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Creeping Up Your Spine

Sep 30, 2014 in Guest Posts

This week’s  guest blogger is James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor, among other classic thrillers. He shares a few thoughts on paranoia—just reading his stylized commentary has us peering over our shoulder!

You feel it. Paranoia.

They’ve got your number. It’s personal. You’re reading this. Looked at that. Took a chance, did something, or hell: they just think you did. You stood up for yourself. Stood out. You’re in their way: your boss who knows you know what really happened, your lover who wants you gone. Footsteps behind you. You’re in the shower.

You’re just a number. It’s not personal. It’s “just.” Like in justice. Or not. You’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A crazed Mommy in the grocery store grabs a cleaver. You’re part of the Matrix. Visiting a friend in the World Trade Towers. Ebola. Dr. Strangelove smiles. It’s not a movie witch that’s melting.

Life is out to kill you. All you want is to be left alone.

That’s the beating heart of paranoia: you’re all alone.

That’s true. You were born, nobody really knows you, you die and that is you, just you.

That’s false. It’s not just youWe all live, we all die.

Paranoia determines how we live and die.

McLuhan and the mushroom cloud moved us all into a global village, but our global compound fosters warring tribes. Yesterday it felt easier to know who “us” was. And to trust us: yeah, Big Brother, but of thee I sing.

Trust is the shimmer between prudence and paranoia. You wear your seatbelt yet strap yourself in a crushable metal box.

So how can you find the line between just being smart and being just scared?

“Facts” are not enough. “Facts” are who furnishes them. J. Edgar HooverOsama bin Laden. Fox News vs. MSNBC. The candidate who wants power. The housewife in the TV commercial. The guy who says: “Everybody knows….”

What helps you see the line between prudence and paranoia is fiction.

Fiction reveals possibilities. Fiction is our safe mirror. Fiction—in lines of prose or poetry, in the lyrics of a song, through the actors on stage or screen—is not “real.” Or so we can believe. And that belief lets us see the universal reality of a character “just like me…that happened to me.” Or “I wish that were me…if that were me….” Fiction glides us into what could be, gives us a world where we learn archetypes of who & what to trust without penalty, without pain. The what could be we experience with fiction helps us see the shimmer between factual forces and fantasy fears in our world of flesh and blood.

The “truth” may set you free, but the “lies” of fiction may be your best chance to escape paranoia, to perceive who and what to trust so you can best use our life’s terrifying freedom.

Author James Grady won France’s Grand Prix du Roman Noir, Italy’s Raymond Chandler medal, and numerous American literary awards.  A former investigative reporter, he lives inside D.C.’s Beltway and in February, will publish Last Days Of The Condor, a sequel to his Robert Redford adapted novel.

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Horror Reading, Then and Now

Sep 18, 2014 in Fiction, Guest Posts

Andrew Pyper, the ITW Award–winning author of six bestselling novels, has read a lot of horror stories. Here he writes about one novel that truly got under his skin.

The other night, drinking in my backyard with some other writers, some of whom write thrillers and horror as I do, the question came up as to when was the last time we read something that really and truly terrified us. Not a piece of writing we admired for the way it constructed its scares, not something we found unsettling or offputting or creepy, but the real gut-level deal. Bona fide horror in book form.

It took me a while to come up with my answer. Partly because there are so many horror novels I’ve read over the years that I have admired and found unsettling or creepy, but not to the point of slapping the covers closed with a scream. Partly because I think I’ve always read thrillers for the ideas or mythologies they can uniquely explore, as much as the thrills themselves.

While we all cited different titles in the end, what my writer friends and I had in common was that the last books that truly scared the bejesus out of us were ones we read as young people. Why? We worked up some theories. They all seemed to boil down to immersion. Back then, we could dive all the way into the worlds we read. There was no EXIT sign at the end of the dark hallway, no call of “Time out!” that had the power to return our disbelief from wherever it had been suspended. These were books that possessed us. Ones we believed in.

Salem's Lot by Stephen KingFor me, that book was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Which is kind of funny, as I’m not much of a vampire guy when it comes to favorite horror sub-genres. I like pondering whether I’d drink the blood of innocents in exchange for immortality as much as the next goth, but to me vampire stories too often present their monsters as pompous dandies, suave seducers, poor man’s Hamlets. Vampires invite the campy in ways many writers have found irresistible.

But when the 12-year-old me read King’s story of a small town besieged by the ravenous undead, I was all in. It was his particular version of vampires that did it: savage and single-minded, relentless and recognizable. But it was also, I think, the way the town of the novel reminded me of my own small town where I grew up. The monsters of the fiction lined up with my own neighbors, the tree-shaded streets were my streets, my imagination seeing the darkest possibilities in the everyday just as the world of the book did. It wasn’t just a good vampire story. It was personal.

Reading ‘Salem’s Lot was the last time I could check off each of the points in the unholy trinity of horror reading: I was young, the fictional setting and circumstances directly matched up with my own, and the monsters were presented not as fantastical, but possible.

The thing is, while I treasure the experience of reading that book, I’m not sure I’d like to return to it. What I mean is that I’d be happy to read it again today, but not transported to my reading of it then. It’s simply too dangerous. Who knows how close I came to being lost in it for good? How real could I have made it? What would have happened if a vampire had come scratching at my window and instead of pulling the covers over my head I got up and let it in?

Andrew Pyper is the author of six bestselling novels, most recently The Demonologist, which won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel.  His new book, The Damned, is to be published in February 2015.

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Start Reading Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Sep 16, 2014 in Excerpts

Broken Monsters by Lauren BeukesEven before Broken Monsters was published in the US, it garnered rhapsodic praise both here and abroad. “Captivating…A thoroughly modern, supernatural thriller,” raved the Los Angeles Times. Entertainment Weekly went on to say, “Remarkable is Lauren Beukes’s ability to blend genres, seamlessly incorporating horror, fantasy and traditional crime in ways that highlight the best parts of each. It feels new—unprecedented, in a way.” Now you have a chance to add your voice to the chorus! Broken Monsters is in bookstores today, and you can read the arresting opening scene below.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 9: BAMBI

The body. The-body-the-body-the-body, she thinks. Words lose their meaning when you repeat them. So do bodies, even in all their variations. Dead is dead. It’s only the hows and whys that vary. Tick them off: Exposure. Gunshot. Stabbing. Bludgeoning with a blunt instrument, sharp instrument, no instrument at all when bare knuckles will do. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. It’s Murder Bingo! But even violence has its creative limits.

Gabriella wishes someone had told that to the sick fuck who did this. Because this one is Yoo-neeq. Which happens to be the name of a sex worker she let off with a warning last weekend. It’s most of what the DPD does these days. Hands out empty warnings in The. Most. Violent. City. In. America. Duh-duh-duh. She can just hear her daughter’s voice—the dramatic horror-movie chords Layla would use to punctuate the words. All the appellations Detroit carries. Dragging its hefty symbolism behind it like tin cans behind a car marked “Just Married.” Does anyone even do that anymore, she wonders, tin cans and shaving cream? Did anyone ever? Or was it something they made up, like diamonds are forever, and Santa Claus in Coca-Cola red, and mothers and daughters bonding over fat-free frozen yogurts? She’s found that the best conversations she has with Layla are the ones in her head.

“Detective?” the uniform says. Because she’s just standing there staring down at the kid in the deep shadow of the tunnel, her hands jammed in the pockets of her jacket. She left her damn gloves in the car and her fingers are numb from the chill wind sneaking in off the river. Winter baring its teeth even though it’s only November. “Are you—”

“Yeah, okay,” she cuts him off, reading the name on his badge. “I’m thinking about the adhesive, Officer Jones.” Because mere superglue wouldn’t do it. Holding the pieces together while the body was moved. This isn’t where the kid died. There’s not enough blood on the scene. And there’s no sign of his missing half.

Black. No surprise in this city. Ten years old, she’d guess. Maybe older if you factored in malnourishment and development issues. Say somewhere between ten and sixteen. Naked. As much of him as there is to be naked. It’s entirely possible the rest of him is wearing pants, with his wallet in the back pocket and a cell phone that won’t have any minutes, but which will make calling his momma a hell of a lot easier.

Wherever the rest of him is. Continue reading ›

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“A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan

Sep 10, 2014 in Fiction, Guest Posts, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Hofstra Law School's Mystery Short Story Contest“A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan is the winning story of Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest, which invited participants to write a short work of fiction featuring a lawyer as a main character. You can read more about the contest from Alafair Burke. Thank you to all the writers who did the legal thriller genre proud with their entries. And congratulations to Lucian Dervan!

The years passed faithfully, each one much like the last, and yet each distinctive and filled with its own memories.  George Duncan, known simply as Duncan since his first year of school, sat in his large recliner.  Though the chair was old and tattered, the fabric was woven with far too many memories to discard.  Duncan, currently in the eighth decade of his life, had never felt the cold beneath his skin as he did now.  But, somehow, sitting in his chair, gazing through the window, and thinking about the past seemed to warm him as the sun set outside.

Duncan’s mind often wandered over his decades as a feared criminal defense attorney.  On some days he would laugh out loud as images of a floundering witness succumbing to his blazing cross-examination replayed in his mind.  Other days were filled with deep reflection on those few times during his career when mistakes had led to perpetual recollection and regret.  Despite the innumerable and varying memories from which to select, one image drifted uninvited into his mind more than any other during the many days he spent in that timeworn chair, the face of his client Billy Brandon.  As that face flickered in his consciousness once again, Duncan’s hands clenched in anger and anxiety.

“Duncan.  Duncan, dear,” his wife, Martha, called from the kitchen.  “It’s time for dinner.”

“Just a moment,” Duncan responded as he unbound his hands and strained to push himself up from his seat.

Once standing, he paused and gazed out the window for a final second.  Then, turning to face a large bookcase at his side, Duncan reached out and withdrew a massive leather bound edition of a Dostoyevsky classic.  After using both hands to lower the literary masterpiece onto a small library table, Duncan lifted the front cover to reveal the book was actually a safe.  Reaching into the hollow middle, he pushed aside a piece of paper and withdrew a heavy black revolver.  Holding the gun in his hand and spinning the chamber, he took note of the four bullets and two empty shells still lying in the cylinder.

“After these many years,” Duncan said aloud, yet in a whisper, “my representation will finally come to an end.  Until tomorrow, Mr. Billy Brandon.” Continue reading ›

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Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest

Sep 08, 2014 in Fiction, Guest Posts, Short Stories

Hofstra Law School's Mystery Short Story Contest

Not too many years ago, an influential editor told me that the “legal thriller was dead.” Readers were bored. They wanted to read about “real people,” not a bunch of lawyers.

Well, since then, readers have proven that editor wrong. They have fallen in love with Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller, watching the defense attorney struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of a daughter who does not understand how her father can put dangerous people back on the streets. They could not put their books down as William Landay told the masterful story of Defending Jacob, about a prosecutor who comes to fear that his own son committed a grisly murder.

I often joke that the term “legal thriller” is an oxymoron. Most of my time in a courtroom was spent waiting around, the New York Times crossword puzzle tucked discreetly into my case file. “Objection!” and “Hearsay!” do not make for good dialogue. So why do we keep following stories about lawyers?

Lawyers are investigators. Their job is to ask the right questions and let the answers lead them to the next step. They think critically and analytically. They know—and are supposed to keep—our darkest secrets: our family situations, our finances, our worst sins. They owe duties of loyalty to clients, even when they don’t want to, and despite the demands of their own moral compass and those of the people they care about.

The work and lives of lawyers remain fascinating. To highlight that fact through fiction, the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University sponsored a mystery short story contest, calling for submissions of stories featuring lawyers. The only rules were that submissions had to be original, previously unpublished short works of fiction (under 3,500 words) featuring a lawyer as a main character. I was honored to serve as a judge, along with Lee Child, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series (and a law school graduate!), and Marcia Clark, the former OJ Simpson prosecutor who has written a highly-praised series of novels featuring a Los Angeles prosecutor named Rachel Knight.

We received 137 submissions from around the world, depicting the legal profession from perhaps every conceivable angle. We were impressed by the quality of storytelling and the depth of knowledge about the lives of lawyers. Choosing the winners was not an easy job.

The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University is happy to announce the three finalists of our writing contest. Continue reading ›

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Start Reading Confessions by Kanae Minato

Aug 20, 2014 in Books, Excerpts, Mulholland Authors

Minato_Confessions

Between household chores, Kanae Minato wrote a multi-million-copy international bestseller that’s now being hailed as “the Gone Girl of Japan” (Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times) and praised as an “implacable, relentless” and “stunning” read (Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal). CONFESSIONS is now available in bookstores and from e-tailers everywhere.

Once you finish your milk, please put the carton back in the box. Make sure you return it to the space with your number on it and then get back to your desk. It looks like everyone is just about done. Since today is the last day of the school year, we will also be marking the end of “Milk Time.” Thanks to all of you for participating. I also heard some of you wondering whether the program would be continuing next year, but I can tell you now that it won’t. This year, we were designated as a model middle school for the Health Ministry’s campaign to promote dairy products. We were asked to have each of you drink a carton of milk every day, and now we’re looking forward to the annual school physicals in April to see whether your height and bone mass come in above the national averages.

Yes, I suppose you could say that we’ve been using you as guinea pigs, and I’m sure this year wasn’t very pleasant for those of you who are lactose intolerant or who simply don’t like milk. But the school was randomly selected for the program, and each classroom was supplied with the daily milk cartons and the box to hold them, with cubbyholes for your carton to identify each of you by seat number; and it’s true that we’ve kept track of who drank the milk and who didn’t. But why should you be making faces now when you were drinking the milk happily enough a few minutes ago? What’s wrong with being asked to drink a little milk every day? You’re about to enter puberty. Your bodies will be growing and changing, and you know drinking milk helps build strong bones. But how many of you actually drink it at home? And the calcium is good for more than just your bones; you need it for the proper development of your nervous system. Low levels of calcium can make you nervous and jumpy.

It’s not just your bodies that are growing and changing. I know what you’ve been up to. I hear the stories. You, Mr. Watanabe, you grew up in a family that owns an electronics shop, and I know you’ve figured out how to remove most of the pixilation on adult videos. You’ve been passing them along to the other boys. You’re growing up. Your minds are changing as quickly as your bodies. I know that wasn’t the best example, but what I mean is, you’re entering what we sometimes call the “rebellious period.” It’s a time when boys and girls tend to be touchy, to be hurt or offended by the least little thing, and when they’re easily influenced by their environment. You’ll begin to imitate everyone and everything around you as you try to figure out who you are. If you’re honest, I suspect many of you will recognize these changes in yourselves already. You’ve just seen a good example: Up until a few moments ago most of you thought of your free milk as a benefit. But now that I’ve told you it was an experiment, your feelings about the milk have suddenly changed. Am I right?

Still, there’s nothing too odd about that—it’s human nature to change your mind, and not just in puberty. In fact, the teachers have been saying that your class is actually a good bit calmer and better behaved than the usual group. Maybe we have the milk to thank for that.

But I have something more important I wanted to tell you today. I wanted you to know that I’ll be retiring at the end of the month. No, I’m not moving to a new school, I’m retiring as a teacher. Which means that you’re the last students I’ll ever teach, and I’ll remember you for as long as I live.

Settle down now. I appreciate your response—especially those of you who actually sound as though you’re sorry to hear I’m leaving—what? Am I resigning because of what happened? Yes, I suppose so, and I’d like to take some time today to talk to you about that. Continue reading ›

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Don’t Miss “The Gone Girl of Japan”

Aug 19, 2014 in Books, Mulholland Authors

Minato_Confessions

Kanae Minato, a former home economics teacher, wrote her debut novel, Confessions, between household chores. Now the phenomenal international bestseller is finally available in an English translation.

Think of Confessions as the Gone Girl of Japan
The most delightfully evil book you’ll read this year.”
—Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times

A nasty little masterpiece
. . . Books like Confessions can make you vibrate with happiness.”
—Kevin Nance, Chicago Tribune

Implacable, relentless and stunning
A reader is almost certain to be caught off guard more than once.” —Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal

Minato’s intricate plotting and unnervingly understated sentences make the horrors follow each other as logically as pearls on a string.”—Annalisa Quinn, NPR.org

Captivating… the murders grow bloodier and bloodier, the characters more and more twisted.” —Becca Rothfield, The New Republic

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All schoolteacher Yuko Moriguchi had to live for was her four-year-old child, Manami. But after a heartbreaking accident takes Manami’s life, Yuko gives up and tenders her resignation. But first, she has one last lecture to deliver to her students… It’s a story about a death that was anything but accidental, about two students who know more than they admit, and about a teacher who will have her revenge.

Purchase the Book: BN.com | Amazon | Indiebound | Powell’s | iBooks

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The New York Times reviews WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

Aug 12, 2014 in Books

David Shafer’s debut novel follows three young adults as they attempt to navigate their way through international intrigues, corporate cabals, and, well, life itself. Below please find a review from The New York Times.

Maybe There’s a Whole Other Internet
‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ May Be the Novel of the Summer

by Dwight Garner

Is it too late to nominate a candidate for novel of the summer?

David Shafer’s first book, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” is a paranoid, sarcastic and clattering pop thriller that reads as if it were torn from the damp pages of Glenn Greenwald’s fever journal. It’s about a multinational cabal that plans to subjugate humanity by privatizing all information.

In “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” there are trace elements of DeLillo, of Pynchon, of Philip K. Dick, of the Hari Kunzru of “Transmission,” of the Neal Stephenson of “Cryptonomicon,” those usual suspects from whom all would-be techno-dystopianists borrow. Which is to say that the author is highly in touch with how “paranoia can link up with reality now and then,” as Dick explained in “A Scanner Darkly.”

What puts this novel across isn’t its lucid, post-Patriot Act thematics, however, as righteous as they are. Instead, it’s that the storyteller in Mr. Shafer isn’t at war with the thinker and the word man in him; he’s got a sick wit and a high style. Reading his prose is like popping a variant of the red pill in “The Matrix”: Everything gets a little crisper. The sunsets torch the horizon with increased fire.

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” follows three characters, each in his or her 30s, each vivid and loose-limbed. Two of them, Leo and Mark, were best friends at Harvard. (Mr. Shafer graduated from Harvard and the Columbia Journalism School. He now lives in Portland, Ore.)

There’s a class element at work in their friendship, now broken. Leo came from money but fizzled out. He’s a stoner, an imbiber of gin at breakfast, a failed bookstore owner turned issuer of letterpress manifestoes about vast conspiracies. He may or may not have a clinical personality disorder. Mark, who grew up poor, is an accidental and fatuous self-help guru. He’s the life coach to an almost certainly maleficent Big Data C.E.O.

Finally, there’s Leila, an idealistic Persian-American nonprofit worker trying to import medical supplies into remote parts of Myanmar. She’s fierce, funny, wary. “She’d gone this long without getting raped,” Mr. Shafer writes about her time in Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere, “and it was her daily, specific intention to continue that way.” Traveling deep in country, she sees something she isn’t supposed to see and ends up being tailed by supreme baddies.

It wouldn’t be polite to spill much of this book’s plot. Suffice it to say that some of these characters join a dissident underground group, one with some hippie élan — this crew might have popped, like a watermelon seed, out of a T. C. Boyle novel — that’s committed to fighting the data-mining goons.

There’s plenty to fight. “Was there another Internet besides the one she knew about?” Leila thinks at one point. Are our search engines the only search engines? The answers to these questions fill this novel’s sails. Once the oligarchy knows everything about you, after you’ve been willingly equipped with digital contact lenses that let them see what you see, it can fry the Internet we have and upload its own.
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story

This sort of narrative can tip, very easily, into a crude outline for a mediocre Tom Cruise or Matt Damon movie. (Note to Matt Damon: Make this movie anyway.) Mr. Shafer doesn’t let this happen.

There’s too much offbeat humor. Where are the resistance force’s nighttime dormitories? In the showroom bedrooms at Ikea stores. In one climactic scene, these characters are chased through Powell’s, the venerable Portland bookstore. When it’s time for a Schwarzeneggian action movie catchphrase, this novel’s “Hasta la vista, baby,” here’s what’s coyly delivered: “I told you that you shoulda voted for Nader.”

Leo, the trust fund kid, goes so far downhill early in the novel that a list of bummers in his life ends this way: “Then his pot dealer cut him off. Out of concern! Like pot dealers are bound by the Hippocratic oath.”

This is another way of saying that Mr. Shafer gets the playfulness-to-paranoia ratio about exactly right. He also delivers plausibly cool technology — remote seabed units called serve-whales, cloud computing that communicates with, and through, plants.

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a page-turner, yet many more “literary” writers will, I suspect, envy Mr. Shafer’s tactile prose. His eye is hawklike.

A popular cookbook is full of “breezy instructions rich in kinetic verbs.” On a massive corporate ship, “there was a zing in the air, the kind produced when subjugated staff members move swiftly through corridors.” The doors at a rehab center “made a sort of sucky spaceship sound when they were opened and closed.”

Through Leila, Mr. Shafer delivers a memo to us all about why we all should understand something about the guts of the wired world: “Why didn’t she know more about computers? That knowledge suddenly seemed more important than feminist theory or ’80s song lyrics, both of which she was well acquainted with. Computers had risen around her all her life, like a lake sneakily subsuming more and more arable land, but she’s never learned to write code or poke behind the icons or anything like that. She was like a medieval peasant confounded by books and easily impressed by stained glass.”

This novel’s politics emerge from the anti-authoritarian left, but they’re not knee-jerk. One sympathetic character is vexed by “liberals who walked around all un-blown-up claiming that they liked their civil liberties more than their security.” Leila is keenly aware that she is “a big fat Western consumer.” This novel asks, “Who among us deserves all he has?”

Embedded in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is, finally, a satisfying love story, one so tangled in numbers and suspicious of malware that when one character locks eyes with another and says, “I’m your square root,” it seems romantic, not robotic.

Mr. Shafer has written a bright, brash entertainment, one that errs, when it errs at all, on the side of generosity, narrative and otherwise. It tips you, geekily and humanely, through the looking glass.

Originally published in The New York Times.

Order Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer here.

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Start Reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer

Aug 05, 2014 in Books, Excerpts, Fiction, Uncategorized

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David ShaferDavid Shafer’s debut novel follows three young adults as they attempt to navigate their way through international intrigues, corporate cabals, and, well, life itself. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opens with Leila Majnoun, who is working—or at least trying to work—for a nonprofit in Myanmar. Read on for an excerpt, and pick up a copy of WTF to determine how deep the deception goes.

MANDALAY, MYANMAR

The little room was so hot that Leila tried not to move inside her clothing. She’d chosen the plain tan shirt with the piping on the pocket because bureaucrats are swayed by even the smallest impression of martial authority. Ditto the shiny black shoes. But the lady who took in Leila’s laundry had really gone to town on the shirt, and the result was like a suit of armor made from paper bags. Leila could feel a line of sweat trickle south down her back. A large beetle somehow injured buzzed and rattled in a corner of the stifling room.

It had been nearly two hours since one of Colonel Zeya’s underlings had instructed her to Wait here, someone will come for you! You please must not leave this room!

Fine, she’d thought then. Leila Majnoun could wait. She wasn’t going to fall for that make-the-Westerner-sit-until-she-is-undone-by-her-ownimpatience trick. She pulled out her notebook. She favored Gregg-ruled steno pads; went through them at a rapid clip. She wrote in a swift and flattened cursive that was nearly illegible to anyone but herself and maybe her big sister, Roxana. She wrote mostly in English, but she also used Pashto, and some stenoglyphs that she’d invented along the way. Leila was no Luddite, but she trusted her paper notebook over any of her electronics. They usually let you keep a notebook even when they took your passport and pocket computer. Though in a secure airport interview room once, they’d taken Leila’s notebook from her hands. That’s as dicey as it had ever gotten for her. Soon after that, she’d done a job that put her in proximity to commando-type soldiers, and one of those guys had his instructions in a sort of sheet protector Velcroed to his inner wrist. The commando wrist slate—that’s the kind of personal organizer she could use.

Leila let the tedium flow around her like lava while she filled her pad with notes that would help her get through the next week of this frustrating job. Her title was director, in-country, Myanmar/Burma. But back in New York there was a country director, Myanmar/Burma. The silliness of the titles should have been her first clue that Helping Hand was a bush-league NGO. Though deep-pocketed, apparently—HQ was two floors of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. They’d hired her to do the advance work on what they said would be a twenty-year commitment to public health in northern Burma. She was supposed to be establishing a country program!—and her New York bosses said it like that, like she was a general in a tent or something, when what they really meant was rent an office, buy some desk chairs, and find out who else was working there and what wasn’t getting done. But beyond that, her two or maybe three New York bosses couldn’t even agree on what the Burma mission was. One of them thought Helping Hand should be identifying strong female candidates for full-ride scholarships to the school of nursing at Boston College. Another one thought the organization should be setting up village-based primary-care health clinics. Mainly her bosses sent her conflicting e-mails and sabotaged one another’s goals. Continue reading ›

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Start Reading Death Will Have Your Eyes by James Sallis

Jul 29, 2014 in Excerpts, Fiction

Death Will Have Your Eyes by James SallisThe Mulholland Classic series is our initiative to bring our favorite classic mysteries back to print. Our fervent hope is that a new generation of readers will pick up one of our Classic paperbacks and discover the great authors who made us fall in love with this genre. First we published A Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones, followed by Brian D’Amato’s Beauty. Today we welcome the return of James Sallis’s acclaimed espionage novel, Death Will Have Your Eyes. Sample Sallis’s inimitable writing style below.

The man kept opening his mouth, wanting something from me, but it was a language I didn’t know. Not Mandarin. Not Thai or Vietnamese. Only sounds. His voice rose and fell in pitch. Shouting, demanding. I shook my head, the sour, foul smell of my own body washing up over me in waves, tongue so swollen I could not talk, could not respond. Soon the pain would start again. And I would rise, hover near the ceiling looking down. Watching. Apart.

I woke suddenly, rushing to exchange the currency of dreams for coin I could spend. Morning light fell dazzlingly through the skylight onto the futon. Those wide shadows were not bars or slats in a cage—only the leaves of plants in hanging baskets up there. That sound was only the phone.

Nothing else in the room. No windows. The futon, a painted bamboo screen against one wall, an expanse of blond wood floor—tongue and groove I’d put in myself. About as close as the real world gets to the ordered simplicity of oriental drawings.

No one else, either. Only Gabrielle and myself.

She slept crosswise on the futon, my head cradled in her lap. Trying to get away from the light, I turned over. “Oh yes, please,” she said. But obviously the phone was not going to quit ringing, so I snaked along the bed to answer it. Gabrielle grabbed me as I went by and held on.

I listened for a moment and hung up. “Wrong number,” I told her. “I’ve got your number,” she said, head moving to replace her hand, but I stopped her, wrapping black hair around both my hands and pulling her up into a slow, easy kiss.

“I’m going for a run,” I said. “Get the sludge out. Want to come along?”

“At six in the bleedin’ mornin’?

With Gabby you never knew what accent you might get. Her features came mostly from an Irish mother and patrician Mexican father, but her extended family was pure goulash. Dad left when she was three, and she and her mother spent years shuttling from household to household, family to family, country to country. This early morning, the accent was British, a better choice than most, I suppose, for gradations of polite outrage.

“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t ask. So go back to sleep now, my little peasant.”

“Pheasant?”

“Peasant. Half an hour, tops, even with a head wind. I’ll bring breakfast.”

“And here I thought you were breakfast.”

“Miss, have you considered taking up a hobby?”

“No time for it.”

“That was my point.”

She shrugged. “One stays with what one’s good at. Run along now,” she said, and was asleep again before I got shorts and shoes on.

I stood watching her a moment—her compact brown body against light blue sheets, breasts just a little too heavy, rib cage set high—then went into the bathroom. Turned on the radio there. It was Mozart, a serenade performed on “original” instruments which the musicians wrestled valiantly to bring into tune. Thousands upon thousands of dollars, thousands upon thousands of hours, had been expended on this bogus authenticity, these elaborate counterfeits. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, then stood at the window looking out till the piece was over. One doesn’t hang up on Mozart.

There were few others in the park that early: a handful of runners and dog walkers; one young mother who looked remarkably like Shirley Temple pushing a pram; another trotting along with three children at her heels, all of them androgynous looking and none over five years old; street people starting off on their day’s boundless odyssey. Birds and squirrels worried at yesterday’s leavings, perhaps hoping their investigations would help them understand these huge, dangerous beings that lived in their midst.

I swung around the park’s perimeter in an easy jog, following an asphalt bike path, and stopped at a pay phone on the far side, the kind of old-fashioned booth you rarely see anymore. There I dialed a number I still knew all too well. It was picked up on the first ring.

“Age has slowed you, perhaps.”

“As you must realize, I was in no hurry to return this call. At first, I was not even sure that I wanted to respond at all. And after eight years—”

“Actually, it just slipped over the edge into nine.”

“—I believed it likely that whatever business you think you have with me could wait a few more minutes.”

“Perhaps. However, your plane departs at ten or thereabouts. American, Flight eight seventeen. You are Dr. John Collins, a dentist on vacation.”

“Sir.”

Silence.

“It has been, as you say, nine years. I have a career, a new life, commitments.”

Silence still.

“I am no longer in your employ.”

A still longer silence. Then finally: “It will be good to see you again, David.” Continue reading ›

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