The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

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.