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

April 30, 2010

KILLER by Dave Zeltserman

Killer will be released tomorrow, May 1. Because I wholeheartedly endorse Corey's review of this book we're reposting it with only minor editing. If you like noir, you've got to read Zeltserman's work. (nj)

by Corey Wilde

SYNOPSIS: Leonard March did some bad things for which he has just spent 14 years in prison. But Leonard committed crimes much worse than that for which he was imprisoned -- like a couple of dozen murders for which he did no time at all. That's because he traded his mob boss, the notorious Salvatore Lombard, for a lighter sentence before the DA realized that Leonard was a lot more than just a small-time hood.

Through strength, cunning, and some luck, Leonard survived prison and the attempts at retaliation by Lombard's mob. He doesn't expect to survive being outside though. The mob still wants him dead. The whole world hates him. He's an old man now, and he has no money or resources. His children don't want any contact with him, his wife died while he was in prison, and as for friends, rats don't have any. He can't leave town because he has to appear in court to face civil suits filed by the families of his victims. And then there are the debilitating headaches that won't go away. Leonard has no health insurance, so he just eats aspirin like it's Pez. It's not easy for Leonard to look ahead when he has to spend so much time looking over his shoulder to see who might be gaining on him.

REVIEW: To put it simply, Killer is a brilliant character study that will rip the literary rug right out from under the reader's tightly-curled toes.

As with the previous two entries in Zeltserman's "man-out-of-prison" trilogy, the author has created a memorable protagonist, and in this case, one more sympathetic than the sociopaths the author depicted in Small Crimes and Pariah.

Killer reads like a grotesque, mesmerizing biography as Leonard March tells his story in first person. The chapters alternate between his present circumstances and earlier life, leading the reader through March's childhood, then his willing descent into mob hitman, and later still, his increasing isolation from his family as he seeks to keep the filth of his job from spilling over onto the wife and children he really loves.

Strange though it sounds, it's hard not to be sympathetic to Leonard when the people he killed were the kind of people most of us wish didn't exist in the first place. He doesn't like to dwell on what he did. He's just trying to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. He would make himself into wallpaper if he could. But he won't give himself a moral whitewash either. He knows the nature of his many crimes.

And so he commits himself to his job as a night janitor, humble as it is. He scrubs office toilets at night and in the wee hours returns 'home' to his seedy, narrow apartment, which is all that he can afford. You don't find many hitmen willing to scrub the toilet, or settling for a used recliner complete with stains and tears in the fabric. Leonard manages the few dollars he has with great care. No frills. He tries to contact his now-grown children who make it painfully clear how much they want nothing to do with him. And although Leonard wouldn't mind a little non-judgmental human contact, he goes out of his way to avoid people who hold out the promise of wealth in exchange for a book deal. He shows up in court to face those families of his victims who have filed wrongful death suits against him, even though he has no money for a lawyer and his presence means that the Lombard mob will  certainly find him. He even prevents a robbery, not that anyone wants to believe that Leonard is capable of both decency and courage.

The story of Leonard March's return to society is not an action story. The mundane events of his days and nights echo the lives of the marginalized and the dispossessed everywhere, with the added suspense of wondering which day will be Leonard's last. And even though Leonard has done nothing in his past to merit better treatment, the reader can't help hoping that this old man doesn't end up being tortured and murdered, that somehow he finds a measure of peace in whatever is left of his life. Or at the very least, that whatever has gone physically wrong in Leonard's head takes him out before the mob does. Between a society that despises him, crippling health issues, and a pair of younger Leonard Marches looking to take him down, his chances aren't looking good.

Zeltserman packs a lot of insight into the human psyche in the character of Leonard March, surely the world's most candid hitman. He also manages to flip the story on its side and roll it when the reader least expects it, forcing one to reevaluate all that came before.

Killer is a more suspenseful story than the previous books in this trilogy and less action-oriented, at least on the surface. But don't go thinking that Zeltserman has lost his touch. He has, in fact, refined it. Killer is the crown jewel of his trilogy, a story that builds tirelessly towards an unforeseen inevitability that will jolt the reader right out of his socks. If you've read Small Crimes and Pariah, and you think you know what this author is capable of, allow me to say this: You ain't read nothing yet.

April 21, 2010


SYNOPSIS: Two teens were shot in front of a dope house, though neither boy was known to be a user or dealer. One boy is dead, the other comatose. The surviving boy is the son of a beat cop; the dead boy is the only child of a successful businessman. Was it a case of wrong time, wrong place? What really happened, what chain of events brought these two boys out of their safe neighborhoods and to such a fate, is explored from four points of view: The two fathers, the detective who gets the case, and the heroine-addicted uncle of the comatose boy. Once the truth begins to spill out, none of these men will ever be the same.

REVIEW: To call Dennis Tafoya's new novel both powerful and moving is to use a cliché too frequently bestowed on undeserving novels. But The Wolves of Fairmount Park is deserving of all the praise readers can muster. This is a story dark and sweet, poignant and provocative, raw and real.

A truly great crime novel is about more than just whodunnit. It's about the characters, and how their lives are turned inside out by the crime. I had a professor once who told me that if you wanted to study crime, you must study two kinds of people: criminals and, well, there isn't a second kind, he admitted. Crime, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. In this book Tafoya has done a brilliant job of bringing his characters and criminals to painful life, and I can already say with great certainty that this is one of the best books I'll read this year.

The prose is dark and lyrical, but not florid, and the author has great insight into his characters. Orlando, the uncle/addict, is so very memorable. The reader is constantly torn between pity, revulsion, fear, and heartbreak for him, and yes, pride in him, too. Orlando may be the one character who doesn't deceive himself, even though he will deceive others or descend to petty crimes in order to get his fix. And Orlando knows the streets and the people of the streets as well as he knows himself. He can read intent and motive in every nuance and gesture. To get at the truth, he endures and he sacrifices in ways most people cannot imagine, even while he lies and steals and uses.

Orlando isn't seeking the truth out of some action-hero notion of vengeance either. Finding the truth may be his last opportunity to prove his value as a human being, a value that was dismissed long ago by his family and friends. He wants what, in the end, all of us want: redemption. All of the main characters have their reasons for seeking the truth: Orlando's brother, the beat cop, wants justice for his son. The businessman wants, too late, to get to know his son. The detective is looking to his career. The  beat cop, the businessman, and the detective all want Orlando to stay out of the way. His drug habit is perceived to be part of the problem that must have initiated the shootings in the first place. It is easier to point fingers at Orlando and other users than for these men to undergo the kind of self-examination that might result in personal culpability.

Here is an excerpt in which Orlando, shot by a psychotic PI working the case, is visited in the hospital -- the same hospital in which his nephew lies in a coma -- by the boy's father, Brendan. Orlando's girlfriend, Zoe, also an addict, is present.
He heard her breathing and looked over to see her head down, her hands over her eyes.

"What am I supposed to do, you get killed? Where do I go then?"

He breathed out, tried to think what to say. Then he saw a shadow in the door and it was Brendan. Shit.


He ducked his head, a reflex. Looked up at his brother as he resolved from a dark figure into someone recognizable. Saw for the first time the gray pasted into the hair at his temple, the deep cul-de-sacs under his eyes. Looked down again.

"You're out of bed? You're okay?"

Orlando couldn't think what to say, mumbled "sorry" under his breath, looked from Zoe's wary, foxlike eyes to Brendan's frantic ones.

"Jesus, Orlando. Jesus."

"I didn't do it. Didn't do anything. This crazy fuck tried to kill me."

"We don't have enough, me and Kath? Not enough to worry about? We have to hear this, too?"

"I swear to Christ, Bren." He held his hands up, empty palms catching the light, and the IV pole rattled. He felt like a ghost, a phantom festooned with chains. Not fully present in life, able only to horrify. Looking from one disappointed face to another. The fact of him an object lesson, a curse.

If you want to read a book that the critics are going to be falling over themselves to praise, read The Wolves of Fairmount Park. I'll be very surprised if this book doesn't make a whole bunch of "best of" lists this coming December. I know it will be on my list.

by Dennis Tafoya
Release date: June 22, 2010
Minotaur Books
Hardcover, 352 pp.
ISBN: 9780312531164

Available online from these independent booksellers:

Aunt Agatha's New & Used  Mysteries, Detection & True Crime Books
Seattle Mystery Bookshop
Warwick's Books
Mystery Lovers Bookshop
The Poisoned Pen
Powell's Books
Skylight Books
Vroman's Books

April 15, 2010

REVIEW: CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT by Earl Emerson (Reposted)

Corey first posted this review in 2009. Like him, I found myself grieving over the death of PI Thomas Black's wife, Kathy. I think this is one of Emerson's more complex and emotionally moving stories, and even so, there are still laugh-out-loud moments. This one is a gem. 

Be sure to return tomorrow, not only for the final puzzle in our contest, but because I'm posting my interview with Earl Emerson, the creator of the Thomas Black series. You do not want to miss that. My talk with Mr. E will be only the second author interview ever at The Drowning Machine, so that gives you a clue as to how highly he is regarded here.

As for the contest, you'll find the answer to yesterday's puzzle and today's puzzle at the bottom off this post. (nj)

SYNOPSIS: A plane crash takes the lives of 11 people, including a US Senator and Kathy, the wife PI Thomas Black. Weeks later a bomb explodes in a gymnasium, taking four lives and nearly taking Black's life. Severely injured, hospitalized, his mind and memories clouded by painkillers, Thomas tries to patch events together. He recalls witnessing the plane crash just off Cape Disappointment. He also recalls the Slezak twins, Elmer aka 'Snake,' and Bert. Snake is a friend and fellow PI. Bert is whole 'nother story, Bert is a guy to worry about. A repeat offender only a half step from living on the streets and who was represented in court by Kathy for violating a restraining order, Bert had also warned Thomas to keep Kathy away from Senator Sheffield in case an 'asteroid' were to strike the Senator. Bert is full of paranoia, conspiracy theories and wild hairs, and he also has a mobile home stockpiled with more guns and ammunition than the Alamo. But if Bert is really the simple nutcase Thomas believes him to be, why are the FBI and the NTSB interested enough to hold him after the crash? How could a social outcast like Bert have known anything was going to happen to the Senator? Was it just coincidence that Bert was on the phone to Thomas right when the bomb exploded, killing four people and putting a steel bar through Thomas' abdomen? And the reporter who was asking some interesting questions about the plane crash, was the car wreck that killed her husband another coincidence?

REVIEW: It's been about 10 years since Emerson gave readers a new installment in the Thomas Black series, and it was so worth the wait. Over the years Emerson has created some memorable characters and thrilling plots, but I will argue with anyone who thinks this is not his best book yet because it is, and not by a small margin either. I was a little wary before reading this book because so much time had passed, I wondered if the author could still capture the upbeat, wise-cracking, affable voice of his PI. No worries. Opening this book was like falling in with old friends, there was a strong comfort level. At the same time, the reader is immediately sucked into the nightmare that has become Thomas' life.

It's a rare thriller that can evoke as much emotion as Cape Disappointment does without losing the thrill aspect. The unutterable grief Thomas Black endures is one that nearly everyone can identify with. Who has lost a loved one who has not also seen that person in parks, in cars, in stores for days, weeks even, after their death? We dream of them still being alive, we see signs around us that tell us they are trying to connect with the living. Most of us catch our breath, bear down on the pain, and go on. Thomas has a more difficult time than many because he has no body to bury – not all of the crash victims were recovered, although some bodies had washed ashore – and they were in the middle of a phone call when the plane went down. So when he sees Kathy anywhere he runs after her, but it's never Kathy. It's usually someone who doesn't even really look like her. Over and over, until the hinges on his mind start to work loose and he swears he won't run after people again. But he always does. His own personal Cape Disappointment awaits him every time. Emerson not only captures the early stages of grief perfectly, he also captures the actions and speech of those who are not grieving but must deal with the stricken Thomas. Those people run the gamut from the caring friend who simply watches over him (even Thomas realizes he's approaching a suicidal state of mind) to the attractive redhead who callously offers to come by and help clean out his wife's closet.

One of the wonderful things that has happened since Emerson last wrote about his PI is that his writing has been truly tested, grown and stretched. For this book the author has returned to the first-person singular POV so common to detective stories but that narrow POV doesn't feel like a restriction here, possibly because Emerson has learned so well how to seamlessly move the story back and forth in time. And because he has such an ear for conversation that his dialogue almost carries inflection. He could teach a master class on how to accomplish chronological and scene transitions without confusing the reader or slowing the pace while always moving the story forward. The tale moves back and forth from Thomas in and out of the hospital after the bombing to scenes before and after Kathy's death. With each change clues to the bombing or to the plane crash are provided, but also we get insight to the relationship between Thomas and his wife, between his wife and her clients and co-workers. Their marriage was not a perfect relationship but a longstanding one of depth and true friendship, and along the way we start to grieve with Thomas.

No thriller would be that without unexpected plot twists and Emerson provides some dandies, but never does he pull a James Patterson-like faux-frantic chapter ending just to leave the reader dangling. Every twist, every complication, has a raison d'etre, which gets really scary when social misfit Bert Slezak starts spouting conspiracy theories tightly connected with reality. When Thomas makes a CIA connection between Bert and the head of the NTSB, when he starts to think someone is poisoning him, and when Kathy's cellphone – the one at the bottom of the ocean – calls his cellphone, the puzzle isn't even close to being solved. Along the way Thomas is forced to face realities he never thought could exist and carry secrets that will forever haunt him.

Cape Disappointment was anything but disappointing. Characterization, pace, tight plotting, complex structure, and strong, muscular prose all combine in a winner of a book. It's absolutely, far and away, the best thriller I've read in ages. Welcome back, Thomas Black!

You shouldn't think that because Thomas is a recent widower that there is no humor in this book. Emerson always makes me laugh, and here's a sample that tickled my funny bone. In this scene Thomas is working in his cubicle and he overhears Kathy questioning the flaky Bert about the charges against him for violating a restraining order against his ex-wife:
"Then what happened?"

"Her boyfriend showed up."


"He was supposed to be at work. He works the night shift down at Nucor Steel in West Seattle. You think somebody tipped him off? Maybe the government? I've been seeing more undercover federal agents in town. Did I tell you that? I'm being followed by government agents. I ditched one this morning on the way here." Bert's paranoia showed up in almost every conversation, though it was usually under some degree of control by the time he headed to court, as if the sweat factor snapped him out of it.

"Okay. What can you tell me about the car?"

"They can't prove a thing."

"They have a witness who ID'd you. And it is quite a coincidence that the boyfriend throws you out of the house and three hours later his car burns down to the rims."

"Coincidences happen all the time."

"We drew Anderson and she's tough on domestic cases. It would help if you could show some remorse in court."

"Sure. I can fake remorse."

"Genuine remorse would be better."

"No problem. I can fake that, too." He must have made a comical face, which he was prone to, because Kathy laughed.

"You're laughing. They say that's the key to a woman's heart. Make her laugh. Check out how many comedians have married beautiful women. What do you say? Costa Rica? Just you and me and a thatched roof under the stars. We could be there in two days. We'd never have another care in this world. I would read Emily Dickinson out loud and massage your feet after long walks on the beach. Haven't you ever wanted to have a man who made you laugh, worshipped your every move, and knew how to skin a rabbit?"

"The man I have makes me laugh and worships my every move, and what's more I believe he's sitting outside that door."

"Can he skin a rabbit?"

"Probably not, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was about to tan your hide."

Yesterday's Puzzle: There are four Thomas Black books that have actual Washington locations in the titles: Cape Disappointment, Deception Pass, Poverty Bay, and The Rainy City. That last one, of course, is Seattle's informal nickname. The Portland Laugher refers to Portland, Oregon. There is no Portland, Washington, according to Google Maps.

Today's Puzzle:
There are two lighthouses at Cape Disappointment, both built in the 19th century. How many lighthouses (+/- 50) guard the shores of the United States today?

Post your answer in the comments any time before tomorrow's post. Then come back tomorrow and Friday to find a new puzzle and post your answer. Everyone who posts a correct solution to each day's mystery will be entered into a drawing for a wonderful prize. The more puzzles you solve, the more chances you get to win. For example, if you post the correct answer to three out of the five puzzles this week, you will have three chances at the prize. And naturally, you must post your correct solution before the answer is revealed in the following day's post, or it won't count.

The winner will receive a copy of Cape Disappointment, the most recent book featuring Thomas Black,  and a $35 gift certificate courtesy of Aunt Agatha's New & Used Mysteries, Detection and True Crime Books, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aunt Agatha's just happens to also be the Indie Store of the Month, Whenever you're in or near Ann Arbor, Michigan, be sure to visit.

Also, remember to check Jen's blog for continuing events honoring Detectives Around the World Week. And for heaven's sake, don't forget tomorrow: Earl Emerson himself!

April 13, 2010


Welcome to day two of Detectives Around the World Week, sponsored by Jen's Book Thoughts. As many of you correctly guessed yesterday, The Drowning Machine is celebrating fictional PI Thomas Black, Seattle. Thomas Black is the creation of a great story-teller, Earl Emerson.

Before I talk about Thomas, just a reminder that you'll want to come back every day this week from now through Friday for a chance to win a copy of Emerson's Cape Disappointment and a $35 gift certificate courtesy of  Aunt Agatha's New & Used Mysteries, Detection and True Crime Books, our Indie Store of the Month here at The Drowning Machine.

And now, meet Thomas Black:

Thomas is an ex-cop who took a disability pension after he inadvertently shot and killed a teenager he thought had a weapon. This quick-witted, bike-riding PI has been the lead investigator in twelve novels, spanning a publishing time frame of 25 years. Thomas first appeared on the crime fiction scene back in 1984's The Rainy City, and he knows his way around the streets, mean or otherwise, of Seattle. And author Earl Emerson knows those streets very well indeed because he's a full-time firefighter with the Seattle Fire Department. Fans of Emerson, stay tuned this week for an interview with one of the most candid and interesting authors I've ever had the pleasure of chatting with.

The second novel in the Thomas Black series, Poverty Bay, won the 1986 Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America for Best Original PI Paperback. Guess who one of the other nominees was in that category that year? Uh, yeah, Earl Emerson, for The Rainy City. Poverty Bay also was nominated for an Edgar that year.

The following year, the third book in the series, Nervous Laughter, was also nominated for a Shamus. Two short years later still, Deviant Behavior, the fifth Thomas Black mystery, was nominated for Best PI Hardcover, and in 1996, The Vanishing Smile, TB #8, also collected a Shamus nomination. In 1998, it was Deception Pass that got a nomination. And let me note that the other nominees that year -- non-winners also-- included Robert Crais for Indigo Slam and Sacred by Dennis Lehane. So you can see that as a writer Emerson has been keeping exclusive and highly-regarded company for a long time. Yeah. So those of you who haven't discovered this fine series, go ahead and kick yourself now. I'll wait.

Book nine in the Thomas Black series is The Million-Dollar Tattoo. Corey selected this book several weeks ago for the Detectives Around the World blog fest, because he liked the connections between this book and the the most recent book in the series, Cape Disappointment, which will also be reviewed later this week. Those connections have to do with twin brothers who see conspiracy all around them. I was happy with Corey's selection just because this is one of my favorite entries in one of my favorite mystery series. Tattoo is a fun and funny story, and still manages to address a topic which is still relevant in the have/have not culture of modern America. And, as is his wont with the entire series, Emerson shows the reader many intriguing facets of Thomas Black's hometown: Seattle, the rainy city.


SYNOPSIS: Hard-drinking, gunslinging PI Elmer 'Snake' Slezak woke up at 4 am to pee and found he had a much bigger problem than a full bladder. That PYT sleeping next to him? Dead. Strangled. Snake is just awake enough to call his fellow PI Thomas Black for help. Snake swears he didn't do it. Thing is, he also swears she's an alien. Not alien as in immigration status; alien as in from outer space. He knew her only as "Seventy-Three." He also swears that he's been sleeping with a whole bunch aliens as part of an intergalactic breeding program.

Thomas naturally concludes that the paranoid and highly volatile Snake has gone completely 'round the twist, but Thomas's wife, Kathy, a criminal lawyer who is ever-sympathetic to someone in trouble, agrees to represent Snake even though she can't stand him. (He might have goosed her once.) The result is that Thomas has to work this like a real case, even though he thinks Snake probably killed the woman in a drunken bout of paranoia and doesn't remember doing it.

It isn't long before Thomas finds himself interviewing everyone from a homeless guy Snake was feeding to a power-tripping corporate front-man who just might be ex-MI-6. Mysteries Thomas must investigate include the a tattoo of a butterfly, which all of the "aliens" had - except the dead one. And whether there really are dwarfs in a Buick following Snake. And what's the deal with the multinational conglomerate waving big bucks and insisting that Thomas drop what he's doing and come to work for them immediately? And who is the mysterious man who comes through with bail for Snake?

REVIEW: Snake Slezak has to be one of the most colorful PIs in fiction. He darned near steals the show from Thomas and Kathy in this book. That's not easily done because this PI-and-lawyer husband-and-wife team give off Nick'n'Nora-type sparks with their flirtatious wit and sexual banter. Snake is a confident, ex-rodeo rider, and a shameless womanizer;  he's also hopelessly un-PC, paranoid, devious, impetuous, blunt-spoken, and a heavy drinker who loves guns. How do you suppose a guy like that could ever end up in trouble?

Thomas is none of those things, except for confident. He's athletic, in love with his wife, good humored, and rarely feels the need to tote a firearm. But, boy, is he relentless with a puzzle. He also doesn't take to being pushed around, and once Thomas starts digging into the events leading up to the murder in Snake's bed, the pushing and shoving start to get out of hand.

Of course, just because Thomas doesn't like getting pushed around doesn't necessarily mean there aren't some characters big and bad enough to do just that. Thomas is no superhero, he isn't even a Jack Reacher wannabe. He's close enough to being an everyman that readers can identify with him but not so close they could be bored by him. There is a scene in a supermarket where one of those bigger, badder characters begins to take Thomas to pieces, our PI having unwisely interfered in a violent domestic dispute. For many authors this would be a standard action sequence. In Earl Emerson's hands, this is an opportunity not only to further the plot but to leaven the drama with a large dose of hilarity as Thomas discovers the near-addictive joy of wielding, however carelessly, a Taser-like electroshock weapon.

Thomas's wife, Kathy, has the level-headed qualities a reader expects in a criminal attorney, but she's also attracted to the action that occurs around Thomas. She's a welcome change from the cliched female romantic figure in PI fiction; you know, the woman who gets bent out of shape because she's in fear every time the PI she loves faces danger, and is always threatening to leave him (and sometimes does).

That's not Kathy. She's always known what Thomas does for a living, and she has no interest in changing him. And if something is going down, she wants to be there. She's no over-the-top kick-ass karate expert or anything like that but she's smart and she's not a wuss. She's clearly her own woman, and not a female version of her husband, although her sense of humor is a perfect match for his. (Too bad Elvis Cole didn't meet this lady-lawyer before that he hooked up with that other one.)

Earl Emerson has a talent for creating characters not just believable and interesting but also easy to see in your mind's eye. And yet the villain of this piece, nameless here in order to avoid spoilers, is not so easily seen, even though Emerson puts that character squarely in front of both Thomas and the reader. Emerson also keeps control of the pace, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader laughing and guessing. Transitions are made smooth by Thomas's humorously masculine POV. This is a fine, fun mystery and the underlying theme of unchecked power is handled with finesse. Emerson is a gifted storyteller who won't scare readers into paranoia or strew blood and guts all over the pages, but will keep them turning those pages.

Here's how Thomas describes Snake:
He was reputed to be Tacoma's sleaziest investigator, but if you knew him well, you knew the label wasn't entirely accurate. He was dirty-minded, opinionated, and cantankerous, but he had plenty of empathy for his clients. He'd once broken into tears over not locating a fifteen-year-old runaway, the daughter of a Boeing engineer, a girl he'd discovered had been sexually abused by a half-brother and was now hooking somewhere along the coast. More than once he'd loaned cash to clients who hadn't been able to pay their bills.

Among his preferred hobbies were shooting rats in the county dump, homophobia, catching bullets in his teeth, and moral superiority, though his real passion was, as he put it, "chasing pussy."

With bricks in his pockets he weighed in at a hundred twenty-five pounds, and perhaps because of his Lilliputian stature, he was feistier than he needed to be. The hardest I ever laughed was in a bar in San Diego when he got the crap knocked out of him by a one-armed woman who'd retired from the Roller Derby. During the scrap he'd pulled off her prosthesis and was drunk enough to think he'd pulled off a real arm. He bawled about his own brutality even as she threw him across the floor with her good arm. The brawl lasted six or seven minutes, and Snake never got in a single lick.

You have more money than you can count. You want to buy a million-dollar tattoo. (Shut up. You DO.) How many US treasury notes bearing this image will you need to make your purchase?

Post your answer in the comments any time before tomorrow's post. Then come back every day this week to find a new puzzle and post your answer. Everyone who posts a correct solution to each day's mystery will be entered into a drawing for a wonderful prize. The more puzzles you solve, the more chances you get to win. For example, if you post the correct answer to three out of the five puzzles this week, you will have three chances at the prize. And naturally, you must post your correct solution before the answer is revealed in the following day's post, or it won't count.

The winner will receive a copy of Cape Disappointment, the most recent book featuring Thomas Black,  and a $35 gift certificate courtesy of our Aunt Agatha's New & Used Mysteries, Detection and True Crime Books, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aunt Agatha's just happens to also be the Indie Store of the Month, Whenever you're in or near Ann Arbor, Michigan, be sure to visit.

Also, remember to check Jen's blog for the schedule of events honoring Detectives Around the World Week all over the crime fiction blogosphere this week.  I bet somebody else is giving away freebies, too!