Sunday, 29 June 2014

Review of The Keeper

I am an avid John Lescroart fan, but was slightly disappointed by The Keeper. Had I not read every book in the Dismas Hardy series, perhaps I would have found this one more compelling, but the excellence of the earlier novels puts this into the shade by some considerable margin.

Two of my favourite characters, Dismas and Abe Glitsky, find themselves on the same side of the law for once. Maybe that’s the issue – Abe working for the defence just didn’t quite sit right for me.

As always with Lescroart, the plot looks simple on the surface, but becomes more complicated and complex as the storyline progresses. The Keeper opens with Hardy and his wife of many years discussing the disappearance of Katie Chase, a client Frannie Hardy has been counselling for marital issues. The main suspect is, of course, the husband, Hal Chase, a prison officer for the San Francisco county jail.  

As more and more suspects (and dead bodies) turn up, The Keeper morphs into a police procedural, rather than the courtroom dramas one would expect with Lescroart.

Politics rears its ugly head and the resolution of that aspect left me feeling dissatisfied. All in all, not the best of Lescroart’s work, but still far above the average crime/thriller out there.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Why I Wrote ...

This week, in place of our usual interview, I am delighted to introduce a guest post from an award winning author, Marshall Stein. Marshall shares with us his reasons for writing his acclaimed crime novel, Rage Begets Murder.

One of the great pleasures of many classic crime thrillers is the portrayal of the underbelly of a society. Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep exploring the dark reality in the old money Sternwood family. John LeCarre revealing the callous sacrifice of innocents in the The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Martin Cruz Smith etching in acid the corruption of modern Russia in Gorky Park.

Rage Begets Murder takes place in Philadelphia during the birth of the American Bandstand era. I was in high school during the 1950s in a prosperous suburb of Philadelphia. It was a white Republican world. When I registered to vote, it was a very short line for Democrats, and my registration card was pink. There were few people of color in my high school. The first time I remembered being in a social setting where whites and blacks were equally visible was a jazz bar where Miles Davis performed that night.

Bandstand came to television during this time. It was riveting: the music, the dancing. Teenagers could not wait to get home and turn it on. Their contemporaries who danced on the show were so wholesome in appearance: white, usually Italian or Irish American, mostly from Catholic parochial schools. The only people of color on the show were the singers, e.g. Little Richard Penniman, Fats Domino, etc.

The man who launched Bandstand, Bob Horn, was accused by a dancer on the show of having a sexual relationship with her from the time she was 13 until she was 15. At the time Horn was in his 40s, married, with children. It was a huge scandal in the area known as the Delaware Valley: portions of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. I thought this would be a good story for launching a novel.

I have chafed under the myth that everything was perfect in the 1950s: that everyone prospered, that there was little crime, that all races and religions lived in Happy Valley, in short, a world that looked like a Disney cartoon. To the contrary, it was a world of deep racism; a world where people lived in tribes of people like themselves; a world where Ivy League universities set quotas for admitting minorities And a world where violence erupted. This inspired me to write my debut novel in a form I loved, a crime thriller, a genre where dark realities can be explored.

I brought to the book thirty-eight years of trial and appellate experience. Early on, I was an Assistant United States Attorney and then the Chief Staff Attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island]. In government service and in private practice I met people from all sides of the street. The character of Chumsky in RBM, the businessman/organized crime kingpin, was inspired by a real person, a man who died many years ago. Not surprisingly some of the novel is set in a law firm.

RAGE BEGETS MURDER has been called “an author’s tour-de-force” [Jeremiah Healy, Shamus award winner and Past President of International Association of Crime Writers]. “Rage is a stunning example of psychoanalytic character examination and superb story weaving on the part of a very disciplined writer.” [Heater, a noir zine].

Last December I was one of 44 authors at Mystery Night, a group that included Joseph Finder, William Landay, Linda Barnes, Sarah Smith, Hank Phillipi Ryan and Hallie Ephron. I will be a panelist at NoirCon in Philadelphia the end of October. Though retired from the practice of law, I was among 25 lawyers who were invited for a private reception with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Alito a few weeks ago.

In 2013 RBM was the #1 bestseller for my publisher Post Mortem Press in bookstores, and PMP’s #5 on Amazon in the U.S. It is now available on Amazon UK.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Fragments of Crime Left Behind

I was doing some research online the other day into how long it would take a healthy teenager to starve to death (for a future D.I. Paolo Storey novel, I hasten to add – no teenagers were harmed in the production of this post).

While surfing the web on the subject, I was appalled at the auto fill options that came up, showing the weird (and frightening) things people search the internet for. I found myself praying that they were all, like me, simply researching for a novel, or maybe for a thesis on crime.

I then had to find out how long it would take to starve the same poor teenager if he had also been subjected to physical abuse. (I know, I’m a horrible person!) The auto fill suggestions that came up for that particular search will give me nightmares for weeks to come. There are some seriously depraved minds out there!

But these searches made me stop and think about other things I’ve needed to find out for my novels. If I had to put my computer in for repairs, what would the repairman make of my web history?

I’ve researched child abuse and people trafficking, not to mention the extensive searches I’ve done on how to kill people and get away with it. My internet history reads like an encyclopaedia of depravity. I have looked into building secret dungeons, what torture instruments are freely available, how to kill with bare hands, what degree of torture people can survive, and how to soundproof rooms.

What if the aforementioned repairman decided I was a menace to society and reported me to the local police? I live in Spain. My Spanish is coming along, but how on earth would I convince the officers of my innocence when the only things I can say in Spanish and be certain of being understood are: “Where is the nearest train station?” and “I would like to book a table for two people for this evening.”

Deciding I should clean up my computer before being hauled off to prison, I ran an online search to find a programme that would eradicate all traces of my browsing history. Needless to say, I once again got side-tracked by the auto fill options that came up. In no time at all, I was on forums devoted to making sure the police couldn’t retrieve data that had been wiped.

Did you know that, even after reformatting, the police have wunderkinds who can reassemble your browsing history from the tiny, weeny, itsy-bitsy fragments left behind? No, neither did I, but by the time I found out, I was beyond fear of being unable to explain my actions in English, never mind in Spanish, and had moved into full-blown paranoia. Not only did I have the history of all those dreadful searches, but I had now added to my possible crimes by showing that I had searched for ways to cover up the earlier online activity.

In a panic, I called my daughter and explained to her my concerns and what I intended to do to make sure I stayed out of a Spanish gaol. “The best thing,” I said, “is to buy a new computer and keep this one just for online searches. That way, when it breaks down, I can just take a hammer to it and scatter the fragments in the local tip.”

I’d expected at the very least a murmur of approval for what I thought was a brilliant plan, but only silence greeted my words. After a short pause, I heard her laughing and then, ignoring me completely, she called out to her partner, “You’ll never guess what my looney mother has come up with this time!”

After she’d related my sad tale to Karl, she came back on the line. “I’m so pleased you use a pen name,” she said. “I won’t have to tell anyone the madwoman locked away in prison is anything to do with me. Don’t worry, Mum, I’ll send you a cake with a file in it. I’m quite sure, with your vivid imagination, you’ll find a way to break free.”

Hmm, good point. Turning to the computer, I typed: escaping from a Spanish prison

A version of this post previously appeared in my Writing Magazine column (as Lorraine Mace): Notes from the Margin