The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Second Review of "The Body in the Bed"

A second review, also 4-stars, has been posted on the Amazon page for this fast paced and suspenseful whodunit novella.  This story is my personal favorite among the novellas and novelettes I've written thus far and I recommend it highly to all of you who enjoyed the preceding novels, The Surreal Killer and The Ambivalent Corpse.   I currently have parts of the next three books in this series under construction, so I can tell you that The Body in the Bed will be Roger and Suzanne's last visit to Montevideo for a while.

"The fifth book concerning married sleuth's Roger and Suzanne Bowman has them returning to Montevideo, Uruguay to celebrate the promotion of their good friend, Martin Gonzales to Chief of Detectives. When they check into their motel room the tension amps up when they discover an old acquaintance, Dr. Bernardo Colletti waiting for them - dead, with his throat viciously cut. After the duo becomes suspicious of three police captains being complicit in the murder, they team up with Gonzales to investigate the three different, but all dirty cops. Things go from bad to worse when they find out Colletti's assassin has an Iranian connection, enlisting the help of old friend Eduardo Gomez, who works with Mossad, to help put the pieces together.

As usual, Mr. Last has combined international intrigue, a far reaching criminal element, and the culinary wonders of Uruguay to create another volume of the intrepid husband and wife detective team. It's a novella that moves at a breakneck speed, serves up tasty dialogue, and a generous portion of the Latin American culture."

If you're looking for the perfect gift for that friend who likes to read mysteries you can't beat this novella, which you can purchase for less than $2.00 per gift copy with a single click from Amazon.  Treat yourself to a copy, too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Great BIG Indie Book Preview for the holidays

Robert Stanek at his blog at 
celebrates a preview of a large cohort of many of the best Indie authors work.  His list includes many books from established authors and many books from new voices awaiting discovery.  It also includes a plug for "The Matador Murders", so we know he showcases the good ones!  Visit his blog and take a look.  Maybe the right Christmas present for that special friend with an e-book reader is on the list.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I have a question

In the last few days I've had 36 hits on this blog originating from Russia.  That's a lot of hits from any country other than the USA for me over any three day interval since the blog began.  Does anyone have any idea of what topic or keyword might have triggered this level of interest?  Any comments are welcomed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Next Big Thing

My friend Pat Bertram invited me to participate in this blog chain. 

The idea of this ongoing blog chain, called "The Next Big Thing," is to answer 10 questions about my current Work In Progress, and in turn "tag" 5 other writers who will write posts on their blogs. I thought this might be a good excuse to tell you about the next novel featuring Roger and Suzanne; this time they'll be investigating crimes closer to home rather than in South America.  The fun part for me in this work in progress is trying to integrate my love of mysteries with my (and my wife's) love of German Shorthaired Pointers.  I'm also toying with the idea of a future trivia question on this blog asking how many references readers can find to German Shorthaired Pointer dogs in the previous books in the Roger and Suzanne series.  I can think of several.

What is your working title of your book?  "The Deadly Dog Show"

Where did the idea come from for the book?   My wife, who has been urging me for at least a year to get Roger and Suzanne to buy a dog, to go to dog shows, and to solve the killing of an unloved dog show judge.  The suggestion was recently reinforced by a reader of a short story I wrote about a P.I. and a dog who asked me on Facebook to write a Roger and Suzanne novel with a dog-based theme.

What genre does your book fall under?   Hard-boiled mystery

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  I think I see
Kristanna Loken as Suzanne---a tall, blond, and athletic woman of 30-ish.  If you are asking WHO at this point, look her up on Google or The IMDB (try the name or the SyFy Channel series, "Painkiller Jane").  Roger---how about Aaron Eckhart?  They'd make a nice couple.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?   It's too soon to know, but let's try this one:  Roger and Suzanne

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Deaths Than One, by Pat Bertram

Pat Bertram's newest mystery novel is entitled "More Deaths Than One".  Pat was kind enough to subject herself to an interview about her new novel, about how she writes, and about her website and her blog.  For all of you who have gotten this far, enjoy a visit with this successful author.
What is your book More Deaths Than One about?
More Deaths Than One tells the story of Bob Stark who returns to Denver after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her new funeral and sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on? And why are two men who appear to be government agents hunting for him? With the help of Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
More Deaths Than One started with an obituary for a stranger that could have been for a friend’s mother. The woman who passed away came from the same city as the friend’s mother, had a similar name, and had two sons about the same age as my friend and his brother. Jokingly, I said, “Maybe this really is your mother.” We had great fun that day trying to figure out how it could be possible for him to be the dead woman’s son. The story we came up with captured my imagination, and so I had no choice but to pursue it.   

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Recent Review of The Matador Murders on Amazon

"The Matador Murders, written by Jerold Last, is a fun, fast paced murder mystery about the exploits of a husband and wife team working on a homicide case that implicates a good friend. The story opens with the execution style death of crooked cop Jose Gonzales. When the murder is blamed on his honest associate, Martin Gonzales, Martin sends out a cry for help to Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster. The married team immediately heads to Paraguay, bringing their six-month-old son and a decidedly different nanny with them. When they see their investigation leads to a series of shady land grabs in Uruguay, and the implications of a vicious drug cartel behind the murder, they go undercover in order to foil the plans of a kingpin they call Mr. X.
            In between the intrigue, actions scenes, and comical moments involving the baby, Roger and Suzanne's snarky banter and loving moments give the story its heart. The secondary characters are drawn well, the bad guys are deliciously evil, and the couple's labyrinthine efforts to get to the heart of the crime make for an enjoyable read.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The first review of The Body in the Bed

"The Body in the Bed", a suspenseful whodunit novella, brings Roger and Suzanne back to Montevideo, Uruguay where another bloody murder needs to be solved.   One reviewer says:   

"Tightly plotted novella that will please followers of the Roger and Suzanne series, as an addition to the existing novels in the series. I enjoyed this *interesting weekend* with characters I plan to meet again.  Nice stairstep storyline that leads logically from beginning to end with a very good feel for the people and the country as usual. This has always been one of the major attractions of this series for me and was not lacking in this short story. I also enjoyed the suggestion of what I suspect may be a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor on the part of the author."

If you're looking for the perfect Holiday Season gift for that friend who likes to read mysteries, you can't beat this novella, which you can purchase for less than $2.00 per gift copy with a single click from Amazon.  Treat yourself to a copy, too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Iranian Connection

The Uruguayan economy, as was the Argentine, was mainly based on beef, leather, and dairy products for almost two centuries.  Before commercial scale freezing and shipping of beef and beef by-products after World War II created competition from Australia and New Zealand, corned beef, canned beef, dried beef, and leather goods from Uruguay were shipped to Europe, and exported beef products were the source of enough wealth that the Uruguayans had one of the highest per capita incomes in the entire world.   They used this money to build a functional economy that featured free universal health care, free education through college and post-graduate (law, medicine, etc.) professional training for all who wanted it, and a more than adequate system of Social Security for the elderly.

Post-World War II Europe needed meat it couldn't produce in war-ravaged countries, and imported it in large amounts from the USA and South America.  But with competition from many other countries that had cheap land for ranching and with European farm recovery, the bottom fell out of the beef export market for Uruguay, and they became a poor country within a single generation.  They suddenly had a very high cost of living due to large Social Security (for the elderly and disabled) and free universal healthcare systems for an aging population.  Only now are they beginning to recover economically from their former total dependence on the beef industry, and they still are dependent on high quality free range-grown beef as an export item. 

The Body in the Bed

The next entry in the Roger and Suzanne South American mystery series is a new novella, The Body in the Bed" (18,000+  words), which was just uploaded a few minutes ago to Amazon.  In this new book, Roger and Suzanne are back in Montevideo to attend a festive dinner honoring their friend Martin Gonzalez's promotion to police captain.  But, there's a surprise guest waiting for them when they get to their hotel room (hint:  that is where the title of the novella comes from).  Roger and Suzanne are the lead suspects in a murder, their allies on the police forces of Uruguay and Paraguay may be the targets of a conspiracy, and nobody can be trusted.  This fast paced, action filled, novella should satisfy readers of the previous books in the series as we renew acquaintances with old friends and enemies, and say farewell to one of them.  Readers new to the series can enjoy this book as a stand-alone introduction to the region and to the series characters, while series veterans should enjoy getting reacquainted with several characters from The Ambivalent Corpse and some of the later stories.  I've posted a link to the new book in the right hand column on this page.  Just click on the image of the book title, which will take you directly to the book page on Amazon Kindle.  
I like this little story a lot---as you can read in the new accompanying blog entry ("The Iranian Connection"), it has a solidly researched background in reality as the basic premise for the fictional story.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Our Dinner With Mussolini

Prologue to the story:  My Fogarty Center training grant for Uruguay and Argentina was designed to see the resources used to train graduate students to increase the talent pool for the local university faculties.  They also wanted to see a regional impact on public health of the enhanced programs.  Thus, as Director I spent a lot of my time trying to build collaborations across national borders among countries that historically did not tend to help one anther or co-operate easily on a regional scale.  That led to a lot of failed initiatives along with a few spectacular successes.

            Once upon a time, in a land long ago and far away, my colleagues from Uruguay were with me at a scientific meeting in Santiago, Chile.  We arranged to meet separately with a local academician with ties to the salmon fish farming industry in the south of Chile who had a problem that I hoped the Uruguayan colleagues might be able to help solve for him.  The problem was to be able to analyze the fish at an exquisite level of sensitivity to be able to certify that they were free of any residues of antibiotics, so as to allow their export to Japan and the European Union countries.  My Uruguayan colleagues had the necessary methodology, while the Chileans had a need.  Hence, the small meeting within the larger meeting made sense.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

German Shorthaired Pointers (GSPs)

I came across an interesting blog about GSPs today, courtesy of Robyn.  You can find her blog entitled "Adventures of a GSP Hunting Dog" at   The blog features some great photos of the dogs at work and play, not to mention at mischief.  I was most amused by her description of the breed's ancestry, "I'm pretty sure GSP's are in fact a potent combination of lightning, the common house robber, a sly fox, a velociraptor, a woodchuck, tornadoes and a vacuum cleaner. These cosmic forces clearly banded together and created my dogs."  She obviously knows the breed well. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

An Excerpt From The Empanada Affair

Today's blog post is Chapter 1 from my first South American mystery novel, "The Empanada Affair".  On the positive side, readers will find out how Roger and Suzanne first met and became a couple.  Readers will get to visit Salta, Argentina and the surrounding areas, a region my wife and I both loved when we lived there.  Lots of tourism, local food, and a mystery story, all for the bargain price of less than a dollar.  On the less positive side, it was my first ever novel and I was learning how to write a book by doing it.  If you are interested in seeing the evolution of a mystery writer and their characters, this is a must read---comparison with "The Surreal Killer" or "The Matador Murders"will dramatize my learning process.  And a caution for adult content (this was my first, and only, attempt to write an erotic book; I think readers will support this decision).

Without further preamble, here is Chapter 1 from The Empanada Affair:

                                                CHAPTER 1.

It was a sunny day in November, one of those days the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce tries to convince the tourists is typical of our weather all year round.  I was sitting at my desk waiting for a client to walk in and hire me.  I had been sitting at the same desk for a day or two, and was getting bored with nothing much to do.  It had been a good year for me and I had been working hard until the end of last week.  That meant I was sitting on a nice bank balance and could afford to be without a client or a job for a while longer.  On the other hand, I didn’t particularly enjoy doing nothing and thought about taking the rest of the afternoon off and making a quick trip to work out at the new Gracie Jiu Jitsu gym I had seen written up in the local news section of the L.A. Times.  A moment later the decision was taken out of my hands.

There was an assertive rap on the door, which opened and she walked in.  About 5’8”, on the good side of 30 years old, lean athletic body, Scandanavian looking face, long blond hair, and an aura of success and good breeding. Wearing $300 jeans and Bruno Magli heels, her look was casual but at the same time Los Angeles sophisticated.   Maybe it was pheromones, maybe it was just how beautiful she was, but somewhere deep in my mind a little voice was shouting, “Wow, this could be the one for you!”

I introduced myself and made a gesture; she sat on the client chair facing my desk, crossed her long legs, and leaned forward. There was a pause while she decided what to say.  I could read the letters on my door backwards; they still said “Roger Bowman Investigations”.  I glanced around the office seeing again the desk with a computer monitor on top, the computer tower and a laser printer under the desk, the client chair in front, and a couple of file cabinets against the wall.  The opposite wall featured a large window with a great view of the smog hiding the Tehachapi Mountains to the north, and a sprinkling of my various martial arts competition trophies on shelves on the walls, an overall image far less elegant than my potential new client.

“Hello. I assume you are Roger Bowman”, she said.

“Yes, I am” seemed to be the right answer.

            “My name is Suzanne Foster.”

            “What can I do to help you Ms. Foster?”

“I’m being followed”, she told me, “and there seem to be at least two people taking turns doing the following.  This has gone on for more than a week that I am aware of, and I don’t know for how long before that until I realized I was seeing the same two men behind me over and over”. 

“Do you have any idea why someone would want to have you followed?” I asked.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Magic of Machu Picchu

For all of you interested in The Magic of Machu Picchu, which really is a magical place, I wrote a fairly extensive blog entry I just posted on the topic that I highly recommend reading at  It's a good introduction to one of the most fascinating places on Earth, The Sacred City of the Incas.  Machu Picchu plays a key role as a location in The Surreal Killer, and is one of the two must-see places if you ever are a tourist in South America, at least in my opinion.  The other is The Galapagos Islands.  Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes near Cuzco, along with several islands in Lake Titicaca high in the Andes on the Peru-Bolivia border, were the most sacred cities to the Incas, who maintained a far-flung empire stretching across all of South America from Colombia in the North to Argentina in the South just prior to the Spanish conquest of the region in the 16th Century.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Going To The Dogs

At Elaine's (my wife's) urging, I'm trying to bring her hobby of dog breeding, which we've discussed here before in some of my earlier posts, into Roger and Suzanne's fictional world of mysteries and whodunits.  There are two noteworthy efforts to tell you about thus far:
(1) For Roger and Suzanne Trivia buffs we can pose the following questions and the source of the answers.  What was Roger Bowman's first case as a P.I.?  What very unusual fee was he paid?  Who was his most unusual client ever?  The answers are in a new 2,000-word short story, "The Dog with No Name", available free on Erika Szabo's blog at  Go on over and take a look.  Enjoy the story.  It's a little bit different than my usual style.
(2) Currently under construction is a new book, tentatively entitled "The Deadly Dogshow".  I can promise that no dogs will be killed or injured to advance the plot, but can't make any such promises with regards to the human characters.  In fact I can almost certainly promise that one or more humans will be killed in this story.  Suzanne and Roger have bought a dog (Juliet, a German Shorthaired Pointer, of course).  Bruce, among his many other talents, turns out to be a skilled dog trainer and handler so will be a featured player in all doggie subplots from here on.  Robert is getting old enough to help Bruce train the dog, so will also get more toner than he used to in these stories.  For the old-timers here:  remember when that used to be ink? 

There are also bit and pieces of several other short stories and one or two novels being worked on.  Current plans for the next South American book will take our characters to The Galapagos Islands to mix biology and murder in one of the most special places in the world, located off the coast of Ecuador.  They will also get a chance to visit Alaska to investigate a homicidal bear.

Now, if I can only find the time to write all of these stories........

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Body in the Bed

The excerpt below is from a new novella featuring Roger and Suzanne, once more back in Uruguay solving a murder.  The newest entry in the South American mystery series brings Roger and Suzanne back to Montevideo to attend a festive dinner honoring their friend's promotion to police captain.  There's a surprise guest waiting for them when they get to their hotel room.  Roger and Suzanne are the lead suspects in a murder, their allies on the police forces of Uruguay and Paraguay may be the targets of a conspiracy, and nobody can be trusted.  This fast paced, action filled, novella should satisfy readers of the previous books in the series as we renew acquaintances with old friends and enemies, and say farewell to one of them.  Readers new to the series can enjoy this book as a stand-alone introduction to the region and to the series characters.  This novella will be published on Amazon in time to become a special Christmas present for all of your friends with Kindles in 2012. 

The Body in the Bed

My wife, Suzanne, and I both had the same e-mail on our computer, an ultra-fancy invitation to next week’s gala event in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay.  In the most formal of Spanish, The Intendencia de Montevideo invited us to a dinner hosted by the Mayor and Police Chief to celebrate the upcoming promotion of Martin Gonzalez to the rank of Chief of Detectives.  Martin was a special friend of ours, and this was a very significant and well earned career advancement for him.   I was tempted to say yes to the invitation if Suzanne agreed to join me for the occasion.

I waited until our dinner at home in the huge house in Beverly Hills, California that Suzanne had inherited from her father after his murder, when we first met, to ask her.  She looked surprised for a moment before putting down her knife and fork and replying.

“I was looking for an excuse to suggest that we go to the celebration, but thought you might be too busy or just not want to do all the formalities they'll expect.  Let’s do it!  But I have to admit, there’s a nitpicky little voice inside my head asking whether we’ll be able to get as far as the hotel in Montevideo before we discover the first dead body.”  Suzanne rolled her eyes and grimaced as she obviously remembered discovering the grisly scene of the dismembered body in the park the first time we had come to Montevideo and first met Martin.

That earned a smile from me, probably because I've gotten so used to seeing dead bodies in my former career as a homicide detective on the Los Angeles Police department and my present work as a private detective.  “Well, so far we’ve gotten registered at the hotel once before we found the body and we’ve been told about the body before we ever got to the hotel the other time.  I guess that makes the answer to your question that it’s a 50-50 chance either way.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Surreal Killer, an Excerpt

            He always thought of this part as cutting the calf out of the herd.  The problem:  Pick up the woman somewhere, somehow without any witnesses to the event.  The solution this time:  he found her hitchhiking late at night on the deserted street in a poorly lit part of town.  He stopped the rented car and offered her a ride.  She looked at him, decided he was safe, jumped in the car, congratulated herself on her good luck, and asked if he was heading towards the next town. 

            "Yes, I am.  Where can I drop you off?"

            "Anywhere near the middle of town would be great."

            "You've got it."

            The car started off in the right direction.

            "Can I offer you a little brandy?  It's cold out there," he said.

            "I'd love a sip or two."

            He removed a flask from his pocket and passed it over.

            "Thanks a lot," she replied, and took a long slow swallow.  She returned the flask to the driver.

            Five minutes later the long-acting drug in the brandy had worked its magic and she was completely helpless.  Wide awake, but totally unable to move or speak.  She stared at the driver with terrified eyes.  The driver steered the car onto a dirt road and drove about half a mile into the woods.  After stopping the car, he came around to the passenger side, and pulled her out onto the ground.  She noted that there was grass and dirt in the clearing.  He pawed her body for a few moments, but didn't seem interested in undressing or sexually assaulting her beyond the unwanted touching.  Out came his syringe, and with a few well-coordinated movements he injected a few mL of fluid directly into her jugular vein.  The powerful drug did its work and she was now completely paralyzed.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Things To Do In Lima, Peru

In my third South American mystery novel, The Surreal Killer, one of the detectives, Suzanne, goes shopping for baby clothes at the Mercado de Las Incas in Lima with several women she meets at a scientific meeting.  Two of these women worked as scientists from government agencies in Lima and are based (their physical descriptions and their willingness to adopt Suzanne and show her the techniques for shopping at The Inca Market) upon the actual Peruvian government scientist who hosted our group from the University in Montevideo and me in 2010.   We spent that week in Peru teaching a course to about 50 Peruvian scientists and engineers about analysis and toxicology of the Microcystins, toxins produced by Blue-Green algae that can contaminate drinking water supplies.  A highlight of the week was Friday morning’s session, when we presented a condensed version of the 1-week course over the World health Organization’s (WHO) broadband network, which reaches to 19 different Latin American countries simultaneously in real time.  The WHO regional network, called the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), hosted almost 500 participants in 19 different countries for our morning course.  It’s a strange feeling knowing that you are talking to almost 500 people as you deliver your lecture or discussion to a camera mounted on a computer.

Blue-green algae grow in lakes, reservoirs, and wherever else you might find slow-moving or stagnant water that contains the nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients they need to make little algae from.  Some of these algae make powerful toxins that can kill people and animals.  The recipe for disaster is a body of water, sunlight, and nutrients from agricultural fertilizers or urban sewers.  This is a worldwide problem, including the countries in South America that my novels are set in, and just about everywhere else.  It's also an area in which my scientific colleagues in Uruguay are making a major contribution to developing new and better methods to test drinking water supplies for the presence of these toxins. 

The traditional Peruvian delicacy that tourists flock to in Lima is ceviche, fresh raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice and seasoned with herbs like cilantro.  This South American spin on sushi is really, really good, especially when it is accompanied by a cold beer as a snack or appetizer before dinner.  There is an interesting juxtaposition between sampling the ceviche and worrying about whether the ubiquitous blue-green algae we were discussing in the course shared the water with the fish we were eating so cheerfully.  This may be one of the places that the new assays being developed in Uruguay for the algal toxins will have some direct relevance for tourists in Lima in the future.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Ambivalent Corpse, an excerpt

This blog began at about the same time as the fourth book of the series started to get written, so it seems reasonable to introduce you, the readers, to the earlier books a bit more thoroughly than just via the links on the blog.  Starting with Book #2, The Ambivalent Corpse, here's how it begins.  There will be more inside stuff about this novel in subsequent posts.  Enjoy this short visit with Roger and Suzanne on one of their early cases.

                        Chapter 1.  The Ambivalent Corpse Appears

We found the corpse on a rocky stretch of beach in Montevideo, about a mile east of the harbor.  Pieces of the body were apportioned equally between the Graf Spee Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial, which are side by side on a grassy knoll overlooking the Rio de la Plata shore facing Buenos Aires to the south.   Because of her strategic location shared between two antithetical monuments, one to the German warship scuttled near Montevideo Harbor in 1939 and the other to the victims of Nazi genocide in World War II, the Uruguayan press named her “The Ambivalent Corpse” (“El Cadáver Ambivalente”).  But I’m getting ahead of myself in telling this story.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Few Tips on Writing

     Paula Shene contributes a guest blog with some useful advice for aspiring and established writers.  Paula writes children's stories, including the series The Chronicles of The K-9 Boys and Girls on Locus Street, with a slant toward teaching our young the importance of animal care.  She also writes short stories on BookRix [some on Amazon] and articles for the online magazine Angie's Diary.  Paula and Paul have been married for 47 years and raised a good-sized family, so she obviously has some impressive time management skills.

     Giving tips on writing is extremely subjective.  I was going to say except for grammar or spelling, but in American English, at least, these areas also are open to interpretation.  Our English language is an oleo of other languages and regularly we accept words into our dictionary as fair game through daily usage.
     As to grammar rules, it depends if you are writing in a formal manner or in a creative manner.  There truly are no hard and fast rules but knowing those rules is imperative in having an understandable story unfold where the reader is along for the ride, not stumbling after the story line because it’s been woven together with fractured English, misusage, or the favorite of today, texting or Madison Avenue advertising spelling.
     Saying all that, I will say, foremost, creativity is the key to an enjoyable story and will garner readership.  Know your limitations in the technical areas and have readers before publishing that are able to tell you of the places that need correction or deleting or further embellishment.  And have an editor, a breathing editor, who may employ using a program as I do, but who also is able to spot incorrect usage the program may not.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Uruguay and Me---a Personal Memoir

This post originated as an invited article I wrote for the Fulbright (Uruguay) Newsletter in 2005.  I've twice been a Fulbright Professor in Montevideo (the second time as a shared award with half of the time spent in Salta, Argentina), which has led me into a series of continuing collaborations with scientists there and a rich store of people and places to use as background for my novels.  The Newsletter asked for a 5-year retrospective on what my experiences during the tenure of the prestigious Fulbright award there in 1999 were like, and what has occurred since then.
            Besides acquiring an occasional taste for yerba mate and parrillada compleada, the Fulbright award had several other influences on my life, then and now.  Most important was the result of a promise I made to myself that relationships made during this Fulbright award, my second (the first was to Uruguay in 1982), would progress beyond the nominal exchange of Christmas cards after I returned to California. Fortunately I was at a time in my career when this commitment was possible to pursue. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Matador Murders

The fourth volume in my South American mystery novel series, The Matador Murders, was published on Amazon today.  There's a link on this page, to the right.  Roger and Suzanne are back in Montevideo after being summoned by a late night phone call.  The book features lots of action, a good whodunit storyline, guest appearances from several old friends and an old enemy from The Ambivalent Corpse and The Surreal Killer, and occasional opportunities for sightseeing and eating regional specialty foods.  Reviews, Likes, and Tags will be appreciated.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Roger and Suzanne's New Case

For fans of my South American mystery series, the newest entry, an 11,600-word novelette, "The Body in the Parking Structure" was just published on Amazon.  In this new mystery, my first in a shorter story format, Suzanne discovers the body of a Bolivian scientist in the parking garage next to the Medical School at UCLA.  The police treat the killing as just another drug deal gone bad.  P.I. Roger Bowman, Suzanne, and his newly assembled team investigate the murder, which seems to be linked to a small biotechnology company and a new anti-cancer drug they are developing.  The reader is off on a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles and Westwood in search of clues.  The clues are all there: Can you figure out whodunit before Roger does?  This fast-paced mystery story features characters from the author's popular South American mystery novel series working on a murder case at home in Los Angeles.  Enjoy it!  There's a link on the blog page to the book's Amazon page.

Excerpt (950 words):             The Body In the Parking Structure

                                                Chapter 1. Suzanne finds the body

            For the first time since we had met, Suzanne discovered a dead body without me being there.  She was collecting her car at twilight from the UCLA parking structure after a quick trip to the laboratory to change the samples on a DNA sequencer.  The structure seemed to be deserted except for her and a large lump lying lifeless between her car and the garage wall.  She called 911 to report the body then called me. 

            The police and I arrived at the garage at about the same time.  While she was waiting for us, Suzanne took a closer look at the corpse and got her second shock of the night.  She not only counted at least five bullet holes in the body but she also recognized the victim from one of our previous cases.  It was Eugenio Vasquez, a biochemist from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, who we had met the previous year in Lima, Peru.  We had spent a pleasant afternoon with him and his cousin Rogelio, at a couple of museums, eating ceviche for our first time and drinking Peruvian beer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Bad Reviews

Today we have a guest blog by Wayne Zurl on what to do when someone writes a bad review of your good book.  This is a great synthesis of a lot of bits and pieces of advice we've all heard, but sometimes forget......Thank you, Wayne.

Some people have no bedside manner. That’s certainly true of a few book reviewers.

Don’t you hate to get bombed by a blogger who has only six followers and spends most of his/her time passing judgment on kitchen appliances? You ask yourself, “Why didn’t he/she leave my book alone and pick up a Veg-O-Matic?”

How should you handle the pain of a bad review? Let’s take it by the numbers and I’ll give you my thoughts.

1-Allow the steam to escape from your ears before proceeding.

2-Get all thoughts of physical violence and verbal retribution out of your system before moving on to step three.

3-Look at the poorly worded, opinionated, juvenile, asinine, obnoxious, nasty, insensitive, grits-for-brains review, written by an obviously uneducated cretin, OBJECTIVELY and assess its merit. Perhaps among all the hurtful statements, something can be learned from a valid point (no matter how ill-phrased).

4-Do not immediately click on Amazon’s comment box and write, “Oh, Yeah?”

5-If you must reply, (and there may not be a necessity to do so) you owe the reviewer (and your reputation) civility. Type in: “Thanks for your opinion,” and send it on its way. Then without delay, grab a paper and pen and for your mental wellbeing, finish your thought with: You moron! Up yours! What makes you think you would know a good book/story/poem (strike out those that do not apply) if it bit you in the ass? Your psychotherapist will be proud of you for practicing catharsis.

My best advice (and who follows his/her own advice?): Don’t dwell on the negative thoughts of others. Most great authors have received negative criticism from someone.

Second best advice (and I like this one much better): If available, print out a photo of the reviewer and hope you see them on the street some day. This advice, from a kid originally from Brooklyn.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Nexus of Fiction and Reality

In "The Ambivalent Corpse" and in my upcoming (Summer, 2012) novel "The Matador Murders", we meet a character named Andrea, a scientist at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, who is studying affordable methods for the analysis of the microcystins, a family of toxins produced in rivers, estuaries, and lakes by various species of blue-green algae.  She also gets mentioned in some of my other blogs.  Her character is based on a real scientist studying these algal toxins in Uruguay who I've been collaborating with for more than a decade.  So, what's real and what's fiction?  Let me give you a few hints; these are references to, and abstracts from, actual scientific papers published in the peer-reviewed literature that I have copied from Pub Med:

1.  From Brena et al., (2006). ITREOH Building of Regional Capacity to Monitor Recreational Water:  Development of a Non-commercial Microcystin ELISA and Its Impact on Public Health Policy. INT J OCCUP ENVIRON HEALTH 12:377–385.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mystery Writers of America and E-Publishers

The blog site of the Mystery Writers of America organization at has a fascinating tip of the hat to the 21st century practice of E-publishing and their guidelines for approval of an E-publisher for membership in the MWA Organization .  Amazon qualifies, under the revised guideline “During the preceding year, the publisher must have paid a minimum of $1,000, in advances and/or royalties, to at least five authors with no financial or ownership interest in the company. Payment must be in monies, not in barter for advertising or copies of books.” 
E-books, themselves, won’t qualify their authors for membership, at least not yet.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Preview of Coming Attractions, 1

The fourth volume in my South American mystery novel series, "The Matador Murders", is complete and ready to publish this summer, pending a few more rounds of editing, and formatting of the front matter.  For those of you who’ve visited this blog and might be interested, this is a preview of coming attractions.  There may be some minor changes between this and the final version.

In this installment of the series Roger and Suzanne are back in Montevideo after being summoned from Los Angeles by a late night phone call.  One of their friends is suspected of murder and needs their skills as detectives to help clear him of the charges.  Life for Roger, and especially for Suzanne, is more complicated these days as they now have an infant son, Robert.  The three of them, accompanied by Robert’s nanny, Bruce, fly to Uruguay and the game is afoot.  Before long we have our heroes directly in the middle of a gang war, off for a quick trip to Chile to learn all about the local crime scene, and meeting some unlikely allies in their mission.  The book has lots of action, a good whodunit storyline, guest appearances by several old friends and by an old enemy from previous books in the series, "The Ambivalent Corpse" and "The Surreal Killer", and occasional opportunities for sightseeing and eating regional specialty foods.  I hope you all have as much fun reading this novel as I had writing it.  A short excerpt from the current draft of the book follows:
                                             Chapter 1.  Adios to a crooked cop

Early that day, Jose Gonzalez, in his usual role as a detective on the Montevideo police force, had a loud and highly acrimonious argument with his partner.  Martin Gonzalez, the partner, was proud of two things.  The first was that he and Jose were not related despite the common surname.  The other was that he was the ranking half of the partnership and could say whatever was on his mind with no real fear of the consequences.  Martin was in fact a Detective Lieutenant and the officer with the second highest ranking in the detective division after his Captain, fortuitously not named Gonzalez. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Seeking Comments

Hi: I've published three novels in my South American mystery series thus far, as indicated several different places on the blog.  This post asks for comments, good or bad, about any or all of the three novels.  These can be shorter and pithier than reviews; the goal is to see some feedback about what is working well and what isn't in these books in hopes that the next few can be even better.  Thank you.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Perfect is Boring

Today's guest post is by mystery writer Wayne Zurl, a former policeman turned author.

            When I began writing police mysteries I said to myself, “Aha! This is fiction, not a documentary. I have the opportunity to make everything come out perfectly.”
            I thought it would be cool to create a character with a background similar to mine and fictionalize and chronicle my old cases. I could correct any mistakes or ask the questions that never came to mind or make the clever comments I only thought of the day after. It looked like an “if only” moment—a chance for perfection.
            Then it rained on my parade. The precipitation came in the form of a middle-aged man with lots of experience in publishing and some pretty good ideas. The retired editor turned book-doctor who I hired to assist me during the formative stages of A NEW PROSPECT said, “Your protagonist is perfect. He never makes a mistake. Are you nuts?”
            “Huh?” I said.
            “Perfect is boring,” he said. “Readers like tension. They like uncertainty. Put your character in jeopardy. Screw that perfection thing.”
            “Hmm,” I replied.
            I thought about the concept and remembered reading other mysteries. How many times had I said, “Jeez, a good cop would never do that?” I’d grit my teeth and wait for the ax to fall.
            One of my favorite fictional cops, James Lee Burke’s Cajun detective, Dave Robicheaux, ALWAYS did something I knew a guy with his experience would NEVER do.
            I’d tremble and say, “Oh, Dave, you know better.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Three Rs of Book Series Characters: Recycle, Reuse, Resurrect

            One of the decisions that the author of a series has to make is whether or not to recycle your secondary characters through subsequent books.  For green-thinking authors, recycle, reuse, and resurrect is a natural answer to this question.  If you've already invented Joe and Mary, why start over from scratch the next time?  You already know what they look like, what they sound like, and a little bit about their character.  Who knows, there may be a few Joe and Mary groupies out there who will buy your next book because they want to know whether Joe got his promised promotion at work or whether Mary's unborn child from the previous book turned out to be a boy or a girl.  Maybe Mary can work her way up the literary food chain to star in her own novel some day.

            On the other hand, recycled characters can easily become boring as they make their guest appearances in subsequent books.  They really need to be there to advance the story, not just to pad out the book length by introducing extraneous subplots centered on them.  And if they do show up, readers expect the author to peel away a few more layers of the onion so we get to know them better, in more depth, in each succeeding appearance.  Several months ago I did a guest interview for Pat Bertram's blog from the point of view of the character Eduardo Gomez, a Paraguayan policeman who had appeared in my second novel, The Ambivalent Corpse.  In that interview, Eduardo indicated that he wanted to play a bigger part in subsequent books.  He gets a chance to do this in my newest novel, due later this summer, The Matador Murder.  And we get a chance to know him better.  There are still some things we don't really know about him----maybe we'll be seeing more of him in books to come?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Couple of Interesting Facebook Pages to Visit, the Goodreads Self Published Authors Page, has a recent entry commenting "Interesting Reviews :)" about Wistfulskimmies Book Reviews at  Since Wistfulskimmie has positive reviews of two of my books, The Ambivalent Corpse and The Surreal Killer, on her site (check the late March, 2012 entries), I recommend visiting it highly.  I can also recommend Haresh's Goodreads Self Published Authors Page on Facebook for a look over. 

My Strangest Patent---Just Add Water

            A long time ago, right after I finished my postdoctoral training, I took a job with a large pharmaceutical company to see what earning a decent salary felt like.  One day after I'd been there for several months we had our first crash program where we all were supposed to drop whatever we had been working on and turn our efforts to solving a big problem related to developing a new product.  Not to be technical, our organic chemists had developed 25 steps of a complex synthesis of a new antibiotic.  They were stuck on the 26th step, so they turfed the problem to someone else, the group of biochemists and bacteriologists I was in.  My job was buying a bunch of enzymes from Enzymes R-Us (to be honest, the company was named Sigma, but doesn't Enzymes R-Us have a certain ring to it?), and testing all of the enzymes at random to see if any of them could make that elusive 26th step happen.

             A week or so later the enzymes arrived and it was time for me to do something to earn my paycheck. The day before I ran my first experiment in this crash program, I stuck my head into my older and wiser colleague's office.  He had been helping me adjust to life in the real world, rather than the ivory towers of academia, by giving me advice on what was expected of scientists in this setting.  I asked something that translated into: "Should I just go through the motions, or should I do things very carefully, like I was doing a real experiment?"

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Background Research Is Important

            I wrote a previous blog about the possible linkages between my wife Elaine’s dog Jake and Robert B. Parker’s real life and fictional dogs named Pearl.  As I found myself trying to remember when Spenser first met Susan Silverman and when Susan first acquired Pearl, the availability of a convenient resource made this research project simple.  The resource, designed by Elaine during a bathroom remodel several years ago, is a set of built in bookshelves in an unusual, but very convenient, setting and the paperback mystery novel collection I keep in these shelves (see Figure 1). These are the old favorites I will read again and the various series I have collected because I've enjoyed them so much.

Figure 1---The bookshelves
            Included in the book collection are mystery novels mostly based in the two states we have lived in as a couple, California and Massachusetts.  There is a complete run of the Spenser series neatly filed in the lower right section of the shelves, under “P” for Parker.  It took just a few minutes to skim through the earlier books until I found Susan in God save the Child, in her early incarnation as a school guidance counsellor, and Pearl, who joined the series several books later in Pastime.  Other series in the shelves set in Boston include Parker's other two series, featuring Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, books by Jeremiah Healy (his John Francis Cuddy series) and Linda Barnes’ Carlotta Carlyle series.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Can You Hear the Beat?

Pat Bertram offers a guest post:  She discusses the use of "beats" to enrich dialogue in our books.  There are some helpful ideas for all of us in this example of writing technique.

I once read the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author, trying to figure out the reason for her popularity, and I had a hard time slogging through her words. It’s not simply that I find romance novels unappealing, it’s that she does not use beats. Beats, as you know, are interesting bits of action used as dialog tags:
“No!” Mary rushed to grab the paring knife from her two-year-old son. So much more interesting than: “No,” Mary said.
Beats make the book; in many cases, they are the book. I first noticed this when I read an Iris Johansen thriller. I got bored with her series character and, for a change of pace, started reading only her beats. To my surprise, the entire story was there. The character’s fear, lessening of fear, relief, escalating fear, despair, desire, lust, all reaching to a crescendo of utter terror, and then finally peace and acceptance.
From that, I’ve learned to cultivate beats. When I’m looking at a movie that doesn’t capture my full attention, I watch the actors and try to put what I see into words. The other day I saw a character shoot a finger at a friend and smile as if he were agreeing with him, then the smile faded and he shook his head no. Not only did it have an element of humor (doing the opposite of what’s expected) it was a brilliant beat, perfectly timed.
Obviously, not using beats has not hurt the bestselling romance writer any, but for the rest of us, the beat goes on.
The following is an excerpt from my novel Light Bringer, showing the use of beats. Since there are only two characters, we’d know who was talking even without identifiers, but the small bits of stage business help set the scene.  The book is available at