The early reception of the second Nick Forte novel, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, has been particularly gratifying, mainly thanks to its sources: people whose opinions I have respected since before I released any of my own stuff.
Timothy Hallinan (author of the Edgar-nominated Poke Rafferty series and the Shamus-nominated Junior Bender series) writes in an Amazon review:
Great characters, wit, some truly cold weather (that's not a joke -- I could really feel it), and Dana King's talent and empathy make this a standout read even in a good year, which this has been.
Ben Sobieck, author of what might be my favorite serial killer book, Cleansing Eden, and the upcoming (July of 2015) Writer’s Digest Weapons for Writers: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction, had this to say:
Everything you like about PI novels is in Dana King's second installment of the Nick Forte series, right on down to a statue of a Maltese falcon.
My favorite comment comes from award-winning blogger Peter Rozovsky, writing in Detectives Beyond Borders:
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, by Detectives Beyond Borders friend Dana King, is a tribute to The Maltese Falcon through and through, from its title, to one of its plot strands, to explicit references to Hammett's novel and the Bogart-Astor movie version…The tributes themselves are delightful, and delightfully clever, going beyond obvious plot parallels, famous lines, and explicit mentions and extending to appropriation of speech patterns, in some cases.
I’m sure the writers among you will get that, while I’m grateful for Tim’s and Ben’s kind words, Peter’s comment warms the cockles of my cold, cold heart, because that’s exactly what I was going for. I became involved in crime fiction through Sherlock Holmes and Mike Hammer; I got serious about writing when Raymond Chandler showed me what could be done with language in such a story. PI stories have always been my first love, and there has never been a better PI novel than The Maltese Falcon. I consciously wrote this book as homage, right down to giving each chapter a title, as Hammett did in Falcon. It strikes me as presumptuous, looking back, and it’s a delight to see someone as well-read as Peter who gets it as I intended.
The prologue through Chapter Five are available for free on my web site. Belowis Chapter Two, where Nick Forte first meets the actor who is to perform the one-man show, using his resemblance to Sidney Greenstreet and a replica of the falcon—supposedly the one from the finale of the movie—and the main attractions.
The Fat Man
Russell Arbuthnot was well past heavy-set, if less than morbidly obese. His chest expanded from his shoulders to well below his waist, creating an impression of a light bulb with legs. His position and charm must have been considerable for him to be involved in any love triangles.
Arbuthnot lived in the penthouse of a newly-renovated high rise between Adams and Jackson, south of the Santa Fe Building. The top few floors had been converted from offices and given their own entrance and elevators so the swells who lived there wouldn’t have to brush elbows with the stiffs working in the offices below. Grant Park spread out through a picture window across from the entry door, Buckingham Fountain visible to my right, if I stood at the perfect angle. No crowds or kids playing around it today; even the sculptures seemed to huddle together. Farther out, Lake Michigan was frozen hard as an auditor’s heart.
Arbuthnot stood near a fireplace wearing an old-style smoking jacket. He let me see the pose for a few seconds, then made a production of summoning his consciousness from whatever Muse held it before he acknowledged me. His patrician smile showed his comfort with the common folk, and more than a little condescension. He presented three fingers as a handshake and offered me a brandy. I passed. It was ten o’clock in the morning.
“Nicholas Forte, Professional Investigator,” he read from the card with “Nick” printed on it I handed him. His voice had a legato quality, with enough resonance to reach the back of any theater. “I can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting a professional investigator. Do sit down.”
“There’s a first time for everything.” I sat in a wing chair upholstered with velvet. The room looked like an English baron’s study in a movie that would receive critical acclaim and no audience. “I understand you’re not comfortable with the idea of a strong-arm man.” I tossed a quick wink in Sheila’s direction on “strong-arm.”
A laugh burbled up through his bulk like lava through a volcano. “I hope you didn’t take that comment too seriously.” He took some time positioning himself in his chair. A man his size couldn’t just sit in it. Arrangements had to be made. “I was merely trying to convey to Sheila my—how shall I put this?—uncertainty about a man in my position being accompanied by someone who looked like a well-dressed thug. I apologize if that’s blunt, sir, but there it is.”
I held my arms away from my sides. “As you can see, ‘well-dressed’ doesn’t apply. You’ll have to make up your own mind about the rest.”
“Yes, well, I see you have your own look, yes, you do, sir. Sheila attempted to put my mind at ease about your thuggishness by telling me you were once a professional musician. Is that true?”
“Yes. BA from Northwestern, free-lanced around Chicago. Three years in an Army band.”
“And that led you to becoming a professional investigator?”
“That led me to becoming a cop.” That answer never satisfied anyone, Arbuthnot no exception. “I wasn’t good enough to play at the level I wanted to work at, so I got into teaching. Two years on the South Side made me sick of being the only unarmed person in the building, so I became a cop.”
“But you left.”
“Musicians don’t deal well with regimentation.”
“I see. Yes, I really do see your point.” He looked at Sheila, then gave me a once-over. “You may not have the personality of a strong-arm man, Mr. Forte, but you certainly have the build for it.”
“Six-foot-one, two hundred pounds of solid muscle.” I left out the fifteen pounds of other stuff hitching a ride at the time. “I use silverware when I eat and sometimes go entire days without assaulting anyone. I know not to split an infinitive and I can manage not to end a sentence with a preposition if I concentrate. I’ll spend as much time with you as is humanly possible and I’ll get help if your demands are greater than my ability to meet them. I can provide references. What else can I tell you?”
Sheila O’Donoghue’s face was aghast that anyone would speak like that to Russell Arbuthnot. Her body language implied she thought such a person might have an undercarriage that bore investigation. This job was going to be a struggle for her.
Arbuthnot looked at me like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He gave up before the pause became uncomfortable.
“Yes, sir, you’ll do splendidly, that you will. I deal with so many actors and flesh peddlers that it’s rare for me to be able to take a man at his word.” Sheila flushed lightly at “flesh peddlers.” “I was waiting to see if your façade cracked at all after your little speech. You understand, of course.”
“Of course. People lie to me more often than not. It’s an occupational hazard.”
“Then we understand each other perfectly. Won’t you please come with me so I can show you the cause of all this turmoil?”
He raised himself from his chair without block or tackle. He walked with surprising fluidity, if glacially, on legs that didn’t look substantial enough to support him.
An enormous bed, at least king-sized, dominated the room we entered, the mattress a good three feet off the floor. I wondered how Arbuthnot hefted himself into the rack at night until I saw the small step stool partially hidden by the comforter. There was a mirror in the ceiling directly over the bed. Jesus Christ.
The bed faced a mantel with a discretely lighted recess eighteen inches high and a foot wide. Inside the alcove stood a black statuette of a bird about a foot tall.