James Lee Burke is best known for his Dave Robicheaux mystery series, but his new standalone novel has completely blown me away. Historical thriller Wayfaring Stranger follows the life of Weldon Holland, the grandson of Burke's series character Hackberry Holland. From a run-in with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Texas to heroic acts during World War II (rescuing soldiers and concentration camp prisoners alike), the early days of Weldon's life are—in a word—epic. After the war ends in Europe, Weldon returns to Texas, marries and starts an oil pipeline business. But peacetime has its own dangers, as Weldon's success in the oil biz—and marriage to a Jewish woman—creates plenty of enemies.
And of course all of this unfolds with Burke's classic prose, tinged with nostalgia in a way that seems perfect for historical fiction. Read on for an excerpt from when Weldon and his grandfather first encounter Bonnie and Clyde:
The windmill was ginning furiously, the stanchions trembling with energy, a thread of water coming from teh spout, the tank crusted with dirt and dead insects and animal hair along the rimes. "The moon looks like it was dipped in a teacup. I cain't believe how we used to take the rain for granted," he said. "I think this land must be cursed."
The air smelled of ash and dust and creosote and horse and cow manure that feathered in your hand if you picked it up. Dry lightning leaped through the heavens and died, like somebody removing an oil lamp from the window of a darkened house. I thought I felt thunder course through the ground under my shoes. "Feel that?" I said, hoping to change Grandfather's mood and my own.
"Don't get your hopes up. That's the Katy blowing down the line," he replied. "I'm sorry I made fun of your butt, Satch. I won't do it no more. Walk behind me till we know who's in that car."
As we approached the tree line, the driver of teh car walked out of the headlights and stood silhouetted against the glare, the got back in his car and started the engine and clanked the transmission into gear. The trees were so dry they made a sound like paper rustling when the wind blew through the canopy.
"Hold up there," Grandfather said to the man.
I thought the driver would simply motor away. But he didn't. He stuck his elbow out the window and stared straight into our faces, his expression curious rather than alarmed. "You talking to us?" he asked.
"You're on my property," Grandfather said.
"I thought this was public woods," the driver said. "If there's a posted sign that says otherwise, I didn't see it."
The woman next to him was pretty and had strawberry-blonde hair and a beret tilted over one eye. She looked like a happy country girl, the kind who works in a dime store or in a café where the truckers come in to make innocent talk. She leaned forward and grinned up into Grandfather's face. She silently mouthed the words "We're sorry."
"Did you know you have mud on your license tag?" Grandfather asked the driver.
"I'll get right on that," the driver said.
"You also have what appears to be a bullet hole in your back window."
Think you'll check out Burke's newest? What are you reading today?
California native Karen Keskinen follows up her 2012 debut mystery, Blood Orange, with a new adventure for private investigator Jaymie Zarlin. In Black Current, the body of a local teen is found in a tank at the Santa Barbara Aquarium. It's ruled a suicide, but the girl's parents hire Jaymie to prove otherwise.
In a guest blog post for Private Eye July, Keskinen shares what it's like to be the featured author at book club meetings. It's no small job, that's for sure:
I’ve never been a chakra-and-crystals kind of girl. Sometimes I think a New Age is just what we need, but most of the time I find that this age we live in is—you know—good enough. And yet one night a few weeks back, as I walked home in the dark from a book club engagement, one of those New-Agey words popped into my head: shaman.
Yeah. As I walked home from a meeting right here in Santa Barbara, California, that’s what I felt like: a shaman. Maybe I didn’t exactly feel like one, but for the first time, I could sense the power those ancient storytellers wielded through their words.
This little city bristles with book club encounters every night of the week. Readers congregate in highbrow get-togethers and lowbrow get-togethers, well-heeled gatherings and run-down-at-the-heel gatherings, co-ed clubs, single-sex clubs and not-all-that-keen-on-sex clubs. But all these confabs have two characteristics in common.
One is food. Many so-called book clubs are actually misnomered: They are more accurately food and drink clubs. And huzzah to that! I’ve stuffed myself with full-on meals, nibbled at dainty noshes and, as a special tribute to my first book, taken part in a blood-orange-themed spread. You have not lived till you’ve tasted calamondin and blood orange pound cake. Yet, I digress.
Another feature these meetings have in common is that they encourage some feisty conversations, especially among my fellow Santa Barbarians.
Notice, I don’t claim readers think Blood Orange and Black Current are the greatest reads since Ulysses. But here in our town, these books are proving to be provocative, flaring matches put to drought-dried kindling.
When I arrive at a book club meeting, I usually say that I’ll stay for no more than an hour. I warn the members in advance that they might grow tired of me, and also that they might like to have time to say what they honestly think, once I leave. It makes no difference: I always seem to be driving or trotting home around 10:30, my mind roiling from the torrid and intense conversation, in no way ready for sleep.
The questions begin innocently enough. For example: Why is Jaymie Zarlin’s office address, 101 W. Mission, in fact that of the Cat and Bird Clinic? But soon, minutia dispensed with, matters warm up.
Are the rich so awful? Are cops corrupt? Are people that mean? So we talk about the bad in good people, and the good in bad. We talk about the abuse of power and the power money bestows. About corruption, both personal and systemic. And we talk about that corruption right here in River City, not in some theoretical realm.
In every book club I’ve visited, somebody has had her cage rattled. At one recent gathering, people were debating in twos and threes when a young woman said loudly: “Jenny, I’ve never heard you talk like that!” The room fell silent. Flushed, the accused looked away. For maybe the first time in her life, Jenny had publicly dropped the f-bomb.
I’ve thought about shamans over the past few weeks. How did they work their magic? They were conduits, mediums, copper wires. The shaman had her ear to the ground, a nose for the news, she didn’t miss much. And she let all that flow into her, through her, and on out to the ineffable, what we fear and don’t understand. Then all that power, transformed into story, flowed back again.
The face of the fear doesn’t matter: Once upon a time there were broken limbs that turned septic, and mountain lions that could flail open a man. Now we have terrorists, torturers, rapists. The bogeyman changes masks as the centuries pass, but never his nature, which is the ability to evoke dread.
The shaman’s tools never change, either. She has only three, but what a three they are! People, places and things. Waving those three wands, she teases out her listeners’ fears and dreams and heartbreak, then weaves all that chaos to make a map, a guide for survival. A story.
When book club members ask me questions about the settings, characters and special objects in Blood Orange and Black Current, I know their interest is piqued. But when they ignore my answers and insist on supplying their own, that’s when I know I’m their conduit: The readers are redeeming my stories, remaking them into their own.
Recently at one local meeting, an older woman announced she knew the real life people I’d used to create two of my characters, Dr. Bruce and Cynthia Wiederkehr. In fact, Bruce and Cynthia were created from whole cloth, but I had the good sense to keep quiet.
My reader whispered their names to a friend sitting beside her, and the two women raised eyebrows and exchanged knowing smiles. The Sha-Woman reached for a slice of chocolate cheesecake, and felt good. She’d given it over to them, it was their story now.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Black Current is now available!
Does the phrase "Amish murder mystery" cause you to scratch your head in confusion?
Fans of Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder series know exactly how thrilling this unlikely combination can be: Set in the heart of Ohio's Amish country in the town of Painters Mill, the sixth installment unfolds with the story of a brutal crime in 1976. Now, the Hochstetler farm is abandoned, and only one member of the family is left alive in Painters Mill.
When chief Burkholder is called to investigate an apparent suicide in a dilapidated barn, the death toll begins to climb quickly, and mounting evidence may have ties to the unsolved Hochstetler case.
Chief Burkholder tries to keep her famously level head amidst claims of malicious ghosts from the victims, and her domestic tranquility has vanished: state agent Tomasetti is unable to provide much comfort as he's distracted by one of his wife's killers roaming free.
The Dead Will Tell is featured in our July Meet the Author feature, and you can find it on shelves today!
Check out the trailer below:
What do you think, readers?
The BookPage editors spend so much time talking about new books, sometimes it's extra fun to look back on old favorites. What was our Whodunit columnist, Bruce Tierney, reading five years ago, and what were his Top Picks?
Travel back in time with us . . . all the way back . . . to the year . . . 2009!
January 2009: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis
Lewis' debut thriller was already a hit among British readers when we got our hands on it. Chinese cop Jian heads to the mean streets of rural England in search of his daughter, where he crosses paths with migrant worker Ding Ming, who faces a similar search for his missing wife. "And so these two strangers in a strange land careen through the pastoral English countryside in search of the women they love." Read our review.
February 2009: A Darker Domain by Val McDermid
McDermid drew on her own childhood experiences to tell this story of intertwining cold cases. In 1984, a Scottish miner abandoned his family to join the national miners' strike and disappeared. In 1985, Scottish heiress Catriona Maclennan Grant and her infant son Adam were kidnapped, and when her father attempted to meet the demands, she ended up dead, and her son was never found. In present-day Tuscany, journalist Bel Richmond finds herself on a path to unravel both mysteries. Read our review.
March 2009: Spade and Archer by Joe Gores
It was a gutsy move for Edgar Award-winning author Gores to write a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, but he did it well, and the result is a milestone mystery. "Atmosphere: check. Hammett’s spare, clipped prose: check. Action and plot setup: check. Faithful description of Samuel Spade: check." Read our review.
April 2009: The Long Fall by Walter Mosley
In his first outing, Private Investigator Leonid McGill proved to be just as complex and engaging as Mosley's popular character Easy Rawlins. What Easy is to South L.A., McGill is to New York, though "McGill has a very different sense of the world, and a very different voice as a storyteller." Read our review.
May 2009: Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser
This Swedish import has a standout premise: A young woman, obsessed with a "holy mission" of righting heinous wrongs, becomes the "angel of death," preceding murders with unsettling, happy music via phone call. Police inspector Van Veeteren is on the case. "[T]he plot development is spot-on, the characters sympathetic and well drawn (even the villainess), and the denouement richly satisfying." Read our review.
June 2009: The Ignorance of Blood by Robert Wilson
Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón is still on the trail of the terrorist bombers from The Hidden Assassins, and it appears now that the attack may have been a cover for something worse. When the son of his girlfriend is kidnapped, Falcon finds himself caught in a Sophie's Choice. Wilson's final book is "intensely personal . . . a book to be read slowly and savored, with a fine Spanish rioja." Read our review.
July 2009: Get Real by Donald E. Westlake
Another final novel, this one a "tongue-in-cheek look at both larceny and America’s love affair with mindless reality TV." John Dortmunder and his merry men play themselves on a reality television show and decide to pull a heist on the series production company. For our benefit, a hidden flaw leads to things going hilariously wrong. Read our review.
August 2009: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The second outing by computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Michael Blomqvist—following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—made serious waves in 2009. "Salander is an edgy character, more than a little reminiscent of Robert Eversz’ punk photographer/detective Nina Zero; Blomqvist, for his part, is an urbane mix of relentless researcher and firebrand reformer, always stirred, never shaken." Read our review.
September 2009: Breathing Water by Timothy Hallinan
Gonzo expat travel writer Poke Rafferty has a penchant for finding trouble—this time with a ruthless mob boss who is the subject of Rafferty’s forthcoming book. It's "action-packed and steamily atmospheric, and as cleverly plotted a mystery as you are likely to read this year." Read our review.
October 2009: The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah
"Sophie Hannah’s suspense novels . . . reach back to the days of Agatha Christie, where the identity of the miscreant is hidden until the final pages of the book." A fitting comparison, as Hannah will be reviving Poirot later this year. In the third book in the acclaimed Zailer and Waterhouse series, Sally Thorning discovers that the man she had a secret affair with—Mark Bretherick—is not actually Mark Bretherick. And the real Mark's wife and children are dead. Read our review.
November 2009: G.I. Bones by Martin Limón
In their sixth adventure, military police sergeants Sueño and Bascom must find the bones of a dead G.I., who was murdered 20 years ago and is presumably haunting them. "I remain singularly impressed with his ability to whisk the reader away to an exotic place and time (the anything-goes Itaewon pleasure quarter of Seoul, Korea, in the turbulent 1970s)." Read our review.
December 2009: Hollywood Moon by Joseph Wambaugh
Wambaugh has his thumb on the insanity of Hollywood—as well as what makes an irresistible crime novel. Intersecting storylines feature LAPD veteran Dana Vaughn and "Hollywood" Nate Weiss, two surfer cops and three dubious suspects. "Like life, Wambaugh’s novels are by turns comical, whimsical, tense, gripping and, in one memorable instance in the final pages of the book, tragic." Read our review.
Think you'll check out any of these standout 2009-ers? Peruse all our 2009 coverage here.
Suspense author Alafair Burke's new Ellie Hatcher novel, All Day and a Night, came out last month, on June 10. Oh, happy day—the on-sale day—also known as the day that makes authors crazy.
It’s not the reading or writing of books that makes an author stupid. It’s a book’s publication that seemingly shaves a standard deviation from an author’s IQ.
About a week before a new book comes out, I start to lose sleep, playing Words With Friends until 2 AM only to wake up at 5 from a dream that makes the Kimye-on-a-motorcycle music video seem ordinary. Awake, I’m too unfocused to produce anything useful, so I find myself in front of my refrigerator, posting dog pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (the time-suck trifecta), and, the worst, repeatedly refreshing the not-yet-published book’s Amazon page to check its ranking. (Oh, c’mon @YouJudgmentalWriterYou, you know you’ve done it!)
By the time pub date comes, my brain is like a lazy uncle watching infomercials in his boxer shorts surrounded by Pop-Tarts, canned frosting and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
And this has been only the precursor to on-sale week, when, if you’re lucky, you get to hit the road, juggling interviews and blog posts between flights. In some ways, the learning curve here can be steep: I get better by the minute at talking about the book and my writing process. It’s like a master class in how-to-talk-like-a-writer. But becoming a book-talking savant can extract a cognitive price.
Here are a few of the idiotic things I have done on book tour:
Supposedly Lloyds of London will insure anything. If so, they should consider selling a policy to cover all of the stray jackets, make-up bags, flip-flops and headphones I have lost over the years during on-sale week.
In a search for validation that I was not the sole victim of this phenomenon, I contacted some of my favorite authors to ask whether they, too, get stupid during on-sale week. This is what they told me.
Michael Connelly, author of The Burning Room:
“I have gone to the wrong hotel room, trying to open the door of the room corresponding to the room number of the night before. Usually this is late at night and more than once this effort has awakened and scared the crap out of the sleeping occupant. I’ve been mistaken as a would-be hot prowler and grabbed by security a couple times. They rarely buy my explanation that I was in room 213 the night before in a city in another state.”
Megan Abbott, author of The Fever:
“Once, in Scottsdale, Vicki Hendricks and I escaped scorching heat by ducking in a bar for a beer before our event. A man in his cups—on his way to jail for a month—pulled down his pants to show us a Mom tattoo on his posterior.” (The punchline? They thought maybe, just maybe, he’d show up at their reading as promised.)
Chris Pavone, author of The Accident:
“I stop sleeping well a week before [the on-sale date]. I fall asleep poorly, then I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. I think working would be no good, so instead I read, then I seem to fall asleep again just as I should be getting up, so then someone wakes me, which results in me being overtired and cranky at the exact point when I most need to be well-rested and happy.”
Laura Lippman, author of After I’m Gone:
“I got into the wrong town car when I was booked on 'CBS Morning.' I had my contacts in (oh, vanity), and I misread the driver's sign. Almost ended up at the 'Today' show.”
Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street:
“I found myself alone in Boston for the first three nights of my book tour including on my pub date. I was excited and nervous and lonely, and didn't really know what to do with myself at night. So I drank as if I was on spring break. During the days I ran from event to event a little more dazed and confused then was appropriate for a newly published author.”
Lisa Unger, author of In the Blood:
“I am scatterbrained and confused on the road, overwhelmed I think with so many logistics, demands, exhilarations and disappointments (it ain't all awards and standing room only). Once, while packing for a conference, I practically sprained my shoulder patting myself on the back for being so organized and such a light packer. It wasn't until I arrived at my destination that I realized I had neglected to pack any pants!”
Today—after accidentally swallowing tomorrow’s allotment of pills from my vitamin container—I vaguely recalled from my college psych education that this temporary case of the I-Love-Lucies might have a cognitive explanation. Because I certainly wasn’t sleeping, I shot off a late-night email to my undergrad mentor, Daniel Reisberg (Reed College, author of The Science of Perception and Memory).
“People can do a wide range of things on auto-pilot,” Dr. Reisberg explains, “but automatic behaviors tend to be easy, but badly-controlled, and often leave you with actions that are habitual (even if they’re not what you intended at that moment). For example, you’re in the car, driving to the store. You intend to turn left at the corner, but, under stress, you turn right, taking the route that you usually take on your way to school.”
So that’s why I head for my usual airport (Newark) when I’m supposed to go to LaGuardia, turn right into a restroom instead of left, and walk out of a hotel room carrying the book I was in the middle of reading instead of a book I finished writing months before.
I should feel comforted, but I’m not.
I get stupid because of stress? Ten books in, shouldn’t I be beyond that? After all, I know, at an intellectual level, that by the time the books are printed and shipped, there’s nothing more for me to do. Whatever happens this week is out of my control.
Stress? Nah, I’m too cool for that. But these silly slips reveal the ugly truth.
Author photo credit Deborah Copaken Kogan.
Private Eye July has officially begun! There are so many excellent new mysteries and thrillers out this year, but which one's right for you? For the discerning crime fiction fan, we present a helpful reading guide to keep you nose-deep in excellent mysteries all month long:
For fans of police procedurals: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
Best-selling author Karin Slaughter once again grants women their rightful place at murder scenes and morgues, as two female cops smash major barriers inside Atlanta's police force in this new standalone.
For fans of classic sleuths: The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
Dorothy L. Sayers' beloved detecting team is back! This is the fourth in Walsh's take on Lord Peter Wimsey and his detective novelist wife Harriet's grand adventures. This time, they're headed to Oxford, where they first fell in love and where death now surrounds a valuable manuscript.
For fans of edge-of-your-seat adventure: The Catch by Taylor Stevens
Is there a more kick-butt heroine than Vanessa Michael Munroe? Maybe, but she's certainly at the top of the list. With Somali pirates and a plot that never lets up, Munroe's trip to Djibouti is all adrenaline, all the time.
For fans of getting creeped out: The Fever by Megan Abbott or Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams
For the chills of mass hysteria and contagion fears, check out The Fever. For that feeling that somebody's watching you, go with Don't Talk to Strangers. Either way, you'll love getting the heebie-jeebies.
For fans of historical espionage: Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst
World War II hangs like a thick cloud over the members of a clandestine agency standing against fascism and communism. High tension in the late-1930s world stage is familiar territory for celebrated author Furst, but it's romantic and suspenseful, proving why he's the master.
For fans of supernatural thrillers: The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
This is a villain unlike any we've seen: a monster that can take the appearance of anyone he wants. And he uses this trickery to pursue generations of women in Hannah's family. Her only chance at stopping this ancient evil lies within a set of weathered diaries. This is a sweeping, engrossing thriller that really knows how to tap into a little paranoia.
For fans of domestic thrillers: I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
Beware a woman scorned, and definitely beware three women scorned. Oliver Lane secretly kept three wives, so when he turns up dead, it's easy to decide he got his comeuppance—right? The story unfolds through the perspectives of a detective, Oliver's daughter Picasso and the chorus of angry wives. Truly twisted.
For fans of cozy capers: Small Plates by Katherine Page Hall
Mystery lovers looking for some lighter fare while find Hall's collection of cozy short stories to be ideal quick bite. Plus, there's a culinary thread strung through each of these witty, fun capers, which means some mouthwatering recipes!
For fans of Southern noir: Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
Iles makes his comeback with this standout thriller, the first installment of his incendiary new trilogy featuring former prosecutor turned Natchez Mayor Penn Cage. Cage’s physician father is accused of murdering an African-American nurse. Cage’s search for the truth leads him into a dark chapter in Natchez history involving a murderous offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan.
For fans of psychological thrillers: Chance by Kem Nunn
The unexpected twists continue to the very last page in Nunn's newest thriller about a neuropsychiatrist and his beautiful, damaged patient, a woman with secrets powerful enough to destroy both their lives.
For fans of gritty action: Saints of New York by R.J. Ellory
This is a truly dark tale, jumping back and forth between a present-day investigation and cop Frank recounting the tale of his father's involvement in the combating the Mafia in the ’80s. Fascinating mob history, a gripping storyline and some unflinching scenes for eager readers.
How are you celebrating Private Eye July? Plan to check any of these out? Stay tuned for more recommendations throughout the month of July.
Looking for an especially meaty thriller to dive into this summer? Terry Hayes may have just the novel for you with I Am Pilgrim; weighing in at 640 pages, Hayes offers up a page-turner with plenty of muscle. A retired intelligence officer for a U.S. organization far more secret than the CIA, known simply as Pilgrim, has penned a game-changing textbook on criminal investigation that has brought police investigation miles ahead of where it once was. But there's a problem—a particularly ruthless someone seems to have read it a bit too well, and may have committed the perfect unsolvable murder.
Humble, yet tough-as-nails homicide detective Ben Bradley tracks Pilgrim down in the streets of Paris to beg for his help in the investigation, and soon the action takes off at a breathtaking pace. From Moscow to the United Kingdom, from Saudi Arabia to the dusty streets of Afghanistan and back home to the U.S., the manhunt for a brilliant terrorist known as "the Saracen" tests everything Pilgrim has learned in the field.
For almost a decade I was a member of our country's most secret intelligence organization, working so deep in shadow that only a handful of people even knew of our existence. The agency's task was to police our country's intelligence community, to act as the covert world's internal affairs department. To that extent, you might say, we were a throwback to the Middle Ages. We were the ratcatchers.
Although the number of people employed by the twenty-six publicly acknowledge–and eight unnamed—US intelligence organizations is classified, it is reasonable to say that over one hundred thousand people came within our orbit. A population that size meant the crimes we investigated ran the gamut-from treason to corruption, murder to rape, drug dealing to theft. The only difference was that some of the perpetrators were the best and brightest of the world.
The group entrusted with this elite and highly classified mission was established by Jack Kennedy in the early months of his administration. After a particularly lurid scandal at the CIA—the details of which still remain secret—he apparently decided members of the intelligence community were as subject to human frailty as the population in general. More so probably.
What are you reading this week?
We're kicking off Private Eye July, a whole month devoted to the best new mysteries and thrillers, with a trailer for our Top Pick in Mystery, Saints of New York!
Like your mysteries chock full of decades-spanning Mob drama, crooked cops and flawed heroes, all with a true crime angle? Then step right up, because British author Ellory has the novel for you.
Frank Parrish is a stubborn (and often self-destructive) NYPD homicide detective living in the shadow of his father's legacy. The weight of a botched hostage negotiation weighs heavily on Frank, and his mandated psychotherapy sessions soon open a dialogue about his father and the Saints of New York—cops who helped the Mob during the '60s and '70s. Soon, Frank's attention is called to the murder investigation of a teenage girl, and common threads are uncovered between past and present crimes.
Watch the gritty (and quite bloody) trailer below.
What do you think, readers? Interested? Read our Q&A with R.J. Ellory for more on Saints of New York.
Author Stona Fitch created Rory Flynn as a pen name to reinvent himself for a more commercial, popular fiction audience. Flynn's debut novel, Third Rail, is the first in a new series and introduces Boston narcotic detective Eddy Harkness. When Harkness' gun disappaears, he starts a secret search that leads him to discover a dangerous new drug, Third Rail.
But what happens when a pseudonym becoming a psuedo-nemesis? Fitch pokes hilarious fun at his love-hate relationship with his successful, upstart alter-ego Flynn.
Why I hate Rory Flynn
Rory Flynn, like many a bastard, was conceived in a moment of thoughtless abandon. I was on the phone with my agent, talking about my latest novel, Third Rail, when he floated the idea that the book might have a better chance of selling if someone else wrote it. Third Rail is more squarely in the mystery/crime camp, my sales history could charitably be called spotty, and a pseudonym would give me a fresh start. Since the book is set in Boston, how about something more Irish-y?
How about Rory Flynn, I said. And Rory was born.
I didn’t pay much attention to Rory at first. I figured he would have about the same kind of writing career as I did. He would weather through plenty of rejection (which is character-building and good for writers, as we all know), and occasionally sell a novel or catch some kind a break—foreign rights, a 25% discount on HP toner, something. Just like me.
But then the plot took an unexpected twist.
Within weeks, Rory had a book deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – not just for Third Rail, but for a series—and not a series of disappointments. Then NBC/Universal Television optioned Third Rail for television. And Jess Walter, one of my favorite writers, sent a glowing blurb that ended with this kicker—“Rory Flynn is a suspense writer to watch.”
And so I watched. I watched as my pseudonym turned into my pseudo-nemesis.
I tagged along as Rory got his author photo taken in South Boston by a famously hip, long-bearded photographer who looked like he just stepped out of "Sons of Anarchy." He scouted gritty urban locations that would capture that moody darkness within Rory Flynn, crime novelist. Then a beautiful assistant adjusted his carefully styled hair so it didn’t cover his glinting, street-wise eyes. In the final author photo, Rory looks ready to kick some literary ass.
Who was this Rory Flynn and what did he want from me?
He wanted everything. Soon he was all over Facebook and Twitter, making friends with all the crime writers I had always admired. He was in New York City meeting with his editor, staying in a really nice suite at the W (charged to my credit card, no less). Last fall he went to Bouchercon, where he spent long nights at bars with the likes of Megan Abbott and Wallace Stroby, ladling on the Irish charm. Without so much as even mentioning me. And a couple of weeks ago, his publisher took him out to dinner with a dozen booksellers to an expensive restaurant with actual tablecloths and waiters who weren’t wearing costumes. The last time my editor invited me out to dinner it meant a bleary night at El Quijote, where I ended up paying for his paella, six margaritas and cab ride home.
As the pub date for Third Rail approaches, Rory’s proverbial platform is expanding. He’s got a stunning website and a sleek video trailer on YouTube that looks like it cost real money. And he’s got readings coming up, where he will, no doubt, be charming.
What do I have? I called up my agent to talk about my next book last week. I gave him the pitch. Doesn’t sound like a Rory Flynn novel, he said. I told him that it wasn’t. There was a long pause and the sound of a pen scratching on paper. Someone was bored and doing Sudoku—and it wasn’t me. So what do you think? I asked. Just have Rory give me a call, Stona, he said before the phone clicked.
When Third Rail comes out, I’ll buy a couple of copies, because that’s what you do to support a writer you know. Even one who commandeered my career, stole my agent and took over my office. Because I have faith that one day, with a little luck of the Irish, I could wake up and find myself living a life just like Rory’s.
Despite our rocky start, we’re really a lot alike, Rory and me. We’re both writers. We both like moving words around on the page, telling stories and hoisting the occasional pint. And Rory’s relentless charm offensive is working.
I’m starting to like having him around.
Stona Fitch’s novels include Senseless, Printer’s Devil and Give + Take. He is also the founder of the Concord Free Press, the world’s first generosity-based publisher.
A blue-blooded family's luxurious New England retreat isn't exactly what it seems in Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's new gothic mystery, Bittersweet.
Mabel Dagmar, a scholarship student at a prestigious college, doesn't quite fit into her roommate Ev Winslow's glamorous world. But when Ev invites her along to spend the summer at Winloch, her family's secluded group of lakeside cottages, Mabel falls hard for the "place of baguettes and fruit and spreadable honeycomb, idyllic and sun-drenched in a way I had never known."
Romance, financial scandal and shocking family secrets collide to make Beverly-Whittemore's third novel, "a page-turner that will keep readers guessing until the end."
Watch the understated and chilling trailer below:
What do you think, readers? Interested in winning a copy of Bittersweet for yourself? Enter this week's web-excusives giveaway for a chance to get your hands on this and three other great titles featured on Bookpage.com!