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

December 22, 2009

THE NIGHT MEN by Keith Snyder

I'll just say it right up front, okay? I loved this book.

Why? Because you get three crime stories all neatly fitted one inside the other, just like a set of those Russian nesting dolls. And each story is worthwhile, scratch that, each story is terrific in its own right/write. (Shades of a John Lennon book title!)

The smallest, innermost story is told in the form of a crime novel called "The Night Men," very much an old pulp-style detective story, all about a man trying to save a mute child from the bad guys. Think Philip Marlowe, only tougher. Maybe Mickey Spillane stuff.

In the middle story, that novel is being read/shared by three teenage boys in Los Angeles. Each of these boys has in some way become severed from his family, either physically, emotionally or both.. The  three of them band together in a nightly watch to protect one of them from his violently anti-Semitic neighbors. The book becomes their road map to manhood: Everything they know about honor and manning up, they either know instinctively or they learn from this book's 'mean streets' character.

What happened to those boys is then recalled, bit by bit, in the outermost story when two of those boys, now adults, agree to keep watch all night in a Brooklyn music store that has been vandalized in what may have been a hate crime against the store's gay owners.

Snyder has crafted wonderful, fully realized characters here. They are bright and unique, even down to the minor characters, but the two leading characters, Jason and Robert, will have men everywhere recalling the angst of their teen years and the ultimate face-offs with their dads. Jason and Robert will also have women readers wanting to mother the intelligent, misunderstood, scared-but-brave boys they once were. The closest he comes to any kind of cliche is in the character of Thomas Carter, the protagonist of the pulp novel the boys are reading. It's easy to see that in those sections Snyder did not simply lapse into cliche, but instead faithfully wrote in the style he was imitating. It's as if the reader is witnessing three smart kids getting turned on to "I, the Jury." Or watching them as they begin to understand Sam Spade's dictate that when a man's partner is murdered, a man is supposed to do something about it.

As if these three stories aren't enough, Snyder also takes Jason and Robert on a magic-mushroom trip of an investigation into who vandalized the store, called the Magic Music Shop. Their journey takes them not only from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, but from contemporary times to the psychedelic '60s. And what's especially cool, is that Snyder gets it right. When he introduces a character from the heyday of psychedelia, it's not some buffoonish Cheech-and-Chong opportunity to poke fun at the hippies. That character is a real person, with his own history and presence and effect on the world he lives in.

You want more? Okay, as well as being a writer of no mean talent, Snyder is also a composer, and his Jason character is a musician. In a music shop, there's bound to be music, and even though this was not an audio book, Snyder made me hear Jason's music and made me appreciate those rare and special moments when a group of players fall into a zone where the art takes over and the music is a presence that creates and defines itself. Sort of like Snyder's writing.

Disclosure notice: I bought this book at retail. This is my opinion of the book. I don't get any money or gifts for saying what I think.  I guess I could never cut it as a Congressional representative.

December 17, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Boone Daniels divides his time between surfing and private investigating. He'd much rather be surfing full time but he has to work two cases, neither of which he wants: A buddy wants him to find out whether said buddy's wife is cheating on him; and Boone is also looking into the open-and-shut case against a spoiled rich kid who admits to killing one of the most admired men in San Diego and a personal hero to Boone and his surfer friends. It's the latter case that is costing Boone the trust and life-long friendships of the Dawn Patrol, the men who surf the early morning hours at Pacific Beach, but it's the former case that may cost Boone his life.

How many crime fiction authors can you name in relation to Southern California? Several, right? Several ranging to perhaps too damned many. Because after you've read Chandler, Crais, Connelly, and Parker, where are you going to find a writer who brings something new to the SoCal crime fiction genre?

Look no further than Don Winslow. Remember that name: Don Winslow. His name is probably the best kept secret in crime fiction, and that's a damned shame.

One of the things that Winslow does differently than those other very talented writers is to place his protagonist in a world of close-knit friends. How is that different, you ask? Well, if Harry Bosch joined Facebook, how many friends would he have? That's right, zero. He's got loads of acquaintances, no friends.

How about Elvis Cole? Yeah, he's got Joe Pike and Lou Poitras. Exactly two friends; you wouldn't really call Lucille Chenier a friend to Elvis, would you? And heaven knows Phil Marlowe wasn't tripping over friends every time he left the office, while Parker's latest cop lead, Charlie Hood, doesn't exactly have a posse either.

But Boone Daniels has many friends. For starters, he has the entire Dawn Patrol, a half-dozen or so guys who surf together, hang out together, and have each other's back come what may. Right up until Boone starts working for Corey Blasingame's defense lawyer. Corey didn't kill just anybody, he killed a guy who was a surfing legend. Killed him for no reason and confessed. There are witnesses: Corey's fellow gang members and a couple of bystanders. Everyone says Corey did it. Hell, Corey, a budding neo-Nazi, says he did it. But Boone doesn't buy it, he thinks Corey has neither the guts nor the physicality to have committed the crime, and he begins to dig into Corey's life.

And this is the one thing that all of Boone's friends cannot and will not accept. By even trying to find mitigating circumstances for Corey, Boone has betrayed his friends, the community, and worst of all, the victim. Because the victim wasn't just one of them, the surfing crowd, he was the best of them. Best on the board and the best in life. Not only that, but if Boone does find anything the cops missed, it's probably going to put paid to any career hopes that Johnny Banzai, Boone's oldest and best friend, has in the police department.

This falling out among friends couldn't come at a worse time for Boone, as his other case, the marital infidelity case, erupts in murder and Boone is on the spot for it, either as the trigger-man or as an accessory to murder.

And it is this complex overlay of work and friendships that is one of the major points of difference between this book and most other SoCal crime fiction. The only other book I know that thoroughly works this particular complication is Crais's LA Requiem, and if a book can stand comparison to that particular classic then you know you've got your mitts on one heckuva story.

Add in that Winslow knows surf jargon and uses it judiciously; add in a sense of humor that leavens the darker sides of this story (Boone trying to decide how to dress for what may or may not be a booty call is hilarious); add in minor characters with major story effects; add in the maturation of the lead character without losing any sense of what that character has always been about; add in that Winslow writes in an unpretentious yet unabashedly masculine style that never crosses the line into buffoonery; add in well-executed pace and tension, and the sum total is a terrific story that will get its hooks into you and cause you to grieve, as Boone does, for the deteriorating world not only of the surfers but of everyone who ever lived by a code of honor and respect. Say adios to Moondoggie and Gidget; the skinheads have staked a claim to the beaches. And what land the skinheads aren't fighting over has already been forfeited to the real estate developers. What Winslow says about that latter group and their hand-in-glove corruption with local officials, well, he may not be saying anything new but he sure says it with force and conviction.

I have to address one last crime in regard to this book. The last time I checked, The Gentlemen's Hour was not available for purchase in the US, and won't be until 2011. Now that's criminal. Try the UK if you don't want to or can't afford to wait that long. And the only positive thing I can say about the idiocy of waiting so long for a US release is that it gives unaware readers a chance to pick up the first of Winslow's Boone Daniels books, The Dawn Patrol. Good as that book is, it is but an appetizer for the reading feast that is The Gentlemen's Hour.

(For those who might be interested, Dick Adler has a recent post at The Rap Sheet that has some interesting info about what Winslow is up to these days.)

Disclosure notice: A copy of this book was loaned to me by a friend. I get no remuneration from writing about this book. But if the enjoyment I received from reading this book could be translated into dollars, I'd be as rich as any of those Wall Street fat cats.

December 9, 2009

THE BLACK PATH by Asa Larsson

The body of a woman has been found in an ice-fishing hut in Sweden. No one knows who she is, so it's difficult to determine who might have tortured and stabbed her. Prosecutor Rebecca Martinsson is trying to piece her life and her sanity back together after nearly being murdered herself, but she jumps eagerly into another murder case. If this summary sounds a bit disjointed, consider it a reflection of the book.

The Black Path has atmosphere to spare, a hallmark of Swedish crime fic, and the characters are thoroughly developed. When I say thoroughly I mean to the point that the details of every character's life, past and present, drag the pace down to NASCAR (National Association of Snail Crawling and Roundaboutation) speed. Larsson doesn't appear to have that rare gift of limning characters in short, swift indelible strokes; instead they are all illustrated at Tolstoyesque length, from the moment of tragic birth through collegiate peccadilloes. The reader comes to know all of the characters and to understand their motivations, and yet when the book is closed, none of them linger in the mind.

The POV is constantly shifting from one character to another, and some authors do this so well they make it look easy. Larsson isn't bad at writing those transitions, but although the characters have widely differing upbringings and motives and flaws, they none of them seem to have individual voices. They all talk and walk the same, and in the end they all become one anonymous blur.

The motivations for murder, having to do with intricate corporate finances and overseas mining ventures and funding third-world revolutions, make for an interesting premise but the execution is delivered with too much exposition, making it all fairly colorless. An unlikely blood bath as the climax combined with what seemed a brief and pointless interjection of romance at novel's end, all left me unmoved. If that was the light at the end of a dark Swedish winter, I'd just as soon save on the electric bill.

From the first page, I was made to feel that I would have benefited by having read the prior books in order to understand some of the dynamics between recurring characters. The plot gets doled out just a bit in the opening pages and then en masse near the end, while in between is mostly the characters moaning on about how rough each has it or has had it, or what the problem is with the other characters. Tension sags and then falls away completely when the plot is exposed more through exposition than through dialogue or action. The revelation of incest comes across as ho-hum. Even in the action scene at the end, there is a regrettable lack of tension and a little too much built-in coincidence.

On the plus side, the author doesn't get overly graphic with the murder and torture, but at the same time the reader never develops an empathy with the murder victim or what she endured, nor with the two women - cop and prosecutor - who lead the investigation. And neither the cop nor prosecutor develops that empathy, being instead pretty much consumed by their own interior lives. A far cry, this, from the Harry Bosch mantra that "everybody counts or no one does."

The story takes place in a cold climate and leaves the reader feeling those icy temps but, paradoxically, with no hint of a chill.

I'm supposed to add a disclosure notice to pacify the Feds. Okay, here goes. I bought this book with my own money. I'm not making any money or getting anything in return for either promoting it or dissing it. Life sucks that way.

December 2, 2009


Print the Legend by Craig McDonald
Minotaur Books
February, 2010
ISBN 978-0-312-55437-8

1965. In Ketchum, Idaho, the last residence of Ernest Hemingway, a perfect storm is brewing. A conference of Hemingway scholars has descended on the small town, each of them frenetically eager to espouse and gain support for his own opinions on Hemingway's work, his life and especially his death. Among the scholars are Professor Richard Paulson and his pregnant wife, Hannah, a budding writer. The alcoholic Paulson has somehow gained the inside track to write a book with the widow, Mary Hemingway. Paulson, whose career is in a slump, believes Mary killed her husband and he will do anything to secure a confession from her and get his hands on the treasure trove of unpublished papers Hemingway left to Mary. But Mary has her own agenda, and Paulson's wife is on it. And she guards her late husband's work with murderous tenacity. But there are more sinister forces at work than a pack of self-absorbed, backstabbing Papa-wannabes. Hannah is certain that she and Richard are being followed. The Hemingway house is overflowing with wiretaps and listening devices, courtesy of J. Edgar Hoover. A cold killer named Donovan Creedy is even more hellbent than the scholars to get his hands on the Hemingway papers and destroy all literary and popular respect for Hemingway. At the center of this perfect storm is Hemingway's long-time friend, Hector Lassiter. Lassiter has a clear mission in mind: Protect his late friend's legacy from the bastards who would destroy it, and while he's at it, he might as well make them pay.

REVIEW: I had a great deal of difficulty trying to review McDonald's last novel, Toros & Torsos, because of its scope, depth, style, and complex plot. Right up front, I'll tell you: the man hasn't missed a step in this third episode of the life and times of Hector Lassiter, the crime writer who "writes what he lives and lives what he writes."

Hector is 65 years old now, far beyond the years allowed for the generic fictional he-men of the 21st century. But Hector is a rare breed; he's "the last man standing of The Lost Generation." He's a man of letters who carries a Colt, a two-fisted intellectual, and age has not diminished him. McDonald stays true to the character we saw in the first two books while developing Hector further. Hector is still a romantic in some ways, but he's also learned a degree of caution in his more intimate relationships. His anger can still escape his control, and when that happens Hector's reaction is extreme. He will stare into the face of the American criminal justice system, with all of its power and minions, and not blink.

The character of Donovan Creedy bears a strong resemblance to the notorious E. Howard Hunt in that both are right-wing nuts, CIA/FBI shadow ops agents, and mediocre (at best) crime novelists. Creedy has a string of pulp novels to his name in this story, as did Hunt in real life. (Remember the scene in All the President's Men when Woodward and Bernstein found out Hunt wrote spy novels? That always struck me as something worthy of fiction, and McDonald has neatly taken care of that.)

Other characters such as Paulson, Hannah, Mary Hemingway, are all so deftly drawn that one feels that it would be entirely possible for any of them to show up on Larry King Live to defend their motivations. Hannah in particular is a fascinating creature, a short story writer and a keen observer, but she is also one of the several bazillion women who are much stronger than they realize, until they are put to a crucial test. Hannah passes her test of strength and character with flying colors, and in sharp contrast to how her husband, Mary, Creedy, and even Hector face their own trials. I'd love to tell you how Hannah did it, too, because she put McGyver to shame. He would never have thought of something so simple.

Action? Yep, there's plenty of that and plenty of suspense. There's murder and there's attempted murder. There are threats and there are warnings. There are the evil and the weak, the good and the strong, the selfless and the self-absorbed. There are illegal drugs. Plane crashes. Ambushes. Beatings. Even one orgy. For those who just want action and heroes and villains, you won't go wrong with this book. But you'd be cheating yourself if you didn't look even just a little deeper. There's a rich, liquid quality to this book, in characterization and in plot, that leaves me thirsting for more. And the historical facts used to frame and enhance the fiction are mesmerizing even without any help from the author.

As McDonald played his small surrealistic mind games in the text of Toros & Torsos, here again he has seamlessly blended fact and fiction until my head was in a whirl. I kept one hand on the book and one hand on Google while I was reading. While McDonald's text of Toros &Torsos is actually told in third person as it follows Hector over several decades, in Print the Legend, that book is being written by Hector (still in third person) about himself, treating biographical facts about himself as fiction. Okay, treating fictional biographical facts about himself as truth. No, as true fiction. I think. Do you see what I'm getting at here? McDonald writes it so that I know what he's doing but I can't even describe it. It's history and fiction tied up in one neat Möbius strip. When Hannah gets a sneak peek at Hector's manuscript, she is astounded that it "transcended any notions of genre writing."

Well, hell, Hannah, welcome to the club. I take pride (the I-told-you-so variety) in noting in my review of Toros & Torsos that the book 'exceeds and expands the genre.' Should I be wondering at this point if McDonald is Hector made flesh and reincarnated? In my haste to praise and deify McDonald's talent have I actually underestimated the caliber of his work? Can I get an amen, somebody?

Still don't believe me about the mind games? Well... In Print the Legend, one Hemingway scholar is observed to have stolen the title of his book from one of Bud Fiske's volumes of poetry. Don't know who Bud is? Google him; read his poetry. Better still, read Head Games, the first in the Hector Lassiter series, then read Bud's poetry.

Is it a coincidence that the spook following Lassiter around has the last name of Langley? Or that chapter 22 is titled Art in the Blood? When Creedy accuses Lassiter of "chasing post-modernism" by using himself as a character in one of his own books, one has to wonder what he would make of what McDonald is doing: biting post-modernism on the ass?

What really happened on that July morning in Idaho? The book ends with a delicious mixture of resolution and ambiguity. While studying the ripple effect of Hemingway's life and death, McDonald has created his own ripple effect. Long may he wave.

Disclosure notice: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher (or his agent) at no charge to me. The publisher (or his agent) neither stipulated nor received from me any promise that the book would be the subject of an endorsement or review, either positive or negative.

November 4, 2009


SYNOPSIS: When Frank Meyers, ex-mercenary turned husband-father-businessman-upstanding citizen, is murdered along with his wife and children in a home invasion, Joe Pike takes strong exception. The dead man had been one of Pike's men during his professional soldier days. And Meyer wasn't just another soldier; he was the one man all the other soldiers thought had a real chance at a normal life. And Frank was succeeding - or was he? Pike will do whatever he must to find and bring down the killers, and learn the truth about his friend.

REVIEW: Robert Crais has two persistent themes throughout his books: that people are rarely what they seem, and the nature of father-son relationships and their outcome. Both themes permeate this newest Joe Pike story. Matter of fact, they permeate Pike himself in this story. To provide more detail would be criminal, because as good as the first Joe Pike book (The Watchman) was - and it was a winner - The First Rule outclasses it in every way.


For starters, The Watchman was dominated by the action. Crais neatly layered in some very subtle touches about Pike's true character, but a first-time reader of his books might have overlooked the author's deft handling by being so focused on the action. While there is plenty of action in The First Rule, being the hunter this time around rather than the hunted allows more space to get inside Pike's head, to see what he sees, and to get some inkling of what he's feeling. For Pike is no violent automaton as some of his critics have charged, and there are things, events, people that can actually sway him from his chosen course. Pike, like so many of Crais's characters, is not always what he seems. And yet, Pike is always true to that part of his nature that Crais has revealed in previous books.

Secondly, because Pike's involvement in this case is personal right from the beginning, the reader develops an empathy with him and his mission. That was a little harder to do in The Watchman when Pike took the job of bodyguard solely to repay a favor and because the object of his protection was initially so unlikeable. But in this newest story, right from the time Pike learns of his friend's death, the reader discovers some of Pike's hidden nature. Don't get me wrong, this story never gets maudlin. (Pike would have to kill somebody if that happened, right, Mr. Crais?) But all along the way, as the search for the killers narrows and as new twists arise to confuse or thwart Pike's path to retribution, thin seemingly-contradictory layers of the Pike persona are revealed. No one doubts that Pike can, will, and does kill. That the reader can then also come to believe in his capacity for an exquisite tenderness is due to Crais's magical gift for characterization. And as a result, instead of a generic action-thriller with a cardboard superman, the story carries an emotional wallop that resonates long after the last gun is fired.

Fans of the John Chen and Carol Starkey characters may feel a little shortchanged by how little face time Chen gets with Pike, and Starkey has no presence at all. Chen always provides wonderful comic relief as well as assisting with evidence to help move the story forward. But Chen and Starkey shouldn't be missed much since Crais naturally and wisely brought back the Jon Stone character, another of Pike's merc buddies. Stone is a highly vocal, less disciplined and more obviously passionate guy than Pike, but that his skills are almost as deadly does not come into question. Stone's the kind of guy who could sip whisky and laugh at a dirty limerick while he's slicing out someone's gizzard. As for Elvis Cole, in the exchanges between Cole and Pike, we see Cole becoming more and more concerned about Joe's actions, because Joe - as all Pike fans know - is only concerned with what is right, not what is legal. And it's not that Cole cares so much about what's legal; he cares about Joe and the damage he could do to himself.

For readers wondering whether to try a Crais novel for the first time, certainly you should but don't start with The First Rule. That would be cheating yourself. To fully appreciate the character of Pike, his friendship with PI Elvis Cole, his stoic nature, and his lethal skills, start back at the beginning with The Monkey's Raincoat. For Crais's fans who've been keeping up to date with Elvis and Joe, open The First Rule and dive in head first. It's been a long, long wait for this book, but it's been worth it.

Disclosure notice: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher (or his agent) at no charge to me. The publisher (or his agent) neither stipulated nor received from me any promise that the book would be the subject of an endorsement or review, either positive or negative.

October 26, 2009

REVIEW: The Gift of Murder

The Gift of Murder: An Anthology of Holiday Crime Stories to Benefit Toys for Tots; John M. Floyd, Editor.
Wolfmont Press.
ISBN-13: 978-1-60364-010-7
Available now.

In plenty of time for the holiday season comes a welcome anthology of short, holiday-related crime fiction from some notable authors. This is the fourth annual anthology from Wolfmont Press. The proceeds from these anthologies benefit Toys for Tots.

Nothing too gruesome, nothing too saccharine, these stories combine to evoke the holiday spirit while still sending chills down the spine. From hardboiled detective angels ('Grace on the Case' by Sandra Seamans) to werewolves ('The Werewolf's Christmas' by Bill Crider) to murderous Kindles (yes, you read that right; 'The Kindle Did It' by Gail Farrelly), the stories entertain and occasionally move the reader, all the while keeping to a holiday theme (Christmas, Hannakuh, Kwanzaa). Other contributors whose names you may well recognize include Elizabeth Zelvin, Austin S. Camacho (of the Hannibal Jones PI series), Peg Herring -- I have to interrupt to say how much I enjoyed Herring's 'Gift of the Margi' because I've often wanted someone to give me the gift of killing off my enemies.

This is the perfect book for that harried, too-busy holiday season, when there's little time to devote to a novel but enough time between bouts of shopping, baking, and wrapping to devote to short crime fiction. And Barb Goffman's 'The Worst Noel' may even give you some criminal ideas about how to doctor that holiday baking so that this will be the last Christmas you have to deal with that one obnoxious relative...

And remember, all proceeds from the book benefit children who would otherwise have no toys at Christmas. Now THAT would be a crime.

Disclosure notice: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher (or his agent) at no charge to me. The publisher (or his agent) neither stipulated nor received from me any promise that the book would be the subject of an endorsement or review, either positive or negative.

October 21, 2009

REVIEW: TOKYO VICE by Jake Adelstein

As much as I am a fan of crime fiction, I am not a fan of true crime books. No doubt the problem lies deep within my psyche and my need for escape from reality. But having said as much, once I delved into Tokyo Vice, I was engrossed in Adelstein's personal story of life as a gaijin crime reporter in one of the world's great metropolises.

Adelstein begins his story with how he first came to be employed by the Yomiuri Shinbun, the most influential and respected newspaper in Japan. In doing so, he allows the reader to come up to speed along with him on cultural differences (never wear a black suit to a job interview in Japan) and also to become enlightened - or perhaps burdened is the correct word - as he learns the nature and depth of corruption in that most polite and courteous of civilizations. What's truly wonderful about this book is the very natural voice Adelstein uses to describe the 80-hour work weeks, the justice system, and the intense dedication and competition of investigative journalism in Tokyo. By natural, I mean that Adelstein's prose reads like he's talking to you, the reader, explaining and conversing instead of just transcribing notes.

And for every mobster, every monster, every depraved character the author encounters, he reveals something of his own nature, as every good writer must if his story is to find its way to the reader's heart. Because for every villain, there is a victim. The heartbreaking story around the disappearance of Lucie Blackman needs no purple prose, the kind often found in true crime tales, prose designed to titillate the reader's sense of horror. No, Adelstein tells the events of that case in good reportorial fashion, and the facts alone level a dramatic impact sufficient to wring our emotions.

Every good story, fact or fiction, has many layers, and Tokyo Vice has those layers. From cultural adaptation to an expose of crime, corruption, and social decadence, to personal moral and ethical dilemmas, Adelstein's story covers ten years of his life; ten years that made his life, in a world few Americans can ever hope to see or understand. And while the author is justifiably proud of his journalistic accomplishments, he does not even spare himself when it comes to getting the truth down on paper. Tokyo Vice isn't a book where the reporter goes home with a Pulitzer and writes his memoirs. It's a story where the reporter sits down, looks in a mirror and asks himself the really hard questions. And he won't always like the answers.
Disclosure notice: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher (or his agent) at no charge to me. The publisher (or his agent) neither stipulated nor received from me any promise that the book would be the subject of an endorsement or review, either positive or negative.

October 17, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Cal Rakowski is an auto mechanic, and a good one. He's young but he's suffered so much loss in his life that he just lives inside his boss's garage and tries to maintain a routine existence. But now he has a guest hiding out with him, a pregnant friend on the run from her rich, abusive husband. Cal's life suddenly becomes very complicated and non-routine when a beautiful assassin tries to kill Lebell, Cal's friend and co-worker, and Lebell disappears. The assassin and some other very nasty people, including the FBI, start thinking Cal may be able to help find him. With a lot of people looking for Cal, and not to help him, he suddenly has to start learning skills far more different, and deadly, than auto repair.

REVIEW: As thrillers go, I often become annoyed by the old premise of an innocent suddenly thrust into a world of intrigue and violence. That's because the author allows his innocent to make poor decisions that get other characters killed for the sake of moving the plot forward. I'm happy to say that Judson didn't do that to his readers in The Violet Hour.

Cal may be young, but he attacks trouble the way a good mechanic diagnoses engine trouble: He's organized, and he understands cause and effect. He plans accordingly, and adapts with his findings. The character of Cal is the linchpin for this story. Judson draws him as a sympathetic, somewhat repressed young man, and it is only when his friends are faced with danger that we see how much strength and resolve is in Cal. That might not come off as credible except that Judson also has drawn a careful back story for Cal's life, a story of unexpected loss and loneliness.

The pacing of the novel is wonderful, with rapid fire action scenes and moments of poignant characterization. No other character is as fully developed as Cal, but this is his story. The changes he undergoes as the action progresses are more profound and lasting - and maybe even a little scarier - than one usually finds in a thriller.

The weakest aspect to this book lies in the editing. In the early chapters there are some minor annoyances such as the use of "till" rather than "until" or "'til." Saying "upper-scale" rather than "up-scale." And too often using modifiers such as "nothing if not" or "no less than" when a more direct statement would be stronger. Small things like that, but they are frequent in the early going, almost as if there was a lack of confidence in the prose. But that's only in the first couple of chapters - or else I just got so sucked in by the rapidly evolving plot that I didn't notice the problems anymore.

Again, that's just quibbling on my part. The Violet Hour is an absorbing thriller, and it's easy to see why Judson has two Shamus Awards to his credit.

Disclosure notice: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher (or his agent) at no charge to me. The publisher (or his agent) neither stipulated nor received from me any promise that the book would be the subject of an endorsement or review, either positive or negative.

October 11, 2009

REVIEW: RIZZO'S WAR by Lou Manfredo

SYNOPSIS: NYPD Detective Mike McQueen has had his gold badge exactly three weeks when he is partnered with veteran Detective Joe Rizzo. Rizzo has a case clearance rate so outstanding that he is clearly the right guy to teach the younger man the ropes. A clearance rate so outstanding that he should have been promoted out of Brooklyn long ago. The partnership between the clean-cut newbie and the grizzled veteran has not fully solidified when they get an off-the-books assignment to find the runaway daughter of a city councilman. The daughter is not a minor, no crime has been committed, so how are two honest cops supposed to keep the investigation on the QT, get the mentally disturbed young woman back home, and not break any laws? Oh, wait. Maybe, just maybe, one - or both - of these detectives isn't as honest as he could be.

REVIEW: Okay, if you're looking for serial killers, gore, shoot-em-up-bang-bang action, go read a different book. If you're looking for a story with a complex web of moral and ethical dilemmas layered with gritty, tenacious police work, then open the pages and enjoy Lou Manfredo's debut novel.

The reader gets to know only two characters well, the wet-behind-the-ears McQueen and the wily Rizzo, and then we really only get to know them on the job. We see that they have private lives, but on the job is where they really live. Police work isn't what Rizzo does, it's what he is. McQueen has had a small taste of success, getting his detective badge via serendipity rather than getting it the old-fashioned way of earning it, and this has awakened his ambition to make it out of Brooklyn and into an office at One Police Plaza. Watching these two disparate men work toward a relationship of trust and understanding while coping, or trying to cope, with the constant moral and legal ambiguities of the job is really what this book is all about.

The structure of this book is an interesting one. Fully the first half of the book is episodic, as the two detectives tackle case after case: Burglary, assault, attempted rape, suicide. The reader is riding along, learning as McQueen learns: How to observe a crime scene, what crimes to expect - and when to expect them - in certain neighborhoods, that it's better to grant favors than ask them. Especially that last item. Rizzo holds markers all over the city, which is just as well because halfway through the book, when the detectives finally draw the no-win case involving the councilman's daughter, Rizzo is going to need every single favor he can swing, even from the likes of the Hell's Angels. And that still may not be enough to save his and McQueen's careers.

Manfredo plays no tricks on the reader. No time shifts, no alternating first-person POVs. The prose is straightforward, with dialogue that sounds like natural cop talk but avoids annoying and mystifying jargon. Thus it becomes very easy for the reader to slip into McQueen's or Rizzo's shoes and ask himself, 'What would I do if I were faced with these situations? What's the right thing to do?' And that's what young McQueen is always asking, both of himself and Rizzo: What's the right thing to do? And Rizzo's answer is consistent: There is no right, there is no wrong, there just is. Read this book and see if you agree with Rizzo.

Here is the author, at Otto Penzler's store in New York City, discussing the people who helped shape the novel and get it published:

Disclosure notice: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher (or his agent) at no charge to me. The publisher (or his agent) neither stipulated nor received from me any promise that the book would be the subject of an endorsement or review, either positive or negative.

October 1, 2009


SYNOPSIS: During the siege of Leningrad in January, 1942, two young men face a daunting task. In a city of starvation, they must find a dozen eggs so that a Russian colonel's beautiful daughter can have a cake for her wedding. They have five days to find and bring back the eggs, and if they fail, they will be shot by the police, NKVD. The search for eggs will bring them face to face with everything that is both good and evil in humankind, and they will test the truth of what they believe about themselves.

REVIEW:Set during a relentlessly grim time and place, one might expect the same to be true of the story. Instead, Benioff has crafted a coming-of-age adventure tale that is by turns poignant, charming, frightening, and enlightening.

The adventures are not wholly unpredictable but are made fresh by the delightfully developed characters. Lev, only 17 and the son of a poet who was himself 'disappeared' by the NKVD, was accused of looting. His companion on the search is Kolya, 20, a soldier in the army. Kolya was accused of desertion. The two young men met for the first time when they landed in jail. They are both guilty as charged and yet neither of them has a criminal bent. Lev, the Jewish narrator, has spent his whole life knowing himself to be a physical coward. Kolya may have wandered away from the Army, but he is fearless to the point of stupidity. Kolya is also possessed of good looks, charm, and some higher education.

The author never makes the mistake of minimizing the suffering of that time, he faces squarely the violence and degradation of a place where survival is moment to moment. Yet he also understands that even in the direst circumstances, people can retain their sense of humor and can have dreams that are go beyond the basic needs of food and shelter. Lev longs to lose his virginity. Kolya is planning to write a great Russian novel. Each must learn to trust and rely on the other for survival, and their often childish bickering serves to distract them from their hunger, cold and fear.

From the monsters hiding among normal people inside the city, to beautiful women prisoners and resistance fighters and Nazi death squads beyond the front lines, the search for eggs takes Lev and Kolya into the heart of darkness and the spirit of light.

City of Thieves is fine entertainment, and no one could regret time spent in Lev and Kolya's company. In the following excerpt, Lev and Kolya have met a boy who tells them a wild story about a man who keeps chickens on top of one of the buildings in the city. This awakens Kolya's scatological fascination.
"The old man can't stay in the coop all the time," I told the boy. "He has to get his rations. He has to get water and use the toilet. Someone would have grabbed the chickens months ago."

"He pisses off the roof. When it's coming out the other side, I don't know, maybe that's what he feeds the chickens."

Kolya nodded, impressed by the old man's clever means of keeping the birds alive, though I was convinced the kid was making this up as his lips moved.

"When was the last time you had a shit?" Kolya asked me, abruptly.

"I don't know. A week ago?"

"It's been nine days for me. I've been counting. Nine days! When it finally happens, I'll have a big party and invite the best-looking girls from the university."

"Invite the colonel's daughter."

"I will, absolutely. My shit party will be much better than this wedding she's planning."

"The new ration bread hurts coming out," said the curly-haired boy. "My father says it's all the cellulose they're putting in."

"Where do we find the old man with the chickens?"

"I don't know the address. If you walk toward Stachek Prospekt from the Narva Gate, you'll pass his building. There's a big poster of Zhdanov on the wall."

"There's a poster of Zhdanov on half the buildings in Piter," I said, getting a little irritated. "We're going to walk another three kilometers to find a bunch of chickens that don't exist?"

"The boy's not lying," said Kolya, patting the kid on his shoulder. "If he is, we'll come back here and break his fingers. He knows we're NKVD."

"You're not NKVD," said the boy.

Kolya pulled the colonel's letter from his coat pocket and slapped the boy's cheek with it.

"This is a letter from an NKVD colonel authorizing us to find eggs. What do you think about that?"

"You got another one from Stalin, authorizing you to wipe your ass?"

"He'll have to authorize me to shit first."

I didn't stay long enough to learn how the conversation ended.

September 28, 2009

REVIEW: PARIAH by Dave Zeltserman

In two days, Dave Zeltserman's Pariah hits the bookstores. As a reminder, and because I think this is a terrific book, I'm bringing to your attention this review I wrote last May.

After eight years in prison for a bank robbery he most definitely was part of, Kyle Nevin is a free man. Not on parole, not on probation. Free. Free to search out and destroy the mob boss who ratted him out and set him up for the ambush. Fueled by a consuming need for revenge, for status and instant wealth, Kyle plans to attain all of these through a kidnapping. Of Irish descent, Kyle should have applied Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will, especially when there's always someone willing to rat you out. Never mind. He's smart enough, strong enough, and more than ruthless enough to beat, shoot, burn or even charm his way through all the problems. Nothing stands in Kyle's way, certainly not any of the finer feelings. He has other tools: intimidation, manipulation, deception, and a blinding rage always ready to boil over into violence. With these tools, he can do anything he wants - except see himself for the monster he is.

REVIEW: This book just sucked the air right out of me. It's more than great noir. This book's got teeth that bite and claws that catch, and it's a masterpiece. If you're looking for a hero or even an anti-hero, you won't find one here. Kyle Nevin is pure, unwavering psychopath, and the most finely drawn such creature since Charles Willeford put Junior Frenger on paper. If Jim Thompson's Lou Ford and James Cagney's Cody Jarrett (White Heat, 1949) are watching somewhere from the halls of twisted fiction, they are pouring out their warped blessings on Kyle Nevin.

All of the characters are well-drawn, no mean feat since the story is told from Kyle's point of view. Getting past his self-absorption and lack of empathy for others to see real 3D characters should be a chore for any author, but Zeltserman uses another attribute of psychopathy to reveal and create empathy for Nevin's victims: Nevin's merciless exploitation of their personalities. Virtually everyone who comes in contact with him becomes his victim in one way or another. The way Kyle systematically takes apart his struggling brother's life is like watching a wreck on the highway: you don't want to look but you can't resist the compulsion. It would have been very easy to make Kyle almost an evil superman, as he is completely unlikeable and irredeemable, a kind of noirish Gary Stu, but the author wisely found and manipulated the cracks in Kyle's armor. He does have psychological weaknesses - his vanity, his need to control, a craving for power and adulation - that manifest themselves in the physical, but Zeltserman walked a fine tightrope here, making the character fully rounded without ever giving the reader any reason or opportunity to empathize with him. Unlike the Joe Denton character in Small Crimes (my review here) whose full character wasn't truly understood even by himself until the very end of the book, the reader has no doubt from early on just what sort of vile anti-human Kyle is. Kyle may have some idea of what he is but that will never be something that troubles him. Just don't let anyone else mention it.

The setting is primarily Boston and its Southie section, with some brief forays into other locales. More than any other novel I've read, Pariah comes closest, scarily so, to breathing life and death into the news stories I've read about mob boss Whitey Bulger and the culture of murder, drugs, suicide and silence so prevalent in Southie then and probably to a great degree even now. Cultures and organizations with such hardened rules don't just change overnight, it takes years to eradicate or even just shift the old mindset.

While the general plot as I've described it in the synopsis may sound like something you've read before, I have been careful, I hope, not to write any spoilers, because this story takes Kyle down a far stranger, and yet more realistic, road than that brief summary would indicate. The author has both imagination and cojones by the boatload. He not only tackles the Southie history and culture of crime and violence, but he manages some truly sharp stabs at the publishing industry, specifically those kinds of publishers willing to pay huge money to OJ for that If I Did It book, while rejecting worthy but unknown authors simply for being unknown. Along those lines, there is a scene between Kyle and a struggling writer that is priceless. But don't think the stabbing stops at the publishing industry; the satire also lacerates the American fascination with and reverence for celebrity criminals.

The structure of the book is generally linear, and the reader gets clued in on Kyle's backstory as naturally as if the two of you were having lunch and chatting casually. When the character is this complex, it's good to keep the structure simple, no time shifts, no POV shifts. And no flights of fanciful prose here, this is Kyle Nevin telling you his story and he's not real big on poetry. He's direct. Not necessarily straightforward but still direct. While Kyle is always on the verge of or actually engaged in violence, he never gets too lovingly involved in graphic details, lending credence to his cold indifference to others.

The pacing of the book is a remarkable accomplishment. Pariah is moved along not so much by pace or tension as by torque. Definition time: torque is a measure of how much a force acting on an object causes that object to rotate. Zeltserman has put his objects - Kyle and the other characters - in motion and applies varying amounts of force to them. In turn, they apply force to each other, especially Kyle, and everybody starts to spin, carom, collide. The closer the reader comes to getting at the core of Nevin's character, the greater the torque, until something has to give. I don't think I breathed for the last 30 pages of this story.

Ken Bruen has written an elegant paean to this book and I want to share just one sentence of that well-deserved song of praise: 'Pariah is all I know of bliss and lament... bliss at reading a superb novel and lament at knowing that Dave Zeltersman has now raised the bar so high, we're screwed.'

If you revere the dark tales of Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, add Dave Zeltserman's name to your list. I promise you that in years to come, when those first three names are mentioned, so will the fourth.

Pariah by Dave Zeltserman. Serpent's Tail, © October, 2009.
ISBN 9781846686436 (trade paperback), 273p.

August 20, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Former Hollywood bodyguard and now parolee Jimmy Boone is working as a bartender as well managing a small apartment complex, and generally just trying to keep his head down. No more bad decisions like the one that caused him to beat a man Jimmy incorrectly mistook for a child molester. Just stay squeaky clean and do nothing, nothing to violate his parole and get sent back to prison. When Robo, the bar's bouncer, asks Jimmy to tag along while Robo talks to an old man whose illegal immigrant son died of infected dog bites, Jimmy is supposed to do nothing but look like a cop. For $80, Jimmy figures he can do that. Jimmy didn't know his own curiosity and compassion would mix him up with drug-dealers, a crazed ex-stripper, a toothless pit bull, a no-nonsense ex-cop with a great figure, a dog-fighting ring, a desperate-to-make-a-score petty crime boss, and a whole bunch of counterfeit money. At times, going back to prison starts to look like a pretty good option.

REVIEW: Tell Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker to just shove over and make room for Richard Lange. When it comes to making the sprawling city of Los Angeles a character and not just a setting, Lange has done it here as well as anyone ever has. The streets of Hollywood and of South Central have never felt more sun-baked and alive with the scents and the scurrying of human activity.

Adding to the "you are there" atmosphere, Lange has populated his story with unforgettable characters, starting with a brief encounter with Oscar Rosales, a young man so filled with fear that he will not even seek treatment for his infected wounds. Lange doesn't just paint a desperate picture of Oscar's swan song, he gives you Oscar's dreams for the future and the motives that continue to drive him even through his fear. Every character has his own story and motives and mannerisms, and it is at the intersections of these people where the author seamlessly blends their personalities into actions.

Another example of the brilliance of Lange's characterization is the crime boss, Taggert. In lesser hands, Taggert would be just another example of a vicious, violent, no-holds-barred psychopath. Lange's deft touch maintains Taggert's base nature; he is despicable but he is also human, and though the reader never stoops to sympathy for him, Taggert's insecurity and his genuine affection for his girlfriend, Olivia, make him interesting and unpredictable. Olivia is even more unpredictable. She's clever and ambitious and she's pushing Taggert very hard to be made not just his sleeping partner, but also his business partner.

The story's pacing is remarkable. It's like climbing a steep hill, downshifting and and becoming more and more anxious about your vehicle making it to the top when suddenly you're there and then on the down slope, engine racing - and your friggin' brakes have failed. Like that.

If I have a quibble about this book, it is that the Chandleresque noir feel is almost undone by the unexpected hope extended to Jimmy at the story's end. But that's just me. I like an ending where everybody loses. I think most people will prefer Lange's ending. I'm looking forward to his next beginning.

August 18, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Twenty-seven Marines, housed in a Gothic mansion, are either mentally disturbed or they're faking it. When standard treatment fails to provide either progress or evidence, a new psychiatrist is brought in, Col. Hudson Kane. Kane's methods are unorthodox but at least he is gaining the inmates' trust. But Kane has his own issues, heavy baggage from his past. Can he resolve his problems without betraying the men who need his help?

REVIEW: I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Michael over at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer for sending this book to me. Published in 1978, it's a slender volume compared to today's novels, clocking in at a svelte 135 pages. That's good because I had to re-read it right away, that's how much I enjoyed this story.

Because the story is relatively brief, no words are wasted in an attempt to be lyrical or poetic. Yet somehow there are moments of utter poetry in the exchanges between doctor and patients, and in Kane's own introspective reasonings.

The hospital is populated with men who are well-educated, bright, witty, and pitifully disturbed, and they come at Kane over and over again with questions and challenges right out of left field. Most prominent is the unofficial leader of the men, astronaut Captain Billy Cutshaw -- imagine Hawkeye Pierce with a religious fixation -- but there's also Lt. David Reno, formerly a B-52 navigator, now busy adapting Shakespeare's plays for dogs; and there's also the hospital's medical officer for physical ailments, the presumably sane Dr. Fell, who claims he was misassigned, that he is a pediatrician. But the rapid fire banter between the patients and their minders is less like the sparring in M*A*S*H, and closer to, oh, say the verbal tennis match in Tom Stoppard's classic play, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It's okay for the reader to laugh, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't carefully weigh what is being said.

Amid the constant chaos of his characters, Blatty addresses issues of mistaken identity, faith and spirituality, and the nature of love and sacrifice. The story is tightly woven, deeply moving, and wonderfully thought-provoking. The ending is both reassuring and yet will tear the heart out of the reader.

In this excerpt, Dr. Kane has just arrived at the hospital and been shown to his office by the medical officer, Fell, when Billy Cutshaw interrupts them and begins testing the newcomer now in charge.
Kane heard heavy breathing. Cutshaw was standing inches away, his eyes staring madly, shining and wide. "Okay, now I'm ready for my ink-blot test," he said. He swooped to the chair, dragged it over to the desk, sat down, and looked expectant. "Come on, let's go."

"You want an ink-blot test?" asked Kane.

"What the hell, am I talking to myself? I want it now while you're fresh with all those roses in your cheeks."

Kane wiped his face with a handkerchief. "We have no Rorschach cards."

"Like hell. Take a look in the drawer," Cutshaw told him.

Kane pulled the desk drawer open and removed a stack of Rorschach cards. "Very well," he said, sliding into the chair behind the desk.

Fell ambled toward the desk to observe.

Kane held a Rorschach card up and the astronaut leaned his head in close, his eyes scrunched up in concentration as he studied the ink blot.

"What do you see?" asked Kane.

"My whole life rushing past me in an instant."


"Okay, okay, okay: I see a very old lady in funny clothes blowing poisoned darts at an elephant."

Kane replaced the card with another. "And this one?"

"Kafka talking to a bedbug."


"You're full of shit, do you know that?"

"I thought it was Kafka," Fell interjected, studying the card with interest.

"You wouldn't know Kafka from Bette Davis," Cutshaw accused him. "And you, you're a mental case," he told Kane.

"Yes, maybe I am."

Cutshaw rose and said, "Ingratiating bastard. Do you always play kiss-ass with the loonies?"


"I like you, Kane. You're regular."

Cutshaw tore the medal and chain from his neck and tossed them on the desk. "Here, take the medal. I'll take a book." He snatched How I Believe by Teilhard de Chardin.

"And now you'll be good for a week?" asked Kane.

"No. I'm an incorrigible liar." Cutshaw walked over to the door and threw it open with such force that again the crash loosened plaster from above. "May I go?" His voice had a childlike earnestness.

"Yes," said Kane.

"You're a very wise man, Van Helsing," said Cutshaw in an imitation of Dracula, "for one who has only lived one life." Then he loped out the door and disappeared from view.

July 30, 2009

REVIEW: SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
November 18, 2009 (US)

Prison guard Nick Glass is new to the job, and he's completely unsuited to it. He's an obvious mark for both the hardened cons and the veteran guards alike. When his wife and child are threatened, Nick agrees to do one favor for the cons. Of course, one favor turns into many and soon the pressure of trying to hold together and protect his family, as well as do his job, pushes Nick closer to his breaking point and a chain of events that no one, least of all Nick Glass, could have predicted.

REVIEW: After reading the synopsis, you may think you know what this book is about and you may even think you have some idea of how it will progress. You'd be dead wrong. In fact, this isn't even a prison story in the usual sense of that term. 'Slammer' isn't just about a physical prison; it's about all the prisons, external and internal, that confine a young man who suffers bullying and abuse and extortion. While some events occur within the prison where Nick works, Nick himself becomes the figurative prisoner of more forceful characters, and he's also a prisoner to those he loves. This is a dark jigsaw-puzzle of a book where mirrors and memories are not to be trusted anymore than Nick can trust the prisoners out to take advantage of his weaknesses.

Author Allan Guthrie does a staggering job of creating a Nick Glass who is irritating in his weakness but is also pitiable and likeable, a man as fragile as his name. Nick has murky depths beyond his primary character flaw, and Guthrie irrevocably adjusts, sometimes violently and sometimes indirectly, the lights and mirrors to reveal what's swimming in those depths. To say more would be to give away important elements of the story, and this book is too good to mistreat.

Adding to the vise-like pressure of Nick's situation are the claustrophobic scenes occurring either within the confines of the prison or the small house Nick shares with his wife and child. Nick becomes a black hole of pressure, where tension goes in but cannot be released. The author doesn't so much raise the level of tension as he compresses it around and into Nick personally, and the scenes begin to feel more and more confined until it's as if everything that is happening is entirely internal to Nick.

Readers should be prepared to give Nick's story full time and attention because events move quickly and there are time shifts. Casual references made early assume greater significance as the book progresses. Even so, expect moments of 'oh, I see!' mingled with sharp sadness. Nick Glass is an unforgettable protagonist and Guthrie has placed him in a darkly tragic, poignant, and ultimately satisfying psychological thriller.

July 26, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Ex-con Harry Rigby drives a cab, mules a small amount of grass, and now and again he acts as father figure to his young nephew, Ben. An odd kind of a father figure, because Harry killed his brother, Ben's father. That's how Harry got to be a con in the first place. When Harry delivers some grass to an acquaintance named Finn Hamilton, he's just in time to witness Finn's nine-floor swan dive. Suddenly everyone wants something from Harry: the cops, Finn's shyster lawyer and accompanying goon, Finn's sexually combustible mama and his more-than-a-smidgen dysfunctional sister with the long claws. For Harry, keeping himself alive while trying to get his hands on Finn's much sought after laptop and gun is one thing. Protecting the one person he loves most, that's a whole different problem.

REVIEW: I miss having a photo of a book jacket to post at the top left of my review. That's because there is no book jacket for The Big Empty. I'm sure the publishers put it down to the recession that they haven't found a place for this sharply funny, jaggedly violent tale of a man walking a tightrope above a twisty canyon of family deceit and dirty money. Whatever the reason, recession or otherwise, it's a shame. Declan Burke writes with a razor wit so fine that the reader feels the sting of a thousand cuts by the end of Harry's journey. (Burke is so incisive that if the man were writing political commentary instead of crime fiction, I would expect to see his column on the Op Ed pages of every major English language newspaper in existence.)

Burke creates a pallet of characters to root for or against, or even just to marvel at. The late Finn's femme fatale mother is a devious creature whose literary ancestry hearkens back to female characters produced by Raymond Chandler and Tennessee Williams. Solicitor Gillick, Finn's shyster, conjures up images of Orson Welles in 'Touch of Evil.' Ben is no cardboard child; he's a breath of fresh air, being both as smart and aware as only a 10-year-old can be, and at the same time as naive as one would expect (or at least hope for) from a child his age; slightly rebellious but still more obedient than he will be at fifteen. He's a kid you can love because he's genuine, being neither a plaster saint nor the demon seed. And that's true of Harry as well. The reader can believe in Harry as much for his failings as for his strengths. And when Harry has been pushed to his limits, when he finally is bent on payback, prefixing 'Dirty' to his name would not be a misnomer. He does some things I've myself wanted to do to a lawyer or two. And it doesn't hurt that Harry cracks wiser than Philip Marlowe.

The pace and tension ratchet up with every complication or obstacle Harry encounters. And the author wisely opted to give Harry enough native wit to parry and sort out the tightly knitted problems and mysteries rather than relying on chance or the one lone missing miracle clue that suddenly ties it all together. Life is not so neat as Jessica Fletcher would have her viewers believe. Some of the mysteries and puzzles may be solved by this story's end, but no one's life is ever going to be as it was, and some mysteries may never be solved. Beyond the wisecracking and the hot tempo, this book has a heart easily wounded. Harry Rigby is that heart. The reader, and Harry, are left in no doubt that where there are wounds, there will be scars.

Just a couple of my favorite lines from this book:
You know you've arrived when a lawyer-type says you lack even a shred of human decency, by the shred being how lawyer-types measure decency.

Kids should love their mothers and hate their fathers. It's in all the best Feng Shui books.

And I forgot to point out that Burke's imagery creates vivid mental scenes:
O'Neill Crescent lay on the outer fringe of the estate, a quiet left-hooking curve of semi-detached cardboard boxes which petered out just before the crumbing road tipped over into a shallow ditch, through which ran a muddy stream choked with shopping trolleys, tin cans, condoms and bicycle wheels. In the bare field beyond, three emaciated ponies snuffled for grazing among the blackened circles of dead bonfires and the rusting hulks of burnt-out cars.

Can it really be recession that's keeping a fast, witty work of crime fic like this off the bookstore shelves? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe Harry Rigby, or someone like him, should have a little talk with the publishers.

July 23, 2009

REVIEW: MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust

SYNOPSIS: Former video porn star and now the owner of an upscale adult modeling agency, Angel Dare gets bound, shot, dumped in a car trunk, and left for dead. And with no idea why. But she's going to find out why. And who. Oh, especially who.

REVIEW: Noir comes in all styles these days: Bleak, sleek, bold, gritty, detached, focussed, traditional, neo- and post- and so on. But you don't get much raunchy noir these days. Raunch fell out of fashion a while back, about same the time Mickey Spillane did. But books like Money Shot, by Christa Faust, make one remember when raunch was available on a metal rack down at the local drugstore (pre-CVS and Walgreen's world-conquering explosions); when a book like this one would have sat comfortably right next to William Goldman's Boys and Girls Together and just above some of those books for sale at Pop Sensation.

A bit raunchy (but not repellent), fast-paced, violent, occasionally funny, and a whiplash smart heroine - what lover of noir could ask for more? Angel Dare isn't the old 'whore with a heart of gold' stereotype. She's a woman who worked long and hard to acquire simple things like a home and business of her own. She's got determination and guts. She's also got a gun and she will use it. But that's nothing compared to what she can do with a roll of duct tape. Except that Angel has a touch of sentiment in her makeup, she would be a fitting mate to Westlake's Parker character. They both do 'getting even' really, really well.

Money Shot is a fast, fun read with terrific cover art. Tip o' the hat and many thanks to Michael for sending this book along to me.

July 18, 2009


SYNOPSIS: PI Lincoln Perry isn't happy about his latest client, a murderous ex-con who did 15 years in prison but has been free for the past 13 years. The client, Parker Harrison, wants Perry to find a woman named Alexandra Cantrell who, along with her husband, disappeared a year after Harrison was paroled into their care. Matters aren't helped when Perry finds out that his client has knowledge of the husband's death. Out of state cops, an inexperienced PI and an aging FBI agent all find their way to Perry's door, wanting answers Perry doesn't have and doesn't want to have, because among the many people beating a path to his door in Harrison's trail, is one Dominic Sanabria, a mobster of the old school and the brother of Alexandra Cantrell. Lincoln Perry is not stupid enough to try and cross Sanabria, and he wants out of this case fast. But everyone else seems determined to make him a player. People should be careful what they ask for.

REVIEW: There are so many things good and right about this book that it feels like quibbling to say that this is not Michael Koryta's best work. And yet it's something of a relief to know that he's as fallible as other writers.

What's good: Koryta continues to build and develop and mature Perry's character, and in the process makes this one of his most emotionally memorable books. Perry himself is fallible but he's lucky enough to have friends who will point out his flaws for the purpose of self-improvement, but who will also support him just because he is who he is, warts and all. Throughout this case, Perry finds himself trying to learn whether his work will define him or destroy him. Koryta never lets Perry off the hook; the consequences of his decisions affect not only Perry and his clients but also his friends, lover, and partner. The untried PI, Ken Merriman, and client Harrison also are characters of depth and interest and it is crucial that the reader sees them as such because without them, without the sympathetic nature of their problems and mysteries, the story would lack momentum.

That's where the not-so-good comes into play. Much -- a little too much, I think -- of the mystery is unraveled as Lincoln interviews people or studies files. The beginning of the book hooks the reader early on, with the mystery of the loving couple who disappeared from their eerily beautiful home, an otherworldly place that carries its own epitaph by the front door. In the last section of the book, Perry begins hooking all the clues together and the story gathers steam for its final (and almost only) action sequence. The middle section of the story, aptly titled Cold Trail Blues, is where the story sags. Raymond Chandler (I think it was he) once said something about when the story falters, have a man come in with a gun. In the middle section I kept waiting for a man to come in with a gun. Mostly what happens is Lincoln listens to a lot of reminiscences and tries to sort out truth from lies. The information in that mid-section is necessary to build the story, but the presentation lacks drive. The energy that ran through Envy the Night, Koryta's previous book, start to finish, is missing from the midsection of The Silent Hour.

And yet, having said that, the emotional wallop of this book is so powerful that it's easily worth the reader's patience to get the answers to all the mysteries; to understand the ripple effect, on people and across time, of one's decisions; to understand how it is often our weaknesses that inform our decisions instead of our strengths; and the never-good results of allowing one's work, however well-intentioned, to devour one's soul. No, this may not be Koryta's best work, but it's still pretty damned good, and will probably please most of his fans and garner some new ones as well.

Here's an excerpt, an exchange that takes place at Lincoln's home, between Lincoln and mobster Dominic Sanabria:
"Who hired you?"

I shook my head.

"You've been around," he said. "You understand that people can eventually be convinced to share information."

"I've also seen how stupid and wasteful all that convincing becomes when it doesn't produce any information of value. I've seen the problems that can arise as a result of the effort."

"You were a cop."

"I was."

"Cops tend to feel safe. Off-limits, protected. That sort of thing."

"I've been to a few police funerals. Enough to know better."

"Still you refuse me."

"The name can't help you, Mr. Sanabria. My client is a nobody.
Was a nobody."

"Maybe you like me," he said. "Maybe you like having me around, want me to drop in again. That must be it, because here you have a chance to send me away for good, and you're refusing that."

"I like you fine. You're terrific, trust me. Even so, I sure as shit don't want you around."

"You sound a little uneasy there."

"I am."

"You sound, maybe, even afraid," he said, and there was a bite in his voice. a taunt.

"I'm afraid of my own stupidity," I answered. "There are people I'd rather not be involved with, at any level, at any time. You are one of those people."

"That could be viewed as an insult."

"It should be viewed as a statement of fact. I don't want anything to do with you, and I don't know anything that can help you. Where we go from here, I guess you will decide and I'll deal with."

He nodded his head very slowly. "Yes. Yes, I guess I will decide."

Another pause, and then he got to his feet and walked toward me.

June 28, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Reclusive wildlife veterinarian Clara Benning receives an unusual request from a local doctor: review the postmortem of a man who is presumed to have died from a snakebite. The postmortem reveals a higher level of snake venom than was possible from the single bite the man had experienced, so she knows the man was in fact murdered. As homes in the village begin to be overrun with snakes, Clara finds herself searching for answers buried fifty years earlier when a church had burned and two men had died in the fire. When her own home is broken into and Clara finds herself face to face with a dead man, the search becomes a race for both life and truth.

REVIEW: I'm not supposed to prejudge a book but I really dragged my feet about reading this book because I thought it probably fell into one of two types of tales: A serial killer tale with graphic gore and not much more; or a supernatural tale of snakes, spirits, witches and (yawn) so forth.

Well, there's a reason you're supposed to read the book before judging it. I was so wrong. And I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to.

Awakening follows fairly closely in the gothic suspense tradition of Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney. (And if you're surprised that I'm familiar with those authors' works, I'll just say that I read voraciously as a child and our library branch was much, much smaller then.) The books are strong on mystery and suspense with just a modicum of romance for those who require it.

Clara Benning is a character with intelligence and determination. She is scarred both physically and mentally, and so is also self-obsessed. The title of the book speaks as much to her own personal awakening to the possibilities of living in the world with other humans as to the awakening of evil in her village.

The book is sprinkled with interesting information about snakes, snake handlers, and venoms. Bolton does a fine job of creating an English countryside that is calm and beautiful, wild and dangerous all at the same time. While the story sometimes has a little too much of what makes a story like this good - there's probably an optimum number of times the reader should fear for the heroine and it isn't the same number of times as the maximum - this book is no less enjoyable for that.

Bolton wrote her red-herrings and plot twists so carefully, with such candidness from her heroine, that one hardly notices how very unlikely some of the villain's actions are. In my case I chose to ignore those small things because I was having such a jolly good time racing around Dorset with Clara, rescuing mute swans and feeding barn owls while evading a gang of juvenile thugs, hiding in chalk mines, meeting up with a Steve Irwin-type of television herpetologist, house-breaking, ghost hunting, and generally doing some pretty good detective legwork.

You can read the prologue and entire first chapter of Awakening here I'll give you only the very beginning of the first chapter:
How did it all begin? Well, I suppose it would be the day I rescued a newborn baby from a poisonous snake, heard the news of my mother’s death and encountered my first ghost.

June 14, 2009


SYNOPSIS: Oslo's Detective Inspector Frank Frølich saves the lovely Elisabeth from getting caught in the crossfire during a police raid. A few weeks later he encounters her again and they begin a strange affair: secretive on her part, obsessive on his. One of Elisabeth's secrets is that she has a brother who is part of a known gang of robbers. When she provides an alibi for her brother and his gang on the night a young security guard was brutally murdered, even though she was in Frank's bed that night, Frank finds himself off the job and under suspicion. And still very much obsessed by Elisabeth. When she disappears after providing the alibi, Frank searches for her against all orders to stay away from the case. He's sure he's being used; his professional life is coming apart at the seams, but his obsession with this manipulative woman overrides his good sense. And his determination to get at the truth sets in motion a series of arsons, murders, and betrayals.

REVIEW: Author K.O. Dahl gets a lot of buzz about being Norway's answer to Henning Mankell. Truth is, Dahl doesn't need the comparison to another Scandinavian writer, however good, to be worthy of attention. Dahl has won Norway's Riverton Prize for Best Crime Novel, and it's easy to see why. The Fourth Man is a wonderfully intriguing psychological mystery, with plenty of complex twists and cryptic turns, overlaid with the fine sheen of noir.

The first few chapters, in which the affair between Frank and Elisabeth develops, are emotionally claustrophobic in the way Frank's deep sexual obsession rapidly overwhelms him and subjugates him to the point that he drops everything whenever Elisabeth sends him a one-word text message: 'Come!'

From the point of her disappearance though, the book becomes more of a police procedural. The relationship between Frank and his boss, Inspector Gunnarstranda, is developed through their dialogue, and it isn't the stereotypical love/hate relationship of so many cop/cop's boss characterizations. Frank and Gunnarstranda have a more nuanced, more balanced relationship. That may be because although this is Dahl's first book published in the USA, this book is farther along (fourth or fifth perhaps, I couldn't pinpoint it) in the Gunnarstranda/Frølich series, and the first in which Frank is the focal character.

What is interesting about Frank is that although at times his obsession appears to make him a weak man, it is also indicative of his willingness to exceed boundaries. At one point an embarrassed Frank goes to a strip bar for the first time in his life, showing the reader that he has restricted himself to living within certain social boundaries. But for Elisabeth's effect on him, Frank may never have known how willing he really is to not just think, but jump outside the box. On the occasions that Frank breaks the rules, he does so with breathtaking force and menace. Being rich and powerful is no protection from Frank. While he's no Dirty Harry (Frank doesn't even carry a gun), he certainly understands where Harry is coming from.

At one point Gunnarstranda pigeon-holes Frank's search for Elisabeth by using the old 'cherchez la femme' phrase. 'Cherchez la femme fatale' would have been more apt. Elisabeth has so many secrets from so many people that watching Frank begin to parse them is like watching him play with an unusual set of matryoshka dolls. The question is, will the last doll reveal the real Elisabeth? And will Frank ever find her, or is she lost to him forever?

Dahl has a deft touch with his prose, he's never offensively graphic with the violence or the sex. His descriptions don't get in the way of the action, but at the same time the writing is evocative and puts the reader on the scene. Here's a brief passage from Frank's first visit to a strip bar, where he's trying to find a woman who knows Elisabeth:
He scanned the audience. Stag party or not, these men were serious. Welcome to men's country, he thought, and looked up at the ceiling where he discovered a flashing disco ball the like of which he had not seen outside seventies John Travolta films. He looked at the faces in the room. Yes, he was in the arena of shadows, the hour of the rats, the wedding procession of the cockroaches: in this light all the faces were lent the same blue and yellow hue. This was a place where it didn't matter whether you were sick, healthy, Aryan, Indian, Chinese or just uncomfortable. This was the place where there was no room for reflection or appraisal, where lonely souls would reap pangs of guilt, bitterness, or self-contempt the following day - or another time, later anyway - for everyone here can deceive themselves for a few seconds that welfare is a fruit that grows out of your own wallet. The password of the void here was: 'Another drink, please.'

May 27, 2009

Pariah, Publishing and Patriots: An Interview With Dave Zeltserman

A whirlwind is about to sweep across the crime fiction landscape, and his name is Dave Zeltserman. Crime fiction fans should be prepared for the gale-force noir blowing out of Massachusetts at the speed of six books over the next two years, beginning with Pariah this October. Hollywood is calling Dave's name as well, what with 28 Minutes, as yet unpublished, having already had the film rights snapped up. And more Hollywood deals may be in the works even as I type this.

Did I say whirlwind? Make that Hurricane Dave. If you aren't familiar with his work yet, start reading it now. You're four books behind already and the deluge is about to begin.

Last January, I was thrilled by the purity of the noir in Zeltserman's Small Crimes, the story of an ex-cop / convicted felon just released from jail. Now Dave has a new book, a noir masterpiece called Pariah, set to hit the US in October, (the UK already has the book available for purchase here) in which Boston mobster Kyle Nevin is out of prison and looking for revenge on the mob boss who set him up. Pariah can be read strictly as noir, but Zeltserman goes one better by incorporating a scathing satire of the publishing industry. Kyle Nevin is a force of nature, he's not about to be stopped or swayed by the big New York publishing houses. That's something he and his author have in common.

I generally (okay, never) do author interviews, but this is one I felt compelled to ask for the privilege of doing. I know, that means nothing to most people, they don't care about me. But - when an author has the likes of Ken Bruen and Charlie Stella in his corner, you know the books are something very special indeed. So go get yourself a brewski, then sit back, relax, and enjoy the kick-ass, take-no-prisoners
candid directness of an immensely talented (and kung fu black belt) author at the top of his game, one who is heading for some well-deserved fame. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to host Dave Zeltserman:

Q: Dave, Pariah is your second book in what might be called a trilogy, books in which a convicted felon has just been freed from prison. Did you set out to create a trilogy from the start or were you exploring the possible avenues of development for such characters?

Dave: When I was publishing my crime fiction web-zine, Hardluck Stories, we did a lot of themed issues, and I always found the results interesting. When I started Pariah I thought it would be kind of cool to have it open the same as Small Crimes: a very dangerous man getting out of prison, except from there both protagonists end up going down different paths; with Small Crimes it’s a search for redemption, with Pariah, it’s for revenge and to reclaim former stature. When Serpent’s Tail made an offer for Pariah, I threw out a vague idea for Killer based very loosely on another Boston crime figure to make this a “man just out of prison” trilogy. What I really wanted was to have a book sold before writing it as opposed to trying to find a home afterwards. I really had no idea what I was going to do with Killer, but Serpent’s Tail bought it along with Pariah. It has since been written and I’m happy with how it came out, as is my publisher.

Q: You told me that you wrote Pariah before the OJ Simpson book hit the headlines. The irony of that incident must have staggered you because you lay out a scene in Pariah involving a struggling writer, a man who has an MFA and has spent three years writing his book and another 18 months finding an agent only to be told that while his book is good he's not a celebrity, a 'name,' so he won't get his work published. Meanwhile a guy who's never written more than a letter to an editor gets a six-figure, two book deal just because he's made headlines for doing some very bad things. Every unpublished writer must have experienced this kind of slap indirectly, but did you experience it directly?
Dave: The timing of the OJ Simpson story surrounding his “If I Did It” book was pretty bad. I don’t think any NY house would’ve had the balls to publish Pariah even without it, but that just about killed any chance of selling Pariah to NY since none of these houses were going to risk embarrassing the editor behind Simpson’s book, even if the similarities were a bizarre coincidence. Fortunately, Serpent’s Tail has plenty of balls, and I’m grateful to them for publishing Small Crimes and Pariah. About your question whether I’ve ever experienced that kind of slap, well, yeah, I’ve had more than my share of rejections. One of the driving forces pushing me to write Pariah was an anger at the NY publishing houses for just about all of them rejecting Small Crimes and 28 Minutes. What pushed me over the top was seeing books written by scumbag South Boston mobsters being released in early 2006, as well as Little Brown offering a Harvard student a $500K 2-book deal to write chick lit books, only to have her end up plagiarizing other chick lit books — with the offer clearly being made more because of what she had to offer as an attractive package as opposed to her writing abilities.

Q: The characters of Kyle Nevin in Pariah and Joe Denton in Small Crimes share some similar characteristics, yet the the two men are distinctly different. What is it that makes them so?

Dave: Both books and characters came about differently. With Small Crimes, I was inspired by a couple of different newspaper stories. One was about a cop who had committed a crime very similar to Joe Denton, then ended up serving a fairly light sentence in a county jail with a pension waiting for him when he was released. The other story was about this amazingly corrupt sheriff’s office near Denver in the '60s, how this sheriff and his men were robbing the stores blind that they were supposed to protect — in at least one case when they couldn’t pick the lock on the safe, they stole the safe right out of the store and loaded it on a pickup truck only to have it tumble out of the truck later as they’re driving away. From these stories I started playing a bunch of “what-if” games to figure out a scenario to explain how this cop got away with the light treatment that he did while adding into the mix an utterly corrupt sheriff’s office, and from there I saw what to me seemed like an exciting modern noir story involving a desperate search for redemption, and then fleshed out my main protagonist (Joe Denton) so it would all make sense.

Pariah came about completely differently. Like a lot of people in the Boston area, I’d spent years reading and hearing about Whitey Bulger. What made the story so fascinating was that you here you have the most feared mobster in Boston, and his brother is the State Senate President. I knew there was a good crime novel there, and for a long time it was in the back of my mind to base a novel on this. What finally pushed me was being pissed off at the NY publishing industry, and deciding to go at it at a different angle — writing Pariah at two levels; one level being a fierce and uncompromising crime novel, the other being a satirical look at [the] publishing industry and the nature of celebrity in [the] US. I tried to flesh out Kyle Nevin to be an honest portrayal of the kind of guy who used to work for Whitey. He may be a monster, but I think he’s true to form and probably no worse than the actual guys who were killing and extorting for Bulger. Kyle is, though, a completely different character than Joe Denton. Kyle is a force of nature, a man who leaves death and destruction wherever he goes. Joe for all his faults and weaknesses is someone who could’ve led an uneventful and mundane life if circumstances had been different.

Q: I've read only those two books of yours (don't worry, I'll get to Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts soon), but it seems clear you are drawn to the darker side of fiction - or of the human psyche perhaps. Yet your professional background doesn't hint at how deeply you are capable of delving into the flawed personalities of your main characters. How did you get from Point A to Point B? Did you minor in psychology? Were you weaned on noir?
Dave: I was an engineering student in college and most of my courses were either engineering, math and computer science, with very few liberal arts courses, and no psychology. Somehow I have the ability to get in the heads of sociopaths — a skill my wife and family are quite proud of. I can’t explain it other than I’ve always read a lot, and over the years have been around a lot of different people.

Q: You could be called one of those 'overnight sensation' writers due to the publicity you received when NPR touted Small Crimes as one of the best books of 2008. Except it's taken the best part of what - 15 years? - for you to be able to quit your day job. And now your writing career is snowballing. In fact, it's an avalanche, what with six books set to come out in the next two years, beginning with Pariah this fall. And one of those unpublished books, 28 Minutes, has already been optioned for a movie. Tell me how giddy you must be feeling about now.
Dave: It wasn’t really 15 years since there were stretches where I’d quit for 4-5 years out of utter frustration and focus on my day job. Also, I’m not really making money yet with the writing gig - I think I’m close, but not there yet. I’d made some money with a couple of the computer startups I was at, and the writing bug had gotten too deep in me, so once I sold Pariah I decided to take a leap that that book will do well. Of course, it was about the time that I did this that the stock market began to melt down (and the NY publishing industry started to collapse into itself), and I went from around 5 years in reserves to a lot less.

The movie deal for 28 Minutes took so long to come about with so many false starts along the way that it’s hard for me to get too excited about it, especially since even with that deal and Serpent’s Tail acquiring the UK rights, I still can’t get a NY house to acquire the US rights. If I take a step back and look at what I’ve accomplished, I should be happy - I’ve got the movie deal, producers in Hollywood who I can bring other projects and be taken seriously, a good literary agent, a top film rep, a lot of books being published by two very highly respected houses (Serpent’s Tail and Overlook Press), some critical acclaim, a growing readership - but what keeps driving me is a low simmering rage at the large NY houses for rejecting everything I’ve sent them.

Q: Even readers who are not also writers are curious about the writing process. What's your methodology for creating a novel, or is each book a different experience? Do you storyboard, outline, fly by the seat of your pants? Are you righteous about writing every day, set word quotas, etc.?
Dave: I’ll write a detailed outline—usually between 6 to 8 pages. For the most [part] I follow the outline, but at some point the book becomes something organic, something living and breathing. Detours will pop up, new characters will be born, as well as additional plot threads. When I start a book I try to write every day, and I’ll always set up unrealistic daily goals that I usually don’t meet, at least not until I get within the last 50 pages or so. At that point it becomes more like a desperate sprint where I become obsessed with finishing the book, and at times have written those last 50 pages in one sitting.

Q: You've spent most of your life in or around the Boston area. The Southie area is famous for its subculture of crime and violence and unswerving loyalty. How has the area has changed since the flight of Whitey Bulger, or has it? How do you think the people of Southie will react to Kyle Niven's story?
Dave: Boston used to be a much different city than it is now. The combat zone is gone - a new Ritz Carlton is right in the middle of where the old combat zone used to be. A lot of money has poured in over the last two decades, and there’s been a lot of high-end development, especially around the waterfront. I’m sure there’s still some mob activity, as all the corruption around the Big Dig showed, but it seems quieter.

About how the people of Southie will react - well, Pariah’s a Boston-based crime novel, and I think in order to have any sense of realism it had to have its roots in Southie. I don’t think Kyle is an exaggeration of the type of criminal who operated in Whitey’s organization, at least not with what’s come out in the newspapers and books like Brutal by Kevin Weeks. And the book certainly doesn’t try to put down Southie or the people living there, but instead shows a criminal sociopathic personality, so I’m hoping no one in Southie takes offense at this. The goal for the book is really to show in a broader sense how our culture deals with these criminal celebrities, and not with how Southie dealt with them. Now whether the NY publishing houses should take offense at this book is another question.

Q: Some writers of crime fiction deeply feel what they consider to be restrictions of the genre, and some have even sidelined or altogether abandoned the genre as soon as their name became famous enough for the publishers to take a chance on another style of book. Are you bothered by such concerns, and are you writing or wanting to write books outside this genre?
Dave: Okay, here’s where I’m caught being full of shit, at least my railing against the NY publishing houses for not publishing me. The large NY houses want formulaic “relentlessly commercial” books for their mystery and crime lists, while I’ve been writing the types of books I want to write. So I really have no right complaining about them not buying my books. The reality of the situation is I’ve been incredibly lucky to have found strong houses like Serpent’s Tail and Overlook Press to publish me. But the large NY houses are broken, at least when it comes to mystery and crime fiction. Established writers like Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block can break out of this formulaic mold and get their books published (just as the unfortunately recently deceased but great Donald Westlake was able to do), so some really good crime fiction still comes out of NY, but for most writers they insist on formulaic. Interestingly a new form of formulaic hardboiled books seems to be developing—an almost comic book style where you have over-the-top completely unrealistic violence, which I look at as kind of an equivalent to slasher-films. It’s also interesting that publishers have no problem publishing subversive dark books if they’re labeled literary, such as what Chuck Palahniuk’s been writing. It’s only when the books are labeled mystery/crime that they blanch at this and don’t trust their readers with anything other than what they consider safe books.

Q: Some say selling a book is much harder than getting it published. True? Are there aspects to marketing your work that have tried your soul (such as this kind of interview)? And when can readers west of New England expect a signing tour?
Dave: Small Crimes was my first book published by a house [that] reviewers and bookstores pay attention to, so I’m really just starting out and haven’t done much on the marketing side, other than my web-site and blog and a few readings. I enjoy these interviews, though. When I’m writing a book, a lot of what I do is by intuition and feel, and these questions help me to intellectualize the reasons I took the paths I did. Serpent’s Tail is a great house, but there’s no getting around that they’re an independent, and they don’t have the resources that the large NY houses do, so it’s probably doubtful that I’ll be doing much touring outside of New England, although my publisher has mentioned having me do some touring in the UK.

Q: I may be about to set off a roman candle here, but what the hey? I read that you're a Patriots and Red Sox fan. The Patriots are known for their team loyalty and not airing their internal problems publicly. Do they have some of that Southie culture going on? What's your take on the accusations of cheating that recently plagued the Patriots' organization?
Dave: Okay, here’s the deal. There was one villain in all this and that was Eric Ratgini. That fat tub of goo ratted out his mentor, the man who gave him his start, and for that he should’ve been kneecapped, or at least be offered nothing better than a job collecting locker room towels and jockstraps, certainly not the head coaching job for Cleveland (although maybe that’s not much better collecting locker room towels). The reality is Belichick was doing what only every other team was doing, and it had no impact on the games, since teams are constantly changing their signals. If people really want to be outraged, look at some of the calls in the Steelers-Seahawks Super Bowl. Tell me there wasn’t a fix there. But the Patriots are a dynasty and have inspired a lot of jealousy, and this gave all the haters a chance to try to tear them down. But with a healthy Brady coming back, I’m looking forward to another Pats Super Bowl.

Q: Your dream of being a successful writer, assuming you did dream that at some point, has come true. What's your new dream?
Dave: To be able to make a living at this. I think I’m close. I know writers should never count on a movie deal, but the people involved in 28 Minutes are pushing hard to get the movie made, and I think it’s going to happen, and a few more movie deals are close to materializing.

I think it's going to happen, too, Dave. I also think the big publishing houses are going to come calling - soon. (Possibly with guns. Possibly with Whitey Bulger. More likely with money and contracts.) My boundless gratitude to you for (1) writing great books and (2) consenting to be questioned by a newbie at the interview game. You made it fun.

Pariah debuts in October in the US, as I mentioned, but Small Crimes is already available through your local indie store or at the usual online suspects.