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Posts tagged ‘crime novel’

“An intelligent novel that twists your gut.”

December 13, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

We are thrilled to share another wonderful new review for a ‘backlist’ title – a proof that great books don’t have a ‘use-by’ date!

REACH THE SHINING RIVER by Kevin Stevens in NB Magazine

Cover art by Keith Mallett

Stevens has written a grippingly sinister murder mystery that oozes menace and violence. Reach the Shining River captures the deeply corrupt and racist atmosphere of the 1930s, creating a feeling of dread and fear for the characters. This is a fight where the good guys are vastly out-numbered and out-gunned and where looking the wrong way at the wrong person can get you killed. Under the veneer of polite, civilised conversation, the golf club drinks parties and the sumptuous elegance is a rotten core, a canker. The question is, is it so embedded in the daily life of the city as to be immovable?

There’s a conspiracy at the heart of this thriller, but it’s not that simple; all motives are suspect and even those trying to do good have their limits. There are echoes here of the political shenanigans of All The King’s Men, the conspiracy at the heart of Chinatown, and the real life story of Louisiana governor Huey Long. It’s a bleak vision of the segregated society, greed and economic despair that rings very true. Reaching the Shining River is superbly plotted and suspenseful, This novel is haunting and chilling. When a black man is murdered, we see the value white society places on that man’s life.

Kansas City, 1935, even though the Volstead Act has been repealed and prohibition ended two years earlier, liquor distribution in the city is still controlled by the Italian mob. The police, from the commissioner down, are getting a cut of the gambling action, prostitution, drugs and the numbers racket. A few rich white men get richer, even in hard times. Boss Pendergast controls the legislature, he owns enough politicians to dictate to the State and kiss off the federal authorities. Against this backdrop, there’s only one thing worse than being a dirt-poor white person, and that’s being a dirt-poor black person. Not a drop of the New Deal aid, following the financial crash, has made it to the Negro part of town. The tone of the novel is beautifully reinforced by the painful and poetic lyrics of the blues that infuse this gritty Noir, underlining the prejudice and corruption of the times.

Reach the Shinning River

Cover of the 1st edition, 2014

Sunday morning and eleven-year-old Wardell comes across the body of a “coloured” man, just like him, just outside town. The battered corpse is lying face down in the mud between the Missouri River and the rail track. Wardell runs to the Negro district to tell them what he’s seen. Mr Watkins knows it’s no easy matter reporting such a death. An hour later, he returns with a white police officer who makes Wardell take him to the body. He takes the boy back to town but he threatens him before he drops him off. Wardell best forget what he saw if he knows what’s good for him and his family.

Emmett Whelan and his wife Fay haven’t been close since the miscarriage; the old resentments about Emmett not being part of the ‘right set’ resurface. Fay relies on Daddy, Lloyd Perkins, for her spending money. He and his brother Robert are big men in this city, whereas Emmett is a poorly paid Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor. Lloyd has some people he wants his son-in-law to meet, distinguished gentlemen of the golf club – they have a proposal for Emmett.

The dead man, Eddie Sloane, didn’t show for work at the Sunset Club on Saturday night so Arlene sang with Otis on piano. Arlene and Eddie have been lovers for two years now. When she eventually reports him missing, the police don’t want to know, won’t even take a report. Even when his body turns up, Detective Timmins, in charge of the case, does nothing. There are people in the black community who won’t let the death of another black man just slide. The Friendship Brotherhood and Eddie’s lover Arlene hire a PI, a white detective from Chicago, to investigate.

Kevin Stevens

Lloyd Perkins and his business chums talk about reform to Emmett, and urge him to find out who killed Eddie Sloane. The city needs a clean-up; it would be good for them and good for the prosecutor that could bring it about – Fay would respect that. Eddie was killed inside city limits, so as a county prosecutor Emmett would have to tread carefully, but someone needs to conduct a proper investigation. Roddy Hudson, state prosecutor, and the FBI are still angry with Kansas City for not cooperating on law enforcement and the New Deal; they will help.

Emmett brings in an old friend, a former detective, to investigate. The autopsy shows that Eddie was beaten badly, then shot three times, one in the head – police style. He stepped on the wrong toes, didn’t pay a debt or was just in the wrong place. Emmett, Arlene and her son Wardell are drawn deeper into a world of dirty cops, racism, corruption and personal danger. The people they are up against have no morals; they will stop at nothing.

Stevens’ powerful evocation of the shameful segregated world that is pre-war Missouri is a classy conspiracy thriller. An intelligent novel that twists your gut. In the spirit of the best American noir.

Paul Burke

Read the first pages of the novel here: https://betimesbooks.com/2014/07/29/excerpt-reach-the-shining-river/

And another excerpt, with a soundtrack: https://betimesbooks.com/2015/05/29/reach-the-shining-river-lover-man-excerpt-soundtrack/

Original review: https://nbmagazine.co.uk/reach-the-shining-river-by-kevin-stevens/

 

“If you are in the mood for something different, this may be it.”

December 10, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Dirty Pictures by Patricia Ketola reviewed by Paul Burke in NB Magazine

This novel is extremely well-written, it reads like a page-turner and the story is fascinating, but it won’t be for everyone, it might even be described as niche. Here’s why I think it might not appeal to some: If you want a straightforward thriller or a straightforward romance you might not get this, it’s a bit of a genre-bender. Dirty Pictures is a love story and it’s a story of murder, it has elements of the family saga, twentieth century politics, art history and a definite erotic tinge. More than anything, it’s Martel’s story, she narrates a beguiling tale, this is her life, her world – it goes where it goes, unapologetically. As a love story it is unsentimental, as a thriller it’s intriguing. If the fact that it doesn’t fit nicely into a specific box puts you off you will miss out.

Ketola has her own ways of seeing things, she makes leaps and connections in ways that more conformist linear storytellers wouldn’t. Dirty Pictures isn’t surreal but it tips way over the edge of orthodox behaviour. That’s not a bad thing. Parts of the story you might expect to be followed up are abandoned; it’s unsettling, but also very true to life. Experience is a series of events that we weave a path in and out of, we don’t have perfect knowledge, we move on. Where the narrative drive appears to divert from expectation, and we are directed to a new theme, the novel becomes more exciting. One thing leads to another, and then the story moves on, plot lines are discarded, and it’s invigorating to read. You will have no idea where it will all end up, but you won’t be disappointed.

Elizabeth Martel, known as Martel, has her bottle of tequila and her mother’s Percocet to hand, oblivion here we come, but then Terry rings. Normally she would rush over to her disabled friend’s house (he was hurt in a bike accident), but she’s already pissed, she is mourning her mother, Carlene, so he will have to wait. So the next morning Terry sympathises over Clara’s death (he grew with Martel but he still can’t get her mother’s name right). Then he offers her a job – and she’d be doing him a favour. It’s worth $10,000 just to check it out, and she could use the money.

Patricia Ketola

Agri-business billionaire Preston Greylander has a Rembrandt, Martel is an expert on Dutch and Flemish art. The painting needs cleaning and he needs advice on how. Greylander is a detestable man, a typical WASP, he is also a destroyer of countries and continents in the pursuit of profit. Martel advises Greylander to have to painting restored by Van der Saar in Amsterdam. She doesn’t mention that she first learned art on Hendrik van der Saar’s knee, literally and figuratively. After her meeting with Greylander, Martel insists on knowing why Terry also had her invite him to a cocktail party. Terry has had enough of life and in a grand gesture he wants to take Greylander with him: murder-suicide.

“I’m through with this life.’ he said. ‘I have a need to get it over with, and while I’m doing it I might as well take that rotten bastard with me.”

Martel agrees to take the painting to the restorer in Holland, it will be the first time she has seen her former lover in twenty years. For the privilege, she gets $25,000 and expenses. While the firm of Van der Saar clean the painting, Martel and Hendrik rekindle their love affair. When she is back in the US, Martel brings Greylander to the cocktail party and to his death. The crime is instantly covered up, Martel’s contract is cancelled, but paid in full. The painting is still in Amsterdam. Pookie Greylander, now 102, although she lies about her age, is part of the Swiss branch of the family, she wants the Rembrandt. The family lawyer wants the restorer to “find” a signature on the canvas ($1M).

Hendrik has a confession to make (more than one, actually quite a few!). Martel also has confessions to make, if the two are to become permanent lovers and trustful friends again. Martel thinks she is being followed: maybe the family of Preston Greylander have connected her to the crime and want revenge? Hendrik says Pookie Greylander has the Rembrandt painting now, but does she? Is it an original or a fake? Did Hendrik add a signature to increase the value and “authenticate” the work per the lawyers “request”? The story will diverge in ways you won’t see coming – just go with the flow.

So why would Martel so easily agree to the murder of a man she doesn’t know? Well, there’s history here. Her family lost their farm in Dakota and became miners in Colorado because of the Greylanders. Her family has a radical tradition from the Wobblies to the present day. Terry has his own fascinating story. So does Hendrik, but the politics of the past generations of his family and Martel’s don’t align.

There is a leap of faith or two here, but Dirty Pictures is fun. If you are in the mood for something different this may be it. The world isn’t always neat and tidy, neither is Ketola’s vision.

Paul Burke

Original review here: https://nbmagazine.co.uk/dirty-pictures-by-patricia-ketola/

HEAD GAMES: the first review comparing the novel and the graphic novel

September 21, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Review published on September 21, 2018.

Whichever version of Head Games you choose to read, the novel or the graphic novel, you’re getting a juicy slice of Americana to feast on. I decided to tackle both books because I thought it would be interesting to read one straight after the other (starting with the novel, which was written first, so that the images in the graphic retelling weren’t influencing my idea of the characters in the novel). Head Games is noir with a touch of humour, in fact I may be underplaying that a bit because I suspect McDonald was having a lot of fun writing this novel and turning it into a graphic read too. Still, Head Games has that hard-boiled feel to it, in the best tradition of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s. A treat for fans of the classic adventure thriller but there are a few knowing twists along the way that gives the give the books an edgy feel.

As McDonald put it in the introduction to the graphic novel, “….you’ll be riding shotgun in a ‘fifty-seven ragtop Bel Air….” [with Hector Lassiter]. That’s because Head Games has revolution, grave robbing, betrayal, ambush, a treasure map, a secret society, political corruption and a host of shoot outs. It’s an homage to a golden age of crime writing with a modern twist – there is so much fun to be had in these pages for fans of the classic American crime story and noir cinema.

It’s rare to get a chance to compare the original novel with the graphic rendition, these two seem apt for the experiment but to be very boring about it, you get the same kick, the same excitement from both (there are a few differences I’ve noted below). Head Games has a double meaning, it refers to the skullduggery in the plot (sorry!) but also to the fact that this novel is a bit of a mind game for the reader too. The main protagonist Hector Lassiter is a writer, he’s also the narrator of most of the novel, so we see things through his eyes but maybe we should take some of the things he says with a pinch of salt? It’s a playful format.

It’s 1957, South of the border. Three men are sitting at a table in a seedy cantina in Ciudad Juarez. There’s Eskin ‘Bud’ Fisk, a short-sighted reporter, poet, here to interview Hector Lassiter, a playwright and crime novelist turned screenwriter. Then there is Bill Wade, a mercenary, con man and a drunk. Wade pulls a bundle out of his duffel bag and unwraps the skull of Mexican general and bandit Pancho Villa. Lassiter knows in his water that the skull, with wisps of hair still attached, really is that of the general. Not least because of the mandibular prognathism (pronounced jawbone, an under-bite). Lassiter tells Wade to put it away before they attract attention. The locals would happily kill three gringos for such a prize and it wouldn’t be a pleasant end. Wade’s idea is for Lassiter to smuggle the skull across the border into the good old US of A. He has a buyer lined up, probably the guy who organised the grave robbing theft in the first place thirty years ago – Senator Prescott Bush. He is prepared to pay $80,000 (rumour has it that he personally stole the head of Geronimo some time past). The men should have been paying attention to what was coming because four Federales burst into the bar waving shotguns.

Lassiter just has time to get Fiske down when the shooting starts. In the gunfight Wade, ironically, gets his head blown off and Bud Fiske, the young journalist, saves Lassiter’s life. The problem is Federales usually come in a big posse so they need to get out of town sharpish. The two men torch Wade’s car as a distraction and flee. Across the border, they head for Lassiter’s house, not that he spends much time here, there are bad memories. That’s where they run into three more armed men. Most likely theory is that the good senator decided to reduce costs by having the skull repossessed by the hired help. Fiske and Lassiter give up the skull but this is only the beginning of the trouble. More than one person out there wants that skull badly! Including a couple of supposedly long dead bloodthirsty hombres.

There’s a healthy dose of violence and killing that follows, pretty much starting form the point I left off. Burned out cars riddled with bullets, amateur bounty hunters, stone cold killers, more grave robbing, sleazy politicians and bent spies not to mention the Skull and Bones secret society, an early forerunner of the “deep state”.

Lassiter and Fiske detour to Venice California where Orson Welles is filming Touch of Evil (one of the great noir movies). Lassiter knows Welles but he’s a big ‘friend’ of the Kraut, aka Marlene Dietrich. I won’t tell you what this is all about but it reinforced the noir credentials of the novel and adds to the playfulness of the story. When Welles is jealous about Marlene he abuses Lassiter, who notes as he leaves the set:

“I heard Marlena say to Welles, ‘Stop it you fool what does it matter what you say about him? He’s a man…..that’s all.’”

Thus insinuating himself into film history as the last line of the movie is:

“He was some kind of a man….What does it matter what you say about people?” [Tanya/Dietrich]

It’s a nice in joke/conceit. Lassiter also picks up a girl friend, Mexican beauty, Alicia Vicente.

Both the novel and the graphic novel have potted histories that add a bit of background colour (although it’s in black and white in the graphic novel): Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arango in 1878, and was a bandit by the age of 17, having killed the man who attacked and raped his sister. In his early twenties he changed his name to Villa and became a robin hood style bandit. Originally fated by the Americans, General Black Jack Pershing was impressed when he was sent to parley with the Mexican Revolutionary, Villa, in 1913. In 1916, Villa’s men were blamed for a raid on Columbus, New Mexico, killing local inhabitants. Pershing was sent south to catch Villa dead or alive, a mission that was called off when the war in Europe ramped up. It wasn’t until Villa had retired that he was gunned down in the street, shot in the back, in 1923. His body was dug up in 1926 and the head taken, it was rumoured to contain a map to Villa’s treasure.

The dialogue is pure hard-boiled heaven – snappy, witty, cutting. There are echoes of the road movie and a great sense of place as the novel shifts from location to location. Lassiter is a great character and some of the set pieces are solid gold. As a bonus the novel contains a readers’ guide, a short story and an essay on Lassiter.

The novel has a breakneck pace but the graphic novel ramps it up a bit – spare, crisp and action packed. The drawings reinforce the dark atmosphere and the text bubbles are sparingly used, which is an indication of the clever visual interpretation of the original but the hard-boiled style is maintained. The images lead you to the double meaning of Head Games pretty quickly. I loved the sequence in Venice, CA, where the opening shot of Touch of Evil (one of the most iconic movie scenes) is recreated in the graphic novel – it’s a nice doffing of the cap to Welles and the masterpiece of the cinema. The shot of Wade reaching for the skull in the duffel bag makes his face look like a skull presaging his coming end. There are a few heads that get blown off in this story! The simplified story here is more direct than the novel but essentially the same. I’d have no problem recommending the novel or the graphic novel depending on your taste, both are entertaining and exciting reads.

Paul Burke @ https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/09/head-games-novel-by-craig-mcdonald-and-graphic-novel-by-craig-mcdonald-and-kevin-singles/

A tribute to Aretha Franklin

August 17, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

As a small tribute to Aretha Franklin, this excerpt from Reach the Shining River, a novel by Kevin Stevens, writer and jazz connoisseur:

“A full house was tough on the nerves but easier to gather and please. If you knew what you were doing, and Arlene did. Had known from the beginning when, eleven years old, she sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in the Mount Zion church choir. Hitting the notes, yes. But plenty of singers could carry a tune. You had to get the audience involved. Start a conversation with them. You had to have soul.

Otis was at the piano, warming the crowd with a little boogie-woogie. Piney gave him the high sign and he segued into the first song.

The audience stirred, and faces turned stage left. Draymen, day laborers, housecleaners, cooks, domestics: these folks worked with their hands but knew their chord progressions. “Lady Be Good” was Arlene’s calling card – not the white-bread Fred Astaire arrangement but Bill Basie’s Kansas City version, up-tempo, swinging, with Lester Young soloing on tenor like he was making love to the long-legged gal serving drinks.

Arlene stepped into the light, singing just a shade behind the beat, her hands moving down along the sequins of her dress, from breasts to hips to thighs. It wasn’t the words that carried the soul but the ghost of Young’s saxophone, its sexy lines floating in her mind. Voices called out from the semi-darkness, filled with lust and admiration and surprise. Glasses clinked. The air was blue with cigarette smoke. Ecstasy and longing and gospel shouts. But this wasn’t church.

Listen to my tale of woe
It’s terribly sad but true
All dressed up, no place to go
Each evening I’m awfully blue.

The audience went with her from the start. Otis was just good enough. She followed with “All of Me”, “If You Were Mine” and “It’s Too Hot for Words”. Then another of her torch songs, “Body and Soul”.

My heart is sad and lonely
For you I sigh, for you dear only
Why haven’t you seen it
I’m all for you, body and soul.

Out of the lyrics he appeared. Unexpected. Looming in her mind, cool and easy, pork-pie hat pulled low over his brow and cigarette glowing between his lips. From between the lines of a song, like Young’s tenor sax.

Her heart lurched. She struggled to continue.”

More praise for Sam Hawken’s LA FRONTERA five years after its release

April 3, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

If, like us, you value long-sellers over best-sellers and content over marketing, this book might be for you:

Book Noir review, published on March 30, 2018

Every time I read one of Hawken’s novels I enjoy it immensely; he is a consummate storyteller with a real knack for getting to the heart of the matter. La Frontera is a powerful novel because is deals with the lives of real people in tough situations. That has been a feature of Hawken’s writing since his first novel, The Dead Women of Juarez, a blistering thriller based on the murders of 1500 women in Ciudad Juarez during the drugs wars on the border. This was an important novel but Hawken has gone on to write much better thrillers (from a stylistic point of view). I don’t think anybody writes about La Frontera with the same depth of knowledge of the borderlands (north and south). Hawken is a Texan, and he brings the many stories of real people to life with compassion and honesty. In this case it is Ana, Luis and Marisol. That depth of characterisation sets his novels apart from a lot of thrillers and it’s totally engrossing. The people we meet on these pages are nuanced and complicated. Hawken seems to be able to make ordinary detail seem fascinating and once he introduces a character you will want to know their story. Most importantly Hawken knows how to tell a story with verve and depth; La Frontera is fast paced, absorbing and exciting – it is one of his best and that is saying something.

Full review here: https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/03/la-frontera-by-sam-hawken/

A review of REACH THE SHINING RIVER by the winner of our Christmas Prize Draw

January 16, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

‘It was Wardell found the body.’

Kansas City, 1935. Emmett Watson, a county prosecutor of Irish decent, is married to Fay, a high society woman, who is the daughter of one of the movers and shakers in the city, and unhappy in her marriage. At a closed-door meeting with his father-in-law, and other high rollers, Emmett is asked to investigate the brutal murder of a local black, jazz piano player, and he soon finds himself taking on a corrupt political machine, mobsters and cops on the pad.

All around Emmett, is fear and silence surrounding the murder, and blatant racial hatred, that puts his life and career at risk.

One of the most engaging characters in the novel is Arlene Gray, the jazz
singer whose voice can still the room in a smoky Kansas City nightclub.
Arlene, a woman of tremendous grace, and vulnerability, is the mother of Wardell, the young boy who found the bullet-ridden body on a bank by the river. She also was the murdered Eddie Sloan’s lover. She is determined to
protect he son at all cost, and her anguish at losing Eddie, is a deeply moving part of the novel.

There is a bluesy, jazzy ebb and flow throughout the novel. Swirling and dipping in language and imagery. While reading it I often had music by Billie Holiday, Bud Powell, Lester Young, and Bill “Count” Basie playing
across the room. The music supplementing the rhythm and phrasing of the writer’s words. The richness of the many characters, and the honest writing that cut right to the quick.

It is always a pleasure to discover a novel and a writer whose vibrant prose, and dialogue, make me reluctant to turn the final page. Reach the Shining River is such a novel.”

–Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions

Link to the original review on Facebook: here.

Craig McDonald’s THE RUNNING KIND is “a raucous ride”

June 8, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Temporary Knucksline

Book review: Craig McDonald’s The Running Kind

Amici:

The Running Kind by Craig McDonald … crime novelist Hector Lassiter is reunited with an old mate from prior adventures in the Lassiter series, Jimmy Hanrahan. It’s 1950 and too close to Christmas when Hector and Jimmy (a cop) are huddled indoors from an Ohio blizzard and a young girl approaches Hector with a plea for help. Her mom and aunt are in danger because one of them is a Cleveland mafia boss’s wife and the other his girlfriend (comare—pronouced Goomarr if you’re from the East Coast).

Hector’s been having a few with Jimmy, but there’s no way he’ll deny the young girl’s request for help. A battle quickly ensues, which is the start of a cross country adventure that involves several notables, to include Elliot Ness and J. Edgar Hoover (and his G-men), still ambivalent about this so-called mafia thing (which is about to hit the television airwaves). There’s also an appearance by a young Rod Serling, and by adventure’s end, old Blue eyes himself, accompanied by the woman he couldn’t wait to own (and never would), Ava Gardner. Frank is there with a message from Momo (Sam Giancana).

As it turns out, the mom and comare have something on the mob boss and are looking to turn witness, which is a tough sell when there are so many in law enforcement enthusiastically on the mob’s payroll. It’s one treachery after another, until it becomes the safer play to head out of town. It is in Missouri where Hector, who’s already had a little fling with one of the two women (the mother or the girlfriend?), and winds up falling for the mother of the mother, as did this reader, has to draw battle lines.

It’s a raucous ride wherein Hector is eventually matched up against a hitman with a scary nickname and mad tracking abilities. Seems everybody is running in this terrific read, and one can only hope Hector can make it back alive for the life he’s often dreamed of, and with a woman he’s always hoped he’d fine.

It’s a start to finish thriller featuring honorable men in a dishonorable world of corruption. Hardboiled and ready to burst, with a wonderful touch of Americana and celebrities. One more from a wonderful series—a hell of a read.

Charlie Stella, June 3, 2017

Happy 10th Anniversary, Hector!

June 1, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Ten years, ten novels… And a graphic novel coming out this Fall. Hector Lassiter  has been through good and bad times. But tough times don’t last. Tough men do!

Happy 10th anniversary to Hector Lassiter and his creator, Craig McDonald, and many happy returns!

Craig McDonald signing review copies of HEAD GAMES, the first Hector Lassiter novel to be published, at Book Expo America on the 1st of June 2007

Click here to view the Hector Lassiter Series

and HERE

TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF A HECTOR LASSITER NOVEL

HECTOR LASSITER – Created by Craig McDonald

Pulp novelist and Black Mask contributor HECTOR LASSITER is more manly than you.

Or the United States Marine Corps, for that matter.

Head Games: The Graphic novel (coming out Oct. 2017 from First Second Books / Macmillan US)

In [these] romping, stomping, wickedly imaginative historical crime novels […] by Craig El Gavilan” McDonald, Lassiter, a combo of Ernest Hemingway and Rambo, manages to romp all over the twentieth century.

Along the way, he runs into – and generally kicks the ass of – serial killers, Mexican banditos, crooked cops, hurricanes, misguided revolutionaries, the CIA, assorted tyrants and thugs, and various participants in the Spanish Civil War. He also bumps into everyone from Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Salvador Dali, John Huston and John Dos Passos to Papa himself, and lives to tell the tales.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. And Hector is just that man, a hard-living, hard-loving, hard-drinking, hard-fighting and hard-writing son of a bitch who lives by the credo of writing what you know. And sticking his nose wherever the Hell he damn well wants. […] Trust me  the Hector books are a hoot.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith

Click here to see the original article

 

The Lassiter Decade Competition

June 1, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Dear Readers,

To mark the 10th Anniversary of Craig McDonald’s Hector Lassiter series, we are running a competition in which

the authors of the best three reviews of a Hector Lassiter book

posted on any Amazon website and live by June 12, 10am Dublin time, will win a signed copy of a Hector Lassiter novel!

Click here to view the Hector Lassiter Series.

Read and review of a book of your choice.

Contact us when your review appears on Amazon.

We’ll contact the winners by email on June 13 and announce them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@BetimesBooksNow)

Please note that we’ll need your mailing address to send you “the trophy”!

 

Review of DEATH IN THE FACE: “The Last Man Standing”

May 18, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Review by Marvin Minkler: @MarvinMinklerModernFirstEditions

Death in the Face

“Quite alone, yet somehow quite happy, Hector drove on through the sweet-smelling autumn rain, back to his home and family.”

This one true sentence, from the ending of the newly finished novel, Death in the Face, by Craig McDonald, an Edgar and Anthony Awards Finalist, brought to a close my nine-novel journey through the mid-20th Century world, with Hector Lassiter, the man who “writes what he lives and lives what he writes.”

Death in the Face takes place in 1963 and finds Hector at 62 years of age. He is starting to feel that the modern world is passing him by and that he might be slowing down a step or two. He has lost some dear friends and lovers, and, at night, he is haunted by realistic dreams and visions of his life’s love, Brinke Devlin. Brinke’s tragic death still tears at him.

Hector is invited to come along with his old and slowly dying friend, British author, and former spy, Ian Fleming, to the land of the rising sun. Ian is finding late success with his bestselling James Bond series of novels, which have just begun to be made into movies, starring Sean Connery.

Long ago, just after World War II, Ian and Hector, who were intelligence agents at the time, had tried to get their hands on a deadly biological weapon, developed by the Japanese, that could spell doom for whatever country it was used on. While in Japan this time, Ian is determined to find it again, and Hector is along for the ride, with the hope of recovering some previously unknown writings by Brinke Devlin, which are also supposedly there.

As usual with a Hector Lassiter novel, there is plenty of action, deadly villains, a fetchingly beautiful spy, with her eye and gun on Hector, James Bond-type gadgets, intrigue, twists and turns, sexy romps, tragedy, loss, and many reflective moments where the sheer poetry of Craig McDonald’s writing stops the reader in their tracks. There are places where a passage is so moving that it must be read all over again.

I admit to feeling a bit sad about finishing my last Hector Lassiter novel. The books have taken me on a journey all the way from Paris in the 1920s, to Key West in the 30s, Germany and France during World War II, 1950s clashes with the Cleveland mob, assassins in the South-west, and Hollywood, Nashville, and finally Hawaii.

I have met historical characters that have come to life fully fleshed, due to the author’s genuine depiction and understanding of them. Ernest and Mary Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Orson Wells, Eliot Ness, Robert Shaw, Yukio Mishima, Mitsuharu Kaneko, Lester Dent, Rod Serling, and George W. and Prescott Bush, and many more.

Thanks, Craig McDonald, for these wonderfully entertaining and deeply felt novels. I feel Hector Lassiter is the best on-going character ever created in fiction. Truly the last man standing. There is not enough praise that I can give you for your mighty creation and your masterful writing.

Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions, May 2017

The full Hector Lassiter Series is available to buy on Amazon here

A new review of Craig McDonald’s “The Running Kind”

April 20, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

The Running Kind reviewed by Marvin Minkler of Modern First Editions

No happy ending ever started in a bar.

After the tumultuous events that took place on the world’s stage during World War II, and after, in the last Hector Lassiter novel I read, and my ninth, Roll The Credits, expectations were a bit lower as I began The Running Kind. Mistake on my part.

Hector was in a Youngstown, Ohio hotel bar during the December 1950 blizzard, reuniting with his dear, old Irish cop friend, Jimmy Hanrahan. While sharing drinks and war stories, they are suddenly interrupted by a young hysterical girl, who pulls at Hector’s sleeve, pleading: “Please, mister, my mommy needs help.”
Never hesitant, off Hector and Jimmy go, guns and fists at the ready.

After a violent confrontation with some thugs in the bathroom of the hotel and outside, the men rescue the girl’s mother, who is the wife of a Ohio mobster chieftain, and the mistress of the mobster, who Hector notices right away, resembles Veronica Lake. The girls are on the run, trying to find a way to testify against the mob boss, at the Televised Hearings on the Mafia, being held by Senator Kefauver.

Never to shy away from a dangerous and deadly challenge, especially when outnumbered, Hector and Jimmy commit to helping them get to Dayton to testify. Off they go with mobsters, hit men, crooked cops, hired thugs, and FBI agents, joining the cross-country chase through the blizzard, culminating in events that will alter Lassiter’s life forever. Alter in a way that he never would have imagined. One hell-of-a way for the original running kind to celebrate turning 50.

One of the things I so enjoy about reading the Hector Lassiter series, is the way novelist Craig McDonald introduces historical and cultural figures who play roles in the different books, through different eras. In The Running Kind one of the people who help Hector out of a deadly jam, is Doc Savage’s writer, Lester Dent. A young writer, Rod Serling sits with Hector in a bar outside the Antioch campus, and tells Hector of his idea for a new dark anthology series he is writing for television.

Untouchables hero, and now down on his luck, Eliot Ness, puts down the bottle, and picks up a gun to give Hector and Jimmy much-needed help. Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner make an appearance late in the novel, bringing a message from Sam “Momo” Giancana, that will lead Hector back to Cleveland, for revenge, and a terrific climax.

There is also a subtle undercurrent of loss and regret throughout The Running Kind. For Hector, at three am in the morning, it will always be the dark-haired beauty, and fellow writer, Brinke Devlin, his life’s greatest love. Like Hector, she was a running kind, and her memory will run through his thoughts forever.

I have been asked on more than one occasion, which Hector Lassiter novel I liked the best. It is safe to say that it has always been the last one I read.

Three Chords and the Truth – Review

March 26, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

The Venetian Vase

Hector Lassiter is one of the most compelling literary creations of recent years– a crime novelist who ‘writes what he lives and lives what he writes’. Lassiter was born January 1, 1900, and he witnesses some of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. Whether he finds himself at the heart of a murder mystery with the Lost Generation in 1920s Paris, or dodging the bombs and bullets with Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, Lassiter is never far away from violence and intrigue. Three Chords and the Truth is the ninth and final novel in the Lassiter series, and, needless to say,  it was eagerly anticipated by the many fans of the series.

Craig McDonald is the author behind the author, the creator of Hector Lassiter and the writer of five more novels outside the Lassiter series. McDonald began his career as a journalist and still works in that…

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“Corrida de Toros”, a short story by Sam Hawken

February 16, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

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“The Bull” by Gérard Ramon (mixed media)

“He wanted to be out of Mexico, and he never wanted to come back.”

This story is part of our anthology BORDERLAND NOIR, edited by Craig McDonald

Read the story here: http://www.samhawken.com/?p=10948#more-10948

 

Christmas at Le Select

December 22, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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Le Select, American bar, Paris, 2016

“Dream as if you’ll live forever;
Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”

CHRISTMAS
1924

“Christmas is a holiday that persecutes the lonely, the frayed and the rejected.”
—Jimmy Cannon

PARIS
Hector & Victoria

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The legendary cat of Le Select, 2011

It was warm and crowded in the café. The liquor was flowing and everyone was laughing and wishing one another a Happy Christmas. Back slaps, cheek kisses and toasts all around.
Victoria sat in a corner of Le Select next to a sprawling, slightly overweight cat, watching Hector at the bar chatting with his fellow writer, Hemingway. The two authors had already spent most of Christmas Eve together. Victoria envisioned a good deal of the day and perhaps even the holiday evening would be spent with the Hemingways, as well.
Oh, Vicky liked the Hemingways just fine. They were fellow Americans, and Midwesterners, at that. Hadley and Hem recalled the people Victoria had grown up with back home. But they also had a young son, “Bumby” or Jack. The Hemingway child was a kind of knife twist for Victoria just now.
Quite soon, she would be going back there, back to the States, and going with Hector who had at last decided to return home after several years roaming Europe, an unintended odyssey that began with his ill-fated service in the last war.
Hector had met Victoria under bizarre circumstances earlier in the year, right around Valentine’s Day, she guessed. Hector had actually saved her life, rescuing her from a killer. She had heard another woman close to him—his lover before Victoria, a woman named Brinke Devlin—had fallen prey to the murderer.
Although Hector had eventually taken Vicky into his life, then into his bed—although he was paying her way back to the States—he’d always made it clear he wasn’t looking for a permanent entanglement with her. Hector had warned Victoria from the start that the New Year would find him returning to America, and then moving on from New York alone, headed for parts unknown.
photo0073Yet it should be different now, she thought. Hadn’t they been mostly happy together these past few months? Seemingly, Hector respected Victoria’s remaining secrets, and she respected his—including the sense that some other woman evidently waited for him back there in America. She never confronted Hector about that. She never put the question to him directly.
But sometimes the pale-skinned, raven-haired Victoria caught Hem or Hadley looking at her with this curious mix of affection and concern, almost as if she reminded them too vividly of someone else, someone Victoria could only believe must have been close to Hector. Maybe it was the dead woman? Perhaps it was this Brinke?
It should be different, she thought again, watching the handsome young author.
champagneIt was Christmas, and they were lovers, and Hector had at last secured publication of his first novel. They should be returning to their homeland as a triumphant married couple, Victoria thought. Returning to celebrate Hector’s new novel and their departure from this old European city that had stripped so much from them.
But it wouldn’t be like that.
Tonight Hector would be in her arms of course.
This Christmas night he would be hers, but not in the ways that truly counted or mattered most to Victoria. And of course it wouldn’t endure.
This night in the City of Lights, engulfed in laughter and music, Victoria already viewed Hector Lassiter as the one who got away.

Extract from Forever’s Just Pretend by Craig McDonald

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Le Select, Christmas 2016

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“Head Games”, the graphic novel: official preview

December 21, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

hg-graphic-final-coverAt long last, readers can discover an eight-page sample from Craig McDonald’s forthcoming graphic novel “Head Games”, adapted from his Edgar- and Anthony-shortlisted novel (written by Craig himself and illustrated by Kevin Singles). A few more month to wait until the October release, but have a look at the dedicated page on the Macmillan US website.

And if you haven’t read the novel, click to preview below.

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“Three Chords & The Truth Rings True Like a Finely Tuned Guitar”

December 19, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

A wonderful review by a true connaisseur:

5.0 out of 5 stars Three Chords & The Truth Rings True Like a Finely Tuned Guitar, December 18, 2016

This review is from: Three Chords & The Truth: A Hector Lassiter novel (Volume 10) (Paperback)

The first Hector Lassiter novel I read was the Edgar-nominated debut from Craig McDonald, Head Games. History is the author’s canvas and it is vast, colorful and detailed. From Paris in the 1920’s with Ernest Hemingway to Memphis in 1958, where this exciting and latest novel begins. Craig McDonald gives us a rich, authentic take on the country legends of our time who changed the way the music was then. Along with high tone babes, racial tensions, vengeful hooligans, and a chilling plan being hatched, Hector and his Chevy Bel Air could get blown off the road before it all is over.
Although I initially began this one to savor it some, after a few pages in, it was a flat-out race through the pages. Superb writing, swift plotting, and as usual, interesting real life figures from the country scene then, along with some of Hector’s old friends, and enemies.
I can’t recommend it enough. Three Chords & The Truth rings true like a finely tuned guitar.

Craig McDonald about the challenge of writing a series

November 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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 Not the end of something?

By Craig McDonald

In autumn 2007, HEAD GAMES was published by Ben Leroy and Bleak House books.

It went on to earn best first novel nominations for the Edgar Award, the Anthony, and the Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France, among others.

It also launched a series of ten novels featuring protagonist Hector Lassiter, pulp magazine writer, crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter.

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Betimes Books has just published the climactic novel in the series, THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH, set in Nashville about a year after HEAD GAMES, and bringing back several characters from that first novel.

CHORDS was always envisioned as a kind of HEAD GAMES sequel and definitive circle-closer.

I actually wrote the “last” Lassiter novel many, many years ago, much of it in situ in Nashville, Tennessee. I interviewed various songwriters and sat in on sound-checks to gather source material and atmosphere.

But mostly, I focused on putting a capstone on the Hector Lassiter saga.

Few are the mystery series in my experience that round out with the fulfillment of a charted character arc or larger story.

Most series simply trail off into oblivion because of soft sales, or the death of their author.

If the series is particularly popular, when the creator dies, some other writer is brought in to keep churning out inferior, never quite satisfying continuations, again toward no planned end.

There are very few exceptions to this rule of the never-ending series.

Most of those that occur still don’t typically deliver a unified story arc carried to a planned climax built toward across the span of the series.

More often, some poor author gets a dire diagnosis and so races the clock to close out their series before they too are “closed out.”

Others elect to do something mirroring Agatha Christie’s strategy of writing a series closer well ahead of time, then holding it in reserve for posthumous publication.

(Though in the Dame’s case, even killing off her character didn’t stop others from publishing further Poirot novels following the appearance of CURTAIN.)

I’ve long acknowledged James Sallis’ cycle of Lew Griffin novels as the inspiration for the Lassiter series.

Dublin reading, August 2016

Dublin reading, August 2016

Sallis wrote an interconnected and finite series of novels that together tell a larger story and build to a final revelation regarding his central protagonist.

With the Lassiter series, I wanted to do something similar: Construct a series toward a known end, allowing each book to stand alone, more or less, but in sum telling a much larger story regarding the character of Hector Lassiter and his eventual fate.

It was an audacious or perhaps even foolish goal to write a whole series ahead of any contract commitments. Certainly, given what I now know of the vagaries and failings of much of the publishing industry, it was a very naïve and hopeful thing for a baseline cynic like myself to undertake.

Yet I wrote first drafts of the novels in the series in the space of about three months per title, back-to-back, working toward the known conclusion of this last, Nashville-set series-closer.

The later entries in the series were mostly well into composition before the second novel, TOROS & TORSOS, was even contracted for publication by Bleak House Books.

Please let me run a highlighter over that point: Most of the series, including the last volume, was virtually written before the second book reached the galley stage some time in the summer of 2008.

There was never any guarantee the books would all see print. There was every chance the project might stall around book four or five and the rest of the novels would remain in limbo.

The first translation: French (La tête de Pancho Villa, Editions Belfond, 2009)

The first translation: French (“La tête de Pancho Villa”, Editions Belfond, 2009)

But the series has hung in there, collecting an international audience through translations in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean and Mongolian, among others.

In English language form, the Lassiter series currently encompasses four different publishers.

HEAD GAMES was also quickly optioned for graphic novel adaptation by First Second Books, prior to its Bleak House publication. I wrote the script for that project over a weekend nearly ten years ago (the art came much more slowly).

Next October, nearly ten years to the day that HEAD GAMES the novel was released, HEAD GAMES the graphic novel will at last appear.

A short story collection will also follow next year from Betimes Books, which now prints uniform editions of the entire series.

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Paris, March 2011

The short story collection will feature a never-before-published Lassiter novella set in the 1920s that roughly approaches the word count found in HEAD GAMES.

So while THREE CHORDS does represent the climax of the Hector Lassiter series as originally set forth, the Lassiter saga still has some moves left.

Hector has opened remarkable doors for me and provided international travel opportunities for my family.

He is forever there somewhere in my head, sometimes whispering in my ear. When you write this much about a single character for so long, you actually begin to see the world through his eyes.

Telling this storyteller’s story has resulted in years of wonderful correspondence and conversation with readers of all ages, nationalities and interests who’ve followed his saga.

I very much look forward to hearing the reactions to this “last” Hector Lassiter novel.

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 Contact us for a free electronic review copy!

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Adopt a Minotaur this Christmas

November 22, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

“If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a minotaur.”     Pablo Picasso

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“Minotaur” by Man Ray

Craig McDonald’s novel Toros & Torsos is based on a theory that the famous Los Angeles “Black Dahlia” murders were inspired by the Surrealist masterpieces of the 1930s. McDonald took this idea even further and created a murder masterpiece that suggested a conspiracy of serial Surrealist killers. A particular inspiration was Man Ray’s “Minotaur” in which the pose of the subject was eerily similar to the body of the Black Dahlia.

The surrealists were always captivated by the myth of the Minotaur. The beast trapped in the maze became the symbol of the surrealist subject lost in the labyrinth of his own subconscious desires. The artists embraced the beast for its representation of the self-reflexive nature of monstrosity that comes from the Minotaur being created from both human and animal.

"Dora and the Minotaur" by Pablo Picasso

“Dora and the Minotaur” by Pablo Picasso

Although never a subscriber to the movement, Picasso was nevertheless interested in the Minotaur, and the animal is increasingly present in his work in the 1930s.

For Picasso, the Minotaur acts as the keeper of taboo sexual secrets and also the subconscious fulfilment of them.

Scroll down to read an excerpt from Toros & Torsos in which the myth of the Minotaur is described.

A limited edition hard cover copy, signed and fingerprinted by the author, would make the perfect Christmas gift for any crime & mystery lover.
Available to order HERE for €40.

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Hector lit a cigarette and said, “Bishop, I’ve been looking over Le Minotaure some more. What exactly is it with the bulls…the Minotaur thing? What’s the significance to you surrealists?”

Bishop pulled out one of his own cigarettes and then fastened it to the end of a long, black cigarette holder. Hector lit the little man’s cigarette with his Zippo and then lit another for Rachel. Hem, a nonsmoker, scooted his chair around a little closer to Harriet, who also wasn’t smoking.

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The Minotaur continues to fascinate artists: A sculpture by Jivko. Exhibition Place Saint-Sulpice, Paris, Oct. 2016

“Partly, I think it’s just a preoccupation of our times, driven in no small part by this man, here.” Bishop gestured at Hem. “First with The Sun Also Rises, and now with Death in the Afternoon. Hem has made us all fascinated with the myth and ritual of the bullfight. And many of us in the surrealist movement are Spainophiles and aficionados in our own rights. But it is also the myth of the Minotaur that fascinates us and made us choose the Minotaur to serve as our kind of surrealist emblem.”

Hector said, “I’m just an old boy from Southern Texas. My Greek mythology is, well, it ain’t great. I mean, I know it involves something about a maze, or something, and some fella going into to kill the half-human, half-bull who lived at the center, but…” He shrugged. “But that’s as far as I go.”

Bishop said, “Harriet here is quite an avid folklorist. You tell Hector, dear.”

She smiled and blushed, her gaze darting around the table. It was apparent the little woman was intimidated by her story-teller company, but she pressed ahead:

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“Theseus and the Minotaur”, ca. 550 BC

“The story goes that Poseidon, the sea god, gifted the king of Crete — Minos — with a white bull. Minos was supposed to sacrifice the white bull, and when he didn’t, Poseidon retaliated by making the king’s wife, Pasiphaë, fall in love with and actually couple with the bull. Their offspring was a hideous creature, the Minotaur, a giant human hybrid with a bull’s head. Minos then hired Daedalus to construct the labyrinth to contain the Minotaur. Once a decade, Minos sent seven men into the labyrinth to their deaths — and to be food for the beast inside. Finally, a hero, Theseus, volunteered to be one of the seven sent to their deaths. Theseus was in love with Minos’ daughter, Ariadne. He planned to kill the Minotaur. Ariadne provided Theseus with a long spool of thread, so that after he had killed the monster, Theseus could follow the thread back out of the labyrinth.”

Hector blew a smoke ring and said, “Things went to plan, and then this Greek boy and the king’s daughter, Ariadne, they lived happily ever after?”

“Oh no,” Harriet Blair said, shaking her head. “Theseus abandoned Ariadne soon after. He was off on his next adventure.”

“In that, it sounds like one of my books,” Hector said. “But I see now — the myth, I mean. It’s a psychological minefield.”

From Toros & Torsos, Craig McDonald, © 2008

The Hector Lassiter book trailers

November 2, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

Dear readers,

You may not know it, but one of Craig McDonald’s many talents is producing spectacular video trailers for his books.

Discover the trailer for the Hector Lassiter series and meet “the man who writes what he lives and lives what he writes”: Tender, violent, intelligent, unwise, wanderer, fool for love, righteous, amoral, brave, elusive, arrogant, magnanimous, lonely, convivial,  self-absorbed, great-hearted Hector Lassiter.

On Craig McDonald’s blog, you will find trailers for each individual title,

including the forthcoming THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH:

http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.ie/2016/10/hector-lassiter-book-trailer-countdown.html

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Hadley Colt about her second novel for Betimes Books, a reinvention of the timeless legend of Sherlock Holmes

September 28, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

From Hadley Colt‘s blog:

PUBLISH OR PERISH? (THE RED-HANDED LEAGUE DEBUTS)

“I am lost without my Boswell.”

—Sherlock Holmes

The Red-Handed League, my new thriller about Sherlock Holmes, debuts this week.

Hewing to a Doylean naming strategy, this little essay might be called, The Matter of the Murdered Biographer. It could also be titled, The Case of Fearful Symmetry.

Here’s what I mean:23

My first work published by Betimes Books was the literary thriller Permanent Fatal Error. It centers on a presumed-dead cult novelist ala J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon whose would-be biographers mysteriously die.

The Red-Handed League is a present-day prequel to Conan Doyle’s first-published Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet.

My new book spins on inappropriate relationships between students and instructors at an upscale private school. It also re-imagines and melds aspects of several noted Holmes tales, including “The Red-Headed League” and “The Master Blackmailer.”

What goes around comes around, they say.

Or as Holmes might observe, “Everything comes in circles. The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.”

There’s a creepy nexus between my first and second books for Betimes, you see.

While we were working on cover designs and last touches for The Red-Handed League, my publisher ran across an article about a man obsessed with writing the definitive biography of a famous author, only to die violently under the most mysterious of circumstances.

The excellent article by David Grann detailing this real-life mystery was published in The New Yorker in December 2004.

“That’s pretty far back in the rearview mirror, Ms. Colt,” you might point out.

And I’d respond, “Yes. Yes, it is.”

And yet?

There is fearful symmetry in this. Deliciously lingering mystery, too.

The Betimes Books publisher and her author were struck by the very strange overlap between the mysterious death of a deceased novelist’s would-be biographer (the set up for an elevator pitch for Permanent Fatal Error) and the fact our second novel together centers on Sherlock Holmes.

captureYou see, the real-life biographer who met his mysterious death in his home surrounded by Holmesian books and collectibles was a revered Sherlock scholar named Richard Lancelyn Green.

His intended biographical subject was (of course) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Apparent cause of death: (Clears throat) Self-garroting with a bit of string and a spoon.

Pray, go off now and read Mr. Grann’s superb piece on this mysterious affair. I’ll wait here, staring out the window, surely brooding, but sans pipe or violin.”

***

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