Tag Archives: detective story

One Man’s Castle

This is an interview with J. Michael Major, author of the unique crime novel One Man’s Castle.  Joseph Arellano

1 man's castle major

In One Man’s Castle, you wrote a novel based upon a fascinating premise: A man kills people, but only criminals who break into his home.  How did you come up with this idea for the plotline?

It was a short story first.  Like most of my ideas, it was a combination of something I read or saw on the news combined with a “What if?” twist.  What could be another reason bodies are buried in a crawlspace?  And what is something personal that would make a person do this instead of calling the police? The characters stayed in my head even after the story was published, and several writer-friends encouraged me to expand it into a novel.

As I read Castle, I was sure that I knew exactly where the story was going.  I believed the story was going to conclude with an O.J. Simpson style trial.  But that’s not where the story went.  Did you have the ending planned out all along, or did the story just happen to take the path it did?

I’m glad I surprised you!  Yes, it was all pre-planned.  I am an outliner, even for short stories, and the core was already there.  After years of cut-cut for stories, the hard part was learning how to expand the idea without making it feel padded.  The novel gave me the freedom to show how Riehle and Capparelli initially met, get to know the backstory on Walter’s wife so the reader would care more, and explore Walter’s conflict in wanting justice for his wife’s murder without having to pay more of a price himself.

I describe the novel as “Death Wish meets The Fugitive,” and I had to figure out how to structure Castle to keep the tension and conflict while the reader was (hopefully) rooting for both Walter to get away and the police to catch him.  So, yes, I had to know where the story was going at all times.

Speaking of the end of the novel, I was reminded of Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow and Defending Jacob by William Landy.  Were these legal novels influences on you?

Absolutely!  In fact, Presumed Innocent is one of my favorite novels of all time, so I am incredibly flattered that my novel reminded you of it.  Thanks!

Most criminal justice system related novels are written by lawyers.  How did you, as a dentist, decide to tackle a legal novel?

I saw it more as a crime novel with legal issues, which allowed me to focus on the definition of the crime and its consequences, rather than having to follow strict legal structure.  But mostly, it was just the story that I wanted to tell.  “Write what you want to read” rather than “Write what you know.”

What steps did you take to research the criminal justice system to ensure that your novel was reasonably accurate and representative of the justice system?

In addition to friends, relatives and patients who were police officers, I also talked with a couple of lawyers in the State’s Attorney’s Office and Attorney General’s office.  They not only answered my questions, but read early drafts of the novel and made helpful suggestions and corrections.  I am very grateful for their time and patience with me.

J. Michael Major

If you could press the reset button on your life is there something you would change?

Who wouldn’t want to go back and un-say/un-do some things, or do something you later regretted that you hadn’t?  But the truth is, I love my wife of 25+ years and I am so proud of the wonderful people that my son and daughter are, that I would not want to go back and jeopardize losing what I have with them.  Still, if I had to change anything, I would go back to when my children were younger and find a way to spend more time with them.  Though I was an involved father, they grew up so fast!  Where did the time go?

As with many legal novels, One Man’s Castle is in some sense a critique of the existing criminal justice system.  If you were made King of the Courts, is there something you would change about the system?

I would get rid of, or greatly reduce, the continued victimization of the victims.  While I understand the need for someone to be able to defend himself/herself against false accusations, the victims and their family and friends should not have to suffer through the torture and shaming they must endure during trials.  This seems like common sense and decency, but common sense and the law seem to follow non-intersecting paths these days.

Will your next novel be in the same vein?  Would you give us a preview of it in two or three sentences?

Sadly, when my publishing company decided that it was not going to publish mystery novels anymore, I had to scrap plans for sequels to Castle using the same detectives.  I wrote many short stories for a while, the most recent having been published in Weirdbook #34, until I got an idea for something different.  I just started writing the story of a rookie cop who descends into a hardened, shadowy vigilante over the course of three books.  I’m very excited about this project!

One final point, Carolyn Parkhurst stated, “The ending of a novel should feel inevitable.  You, the reader, shouldn’t be able to see what’s coming.”  I did not see the ending of One Man’s Castle coming, thus it passed her test.  Great job.  I certainly highly recommend the book.  Do you have any final comments?

First, thank you for this terrific interview.  Great questions!  I am thrilled that you enjoyed the book and greatly appreciate your recommending it.  Second, to all beginning writers, HANG IN THERE!  Life throws you curve balls, but as long as you keep writing and submitting your stories, you will persevere.  And read the screenwriting book Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, because it will help you with structure and inspire you.  Good luck!

This interview was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/interview-j-michael-major-author-of-one-mans-castle/

It was also used by the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Interview-J-Michael-Major-Author-of-One-Man-s-11229481.php

 

 

 

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Mystery Train Wreck

time-of-departure

Time of Departure: A Novel by Douglas Schofield (Minotaur Books, $16.99, 323 pages)

This debut novel began as an excellent criminal investigation story. It’s about a Florida state prosecutor, Clair Talbot, who is promoted to head the Felony Division Unit. But just as soon as she starts her new job a retired police investigator drops a cold case on her lap. Several women were killed decades earlier and he wants her to solve the crime.

On the front cover blurb, author James Renner (True Crime Addict) calls this, “A hard-boiled detective story with a dash of fantasy… a clever read. Daring, even.” Unfortunately, it’s more than a dash of fantasy. A huge load of fantasy and science fiction is unceremoniously dumped on the reader about 75% of the way through the tale. Not to reveal any spoilers, but it involves time travel. Oh, yes.

The story moves from 2011 back to 1978. Why? I have no idea but it turns an “A”-level read into something that might have been written by a middle school student. In fact, the excellent writing style of Schofield turns into nearly unintelligible mush once he detours onto the time travel lane:

“Maybe the whole point of my life is to change the future! But if that’s true, and if we decide today to change history, logic says I will no longer exist. At least I will no longer exist here and now with you. Maybe another version of me will be born next year and live a life entirely different from the one I remember. Maybe I’ll disappear into some parallel existence. I don’t know. But your memories of me will surely disappear. How could they not! You’d have no reason to have them.”

Yes, it’s that painful to read. Schofield’s strange venture into Back to the Future territory – and, naturally, our protagonist meets her mother back in the past, made me wish I could disappear into a parallel existence. I have no concept of why this author threw his story away, except that there’s a train wreck that sets off the time travel; which results in an otherwise promising work devolving into a train wreck.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The trade paperback version of Time of Departure was released on November 1, 2016.

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Complicated

other-widow

The Other Widow: A Novel by Susan Crawford (William Morrow, $26.99, 333 pages)

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford was an excellent, suspenseful debut novel (“A gripping character-driven mystery.” Booklist) And so I had high hopes and expectations for The Other Widow. I was disappointed.

Widow starts off with a bang. Joe Lindsay, a married business owner who is having an affair with one of his workers, has a fatal car accident while driving in heavy snow. His mistress is his passenger. For some reason the brakes on Joe’s Volvo fail to work and his airbag does not deploy. The mistress escapes from the accident scene and resolves to find out what happened. As does insurance investigator Maggie Brennan, a former police officer and war veteran who notices that the dead man had recently been extremely well insured by his spouse. (The Irish-American character of Maggie Brennan is listed as Maggie Devlin on the book jacket.)

While Pocket Wife was stocked with a few well drawn out characters, one of the key problems with Widow is that there are too many characters, virtually all female. It’s difficult to identify with any of these characters – other than Brennan/Devlin – because so little time is spent with each of them; Crawford has dissipated her creative energy with quantity rather than quality. And while Pocket Wife was genuinely clever in the mode of Scott Turow, Widow is loaded with dead ends and red herrings. And even a ghost of sorts – the dead mother of a character speaks to her whenever she’s in imminent danger. In my mind, I pictured Crawford with flow sheets helping her keep track of the characters and false leads.

Widow concludes in a somewhat logical fashion, but it’s just one of many possible endings tying up far too many loose ends. The reader may spend time afterward, as I did, wondering if Crawford selected the right villain among numerous characters most of whom had bad intentions and evil motives.

On the positive side, Widow is a quick read since the suspension of disbelief never quite kicks in. Not much is invested or lost on the reader’s part. And the promising character of Maggie Brennan makes her entrance. At the end of this crime tale, she’s welcomed back to the police department with open arms after having figured out who – singular or plural, killed Joe Lindsay. Maggie is tough and smart and has great instincts.

Let’s hope that Crawford’s next book is subtitled A Detective Maggie Brennan Mystery. And let’s hope that Crawford listens to the ghostly voice telling her to keep it simple.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

This book was released on April 26, 2016.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-other-widow-by-susan-crawford/

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The Rain Falls In Ireland

rain dogs adrian mckinty

Rain Dogs: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 315 pages)

“The cryin’ rain like a trumpet sang/And asked for no applause.” Bob Dylan

Balanced Storytelling Makes Rain Dogs a Joy to Read.

The word that comes to mind when pondering Adrian McKinty’s Rain Dogs is balance. A cop story, for sure, McKinty’s 17th book is that and more.

The story opens with Detective Sean Duffy’s girlfriend, Beth, leaving him amidst his investigation into the apparent suicide of a young journalist named Lily Bigelow at Carrickfergus Castle. McKinty was born and raised in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, and details of the setting flow naturally, as would be expected.

As the story unfolds, Duffy uncovers some unseemly details at Kinkaid, a home for boys, and as the story comes to a close, McKinty deftly ties the various threads of the story together, including the return of Beth.

However, even as Duffy and his crew’s suspicions and clues lead them from suicide to murder, from one suspect to another, the cops can’t quite close the deal – which leads to another death… or murder, perhaps. With the circumstances of Duffy’s life and relationship changed, the next steps are less certain than they otherwise might have been, which, of course, perfectly sets up the 18th book.

Whether it be in the interplay between dialogue and description or plot construction and character development, McKinty always seems to deliver a pleasing balance that satisfies. Well done.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a school superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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All In the Family

a game sh paper

A Game for All the Family: A Novel by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, $26.99, 447 pages)

By now, if all were well and this were a normal weekday morning, Ellen would be in her forest-green school uniform and on the bus, almost at Beaconwood. Alex, in torn jeans and a sweatshirt, would be asleep on a train from Berlin to Hamburg, en route to his next German concert.

What genre designation is appropriate for this book? Firstly, there never is a “normal” or even an ordinary day portrayed within its covers. We jump right into the rambling narrative of Justine, a woman who has recently left her demanding career in London to move to the country with her husband, Alexander, and teen daughter Ellen.

Alexander is a well-respected opera singer who travels frequently to venues around Europe; therefore, his home base can be almost anywhere. Ellen has been enrolled in Beaconwood, a private school that bears no resemblance to the one she attended in London. Justine hopes to fulfill her fantasy of Doing Nothing, as she like to announce to anyone who will listen.

Some of the chapters are set in an alternate typeface that designates them as the work of a writer who is composing a novel about a family with some bizarre issues. Perhaps it is a work of fiction, or even a thinly disguised expose of an actual family in serious need of an intervention.

a game sh paper back

The plot skips around and has a jerky home-movie made in the 1950s quality. There are myriad odd occurrences and very strange characters that pop in and out of the tale. Justine is the subject of menacing anonymous phone calls that include death threats. One might wonder what has happened to set previously stable author Sophie Hannah on this wild, unpleasant and twisted ride.

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Woman with a Secret: A Novel by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 416 pages)

Ms. Hannah’s prior work, Woman with a Secret, also suffers from a choppy beginning and a bit of confusing plot shifts. Here too are the trademark typeface shifts that she has employed in past novels. Woman with a Secret needs a list of characters to assist the reader in deciphering the multiple perspectives depicted throughout the tale. The husband and wife team of police detectives featured in the plot do not share a last name and their co-workers are numerous to say the least.

This time around the main character, Nicki Clements, is a woman who yearns for excitement in her “normal” life in the suburbs of London. She’s a wife, a mother, a sister and a daughter whose past haunts her. Damon Blundy, a caustic columnist for the Daily Herald, is found murdered with his mouth taped shut with tape. Nicki receives countless sinister emails from a person she cannot identify. Somehow she is linked to the murder. Her first-person narrative and the third-person narrative from the other characters’ perspective give the reader the feeling of being spun around with a blindfold in place. Once the blindfold is removed, it’s anybody’s guess what lurks in Nicki’s past and why she’s linked to Damon Blundy’s death.

If by now you are wondering what’s actually happening in Woman, I’m not going to tell you as it would take more space in this review than I’m willing to give.

Woman is recommended, for ardent Sophie Hannah readers; everyone else, no.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

A Game for All the Family was released on May 24, 2016.

Woman with a Secret was released in trade paperback form on April 12, 2016.

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Pop Fly

Sacrifice Fly A Mystery

Sacrifice Fly: A Mystery by Tim O’Mara (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 320 pages)

“Noontime, and I’m still pushin’ myself along the road, the darkest part
Into the narrow lanes, I can’t stumble or stay put…” Bob Dylan, “I and I”

O’Mara Connects with Sacrifice Fly

Tim O’Mara’s debut novel Sacrifice Fly is one of the better mystery novels this reviewer has read in recent years.

Raymond Donne is a Brooklyn school teacher and former cop who becomes entangled in the disappearance of one of this students, Frankie Rivas, and his sister when their father is murdered. Donne, whose police career ended due to a freak injury, can’t resist his innate urges to play detective when he is disappointed with the actions of the men in blue. Donne gets in over his head, making for enough drama that his uncle, the chief of detectives, has to get involved to help bail him out.

The best aspect of the novel is the consistency of storytelling and voice from start to finish, which is not easy to pull off. The only blip here is the incident when Donne is on a date at a police gathering and lets some of his blue machismo surface unnecessarily. This is out of character for him and does not seem to fit.

Frankie is billed as a baseball phenom whose “way out” of the neighborhood is a scholarship to a local private high school baseball power that Donne helped him secure. However, this does not actually have much to do with the story, so any reader expecting a story focusing on baseball will likely be let down.

Sacrifice Fly back cover

The story is told without pretense and it works. The reader gets a happy ending, though Donne himself is left dangling with the loose ends of his relationships and physical rehabilitation still in limbo, which screams for a sequel.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Tim O’Mara’s novels have only been released in hardback and Kindle and Nook Book editions, not in trade paperback versions.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Who Let the Dogs Out

Three Guys to Take Along on Vacation

Who let

Who Let the Dog Out?: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)

And they’re off… Andy, Laurie, Rick and the two dogs are back with a strange dilemma at the Tara Foundation Shelter. Cheyenne, a lost dog, took up residence at Andy’s shelter only to be spirited away by a professional burglar.

David Rosenfelt is back to his funny and wise cracking self as he spins the tale of a murder and a missing pooch. This, the 13th Andy Carpenter mystery, is every bit as fresh and engaging as the ones that preceded it. Rosenfelt makes his characters vulnerable in a writing style that is easy to enjoy.

This is a book that’s an excellent read over a lazy weekend or during a week away on vacation.

Well recommended.

World gone by

World Gone: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $27.99, 320 pages)

Indeed, the world of his third book in a trilogy by Dennis Lehane has gone by. The time is World War II and the settings include Cuba and Tampa, Florida. The fact that a war is raging affects both the good and evil people who move through this tale. The notion that war takes the best men for duty thus leaving the less competent behind at home is applicable to gangs of criminals. This is an aspect of war that has never occurred to this reviewer before.

The location during Lehane’s chosen time frame is not one this reader considered particularly compelling or relevant for today. Perhaps with U.S.-Cuban relations resuming the connection between the main character, Joe Coughlin, and Cuba has some merit. Coughlin has business challenges not unlike his counterparts in the legitimate business world.

Dennis Lehane is a very well known author (12 books, four of which have been made into movies). He seasons this tale, World Gone By, with abundant background and biographical information about his characters – thieves, murderers, and extortionists. The pace is slow and a bit plodding. As the plot develops, the reader becomes aware of the human foibles and quirks of these “bad guys.” They should be despicable but Lehane sympathetically portrays the people behind their life situations.

Recommended for Lehane fans.

dead simple

Dead Simple: The First Thriller in the Acclaimed Roy Grace Series by Peter James (Minotaur Books, $9.99, 457 pages)

Claustrophobia warning! Author Peter James casts his story lines one by one to set up a race against the suffocation death of Mike Harrison, a bridegroom and prankster, who is being dealt some serious playback by his buddies just days prior to his wedding.

Crisp dialogue with the right balance of details and description keep the action going. A third person narrator leads the reader through the crash of the bachelor party van and the deadly aftermath. Readers will settle in with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace while he addresses the disappearance of Mike Harrison.

Dead Simple is the first in a nine volume series by James featuring Roy Grace. Clearly, this thriller has piqued this reviewer’s interest. Here’s hoping the rest of the series matches up with this splendid beginning.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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