Tag Archives: mystery

Superheroes in Thriller Fiction

A few years back, I read three books in a row that sort of opened my eyes to the use of some sort of super human in crime/thriller fiction. The first was Greg Iles' The Devil's Punchbowl, the second was Robert Crais' The First Rule, and the third was C.J. Box's Cold Wind. Let me throw in Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar series with this bunch. It struck me as I read, that each hero/protagonist was aided by someone with almost superhuman abilities. In the three mentioned books all of them were Special Forces types. Iles' main character is attorney Penn Cage, and I love his Natchez southern settings. In this book, however, Cage is up against really really bad guys involved with a floating casino, and he calls a guy to help out - an ex-Seal named Daniel Kelly. Kelly and his guys are so good it's scary in itself. You're certainly glad they're on your side. In the second book, Crais steps away from Elvis Cole, his usual protagonist, to allow Cole's sidekick, Joe Pike, to move front and center. Pike is another Special Forces type, though I'm not sure about what branch. Totally confident and as tough as nails. And he's got those Special Forces skills that make him seem invincible. In the third book, CJ Box's protagonist is a rather normal game warden named Joe Pickett. But Joe is friends with a guy named Nate Romanowski, who is wanted by the government. Nate is another scary-good ex-Special Forces type whose plans always seem to work out. I threw in Bolitar's name because he has his buddy Win Lockhorn, the prissy rich guy who (along with Myron) has some sort of Special Forces training and who also always seems to know he's going to win. Fortunately for the good guys, he always has, so far. Some of the other thriller series feature guys who are scary good at what they do, like Jack Reacher of the Lee Child series, or Lincoln Rhyme, the quadraplegic genius of Jeffrey Deaver's books. About the only guy who is really good but isn't exactly a superhuman is Harry Bosch. But he's close. Just some stuff that crossed my mind as I knocked out those three books.  Does one "need" a superhero, invincible-type character in order to make things work in these sorts of thrillers?  If you can think of other examples, please post them in the comments. *****

Hanging with my ol’ friend Alex…

I finished reading Jonathan Kellerman's KILLER, an "Alex Delaware" psychological thriller novel, yesterday.  The story grabbed me and I came to a point where I couldn't put it down. I feel like I'm reading about an old friend when I read Kellerman's Delaware novels, and this one was no exception.  The familiar troika of Alex, gay police detective Milo Sturgis, and Alex's significant other, Robin, are all present, as are a few bit players like Moe Reed and Petra Connor.  And the plot is familiar too:  A criminal case ties into Alex's practice as a clinical psychologist. If you've ever read any of these books, you know that Alex consults for the police, and Milo Sturgis is sort of a one-man police force due to some incriminating information he has over the current chief of police in Los Angeles.  Milo can do pretty much whatever he wants, and he has the best clear rate of any detective in L.A., thanks in no small part to the insights of his psychologist sidekick.  Alex also has varied experience ranging from hospital work to clinical therapy to court work to...well, he's done a bit of everything, it seems, and he's good at everything.  But through it all is a sense that he's human, with human doubts and failings.  No superman sleuth here.  And there aren't any special forces types waiting in the wings to bail them out if they get in over their heads.  I like that.   So many detectives have someone who is a little too tough to be believed, really, at their beck and call.  Not Alex.  He has Milo and a few other cops.  And Milo has Alex. I also liked the voice that Kellerman uses in these first-person novels.  Alex is talking and thinking and telling the stories that make up the plot of these crime thrillers, and his voice is distinctive.  There's a "clipped" feel to the writing that makes you know it's Alex and not some other point of view (though I can't really recall Kellerman altering the POV away from Alex in this series...but there's a lot of books and maybe he has done so a time or two, shifting perhaps to Milo's point of view).  You're in Alex's head, and it's a comfortable and comforting place to be; a character who is confident in his skills but not omniscient or always right, and his discomfort when he thinks he's been hoodwinked or something comes through and it feels right. There was a point in the series where I felt Kellerman was "mailing it in" with these stories, that perhaps he had lost the passion for telling Delaware tales, but somewhere along the line, he got back on track (in my view) and these recent ones have been excellent.  This one is no exception. This book starts with Alex talking about a woman walking into his office and making a thinly veiled threat to shoot him right then and there.  Needless to say, it spooks Alex, but he convinces himself that it wasn't much of a threat and he doesn't need to inform the police. At this point, he flashes back to the case in question, one where a woman (the woman who threatened him) wants to use the legal system to take her sister's child away from her, using her considerable resources to hire "experts" and high-powered attorneys.  Alex is brought in by the judge, and he supports the child's mother.  The judge agrees with him, and the case is resolved in that manner.  The woman, not accustomed to losing, makes her threats.  Alex informs the judge of what happened, and that is, he hopes, the end of it. When Milo and another cop show up on his doorstep a short time later, Alex learns that the woman has tried to take out a contract to have Alex (and perhaps the judge, as well) killed.  The hit goes to a Hispanic gang, and it so happens that Alex had some dealings with this kid when he was a young diabetic who wasn't following medical advice.  Alex made an impression, and as luck would have it, this kid, now a young adult and fully involved in the gang, really likes Alex and prevents the hit at the gang level, and in fact, goes to the cops.  Lucky break for Alex.  Once again, Alex feels the brush of death against him, how close he came, if not for this serendipitous relationship with a gang member in days gone past. But the woman turns up dead, and guess who's the prime suspect?  No, it isn't Alex.  It's the sister, who appears to have left town the very night of that murder.  Milo's sure it was the sister who did it; everything seems to line up.  Motive, opportunity, and then the flight.  But Alex is so sure that he couldn't have been wrong about her...and once again, Alex faces something that shakes his outward confidence.  You can feel his internal discomfort as you read these sections, as he tries to project calm and confidence outward.  But Robin knows, and so does Milo. I was less than thrilled with the resolution of the case.  It worked, but I was hoping for something a little...less out of left field, I guess.  I won't say more.  It didn't ruin the book for me, but it did make me wish that there had been a more elegant solution to the mystery presented; that is, where was the sister, who killed the woman who threatened him, and what happened to the baby. A good, quick, fun read that kept me sucked in for a day and a half with non-stop reading at night, in the morning, and finally, between patients and over lunch until I finished.  Looking forward to the next one when it hits the bargain shelves at Barnes and Noble. *****

What I’ve been reading – Kindle edition

I've had some good reads lately.  I've been reading more and more on my Kindle, just because it's so darned convenient.  I have tons of books by the likes of Stephen King, Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Connelly, CJ Box, Robert Crais and others on my stacks, sitting there unread, but since I've been reading when I'm in bed after lights out or in situations where I don't have great lighting, the Kindle's been the go-to source of stories. Anyway, here's a few things I've been reading recently.  I'm not going to make too many comments, just say whether I liked them or not.
  1. DON'T LEAVE ME, James Scott Bell.  Liked it a lot.  Four to five stars.
  2. SEASICK, Iain Rob Wright.  Good horror story, set at sea.  4 to 5 stars.
  3. UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY, Chuck Wendig.  Neat fantasy set in a cool world.  A little slow on the uptake.  4 stars.
  4. SLOW BURN 6:  BLEED, Bobby Adair.  Zombie fiction, pretty good, lots of action.  4 stars
  5. SLOW BURN 7: CITY OF STIN, Bobby Adair.  Zombie fiction, sorta slow with not as much happeniing.  3.5 stars
  6. VLAD V:  VAMPIRE, Mit Sandru.  A relatively short introductory novel, good enough that I want to read more.  4 to 5 stars
  7. COLD MOON, Alexandra Sokoloff.  Satisfying third book in a series.  Very fun and tense read.  5 stars
  8. HEART OF STONE, H. Lynn Keith.  Very good thriller with SF elements and interesting characters.  5 stars.
  9. SPOOKED, Tracy Sharp.  Good horror story with great pacing and characters.  4 to 5 stars.
  10. INTRUDERS: THE INVASION, Tracy Sharp.  Another zombie story, but this one has aliens as well.  Great first book in a series.  Looking forward to the rest.  5 stars.
That's enough for now.  Interestingly, all of the above are indie authors.  Something there for everyone!!! On the docket:  VLAD V: THE DEATH OF A VAMPIRE RIP by Mit Sandru, I, LAWYER FRAT PARTY by John Ellsworth, MORE THAN HUMAN:  THE MENSA CONTAGION by Steven M. Moore, TIME HOLE by Mit Sandru, INVASION and CONTACT by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. Have a great day! *****

“Review” of SILICON SLUMMIN’ – AND JUST GETTING BY by Steven M. Moore

For those of you who don't know, Steven M. Moore is an "indie" SF/Thriller author who writes in several series (though he's more or less tying them all together, ala Isaac Asimov and all of his various novels).  His latest series features a "Dangerous Miss" (I don't know the Spanish off the top of my head), Maria Jose Melendez, also known as Mary Jo.  Trouble has seemed to find Mary Jo since she left the navy.  She seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But really, she was never exactly in the wrong place at the wrong time -- circumstances conspired to put her in those positions, whether by coincidence or by design.  Everything comes from the events of the first book, where Mary Jo has to travel the globe trying to stay one step ahead of numerous government agencies while trying to avenge the death of her sister and brother-in-law.  Now there are those who want to find out what she knows and won't allow anyone to get in between their goals. As usual, Mary Jo ends up in a job that seems to suit her, but ends up drawing trouble to her.  She has Russian assassins on her tail, as well as some sort of Feds and...surprise!  A stalker!  And not just a stalker...a serial killer psychopathic stalker. Moore's plot is a tightly woven affair which features well drawn characters who grow throughout the book and become stronger and better people due to their interaction with our heroine.   The book keeps the right amount of pacing and suspense and even crosses into a bit of my realm, serial killer/horror.  (But not too much...nothing really graphic here.)  There's even a tinge of romance as Mary Jo and her PI/bodyguard Mario hit it off and a few sparks fly. In my mind, this book surpassed the first of the Mary Jo Melendez books (titled MUDDLIN' THROUGH).  I read it pretty much straight through.  One of Moore's better offerings, and that's saying quite a lot, what with the Castilblanco/Chen series and the MIDAS BOMB and SOLDIERS OF GOD. You can check it out on Amazon here:  SILICON SLUMMIN' (And Just Gettin' By) *****

James Scott Bell’s Ty Buchanan Trilogy

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.

*****

DIE 6 now available!

Die 6 Cover Image It's live! DEADLOCK PRESS and I are pleased to announce that DIE 6, a collection of 6 short stories, is now available in the Amazon Kindle Store for $2.99. Here's the description:
A short story collection that contains: AN ARTIFICIAL YEARNING - a young man meets the girl of his dreams online, and yearns to take the next step - meeting in person. But the love of his life is not what he expected... BLOOD TIES - a psychic who is in debt to the wrong people sees a way out if he can talk to the ghost of a bank robber and find the money that was stolen. Of course, it's never as easy as it sounds... THE TOOTH FAIRY - Perion, queen of the Dentata, is captured by a boy whose tooth she has come to collect, and tries to make a deal for her freedom, the cost of which is extremely high... THE FUN HOUSE - Natalie is stuck taking her little brother to the carnival, but when they enter the Fun House, they experience the thrills and chills of their young lives...this Fun House is a little too real... TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS - When a woman shows up at Joseph's door with an unbelievable story, he is left with no other choice but to accept it when agents from the future attack both of them in his time. His only escape - to travel to the future himself and attempt to set things right... THE GHOST TRAIN - Three high school students in Addison Falls try to solve the mystery of both the strange dreams they are having and the reappearance of a "Ghost Train" passing directly through their mall. The answers are found in the past... Plus a brief author's note and a sample of "Rick's Rules". Two SF stories, two horror/ghost stories, and a couple that cross genres...Enjoy!
It's about 36,400 words of new fiction, along with a brief author's note (no need to read it if you're not interested in any backstory on the works), a sample of Rick's Rules, and links to my other stories. Please take a look at it, download the sample, and give it a read!  Thank you! *****

Why should any of this matter to me?

Lots of words being posted on the Amazon/Hachette dispute, and I have to admit, it makes for fascinating reading.  I spend a lot of time, time I probably shouldn't spend, on Konrath's blog, and The Passive Voice, and Hugh Howey's blog, and a few others, reading articles about the feud between behemoths.  When one falls, will the ground shake so violently that writers will be injured or killed from the aftershock? I don't know.  But the more pertinent question might be, why should I care?  Does it matter to me? The fact is that without the Kindle platform for self-publishing, it would be unlikely that I'd have published any works.  I wouldn't have finished the story that was published in QUANTUM ZOO, I would have a collection called 14 DARK WINDOWS, I wouldn't have the trio of "vampire" stories that I call DEAD OR ALIVE, NIGHT FAMILY, and RICK'S RULES.   I wouldn't have written three brand new stories to go with three older, slightly longer stories that are currently being collected in an as-yet-untitled volume of about 37000 words. I wouldn't have bothered doing the rewriting I'm currently doing to what I affectionately call my "Dental Mystery".  I wouldn't have finished my "Chris" serial killer story, I wouldn't be putting any work into my "Never Ending Night" story, and I wouldn't have bothered even writing my "The Inn" story.  These are all longer works, north of 20K words, but not approaching 60K.  They're all relatively short horror novels or novellas  (except my dental mystery) and I suspect that, without Kindle, none of the above are publishable. So for me, does it matter what Amazon does with Hachette?  Does any of it matter?  Without Amazon, I'd be sitting on a zip drive full of old short stories.  And that would be about it.  I wasn't going to go through the process of querying agents or publishers directly.  I thought about it more than once.  I spoke to the publisher of Echelon Press (a small press) and she pretty much told me to just submit it to their editorial process.  I don't know if it would have made it through the process.  But doing the work of rewriting, without a guarantee of it coming to anything, didn't seem appealing to me. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I feel like I have a very full plate.  Maybe its no fuller than anyone else, but it seems to be so to me.  I have a fairly busy dental practice, a high school son in marching band, another junior high school son in typical middle school activities, including band, and a busy family life.  We travel as much as we can afford to travel, and we never seem to have time to do all the things that we want to do, let alone affording me the time to sit down and spend time writing.  I'm not one who can sit in front of a blank computer screen and start writing...I need to ruminate.  Takes me a while to get started. No, going through the processes of traditional publishing was something I was unlikely to even attempt. So what does it matter to me if Amazon, at some undetermined future time, decides to cut reimbursement rates from their current levels of 35% and 70%?  Would it bother me?  Yes, probably in an academic sense, but in a sense of it actually affecting me financially, probably not.  I have a profession that provides me with a decent living.  If my writing career takes off, great.  If it doesn't, I'll be sad, but not affected financially.  I don't count on it. Maybe that makes me different from a lot of self-published authors.  For many, writing IS their career.  For me, it's still a sideline, and is likely to remain that. So the answer is, no, none of it really truly matters to me as a writer.  As a reader, I want Amazon to succeed, because it increases the availability of books to me at affordable prices. I'd like to make some sort of comments about the documentary I saw on CNBC last night, titled "AMAZON RISING".  But I don't know what to say.  They're a retailer.  It's not like they're truly changing the world in any fundamental sense.  They're just making buying things easier and more convenient.  They're probably saving consumers some money today.  I'm more interested in Bezos' space program than I am in his retail innovations. Except Kindle.  That particular innovation has allowed me to put my stuff out there in front of readers.  All I can do at this point is try to increase my visibility, and hope people find my stories. And then hope that they like the way I've written them and the way I've told them, and that they like the stories themselves. *****

Lit Fic vs. Genre Fic

  I like watching movies.  And I tend to like adventure movies, you know the type.  The big budget thrillers and sf/fantasy spectacles.  I enjoy the "smaller" movies, the ones that study characters, that use the sense of place as a major part of the story, the ones that explore relationships.  But on the big screen, and often on the little screen, the movies I'll pay to watch and maybe even buy tend to be thrillers and sf/fantasy.  LORD OF THE RINGS, ENDERS GAME, THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE, and the HARRY POTTER movies are just a few examples of movies I've seen and enjoyed in the last several years. Over the weekend I was watching the first lecture of one of "The Great Courses", this one on analysis and critique while reading and writing, and how it can make "me" a more effective reader AND writer.  This first lecture sets the agenda for the 24 lecture series, and in it the professor talked a great deal about tone and about word choice.  She gave some examples of "good" writing versus "bad" writing versus "okay" writing. "Okay" writing seemed to be technically solid but artistically bland. I thought about that as I read the passages she presented in the lecture, and I agreed with her fully that her examples of "good" writing were far more artistic.  It was like looking at a photo of a weedy pond, then looking at Monet's Water Lilies paintings.  Both showed sort of the same thing, but there was a richness to Monet's work that certainly isn't found in a simple photograph by an "untalented" photographer. Then I thought about watching movies, specifically, the movies I like to watch.  To me, reading a lot of genre fiction, which is concerned primarily with telling a story, conveying the action that occurs to resolve the conflict, is a lot like watching some of these big budget movies.  They aren't out to explore the relationships between characters to any great depth, certainly no deeper than needed for the story.  They aren't concerned so much with exploring the issues that rise up in the story beyond what is needed to serve the story. Or maybe they are.  Maybe it is simply that they emphasize the story above these other things, while those smaller "films" and literary fiction emphasize the relationships, the characters, the issues, in the absence of compelling story.  They find a way to make the "story' about these items.  The conflict comes out of them, not out of some larger plot construction. Does that make any sense? As I thought about my fiction, I thought that no one is ever going to file my stuff under "Literary Fiction".  Why is that?  I pay attention to my word choices.  I try to explore my characters' motivations a little.  But writing like the examples given by the professor does not come naturally to me.  The metaphors and similes, the figurative language, the artistic flair that was evident in the writing in her examples, it just doesn't flow off my pen (or my fingertips). I write like I'm watching a movie.  Character A goes here, does this, has this expression on his face (mirroring his mood), Character B and C do this and that, then this happens, and so on and so on.  Like I'm watching and describing action on a screen.  It strikes me that a lot of genre fiction works this way.  I don't know about romance, but SF/Fantasy, Horror, Mystery and Thrillers all seem to, at least to some degree. I once wrote a piece about something Laura Lippman had written in one of her excellent mystery/thriller novels, something about how I could never have come up with the plot device that she did.  I know she responded to the article, but I don't recall exactly what she said.  But I saw it as Ms. Lippman having a literary bent to her crime fiction.  I know a lot of authors have that.  Maybe it's something that comes with time. In the meantime, however, I think I'll be content with "writing the movie". *****