Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Paul Cain's FAST ONE--Again

I was happy to find a UK No Exit Press edition of Paul Cain's FAST ONE the other day. I had no intention of reading it. I thought it would be neat to have and the introduction and facsimile of Cain's original book jacket bio was neat too. But over the holiday weekend I needed something to read so I grabbed it. And then it grabbed me. Like never before. This is probably the third or fourth time I've read the book, and while I've previously written on the topic of Cain and his work, this time I want to amend that article and say that, yes, Paul Cain's FAST ONE is the hardest hard-boiled novel ever written and deserves all the praise and wonder it has received since the original publication date. (It also deserves the complaints.)

I don't know what has happened this time, but I can't put this book down and I'm more entertained by the "plot" than ever before. It rockets along like an express train. The characters are thin, yes, but they work well together. How can you not like Kells and Granquist and especially Shep and Borg? They reveal themselves through dialogue and behavior, even erratic behavior. Cain knew how to characterize, he wasn't being lazy, I just think he was doing something different and critics yesterday and today couldn't keep up. I just wish he would have ended it differently.

The fact that FAST ONE moves so fast--ha ha!--and works so well as a whole is amazing to see and I don't know if it has ever been duplicated. Chandler came close in one of the middle sequences of The Big Sleep, but then tapered off. I can't think of anybody else who has done anything close.

I suppose there are some of you that have never read Cain; if that is the case, stop reading this and go acquire a copy of FAST ONE post haste.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Indie Scene: Paul Bishop's FELONY FISTS

Here is what is great about indie publishing, authors are able to create properties that couldn't be done by legacy publishing, and Paul Bishop's wonderful Felony Fists series is one such example.

Paul and a team of authors are cranking out these books.  According to Paul, "These books are inspired by the sports pulps of the '30s and '40s, such as Fight Stories Magazine and Knockout Magazine, as well as the Sailor Steve Costigan fight stories by Robert E. Howard from the same time period."

The first book, Fight Card, is already out, as is Felony Fists #2: The Cutman, written by the wonderful Mel Odom, who entertained me in my youth with his contributions to The Executioner series (and I'm sure he's glad to be reminded of those!).

Paul gave me a sneak-peak at Fight Card and it's terrific. The plotting is great and Paul brings his usual crisp writing style to the party. Best of luck with the series, Paul!


Los Angeles 1954

Patrick “Felony” Flynn has been fighting all his life. Learning the “sweet science” from Father Tim the fighting priest at St. Vincent’s, the Chicago orphanage where Pat and his older brother Mickey were raised, Pat has battled his way around the world – first with the Navy and now with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Legendary LAPD chief William Parker is on a rampage to clean up both the department and the city. His elite crew of detectives known as The Hat Squad is his blunt instrument – dedicated, honest, and fearless. Promotion from patrol to detective is Pat’s goal, but he also yearns to be one of the elite.

And his fists are going to give him the chance.

Gangster Mickey Cohen runs LA’s rackets, and murderous heavyweight Solomon King is Cohen’s key to taking over the fight game. Chief Parker wants wants Patrick “Felony” Flynn to stop him – a tall order for middleweight ship’s champion with no professional record.

Leading with his chin, and with his partner, LA’s first black detective Tombstone Jones, covering his back, Patrick Flynn and his Felony Fists are about to fight for his future, the future of the department, and the future of Los Angeles.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

We Need to Laugh a Little

The other day I found myself in a conversation with a writer pal about the change in subject matter I have been going through lately, as in turning away from the hard-boiled noir writing I started with and switching to more light-hearted adventure fare. My friend, a terrific hard-boiled writer himself, does not understand why I have decided to change gears. Hard-boiled is alive and vibrant and more important than ever, he says. We have the opportunity, he says, to write the history of our time the same way the hard-boiled pioneers wrote about theirs.

That's all well and good and I assure you (and him) that my decision to forego hard-boiled/noir work is not permanent--I have two such novels planned, one that I'm doing next year--but I have had it up to my eyeballs with the bleakness that goes with hard-boiled stories, especially because of our current "turbulent time". We need to laugh a little. We can't face a grim reality and then escape into a grim fictional world--that's no escape at all. So I'm writing stories that are thrilling and exciting but contain elements of humor so if you are looking for an escape, you can read these stories and not be reminded of what just frightened you on the news. I'm also reading similar books for the exact same reasons.

You'll be seeing the first of my new stories soon, when The Rogue Gentleman #1 debuts, and there will be a new episode each month. Adventure, humor, romance, cliff-hanger endings....I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

And then in 2012 we'll have Kill Fever, where I return to the hard-boiled school with the story of a war vet who returns to the U.S. to find out why his sister stopped writing letters to him. Of course, what he finds isn't good.....

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anonymous-9 Visits Your Humble Correspondant

Well we are delighted to welcome Anonymous-9 to our abode where she agreed to talk to us about her new ebook, HARD BITE AND OTHER SHORT STORIES, which is currently masticating its way up the Amazon sales charts. Ten stories in all, HARD BITE won Spinetingler's Best Short Story on the Web 2009 and 4 others got nominations, including a first-round Thriller Award nomination. 99 cents at Smashwords and Amazon Kindle.

But this is not your average interview; in my conversation with Anonymous-9, we talked about elements in her stories that raise them above the average blood-and-thunder short stories. Read on:

Brian: I was surprised to hear you suggest an interview based on spirituality and morality in your short stories, because one might be hard-pressed to find any moral center in stories about killer monkeys and women who poison the wives of men they want to sleep with. Please explain.

Anonymous-9: Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Brian. Glad to be here. Let's leave killer monkeys for the moment and talk about a woman who kills for the man she wants. Who hasn't seen an attractive person and thought, "Wow, if his or her fiance were out of the way, I could go for some of that!" Everybody has had that thought at one time or another, so I ran further with it. KILLER ORGASM is the story where my main character (spoiler alert!!!!) kills the wives of men she wants to marry. For a short time it works wonderfully. But eventually she dies by her own sordid hand. She gets done in by this thinking, she doesn't get away with it. The story shows where our ordinary, selfish thinking will lead if it runs amok. That's a morality tale, don't you think?

B: Do you start each story with a theme or "moral" in mind, or do these elements come later during your editing process?

A9: No, these elements come as I develop the story. For example, in my story CLAW MARKS, I wanted to tell a classic noir tale of a man and a woman--man rescues woman from bad husband, husband comes and takes revenge. Simple, huh? We've all read that story a thousand times. The question in my mind was, "How can I make this different? What element can I change in this classic storyline so it feels fresh at the same time that it feels familiar?" The element I changed was the point of view of the storyteller. The storyteller (spoiler alert!!!!) is a cat. Cats are killers and they feel very little compassion for living beings not directly associated with their own welfare. Even then, cats are iffy. So the cat was the perfect, psychopathic narrator for the story, emotionally unaffected by the human behavior he observes. He forces the reader to fill in the morality and ethics part on their own.

B: So are there a list of themes you want to write about, or does the theme of a story emerge as you're writing? Would you reuse certain themes if you had more to say about the subject or try to find something new each time?

A9: Themes emerge. I can't imagine a more turgid way to write than something designed to lecture people about morality. I guess my most common theme would have to be how murderers and extreme criminals are not that far off from the ordinary person. We all have crime in us, including killing. A few of my stories show how the wrong place, right time, will turn Rebecca of Sunnybrook into Rebecca of Donnybrook. Some people don't want to admit they have a dark side, or the potential for a dark side. I find it frightening and dangerous, that lack of self-awareness.

B: Why do you think people deny their darker nature? Do you think we read crime fiction to find some way of exorcising that nature?

A9: Whether you believe that humans evolved or were created by God, both schools of thought pay tribute to our animal natures. The evolutionary school of thought admits we are carbon-based organisms with a brain cortex similar to the lizard with all the attendent animal impulses. Theology states that although we are made in the image of God, we're also half animal--super-intelligent primates. It's a constant battle to overcome our animal nature. Some crime fiction is just a walk on the wild side, crime for entertainment, a pleasurable roll in the gutter that allows us to be voyeurs watching how "bad" people do it with no personal responsibility. I don't think crime fiction exorcises that nature. There's no exorcising who we are. I think crime fiction can put us in touch with it, for better or worse. It's the responsibility of the reader.

B: So who are two or three other authors who you think best handle the type of theme you write about? They don't have to be crime writers, either.

A-9: John Burdett rocked publishing with Bankok 8 and Bankok Noir, has a series based on a Buddhist detective in Thailand. The character who does a beautiful job of passing along Zen philosophy without moralizing or his clumsy asides. In my view, Burdett is one of the freshest, most original crimewriters of today.
Tom Robbins doesn't write crime, but he evokes a surreal atmosphere that seems acquainted with meditation, or kabbalistic philosophy or Buddhist teachings. A certain spiritual cosmology  backdrops Robbins' writing. Keep in mind that these philosophical roads of thought all come with warnings that they can drive the student crazy. That's my disclaimer.

There is a great site for clerical detectives. www.detecs.org Christians, a few Jews and Buddhists are represented. I think Christianity is under-represented in modern crime fiction. Many law enforcers depend on their faith to guide them and keep them sane while dealing with the worst of humanity. But they're rarely represented in prayer or evoking God. I think there might be an eager market waiting for something along this line. Myself, I love mocking the Devil. I wrote about the bureaucracy of Hell in a story called M-N-S. Anthony Neil Smith edited it. We pulled out all the stops with that one.

Brian: What have you got in the pipeline and what's coming up?

A-9:  HARD BITE is in rewrite as a novel. I'm trying to get it ready by the new year.

B: How has the audience reaction been to the short stories so far?

A-9: It's always great. Yes, I may be a little extreme for some, but those that like my stuff like it a lot. I do well with critics, and for that I'm very grateful. Readers are the ultimate critics, though. That's why Amazon Kindle and Smashwords are so empowering. Agents and editors based in New York with their geographic filters, political filters, racial filters in place about "what fiction should be and say" no longer have a stranglehold on publishing. E-books are the free-est, most unregulated, unencumbered market in the world right now. It's the writer's time to howl.

Bloggers are the new Town Criers and advertising outlets. They find new writers, new works, and tell the world. They're the ones who help books "go viral." It's all free. But I better have a great story and give good blog. I'd also like to say that my experience has been, regarding awards and nominations, at least, it doesn't matter who you know or where you live. Story trumps all. I was completely anonymous when I got my nominations, nor was I a member of the International Thriller Writers. They didn't know me from dirt. But they liked my story. That's all there is to it in the end really, the story.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Consummata: A Heck of a Yarn!

Available now!
The Delta Factor is my favorite Mickey Spillane novel. I like it even more than all of the Mike Hammers combined--seriously. There's something about that book. It's less of a hard-boiled story and more of a swashbuckling adventure that really sucks you in. The hero, modern pirate Morgan the Raider, is coerced into helping the U.S. government rescue a scientist from communists--or something. Anyway the usual Spillane hokum results and it's one hell of a book with a great cliff-hanger ending and if I tell you too much about it I'll ruin the book. I wish Spillane had gone further with Morgan the Raider instead of writing about secret agent Tiger Mann, and I still mourn the trees killed to print that swill. If Spillane had wanted a "Bond like" character, Morgan the Raider was fresh and original and a kick to read about. Tiger Mann was as ridiculous as his name.

I was delighted to learn a few years ago that Spillane had written part of Morgan #2 but never finished it. Until the day he passed I thought, maybe, he'd get around to it, but now his pal Max Allan Collins has completed the work, and The Consummata, published by Hard Case Crime, is the result.

Film tie-in cover
The cliffhanger ending of The Delta Factor really gets your imagination going because you wonder how it might be resolved. I was afraid the genuine article would not match my vision of that resolution, and that I might not enjoy it because there was no way it could live up to the blockbuster in my head. Truthfully, the novel doesn't come close, and I had to jettison any ideas I had at page one.

The Consummata is a fun book and I enjoyed it a lot, finishing it in three days. Many plot lines from The Delta Factor are resolved, and we get another cliffhanger at the end which was a nice touch. What we also have here is yet another blend of the Spillane/Collins style, and it's a kick to try and figure out where one ends and the other begins, and the other way around. Sometimes (just like Hammer in the recent Collins-completed novels) Morgan the Raider sounds a lot like Nate Heller, and that's always fun to catch. There are two other moments where you can tell Collins was doing the typing--just two--but I'll let you find them. One involves a piece of weaponry that had not been invented at the time the original manuscript was typed; the other is a Collins trademark. But never mind all that.

The Consummata is a rip-roaring thriller and I think you'll like it. I really enjoyed being reunited with Morgan and Kim and meeting his new friends and the ending leaves the door open for Morgan #3 should Collins decide to do it, or if The Mick had further Morgan adventures planned than we have been led to believe. If Max doesn't want to do Part Three, my original idea for #2 would work for #3; in other words, Max, I'm available....I'm cheap....and I'm not hard to find.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How Amanda Knox Saved My Story

If you have been writing for any length of time, I am sure you have a manuscript that stalled and no matter what you did there was no way to get it going again. So you threw it in a drawer and said, Maybe someday....

A couple of years ago I started a manuscript entitled Bullet Alley about an ex-cop and defense attorney racing to clear a woman wrongly accused of murder and up against corrupt city officials doing their best to see she's convicted for reasons of their own. The story stalled when I could not come up with a proper "frame" for the woman; I think the story collapsed around page 50. Those pages remain in a box.

Someday, I thought, I will find a solution to the problem and finish the story.

Flash forward to this week. Like many folks around the world I have kept up with the story of Amanda Knox. It has been quite riveting. Did she do it or not and if she did not will she be cleared and if she did will she spend the rest of her life in prison? And now, as more information of what went on before and after the crime and during the investigation comes out, I see a picture of somebody railroaded into prison by overzealous, incompetent, or even corrupt police and prosecutors using evidence that cannot stand up to scrutiny, violating the rights of the accused, and slandering the accused as well.

And then a light bulb went off.

With a few changes here and there (to protect the innocent, of course--and so I don't have to pay anybody!) the Knox case provides the outline for the frame I need for the woman in Bullet Alley. Woo hoo!

Now the story can be told. I have no idea when, or even, really, if, I will get back to Bullet Alley, but you can bet when I do it will be a much better experience, and a better story, because of what happened to a certain young woman from Seattle. Maybe I should send her a cake.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Blog Title

I have never liked the "Explains it All" title of this blog, and it took a long time for me to think of a new one. Finally, I did, thanks, in part, to a British comedy show I used to watch when I was young. Dave Allen, who is no longer with us, did a program called "Dave Allen At Large" which was a mix of stand-up (in his case, he sat down) and sketches. Allen would sit on his tall chair with his whiskey and soda and say funny things in between funny sketches and it was something I looked forward to every Friday night. Recently a friend and I were lamenting the loss of Dave Allen, and while thinking about the show I decided to steal part of the title.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Indie Scene: Zoe Sharp

In my effort to do more to promote indie authors, I have been scouring the web looking for prospects to include on this blog. You will be pleased with this little gem from Zoe Sharp, Fox Five, which features short stories about a protection expert named Charlie Fox. Zoe is from the UK, which gives her a ton of credibility in my view as I have stated elsewhere that I think thriller writers from across the pond do it better than us Yanks here in the former colonies and U.S. thriller writers should do more to emulate our cousins' careful craftsmanship.

Ms. Sharp does not let one down on the writing or storytelling front; the word smiting is crisp and plots develop nicely.

Zoe brings us a nice set of adventures that cover several periods of Charlie's life, which gives the character a very fleshed-out feel. These are first-person efforts, so you get that inside-the-character's-head intimacy which I always appreciate, and there are plenty of thrills to be had as well. The extra features at the end, promoting Ms. Sharp's other work, are icing on the cake and make you want more.

So check out Zoe Sharp and Charlie Fox out at the Amazon Kindle store. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wayne D. Dundee Reviews BULLET FOR ONE!

If you haven't had the chance to check out the new book yet, here is a terrific review from fellow mystery writer Wayne D. Dundee whose "Joe Hannibal" stories I have admired for many years. Thank you, Wayne! You totally nailed what I was doing with the main character (in this episode) and I promise we'll see more of him in the future--in fact, I'll let you in on a little secret: the subplot involving John Coburn's father.... wait, I better not give too much away....

Here's Wayne:

"John Coburn is a private eye who won't let the law stand in the way of justice!" So reads one of the tag lines for this new mystery thriller by Brian Drake. Another says: "If he fails, can he live with another ghost? ... If he succeeds, can he live with the consequences?"

These are great come-ons and, for me at least, did exactly what they were supposed to do--make me want to read this book. Tag lines for books, however--like movie trailers --are often the best part of what follows. One always needs to keep this in mind and I have to admit that, as I hit the "Buy it with 1-click" tab on Amazon, I was wondering if this might be another such case.

Well, it wasn't. If anything, the tag lines might actually be guilty of soft-peddling the balls-out, full-throttle reading experience that Bullet For One delivers. Drake writes action sequences about as good as any you'll find, and the book is loaded with them. Chases, gun fights, fist fights, knife fights, beatings, escapes ... it's all here and vengeance-seeking PI John Coburn is right in the thick of every minute of it. This is definitely Spillane territory, and I mean that as a compliment. The character of Coburn himself doesn't have a lot of depth in this particular outing (one hopes there will be more in a series) because his focused so keenly set on solving the murder of his partner and making sure punishment is meted out. But several of the secondary characters are well drawn and the plot has plenty of twists and turns and surprises before Coburn wraps things up--to his own satisfaction and also that of the reader.

If you like your tough guys tough and your action fast and furious, you don't want to miss this one! 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

BULLET FOR ONE Five Star Review

I thought y'all might like to see the FIVE STAR review Bullet for One received at Amazon over the weekend. Here it is:

Remember the Batman cartoon from the 90s. In that cartoon people carried cell phones and used computers but the cars all had chrome and the thugs wore pinstriped suits. It took place in it's own world which was grounded in several time periods of noir. 

Brian Drake's "Bullet for One" takes place in a similar hardboiled world. The action is contemporary but the attitude is pure postwar paperback. PI John Coburn's partner, Felix, has been murdered while protecting a witness and Coburn is gunning for the ones who did it. He's got connections with the local police who help keep the FBI investigation from getting in the way while he also protects witnesses and Felix's family. What Coburn uncovers involves government corruption, mob ties and a stolen videotape full of women who have turned up dead. 

This might've read like a men's adventure retread but Drake gives the supporting characters personalities of their own and a plot more complex than any old time paperback. 

What the author really excels at is action sequences. Fights with fists, guns and knives are expertly described in a way that really draws the reader into the action and makes these scenes come alive. 

This book makes a perfect companion read to Drake's heist/doublecross/massacre novel "Justified Sins."

Click away.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Follow me on Shelfari!

I am expanding my "exposure" by creating more billboards; come and take a peek at my Shelfari profile.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ebook Format Problems = Free Ebook (x2) Replacement!

I recently had to re-upload some of my ebooks because of format errors related to the text. Lines were jacked up and out of place, etc. My sincere apologies. If you have purchased one of the books and found that the offensive errors ruined your reading enjoyment, please contact me at briandrake88 at yahoo dot com and I will send you a replacement of the book you bought and a free copy (your choice) of one you haven't bought. All you have to do to prove your purchase is quote the last line of the book in question. Thanks!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

New Blog Discovery: Peter Bogdanovich

Wow, you  never know what you're going to find on the internet, and sometimes you strike gold.

Film director Peter Bogdanovich has been a favorite of mine for some time, not only because of his terrific films. I can't name a favorite but The Cat's Meow--about some nastiness aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht--is one of them. Watch it and you'll realize he deserved the shellacking Orson Welles gave him in Citizen Kane--if the whispers are true. Then watch RKO 281--about the making of Kane--for the rest of the "reel" story.

I can listen to Bogdanovich's commentaries on classic films for hours--he has a great insight into movie making, well thought out remarks, and a wonderfully deep voice that demands attention. I have yet to read his book on Orson Welles, another of my favorite filmmakers, but will one day rectify that.

Bogdanovich has his own blog now, the "gold" I mentioned, and if you're into the history of classic films (he has a great write-up on Chaplin's City Lights that hits a home run in describing how amazing that movie is) click away and enjoy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Indie Scene: Paul Bishop

I first noticed author Paul Bishop during a viewing of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, the documentary by Max Allan Collins, where Bishop stated that if Mike Hammer was a real detective, he, as a bona fide police office, would end up booking him instead of assisting him a la Pat Chambers.

So I Googled Paul Bishop and was impressed with his background as a veteran detective and crime writer; when I began my ebook venture, Paul was kind enough to mention my work on his own blog, Bish's Beat, and has mentioned each of my books upon release. Thanks, Paul!

To repay the favor I wanted to interview Paul about his own ebook effort (reissues plus originals) and an upcoming reality television project which sounds great.

The books include his Calico Jack Walker/Tina Tamiko series, and his Fey Croaker series, both of which feature police protagonists, and an original series called Fight Card, the first story of which features a boxer fighting under the watchful eye of L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen. I have read parts of each book, and Paul has a crisp writing style and a narrative energy that really grabs you.

Here’s Paul….

BD: Who or what inspired Calico Jack Walker and Tina Tamiko from your first books, Hot Pursuit and Deep Water?

PB: When I first joined the L.A.P.D. in 1977, rumors abounded about on-duty cops driving either to Las Vegas or Tijuana in their police cruisers, getting their picture taken in front of a casino, or a moth-eaten donkey with a sombrero, and driving back to L.A. all in one eight hour and forty-five minute Morning Watch shift.  I’d already started on my path to become a writer and I knew this  legendary jape was the stuff from which cool action novels were born.

To lengthen the odds against my hero, Calico Jack Walker, I gave him a female rookie partner – Tina Tamiko – turned the run into a grudge match race against two other police officers, and put Calico’s pension at risk by having it all go down on his last shift before retirement.

This was wild and wooly stuff and I wanted to anchor it in the realism of a job I knew intimately.  I’d read a lot of Wambaugh, and knew the kind of vibe I was trying to achieve, only with my own personal twist.

At the time I wrote Hot Pursuit, I had no idea there would be a sequel.  When I first started writing, I had a tendency to put my protagonists through hell.  By the end of the book, they were distinctly changed both in personality and circumstances.  This made sequels very hard.

However, when I was asked for the sequel to Hot Pursuit, I found I did have another plot specific to L.A.P.D. I wanted to play out.  In the late ‘80s, the police department would pile massive quantities of confiscated guns and illegal narcotics onto a barge, point it out into the Pacific, and dump the contents several miles offshore.  Eventually, environmental concerns – including beached whales found to have PCP and other drugs in their dissected brains – brought this practice to a halt.

With Calico retired to run a charter fishing business and Tina promoted to detective, it gave me a perfect scenario to play out in Deep Waters – the story of the planned hijacking of the last property barge with guns and narcotics aboard.

BD: Fey Croaker is a great character in her Detective Fey Croaker L.A.P.D. Novels. Was there anyone in particular who inspired her?

PB: All of my long-term partners on the job have been female.  I learned a ton from all of them.  In my opinion, the average woman in law enforcement is much better than the average man – and yes, I know saying that is sacrilege to many.  Women on the job are natural problem solvers and can instinctively deescalate potentially violent situations far quicker and easier than their male counterparts because they are not hung up on their own machismo.

Working for so many years with female partners, I saw firsthand how they were mistreated by bureaucracy, how every time they turned around they were being hit on sexually.  It got to the point where I’d heard every pick-up line in the book a hundred times used on my partners.  I got really tired of it, so I had some inkling of how they felt. 

I also came to understand why female cops have a very hard time sustaining personal relationships outside of the job.  And through investigating sexually related crimes for thirty plus years, I came to believe the majority of females have some kind of sexual abuse – almost always unreported – in their background.  This was inside knowledge, and I wanted to bring it to the character of Fey Croaker. 

Before I had even started writing the first book, I had plotted out a four book story arc for Fey’s personal life.  I knew each book would contain a standalone plot, but would also be designed to isolate Fey more and more personally, before forcing her to deal with her demons in the fourth novel.

So, Fey is a combination of many of the great female detectives with whom I’ve had the honor of working.  And the best feeling was when I would be approached by female law enforcement officers who had read the book and demanded to be told how I knew this stuff – it meant I’d gotten it right.

I also had a blast creating the crew of detectives who work for Fey.  I need them to be a mixed lot so I had plenty of grist to play with while keeping the plots rolling along.

A reviewer labeled the series as Prime Suspect colliding with Ed McBain’s 87th precinct with a California twist.  I really liked the description because it cut to the heart of what the series was about for me.

BD: Please explain a bit about how you chose the traits of your characters, what you wanted them to express to a reader, and if you found those traits in real-life equivalents or not.

PB: I strive to create flawed characters who really try to do the right thing in difficult situations.  They don’t always accomplish it, but they always try.  I like putting my characters into situations where they are finally pushed to put everything they cherish or think they cherish on the line – and then push them over that line.

I’ve found that type of dedication in many of the detectives with whom I have worked or who have worked for me.  Law enforcement in Los Angeles has had its share of violent controversy, like any big city department – or little city, for that matter – but in my experience, those who violate the law under the banner of their badge are the very small minority. 

For ten years, I ran a sex crimes unit with 28 detectives – to a man and woman, they felt called to that particular investigative discipline.  Every day they did their job to the best of their ability, sometimes under adverse and very dangerous circumstances, and they never flinched. I want to capture that in my characters.

BD: Why did you choose to write about the police?

PB: I chose to use cops and detectives as literary foils because law enforcement excited and still excites me.  I felt I could bring to the genre the sort of realism that comes from having done the job.  There is nothing like breaking a big case, coming up with the one piece of evidence that makes sense of everything.

In my particular investigative discipline it’s all about interrogation.  I get a huge charge going into the ‘box’ and getting a suspect to talk to me, to tell me not only what they did, but why they did it – and I want to capture that feeling on the page.

That said, I’ve also written westerns, sports novels, and documentary films, so my writing is not exclusively cops and robbers.

BD: When I was a radio news reporter and wanted to write about somebody in that line of work, I found there was a ton I didn't know about my own job (!) and I needed to research those blank spots to make my story work. Did you have the same experience with writing about police officers? If so, did that surprise you?

PB: Yes!  There is always a surprising amount of questions you come up with about your own career when you start writing about it.  You think; how do we do this, or how does this process occur, and you have to start calling people to find out.  The good thing is you know who to call and you can get access to them.
BD: Who inspired you to write and how have those authors influenced your writing?

PB: There have been a number of novels and authors, during different decades of my life who have provided inspiration  The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham inspired me in my late teens, not only to write, but to live life. 
Mr Bishop Comes Up for Air

In my twenties, I discovered Nevil Shute’s Round The Bend and Trustee From The Tool Room, both of which inspired me to create characters with depth. 

Also in my twenties and through into my thirties, the novels of Dick Francis further showed me the kinds of characters/heroes I wanted to create.  Ian Chapel, the hero of my novel Penalty Shot, was specifically created in the Dick Francis hero mold.  I literally took apart a Dick Francis’ paperback, laid all the pages out on the floor, and then charted how his plot was paced and tried to create the same feeling for Penalty Shot.

Authors who have personally inspired me as friends an mentors include Dennis Lynds, Lawrence Block, and Lee Goldberg.  All three taught me not just about the art or writing, but also the business of writing.
BD: Does a single novel stand in your memory as the book that made you want to write?

PB: Thoreau’s Walden Pond has stayed with me from the first time I read it in high school, I wanted to be able to articulate those kinds of ideas on paper.  If I was shipwrecked on a deserted desert isle, it is the one book I would want to have with me.

BD: Are you going to only do your backlist as ebooks, or will we see more originals, like Felony Fists, from you too?

PB: Felony Fists and the other books in the "Fight Card" series are only the first of a number of planned projects set to come out between now and the middle of next year.  E-book publishing has completely changed the paradigm for mid-list or niche authors such as myself. We are now in control of our words, our covers, our blurbs, our marketing, our futures . . . The kings of publishing are dead!  Long live the revolution!

BD: Tell us about your publishing background and when your books originally appeared.

PB: I began my writing career freelancing for magazines.  I sold my first short story to one of the last pulp magazines, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.  I then fell into an opportunity to write westerns under the publishing house pseudonym Pike Bishop.

From there, I wrote my first cop novel, Citadel Run, now published under the new e-book title Hot Pursuit – with a much better cover! Five other novels followed over the next ten years.  All were mildly successful, but none really broke out.

I’d been dabbling in writing for television, but it was Lee Goldberg who gave me my first major episodic scriptwriting break on Diagnosis: Murder.  Lee is still kind enough to maintain my first Diagnosis: Murder episode, "The Last Resort", as his favorite of all the episodes in the series.  He is far too kind, but he opened the door for me to do more scripts for Diagnosis: Murder and then onto such shows as L.A. Dragnet, The New Detectives, and Navy Seals: The Untold Stories.  One History Mystery episode, The Magic Bullet, in which I made my screen debut, still seems to show at least once a month on some obscure cable channel at an insomniac hour.

The episodic television work lead to doing the script for an independent feature film, Beat The Drum.  The script writing was fun, fast, and paid a lot better than mid-list novel writing, so that’s what I stayed with doing.

All of this was done, of course, while still working full time as a detective with the L.A.P.D. running various sex crimes units around the city.  I’m a very lucky guy being able to dual careers I love – putting words on paper and putting bad guys in jail.

Now, however, I’m excited to see my backlist given new e-life, and even more excited be being back writing novels like Felony Fists in a whole new publishing environment.

BD: I know a former Chicago detective who once told me of a case where he knew the suspect, a wealthy individual with political connections, was guilty as hell, but he couldn't prove it. He wants to write a "fictionalized" version of the case and, as he says, "fry the punk on paper." Have your own unsolved cases inspired any of your stories?

PB: I have to tell you, most of the bad guys I’ve chased have been caught and done their time.  I chased one guy for two years, even going down to Mexico twice chasing leads on his whereabouts.  One day, out of the blue, he walked into the station, looking like Howard Hughes in his hermit days, and gave himself up saying he couldn’t take being pursued anymore.

On the page, I like to incorporate the gallows humor from the life around me in the squad room.  On rare occasions, I’ve taken a real life situation and fictionalized it out to the Nth-degree. However, by the time the full fictional plot plays out, there is little of the real life situation left beyond the inspiration for the idea.

When I wrote Sand Against The Tide, now rechristened Deep Water in the new e-version, West L.A. Division, where it was set was the most unknown area in the L.A.P.D. The plot involved a black football player turned sports broadcaster who is accused of a series of murders.  I’d almost finished the book when the O. J. Simpson case occurred in West L.A. and busted my plot wide open.  It caused the biggest rewrite I’ve ever had to do.

BD: Tell us about your current television effort.

PB: Imagine getting a phone call at work one day from a vice president of a major production company who asks you if you’d come down and see the casting director for a new show for which they think you’d be perfect – and the wild and crazy thing is you are!  Life never ceases to amaze.

Take The Money And Run premieres on ABC on August 2, 2011, at 9 PM.  It is a reality game show, from the producers of the Amazing Race, Bertram Van Munster and Jerry Bruckheimer, in which average citizens are pitted against law enforcement officers for a prize of $100,000.

My professional partner, nationally recognized prosecutor Mary Hanlon Stone, and I are regulars on the show, using our interrogation skills to try and pry the truth out of the citizen contestants in order for the law enforcement contestants to find the hidden briefcase full of cash.
We’ve filmed six episodes around the country and it was both exhausting and incredibly satisfying.  I can’t wait for it to premier.  I think the audience is in for some big surprises.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Indie Scene: Jochem Vandersteen

I first discovered Dutchman and fellow crime scribe Jochem Vandersteen on the Thrilling Detective Website, which published his short story Stalking Amanda one month before my first short story on the site appeared (under my real name--I challenge you to try and find it!). All this to say that I was impressed with Stalking Amanda and have kept an eye open for Jochem's future efforts ever since.

I'm happy to report that Jochem is taking the indie plunge with a collection of short stories featuring security specialist / private eye Noah Milano, called Tough As Leather. You can buy it on Amazon.

Tough As Leather is not the only book Jochem has available; the other is a novel, White Knight Syndrome. Start with the short stories to get a real feel for what Jochem is doing. Noah Milano is a great character. I think he's the first private eye to be a young buck into the things that young bucks are into. His back story is what grabs me, though. Noah comes from a family hip deep in the Mafia, yet he wants nothing to do with that lifestyle. He's "gone rogue" and the stories drip with the conflict resulting from that break.

But enough... here is my interview with Jochem:

BD: I like the idea of Noah Milano being an outsider. He's not an ex-cop; he's not a bored ex-solider who got into PI work; he's kicking the teeth of his family and going off on his own. What inspired his background? Did you choose it to be different, or do you have plans of making the struggle with his mob-connected relatives, and the promise he made to his mother not to hurt people, a key part of each story?

JVDS: From the get-go I was sure I wanted to write a PI novel. I also knew that I wanted to make my PI just a bit different from the others that came before. Some differences were his age (younger), taste in music (not jazz or blues but metal), profession (security specialist rather than official PI). The main difference was his background. I'd seen too many ex-cops and decided I had to come up with a past that wasn't seen before. So who could be a tough guy with gangster connections and NOT be in law enforcement... A crook of course! I also decided I DID want the character to be a noble one like Marlowe, Spenser and McGee. So I came up with the redemption angle, his wish to be a good man in a bad world. The tv show Xena showed me what you could do with a concept like that, silly as that show could be. Sometimes his background won't be very important, but especially in longer stories and in the future we will see how his struggle with his family evolves.

BD: Why set the stories in the US? Why not your home country?

JVDS: I grew up on US PI stories, so that's what I wanted to write. The LA setting especially fascinates me.

BD: Name a contemporary crime writer you think should be better known and why.

JVDS: There's several. David Levien and David Housewright manage to turn out amazing stories with fantastic tough guy characters and sell okay but not enough. Also, Wayne Dundee has been at this game very long and should get more credit for hanging in there.

BD: What did you do to reach out to the major authros who commented on your stories, and what was your reaction when they responded so positively?

JVDS: Through the blog www.sonsofspade.tk I interviewed a lot of PI writers. I just asked them to take a look at my stories and most were happy to do so, great guys and girls as they are. It was very rewarding to get such positive responses. I don't sell a lot of books but I'm in this business to entertain, and if you can entertain your idols that is great.

BD: Can you give us a glimpse into Noah's future after TOUGH AS LEATHER?

JVDS: I've got several plans. He will be popping up in several e-zines in the future for sure. Also, I'm playing with ebooks more and more. I've got a new Split Novel coming up with another PI writer and I've got plans to release a Kindle magazine featuring several PI stories from several writers. There will be a Noah Milano tale in there as well. A lot of it depends on the sales and interest for Tough As Leather, though.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Love for Hammett...And Cigars!

You never know what you're going to learn about your favorite people, be them authors or actors or whatever, but today I learned that Dashiell Hammett enjoyed cigars...maybe as much as I do.
I hope he didn't light it with a Zippo!

Hammett expert and San Francisco resident Don Herron reported the discovery on his wonderful Hammett-related web site. Apparently a shot of Hammett about to light a cigar appears in a film about composer Harold Arlen. You can't tell what kind of cigar it is but to me it looks like a five-inch corona. I bet it was a Clear Havana or another Cuban cigar. The closest I have ever come to a Cuban is what I'm smoking as I type this, a Churchill-sized Havana Blend from the Finck Cigar Company. This cigar is blended, the company says, with Cuban tobacco from the 1959 crop (it's 30% Cuban; the rest of the filler is made up of non-Cuban tobacco). I don't know if that's advertising hype or not, but this is one of the best and one of the smoothest cigars I have ever smoked. It's very mild and creamy and tastes great. I'll be buying more of these, for sure, to go along with my regular supply of Punch and Mr. B. Right now I have two humidors full of stogies; I think a total of 90. That should cover me for the next two weeks! The only downside of the Havana Blend is that eventually they will run out of Cuban tobacco. That will be a sad day indeed. But in the meantime, I shall light up and enjoy!

Call me a geek but this discovery is pretty neat. When I write, there's always a cigar going. I hate when the ash gets on my keyboard, but that's my fault. I wonder if Hammett had the same routine when he wrote (I know he smoked cigarettes based on other pictures). He certainly, as we all know, put away a ton of whiskey, and I can report I in no way can keep up with his consumption (no pun intended), but Dash and I share a love of stogies and that is pretty cool.

Every now and then the question arises of which figure in history would you want to have dinner with. I've never been able to answer the question to my satisfaction, but now I would say Hammett. And after dinner, we would light up a couple of Cubans and kill a few bottles of whiskey and talk writing and politics and hopefully not kill each other in the process. Of course, cigar people are friendly people, so even if we disagree on things we could still be civil.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Indie Scene: L.J. Sellers

L.J. Sellers
Since becoming an "indie author" I have not read much from other indies, but I am in the process of correcting this oversight. One of the first indie authors I have tried is L.J. Sellers. She has a book out called The Sex Club, the first in her Detective Jackson series, and it's a winner. The story involves a group of teen girls engaging in less than savory activities, and at first glance you might think it's an exploitative work designed to titillate (a man might write it that way, I'm sorry to say), but that is not the case. Do not let the title or story description fool you. The Sex Club is a solid police thriller with a great opening hook--a real grabber--and Sellers has a way, though the opening dialogue between two characters, of not only drawing you into the story but making you feel sympathetic for the characters, a trick she carries through the entire novel. If she could find a way to bottle that skill, she wouldn't have to get rich selling books.

The best news? Sellers has written more books in the Jackson series and is on her way to having quite an extensive output; she will be on my "must read" list for the foreseeable future.

Give it a try. You can find the book on Amazon and she has both electronic and print editions available.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Anonymous-9 Unmasked

So, have you heard the news?

Of course you have.

Several years ago a terrific author named Anonymous-9 appeared on the scene with a set of mind-blowing short stories.  Who was this person who claimed, in interviews, to spend hours toiling over whether or not to use a comma in the middle of a sentence?  In one instance, a bio stated, "I'm anonymous for a reason, jackass."  Which, of course, made me love he/she even more.

Well, now we know.  Anonymous-9 is unmasked.

Click away.

Meet Anonymous-9:  The Wonderful Elaine Ash!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

BULLET FOR ONE--Available Now!

I am pleased to announce the "publication" of Bullet for One, my new crime novel featuring private eye John Coburn. If you click on the cover seen to the right of your screen, the link will take you to Amazon. Special thanks and acknowledgement to Rebecca Forster for designing the cover.

Here's the description:


Five years ago John Coburn watched as his father was gunned down by a masked man. Tortured by the fact that the killer was never caught, Coburn fights the feelings of failure that haunt his every waking moment.

Now, history has repeated itself. When his best friend Felix is murdered after agreeing to protect a witness, John Coburn dives in to catch the killer before the police and FBI. Battling official law enforcement and his own demons, Coburn turns over every lead, rattles every cage, and stretches his own moral code to the breaking point. As he digs deeper into a mystery that involves a team of thieves, corrupt businessmen, and a mafia kingpin with a price on his head, Coburn realizes that revenge has a cost he cannot calculate.

If he fails, can he live with another ghost?

If he succeeds, can he live with the consequences?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

James Bond: Licence Revisited

When did you fall in love with books? For me it would have been around age 12 or 13. I was in sixth grade, we were preparing for summer, and one of my teachers took us to the library in an effort to get us reading less we spend all summer on the couch watching television (which I'm sure 99% of the kids did anyway).

For me it was a perfect storm. A tradition with me and my father, since 1983, had been to go see the new James Bond film when it came out (Dad always had to see them before me to make sure it wasn't too naughty) and when I found out James Bond had been a book series, I wanted to find an example. This library field trip provided the opportunity.

Well, I found For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, which happened to be two of the most recent Bond films at the time, and my summer was set. I also began reading every action/adventure and spy book I could get my hands on. Ludlum to Forsyth and so on. Some of the books were out of my range of comprehension and I didn't "get" them; reading some of them as an adult, I smile at my naivete of the time and enjoy the heck out of those novels now.

Also on my reading list that summer were the new James Bond adventures written by John Gardner.

Mr. John Gardner
Over the years I have kept my Fleming books but the Bond continuation novels have not survived, being donated or given away, but recent talk of the Gardner books being reprinted sparked my interest in giving him another go. At a Half Price Books in town I found a pristine first edition hardcover of Gardner's Licence Renewed, his first Bond adventure, and one that occupies a special place in my mind. It was during that aforementioned summer that I read Licence Renewed while laying on the living room couch, trying to block out the noise of MTV which my sister insisted on watching at loud volume in the next room. Well, I was hooked. Licence Renewed was a great book. I am enjoying my second reading, but there is little that I remember about the story. Snippets only, really. Bits of dialogue are familiar. So it's as if this is my first time, and it's great fun.

Gardner updated Bond for the 1980s and we can argue whether or not that was necessary (at least he wasn't "rebooted" as he is in the new Deaver monstrosity--I sure hope the new book was printed on recycled paper as I weep at the thought of good trees being sacrificed for that poor excuse for a Bond novel). Gardner turned out a good story, but one of my biggest criticisms is that the author could not decide on how to arm Bond. In the first four books, he changed guns every time, not settling down with an ASP 9mm pistol until Role of Honour, if my memory is correct.

In Licence Renewed the gun described is a seven-shot 9mm Browning. I am a pistol enthusiast and know of no such gun--for me, the Browning nine-millimeter is the Model 1935 Hi-Power with the 13-shot magazine capacity. With some detective work on Google, based on Gardner's description, I have identified the unknown gun as a Browning Model 1903. While I'm sure it does the job it was designed for it's hardly "cool enough" to be a Bond gun and certainly nothing anybody would want to run out and buy, as was (and remains) the case with the Walther PPK. I believe it is in the second or third Gardner book that Bond is issued with a Heckler & Koch P7, a wonderful pistol, and certainly a gun worthy of replacing the Walther (as is the ASP). But a 1903 Browning antique? Good grief, John, what were you thinking? (Coincidentally, the original British first edition features a painting of the 1903 Browning on the cover, thereby confirming my own investigation. Yes, I get quite bored sometimes.)

Unfortunately Mr. Gardner is no longer alive to explain why he chose the Browning, but he left us with a set of entertaining books to read, even if his Bond series was on life-support after Icebreaker. He wrote a lot of good books outside of Bond, and will hopefully, one day, get the proper respect he deserves. I enjoyed his books as a kid, and fully intend on enjoying them again as an adult, and together he and Ian Fleming, that long ago summer, started me on the path to writing my own stories. Gardner will always be aces with me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coming Soon....THE ROGUE GENTLEMAN series!

Here is a sneak peak at the covers of my new series, The Rogue Gentleman. The series will debut with a "pilot" novel, a full-length adventure, followed by a numbered continuity of novellas that will be stand-alone stories with a common subplot running through each. The novellas will appear once a month and I am currently writing up a storm to meet the schedule.

Who is the Rogue? Throw The Saint and James Bond into a martini shaker, shake until ice cold, and add an American accent and you have it. You won't find any of the bleakness contained in my crime novels; instead, there will be high adventure mixed with humor, lots of guns and things getting blowed up real good, and a few fabulous babes thrown in for flavor.

The Rogue himself is in reality Steve Dane, former US agent and mercenary who now rights wrongs wherever he finds them. Assisting him is sexy former FSB operative Nina Talikova. I've given them a Nick-and-Nora vibe so along with the gun fights there is a lot of alcohol consumption. A lot. Nina loves her vodka... and her nine-millimeter SIG-Sauer... and Steve Dane... but not always in that order. There was the temptation to have Dane mix with a different woman in every story, but I decided I liked the idea of a one-woman man much better. A case of herpes Dane does not need.

Anyway the Rogue is on the way. I hope you enjoy the stories.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Coming Soon....BULLET FOR ONE

I thought you might like to see the cover for my next ebook, a crime thriller called Bullet for One. Maybe I should post an excerpt. I'll think about that! It's a private eye story in the Spillane mold that I wrote ten years ago but put it in a drawer because there were so many other PI books at the time I didn't think mine would break through. So I wrote other books. After going through it a few months ago, I saw it had some potential now that so much time had gone by, so I cleaned it up and prepared it for electronic publication.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chasing The Rabbit

Today I visited a used bookstore the likes of which I haven't seen in ages. Books stacked one atop the other in haphazard fashion, simply because there's no more room. You could smell the old books and the dust they had accumulated and maybe even some mildew from the wooden walls that seemed in dire need or repair. I loved it. I finally found a good copy of The Ipcress File by Len Deighton, the acquisition of which has been like trying to hit a home run with a toothpick.

On my way to the counter I saw a locked cabinet in which sat a goldmine of Gold Medal and other vintage paperbacks. Such names as Peter Rabe and John D. MacDonald and Harry Whittington and Jim Thompson got my attention and oh my gosh I started getting excited. An elderly lady with black curly hair sat behind the counter working a crossword. I asked her, "May I open this?"

"No," said she, setting down the crossword and folding her arms. "Those are MY books. Not for sale for a million dollars."

She smiled and showed me her yellow teeth. She was a cranky old bitch.

Oh, well. I've been burned in ages past spending too much money on an old Gold Medal only to find I couldn't open the pages without the book falling apart. The best of Rabe, Whittington, and John D. is readily available, but it's always a treat to actually hold a real Gold Medal or a real Dell or even the rare Lion in my hand. I think those of us who write in the crime and mystery genre look at those books, and the pulp magazines that came before them, the way an archeologist looks at an ancient ruin. This is where we came from, this is what inspires us.

Those old books are great because not only are they short and to the point unlike the doorstops produced today (I’m looking at you, Ted Bell—600 pages in a paperback???), but the best of those writers were forging new ground in American literature. Today, we don't see any new ground, at least I don’t think we do (and here I go complaining again....). It's almost as if all the pioneering has been done. Somebody else built the airplane, other men landed on the moon, somebody else drove a production car over 200 miles per hour. Those of us that have come after have no more worlds to conquer.

Maybe that's why so much of today's entertainment is nonsense. The new inventions are time-wasters that serve no real purpose other than to make us spend money. Artists are not doing anything new, just trying to outdo somebody else in terms or shock or awe, or copying what somebody else did; it gets tiresome.

Perhaps the public plays a role, too, in gravitating to the simple and the comfortable. They won't accept anything that isn't a carbon copy of what they read or watched last week. In a recent spy novel I picked up, the hero is still called "the best we have". How many "best" agents are there? I thought James Bond was the best. Then Matt Helm was the best. Then Jack Bauer was the best. Somebody needs to make up their mind. How many "hard as nails" cops who “break all the rules” pound a beat? Of course, these days’ heroes are more “flawed”—usually divorced alcoholics "haunted" by the past. Gag me.

How many authors are household names today? When I grew up you had King, Forsythe, Ludlum, Clancy, Grisham, Rice--and I'm probably leaving out a few. If you hadn't read their books, you at least knew who they were. Today? Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling. Stephanie Meyer. Maybe James Patterson. That's it.

The reason I like the old timers is because their stories were mostly fresh and the directions they charted were new and exciting, and I read them because I hope some of that rubs off on me. I'm not sure today's writers have the same effect. Not that there aren't talented people putting pen to paper, there just aren't enough of them, and those that are claiming new territory and charting new directions aren't selling as well as they should--or at all. It boggles my mind how writers like Max Allan Collins or Rebecca Forster aren't read by more people. Everything Collins does is amazing. When he goes for the shocker plot point or the twist ending, you're genuinely shocked and surprised, and not because somebody's head got lopped off and tossed in a duffel bag. The last three books Forster wrote were the best nail-biting legal suspense stories ever. Where is she after three books that were less than successful? Dropped by her agent and publisher. Those three books? Out of print. She’s going the indie route now and doing well. But Dan Brown's drivel flies out the door and Patterson writes more books than humanly possible. It's a crime.

I guess I wasn't looking at a gold mine of old books, I was trying to reach a gold mine of creativity and originality that remains elusive. But that's okay. As long as there's something to chase, there's something to strive for. It's when you catch the rabbit that life loses its purpose and all that's left to do is try and find a way to leave behind a good-looking corpse.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Swimming With the Saint, or: A Halo Ain’t a Life Preserver!

The Saint Overboard, one of only a handful of full-length Simon Templar novels (the rest being short story collections), is another great thriller from Leslie Charteris.  It is hard for me to say the novel has flaws.  It does not.  The story is carefully crafted.  The scenery is carefully detailed.  The dialogue and description are carefully written.  The characters are carefully developed.  The underwater scenes are tense and terrific.  The ending is a kicker—Mike Hammer would be proud of how Templar disposes of his nemesis.  The Saint is not a wimp.  There is nothing about this book that is not 100% up to standard.  But it lacks something.   What it lacks is the humor of other Saint stories—the short stories in particular, and the hilarious antics of The Saint’s Getaway, another of the novels.

Overboard is a much darker Saint adventure, and a lot like The Saint in New York.  In this episode, Templar battles Kurt Vogel, a criminal who searches for sunken ships laden with treasure and steals the treasures before the ships can be properly recovered.  Loretta Page, the “Saint Girl” of the piece, who works for a detective agency tracking Vogel, informs the Saint of the plot after Templar rescues her from one of Vogel’s henchmen.    The Saint weaves his way into Vogel’s confidence to stop him (he is a dreadful chap, after all, and a murderer, too) and to grab some of the treasure for himself (even the happy highwayman needs a paycheck now and then!).   The suspense will make you hold your breath.  You will find Vogel one of the best villains ever written.  He could have been a great arch enemy for Simon Templar; the book could have alternatively been titled The Saint Meets His Match.  He is just plain creepy, guv.

But a serious Saint equals a boring Saint, or at least a less entertaining Saint.  For all its seriousness, this could have been a James Bond novel (imagine Bond on holiday when he stumbles onto the plot and either takes it upon himself or gets permission from Her Majesty's Government to pursue…).  There are only two funny moments. Both are short.

Mr. Charteris Plots Next Novel
I did not read this one as quickly as I have other Saint books; I also did not read New York very quickly as it is similarly dark and humorless.  But both Overboard and New York contain some of the best writing I have ever come across, great sequences you want to frame and study and hope that one day you can write half as well as Charteris.  But neither are my favorite Saint novels.  He does comedy and adventure so well you want the mix every time, as if it were your favorite highball; when he does not provide that mix, you still enjoy it, but know it could have been better.

The Saint Overboard also suffered from a lack of Templar’s Gal Friday, Patricia Holm.  I fell in love with old Pat during The Saint Plays With Fire and The Saint’s Getaway.  They are great together, have a wonderful relationship, and share terrific banter.  But she is missing from quite a few Saint books, and I wish she were not (there is supposedly a story behind her removal from the series but whether or not it is a canonical story I am not sure so we will not mention it here).  Instead, we get a “Saint Girl” and it is not as good.  We know Loretta, like every Bond Girl (except Tiffany Case), will be gone by the next story.

My next Saintly reading will be one of the short story sets; I have two more Saint novels to go through and I will save them for later.  I do not think Patricia Holm appears in either of them, damn and blast.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Why British Thriller Writers Are Better Than American

Boy, I'm really fixin' to offend some of y'all with this article, but I have lately been reading a large amount of thrillers from British authors, and I have come to the decision that British practitioners of the thriller are much better at it than their American counterparts and there is much one can learn by studying how they do it.

How can that be, you say. British thrillers are slow and clunky and there isn't any action until the end--if any. Some just, you know, end with a half a whimper and a slow wheeze, like the British Empire itself. Thrillers are supposed to "thrill", you say. Fast pace, mystery, action, and naked ladies! Americans do it better because of those things!

First, let's not insult our British cousins (they have the best dentists on the planet, after all.) Second, British thrillers are slow, yes. But if all you see if a lack of gunfire, explosions, and naked ladies, you're missing out. The four authors I am using as my example do not write "slow" books. They write books that develop in layers, each one more complex than the last, each character element stronger than the last, until you get to a climax that makes you hold your breath and beg for more once you've turned the last page.

Who are these authors? Ian Fleming. Eric Ambler. Frederick Forsyth. Stella Rimington.

They write carefully detailed stories, so detailed that you feel included in the action. You know the characters. We know The Jackal better than we know Jason Bourne. And we don't even know The Jackal's real name.

Stella Rimington, with her female protagonist Liz Carlyle, is the only female author I have read who can make me identify with a feminine point of view. That's a scary thing to this male carbon unit! But Liz is drawn so well that you think she could be your neighbor, girlfriend, wife, sister, or concubine (if you're into that sort of thing). Check out her 2005 debut, At Risk. You will be glued to the page.

Eric Ambler is the expert at using the Everyman hero. Nobody does it better (sorry, Ian). Journey into Fear, my favorite Ambler, has 90% of the story take place in the confines of a boat. The hero is trying to get home. Somebody on the boat wants to kill him. He mixes with the other passengers and the results are just magical. He gives you 200 pages of nail-biting intrigue and suspense without a shot being fired or a bra being undone or something going kaboom. In fact, I think the final battle between the hero and his potential killer takes up two of the final four pages. And what a payoff! It's one of the best climactic battles I have ever read.

Ian Fleming. He wrote James Bond with a much faster pace than some of his contemporaries. There's a little more action. Maybe a little less character building (though I'm sure that's debatable), but he does make you "see" his characters with their interesting physical traits. Each book is carefully plotted and developed. Notice how I keep saying that. The attention to almost every conceivable detail is what sets these British authors above Americans, and when done right, it is an absolute joy to read. Most of the Bond books under-promise and over-deliver in regards to their entertainment value, and if you read nothing else by Fleming pick up Casino Royale, Moonraker, and From Russia, With Love (then read the second chapter of Dr. No to find out how Bond survives the end of From Russia).

Frederick Forsyth. Wow. What do you say about Freddie? My only complaint is that he doesn't rely much on dialog and tends to data-dump for pages and pages, but every loose thread comes together at the end in ways you won't expect. Yes, sometimes he hurries his endings as if he's run out of paper. "Ooops, only got three pages left and I'm too lazy to go buy more so we'll just zip this up. Right! Smashing bit of work! Time for a crisp!" But despite that, his books are like what Donald Westlake described as the best kind of book: a snowball with a rock in it. But which of his books should I recommend? Try Icon. Avenger. The Devil's Alternative. The Dogs of War. The Odessa File. And don't forget one of his short story collections, No Comebacks.

For me, British thrillers are simply more satisfying than American thrillers (and this from somebody who once worshiped at the feet of Robert Ludlum), but there is one exception, an American who belongs with the best of the Brits. I nominate David Morrell as the best American thriller writer. I do not know of any other American author who loads his books with as much action while developing sharp characters and telling a story as layered and complex as he, all of which is backed up with a tight writing style that I envy very much. The Brotherhood of the Rose should be memorized. I challenge you to read it and ever forget Chris and Saul and Erika and Eliot. Or the heartbreaking ending. All you writers out there: study that book for an example of pitch-perfect pacing, plot, and structure and you will get an education you cannot put a price on.

Now, Americans do crime fiction ten times better than the Brits. Any piece of British crime fiction seems like it imitates what the Yanks have done first, just relocated to the UK where the food is bland and everybody talks funny. But that's another article.

So what does this mean for American authors? I think more time should be taken with the development of plot and characters and less time spent on things getting blowed up real good. But I hear from authors who have many thrillers under their belt who say that American editors don't like that sort of thing. If that is true, it's unfortunate, and once again proves the "legacy publishing" doesn't know everything.

Avoiding Work

I don't know about you, but lately I seem to find any excuse whatsoever to do anything except read and write. Like today. I'm actually getting laundry done instead of working on the new book--which I need to do. I also have another story to outline, and another after that... I got stuff to get done! So far all I have managed to do is clean the house, which needed it, and do the aforementioned laundry, which also needs doing. When I sat at my computer forty minutes ago to start working, all I did was surf around the internet and argue with pals about politics on Facebook. I thought a post about the slothful activity may get me in the mood to turn off the internet and start working. I think it has. Oh, first I need to check my favorite cigar site for something...