It's going to be a long, hot Top Suspense Summer! Here 12 masters of the genre will keep you on the edge of your beach towel with 12 sizzling summer reads guaranteed to get your pulse pounding.
Join in the discussions this summer and win a free copy of our second anthology! With our second Top Suspense anthology we’ll each be contributing an award nominated, an award winning, or a personal favorite story. It will be out in the Fall, and anyone who reads and joins in the discussion on our Facebook page of four of our summer books–or better yet, reviews the books on Amazon–will receive a free copy before we make it available to the general public.
Watch the Top Suspense blog over the next three weeks as each Top Suspense author will talk about their sizzling summer books.
A few years back, I remember reading that Homeland Security was inviting thriller writers over to give them advice on what plots terrorists might be cooking up. The notion was widely lampooned but it was probably a very smart idea, because as author Lew Perdue points out, when it comes to terror plots, he's often been way ahead of the curve, especially when it comes to killer breasts:
The Obama Administration’s recent warning about terrorists using breast implant bombsreminds me that over my 35 years of writing thrillers, I’ve frequently developed ideas — including explosive breast implants — that once seemed preposterous, outlandish or impossible — but which have either come true or entered the realm of the dangerously likely.
[…]About two year ago, I outlined a thriller around women who had implants filled with a liquid explosive that does not require a separate detonator to explode. Nitroglycerine is an example one of these, but is less stable and not as powerful as alternative formulations available. […]I had stunningly attractive women with breasts surgically enhanced to Brobdingnagian proportions, which of course, require commensurate structural support including a substantial underwire superstructure.
The detonation mechanism consisted of two parts, both cleverly constructed to identically mimic bra underwiring. The actual detonator circuit was contained in side the implant was a simple variation on a spark gap. This was capacitance linked to external wiring in the bra. The connection as I designed it in the outline was a bit like those capacitance switches that work when you touch them with your finger. No direct connection is needed.
Similarly, the electrical charge to initiate the detonation in the breast implant bomb doesn’t need a direct connection. Just the closeness through the skin between the detonator and the electrical charge to set off the explosive. The electrical charge in my thriller outline came from a small netbook which had been rewired to route the power leads of the USB port to the earplug port. Very large capacitance charges can be achieved by gradual charging. But the advantage of a capacitor is that t can discharge all its energy almost instantly.
By bringing the slightly modified earplug near the implanted detonator wire and pressing the “PLAY” button on the netbook’s music player would detonate the implants.
Publishers maintain a 25% royalty on ebooks is generous but the Authors Guild thinks it should be 50%. Author Kelly McClymer's thoughtful husband has crunched the numbers and determined what he believes, based on industry figures, what he thinks the fair royalty should be. He goes into great detail about how he determined those numbers, and it's truly fascinating to read, but here's the bottom line:
25% net is much too low a royalty rate, a 50% net is too much as it assumes no cost to the publisher and is not realistic. […] Ebook royalties should be between 31.4%and 45% of net. The lower royalty rate assumes publishers have the same cost to publish an ebook as a paperback while the 45% has a more reasonable cost.
I loved Tom Franklin's HELL AT THE BREECH…but couldn't get into his follow-up, SMONK. But I am glad to report that CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER is terrific, well-deserving of all the acclaim and award nominations it has been receiving. I won't rehash the plot. Suffice it to say, it's about a long-ago incident that involved two teenagers…and a missing girl…and how they are haunted by the consequences well into adulthood. There lots of references to Stephen King in this book, and for good reason. The story is more than a little reminiscent of STAND BY ME…crossed with shades of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (not so much in plot, but in the racial themes and the depiction of a rural community). It is a powerful, entertaining, and thought-provoking book.
Today I’m honored (and thrilled) to feature a guest-post by author Lawrence Block…discussing, among other things, the perils of time on a series character like Matthew Scudder and how he approached writing his brilliant new novel A Drop of the Hard Stuff.
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” That’s the sentence Leslie Poles Hartley chose for the opening of his novel, The Go-Between, and if those eleven words were all he ever wrote, he’d still deserve a spot in any proper collection of quotations.
Isn’t it a gorgeous line? And it has the added advantage of being true.
My wife and I are fairly intrepid globetrotters, and members in good standing of the Travelers Century Club. We’ve crossed borders on ships and planes, buses and trains, and a few more on foot, but we haven’t yet tried a time machine.
As a fictioneer, I’ve kept myself rooted in the present. I love period fiction when it’s done right (Thomas Flanagan, Jeff and Michael Shaara, Max Byrd) but have never felt inclined to get into the game. I have my work cut out for me trying to make sense of the world around me, right here and right now.
On May 12, Mulholland Books published A Drop of the Hard Stuff, my 17th novel featuring Matthew Scudder. I’ve been writing about the man since the early seventies, and he’s now in his early seventies, and no longer able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Which is my own damn fault, because I decided early on to have Scudder age in real time. I’ve never regretted it, because it’s made him more real for me and for readers as well, but this added realism brings with it an added sell-by date.
Now I may have to keep on working but why should he? The man’s got a rich wife and a pension from the city. And, considering all he’s been through, hasn’t he earned a comfortable retirement? My wife’s bright and beautiful, but she never had Elaine’s opportunity to amass wealth. And all I get from the City of New York is a reduced-rate card for the subways and buses. I’m not complaining, mind you. . .
Still, the fact that I have to go on writing doesn’t mean I have to go on writing about Matt Scudder. But I was out for a walk one day, and it struck me that there was a gap of some seven years in Scudder’s story. (His fictional autobiography, you could call it, which I’ve been ghosting for him for the past quarter-century.) In Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), he leave a drink on the bar, goes to an AA meeting, and cops to his alcoholism. In Out on the Cutting Edge (1989) he’s seven years sober and living his life.
I didn’t skip this stretch of Scudder’s life because I figured it was uneventful. From what I’ve observed, early sobriety tends to be anything but. Thing is, I’d figured the series was done when he got sober, and it took me seven years to realize Matt and I weren’t through with each other. Matter of fact, the book that followed Eight Million Ways to Die was a sort of prequel. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1986) recounts events ten years earlier, when Scudder’s world centered upon saloons and hotel rooms and after-hours joints. When it was published, it got an enthusiastic review from Richard F. Snow, the longtime editor of American Heritage; he justified it by proclaiming the book an historical novel, and the 1970s thus a part of the past.
I thought of that when I returned to Scudder’s past in A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I’d had a couple of other dips into past time in three Scudder short stories, “Looking for David,” “Let’s Get Lost,” and “A Moment of Wrong Thinking,” each consisting of today’s Scudder recounting events from his NYPD days. But this would be different. This would be total immersion, a full descent into that foreign country of past time. And, while it would be bookended by a late-night conversation between Matt and Mick Ballou, and would take place in 1982-3, it would reach back even further into the past—to his years on the police force, and his boyhood in the Bronx.
Well, you know, I make this stuff up, so it wasn’t as though I had to go interview people to find out what Scudder was up to back in the day. But I had to return in my own mind and memory to a very different world, a world without cell phones and personal computers, a world in which we somehow actually managed to find things out without Google or Wikipedia, and even managed to hook up without match.com or JDate.
If the past is a foreign country, its New York was certainly a very different city. Neighborhoods, now all squeaky-clean with gentrification, were mean streets indeed. You couldn’t walk a block without encountering a pay phone, but you might have to walk half a mile to find one in working order.
I didn’t get a computer myself until the early 90s, so in the interest of verisimilitude I suppose I could have forced myself to bang outA Drop of the Hard Stuffwith a typewriter. But why? Did Jean Auel write Clan of the Cave Bear by scratching in the dirt with a sharpened stick?
I wrote the book my Mac, but the apartment I squatted in to write the book didn’t have wi-fi, so I was without Internet access during my working hours. While that didn’t exactly catapult me into the past, it made me realize just how much I rely on Google and Wikipedia (though not, I assure you, on match.com or JDate).
I didn’t do anything you could call research, having always been too lazy for that sort of thing, nor did I make a colossal effort to recall specifics. It seemed more natural simply to let myself slip into an earlier time when I was writing, rather as I slip into another voice or another state of mind or way of seeing the world. That, I suppose, is how fiction flows out of the imagination.
But I came away from the book with the perhaps obvious realization that the world has changed rather a lot in the years since Matt Scudder uncharacteristically left a drink unfinished and walked off to start a new life.
Barry Malzberg, my good friend and contemporary, had this to say about the book’s time period: “Completely different. 1982 is to the young Yuppie crowd today what 1900 was to us in the early sixties. Utterly historic. The Web and the social networks have not only changed, they have reformulated everything. We have survived to this world and it is a privilege and we can in fact handle it pretty well but I don’t kid myself: it might look like a bear and sound like a bear and shuffle like a bear but it isn’t.”
I think he’s got the proportions right: a 25-year descent into the past now, is the equivalent of a 60- or 70-year trip when we were young. The world moves faster, and the past recedes more rapidly with every passing year.
I can’t help thinking of “The Lightoliers,” a story of Stephen King’s. The eponymous entities were monsters, always at our heels, devouring the past. I don’t remember a thing about the story itself, but that one image lingers, perversely gaining in strength as the past falls away. The Lightoliers, forever chomping away, stealing all past time away from us.
Well now, isn’t that heavy baggage for a novel just designed to get you through a plane ride or a lonely night? But I won’t apologize. It’s the risk you run when you let a writer natter on about his work.
A very different place, the past. It’s hard to know what to pack, and you’d best have your passport in order. But a quick visit is not without its rewards.
And who’s to say? I might go back again. I can’t rule it out.
You can keep up with Lawrence Block and his musings on his blog, his Facebook page, his website, and on his Twitter feed: @LawrenceBlock
Brian Drake conducts an indepth interview with my buddy Paul Bishop, who has just reissued all of his terrific crime novels as ebooks (some under new titles). Paul is a veteran LAPD detective and an interrogation expert (also the star of ABC's upcoming reality show Take the Money and Run) who brings that experience to his books. But, like Joseph Wambaugh before him, he writes more than simple police procedurals. In the interview, he talks in detail about how the characters in his books are shaped, in particular his series heroine Fey Croaker.
BD: Fey Croaker is a great character in her Detective Fey Croaker L.A.P.D. Novels. Was there anyone in particular who inspired her?
PB: All of my long-term partners on the job have been female. I learned a ton from all of them. In my opinion, the average woman in law enforcement is much better than the average man – and yes, I know saying that is sacrilege to many. Women on the job are natural problem solvers and can instinctively deescalate potentially violent situations far quicker and easier than their male counterparts because they are not hung up on their own machismo.
Working for so many years with female partners, I saw firsthand how they were mistreated by bureaucracy, how every time they turned around they were being hit on sexually. It got to the point where I’d heard every pick-up line in the book a hundred times used on my partners. I got really tired of it, so I had some inkling of how they felt.
I also came to understand why female cops have a very hard time sustaining personal relationships outside of the job. And through investigating sexually related crimes for thirty plus years, I came to believe the majority of females have some kind of sexual abuse – almost always unreported – in their background. This was inside knowledge, and I wanted to bring it to the character of Fey Croaker.
Before I had even started writing the first book, I had plotted out a four book story arc for Fey’s personal life. I knew each book would contain a standalone plot, but would also be designed to isolate Fey more and more personally, before forcing her to deal with her demons in the fourth novel.
So, Fey is a combination of many of the great female detectives with whom I’ve had the honor of working. And the best feeling was when I would be approached by female law enforcement officers who had read the book and demanded to be told how I knew this stuff – it meant I’d gotten it right.
That's not all he gets right. If you're looking for great summer reading, do yourself a big favor and pick up a Paul Bishop novel.
Gef: You had mentioned that The Blood Mesamarks one of your most brutal works, a purposeful attempt on your part to cut loose. Was this something that you had been looking to do in your writing for a while, or just something you tackled when it came to you?
James: I’ve always included a lot of action in my work, and I’ve never been shy about going over the top when it felt right. It’s never been quite as graphic as in my Dead Man story, though. I think I saw this opportunity when I was reading the previous books in the series, and when I actually started writing, I knew that was the way I wanted to go.Gef: What were your initial thoughts when you were approached to contribute to The Dead Man series? With multiple authors each writing about the Matt Cahill character, did you have concerns of "too many cooks spoil the broth" or saw a unique opportunity to, in a way, become part of a writing team on a series?
James: I’ve written for a number of different multiple-author series, so this was just business as usual for me, with a slight difference. Most of those other series I’ve worked on didn’t have much, if any, book-to-book continuity, so I had to be more concerned with this book fitting into the flow of the rest of the series. Luckily, with Lee Goldberg and Bill Rabkin supervising everything, that wasn’t a problem. […]I’m writing a Western series for Berkley called REDEMPTION, KANSAS, with one book out so far and at least two more to come. I’m also doing a Western e-book series called RANCHO DIABLO with my friends Mel Odom and Bill Crider, with three books out so far under the house-name Colby Jackson, and many more to come, we hope.
After writing five BURN NOTICE books, my brother Tod has called it quits, turning down a contract for more. Remarkably, the publisher has decided to retire the series as a result. Now that THE BAD BEAT, his final book in the series is coming out, Tod reflects on his blog today on what he's learned from the experience. Here's an excerpt:
…writing Michael Westen taught me how to write series fiction and, beyond that, how to pace commercial crime fiction. See, previously, the crime fiction I wrote was decidedly not series and decidedly not commercial, really. (And I would argue that I never really set out to write crime, specifically, even if Living Dead Girl and Fake Liar Cheat and a bunch of my short stories are, you know, stories about crimes.) At any rate, writing the books required a completely different skill set — the deadlines alone required that they be almost completely plot and voice driven, which is somewhat different than my other work which tends to be character and setting driven. Writing Burn Notice has changed the way I approach crime fiction, which is good since the novel I'm writing now — more on that in a moment — is a pretty straight crime novel.
[…] because the deadlines were so close, I also had to learn to not be an obsessive rewriter, which meant I had to keep a pretty tight plot, which meant I did more outlining than usual…and by that I mean I outlined anything at all, which I typically don't do. I also ended up trusting myself more. Usually when I'm working on something new, I show drafts to my wife or to my agent or trusted friends to get some feedback, but I just didn't have the time to do that with these books and the result is that I ended up needing to be honest with myself. Not an easy thing for any writer.
Now I don't feel so guilty about getting him the gig.