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 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....


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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sizzling Summer Read RUNNING COLD (A Mick Callahan Novel)

Harry Shannon, here. I created media psychologist Mick Callahan as the protagonist of my debut hardcover mystery. Mick was born and raised near the small town of Wells, Nevada. He's an alcoholic, a loyal friend, a hot tempered genius. After a failed stint in the Navy Seals, Mick studied Psychology and ended up hosting a television show. Booze, sex and ego brought him down. Over the course of the four novels in the series, he's gone from humiliated and sober and on the comeback trail (Memorial Day), working in radio again (Eye of the Burning Man), back on track but in trouble with the mob (One of the Wicked) and now, in RUNNING COLD, your Top Suspense Sizzling Summer Read of the day, Mick is on the edge of collapse, fighting a return to the bottle and mourning the loss of his girlfriend.

And then one of Callahan's clients is murdered. The client's son Wes McCann is a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan. Wes blames Callahan. These two dangerous men are set on a collision course, one crazed with grief and the other tortured by guilt. I've been told that Running Cold is the darkest of the four Callahan novels, and I suppose that's true, though for me Callahan's deep concern for others and his sense of integrity always shine. He's flawed and troubled, but he's a good man. If character is destiny, Mick will likely end up okay when this series ends. Hell, he deserves that much after all I've put him through!

"A flawed and edgy hero. Dark wit, excellent writing and action-packed pace."
—The Rap Sheet, January Magazine

"Mick Callahan is a man with a past, a mean right hook, and a radio talk show. He's pretty good at giving people advice - just not necessarily good at taking it. The strength of this series is in its central characters, flawed, human, often funny, sometimes tragic, and the relationships among them."
—Mystery Scene

"Mick Callahan is not only likeable (as deemed by Library Journal) but he manages to endear himself as a very realistic hero, with a strong sense of purpose and an equal dash of vulnerability."
—Cemetery Dance

"Mick's road to redemption is wry, bittersweet and altogether touching."
—New Mystery Reader

Buy the book here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today's Sizzling Summer Read -- SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE by Libby Hellmann

"A tremendous book - sweeping but intimate, elegiac but urgent, subtle but intense. This story really does set the night on fire." --Lee Child

"A brilliantly-paced thriller, transitioning seamlessly from modern-day Chicago to the late '60s. First-rate characterization...Best to start early in the day, as it is easy to stay up all night reading it." --Foreword Magazine

"RT Top Pick for December: "Electric... a marvelous novel."
--RT Book Reviews

"Set the Night on Fire is a compelling story of love, truth and redemption. This will be a break-out novel for this talented writer. Highly recommended." --Sheldon Siegel, NYTImes bestselling author of Perfect Alibi

"A top-rate thriller that taps into the antiwar protests of the 1960s... A jazzy fusion of past and present, Hellman's insightful, politically charged whodunit explores a fascinating period in American history."
--Publishers Weekly

That's what reviewers are saying. Here's what I say:


I do remember the Sixties.

Especially 1968. That was the turning point in my political "coming of age." I was in college in Philadelphia on April 4th when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I watched as riots consumed the inner cities. I was saddened and disappointed -- as a teenager growing up in Washington DC, I'd gone to plenty of concerts at the Howard theater where blacks and whites grooved to Motown artists together. I actually thought we were moving towards a color-blind society -- I was young and idealistic then). So the frustration and rage expressed through the riots was - in a way- confusing.

Two months later I understood. My college boyfriend had been tapped to head up the national "Youth for Bobby Kennedy" program. I was really excited; I planned on dropping out for a semester to work with him. For some reason I couldn't sleep the night of June 5th and turned on my radio. Bobby had been shot just after winning the California Democratic primary. He died the next day. So much for the Youth for Kennedy campaign.

Sadness soon gave way to bitterness. The country was falling apart. Over the years some of our brightest lights had been snuffed out. Internationally our government seemed to be supporting the "bad guys." And underlying it all was an unwinnable war that - perversely -- was escalating and risking the lives of my peers. I began to question why I should work through the system, especially when the system wasn't working for us.

I wasn't alone. Plenty of others yearned for change. Fundamental change that would rebuild our society and culture. The next few years were tumultuous and volatile, but in the final analysis, we failed. Maybe the task was impossible -- how many Utopias exist? Sure, there were cultural shifts. But political change, in the sense of what to expect from our leaders and our government? Not so much. The era left me with unresolved feelings. What should we have done differently? Are all progressive movements doomed to fail?

At this point you're probably wondering what this has to do with writing a thriller. And you'd be right. It's never been my intention to write a political screed. I am a storyteller whose stories, hopefully, you can't put down. I realized that if I was going to write about the Sixties, I needed a premise that would hook readers in the present, regardless of how much they know or remembered about the Sixties.

I found that premise in a film. Do you remember SIGNS, starring Mel Gibson? It came out in 2002, and I thought the first half was the most riveting film I'd ever seen. Gibson's family is being stalked, but they don't know who and they don't know why. The second half of the film, when we discover it's just your garden variety aliens, was an enormous let down. Putting a face, an identity, on fear reduces its power. But NOT knowing who's targeting you -- or why -- is the most frightening thing I can imagine.

So that's what happens to Lila Hilliard, a thirty-something professional who's come home to Chicago for the holidays. Someone has killed her family, and now they're after her. She has no idea who or why. As she desperately tries to figure it out, she finds wisps of clues that lead back to her parents' activities forty years ago. In the process she discovers that her parents were not the people she thought.

The relationship between the past and present, the consequences of events that occurred years ago fascinate me. I also love stories that plunge characters into danger and make them draw on resources they didn't know they had. SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE was the way to combine all those themes. Writing the book was an exorcism of sorts, a way to make peace with the past. And while I enjoyed reliving the past, I loved putting it behind me even more. I'm finally ready to move on.

I hope you enjoy the read. To buy the book from Amazon click here. From Nook, here. And for more about the book, and me, and everything else, just click here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Inside Top Suspense and other news

Due to our summer book club we're going to be rescheduling the following Inside Top Suspense topics to start up again in August:

Writing the Bad Guys
Great First Lines
The Best Character in Suspense awards

Watch this blog over the next few weeks for the new schedule. And speaking of our Summer Book Club, check our website!

Over the next few weeks we're also going to be providing more information on our upcoming anthology "Favorite Kills: The Best from Top Suspense"

And finally, now's your chance to suggest additional Inside Top Suspense topics!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Today's Sizzling Summer Read -- Summer of the Big Bachi

by Naomi Hirahara

My first mystery novel, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, is probably the most challenging one in my mystery series featuring cranky gardener Mas Arai. From start to publication, it probably took me fifteen years. It’s a flawed book yet a very ambitious one. For all these reasons, it still remains my favorite.

Mas Arai (pronounced “awry,” as in things go “awry”) is an atomic-bomb survivor who has lived in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California for more than half a century. He lost his wife years ago. He is estranged from his daughter. Other than a beat-up Ford truck and a couple of good friends, he doesn’t have a lot going for him. But, of course, there’s more to Mas than meets the eye. He has a secret from his days in Hiroshima during World War II and, of course, that secret is now ready to unravel in Los Angeles 1999.

Why do I describe my first novel as flawed? This is not a finely tuned mystery novel, as sits probably in the middle of being a traditional mystery and literary fiction. Mas is very broken in this novel and not that likable at times. And I use a lot of dialect. BACHI, for instance, means “what goes around, comes around.”

I feel that SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI captures a community of people that you probably never knew existed. They have survived and thrived through experiences you couldn’t imagine. This summer, spend a few days in Mas Arai’s world. It will be a fresh, and unique experience and probably one you won’t forget.

You can read reviews and a sample right here. Or if you're on Nook, here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sizzling Summer Read: VALLEY OF LIGHTS

I was within two blocks' drive of Paradise when the call came over the air. It was a 927, a general code meaning to investigate unknown trouble. The dispatch girl was offering it to Travis and Leonard, both of whom were checking IDs for warrants in the scrubby little park around the Adult Center on Jefferson; knowing that I could have them as backup in three minutes or less if the 'unknown trouble' turned out to be something bigger than anticipated, I cut in and took the call. Squad Sergeant responding, one minute or less.

Valley of Lights is a fusion of crime and horror, a dance between predator and prey in which the story twists, the stakes increase, and the tables are repeatedly turned.

It grew out of time that I spent in Phoenix, Arizona, researching the city and the desert and going on ride-alongs with the Phoenix PD. I was working on a novel that I never actually got to write. That novel idea was ambitious and sprawling. It was everything I ever wanted to say. It was art. It would have been as boring as hell. Instead, I wrote this.

It began as a simple idea for a short story and grew as I wrote it, in the way that no book had ever grown in my hands before. The story flew. All those days in the squad car with Lieutenant Dave Michels, the late shifts with Sergeants Tom Kosen and Jesse James, the flophouses and the trailer parks and the stakeouts in gaudy motels and the millionaires' houses in the Camelback Mountains - everything came together to feed the tale.

This is the book of which Dean Koontz wrote, "If thriller reading were a sin, Stephen Gallagher would be responsible for my ultimate damnation. His work is fast-paced, well-written, infused with a sense of dark wonder, and altogether fresh."

When I selected the title to present as my Sizzling Summer Read, fellow Top-Suspenser Ed Gorman kindly wrote, "I still think that Valley of Lights is one of the coolest - and most imitated - novels I've ever read."

Here's what Phoenix PD Sergeant Alex Volchak finds on his arrival at the Paradise Motel:
We came to the last of the units. Beyond this was some empty parking space and then a high cinderblock wall topped with wire. Not a place, on the whole, that I'd have cared to spend any time in. The desk clerk stood out front and gestured me towards the window as if to say take it, I don't want it, the responsibility's all yours. I was aware that, some distance behind me, one or two people had emerged and were watching to see if anything interesting was going to happen. I stepped up to the window and looked inside.

The sash was open an inch at the top, and some faint stirring of the air had caused the drapes to part down the middle. The bug screen and the darkness inside made it difficult to see anything at all, but as my eyes adjusted I began to make out shapes. Something that had at first looked like a bean bag resolved itself into a human form, slumped, halfway out of a low chair as if he'd fainted while sitting. The details weren't clear, but also in my line of sight across the room was the end of the bed with somebody lying on it. I could see a pair of soiled tennis shoes for this one, not much more.

Just drunks sleeping off a party, I thought, remembering the heavy breathing that was being picked up by the dislodged phone, and I turned to the clerk and said, 'Who's the room registered to?'

'A little s...' he began, but then he caught himself. 'A Hispanic guy. I don't think he's even one of them.'

'Well... all I see is people sleeping. I don't know what's so unusual in that.'

'For four straight days? It could have been longer. He registered weeks ago, he closed the drapes on day one and he musta sneaked the others in when no-one was watching.'

'What about the maid?'

'We're residential, maid service comes extra. She just leaves the towels and sheets outside, doesn't go in. What do you think?'

I felt a definite stirring of interest. I said, 'I think you should get your pass key so we can go inside and find out what the problem is.'

'And that's legal? I mean, I'm all square with the owner if I do what you say?'

'Get the key, all right?'

We went inside; or rather, I went inside and the little monkey in the technicolor shirt hovered in the doorway behind me. My first expectation, which was of the smell of opium smoke, turned out to be wrong; what hit me instead was a rank odor like bad breath and drains. I crossed the room and opened the window as wide as it would go, and then I turned to look at the place in the harsh angles of daylight.

Nobody had moved. There were three of them. Slumped in the low chair opposite the window was a man in a grey business suit, an expensive-looking summer lightweight with the pants stained dark where his bladder had let go. He was the one who'd fallen against the phone and dislodged the receiver, as if he'd been propped awkwardly and hadn't stayed that way. The soiled tennis shoes on the bed belonged to a short, muscular-looking man in his late thirties, while over in the other chair by the key-operated TV sprawled a black teenager in a leather jacket.

All three of them were inert, like corpses; but I checked for a pulse on each one, and they were all alive and steady. The arms of the man on the bed, who was wearing a T-shirt, showed no fresh needle marks or even old scars.

I said to the clerk, 'Did you move anything when you came in before?'

His face was that of an animal that had just been stunned prior to slaughtering. Perhaps he thought I'd read his mind; he probably didn't realise that he'd already given himself away.

'No,' he finally managed. 'I didn't move a thing.'
You can find Valley of Lights for the Kindle right here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Voluntary Madness in a Dream

The mind is a wonderful thing, especially the subconscious. Knowing I had a blog to write, last night I dreamed that Top Suspense Group accidentally killed someone as the result of a publicity push. The dream started in the midst of the problem, just like a short story, so I don’t know how we did it, but we were genuinely sorry (being all nice people) and fearful enough of the police not to report the death, thus setting ourselves up for a murder charge. Our plan of defense was to “act normal.” This is what Dave Zeltserman told us, and Paul Levine (a lawyer as well as a writer) seconded it.

Dave’s wife, Judy, (although she was uninvolved, having been away practicing homeopathy) and I decided that shopping was the proper normal action. The scene jumped from a view of tall buildings in NYC to a huge clothing department where everything we tried on fit! We had very little time before the police interview and, apparently, lots of money to spend. Just in time, both of us managed to put together charming outfits with many accessories, mine including a small powder blue book bag that I was crazy about. (Freudian or Jungian interpretations invited.) However, our normal behavior and chic outfits were not enough to get us off the charges, and suddenly, as only in a dream, we were all headed for prison. I was stressed and uncomfortable until I opened my eyes and saw my ceiling fan.

How does this connect with my novel Voluntary Madness, a sizzling summer read, that is the supposed subject of this blog? Ha! In Voluntary Madness, Punch and Juliette accidentally kill someone and cover it up!

Okay, beyond that, Juliette flashes nude in an alley in Key West to create a scene for Punch’s novel, the couple breaks into Hemingway House to avoid the crowds, and they steal carry-outs from gourmet restaurants, among other quirky criminal antics, amidst bohemian Key West personalities and places. None of that was in my dream, but maybe if I’d slept later . . . .

I guess what I’m thinking is that if you enjoy characters with off-kilter psychology, then you’ll like the book. It’s filled with light crime, heavy sex, and Key-west weird. There’s a Yorkie seeing-eye dog to satisfy your animal cravings and a visit to Coral Castle where you’ll learn the meaning of true love—the stuff dreams are made of.

Voluntary Madness, first published by Serpent’s Tail, UK, 1999, now available on Kindle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sizzling Summer Reads - WATCH ME DIE

Lee Goldberg's Watch Me Die, one of the most acclaimed PI novels in years and a finalist for best novel by the Private Eye Writers of America, is now available as an ebook and in a new paperback edition.
"As dark and twisted as anything Hammett or Chandler ever dreamed up...." Kirkus, Starred Review

"Approaching the level of Lawrence Block is no mean feat, but Goldberg succeeds with this engaging PI novel." Publishers Weekly

Harvey Mapes is a 26-year-old security guard who spends his nights in a guard shack outside a gated community in Southern California, reading detective novels, watching reruns, and waiting for his life to finally start... which happens when Cyril Parkus, one of the wealthy residents, asks Harvey to follow his beautiful wife Lauren.
The lowly security guard jumps at the opportunity to fulfill his private eye fantasies and use everything he's learned from Spenser, Magnum, and Mannix. But things don't exactly go according to the books...or the reruns. As Harvey fumbles and stumbles through his first investigation, he discovers that the differences between fiction and reality can be deadly.

(This book was previously released under the title The Man With the Iron-On Badge


"A wonderfully fresh voice in the mystery genre, Goldberg will delight fans of Janet Evanovich and Robert Crais," - Rick Riordan, author of "The Throne of Fire."

"Great concept and great's funny, thrilling, and quirky, with a completely satisfying ending you won't see coming. --Barry Eisler, New York Times bestselling author of "The Last Assassin"

"Lee Goldberg is known for his cleverness and sense of humor. He shows how a masterful plotter can take a character in a comic situation and lead him into unexpected danger in an eye-blink," --Thomas Perry, New York Times bestselling author of "The Informant." 

"Lee Goldberg bravely marches into territory already staked out by some fierce competition--Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, the early Harlan Coben--and comes out virtually unscathed." The Chicago Tribune

"Goldberg has a knack for combining just the right amount of humor and realism with his obvious love for the PI genre and his own smart ass sensibilities. [...]A terrific read. Goldberg is the real deal and should be on everyone's must read list." Crimespree Magazine

"Likeable loser Harvey Mapes is my new favorite private eye," Victor Gischler, Edgar-nominated author of "Gun Monkeys" 

"More than any other element in the book, it's Harvey's voice you'll remember. There's a workaday universality to it that gives the novel its wit and insight and truth," Ed Gorman, founder of Mystery Scene Magazine and author of "Blood Money."

"A quick, fun read with a satisfying and unexpected ending. Harvey Mapes is a hero I hope we see in a sequel." -- Phillip Margolin, author of "Gone But Not Forgotten"

I don’t know if you’ve ever read John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books before. McGee is sort of a private eye who lives in Florida on a houseboat he won in a poker game. While solving mysteries, he helps a lot of ladies in distress. The way he helps them is by fucking their brains out and letting them cook his meals, do his laundry, and scrub the deck of his boat for a few weeks. These women, McGee calls them “wounded birds,” are always very grateful that he does this for them.
To me, that’s a perfect world.
I wanted his life.
This is the story of what I did to get it.
My name is Harvey Mapes. I’m twenty-nine years old, six feet tall, and I’m in fair shape. I suppose I’d be better-looking if I exercised and stopped eating fast-food three times a day, but I won’t, so I won’t.
I’m a security guard. My job is to sit in a little, Mediterranean-style stucco shack from midnight until eight a.m. six days a week, outside the fountains and gates of Bel Vista Estates, a private community of million-dollar-plus homes in the Spanish Hills area of Camarillo, California.
The homes at Bel Vista Estates are built on a hillside above the farms of Pleasant Valley, the Ventura Freeway, and a really great outlet mall, about a quarter of the way between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. I say that so you can appreciate the kind of drive to work I have to make each night from my one-bedroom apartment in Northridge.
There are worse jobs.
Most of the time, I just sit there looking at my black and white monitor, which is split into quarters and shows me three different views of the gate and a wide angle of an intersection up the hill inside the community. I’m supposed to watch the intersection to see if people run the stop sign, and if they do, I’m supposed to write them a “courtesy ticket” when they come through the gate.
I’d like to meet the asshole who came up with that.
It’s no courtesy to give one, and the folks who live here certainly don’t think it’s a courtesy to take one. Most of the time, they don’t even stop to get it from me; they just laugh or flip me off or ignore me altogether.
And why shouldn’t they? It’s not like I’m going to chase them down to the freeway or put a lien on their homes.
Enforcement really isn’t my job anyway. I’m there to give the illusion of security. I don’t have a gun, a badge, or even a working stapler. If there’s any real trouble, which there never is, I’m supposed to call my supervisor and he’ll send a car out.
The guys in the car, guys so inept and violent the police department wouldn’t hire them, are the “armed response team” the company advertises. If I were a resident, I’d feel safer taking my chances with the robber, rapist, or ax murderer.
I’m just the guy in the shack. The one who either waves you through and opens the gate, or stops you to see if you’ve got a pass. If you do, or if I get the homeowner on the phone and he says you’re okay, then I jot your name and license number in my ledger, open the gate, and return to my reading.
I do a lot of reading, which is the one big perk of the job and, truthfully, the reason I took it in the first place, back when I was going to community college. Mostly I read paperback mysteries now, cheap stuff I get at used bookstores, and it’s probably why I was so susceptible to his offer when it came.
I guess on some level I wanted to be like the tough, self-assured, no-problem-getting-laid guys I read about. I conveniently forgot that in a typical book, those guys usually sustain at least one concussion, get shot at several times, and see a lot of people die.
It was after midnight, but still early enough that I hadn’t settled into a book yet, when Cyril Parkus drove up in his white Jaguar XJ8, the one with a forest of wood and a herd’s worth of leather inside, and instead of going through the resident lane to wait for me to open the gate, he drove right up to my window.
We’re supposed to stand up when they do that, almost at attention, like we’re soldiers or something, so I did. The people who live at Bel Vista Estates are quick to report you for the slightest infraction, especially one that might imply you aren’t acknowledging their greatness, wealth, and power.
Even just sitting in that car, Parkus exuded the kind of laid-back, relaxed charm that says to me: look how easy-going I am, it’s because I’m rich and damn happy about it. He was in his mid-thirties, the kind of tanned, well-built, tennis-playing guy who subscribes to Esquire because he sees himself in every advertisement and it makes him feel good.
In other words, he was the complete opposite of me.
I’d see him leave for work every morning around six thirty or seven a.m., and it wasn’t unusual for me to see him coming home so late. But he rarely stopped to talk to me, unless it was to leave a pass or get a package from me that his wife hadn’t picked up during the previous shift. I’d only seen his wife, Lauren Parkus, once or twice, and when I did, it was late and she was in the passenger seat of his car, her face hidden in the shadows as he sped by.
“Good evening, Mr. Parkus,” I said, adopting the cheerful, respectful, and totally false tone of voice I used with all the residents.
“How are you, Harvey?”
I caught him glancing at my nameplate as he spoke. Each guard slides his nameplate into a slot on the door at the start of his shift for exactly this reason. You can’t expect the residents to remember, or care about, the name of the guy in the shack.
“Fine, sir,” I replied. “What can I do for you?”
He smiled warmly at me, a smile as false as my cheerful respect and admiration.
“Could I ask you a couple of questions about your work, Harvey?”
“Of course, sir.”
I figured there must be a complaint coming, and this was just his wind-up. In the back of my mind, I tried to guess what I could have done to piss him or his wife off, but I knew there wasn’t anything.
“What are your hours?” Parkus asked.
I told him. He nodded.
“And then what do you do?” he asked.
That question had nothing to do with work, and I was tempted to tell him it was none of his fucking business, but I wanted to keep my job, and it wasn’t like there was anything in my life worth keeping private. Besides, I was curious where all this was going and how I was going to get screwed in the end. At that moment, I had no way of knowing just how bad it would be or how many people would get killed along the way.
“I usually grab something to eat at Denny’s, since they serve a decent dinner any time and have good prices, and then I go home.”
“You go right to sleep?”
“No, sir, I like to sit by the pool if it’s sunny, swim a couple of laps, maybe go to a movie or something. Then I go to bed around three in the afternoon, wake up around nine or ten, have some breakfast, and come back here for another day of work.”
“So, you only work this one job and don’t go to school or anything.”
“That’s right, sir.”
Parkus nodded, satisfied. Apparently, I told him what he wanted to hear. I confirmed that I was a complete loser and that yes, his life was a lot better than mine.
“Could I meet you at Denny’s in the morning and buy you dinner?” he asked. “I’d like to talk over a business proposition with you.”
“Sure,” I said, too stunned to say anything more.
He drove up to the gate and waited for me to open it. I hit the button, the gate rolled open, and I watched him drive up the hill, wondering what he could possibly want from me.
I kept watching him on the monitor. I couldn’t do that with most residents, but Parkus happened to live on one of the corners of the intersection that I’m supposed to watch for those “courtesy tickets,” so technically, I wasn’t spying, I was just doing my job.
Cyril Parkus lived in a huge, Spanish-style house that had two detached garages out front and a couple of stone lions on either side of the driveway, each with one stone paw resting on a stone ball. I’ve never understood the point of those lion statues, or why rich people think it’s classy to have them. I’ve thought about buying one and sticking it in front of my apartment door, just to see how my life changes, but I don’t know what they’re called or where you find them and I probably couldn’t afford one anyway.
Once he went inside his house, the excitement was over and I was in for a long, restless night, waiting for daybreak, unaware that with the sunrise, my life would change completely.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sizzling Summer Reads

It's going to be a long, hot Top Suspense Summer! Here 12 masters of the genre will keep you on the edge of your beach towel with 12 sizzling summer reads guaranteed to get your pulse pounding.

Join in the discussions this summer and win a free copy of our second anthology! With our second Top Suspense anthology we’ll each be contributing an award nominated, an award winning, or a personal favorite story. It will be out in the Fall, and anyone who reads and joins in the discussion on our Facebook page of four of our summer books--or better yet, reviews the books on Amazon--will receive a free copy before we make it available to the general public.

Watch this blog over the next three weeks as each Top Suspense author will talk about their sizzling summer books.

Blood Dreams by Jack MacLane (Bill Crider)

Blood Moon by Ed Gorman

Dying Memories by Dave Zeltserman

Motion to Kill by Joel Goldman

No One Will Hear You by Max Allan Collins & Matthew Clemens

Riptide by Paul Levine

Running Cold by Harry Shannon

Set The Night On Fire by Libby Hellmann

Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara

Valley Of Lights by Stephen Gallagher

Voluntary Madness by Vicki Hendricks

Watch Me Die by Lee Goldberg

And don't forget to join our Summer Sizzling Reads discussions all summer long at our Top Suspense Facebook Page!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


It’s gonna to be a long, hot summer, and you’re probably wondering how you’ll get through it. What do you think about when the nights are hot and heavy, it’s impossible to move without sweating, and the smell of someone's perfume or aftershave hangs in the air? Well, if you’re INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE, you think about sex.

So that’s our topic this time. How do you mix sex, murder, and suspense? Do they go together at all? When you write sex do you close the door and cut to the next scene? Or do you give readers all the details? Top Suspense gives you our opinions, starting with the Mistress of Erotic Suspense, Vicki Hendricks. You'll also hear from Lee Goldberg, Ed Gorman, and Naomi Hirahawa.

Hope you’ll join the conversation, too… it’s bound to be a hot one.

From Vicki Hendricks

Since I’m first on this topic, I'll start with the most basic part of writing: words. Whether you’re writing a suspense novel or any novel, the choice of language level for a sex scene has to be made by carefully considering the characters and the type of writing. For example, is the point of view you’re using a shy college professor or an ex-con? In a suspense novel you want to be realistic, so you would not use romance language—a common error—but you might not want to dip too far into slang either. It always takes plenty of rewriting and reading aloud to get the right tone, since there can be a fine line between sounding like a “normal” sexual participant and a physician writing for a medical journal. However, sometimes, you can get down and dirty in order to bring out a gritty character, especially in noir. Here are the three basic categories:

Romantic (abstract and soft, sometimes clich├ęd)
For example: member, rod, loins, love juice
cave, mound, peaks,
the earth moves

Realistic (concrete, physiological)
For example: penis, testicles, semen,
breasts, vagina, lubrication
orgasm, intercourse, climax

Slang (concrete, idiomatic, graphic and visual)
For example: cock, balls, jism,
pussy, tits, clit,

Of course, there are many other words to choose from, especially in the slang category, but I’ll save the titillation for my novels. Make your own list. It’s fun!

From Lee Goldberg

I think the words you choose to describe sex...and the body parts...has to be a reflection of the characters and their attitudes...and the overall tone of the book. To me, writing a sex scene is less about the sex itself than what the scene is supposed to accomplish as far as revealing character or furthering the plot. It shouldn't just be there to turn the reader on...even if you're writing erotica. The sex act, in and of itself, will be mere coupling between two creatures...and certainly won't be compelling, entertaining or arousing if the reader isn't emotionally invested in the characters. Here's an example of what I'm talking about, from my book WATCH ME DIE.
I guess something I learned from “Mannix” was true. Being a private eye really is an aphrodisiac to women. Carol had never attacked me like that before.
I’m afraid the surprise and excitement were too much, because I came in about three minutes. But I don’t think Carol minded; it calmed me down and allowed me to concentrate real hard on getting her off. And believe me, it took my complete attention. Pleasing a woman, especially Carol, isn’t easy and with me, at least, there’s a lot of potential for embarrassment and humiliation.
She rewarded me for all my hard work with a nice, squealing, writhing orgasm that nearly broke my nose on her pubic bone, but I didn’t mind. I even jumped in, literally, to enjoy the last few squeals of it with her.
It was so dark, and things happened so fast, she never saw my cuts and bruises, so she mistook my occasional groans of pain for pleasure.
Carol fell right to sleep afterwards.
Between the sex, the pain, and the things on my mind, I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked. But I get laid so rarely, I’m willing to sacrifice just about anything for it, especially sleep, when I usually dream about having sex anyway.
While the scene is explicit, more by implication than actual description, it's not about the choreography or body parts. It's about attitude and character -- or, at least, I hope it is. To me, that's how you get around the pitfalls of writing the sex scene.

From Ed Gorman

The late poet Charles Bukowski once said something to the effect that no man is more dangerous than when he’s having trouble with the woman he loves. Especially if she’s left him for someone else. I don’t know about dangerous but I do know that I’ve seen a good number of swaggering macho men brought low when the women they’re with say time out or even goodbye.

The power of love and sex has caused wars; certainly it’s caused murders. No one wears jealousy well but most of us cloak ourselves in it from time to time. Nothing animates a story like love and sex. And betrayal.

Some stories work perfectly without graphic elements such as Somerset Maugham’s killer short story “The Letter” (and great Bette Davis movie) or loaded with it such as Nabokov’s LOLITA. As the writer the choice is yours.

As for me, I tend to favor the late John D. MacDonald’s notion that after awhile the ”gymnastics” of sex get dull when what you really want to know is how the two people (or since these are modern times the three or four or five people) feel about each other.

But as somebody who decades ago wrote many porno house name westerns I appreciate sex in stories if the writer gets to the psychology of the scene. If it’s just rutting that’s fine but we live in an age when various sexual encounters have been properly categorized-there’s the grudge, the pity, the merry fornicator, the deeply in-love, the monotony-breaker and the well know Patriot. And those are just a few of the categories I learned from carefully reading Hustler’s letter columns.

From Naomi Hirahawa

I will be the first to admit that I’m probably the “softest” of this bunch here at Top Suspense, in that I don’t write explicit sex scenes (more so in my short stories) and suspense usually comes in the form of historic betrayal and feelings rather than the end of an Uzi machine gun. But that is not to say that “Sex and Suspense” is not key in any kind of storytelling and especially in genre fiction.

First about sex – replace it with passion and that’s what makes the world go-around. Even if you write the coziest of cozies with an amateur sleuth like I do, your detective must understand human passion because it often fuels murder. And in writing genre fiction, you must touch people emotionally and sensually.
In terms of actually writing sex and romance scenes in a traditional mystery, it is a delicate balancing act. My sleuth is now in his seventies and there’s a potential romantic interest ten years his junior. Will I perpetuate the stereotype that once someone reaches their golden years, there is little sex? How will I continue this relationship without turning off my core readership who might be uncomfortable traveling in this arena? Honestly, I don’t know the answers to these questions – I just have to follow my character and see where his passion takes him.

Some tips to think about when writing a traditional mystery:
When in doubt, always think about your character and his/her POV. What turns him or her on? And there’s no need to go back to the 1940s and their tropes i.e. femme fatales. What does the love interest smell like? What does his or her hands and fingers feel like? A peck or simple squeeze may unleash passionate feelings that will keep your protagonist up at night.
With passion come other uncontrollable feelings, like jealousy and despair. Here’s your chance to add more conflict to your character’s life. Have fun with it!