The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


            When writing dialogue, how can you keep your characters from all sounding the same?  If you’re good at this task you can use regional dialects as a distinguishing characteristic, like my friend Wayne Zurl [] does so well in his Sam Jenkins series.  If you do it well enough, and Wayne does, before you know it you have books that will sell well as audiobooks where differences in speech usage and patterns are the essential clue in individuating the characters as you listen to the story.  At least for me, this is hard to do as you need a very nuanced ear and a very good memory for what they said and how they said it to make people sound different based only on word choice.  According to The Guinness Book of Records [] the greatest number of characters given distinct and distinguishable voices by an actor in an audiobook is 224.   This amazing record was accomplished in 2004.

What can the aspiring author do to make their characters different from one another?  If the educational level of the characters varies (college educated P.I. versus high school dropout thug), you have another way to make their voices quite different.  The thug can use a lot of slang and slur his word endings, maybe even say a few bad words here and there.  You can make a character stutter or misuse certain words, or even have an accent.  One of my characters slips a Spanish word into his English every now and then.  The perfect word for Vincent to be overusing for this particular idiosyncrasy is the classic parsley word used promiscuously in conversational Spanish, “claro”.  Vincent could make a chimichurri with all of the claro parsley he sprinkles into his conversation [check out a previous recent post on this blog on “Salsas” if this doesn’t make sense to you, or go directly to the recipe at].

Saturday, April 20, 2013

McLeod’s Daughters: An Australian TV Soap Opera

            Courtesy of Netflix streaming video, my wife and I have recently gotten hooked on an Australian TV soap opera, popular from 2001-2009 (224 episodes in all), called “McLeod’s Daughters”.   It has all the elements of the best telenovelas I watched while I was trying to train my ear to understand conversational Spanish spoken rapidly, as native speakers do, before one of my trips to Uruguay, Argentina, or Chile.  It’s corny, it’s hard to understand Aussie slang, and it’s overly dramatic in spots, but it’s well enough written to root for the characters and is set in a fascinating rural locale, the South Australian outback.  It was apparently the most popular TV show in Australia for several years of its long running history.  We’re currently up to episode #132, so we seem to be truly hooked, and we're into 2006, which means there’s substantial cast turnover going on as characters reached the end of their cheap contracts or just became bored with their roles.  As a writer I find myself analyzing what makes this show work and are there lessons here for me and other would-be mystery novelists on how to reach out to a larger audience? 
            I looked up the actors and actresses on IMDB and Wiki.  In a country as small as Australia, and with a sprinkling of talent from New Zealand thrown in, the cast is a Who’s Who of 30 year old regional actors with training and talent and of pop music stars crossing over.   Pretty much all of them won Australian Emmy awards, Logies, for their roles in this series.  Most of them went to acting school or played roles in other Nine Network series shows together at one time or another so everybody obviously knew everybody else in the cast.  Maybe that’s why they all seem to get along so well on the telly, if not in actuality.  A couple of the cast members came to the USA after the show ended its run to make their fortune.  Matt Passmore and Rachael Carpani, the actress playing Jodi, have starred (Matt)and guested (Rachael) in “The Glades” on USA Network for the past 4 years.  This is another quirky TV series, still in production I believe, that I recommend highly.  Rachael Carpani now has a new series, "Against the Wall", on Lifetime network so both seem to be making this transition successfully.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013




A small slice of my real life day job that might be of interest to some of you.  I'll be teaching some of the lectures in this class next summer (winter in Uruguay).  Does anyone think this may give us some ideas and locales for another novel set in Montevideo?

Course and Workshop on Cyanotoxins in aquatic systems: Monitoring and analytical methods.

The course will review the current knowledge on the factors that determine the development of cyanobacterial blooms and their toxins (cyanotoxins) in aquatic systems, as well as the main environmental and health issues related to the problem. With this background, the available monitoring and analytical tools will be presented.   The basis for a better management of the phenomenon will be also discussed.

The approach is interdisciplinary and the course is aimed at students and researchers from different fields of knowledge (chemistry, biology, veterinary medicine, human medicine, etc).

Friday, April 5, 2013



I’ve published two shorter books, a novella and a novelette.  They are faster paced and shorter (duh!) than the novels, but as intricately plotted and with the same featured characters.  Try one or both of the books; I think you’ll enjoy them.  Both are well rated by the readers who have submitted reviews to Amazon.

This review was very nice!  From the most recent (5-stars) review of “The Body in the bed” on Amazon. “Although "The Body in the Bed" is the first of Mr. Last's "Roger and Suzanne Bowman" mysteries I've read, now I'll have to go pick up all the earlier stories in the series. Roger and Suzanne, now a married couple living in Beverly Hills, remind me in a gentle way of Nick & Nora Charles, the fictional (and film) married detectives of the 1930's, who in their socially upscale and light-hearted way, solved crimes. Roger is a former homicide detective in L.A., turned private investigator; Suzanne is a remarkably intelligent, highly educated, woman, now mother of a one-year-old son. Much of their focus revolves around the city of Montevideo in Uruguay; that is how they met, and it seems that on every trip to that city of which they are so fond, they encounter yet another corpse. This trip, it's in bed in their hotel room. By the time the story is finished, Roger & Suzanne have of course solved the crime, rooted out corruption in high places, and made their friends involved with the case happy, or at least satisfied with results, and the reader has enjoyed a delightful story line.”