The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

December 26, 2012

Two holiday treats

Thumbs up for Todd Robinson's THE HARD BOUNCE. This first novel delivers the goods for those who like a multi-layered PI novel. The narrator, Boo Malone, is not a PI. He's partners with Junior McCullough in a blue-collar security business that specializes in providing bouncers and thick-necked security for concerts. But Boo can't resist the task of finding the missing daughter of a city big-wig when he had seen the girl just minutes before being asked to take the job. And the reward for finding the girl is more than money; there's the possibility that Boo could find his sister, lost to him since childhood. But the job takes the tender-hearted heavily tattooed (and just heavy) Boo and Junior into places they'd never been and never wanted to go: kiddie porn and snuff films and ultimately murder. The characters of Boo and Junior are fully-3D. They are unpretentious, very "guy," and their dialogue alone is worth the price of admission to this dark romp.

Author Robinson is well-known around the Internet for his production of Thuglit, which has been such a valuable springboard for so many writers. That makes it hard to say this, but necessary: Time to stop divvying your time, Mr. Robinson, and start focusing on more on your own novels. THE HARD BOUNCE is a grand beginning, but it is just the beginning.

Okay, we Reacher Creatures all had our little hissy fits when Tom Cruise bought the role of JACK REACHER. Cruise has managed to make himself so unpopular in so many ways and that hardly helped win any of us over. But what should not be forgotten (yes, I forgot it myself) in all the hoo-ha is that Cruise can act, and his acting chops are good enough here to make up for the lack of inches and brawn that define the written Reacher. Where the movie falls down is in casting the wooden-faced Rosamund Pike opposite Cruise. There is no chemistry between the two (try naming a film where Pike has had chemistry with anybody) so we can only thank the screenwriter for not forcing a sex scene on the viewers. Pike often sounds like she's rushing her dialogue to keep up with Reacher's snappy one-liners. Her most believable moment comes when she urges Reacher to "put on a shirt." That may be due to Cruise's body now showing its 50 years and the entire audience also urging him to "put on a shirt." And it's no surprise that Robert Duvall steals every scene he's in. The car-chase scene is to be admired for looking more like BULLITT than THE BOURNE LEGACY. The script strays some from the book, of course, but not too much. Cruise's Reacher isn't quite the Reacher of the books, of course, but he's not too far off. I think this film lays a solid basis for a Reacher film franchise.


October 21, 2012

The short and long of it.

Catching up on what happened to some of the Watery Grave stories from earlier this year: Benoit Lefievre's story, The Devil's Shinbone, was published online at Near to the KnuckleFamily Secrets, by Eric Beetner, was published at Beat to a Pulp. Keith Rawson's story, Two Kilograms of Soul, appears in Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels, available in print or digital editions. Thomas Pluck's excellent story, Train: A Denny the Dent Story, also appears in that anthology. If I've overlooked any of the WGI entries that have been published elsewhere, please let me know.

And regarding that last anthology, my own story, Hero, appears there also. While that news may not be sufficient to tempt you to purchase the book, the inclusion of original stories by the likes of Patti Abbott, Trey R. Barker, and Ray Banks, should be plenty of inducement. Go ahead. Click the link above to see purchasing info.


A couple of years back I read Marcus Sakey's short story collection, SCAR TISSUE. It's an impressive collection, and you can read my review of it right here. The author donated all of his royalties for that book during the month of September to The Team Julian Foundation, an organization that raises awareness of pediatric cancers and raises funds for the fight against these killers of children. I'm in favor of anything that improves the lot of our most helpless and innocent citizens. Marcus Sakey goes beyond a one-time donation though, and is now earmarking 50% of all royalties in perpetuity for this book to The Team Julian Foundation. For the price of a latte, $2.99, you can help in this battle. And of course, you can always donate directly to the foundation. And you get to read a collection of truly outstanding short stories.


THE ABSENT ONE is the second in Jussi Adler-Olsen's series about Department Q, the cold case squad in Copenhagen, made up of one Detective Superintendent, his janitor, and a newly assigned secretarial assistant. As with the first book, THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, there is plenty of tension, twists, humor, and mystery. I haven't been this taken with a set of characters since Jen Forbus got me started reading Craig Johnson's novels. RECOMMENDED.


Daniel Woodrell works his literary magic in WOE TO LIVE ON, about a young man who is a part of a band of pro-Confederate "irregulars" or bushwhackers in the Missouri-Kansas area during the U.S. Civil War. There are plenty of hard times, callous men and boys, and reckless killing. The book is relentless in its portrayal of a world so volatile that beloved friends and family one day are dead enemies the next. Young Jake Roedel is stubbornly loyal but begins to question the constant, pointless killings. Although the book can be read as a coming of age tale, the theme of man's inhumanity to man has greater focus. And Woodrell's genius at painting his characters and settings in plain but somehow eloquent English is incomparable. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


HOW TO DRIVE A TANK AND OTHER EVERYDAY TIPS FOR THE MODERN GENTLEMAN by Frank Coles. Presumably non-fiction. Okay, 'fess up. Just the title alone makes you want to see what this one's about, right? Oddly enough, the title is pretty much a perfect description of the contents, although much of the contents have little to do with gentlemanly behavior. Imagine if the guys who do the "Top Gear" television program turned their attention to, oh, how to buy a gun in any city in the world within hours of your arrival. Or how to make things go boom. Or how to pick locks. Or how to hide a dead body (See, that doesn't seem gentlemanly, does it? Unless your name is Bond, James Bond.)  The book is laced with humor and easy on the gore while responsible enough to mention consequences. The author manages to also dispense some practical advice along the way, much of which is just as helpful to the modern lady as to her counterpart. Fun reading, this.

September 16, 2012

Reading-go-round

The game of catch-up is like the Energizer Bunny, it just goes on and on...

David King's DEATH IN THE CITY OF LIGHT is the meticulously researched story of Marcel Petiot, a serial killer who hid his crimes behind the more overt crimes of the Nazis who occupied Paris in the early 1940s. Petiot is a fascinating figure: a medical doctor, a politician, a con man (is that redundant?), and a highly organized killer. Unfortunately the construction of the book does not aid the story, and the pace lags. Still, once Petiot's trial begins, the pace picks up again for the trial is as mesmerizing as the killer, thanks to an inept prosecutor and the unusual method of French justice which incorporates civil and criminal cases into one trial. The book would benefit from diagrams of the house where the murders occurred and perhaps also a map of Paris with key locations noted. Recommended only for true crime fans or for those interested in conditions in Nazi-occupied Paris.

At least four members of my book club were raving about Rosamund Lupton's SISTER last month, and it seems certain to be included in next year's list of reading for the club. I decided to check it out ahead of time. SISTER is about Beatrice, a young professional, who leaves New York and heads to London when she learns her only sister is missing. But of course her sister is dead. The police think her sister committed suicide, so Beatrice makes it her mission to find the killer. If this sounds familiar, then you've probably already read Hilary Davidson's excellent THE DAMAGE DONE. I didn't come down on the side of the book club angels this time. The characters held no appeal for me and the book seemed tedious and overlong as a result. It didn't help that the revelation of the villain was anti-climactic; it was too easy to figure him out.

For fans of thrillers á la Marcus Sakey and Sean Doolittle, it would pay you to keep an eye out for Mark Rubenstein's MAD DOG HOUSE, set for release on Oct 23. This is the story of successful surgeon Roddy Dolan, who pulled himself out of juvenile delinquency and into the good life. So good that he has a little money to spare when a friend approaches him about investing in an upscale New York steak house. Too bad the friend never shed his own delinquency roots. Too bad every other customer at the restaurant looks like he's mobbed up. Too bad when the mob comes calling for a cool half-million that Roddy doesn't have. But Roddy's not going to be pulled back into the old life. Not even if it's takes all of his old "mad dog" ways to get out of this mess. Rubenstein's prose and construction are not quite as polished as that of Sakey and Doolittle, but the potential is there. What I particularly liked about the character of Roddy is that, unlike so many backed-in-a-corner heroes found in thrillers, he doesn't spend a lot of time moaning about "if only." No, he knows when he's in a corner and he knows what he had to do to survive. And he knows that, if he succeeds, he's still going to have to live with himself. He's prepared to pay the price, let the angst fall where it may.

In Lee Child's 17th outing with protagonist Jack Reacher, A WANTED MAN, Reacher hitches a ride with a trio looking to use him as cover in order to pass police road blocks. Reacher seems a bit more lighthearted than usual and that's a good thing. Because the humor helped me wade through the last fourth of an overly complex tale that managed to have a whopping hole appear in that plot just when things were going so well. Not my favorite adventure with Jack, but not my least favorite either. The best scenes are just Reacher being who he is: observant, calculating, and good-natured. I was at a reading point where this was exactly what I needed and wanted, so tip of the hat to Mr. Child for obliging.

What to say about Jussi Adler-Olsen's THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES? How about: Just read it. Oh, you want to know why? Wonderful characterization. A truly thrilling thriller. Dialogue that will make you smile. Yes, you will figure out ahead of the reveal why the baddies are doing what they are doing, but you will not stop caring about their victim or the two men, police detective Carl Mörck, and Syrian immigrant and janitor (yes, you read that right) Hafez el Assad, who are determined to solve the case of a politician who disappeared five years earlier. Mörck and Assad are a wonderful new detective team and I have no doubt I'll be seeing the author's name at the top of the bestseller lists in the near future. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

September 13, 2012

A brieft hiatus from the longer hiatus...

An unexpectedly free hour today leaves me with time enough -- I hope -- to express myself regarding some recent reads. Then, I have no doubt, will come another long silence from this corner. I have some hope that next summer will bring more free time my way. Until then, this is all I got.


In 1929-30, a string of assaults, rapes, and murders occurred in Dusseldorf, Germany, that were attributed to Peter Kürten, a career criminal. Among the victims he eventually admitted to killing was 35-year-old Emma Gross, though he later retracted that confession. No evidence linked him to that crime, and he hadn't the knowledge of time, place, or body positioning that would have implicated him in the strangulation death of Emma Gross. Her killer was never caught. Novelist Damien Seaman weaves a fascinating tale of obsession - compulsion around these events in THE KILLING OF EMMA GROSS, providing a credible killer and motive for her murder while weaving in the atmosphere of a city in the grip of fear for months while police chased the Dusseldorf Ripper. Chalk up another dark winner for small e-press Blasted Heath.


The second entry in Ace Atkins' Quinn Colson series, THE LOST ONES, shows the author taking more of an ensemble approach to these books, instead of the popular but overused lone-hero approach. The character of Colson, a county sheriff, will forever have my heart because no matter what other problems crop up in his fictional county  -- gunrunning, drugs, political corruption, etc., -- they never outweigh a problem like child abuse. Colson is sympathetic and interesting, but so are his deputies and his friends and family. The author has all kinds of room in future books to further deepen and define both the good and the bad folks who inhabit Tibbehah County.


It's no secret that this blogger is a fan of Dave Zeltserman's work, and for good reason. Short stories, novellas, novels; noir, classic crime, horror, paranormal -- the guy can do it all. His most recent release, MONSTER, is an ambitious stretch for him, marrying his story to Mary Shelley's original FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS while yet flipping it a full 180 degrees. No surprise, Zeltserman succeeds in capturing the feel and mood of the classic while one-upping Shelley on the horror aspect. Victor Frankenstein is not a tortured man of genius whose aspiration to play God gets out of hand when he creates a thing of evil. Instead it is Frankenstein who is the evil one (along with a guest appearance by the Marquis de Sade), while the monster is an innocent, tortured by his continued existence and the loss of his one true love, brutally murdered by Frankenstein. Shelley's theme, men who would play at God, is countered by Zeltserman's take: men who would play at Satan. And in both stories, it is men who would simply be men who suffer the most at the hands of those who see themselves as superior. Fans of the original tale should enjoy this book immensely; readers new to the literary Frankenstein will enjoy the weaving in of vampires, wolves, severed heads that talk, paintings that come to life, and of course the monster himself. Teachers of Mary Shelley's classic would do well in future to assign MONSTER for contrast and comparison and downright fun.


A re-read of THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT for my book club was a welcome look back at the beginning of The World's Greatest Detective, Elvis Cole, and The World's Most Badass Sidekick, Joe Pike. In this award-winning debut novel, a wisecracking Elvis looks for a missing husband and finds himself up to his Hawaiian shirt in shady characters, drugs, and murder. Joe Pike fans should re-read this book once in a while just to remind yourselves how close the world came to losing Pike forever. I went to book club armed with deep analysis and counter-arguments and a Colt Python, but none of it was necessary to convince anyone to read further in the series. I really must learn to trust author Robert Crais to sell his own books. He does a far better job of that than I do. And with less violence, too.


PLACES, PLEASE! BECOMING A JERSEY BOY by Daniel Robert Sullivan. What, you say, YOU reading a non-fiction, non-crime-related title? Lud, what has the world come to? But you fans of the Broadway musical, JERSEY BOYS, you know why I read this book, right? See, fans of the show often see it multiple times (check); and if you see different productions you see different actors in the roles (check). And when you see different actors in the same role, you pick favorites (check!). Daniel Robert Sullivan is my favorite actor in the role of Tommy DeVito, the founder of the rock group, The Four Seasons. It's a role that requires not only sharp talent in the singing, dancing, and acting areas of theatre, but also exquisite timing if the role is to carry the weight that it ought. Sullivan delivered, and in spades. His book is a simple retelling of the extremely complicated process -- two years -- it took to audition and win a place in the Toronto cast. This book is really aimed at aspiring stage actors, but the details regarding the hard work and sacrifice that go into achieving and living one's goals will be lost on no one.


I never thought that a book about scheming, manipulative high school cheerleaders could be so intense, but this story, DARE ME, about the friendship between narrator Addy Hanlon and her best friend, and captain of the team, Beth Cassidy, is anything but juvenile. Author Megan Abbott reveals raw passion in the simplest of actions: turning off a cell phone, watching one person whisper to another. One can read the story superficially as a whodunnit, but for this reader the story is all about friendship; and not about the nice, courageous things one will do for a friend but rather the terrible, vicious things one will do to hold on to a friend who is drifting away. This is the first book I've read that has shown the too-close -- dangerously close -- relationship that sometimes develops between teacher and students. Having experienced that first-hand lo, these many years ago when I was a high school sophomore, the partying and gossiping and not-so-casual betrayals of Addy Hanlon's world rang all too true. The insular, animal world of these upper-middle-class girls is revealed in the way they microscopically examine each other for signs of weakness. At book's end you should be asking yourself whether you have ever been as passionate for one single person as these girls are. And then ask whether you are lying to yourself. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for outstanding characterization, prose, tension, and theme.

Ah, me. I'm still not caught up but my hour has expired. Back to doing what I must, instead of what I'd rather.

July 24, 2012

Quick bytes


CAPTURE, by Roger Smith. Somewhere on the Internet recently I came across a discussion about what constituted or defined neo-noir. This book is my idea of what neo-noir is all about: the same sick, twisted, desperate, going-down-the-tubes characters found in original noir plus the faster pace and action usually found in thrillers. In this latest release, Smith somehow manages to conjure up a character, Vernon Saul, who is evil incarnate. What kind of man can sit back and watch a child drown, his inaction solely for the thought that he might find an angle to gain some kind of power over the grieving parents? And yet the reader cannot help but sympathize with the abused child that preceded the man Vernon became. There is a line delivered by William Peterson in the 1986 Michael Mann film, MANHUNTER, that perfectly sums up my feelings toward Vernon Saul:
My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable... As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.
CAPTURE is bit more of a psychological character study than Smith's previous novels, but the tension ratchets up, chapter by chapter, to a shattering and satisfying denouement. RECOMMENDED.

THE KINGS OF COOL, by Don Winslow. If this book is your introduction to Don Winslow's work, you're starting in the wrong place. Back up a book and read SAVAGES first. Yes, THE KINGS OF COOL is a prequel so you ought to be able to start there, right? Um, no. This origin story of Ben, O, and Chon is best viewed through the wrong end of the telescope, so to speak. The plot premise is similar to SAVAGES: Interlopers want to cut in on our trio's marijuana business. Winslow determinedly takes the story in a different direction than SAVAGES though, finding new ways to delicately gut the souls of his characters. Not quite as fresh nor as savagely (see what I did there?) sharp as its predecessor, THE KINGS OF COOL still delivers on its title. RECOMMENDED.

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, by Wiley Cash. The author uses first-person accounts from three characters: a county sheriff, an elderly woman, and an eight-year-old boy, to turn a simple tale of being in the wrong place at the wrong time into a Greek tragedy. With a genuine sense of place and fully rounded characters, the reader is pulled into a small town where too much faith in a fundamentalist, snake-handling preacher leads to heartbreak for one family. The prose is graceful, the story powerful and unforgettable. Here's a link to the first chapter. Read it and tell me what you think. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

MISS PYM DISPOSES, by Josephine Tey. If this is the first Tey you read after enjoying her wonderful DAUGHTER OF TIME, you're in for a shock. It only takes three words to sum up this tale of wrongdoing at an all-girls' school: Tedious and obvious. On the other hand, if you think SPELLBOUND is Alfred Hitchcock's greatest movie, you may very well enjoy this book.

THE GIRL IN THE CELLAR, a 1961 release by Patricia Wentworth, has an unforgettable opening chapter that will delight any fan of modern day thrillers: A young woman regains consciousness, but with amnesia, in a dark cellar with the corpse of another woman. After that terrific tease the pace drops to a crawl. The plot creaks through the tropes of Golden Age mysteries, though it is too slight overall to say it lumbers. Strictly for those who want their fictional murders kept offstage and no chance of an increase in the heart rate.

NICEVILLE by Carsten Stroud. I loved the first 50 pages of this book. I might have loved the rest of it if I enjoyed paranormal, gothic, oogie-boogie goings on, but I generally don't. If you do, jump on this one, but be ready to juggle numerous plot lines and characters that eventually intertwine. Give the author his due: he isn't just cranking out the same-old-same-old here, he's trying something a bit new in form and construction. It's a fine balancing act that, for me, was only partially successful. This one starts out with a boy gone missing. Instantly gone missing. As in, here he is and in the next millisecond, he has vanished. And it's on video, not tampered with. From there, the mysteries and oddities become abundant.

July 2, 2012

ABOLITION OF MIDNIGHT by John Higgins

One of the most refreshing stories we received in this year's WGI was John Higgins's fifth-place entry, ABOLITION OF MIDNIGHT.  What set this story apart was that instead of striving for nouveau grit or cutting edge as so many authors are doing, the author paid effective homage to the classic English mystery.

ABOLITION OF MIDNIGHT
by John Higgins

 “Better get over to Cheriton now, Merton. Take Sergeant Blake with you. Let me know if you need a forensics team.”

“It’s only an attempted, Super.”

“Stately home robbery? Lot of publicity? Can’t be seen not to be taking it seriously. But take an unmarked car. No point in alerting the press too soon.”

Inspector Merton and the sergeant set off, reaching the outer gate in twenty minutes. The notice said Cheriton Hall—Admission to House and Grounds £15—Concessions £12—Grounds only £4. The barrier was down and alongside it another notice saying House closed for maintenance, but they were expected and the barrier was raised immediately.

 The house manager greeted them at the main entrance, and inside the Duke himself was waiting. They set off towards the library.

“Can you tell us just what happened, your Grace?”

“No need to be formal. We were alerted by Mrs Armstrong, who is head of the cleaning staff. She was making her usual rounds this morning. Got to the library at half past eight. She was suspicious about the display case holding Lady Isabella’s Psalter, so she called up the conservator on duty. Then she looked round the rest of the room carefully and found the satchel with the real Psalter pushed behind the drapes at the north window.”

“Was it just the Psalter that was moved?”

“Yes, nothing else. All the electronic alarms were switched off while the cleaners were in, and at some point between closing time and nine o’clock when they left the building the case was opened and the replica exchanged for the Psalter itself.”

“Within easy reach from outside if the window was opened.”

“That’s right.”

“But it wasn’t taken.”

“Right.”

The Inspector was puzzled. “What would the value be?”

“Priceless,” said the Duke. “”I was offered five million for it last month by an Indian billionaire. Couldn’t accept, of course. It’s not mine to sell.”

“How come?”

“The nation took it when my father died. In lieu of death duties. Belongs to the British Library in theory. And they’ll probably want to take it down to their building in St Pancras after this has happened. So nobody in Devon will be able to look at the most important mediaeval relic of their county’s history without buying an overpriced rail ticket to London or sitting in traffic jams all day.” It was obvious the Duke had strong views about the transport system.

“Tell me about the replica.”

“We sell them in the shop. £275.”

“You can’t sell many at that price.”

“You’d be surprised. But mostly it is catalogue sales by post. We brought it out two years ago and we must have shifted over two hundred.”

“Are there any missing from stock? Or was this one brought in from outside?”

“We haven’t checked yet.”

“How easy would it have been to recognise it as a replica?”

“For you not very. For anyone who has been familiar with it over a period quite easy. You get a feeling for these things. Mrs Armstrong thought something was wrong as soon as she opened up the room, and you couldn’t describe her as an authority on mediaeval manuscripts. That was why she checked round rather carefully.”

The library was some way from the main hall, through several reception rooms with no walls unadorned with pictures or mounted stags heads. It consisted of a long gallery leading to a high window assembled from small leaded panes and looking out over a lawn and fountain. The walls on both sides of the gallery were lined with shelving rising at least ten feet, several thousand books caged in behind padlocked wire doors. When were any of them last read, the Inspector wondered. Most of them were anonymously leather-bound and looked unentertaining.

The drapes which had concealed the package were fully fifteen feet high. In the centre of the room was the display case for Lady Isabella’s Psalter. A hinged flap covered the case with a notice asking visitors to keep the case covered when they moved off. Today the Psalter itself was open at the twenty-third psalm, with lambs gambolling in the middle of the capital letters to assure visitors that the Lord would take care of them.

“I presume this is the replica,” said the Inspector.

“Of course,” said Kirby, the house manager.

“Where is the real thing?”

“In the safe in my office. Oh, don’t worry. We handled it with gloves. I double as head of security. But we hope you won’t need to dust it for fingerprints or anything. Not without consulting the conservators.”

“How about the satchel?”

“Over here.” He pulled back the drape on the left, revealing something half way between a school satchel and a designer handbag. “We left it exactly where we found it. Somebody could break the window from outside and grab it. Alarms would go off, of course, but it would take at least a minute for anyone to get here.”

 “But nobody did break in. It was intact this morning.”

“Yes.”

“I wonder why they didn’t come.”

“Perhaps they were expecting to pick it up from inside today. Just come in, pay admission and pick it up. But in that case you would expect them to hide it a bit better.”

“Excuse me, your Grace,” came a timid interruption from a young man at the door. “The caterers are at the front gate. Do we let them in?”

“Any objection?” asked the Duke. “We are hosting a Jubilee event tomorrow, after the Olympic flame goes through the town. A lot of charity workers. And your own Superintendent, of course. It’s the sort of thing we get let in for when you have the right amount of space.”

“If they stay out of our way. I want everything to seem normal until we know more about this.”

“Okay, Barnett,” said the Duke. “But have somebody stay with them while they are here. Keep them out of the rooms on this side.” The timid young man slid away, as unobtrusively as he could.

“Meanwhile,” said Inspector Merton, “could I have a list of everybody who might have been in the library yesterday evening?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Are they all well known to you? Any recent recruits?”

“Ask Mrs Armstrong. I think she has taken on some temporary cleaners. Their references will have been well checked, I imagine. The temps are staying in the staff hostel, so we could ask them to come in early if you want to talk to them. Otherwise they don’t come in till four o’clock.”

Mrs Armstrong was positive that none of her regular staff could have been involved, and as it happened none of them had been assigned to the library wing that night. Inspector Merton left his sergeant to talk to the security staff, while he was driven to the staff hostel in Cheriton village to interview the two women who had been working in the library itself, a Mrs Capling and Miss Kyrszyk. Both very upset to hear about the Psalter. No, neither of them had opened the Psalter display case. Yes, they had been in sight of each other all the time while working, though Mrs Capling seemed a little hesitant about that. Yes, they had returned to the hostel at ten last night and had been there ever since. Miss Kyrszyk in particular seemed ready to say an enthusiastic “Yiss” to any question the Inspector asked, and he wondered if her English was good enough for her to have understood anything he said.

Returning to the Hall, the Inspector talked to the Conservator, the house manager and then to the Duke again.

“I’m really puzzled why no attempt was made to take the Psalter last night. Your security patrol did not spot anybody in the grounds who might have been scared off. But I have a hunch, sir. I would like you to open the house to visitors again as usual.”

“Can do.”

“And have you another copy of the replica?”

“Certainly.”

“Put it in the satchel and put the satchel back where it was. Let the room supervisor keep a discreet eye on it and let us know if it is touched. The supervisors have two-way radios, I assume.”

“Oh yes. What if nothing happens?”

“In that case I’ll have a couple of men covering the library window from outside all night. My hunch is that something went wrong with the timing and the thief may come tonight. Make sure your own security patrol knows we are going to be there but behave quite normally.”

** 

At two minutes after midnight Sergeant Blake and a police constable hiding in the sunken garden area near the library wing heard the noise of breaking glass, followed by the whine of the house alarm and the sound of running feet. Sergeant Blake used his radio to alert the dog handler. The sound of barking told them where to go, and soon they were shining their flashlights on the face of a frightened man holding a leather satchel. The dog was called off, cautions administered, and the culprit taken to the police station, where he eventually gave his name as Jeremy Capling. It would have been pointless to lie, since it was on his driving licence in his pocket.

The next day, after a telephone call and lengthy conference with a lawyer who turned up very quickly, he admitted to the break-in, but claimed he had been drunk and had no intention to steal anything. As to the suggestion that he was working on behalf of a wealthy Indian industrialist, that was quite ridiculous. Libellous, almost. He was released on bail, which was immediately supplied. Meanwhile the Duke told Mrs Armstrong to sack Mrs Capling from her post as cleaner. There was no proof that she had placed the Psalter in the satchel, but nobody had any doubts. Particularly not after the police had discovered a text message from her on Capling’s mobile.

“So what went wrong? Why didn’t Capling come on Sunday night?” asked the sergeant.

“Ah, that’s because he was never in the army.”

“I don’t follow.”

“His wife had found out that the ground patrols change their shift at midnight. For just a couple of minutes there is nobody out of doors. So that was when she told him to break the window. Just after midnight. On Monday. Meaning early on Monday morning.”

“Midnight. Monday. So he thought she meant Monday night and turned up twenty-four hours later. But how does the army come into it?”

“Midnight doesn’t exist for a soldier; it has been abolished. There is no twelve pm or 2400 hours or 0000 hours. You use a 24-hour clock running from 0001 to 2359. There is no time between 2359 and 0001. Any event or arrangement has to be assigned to one side or the other. After all, you don’t want the infantry to launch the attack on Monday while the artillery give covering fire on Tuesday, do you? So if Capling had ever been in the services he would have checked what his wife meant by midnight.”


THE DROWNING OF JEREMIAH FISHFINGER by Ian Ayris

Ian Ayris has it, whatever "it" is that a writer possesses which draws readers to his work and compels them to unlock their empathy for his characters. Earlier this year Ian floored me with the quality of his first novel, ABIDE WITH ME. He did the same with this tale, taking the familiar story of child abuse and infusing it with a poignant inevitability.

I appreciate Ian's generosity in permitting me to publish his story here, because there is no doubt in my mind that many a zine would like to have claimed this one. This story took 3rd place in this year's WGI, but is, in my opinion, unquestionably a winner.

THE DROWNING OF JEREMIAH FISHFINGER

by Ian Ayris

Jeremiah Fishfinger began life between the wars, the youngest of six, three boys and three girls, a strain on their parents, every one. His father - a boatman and a bully - worked all day on the Royal Victoria Dock. He would come home from work, drunk and loud, and beat the children with a bicycle chain. And as he did so, Jeremiah's mother kept to the kitchen, scrubbing the sink till her hands bled.

When Jeremiah's father would eventually pass out in the armchair, his own tears blinding him to the barbarity of his actions, Jeremiah's mother would gather the children to her breast and salve their pain with buttered crumpets and assurances that their father really loved them very much indeed.

But Jeremiah knew different, and fought back with spiteful words, sneering and snarling, until he felt the back of his mother's hand on more than one occasion. As he lay awake at night, his father's snoring filling the house, his mother's sobs breaking his heart, Jeremiah would dream of what it would be like to be blind, to live in a world of complete darkness. And then, when he felt himself right on the edge of comfort, he would close his eyes, ever so slowly, and dream of colours.

It is a wonder Jeremiah survived to his eighth birthday, but he did. September the seventh, nineteen-forty. And on that day, young Jeremiah looked to the skies, planes like birds, rising and falling, bursting asunder like the colours in his dreams.

Jeremiah's brother Charlie, the eldest Fishfinger, was sent away with the soldiers to fight in North Africa, Ernie, the next along, to Burma. The two eldest girls, Sophie and Mary, turned lathes in a munitions factory on the Commercial Road, and little Annie found herself in a sweet factory in Limehouse making Blackjacks.

Being on the docks, Mr Fishfinger carried on his important work, loading and unloading, moving things here and moving things there. He volunteered as a fireman from the first days of the war, carrying a small child from a burning building in Custom House, and gaining a reputation as a man reckless and brave. He was the last to leave the exploded munitions factory on the Commercial Road where Sophie and Mary worked, his face streaked with grease and black and blood - his daughters lost.

The funeral of Sophie and Mary took place in the drizzling rain at St. Margarets and All Saints Church, on the Barking Road. Mrs Fishfinger sobbed into the shoulder of her husband, and Jeremiah looked on from behind a tree as his sisters were buried, wondering what it would be like to suffocate under so much earth.

Mr Fishfinger had lost a piece of his heart the day the munitions factory went up – he said so – and from that moment on, he ceased to beat little Annie. Indeed, it seemed as if a part of him had softened. He would hold Annie close, open himself to her tentative advances, and whisper into her ear she was his special girl. In his work as a wartime fire-fighter he became ever more fearless. Flames dare not touch him and huge lumps of masonry fell about him as if the grief he suffered shielded him from further pain.

Still he beat Jeremiah with the bicycle chain, but it was with a heavy heart and a stilled tongue.

Jeremiah jumped off the Southwark Bridge just short of his tenth birthday whilst playing with Johnny Cottle from across the street. Johnny jumped in to save Jeremiah, and was drowned. Mr Smithson, the haberdasher, pulled Jeremiah out and pumped the water from his lungs with big iron fists. And Jeremiah hated him for it.

The young Jeremiah continued to spend his days alone, spotting aeroplanes and sifting through the London debris for something he could make sense of.

Mrs Fishfinger was killed in forty-four when the Woolworths on the Bethnal Green Road took a direct hit from a V2. Jeremiah was twelve years old. Mr Fishfinger broke down at the death of his wife, and laid aside his bicycle chain for good. He continued his fire-fighting work until a concrete slab of street ripped his legs apart when a hitherto unexploded bomb went off on the East India Dock Road.

So, with little Annie working in the sweet factory in Limehouse ten hours a day, Jeremiah was left alone with the father he hated, the father he had to care for, to wash, to cook for, to clean.

Day after day.

Day after day.

And the fire burned.

Jeremiah was able to quell his hatred by locking himself into the day to day duties of his life - boiling the potatoes and peeling the carrots for dinner, scrubbing the front step, keeping the windows gleaming and bright. If not for this, Jeremiah would not have been able to block out the disgust that overwhelmed him as he washed his father in the tin bath in the kitchen. Even the occasional incontinence, though he felt his father's shame, could be dealt with, mechanically, without fuss. But by far the worst were the drunken penitent looks from his father, one slurred word of tearful remorse about the beatings and the treatment meted out in days gone by, and Jeremiah would feel his blood begin to rise, the walls that kept him together begin to shudder and shake.

Charlie Fishfinger returned to the family home in March of forty-five, exhilarated by his wartime exploits at El Alamein and Monte Cassino. Ernie arrived back a few months later, a victim of the Japanese prison camps, his body and mind too badly broken ever to recover.

Charlie was a local hero. He had medals, and a mop of hair and a shoulders-back steady gait the girls swooned over. But he couldn't stand to be in this house of misery. Meanwhile, Ernie sat in his mothers old armchair, opposite his broken father, and spent his hours wide-eyed and mumbling.

And so the war ended. A new-found sense of hope filled the streets. A new day had begun.

But not for Jeremiah Fishfinger. Not for him. For him the scars would not heal, his heart was too ravaged, the cracks too deep. Charlie soon left to train the Hottentots in Botswana, whilst Ernie slept safe and sound behind the asylum walls.


It was six years almost to the day since Jeremiah jumped from the Southwark Bridge. Six years of a life shattered beyond hope.

Jeremiah's father faltered and stumbled from the front room – the place he'd bedded down in since the night his legs were ripped off by the flying slab of concrete - his whole weight bearing down on two wooden crutches, pain carved into his face. When he neared the table, he swung himself into his chair, and laid the crutches down, his entire face oozing sweat.

'Morning, Jeremiah,' he said, stern and functional.

Jeremiah continued to stir the porridge on the stove, his back to his father, his knuckles screaming white around the wooden spoon.

'I said, morning, Jeremiah.'

Jeremiah inclined his head slightly to view his father from the corner of his eye, making sure he continued the same rhythmic stirring of the porridge.

'Morning,' Jeremiah said.

Satisfied the order of things had been set for the day, Jeremiah's father settled himself at the table, and fell into a reverie, his head lowered to his chest.

And the porridge steamed and the porridge bubbled.

Jeremiah thought of little Johnny Cottle, all those years ago, struggling for breath in the water. And he remembered his eyes as they remained open, pleading, scared and unseeing, as little Johnny sank to the bottom of the river.

'Don't let that porridge burn, boy,' Jeremiah's father said.

Burn like the streets. Burn like the planes that fell from the sky. Burn like Mary and Sophie. Burn like Mum. 

'Did you hear me, boy? Did you hear me?'

Burn. Like. Mum. 

Johnny Cottle Johnny Cottle Johnny Cottle Johnny Cottle.

Jeremiah scraped the wooden spoon one last time around the inside of the pot, and turned off the gas.

'That's it, boy. Now hurry yourself before it gets cold.'

Hurry? Hurry? There was all the time in the world. For what is time but the passing of days? Days in which your loved ones perish, your heart breaks, and your dreams shatter. Time, time means nothing when you are watching fragments of the world go by through the eyes of a grief-torn child.

Jeremiah poured the porridge into the three bowls set out beside the stove. He watched as the porridge glooped into place, until it glooped no more. He watched as the steam rose from the bowls in dancing pirouettes then disappear forever.

Jeremiah knew the time was not long.

'Boy? Boy?'

Not long, Dad. Father. Oh father of mine.

Little Annie pranced into the room, hair tied back, the same old life-giving smile upon her face. A one of a kind, Annie. A beauty. An angel from on high.

'Morning, Dad,' she said, giving her father a kiss on the top of his head, taking her place at the table next to him.

And the darkness that was upon that man gently lifted in the presence of his only daughter, as if blown by a summer breeze.

'Morning, my darling,' he said.

Jeremiah set the bowls on the table, and sat opposite his father.

Boil and bubble. Toil and trouble.

Jeremiah scooped spoonful after spoonful of porridge into his mouth, not swallowing, not tasting, just filling the empty space.

'Eat your porridge properly boy, or I'll ram it down your throat.'

Jeremiah wanted to laugh. The stupid man. The stupid, evil man.

Jeremiah ate faster, filling his mouth entirely before looking up at his father and slowly swallowing the pain.

'Boy!'

Little Annie jumped, her spoon tumbling onto the table. She picked it up, and carried on eating, her head down, dreading what was to come.

But those days were no more. Her father had no legs. The bicycle chain hung limp in the shed from a rusting nail. Little Annie spooned her porridge mechanically into her little mouth, the delight of the day now in shadowed in fear.

Jeremiah finished first, his face red with pain, his throat burnt.

'Come round here, boy,' his father said.

But Jeremiah did not.

Little Annie took her bowl to the kitchen sink, tears cutting tracks down her cheeks, her heart pounding. And then left the two broken souls to themselves, for she could feel their pain no longer.

Alone in the house, sitting across from the table – a table once filled with loved ones now gone – sat but two.

Son stared at father, father at son, neither one a word left to speak.

Jeremiah's father cried inside for his wife and his two girls, and for not being able to love his youngest son. Jeremiah stared at his father blank, and felt nothing.


The first time Jeremiah Fishfinger had been swallowed up by the dark waters of the Thames, he'd been nine years old. He'd been dragged home by his father, and beaten to within an inch of his life. And now, six years later, he placed a note gently on the kitchen table for little Annie, left the house quietly, and headed for the Southwark Bridge once more, the bicycle chain trailing behind him, scraping red in his wake.

June 26, 2012

A note on the WGI winning stories


Ordinarily I would begin the process of posting the winning stories right away. But because there has been an immediate interest this year from some zines, I want to give the winners the opportunity to consider whether to publish their stories here or elsewhere.

Publishing in a quality zine rather than on my blog could be a boost to the story and author. But there are many zines that will not republish, they want only original stories. So although I know several folks are anxious to read the winning stories, hang on to your patience while the authors try to sort out what's best for them and their stories.

Watery Grave Winners for 2012!

It's been far too long since I posted. But at least now I have something worth posting: The winners in this years Watery Grave Invitational. But first, let me blab a bit. Your three judges this year were J. Kingston Pierce (The Rap Sheet); Elizabeth A. White (The Book Review Blog); and Patricia Abbott (author and blog: pattinase). Each of them proved to be, as expected, diligent and attentive to the task before them. I cannot thank them sufficiently for the time and effort they expended, and I'll be very surprised if any of them volunteer again!

I can honestly say that the judging for this contest has never before been so difficult. To illustrate how tough it was for these three judges, each of whom is more than qualified for the job, to reach a consensus, NOT ONE story made all three of the judges' top five lists. There are five to fifteen possibilities for those initial top five lists,  and the judges named 11 stories. Getting to an agreement on just five stories, and the order of those five, was daunting. Our Congress should be so good and graceful at compromise. BTW, Elizabeth has reminded me that I should tell you that the judging was blind. The stories came to me first and I stripped the identifiers, both public and hidden, from the stories before sending them on to the judges, who were anonymous until this announcement.

Enough sympathy for the judges already.  All you care about is who won, right? My congratulations to the winners. And to everyone who participated, my sincere thanks for making this year's contest so very competitive. You can all be proud of your work.

For the first time, the WGI has a repeat winner. Chris La Tray won last year and duplicates his success this year.

1st Prize: GENNY BOW by Chris LaTray ($50 & a bye into the next WGI)

2nd Prize: FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK by Mike Wilkerson ($35 & a bye into the next WGI)

3rd Prize: THE DROWNING OF JEREMIAH FISHFINGER by Ian Ayris ($20 & a bye into the next WGI)

4th Place: TWO KILOGRAMS OF SOUL by Keith Rawson (A bye into the next WGI)

5th Place: ABOLITION OF MIDNIGHT by John Higgins (A bye into the next WGI)

Congratulations once more to the winners. And to everyone who participated, my sincere thanks. Without all of you, there is no WGI. The other entries in the contest were:

Badge of Honor - Fiona Glass
Bleeding Lipstick - Fiona Johnson
Family Secrets - Eric Beetner
Forgotten - Jen Conley
Karma - Albert Tucher
Scorpion - Matthew Funk
Swallow - Chad Eagleton
The Amateurs - Chad Rohrbacher
The Blue Danube Waltz - Nigel Bird
The Devil's Shinbone - Benoit Lelievre
The Haves and Have Knots - Sandra Seamans
The Safe Job - Kathleen A. Ryan
The Scene Of the Crime - Frederick Zackel
The Temperature At Which Love Freezes - Katherine Tomlinson
Train - Thomas Pluck

May 21, 2012

WGI update: mea culpa!

Due to an error on my part there will be one more contestant in this year's WGI.  I inadvertently announced on Twitter that Fiona was one of the invitees this year (I thought I was announcing Fiona Glass's name), thus raising false hopes. I decided that the only way to make it right was to make it true. So make welcome if you would, Fiona Johnson.

May 20, 2012

Recent reads

Catching up (as usual)...

THE LOCK ARTIST (Steve Hamilton) was in my TBR stack prior to publication. With all the hoopla and awards, one would think I would have read it sooner. Just as well I didn't, as the story didn't capture me as thoroughly as it did the Edgar Award committee. The story revolves around a mute teen boy, Michael, with a skill for lock-picking and safe-cracking. The prose pretty much lies flat except in one or two places, and though much is made about the circumstances that rendered our hero mute, those circumstances had little to do with the plot. The passages that detail lock-picking and safe-cracking are certainly interesting, but the teen love story dropped the suspension on my disbelief.

THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X (Keigo Higashino) was a much more interesting book, though again the prose sometimes felt off-key or a-kilter. I don't like to automatically blame the translator though; it could be the author's doing. Nevertheless the story is a wonderful cat-and-mouse tale of psychology as well as being a story of unrequited love. When Yasuko and her daughter inadvertently kill Yasuko's abusive ex-husband, a neighbor, Ishigami, weaves a complex web of protection around her. Ishigami is a math genius who proves to have a talent for real-life applications. But his foe turns out not to be the detective investigating the case, but an old college friend and physicist, another very bright thinker. Though there is a plot twist at the end that crushed the beauty of the tale rather than enhancing it, it's wonderful to watch two labyrinthine minds contest Yasuko's fate.

A KILLING WINTER (Wayne Arthurson) is the follow-up to the author's 2011 debut, FALL FROM GRACE. Newspaper reporter Leo DesRoches is exploring the world of Edmonton's homeless when one of his contacts, a Native street kid, goes missing. The search for the boy takes Leo into the violent world of Native street gangs, all the while Leo must deal with his own gambling addiction. The author has eliminated the expository passages that revealed his journalism background in the previous book, but the overall story arc staggers, though does not collapse, in the final third of the book. The ending is saved by a surprising scene as Leo's past sins appear to be catching up with him. It's a manipulative device, some might say, to get readers like me to buy the next book, but I would do that anyway. I like the character of Leo, I want to know his fate. And it's clear that the author has worked to improve his skills from book to book.

AS THE CROW FLIES is the latest novel in Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series. As with all of the books in this series, what's not to like? Walt and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, witness a woman's fall from a cliff. Or was it a fall? The book is filled with well-defined, complex characters and Johnson's trademark Western humor. If you're unfamiliar with Johnson's novels, you don't have to start at the beginning (THE COLD DISH) but the truth is, you'll be cheating yourself if you don't.

Darrell James makes his debut as a novelist with NAZARETH CHILD. And a terrific opener it is, too. James has created a smart, modern heroine in Del Shannon, a Tucson field operative with a reputation for being able to find anyone, anywhere. The only person Del has never been able to locate, or even learn her name, is her mother. Until one day the FBI comes calling, and Del learns she has inherited a house right in the middle of Nazareth Child, Kentucky, a town run by a religious zealot named Silas Rule. Silas has more on his mind than saving souls though, and the FBI wants Del to find out what. I see the term "best-seller" all over James's future.

I could, maybe even should write an entire blog post about William Goldman's first novel, THE TEMPLE OF GOLD. First published in 1957, the book is a fitting start for the man who would later write MARATHON MAN, MAGIC, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and the screenplay for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Technically this book is a re-read for me, but I first read it around 1968 and I remembered little about it save the names of the main characters and that I liked it. And after reading it I now know why I was never enamored of CATCHER IN THE RYE. Holden Caulfield was never as funny, as interesting, or as male as Raymond Euripides Trevitt. Ray's coming of age story takes a bit longer than many such, as Goldman skillfully guides Ray through the teen years, the Army, and married life.

This must be the month that I re-discover Goldman's work. I was hoping to re-read his SOLDIER IN THE RAIN when TCM aired the film version this past week. A Steve McQueen film I had never seen, and based on a Goldman novel I enjoyed (although the screenplay was co-written by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin)? Oh, yeah. I'm there, I'm right there. And what a satisfying film it is, too. McQueen's none-too-bright Eustis Clay's friendship with Gleason's beautifully underplayed and erudite Maxwell Slaughter works a treat. Gleason was never better. ("Let me tell you something, my friend: being a fat narcissist isn't easy.") I'll be watching it again soon.

And of course I wouldn't dream of skipping the latest episode in John Sandford's Lucas Davenport series, STOLEN PREY. No one can accuse the author of shortchanging the reader on pace, tension, action and body count. This time around Lucas is after money launderers, hackers, thieves, and a trio of hit men for a Mexican cartel. It's a tough job for Lucas and his pals but a fine old time for the reader.

May 18, 2012

'They hath the drowning mark upon them...'

(With apologies to Shakespeare and Théodore Géricault.) 

And so we now have a raft of 20 invitees for this year's Watery Grave contest. Before I break the happy news about the lucky ten whose names erupted from the lottery hat, a word about the judges. We are so, so fortunate this year to have three volunteers for the panel, but even more fortunate that each one of the judges comes with stellar credentials for the task at hand. No, I won't tell you who they are yet, anonymity being the soul of integrity as it were. I'm just saying to all of you invitees, bring your A game, a'right?

Okay, so that's that. There were six invitees participating who received an automatic bid due to where their stories placed in last year's contest, and there are five writers who received the solid gold, once in a lifetime personal invitation. Ten out of those eleven writers are even now sweating drops of blood over their respective keyboards. Those ten writers are:

Chris La Tray
Eric Beetner
Chad Eagleton
Ian Ayris
Nigel Bird
Matthew Funk
Sandra Seamans
Chad Rohrbacher
Fiona Glass
Kathleen Gernert Ryan

And now for the lucky ten who received the remaining invitations, in the order their names came out of the hat:

A reminder to the invitees that there is no theme this year. Just start writing and give the judges a great original crime story of 3500 words or fewer. A piece of advice: check and double-check your work. Triple check it. Read it aloud to yourself to aid in catching errors, because we will not edit or proof your stories, and what a shame it would be to lose because the judges couldn't understand whether you meant "the man had a gun" or "the man had a gut."

Please email your stories to me no later than NOON, EST, FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2012, at beauvallet@aol.com. I can open pretty much any type of text file, so use whatever software and format you like. And...

GOOD LUCK TO EACH OF YOU!

May 15, 2012

WGI-4 Update

I'm delighted to see the applications rolling in for the ten open invitations for this year's Watery Grave Invitational. There's a wonderful mix of writers whose work I follow and writers I've not read for a while and writers altogether new to me. Here are the authors & stories (so far) vying for those ten invitations:

 And not just a mix of authors, but a fine selection of sources as well:
Two stories from Beat To a Pulp
Two from Shotgun Honey
Four from Flash Fiction Offensive
Two from A Twist of Noir
One from Grift Magazine
One from Spinetingler Magazine
One from Powder Burn Flash
One from a published anthology, Off the Record
And one from an author's own website.
And of the automatic and personal invitees, these fine writers have opted in to the competition:
Chris La Tray
Eric Beetner
Chad Eagleton
Ian Ayris
Nigel Bird
Matthew Funk
Sandra Seamans
Chad Rohrbacher
Fiona Glass
Kathleen Gernert Ryan

Only another 48 hours or so to submit your own application/story. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, click here for all the details. And good luck to each of the applicants! Remember, it was an applicant, Chris La Tray, who won first place last year.

May 12, 2012

If it's spring, it must be WGI time!

Update: Link to the applicants' stories are being posted at the top of the rightmost sidebar.

Yes, time once again for that Challenge of Challenges! Time to sharpen your quills and open the inkwell. This is your official announcement of the fourth annual Watery Grave Invitational Short Story Contest. Fourth! Has it really been a year since Chris La Tray took the honors with his wonderful Run For the Roses? The calendar says yes, so like poor old Michael Finnegan, let's begin again.

(Photo, above, courtesy of Toledo Perspectives.)

As ever, there may be some minor rule changes so please read the rules carefully, even if you participated last year. Before I get into the rules though, I want to remind everyone that according to last year's rules, the top five contestants from that contest each get an automatic invitation without any further requirements. Well, we had a tie for fifth place last year, so six writers will get automatic invitations. And they are:
Chris La Tray (accepted)
Eric Beetner  (accepted)
Chad Eagleton (accepted)
Ian Ayris (accepted)
Patricia Abbott (declined)
Nigel Bird (accepted)
In addition to those six writers, personal invitations will go to five writers of my choosing before the competition for the remaining ten invitations. Note: writers who get these personal invitations will only ever receive one of these. They may win automatic invitations via the rules, but a personal invitation will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, whether the invitation is accepted or declined.

Here are the five writers who will receive a personal invitation today:
Sandra Seamans (accepted)
Matthew Funk (accepted)
Chad Rohrbacher (accepted)
Fiona Glass (accepted)
Kathleen Gernert Ryan (accepted)

And now, THE RULES for the rest of you who want to play:

Phase One: Apply for an invitation.
In order to apply for an invitation the author must have a crime fiction story of no more than 3000 words already published in any format that is available for the public to read. Web, print, digital (e.g. Smashwords, Kindle, etc.) -- they all qualify. Your story posted on your own blog does qualify.

The story must have been published between April 16, 2011 and April 15, 2012.

Email a link to your story (the link must connect to the online posting of your story) to beauvallet@aol.com no later than 9 pm EST, Thursday, May 17, 2012. For authors whose work is in print or digital format, please email the story in the file format of your choice. The subject line should simply say FICTION SUBMISSION, and the body of the email should contain only your name, the name of your story, and the link to your story or the file attachment with the publication identified. Do not send original, unpublished material unless and until you are invited to do so.

An author may submit only one story. Not one at a time, just one. So choose your best work, as long as it doesn't exceed 3000 words, because you only get one shot at an invitation.
Phase Two: Invitations issued.
If I like your story and style, your name goes into a hat from which I'll do the drawing. Ten lucky writers will join the eleven writers named above in receiving an invitation to write an original story (unpublished anywhere, ever) for the contest. As Corey wrote in his original rules, "you won't know whether your name went in the hat to be randomly chosen. You could have the written the finest story on the web to date and still have Lady Luck give you the cold shoulder. So if you don't get an invitation, don't assume I didn't like your story." Whether you receive an invitation or not, you will be notified.
Phase Three: Original Stories
Writers who receive and accept the invitation will have until noon EST, Friday, June 8, 2011, to submit an original crime fiction story of no more than 3500 words That's only about three weeks to write and polish a good short story, so clear your calendars and knuckle down.There will not be a theme this year, so if you feel lucky about your chances at an invitation, go ahead and start writing. I expect to announce the winners around June 25, or before the end of June at least.
Prizes (sorry, the same as last year):
1st Prize: $50
2nd Prize: $35
3rd Prize: $20
Other notes:

If any of the ten authors who received an automatic or a personal invitation declines to participate, no replacement will be named. However, if any of the ten authors invited via the Phase Two (the drawing) process declines to participate then a new name will be drawn as a replacement. There will not be fewer than ten authors in the final phase of the competition, and not more than 21.

The top five finalists in this year's contest will again receive automatic invitations to the 2013 WGI.
Everybody ready? On your mark... Get set. GO!

April 25, 2012

Quick picks!

I'm long overdue on giving DEAD HARVEST some much-deserved love. Author Chris F. Holm has taken death out of the hands of zombies and put it back where it belongs: with angels and demons. This highly original tale of a Charonesque character, Sam Thornton, who collects the souls of the newly dead-and-damned is spun inside out when one of the "damned" turns out to have the purest soul Sam has ever encountered. Convinced that his bosses have erred (they don't -- not ever), Sam determines to keep the girl alive whatever the cost. And with both angels and demons on Sam's trail, the cost will be, uh, sky high. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) For more eloquent takes on this terrific debut novel, check out the reviews at LightSaber Rattling, The Debut Review, and Dark Central Station. Or if you think I named only the good reviews, you can Google the book yourself and see a whole host of reviewers who liked the book as much as I did. Book two, THE WRONG GOODBYE (and I love the word play of the titles giving homage to Dash Hammett and Raymond Chandler) will be released in October, 2012.


Dave Zeltserman's talent is not only prodigious, it's prolific. THE HUNTED and THE DAME are a pair of novellas (Kindle format only) in what may well turn out to be a longer series of such. The protagonist is a hit man who attempts to part ways with his employer: the Federal government. Like the mob, the Feds don't really just let you walk away when you know too much. And from there springs the action, and if you're at all familiar with Zeltserman's work, you're familiar with how he can spin that action in unpredictable ways. The main character, Dan Willis, is a nod to Donald E.Westlake's amoral Parker, and the novellas themselves read like the men's action series of the 1970s (think THE DESTROYER and THE EXECUTIONER series). The novellas may not be classic lit in the sense of Zeltserman's riveting novel, THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD, or noir like his superb man-out-of-prison trilogy (SMALL CRIMES, PARIAH, KILLER), but they are a lot of fun. Hey, not only do I love Westlake's Parker but I'm a fan of Remo Williams, too. Count me in.



Earl Emerson recently released the first of his Mac Fontana series, BLACK HEARTS AND SLOW DANCING, in ebook form. Seemed as good an excuse as any to re-read a book I remember enjoying immensely, but read so long ago that the details had vanished from the ether of my memory. Now I'm kicking myself for not having re-read the series before now, because these books are flat-out terrific. After renewing my acquaintance with Mac in the first book, I jumped right into the other Fontana books, although they are not yet available in ebook format (though the author has plans to rectify that this summer.) I just finished MORONS AND MADMEN, third in the series, a book which is stellar on so many levels that -- wait, I'm supposed to be talking about a different book. I'll get back to you on M AND M when the ebook is released.) Okay, as for BLACK HEARTS AND SLOW DANCING:

The small town of Staircase, Washington, recently hired Mac Fontana as its new Fire Chief, a job for which Mac is perfectly qualified. And while he may not have the perfect qualifications to temporarily fill in for the Police Chief (who may be a trifle, uh, bugnuts), he gets sucked into that job anyway, and just in time for a truly nasty murder. A Seattle firefighter is found tortured and mutilated in the woods, and the search for his killer will lead Mac back to an urban landscape as dangerous as any fire. Mac Fontana is very much a man's man kind of character. There's no backing down in Mac's nature, which makes me think he'd get along great with Joe Pike. But along with highly intense action scenes (there is a scene in which Mac is left to die in an oil tank, one of the most frighteningly realistic scenes I've ever read; and the action-packed finale is better than anything Hollywood has pulled off in the DIE HARD series), the author deftly infuses the story with humor, realism, and well-rounded characters. This is a series that deserves to be (re-)discovered.