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

December 26, 2012

Two holiday treats

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

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

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

October 21, 2012

The short and long of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 16, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

September 13, 2012

A brieft hiatus from the longer hiatus...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 24, 2012

Quick bytes

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 20, 2012

Recent reads

Catching up (as usual)...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 25, 2012

Quick picks!

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

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

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

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

April 19, 2012

The name is Clara. Clara. Not Clarice.

The whole world knows Clarice, right? 

 So let's not talk about her.

She's kind of wishy-washy anyway, compared to Clara. That's right, Clara. Hit-woman extraordinaire, Clara Rinker is far and away my favorite of author John Sandford's many fine villains, including the ultra-creepy Dr. Bekker

On author Steven Hart's very fine blog, he not only declares (and I agree) that the Lucas Davenport series, unlike so many series, continues to surprise and improve, but he also goes on to divide Sandford's villains into three categories, and I quote: "those who are dangerous because they’re stupid, those who are dangerous because they’re stuck in a corner, and those who are dangerous because they are missing the crucial elements that separate full-fledged humans from two-legged monsters."

I agree with that statement, too, but I make an exception for Clara Rinker. Clara's anything but stupid. She's very intelligent, very cautious, researches and plans her kills for speed and efficiency, and knows that the St. Louis mob she (mostly) works for will readily kill her to prevent her trading any of them for lenience should she ever be arrested. She can trust no one, and she plans and prepares accordingly, including putting herself through business school.

Nor is she dangerous because she's stuck in a corner. She's dangerous, full stop. She's not a cornered rat. She's too smart to let herself get boxed in. Time after time, she's one or even several steps ahead of Lucas and his team. Always, always, she leaves herself a way out. She's bold, but her boldness is always calculated.

So what does that leave? Oh, yeah. The two-legged monster. Nope, she's not that either. She doesn't kill for pleasure; that's just a job she happens to be good at. She's also good at running her bar and at bookkeeping. And she's capable of love and loyalty and deep emotion.

In Clara Rinker, John Sandford has created his most memorable and sympathetic villain. As a result of being sexually abused by her stepfather and older brother, Clara ran away from her Arkansas home when she was 16. She turned to exotic dancing to make a living until one night she was raped by a customer. She set the rapist up for a kill, and when her bosses determined she had a natural talent for wet work, her career as a mob hit-woman took off.

Capable of hiding in plain sight, that's Clara. She's a chameleon. The FBI knows they have a hit-woman on their hands but that is the sum total of all they know about her -- until Clara takes a non-mob client in Minneapolis and Lucas Davenport gets involved. Clara's client is a sociopath of the first order, a lawyer who both befriends Clara while dragging her ever deeper into danger. Clara doesn't worry about her crazy client, or how smart Lucas is or his intimidating reputation. The only thing that bothers her, nags at her really, is that he appears to be very lucky.  At one point in the first book which features Clara, CERTAIN PREY, Clara even dances with Lucas. She knows who he is, that he's getting close to identifying her, but he thinks she's just a pretty woman who runs a very nice bar. When he discovers how wrong he is, even Lucas has to admire her poise -- and her brass, which she further displays by directly confronting Lucas in a shoot-out that is, for the reader, both heart-stopping and hilarious. Without providing too much in the way of spoilers, at book's end Clara makes a clean getaway with the FBI and the mob both wanting her. The Feds think they can make her sing (they can't), and the mob thinks what the FBI thinks. Kirkus Reviews wrote of this book that author Sandford "hits a home run over the curve of the earth." I don't disagree, but am left wondering how to heap even more praise on MORTAL PREY, the second book in which Clara appears.

If Clara is sympathetic in the first book, the reader is almost entirely on her side in the second book, the events of which occur some three years after CERTAIN PREY. Hiding out in Mexico, keeping a low profile, Clara works as a bookkeeper until one day at lunch her lover is killed by snipers. Clara, too, is wounded and her unborn child dies. Angry, grief-stricken, and knowing full well that the mob has finally found her, she does something she hasn't done since she was raped: she kills for revenge. This petite woman taking down wary, well-protected mobsters one after another while dodging Lucas and the FBI makes for tense, action-packed scenes. Even when Clara kills an FBI agent, one whom the reader has come to know well, it's hard not to sympathize with Clara's reasons for doing so (which involve the suicide of her younger, mentally deficient brother), all the while knowing that Clara has now crossed a line she can never cross back again. At book's end, although the reader is happy that Clara fails once more to get Lucas in her crosshairs, the reader cannot be entirely happy with the turn of events. Clara is, in many ways, the flip side of the coin that is Lucas Davenport. It is only Lucas's recognition of a like mind and spirit that allows him the insight which leads to vanquishing her. And Clara's downfall is not the hubris of so many villains, but is a result of the deep loss that leaves her without any real desire to rebuild and reinvent her life yet one more time.

I think no one has created so many memorable and unique villains in crime fiction as John Sandford, but in Clara Rinker he created a complex creature in whom the reader can find as much to admire as to loathe.

Thanks to blogger extraordinaire Jen Forbus for creating and hosting the Heroes and Villains Theme Week. Be sure to check out Jen's blog and vote in the ultimate hero versus villain poll. Friday, the 20th, is the last day to get your vote counted, so don't waste time.

Also, everyone who comments on one of my posts this week -- that would be today's post, as well as the Doctor Death  and the An almost ordinary hero posts -- will have his/her name entered into a drawing to receive the newest Lucas Davenport novel, STOLEN PREY, in either hardback or ebook form, when it is released on May 15, 2012. You can click here to read the first chapter free.

April 18, 2012

Doctor Death

This week's theme is Heroes & Villains, the brainchild of the amazing woman who brings you Jen's Book Thoughts. Yesterday I gave some space to hero Lucas Davenport, the Minneapolis cop created by John Sandford. Today and tomorrow this space belongs to arguably the two most memorable villains Davenport has faced. Sandford has a real knack for creating 3D bad boys and girls: grotesque serial killers, brilliant psychopaths, and whack jobs who kill for motives other than the pleasure of so doing. So choosing just one or two out of the long line of nasties Davenport has vanquished could have been a wrenching choice but Sandford made it easy. I simply chose the only two prominent villains who were the leading antagonists in multiple novels. (I say prominent because I know of at least one criminal who appeared in a non-leading role in several books in the Prey series.)

First up is respected pathologist Dr. Michael Bekker, the top villain in Eyes of Prey. Respected, yes, and an extreme narcissist (as so many serial killers are). Vain, completely consumed by his own physical beauty, he is possibly even more concerned with his clothes than is Lucas. An addict, Bekker takes multiple categories of drugs multiple times a day: cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, steroids -- if it's mood altering, he takes it. And yet he remains a distinguished light of the medical profession. He's noted for his very fine research on death and dying. Well, and why not? Bekker is fixated on discovering whether there is anything for the human spirit after death. Just maybe during his time in Vietnam, Bekker killed for the first time. And liked it so much he very quietly began taking lives in the US hospitals where he works and has free reign to do his "research." The nurses and staff think him "creepy," and nickname him Dr. Death. But no one has any real evidence that the handsome doc is anything except a bit strange.

And then Bekker decides that his wife needs to die. That way Bekker can get his hands on the beautiful old house and all the antiques his wife owns, sell everything and begin to live in the style to which he believes he is entitled. But Bekker is no dummy. On the contrary, he's highly intelligent. Calculating, conniving, and cunning. And cold. He enlists the aid of an accomplice to kill Mrs. Bekker in a particularly brutal fashion, so that Bekker himself will have an airtight alibi. It is that unusually airtight alibi that has the Minneapolis cops looking more closely at Bekker than they might otherwise have done.

The twist in the case is that there turns out to be an eyewitness to the murder, and the race is on between Davenport and Bekker to find that crucial witness. The crafty doctor feeds the cops a number of false clues, and the bodies begin to drop as Bekker creates more victims in order to distract Davenport.

Among the more fascinating aspects of the Bekker character are the parallels to real-life former physician Michael Swango. Swango was implicated in as many as 60 fatalities (mostly by poisoning or overdose) although he admitted to only four. Like the fictional doctor, Swango was noticeably fascinated by death early in his career. Like Bekker, Swango did not limit his predations to hospital patients. Where the two characters differ, if only by degree, is that Sandford's creation is more intelligent, more daring, more brutal, and more vengeful. But then, as Bekker learns after killing Lucas's lover, Lucas can be brutal and vengeful himself.

In Silent Prey, the sequel to Eyes of Prey, Bekker performs a daring courthouse escape during his trial for the crimes committed in the first book. Bekker, and thus the action, move to New York City. Davenport being the expert on Bekker, the NYPD brings him in as a consultant and once again, the hunt is on. But in a city with millions of eyes watching for this killer -- who continues to murder with impunity -- Bekker finds a way to make himself invisible.

Of all Sandford's books, Eyes of Prey and Silent Prey come closest to being horror stories rather than crime fiction. Bekker is irredeemably evil, a true monster. He has no good qualities, or if he does, he twists them for his own dark purposes. He has much in common with Hannibal Lecter, save that Bekker lacks Lecter's ability to restrain himself. To read a better summation of Bekker's character, check out what Sandford himself had to say about Eyes of Prey and Silent Prey.

Later this week, I'll introduce you to Clara Rinker, my favorite of all Sandford's villains. Unlike Bekker, who exists to horrify the reader, Rinker may very well get you on her side instead of Lucas's!

In keeping with yesterday's discussion of Davenport's top 100 songs of the rock era, what rock song would make a great theme for Dr. Michael Bekker? He has a fixation about mutilating the eyes of his victims, so perhaps you could work that in? Or not. All comments on this post will earn you a chance to win a copy (hardback or ebook) of the new Lucas Davenport book, STOLEN PREY, when it is released on May 15.

April 16, 2012

An almost ordinary hero.

Heroes and Villains is the theme this week, and is the name of the event sponsored by Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts. Be sure to check out Jen's blog and vote in the contest this week between the ultimate hero and the ultimate villain.

As a participant in this event, you might guess I've chosen a long-time favorite as my hero: Lucas Davenport. Lucas is the protagonist in 21 novels (with at least one, possibly two more to come) and two made-for-television films. He makes brief appearances in author John Sandford's Virgil Flowers series as well.

It's difficult to know what to say about a character about whom much has already been written, and so authoritatively.  Tall, lean, dark hair, a scar slashing through one eyebrow and down to the cheekbone. A guy not afraid of the physical but whose outside-the-box thinking is his greatest job asset. A guy who loves a joke but occasionally suffers from clinical depression.  Something of a philanderer in the early books of the series, Lucas develops a happy family life in the later books, including a baby son and an adopted teen daughter. He drives a Porsche throughout the series, making him the envy of almost everyone he knows. The money for the car came from his early involvement in computer games and simulations, something he gave up early in the books also. In later books Lucas also drives a more family-oriented vehicle, some sort of SUV that I don't pay attention to. Hm, he's mean and tough and, oddly enough, a GQ devotee. I mean the man is a serious clotheshorse, with the funds to indulge his fancy.

But none of that really jumps out at you and yells, hey, you gotta read about this guy, does it? What makes Lucas Davenport a hero? Why do I nearly break into a run from the parking lot to the bookstore on those days when a Davenport book is released?

Funny, but I don't think of Lucas (Never Luke. Never.) as a hero. He's a little bit of an anti-hero early on,  a  bit Dirty Harry-ish. More than willing to take rough vengeance on a pimp who used a church key on a prostitute's face, said prostitute having been one of Lucas's informers. But Lucas has too much money, and plays politics too well to ever be just a clone of Harry Calahan. Lucas is more of an action-oriented problem solver. With, natch, some hellacious problems to solve. And as the series progresses, Lucas becomes less of a lone, street detective, and more of a team leader, driving force, idea man, and media manipulator. But always with street instincts. Watching the puzzle pieces all come together, laughing over the jokes and some of  the situations the characters face, delighting in the hunt as much as Lucas does -- these are just some of the reasons Davenport is among my favorite heroes. If, indeed, he is a hero and not just a guy who really enjoys his job. And it's not just Davenport. His entire supporting cast of recurring characters, from vice cop Del Capslock (do you love that name, or what?) to adopted daughter Letty, become welcome friends who are missed when absent.

But a hero is only ever as good as his villain, and John Sandford writes some of the best, baddest villains in crime fiction. The series kicks off with RULES OF PREY, and one of the smartest, coldest villains Lucas will ever face: maddog. The hook to the story is that the killer leaves notes at the crime scene for the police, notes that list his rules for committing murder and eluding detection: 'Never kill anyone you know.' 'Never have a motive.' And so on. Further on in the series, Lucas tries to bring down the 'Doctor Death,' Dr. Michael Bekker, a brilliant mad man. And no one who has read hit-woman Clara Rinker's story will ever forget her; she's the one criminal who is perhaps the flip side of the coin that is Lucas Davenport. I'll give Clara and the not-so-good doctor their moments in the limelight later this week.

The body count is high in these books, and there are a few readers who might find the language offensive as well as the violence. I'm afraid you can't count me among them. Author John Sandford does a superlative job of drawing the reader into Lucas's world, to the point that in BROKEN PREY, one of the standout novels in an outstanding series, Sandford got a ton of fan feedback on a list of songs Lucas was putting together for his new iPod: Best Songs of the Rock Era (suitable for a road trip). Taste in music is so subjective that not even Lucas was immune from criticism when it came to the songs he finally chose for his top 100. His final list is below. Look it over and tell me which song you think shouldn't be there? And which song isn't there, but should be? All comments on this week's posts will earn you a chance to win a copy (hardback or ebook) of the new Lucas Davenport book, STOLEN PREY, when it is released on May 15.

  1. Sharp-Dressed Man · ZZ Top
  2. Legs · ZZ Top
  3. Mustang Sally · Wilson Pickett
  4. Superman's Song · Crash Test Dummies
  5. Rock On · David Essex
  6. Radar Love · Golden Earring
  7. Heart of Glass · Blondie
  8. White Rabbit · Jefferson Airplane
  9. Somebody to Love · Jefferson Airplane
 10. Layla · Derek and the Dominoes

 11. Roadhouse Blues · Doors
 12. House of the Rising Sun · Animals
 13. Sweet Emotion · Aerosmith
 14. Dude (Looks Like a Lady) · Aerosmith
 15. Dancing in the Dark · Bruce Springsteen
 16. Born to Run · Bruce Springsteen
 17. Thunder Road · Bruce Springsteen
 18. Every Breath You Take · Police
 19. Heart of Saturday Night · Tom Waits
 20. Hot for Teacher · Van Halen

 21. Won't Get Fooled Again · Who
 22. Hotel California (covers the Eagles) · Gipsy Kings
 23. Give Me One Reason · Tracy Chapman
 24. Down on the Corner · CCR
 25. Lyin' Eyes · Eagles
 26. Life in the Fast Lane · Eagles
 27. Skateaway (Roller Girl) · Dire Straits
 28. Mary Jane's Last Dance · Tom Petty
 29. Me 'n Bobby McGee · Janis Joplin
 30. Black Water · Doobie Brothers

 31. I Love Rock 'n Roll · Joan Jett
 32. Jack and Diane · John Mellencamp
 33. The Wall (Part 2) · Pink Floyd
 34. Money · Pink Floyd
 35. Piano Man · Billy Joel
 36. After Midnight · Eric Clapton
 37. Lay Down Sally · Eric Clapton
 38. You Shook Me (All Night Long) · AC/DC
 39. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap · AC/DC
 40. Long Cool Woman · Hollies

 41. Like a Rolling Stone · Bob Dylan
 42. Knockin' on Heaven's Door · Bob Dylan
 43. Subterranean Homesick Blues · Bob Dylan
 44. Satisfaction · Rolling Stones
 45. Brown Sugar · Rolling Stones
 46. Sympathy for the Devil · Rolling Stones
 47. Anarchy in the UK · Sex Pistols
 48. Sugar Magnolia · Grateful Dead
 49. Slow Hand · Pointer Sisters
 50. Sweet Dreams · Eurythmics

 51. Jailhouse Rock · Elvis Presley
 52. Ziggy Stardust · David Bowie
 53. Night Moves · Bob Seger
 54. Bye-Bye-Love · Everly Brothers
 55. Purple Haze · Jimi Hendrix
 56. Lola · Kinks
 57. Tender is the Night · Jackson Browne
 58. Louie Louie · The Kingsmen
 59. Bad to the Bone · George Thorogood
 60. Turn the Page (covers Bob Seger) · Metallica

 61. Sweet Home Alabama · Lynryd Skynyrd
 62. We Will Rock You · Queen
 63. Ramblin' Man · Allman Brothers
 64. Rock 'n Roll · Led Zeppelin
 65. What's Love Got to Do With It · Tina Turner
 66. Born to Be Wild · Steppenwolf
 67. With or Without You · U2
 68. Paranoid · Black Sabbath
 69. Blue Morning Blue · Foreigner
 70. White Wedding · Billy Idol

 71. Sweet Child o' Mine · Guns 'n Roses
 72. Paradise City · Guns 'n Roses
 73. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (covers Dylan) · Guns 'n Roses *
 74. Walk on the Wild Side · Lou Reed
 75. Feel Like Makin' Love · Bad Company
 76. Rock of Ages · Def Leppard
 77. Brown Eyed Girl · Van Morrison
 78. Devil With a Blue Dress · Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
 79. Respect · Aretha Franklin
 80. I'm in the Mood · John Lee Hooker & Bonnie Raitt

 81. I Got You (I Feel Good) · James Brown
 82. Unchained Melody · Righteous Brothers
 83. Little Red Corvette · Prince
 84. Roll Over Beethoven · Chuck Berry
 85. Mr. Tamborine Man (covers Dylan) · Byrds
 86. Ohio · CSNY
 87. Peggy Sue · Buddy Holly
 88. Great Balls of Fire · Jerry Lee Lewis
 89. Pretty Woman · Roy Orbison
 90. Runaway · Del Shannon

 91. Walk This Way · Aerosmith / Run-DMC
 92. (Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay · Otis Redding
 93. Smells like Teen Spirit · Nirvana
 94. Still Crazy After All These Years · Paul Simon
 95. Who Do You Love? · Bo Diddley
 96. One Toke Over the Line · Brewer and Shipley
 97. I Wanna Be Sedated · Ramones
 98. Should I Stay or Should I Go · Clash
 99. Burning Down the House · Talking Heads
100. Waltz 2 / Jazz Suite · Dimitri Shostakovich

April 8, 2012

Hatchets, Fish and Detonics: An Interview With Robert E. Bailey

Robert E. Bailey is the author of the PI Art Hardin series. When Bob writes about PIs, he knows of whence he speaks: he did the job for twenty years, before the profession turned into little more than computer record searches. A Vietnam-era draftee, he retired from the military as a reservist and a field-grade officer. Bob's also an award-winning combat pistol shot. Guess I'm glad I only have good things to say about his books! Which, by the way, were all recently released in ebook format. You'll find the links below. You'll also find my review of PRIVATE HEAT here.

It's been my pleasure to correspond casually, off and on, over the last few years with Bob. I also had the great pleasure of meeting him in 2007 at the annual Ann Arbor Book Festival. Not only was he charming and funny, like his books, but he took the time to tour the festival with me, answering candidly every question I asked.

 In August, 2011, Bob was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of malignant brain cancer.  He underwent surgery in late August and is on his third round of chemotherapy. He has some mild aphasia but continues to work on a new novel. And if you know what aphasia is, you know what a struggle that must be for anyone, but especially for a writer. Still, you might never guess it from his responses to some questions I recently put to him.

Q: Your first book (PRIVATE HEAT) reads like a seasoned writer at the top of his game. Great pacing, characterization, and story arc. Is it true you had to be shot in order to get you to write this book? And did you consciously emulate any other writer? If not, what crime writers (if any) would you claim as your influences and/or favorites? 

Bob: I was injured working on an undercover job in so stupid a manner that I am embarrassed to tell you! I had to move my van, and running down the sidewalk, I broke my knee and ankle stumbling over a wheelchair ramp. I wish there was a better story! (I survived the better stories.) I was in a wheelchair before I could get back on my feet, and that took about a year. Hence, the first novel.

Thank you for the wonderful compliments. For the first novel, I was writing an homage to all the old writers that I enjoyed, specifically, Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. I think Robert Parker deserves his own mention. My story was meant to thank them for all their great stories. Interestingly enough, PRIVATE HEAT was rejected twenty-three times by publishing houses, who said they had read it all before and we didn’t need another one.

Q: I've just finished rereading PRIVATE HEAT. There's a lot of humor and a good bit of action, yet there are many details that seem very authentic. Is it all fiction or did you draw on some real-life events? I'm thinking especially of the hatchet attack on PI Art Hardin by the woman he's been hired to protect. Anybody ever take a hatchet to you?

Bob: No one ever took a hatchet to me. I can remember certain folks armed with baseball bats, various lengths of pipe, and wooden beams, boards, and sign poles. Usually I didn’t allow angry people to get that close to me. Some mob types did shoot up my vehicle while I was in it.

Q: Say what?

Bob: I was pulling into a drive and a fellow put one 9mm in my windshield, one into my radiator, and one in my oil filter. Lucky for me a first bullet ricocheted off the window as I was driving upwards from the street.   The next two bullets were good but stayed in the engine.  Instead of stopping, I nailed the gas and the shooter departed in a pickup truck.  I chased him but I couldn't figure out why my car kept going slower and slower. While this happened thirty-five years ago, many of the men involved are still in the Detroit "business." We have made a peace of sorts.

Q: You have had an interesting, not to say exciting, career in government and private security. Would you care to fill in the details, and tell me which job was your favorite and why?

Bob: I liked undercover work, being close and working as one of the bad guys. (Maybe I liked that too much!) I usually got arrested with the criminals that I pretended to be. In court, they were usually surprised to find that I was a detective. I did surveillance in the Army and as a private detective. I worked as the director of security operations at Great Lakes Sugar and Warehousing. While I was there I also worked with World Investigations and Security Engineers, filling in on a part-time basis. When they tore down the Sugar Shack, I took a full time position for WISE as the supervisor of their western Michigan office in Grand Rapids. After I left WISE, I opened my own agency, and did film surveillance around the state for the government as a contractor as well as working for hire by private businesses. I really liked everything I did.

Q: Karen Smith, the young woman Art Hardin is hired to protect in PRIVATE HEAT, is a great character. She's a wonderfully funny mix: kind of street smart, kind of dumb, kind of cynical, kind of naive. A lot of heart to her. I was delighted when she reappeared in DEAD BANG (the third Art Hardin book). Where'd she come from?

Bob: Karen’s character reminded me of young ladies that I met in college and business. She is parts of many people that I knew. They could be very, very smart, but sometimes use their hearts instead of their heads.My next novel is close to being finished. It’s called Déjà Noir. It’s not about Art Hardin. It does involve a PI, together with cops and crooks. Each chapter is told in first person, from the point of view of a different character. Misty’s chapter will warm the hearts of Karen’s fans. This time you get to talk with the character personally.

Q:  Okay, other heroes carry Colts, Kimbers, Barettas, Smith & Wessons. Art Hardin is the only character I know about who carries a Detonics. I had never heard of the brand (even though Sonny Crockett carried one in a leg holster on MIAMI VICE). Why choose that firearm for him?

Bob: The Detonics Combat Master is small, and easier to conceal. And it’s still a .45. It’s a wonderful weapon for a pistolero, but not so good for the inexperienced shooter. I had one of the first Detonics they made. I always said it took two men and a small boy to lock and load.

Q: The last Art Hardin book, DEAD BANG, was published in December, 2006, so you've been out of the publishing world for several years now. Whatcha been up to? Your books are set in Michigan but I know that you moved south some time ago.

Bob: DEAD BANG ended up hidden in a drawer at the publisher, and my writing profession was stuck in there with it. They wouldn’t print DEAD BANG and would not take any more Art Hardin stories. The fact that I used Middle Eastern terrorists after 9-11 upset some people, who were afraid to print what I said in that book. My agent suggested that I write something else, but my wife, Linda, had died. I launched myself into rebuilding my house outside Grand Rapids — and sold Art’s house.

In 2006, my publisher was sold to Rowman & Littlefield, and DEAD BANG was taken out of the drawer. It was a little harder for me to get started writing again. I moved to Richmond [Virginia], and back among my writing friends, and started writing, but slowly. I worked for an armored car company, which took a lot of time. I married my second wife, Linda, too, in a bookstore! Linda and I have written a screenplay about an armored car robbery. Would love to see that one on the screen!

[Besides working on the new novel, Déjà Noir] I do have a new Art Hardin short story out, The Small Matter of Ten Large. It is available on Nook and Kindle, for 99 cents. I also found the first Art Hardin story that I ever wrote, which I wrote sitting on a surveillance in 1979! I would love to see that in print. If I get a chance I will go back to the fourth Art Hardin novel, which I had started and been unable to finish when my wife died. It’s called A Tisket, A Casket.

Q:  I know that recently your health has been in jeopardy. Is that something you care to talk about? 

Bob: While I was working on Déjà Noir, my words began to disappear. Within ten days, they were gone. Linda took me to her doctor — I didn’t have one — and her doctor sent me to the emergency room. I had a malignant tumor right in the speech and language area of my brain. I had a five-and-a-half-hour craniotomy on August 17, 2011. To many peoples’ surprise, I woke up and could walk and talk.

Q: I, and I know your other fans, too, wish you all the best. I am amazed and heartened by your spirit. How has your writing been affected by all of that? And is it hard to recapture Art's voice after so much time has passed since we last saw him in print? 

Bob: Writing was a little harder. I had to learn to read and write words that everyone else understood. For instance, you need to use a “cup” to order coffee. I spent half an hour writing “cup” over and over, trying to fix that word back in my brain. Some of the harder words took longer. Most interesting is that all of those words are in my head, but just don’t want to come out. Sometimes the wrong word comes out, like, these days, “fish” for any type of meat. And I don’t even like fish! Right after radiation I couldn’t read or write at all, and had trouble speaking for about two months. My spelling is still not what it once was. A page and a half takes me about four hours to write now. That’s a page and a half of work, but ten pages of rewriting! The book I’m working on is not about Art, but I think it would be easier to recover Art’s voice than to do the characters I am now writing.

Q: Your wife is also a writer. Do you give each other advice and criticism? And do either of you take it? 

Bob: Linda and I are the first persons to read each other's work. This is not always a happy discussion. Sometimes I may disagree tonight, and the next morning change my mind. Linda says that she is always happy about my critique. Sometimes this is not the truth; sometimes we bang heads. (I can only bang on one side now.) There is no point of discussion if we didn’t have sincere disagreement. Only that moves the work forward.

Q: The industry has changed significantly since your last book. Will you shop Déjà Noir to a publisher or will you take it straight to ebook yourself?

Bob: Linda and I have discussed what was best to do. I don't know that I will have two years to march the novel to publisher — and it's a year to get it printed. It seems that the best plan would be to go direct to ebook. We are thinking about it — first thing I have to do is get it done.

Thank you, Bob. If humor is a sign of grace, you have it in abundance. For those interested in reading more about Bob and his work, his blog is The Trials of an Aphasic Writer. For those who want to read his Art Hardin series, PRIVATE HEAT, DYING EMBERS, DEAD BANG, and The Small Matter of Ten Large are all available in Kindle format at amazon and in Nook format at Barnes & Noble.