Bruce De Silva on Writing “The Dread Line”

dread lineMy friend Bruce DeSilva’s The Dread Line, the fifth book in his Edgar award-winning Liam Mulligan series, is coming out in hardcover and digital editions next month and is available for pre-order now. I asked Bruce to share with you the creative struggle he went through writing his new novel. 

An unanticipated disaster struck as I was writing the fourth novel in my series featuring investigative reporter Liam Mulligan: The failing Providence, R.I. newspaper he had been working for abruptly fired him, creating a crisis for both of us.

It was a crisis for Mulligan because he considered journalism his calling, like the priesthood but without the sex. He’d always said that he could never be good at anything else—that if he couldn’t be a reporter, he’d end up selling pencils out of a tin cup.

It was a crisis for me because I owed my publisher another Mulligan yarn.

What was Mulligan going to do now? How would he make a living? And more importantly, how could he continue his life’s work of exposing greed and corruption? It was as if Joe Friday had been stripped of his badge, as if Superman had lost his cape, as if Robert B. Parker’s Spenser couldn’t be a private investigator anymore.

As I sat down to write, the first thing Mulligan and I had to do was invent a new life for him.

I’d never planned on Mulligan getting fired. Fact is, I don’t plan anything when I write. I don’t outline. I never think very far ahead. I just set my characters in motion to see what they will do. But looking back on it now, I can see that Mulligan’s firing was inevitable.

When I first made him a newspaper journalist in my debut novel, Rogue Island, I didn’t know that the book would be the first in a series, so I gave no thought to the possibility that I was writing myself into a corner. I made him an investigative reporter in Providence for three reasons.

  1. I’d been one myself, and they say you should write what you know.
  2. Reporters can’t get search warrants or drag people in for questioning, which sometimes makes their jobs more challenging than police work. But they also have an advantage because a lot of people who talk to reporters would never spill anything to the cops.
  3. But the main reason is that I wanted my novel not only to be suspenseful and entertaining but also to address a serious social issue.

American newspapers are circling the drain. Many already have gone belly up, and economic changes triggered by the internet have forced virtually all of them to slash their news staffs. This is a slow-motion disaster for the American democracy, because there is nothing on the horizon to replace newspapers as honest and comprehensive brokers of news and information.

As someone who spent forty years in the news business, I’ve always been annoyed that journalists are usually portrayed as vultures in the popular culture. The truth is that most of them are hard-working, low-paid professionals dedicated to digging out the truth in a world full of powerful people who lie as often as the rest of us breathe.

It was my hope that as readers followed the skill and relentlessness with which Mulligan worked, they would gain a greater appreciation for what is being lost as newspapers fade away. I made that first novel both a compelling yarn and a lyrical epitaph for the business that Mulligan and I both love.

But as the first novel led to a second, and then several more, the financial health of Mulligan’s employer, the fictional Providence Dispatch, became increasingly desperate. Circulation shrunk, advertising dried up, and hordes of Mulligan’s newsroom colleagues got bought out or laid off.

Fiction followed fact as the once-great Providence Journal, on which The Dispatch was loosely based, also spiraled downward. The newspaper had 340 newsroom employees when I worked there in the early 1980s. It has only 37 reporters and columnists now, and another buyout has just been announced by the chain that bought it a few years back.

As I was completing my fourth novel, A Scourge of Vipers, it became evident that Mulligan’s newspaper career, too, was coming to an end. The Dispatch had been sold off to a predatory conglomerate that had no interest in investigative stories and saw news as something to fill the spaces between the ads. Forced to spend most of his working hours on the routine tasks of putting out a daily newspaper, Mulligan ended up doing most of his investigative reporting on his own time. And his increasingly heated squabbles with his editors were making life untenable for both of them.

By the time that novel ended, Mulligan had been fired in spectacular fashion, accused of a journalism ethics violation that he had not committed. So as I began The Dread Line, the new novel in the series, Mulligan and I sat down together and looked back over his life, considering whether it offered him any hope for the future. There, we discovered a handful of possibilities.

Edward Mason, his young colleague at the paper, was leaving to start a local news website and invited Mulligan to join him. But the new business wasn’t making any money yet, so Mason could only offer starvation wages. Mulligan’s pal Bruce McCracken ran a private detective agency, so perhaps Mulligan could do some work for him. And Mulligan’s mobbed-up friend Dominic Zerilli was retiring to Florida and needed somebody to run his bookmaking business.

What should Mulligan do? Why not all three?

The opening of The Dread Line finds him no longer living in his squalid apartment in a run-down Providence triple-decker. Instead, he’s keeping house in a five-room, water-front cottage on Conanicut Island at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. He’s getting some part-time work from McCracken, although it rarely pays enough to cover his bills. He’s picking up beer and cigar money freelancing for the news website. And he’s running the bookmaking business with help from his thuggish pal, a former strip-club bouncer named Joseph DeLucca.

For the first time in his life, Mulligan has a little money in his pocket at the end of the month. After twenty years as a newspaper reporter, he says it feels strange to be living above the poverty line—and even stranger to be a lawbreaker. But as Mulligan and I see it, he’s not breaking any important ones.

And of course, he still manages to find trouble when it isn’t finding him.

He’s feuding with a feral tomcat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone on the island is torturing animals. All of this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention.

The New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against one of their star players (true story) have hired Mulligan and McCracken (not a true story) to investigate the background of a college star they are thinking of drafting. The player appears to be a choirboy, so at first, the job seems routine. But as soon as they start asking questions, they get push-back.

The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

Mulligan may not be an investigative reporter anymore, but he and I are still in the crime-busting business.

Working up a Storme: WL Ripley on Creating Series Characters

Storme Warning_FrontCoverMy friend W.L. Ripley is the author of two critically-acclaimed series of crime novels — four books featuring ex-professional football player Wyatt Storme and four books about ex-Secret Service agent Cole Springer. His latest novel is Storme Warning, a stunning new mystery/thriller that’s earned him well-deserved comparisons to Robert B. Parker…and from the likes of Ace Atkins, who is now writing Spenser. Here Rip talks about creating Storme…and series characters in general.  

Wyatt Storme evolved from a love of mystery characters like Travis McGee, Spenser, and the protagonists of Elmore Leonard’s many novels. But in shaping Storme as a series lead, I wanted a neo-classic mystery/thriller hero who would seem familiar and yet would be uniquely his own person and uniquely my own creation.

Storme is neither a detective nor a police officer, which places him in Travis McGee territory, but he will use deduction and reasoning to isolate and learn about the villain.  This is a nod to the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes, without whom the modern mystery would not be what it has become.

Storme & Chick vs Spenser & Hawk

Wyatt Storme and his friend Chick Easton, a deadly and deeply troubled ex-CIA agent, are often compared to the Robert B. Parker’s team of Spenser and Hawk. But I believe Storme is more closely related to John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee because he is a man apart; a man taking his retirement in pieces. Yet unlike McGee, Storme is often reluctant to insinuate himself into other people’s troubles and does not seek a financial reward.  The character of Chick Easton is closer Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin, only more deadly.  Easton’s character often prods Storme into action and, like Goodwin, he keeps the dialogue lively and caustic.  The Wyatt Storme novels blend three sub-categories of the mystery/thriller genre:  tough-guy, western, and reluctant detective.

If you look at Robert B. Parker’s Spenser (brilliantly continued by author, Ace Atkins), the most recognized tough guy in the modern literary world, you’ll find that he possesses some traits associated with Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe but is distinctively his own man.  Spenser quotes poetry and literature like a University professor yet he is as comfortable throwing a left hook to dispatch anyone foolish enough to bull up on him.  He still carries the classic .38 police special but is at ease handling the modern semi-automatic weapons.  Spenser is the first Renaissance man in the tough-guy mystery genre and has opened up possibilities for all of us who write.

Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens Reflects his Pantheon of Characters

Elmore Leonard never saddled himself with just one hero yet many of his protagonists shared attributes that were singular to his pantheon of characters.  They usually were unflappable regardless of the situation.  They rarely spoke excitedly or in anger.  The best example of this, and Leonard’s most memorable and likewise most singular character, is Raylan Givens.

W.L. Ripley
W.L. Ripley

Givens was the son of Kentucky coal-miners and a U.S. Marshal who was an expert with a hand gun.  He taught marksmanship to other U.S. Marshal’s and was deadly cool when dispatching a bad guy quite often giving the outlaw a chance to re-consider.  “I’m a dead shot.  I hit exactly what I aim at.  If I pull I shoot to kill.”

Note the nod to the old Western heroes of cinema and the western genre.  Givens is a Marshal like Matt Dillon or Wyatt Earp.  Givens participates in shoot-outs like many Clint Eastwood characters (There are marked similarities between Givens and Clint Eastwood in the novels.  Height, body-build, cold statement that his enemy is about to die).  At once, we are familiar with Raylan Givens and at the same time he is a unique character in his own right.

Storme is, like the above, a neo-classic hero. Both of my main series characters, Wyatt Storme and Cole Springer, are denizens of the new American West.  They are throwbacks, as comfortable in the great outdoors as they are with their backs against the wall, guns blazing.  Like old Western Cowboys, they ride into town and save the day.   Storme is Wyatt Earp to Easton’s Doc Holliday, Butch Cassidy to Easton’s Sundance Kid.

Dave Robicheaux and Stephanie Plum Are Among The Best

One of the best contemporary series characters is James Lee Burke’s, Dave Robicheaux, a disgraced N’Awlin’s cop whose desperate struggles with alcoholism and personal tragedy place Dave (now a Sheriff’s deputy in New Iberia Parish) in his own niche.  Burke is unsurpassed at making the setting a part of his stories and the tortured soul of Dave Robicheaux is on display at all times.  Robicheaux, like Spenser, is an intelligent man.  Yet, unlike Spenser, Robicheaux is often confused and even lacks confidence in his assessment of his moral stance.  Still, when his blood is up, Robicheaux is among the most violent of mystery heroes.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is smart, tough, and given to romantic adventurism that heretofore was a part of the male hero make-up.  Evanovich plows new literary ground by making Plum a bond enforcement agent (Chick Easton performs this duty at times in the Storme lexicon). Plum is of Italian/Hungarian descent and vacillates between the romantic overtures of two different men.  She is honest about her foibles, which create problems in her job, but it is this very self-deprecation that endears her to her readers and makes Stephanie Plum one of the most successful characters in the mystery genre.

There are many, many more examples.  Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone (a classic detective in the Phillip Marlowe/Jim Rockford tradition), James Patterson’s Alex Cross (criminal profiler), Ace Atkins other best-selling character, Quinn Colson (Ex-special forces Ranger), and Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta (Medical Examiner) are among the best.

All of these authors write sharply drawn, well-researched characters that give us a peek behind the curtains of very unique aspects of these justice-dealing heroes and their occupations. They have also been successful mining the classic nature of the mystery/thriller genre and giving their character remarkable traits, not quirks.  Too often beginning writers think they need to make their characters quirky. Quirky characters are the province of situation comedies, not mystery/thrillers.

Characters We Love, Books We Want to Read

One of the hardest aspects of a series character is keeping them fresh through many books.  All of the writers that I’ve talked about do so brilliantly and aspiring writers should study their work to learn how they pull it off.

Developing a lasting series character is the hardest thing you’ll ever love doing.  I enjoy looking into Wyatt Storme’s past, how he evolved into the person he has become and witnessing the sights, sounds, and his interaction with the universe he inhabits.

I write novels that I would like to read.  My hope is that they are also novels that you will want to read, too. I want the reader to keep turning pages and be continually entertained with laughter, hope, suspense, sudden danger and the consequences of life….and that you will find all of that in Storme Warning.

The Recipe Behind Gerald Duff’s MEMPHIS RIBS

Memphis RibsMy friend author Gerald Duff shares the story behind the writing of his tasty new novel Memphis Ribs, which Entertainment Weekly calls ‘A tangy tale of murder, gang warfare, crack cocaine, and barbecue.’ I’m sucker for a great thriller and for barbecue, so this was a home run for me! 

When I wrote my novel Memphis Ribs, I did it for the same reason that all writers take up a task that lasts so long and uses up so much electricity. I was mesmerized by the topic, in this case my trying to understand the essence of the Bluff City where I had come to live for a spell. And it was a spell, because that’s what Memphis casts upon those who come to live with her.

Memphis is an embodiment of the central paradox of the South. It is both tight and loose, and so are Southerners. Memphis has more churches of every denomination, conducting more worship services, attended by more of the faithful, than any comparably sized city in the nation.

Memphis also has more low dives and honky tonks, more high and low bars, more prostitutes and drug houses, more robberies and gang shootings, more muggings and murders, just generally more of the fast life, than any other metropolitan area in the country. If Nashville, Tennessee’s richest city, is about the greed for money and the drive to make it, Memphis is about giving in, abandoning all hope, and having a good time.

Memphis has suffered from calamities over time, including a yellow fever contagion which decimated the city in the nineteenth century and the assassination of Dr.King in the twentieth century which dealt the finishing blow to Memphis’s status as a contender in the big world of growth and commerce. For the commercial hopers and city planners, these disasters were apocalyptic, but for the writer they created a climate and culture conducive to dream, disillusionment, regret, and loss.

The advantages for a novelist are clear and compelling. All is vanity, endeavor is doomed, and success is fleeting, evanescent, and gone. That’s the country where a novelist feels most at home.

How all this influenced me as a chronicler of a fictional pair of police detectives – one black, one white – trying to solve some crimes in the Bluff City is clear enough. Memphis and its contradictions and energies and despair and humor emboldened me to try to capture in fiction some of its toughness, violence, obsession with barbecue and beautiful women, its racism and restiveness, and its hard-edged hilarity. I tried to do so by casting as a Memphis homicide cop a man in North Mississippi I had come to know. He was an independent cotton farmer, a Vietnam veteran who wasn’t outwardly bothered by his year in that war as a combat infantryman, and a man completely at ease with himself. He drank copious amounts of bourbon without seeming to become drunk, he loved his wife, and he had many friends, black and white, who admired and gave him great room and latitude. His fictional partner in the novel knows him to the core.

All I’m trying to do in Memphis Ribs is to show how Danny M. would act if called upon to sort out some crimes in the Bluff City. In my attempt, I hope I’ve captured some of the gut and soul of that city on the big river that flows through the heart of America.

Mark Smith on Writing “The Death of The Detective”

My friend Mark Smith’s The Death of the Detective is widely considered to be one of the best detective novels ever written…and was a National Book Award finalist. It was a honor for me to be able to republish it this last month through my company, Brash Books.  I’ve asked Mark  to share the story of how his remarkable book was written. 

Death of the Detective Front CoverI think it was Heywood Hale Broun who said, “When a professional man is doing the best work of his life, he will be reading only detective novels,” or words similar. I hope, even at my age, I have my best work ahead of me, but when I was writing The Death of the Detective, in my leisure hours I was exhausting the classic English who-dun-its written between the Wars, favoring Dorothy Sayers and Freeman Wills Croft, while also re-reading Raymond Chandler and re-discovering Nero Wolfe. In this regard I shared the addiction with the likes of William Butler Yeats, William Faulkner and FDR, among others.

My first two novels, the companion novels, Toyland and House Across the White (original title, The Middleman), were psychological thrillers and a modern retelling of a fairy tale. Before taking on the ghost story, my fourth novel, The Moon Lamp, I settled on my favorite genre, the detective story. Originally sketched out as something of a short story in which the detective in his quest of a killer discovers only his victims, with each murder leading both men to the next, the book became seriously ambitious when I added the moral and ironic complication of the detective himself being somehow responsible for the deaths by reason of his continued pursuit of the killer. This seemed to me a wonderful metaphor for the America of my time and place. And the detective as my representative American—or hero, if you wish. So much better for an urban environment than a cowboy.

The novel became enlarged when I added an interwoven subplot of young people and a minor plot of gangsters and made the killer’s victims believable round characters who were either sympathetic or interesting, so that, in a departure from the genre and the movies, the reader would be emotionally effected when their deaths occurred. After all, the tradition in Chicago writing, from Dreiser to Bellow, is compassion. Adding to the novel’s length was my recreation of each particular setting where the corpses were found strewn across the landscape of what is now called ‘Chicagoland”, thereby involving as many varied localities as I could in the crimes.

Many readers would say Chicago was the main character in the book, a response that surprised and disappointed me. Only years later did I come to find there was some justification for this observation. In my day, Chicago, for guys like me, was pretty much an open city, and I felt free to venture where I pleased. After high school, I worked as a mucker (sandhog) digging the subway extension beneath the post office, was a tariff clerk for the CBQ Railroad, the timekeeper on the foundation work for the Inland Steel Building and a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes before graduating from Northwestern University and living on the Gold Coast– across from the Ambassador East, no less.

Some readers, including allegedly mafioso and their children, have claimed the gangster plot is the best piece of the book, and that the gangsters are entirely believable, recognizable characters, perhaps something of a first in American fiction. The question asked then, is how did I come by my insights and knowledge? Henry James said writers should “receive straight impressions from life”, a piece of advice I find irrefutable for a naturalistic writer. Lo and behold, at the age of sixteen I worked as a busboy one summer at a nightclub-restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago owned by a former Capone mobster that was frequented by his fellows in the trade, alone (sometimes to play cards in a closed-off dining room), or with their families. These people not only became human to me, they became ordinary, and for a writer, now accessible to the play of his imagination. For example, I witnessed the tipsy top mobster in Chicago at closing time fail miserably in his attempt to pick up a not-so-exciting waitress, while my boss, a rather comic character who reminded me of Lou Costello ( a new restaurant in the area that threatened to be competition for his restaurant was bombed that summer every time it tried to open) would show up at the restaurant furious after losing a bundle at the track and order the help to drain all the nearly empty catsup bottles into new bottles. Without these contacts I suppose I would have had to take my gangsters from the cliches of movies and television (pre-Sopranos) and yes, probably from crime novels, also.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith

I have a couple of regrets about the novel. I notice a reviewer claimed I had predicted the practice of criminal profiling. If so, I’m not sure where that occurs in the novel. However I did make two predictions that came true that I cut from the book when I reduced its original text by some twenty percent which included not only blubber but the author’s commentary, prophecies and missteps into outright fantasy. One was the prediction that we would suffer from some new and deadly sexually transmitted disease which I changed to suggest old-fashioned syphilis. It seemed to me that given our new libertine sexual proclivities with limitless partners that such was likely to occur. Hence, soon thereafter, Aids. The other was my direct assertion that the mindless violence on film and television not only deadened us to the pain of violence, but encouraged violence, making it a centerpiece of our culture, a notion that was dismissed as hogwash at the time, but seemed an obvious cause and effect to me. Today this observation is pretty much accepted. So much for my career as Nostradamus.

A final admission. Although the Viet Nam war is never mentioned in this novel, and occurred after the time this novel takes place, it occurred during the time I was writing it with the nightly death count on the news. I like to tell myself my rage against that misadventure, along with my nostalgic love-hate relationship with the lost Chicago of my childhood and youth, were the energy sources behind the novel’s composition. It could even be said, with some hyperbole, that I wrote this book alone in my study in place of publically marching with the thousands demonstrating in the street.

One of my great pleasures of publishing this book, along with receiving a nomination for the National Book Award and seeing the novel on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, were the invitations to join the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers Association.

The Death of the Detective is available from Brash Books, Toyland and The House Across the White, from Foreverland Press.

The Boy Who Killed Demons

demonsMy friend and Top Suspense colleague Dave Zeltserman is a dual threat — equally adept at writing terrifying, and deeply unsettling horror novels as he is at writing stunning crime novels. His latest horror tale, The Boy Who Killed Demons,  earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and raves from both Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal.  I invited Dave here to talk about the influences that shaped his new book.

Every author has influences we’re aware of for our books, and sometimes we have subconscious influences that we might become aware of after the book’s been written. My first novel, Fast Lane, was heavily influenced by the great crime noir writer, Jim Thompson, even when I wasn’t aware of his influences. My crime novel, Pariah, was consciously influenced by the Whitey Bulger crime saga and a well-publicized plagiarism scandal involving a chicklit book. My Frankenstein retelling, Monster, was obviously influenced by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but also by the Marquis de Sade, the German horror writer E. T. A. Hoffmann, and John Polidari’s The Vampyre. While I wasn’t aware of any influences on my crime noir novel, Small Crimes, years later I could see Dan Marlowe’s influence in my writing. With my latest horror novel, The Boy Who Killed Demons, that’s being released today, there are obvious influences by Lovecraft, the film They Live, and Spider-Man.

The Boy Who Killed Demons chronicles the struggles of 15 year-old high school student Henry Dudlow to keep the world safe from demons. When Henry was 13 he was a normal, outgoing kid, but then he started seeing certain people as demons, and things change dramatically for him. After convincing himself that these really are demons, he sets about to determine what they’re up to, and when he discovers that they’re trying to open the gates to hell, he has to do whatever it takes to stop them.

When I was a kid I read all the Lovecraft I could get my hands on, often (as Henry does in the book) riding my bike into Boston to visit used bookstores. While stylistically The Boy Who Killed Demons is very different than Lovecraft’s writing, the influences can still be seen, both in the way I sometimes show Boston and with the forces at work to allow evil, all-powerful entities into our world that will cause the destruction of everything we know.

One of my favorite horror films is John Carpenter’s They Live, and Demons gives a nod to the film as Henry watches it on TV one night and identifies strongly with Roddy Piper’s character, and the sacrifices Piper must make once he can see the aliens for what they are.

Finally, there’s the Spider-Man influence. As a kid, this was my favorite comic book, and Henry keeps watching the first Toby Maguire Spider-man for inspiration, identifying strong with the ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ idea, and later in the book the first Spider-Man comic book plays a role.

How to Write a Crime Novel When You’re Afraid of Cops

The Big Keep by Melissa Olson
The Big Keep by Melissa Olson

To write her hot new crime novel  The Big Keep, my friend author Melissa Olson had to spend a lot of time in police stations, which meant conquering her fear of cops. Here’s how she did it…

I’ve been a little bit afraid of the police for as long as I can remember.

Maybe it’s because I was a child of the movies, where being a police officer is never just someone’s job; it’s a larger-than-life identity. Onscreen, a person and a badge are much bigger than just the sum of those two parts. Movie and TV cops are usually a representation of authority itself, charged with the power to do anything from ruin your day to kill you and make it look like an accident, Dirty Harry-style.

Or maybe I’m just afraid of cops because an encounter with the police represents getting in trouble, and I was never one for trouble. I never even had a detention; the idea of getting arrested in terrifying to me. I prefer my conflict on literary terms only, thank you very much.

At any rate, after a long path that wound from Wisconsin to Los Angeles and back, I ended up becoming a fiction writer. And despite my fear, I eventually found myself writing about a couple of very large, very famous police departments: first the LAPD (In Dead Spots and its sequels) and then later, the Chicago Police Department (in The Big Keep).  While I was writing these books I decided to adopt a “forewarned is forearmed” attitude with some serious research, but that wasn’t always reassuring – for example, the CPD Wikipedia page alone has a long list of scandals and coverups for your perusal. It’s a skewed sample of what these departments actually do, of course, but it’s still intimidating as hell.

Before long I began checking over my shoulder as I wrote, half-convinced that at any moment the cops would knock on my door, angry that I was making them too cartoonish or too intense. I’m not much of a speeder to begin with, but by the time The Big Keep was in edits I was keeping a careful eye on the rearview mirror, especially whenever I found myself in Chicago. It’s only paranoia until you’re pulled over for a brake light that isn’t broken.

All right, I may be exaggerating the danger just a touch. Eventually, I got past these early anxieties and realized that the only way to write cops is to write people who work as cops. Although some television shows (not written by Lee Goldberg, of course) may depict all police in black hats or white hats, the truth is that real police officers come in as many shades of gray as any other group of people. In The Big Keep, there are kind, thoughtful cops, like the protagonist’s friend Sarabeth Warrens, and there are vulgar asshole cops, too, like her partner Flanagan and his cronies. But all of them have their own histories and motivations, because they’re still characters, modeled on people, and brought to life as part of a larger story. I made myself remember that having a badge may give you authority, but it doesn’t make you one-dimensional. And hopefully that comes through in my novel.

I might stay out of Chicago for awhile, though. Just in case.

Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood studio system, Melissa landed in Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, a teaching gig, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams. Learn more about Melissa, her work, and her dog at www.MelissaFOlson.com.

Janet Evanovich Books – A New Stephanie Plum Novel for June

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich - On Sale June 17

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich - On Sale June 17

 

Here’s a guest post from my friend Kate Goldstone, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, who has just discovered, thanks to The Chase, my good friend and co-author Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum books, which she says aren’t yet the mega-bestselling sensation over there that they are here… 

Plenty of US crime fiction authors have already crossed the Atlantic with ease and aplomb, delighting British audiences with their books. Others are right on the cusp: massive over there, right on the edge of hitting the crime books best seller scene big time over here.

Lee’s friend and writing partner Janet Evanovich is the creator of the tremendously engaging bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, the heroine of 20 novels that have sold tens of millions of copies in the states… but haven’t made the same splash here yet.

Well, now that her 21st novel in the series,  Top Secret Twenty One, is coming out in a few weeks, I think it’s about time Janet took our British crime book readers by storm. So I thought it’d be cool to take a look at Stephanie Plum and whet the appetites of all you UK readers out there.

Janet Evanovich Books – Treat yourself to a compelling 21 novel series

Janet’s writing career began with a series of short romance novels, written under her pen name Steffi Hall. They were pretty damn good. But she hit big time in the states with her light hearted mystery novels starring Stephanie Plum, an unlikely heroine, originally a lingerie buyer who became a Trenton, New Jersey bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job.

Now that’s what I call a great back story: knicker buyer turns crime fighter!

Janet and Lee on Set for TV interviews 1
Janet Evanovich and Lee on the set for a TV interview for their book THE HEIST.

About Stephanie Plum – Best selling books with a difference

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum character was inspired by Midnight Run, the Robert De Niro movie. What was appealing to Janet about bounty hunters is that they are not nine-to-fivers, they can wear what they want, work when and how they want, with whomever they like. That gave Janet a lot of creative flexibility for her heroine and the stories she could tell. Janet then went out and spent a lot of time with bond enforcement agents, studying the way they work as well as spending time getting familiar with the novels’ setting, the city of Trenton in New Jersey.

The first in the Plum series, One for the Money, came out in 1994 and struck an immediate chord with U.S readers. The fact that the heroine is barely competent at her job lent the book considerable charm and it soon shot to stardom, becoming a New York Times ‘notable book’  of the year  as well as earning Publishers Weekly’s award for Best Book of 1994. She even sold the movie rights, though it would be almost twenty years before the movie got made with Katherine Heigl in the starring role.

Hot Six, the sixth in the series, was the first to grab a place in the New York Times bestseller list and since then every one of Stephanie Plum’s romantic adventures has debuted at number 1, an astonishing achievement. As someone with one foot in the romance camp and the other firmly planted in crime fiction, Janet Evanovich’s work has an enviably wide appeal.

is the star of the novels anything like the author? It’s a question every reader loves to find the answer to. In Janet’s case it’s a resounding ‘yes’. Both are from New Jersey. And they share a bunch of seriously embarrassing real-life experiences. There’s nothing quite like a perfect, all-knowing, flawless character for making a reader feel inadequate. Plumb’s beautifully-expressed balls-ups are nothing if not realistic, and knowing that she is – on occasion – a bit of a twit adds an extra human dimension to the character and makes her even more appealing than if she’d been disgustingly, annoyingly, unrealistically perfect.

Janet Evanovich books – The Stephanie Plum series in order

It’s always better reading a series of novels in the right order, and it’s easier with her series than others, since the numbers are right there in the title! Here are the Stephanie Plum books in chronological order:

  1. One for the Money (1994)
  2. Two for the Dough (1996)
  3. Three to Get Deadly (1997)
  4. Four to Score (1998)
  5. High Five (1999)
  6. Hot Six (2000)
  7. Seven Up (2001)
  8. Hard Eight (2002)
  9. To the Nines (2003)
  10. Ten Big Ones (2004)
  11. Eleven on Top (2005)
  12. Twelve Sharp (2006)
  13. Lean Mean Thirteen (2007)
  14. Fearless Fourteen (2008)
  15. Finger Lickin’ Fifteen (2009)
  16. Sizzling Sixteen (2010)
  17. Smokin’ Seventeen (2011)
  18. Explosive Eighteen (2011)
  19. Notorious Nineteen (2012)
  20. Takedown Twenty (2013)
  21. Top Secret Twenty-One (to be released on June 17, 2014)

More Janet Evanovich books – Fox & O’Hare

I hate it when I finish a writer’s work while I’m still more than halfway in love with the writing style, the characters, the settings, the plots, the Zeitgeist. Once you’ve read, enjoyed and digested all twenty-one of the current Stephanie collection, what’s next?

Luckily there’s the Fox & O’Hare series to get your teeth into, courtesy of Janet and co-author Lee, a literary collaboration well worth exploring. Pros and Cons, The Heist and The Chase, the third novel released earlier this year, await you. They’re action-packed stuff, rich in thrills, starring the master con artist Nicolas Fox and his sidekick, the tenacious FBI agent Kate O’Hare.

Let’s talk Plum…

If you’re already a convert, what’s your favourite Stephanie Plum novel, and why?

 

Robert B. Parker’s Latest Spenser Crime Novel – Courtesy of Ace Atkins

Lee Goldberg and Robert Parker at the Edgars

Lee Goldberg and Robert Parker at the Edgars

Here’s a guest post from my friend Kate Goldstone, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, who has just discovered Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels (that’s me with Parker in the photo above at the Edgars). I envy her reading all of those great books for the first time…

Are you constantly on the look-out for the very best thriller books, from the pens of the finest thriller writers? If so, have you heard of Robert B. Parker, the ‘Dean of American Crime Fiction’? As a Brit, I hadn’t until recently, much to Lee Goldberg’s shock and disbelief.

Parker is best known for his remarkably popular Spenser private eye novels, which became the basis for two TV series (Spenser: For Hire and A Man Called Hawk) and even a bunch of well-loved made-for-TV movies. In fact, Lee broke into the TV business by writing four episodes of Spenser: For Hire, so he owes much of his career to Parker and the fictional private eye.

Parker died aged 77 in 2010. The author’s estate decided to continue his Spenser and his Jesse Stone novels with new writers. The Jesse Stone novels were initially written by the Parker’s friend Michael Brandman, who produced the TV movies based on the books, and they are now being written by Reed Farrell Coleman. The Spenser novels are being written by Ace Atkins to wide acclaim.

Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby was published in 2012, the first posthumous Spenser novel crafted by Atkins. Then came Wonderland in 2013 and the latest, released to considerable fanfare on 6th May, Cheap Shot.

If Parker’s work is new to you, an unexplored star in your crime fiction books firmament, you might like to find out a bit more about him and his work. If you’re into the best thriller authors, he’s an all-American classic. They aren’t just good thriller books. They’re great thriller books.

Avery Brooks as Hawk and Robert Urich as Spenser in Spenser For Hire
Avery Brooks as Hawk and Robert Urich as Spenser in Spenser For Hire

About Robert B. Parker – His Crime books and TV mystery series

Robert Brown Parker was known and respected for his epic, encyclopaedic knowledge of the city of Boston, Massachusetts. His crime novels are adored by readers, the great man’s fellow authors and critics alike, including stateside crime fiction luminaries like Robert Crais and Harlan Coben. In fact, they’re so good they’ve been cited as ‘reviving and changing’ the detective genre altogether. Big stuff… but then again Parker was a big writer in every sense of the word.

Robert B. Parker’s awards included two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and, in 2002, Grand Master Award for his Lifetme Achievement in the crime writing field. There are currently forty Spenser novels in print, and you’ll find a list of them all here, on Wikipedia.

About Ace Atkins – Continuing Parker’s legendary work

Ace Atkins is a popular New York Times bestselling author and Edgar Award nominee with fifteen runaway hit novels under his belt. As a journalist he was originally a newsroom crime reporter for the Tampa Tribune. His first novel was published when he was twenty seven and he threw in the journalistic towel completely at aged thirty to write crime fiction full time.

Ace won a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a TV series based on his investigation into a forgotten 1950s murder, which ultimately formed the core of his excellent novel White Shadow. He’s best known for his masterful grasp of plotting, totally believable characters and highly entertaining, seamless and convincing mix of fact and fiction. And, by all accounts, he’s also blessed with an uncanny gift for mimicking the late Robert B. Parker ‘s style, to the delight of Parker’s many millions of fans.

Praise for Ace Atkins’ Cheap Shot

With a bit of luck the first three uncannily Parker-esque Spenser crime fiction novels will turn into a long run. Some things are just too good to come to an end. In the meantime, if you haven’t grabbed a copy of Cheap Shot yet, here’s what a few reviewers say about it on Amazon:

“Spenser is as tough and funny as ever, and Atkins has become a worthy successor.” – Booklist

 

“Assured… Atkins’s gift for mimicking the late Robert B. Parker could lead to a long run, to the delight of Spenser devotees.” – Publishers Weekly

 

“A well-conceived adventure that balances Spenser and friends’ experience with Akira’s innocence while drawing on Atkins’ own Auburn football days.” – Crimespree Magazine

 

Cheap Shot is the best yet, with a whip-crack plot, plenty of intriguing and despicable characters, and the lovable, relentless Spenser at its center. Atkins also has a deft way with Parker’s style… Atkins is bringing his own energy and strengths to Parker’s series. Cheap Shot is Spenser, by the book.” – Tampa Bay Times

Diagnosis Murder: 178 Epic Episodes of Crime Fiction Heaven

Diagnosis Murder Complete Box Set

Diagnosis Murder Complete Box SetHere’s a guest post from my friend Kate Goldstone, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, who has finally discovered Diagnosis Murder, the TV series that I wrote & produced…and the series of eight novels that I wrote based on the show. 

I don’t know about you, but TV-on-demand has changed my life. Whoa girl, that’s a bit evangelistic, isn’t it? Yup, but its true. Instead of flipping in increasing desperation through millions of channels looking for something cool to watch – a worldwide phenomenon, I should think – at our place we dive right in and immerse ourselves in entire TV series (which is also available now on DVD!). And Diagnosis Murder has been a telly experience of epic proportions, all 178 episodes of it.

Watching the Diagnosis Murder complete series

 Lee Goldberg - Diagnosis MurderLee was the  executive producer and principle writer of the Diagnosis Murder series, which made our adventure into medical crime drama even more exciting. We knew the writer/producer personally. We don’t usually have that kind of connection to the shows we watch. So what’s Diagnosis Murder about? As the plot summary on IMDb says:

“Dr. Mark Sloan is the chief of staff at Commmunity General Hospital. Even though his duties as a doctor keep him busy enough, he still finds time to help the police solve murders (Mark’s father was a Los Angeles police detective). He is assisted by young doctors Amanda Bently and Jesse Travis, as well as by his own son Steve, who took after Mark’s father. Together they solve some of Los Angeles’ toughest murders.”

Us Brits do it pretty damn well. The Scandanavians do it beautifully. But top quality US crime drama is something else altogether. You lot tell great stories. And watching a series back-to-back is a completely different experience from drip-feeding your thrill-starved imagination bit by bit, week on week. .

Watched in action consecutively, a series’ characters are more colourful, with more depth and subtlety. You don’t forget the plot, spending half the next episode puzzling over who did what, to whom, why, when and where, wondering “who on earth is that bloke?”. Freed from all that tedious brainwork, you can relax and enjoy the ride in its full glory. Fine detail assumes greater importance, backgrounds and landscapes have more meaning and relevance. It’s richer, deeper, broader, a million times more absorbing and lets you appreciate the programme makers’ skills to the full.

The only problem is, it’s like a good book – you can’t put it down. If I had a pound for every night we’ve crawled into bed far too long after bedtime, eyes gritty and stinging, with heads full of murder and mayhem, I’d be a rich lady by now. As it is, I’m just knackered. But boy, have I had fun.

Diagnosis Murder IMDb – Outstanding mystery medical crime drama

dm-boxsetWatch the first few Diagnosis Murder episodes in a row and you’ll be hooked. It’s so popular there’s even a roaring trade in Diagnosis Murder fanfiction, some of it uncomfortably X-rated. There are literally hundreds of guest stars listed on the show’s Wikipedia page. And the stars of the show, including Dick Van Dyke, Barry Van Dyke, Victoria Rowell and Scott Baio of Happy Days fame, are developed beautifully throughout the series. The plots are satisfyingly twisty and turny, the science bits are fascinating and the stories don’t date. All the hallmarks of top quality crime fiction entertainment, and great fun.

TV.com rates the show 8.6 out of ten, a great score for a vintage show. Here’s what one of their reviewers says about it:

Diagnosis Murder is an excellent medical drama without all the blood of those other medical shows. Dick Van Dyke is classic. Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) is always interesting being the chief of internal medicine at Community General Hospital and still finding time to help his son, Detective Steve Sloan (Barry Van Dyke), solve homicides as an unofficial consulant to the LAPD. Every episode they manage to find themselves in the middle of a murder, and wittily solve it. It just never gets old. This is just purely a superb show. I’m am very glad that they decided to put Diagnosis Murder on DVD. Many more people need to discover the fascinating addictive show of Diagnosis Murder.”

But there’s more…there are Lee’s Diagnosis Murder books. Which means I am in heaven.

Diagnosis Murder novels

Lee wrote eight novels based on the Diagnosis Murder TV show. I’m currently working my way through them. And it’s another completely different experience. I was unable to get the TV actors out of my head as I read the first few chapters of the first book, The Silent Partner.  I suppose that’s kind of inevitable when you’ve just watched 178 episodes in a ridiculously short space of time. But then I got lost in the reading, which is exactly what should happen when you enter a jolly good book. I’m developing my own images of the characters now that I am half way through The Death Merchant, the second in Lee’s series.  They don’t look or sound like their TV counterparts. I’ve made them mine. That’s books for you.

Lee Goldberg - Monk Series

Oddly enough, the TV series also dovetails cleverly with Lee’s Monk books, with two of the characters he created for The Death Merchant turning up out of the blue in Mr Monk Goes to Hawaii and Mr Monk and the Two Assistants. I love it when that happens, when two fictional worlds collide. It makes their reality seem even more alive, populated with comings and goings that are hidden from the reader or viewer, in the imaginary background. Almost uncanny.

5 Diagnosis Murder TV movies for bereft DM obsessives

In case you didn’t know, there are also five Diagnosis Murder TV movies to watch. Good to know when the end of a particularly thrilling TV crime series leaves you feeling oddly bereaved, like you’ve lost a good friend.

  • Diagnosis of Murder, 1992
  • The House on Sycamore Street, 1992
  • A Twist of the Knife, 1993
  • A Town Without Pity, 2002
  • Diagnosis Murder: Without Warning, 2002

Movies, books, TV shows. If that lot doesn’t fuel your obsession with classic TV crime drama, I don’t know what will. Give Diagnosis Murder a whirl. Just don’t blame me if you lose sleep because you can’t leave the TV remote alone, can’t put the books down, can’t walk away from the movies. With a bit of luck it’ll keep you off the streets and out of trouble for a few months.

What keeps you up nights?

Breaking Bad, Dexter, Deadwood, The Wire, Justified. They’ve all kept millions of us awake long past bedtime. What’s your latest crime TV series obsession, and why?

The USA’s best thriller books from 2013 – 3 brand new crime classics

The USA’s best thriller books from 2013 - 3 brand new crime classics

The USA’s best thriller books from 2013 - 3 brand new crime classicsHere’s a guest post from my friend Kate Goldstone, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, talking about the amazing year 2013 was for mystery thriller books.  Do you agree with her? I’d be interested to know your recommendations, so leave a comment…

What a year 2013 was for US mystery thriller books. It was an epic twelve months in which some of the best and least well-known thriller authors scored massive commercial hits. Stephen King delivered a sequel to The Shining, to the delight of millions of fans who never quite forgot the skin-crawling terror of redrum and always wondered what happened to little Danny. Lee Child, Sue Grafton and Michael Connelly released the latest in their iconic series’ too, making 2013 a year to remember in the best thriller books stakes.

All of which made me a very happy bunny, as we say in Brit-land. Hand me a new crime mystery or thriller, switch the sunshine on, let me loose in the yard and I’m sorted.

Here are three of the best from last year. If you’re on a mission to identify the best of the genre in time for the Easter break, you could do a lot worse than grab these three and run with ’em.

Read moreThe USA’s best thriller books from 2013 – 3 brand new crime classics