Crime Factory: The First Shift by Rawson, Ashley & Callaway, Editors

Crime Factory: The First ShiftI was locked up for a while. Full of the empty darkness, if that makes sense to you. The sort of nothing that fills up everything. – Roy Alison, “The Ravine”

The amazing team at Crime Factory Magazine – Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Jimmy Callaway – have put together an anthology of twenty-seven stories featuring an almost embarrassingly rich bounty of talent.

Of course it would be unwieldy for me to review all twenty-seven stories, not to mention take the fun out of you discovering some of them on your own, so here are just a few of the ones that were highlights for me…

“Glory B.” by Josh Converse – Ever wondered how robbery crews get together? I mean, do you have to be friends for life, or do you just answer an ad on Craigslist or something? Converse’s taut tale takes a snapshot look at the process through which potential getaway driver Quinn auditions for a robbery crew’s boss. Quinn has three attempts to impress with his driving skills and get a mock getaway right. Screw any one of them up and Quinn not only won’t be driving the getaway, he won’t be driving anymore period.

“Microprimus Volatitus” by Greg Bardsley – You will either find this to be wickedly funny or bizarrely offensive. The story involves a love triangle. Randy begins dating Razelle, at first not aware that she’s been living with Helmut for four years. And though she thinks of Helmut as just a roommate, Helmut is passionately in love with Razelle, which of course causes an intense conflict when Randy hits the scene. Oh, did I mention Helmut is a tiny little monkey the size of a canary? Yeah. And he’s determined to do whatever it takes to get Randy out of the picture, including going to war. I found the story wickedly funny; I’m just weird that way.


At The End Of The Road by Grant Jerkins

He learned that it was possible to be scared and carry a burden of fear and worry and guilt, and still behave normally. – Kyle Edwards

In the summer of 1976 ten-year-old Kyle Edwards was one of millions of Americans who celebrated a landmark birthday for our nation. Looking back, however, Kyle realizes that summer also held a landmark death for him, that of his innocence.

A typical boy in rural Georgia, Kyle’s daily activities include helping harvest peanuts and sweet potatoes, playing in the corn fields, and riding his bike with abandon up and down the dirt road in front of his house. While out riding his bike one afternoon Kyle causes an accident when he speeds around a blind curve right into the path of an oncoming car. Veering sharply to avoid hitting him, the car flips repeatedly, coming to rest on its side. Kyle watches in horror as a bloody young woman emerges from the vehicle, stumbling toward him.

The Pull of Gravity by Brett Battles

The Pull of Gravity by Brett BattlesIt’s hard for someone who has little faith in himself to ask someone else to have it in him. – Jay Bradley

Following a career in the Navy, expat Jay Bradley finds himself in the Philippines working as a papasan at The Lounge, a go-go club in Angeles City. He takes his job to watch over the girls in the club seriously, but gets especially close to young Isabel, who reminds him of the step-daughter from his failed marriage.

Like most of the girls working the clubs of Angeles City, Isabel dreams of meeting a man who will sweep her off her feet and take her away from the life of a club dancer – and “escort” – on infamous Fields Avenue. When businessman Larry Adams comes into their lives, suddenly both Jay and Isabel are complete. The three of them form a bond – Larry and Jay as friends, Isabel and Larry as lovers – that seems too good to be true.

And of course it is. Told primarily in flashbacks, the book opens and sets the scene with an older Jay returning to the Philippines to sell his part-ownership in The Lounge, as well as to track down Isabel to find closure about the events that ripped their lives apart, and cost Larry his. (That is not a spoiler.)

Bad Boy by Grant Jerkins

Grant Jerkins’ debut novel, A Very Simple Crime, was released to critical praise from places such as Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Library Journal, and was also one of my top reads of 2010. Tomorrow I will be reviewing Grant’s follow up, At the End of the Road, but today I’m turning over the blog to Grant. I’ll just let him take it from here…

Grant JerkinsPeople are always telling me they want to write. But they don’t know what to write about. And what do I think they should write about? And I usually think to myself, well how the fuck should I know what you ought to write about? I never say that, though. No, my stock response is, “Why don’t you write a story about a dog told from the dog’s point of view?”

I always thought that was cute.

When Elizabeth White invited me to guest post on her site, I said I was honored. Then I asked her what did she think I should write about? I have a pretty good idea what she was thinking, but what she said was, “Why don’t you write a story about a dog told from the dog’s point of view?”

Probably thought she was being cute.

It’s only 625 words. When you get right down to it, most dogs don’t have that large of a vocabulary anyway. – GJ

Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith

Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith “You aren’t going to be satisfied until you’ve uncovered whatever it is they are hiding, are you?” – Pastor “Hutch” Hutchinson

Hutch knows his wife, Deputy Tempe Crabtree, all too well because she absolutely will not stop until she finds out everything she needs to know to keep the people of Bear Creek safe. And this is a good thing for readers of author Marilyn Meredith’s charming series, as Tempe makes her return for an action-packed eleventh outing in the series’ newest entry, Bears With Us.

Located in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada, the small community of Bear Creek finds itself dealing with a handful of its namesake, as hungry bears preparing for hibernation begin showing up in apple orchards, garbage bins and, startlingly, snout-deep in a carton of Rocky Road ice cream in one unfortunate family’s kitchen. Unable by law to shoot the bears unless they present an immediate threat to life, Tempe finds herself coming up with creative ways to run the hungry critters off.

Even if bears were the only thing Tempe had to deal with she’d still have her hands full, but Meredith has provided Tempe with a plate overflowing with situations all requiring her immediate attention: the decline of a former town pillar into dementia, necessitating tracking her down repeatedly when she keeps wandering off; an amazingly self-important and obnoxious mother who expects Tempe to intervene and keep the “wrong sort” of boy away from her teenage daughter, and who threatens to make formal complaints of misconduct against her if she doesn’t; the suicide of a teenager and his family’s strangely cold reaction to it… yes, Tempe more than has her hands full.

My Aries Secrets by Claudia Hoag McGarry

Spoiler Alert: Key details from My Scorpio Soul are revealed in My Aries Secret.

My Aries Secrets by Claudia Hoag McGarry It takes a lot of energy to save a soul. – Tempest McTierney

My Aries Secrets, the second book in author Claudia Hoag McGarry’s astrology themed thrillers, finds Tempest McTierney, the protagonist from My Scorpio Soul, released from prison and in the unlikely position of a reluctant “Dear Abby.”

Having herself dealt with a situation where another woman was threatening to destroy her family – in Tempest’s case a stalker infatuated with Tempest’s husband – and taken the matter into her own hands out of desperation, her stint in prison has turned her into something of a cult hero to desperate women with lost souls.

Haven Rodriguez, the latest lost soul to reach out to Tempest, finds her previously idyllic life shattered when her husband, Jerod, goes missing. Making matters worse, his disappearance occurred on the heels of Haven learning that he had been having an affair, and that the company he worked for was being criminally investigated for possibly running a Ponzi scheme.

Now, Haven is torn between the fear of never finding out what happened to him, and anger at the thought he may have run away with his mistress and/or the company’s money. She seeks guidance from Tempest to help her control the homicidal feelings she has toward a female neighbor she’s convinced knows where Jerod is – or actually had something to do with his disappearance.

The Nameless Dead by Paul Johnston

The Nameless Dead by Paul JohnstonI was pretty good at scheming myself. If that was the way he wanted to play the game, I would be happy to take him on.
– Matt Wells

There’s more than a little scheming going on in The Nameless Dead, the fourth, and last, book in author Paul Johnston’s Matt Wells series. In his guest post yesterday, Paul gave a much better summary of The Nameless Dead (and series as a whole) than I possibly could, so do check that out for a more detailed setup. The short version…

Following their involuntary assassination attempt on the President of the United States, British crime novelist Matt Wells and his pregnant girlfriend, London Metropolitan Detective Chief Superintendent Karen Oaten, are being held by the FBI. As their activities were the result of a mind control experiment performed by a Neo-Nazi group, the FBI is working on deprogramming Wells and Oaten.

Of course things wouldn’t be any fun if it was that simple. So when bodies begin turning up killed in a gruesome ritualistic manner reminiscent of that Neo-Nazi group, the FBI gets the bright idea to use Wells’ programming to their advantage and turn him loose to hunt down the group’s leader, Heinz Rothmann, the man responsible for Wells and Oaten’s predicament. As you’d expect, things don’t quite go as planned.

At the End of a Series, the Author Comes Clean by Paul Johnston

Today I am pleased to welcome Paul Johnston back for another guest post (read his first, here). Paul is the accomplished author of three different series: the Matt Wells series (featuring investigative crime reporter Wells), Quint Dalrymple series (crime-SF crossover novels set in a futuristic Edinburgh), and the Greece-set Alex Mavros series. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing The Nameless Dead from the Matt Wells series, but today Paul’s going to share a secret about what fuels his writing.

Paul JohnstonOstensibly I’m here to talk about The Nameless Dead, the fourth and last in my series featuring crime writer turned investigator Matt Wells. So, before the knife cuts to the bone, as the Greeks say, let me do that.

At the beginning of The Nameless Dead, Wells and his heavily pregnant lover Karen are being held prisoner in a joint FBI/US Army camp in Illinois, following their involvement in an attempt to assassinate the President (see book 3, Maps of Hell). They had been brainwashed and are undergoing treatment to reverse the process. Meanwhile, a series of violent murders leads the FBI to suspect that the mastermind behind the attack on POTUS is still at large. Wells is trained up and sent to find the criminal who messed with his mind, soon finding himself up against hired killers, a neo-Nazi conspiracy linked to a Satanic cult, and a fundamentalist Christian private military contractor. Oh, and his former lover Sara Robbins – now the deadly hit woman known as the Soul Collector (the title of book 2 in the series) – is back on his trail. To make things even worse (you know what thrillers do – multiply the hero’s jeopardy ad infinitum), Matt suffers the most appalling personal loss, one that drives him to a real underworld, set design courtesy of John Milton and Hieronymus Bosch. You can never have too much eschatology.

Me Again by Keith Cronin

Me Again by Keith Cronin“At some point we’ve got to stop trying to restore our lives, and start actually living them.” – Jonathan Hooper

When thirty four year old Jonathan Hooper wakes up after six years in a coma following a stroke the world is a blank slate to him. He doesn’t remember who he is or how he ended up in the hospital, he can’t talk, his muscles have atrophied, and he has no concept of numbers or time.

Not having expected him to ever recover, his family and girlfriend have moved on with their lives, a situation which may bother Jonathan more if he actually remembered any of them. The fact is, however, there’s very little Jonathan does remember. And so begins the arduous task of relearning how to live.

During the course of physical therapy Jonathan meets Rebecca Chase, who’s also in the process of recovering from a stroke suffered at an unusually young age. Unlike Jonathan, Rebecca didn’t lose her memory after her stroke. Not her memory of people and events anyway, she just doesn’t remember why she ever found any of it appealing…including her husband.

Together the two of them help each other rediscover who they were, and who they want to be.

Okay, I know. On the surface it sounds like Lifetime Movie of the Week material, but there’s more to it than that.

Bad Moon by Todd Ritter

Bad Moon by Todd Ritter“It was believed that only the death of someone young and without sin could appease the bad moon.” – Professor Reid

Along with the rest of the world, on July 20, 1969, the residents of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania were transfixed by the images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. One in particular, young Charlie Olmstead, was so overcome with excitement he begged his dad to let him go outside to look at the moon, convinced he’d be able to see Armstrong up there.

His father relented and young Charlie peddled off into the night on his bike, never to be seen again. A subsequent search turned up Charlie’s badly battered bike at the base of a local waterfall, and it was concluded by the police that Charlie had suffered a similar fate, his body washed away. A tragedy, but just an accident.

Forty years later Eric Olmstead, just an infant at the time his older brother disappeared, returns to Perry Hollow to tend to his mother in her dying days. Her final request of Eric: Find him. Find your brother. Apparently his mother always believed Charlie was kidnapped, and feeling the obligation to at least make a token effort to fulfill her request, Eric hires private investigator Nick Donnelly, whose foundation is dedicated to solving cold-cases.

In addition to being a former Pennsylvania State Police investigator, Donnelly is also specifically familiar with Perry Hollow, having previously worked with Perry Hollow Police Chief Kat Campbell on a serial killing investigation (Death Notice). Nick looks Kat up when he gets to town, and together they meet with Eric, who has discovered something interesting while cleaning out his mother’s house – a board containing a map of the state with six locations marked in red, each accompanied by a clipping from a newspaper detailing a missing child.

Lost Boy by Todd Ritter

Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Bad Moon, the second novel from author Todd Ritter, which is being released this week by St. Martin’s/Minotaur. Today, I am very excited to welcome Todd for a guest post about part of the inspiration behind Bad Moon, and how the country lost a little bit of its innocence because of one little boy.

Todd RitterIt happens far too often now. A child — sometimes a baby, often an adolescent — suddenly disappears. It hits the local news. Then goes national. Then Nancy Grace is spouting theories and pointing fingers. Overnight, everyone knows the child’s name. They see the same family-selected photo printed in their newspapers and flashed on their TV screens. Time passes — be it days, weeks or months — and the child is found. Sometimes the news is happy. Usually, it isn’t. And then the names, the photographs, the incident itself fade from memory.

Some of these missing children, though, stay lodged in our collective memories, for one reason or another. We remember their names, if not their pictures. Adam Walsh, for spurring his father’s continuing crusade for justice. Caylee Anthony, for the questions that still surround her death. Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, for being two rare happy endings.

A select few end up making history. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby — Charles Jr., although he hasn’t been called that since 1932 — riveted the nation and set the gold standard for media circuses. The case fascinates still today. I should know. I live a mere eight miles from where Charles Jr. was abducted. Until recently, the courthouse where the trial was held did annual reenactments.

And then there’s Etan Patz.

The White Room by John Tomaino

The White Room by John TomainoIt’s only for a couple of days, she told herself. Just a few days. Keep it together. I can do this. – Jodie Sykes

Newly minted PhD in Psychology in-hand, Jodie Sykes is thrilled when she’s offered a chance to participate in research with Professor David Byrne, a man whose psychology textbook she used during the process of obtaining her postgraduate degrees.

Her enthusiasm is quickly tempered, however, when she learns that Byrne wants her to gather research on the treatment of institutionalized mental patients… by going undercover in an institution as a patient.

Despite her misgivings, she convinces herself that it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. After all, since she’ll be signing in as a voluntary patient if things get too intense she’ll just sign herself out.

Professor Byrne, of course, has other plans. Unbeknownst to Jodie, it’s Byrne’s intention to use her as the test subject in a study of near total sensory deprivation.

With the help of a few complicit staff members Byrne manipulates Jodie’s behavior to the point she is acting out and able to be classified as a threat to herself and others. For the “safety” of everyone involved Jodie is placed in lockdown. Except this isn’t any ordinary solitary confinement, it’s the White Room.

Sue Grafton Blog Tour – R is for Ricochet

Welcome to the third stop on Sue Grafton’s Blog Tour. In order to celebrate the forthcoming November 14th release of V is for Vengeance, ten bloggers are reviewing the five most recent entries in the Kinsey Millhone series to refresh your memory and help you hit the ground running. There’s also information about a great contest from Penguin as well as an excerpt from V is for Vengeance below today’s review.

R is for Ricochet by Sue GraftonIn the passing drama of life, I’m usually the heroine, but occasionally I’m simply a minor character in someone else’s play. – Kinsey Millhone

The 18th entry in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, R is for Ricochet, finds Santa Teresa, California-based private investigator Kinsey Millhone summoned to the mansion of multi-millionaire Nord Lafferty to discuss a job offer. Lafferty’s daughter, Reba, is set to be paroled from prison after serving nearly two years for embezzlement and Lafferty wants Kinsey to pick Reba up and keep an eye on her “until she’s reestablished herself.”

Sounds easy enough, a glorified babysitting job really, right? Wrong.

Things get complicated quickly when Reba meets up with real estate developer Alan “Beck” Beckwith, her former lover and employer – the same one she embezzled from. Turns out Beck is being investigated for money-laundering by numerous law enforcement agencies, a fact that is brought to Kinsey’s attention by Lieutenant Cheney Phillips, Santa Teresa’s local liaison to the federal investigation.

The Feds want Reba to help them nail Beck, and as incentive to get her to do so they provide Kinsey with photos to show Reba of Beck two-timing her with her best friend…who also happens to hold Reba’s old job. Sufficiently incensed, Reba agrees to help take Beck down. Unfortunately, Reba has her own ideas about the best way to do that, leaving Kinsey scrambling to keep up as things spiral out of control.

Dead Wood by Dani Amore

Dead Wood by Dani AmoreYou know, I’ve made so many fucking mistakes in my lifetime that one more wouldn’t hurt. – John Rockne

John Rockne may have made many mistakes in his lifetime – haven’t we all – but it’s one in particular that sticks with him. While a young cop on the Grosse Pointe, Michigan police force he made a judgment call one bitter New Year’s evening, one that ended up costing a young man his life. Unable to face his fellow officers again Rockne walked away from the job, choosing to make his administrative leave permanent.

He didn’t leave Grosse Pointe entirely, however, instead setting up shop as a private investigator. And despite the seriousness of that past mistake Rockne has, for the most part, put it behind him. He has a beautiful wife, two young daughters he worships, and makes a modest living carrying a Nikon instead of a gun.

When a local artist is murdered in her guitar workshop the police write it off as a burglary gone bad. The young woman’s father doesn’t buy it. He’s convinced his daughter’s ex-boyfriend killed her, and hires Rockne to investigate the case further.

Before he knows it Rockne is in the crosshairs of an ex-con, a shadowy assassin, a high profile musician and her P.R. team in full damage control mode, and the Grosse Pointe Chief of Police to boot. Maybe that one more mistake is gonna hurt after all.