Showing posts with label David Dean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Dean. Show all posts

27 April 2015

What Are You Reading?


by Jan Grape


As soon as I saw my fellow SleuthSayer, Dale C. Andrews post for Sunday, I knew I was on to something. I'd been wracking my brain for days to come up with something to write about today. Suddenly, I found myself staring at a stack of books on the lamp table next to my perch on the sofa. I'll tell you my reading pile this week and you tell me yours, Just a quick note on this Mother's Day to clue everyone in on what a fantastic and versatile group of writers who keep this site going each day. I knew there are award nominees and winners here and I thought it might be high time we tooted our own horns. So in no particular order check out these your daily sleuth sayers.

Eve Fisher: Her short story, "A Time to Mourn" was shortlisted for Otto Penzler's 2011 Best American Short Stories.

John Floyd: won a 2007 Derringer Award for short Story"Four for Dinner."
Nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize "Creativity" 1999 for Short Story
"The Messenger 2001 for Short Story and for a poem "Literary vs Genre" 2005
Shortlisted three times for Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories, "The Proposal," (2000)
"The Powder Room," (2010), "Turnabout" (2012)
And "Molly's Plan" was published in 2015 Best American Short Stories

Nominated for an EDGAR AWARD for the short story "200 Feet" 2015

Janice Trecker: Nominated for an EDGAR AWARD for Best First Novel years ago,
A Lambda award for Best Gay Mystery Novel for one of the Bacon Books a year ago and a
nomination for Best Local Mystery book on the History of Hampton, CT now my home town.

Dale Andrews: My first Ellery Queen Pastiche, "The Book Case," won second place in the EQMM 2007 Reader's Choice and was also nominated for the Barry Award for Best Short Story that year.

Rob Lopresti: I've been a finalist for the Derringer three times, winning twice.
I won the Black Orchid Novella Award.
I was nominated for the Anthony Award.

Paul D. Marks: won the SHAMUS AWARD for White Heat.
Nominated this year for an ANTHONY AWARD for Best Short Story for "Howling at the Moon."

David Dean: his short stories have appeared regularly in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, as well as a number of Anthologies since 1990. His stories have been nominated for SHAMUS, Barry, and Derringer Awards and "Ibraham's Eyes" was the Reader's Choice Award for 2007. His story "Tomorrow's Dead" was a finalist for the EDGAR AWARD for Best Short Story of 2011.

David Edgerley Gates: has been nominated for the SHAMUS, the EDGAR (twice) and the International Thriller Writers Award.

Melissa Yuan-Innes: Derringer Award Finalist 2015 for "Because" Best Mystery Short Fiction in the English Language
Roswell Award for Short Fiction Finalist 2015 for "Cardiopulmonary Arrest."
Won the Aurora Award 2011 Best English related Work and her story " Dancers With Red Shoes" is featured in Dragons and Stars edited by Derwin Mak and Edwin Choi. Her story "Indian Time was named one of the best short mysteries of 2010 by criminalbrief.com
Year's Best Science Fiction, Honorable Mentions for "Iron Mask," "Growing up Sam," and "Waiting for Jenny Rex."
CBS Radio Noon Romance Writing Contest- Runner-up
Melissa has also won Creative Writing contests and Best First Chapter of a Novel in 2008 and second place for Writers of the Future and won McMaster University "Unearthly Love Affair" writing contest.

Melodie Campbell: is the winner of nine awards: 2014 ARTHUR ELLIS award for (novella) The Goddaughter's Revenge. which also won the 2014 Derringer.
Finalist for 2014 ARTHUR ELLIS award for "Hook, Line and Sinker" and this story also won the Northwest Journal short story.
Finalist for 2013 ARTHUR ELLIS award for "Life Without George." which took second prize in Arts Hamilton national short fiction.
Finalist 2012 ARTHUR ELLIS award for "The Perfect Mark" which also won the Derringer award.
Winner 2011 Holiday Short Story Contest for "Blue Satin and Love."
Finalist for 2008 Arts Hamilton award for national short fiction for "Santa Baby."
Third Prize 2006 Bony Pete Short Story contest "School for Burgulars"
Winner 1991 Murder and Mayhem and the Macabre, "City of Mississauga, 2 categories
Third Prize 1989 Canadian Living Magazine, Romance Story "Jive Talk."
Melodie is also a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for best short story for 2015 which will be announced on May 28th.

Robert Lawton: nominated for the Derringer Award for "The Right Track" in 2010
Nominated for the Derringer Award for "The Little Nogai Boy" in 2011.

Jan Grape: Nominated along with my co-editor, Dr. Dean James, for an Edgar and an Agatha Award for Deadly Women for Best Biographical/Critical Non-Fiction. 1998
Won the mccavity award along with my co-editor Dr. Dean James for Deadly Women for Best Non-fiction.
Won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story, 1998 for "A Front-Row Seat" in Vengeance is Hers anthology.
Nominated for Anthony for Best First Novel, 2001 for Austin City Blue.
Jan will receive the Sage Award from the Barbara Burnet Smith Aspiring Writers Foundation on May 17. This award is for mentoring aspiring writers.

We all have to admit, our SleuthSayer authors are a multi-talented group.

On this Mother's Day, one little personal note, my mother, PeeWee Pierce and my bonus mom, Ann T. Barrow, both taught me to be a strong, independent, caring woman and I was blessed to have them in my life and I still miss them. Both were able to read some of my published work and I'm glad they were.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone.


26 April 2015

David Dean's Starvation Cay



by Dale C. Andrews
Take yourself out of this island, creeping thing . . . . Your voyage here was cursed by heaven! 
                                        Homer
                                        The Odyssey Book 10, lines 82-5
Little islands are all large prisons.
                                        Sir Richard Francis Burton
for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea. 
                                        e. e. cummings
                                        100 Selected Poems 

       The sea has has always sung a sirens’ call. There is something about it -- that strange enfolding of tranquility nestled beside the threat of death -- that charms, tantalizing while terrorizing at the same time. Homer’s warnings are as apt today.  When you venture forth among the islands it is not all about beauty and tranquility.  The sea, after all, has the same salinity as our tears.  And blood, too, is an uncomfortably close cousin.

       For all of its promise of gentle breezes, coral reefs, and turquoise depths, the sea can turn on you in an instant; for all of its beauty it is still a most unforgiving mistress. Perhaps a more modern quote from Dave Barry needs to be added to the above list: There comes a time in a man's life when he hears the call of the sea. If the man has a brain in his head, he will hang up the phone immediately.

       Dave Barry’s warning could aptly have been whispered into the ear of Brendan Athy, the protagonist in Starvation Cay, David Dean’s latest thriller. David, too, has heard the sirens’ call, and understands that Caribbean islands and passages are not defined by travel brochures. His new sailing shanty, Starvation Cay, is quite a ride -- a yarn spun both in the light of the Caribbean sun and the dark of what can unexpectedly lurk in those waters, in that next ship closing in on you on a broad reach, or perhaps on that island lying low on the horizon ahead.

The islands of the Bahamas
       Starvation Cay finds Brendan, an unlikely hero for a sea yarn, on his own odyssey into the Bahamian seas of the Caribbean in a quest to rescue his sister, last heard from on a sailboat plying those waters. Brendan neither knows, nor suspects, what lies ahead.  He is an east coast small time New Jersey gangster, at home in streets and alleys, but completely adrift among Bahamian tides and reefs.

       Brendan is lucky enough, however, to stumble into a symbiotic alliance with Devereaux, a gnarled Haitian captain, and the challenges that lie ahead are left to this largely unwitting partnership to master. Devereraux knows, full well, that the beauty of the Caribbean is no Disney ride. The rules that govern the islands are few, and those that govern the waters between those islands are virtually non-existent. Brendan does not understand any of this.  But he will learn.

       But why take my word for it?  Starvation Cay can speak for itself just fine:
       Staggering out of the salon into the brilliant sun, Brendan raised a hand to shade his eyes. The sea stretched out from their vessel in all directions, rolling away in gray and, sometimes startlingly blue, hummocks of water…more water, it seemed to Brendan, than the world could hold; the horizon, a broken chain of barely visible green hillocks wavering in the distance. But for their presence, he thought, it might have been the first day of creation.
       When they had been within easy sight of shore, he had seen their journey as an exhilarating, if urgent, lark, but now, cast out upon this endless, heaving expanse of sea; it assumed epic proportions, grand and terrifying. In [his home back in] Elizabeth [New Jersey], man ruled the environment unchallenged, with only other men to fear; out here, he understood instinctively, man ruled nothing…and controlled little. 
       This bit of prose is but a small sample of what lies ahead. Starvation Cay is a tightly tooled well written adventure that deftly pivots between our vacation dreams and our midnight terrors. And that, as David Dean demonstrates, is the formula for a page-turner.

David Dean (right) and yours truly
       David, my long-time partner in crime here at SleuthSayers, brings to his tale a wealth of practical and writing experience. As a former New Jersey police chief of the beach-side town of Avalon, he knows all too well the criminal underbelly that has always been Brendan’s world. And David has also sailed the Bahamian water of Devereaux’s world, and therefore also understands full well the beauty and the dangers, always in tension with each other, that those waters hold.

       David is a master teller of short stories who, in 2007, won the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers’ Choice Award  for his story "Ibrahim's Eyes", (a fact that I remember very well since he pushed my story, "The Book Case", into second place that year!) David's stories have been nominated for the Shamus, Barry, and Derringer Awards. His story “Tomorrow’s Dead” was a finalist for the Edgar for best short story of 2011. And just last year EQMM readers rated three of his stories in the top 10 mystery short stories of 2014. David’s accomplishments in longer mystery formats include his chilling ghost story The Thirteenth Child, the Yucatan thriller The Purple Robe, and now Starvation Cay.

       I don’t like spoilers, and I have worked hard to ensure that you will find none here. Just suffice it to say that David has delivered an excellent Caribbean adventure in Starvation Cay. If you are looking for a poolside read this summer, look no further. You might also be tempted to take this thriller along as a beach-side read on that Caribbean vacation you have been contemplating. But if that is the locale where you settle into chapter 1, under a beach palm and with your rum punch beside you, well, a word of fair warning is in order: Don’t be surprised, as you read, if (notwithstanding that gorgeous beach and the swaying palm) you begin to experience a growing trepidation, a creeping unease followed by that un-ignorable need to frequently glance back over your own shoulder. And, as Brendan learns -- that might just be a good idea.

       Starvation Cay is bargained priced, and, in keeping with quickly evolving reading habits, is an e-publication, available now for downloading on Amazon.  

14 April 2015

Mariel– The Story, Part I


by David Dean

Some time ago I did a piece here on the writing of my story, "Mariel", which appeared in the Dec. 2012 issue of ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE. Finding myself overcome by events and coming up dry on the deadline for this month's entry in the SleuthSayers sweepstakes, I decided to make the story available (in two parts due to its length) to anyone who wants to read it. I hope that you will, if you haven't already, and that you enjoy meeting it's young heroine.

Mariel

THE NEIGHBOR watched Mariel approach through his partially shuttered blinds. She cruised down their quiet cul-de-sac on her purple bicycle, her large head with its jumble of tight curls swiveling from side to side. He thought she looked grotesque, a Shirley Temple on steroids. Mariel ratcheted the bell affixed to her handlebars for no apparent reason and stopped in front of his house. He took a step back from the window.

His house was one of three that lay along the turn-around at the end of Crumpler Lane and normally she would simply complete her circumnavigation of the asphalted circle and return to her end of the street. This time, however, Mariel’s piggish eyes swept across his lawn and continued to the space between his house and that of his neighbor’s to the north, who despised the child as much as he did, if that was possible. A crease of concern appeared on his freckled forehead and he took a sip of his cooling coffee.

Suddenly she raked the lever of her bell back and forth several times startling him, the nerve-wracking jangle sounding as if Mariel and her bike were in his living room. He felt something warm slide over his knuckles and drip onto his faux Persian carpet.

Hissing a curse about Mariel’s parentage, he turned for the kitchen and a bottle of stain remover. “Hideous child,” he murmured through clenched teeth, “Troglodyte!” What was she looking for? More than once he had chased her from his property after he had found her snooping around his sheds and peering in his windows. Though he had complained, her mother had proved useless in controlling the child. She was one of those ‘single moms’ that seemed to dominate the family landscape of late, and had made it clear that she thought he was overreacting.

He recalled with a flushing of his freshly razored cheeks, how she had appeared amused by the whole thing and inquired with an arched brow how long he had been divorced—as if the need for companionship might be the real motive behind his visit! He felt certain that on more than one encounter with the gargantuan and supremely disengaged mother, that he had smelled alcohol on her breath, cheap wine, if he had to hazard a guess.

But what now, he wondered? Usually, Mariel crept about in a surprisingly stealthy manner for such a large girl, but now she commanded the street like a general, silent but for the grating bell that even now rang out demandingly once more…but for what?

Forgetting the carpet cleaner, he set down his morning mug and glided stealthily back to his observation point at the window. He felt trapped, somehow, by this sly little giant so inappropriately named ‘Mariel’. What had her mother been thinking, he asked himself with a shake of his graying head, to assign this clumsy-looking creature such a delicate, feminine name? When he peeked out again it was to find Mariel’s bike lying discarded on his lawn, the girl nowhere to be seen. The crease between his eyes became a furrow and he rushed through his silent house to the kitchen windows.

Carefully parting a slat of his Venetian blinds, he looked on the path that led between his property and the next and on into the woods, a large head of curly hair was just disappearing down it and into the trees. A shudder ran through his body and beads of sweat formed above his upper lip like dew. ‘Damn the girl,’ he thought, feeling slightly nauseous as suspicion uncoiled itself within his now-queasy guts.

Unbidden, the image of the dog trotted into his mind, its hideous prize clasped between its slavering jaws. It had reeked of the rancid earth exposed by the recent torrential rains. He remembered with a shudder of distaste and a rising, renewable fury how it had danced back and forth across his sodden lawn, clearly enjoying its game of ‘keep away’. He remembered the shovel most of all, its heft and reach, the satisfaction of its use.

“That was her dog,” he breathed into the silent, waiting room, then thought, ‘Of course it was…it would be.’ His soft hands flexed as if gripping the shovel once more.



Mariel stood over the shallow, hastily dug grave and contemplated the partially exposed paw. The limb showed cinnamon-colored fur with black, tigerish stripes that she immediately recognized. She hadn’t really cared for Ripper, (a name he had been awarded as a puppy denoting his penchant for ripping any and every thing he could seize between his formidable jaws) but he had been, ostensibly, her dog.

Ostensibly, because as he had grown larger, his destructive capabilities, coupled with Mariel and her mother’s complete disregard of attempting to instill anything remotely resembling discipline, had resulted in a rather dangerous beast that had to be kept penned in the back yard at all times. Mariel had served largely as Ripper’s jailer.

As she couldn’t really share any affection with the dog, or he with her, they had gradually grown to regard one another with a resigned antipathy, if not outright hostility—after all, she was also the provider of his daily meals which she mostly remembered to deliver. It was also she that managed to locate him on those occasions when he found the gate to his pen unlatched (Mariel did this from time to time to see what might happen in the neighborhood as a result) and coaxed him into returning. This was the mission in which Mariel had been engaged this Saturday morning in early November. She saw now that she had been only partially successful, Ripper would not be retuning to his pen.

Looking about for something to scrape the loose earth off her dog’s remains, she pried a rotting piece of wood from a long-fallen pine tree and began to dig into the damp, sandy soil. Grunting and sweating with the effort, her Medusa-like curls bouncing on her large, round skull, Ripper was exposed within minutes. Whoever had buried him had not done a very good job of it and the slight stench of dead dog that had first led her to the secret grave rose like an accusing, invisible wraith. Mariel wrinkled her stubby nose.

Ignoring the dirt and damage being done her purplish sweat shirt and pants that matched her bicycle, she seized the dead creature by his hindquarters and dragged him free of the grave. Letting him drop onto the leaf litter of the forest floor with a sad thump she surveyed her once-fierce companion.

She thought that he looked as if the air had been let out of him—deflated. His great fangs were exposed in a permanent snarl or grimace, the teeth and eyes clotted with earth. She pushed at his ribcage with a toe of her dirty sneaker as if this might goad him back into action, but nothing happened, he just lay there.

She thought his skull appeared changed and squatted next to him to make a closer examination. As she brought her large face closer, the rancid odor grew stronger yet, but Mariel was not squeamish and so continued her careful scrutiny. It was different, she decided. The concavity that naturally ran between Ripper’s eyes to the crown of his skull was now more of a valley, or canyon. Mariel ran a finger along it and came away with a sticky black substance clinging to it. The stain smelled of death and iron.

Having completed her necropsy, Mariel stood once more and surveyed the surrounding woods. The trees had been largely stripped of their colorful foliage by the recent nor’easter, but her enemy was not to be seen. Though she did not truly mourn Ripper’s untimely passing, she did greatly resent the theft of her property and its misuse, and concluded with a hot finality that someone owed her a dog.

She gently kicked Ripper’s poor carcass as a final farewell then turned to leave and find a wheel barrow in which to transport him home once more. She knew of several neighbors who possessed such a conveyance and almost none were locked away this time of year.

It was then that something within the dog’s recent grave caught her attention—something that twinkled like a cat’s eye in the slanted beams of daylight that filtered through the trees. Mariel dropped to her knees, thrusting her chubby hand into the fetid earth to retrieve whatever treasure lay within. When she withdrew it once more it was to find that she clasped a prize far greater than any she could ever have imagined—a gold necklace, it’s flattened, supple links glistening like snake skin and bearing a pendant that sparkled with a blue fire in the rays of the milky sun. Mariel had no idea as to what, exactly, she had discovered, but her forager’s instinct assured her that she clasped a prize worth having.

Without hesitation, she gave it a tug to free it from the grasp of Ripper’s grave, but oddly, found that her efforts were resisted. She snatched at it once more, impatient to be in full possession of her prize, and felt something beneath the dirt move and begin to give way. Encouraged at the results of this tug-o-war, she seized the links in both hands now and rocked back on her considerable haunches for additional leverage.

With the dry snap of a breaking branch, the necklace came free and Mariel found herself in full possession. The erupted earth, however, now revealed a yellowish set of teeth still lodged in the lower jawbone of their owner. Several of these teeth had been filled with silver and as Mariel had also been the recipient of such dental work, she understood that the remains were those of a human. A stack of vertebrae were visible jutting out from the dirt, evidence of the result of the uneven struggle, though the remainder of the skull still lay secure beneath the soil.

Mariel’s grip on the pendant never wavered as she regarded the neck of the now-headless horror that had previously worn the coveted necklace. With only a slight “Ewww,” of disgust, she rose in triumph to slip the prized chain over her own large head, admiring the lustrous sapphire that hung almost to her exposed navel while ignoring the slight tang of death that clung to it. She felt well-pleased with the day’s outcome, Ripper’s demise notwithstanding.

With her plans now altered by this surprising acquisition, Mariel dragged her dog’s much abused corpus back to the grave from which she had only just liberated him, tipped him in and began to cover Ripper and his companion once more. When she was done, she studied the results for several moments; then thought to drag a few fallen branches over her handiwork.

Satisfied with the results, she turned for home once more, pausing only long enough to slip the necklace beneath her stained sweat shirt. Mariel did not want to have to surrender her hard-won treasure to her mother, who would undoubtedly covet the prize and seize it for her own adornment. Besides, she had things she wanted to think about and did not want anyone to know of the necklace until the moment of her choosing, specially, the three men who occupied the homes on the cul-de-sac. It had not escaped Mariel’s notice that only those three had easy access to the path that led into the woods and passed within yards of the secret grave.



The neighbor watched her emerge from the trees and march past his house. He studied her closely but could read nothing from her usual closed expression. Other than her clothes being a little dirtier than when she went in she appeared the same as always and he breathed a sigh of relief.

It was silly, he thought as he saw her raise and clumsily mount her bike, how one unpleasant child could instill so much unease. It was because he was a sensitive man, he consoled himself—he had been a sensitive boy and with adulthood nothing had really changed. He had always resented the unfeeling bullies of the world, child or adult. Children like Mariel had terrified him when he had been a school boy and apparently nothing had changed in that respect either.

The sudden jangling of the bell caused him to gasp and his eyes returned to the robust figure of Mariel. She surveyed the surrounding houses with her implacable gaze, studying each of the three on the cul-de-sac in turn, coming at last back to his own. He shrank back from the window once more, his heart beating rapidly.

Then, with a thrust of a large thigh, her bike was set in motion and she pedaled from his sight with powerful strokes. “Damn her”, he whispered defiantly as his earlier concerns returned with such force that his blood suddenly roared within his ears.

Finding an overstuffed chair to settle into, he peered around the plush, dim room with its collection of his own paintings on the wall, while around him song birds began to chirp and sing from their cages as if to restore and calm him. He smiled weakly in gratitude at their effort even as Mariel’s imperious face returned to his mind’s eye with a terrible clarity. He closed his eyes against her, massaging his now-throbbing temples with his soft fingertips. If she had discovered anything in those woods, he asked himself, she would have come out screaming, wouldn’t she? He lowered his head into his sweaty hands, while a blood-red image of Mariel shimmered on his inner eyelids …wouldn’t she?



Mariel had no trouble engineering her encounter with Mister Salter. He worked on his lawn from early spring until the cold and snow of January finally drove him indoors. As long as there was any light she knew that her chances were good of finding him in his yard. So after she was delivered home by her school bus and enjoyed a snack of cream-filled cupcakes she pedaled her bike directly to the cul-de-sac and his property.

Salter watched her approach with a sour expression meant to ward her away, but Mariel was not troubled by such subtleties. She came to a sudden halt in his driveway causing a scattering of carefully raked gravel. She watched Salter’s expression darken at this, but he refrained from saying anything. He shut off the leaf blower he had been using and its piercing whine faded away. Man and girl observed each other from several yards apart as his corpulent Labrador waddled happily toward Mariel, thick tail wagging.

“Bruiser,” Salter warned menacingly.

The dog ignored him and continued on to Mariel, pleased to be patted on his large head. Salter’s complexion went darker yet.

“Can I do something for you?” he asked, his tone clearly inferring the opposite.

Mariel regarded him without answering, while fingering the necklace she had retrieved from its hiding place before going out. Salter fidgeted beneath her round-eyed stare. “Be careful of the dog,” he muttered hopefully, “he might bite.”

As Mariel had surreptitiously recruited Salter’s dog during her many secret forays, she knew this to be untrue. She often went into Salter’s garage where he kept the dog food and fed the animal while he was away teaching shop at the high school, Bruiser was always pleased to see her as a result. As if to emphasize their relationship, the dog laid its great head on her thigh, sighed, and stared adoringly into her eyes.

This was too much for Salter, who turned his wide back on her and went to pull at the cord that would start his treasured leaf-blower.

Mariel glanced at the well-worn path that led from Salter’s back yard and into the woods. “I have this,” she said, pulling the necklace from her shirt and allowing it to fall down over her plump stomach. The sapphire shone in the late day sun like a blue flame. Her eyes remained warily on Salter, even as her small mouth puckered into a smile of possessiveness.

Salter, glancing over his shoulder, halted, and turned slowly back. “Where the devil did you get that?” he managed. He took a few steps closer as Mariel backed her bike away an equal distance. Bruiser’s head slid off her thigh leaving a trail of saliva.

Seeing this, Salter stopped and studied Mariel’s prize from where he stood. “Did your mother say you could wear that?” he asked.

As the girl did not reply, but only continued her unsettling scrutiny, he added, “Does she even know that you have it? For that matter, how the hell could your mom afford something like that…provided its real, of course?” Forgetting himself, he took another few steps, but Mariel was already turning her bike to coast down his driveway.

“I know that you’ve been coming onto my property,” he called to her as she picked up speed with each stroke of her powerful legs. “You’d better stop sneaking around here…it’s called trespassing you know, I could call the cops.” His voice grew louder as she added distance between them. “And maybe I will the next time,” he offered.

“Did you steal that?” he called out meanly as she disappeared around the curve.

Mariel only looked back as she sped up the street and out of sight of the cu-de-sac. A small smile played on her puckered lips. She scratched Mr. Salter off her list of suspects.



Mariel surprised Mister Forster in his own back yard. She had glided silently across his still-green lawn to roll to a halt at the back edge of his house. Forster had his back to her and was busily feeding and talking to his flock of tiny bantam hens. He did not notice her arrival. The hens themselves restlessly pecked and grumbled within the pen he had provided them and gave her no notice as Forster continued to scatter feed amongst them.

Mariel enjoyed watching these birds, and had several times in the past attempted to better make their acquaintance. On one such occasion, Forster had found Mariel within the pen itself attempting to catch one of his miniature chickens, feathers flying about in the air amid a cacophony of terrified squawking. He had been livid with rage at her incursion and had joined the ranks of other neighbors who had visited her home to complain to her mother. Mariel had learned to be more careful since that encounter and had not been caught since, but neither had she been successful.

“They’re funny,” Mariel lisped quietly.

Forster spun around scattering the remainder of the feed from the bowl he was using. “Oh,” he cried, as the small, black fowl swarmed his shoes and cuffs for the errant seeds. “Oh,” he repeated; then focused on his unexpected visitor. He brought a hand up to his heart and gasped, “You scared me half to death, Mariel. I didn’t hear you come up and you nearly scared me half to…” he caught himself. “You usually ring that little bell of yours,” he finished with a limp gesture at her bike.

Man and girl regarded one another across several yards of mostly grassless, churned-up soil…evidence of poultry. A worn path into the woods separated them. Mr. Forster set the metal bowl down and opened the pen door to come out. Mariel clumsily rolled her bike into a half-circle that left her facing in the direction from which she had come.

The older man appeared to note the child’s wariness and slowed his steps, easing himself leisurely through the door and taking his time in carefully closing and latching the wire-covered frame. When he turned once more to Mariel it was to find her holding out a large jewel pendant that hung about her neck from a gold-colored chain. She reminded him of the vampire-slayers in horror films attempting to paralyze and kill their undead foes with a crucifix.

“My goodness, Mariel that is some necklace you have there. It’s lovely. You are a very lucky girl to have that.”

Mariel continued to fix him with both her gaze and the pendant while her lips vanished into a grim, pensive line. Forster stared back uncertainly. “Was there something that you wanted?” he thought to ask at last.

The sapphire wavered in her grip and she slowly lowered and slipped it once more beneath her top. It appeared to have no power over this man either. As she puzzled over her lack of progress in her investigations thus far, Forster took two steps closer.

Forster was only slightly taller than Mariel and had no more than fifteen pounds over the ten-year-old, so she was not as intimidated as she might have been with other men in the neighborhood.

“It’s the hens, isn’t it?” he ventured. “You appreciate them like I do.” He glanced back over his shoulder at the chicken coop. “I was probably a little hasty last time you were here,” he continued. “I should have thought…but when I heard all that commotion and came out to find someone in the pen…Well, I should have realized that you were just as fascinated by them as I am.” He studied Mariel’s broad, unintelligent face for several moments. “Would you like to hold one?”

Mariel’s gaze flickered just slightly at this invitation. The thought of actually holding one of the softly feathered birds had become something of a Holy Grail for her and her breath caught at the idea.

Forster turned and retraced his steps to the coop and within moments returned stroking a quietly clucking hen. Mariel smiled and reached out both arms for the coveted bird, but Forster stopped a few paces short of her. Still running his hand over the bantam’s glossy feathers, he nodded contentedly at Mariel, and said, “Show me that necklace again, why don’t you? I was too far away to be able to see it well. How about another look…I won’t touch it; then I’ll let you hold Becky.” He smiled widely at Mariel and held the bird a few inches away from his chest to indicate his willingness.

Mariel quickly retrieved the necklace from within her shirt and held out the pendant for him to study, her small greedy eyes never leaving the near-dozing hen. Forster leaned forward onto the balls of his feet and studied the stone silently for several moments. Finally, Mariel heard him exhale and murmur, “You should be very careful with that, Mariel. That’s exactly the kind of thing that grown-ups will want to take from you.” He leaned just a little closer and asked, “Does your mother know you’ve got that?” And when she fidgeted and didn’t answer right away, added, “I wouldn’t tell her, if I were you…she’ll want to wear it…and keep it…for sure. Any woman would.”

Mariel stuffed the necklace back down her shirt and thrust her arms out once more for the agreed-upon chicken. Forster carefully placed it within her thick arms and smiled as Mariel’s normally glum face began to light up with the tactile pleasure of the silken bird. In her enthusiasm, she began to run her sticky hand down the hen’s back with rapid movements, even as ‘Becky’ began to squirm and protest volubly at the excessive downward pressure of her strokes. The contented clucking quickly became the frenzied cackles of a terrified chicken in the clutch of a bear cub.

Forster, seeing that Mariel’s technique required more practice and refinement, made to take the bird from the grinning school girl, but she turned away with her prize as if she meant to keep Becky at all costs. With that movement, however, the hen was given just the opening she required in which to free her wings. Becky began to flap them frantically in her rapidly escalating desire for freedom.

Startled, Mariel released the bird, which in a whirlwind of beating wings and flying feathers covered the short distance to her coop in awkward bounds only slightly resembling actual flight. Mariel was left with nothing but a few of the errant feathers and her hot disappointment.

With a frown of both disapproval and resentment, she pushed off on her bike and made for Crumpler Lane. Behind her, Forster called out, “They just take a little getting used to, Mariel. Come back when you want and I’ll teach you to handle them!”

After she had gone away, he turned to his precious coop to insure that Becky was returned and properly locked in for the night. Then, with a sigh, went up the back steps and into his house, turning on the lights in room after room as true darkness fell.



Mister Wanderlei was next on Mariel’s’ list and she was not long in cornering him. She found him that very Saturday as he was painting the wooden railing of his front porch.

Stopping at his mail box, she gave her bike bell several sharp rings to gain his attention. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled at her.

“Hello, Mariel,” he called, while lifting a paint brush in salute. “Another few weeks and it will be too cold to do this.”

Mariel could think of nothing to reply and so rung her bell once more. Mister Wanderlei set the brush carefully on the lip of the can and stood, wiping his hands on the old corduroy pants that he was wearing. “Is that a new bike?” he asked amiably.

Mariel nodded her big head at this, then thought to add, “My Grandma bought it for me…I didn’t steal it.”

Wanderlei smiled and answered, “I never would have thought so.” He ambled down the steps in her direction.

Mariel fumbled with the necklace and only just managed it bring it out from beneath her top as he drew near. This caused Wanderlei to halt for a moment as he took in Mariel’s rather astounding adornment.

“Goodness,” he breathed at last. “That’s some necklace for a little girl. Where did you get that?” He ran a large knuckled hand across the top of his mostly hairless skull.

As she had done with Salter and Forster, Mariel realigned her bicycle for a quick escape should it prove advisable, one foot poised on a pedal. She remained silent.

Wanderlei fished a handkerchief from his pocket and set about wiping his face and near-naked pate. “Such things cause great temptation,” he said finally. “Of course, I know that you’re too young to understand what I mean exactly.” He glanced up and down the street; then turned his gaze onto her once more.

“Where I work, there are men who have killed for such baubles.” A slight frown crossed his face. “Do you know where I work, Mariel?”

In fact, Mariel did know, as one of her uncles had pointed him out to her during a visit between incarcerations. She nodded slightly.

Wanderlei studied her face with interest, then said, “Well, then you know that I’ve spent my life amongst a lot of very bad people.” His eyes had taken on a sparkle that was beginning to make Mariel uneasy. He took another step and she eased her rump upwards in preparation for escape.

“Are you Christian?” he asked gently. “Does your mother ever take you to church?”

Mariel frowned, unable to follow Mr. Wanderlei’s drift. Even so, she nodded involuntarily out of nervousness.

“Is that right?” he smiled, completely ignoring her necklace. “Really, what church would that be?”

“We go sometimes,” Mariel whispered, for some reason not wanting to lie outright to this man. “We’re Cat’lics.”

Wanderlei’s expression became one of disappointment. “Oh, I see,” he murmured. “That would explain the love of gold and baubles,” he said quietly, as if Mariel were no longer there.

Mariel rose up and pushed down on the waiting pedal, she had learned what she needed to know here.

Wanderlei looked up as she pulled away, his expression gone a little wistful now. “You and your mother are welcome to attend the services here at our house anytime that you want,” he called after her. “God accepts anyone that has an open heart. Do you have an open heart, Mariel?”



To be continued… Part II

20 November 2014

David Dean: "The Purple Robe"


by Eve Fisher

What if you found out there was a place where miracles really happened?  Deep in the jungle, far away from any prying eyes.  Would you go?  And why?  Is it a miracle you want, or a miracle you fear?  Do you need to ask for it, or to stop it?  What is it that you want?  And what would you do if you found out it was all true...  but there is a price?  David Dean's new thriller, The Purple Robe, offers a wide range of answers to these questions and more.

The small quiet Yucatan town of Progreso, on the Gulf of Mexico, far from the tourist hot-spots, is under the bewildered care of young Father Pablo, awkward, uncertain and with a little bit of a drinking problem.  (They don't call him Father Tomato for nothing.)  His acolytes don't respect him; his congregation is dwindling; and then there are Dona Marisa Elena Saenz, a/k/a La Viuda Negra (the Black Widow), and the local police Captain Barrera, two people who always manage to make him feel...  inadequate, if not downright wrong.

Ironically, although Dona Marisa and Captain Barrera have nothing in common, both express a concern about the missing Alcante boy, some say lame, all say drug-addicted, and last spotted out at a rotting plantation in the jungle, perhaps walking...  Perhaps he's joined the insurrectos; perhaps he's found something else.  There are rumors about a ruined place with a holy relic, a secret site with secret pilgrimages:  much to Father Pablo's chagrin, the Archbishop asks him to investigate.  But where? How?  His main clue is a leaflet, given to him on a bus by a woman named Veronica:


"Ask and ye shall receive":  
the only words underneath a wood engraving of Jesus 
beaten and bloody in a purple robe; 
surrounded by Mayan warriors instead of Roman centurions.  


Veronica takes him deep into the jungle, to a nightmare of a plantation, the disintegrating mansion of a Yucatan Miss Havisham, Dona Josefa, a woman as old as time and either a mystic or mad, who holds a relic that she claims is a fragment of the purple robe worn by Christ at his trial.  Surrounded by Mayan guards, and ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims, including two wealthy Norte Americanos, Father Pablo finds himself in a world in which hope, faith, need, and desperation make people willing to do anything to achieve what they want:  healing, power, prayer, control, hope, fear, and even death.  

Especially if someone is willing to do anything to stop another miracle from happening...

The Purple Robe is a Catholic fable, an evocation of the Yucatan, a religious thriller, and quite a ride. And it's worth thinking about:  What if you found out there was a place where miracles really happened?  Deep in the jungle, far away from any prying eyes.  Would you go?  And why?

04 November 2014

From The Case Files Of Chief David Dean: The Affair of the Threatened Summer


by David Dean

Occasionally, a case so strange, so baffling, so unusual that it defies easy description, arrives on the police blotter.  The following is such a case:

I found myself one early August morning in 2008 standing on a north-end beach of Avalon, NJ with the mayor.  He was not a happy man, and as a result of this, and the sorry mess I was there to witness, I found my own spirits drooping beneath the mercilessly revealing rays of the rising sun.  We were looking at several acres of medical waste festooning our once pristine beaches...and there were weeks yet remaining of the tourist season--the Labor Day weekend looming as its climax. 

This was a scene we had both witnessed a number of times in the past, being something of a Jersey Shore epidemic in the late eighties.  We both also believed that the source of this plague had been successfully squelched years before.  It had been two decades since we had seen the likes of this.  It didn't bode well for the town.  If you know anything about the economics of beach resorts in the northeast, you know that the season is short.  There are but a few months for the townspeople and its shopkeepers to make a year's worth of money.  Every day counts.  And if you know anything about medical waste dumping at sea, you know it takes several days for everything to wash up; sometimes longer, with the media gleefully documenting every syringe-laden tide.  If it helps, call to mind the scene from the movie "Jaws" where the mayor and Chief are standing in front of the billboard.  Remember the bikini-clad gal splashing along on her raft, while the vandal has added a crude depiction of a huge dorsal fin cutting through the waves toward her.  This was such a moment for us--we had just met our shark and he was eating our beach. 

Unlike the fictional mayor of Amity, however, our mayor had wasted no time in attacking the situation, having gathered volunteer firemen, lifeguards, and borough workers to begin the clean-up.  This was being accomplished under the guidance of our equally able Emergency Management Director and investigators from the NJ Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Bureau.  One of my detectives was documenting the scene.  We were treating it as a crime...which it most certainly was.  But it wasn't the detective, or yours truly, that first noticed that something was different about this particular wash-up--it was the mayor.  "Why's it only in this area?" he asked.  Or words to that effect. 

It took me a moment to grasp what he was getting at--we were looking at a fairly concentrated area covering what would be a few city blocks.  In the past, such spills were sometimes spread over miles.  A beach vehicle was dispatched to drive south along the shore to search for more wash-up.  His report was negative.  Then a boat was sent out to try and determine how far out the slick reached.  It was a few hundred yards at most.


In case you're wondering at the significance of these observations, let me explain.  Our previous dealings with illegal dumping had taught us that mostly it was accomplished far out in the shipping channels, and nowhere near shore.  Usually the deed was done from barges being used in the illegal trade of unauthorized medical waste disposal by companies that were lucrative fronts for organized crime families and organizations.  Generally, the material could be traced to medical facilities in New York City and its environs.  When investigators showed up, such fronts, and their employees, vanished like chlorine gas, invisible and toxic.  The practical result of their dumping efforts, however, would spread over many miles as the tide and currents moved them inexorably shoreward.  This was not what we were seeing.  This mess had started within sight of the beach.  This was local, and the joyous scent of prey was suddenly very near.

The waste material itself proved equally unusual.  When one of the investigators from the ECB showed us some of the gathered items, we were all baffled.  They were unquestionably of a medical nature, but nothing that we had come to associate with these events.  There were syringes, but of a type we'd never seen, lots of small cottony swabs, but no bandages, hundreds of small capsules containing some kind of unidentifiable material.  Even the ECB boys (who had been to sites all over the state) were flummoxed.  My detective took some of the evidence back to the station to begin researching it over the internet.  It didn't take long.  This wasn't material from a hospital or clinic--this was waste from a dental practice.  Someone who not only was familiar with the area, but who must have piloted a boat to accomplish this incomprehensible crime.  In my view, as well as others, someone who was close.  During the following two days less and less material washed ashore.  By the fourth day it had ceased altogether.  Only the very north end had been affected by the beach closings, though the publicity hadn't done the town any favors.  Still, it could have been worse.

As the buckets of material were sifted through, object by object, painstakingly photographed and recorded, the first really significant clue was discovered--a dental drill bit with its wrapper miraculously intact.  We had a lot number and a manufacturer. 

Then, like a dank, chill wind issuing forth from the cavern of the troll king, a summons was received from the county prosecutor to attend a strategy meeting at his offices.  As the head law enforcement officer for the county this was his prerogative.  While understanding it, I was also a little curious as to why.  From where I was sitting, our unfortunate situation had no ramifications beyond my own jurisdiction.  There had been no other instances at any other shore towns in the county.  Normally, as chief, I would have remained behind, leaving such meetings to my detectives.  But my antennae had detected a disturbance in the Force, and I decided to attend, as well.  It was good that I did.

Seated around a huge oval table in the prosecutor's conference room were myself, my detective, the two ECB investigators, the prosecutor and his chief detective, and two investigators that worked for him.  My detective laid out our findings.  The ECB boys nodded in agreement.  The prosecutor's crew...scoffed.  A couple of hypodermic needles had washed ashore in a town north of us. They had seen this all before.  This was just your usual off-shore dumping, and its effects would show up on other beaches in other towns sooner, rather than later.  A local event, indeed! 

It was clear that the publicity attendant to our unfortunate situation had gained the prosecutor's attention.  Seeing how my department was working with the state AG's environmental investigators (and she was the prosecutor's boss), he wanted in.   

It was also obvious that the syringes in Ocean City were a few insulin needles and did not remotely resemble ours.  I took umbrage.  Not with the prosecutor's rights, or even his motives, but with their sneering condescension.  Umbrage is something I've taken a few times both before, during, and after being a chief of police.  Umbrage means that I clench my teeth, hear bells ringing too loudly, and think dark and bloody thoughts.  Entering the fray, I politely, but forcefully, disagreed, outlining my own extensive experience with these very things; carefully explaining so that even those challenged by their own overblown, and totally unrealistic, high opinions of themselves could understand; making sure to prick the swollen balloons of their egos with the sharp needle of reason and objectivity.  After the long silence that followed, the prosecutor agreed that we should be allowed to continue our futile line of investigation.  He even agreed that a reward should be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.  I felt this would bring heat on our perpetrator, wherever he was, as well as the promise that we now had, courtesy of the drill bit maker, a very manageable list of dentist offices that had purchased the lot number recovered from our beach.  I could see no reason not to put this out there for him to hear and sweat.  We promised to stay in touch and left that dark, unhappy, place.

My plan did not take long to bear fruit.  On September 2, even as my detectives were making their way through the list of dental practices that ran from Jersey to the Philadelphia Main Line, a stranger presented himself in the lobby.  He wished to speak with an officer.  Before the day was over, a 59 year old dentist from Pa. had confessed to the illegal dumping of approximately 300 "Accuject" dental-type needles, 180 cotton swabs, and a number of plastic capsules containing filling material, as well as other items.  A search warrant executed at his home and practice revealed evidence that corroborated his confession and he was subsequently charged.

A few days later, the county prosecutor hosted a press conference lauding the arrest and the excellent cooperation between agencies that led to it.  His boss, the Attorney General, was in attendance for his big moment.  I was allowed a few words.  When asked by a reporter how I felt about the arrest, I smiled and said, "I could not be happier.  I feel like Chief Brody when he got the shark."

The strange dentist never offered a motive for what he did, and to this day, I sometimes find myself wondering why.  Medical waste disposal for the average dental office at that time cost about 700 dollars a year.  It couldn't have been the money. 

It had been twenty years since anyone had been arrested for illegally dumping medical waste in New Jersey ocean waters.





         

 





   


02 September 2014

How To Handle The Naked Suspect


by David Dean

Not Your Typical Naked Suspect
The subject of this blog was suggested by a Facebook posting of our SleuthSayers brother, Rob Lopresti, in which he published a quote regarding the difficulty of arresting a naked woman.  I responded that I could testify to the truth of this statement; various witticisms were exchanged as you might imagine.  However, as a result, I warned Rob that he had planted the germ of an idea in my near-arid brain for an upcoming article.  I can picture his rather distinguished brows rising in alarm when he sees this title; Rob's thinking running along the lines of, "No...he didn't...he's not really going to write about...poor, needy bastard, so desperate for readers that he stoops to this--a literary sidewalk barker for imaginary lap dancers.  Pitiful!"

Sadly, Rob would be correct if these were his thoughts, at least the part about being desperate for readers.  Of course I'm desperate, Rob!  For God's sake I'm a writer!  However, I wish to set everyone's minds to rest about the following content: I have rated it R for mature, though in some sections it is I for the opposite.

There comes into the life of every police officer (sooner or later; rarely or often) the naked suspect.  This is not a subject extensively covered (stop snickering), if at all, in the police academies of our nation.  Mostly, they arrive unannounced and unexpected, much like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"  Well, the police rarely expect the naked suspect.  You may wonder how professional police officers, like myself, know when a naked person is a suspect.  The answer to this is generally straightforward--when they are naked.  Once a naked person is spotted in a public venue, the police go on high alert--this is not normal behavior.  There are many motives, causes, and M.O.'s, ranging from youthful hi-jinks and drunkenness, to drug-induced euphoria and psychosis.  On a much more serious note, sometimes they are not suspects at all, but victims, but I will not be addressing this aspect in what I intend to be more light-hearted blog.     

I can offer several personal examples of encounters with the naked suspect: It would sometimes happen during a busy summer night at the Jersey Shore, that a naked person, like the proverbial deer, would appear suddenly in the headlights of our marked unit.  Sometime a herd of them.  It was equally possible, though much more rare, for it to occur during daylight hours, as well. 

Making a sweep of the beach in the wee hours before dawn might also reveal people who, through a series of events seemingly beyond their control, had also divested themselves of all clothing.  It appears that, for some, the salubrious sea air loosened the shackles of convention, rendering clothing irrelevant.

Typically, our reaction to such phenomenon was not as enthusiastic as one might expect.  Think about it--is there any dignity left to the officer who arrests the naked suspect?  I think you may know the answer to that if you think about it.  You've only to picture yourself tackling a naked dude, or gal, in view of dozens, if not hundreds, of on-lookers.  And then what?  Do you normally carry around a casual-wear wardrobe in the trunk of your car?  Note: We did carry blankets in the trunks of our patrol units, though not specifically for the purpose of clothing the naked.  May I also direct your attention to the question of why, when carefully considered, you would wish to handle a sweaty, naked stranger when you have no idea where he/she has been?  And though Hollywood would have it otherwise, naked folk are not always attractive--at least to others.  They often find themselves quite lovely, hence the paucity of clothing.  In one long-running affair, we had a senior citizen who felt his nakedness on the beach, or while swimming, was something no reasonable person could object to.  He was no Jack Lalane, nor was he destined for a leading role in adult cinema.  Oddly, many beachgoers did object, especially small-minded mothers and fathers with young children.  As I once pointed out to him, "This is not France, buddy."

In another instance, when responding to a complaint of a noisy party in the wee hours, we were confronted with an array of naked suspects.  It appeared that an all-female pool party was in progress, sans swim-wear.  After a lengthy surveillance to ensure that no actual crime was in progress, we revealed our presence and quickly restored order--one of the less painful encounters of the naked sort, that I had so far endured.  Caution rookie officer: this was an exception, not the norm for the naked encounter!  Most will make you cry out, "Oh dear God, no!  My eyes...my eyes!"  At the very least, you can expect to question the wisdom of your last meal.

The aforementioned blanket may, in fact, be your best defense against the naked suspect.  Here is a technique you may wish to remember: Summoned to a domestic, my partner and I were confronted with a fully clothed husband, and a completely naked wife.  She was a very angry naked wife.  She was also very drunk and drugged-out, and using their bed as a trampoline while hurling all available objects at us, screaming, "Don't touch me!"  The EMT's took one look and said, "We'll wait outside with the ambulance."  My partner and I looked at one another and shared a single thought--blanket! 

With panther-like grace, he leapt onto the still-quaking bed, seizing her hand in a reverse-wrist take-down and bringing her face-down onto the mattress.  There we proceeded to quickly roll her into the top cover like a cocktail sausage.  It was not dignified, but it was effective, and resulted in the least amount of handling possible in the circumstances.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Some naked suspects, as you can see from the previous example, want to fight.  As the person is clearly not armed in most cases, the option of deadly force is rendered moot.  Pepper spray is not, however.  A naked guy who feels like his face is on fire should rank highly among things you don't want to experience in this, or any other, lifetime.  Picture Edvard Munch's "The Scream," (helpfully provided) and you have some idea of the result.  Yet, the naked perp has even more to fear from the officer who's aim has been thrown off by his assault.  Should the pepper spray find other exposed areas, the suspect may feel he has been transported to a realm far beyond the understanding of mortal man, a place reserved exclusively for those condemned to the seventh ring of hell; the final stop for the violent.  There, his previous understanding of agony will become transcendental, achieving a kind of satanic ecstasy.  Do not envy him this knowledge.

So there you have it, dear readers--a smattering of knowledge and ideas on handling the naked suspect--ideas and knowledge that I pray you never have to use, or have used on you.  Nakedness is a wonderful thing if you're centerfold material, or still south of three years old, but for the vast majority of us clothing remains the most appropriate option.  Take it from someone who's seen far more than he ever wanted to, a clothed world is a prettier world.  So until next time--keep your pants on and your hands to yourself.  Still good advice in an uncertain world.

29 April 2014

Cutting Edge


by David Dean

I've been in a writing slump for several months now.  The following narrative may account for this unwelcome condition:

Certain phrases get used a lot.  They tend to go in and out of fashion with the passage of time and different generations, then pop up again.  "Cutting Edge" is one such phrase.  Others are "Groundbreaking", and "Edgy".  There are many more, and I'm sure you can think of them without my help.  Lately, specifically in the case of the aforementioned examples, I've been left wondering what they hell they actually mean.

What caused this seismic tremor within my consciousness was an event that I was wholly unprepared for--Miley Cyrus grew up.  I was happily ignorant of this important, and "groundbreaking," event until a typical morning some months ago.  In fact, I was only vaguely aware that such a person actually existed.  I think I had been under the impression that she was a character on a popular sitcom.   

Settling down in front of the television with my coffee and bowl of porridge, I found myself swept up into a debate that was hotly raging on the "Today Show."  Robin had left it on as she prepared to dress for work.  If only she hadn't.

Over the next several minutes, my bloodshot orbs were treated to footage of a scantily clad young woman grinding against various persons and stuffed animals, while using a large, foam finger in a lascivious manner.  I was informed that she was "twerking".  She may have been singing, as well, I'm not sure.  Apparently, she had appeared on a music program the previous evening and set the world afire!

While I was still pondering the stuffed animal imagery, trying to grasp its deeper significance, the staff of the show discussed the merits and meaning of young Miley's performance.  "I was in."  This is another currently popular phrase, though I may be misusing it.  Riveted by the cultural upheaval occurring before my very eyes, I was treated to the spectacle of seemingly mature adults (the men were wearing suits) tossing words like "cutting edge," and "edgy," at one another like soapy loofas.  Experts on music and Hollywood were interviewed, as well!  This was important!  My oatmeal went cold.

This was no "flash in the pan," either.  The rest of the broadcast day (which is now endless) carried the debate to other networks and cable outlets.  More experts were consulted.  Some pronounced it "performance art."  Others pooh-poohed this as weak-minded, insisting that we had collectively witnessed the "coming out" of Miley's long-suppressed sexuality.  I felt torn and didn't know which way to go on this issue.  Words failed me, adjectives became stuck in my throat.  Until I came to terms with this phenomenon (also a very popular word when describing celebrities), I could not consider myself a modern man.  No one "had my back."

In my defense, my only experience with performance art such as Miley's, had been confined to bachelor party outings.  Of course, my role when patronizing these "gentlemen's clubs" was always to be the voice of restraint.  "Anyone for a cup of coffee?" I might suggest, when the drinking got a little out of hand.  Or, "Hey, save some of those ones for the poor box, boys!"  Many of the dancers (or performance artists, if you will) were very cutting edge.  And though it pains me to say it, there were some who could have given Miley a run for her money and left her in the dust. 

Fortunately for me, the furor over this very important issue faded before any reporters made it to my front door and demanded my opinion.  I remain happily obscure, if still trying to come to terms with what has happened.  Now, when I see a book or movie review that features those much sullied descriptors, I back quietly away--the book remains on the shelf, the film unseen.  How can I risk it?  What if that "edgy" new thriller features a giant foam finger as the killer's calling card, or that "groundbreaking" film has people "twerking" all over the place?  What if all these overused adjectives actually mask yet another tired, hackneyed rehash of what's been done before and better?

It's enough to make me beat the stuffing out of some huge teddy bear.

Fortunately, since I wrote this piece, Skidmore College has added a new course to their curriculum: The Sociology of Miley Cyrus".  It was about time someone did.            





 

          

25 March 2014

My First Farewell Post


by Terence Faherty

This post ends my year and my career as a regular contributor to the SleuthSayers blog, though I'll be available to pinch-hit whenever one of the group needs a break.  I'd like to thank Leigh Lundin and Robert Lopresti for giving me this opportunity and for their patience while I learned (but never mastered) the software.  I'd also like to thank the other writers on the blog for their encouragement and comments, especially Dale C. Andrews, with whom I've shared Tuesdays (and the daunting job of preparing the retrospective posts for SleuthSayers' second anniversary).  I hope to actually meet Dale someday, maybe at a baseball game. 

In place of blogging, I'm going to be devoting more time to promoting a new book, The Quiet Woman, which will be published by Five Star in June.  It's quite a departure for me, as it's my first stand-alone mystery and my first comic/romantic/supernatural one, at least in book form.  (I now see some of my Alfred Hitchcock stories as baby steps in that direction.) I'll write more about The Quiet Woman closer to its release, if my replacement will relinquish a Tuesday.  That replacement, incidentally, is David Dean, a man who needs no introduction to regular SleuthSayers readers, since he's the writer I replaced one year ago.  He's spent that year working on a new book, about which I hope he'll write in this space.

I'm sorry that so few of my twenty-odd posts had to do with mystery writing and that so many were about old movies and forgotten actors and authors, though many of my favorite posts by other contributors have also wandered far in the subject matter field.  Many of these favorites have been magazine quality, in my opinion, both in terms of writing and word count.  The latter I attribute to good time management, something at which I've never excelled, as the following account of my approach to blog writing, inspired by Eve Fisher's recent Robert Benchley post, will demonstrate.

As near as I can reconstruct, my two-week blog-writing cycle has gone something like this.

Through the miracle of Blogger.com, my column appears on a Tuesday.  All is right with the world.  I can hold my head up in any gathering of productive human beings, though I can't remember the last time I attended such a gathering.  This happy glow stays with me until Thursday, when it's eclipsed by the bright rays of the approaching weekend.

Sometime during that weekend, I panic, until a quick check of my desk calendar confirms that the looming Tuesday belongs to Dale Andrews.  Sure enough, Dale's column appears as if by magic on the appointed day.  It might even give me an idea for a post of my own.  If it doesn't, no problem.  I have a week to work one out.

A week being much more time than I need, I don't actually use the whole thing.  That would be wasteful.  In fact, I spend so much of my week not being wasteful that, before I know it, another weekend arrives.  Sometime late on Sunday, I wonder, idly, what Dale will write about this week.  Maybe he's traveling down south again.  He seems to travel more than John Kerry.  That's the life, escaping the cold snow for the warm sand and trading juncos for sanderlings.  I can almost hear the waves. . .

I awake in a cold sweat with the realization that the approaching Tuesday, whose skirmishers are even now topping the nearest hill, is my Tuesday.  To arms!  To arms! 

Okay, maybe that isn't exactly how my average fortnight has gone, but it's close enough that just recounting it has caused my heart to race.  When it settles down, I'll get to work on a new book, following Mr. Dean's example.  In the meantime, thanks very much for visiting.

10 March 2014

It's Me Again, Margaret


by Fran Rizer


Three events yesterday inspired this post.  

First, I learned that my Monday SleuthSayer co-conspirator, Jan Grape, is sick, and I volunteered to fill in for her today. 

Second, while I considered what to write about, David Edgerley Gates commented on FaceBook that an editor has accepted another of his stories and has no problem with the opening scene being a lap dance but doesn't like the title "Heavy Breathing."
Sorry, David, I could be censored for using the other lap dance illustrations I found.

My mind sometimes bounces around like a ping pong ball, and the thought of heavy breathing immediately brought Ray Stevens's song "It's Me Again, Margaret" to mind.  In it, a young lady receives repeated phone calls--heavy breathing which always begin with a low, "It's Me Again, Margaret."  At the conclusion, the caller is arrested and allowed one phone call from the police station.  You guessed it! He dials the telephone (it's an old song) and whispers, "It's Me Again, Margaret." This led me to YouTube where I revisited that old song.  You can, too.

Warning:  This video will make you laugh if you have a slightly bawdy sense of humor and will appreciate the mention of chickens and Kool Whip and handcuffs.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wb2nZR6qbE

So, though I occupied this spot just last Monday and your name isn't Margaret, it's me again. I'm back in less than the usual two weeks' time.

Third Event

A Broad Abroad sent me an email with a link:  Grammar to hammer: Horror writers use every trick from aliens to zombies. Lynne Truss chose a talking cat. 
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/bgrammar-to-hammer-horror-writers-use-every-trick-from-aliens-to-zombies-lynne-truss-chose-a-talking-cat-9176652.html 

Problem Solved
Lynne Truss
Contrary to what you dear readers may be thinking, my topic today is not lap dances or obscene calls, but our best-selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves author Lynne Truss.

Cat Out of Hell, her first comic-gothic novella, was released February 27, 2014. A Google review describes it as "the mesmerising tale of a cat with nine lives, [sic] and a relationship as ancient as time itself and just as powerful."

I confess I laughed out loud at that comma.  The [sic] is mine. Aren't "a cat with nine lives" and "a relationship" simply compound objects of the preposition "of"? If so, why would there be a comma there?  I personally would be embarrassed and fearful of punctuation errors when speaking of Ms. Truss. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

I warned you that sometimes my mind bounces around, and there it went again. Back to subject:  A Broad Abroad's link is to an interview with Ms. Truss. I won't summarize it in detail, but it's well worth reading.  Of special interest to me is her reference to Steve French's Horror Writing 101: How to Write a Horror Novel.  I wish I'd known about that before I sent my horror effort to my agent. (David Dean, are you familiar with that guide?)

On Ms. Truss's website, she says:

           My big news is that I have written a comic horror
           novella for Random House's Hammer imprint--this
           is my first novel for about fifteen years, and writing
           it did feel like coming home at last.  It's called Cat 
          Out of Hell and published on February 27.  It is also
          a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime for two weeks in March,
          It concerns the mystery of a missing woman, a talking
          cat called Roger, a remote seaside cottage, and a
          nice retired librarian with a dog called Watson.  I
          fell in love with Roger, because he is not only 
          handsome and evil, but terribly, terribly clever.  But,
          of coursed, Watson is the hero because he is a dog."

Jan, I hope you're soon well.  David Edgerley Gates, can't wait to read that story.  A Broad Abroad, thanks for a topic for today. Everyone, I'm ordering Cat Out of Hell and will let you know what I think after reading it.

Until we meet again, take care of… you!

10 March 2013

The Dean of SleuthSayers


David Dean
Chief David Dean
by Leigh Lundin

When I began David Dean's The Thirteenth Child, I didn't know what to expect. I'd admired the Baroque cover art and read David's article of a semi-feral child who haunted his neighborhood, but all I'd heard were rumors that it wasn't really a paranormal novel, which sort of hints at paranormal elements, doesn't it? I mean if someone says Mr. Soprag isn't really an alcoholic, you'd think umm… But when Fran and David say it, I believe them.

Besides, I know David Dean is a good writer from his stories in Ellery Queen. Thus with curiosity, I delved into the 226 page novel and I began to understand those not-really-paranormal rumors. I shy away from analogies with other writers, but the novel bears comparison with the best and most intimate of Stephen King. I won't give away anything more because I want you to discover what it's all about like I did.

The two main protagonists, Police Chief Nick Catesby and the town egghead/drunk Preston Howard, find themselves dealing with a child abductor. To clarify, the Police Chief tries to find the abductor and Preston is trying not to be taken for the perpetrator and not succeeding very well. To further confuse the situation, Chief Catesby tangles with office politics and becomes caught up in a relationship with Preston's daughter, Fanny.

She's a sweetly fetching daughter, and here the author paints an appealing picture of the girl next door– kind, intelligent, patient, generous, and unfortunately long-suffering when it comes to her father. One of the wonderful lines from the novel is that she doesn't stop forgiving because she can't stop loving. She's someone we want to know, the woman who cushions the hard edges of society and life.

Thirteenth Child
And finally, the author gives us not one, not two, but three people we love to hate: two cruelly vicious teenage boys and a backstabbing police captain who attempts to exploit the situation. I like to think the boys might learn a lesson, but I doubt Captain Weller ever will, despite a well-deserved comeuppance. (I identify with this because the dynamic between Chief Catesby and Captain Weller is surprisingly similar to a situation in some of my own work.)

The author enhances the texture of the plot with an underlying fabric of history, making the plot a richer experience. Dean sets scenes well– we see and feel the woods, an abandoned rail line, the inside of a church, the room where Preston lives, and a mouldering burial crypt. The author adeptly builds an atmosphere of menace.

At one point, the peril from two teen boys feels more immediately deadly than the perpetrator. The story perfectly captures the essence of young bullies. The reader has no doubt any of the three will kill, but the perpetrator is what he is, albeit with a scheme of his own, while the teen boys choose to be cruel.

The author, a Jersey Shore police chief, gives the reader confidence he knows the policing side of the case, and he manages it subtly without drowning us in procedural details. All in all, he creates a town we'd love to live in, at least when Chief Catesby is on duty and David Dean is there to tell the story.

If you like classic Stephen King, you'll love David Dean's The Thirteenth Child. It's murderously good.

05 March 2013

No Goodbyes


by David Dean

Before I go on with my last regularly scheduled posting, I have the honor of introducing the gentleman that will be stepping into the Tuesday time slot in my stead--Terence Faherty.  Actually, unlike the entirely necessary intro to my first posting, Terry probably has no need of one.  He is a winner of two Shamus Awards and a Macavity, as well as a nominee several times over for the Edgar and Anthony Awards.  All this by way of being the author  of two long standing and popular series featuring seminarian-turned-sleuth, Owen Keane, and Hollywood detective, Scott Elliot.  His short stories appear regularly in all the best mystery and suspense magazines.  Terry is prolific, talented, distinguished-looking, and shares many other traits with me, as well.  I'm looking forward to reading his postings and want to offer him a warm welcome to our little family.  I think he's gonna fit right in.  Oh, did I mention that he's a leading authority on the late, great actor Basil Rathbone?  Well, he is...but I'll let him explain about all that.  Look for Terry's first post two weeks from now.

I may have mentioned in my last posting that I'm determined to attempt another piece of long fiction--I call such things, "novels".  In fact, it was the august opinions of SleuthSayers' readers and contributors that helped me to decide which storyline to pursue.  As I am a simple man, not much given to multi-tasking, I feel the need to clear the deck in order to do so.  In other words, this will be my last posting for the foreseeable future.

My time with SleuthSayers has been truly wonderful.  I have enjoyed contributing my thoughts every two weeks, and greatly appreciate the kind consideration that each of you have given them.  Beyond the obvious breadth of knowledge exhibited daily by my fellow writers, I think a wonderful tolerance and greatness of mind has been a cornerstone of our site.  It has been a privilege to be amongst your numbers.

It would be wrong of me to slip away without acknowledging a few of you specifically, beginning with our mentor and leader, Leigh Lundin.  Have you ever dealt with a kinder, more passionately concerned man?  His guidance has been invaluable, his heart as big as the Stetson he wears so jauntily in his photo.  Leigh, you're the best.

There is also the erudite and always interesting, Rob Lopresti.  It was Rob that reached out to me years ago to do a guest blog on the, now legendary, Criminal Brief site.  There are few people better versed in the field of short mystery fiction than Rob, and he's a damn fine practitioner of the art, too.  It seems he intends to expand his literary horizon by entering the novel writing biz, as well.  Did I mention that he is also versatile?--librarian, critic, writer, blogger, musician, and probably other talents that I have yet to learn of.  He has also been a gentle guiding hand for me from time to time. 

My thanks also to the warm and wise, Fran Rizer.  She has been both an advisor and unstinting supporter to me, and her long-distance friendship has been a welcome surprise and an invaluable benefit to my membership here.  I've also become a great fan of her funny, sassy, vulnerable, and altogether intriguing literary character, Callie Parrish.  Fran has much to be proud of in her series.

John Floyd, through the magic of the internet, has come to feel like a personal friend rather than a virtual one.  His warmth and kindliness have touched me on several occasions via unexpected email messages.  He is a true gentleman, as well as a dauntingly talented and prolific writer.   

But as I said in the beginning, I have been in good company with all of you, and benefited from the relationship no end.  As the title of this blog states, there will be no goodbyes--I intend to read SleuthSayers daily and offer my usual array of pithy, sage comments.  If not altogether barred from doing so, I might even write a guest blog from time to time.  I can already envision the topic for my first: Why is it so difficult for me to write another novel? Or possibly, Why in God's name did I ever begin another novel? Or finally: Why won't anybody buy this damn novel that I've written?

Thanks everyone and God bless.