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July 2012

“The Trinity Games”: No Risk Involved, Pure Reward

Guest review by Michael Koryta, international best-selling thriller author of So Cold the River. His latest novel The Prophet releases August 7, 2012.

ChercoverI’m always intrigued when a writer who has a good thing going suddenly jumps the rails into new territory. I appreciate the courage, or lunacy (or combination thereof), that it takes to make that leap. Sean Chercover had a hell of a good thing going with his series of Ray Dudgeon PI novels including Big City, Bad Blood and Trigger City, but he decided to wander out on the creative ledge. Boy, am I glad he did.

The Trinity Game is the first in a trilogy about an investigator tasked with verifying miracles for the Vatican. Daniel Byrne has looked into a lot of claims and found a lot of hoaxes, and is now burdened by the internal questions that come with such a gig and results. Then he’s asked to look into the one “miracle” he knows he doesn’t need to bother with--his uncle, an Evangelical con man named Tim Trinity, is speaking in tongues and predicting the future.

Daniel knows Trinity’s games better than most, but he can’t figure out how Trinity is playing this one. After hundreds of investigations into miracle fraud, Daniel is staring the impossible in the face.

Where Chercover goes from this coiled starting point is impressive, TheTrinityGamebecause he holds plot carefully in one hand and deeper issues just as carefully in the other. Where a lesser writer would either lose the grasp of story to wander into metaphysical questioning or lose the heart of the story to speed those mysterious twists and turns along, Chercover calmly walks the tightrope for the full 400 pages. As a mystery, this one won’t let you down—brilliantly paced, brilliantly plotted. As a novel, this has something that forces you to stop and think and try to wrap your head around things from angles you hadn’t considered, to live in another person’s skin for a while.

The first job of a novelist is to transport the reader, and Chercover does that completely. His investigators are tasked with more than just a mystery. Questions of family, faith, and belief are always present and always challenged. While the crime drama and action are tremendous (and vintage Chercover), I was most taken by the emotional plight of his protagonist: in a world of false prophets, what would you do if you found a real one?

“He’d found it all,” Chercover writes, “just in time to risk it all.”

As for this read, no risk is involved--this is pure reward.

The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover released on July 31, 2012 and is now available on Kindle, in paperback, and hardcover.

Bitter Drink: An Interview with F.G. Haghenbeck

HaghenbeckNovelist, historian, and comic-book writer F.G. Haghenbeck is the author of The Secret Book of Frieda Kahlo, among other titles. His latest to be translated into English, Bitter Drink, won the Otra Vuelta de Tuerca award in Mexico for best mystery novel. 

Question: What inspired you to write Bitter Drink?

F.G. Haghenbeck: I decided to write a novel like the novels I love—something with a charismatic main character and the feeling of the pulp noir books that Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett wrote. Also, I've always loved the culture of the '60s: the cocktails, music, and film. I knew from the beginning that the story would happen in that decade.

At that time, I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the writer William Reed told me a real story about John Huston: He gave golden guns with silver bullets to each actor and actress in The Night of the Iguana. He figured that when the actors wanted to kill each other, they could use these weapons. I wondered what would have happened if someone had been killed with a gun like that. The rest came to me like magic. Then I was in the middle of writing the book and I felt something was missing—an outside voice that tied it all together. I used my knowledge of mixology to create the right environment, including drinks and songs in each chapter. I loved the result and have used it in other novels since.

Q: What are the key ingredients for creating a great noir-esque detective?

FGH: The character needs to be a son of a...in many ways, but he also needs to have a quality you can fall in love with. My favorite example is Philip Marlowe. He's like a medieval knight in a raincoat with a Remington in his hand.

Q: What are the noir novels that every mystery fan should read?

FGH: For me, one name: Raymond Chandler. He is the best 20th-century American writer. Of course, you have Hemingway or Capote, but Chandler created the hardboiled dialogue that became a trademark of urban fiction from the 1940s. His first novel, The Big Sleep, is my favorite.

Q: Which cast member from Night of the Iguana would you most like to have a cocktail with?

FGH: Ava Gardner, of course. She had dirty eyes and a really lustful smile. That's why she was called "the world's most beautiful animal." Although Richard Burton might be a better companion for a drink. He was a good drinker.

Nightingale Series: Chilling Occult Mysteries

Looking for a riveting mystery with unrelenting suspense and a demonic twist? Stephen Leather's Nightingale trilogy delivers just such a haunting read. The series focuses on Ex-cop turned private detective Jack Nightingale as he takes on the toughest and strangest cases of his career.

NightfallIn Nightfall (Nightingale: Book One) Jack discovers that he was adopted at birth. His real father sold Jack's soul to a demon. On his thirty-third birthday, just weeks away, that demon is coming for payment. Jack doesn't believe the story, but the more he looks into his past, the more secrets he discovers. And when people he talks to about his father begin to die mysteriously, he realizes that not believing in demons won’t protect him.

 

 

 MidnightIn Midnight (Nightingale: Book Two)  Jack goes on the hunt for the sister he never knew. But things quickly go terribly wrong.  Thriller author Vincent Zandri describes Midnight as "...a big, but fast-paced novel filled with a cast of characters that you’re just not going to find in your garden variety detective novel. And that’s what makes it such a joy to read. It is one of those thrillers that will keep you up all night and make you very late for work the next day."

 

 

NightmareJack's life changed forever on the day he failed to stop a young girl throwing herself to her death. Ever since, he's been haunted by thoughts that he could have done more to save her. Now her cries for help are louder than ever. But can Jack really help her? He will have to face down the police, south London gangs and Hell itself to find out. Nightmare (Nightingale: Book Three) releases on 11/20/2012.

Letting the World in to the English Midlands

Old GoldLGuest post by author Jay Stringer whose new mystery novel Old Gold released July 24, 2012.

Some people hate their home town, some love it. One way or another we’re all formed by it, and wherever I go, I’m taking the English Midlands with me. It’s like letting the world in on a secret.

It has a population the same size as Scotland, but it doesn’t have a devolved government of its own. It has a strong identity, but also gets buried amidst the media’s attempts to make everywhere into London.

In the Midlands factories were closed and mines were filled. Generations lost their jobs and their futures. What happens when industry collapses in an industrial region?

Many say there isn’t a gun culture in Britain. If you’ve lived in this area with your eyes open, you’ve seen things that the national press just doesn’t want to cover. There’s been an ongoing gang war in Birmingham for over 20 years, a real war with a real body count. And it's getting worse; where once it was a few gangs fighting to control the drug trade and nightclubs, now it's any number of young men with guns, fighting over streets and post codes.

Faithless StreetsBut you wouldn’t know any of this by picking up any of the nation’s newspapers. There’s nothing in anyone’s interest to report on people dying in the midlands. They’re the wrong class, the wrong color, and have the wrong accent.

For example, the IRA had a strong presence in the area during “the troubles” but no one asks what happened after that? More than once I’ve been in an Irish pub when the man came collecting for “the cause.” The whole world knows the story of how freedom fighters became terrorists, but does anyone want to hear the next chapter?

I want to write about a place that matters to me and to hopefully make you laugh, make you reel and make you think—after I’ve entertained you. Faithless Street and Old Gold are my attempts at a first person detective story of sorts. Pulp fiction, first and foremost, but they both sneak in some social fiction too.

They tell the story of a half-gypsy gangland detective. If you’re a businessman looking to find a statue of a falcon or a family looking for a missing toddler, you need not apply to Eoin Miller. If you’re a drug lord looking for a missing stash, or an illegal immigrant looking to stop a rapist, then he might be the man for you. He is very happy ignoring the world, his friends and his family. He’s doing a very nice job of learning to bury his conscience. He will take your money and find something you’ve lost, and then he will walk away.

"After Life": Literary Fiction Rediscovered

Guest post by Rhian Ellis, author of the novel After Life, a Nancy Pearl Book Lust Rediscoveries pick. Book Lust Rediscoveries is a series devoted to reprinting some of the best (and now out of print) novels. Each book is personally selected by Nancy Pearl and includes an introduction, as well as discussion questions for book groups.

After-lifePeople who've read my book, After Life, sometimes ask me if I believe in ghosts. This is not an easy question to answer. I've never actually seen one, and I think of myself as a rational person -- the kind of person who prefers scientific explanations for unusual phenomena. But I am pretty certain ghosts exist.

Once I spent several weeks working at an artists' and writers' colony down the road from where I lived. I wasn't sleeping there, just driving up in the morning and staying all day. The studios were in a large, beautiful house in the middle of a field, with big windows looking out toward the surrounding woods and hills. I had a desk and no Internet or phone – nothing but time and a coffee maker. But I couldn't get any work done. I'd get up and walk around, look out at the beautiful view, sit back down again. It was weird. I felt like someone was watching. There was a presence.

I knew a little about the history of the artists' colony. The house was built by a woman from a wealthy family. She was a photographer and painter and fell in love with the area. She died too young, and left the house and her fortune to a foundation to establish the colony. It was a wonderful way for her legacy to live on.

It was so wonderful that I couldn't stop thinking about her.

I wandered upstairs, where the dead woman's books were kept on shelves for the visiting artists and writers to browse through. Her paintings hung on the wall. She had bought some of the furniture in the house. The house itself, I realized, was one of her works of art: it was specially designed to take advantage of the natural surroundings and the local quality of light. Her presence was everywhere. It was unbearably sad, incredibly loving, and, well, ghostly. When I did write, finally, there was something of her, my own ghost, in the work.

Haunting, I think, is among the most human of experiences. It means we don't forget the dead, that our lives are not linear, and that once we are here we are always here, in some form or another. When we see ghosts, and incorporate them into our lives and our work, we acknowledge the significance of lives now over – over, maybe, but not, and never, finished.

"Seed": Page-Turning Terror

Guest review by bestselling horror and thriller author Blake Crouch.

SeedThe second greatest pleasure in reading is opening a favorite author's new book. But the greatest, for me at least, is discovering a new voice. It's deciding to give that sample a shot, getting through those first few pages, and becoming awestruck with the mounting feeling that you're reading something new and masterfully created.

It doesn't happen often. There's so much to read, and life is simply too short to slog through bad, or even mediocre books.

Such was my attitude as I began Seed by newcomer Ania Ahlborn, a story about the Winter family living in the deep south and struggling to come to terms with strange occurrences in their house (and themselves).

My hopes weren't high. This was a first novel, and even more than that, it was billed as horror. I love horror, and I've read, watched, and written quite a bit of it. So I'm very choosy. 

By the end of page one, I knew one thing—Ahlborn could write. This was carefully constructed prose by someone who slaves over their sentences, word by word.

By the end of page two, I knew she had a story to tell. But it was more than just that. It was that mounting feeling. It was how well she had drawn her characters. And most importantly...how freaking scary it was to read an intimate portrait of a family falling apart. This story is not about a haunted house, but something infinitely more unsettling. Haunted people.

It touches brilliantly on two of a parent's greatest fears: fear of your own child, and fear that your own failings, your own past, might derail their lives. I was deeply moved.

The ending of Seed is every bit as twisted, gut-wrenching, and horrifying as Stephen King's Pet Sematary, and that's no easy feat.

Great horror instills you with that twinge of discomfort and then it just keeps ratcheting it up. It takes you to places you're not sure you can handle or want to see. But if the writing is amazing and we care about the characters, we can't stop ourselves from turning the pages.  

Seed  is great horror—a dark, fearless, unflinching blast of suburban spookiness that reminded me of early Stephen King. It's easily the best debut novel—in any genre—that I've read in years. 

How Crazy Bosses Helped Create “Spitfire”

Guest post by Annette Sandoval, author of Spitfire, released July 17, 2012. With its larger-than-life heroine and delightfully sarcastic tone, Spitfire offers readers a refreshing crime fiction that is anything but the expected.

SpitfireAh, the crazy boss. Who hasn't had one of those?

Throughout my working career I've had a few wonderful bosses; the rest have been a bag of mixed nuts. No longer confined to a cubicle—which we all know is a padded cell without a door—I started reflecting on the odd personalities I had to endure for a paycheck. It occurred to me that good bosses are all alike; every bad boss is evil in his own way.

After shuddering, I let my imagination run wild. I thought, “What if an office drone suspected her boss of being a serial killer? And what if he had a crush on her? Sure, that would suck, but what could she do?”

That was how I came up with Spitfire. Twenty-eight-year-old Tomi Reyes is a documentary filmmaker who moonlights as a receptionist to pay the bills. But shortly after she is promoted to assistant, her new boss starts exhibiting mercurial moods. When Tomi's friends are targeted by a serial killer, she suspects her boss of the grisly crimes. Unfortunately for Tomi, all of the evidence is pointing to her.

Find out what happens to Tomi in Spitfire, now available on Kindle.

Guest Blogger: Best-selling Picture Book Author and Illustrator, Nancy Tillman

Nancy Tillman Nancy Tillman is the author and illustrator of the best-selling picture books On The Night You Were Born, The Spirit of Christmas, Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You, The Crown on Your Head, and Tumford the Terrible. All are available on Kindle Fire.

I believe there is a short window in the life of a child when whatever his parents tell him is planted deep in his heart. That's why my books are all about love. Always. I just don't feel a child can get enough of that message. So I find it wonderful when a new platform arrives that helps parents not only instill that message, but do so simply and beautifully.

The Kindle Fire lets you enjoy my books in an entirely new way. While the illustrations come to life in dazzling, vibrant color, the pages are easily scrolled by little fingers, or by your own. You can snuggle and giggle just as you do with my hardback books but, with the Kindle Fire, you can travel with all of them in one convenient place.

The is nothing I love more than writing and illustrating for your children. It is a privilege and a blessing. So I hope this new way of accessing my collection will delight you and your family as much as it does me.

--Nancy Tillman

Guest Blogger: Andrew Gross on "15 Seconds"

15 SecondsThis is a guest post by best-selling thriller writer, Andrew Gross.

Generally, when thriller writers go into where they get their ideas from, they cite the newspapers or a random story they were told. In the case of 15 Seconds, the opening scenario that launches the action actually happened to me.

I was driving in Houston, Texas—Old Houston, actually, with tram tracks and cobblestone streets—on a book tour of all things, for Reckless, searching for my hotel. (Which, because of a wrong address put on my itinerary, was nowhere even in the area.) My GPS instructed me to “make a legal U-turn,” if I could, and I’d arrive there.

I looked down the block. At first, I thought about making a series of right turns that would place me on the other side of the street. Then I thought, Jeez, that might be a one-way street, better not. Not seeing any other vehicles around, I just went, the hell with it, and made an illegal U-ey.

Next thing I knew there were flashing lights behind me. A policeman got out of his car; he looked as if it was his first day on job. He came up and asked me for my license and proof of insurance.

Proof of insurance?” I replied, surprised. “It’s a rental car. I don’t have proof of insurance.”

“Driving without insurance is a violation of Texas law,” he said back. “Punishable by a five hundred dollar fine!”

It’s a rental car, I told him again, contritely, blathering on about how confusing it was down there and how I was just following the GPS to get to my hotel.

What hotel?” he asked, arching his eyebrows. I looked and didn’t see one. Before I could explain, he had already gone back to his car. I waited, annoyed at my rotten luck. And at him. Going on about proof of insurance. But when he came back, I had no idea what was about to come.

“What are you writing me up for, officer?” I asked, disconsolate. He was carrying several tickets in his hands.

“Making an illegal U-turn. Driving without proper proof of insurance.” I groaned. Then, “And driving down a one-way street,” he said.

Driving down a one-way street!”  Excitedly, I told him I hadn’t driven down a one-way street! I hadn’t even started the turn. I said I was an author, on my way to a book signing. That only someone who was impaired would drive down a one-way street. I pleaded about my driving record, my insurance premiums. I was never threatening. I was never disrespectful. I never raised my voice. But at some point he warned me if he heard another word out of me, I wouldn’t like the result.

I guess I gave him that word.

“That’s it!” he shouted. “Out of the car! You’re under arrest.”

Under arrest?”  Flabbergasted, my jaw dropped.

In seconds I was thrown up against his car, my hands bound tightly behind me. As he tossed me into the back of his car, I was reeling in total disbelief.

Out of nowhere, eight new patrol cars pulled up, lights flashing. They closed off the street, diverted passersby who gathered around, peering at the prisoner in the back of the police car. Me!

One by one, the cops came up to me, each of their questions growing a lot more serious. “Who was the woman in the car with you?” one asked.

“When was the last time you were stopped by the Houston police?”

Finally, “What were you doing in a Federal office building in downtown Houston an hour ago?”

To each one, I defended myself. I said I didn’t know what they were talking about. That I was an author on a book tour. That I’d just gotten off a plane. With that last question, I felt my heart nearly stop. I realized I was in a strange city, in the back of a police car, in cuffs, told I was going to jail. And now suspected of Homeland Security kinds of crimes...

I racked my brain wondering whom I was going to call.

Eventually, the situation ended benignly for me. They realized I was telling the truth. One by one, they got back in their cars and began to drive away. The first cop took me out of the handcuffs and put me back in my car. I suspected they were letting me go.

But as I waited for him to come back over, I started to think, what if someone drove right up now and put a bullet in his head?  The crowds had dispersed. There’d be no one to see. There would only be one suspect. The person who had been in the back of his car, in custody, only minutes before. Me!

And that’s the situation that my hero Henry Steadman finds himself at the start of 15 Seconds. Alone.  Having been picked up by the police. And having witnessed something terrible.

Except things don’t end quite as benignly for him!

--Andrew Gross

True Story Inspires New San Francisco Thriller

Jim KohlbergAuthor Jim Kohlberg has worn many hats: award-winning producer; screenplay writer; film and stage director. The Golden Gate Is Red, his first novel, is inspired by a true story that shook the financial world in 2001. The tightly woven thriller follows Max Smoller, a forensic tax accountant who must face unfinished business when a former friend and partner suddenly dies.

 

This brush with death throws Max into a tailspin. His world is further jeopardized when the woman he once loved reappears. Clearly, the people Max thought had moved on without him have been keeping tabs on him all along.

 

The Golden Gate Is Red by Jim KohlbergDiana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, described Kohlberg’s tale as “darkly atmospheric and deeply evocative—a chillingly Chandleresque dive into the lives and crimes of the wealthy and corrupt of San Francisco.”

 

From The Golden Gate is Red:

 

Until that March, I knew not death and it knew not me.

 

But now it fills my heart and hands and nose, like the smell of the rich California loam I threw on Joe’s coffin, the dry peaty warmth of the clods thudding on the cherrywood, the dust of it staining my palms. We’re born dying and we know it—that’s what I found that spring of 2003. I carry it with me every waking day.

 

Learn more about the true story behind The Golden Gate Is Red: