Jun 192019
 

The Wedding Crasher

by Nikki Stern

on Tour June 1-30, 2019

The Wedding Crasher by Nikki Stern

Synopsis:

A brunette in a bridal gown turns up in Pickett County, Tennessee, throat slit and ring finger missing. She’s the latest victim of the Wedding Crasher, a serial killer who murders women just weeks before their weddings.

Samantha Tate is Picket County’s yoga-loving, poker-playing new sheriff, a former Nashville homicide detective who struggles with her inner demons. To catch the meticulous murderer, Sam will have to follow her instincts and ignore her worst impulses. Can she stop the Wedding Crasher before another bride-to-be dies?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Ruthenia Press
Publication Date: May 8, 2019
Number of Pages: 340
ISBN: 978-0-9995487-3-8
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Nikki Stern

Nikki Stern is the author of the inspirational HOPE IN SMALL DOSES, a 2015 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal finalist, and the thriller THE FORMER ASSASSIN, a 2018 Kindle Book Review category finalist. Her essays are included in three anthologies and she co-authored the interactive Café Noir murder mystery series, published by Samuel French. Eight of her short stories have been published in various online journals and she was a Mark Twain Royal Nonesuch finalist for her short story “Long Away and Far Ago.” Nikki is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Q&A with Nikki Stern

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads

Reading and Writing:
What inspired you to write this book?

I was thinking I’d like to create a character as compelling, maybe as restless, as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. A bit more settled than that but not much. No strong attachments, no commitments, running from a nightmare that would extend through a series, if I were writing one.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

The nature of the lead character changed completely per the advice of a developmental editor I resisted for a LONG time. The character had to change, but that particular rewrite, unlike earlier revisions, was a beast. Forty percent of the book changed. Sam Tate’s essence changed. I didn’t know if it would work; I think it did.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

I get into the details as to how murders are investigated in an underpopulated rural county like Pickett County. Every state is different, every jurisdiction. The sheriff’s office, the coroners and Medical Examiner, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and any of these departments and agencies might interact with an FBI field agent. I find this kind of crime procedural nitty-gritty fascinating. It has to be accurately portrayed. Fortunately, I was put in touch with some invaluable experts.

How did you come up with the title?

The book takes its title from the name of the serial killer at the center of the investigation

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

When I’m working on a book, I put in four to seven hours a day and that’s not counting my thinking process, which is non-stop. I do take time off between books, sometimes a LOT of time off. But I always end up doing something related to the business end.

Tell us why we should read your book?

The central character, Samantha (Sam) Tate) is a complex, conflicted, utterly likeable character. She’s resourceful, resolute and she’s in danger, which is always appealing. The plot contains plenty of twists and turns; the ending is a surprise; the writing is strong. Readers will have a good time.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

It’s the second in the Sam Tate series. For reasons I can’t disclose, Sam relocates to the eastern shore of Maryland where she’s joined a local police department and is leading a murder investigation that involves rumors of buried treasure.

Fun Questions:
Your novel will be a movie. You would you cast?

Hmm. I’m not sure these actors are the right age but perhaps Angie Harmon as Sam and Damian Lewis as Terry.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Biking, reading, yoga, playing with my dog Molly

Favorite foods?

Roast chicken with root vegetables. Graham crackers. Anything chocolate.

Catch Up With Nikki Stern On:
nikkistern.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

The dead woman lay in the clearing like a macabre version of Sleeping Beauty. She was dressed in a long-sleeved, high-necked ivory gown, set off by luminescent pearl drop earrings and a matching necklace that almost hid the dried blood around her throat. Her head rested on a satin pillow, her silky walnut hair spread behind her like a fan. The right hand held a bouquet of wilted flowers and rested on her chest underneath the left, absent the fourth finger. The ring finger.

Sheriff Sam Tate stood to one side of the grim tableau, arms folded, and took it all in: the victim; the tall white-haired man who knelt by the body; the deputy who walked the scene in throwaway boots, snapping pictures; the pale young man in running gear sitting on a rock, head almost to his knees; the uniformed officer who squatted beside him.

Sam had dressed in her standard uniform of pressed black slacks and a spotless white shirt. A shaft of early-morning sun bounced off the polished badge at her left breast pocket. On her right wrist, she wore a utilitarian watch. Three small studs twinkled along one earlobe, her single visible concession to a rebellious streak. She’d pulled her unruly dark locks into a tight braid. Ray-Bans shielded her green eyes, though not the line that formed between her brows.

One of the victim’s low-heeled white pumps had dropped off to reveal a slim ankle in hosiery. Stockings, not pantyhose, held up by an old-fashioned garter. Sam didn’t need to look.

He’s back, she thought, adding a curse for good measure.

***

Excerpt from The Wedding Crasher by Nikki Stern. Copyright © 2019 by Nikki Stern. Reproduced with permission from Nikki Stern. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Nikki Stern. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on June 1, 2019 and runs through July 2, 2019. Void where prohibited.

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Jun 132019
 

Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg Banner

 

Swann’s Down

by Charles Salzberg

on Tour May 1 – June 30, 2019

Synopsis:

Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg

When Henry Swann is asked by his quirky partner, Goldblatt, to find a missing psychic who’s swindled his ex-wife out of a small fortune, he just can’t say no. Although he doesn’t actually expect to get paid, he figures it might give him a chance to finally learn more about his partner’s mysterious past. His search takes him into the controversial, arcane world of psychics, fortune tellers, and charlatans, while raising questions in his own mind about whether or not there is an after-life.

While working his partner’s case, he’s approached by a former employer, attorney Paul Rudder, to track down a missing witness who might be able to provide an alibi for his client, Nicky Diamond, a notorious mob hitman who’s scheduled to go on trial for murder he claims he didn’t commit in a week. Swann’s search for the missing witness, who happens to be the defendant’s girlfriend, takes him from Brooklyn to a small beach town across the Bay from Mobile, Ala. But what does she really know and will she even come back with him to testify for her boyfriend?

Praise for Swann’s Down:

“Psychics, double-crosses, missing persons–Charles Salzberg’s latest Henry Swann book has it all. Swann’s Down is a gritty, no-frills PI novel that brings to mind greats like Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager and Michael Harvey’s Michael Kelly. Whether this is your first Swann adventure or the latest, you won’t want to miss the brass-knuckle punch that is Swann’s Down. Trust me.”
~ Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends

“From Manhattan to Coney Island to the steamy shores of Alabama, Charles Salzberg delivers a top-flight mystery with his latest Henry Swann outing. Highly recommended.”
~ Tom Straw, New York Times bestselling author as Richard Castle

Swann’s Down gives readers two intriguing mysteries for the price of one, as skip tracer Henry Swann pursues a woman who might alibi a murderer and a psychic who swindled the ex-wife of Swann’s partner. Shamus Award-nominated Salzberg does a superb job cutting between the two investigations. I kept turning pages to stay with both chases as the suspense increased to the very end. Whatever is going on, Swann is at the center of this story. His wry wit, quotes from authors and philosophers, genius for questioning suspects, and dark past make him a character readers will follow anywhere as he seeks his quarry. This is another thrilling addition to this excellent series.
~ Rich Zahradnik, Lights Out Summer, winner of the 2018 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Private Eye Novel

Henry Swann dives in where others fear to tread in Swann’s Down: Fast. Funny. And Smart. This time out, Swann crosses paths with a psycho hitman, a phony psychic and Swann’s mysterious partner, a disbarred lawyer. Who could ask for more? I hope we’ll see a lot more of Swann in the future and that this isn’t Swann’s swan song.
~ Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-winning Author of White Heat and Broken Windows.

Check out my Review HERE and enter the giveaway

Book Details:

Genre: Detective/Noir/Mystery
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 978-1-64396011-1
Series:Henry Swann
Purchase Links: Amazon | BN.com | Goodreads

Author Bio:

Charles Salzberg

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in New York magazine, Esquire, GQ, Redbook, The New York Times Book Review and other periodicals. He has written over 20 non-fiction books, including From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an oral history of the NBA, and Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times. He is author of the Shamus Award nominated Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair, nominated for two Silver Falchions, Swann’s Way Out, Devil in the Hole, named one of the best crime novels of the year by Suspense Magazine. He was a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and he teaches writing the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member. He is a member of the MWA-NY Board.

Guest Post by Charles Salzberg

10 Things the Reader Doesn’t Know About Henry Swann

1. He attended Columbia University as an English major.

2. His favorite poets are Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.

3. He’s had upwards of a dozen jobs before becoming a skip-tracer and his least favorite was cable TV installer—too many flights to climb; too many cranky people without cable to deal with.

4. He doesn’t carry a weapon, has never shot anyone and hasn’t had a fist fight since he was 12-years old.

5. His father was a corrupt cop; his mother a high school teacher and then librarian.

6. He has a secret crush on Kate Beckinsale.

7. His favorite movie is Goodfellas.

8. His favorite authors are Vladimir Nabokov, Norman Mailer and Djuna Barnes.

9. His wife has been dead nearly a dozen years and, in that time, he’s only gone out on a “real date” twice, and each one of them ended with the woman telling him never to call her again, and on one of the dates he “forgot” his wallet and so the woman had to pay. He did pay her back, eventually.

10. Despite their charged, sometimes contentious relationship, Swann actually has a fondness for his partner, Goldblatt. And despite knowing the disbarred lawyer with a mysterious past has something to hide and very likely lies about his accomplishments, Swann respects his “talents,” though sometimes it’s difficult to know what those “talents” really are.

Catch Up With Charles Salzberg On:
Charlessalzberg.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

Read an excerpt:

1
The Age of Aquarius

“We’re partners, right?”

Nothing good can come from that question when it comes from the mouth of Goldblatt.

“I mean, all for one and one for all, am I right?” he quickly added in an attempt, I was sure, to seal the deal.

“I think you’re confusing us with the three musketeers. May I point out there are only two of us, and I’m afraid that’s not the only fallacy in your declaration. But you might as well finish what you’ve started.”

We were having our weekly Friday lunchtime sit-down to discuss what Goldblatt likes to refer to as “business.” I have another name for it: waste of time.

Our venue changes from week to week but the concept is always pretty much the same: a cheap diner-slash-coffee shop somewhere on the island of Manhattan. Today’s eatery of choice (Goldblatt’s choice, my destiny) is the Utopia Diner, on Amsterdam, near 72nd Street. And as for the business we’d just finished discussing, well, to be honest, there never is very much actual business to discuss and today was no exception.

At this particular moment in time, we were going through a bit of a dry spell, which always makes me a little nervous because no matter how much I banish it from my mind, the rent is due the first of every month and at least three times a day I seem to develop a hunger that must be quenched. Still, a good fifteen, twenty years away from Social Security, and with precious little dough in the bank–okay, let’s be honest, no dough in the bank–and no 401-K to fall back on, I need to keep working. And, as much as I don’t like to admit it, lately it’s been my “partner,” as he likes to refer to himself, as opposed to my preferred albatross, who’s brought in the bulk of our clients.

We’d already finished eating–though technically, Goldblatt never actually finishes eating which means a meal can easily turn into an all-day affair, if I don’t apply the brakes–and we were just waiting for the check to arrive. This is a crucial point of any meal with Goldblatt because it is the opening gambit in what has become our weekly routine of watching the check sit there in no-man’s land somewhere between us until I inevitably give in, pick it up, and pay. Otherwise, I risk one of two things: either we’d be there all afternoon or, worst case scenario, Goldblatt will decide he’s still hungry and threaten to order something else. Neither one of these options is the least bit appealing.

“I’ll get right to the point,” he said.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted the waiter, like a white knight, approaching with our check in hand. If I acted quick enough I might be able to get out of there before I can be sucked into something I don’t want to have anything to do with.

“That would be nice,” I said, reaching for my wallet. “What is your point?”

“I need to hire you.”

I was stopped in my tracks before I got my wallet halfway out of my back pocket.

“Really? To do what?”

“I want you to find someone for me. Well, to be more precise it’s not really for me. It’s for my ex-wife.”

Wait a minute! Goldblatt married? Goldblatt with a wife? Goldblatt a husband? This was a new one on me, something I’d never even considered.

“You…you’ve been married?” I stammered.

Truth is, I never pictured Goldblatt being in any relationship other than with, yes, as irritating as it might be, me. I mean the guy isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of Don Juan, although I suppose in theory there are women who might find him if not attractive in the conventional way at least interesting in a specimen-under-glass way. Or maybe as a project. Women love a project. They love a challenge. They love the idea that they have the opportunity to remake a man in their image. Maybe that was it. But whatever it was, my world was shaken to the core. And what would shake it even more would be to find that he was actually a father, too. But one shock per meal is more than enough, so there was no chance I was going to pursue that line of questioning.

“Unfortunately, the answer is yes. More than once, in fact.”

“Holy Cow,” I blurted out, channeling the Scooter. “You’re kidding me?”

At this point the same bald, squat waiter who seems to serve us in every diner we patronize, reached our table and dropped the check right in front of me.

“This is not something a man usually kids about.”

“How many times?”

He held up three fingers.

“Three times! You’ve been married three times?”

“Yeah.”

I gulped.

“Are you married now?”

He shook his head. “Nah. I’m kinda between wives. Giving it a rest, if you know what I mean.
But chances are I’ll be back in the saddle again soon enough.”

“Okay, so let me get this straight. You’ve been married three times and now you’re single but you would consider getting married again?”

“Man is not meant to be alone, Swannie. You might consider the possibility that your life would be enriched if you found your soulmate.”

You’re fortunate if you find one soul mate in life and I’d already had mine. She was yanked from my life as a result of a freak accident, a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t know if Goldblatt knew the circumstances of her bizarre accidental death, but I wouldn’t have been surprised because he seems to know a lot of things he has no business knowing.

“Some men are meant to be alone, Goldblatt. I’m one of them and after three failed marriages maybe you should consider the possibility you are, too.”

He smiled and puffed out his chest. “What can I say, Swann? I’m a friggin’ babe magnet.”

I would have laughed, should have laughed, but I was still processing the scary fact that he’d been married three times. That meant there were three women in the world who not only were willing to marry him but did marry him. I wanted to know more. Much more. Everything, in fact. But this was not the time and certainly not the place to delve into Goldblatt’s mysterious, sordid past. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would revisit this topic in the not too distant future.

Still in shock, I avoided our weekly “who’s paying for this meal” tango, grabbed the check and reached for my wallet…again.

“So, wanna know the story?” he asked.

“Which story would that be?”

“The story of why I want to hire you?”

“Desperately.”

***

Excerpt from Swann’s Down by Charles Salzberg. Copyright 2019 by Charles Salzberg. Reproduced with permission from Charles Salzberg. All rights reserved.

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May 302019
 

An Eye For A Lie by Cy Wyss Banner

An Eye for a Lie

by Cy Wyss

on Tour May 27 – July 27, 2019

Synopsis:

An Eye for a Lie by Cy Wyss

Lukas Richter is a San Francisco police detective with a cybernetic eye and heightened senses. He can detect the same autonomous responses as a polygraph machine, so he has a leg up in determining guilt.

In An Eye for a Lie, his first full-length novel, Richter is accused of murder and the evidence seems incontrovertible, including a bullet that was somehow fired from his gun when he claims he was nowhere near the crime scene. In the background, San Francisco is aflame over Richter’s shooting of an unarmed Asian man, an incident some are calling “the Asian Ferguson.”

Can Inspector Richter convince a plucky and suspicious FBI agent of his innocence in the face of overwhelming accusations and public persecution?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Nighttime Dog Press, LLC
Publication Date: May 27, 2019
Number of Pages: 258
ISBN: 978-0-9965465-3-9
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Cy Wyss

Cy Wyss is a writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has a Ph.D. in computer science and her day job involves wrangling and analyzing genetic data. Cy is the author of three full-length novels as well as a collection of short stories and the owner and chief editor of Nighttime Dog Press, LLC.

Before studying computer science, Cy obtained her undergraduate degree in mathematics and English literature as well as masters-level degrees in philosophy and artificial intelligence. She studied overseas for three years in the UK, although she never managed to develop a British accent.

Cy currently resides in Indianapolis with her husband, daughter, and two obstreperous but lovable felines. In addition to writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and walking 5k races to benefit charity.

 

Q&A with Cy Wyss

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads

Reading and Writing:

What inspired you to write this book?

There was a time I was fascinated with the idea of the polygraph – a machine that could detect lies (theoretically). I read about how it worked, namely, by detecting changes in your galvanic responses, heart rate, and other physiological signs. At some point I had the idea: what about a human with this ability? In particular, what about a detective who can essentially always tell when someone is lying?

Around the same time, my husband bought an infrared gun to check for heat leaks in our house. It looks kind of like a futuristic phaser and has a readout screen where you can see temperature overlaid on an image of what you’re looking at. Thus, the idea of an infrared-based eye was born, someone whose enhanced senses enabled him to detect lies.

I wondered whether it would really make so much of a difference. He would always know who the villain was if he saw them, but then there would be the little problem of proof so that they would be guilty in a court of law. (Picture: The Green River Killer passed a polygraph and went on to murder at least twenty more women. Credits: Shutterstock and Wikipedia.)

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

As usual, I’m my own worst enemy. I wrote the original draft of the book in 2015, then put it aside and didn’t look at it again until the summer of 2017, when I wrote the ending and finally finished it. Alas, I put it down again and didn’t pick it up until just recently, in 2019. Re-reading it, I thought it was not bad, so I decided to publish it (after a thorough edit).

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

Once I knew I wanted to write about a detective with a cybernetic eye that functioned on similar principles to an infrared gun, I had to know more about the technology and what it could actually do. It can see through walls or ceilings, but not simple glass (because heat is reflected). Also, I looked into what other authors had done with the idea of a human lie detector. I discovered the concept of a truth wizard and the TV show Lie to Me. They didn’t use the idea quite like I wanted to use it, but it was good to know there was precedent. I then went about studying the work of Paul Ekman on body language (great stuff, by the way), so I could write about convincing reactions that might herald deceit (or veracity). (Picture: Wikipedia)

How did you come up with the title?

My first title was Ballistics because of a certain technology I invented that would cement Inspector Richter’s framing. (Read the book to find out what.) However, it’s not really “ballistics” that law enforcement applies, it is rather “firearms analysis.” So, I set about looking for another title. I wanted something with “eye” in it and played with various combinations of words until An Eye for a Lie just kind of fell into my lap. When I first saw it, I wasn’t convinced. But I ran it by a couple of other people and they thought it really worked, so the final title was born.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I’m an early riser and usually get up around 3:30. I write until about 5:30 when I have to go to work, so that gives me 2 solid hours a day of writing time on most days. I work early as well (thanks to flextime and an awesomely understanding employer) – from 6 to 2 instead of 9 to 5. That leaves me a lot of the afternoon for my second job as well. Of course, some days I’m too beat to get much done in the afternoon or evening, but if I’m really “on” and have a lot of momentum, I can write 6-8 hours in a day as well as work my 8 hours at my “real” job.

Tell us why we should read your book?

Because it’s awesome! No, seriously – it is an interesting premise. I also like to feature next generation technology in my work (because that’s my profession), so you’ll get a glimpse of what might be possible in 5-20 years. Also, the character of Vessa (the FBI agent investigating Richter) is cool, I think. She’s feisty yet flawed and has a sordid past that always makes me laugh when I think about it. She’s also herself got a pretty good sense of humor. It’s awesome – read it! 😊

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes, and if there is enough interest in these characters, there will be a sequel to An Eye for a Lie. I’d like to see Richter in Washington, maybe fighting with his father the senator, as well as see Vessa in her home territory. Her mother is a character I’d like to develop more – she seems like a bit of a wild card. Maybe I’ll have her kidnapped. I don’t know.

My next publication is coming in August: Eyeshine II. My Eyeshine series is about an investigative photojournalist who turns into a cat each night when the sun goes down. Her name’s PJ. In the second book, PJ faces off against a cat kidnapper and, of course, the whole thing turns deadly. There’s also going to be a bit of a controversial turn to PJ’s love life, which isn’t normally seen in cozy mysteries, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Fun Questions:

Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

There’s a Shutterstock model who says “Richter” to me (pictured left). I’d have either him (if he can act), whoever he is, or else an actor that kind of looks like him. For Vessa, I’m probably dating myself, but Sandra Bullock would be great – I love her style. Is there a younger Sandra Bullock anywhere? Maybe Natalie Portman?

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Writing is my leisure activity and hobby. I tend to think of it more like a second full-time job, though. Outside of writing, I love to read and philosophize. I’m definitely an armchair philosopher. I also love to run, although I’m not sure you would call what I do “running.” It’s more of an extremely slow jog with lots of water breaks.

Favorite foods?
Definitely hamburgers, as well as ice cream cake. I’m also partial to hot dogs. Sensing a theme? Yes, I like fair foods that are holdovers from a misspent youth. When I was 20, I could eat whatever I wanted and always stayed at a decent weight. Now, well, not so much. Alas – time makes fat fools of us all.

Thanks so much for having me!

Catch Up With Cy Wyss On:
cywyss.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

“All units, active shooter in progress, be advised perp is SFPD . . .”

The police frequencies in Vessa’s sedan couldn’t get enough of the situation. She was hardly in her car before the address where Richter was came over the air. She headed there immediately, lights flashing, accelerator floored.

He was in a townhouse on ninth, near Tehama, only a handful of blocks from the Hall of Justice. The entire area was cordoned off and blanketed with police cars. Vessa badged her way through and got to Commander Bayes who stood with Deputy Chief Forrest several yards from the front door. The townhouse was painted lime green and the entrance stood ajar.

“Commander, what’s the situation?” Vessa asked.

“He’s holed up in there,” Bayes shook his head toward the house. “Got a hostage.”

“A hostage? You’re kidding.”

“Wish I was. Teenage girl, still up there. He let the rest of the family go.”

Now, Bayes shook his head a different way, indicating Vessa should look near one of the ambulances. There was a man and a woman, firmly behind police lines. Both were slender with brown hair and the woman wore a red sweater. She was crying and the man and a paramedic were trying to comfort her.

“Commander, none of this makes sense. Can you imagine Richter taking a hostage? It doesn’t feel right.”

“C’mon, Agent Drake,” Bayes said. “None of us can say we really know him now.”

Vessa frowned up at the building. Between her and the front door lay perhaps twenty feet of tarmac and parked cars. Bayes turned to Forrest and they conferred. Before Vessa even knew what she was doing, she was off –crossing the street at a sprint.

“Hey!” Bayes yelled.

Forrest pointed. “Stop her!”

It was too late. She broke away from the lines and was at the door before anyone could grab her. She pushed the dark portal open and slipped inside, shutting it behind her, closing it fully so it locked. Inside, it took a couple of minutes for her eyes to adjust to the pale strobe lights coming through the front blinds and door windows. She was in an open living room. It was small and closely furnished with a dining room capping it off near the back of the building. She guessed the kitchen would be around the corner. To her right, a staircase led upward. The landing was dark.

Vessa had taken her gun out without consciously realizing it. Now, she stared at it in the undulating red and blue lights. What was she going to do with it? Shoot her lover when she found him?

She holstered the gun. “Oh, Luke,” she said softly. As if in answer, something moved above her, making a dull thud on the floor. She startled.

Slowly, she made her way up the stairs. “Luke?” she called. “I’m coming upstairs.”

There was no answer. At the top of the stairs were three doors. Two were dark and closed. Wan light traced the outline of the third door. She opened it cautiously.

“Luke?”

The door creaked on its hinges to reveal a seemingly empty bedroom. The air was stale although the room was tidy and sparsely furnished with a queen-sized bed and two nightstands. The fluorescent lights from the street diffused around the edges of a thick curtain drawn across a large window. The occluded light wasn’t strong enough to dispel the rooms shadows.

“Luke?” Vessa noticed she was whispering. She cleared her throat and spoke with as normal a voice as she could muster. “Luke? Where are you?”

“Here,” came a reply.

She was practically on top of him by that time. He sat with his back to a wall across from the foot of the bed.

Vessa jumped. “Oh! You startled me.”

He was staring at her. She half expected his evil eye to glow in the dimness but instead, she saw only normal dark eyes glittering from his outlined face. He sat with his knees bent and his arms resting between his legs. In his hands was a mass of blackness-his gun. That ugly piece of metal was a cursed reminder of what was going on and why they were here, facing each other in this shadowed space.

Vessa craned her neck around but didn’t see anyone else. “Where’s the girl?”

Richter watched Vessa intently for several seconds before answering. “The couple’s outside. I let them go.”

“No, apparently there’s still a teenager in here somewhere.”

Richter’s gaze dropped to the carpet in front of him. “That would explain why it’s just you and not SWAT. They think I have a hostage. Well, I don’t.”

“You have me.”

His head snapped up. “You’re not a hostage. Why are you here, anyway?”

“I’m here to get you. I don’t want them gunning you down.”

“You’re here to arrest me, Special Agent Vessa Belle Drake?”

“Oh, Luke. We’ll figure this out.”

Richter brought the gun up in his right hand and pressed it to the underside of his chin, angled back toward his brain.

Vessa gasped. “No!” She was rooted to the spot, eyes wide.

He stared at her. “I guess whether I do it or SWAT does it, it’s still death by cop.”

Tears burned her eyes. “No, Luke. No. Why would you even think it? There must be some mistake. There must be some reason why those bullets matched.”

“I won’t be locked up. I won’t be put back in the cage and poked and prodded, and studied to death this time.”

Vessa remembered the shaking man sweating beside her in his bed at night. Even though he didn’t speak of them, she knew he was having nightmares. Was it possible he was actually capable of pulling that trigger? Her chin throbbed where he’d bitten her. She couldn’t stand this. How could she have been so wrong? She was never wrong. She swallowed. Never before had she fallen for a guilty man. How was she so blinded by hubris that she could feel this way about Richter when he was a merciless killer?

He stared at her, gun in his hand. He didn’t move. She shook slightly with the emotions flooding her. Here she was, at the cusp of what she felt was the most important moment in her life. The man she loved sat before her, ready to take his own life if she didn’t do or say the right thing next. She was paralyzed-absolutely paralyzed. All her training, and here she was, a shaking, paralyzed ball of nerves.

She burst into tears. How utterly professional.

Richter frowned.

Vessa’s nose and eyes ran uncontrollably and she heaved great sighs. She didn’t dare wave her arms around and wipe her face. Instead, she simply stood there and let her emotions pour down her cheeks.

Richter sighed. He lowered the gun. He dropped it with a thud to the carpet and kicked it toward her.

“How am I supposed to kill myself with you crying like that?”

She rushed to pick up the weapon and tucked it into the small of her back, under her blazer. She faced Richter, this time allowing herself to wipe the fluids from her face with her hands and sleeves. She could only imagine how many shades of fired she would be if Bully Benson had seen her outburst. She almost felt like declaring herself unfit for duty on the spot.

“I can’t stand it,” she said. “I can’t lose you this way.”

He said nothing. What was there to say? They stared at each other. Tears fell from her eyes until the momentum of her outburst ran its course and she finally managed to get a grip on herself.

Richter sat, inordinately relaxed, leaning against the wall, hands folded innocently between his legs.

“What now?” he asked.

She glanced toward the thick curtains shielding them from the snipers across the street.

“I’ll have to cuff you. Then you won’t be seen as a threat. Keep your head down, and I’ll stay between you and them.”

He craned his neck and looked over the bed toward the window. He watched the dark cloth for several seconds.

“Is your eye working? What do you see?”

“It’s working,” he said. “And, I see only reflections. Your temperature is up, though.”

She came over and stood beside him. “Stay low,” she said softly.

He got up and they crossed the room with him crouched low. They entered the windowless landing. Vessa closed the bedroom door behind them. She looked at the other two doors. The girl was probably behind one of them, asleep or with her headphones on, completely oblivious. Vessa pulled her cuffs out. Richter stood tall.

“All right?” she asked. She needed him to cooperate. She wasn’t about to subdue such a large man in such a small space.

“Just a second,” he said.

He bent and kissed her. They embraced. Vessa wanted the floor to open up and swallow them so they could stay like this forever. Of course it did not, and the moment had to end.

He straightened up again, turned his back to her, and extended his arms behind him so she could easily cuff him.

“I didn’t shoot him,” he said.

Before she could even think about it, Vessa responded.

“I know. I believe you.”

***

Excerpt from An Eye for a Lie by Cy Wyss. Copyright 2019 by Cy Wyss. Reproduced with permission from Cy Wyss. All rights reserved.

 

 

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May 292019
 

Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond Banner

Blackquest 40

by Jeff Bond

on Tour May 13 – July 13, 2019

Synopsis:

Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond

Deb Bollinger has no time for corporate training.

Her company’s top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds for the homeless. When she’s told all employees must drop everything for some busywork exercise called Blackquest 40, it’s an easy no.

Trouble is, her bosses aren’t really asking.

Blackquest 40 is the mother of all corporate trainings. A near-impossible project to be completed in forty straight hours. No phones. No internet. Sleeping on cots. Nobody in, nobody out. Deb finds the whole setup creepy and authoritarian. When a Carebnb issue necessitates her leaving the office, she heads for the door. What’s the worst that could happen?

Armed commandos, HVAC-duct chases, a catastrophic master plan that gets darker by the hour – Blackquest 40 is a fresh take on the Die Hard formula, layering smart-drones and a modern heroine onto the classic action tale.

Praise for Blackquest 40:

“Deb’s first-person narrative is brisk, gleefully snarky, and filled with indelible metaphors… A clever, spirited tale with a brainy, nimble heroine at the helm.”
~ Kirkus Review

“Bond weaves an entertaining story filled with deceit, robots, Russians, and tech entrepreneurs that all combine to give the reader a reason to flip pages furiously to find out what might happen next… BLACKQUEST 40 sparkles with imagination. Code flies from keyboards, setting off ingenious flying devices, hatching plots and subplots and, ultimately, giving heroes the chance to help the good guys win. This book is a delight, and one readers should download right away.”
~ IndieReader’s 5 star review

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Jeff Bond books
Publication Date: May 15th, 2019
Number of Pages: 348
ISBN:9781732255227
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Guest Post by Jeff Bond

Ten Things About Deb Not In Blackquest 40

10. Deb plays no sports.

9. Deb has attended exactly one Codewise Solutions holiday party. Everybody stood around complaining that Salesforce gave out better chotskies at their party. Jared Ackerman’s My Code Can’t Fix Your Stupid trucker hat fell into the punch.

Never again.

8. Deb’s unquestioned favorite Saturday morning starts with an order of bagel with veggies/cream cheese at Simple Pleasures, the wonderful cafe just down the block from her apartment. Olives, bean sprouts, generous slices of cucumber? Yes, please.

7. Deb loves baths—the more aromatic the products, the better. She once left a glowing 3,000-word review on TripAdvisor for a hotel that provided a whirlpool tub and lavender-rosemary bath bomb.

6. Deb works too many hours between Codewise and her homelessness-solving side project, Carebnb, to own a dog, but she adores them. An elderly woman in Deb’s apartment building has a Bichon Frise, which Deb occasionally walks for her on weekends. (Though if Deb ever got one herself, it would be a Rottweiler.)

5. Bánh mì is Deb’s favorite street food, but when she has time to sit — on a date, sneaking Mom out of Crestwood Psychiatric for a treat — she loves a big, sloppy, family-style Ethiopian meal. Deb firmly believes injera should be sold in vending machines.

4. Deb sometimes codes with earbuds in, listening to a local San Francisco band called Thunderegg. When she’s up against a real blocker of a problem, she punches up their best song, “Your Shoes are Stupid.” (C’Mon Thunder, 2014.)

3. Favorite author? None. Deb doesn’t get fiction. When she opens a book, it’s to learn a new programming language. Which takes her twenty-two minutes on average.

2. During one of Mom’s good stretches, she and Cecil took Deb by train to Disneyland. Deb was seven. Los Angeles seemed hot and oily. She liked the park itself. Except she threw her cherry slushie in Gaston’s face during his braggy song.

1. As Carebnb grows, Deb has accepted a number of formalizations. A Board of Directors. A physical office. An HR department to ensure all employees feel comfortable and are treated fairly. She’s learned to live with a modicum of bureaucracy.
But there is one line she keeps, and it’s bright, bright red: No corporate training.

 

Jeff Bond

Author Bio:

Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers association.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On:
jeffbondbooks.com | BookBub | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook!!

 

 

Read an excerpt:

I am in the middle of solving homelessness when my boss raps his knuckles on my cubicle border. I know it’s Paul – my eyes stay on the computer monitor, what with an intractable social ill hanging in the balance – by the timid tap… tap-tap pattern. Also the smell. Paul eats McDonald’s every morning for breakfast. He’s a Sausage McGriddle man.

“Deb, we’re heading up to the meeting – “

“Busy.” I squint around the San Francisco street map on-screen, mousing over a blinking dot labeled Wanda. She isn’t moving. None of them are moving.

Paul sighs. “We’re all busy. But it’s a Company-All, so if you – “

“Is it a Susan meeting?”

“No. It’s the kickoff for Blackquest 40.”

“Means nothing to me.” I click Wanda. Why aren’t they moving? Database problem?

Paul says the meeting invite should have explained everything. Blackquest 40 is a training exercise, mandatory for every employee in the company.

I look up and see that, indeed, he has the whole team in tow. Jared in his My Code Can’t Fix Your Stupid trucker hat. Minosh fingering his spiral-bound notebook, peeking at a clock. They are watching me – all 5’2″ if you count the platinum spikes, and a decade younger than them – like zoo visitors wondering if the glass is thick enough around this freak-colored poison frog.

“Susan hired me,” I say, invoking our rockstar CEO again. “Susan said I don’t have to participate in anything I don’t believe in.”

“Look, this project – “

“Is corporate training. High on my list of things to not believe in.”

With that, I pop over to the log file, which confirms my worst fear: the Carebnb database isn’t refreshing. The last GPS coordinates are from eight minutes ago, meaning Wanda and every other unhoused person on that map is misplaced.

Ugh.

The timing is brutal. Today is my launch, the day I am supposed to start demonstrating to all the venture capitalists not funding my side project that a little technology plus basic human decency can equal disruptive positive change.

Across the city, 137 unhoused San Franciscans are wearing 137 smart wristbands, produced at great expense by a local micro-manufacture co-op, in the hopes of connecting with a beta host. I signed up 344 hosts, but that number is dicey because many I bullied into joining. Some will have uninstalled the Carebnb app, not anticipating that I’ll soon be combing my list for chicken-outs and visiting their apartments to measure, then post on social media, just how many square feet of covered living space they waste nightly.

My brain races for solutions, but Paul’s voice and eau de McGriddle distract me. He’s explaining that Susan is out of pocket tying up loose ends in Davos, that Carter Kotanchek has the ball until –

“Okay Paul, honestly?” I click over to the T server, the probable source of my issue. “There is no combination of words or faux-words you can say that will get me off this workstation.”

“You’re the principal software architect, Deb,” he says. “We need you. I’m still in the dark myself, but I’m hearing Blackquest 40 is enormous.”

My mouth twists. “Getting colder.”

Paul hates managing me. I’m sure he goes home every night to Li Wei, his former-secretary-now-wife, and curses Susan for poaching me away from Google.

Now, as his eyes roam my workspace – hemp satchel, bin of droid Hot Wheels, Polarity of the Universe toggle currently set to Amoral, my toes in their sandals (he has a pervy thing for my feet) – his face drops another shade closer to dough.

He looks at my screen. “How much time are you spending on Carebnb?”

“Twenty-five percent, just like my contract says.” I manage to keep a straight face.

It’s a required Company-All. You don’t badge in, you lose network privileges. It would set you back.”

“You can void that.”

“I can.” Paul taps his ample jowls, thoughtfully paternal. “But I won’t.”

I’ve been working throughout our exchange, deciphering error messages, rebooting, tweaking this and that… nothing is helping.

I grit my teeth. Resetting my network privileges would be a big, sticky wad of red tape.

“Fine,” I say, “I’ll do the meeting. But I am still not participating in this Blockquest deal.”

“Blackquest.”

“Whatever.” I can bring my laptop and troubleshoot from the conference room. “Our queue is about ten miles long – whose bright idea was some lame time-suck training?”

Paul grimaces. “Carter is driving it.”

Carter Kotanchek, our chief financial officer, is warring with Paul about the makeup of the Codewise Solutions workforce. Paul favors programmers in keeping with our reputation as the leading machine-learning and optimization company on the planet.

Carter wants more salespeople and has a knack for finding third-party vendors who sport the same Gatsby slickback he does. Inexplicably, Carter is winning.

The engineers behind Paul knock in place like pens in a mug, waiting.

I flop my wrist toward the elevators. “Go, go – I’ll catch up. Two minutes.”

They go. Paul lowers his gaze in a final I know you will choose wisely appeal.

I focus on my screen with a wonderfully McGriddle-free breath, then try refreshing the database.

DENIED: CONNECTIVITY ERROR 612.

I rejigger a script and try again.

DENIED: CONNECTIVITY ERROR 612.

Same error every time.

This is infuriating. Have I been found out? I never officially informed Paul about routing Carebnb’s unhoused-person GPS data through T, Codewise’s least busy server. Did he shut me down without telling me? Coincidentally on my most important day of the year?

No way. Paul would write a huffy email or file a ticket. He won’t refill our departmental stash of teabags without paperwork.

My calendar bleeps. YOU HAVE NOT BADGED INTO BLACKQUEST 40 KICKOFF (ORGANIZER: CARTER K.); NETWORK PRIVILEGES WILL RESET IN 4 MINUTES.

I stand and grab my laptop, then remember it doesn’t have the software to access the T server. I won’t be able to troubleshoot during the meeting after all. I’ll be forced to sit there and eat an hour’s worth of corporate mumbo-jumbo.

“Raven!” I call over my shoulder.

My trusty solar-powered quadcopter perks up. She hums around to my sightline, her underside dome blipping green to indicate her attention.

“Attend meeting in conference room 6-A. Badge in. Watch, back row. Record.”

Raven processes each command using natural language algorithms I wrote in grad school, then lowers her claw – repurposed off a junked arcade game – to accept my keycard.

As the drone whispers up the hall, I feel a twinge of unease. She’s attended meetings in my stead before but never on a different floor. She will need to push a button, read a floor indicator, possibly accommodate human riders… logic I have given her but not thoroughly stress-tested. It’s asking a lot.

I work another five minutes without success.

Air blasts through my nostrils.

I need eyes on a live wristband.

I grab the phone and dial Cecil, my go-to trial user. Cecil has known me since I was a baby, when Mom would push me around in her cart, snuggled in among dumpster scraps and Styrofoam peanuts. Cecil walked me through the roughest part of the city every day of second grade, and taught me the nutcracker choke after a kid pushed a shiv through my septum in fifth.

“Lil Deb, yo,” he answers in a deep baritone.

“Cec! Hey Cec, I’m seeing weirdness on my end and I need to know if you – “

“How’s your mom?”

“Oh, she’s cool, I talked to the orderlies and – “

“They’re keeping her meds straight?”

“No no, yeah, it’s all good,” I say – Cecil is so unfailingly polite you have to move him along sometimes – “listen, what are you seeing with Carebnb? Is your wristband working?”

“Think so.”

“Green light?”

“Yep.”

“Map of available host beds showing up?”

“Yep.”

“How many hosts in range? My database wonked and I gotta know if the problem is local or if peer-to-peer transfers are broken too.”

A guttural breath over the line. “English, Deb. Regular English please.”

I grip the keyboard tray, slow myself down. “Could we possibly meet? I think I have to see the wristband myself to diagnose this. Sorry, I hate to inconvenience you.”

“I’m homeless. Where else I gotta go.”

“Right. How about our usual spot, say twenty minutes?”

Before he can respond, the call drops. Bzzzzzzzzzz.

I clench my jaw and redial.

NO SERVICE.

I stand and waggle my phone outside my cube, I walk to the window, I glare at the Verizon logo and telepathically threaten to hack their transceivers to mush if they don’t find me a signal.

Nada.

I plunk back down. I’m contemplating flipping my Polarity of the Universe toggle to Evil when a tinny sound announces the presence of a new window on my monitor: Raven’s livestream.

She made it up to the Blackquest kickoff meeting. Atta girl. I resize the window to span my entire screen and watch as the big conference room comes into focus.

The Company-All is underway. Carter Kotanchek stands at the podium in a dapper summer-weight suit. Raven’s camera won’t win any TechCrunch awards, but Carter’s teeth still gleam from the middle of a plastic grin.

“Like y’t’meet Jim Dawson,” he says, introducing a stone-faced man in chunky glasses. “Jim here runs Elite Development, the company that will be facilitating Blackquest 40. Guys are doing phenomenal stuff in a new space called Extreme Readiness. Helping organizations build capability to complete projects of extreme complexity, requiring extreme teamwork, on extreme deadlines. So far they’ve been working with high-leverage government agencies, paramilitary, et cetera. We, ladies and gents, are fortunate enough to be corporate client number one.”

Dawson, in a bland accent – Ohio? Indiana? – thanks Carter and says he’s pleased to be here today. Excited for our shared journey.

Gag. So not participating.

As my focus returns to Carebnb, I groan at the ceiling. I need to test a wristband, but if I can’t meet Cecil… hmm. I have a few spares lying around, but none are initialized.

I’m figuring how long initialization would take – and how true a read I’d get from a wristband not in the field – when I hear something that stops me cold.

“… campus quarantine and data blockade will remain in place for the duration of Blackquest 40. If you absolutely require outside contact, in case of emergency or vital family obligation, a protocol exists… “

Wait, data blockade? I rewind Raven’s feed and replay the last fifteen seconds. Elite Development, in the name of “improved focus and personal efficiency,” is collecting every cellphone in the building and blocking all inbound-outbound internet traffic.

I feel slight queasiness at the authoritarianism of the whole setup, but mostly relief. Because now I get it. These jerks shut down T. They killed my call. Probably they’re using some military-grade antenna to zap cellular signals, and a simple software block on the servers.

And that won’t stop me.

***

Excerpt from Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond. Copyright © 2019 by Bond. Reproduced with permission from Bond. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on May 13, 2019 and runs through July 15, 2019. Void where prohibited.

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May 222019
 

The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan

The Company Files: 2.

The Naming Game

by Gabriel Valjan

on Tour April 22 – June 22, 2019

The Company Files 2 The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan

Synopsis:

Whether it’s Hollywood or DC, life and death, success or failure hinge on saying a name.

The right name.

When Charlie Loew is found murdered in a seedy flophouse with a cryptic list inside the dead script-fixer’s handkerchief, Jack Marshall sends Walker undercover as a screenwriter at a major studio and Leslie as a secretary to Dr. Phillip Ernest, shrink to the stars. J. Edgar Hoover has his own list. Blacklisted writers and studio politics. Ruthless gangsters and Chief Parker’s LAPD. Paranoia, suspicions, and divided loyalties begin to blur when the House Un-American Activities Committee insists that everyone play the naming game.

Praise for The Naming Game:

“With crackling dialogue and a page turning plot shot-through with authentic period detail, Gabriel Valjan pulls the reader into the hidden world of the 1950’s Hollywood studio scene, involving murder, McCarthyism and mayhem.”
~ James L’Etoile, author of At What Cost and Bury the Past

“Terrific historical noir as Gabriel Valjan takes us on a trip through post-war Hollywood involving scandal, McCarthyism, blacklisting, J. Edgar Hoover and, of course, murder. Compelling story, compelling characters – and all the famous name dropping is great fun. Highly recommended!”
~ R.G. Belsky, author of the Clare Carlson Mystery Series

“Brilliantly written, Gabriel Valjan’s The Naming Game whisks the reader back in time to postwar Los Angeles. Spies, Communism, and Hollywood converge in a first-rate thriller.”
~ Bruce Robert Coffin, Agatha Award nominated author of Beyond the Truth

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery, Crime Fiction
Published by: Winter Goose Publishing
Publication Date: May 4, 2019
Number of Pages: 210
ISBN: 978-1-941058-86-2
Series: The Company Files: 2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Gabriel Valjan

Author Bio:

Gabriel Valjan is the author of two series, The Roma Series and The Company Files, available from Winter Goose Publishing. His short stories have appeared in Level Best anthologies and other publications. Twice shortlisted for the Fish Prize in Ireland, once for the Bridport Prize in England, and an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest, he is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime National, a local member of Sisters in Crime New England, and an attendee of Bouchercon, Crime Bake, and Malice Domestic conferences.

Q&A with Gabriel Valjan

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads
Reading and Writing:

What inspired you to write this book?

Griffin Fariello’s Red Scare inspired me. For readers unfamiliar with the book, which appeared in 1995 and is now available in digital format, Fariello is a journalist who compiled interviews with victims and those who abetted McCarthy’s drive to expose Communists in every stratum of American life. You become cognizant of contradictions, the contagious paranoia, and the frenzy that McCarthy stirred up without ever providing one shred of proof. With only innuendo and the flimsiest of evidence, he hounded people to ruin and, in some cases, early death. Throughout all this surrealism, I was already aware of how government and corporations used Hollywood to shape public thought prior to McCarthy. I became intrigued as to how Hollywood studios, after he’d appeared on the scene, found creative ways to get films written and produced, when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had blacklisted writers. Note: HUAC existed before (founded in 1938) Senator McCarthy and it did not officially disband until 1975. It seems that money, regardless of circumstances and politics, had to be made, a profit turned.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

Flow. When you write historical fiction, a writer wants to avoid information dumps or anything that impedes the flow of the story. Smart editing trims the unnecessary or identifies areas where more details are needed. As with anything conjuring up the past, an author doesn’t want their dialogue to sound as if it came from a film noir or a Shakespearean play. Turns of phrase like fashion come and go, but human emotions and concerns remain universal. We love. We hate. We fear what we don’t know or understand. We have hindsight to judge the past, to slap our foreheads with amazement that anyone could believe such-and-such;
but to those people, it was as real as the sky is blue. A writer is challenged to make all that real to the reader. The Spanish Flu and polio once terrified people, just like AIDS and Ebola do today. Communism was yesterday’s terrorism. Technology has improved life, made things once thought impossible, but fundamental conflicts between people and nations have not changed; only names and places.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

There is no end to the number of resources on Golden Hollywood or Los Angeles of yesteryear. I didn’t want to recycle familiar tropes (the inherent danger of Raymond Chandler as an inspiration). I dug around for bits and pieces that I thought were obscure to readers. Everyone who has read enough stories about LA in the Forties and Fifties knows of Musso and Frank, or the Trocadero. In The Naming Game, I went farther afield. I mentioned a nightclub called Slapsie Maxie, which went by another name in 1951, the year of my story. People then still referred to it as Slapsie, but for accuracy I gave the new name after the establishment changed hands. Other examples: I mention a property once owned by Charlie Chaplin. Because the story was set in 1951, I consulted maps to make sure I had the names of streets and highways right, especially for the artist colony called Malibu. I sought out photographs of the Cocoanut Grove, cocktail menus and researched clothing and cars and the cost of things, so readers could ‘feel’ the snapshot of time. Research conveys fidelity to the era, creditability to the story for the knowledgeable reader, and integrity on the writer.

How did you come up with the title?

Not sure. I certainly wanted an enticing title, and to have this novel evoke the McCarthy era. I picked ‘naming game’ because, in my mind, it denoted a childhood game reminiscent of ‘I Spy.’ The difference, of course, is I’m pointing towards real history and the game resulted in disastrous consequences.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

My routine is not terribly exciting. Writing involves sitting in a chair with the hands and mind engaged in translating what’s inside your head onto the screen. Other than that, I write in the morning after exercise. I don’t outline, though I may jot down a word or a phrase as a reminder. When I factor in research, I’ll have notes nearby.

Tell us why we should read your book?

With The Company Files, I introduce readers to forgotten chapters of American history. When readers think of the CIA (The Company is a euphemism for the agency), they think and expect high-tech thrillers. James Bond. The reality is far more prosaic. The intelligence community then was inept, made terrible decisions and mistakes, and was easily manipulated by foreign enemies and domestic politicians. This mix of history and fiction makes for compelling reading.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

The Company Files: 3. Diminished Fifth is written and ready for editing. I’m working on a third book in another series. A little superstitious about providing too much detail, but it involves Shanghai in the Thirties, the European elites of that society and various crimes that require solving.

Fun Questions:

Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

The writer in me would like to see unknowns play the roles, but I think there are numerous contemporary actors who have the talent to take viewers back to an earlier era. I can see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Walker. Donnie Wahlberg as Whittaker from the first book. Michael Shannon as Jack. Gretchen Mol as Vera. Keri Russell or Jennifer Connelly as Leslie.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Long walks, working out, and drinking coffee. I’m always on the lookout for excellent movies or a series. I don’t care if they are vintage or contemporary. I love a good story, excellent writing and dialogue at work.

Favorite foods?

I’m a bit of a foodie, so I’m an adventuresome eater. I have a short list of what I won’t eat, otherwise I’m game and I enjoy food paired with wines because you can learn so much about culture, geography, and history from a meal.

Catch Up With Gabriel On:
gabrielvaljan.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

At seven minutes past the hour while reviewing the classified documents at his desk, one of the two colored phones, the beige one, rang. He placed the receiver next to his ear, closed the folder, and waited for the caller’s voice to speak first.

“Is this Jack Marshall?”

“It is.”

“This is William Parker. Is the line secure?”

“It is,” Jack replied, his hand opening a desk cabinet and flipping the ON switch to start recording the conversation.

“I don’t know you Mr. Marshall and I presume you don’t know me.”

A pause.

“I know of you, Chief Parker.”

“Were you expecting my call?”

“No and it doesn’t matter.” Jack lied.

“Fact of the matter, Mr. Marshall, is an individual, whom I need not name, has suggested I contact you about a sensitive matter. He said matter of security so I listened.”

“Of course. I’m listening.”

“I was instructed to give you an address and have my man at the scene allow you to do whatever it is that you need to do when you arrive there.”

“Pencil and paper are ready. The address, please.”

Jack wrote out the address; it was in town, low rent section with the usual rooming houses, cheap bars, about a fifteen-minute drive on Highway 1 without traffic.

“Ask for Detective Brown. You won’t miss him. Don’t like it that someone steps in and tells me how to mind my own city, but I have no choice in the matter.”

Jack ignored the man’s defensive tone. He knew Detective Brown was a dummy name, like Jones or Smith on a hotel ledger. Plain, unimaginative, but it would do. Most policemen, he conceded, were neither bright nor fully screwed into the socket. A chief was no different except he had more current in him. The chief of police who ruled Los Angeles by day with his cop-syndicate the way Mickey Cohen owned the night must’ve swallowed his pride when he dropped that nickel to make this call.

“Thank you, Chief Parker.”

Jack hung up and flipped the switch to OFF.

Whatever it was at the scene waiting for Jack was sufficient cause to pull back a man like Bill Parker and his boys for twelve hours. Whoever gave this order had enough juice to rein in the LAPD.

Jack took the folder he was reviewing and walked it across the room. He opened the folder once more and reread the phrases ‘malicious international spy’ and, in Ronald Reagan’s own choice of words, ‘Asia’s Mata Hari’, before closing the cover and placing it inside the safe. His review will have to wait. He put on his holster and grabbed a jacket.

Betty came out on the porch as he was putting the key into the car door.

“I won’t be long. Please kiss the children good night for me.”

“Can’t this wait, Jack? The children were expecting you to read to them tonight. Jack Junior set aside the book and you know Elizabeth will be crushed.”

“It can’t wait. I’m sorry. Tell them I’ll make it up to them.”

“You need to look them in the face when you tell them sorry.”

He opened the door as his decision. She understood she dealt him the low card. “Want something for the road?”

“No thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

He closed the door with finesse. He couldn’t help it if the children heard the car. He checked the mirror and saw her on the porch, still standing there, still disappointed and patient, as he drove off.

Detective Brown, sole man on the scene, walked him over to the body without introducing himself. Jack didn’t give his name.

At six-fifteen the vet renting a room down the hall discovered the body. Detective Brown said the veteran was probably a hired hound doing a bag job – break-ins, surveillance, and the like. Recent veterans made the best candidates for that kind of work for Hoover, Jack thought. Worked cheap and they went the extra mile without Hoover’s agents having to worry about technicalities like a citizen’s rights going to law.

“What makes you think he was hired out?” Jack asked.

Brown, a man of few words, handed Jack his notebook, flipped over to the open page he marked Witness Statement and said politely, “Please read it. Words and writing are from the witness himself.”

“The man was a no good ‘commonist’.”

“Nice spelling. A suspect?”

“No, sir. The coroner places the death around early afternoon, about 2ish. Our patriot was across the street drinking his lunch. I verified it.”

Jack viewed the body. The man was fully dressed wearing a light weave gabardine suit costing at least twenty-five. The hardly scuffed oxfords had to cost as much as the suit, and the shirt and tie, both silk, put the entire ensemble near a hundred. Hardly class consciousness for an alleged Communist, Jack thought.

The corpse lying on his side reminded Jack of the children sleeping, minus the red pool seeping into the rug under the right ear. The dead man wore a small sapphire ring on his small finger, left hand. No wedding band. Nice watch on the wrist, face turned in. An odd way to read time. Breast pocket contained a cigarette case with expensive cigarettes, Egyptian. Jack recognized the brand from his work in the Far East. Ten cents a cigarette is nice discretionary income. Wallet in other breast pocket held fifty dollars, various denominations. Ruled out robbery or staging it. Identification card said Charles Loew, Warner Brothers. Another card: Screen Writers Guild, signed by Mary McCall, Jr. President. Back of card presented a pencil scrawl.

“Find a lighter or book of matches?”

Detective Brown shook his head. Jack patted the breast pockets again and the man’s jacket’s side-pockets. Some loose change, but nothing else. The man was unarmed, except for a nice pen. Much as he disliked the idea Jack put his hands into the man’s front pockets. Nothing. He found a book of matches in the left rear pocket, black with gold telltale lettering, Trocadero on Sunset. Jack flipped the matchbook open and as he suspected, found a telephone number written in silver ink; different ink than the man’s own pen. Other back pocket contained a handkerchief square Jack found interesting, as did Detective Brown.

“What’s that?” he asked, head peering over for a better look.

“Not sure,” answered Jack, unfolding the several-times folded piece of paper hidden inside the hanky. The unfolded paper revealed a bunch of typewritten names that had bled out onto other parts of the paper. It must have been folded while the ink was still wet. It didn’t help someone spilt something on the paper. Smelled faintly of recent whiskey. Jack reviewed what he thought were names when he realized the letters were nonsense words.

“Might be a Commie membership list. Looks like code.” But Brown zipped it when Jack folded the paper back up and put it into his pocket.

“The paper and the matches stay with me. We clear?”

“Uh, yes sir. The Chief told me himself to do whatever you said and not ask questions.”

“Good. Other than the coroner – who else was here? Photographers, fingerprints?”

“Nobody else. Medical pronounced him dead, but nothing more. Chief had them called off to another scene – a multiple homicide, few blocks away. We’re short-staffed tonight. The Chief said he’d send Homicide after you leave. They’ll process the scene however you leave it. They won’t know about the matches or the paper. Chief’s orders.”

Jack checked his watch. Man down, found at six fifteen. Chief called a little after seven. He arrived not much later than seven forty. The busy bodies would get the stiff by eight or eight thirty, the latest. Perfectly reasonable Jack thought. He squatted down to see the man’s watch, noticing light bruising on the wrist and the throw rug bunched into a small hill near the man’s time hand. Intriguing.

“Thank you, Detective. I’ll be going now. If I speak to the chief I’ll let him know you’ve done your job to the letter.”

“You’re welcome. Night.”

Jack knew he and the chief would be speaking again.

Outside on the street, Jack pulled out his handkerchief and wiped both hands for any traces of dead man as he headed for the parked car. Compulsive habit. He pulled up the collar on his jacket. It was cold for late May.

The street sign said he was not far from Broadway. In this part of town thousands lived crowded in on themselves as lodgers in dilapidated Gothic mansions or residence hotels, working the downtown stores, factories, and offices, riding public transit and the other funicular railway in the area, Court Flight, a two-track railway climb towards Hill Street.

Los Angeles changed with the world. The war was over and there was a new war, possibly domestic, definitely foreign. Court Flight is gone, ceased operations. Its owner and his faithful cat had passed on. His good widow tried. In ’43 a careless brush fire destroyed the tracks and the Board of Public Utilities signed the death warrant; and now Jack was hearing whispers Mayor Bowron planned to revitalize the area International Style, which meant dotting the desert city with skyscrapers.

Jack opened the door and sat behind the wheel a moment. He took the family once to nearby Angels Flight. Junior wondered why there was no apostrophe on the sign. Betty tolerated the excursion, indifferent to Los Angeles because she preferred their home in DC. He released the clutch. Betty disliked LA because it changed too much without reason. She might have had a point. He shifted gear. Pueblo city would level whole blocks of thriving masses just to create a parking lot. He pulled the car from the curb.

***

Excerpt from The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2019 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.

 

 

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