Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars Episode 7, or: What a Piece of Junk

When Jerry Seinfeld wanted to end his sitcom, many viewers protested. They wanted the show to continue. Jerry, though in a very condescending tone, responded by saying viewers really don't know what they want, and if you just give in to their demands, they will ultimately be less happy. It might be nice, he explained, for them to have one thing in their life that didn't go on too long and end up sliding into mediocrity.

That brings us to Star Wars.

I don't think I've ever been so let down by a franchise before. Maybe the current James Bond reboot, but even that hasn't left me as pissed off as Episode 7, and the prequels, and the Special Editions, have left me.

The original Star Wars films are probably some of the best examples of storytelling in modern history. Everything you need to know about pacing, structure, characters--it's all there. When Lucas and his cast were hungry and unknown, they produced magic. Now that everybody is a millionaire, we get a steaming pile of Bantha fodder. Problem is, the public seems to like Bantha fodder. A lot. We'll save that argument for another time.

Without going into spoilers, Episode 7 is like having the same Thanksgiving leftovers for a whole week. Eventually even thinking about turkey makes you sick, yet J.J. Abrams and his people have made a film that serves leftover turkey not for five days, but for a month. Instead of digging deep into their imaginations, and maybe even using current events (as the First Order could be a disguised ISIS), they instead mined the other movies (all six for hate's sake!) for ideas and re-used them with younger people playing different parts. Something bad happened in the galaxy a long time ago, AND NOW IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN ALMOST THE SAME WAY AS BEFORE!!!

We even get another whining emo sissy for a Dark Jedi. Do they come any other way?

I expected more. A lot more.

Heck, the Expanded Universe novels that started back in the '90s with Timothy Zahn's excellent "Thrawn Trilogy" were a better follow-up than the steaming pile in theaters now. That's the material that should have been mined. Instead they did the bare minimum and gave us what we've already had for decades.

They also negated everything that happened at the end of Return of the Jedi, and didn't explain how the galaxy wound up in such shambles after the defeat of the Empire. That would have taken thought and maybe a little imagination; all Abrams and his crew had on their minds was "pew pew pew".

What we're left with are a lot of neat visuals to look at, but nothing of any substance.

Worse, Lucas has all but made the unaltered originals impossible to get after "fixing" what wasn't broken. Luckily, I still have them on VHS.

Of course I'm in the minority. I suppose I'm a "hater" that's "gonna hate" or whatever the kids are saying today after somebody else tells them to say it.

But in going full circle with my Seinfeld introduction, there was a time when Lucas was aloof about Star Wars. Maybe he'd do more, maybe he wouldn't, the fans clamored for more, he gave in. And now some of us are less happy, because there was a time when Star Wars was good, and not having any more made what we had even better. Star Wars has completed the slide to mediocrity, and now it's in the hands of Disney who will continue producing Bantha fodder until who knows when.

A few other observations:

Harrison Ford. Dude, if you hated Han Solo so much, why did you agree to do this? You've crapped on the fans. And by the way? You look like a tired, washed-up Mr. Magoo. Yup, I noticed your hand shaking when holding your pistol. Die young, leave a good-looking corpse--that means you.

Carrie Fisher. What a trooper. She did what she could while having nothing to work with, but 90% of the nation's Botox supply is in her face.

Mark Hamill. Where to start? I suppose I can't blame him, per se, but why let your character be assassinated the way it was? You defeated the Emperor and Darth Vader and now you run at the first sign of you-know-who emulating Grandpa? Way to let you-also-know-who get killed along with a gazillion others.

The new actors. It might have been nice just to have the new people in this show and none of the regulars as they deal with the collapse of the New Republic under the First Order, and have to make it up as they go instead of having the "wisdom" of Solo and Leia to tell them what do to. The new characters are certainly worth spending time with, but they're caught in a vortex of repetition, and they're situations are less compelling because of it.

You're probably going to go see the show anyway, but if you must, wait for the DVD.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Top 5 Favorite Bond Novels

Having now seen SPECTRE, I’m on a kick of all things James Bond despite my continued dislike of the Craig era. Like Q’s balloon in Octopussy, the Craig era runs on hot air. The Broccolis don’t make James Bond movies anymore. There’s a guy on screen who says his name is Bond, but he’s not any Bond I recognize.

To take my mind off the agony, as one author once quipped, I got to thinking about my favorite Bond novels and came up with my Top 5 picks for the “Best of Bond”.

Feel free to add your picks in the comments.

5) Casino Royale. The first is last. I’ve never been shy of saying how much I love this book or how many times I’ve read the whole thing or delighted in certain sections, and while it’s excellent, it has flaws that don’t bring it close to the top slot.

4) For Your Eyes Only. Some great short stories here, and one that should be a classic--“Quantum of Solace”. It’s an amazing insight into Bond’s life and Fleming’s most complex piece of work.

3) From Russia, With Love. Here’s your spy story to end all spy stories, if only Fleming hadn’t chosen the ending that goes with it. If anything, the follow-up, Dr. No, ruins what was otherwise a great lead-in. “Dr. No and his Giant Squid” always leaves a poor taste in my mouth, and it’s hard to get excited about a book where the central plot hinges on literally a load of bird shit. Read Russia and the second chapter of Dr. No and call it a book.

2) The Spy Who Loved Me. I don’t care what anybody says, I like this book. It’s not only a change of pace, but an alternate view of Bond that really works. I’ve advocated elsewhere that this was the book where Fleming intended to kill off Bond, have him go over some version of the Reichenbach Falls, but that ultimately didn’t happen. The third section of the book is terrific and one I read often.

1) Moonraker. Fleming’s best is his third, one that is a better introduction to Bond than Casino Royale, ironically. Everything Fleming learned from the first two books comes to fruition here. Moonraker is Fleming’s most tightly-plotted, nail-biting novel. The climax is tremendous, with one of the best-written car chases ever. I wish the movie had been half as good. The BBC seem to be going through the Bond canon for radio plays. I hope they get to Moonraker soon as I can imagine how great it will sound.

Now this list doesn’t mean I don’t like the other books. I’ve read the series in and out of order so many times it’s not funny, it’s a sickness. Fleming is a wonderful storyteller, but I don’t need to go into that here. This list reflects the Bond books I’d want could I not have the whole set.

Maybe someday I’ll get around to picking my favorite Bond films.

Any movie with Daniel Craig won’t be on that list.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Interview with Stephen Mertz

I am very happy to present to you an interview with Stephen Mertz, probably one of the best action/adventure writers working the beat.

Stephen recently released a book of his short fiction, The King of Horror and Other Stories, and you need to get this one. Short punchy fiction is an art form; Mertz shines from beginning to end, and includes a personal essay where he retraces his career and provides insight into his fast-paced writing world. You may know him from his work on Mack Bolan, MIA Hunter, and a whole bunch of other books, including the new Blaze! western series from Rough Edges Press.

However, he can talk about all this better than I can, so. . . 

Brian Drake: Please tell us about your new story collection.

Stephen Mertz: This past year has been a busy and fun one for me. I wrote three novels and, including reprints, had six books published. The crown jewel is The King of Horror & Other Stories, a complete collection of my published short fiction. I’m proud of these stories. The collection is a distillation of my work in terms of genres and themes.
BD: When did you start writing, and when did you decide to make that a career?

Stephen Mertz
SM: Wrote my first story at age thirteen. Decided to make writing a career as soon as I found out that one could make it a career.
BD: What is something, other than reading great books, that fuels your imagination for your own stories?

SM: Women!
BD: Ha! The good ones and bad ones, right? Especially the bad. . . 

After being in the business for so long, do you find your level of enthusiasm has increased, or remained the same, from when you started? Did you ever consider an easier line of work, such as a high-wire act?

SM: Man, in this business if you ain’t enthused, don’t even bother showing up. From the writer’s perspective, there’s much to be enthused about. New markets opening up, avenues for getting our work to the audience, it’s like the dawn of television or the paperback original. Anything goes, and I work well under those conditions. I haven’t self-published yet but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. The opportunities for writers, thanks to our digital age, are more abundant than any I’ve known since I broke in.

BD: When I was avidly reading The Executioner series in high school, I'd always look forward to a book with your name on the copyright page. Did you enjoy working on Mack Bolan? How did you come to write what many fans consider classics of the series, such as Day of Mourning and Dead Man Running?

SM: Thank you for the kind words. I had an edge in that Don Pendleton and I were personal friends, so I went into the Gold Eagle program with a solid knowledge of the character and series up to that point. I enjoyed writing a dozen titles about Mack Bolan but remember, that’s when I was just getting started. I felt like I was traveling on borrowed gas. I have my own stories to tell.

BD: Other Bolan titles, such as Beirut Payback and Save the Children, are terrific titles that elevated The Executioner above many action series of the day. Did you have a free hand with content, or did Gold Eagle force you into the formula that a lot of what you might have wanted to do got left out?

SM: I had a free hand. Again, my friendship with Don carried clout. None of the GE editors understood jack about what Don had created and sold to them. They were corporate suits filling slots in a publishing schedule. It was funny. When they flew me up to their HQ in Toronto for story conferences, all I needed to say was, “Well, Don always said…” and they’d all shush and start scribbling in their notebooks.

BD: Your MIA Hunter series is back in e-book form...are you surprised at the fan enthusiasm that still exists for this series? How do you see it fitting into the times we live in now?

SM: Not surprised in the least. With the current state of the thriller being primarily over-written, padded, top-heavy “doorstop books,” I’m happy to say that readers are embracing these shorter, faster, rough-and-tumble stories. As for the times we’re living through now, well, Mark Stone & Co. are alive and well and not just in reprint. I’m presently in the final revision phase of a new M.I.A. Hunter novel.
BD: What drew you to action/adventure? Or is that where the money was? If you weren't writing series books, would you have done your own action thrillers along the lines of Ludlum or Clancy?

SM: I’ve never made a career decision based on money. For me, it’s always about what I want to write. The same things drew me to the action/adventure genre as a writer that attracted you as a reader. Beyond my series work, I have written the standalone type of thriller you cite, starting with Blood Red Sun. These are available in e-book format. My complete bibliography can be found at James Patterson isn’t exactly looking over his shoulder yet, but reviews and sales have been favorable enough for me to continue in that direction.

BD: Other than Don Pendleton, which author taught you the most about the writing life?

SM: I’ve always enjoyed reading articles, biographies and interviews with writers even if I’ll never read their work. The process of writing interests me as much as the writing itself. Everyone and everything I’ve ever read has taught me something.

BD: Can you tell us a little about your relationship with Don?

SM: It started with a fan letter (from me to him, I hasten to add!), which led to me becoming his assistant while he was still being published by Pinnacle. Don recommended me to Gold Eagle when they took over the franchise, and we remained friends until his passing. Don’s widow, Linda, is one of my favorite people.

BD: Tell us about your western series, Blaze!, and where the idea for the series came from. What gave you the idea to bring in other writers rather than doing it all yourself?

SM: These are edgy, sexy, fast-action westerns. Try as I might I couldn’t think of any married, husband-wife gunfighter teams so I decided to give the genre a new wrinkle. The series is a ton of fun to write, and reader response has been enthusiastic. Rough Edges Press went with a bi-monthly release schedule. Since I cannot produce that fast, I was lucky in that some friends who also happen to be damn good writers agreed to contribute to the series.

BD: What are you working on next?

SM: A novel about Jimi Hendrix.

BD: Certainly sounds intriguing! Can't wait to see what you do. Thanks for stopping by, Stephen, and best of luck with The King of Horror and Other Stories.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Robert Ludlum: Still a Favorite

Over the weekend I had a period of time where none of my attention was demanded anywhere else, so it was the perfect opportunity to sit out on the porch and light a cigar. On the way out of my bedroom I passed my bookshelf and grabbed Martin H. Greenberg's Robert Ludlum Companion. Haven't read it in ages. I spent the next hour reading through Greenberg's interview of Ludlum and skimming the summaries of Ludlum's novels. They reminded me of how much of an influence Mr. Ludlum had been on my writing as I was learning the ropes.

I read almost everything of Ludlum's that I could get my hands on, tapering off just after The Bourne Ultimatum because of college and my early start in radio & television broadcasting. It's been great to see Ludlum's work reprinted for the new generation to discover, and I've decided it's time to start my Ludlum Library again, beginning with a couple of his earlier books that I never had a chance to read.

There's something about Ludlum's work, as clunky as some of it can be, that grabs you by the throat. I think it was his emphasis on conflict. Ain't nobody having a nice conversation, ever, in a Ludlum scene. There is always a crisis. An argument. Imminent danger. And lots of italics for the heavy emphasis of everybody's emotions. It might sound hokey but, wow, can't put that stuff down. If Ian Fleming carried you along with the Fleming Effect, Ludlum had his own effect, we can call it the Ludlum Lasso, because he sure roped you around the neck and brought you along for the ride whether you were ready for it or not.

 I remember when I heard about Ludlum's death in 2001. I was a morning segment producer for one of the local television stations, and we ran the report early in the show. I had always hoped to meet him and figured he'd be a kick because his interviews were always so funny.

But, as with many of my favorite writers growing up, they passed on before I could say hello, thanks for all the great entertainment, can you spare a buck or two? I'm glad his books are still around, and the success of the continuation titles in the Jason Bourne and Covert-One series shows that I'm not the only one who appreciated a good Ludlum conspiracy.

Monday, September 14, 2015


Click to Purchase
If you want to read one of the most enjoyable, laugh-out-loud books this side of Wodehouse, check out Alien Baggage Allowance by my pal Humble Nations (if that's his real name). Full disclosure: Humble does my book covers. Fuller disclosure: He's one heck of a writer himself, as Baggage clearly demonstrates. What would it really be like if aliens visited? Baggage goes into full satire and social commentary mode from that point, and the laughs and sober "um, yeah, that would happen" moments come quickly. But enough of me. Here's the man himself....

1) How would you best describe Alien Baggage Allowance?

It's selection of super short fun, whimsical glimpses at what would happen if aliens landed on our planet, but it's not Sci-Fi and I hate the term Flash fiction. Other people would call it Sci-Fi Flash-fiction. So if someone was to call it such I would politely punch them in the face and gently inform them they were an utter imbecile. 'Flash' is some sort of Americanism that makes my skin crawl, like novellette (which incidentally always remains me of some sort of hygiene product for women of a literary bent) - it's a way of selling a book. I have to call it this because it's a certain length. There's a fantastic quote by Bukowski: 'The worth of a man is measured in the soul he can give, not the inches' - which is a little on the graphic side but it's a nice metaphor for quality over quantity. Also I'm a fan of the post-war experimental English author BS Johnson ... there's a great novel called 'Christie Malory's Own Double Entry' ... it's wildly funny and it's just 10,000 words long. The sort of people which would call that a short story or a novella are the sort of people that need to read such a book because it's a good treaty on writing itself. BS's asides which pepper the narrative are very funny, and actually talk about the art of writing a novel story telling in general. Which can be summed up by the classic line ... anything over 10,000 works is tiresome.

When I always sit down to write short, like any good writer, I try and write on more than one level. So all of the stories on the surface seem to be surrealist or funny, in a way rather disposable, but at the same time there's hidden little satires about the human condition in each of the tales. Some more obvious than others. It was quite interesting when I started getting feedback on the book, from both beta readers and reviews, different messages hit different people. Some people really got one story, other people got another. This made me really happy. Because in a good piece of art, or maybe a better way of saying it is, in a gallery exhibition of an art by an artist, people will get different things from a piece of art and stop at the paintings that resonate with them, so I guess that's what this collection is - a little exhibit of my ideas. I'm not trying to be pretentious here but it sort of sums it up nicely. I mean not exactly exhibited in the MOMA or the Tate Modern, maybe some shabby side street gallery.

2) Comedy is so fragile. Where did the jokes come from, and how did you balance the set-up and payoff? In other words, how did you know when something was funny, or when something didn't work?

Jokes come from the way I think about things. I have a quite facile and facetious nature as a person, I can be quiet dark or quite dry. People do find me funny. I spent a few years working on a TV sitcom with my a friend of mine that is a comedy genius (and I don't use that word lightly) but he's very lazy. So I was the driving force behind pushing the project forward because I do have a pretty good work ethic. But I held my own with my jokes too in the process. At the base of it all there's a great line by my favourite comedian at the moment, Doug Standhope, that I'll use, 'I didn't come from nothing' - he was talking about his mother being funny. My mum and dad have really good senses of humour - a lot of the good stories will end up in my next book that I'm writing, which is a memoir called 'Not Proud' - I've started fleshing out and remembering ideas.

And it's simple to know what's funny or what's not. It's whether it makes you laugh or not. If you don't laugh at your own jokes, they're not funny. You need to make yourself laugh. And if you go back to a story two months later and it still makes you giggle you know you're on to a winner. If not, drop it.

3) There is so much social commentary to milk from each story, I almost don't know where to start in asking questions, but I will state that you nailed the attitude of Americans fairly well, hahaha. What is the overall message you wanted to communicate with the book?

There is no overall message with the book. It's scatter shot. The Americans pop up quite a bit, I guess, because they're best placed to use as a conduit for humanity's bravado and arrogance. Which are some of the things that I wanted to talk about. I mean come on 'Home of the Brave' ... using drone planes is hardly brave, is it. And that sort of thinking is nice to me, how we think we're one thing and we're actually another. I quite like the philosophy of Lacan with his psycho-analysis practice of separating 'The Real', 'The Imagined' and 'The Symbolised' then talking about the Subject container in terms of these elements. People are too prone to reading the surface so a few of the reviews I think were quite put out by use of the Americans. But really it could have been any other overly patriotic country. A Lacanian reading of such bristling would have resulted in the French Marxist screwing up his nose and going 'You're all 'Imagined', you are mate.', as in their reality as an American can only be seen through this Imagined concept of America. So whatever. I'll use whatever tools at hand to say what I want to use whenever. I don't write to offend, so if you're offended then I suggest you have a rather low tolerance threshold. Tolerance is pretty cool in my book, although second to being truly open minded and tasting all thought process to see what you actually enjoy, as opposed to what you're told to enjoy or are conditioned to enjoy. I'm glad lots of people didn't enjoy the book for this simple reason, at least they were giving it a taste before spitting it out.

4) Who are some of your influences, especially your comedy influences? How did they help you through this book?

Influences are everyone and everything in every experience. To ask what you're influences are is a little foolish to ask a 41 year old. When you first start out you emulate before you find your voice. I did it. I remember writing a story in the style of Leonard Cohen when I was about 20 - I cringe when I think back to it. But who do I enjoy or have done in the past? That's another question.

I really like the comedy of: Peter Cook, Chris Morris (Brass Eye, Jam, Four Lions, etc), Doug Stanhope, Louis CK, Larry David, Chris Rock, Mitch Hedberg, Armando Ianucci (although 'The Thick of It' was way better than 'Veep'), Lenny Bruce, Stuart Lee, and then hardly even mentioned Daniel Kitson. I things that come from an informed place but then have the power to say what they want to say. That appeals to me.

The same with what I read, some authors off the top of my head: Dan Rhodes, Nicola Barker, Etgar Keret, Richard Brautigan, DBC Pierre, Andrew Kaufman. There's too many to mention really. I read about one novel a week and about one non-fiction book a week. So go through quiet a lot of stuff. And it's odd, I forget about some authors of five or six years and then remember them again and they've writing 2 or 3 new books and I have a binge. It's great. Reading DBC Pierre's latest at the moment, 'Lights Out in Wonderland' was fantastically inventive and fun. And it's set partly in Berlin. I read that whilst I was living there. I implore anyone who hasn't read that to go search it out. Fantastic late-capitalism romp.

But if you asked me what my favourite songs are at the moment is, well that would be easier, I'm obsessed with this at the moment: ... cracking tune and the video is nice too. Shame he's not made an album yet. One to watch out for.

5) Why did you decide to use humor and satire rather than a full, mainstream narrative?

Because that was the mood I was in. That's what I fancied doing at the moment. My life has been rather fractious over the last two years. Bumming about Europe again. Two months in Barcelona / Ibiza writing and then back to Leeds and then off to Prague for a year and then back to Barcelona to live (maybe move on now that a relationship with woman here ended), but I'm staying here any way, settling in. So I guess the snatched moments to write were reflect in what sort of book I wrote. I really like the short form - it's fun. There were about 200 stories, then ended up being those 82 in the collection. My next book will have a really epic and strong narrative theme running through it, I'm writing my memoirs. But I don't think I'll present it in chronological order because it doesn't make sense that way, I find that dull. I'm going to make it more mood-thematic as the narrative. So one feeling flows into the next. Think of it more like the 'Pulp Fiction' of my life. Skipping backwards and forward but gives a good feeling for what's happening.

6) Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I just have. And I have a stack of half-finished novellas as well that are going to be 15-25k in the works. There's three really good ones I'll be working on next year after my memoirs. And if you think memoirs seems a bit too grandiose then think of it more like a collection of my best anecdotes. My good friends have forever been on my back to commit these to paper. There's some classics. Most of them I don't come too well out of. As the title suggested 'Not Proud'.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I recently met author David Angsten at the Taliesin Nexus writing conference in Los Angeles, and invited him to the blog to share a few words about his career and latest book, The Assassin Lotus.

David started out as a screenwriter and recently turned to novels. His work is a great alternative for thriller fans looking for something that doesn't feature terrorists or commandos, which they all seem to nowadays, and not that there's anything wrong with that, but even I like to alter the diet now and then. His first novel in the Jack Duran series, Dark Goldfeatured a sea monster; The Assassin Lotus concerns a plant certain people are willing to kill for. (Must be one heck of a plant.)

Here's David:

Brian Drake: Tell us about your hero, Jack Duran.

David Angsten: I’ve always preferred stories featuring “regular guys” forced into intense situations. I was weaned on Hitchcock movies, and I always liked his off-the-street, unassuming heroes—gee whiz family man Jimmy Stewart, martini-toting ad exec Cary Grant—who find themselves suddenly in over their heads. They’re forced to react. You get the sense they’re surprised at what they draw out of themselves. Both good and bad.

That’s the kind of guy Jack is. He appears in all three books—a sort of coming-of-age trilogy. Blindness was the central theme in the first book, DARK GOLD, when Jack was fairly young and na├»ve. But gradually he grows into a greater self-awareness, which is largely what the process of maturing is all about. An old idea. “Know thyself.” The ancient Greeks carved it on the Temple of Apollo—the setting for the opening of Jack’s second adventure, NIGHT OF THE FURIES.

BD: You've done three books with Duran and his brother. Are they entirely made up, or do they share aspects of your personality?

DA: By definition, every imagined character shares some quality of the author. Jack shares my ambivalence, my sense of humor, my fascination with women, my interest in art. But I suspect he’s a braver man than me, though the truth is you never really know until you’re tested.

His brother Dan is brilliant and passionate about ideas, but he tends to miss the subtleties in relationships. He’s also annoyingly confident in his theories and beliefs. Probably, like me, he’s covering up his doubts. But unlike me, I don’t think he’s aware of it.

BD: THE ASSASSIN LOTUS is dedicated to your mother. Do you write anything you wouldn't want her to read?

DA: As a 91-year-old reader, she’s pretty much seen everything. But yeah, there’s a reason her dedication had to wait till the third novel.

BD: Most thrillers these days feature spies or commandos or some kind of political conflict, but you've taken a different course. What prompted you to go with sea monsters and ancient psychoactive elixirs rather than the same-old-same-old?

DA: I got into the idea of a sea monster story when I realized it was the oldest thriller genre in the world. It goes back from the Bible and the Greeks all the way to Tiamat, the Babylonian sea monster story told over 5000 years ago. American versions include Melville’s Moby Dick, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, all the way to Benchley’s Jaws and beyond.

The next two novels grew out of a longstanding curiosity. There are two very mysterious and legendary ancient drugs: kykeon—the elixir of the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, and soma, the psychoactive drink that’s praised in the early Vedic texts of Hinduism. The source of these two drugs has long been lost to history. Jack’s brother Dan is an paleoethnobotanist obsessed with uncovering the truth about them.

I think they make great MacGuffins. They allowed me to explore what I’m most interested in—mythology, belief systems, culture, religion. Not to get too grandiose about it, but what I’m really interested in is human consciousness. How we shape and channel and attempt to organize it. How we try to make sense of the world.

That may sound too ambitious for an action-adventure thriller. But I reject the idea that it’s “only a genre novel.” Mystery, action and suspense are essential, but there’s no reason you can’t explore big subjects and ideas. Writers too often get stuck in a rut, tilling the same dead ground. I suppose it’s good for marketing. Readers like to know what they’re buying. But really, how many more serial killer stories do we need?

BD: How has your background in screenwriting helped your novels? Or are they two different species that have no bearing on one another?

DA: Fran Lebowitz said screenwriting’s not an art form, it’s a punishment from God. After ten years of punishment I can’t disagree. I think it’s much more difficult than novel writing, with many more restrictions. But screenwriting taught me structure. That’s really what it’s about. Structuring a scene to coax out the drama. Structuring the story into acts. Turning a plot, revealing character. Setup, payoff, setup, surprise. A screenplay is a blueprint, focused on essentials. What happens, what’s said, what’s seen on the screen. They’re written staccato, more like poetry than prose. It really is an art form. Like kabuki.

Knowing structure is useful in novel writing. In fact, for thrillers it’s essential. But novels allow far more freedom for the writer. You can go anywhere your mind can go, consciousness has no bounds. You can enter a character’s head, reveal his hidden thoughts. You can lay out the big picture or focus on tiny details. The stray black eyelash on a woman’s pale cheek. The cool drop of sweat rolling down the hero’s neck. Smells. Sensations. Moods. Ideas. Absolutely everything is available.

And the great thing is, when you’re done with your novel, you have a finished product in your hand. Not just another script draft for everyone to piss on.

BD: Will there be more adventures of Jack Duran or do you have something else in mind for the next one?

DA: LOTUS ended the trilogy, so I’m taking a break from Jack for now. At the moment I’m working on a serial killer thriller—without the serial killer. Like all my books, it’s a love story. It’s set right here in West Hollywood.

BD: What do you like best about writing?

DA: Nailing the sentence. When you get it just right, it’s a kick.

BD: Thanks for stopping by and best of luck with your books!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paul Bishop's LIE CATCHERS

Here's a good one for those of you tired of the same-old-same with your police stories. Paul Bishop's LIE CATCHERS is a blast of a book, and a big plus are the bonus features. Paul includes two personal essays from his amazing law enforcement career: his first interrogation, and his last. They are terrific insights into what makes cops tick. There's more that I can say about them, but that takes us into spoiler territory. You simply have to read this one for yourself.

I slapped the cuffs on Paul and tossed him into my own holding tank for this interview:


Brian Drake: What inspired Lie Catchers?

Paul Bishop: I was looking for a new twist on an established genre. While pulling my hair out watching an interrogation conducted by real world detectives on an episode of 48 Hours, I realized I’d never come across a novel, movie, or TV show portraying the  successful interrogation techniques I’d developed over thirty plus years with the LAPD dealing with uncountable suspects.  I now teach interrogation to numerous law enforcement agencies – not just the techniques, but the psychological and physical sciences behind them. Finally, I took the hint my
subconscious had been using to batter me and realized I was in a unique position to write an interrogation based novel and make it as realistic as fiction would allow. Lie Catchers is the result.

How is Lie Catchers different from your Calico Jack Walker or Fey Croaker books?

The Calico Jack Walker books are all about action. Fey Croaker always finds herself not only in the middle of tough homicide investigation, but also battling with the administration and everyone else around her.

Lie Catchers takes a much deeper more complex look at both its characters – LAPD top interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randal – and how they do the things they do. It’s not a novel about asking questions. It’s about asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time, to get to the right truth.

With a few exceptions, you've mainly written police stories. Is that because it's what you know, or do the stories you come up work better with police protagonists?

I’ve written westerns and sports novels, but cop tales were what publishers wanted most from me. It was the genre where I had the strongest hook – real cop writing cop books…The Joe Wambaugh of the mid-list. If I’d been a cowboy or a pro athlete, I probably would have gone down a different literary path.

Did you want to write before you joined the police force, or did that happen later?

I’ve always wanted to pursue both professions since I was very young. Growing up, I regularly pursued activities and educational opportunities geared toward both passions. I joined the LAPD in 1977. I finally reached a level of skill as a writer to begin selling freelance non-fiction articles and short stories about five years later. For the next thirty years, I juggled both professions – Although, sometimes I felt like a court jester juggling kittens who’d just been thrown a chain saw.

You're not shy about your enthusiasm for the pulps. How do you use that pulp inspiration to blaze your own trail in a genre with such a rich history?

The pulp writers from back in the day have always been my heroes. Guys who could be at a party, realize they had a story due the next day, go off in a corner with a battered typewriter, grind out 4,000 words non-stop, and then go back and join the party. I also loved the way they wrote – raw, stripped down, straight ahead storytelling. Stuff we could use today to rescue us from the glut of doorstop, non-thrilling, thrillers…

I’ve always strived to marry the pulp style of storytelling to the evolved style of more complex characters, themes, and realism. Even in creating the Fight Card series, I was firmly in the world of the New Pulp genre – modern storytelling with an old school edge.

Police dramas, either in the cinema or on television, often ignore standard procedure, though "Car 54, Where Are You?", you must admit, nailed The Job perfectly. Do you find that "the rules" get in the way of your plots, or do you work them into the narrative as a help or a hindrance to your characters?

I try to strive for realism in my cop novels, but I’ve never let the rules get in the way of a good plot twist. That said, readers come to my books with certain expectations. I have to work very hard to maintain their willing suspension of disbelief. Sometimes, I can’t write the reality of a situation because no reader would believe it – the whole truth is stranger than fiction thing.

The majority of police and detective work is repetitive and not too exciting. The easy answer is usually the correct one. In reality, O.J. did it. Only in fiction is O.J. being framed by a violent psychotic UCLA fan with a grudge. There is an old axiom that police work is 99% boredom and 1% pure terror. It is the 1% you have to concentrate on as a writer to keep readers engaged.

In what instances would you ignore procedures to enhance the drama in your work?

It depends on the book I’m writing. The Calico Jack Walker tales are thrill rides in which procedures are made to be ignored.  Fey Croaker, on the other hand, have to play nice with proper procedures. Fey has never met a regulation she hasn’t wanted to break, but she can’t because her stories are based in a more confining reality. In the Fey Croaker books, rules and regulations are obstacles to overcome in a realistic way and add to the tension and Fey’s frustrations.

With Lie Catchers, I had to be very careful to stay within the real world as much as possible if I wanted readers to concentrate on the art of interrogation, which is at the heart of the book. They have to believe the background pallet of Lie Catchers in order to believe in the techniques Pagan and Randall have developed.

What aspect of police work has never been fully explored in "cop fiction"?

Hopefully, interrogation (pause to let the laughter settle down)…I also don’t think the real world of police Internal Affairs has been addressed in a realistic manner.  If I was to bring Fey Croaker back for another outing, Internal Affairs would be the focal point of the story.

What is one question you've never been asked that you'd like to answer?

I could probably list a whole page of questions I don’t want to be asked and don’t want to answer (mostly because the statute of limitations hasn’t run yet). So let’s just leave it at that and walk away…

May we have a clue about your next book?

I’m at the beginning of the sequel to Lie Catchers. I have a real attachment to Pagan and Randall and have a notebook full of wringers I want to put them through. Book two is plotted, but in book three, I’m thinking of taking Pagan and Randall down to Guantanamo as objective investigators looking into a murder in the compound. I find the notion of the interrogators interrogating the interrogators compelling.


You're on record as saying you would probably have to arrest Mike Hammer. If that ever happened, would you take him alone, with a partner, assemble two or three SWAT teams, or call Trinity Valance? [Trinity Valance is a hit woman Paul wrote about in a short story; see Running Wyld.]

In a Mike Hammer world, I’d have no choice but to go solo with a .45 blazing in each hand…

Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.  He continues to work privately as a deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall., Twitter @bishsbeat, Facebook, Amazon

Friday, July 3, 2015

Interview with Steven Hildreth, Jr., Author of The Sovereigns

It's been a while since I've posted so I thought I'd get back in action with a chat with my Facebook pal Steven Hildreth, Jr., who has two top-notch thriller already under his belt and more to come, including an intriguing crime series we'll get more details on shortly. . . .

Steven is not only a combat vet of the Iraq war but also the author of The First Bayonet and his new book, The Sovereigns, which feature the exploits of Ben Williams, but don't think that he's just the latest macho he-man to grace the thriller genre. Steven has a way of making Williams a little bit different than your average touch guy.

Here's Steven:

1) Tell us about your new book.

The Sovereigns takes place a little over a year before my first book, The First Bayonet. Ben Williams has walked away from government service and has gone into the freight industry. It just so happens
that his delivery destination has been targeted by anarcho-capitalist terrorists. He can't walk away from something like that, so he takes action and gets more than he bargained for.

2) How would you best describe Ben Williams?

Williams is a real no-nonsense kind of guy. His sense of patriotism has been damaged because he's been screwed by the government more than once, but it's still there. Cynical and world weary, definitely. He still has a bit of a sense of humor and a very strong sense of justice.

3) As a combat vet, how does your experience affect what you write?

Being a vet gives me two advantages in this genre. First, I know generally how someone like Williams thinks as far as how he approaches situations. It gives me a technical knowledge that isn't as prevalent in the genre outside of the veteran author community.

The second is that I have an understanding of the psychology of violence. I think that's not delved into too often in this genre. Cops, soldiers, operators, paramilitary officers...these people aren't robots. There's a certain mindset that goes into the application of violence and I think discussing it humanizes these seemingly superhuman characters.

4) Who are your writing influences?

Steven Hildreth, Jr.
Doug Wojtowicz is a guy who ghost writes for the Mack Bolan series. He took me under his wing when I was about 14. I get my action scene descriptions from him. David Mamet is a huge dialogue influence. I love Mametian dialogue. Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Robert Ludlum, and Andrew Britton are all late authors that I definitely admire and sought to emulate.

5) If your series gets picked up by Hollywood, who is your choice to play Ben Williams?

Hands down, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. No question about it.

6) Will Ben Williams continue to be your primary effort, or do you have plans for another series or maybe stand-alone stories?

I'm actually working on making Williams my co-primary effort. I do want to work on developing a short story series that will revolve less around Williams and more around his mates to better characterize them.

7) What's next for you?

Here in the fall, I'm going to start developing a crime thriller series for Amazon Kindle revolving around the Cleveland Police Homicide Squad. I'm aiming for six 15-20K word episodes (in comparison, The Sovereigns is almost 114,000 words) with a planned release date of January 2016. Then, I want to work on an immediate sequel to The Sovereigns for release in Summer 2016. If the crime series sells well, that will become my writing rotation.

Thanks for stopping by, Steven! Best of luck with the new book!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Rogue Gentleman #3 Now Available....

My new Steve Dane book is out. It's called Another Way to Die and I think you'll like it.

Monaco was a nice vacation--until Steve Dane and Nina Talikova witness a secret agent’s murder. Now they’re loose ends in a Russian conspiracy to steal a direct-energy weapon from the U.S. 

But the assassins pursuing them have made a grave miscalculation. Dane and Nina are former spies who know all the tricks and invented a few themselves. Their trail of vengeance leads from Monaco to Texas to a showdown in the Gulf of Mexico, where Dane is taken prisoner by an opponent who intends to settle old hatreds long thought buried. Outgunned and alone, the Rogue Gentleman doesn't soft-sell his brand of payback. He negotiates the only terms the enemy understand: certain death.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Interview with Matt Hilton, Author of the Joe Hunter Thrillers

You may have heard of Matt Hilton; if not, you should check him out. He's written, as of this interview, nine thrillers featuring action hero Joe Hunter with another on the way. I know Matt through Facebook; he accepted a short story of mine for his anthology Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Vol. 2, which I wrote under my Dean Breckenridge pen name. I've followed his work ever since, and now a U.S. publisher is bringing his work to the colonies.

I've sampled two of the Hunter stories so far, and Hilton reminds me of an early Jack Higgins in that the storytelling is crisp and to the point and carries you along all the way to the end. He's been compared to Lee Child, but don't let that dissuade you. Better to take the recommendation from Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, who read one of Hilton's books while having his teeth whitened. He said of Dead Men's Dust: "Taut, thrilling, tense and sometimes scary - it's hard to talk about Dead Men's Dust without sounding like a caricature. But it delivers all those things. And clearly was written with passion and backed up by real experience of some of the darker sides of life. Loved it."

But enough of that....

Brian Drake: Hi, Matt, thanks for taking the time.

Matt Hilton: Thanks for having me and allowing me to talk a bit about my writing.

BD: Tell us about Joe Hunter.

MH: Joe Hunter is the lead character in a series of thrillers I’ve written, and to date nine of his adventures have been published in all formats, as well as a collection of short stories, and two standalone short stories available in ebook. The tenth in the series is already written and due to be published in June this year. Hunter is British, an ex spec ops soldier, once part of an experimental assassination squad codenamed ‘Arrowsake’ who targeted terrorist groups and organised crime gangs etc. Now retired from the military he makes his way in the world by trying to help out others caught in a tight pinch. He works for his pal, Rink (Jared Rington) from their office based in Tampa, Florida, but his adventures tend to take him all over the USA and sometimes further afield. Although he works as a private investigator, his skills tend to lean more to that of a protector, and he’s more inclined to take jobs where he must protect a person in danger, or to find missing people and such. Because of his background he has a high skill set, but also a lot of baggage, so in some respects he’s a damaged individual who is trying to atone for what he has done in the past. He can be violent, and sometimes to an uncompromising level, but at heart he is a good, loyal man who sees himself as standing up for the downtrodden. He is sometimes called a vigilante – and I guess he is – but Hunter doesn’t describe himself as one. I tend to think of Hunter as being a man out of his time: he should have been born in a previous century where he would have been a knight errant riding off on dangerous quests, or a Wild West marshal bringing law and order to a violent town at the end of his six-guns. The books are fast-moving action thrillers, slightly different to what you’d expect from crime fiction novels.

BD: Since you've spent your career in law enforcement, how much of that gets into the Hunter books and how much is made up? Do you mix people you've worked with into your characters?

MH: Yeah, I worked in private security then in the police force in the UK for more than 22 years. But I can’t really say that my careers influenced my writing in the way you might assume. I don’t write police procedurals, preferring instead to write action thrillers as I said, so I don’t use much from my law enforcement background to flavour my books. Saying that, I’ve experienced some pretty scary situations and have been caught up in violent conflict on a number of occasions and do use the heightened emotions and reactions of those situations when putting myself into the mind of a victim, or in Hunter’s head during stressful of violent encounters. I also use some of the grim humour that I experienced over the years to add comedy to lighten the darker moments – as a cop I was often laughing, but that was to stop myself resorting to anger or violence, or from crumbling in the face of horrible situations. For as many years I was involved in the martial arts, and I probably use more from my MA background in the books than I do my law enforcement one.

BD: Many series authors seem to plateau at some point. They write the same books over and over and really don't improve their style or technique much from Book One. After ten Hunter novels and a now-familiar formula, how do you keep improving yourself? Do editorial guidelines keep you from experimenting?

MH: I just try to write a story that’s thrilling and engaging, and hopefully one that will please Hunter’s readers. There is a formula I suppose, but it’s also about reader expectation. My readers want a fast, action-filled adventure, so that’s what I try to deliver. Editorial guidelines do get in the way at times, but only with my imagination. I kind of know now what my publishers expect so avoid going too crazy with my writing. I tend to leave my wilder ideas to other standalone books and short stories I write. But, saying that, I have tried to stretch my books at times, and I don’t think the Hunter books are too typical of the genre. In the UK my books tend to be found on the crime fiction shelves (and I’m happy with that) but I tend to think of them more as action thrillers, so don’t usually stay within the normal parameters of crime novels. I wasn’t inspired to write by crime novelists, but by pulp horror and sword and sorcery writers, (HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Edgar Allan Poe to name a few), by ‘Men’s Adventure’ writers (Don Pendleton, Warren Murphy, Richard Sapir, David Morrell) and by the British western writer George G Gilman (AKA Terry Harknett), so my ‘crime’ novels tend to be slightly different than those from my peers. I’m not sure that Hunter (or I) would get away with doing the stuff Hunter does if I was writing regular crime fiction books.

BD: Which writers, and not necessarily thriller writers, do you follow and what are one or two things you like about them?

MH: I read a lot, and sometimes across various genres, but like most people I do have my favourite authors, and I usually grab their latest offerings as soon as they come available. In this ‘must have immediately’ group I’d include John Connolly (his spooky Charlie Parker detective/supernatural novels are terrific), J.A. (Jack) Kerley (Carson Ryder novels), Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels), Stephen Leather (Jack Nightingale novels), Tom Wood (Victor the assassin), Sean Black (Ryan Lock thrillers), Adrian Magson (Marc Portman thrillers, and Harry Tate thrillers), and Dean Koontz. There’s a bunch of other writers that I follow and enjoy very much, but the authors and their books that I’ve mentioned are the ones that get my pulse up when I see a new offering is available. I think that says all that needs to be said about why I just have to pick them up.

BD: You've also done some one-off books. Would you prefer to do a mix of Hunter and other stories, or just stick with Hunter and do a one-off when the mood strikes? Have readers expressed a preference?

MH: You’ve pretty much hit it on the head. My preference would be to do a Hunter then a standalone or second series, then back to Hunter again. You’ve probably spotted that my favourite reads tend to be between thriller and horror books, and I also enjoy writing in both those genres. What I tend to do is write a Hunter book, then on my downtime between contracts, I’ll exercise my other creative cells with something outside that action thriller genre, and the books I’ve published have tended along the lines of ghost, horror and supernatural. I’ve offered these books to my publishers in the past, but they’ve always been reticent to publish them under my name for fear of causing some sort of reader confusion. Their words not mine. I’m certain that my readers are intelligent enough to form a considered opinion on whether or not they’d read them with my name attached to them, but apparently that’s not how marketing works. I’ve self-published those books under my own imprint name, and generally they’ve been well received. In fact I’ve readers in the horror genre now who might not otherwise have picked up a Joe Hunter book, but have ‘found’ them after reading my other works, and are now fans. My out and out Hunter fans prefer Hunter, but in general they all also enjoy my other weirder stuff too. I’ve been getting some rave reviews for my latest ghost novel, ‘The Shadows Call’, from readers who would not normally have picked up a ghost story, so it goes both ways I’m happy to say.

BD: How has your publisher reacted to that? Have they tried to dissuade you or give you a sense that they don't want you eliminating the middle-man?
MH: They haven't really expressed an opinion one way or another. Once over that might have been different, but publishing as a whole is very different these days, and there are a lot of authors who follow the traditional publishing route who are also self-publishing their other works, sometimes their own back-lists or stand-alones. It has become very common to write 'taster' short stories to publish in ebook format alongside the books, used as hooks to grab readers who might not take a punt on a full novel. As most traditionally published authors do, I have a non-competitive clause in my contracts, so it stops me from self-publishing any Hunter books, or even books that might be described as 'Hunter-in-disguise' so I do steer well clear of doing anything like that. The books I've self-published have been primarily horror novels, so these don't directly compete with my action thrillers. Saying that - and maybe sounding a bit of a rebel - I've offered the horror novels to my publisher and they've passed on them, so does that mean I should simply put them away in a drawer someplace? Though I haven't sold massive numbers of my self-pubs, they've done okay, meaning that there is a readership for them, and it would be probably much higher if they were traditionally published and had a marketing budget behind them (or maybe not), but at least all my hard work is being partly repaid when I hear that my readers have enjoyed the books.

BD: I have noticed many UK thriller writers write in first-person; Doyle, Household, etc. Lee Child's first trio of Reacher books were first-person before he switched and his brother Andrew Grant writes in first-person. (Of course Forsyth and Rimmington do not so it doesn't apply to all.) Is first-person some sort of a tradition with UK thrillers? You don't see a lot of first-person thrillers in the States unless it's a mystery or crime story, and you might be surprised that quite a few "smart people" tell newbie writers not to do that. (By the way, I wrote a lot of first-person stories--until I needed glasses. I have since learned my lesson.)

MH: Funny you should say that, because most of the books I was reading and enjoying were from American writers, and a good number of those were written in first person, so when I set out to write the first Joe Hunter book I thought I was following a tried and tested formula. Some people say I have a distinct writing style, where the Hunter chapters are told in first person, while alternating chapters from other characters' point of view have been shown in third person. I had come across this style on a number of occasions before, but some people still find it odd. Interestingly, I did decide to write the fifth book - Blood and Ashes - in third person, but when I submitted it to my publisher was asked to revert the Hunter chapters back to first person, because it was what my readers recognised and expected as my style or voice. I like the urgency of first person, but it does have its drawbacks in that it is sometimes difficult to convey emotion, and can sometimes be misconstrued. I write Hunter with a kind of rueful or self-deprecating humour, but some readers interpret it as self-conceit or arrogance, but I guess that's the downfall with too many me, myself and I's that pepper a first person narrative. Another problem with first person perspective is in that you can only report on incidents your character has witnessed, and it doesn't work well when trying to show rather than tell, so I do find that switching to third person is a great help when Joe Hunter isn't in the scene. In regard first person being a tradition with UK thrillers I'd say no. To be honest I thought it was an American thing. (This is where you insert one of those smiley faces things if you didn't get that I was trying to be humorous in a self-deprecating way). I am self-taught as a writer. I've learned my craft through reading and writing, and when it came to the first Hunter book, the style just felt right to me, so I think the real message here is to trust your gut and go with what feels/sounds right as there really is no right and wrong when it comes to writing in your unique voice.

BD: What is one interview question you wish you would be asked, and what's the answer?

MH: Is it true that you were John Candy’s stunt double in Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Sadly, the answer is ‘no’, but I’d have loved to have gone along on that road trip with him and Steve Martin.

BD: What's coming up next that you'd like to mention?

MH: I’ve two or three little projects in the pipeline. Hodder and Stoughton will publish the next – and tenth – Joe Hunter book on 4th June 2015. It’s called ‘The Devil’s Anvil’ and see’s Hunter taking on a job to protect a grieving mother from some bad guys seeking her husband, and willing to do her harm to get to him. In the USA, Down and Out Books has just published book 7 – No Going Back – where Hunter goes into the Arizona badlands in search of some missing girls and runs foul of a group of crazy rednecks. Down and Out Books will also publish books 8 and 9 later this year (‘Rules of Honor’ and ‘The Lawless Kind’ respectively), so there’s plenty for US Hunter fans to look forward to. I’ve just placed another book with my agent, who is hopefully in the process of securing a publisher for it. This book is a mystery thriller, featuring new characters, but at this time I must keep a few things secret until we see if it’s a viable goer or not. Independent movie makers Third Act Montage are currently filming a movie based on one of my short stories: called ‘The Day’ it is an apocalyptic end of the world tale. I’ve seen some of the footage and it looks terrific, and I even had my own little Hitchcock/Stan Lee moment where I do my own little walk-on part. Actually I don’t do much walking, I end up as a corpse, but I guess you get what I mean. Right now, aside from answering your questions, I’m just setting out on writing Joe Hunter 11. Fingers crossed, Hunter will be around for years to come.

BD: As noted above, Richard Hammond of BBC's Top Gear (one of my favorite shows!) had some kind words for your books. Does he really whiten his teeth, and, if so, are you willing to expose the truth?

MH: You’ve heard of the Watergate scandal, right? Well if I told you the truth, then it would be the ‘Colgate’ scandal.

BD: We'll solve the mystery of Hammond's teeth another time! Thank you for a delightful interview.

You can reach Matt at a variety of places: @MHiltonauthor

The Lawless Kind - Joe Hunter 9 - available now.

The Devil's Anvil - Joe Hunter 10 - available from June 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ask Not

I first wondered if Max Allan Collins, in his Nate Heller books, would ever take on the JFK assassination after reading a short story of his called "Scrap," sometime back in the '90s, I think, where there appeared a character named Jake Rubenstein who, Heller says, later started going by "Jack" and changed his last name to Ruby.

Well, we finally have that book with Ask Not, which is actually the third in his "JFK Trilogy" starting with Bye, Bye, Baby and Target Lancer. I knew we were in for a whopper with the revelations in Target Lancer, and Ask Not delivers a cracking follow-up that I can't really talk about less I spoil things. Just read it. You don't need to have read the others.

What I like about the Heller books is that Collins, I think, gets the truth behind some of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century correct despite the fictional license he admits taking. Most of the solutions are simple, devoid of the tinfoil hat crowd's preferred boogeymen, and that gives the stories a credibility the other theories lack.

Collins' take on the JFK killing gives a nice twist on the usual suspects and makes one realize that the answers have always been in front of us but too much clutter hid the killers in plain sight. Wonderful book. If the Heller series ends here, it's been a heck of a run, but in the back of the book Collins suggests there may be a few more adventures ahead. Please, Max, don't make us wait nine years for the next one!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gerard de Villiers Comes to America

I first discovered Gerard de Villiers' Malko Linge series in the '90s when I found a Pinnacle paperback of West of Jerusalem at the library that had been printed in the late '70s. Here we have a French author writing about an Austrian freelancer for the CIA. It was a quick read, little of it remains in my memory, and I never found another one. Flash forward many years later, and Vintage Crime is bringing out new translations of de Villiers' work, starting with The Madmen of Benghazi and Chaos in Kabul. As of this writing, three more will follow. With over 200 titles in the Malko series, there are certainly many more they can translate should the market

De Villiers' appearance in the U.S. back in the '70s reprinted around a dozen Malko books, which you can find used at a variety of high prices.

I hope there is a demand for more, because The Madmen of Benghazi, if the translation is true, shows de Villiers as a crisp writer, who plots tight and keeps the pace moving without a lot of description to slow you down. The scenes feel a little hollow because of that. It would be nice to know what kind of room two characters are talking in. You'll read that Malko enters an office to pow-wow with a CIA honcho, but that's about it. The rest of the scene is all dialogue. It works. The pages keep moving. De Villiers loved to throw in a lot of graphic sex that would certainly bring his books an XXX rating were they subject to the same scrutiny as films, but, after all, he is French. . . .

De Villiers is said to have had so many close contacts in the intelligence community that his books are full of inside information. I suppose that's true. Unless somebody points out those details, though, they fit so seamlessly into the narrative that it might as well be hyperbole. His book don't read any better than any American or British author; if it wasn't for the fact that he wrote 200 Malko episodes, had an amazingly long career with quite a legend behind him, the books would be just OK also-rans. Malko was never going to take over for James Bond, no matter how much de Villiers hoped his character would.

But you should still give de Villiers a chance. The Malko books are quite fun, and I'm about to dig into Chaos in Kabul and eagerly await Revenge of the Kremlin, coming later this year. I'm also going to start looking for the Pinnacle reprints and add those to the collection.