When The Weird Turn Pro by Duane Swierczynski

As advertised, I’m thrilled to welcome Duane for a guest post to wrap up Swierczynski Week.

Duane SwierczynskiThis month marks a strange little milestone for me: Exactly 20 years ago, I started writing shit for cash.

Which means, in a manner of speaking, I’ve been a professional writer for two freakin’ decades. My definition of “professional” anything is simple: whenever you do something for money, you’ve gone pro. The amount of money doesn’t really matter; it’s that people are willing to part with some of their money to have you do something. Could be anything. Plumbing. Brain surgery. Sex. Whatever.

They cross your palm with silver, you’ve gone pro.

I went pro with a 250-word item called “Philly to New Jersey: Send Us a Bill!” which appeared in the July 1991 issue of Philadelphia Magazine, where I was interning that summer. A very kind editor named Lou Harry gifted me the story idea, complete with sources to call and suggestions on how to frame the piece. The paycheck was modest, but to a 19-year-old aspiring writer interning without pay, it was a psychic windfall.

People would actually pay me for writing shit.

The secret to going pro of course, is that first you need to spend a lot of time doing it for free.

Up until that point, from eighth grade until sophomore year of college, I’d written hundreds of pages—goofy horror stories and grisly satires (usually starring my friends, who would die in spectacularly gruesome ways). I did it because it was fun, and offered an escape from the many not-fun things in like. Such as Algebra II.

As I nearest high school graduation, however, I started to wonder: Could I do this for real? Like, as a job? Would anyone ever pay me to write violent stories where my friends met untimely ends?

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski

The Wheelman by Duane SwierczynskiHardie sometimes marveled at how quickly things could spin out of control. – Charlie Hardie

Once a special consultant to the Philadelphia Police Department entrusted with critical, off the radar jobs, Charlie Hardie’s life went off the rails when a job went spectacularly wrong resulting in several deaths. Now Charlie spends his time moving from one house-sitting job to another. His clients are wealthy people with cushy houses in desirable locations, the latest of which belongs to a movie composer who lives in the Hollywood Hills.

He gets more than expected this time out, however, when doing a walk-thru upon arrival he finds a wild-eyed young woman hiding in the house. Apparently strung out on drugs, she keeps babbling about how “they” are trying to kill her, accusing Charlie of being one of “them.” Though he finds it a little too coincidental that the power goes out shortly after he arrives and neither of their phones can get a signal, he’s not quite ready to believe there’s a group of assassins outside on a mission to kill some junkie…though she looks sorta familiar.

Turns out there’s a reason for that. Charlie finally realizes the woman is Lane Madden, a well-known young Hollywood actress. She explains that she broke into the house after getting away from some people who ran her car off the road then injected her with drugs to try and make it look like she crashed after OD’ing. Ok, Charlie thinks, so she’s not some random junkie. She’s a cokehead, paranoid, B-List actress. And he’s still not buying that there are people outside waiting to kill her. Wanting to prove that to her, Charlie decides to go outside despite Lane’s frantic pleas that he not open the door. You know, he really should have listened to her.

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

Severance Package by Duane SwierczynskiIn that moment, Amy knew she had lost her mind, lost it to the point of imagining that someone would actually throw her out an open window, thirty-six stories up. Because who would do that? – Amy Felton

In this book that’s quite a list, actually. You see, things aren’t well at Murphy, Knox & Associates. In fact, the seven employees who are called in to a special Saturday morning “managers meeting” are informed things are going so poorly the financial services company is being shut down.

This would be shocking enough news under normal circumstances, but it becomes downright horrifying when CEO David Murphy informs those gathered that the company is actually a front for a covert intelligence agency. Oh, and part of the shutting down process includes killing all present.

Taking into account their loyal service, Murphy has considerately arranged a special blend of champagne and OJ to ease them on their way painlessly, a murderous mimosa if you will. There is an alternative severance package, however, for anyone who doesn’t want to take the easy way out: a bullet to the head.

No use trying to escape, the floor has been sealed – elevator locked down, stairwells rigged with sarin bombs – landlines disconnected, corporate cell phones they all carry deactivated, and there’s no one else working in the building. So, who’s first? Confident Murphy has merely set up an elaborate, if demented, corporate loyalty test, one of those gathered downs the cocktail in hopes of impressing the boss. When he promptly keels over and it finally sinks in that this is not a game, Murphy’s previously demure assistant pulls a gun and shoots him in the head. And then things really go to hell.

The Wheelman, Expiration Date, Level 26: Dark Origins by Duane Swierczynski

Welcome to the continuing celebration of Swierczynski Week. Today I’ll be whetting your appetite with mini-reviews of The Wheelman, Expiration Date, and Level 26: Dark Origins.

The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski

– The Wheelman –

Though not his first book, that would be Secret Dead Men, The Wheelman was the first book of Duane Swierczynski’s that I read. Set in Swierczynski’s hometown of Philadelphia, The Wheelman tells the bloody tale of what happens when the bank job title character Lennon is serving as the getaway driver for goes wrong. Seriously wrong. Like betrayed, beaten, and left for dead kind of wrong.

But as his former partners and enemies will all come to regret, Lennon wasn’t killed. Pissed off and seriously motivated, he cuts a deadly path through dirty cops, multinational mobsters, and assorted thugs who have the misfortune to cross him on his quest to find out who set him up. Oh, did I mention Lennon is a mute? Yeah, our narrator can’t talk, but that’s ok because his actions speak volumes.

Swierczynski keeps both Lennon and the reader off balance with double-crosses and misdirection galore, and the violence is intense and rather indiscriminate (don’t get too attached to anyone). The Wheelman is the dictionary definition of fast-paced action. Besides being thoroughly entertained, I came away with the impression that this Swierczynski fellow wrote like the love child of Ken Bruen and Charlie Huston… so, yeah, I was hooked.

The Wheelman is available from Minotaur Books (ISBN: 978-0312343781)

Duane Swierczynski doesn’t want to go around killing people, but…

Duane Swierczynski…sometimes a man’s just gotta do what comes naturally. And make no mistake about it, Philadelphia native and author Duane Swierczynski knows his way around killing. Fictionally, of course. (At least that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.)

From the time he announced his presence on the crime fiction scene with the amazingly original, mind-bending Secret Dead Men to the first book in his new Charlie Hardie series, Fun and Games (June 20th from Mulholland Books), Swierczynski has written his way to cult status with his fast-paced, darkly humorous, violent stories.

Not content to kill with words alone, however, Swierczynski decided to branch out, first into comics (Punisher, Cable, The Immortal Iron Fist, the forthcoming Birds of Prey from DC), then by teaming up with CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker to create the publishing world’s first digi-novel, Level 26: Dark Origins and its sequel, Dark Prophecy.

Along the way Swierczynski has garnered Edgar and Anthony Award nominations, both for his novel Expiration Date, had his book Severance Package optioned by Lion’s Gate Entertainment (Brett Simon is on board to direct and co-write the script with Swierczynski), and earned the undying respect of his peers and readers alike. What he hasn’t quite done – yet – is make that final push to the next level of becoming a household name, and quite frankly that pisses me off. More people should know the name Duane Swierczynski, even if they can’t pronounce it. (For the record, it’s “sweer-ZIN-ski”)

To Speak for the Dead by Paul Levine

To Speak for the Dead by Paul LevineGreat minds think alike. But maybe slightly addled ones, too. – Jake Lassiter

There’s a lot of great thinking going on in To Speak for the Dead, the novel that first introduced former Miami Dolphins linebacker turned lawyer Jake Lassiter to the world. Unfortunately for Lassiter, there’s a fair bit of questionable thinking going on as well.

The book opens with Lassiter defending Dr. Roger Salisbury in a civil malpractice suit brought by Melanie Corrigan, widow of wealthy developer Philip Corrigan. It’s the widow’s contention that Salisbury’s negligence caused a ruptured aorta resulting in her husband’s death. With the help of testimony from his friend and expert witness Dr. Charlie Riggs, retired after 20+ years as Miami-Dade’s Chief Medical Examiner, Lassiter secures a verdict in favor of Salisbury. Case closed, book over. Right?

Wrong. Author Paul Levine is just getting started, and you ain’t read nothing yet. Salisbury has barely cleared the courtroom before Corrigan’s daughter, Susan, informs Lassiter that Salisbury and Melanie have actually known each other for ages, and it’s Susan’s contention they conspired together to kill her father. The lawsuit is just a smokescreen.

Not willing to sit back and let Susan stir up trouble unopposed, Melanie goes on the offensive with accusations of her own, and before Lassiter knows it he and Riggs are performing an illegal exhumation of Philip’s body in effort to get to the bottom of things…that’d be some of the addled, questionable thinking.

The Devil She Knows by Bill Loehfelm

The Devil She Knows by Bill LoehfelmWhen your girl-on-a-dark-street alarm goes off, you listen. Every damn time. – Maureen Coughlin

It’s only a few pages into author Bill Loehfelm’s newest book, The Devil She Knows, that Maureen Coughlin’s girl-on-a-dark-street alarm goes off, and it keeps ringing for 300+ pulse-pounding pages.

Twenty-nine year old Maureen is slogging her way through life working never-ending shifts as a waitress at The Narrows, a wannabe upscale bar located in a rough part of Staten Island. She knows if she doesn’t do something to make a major change in her life soon she’s gonna end up a “lifer” on the bar scene, a fate she’s desperate to avoid.

She soon has more to worry about than long hours and bad tips, however, when leaving the bar in the wee hours of the morning she inadvertently stumbles upon the bar manager, Dennis, giving oral sex to local hot-shot and candidate for Senate Frank Sebastian. Quickly understanding that what she’s seen puts her in an awkward position – and one Sebastian may find to be a threat – Maureen assures both men she has no intention of breathing a word of it to anyone.

And she wouldn’t have, until she learns the next day that Dennis has been found dead on the railroad tracks not too far from The Narrows. Though the police are inclined to chalk it up as either an accident or suicide, Maureen can’t help but wonder if something more sinister happened. When she returns home to find her apartment has been broken into Maureen becomes convinced Sebastian killed Dennis to keep him quiet, and that she’s next.

The Razor Gate by Sean Cregan

Razor Gate by Sean Cregan“We as a species have a deep need to believe that there is a purpose to our lives, something greater than ourselves.”
– Shepherd Arcus

Death. It’s not a pleasant topic under even the best of circumstances. And even though we all know we’re going to die eventually, the idea that there are things we can do to live healthy and prolong our lives gives us at least some feeling of comfort and control.

But what if you knew exactly when you were going to die? Not only did you know, but that it was exactly 1 year away and there was absolutely nothing you could do to prolong or prevent it? That’s the situation facing the “Clocks” in author Sean Cregan’s The Razor Gate.

Someone in Newport City has developed a powerful new medical technology, and unfortunately for the populace it’s being used in a terrifying way. People are being randomly taken, injected with a fatal virus, and returned. Sometimes they’re returned to where they were taken from, other times they wake up in a random location. Always, however, they find a note informing them they have exactly one year to live, and that their countdown to death is irreversible. They have been given The Curse.

Blow by Blow: When Do Reviewers Reveal Too Much? by Bill Loehfelm

Today I welcome Dr. Bill to the blog to talk about blow jobs. Ok, Bill Loehfelm’s not really a doctor, he’s an author, but he will be talking about blow jobs. At least with regard to how a pivotal scene in his latest book, The Devil She Knows, has been blown (sorry, couldn’t resist) by nearly every review to date. In all seriousness, The Devil She Knows has been receiving rave reviews, including stars from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. I’ll be posting my review tomorrow, but for now I’ll tun things over to Dr. Bill.

Bill LoehfelmThe reviews for The Devil She Knows have been the best of my career, which is, of course, a good thing. You always believe that your new work is your best, and it helps if the people reading it think the same way. The best of the best, from Booklist, was also my first review with the word fellate used in the opening line, or anywhere else in a review for that matter.

I’m learning to live with the fact that reviews, good or bad, can be spoilery. As a crime fiction author, I do my best to pack as much suspense and as many surprises into the book as possible without destroying the story’s credulity, and though I understand the challenges of reviewing (like making the point of what captured your interest) I still get a little tweaked when someone reveals a surprise I’ve carefully arranged and timed. And I emphasize a little, because gratitude for the time and effort always comes first – even when I get toasted.

Plus, reviews are one of the only ways to see if certain choices land with the intended impact; the audience never quite sees the work exactly the way the artist intended, and I find that fascinating and part of the fun.

In The Devil She Knows, a key early event gets mentioned in every review – one that I had planned as a surprise and a shock, though that’s a hope I have since abandoned. (Obviously, since I’m discussing it here) No one, it seems, can resist talking about a blow job. Especially when that blow job, or more specifically, witnessing it, is the critical act that sets the plot in motion. (If a politician gets head after hours in an empty bar and no one is there to see it, is it still a scandal? ‘Cause it is if someone does see it.) It’s been fun watching the euphemisms abound in the varying publications.

The Serial Killer’s Daughter by Heywood Gould

The Serial Killer's Daughter by Heywood Gould“You don’t have to get your ass in trouble protectin’ somebody who’s not bein’ honest with you.” – Detective Sergeant John McVickers

Too late. The Serial Killer’s Daughter, the latest offering from Heywood Gould, screenwriter of Fort Apache, the Bronx, doesn’t even make it into double digit page numbers before college senior Peter Vogel finds himself in a world of trouble.

When Peter, an English major and teaching assistant, strikes up a deal with beautiful classmate Hannah Seeley to ghostwrite “A” papers for her in exchange for sex he thinks it’s a deal that’s too good to be true. He should have trusted his big head not the little one, because after a brief but intense relationship Hannah disappears without explanation.

Peter finishes out his final semester, graduates, and moves on to a teaching placement job all the while wondering what happened to Hannah. When she suddenly reappears on his doorstep, in a completely different city no less, Peter has no idea the whirlwind of trouble she’s brought with her.

He finds out soon enough, when on their very first night together home invaders descend upon Peter’s apartment. He manages to fend them off, and is initially reassured when the police inform him the attackers have been located…until he learns they are dead in an alley a stone’s throw from Peter’s apartment. That they were known drug users causes the police to believe either Peter or Hannah are involved with drugs, and that the crime was not random. Well, the police were half right anyway.

Wolf’s Paw by Tristan de Chalain

Wolf's Paw by Tristan de ChalainAre not all our struggles and trials really the same? The never-ending quest to fully appreciate who we are, why we are, and of what depths and heights we are truly capable? – Sharon Denholme Proctor

Aaron Ryan is an incredibly dangerous man. Early in his enlistment in the military he was pegged as having the special talent and right temperament to make him a covert intelligence agent. He was trained accordingly, and over time only became more and more deadly as his skills evolved to keep pace with his near sociopathic personality.

Neill Proctor is a plastic surgeon who works at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife, Sharon, also a physician, are originally from South Africa. Their time there during the horrific events of the South African Border War exposed them to the brutalities that men are capable of inflicting upon one another.

Unbeknownst to the Proctors, it also exposed them in passing to Aaron Ryan, himself in the region during the war in his capacity as a covert operative. Little could they have known they would cross paths with Ryan again, and that the horror they sought to escape would not only follow them to the U.S., but show up on their very doorstep.

My Cinematic Alphabet

My Cinematic Alphabet Once again Le0pard13 over at It Rains… You Get Wet has hipped me to another cool meme that’s making its way across the blogosphere. This time it’s My Cinematic Alphabet, which looked like such fun I couldn’t resist giving it a go.

I based my answers on films I never tire of watching, and while there were a few clear cut choices most were pretty difficult…except for Z, for which I legitimately have no answer. All in all I think the list is a pretty accurate reflection of my general taste in movies.

What, if anything, it says about my personality in general, well, I leave that to those who know me to decide.

A is for Aliens
B is for Blade Runner

Waiting For Pops by John Philip Riffice

Waiting For Pops by John Philip Riffice“People do what they want to and don’t do what they don’t want to. That’s all there is to it.” – Johnny Ryba

Young Johnny Ryba’s life is shattered the morning he wakes to the news his dad, his Pops, has been killed in a car accident. Up until that morning Johnny’s little corner of the world in 1950’s Chicago had been perfect, at least as long as Pops was around. Sure his mom drinks a little too much and his younger, special needs sister is a handful at times, but Pops always came through.

Even when he worked extra shifts to make ends meet, Pops always made time in the evenings and on weekends to spend with Johnny and his sister. Once Pops is gone, however, Johnny is left to deal with both his mother’s ever increasing downward spiral into alcoholism as well as the abuse that accompanies it. Through it all Johnny remembers Pops and the things he taught him, the way a “decent man” behaves.

Those memories of what a decent, hard-working man his Pops was carry Johnny through his teenage years and into adulthood, serving as the foundation upon which Johnny builds his life. And just when you think Johnny’s reached the point where he’s comfortable with himself, with life, author John Riffice throws one of the wickedest curves I never saw coming into the mix.

Borrowed Trouble by JB Kohl and Eric Beetner

Spoiler Alert: Key details from One Too Many Blows To The Head are revealed in Borrowed Trouble.

Borrowed Trouble by JB Kohl and Eric BeetnerLast time I set out to help someone things didn’t go too well. – Ray Ward

Ray’s luck isn’t faring much better in Borrowed Trouble, authors J.B. Kohl and Eric Beetner’s sequel to One Too Many Blows To The Head. Still mourning his brother’s death and the resulting carnage that followed, Ray is disarmed when he receives a package from California in the mail from his sister containing a reel of 8mm film and a plea for help.

The film depicts a brutal sexual assault, and as disturbing as that is, what makes the package truly disturbing to Ray is that to his knowledge he doesn’t have a sister. The letter contains enough details, however, to convince him that it’s legit. Determined not to lose another sibling, Ray resolves to do everything he can to help her.

Being as he’s a second-tier boxing manager in Kansas City, Ray’s not entirely sure how to go about things and so turns to his former nemesis – and now former police officer – Dean Fokoli, who’s working as a private investigator. Making it clear that he’ll be coming along, Ray hires Fokoli to go to Hollywood and track down his sister. Little could they have imagined that the film Ray was sent was only the tip of the iceberg, and that the bright lights of Hollywood only serve to cast even darker shadows.