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Fact and Fiction in Hunt the Scorpion

On sale today is Hunt the Scorpion, the second installment in Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo’s SEAL Team Six series, which follows the trail of nuclear weapon components from a ship commandeered by Somali pirates through Libya and into a hornet’s nest of local police forces, terrorists, and the Iranian Revolutionary Corps.

The book’s depiction of post-Gaddafi Libya reads like it came out of this morning’s newspaper, which got me thinking: how much of Hunt the Scorpion is based in fact? Sure, it’s a rip-roaring, action-packed thriller, but Don Mann is a former Navy SEAL, and Ralph Pezzullo has written a previous novel with a CIA operative. Maybe there’s more fact to this fiction than I realized.

Fortunately, my curiosity did not go unslaked for long. Pezzullo kindly responded to my searching questions about Hunt the Scorpion‘s plot:

Yes, a good deal of the ops in the book actually happened. Most Americans probably aren’t aware that we’ve been fighting a clandestine war with Iran. Basically, they’re trying to develop nuclear weapons, and we’re determined to stop them. Iran runs this nasty little organization called the Quds Force, which is part of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and reports directly to Supreme Leader—in other words, the religious leaders of  the country. The role of the Quds Force is exporting Iran’s Islamic revolution. It operates as highly-trained paramilitary unit and has been involved in bombings and assassinations in countries like Iraq, India, Bulgaria, Lebanon, and Thailand.

I keep my ear to the CIA-ops war ground, so to speak, and hear things. One of the most alarming things I’ve heard recently is about the efforts by al-Qaeda and the Quds Force to exploit the chaos in Libya following the overthrow of Gaddafi and get their hands on chemical weapons and nuclear material that had been developed while Gaddafi was in power.

Don and I discussed this and agreed that these events would make a great backdrop for Hunt the Scorpion. I can’t tell you exactly how much of it is true. I always do a lot of research. In this case it involved speaking to a number of people who have been to Libya recently and are familiar with what happened there after the fall of Gaddafi.

There you have it: enjoy Hunt the Scorpion for its nonstop thrills—and the SEALs are a lot of fun to be around!—and appreciate it as an unclassified primer in classified foreign policy.

Standing in Another Man’s Grave with a Gun Machine: Warren Ellis and Ian Rankin In Conversation

Ian Rankin has called Warren Ellis’s GUN MACHINE “hellish fun.” Warren Ellis has called Ian Rankin’s  STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE “a magnificent read.” Figuring the Rankin and Ellis might have a thing or two to say to one another, we put the two in touch and watched the fireworks ensue. Their conversation follows…

Warren Ellis: In STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE, you make returning to John Rebus look like putting on a comfortable old suit, but I wonder if it was. Was there ever a point where you assumed you’d never talk to Rebus again? Or were you waiting for the right story with which to go and see him again?

Ian Rankin: I retired Rebus because the real world demanded it. At that time (2006-7) detectives in Scotland had to retire at 60, and that’s how old I reckoned he was. But I knew that given the chance he would apply to work as a civilian in Edinburgh’s Cold Case unit. It really exists and is staffed by retired detectives. So when I got a notion for a story that involved a cold case…

Now let me ask you something, Warren: as a novelist, I found it hard the one time I wrote a graphic novel. I think authors of graphic novels work harder than novelists, who have all the time and words in the world. How different is it, approaching a novel to a graphic novel? What are the pros and cons of each?

Ellis: Writing a novel, for me, is always having to learn again when to stop describing.  You have to be so blunt and specific, for an artist, to achieve the image and narrative step you’re looking for, and doing that in prose is dull and thudding and takes away the possibility of the image growing and breathing in the reader’s head.  It’s like that art trick where someone draws three lines and a dot but yet everyone can see a face in it.  Not the same face, sure, because no-one sees everything the same way, but definitely a face.  But if you drew that face in detail, many of your readers would say, “huh, I didn’t think they looked like that,” and they’re kicked out of the book.  It’s that specific effect of evocation I have to try and find again.

The pros of writing a novel are about having space and time.  Graphic novels are limited containers of information, especially so in the amount of information one can radiate off a page, and books aren’t.  But there’s an atmosphere you can conjure in six words of text and a simple drawing that books simply can’t capture.  Comics are a hybrid form: they are semiotics and slogans and theatre and iconography and a dozen other things.  Like all hybrids, they have some weird weaknesses, and there are workings and effects in the prose novel that the graphic novel can’t really approach. But there are things in the graphic novel that the prose book simply cannot do.  They are pure visual narrative. Continue reading “Standing in Another Man’s Grave with a Gun Machine: Warren Ellis and Ian Rankin In Conversation”

Whisperers

The paperback edition of Donato Carrisi’s THE WHISPERER, the acclaimed international bestselling thriller about which Michael Connelly wrote: “This story screams high tension, high stakes, and high velocity,”and which Ken Follett called “brilliant…a great book,” is now available in bookstores everywhere!

In the below Author’s Note included with the novel, Carrisi discusses the psychological background to his “haunting, disconcerting, devastating portrait of evil” (Kirkus).

Criminology literature began to address the issue of ‘whisperers’ during the rise of cults and sects, but had great difficulty finding a definition of ‘whisperer’ for use in a legal trial, because mere suggestion is so hard to prove.

Where there is no causal connection between the guilty party and the whisperer, it is not possible to envisage any type of crime for which the latter might be liable. ‘Incitement to criminal activity’ is usually too weak to lead to a sentence. The activity of these psychological controllers involves a subliminal level of communication which does not add criminal intent to the psyche of the agent, but brings out a dark side – present in a more or less latent form in each of us – which then leads to the subject committing one or several crimes.

Often cited is the Offelbeck case of 1986: a housewife who received a series of anonymous phone calls and who then, out of the blue, exterminated her family by putting rat poison in their soup.

Anyone who sullies himself with heinous crimes often tends to share moral responsibility with a voice, a vision or imaginary characters. For this reason it is particularly difficult to tell when such manifestations spring from genuine psychosis and when they may be traced back to the hidden work of a whisperer.

Among the sources I used in the novel, apart from manuals of criminology, forensic psychiatry and texts of legal medicine, I’ve also quoted studies by the FBI, an organisation with the merit of having assembled the most valuable database concerning serial killers and violent crimes.

Many of the cases quoted in these pages really happened. For some, names and places have been changed because the investigations relating to them are not closed or the trials have not yet taken place.

The investigative and forensic techniques described in the novel are real, even though in some circumstances I have taken the liberty of adapting them to the needs of the narrative.

Donato Carrisi studied law and criminology before he began working as a writer for television. THE WHISPERER, Carrisi’s first novel, won five international literary prizes, has been sold in nearly twenty countries, and has been translated into languages as varied as Dutch, Hebrew, and Vietnamese. Carrisi lives in Rome.

Grabbing At Shadows

NoirWhat is noir?

A question that has been debated in every film school and bar at Bouchercon. Many an article and anthology introduction has made the attempt to define it. There is even the thought that it is more style than genre.

Czar of Noir Eddie Mueller cleanly describes it as stories about attempts to take the shortcut to the American dream. Author Anthony Neil Smith once said, “Noir is Italian Opera sung by Delta bluesmen.”  Then there is the old standard: It starts out fucked and then gets worse.

There are certain tropes that most believe go along with it. A crime committed, usually from obsession, that leads a downward spiral where the only hope is found in death. There is also the style, the terseness on the page, the shadows on the screen.

The beauty of noir, though, is that there is no hard, fast definition. Its originators didn’t even know they were crating a genre. There are no set rules. It is as elusive as the shadows it’s identified with. It has the ability to be malleable, able to fit different times and perceptions. Noir plays by few rules. Continue reading “Grabbing At Shadows”

Bizarre Phenomena

Sociopath for dinnerI remember all too well how I met the villain of Dark Lie.   He found me at a singles dance, after my divorce, when I was fifty.  He was much younger.  Psychosis only knows why he chose to seize my arms and propel me onto the dance floor.  He could have done better; he was almost as handsome as he thought he was. With studly stance and intense eye contact he told me, “You are going home with me tonight and we are going to make love until the sun comes up.”  At which point I should have screamed for security, but I am a writer, curious about bizarre phenomena, or perhaps it is the other way around; perhaps being curious made me a writer.  In any event, I let The Bizarre Phenomenon dance with me, then lead me downstairs to the karaoke bar where he sang almost as well as he thought he did, but I turned down his offer to buy me a drink.  At closing time he said “My car’s this way,” at which point I said, “Well, mine’s over there.  See ya.”  Then he became quite upset; how could I fail to appreciate his plans for me?   Demanding capitulation, he followed me to my car, clutched my butt and jammed his tongue into my face, challenging, “Just try to tell me you didn’t like that.”  I didn’t like it, not one bit, but this guy was quite strong and I was becoming just a teensy bit scared by him.    So rather than argue, I told him an inspired lie, that I felt freaked out because I was old enough to be his mother and I had a son his age, invoking the incest taboo by proxy.  Then I had to apologize for not saying this before, and by the time he finally let me go, I knew first-hand what it was like to deal with a totally self-entitled narcissistic psycho.   The next day I bought pepper spray. Continue reading “Bizarre Phenomena”

Year End Review: Don’t Tell Me

Dial M

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

Will the hero still have a pulse at the story’s end? Will the young woman have the wit to pick the man who really cares for her? Will the professor get tenure?

These are urgent questions and as a reader I’ve never wanted to know the answers before the author was ready to tell me. As a writer, I’ve assumed other readers were similarly inclined.

But maybe not.

For example:

(1) A woman I know reads widely and ardently, but will never begin a book until she’s read its last several pages. Something compels her to read the ending first. Doesn’t this spoil it for her? Evidently not. It’s spoiled for her if she doesn’t approach it in this fashion. (This only applies, I should add, to fiction. When she sits down with a book about the War of 1812, she doesn’t have to begin by reading about the Battle of New Orleans. Unless it’s a novel about the War of 1812, in which case she does.) Continue reading “Year End Review: Don’t Tell Me”

Year End Review: Five Tips for Horror Writers

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

USA Today has called BREED by Chase Novak “a thrill to read [that] keep an audience enraptured.” The New York Times‘ Janet Maslin raves, “BREED is a foray into urbane horror, chicly ghoulish, with a malevolent emphasis on family values. “ Keep reading for Chase’s tips for writing a horror novel.

1. The requirements of good horror are not different from the requirements of fiction in general. Fresh language, believable characters, and a story that operates on more than one level –a story that has a meaning outside of and beyond the mechanics of the plot.

2.  If a paragraph can create that pleasurable rush of anxiety in you, probably others will get that lovely chill from it, too.

3. Sentences.  Fiction is made of sentences.  All fiction.  Building a novel out of weak or sloppy sentences is like building a house out of defective bricks.

4. Beware of concepts.  A cool idea does not necessarily lead to a good book. Figuring out the marketplace –vampires are in! no, zombies!  no, vampires!, no serial killers! –is for the marketing department, and books that begin with the writer trying to figure out what might get him or her onto some bandwagon are usually DOA.

5. Beware of formulas:  the books that last are the ones that are not really like other books.

CHASE NOVAK is the pseudonym for Scott Spencer. Spencer is the author of ten novels, including Endless Love, which has sold over two million copies to date, and the National Book Award finalist A Ship Made of Paper. He has written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, and Harper’s. BREED is his debut novel as Chase Novak.

Me and Mike: Sophie Littlefield Interviews Mike Cooper

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

Sophie Littlefield:  So let’s get the basics out of the way first. You write, I write. You’re the much, much older east coast sibling and I’m the fun-loving west coast one. We both have kids and we both grew up with our noses in books. What else should people know about us to start off with?

Mike Cooper:  We’re bicoastal now but we started in Missouri! – and in a much different time, when children were allowed freedoms that seem extraordinary to me now.  My memory, perhaps unreliable, is that we were completely unsupervised after school and on weekends.  The woods and fields just over the backyard fence were a place of fantastical play: ponds to swim in and skate on, the cemetery and the quarry, the derelict airport with runways like the Bonneville Salt Flats.  How could we not become people who live by our imaginations?

Of course, my stories involve ruthless banksters and exploding helicopters, and some of yours have decidedly noir, even dark elements.  In some ways our lives were difficult and complicated, and that’s as essential as the sunny memories.

We both came to write seriously somewhat later in our lives.  In my case it was after my daughter was born – my wife and I decided that I’d be the stay-at-home parent, and what with two naps a day, I suddenly had time to try what had been only a hobby.  (I took one of those naps myself, true.)  I recall you publishing stories, fiction and non-fiction, for many years before you buckled down to novels.  What was the impetus?

SL: I think the better question is, “What took you so long?” And the answer, of course, is fear. I’m astonished at how much I’ve given away to fear over the years. Oh well, middle age took care of that in a hurry. My first novel was tentative, limp, diluted, and derivative. But I learned something from it and from every one that followed, until I finally ended up writing a novel with teeth.

Nowadays, I seek out opportunities to be brave. Lots of extra points if someone chokes on their coffee when I propose a new project. For instance, when I first told my agent my idea for my January ’13 book (A GARDEN OF STONES, MIRA) the pitch was “Japanese internment in WWII, plus taxidermy.” I stubbornly believe there is an audience out there that longs to be challenged.

Which reminds me. Do you remember when you wrote that short story a few years ago and I read it and told you “that story’s a best-seller for sure, drop everything and turn it into a novel”? And then you spent the next few months writing and polishing and submitting it? Continue reading “Me and Mike: Sophie Littlefield Interviews Mike Cooper”

Year End Review: Defending Bill, An Interview with William Landay

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

When you ask folks in the crime fiction community about Defending Jacob, William Landay’s new legal thriller, you better be holding a small brown paper bag – because they’re going to start hyperventilating when they talk about how good it is. Before it ever hit the shelves, it had already garnered a stunning list of blurbs, a blinding assortment of starred reviews and no shortage of industry buzz.

Since then it’s become as much of a commercial success as it was a critical one. At a time when the self-publishing evangelists are questioning whether conventional publishing is still capable of breaking out a new author, Defending Jacob has become a loud argument for the power of the Big Six. Landay’s book has set up shop on the New York Times Bestseller List, having spent the last eight weeks (and counting) there, going as high as No. 4.

Bill and I recently sat down – or at least I presume he was sitting while he wrote his half of this exchange – for a virtual chat…

You and I first met at Bouchercon last year. And I’ll admit there was nothing that impressive about you. You’re self-effacing. You’re a nice guy (especially for an ex-lawyer). You have a little bit of a beaten-down air about you. And you have a worse haircut than I do (which is saying something). I knew that an Advance Review Copy of your book, Defending Jacob, had been included in everyone’s goody bag and was already starting to get some buzz. But, frankly, I didn’t think much of you. Then I read your book and, in a word: Wow. So I guess my first question is: Will you ever forgive me for not being properly deferential to you, Mr. Landay?

It will take a lot of genuflecting, but I’m willing to consider it.

Actually, this is the great thing about writing. Only the books matter. The author’s personality will only take him so far. Yes, it probably helps to be a showman like Dickens or a self-promoter like Mailer or an egomaniac like … well, lots of writers. But you can be a recluse, too, like Dickinson, Salinger or Pynchon. In the end, you’ll be judged by the quality of your work and nothing else. That’s a comforting thought to an unimpressive, self-effacing, beaten-down sort of guy like me. (But please, a word in my barber’s defense: that’s not a bad haircut; it’s bad hair.)

Continue reading “Year End Review: Defending Bill, An Interview with William Landay”

Year End Review: When Children Don’t Come Home

discovering ways of moving onWith 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

Everyone reacts differently to the disappearance of a child. Some husbands and wives look straight into each other’s eyes without needing words, while others are like strangers lying side by side at night, still as corpses, staring at the ceiling.

There are men who want to beat someone so badly they can’t walk right for a month, while others drink themselves into oblivion or pretend nothing has changed. And there are women who can’t look at another child or family without remembering what they’ve lost.

As a journalist working in Australia and the UK, I reported on far too many stories that involved missing and/or murdered children. Right from the outset, I was thrown into the deep end by a grizzled old chief of staff, who decided to use my young, fresh-faced innocence to illicit photographs from grieving relatives. I was designated as the ‘death knock’ specialist and I once did twelve in a day after a mining disaster in Cobar in western NSW in 1979.

One of the things I discovered was that people react differently to tragedy. Some invited me into their homes, sobbed on my shoulder and took me through every photograph in the album, wanting to tell me about the loved one they had lost. Others showed no emotion at all and appeared almost detached and untouched, as though nobody had told them the news or they were in denial. Many shut the door in my face and once or twice I was threatened with violence, including have a gun pointed through a crack in the door.

Grief, I discovered, is an individual as a fingerprint. Continue reading “Year End Review: When Children Don’t Come Home”