of human foibles. There are four books in the series, but a new publisher (WildBlue Press) has begun reissuing them, and not all show on Amazon just yet.

British Private Investigator

Finally, there’s a fine woman private eye who works at that alone. She’s Kate Shackleton, a young World War I widow, and the series featuring her is the creation of British author Frances Brody. Kate’s widowhood allows her a goodly measure independence without making her unbelievable in her time period. She’s intelligent, resourceful and doesn’t scare easily. She owns her own home in a small village, but her cases take her not only through the countryside but into London. She owns and drives a car, and is a skilled photographer. If you like classic British detective novels or American P.I. yarns, I predict you’ll like Kate.



Try the first book in the Maggie Sullivan series FREE.

A .38, a nip of gin and sensational legs get Depression-era private investigator Maggie Sullivan out of most scrapes – until a stranger threatens to bust her nose, she’s hauled in on suspicion of his murder and she finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadistic crime boss.  Amazon  iBooks Kobo  Nook

New Mystery Short Story Set in 1940

“A Concrete Garter Belt”, a new Maggie Sullivan short story, has joined the four novels and one other short story currently in the mystery series.   It was previously published in the Private Eye Writers of America anthology Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora, but is now available as a stand-alone.


The private eye’s search for a missing girl takes her into a secretarial service, a common resource used by countless small businesses before the advent of answering machines, Spellcheck and Office 365.  It also provides a window into an era when being pawed by the boss was the price young women often paid for keeping their job.

Maggie doesn’t take well to pawing.  And she carries a Smith & Wesson.


Crossing Gender Lines to Create a Woman Investigator

Grant McKenzie leads a double life, as a thriller writer under his own name and as author of the Dixie Flynn mysteries under the name M.C. Grant. The latter series features a young investigative journalist for an online news site who’s as tough as she is rumpled. Beauty With a Bomb, the third book in the series, was a finalist for this year’s Shamus Award for best paperback original P.I. novel — and is it a page-turner!

This year’s Shamus Awards Dinner gave me an opportunity to become acquainted with Grant and his wife, Karen. He generously agreed to be interviewed for this blog.

Angel With A Bullet

Ruth: You already were well established as a thriller writer when you started the Dixie Flynn series. What made you decide to tackle something a good bit different?

Grant: The Grant McKenzie novels are real edge-of-your-seat thrillers written in third-person, but I have always been a fan of crime noir that tends to be written in first-person. The Dixie Flynn series allows me to explore a genre that I adore, and write it from a different perspective. (I also write them in present tense, which is different from the Grant McKenzie novels, too).

Creating a series also allowed me to introduce quirky characters that can grow with each book, so that a minor character in one book could take on a larger role in the next book, while another character sits on the sidelines. Plus, as becomes very clear in the Dixie books, the ramifications of each book plays a toll on Dixie, shaping her in dark and dangerous ways. That’s why I always suggest that readers start the series at Angel With A Bullet before moving on to Devil With A Gun and Beauty With A Bomb.

Ruth: Why a female protagonist?

Grant: Dixie is such a fun character to write. She’s feisty, hard-headed and doesn’t pull her punches – either verbally or physically. I decided to make Dixie female in order to give her a vulnerability that can be difficult to create in a male character. Noir readers don’t necessarily like to see weakness in their male characters, but it is those moments of fear, doubt and despair that can really show character. Despite her toughness, I really wanted Dixie to have those moments when she got in too far over her head and the reader could really fear for her life. I also wanted to bring in her troubled love life in a humorous manner, and writing that from a woman’s perspective was just plain fun. There is a scene in Angel With A Bullet where Dixie describes two police officers by the seat of their pants that always gets a giggle from readers.

Ruth: It seems to me that women writers are more likely to cross gender lines and write a series with a male protagonist than men are to base a series around a woman. Of course there are exceptions, like J.A. Konrath, Alexander McCall Smith and the late Robert Parker, but in general, do you think that’s true?

Grant: I do. I think a lot of female writers believe that their work will be taken more seriously by the publishing industry if it features a male protagonist — and that may have been true at one point, though, fortunately, not anymore. While male writers choose to write in a female voice as both a challenge and for the sheer fun of it. There are likely male writers who wouldn’t be comfortable ever writing in a female voice, and the same trepidation is likely true of some female writers, too.

Ruth: Is the Dixie character based on anyone?

Grant: The character isn’t based on anyone, but the name is. When I first emigrated to Canada as a teenager, I met a girl named Dixie Dash who was the roller-skating queen of the high school I attended. As a Glasgow Scot, roller skating was as foreign to me as Canada was, and Dixie was kind enough not to mock my absolute uselessness at the sport. At the same time, I was reading S.E. Hinton and Gregory Macdonald, and just beginning on my journey to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane, etc. I always thought Dixie Dash was such a cool name and it stuck with me. Unfortunately, my publisher Midnight Ink, felt that Dixie Dash sounded too corny, so the name was changed to Dixie Flynn. In my heart, however, she is Dixie Dash.

Ruth: Both you and your wife are former journalists, correct? Did that influence your decision to let Dixie be an investigative journalist rather than a regular P.I.?

Grant: Yes. I spent over 30 years in the newspaper business, and have very fond memories of all the characters that I worked beside over the years. The business has changed a lot in recent years and Dixie mourns those early days when gutter-rumpled creatures could shuffle into work on a cloud of stale beer fumes and write incredible journalistic poetry. I like to close my eyes to those later paycheck years in journalism and try to remember when I was young, naive and wanted to change the world. Dixie is jaded, but she still has those dreams and ideals in her heart.

Ruth: What’s the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

Grant: Finding the time. Working full-time for a homeless shelter and trying to write books is a difficult task. I dream of having a break-out book that puts enough money in the bank that I can actually make writing my full-time occupation. There are stories I haven’t told simply because I couldn’t find time.

Ruth: What’s your current project? Thriller? Dixie?

Grant: I’m busy writing a new Grant McKenzie thriller that I’m very excited about. Polis Books is publishing three of my novels in 2016: The Fear In Her Eyes in April, K.A.R.M.A. in July, and the one I’m currently writing, tentatively titled The Butcher’s Apron, in September. It’s going to be an exciting year as I believe these three are some of the best thrillers I have ever written.

Ruth: If you were going to choose a line of work other than novelist, what would it be?

Grant: I’ve always fancied running an Exotic Cat Farm in Belize – the furry pet kind not a Nevada bordello – but I don’t think there would be much money in that. Apart from that, anything creative, really. Anyone hiring Dreamers?


COMING NEXT: Early women P.I.’s and police women


Try the first of four books in the Maggie Sullivan series FREE.

Try the first book in the Maggie Sullivan series FREE.

Private Eye Novel on Goodreads Giveaway

From now through Aug. 10, you can win one of four signed copies of TOUGH COOKIE on this Goodreads giveaway.

Don’t mistake this for a culinary cozy.  Maggie Sullivan, the 1930s gal P.I. hired to unravel a high-stakes swindle, will use her Smith & Wesson or break a thug’s fingers to get the information she needs.

If you haven’t met Maggie yet, get acquainted before the fourth book in the series comes out at summer’s end.

Maggie Sullivan mysteries #2

M. Ruth Myers writes the Maggie Sullivan mystery series set in Dayton, OH, 1938-47.

Win an Audiobook Featuring 1938 Woman P.I.

Game-ACXThe audiobook version of No Game for a Dame, which introduced 1930s private eye Maggie Sullivan to mystery fans, is now available at:

To kick things off, I’m offering three free downloads of the audiobook — two in the US, one in the UK — with the hope recipients will post a review of it on Audible.  It’s first come, first served, so if you’re interested, please leave a comment saying so and indicating whether you’re in the US or UK. Include a way to contact you, as I’ll need to email the download coupon code.

The fourth book in the series is due out late summer.


M. Ruth Myers writes the Maggie Sullivan mystery series featuring a female PI in the 1930s-40s.

Free Detective Mysteries & P.I. News 4/24/15

Here’s a chance to enjoy two detective novels set 9 centuries and half a world apart without paying a cent.

First head to 11th c. Japan and enjoy RASHOMON GATE, first book in an extensive series featuring the detective from author I.J. Parker‘s Shamus-winning short story.  Sugawara Akitada, a clerk in the Ministry of Justice, is sent to investigate blackmail at the Imperial University.  He quickly encounters murder.  Well-plotted mystery, exotic landscape, and very fine writing.  (Free for Kindle, Kobo and Apple)



Then time-travel to 1939 Ohio where private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find what happened to a man who disappeared in a catastrophic flood 26 years earlier.  DON’T DARE A DAME, third book in an ongoing series by yours truly, won a Shamus Award last year.  (Free for Kindle, Apple, Nook and Kobo in the US and UK through 4/30.)




The next book in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series featuring P.I. Kinsey Milhone, will be titled simply X.  It’s due out 8/25.  Enjoy an excerpt

Authors Who Feature Woman Private Eyes

Check out some new sleuths on this updated list of authors whose series feature women PI’s. (It’s the closest I’ll get to spring cleaning.)

More will be coming soon. Right now I’m reading my way through a pile of submissions for this year’s Shamus Awards – and having great fun getting to know the other committee members.

Here’s hoping you find some new faves in this update. Share with a friend. It will take up permanent residence on the Lists page.

Dani Amore
Carolina Garcia-Aquilera
Linda Barnes
Cara Black
Rhys Bowen
Liza Cody
R.E. Conray
Sue Grafton
M.C. Grant
Kerry Greenwood
P.D. James
Laura Lippman
Christine Matthews
Marcia Muller
M. Ruth Myers
Sara Paretsky
Robert B. Parker
S.J. Rozan
Sandra Scoppettone
Julie Smith
Alexander McCall Smith
Dana Stabenow
Jacqueline Winspear

M. Ruth Myers writes the Maggie Sullivan mystery series featuring a female PI in the 1930s-40s.

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