About Me

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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Under Attack? Send in the Calvary -- Martin Calvary, that is. .

Annihilation Myths
By Tim Stevens
File Size: 1249 KB
Print Length: 278 pages
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Tim Stevens' reluctant British assassin, Martin Calvary, is back in Annihilation Myths, Stevens' most recent thriller. This time, however, Calvary is not working for the Chapel, the agency that employed him in his first outing. 

At least, he doesn't think he is. Honestly, there are so many double identities and triple agents in this novel, there must have been times when Stevens himself wasn't sure!

Tim Stevens: his library of thrillers expands constantly.

In any event, this book finds Calvary on the run from his old outfit, sporting a new identity, a new country and a new challenge: ferreting out the deadly scheme of a political leader who plots to throw La Belle France into turmoil,.

In his first outing, The Severance Kill, Calvary was dispatched to the Czech Republic to eliminate Sir Ivor Gaines, a double agent who supposedly was planning to sell a list of British spies to the Russians.

It was supposed to be his last job, after which he would be free to leave the Chapel and walk the earth a free man. But it turned out that Calvary's boss had lied to him. Gaines planned no treachery at all, and Calgary ended up being forced to rescue him from a vicious group of Czech gangsters who took him hostage.

At the same time, the Russian secret police were trying to find and kill Gaines for their own reasons, forcing Calvary into a series of fistfights and gun battles on the streets of Prague with two different groups of heavily armed thugs.

Annihilation Myths is set nine months later. Calvary is in France, hiding from his former employers and certain he is the target of a Chapel contract for disobeying his masters in the first book. 

When he encounters Harper, a down-and-out Army chum who is working as an unofficial private eye, Calvary is initially suspicious. Harper has been hired to find Marie Le Clerc, a young woman who went missing after joining a sinister French patriotic organization, Soleil Levant. The organization is headed by Didier-Luc Durand, a charismatic leader who has his own dark plan for his native country.

Calvary initially refuses, infuriating Harper by offering him money. They part on bad terms but Calvary rethinks his reluctance and goes looking for his former military pal. When he finds him, Harper is dead, tortured to death in a grisly fashion. Wracked with guilt, Calvary decides to pick up the girl's trail, and ends up infiltrating Soleil Levant to find out what has happened to her.

To reveal any more of the plot would expose the key secrets Calvary must unveil. Suffice to say that in the fashion we have come to expect from a Stevens thriller, the action is fast-paced and the violence nearly non-stop. Some of the people who originally seem to be his enemies turn out to be allies, while some he likes turn out to be no-goodniks. One of the challenges facing Calvary -- and the book's readers -- is figuring out which is which.

All but one of the characters who appear in the novel are carefully drawn individuals whose personalities are fully realized. The main villain, while clearly a monomaniac, is much more than just a cardboard cutout, and his motivation is quite credible. He is surrounded by thugs who are dreadfully rotten and pose a constant danger to our intrepid assassin.

Unfortunately, the one major character who is something of a cipher plays a key part in the story.

The novel includes some truly unique bits -- plot twists that I certainly didn't see coming. For example, Calvary is forced to improvise an explanation for injuries he has received at one point during the novel. He comes up with a believable one by deliberately throwing himself in front of a moving car, which not only excuses his wounds, but actually makes them worse.

That Martin Calvary is one tough guy!

Annihilation Myths has a plot that is more devious and opaque than that of Severance Kill. Throughout the book significant characters turn out to be something other than they seem and a good part of the suspense is generated by the fact that Calvary is never certain which of them are good guys and which are bad.

For the reader, trying to dope out the heroes and villains is half the fun of the novel. The remainder comes from watching how Calvary works to prevent the conspirators from launching a devastating attack on France -- and wondering whether he will stop them or die trying.

Annihilation Myths meets the high standards Stevens has set in his earlier novels.  It is a first-rate thriller and a worthy addition to the other volumes in his rapidly expanding espionage library.

Annihilation Myths is for sale through Amazon, as well as the following dealers: 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Does Pulp Have a Future?

Judging from presentations at Left Coast Crime 2014, Most definitely!

When I was a kid growing up in an eight-by-thirty-five-foot Kitt mobile home, I never dreamed of a career in politics, athletics or show business. I didn't want to be a jet pilot, or a military leader -- or a construction worker like my dad.

I wanted something better: I wanted to be a writer like my idols, Ray Bradbury, A. E. Van Vogt, Robert Heinlein and Fritz Leiber. 

Not just any kind of writer, mind you: I cherished the hope of someday breaking into what were still known as the pulps -- cheap magazines printed on low quality paper with garish covers that somehow never really seemed to have anything to do with the stories they were supposed to illustrate.

My dream wasn't hard to understand. Both my parents were avid readers and our little trailer house was stacked with cheap paperback novels by writers like Erskine Caldwell, Raymond Chandler and Grace Metalious. Other kids cut their teeth on the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or Dr. Seuss; I broke in on True Crime, Inside Detective and Detective Dragnet.

We didn't have Black Mask, the magazine that launched the careers of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett: it was long gone by the time I was born. But if it had still been available, I am sure we would have had at least one copy somewhere in the house.

Later I started reading science fiction and horror stories, working my way through E.C.'s unsettling titles like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror from the comic book stands at local bus stations and grocery stores. Those were the literature that Dr. Frederick Wertheim swore was so full of latent homosexuality, sadism and violence that it was turning American youth into perverts, psychos and full-bore strange-o's!

I started out like a heroin junkie shooting my first freebie hype, sampling juvenile sci-fi like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and Andre North's Starman's Son, then working up to more complicated adult tales by Keith Laumer, Lieber, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and  Murray Leinster.
Eventually I discovered Robert Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and the John Carter stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books.

I joined the Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club, where I absorbed hardcover adventure yarns for a dollar a pop.  Slowly I consumed virtually the entire catalog of Ballantine, and I took particular pleasure in the Ace Double Novel imprint, which gave you two stories for the price of one. To read the second novel in each double, all you had to do was flip the book over. The price? Only 35 cents.

Those science fiction novels featured strange planets populated with weird creatures and heroes battling alien hordes. The horror titles chronicled unspeakable evils and ancient gods so vile their names could not be uttered aloud. The fantasy tales offered the exploits of like King Kull, Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan, and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!

I sat in public libraries in every community we lived in -- and we moved often since my dad worked in the construction trades -- Jonesing down these stories like a speed freak mainlining meth. But I wasn't satisfied to simply read them; I wrote them, too, using a cheap Royal portable typewriter to dash off little tales about post-Armageddon adventurers, giant insects, mutants, ghouls and human leeches.

I polished these tales as best I could and put them in the mail, hoping to find a home for them at places like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Astounding (later Analog), Galaxy, Fantastic Stories of Imagination, Amazing Stories and If (Worlds of Science Fiction).

Not a single one was ever published, of course. All I got for my efforts was a collection of rejection slips signed by people that I idolized like John W. Campbell (whose story, "Who Goes There?" formed the basis for "The Thing") and Anthony Boucher, who excelled at all forms of pulp writing and now has a prestigious mystery prize named after him.

Life went on and I put my pulp writing dreams on hold while I spent four years in the Navy, got married, attended Cal Berkeley and began a career in non-fiction, writing for publications such as The Nation, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Inquiry, Ms., Omni, New Times (the New York magazine, not the Arizona newspaper) and others, eventually ending up at the Voice of the West in 1980.

I did eventually break into the pulps,
making sales in the late 1970s to Argosy, a magazine that had published C.S. Forester and Max Brand, and Saga, the old McFadden men's magazine, not the one from England.  

But my contributions to both magazines were non-fiction articles about prison gangs, organized crime figures and the Teamster reform movement. I didn't write a word of fiction for either.

Unfortunately, Argosy and Saga were two of the last remaining general circulation pulps. The science fiction and fantasy titles and detective fiction mags had been dwindling for years and were in the process of becoming extinct. In fact, Saga, which was printing my stuff relatively often, went out of business while it was considering publication of one of my articles. And Argosy went belly up after it had accepted a photo essay I had done about the Jeeper's Jamboree, a tough caravan through California's Desolation Valley sponsored by the makers of the original off-road vehicle.

Magazines were dying and the pulps were dying with them. So, unfortunately, was my dream of being a pulp writer.

So it was with delight last week that I discovered the advent of e-publishing has given pulp fiction a new lease on life.

More than a lease on life, in fact: it has resurrected the genre entirely like some shambling, crumbling half-decayed corpse from a 1950s-era copy of EC's Haunt of Fear!

I got the word at the Left Coast Crime conference in Monterey, California, while attending a series of panels on writing crime fiction, the genre in which I do most of my work. Stark Raving Group, an electronic publishing outfit in Southern California, is experimenting with pulp novellas, a fiction form that is shorter than a traditional novel but considerably longer than a short story or novelette.

"As the digital publishing industry continues to evolve, everything about books and publishing is changing," the group says on its web page. "Fast. Hard to know where the industry is going to end up. One thing though, people remain hungry for stories."

"That’s why we created the Stark Raving Group, a unique e-book, and more, publishing company focusing on mysteries, crime fiction, action/adventure, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror, women’s literature, romance and celebrity non-fiction. As you will see, we are truly the next generation publishing company."

Jeffrey Weber, Stark Raving's CEO, told me that publishing pulp-style stories is what Stark Raving is all about.  The company has already signed 60 authors to write for its imprint and is in the process of recruiting a mix of writers. Some, like Eric Van Lustbader (author of The Ninja and the continuation of Robert Ludlum's "Jason Bourne" line of thrillers), have been New York Times bestsellers; others are lesser-known specialists like Gary Phillips, who produces tough-as-nails black hardboiled crime stories reminiscent of the stuff penned by Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress) and the late Chester Himes (Cotton Comes to Harlem).

Gary Phillips, one of the Stark Raving stable.
One of the slams on pulp fiction historically is the way it treats female characters and minority group members. In classic pulps, the femmes were usually fatales, while people of color were mostly arch-fields (think Dr. Fu Manchu) or exotics (Mr. Moto, Charlie Chan) or sidekicks. Not so at Stark Raving: the press's authors include women such as Mysti Berry and Sarah Chen and both give as good as they get in these Kevlar-coated crime yarns.

Pulp material is also being cranked out by a number of other writers who were present at the conference in Monterey. Chris Holm is the author of The Collector series, a noirish group of tales about the fight between the forces of heaven and hell that are written like Golden Age hardboiled crime novels.  
Chris Holm at a signing.
Johnny Shaw, the author of Big Maria and Dove Season, is banging out tough-guy prose with a comic edge in his full-length novels and in his anthologies, Blood & Tacos.

And what in hell, you may ask, is Blood & Tacos? I will quote Shaw's come-on at Amazon to give you a feel for the publication:
"There was a time when paperback racks were full of men’s adventure series. Next to the Louis L’Amours, one could find the adventures of The Executioner, the Destroyer, the Death Merchant, and many more action heroes that were hell-bent on bringing America back from the brink. That time was the 1970s & ’80s. A bygone era filled with wide-eyed innocence and mustaches."

"Those stories are back! The quarterly magazine Blood & Tacos is bringing back the action, the fun, and the adventure. Also, the mustaches."

Johnny Shaw: Blood & Tacos & Laffs!
While scoping out Blood & Tacos (I just bought my first issue and will be reviewing it here later), I discovered another pulp magazine, Thuglit, which is edited by Todd Peterson and others and offers "fresh stories that'll kick you right in the literary cojones…or whatever the Spanish word is for lady parts that wouldn't enjoy a kicking—literary or otherwise."

Thuglit's editor Todd Peterson, aka Big Daddy Thug. . . 
Shaw's Blood & Tacos is available in Kindle format through Amazon, its shimmering electronic pages rippling with mayhem and muscular prose. Thuglit (issue one of which contains a rollicking story by Shaw) is available in Kindle format and paperback. I am reading it electronically, but I am certain that the paperback version is printed on the same disgustingly cheap paper as the pulpy trash I grew up reading in my trailer's bunk bed.

Pulp is back and I may finally end up writing for a publisher that produces it! Now all some enterprising techie has to do is figure out is how to make an eBook reader that has a seedy, dog-eared look like a well-used copy of Black Mask. . . 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Despite the Focus on Crime, Attendees Were Well-behaved at This Year's Left Coast Crime Conference March 19-23

Sitting in a room full of people who write about murder and mayhem for a living, you would think that sooner or later, somebody would strangle, shoot or stab the person at the table across from them -- or that at the very least, a fistfight would break out. 

Not so at "Calamari Crime," this year's Left Coast Crime conference held in the Portola Hotel in Monterey, California: the attendees, both authors and fans, were as polite as attendees at the vicar's afternoon tea social in a "cozy" style classic mystery story. 

Mind you, we're talking about approximately 800 people who sat down together for an awards banquet on Saturday night without sharing a cross word, even though they ran the gamut from the hardest of hard-boiled crime novelists and their fans to the writers and readers of the aforementioned "cozy" mysteries.

Attendees included people who read and write just about every type of tale that involves suspense -- classic whodunnits, private detective tales, historical mysteries, spy yarns, police procedurals and crime tales with a decidedly romantic bent.  

The crowd not only contained writers who have been practicing their art their entire lives, but also folks who have launched second careers (or third or fourth, in some cases) after spending much of their professional lives as lawyers, business owners, academics, publicists, news media employees, filmmakers, broadcast workers -- even law enforcement officials.

And for every style of suspense writer present, there was a faithful and enthusiastic coterie of fans. Not that the organizers of the conference differentiated between the two: in fact, writers and readers each wore the same type of identification badge that included only their names and where they lived. Everybody was treated the same -- and all were welcome.

There were young people, senior citizens, folks from the U.S. and abroad. It was a startlingly diverse group. You might have expected them to come to blows over fashion, music or taste in food -- or any little thing about which they might have disagreed.

Instead, the entire conference seemed to be populated by people who shared an appreciation for each other's specialty and a sincere liking for each other. It might have been the most collegial gathering I have ever attended.

The schedule of panels included such topics as the pros and cons of traditional publishing houses versus  independent publishing, the pleasures and pitfalls of using humor in mysteries, current trends among thrillers, the challenges of writing historical crime novels and how to connect with readers and promote your writing.

At least one panel that I found particularly fascinating focused on the resurgence of pulp-style crime stories with the advent of eBooks and eMagazines. I thoroughly enjoyed that presentation because I wanted to write for the pulps from the time I was a teenager reading the true crime mags my parents bought and consuming fantasy, horror and science fiction stories contained in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, John W. Campbell's Astounding Sci-Fi (later renamed Analog), Amazing Stories, Fantastic Stories of Imagination, If and Galaxy.

Calamari Crime was the first mystery writers conference I have attended but I can tell you it won't be the last. Bouchercon is coming up in Los Angeles this fall and the next Left Coast Crime is scheduled for Portland, Oregon in 2015. I am already looking forward to both of them -- and to plunge back into my own work with enthusiasm after enjoying my brief exposure to others I now consider colleagues and friends.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Spy Thriller in Which Everyone is NOT on the Same Page!

Page Eight
Starring Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon, Judy Davis, Alice Krige
Directed by David Hare
Original BBC air date 2011. DVD release Nov. 8, 2011
(105 minutes)

In the contemporary spy thriller Page Eight, Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) is a high-ranking member of the British Security Service (MI-5) who works as an analyst but clearly has a lot of tradecraft acquired earlier in his career.

Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon), Worricker's school chum and long-time associate, is the boss of Johnny's division -- and probably the closest friend Worricker has.

So when Baron asks Worricker to read and evaluate a highly classified report of a very sensitive nature, Worricker complies without complaint. It quickly develops that the report is political dynamite that shows the British prime minister, Alec Beasley (Ralph Fiennes), knew the details of an unlawful U.S. spy program that operated in the UK with the connivance of British officials.

Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon) turns the red hot intelligence file over to Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy), his colleague and closest friend. (all photos courtesy of BBC/Masterpiece Theater)

This loads the report with political significance: Beasley has publicly said he did not know about the program, and no evidence previously surfaced that he did. The publication of the report could easily bring down the government.

Complicating things is the fact that Worricker has taken the file out of his offices and British officials close to the Prime Minister want it returned -- or else!

While Worricker is busy dealing with the matter of the missing report, he becomes involved with Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz), a woman who lives next door to his apartment. It turns out that Pierpan is a Middle Eastern activist whose brother died at the hands of Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the Gaza Strip. She has been informed that Worricker is a British foreign office official and asks him to help her family find out the truth about the death. Worricker's response is noncommital, but he is clearly sympathetic -- and attracted -- to the younger woman.

To describe the plot more completely would turn this review into a spoiler. Suffice to say that Worricker proves himself equal to the challenge of righting a pair of colossal wrongs that have been carefully obscured by those in positions of power. To find out what and how, you will simply have to watch the film -- either streaming from Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, or in one of two DVD editions.

The film is a BBC production that appeared in the U.S. on PBS's Masterpiece Theater. Last year, two other films featuring the Worricker character were green-lighted, but at this point it is unclear whether production has started on either.

Page Eight falls into the paranoid school of espionage thriller that is most closely associated with John Le Carre. It reminds the viewer of Smiley's People or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, two LeCarre classics featuring spies who are better at betraying their own colleagues than their nation's opponents, and who operate in such an expedient milieu that they are no longer even clear on who the real enemies are.

It is noteworthy because some of the central issues it examines -- including extraordinary renditions (bureaucratese for abduction and imprisonment without trial) and torture as intelligence collection tools  -- have tremendous currency.

However, despite the hard boiled espionage techniques at its core, this is not some Tom Clancy shoot-'em-up that stars high-tech weapons, car chases, explosions and on-screen mayhem. As Worricker reassures a character late in the film, "I don't do guns or violence." Instead, it is the story of a man with a conscience in a profession where such things are liabilities, trying to do the right thing for the right reasons toward the end of a career in which making a moral choice is an impossible luxury.

Director David Hare, who directed Strapless and made Plenty, the film starring Meryl Streep, unspools his movie economically, using acidic dialog to show us the abrasive relationship Worricker has with his family, professional colleagues and various government officials. By keeping the action to a minimum while letting cast members develop their characters through their words with minimal histrionics, Hare wrings first-rate performances from a cast of extraordinarily talented actors and actresses.

He subtly lets the viewer figure out that Worricker is not only the smartest person in the room but that friends and enemies alike critically underestimate his intelligence and grit. This fact is underscored during a meeting Worricker has with Rollo Maverly (Ewen Bremner), a covert MI-5 agent operating under journalistic cover: "You were never smart, Johnny," Rollo tells him. "But you were always quick."

Judy Davis is first-rate as one of those who
underestimates Worricker's intelligence and grit.

The members of the cast are uniformly good in their parts. Judy Davis is first-rate as Jill Tankard, a bitter superior who repeatedly fails at her attempts to undermine Worricker and fails to realize he is managing to stay ahead of those who would destroy him and suppress the truth. Felicity Warren has a significant but minor part as Johnny's troubled artist daughter, Julianne. Alice Krige, who first came to the attention of American audiences as the Borg queen in Star Trek: The Next Generation, is fine as one of Worricker's ex-wives who has married his boss, Benedict Baron. Gambon is excellent as the Smileyesque Baron, and Ralph Fiennes has a brief but critical villain's turn in which he smilingly warns Worricker that he holds his professional and personal future in his hands and can make him or break him depending on whether he surrenders his copy of the scandalous report.

Ralph Fiennes as Beasley, the film's villain,
gives Worricker an ultimatum. 

But Page Eight is worth watching for Bill Nighy's performance as Worricker, alone. Nighy's generally impassive face, coupled with his remote voice, create the impression of a man who has spent most of his adult life keeping his feelings in check, which makes the occasions when he lets his emotions show even more dramatic. He is convincing in projecting an aura of competence when he is breaking into an office to search it for contraband or dodging an agent who has been sent to tail him, but shows a human side when he blunders in his relations with a couple of the women closest to him.

Nighy, alone, is enough to make Page Eight worth watching.
His sharp-tongued exchange with Saskia Reeves, playing Anthea Catcheside, a supercilious foreign minister, is spot on, making it easy for the viewer to understand how such a closed and undemonstrative man could be tough and quick-witted enough to ascend to the top of a complex intelligence organization. The scene in which it takes place is so tightly choreographed and neatly played that it is practically worth the price of admission all by itself.

If you like spy novels with an adult orientation and films about intelligence agents that ring true to life, Page Eight should be right up your ally. Leave the kiss-kiss, bang-bang to the Clearasil crowd for one weekend and give Page Eight a look. You'll be happy you did. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Meeting with The Mayor

(An excerpt from The Jade Bone Jar, now available in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon)

I walked a block or so from my office to City Hall and climbed the marble stairway to the ornate offices on the second floor where Oakland’s industrial and commercial wheeler dealers could bribe the city’s top municipal officers in relative privacy and comfort.

Toomey looked like the Republican Mayor of a thriving West Coast city: his full head of silver hair was swept back from a broad, thoughtful looking forehead that would have been right at home on an Etruscan bust. He stood a couple inches more than six feet tall and still had the wide shoulders and narrow waist of the quarterback who'd played first string at Stanford. I was no expert on men's clothes, but his brown tweed suit seemed slightly out-of-date to me. That might have had something to do with the fact it had been custom-tailored for him in a shop not far from Piccadilly in London just before the war broke out. It would have looked just fine on the Tory side of the House of Lords. I'd be willing to bet he could take it off and sell it to some British toff for twice what he'd originally paid.

The Mayor shook my hand like a Charles Atlas graduate. I didn’t mind. I could tell by his prosperous look that If I had to get my fingers splinted, he'd pay my doctor bill.

“Mr. Lynch, I’m sure you read the newspapers,” he said, beginning what I could tell would be a torturous biography intended to impress me with his money, social standing and importance.

I decided to cut it short.

“Not really. Reading the papers makes my lips numb so I have a sixth grader read them to me," I said, shaking out a cigarette and lighting it, just to see if I could get away with firing one up in the majestic seat of city power. "But I only have him come in on Sundays when they have funnies in color. Otherwise the kid gets bored.”

He looked stunned by my brass. "You are certainly impertinent," he spluttered.

"No, " I said. "I'm in Oakland, in the big shot mayor's office. Let's can the bio, your honor. I know you're a large noise in the Alameda County Republican Party who's being pressured to run for Governor by none other than Senator Knowland. I'm sure you didn't ask me to swing by for a campaign contribution, so I assume you want to hire me for a job. Does that about cover it?"

Toomey’s mouth moved like a trout that had just been pulled out of a creek. It was clear to me he needed a script to follow, like a B-movie actor. As soon as somebody rushed his lines or made him lose focus, his mind went completely blank.

“Uh, yes,” he said, scrambling to improvise. “Well, because of my political aspirations, I can’t afford to be surprised by any personal developments. . ."

He looked blank for a half a second, then plunged on: “Personal developments that might, uh, sidetrack my, uh . . ."

He seemed to have lost the thread again.

"Your political aspirations?” I suggested with a smile. I was enjoying the politician’s discomfort.

“Yes,” Toomey said, happy for my assistance. Then, when he realized I was mocking him, he shifted gears.

“I mean, no – I said that all wrong,” he stammered. “My real concern is my daughter, Cynthia. She’s been running with a bad crowd lately and she seems to be out of control.”

That probably meant he was more concerned about how her disappearance would affect his political future than her safety. Whichever turned out to be true didn't really matter. I didn't care why Toomey wanted to hire me, so long as his check cleared.

“What kind of a bad crowd?” I asked.

The mayor rubbed his face with both hands wearily, as if he had just got out of bed. I noticed his eyes were bloodshot, like he hadn't been sleeping much lately. He was one of those men who always seemed to be at center stage, acting a role in a play, but his unconscious gesture undercut his usual artificiality.

“Musicians,” he said. “They play . . . jazz,” he added, twisting his mouth with distaste; his tone of voice made it clear he considered beboppers only a half-step above child porno publishers and would rather watch his grandmother have sex with a Tijuana show donkey than listen to the stuff.

He wasn't the only person who felt that way: a lot of swing musicians like Glenn Miller had served in the military; their patriotism gave them a positive image in postwar U.S.  But jazz players also were known to smoke reefers and shoot hop. In addition, they associated with individuals of the Negroid persuasion – and a lot of them belonged to it themselves.

If Toomey’s daughter turned out to be shacked up with some black hepcat, it would be bad news for his political future; even talking about people with brown skin was strictly taboo in U.S. politics, unless you happened to be Eleanor Roosevelt.

If she was in the family way by a jazz player, Katy bar the door.

I pulled out a notebook. “Okay, then. I’m guessing you want me to find your daughter, right?”

Toomey nodded, lowering himself into the leather rollaway chair behind his desk and giving his forehead a weary rub. “Precisely, Mr. Lynch,” he said.

I sized him up. For a moment, I almost felt sorry for him: slumped in his office with his head in his hand, Toomey seemed to be just another 50-plus-year-old father who had no idea where his daughter was. Then I looked at the pictures on the dark wood-paneled walls that showed Toomey shaking hands with every mover and shaker in California politics and pushed the thought out of my mind. The mayor might be worried about his little girl, but it was clear to me he was more worried about his gubernatorial run: her disappearance could be a major political liability; a lot of voters would think twice about voting for a man whose daughter had run away from home.

(More to come next week!)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lynch Connects with Shim Nakamura

(Excerpt Two)

I managed to get Nakamura on the fourth ring.
“Hey, Shim here,” said an unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line. I settled back and put my feet back up on the desk.
“Mr. Nakamura? This is Mickey Lynch returning your calls. I understand you’ve been trying to reach me the last couple of days while I was working a couple other cases. Sorry for the delay in getting in touch. Now, what can I do for you?”
“Call me Shim," he said. "Any chance we can get together tonight for a face-to-face meeting? I hate talking business on the phone."
"Business?" I asked. "You need a private eye?"
"And how," he said.
Nakamura was the second person of the day who wanted to hire me. I still didn't know what the mayor wanted, but if he was going to offer me a job, too, I was on my way toward scoring a triple play; I had that kind of luck so rarely that I was thinking about running over to Tanforan and putting some money on one of the nags running there.
I checked my watch. “Tonight? It's kind of short notice, Shim," I said. "What did you have in mind?”
“How about a joint in West Oakland called Miss Annamae’s?” Nakamura said. “Does 7:30 p.m. sound okay?”
I had never heard of Miss Annamae’s. “What kind of place is this?” I asked as I jotted the name down.
“It’s a dance club,” Nakamura replied. “Live music, booze. It’s got a little kitchen where the hepcats can score something to eat. Listen, I have to make like a fat lady’s bloomers and split. I'd probably take only an hour of your time. Does 7:30 p.m. sound like you can work it in?”

Now available on paperback at:

West Oakland could be a rough part of town. There were a lot of jazz and blues joints in the area that catered to the carriage trade, but the place also was infested with crooks and grifters looking to separate some of the "A" listers from their cabbage. Musicians and music fans alike frequented the district and sometimes what Nakamura called “hepcats” got a little out of hand. In addition, the music venues were often the site of racial mixing. Oakland cops considered that a crime only slightly less heinous than kiddy rape.
It wasn't unusual for John Law to pop dope shooters and reefer smokers at the clubs. Sometimes they accidentally picked up people who weren't doing those things, but booked them just for associating with Negroes. I remembered a recent story in the Sunday Tribune about a big heroin raid at a club on Seventh Street; no dope was found and the charges were eventually dropped against the society swells, but not until all of them had their names and pictures all over the local sheets.
The last thing I needed while the D.A. had me in his sights was to get picked up in a drug raid. But the possibility of landing another paying client outweighed my nervousness. Besides, I was curious about this bird Nakamura and figured that if I got together with him, at the very least I would find out why his name rang a bell.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “One question, though – your name seems sort of familiar, but I can't figure out where from. Have we met or something?"
The man on the other end of the phone laughed. “Not directly, but I have some first-hand familiarity with your work."
“How’s that?” I asked.
“It was an employment investigation. You cleared me of being a communist,” Nakamura told me.
I relaxed slightly. “Well, I’m glad to hear that."
Nakamura chuckled, but this time his laugh had a slightly bitter edge. “Thanks,” he said. “But it didn’t really matter. You see, my former employer ended up firing me, anyway. See you at 7:30 p.m., Mick.”

(More next week)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Martin Calvary Action from my English friend, Tim Stevens

Annihilation Myths
By Tim Stevens

(Available at sites linked below)

Nine months after fleeing Prague, Calvary, former soldier and assassin, is hiding in Brittany in the French countryside. He's evaded his employers, the Chapel, and is carving out a life for himself.

One afternoon in a wintry Paris, he encounters a former Army colleague, Harper, who's fallen on hard times. Harper begs Calvary to help him find a missing girl who's disappeared after becoming involved with a sinister socio-cultural movement which appears to be increasing its grip on French society.

Calvary refuses the request. But an act of pitiless violence catapults him into a terrifying undercover mission deep within Soleil Levant, one of the most bizarre and opaque organisations he's ever encountered.

Who, exactly, is the movement's leader, the charismatic Didier-Luc Durand? And, more crucially, what are his plans for the future of France?

As the net of suspicion tightens relentlessly around him and events race towards a spectacular climax, Calvary discovers that the only person he can trust to scupper Soleil Levant's plans is himself. But can he stay alive long enough to do so?

$4.99 for Kindle reader at the following fine retailers:

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Jade Bone Jar, A Sampler

Excerpt from Chapter One: 

I curbed the front wheels of my Zephyr in front of the Sykes’ mansion to keep it from rolling all the way back down to San Francisco Bay, parked my Beeman’s on the back of its rear-view mirror and climbed out for look at the kind of view only a war profiteer could afford.
Randolph M. Sykes’ vista took in the shipyards in Richmond and San Francisco where he got his start as a Kaiser subcontractor at the beginning of the war. It swept all the way down to the Regal Automobile Works in East Oakland, a Sykes plant that originally punched body panels for Jeeps and half-tracks, but was retooled to manufacture the Regal Sedan, a limited edition four-door in the same price range as a high-end Cadillac.
While I had been busy in the Corps, killing Japs in the Pacific, the millionaire had been making a fortune using cheap materials, cut-rate labor and carbon-copy floor plans to manufacture war materiel. When the fighting ended, he used the same technique to build inexpensive housing that ex-soldiers like me could buy through the G.I. Bill. The tracts of two-bedroom Sykes Dwellings were easy to spot: they had been built so close together they barely had yards.
I lit a Lucky Strike and smoked it while examining Sykes' own spread. It was mostly concrete and rebar, and it seemed to crawl nearly a half block down one of the steepest slopes in the Oakland Hills. The millionaire might be short-changing vets, but he obviously hadn’t cut any corners on his place: it had cost several million to construct and the Office of Price Administration's restrictions on building materials hadn't affected it. The Tribune said he’d finished the place about three weeks after VJ day, at a time when lesser folks were having difficulty just getting their leaky roofs repaired.
The front half that looked out past the Golden Gate had so many huge windows that it seemed to be walled with glass. From one of them, Sykes could look out on roughly 137 square blocks of residential real estate he had picked up for a song during the war and developed into single-family homes custom-made for sale under the terms of Harry Colmery’s Serviceman’s Readjustment Act. Vets like me were raising families in Sykes Dwellings from El Cerrito to San Leandro, and the man’s real estate holdings alone had made him one of the richest people on the West Coast.
I finished the Lucky, field-stripped it and dropped the shredded butt into the cuff of my trousers. I liked the millionaire’s view but sightseeing wasn’t what had brought me from my office in downtown Oakland: I was there to see Mr. Sykes about a job.
My knock on the front door seemed to disappear someplace inside the building’s vast interior. A minute passed, then another. Finally I heard the mechanical rasp of the latch inside and the low squeal of hinges as the door swung slowly open, just wide enough to allow someone to look out.
“Can I help you?” said the fellow standing behind it, blinking at me as his eyes adjusted to the glare of the sun.
He was big enough to fill most of the doorway and his muscles made big, hard-looking lumps under the fabric of his tropical weight suit. The ridge of his brow line overhung his dark brown eyes and his slight accent went with his pencil-thin John Gilbert mustache and the black hair slicked back from his face.
I handed him one of my business cards and he held it gingerly in fingers as stubby as sausages, looking at it as if a dog had deposited it on the front steps. It took him so long to absorb it that I was tempted to save him the trouble by quoting it from memory:

Michael L. Lynch
California Licensed Investigator
Employment background checks * missing persons * divorce investigations
References available from law enforcement agencies and attorneys

At the bottom was the address and telephone number of my office in downtown Oakland.
He took his time reading it. As a trained investigator, I deduced he was well-educated because he hardly moved his lips. When he finished, he studied me almost as carefully as the card.
“You are Mr. Lynch, I take it,” he said, his tone making it into a question.
I nodded. “That's who looks out of the mirror when I shave in the morning,” I replied. “I’m here to see Mr. Sykes.”
When he didn’t immediately respond, I added, “he sent for me.”
Those were apparently the magic words.
“Please wait,” he said. “I'll tell him you have arrived.”

Read The Jade Bone Jar by William E. Wallace, available in paperback and Kindle format through Amazon.com.