Thursday, May 27, 2021

Get to the Point


Raymond Chandler is responsible for my interest in writing. (Yes, it’s his fault.) I’d loved private eye stories for years, but Chandler made me think this was something I’d like to try; level of accomplishment didn’t enter into it. The early Nick Forte books owe a lot to Philip Marlowe.


As I age, though, I find I am not as entertained by Chandler’s work as I used to be, though my appreciation remains solid. This is probably Dashiell Hammett’s fault. Or George V. Higgins’s. Elmore Leonard. Ed McBain. I love the use of language as much as ever, probably even more. What I appreciate is getting to the point.


Recent readings of Chandler find my eye skipping down the page during some of the longer descriptions. True, I’ve read them all before, but there was a time when I’d linger over even a re-reading just to let the words spend more time in my head. Now I want the author to get on with it.


That’s not to say I no longer care about style or a well-turned phrase, only that I am no longer interested in either of those things for their own sake. They need to serve the story. It’s hard to create vivid images in as few words as possible. That’s what makes it worth doing and separates the excellent from the good, and the great from the merely excellent.


Which brings us to Daniel Woodrell. I read Under the Bright Lights a few weeks ago, and his ability to exercise economy in language while still provoking me to re-read sentences just for the joy or hearing them in my head again is unsurpassed. One that sticks out is from a description of a daylight shooting on a side street, after which a character “watched people pour toward Seventh Street like a fistful of BBs down a funnel.” There are others, but that one sums up the essence of Woodrell’s craft as well as any. (His art is a topic for another day.)


I read Winter’s Bone several years ago and still remember his description of people who worked from “can till can’t” and a father who doctors “didn’t think would live the night until he did.” His humor is also dry, and funny, while still remaining on point. I never feel as though he cuts anything short. It’s exactly enough for his style and purpose.


The best art is often that which does the least to draw attention to itself. It does not demand appreciation; it makes itself available to be appreciated. Much of the beauty lies in a willingness to remain unnoticed, or at least under-noticed. Woodrell’s not unknown; neither does he attract the attention of others I could name but will not so as not to seem as if I am denigrating their work. I suspect that’s all right with him. It is with me.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

It's a Book Release Double Header!

 It’s not often that writers, even at my level of the food chain, get to celebrate two releases in the same week. Yet here I am, with two new books out in the past week.


One is a collaboration. I have a story in the anthology, The Eviction of Hope, edited by Colin Conway. This is as unique a concept as any anthology I’ve been part of, or heard of. I can’t do a better, or more concise, description than Colin did, so here’s his idea of the book’s concept:


More than a century ago, developer Elijah Hope constructed a state-of-the-art hotel. As the generations passed and tastes changed, The Hope spent two decades as an underutilized office building before conversion into a low-income housing project.


Rundown by years of human occupation, The Hope has become a hollow shell of its once great self. It is home to drug addicts, petty criminals, and those hiding from others. The city has long turned a blind eye to The Hope as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified and pushed their disaffected in its direction.


But now The Hope is preparing a return to its original glory. The current owners plan to convert it into a boutique hotel. The only thing standing in their way is the eviction of over one hundred units.


Each resident knew this fateful day was coming, yet most chose to believe it would never arrive. They ignored the posted signs, the hand-delivered warnings, and even the actual notices.


Many stayed until the bitter end.


These are their stories.


I’m delighted with how my story came out, and proud to have been asked to contribute. It’s an excellent line-up of authors who all brought their A games. Get your copy here.


On the personal front, Leaving the Scene is the sixth Penns River novel, available from Down & Out Books. As I deferred to Colin for the inside scoop on The Eviction of Hope, I’m probably the best person to describe Leaving the Scene.


 The more things change, the more they stay the same in Penns River. Stush Napierkowski has retired, replaced by retired Boston PD captain Brendan Sullivan. Nancy Snyder was promoted to deputy chief over several more experienced candidates. New officers join the department.


Crime pays no attention. A woman dies in a hit-and-run the night before Sullivan officially takes over. Patty Polcyn was seen by plenty of people while in the company of a man no one recognized, who may—or may not—drive a car consistent with tire marks left at the scene. The investigation demands an intensive search that requires manpower Penns River doesn’t have and loses steam as the day-to-day concerns of police work require immediate attention: domestic disputes, petty theft, not so petty theft, armed robbery, a visit from the Dixie mafia to shake down the town’s moonshine dealers, and a few things that are the responsibility of the police only because no one else takes care of them.


Sullivan doesn’t want the first homicide on his watch to be an open file and tasks Teresa Shimp, the most junior detective in a squad already down one, to spend as much time as she can on it. It’s Teresa’s first gig as primary homicide investigator. She sticks with it, going back over things to see what might make more sense as her knowledge of the case’s facts expands until she has a eureka moment.


Sullivan’s approach differs from Stush’s enough to cause friction in the department, and a personal dilemma for lead detective Ben “Doc” Dougherty. Doc also has his parents’ failing health, a dramatic change in the domestic situation of two young men he has become close to, and finding an old friend has colored outside the lines vying for his attention.


Penns River’s cast changes, as do the roles they play. The job is still the job.


LtS is the most Joseph Wambaugh-influenced of the Penns River series in the manner of storytelling, jumping from anecdote to anecdote to show the myriad of things cops have to deal with in a typical day. I’m happy with how it came out. I hope you are, too.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Leaving the Scene, Chapter One


I used the opening of Leaving the Scene to set up the changes in Penns River since Pushing Water and to give little hints about what might be to come. The novel drop on Monday from Down & Out Books.






The American Legion function room was about half empty when Ben “Doc” Dougherty pulled a folding chair next to Stan “Stush” Napierkowski and asked what the plan was for tomorrow.

Stush tipped his can of Rolling Rock toward Doc in salute. “Get up around six. Make coffee. Read the paper.”

Doc waited until he was sure Stush had finished. “You do understand you’ll wake up retired, right? Live a little. Sleep till quarter after. Tempt fate and go for six-thirty.”

“It’s not like I’ll set an alarm. I been getting up at six for so long I do it on Sundays and vacations.”

They sat two feet apart, watching the room with cop eyes as the party lost steam. Doc asked if Stush had plans beyond coffee and the paper.

“I might run over to Oak Lake. See can I scare up a foursome.”

“They gave you a lifetime membership at the country club. I hear that’s a hell of a nice course.”

Stush nodded. “Might be the best course in the area except for Oakmont. Played it a couple of times when the big shooters around here still cared about schmoozing me.” A sip of beer. “Look who I’d have to play with. Same jagovs spent the last five years trying to run me out of a job.”

“Won’t they be working?”

“It’ll either be them or some of their asshole buddies.” Stush sipped and looked in the general direction of the country club. “Maybe I’ll sneak over some Monday when they let the caddies and hired help play. My people.”

Doc knew the aluminum mill would reopen and run three shifts before Stush played the country club. “You’re Polish. You should bowl.”

“I will. Joe Rychlinski’s been trying to get me on his team in the Tuesday night Falcon’s league for a couple years. Now I have time.”

Doc watched Stush take in everyone still there the way a father looks at a child leaving for college. Forty years a Penns River cop, twenty-five as chief. Doc turned down half a dozen six-figure private security jobs after nine years in the Army so he could work for his Uncle Stush. Uncle in name only. Stush and Doc’s father friends since they worked together at the A&P right out of high school, Penns River still a township. Spoke so no one might overhear. “You trained us well, Uncle Stoshu. We’ll be okay.” Stush turned when he heard his boyhood name, eyes shining. “Everything I hear about Sullivan says he’s a good man,” Doc said.

“Sully’s aces.” Stush crushed the empty can. Held it up for Doris Renko to see from behind the bar. “Don’t know if I told you, but part of the reason I retired now is because he was available and interested. And the country club membership.” A wink.

“You’ll miss it, though.”

“Goddamn right.” As much emotion in Stush’s voice as if discussing how much a putt might break. Gestured to the room. “This is what I’ll miss. The job’s been a pain in my ass for a long time. Gave me a heart attack a few years ago. Sullivan’s welcome to it.”

Doc sipped his Foster’s. The only guy in town who drank it. Doris always kept a couple of the big oil cans cold for him. “What would you say changed the most since you came on? Besides getting cars.”

Stush accepted a fresh beer from George Augustine. Asked after Augie’s daughter in the Air Force. Turned back to Doc only after satisfying his curiosity. “I walked a beat, smartass. Knew every family on it. I told a kid to stop or come over here and he didn’t, I ran him down and gave him a couple swipes across the hammies with my baton. Told him if it happened again I’d take him home to his father. Anything I did be like kisses from his mother once his old man got through with him.”

“White kids?”

“Mostly, yeah. Not all. See, I didn’t just know the families. They knew me. I’d tell them I had to smack their kid’s ass and why, everyone was good with it.”

“Can’t do that now.”

“No, and it’s a good thing. A cop in a unit riding around all day can’t have the same kind of rapport. Or judgment. There’s too much distance. Cop in a car doesn’t know the people as well, someone lips off to him could end up in the hospital. Puts everyone in a jackpot having to write around it.”

“You must’ve put your share in there.”

Stush held up a finger. “One.” Saw Doc’s face. “Swear to God. Little half-pint Dago hanging around down by the tracks looking to boost stuff outta the boxcars pulled a knife on me and took a swipe.” Swallowed beer, his eyes smiling at the memory. “I guaran-goddamn-tee you that little cocksucker never pulled on a Polack again.”

The two men watched in companionable silence as the party wound down. Peers now after Doc had proven himself as a cop and a man more times than either could remember. Stush swished a sip of beer around in his mouth before he swallowed. “How’re the troops taking to Snyder as deputy?” Promoting Nancy Snyder from patrol to deputy chief over several men with more rank and seniority was Stush’s final personnel decision.

“My first choice would’ve been Mike Zywiciel, but he made it clear he didn’t want the job. To be honest, he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during that active shooter business at Rose’s last winter. He’s better off running patrol, though I doubt he’ll last a year with you gone.” Doc shook the last crumbs of pretzel and salt into his mouth. Washed it down. “Nancy’s probably a better choice. She has a good idea of the big picture, doesn’t rattle, and I doubt the mayor or any of the assholes who actually run this town will intimidate her. She’s fine.”

“Just fine?”

“What do you want me to say? She’s going to reinvent police work? My biggest issue with her getting the job is we’ll miss her on patrol.”


“Jesus, Stush. And what? I have no problem working for her if that’s what you’re asking. Hell, I like working for her. She’s smart and on top of things, and she doesn’t play favorites with the people who were friends before the promotion. If you’re so worried about how she’s working out, why didn’t you let Sullivan pick someone?”

“Because he would’ve picked you, and you would’ve felt like you had to take the job, and I know how much you don’t want it.” Went on while Doc still gathered his thoughts. “Benny, you’re the most respected person on the force. You’d have been the perfect bridge between the old and the new, Sullivan’s obvious choice. Even the assholes who’ve been running me out would’ve recommended you as the best man to lubricate the transition.” More beer. “I know Sully a little. From conferences and around. He’s a persuasive guy. He’d of used arguments I never would because you and me go back so far. Guilt you into taking the job you’d hate. Not just hate it; hate it. I appointed Snyder as my parting gift to you, and because she was the next best qualified once I saw Zywiciel wasn’t up to it. Sullivan doesn’t want her, he can get rid of her.”

Stush seemed surprised to find himself leaning half out of his chair. Sat back and drew in some beer. “I didn’t bring her up to talk about you. How’s everyone else taking it? The people who wouldn’t tell me, I mean.”

“About what you’d expect. Some think she jumped the line. Some don’t like working for a woman. Some just like to bitch. Mostly everyone’s fine with her, and she’ll handle the others. From what you tell me about Sullivan, I doubt he’s going to put up with much bullshit, regardless of the reason.”

“Sully’s going to come down hard for a while, showing everyone else how far up the tree he can piss.” Stush folded his hands across his belly in his standard thinking pose, can of Rolling Rock poised between his fingers on the shelf. “She’ll be fine. Retiring now wasn’t exactly my idea, but my conscience is clear.”

The two men nursed their beers, far enough into the evening to know they didn’t want any more but not yet ready to go home. People came by every few minutes on their way out to congratulate Stush or break his balls or show they wanted to say something even if they had no idea what it was. Stan Napierkowski and Ben Dougherty were the closest things to heroes Penns River had. One was stepping down and the other wasn’t stepping up. Penns River lost something here tonight, and the town had little left to lose.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

New From Down & Out Books on May 17: Leaving the Scene, Book Six of the Penns River Series


The sixth Penns River book, Leaving the Scene, drops May 17 from Down & Out Books. Changes are afoot.

·       Stush Napierkowski has retired so

·       There’s a new chief.

·       There’s also a new deputy chief, promoted from within;

·       A new patrol officer begins work;

·       Series protagonist Doc Dougherty has an unwelcome change of status.


All the above and more revolve around a hit-and-run fatality. Two high school boys running their dog discover a badly mutilated body at an abandoned service station. She has no identification, so the police can’t even start work on the case until they have a name.


The daily crime and general weirdness that affects a town the size of Penns River doesn’t stop because the cops have a stone whodunit dropped in their laps. Routine calls for domestic disturbances, petty theft, grand theft, armed robbery, court dates, and a man covered in cooking oil wearing nothing but a sock. The new chief, a retired Boston police captain, finds himself up to his ears the day he starts work in what was supposed to be a less stressful position.


Six books into a series now with at least one more on the way (the work in progress is in final revisions, at least until the editor gets hold of it), and another half-formed in my head, the risk of staleness is always on my mind. Finding different types of stories and new ways to tell them now occupy a lot of my creative energy. Since Leaving the Scene focuses on conflicting demands for the cops’ time, the book is not laid out in chapters; it’s divided by days. Each section begins with the day and date; the time of day each scene begins is noted at the outset. The plan was to keep the passage of time in the reader’s mind as a way to show the frustration the cops feel as things keep dragging on with no resolution to the homicide.


Here’s what others have to say about Leaving the Scene:


A small town, a killing, and a cast of characters tough enough to make Elmore Leonard grin. Dana King’s Leaving the Scene is a slow burn that will leave you wanting more. A great read!

— Bruce Robert Coffin, bestselling author of the Detective Byron mysteries


Great read- ensemble cast, police procedural in a tough, blue-collar-town, with good reminders of classic Ed McBain. Gritty and authentic detail, with realistic, interesting characters and crimes.

-- Dale T. Phillips, author of A Memory of Grief and A Darkened Room


Dana King’s Leaving the Scene delivers the goods—a procedural packed with smart dialogue, sharp plotting, and a vivid humanity that brings to mind the best of McBain, Wambaugh, and Connelly.

--James D. F. Hannah, Shamus Award-winning author of the Henry Malone series.


With interweaving plots and quickfire dialogue, the relentless pace of Leaving the Scene is highly addictive.

--Caro Ramsay, Dagger shortlisted author of the Anderson and Costello mysteries


Next week I’ll post a teaser from the book.