Jay MacDonald

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Life, much like storytelling, tends to be linear: We’re born (characters); we live (plots); we conclude. But what fun could a mischievous author have by reversing that narrative? Rising star Chris Whitaker explores this possibility in We Begin at the End, an addictive flip on the small-town mystery, which begins when all is supposed to be said and done, in what would traditionally be a crime story’s aftermath.

In the California coastal village of Cape Haven, 13-year-old Duchess Day Radley is a self-proclaimed outlaw with a disheveled appearance, obscenity-rich rants and an obsession with protecting her 5-year-old brother, Robin, and their saloon-dancer single mom, Star. Thirty years ago, Star’s 7-year-old sister, Sissy, was murdered. The man who found her body, Walker, aka Walk, is now Cape Haven’s chief of police, while his best friend, Vincent King, is being released from prison after serving his sentence for Sissy’s murder, due in part to Walk’s testimony.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: We Begin at the End is great on audiobook, with narration from actor George Newbern.


Just as Duchess obsesses over Robin, Walk keeps a close eye on Duchess, knowing that Vincent’s return to Cape Haven could provoke the troubled teen. When a suspicious fire destroys the dingy nightclub where her mother performs, Duchess and Robin are whisked away to the Montana home of their grandparents, who reluctantly begin the difficult task of finding a workable foster home for the displaced siblings.

Meanwhile, Vincent’s return proves troublesome for Walk, who can’t figure out a way to make things right with the best friend he put in prison. The investigation into the nightclub torching and the subsequent suspicious behavior of club owner Dickie Darke serve to reunite Walk with his long-ago girlfriend Martha May, now a family lawyer.

As surprises surface, British writer Whitaker combines a brisk pace, a solid California voice and perhaps a record-setting cuss count. By the book’s end, you’ll want to begin at the end again.

Chris Whitaker combines a brisk pace, a solid California voice and perhaps a record-setting cuss count.
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Thirty years ago, William Gibson blew our minds with his prescient debut novel, Neuromancer, which imagined a technologically advanced world that now eerily resembles our own.

The Peripheral doubles down on his cyberpunk classic by transporting us to not one but two future worlds, connected by a murder but separated by the “jackpot,” a multi-causal near-apocalypse set in motion by mankind’s greatest threat: human indifference.

In the nearer of these futures, several decades hence, small-town America has been reduced to a sole industry: the manufacture of illegal drugs. To rise above this real-life version of “Breaking Bad,” ex-Marine Burton Fisher and his sister Flynne eke out a living playing online games for wealthy enthusiasts. When Flynne sits in for Burton on what she assumes is just another futuristic game for hire, she witnesses a murder that seems far more real than virtual.

And indeed it is, as the siblings find out when Flynne is contacted by investigator Wilf Netherton—but the crime occurred in a drastically altered London, 70 years in their future. In that distant, dystopian time, predicting the future remains impossible—but manipulating the past is not.

And so Netherton enlists Flynne in an investigation in his world that could never have been possible in hers. Leave it to Gibson to break down our innate resistance to time travel by using our uncertainty about the mechanics of high-speed computing to make the impossible seem plausible.

Fair warning: Gibson throws readers directly into The Peripheral’s dual worlds without undue explanation, preferring to let the details of his futures—whether polts, patchers, sigils, Medicis, thylacines or whatever those shape-shifting Lego blocks are all about—catch our eye and lure us in. But rest assured: By the time this master storyteller starts methodically revealing his cards, you’ll be hooked.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

And so Netherton enlists Flynne in an investigation in his world that could never have been possible in hers. Leave it to Gibson to break down our innate resistance to time travel by using our uncertainty about the mechanics of high-speed computing to make the impossible seem plausible.
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Tom Wolfe never met a culture clash he didn’t like. Whether he’s cataloging the social strata of Wall Street (The Bonfire of the Vanities), slicing and dicing race, money and morals in the New South (A Man in Full) or studying the mating rituals of college students (I Am Charlotte Simmons), this unlikely reporter in the unsullied white suit excels at creating fiction from friction.

In Back to Blood, his first novel in seven years, Wolfe embraces yet another multicultural zeitgeist, this one in Miami, a mélange of displaced dreamers and brazen schemers worthy of his hyper-punctuated prose.

The “blood” of the title refers to bloodlines, which in Wolfe’s tale serve as an innate GPS by which his diverse characters attempt to navigate a New World urban jungle overflowing with immigrant fever dreams. Forget melting pot; Miami here most resembles an upset stomach after the early bird buffet.

Our Everyman on this jet-boat ride through the Big Orange is novice Miami police officer Nestor Camacho, a buff yet tender Cuban-American who wants nothing more than to ditch the baggage of his heritage, win over his anglo superiors and live the American dream. When his daring rush-hour maritime rescue of a Cuban refugee backfires, Nestor winds up on probation, an outcast from his Cuban elders and fair game for an enterprising young investigative reporter who shares his career goals.

Their ensuing adventure pings like a pinball through an extended cast of Miami archetypes: the upwardly mobile Haitian professor, the ex-Noo Yawk “active adults,” the sex-addicted billionaire, the psychiatrist and his Latin arm candy, the arrogant Cuban mayor, the goodhearted black police chief and the Russian con men with bogus art for sale.

While we’ve met these characters before in the works of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey, not to mention on “Miami Vice” and “The Golden Girls,” Wolfe’s omniscient narration attempts to give them substance by taking us inside their minds, where their hopes and dreams make a cockeyed kind of sense.

Despite its 700-odd pages, Back to Blood is a surprisingly swift if sometimes dodgy reading experience, owing to the extended cast and plot lines involved. But those who have never experienced Wolfe’s hyperkinetic narrative style will behold within these pages ample measure of the man in full.

Tom Wolfe never met a culture clash he didn’t like. Whether he’s cataloging the social strata of Wall Street (The Bonfire of the Vanities), slicing and dicing race, money and morals in the New South (A Man in Full) or studying the mating rituals of college students (I Am Charlotte Simmons), this unlikely reporter in […]
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When you're down and troubled and you need a helping hand, chances are you've found comfort in the music of Carole King, the Brooklyn-born musical prodigy with the unruly mane whose 1971 Tapestry album still holds the record for spending more than six years on the Billboard charts.

In A Natural Woman, which was named for the breakthrough 1967 hit that King and husband/co-writer Gerry Goffin wrote for Aretha Franklin, the iconic singer-songwriter traces six decades of making music that changed our lives and hers.

While still in her teens, King scored her first #1 hit in 1961 with "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" More than two dozen Goffin/King pop classics followed, including "One Fine Day," "The Loco-Motion" and "Up on the Roof."

During the decade that followed, however, King's life and music would reflect a woman's changing place in the world. After producers coaxed her into singing her own songs, her work became increasingly personal with her divorce from Goffin and disorienting relocation to Los Angeles as a single mom trying to raise young daughters in the psychedelic '60s.

While Tapestry catapulted King to rock stardom, it also set up the push-and-pull between her desire to create music and her search for a simpler life far from the madding crowd that would last the rest of her life. Following the dissolution of her marriage to L.A. musician Chuck Larkey, King’s next two husbands, Rick Evers and Rick Sorensen, were towering mountain men who introduced the city girl to the physical, mental and emotional highs and lows of pioneer life in rural Idaho.

King's voice, clear and immediate throughout, turns introspective when reflecting on her years as a commuting earth mother, torn between family and career and silently enduring domestic abuse. As much as the simple life appealed to her nurturing side, once the kids were grown the sounds of the city slowly lured King from her rural exile. Chance encounters with Paul and Linda McCartney, John and Yoko Ono and musical soul mate James Taylor over the years all served to remind her that the true solace for any artist lies with the art itself.

King's timeless music earned her four Grammy Awards and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. A Natural Woman reminds us why we learned every song by heart.

When you're down and troubled and you need a helping hand, chances are you've found comfort in the music of Carole King, the Brooklyn-born musical prodigy with the unruly mane whose 1971 Tapestry album still holds the record for spending more than six years on the Billboard charts. In A Natural Woman, which was named […]
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Surprise may be the last thing readers expect from the third book in a trilogy. Then again, when a trilogy is as unpredictable and riveting as Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 series, set as it is both in the harsh Russian landscape and the dense thicket of the human soul, expectations quickly evaporate in a page-turning frenzy.

Agent 6 sends former Soviet secret police agent Leo Demidov forward in time to 1965. It's been 13 years since he stalked a serial killer in Child 44 and a decade since he saved one of his two adopted daughters from a vicious female gang leader in The Secret Speech. Having reached an uneasy truce with his horrific past, Leo and wife Raisa strive to be good Moscow parents and model citizens as they walk a narrow political line in post-Stalinist Russia.

Their new normal comes suddenly unglued, however, when Leo's wife and daughters depart for New York on a youth "Peace Tour" designed to foster relations with their Cold War enemies. Since Leo is not allowed to leave the country, he can only wait and worry—for good reason, it turns out. Something does go terribly wrong on the tour, so wrong that it will take Leo the rest of his life to come to terms with it.

Driven to find out what happened in New York, trying every trick in his extensive arsenal to escape to the West and hunt down the answers, Leo eventually accepts a suicide mission to train a new Soviet-style secret service in Afghanistan in the 1980s. When this opium-fueled self-exile ultimately presents him with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Leo fights his way to New York, only to find that the answers he seeks pose a moral dilemma unlike any he's ever encountered.

Smith, a young British screenwriter turned best-selling novelist, has created in Leo Demidov a Kafkaesque modern hero for our times, a good man trapped in a corrupt, manipulative system, forced to choose between loyalties to family, country and conscience. With a cinematographer's eye for settings and historical detail, Smith uses Leo's journey to examine larger issues, especially the political, social and religious systems that both unite and divide us.

Like the previous novels, there are moments in Agent 6 that seem to burn on the page with Leo's heartbreak and longing. That's a most generous return for our emotional investment into this troubled, fascinating Everyman, and one readers will look forward to in whatever comes next from his gifted young creator.

RELATED CONTENT
Author Tom Rob Smith goes Behind the Book with Agent 6.

Read an interview with Smith about Child 44.

Read a review of The Secret Speech.

Surprise may be the last thing readers expect from the third book in a trilogy. Then again, when a trilogy is as unpredictable and riveting as Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 series, set as it is both in the harsh Russian landscape and the dense thicket of the human soul, expectations quickly evaporate in a […]
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Novelist Pat Conroy once observed, “A bad childhood is a constantly renewable resource.” No one knows the truth of that better than Augusten Burroughs. Since the 2002 release of his best-selling memoir, Running with Scissors, America’s favorite boy-raised-by-wolves has been mining his chaotic past with equal parts horror and humor. To recap: At 12, Burroughs fled the emotional hell of a cold and cruel father and caring but ditzy mother for the “safety” of his mother’s lunatic shrink, his Valium-gobbling patients and the pedophile next door. A fourth-grade dropout, Burroughs overcame childhood sexual abuse, earned his GED, and at 19 became a New York advertising wunderkind.

In Dry, his subsequent memoir about his advertising years, and the autobiographical collections Magical Thinking and Possible Side Effects, Burroughs continued his reconnaissance into the no man’s land of his past.

Through this brutal guerrilla war of self-reclamation, Burroughs has long circled but never actually captured his chief adversary. He rectifies the oversight in A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father. Despite its humorous, self-effacing marketing tag (“His first memoir in five years”), this may be Burroughs’ darkest journey yet.

Much of his new memoir takes place before the Running with Scissors days when young Augusten and his poet mother coexisted with his volatile father John Robison, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Burroughs was deeply in need of his father’s affection, yet at every turn he was harshly rebuffed. Deprived even of touch (what Burroughs calls “the Arms”) from his distant dad, he fashioned a scarecrow-like father surrogate to sleep beside. The craziness culminates when his father calls and threatens to kill his son.

What little peace Burroughs ultimately achieves at his father’s bedside comes more as a unilateral cease-fire. Perhaps the best closure he could expect is the realization that this bright apple has in fact fallen far from the tree.

Jay MacDonald writes from Austin.

Despite its humorous, self-effacing marketing tag ("His first memoir in five years"), this may be Burroughs' darkest journey yet.
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L.A. traffic can be murder, especially for Jace Damon, the determined bike courier in Tami Hoag's 10th thriller, Kill the Messenger. When a sleazy lawyer dispatches Jace to deliver a parcel, the address turns out to be a vacant lot. A mysterious car creeps toward him with obvious menace, and soon the teen messenger is on the run. When the lawyer is later found murdered, the mismatched male-female homicide team of Parker and Ruiz join the hunt. With the killer, the cops and the sinister sedan on his tail, Jace must risk all to save himself and his younger brother Tyler, who lives with him in a Chinatown hovel.

BookPage speed-dialed Hoag at her L.A. home for details on her latest thriller.

BookPage: What brought you to Los Angeles, literally and fictionally?
Tami Hoag: I moved out here three years ago because I was in love. The relationship didn't work out, but I love it here. There's an energy and enthusiasm. Everybody comes here with a big dream, and while a lot of them don't happen, there's always a chance that it will.

Did L.A. traffic inspire the plot for Kill the Messenger?
Actually, the kernel of it came eight years ago when I happened to catch a TV news program about bike messengers in Los Angeles. They talked about how bike messengers run between lawyers and the court, and right away I was thinking, here's a connection between the whole law enforcement community that no one has ever thought about. What can they be pulled into? How can these people get into trouble? That's always foremost in my mind.

You wrote about sisters in Dark Horse. What attracted you to return to siblings in Kill the Messenger?
Probably the fact that I'm the youngest in my family, by a lot the next youngest is 10 years older than me. So I didn't really have that sense of having a big brother or big sister to help guide me as a friend. That relationship interests me. Jace and Tyler are sort of two sides to the same character; they have a lot in common but they also complement each other in different ways.

One thing that sets your thrillers apart is that you tend to reward the good guys in equal measure to the punishment you dish out to the bad guys. Did you always have such a strong sense of karma about your work?
I'm big on that. That is part of what really attracted me to writing thrillers. The arc of development of the good guy is as important to me as the bad guy. They go on this journey and it's going to change them somehow. They aren't going to be the same people as they were before.

Did you don a helmet and try your hand as a bike messenger?
I didn't get that brave, no; my bike riding days are long past! They ended when I hit my dog with a bike and flipped over and ended up skidding down the road. It was, OK: I'm not meant to ride a bike.

But you've ridden horses competitively all your life! (Laughs) I know! That's what everybody says: "You won't get on a motorcycle but you will get on a horse that will throw you into space?!" Well, yeah. Somehow that's different.

The team of Parker and Ruiz is a classic odd couple. How did you cook them up?
Parker is sort of the L.A. Sam Kovac (Kovac and Nikki Liska are featured in the Minnesota-set Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust). When I started the book, I had Kovac so in my mind and it wasn't working for me. Then this metrosexual guy came forth. He's like Kovac's L.A. cousin: into fashion, drives a Jag. That was fun to write. Ruiz is one of those characters who just sort of walked in fully formed, and her whole purpose was to just put him into a tailspin. She kept him so off-balance, which I thought was fun instead of having the guy so cool and under control.

Could this become a new series?
I am definitely going to go back to those characters because I so enjoyed writing them. I loved them all the way to the end of the book, which is very unusual. Usually by that time, the characters have so taken over and they're going in all these directions and it's like, I'm sick of you people! Solve your problems! Wrap it up! And with these characters, I didn't feel that at all.

 

L.A. traffic can be murder, especially for Jace Damon, the determined bike courier in Tami Hoag's 10th thriller, Kill the Messenger. When a sleazy lawyer dispatches Jace to deliver a parcel, the address turns out to be a vacant lot. A mysterious car creeps toward him with obvious menace, and soon the teen messenger is […]
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Ben Bova’s sky-blue eyes twinkle as he gazes out on the white sands and palm trees of Venetian Bay near his home in Naples, Florida. The snowbirds have all departed, soon to be replaced by mosquitoes. Tourist season is over, hurricane season is nigh, and he and Barbara, his wife and agent, have this sleepy small town on Florida’s southwestern shore all to themselves once again.


His mind is far away: one hundred million kilometers, to be exact. Seven summers ago, readers took a sub-zero sojourn to Mars with the veteran science fiction author. This summer, the high adventure continues in Return to Mars.


“Mars is a very different world,” Bova muses. “It’s totally dry. There’s no liquid water. You could be standing on the equator in the middle of summer and the ground temperature might get up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature at your nose would be zero. The air just doesn’t hold any heat at all.”


Fortunately the three women and five men of Bova’s second Mars mission team make up for the sub-Arctic chill with plenty of out-of-this-world romance. Jamie Waterman, Navajo geologist and hero of the first novel, returns as mission director. C. Dexter Trumball, the headstrong son of the mission’s cold-hearted financier, soon challenges his authority. Jamie loves the red planet for its mysterious past; Dex wants to exploit it to win his father’s approval. They become locked in a steamy love triangle with beautiful physician/psychiatrist Vijay Shektar before their boots even hit red dust. It’s enough to burst your pressurized dome.


Bova chuckles at the suggestion that his Mars seems to be a very sexy planet indeed.


“It’s human nature. You’re a hundred million kilometers from home, some are men, some are women,” he says. “My first published novel was written for teenagers, and there were rules laid down by the publisher: no sex, no smoking, no swearing. I blew up entire solar systems, I consigned billions of people to horrible death; they didn’t seem to mind that at all. But no hanky-panky.”


There is hanky-panky of a far more dangerous sort in Return to Mars, when the crewmembers suspect they have a saboteur among them.


Bova has spent four decades crafting more than 90 fiction and nonfiction works based closely on scientific findings. Still, the “hard-science” SF practitioner says it’s the people, not the protons, that fire his imagination.


“After you spend a few years developing the novel, you do get a feeling of being there (on Mars),” he says. “I used to tell the grandchildren, ‘Grandpa’s got to go to Mars now.’ Hard science fiction is one thing, but what I’m trying to write are novels about real people doing real things. It may be in places no one else has gone before, but they are human beings and these are novels about the interactions among them, just like any other kind of novel.”


Bova chisels his characters from a variety of raw materials, including friends and acquaintances. But his decision to make Jamie Waterman a half-Navajo “red man on the red planet” arose in a roundabout way from the Martian landscape itself.

Author Photo
“It was really the geography, the land where the Navajo live, because I’d been going out to New Mexico and Arizona for 30 years, and time and again it looked so much like Mars. A very lush sort of a tropical Mars, but the landscape, the geography, is really much like the landscape you’ll find on Mars, if you take away all the bushes. Actually, when I first started plotting out the original novel Mars, the central character was a white-bread American geologist, and it just didn’t work out. So finally I came to a realization that this guy is part Navajo. So we went out to New Mexico for a month or so and absorbed the area and that’s when I started writing the novel.”


Jamie’s grandfather Al, a Navajo shopkeeper, serves as an Obi-wan Kenobi-like mystical sage in the Mars series. “Jamie’s grandfather is really a crucial character in this whole story because Al represented Jamie’s Native American heritage,” Bova says. “Although Jamie is very white and very Western, he still has that streak in him. Indeed, Mars and Earth, the two different planets, can be seen as symbols for the two parts of Jamie’s soul. I think that in Return to Mars he has finally resolved those differences.”


In most cases, characters live in Bova’s mind for years before they actually appear on his computer screen. He says the process of writing the novel is one of discovering more about his creations through their struggles.


Knowing them as well as he does, do they ever surprise him?


“Constantly! More often, it’s been someone who you would think of as a villain who turns out to be less than villainous; he’s human and he’s got his reasons for doing it, and can even do something decent on occasion.”


Such as mission moneyman Darryl C. Trumball, perhaps?


“He’s his own man, he’s come up in the rough-and-tumble world of finance. What he’s doing he doesn’t see as malevolent at all. He sees the scientists as kind of crazy, kooky. Who wants to go to Mars? Because the only thing that makes sense to the senior Trumball is to make money. That’s his criteria, the bottom line. He’s not evil, but you probably wouldn’t want to have dinner with him.”


Having completed two books in both his Moonbase series (Moonrise and Moonwar) and his Mars adventure, how do the two spheres stack up, dramatically speaking? Bova sees them quite differently.


“I think it’s perfectly OK to exploit the moon. Largely for two reasons: there’s no life there, and it is close enough and rich enough in resources to be economically useful to Earth. In the final analysis, everything we do in space, if it does not help the people of Earth, all the people, it’s not going to happen.”


Our fascination with Mars is easily understood, he says. “It’s the most Earth-like planet. It’s the only planet whose surface we can see on Earth and it looks somewhat like Earth. There has always been this fascination: is there life there? Or has there been intelligent life there?”


In recent months, Bova has moved on to Venus, a neighbor closer than Mars, where an out-of-control hothouse effect has resulted in a surface temperature that would melt aluminum and a thick cloud cover that poisons the atmosphere with sulfuric acid. Not exactly a vacation destination, perhaps. Nevertheless, Bova expects to complete the novel for publication next year.


“What I’m doing, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it, is exploring the solar system. And always, as long as you’re exploring it with people, the question of motivation comes up. Why would you want to go to Venus?”


If you are Ben Bova, the answer is obvious. He’s not exactly waiting for a call from NASA offering him a senior discount on the next shuttle mission, but he is dead certain what his answer would be should it happen.


“I’ll get in the car right now and drive to the cape.”



Jay MacDonald is a writer in Naples, Florida.

Ben Bova’s sky-blue eyes twinkle as he gazes out on the white sands and palm trees of Venetian Bay near his home in Naples, Florida. The snowbirds have all departed, soon to be replaced by mosquitoes. Tourist season is over, hurricane season is nigh, and he and Barbara, his wife and agent, have this sleepy […]
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The Digger looks like you, the Digger looks like me. He walks down the wintry streets the way anybody would, shoulders drawn together against the damp December air . . . He’s not tall and not short, he’s not heavy and not thin . . . If you glanced at his eyes you wouldn’t notice the shape or the color but only that they don’t seem quite human, and if the Digger glanced at you while you were looking at him, his eyes might be the very last thing you ever saw . . .

From the very first page of Jeffery Deaver’s new thriller, The Devil’s Teardrop, both the reader and the party-hatted residents of Washington, D.C., know they’re in for a very wild last night of the century.

"I try to write roller coasters if there’s any possible way," he says.

This is the way: The Digger, a human killing machine, is programmed to randomly slaughter pedestrians at four-hour intervals until his handler receives a $20 million ransom and calls off the carnage. But when the Digger’s accomplice is killed in a freak traffic accident, the massacre continues with seemingly no way to stop it. FBI Special Agent Margaret Lukas and former FBI document specialist Parker Kincaid must search for answers within the only piece of evidence they have, the ransom note, and find the Digger before he finds them.

Deaver’s intricately woven plot explores the world of document specialists in much the same way that his recent books, The Bone Collector and The Coffin Dancer, delved into other aspects of forensics. Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic hero of those books, even makes a cameo appearance. (Rhyme will take center stage again next year in Deaver’s forthcoming The Empty Chair.) There is a leitmotif throughout the book: it’s always the little things.

"I really focus on the forensic detail," Deaver admits. "In fact, in solving crimes, that really is what people focus on. You rarely find the smoking gun. The smaller details somehow resonate more clearly with people. We have small details in our own lives; we tend not to have quite so many boulders rolling toward us. I try to make it something people can really relate to."

To get there, Deaver spends roughly eight months constructing his plots, a laborious task that results in a detailed 120-page outline. Then comes another three months writing the prose and transitions, where all the hard work pays off. "Once the outline is finished, I have no problem writing 30 pages a day," he says.

Deaver takes great care to place his hero in the utmost peril, working backward to set the trap. "The endings are the most important part of the book for me, and I don’t mean the last page but the last 30 or 40 pages," he says. "The Bone Collector came to me that way. I wanted my hero to be utterly helpless at the end of the book, in a locked room with the villain and nobody coming to save him. And I thought, helpless, helpless . . . well, we can tie him up with duct tape but that’s really boring, we’ve seen that a lot. Well, I’m going to make him a paraplegic. Yeah, but then we have Ironside. No I don’t want to do that. Well, I’ll make him a quadriplegic, I’ll just up the ante. So I worked backward from there."

Of equal concern are his villains, in this case, the Digger. "I wanted a complete cipher. He really has no condition other than just brain damage. I’m so sick of the abused child who turns into the psychotic killer. And here’s a case where I wanted, not some run-of-the-mill cheap psychological explanation for why somebody was the way he was, I just wanted a killer. It would be like trying to profile a gun. He is simply a tool. That, to me, was completely terrifying."

Two camps have influenced Deaver’s writing. Stylistically, he cites literary authors Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and more contemporary writers such as Mark Halpern, Jane Smiley, and Annie Proulx. In crime fiction, he credits Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm books, and John D. MacDonald as inspirations.

His other major influence will come as no surprise to his fans.

"Movies were very important to me," Deaver says. "I don’t write my books, as some thriller writers do, to make political points, to get up on a soap box, to teach the reader esoteric information that they probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise. I want their palms to sweat and when they finish the book, say, ‘Whew, I survived.’ And movies have largely done that."

Despite the recent spate of political thrillers set in the nation’s capital, Deaver admits he chose it as the setting for The Devil’s Teardrop for a different reason. "I needed the FBI headquarters," he says. "There is such an inflation, such a ton of these political thrillers, most of which don’t really grab me very much, and I wanted to write a Washington book that didn’t really have to do with politics other than the internal politics that happen in the mayor’s office."

It’s also a city he knows well; five years ago, Deaver moved from Manhattan to Clifton, Virginia, just 20 miles west of Washington, D.C.

The Devil’s Teardrop is the 15th suspense novel from the engaging former journalist and lawyer from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, who says he’s done things a little backwards to get where he is today. "I never wanted to be a practicing attorney. I wanted to get a job with the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal reporting on legal matters. So what I did, when I was working as a journalist in New York, I went to Fordham law school at night with the idea that I would have some expertise that would get me a job at one of the better newspapers. But I happened to do real well at school. I had a lukewarm undergrad career but for some reason I really enjoyed law school."

He was recruited by the Wall Street legal firm of Lord, Day & Lord, where he practiced civil law for eight years before leaving to write fiction full-time. During those years, he published his early novels featuring a spunky punk Nancy Drew named Rune. He says Bantam Books is preparing to reissue them.

What most surprises people when they meet Jeffery Deaver for the first time? "That I’m basically a nice guy," he says with a chuckle. "It’s tough to get dates sometimes, if anybody’s read my books. People do tend to identify someone with the books they write, with some justification, but for me it’s just a job. I’ve learned what people like, I’ve learned how to craft a product that gives them some pleasure. I like to cook. I like to entertain. I like to have parties. I still have friends who will say, in the middle of one of my dinner parties, ‘God, I can’t get over that you’re the guy who writes that real creepy stuff.’"

 

Jay Lee MacDonald is a writer in Naples, Florida.

The Digger looks like you, the Digger looks like me. He walks down the wintry streets the way anybody would, shoulders drawn together against the damp December air . . . He’s not tall and not short, he’s not heavy and not thin . . . If you glanced at his eyes you wouldn’t notice […]
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Country-singer-turned-mystery-writer Kinky Friedman rises each morning in his little green trailer deep in the heart of the Texas hill country and tilts at America’s sacred cows like a modern-day Don Quixote on mood elevators. His warped mysteries, together with a catalog of highly irreverent country songs from his wasted-minstrel days, represent the most wickedly funny sustained attack on racism, bigotry, and hypocrisy since Lenny Bruce.

Starting with his first mystery, Greenwich Killing Time, in 1986, through such fractured who-cares-who-done-its as Armadillos & Old Lace, Elvis, Jesus & Coca-Cola and The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover, Friedman’s eponymous black-Stetsoned, cigar-chomping alter ego has stumbled ever blindly toward, if not exactly enlightenment, then random illumination. He may eventually solve the crime, but more often than not the clues seek him out as he holes up in his Greenwich Village walk-up with a disinterested cat and copious amounts of Jameson’s Irish whiskey to assist cogitation. The reluctant sleuth is aided by a loose assemblage of New Yawk barroom denizens collectively known as the Village Irregulars. Messrs. Ratso, Rambam, McGovern and the rest also are real people, rendered, one suspects, just slightly more irregular as they pass through the author’s Wal-Mart typewriter. ("About the last typewriter in Texas," he says proudly, having returned to the Austin area several books ago).

When last we visited the cockeyed world of country-singer-turned-amateur-sleuth Kinky Friedman (in Blast from the Past), a chunk of ceiling plaster, dislodged by Winnie Katz’s lesbian dance class upstairs, had transported the vicar of Vandam Street on a comatose trip back to the ’70s. His 12th misadventure, Spanking Watson, continues in the Sherlock-Holmes-on-a-bender tradition. The Kinkster concocts a cold revenge on his upstairs neighbor, and of course things go immediately awry. With an almost criminal glee, Kinky dupes and recruits his colorful cronies to find a would-be assassin of Katz, then unleashes them on the unsuspecting Winnie and her Danskin-clad students like a horde of locusts on a summer field. When he learns that someone actually is intent on killing Katz, the merry chase begins in earnest.

"Spanking Watson is the search for the perfect Watson," Kinky explains in his smoke-sanded baritone. "It’s a challenge I put out to all of the Village Irregulars to try and infiltrate the lesbian dance class upstairs. Ratso becomes one of those guys you always see in an all-female aerobics class, the kind of feminine nerds that get involved in that. And all of these idiots do infiltrate the dance class. They get up there and then Rambam bugs the loft for me. They do it under the belief that a death threat has been written to Winnie Katz, which I’ve shown them. Of course, I’ve written it myself when I was drunk. It’s kind of Machiavellian. A little darker. But I think it’s funnier."

Kinky’s is perhaps the least likely of modern literary success stories. In the ’70s, young Richard Friedman parlayed his musical talent, knack for social satire, and Semitic birthright into semi-success on the fringes of country music as Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. The band’s stage shows were outrageous, thanks to Friedman’s redneck-baiting, chauvinistic stage persona, and such bitingly hilarious anthems as "They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and the tongue-in-cheek, anti-feminist ode, "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed." Country music has never been fertile soil for comedy, much less satire, so it was little wonder Kinky’s music delighted the critics and offended almost everyone else. Let us note here that his "Ride ‘Em, Jewboy" remains the only country song ever recorded about the Holocaust.

"It took courage back then," he admits. "It did. That was before Howard Stern. It took pawn-shop balls. We were a country band with a social conscience — always very dangerous."

The band came to make its home in perhaps the only country bar on the planet that would have them, New York’s Lone Star Cafe. By all accounts, the party was great. "I met everybody in those days. Andy Warhol. Everybody came by," he says. But by 1976, the party was over. It took Kinky a few years to, uh, refocus and try his hand at a new medium — mystery writing. To borrow a title from one of his songs, when the Lord closes the door, he opens a little window.

"I think it was more like desperation," he admits. "I was searching for a lifestyle that did not require my presence. The Texas Jewboys had disbanded a decade earlier and I was living in New York, flying on 11 kinds of herbs and spices, and broke. So I attempted to write the first book by borrowing my friend McGovern’s typewriter."

Another pal, radio talk-jock Don Imus, pulled strings to get Greenwich Killing Time to Simon & Schuster. Since then, Kinky mysteries frequently appear on the New York Times bestseller list and have been translated into 17 foreign languages.

"It has definitely been a financial pleasure for the Kinkster," he admits. "It’s more than music has really ever been. Of course, as I always say, money can buy you a fine dog but only love can make it wag its tail."

Both Kinkys shamelessly traffic in such bons mots. "This is a Cuban cigar," he’ll say. "I’m not supporting their economy, I’m burning their fields." Or "I’m the oldest Jew in Texas who doesn’t own real estate." Some avid readers contend that these politically incorrect witticisms and rapier-like turns-of-phrase are the real reason to pick up a Kinky mystery. In fact, in tales such as Roadkill, which takes place on tour with Kinky’s compadre Willie Nelson, the plot seems to disappear altogether in a cloud of peculiar-smelling smoke.

"The problem with the Willie book was that I lost so much by taking the detective out of his natural setting. I lost all the Village Irregulars and the cat. And I only found that out halfway through. I fly by Jewish radar. I write like Oscar Wilde behind bars. I don’t structure a lot of this, and I think, in part, that if there is any freshness to these books, any flavor, that’s the reason."

If Roadkill fell short by Holmesian standards, it nonetheless brought Hollywood calling. "The latest idea is to do Roadkill with F. Murray Abraham as Willie and Lionel Richie as me," Kinky says, giving no hint as to whether he’s serious. (Asked whether he would consider playing himself, Nelson replies, "Stranger things have happened. Kinky starts these rumors, you know. And then they come true.")

In fact, the movie idea got its initial boost from a surprising source: President Clinton. "He invited me to the White House for an awards dinner honoring the arts. He must have been on medication because, out of several hundred people, he sat me right next to him at the power table there. He proceeded to try to get my books made into movies with the lady who’s the head of Paramount Pictures, Sherry Lansing."

Equally surprising, the idiosyncratic musings of a Lone Star Jewish iconoclast have been bestsellers in Germany, Holland, and England. Explanation, please? "The rest of the world sees these books as a commentary on America," Kinky says. "It’s unconscious commentary on America. I find that women and little old ladies are really picking up the books. Even though the books are becoming increasingly profane, they’re also possibly becoming increasingly profound."

How close is the fictional Kinkster to his creator? "I think the books are very close to home. They represent an inward turning. I often write with an utter disregard for the reader. That’s the most honest way to write. At the moment, the books I’m writing, each one seems to be the best one. All I have to do is continue to be unhappy and I’ll be fine."

Jay MacDonald is a writer in Naples, Florida.

Country-singer-turned-mystery-writer Kinky Friedman rises each morning in his little green trailer deep in the heart of the Texas hill country and tilts at America’s sacred cows like a modern-day Don Quixote on mood elevators. His warped mysteries, together with a catalog of highly irreverent country songs from his wasted-minstrel days, represent the most wickedly funny […]
Interview by

You would never notice to look at him, but Carl Hiaasen is angry again. The soft-spoken 46-year-old native Floridian still has his easy smile and gentle collegiate manner intact, despite a couple grueling days at the Miami Book Fair. There, fellow Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry enlisted his help to fill in for the sidelined Stephen King in the all-author Rock Bottom Remainders band the previous evening. "I’m just learning the guitar, so it was pretty embarrassing," he admits. "I think they just wanted another target."

If you got hooked on Hiaasen back in 1986 with his debut, Tourist Season, but have sensed a lack of righteous moral outrage at greedy developers and crooked politicians in the last few books, take heart: In Sick Puppy, it’s back with a vengeance.

Twilly Spree, the trust-fund vagabond son of a beachfront developer, has vowed to make reparations for his father by cleaning up Florida one litterbug at a time. When state lobbyist Palmer Stoat leaves a trail of McDonald’s detritus in the wake of his Range Rover, Spree can’t resist teaching him a lesson — several times over. The young eco-avenger soon learns that Stoat is greasing a deal to build a bridge to a Gulf Coast island targeted by an unscrupulous developer with a Barbie fixation. That’s when Spree steals Stoat’s Labrador retriever and his trophy wife and attempts to derail the project.

"Part of this was a generational thing in my own life, because I felt, Look at me, I’m just getting old and cranky, I’m 46 and I feel this way," says Hiaasen. "I don’t see any kids who feel like this. They look around and this is the Florida they grew up in and they don’t give a s_ _ _ about anything. But you know what? Then I would go to colleges and universities and meet kids here at the book fair and they are very interested in what the future holds for their kids, what the Everglades will look like in 20 years or what Biscayne Bay will look like.

"So I thought, what would happen if I had someone in the book who just snapped a little earlier? I had fun with Twilly, reliving some of the same angst and fury I felt as a kid. I think going young with that character helped me keep the fire stoked."

No doubt it was the prospect of once again skewering the developers and crooked politicians that brought another character stumbling forth from the deep swamp: former Governor Clinton Tyree, also known as Skink. The funky elder statesman and the young idealist share this moment on the road:

"[Skink] set his gaze on Twilly Spree and said, ‘Son, I can’t tell you what to do with your life — hell, you’ve seen what I’ve done with mine. But I will tell you there’s probably no peace for people like you and me in this world. Somebody’s got to be angry or nothing gets fixed. That’s what we were put here for, to stay pissed off.’

Twilly said, ‘They made me take a class for it, captain. I was not cured.’

‘A class?’

‘Anger management. I’m perfectly serious.’

Skink hooted. ‘For Christ’s sake, what about greed management? Everybody in this state should take a course in that. You fail, they haul your sorry ass to the border and throw you out of Florida.’"

Hiaasen admits he had to keep the charismatic former governor on a tight leash.

"I knew he was going to be in the novel, but I’d made up my mind he wasn’t going to be in the first part of the novel because he does sort of tend to come on stage and start dominating, and he really is out of my control at that point. He just is what he is. Also, I wanted him older and tired and confronted with a younger version of himself."

The author shrugs off parallels between Twilly and himself. Hiaasen’s father and grandfather were both attorneys in Fort Lauderdale, but he says they were just as surprised and baffled by the rampant growth in south Florida as he was.

"Now you have land use attorneys whose job it is to get around master plans and zoning restrictions, and they make good livings off finding loopholes or making loopholes so people can build something where they weren’t intended to build it," he says. "A good example is Key West. . . . They live off the Hemingway mystique, they trade on the Hemingway mystique, constantly. If Hemingway were alive, he’d take a flame-thrower to Duval Street, and that’s the truth. Fifty T-shirt shops? Give me a break."

Surprisingly, Hiaasen spends considerable pages making the loutish lobbyist Palmer Stoat one of his most fully realized characters.

"The trouble is, he sort of checks his moral compass at the door and that’s what gets him," he says. "In the end, he’ll do anything for a buck for anyone with a buck. He just doesn’t see that he’s doing anything wrong; he doesn’t think about the consequences. That’s what I was trying to get across. It’s different from having a villain who is skinning people and eating their brains."

Having written his eight satirical novels from an omniscient point of view, Hiaasen is toying with a first-person narrative next time out. So far, he has fought the tempting offers from Hollywood to develop a series character along the lines of Travis McGee.

"I said, in the first place, I’m not John D. MacDonald. I’d give anything if I could write that way, out of that guy’s head, again and again, but I can’t. I get bored," he says. "Whatever character I come up with for this novel is going to have to be very, very interesting for me to stay inside his head the whole length of it. I think I’m going to have to do a better job of coming up with someone I can stand."

Jay Lee MacDonald is a writer in Naples, Florida.

Author photo by Elena Seibert.

You would never notice to look at him, but Carl Hiaasen is angry again. The soft-spoken 46-year-old native Floridian still has his easy smile and gentle collegiate manner intact, despite a couple grueling days at the Miami Book Fair. There, fellow Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry enlisted his help to fill in for the sidelined […]

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