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

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.

Review: PRIVATE HEAT by Robert E. Bailey

When Michigan PI Art Hardin is hired by her lawyer-uncle to protect Karen Smith from her abusive husband, who just happens to be a cop, he expects the worst. Karen can't flee her husband because she's wearing a government-issued ankle bracelet: um, something about a half-million dollars in an off-shore account and a boss with a bullet in his brain. What Art gets, and gets fast, is framed for murder. Then there are the matters of a hatchet attack on Art, Karen's uncle getting firebombed in his car, Russian hit men, money launderers, killer cops boating on the lake outside Art's house, and did I mention the missing $11 million dollars? No? Well, somebody has it. And a lot of people want it. Most of them want Art dead, too.

[Read my interview with author Robert E. Bailey here.]

In the spring of 2006, my indie bookseller recommended I read PRIVATE HEAT. Boy, did he ever nail that one. A tightly wound plot that fairly explodes off the pages, and a PI with humor and heart -- what's not to like? I ate it up with a spoon and went right back for the sequels. The book was a nominee for the 2003 Shamus Award for Best First Novel, and deservedly so.

Art Hardin isn't your typical loner PI. Nope, he's not Marlowe or Spade, too cynical to ever fall in love. And he's not Spenser, with a long-running relationship in which the parties never fully commit to a life together. No, Art is a middle-aged married man with two teenaged sons and a third son who is himself married. He has a no-nonsense wife named Wendy who runs her own business, and a receptionist-bookkeeper-landlady who he has to beg lunch money from. He also has a dog that has to be force-fed his daily meds. Most of Art's income is derived from insurance claims, and he does okay but he'll never get rich. It's impossible not to like Art because of his spirited nature and his never-fail sense of humor. In a zinger contest, he could easily go retort for retort with Elvis Cole.

It isn't just that Art's a funny guy. He's funny-smart. He's ahead of the Feds, ahead of the local constabulary, and well ahead of the reader. That means sooner or later he will catch up with the bad guys, who aren't so stupid themselves. Does he have a "code" like Spenser? Mm, maybe. He doesn't advertise it or thrash it out with his lady love as Spenser does, but when nobody's there to pick up the tab, Art continues to protect Karen, even after the hatchet job she tried on him. Art probably doesn't think of it as a personal code; he just knows that if he doesn't help her, she's going to be killed. In one of the funniest, most action-packed scenes in the book, a comatose Karen is kidnapped by a phony pair of EMTs. Art steals a ride in the back of the ambulance as his backup rushes to catch up. (Yes, he has backup. I told you he was smart.) The killers' plans for Karen are gruesome but Art manages to hide her (yes, hide her. In a moving ambulance. I told you he was smart.) and takes her place on the gurney. If people weren't shooting at each other shortly afterward, the whole thing  would play like a Marx Brothers movie. Funny AND exciting.

The puzzle is intricate, as good puzzles are that involve money-laundering, but the author makes it all come out in the, uh, wash. (Don't hit me for that pun!) PRIVATE HEAT is a rousing good read as Art vanquishes both the bad and the good guys, does so with style and wit, and the reader has a fine old time in the process.


PRIVATE HEAT and the other two Art Hardin books, DYING EMBERS and DEAD BANG were recently released in Kindle format; clicking on any of the titles will take you to the right place. And if you'd rather try Robert Bailey's work in a smaller, less expensive work, he has a short story, featuring Art Hardin, called THE SMALL MATTER OF TEN LARGE available for only 99 cents. Give it up, the dude is good.

Here's an excerpt from PRIVATE HEAT that will in no way spoil any plot points for you. In this scene Art -- who was arrested for murder and has just been released -- and a colleague, Ron, meet a potential new client, the rather odd Mr. Dutton.. Marg is Art's receptionist. Here's the description of Dutton, followed by the gist of his conversation with Art.

Marg sat, busy at her desk, looking sharp in a brown-checked suit and a tan silk blouse despite the fact  that a troll sat on the divan. He had a foot of grizzled beard that he'd gathered at the point of his chin with a little green rubber band, and a full head of hair that shagged down to his shoulders in filthy strings. Standing he couldn't have been more than five-foot-one or two and had to weight at least two-sixty. His baggy brown trousers were shiny at the back side and held up with suspenders. He wore a blue short-sleeved shirt and a red bow tie. Balanced on his knees was a brown cigar box that he secured in place with his two clammy paws. His fingernails were long, with a black half-moon at each fingertip.


"Now, how is it we can be of service to you, Mr. Dutton?"

"It's my mother-in-law," he said."She runs the trailer park where I live, so I can't get away from her. She tells my wife stuff and makes her all crazy like."

"Fascinating," I said.

"Like yesterday," said Dutton. "I sent her up to tell her mother that we still didn't have the lot rent." Dutton squirmed in his chair and visibly gritted his teeth. "And she come back saying like I should get a job, and take a bath, and clean up the junk around the trailer."

"How can we help you?"

"Well," he said and leaned forward, making his voice a coarse whisper, "I was going to do the bitch myself, but then I read about the hatchet number you laid on that cop, and I knew right off you were the man for the job."

"I didn't kill Officer Talon," I said.

Dutton closed an eye and made one vertical nod of his head. "Yes, and I want you to not kill my mother-in-law the same way you didn't kill that cop."

Dutton wrenched himself from the chair and planted the cigar box amid the disordered administrative rubble that constitutes the top of my desk. He lifted the lid so that I could see inside. "There's a hundred and eighty-seven dollars in there," he bragged, "and only just some of it is food stamps."

I looked at Ron and we nodded respectfully in unison.

"So you can see, I got the wherewithal," he said. "Your gal there said that you charged fifty dollars an hour and it's only up to Fifty-Second Street where you got to go. I figured to pay you for the whole hour, even if it only takes twenty minutes or so. If you can't work her in, then I'll just get an axe on the way home and whack her when I get there."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Dutton," I said. "That sounds like a good offer, with a fine tip included, but I just can't do it."

"Well, why not?" he asked as he picked up his treasure chest and backed up to the chair.

"It's in Kentwood," I said. "The Kentwood Police have the concession on domestic murder-for-hire in the City of Kentwood. They don't allow any poaching whatsoever."

"Right," said Ron. "They might even act like they caught you fair and square and put you in jail like a common criminal."

"Don't that beat all!" said Dutton, as the chair groaned under his descending weight.

"If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense," I said. "They have to conduct the investigation, and they can make sure it doesn't get out of hand."

"Well, I can see that," said Dutton as he wiped his nose with his wrist.

"Tell you what," I said. "I'll call Detective Van Huis. He's the chief of detectives, and he assigns the work out." I winked. "Has to get his cut, you know."

I picked up the telephone and started dialing.

"If he takes the job," said Ron, "Art and I get a nice cut."

"How much is this going to cost?" asked Dutton.

The line was ringing. "I'm sure you've got plenty," I said, "but I don't think he'll take the food stamps."

"Uppity cuss," said Dutton.