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The Comeback Character by Dianne Emley

July 15, 2015 by  •
It’s a pleasure to welcome LA Times bestselling author Dianne Emley back to the blog. Well-known for her Detective Nan Vining thrillers (The First Cut, Cut to the Quick, The Deepest Cut, and Love Kills) and Iris Thorne mysteries (Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, Fast Friends, Foolproof, and Pushover), Dianne’s newest entry in the Nan Vining series, Killing Secrets, is forthcoming from Random House on July 21st.

Dianne EmleyThe Comeback Character

Five years have passed between my last Detective Nan Vining mystery and my latest one, Killing Secrets, the fifth in the series (out July 21 by Alibi/Random House). During that time, I was busy writing, but not stories about Nan–a haunted and driven Pasadena, CA homicide detective and single mom. I felt I’d get back to the series eventually, but wasn’t sure when.

One morning out of the blue, I got a phone call from my editor for the first four Nans. “Want to write more Nan Vinings?” Heck yeah! A few days later, my high was replaced with anxiety. Could I still channel that world? Had I lost my feel for Nan, her daughter, Emily, her work partner and lover, Jim Kissick, and the other characters as well as the dark thread that runs through the books? What about the series nuts-and-bolts? Are Jim’s eyes hazel or brown? (They’re hazel). What are the names of Nan’s ex-husband and his new wife’s two little boys? (Kyle and Kelsey).

The nuts-and-bolts issues were easily resolved–I reread the first four books in the series. Reading my earlier books is both interesting and surreal for me. The next challenge came in deciding where to start the new book, Killing Secrets.

Five years had passed in the real world since Nan #4, Love Kills, was published. For the new book, how much time did I want to have gone by in my fictional world? Through the first four books, I didn’t keep the characters frozen in time nor did I age them in real time. In the series debut, The First Cut, out in 2006, Nan is thirty-four and daughter Emily is thirteen. Three books later, in Love Kills, out in 2010, only two years have passed in the character’s lives; Emily has just turned fifteen.

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New Yorked by Rob Hart

July 9, 2015 by  •
New Yorked by Rob Hart“New York is not a city. It is an idea.” — Ginny

Ashley (Ash) McKenna is a man molded and driven by ideas. As a boy growing up on Staten Island, Ash would sit with his firefighter father in the wee hours of the night listening to the emergency scanner, his dad patiently explaining to him what all the mysterious calls and codes meant.

Watching his father go to work, both as scheduled and spontaneously in response to some of those emergency calls, Ash formed strong ideas of duty, honor, and responsibility. And when his father was killed on 9/11 while attempting to evacuate people on the upper floors of the World Trade Center, Ash was branded with the idea of sacrifice. And loss.

So when Ash pulls himself up out of the depths of a blackout drunk one afternoon only to learn that his longtime friend and unrequited love, Chell, has been murdered, his whole world comes crashing down around him.

The loss he feels is complicated and compounded by the message he finds from Chell on his cell phone, apparently left only minutes before her death. She’d reached out to Ash for help, begged him to come meet her because she was only streets away from his apartment and feared she was being followed, and Ash failed—failed to meet his self-appointed responsibility to protect her.

Ash can’t live with that. And he won’t let whoever murdered Chell live with it, either.

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Gun Needle Spoon by Patrick O’Neil

July 3, 2015 by  •
Patrick O’NeilI shot dope, sold drugs, did crimes, went to jail. It doesn’t mean I have to continue living like that. — Patrick O’Neil

Patrick O’Neil shouldn’t be alive. Statistically, at least, he should be either dead or locked up for the rest of his life. That he is neither dead nor in jail given the life he’s lead is a testament to the power of the human spirit.

That, and a good lawyer.

I first “met” Patrick in that causal online way you do these days, following him on Twitter and Facebook, over on G+ (yeah, it still exists for those bold, or lazy, enough to be there). At first, he was simply someone whose wry observations on daily life and self-deprecating humor made the online experience a little more pleasant, and unusual—seriously, his recounting of his ongoing “battles” with the TSA are worth the follow alone.

But then I started to dig a little deeper, beyond the witty tweets and goofy selfies, and began exploring his writing via his Los Angeles and San Francisco essays. From there, I ventured into his blog, Full Blue Moon Dementia, which Patrick has been writing for over a decade at this point. It quickly became apparent this was a person who’d lived an immensely interesting, complex and challenging life. He’d been in at the ground level during the early punk scene in San Francisco, struggled with eating disorders and drug addiction, and done some questionable things to support that drug addiction along the way. I thought I had a pretty good handle on who Patrick was.

I didn’t have a clue.

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Murder Boy by Bryon Quertermous

July 2, 2015 by  •
Murder Boy by Bryon QuertermousI was staring at the bodies and feeling more confused and nauseated than heroic. — Dominick Prince

Having been stuck in the wasteland that is crime and poverty-ridden Detroit for the majority of his life, things were finally headed in the right direction for Dominick Prince; he was on the verge of getting a fresh start.

As soon as his creative writing professor, Parker Farmington, signed off on Dominick’s final thesis project, Dominick would be on his way to New York City and a waiting writing fellowship. But a funny thing happened on the way to the bright lights of the Big Apple.

Farmington refused to sign off.

At the end of his rope and desperate, Dominick comes up with a novel solution: kidnap Farmington and force him to sign. Not the way most people would go, granted, but Dominick is truly convinced he has nothing left to lose.

And so, fueled by a combination of alcohol, rage and desperation, with a chaser of self-delusion, Dominick sets his plot into motion. The results are undeniably disastrous, and marvelously madcap. As Dominick’s ill-conceived plan pinballs from pillar to post, author Bryon Quertermous introduces a colorful cast of supporting characters, each of whom adds their own special flavor to the mix.

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Knuckleball by Tom Pitts

June 26, 2015 by  •
Knuckleball by Tom Pitts“He made us all victims,” one caller said. “It was a hate crime of the worst kind, the hate was for us all, for society.”

As the city of San Francisco gets ready to direct some good-natured hate against their loathed baseball rival Dodgers during a three-game series with their beloved Giants, a different kind of hate is stalking the city’s Mission District.

In a senseless act of seemingly random violence, Officer Hugh Patterson is brutally gunned down at the end of his shift while standing outside a taqueria watching the game on the TV inside through the window. His partner, who had stepped away to make a phone call, gets to the scene too late—too late to save Patterson’s life, and too late to even see the perp, let alone apprehend him.

Though the city bands together to express their shock and outrage, turing Patterson into a modern-day folk hero in the process, few leads appear in the crime’s immediate aftermath. But as a reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer grows in the following days, an eyewitness comes forward.

Fifteen-year-old Oscar Flores lives in an apartment across the street from where Patterson was gunned down. An avid Giants fan, he was in his room watching the game when the crime occurred and claims to have seen the entire thing while looking out the window between innings. It seems like the break the police need to solve the crime, and so you think you know exactly where the narrative’s going as it rounds third and heads for home. But as author Tom Pitts has demonstrated time and again, he’s a master at putting his characters in a moral pickle.

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A Murder Country by Brandon Daily

June 22, 2015 by  •
Brandon Daily“Don’t lie to me. I am your final judgment here. I am your final chance for salvation.” —The Rider

The setting: late eighteenth century. The players: three men moving through a violent and unforgiving world, two looking for earthly revenge, one the self-appointed hand of God. The stakes: a quest to understand man’s place in the world and how the power of belief—and a single act or decision—can set the course of one’s life.

Young Josiah Fuller’s life is irrevocably altered when, upon returning home from a multi-day hunting trip, he finds his parents have been brutally murdered. Not content simply to kill, whoever was responsible tortured the Fullers before stringing them up from a tree and burning down the homestead.

Josiah makes a vow to avenge their murders, and sets out on a quest to track and find the person(s) responsible. Along the way, he is forced through his interactions with the people he encounters to deeply examine his life, and to ask the question whether trading his eternal soul for the satisfaction of earthly vengeance is something he’s truly prepared to do.

William Corvin was once a man of violence, but has reformed his life and now oversees his family’s coal mine. When a random encounter with two drifters visits violence upon Corvin’s pregnant wife, like young Josiah, Corvin is forced to confront the question of whether slipping back into his old skin is worth the loss of his peaceful, hard fought for new life.

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The Adversary / Intrusion by Reece Hirsch

June 19, 2015 by  •
“A little disruption is healthy, makes everyone’s security stronger. It also lets those big corporations know that not everything is under their control. They can still be brought down.” —Zoey Doucet

Using computers, social media and the Internet are a part of the daily lives of nearly 3 billion people. That’s a staggering number, but one that makes it easy to understand why controlling the online world and, more importantly, the ways people access it and the information that can gleaned from those who use it, are things some will stop at nothing to achieve.

Enter Chris Bruen, former Department of Justice prosecutor and current partner in the law firm Reynolds, Fincher and McComb, where he specializes in data security. In his position at the DOJ it was Chris’s job to track down and prosecute big-time hackers. He’s parlayed that experience, as well as some personal hands-on hacking experimentation during his early teen years, into now showing massive corporations how they can protect themselves from the kinds of people he used to run to ground.

That’s the setup for a new series from Reece Hirsch, author of the previous standalone legal thriller The Insider, which was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel.

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Done in One by Grant Jerkins & Jan Thomas

June 12, 2015 by  •
On the street it’s reflex. Kill or be killed. This is methodical. Cold blooded. There’s not many men or women up to the task. — Jake Denton

Jake Denton is a member of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department. Most days his job entails the things most people associate with being a police officer: going to roll call and briefings, patrolling his assigned beat, trying his best to make sure he and the people he is sworn to serve and protect all go home safely at the end of his shift.

Most days.

Some days, however, a call comes in that drastically changes Denton’s objective. On those days, odds are high not only won’t everyone be going home safely at the end of Denton’s shift, but that someone won’t be going home ever again. Because of Denton.

On those days, Denton rolls out with the other members of Cameron County Sheriff’s Department’s special weapons and tactics team—Denton is SWAT, the team’s designated sniper.

As Done in One opens, Denton and the SWAT team are called out to a hostage situation in a mini-mart, one police officer having already been killed by the would-be robber. As he’s done sixteen times previously in the line of duty, Denton uses his highly-honed skill to take out the criminal and save the hostage. The manner in which it goes down, however, is slightly different than in times past, earning Denton a mandated trip to a psychologist before he’s allowed back on SWAT rotation.

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Words to Die For by Lynn Kostoff

June 11, 2015 by  •
“You can afford to burn with a self-righteous purpose and champion Truth and Justice because you can’t admit just how terrifyingly little either of them has to do with anyone’s life, including your own.” — Raymond Locke

Raymond Locke is a fixer. His official job title at PR firm Public Domain is public relations specialist, but make no mistake about it, what Locke does is fix problems. Big, ugly, career and business torpedoing problems—the type of scandals that keep the supermarket tabloids of the world in business.

The year is 1986, and in the Reagan-era, greed is good, Iran-Contra fueled American cultural climate, Public Domain has no shortage of extremely rich clients with extremely embarrassing problems to fix before the damage sets in too deeply. Having become something of a rock star amongst fixers for his work on a case involving allegations of impropriety at a daycare center, Locke is known as the go-to guy for the dirtiest of problems.

But even Locke couldn’t have imagined just how far down the rabbit hole his newest client’s case would take him.

Lamar Ditell, owner/CEO of Happy Farms, a giant poultry company, has a Grade A scandal on his hands. Previously just a chicken producer/supplier, Happy Farms recently expanded into the fast-food business. Unfortunately for Ditell, over 100 people were stricken with serious food poisoning following the grand opening of Happy Farms’ first two franchises. And while such an outbreak would normally only be an embarrassing bump in the road, one of the victims, a ten-year-old girl, suffers serious complications and ends up in a coma. It still might be a PR hurdle someone with Locke’s skills could easily clear, until both a crusading journalist and a high-profile activist with Hollywood ties latch onto the scandal like dogs with a bone, determined to bring down Ditell and his empire, which had previously garnered bad press for an anti-union incident at Happy Farms’ processing plant.

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Write the Individual by Christopher Irvin

April 20, 2015 by  •
I’ve been fortunate to work with the talented Chris Irvin on multiple projects, from flash fiction and short stories to his novella, Federales (One Eye Press), and most recently on an early draft of his latest release, Burn Cards (280 Steps). As such, it wouldn’t be proper for me to review the book, but since I do know how good it is I was more than happy to provide Chris a platform to talk about the book, particularly the approach he took as a male author to writing the story from the perspective of a female lead.

I’ve been asked about the difficulty of writing Mirna Fowler, the protagonist in BURN CARDS, in most recent interviews. I think it’s a fair question. It was certainly on my mind when I wrote the book. Is she a convincing underdog? Will I portray her strength well? Perhaps it’s because of the ever-present chatter of tough/strong women written as “just men with boobs” (more of a complaint by SFF readers, I think, as I’ve never seen such “criticism” on the crime/thriller scene – one I disagree with.) But disagree or not, it still sat there in the back of my head.

BURN CARDS initially came about as a sort of challenge. A few years ago I realized I was criminally (zing) under-read when it came to female authors (especially in crime), nor was I writing female characters in my short stories. I took Christa Faust’s Tough Dames class on LitReactor as a way to force myself to do both. After a grueling month, I’d learned a ton, discovered some of my (now) favorite authors – Megan Abbott, Claire Vaye Watkins, Dorothy B. Hughes – and wrote “Bet It All On Black,” the short story that would inspire BURN CARDS.

Fast forward to today – the book has gone through a lot, but one aspect that’s remained constant is Mirna’s voice. It’s a key part of the narrative that I tried very hard to get right. I have a lot of strong women in my life and I think there are pieces of them represented in Mirna. Having female friends read and give a thumbs up to earlier drafts was a boost to my confidence, but at the end of the day I think I realized, in my gut, that I’d been writing to the individual all along, and that’s what brought her to life. (see below for more from Kelly Sue DeConnick)

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A Hard Look in the Mirror by Lynn Kostoff

April 7, 2015 by  •
It is my extreme pleasure to welcome to the blog today author Lynn Kostoff. I think every ardent reader has a stable of authors they think are criminally underrated, the ones they wish they could get on every reader’s radar. Lynn is one of those authors for me. My introduction to his writing was via the Southern Gothic masterpiece Late Rain, a story that dissects a murder from no fewer than four different first person perspectives, including a murder witness in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and a hit man with Asperger’s syndrome. Late Rain not only made my Top 10 Reads of 2011, it remains one of my favorite reads ever. Lynn’s latest novel, Words to Die For, will be released by New Pulp Press on April 15th.

A Hard Look in the Mirror

What do Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Flannery O’Connor’s Grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, Nabokov’s Humbert, Camus’ Mersault, Melville’s Ahab, Faulkner’s Snopes clan, and, closer to home, Hammett’s Continental Op and Cain’s Frank and Cora have in common?

They are not likeable.

They are, however, something else.

Of all the criteria for responding to a piece of fiction, the question of a character’s likeability seems to me to be the most reductive and least productive. It’s the equivalent of donning a set of blinders before you go sightseeing.

Crime fiction, even more than other genres, seems susceptible to this kind of criticism; it’s hard to imagine crime writers not hearing at some point or another in their careers that their characters are not likeable or not likeable enough to keep readers turning pages.

That begs the question of why readers turn pages in the first place.