After reading a blog entry on The Kill Zone by James Scott Bell titled “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” , where he detailed the impetus for a particular novel of his called TRY DYING, I decided that it sounded interesting enough to try it out for $2.99. The bit on the blog entry described how he read a news story…well, let me excerpt the bit from the entry:
Back when newspapers existed, I would read either the L.A. Times or the L.A. Daily News, and one legal newspaper, the L.A. Daily Journal. I’d scan for interesting stories or legal issues, and clip them and throw them into a box. Every now and then I’d go through that box, seeing if the ideas still interested me.
One item kept vying for my attention. It was a tragic story about an L.A. man who shot his young wife to death, then drove to a freeway overpass, got out, shot himself, and fell 100 feet to the freeway below. He crushed a Toyota, killing the driver. How bizarre is that?
So one day I wrote this up as an opening scene. When I got to the part about the woman being killed, I made up a character: Jacqueline Dwyer, a twenty-seven-year old elementary school teacher.
From there Bell imagined some things about the incident and came up with a story about a young lawyer in a high-powered LA law firm who was engaged to marry Jacqueline Dwyer. She was his soul mate, and her death crushes him. When someone shows up at the funeral trying to get money out of him in exchange for information about her death, Ty Buchanan (the attorney) learns that Jacqueline may have survived the impact of the body of the suicide victim hitting her car. And then she was killed — murdered, in fact, and this guy who has shown up at the funeral witnessed it.
I sped through the first book, which introduced me to a priest named Father Bob, who has been accused falsely of molesting a young boy and has been reassigned to a Benedictine monastery called St. Monica’s, and a pretty young nun who lives there as well named Sister Mary Veritas. What followed was a tense mystery, with two parallel mysteries — the first pertaining to the case that Ty is working on at his firm, related to suppressed memories and false accusations of sexual abuse used as weapons in divorce cases (Father Bob comes to Ty to give him background on his own case in order to help the falsely accused man), and the second is Ty’s own investigation into his fiancee’s death.
After speeding through that first book I immediately downloaded the second book (TRY DARKNESS) and I sped through that one almost as quickly. In this one, Ty is now practicing law out of a coffee shop and he is introduced to a woman and her young daughter by Father Bob. The woman is being forced out of the residential hotel she lives in with her daughter and onto the street. The play is that if someone is not a resident for over a certain time period, the hotel can be considered a commercial hotel rather than a residential hotel and there are tax advantages or something like that. So the owners/management shuffle the residents out after so many days, and then they can return after a couple weeks. Seems the woman doesn’t want to go. She can pay the rent and wants Ty to force them to let her stay.
Then she ends up dead.
So now Ty has a murder mystery to deal with. Not to mention whatever’s going on at St. Monica’s, where Ty is living and finding himself increasingly attracted to Sister Mary Veritas, the classic example of setting up an unattainable target. The sparks that fly between the two of them as they interact are worth the price of admission. But it’s still the mystery at the heart of this book that makes it another great read, and another hard-to-put-down story. I reached the end and wanted more.
So I got more. I downloaded the third book, TRY FEAR, and plowed ahead into Ty’s story, and Sister Mary’s story too. In this story, Ty starts off by getting a guy off for a DUI on a technicality. His DA opponent, Kimberly Pincus, is upset that she got beaten on something that seemed so cut-and-dried, especially when the guy had a blood alcohol reading of .18 — in other words, he was very drunk, and he was driving. The DA is not just a woman, she’s a young, very attractive woman, and she sets her sights on Ty, who is just now getting over his fiancee’s death. He’s ready for a relationship, maybe. And maybe Kimberly is the right woman.
Or maybe not.
Because at the same time, Sister Mary Veritas, the basketball-playing, elbow-throwing nun who is helping out by acting as Ty’s investigator, begins receiving threatening emails. A cyber-stalker, making threats and insults to the pretty young nun. When Mary is shot while she and Ty are trying to visit a witness, Ty blames himself — the bullet must have been meant for him and Mary’s involvement is just too risky for the nun.
This may have been the best story of the three — it really grabbed me and spun me around with its twists and turns — twists worthy of a Harlan Coben novel. I loved the continued sparks between Sister Mary and Ty, and the repercussions for Mary, both in terms of physical risks (like being shot) and punishment from the abbess of St. Monica’s. So many questions: Is Kimberly the right woman for Ty? Is being a nun the right choice for Sister Mary? And what’s this cyber-stalking all about? Is it connected to a case, or is it a random nut, or is something in her past coming back to haunt her?
TRY FEAR has a great conclusion to every question I may have had, and while I would be happy to read more about these characters, the story feels complete (as Bell indicates at the end of the third book). It can end here and I’ll be okay with it.
James Scott Bell has many books on the craft of writing, and I think perhaps I should try a few of them, see if anything he has to say about specific parts of craft that clicks with me.
A very enjoyable trio of reads. I will be reading more fiction by Bell as well in the future. I like his style and he creates great characters who come to life in his stories, if these three books are any indication.
This comment is completely orthogonal to your post.
I used to read Bell’s and other author’s posts at that site (it’s some kind of commonwealth site), but when I was locked out from comments, I stopped. The problem isn’t with Bell. It’s with that annoying little widget that “checks you in” and makes sure you’re human when commenting. Some sites don’t allow name and website URL, and I can’t satisfy any other choices. I wasn’t commenting at Konrath’s site either for a long time for the same reason.
It’s like my own site, which even sends me, its owner, into the spam file at times (thanks for your patience with that, by the way).
These things generally reduce me to lurker status. I could have done that with Bell’s site, but I lost interest anyway. Clearly he and the others are pushing their books (aren’t we all?), and what little I can learn about writing there is generally a rehashing of the SOS–that’s “same old stuff” to keep this PG-13. He’s a good writer, though (again, aren’t we all?). Interestingly enough, he doesn’t have an Amazon Page, so it’s hard to tell how many fiction books he has because he has so many on writing! He also has many books with a co-author. I know what that means with someone like Patterson, but I don’t know enough about Mr. Bell. Yep, his books on writing might have a few nuggets.
‘Nouth comments for this Friday…. 🙂
Recently there was a short “first page critique” or whatever they call it on The Kill Zone. I noticed that, like every online writing group I’ve ever been in, the criticisms were all over the place. One of the mods didn’t like something; the next one liked THAT something, but didn’t like something else. I was impressed with James Scott Bell’s criticism, though, mainly because I agreed with it wholeheartedly and thought it immediately made the excerpt better.
An aside: I was part of a writing group on the old Delphi Internet Services (can’t even recall the specific name of the forum), and it always seemed to me that other writers just can’t let a piece of writing be — they always have to put their two cents in, like if they don’t, they feel like they either didn’t read the piece or their lack of criticism made them look less knowledgeable. If I took the criticisms as a whole, there was very little about my story (SOLE OCCUPANT, in this case — the second story in my 14 DARK WINDOWS ebook) worth keeping. I found it to be very discouraging. One reason I was so thrilled to read Dean Wesley Smith’s and Kris Rusch’s advice to just say, “Done” at some point and ignore all the input. It was like it gave me permission to “like” the story the way I wrote it, and not make the corrections that these critics seemed to think were necessary.
Hey, there’s a blog post in there somewhere…:-)
BTW, if you read this response, thanks for the summary on Konrath’s new business. I’ve been out of town and stayed pretty much internet free for almost a week! I was glad to read your take on it.