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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Lady in the Lazaretto

This week marks the release of my second novel in the Lazaretto Trilogy: Lady in the Lazaretto.  If you missed out on the first book of the trilogy, you can read about it in my post A Preview of the Lazaretto.  The Lazaretto is a dark and disturbing world where travelers must endure a forty day quarantine before traveling from one planet to the next.  It is a passive quarantine.  Those travelers found to be carrying an infectious pathogen are not allowed to leave the Lazaretto.  The exile is a life sentence.

As he carves a new life on the quarantine moon first revealed in The Lazaretto, Gregor Lepov is hired to solve the perplexing disappearances of its citizens into a mysterious basement apartment. Detective Ed MacNally of Lazaretto Homicide is busy training his new partner, Menya Russell, with whom he is investigating the murder of a man whose body was recently uncovered after thirty years.

  Thieves, corpses, ladies and liars lure Lepov and MacNally into the Lazaretto’s disturbing past.  Has the killer that was active thirty years ago begun killing again?  And after Lepov is nearly killed by a woman who looks too much like Lilly Stewart, he must decide who he can really trust in a city that shuns faith and embraces fear.

The book is available in print and ebook editions.

Below is an excerpt from an opening scene of the book.

   Darkness had not yet settled over the Lazaretto as Lieutenant Ed MacNally and his young partner, Menya Russell, walked across the uneven surface of a West End landfill.  Shards of glass and broken sewer pipes mixed with decomposing soil to create an alien landscape that made walking both difficult and dangerous.  The sun, as much as could be seen through the overcast sky, was still out.  It would sink out of sight soon and already crews were assembling a large tripod topped with fiber optic lamps.  They were ancient, compared to the newer models MacNally’s partner had seen at the academy, but they would do the job.
   “Over here, detective.”  A haggard man in an ill-fitting suit waved MacNally toward a small ditch between two mounds of debris; the man’s skin as pockmarked and scarred as the ditch.
   MacNally found a semi-solid path that had been formed by a tracked vehicle and followed it into the ditch.  The soil there was dry and crumbly.  With all the recent rain, MacNally hadn’t thought that was possible.  Halfway down, MacNally realized it wasn’t dry soil.  It was plaster dust.  Each step he took crushed it into a trillion little dust particles that floated a few inches from the ground and never seemed to settle back down.
   Despite the freshly disturbed plaster dust, a body was visible in the deepest level of the ditch.  The fiber optic lamps cast a shimmer of light now, enough so the two detectives could see what all the fuss was about.  Midst the disjointed shapes of the broken soil and debris lay part of a body; the lower half of a human adult.  There was little left save for the bones and most of the synthetic clothes with which the body had been covered.  The legs were badly twisted; the feet buried in the soil.
   “It that all?”  MacNally asked the man with the scarred face.
   “We thought it was.  My operator stopped digging when he saw it.  We did some soft digging with hand shovels after he backed the rig out.  We almost gave up until we hit this.”
   MacNally’s eyes followed the man’s pointed finger.  A bundle of rags lay at the far end of the ditch, fifteen meters away.  MacNally made sure not to step on the lower half of the body and motioned for Russell to do the same as he traversed the ditch and stopped near the bundle of rags.
   “Looks like a match,” Russell said, no humor in his tone.
   The little dust cloud clung to the ground as if it were afraid to float away.  MacNally squatted down and fanned the plaster dust with big meaty hands to get a clearer view of the upper half of the body.  It was face down, its shoulders hunched forward, hands and arms strung out in front.  The rib cage, visible through the heavily torn shirt, was full of fresh soil.
   “I don’t guess it’s gonna help to take Visuals, huh?”  Russell held back a few steps and showed little interest in the skeleton.
   “Doesn’t matter,” MacNally shook his head.  “We run every Aspect.  Doesn’t matter that there isn’t much left.  There’s information here.  We just can’t see it yet.”
   “I didn’t mean that,” Russell mumbled.
   “What?”  MacNally turned with exasperation.  It didn’t take much for the young Arcobian to get on his nerves.  “If you’re gonna say something say it loud enough so I can hear ya.  I ain’t twenty years old anymore.”
   “I said I didn’t mean the Visuals wouldn’t pick up any data.  I meant we don’t have a reason to investigate.”  Russell did not raise his voice.
   “I still don’t hear him,” MacNally mumbled, though in fact he had.  He just hadn’t heard his partner make an attempt to speak louder.  “I say we investigate him and that’s good enough reason for you.  Okay?”
   Russell looked down at the rags with the same pinched expression he always wore when arguing with the Lieutenant, wrinkling his brow in a way that always made MacNally think the boy had swallowed a bug.
   “Okay,” he said.  “I’ll make sure the VTechs get a good set of shots.  And a full set of tests on the soil.  Do you want anything else?”
   “Maybe,” MacNally stood still for a few seconds, mesmerized by the remains of the man at his feet.  He felt around in his coat pockets until he found a pack of cigarettes and put one between his lips.  He put a silver lighter to it and his shadowed face was briefly lit.
   “You think he was buried here for a long time?”
   “I doubt it,” MacNally pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and used it to point.  “This soil looks fresh, it’s only been in it for a short time.  See how loose all this is?”
   “Well, that ain’t exactly soil,” the scarred man in the bad suit spoke up.  “This is debris from a building that was just torn down.  I figure the guy was inside the building—basement maybe.  When the rigs dug it up he was pulled out.  Something like that.”
   “Maybe he was just some guy who died before the building was erected,” Russell said, shrugging his shoulders.  “Maybe he died of natural causes and was buried and no one remembered he was there.”
   “Russell,” MacNally was almost patient in his reply, “I realize you had little warning before your transfer, but you could have bothered to learn something about this place.  The IHS is very particular about people here.  They keep a zero sum count of everyone here.  If you arrive, you either depart, you’re still here, or you die.  Besides, no one gets buried in the soil here.  There’s too much risk of contamination.  That’s why the burials are up on the high slope’s bedrock.”
   “Maybe your IHS isn’t as all-knowing as you imagine.”
   “Speaking of IHS, they ought to be here pretty soon.  Go back to the car and wait for them.  Tell them we got to get Visuals.”  MacNally watched Russell climb the unstable embankment.
   “He could be right,” the scarred man offered without invitation.
   MacNally glared at him until the man grew uncomfortable and retreated to the other end of the ditch.
   Once alone, MacNally knelt beside the skeletal remains, examining the outstretched hands.  With a flashlight no bigger than a pencil, he illuminated the bones of the right hand.
   “You stupid sonofabitch,” MacNally stuck his cigarette between his lips.  “I should have known you never made it out of here alive.”
   He brushed away enough of the dust to free the middle finger of the right hand and completely reveal a silver ring with a Cross of Lorraine on its crest.  MacNally gingerly removed the ring and dropped it in his coat pocket.
   A new cloud of dust appeared at his feet as he kicked at the debris surrounding the boney fingers, erasing the signs of what he’d done.
   This was the worst kind of end to a day.  A new investigation was about to begin, and while Ed MacNally knew the body’s identity, he wasn’t about to reveal it to anyone.  He was, in fact, going to have to keep anyone from quickly identifying those bones.
   MacNally watched Russell stumble back through the landfill with two VTechs in tow.  It was about to be one helluva week.

Below you can find the new versions (yellow is the print, grey is the ebook version) as well as a link to the first book.  If you are interested in a signed print copy, watch for it at  It will be up on the website by the end of this week.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

My View of a Classic Novel and Our Not-So-Classic Modern Mindset

The Pioneers, by James Fenimore Cooper

Lately, I've been seeing much honor being given to a recently deceased author whose famous "10 Rules of Writing" stress the importance of fast, non-descriptive, skip-the-boring parts narrative.  It warms me to know this late author would have hated James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers, as would his adherents.  I realize there are fewer and fewer readers out there who have the capacity or desire to appreciate this type of slow, highly descriptive, thoughtful work of fiction.  Even Mark Twain railed against Cooper's lack of action, and roundabout way of speaking.  Personally, I revel in it.

It is fitting that this book tells the story of the (then) wilderness of New York as it was being invaded by the hand (and ax) of man.  Trees were being felled, clearings replaced tangled forests, and the heartless laws of men were replacing the common-sense laws of the forest.  Natty Bumppo, known as Leatherstocking, is at the far end of his 70 years of life.  His life of freedom and love of nature are in jeopardy.  The world he once knew is no more.  He is beset by such laws as hunting out of season as well as the greed of those who believe he is hiding a fortune in silver.  Modernity is not a friend to Bumppo.

The same is true for books such as these.  We're too busy to take the time to read slow books like The Pioneers.  Someone sold us a bill of goods, years ago, and said we needed to read books that can be finished in just a few days.  We need to hurry up and get to the next book.  Perhaps this was just a marketing scheme to get us to spend more at the bookstore.  I never understand why people don't think it is a bonus to get a book that sells for the same price as a quick-read throwaway pulp fiction which is three times the length and written in such a way that you must slow down and pay attention.  It certainly saves the reader money.  One need buy far fewer books when they are written in this manner.

Is this modern New York, which James
Fenimore Cooper would not recognize,
so busy and distracting that his books
can no longer be read?
But time, or the lack thereof, is not the real problem.  It is that little phrase "pay attention".  We're too distracted now to sit with a book in a silent room and concentrate on the text.  We hear music and television anywhere we go.  Stuck in the waiting room of the doctor's office?  You'll have to work hard to read a book that requires your attention, since there is music playing, and other patients surfing on their phones while telling their neighbor about the latest stupid video clip they watched.  Reading at home?  Nine times out of ten someone will have the massive flat-screen TV turned on, blaring noise from surround-sound speakers that shake the house.  How about reading on the train, or while waiting for your car's oil to be changed?  More flat-screen TVs tuned to mindless daytime talk-shows.

Even as I write this, my laptop has beeped, to let me know someone has posted something on Facebook that I might need to see.  Switch over!  See if it is a funny picture or a sad news item.  Maybe a friend posted a picture of their entree that just arrived on their table at the best restaurant in town.  (Which now make me wonder what I'm going to do for lunch...perhaps the local diner, or maybe just stay in and reheat some leftovers...hmmmm.)

So anyway, about this...what was I writing about?  Oh yes, "The Pioneers".  So modernity is no friend to these classic novels of yore.  (Yore?  Is that right?  Now I'm off track again, checking on Google to see if yore is the right word.  When I type yore, Google suggests that I meant yorehab which turns out to be a site dedicated to the obsession of playing Yoville, a game where people pretend to have a house and pretend to buy pretend items for that house.  Yorehab actually helps you find the very best pretend prices for your most wished-for pretend couches and lava-lamps and...oh, okay, I see that yore is the right word.  As defined by by Google, yore is "of long ago or former times (used in nostalgic or mock-nostalgic recollection".)  To put it plainly, people today have trouble reading books that were written a long time ago.

So if our modern lifestyle has made it impossible for you to read The Pioneers, you'll miss out on the following:
Illustration for the James Feminore Cooper novel The Pioneers,
 art by Felix Octavius Carr Darley.
 Published 1861, W. A. Townsend and Company in New York.
  The opening scene involves a shooting of a deer and an argument over who deserves the credit for the kill.  The argument is easily won by the revelation that one of the shooters could not have hit the deer because he hit one of the men in the argument, who dramatically reveals he is hit to win the argument.
  A courtroom drama that highlights the fact that men were already losing their personal freedoms in the late 1700's to the overreach of local government.
  A contest of shooting acumen in which a turkey is placed so that only his head is visible to the contestants.
  Fights, jail-breaks, forest fires, and emotional death scenes.
  A panther attack which ends in a noble warrior's bloody death.
  The chance to find out about Leatherstocking's companion, a character named "The Slut".
  A story filled with conservationist propaganda and a condemnation of the terrible genocide that the whites perpetrated on the Native American populations.
  A wonderful, warm, historical, and exciting look at the early lives of those who tamed the wilderness of New York State.

But don't worry.  No one will make you read this long, slow, dull, dusty tome.  You'll have plenty of time to read the latest spine-tingling-can't-put-it-down-page-turner so that you can quickly buy the next one.  Just keep in mind that The Pioneers was seen in the same light two hundred years ago, when the population had more time on their hands and their comprehension skills were obviously more highly developed.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My View of Moonraker (No, not that one!)

Moonraker, by Ian Fleming

To continue my study of the Ian Fleming Bond (see my review on Thunderball at Goodreads for an explanation of what I mean) I decided to give Moonraker a read.  It is, quite frankly, the worst movie of the series, and I thought I'd see if the book might turn out to be better.  (I'd had a hint of this from GoodReads friend Tracey (see her excellent review here.)  I was happy to discover it was much, much better.

Keeping with the Fleming characterization of Bond, we still see him as a bit more lucky than skilled.  However, we begin to see flashes of his too-good-to-be-true accomplishments.  (I won't spoil it for you, but the welding torch bit is, well, ahem...tough to swallow.  If I tried that in one of my books I think I'd be embarrassed to let someone read it.  But I digress.)  He seems less petty here than he did in Thunderball.  In keeping with the lengthy golf game in Goldfinger, Fleming shows Bond at another "sport", this time the not so glamorous game of "Bridge".  I know this was a popular game back then, and my parents played it all the time, and I even learned to play it with them for a time, but this does date this book a bit.

I enjoyed the mystery here.  It is one of those stories where you really don't know what is going on for most of the book.  We are as clueless as Bond.  We aren't given any early warning from Fleming as to what Hugo Drax is or what he is up to.  This keeps the book mysterious, but leaves too much of a far-fetched revelation scene (yep, Bond and the girl, tied up, listen to Drax tell his life story and his evil plot all in one sitting).  Drax never really reaches the menacing point as Auric Goldfinger did.  But he does fill the role of evil Bond villain pretty well, with the massive concrete lair, evil doctors, and jumpsuited men running about.

The girl in Moonraker is Gala Brand.  So far, she is one of the best female characters I've ever seen in a Bond movie or book.  She is intelligent, beautiful (of course), an agent (not a victim) and she has her own ideas (it is her idea that 'saves the day' for Bond and all of England), including what man she wants to be with.  Yes, Fleming gets her out of her clothes at some point, but it is in an action scene (not to be confused with a scene in which Bond is getting some action) and Fleming actually points out that there is nothing sensuous about it.  Like Felix Leiter, who is a no-show in this book, I wish Gala Brand could show up again in another Bond outing.

Bond drives a 1933 Bentley 4.5 litre, similar to the Bentley
shown here in Moonraker.
The story takes place in Great Britain, which is supposed to be a no-no for the 00 agents.  But that is dealt with plausibly, I suppose, and I'm glad Fleming chose this location.  For those of us who don't live in Britain, it too, can be an exotic location.  Especially the Britain of the 1950's.  We are treated to a fantastic car chase (Fleming excels here) and Bond and Brand are also forced to deal with some uncommon physical extremes.  And there are no tricks to getting through them.  Just grit your teeth and deal with it.  (And again, Brand holds her own--no shrinking violet is she.)

One little extra I enjoyed was the behind the scenes look at Bond's office.  His secretary, Ms. Ponsonby, is a nice touch, and Fleming gives her some dignity and gallantry in the short scenes she appears in.  Also, during this book, there are only three 00 agents.  (007, 008, and 0011)  M gets a bigger role here than I've seen before, too.

All of it added up to a wonderful Bond adventure, which begs the question: what happened to the collective mind of the Broccoli production when they tried to make this movie?  Christopher Wood wrote the screenplay for it, and frankly, I hope he regrets it.  With this novel as the source material, I can't imagine what he (or the producers) were thinking.  I still believe that Bond fans should get together and plead with United Artists to scrub this movie from our collective memories.  I love James Bond movies, Roger Moore was my favorite Bond growing up, but this movie is just impossible to watch.