The Pine Barrens Stratagem
by Ken Harris
February 1-28, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
Private Investigator Steve Rockfish needs cash, like yesterday. The bad news is that yesterday, a global pandemic raged, and Maryland was headed toward a lockdown that would ultimately lead to cheating spouses no longer “working late,” and hence a lack of new clients.
Rockfish’s luck changes when a Hollywood producer reaches out, but the job is two states away and involves digging up information on a child trafficking ring from the 1940s. What he uncovers will be used to support the launch of a true crime docuseries. He grabs a mask, hand sanitizer and heads for South Jersey.
On-site, Rockfish meets Jawnie McGee, the great granddaughter of a local policeman gone missing while investigating the original crimes. As the duo uncover more clues, they learn the same criminal alliance has reformed to use the pandemic as a conduit to defraud the Federal Government of that sweet, sweet, stimulus money.
It’s not long before the investigation turns up some key intel on a myriad of illicit activity over the last eighty years and Rockfish rockets toward a showdown with the mafia, local archdiocese and dirty cops. COVID-19 isn’t the only threat to his health.
Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Black Rose Writing
Publication Date: January 27th 2022
Number of Pages: 250
ISBN: 1684338719 (ISBN13: 9781684338719)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Read an excerpt:
Ken Harris retired from the FBI, after thirty-two years, as a cybersecurity executive. With over three decades writing intelligence products for senior Government officials, Ken provides unique perspectives on the conventional fast-paced crime thriller. While this is his first traditionally published novel, he previously self-published two novellas and two novels. He spends days with his wife Nicolita, and two Labradors, Shady and Chalupa Batman. Evenings are spent cheering on Philadelphia sports. Ken firmly believes Pink Floyd, Irish whiskey and a Montecristo cigar are the only muses necessary. He is a native of New Jersey and currently resides in Northern Virginia.
Catch Up With Ken Harris:
BookBub – @08025writes
Twitter – @08025writes
Instagram – @KenHarrisFiction
Facebook – @kah623
Q&A with Ken Harris
1. Reviewers say that “The Pine Barrens Stratagem” is fun, but also sarcastic, quirky, or irreverent… what is the tone of your story and why did you choose it?
The main theme is action, but with a heaping side of sarcasm and dry wit. I write what I know best. Loyalty is another element that means a lot to me, so it’s woven pretty well into the story. When someone says the book is ‘fun’ I hope they meant that there was a number of out loud laughs. That’s a major compliment to me. A fun read to me is one you don’t have to fight your way through. I don’t want someone to put the book down a dozen times and come back to it. I want them strapped in like at an amusement park. You’ll laugh and be taken back a few times but when you’re on the way home, you can’t wait for the next visit (or book in the series, in this case).
2. What are the most important (or relevant) do’s and don’ts in your crime/thriller stories?
I don’t expect the reader to have to suspend a ton of belief. My characters are down to earth, both good and bad. Average Joes, so to speak, not part of the Marvel Universe. I don’t want a reader to put the book down because they have to contemplate if something is plausible or even possible. There’s a good chance they might not pick it back up.
My background tends to make my writing grounded. If I’m writing about it, it happened or can, in the real world. I don’t have a character that sits down at a computer, bashes on a keyboard, tying 37 databases together into a virtual 3-D model hovering over a conference table in the course of 15 seconds. There is so much wrong with police procedurals in print and on the small and big screens. I mean, I get it, people want to be lost in a fantasy world sometimes, but it’s not something that entertains me. So I don’t write that way. I mention this further down in the questions, but if I wanted to lose people in a fantasy world, I would have managed to incorporate half a dozen zombies into the story.
3. “Don’t judge a book after its cover” – is this saying expressed somehow in your story? How?
I think it’s best expressed by the journey the protagonist, Steve Rockfish takes from start to finish. He starts off flawed. He’s a textbook 1970s private eye attempting to navigate 2020 waters. The political climate and pandemic aren’t helping matters. Compassion or lack thereof is his major flaw in the first few chapters. You see him change once he meets his co-protagonist (is there such a thing?) Jawnie McGee. She teaches that old dog some new tricks.
4. Going beyond the metaphorical sense of the saying and talking about the actual books and their covers, what is your opinion about the covers of the crime thrillers stories (old and new) and what was important for you in deciding the cover for “The Pine Barrens Stratagem”?
I love the old retro, vintage noir type of covers. They draw me in and then as a largely horror fan, I move onto the horror section. But I knew I wanted something vintage and retro for the cover of this book. Something that could portray the 1970’s detective I grew up with, but swimming like a fish out of water in the 2020s. Also Lana, Steve’s car, plays a major part in the story and I wanted her front and center on the cover.
5. What are “intelligence products” you have written in your career and what are the advantages/disadvantages for you as a writer?
Yeah. That’s classified.
Seriously though – As an analyst and then senior manager, I dealt with crafting warning pieces that would provide the President, his Cabinet, and Intelligence Community leaders across Government with the insight needed to make actional decisions based on the subject matter of the written piece. My particular team dealt with emerging technologies.
The advantages were that I know what my protagonist will do. I don’t have to research much, or try and craft him into some super secret rogue 007 FBI Agent that does crap that is totally unbelievable, like you see in the movies or on television. If I’m writing it, it’s plausible and credible.
The disadvantage is that the writing I did while working for the FBI and the writing I do now are two totally different styles. Not even close. If I wrote a Steve Rockfish adventure like a piece for the President’s Daily Brief, you’d be bored out of your skull. And worse, not laugh once.
6. The crime/thriller genre is somehow understandable. Did you ever think to write another genre – which one? What could convince you to write a totally different genre?
I am a huge fan of horror. I love horror movies and horror novels are pretty much all I read. But when it comes to writing, I find it very hard to suspend the proper amount of belief needed. I have a previously self-published novella, one could call light horror (Huckleberry’s Hail Mary) that I would like to go back and give the full novel treatment. Currently it is on my to-do list after getting a contract for the third “From the Case Files of Steve Rockfish” series.
With my 32 years in law enforcement and the majority of that spent in the fields of critical and analytical thinking, I believe I’d be hard pressed to develop the intestinal fortitude needed to suspend belief to write proper horror. It’s much easier to sit in a recline and be scared.
7. Considering the plot of “The Pine Barrens Stratagem” and that you are a former FBI cybersecurity executive, please, tell us why did you choose this subject related to the C-19 epidemic?
The pandemic plays a major role in the story. I make use of it to shape not just the premise but my characters every encounter.
I knew there was a large chance of turning off readers by placing my novel smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. People are tired of reading/hearing about it. A matter of fact, that point was brought to my attention in a query rejection email from a small publishing house. Fear of the unknown. I get it, but I wanted to write the story I wanted and you can’t please everyone. If I wanted to write what I thought the general public would willingly accept and were I solely in this for the money, I’d have tossed half a dozen zombies in the story.
I also wanted to challenge myself as a writer. First, I was interested in how a modern-day detective would operate in such a challenging landscape. How would the pandemic affect the number of clients walking through the door and how it would change normal avenues of investigation. And the second was how I as a writer could find different ways to show character emotions and non-verbal cues while they were behind a mask. It is the time we live in and I wanted to capture it the best I could. With some humor, sarcasm and thrills thrown in.
Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!