Monster She Wrote by Lisa Krieger & Melanie Anderson


9CD8CA8F-41F6-4647-8B19-E4A3B5E67949It’s been years since I took a deep dive into early gothic and speculative fiction, and never just focusing on women authors, so I thought this would be a nice refresher. Kroger and Anderson have written a *readable* and engaging piece of non-fiction that delves into all the kick-ass women who wrote science fiction, paranormal, horror, and speculative fiction from the 17th century on. Many of them wrote using male pseudonyms, but others started their own goddamned publishing houses just for women!

While I especially enjoyed the chapters on the early writers in the field, I also found many unfamiliar authors to explore who wrote for the pulps, or who wrote under male pseudonyms. This book had me scouring my bookshelves for English and Victorian ghost story and short story collections to see if I actually had some of the stories referenced. I now have a stack of ghost story books all set for a summer reading project and am thinking about putting together a reading challenge for my Litsy friends using the authors referenced in the book. Here are a few I plan to explore…

Authors to Revisit:

  • Margaret Cavendish (Mad Madge)
  • Ann Radcliffe
  • Mary Shelley
  • Mary Anne Radcliffe
  • Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Charlotte Riddell

Authors to Explore:

  • Regina Maria Roche
  • Margery Bowen
  • L.T. Meade
  • Charlotte Dacre
  • Marjorie Lawrence
  • Amelia Edwards (apparently the model for Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody character)

These are just a few of the authors featured in this handy book. Find it when it comes out. This one’s a winner, folks!

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Quirk Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review book

Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson

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MetSynopsis: From a writer who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than twenty-five years, an enchanting novel that shows us the Met that the public doesn’t see.

Hidden behind the Picassos and Vermeers, the Temple of Dendur and the American Wing, exists another world: the hallways and offices, conservation studios, storerooms, and cafeteria that are home to the museum’s devoted and peculiar staff of 2,200 people—along with a few ghosts.

A surreal love letter to this private side of the Met, Metropolitan Stories unfolds in a series of amusing and poignant vignettes in which we discover larger-than-life characters, the downside of survival, and the powerful voices of the art itself. The result is a novel bursting with magic, humor, and energetic detail, but also a beautiful book about introspection, an ode to lives lived for art, ultimately building a powerful collage of human experience and the world of the imagination.

These stories are magnificently odd, very much like some of the things in the Met. Part whimsy, part time-travel, part fantasy, part history – I could go on, but there really isn’t a good way to classify this delicious book. Every story is a gem, beginning with the evaluation of the Muses. I think we all should bring a Muse to every meeting. Do not speak to The Muse. The Muse will not speak.

This will be devoured by fans of the Met, or of art museums in general. Guaranteed you will lose yourself in the lovely prose and the fantastical stories.

Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Published By: Other Press
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie


bitterSynopsis: Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, have been invited for a relaxing weekend in the tranquil Cotswolds, one of Britain’s most beautiful and historic regions, famous for its rolling hills, sheep-strewn green meadows, golden cottages, and timeless villages that retain the spirit of old England.

Duncan, Gemma, and their children are guests at Beck House, the country estate belonging to the family of Melody Talbot, Gemma’s trusted detective sergeant. No ordinary farmers, the Talbots are wealthy and prominent with ties to Britain’s most powerful and influential. A centerpiece of this glorious fall getaway is a posh charity luncheon catered by up-and-coming chef Viv Holland. After more than a decade in London, Viv has returned to her native Glouscestershire, making a name for herself with her innovative, mouthwatering use of the local bounty. Attended by several dozen of the area’s well-to-do, as well as national food bloggers and restaurant critics, the event could make Viv a star. A tragic car accident followed by a series of mysterious deaths could ruin her ascent. Each piece of information that surfaces makes it clear that the killer had a connection with Viv’s pub—and perhaps with Beck House itself.

I began this novel with some trepidation because I was disappointed by Crombie’s last entry in this series. After the first couple of pages, I knew this one was of the caliber I had come to expect from the author, and, truthfully, I could not put this down. The story is engaging, and the relationship between Duncan & Gemma is back on track. I enjoyed the foodie aspect to this mystery, as well as the idyllic Cotswalds setting. Learning more about Melody Talbot’s family was also a bonus.

Upon reflection, the “couldn’t put it down-ness” of this book *could* have stemmed from my fear that Crombie was going to kill off Duncan in the end. I am still smarting from James Compton’s death in the Maisie Dobbs series; I would have been crushed if Duncan died from complications from the car crash. THANK YOU, Deborah Crombie, for keeping him going!

Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

Bewitched & Betrothed by Juliet Blackwell

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betwitchedSynopsis: A supernatural force on the loose in San Francisco and a family reunion keeps witch and vintage storeowner Lily Ivory on her toes as she prepares to walk down the aisle…

When Lily stumbles on the uniform of a former prisoner from Alcatraz and SFPD inspector Carlos Romero’s cousin is kidnapped, Lily suspects something dangerous has been unleashed on the ghost-ridden island of Alcatraz. She’ll have to sleuth out the culprit—when she’s not busy entertaining her visiting relatives and resolving romantic conflicts as her wedding date approaches. Could recent omens be pointing to the magical threat in her adopted city? If so, she’ll have to line up her allies to change the fate of the Bay Area. Because no matter what, Lily’s determined to celebrate her marriage with her friends by her side—even if it means battling a demonic foe before she can make it to the altar.

When a series hits double digit numbers, I often lose interest. That is not the case with Blackwell’s Lily Ivory series, and this latest is one of her best. This is really a series about the characters rather than the story, and the characters Blackwell has developed are people you want to know in real life. From Lily’s mischievous grandmother and her saucy coven, to Lily’s mentor Aidan and his mysterious past, to Patience Blix and her belled ankles, to San Francisco cop Carlos, to Lily’s closest friends Bronwyn, Maya, and Conrad, to her fiance Sailor, and finally to her familiar Oscar – every character has an important role to play.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about this series is how Blackwell grows and develops the characters. Each book has brought the characters farther along their path; for example, Conrad has gone from the stoned “gutter punk” to a guy trying to get sober and reconnect with his family. Lily herself has grown from a suspicious, solitary witch to someone who values friendship and love, which is a theme that appears again and again in this book and which she ultimately embraces in the thrilling climax where she does, indeed, save San Francisco.

While Blackwell often writes with tongue firmly in cheek, she consistently produces enjoyable, light mysteries that will give you a couple enjoyable hours of reading time. Well done, Juliet Blackwell! Looking forward to more Lily Ivory!

Publication Date: June 25, 2019
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

The Book Supremacy by Kate Carlisle


Book supremacySynopsis: Newlyweds Brooklyn and Derek are enjoying the final days of their honeymoon in Paris. As they’re browsing the book stalls along the Seine, Brooklyn finds the perfect gift for Derek, a first edition James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me. When they bump into Ned, an old friend from Derek’s spy days, Brooklyn shows him her latest treasure.

Once they’re back home in San Francisco, they visit a spy shop Ned mentioned. The owner begs them to let him display the book Brooklyn found in Paris as part of the shop’s first anniversary celebration. Before they agree, Derek makes sure the security is up to snuff—turns out, the unassuming book is worth a great deal more than sentimental value. Soon after, Derek is dismayed when he receives a mysterious letter from Paris announcing Ned’s death. Then late one night, someone is killed inside the spy shop. Are the murders connected to Brooklyn’s rare, pricey book? Is there something even more sinister afoot? Brooklyn and the spy who loves her will have to delve into the darkest parts of Derek’s past to unmask an enemy who’s been waiting for the chance to destroy everything they hold dear.

I have a soft spot for this bookish series from Kate Carlisle, mostly because I so enjoy the occupation of main character Brooklyn Wainwright, who is a book restorer. Set in San Francisco, the series follows Brooklyn and her ex-spy husband as they solve murder mysteries. While it’s helpful to have some knowledge of the series’ characters, each entry features a stand-alone mystery that is always well-executed. All are light, cozy mysteries that will entertain you for a couple of hours.  Be warned, though. If you read this one, you’ll want to go back and read the rest of the Bibliophile books.

Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Reader Profile – Erin Egloff


erin egloff (2)Erin Egloff was born and raised in Lowville, NY, and graduated from Pitzer College in Claremont, California. She developed a career in the Los Angeles nonprofit sector for 14 years and moved to Rochester in 2017 with her husband and felines. Erin is a lifelong learner who is particularly passionate about intersectional feminism, racial justice, sexual violence and misconduct, education equity, and government transparency. She is on the board of 540 West Main Communiversity, sits on the RCSD R.E.A.L. Team, and is the Education Committee Secretary for Rochester’s chapter of Citizen Action NY. Twitter: @ShePersisted03

Write a one-sentence description of yourself as a Reader.

I’m an overly ambitious reader whose only fear of dying is that I won’t be able to finish my To Read list.

What are you reading right now?

I’m finishing Race Manners by Bruce Jacobs and The Meaning of Freedom by Angela Davis; I’m halfway through Biblioholism by Tom Raabe, and I’ve been staring longingly at Ian McEwan’s Nutshell for a month.

The desert island question – What 5 books would you have to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

I suppose I’d take Finnegan’s Wake so I could do the work that I gave up on during undergrad. Song of Solomon would provide comfort and a dreamy escape from my inevitable anxiety; I’d also bring National Geographic’s Concise History of the World, The Wheel of Life, and The Year of Magical Thinking.

Are you a finisher? In other words, are you compelled to finish a book even if you hate it? What are some books that you’ve had to force yourself to finish, or which you’ve bailed on?

I used to feel obligated to finish books, but I quickly realized life is too short and there are too many books on my To Read list to get through. I can’t really recall the books I stopped reading, because I just toss them into a bag and give them to the library. I do recall that I ditched Eat, Pray, Love and Swann’s Way. I also abandoned The Canterbury Tales after 20 minutes, though that’s not particularly unique…

Do you ever read the end of a book first? Why or why not?

Blasphemy!

What is at the top of your To Be Read pile?

Nutshell by Ian McEwan, Feminasty by Erin Gibson, and What is the What by Dave Eggers

Who is your go-to author when someone asks you for a recommendation?

It depends on what they’re looking for; someone recently asked for a suspense recommendation, and the first author that came to mind is Tana French. For other genres, I often suggest Roxane Gay, Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Lawrence Sanders, Doris Lessing, Roald Dahl, Sherwin Nuland, and Kay Redfield Jamison.

Would you rather be your favorite author or your favorite character?

My favorite characters tend to be miserable or deeply troubled, so I’d probably rather be an author. Though most of them are also likely miserable and deeply troubled… so perhaps I should give this more thought.

What book do you wish you’d never read?

The Devil Wears Prada. What a waste of time.

Has any book defined your life, as in you would be a different person if you hadn’t read it?

Reading Song of Solomon in high school hit me like a ton of bricks; the allegory and imagery is so thick and magical that I decided I’d have to major in literature in college. If I hadn’t read that book, I may have ended up majoring in business and been miserable.

Is there a genre or type that you are over and wish would just go away?

There are genres of which I’m not personally a fan, but I’d never wish any book to go away. Someone will want to read it, someone might love it, and as long as people are reading, I’m happy.

Describe your favorite place to read.

I love to read while sitting in my blue chair in my living room, feet on the ottoman, blanket on lap, with one cat by my side and one on my feet. Sometimes the cliché really is the way to go.

Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

I’ve given this a lot of thought and the only one I can come up with is Lee Daniels’ movie Precious, which was based on the novel Push. Something about the book didn’t resonate with me, but I was very moved by the film.

What is your preferred format? Hardcover, paperback, digital, audio, doesn’t matter?

If I’m driving for hours at a time, I like to listen to audiobooks, but normally I prefer hardcovers or paperbacks. I do enjoy the Kindle when I’m in bed, but I don’t usually read in bed because I fall asleep as soon as I feel the pillow.

If you were to get a bookish tattoo, what would it be?

I’m pretty fond of a quote from Station Eleven: “It is sometimes necessary to break everything.”

If you’d like to be featured in a Reader Profile, contact me at patricia.uttaro @ gmail.com.

Swann’s Down by Charles Salzberg

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Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg Banner

on Tour May 1 – June 30, 2019

Synopsis:

Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg

When Henry Swann is asked by his quirky partner, Goldblatt, to find a missing psychic who’s swindled his ex-wife out of a small fortune, he just can’t say no. Although he doesn’t actually expect to get paid, he figures it might give him a chance to finally learn more about his partner’s mysterious past. His search takes him into the controversial, arcane world of psychics, fortune tellers, and charlatans, while raising questions in his own mind about whether or not there is an after-life.

While working his partner’s case, he’s approached by a former employer, attorney Paul Rudder, and asked to track down a missing witness who might be able to provide an alibi for his client. The client, Nicky Diamond, is a notorious mob hitman who’s scheduled to go on trial in a week for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. Swann’s search for the missing witness, who happens to be the defendant’s girlfriend, takes him from Brooklyn to a small beach town across the Bay from Mobile, Alabama. But what does she really know and will she even come back with him to testify for her boyfriend?

Partners In Crime constantly introduces me to new writers and new series, and Henry Swann is a damn fine new acquaintance. Wisecracking, tough, a little salty but nursing a softer side, he’s the 21st century answer to Sam Spade (it’s been a long time since I read a detective story where someone was referred to as a “welsher”), or at the very least, Elvis Cole.

The story will keep you engaged, although I did have a pretty good idea of how it would end. The characters are colorful enough that they keep you reading, although I will admit I liked Madame Sofia the best. Harry Swann is a detective whose adventures I will share again. Recommended for fans of detective fiction.

Praise for Swann’s Down:

“Psychics, double-crosses, missing persons–Charles Salzberg’s latest Henry Swann book has it all. Swann’s Down is a gritty, no-frills PI novel that brings to mind greats like Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager and Michael Harvey’s Michael Kelly. Whether this is your first Swann adventure or the latest, you won’t want to miss the brass-knuckle punch that is Swann’s Down. Trust me.”
~ Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends

“From Manhattan to Coney Island to the steamy shores of Alabama, Charles Salzberg delivers a top-flight mystery with his latest Henry Swann outing. Highly recommended.”
~ Tom Straw, New York Times bestselling author as Richard Castle

Swann’s Down gives readers two intriguing mysteries for the price of one, as skip tracer Henry Swann pursues a woman who might alibi a murderer and a psychic who swindled the ex-wife of Swann’s partner. Shamus Award-nominated Salzberg does a superb job cutting between the two investigations. I kept turning pages to stay with both chases as the suspense increased to the very end. Whatever is going on, Swann is at the center of this story. His wry wit, quotes from authors and philosophers, genius for questioning suspects, and dark past make him a character readers will follow anywhere as he seeks his quarry. This is another thrilling addition to this excellent series.
~ Rich Zahradnik, Lights Out Summer, winner of the 2018 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Private Eye Novel

Henry Swann dives in where others fear to tread in Swann’s Down: Fast. Funny. And Smart. This time out, Swann crosses paths with a psycho hitman, a phony psychic and Swann’s mysterious partner, a disbarred lawyer. Who could ask for more? I hope we’ll see a lot more of Swann in the future and that this isn’t Swann’s swan song.
~ Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-winning Author of White Heat and Broken Windows.

Book Details:

Genre: Detective/Noir/Mystery
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 978-1-64396011-1
Series:Henry Swann
Purchase Links: Amazon | BN.com | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

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The Age of Aquarius

“We’re partners, right?”

Nothing good can come from that question when it comes from the mouth of Goldblatt.

“I mean, all for one and one for all, am I right?” he quickly added in an attempt, I was sure, to seal the deal.

“I think you’re confusing us with the three musketeers. May I point out there are only two of us, and I’m afraid that’s not the only fallacy in your declaration. But you might as well finish what you’ve started.”

We were having our weekly Friday lunchtime sit-down to discuss what Goldblatt likes to refer to as “business.” I have another name for it: waste of time.

Our venue changes from week to week but the concept is always pretty much the same: a cheap diner-slash-coffee shop somewhere on the island of Manhattan. Today’s eatery of choice (Goldblatt’s choice, my destiny) is the Utopia Diner, on Amsterdam, near 72nd Street. And as for the business we’d just finished discussing, well, to be honest, there never is very much actual business to discuss and today was no exception.

At this particular moment in time, we were going through a bit of a dry spell, which always makes me a little nervous because no matter how much I banish it from my mind, the rent is due the first of every month and at least three times a day I seem to develop a hunger that must be quenched. Still, a good fifteen, twenty years away from Social Security, and with precious little dough in the bank–okay, let’s be honest, no dough in the bank–and no 401-K to fall back on, I need to keep working. And, as much as I don’t like to admit it, lately it’s been my “partner,” as he likes to refer to himself, as opposed to my preferred albatross, who’s brought in the bulk of our clients.

We’d already finished eating–though technically, Goldblatt never actually finishes eating which means a meal can easily turn into an all-day affair, if I don’t apply the brakes–and we were just waiting for the check to arrive. This is a crucial point of any meal with Goldblatt because it is the opening gambit in what has become our weekly routine of watching the check sit there in no-man’s land somewhere between us until I inevitably give in, pick it up, and pay. Otherwise, I risk one of two things: either we’d be there all afternoon or, worst case scenario, Goldblatt will decide he’s still hungry and threaten to order something else. Neither one of these options is the least bit appealing.

“I’ll get right to the point,” he said.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted the waiter, like a white knight, approaching with our check in hand. If I acted quick enough I might be able to get out of there before I can be sucked into something I don’t want to have anything to do with.

“That would be nice,” I said, reaching for my wallet. “What is your point?”

“I need to hire you.”

I was stopped in my tracks before I got my wallet halfway out of my back pocket.

“Really? To do what?”

“I want you to find someone for me. Well, to be more precise it’s not really for me. It’s for my ex-wife.”

Wait a minute! Goldblatt married? Goldblatt with a wife? Goldblatt a husband? This was a new one on me, something I’d never even considered.

“You…you’ve been married?” I stammered.

Truth is, I never pictured Goldblatt being in any relationship other than with, yes, as irritating as it might be, me. I mean the guy isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of Don Juan, although I suppose in theory there are women who might find him if not attractive in the conventional way at least interesting in a specimen-under-glass way. Or maybe as a project. Women love a project. They love a challenge. They love the idea that they have the opportunity to remake a man in their image. Maybe that was it. But whatever it was, my world was shaken to the core. And what would shake it even more would be to find that he was actually a father, too. But one shock per meal is more than enough, so there was no chance I was going to pursue that line of questioning.

“Unfortunately, the answer is yes. More than once, in fact.”

“Holy Cow,” I blurted out, channeling the Scooter. “You’re kidding me?”

At this point the same bald, squat waiter who seems to serve us in every diner we patronize, reached our table and dropped the check right in front of me.

“This is not something a man usually kids about.”

“How many times?”

He held up three fingers.

“Three times! You’ve been married three times?”

“Yeah.”

I gulped.

“Are you married now?”

He shook his head. “Nah. I’m kinda between wives. Giving it a rest, if you know what I mean.
But chances are I’ll be back in the saddle again soon enough.”

“Okay, so let me get this straight. You’ve been married three times and now you’re single but you would consider getting married again?”

“Man is not meant to be alone, Swannie. You might consider the possibility that your life would be enriched if you found your soulmate.”

You’re fortunate if you find one soul mate in life and I’d already had mine. She was yanked from my life as a result of a freak accident, a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t know if Goldblatt knew the circumstances of her bizarre accidental death, but I wouldn’t have been surprised because he seems to know a lot of things he has no business knowing.

“Some men are meant to be alone, Goldblatt. I’m one of them and after three failed marriages maybe you should consider the possibility you are, too.”

He smiled and puffed out his chest. “What can I say, Swann? I’m a friggin’ babe magnet.”

I would have laughed, should have laughed, but I was still processing the scary fact that he’d been married three times. That meant there were three women in the world who not only were willing to marry him but did marry him. I wanted to know more. Much more. Everything, in fact. But this was not the time and certainly not the place to delve into Goldblatt’s mysterious, sordid past. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would revisit this topic in the not too distant future.

Still in shock, I avoided our weekly “who’s paying for this meal” tango, grabbed the check and reached for my wallet…again.

“So, wanna know the story?” he asked.

“Which story would that be?”

“The story of why I want to hire you?”

“Desperately.”

***

Excerpt from Swann’s Down by Charles Salzberg. Copyright 2019 by Charles Salzberg. Reproduced with permission from Charles Salzberg. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Charles Salzberg

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in New York magazine, Esquire, GQ, Redbook, The New York Times Book Review and other periodicals. He has written over 20 non-fiction books, including From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an oral history of the NBA, and Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times. He is author of the Shamus Award nominated Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair, nominated for two Silver Falchions, Swann’s Way Out, Devil in the Hole, named one of the best crime novels of the year by Suspense Magazine. He was a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and he teaches writing the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member. He is a member of the MWA-NY Board.

Catch Up With Charles Salzberg On:
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Silent Lee & the Adventure of the Side Door Key by Alex Hiam


silent leeA student of the Girls’ Academy of Latin and Alchemy, Silent Lee travels between modern day Boston and the brimming-with-alchemy Boston of 100 years ago as she goes about her school day. How does she do that, you ask? Why, through a magical secret door on the side of her house where she lives with her Great Aunt Generous. Front of the house = modern day Boston; side of the house = old Boston.

Sie goes about her business undisturbed until the day she’s told Aunt Gen has died and she’s going to move in with some cousins. Picked up by her mysterious mother, who may or may not be a spy, Sie is perplexed by her mother’s interest in the side door key and makes the decision to keep it hidden. As Sie settles in at the cousins’ house, mysterious things start to happen which lead her to believe that Aunt Gen may not be dead after all. What follows is a fast-paced adventure as Sie rushes to find her Aunt Gen and return to her studies.

Alex Hiam has begun a fascinating, fun, and original new series for middle grade readers featuring a smart and sassy 15 year old protagonist who is sure to appeal. The time travel and school of magic concepts aren’t new, but Hiam breathes fresh life into them here with the Girls’ Academy. Sie’s relationship with her mother adds needed tension to the story, and her relationship with Aunt Gen is one we all wish for. I look forward to sharing more adventures with Silent Lee and the Girls’ Academy students.

For the Love of Books by Graham Tarrant

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cover160804-mediumPeople who love books and reading and authors will enjoy this book. It’s like a compilation of People magazine stories, but focusing solely on authors. There is information galore on famous feuds, who drank what and when, how and where certain authors liked to write, muses and obsessions, and just plain gossip. However, buried under the 21st century, short attention span sections is some real, solid information about authors, writing, and reading. This would be an interesting companion text in a World Literature course – teach the serious stuff but temper it with the messy, human side of the authors. Recommended for people who enjoy trivia and unusual takes on traditional literature and authors.

Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Published By: Skyhorse Publishing
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan


the-naming-game-by-gabriel-valjan-cover

On Tour April 22 – June 22, 2019

Whether it’s Hollywood or DC, life and death, success or failure hinge on saying a name.

The right name.

When Hollywood script-fixer Charlie Loew is found murdered in a seedy flophouse with a cryptic list inside his handkerchief, Jack Marshall sends Walker undercover as a screenwriter at a major studio and Leslie as a secretary to Dr. Phillip Ernest, shrink to the stars. J. Edgar Hoover has his own list. Blacklisted writers and studio politics. Ruthless gangsters and Chief Parker’s LAPD. Paranoia, suspicions, and divided loyalties begin to blur when the House Un-American Activities Committee insists that everyone play the naming game. 

Praise for The Naming Game:

“With crackling dialogue and a page turning plot shot-through with authentic period detail, Gabriel Valjan pulls the reader into the hidden world of the 1950’s Hollywood studio scene, involving murder, McCarthyism and mayhem.”
~ James L’Etoile, author of At What Cost and Bury the Past

“Terrific historical noir as Gabriel Valjan takes us on a trip through post-war Hollywood involving scandal, McCarthyism, blacklisting, J. Edgar Hoover and, of course, murder. Compelling story, compelling characters – and all the famous name dropping is great fun. Highly recommended!”
~ R.G. Belsky, author of the Clare Carlson Mystery Series

“Brilliantly written, Gabriel Valjan’s The Naming Game whisks the reader back in time to postwar Los Angeles. Spies, Communism, and Hollywood converge in a first-rate thriller.”
~ Bruce Robert Coffin, Agatha Award nominated author of Beyond the Truth

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery, Crime Fiction
Published by: Winter Goose Publishing
Publication Date: May 4, 2019
Number of Pages: 210
ISBN: 978-1-941058-86-2
Series: The Company Files: 2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

At seven minutes past the hour while reviewing the classified documents at his desk, one of the two colored phones, the beige one, rang. He placed the receiver next to his ear, closed the folder, and waited for the caller’s voice to speak first.

“Is this Jack Marshall?”

“It is.”

“This is William Parker. Is the line secure?”

“It is,” Jack replied, his hand opening a desk cabinet and flipping the ON switch to start recording the conversation.

“I don’t know you Mr. Marshall and I presume you don’t know me.”

A pause.

“I know of you, Chief Parker.”

“Were you expecting my call?”

“No and it doesn’t matter.” Jack lied.

“Fact of the matter, Mr. Marshall, is an individual, whom I need not name, has suggested I contact you about a sensitive matter. He said matter of security so I listened.”

“Of course. I’m listening.”

“I was instructed to give you an address and have my man at the scene allow you to do whatever it is that you need to do when you arrive there.”

“Pencil and paper are ready. The address, please.”

Jack wrote out the address; it was in town, low rent section with the usual rooming houses, cheap bars, about a fifteen-minute drive on Highway 1 without traffic.

“Ask for Detective Brown. You won’t miss him. Don’t like it that someone steps in and tells me how to mind my own city, but I have no choice in the matter.”

Jack ignored the man’s defensive tone. He knew Detective Brown was a dummy name, like Jones or Smith on a hotel ledger. Plain, unimaginative, but it would do. Most policemen, he conceded, were neither bright nor fully screwed into the socket. A chief was no different except he had more current in him. The chief of police who ruled Los Angeles by day with his cop-syndicate the way Mickey Cohen owned the night must’ve swallowed his pride when he dropped that nickel to make this call.

“Thank you, Chief Parker.”

Jack hung up and flipped the switch to OFF.

Whatever it was at the scene waiting for Jack was sufficient cause to pull back a man like Bill Parker and his boys for twelve hours. Whoever gave this order had enough juice to rein in the LAPD.

Jack took the folder he was reviewing and walked it across the room. He opened the folder once more and reread the phrases ‘malicious international spy’ and, in Ronald Reagan’s own choice of words, ‘Asia’s Mata Hari’, before closing the cover and placing it inside the safe. His review will have to wait. He put on his holster and grabbed a jacket.

Betty came out on the porch as he was putting the key into the car door.

“I won’t be long. Please kiss the children good night for me.”

“Can’t this wait, Jack? The children were expecting you to read to them tonight. Jack Junior set aside the book and you know Elizabeth will be crushed.”

“It can’t wait. I’m sorry. Tell them I’ll make it up to them.”

“You need to look them in the face when you tell them sorry.”

He opened the door as his decision. She understood she dealt him the low card. “Want something for the road?”

“No thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

He closed the door with finesse. He couldn’t help it if the children heard the car. He checked the mirror and saw her on the porch, still standing there, still disappointed and patient, as he drove off.

Detective Brown, sole man on the scene, walked him over to the body without introducing himself. Jack didn’t give his name.

At six-fifteen the vet renting a room down the hall discovered the body. Detective Brown said the veteran was probably a hired hound doing a bag job – break-ins, surveillance, and the like. Recent veterans made the best candidates for that kind of work for Hoover, Jack thought. Worked cheap and they went the extra mile without Hoover’s agents having to worry about technicalities like a citizen’s rights going to law.

“What makes you think he was hired out?” Jack asked.

Brown, a man of few words, handed Jack his notebook, flipped over to the open page he marked Witness Statement and said politely, “Please read it. Words and writing are from the witness himself.”

“The man was a no good ‘commonist’.”

“Nice spelling. A suspect?”

“No, sir. The coroner places the death around early afternoon, about 2ish. Our patriot was across the street drinking his lunch. I verified it.”

Jack viewed the body. The man was fully dressed wearing a light weave gabardine suit costing at least twenty-five. The hardly scuffed oxfords had to cost as much as the suit, and the shirt and tie, both silk, put the entire ensemble near a hundred. Hardly class consciousness for an alleged Communist, Jack thought.

The corpse lying on his side reminded Jack of the children sleeping, minus the red pool seeping into the rug under the right ear. The dead man wore a small sapphire ring on his small finger, left hand. No wedding band. Nice watch on the wrist, face turned in. An odd way to read time. Breast pocket contained a cigarette case with expensive cigarettes, Egyptian. Jack recognized the brand from his work in the Far East. Ten cents a cigarette is nice discretionary income. Wallet in other breast pocket held fifty dollars, various denominations. Ruled out robbery or staging it. Identification card said Charles Loew, Warner Brothers. Another card: Screen Writers Guild, signed by Mary McCall, Jr. President. Back of card presented a pencil scrawl.

“Find a lighter or book of matches?”

Detective Brown shook his head. Jack patted the breast pockets again and the man’s jacket’s side-pockets. Some loose change, but nothing else. The man was unarmed, except for a nice pen. Much as he disliked the idea Jack put his hands into the man’s front pockets. Nothing. He found a book of matches in the left rear pocket, black with gold telltale lettering, Trocadero on Sunset. Jack flipped the matchbook open and as he suspected, found a telephone number written in silver ink; different ink than the man’s own pen. Other back pocket contained a handkerchief square Jack found interesting, as did Detective Brown.

“What’s that?” he asked, head peering over for a better look.

“Not sure,” answered Jack, unfolding the several-times folded piece of paper hidden inside the hanky. The unfolded paper revealed a bunch of typewritten names that had bled out onto other parts of the paper. It must have been folded while the ink was still wet. It didn’t help someone spilt something on the paper. Smelled faintly of recent whiskey. Jack reviewed what he thought were names when he realized the letters were nonsense words.

“Might be a Commie membership list. Looks like code.” But Brown zipped it when Jack folded the paper back up and put it into his pocket.

“The paper and the matches stay with me. We clear?”

“Uh, yes sir. The Chief told me himself to do whatever you said and not ask questions.”

“Good. Other than the coroner – who else was here? Photographers, fingerprints?”

“Nobody else. Medical pronounced him dead, but nothing more. Chief had them called off to another scene – a multiple homicide, few blocks away. We’re short-staffed tonight. The Chief said he’d send Homicide after you leave. They’ll process the scene however you leave it. They won’t know about the matches or the paper. Chief’s orders.”

Jack checked his watch. Man down, found at six fifteen. Chief called a little after seven. He arrived not much later than seven forty. The busy bodies would get the stiff by eight or eight thirty, the latest. Perfectly reasonable Jack thought. He squatted down to see the man’s watch, noticing light bruising on the wrist and the throw rug bunched into a small hill near the man’s time hand. Intriguing.

“Thank you, Detective. I’ll be going now. If I speak to the chief I’ll let him know you’ve done your job to the letter.”

“You’re welcome. Night.”

Jack knew he and the chief would be speaking again.

Outside on the street, Jack pulled out his handkerchief and wiped both hands for any traces of dead man as he headed for the parked car. Compulsive habit. He pulled up the collar on his jacket. It was cold for late May.

The street sign said he was not far from Broadway. In this part of town thousands lived crowded in on themselves as lodgers in dilapidated Gothic mansions or residence hotels, working the downtown stores, factories, and offices, riding public transit and the other funicular railway in the area, Court Flight, a two-track railway climb towards Hill Street.

Los Angeles changed with the world. The war was over and there was a new war, possibly domestic, definitely foreign. Court Flight is gone, ceased operations. Its owner and his faithful cat had passed on. His good widow tried. In ’43 a careless brush fire destroyed the tracks and the Board of Public Utilities signed the death warrant; and now Jack was hearing whispers Mayor Bowron planned to revitalize the area International Style, which meant dotting the desert city with skyscrapers.

Jack opened the door and sat behind the wheel a moment. He took the family once to nearby Angels Flight. Junior wondered why there was no apostrophe on the sign. Betty tolerated the excursion, indifferent to Los Angeles because she preferred their home in DC. He released the clutch. Betty disliked LA because it changed too much without reason. She might have had a point. He shifted gear. Pueblo city would level whole blocks of thriving masses just to create a parking lot. He pulled the car from the curb.

***

Excerpt from The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2019 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Author Bio:

Gabriel Valjan is the author of two series, The Roma Series and The Company Files, available from Winter Goose Publishing. His short stories have appeared in Level Best anthologies and other publications. Twice shortlisted for the Fish Prize in Ireland, once for the Bridport Prize in England, and an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest, he is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime National, a local member of Sisters in Crime New England, and an attendee of Bouchercon, Crime Bake, and Malice Domestic conferences.

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