One Bite at a Time




Monday, March 27, 2017

Psycho Sidekicks

Benoit Lelieve, writing in Dead End Follies on March 14, took aim at “Ten Non-Racial Bullshit Stereotypes [He’s] Tired of Seeing.” (Editor’s Note: If you aren’t reading Dead End Follies, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Putz.) I agree in general with the list, the differences not so motivating I feel the need to write up one of my own.

I am inclined to comment at length on one of them. Number Six, to be precise: Friendly Psychopaths, or, as they are so often depicted, the psycho sidekick.

We all know who they are. Mouse. Hawk. Bubba Rogowski. Joe Pike, though Robert Crais has taken some of the edge off Pike in more recent novels. These are the guys who’ll do the stuff the author (or publisher, or, more likely, the marketing department) is afraid to have the protagonist do, lest the readers think less of him. They also serve a valuable role in providing information the protagonist can’t get on his own, sauntering into scenes with a key piece of evidence at just the right time.

The concept is a cheat when done badly, which is too often the case. Hence Benoit’s fatigue with the archetype. When done well these characters can serve a purpose beyond authorial convenience by giving the protagonist a peer to play off of. Yes, Spenser has Susan and Patrick Kenzie has Angie, but there are things they can say and do with Hawk and Bubba they’d rather not discuss elsewhere. Topics such as, “How are we gonna kill this guy?” Angie’s okay for discussing “Should we kill this guy?” and Susan…well, Susan’s mostly a pain in the ass. I never was able to figure out why Spenser discussed anything with her.

Another type of psycho sidekick has sprung up relatively recently, those that are not inherently violent. My favorite example is Sean Chercover’s Gravedigger Peace, sounding board for private eye Ray Dudgeon. (Another Editor’s Note: I know Sean is doing well with his thrillers and I couldn’t be happier for him, but I hope he hasn’t given up on Ray and Gravedigger. That’s a kick-ass combination.) I’m also a big fan of Tommy Owens from Declan Hughes’s Ed Loy series, but Tommy is more of a fuck-up than a psycho. He serves the role of providing information more than does Gravedigger, but both play valuable roles as off-kilter sounding boards for their protagonists.
 
It’s been a while since I first started writing Nick Forte stories, and the only one of these sidekicks I knew at the time was Hawk, which is fine. He’s the gold standard. I wanted Forte to have a sidekick but wanted the sidekick to be more of an homage to Hawk than a rip-off. Timothy Alston Satterwhite is a man who makes his living by hurting people, yet has a unique affection for Forte and those close to him. The nickname of “Goose” wraps up the homage aspects of his character.

I was always careful not to have Goose do Forte’s dirty work. In the first book, A Small Sacrifice, Goose offers to kill a man who has to die if Forte is to live. They’re not planning a showdown; an execution is in the works. Goose talks to Forte, tells him how it will change him, and how there might not be any going back. Forte can’t bring himself to ask his friend, and then finds he lacks what he needs himself to seal the deal.

Forte’s life and moods become darker as the series progresses. Goose remains the constant, always trying to reel his friend in. It’s been a conscious decision, hoping to do something different with a character who could easily be a stereotype.

I’ve even tried to move the classic relationship in the opposite direction. In Grind Joint, Forte appears as a “guest star,” who happens to be visiting his parents when things break bad in his old home town, assuming the role of psycho sidekick to his cousin, Penns River detective Ben “Doc” Dougherty. My favorite scene between them, in which Nick escalates a confrontation his cousin had under control, ends like this:

“I’m sorry, cuz,” Nick said. Doc knew from his tone he meant it more for him than for himself. “You called the meeting. I should’ve let you run it.”
“It’s okay, Nick. You’re right about shaking their tree. I just didn’t want to put you on the line. There are things about Volkov you don’t know.”
Nick still looked to where Yuri’s car had gone. Some of the light that shone from his eyes, made him a friend to children and dogs everywhere, had disappeared. Doc couldn’t identify what replaced it, and didn’t want to.
“It’s okay, Benny,” Nick said. “There are things about me you don’t know.”


I understand Benoit’s distaste. It’s too easy to use the Friendly Psycho as a crutch. It’s also a valuable archetype in crime fiction. We just have to continue to find ways to keep it vital. I hope I’m succeeding.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Movies Since Last Time

Took some time to watch more movies than usual recently. It was time well spent.

Hell or High Water (2016) It’s rare for me to have such high expectations for a movie and have them exceeded. It’s been three days between viewing and writing this post and my
appreciation is greater now than when I watched it, and I loved it then. Understated to mesh with the story and characters, director David Mackenzie uses the desolation of west Texas (actually eastern New Mexico) to buttress the economic conditions of the small towns in the area. Jeff Bridges adds another chapter to his legend; his scene at the end with Chris Pine does them both credit. It’s the perfect end to a damn near perfect movie, one I’m going to want to watch over and over and learn from.

Aliens (1986) One of my three favorite action movies, along with the original Die Hard and Terminator 2. (T2 also directed by James Cameron.) Well cast, well paced, few of the special effects remind you they’re special effects—even those which have to be FX—and a handful of lines that have become part of the culture, all of which are organic to the story and character. The Beloved Spouse and I chose this as the vehicle to christen our new 65-inch curved screen SUHD TV, and we chose wisely.

The Infiltrator (2016) Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo are perfect as undercover feds—
all the actors do yeoman’s work—and it’s based on a fascinating true story, but I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped. The actual fed Cranston plays was one of the producers, and a few scenes made me wonder if some stuff got papered over. The time frame is also problematic. The events that seem to have played out over a few weeks had to have taken months or years, since the crux of the story is how Cranston’s character gains the trust of key players in the Medellin cartel, which had to have taken time. Advice: Don’t watch the special features that come with the rental disk. They don’t add much and will make you wonder about a few things you just saw.

The Imitation Game (2016). Benedict Cumberbatch shines as Alan Turing, the British mathematician who was instrumental in breaking the Nazi Enigma codes during World War II, which may have won the war for the Allies; his work certainly shortened it considerably. That’s a fascinating enough story, overlaid with Turing’s support for a female math genius (Keira Knightley) and the treatment of homosexuals in post-war England, no matter how great their contributions. Well worth anyone’s time.


Unforgiven (1992) Maybe the greatest Western ever. Definitely Clint Eastwood’s best,
though I will entertain arguments for The Outlaw Josie Wales. I’ve seen Unforgiven many times. Three things stuck out this time. One was how much the ending reminds me of High Plains Drifter. The second is Little Bill’s (Gene Hackman) speech to W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) about how English Bob (Richard Harris) actually did kill Corky Corcoran, exposing the myth of the Western gunfight. Last, but definitely not least, is the quantity of great lines. Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films got all the attention for their tag lines, but Unforgiven has more outstanding lines than all the Harrys put together. Even better, none of them sound as if written for print ads. They’re all organic and character driven. Too many to list, but Eastwood never spoke a more chilling line than, “I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawls. Now I’ve come to kill you, Little Bill.” This summer is going to be devoted largely to Western research as I make up my mind about writing one. I wouldn’t be surprised if I watched this again.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Process

All writers have a process. It may seem chaotic—it may be chaotic—but there must be something that holds the work together or the work never gets done. Readers and fledgling writers are often interested in process as if there’s some alchemy that takes place at some point in the process. I know enough good writers to be able to safely say there’s not. Ultimately it’s just ass in seat until you’re done.

“But what happens while your ass is in the seat?” All I can speak to is what happens when my ass is in my seat, and it’s not pretty. It also changes from book to book. It’s not perfect, but when I get to the end I know I’ve given my best effort. If it’s a failure, it’s a noble failure.

This is how I’m writing the fifth Penns River book, Small Town Crime.

The Outline
I gotta have one. I know a lot of better writers than I who don’t use them, hate them, can’t figure out how the reader can be surprised if the writer isn’t. I get it. Tried to write a novel by the seat of my pants once and ended up with almost 40,000 words that didn’t go anywhere. Now I use an ever-changing combination of index cards, dry erase boards, magnets, and Excel spreadsheets to at least have a map of everything that has to happen in each chapter. Not how it has to happen; just what I have to accomplish to keep the story moving. I may make a lot of detours along the way, but I need the route to have any chance of getting there.

Draft 1
One single spaced page after work every work day; two pages on days off. I can skip a day but I have to make it up. Read and make light edits on what I wrote yesterday before moving forward. Read chapters to The Beloved Spouse™ as they’re finished.

Draft 1.5
After letting the book sit for a couple of weeks or more, I read it straight down. No changes allowed. Make notes in my journal, then transfer them to the computer in context.

Draft 2
Fix what I didn’t like in the read-through and make what is a collection of scenes into a book. (Note: All edits involve some level of reading aloud. It may be sotto voce, it may be full voice, it may involve acting out. Depends on the scene, my mood, and how much trouble I’m having with it.)

Draft 3
A series of passes through the appearances, in sequence, of every character who appears more than once. One day I edit nothing but Rick Neuschwander’s actions, descriptions, and dialog. Another day it’s Stush Napierkowski. More than one character a day for some lesser lights, but they all get solo attention.

Draft 4
Same as Draft 3, but for the locations. This goes considerably faster, as locations rarely have dialog.

Draft 5
Polish. Incorporate ideas that have come to me over the past weeks and months. Pay special attention to the beginnings and endings of chapters.

Let it sit for several weeks.

Draft 6
This is where my OCD truly kicks in.
Day 1: Read Chapter 1. (Or 1 and 2. Whatever.) That’s it. Read it and go on about my life.
Day 2. Edit Chapter 1 on the computer screen. Read Chapter 2.
Day 3: Edit Chapter 1 from a hard copy. Edit Chapter 2 on the computer screen. Read Chapter 3.
Day 4: Proofread Chapter 1 aloud to The Beloved Spouse™. Edit Chapter 2 from a hard copy. Edit Chapter 3 on the computer screen. Read Chapter 4.
Repeat until the final chapter is proofread.

Type “THE END.”

When people ask if I ever use an editor before submitting to my publisher, I refer them to the single greatest bit of dialog ever written:

“You asking me,” Catlett said, “do I know how to write down words on a piece of paper? That’s what you do, man, you write down one word after the other as it comes in your head. It isn’t like having to learn how to play the piano, like you have to learn notes. You already learned in school how to write, didn’t you? I hope so. You have the idea and you put down what you want to say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words. There people do that for you. Some, I’ve even seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it. So I don’t think it’s too important. You come to the last page you write in ‘[The End]’ and that’s the end, you’re done.”
Chili said, “That’s all there is to it?”
“That’s all.”
Chili said, “Then what do I need you for?”


(Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard. Page 143.)

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Conversation with J.L. Abramo

I knew the name J.L. Abramo well before I interviewed him last year, but didn’t meet him in person until the Shamus banquet last fall in New Orleans, where he won for Circling the Runway. It’s always fun when someone with a reputation such as Joe’s turns out to be a true gentleman. He could not have been nicer about crushing my dreams, both of us nominated for the same award. Much as I wanted to hate him, I couldn’t pull it off. (It’s okay. Joe’s from Brooklyn. He understands that kind of humor.)

Joe was not only born in Brooklyn, but on Raymond Chandler’s birthday. (Must be something about July 23 and writers.) He is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel; the subsequent Jake Diamond novels Clutching at Straws, Counting to Infinity and Circling the Runway; Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series; and the stand-alone thrillers Gravesend, Brooklyn Justice, and Coney Island Avenue, which is why he’s here today.
 
His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns; Mama Tried: Crime Fiction Inspired by Outlaw Country Music; Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea and Murder Under the Oaks, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology of 2015.

It’s a pleasure to get to pick his brain again, and on the day Coney Island Avenue drops, when I know he has plenty on his mind.


One Bite at a Time:  Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Joe. It was a treat to be at the Down & Out table with you when you won the Shamus Award last year in New Orleans for Circling the Runway. How did it feel to win?
J.L. Abramo:  First, let me say, it is a pleasure to be back for One Bite at a Time. Talking with you last year about Brooklyn Justice was a treat for me—I admire and appreciate an interviewer who poses smart, challenging and thought-provoking questions and displays a familiarity with the work being discussed.  Does their homework. (Editor's Note: Aw, shucks. I told you he was a gentleman.)

Earning the Shamus Award for Circling the Runway was very special to me for many reasons. Circling the Runway was the fourth in the Jake Diamond series which began with Catching Water in a Net in 2001. (Although Chasing Charlie Chan, published in 2013, is related—the events in that novel taking place some years before the beginning of Catching Water in a Net—Jake Diamond plays only a minor role.)

Catching Water in a Net received the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Award for Best First Private Eye Novel of 2000—and was published by SMP the following year.

St. Martin’s Minotaur gave me two more shots (Clutching at Straws, 2003 and Counting to Infinity, 2004) before deciding the Jake Diamond series, though well received by critics and readers alike, was not what they considered a money maker. I continued to write, of course, what other choice did I have—but the work seemed destined to remain out of the public realm.  And then, the net held water once again when Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books reached out to me and gave Jake Diamond and J. L. Abramo a second shot.  D&O quickly re-issued the three Diamond private eye mysteries.

Old and new fans kept asking if Jake would ever return. I wondered if after more than a decade away I would still know Jake and his regular band of cohorts. I found writing the novel was much like a reunion with old friends. (Re-reading the earlier books helped—reminding me how funny Jake could be.) 

Circling the Runway was the first new Jake Diamond novel published in nearly a dozen years (Gravesend and Chasing Charlie Chan preceding it) and earning the Shamus was an affirmation that the series was still viable after a long hiatus—and a validation by fellow private eye novelists that the work was worthy.  Earning an award decided upon by your peers is most rewarding.

OBAAT: You’re well-known for your Jake Diamond series. What made you switch to a police procedural when you wrote Gravesend?
JLA:  Actually, the seeds of Gravesend were sown before Jake Diamond.  It was a work which developed for many years and in its final incarnation was given a chance to see the light of day thanks again to Down & Out Books.

Gravesend is about people who happen to be police detectives or criminals or in the neighborhood.  I was writing about how lives intersect—often accidentally and sometimes unknowingly.  I was treating Brooklyn as a small town—which for all its size it had always felt to me when I was growing up in Gravesend.  Writing Gravesend was a return to the place of my origin—more a change of setting from Jake Diamond’s San Francisco to my hometown, Brooklyn, than a change from one sub-genre to another.  It was a chance to rediscover for—as T.S. Eliot put it—We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

And although Gravesend is crime novel on the surface—the book evolved into its present incarnation when I finally understood what I was humbly attempting to explore—namely how the manner in which human beings handle adversity will ultimately define them as persons—good or evil—weak or strong—fair or unjust—loved or despised—admired or feared.

OBAAT: Coney Island Avenue is the sequel to Gravesend. Tell us a little about it.
JLA:  I never really planned to write a follow-up to Gravesend.  Gravesend was a very ambitious and personal novel—it had been developing for a long time—and I was proud of the work.  I feared it might be too hard an act to follow.  But I received lots of encouragement from readers who wanted to hear more about the characters and where they might venture—and I found myself wondering also—so I picked up where Gravesend left off and wrote a sequel which is a crime novel and also very much about parents and children.

OBAAT: It’s always interesting to talk with an author who switches between sub-genres as you do, probably because I do it myself. Do you take a different approach when working on a PI novel as compared to your procedurals?  I’ve thought for years that PI stories and procedurals are each uniquely suited to telling different kinds of stories. Police have to take whatever cases come to them—and they have to close them. PIs sometimes have a chance to look for closure.  Do you see fundamental differences in the genres?
JLA:  I think I approach all of my writing in the same way.  I begin with a scene, a situation, which stimulates my imagination and which I hope will draw the reader in—and what follows is the journey.

I see genre as the vehicle for that journey—the vehicle in which the writer is most comfortable—be it crime, mystery, science fiction, etc.

That being said, I agree that some situations are better served by different types of protagonists—some more suited to the private investigator, often working alone, and others more suited to a team of police investigators.

The Diamond novels tend to be lighter, less intense, more humorous due to his personality—although Murphy does provide comic relief in the precinct novels.) 

As a private investigator, Diamond may require or depend on assistance from friends and colleagues and Jake is often at odds with the SFPD—whereas the detectives of the Six-One count on and expect back-up from each other.

The private eye novel can get away with focusing on one case, but I see police detectives in a large city usually working a number of cases at once.

As you mentioned, police feel pressure to close a case—from the public, the city politicians and media—which the private eye may not have to face. Unless, of course, solving the case is a matter of life and death.

OBAAT: Moving back to Coney Island Avenue and the 61st Precinct, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask your opinion of Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct novels and whether they had any effect on you.
JLA:  Ed McBain, NYPD Blue, Blue Bloods, Serpico—these and other books, TV and films involving police officers and detectives have always appealed to me and certainly inspire me to explore and conscientiously depict the kinds of challenges faced by law-enforcers both on the job and in their personal lives.

OBAAT: New York police stories tend to focus on Manhattan. What appeals to you about Brooklyn? I don’t mean that to sound like a pejorative. I like stories that aren’t set in the same old places.
JLA:  As I mentioned earlier there is a small town character unique to Brooklyn even though by population it would be the fourth largest city in the United States—and when writing a book that is character and dialogue driven what better place to set it than the Borough of colorful characters and speech.
This piece I wrote about my little town says it as well as I could: http://jlabramo.blogspot.com/2016/03/brooklyn-ease.html

OBAAT: Your 61st Precinct books are ensemble pieces. Do you have to plan differently when you have so many moving pieces?
JLA:  I have always loved classic literature—as does Jake Diamond.  Diamond is reading a classic novel in each book—one that has parallels to the story at hand.
I particularly enjoy books with a lot of individual characters—so I tend to write that way. I remember early on a reader saying he thoroughly enjoyed Catching Water in a Net but had trouble at times keeping the many characters straight.  As a reader, I was used to books with a large number of characters—Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Hugo—so I am good at keeping it all straight in my head as I read and write. But I tend to forget it is a lot to keep track of for some readers.  So, since Catching Water in a Net, I have included a Cast of Characters at the beginning of each book for back reference—and it seems to work.  And, also, perhaps my books are ensemble pieces because of my theatre background. 

I don’t really plan the number of characters—they just keep showing up as the stories progress.

OBAAT: Who’s your favorite character of the 61st Precinct ensemble?
JLA:  I like many of the characters—enough to have decided to bring them back—but if I had to pick one favorite it would be Detective Thomas Murphy.  Murphy is very Brooklyn.  He is funny.  He is tough and vulnerable at the same time.  He is honest and loyal.  And he has a dog named Ralph.

OBAAT: Do any of them give you trouble?
JLA: For the same reasons I like Murphy, he gives me the most trouble. He can be taken the wrong way if I am not careful. He has a Brooklyn sense of humor some might take as sarcastic and a Brooklyn cynicism some might consider defeatist.  But he is neither. 

It is Murphy who says: There are degrees of guilt, shades of innocence—and they all congregate on the same avenue—which is, to a great extent, what Coney Island Avenue is about.

Since I have spent a good deal of time in places outside of Brooklyn assuring people I wasn’t making fun of them and I really think the world is a pretty cool place, I know the dangers of being misunderstood—so I need to keep a close eye on Murphy to assure he remains a likeable and sympathetic character.

OBAAT: You’ve had quite a career as an author and obviously still going strong. Looking back, what do you find the most satisfying and what has surprised you the most?
JLA:  Most satisfying is hearing from readers that the work has affected them in some positive way—even if it is simply you made me laugh.
Most surprising is that they haven’t made any movies yet.

OBAAT: Thanks again for stopping by. It’s been a treat for me and I hope to see you in Toronto, if not before. Before we call it a day, what are you working on now?  Do you have plans beyond that, or are you strictly a one book at a time guy?
JLA:  I am working on a novel about two Sicilian families who bring their blood-feud from the old country to New York City and San Francisco in the early years of the 20th Century and slug it out over the course of nearly 100 years.  Romeo and Juliet meet the Hatfields and McCoys.

What follows will be strictly up to my muse.

For more about Joe and his work please visit:


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why Bouchercon?

It’s nomination season for the Anthony Awards, which got me to thinking about Bouchercon. Not that I need much prodding. It’s the primary event on my annual calendar. I got to chatting with a fan who’s also a friend of The Beloved Spouse on Facebook, and started looking at it from a different perspective.

Readers are, by and large, introverts. By definition, introverts expend energy around other people and recharge their supply when alone. That doesn’t mean introverts don’t like other people, though we may be somewhat more discerning than extroverts when it comes to who we choose to be around. It’s not that we don’t like spending time around people who share an interest, but we’d have to leave the house to meet them and that cuts into our reading time.*

Bouchercon is the perfect place for such a person. True, it’s close to two thousand people in relatively confined quarters, but it’s not just that. It’s hundreds of people who are geeked up about the same thing you are, and are often hungry for other to talk to about it. Even better, it’s not just the thousand-plus like-minded readers you’ll see: you’ll also be tripping over the people who write the books you’ll so revved up about. What could be better than that?

They’re glad to see you, too. I’ve been to seven Bouchercons in the nine years since I discovered them. I’ve made friends there, cemented acquaintances with people I came to know online, and have created enough of a footprint myself that some people actually recognize me now. I have never once been treated other than civilly, and far more often than not people have gone out of their way to be friendly.**

It can be an expense, but it’s a bargain compared to many other conferences. The conference fee itself is always reasonable and I’m constantly surprised when I see the room rate the committee gets at the host hotel. The only complaint I’ve had is the hotels rarely appreciate how much readers and writers drink and fail to put enough additional staff on the bar. Doesn’t mean I don’t socialize; I just don’t drink as much. The hotel’s loss is my liver’s gain.

So, dear readers, if you’re curious to see what over a thousand readers and several hundred crime fiction writers look like in the wild, there’s no better place to find out than Bouchercon.

* -- The Sole Heir was pre-teen when my tenure at Castle Voldemort ended and I was the classic single divorced father again. We used to have this conversation fairly often:

TSH: Do you ever go out?
Me: Not much.
TSH: Why not?
Me: If I go out I’m going to see a lot of people I don’t know.
TSH: What’s wrong with that?
Me: I hate people I don’t know.

After a year or so she came up with the next question in that conversation.

TSH: Why do you hate people you don’t know?
Me: It saves time.

** -- My favorite Bouchercon story. Baltimore, 2008. My virgin appearance. Standing on the walkway between hotels with Peter Rozovsky, one of about three people I actually knew then. He asked was I having a good time.
Me: Sort of.
PR: What’s wrong?
Me: I don’t really know anyone here. (See above statement about people I don’t know.)
PR: (Looks around) Do you know Scott Phillips?
Me: I know who he is….
PR: (Waving) Scott! Come here a second! (Scott Phillips comes over.) Scott, this is Dana King. Dana, this is Scott Phillips. He wrote The Ice Harvest.
SP: (Extends hand) Hi, Dana.
(We chat for five minutes and Scott has to go to a panel.)
PR: See? Now you know Scott Phillips.

One year later. Indianapolis. I’m on the periphery of the crowd at the bar looking for anyone I know. I see Scott with a group of people, but he’s someone I’ve met for five minutes a year ago, not someone I know. Scott notices me and waves me over.

SP: Dana, we’re going to get something to eat. You want to come?


That’s what Bouchercon is like. If in doubt, go. Look me up. Mention this post and your drink is on me. I’m not paying for it. I’m just clumsy when I get excited.

Friday, March 3, 2017

February's Best Reads

The month of February went to the dogs, reading-wise. That doesn’t mean the reading wasn’t good, only that the two books I liked best both had dogs in key roles. Sometimes even as the POV character. And they helped to solve the mysteries. No, I haven’t started reading cozies. These are badass K-9s we’re talking about.

Scent of Murder, James O. Born. Born didn’t futz around. He went whole hog, using an entire outfit of dogs and their handlers, though Tim Hallett and Rocky are primary. The story revolves around a serial molester of girls who takes his game up a notch, kills one, and decides he likes it. Born does a nice job feeding the reader clues and letting suspicions build before the big reveal. Not much suspension of disbelief is required to keep the reader hooked and the payoff is well worth it. I just went off about the value of execution, and it applies here, as well, with a unique twist on police work and lots of good dog stuff. Born is hooked up with James Patterson’s Bookshots and Lou Dobbs, but let’s hope he hasn’t given up on Tim and Rocky.


The Promise, Robert Crais. I didn’t think I’d like this one when I started it. I love Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, but Crais has gotten into a pattern of writing Cole stories in various POV, with Cole’s chapters in first person, everyone else third. There are few ways more certain of getting me out of a story by reminding me of the writing. By Cole’s second appearance I was over it; Crais is that good. True, there are a few bestseller elements in his current work that weren’t there before, but such is life. He’s the goods, and the various POV help not only to round out the edges of the story, but show he’s not finished finding new ways to keep this series original. I knew by 11:30 I’d be up as long as it took to finish this one.