Friday, October 21, 2011

The Caretaker of Lorne Field now in paperback!


The Caretaker of Lore Field was short listed by the American Library Association as one of the best horror novels of 2010 and was a Black Quill nominee for best dark genre book of the year. The book has garnered 1000s of devoted fans and received dozens of rave reviews, including a starred review from Publisher's Weekly calling it a "Superb mix of humor and horror" and Newsday calling it a "Delicious horror-ish novel". Now that it's in paperback, Aukowies have never been cheaper or more plentiful. If you haven't already, isn't it about time that you discover this modern horror masterpiece for yourself?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE: Clichés -- Love 'em or Leave 'em?

Today INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE talks about clichés. Are they okay sometimes? For example, in dialogue? Or are they the result of lazy writing? Can you live with one or two, or should you root them out? Here’s what we think.


LIBBY: When I began writing my prose was full of clichés. I actually sought them out. I mean, clichés are ideas that everyone understands and can relate to, right? We live in a world of them, particularly on TV and radio. So why not incorporate them into my writing so that readers will really “get” what I’m trying to say?

It took my writing group months to pound it into my head that wasn’t the case. Since then, in fact, I've learned clichés have the opposite effect. But it’s subtle. Instead of bringing the reader closer to an understanding of a situation or character, clichés – because they’re so widely used – tend to deaden emotion and distance us from what we’re reading. Clichés also reinforce stereotypes and stereotypical behavior. How many times can someone be “over the top” or “red as a beet” before we yawn and lose interest?

Now I try to root them out in every paragraph. But it’s tough… even after 15 years, those little buggers still pop up.

MAX: Cliches can be a conundrum, because whether a phrase or a plot turn, every cliche bears an element of truth at its core...repetition of a seeming truth is the diamond that becomes coal, over time.

In terms of phrases, clichés should be rooted out because of their over-use and the laziness they imply on the part of the writer. A trickier question is whether to root them out of dialogue, or even a first-person narrative, since the character you're writing about might quite naturally use a cliché in speech or, for that matter, when writing a memoir...after all, our first-person characters aren't often intended to be professional writers, simply somebody with a story to tell. Sometimes avoiding the cliché in dialogue or first-person narrative screws up the tone and/or betrays the characterization. It's tricky.

A clichéd scene often grows out of the conventions of genre storytelling. Conventions, unlike clichés, are often unavoidable. In crime fiction, particularly the traditional variety I prefer, conventions are part of the fabric and even of the fun. The rogue cop is going to get called into his superior's office for a bawling out. A private eye is going to have a client walk into his office, and that client may be a beautiful woman...or the female P.I. may have a handsome male client walk into her office. The latter is at least an attempt to turn the convention on its head, and that's how you avoid a clichéd treatment of a scene that is inherently conventional. In other words, treat the conventional scene in at least a somewhat unconventional way. In some cases, it's as easy as providing an interesting location. Maybe the P.I. meets the prospective client, at that client's request, in some unusual location -- even a bar or the client's home is better than the office approach. Maybe the rogue cop gets bawled out by his superior on an answer machine, and the cop says, "Blah blah blah," and fast-forwards/erases it. Again, could be a change of location -- the police shooting range, maybe, or the break room where the superior sits down and seems to be having a little friendly breaking of the bread before he hands the rogue cop his ass or his badge.

You can always try acknowledging the cliché. In one of my stories (I don't remember which), I wrote something to the effect of, "Sooner or later, when you're a private eye, a beautiful client is going to walk into your office and there's nothing you can do about it." On the other hand, my mentor at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, the great mainstream writer Richard Yates, pointed out to that when I wrote "he broke the bottle off on the counter of the bar like a tough guy in a B movie," that didn't make it any less like a B movie. Too much self-awareness can make a writer too cute, and frankly that's at least as bad as being clichéd.

DAVE: In Jim Thompson's classic noir novel, The Killer Inside Me, Lou Ford uses clichés to strike at people and to make them squirm and fidget. 'It's not the heat, it's humidity.' 'Another thing about the weather. Everyone talks about it, but no one does anything.' 'Every cloud has a silver lining.' And so on and so on, until the poor hapless sap he's needling is dying to get away from him. That's the thing with clichés--whether it's in our plots, characters, or writing, they're annoying as hell. So as writers how do we avoid them? Vigilance. It's so easy to naturally fall into clichéd writing if you're not looking for it, and the only way to keep them out of our writing is to be always looking for them, especially when you're proofing your work.

BILL: Clichés are a dime a dozen, and a try to avoid them like the plague. When I was asked how to do that, I knew I had to think of something good. So I put my shoulder to the wheel, my nose to the grindstone, and my ear to the ground. (There are times when that semester I spent in contortionist school really comes in handy.) Here’s what I came up with.

If you’re going to avoid clichés, you have to know what they are. That requires reading books and watching movies. After a while, you learn that it’s really nothing new to have the villain tie up the protagonist and say, “I am going to set this bomb to explode in one hour, and then I’ll be leaving you. First, however, I’m going to explain to you in detail my entire fiendish scheme.”

While you’re watching movies, you’ll learn that some clichés are purely visual and won’t work too well when you’re writing a book. For example, it’s not nearly as exciting to write about how your protagonist avoided being killed by the explosion of a ten megaton bomb by running really fast and jumping really high at just the right moment. Looks cool on film, though.

Some clichés are just too good to give up. Like the psycho sidekick in the private-eye novel. Did Robert B. Parker create that one with Hawk? Plenty of people since then have given their detectives psycho sidekicks, and with great success. You probably know who I’m talking about.

By now you know what I’m talking about. You probably did from the very first. If something comes up again and again in the books you read and the movies you watch, you don’t want to do that thing. You want something new and fresh and different. And if you can’t think of anything, just do what I do. I explain that I don’t use clichés, that I’m merely sticking with the “respected conventions of the genre” or “presenting a respectful homage to some of the finest writers in the field.” It works like a charm.


Your turn now. What do you think about clichés?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

TOXICITY -- my new thriller


The reviews are coming in, and they're pretty darned good.

J. Carson Black,best-selling author of THE SHOP and DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, says:

"Libby Fischer Hellmann’s thriller TOXICITY is as gritty as it is spellbinding. Populated with fully-realized characters, TOXICITY introduces us to Hellmann’s signature heroine, Georgia Davis. But we meet Georgia ten years earlier, when she is a young and determined rookie on a Chicago police force. In Georgia’s debut, we see her tenacity and strength, but also her vulnerability: the seeds sown for the woman she will become. TOXICITY works on all levels, drawing the reader inexorably into a web of deceit, heart-crushing loss, and righteous fury. This wicked brew explodes in a stunning and satisfying conclusion that answers every question. Hellmann pulls no punches."

Other reviews:

"I wasn't sure what to expect, but was blown away once I began reading. The author's style is fast paced and exciting. I literally couldn't put the book down....Think CSI meets Erin Brockovich. Combine that with excellent writing and you have a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat."

"TOXICITY is an engaging story that will haunt you on many levels. The characters are developed; the reader becomes invested. I found myself furious with every character at one time or another while reading this book which just goes to show how well written this story is."

"Hellmann writes with the economy and emotional punch of classic crime novelists like Lawrence Block. And she has created a perpetrator who is complex, realistic and completely unexpected..."

You can find it here. And on Nook here. And on the other usual suspects as well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Killer's Essence is now available



A Killer's Essence is now in stock and shipping from Amazon and BN.com, and should be showing up soon at your local bookstores. You can read the first chapter here (it's a short one) or send me email for either a Nook or Kindle file.

"a memorable winner" Boston Globe

“Detective Green is a believable character, down on his luck with little going for him but his job. Nonetheless, he meanders through life, precariously balancing all its myriad and conflicting facets, and coming out on top in this chilling page-turner attuned to the most discerning of avid crime lovers. Well written and well paced. Recommended.” New York Journal of Books

"Last night I finished the best crime novel I have read in the last year -- an advance reading copy of Dave Zeltserman's book A Killer's Essence, which will be published by Overlook Press in September. The story line was superb as well as the characters . . . [Zeltserman] nailed the atmosphere of New York City and Brooklyn. There is no question that our customers will love this book. And there is no question that I want a copy for my collection, when this comes out." --Dave Kanell, co-owner Kingdom Books in Vermont

"Zeltserman’s signature creepiness is available here and there, but what really drives this novel is the engaging portrait of an honest, hardworking cop who, on the job and off, gives the best he’s got, knowing how rarely it will be enough." Kirkus Reviews

"A scary, keep-you-guessing thriller not to be missed." Elliott Swanson, Booklist

"This mix of police procedural, noir, spec lit, and domestic character study is entertaining and expertly plotted. Set against the backdrop of the 2004 ALCS, and the collapse of the Yankees against the Red Sox, New York City police detective Stan Greene investigates a brutal series of random murders while juggling (and dropping) the pieces of his personal life. Oh, and there’s a witness, a veritable shut-in who might be able to help despite his neurological damage and his demonic hallucinations. Like all of Dave’s novels, A KILLER’S ESSENCE is tightly plotted storytelling featuring realistically flawed and memorable characters." Paul Tremblay

Monday, September 26, 2011

The odds are...

The odds are if you find a list of recommended contemporary noir you're going to find a Top Suspense author on it. In this case, you're going to find 2 of us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Top Suspense congratulates Max Allan Collins

Top Suspense congratulates Max Allan Collins, whose 'True Detective' is right now the #1 bestselling book at Amazon's Kindle store.

TRUE DETECTIVE

The first book in my Nathan Heller series of historical thrillers is on sale today for 99 cents on Kindle. Right here:

http://www.amazon.com/True-Detective-Nate-Heller-ebook/dp/B0054LXWYQ/ref=kdd_page_title?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=012YBE0VQ39BP38VBQZ3&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1318527842&pf_rd_i=3059207011

TRUE DETECTIVE won the Shamus from the Private Eye Writers of America for Best Novel in 1984. It follows Nate Heller, a young ex cop trying to make it as a PI in big, corrupt Chicago in the early '30s. Heller gets involved in the assassination of Mayor Cermak by Frank Nitti, and along the way meets Capone, "Dutch" Reagan, and George Raft, as well as several lovely damsels in and of distress (and "dis dress"). It's been called a modern classic and this is a good way to get a look at a much-acclaimed, well-reviewed series.

Amazon is making the first twelve Hellers available in trade paperback as well as on Kindle with two new short story collections -- everything is available now, except one of the collections (TRIPLE PLAY) which comes out next year. The other collection, CHICAGO LIGHTNING, is out right now.

And the first Heller novel in almost a decade, BYE BYE, BABY -- which has an older Nate looking into Marilyn Monroe's mysterious death -- has just been published by Forge simultaneously with a Brilliance audio (all of the Hellers that Amazon is publishing will be available as Brilliance audios...several are already out, and the reader is excellent).

I rate the Nathan Heller series as my best work, and my most famous work (ROAD TO PERDITION) was a spin-off of that work. This is a nice opportunity to check it out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Suspense and THE DEAD MAN


Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint has picked up THE DEAD MAN series, co-created by Top Suspense author Lee Goldberg, in a unique and exclusive 12-book digital & print deal ... with an option for more. But that's not all. Brilliance Audio will be also be rolling out their own editions of the books.

The five books that have already been published -- FACE OF EVIL, RING OF KNIVES, HELL IN HEAVEN, THE DEAD WOMAN, and THE BLOOD MESA -- will be re-released in the days leading up to Halloween ... so keep your eyes peeled for great offers.

The sixth book in the series will be released in November and will be followed each month by another new adventure in the continuing saga of Matt Cahill, a man resurrected from the dead to battle evil among us that only he can see.

Amazon will also be releasing three-book compilations of THE DEAD MAN series in trade paperback  (as well as in specially priced digital editions). The release dates of the first compilation, and the Brilliance Audio editions, have not been determined yet ... but we’re hoping they'll be ready for Christmas.

Lee Goldberg and Bill Rabkin will continue to run the series, which they are writing with a terrific group of action, horror, mystery, SF and western authors, including Top Suspense authors  Harry Shannon, Joel Goldman, and Bill Crider.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Inside Top Suspense: Your Favorite Character

From Vicki Hendricks

Marvin Molar in Harry Crews’ novel The Gypsy’s Curse!

Marvin is physically handicapped, deaf and malformed. His tough voice captures the reader from page one. He’s not a complainer, despite the fact that he was dropped as an orphan in the doorway of the Fireman’s Gym as a child or that he’s deaf with legs described as tadpole-like, only three inches in circumference, lacking feeling. And, otherwise, he’s built! He walks and performs on his twenty-inch circumference arms and signs while standing on one hand. He is obsessed with his normal girlfriend, his downfall. Possibly the darkest of noir characters, although Crews is not considered a noir writer, Marvin is capable in the area of violence and can take care of himself, except when it comes to love.

The novel is out of print—like many of my favorites—and I can’t imagine Crews ever putting one of his novels on an e-reader (though the world would surely benefit) but luckily, The Gypsy’s Curse is still available in the paperback collection Classic Crews.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE: Your Favorite Character

Welcome back, everyone. This week on INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE we’re talking about our Favorite Characters from a suspense, thriller, mystery, or horror novel. (Excluding our own.) Who’s yours? Why? What makes them so memorable? Hope you’ll join the conversation.


I'm a fan of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, John Connelly's Charlie Parker, Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch and several other series characters...But if I had to choose one favorite suspense hero, I guess it would have to be James Lee Burke's immortal Dave Robicheaux. From Black Cherry Blues and The Neon Rain all the way through to The Glass Rainbow, the series has held up beautifully. Robicheaux has lost a wife and numerous friends and lovers, been shot and stabbed and beaten and abandoned, gotten drunk and gotten sober. Through it all he's struggled to be dignified and compassionate, generally under the worst of circumstances. Hell, his wounded companion Clete Purcell is like another old friend, almost as real to me as the worn face in my bathroom mirror. As for Dave, he has become an old man now, one who still battles a horrendous temper, the urge to drink, and a wonderfully wrought, self destructive, deeply existential angst. He is an archetype and a contradiction in terms, a character who gives life to the phrase "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for a good man to do nothing."


I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with my favorite characters. As Harry said, there are so many memorable ones. Steve Hamilton’s THE LOCK ARTIST turned the genre upside-down with his young, mute lock-picker, Michael. And I confess to a fondness for Bob Crais’ Joe Pike as well as Ree Dolly in Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER'S BONE. All of them are people of few words (Hmm, maybe there’s a pattern here?) but a strong sense of justice and loyalty.
But I keep coming back to two characters, both of whom I never tire: Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. V.I. is the kind of person I want next to me in a fight. If we don’t win, we’ll have given it all we had. She can’t suffer injustice without needing to do something about it, and yet she’s savvy and experienced enough to pick her battles wisely. I trust her implicitly, knowing she’ll always have the right motivation for her actions. Gabriel Allon is more of an enigma. He has baggage, some of which we still don’t know, but that only adds to his allure. His skill set as an assassin is unparalleled, and yet he’d rather be an artist. The combination of brutal cunning and sensitivity is incredibly appealing.

Bill Crider adds: My favorite thriller character is any first-person narrator in an Alistair MacLean novel published before 1970. You might be thinking that’s a lot of different characters since MacLean didn’t write a series, but they way I see it, all his first-person narrators are the same guy, no matter when or where they might be. He (or they) is tougher than industrial leather, resourceful, able to go without sleep for days under conditions that would kill most people, and prone to make terrible blunders that get people killed. That last one might not seem very heroic, but anybody else in a similar situation would get hundreds more killed. If not thousands. He’s often handicapped by some injury or wound, he’s clever, and (this is important for a first-person narrator) he knows how to conceal important information from the reader without cheating too much. I read many of MacLean’s books well over 40 years ago. They thrilled me then, and they thrill me now, thanks to thanks to that wonderful character.

Dave Zeltseman says: "There are so many good choices for best thriller character, but I'm going with Hammett's Continental Op from Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and 24 short stories. Hammett's nameless PI is tough, smart, resourceful, and also persistent as all hell. He might take a beating or two, but he's going to get his man (or dame) even if he's got to steal crutches from a cripple to do so!"

Lee Goldberg says: I can’t pick a favorite…but I can give you some favorites… Robert B. Parker’s Spenser (the early books, not the last 378 of’em), Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, Gregory McDonald’s Fletch, and Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley. What makes these characters so terrific is that that they all have distinct voices and attitudes, strong and often brilliantly flawed personalities that totally shape the stories that are being told, and how they are told, whether it’s in first person or third person. It’s their voices, as much as their characters, that stick with me. I may forget the mysteries, but I can’t forget these characters.

And now, Max Allan Collins: It may be cheating a little, since I am working with the Spillane estate to complete various novels from the late writer's files, but...Mike Hammer is by far my favorite of the thriller heroes. The toughest of all P.I.s, Hammer was a post-war sensation who established a new threshold of violent response -- and sexual responsiveness -- for fictional protagonists. His vengeance-prone ways inspired every tough private eye and rogue cop who followed, as did his active libido, and it's no wonder that James Bond was first marketed in the USA as the 'British Mike Hammer.' But it's not just Bond, it's everybody from Peter Gunn to Dirty Harry, from Shaft to Jack Bauer.

Ed Gorman also weighs in: I'm going to disappoint a lot of people by saying that my favorite thriller protagonist is Lew Archer. There's dumb tough and there's smart tough and Archer is of the latter variety. And by tough I also mean perceptive and obstinate in pursuit of the truth. He found real tragedy in the everyday and wrote as well about the poor as the rich. I prefer the early novels (before the 1970s) because there's more action and less NYC-crowd pleasing (all the critical praise seemed to soften the books). I don't believe any writer has challenged him as the great psychologist of my era or as a storyteller who came closest to equaling the fine psychological novels of Simenon. If, as his critics insisted, he wrote the same book over and over again, it's a book I never tire of reading."

Friday, September 2, 2011

TOXICITY -- my new thriller


by Libby Hellmann

Hi, everyone. It's a new month, and I have a new e-book out! It's a police procedural/thriller and it turned out to be the prequel to my Georgia Davis PI series.
Here's the description:

Ten years before EASY INNOCENCE, PI Georgia Davis was a police officer on the force in a Chicago suburb. And while homicides are rare on the North Shore, three bodies turn up in quick succession—all of them dumped in waste disposal dumpsters or landfills. The investigations into the murders test the mettle and professionalism of a combined police task force. Along the way, they also test the strength of Georgia’s relationship with one of the detectives working the case. While Georgia, her detective boyfriend Matt, and his sometime partner John Stone pit their skills against those of an ingenious killer, the daughter of a real estate mogul-- who just happens to have her eye on Matt -- complicates matters. A dark police procedural and thriller, TOXICITY is a prequel to the Georgia Davis PI series (EASY INNOCENCE and DOUBLEBACK).

It just went up, but already there's a review, and it's pretty awesome. Of course, I had to let you know about one of the sentences: ((Be still, my heart....)
"Hellmann writes with the economy and emotional punch of classic crime novelists like Lawrence Block."

I hope you'll give it a look. You can find it on Amazon, on Nook, on Smashwords, and soon, hopefully all the others.

Have a great holiday, everyone.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Boston Globe: "a memorable winner"


My latest book, A Killer's Essence, gets a terrific review in today's Boston Globe.

The New York Journal of Books also reviews A Killer's Essence today, saying in part:

A Killer’s Essence seems slow-paced but packs in a powerful wallop as it vacillates between hard-boiled crime fighting, the love of baseball, and the compulsion to repair broken relationships. Detective Green is a believable character, down on his luck with little going for him but his job. Nonetheless, he meanders through life, precariously balancing all its myriad and conflicting facets, and coming out on top in this chilling page-turner attuned to the most discerning of avid crime lovers. Well written and well paced. Recommended.

Monday, August 22, 2011

CLAN is out!

CLAN by Harry Shannon $3.99 on Kindle, soon to be on Nook...

They have been among us for thousands of years. One mysterious gene they carry lies dormant—until they change. Joe Case is an ex-cop searching for the man who humiliated his sister. Kelly McCammon is a Hollywood executive running from the Russian mob. Destiny leads them to tiny Salt Lick, Nevada…A town under siege.

"CLAN is a thriller with a genuine bite. Once Harry Shannon gets his claws in you he will not let go! Highly recommended."
—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times Bestselling author of Patient Zero and Dust & Decay

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005IDKXDI/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_SfNuob0Z436WN

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mystery Scene Features "Flesh & Bones"


Paul Levine here...

Today's Mystery Scene Blog features the e-book version of "Flesh & Bones" with a nice mention of my September hardcover, "Lassiter."

Many thanks to Oline Cogdill, the dean of mystery reviewers.

Monday, August 8, 2011

INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE: Writing the Bad Guy

We’re baaack… and this week we’re talking about the Bad Guys. How do you write a Bad Guy who’s not cardboard, stereotypical, or boring? Our very own “bad guys” Bill Crider, Dave Zeltserman, Harry Shannon, and Paul Levine will tell you. But don’t let them stop you. Please join us with your two cents. (Of course they may have to kill you afterwards…)


Bill Crider here. Everybody likes to write the villains. I’m sure a good analyst could explain why better than I can. Anyway, for me there has to be something in even the worst villain that people like. Or maybe that’s the wrong word. “Recognize” might be better. Villains have to be as human as the other characters. They should also have reasons for what they do. I’m not a fan of the book that ends with the “he must have been crazy” explanation. And while Shakespeare can get away with attributing Iago’s misdeeds to “motiveless malignity,” I’d never try that one, not being quite in Shakespeare’s league. One more thing: The villain has to be right for the story. Hannibal Lecter wouldn’t fit in Cabot Cove, or at least he wouldn’t work for me in that setting. (Jessica Fletcher could probably handle him, though.)


Dave Zeltserman here. I’ve written a lot of bad guys, but none badder than Kyle Nevin. Violent, amoral, near-psychopathic, Nevin is my protagonist for Pariah. That’s right. The main guy, the one who the reader is going to follow throughout the book. This is a character who thinks nothing of breaking a man's fingers and slamming a car door into his face for leaving a dumpster in the neighborhood uncovered, or beating someone to near death for failing to pay him what he considers the proper respect. But readers need to like and sympathize with your main character, right? Well, Nevin has a certain verve and charm to him, but what readers really need is to be fascinated by him and want to know what’s coming next. What’s important in creating a character like Nevin, and really any bad guy is that he has to feel very real and can’t be some drooling cartoonish version of a villain. The things that Nevin does might be very wrong, but in his skewed way of thinking it all makes sense and is justified, and the reader needs to believe that also. As long as Nevin’s logic, no matter how screwed up it might be, is consistent, he will seem very real to the reader, and very scary.


Harry Shannon here. We'll use "guy" knowing the antagonist could easily be female, especially these days. As any actor will tell you, the bad guy has rationalized his behavior and rarely thinks of himself as the bad guy. The rest us have treated him unfairly, or someone else's cruelty has justified his own. A sociopathic personality is driven by fear, anger, avarice and not much else--but isn't ever at peace. He tends to believe the rest of us are the same way, i.e. crying crocodile tears, manipulating for advantage and so on. That makes for a scared and hollow experience of life. Knowing this can help create a far more realistic enemy. The sexual psychopath is often driven by a punishing super ego. John D. MacDonald understood both those folks very well, and gave them voice as few authors have done. Evil humans are like the rest of us in that sense, that is to say tortured by inner demons they usually don't even recognize as their own. If we can relate to them on a psychological level they are that much more terrifying.


Paul Levine here. Harry referred to John D. MacDonald, author of the classic “Travis McGee” series. MacDonald also said “there are no one hundred per cent heroes.” I’d like to turn that around and say that the best antagonists are not “one hundred per cent villains.” Remember cold-blooded assassin Alan Ladd in “This Gun for Hire.” He feeds a stray cat…before slapping around his landlady and shooting the target of a paid hit. The best villains believe what they’re doing is right, at least according to their own skewed moral codes. Remember “Max Cady,” the relentless ex-con portrayed by Robert DeNiro in the remake of “Cape Fear.” Was he evil? You bet. But Cady doubtless thought he was justified in terrorizing Nick Nolte’s family. After all, Nolte, his own lawyer, sold him down the river. That violated the code of lawyers…and criminals alike. (Coincidentally, “Cape Fear” was adapted from a novel by MacDonald, “The Executioners.”) Something else we can learn from the vicious Max Cady. A villain can be uneducated and crude and yet brilliant in his own, twisted way. And that’s far, far better than a stupid, brutish villain. The antagonist should be a worthy opponent of the hero, whose task must be challenging, both physically and mentally, and sometimes morally as well.








Saturday, August 6, 2011

Inside Top Suspense is coming back this Monday

Join us Monday as we discuss writing the bad guy.

More Inside Top Suspense topics are also planned. And if you've got topics you'd like us to discuss, let us know about them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE at KindleBoards


Hi, all. Those of you who are on KindleBoards might be interested in a discussion about SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE. It's part of their "Read With The Author" Book Klub, which they're in the process of reviving. I am one of six authors they asked to lead a discussion, and I had the "good fortune" to be the guinea --er -- first.

So, I'd love it if you popped over and put in your two cents. There are a bunch of threads, but you really don't have to have read the book to participate -- some of them are pretty general.

Thanks. See you over there.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"the best of both crime fiction worlds into one delightfully charming read"


Julius Katz and Archie is a wonderful mix of old school and new. It’s old school in that the mystery is presented in a slight variation on the classic British drawing room setup (the suspects are all gathered together, though not in a secluded location), the violence is minimal and offstage, with the investigator solving the crime through intelligence and deduction instead of car chases, fist fights and shootouts. New school, on the other hand, is well represented by Archie’s very high tech presence (he’s constantly hacking into various databases to gather information) and hard-boiled personality. Indeed, in Julius Katz and Archie author Dave Zeltserman has packaged the best of both crime fiction worlds into one delightfully charming read.

Elizabeth White's review of Julius Katz and Archie

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Today's Sizzling Summer Read: Blood Dreams by Jack MacLane

I'm Bill Crider. Jack MacLane is my evil twin. He's usually chained up down in the basement, but back in the late 1980s he somehow got loose, got hold of a computer, and wrote some horror novels for Zebra Books. The family never thought much of Jack, even when he became a writer, but the funny thing is, he coulda been a contender.

At least his editor at Zebra Books thought so. After Jack's first couple of novels, she was going to give Blood Dreams a big push. It's the story of a man named Hubert, who runs a used-book store in a small town. His hobby is killing people. He's very clever, so he's never been caught or even suspected. Not until a boy who has strange dreams, nightmares, really, and all of them about Hubert, comes along. Bad things ensue. And there are alligators!

But I digress. I was going to tell you about how Jack almost became a contender. The editor at Zebra really liked his work, and she had big plans for Blood Dreams. A die-cut foldout cover. A dump full of the books to put at the front of the big chain bookstores. Stuff like that. Jack still has a couple of proof copies of that cover among his little treasures.

But that's all he has because the editor left before the book was published. It became an orphan, and while it did have a cool cover, it didn't get the big push. The new editor shoved Jack's next two books way to the back of the catalog, and Jack, in a black depression went out and, . . . Never mind. We still don't talk about that. He's been down in the basement since then, fondling the tattered paperback editions of his work, talking to spiders, and staring at those cover proofs, now growing moldy with age.

Not even the news that his books are now available in e-book format seems to cheer Jack up, but I have a feeling you could help. Here's how. Buy Jack's books! Especially Blood Dreams. Help him remember the glory days, when he was an up-and-comer. If he cheers up, maybe we'll even let him out of the basement for a while.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Today's Sizzling Summer Read: Blood Moon


by Ed Gorman

Judging by reader mail over the years Blood Moon is the most sinister of all my suspense novels.

"Blood Moon has everything--prison drama, horror story, whodunit, psycho-thriller--all skillfully combined to lead you to a shock ending." Scotland on Sunday.

I started working on the story after reading two unrelated news stories. One had to do with a strange series of murders in a rural community. The other was about a very rich young man who'd been found guilty of second degree murder for the death of his girl friend and was serving time in particularly violent prison. I wondered both about the nature of the murderer in the boonies and also how the young men, accustomed to a rather cushy life from all accounts, would survive behind bars. A story began to emerge.

"As much a superb thriller as it is a well-plotted detective story." Mystery News


The novel was first published in England where the reviews were generally excellent. The major book club in the UK picked it up and it did well for them. Over here the reviews were also good. I'd written a fair share of horror in the eighties and I was glad to see that mystery readers appreciated how I'd combined the mood of my earlier stories with the whodunit form.

"An expertly wrought atmospheric mystery featuring modern psychological crime fighting by a winning detective." Publisher's Weekly

So I'm happy to see it here on our Top Suspense Group's summer reading list. Happy reading!

"An unusually grueling and suspenseful climax...and uncompromising and unprettified account of violence and human evil..." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

BLOOD MOON is ON SALE now for a limited time for $0.99. To buy for the Kindle click here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Today's Sizzling Summer Read: Dying Memories


by Dave Zeltserman

Dying Memories opens with a woman shooting a man to death on a crowded street in Boston, claiming that this man raped and murdered her eleven-year old daughter. Except he didn't, because this woman never had a daughter. Another man stabs an MIT professor to death in front of a crowd in Harvard Square, insisting that he witnessed the professor running down his wife in the street. Except the MIT professor was three thousand miles away when the man's wife was killed.

Reporter Bill Conway discovers that these victims are connected to ViGen Corporation, a shadowy pharmaceutical company. When he tries to investigate ViGen Corporation and their role in these deaths, things quickly turn dangerous for him. The following short excerpt has Bill being questioned after being grabbed from the street and thrown into a van, with his interrogators insisting that his real name is Jeffrey Vozzmer.

“Yes you do, Jeffrey. We’re not idiots here. Tell me what I want to know and this will all be over.”

“Check my wallet,” Bill pleaded. He was nauseous, his left ear throbbing. “My driver’s license will show you that I’m not this Jeffrey Vozzmer.”

“And what would that prove?” Simon asked. “That you took the precautions to be carrying a fake ID? Please, Jeffrey, we’re not amateurs. You should know that.”

“This is all fucked up,” Bill insisted weakly. “I’m not Jeffrey Vozzmer. I never heard that name before.”

Simon ignored Bill, said patiently, “Tell me what I want to know.”

“I don’t know what you want to know.”

The same behemoth who had punched him before raised an eyebrow, asking an unspoken question. Simon, sitting opposite Bill, took his time before shaking his head.

“No, I don’t believe that will be necessary,” he said. “I’m sure we can facilitate Jeffrey to talk without having to resort to any further violence, even if it won’t be of his own volition.” Then to Bill, “One last time, tell me what I want to know.”

Numbly, Bill shook his head. “I swear, I don’t know what that is,” he said.

Simon sighed and picked up a small leather case that was on the seat next to him. He opened the case carefully, almost lovingly, and took from it a hypodermic needle, which he held up for Bill to look at.

“Relax,” Simon lied. “It’s only sodium pentothal. More than enough to loosen your lips but not enough to cause any serious damage. At least not usually.”

Simon then leaned forward. Bill tried to struggle, but the two thugs held him steady.

“If there was a chance that you would cooperate and remove your jacket I wouldn’t need to inject this inside your gum,” Simon cooed softly. “But one must do what one must do. Now, please open your mouth or I’ll have my associates force it open.”

Then it was as if a bomb had been detonated.


Bill escapes this ordeal, but soon finds that it’s not just these mysterious forces after him as he’s framed for a brutal murder. Or at least Bill’s pretty sure he’s been framed. The thing is, as with the reader, Bill’s never quite sure what’s real or not. All he knows is his peril, as well as the stakes involved, keep escalating by the minute.

Dying Memories has some similarities with my crime novels. It’s bullet paced with whiplash-inducing twists and turns throughout which will keep both Bill and the reader off balance. Where it’s very different than my crime novels, like Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer and Fast Lane, is that while they’re pitch black descents into the abyss, Dying Memories is more of a rollercoaster ride colored a murky gray that’s brightened by constant flashes of red. And where my crime novel protagonists, Joe Denton, Kyle Nevin, Leonard March and Johnny Lane, are, putting it as delicately as I can, pretty much bastards who readers root for (at least at some level) to find the hell they deserve, the hero of Dying Memories, Bill Conway, is very different. He’s someone the reader is going to be able to care about.

I hope you enjoy Dying Memories. To buy for the Kindle click here. For the Nook, here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Today's Sizzling Summer Read - Motion To Kill by Joel Goldman


I wrote Motion To Kill when one of my then law partners complained about another partner. My advice was to write a murder mystery, kill the son-of-a-bitch off in the first chapter and spend the rest of the book figuring out who did it. I took my own advice, created the character Lou Mason and let him figure it out.

Here's the set up.

The ink is barely dry on Mason's business cards when the body of the firm's senior partner, Richard Sullivan, washes ashore at a lake where the firm is having its annual retreat. New enough to the firm to be above suspicion, his partners ask him to investigate. Mason takes on the case, looking for a killer who's got Mason in his cross-hairs. Investigating the case means running through a maze of high-level corruption, sexual misconduct, organized crime and cold blooded murder. Hell of a way to get to know your new partners - the ones that survive, that is.

Motion To Kill is set at the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri and in my hometown of Kansas City. Whether he's in the Ozarks or the courtroom, Mason is a long way from being out of the woods.

Here's an excerpt.

A dead partner is bad for business, even if he dies in his sleep. But when he washes ashore on one side of a lake and his boat is found abandoned on the other side, it's worse. When the sheriff tells the coroner to "cut him open and see what we've got," it's time to dust off the resume. And the ink was barely dry on Lou Mason's.

The time was seven-thirty on Sunday morning, July 12. It was too early for dead bodies, too humid for the smell, and just right for the flies and mosquitoes. And it was rotten for identifying the body of a dead partner. These were the moments to remember.

Mason's dead partner was Richard Sullivan, senior partner in Sullivan & Christenson, his law firm for the last three months. Sullivan was the firm's rainmaker. He was a sawed-off, in your face, thump-your-chest ball buster. His clients and partners loved the money he made for them, but none of them ever confessed to liking him. Though in his late fifties, he had one of those perpetually mid-forties faces. Except that now he was dead, gray as a Minneapolis winter and bloated from a night in the water.


Sullivan & Christenson was a Kansas City law firm that employed forty lawyers to merge and acquire clients' assets so they could protect them from taxation before and after death. When bare-knuckled bargaining didn't get the deal done, they'd sue the bastards. Or defend the firm's bastard if he was sued first. Mason's job was to win regardless of which bastard won the race to the courthouse.

Hope you love it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Today's Sizzling Summer Read: No One Will Hear You


NOW HEAR THIS! by Max Allan Collins

Two serial killers vie for the attention of the public in NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU, the second J.C. Harrow thriller by Matt Clemens and me. You needn’t have read YOU CAN’T STOP ME to jump in here, however, and as much as we like the first book – recently a nominee for the Best Paperback Thriller of the Year – Matt and I feel we’ve upped the ante and improved our game second-time around.

We listened to reviewers and readers and sought to make NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU a state-of-the-art thrill ride. We made the chapters shorter, increased the plot twists, even while trying to delve deeper in the characters...not just Harrow and his superstar forensics team, but the killers themselves. And we introduced a secondary protagonist, LAPD sex crimes detective, Lt. Anna Amari, who more than holds her own with Harrow.

J.C. Harrow is a tragic hero, a former Midwestern sheriff who once saved the President’s life at the Iowa State Fair but – on the same day – lost his family to a homicidal maniac. The national attention this brought him inspired Harrow to become the host of “Crime Seen!” – a sort of reality TV version of CSI, providing Harrow with the platform...and funds...to track down his family’s murderer.

This he did in YOU CAN’T STOP ME, and now in NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU he is questioning whether he should continue on as host of this popular show, contemplating returning to law enforcement in some other small Midwestern town. That’s when a video shows up at Crime Seen HQ from “Don Juan” – a serial killer who murderers a woman on camera by way of “trying out” to be the show’s next villain. When a second killer makes a similar demand, Harrow and his team wonder if they are breeding killers as much as tracking them down....

In addition to being a thriller that has been called “riveting,” NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU takes a sharply critical and satirical look at the reality TV craze and its downside.

True-crime writer Matt Clemens and I collaborated on the first eight CSI novels, and the first two CSI MIAMI novels, selling millions of copies. We later wrote the only BONES novel and three CRIMINAL MINDS novels, becoming along the way a team well-versed in serial killer-fueled suspense and forensics sleuthing. We feel NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU is the best – and certainly most exciting and frightening – of the thrillers we’ve written together.

Will Harrow return? Well, that’s up to you....

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MAX ALLAN COLLINS is the author of ROAD TO PERDITION, the graphic novel basis for the Tom Hanks Academy Award-winning film.

No One Will Hear You is available now for both the Kindle and Nook.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Windsurfing Injury Led to "Riptide"


But for an injury, I might never have become a novelist.

This is the backstory of “Riptide,” a Jake Lassiter novel, now available on Kindle and Nook for $2.99.

In 1986, I rented a condo on Maui for the summer, intent on polishing my skills as a competitive windsurfer. My second day at Hookipa Beach, bouncing over the lip of a roller, the board exploded out of the water and smashed my femur. The E.R. physician told me nothing was broken and recommended smoking a little Maui Wowie for the pain. (No, not Dr. House).


So I sat on the beach with a yellow pad and started handwriting a novel featuring a character that popped into my mind: linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter. Here’s the first sentence of fiction I ever wrote, (not counting certain statements in my appellate briefs). “The old man loved gadgets, money, and large-breasted women, and at the moment, he had all three.”

When I returned home to Miami to resume practicing law, I put the novel aside and wrote “To Speak for the Dead,” which became my first published book. I kept re-writing “Riptide,” which appeared as a William Morrow hardcover under the title “Slashback.” And that line about gadgets, money, and breasts? It’s now the first sentence of chapter two. Here’s what the Tampa Tribune had to say:

“A thriller as fast as the wind...a bracing rush, as breathtaking as hitting the Gulf waters on a chill December morning.”

There’s more about the Jake Lassiter series on my website, including info about “Riptide,” in which Jake Lassiter chases two dangerous professional windsurfers from Miami to Maui in pursuit of the old man’s stolen bonds. You can buy the e-book from Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Smashwords for $2.99.

Paul Levine