Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beathing the Babushka (Cape Weathers) by Tim Maleeny

There's a reason why Cape Weathers made it as my favorite new PI for 2007. This novel is it. I enjoyed the first Weathers Investigation (Stealing the Dragon) but I just loved this one. Without the interruptions of Sally (the beautiful, Ninja-like 'psychotic' sidekick)'s back story we had in the first outing now Cape really gets the chance to shine. I was reminded at how much I enjoyed the first Elvis Cole novel (Monkey's Raincoat) because it was just so much fun to read. This one fits in the same mood. It's not a very deep and dark tale but it IS one hell of a fun-filled ride! Cape's wisecracks are great as are the funny lines uttered by the other characters. The action is fast and furious (just read how Cape takes on henchman Ursa) and the movie business background interesting.
Cape is hired to find out if a movie producer really killed himself. Along the way he visits movie sets, New York and Industrial Light & Magic. He takes on the Russian mob, is declared dead, plays chess with an aging mobster and uncovers a brilliant scheme to make a lot of money out of the movie business.
I'm looking forward to see Cape and Sally return in 2008!

The Non Compos Mentis Blues (Ray Dudgeon) by Sean Chercover from Chicago Blues

The reviewed short story appears in the anthology Chicago Blues, edited by Libby Fischer Hellman.
Ray Dudgeon is hired to prove to a woman her husband is cheating on her. She makes him an offer he CAN refuse however. In just about 5000 words Sean gives us a nice PI story with enough atmosphere and twists to make it a very fulfilling read. It starts out with a copy of Ray's inestigative report. With Sean's experience as a real-life PI it gives the story a nice piece of authenticity and a great, original way to start of the story. If you want to know why Bad City, Bad Blood was my favorite debut of the year you can read this short story as an example.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Songs of Innocence (John Blake) by Richard Aleas

Ex-PI and administrative assistent at Columbia University John Blake returns in this very noir novel. Classmate Dorrie seems to have committed suicide, a fact which the cops seem to take for granted. She made a deal with John however to call him before she would commit suicide, which she didn't. This raises enough questions for him to investigate further. He gets involved in the shady world of massage parlors, Hungarian gangsters and family secrets. He's captured, tortured, on the run for the cops and faces just how far he's willing to go for justice.
The ending is dark, depressing but almost the only possible one. Not my favorite book of the year, but it could be the one that will stay with me the most.
As an added bonus: as always with Hard Case books the cover art is stunning!

Best of 2007

With 2007 coming to an end I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts like the rest of the Blogging World about what I liked best this year...

Best Novel: Shallow Grave (Julie Collins) by Lori G. Armstrong
Best Debut Novel: Big City Bad Blood (Ray Dudgeon) by Sean Chercover
Best New Son of Spade: Cape Weathers (Stealing the Dragon / Beating the Babushka) by Tim Maleeny
Best Action Scenes: The Watchman (Joe Pike) by Robert Crais
Best Wisecracks: Runoff (August Riordan) by Mark Coggins

I'd love to hear what you thought were the best!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Weekly Wisecrack

He didn't shout or scream. He seldom did. His hoarse whisper said it all. His eyes it all. His eyes were bloodshot and he was breathing hard through his nose, like a boxer psyching himself up for a bout.
"You've changed brands of mouthwash," I said. "I think I like the old one better."

- Amos Walker, in The Midnight Man by Loren D. Estleman

Friday, December 21, 2007

Candy from Strangers (August Riordan) by Mark Coggins

A student of Hammett and Chandler Mark Coggins puts a nice spin on their works with the third August Riordan novel. It's not so much the suspense or mystery that got me to like this one but more so the ride over there. Almost every line was entertaining, that witty is the writing.
August is hired to track down the missing daughter of an alcoholic cop and discovers she's a webcamgirl. There's also the matter of a stolen bass and the dead body of a tattooed Japanese girl ending up on his doorstep. Facing bodybuilding tattoo artists, a drugdealer with the nickname The Professor and some help by his transvestite sidekick Chris he manages to solve the mysteries and wisecrack his way around on every page.
Although the subplot of the stolen bass seemed a little unnecessary to the rest of the book and I was a bit disappointed by 'whodunnit' I really enjoyed the read. I'll be sure to read the rest of the series.

Q & A with Sean Chercover

Chicago author Sean Chercover, writer of the very well received BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD was kind enough to provide the Q to our A.
Q: What makes your P.I. Ray Dudgeon different from other fictional
private eyes?

I think every fictional P.I. is different from every other (at least, the good ones). But there are P.I. conventions that can easily devolve into cliche, and of course that's something to avoid. Ray Dudgeon is cynical, for example, but at heart he's a wounded idealist, and self-doubt is his constant companion. He's not a former cop, but a former newspaper reporter who couldn't accept the ethical compromises demanded by corporate journalism. He's well aware of his psychological problems, and he wants to become a better man, but he's afraid of introspection. And he's got a boatload of anger.

Some of what makes Ray different comes from what I learned when I worked as a P.I. In real life, you don't mouth-off to cops and criminals whenever you feel like it, or you wouldn't last long. So most of Ray's smart-ass remarks are to himself, not said out loud. In real life, you don't take a beating and then jump into bed for a romp with your girlfriend after a hot shower and a slug of bourbon, so when Ray gets in a fight, it hurts for days after. Sometimes longer. In fact, in the upcoming novel, TRIGGER CITY, Ray is still dealing with the physical damage that he sustained in BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
As a reader, I love the psycho sidekick. Hawk is my hero, as is Joe Pike, although I would argue that they aren't true psychos, they just have a system of ethics that is very different from most people. Clete Purcel is perhaps more truly psycho, and Mouse is my all-time favorite psycho sidekick.

But as much fun as they are, the downside is that having a psycho sidekick shifts the moral burden off or your P.I.

Going back to what makes Ray different, I purposely did not give him a psycho sidekick to do his moral heavy-lifting. When something bad needs to be done, Ray does it himself, and he alone must carry the moral burden of his actions. I know that this will turn off those readers who want a "pure" hero, but I'm not interesting in writing White Hats and Black Hats. I'm more interested in the messy, murky grey area in between, where real life takes place.

Ray has a friend named Gravedigger Peace. Gravedigger has a very violent past, and he's aware of his social weaknesses and chooses to live on the fringes of society. He could qualify as a psycho sidekick. But I forced Ray to take on the heavier violent action and didn't give it to Gravedigger.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes. You could count my time working as a private eye as some intensive research. These days, I spend time with cops and run questions by them regularly. Just a few weeks ago, I was given a tour of the new Chicago FBI headquarters, and I've got a couple of FBI agents who I call on regularly. It pleased me immensely when the FBI mentioned BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD on their website as a book that offers "an accurate portrayal of the Bureau".

I also use real places in my fiction. I go to the neighborhoods, eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars. That's my favorite kind of "research".

Q: What do you consider your strongest points as a writer?

Commas. I'm an artist with commas.

Seriously, I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question. And while I'm extremely grateful for the enthusiastic reaction I've gotten from reviewers and readers, it would be immodest to quote what they think is strong in my writing, so I'll just shut up now.

Q: How do you promote your books?

I have a website ( which is a great way to stay in touch with readers. I did a book tour, speaking at bookstores and libraries. I took an ad out in Crimespree magazine. I sent out extra ARCS, to augment what my publisher was doing. I go to the conferences and speak on panels. I blog with six other Chicago crime fiction authors at The Outfit ( And I've done interviews with newspapers and magazines and radio stations and blogs (like I'm doing right now). And Jon Jordan got me a television appearance in Milwaukee, which was very nice of him.

Speaking of promoting . . . BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD makes a fine Christmas gift (and the story even takes place during the holiday season) so pick up a copy before they're all gone.

How was that for promoting?

Q: What's next for you and Ray?

There's a Ray Dudgeon short story in the CHICAGO BLUES anthology (edited by Libby Hellmann) which is out now. And another Ray Dudgeon story in the KILLER YEAR anthology (edited by Lee Child) which comes out January 22. There's a Gravedigger Peace story in the HARDCORE HARDBOILED anthology (edited by Todd Robinson) which comes out May 27. And the next Ray Dudgeon novel, TRIGGER CITY, will also be out next year.

After that, who knows?

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

Oh God, yeah. Current ones include Jack Taylor (Ken Bruen), Amos Walker (Loren Estleman), Matt Scudder (Lawrence Block), Elvis Cole (Robert Crais), Easy Rollins (Walter Mosley), Jack Keller (J.D. Rhoades), Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue (James Crumley), Lee Henry Oswald (Harry Hunsicker), Spenser (Robert B. Parker), John March (Peter Spiegelman), Dave Robicheaux (James Lee Burke) . . . the list goes on and I'm sure I'm forgetting some favorites. I'd put Jack Racher (Lee Child) on the list, even though he's not a P.I. I've got some favorite daughters too: V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky), Lydia Chin (S.J. Rozan), Tess Monaghan (Laura Lippman) are the first that spring to mind.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
I really don't know. Hell, I predict that the Cubs will win the World Series every year, and it never happens. I guess I'm not much of a prognosticator.

Q: Marc Coggins came up with the following question: If your PI and Sam Spade were having a drink at a bar, what would they talk about?

Oh, I should've mentioned Marc's P.I. August Riordan in my list above. Another great Son of Spade.

Okay, Spade and Dudgeon in a bar. Naturally, they'd be debating the relative merits of various brands of rum. Spade was a Bacardi drinker, back in the day, but I suspect he'd drink something else these days. Ray's favorite is Mount Gay Extra Old, but he's also partial to Appleton Estate 12-year old and El Dorado 15-year old. I imagine that they'd have to order a few of each so they could make a fair comparison.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
How long did it take you to write your current book?

My answer: Don't ask.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New Milano short story!

A new Noah Milano short story was just published in Darkness Before Dawn. Aldo (CrimeDawg), the editor of this great zine had this to say about it:

"Over on my longer fiction site Darkest Before the Dawn, Jochem Vandersteen offers a wonderful Noah Milano tale called REAL WILD CHILD. I have been a big fan of the Milano stories and it was a great holiday treat to be able to publish one of Jochem's stories."

Thanks, Aldo!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Q & A with Mark Coggins

In a very interactive Q & A we present the author of the August Riordan novels, Mark Coggins.

Q: What makes your P.I. August Riordan different from other fictional private eyes?

That’s a tough one. If you read reviews of my work, you’ll often see a reference to the writing of Hammett or Chandler, which some see as a sign of a lazy reviewer or lack of talent or ability to innovate on my part. But in The Immortal Game, Candy from Strangers and, most recently, Runoff I am trying to pay homage to Chandler—particularly with usage of similes. In Vulture Capital, I explicitly tried to pay homage to Hammett’s The Glass Key.
Furthermore, Riordan actually lives in Sam Spade’s apartment, works in the building that Hammett worked in when he was a Pinkerton and has a habit of tapping the Samuel’s Jeweler’s street clock in San Francisco—which is the clock that used to be in front of the jewelry store Hammett wrote advertising copy for—although the Hammett connection is never mentioned in the books.

What I’m trying to relate, I suppose, is that there is an explicit intention on my part to emulate—and hopefully update for the 21st Century—the work of Hammett and Chandler.

The differences between Riordan and, say, Spade or Marlowe, undoubtedly come from my personality and background. He is more fickle than either, less hardboiled compared to Spade and less romantic compared to Marlowe. Jazz and jazz bass are what chess was to Marlowe and he is far less successful with the ladies, certainly than Spade and probably than Marlowe. Although he remains a technophobe at heart, he is thrust into cases that involve present day technology and cultural phenomena—such as the Internet—and has to sort them out. He has also learned to be more tolerant of diversity than Spade or Marlowe ever were.

His sense of humor is closer to Marlowe’s, but he’s got a goofier bent to his, and he dresses worse than either. He might be able to out-drink the other two men, but I wouldn’t give good odds on him in a fist fight.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

As I say in this blog post, the “PI Helper” character as I call him is often used to simplify plotting by doing off camera some of the work that the PI might otherwise do, and perhaps more concerning, serve as a “firewall” between the PI and morally questionable things done in service of justice or resolution of the crime.

The problem with having the PI undertake shady things him or herself, of course, would be that the PI could lose stature in the reader’s eyes. Thus, the PI Helper tortures someone to get the information required to solve the mystery, or calls a favor in from the crime boss or murders the bad guy in cold blood.

Contrast this with characters like Hammett’s Spade or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, who in some sense have the courage of their convictions and don’t rely on others to do their dirty work. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, PIs like Chandler’s Marlowe who have such an (improbably) romantic or idealized view of the world that they would never condone those methods to resolve a case.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes, I do—two kinds. The first is the research I do on locations. I usually walk around a neighborhood I’m going to set a scene in, taking both pictures and notes that I use to jog my memory when I get to the actual writing.

The other sort of research I do is about the theme or social issue I’m using to drive the plot. Most recently in Runoff this was electronic voting and the possibility of defeating the security of voting machines to rig an election. To do that research, I interviewed computer science experts on the topic and also talked with poll workers who had an “on the ground” understanding of how the machines are used in a precinct.

Another example is the research I did for Candy from Strangers with a young woman who has a web site where she solicits anonymous gifts.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?

As I describe in this blog post for the Rap Sheet, August was actually born in a short story in an issue of The New Black Mask that was published in 1986. Since I wrote that first story when I was nineteen, I can say—thankfully—that my writing has changed since then. It, like the character of Riordan, has hopefully gotten more mature and more nuanced. For instance, I would like to think that I do a much better job with dialog and with characterizations.

Q: How do you promote your books?

The selling of books is quite an arduous task, and getting more arduous. I’ve tried just about everything from doing the traditional signings at bookstores and libraries to working to get on radio and TV programs to placing advertisements. In the end, I think what matters for an independent press author like myself is establishing good word of mouth about your work. Interviews and reviews on sites and blogs like Sons of Spade are a good way to make that happen.

Q: What's next for you and August?

I’m in discussions for a new contract with Bleak House Books. If those go well, I’ll be bringing back August in another novel I’ve tentatively titled The Dead Beat Scroll. The title refers to a previously unknown novel by Jack Kerouac that is discovered when the house he once lived in while working on On the Road is demolished. The new book is worth a lot of money, both as a collector’s item and as a publishing opportunity and lust after it—like lust after The Maltese Falcon—drives the plot. (As you probably know, Kerouac wrote on long, continuous scrolls, so that fact and his association with the “beat generation” are what’s hinted at in the title.)

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

Absolutely. My favorite would be Milo Milodragovitch. That was why I was so thrilled to get a blurb for Runoff from James Crumley.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
I think Crumley has been very influential, including on Lehane himself. Looking out further to more recently emerging folks, if you’re talking strictly PI writers, I quite like Peter Spiegelman and his character John March. I think he may be influential because he has found a way to update the PI and drop him in 21st Century cases that a PI might really have in today’s world, all while retaining the best from traditional PI yarns.

Q: Tim Maleeny came up with the following question: The PI is usually the one standing up for the underdog, the person who takes on the powerful and the corrupt on behalf of the little guy. Do you have any favorite targets (or people) at which you like to take aim through your characters?

A question I might have for Tim is does his wife know exactly what he’s been up to on a recent signing with me!

Seriously, I wouldn’t say that I always have an “agenda,” but I did have a bit of fun with the venture capital industry in Vulture Capital, and in Runoff, have written a sort of cautionary tale about electronic voting. But most of the time, it’s ex-girl friends and acquaintances who need to worry about having bits of themselves portrayed in books.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?

Q: If your PI and Sam Spade were having a drink at a bar, what would they talk about?
A: Spade would ask Riordan how he managed to turn his (Spade’s) apartment into such a dump.

For more info about this author visit:

Prodigal Sons: Thomas Black (by Earl Emerson)

I was planning to ask Earl Emerson if we'd be seeing Thomas Black again (last seen in 1998's Catfish Cafe). I visited his site and discovered this good news:

"Next up after PRIMAL THREAT is my first Thomas Black in ten years. I'm working on that now and we expect it to be published in early 2009, also with Ballantine."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weekly Wisecrack

I looked like an ad for Banana Republic. Maybe Banana Republic would give me a job. They could put my picture in their little catalog and under it they could say: Elvis Cole famous detective outfitted for his latest adventure in rugged inner-city climes! Did Banana Republic sell shoulder holsters?

- Elvis Cole in Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais.

Unborns Sons: Up from Tupelo by Gary McDonald

We present another novel that's not published yet. This is a story about a retired Army investigator who works as a P.I. He is hired by an insurance company to locate Elvis Presley. He thinks it’s a joke but pursues the effort because it’s a paying job.

Up From Tupelo


Gary McDonald

Chapter One

Post modern society is a chaotic scramble; a never ending battle of wits and values. Conservatives, liberals, radicals are all fighting for their stake in the so called American dream. They don’t know the dream is dead. Money killed it. The nastiest players in this cultural war are the wealthy. These are people who occupy the highest places of power. They finance the drug business both legal and otherwise, the sex business, and foreign wars. These people are the oil barons who manipulate gasoline prices, run big tobacco and all the rest. Crime runs rampant in the boardrooms of corporate America.

My name is Richard Dickerly. I’m a professional body hunter; a dick. I work out of my house on 57th avenue and Wadley Boulevard. My blog site screams Dick For Hire in contrasting colors and swirly gigs. It was built by my second ex-wife’s cousin-in-law who’s a computer genius. He likes me. Sure I get a lot of wise ass emails but I also get serious investigative work. I work for people like Mr. Nicholas Bradley who called one evening out of the blue.

“Richard Dickerly?”
“Ya got him”
“The private investigator?”
“A dick’s dick.” Silence. This means the guy is either confused or re-thinking the call. I want the work so venture forth into the unknown.
“I specialize in missing persons.”
The ploy works.
“You were highly recommended Mr. Dickerly.”
“With whom as I speaking?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Nick Bradley. I’m the senior Vice President for Empire National Life Insurance Company and need you to find a client.”
I don’t respond so after a pause it’s as if he needs to impress me. “A very famous client.”
He’ll have to do better.
“I’m not cheap Mr. Bradley.”
“I fully understand. Meet me here in my office tomorrow morning at 9:00 sharp. It’ll be worth your time. We’re in the center of downtown. You can’t miss us. It’ll be easier talking face to face. I’ll explain everything.”
“I’ll be there.”
I hang up wondering who the famous client might be when Margo wafts into the room.

She smiles flashing beautiful white teeth and says, “Give it up big dick.” She leans over exposing everything from the waist up and kisses me. She’s wearing a sheer red teddy which compliments her naturally blonde hair nicely. Satin smooth skin is everywhere making it impossible to think about anything but Margo. I succumb and wrap my arms around her small waist burying my face into hair and skin. She smells like lilacs and Champaign. The rest of the evening is spent with the sexiest woman on the planet.

Gary Mc Donald is a retired Purchasing Agent who devotes himself to grandchildren and writing. His background includes a Master’s degree in management and several professional certifications in the procurement field. He's published a dozen articles in the Kansas City Commerce and its sister publication in St. Louis, Missouri. He's written a script that successfully sold automated cake decorating equipment. He's also in the Daily Bread published by Herald House. This is an annual devotional book in which he has 5 inspirational stories published. Currently he's still trying to get detective fiction published.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Q & A with Ronald Tierney

Ronald Tierney author of the Deets Shanahan series sat down with us to talk about private eyes and his work.

Q: What makes your PI Deets different from other fictional private eyes?
In my mind, “Deets” Shanahan was going to be a trueoriginal. Having not previously immersed myself in PI fiction, I thought about creating a kind of blue-collar,70-year-old private eye who lives and works in a citylike Indianapolis rather than New York or LA. I thought this was a first. It wasn’t, but it wasn’tstandard either, because Shanahan not only faces death as part of his job description, he feels it nipping athis heels because of the actuarial tables. This colors his life.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
This type of character allows the central character tostay relatively clean and likable while the reader andwriter are able to get some satisfaction by makingsure evildoers get what they deserve. For me, that’s vigilantism. Without judging someone else’s motives —and these are fictional characters after all —Shanahan’s character wouldn’t tolerate it. The out-of-control sidekick also adds dramatic tension. And as a writer’s tool, he can facilitate plot. His unreasonable action is believable because he’s crazy.I suspect this can come in handy.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
A lot? No. Not for the Shanahan series. Forensics plays a small role in the series. Finding out why someone is killed is more interesting to me than how. Outsmarting a suspect is more interesting than findinga hair that can be matched to DNA. Clues shouldn’t be that easy to invent. Also, the timeframe is now, which means I don’t often have to research other eras,though I have. On the other hand, now that I’m living in San Francisco, I sometimes have to research what’s going on in my hometown, Indianapolis, where the series is set. I visit from time to time and I have abrother there who helps tremendously. And of course,thank you Google.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
A little more humor, maybe. The situations aretougher, but there’s a lot of fun thrown in. I would expect my writing to have improved over the years simply because I’ve spent years writing. I certainly hope so. And I still love to write. I continued to write during the ten years no one published my work. I have several unpublished non-Shanahan manuscripts.

Q: How do you promote your books?
First, thank you for the interview. Normally, I tryto let the libraries and independent bookstores know about new books. Other than that, I haven’t been as active as I should in the process. After the next Shanahan is published, I’m writing the first book in acompletely new series for my publisher, Severn House. I’m going to approach that launch with greater intensity.

Q: What's next for you and Deets Shanahan?
I’m finishing Bloody Palms, the ninth in the Shanahan series. It should be out late spring or early summer 2008. At the moment, I see one more Shanahan beyond that.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
While I’m writing, which is most of the time, I don’t do much reading. It’s a shame. There are not onlym any American writers I haven’t read, but also many,many foreign writers now in translation. So outside ofthe usual current group — Walter Mosley, Ken Bruen,George Pelecanos among them — I have to admit that I am fond of the outsider cop premise, which is very much like the PI. In that group, I’d put Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and John Burdett.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves ofPI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
That question took me out on the edge of a cliff and left me there. I don’t know what kinds of detectivenovels 20- and 30-year-olds are reading now, what they might like to read if it was available, or if they are reading detective novels at all. So I don’t know ifthere is someone out there who can influence the next generation. Maybe because we are beginning to see translations of great crime fiction from writers in all parts of the world, the next Hammett will comefrom Japan or Morocco.

Q: Thomas Keevers came up with the following question: Does alcohol stimulate your creativity?
Yes. But not while I’m sitting at the keyboard. It’s rare that I have anything other than coffee at my computer. In the evening, a glass or two of wine might lubricate the thought process enough to take me down aroad I hadn’t imagined. But, by far the most helpfulstimulant to thought for me is walking. San Francisco is a great city for walkers. Parks, hidden stairways,alleys, horrendous hills with spectacular views,fascinating neighborhoods. Walk a few blocks andyou’re in another country. I usually write at leastpart of the next morning’s work in my head while Iwalk.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer weinterview and what is your answer? Disqualifying detective or mystery fiction, who areyour favorite authors? Ian McEwan and Haruki Murakamiare two I look forward to reading.

For more info about this author visit:

Straits of Fortune (Jack Vaughn) by Anthony Gagliano

The story seems to start slow but when it starts to get rolling it just sure starts to get rolling! Ex-cop and personal trainer Jack Vaughn is hired to sink a yacht that contains the dead body of a blackmailing porn producer. The killer? Jack's former lover Vivian also the daughter of his ex-boss the Colonel.
When he sets out to do the deed the Colonel's thug tries to kill him. Then Jack's on the run from the cops and from the Colone's hitman. Luckily he's got a large crew of people helping him- all of which he met as their personal trainer.
More suspense than mystery this is an action-packed thriller starring a cool macho kind of character.
The writing style was brooding and still straight-forward literate and still easy to read.
An impressive debut.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Prodigal Sons: Harry James Denton (by Steven Womack)

Steven Womack ( wrote some great novels featuring Harry James Denton in the nineties... We haven't seen Harry around since 'Murder Manual' in 1998. Sons of Spade tracked Steven down and got the low-down on the state of his character.

1) Will Harry James Denton return?

I hope so. After six books with Harry, he was a big part of my life. In the last book, Dirty Money, Harry left Nashville and went to Reno, Nevada to attend the birth of his daughter. At the end of the novel, he was on his way back to Nashville. I would like to pick up his story there and somehow integrate his child into his life and see where that goes.

The reason I haven't written that book is one based primarily in the rather cruel realities of the publishing business. I wrote six books in the Harry James Denton series, and every one of them either won or was nominated for a major mystery award--winning an Edgar and a Shamus. But for reasons I've never been able to fathom, the publisher never really got behind the books. When I went back to contract for the last two books--which became Murder Manual and Dirty Money--the publisher agreed to publish them in hardcover and make them monthly lead titles. Then when I turned in the manuscript to Murder Manual, my editor told me the suits had decided to not only renege on the hardcover deal, but to actually cut the print runs.

Basically, I could see the writing on the wall. Contemporary publishing is a numbers-based business, and my numbers weren't impressive enough. It's a "Catch-22" kind of arrangement: your numbers are bad so we won't promote you, but your numbers are bad because we haven't promoted you.

Of course, the majority of published authors probably have the same gripe.

I left the original publisher and asked my agent to move the series to another publisher. She started shopping the books around and all sorts of editors were interested, but when they saw my sales figures, the had to turn me down. Again, that's some catch, that Catch-22.

2) Why haven't you written about Harry for some time now?

See above...

3) What's up next for you?

I didn't want to start another mystery series; I'd been down that rough road twice before. So I had an idea for a suspense thriller based on the idea of a New York Times best-selling author who bases the plots of his novels on murders he commits himself. It's a long story, but the idea basically came about when I was anonymously accused of committing a murder myself. That book became By Blood Written. It was published in the summer of 2005 in hardcover by Severn House, a British publisher, and the paperback version was just last month published by HarperCollins.

I have another book making the rounds in New York right now. I also have an idea and am doing the research for a trilogy of books set in World War II--which would be a complete departure.

In the meantime, I continue teaching. I'm the Chair of the Watkins Film School here in Nashville, Tennessee, and I also teach Film Studies at Vanderbilt University. I'm also a parent, with two lovely young daughters.

Weekly Wisecrack

“Business is fine,” I lied. “For this time of year.”
“Training anybody interesting these days?” The colonel asked.
“Just Elvis, but he’s missed a few appointments lately. I’m starting to get worried.”

-Jack Vaughn, ex-cop and personal trainer in Straits of Fortune by Anthony Gagliano.

Shallow Grave (Julie Collins) by Lori G. Armstrong

Lori outdoes herself in her third and latest Julie Collins novel. Again she presents us a multitude of plots (the unsolved murder of her brother, the appearance of that brother’s kid, a pregnant friend, an undercover job for her lover and badass biker Martinez, the murder of a Native American girl) but she manages to tie things up better than in the first two novels.
The action is fast and furious, there’s murder, deceit, sex and violence enough to satisfy any hardboiled mystery fan. Julie is again tough, sarcastic, smoking, drinking and kicking ass, hanging around with tough guys like her lover Martinez, partner Kevin and psycho sidekick Jimmer. More than ever though she’s a very emotional character in this one. I really felt for her, went through the same surprises when she unmasked the killers, felt my heart beat faster when she confronted the killer of her brother and understood her when she admitted how she always tried to deal with her pain on her own.
All 500+ pages I was reading to get to the ending, but when I got there I felt disappointment. Not because the ending was not satisfying but because I was going to have to wait for October 2008 for Julie to return in ‘Snowblind.’
Recently Lori Armstrong got a nice big publisher deal… If you read this one you’ll understand why.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Q & A with Thomas Keevers

This time our Q & A is with Thomas Keevers, author of the Mike Duncavan novels like The Chainsaw Ballet.

Q: What makes your P.I. Mike Duncavan different from other fictional private eyes?

His warts, I think, his inner demons are more obvious than most, maybe to the point of being a turn-off for some readers. Also, he is both a former lawyer (disbarred) and former cop (fired in disgrace), a background I believe to be fairly unique. He's only a P.I. because there's nothing else left for him, but he draws on both experiences in his work.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

If it works for you, it's great. It doesn't work for me.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes. I scout all my locations. I run through most of the physical feats Mike is called on to perform. Much of the current novel, The Chainsaw Ballet, takes place in strip clubs. You bet I did research, a lot of it.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
I don't think so, but a number of my readers have said that the writing has become leaner with each new book. I don't know, I thought it was pretty lean to begin with. I'm a big believer in Elmore Leonard's caveat: cut out the parts readers tend to skip over.

Q: How do you promote your books?

Badly. I do a few signings, but otherwise I am a terrible promoter, which is why I hired a publicist for my latest. Her name is Carol Haggas, and she's great.

Q: What's next for you and Mike?
Don't know yet, I haven't started on the next one. I took a leave from writing Mike to work on a different kind of book. It took a year and a half, and I just finished. It isn't a mystery, it's a mainstream novel, a coming-of-age story about an idealistic journalism student who takes on, as a semester-long project, an investigation into the infamous raid on Black Panther headquarters in Chicago in 1969. His peg: how did the cops get away with murder? He gradually becomes convince that they didn't, that conventional wisdom got it all wrong. Falsely accused, the cops were made the target of a witch hunt that lasted 10 years and devastated their lives.

When I was with the police I had some involvement with the case. I have always felt that the other side of this story needs to be told. The novel tells it in an oblique way, through the eyes of the student.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

Ken Bruen. I love Joseph Wambaugh and Scott Turow, but they don't really qualify.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
I don't have a clue.

Q: Tim Maleeny came up with the following question: The PI is usually the one standing up for the underdog, the person who takes on the powerful and the corrupt on behalf of the little guy. Do you have any favorite targets (or people) at which you like to take aim through your characters?
No, I consciously avoid it. Writers who do this inevitably wind up sounding shallow and preachy, setting their cardboard bad guys lurching about a two-dimensional stage like Punch and Judy. You see this a lot in Hollywood films. A recent example: Shooter, with Mark Wahlberg. If they had an ounce of literary integrity they'd be embarrassed. Now there's a whole new spate of these coming out about the Iraq war.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?

Q. Does alcohol stimulate your creativity?

A. No. I often think so, then I sober up.

For more info on this author visit:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Deadly Beloved (Ms. Tree) by Max Allan Collins

This novel reads like a comic book and that’s no surprise, because it used to be one. It’s very fast-paced, straight forward, frequently larger than life and over the top, colorful and violent. Max Allan Collins takes his PI Ms. Tree (hardboiled female PI before there was a Warshawski or Milhone) from comics to prose in a Hard Case Crime original that I really enjoyed.
A woman kills her husband when he catches him in bed with another woman. A lot doesn’t add up though and it seems after Ms. Tree investigates it’s a setup. Ms. Tree discovers a link to the murder of her own husband and a sinister assassin they call The Event Planner. The framing sequence where Ms. Tree tells the whole story to a shrink we’ve seen before, but it works well.
I’m a fan of the comic book series and was delighted to see Ms. Tree back in action, with a cover painting by art. Springing from the question ‘What if Mike Hammer died and his Girl Friday would avenge him’ she’s the same kickass character from the comics. All familiar faces return, true to form. The revised origin works perfectly and there’s a very modern setting that I enjoyed. Therefore I hope Ms. Tree will return, guns blazing and ball-busting as before. If you’re into deep, genre-breaking stuff you can ignore this one. If you love Mike Hammer, comics and a fast-paced story you can’t miss this one.