Thomas Mullen’s Darktown is a novel readers won’t soon forget—not just because of its thoroughly engrossing, suspense-filled plot, but because of the historical, moral complexity contained within its pages.
By G. Robert Frazier
New York Times best-selling author Chris Pavone’s third outing, The Travelers (Crown Publishing, $27), is his best yet. Once again, Pavone mixes spies with seemingly ordinary people, throws in some exotic locales and intriguing situations, and yields a thrilling page-turner.
Unlike his previous efforts – The Expats and The Accident – which were both good in their own ways, this one races along at an exciting clip. Pavone, who can get a bit wordy at times, sheds much of the literary style of writing he excels at to tell a more straightforward, tightly written novel.
Some may miss the lyricism, but as a thriller reader, the story is paramount.
The Travelers follows Will Rhodes, a globe-trotting travel writer by day who suddenly finds himself entangled in a complex web of deceit and subterfuge on an international scale. It is on one such routine assignment for his magazine when Will commits a transgression that he cannot so easily erase: he cheats on his wife by having sex with a beautiful woman, Elle Hardwick. Elle, as it turns out, is a CIA operative and basically blackmails Will into joining the ranks or risk his already tenuous marriage.
Will, who is somewhat overwhelmed at this point, acquiesces and so begins on a whirlwind training regimen in which he learns how to follow people, how to recognize if he’s being followed, and how to defend himself should the need arise, which it does. Pavone could have lingered over the training curve for quite a while, but fortunately doesn’t, opting instead to keep the story moving in new directions.
Soon enough, Will is officially on assignment, running missions for Elle even while trying to maintain his cover as a travel writer and caring husband. Even as Will plays a dual role, he doesn’t realize the duality of roles unfolding all around him. It seems that everyone in this story has something to hide, from his wife to his boss to Elle herself.
It all may seem a bit excessive and far-fetched, but the best thing to do here is just go with it. Enjoy this book for the twists and turns and the fun it offers in trying to figure out who’s who. If you give it too much thought, that would just ruin the fun.
All of it comes down to a rousing finale that will leave you hoping to see these characters again.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
NASHVILLE, TN — Stephen King doesn’t let his scary side out. Instead, when he hits the road to meet and greet fans or to talk about his newest book, End of Watch, it’s Public Steve who shows up.
Fans typically want to see Scary Steve, the mind behind such classic novels as It, Carrie, and Salem’s Lot. But Scary Steve doesn’t travel. He works three to four hours a day holed up somewhere in the wilds of Maine coming up with ways “to scare the shit out of you.” If you’re Scary Steve, it’s what you do.
Home Steve is just a regular joe, hanging out at the house, watching ballgames on TV, going to the market, or cleaning up after the dog. Home Steve, as you might surmise, stays at home.
Public Steve is far better suited to book signings and lectures. He’s surprisingly entertaining, light-hearted, and fun. As King puts it, “Public Steve does a lot of deflection so that you don’t look for Scary Steve.”
King talked about the “three faces of Steve” while making a stop at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on his End of Watch book tour in June. The venue – known as the church of country music and birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry – was crammed with 2,300-plus of his constant readers on a night when downtown Nashville was abuzz with the annual CMA (Country Music Association) Festival and nearby Manchester was overrun with ‘Roonies (short for Bonnaroo fans), a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the 68-year-old author.
“Everything is happening in Nashville this weekend,” he said, “and look at this place — full of people who read books.”
“If you have a gift, at some point it wakes up and it speaks to you and says this is what you’re supposed to do.”
— Stephen King
King received a standing O as he stepped on stage, remarking, “Well, it’s all downhill from here.”
In actuality, he was just getting started. Given the setting, King fittingly regaled the audience with stories about his own musical talent as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of authors able to play a limited number of musical chords and sing a few cover songs.
“I’m going to talk about writing, but I’m in the Ryman so cut me some slack,” he joked.
King is a country music lover at heart.
“For me, country music was shit-kicking music,” he said about growing up. “There was nothing on the radio but country music and Rush Limbaugh, so I started listening to country music.”
Thankfully, he didn’t hop on a bus and come to Nashville all those years ago to pursue some dream of being a country music star. Instead, he found his calling in writing horror fiction. In a box. In the attic.
“If you have a gift, at some point it wakes up and it speaks to you and says this is what you’re supposed to do,” King said.
For King, the writing bug inside him awoke upon reading some of his dad’s pulp novels found in that attic, specifically H.P. Lovecraft’s The Thing From the Tomb. “Whatever it was, awoke in me.”
Over the course of 40-plus years since then, King’s writing has resulted in countless bestsellers and sleepless nights for avid readers. He knows what scares you, as the saying goes. The secret, he explained, boils down to two things: One, make readers care about the characters, and two, make it real.
To drive the point home, he let Scary Steve out of the box for just a moment. He noted that many people in the crowd were probably so excited about being there, they’d forgotten to lock the car door. That maybe while they were sitting listening to him, some stranger was trying the door to their car. That some stranger was perhaps slipping into the back seat of the car.
“I guarantee when you go to your car tonight, you’ll look in the back seat first,” he said. In order to scare people, “you have to plant the seed first.”
King admitted he sometimes even scares himself.
“People ask me if I ever scare myself,” he said. “I get scared, but when I’m writing I feel in control. I’m behind the scenes.”
That’s not to say writing is easy.
“The voice I have on most days is, this is great, keep going,” he said. “But you also have days where you feel like you’re wearing gloves and nothing has texture to it. The trick is to keep going. Writing a novel, it’s no job for sissies.”
Quotable Stephen King:
- On fans: “People sometimes tell me, ‘you’re on my bucket list.’ That’s so goddamn weird.”
- On critics: “The critics initially hated me. I decided, I’ll just keep writing and pretty soon they’ll all be fucking dead.”
- On politicians: “Listen, you politicians, you oughtta thank God you can flush after you go to the bathroom.”
- On TV: “TV is in a place it hasn’t been in in years. They are doing things that movies can’t.”
- On what you should read next: The Fireman, written by his son Joe Hill
- On what he’s writing next: King is working on a book with son Owen, Sleeping Beauties, due out in 2017. The book will be published by Scribner.
- On advice to writers: Secrets to success
- New short story: “Cookie Jar”
- More from the tour: An entourage of one
by G. Robert Frazier
Detective Doyle Carrick is a magnet for trouble. The hero of Jon McGoran’s latest novel, Dust Up (Forge Books), Carrick is at home with his girlfriend when a complete stranger appears frantically pounding on his front door, only to be shot down in cold blood.
Homicide Detective Mike Warren embraces the easy way out by wanting to peg the crime on the victim’s wife, Miriam Hartwell, whom Carrick saw driving away from the scene. Fortunately for readers, the truth is a lot more complicated, as is often the case with Carrick’s adventures.
Carrick is urged to back off the investigation and let Warren handle things, but it’s not that simple. Miriam seeks him out again and fills him in on a biotech cover-up of a tainted food program in Haiti.
McGoran keeps the action moving at a frantic pace in a series of tautly written chapters that will have you turning the pages long into the night.
Read the full review at Killer Nashville.
By G. Robert Frazier
I’ve been a bit remiss in posting reviews to this site, though I’ve been actively posting on other sites. So, let’s catch up on some of my latest book reviews, shall we?
Fool Me Once – Harlan Coben
Maya Stern was a firsthand witness to her husband’s brutal murder by a pair of thieves, so how is it possible that he would be seen days later, playing with her two-year-old daughter, on footage captured by a nanny cam? Finding the answer, and perhaps even her husband, propels the riveting narrative of Harlan Coben’s new thriller, Fool Me Once (Dutton, $28).
When the picture card inside the nanny cam goes missing, Maya has no evidence to back up what she saw, and anyone she tells is more than reluctant to believe her. But Maya, a former Army captain with plenty of command experience, isn’t one to just let things go.
She naturally takes it upon herself to get to the truth, following a trail of clues past and present, uncovering new twists in the puzzle along the way.
Fool Me Once is the first of Coben’s 25 novels to be told entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist, resulting in a new experience for longtime fans and an excellent jumping-on point for new readers.
Read the full review at Bookpage.com
Close Your Eyes – Michael Robotham
You won’t want to close the book on this one. The new thriller by Michael Robotham, Close Your Eyes (Mulholland, $26), is reason to stay up late.
Clinical psychologist Joseph O’Laughlin is reluctant to once again take on the role of detective—after seven previous adventures, he thought he’d given it up to live out a peaceful retirement—but when a former student, Milo Coleman, calling himself “the Mindhunter,” begins to jeopardize the police investigation, he can no longer stand by idly. With his reputation in danger, Joe sets out to smooth over the ruffled feathers of the police and to calm a groundswell of public anger over the brutal unsolved murders of a mother and her teenage daughter.
The mystery and suspense is reason enough to keep reading, but Robotham ups the ante with a rousing family drama that adds an emotional complication to his lead’s life.
Read the full review at Bookpage.com
The Watcher in the Wall – Owen Laukkanen
Words can hurt, and in the case of Owen Laukkanen’s compelling, thought-provoking new thriller, The Watcher in the Wall (Putnam, $26.95), they can be enough to kill.
Laukkenen’s recurring FBI agents Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere pursue an Internet troll who encourages fragile teenagers to commit suicide, while recording their final moments via webcam for a black market on the dark web. The case takes on a deeper meaning for Windermere, who continues to berate herself over a past mistake in which she stood by as a fellow classmate was bullied in school to the point she one day never came back. Catching the predator in this case serves as a chance, however slight, for redemption.
Laukkenen’s fast-paced prose and short chapters pull readers along on a cross-country pursuit to identify the predator behind the online suicide forum and stop him before he can rack up more victims.
Interestingly, in the acknowledgements, Laukkanen admits he also dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts as a teenager, making the book even more deeply personal.
Read the full review at Bookpage.com
Cracked – Barbra Leslie
If it weren’t for the unexpected death of her twin sister, Ginger, Danny Cleary—the heroine of Barbra Leslie’s new novel Cracked (Titan Books)—might still be holed up in her apartment mindlessly wasting away on crack cocaine. Sadly, her sister’s death is just the shot in the arm Danny needs to kick the habit—at least for a chapter or two—and seek vengeance on the person who killed her.
Leslie has created an anti-hero to root for in the vein of Walt White from Breaking Bad: a tormented, down-on-herself woman who would much rather seek solace from the fumes of her crack pipe than deal with people face-to-face, or with life in general. But when her sister’s own twin sons are kidnapped as well, Cleary abandons the relatively safe confines of her half-life to embark on a trippy, vigilante-styled quest for vengeance that takes her from the streets of LA to Toronto to a family cabin in the Maine wilderness.
Leslie piles on enough twists and turns and action-packed shoot-‘em-ups to keep readers turning pages late into the night.
Read the full review at KillerNashville.com
Have you ever wanted to just run away and start over as someone else? The main character in Lisa Lutz’s new novel does just that — time and time again.
You can read my review now at BookPage.
by G. Robert Frazier
Before you crack open Pegasus Down (Oceanview Publishing), the new novel byPhilip Donlay, you better buckle up: You’re in for a hell of a ride. This action-thriller soars from start to finish with page-a-minute suspense and thrills to keep you riveted to your seat, just like an on-screen summer blockbuster.
Donlay drops readers, and one of his main characters, right into the fray in his opening chapter as a CIA-operated Learjet crashes behind enemy lines somewhere in Eastern Europe. On board are Special Agent Lauren McKenna, code name “Pegasus”, and a recently liberated American scientist who possesses technological plans for a new stealth jet capable of delivering a nuclear device.
McKenna manages to swim free of the wreckage, and must immediately go on the run from foreign forces and a terrorist group that will stop at nothing to obtain the technology.
by G. Robert Frazier
You know how they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of A Better Goodbye (Tyrus Books), this is one instance in which you certainly could. The cover of John Schulian’s debut novel depicts a brilliant yellow and orange sunset over the dark and gritty cityscape of Los Angeles. It’s a perfectly fitting image, as it represents the murky lifestyle Schulian paints beneath the brilliant sparkle and glamour of the movie capital of the world.
It’s in this milieu, right on the fringes of tourist-friendly Hollywood, that we find Schulian’sunforgettable cast of down-and-out characters. They’re not the sort of characters you’d want to associate with, but you can sympathize with their plight. And like any good noir novel, the lives of Schulian’s characters are irrevocably intertwined and destined to come crashing down in a bloody finale.
Read the full review at Killer Nashville.
by G. Robert Frazier
If you’ve never given a thought as to what to do in a disaster, you’ll probably change your mind after reading Tim Washburn’s terrifying debut novel Powerless (Pinnacle Books).
At the very least, you’ll find yourself taking an extra long look at those survivor magazines at the grocery store checkout lane, or setting your DVR to record those doomsday prepper shows. You may even feel compelled to go a step farther by purchasing a gas generator for your home, nonperishable foods by the pallet, and cases of bottled water. You might want to get a gun or two as well–one for hunting and one for self-defense.
Because when the power goes out–for good–you’ll need all of it sooner rather than later.
The characters in Washburn’s debut novel learn that lesson the hard way when a massive solar flare wipes out electricity across the northern hemisphere, plunging the entire US into complete chaos.
Read the rest of this review on Killer Nashville.
The Killer Nashville writers’ conference has come and gone, I’ve had a day or two to decompress, and now it’s time to share some takeaways.
Overall, the conference was an enjoyable and educational experience. Kudos go to conference founder Clay Stafford, Jaden (Beth) Terrell, staff and volunteers. Everyone was especially friendly and helpful. The conference included three days of panels (as many as five panels running simultaneously every hour or so), breakout sessions, roundtable pitch sessions with agents and editors, guest lectures, autograph signings, and social gatherings. There were a few last-minute changes of rooms and panel lineups, and even a few technical glitches with the in-room audio systems, but somehow they managed to pull it off without too much confusion or frustration to the attendees.
A highlight of the event was the book launch for the first-ever Killer Nashville anthology, Cold-Blooded. I managed to get autographs from most of the authors who attended. (Somehow I missed you Paula Benson!) Can’t wait to read all the stories and setting my sights on being a part of next year’s anthology!
I met a lot of other writers in attendance, “friended” their Facebook sites, and followed their Twitter accounts. (If you’re reading this and I didn’t get to you, just like me on Facebook and follow me @grfrazier23 and I’ll return the favor.) I encourage everyone to stay in touch. Writing is a lonely business and we can all use each other’s support and encouragement.
The conference’s guests of honor -– best-sellers John Gilstrap, M. William Phelps, and Robert K. Tanenbaum — were each fantastic. Clay Stafford did a great job interviewing each of them and getting them to share wonderful stories about the business of writing.
Phelps opened the conference with the talk: “Crime Pays: Books, Television and Film – The Explosion of the (Serial) Killer Genre,” sharing insights into the true nature of serial killers contrasted with the entertainment world’s depiction of such killers. He also provided attendees with the true story behind his hair (it’s about branding and marketing, ways to make you stand out in a crowd)!
Gilstrap provided the most moving and uplifting speech of the weekend with his “Dare to Dream” segment. He said the secret to finding writing success is to persevere. Keep believing in yourself even when others don’t.
Gilstrap also had the best, most memorable quotes from the weekend:
- “The smartest conversations you will ever have is with writers.”
- “I’m of the belief that we don’t value dreaming enough.”
- On Hollywood: “You count your fingers after you shake hands.”
- “Every success is preceded by rejection and failure.”
- On writing: “The act of stopping is the act of surrendering.”
The award for friendliest authors has to go to Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain, co-authors of the best-selling Murder She Wrote series. My mother was a huge fan of the Murder She Wrote series and loved the books. The Bains signed a copy of their newest book in her memory and I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with them about the series.
Robert K. Tanenbaum was by far the best-dressed author. Believe it or not, this was his first-ever conference appearance!
Best-hair belonged to M. William Phelps.
Following are some other highlights and observations, as well as my personal rankings on the panels and events I attended (one star being fair, two stars being good, three stars being very good and four stars being excellent):
- Get A Literary Agent**** with literary agent/best-selling author Sheree Bykofsky. A great kickoff to the event on Thursday, Bykofsky provided practical advice on how to write a query letter and how to make a verbal pitch to agents. She was knowledgeable, encouraging, funny, and, perhaps above all, approachable. Plus, I won a free book from her for my “elevator” pitch.
- Pacing Your Novel*** — The panelists here had a lively discussion about tips and tricks to keep your thriller novel moving. As panelist Don Helin pointed out, “Emotion is what drives real suspense.” Panelist Ken Vanderpool said he ranks each chapter he writes by the amount of tension it creates on a 1 to 10 scale, so that when you then look at a series of chapters together they should resemble a heartbeat graph with ups and downs along the way. And hey, they even had handouts! I love handouts.
- Crime Scene/Dupin Detective Award*** — Dan Royse, assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, created a mock crime scene for participants to solve, complete with evidence to log and process, video interviews with “witnesses,” and a floorplan/grid on which to outline the murder scene and evidence found. The sheer amount of clues and information to be processed was remarkable in itself and gave me a new respect for the true men and women of law enforcement. All those TV shows fail to capture the true details that go into solving crimes.
- Getting it All Done: Time Management for Writers**** — Another great panel, focusing on how to keep procrastination at bay and how to shut off your internal editor as you write. Author/panelist Jonni Rich suggested always ending each writing session on an upbeat note so that you’re excited when you get back to it. Lynn Cahoon suggested using apps like Freedom and Self Control to keep you off the internet until your writing session is over. “It takes courage to open that word document,” she said. “Your book has to take priority.” This panel proved to be time well spent.
- How to Write A Thriller*** — Author David Bell described the thriller as stories of “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.” “It should engage the heart as much as your head,” he said. Bell is a proponent of outlining because it gives no excuse for writer’s block. Recommended reading from the group: any John Sandford novel or early Robert Ludlum. For young adult genre writers, visit the Better Novel Project for a breakdown on how to write YA.
- How to Write Effective Scenes*** — Philip Cioffari did a great job of breaking down scenes into their core elements and showing how writers can craft the best scenes possible. One trick: be aware of what’s going on in both the foreground and background of your scenes. It’s stuff most writers have encountered before, but served as good refresher material and good introductory material for writers just starting out. I was disappointed to have to leave the session early because of an agent roundtable I had scheduled.
- How to Write Speculative Fiction** — This panel never really found its footing. I was eager to hear from writer about writing in the horror, sci-fi, paranormal genres, but they spent the first half of the session addressing more routine matters, such as outlining or “pantsing.” At that point I left to find a panel that was more on topic.
One astounding fact was that nearly everyone in attendance was already published. Whether with a traditional publisher, indie publisher or self-published, they all had books for sale or to talk about and they all managed to get onto a panel. It was discouraging in a way for anyone unpublished, but also encouraging in that if all these people can get published, there’s no reason anyone just starting out can’t too. The Killer Nashville folks recorded all the sessions and plan to make them available to attendees. I’m eager to see and hear what I missed.
Neither of the ticketed bonus sessions I attended were worth the extra money. (Lesson learned for the next time I attend.) The final event, in fact, was a big disappointment. It was supposed to bring together six of the agents attending the conference for a panel on what agents really want, but only half of them showed up. The others went home early. Not good when you’ve paid extra money for that session and you only get half of what was promised.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the venue. The Omni Hotel in Nashville was spacious (maybe just a bit too large) and clean, convenient to downtown, and elegant (and a bit cold). There were plenty of spaces to relax outside of the panel rooms to catch up with other authors or to just sit and unwind. The art adorning the walls was spectacular to look at, as were the views from the large windows. Even the patterns on the carpet and the chandeliers in the conference rooms were impressive.
All in all, I’d say Killer Nashville 2015 killed it.
More on Killer Nashville:
Killer Nashville shiny, bright – Mudpies and Magnolias
An interview with Killer Nashville author C. Hope Clark – The Reading Frenzy
A Conversation with Killer Nashville author Maggie Toussaint – Omnimystery News