Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE MURDERER VINE by Shepard Rifkin

Every so often a novel sneaks up on me.  It catches me unprepared for its power.  It sits with me long after its last page has been turned, and the narrative swirls around the edges of my intellect.  I read such a book recently.  It is titled The Murderer Vine.  It was written by a mostly forgotten midlist writer named Shepard Rifkin, and published in hardcover by Dodd, Mead & Company in 1970.

The Murderer Vine is a piece of social commentary—specifically civil rights era South—disguised as a taut, lean, and hard suspense novel.  It explores the obvious bigotry and hate, but it also illuminates the red heat of greed, love, betrayal, and regret.  The novel opens in a nowhere Nicaraguan village of Puerto Lagarto where a lonely drunk tells his story to the only American he has seen in two years—
“Here we sit in Puerto Lagarto—Port Lizard. It’s on the old Mosquito Coast. Lizard and Mosquito, the two species down here. We’re far below Yucatan. Compared to this dump Yucatan is civilization. You put on a fresh shirt and thirty seconds later it’s sopping wet. No paved streets and only one place with ice. That’s the local cantina, La Amargura de Amor. The Bitterness of Love.”   
The narrative motionlessly transforms from melancholy to terse hardboiled and back again.  It is a microcosm of the civil rights movement; a hard and melancholy sadness masked with hate, rage, and fear.  Joe Dunne is a New York City private detective who makes his living knee deep in society’s murky below.  He takes photographs of cheating spouses, investigates black mail, and works corporate theft cases. 

Everything changes for Joe Dunne when a wealthy businessman approaches him with a special job.  The man’s son is missing, likely dead, and he wants Dunne to find the men, obtain enough evidence to convict, and then kill each.  The son was in Mississippi registering rural black voters, and it appears to be a clear case of organized murder.
Joe doesn’t like the job, but the money is enough to disappear to a warm climate with a fishing boat and enough beer to keep him for life.  His plan is dependent on his young Georgia-born secretary who weaves her way into the story with vivid alacrity.  She is the good and wholesome contrast with dark decay of everything (and everyone) else.

The Murderer Vine is a fascinating novel.  Its structure is complicated simplicity.  Its theme is nothing less than the gnawing corruption of good.  Its characters are drawn deeply with smooth, stark strokes, and none are simply good or bad, but rather the varying shades burn brightly on the page.  Joe Dunne is something of an everyman.  His anger, guilt and greed are common to us all.  He elicits empathy and understanding throughout, but in the end it is something much closer to pity. 
The Murderer Vine was reprinted by Hard Case Crime in 2008.  The cover art is by Ken Laager.    

This review originally went live November 13, 2013. I haven't read The Murderer Vine since, but I often, nearly two years later, think about it.     

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Extra! Extra!: A MURDER OF MYSTERIES

I’m not sure how these escaped my notice when they were first released, and now all I can say is wow. Seven or eight months ago Crossroad Press released several novel collections, and they all sound great. The on that caught my fancy is A Murder of Mysteries. It features 20 novels by some of my favorite writers—

Too Late to Die by Bill Crider
Death is a Cabaret by Deborah Morgan
A. P. B. by Dave Pedneau
Switch by William Bayer
Blood Moon by Ed Gorman
The Turner Journals by Robert J. Randisi
The Hanged Man by T. J. MacGregor
Pink Vodka Blues by Neal Barrett, Jr.
Dead on the Island by Bill Crider
A Hard Day’s Death by Raymond Benson
Prophecy Rock by Rob MacGregor
The Changing by T. M. Wright
A Minor Case of Murder by Jeff Markowitz
Sins of the Flash by David Niall Wilson
Case File by Bill Pronzini
Rough Cut by Ed Gorman
Murder, Sometimes by Patricia Lee Macomber
Tango Key by T. J. MacGregor
One Dead Dean by Bill Crider
Tangier by William Bayer

I have read five of these—Too Late to Die, Blood Moon, Dead on the Island, A Hard Day’s Death, and Case File (a collection of Nameless stories)—and really enjoyed each. A Murder of Mysteries  is available only as an ebook, and the best part is the amazingly low price of $2.99.

Purchase a copy of A Murder of Mysteries at Amazon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

THE SHADOW BROKER by Trace Conger

Finn Harding is a private investigator who lost his license for unethical, and really, illegal behavior. A corporation hired him to do a background check on a CEO candidate; what it really wanted was access to the candidate’s medical records. Finn got the file, but he also got caught. Now he is trying to make a living as an unlicensed investigator, which limits the pool of clients to those who work in the shadows (i. e. the wrong side of the law).

Finn is approached by a man who runs a website called The Shadow Brokerage where stolen credit cards, social security numbers are bought and sold. The website was hacked, and the hacker is extorting Finn’s client for $50,000 a month to keep the information secret. The client, a man named Bishop, wants the hacker found, and dealt with. Finn agrees to do the finding, but he doesn’t want to know what “dealt with” means. The job goes sideways, and Finn finds himself running for his life.

The Shadow Broker is an entertaining private eye novel. The setting is Cincinnati, and Finn lives on a decrepit house boat on the Ohio River. He has an ex-wife, a daughter he fears losing, and a father living in a nursing home who wants out. It is written in both first and third person—Finn’s perspective in first—and the author makes it work very well. There is a bunch of violence, and Finn makes a number of bad moves. The prose is smooth, the story interesting, and there are a couple very nice twists.

The Shadow Broker is a finalist for the 2015 Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. Novel, and I hope it wins.

Purchase a copy of The Shadow Broker at Amazon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "In the Hour Before Midnight"

In the Hour Before Night was published in the U. K. by Hodder & Stoughton, and Double Day & Company in the U. S. The edition that caught my eye was the Lancer paperback edition published in the early 1970s. It is pre-The Eagle Has Landed, and a marketing blurb at its top reads, “As Gripping as the Godfather!” I love Jack Higgins’ U. S. editions published before the The Eagle Has Landed. They seem more pure, and I, no matter how many copies I have of a particular title, always buy another when I find it. The cover art is deceivingly simple—it is a pencil drawing with surprising detail, and an orange man with a gun dead center. The artist: Harry Schaare.  






















The opening paragraph:

“I suppose he must have died during the night, but I only became aware of it in the heat of the day.”

Lancer also released this title as The Sicilian Heritage. The cover art is limited to the big-nosed man at the bottom of this edition with a black background. I had a copy not long ago, but it disappeared in my last move.  

[This is the eighteenth in a series of posts featuring the cover art and miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchase as much for the cover art as the story or author.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TIEBREAKER by Jack M. Bickham

In 1989 a midlist writer named Jack Bickham published the slim suspense novel Tiebreaker. It was the first of six novels featuring aging professional tennis player, current teaching pro, sometime magazine writer, and former CIA asset Brad Smith. Brad is a step beyond the tail of his career and, after investing his prime years’ winnings unwisely, earns a living as a teaching pro at a club in Richardson, Texas. The novel’s opening is too good not to share—

“The last thing I had on my mind was somebody breaking into my condominium and dragging me into the past.”

It wasn’t on his mind because he was playing the finals of his tennis club’s first annual Richardson Charity Tournament against a hotshot college player acting like John McEnroe and threatening to clean the court with Brad. A battle between age and arrogance. When Brad makes it home, so both he and the reader can discover who and what is going to drag him into the past, he finds his old agency contact, Collie Davis, watching a western on television with a beer in his hand.

The agency has an assignment requiring Brad’s specialized credentials; a young Yugoslavian tennis star named Danisa Lechova wants to defect to the west, but her passport has been confiscated, and the UDBA (Yugoslavia’s version of the KGB) is openly watching her. Brad agrees, reluctantly, to act as Danisa’s go-between for the defection, using his cover as a tennis writer.

The Brad Smith novels rank as my favorite featuring a serial character. Brad is uniquely American. He does odd jobs for the agency due to a perceived debt he owes—

“ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”

—but he often doesn’t like the assignments, or the agency’s work overall. In a sense he is supporting the lesser of two evils—meaning the CIA against the KGB and the Soviet Union. He is a patriot, but it stops somewhere short of murder, coups, criminality, and E. Howard Hunt. He has a conscience and a well-defined ethical awareness that is unique to spy thrillers. He is also likable, admirable, mostly, and has more trouble with women than imaginable.

The novels, and Tiebreaker is no exception, are written in both first and third person. Brad’s perspective is in first, and an assortment of characters, including good guys and bad, are in third. The alternating perspectives give the novel a hybrid feel—Brad’s narration is more closely related to a private eye novel with social commentary making it more personal, and the third person expands it into a broader and larger suspense-spy story.

The tennis is an integral element to the story, and it is described so well it becomes a secondary character—

“Somehow I got my Prince composite on the yellow blur and bounced it down the line, hitting the back corner, close. He glided over to get it and I thought I saw the angle and guessed, chuffing up toward the net.”

The suspense is expertly designed around the story questions—a clue is identified, but its impact and relevance is not revealed for several pages. It is done without any annoying tricks or contrivance. The characters—both Brad Smith and the secondary folks—are well defined without any doubts about motivation or outcome. There are no crazy monsters, or unexplained actions. Everything is logical and smooth.

I like Tiebreaker and its five sequels so well that I re-read the entire series every few years, and if I was any more weak-willed I would probably read them more often.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Publicity Push: John Hegenberger's Elliot Cross Books

[Publicity Push highlights a book, or a series of books. It is intended to introduce something interesting and new—without the necessity of writing a specific review.]
John Hegenberger is making a splash in the crime community with two new books, both featuring private eye Eliot Cross. The first, Cross Examinations, is a collection of short stories, and the second, TRIPL3 CROSS, is a novel. The books have received critical praise—

“A great debut for a protagonist readers are sure to want to see more of!” —Wayne D. Dundee, on TRIPL3 CROSS

 “It’s a fast-moving tale of mystery and espionage that will engage you right from the start. Check it out.” —Bill Crider, on TRIPL3 CROSS

Cross Examinations is a prequel for TRIPL3 CROSS, and both are available at Amazon—click the titles and you will be transported to each books Amazon page. The novels are below with the publisher’s brief description and the first paragraph from each book.


Publisher’s description: A series of serious crimes: Kidnapping. Murder. Art Thief. Blackmail. Comic Books.

Private Investigator Eliot Cross faces heartache, headache, backache, and a royal pain in the neck in these rollicking noir stores from the heart of the Heartland.

First paragraph: I hung a left and bounced into the lot of Bailey’s Quality Cars as the policeman jumped to his feet, waving his hands like a burning blind man. I stomped the brake, leaving the tail of my Dodge Charger out in the curb lane. [from the story “Headache”]


Publisher’s description: It’s 1988, and small-town P.I. Eliot Cross is searching for his long-lost father. Then, a CIA informant says that Dad has been in deep cover for over twenty years. Now, the informant’s been murdered and Eliot is on the run.

Scrambling to clear his name, Eliot journeys from Washington D.C. to Havana, Cuba, struggling against deadly drug-runners, syndicate hit-men and his own violent nature. But the worst is yet to come, as Eliot discovers his father is at the center of an international conspiracy, a nuclear threat and a double cross...or is that a triple cross?

First paragraph: The new 1988 Ford van had been following me for days. I’d ducked it twice, but here it was coming up from behind me, a reverse image in my rearview mirror.

Mr. Hegenberger also has four novels scheduled for release later this year featuring L.A.P.I., Los Angeles Private Investigator, Stan Wade. The series will run at least four titles—Starfall, Superfall, Spyfall, and Stormfall. The first is scheduled for release in October. Mr. Hegenberger's website has a very nice description of each.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH / ONE ENDLESS HOUR by Dan J. Marlowe

Dan J. Marlowe.  The name alone brings an echo of the hardboiled—

“I’ll be leaving one of these days, and the day I do they’ll never forget it.” 

He wrote in the heyday of the paperback original.  His best work was published by Gold Medal, and his novels stand above most of his contemporaries as hard, uncompromising masterpieces of hardboiled crime and suspense. 

His life was as strange as his fiction: he is likely the plainest womanizer exported by Massachusetts; he gambled professionally for several years; he befriended, lived with, and co-wrote several short stories with the notorious bank robber Al Nussbaum; and late in life he developed memory loss and something called aphasia—“partial or total inability to write and understand words.”     

And all that is only the beginning.  Not to mention it was parroted from the introduction, written by Marlowe’s biographer Charles Kelly, to the new trade paperback double published by Stark House Press.  It features two of Marlowe’s best novels, which really, are two halves a single story: The Name of the Game is Death (Gold Medal 1962), and One Endless Hour (Gold Medal 1969). 

The novels tell the genesis story of Marlowe’s Earl Drake series character.  Drake is not a likable man.  He is a bank robber with a predilection for killing people.  He doesn’t kill simply to kill, but kill he does.  The Name of the Game is Death opens at the scene of a botched bank robbery with Drake shot in the escape.  He and his partner split up, and Drake finds a doctor and a dark place to hide until he is recuperated and the heat is off, which is when the story really begins.  His partner went missing with the money, and Drake is broke.  The rest of Name of the Game is Drake’s search for his partner, and the money, and One Endless Hour is the fallout.

The two novels merge into one complete and engrossing story, which is not to say either is dependent on the other; both are complete with beginning, middle, and end.  However the plot in One Endless Hour is built directly from Name of the Game.  In fact, the final chapter of Name of the Game is included, with a few adjustments as the Prologue to One Endless Hour.  

Name of the Game is the stronger of the two novels.  It includes an exposition of Drake’s childhood, explaining (without apologizing) for Drake’s seeming amoral character.  Its backstory emphasis and character development is reminiscent of John D. MacDonald, but only just.  Its prose is raw and hardboiled—

“I swear both his feet were off the ground when he fired at me.  The odds must have been sixty thousand to one, but he took me in the left upper arm.  It smashed me back against the car.  I steadied myself with a hand on the roof and put two a yard behind each other right through his belt buckle.  If they had their windows open they could have heard him across town.”

—and it is more thematically related to Jim Thompson than John D.

One Endless Hour is more of a straight caper novel.  It lacks Name of the Game’s character development, and backstory, but it flashes pure action.  And, if you consider the two novels as one story, it is the climactic resolution.  The differences in pacing and plotting act to strengthen the two novels’ impact rather than diminish it, and the new Stark House edition is the perfect way to experience the story arc.  

Purchase a copy of The Name of the Game is Death / One Endless Night at Amazon.

This review was originally posted May 19, 2013, but I thought it might be of interest again.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

No Comment: "Spiderweb"

“Baker feared his boss, Klotscher feared God, Mrs. Annixter feared cancer, which was a polite term for syphilis, which was a polite term for intercourse, which was a polite term for the Sin Against the Holy Ghost, which was a polite term for the fact that she really enjoyed it. By a strange coincidence, Mr. Annixter was a patient too, and he feared—Mrs. Annixter.”

—Robert Bloch, Spiderweb. Hard Case Crime paperback, 2008 (© 1954); page 85. First person narrative of the protagonist, Eddie Haines.

[No Comment is a series of posts featuring passages from both fiction and non-fiction that caught my attention. It may be the idea, the texture, or the presence that grabbed my eye. There is no analysis provided, and it invariably is out of context—since the paragraph before and after are never included.]

Purchase a copy of the Hard Case Crime edition of Shooting Star / Spiderweb at Amazon.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Interview: Bill Crider

Bill Crider is the author of more than 50 novels. His first was an unassuming entry in the Nick Carter Kill Master series—The Coyote Connection—debuting in 1981, and he has steadily increased his canon since. He has worked in several genres, including horror, western, and juvenile, but he is primarily a mystery writer. His mystery novels have introduced several memorable series characters—Sheriff Dan Rhodes, Truman Smith, Sally Good, Carl Burns.
His longest running series is The Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels set in rural-Texas Blacklin County. The first, Too Late to Die, appeared in 1986, and the latest, Between the Living and the Dead, is scheduled for release on August 11. Mr. Crider has won two Anthony Awards, a Golden Duck Award for best juvenile science fiction novel, and he was inducted in the Texas Literary Hall of Fame in 2010.
Mr. Crider was kind enough, and showed an amazing amount of patience, to answer a few questions. The questions are italicized.  
I have read you were inspired to write by reading the paperback original writers of the 1950s—John D. MacDonald, Harry Whittington, Charles Williams, etc. Do you have a favorite writer, or writers, from that era whose work continues to inspire you?
Those remain my favorites, along with Day Keene, Gil Brewer, William Campbell Gault, Ross Macdonald, Mickey Spillane, and a host of others. I reread all of them now and then, and I’m always amazed at their compact storytelling, their pacing, their ability to sketch convincing characters in a few words.  I wanted to be those guys.
Early in your writing career you wrote a handful of novels under house names, including a Nick Carter title—The Coyote Connection (1981)—and three titles in the Stone: M. I. A. Hunter series. Do you think any of these titles are particularly good, or do any of them have any special meaning to you? 
I have to admit that The Coyote Connection isn’t a great novel, but there are a few things about it that I remember fondly. I had a swell time writing for Steve Mertz in the MIA Hunter series. He gave me pretty much free rein to do what I wanted to, so I read a couple of the novels and took off. I picked up several lines from one of Joe Lansdale’s books in the series (a line that he repeats in his brand new Paradise Sky, by the way), and used them as tags for characters. I never thought of these books as slumming or as anything less than my other work, and I did the best job I could with them. I haven’t read them in years, and I don’t know how much revision Steve did on them, but I suspect I’d still be happy with them.

[Editor’s Note. The three novels Mr. Crider wrote for the Stone: M. I. A. Hunter series are: Miami War Zone (1988), Desert Death Raid (1989), and Back to ‘Nam (1990). The series was created by Stephen Mertz, and published as by Jack Buchanan.]
Too Late to Die (1986), which introduced Sheriff Dan Rhodes, was the first book you published under your own name. There are now 22 entries in the series. When you devised Sheriff Rhodes did you intend it to be a series, or was it an “accidental” series?
When Ruth Cavin, then an editor at Walker, bought the first Dan Rhodes novel, I received a letter (some of your younger readers might have to google that term) from her saying how much she liked the book and that she was buying it. She concluded with, “You are working on a sequel, aren’t you?” While I hadn’t planned on doing a series because I didn’t know that anyone would ever buy the first book, I wrote her back and told her that of course I was working on a sequel and that I’d send it to her as soon as it was done. I never dreamed that I’d still be writing about the sheriff 30 years later, though.

Have you been surprised by the length and success of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series? 
Absolutely surprised. As I mentioned above, I had no expectation that there would be a second book, much less more than 20. I don’t know how much success the series has had. It sneaked into paperback a few times, but it never made any bestseller lists. Ebooks have given it a real boost, though, and now that Crossroad Press has made all the early books available, the series is doing very well, indeed.
Are there any specific rewards or pitfalls that come from writing a long term series? 
There’s a considerable reward in being able to write about characters you enjoy. Writing about Blacklin County is like visiting a real place for me, and I enjoy every trip I take there. I suppose the pitfalls are that there’s a risk of getting bored, but so far that hasn’t happened. I don’t know if the series remains fresh for the readers, but it does for me. In writing about a small county, there’s the danger of the Cabot Cove Syndrome, but what can you do? I’ve joked about it even in the books. Nobody would ever move to Blacklin County. It has a higher murder rate than Chicago.
The rural setting for your Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels is, for me, key to the quality of the series. Is Blacklin County, Texas based on a specific place, or is it entirely imagined?
I’ve lived in three small towns in Texas, in three different counties that are distant from each other in geography and populations, but people in all three counties have told me that they recognize people and places that I write about. I suspect that little bits of all three of them get into the work, but mostly it’s an imaginary place, just as all the characters are imaginary.  

I have been impressed with the continuity in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. As an example, there is a brief mention of a boy who went missing in the Big Woods during a family barbecue in Too Late to Die, which becomes a significant plot element in A Mammoth Murder (2006). How do you keep track of what has happened in prior novels, and then incorporate it in later novels?
If I were smart, which I’m not, I would have created a “bible” for the series. But as I’ve mentioned, I didn’t know it would be a series at all, much less that it would last for so long.  Add to that the fact that I didn’t know what a series bible was back when I started. So I have to rely on my increasingly unreliable memory. I know that there are a good many inconsistencies in the books, but most readers are kind enough to ignore them. I don’t ignore them; I just don’t realize they’re there. Most of the time, anyway.
Your Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels are character driven with a significant amount of wry humor. Two of my favorite characters are Hack, the dispatcher, and Lawton, the jailer. They give Rhodes grief, and make him work for every piece of information. Their roles have increased over the life of the series. Was their increased role deliberate on your part, or did the characters demand more attention?
I introduced Hack and Lawton into the books because one of the things I wanted to do was have someone talk about all the petty crimes that occur in small counties, and they seemed like the ones to do it. They seemed to be having a good time, and so was I. When they demanded more space in the books, I was glad to give it to them. They amused me, and writing about them amused me. Since I write for my own amusement as much as anything else, it worked out very well for all of us.
Do you have a favorite supporting character in the series?
Hack and Lawton are a lot of fun, but I’m also very fond of Rapper. He hasn’t appeared in a while, and he might never come back, if he’s smart. Every time he’s showed up in Blacklin County, he’s lost another little piece of himself. He might have realized by now that he doesn’t stand a chance against Sheriff Rhodes. At the top of the list of supporting characters, however, is the inimitable Seepy Benton. I introduced him in another series, and when the publisher dropped that one, I couldn’t resist moving him to Blacklin County so I could continue to write about him.
Seepy Benton first appeared in the Sally Good series?
You’re right. 

[Editor’s Note. The Sally Good novels are Murder is an Art (1999), A Knife in the Back (2002), and A Bond with Death (2004).]
Seepy, at least the name, is based on one of your living and breathing friends. Are there any similarities between the real Seepy Benton, and the character?
A friend of mine named C. P. Benton (check out docbenton.com) asked me to put him in a book, so I did. He turned out to be such an interesting character that I couldn't let him die with the series. Seepy, the real guy, claims that the Rhodes series is now the Seepy Benton series.  He's somewhat like the character in the book. They both teach math, and the songs credited to Seepy in the book are all real songs by the real Seepy. They're on YouTube.
A major theme in the Dan Rhodes novels are feral hogs. He was attacked and nearly killed in Too Late to Die, they have a central role in The Wild Hog Murders (2011), etc. I have read Texas has a plague of wild hogs. Have you had real experiences with wild hogs, or is it a nifty device you pulled from the news? 
I used the feral hogs in the very first book, long ago, and for whatever reason (I can’t explain it), they’ve crept into just about every single book since. They finally got a starring role in The Wild Hog Murders, and they’ve been back in minor roles in the succeeding books. I own some land in Central Texas (inherited from my father), and my brother manages it. It’s inhabited by many roving bands of feral hogs. My brother traps and hunts them now and then, but mostly they just do whatever they want to.

Dan Rhodes is a fan of “old and bizarre movies like The Alligator People, or I Married a Monster from Outer Space.” Is this a predilection you share with Sheriff Rhodes? If so, what are a few of your favorites?
Just about every movie Sheriff Rhodes mentions is a movie I’ve seen.  I have a special fondness for The Alligator People, but Plan Nine from Outer Space is another favorite.  I’ve watched more times than I care to admit.
While we’re talking about author-character similarities, do you enjoy Dr. Pepper and Dairy Queen Blizzards as much as Dan Rhodes?
I’m a big fan of Blizzards, although I seldom have one. I’ve been drinking Dr Pepper since as far back as I can remember, and while I might drink some other soft drink on occasion, I’m faithful to Dr Pepper.
The most recent Sheriff Dan Rhodes novel, Between the Living and the Dead, is scheduled for release in August. Would you tell us a little about it?
In Between the Living and the Dead (the title is based on couple of lines from a Wordsworth poem; classy, huh?) Seepy Benton decides to go into the ghost-hunting business. There’s a haunted house, and of course a murder, and things do get a little woo-woo.
Can we look forward to more novels featuring Dan Rhodes?
A couple of weeks ago I turned in Survivors Will Be Shot Again, which is the next Sheriff Rhodes novel.  It should be out in 2016. I have a contract for one more book, tentatively titled Dead, to Begin With. If all works out it should appear in 2017. After that, who knows?
You wrote five novels featuring reluctant P. I. Truman Smith. These novels, and the character, have been positively compared with Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels; specifically the humor, dialogue, and plotting. Was Robert B. Parker, and the Spenser novels, an influence on the Truman Smith novels?             
I became a big fan of private-eye novels when I read Hammett, Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Mickey Spillane long, long ago, so those are the main influences on Truman Smith. As it turned out, when I wrote a p.i. novel, it was nothing like any of theirs but that was okay. I really liked writing those books and hoped they’d be a big success. It didn’t work out like that, but I still think they’re some of my best work.
Truman Smith has a nomadic cat he calls Nameless—a character I very much like. Does the cat’s name refer to Bill Pronzini’s Nameless detective? Or is there another reason for the name?
I couldn’t think of a name for Nameless, so that’s where the name came from, but there’s no question that it’s a tip of the hat to Bill Pronzini and his p.i., in one of the best series of p.i. novels ever.

[Editor’s Note.. Truman Smith appeared in five novels: Dead on the Island (1991), Gator Kill (1992), When Old Men Die (1994), The Prairie Chicken Kill (1996), and Murder Takes a Break (1996).]

You wrote two mystery novels with television personality Willard Scott—Murder under Blue Skies (1998) and Murder in the Mist (1999)—and two with former Houston private detective Clyde Wilson—Houston Homicide (2007) and Mississippi Vivian (2010). Do you enjoy collaborating, and are there any elements of collaboration that are specifically appealing, or any that are especially difficult?
The collaborations were a good bit different. With Willard Scott, I was given a sheet of things that the book was to contain, one of which was a protagonist who was a retired weatherman. I decided to give the fictitious weatherman a background very much like that of Scott, and he was a help in that regard. Other than that, the book is all me. With Clyde Wilson, I was furnished a complete outline of the plot for the first book. Wilson was ailing by the time of the second book, and I got only a brief partial outline, but there was enough to work from. Things couldn’t have gone more smoothly either time. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with both those men.
I heard this question in an interview on a BBC program a few years ago. If you were stranded on an island and you had only one book. What would it be?
I’d have to cheat a little and pick The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I have a couple of these around the house, so it’s not as if I’m picking something I don’t own. The infinite variety would be good for me in that situation. Do I at least get a volleyball to keep me company, too?
The opposite side of the coin. If you were allowed only to recommend one of your novels, or stories, which one would you want people to read?
That’s even tougher. The Sheriff Rhodes series has easily been the most popular thing I’ve ever done, and I like to think they’re pretty consistently entertaining. I’d say just read any one of them and see if you like it. If not, no need to read the others. If so, by all means read the rest of them. I have some atypical standalones I like a lot, too, The Texas Capitol Murders being one of them. And I like the Truman Smith series a lot, not to mention . . . . Well, obviously I can’t answer this question.
Finally, we share at least one favorite author, Harry Patterson who gained fame under the name Jack Higgins, and I can’t help but ask if you have a favorite title of his?     
This one isn’t easy, either. The first book I read by Patterson under his most recognizable name was The Savage Day, and that’s still a favorite. I like A Prayer for the Dying equally well, maybe even a little better. I like a number of the books he wrote as James Graham. Again, I can’t stick to just one.
Thanks for giving me the chance to answer your questions, Ben.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Publicity Push: Robert J. Randisi's Joe Keough Novels

[Publicity Push is a new feature highlighting a book, or a series of books. It is intended to introduce something interesting and new—without the necessity of writing a specific review.
Robert J. Randisi writes in both the Western and mystery genres. He writes, under the name J. R. Roberts, The Gunsmith adult Western series and The Rat Pack mystery series—featuring the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. in supporting roles. I previously reviewed two Rat Pack novels: Luck Be a Lady, Don’t Die and The Way You Die Tonight.  

In 1995 Mr. Randisi introduced a series character named Joe Keough—an NYPD homicide detective—in Alone with the Dead. The series ran five books, and Joe Keough, much like his creator, moved from New York to St. Louis for books two through five. The series has received critical praise—

“This is top-notch suspense, right from the chilling prologue to the brutal conclusion.” –Publishers Weekly on Alone with the Dead

“Another exceptionally entertaining and riveting mystery from genre stalwart Randisi.” –Booklist on East of the Arch

“Set in St Louis, this efficient, no-nonsense mystery doesn't waste a phrase or a plot turn.” –Publishers Weekly on Blood on the Arch

“Randisi also writes successful series featuring Miles Jacoby and Nick Delvecchio, but Keough--analytical, intelligent, and emotionally vulnerable--could easily become the author's most enduring, endearing character.” – Booklist on In the Shadow of the Arch

Perfect Crime Books reissued each of the Joe Keough novels in paperback and ebook editions. The ebook editions are a scant $2.99, which is well worth the high quality entertainment. The novels are below—if you click the title you will be transported to each book’s Amazon page—with the publisher’s brief description and the first paragraph from each novel.


Publisher’s description: New York cop Joe Keough races against time to crack the case of a serial killer who leaves a flower with each victim. Battling publicity-minded bureaucrats in his own department, Keough is convinced that he has to catch not one psycho but two . . . and the copycat killer is crazier than the original.

First paragraph: Kopykat opened the album.




Publisher’s description: Joe Keough, a transplanted New York cop, signs on with a small St. Louis area police department just in time to track a psycho who chooses his victims from among young mothers frequenting local shopping malls. Meanwhile there is the perplexing case of a toddler who has walked into the police station leaving bloody footprints. So much for Keough's new life in the tranquil Midwest.

First paragraph: He picked summer to start, because the young mothers wore shorts and sundresses in the summer. They walked through the malls, thinking nothing of showing acres of firm, young flesh. In fact, he had one spotted right now. She was blond, in her twenties, walking through the mall holding a young child by the hand. The child was a girl, also blond, about six or seven.


Publisher’s description: When an influential politician and businessman is murdered, St. Louis police detective Joe Keough takes on a high-powered case that drags a lot of local dirt into the daylight. Dodging a trumped-up sexual harassment charge, Keough races to track down a professional assassin who has more targets on his to-do list--and to find the evil mastermind behind the bloodletting.

First paragraph: The sky was filled with kites of all sizes, shapes, and colors. It was the Forest Park Festival of Kites, the first one Keough had attended since moving to St. Louis a little over nine months ago.


Publisher’s description: A monstrous killer is piling up the bodies of pregnant women along the Mississippi, and St. Louis cop Joe Keough is saddled with a female clerk and a Mark Twain-quoting young sidekick as his "task force" as he sets out to stop the slaughter. Fighting him every step of the way are two Internal Affairs cops bent on destroying Keough's career regardless of the cost.

First paragraph: The Mississippi River annually deposits four hundred and six million tons of mud into the Gulf of Mexico, causing one famous riverboat captain to dub it “The Great Sewer.” It is then reasonable to assume that, should one dump a body into the river—a body that one did not want found—it would end up mixed in with all that mud, never to be seen again.


Publisher’s description: In the fifth Joe Keough mystery, Keough and his partner Harriet Connors working on a federal task force confront serial murders of children in Chicago and St. Louis. Is one killer at work or two? Keough and Connors plunge into a world of insanity and evil, and the clock is ticking.