Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dead Anyway (Arthur Cathcart) by Chris Knopf

This one has a pretty unique idea behind it... Market researcher Arthur Cathcart is presumed dead, killed along with his wife. In fact, he survived and goes under deep cover to find out who killed his wife.
Arthur isn't your regular tough PI and his methods are sly and cunning. Almost a how-to for those wanting to stay under the radar. The story is told in a way that makes you forget everything around as you BECOME Arthur. I had a hard time ''switching off'' his voice every time I had to put this novel down.
An original and fascinating read!

Q & A with James Phoenix

I interviewed James Phoenix, author of the Fenway Burke.

Q: What makes Fenway Burke different from all other hardboiled detectives?
A: Fenway’s a feminist...He is the very first happily man in the genre. His wife is a true partner, highly accomplished and independent and they have a beautiful baby girl they dote over.
He’s capable of tenderness, deep love and true commitment...But is also capable of punching a hole through a brick wall with either hand and will never hesitate to use violence when necessary or expedient.
I give full credit to Robert B. Parker for the start of the feminist evolution of the genre...If you take a look at all the hardboiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and company and including early Parker, you’re going to find hard drinking chain smoking loners with fedoras pulled down tightly over their eyes, to whom all women are either broads or dames...Parker’s hero Spenser was no exception in his premiere 1973 novel the Godwulf Transcript.
Spenser is drunk most of the time, antagonistic and is sleeping with both his attractive client and unbeknown to her, her daughter as well. He’s a real charmer.
But by Parker’s fifth or sixth novel was see a real change in Spenser...Though he never marries, he is in an exclusive relationship with a highly accomplished woman. He backs off on the booze as well, keeping himself in top shape. He knows what wine to order with what dish, is well read and even cooks gourmet. He’s a gentleman...But a gentleman with a real edge.
Fenway is cut out of the very same mold, but has taken the feminist evolution to the next level.
Parker took some heat on this and so have I...(Though to this point the reviews of Frame Up have been universally thumbs up.)
But my attitude is the same as Fenway’s...He doesn’t need to be a chauvinist to be a tough guy...He is a tough guy.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: I am not Fenway Burke, but it’s a very safe statement to say, that I have a lot of Fenway Burke in me. It’s no coincidence that he’s a 6’3” blue eyed blonde and comes in at a very solid 220...He also knows how to handle himself, sports a full well trimmed beard and comes complete with a gold loop ear ring.
I have never in my life ever bullied anybody...Never, and I’m not going all butch on you here, but I can introduce you to any number of follows who will tell you without hesitation, that if you’re going to tug on somebody whiskers, I am a very poor choice. Of course I’m an old guy now, coming into the literary world very late in life, but it’s still not a swell plan to try to push me around.
When I see a hardboiled detective writer posing on a jacket cover wearing a broad rimmed fedora, it makes me smile...It’s a nine out of ten shot, that guy’s never broken anybody’s nose in his life...I have...a number of times.
Writing Fenway comes very easily to me.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole e-book revolution?
A: I’m not a Luddite. Anything that makes it easier for people to read, I see as a step in the right direction. They’re selling more e-books now than hard cover, and though I must admit, I first felt I could never get the same feel from an e-book that I could actually turning a page,at this point, I’m very much on board.
A: Here’s a prediction for you: Within one year, someone’s going to come out with a perfectly serviceable e-book for around the same price as a hard cover volume, around thirty dollars or so...And when that finally happens, the only books that will be printed on paper will be printed on demand. And within one year of that, publishers and book clubs will be giving e-books away with some kind of tie in for people to download their books.

Q: What’s next for you and Fenway?
A: Volume # 2 in the Fenway Burke series, Loose Ends, is complete and comes in at around 375 pages, half again as long as Frame Up. It’s scheduled to drop around this time next year. I’m 200 odd pages into Kestrel, # 3 in the series, which is scheduled to drop the year after that. There are excerpts from all three of these volumes on my site, .
There’s a second series in the works as well, Gallo & Flaco.Gallo is in many ways, Fenway’s opposite number, a former Boston Police detective who leaves town under a cloud when a huge stash of cocaine under his watch to be used as evidence disappears without a trace...They can prove nothing, but suddenly Gallo resigns, is seen driving around in a red Ferrari and relocates to Chicago.
He’s a rogue...A genuine rogue, and comes with major substance abuse issues, and four ex-wives with a high priced call girl as his primary love interest, but he’s a likable rogue, non-the less.
I’m not what you’d call the breath of springtime, at sixty-five, but I lift weights and run anywhere from three to ten miles seven days a week, don’t drink and watch what I eat. So unless I get run over by a bus, I expect to be around for a while.
My plan is to release twenty Fenway novels and twenty Gallo novels before they shovel the dirt on me...We’ll see just how that all pans out, but for the very first time in in my life I life, I’m doing something I really love to do.
I’d do it for free if I had to, but it looks like I won’t.

Q: How do you promote your work?
A: It took me fourteen years and exactly five hundred eight rejections, but finally through my agent, I had eight offers of publication and thought I was out of the woods.
Nope...Publishers do a great job of putting books on the shelf, but as far as promotion goes, it’s pretty much left up to the author.
I had never promoted a book in my life. After an exhaustive search, I signed with Kelley & Hall, who have a very long list of author’s they’ve worked with to get the word out.
The tact is very straightforward. The work must stand by itself, but my promoters know how to put it in front of the right people. Then it works just like a Broadway Play...If you get great reviews, you run forever...If they pan you, you close in a week.
Our very first review set the tone. Amazon #1 Hall of Fame Reviewer,Harriett Klausner. She gave Frame Up, FIVE STARS.

There’s a dozen more in, ditto...The worse review we got was THREE STARS, the big kick being predictably that Fenway Burke was in a committed relationship with a woman he considered his equal...How romance just didn’t really seem to fit in this kind of a book...But even that reviewer said she very much enjoyed the work, thought it was very well plotted and how it kept her attention all the way through.
I put she in italics, because though I expected that reaction here and there, I didn’t expect it from a woman...Hope that’s not sexist of me.

There’s a memoir in the works, that not only deals with my fourteen year Grand Adventure finally reaching this point with my literary effort I call The Phoenix Project, but also a factor that had a huge impact, right from early childhood on, in every single success I’ve ever had in my life.

At the age of sixty I was given an over the top diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, Adult Attention Deficient Disorder.

I always knew I was different, but this diagnosis really filled in a lot of blanks. The psychologist was amazed I could function at all, but then almost immediately saw just how my mind worked.

They call it Hyper Focus. This isn’t the clinical term, but in my case, Crazy, Insane, Nutso, Over-the-Top, Out of his Mind, Bonkers, Screaming Hyper Focus.

The building I’m in could be burning down around my ears, but I’d never smell the smoke of feel the heat...Why? Because I’d be 10,000% focused on whatever task I was at hand.

That’s why it was possible for a guy who had never written anything in his life beyond letters to friends and family, post card and a few business brochures here and here, to ignore five hundred eight rejections and work for fourteen years with never a thought of quitting and ending up with five star reviews.

I’m working with CHADD, Children & Adults with Attention Deficient Disorder, a National Non Profit out of Landover, MD, USA. They do great work and are receiving a portion of my royalties forRelentless.

Relentless is under contract to drop in the spring of 2013 and working with CHADD, I’m being scheduled to appear on the full talk show circuit. I promote CHADD...They promote me around the memoir.

Q: What other genres do you like besides crime?
A: My background is as a seat of your pants entrepreneur. They say write what you know, so my first efforts, which didn’t end up going anywhere, were Heratio Alger stories, about guys who started out with nothing and ended up captains of industry. The genre was family saga. Just as I did later with the giants of Crime Fiction, you’ll find very few if any writers of Family Saga or historical fiction I haven’t read.
But my taste are very eclectic and I’m good for at least two to three books a week...And like my hero, Fenway Burke, for years I’ve read with a dictionary by my side.
I use it less and less now of course, but whenever I came upon a word I was not absolutely sure of, I’d look it up and add it on an alphabetized list with it’s definition.
Here’s one for you: autodidact. A few years back, I looked it up, smiled and added it to my list.
Turns out, that’s exactly what I am.

Q: What’s your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: I love them. It’s a great device and gives the hero a sometimes different point of view while playing on the same team. In the first Fenway Burke novel, his sidekick, if you can call him that, is childhood pal and a giant of a man with a very shady background, called Tiny.
Tiny contracts with our hero to find the truth about a man doing life for a crime he may not have committed.
He’s a great character and a big man in organized crime. He’ll always be around throughout the entire Fenway Burke series, but another character who was also introduced in Frame Up, steps up in the second in the series, Loose Ends, as Fenway’s real side kick.
He’s an associate of Tiny’s. They call him Ax.
Ax could have had a brilliant career as a Navy Seal, had he not decided to beat the hell out of a superior officer.
He’s 6’6” with a 24 inch neck, a shaved head, a busted nose and an expert certification in hand to hand combat, small arms and demolition.
Nobody fools with Ax.

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?
A: That’s an easy one: James Phoenix...I’m way better lookin than those bums...(Only kidding, I love each and every one of those guys.)

Q: Keith Dixon came up with this following question: How do you arrive at the structure of your books?
A: There’s less than a dozen story lines in the hardboiled genre that get reworked again and again with each author putting his own personal spin on them. “Something of great value has gone missing, find it. A man is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, find the guilty and see that justice is done. Someone’s been kidnapped, rescue them. The damsel in distress, Someone’s in danger, make it go away, etc.”
I put myself in whatever rough story line I come up with and just see where events lead me, telling the story in the first person though dialogue.
In any of my books you’ll find it almost like watching a movie or a stage play. There’s minimal flowery description. You get to know the characters by what they say and that’s how the story unfolds as well.
They’re told in a blunt no nonsense masculine style, a style they tell me is tailor made for me.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Q: Where did your hero come from? Who is he...really?
A: Lynn, Massachusetts...And he’s me. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Whiskey Island (Milan Jacovich) by Les Roberts

Milan Jacovich and his assistant K.O. Bannion return!
Cleveland councilman is in a lot of trouble... He's under investigation by the FBI and someone seems to be out to kill him. He hires Milan to find out who's gunning for him. Milan and K.O. end up taking on dirty politicians and investigating the death of a kinky hooker.
The plot is good, the characters well-written as always and it's always nice to read about Milan, but the best thing about this novel is K.O. Bannion. It's amazing how well Roberts manages to write about a 24-year old. K.O. is a tough investigator but also a very fresh and new character. With his background in the Army as well as juvenile detention he's a conflicted but hard-as-nails young man you just have to love. Good enough to star in his own series if you ask me!

Q & A with Keith Dixon

I interviewed British author Keith Dixon about his Sam Dyke series...
Q: What makes Sam Dyke different from other hardboiled detectives?
A: One of Sam’s distinguishing characteristics is that he’s British! I haven’t done extensive research, but my feeling is that there aren’t many British crime novels that feature private eyes, which is what appealed to me when I started to write the books. Now I know that a ton of folk are going to bombard me with the names of British PI novelists, but my sense is that the typical British crime novel has a policeman/woman or forensic investigator as the central character. Obviously Ian Rankin and Val McDermid spring to mind, but there’s also Mark Billingham, Peter James, PD James and Peter Robinson, all of whom have coppers as their heroes. Apart from his Britishness – and a particular kind of ‘Yorkshireness’ that makes him blunt and hard-boiled – he also has a pretty stable relationship with a woman. Obviously Spenser had the increasingly tedious Susan Silverman – and her notorious Ph.D from Harvard – but few other PIs seem to be able to carry a relationship. At least Sam is trying.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: I’d taught English and American literature at college and been submerged in ‘proper’ literature for a number of years. But I stopped teaching and I realised simultaneously that what I mostly read was American crime fiction. It seemed to me that the best in that genre was as good as some of the contemporary work that I’d been reading. Work by James Hall, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and above all, James Lee Burke, was poetic, incisive, laced with social commentary and, sometimes, anger. So I was looking out of my window in my Cheshire village one day, and I thought, ‘What would it be like to be a private eye down these not-so mean streets?’ The contrast between what I could see out of my window – leafy trees, an old pub, a canal and green fields beyond – and the seedy work of a jobbing private eye seemed entertaining and full of promise. Also, when I was a student I used to travel by bus occasionally into the nearest town, Crewe, and there was an upper window of a store that I passed that was inscribed with a name, followed by ‘Private Investigator’. If you knew Crewe, you’d know why that in itself was an intriguing idea! The final piece was the notion of taking someone from a ‘lower’ social class and placing him in Cheshire to work. Sam is from Yorkshire and is the son of a miner. He winds up working in Cheshire, which – outside of London – has probably the highest per capita income and spending in the UK. Home, for instance, to the millionaire footballers of Manchester United like David Beckham (when he played for them). Hence Sam’s ideological stance could be offset against the misuse of wealth and privilege that he saw every day of his working life.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
A: I had a flood in my house about 18 months ago and I lost close to 2000 books. I had already started reading ebooks, and I realised as I stripped my bookshelves of soaking wet paperbacks that there were many books that I hadn’t read again since first reading, or equally, books that I had bought 30 years ago and never read. So my attitude towards the physical object shifted slightly at that time, in the sense that I started to think, Why do I need all these objects cluttering up my walls? (Blasphemy to some, I know.) I’d also been involved for a while in, the Print-on-Demand online supplier. I’d published my first book through them and got involved as an online ‘help’ assistant, largely because I found the technology and the potential interesting. (You couldn’t accuse me of doing it for the money ... ) So when the Kindle came along and then small-format tablets (I have a 7-inch Galaxy Tab), I thought it was great as an extension of the self-publishing revolution. Caveat: alongside the great potential to publish your own books in the face of apathy from agents and publishers, there is of course the increasing commoditisation of writing. When I worked as an independent editor I saw many books that really shouldn’t have reached publication, but these days it seems that if you manage to finish writing a book – which is hard enough, admittedly – then it’s good enough to be published. I don’t like the gatekeeper function of agents and publishers, but to be fair they’ve probably protected us from some pretty awful stuff. That’s why good bloggers/reviewers and some kind of ‘objective’ rating system on sites like Amazon are crucial. Of course, the recent row about sock-puppetry doesn’t help us at all, as any good review will now be questioned! Physical books won’t disappear, though. There will always be a percentage of the population who won’t or can’t use ebook technology, and for that I’m glad.

Q: What's next for you and Sam?
A: I’m about five chapters from the end of the latest book. I’ve expanded Sam’s range this time – the book is written in the third person and his case puts him closer to the kind of adventure that Jack Reacher gets involved in than a typical mystery. I’m spending a lot of time in France at the moment, so part of the book is based here and it takes its ‘McGuffin’ – as Hitchcock called the inciting plot event – from a true incident that took place in World War Two. I can’t say any more! In the main story, Sam gets involved protecting a young woman from a group of nasty men who, it transpires, are taking orders from a British Government official who has his own agenda.

Q: How do you promote your work?
A: ... pretty terribly. For the last month or so I’ve tried to spread my wings, using Twitter and a Facebook page devoted to Sam Dyke himself. I try to get involved in sites focusing on crime writing, like this one, and I write a blog called Crime Writing Confidential at Here I review crime novels from a writer’s perspective, looking at technique, strategy, style and so forth. Doing this has actually improved my own writing, I think! I also approach reviewers and ask if they’d review the book (honestly), attempting to increase the number of reviews on Amazon. I hear readings and appearances at bookshops don’t actually increase sales much, so I think the online route is probably the most productive for me.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
A: I started as a teenager reading a lot of science fiction – I even wrote my undergraduate thesis on the work of three science fiction writers. But I haven’t read any science fiction apart from William Gibson – oh, and Neal Stephenson – for about fifteen years now. When SF started to sprout wings into Fantasy I lost my interest. I can’t get into Horror – Rosemary’s Baby scared me witless when I was 19 and I doubt anything could surpass it.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: I love ‘em! I’m not sure these are particularly psychotic, though ... now if you’re talking about Bubba in Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro books, or Win in Coben’s Bolitar series, those I think are more ‘out there’ in terms of what they will or won’t do. They serve a useful function in that they a) give the hero someone to talk to and explain what they think’s going on; b) act as an indicator of how sane the hero is by contrast; and c) are good comic relief. For me, Clete Purcell in Burke’s Robicheaux books is probably the finest side-kick. He actually has his own life and isn’t simply a foil to Dave. I started to develop the idea of Sam having a side-kick in his 18-year-old son, and that was expanded in the second book of the series, The Private Lie. He’s taken a backseat in the third book but may feature again in future.
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?
A: I’ve been influenced to some extent by all of these, and I’d include Robert Crais and James Lee Burke in the list, too. Carl Hiaasen and Laurence Shames have had an influence on the comic crime novel – for instance look at the work of Tim Dorsey – and I think the hard-ass irony of Charles Willeford and James Crumley will start to have an impact in these straitened times. Lately I’ve been very impressed with the work of an Australian writer, Peter Temple, whose The Broken Shore is an excellent police procedural but is so beautifully written that it stands equally well as contemporary literature, without any qualifiers.
Q: Charles Collyot came up with the following question: Why write a PI story?
A: I came across something by James Lee Burke recently, where he said that crime fiction had taken over the role that ‘social realist’ fiction had played in the US in the 1930s, and I guess that notion appeals to me. The PI gets down and dirty and typically finds that what seems at first glance to be a little, local criminality is actually tied in to a larger social evil. James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley, with his Easy Rawlins character, are masters at moving up and down the social strata to show how they’re all linked together. So PI stories are useful for a writer who wants to entertain but also say something about wider society.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: Q: How do you arrive at the structure of your books?
A: It varies, but typically what happens is that a first inkling of a character or event leads to the idea for another character or event, and so on. Eventually they seem to form a sequence but I don’t always know how they’re linked. So the structure of the book then arrives from me trying to work out how to link the events, driven by the characters’ motivations or needs. It’s almost as though you start building a wall, brick by brick, which then turns into a tunnel down which you’re crawling, putting the bricks in place as you go. The tunnel gets narrower and narrower as your plot options are reduced, until finally the last brick is put in place and the structure is complete. Hopefully you can find your way back out to see if the structure will stand up on its own!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Burning Soul (Charlie Parker) by John Connolly

When he was only 14-years old Randall Haight killed a girl. Now, in Pastor's Bay he's trying to start a new life when another young girl ends up missing. When he starts to get messages reminding him of his past he hires Charlie Parker to find out who's behind these messages.
Charlie discovers there is a mob connection and has to deal with the FBI and several other law enforcement agencies. Luckily his two gay hitmen friends and some people in the afterlife will assist him.
Another great Charlie Parker novel. Very dark, with a hint of the supernatural it's an original piece of work but still 100% PI novel. A great mix of MR James, Robert B. Parker and James Lee Burke.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Background Check on Car Wash Blues (Mick Murphy) by Michael Haskins

Michael Haskins, proud Hardboiled Collective member has a new book coming out, Car WashBlues, and was kind enough to tell us about it...

 Tell us what to expect from Car Wash Blues
In Car Wash Blues Mick Murphy begins to see friends he's always depended all turn to advisories as two different Tijuana, Mexico drug cartels come after him. He has been set up and turns for help/advice to a American lawyer working for the cartels and an ex-drug smuggler.
How long did it take you to write it?

A little less than a year.

Did it take a lot of research?
Yes and no. Yes because I followed the Los Angeles Times' wonderful on-going series Crisis in Mexico for years, so I had the research at my finger tips. No, because I spent 28 summers living off-and-on in Tijuana before moving to Key West. This experience helped me in my drive to set examples of what the people of Mexico live with daily.
Where did you come up with the plots; what inspired you?

I wanted to visit friends in Tijuana in 2008 on my book tour. They told me no, they'd come to LA. I loved the city and people for a long time and wanted to show the public a small taste of how bad life is because of the cartels. I wish the LA Times articles were published elsewhere so other readers could know what's going on. Also wanted to bring to the front of all the trouble that it is the American consumption that drives the cartels. The profits are mostly in dollars.

What scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
Paying the ransom for Tita.
Who is your favorite among the characters in the book?

Of course Mick Murphy, but I have a soft spot for Padre Thomas and a need for Norm's experience. Both the characters I based my writing on died recently and they never knew each other.

 Is there anything else you'd like to say about Car Wash Blues?
Unfortunately, the book will not be available as an eBook for a year. I think this is my last traditionally published books, so collectors should grab it up. From now on it will be trade paperbacks and Kindle copies.

No Going Back (Joe Hunter) by Matt Hamilton

Joe Hunter is off on a somewhat different direction. He is now officialy working for his old buddy Rink, a PI. He takes on the jobs that are a bit messier than a regular PI would take on.
After a stop in the UK he travels to the US desert to find a rich man's missing daughter. He ends up confronting a family that makes the guys from The Hills Have Eyes look like pushovers.
I always like Matt's books, but this one was even better than usual. I really liked the desert setting, the new direction of the series and the way the book was structured. Viewpoints from the victims, the bad guys and Joe were nicely mixed together for maximum thrilling effect.
If you're reading Lee Child and haven't given Matt Hilton a try... This is the one to start out with.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Changes (Randall Lee) by Charles Colyott

An acupuncturist as a detective? That sounds a bit strange, but when he's a Tai Chi expert and as witty and wisecracking as Elvis Cole and Spenser you might start to understand Randall Lee can be a Son of Spade.
Asked to help as a translator with the murder investigation of a Chinese masseuse Randall gets way to involved, being forced to take on a master of the martial arts.
Lee has an interesting backstory, full of darkness and pain that make him a tragic protagonist. He keeps himself alive with booze, his work and his attitude. When he falls in love he is forced to show his real, tender self.
What makes this book so great is how ''real'' the scenes between Lee and his wonderfully attractive girlfriend are. You really start to identify early with Randall in a way that surpasses even the way I used to identify with Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware. He's also a lot tougher by the way.
The mystery is okay, the martial arts action great, the dialogue fantastic. One of my favorite reads of the year.