Tag Archives: mystery

Sam Jenkins’ Companion

FROM NY TO THE SMOKIES....front..coverDetective Sam Jenkins is back in Wayne Zurl’s From New York to the Smokies, a short story collection spanning over four decades in the life of the character. From a young age, Sam Jenkins wanted to do what was right. When he foils a mob crime and saves his father from going to jail, someone suggests he become a police officer and that’s what he does. The stories span Sam’s career, beginning as a lieutenant in New York through to his time as chief of the Prospect PD, a town in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, which is where Zurl gets the title.

This is the second book I’ve read in the Sam Jenkins series, and I enjoyed the stories in this book as much as I enjoyed the last. Zurl’s writing flows smoothly, his dialogue is casual and realistic, and though Sam’s police business gets quite serious at times, Zurl is always sure to interject a bit of humour, providing what at times is much needed comedic relief.

Of the five stories in this collection, my favourite was “Ode to Willie Joe”, in which a light-hearted, sci-fi element turns out to be something unexpected. The first story, “The Boat to Prison”, gives interesting insight into Sam’s character. Growing up in a bad area, with a less-than-upstanding father as a role model, his life could have taken a turn for the worse if it weren’t for his inherent good and desire to help save the people around him. This collection makes an excellent companion to Zurl’s Sam Jenkins series. It was fun to take a trip back into Sam’s world, no matter how brief.

Mamabear gives this book:

four-bears

Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Interview with author Libi Astaire

Britbear’s Book Reviews welcomes author Libi Astaire, author of The Moon Taker, with an interview in today’s author spotlight. 

Moon Taker cover_kindle

Synopsis:

There’s trouble afoot in Regency London’s Jewish community, and no one to stop the crimes—until wealthy-widower-turned-sleuth Mr. Ezra Melamed teams up with an unlikely pair: General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane, the leaders of a gang of young Jewish pickpockets.

In this newest addition to the Jewish Regency Mystery Series, General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane set out to discover who murdered Mr. Hamburg, a colleague of theirs in the secondhand linen trade. But before they can unmask the killer, they must unravel the secret of a mysterious snuff box, a quest that takes them from their East End slum to an elegant country house where a group of distinguished astronomers are meeting – one of whom has a secret as dark as the night sky.

Buy the Jewish Regency Mystery Series on Amazon.  Buy Moon Taker on Amazon as an eBook or paperback.

Hello, Libi. I’m curious, why do you write about the Jewish Regency period?

One of the things I love about the Regency period, in general, is that although it was brief there was so much going on—the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, fortunes being made and lost overnight on the Exchange or in the gambling halls. All of that makes a wonderfully colorful backdrop for a mystery series. But like many people, when I used to think of the Regency era I thought of the characters in Jane Austen’s novels. I had no idea that there was a thriving Ashkenazic Jewish community living in London at the time. As I learned more about them—their experiences while trying to “make it” in British society foreshadowed the experiences of Jewish immigrants to the UK and the United States a century later—I thought it would be fun to introduce readers to this little known community and look at the Regency era through their eyes.

What appeals to you about mystery and detective fiction as a genre? 

I’ve always enjoyed reading mystery novels, especially the ones written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Rex Stout. The “whodunit” aspect keeps me interested in the story, but I also appreciate the way the best of the mystery writers use the investigation of a crime as a way to open a window into their world and examine the undercurrents lurking beneath the polite surface of everyday life. So, I’ve tried to do that with my Jewish Regency Mystery Series, using the structure of a mystery story to look at the social and financial challenges facing an immigrant community that is still struggling to establish itself—and sometimes stumbles along the way to “the good life.”

Your characters in this series, “wealthy-widower-turned-sleuth Mr. Ezra Melamed [who] teams up with General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane – the leaders of a gang of young Jewish pickpockets – to solve crimes affecting Regency London’s Jewish community” sound really interesting. How did you come up with this idea?

Actually, the idea was forced upon me by the historical facts. During the Regency period there wasn’t yet an organized police force. Back then the English didn’t like the idea of the government intruding too much into their lives, and so they preferred dealing with crime privately. Therefore, if someone broke into your house and stole all the silver, for example, you might hire a Bow Street Runner or thief-taker with knowledge of the criminal underworld to find the culprit. Or you might try to find the thief yourself, since he was often willing to return your stolen property, for a price.

So in my mystery series, Mr. Ezra Melamed takes on the role of sleuth for the Jewish community rather reluctantly. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t associate with young pickpockets, but since General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane live on the streets of London they have access to information that he needs and can’t get on his own.

By the way, when I first began writing the series my pickpockets were minor characters. But they ended up stealing the show, so to speak, and since readers kept asking to see more of them I gave them their own mystery to solve in the newest book, The Moon Taker.

What is the significance behind the names of these characters?

Both the Earl of Gravel Lane and General Well’ngone are ironic names—a bit of Jewish chutzpah, if you will. During the Regency era the Jews, like the Catholics, didn’t have full civil rights. Jews couldn’t vote or go to university or become an officer in the military, for example, and they certainly couldn’t become a member of the peerage. Therefore, the teenaged leader of my gang of pickpockets, the Earl of Gravel Lane, is thumbing his nose at some of the prejudices of British society by dubbing himself an Earl during a time when a Jew couldn’t even be a baronet. As for Gravel Lane, it’s a real street in London’s East End, which was a poverty-stricken area during the Regency, and it was home to the most famous Jewish criminal of the era, Ikey Solomon.

General Well’ngone, the Earl’s “commander in the field,” is a take-off on the Duke of Wellington, who gained fame while fighting—and ultimately defeating—Napoleon. But while Wellington was a popular military hero, a poor orphan who turned to pickpocketing to stay alive was regarded as a pest. So, General Well’ngone’s chosen name is also ironic—he knows that respectable people wouldn’t mind if he was hanged or transported to Australia or in some other way removed from the streets of London.

You must do a lot of research before you begin writing. Just how much research do you carry out before writing your novels? What’s the most interesting thing you discovered as a result of your research?

I do quite a bit of research, and that’s actually my favorite part of the process. For the first book, I had great fun pouring over old maps of London and deciding where my characters were going to live. I also read over the records of the Old Bailey, which are now available online, to see what sorts of crimes were being committed. I did general research of the period as well, since I like to ground the stories in real events that were happening at the time. I’m always on the lookout for interesting but lesser known aspects of the era, such as advances in science and technology that can lend themselves to some sort of “white cravat” crime. And then, of course, there are all the wonderful fashions—studying the old fashion plates to get the details right is always great fun.

But while there is lots of information about the Regency, there isn’t that much firsthand information about the everyday lives of the Jewish community. I was therefore thrilled when I came across a rather ancient book by the British historian Lucien Wolf where he interviewed an elderly Jewish man who had been a child during the Regency era. Fortunately, this man confirmed that the wealthier Jews lived on Devonshire Square and Bury Street—which is where some of my characters live. But what was most amazing was the account he gave of how a Jewish holiday called Purim was celebrated. It’s the only firsthand account I’ve found (so far) that describes how a Jewish holiday was observed. Since Purim is a pretty lively holiday, I was happy to see that the Regency-era Jews went all out and had a great time.

What’s the story behind the subtitle for your blog, “From Kansas to Jerusalem, with a few stops in between“?

I grew up in Kansas—and, yes, Dorothy and Toto were my neighbors—but for a big period of my life I lived vicariously in England. I loved English history and literature, and I was in heaven when PBS started to broadcast a weekly show called “Masterpiece Theatre.” (Anyone remember the original Upstairs, Downstairs?)  I finally got a chance to live in England when I did my junior year of university in London, and I’ve been there many times to visit and do research, which has helped enormously with the writing of my mystery series. But I’m very grateful that my life’s path brought me to Israel, where I presently live.

Your Amazon author page mentions an interest you have in the “crypto-Jews of Spain”. Please tell us a bit about this.

My day job is working as a journalist, and about seven years ago a Jewish magazine asked if I’d like to try writing a serialized novel. I had already written a few articles about Spain’s crypto-Jews—these were the Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Middle Ages and were then targeted by the Spanish Inquisition—and I knew that I wanted to learn more about their story. One of the amazing things I learned is that there are still communities of these crypto-Jews living in Spain and Portugal, even though the Inquisition ended in the early 1800s. My curiosity about why they are still living these secret lives—outwardly Christian, but they consider themselves to be Jews—became the starting point for my serialized novel Terra Incognita, which has since been published as an ebook and paperback. I continue to write and lecture about the history of the crypto-Jews and I’d really like to write another novel about them, but my mystery series keeps me pretty busy.

The Amazon page also says you “didn’t realize [you] were fascinated by Jewish history until long after [you] had graduated from college. What did you study in college? What made you realize you were so passionate about it?

Officially, I studied theatre, English literature and European history in college. Unofficially, I was crazy about Shakespeare and so many of the courses I took had something to do with either the plays or Shakespeare’s life and times. My big dream was to become a Shakespearian actor, but while I was studying acting in London—and seeing the plays put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company—I realized that I didn’t have it in me to be a great actor. After college, I moved to New York and I eventually did some directing. But as time went on I became disenchanted with the whole New York theatre scene and decided it was time to move on. But to what?

It was during this time that I stumbled upon a class in Jewish meditation and that opened so many doors for me. I was introduced to the Chassidic movement within Judaism, and in addition to being intrigued by the spiritual practices, which are very inner-directed, I became intrigued by the history of the movement. There has been so much tragedy in Jewish history—expulsions, blood libels, the Holocaust, etc.—but the Chassidic masters concentrated on finding the joy in life, and I found that very inspiring and appealing.

Since then I’ve been lucky to write for several Jewish magazines that allow me to indulge my interest in the daily life of Jews who lived in different places and times. Some of the topics are serious, such as the Jewish experience during the Spanish Inquisition. But my editors also give me lighter assignments, such as the history of kugel, a traditional Jewish dish eaten on the Sabbath.

Your box set of Chasidic tales sounds intriguing. What was your motivation in writing them?

The Jewish year is filled with many wonderful holidays, but most of us are so busy with work and family and getting the car repaired and the mortgage paid on time that we don’t have time to step back and prepare spiritually. Thus, we may miss out on the deeper aspects of the holidays—which are times for enjoyment but also opportunities for introspection and self-improvement.  Chassidic tales, which are often the Jewish version of “wisdom tales,” are a simple but powerful way to explore these deeper dimensions.

When ebooks first came out I decided to retell Chassidic tales about the Jewish holidays—Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Chanukah and other holidays—so that people could grab a story on their ereader or mobile phone and spiritually prepare while on the go. This past Chanukah I compiled all the short ebooks into one boxed set, and now readers can download just one file and get stories for the entire year.

What’s the one question you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview and how would you answer it?

Question: How does it feel to be a best-selling author?

Answer: I’ll let you know when it happens. J

Thank you so much for participating in this interview, Libi.

Here’s where readers can learn more about Libi Astaire and her work:

| Website and Blog | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Pinterest |

| Amazon Author Page | Smashwords Author Page | Goodreads |

 

 

 

Author bio:

LibiAstaire2Libi Astaire is an award-winning author who often writes about Jewish history. In addition to her Jewish Regency Mystery Series featuring Ezra Melamed, General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane, she is the author of Terra Incognita, a novel about modern-day descendants of Spain’s crypto-Jews, The Banished Heart, a novel about Shakespeare’s writing of The Merchant of Venice, and several volumes of Chassidic tales. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel.

 

 

“Redemption” teaches we are capable of rising above hardship

redemption coverIn Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story, author Samantha Charles pens a gripping tale about Lindy Harrington as she comes to terms with her past, present, and future. After escaping her abusive husband, Lindy returns to Parson’s Gap, the town of her birth, where she is reacquainted with the people from her youth, in particular, ex-boyfriend Kit, friend Grady, and her father, a less than ethical preacher who uses coercion and might to do what he thinks is the Lord’s work. While there, Lindy uncovers clues that indicate the accident best-friend Sara was killed in was no accident, and the murderer is still alive and well and living in Parson’s Gap. Sara’s murder is not the only secret the small town harbours, and it’s not in Lindy’s character to shy away from the truth.

Abused, first by her father and then by her husband, Lindy emerges as a strong, female narrative voice, who refuses to give up her quest until the ghosts of her youth have been exorcised. Though Lindy’s story meanders between high and low, the conflict is compelling. Charles creates an air of mystery throughout, driving the reader to continue reading to discover the truth, alongside Lindy. Besides Lindy, the most interesting character is Lindy’s father, Reverend Carver, whose puritanical façade is pitted against Lindy’s realism. Though Carver preaches redemption, it is Lindy who sets out to achieve it, and she does, emerging victorious in the battle against her father’s warped sense of values, social prejudice, and the fallout from family secrets brought to light.

At times a page turner, at times a sleeper, my main criticism for Redemption is that it sometimes tries to do too much. Among the themes embedded in the novel include incest, homophobia, racism, black market adoption, abortion, religion, infidelity, and abuse. While reading I was unsure if this was a story about a woman’s struggle for self-determination, or a murder mystery, or something else entirely. Many of my reviews include a text-to-text comparison, but I can find none here, which is a good thing, I think, as it serves as testament to Charles’s originality. Samantha Charles’s Redemption: A Parson’s Gap Story, though the characters (save Lindy) are somewhat stereotypical, tells a powerful story against the backdrop of a setting made vibrant to impart the message that all of us are capable of rising above hardship in order to create ourselves anew.

Mamabear gives this book

four-bears

Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Read a guest post by Samantha Charles, “Shattering the Silence“.

A Captivating Window into Time

Journey_of_an_American_Son_full_cover-3_copyIn Journey of an American Son, Ben Albert marries Catherine, goes to war, loses his left hand, and finds himself caught in an international web of deception, intrigue and murder. In this book, John Hazen employs a technique of dual narrative, following Ben’s story and Catherine’s in separate chapters. When Ben is framed for murder, Catherine must step in and take charge of the investigation in order to prove her husband innocent.

I liked Journey of an American Son. Though the dual narrative is awkward at first in that it tells of the journey of the so called “American son” in third person and his wife, Catherine, in first person, the choice to do this begins to make more sense midway through the novel when Catherine emerges as the true protagonist. In following Catherine, Hazen is able to portray the role of women in society just after the turn of the century with interest. But Catherine is no ordinary early twentieth century woman. Rather, she is a modern woman transplanted into an early twentieth century world, which is what makes her character so interesting.

Though I enjoyed Hazen’s novel, and found myself often immersed in the pages, I do wish there was a better balance between narrative and dialogue throughout. I would have also liked for the story to be a bit more streamlined to eliminate the overlap in narrative and the repetition throughout as a result of the dual narrative format.

That aside, Hazen’s Journey of an American Son provides the reader with a captivating window into a time when the economy was less global, people used snail mail, telegrams and land telephone lines to communicate, and, outside of fingerprinting, there was no such thing as forensics.  Hazen’s story documents the rocky path one immigrant family travels while trying to attain the American dream in the New World. In Journey of an American Son, whether or not the Albert family ultimately meets that elusive dream is subject to the reader’s interpretation.

Mamabear gives this book

four-bears

Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Interview with author Rodney Page

Britbear’s Book Reviews is pleased to interview Rodney Page, author of Powers Not Delegated and the upcoming Xerces Factor in today’s author spotlight.

The Xerces Factor FRONT - FINAL - JPEGIn The Xerces Factor…

After several months author Charles Arrington had recovered, but recovery was a relative term; he had lost an eye and his right arm when the bomb exploded in his car. However, he would never overcome the loss of his wife, Myra.

Cassandra Martingale, Charles’s long time live-in personal secretary and housekeeper, is determined that Charles will write again and she transforms herself into a taskmaster. Her rehabilitation and physical therapy regimens are a constant source of irritation, but Charles recovers.

He and his best friend, FBI Assistant Director Jack Flannigan, are puzzled when they discover that Charles’s computer had been hacked by someone inside the federal government, someone very interested in the research for his next book, The Thieves in the Pentagon…Corruption that Threatens Our National Security.

Charles concludes that his book was the reason for Myra’s death. He wrestles with his guilt but recommits himself to discovering his wife’s murderer. Marti Foster, the irreverent twenty-something hacker that Charles hires, brings a refreshing and invigorating presence to the household.

Charles enlists the aid of Irving Witzel, an old friend and civil libertarian, to utilize his vast experience as Washington’s premier authority on the Freedom of Information Act. However, Witzel’s efforts to discover the truth are stymied by the administration’s novel strategy…supplying too much information.

Langston Culpepper, a corrupt procurement officer at the Pentagon, is not content with the millions of dollars already defrauded from the taxpayers. His obsessive greed drives him to try to force Barbara Connor, the CEO of a major defense contractor and his lover, to help him do something far more far more sinister than mere theft…he wants to sell America’s most highly classified technology to a foreign power.

President Marshall Norris and a small but loyal group of fellow pacifists stop at nothing to insure that no one discovers their secret plan to share the new Xerces anti-missile defense system with the nations of the world, allies and belligerents alike. The zealots’ naïve intentions degenerate into an out-of-control spiral of lawlessness and cover-ups to hold on to political power.

Charles’s physical condition improves, but he struggles through periodic fits of depression. The quest to find Myra’s killer seems too much to bear. But with Jack Flannigan’s sometimes tough love and the support of a new romantic interest, Charles perseveres.

After Charles writes a scathing expose’ in the Washington Post he and Jack are forced to flee Washington. At the president’s direction Attorney-General Michael Shadburn fabricates bogus felony charges against the two men and dispatches a contract para-military force to apprehend them…dead or alive. However, FBI Director Ted Grambling intervenes, and the hunters become the hunted. The chase ends in Houston, and the president’s scheme begins to unravel.

Haunted by memories of combat in Vietnam, the president’s ardently anti-war chief-of-staff, Frank Marlowe, finally recognizes the president for what he is…a power-mad politician, not the last best hope for sustainable world peace. In an Oval Office speech written by Marlowe the distracted president inadvertently reveals his unconstitutional intentions to a worldwide audience.

The young Chinese-American engineer, Alan Wah, either delivers the super-secret source code for the Xerces guidance system or his family will die. The FBI’s carefully conceived plan to protect the engineer’s life and capture his handler goes awry on the Texas plains between Houston and San Antonio.

Charles discovers who murdered his wife, but it is not who he suspected.

Welcome, Rodney. On your Amazon page, it says you write in the genres of mystery and thrillers. What draws you to these genres?

Good question. When I decided to write my first novel, Powers Not Delegated, I took heed of the classic conventional wisdom: write what you know about. I love history and am a current events junky so it made sense to start there. Also, I’m an avid reader of the genre and infatuated with intricate plot twists and turns.

Does your forty years of business experience figure into your stories? If yes, then how. If no, then why not?

Yes they do, in a couple of ways…

First, in terms of writing style, During my business career I wrote countless business-related documents…business and strategic plans, valuation analyses, operations reports…even a business column for a newspaper and a non-fiction business book. All had several common characteristics: brevity, clarity and succinctness. Though admirable skills, they don’t lend themselves to fiction where character, location and event descriptions are vital to producing engaging narratives. When editing, I, of course, remove a lot of junk and unnecessary words. But I also find myself adding descriptions that make for the richness necessary in a novel.

Second, the years of analytical thinking assist greatly in developing plot lines and characters. I’m a stickler for accuracy and plausibility. Readers want to be entertained, but they also want a book to make sense. Untied loose ends, unexplained character behaviors and nonsensical coincidences detract from the sense of reality I strive to convey.

How did The Xerces Factor project come about?

It was an intentional effort to write a thriller, not a political thriller. It is set in Washington and utilizes espionage, crooked politicians and corruption subplots. However, I wanted to focus more on the characters…how they are personally impacted by the plot rather than vice versa; particularly how the major protagonist deals with his wife’s murder.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

As quaint as it may be: the good guys triumph in the end. Overcoming life’s challenges is a classic and timeless story line. The road is rocky and there are ups and downs, but perseverance, courage and a sense of humor will see you through.

Good vs. evil is a well-known literary archetype. It’s good to know that good can still win once in a while. 

What is your most favourite part of the publishing/writing process? Your least favourite?

Of course, the favorite is writing. The least favorite: editing because it can become an endless process. With each read-through I find things that can be improved. And I am tormented when I send the ‘final’ manuscript to the publisher… knowing a word change here or a rephrasing there would make it better.

At some point we all have to nudge our baby birds from the nest.

What is your favourite motivational phrase and why?

‘It ain’t over till it’s over’…as referenced in #6 above and as I’ve personally experienced, if you ‘hang in there’ a positive outcome is more than likely.

What are your current projects?

Perhaps not an approach I’d recommend for others, but I enjoy working on several projects simultaneously.

Close to completion is The Fourth Partner, a mystery intentionally not set in DC. It features an eccentric detective who solves a cold murder case in coastal Georgia.

Murcheson County is a historical novel that chronicles three families’ (plantation aristocrats, yeoman farmers, slaves) trials, tribulations and interactions in Georgia from 1807 through the Civil War.

Lastly, a yet untitled book about a murder in a mid-size Georgia city in 1962. Though a mystery, the book dwells on the attitudes of the time. Some characters are stereotypical as one would expect in a novel set in the segregated South, but many are not. A very challenging project!

What is the one question you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview and how would you answer it?

Question: Why should I read The Xerces Factor?

Answer: The book is fast-based and plausible. The characters are real, not stereotypical heroes and villains; they’re fallible. Their imperfections, strengths and weaknesses and human reactions to the what engulfs them induce the reader to ask, “What would I do under similar circumstances?”

Thanks, Rodney. I’m looking forward to reading your work. Where can we learn more about you and you writing?

| Blog | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Amazon Author Page | Goodreads |

 

Full RP shot (1)About Rodney Page…

A Georgia native, Rodney’s business career included a variety of senior management positions and consulting engagements in companies and industries ranging from startups to Fortune 50 firms.

A graduate of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, in 2005 Rodney authored Leading Your Business to the Next Level…the Six Core Disciplines of Sustained Profitable Growth, a hands-on guide for companies navigating the perils and pitfalls of a high growth environment.

An avid student of history and political junky, Rodney combined those interests with his lifelong desire to write a novel. His first, Powers Not Delegated, was published in 2012

Rodney’s second novel, The Xerces Factor, will be released in April, 2015. He meshes his knowledge of history and current events to pin a relevant and plausible tale of intrigue inside the Beltway.

Rodney lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His passions include hiking, photography, history, reading, and, of course, University of Georgia football.

Interview with author Mark Love

Britbear’s Book Reviews would like to welcome fellow Black Rose author Mark Love and his novel, Why 319? to today’s author spotlight.

Why 319Summary from Goodreads:

There’s a serial killer loose in Metro Detroit, but nobody knows it. Three female victims have been discovered in motel rooms in different suburban cities that surround Motown. These deaths have not captured the media’s attention. The only connection is that each body is found in room 319 and the killer leaves the taunting message “Why 319?” on the bathroom mirror, written with the victim’s lipstick. The nude bodies have been cleaned and neatly arranged. All personal items are gone.

Now an elite squad of detectives has entered the scene. It’s up to them to take over the investigations from the police force and solve the riddle. The detectives know that time is not on their side. If the public learns there is a serial killer at large, will panic set in? Will they be able to figure it out before the killer strikes again?

Buy Why 319? on Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and Black Rose Writing.

Thanks for joining me today, Mark. What was your inspiration for your last novel?

I’ve always wanted to do a story about a serial killer and the investigation. It was during a brainstorming session with my son, Travis, who also likes to write, when the idea started to take shape. There were many revisions over the time it took to come up with a story that I was satisfied with. That’s where Why 319? came from.

It’s really cool that you and your son brainstorm like that.

What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

My favorite segment was when I wrote from the killer’s point of view. Since the majority of the story is told from the protagonist, Jefferson Chene’s, perspective, it was a challenge to make that transition. But I’ve had some great feedback on it.  One reader said those sections gave her shivers. I’ll take that compliment anytime.

It’s always fun to think outside the box like that and pen something so far removed from our own perspectives. How about some of that outside the box thinking now? What would your protagonist think about you?  Would he or she want to hang out with you, the author, his creator?

I’m sure Chene has more than a few questions he’d like to get answers to. Chene was an orphan, abandoned at birth and raised in a Catholic orphanage. His name comes from the intersection near downtown Detroit where he was found. So the chance to kick back and learn more about his background would definitely drive him.

Do your characters try to create ever more convoluted plots for you?  Or do you have to coax them out of your characters?

(Laughs) Oh, they definitely like to make the plots more twisted and challenging! I don’t work with an outline. I have a basic story idea in mind and maybe one or two key characters. I put them in motion and then just run alongside and see what they do. Some of the turns they suggest lead to major plot changes. But I think the result is a much better story.

My writing process is similar, so I know what you mean. Looking forward, What are your current projects?

I’m working on a sequel for Chene.  The main characters from Why 319? are clamoring for more attention.  I’m also trying to work on a prequel for the Jamie Richmond romance-mystery series (Devious, Vanishing Act and Fleeing Beauty).

What other books are similar to your own?   What makes them alike?

I think Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch novels are similar to Why 319? Like Bosch, Chene has his internal demons but is driven to solve the mystery.  To him, every victim matters regardless of their status in life.

While we’re on the topic of other books, which writers inspire you and why?

As a kid I was hooked on the novels of John D. MacDonald, who wrote the Travis McGee series.  McGee wasn’t your standard hero. He only worked when he needed the money or when it involved someone he was close to. Once the case was done, McGee went into an early retirement mode, enjoying life. MacDonald could coax the reader into the story quickly and throw enough curves at you that you never knew what was coming. Other writers who remind me of him include Elmore Leonard, James W. Hall, Greg Iles, John Sandford and James Rollins. I take inspiration from them to keep writing, keep polishing the story.

Still on the topic of books by other authors, what is your favourite book and why?

Stephen King’s The Stand.  I started reading this epic one evening after work and became so engrossed in the story that I didn’t blink until about three o’clock in the morning. I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep before going to work. Later during the day, I was waiting in line at a fast food restaurant when someone behind me sneezed three times. That was the warning sign in the book that someone had the disease that was wiping out humanity. Then next thing I knew, I was in my car with a death grip on the steering wheel.  Since I started writing, it’s been a goal to capture someone’s imagination as well as he grabbed mine.

One of my favourites, too.

Why do you write?

I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. Being able to entertain the readers by writing an engaging story, creating characters and conflicts they can identify with or relate to is not easy, but it’s something I’m driven to do. It’s important to me. I think everyone has talents. Mine is to write a good story, to take you along for an adventure.

Where do those ideas come from?

(Laughs) Inspiration comes from everywhere and nowhere. I’ve gotten ideas for a story from conversations I’ve overheard, from watching people interact in a restaurant, from hiking on a trail or riding a motorcycle down a country road.

What about building your author platform? What’s your view on social media for marketing?

I’m behind the curve on social media and definitely need to catch up. So many people are on it, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest and more, that it’s a great way to reach a larger audience. I just need to find the time to get busy with it.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Check out new authors. There are many talented people out there, working with smaller publishing houses who have written great stories.

Truer words were never said, Mark. Thanks for investing your time to do this interview. One last question: where can readers discover more about you and your work?

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“Why 319?” is Well Written and Structurally Sound

Why+319+eimageDetective Jefferson Chene is on the trail of a serial killer. His only clues are the bodies of the killer’s female victims, all found sprawled on the beds of hotel rooms numbered 319, the cryptic message “Why 319?” written on the bathroom mirror in lipstick. Can Chene and his task force find the killer before they find the next body?

I liked Mark Love’s Why 319? Detective Chene is tough and vulnerable at once. His relationship with partner Meagan is endearing and believable. Love’s prose is easy to read and descriptive. The story is interesting by way of a police procedural in that it doesn’t read like an episode of CSI, but in a good way. In CSI (in most police procedurals on television, in fact), the team always interviews the perpetrator at some point in the investigation. By contrast, Why 319? may be a more realistic glimpse into police investigation, especially when the killer’s agenda is nothing personal with respect to the victim. Undaunted, Chene and his task force slowly collect and piece together the murderer’s puzzle. I wasn’t surprised by the killer’s identity, mind you, but rather, by the story-web Love weaves in order to reveal it.

When reading for review, I often form my opinion of how many gummies (or stars) I will ultimately award the book long before I finish. This opinion always wavers as I read, sometimes several times. For the first 2/3 of Why 319? I was set to give it five stars. Then the narrative changed inorder to give the reader 2 or 3 glimpses into the mind of the killer. As a writer, I understand why Love might want to do this–to show the murderer sweating as the police grow near, taunting and chiding them all the while–but in this case, Love should have resisted as the scenes, though brief, were out of place and unnecessary to Chene’s narrative; Love should have found an alternate route for imparting this information.

That observation aside, I recommend Why 319?, especially to those avid mystery and police procedural junkies. If you are a fan of CSI, Criminal Minds, Stalker, and the like, you will not be disappointed by Why 319?

Mamabear gives this book:

four-bears

 

Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Personable and Real

New Prospect cover..2 badgesWayne Zurl’s A New Prospect introduces the world to Sam Jenkins, formerly retired police officer, and brand new police Chief of Prospect, Tennessee. When he’s thrown into Prospect’s first murder on his first day on the force, the game’s afoot (as both Sherlock Holmes and Sam, himself, would say). Barred from investigation by the FBI, Sam nevertheless sets out to find the murderer.

I liked Sam Jenkins from the moment he’s introduced, but Zurl captures his reader long before that in the prologue when he introduces characters germaine to later action. Zurl’s narrative is easy-going and easy to read, capturing Sam’s persona, which renders the narrator’s voice personable and real. Jenkins is about as honest a narrator as they come, letting the reader in on his every thought, and I do mean every, including his unabashed attraction to the female characters he meets.

In Prospect, Zurl has created a bucolic, near backwater town, populated with intriguing characters enough to rival that of Mayberry. This parallel is deliberate; Zurl  frequently interjects references to popular culture from the fifties through the seventies, showing that Jenkins identifies with the detectives and cowboys that went before him. These allusions imply Zurl’s writing is for an older audience of about thirty and up, which he acknowledges in the persona of Sam. When those around him don’t get his allusions, rather than feel past his prime, Sam is energized by their confusion.

I really enjoyed my trip to Prospect and the time spent with Sam. I hope to visit with him (and Zurl) again, sometime soon.

Mamabear gives this book:

four-bears

Note: I was gifted an eCopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

For more on Wayne Zurl and Sam Jenkins, read his guest post, Real Cops vs. Hollywood, and his Interview on Britbear’s Book Reviews.

Meet Wayne Zurl, Author of “A New Prospect”

Britbear’s Book Reviews is pleased to welcome fellow Black Rose Writer Wayne Zurl to this week’s author spotlight. Wayne is the author of A New Prospect. His guest blog post, Real Cops vs. Hollywood was featured in a 25 Jan 15 post.

New Prospect cover..2 badgesA New Prospect synopsis From Amazon:

Sam Jenkins never thought about being a fish out of water during the twenty years he spent solving crimes in New York. But things change, and after retiring to Tennessee, he gets that feeling. Jenkins becomes a cop again and is thrown headlong into a murder investigation and a steaming kettle of fish, down-home style. The victim, Cecil Lovejoy, couldn’t have deserved it more. His death was the inexorable result of years misspent and appears to be no great loss, except the prime suspect is Sam’s personal friend. Jenkins’ abilities are attacked when Lovejoy’s influential widow urges politicians to reassign the case to state investigators. Feeling like “a pork chop at a bar mitzvah” in his new workplace, Sam suspects something isn’t kosher when the family tries to force him out of the picture. In true Jenkins style, Sam turns common police practice on its ear to insure an innocent man doesn’t fall prey to an imperfect system and the guilty party receives appropriate justice. A NEW PROSPECT takes the reader through a New South resolutely clinging to its past and traditional way of keeping family business strictly within the family.

In putting together the questions for this interview, I noticed that your Amazon page shows you’re quite prolific. How long does it take for you to write each of your novels?

A full-length novel can take about me three to four months to make it ready for presentation to an editor. Of course that requires a fair diligence on my part: no major interruptions, holidays, travel plans, and no one inviting me to go on a fishing expedition. The novelettes (which had an 11,000 word ceiling) took from 2 to 4 weeks under the same conditions.

That’s quite impressive. The key must in your writing process?  Is there anything about it that makes your process particularly efficient?

For a guy who spent much of his adult life in military and paramilitary organizations, I’m not terribly structured or disciplined as a writer. And I’ll admit my writing process isn’t, by modern standards, very efficient. If I had my choice, I’d start early in the morning and continue until I experienced that old burned-out feeling, but with other commitments, that’s not always possible. My inefficiency comes from doing things the old-fashioned way—writing everything longhand on a legal pad. My wife is rather good on a keyboard, but since my handwriting isn’t the most legible, and I would prefer that we remain friends and stay married, I transpose everything to a Word document myself.

I hate to outline, so after roughing out a story, I’ll go back and “flesh out” the details, descriptions or anything which lacks the necessary lustre. Sometimes it takes two or three times to satisfy me. Then I’ll read it again and look for the nits and typos I haven’t seen before.

With all that completed, I’ll follow the advice I give others and attempt to get an even better product. I learned this from Robert B. Parker and from my experience with writing novelettes which were all destined to be produced as audio books. An interviewer once asked Parker why his books were so popular. He said because they sounded good. That might seem overly simple, but I knew what he meant and try to make mine sound good, too. When I think I’m finished, I isolate myself and read the book aloud with the same slow pace a professional reader/actor would use for an audio book. If something “bumps,” I smooth it out. I make sure all the sentences have the correct number of syllables; the paragraphs flow from one to the next. Basically, I want this thing to sing to me. For a guy who can’t dance very well, I pay a lot of attention to rhythm. Of course, after reading anything I write so many times, I hate the sight of it and can’t wait to pass it off to a proof-reader or editor.

Still impressed at your stamina.

Your bio says you were a police officer, soldier, and data processor. How does your work experience influence your writing subject?

Let’s toss out data processing first. When I worked on computers, they were seven feet tall. Discs were eighteen inches across and were accessed with a swinging arm like a record player. We programmed them by writing out commands on a worksheet which were turned into punch cards. Today I’m only a step above clueless when it comes to the modern PC. My experience is absolutely no help unless I wrote about an IBM museum.

My police career in New York provides all the basic storylines for what I write. I use cases I investigated, supervised or just knew a lot about. Sometimes I composite two or more incidents to make things more interesting. My imagination comes into play by figuring out a way to transplant them to Tennessee where I have my retired New York detective working a second career as a police chief.

My main character, Sam Jenkins, shares a few similarities with me—we’re former cops and Vietnam War veterans. Twenty years of seeing the best and more often the worst side of humanity through the eyes of a policeman changes anyone’s personality. And no one goes to war and comes home unaffected. All the little things that affected me often manifest themselves in Sam’s life.

Now I’m impressed at your creativity.

Out of all of your books, which are you most proud of and why?

A New Prospect was my first and the one I struggled with most as a novice fiction writer. When I held what I thought was a completed mystery novel, I hired a book doctor to evaluate the manuscript. He gave me good news and bad news. The good: he liked the Sam Jenkins character, the basic premise of the story and thoughts of a series, and my writing voice. His bomb: “This would have been a hit in 1985, but it doesn’t fit the formula publishers want in 2006.” My reaction: “Ugh!”

With that information and several suggestions from him, I jumped through hoops to restructure the entire novel—minimize the setup, bury the back-story, change the passive verbiage, and get the murder closer to the opening. That accomplished and with the doctors blessing, I took my now completed manuscript and began peddling it to agents. I received so many rejections, most of which came from people who hadn’t read one page of my story, I considered changing my deodorant. Then one of the few rejections that contained more than a terse form letter said, “A sixty-year-old retired New York cop who becomes a Tennessee police chief just isn’t trendy. Consider changing him to a young vampire private investigator from Orange County who fights crime in a vigilante, Batman-like way and we might have something.”

I revised my thinking, abandoned my thoughts of finding an agent, and looked for royalty-paying publishers who would accept submissions directly from a writer.

My pride comes from A New Prospect winning Eric Hoffer and Indy book awards and being named as a finalist in two others. A year after publication I wanted to send “Oh yeah?” letters to all the agents I queried. But that would have been unprofessional.

Most of what you experienced is par for the course, I’m afraid. That’s why so many of us turn to self-publishing.

A New Prospect, the novel you’ve asked me to review, introduces your Sam Jenkins character. How much of you went into creating Sam?

Nothing I’ve written is an autobiographical sketch or true crime story. As I mentioned in question 3, I use my old cases to formulate stories which end up fictionalized and embellished. And I write with a lot of dialogue, so to make my life easier, I gave Sam lots of my personality. If I would say or do something in a given police situation, so would he. Police work involves lots of thinking, lots of instinct—that with which some people are born and that which you develop with experience. My protagonist needed that instinct and I could cash in on the old author’s maxim of write what you know. That’s one reason I write in the first person. The emotions I remember can be transferred and come out in Sam’s speech.

My wife says the other reason is that at my age my short term memory can’t keep track of whose point of view I’m dealing with. But what does she know?

What is it about Sam Jenkins that keeps you writing about him? What about him keeps your readers reading his story?

Sam and I are in it for the long haul. Anyone who worked in a busy police department retires with oodles of war stories, so I’ll keep writing until I run out of ideas for new adventures. And I believe that it’s more than just Sam Jenkins’ character that makes people like these stories. Sure, he does things that many law-abiding civilians would love to do and they can feel a vicarious thrill when he pulls off some unconventional piece of magic, but it goes a bit beyond that. He’s fairly obsessed with his public image and that of his police department. Professionalism is all important. And his Sir Galahad complex requires him to always do the right thing. He’s by no means perfect, that would be boring. But when the chips are down, he pursues the bad guy, cuts corners, knows how to keep himself and the city of Prospect out of trouble, and feels absolutely no obligation to pander to the local politicians. Readers like his irreverent attitude toward the system. Every once in a while he just has to arrest a politicians son, or even a member of the county commission. Things like that keep life at Prospect PD interesting.

Some readers find him likable, even personable. But he could never do the job alone. He needs a good support system within the ranks, and even from several people with whom he has a good professional relationship, specifically, an FBI agent who’s also from New York, and a beautiful TV reporter who holds a special place in her life for him.

Cops are in the people business. It was always the oddballs, colorful miscreants, and otherwise quirky characters I met that made the job worthwhile. I try to litter the pages with people my readers will remember. They may love them or hate them, but I hope they see them as unique and never forget them. Sam is basically a conduit connecting the heroes and weirdoes to the reader. And unlike many of the current crop of police procedural writers I’m compelled to interject some humor into every story no matter how horrendous or serious. That’s authentic to a cop’s life. Without humor (often black humor) a detective would be swapping his Harris tweeds for a straight jacket.

Can you recall how your interest in writing first originated?

Police officers are always writing something. Narrative repots make a department go around, so I always had practice in a technical sense. Although a few defense attorneys called my prosecution worksheets sheer fantasy. When I retired, I volunteered at a Tennessee State Park and wrote publicity for their living history program. That led me to having twenty-six non-fiction magazine articles published. I thought it was cool to get paid for writing. After ten years of non-fiction and being unable to dream up anything new and exciting to say about the 18th century French & Indian War in Tennessee, I handed the torch to someone else and decided to attempt writing fiction.

I toyed with the idea of a Vietnam War novel or something in historical fiction, but settled on cop stories. But someday I still may do a western.

You have so much practical experience. Do you ever have to do any research for a story? If so, how much? What topics did you find most interesting?

I do very little research. Sam Jenkins is what we in the police business call a dinosaur. He does his thing the old way, with methods learned in the 1970s, and to him, proven in the field. When I need up-to-date information about forensic or scientific practices, I call a friend who’s a crime scene investigator for the local county sheriff. Occasionally, I need historical background on a venue mentioned in a story and I use the internet. Last year I had a novelette published called The Sawn Tattoo, which dealt with Malaysian organized crime in the southeast United States. Learning about the ethnic Chinese who immigrated to Sarawak in the early 20th century and reading the history of the crime families or triads who operated in Malaysia and now have satellite organizations in the U.S. was extremely interesting. You never know who you might be dealing with when you eat at one of those Asian buffets.

Do you ever experience writer’s block and if so, what’s your cure for it?

My version of writer’s block often comes when I need a clever way to embellish a real case. Not all police work is a thrill a minute or contains the conflict and tension publishers demand. If I can’t formulate a plausible chunk of fiction to integrate with my reality, I uncork a better than average bottle of wine, grab two glasses, and ask my wife. She’s a big help at times.

What’s the one question you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How might you answer that question?

That’s the toughest question so far. But how about this: Do you believe your portrayal of the operations of a small police department and more importantly the interaction and relationships of the police personnel is realistic?

Remember those hoops I mentioned previously? I jumped through those to please a publisher and get my foot in the door. Getting the details and technicalities correct is for me and all the cops and ex-cops who might read something I write. I’d be embarrassed and feel terrible if another retired cop said, “That’s BS. You couldn’t do that.”

Everyone who writes asks for a reader’s suspension of disbelief at some point. And sometimes those in the mystery business have his or her protagonist take risks no good cop should take. Sometimes they do procedural things that might make a reader grit their teeth and say, “Sam (or Philip Marlow, or Jim Rockford) is a good detective. He should know better.” Occasionally, Sam allows his big mouth to cause seemingly irreparable conflict with the politicos and a reader might observe, “Jeez, doesn’t he know how much trouble he could get into?” Those things are done to create the tension both readers and publishers enjoy.

But let’s deal with what gives the sub-genre its name: police procedure. If you get the details right, you make your bones and can skate through a few requests for a suspension of disbelief. I try hard to not only show the correct way to do it, but in a roundabout way, explain why cops do things in a certain manner.

The second part of the question delves into a philosophy of management, supervision, and interpersonal relationships. As in the military, police line organizations tend to be more formal within the chain of command. But Prospect PD doesn’t have 3000 sworn members like the place where I used to work. And Sam Jenkins spent most of his career working in small units where the rank structure and relationships were more relaxed. Prospect PD has a chief, two sergeants, ten patrolmen, and in recent books, a civilian operations aide. So, Sam operates his department on a first name basis. Everyone seems to like that and the troops still call him boss most of the time.

He believes in the premise that management pays his salary and assigns him certain tasks, but he owes his troops more than he owes the mayor. Without them, no mission could ever be accomplished. If a cop gets called on the carpet from outside the PD, Sam has their back and fights for their preservation. A boss who worries more about promotion and where he wants to go next will probably never gain the respect of his workers nor will he see the above average productivity from his cops which creates a truly superior unit. Sam believes that everyone should strive to be the best (fill in a job title of your choice) possible so they can look in the mirror and be pleased with who’s looking back at them.

Police work is not always, but can be a dangerous business. If you don’t look out for your brothers and sisters, you’re not looking out for yourself. This is true to life.

Elise,

That seems to be the end of the line. Thanks for inviting me to your blog to answer these questions,provide your fans and followers with a short essay on real police work versus Hollywood’s version, and for offering to review my book, A New Prospect.

The pleasure was all mine, Wayne. I learned so much from your post and now your interview, and I can’t wait to read A New Prospect.

Here’s how you can learn more about Wayne and his work:How can readers discover more about you and you work?

| Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Google Plus | Amazon Author Page |

| Barnes and Noble Author Page | Mind Wings Audio Author Page |

| Independent Author Network Page |

WZ  photo Deadwood, SDAbout the Author:

Wayne Zurl grew up on Long Island and retired after twenty years with the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation. For thirteen of those years he served as a section commander supervising investigators. He is a graduate of SUNY, Empire State College and served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves. Zurl left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.

Twenty (20) of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been published as eBooks and many produced as audio books. Ten (10) of these novelettes are available in print under the titles: A Murder in Knoxville and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries andReenacting a Murder and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries. Zurl has won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and was named a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. His full-length novels are: A new Prospect, A Leprechaun’s Lament, Heroes & Lovers and Pigeon River Blues. They are available in print and various eBook formats.

Look for the all New from New York to the Smokies, an anthology of 5 never before published Sam Jenkins mysteries. Coming in April 2015.

A Real Page-Turner

cropped high res coverIn Mary Ellen Bramwell’s The Apple of My Eye, Brea Cass leads an idyllic life until her husband is killed in a convenience store robbery. It takes her some time to come to terms with the fact that Paul, her husband, is gone, she begins questioning the official story of what happened that night. The more she probes, the more discrepancies she uncovers, which only leads to more questions, the biggest of which is: was Paul truly an innocent in the event that lead to his untimely death?

I was hooked on The Apple of My Eye from the start. Bramwell’s prose reads like a memoir, adding to the the verisimilitude of the story. Brea is likeable as a sympathetic character made strong by the murder of her husband, the support of her family and friends, and her desire for her son to think of her husband as a hero. Though somewhat of a sleeper at the start, the narrative picks up speed, switching to full-throttle once Brea begins to uncover the seedier side of her husband. It’s her self-conflict, wondering if she ever really knew her husband at all, that keeps the story moving, and I found myself almost as curious as Brea to get to the roots of Paul’s facade.

The Apple of My Eye  begins as a love story and finishes as a mystery-thriller that doesn’t disappoint. Bramwell’s writing is error-free, which helps the smooth narrative. Though the dialogue is stilted in places, Brea seems more real than constructed character, which is testimony to Bramwell’s writing ability. The suspense propels the narrative forward, as it should. The last half of the novel is a page-turner, unlike any I’ve read in a long time. I urge readers to take a chance on The Apple of My Eye; you won’t be disappointed.

Mamabear gives this book

four-bears

 Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.