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.

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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

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.

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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.

Murder Unscripted and Red Desert: Introducing Clive Rosengren's PI Eddie Collins

murder_unscriptedMurder Unscripted ($14.95, 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-669-4), and Red Desert ($14.95, 184 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-667-0) are books 1 and 2 of Clive Rosengren’s Eddie Collins Mystery series. Both books were finalists for the Shamus Award, sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America. Book 3, Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon, will be released on December 1. Set in the Hollywood, the series features part-time actor and full-time private investigator Eddie Collins, a tough guy with a tender heart and a wicked sense of humor.

Murder Unscripted introduces Eddie Collins. When his movie star ex-wife is found dead on the set of her latest movie, Eddie is tasked with finding her killer.

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red_desertIn Red Desert, Eddie is hired by his A-list actor friend to investigate after the man’s Oscar is stolen and his girlfriend is found dead.

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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

Murder Unscripted

Eddie Collins’ part-time actor pursuits take on a new dimension when his ex-wife, Elaine Weddington, turns up dead while filming her latest movie Flames of Desire. The production’s insurance company hires Eddie to represent their interests in the Americana Pictures film. Private eye is his main gig now, although he doesn’t turn his back on acting jobs when they come his way.

Elaine was a star of sorts, though her pictures were B-movies and never up for major awards. Encroaching middle age meant her leading-lady days were numbered, and she worked with a lot of jealous wannabes. Did one of them off her? What about her personal assistant or live-in boyfriend?

While searching through Elaine’s trailer, Eddie finds a list of initials with corresponding phone numbers. As he gradually ticks off the entries, he begins to form an unwelcome, less idealized version of Elaine. Then an assistant director is killed as she is about to share a damning revelation. The quest to identify one set of initials almost puts him in the hospital. Can Eddie handle the truth? Will it set him free, or kill him?

Originally published in 2012.

Red Desert

Hollywood PI, sometime actor Eddie Collins is doing a bit on a sitcom when he receives an SOS from an A-list friend. Mike Ford’s Oscar has been stolen during a home invasion and Ford’s girlfriend has drowned in the swimming pool. Did she surprise the burglar? Whoever it was left behind threatening letters, and Eddie is hired to see if he can unearth their source.

All the dots connect around a movie Ford directed and acted in several years earlier: Red Desert. More than a few people associated with that shoot recall it less than fondly. Is one of them harboring a deadly grudge? Eddie has hired Reggie, an old Army buddy, to do surveillance. Soon Reggie, Eddie’s secretary Mavis, and everyone associated with Eddie Collins and Mike Ford seem to be targets. And smoke from the foothills is encroaching on Eddie’s Hollywood home/office. Is Eddie’s world about to go up in flames?

Originally published in 2015.

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. To visit his website, click here. Follow him on Twitter (@cliverosengrenauthor) and like him on FB (cliverosengrenauthor).

An excerpt from Murder Unscripted:

I spotted a payphone right outside the main gate, fished around for two quarters, and sacrificed them to Ma Bell. I punched in my office number and Mavis picked up on the second ring.

“Collins Investigations.”

“It’s your boss, kiddo. What’s up?”

“You got a call from a guy by the name of Chad Wentworth. Vandalia Bond and Casualty. You know him?”

“I don’t know him, but I’ve worked with Vandalia. What did he want?”

“Sounds like he’s got a job for you. Something to do with Americana Pictures.”

She gave me the number and I told her I would check in with her later. After three rings, a very soft voice answered at Vandalia Bond and Casualty. I identified myself and asked for Chad Wentworth. The phone was picked up following a couple of seconds on hold.

“Mr. Collins?”

“Yes, sir, what can I do for you?”

“I understand you’ve worked for us in the past?”

“Right. A few years back. What’s up?”

“We hold the completion bond on a picture called Flames of Desire. It’s shooting over at Americana Pictures. Are you familiar with them?”

“Absolutely. Sam Goldberg’s studio.”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, he referred you to us. Apparently a death has occurred on the set. There’s a good chance the project is in jeopardy. We’d like to put you on retainer to look into it for us.”

“All right,” I said, taking my notebook from my pocket.

“Goldberg suggested you come to his office so he can get you up to speed. Any chance you can get out there today?”

“I’m on my way.”

“Fine. I’ve got your previous contract in front of me. Is your fee still the same?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. Then until you drop by the office, we’ll use our conversation as a handshake. Is that acceptable?”

“Okay by me.” I wrote down the address as he gave it to me. “Who died?”

I heard him shuffling some papers. “One of the stars. Elaine Weddington.”

My pen froze above the slip of paper as I stared at the phone. After a long moment, Wentworth called my name.

I put the receiver back to my ear. “Yes, yes, I’m here.”

“Is there anything else you need from me, Mr. Collins?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, then, I’ll look forward to meeting with you.” He rang off and I stood in shock, the phone hanging limply from my hand.

My knees felt like they were going to buckle. A completion bond company insured a movie, protecting a producer’s investment in case something should go wrong during the production.

Something had definitely gone wrong on this movie. And it resonated deeply with me.

Elaine Weddington was my ex-wife.

An excerpt from Red Desert:

I walked into my office and found some mail on the desk. Bills, mostly, save for today’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter and two residuals. The net total of both would buy me a steak dinner, providing it was a cheap cut and I didn’t order any booze or dessert.

A doorway draped with beads separates my office from my living quarters. As I walked through the strands, I was engulfed by the heat that remained in the studio apartment from the day’s sunlight beating through the south-facing windows. Hitting the light switch and the one for the ceiling fan, I peeled off my shirt and opened the French doors overlooking Hollywood Boulevard. I turned on a large floor fan and put it in front of the windows. It didn’t do much good against the dog days of August, but was better than sitting in dead air.

I punched the remote and flipped the television to a Dodgers game. They were losing to the Giants. I grabbed a beer from the mini-fridge and filled a glass with Mr. Beam to keep it company. After cobbling together a pastrami sandwich, I put it and a bag of chips on a footstool, picked up the copy of the Reporter, and leafed through it. I certainly don’t pretend to have my finger on the pulse of the Hollywood scene, but I try and keep up with who’s doing what to whom in the biz.

As I took a bite of the sandwich, my eye caught a story on one of the inside pages. The headline read: WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN SWIMMING POOL.

The story went on to say that Janice Ebersole, girlfriend of Mike Ford, had been discovered nude, floating in the actor’s Los Feliz swimming pool. It had happened last night. Police said the preliminary investigation was inconclusive. The victim apparently had slipped and struck her head on the edge of the pool. Death appeared to be from drowning.

My sandwich sat untouched in front of me. The story hit home. I knew Mike Ford. We had worked together years ago doing summer stock. Both of us had subsequently come to Hollywood, albeit a few years apart. We’d remained good friends, catching ball games together and enjoying the occasional poker night. He’d even provided me with employment a time or two over the years. A mere month ago, he’d invited me along on a trip to Magic Mountain with his daughter and Janice.

I picked up the remote and channel-surfed until I saw local news footage on the story. On the screen Mike was seen leaving his house on Nottingham and crawling into a black SUV. Reporters hounded him, but he had nothing to say. I was stunned. Mike was a great guy and a fine actor. He’d been handed a couple of good breaks and had capitalized on them to the point where he now commanded top dollar. He’d also gone on to direct some of his pictures. His success as an actor had even garnered a handful of awards, the most noteworthy being the little golden guy called Oscar.

The reporter tossed the story back to the studio and they went to commercial—another irritating shot of a couple sitting in separate bathtubs gazing into a sunset.

I nibbled on the pastrami sandwich, which tasted like Play-Doh. I sipped my beer and absentmindedly surfed through a few channels, finally landing on Turner Classic Movies. All of a sudden, coincidence exploded from the screen. There in front of me was William Holden floating face down in a swimming pool. The scene was from Billy Wilder’s classic, Sunset Boulevard. Norma Desmond’s delusion eventually led to the demise of Holden’s Joe Gillis.

As I listened to Holden’s voiceover, the similarities between reel and real life came cascading into my head. Art imitating reality? Not quite. Unlike Norma Desmond, Mike Ford hadn’t lost his senses. Of that I was certain. What he had lost was a girlfriend.

Let the Dead Bury the Dead, by David Carlson: An Old Priest Meets a Violent End in Detroit

let-the-dead-bury-the-deadLet the Dead Bury the Dead ($14.95, 216 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-395-2) is the second book in a mystery/thriller series by David Carlson featuring Lieutenant Christopher Worthy and his Greek Orthodox monk/priest friend, Father Fortis. When a priest is found strangled in front of the altar, Detective Worthy and Father Fortis delve into his personal and spiritual life for answers.

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“A readable and engaging novel. Carlson’s characters are real and relatable. The quality of a mystery series lies not in how well-crafted the first book is but in how well-written the second is. In this case, the second installment matches the first in quality.”

—Rich Gotshall for the Daily Journal

4 Stars: “A sober and thoughtful mystery that presents a window into the Greek Orthodox denomination. The sleuth team is a troubled homicide detective and a Greek Orthodox monk. They work well together, and their friendship is crucial to the story.” Read more….

—Danielle the Book Huntress for Affaire de Coeur Magazine

Critics and readers had high praise for Book 1, Enter by the Narrow Gate:

“The novel’s prose is rich with religious references and imagery, which add to the unique depth of the novel….The rapport between Worthy and Fortis is easy and enjoyable, and the double case ensures that Enter by the Narrow Gate never slows in action.” —Foreword Reviews

“The real joy in reading this mystery lies in Carlson’s exploration of how faith shapes reasoning and actions, rather than simply the action itself.” —The Daily Journal

“The cultures of New Mexico and its Native American population are explored in depth, offering many insights into the region and its inhabitants while providing a background for this intriguing mystery…. Enter by the Narrow Gate [….] gets these two characters off to a chilling but entertaining start.” —The New York Journal of Books

“A consistently compelling and entertaining read from first page to last…. highly recommended.” —Midwest Book Review

Carlson’s first work of nonfiction, Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World was selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 in the area of Spiritual Living by Library Journal. His second book on religious terrorism, Countering Religious Extremism: The Healing Power of Spiritual Friendships, will be released by New City Press in 2017.

The cover art is by Carlson’s wife, Kathy, a retired English professor and an award-winning artist.

A priest is found brutally strangled before the altar of Detroit’s St. Cosmas Greek Orthodox Church. The captain of the Detroit Police assigns her star detective Christopher Worthy to the case, knowing that the interim priest is Worthy’s close friend Father Fortis. Worthy’s new partner Henderson believes Father Spiro surprised a local thug in the act of stealing a silver altarpiece. This simple solution doesn’t sit right with Detective Worthy and Father Fortis. Small clues have led them to believe the killer is connected to the church.

Father Spiro had recently befriended a rabbi. During the final service he led before he died, why did he falter? Was he drifting into senility or simply distracted? Was he hiding a crisis of faith?

To find the Father Spiro’s killer, Detective Worthy and Father Fortis will have to work together to blend in and observe the priest’s inner circle. Time is a luxury Worthy doesn’t have. His partner’s behavior is erratic, his captain is breathing down his neck, and his troubled daughter Alison is finally reaching out. Then there is the beautiful reporter who is slamming him in print, payback for being kept at arm’s length.

As the case grows colder, Fortis and Worthy worry that the culprit has committed the perfect crime. Yet as they get closer to the truth, neither is prepared for evil that threatens them both.

Says the author, “In Let the Dead Bury the Dead, I bring Christopher Worthy back to his home in Detroit, but his return is anything but a sweet homecoming. He faces an envious colleague, a self-destructive partner, and a reproachful daughter. His problems make his friendship with Father Nicholas Fortis even more of a lifeline as they also delve into their victim’s troubled psyche. The obstacles they face give the story a heightened psychological dimension that I hope will make the story richer for my readers.”

David Carlson has a BA in political science from Wheaton College (Illinois), an M.A. from the American Baptist Seminary of the West (Biblical Theology) and a doctorate from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (New Testament Studies). Franklin College, a traditional liberal arts college in central Indiana, has been his home for the past thirty-eight years. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“When was the last time you saw him?” Worthy asked.

“If I answer that, what will you know? Nothing.”

The secretary came in with the three cups and a tray of cookies.

“Almond crescents,” Rabbi Milkin said. “Spiro’s favorite, right, Leah?”

“Bless his memory,” the secretary added as she left the room.

The rabbi slowly munched a cookie while continuing to gaze at Father Fortis. “My family emigrated from Russia to Palestine, then here. We were driven out by Russian Orthodox Christians, so you will understand that it was a miracle for Spiro and me to find friendship. But even miracles are fragile.”

He took a long sip from his cup as he stood by the window. “One night I couldn’t sleep. I turned on the TV and heard one of those late night preachers. I thought he was funny, but then he said God didn’t listen to the prayers of Jews. He said we weren’t saved. And in that moment I was a boy back in Russia, waiting for someone to knock on my door in the middle of the night. I didn’t sleep at all.”

After a moment’s pause, he continued. “The next day, I called Spiro and asked him to come here. He did. I told him what had happened. Then I demanded that he say the preacher had blasphemed. Do you know what he did, what my friend did?”

Father Fortis shook his head.

“He laughed and told me not to take the fundamentalists so seriously. I exploded and said something horrible. I said I knew what his liturgy—what your liturgy—calls us during your Holy Week.”

Father Fortis looked down at his cup of coffee but didn’t respond.

“You call us ‘the synagogue of Satan.’ Then I said it was people like him, like you, too,” he added, nodding toward Father Fortis, “who’d killed my grandfather.”

“When did you have this argument?” Worthy asked.

“Does it matter? Maybe a year ago, maybe a month or two more or less. The important thing is that four weeks ago, Spiro walked back into this office and asked for a cup of coffee. We embraced, I asked him to forgive me, and he asked me to forgive his people. We had some almond crescents and agreed to start meeting again. Like old times. But then someone killed him.”

“How did he seem that last time? Mentally, I mean?” Worthy asked.

“He’d lost more hair, and he was a man very proud of his hair,” the rabbi said. “I was surprised. I asked if he’d been ill. He said no. I told him to retire.”

Father Fortis and Worthy waited patiently while the rabbi continued to stare out the window. “What did he say to that?” Worthy asked.

“Something strange. He asked if offering forgiveness could ever be wrong, if there were times when absolution gave evil too many chances.”

Muir Woods Or Bust, by Ian Woollen: A Madcap Cross-Country Quest

muir_woodsMuir Woods Or Bust ($14.95, 216 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-597-0) is a work of literary fiction and social satire by Ian Woollen. In a near future plagued by global weather weirding, a psychologist is forced by a manic actor to travel from Bloomington, Indiana, to California for the sake of an audition.

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Woollen’s most recent novel, Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb, was shortlisted for the Balcones Prize. His first novel, Stakeout on Millennium Drive, won the 2006 Best Book of Indiana Fiction Award. His short fiction has surfaced in a variety of journals, including The Massachusetts Review, Fiction Southeast, The Smokelong Quarterly, and The Mid-American Review, from which he received a Sherwood Anderson Prize.

Muir Woods deftly threads modern environmental anxieties and gaming sensibilities into a story inspired by nature advocate John Muir, and binds them together with humor, playfulness, and a great, great deal of heart. This is the third Ian Woollen novel I have read, and I never fail to be struck by the deep but messy love his characters have for each other, and how they always muddle through and come out on the other side imperfect, but redeemed. In a time in which the daily news tends to leave me overwhelmed with anxiety and cynicism, Muir Woods offered a fun, thoughtful and welcome reminder not only to have faith in, but to absolutely relish our shared, flawed humanity.” Read more….

—Books, Personally

“There’s never been a more welcoming time in America than now for irreverent social satire, such as embraced by Ian Woollen’s latest called Muir Woods Or Bust. It winks and grins slyly as you determine to pick it up, a premonition of what you’ll soon be engaged in doing. I certainly welcome Woollen’s earthy, ground-shaking wit on display in its pages and you likely will also. [….] Woollen’s novel upends the classic road trip with two farces of road trips, neither what you could ever expect, and that’s the beauty of it. I had no idea that all this zaniness would transform and snap-awake the mentally-stuck characters, somewhat like it could for the hapless environment stuck with a bad press, it seems to me. Muir Woods Or Bust, take the stage, please!” Read more….

—Jan Peregrine for CompulsiveReader.com

“An inventive, creative romp through the American psyche, starting in the Midwest, with Midwest heart. [….] It’s cli-fi (climate fiction) and a whole lot more too. [….] Woollen always cares about the characters as people and makes you care too. I’ve read all three of his novels. They share a delight with quirky people, odd plots, with writing that engages the reader. More, please.” Read more….

—Bob Morris, Politics in the Zeros

“Woollen weaves together contemporary anxieties with the early voices of America’s environmental movement to create a page-turner that is both universal and intimate. It’s an insightful and heartfelt adventure. Prescient, wry and wholly original, Muir Woods Or Bust is the novel we need right now.”

—Meg Little Reilly, former Obama staffer and author of the novel, We Are Unprepared

“Open this book and you’re entering the latest of Ian Woollen’s American novels, tales that spin outward from dear Indiana … and sort of get on everybody. Here many incarnations of the iconic John Muir roam our current geo-sphere along with fracking and Earth First and an old actor and the missing money. Two wild westward odysseys intertwine, including, of course, Las Vegas (and a video game) as quests for family, fortune, and the famous drive our multiple heroes. Mr. Woollen simply refuses to be contained. This is an exuberant book.”

—Ron Carlson, author of Return To Oakpine

“This tragicomic cli-fi novel about a pivotal episode in the life of environmentalist John Muir puts the American icon in a startling new light.”

—Dan Bloom, The Cli-Fi Report

“Ian Woollen is one of the outstanding writers to join the ranks of Indiana’s great tradition of novelists, from Lew Wallace to Booth Tarkington to Kurt Vonnegut.”

—Dan Wakefield, author of Going All The Way, and Under The Apple Tree

“Part eco-meditation, part romance, part video game, part Apocalyptic comedy, Woollen’s book shows how fear, grief and loss can be transformed into action. Muir Woods Or Bust provides a road map for enjoying the ride of facing our climate crisis by becoming our true selves. Entertaining and enlightening.”

—Jim Poyser, Executive Director, Earth Charter Indiana

“Ian Woollen prognosticates our mental and ecological health, which—who knew?—are linked. The bad news is that, no matter how clever we are, gaming ahead will be futile. The good news is that, as always, mankind’s decline will be full of comic relief. Woollen, as his fellow Hoosier Vonnegut did, sees ahead around all the kooky corners, and signals for us to come on anyway.”

—James Alexander Thom, author of Follow the River and Fire in the Water

“Bakhtin rightly described the novel as a voracious form—it embraces, ingests, and devours other genres. Ian Woollen through his osmotic and morphing novel, Muir Woods Or Bust, unleashes the novel’s formal omnivorous proclivities on the subject matter of post-industrial gluttony, avarice, and despair. He does so with a style steeped in lyric charm and graceful élan that masks but does not eliminate the entropic exhaustion seeping into everything everywhere. A speculative text about people and peoples unraveling, Muir Woods or Bust records gorgeously the (spoiler alert) spoil of our spoiling, simmering in the cacophony of our impending, irresistible, and iridescent demise.”

—Michael Martone, Author of Michael Martone and Four for a Quarter

“A compelling and quirky set of characters, an odyssey, a multi-faceted commentary on our relationships to the natural and virtual worlds and to our home landscapes, a multi-generational saga, and a fun and funny and serious story.”

—Kathie Fiveash, award-winning author of The Island Naturalist

As the 21st century lurches forward, weather weirdness abounds, begetting the rise of a new psychiatric syndrome: Eco-Mood Disorders. Or so psychologist Gil Moss believes. Of course, Gil is also hallucinating visits from his recently deceased wife, an Earth Liberation Front activist. And from 19th-century environmentalist John Muir.

Abducted at gunpoint by Doyle Wentworth, an elderly client who played John Muir in a satirical, anti-environmental FAUX-TV miniseries, Gil journeys westward via freight train, private jet, and stolen automobile, aided and pursued by colorful figures from Gil’s and Doyle’s pasts. Destination: Muir Woods and the auditions for the revival of Yosemite Yahoos. Soon after Gil leaves Bloomington, Indiana, his reclusive son Chum is also dragged west by Gil’s former student Amanda to pitch his video game Phantom Vampire to Amanda’s billionaire ex.

A vision quest for the ages. Gil wants to tell you all about it, including the story of his great-great-aunt healing young John Muir from a grisly blinding in an industrial accident in 1867. But computer problems and selective amnesia have stymied Gil’s attempts. Until this unexpected cross-country spree leads him, and his fellow travelers, to their true callings.

Says Woollen, “Part of our family lore is the story of how an ancestor nursed environmentalist John Muir back to health after an accident. Musing over this and other John Muir tales I’ve heard over the years, I slowly hatched a scheme for a tragicomic novel that recasts Muir’s saga as the quixotic, cross-country journey of a contemporary Everyperson. Until recent current events began overtaking the climate-fiction side of the novel at an alarming rate.”

Ian Woollen was born and raised in Indianapolis and now lives nearby in Bloomington, Indiana, where he works as a psychotherapist. He has a BA from Yale University and an MA from Christian Theological Seminary. Click here to find Ian online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

A bearded old man in a cowboy hat stood in the dim hall, picking at his teeth with a sheath knife. He was accompanied by a nursing-home aide, who glared down at her wristwatch. She sported a traditional, big-hair coiffure that Mama Moss referred to as a “Nazarene Hooker.”

The nursing aide extracted a knitting needle from the recesses of her hair and waved it at Gil. “We’ve been waiting for you,” she said.

“Good morning. I’m Gil Moss.”

A new client usually meant Gil could enjoy one or two sessions of clean-slate listening. Maybe not with this grizzled fellow, scheduled in last week by the social worker at the HappyGlen Home.

The guy slowly sheathed his knife. The nursing-aide said, “I go by Miss Gaul and this here is Doyle Wentworth.”

Gil unlocked the office door, flicked on the waiting room lights and the radio. He primed the coffee machine. “Pour yourself a cup when it’s brewed. I’ll just take a few minutes to open up shop.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” Doyle Wentworth said, “hardens your arteries.”

“There’s tea, if you’d prefer.”

“Tea is for sissies,” Doyle said, “and by the way, why does every waiting room in every therapist’s office have a Georgia O’Keeffe poster on the wall?”

Gil contemplated the colorful print of shells and mountains given to him by Melody as a tenth-anniversary present. He said, “It’s a conspiracy of the Goddess Worshippers.”

That silenced the old cowboy.

Gil stepped into the consulting room. Checked phone messages. Watered his plants. No major alarm bells yet. People often acted brusque and nervous before a first session. Gil reminded himself to start with the most basic of therapeutic skills: “Be a non-anxious presence,” his first supervisor, Sig Savage, advised.

As a graduate student in the heyday of psychodynamics, Gil often heard Sig predict that the universe would send him the clients he deserved. This would include his own special “client from hell,” who would activate all his buried vulnerabilities. Years went by without such an apparition. Gil imagined this creature would probably take the form of his long-absent father, Captain Roscoe Moss. AWOL from his family and his post at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. A wounded fucking warrior, if there ever was one. He disappeared when Gil was eight. Grown-up Gil occasionally fantasized Captain Roscoe showing up in his office to ask for help with his retroactively obvious PTSD from the Korean Conflict.

Frankly, after Melody’s death, his father’s abandonment felt less important. Or did, until Doyle Wentworth plopped down on the couch and said, “Don’t you recognize me?”

Gil’s body tensed in a way that is not supposed to happen to regular yoga practitioners. The musculature of the psyche cramped. Gil attempted to hide his anxiety using a secret method to maintain the appearance of calm in front of clients. Clenched toes. Inside his shoes, hidden from view, his toes locked tight.

Gil coughed and squinted at Doyle, trying to see underneath the beard to a time-lapse facial reconstruction of his father’s ruddy, imperious mug.

Doyle Wentworth turned in profile and squeezed his lips and scrunched his brow into a comically ghoulish frown. No, this wasn’t Gil’s father. This was worse. This was Sig Savage’s prediction come true.

“Sure, I recognize you,” Gil said, “the TV actor—”

“Eighty-ninth on the list of the Greatest Bad Guys of All Time,” Doyle boasted.

“You’re Number One on my list,” Gil blurted out. Ouch. A crack in the neutrality frame. Professionalism swamped by indignation.

“Well, thank you.” Doyle smiled, revealing a set of villainous teeth. “You were part of the faithful millions who watched Yosemite Yahoos.”

The Nutting Girl, by Fred DeVecca: An Idyllic Town and a Missing Beauty

nutting_girl_5x8The Nutting Girl ($16.95, 320 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-575-8), a work of mystery/suspense by Fred DeVecca, is this author’s first published novel. After a wild young movie star is swept away by the river during filming, the PI hired to protect her vows to find out why.

“Intriguing [….] Readers will enjoy the wild ride.” —Publishers Weekly

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5 Stars: “I could go on and on about the characters in this book. All of them reach out to you. You want only good things to happen to them. [….] The Nutting Girl is Fred DeVecca’s debut book. You’d never know it. He writes a deep mystery, taking you on a somewhat spiritual journey, with eclectic characters and visual descriptions of a small town setting. I’ll be watching for his next book.” Read more….

—Laura Thomas, FU Only Knew Blog

“[Fred DeVecca] knows how to entertain, and he can build a plot so complicated that the reader will be left guessing right up to the end.”  Read more….

—Susan Hoover for Reviewing the Evidence

“If you’d asked me whether it was possible to come up with a new take on the private eye novel at this late date, I might have said probably not. But I would have been wrong because that’s exactly what Fred DeVecca has done with The Nutting Girl. With its offbeat protagonist, vividly rendered settings, and lyrical prose, The Nutting Girl is one of the best debut private eye novels to come along in a long time, and I’m eager to read whatever Fred DeVecca comes up with next.” —James Reasoner, author of Texas Wind

The Nutting Girl is an absorbing and offbeat mystery with a deep emotional core. Frank Raven is a soulful, full-bodied character in search of a sense of place and a sense of purpose. A delightful book.”Emily Arsenault, author of What Strange Creatures and The Broken Teaglass

“In his first novel, The Nutting Girl, Fred DeVecca has taken his keen interests—intrigue, village life, birdsong, pretty girls, Morris dancing, philosophy and film—and woven them into a fun-tastic tale that piques ours. Contrasting the regular heartbeat of the soporific village with the darker, unpredictable machinations of its visitors, DeVecca clearly has some fun moving the puzzle pieces around—to our delight and the ultimate ‘ah-ha!’ moment.” —Virginia Ray, editor/publisher, Shelburne Falls & West County Independent

Middle-aged Frank Raven used to be a lot of things—a blind monk, a cop, a private detective, and a hard drinker. Now he doesn’t do much except run a funky old movie theater in bucolic Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, dance and sing with the local troupe of Morris Dancers, and record bird songs on his phone.

A lanky young wunderkind director, Nick Mooney, brings his Hollywood film crew to town and hires the “retired” Raven to protect his star: the wild, unpredictable, gorgeous, and prodigiously talented twenty-one-year-old Juliana Velvet Norcross, aka VelCro.

Reluctant at first, Raven takes on the job and slowly sees that there is more to VelCro than the troubled rebel she appears to be. She probes the former monk for his thoughts on God, love, and the soul. But Raven has renounced many of his former beliefs, and VelCro’s questions cause him to re-examine his life.

On the eve of filming, storms ravage the small village, and the river that runs through the center of town floods its banks. VelCro becomes ill and withdraws into the care of Sarah, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Frank’s girlfriend, Clara. The storm passes, VelCro recovers, and filming begins. But during the first shot, she is swept away into the river, leaving no trace.

What role did VelCro’s director play in her life? Did she fall? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Frank and Sarah are driven to find out what happened.

Says the author, “I’ve been a fan of mystery novels for most of my life, especially dark, noir-ish mysteries. They’re usually set in some urban jungle like New York or LA. Some pretty good ones have had rural settings, but it’s usually a backwater, poor, hardscrabble countryside. I have encountered few which are set in a bright, cheery place like Shelburne Falls. So I decided to write one.”

Fred DeVecca has a BA in English Literature from Wilkes University and attended film school at Maine Media Workshops & College in Rockport, Maine. Fred has been a screenwriter, photographer, and freelance writer, mostly in the sports and arts & entertainment fields, for twenty-five years. He has been a member of the Marlboro Morris Men since the mid-1980s, and since 1999, he has managed Pothole Pictures, a non-profit, community-run movie theater. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I glanced at the girls on the fence.

“And what few nuts that poor girl had …” we sang. I momentarily turned away from Julie and Sarah but I saw the two heads there as I made the turn.

“She threw them all away,” we finished. And we concluded with a loud, “Hey!”

I was now facing the two girls again, holding Michael’s hand on my left, young Sam’s on my right. We all smiled, then began our patented, circular walk-off.

As I began walking off, I saw there was only one redhead on the fence.

I stopped walking and blinked, as if that would change things. Then there are no redheads on the fence.

I started running—toward the fence, toward the redheads who were no longer there.

They were gone, both of them. In an instant. Poof. Just like that.

It seemed like no one else on the fence, or nearby, or anywhere, noticed their absence except me. Everyone else was still watching the filming play out. Some were even clapping.

Then Frick, or Frack—the black one—climbed up on the fence and dove into the water. This was heroic but not smart.

I was now at the fence myself, staring down into the river. Nothing was visible down there but swirling white waters from hell.

Then the hordes started to notice that something had happened. Slowly, a few at a time. There were raised voices, screams.

And then, instantly, they all knew. The police momentarily lost control of the crowd that had gathered for the filming and the crowd rushed to the riverbank, hundreds of them. No one called “cut.” For all I knew, Dexter was still shooting all of this.

Sirens started to wail and red flashers flickered more brightly than the sun. I held on to the top rung of the fence and looked down at the roiling stew down there—and looked and looked. I wanted to jump in. But it would not help.

Then I saw Frick—for I was later to ascertain that it was he and not the other one—bravely paddling but barely keeping his head above water, pretty much helpless, being pulled along toward the falls on a wave.

At this point in the river, it flowed directly toward a dam owned by the electric company, a dam leading to the falls over which the river drops to create the Glacial Potholes. There was one redhead bouncing, ghostly white and vacant-looking, in the waters approaching the dam.

To hell with it. I jumped in, bells and ribbons and hankies and all.

The Sinking of the Angie Piper, by Chris Riley: Turmoil Aboard a Crab-fishing Vessel in Alaska

sinking_angie_piperThe Sinking of the Angie Piper ($14.95, 240 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-389-1), is Chris Riley’s debut novel. The audiobook was produced by Blackstone Audio. A commercial fisherman learns about compassion and courage from his slow-witted best friend as the two men fight for their lives during a major storm at sea.

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The 5×8 trade paperback is distributed by Epicenter Press/Aftershocks Media. Wholesale customers contact orders@epicenterpress.com.

“A wild, exciting adventure upon the high seas, full of danger, hardships, and uncertainty… but also triumphs, self realizations, and hope. [….] Strap on a life vest and prepare to be amazed as you climb aboard the ill-fated Angie Piper or a final voyage she, nor we, are likely to forget.”  Read more….

—Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

The Sinking of the Angie Piper is a superb short novel that blends the best of literary and suspense fiction with dramatic themes of man vs. himself and man vs. nature, with redemption in the end.” Read more….

—Amy Rogers for ScienceThrillers.com

4 ½ stars: “This is one intense book! You might have seen some of the reality TV shows about those that fish or crab in Alaska or that general area. This book brings the harsh reality of that what those men (and possibly women) endure in this profession. But the book is about a little bit more than that. It is also about a relationship between Ed and Danny. While it takes awhile to really figure out what is wrong with Danny (mentally challenged), the relationship between these two men has many facets. From Ed’s guilt at not protecting his friend as he should have growing up, to Danny’s loyalty to Ed. There are some harsh realities that Ed has to learn and face to become a better man.” Read more….

—Storybook Reviews

“Chris Riley’s debut novel The Sinking of the Angie Piper does everything right: great-and-complicated characters, shining prose, and a story of emotional and physical conflict that will resonate long after you turn the last page. Both literate and heart-pounding at the same time, it’s the perfect pairing of a coming-of-age story and a gripping adventure set amidst the unforgiving seas off the Alaskan coast. Here is the debut of an exciting new voice that you must not miss.”

—James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Labyrinth

“A compelling tale of survival against the odds—highly readable.”

—William Napier, international bestselling author of the Attila Trilogy

“Against a richly textured backdrop of Alaskan fishing culture, a crew of mentally and spiritually flawed men clash with each other and the elements in Riley’s gripping debut novel. Themes of tenderness and regret play out even amid a desperate struggle for survival. You’ll feel the icy spray as The Sinking of the Angie Piper sucks you in and doesn’t let go.”

—Amy Rogers, ScienceThrillers.com

“With eloquent prose, Chris Riley’s The Sinking of the Angie Piper tells a gripping coming-of-age story about friendship, loss, and the events that forever transform a young man—all in a setting rendered so perfectly I can practically feel the cold salt water of the Bay of Alaska during tanner crab season. This is a terrific debut by an author well worth watching.”

—Chris Culver, New York Times bestselling author of the Ash Rashid Series

“Whether it’s casual details about crabbing the frigid Alaska sea or exploring the boiling maelstrom of the human heart, Chris Riley knows his stuff. The result is entertaining, illuminating and a fine ride.”

—Robert Ferrigno, New York Times bestselling author

Ed and his childhood friend Danny are gearing up in Kodiak, Alaska, preparing to join the Angie Piper’s crew for another season of crab fishing. Ed is a relative newcomer, but despite the perils of the trade, he sees no reason to fear for Danny’s safety. The Angie Piper has always been blessed. She has a stalwart captain, Fred, a crack engineer, Dave, and two time-tested pros to keep the rest of the operation running smoothly, exuberant Loni and the more reticent Salazar.

Every season has a greenhorn, the one who works for a pittance in order to learn the ropes. This time around it is Ed’s friend Danny, no ordinary crewman. Their shared history is complex. Though strong, brave, and hardworking, Danny is a simple soul, and Ed is weighed down by guilt, dark memories of the many times he failed to defend his friend against the inevitable bullying. And cantankerous Dave believes Danny is a bad omen, so much so that his bitter opposition may endanger them all.

The season starts off strong, and the crew is elated by the bounty of their catch. Then their luck turns. The skies grow dark, the waves swell, and Mother Nature bears down on them with her full arsenal. When the storm finally abates, who will live to tell the tale?

Says the author, “I have yet to set foot on a crabbing vessel, let alone work its deck. But I’ve been to Alaska, and I have met my share of Danny Wilsons. Along the way, each of these elements somehow came together in my mind. The result is this novel.”

Chris Riley lives near Sacramento, California, where he teaches Special Education. He has had dozens of short stories published in magazines and anthologies, and across various genres. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Look out! Look out!” Salazar’s scream rode the top of the forty-foot wave that slapped over the deck. The seas were high and came up on us almost without notice. Our last string of this run, and we were nothing but shivering men on a steel slab in the darkest of nights. The wind howled down from the north at sixty-plus knots. Rain pelted us like bullets. We were all eager to get inside the boat. But damn if there weren’t ten more pots left in the string.

“Look out!” Salazar screamed again.

From the sorting table I’d been clinging to, I swore in disbelief at what was now transpiring before us on deck.

“Everybody, take cover,” shouted the captain, over the loudspeaker. Apparently he had seen it too, and it sure as hell wasn’t a wave.

Loni pitched his body to the side. Dave tucked under the rail, the swells of a black ocean pouring over him like a waterfall. An errant crab pot swung madly across the Angie Piper’s deck. The pot was attached to the picking crane. Salazar was in the process of transferring it to the main-stack for chaining down when our boat abruptly careened portside.

Every deckhand’s fear had become a reality. The thousand-pound cage swept past me, nearly clipping my head as it crashed into the stack of pots to my left. With almost all our gear onboard, there was little room to evade the monstrous block of steel. And if it nailed any of us, we’d certainly be dead or messed up beyond repair.

“Drop it!” shouted Dave, from under a curtain of rushing water. He had a point—releasing the pot could possibly help stabilize it. But then the thought occurred to me: who would be in the way once that thing came down? Like the weapon of an angry giant, it smashed haphazardly across the deck. Salazar worked madly at the hydro controls in hopes of ending the chaos, but twice he had been knocked down by the surge of saltwater that had turned our deck into a small pond.

And then it dawned on me: where was Danny?

“Danny!” I hollered. No one seemed to hear me, my voice drowned out by the cacophony of smashing steel, crashing waves, and howling wind. “Where’s Danny!?” I repeated.

For a brief moment, the pot wedged itself between the portside rail and main-stack. It was a moment of tense hesitation, allowing just enough time for Salazar to take some slack out of the picking crane’s cable. I saw Loni at Salazar’s side, holding him steady, keeping the deck boss from falling down once again. I still couldn’t find Danny, and I continued to scream out for him.

All eyes scanned the area, and then panic set in.

No Bridle, No Bit, No Reins, a New Poetry Collection by Mary Anne Morefield

3nosNo Bridle, No Bit, No Reins ($13.95, 168 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-633-5) is a collection of 64 new poems by Mary Anne Morefield.

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In this collection, the author continues to widen her search to see the beauty in the world around her, tiny trout lilies beside a creek, a slender palo blanco in her sister’s garden, or in the sky as she tries to name its color. But even as she sees beauty, she struggles to understand the world’s brokenness: mistreatment of native peoples, the murder of Jesuit priests in El Salvador, war and terror across the globe. She writes from the solitude of the desert while her heart and mind travel in the world of ideas.

In 2015, Coffeetown Press published Morefield’s first poetry collection, Earth, Grass, Trees and Stone. The final poem in that collection, “Requiem,” was set to music for the Susquehanna Chorale by Bob Chilcott.

“This inviting new poetry collection by Mary Anne Morefield is the achievement of a sustained, sweeping attention that offers such precision of insight and affectionate observation that it necessarily produces discovery and, ultimately, the risk and sacrament of wonder. This unbridled poetry of witness has earned all the attention you may wish to give its haunted, galloping ride.”

—Gregory Donovan, author of Torn from the Sun

“In Mary Anne Morefield’s new book, No Bridle, No Bit, No Reins, her poems proceed by a series of built-in tensions: past richness of husband and family balanced against present-day freedoms of solitude and self-exploration; past faith in a traditional Christian worldview balanced against her current desire for a World Spirit that blesses all life. These finely honed, linguistically dexterous poems also balance aesthetic and sensory pleasures (for writing, painting, eating, hiking in the world’s textures and colors) against the bitter recognition of the world’s deprivations and suffering. And finally, her desire and determination for more life, more life, bumps up against her acknowledgment of time’s undoing: ‘The mantle clock chimes the quarter hour and ticks the next second …/The earth keeps spinning./I try to hang on, at least this minute.’ And as she hangs on, she writes poems that range far and wide through space and time, or as she says in ‘What Are Your Poems About?’ ‘They’re large/as the world, small/as a pebble, high/as clouds, humble/ as humus.

“If the free spirit within her dreams of riding bareback among the starry firmament, (or muses about the sleeping horse outside her window who could be dreaming of ‘no bit in his mouth, no saddle/ on his back, no reins,’), the fully mature poet, Mary Anne Morefield, records the various ways that life reins us in for our work on earth—whether doing her daily chores as wife and mother on a Pennsylvania farm, or working within the Christian ministry, or marching in political protest on the streets of Washington—before it releases us again into the solitude of our later years. For this poet, solitude comes in the arid landscapes of Arizona, where she learns to find a new richness and independence, whether hiking in the desert, wrestling with a new spirituality (‘now I am content to let those doctrines fly,/ and simply believe one Great Spirit/ with many names, dwells among us,’) or musing on time’s constraints and releases. If there is solace amidst sorrow, it arrives as “a bevy of quail, a hummingbird, a road runner and eyes to gather them in,/a path that wanders through the desert, legs strong enough to wander/ with it, and strong enough to bring me home again,/the promise of friends around the dinner table.”

—Neil Shephard author of Hominid Up

Mary Anne Morefield was born in the Midwest. Now she spends part of each year in Pennsylvania, New York and Arizona. After graduating from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, she served as Chaplain at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She lived with her husband and children on an eighteenth-century farm where she tended her sheep, rode her horse and wandered through the woods and beside the creek. She often writes of these experiences. For more information, click here.

Sometime it Happens When We Don’t Read Signs

This trail feels too narrow. I’m slipping

on glus going down but I don’t remember

going up.

 

An ant hill, red ants swarming, a hoof print,

horse manure. Surely we would have noticed

horse manure.

 

We’re heading west. We’re heading toward

the water tower. That’s too far north. How did

we get here?

 

How do we get to the trailhead? The sun

is sliding behind the mountain. Will we

ever get home?

 

One Fell Swoop, by David Linzee: Deadly Deeds in London and St. Louis

one_fell_swoopOne Fell Swoop ($15.95, 288 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-577-2), is a work of mystery/suspense by David Linzee. When Renata and her boyfriend Peter attempt to discover the identity of her brother Don’s London billionaire employer, they find their lives in danger.

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“Linzee’s enthusiasm for St. Louis current events, opera and London are evident in the details scattered throughout this twisty tale. [….] This fast-paced tale will have readers rooting for Renata Radleigh and wondering what kind of trouble she will stumble into next.”  Read more….

—Jennifer Alexander for The West End World

“Intriguing from the start, One Fell Swoop is fast paced and action packed [….] The drama, the secrets, the scandals and the unfolding of the mystery are so sublime, one will want to read the book again and again!”  Read more….

—Chantel Hardge for InD’Tale Magazine

“Linzee is a dedicated craftsman who uses his tools with special rare talent and truth. One Fell Swoop is one you don’t want to miss. The word ‘superb’ comes to mind.”

—John Lutz, author of Slaughter

“The second entry in this delightful series moves effortlessly back and forth between the UK and the US.”

—Albert Ashforth, author of On Edge

The Renata Radleigh Opera Mystery series began with Spur of the Moment:

“Mystery lovers will enjoy the intelligent writing, the mix of light and dark, the astute psychology and biting social satire, and the satisfaction of a traditional (but not formulaic) mystery that’s a bit of a classed-up romp.”

—St. Louis Magazine

“An entertaining mystery, full of intriguing backstage details about opera productions and introducing an appealing heroine who is feisty, funny, and deeply loyal to her shallow sibling. Recommend for fans of Blair Tindall’s memoir Mozart in the Jungle and anyone who enjoys crime served up with an aria.”

—Library Journal

“An entertaining novel full of St. Louis references, British slang, and a dab of commentary on the state of medical research. Readers will enjoy this light, quirky tale of fictional intrigue set in our own backyard.”

—West End Word

“A thoroughly enjoyable read and you might just fall in love with Renata[….[ I look forward to Mr. Linzee’s next production starring Ms. Radleigh.”

—David Prestidge, Crimefictionlover.com

David Linzee is the author of several other critically acclaimed mysteries published in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s: Final Seconds (as David August), Housebreaker, Belgravia, Discretion, and Death in Connecticut.

When mezzo-soprano Renata Radleigh stumbles over a corpse on London’s Hampstead Heath, she suspects the death has something to do with her brother Don’s boss, a billionaire speculator who will go to any lengths to keep his identity secret. Don is acting as his front-man in far-off St. Louis, Missouri, buying up a borderline slum called Parkdale. Don has an apartment in Parkdale and claims he wants to save the neighborhood. He’s even having a romance with a local community gardener, the sturdy Hannah.

Tipped off by a long-distance call from his girlfriend Renata, Peter Lombardo tails the slippery Don and discovers he really lives in the fashionable Central West End, where he seems to have a more glamorous lover. Peter is not buying Don’s new image. Not even the drug dealers trust the man.

Between singing engagements at a London mansion and a prison, Renata tries to find out the truth about Don’s employer and ends up pursued by his thugs, fleeing for her life. She flees all the way to St. Louis to join forces with her beloved Peter. Why is the powerful and charismatic chancellor of Adams University interested in Don’s dealings? What is Don up to? Does he know himself, or is he nothing but a patsy who could well pay for his cluelessness with his life, as well as the lives of Renata and Peter?

Says Linzee, “One Fell Swoop is a globalization thriller, about how schemes laid by high-rollers in London have deadly consequences in a rustbelt city in the American Midwest. Readers may note echoes of the visionary endeavors recently launched by leaders of some of America’s greatest universities. That part of the plot was informed by my years at a PR man for one such university. Other ideas came from my experiences as a resident of, and newsletter editor for, an urban neighborhood striving toward gentrification. Residents of St. Louis and London will find themselves on familiar ground. Every location I describe is real, including the neighborhood of ‘Parkdale,’ though it isn’t called that.”

David Linzee was born in St. Louis, where he and his wife currently reside. Besides writing novels and short stories, he has worked in PR, and as a journalist, a science writer, and a teacher. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Renata smiled but kept her silence. He’d almost talked himself ’round. But abruptly he tossed away the cigarette and sat up straight, giving her a hard, sidelong glance. “Look here. How do I know you’re not one of that anti-Putin lot?”

“The demonstrators? No.”

“We’ve had them in front of the house, waving their signs and shouting all sorts of rubbish.”

“Neal, all I want is the guest list.”

“Maybe that’s not what you’re after at all. You know I bring the dogs in here. Now you’re trying to get something else on me. What’s your game?” His chin had sunk into his collar and he was blinking rapidly.

“I’m a singer. Looking for a job. That’s all.”

“Sing something then.”

“No. That’s ridiculous. I can show you ID—”

“What’ll that prove? You say you’re a singer. Prove it.”

“Oh … very well. What would you like to hear?” She searched her memory for the shortest aria she knew that would sound passable sung a capella. “How about ‘Voi che sapete’?”

He wrinkled up his nose. “None of that foreign muck. Sing ‘Memory.’ That’s a good one.”

Her heart sank. She had never seen Cats. Like everyone, she’d heard ‘Memory’ countless times in cars and waiting rooms. But she didn’t really know it. All she could do was an imitation of Betty Buckley, or Barbra Streisand, or whoever was singing it in her head. And it wouldn’t sound like them. She was a trained singer, and had never really figured out the crossover thing—not that anyone else had done it totally successfully, except maybe Frederica von Stade or Dawn Upshaw.

Neal lit another cigarette. Folded his arms and looked at her. Impatiently. Suspiciously.

Renata stood up, faced him squarely, breathed in, and launched into “Memory.”

It was acutely painful. Her breathing was off. She couldn’t quite recall where the key modulations happened. Sometimes she even failed to remember a word and had to slur her way through. And, unable to shake the voice of Barbra Streisand in her head, she could hear herself doing strange pop singer swoops that would make any other classical singer shudder. She hoped he would be satisfied and tell her to stop. But he made her go on to the last note. Perhaps she was butchering the number so badly he didn’t believe she was a professional.

She’d ended up gazing heavenward, which she hoped was an appropriate bit of characterization. Lowering her eyes, she found that Neal was standing with his back to her, shoulders hunched, both hands gripping the balustrade, like a passenger about to be sick over the ship’s rail.

“Sorry,” she said.

Neal turned to her. His eyes were full of tears. A moment passed before he was able to choke out, “That was … beautiful.”

 

Two Mystery/Thrillers by Michael Niemann: Legitimate Business and Illicit Trade

illicit_tradeIllicit Trade (6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-589-5, 244, $14.95) is the all-new second book in Michael Niemann’s Valentin Vermeulen mystery/thriller series. The story takes place in New York City, Newark, Vienna, and Nairobi. When two illegal immigrants with forged UN papers are found dead, Vermeulen is assigned to investigate. The case will take him deep into the complicated and dangerous world of human trafficking.

** Click the cover image to order Illicit Trade online **

** Or order it for your Kindle, Nook, or from Kobo.com or iBooks **

Legitimate Business (6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-587-1, 218 pages, $14.95), which introduces United Nations investigator Valentin Vermeulen, takes place in Sudan. A case involving the death of a UN policewoman in Dafur puts Vermeulen in the cross hairs of powerful arms dealers.

Illicit Trade: “Intriguing [….] The unexpected resourcefulness that Vermeulen and Jackson each display in dealing with dangerous foes in their respective quests is highly entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

“Lee Child has Jack Reacher. Michael Connelly has Harry Bosch. Walter Mosley has Easy Rawlins. Patricia Cornwell has Kay Scarpetta. And Michael Niemann has Valentin Vermuelen […]You don’t need to read the short story and the books in order, like I did, to get the most out of Illicit Trade, but it would be a shame to deprive yourself of the experience.”  Read more….

—Alison McMahan, screenwriter, author and filmmaker

legimate_business** Click the cover image to order Legitimate Business online **

** Or order it for your Kindle, Nook, or from Kobo.com or iBooks **

Legitimate Business was a hit with readers and critics:

“A gripping thriller set against the backdrop of one of the most violent regions in the world. Niemann is an excitingly original voice in the genre.” —Michael Stanley, award winning author of the Detective Kubu mysteries

“As soon as I finished this exciting thriller, I wished to start reading again…. Ideology, greed and the other human frailties predominate, while our protagonist Vermeulen is not so much ‘flawed hero,’ as a man who tries to learn from his mistakes and make course corrections: an evolving human.” —The Haunted Reading Room

“Michael Niemann tells a fascinating, highly-entertaining tale amidst the turbulence that is Africa. His knowledge and attention to detail with respect to the inner workings of this UN department rings extremely true and authentic…. A good read!” —Clive Rosengren, two-time Shamus Award finalist

“Michael Niemann’s Legitimate Business is the real deal…. Niemann knows his way around Africa and Vermeulen emerges as a tough and wily hero, backstopped by strong female characters—including a UN peacekeeper and plenty of surprises.” —Ed Battistella, author of Sorry About That. The Language of Public Apology

Legitimate Business: Ritu Roy, a constable with an all-female United Nations peacekeeping unit in Darfur, Sudan, has been shot dead. Her superiors call it a random shooting. Her best friend thinks otherwise. She’s found a bullet casing from a sniper’s rifle, an uncommon weapon in the refugee camp. The case remains closed until Valentin Vermeulen arrives to conduct a routine audit. As an investigator with the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, his job is to ferret out fraud. The casing is the first clue that Ritu may have stumbled onto a major criminal operation.

Solving the mystery of Ritu’s death leads Vermeulen down a perilous path. With the help of journalist Tessa Bishonga, he visits the hidden camp of a notorious rebel leader. On the streets of Port Sudan he dodges a parade of shady characters. In the end, Vermeulen must expose the players in the not so “legitimate” business of supplying weapons to Sudan … before they can hunt him down.

Illicit Trade: Two poor Kenyan men visiting the U.S. are found dead, one in jail, one on the street. Both used forged UN documents to enter the country. Valentin Vermeulen’s superiors have no interest in the plight of undocumented immigrants, but they want him to stop the fraud. The clues take Vermeulen from New York City to Newark, where he riles a woman known as “The Broker,” then to Vienna.

Earle Jackson, a small-time hustler and the last person to speak with one of the dead Kenyans, has taken the man’s passport and money. He also finds a note listing an address in Newark, where his efforts to cash in on the situation go awry. Fleeing for his life, Jackson flies to Nairobi using the dead man’s passport.

Vermeulen and Jackson have chanced upon a criminal network more extensive and vicious than either could have imagined. To survive, Vermeulen must do more than sever a few links. He must find the mastermind at the top.

Says Niemann: “Both novels were inspired by actual events. I wrote Legitimate Business after reading an article about faulty armored personnel carriers that had been shipped to UN peacekeepers in Darfur. Illicit Trade was inspired by a report that a UN employee had sold forged UN invitation letters to individuals who used them to obtain visas to the U.S. Both events led me to stories dealing with weapons trade and human trafficking, cases tailor-made for Valentin Vermeulen.”

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 switched to mysteries as a different way to write about the world. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt from Illicit Trade:

Since moving back to New York, Vermeulen had quickly adopted the empty refrigerator habits of Manhattan residents. That wasn’t a problem on most days, since there was so much prepared food available everywhere. But he didn’t feel like going out again. Besides the beer, his fridge contained a jar of pickles, four eggs, some packets of soy sauce from the Chinese place down the street, and an old bagel. That limited his culinary options. He was in the middle of frying two eggs when his phone rang again.

Without thinking, he answered. “This is Vermeulen.”

A male voice he’d never heard before said, “You wanna talk about why you visited Dr. Rosenbaum today?”

The spatula clattered on the stovetop, then to the floor. He stared out the window as if the mysterious caller were right outside, looking in at him. The eggs sizzled in the hot pan.

“Hold on,” Vermeulen said and put the phone down. Who the hell was this? It obviously wasn’t the woman with the short blonde hair. And it wasn’t the doctor. He reached down to pick up the spatula. He turned down the burner. Nobody else knew he’d stopped by the doctor’s office. He tried to remember faces he’d seen on the street. There was really only one candidate—the black man who’d followed him.

He picked up the phone again. “Who are you?”

“That’s not important. What is important is you visiting the doctor. Why’d you go to him?”

“You’re the black man who bumped into me and then followed me. So don’t think for a moment I can’t find out who you are.”

The silence at the other end told him he was right.

“Okay, you saw me,” the man said. “So did many people. That don’t mean you’re gonna find out anything. But I know you talked to the doctor who’s got things to hide. So I’m thinking you’ve got things to hide, too. And that’s what I want to talk about.”

The eggs were done. Vermeulen managed to slip them onto the plate. He popped the bagel halves from the toaster, pulled over a stool, and sat down. This might take a while, and he wasn’t going to let his eggs get cold.

“Sorry,” he said, after forking a bite into his mouth. “You caught me in the middle of supper, and I hate cold eggs.” He took a sip from the bottle. “Besides, you’re operating on the wrong assumptions. I have nothing to hide. You, on the other hand, sound like an extortionist. Last I heard, that was still a crime in this country. I got your phone number on my display. It’ll only be a matter of time before the police find you.”

The last comment was pure bluster. He took a bite from the bagel and had another swig of beer.

“You’re eating while I’m trying to have a conversation with you? Man, how ’bout a little respect?”

“You’re the one who interrupted my supper. And why should I respect someone who’s trying to blackmail me?”

“I thought you were somebody else. Just forget I called.”

“No, I’m not going to do that. I’m also interested in what Rosenbaum has to hide. You seem to know something. How about telling me why you’re after him?”

He finished the eggs and wiped the remaining yolk with a piece of bagel.

“Nah, let’s just forget the whole thing, okay?” the caller said.

“No, not okay. How’d you like the Newark PD on your tail?” It was an easy guess. “Believe me, I can make that happen.”

“I said forget about it.”

“I won’t, unless you tell me what you know. Right now.”

“I’ll only do it face to face.”

“Fine with me. Be at the Azure Lounge in downtown Newark in an hour.”

And here is an excerpt from Legitimate Business:

The sky had become overcast. The air stood still, and sweat beaded on Vermeulen’s forehead. He didn’t care. The mix of nervous energy and anticipation he knew from his previous cases was back.

“We must head back. It’s too dangerous without backup,” Gupta said.

“Come on, man,” Vermeulen said. “The Bangladeshi women patrol on their own.”

“Yes, and one of them is dead now. Zam Zam is always unpredictable.”

“We’ll leave after I speak to Amina.”

Wambui inched the Nissan along the bumpy dirt until they reached the end of a row.

“Now where to?”

“Turn left,” Tessa said. “Amina’s family lives three rows over.”

Before they reached the third row, they saw people run toward them. Wambui nosed the car to the corner and stopped, half concealed by a hovel. Three hundred feet down the row stood two pickups with heavy machine guns mounted on their beds. Several men stood near the trucks. One of them leaned against the gun on the first truck. Wambui stopped.

“Shit!” Gupta said. “Those are technicals. We gotta get out of here.”

“Technicals are the preferred fighting vehicles of the rebels,” Tessa said, as if Vermeulen didn’t know that already.

“What are they doing here?” Vermeulen said.

“That could be Amina’s place,” Tessa said.

“It doesn’t matter!” Gupta said. “We have to leave. Now.”

Wambui put the Nissan in reverse.

“Wait,” Vermeulen said. “If that’s Amina’s place, I want to see what’s going on there.”

“No! We can’t go against two technicals. Those are .57-caliber machine guns,” Gupta shouted.

“He’s right,” Sami said. “They’d tear us to shreds in seconds.”

“Who said anything about shooting?” Vermeulen said. The men with the technicals weren’t shooting. They weren’t even brandishing their guns. They just stood there. It wasn’t an ambush. “You stay here. I’m going to speak with them.”

“Are you crazy?” Specks of saliva flew from Gupta’s lips. “I forbid it. I’m in charge here and we are going back.”

“You can go back if you like, but you can’t forbid me to speak to anyone.”

Vermeulen climbed from the Nissan and walked slowly toward the men. Their guns hung from their shoulders. One gestured to another, and he heard laughter. The machine gunner’s arms and head rested on the gun. They were relaxed. The trick was not to surprise them. He shouted “Hello!” and waved. The gunner on the technical looked up, saw Vermeulen, and cocked his head. Taking his time, he swung the long barrel toward the stranger. The other men turned to look at him. Two pulled their rifles from their backs, also moving at a leisurely pace. They didn’t look like AK-47s, not that it mattered. At this distance even an old hunting rifle would do serious damage.

It was too late to turn around now. That much was clear. The fifty yards between him and the pickups seemed much longer. Raising his hands in the international sign of surrender, Vermeulen kept going.