Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Heroic


Terry here answering our weekly question: This week the question seems particularly fitting when war is once again consuming much of the world:

Whom do you consider the greatest hero you’ve read, and why? 

 I was probably intended to write about heroes in mystery novels, but nothing in my reading experience compares to reading about real-life heroes. Siegfried Sassoon and Pat Barker have equal place in my consideration of “the greatest hero I’ve read.”

 I was introduced to Siegfried Sassoon in Pat Barker’s stunning trilogy about World War I, Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road.

Born into a wealthy Jewish family, Sassoon lived a life of leisure before the war. He served in the trenches in World War I, and was appalled by the horror and brutality of trench warfare. After being wounded in action, Sassoon wrote an open letter of protest to the war department, refusing to fight any more. “I believe that this War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it,” he wrote in the letter. At the urging of Bertrand Russell, the letter was read in the House of Commons. Sassoon expected to be court-martialed for his protest. 

 And that’s where heroism comes in. He persisted in spite of believing that his open condemnation of the conduct of the war would bring opprobrium at the least, and disgrace at worst. He was saved that fate by the efforts of fellow poet Robert Graves, who believed Sassoon was shell-shocked and should be hospitalized. In the hospital, Sasson met and spoke with others who had been damaged physically and psychologically by the war. In later writings he contemptuously satirized generals, politicians, and churchmen for their incompetence and blind support of the war. 

 Pat Barker drew on Sassoon and some of his contemporaries for her trilogy, which explores many of the themes common to literature written during and following WWI, including the cause and effects of war, the limits of ideologies like nationalism and masculinity, and both the medical and popular reactions to the psychological traumas created in the war. 

 The series gave her the reputation as "The woman who understood war". Barker stated in an interview that "The trilogy is trying to tell something about the parts of war that don't get into the official accounts". Barker says she wrote about World War I "because it's come to stand in for other wars, as a sort of idealism of the young people in August 1914 in Germany and in England. They really felt this was the start of a better world. And the disillusionment, the horror and the pain followed that. I think because of that it's come to stand for the pain of all wars.” 

 What more can we ask of authors than that they lay bare the pain of brutal experiences and the fight of heroes to remain human in spite of what they go through?

Sunday, October 29, 2023

We Need a Hero

 Whom do you consider the greatest hero you’re read, and why?

Brenda starting off the week.

This is a tough question because there are a lot of heroes out there, both in fiction and real life. For me, a hero is someone who risks their own safety or comfort for somebody else, but I also believe heroism comes in many forms, large and small. 

My first thought of a fictional hero who had an effect on me is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. He stands up to racism in a small Southern Alabama town, defending a black man for allegedly raping a white woman, knowing that he stands little chance of winning. These are the days when the Ku Klux Klan terrorized the black population, and they put in an appearance. One might say that Harper Lee was heroic to tackle such controversial topics in 1960 when the book was first released. With primary themes of racial injustice and the destruction of innocence, a year after its release, the book won the Pulitzer Prize. I agree with the reviewers who say that Atticus FInch is "the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism."

Yet there are countless fictional heroes besides Atticus, too numerous to mention.  Crime fiction lends itself to heroic figures because good vs evil, righting wrongs, and bringing bad people to justice is at its core. Protagonists are constantly putting themselves into physical danger to uncover the truth and to corner wrongdoers and killers. Who can forget young FBI agent Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs on the trail of the serial killer and trying to outwit Hannibal Lecter? 

Okay, heroes aside, to end off, I have to admit to being chuffed by this interview by my alma mater, Lakehead University. I never would have dreamed as a student all those years ago that I would make the cover of the alumni magazine for my writing. Here is the link to the article. This might be one of my proudest moments, hands down.

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter (X): brendaAchapman

Friday, October 27, 2023

“We are all capable of villainy and heroics” by Josh Stallings

 Q: Whom do you consider the most intelligent, diabolical, or frightening criminal you’ve encountered on the page, and why?

A: This question had me stumped. I realize I don’t write and or read looking for or enjoying mastermind criminals. My life experience has taught me that if most of the criminals did the math, added hours spent setting up and pulling off a robbery plus court and jail time ultimately served they would discover they didn’t make minimum wage. Sad truth is working the fryolator at a fast food joint isn’t cool but it pays better than house breaking. 

A lot of crime fiction is written about the smallest demographic of brilliant criminals, successful cat burglars, serial killers, etc… Truth is a life of crime is not the choice of those with upperclass opportunities, or special enough skills to climb out of the trap of poverty. 

“I could go to Harvard but I’d rather rob a store,” said no one ever. 

Recently stupid thuggish criminals have moved mainstream. The Trump crime family raked in billions in fraudulent Saudi investor’s cash while being headed by a fool so stupid he thinks he is the first person to notice U.S. spells “us.” 

Professor Moriarty is as much of a fiction as was Sherlock Holmes. There may be a brilliant detective out there but looking at the paycheck, I think most brilliant folks tend to work as lawyers or doctors or CEOs. This is why I fell into reading and writing hard-boiled. Philip Marlow’s detection method comes down to, stumble around stirring things up until they explode. Then sift through the rubble and maybe find the bad guy, or not.  

Michael Jackson was wrong, “smooth criminals” are a complete fiction, or at best an anomaly. We are living in the days of ignorant bullies, and unfortunate folks who feel they have no other option to make it other than turning to crime. Madison Avenue and internet influencers convince us we will never be truly happy until we own the latest greatest most costly widget, shoe, SUV, jeans, or what ever the fuck else they are hocking. The world wide corporatocracy convinces us all that if they are making profit we are all doing good. Stock market is up, so be happy. It’s bullshit, but if you say that you get branded a radical communist or a socialist, or even worse an out of touch liberal dreamer.  

Before you call me a total buzz kill, I’ll admit I dig 007, Bond, James Bond. I like a good fantasy like everyone else. But I like Mick Herron’s Slow Horses better. It feels more real to me. I get there is an element of fantasy in all crime fiction, I just like mine closer to the truth. Fiction can teach us about the world outside our personal bubble, but it can also misinform and be dangerous.

Jason Aldean has a hit country song on the radio right now, it’s clearly racist dog-whistle fiction.

Carjack an old lady at a red light

Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store

Ya think it's cool, well, act a fool if ya like

Cuss out a cop, spit in his face.....

…… See how far ya make it down the road

'Round here, we take care of our own

You cross that line, it won't take long

For you to find out, I recommend you don't

Try that in a small town…

…Got a gun that my granddad gave me

They say one day they're gonna round up

Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck.”

This is crap. Bad lyrical crime fiction. Aldean forgets that in “big cities” we don’t buy a teenager an AR15, body armor and a box of ammo. We don’t have school shootings in big cities, or meth labs on the edge of town, or that it was small towns that filled the most prescriptions of oxycodone, or that those guns you love have become the number one killer of children in America. He writes about a fictitious small town, like rabid MAGA types talk about the good old days when America was great for rich white men. 

Why oh why did I go on that last rant? 

Maybe because not telling the truth has an actual price we all wind up paying. And it’s not just right wing punks who use the lies of scary thugs that only they and their guns can protect us from. Hillary Clinton spread the lie about "super predators.” No such thing existed, but it got rousing applause. Liberal states like California were happy to enact Three-Strikes gets you life bills and to prosecute thirteen year old gang members as adults. All this brought to us by a pop culture that was full of lies about crime in America.    

I struggle daily with the idea that most of our problems are systemic not personal. Corporate greed. Systemic racism, misogyny, homophobia.  Four U.S. companies will pay $26 billion to settle claims that they fueled the opioid crisis. How do I portray these huge ideas in the tales I write? I don’t know that I can, so I work my dark corner of the street and tell the truth I know as best I can. If TRICKY has a villain it is a combination of a simple mistake, police officer's confirmation bias, and their fear of the other, particularly when the other is of the brown tattooed type.

I guess the truth is that pushed to extremes, we are all capable of villainy and we are capable of acts of heroism. We all carry scars and biases, emotional ghosts we must overcome, these are what makes us us.  

In the face of all that, we must all tell our truth while questioning what we believe. Discovering our own prejudices doesn’t make us wrong, it makes humans struggling to grow the fuck up. My strongest weapon against my shadow side is my unbridled love of humanity and all its beautifully damaged ways of being. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

But you wouldn't vote for them, would you? by Catriona

Who do you consider the most intelligent, diabolical or frightening criminal you’ve encountered on the page and why?

Intelligent? Probably a master of heists, a fraud ninja or a tech wizard who dismantles something big. But that’s not scary and not very diabolical either: those guys must have to keep up to date with their admin, which gets in the way of visceral terror for me.

Diabolical? Satan. That was easy

But “frightening” is a great question. I’m going to try really hard to hold it down to three and make them three very different villains. 

Jack Havoc in Margery Allingham’s masterpiece, THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE, messes with your head something chronic. He’s rotten, venal, merciless, and utterly depraved but the horror comes from the fact that he’s portrayed through the eyes of his polar opposite, the manifestly good, honourable, kindly and wise Canon Avril, whose showdown with Havoc forms the denouement of the novel.

Jack thinks he’s got it all sussed out: steal, cheat, lie and win. (Remind you of anyone in the public eye?) He thinks anyone bound by integrity, like the Canon, is a fool, missing all kinds of tricks and asking to be had.

Canon Avril’s insight into and pity for Havoc’s twisted psyche is devastating. He tells Jack that he – Jack – is hurtling down a stairway that the Canon has spent his life gladly climbing. He notes that “fewer things delight you every day” and that therefore even if Havoc cons the world of all its treasures nothing will please him. “The man you are with when you’re alone is dying,” he says, reducing Jack to the kind of miserable, defiant sobbing familiar to anyone who’s ever dealt with a tired toddler.

“What’s happening here?” Jack wails. “What is this?”

"What’s happening is that you and I are passing on the stairs,” the Canon tells him. “Somewhere near the bottom.”

Havoc frightens me, mainly, because he’s an accurate portrayal of how un-grand evil is, how small and scared, how banal, how pedestrian. And, like I said, it fries your brain that you feel so sorry for him. 

My second good baddie is very different, although he too is far from grand and far from impressive. Brady Heartsfield in Stephen King’s MR MERCREDES trilogy is (SPOILERS AHEAD) a failure as an entrepreneur and as a human being, although as a supernaturally-assisted murdering pig, he’s got a high-scoring hand.

There’s a measure of pity for his childhood – which makes Carrie White’s mother look like Olivia Walton -  but he’s an easy man to despise. And it’s not even the sadism and sociopathy with which he kills the vulnerable unemployed at their most abject moment, or plots to bomb tween girls at a music concert . . . it’s more that he’s so relentlessly unpleasant in all the small ways too. He never speaks without a racial slur, a misogynistic side-swipe, or a spot of body-shaming. He just oozes a kind of resentful displeasure at other people for existing, like he’s such a beacon. (Remind you of anyone in the public eye?)

And finally, in this least-great hit parade, there’s my old “favourite” Victor Plessey, in Joy Fielding’s KISS MOMMY GOODBYE. He’s Donna’s husband, and a more gaslighting, coercively-controlling, passive-aggressive, abusive nightmare of a husband has never driven a fictional woman crazy so . . . satisfyingly (which makes me sound like quite the ghoul).

It’s the combination of certainty and wrongness, of bullying and self-pity, of exquisite sensitivity to incoming slights and blithe disregard of outgoing cruelty. (Remind you of anyone in the public eye?) He’s a terrific creation and Donna, in the novel, ends up in a pit of believable helplessness, without ever making you – well, me – ever roll our eyes and think she’s too stupid to live. That’s the trap that’s always waiting for us writers of psychological suspense and Joy Fielding never steps within a mile of it.

I need to read that novel again. And The Tiger in the Smoke. And Carrie. So many stories, so little lack of deadlines!

Tell you what: you read them for me. You won’t regret it,


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Good baddies by Cathy Ace

Whom do you consider the most intelligent, diabolical, or frightening criminal you’ve encountered on the page, and why?


This is a great question, but should I go back to the early memories I have of characters that traumatised me…like the wicked stepmother in Snow White? Or should I fast forward to serial killers without a single redeeming quality from fiction I’ve read recently? To be honest, even from my early days, the baddies have often attracted me more than the goodies…but maybe that says more about me than them. Hmm…the psychologist in me says that’s true. So, if that’s the case…just how much do I want to give away?


#1: Thomas Harris’s cannibalistic forensic psychiatrist, and sometime FBI consultant, Dr. Hannibal Lecter has to be a candidate: intelligent, suave, and certainly mezmerising, he’s about as frightening as you’d want a villain to be. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading about him, in a chilling way. My top pick, because Lecter ticks all the boxes…in a really bad (and good) way.


#2: The Daleks. Yes, yes, I know that not everyone reading this grew up watching Doctor Who on TV during their formative years, hiding behind a cushion whenever the Doctor’s Nemeses-with-no-soul, the Daleks, made an appearance, but I did! For me, the scariest moment was when they were brought back by Russell T. Davies and suddenly…they could fly! Until then, all anyone really had to do to escape a Dalek’s death ray was to run off up/down some stairs, but once Davies gave them flight…TERRIFYING!

I once met a Dalek - in the barn of a Welsh stately home. No I'm not kidding!

#3: Iago, from Shakespeare’s Othello: I first read Othello when I was about fourteen/fifteen, so at an impressionable age, to be sure. We’d read Shakespeare’s plays aloud in our English Literature classes, and, when it came time to read Othello, our teacher, Mr. Lee read the title character and picked me to read Iago. So I first encountered him as his words came out of my mouth. And I learned to love, and hate and fear, him, from the inside out. He’s reasonable, winning, charming, persuasive…and utterly amoral, self-interested, and unforgiveable. As characters go, you don’t get baddies who come much better formed than Iago, who – at the tender age of 27 (a fact he states in the text…so, no, he’s not an aged person, as he is so often portrayed, which makes his relentless actions even more alarming)  - has already decided he hates all that is good, and wants to undo it.

Since I write about murder, and murderers, of course I write "baddies"...but, whilst I never want to mitigate their actions, I do try to write relatable baddies!

My new book has some...hmm...interesting characters. Find out more on November 13th, when the 13th Cait Morgan Mystery will be published. https://www.cathyace.com/

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Eyes in the Dark by Gabriel Valjan


Whom do you consider the most intelligent, diabolical, or frightening criminal you’ve encountered on the page, and why?




This is a two-way tie for me. I’m not convinced many of us can agree on a definition of intelligence. We now know that there are different forms of intelligence. We know individuals who are book-smart and people-stupid; individuals, otherwise brilliant but would drown if they looked up at the sky when it rained. Then there is Intelligence as the ability to read between the lines, to think and gather thoughts before action, which implies a process and an acute awareness as opposed to impulse.


Cain, the first criminal in literature, chose to kill his brother.


My contestants are Professor Moriarty and Iago because they manipulate, and they worm their ways into the minds of others to do horrible things for them. They are masterminds. Their motivations are open to interpretation. As readers we marvel at them because it takes extraordinary talent to write intelligence.




Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley is possibly diabolical because he is prosaic and appears harmless, which is exactly what makes him dangerous. His victims never see him coming. However, I don’t think of Ripley as diabolical because, in my mind, he is a case study of Envy. Cormac McCarthy did the opposite when he created Judge Holden in Blood Meridan and Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. They are physical manifestations, billboard signs of the diabolical for the reader. Holden is seven-feet tall, an albino, and bald. Chigurh is an Angel of Deathdig deep into Biblical literature and you learn angels do not like human beings. Chigurh, like God, reminds his victims they have Free Will; he always gives them an opportunity to save themselves. Diabolical or sinister, you decide.


Behold, Pär Lagerkvist’s Piccoline in The Dwarf. While the story is an allegorical warning about the dangers of fascism, what I found profoundly disturbing about Piccoline is that he is both protected and disavowed, meaning he is tacitly accepted as a necessary evil for society and political leadership. Piccoline is truly monstrous. Also, most readers forget the court jester was untouchable. Think of The Fool in Shakespeare’s Lear. The jester speaks the truth.


Oh, and that opening line, “I am twenty-six inches tall…”




I believe human beings have a primordial instinct to recognize danger. Evil is different, I suppose, because it is cloaked and seldom recognized until it is too late. There were those who saw Hitler for what he was, while others made excuses and then found themselves in the Lagers, or worse. History demonstrates time and time again that the most dangerous individuals are charismatic and charming. Think of some serial killers and almost all of the world’s tyrants and genocidal maniacs.


Which brings me to Hannibal Lecter, the creation of Thomas Harris in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter is the worst possible adversary for law enforcement because he is an expert on human behavior and psychology. He is a psychiatrist. Readers may have forgotten that he is also surgeon. Anyone in the medical field will tell you that surgeons have distinctive personality traits: the God Complex that creates the joke that the MD stands for Medical Deity.


Hannibal is literate, cultured, and he ‘eats the rude.’ The first time Clarice Sterling meets him…((shudders)). 


I have ignored many notable criminals in literature, but most of them are, to me, variations on Obsession. More horror than crime fiction. Melville’s Ahab is the granddad of obsession in Moby-Dick. Orwell’s Big Brother is obsessed with Power and maintaining it. Stoker’s Dracula is obsessed with immortality and conquest. Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates in Psycho has Mommy Issues. Stephen King’s Pennywise is Hell’s own harlequin and a deep dive into coulrophobia, our fear of clowns. Oyinkan Braithwaite’s Ayoola in My Sister the Serial Killer, Toni Morrison’s Sethe in Beloved, and Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho are sociological anatomies, of misogyny, slavery, and toxic masculinity.


Who on the page keeps you up at night and haunts your Imagination?


Let me know in the Comments.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Do Not Scream

 Q: Whom do you consider the most intelligent, diabolical, or frightening criminal you’ve encountered on the page, and why?


- from Susan, the wimp


I have to begin by confessing I don’t even begin the books I know are going to scare me into sleepless nights, so Hannibal Lector isn’t in my head. No flesh-eaters, no serial killers of children, no serial killers, period, if I can help it, and definitely not those where the author has invited me into their perverted heads. I do stumble onto a few of these where I didn’t realize it, and if the evil begins to slip out of the book and into my head for real, I just stop. There’s so much of that that is real in the world, and I am one of those readers (and moviegoers) who can’t back away easily and say, like a mantra, “It’s only fiction, it’s only acting…” I am susceptible!


There was a novel that caught me unprepared. I can’t remember the male author’s name but it was about some men who hold a beautiful woman captive, first as a lark. Their cruelty increases, they become sadistic, and it ends badly for her, of course. A woman held and tortured for their pleasure, because they can. I kept reading because I wanted her to escape, to get revenge, but it didn’t happen and it haunted me for years, left a bad taste in my mouth and a hideous image in my mind. Anyone know the book?


Having said all of that, I will cop to being fascinated by Tom Ripley, such an amiable killer, so charmingly false, so eaten by envy, such a perfect sociopath! Intelligent, diabolical, flexible, and persistent. Funny, though, he doesn’t frighten me. Patricia Highsmith makes him understandably human, albeit deeply flawed, fascinating. No dripping fangs!


Halloween brings out the fangs, dripping with blood, the Norman Bates, the Regans, Carries – all the demons that can get under our skins and give us nightmares. More power to those who can enjoy the horror, laugh it off, and come back for more! I do not retreat to the school of cupcake murders, but I keep a wary eye on books that begin by telling you several young girls have vanished. Too much like what I see in the news and can’t put aside.


Yup, I’m a wimp.



I would have uploaded some of the scary movie images, but I was almost as frightened of abusing copyright law as I was of the shower scene in Psycho! Instead, a little gentle marketing note – books out now. Thanks for the poster, Gabriel!




Friday, October 20, 2023

Vive La Difference!

 by Abir


October is National Book Month in the US. Do you have any plans to celebrate the month?


As you probably know, I live in the UK, and while it’s not National Book Month here (I don’t think we have a national book month, though it’s a fantastic thing and, like the All Day Breakfast or the ten-gallon hat, an American idea we should definitely adopt).


Nevertheless, October has been a busy month on the book front for me. I’ve spent quite a bit of it in France, at a number of literary festivals, first in Pau in the south, at the foot of the Pyrenees, and then in Bordeaux in the west. What I love about the French is the seriousness with which they take literature. There are approximately five times as many bookshops in France as there are in Britain (despite our populations being roughly similar) and they don’t give away books for 99cents. There’s a floor on book prices (similar to what we used to have in the UK till the Americans got involved) and they’ve recently introduced a law which adds 3Euros to the price of each book sold through Amazon, thus levelling the playing field for physical bookshops. I love this approach. It means a mid-list author still has a chance of making a living from writing – something that is near impossible in the UK these days. Indeed the whole literary ecosystem in France is so much better than in the UK. They have far more paid residencies, and their festivals receive significant funding from local and state government. And then there’s the food, the wine and the Armagnac. Simply put, the French do culture better than we do. They put real value on it.


One of the results of these festivals is that I’ve got to meet a whole new bunch of writers whom I wouldn’t otherwise have come across – both French and from other countries – writers whose work is maybe less well known in the UK or who haven’t been translated at all. It’s a huge shame. When it comes to European crime fiction (except say Scandinavian Noir) we in the UK are pitifully under-served by translated works. I understand different markets have different tastes (the French seem to prefer crime fiction with a more intellectual bent – they don’t seem to appreciate thrillers in quite the same way we do on this side of the pond) but still, I don’t know why we don’t have more translated fiction. I have met so many amazing European writers on a par with the best we have in the UK and the US whose work simply isn’t read here. So as a result, this month I’ve been making an effort to read more widely.


I started by finishing The Trees by US writer, Percival Everett. This was recommended to me by a friend and it was wonderful. Set mainly in the Deep South, it’s the satirical tale of white men, the descendants of those involved in lynchings, being found murdered, with the same dead black men turning up next to them. It’s powerful, it’s funny, it challenges our views on what constitutes justice and it deserves to be read by everyone.


Next up was a gem of a book called The Little Rebel (La Petite Gaulloise) by French author, Jérôme Leroy, a story set in an unnamed port city in the west of France. It’s the story of events leading up to a terror attack at a school, but told once again as satire. Like The Trees, it’s an acerbic into the contemporary mores and culture of a country – it’s hypocrisies and its foibles and their consequences. Leroy is one of the greats of contemporary French crime fiction and yet this is the only one of his works currently translated into English. It comes in at only 70 pages and is one of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in ages.


Finally, I’m currently reading Love and Murder in the Time of Covid, by Chinese emigré Qui Xiaolong. Qui left his native Chine in the eighties and was studying in the US when the Tiananmen Square massacre took place. He never returned, instead staying on in St Louis and becoming an academic. His work casts a critical eye over the Communist Party of China and the role it plays in the lives of its subjects and his Inspector Chen novels provide a window into this world for crime fiction afficionados. 


If the three books have one thing in common, it’s the spotlight they throw on three societies and their governing systems. As we’ve said before, the best crime fiction not just entertains but widens your horizons. You feel like you’ve come away with a deeper understanding of the world, and these three novels, each very different from the others achieves just that. I wouldn’t have read any of them if it hadn’t been for people I’d met at book festivals or events, people from other parts of the world, brought together by a love of fiction.


So yeah, October has been a literary celebration for me. Now, if only I could persuade someone to pay me to move to France.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Guest Blog from Criminal Minds Alum Alan Orloff

This week we welcome back our own Alan Orloff. For those with short memories, I inherited Alan’s spot on this blog in 2017. He provided readers with five years of delightful posts about writing before passing the torch to me. Since leaving us, he’s done quite well for himself. Won three of four major industry awards, including the Agatha, Anthony, and a couple of ITW Thriller Awards.

I’m happy to report that Alan is here to tell us about his newest release, Sanctuary Motel.


Motels Rock!



Thanks, Jim, for inviting me back for a visit to the ol’ blog. Always nice to see some friendly faces! (For those of you who don’t know, I blogged here for five years, 2012 – 2017.)



I thought about answering the question of the week, I really did. But then I realized I have a new book to hawk, so…


My latest suspense novel, SANCTUARY MOTEL, comes out next week, and, as you might be able to discern from the title, much of the action takes place in a motel. Not a fancy, concierge-laden five-star hotel, but a modest downscale fourteen-unit eyesore.


I’ve always been fascinated by motels, and it started at a young age. My father, bless his heart, was a frugal man, and when we went on our twice-yearly family vacations, we would stay at motels. No recognizable chain motels for us; we stayed at quirky or kitschy, or, uh, unique establishments. 


When we went to Ocean City, Maryland, we’d stay at a place called The Stowaway. Yes, it was on the boardwalk, which was nice. No, it wasn’t anywhere close to being on anyone’s recommended lodging list. But I didn’t care; in fact, I was mesmerized, mostly by the assortment of off-brand sodas and snacks in the vending machines. Strawberry soda? Sure! Something that resembled an aqua-colored Ho-Ho? Don’t mind if I do-do!


We also frequented a state park in West Virginia, where we would stay in the lodge (for those uninitiated, a West Virgina state park lodge is a poor cousin to a cut-rate no-name motel. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife. Thirty-five years ago, I planned a vacation at one, and I haven’t planned a vacation since.). The carpet was as thick as a paper towel (not Bounty, I’m talking generic paper towel), and the lodge restaurant’s menu never changed over the dozen years we went there. But that didn’t matter to me; I was always happy getting fried shrimp and butterscotch sundaes (fried shrimp at a landlocked West Virginia state park? Living on the edge, my friends!). Somehow, I survived.


Many years later, my wife and I packed up the minivan and took our two boys on a seven-week cross-country road trip. I got to emulate my father, as we often stayed in <clears throat> *affordable* lodging. 


True story: One night at about two a.m. (don’t ask), we were cruising through southern Minnesota, looking for lodging. Finally, we spotted a motel off the interstate in a place called Albert Lea (or maybe that was the name of the motel operator—still not clear about that). When we arrived, however, there were no available rooms. 


“No rooms?” I asked. “At all?” 

“Well, we do have one room.”

“We’ll take it.”

“The door doesn’t latch.”


“The door won’t fully close. And, of course, it won’t lock.”

“That’s our only choice?”

“There’s another motel up the road. About forty miles.”

I looked at my tired family. Did I mention it was 2 a.m.? “Fine. We’ll take it.”

We pushed all the furniture up against the door. And we weren’t really worried. If someone tried to get into the room, the resident cockroaches would protect us. They were ENORMOUS.


Another true story from that road trip: A couple weeks later, we were looking for a place to stay in San Francisco. I remembered that I’d once stayed at a place in Union Square, and it was nice. So we found a reasonably priced place just a few blocks away, and we booked it by phone before we arrived.


I hear some of you snickering right now. Justifiably. 


That’s right, we ended up at a place smack dab in the middle of the Tenderloin. One star, not recommended.


And don’t even get me started about the night my father booked us at the luxurious South of the Border tourist-trap motel, nestled between six Walmart-sized souvenir shops, in the shadow of I-95. Or maybe that shadow was caused by the 200-foot Sombrero Observation Tower. I was probably too sugar-buzzed on strawberry soda and blue Ho-Hos to remember.




Mess Hopkins, proprietor of the seen-better-days Fairfax Manor Inn, never met a person in need who couldn’t use a helping hand—his helping hand. So he’s thrown open the doors of the motel to the homeless, victims of abuse, or anyone else who could benefit from a comfy bed with clean sheets and a roof overhead. This rankles his parents and uncle, who technically still own the place and are more concerned with profits than philanthropy.

When a mother and her teenage boy seek refuge from an abusive husband, Mess takes them in until they can get back on their feet. Shortly after arriving, the mom goes missing and some very bad people come sniffing around, searching for some money they claim belongs to them. Mess tries to pump the boy for helpful information, but he’s in full uncooperative teen mode—grunts, shrugs, and monosyllabic answers. From what he does learn, Mess can tell he’s not getting the straight scoop. It’s not long before the boy vanishes too. Abducted? Run away? Something worse? And who took the missing money? Mess, along with his friend Vell Jackson and local news reporter Lia Katsaros, take to the streets to locate the missing mother and son—and the elusive, abusive husband—before the kneecapping loan sharks find them first. 

About Alan
Alan Orloff has published ten novels and more than forty-five short stories. His work has won an Anthony, an Agatha, a Derringer, and two ITW Thriller Awards. He loves cake and arugula, but not together. Never together. He lives and writes in South Florida, where the examples of hijinks are endless. www.alanorloff.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Imagination workout

October is National Book Month in the US. Do you have any plans to celebrate the month?

by Dietrich

Well, happy National Book Month to those who celebrate it in the US. In Canada, March is National Reading Month, and we have Canada Book Day on April 23 during Canada Book Week. And there’s ‘I Read Canadian Day’ coming up on November 8, a celebration of Canadian books for young readers.  

No matter what time of year, or your age, or where you live, it’s always wonderful to celebrate books and reading. 

I’m an avid reader, and I’m forever adding books to the ‘to be read’ stack, both by favorite authors and new ones I’m looking forward to starting. Getting into a book is a great workout for the imagination of any writer. And a good book can be filled with so much inspiration. I try to find time for reading every day, and when I’m doing something like driving or cooking, then I’m often plugged into an audiobook. 

Funny, no matter how much I read, my reading stack never seems to go down. Often, I take one book off the stack, and two more pop into its place. So, I’ve learned to be discerning about what I read. A new book needs to grab me early on. I won’t read on to the end simply because I’ve invested time in something that doesn’t work for me by the time I’m halfway through. There’s just such an unending list of great books coming out all the time, and I know I can’t read them all, so I’m picky.   

While I write standalones, and I read plenty of them too, I’ll save that recommend list for closer to Christmas. However, I do like getting into a good series, and here are some that I think are outstanding and worth celebrating. 

First off, if you follow this blog, then you already know Susan C. Shea is relaunching her three-book Dani O’Rourke Mystery series, and that’s certainly one to celebrate and add to the stack.

I love Mick Herron’s Slough House thriller series, and if you’re unfamiliar with it, do yourself a favor and pick up the first one, Slow Horses and go from there. There are currently eight books in the series, and it’s also a well-done TV series starring Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The Long-legged Fly by James Sallis is the first in the Lew Griffin Mystery series. There are currently six in this superb series, and I’m looking forward to more. The main character, Lew Griffin, is a black private detective, teacher, and writer who always finds trouble in the darkest corners of New Orleans.

Worst Enemies by Dana King is the first in the ongoing Penns River series. Penns River is an imaginary place where Detective Dougherty and the rest of the police force bring the place to life, dealing with crime. King hasn’t received nearly the recognition he deserves — yet, although I think this winning series could change that. And what a great TV or mini series it would make. 

James Lee Burke is another long-time favorite, and I’m a big fan of his Dave Robicheaux novels. In fact, I’ve been hooked since his first, The Neon Rain, back in ’87. And I’m sure looking forward to the 24th in the series, the upcoming Clete Purcell novel, scheduled for release in 2024.