Saturday, July 2, 2011

Jeff Abbott at Murder by the Book


Scott D. Parker

On a hot night in H-Town, the last day of June, Jeff Abbott revealed the secret to the greatest author research scam in history.

I first learned about Abbott last year when he published Trust Me. I can't recall how it was I came to know about the book. Perhaps it was the fact that the hero, Luke Dantry, worked at the University of Texas, or that part of the story was set here in Houston. Regardless of how I came to Trust Me, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and Abbott landed himself on my Must Read List.

He's touring Texas this year, visiting bookstores to correspond with the publication of his new book, Adrenaline. New to American readers. English readers already have the second book in their hands. When I learned Abbott was going to have a signing at Murder by the Book, I cleared the calendar.

Since the last time I attended a signing--our very own Joelle Charbonneau--McKenna Jordan changed up the shop a bit. Well, not the shop, just where the authors give their presentations. Where once the authors station was up near the front, now, the authors answer questions and talk about their books at the back of the store.

Standing next to the shelf of used espionage paperbacks, Abbott talked enthusiastically about Adrenaline. It's Sam Capra's first adventure. Once Abbot shifted his books from traditional mysteries--and series characters--to thrillers, he wrote stand-alones. Many readers questioned Abbott about the return of Luke or some of his other protagonists. In his mind, he puts those characters through the wringer without having to think about leaving them in one piece for the next book. That's the beauty of stand-alone books.

With Sam Capra, Abbott set out to create a series character. But everything's been done before. Or so he thought. What about an ex-CIA agent? Done. Okay, what about one who is only twenty-five, at the beginning of his life? Better. Ah, and how about if this young, ex-CIA agent say, owned bars across the world? Bingo!

Yeah, but first he's got to be saved from an exploding building, see his pregnant wife kidnapped, and be accused of treason. That's not a spoiler. That's dust jacket copy.

Thursday was an exciting night to meet Abbott. In the UK, his first YA novel landed in the stores. Yesterday, Adrenaline was published, complete with loads of accolades. It's like being on the cusp of something huge.

How about that author/research scam? What better way, Abbott reasoned, to learn about different bars in Europe that to...visit different bars in Europe. It was one of his European publishers who commented that Abbott had stumbled upon the greatest research scam in history. I mean, think about it: he gets to go to bars, drink a cocktail or two, and it's all tax deductible.

Hey. You know. He's on to something. I think my next hero is going to be a food critic in the Caribbean...

Book of the Week: Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott. As if I'd do something else...?

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Case of the Deadly Designer

By Russel D McLean

Hey, check out these beauties.

See these covers, they were designed for the digital editions of my books. Well, one’s the UK Digital edition of THE GOOD SON and the other’s a short story collection that’s going to be available to wherever you are once the final element falls into place.

In this case, its not the content that makes me proud, but the covers. Those covers are something else, believe me. And they were designed by one of the most talented guys in the business, JT Lindroos. It was Allan Guthrie who pointed me to JT when we were looking to find a cover for THE GOOD SON. I was impressed by what I’d seen him do on Guthrie’s covers and when I realised he was one of the geniuses behind Point Blank Press (who debuted, among others, Guthrie himself, Ray Banks and Duane Swierczynski) I thought, yeah, this guy’s worth approaching. A few emails later, he had the feel of THE GOOD SON down in a way I never expected.

Thing was, THE GOOD SON had a clear brief. When I went back to him with a series of linked short stories, my brief was less clear, maybe more muddled. But we worked back and forth on a while and in the end he did the unexpected and gave me a very cool, very moody cover for the mooted THE DEATH OF RONNIE SWEETS that did everything I wanted and maybe even a little more. He’s been a pleasure to work with and an absolute professional throughout. Go check his website right here to see other examples of his often fantastic cover work, for e-books, for book covers, for all kinds of things.

I mention JT today for two reasons. One is that, as anyone who knows me will attest, I’m a cover snob and a real stickler for what I consider to be good design work. JT nails his work, he really does, and its no wonder that so many people return to him for repeat business. He’s got an eye for the eye-catching and understands about the mood of the work he’s representing.

And less you think he is merely a cynical, crime-fuelled psychotic, he has a softer side too as evdienced by this cover for a good friend of mine, the romance writer, Holly Millar:

And the second reason is that JT turns 40 today. Yep, they say that’s when life begins, and for a man with JT’s talent and expertise, I’m sure it really is only just beginning. So this post really is just an extended way for me to say, happy birthday, JT, and thanks so much for the fantastic cover designs*.

*And a happy birthday from Holly, too.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Better Late than Never

Planned on posting a big article about fear, but I'm going to do that next week. Well, it'll be written today and tomorrow, and posted next week. Well, that's the plan anyway. I mean... just wait you'll see.

Meanwhile, if you missed it the great Elizabeth A. White (no relation), posted this great review of Collateral Damage.

In the review, she mentions Russel's, Joelle's, Sandra's, and yours truly's stories.

You can buy the Antho here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Anne Emery – the Collins-Burke series

John McFetridge

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be involved with an evening of crime at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto and the headliner was Anne Emery, author of the Collins-Burke mystery series.

The first book in the series, Sign of the Cross, introduced Monty Collins a lawyer who... well, I’ll just let the back copy say it:

Be careful what you wish for, his mother used to say. Yet how many times, in his twenty years defending the underclass, has Monty Collins wished for a client who is intelligent, articulate and tattoo-free? Now he has one, but it’s not long before his mother’s warning comes back to haunt him. Father Brennan Burke was born in Ireland, raised in New York, educated in Rome – he’s equally fluent in Latin and the language of the street. And he is the prime suspect in the killing of a foxy young girl whose body was found carved with a religious sign, a sign that points straight to the priest.
From their first meeting, Monty finds Burke acerbic, arrogant, and evasive about his relationship with the victim. Conflict between lawyer and client simmers all through the ordeal that lies ahead, as evidence piles up and murder charges seem inevitable. With Burke remaining tight-lipped about his past, Monty has no choice but to go behind his back and conduct a probe into the life of his own client. Never in his career has Monty been so lost for answers, until a long-forgotten incident takes on new and ominous meaning...

Sounds good, doesn’t it. The book takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city and a province that’s almost always seen through the eyes of tourist promoters eyes so it’s great to have some characters dig into the place a little deeper. My Mom grew up in rural Nova Scotia and I spent my summers as a kid at my grandmother’s house there (which didn’t have indoor plumbing until my Dad put it in when I was eight) and there are definitely non-tourist places.

The second book in the series, Obit features one Declan Burke, a terrific crime writer who also runs the blog, Crime Always Pays and... no, that’s not right. This Declan Burke, “fled Ireland forty years ago and never looked back. Now settled in New York, he thinks he’s put the old country behind him, until he reads the obituary of one Cathal Murphy. The obituary, he sees at once, is not about Murphy at all. It is a coded indictment of Burke’s own life.”

More in the series:

Anne's books are available in hardcover, trade paperback and e-books from all the usual suspects and, of course, if you're in Ontario the best place to get them is the Sleuth of Baker Street. If you can't make it to the store you can always order them online here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Reading List: A Drop Of The Hard Stuff

By Jay Stringer

Summer is here. Well, it's not here, because summer is never here in Glasgow. We have that one day a year when the big yellow thing comes out in the sky, and we all panic, paint ourselves blue and prepare to leap off the nearest rooftop in preparation of the great judgement.

But enough about Glasgow. I'm talking about the world. Well, okay, I'm talking about the bits of the world that are now entering summer.

Okay, I should just back this up and start again, shouldn't I?

My point is, it's that time of year when people start to take long vacations and read more books. So I'm going to take a couple weeks to suggest a few to you.

Back when I was first really getting into crime fiction, somebody thrust a well-worn copy of Lawrence Block's Eight Million Ways To Die into my hands. I still have that copy, even though I've had chance to purchase 'better' versions of it (with nicer covers, for the book fetishist in me.) I was told it was a P.I story and I'd already read a few of those. I'd seen the films, I knew how the game went. I was already itching for crime stories told from a different point of view, I didn't want stories I'd already read, not to keep going over the same ground. Then the trick happened. Eight Million Ways To Die was the first P.I. novel to truly surprise me.

I love the P.I. genre, and there are many brilliant authors who write in it, but it was that book that gave me the kick in the right direction. I've talked about Matt Scudder many times before, both here and on the podcast, where we've also heard the character praised by Reed Farrel Coleman, Gerald So, and our very own Russel D McLean. There's little to add to the praise we've already heaped out. Or so I thought.

Then Lawrence Block went and wrote a new Scudder novel.

A Drop Of The Hard Stuff came out a few months ago from the awesome folks over at Mulholland Books. It's the first Scudder book since 2005's All The Flowers Are Dying, which seemed to be the endcap to the series, and it takes us back a couple of decades to a key era of Matt's life.

Matt Scudder was the P.I. who faced up to alcoholism. He stood up at a meeting, gave his name, and admitted his problem. Originally the series was to stop there. I mean, what story is there to tell about a P.I. who stops drinking, right? It's done, right? Somewhere along the way Lawrence Block realised that the character was still talking in his ear, that putting down the bottle was only the start, and that there were many more stories left to tell. But we've never seen those first few years, we've never seen Matt's battle with sobriety in it's infant steps. With Hard Stuff we get a glimpse at that time in the characters life, and it opens up a lot of possibilities.

Duality is a common theme on crime fiction. It's built into the very DNA of the genre, where we write about the haves and the have nots. Playing with this basic duality is a rich vein, and here Block shows us the different road that Scudder could have gone. He is hired to investigate the death of a childhood friend from the Bronx. When Matt Scudder zigged and became a cop, Jack Ellery zagged and became a criminal. Flip sides of the same coin, their lives circling each other over the years without ever coming back together. They both ended up in A.A. though, because there are some things you can't outrun.

Ellery was following the twelve steps and attempting to atone for past sins, and it got him killed. Scudder has to follow the trail, facing up to his own mortality at the same time as his own disease, and put the pieces together before the killer can vanish into the crowd of NYC.

What follows is exactly what we've come to expect from Scudder. It's a meditation on honesty, fidelity and addiction. Which sins need atoning for, and which are forgotten the minute you commit them? And what small measures do we use to keep on getting through the day?

Some crime novels are about the act. About the violence, the murder or the confrontation. But Hard Stuff is about consequences. It's about walking your feet back over old ground and having to think things through.

I'm usually not a fan of bookending a story, but Block is one of the few authors who can do it well. He used the trick to great effect in When The Sacred Ginmill Closes, which is my personal favourite, and he does it again here. The book opens with Scudder in his twilight years, in the modern Hells Kitchen, before flashing back to the mid-80's. It's a bitter sweet feeling to go back in time and see characters who pass away later in the series. It's also a great way to chronicle the gentrification of the neighbourhood, to show that the mean streets are still there, but that they're now much cleaner, and decorated with Starbucks. There's a sense of melancholy hanging over the book that probably wouldn't be there without the framing device, and that's why it works so well.

One of the best tributes I can pay to Block is New York City. I visited the city for the first time last summer after a lifetime of reading about it. I blogged about my experience last summer, of the odd sense of familiarity mixed in with such an exciting and alien city. The streets may look different from the books, and the cast may have changed, but I felt a strange sense of familiarity as I explored the city on foot, and a large part of that was down to Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder.

He's the character who won't go away. Every time the author has put him on the shelf, he's climbed back down for another go. I hope we get to see more of this era, so see more of his early faltering steps on the road to redemption.

A Drop Of The Hard Stuff is available right now from Mulholland and is one of the books under consideration over that DoSomeDamage Book Group.

Next week I'll be adding a comedy to your reading list. Or a travel book. Or a political book. Or an exercise manual's all of those things.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Harvest of Ruins

I've been sick the past few days, and haven't been operating at peak efficiency, so this seems like a great time to share with you a little piece of my new manuscript, HARVEST OF RUINS.

No Crime Scene

They say the last thing you see before you die is recorded in your eyes. Hunter McKenna wondered if this was what Adam Fields’ eyes would show if they could see that image. His body surrounded by a white porcelain bathtub surrounded by marble tile, water pelting down at him from above?

“Goddamn CSI shit.”

Hunter McKenna, a detective sergeant with the provincial police, watched her partner swear, turn, stomp across the room and swing his foot at the trash can. When Noah Wilmott’s toe connected with the steel bin it rose into the air before it tipped sideways and the contents spilled all over the floor.

He limped and cursed for a few steps, although he kept the words under his breath. Hunter knew him well enough to know what he was saying, though. It seemed like Noah hadn’t thought kicking the can would hurt as much as it apparently did. His hair was black as coal but he had the temper of a redhead, a temper he tried to rein in and offset with a groomed appearance, but there were times his nature defied the suit-and-tie charmer image he worked so hard to project.

Next to her partner, Hunter felt frumpy. He had a nicer wardrobe, a more recent haircut and most of the time he appeared polished. Her hair wisped around her face, her curves threatened to push her out to the next clothing size, and she never had felt like dress pants fit properly anyway.

Noah staggered out the door, down the hall.

“Where the hell is Heineman? That goddamn spit-for-brains no-good sack of shit.” There was a pause as Heineman was located, and then Noah’s voice returned with a roar. “Prove you aren’t totally useless. Tell me it occurred to you for even just a split second to turn the water off and stop running evidence down the goddamn drain.”

Under other circumstances a smile might have tugged at Hunter’s lips, but on this occasion she could understand her partner’s anger. The discovery of a body had been reported around the time early risers ate breakfast. The late risers had been deprived of their opportunity to sleep in, at least in this cul de sac, unless the growing chorus of sirens that had reached their crescendo outside this otherwise normal home hadn’t piqued their curiosity and their curtains were thick enough to block out the swirling lights of the half dozen plus emergency vehicles that had converged there.

By the time Hunter and Noah had arrived the slipper-and-robe brigade had swelled to such a size that she guessed the bystanders included residents from as far as three blocks away. The joggers and dog-walkers interspersed with the sleep-deprived explained the spread of information throughout the quiet community.

They’d been on the front step when the first camera crew arrived.

Hunter looked down at the body in the tub, felt the heat of the steam on her skin as she snapped a plastic glove over her hand, reached for the tap and turned the water off. Goddamn CSI shit indeed.

The reported body lay in the tub of what was undoubtedly the master bath, adjacent to a massive bedroom that a one-bedroom apartment could fit inside, with room to spare. Considering the size of the room, and the fact that the door to the master bath had reportedly been left open, the house must have had one hell of a hot water tank. The steam had fogged the mirror and she’d felt the heat when she’d twisted the spigot. Hunter stepped aside for Dr. Eaton, although the bathroom itself was as large as a standard bedroom, and she was hardly in his way.

The wizened doctor prepared himself to examine the body and knelt by the tub. “Apparent cause of death would be from a gunshot wound to the temple.” Dr. Eaton’s voice was gruff but hinted at no emotional response. He carefully lifted the decedent’s hands and examined them.

They’d been folded neatly across the boy’s naked body, resting on his stomach, where the spray of water from the shower nozzle had been directed.

Deliberate or coincidence?

“We’ll check for gunshot residue, but the water…” Dr. Eaton stood up and shook his balding head. “Obviously, core body temperature and rate of decomposition has been affected.” He bent over and lifted the victim’s leg a few inches, grunted, and nodded. “He’s pretty fresh. I can’t even swear to cause of death until I get him on the table.”

Hunter nodded. It was what she’d expected to hear. “Hot water was still running. We might be able to establish a window based on the size of their tank, how much hot water remains…” She’d have to have someone shut the system down so that it didn’t start replenishing the supply. “Glad you were in the area.”

He grunted again. “Convenient when I live across town.”

Or not so convenient, Hunter thought as she watched him glance at the body again. “Recognize him?” she asked.

“Adam Fields.”

Adam Fields… Where did she know the name? It clicked. Her former partner Tom’s daughter. Adam was a boy Vinny had played with. Hunter could remember a few times, when she’d been in the neighborhood where Tom’s ex-wife still lived, and seen Adam as a young boy. Blond hair, and truly white skin. He’d stood out almost as much as Jonah.

Jonah, a gorgeous boy with light brown skin, huge chocolate eyes, and clothes that bordered on rags. Somehow, as children they’d overlooked the obvious differences.

But with age came the loss of innocence, that taint of the world and the distorted views so many held.

Hunter remembered what had happened to Jonah.

Wondered if Adam had been there.

“Did you know him?” Dr. Eaton asked.

“Never struck me as the type to play Russian roulette,” she said.

“Won’t know what killed him until I get him on the table,” Dr. Eaton repeated. “Any blood’s long since swirled down the drain.”

Meaning that there may not have been sufficient blood loss to indicate the head wound was the cause of death. They hadn’t found Adam Fields’ clothes, they hadn’t found the gun, and there wasn’t any blood spatter on the walls. That meant that even if Adam had pulled the trigger himself, in that room, someone else had been there to clean up. Someone sophisticated enough to put him in the tub and turn the water on, and they may have been smart enough to use a gun to try to conceal the real cause of death. A gunshot wound was just a gunshot wound, until the doctor said otherwise.

She watched him shuffle out the door, through the adjoining bedroom, and saw Noah return. He ran his fingers through his hair the way he did when he was frustrated. He saw her watching him, took a breath, lowered his hand, straightened his tie.

A quick nod at one of the uniforms was all she needed to get him to approach her. After relaying her instructions, she turned to her partner. “Remind me why we’re here?”

“Because we’re dealing with all youth crimes these days.”

“And this qualifies how?” she asked.

“Suspicious death of a kid.”

She made a face at him. “We’ve got the vandalism from a few days ago, not to mention the drug leads we're chasing up. Musquash High’s been flooded with a new supply.”

“And this is going to take priority.” Noah shook his head. “It’s a teenager. A local boy. Drugs are just like God and the Tooth Fairy; they don’t really exist until your kid’s stealing money from your wallet to feed their habit, or the junkies are dropping like flies on the sidewalk in front of your house. But this is a body.”

He was right. All that mattered was that this was a teenager who was dead and shouldn’t be.

The drug case would have to wait.

“The doctor can’t be certain about cause of death.”

“Big surprise.” Noah scowled.

“What else have we got?”

“The keystone cops bungled every part of the scene they could get their hands on. I sent Heineman outside, on perimeter duty. Too bad there wasn't an Arctic outpost to send his ass to."

"He'd still find a way to screw that up somehow.”

Noah cracked a smile.

She’d already surveyed the master bedroom, and quickly exited, followed the hall to the main bath, checked it, and proceeded to the other bedroom.

All the furniture was pushed to the walls, the black and steel desk and shelves containing nothing more than a computer and a few books and boxes. The white carpet didn’t appear to have so much as a speck of dust on it.

Still, she did a full 360°, pushed the closet door open and confirmed it was also clear.

As she stepped back out into the hallway, Noah shook his head. “No gun. No bits of brain splattered against a wall. No blood stains.” They walked towards the stairs. “And courtesy of a timed sprinkler system the front and back yards are as wet as the bathtub.”

“Sprinklers? In October?” This was a year when drought hadn't been an issue. Enough rain had fallen throughout the spring to keep the grass growing steadily, green as the leaves on the trees, and with the arrival of fall the rain had returned.

The officer Hunter had tasked with checking the hot water heater stopped short, three quarters of the way up the stairs, when he saw them at the landing. Elijah Two-Rivers was tall, fit, with a booming voice that he somehow managed to soften appropriately whenever he was on the job. Hunter rarely visited the bar with her colleagues – not with a daughter waiting for her at home – but when she had stopped in for a few moments, she’d taken note of Elijah. He was the one who kept the party in check, which was why she’d selected him for her assignment. He was a young officer who was going places, and not just because of any affirmative action policy those passed over would blame.

He looked her straight in the eye. “You’re not going to like it,” he said. “They have a tank and an on-demand system. Damnedest thing…” He shook his head. “If that was the only water running and it wasn’t full pressure it could have been on for hours and the water would still come through hot.”

Hunter cursed the homeowners silently but thanked the officer. Elijah turned and looked as though he was about to descend to the main floor, but then stopped. “I also looked at the sprinklers outside,” he said.

Noah frowned. “Why?”

Elijah glanced at Hunter, then faced Noah as he answered him. “To see where it connected and what time it came on. The timer wasn’t activated.” He glanced back at Hunter. “I just thought you’d like to know.”

Hunter nodded and thanked him again. She raised an eyebrow as she glanced at her partner. “Remind me. How did this call come in?” They walked down the stairs.

“Anonymous 911 call from a pay-and-talk cell phone.”

“And who lives here?”

Noah flipped back a few pages in his notebook. “William and Eileen Shannon. Neighbors say William’s in finance, and Eileen works at Soldiers' Memorial Hospital in Orillia.”

“A couple with a lot of money.”

“And no kids, never mind teenagers.”

At the bottom of the stairs there was a door that presumably went to the garage. It took no more than a second to confirm that, and to verify that there was no vehicle parked inside. Hunter closed the door.

Noah smiled as he tapped his fingers against his notebook. “Neighbors say they’re on vacation. Crete.”

So far they had a naked dead boy in a bathtub, in a house he seemed to have no reason to be in, no murder scene, no witnesses, no certainty about what had killed him and not a whole hell of a lot to go on.

They were off to a great start.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Okay. I admit that I hate when people ask me that question. Not because I don’t have an answer – I do, but I always feel like it’s the wrong answer. So many writers I know answer that question not only with a YES but with stories of writing their own books at the age of six or eight or ten. I love listening to those authors talk about their lifelong love affair with writing and their longtime desire to reach readers with their words. When they are done I always feel a bit ashamed that my answer to the same question is no.

No. I didn’t always want to be a writer. While I have had loved reading from the time I learned to do it on my own, I admit that while growing up it was never my dream to be an author. Reading other people’s stories or bringing other people’s words alive on the stage was what I was good at. It was what I did. In fact, when I started typing my first book it wasn’t because I had a burning passion for writing the next great American novel. I simply had an idea for the beginning of a story and was curious to see where the story would take me. It wasn’t until I finished that manuscript that I really started wondering if I could learn the skills necessary to make the words I wrote good enough for publication.

Funny, but while I’ve had one book published, another coming out this year and more on the way, my reasons for writing haven’t changed. I mean, sure, I’d like to make money at this adventure. If for no other reason than to justify all the time I spend in front of my computer putting words on the screen. But my core reason for writing remains the same. I have an idea that intrigues me. I write to see where that idea goes.

Do I hope that someone some day might want to read the story? Sure. But that isn’t the reason I write. I write because I want to know how the story unfolds. I want to see how the story ends. It’s about me. My curiosity. My interest in the characters and the troubles they face. I don’t wonder about the readers who might open the book or the publishers who might be interested in giving me a contract on the book until I hit THE END. Because until that point – it is my story. Written just for me.

So maybe I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. Maybe I never dreamed I could finish writing book let alone ten manuscripts. And maybe some days I feel guilty that I have adopted the dream that so many others came to early in life and have yet to find success with. One thing is certain – no matter if I never get another publishing contract and if no one else beyond my household reads another word that I write – I will continue to write. Because I want to know how the story goes. It’s as simple as that.

So I guess I want to hear your writing story. Why do you write? What makes you sit down and face a blank screen day after day hoping the words come in order to fill it?