Monday, January 29, 2018

Crime, Revenge and History: A Guest Post by Scott Adlerberg

Today I hand the blog over to Scott Adlerberg, which is something I should know better than to do, as after reading Scott’s description of the primary influences on his new novel (Jack Waters) I’ll now be compelled to up my game. I always enjoy reading Scott’s posts on the Do Some Damage blog, so it’s a treat to have him with us today.

Crime, Revenge, and History

A murder takes place within the first few pages of my new novel, Jack Waters.  The killer, who is the title character, goes on the run from his home in New Orleans.  This crime determines the entire course his life will take from there, so it's fair to say that crime is a central component of the book. Still, when people ask, I don't describe Jack Waters as a crime novel per se.  It's set in 1904, on a Caribbean island where Jack Waters goes after fleeing the United States as a fugitive, and on this island where he starts a new life, he becomes embroiled in a rebellion against a nasty dictator. He takes up with the rebels and has many dangerous adventures with them, all the while pursuing his own secret agenda.  What is this agenda?  I don't want to give everything away.  But the point is that Waters wants to overthrow the dictator for reasons that have little to do with politics and much more to do with personal vengeance.

So Jack Waters, no question about it, is more of a historical adventure tale than a crime novel. Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't soaked in blood.  It also doesn't mean that the books that served as an inspiration for it, though not specifically crime fiction, don't have a lot of tension and violence.  They do.  And I thought it might be interesting to look at a couple of these works, sources I drew upon for my deep dive (if 114 years is deep) into the past.

Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist (1810)

Heinrich von Kleist's novella is one of my favorite stories of any length of all time. If Jack Waters has a primary model, Michael Kohlhaas is it.  Set in the 16th century, in Saxony, the novella is about a horse dealer, Kohlhaas, who suffers a clear but relatively minor wrong at the hands of a nobleman. All Kohlhaas' attempts to get legal redress for the wrong fail, and through a series of escalating events almost surreal in their strangeness, he becomes public enemy number one and winds up leading a full-scale uprising against the region's powers that be.  He's feared by some (a terrorist to them) admired by others (a revolutionary to them), and the 80 or so pages of the narrative are remarkably dense with incident. The story is dark and thrilling, and qualifies as a revenge story for the ages, and perhaps most striking of all is Heinrich von Kleist's tone. Kleist never moralizes, and no matter how odd the events unfolding, no matter how frenzied the action, he maintains an uncannily flat voice.  Sentences are long and complicated, motivations tangled, brutalities extreme, but for the duration, the Kleist narrator remains controlled and dispassionate. It's hard to get a sense of where the author stands in regard to what he's depicting. Years later, another master of the outlandish, Franz Kafka, was a huge admirer of Kleist's stories, and one can understand why.  Kafka learned a lot about "deadpan style" from Herr von Kleist. 

Michael Kohlhaas is also an example of a certain kind of story you don't encounter often - a moral tale without an evident moral.  It's obvious from what goes on in the novella that it's preoccupied with morals and ethics and the quest for justice, the idea of justice as it relates to the idea of vengeance, but the author never lets you come down easily on any one side.  The story reads as if it should have a moral or a point you can put your finger on, and yet, in the end, it conveys a sense of ambivalence.  The story's telling is linear and its style crystal clear, but as a reader, you're not quite sure what you're supposed to take away.  A couple of readers have described Jack Waters as "a dreamy fable" and "a fractured fairy tale", and I have to admit I was happy to see they had this reaction. It's an effect, from the time I started the book, I was consciously shooting for, and to whatever extent I achieved it, I have no qualms about declaring that it's something I learned in large measure from reading Michael Kohlhaas.

Little Apple by Leo Perutz (1928)

Little Apple is another story about revenge and a man obsessed.  It was written by Leo Perutz, a Czech-born Austrian writer who lived from 1882 to 1957.  Perutz is an author who wrote in German and sold well during his lifetime - he wrote 11 novels in all - but who now has become almost unknown here.  It's a pity because a number of his books remain in print, and he's a master of fast-moving, suspenseful novels that often are set in the past and involve adventure and mystery. Jorge Borges, Grahame Greene, Ian Fleming, and Karl Edward Wagner are among his stated admirers, and an Austrian writer contemporary of his once described his work as "the possible result of a little infidelity of Franz Kafka [him again] and Agatha Christie".  That gives you a pretty good idea of what he's like.

Little Apple starts as World War I ends. An Austrian soldier named Vittorin has just been released from captivity in a Russian POW camp.  Though he returns to his family and a fiancĂ© in Vienna, he vows to return quickly to Russia to inflict revenge on the sadistic camp commandant who brutalized him and his fellow prisoners during their captivity.  Nothing can deter him from this quest, nobody can talk him out of it, and he makes his way back to 1919 Russia, now undergoing a massive civil war after the Bolshevik Revolution.  In effect, Vittorin undertakes a manhunt in a Russia in chaos, and he gets buffeted around by all sorts of perils. Despite the dangers and many setbacks, he persists. Not unlike Michael Kohlhass - and Jack Waters - he's a monomaniac, and he has a remarkable ability to maintain his focus despite the threats and shifting political conditions around him.  

Perutz is a model for me in how to tell a historical tale in a compressed fashion. His prose is spare and uncluttered.  By showing you just the details you need to see, he creates a vivid world at the same time as he keeps his narrative moving forward.  He's good at dipping into the dark recesses of his characters' minds while maintaining pace and momentum, and he's able to keep in balance quite well the contrast between the individual pursuing his goal and the larger events going on around that individual.  The reader never loses perspective on either.  These are all things I tried to accomplish in Jack Waters, and again, as with Kleist's novella, I had a great source to study.  

Needless to say, these two works are not the only literary influences on Jack Waters, but they are two prime ones, and if you haven’t read one or the other, I couldn’t recommend them more. In my own mind, at least, single-minded, justice-obsessed, revengeful Jack Waters, a man who knows how to survive in a turbulent world and exploit political conditions for his own ends, is a character Kleist’s Kohlhaas and Perutz’s Vittorin would respect and admire.

(Broken River Books released Scott’s new novel, Jack Waters, on January 12.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Why Should I Read Bad Samaritan?" You Ask.

Well Bad Samaritan launched Monday and I’m two days closer to retirement. It’s a good feeling.

The Beloved Spouse™ mentioned to me this morning that it’s entirely possible not everyone who reads this blog may have obtained a copy yet. I was suitably insulted on your behalf, arguing readers of such erudition would surely have not only bought a copy by now but almost certainly have read it at least once already. (You’re welcome.)

Upon reflection it occurred to me some of you may have weightier things on your minds than reading my book. A little more encouragement could be in order. Okay. Here are some additional reasons why you personally should read Bad Samaritan. (Those who have already purchased the book may stop here, though you are welcome to forward this post as you see fit.)

10. Donald Trump is not mentioned anywhere in it.
9. The author will stop calling you at home to read random excerpts.
8. Dick Dale (“King of the Surf Guitar”) makes a cameo appearance.
7. Books invite readers to use their imaginations and Lily O’Donoghue is smokin’ hot.
6. Eric Beetner didn’t publish a book this week, so what the hell?
5. Gives you something to do while avoiding the news.
4. Purchase by January 31 for a chance to have Goose intimidate the asshole of your choice.
3. Books invite readers to use their imaginations and Sharon is as hot as Lily if you’re of a certain age.
2. Reading Bad Samaritan will make you appreciate other Down & Out Books authors that much more.
1. The Sole Heir™ is still paying for medical school. I’m begging you, man.

Bad Samaritan is available at these fine locations:
Direct from Down & Out Books (Purchases of trade paperbacks from the Down & Out site include a free download of the e-book.)
Amazon — Trade Paperback | eBook 
Barnes & Noble — Trade PaperbackeBook 
iTunes — eBook 
Kobo — eBook 
Play — eBook

Monday, January 22, 2018

Bad Samaritan Drops Today!

That’s right. No more of that pre-order bullshit. You, too, can get a brand spanking new* copy of the fifth Nick Forte novel, Bad Samaritan, from any of these fine sources.

(Purchases of trade paperbacks from the Down & Out site include a free download of the e-book. (You heard me: Free! Gratis! Or, as Al Swearengen would say, “Free gratis.”))

Bad Samaritan is also available from these fine retailers:

Amazon — Trade Paperback | eBook 
Barnes & Noble — Trade PaperbackeBook 
iTunes — eBook 
Kobo — eBook 
Play — eBook

Bad Samaritan brings back elements of two earlier Forte stories. Lily O’Donoghue, the high-class call girl from The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of and Mickey Touhy from A Small Sacrifice. Their stories intersect, catching Forte in the middle of a no-win situation. Throw in the men’s rights advocate who’s making Becky Tuttle’s life miserable, and Forte’s dark side, which has been exercised more as the series has gone on, gets more room to come out than is healthy for anyone, including him. He still manages to find time to help the sister of Caroline’s best friend, though not in a way he’d want Caroline to hear of. Goose is back in a prominent role along with the usual cast of Sharon Summers, Delbert McCall, Jan Rusiewicz, and Sonny Ng.

Circumstances beyond anyone’s control have forced a condensed promotional schedule for Bad Sam, so if you know what’s good for you you’ll get your copy right quick, lest I feel the need to inundate you with months of blatant self-promotion and –aggrandizement in only a couple of weeks.

(* -- “Brand spanking new” is a figure of speech. Readers should not infer the book is to be used as a sexual aid with a porn actress, though I’m not judging anyone.)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Bad Samaritan Launches January 22

Nick Forte is worn down. Too much has happened too soon, too many things have gone badly, and the events in his fifth novel (Bad Samaritan) aren’t helping. Forte is in a darker place than in any of the other books, as the lengths he’ll go to help his daughter’s best friend’s sister, who is about to be expelled from private school because she got pregnant, show here.


The Yates School looked as impressive as its tuition bills must be. The presence of kids everywhere kept it from feeling too stodgy, but it was a Stepford kind of vitality. Requests for spontaneity required written authorization twenty-four hours in advance.
Headmaster Oliver Willoughby kept me waiting forty-five minutes. His secretary reminded me several times I had no appointment and he was a very busy man. Lucky for me he was always willing to talk with a prospective student’s parent, in from out of town with only today to see him. My conscience twinged no more than the atoms in a molecule of concrete when I told her that story.
Isaac Meier had been no help. He appreciated my call and was grateful for the support, but the law had no remedy. He also didn’t see the need for investigative services even it did become a legal matter. Caroline’s a pleasure, he and Ruth were delighted Tyler had such a friend. Stop by the house any time.
People who have conniptions over the NSA’s transgressions would dig holes, climb in, and pull the dirt over themselves if they knew what a private investigator can access with a paid login to any of several online databases, a case number—real or manufactured—and some patience. I knew Oliver Willoughby’s date of birth, Social Security Number, employment history, military service—or, in his case, lack thereof—wife’s name and employer, the names of his children (Michael, Elizabeth, and Geoffrey), what he drove, his credit score, and how much he owed on his house before I turned in after leaving Goose. A little touch-up in the morning and I was ready for him when I entered his office at one o’clock that afternoon.
Willoughby was a perfect example of an elitist bending over backward to prove himself a regular guy. His disapproval of my attire was so slight a less experienced observer would have missed it. He apologized for the wait and expressed sympathy at my plight, which he believed to be my wife’s transfer to Chicago. I was looking for a job of my own, checking out Yates while I was in town so we’d know if it should factor into our housing search.
We spent half an hour touring the campus. Lisa Meier knew me by sight well enough to say Hi, Mr. Forte when we’d bumped into each other at a movie last summer. I hoped she’d not recognize me in an unexpected context, or at least have the presence of mind not to acknowledge me if she did.
The tour complete, Willoughby and I sat in his office with cups of English Teatime. “Is there anything else I can tell you to set your mind at ease, Mr. Forte? Something the tour failed to address?”
I sipped tea, replaced the cup on its saucer. Not as sweet as I liked it, but it wasn’t that kind of day. “There is one thing. I’m sure no one is more aware than you of the challenge it is to raise children today, especially a girl. Between peer pressure and the entertainment industry, we need all the help we can get. What is Yates’s philosophy along these lines?”
“Excellent question.” I’d been tougher than expected during the tour. He appeared grateful for the softball. “Yates has a firmly and carefully worded code of conduct. Bullying, exclusionary behavior, hazing, and fighting are all precisely defined and forbidden. Drug use and ethical study standards are also spelled out and, I’m happy to say, are strictly enforced.”
“That’s good.” I leaned forward, sat back, then forward again, trying to create an impression of a man struggling with an awkward question. “There are…certain…uh…let me put it this way: I looked for pregnant girls. Aside from setting a bad example, I wouldn’t want to find out the school’s reputation was tarnished by loose moral standards.”
“I understand completely. Rest assured we treat those concerns with the utmost seriousness. All students—and their parents—are required to sign an ethics and morals agreement prior to matriculation. It outlines acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and describes the consequences, including expulsion. Much of what you pay for here is a spotless reputation, embodied by our graduates, which will accompany your daughter throughout her life.”
“Outstanding. The last thing anyone wants is to have to watch a pregnant girt walk through graduation.” His aura dipped for a second. “Bad enough to have to explain the basketball under her gown to the younger kids. It reflects badly on everyone in the class.”
I relaxed into my chair. “This is a great relief. I expect these standards extend to the faculty and staff, as well?”
If that affected him, I missed it. “Of course.”
“The reason I ask, from the custodians up through the administration, the staff as a whole spends as much time with the children as the parents do. More, in some cases.”
“True.” Willoughby’s face showed signs of slippage.
“Considering the reputation that’s going to follow my daughter around for the rest of her life—” not that she had a chance of acceptance now, even if we were applying, “—as bad as it would be to see a pregnant girl on the stage, a faculty blemish would be even worse. I mean, they’re here as role models.”
“True again.”
“So no one would be happy to find out a faculty member has a tarnished reputation, even a—what do they call them?—youthful indiscretion. You know. Something like a drug arrest in undergraduate school.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Forte, I’ve been impolite. I neglected to ask your line of work.”
“I’m a professional investigator.”
“Professional? Are you a police officer? Or a federal agent?”
I shook my head. “Private.”
Color drained from Willoughby’s face like sand through an egg timer. “Did the Meiers send you?”
“The Meiers have no idea I’m here, and they never will. That’s going to be part of our deal.”
“What deal?”
“Lisa Meier stays in school.”
“You said the Meiers didn’t send you.”
“They didn’t.”
“Who, then?”
I smiled without teeth.
“A marijuana arrest thirty years ago—with probation, I might add—is hardly going to cost me my job. I’m sure many Yates parents avoided such a charge themselves only through luck, given our society’s conflicting attitudes.” Already waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“No argument from me. Not even I’d hold that against you. That pandering thing, though. Pimping out the girls in school and taking a cut, that’s different.”
“I was not a pimp! What happened there was—”
“A felony.” I left the word to stink on his desk. “Sentence suspended, no doubt thanks to your well-connected family. To be fair, no one was hurt. The girls all entered into it willingly. For all I know they came to you after the word got out you had something going. Still, you were a convicted whoremonger, and I’ll bet it’s not on your resume. Or your application. Is lying on your application a firing offense here?”
His voice was a whisper. “That happened thirty years ago. I realized my mistakes. Changed my life. If that doesn’t count for anything, then everything we do here—teaching boys and girls to be men and women—is meaningless.”
“I agree. I expect the parents and trustees may well be liberal enough to agree with us. Your gambling problem…”
“I do not have a gambling problem.”
“I can see how you might look at it that way. What you have, in fact, is a losing problem. Second mortgage on the house, stacks of credit card receipts for Vegas, the boats in Joliet. Even Tunica. Mississippi? Really? You’re the one with the Ph.D. in English. Maybe you know a classier phrase than ‘degenerate gambler,’ but that’s the one that sticks in my mind.”
Willoughby was pale as winter. “What do you want?”
“Lisa Meier stays in school. At Thursday’s meeting you’ll announce a change of heart. Tell them how among the things Yates needs to embody is compassion. Dress it up however you want. But she gets a pass.”
“The Meiers didn’t send you.” No doubt in his voice.
“I told you that already. Twice.”
“You’d ruin me—ruin my life, my family—for people you don’t even know?”
“You have my name. You know what I do for a living.” I nodded toward his computer. “Google me. I’ll wait.”
Willoughby tapped keys and clicked. His pallor grew. Snuck peeks at me as he read.
“Don’t miss the good stuff. Google my name, plus ‘Licati.’ Then try ‘Volkov’ and ‘Obersdorfer.’ I have time.”
I don’t think he got any farther than Volkov. “You’re threatening my life?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. Everyone there, it was him or me. I just want you to know that ruining your life won’t cost me two seconds’ sleep, not with all the other stuff my conscience has rattling around in it. Lest you get the idea of calling what you think is a bluff.”
Willoughby stared at the monitor. “We straight?” I said. He nodded, still transfixed. “I want to hear it.”
“Yes, what?”
“Yes, we’re straight.”
“Yes, we’re straight on what?”
He tried for indignant, too scared to pull it off. “Yes, we’re straight that Lisa Meier will be allowed to stay in school to graduate with her class.”
I walked to the door without shaking hands. Paused at the threshold. “And I’m not going to have to come back here because I heard she’s been singled out for any reason.”
I had to listen hard to hear him. “No. Please leave.”

Bad Samaritan drops January 22 from Down & Out Books. You can pre-order before then or buy it for real starting Monday.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2017

I’m ba-a-a-ack.

You didn’t think you were rid of me forever, did you? You’re not that lucky. This blog takes a licking and keeps on ticking. I’ll also pop up on some other worthy blogs over the next several weeks in a delayed effort to get the word out about the fifth Nick Forte novel, Bad Samaritan, launching January 22 from Down & Out Books. (More on Bad Sam next time.)
There’s no better way to look forward to 2018 than to tie a bow on 2017. I read 59 books all the way through last year. Stealing Seizing an idea from another blog (I’d say which but I genuinely don’t remember), I decided it was pretentious to name the best books I read because who am I to say what’s best? I can name my favorites, and I had quite a few. I didn’t read as many books last year as I usually do, but the level of quality was high. I’d rather mention all those I thought worthy than write reviews, so I broke them out by categories.

Titles are listed in the order read. All are more than deserving of your time.

Favorite Reads by Authors New to Me
Scent of Murder, James O. Born
Random Victim, Michael Black
Only the Hunted Run, Neely Tucker

Favorite Reads by Authors Already Known to Me
Razor Girl, Carl Hiaasen
80 Million Eyes, Ed McBain
The Promise, Robert Crais
Nasty Cutter, Tim O’Mara
Tomato Red, Daniel Woodrell
The Mexican Tree Duck, James Crumley
Crime Song, David Swinson
Six Guns at Sundown, Eric Beetner
Down & Out, The Magazine: Volume 1, edited by Rick Ollerman
Money for Nothing, Donald Westlake
Hollywood Moon, Joseph Wambaugh

Favorite Re-Reads
Jimmy the Wags: Street Stories of a Private Eye, James Wagner
The Kid From Tomkinsville, John R. Tunis
All the Dead Voices, Declan Hughes
The Walkaway, Scott Phillips
True Grit, Charles Portis
Deadwood, Pete Dexter
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Hombre, Elmore Leonard
Appaloosa, Robert B. Parker
Homicide, David Simon

Favorite Non-Fiction
The Big Short, Michael Lewis
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
Deadwood: Stories of the Black Hills, David Milch
Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and the Wickedest Town in the American West, Tom Clavin
Bestseller Metrics, Elaine Ash
Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier, Bat Masterson
Age of the Gunfighter: Men and Weapons of the Frontier 1840 – 1900, Joseph Rosa
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko