Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts

10 February 2020

My Own Medical Thriller


I don't write medical thrillers because I only like to do research up to a point, and the amount of research I'd need to write in that field is well beyond that point.

We all can name a few biggies, though. Robin Cook and Michael Palmer each wrote several. I first met Michael Crichton through The Andromeda Strain, and learned years later that he won the Edgar for A Case of Need, originally published under the pen name Jeffrey Hudson. Tess Gerritsen, also a doctor, wrote several thrillers before she unleashed the Rizzoli and Isles series.

I'm now involved in my own medical thriller without planning it at all. So far, it has a happy ending.

Two Sundays ago, I finished my workout at my health club and returned to my car. I had found a space ten feet from the entrance, and now I was sandwiched between two SUVs, each slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey. Looking behind me was like looking through a soda straw.

The entrance driveway lay at about 7:00 to my space. The driveway is narrow, especially when cars park on both sides of it, so a sign proclaiming "One Way [right turn only]" guards the entrance. It was almost directly behind me. Another sign says "Do Not Enter" and stands to the left. This makes sure all traffic in that narrow driveway moves counterclockwise. Theoretically.

I eased out, looking to my left, where traffic should come from, and a driver who decided to turn around and take the short way back hit my car. Damage to both vehicles was minor--I have a broken taillight and a dented quarter panel--and I got the worst of it. We exchanged insurance information and notified the appropriate people, then went on our way.

Several hours later, my left arm felt heavy and weak. I've hosted a bad back since 1971, and this felt like the mild collision aggravated the long-standing problem. Oh well. Then my wife noticed I was having trouble using that hand to type at the PC and insisted that we go to the hospital.

The staff looked at my symptoms and medical history (both my mother and grandmother had strokes) and sent me for a CAT scan. Over the next several hours, I got lots of practice telling various doctors, nurses, interns, nurses, technicians and administrators my age (72), the month (January) and that we were in New Britain, Connecticut. I became expert at repeating "Today is a sunny day" and touching my index finger to my nose the other people's fingers in turn.

Every two hours, a nurse or tech asked me for an encore. I had to resist their pushing and pulling with my left hand, which was discernibly weaker. I had no indicators of being a stroke risk: I weigh 15 pound more than when I graduated from high school in 1965, I quit smoking about 15 years ago, my cholesterol level has pleased my primary-care physician for years, and I don't use cocaine. I average about half the "tolerable(?)" amount of alcohol allowed to men my age, and women are more prone to strokes anyway.

So what? The staff decided to treat the issue as a Transient ischemic attack (TIA), in which the blood supply to the brain is blocked for a short period of time and produces symptoms that resemble a strok. In my case, that was the weak arm.

My listening station for The Eagles
 By about 5 am the following morning--roughly 17 hours after the accident and ten hours after my arm first felt weak--I felt fine. But the night felt like I was a shooting scene with police scouring me for shell casings, blood spatter, footprints, and a partridge in a pear tree. I lost count of how many people asked me to answer those questions again and tested my arm and leg strength and coordination. They were like different detectives asking the same questions to see if my story changed.

By early afternoon, they also gave me an MRI, which is kind of cool if you're not claustrophobic. The kids running the machine both looked like former students. Truthfully, when you teach in the area for 33 years, everyone looks sort of like a former student. These two guys let me choose the music to listen to while they ran me through the tube. I picked the Eagles over Katy Perry, Adele, and someone else I'd never heard of.

Back in my room, I talked to two more doctors, three more nurses, had my sixteenth and seventeenth blood pressure checks, and told my age, location and the month again. Finally, the lead doctor told me he was pretty sure I did not have a TIA, but they wouldn't definitely say my troubles were related to the fender-bender, either.

The MRI and CAT scan ruled out a thrombotic stroke, but he wanted to be sure I didn't have an embolic stroke (a clot forming in the heart and traveling to the brain instead of originating in the brain itself) and ordered an echocardiogram, basically a heart sonogram. It was fun and the woman administering it was young, attractive, ultra-competent, and hilarious. She let em hear what my heart sounded like during the procedure, more of a gurgle than the lub-dub I expected. She also apologized for the coldness of the gel she spread on my chest and for having to rip the sensor contacts off my chest and taking all three chest hairs with them.
An echo-cardiogram (posed by model)

They finally discharged me about 24 hours after Barb drove me in. I spend the next month taking Plavix, Lipitor (They both sound like Superman villains, don't they?) and aspirin. They don't think I had a TIA, but they're taking no chances.

I still blame the minor accident. On the other hand, it was cool watching a bunch of people who really knew their stuff give me a first-hand tutorial on medical mystery research.

03 March 2019

The President is What?


by Leigh Lundin

Patterson, Clinton: The President is Missing
Political Stew

A Patterson–Clinton recipe, serves 300-million or so:
  • Mix equal portions of John McCain and Bill Clinton.
  • Fold in dabs of George Bush senior and Barak Obama.
  • Season with Eugene McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson.
  • Add generous dollop of Ike Eisenhower.
  • Minority-whip thoroughly.
  • Press Club roast at 451°.
  • Serve dry, very dry.
Such is the pivotal mash-up in the James Patterson / Bill Clinton concoction titled The President is Missing. Some authors, myself definitely included, craft composite characters, a mix of real people we’ve encountered. President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan seems like someone we almost know. He’s reasonably fleshed out with both personal and poly-political problems.

Those problems translate into dimensions, giving a real feel to the president. Interestingly though, he isn’t the most compelling character in this thriller. That rôle belongs to an assassin.

Sharon Freeman Rugg
My friend Sharon, teacher, editor, writer, selected the hardback edition for my Christmas gift, one I failed to collect until a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t my fault: at well over 500 pages, the thriller seriously weighed down the sleigh.
Kill Me Softly

I have zero patience with those romance novels where the heroine falls in love with a hired killer, a gentle guy at heart, a sensitive mind misunderstood by the world. Hello, lady! He freaking kills people.

That said, Patterson and Clinton did a credible job sketching a dimensional hired gun. In sticking with standard entertainment memes, said psychopath loves classical music, a coded message to normal folks that only bad people listen to great music. However, this writing duo crafted that tired trope in a different, fresh way, using classical music as a balm to soothe the troubled soul.

Suspension Bridge

Early on, the book bids the reader to suspend disbelief in major ways. While a president may not be an action hero, he is human, and the book successfully conveys that.

At first it was difficult to imagine even an ordinary person obtaining private access to a president. Hell, let a dopey candidate win a seat on the town council and suddenly they’re elevated far beyond the reach of the average voter. The authors eventually piece together a more-or-less coherent scenario where a hirsute dude with a gun, no less, can sit with the president. I bought in with reservations.

Traditionally, Patterson employs utilitarian prose, concise, unaffected writing smoothly machined not to distract the reader from the action. Yet one little paragraph caught my attention, a magical musing about a witch in the woods. True, it stopped my reading in its tracks, but it was worth the diversion.

Bridging the Aisle

As for politics, I remain an independent. I freely lambaste parties and politicians according to a view not beholden to any particular sect. (Hey, if one party gives me more to criticize, it’s not my fault!) It’s not possible to read the book without a consciousness of the presidential half of the writing team.

Fears about martial law and seizure of power have troubled Washington waters since at least Nixon. The story turns a bit chilling when these issues arise, albeit in the context of combatting terrorism. You begin to realize it could happen with little effort at all.

Killer App

As for the cyber-terror themes, a background in computer fraud means I can’t help but weigh in with multiple grades or a report card:
  1. A+   Our dependency upon the internet and connectivity the book got spot on. Good job.
  2. C+   As for plausible technical aspects and solution, I generously award a barely-there C+. The piles of hundreds of laptops destroyed by a virus is goofy to the knowledgeable: Simply reformat, reload, and go, little buddy. A program that activates when an attempt is made to delete it suggests some other piece of software is monitoring and has to be killed. It might be kinda, sorta possible to craft a program to disguise active files, but indeed tricky.
  3. C-   The authors don’t treat American computer gurus favorably, although worldwide, American super-programmers are still regarded the best. While the rest of the world is catching up, thanks to US training programs, but I can’t name any one nation superior to our own. Part of the reason is raw talent. Just like music, chess, or any skilled endeavor, designing complex software takes a peculiar brain. Throwing bodies at a problem won’t solve it.
  4. D+   In the discussion of state hackers, the novel places Russia at the top of the list. In the minds of computing professionals, there’s never been doubt Russia manipulated our recent elections. It’s also true that former Soviet satellite states have turned their attention to controlling social sites and pumping out fake news. My concern focuses on North Korea with Chinese support, already raking in millions from ramsomware. We buy a lot of product from China and have no clue what’s embedded in it.

Raucous Caucus

Technical quibbles shouldn’t detract from enjoyment of a story. Frankly, Patterson and Clinton got more right than the average writer.

Overall, the novel successfully entertains, the goal its authors set for it. The President is Missing might even contend for one of Patterson’s best books.

If you’ve read it, what’s your vote? And if you haven’t, give it a try.

28 November 2014

Three Books by David Robbins


by R.T. Lawton

A few weeks back when I was looking for something new to read, I stumbled across The Empty Quarter (2014), the latest book by David Robbins. Its title intrigued me. I opened the book and scanned the inside. The offered sample read well, so I made my purchase.

The Empty Quarter opens in Afghanistan with a team of para rescuers from the Air Force's SOE branch being landed in an open field by a Pave Low helicopter, protected by a gunship. Their mission is to locate, treat and evacuate three wounded British marines whose patrol is pinned down by the enemy. In the process, the reader gets introduced to some of the main characters and finds out what makes them do the hazardous job they do. I then expected the rest of the book to take place in Afghanistan with that war. It didn't.

The story next moved to Yemen where the reader is introduced to Arif, a Saudi who returned from fighting the Russians in Afghanistan twenty-five years previously. Having returned to his native Saudi Arabia, he found he no longer fit into that society. Didn't help that he married a Saudi princess and became embroiled in conflict with her father, the prince. A short prison term for our likable antagonist soon followed. Then, acting upon the words from the prophet Muhammad from his own troubles centuries before, Arif and his wife fled to Yemen. Now, Arif uses his software programming skills to anonymously harass and embarrass the Saudi government through the internet.

      "When disaster threatens, seek refuge in Yemen." ~ The Prophet Muhammad to his followers
       after retreating from Mecca.

Tension remains taut throughout the entire book, all of which is leading up to an escape and chase into The Empty Quarter, a vast desert in Yemen controlled by various tribal factions who often set up road blocks on the desert highway and demand bribes for any wishing to pass. Tribal bonds and blood feuds soon affect both the escapers and the pursurers. The escapers are an American low level diplomat (ex-Army Ranger Captain) who wrongly believes that Arif's wife is trying to go back to her father, a slippery Yemen Intelligence Colonel who lives in the world of spies, and Arif's wife who is strangely silent on the entire matter. The pursurers are a desparate Arif, a Yemen family of brothers who owe a death bed vow to assist this Saudi mujahedeen who has lived in their village for many years. A SEAL unit is on standby for extraction and the para rescuers are prepared to assist, but the plans of men often go awry with events beyond their control. It all collides at the ruins of an ancient building just off the desert highway, and it sometimes becomes difficult to tell who the real bad guys are.

The ending was not what I expected. If you don't get a lump in your throat at the conclusion of this book, then you are made of stern granite.

Enjoyed that novel so much that I went back to see what else David Robbins had written. To my surprise, I had already read one of his earlier books years ago, War of the Rats (1999) which is set in Stalingrad during World War II. Hitler has decreed that his army will capture this city named after the leader of the Soviet Union, while Stalin for his part has sent Krushchev to bolster the city's defenses down to the last man, woman and child, no surrender. The war for ground in the city slowly grinds down to a virtual stalemate. Snipers are called in to assist both sides.

If you are starting to think this scenario sounds familiar, you're correct. Robbin's book, War of the Rats, was made into a movie, Enemy at the Gates. I liked them both.

Realizing that Robbins likes to base his characters and story backgrounds on real people, events and existing organizations, I decided to try a third novel, The Assassin's Gallery (2006). This one is set in 1945 with most of the story taking place in the U.S. During the dark of night on New Year's Eve, a swimmer comes ashore from a submarine. She successfully lands on a beach outside a small town in Massachusetts and starts walking up the beach road to go to the house of her American contact. Unfortunately for her, two civilian coast watchers are parked up that road in an old pickup. Now, she must use all her talents as a professional assassin to cover her tracks.

Meanwhile in Scotland, an American who teaches at a university also secretly trains Jedburgh teams to be dropped behind German and Japanese lines to operate as assassins and saboteurs. This professor gets recalled to America by a member of the Secret Service whom he once trained as a Jedburgh. This particular Secret Service agent believes an assassin is en route to Washington, DC to kill the president.

The rest of the book matches wits between the alleged assassin and the professor. As the story progresses, the calendar keeps moving closer to April 12, 1945, the actual date of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death at the Little White House in Georgia. If you think you know the ending, you should consider two facts to go with this tale of fiction. One, shortly after Roosevelt's death, Josef Stalin sent a telegram to the U.S. State Department requesting that an autopsy be performed to determine if Roosevelt had been poisoned. And second, no chemist's report concerning what may or may not have been in Roosevelt's last meal is available even though the Secret Service ordered a test on the contents of that meal.

Ah, happy reading.

29 April 2013

I Found My Thrill (but not on Blueberry Hill)


The original title at the top of this was simply "Thriller."  When my grandson stood behind me and saw that, he asked, "G-Mama, are you writing about Michael Jackson?"  I'm not, so I changed the title though I'm not writing about Fats Domino either.  (BTW, my grandson is the ONLY person who can stand behind me while I write without igniting my wrath.)

Somehow I don't believe this photo really
needs a cut line.
As some of you know, my Callie Parrish Mystery series is so close to cozy that I don't object to being classified as a cozy writer.  I wrote the first one following what I thought were the guidelines for cozies, but Berkley Prime Crime thought not and  marketed them as Mainstream Mystery.  I've also done some writing under pen names because I didn't want to offend or upset those wonderful people who read about Callie and Jane nor disillusion any of my former students that Ms. Rizer might say something that wasn't "nice."

I'm presently trying to find a publisher for a new thriller, and when I do, it will be published under the name Fran Rizer.  I've decided I'm too old to try to protect my reputation any longer, and the students I last taught are now grown. It's not going to hurt for my readers to realize that while Callie Parrish doesn't use profanity, Fran Rizer knows how to spell those words!

Since my genres sometimes cross, I researched genres again when I finished this book to see what I'd written. Yes, there are several murders (way more than the maximum of  two  allowed in a cozy), but I wasn't quite sure what  to call this book.  After all, I researched cozies before the first Callie book, and didn't hit the target. My agent helped me.  He calls this a southern mystery thriller.  Everyone knows the meaning of southern and mystery, but what exactly IS a thriller?

I'll share my findings with you, but please don't think I'm comparing my thriller with the ones mentioned in this article.

First off, I don't believe in writing "formulas."  There is no formula for writing a thriller, but there are shared characteristics.  The biggest one is obvious:  thrillers "thrill."  The plots are scary with great risk to the characters, making the reader either eager to turn the page or scared to turn the page and see what's next.

Thrillers cross many writing genres and can be divided into different categories:  action thrillers, military thrillers, psychological thrillers (like Hitchcock's Psycho), romantic thrillers, sci-fi thrillers, spy thrillers, and even more.  The stories begin with a major, generally life or death, problem and a protagonist who attempts to solve it only to find the threat grows bigger and bigger and more and more dangerous.  The confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist is dramatic, and the book ends with a short wrap-up.

Recognize these people?
The thrillers that most interest me are the thriller murder mysteries. Some are classic "Who-done-its?" Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs is that kind of thriller.  We don't know who committed the murder(s) until the end.
.
Ken Follett's The Eye of the Needle and Peter Benchley's Jaws are "How-done-its?"  The readers (or movie viewers) know who the bad guy is from the very beginning.  The tension and thrill is in the question, "Will they catch him/her/it before more people are killed?"  Note that the bad guy doesn't have to be human.  It can be an animal like in Jaws.
Dick Francis died in 2010.  He had
received numerous awards including
three Edgars, the Crime Writers'
Association Cartier Diamond Dagger,
 and the MWA Grand Master Award.




Not all murder mysteries are thrillers.  Many are puzzles that are interesting and entertaining but don't sweep the reader into a thrilling action-filled ride. Dick Francis's works don't fit that category.  He was a master of the mystery thriller.

There are mystery/thriller writers whose works surpass the genre and become serious art.  Examples are:

Raymond Chandlers Phillip Marlow novels, James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice; John D. McDonald's Travis McGee novels; and Ross McDonald's Lew Archer novels.  They all make serious social commentary and have existentialist undertones. Somehow, I don't think I'll fall into that category, but I'm pleased enough with my new southern mystery thriller under my own name.

Wish me luck finding a publisher for this new venture.

Until we meet again… take care of you.

19 February 2013

Readers Choice


by David Dean

In spite of earlier reports of my departure, which resulted in much joy and merry-making, I'm still here.  And, as I've warned those that have ears to listen (okay, eyes to read...but you get the point), I'm not leaving till I'm done--I need help and your going to give it to me, and even after you do, I've still got one more posting for you to get through on March 5th.  Sorry, but those are my terms.

Being a sucker for punishment, I intend to write another novel and would like to begin very soon.  I am not satisfied that I should write only one (how should I put this?) non-bestselling book, but am determined to produce another.  My theory is that I should continue to throw novels against the wall until one sticks--it's worked for others; why not me?  But that's where you come in--what should I write next?

Having outlined four different stories, I thought you might get a kick out of helping me pick one to get started on.  I like them all (though I have my favorites), but can't seem to settle on which one might be the best bet out of the chute.  So what follows are brief synopses (teasers really, as I'm withholding the conclusions) of my ideas for your consideration.  As I know we are all drawn to mystery first and foremost, I must ask you to remain open-minded about my offerings as they span four genres--consider also the commercial potential--this is a subject of which I've had very little experience.  Up until now, I've written whatever I felt like writing.  But, as I would also like for a few folks to actually read what I've written, I ask for your help.  To paraphrase Rod Serling, consider the following offerings:

Mystery Novel:  A fourteen year old girl, and her two younger siblings, arrive home from school one day just in time to save their father from hanging himself.  It is the anniversary of their mother's unsolved murder.  The eldest girl determines that she will get to the bottom of the mystery of her mother's death and enlists the aid of her eleven year old sister and nine year old brother in the cause--commands them really, as she has stepped into their mother's empty shoes.  Using the newspaper stories that covered the murder, which occurred only blocks away near the railroad track that runs by their home, as well as possible clues of a secret life that she gleans from her father's intended suicide note, she maps out an investigative strategy.  The suspects range from their father to their mother's employer, a doctor; a yet undiscovered lover (and potentially his wife), a nun who may have disapproved of mama's extracurricular activities, a violent tramp that was the police's original and favorite suspect, their grandma (dad's mom), and finally a completely unknown person.  It doesn't take long for the children to start rattling some cages, and soon, it appears that they have garnered some very unwelcome attention from a stalker with violent intentions.  But they can give as good as they get, and the culprit is eventually uncovered.

Horror Novel: A man is awakened in the middle of the night by a great sound, as if the world is cracking.  This is followed by screams, then silence.  Discovering that his wife and children are missing, he scours the house, then the neighborhood, but soon realizes that most people, and all children, have vanished.  In short order, he also discovers that those remaining are not alone; that something(s) is in the dark with them--killing them.  Over the next few days, as he struggles to survive in a world populated by demons, giants, phantoms, and monsters, he begins to understand that Judgement Day has come and gone, and that earth has been given over to hell to rule.  In a world where one can be endlessly terrified, tortured, and horribly killed, only to live again to suffer the same torments, he searches for salvation and release.  When he stumbles upon hell's only weakness, he begins to fight back, and little by little to regain his humanity, and his hope.

Speculative Fiction Novel: With a nod to Beowulf, this story centers on a young Norse Viking named Thorfinn Ratspiker.  So called because he lives in his father's barn where he excels at spearing rats with short javelins known as "darts"--a talent he picked up from their Irish slaves.  He is the illegitimate child of one of these captive women, and is small and slender, and thought to be slow-witted .  When his father, the Viking chieftain, warns him of his half-brother's impending return from raiding and his intention to remove Thorfinn from any chance of inheriting the throne, Thorfinn takes the hint and flees north.  After slaying a gigantic wolf that was terrorizing an impoverished village, he is told of a kingdom still farther north, whose king and populace are living in fear of a cannibal giant.  This bloodthirsty monster is only kept at bay by a steady sacrifice of slave children to sate his appetite.  Thorfinn, buoyed by his recent victory, and unable to return home, continues on to this kingdom to try his luck at freeing the people and to be hailed a great hero and richly rewarded.  What he discovers is that there is far more to the monster than meets the eye and that something even more sinister lies at the core of this kingdom.

Thriller Novel:  A young police officer finds out that his ne'er-do-well little sister and her sketchy boyfriend have vanished while sailing in the Bahamas.  Their boat has fetched up on a small cay in the Exuma chain without them or any clue as to what happened.  Taking a leave of absence, the officer charters a sailboat out of Miami, intending to recreate his sister's voyage based on what he knew of the couple's sail plan.  The captain, a tough old Haitian, agrees to his plan and they set off, only to discover that a large tiger shark follows in their wake--not a good omen according to the captain.  After meeting with the police in Nassau, and being assured that nothing new has been learned, they go to find the boat.  While doing so they pick up a new follower, a large black yacht, that neither draws closer nor stands farther off when they challenge.  His sister's derelict sailboat reveals nothing, but the locals assure them that it arrived on a northerly current and must have been abandoned to the south of their island.  Continuing on they stop over at a cay rumored to be a drop-off point for South American cocaine, prior to its being flown to the U.S.  Here they encounter not only only the crew of the black yacht, but a beautiful island girl in their company.  Having convinced them she is being held captive by drug-runners they help her to escape and flee southward with the yacht in pursuit.  But during the voyage, they grow suspicious that the girl may know something about the young man's missing sister, and is leading them to a similar fate on a deserted island known as Starvation Cay.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it--these are the horses in the race!  Make your pick and place your bet!  The winners will recieve an autographed copy of the book upon publication (if, and when, that ever happens)!  How can you go wrong?  But you can't win if you don't play, so think it over and let me know your thoughts in comments.  Thanks one and all!