To call Vincent Holland-Keen’s debut novel The Office of Lost & Found merely “strange” is an understatement of epic proportions. Of course, in my world strange means creative, original, enchanting, challenging, and mind-blowing, which means the über strange of The Office of Lost & Found makes for an amazing read; one of my Top 10 of 2011 in fact.
Aspiring author and father-to-be Neil Dawson finds himself a bit overwhelmed with the idea of being tied down with a wife and child. It’s not that he doesn’t want them, he’s just not entirely sure how he will manage both them and his job, and still find time to devote to his writing.
To let off a little steam, Neil writes a story about the Goblin King. In Neil’s story, the Goblin King grants a young man his wish… that his girlfriend’s pregnancy conveniently disappear. Neil feels slightly guilty about the topic, but still, better to write a story than say things out loud that can’t be taken back, no? Eager for some feedback, Neil sends the story off to his father, himself an author, for review.
When Alex Weston lands the job as ghost writer for the biography of Johnny Burns she realizes it’s the gig of a lifetime. A huge fan of rock, especially classic rock, one of Alex’s favorite bands is Heartbreaker, the legendary group Johnny co-founded back in the late sixties.
Being a bit of an odd duck, Johnny wants to do things a little differently than Alex is used to. Instead of sitting down for a couple of in-depth interviews, he would rather talk for an hour or two a day over a longer period of time. To avoid too much back and forth travel, Alex temporarily sets up shop in Johnny’s town, taking a little room in the back of the local pub.
And thus, over the course of what turns out to be several weeks, Alex learns all there is to know about Johnny and Heartbreaker. From the band’s earliest days in the sixties playing gigs wherever they could, to sold out stadium shows in the seventies, to the band’s inevitable downfall as the music climate turned away from straight-up rock in the 80s, Alex gets a first-hand account of what really happens behind the scenes of a legendary rock band.
It sounds simple enough, and in the hands of many authors such a premise would turn out very one-dimensional. Not so with Julie Morrigan. No, Morrigan takes Heartbreaker and turns them into a band as real as any you could walk into a bookstore and pick up an actual biography of. Indeed, Alex’s interview sessions with Johnny provide the perfect way for Morrigan to slowly reveal the band’s history through a series of flashbacks as Johnny recounts the rise and fall of Heartbreaker.
Alan Lindley’s world is tuned upside down when his wife, Sara, disappears while they are on a quick getaway to celebrate both their wedding anniversary and his formal adoption of Sara’s young daughter.
His panic turns to confusion when he finds a note left by Sara assuring him her disappearance is for the best and that he shouldn’t try to find her. Convinced Sara is in some kind of danger, and with the police unwilling to look for an adult who has seemingly left of their own accord, Alan goes to his attorney for help.
It’s Alan’s good fortune that his attorney, Callie Johnson, is friends with Logan Harper, a former military man and private security contractor. Though Logan is sure it’s merely a case of an unhappy wife who’s bailed out of the marriage, he agrees to look into the matter as a favor to Callie.
Almost immediately is becomes clear things are more complicated than that when Logan discovers that all documentation of Sara’s history comes to an abrupt end only a few years back.
Enlisting the help of a few friends who are also ex-military, Logan follows Sara’s trail back as far as he can. Using her phone records he’s able to determine Sara made trips to a small town on the other side of the state. When Logan and friends turn up and start asking questions they’re met with a violent response that removes any doubts Logan may have had about Sara’s disappearance: she’s running from something, it just isn’t her marriage. Now the question is whether Logan can find her before whatever – or whoever – she’s running from does.
Andrez Bergen’s Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (TSMG) is set in a post-apocalyptic Melbourne, Australia at an unspecified point in the future where the fortunate ones live an opulent life secure under the high-tech Dome that encases the city. The less fortunate live a harsh existence in rundown areas on the outskirts of the Dome in a world where the sun seldom shines and acid rain seems to fall endlessly.
Our narrator, Floyd Maquina, is a Seeker. Employed by the government to hunt down so-called Deviants for what is euphemistically called “hospitalization,” Floyd has the authority to terminate those who won’t come along peacefully. It’s something he’s only had to do once, but that encounter weighs heavily on his mind, driving him to seek comfort in drugs, alcohol, and classic Hollywood films.
Indeed, Floyd peppers his narrative with copious references to films like The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, The Big Sleep, and Brazil amongst others, and throws enough hardboiled slang around that a Tobacco-Stained Glossary and Encyclopedia Tobacciana are included as appendices.
With one foot planted firmly in a futuristic world where Seekers routinely undergo Matrix-like virtual reality “tests” to ensure they are still in the fold and capable of carrying out company orders, TSMG manages to simultaneously have its other foot rooted in an authentic, throwback, hardboiled detective vibe. And it is in that fuzzy blending of post-apocalyptic and old-school noir that TSMG carves out what is one of the most wonderfully unique books I’ve had the pleasure to read.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me to share your blog today. Thank you also for your terrific review on this space yesterday of Cold Call, my debut novel that was published in 1993. Cold Call was the first of five books in my mystery series featuring Iris Thorne–a savvy, sexy, and sassy investment counselor who prowled the streets of Los Angeles in her red Triumph sports car in the “greed is good” late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Iris Thorne mysteries, long out-of-print, are being reissued as e-books and trade paperbacks. Cold Call and the series second, Slow Squeeze, are out now. The remaining three—Fast Friends, Foolproof, and Pushover—will be out in 2012.
Cold Call holds a place in my heart as not just my first published novel, but it was also the first novel I’d ever written. While toiling in business middle management, I harbored a faint yet persistent dream to be a novelist. I wrote Cold Call over three years, writing from 4:30 to 6:30 on weekday mornings before I went to my day job and on weekends. When the book was sold at auction to Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster, it was more than a dream come true. I was overwhelmed—so overwhelmed that I was sick for two days. My editor’s comment was, “I hate to see what’ll happen to you if you hit the New York Times bestseller list.”
Before republishing the Iris Thorne books, I decided to first reread them. After all, I hadn’t looked at them for fifteen to twenty years. People often ask me if I read my own books. Nope. I don’t. Honestly, once the book is published, I don’t know an author who does. Of course, rereading the Thorne books inevitably led to some “gentle” editing. The passage of time let me see the books with fresh eyes and I learned some interesting things.
No matter how much you think you have it figured out, you don’t. There’s always something waiting in the shadows to bite you in the arse. – Alan Slater
No good deed ever goes unpunished, or so goes the sardonic saying. It’s one Manchester-based double glazing salesman Alan Slater would have done well to keep in mind before agreeing to help his so-called friend, Les Beale, out of a jam.
Of course, considering the jam in question involved helping Beale cover up a particularly nasty crime perhaps Slater should have seen the world of hurt he ends up in coming. Thankfully for readers of Ray Banks’ Dead Money, he did not.
Given that Slater is already having enough difficulty juggling his unsatisfied wife, impatient mistress, and declining career, the last thing he needs is to be burdened with someone else’s problems as well. Yet, somehow, he always seems to find himself out with co-worker Beale, a hard drinking, hard gambling bigot with a hair-trigger temper. Problems are Beale’s business, and business is good.
That is until he ends up on the wrong end of a rigged high stakes poker game. Unfortunately he doesn’t realize until he’s in too deep what’s going on, leaving him five figures in debt to the sort of people you don’t cross… or skip out on. Incensed, Beale confronts the person responsible for setting up the game, and that’s when things go from bad to worse.
“You always think that once you get power, you’ll change the rules.” – Iris Thorne
Slugging it out with the big boys in the trenches of Los Angeles’ glittering financial district Iris Thorne has to fight for every scrap of power she can get, and all too often finds herself playing by a set of rules she feels both stacked against her and powerless to change.
Still, she has an apartment with a nice view of the ocean, a closet full of designer clothes (even if they aren’t quite paid off yet), and a snazzy Triumph sports car (even if it does leak a little oil). All told, she’s doing well for herself and has had no reason to question the path her life is taking. All that changes overnight when one of her coworkers is murdered.
Alley Munoz was not only the mailroom/all-around “go to” guy in the office, he was also Iris’ best friend at the company. Having previously taught the deaf for several years before embarking on her financial career, Iris got along well with Alley, who was himself both deaf and physically handicapped as well.
When the police seem inclined to write-off Alley’s death as being the result of a drug deal gone wrong given his ethnicity and the location of the murder Iris is incensed, and determined to prove them wrong. Easier said than done, especially considering the lead detective on the case, John Somers, also happens to be the man Iris was seriously involved with during her college years. Now Iris not only has to deal with essentially solving Alley’s murder on her own, but also with the feelings stirred up by the divorced detective’s reappearance in her life.
Murder, professional wrestling, an underground punk rock scene, a nasty biker gang, a psychopathic mime, and a dominatrix with an affinity for 50’s style. If you read that and thought, “Hell, yeah!” just go ahead and buy Death Match. (And it’s clear why you’re my kind of people.)
If you read that and thought, “That’s… interesting.” please allow me to explain how those pieces fit together to form the entertaining puzzle that is author Jason S. Ridler’s debut novel.
Having barely survived his wild, drug and alcohol fueled youth as frontman for a punk band, Spar Battersea was finally able to get his life on track with the help of his friend, Ray. Now working at a book store and as a stringer for the local paper, the excitement in Spar’s life is confined to cheering for Ray’s alter-ego “Clown Royale” at his professional wrestling matches.
When Ray dies in the ring on the eve of the biggest match of his young career, Spar doesn’t buy the official conclusion: heart attack/natural causes. For one thing Ray was only 25 and healthy as a horse, and that also wouldn’t explain the disturbing and extensive scarring found on Ray’s back, some of it quite recent. Determined to do right by his friend, Spar wades into the underground world of shady wrestling promoters and discovers there was a lot about his friend he didn’t know. Now Spar has to decide just how far he’s willing to go to discover the truth, and if he really wants to know.
Also a Dundee, Scotland based private investigator, the tales of Sam Bryson have heretofore been scattered hither and yon throughout crime fiction publications such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Thrilling Detective Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler Magazine, and Needle.
As a result, most people have not been fortunate enough to read all of them, and many have never had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Bryson at all. Fear not, as The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and other stories) features the complete Sam Bryson collection.
The collection opens with the eponymous “The Death of Ronnie Sweets,” in which Bryson is hired by the parents of a young man who was brutally beaten and left for dead. In addition to being an interesting case, was Ronnie an innocent victim or mixed up in something unsavory, the story gives us a glimpse of Bryson’s past as a police officer and sets the tone for what’s to follow; namely, edgy, well-crafted stories that don’t flinch from tackling some of the more unpleasant aspects of life: crime and corruption, danger and doubt, regret and revenge amongst others.
I have a confession to make. As a general rule, I don’t read Westerns. I find that too often the stories get lost in the author’s desire to provide the reader with every little period-accurate detail they’ve researched, and bogged down with unwieldy “cowboy” lingo in the dialog. And while that may appeal to some, it’s just not my cup of tea.
I have another confession to make. Edward A. Grainger, aka David Cranmer, is turning me into a convert. You see, Cranmer doesn’t write Westerns per se, he writes well-crafted stories with engaging characters that just happen to take place in the Old West. And he does it very, very well. Don’t get me wrong, the adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles are unquestionably Westerns, but Cranmer never loses sight of the real prize: character and story. And that makes all the difference in the world to this reluctant reader of Westerns.
It helps that Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, both U.S. Marshals, are charismatic and unique individuals. Laramie is known to display an unorthodox streak as questionable as the outlaws he hunts, his behavior often fueled by the approach to life that was ingrained in him having been raised by Native Americans. For his part, Miles brings the challenge of being one of the first black Marshals into play, showing how his status as a black man in the 1880s Old West can make both all the difference in the world and none whatsoever to how he does the job… often at the same time.
Imagine a genetically altered plant disease exists that could wipe out the production of cocaine worldwide virtually overnight by specifically targeting and destroying coca plants. Now imagine you are in the position of making the call whether to unleash that virus.
The decision whether to do so or not isn’t as easy as it may initially seem, as DEA Agent Jake MacQuilkin learns when he’s thrust into that position in William Wilkerson’s The Eradication Dilemma.
After serving for years as the DEA’s point man in Latin America, MacQuilkin leaves the department after a bust gone wrong causes the death of a fellow agent… who also happened to be his fiancée.
MacQuilkin’s called back into action when the genetically altered virus starts wiping out coca crops in Bolivia despite the program having officially been shut down by the US Government. Now, instead of destroying the cocaine industry, the agency actually wants MacQuilkin to use his expertise and experience in Latin America to find and stop whoever is behind the rogue unleashing of the virus.
Having previously read Julie Morrigan’s short stories various places online, I was quite pleased when she offered her first collection, the outstanding Gone Bad, earlier this year. So imagine my excitement when a mere months later – with a novel, Convictions in the interim – Morrigan released yet another collection, The Writing on the Wall.
Featuring six short stories and a novelette, The Writing on the Wall proves that Morrigan is both a talented and versatile author, one who inhabits her short stories as comfortably as a second skin.
“Shadow Man” takes an already terrifying experience, sleep paralysis, and pushes the concept even farther. Those who experience sleep paralysis vividly experience as waking hallucinations things people normally only encounter in their dreams. But what if what you were encountering was neither a hallucination nor dream, but real?
“The Black Dog” demonstrates that while reading may be both fundamental and fun, some books are more powerful than others. Far more.
In “Chocolate Button Eyes” a man out on a date gets a bit more than he was expecting when he’s invited back around to his date’s place for an after dinner drink. “Lust makes men stupid and I’m thankful for the fact.” Guys, this one will make you reconsider just who’s about to get lucky when you go home with a woman you barely know.