A Novel Only H & R Block Could Love

9781250032430_p0_v2_s260x420The publishers of Ian Hamilton's The Disciple of Las Vegas: An Ava Lee Novel are attempting to position the book as Canada's answer to Steig Larssen and, get this, Ian Fleming, which says a lot about Canadian thrillers…and none of it good. Imagine Jack Webb adapting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and that will give you a sense of how "thrilling" this book is.

Ava Lee is a Toronto forensic accountant hired to recoup $65 million pilfered by a Vancouver executive working for a beer company in Manila. Oh, and she's a lesbian and a martial arts expert, not that either one of those aspects of her personality come into play at all…unless you count a brief fight and a couple of dull email exchanages with a stranger to arrange a blind date. 

It's clear that Hamilton has no idea how to construct a thriller, much less a compelling story. The first hundred pages of this book are nothing but plodding, heavy-handed exposition without a shred of actual drama or conflict, all told without the slightest bit of style, wit, or fun.

Once the exposition finally lets up, the heroine spends her time flying from place to place, interviewing people, checking her email and making phone calls to tell other characters the boring things we already know. It's all about as action-packed and fun to read as a spreadsheet.

But the crippling problem with this listless story, beyond the exposition and repetition, is that there's no real conflict for Ava to confront or dramatic obstacles for her to overcome. The emotional and physical stakes aren't just low, they are non-existent for Ava and her clients who, to make matters worse, are depicted as thoroughly unlikeable and unworthy of her efforts.

So there is zero reason for the reader to care about what happens, and no rooting interest beyond, perhaps, wanting one-dimensional Ava to get her commission on the recovered money. That's not enough to motivate readers to slog their way through this book.  

And they really shouldn't bother.

Nothing remotely interesting happens until page 218, but after ten surprisingly violent pages that offer some hope that things might finally start moving, the book falls right back into its deep, narrative slumber until the very end, a long and tiresome 130 pages later. 

Ava may be a martial artist but she vanquishes her adversaries and overcomes her obstacles, what few insignificant ones there are, with phone calls rather than action. The climax of the book (and I'm being very generous calling it that) comes down to her making some phone calls to ask other people to make some phone calls, and then us hearing about those phone calls in some more phone calls. As if that wasn't enough fever-pitch phone call excitement, in the final confrontation with the bad guys, Ava offers to make one more phone call.   

I suppose it's only fitting then that the epilog is Ava making some more phone calls and answering her emails.

Lisbeth Salander and James Bond, eat your hearts out.

Guest Blog: Anthony Neil Smith on Writing THE DEAD MAN #16: COLDER THAN HELL.

Anthony Neil Smith on writing COLDER THAN HELL, out this week on Amazon…
Look, I don’t do
supernatural. I just flat out thought that was beyond me. I write crime novels
about people doing awful things to each other, no ghosts or monsters or demons
in sight. But this Dead Man thing, I was watching it grow with awe. Several
friends of mine, also crime writers, got caught up in the fervor and churned
out some great horror pulp. And I was jealous. Really jealous. But…I couldn’t do that sort of thing, could
I? And not that they would ever ask me, anyway.
But then I got an email from Bill Rabkin—co-creator of The Dead Man series along with Lee Goldberg—who I had met via Tod Goldberg and who was writing a screenplay
adaptation of my novel Yellow Medicine.
That magical, unlikely email asked me to write a Dead Man novella. Yep, one o’ them spooky, supernatural,
knock-em-out, fists and axes and evil spirits sort of books.
I was thinking, There
is no fucking way I can do this
But what I said was, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Fucking yes.”
And then I told them I’d get to work in May, probably have
it in a couple of months.
At which point I fell off a writing cliff and had to drag my
ass back up the sheer rock face inch by inch.
No idea what happened. I had recently finished a short,
punchy third entry in my Billy Lafitte series. I was riding high off some nice
reviews and decent sales of All the Young
. But then it was as if words and me stopped getting along. In
fact, those goddamn words were bullying me. Taunting me. And I didn’t know what
to write.
But I was under contract for Dead Man. I had to write it. I wanted to. It ended up helping me
break the drought and get back to the normal flow of things. But it didn’t take
two months. It took nearly five, and I even went over the deadline by a week.
The story came to me more easily than I had expected.  At least some of it. If I had to pitch it, it
would come across as “The Shining, but on a frozen interstate.” One of the most
frightening things I’ve come across while living up north is the idea of being
trapped in your car on an interstate or highway due to snow and ice. You’re
surrounded by hundreds of others in the same boat, but you’re all little
islands of loneliness, seems to me. So what if some horrible virus or spirit or
[INSERT SUPERNATURAL THING HERE] was loosed on top of that?
Fine, fine, the guys
in charge liked the idea. They just didn’t get the cause of it all. Something
wasn’t clicking. Two reasons for that: 1) I was trying to be a bit too ambitious
by tying some ancient evil from a previous Dead
into this one, hoping to cement a place in the “mythology”, and 2)
Again, I don’t do supernatural.
Anthony Neil Smith
But I wrote it, including an old 18th Century
diary, some Scandinavian settles in North Dakota who met up with evil Native
Americans from The Dead Man #5: The Blood Mesa who had
some more ancient evil that was older than Mr. Dark’s evil, and so there was a
killer on the loose and an Indian golum, and and and…
What the hell was I thinking?
I finally finished it, turned it in, and waited to be told
how bad it was.
Now, the thing I discovered about Lee during the
outline process is that he is one tough son of a bitch when it comes to ideas.
He was shooting them down all night long. I could imagine his Grinch-like sneer
as my emails came in, rubbing his hands in glee as he printed them out for the
sole purpose of watching them burn.
But after I turned in the draft, something remarkable
happened. His heart grew three sizes…for the first half of the novella, anyway.
All the other historical/mythology stuff? I had truly wasted my (and his) time.
As bad as I thought it was. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try to save it. Of
course I did. That was a month’s work! But it came down to Lee telling me,
“Rewrite the second half. You’ve got a month.”
And I was all like, “But how do I…what should I…Can’t you
tell me…?”
And the guru said, “Well, how about [INSERT SUPERNATURAL
Why come I hadn’t thought of that? So I was learning a lot
about how this sort of story works, what’s expected, how to subvert what’s
expected and still deliver a good fright. And best of all, I had to write about
fifty pages in a month.
In a good week, I can maybe get fifteen pages done. I hadn’t
been having good weeks. But still, fifty pages was within my window of doable.
Five weeks later, I turned it in again. And this time the
damn thing worked.  We went through a few
edits, not so hard at all, and then Jeroen ten Berge put together a killer
cover for it. This was actually happening! I was a Dead Man author! Not only that, but the turnaround on this book was
a few months—it would be out by the end of January. That, of course, continued
to shore up my already good impression of Amazon Publishing. They knew exactly
what they were doing.
Once Dead Man #16: Colder Than Hell was out of my hands, my head was spinning with new ideas—how to
fix the stalled novel, how to get a couple of other ideas I had into bed
together for yet another novel. I was thinking much more like a pulp
writer—write the damned story. Faster. Think through the first two drafts in
your head, put the third one down as the first. Hey, I did it once, I could do
it again.
All in all, this was a tremendous experience. I’m glad Lee
and Bill let me play in the Dead Man toy
box, and I look forward to trying it again one day, maybe. In the meantime,
there’s not an hour I sit at the typewriter when I don’t think about how my
writing process has changed for the better after Dead Man.
Hope you’ll check it out. And if you do happen to have
travel plans through North Dakota in the winter, make sure to bring extra
layers, some gloves, a thick blanket, and a last will and testament. Just in

Coming Next Fall to a TV Near You

It's the time of year when networks start ordering pilots for proposed TV series for next year's fall schedule. The Hollywood Reporter has a wrap-up of what's been ordered so far. It looks like this is the first pilot season in years that doesn't include a "re-imagining" of an old TV show. Thank God. But there are plenty of adaptations of movies in the works (About a Boy, Bad Teacher, Beverly Hills Cop, etc.) and quite a few based on books.

Here are some of the more unusual concepts being considered…

The Returned
Logline: What happens when the people you have mourned and buried suddenly appear on your doorstep as if not a day's gone by? The lives of the people of Aurora are forever changed when their deceased loved ones return.
Team: W/EP Aaron Zelman (Criminal Minds)
Studio: ABC Studios, Brillstein Entertainment, Plan B

The Ordained
Logline: The son of a Kennedy-esque family leaves the priesthood and becomes a lawyer to prevent his politician sister from being assassinated.
Team: W/EP Lisa Takeuchi Cullen; EP Frank Marshall, Larry Shuman, A.B. Fischer; co-EP Robert Zotnowski
Studio: CBS Television Studios

Logline: Based on best-selling trilogy about a world where love is deemed illegal and is able to be eradicated with a special procedure. With 95 days to go until her scheduled treatment, Lena Holoway does the unthinkable: she falls in love.
Team: W/EP: Karyn Usher (Prison Break, Bones); EP Peter Chernin, Katherine Pope
Studio: 20th Television, Chernin Entertainment

The List
Logline: When members of the Federal Witness Security Program start getting killed, U.S. Marshal Dan Shaker leads the hunt for the person who stole “the list” – a file with the identities of every member of the program.
Team: W/EP: Paul Zbyszewski (Lost, Hawaii Five-0, Daybreak); EP Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad)
Studio: 20th Television

Girlfriend in a Coma
Logline: After almost two decades, a 34-year-old woman wakes up from a coma to find out she has a 17-year-old daughter from a pregnancy she was unaware of when her life was put on hold.  (Single)
Team: EP/W: Liz Brixius (Nurse Jackie); EP Dick Wolf, Danielle Gelber
Studio: Universal Television, Wolf Films
Format: Single-camera

Logline: A contemporary pulp thriller that revolves around an orphaned young girl named Bird Benson, who because of an accident of birth is caught in the struggle between two warring families of mercenaries and killers. Mentored by a Chinese man, Bird has to accept the quest to find and defeat her mother in mortal combat if she is to ever lead a normal life.
Team: W/EP David Granziano (Awake, Terra Nova), EP/D Peter Berg, EP Sarah Aubrey
Studio: Universal, Film 44


Mr. Monk and the New Author

Here's the scoop, MONK fans, on Hy Conrad 's upcoming book MR. MONK HELPS HIMSELF. 

Monk and Natalie are settling back in San Francisco, with one big change. Monk has agreed to make Natalie a full partner. That means Natalie has to pass the California P.I. exam and Monk has to start treating her as an equal.

MMHH-Cover-229x357The trouble starts when Miranda Bigley, a self-help guru, jumps to her death in full view of a hundred people. It’s obviously suicide. But Natalie was a fan of Miranda’s life-affirming teachings, and she thinks there must be something more. Maybe even murder.
Monk has handled dozen of impossible cases. But this one is really impossible, he says. If Natalie wants to look into it, she’s on her own.

Instead, Monk turns his attention to a clown, killed by poisoned money. It’s a case that could become one of the most important of his career. The only drawback? Monk is afraid of clowns (phobia #99), and Natalie refuses to help him if he doesn’t help her.

And so, they’re off on their own, with Natalie infiltrating the guru’s cliffside retreat, Monk trying to stay as far away from clowns as possible, and both of them trying to stay alive.

If there’s one case that can teach them the importance of an equal partnership, this is it.

Robert B. Parker’s Ironhorse

ParkerRobert Knott's IRONHORSE is not as good as Robert B. Parker's first two Virgil Cole novels, but it's better than his last one, which was truly awful on just about every level. Knott doesn't have Parker's characters down at all (Cole makes many uncharacteristic, dull expository speeches in this book), and there's quite a bit of repetition, with the characters telling one another what we already know (a rookie mistake for newbie authors), and he doesn't capture Parker's lean style. But taken on its own merits, IRONHORSE is an enjoyable western none-the-less, with a fast-moving, twisty plot and some strong action. Bottom line: it doesn't come close to Ace Atkins' brilliant Spenser novel, which perfectly captured Parker's voice, nor was it as bad as Michael Brandman's execrable Jesse Stone books.

Edgar Award Nominees Announced

Here are the nominees for the 2013 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television, published or produced in 2012. 


The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn (Crown Publishers)
Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Sunset by Al Lamanda (Gale Cengage Learning – Five Star)
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley (Penguin Group USA – Riverhead Books)


The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay (Random House Publishing– Ballantine)
Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (Random House Publishing– Bantam Books)
The Expats by Chris Pavone (Crown Publishers)
The 500 by Matthew Quirk (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Reagan Arthur)
Black Fridays by Michael Sears (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Complication by Isaac Adamson (Soft Skull Press)
Whiplash River by Lou Berney (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow Paperbacks)
Bloodland by Alan Glynn (Picador)
Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books – Emily Bestler Books)
The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)


Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French (Penguin Group USA – Penguin Books)
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)

More Forensics and Fiction: Crime Writers' Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered by D.P. Lyle, MD (Medallion Press)
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre (Crown Publishers)
The People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil that Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry (Farrar Straus & Giroux Originals)

Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: The Hard-Boiled Detective Transformed by John Paul Athanasourelis (McFarland and Company)
Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books – Emily Bestler Books)
The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics by James O’Brien (Oxford University Press)
In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero edited by Otto Penzler (Smart Pop)


"Iphigenia in Aulis" – An Apple for the Creature by Mike Carey (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"Hot Sugar Blues" – Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance by Steve Liskow (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Mulholland Books)
"The Void it Often Brings With It” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Tom Piccirilli (Dell Magazines)
"The Unremarkable Heart" – Mystery Writers of America Presents:  Vengeance by Karin Slaughter (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Mulholland Books)
"Still Life No. 41" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Teresa Solana (Dell Magazines)


Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger (Abrams – Amulet Books)
13 Hangmen by Art Corriveau (Abrams – Amulet Books)
The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferraiolo (Abrams – Amulet Books)
Spy School by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dial Books for Young Readers)


 Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Roaring Brook Press)
The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George (Penguin Young Readers Group – Viking)
Crusher by Niall Leonard (Random House Children’s Books – Delacorte BFYR)
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dutton Children’s Books)
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Disney Publishing Worldwide – Hyperion)


“Pilot” – LongmireTeleplay by Hunt Baldwin & John Coveny (A&E/Warner Horizon Television)
“Child Predator” – elemeNtarY, Teleplay by Peter Blake (CBS Productions)
“Slaughterhouse” – Justified, Teleplay by Fred Golan (Sony Pictures Television/FX Productions)
 “A Scandal in Belgravia” – Sherlock, Teleplay by Steven Moffat (BBC/Masterpiece)
“New Car Smell” – Homeland, Teleplay by Meredith Stiehm (Showtime/Fox21)


"When They Are Done With Us" – Staten Island Noir by Patricia Smith (Akashic Books)


Ken Follett
Margaret Maron


Oline Cogdill
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, San Diego & Redondo Beach, CA

Akashic Books

(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Wednesday, May 1, 2013)

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)
A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell (Forge Books)
The Reckoning by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books)
The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)
Sleepwalker by Wendy Corsi Staub (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)

The Mail I Get – Made My Day Edition

I was very touched and flattered by this email, so I had to share it with you:

I say Thank You for my discovery of reading. That might sound strange coming from a 51 year male whose wife has thousands of books in our house. But I have never read a book since I was forced to in high school, even then I'm not sure I actually did.

While my wife was looking at books at a tag sale my daughter was looking at Mr. Monk is Miserable, she put it down, after my wife purchased several books we were leaving when the man gave my daughter the book. It was very nice of him, but what happened next has changed my life.

My daughter read the book. And when she was done she said, Dad, I know you don't read, but please try reading this book. My wife reads hundreds of books a year and had never gotten me to pick up a book, but when my little girl asked me to, I did. I could not put the book down. It was so easy to read, problem was it was the 7th book. I have a lot of catching up to do. So for my birthday I got book #1, Christmas, books 2, 3, and 4. So reading the acknowledgments I saw your website, and got your email address, and just wanted to say thank you.

You know I'll be getting the rest of the series to read, and after that I'm sure reading is in my future.

Isn't that amazing? I am going to keep this email on my wall so that when the writing gets tough, I'll be reminded of readers like him, stop my whining, and press on.


Sleazy Rights Grab

The Authors Guild reports that magazine publisher Conde Nast (Bon Appétit, GQ, The New Yorker, Self, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Wired, among others,) is attempting to screw freelancer writers out of a significant chunk of the TV & movie rights to their articles. Movies such as Saturday Night Live and Hurt Locker began as magazine articles. 

[They] would slice writers' share of potential film and television income to freelance works appearing in its magazines by more than 50%. Its new boilerplate contract — introduced last year — would give the company a free, exclusive 12-month right to option dramatic and multimedia rights. Under the contract, Condé Nast could choose to extend that option by up to 24 months for a modest sum. Should Condé Nast exercise the option, the writer would, under boilerplate terms, be paid just 1% of the film or tv production budget. Negotiated film and tv agreements typically pay the author 2.5% or more of the production budget. […] Christine Haughney of the New York Times writes about the contract and dispute today in an article that quotes Jan Constantine, the Authors Guild's general counsel.


The Mail I Get

I got this solicitation today from a woman I don't know:

I am the owner of this new platform a company that is launching now..


i am looking for some referrals re a writer for a novelization that launches as the prequel book to this universe…

I am half way through with an outline that needs to be re-edited and dialogue added…

full 118 page film script available to work with and my original epic and my team and all else.. I own all the rights to these works – registered at the writers guild etc.

I couldn't make any sense out of the email, so I looked at the site. That was even more incomprehensible (though just as badly written). It appears to be a blog dedicated to some fantasy world she's created and wants to exploit in books,movies, and a store. I think it has something to do with the magic of music, or musical magic, or God knows what. It's a real rambling mess.

It appears what she's looking for is someone to novelize a movie script of an outline of a novel that doesn't yet exist, except as a book proposal and an incoherent blog.

Well, she came to the right guy. I can't think of something I'd rather do or a more valuable use of my time. But darn it, I'm just too busy with other committments to jump at this great opportunity.

So it's all yours. Go for it.

Authors Behaving Badly

Oh my, author RJ Ellory can't resist promoting himself under fake names. Now he's been banned from Wikipedia after logging on under false identities to delete links to news stories about his outrageous "sock puppetry" on Amazon. The Telegraph reports:

Officials made the decision afterfinding that he had tried to delete stories from the profile as well as links to Telegraph.co.uk, and had breached its "self promotion" rules.

[…]Ellory took to this Wikipedia page to amend the wording of a “controversy paragraph” and the newspaper links which he says gave “completely the wrong bias on this issue […] there is a significant matter of misrepresentation in the press regarding the extent to which I had manufactured 'reviews' on amazon [sic].”

This is clearly a guy with a huge ego (or is it raging insecurity?) who is so intent on praising himself that he doesn't realize how self-destructive his actions are, that all he succeeds in doing is making himself look desperate and pathetic.