Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Lightning Rod by Brad Meltzer

Scott D. Parker

If it’s spring, then it’s time for another Brad Meltzer book.

For the past few years, a new Meltzer book—either fiction or non-fiction—is published. After a two-book non-fiction detour—The First Conspiracy (about George Washington) and The Lincoln Conspiracy—Meltzer returns to the heroes from The Escape Artist.

In the intervening years, Meltzer allowed both Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, a mortician who left his job at Dover Air Force Base, and Nola Brown, the US Army’s painter-in-residence, to age and move froward after the events from that previous book. Zig is now in a private mortuary, mostly happy to have left his old life behind. That is, until he receives word that “one of our own,” Archie Mint, has been murdered in his car, parked in his own driveway.

Now, we readers know what happened because Meltzer showed us in the opening scene. But there is more than meets the eye. In fact, by the time you reach the end of the book, you might be compelled to re-read chapter 1. I’m just saying.

Nola, meanwhile, has gone off the grid. She, too, is pulled into the case of the death of Mint, but for different reasons. Because everything is not like it appears (natch: it’s a thriller). Mint has been hiding things, things that his family discovered after his death.

To make matters even more interesting, Nola’s long lost brother is now looking for her. Graduates of the foster program, they were separated in their early teen years and now Roddy wants to reconnect. But for good, or for ill?

All of these elements—and an interesting sub-plot for Zig—are thrown together on a roller coaster and Meltzer sends the reader careening.

Now, as with all Meltzer books I’ve consumed, I listened to the audiobook by Narrator Supreme, Scott Brick. And, as always, I love his narration style, the way he can make the most basic of descriptions sound even more interesting than Meltzer’s actual words. He always puts just the right amount of sarcasm, shock, boredom, or whatever kind of emotion the character is feeling or saying. Scott Brick could read the phone book and I’d probably buy a copy and listen.

The construction of this book is Thriller 101. I don’t mean than in a bad way at all. Seltzer is an accomplished commercial writer and he knows how to craft and pace a modern thriller. Just because I could see all the architecture of the story detracted not at all from its enjoyment.

And that sub-plot Meltzer throws at Zig? I think it’s a great example of how the smallest, most human of feelings can rise up whenever and wreck havoc on a person’s life, even when that person is in the middle of an exciting investigation.

I could use some sort of hyperbolic imperative to compel you to read this book, but I don’t really have to. It’s a Brad Meltzer thriller, narrated by Scott Brick. It’s a win-win. That’s all you need to know.  

Friday, March 25, 2022

My Last Crime Novel?

 By Jay Stringer

Holy crap everybody. I have a book coming out in TWO WEEKS. You believe that? As in...the week that comes when next week ends. As in...once this seven-day block ends and rolls over into another one, and then into the one after that. I mean...that's pretty soon, right? Another thing I wrote will be out in the world in just a few days. And people seem to like it. 


Imagine who Karen Sisco might have become if she'd quit the US Marshal Service after her run-in with Jack Foley. If she'd become a 'recovery agent' (let's say bounty hunter, it's more fun.) If she lived in Arizona and drove a cool car and then, one day, took on a case that reopened the past. Both 'the past' as in an unsolved case that haunts her, and 'the past' as in a girl she kissed in high school and has had a few 'what if' thoughts running around the back of her heart ever since. 


Ah yes. You got me. All of that is what happens, but not what the book is about. I'll be honest, I don't really like talking about that stuff. I think that's the secret sauce of a book. Something the writer should shut the hell up about, and let the reader find or not find the subtext as they choose fit. But I've said a few things publicly about this one that requires some follow-up. 

I would suggest one of the things this book could be about is...when is it too late to change your lane? If you find yourself in your thirties or forties and feel a bit stale, is it too late to try something new? I started writing this one as a fun road story/heist novel mashup. And soon Chloe Medina started to tell me that maybe she was unhappy with this cool, laid-back, fun bounty hunter role and was actually knee-deep in an identity crisis. And she wanted to know if the person she'd become was the person she had to be. 

And that was funny because...


My first novel was published in 2012. I've been either a full-time or part-time crime writer for a decade now. And there is a lot of water under that bridge. I've written the best damn book I could every time. But...I don't know. I think maybe I've written the book here that accidentally was about me. Not wanting to be angry or bitter, still wanting to have fun and be a positive influence, but realizing that maybe it's time to do that in a different lane. I started writing crime novels in my twenties, I'm now in my forties and I've changed a lot. I have two Marah Chase adventures to reissue in paperback this summer, and two more planned after that. I'm writing a horror/SF/speculative novel that's proving crazy difficult to finish. And then after that...we'll see. Life comes at you fast. Sometimes you need to roll with it. Sometimes you need to pause and take stock. 

But don't worry. I'm also still a shameless plug artist, so I'll be talking more about the book next week. On April first. What could possibly go wrong? 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

A conversation with Nikki Dolson

 I fucking love Nikki Dolson. 

In my time writing, she has become not only one of the best writers I know (If you've not read her stuff, I recommend her absolutely amazing story, The Mistress), but a friend, too. The kind of friend you can call at 1 AM because some real dark shit has gone down and you're sitting in your car outside the hospital. When I refer to this woman as The Queen, I'm not fucking around. I mean it, wholly and truly. She is amazing. 

The Queen

It occurred to me a few weeks ago, that maybe some of you know of her (I mean, everyone has heard of Nikki Dolson at this point, right?!?) but you might not know her. So Nikki and I, we had a conversation, and I'm going to share it with you all now. 

Paul J. Garth 

Nikki, you're known as one of the best short story writers in the community. Literally, every writer I talk to says how much they love your work. So, the first thing I want to ask is this: If I were putting an Avengers style group together of the best crime writers out there, who would you pick to be on the team with you?

Nikki Dolson


Paul J. Garth

It's totally true though.

Nikki Dolson

I would throw up the Cosby signal (picture a giant SAC like the bat signal lol). I would call on Dennis Tafoya and Scott Phillips. I would beg Megan Abbott and Faye Snowden and Laura Lippman. And put out one Hail Mary call out to the one and only Walter Mosley.

Tbh there is be such a long list of writers I would want. I am a mere student and these are the ones I look to when I’m stuck and frustrated with my own work.

Paul J. Garth 

One of the things I I love about talking about writing with you is you have such depth in terms of the things you read and the writers you admire. That list above feels both unlike one anyone else could give, but also right. Like you read it, and you're like, what the fuck else could you want?

Okay, so, you brought up Mosley, who I also adore. Let's get into this. If you had to recommend a Mosley novel to someone who had never read him before, what would you recommend?

Nikki Dolson

I read to learn new things and understand my own work better too. Faye Snowden writing is relatively new to me but her story in BAMS was so great. Somebody said read widely and I try to find a new writer every year.

Go to classic Mosley is Devil in a Blue Dress. You can’t go wrong with Easy Rawlins. My favorite series of his are the Leonid McGill books. Maybe it’s just the modern setting that I like more. I’m just starting the Last of Ptolomey Gray after seeing the first episode of the new television series. He is a beautiful writer. His characters rise up off the page and whisper in your ear. So that’s three lol 

Paul J. Garth 

One of the best things about Mosley is who all of your recommendations are right and excellent, but I still think I'd go with something different. Down the River Unto the Sea, specifically, because the main character, Joe, rides such a perfect line between being a guy who used to be a cop and a guy who is still feeling out what he thinks is possible or acceptable.

Nikki Dolson


Paul J. Garth 

Okay, lets talk about your writing for a second. There are a couple of topics I want to touch on, Vegas, Hitters, death, and relationships. But lets stay at the beginning. How do you start? Plot, character, an image? Something you're thinking about?

Nikki Dolson

Often it’s a scene or just a line of dialogue that pops into my head. Sometimes I’ll think on it for awhile to see what comes of it. Lately I’ve been getting ideas about plot: A meets B then makes a terrible decision. Then it’s weeks (months or years) of turning it over and trying to fit pieces of things I come across or that interest me into the slots. You should see the post-it notes stuck to my monitor. Or my notes app! Endless fragments of ideas jotted down over the course of my work day.

Paul J. Garth 

I imagine it might look pretty similar to mine! Im intrigued by what you said about time. Sometimes, and I've had this happen to me a lot lately, I'll get an idea for a story, and I'll know it's a great idea, but when I sit down to write it, it just... it doesn't come.  And, lately, I've been thinking that that just means I'm not ready to write it. Not yet. But eventually, when my subconconscious has turned over some small part of it that Im not even aware of yet, it will come. So, can you tell us, do you have any stories that you have published that started like that, and walk us through the process?

Nikki Dolson

Most recently is my story Neighbors which started off as an idea about two married couples at odds. My notes app says I started thinking about it in Sept of 2018 that I came back to again in January 2019 with more detail:

“Two married couples. 

One husband, A1, invests their savings into the other husband’s, X1, business/scheme. X1’s wife discovers that the money they had is completely gone and she goes to the A1’s house to cry about the deceit to A1’s wife. 

That evening A1’s wife tells A1 about their friend’s broken marriage. A1 reveals that he invested their money and it’s now gone too. “

I kicked around the idea one night with Shawn (Cosby) and one day these characters finally had names and lives. Then it still took me all of 2019 to write it. I am officially a slow writer now. 

There was a time where I churned out pages constantly. Now it seems I write a chunk then let it sit and then I revise it that not until I understand what story I’m really trying to write. It’s rarely just about the crime anymore. 

Paul J. Garth 

As a fellow member of the slow writers club, I understand exactly what you mean. The crime is there, but it's always secondary to something else. And a lot of the time, the crime is born of that other thing, so it needs to be deeply understood by the writer.

Here is where I point out to everyone reading that NEIGHBORS was in BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE, and encourage everyone to read it.

I wasn't planning on asking this, but I'm really curious: Tell me about finding out about that. Was it an email? A phone call? Did you celebrate?

Nikki Dolson

It was an email from Steph Cha. I absolutely thought someone was fucking with me! I could not believe it was true. I told Shawn about it (dear reader, I tell Shawn Cosby everything).  Then I ran to Twitter to see if anyone else had received notification and there was nothing! So I sat on it for a few hours. Once I really believed it was true I tweeted about it. Then it seemed like everyone else started posting about their acceptances and to have all of these amazing writers were in the antho too—I mean fucking Laura Lippman and Alex Segura!!! It was genuinely an amazing moment for me. It was a fabulous few days of love and joy on my Twitter TL.

I cried when I heard the audiobook of my story.

BAMS was definitely on my bucket list. Now my story is included in an audiobook too. I just need someone to buy the film rights lol 

Paul J. Garth 

They’d be dumb not to.

Okay, we’ve both covered more ground than I thought we would and also talked more in depth than I expected. I guess that can happen when two people like talking to one another 🙂 so let’s do one more question: I always want to talk to you about relationships and Vegas, but I’ve noticed another theme in your work: hit men and hit women. What is it that draws you to contract killers? Is it the wild card element they bring, or that they’re entirely based on stepping over lines other characters would flinch at?

Nikki Dolson

I think it’s just that I love a good hit man story. Whether they are guys doing bad things but are not otherwise terrible people (Lawrence Block’s Keller is easily my favorite hit man) or guys just following orders who later find a line they refuse to cross and decide to do the right thing (Mark Strong’s character Sorter in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver) or guys who like what they do because they want to hurt people (Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, book and movie) I just love diving into stories with these kind of characters. But they are just characters to me. They aren’t real so I’m more amused by them than I am afraid. 

And as for hit women, all of this applies but women are never the ones doing this work in fiction unless it’s the punch line (James bond) or the twist (old woman kills guy then walks away because who would suspect her?) or it’s the amnesia victim who had time to find her true calling as a gentle wife until she remembers her murderous job (long kiss goodnight—which I fucking LOVE). It’s a little thrilling for me when it’s a hitwoman because it’s never supposed to be us. 

Which brings me to a ciswoman’s ultimate goal in life—the wife: I am always more interested in the wife who killed her husband because I could never do that! I have been a wife. I have been angry with my husband. I would sooner disappear than physically hurt him. But, the woman who would who could plot the demise of the person they love, had kids with, planned a life with, now she is someone who terrifies me more than a hit man. I can imagine her standing next to me in line. Waving hello to me at school drop-off. She is a real person and I will always want to know her story. Give me the unhappy suburban wife with an axe to grind and three dozen cupcakes to make for her kids third grade class before she goes to bed. That is high drama. Maybe she just leaves him or maybe she poisons him, butchers his body and stores him in the freezer in the garage. 😃 

Paul J. Garth 

Well now I’m going to be sideeying all the garages in my neighborhood, asking myself, “have I seen that dude lately?” But for real, the marriages in your work are always so wonderfully present; the women are empathetic and understandable but, you have a way of adding that extra sliver of grit to them that makes it totally believable they’d be willing to kill or maim. I’m still remember the first time I read The Mistress and how the ending just absolutely slapped me in the face. That it was all done in second person speaks to your skill. 

Okay, I had a lot more questions for you, but we’re probably getting low on space, so, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to ask one more question, and then maybe we can keep talking and do a part two. 

With that, Nikki, I know you’re a night owl like me. So, late night writing session. What’s your stimulant of choice? Are you drinking coffee after midnight, wine, or just diving through the wee hours with determination and willpower?

Nikki Dolson

Determination, willpower and a little fear. I want to write stories that move people but mostly I don’t want to disappoint. So I’m always afraid I’ve written a stinker. I want to be as good as my favorites. I’m not there yet. I’ll never be that good but it’s what keeps me up late revising a story.

Paul J. Garth 

Of course you take a throwaway question and give the best damn answer possible.

You're the damn best, Nikki. Thanks for taking the time to talk, and I hope we can do it again soon!

Nikki Dolson

You’re such an excellent writer. I am honored you asked me. This was so fun!

Tuesday, March 22, 2022


On Hulu, I've been watching The Dropout, about the unlikely rise and predictable fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos.  It's a story I followed somewhat on the news as it broke, though I never listened to the podcast the series is based on or saw the Alex Gibney documentary on the same story, called The Inventor.  

The series is five of eight episodes in, so I suppose it won't be too long now before the biotech fraud perpetrated by Holmes and her partner Sonny Balwani will be exposed.  It's been an absorbing and at times darkly funny series so far, with a good cast down the line, led by Amanda Seyfried as Holmes and Naveen Andrews as Balwani.  William H. Macy, Stephen Frye, and Laurie Metcalf have parts as well, and anything any of these actors are in benefits from their presence.

It's a thing now, it seems, these series about deception and venture capital and start-ups that go from boom to bust swiftly.  Besides The Dropout, on now also are WeCrashed, with Jared Ledo and Anne Hathaway, about the WeWork fiasco, and Super Pumped, which in its first season is about Uber and the ascent and ouster of its co-founder and onetime CEO Travis Kalanick. I'm still working on just The Dropout, but as I've been watching, I've been realizing that I enjoy these shows taken from very recent news that I've read about already.  But I've only read about these stories in articles or pieces. I haven't yet felt inclined to read a book about these stories, as there has been with Super Pumped or Billion Dollar Loser, which is the WeWork tale.  I don't feel inclined to spend hours reading about these people and their worlds but will spend hours watching a dramatization about them.  And I wonder if that's because, in a series, there's the fun of spending time with these con artist assholes when they're played by actors who make the people they're playing just a touch more interesting and engaging than the real-life people are.  Of course, that's part of it.  I know something about the story going in, from news accounts I've read, watch the series, and then myself sort of fact check the series against what's known to have actually happened.  I would imagine, too, that the characters making up these accounts, themselves semi-actors on stages of their own devising, with idiosyncrasies galore, like Holmes with her deep voice and unblinking gaze, are wonderful as human subjects to portray.  It's also true that these type of stories are served well by episodic television.  In a two-hour movie, inevitably, there is much condensing and ellipses, but these shows can take their time and lay everything out about the numerous players in greater detail.

I notice that I watch these shows with a pleasurable emotional detachment.  With The Dropout, I watch it not feeling much sympathy for the people bilked by Holmes.  I do feel sympathy for the scientists and lab people, like Stephen Frye's character, who worked for Theranos.  But how much can you feel for the venture capitalists who fell for her scam and funded her?  Or for those like George Schultz who fell for her scam and served on her board?  Or for the two old guys from Walgreens who despite doubts about her invention's viability get sucked in because they fear she may partner up with their competitor, CVS?  I remember when The Wolf of Wall Street came out and there was some criticism of how little sympathy Scorsese's film shows for the people taken in by Jordan Belfort.  The film coldly appraises the men and women, some elderly, who lost money because of him. But I thought, "And so?" I felt detached from those victims also.  If you enter that game, that particular world, whether as a first-time investor or after years of experience investing, and you do so voluntarily, it seems to me that you're on thin ice crying foul later when you were the one conned.  It's not that you deserved to be taken, but what happened to you was part of the risk.  You were the one with the dreams of wealth who couldn't read the fraudster correctly.  Instead of the hoped-for rewards, you got fooled.  I always watch these stories marveling at human gullibility and how unlikely, at bottom, the events recounted in these stories are. Or perhaps I shouldn't say they're unlikely because they happen, in one form or another, over and over and over again.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Necessary and valuable

By Marietta Miles

President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. If confirmed, Judge Jackson will be the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the land. Long overdue, this day of confirmation hearings has been years in the making. 

Judge Jackson has faced Senate confirmation hearings before, and she's been approved to her previous positions on a bipartisan basis. Still, there are those who strive to diminish Judge Jackson’s nomination as affirmative action or discrimination against white people. Those who dismiss her experience, reputation and education as political posturing are losing sight of her iron-clad credentials.

She graduated from Harvard University Law school with honors and worked as the supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review. Judge Jackson served as a law clerk for a U.S. district judge, for a U.S. circuit court of appeals judge, and for outgoing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whose retirement affords her this opportunity.

Judge Jackson served as an assistant special counsel and later vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Jackson has served on the D.C. Circuit appeals court, the nation’s highest-profile appeals court and she won Senate confirmation with support from every Democrat and three Republicans. And unlike all other Supreme Court justices, she also worked as a federal public defender. Judge Jackson has received support from the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, The National Council of Jewish Women and more.

Ketanji Jackson is obviously qualified, and she would be a necessary and valuable addition to the Supreme Court. However, once she is confirmed we must recognize that the fight for equality is not over and act accordingly. There is a dramatic absence of women of color in legislative roles in our country. Wherever there are issues of health care, job opportunities, voting rights, education and more, women of color need to be at the table and making decisions.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Bloom County Returns


Look! Dandelions! And underpants!

By Claire Booth

One of my favorite casts of characters is coming to TV. Opus, Bill the Cat, Oliver Wendell Jones, Lola Granola and hopefully Rosebud the Basselope will be coming to Fox in an animated series. I can’t wait.

I grew up with the comic strip—which explains a lot about my adult mindset, actually. I recognize there are dandelions (peace, tranquility, happiness) to be had in life, but that you’ve got to get through a lot of Steve Dallas types to find them.

Part of my collection. Opus says hi.
Here’s the official series description, which is officially "in development," according to The Hollywood Reporter: “Bloom County centers on a collapsed lawyer, a lobotomized cat and a penguin in briefs and fruit headwear living in the world’s last boarding house in the world’s most forgotten place deep in the dandelion wilds of FlyWayWayOver country. To wit, today’s America at a glance.”

I’m optimistic that this series will continue Fox’s fine tradition of prime-time animation. The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, King of the Hill—all shows that, to varying degrees, push boundaries. For Bloom County TV to succeed, it needs to do that in a big way. I have confidence that Berkeley Breathed will do that. I just have to hope that Fox will let him.