Monday, September 30, 2013

New Books: NEVER COME BACK by David Bell

Never Come Back by David Bell

NEVER COME BACK (available from NAL/Penguin October 1st) tells the story of Elizabeth Hampton a twenty-five-year old graduate student whose mother is found dead in the opening chapter. The police suspect homicide almost right away due to the bruises on her mother’s body, but who would have a motive to murder a quiet, retired, sixty-nine-year old widow? Suspicion falls on members of the family, most notable Elizabeth’s older brother, Ronnie, an adult with Down Syndrome. Ronnie can’t fully account for his whereabouts on the night of the crime, and in the past he has had violent outbursts directed at his mother.

But is Ronnie really guilty? Or is he just a convenient target for the police? Elizabeth’s life gets more complicated when she reads her mother’s will and discovers that her mother’s small estate is being shared with a woman Elizabeth has never heard of before. And this woman’s name also happens to be Elizabeth.

Let’s be honest…when we’re kids, we’re pretty self-centered. We can’t imagine that our parents had lives before we were born. But do we really want to know everything about our parents? What if the things we find out about them are things that change our lives forever? Elizabeth Hampton faces this dilemma in NEVER COME BACK, a book that Kirkus Reviews called “an intriguing psychological thriller” and Publishers Weekly added that “Bell does a good job of exposing the steaminess underlying seemingly placid smalltown life…sensational.”

David Bell is the author of four previous novels including THE HIDING PLACE and CEMETERY GIRL. Visit his website at, follow him on Twitter @davidbellnovels and Facebook at

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer

Forgotten Books: The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer

Bruno Fischer had one of those careers you can't have any more. There's no market for any of it. He started out as editor and writer for a Socialist newspaper, shifted to terror pulps when the newspaper started failing, became a successful and respected hardcover mystery novelist in the Forties and early Fifties, and finally turned to Gold Medal originals when the pb boom began. His GMs sold in the millions. His House of Flesh is for me in the top ten of all GMs.

Then for reasons only God and Gary Lovisi understand, Fischer gave up writing and became an editor for Colliers books. But he had one more book in him and it turned out to be the finest of his long career.

Fischer shared with Howard Fast (Fast when he was writing mysteries under his pen names) a grim interest in the way unfulfilling jobs grind us down, leave us soulless. Maybe this was a reflection of his years on the Socialist newspaper. The soullessness features prominently in The Evil Days because it is narrated by a suburban husband who trains to work each day to labor as an editor in a publishing company where he is considered expendable. Worse, his wife constantly reminds him (and not unfairly) that they don't have enough money to pay their bills or find any of the pleasures they knew in the early years of their marriage. Fischer makes you feel the husband's helplessness and the wife's anger and despair.

The A plot concerns the wife finding jewels and refusing to turn them in. A familiar trope, yes, but Fischer makes it work because of the anger and dismay the husband feels when he sees how his wife has turned into a thief. But ultimately he goes along with her. Just when you think you can scope out the rest of the story yourself, Fischer goes all Guy de Maupassant on us. Is the wife having an affair? Did she murder her lover? Is any of this connected to the jewels? What the hell is really going on here?

Sometimes we forget how well the traditional mystery can deal with the social problems of an era and the real lives of real people. The hopelessness and despair of these characters was right for their time of the inflation-dazed Seventies. But it's just as compelling now as it was then when you look at the unemployment numbers and the calm reassurances by those who claim to know that the worst is yet to come.

All this wrapped in one hell of a good tale by a wily old master.

Friday, September 27, 2013

New Books: TWIST by John Lutz

NEW BOOKS: John Lutz


TWIST is the title of my latest serial killer novel featuring former NYPD homicide detective Frank Quinn. It is the eighth in the Quinn series. I think there’s plenty of room for more. That’s because of what makes this kind of novel work.
  That would be women In danger. Because of women in danger, the future of novels like TWIST is assured. The term “serial killers” suggests female victims. Almost always such killers are men. Almost always their victims are women.
I wrote TWIST for a number of reasons, only one of which was that serial killers sold well. The reason might be that they contain a story structure similar to that of a real serial killer investigation. In real life, and in serial killer novels, something terrible happens – like a gruesome sex-crime murder -- that seizes the public’s (the reader’s) interest. A psychosexual killer is on the loose. Then the main character, the lead detective, is introduced –– either in the novel or in the news media -- and the investigation becomes a chess game and a mano-a-mano exercise.
So it is with TWIST and Frank Quinn. The murders continue, and danger and difficulties increase, along with fear, building to a crisis, climax, and anti-climax (the trial and its result).
Just like in real life – or close enough to achieve a scary kind of plausibility.
And as in real life, the reader wonders why somebody would commit such a crime over and over. How did the killer become twisted to the point of almost inhuman disdain and cruelty?
The answer, of course, is in the past. One thing most serial killers have in common is a horrible and twisted childhood. Of course, other people have such childhoods and grow up to lead normal and harmless lives. What the difference in them is remains an illusive source of wonderment, as we hear about and learn about the twisted minds of those who harbor such evil.  How can they do that?
How did they become so twisted?
Many if not most readers of serial killer novels are women. As my wily editor points out, most women enjoy a good safe scare. The operable word is safe. TWIST is safe. It can be escaped simply by closing the book.
The lead in and the rest of the story structure are there. Not unfamiliar, but always true. The twists and ups and downs are like a roller coaster. Think back to when you were a kid, rolling to a stop after a hellish roller coaster ride. Your first thought was probably “I’d love to go around again.” I’d like that to be, “I’d love to read another, similar book.”
When I began writing the Quinn stories, there weren’t all that many serial killer novels being published, despite the big successes of a notable few. Now such books have become extremely popular. Romance writers have begun to add murder to romance, having determined that this is a potent and salable brew.
But why are such books so popular now? And especially with female readers?

James Stephens said, “Women and birds are able to see without turning their heads, and that is indeed a necessary provision, for they are both surrounded by enemies.”

Unfortunately, that’s true. I think what assures the continuing success of serial killer novels is that women today lead more fearful lives. At least they perceive the world to have become more perilous.
My job has been made easier.
There seem to be two primary reasons for this perception of increased danger:

1) Overtly or subtly, women are still prey for predatory males. But now there is a pervasiveness of bad news about it. Cable TV news and/or journalism programs report in depth and give detailed descriptions of gruesome crimes that would have been just as gruesome, but much more locally reported on, not so many years ago. Now there are interviews so we feel that we know the people involved, and know the deceased. There is endless prattle on most media about whether the accused can get a “fair” trial in such an atmosphere of heated discussion. There is lots of heated discussion about that.

2) The instantaneousness of news, information, and misinformation. It’s all practically instantaneous now. News has moved on from what’s happened to what’s happening. iPhones are also cameras, video recorders, and sound recorders. Security cameras, and microphones, are virtually everywhere. Since the news is so widely and immediately reported, and in so many ways, the impression is that there’s more of it.
Whatever the statistics suggest, it seems that most women view the world as becoming increasingly dangerous.
I offer as evidence the fact that more and more women are taking self-defense courses and buying handguns that will fit in purses. A woman walks alone down a dark street where a gang of suspicious types is hanging around a porch stoop. There are a few lewd suggestive and obviously drunken cat calls. The woman slips her hand inside her purse and walks past without incident. She might well have a weapon.
This kind of thing isn’t recorded statistically, but it happens. And the knowledge that so many women are able to defend themselves adds to their perception that the training and weaponry are increasingly necessary. The fear remains, though the confidence to deal with it has increased.
Our woman in jeopardy walks past without incident, because the would-be assailants suspect a possible twist here; the helpless victim might have a black belt in karate, or might have a weapon. The balance of power might change in a few seconds. A twist.
Is this kind of scenario occurring more and more often? Could be. Lots of women seem to think so. Either way, that is the perception.
All of this, of course, is good for writers like me. And good for our readers.
That roller coaster thing…

Thursday, September 26, 2013

WHEN THE BUCK STOPS by Matthew Paust

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Ed here: Some months ago NPR ran a contest for suspense stories. Here's what writer and good friend of this blog wrote. Matt 

I saw surprise distort Albert's face when he appeared in the doorway that separated his office from what he called “the big office”. He was holding the morning mail pouch, which he ordinarily carries to my working office across the oval room where I sit now.

Good morning Albert,” I said. My voice came out unusually light, almost cheerful. I found myself giving him the smile I usually save for the public.

Good morning, ma'am,” he said, after quickly composing himself. He added, “You're here early.”

I held the smile and nodded. “I am. This is an important day and I just felt like getting a head start.”

Yes, ma'am, I left a note on your...other desk that the ambassador has taken ill and won't be in this morning as scheduled.”

Oh? Well, that's just as well. Gives me more time to prepare.” He set the mail pouch on the corner of the Truman Desk, bowed slightly and hesitated. I knew he was concerned about my haggard appearance, but I had no desire to tell him what was wrong and he knew better than to ask. “Thanks, Albert,” I said, and he bowed again and returned to his office.

The stress I've been feeling the previous couple of weeks has been unprecedented, ever since the second call came in. This call had no video, but I dreaded it as I had dreaded nothing else. The call came after breakfast as I walked from our living quarters down to the West Wing. I recognized the unique ring tone that had heralded the first call, the trumpet flourishes that introduceHail to the Chief.

The first call had come on Inauguration Day as my husband and I were getting ready for bed. There was a short video and the text message: “Congratulations! We'll be in touch.”

Bill was in the bathroom. The video ended before he came out. I didn't tell him, partly because I didn't wish to spoil the moment and also because I was unable to save the images. There was no evidence of what I had just seen.

The video was old. Its colors were faded and marked by scratches and the other signs of deterioration incurred by film over time. What the video depicted was a familiar scene, one I had seen many times over the years, filmed by a man named Abraham Zapruder. The only difference was this film had been shot from a higher elevation and at a considerable distance from where Zapruder was standing. This was looking down from what we know as The Grassy Knoll.

I decided not to tell anyone about the call, sensing intuitively it was not a prank, that the video was real and represented a conspiracy so enduring and complex I knew I couldn't trust anybody with what I'd seen. I served the next two years with a darkness on my heart. I avoided the Oval Office except when absolutely necessary, feeling its mockery of the neutered office it represented. Finally two years later came the moment of truth.

In an Oval Office ceremony later today I am to sign the most controversial piece of legislation of my presidency thus far. It's the health care reform bill we should have gotten in 2010. It passed Congress by the slimmest of margins. It could not withstand a veto. The second phone call informed me a veto was expected. My constituents will disown me if I do so. I would sooner die.