Thirty Years a Dresser: Backstage Stories Come to the Spotlight

Thirty Years a Dresser ($17.95, 216 pages, 9×6 Trade Paperback, ISBN:  978-1-60381-751-6) is a new memoir by Dennis Milam Bensie, sharing essays, anecdotes, and backstage antics from his years as a theatrical dresser.

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Thirty Years A Dresser is more than a memoir of behind the scenes. It is an insightful glance of what happens back stage during the run of some of the greatest shows of the theatre. With more than (the proclaimed) thirty years of experience of being a dresser, Mr. Dennis Milam Bensie’s account is an enjoyable tour-de-force that will educate as well as entertain the reader.” Read more…
—Eric Andrews-Katz for Equality365

“Bensie’s memoir covers his career backstage with humor, heart, and hope, spotlighting the famed and the wanna-be with equal admiration and/or scorn. Full of juicy anecdotes and keen insight into both stagecraft and bitchcraft, this peek behind the curtains is sure to delight the seasoned theatre-goer as well as the dilettante.”
—Jerry Wheeler, author of the Lammy-nominated Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruit

“A fun romp behind the scenes of long theatrical career. Dennis Bensie has fresh new insight into the second oldest profession–the theatre.”
—Eric Andrews-Katz, author of Tartarus

“The best seat in the house isn’t Orchestra Center, it’s backstage with Dennis Milam Bensie. Thirty Years a Dresser shares many unique behind the scenes moments and fun perspectives and even the most ardent theatre goer will be envious. Whether watching the evolution of a hit (The Light at the Piazza) or imagining an androgynous casting while dressing nuns for the umpteenth time (The Sound of Music), Bensie lets the reader peek behind the curtain. What a fun read!”
—Rebecca Redshaw, Author/Playwright

Thirty Years a Dresser provides plenty of laughs from the spurting blood vest in “Agnes of God” to the two hundred costumes required for “The Grapes of Wrath,” and Bensie writes about it all with equal parts love and loathing. Most memoirs I’ve read are at least partially self-serving, but Bensie’s stands out as self-deprecating instead.… He never takes himself too seriously–his craft and his subject, yes, but never himself.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and if you have even a passing interest in the theatre, either on or off stage, you owe it to yourself to pick this up and devour it in one or two sittings, as I did. Highly recommended.” Read more…
—Jerry L. Wheeler for Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews

Dennis Milam Bensie sees himself as way more Thelma Ritter in Mankiewicz’s All About Eve than Tom Courtney in Ronald Harwood’s harrowing play and movie, The Dresser. Watching The Tony Awards as a teenager in the early 1980s, Bensie knew he wanted to be in theater. He was his own dresser for plays in high school when he learned a career as an actor wasn’t for him. Costumes became his calling, at first in summer stock and gradually with union houses, wherever he could find work. A theatrical dresser is expected to be a nurse, psychologist, tailor, personal shopper, magician, bodyguard, maid, scout, and confidant.

Thirty Years a Dresser is Bensie’s third memoir, after Shorn: Toys to Men and One Gay American. His stories involve behind-the-scenes dish and drama during a wide range of productions: from MetamorphosesThe Light in the PiazzaRomy and Michele’s High School Reunion–The Musical to The Sound of Music (three times). The author’s backstage stories feature such stars as Lynn Redgrave, Rosie O’Donnell, Freddy Kruger’s mother, and a Tony Award winner who shall remain nameless.

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. He has costumed and wigged shows all over the country, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC, Alliance Theatre of Atlanta, Arizona Theatre Company, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. His costume and wig design for Valley of the Dolls at Empty Space Theatre in Seattle garnered him a feature article in Entertainment Design Magazine and a Seattle Times Footlight Award for Best Design. He has been on staff at Intiman Theatre in Seattle since 1992 and is proud to have been involved with such productions as Angels in America, Nickel and Dimed and the world premier of the Tony Award winning musical Light in the Piazza. Shorn: Toys to Men is his first book. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs. For more information, click here.

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We were rapidly whipping though the summer season. George M closed and we quickly moved on to Carousel, which would give me my very first backstage-mishap story.

One of the clam diggers doubled as a dancing bear during the dream ballet of Carousel. The big bear head would rest on his shoulders and tie under his armpits. The actor couldn’t get the head on or off by himself and his vision with the bear head on was poor. The suit was heavy fur, so only a dance belt  was worn under his bear costume. I would have to catch the bear as he exited stage right, unzip his bear bodysuit, and untie the laces under his arms to lift the bear head off. He had to change back into a clam digger pretty quickly.

A stage manager whispered in my ear during the dream ballet, “There’s an emergency stage left. Celia’s dress zipper is broken. You need to go help her.”

I was still sewing Celia into her dress stage left when the bear came off, stage right, looking for me. By the time I got to him, Mr. Bear/clam-digger had managed to get his bear body off by himself. But I found the sweaty actor in a complete panic. He was maniacally spinning, trying to untie the strings under his arms. I could hear his muffled yelps through the bear head. The bear (wearing only his head and his dance belt) almost made his way onstage in view of the audience. I guided him back into the wings and removed his head.

The bear/clam-digger thanked me, changed clothes, and went on with his show. The company and I laughed our asses off later that night, drinking at the pub.

Yes, drinking. I celebrated my twenty-first birthday that summer. My professional life was just beginning—and I could finally legally drink.

Perfection.

What I hadn’t fully learned that summer was that being a dresser is way more than getting the actors dressed. Being a theatrical dresser means being a nurse, a psychologist, a tailor, a personal shopper, a magician, a bodyguard, a maid, a scout, and a confidant.

Now, so many years later, I make my living as a theatrical dresser.

I’ve never … not done theater.

I’ve kept a list of every show I’ve ever worked on.

I saved all the programs.

I will be a theatrical dresser until I retire.

To quote Rizzo in Grease, “There are worse things I could do.”

The Songs We Hide: Music Brings Hope in Post-War Hungary

The Songs We Hide ($16.95, 356 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-631-1), is a work of historical fiction by Connie Hampton Connally. In communist Hungary, a peasant loses his land, a young mother loses her baby’s father, and both are scared into silence—until music brings them together to face the agonizing tests ahead.

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In 1951, a grim hush has settled over Hungary. After a lost war and a brutal transition to communism, the people live under constant threat of blacklisting, property confiscation, arrest, imprisonment, and worse. In this milieu of dread, the best land of Péter Benedek’s peasant family is seized and his life upended. Moving to Budapest for a manual labor job, Péter meets Katalin Varga, an unwed mother whose baby’s father has vanished, most likely at the hands of the secret police. Both Péter and Katalin keep their heads down and their mouths clamped shut, because silence is the only safety they know.

The two have something in common besides fear: they are singers whose very natures make the silence unbearable. When Katalin starts giving Péter voice lessons, they take an intrepid step out of hiding by making music together. Little by little they tell each other what they cannot tell others. In their bond of trust, they find relief and unexpected happiness.

Yet the hurts and threats in their lives remain, waiting. As harsh reality assaults them again, is hope even possible? Facing their hardest trials yet, Péter and Katalin learn to carve dignity and beauty out of pain.

Writes the author, “My interest in Hungary’s turbulent history grew out of my love of music. Through music I discovered the story of Zoltán Kodály, a twentieth-century Hungarian composer who spread music in his nation despite totalitarianism and two world wars. Kodály’s example gripped me. What would it be like to offer beauty in a milieu of crushing fear? I began researching Hungary. In its tense national narrative and the poignant stories of its people, The Songs We Hide took root.”

Connie Hampton Connally holds a BA in English from the University of Washington and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. She’s published magazine stories and newspaper articles, worked as an editor, and taught high school English and elementary music. Ms. Connally and her husband make their home in Tacoma, Washington. For more information, go here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Tuesday evening as Katalin came home with Mari on her hip, she was heading along the second-floor balcony when she heard someone call her name. Looking over the railing into the courtyard, she saw Péter Benedek standing beside a dirt patch where two short green rows had sprouted. He lifted his cap to her. She would have simply waved and walked on, except that he was regarding her worriedly, and after glancing around, he beckoned. She carried Mari down the back stairs and joined him. Above, the early evening sky misted a cold gray.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

He gripped the handle of a hoe. “Katalin … eh … Antal said … maybe you could help me sing? Lessons?”

“I don’t know why Antal told you that. I’ve never taught singers before.”

“But would you? I mean … please?”

She had never known Péter to look directly at her for longer than half a second; now it seemed those hazel eyes behind the wire glasses would stare at her until next October if it took her that long to answer.

“I would pay,” he said.

Katalin thought his worried look deepened. She could not imagine that Péter, coming from Lord-knows-where in the country, had any money to spare.

“How would you ever practice?” she asked. “Where?”

“I don’t know, maybe in the cellar.”

“It isn’t private.”

“I know.”

“And voice lessons can be embarrassing. You have to make ridiculous sounds, buzz your lips, sing nonsense. And I can’t promise that my family won’t hear you. And the neighbors. And do you smoke? If you want to be a good singer, you can’t smoke. My mother has been saying that all my life.”

“All right. I won’t smoke.”

Mari was clinging to Katalin’s arm and regarding Péter as though he were a great mystery. And maybe he was. Katalin could not understand how this quiet fellow could be coaxed to sing loud enough for anyone to hear him.

“You don’t really want to do this, do you?” she asked.

“But yes.”

“Why?”

He shifted the hoe to his other hand, and his answer was slow to come. “Some days … many days … singing is the only pleasure, you know? And also … Antal said sometimes music works even if talking doesn’t. Or something like that.”

Maybe it was Antal who had said it, but it sounded so much like Róbert. Katalin was going to tell Péter that this just wouldn’t be possible, she didn’t have time, she wasn’t a teacher. But when she looked at him again, none of those words would come.

She relented. “We could start Thursday night.”

He squinted a little, broke a smile, almost laughed. “Good!”

“As for pay,” she said, “when you go home, if you find something that’s hard to get in Budapest, bring it. We’re always running out of soap. Where is home, by the way?”

He took a step back, looked away. “I will try to find some soap,” was his only reply.

Illegal Holdings, by Michael Niemann: Graft and Greed in Mozambique

Illegal Holdings ($14.95, 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-591-8) is the third book in a series featuring United Nations fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen. After a $5 million transfer in UN funds goes missing in Mozambique, Vermeulen discovers a deep vein of corruption involving land deals.

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“Up against a wall of deceitfulness and threats from hired assassins, a veteran investigator follows the money in a dangerous case of high-stakes duplicity…. the third case for Niemann’s hero, a slick sleuth in the 007 mold, deepens the portrait of contemporary Africa through its detailed descriptions of Mozambique and its culture.” Read more…

—Kirkus Reviews

“Niemann’s well-plotted third Valentin Vermeulen thriller (after 2017’s Illicit Trade) takes the U.N. investigator with a penchant for getting into trouble to Maputo, Mozambique, where he looks into a fraud case…. Niemann provides interesting insights into U.N. bureaucracy, developing countries, and global economics as he demonstrates once again the difference that an honest man can make.” Read more…

—Publishers Weekly

“Illegal Holdings is an intriguing suspense that keeps one engaged, with an intricately woven web of a plot that will keep the reader guessing. Valentin Vermeulen is a flawed character that some may find interesting. Vermeulen is nicely complemented by great supporting roles that add delectable depth to the story.” Read more…

—InD’Tale Magazine

UN fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen is on assignment in Maputo, Mozambique. His ho-hum task is to see if Global Alternatives is spending UN money the way they promised. The nonprofit was set up by hedge fund mogul Vincent Portallis to revolutionize development aid. The only upside for Vermeulen is the prospect of seeing his lover Tessa Bishonga, who is reporting on foreign land acquisitions in Africa.

When Vermeulen notices that a five-million-dollar transfer has gone missing, he is given the run-around. First he is told the files have been mislaid, then stolen, then he is assured that the money was never transferred to begin with. But the money was transferred, so where is it now? Vermeulen’s dogged pursuit of the missing transfer makes him the target of some ruthless operators. And once he meets up with Tessa, she is inevitably sucked in to the story as well, which turns out to be far more nefarious than either of them imagined. Now they are both in deadly danger.

Says Niemann, “Development aid is rarely about helping the poor. The interests of donors, be they governments, nonprofits or private interests, usually set the agenda. Mozambique is but one example. Illegal Holdings is, of course, fictional, but sadly, the reality not all that different.”

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. For more information, go to: www.michael-niemann.com.

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The restaurant could have been any truck stop anywhere in the world. Two shelves next to the cash register held more varieties of potato chips than Vermeulen knew existed. There were peanuts, too. A rack with yellowed road maps and cheap sunglasses. A rattling cooler displayed refrescos and domestic beer.

The rest of the counter was part of the restaurant. Against the back wall stood a large griddle, operated by a woman who was wider than tall. Anyone expecting an array of Mozambican cuisine would be disappointed. A picture menu offered hamburgers, chicken burgers, fried chicken, and toasted cheese sandwiches.

Billy Ray and Antonio ordered hamburgers. Tessa went to the toilet, and Vermeulen couldn’t make up his mind. What to eat when all choices are poor? He settled on a toasted cheese sandwich with tomatoes and went to use the facilities himself.

The restaurant had seen better days. The tables were wobbly and the chairs creaky. About half of the tables were taken, and the patrons gave the newcomers a quick glance before going back to their meals. Vermeulen sat down with the rest and ate his sandwich. Tessa munched on a bag of peanuts and drank a Coke. Vermeulen was tempted by the beer but decided against it. On a warm day like this, he’d just fall asleep in the car.

“What other project do you want to show us?” Vermeulen said between bites.

“It’s back the way we came, on the other side of the bridge,” Billy Ray said.

“I’d like to speak with a few of the farmers here,” Tessa said.

Billy Ray wiped some grease from his mouth. “I figured you would. It’ll take some time to set up, though. I didn’t know you were coming until last night. No time. But I’m sure we can arrange something for later. How long are you in Beira?”

“I have a week.”

“Hmm. That’s tight. You journalists need to spend time on the ground. Not just swoop in and out.”

“Believe me, I’d love to spend a month here, but nobody would pay my bills. So a week it is. I’d appreciate any help you can give me.”

“Sure. We’ll see what we can set up. Maybe there’ll be someone at the next stop.”

Billy Ray popped the last bite of hamburger into his mouth and pursed his lips.

“Pretty damn close to the worst burger I ever ate,” he said. “And I’ve had some doozies.”

They finished their meals, got back into the car, and drove back the way they’d come. As they reached the bridge, Vermeulen’s phone rang. It was Chipende.

“Sorry for leaving you yesterday. I got an urgent call from KillBill and had to meet with him. Did someone in the office answer a wrong number call?”

“You didn’t call when we agreed.”

“No, that’s when the kid called. It took a while to sort that out. I think I was about fifteen minutes late. A man answered. Did you see who?”

“Yes, I did. I’ll tell you later. What was the emergency?” Vermeulen said.

“Raul called the gang together for another job. This time it’s out of town. They drove off in their blue vans. I have no idea where they went. The kid can’t call me because they aren’t supposed to know he’s got a phone.”

“And you don’t know what the job is?”

“No, but it can’t be good. Probably roughing someone up. I’m on my way to Tica to warn the farmers. I have a bad feeling.”

“We’ve just left Tica,” Vermeulen said.

“You did? What were you doing there?”

Vermeulen turned and said in a low voice, “Getting a tour of the new project.”

“Global Alternatives?”

“Yes.”

There was a long pause.

The Land Rover reached the bridge. From the corner of his eye, Vermeulen saw the glint of a vehicle through the bushes lining the approach to the bridge. He couldn’t tell its shape or color. The Land Rover started across the bridge. Vermeulen looked ahead through the windshield. Something moved across the road at the other end of the bridge. As they got closer, Billy Ray slowed more. A vehicle blocked the bridge. Vermeulen looked back. Behind them another vehicle rolled across the road.

“I found your blue vans,” Vermeulen said to Chipende and ended the call.

DEROS, by John A. Vanek: a Deadly Homecoming

DEROS ($16.95, 304 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-619-9) is the first book in a mystery/suspense series by John A. Vanek set in Oberlin, Ohio, and featuring amateur detective Father Jake Austin. A series of murders force Father Jake Austin to confront his own violent past, regrets over lost love, and his doubts about the priesthood.

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“Fr. Jake Austin, the hero of Vanek’s promising debut and series launch, returns to his hometown of Oberlin, Ohio, in 2002 to take up a temporary post at a Catholic hospital in nearby Lorain—an assignment that coincides with his high school class’s 30th reunion. [….] Full of conflicting emotions, Jake has a lot to cope with in a mystery that’s as much a character study as a whodunit. The title is an acronym for Date of Expected Return from Overseas—the relevance of which isn’t immediately obvious. Readers will look forward to seeing more of Jake.” Read more….

Publishers Weekly

“The mystery itself is well conceived and executed and the several central characters nicely drawn…. I say, ‘Hurrah!’ I always have room to read another good series.” Read more….

—Dana Borse, for Reviewing the Evidence

“Interesting, nuanced characters in a finely wrought setting.”

—Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of Wilde Lake and the award-winning Tess Monaghan series

“Father Jake Austin is a spiritual man, but he is as flawed and filled with contradictions as anyone. John Vanek guides the reader through the seldom-seen worlds of both medicine and the priesthood. His years as a physician at a Catholic hospital make him the perfect creator of this literary mystery set in a small college town, but few physicians can manage prose as well as Vanek does.”

—Sterling Watson, author of Suitcase City and Fighting in the Shade

“A riveting tale of mystery and murder. Superb storytelling with a deft touch by this talented author who keeps ratcheting up the tension until the explosive ending. A fast read, but the characters linger in your memory.” —Ann O’Farrell, author of the Norah’s Children Trilogy

“John Vanek brings small-town Oberlin, Ohio, to life. Locals will recognize familiar people, places, and threads of Oberlin history woven throughout the story as Father Jake Austin reconnects with his past and gets caught in a web of deadly vendettas.”

—Liz Schultz, Executive Director of the Oberlin Heritage Center

When Father Jake Austin is assigned to his hometown of Oberlin, Ohio, in July of 2002, he has been away for a long time. A physician and a war veteran before entering a Catholic seminary, he is now a member of the Camillian Order. He takes comfort in his vows of obedience, poverty, chastity, and service to the sick.

Jake arrives just in time to attend his high school reunion, where an encounter with his high school sweetheart forces him to question his commitment to the priesthood. Before the night is over, one of his classmates will be dead, a second gravely wounded, and a third hospitalized. The carnage at the reunion comes on the heels of what appears to be an unrelated murder at the quarry. Overseeing the investigation is Jake’s former football teammate, Chief of Police Tremont “Tree” Macon, who is unwilling to rule out anyone as a suspect, not even Jake. As he struggles to prove his innocence and to find his footing in a town that remembers him as a hellion, Jake searches for threads that will connect these brutal attacks.

The war may be long past, but in some ways Jake is still waiting for his DEROS: Date of Expected Return from Overseas. Can he put aside his own demons long enough to find the living, breathing devil who stalks his classmates?

Says Dr. Vanek, “I practiced medicine at the real St. Joseph Hospital in Lorain, Ohio until it closed its doors in 1997. Father Jake Austin is a fictional character, but aspects of his personality and struggles are modeled after two Catholic priests who were my close friends and confidants. When I first met them, I expected the usual stereotypes, but when their Roman collars came off and we kicked back with a few beers, I found that they were simply human. Seeing these men wrestle with the same emotions that we all share shattered my stereotypes and preconceived notions about the priesthood. I wanted to portray Father Jake as a spiritual man, but with all of the flaws of any human being.”

John Vanek received his bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University, his medical degree from the University of Rochester, did his internship at University Hospitals of Cleveland, and completed his residency at the Cleveland Clinic. His poetry has won contests and has been published in a variety of literary journals, anthologies, and magazines. John lives in Florida, where he teaches a poetry workshop for seniors. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Jake, my man, you’re here. I’ll have to cancel the APB I put out on you.” He slapped my back and gestured toward the assembled multitude. “Quite a turnout, huh?”

“As crowded as Heaven after a revival meeting.”

“Or Hell after a hooker’s convention.”

Tree’s grin faded and his face hardened to black granite. He downed the brown liquid in his glass, crunched an ice cube, and his eyes wandered across the ballroom.

“Tree, are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry,” he said softly. “Been a bitch of a day. I had to tell my wife that a young woman she knows was found murdered at the quarry. The victim loved men, money, and partying. That makes for a lot of suspects. I got a real strong hunch who the doer is, but no hard evidence to back it up. The case is already beginning to feel like a damn dead-end.”

“Maybe CSI will find fingerprints or something.”

“You watch too much TV, Jake. This isn’t the Big Apple. Here, CSI is a box in the trunk of my cruiser. I did call in the Bureau of Criminal Identification for help. They’re a state agency that assists small towns by analyzing DNA and ballistics, loaning forensic techs and equipment, those sorts of things.”

“A murder in little old Oberlin of all places. Unbelievable!”

“Happens, but not often.”

“Is that why you spoke with McDermott today? What does he have to do with it?”

Tree leaned in and lowered his voice even more. “McDermott’s a mean, shit-kicking dumbass, and that’s a dangerous combination. He’s always on my radar. Like my mama used to say, ‘What’s in the well eventually comes up in the bucket.’ ”

We paused as a nearby trio exploded into peals of laughter. Tree draped a heavy arm across my shoulders and guided me to a quiet corner.

“The punk you knew in school, Jake, grew into a greedy, cutthroat businessman. As he did, he seemed to rot from the inside. It’s been scary to watch. The more McDermott’s bank account grew, the lower he sank as a human being. Or maybe it was the other way around.” He chomped the last ice fragment and gazed into his empty glass as if it were a crystal ball. “The dead woman at the quarry worked for him. Rumor has it, he was humping her. That’s why I had a heart-to-heart with him today.”

“To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a saint named Everett, and the guy we know will never have a feast day, but that doesn’t make him a killer.”

“True, but guess where we found the dead woman’s missing car?”

“No idea.”

“Dumped in a gully, not far from McDermott’s place. It’s all circumstantial, but he lawyered up quick. I plan to spend the week turning his life inside out, then I’m gonna crawl up his ass and pitch a tent till I can nail him.” Tree grimaced, set his glass down, and massaged his temples. The spinning, mirrored ceiling globe imparted a subtle twinkle to his shaved head. “Or maybe I’ll get lucky and have a stroke before I have to deal with him.” He laughed without a trace of humor, then added, “Enough shop-talk. Let’s get us a drink.”

He strode to the bar and flagged down the bartender.

“Jack Daniel’s on the rocks for me. What’ll it be, Jake? I’m buying.”

After the day I’d had, I felt like I could have chugged an entire Mason jar of Mr. Daniel’s fine Tennessee whiskey. I’d just walked into my turbulent past, however, and it was prudent to remain in control until I got the lay of the land and a handle on my own emotions. Prudence was a virtue I’d acquired out of necessity over the years after taking my lumps at the School of Hard Knocks.

“Ah … a ginger ale, thanks.”

“I hear the Shirley Temples are really tasty and come with tiny paper umbrellas.” Tree peered down from his six-foot-six-inch vantage point. “Back in the day, your beverage of choice was anything short of rubbing alcohol. This a priest thing? Your collar’s off now, Father. Relax.”

“It has more to do with my class prophecy, ‘Most likely to get a drunk and disorderly.’ ” I shrugged. “I used up my quota of both after the war, so I take it easy now. I’ll grab a drink with dinner.”

“Okay. That’s probably a good thing, because you were a handful back in school when you were on the sauce. Booze flared up your temper like gasoline on a bonfire. I sure as hell don’t want you in my drunk tank tonight.” Tree frowned and his eyebrows moved down and in, narrowing his eyes to slits. “Anything else I should know about you?”

“Plenty, but some other time. Let’s mingle.”

We squeezed through a gauntlet of humanity past the hors d’oeuvres table. Although the Bee Gees recommended “Stayin’ Alive,” definitely sensible advice, the aroma of fried cholesterol drew folks to the bacon-wrapped shrimp like moths to a flame.

Tree was on a mission, glad-handing and backslapping his way to job security. While he commanded the spotlight, smiling and chatting up the crowd, I lurked in his shadow, watching an eerie 35 mm-filmstrip version of my 1970s life.

We met couples who had been married so many years that they’d begun to look alike, more than a few divorcées, and the occasional trophy wife showcased in designer clothing and sparkling jewelry. If one or two of these wealthy folks belonged to my parish, the church collection basket would runneth over.

The redheads in the room drew my attention. I half expected to see the woman who’d dashed from the confessional. The ladies in the ballroom, however, were decidedly older, stockier, and probably bottle-red.

As Frankie Valli insisted that we were all too darn good to be true, Tree guided me through a haze of perfume, across the raised dance floor, and toward a table.

“Let’s park it awhile, Jake.”

As we neared, I recognized Emily immediately. My chest tightened and my knees turned to Jell-O.

Crazy Rhythm, by T.W. Emory: Book 2 in a Mystery Series Set in 1950s Seattle

In “logs to luxury” Broadmoor, the “old” money wasn’t really so old.

Crazy Rhythm ($14.95, 256 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-752-3) is the second mystery by T.W. Emory set in 1950s Seattle and featuring PI Gunnar Nilson. While searching for the killer of a small-time hustler, Gunnar is hired to investigate a series of menacing phone calls made to a wealthy ice princess.

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“A robust evocation of 1950s Ballard—back when it was a working-class neighborhood, not a hotbed of hipsters. Hard-boiled private eye Gunnar Nilson investigates, among other cases, the story of a murdered gambler.” Read more….

—Adam Woog for the Seattle Times

“Fans of throwback PI novels will find plenty to like.” Read more….

—Publishers Weekly

“Emory and his character, Gunnar are good guys with hearts of gold. The crimes get solved and readers will be looking forward to what happens to Gunnar, his friends and girlfriends, and where his job will take him next.”  Read more…

—Susan Hoover, Reviewing the Evidence

Trouble in Rooster Paradise was a finalist for the Shamus Award and a hit with the critics:

“An affectionate nod to noir fiction and its tough guys and dolls…. Good, vivid stuff.” —Adam Woog, The Seattle Times

“Emory’s first novel vividly evokes the ambiance of classic American hard-boiled crime writing.” —Publishers Weekly

“Gunnar Nilson, Emory’s clove-chewing gumshoe with an eye for the ladies is every cliché in the book when it comes to hard-boiled detective stories, but to a great extent that’s what makes this novel such a pleasure.” —Reviewing the Evidence

“Emory skillfully evokes this era of class distinctions and gender inequity. [….] I was happy to be plunged into Nilson’s tale in the 1950s.” —Historical Novel Society

“This wonderful series began with the title, Trouble in Rooster Paradise, which introduced some extremely colorful characters, including the star of the series, Mr. Gunnar
Nilson, P.I. [….] Readers will be thrilled that this series has continued. The tale is rich, and it will be interesting to see what Gunnar Nilson, P.I. is called upon to solve next time around.”
–Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian and Co-Owner of The Write Companion for Suspense Magazine

In the summer of 1950, private eye Gunnar Nilson reluctantly agrees to accompany Rune Granholm on an errand to collect gambling winnings. When Gunnar arrives at Rune’s Wallingford apartment, he finds the man dead, shot with his own gun. No one much cared for the caddish ne’er-do-well, but Gunnar feels he owes it to Rune’s brother, a good friend and casualty of World War II, to find the killer. When a paying client arrives, Gunnar puts this investigation aside.

Attorney Ethan Calmer wants him to investigate a series of phone calls menacing his fiancée, Mercedes Atwood. Mercedes lives in Broadmoor, a tony neighborhood occupied by Seattle’s moneyed class, many of whom are descended from lumber barons. A poor little rich girl, Mercedes is beautiful but strangely passionless.

Then, like the hula-girl lamp in the apartment of the late and unlamented Rune, Mercedes shows him her moves. Gunnar soon wonders if the two cases might be connected in some way, but how, exactly?

Says T.W., “The puzzle-solving aspect of detective fiction is one of its chief appeals, and with this book I sought to write a mystery that was a whodunit and also somewhat of a ‘What the hell happened,’ as one mystery writer once phrased it.”

Born into a blue collar family in Seattle, Washington, and raised in the suburbs of the greater Seattle area, T.W. Emory has been an avid reader since his early teens. In addition to writing, T.W. enjoys cartooning as a hobby and provided the illustrations for the covers of Trouble in Rooster Paradise and Crazy Rhythm. He currently lives north of Seattle with his wife and two sons. For more information, go to www.twemoryauthor.com.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I parked my coupe on Forty-Fifth Street. It was still light out when I arrived. My Longines said 8:53 as I slammed my car door shut.

The bakery was a two-story brick building shaped like a rectangle. I walked around back to an outdoor stairway that led up to a small deck enclosed with a three-foot-high wood railing that served as Rune’s front porch. The apartment had likely once been home to the bakery owners, but now it served as a caretaker’s flat—though “caretaker” is not the word I’d have used to describe Rune. I’d have dropped the word “care” altogether.

I could see his door was wide open, so I went up the back stairs slowly, making thumping noises to let him know I was coming. You never know what a young single guy might be up to—especially a guy like Rune.

Next to the front door was an adjustable canvas-and-wood lawn chair. Alongside it on the deck near where Rune would plant his feet sat a ceramic ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts.

I rapped loudly on the door frame with my knuckles and called out, “Gunnar’s here!”

No answer. I stepped inside. Immediately my feet decided to stay put.

Each wall had a window with gray pull-down shades, and someone with a severe case of agoraphobia had them all pulled down to keep out prying eyes. But Rune was anything but an agoraphobic.

Only one light was left on. It was coming from one of those hula girl motion lamps with a swivel setting so that the bare-breasted wahine actually gyrated in her grass skirt. She wasn’t gyrating at the moment, however. It was as if she sensed there’d be no point.

The walls had the kind of smooth patina that comes from numerous tenants and many layers of paint. If you didn’t count a tiny bathroom and a tinier clothes closet with their doors left wide open, the place was just one big room. There was a small kitchenette in one corner off to my right, marked off by a small half wall with a countertop. Diagonally across the room from that was a mirror-backed putaway Murphy bed. The intervening space had a tan carpet and furniture of so-so quality but not much of it. A mismatched armchair was parked next to a sofa upholstered with clashing jacquard fabric. A small end table with the hula girl lamp was near the chair. Next to the base of the lamp was a pricey Contax camera that Rune had more than likely borrowed. I knew that Rune owned a Colt .32 automatic with mother-of-pearl grips, but it was nowhere in sight, even though an open box of ammunition was sitting right next to the camera. Beside the sofa was a small chairside radio stuffed with magazines that spilled out of its built-in book rack.

Peeking just past the radio was a pair of brown-and-white shoes. They were still on the feet that wore them when I’d seen them earlier in the evening. My stomach got tight and I suddenly felt crawly all over. His feet didn’t move, so mine finally did.

I circled around the sofa.

He was on his back.

His dreamy brown eyes stared off at nothing in particular. His hair was tousled and his lips were parted and fixed in a grin, as if he was about to ask an important question. His arms were at his sides, the left hand out a bit, the right hand partially pinned under him. He wasn’t wearing his cream-colored sports jacket, and the red in his Hawaiian shirt was now a deeper hue around his chest.

He was as motionless as his hula girl lamp. I kneeled down and touched his neck anyway. He was still warm, but there was no thump, no pound, no throb. His swivel setting had definitely been switched off. Aloha Rune.

Parkinson Pete’s Bookshelves: Peter G. Beidler Reviews 89 Works of Fiction and Nonfiction Relating to Parkinson’s Disease

parkinson_bookshelvesParkinson Pete’s Bookshelves: Reviews of Eighty-Nine Books about Parkinson’s Disease ($15.95, 260 pp., 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-746-2), is an invaluable reference work for anyone who lives with the disease or knows someone living with the disease. The book is divided into three sections: 30 works of nonfiction by doctors and others who do not have the disease, 36 works of nonfiction by doctors and others with the disease, and 23 novels featuring characters with the disease.

** Click the cover image to order online **

** Or order it for your Kindle **

Peter G. Beidler, aka “Parkinson Pete,” is the Lucy G. Moses Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He has published widely on pedagogy and on authors as diverse as Geoffrey Chaucer, Henry James, Mark Twain, J. D. Salinger, and Louise Erdrich. Parkinson Pete’s Bookshelves is his sixth book with Coffeetown Press. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2006. He lives in Seattle, WA.

Parkinson’s disease has struck more than a million people in the United States, and many more worldwide. Although it is an incurable, progressive, and ultimately debilitating neurological disease, Parkinson’s can be managed with certain medicines, treated with certain surgeries, and slowed down with regular exercise and nutritional regimens.

In the past two decades, many conflicting and confusing books about Parkinson’s disease have appeared. Some were written by doctors who have been trained to study and treat the disease. Some were written by men and women with the disease who wanted to share with others what they have learned. Still others are novels about fictional characters with Parkinson’s.

How are doctors, patients, families, friends, and reference librarians to know which book or books will best serve the particular needs of readers? Parkinson Pete spent several years collecting, reading, and writing reviews of eighty-nine books about the disease. His no-nonsense reviews are an indispensable guide for people who want to know what books will most help them understand Parkinson’s disease, the people who have it, and the people who treat it.

Says Beidler, “The point is not to impose on others my quirky likes and dislikes, but rather to help readers choose which ones are most likely to give them the information they seek. If my evaluation is important to you, you will probably be able to tell from the tone of my reviews which ones I was most impressed with and which ones I was most skeptical about.”

Keep reading for an excerpt:

At the beginning I found myself wanting to read especially the books on Shelf A. I wanted facts, information about my disease and its history, about the medicines I might take, the surgeries I might be eligible for, the long-term prognosis, the likelihood of a cure. As I read the books on Shelf A, however, I sometimes found myself feeling like I was all body, no spirit. I sometimes felt that I was being talked down to by people who sometimes seemed to be more interested in my disease than in me. After that, I found myself drawn to the books on Shelf B, books written by people with my disease. I wanted to hear from people like me who knew what it felt like to have Parkinson’s, who had experienced first-hand the confusion and the terror that comes with the diagnosis. I wanted not so much scientific facts by supposedly dispassionate doctors and other professionals, but information and advice from other people who had walked in my trembling footsteps and stumbling shoes. And then I found myself picking up the novels on Shelf C. These were books that told a story, often an exciting story, about people who had Parkinson’s. I found that the Shelf C books were particularly useful in portraying two kinds of nasty reality that the writers of both Shelf A and Shelf B tended to shy away from. One of these was the stresses that Parkinson’s visits on families of men and women with Parkinson’s. The other was how people in the later stages of the disease live and how they die.

The Hapsburg Variation, by Bill Rapp: Death and Abduction in Postwar Vienna

hapsburg_variationThe Hapsburg Variation ($15.95, 264 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-643-4) is a historical mystery by Bill Rapp. As the Allies prepare to sign the State Treaty granting Vienna its independence, a CIA agent investigates the case of a murdered aristocrat in hopes that it will lead him to his kidnapped wife.

** Click the cover image to order online **

** Or order it for your Kindle, Nook, or in other digital formats on Smashwords **

Rapp worked at the CIA for thirty-five years as an analyst, diplomat, and senior manager. He is also the author of a three-book series of detective fiction set outside Chicago with PI Bill Habermann and a thriller set during the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Hapsburg Variation is the second book in the Cold War series, which began with Tears of Innocence.

“Set in 1955, Rapp’s sturdy second thriller finds the CIA officer stationed in Vienna as the deputy chief of station. [….] Rapp, a 35-year veteran of the CIA fills his tale of Cold War intrigue with authentic historical detail.” Read more….

Publishers Weekly

The Hapsburg Variation is a rock-solid espionage tale that will hook you from page one. This is the rare thriller, set at the leading edge of the Cold War, that’s so totally authentic you are immersed in the atmosphere of the times and you might expect a young George Smiley to pop in at any moment. A great story that keeps you on the razor’s edge of tension right to the end. The book’s hero, Karl Baier, is the most fascinating character of his type since Len Deighton’s unnamed agent in Funeral in Berlin—a man you’ll relate to even if his story takes place before you were born.”

—Austin S. Camacho, author of the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series

“An entertaining read […] imbued with history and the global politics of the 1950s.”

—The New York Journal of Books

“…I liked the writing, the post-war ambiance, the characters, and the nasty geo-politics well enough to be willing to think I should get the first novel and start over at the beginning.” Read more…

—Historical Novel Society

Eight years into his career with the CIA, Karl Baier once again finds himself on the front line of the Cold War. He is stationed in Vienna in the spring of 1955 as Austria and the four Allied Powers are set to sign the State Treaty, which will return Austria’s independence, end the country’s post-war occupation, and hopefully reduce tensions in the heart of Europe. But the Treaty will also establish Austrian neutrality, and many in the West fear it will secure Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and create a permanent division.

Asked to help investigate the death of an Austrian aristocrat and Wehrmacht veteran, Baier discovers an ambitious plan not only to block the State Treaty, but also to subvert Soviet rule in lands of the old Hapsburg Empire. Then Baier’s wife is kidnapped, and the mission becomes intensely personal. Many of his basic assumptions are challenged, and he discovers that he cannot count on loyalties, even back home in Washington, D.C. At each maddening turn in the investigation, another layer must be peeled away.

Even if Baier succeeds in rescuing his wife, he faces the unenviable task of unraveling an intricate web of intrigue that reaches far back into the complicated history of Central Europe.

Says Rapp, “I have a PhD in European History and have always been fascinated by the collapse of the world order that existed before WWI. In 1955 the USA was front and center in its leadership role for the West, and the USSR was working to expand and consolidate its influence in the region. I hoped to capture the excitement and intrigue of this period of confrontation and transition as well as make the grandeur of postwar Vienna and the fading Hapsburg Empire come alive for readers.”

Bill Rapp lives in northern Virginia with his wife, two daughters, two miniature schnauzers, and a cat. Click here to find Bill online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Turnbridge pointed toward the body. “But what could this man have to do with our interests or the State Treaty, for that matter?”

Huetzing nodded again, apparently his way of acknowledging the question. “Hopefully nothing. But there is the matter of his jacket, which suggests an affiliation with the previous regime and its military forces. We also hope to identify him shortly, which should help us determine if there will indeed be complications. His jacket suggests he may have just made his way back here from the Soviet Union, and we naturally want to ensure that his departure and travels were all above board, as you say.” The Austrian sighed and glanced up and down the riverbank. “Moreover, until we know the exact circumstances of his death, it is probably best that we all keep an open mind.”

Baier and Turnbridge glanced at each other, then Baier studied the French and the Soviet officers. Both wore blank expressions, as though they had understood nothing and cared even less. Baier stepped closer to the body and found a face that appeared to be too old for active military service, although an extended period in Soviet captivity would age any man quickly. Still, Baier guessed his age as no younger than fifty. There were no other clues as to his background. The pants were made of a light-gray wool, and the shoes were of a well-worn black leather that looked as though they might have cost a fair bit when they were new. Of course, Baier had no way of knowing when that was, or if they originally belonged to this individual. The hands were rough and weathered, not surprising in one who’d performed years of hard labor in the USSR. Of course they didn’t know if the man had indeed just returned from Soviet captivity or even been a prisoner there at all. Baier sighed, wondering just what they were supposed to know this early on. Or why they should even bother. The loose cotton shirt gave even less indication of the man’s history, covered as it was with a large bloodstain over the chest.

“Oh, one other thing, gentlemen,” the Austrian Huetzing announced. “This man was not shot here. He appears to have been killed somewhere else, and then whoever committed the crime dumped the body here.” He pointed at the ground and circled the area with his index finger. “You see, there is no blood around here, and no sign of a struggle.”

“Would you be able to determine that so soon and in this light?” the Frenchman asked. Baier grinned. So, the guy did speak English.

Huetzing nodded again. “Oh, quite.” He looked upward. “The sun is already coming out, so we have been able to see well enough. And I think you will find that we are not so primitive in our investigations here. It may not be Paris, but we have done this sort of thing before.”

Big Dreams Cost Too Much, A Valentin Vermeulen Novella by Michael Niemann

dreams_kindleBig Dreams Cost Too Much (Kindle Single, $2.99) is a novella featuring Valentin Vermeulen, a United Nations fraud investigator who is featured in two other short stories and two full-length international mystery/thrillers, Legitimate Business and Illicit Trade. Book 3, Illegal Holdings, will be released on March 1, 2018. Sent to a peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, Vermeulen clashes with a beautiful but ruthless widow.

** Click the cover image to order the eBook for your Kindle **

The story that introduced Valentin Vermeulen, “Africa Always Needs Guns,” is also available exclusively on Amazon for $.99.

United Nations Investigator Valentin Vermeulen has been sent to a peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast, West Africa. After falsely accusing a higher-up at the UN, he is relegated to ferret out a suspected fraud in the miserably wet, politically volatile city of Yamoussoukro. A large amount of fuel has gone unaccounted for, and the culprit seems to be a petty bureaucrat named Khoury. But after Vermeulen confronts the man, he is shot and his death declared a suicide.

Vermeulen knows Khoury’s death was no suicide. He heard the gunshot and saw a young thug leave Khoury’s office. The suicide note did not appear until later. Vermeulen’s search for answers takes him to the offices of a beautiful widow, Desirée Doué, who runs a cocoa export company. For security, Madame Doué employs a group of young hoodlums known as the Jeunes Patriotes, and Khoury’s killer is one of them. Obviously someone in the UN is in league with her, but with the city’s politics in disarray, how will Vermeulen stop the perpetrators and remain alive? Fortunately he has an ally, Kwame Appiah, a member of UN troops with a trick or two up his sleeve.

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career, he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he embarked on a different way to write about the world.

For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Bonsoir, Monsieur Vermeulen. Je suis Desirée Doué,” she said. Her French was the accent-free sort taught in expensive boarding schools. She traced the welt on my forehead with her index finger. I almost winced, but her touch was so light, it felt soothing. “Oh my, this looks bad. Why didn’t you just come along? Don’t you like invitations by beautiful women?”

“I don’t accept invitations delivered by thugs. Since you know who I am, you could have contacted me the conventional way. But using thugs seems to be your modus operandi.”

Her smile thinned in response to my gibe, but she retained her composure. Taking my hand, she led me to a chair in front of the desk.

“Come, sit. Let’s not dwell on the past. I’m pleased you are here. I don’t often get visitors from abroad. And interesting men like you are even rarer.”

Her flirty demeanor seemed out of place in this well-appointed office. The dark wood, the generous seating area off to one side of the desk, and the leather chairs all radiated a more masculine type of power.

“What do you want?” I said.

“I’m a businesswoman.” She sat down behind the desk. “I had you brought here because I have a proposition to put to you.”

“The kind of proposition you put to Khoury? Thanks, I’m not interested.”

She held up her hands, palms out, like a patient teacher.

“Just let me explain before you jump to conclusions. I’m a cocoa merchant. I inherited the business from my late husband a decade ago.”

That explained the office décor and the framed photograph hanging on the wall behind her under two crossed spears, depicting an older African man with white hair.

“You know how important cocoa is to the economy of our country. The civil war in 2003 made life difficult for traders like me. Everything was in turmoil. Once the UN arrived, we worked out a modus vivendi. The South exported via our port in San Pedro, the North via Burkina Faso and Togo.”

“What does that have to do with your kidnapping me? I don’t need a history lesson.”

Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon, by Clive Rosengren: a Femme Fatale with a Heart of Gold

velvetVelvet on a Tuesday Afternoon ($14.95, 224 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-625-0), is book three of Clive Rosengren’s mystery series set in Hollywood and featuring private investigator/part-time actor Eddie Collins. When an actress/exotic dancer from Eddie Collins’ past hires him to find her brother, he risks his life to both locate Frankie and keep her safe.

** Click the cover image to order online **

** Or buy it for your Kindle, Nook, or other digital formats on Smashwords **

Eddie is the real thing, thanks to Rosengren’s eighteen years as a Hollywood character actor. In October Coffeetown reprinted the first two mysteries in this series, Murder Unscripted ($14.95, 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-669-4), and Red Desert ($14.95, 184 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-667-0). Both books were finalists for the Shamus Award, sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.

“[In] Rosengren’s assured third Eddie Collins mystery [….] Eddie proves to be a pretty resourceful and impressive detective.” Read more….
—Publishers Weekly

“While the investigation is interesting—what’s in those cartons being stored in a large warehouse, and what do they have to do with the missing brother?—the heart of this story is Eddie’s reaction to Velvet’s reappearance in his life. In short, the book’s more intriguing moments are wrapped around the love story, not the mystery. Eddie is a good guy who has a talent for getting himself into bad places, but unlike most of Tinseltown’s cynical PIs, this eminently likable protagonist maintains enough inner innocence to make an unlikely love story believable, even when the weather turns bad.”

—Betty Webb for Mystery Scene Magazine

“A contemporary mystery with a classic gumshoe feel, Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon is the third book in the Eddie Collins Mystery series. Although the book can be read as a stand-alone, it is best to read the series in order to avoid spoilers. With an older but lively main character and a sultry heroine, this book oozes steam, balanced nicely with a complicated mystery. Packed with action, romance, and intrigue, the story only lacks standout side characters and an interesting setting to take it to the next level. Overall, lovers of contemporary romance and classic mysteries will find this book hard to overlook.”

—Sarah E Bradley for InD’tale Magazine

5 Stars: “It was enjoyable and entertaining to discover and read Velvet On A Tuesday Afternoon by Clive Rosengren. The author immediately transports us to Los Angeles. But not the three Bs, Brentwood, Bel-Aire and Beverly Hills. No, this is the L.A. of Hollywood and downtown, and Skid Row. Homeless and impoverished. Eddie Collins is our hero, a sometime actor and full-time P.I. His ex-girlfriend asks Eddie to find her brother. How hard could that be? A lot harder than Eddie anticipates. The story is twisty and unpredictable, just what a mystery should be.” Read more….

—Steve Aberle, Great Mysteries and Thrillers Blog

For PI Eddie Collins, the moment Carla Rizzoli sashays into his office casts him deliciously into a scene from a classic noir. Only this femme fatale is a sweet ghost from his past, a time when he made his living exclusively as an actor. Then she was a full-time actress too, and they’d dated briefly before an old flame came back into her life. Now she’s known as Velvet La Rose and making a steady living as an exotic dancer at the Feline Follies. She needs Eddie’s services to find her missing brother Frankie Rizzoli, who sent her a cryptic message warning her to watch her back.

Eddie falls hard for Carla, who hasn’t given up on acting. In fact, she’s about to start work on a B-movie, Festival of Death. Now motivated by more than a paycheck, Eddie searches for Frankie, last seen hiding out among the homeless. Frankie was once a member of the military police, and an old photo identifies an old Army buddy, James Curran, who starts to cross paths with both Eddie and Carla with increasing frequency.

What is Frankie mixed up in and why doesn’t he want to be found? How does James Curran figure in? As Eddie questions the residents of Skid Row and works undercover as an extra in Festival of Death, he searches in vain for the links between Frankie and James and Carla. He needs answers soon, or Carla may slip through his fingers again, this time into oblivion.

Books 1 and 2, also available in audiobooks produced by Blackstone Audio, were hits with readers and critics:

Murder Unscripted: “I like this character Eddie Collins. He’s tough, funny and has the classic private eye’s world-weary wisdom. I hope to see much more of him.” —Michael Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch series

“Blasting out of a time warp, straight from the 1940s. [Murder Unscripted] is set in modern Hollywood, but it’s old-time California noir, right down to its Bakelite heart [….] luscious.” —Booklist

“The plot purrs along fast and smooth [….] The ending of Murder Unscripted delivers the reader a sweet surprise.” —Mystery Scene

Red Desert: “My friend Clive Rosengren has created a guy I’d like to get to know: Eddie Collins. I wouldn’t mess with him, but you’d want his number in your wallet.” —Tom Hanks

Red Desert: “Besides the standard pleasures of a well-plotted mystery-thriller, the Eddie Collins novels excel in delivering a giggle-fest of Hollywood history and gossip.” —Mystery Scene

Says Rosengren: “Several years ago at Christmas, my brother, sister-in-law, and myself were visiting my nephew and his wife. While walking back to their home after dinner at a restaurant, my nephew’s wife uttered the phrase ‘velvet on a Tuesday afternoon.’ I can’t remember the context of their conversation, but I immediately seized on the wording and told her I was going to use it as a title. It rolled around in my head for several years, conjuring up exotic and romantic images, which eventually evolved into Carla Rizzoli, a love interest that comes back into Eddie Collins’ life. In the first two books, I’d kind of pictured Eddie as being gun shy when it comes to women, but when this former lover appears in his office asking for his help, he can’t resist. Of course, the fact that Carla works as an exotic dancer at a gentlemen’s club under the name of Velvet La Rose might have something to do with the thawing of his resistance.”

Clive Rosengren’s acting career spanned more than forty years, beginning with stage work and ending in Hollywood. Movie credits include Ed Wood, Soapdish, Cobb, and Bugsy. Among numerous television credits are Seinfeld, Home Improvement, and Cheers. He lives in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Click here to find him online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

My cellphone went off, and law-abiding citizen that I am, I pulled over, put the car in park, and looked at the screen. It was Carla Rizzoli, my client.

“Hey, Carla. Thanks for getting back to me.”

“I’m glad you called. I’ve got some great news.”

“What’s that?”

“I got booked on that movie I told you about.”

“Well, all right. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. I start on Monday.”

“That’s terrific.”

“Any news on your end, Eddie?”

“A little, actually. Where are you?”

“At the Follies. I’m between sets.”

“Well, I’m in the neighborhood. Thought maybe I could swing by and bring you up to speed.”

“Absolutely. You know where it is, right?”

I told her I did and said I’d see her in a bit. Popping into a gentlemen’s club in the middle of the day wasn’t something I was accustomed to, but hey, business is business, right?

I nosed back into traffic and continued west on Century. At La Brea I turned right, did the same on Hardy, and then a left on Larch. The street held a mix of apartment complexes and single-family dwellings. Phil Scarborough’s address was on the left. I parked across the street. The house was small and painted egg-shell blue. A front yard was neatly trimmed, and a set of rose bushes ran along an open porch. A red Toyota RAV4 sat in the driveway.

I walked up to the threshold and noticed an elderly black man next door. He was on his knees, working on an array of yellow flowers surrounding a small tree in his front yard. When he saw me, he sat back on his haunches and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

I knocked on the aluminum screen door. Venetian blinds covered a window and the only sound I could hear was a plane approaching LAX from the east. I knocked again and turned to look at the Toyota RAV4, locking the license plate digits into my head. A third knock also resulted in nothing, so I turned to go and saw a small gap appear in the Venetian blinds. Someone was inside but wasn’t about to answer the door.

As I started heading back to my car, the gardener next door got to his feet and stepped to the edge of the driveway. “I ain’t seen the guy lately.”

“Phil Scarborough, right?” I said.

“That his name? You got me. Never really met him.”

“Is this his Toyota?”

“Don’t rightly know. I seen another fella show up a few days ago. Could be his.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Nice-looking yard you got there.”

“Whatchu lookin’ for him for? You police?”

“No, sir. Publishers Clearing House. He might have won some money.”

“Sheeet, man. You yankin’ my chain. Crawl back in your fuckin’ car and skedaddle outta here.” He shook his head and started walking down his driveway.

I got behind the wheel, picked up my camera and zoomed in on the Toyota RAV4. I took a couple of shots and then focused on the license plate and got all the digits. While I was at it, I aimed the camera at the window with the Venetian blinds. This time the gap was bigger and a person’s face was clearly visible.

Africa Always Needs Guns, a Valentin Vermeulen Short Story by Michael Niemann

africa_kindle“Africa Always Needs Guns” introduces Valentin Vermeulen, who is featured in two other short stories and two full-length mystery/thrillers, Legitimate Business and Illicit Trade. Book 3, Illegal Holdings, will be released on March 1, 2018.

** Click the cover image to order the $.99 Kindle Single **

An earlier version of “Africa Always Needs Guns” was published in the 2012 Mystery Writers Association of America anthology Vengeance, edited by Lee Child.

United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services Investigator Valentin Vermeulen has been exiled from the air-conditioned offices in New York City after stepping on some very well-shod toes. Now he is holed up in Eastern Congo, checking cargo planes for contraband at the Bunia Airport. The job is more than thankless. He knows guns are coming in on UN chartered cargo flights, but he can’t prove it. Until he has a run-in with a pilot who is clearly up to no good. With the locals, tired of the never-ending wars, on his side, Vermeulen sees a chance that this time justice will be done.

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career, he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he embarked on a different way to write about the world.

For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“What is that?” Vermeulen asked the corporal.

“A refrigerated unit, sir.”

“What’s in it?” he asked, realizing too late that it was a dumb question.

“Perishable food for the troops. Meat, frozen vegetables and the like.”

Vermeulen nodded. What was that old saying? An army travels on its stomach. UN peacekeepers were no different. They could not feed a whole brigade from local resources. Hell, the locals barely had enough to feed themselves.

Petrovic climbed back into the plane. The white Toyota pickup assigned to Vermeulen waited outside the fence that enclosed the cargo area. He turned toward it. Another wasted day on a lousy mission. Time for a drink.

“To the hotel, monsieur?”

Walia Lukungu’s arm hung out of the window. He was one of the locals fortunate enough to snag a job with the UN. His driving skills, though, were questionable. Vermeulen had the sensation of sitting in a race car whenever they went anywhere.

He was about to nod when one of the soldiers inside the plane called the corporal. The corporal answered, then shrugged.

“Anything the matter?” Vermeulen shouted from the open pickup door.

“No, sir. It’s just that those chaps in Kampala have trouble counting past three. One refrigerated unit more than the cargo manifest says, but one was missing last week. It happens all the time.” The corporal shook his head. “That’s the trouble with farming the work out to contractors.”

It took a moment before the significance of the corporal’s comment sank in. Once it did, Vermeulen felt a familiar adrenaline rush. He ran back to the tent. The container hovered on the tines of the forklift. Its front consisted of a grill that covered the compressor and fan and a large door sealed with a plastic cable tie and some sort of label.

“I must check that extra unit. Now.”

The corporal shook his head.

“You heard Petrovic. We can’t open anything until the cargo is signed for.”

“I don’t care. I’ll take responsibility for opening it.”

Vermeulen signaled the forklift driver to place the unit on the ground. He pulled his penknife from his pocket and bent down to cut the plastic tie. A strong hand grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back from the container. Petrovic.

“Keep your fucking hands off that unit,” he hissed, taking a boxer’s stance.