Apr 042017
 

The Outsider

by Anthony Franze

on Tour March 21 – April 21, 2017

Synopsis:

The Outsider by Anthony Franze

A young law clerk finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a serial killer in this breathtaking thriller set in the high-pressure world of the Supreme Court, from renowned lawyer Anthony Franze.

Things aren’t going well for Grayson Hernandez. He just graduated from a fourth-tier law school, he’s drowning in student debt, and the only job he can find is as a messenger. The position stings the most because it’s at the Supreme Court, where Gray is forced to watch the best and the brightest―the elite group of lawyers who serve as the justices’ law clerks—from the outside.

When Gray intervenes in a violent mugging, he lands in the good graces of the victim: the Chief Justice of the United States. Gray soon finds himself the newest—and unlikeliest—law clerk at the Supreme Court. It’s another world: highbrow debates over justice and the law in the inner sanctum of the nation’s highest court; upscale dinners with his new friends; attention from Lauren Hart, the brilliant and beautiful co-clerk he can’t stop thinking about.

But just as Gray begins to adapt to his new life, the FBI approaches him with unsettling news. The Feds think there’s a killer connected to the Supreme Court. And they want Gray to be their eyes and ears inside One First Street. Little does Gray know that the FBI will soon set its sights on him.

Racing against the clock in a world cloaked in secrecy, Gray must uncover the truth before the murderer strikes again in this thrilling high-stakes story of power and revenge by Washington, D.C. lawyer-turned-author Anthony Franze.

Stellar Reviews:

“THE OUTSIDER is as authentic and suspenseful as any John Grisham novel—and I like Grisham a lot.” —JAMES PATTERSON, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Crafty and clever! Franze’s insider knowledge of the Supreme Court sets this twisty legal thriller apart. The sympathetic plight of the outsider hero, Grayson Hernandez, will keep you glued to the pages; the explosive plot will leave you breathless.” —LISA GARDNER, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Book Details:

Genre: Legal Thriller
Published by: St. Martin’s Press | Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 1250071666 (ISBN13: 9781250071668)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

When her computer pinged, Amanda Hill ignored it. This late at night, she shouldn’t have, but she did.

All her energy was focused on tomorrow’s closing argument. Her office was dark, save the sharp cone of light from the desk lamp. She’d waited for everyone to leave so she could run through her final words to the jury. So she could practice as she’d done a thousand times, pacing her office in front of imaginary jurors, explaining away the evidence against the latest criminal mastermind she’d been appointed to represent. This one had left prints and DNA, and vivid images of the robbery had been captured by surveillance cameras.

She glanced out her window into the night. Normal people were home tucking in their children, watching a little TV before hitting the sack. Her little girl deserved better. She should call to check in, but she needed to get the closing done. Amanda’s mother was watching Isabelle, and her mom would call if she needed anything.

There was another ping. Then another. Irritated, Amanda reached for the mouse and clicked to her email. The subject line grabbed her attention:

URGENT MESSAGE ABOUT YOUR MOTHER AND ISABELLE!

Amanda opened the email. Strange, there was no name in the sender field. And the message had only a link. Was this one of those phishing scams?

She almost deleted it, but the subject line caught her eye again. Her seven year old’s name.

Her cursor hovered over the link— then she clicked. A video appeared on the screen. The footage was shaky, filmed on a smartphone. The scene was dark, but for a flashlight beam hitting a dirty floor. Then a whisper: “You have thirty minutes to get here or they die.”

A chill slithered down Amanda’s back. This was a joke, right? A sick joke? She moved the mouse to shut down the video, but the flashlight ray crawled up a grimy wall and stopped on two figures. Amanda’s heart jumped into her throat. It was her mother and Isabelle. Bound, gagged, weeping.

“Dupont Underground,” the voice hissed. “Thirty minutes. If you call the police, we’ll know. And they’ll die.”

The camera zoomed in on Isabelle’s tear-streaked face. Amanda’s computer began buzzing and flashing, consumed by a tornado virus.

Amanda drove erratically from her downtown office to Dupont Circle. She kept one eye on the road, the other on her smartphone that guided her to the only address she could find for “Dupont Underground,” the abandoned street trolley line that ran under Washington, D.C.

Her mind raced. Why was this happening? It didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be a kidnapping for ransom. She had no money— she was a public defender, for Christ’s sake. A disgruntled client? No, this was too well organized. Too sophisticated. Common criminals, Amanda knew from her years representing them, were uneducated bumblers, not the type to plan out anything in their lives, much less something like this.

She checked the phone. She had only fifteen minutes. The GPS said she’d be there in five. She tried to calm herself, control her breathing. She should call the police. But the warning played in her head: We’ll know. And they’ll die.

She pulled over on New Hampshire Avenue. The GPS said this was the place, but she saw no entrance to any underground. It was a business district. Law firms and lobby shops locked up for the night. She looked around, panicked and confused. There was nothing but a patch of construction across the street. Work on a manhole or sewer line. Or trolley entrance. Amanda leapt from her car and ran to the construction area. A four-foot-tall rectangular plywood structure jutted up from the sidewalk. It had a door on top, like a storm cellar. The padlock latch had been pried open, the wood splintered. Amanda swung open the door and peered down into the gloom.

She shouldn’t go down there. But she heard a noise. A muffled scream? Amanda pointed her phone’s flashlight into the chasm. A metal ladder disappeared into the darkness. She steeled herself, then climbed into the opening, the only light the weak bulb on her phone. When she reached the bottom, she stood quietly, looking down the long tunnel, listening. She heard the noise again and began running toward it.

That’s when she heard the footsteps behind her. She ran faster, her breaths coming in rasps, the footfalls from behind keeping pace. She wanted to turn and fight. She was a god-damned fighter. “Amanda Hill, The Bitch of Fifth Street,” she’d heard the defendants call her around the courthouse. But the image of Isabelle and her mother’s faces, their desperation, drew her on.

The footsteps grew closer. She needed to suppress the fear, to find her family.

The blow to the head came without warning and slammed her to the ground. There was the sound of a boot stomping on plastic and the flashlight on her phone went out. The figure grabbed a fistful of her hair and dragged her to a small room off the tunnel. She was gasping for air now.

A lantern clicked on. Amanda heard the scurrying of tiny feet. She saw the two masses in the shadows and felt violently ill: her mother and Isabelle. Soiled rags stuffed in their mouths, hands and feet bound. Next to them the silhouette of someone spray-painting on the wall.

Amanda sat up quickly, and a piercing pain shot through her skull. She averted her eyes, hoping it was all a nightmare. But a voice cut through the whimpering of her family.

“Look at them!” Amanda lifted her gaze. She forced a smile, feigned a look of optimism, then mouthed a message to her daughter: It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.

It was a lie, of course. A godforsaken lie.

CHAPTER 1

Grayson Hernandez walked up to the lectern in the well of the U.S. Supreme Court. He wasn’t intimidated by the marble columns that encased the room or the elevated mahogany bench where The Nine had been known to skewer even the most experienced advocates. He calmly pulled the lever on the side of the lectern to adjust its height, a move he’d learned watching the assistant solicitor generals showing off. He stood up straight and didn’t look down at any notes; the best lawyers didn’t use notes. And he began his oral argument.

“Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court—” He was immediately interrupted, not uncommon since the justices on average asked more than one hundred questions in the half hour of oral argument allotted to each side. But the voice, which rang though the chamber, wasn’t from a justice of the highest court in the land.

“I’ve told you before, Gray, you can’t be in here.” The beam of a flashlight cut across the empty courtroom. Gray held up a hand to shield his eyes. He smiled at the Supreme Court Police officer making his nightly rounds.

“Someday, counselor,” the officer said. “But for now you might wanna focus on getting the nightlies delivered.” The officer swung the ray of light to Gray’s messenger cart filled with the evening’s mail.

Gray waved at the officer, and returned to his cart. The wheel squeaked as he rolled it out of the courtroom and into the marble hallway.

In Chief Justice Douglas’s chambers, two law clerks were sitting in the reception area, fifteen feet apart, tossing a football between them. They seemed punchy, wired after a long day at the office, talking about one of the court’s cases.

“A high school has no right to punish a kid for things he says off school grounds. The court needs to finally say so,” one of the clerks said. He was a stocky blond guy. Gray thought his name was Mike. Mike spiraled the ball to the other clerk who looked kind of like a young JFK.

“You’re high if you think the chief is going to side with the student,” JFK said, catching the ball with a loud snap. “You upload a violent rap song on YouTube saying your math teacher is sexually harassing students, you’re gonna get suspended.”

“Even if it’s true?” Mike said. The Supreme Court had thirty-six law clerks, four per justice. It was an internship like no other, promising young lawyers not only a ticket to any legal job in the country, but also the chance to leave their fingerprints on the most important legal questions of the day. The current clerks were all in their late twenties, the same age as Gray, but that’s where the similarities ended. Like the two throwing the ball, almost all were white, from affluent backgrounds. Gray didn’t think there were any Mexican Americans in the clerk pool, and certainly none who grew up in gritty Hamilton Heights, D.C. They’d all gone to Harvard or Yale or institutions that, unlike Gray’s law school, had ivy instead of graffiti on their walls. And they certainly weren’t delivering mail.

Gray nodded hello as he lifted the stacks of certiorari petitions out of his cart and dropped them in the metal in-boxes for the chief ’s clerks.

Mike looked at Gray. “No, not more petitions, I’m begging you.” Gray smiled, but didn’t engage. His boss in the marshal’s office had a rule when it came to the justices and their law clerks: Speak only when necessary.

The ball whizzed across the reception area again. “Is it printed yet?” JFK asked. “I wanna get out of here.” He looked over to the printer, which was humming and spitting out paper. Gray worked tw night shifts a week, and there usually were no less than a dozen clerks still in the office. Theirs was a one-year gig, but they worked as if the justices wanted to squeeze five years out of them.

“It won’t take long,” Mike said. “It’s a short memo, and I just want someone who’s a disagreeable ass to point out any soft spots before I turn it into the chief.”

“You’re wasting your time. He’s never gonna side with the student, he—”

“This case is no different than Tinker v. Des Moines Schools,” Mike countered. “The court said disruptive speech at school could be punished, but not speech made off school grounds. Off-campus speech, including posting something on YouTube, should be covered by the First Amendment just like everything else. It’s none of the school’s business.”

JFK gave a dismissive grunt. “A rap expert from Greenwich, Connecticut, I love it.”

Mike threw the ball hard at his co-clerk. “Hey,” JFK said, shaking off the sting after reeling in the throw. “I’m just saying, the Tinker case was decided in the late sixties. You can’t apply it in the digital world. You’re in an ivory tower if you think the chief will blindly follow Tinker.”

Gray pretended not to listen, but he lingered, enjoying the intellectual banter.

The ball flew by again. “Ivory tower?” Mike said. “Fine, let’s ask an everyman.” He pointed the football at Gray. “Hey, Greg, can we ask you something?”

Mike had once asked Gray his name, a regular man of the people.

“It’s Gray.”

“Sorry. Gray. We have a question: Do you think if a high school student is off campus and posts something offensive on social media a school can punish him for it?”

JFK chimed in: “It’s not just posting something offensive. It’s a profanity-laden rap that accuses a teacher of sexually harassing students and threatens to ‘put a cap’ in the guy.”

Gray pondered the question as he retrieved mail from the outboxes. “I agree with what Murderous Malcolm said about the case.” The clerks shot each other a look. That morning the New York Times ran a story about the case, in which a famous rapper was interviewed and defended the student’s right to free speech. Every morning the Supreme Court’s library sent around an email aggregating news stories relating to the court. Gray was probably the only person at One First Street who read them all.

Gray continued. “I think the First Amendment allows a kid who saw a wrong happening to write a poem about it over a beat.” Gray wheeled the cart toward the door. “And if the chief justice disagrees, you might mention all the violence in those operas he loves so much.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Mike said, spiking the ball, then doing a ridiculous touchdown dance. He strutted over to Gray and gave him a high five.

For a moment, it felt like Gray was a clerk himself, an equal weighing in on the most important school-speech case in decades.

“Hey, Gray,” JFK said. Gray turned, ready to continue his defense of the First Amendment.

“I’ve got some books that need to be delivered to the library.”

When Gray arrived at the gym two hours later, his dad already had his hands wrapped and was hitting the heavy bag. There was a large sweat stain on his shirt. “You’re late,” he called out.

“I told you, I have the night shift on Sundays,” Gray said. His dad didn’t respond, just pounded the bag. He wasn’t going to get any sympathy from Manny Hernandez about the night shift. This was his father’s one night off from the pizza shop. Since his dad’s cancer went into remission, they’d been meeting every Sunday night at the old boxing club in Adams Morgan. Gray would have preferred that they spent these times together somewhere other than a smelly gym, but it made his father happy to see him back in the gloves. It was these moments that Gray was reminded that he probably wasn’t the man his father had dreamed he’d become. With his books and big dreams, Gray was his mother’s boy.
Gray punched the bag, the hits vibrating through him, his thoughts venturing to his earlier encounter with the law clerks. He threw his weight into his right.

Let’s ask an everyman.

Then his left.

I’ve got some books that need to be delivered to the library.

Gray continued to pummel the bag, his heart pounding, sweat dripping from his brow.

“Somethin’ wrong?” His father came and stood behind the bag, holding it in place as Gray kept going at it. “Talk to me.”

“It’s nothing,” Gray finally said, catching his breath, wiping his forehead with his arm. “Just work stuff.”

“I thought it was going well. You’ve loved that building since you were a little kid. And now you’re working there, helping the justices.”

“I don’t think delivering the mail is exactly helping the justices, Dad.”

“It’s a foot in the door. Once they get to know you, see how smart you are . . .”

Things didn’t work that way, but Gray wasn’t in the mood to argue.

“It’ll happen, son,” his father added. “You just gotta pay your dues, Grayson.”

“I know, Dad, I know.”

CHAPTER 2

At seven the next morning, Gray sat at his cubicle, tired and his muscles aching from the workout the night before. He started his day, as always, slugging down a large coffee while reading SCOTUSblog, a website that covered the court. It was the first day of the new term, and the pundits predicted it would be an exciting year with several landmark cases.

Gray turned when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Shelby, one of the marshal’s aides. A mistake he’d made after a night of drinking with the other aides. She made a point of saying she’d never been with “a guy like him,” which he assumed meant a poor kid from a sketchy side of D.C. She worked part-time while finishing her senior year at Georgetown.

“Martin wants to see you,” she said. Gray looked across the expansive cube farm. He could see Martin Melnick, their supervisor, through the glass walls of his small interior office in the back. He was eating something wrapped in foil. A breakfast burrito, maybe. Shelby’s expression summed up her assessment of Martin: Ick. Martin was in his late thirties, ancient by aide-pool standards. Overweight with bad teeth, he was the antithesis of the bright young things who worked at the high court, the butt of many jokes. He was never particularly nice to Gray; the opposite, actually. But Martin was good at his job and didn’t deserve the ridicule, so Gray kind of rooted for him in all of his slobbiness. Before Gray made his way over to Martin, Shelby said, “Who’s that?” She pointed to a photo pinned to Gray’s cubicle. It was of a boxer in the ring, bruised and battered, arms in the air, standing over his opponent who was out cold.

“My dad, back in the day. He was a fighter in Mexico.” Gray had pinned it up his first day on the job. His own Facebook motivational meme.

Shelby squeezed Gray’s bicep. “I see where you get—”

“I’ve gotta get over to Martin,” Gray said, politely extracting himself.

Martin’s office didn’t help his image. Stacks of papers everywhere. Post-it notes all over the place. He glanced up at Gray and handed him an envelope.

“We got a rush delivery for E.R.D.’s chambers.” E.R.D. were the initials for Edgar R. Douglas, the chief justice. In his month on the job, Gray had learned that the Supreme Court was obsessed with abbreviations and acronyms.

“Oral arguments start at ten, so get this to his clerk ASAP. His name’s on the envelope.”

Gray fast-walked up to the main floor, shuttling through the impressive Great Hall that was lined with marble columns and busts of past chief justices. He nodded at the officer manning the bronze latticework door and made his way to the chief justice’s chambers. The chief ’s secretary, a tough old bird named Olga Romanov, flicked him a glance.

“I have a delivery for Keir Landon.” “The clerks are getting breakfast,” she said in her clipped Eastern European accent.

“Do you know where?”

“Breakfast. Where do you think?” Gray forced a smile, then headed back downstairs to the court’s cafeteria. He marched past the assembly line of trays and the public seating area and into the private room reserved for the law clerks. A group of four were sitting at the long table.

Gray cleared his throat when they didn’t look up. When that didn’t work: “Excuse me. I have a delivery for Keir Landon.”

The guy from last night who looked like JFK popped his head up. He walked over to Gray and plucked the envelope from his hand.

“What’s up, Greg?” Mike said from the group. Before Gray could correct him again on the name, Gray’s phone pinged. A text from Martin, another rush delivery.

Gray hurried out, tapping a text to Martin as he paced quickly through the cafeteria. He didn’t look up until he bumped into someone. A tiny woman in her seventies. It was only when the elderly woman’s food tray hit the floor that Gray recognized her: Justice Rose Fitzgerald Yorke. She looked different without the black robe. Always weird seeing the teacher out of school. Yorke was one of the most beloved members of the court. Gray had read that when Yorke graduated from Harvard in the fifties, the only woman and number one in her class, none of the white-shoe law firms would hire a woman as a lawyer. A few had offered to make her a secretary. Maybe that explained why she ate in the public cafeteria rather than the justices’ private dining room, or why she organized the office birthday celebrations for every single employee at the court. She knew what it was like to be an outsider. She brought what some would derisively call empathy to her jurisprudence.

Justice Yorke bent over to pick up her spilled plate and silverware.

“Justice Yorke, I’m so sorry. Please, let me clean this up.” Gray lightly put a hand on the elderly justice’s arm.

“It’s no problem, young man, I can clean up after myself.”

“No, really, it’s my fault. Please.”

The manager of the cafeteria was standing there now looking annoyed. He gestured for Justice Yorke to come with him to get a new plate. The manager shot Gray a hard look as he spirited the justice away.

So there he was on the first Monday in October— the opening day of the term—on hands and knees wiping up the floor, the clerks passing by on their way back to chambers.

You just gotta pay your dues, Grayson.

CHAPTER 3

At the end of his shift, Gray headed down to the court’s garage to get his bike. In the elevator down, he contemplated his dinner options. He wasn’t sure if he could take another night of ramen or SpaghettiOs. Maybe he’d go to the pizza shop. Or to his parents’ apartment. Mom could always be counted on for a good meal, and he could bring some laundry. The elevator doors spread open to a field of gray concrete. The bike rack was empty but for his beat-up Schwinn. As he unlocked the chain, he heard a commotion. In the back, behind one of the support beams.

Gray stepped toward the sound. Next to an SUV parked in a reserved spot he saw two men, one had fallen on the ground, the other standing over him. The guy must have slipped. Was he hurt? There was something about how he didn’t try to get up and the stance of the other man that didn’t seem quite right.

“Everything okay?” Gray said. The man who was standing whirled his head around. That’s when Gray noticed the ski mask.

Before Gray could process the situation, the assailant had kicked the man on the ground and charged Gray.

Gray’s father had taught him that when someone is coming at you, in the boxing ring or on the street, time slows. Nature’s way to give you a chance to evade the predator. And that was how Gray dodged the blade that lashed in a wide arc, grazing his abdomen. A panic washed over Gray. And when the attacker came at him again, it wasn’t one of Dad’s bob-and-weaves that saved him, but a crude kick— more Jason Statham than Cassius Clay— that connected to Ski Mask’s chest. The guy slammed into a car, but he didn’t go down. He roared forward at Gray again. Gray did a bull-fighter’s move and pushed the attacker past him, but felt a bite in his side. Ski Mask then jammed something into the small of Gray’s back. He felt a jolt of electricity burning into him— a shockwave up his spine— causing him to spasm and gasp for air. Gray went black for a moment, and then was flat on the cold concrete.

Gray watched as Ski Mask turned his attention to the other man who was on his feet now. It was only then that Gray got a good look at the victim: Chief Justice Douglas. The chief had scurried behind a car and was frantically thumbing a key fob, his panic button. The elevator dinged and Gray heard the slap of dress shoes on concrete, the court’s police.

Still on the ground, Gray shifted his eyes toward the man in the ski mask, but he was gone. Gray’s vision blurred. He heard yelling. Then things went dark.

CHAPTER 4

Gray awoke to the scent of disinfectant and the presence of a crowd in the small hospital room. He must’ve been given painkillers because it was like watching a sitcom, one of those Latino family comedies written by white guys from Harvard. There was Mom, hovering over him, wiping his brow, pushing the giant plastic jug of hospital water at him. Dad, looking tired and too thin, wearing a flour-stained apron, staring at the old box television mounted from the ceiling. And big sis, Miranda, wrangling Gray’s seven-year-old nephew, Emilio.

When they noticed his eyes open, they called for a doctor, and soon an intern was checking Gray’s pupils with a penlight.

Gray never got into drugs, but as he sat back in the relaxed haze, he was starting to understand the fascination. And for the next hour, or maybe it was longer, his family kept talking to him— asking about the garage attack— and he gave woozy responses. God knows what he said.

Sometime later, Gray’s attention turned to a familiar voice at the doorway.

“Always gotta be the hero.” One of his oldest friends, Samantha. When they were in elementary school, Gray had intervened to save Sam from a schoolyard bully, only to have the kid then pummel Gray until Sam put an end to it by giving the kid the worst wedgie Gray had ever seen. Sam still gave him shit for it.

As Sam hugged everyone hello, Gray’s father shadowboxed and said, “He used the moves I taught him.”

Gray didn’t have the heart to tell him that most of the credit went to Jason Statham.

Sam came to his bedside and punched him in the arm.

“What was that for?”

“For being so stupid. You’re lucky to be alive.”

“That’s what I said to him,” Mom said. The room grew loud again with his family talking over one another. Gray watched as his nephew reenacted Gray’s confrontation with the mugger. He was feeling the pull of sleep, more drugs they’d put in the IV, and closed his eyes. He was just about to drift off when the room went suddenly quiet, a rarity at any Hernandez gathering.

His eyes popped open at another voice. “I owe you a thank you.”

There was a tall man standing at his bedside. He wore a sports jacket, shirt open at the collar. It took Gray a moment to realize it wasn’t the drugs, it was really him. Chief Justice Douglas. “It was nothing,” was all Gray managed in response. “No, if you hadn’t arrived when you did, then . . .” the chief’s voice trailed off.

Gray introduced the chief justice to his family. He noticed the chief hold Sam’s gaze a beat longer than comfortable when they shook hands. Sam had that effect on men, and Gray supposed Supreme Court justices were not immune to her beauty. To Gray, she was still the flat-chested tomboy he used to play dodgeball and video games with.

After the introductions, the chief pulled up a chair next to Gray’s bed. It was awkward to talk because the room was compact and his family wasn’t too subtle about the gawking.

“Someone at the court told me you’re a lawyer?” the chief said.

“Top of his class,” Gray’s mother said.

“Mom, please.” Gray felt his face flush.

The chief justice smiled. “The doctors said you’ll be out of commission for a few days.”

“That’s what they said, but I don’t think it’ll be more than a day. I’m already feeling—” He stopped when he saw the hard look his mother was giving him.

“It’s always wise to listen to your mother,” the chief said with a dry chuckle.

His mom nodded, giving a satisfied smile.

“But do me a favor, would you?” the chief continued.

“Of course.”

“When you get back to work, come by my chambers.” Before Gray could respond, the chief added, “You’re not gonna be a messenger boy anymore.”

CHAPTER 5

“Nothing? They found nothing?”

Special Agent Emma Milstein asked. Her partner, Scott Cartwright, stood in front of Milstein’s desk in the FBI field office, staring into an open file. Cartwright wore his usual navy suit, white shirt, plain tie clamped around his thick neck.

Cartwright shook his head. “A guy with a knife strolls into the Supreme Court, attacks a justice, and not one camera catches him, no one knows how he got in or out, nothing?”

“Nada,” Cartwright said.

“What about the kid? What’s his name again?” Cartwright flipped a page in the file.

“Hernandez. Grayson Hernandez. The Supreme Court’s squad interviewed him. Been on the job there for about a month, well liked. They’re confident it was just wrong place, wrong time.”

“Criminal record?”

“No, he’s a lawyer, actually.”

“A lawyer? I thought he was a messenger?”

“Yeah, works in the marshal’s office. Times are tough in the law business, I guess,” Cartwright said.

“I guess so. Our guys agree with the Supreme Court’s police? We’re sure Hernandez is clean?”

Cartwright walked over and put the open file in front of Milstein. “We don’t think he was involved in the attack. He got into some trouble as a kid— joyriding in a stolen car with some friends. But that’s like jaywalking in Hamilton Heights.”

“He grew up in Hamilton Heights? Don’t they call that area ‘Afghanistan’?” Milstein looked down at the file, studying the photo of Grayson Hernandez. He was a good-looking kid. Late-twenties. Striking blue eyes, unusual for a Hispanic. He had a scar that ran from the corner of his left eye to his ear. Jagged, no plastic surgery. “Yeah, he’s a regular local boy makes good,” Cartwright said, heavy on the sarcasm.

“Any criminal associates?”

“He was childhood friends with a real charmer, Arturo Alvarez, who’s just out of prison and already at war with a rival sect. But it appears that Hernandez left the Heights and never looked back. The report says no contact with Alvarez in years.”

Milstein read through the rest of the file. “Does the press know he was there when the chief was attacked? I don’t need reporters sniffing around. If they find out there’s a connection to Dupont Underground they’ll—”

“They don’t know anything,” Cartwright interrupted. “The court released a statement about the mugging, but no details. They’re pretty tight-lipped up there.”

“What’s the Supreme Court’s police chief saying?”

“Aaron Dowell? He’s saying we should mind our own fucking business. They’re in charge of protecting the chief.”

“Yeah, they’re doing a great job.” Cartwright said nothing. “When can we talk to the chief justice?” Milstein asked. “They’re still stonewalling. I don’t think they’re taking the connection to Dupont seriously.”

“You told them we think it’s the same perp?”

“Of course I did. I’m working on it, Em.”

“Work harder.” Milstein let out a loud, frustrated breath.

“You want me to get you a snack or something?” Cartwright said. “When my kids get a little cranky, I bring them some Goldfish crackers and it—”

“Any luck on getting the wires?” Milstein said, ignoring him. Cartwright made a sound of disbelief. “Neal says you’re crazy if you think you’ll get a bug anywhere near that building.” As usual, Neal Wyatt, the assistant director in charge of the field office, was being too cautious, playing politics.

“Cowards.”

“You need to tread lightly. This is the Supreme Court.”

“The Franklin Theater fire was on July fifth. The Dupont Underground murders on August fifth. Now the attack on the chief October fifth. And we now know it’s the same perp. What’s it gonna take to get the Supreme Court’s squad to take this seriously?”

Cartwright shook his head. “Hopefully not another victim on November fifth.”

Anthony Franze

Author Bio:

ANTHONY FRANZE is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, and a critically acclaimed thriller writer with novels set in the nation’s highest court. Franze has been a commentator on legal and Supreme Court issues for The New Republic, Bloomberg, National Law Journal, and other major media outlets. He is a board member and a Vice President of the International Thriller Writers organization.

Franze lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family.

Q & A with Anthony Franze

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
I think most writers draw from their personal experiences. Whether it’s an article I read in a newspaper or magazine, some unique place I visited, or something one of my kids said, I’m always on the lookout for material. For instance, in my last novel, The Advocate’s Daughter, the main character’s seven-year-old son likes to tell dumb jokes. I stole many from my son. In my new book, The Outsider, the main character is a Supreme Court law clerk, so I tried to have the law clerks discuss real-world cutting-edge legal issues.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
I outline the entire story, though a “loose” outline that points me in the right direction, but gives me room to modify as I go. Authors endlessly debate the virtues of outlining versus writing organically by the seat of the pants (the great “plotters versus pantsers” debate). I’m in the whatever-gets-you-in-the-chair-and-writing school of thought.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I write late at night, 3 to 4 nights a week if I can manage it. I don’t wait for “inspiration,” I just get words on the page. I edit on the subway to and from the office, and on more than one occasion I’ve missed my stop because I get so wrapped up in it.

What are you reading now?
I just finished Anatomy of Innocence, an anthology where thriller writers tell the stories of real people who’d spent years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. It’s a really powerful book that shows the personal costs of a flawed justice system.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’m working on my next book, a domestic thriller. But I’ve learned the hard way, since the story and titles often change, not to talk too much about works in progress until the book is done.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast as the main character?
Probably George Clooney since he looks so much like me. (I’m kidding!!)

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
It’s sad but between my law practice and writing, I don’t have time for much else. I love spending time with my wife and kids.

Favorite meal?
Spaghetti with meatballs—because it reminds me of my mother. She died right before my first book was published, and I know she would’ve loved seeing my longtime dream come true.

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

Catch Up with Anthony on his Website 🔗 & Facebook 🔗.

Tour Participants:



Giveaway!!

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Anthony Franze. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on March 19th and runs through April 22nd, 2017.

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Mar 232017
 

The Echo Man

by Richard Montanari

on Tour March 20 – April 7, 2017

Synopsis:

The Echo Man by Richard Montanari

It is fall in Philadelphia and the mutilated body of a man has been found in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city. The victim’s forehead and eyes are wrapped in a band of white paper, sealed on one side with red sealing wax. On the other side is a smear of blood in the shape of a figure eight. The victim has been roughly and violently shaved clean — head to toe — a temporary tattoo on his finger.

As another brutalized body appears, then another, it becomes horrifyingly clear that someone is re-creating unsolved murders from Philadelphia’s past in the most sinister of ways.

And, for homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, the killer is closer than they think…

Praise:

“This tale had me gripped by the throat, unwilling to do anything but anxiously turn the pages. Richard Montanari’s writing is both terrifying and lyrical, a killer combination that makes him a true stand-out in the crowded thriller market. The Echo Man showcases a master storyteller at his very best.” -Tess Gerritsen, bestselling author of The Silent Girl

“Richard Montanari’s The Echo Man continues his work as a writer whose prose can capture quite extraordinary subtleties. When a man’s facial expression is described as “not the look of someone with nothing to hide, but rather of one who has very carefully hidden everything,” we know we are in good hands, and with The Echo Man, we are in the hands of one of the best in the business”. – Thomas H. Cook, bestselling author of Red Leaves

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: February 7th 2017 (first published January 1st 2011)
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 0062467425 (ISBN13: 9780062467423)
Series: Jessica Balzano & Kevin Byrne #5
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

For every light there is shadow. For every sound, silence. From the moment he got the call Detective Kevin Francis Byrne had a premonition this night would forever change his life, that he was headed to a place marked by a profound evil, leaving only darkness in its wake.

“You ready?”

Byrne glanced at Jimmy. Detective Jimmy Purify sat in the passenger seat of the bashed and battered department- issue Ford. He was just a few years older than Byrne, but something in the man’s eyes held deep wisdom, a hard- won experience that transcended time spent on the job and spoke instead of time earned. They’d known each other a long time, but this was their first full tour as partners.

“I’m ready,” Byrne said.

He wasn’t.

They got out of the car and walked to the front entrance of the sprawling, well- tended Chestnut Hill mansion. Here, in this exclusive section of the northwest part of the city, there was history at every turn, a neighborhood designed at a time when Philadelphia was second only to London as the largest English- speaking city in the world. The first officer on the scene, a rookie named Timothy Meehan, stood inside the foyer, cloistered by coats and hats and scarves perfumed with age, just beyond the reach of the cold autumn wind cutting across the grounds.

Byrne had been in Officer Meehan’s shoes a handful of years earlier and remembered well how he’d felt when detectives arrived, the tangle of envy and relief and admiration. Chances were slight that Meehan would one day do the job Byrne was about to do. It took a certain breed to stay in the trenches, especially in a city like Philly, and most uniformed cops, at least the smart ones, moved on.

Byrne signed the crime- scene log and stepped into the warmth of the atrium, taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells. He would never again enter this scene for the first time, never again breathe an air so red with violence. Looking into the kitchen, he saw a blood splattered killing room, scarlet murals on pebbled white tile, the torn flesh of the victim jigsawed on the floor.

While Jimmy called for the medical examiner and crime- scene unit, Byrne walked to the end of the entrance hall. The officer standing there was a veteran patrolman, a man of fifty, a man content to live without ambition. At that moment Byrne envied him. The cop nodded toward the room on the other side of the corridor.

And that was when Kevin Byrne heard the music.

She sat in a chair on the opposite side of the room. The walls were covered with a forest- green silk; the floor with an exquisite burgundy Persian. The furniture was sturdy, in the Queen Anne style. The air smelled of jasmine and leather.

Byrne knew the room had been cleared, but he scanned every inch of it anyway. In one corner stood an antique curio case with beveled glass doors, its shelves arrayed with small porcelain figurines. In another corner leaned a beautiful cello. Candlelight shimmered on its golden surface.

The woman was slender and elegant, in her late twenties. She had burnished russet hair down to her shoulders, eyes the color of soft copper. She wore a long black gown, sling- back heels, pearls. Her makeup was a bit garish— theatrical, some might say— but it flattered her delicate features, her lucent skin.

When Byrne stepped fully into the room the woman looked his way, as if she had been expecting him, as if he might be a guest for Thanksgiving dinner, some discomfited cousin just in from Allentown or Ashtabula. But he was neither. He was there to arrest her.

“Can you hear it?” the woman asked. Her voice was almost adolescent in its pitch and resonance.

Byrne glanced at the crystal CD case resting on a small wooden easel atop the expensive stereo component. Chopin: Nocturne in G Major. Then he looked more closely at the cello. There was fresh blood on the strings and fingerboard, as well as on the bow lying on the floor. Afterward, she had played.

The woman closed her eyes. “Listen,” she said. “The blue notes.”

Byrne listened. He has never forgotten the melody, the way it both lifted and shattered his heart.

Moments later the music stopped. Byrne waited for the last note to feather into silence. “I’m going to need you to stand up now, ma’am,” he said.

When the woman opened her eyes Byrne felt something flicker in his chest. In his time on the streets of Philadelphia he had met all types of people, from soulless drug dealers, to oily con men, to smash-and-grab artists, to hopped-up joyriding kids. But never before had he encountered anyone so detached from the crime they had just committed. In her light- brown eyes Byrne saw demons caper from shadow to shadow.

The woman rose, turned to the side, put her hands behind her back. Byrne took out his handcuffs, slipped them over her slender white wrists, and clicked them shut.

She turned to face him. They stood in silence now, just a few inches apart, strangers not only to each other, but to this grim pageant and all that was to come.

“I’m scared,” she said.

Byrne wanted to tell her that he understood. He wanted to say that we all have moments of rage, moments when the walls of sanity tremble and crack. He wanted to tell her that she would pay for her crime, probably for the rest of her life— perhaps even with her life— but that while she was in his care she would be treated with dignity and respect.

He did not say these things. “My name is Detective Kevin Byrne,” he said. “It’s going to be all right.” It was November 1, 1990. Nothing has been right since.

Excerpt from The Echo Man by Richard Montanari. Copyright © 2017 by Richard Montanari. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

Richard Montanari

Author Bio:

Richard Montanari is the internationally bestselling author of numerous novels, including the nine titles in the Byrne & Balzano series.

He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

INTERVIEW

Welcome!

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
I’ve never taken a story from current events, or “ripped from the headlines” as they say on Law & Order. My novels are, for the most part, in a contemporary setting, so it’s impossible to avoid modern constructs in politics, technology, social movements. But because my villains tend to inhabit a deep internal part of their psyche they are, to a great extent, cut off from the modern world. It is in this internal landscape the novel is seeded.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
The first step in my process is always to determine the killer’s pathology. Why is he doing what he is doing? There are certain required steps in the writing of all procedurals — a body is found, police are called, investigators show up at the crime scene — so my main series characters need to be on their game early in the story. That’s the prevailing theory, anyway. Kevin Byrne, and to some extent Jessica Balzano, don’t always play by the rules. This is certainly true of my killers. Once I know what motivates my villain, and through what prism he views the world, the story begins to take shape.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
The two main characters, Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, are composites of police detectives I know. Externally, the character of Kevin Byrne was a little easier to research — there are a lot of men in the homicide unit who have more than twenty years on the job. Jessica was more of a challenge because there are still not a lot of women homicide detectives. I’ve heard from a number of people in Philadelphia’s police and legal systems who say they recognize minor characters in my books. I always change the names, mostly because a lot of these people are heavily armed.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
Nothing too strange. I never begin a book without a working title in mind, and I begin each day’s session on the title page. I’ve found that this helps to both fuel the narrative and keep it on track.

Tell us why we should read this book.
In all my books I try to bring readers into new worlds. These may be worlds with which readers are somewhat familiar, but I try to shine a light in a dark corner of that world and hopefully illuminate something new. I have an interest in cinema, carnivals, magic, classical music, the rites and rituals of the Catholic Church, fairy tales, Russian folklore — all topics I have explored in my work. I begin each novel with the premise, and hope, that I will learn new things, and in turn take the reader on a brief journey of discovery.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
James M. Cain, Shirley Jackson, Richard Price, Thomas H. Cook, Jim Thompson, Thomas Harris, Ira Levin.

What are you reading now?
I don’t read a lot of fiction when I’m writing. My TBR pile spilleth over. I’m in research mode for the next Byrne and Balzano novel, and am reading a lot of old medical texts.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’ve just completed a very twisted story of small-town murder entitled THE LAST GIRL. Next will be the tenth novel in my Philadelphia series, which marks the return of Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
The Byrne/Balzano books are currently being considered for both a feature film and a TV series. I would hate to jinx the process with my suggestions. I would love to hear from readers about their casting ideas!

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
I am a film buff, as well as a devotee to all the technologies of home theater. Right now, OLED is my passion. I also love to cook.

Favorite meal?
This changes every night around seven PM. Fresh pasta or tempura when I have time. A slow cooker when a book is due.

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

My pleasure!

Catch Up With Our Author On:
Website 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

Tour Participants:

Don’t forget to check out these other stops – they’ll be featuring reviews, interviews & More giveaways!


Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Richard Montanari and Harper Collins. There will be 5 winners of one (1) eBook copy of The Echo Man by Richard Montanari. The giveaway begins on March 20th and runs through April 9th, 2017.

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Mar 142017
 

Regeneration
by Stacey Berg
on Tour March 13-April 1, 2017

Book Details
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: March 14th 2017
Number of Pages: 384
Series: Echo Hunter 367, #2
Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

The Church has stood for hundreds of years, preserving the sole surviving city in a desert wasteland. When Echo Hunter 367 is sent out past the Church’s farthest outposts, she’s sure it’s a suicide mission. But just when she’s about to give up hope, she finds the impossible – another thriving community, lush and green, with a counsel of leaders who take her in.

Wary of this new society, with ways so different from the only life she’s ever known, Echo is determined to complete her mission and bring hope back to the Church. She’s unsure who she can trust, and must be strong and not be seduced by their clean, fresh water, and plentiful energy sources. If she plays her cards right, she may even still have a chance to save the woman she loves.

Read an excerpt:

Echo Hunter 367 studied the dying woman in the desert with grudging admiration. The woman had walked long past what might reasonably be expected, if that lurching stagger could be called a walk. When she couldn’t walk any more she had crawled, and after that she had dragged herself along, fingers clawing through sand until they clutched some purchase, body scraping over rocks and debris, heedless of the damage. Now and then she made a noise, a purely animal grunt of effort or pain, but she forced herself onward, all the way until the end.

I smell the water.

Desperate as the woman was, she had still been cautious. Though an incalculable distance from any familiar place, she still recognized danger: the wind-borne sand that scoured exposed skin clean to the bone, the predators that stalked patiently in the shadows for prey too weak to flee. The cliff edge that a careless girl could slip over, body suspended in space for the briefest moment before her hands tore through the thornbush, then the long hard fall.

Echo jerked back from that imagined edge. It was her last purposeful movement. From some great height, she watched herself collapse in the sand. One grasping hand, nails torn, knuckles bloody, landed only a few meters from the spring’s cool water, but she never knew it. For a little while her body twitched in irregular spasms, then those too stilled. Only her lips moved, cracking into a bloody smile. “Lia,” she whispered. “Lia.” Then she fell into the dark.

For a long time there was no sound except water trickling in a death rattle over stones.

Then the high whine of engines scattered the circling predators. Pain returned first, of course. Every inch of skin burned, blistered by sun or rubbed raw by the sand that had worked its way inside the desert-proof clothing. Her muscles ached from too long an effort with no fuel and insufficient water, and her head pounded without mercy. Even the movement of air in and out of her lungs hurt, as if she had inhaled fire. But that pain meant she was breathing, and if she was breathing she still had to fight. With enormous effort she dragged open her eyes, only to meet a blinding brightness. She made a sound, and tasted hot salt as her lips cracked open again. “Shhh,” a soft voice said. “Shhh.” Something cool, smelling of resin and water, settled over her eyes, shielding them from the glare. A cloth dabbed at her mouth, then a finger smoothed ointment over her lips, softening them so they wouldn’t split further when she was finally able to speak. Lia, she thought, letting herself rest in that gentle strength until the pain subsided into manageable inputs. Then she began to take stock.

She lay on something soft, not the rock that had made her bed for so many weeks, although her abused flesh still ached at every pressure point. The air felt cool but still, unlike the probing desert wind, and it carried, beyond the herbal tang, a scent rich and round, unlike the silica sharpness of sand she’d grown so accustomed to. Filtered through the cloth over her eyes, the light seemed diffuse, too dim for the sun. Indoors, then, and not a temporary shelter, but a place with thick walls, and a bed, and someone with sufficient resources to retrieve a dying woman from the desert, and a reason to do so. But what that reason might be eluded her. The Church would never rescue a failure.

Unless the Saint commanded it.

She mustered all her strength and dragged the cloth from her eyes. She blinked away grit until the blurred oval hovering above her took on distinct features, the soft line of the cheek, the gently curving lips. Lia, she thought again, and in her weakness tears washed the vision away. She wiped her eyes with a trembling hand.

And stared into the face of an utter stranger.

Excerpt from Regeneration by Stacey Berg. Copyright © 2017 by Stacey Berg. Reproduced with permission from Harper Voyager. All rights reserved.

Stacey Berg

Author Bio:

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.

Visit Stacey Berg on her Website, Goodreads Page, and on Twitter!

Q&A with Stacey Berg

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
I don’t draw from current events on purpose, but I can certainly tell that I’m influenced by what’s going on in the world around me. Regeneration is full of characters struggling to understand whom to trust and what to believe about the turmoil in their society. As for personal experience, I don’t directly put my own experiences into stories, but when I’m figuring out how a character would feel or act, I try to find analogies in my experience and work from there.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
I have to know how the story ends—not necessarily the actions, but the emotional arc for the main characters. And I usually know roughly where the story starts. In between—well, I would love to be a more efficient plotter, but most of the time I finish a scene and ask myself what would logically happen next (that would be interesting), how that could steer the story towards the climax, and that’s the way the story goes. In revisions I spend a lot of time making sure that the plot events, character development, and story themes are as tightly integrated as I can make them.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
Nope  Although I will admit that sometimes I use famous people as a sort of body double for certain characters until I can get a proper hold on them. For example, former President Jimmy Carter stood in for one of the characters in Dissension, the prequel to Regeneration, until that person came to life on his own for me.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I get up very early and write before work. I really try to be consistent; otherwise I feel like it takes me too long to get my head back into the story when I’ve been away from it for more than a day or two. I don’t know if this counts as an idiosyncrasy, but when I’m brainstorming I really like to do it with a medium point gel pen in a spiral notebook, while when I’m actually writing, I much prefer to type on my computer.

Tell us why we should read this book.
If you like character-driven science fiction with a fast-moving plot and strong women characters, I hope Regeneration (and Dissension) will appeal to you.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love this question! I could go on for a long time, but I’ll try to keep the list short so it fits in the space. Phillip Pullman. CJ Cherryh. Patricia McKillip. Peter O’Donnell, who wrote the Modesty Blaise books. Alastair MacLean. Not only do I love these authors’ books, but I spend a lot of time dissecting how they do the things I love, so that I can write better myself.

What are you reading now?
I just started a book called The Voices Within, a nonfiction book about our internal narrative and stream of thought. It’s fascinating and I’m very curious to learn more about the stories we’re all constantly telling ourselves.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I am working on my next novel. It’s speculative fiction, set in a very different world from the Echo Hunter 367 books, but I think there’s going to be a similar underlying feel. It’s still early days, though, and I’m afraid if I say too much too soon, it will break.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Halle Berry! (Lots of Halle Berrys, since there are clones). Actually this is a tough one for me. I know lots of writers “cast” their characters in their heads to make it easier to visualize them, but that doesn’t work for me. In fact, I think the most interesting thing about having a movie made from the books would be to find out how the director envisions the characters. You can never really tell if a reader is seeing what you are.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Walking on the beach is my favorite thing—any beach, anywhere; although the US mid-Atlantic coast is the “real” beach to me.

Favorite meal?
I love food! For sentimental reasons, the tasting meal where my wife and I picked the dishes for our wedding dinner was my favorite meal ever. On any given day, what would I most like to eat? Pizza from Mineo’s in Pittsburgh. There’s nothing like it.

Tour Host Participants:

Visit the other stops on this tour for reviews, interviews, guest posts, and more great giveaways!!


Giveaway!!

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Providence Book Promotions for Stacey Berg and Harper Voyager. There will be 3 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Dissension by Stacey Berg. The giveaway begins on March 13th and runs through April 4th, 2017.

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Find Your Next Great Read at Providence Book Promotions!

Mar 082017
 

Lisa Brunette

Hi, Cheryl! Thanks for hosting me on your blog, and hello to your readers! It’s an honor to be chosen as your Author of the Month. I also want to thank you for all you do for writers. So many of us depend on the time and talent of book bloggers like you, and we know you do this out of a love for the written word.

Here’s my official bio, by way of formal introduction to your readers:

Lisa Brunette is a novelist, game writer, and journalist. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from University of Miami, where she was a Michener Fellow. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Bellingham Review, The Comstock Review, Icarus International, and elsewhere. She’s also received a major grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission, the William Stafford Award, and the Associated Writing Programs Intro Journals Project Award. Her Dreamslippers Series has been praised by Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Readers Lane, BestThrillers.com, and others, and the first two books won the indieBRAG medallion. Framed and Burning was also a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award and a nominee for the RONE Award.

Brunette’s journalistic work has appeared in major daily newspapers and magazines, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Woman, and Poets & Writers. She’s interviewed a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a sex expert, homeless women, and the designer of the Batmobile, among others.

She also has story design credits in hundreds of bestselling mystery-themed video games. A seasoned educator and public speaker, she’s won several teaching excellence awards, and her 2012 headlining talk at the Game Developers Conference was covered by Gamasutra.com. Brunette is a member of Mystery Writers of America, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Lewis County Writers Guild.

Now on to your excellent questions.

Writing:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
Yes, all of the above. But I wouldn’t call my books autobiographical. It’s surprising to me that I have to explain this, but I don’t actually have the ability to psychically pick up other people’s dreams. Still, this question comes up often when I read my work publicly!

What was the inspiration for this book?
This book was inspired in part by my rekindled love of genre fiction. Back in 2008, I interviewed top mystery writers for a Seattle Woman cover story. Reading their work reminded me of when I first fell in love with reading as a child, and that was genre fiction like Nancy Drew. Academia had beat this out of me, unfortunately, so it was wonderful to be drawn back to it as an adult. After all, being an adult means you’re allowed to read whatever you want! After the Seattle Woman cover story, by 2009, I’d joined the game industry as a writer full-time, and by 2011, I was working on the story design for primarily mystery games. That led to a pent-up need to create my own plot and characters, since a lot of game writing happens by committee.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
I plot the entire novel out in a very rough format, with questions and multiple possibilities noted, writing this in marker directly on my wall, which I’ve painted in whiteboard paint. Then I begin to write, and I give myself permission to explore questions, try different paths, and deviate when necessary. So I guess I’m a hybrid writer. Several times I didn’t know a character would appear and act that way in a scene until I was in the midst of writing it.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I don’t have a routine. I probably should, but I have to flex my novel-writing time around game-writing projects, and those have harder deadlines. The only thing I really need besides uninterrupted time and quiet is to make use of my laptop’s “wifi off” function, which is a lifesaver.

If you could co-author a book, who would that writer be?
Since so much of my game-writing work is collaborative, I don’t know that I’d co-author a novel. Perhaps something non-fiction, especially in the area of health and wellness. I’m a great generalist and a writing craft expert, so it would be wonderful to team up with a subject matter expert in a wellness field.

Characters:
Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
The character Amazing Grace is named after and inspired by my late mother-in-law. She wanted to legally change her name to just “Grace,” like Cher is known as Cher alone. But the authorities said she had to at least have another initial, so she picked “A.” When asked what the A stood for, she would answer, “Amazing.”

Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Meryl Streep as Amazing Grace. Jennifer Lawrence as Cat. Jeff Bridges as Mick. There’s also a character I love in book three, Bound to the Truth, who would be perfect for my friend Cammie Middleton-Helmsing to play. She’s an actress for whom there aren’t enough roles as an African-American woman, and she’d be a perfect Cecily Johnson.

What’s next:
Are you working on your next novel?
Right now I’m on deadline for a text-based game I’m both designing and writing for a Russian woman I’ve worked with before. She’s owner of a studio called Daily Magic and smart as a whip. I’m also writing and designing for another game studio, Magic Tavern, and collaborating with the creative director on that game, which will be really fun and casual.

Around those projects, I’m working on a standalone novel that really excites me, but I’m still in the beginning stages, working on the first third.

Can you tell us a bit about it? Title?
I don’t have a title yet; it’s too early. But it’s based on an actual news report for an alleged murder committed in a neighboring town. A woman called 911 to report that she shot her husband in self-defense. At first, it looked like the evidence supported her claim, since both spouses’ guns were out. But then things began to look fishy. The husband was shot in the back, and someone cleaned the crime scene, even going so far as to spackle over a bullet hole in the wall. I’m riveted by this. How does a woman with no priors or history of mental illness get to this point? That’s the question I’m attempting to answer in the novel.

When can we look for it? Approximate publication date?
It’s in the beginning stages, so this hasn’t been set yet. Since self-publishing the Dreamslippers Series over the last two years, I’ve had interest in my work from both Hollywood producers and literary agents. So rather than set a self-publishing date on this new manuscript, I’ll be exploring traditional options. But first I have to finish it!

Reading:
Tell us why we should read this book.
My goal with the entire Dreamslippers Series was to marry rich character development and an emphasis on human relationships to a brisk plot. I think on the whole I’ve accomplished that. Once the foundation for the psychic ability and the family tree is established in Cat in the Flock, readers say the books are real page-turners that keep them rapt and wondering whodunit to the very end.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
The best book I read in 2016 was Tana French’s Faithful Place. I liked it better than Girl on the Train, which I also enjoyed. I’ve read all of Gillian Flynn’s work and actually liked Dark Places the best, over Gone Girl. I’ve been influenced by cozy writer Mary Daheim and paranormal queen Jayne Ann Krentz, too, and I like my Jack Reacher novels. But having a BA in English and coming up through the MFA degree, I’ve been shaped by the academy, so a lot of my favorites tend to be literary writers like Elizabeth Strout and Colm Toibin. Then there are the classic writers I’ve both studied and taught, such as Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, the Harlem greats and those who arrived out of that tradition, like Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor.

What are you reading now?
Oddly enough, I’m slowly making my way through The 48 Laws of Power, because it was referenced in the Luke Cage Marvel series. And I’m about to raid my local library for more Tana French.

Fun Questions:
Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
I practice a holistic barefoot dance called Nia. It’s the perfect antidote to a vocation that involves way too much sitting and typing at a keyboard.

Favorite meal?
I’m on a diet of what one friend of mine who’s a chef calls “meat and leaves.” So my favorite meal these days is a good grass-fed, organic steak with loads of vegetables not as the side but taking up most of the plate. I haven’t met a vegetable I can’t love, but broccoli is my favorite. I eat it like it’s candy!

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AUTHOR OF THE MONTH ~ GIVEAWAY EXTRAVAGANZA


Entry link is located on the sidebar.

THE DREAMSLIPPERS SERIES

Click on titles below for synopsis via GR:
CAT IN THE FLOCK (Dreamslippers #1) Check out my review here.
FRAMED AND BURNING (Dreamslippers #2)
BOUND TO THE TRUTH(Dreamslippers #3)

Lisa will be returning to CMash Reads March 15th….Mark your calendar. Hope to see you then!!!

Feb 242017
 

End of the Road

by LS Hawker

on Tour January 30th – February 28, 2017

Synopsis:

End of the Road by L.S. Hawker

Great minds can change the world

or leave it in ruins . . .

When tech prodigy Jade Veverka creates a program to communicate with her autistic sister, she’s tapped by a startup to explore the potential applications of her technology. But Jade quickly begins to notice some strange things about the small Kansas town just beyond the company’s campus—why are there no children anywhere to be seen, and for that matter, anyone over the age of forty? Why do all of the people living here act uncomfortable and jumpy?

On the way home one night, Jade and her co-worker are run off the road, and their lab and living spaces are suddenly overrun with armed guards, purportedly for their safety. Confined to the compound and questioning what her employers might be hiding from her, Jade fears she’s losing control not only of her invention, but of her very life. It soon becomes clear that the threat reaches far beyond Jade and her family, and the real danger is much closer than she’d ever imagined.

MY REVIEW

4 stars

Jade Veverka accepts, what in her mind is, the ultimate job to continue the research of her AI program that she developed for her autistic sister Clementine. But soon things aren’t what they appear to be and those close to her are being threatened, or even worse, murdered.

This is the first book I have read by this author and thoroughly enjoyed it. The suspense kept me glued to this book. I am looking forward to reading more titles by this author.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: January 31st 2017
Number of Pages: 384
ISBN: 006243523X (ISBN13: 9780062435231)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

September 7

Jade Veverka unwrapped the frozen bomb pop she’d bought from the gas station on the corner of Main and 3rd and took a bite. She sat gazing at the pile of magazines on the barbershop coffee table while a rhythmic alarm-clock buzz went off in her head. Not an urgent warning, just buzz buzz buzz.

Her friend and coworker Elias Palomo sat in the barber chair, getting his customary fade crew cut, the same one he’d presumably sported since his plebe days at the Naval Academy. So the background to her mental alarm clock was an actual buzzing from the electric razor punctuated now by a sharp yip of pain from Elias.

“Sorry about that,” the barber said.

Elias rubbed his ear, and Jade attempted to keep her face neutral, looking at his scowl in the mirror.

Buzz buzz buzz.

She leaned forward and fanned the magazines—Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated, ESPN—all this month’s issues. Jade took another bite of bomb pop and grinned.

“What are you smiling at?” Elias grumbled, rubbing his nicked ear.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Jade said, “but you are not the center of my universe. I do occasionally react to things outside of you. I know it comes as a shock.”

“Shut up,” he said, his dark eyes flashing.

Jade stared now in fascination as the razor tracked upwards on Elias’s skull, his glossy black hair—or what was left of it—uneven, his scalp an angry pink. This guy was the worst hair dresser Jade had ever seen. And the least talkative. In her experience, growing up in rural Ephesus, Kansas, barbers had always fit the stereotype—gregarious and gossipy.

Elias was the shop’s lone customer, and only a few folks walked by outside the window, through which Jade could see the hardware store and the occasional slow passing car.

Buzz buzz buzz.

It struck Jade now that this was less a barbershop than what amounted to a barbershop museum, complete with an actor playing the part of the barber. She wanted to point this out to Elias, but it would mean nothing to him. He’d grown up in Reno, Nevada, a vast metropolis compared to Jade’s 1200-population hometown an hour southeast of this one, which was called Miranda, Kansas.

Not only was this man not a barber, he wasn’t a Kansan either, Jade would have bet money.

“Hey,” she said to him. “What’s your name?”

The man went on butchering as if she hadn’t spoken. Elias’s eyes met Jade’s in the mirror, and his dark thick brows met on either side of a vertical crease, his WTF? wrinkle. He leaned his head away from the razor, finally making the barber pay attention.

“The lady asked you a question,” Elias said.

Jade had to hold in a guffaw. This never failed to tickle her, him referring to her as a lady. No one other than him had ever done that before. Plus she loved the authoritative rumble of his voice, a trait he’d probably developed at Annapolis.

The barber froze, his eyes locked with Elias’s. Weird.

“Need a prompt?” Elias said. “Your name.”

The man cleared his throat.

“Is it classified?”

Jade did guffaw this time, and she watched the barber’s jaw muscles compress as she clapped a hand over her mouth.

“My name’s Richard.”

“Hello, Richard, I’m Elias. This is Jade. We work out at SiPraTech.”

Jade could see from Richard’s face he knew very well where they worked. He nodded and got back to destroying the remains of Elias’s hair.

“Whereabouts you from, Richard?” Jade said.

He pulled the razor away from Elias’s head and blinked at her.

What in the world was this guy’s problem?

Buzz buzz buzz.

Elias emitted a loud sigh, clearly exasperated by the guy’s reticence, and waved a hand as if to say, “Carry on, barber-not-barber.”

Jade laughed again.

“Here,” Richard mumbled. “I’m from here.”

Like hell. What was he, in the witness protection program or something?

And then it hit her. The magazines, every last one of them, was a current issue. In a barbershop. The place where back issues of magazines go to die.

She’d worked for SiPraTech just over three months now, and Miranda, the closest town, had always given her an itch. Something about it was slightly off, but she couldn’t say what. She’d brought it up to her team members—Elias, Berko Deloatch, and Olivia Harman, and each of them had looked at her like she was schitzy. They all came from big cities, so Miranda struck them as weird in general.

Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz.

As if drawn by static electricity, her eyes tracked to the window where a man in mirrored shades peered into the barbershop. The man had a dark mustache and wore a blue baseball cap pulled low over the sunglasses.

What was he staring at? She glanced behind her, but there was nothing to see but a white wall. When she turned back, the man mouthed something at her, his exaggerated soundless enunciation wringing a sharp intake of breath from her.

“What?” Elias said in response to her gasp.

Was it her imagination, or did this man she’d never seen before say her name?

Jade Veverka.

She looked at Elias, and said, “There’s a man out there—”

Author Bio:

LS HAWKERLS HAWKER grew up in suburban Denver, indulging her worrisome obsession with true-crime books, and writing stories about anthropomorphic fruit and juvenile delinquents. She wrote her first novel at 14.

Armed with a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas, she had a radio show called “People Are So Stupid,” edited a trade magazine and worked as a traveling Kmart portrait photographer, but never lost her passion for fiction writing.

She’s got a hilarious, supportive husband, two brilliant daughters, and a massive music collection. She lives in Colorado but considers Kansas her spiritual homeland. She is the author of The Drowning Game, a USA Today Bestseller, and Body and Bone.

Q&A with LS Hawker

Welcome!

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
Yes, and yes. My characters get to experience a lot of the things I’ve experienced (*laughs and rubs hands together evilly*). My second novel, BODY AND BONE, dealt with online trolls and Internet bullying, which is a current phenomenon. My newest release, END OF THE ROAD, is centered around self-propagating computer programs and nerd pop culture.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
I usually have a vague idea of how the story is going to end, although with my debut, THE DROWNING GAME, it ended up in a place I never could have foreseen at when I started writing, because things happened that I hadn’t anticipated leading up to it.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
Absolutely. In THE DROWNING GAME, Randy, a definite bad guy, is based on a friend’s ex-boyfriend. When she and I would go out, he would hunt us down. One night he drank an entire fifth of Jack Daniel’s and drove around looking for us. When he found us, we tried to get his car keys from him, and he grabbed me by the face and shoved me down into the street. Not a nice guy.

On the other end of the spectrum is my second novel BODY AND BONE’s Isabeau, who’s based on my friend Liz. I really struggled writing my second, because it was the first time I’d written to deadline. So having Liz there in my mind and heart as I wrote was a calming, light influence, just as her character is to my protag in the book.

I’ve had friends actually ask me to put them into my novels.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I write standing a lot, as I have an electric height-adjustable desk. My office ceiling is covered in Christmas lights, I burn scented candles, and I binge write, sometimes for 15+ hours at a time.

Tell us why we should read this book.
If you like twisting, unpredictable narratives, tech, nerd culture references, ethnically diverse characters, and high peril, this is the book for you. If you don’t, you should read it anyway.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
There are so many, but here’s a partial list. I love Gregg Hurwitz, Liane Moriarty, Gilly Macmillan, Harlan Coben, Tom Wolfe, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Nick Hornby, Ira Levin, Michael Crichton, John Steinbeck, and Anne Tyler.

What are you reading now?
Just finished FEAR THE WORST by Linwood Barclay. I’ve been binge-reading him over the last month—five of his books. His plots are consistently interesting, his characters real and funny, and his pacing outstanding. Yes, I’m a fan.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’m rewriting an old manuscript right now, one that includes a couple of secondary characters from THE DROWNING GAME—Uncle Curt Dekker and Petty’s lawyer, George Engle—as young men in the 1980s. George wakes up behind a burning house with a gun in his hand and no recollection of how he got there. Curt comes to his aid in the most unconventional of ways.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
This is always a hard question for me, because I like to think that my characters would be played by unknown actors. But if pressed, I’d say Hailee Steinfeld would probably do END OF THE ROAD’s Jade proud.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Movies, parties, live music, more parties. Oh, and reading, of course.

Favorite meal?
Whenever we’re celebrating, we go for crab legs with a side of artichokes.

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

Visit Ms. Hawker’s Website 🔗, her Twitter Feed 🔗, & her Facebook Page 🔗.

Tour Participants:

Visit the other tour participants for interviews, guest posts, reviews, & more great giveaways!


Check Out This Awesome Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for LS Hawker and William Morrow. There will be 3 US winners of one (1) eBook Coupon for End of the Road by LS Hawker. The giveaway begins on January 24th and runs through March 2nd, 2017.

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I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review.
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ADDENDUM

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