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Putting the Thrill Back in Legal Thriller: A Review of Guilt by Association

family attorneys Los AngelesNot too many years ago, an influential friend in the literary world told me, “Legal thrillers are out.” Having just published my first two novels, both featuring Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid, I desperately needed this death announcement to be premature. The problem, I argued, was an overabundance of bad legal thrillers that had scarred the subgenre’s once-good name. Perhaps trying to replicate the success of groundbreaking novels like Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT and John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL, publishers had overpurchased and overpromoted courtroom-centric novels by lawyers who managed to turn the term “legal thriller” into an oxymoron. Evidentiary objections, jury selection, and cross-examinations might be real goose bump inducers compared to the average lawyer’s workday, but as ingredients for a page-turner? No, thank you.

Well, I’m delighted to report that, despite my friend’s death knell, law-based crime fiction is alive and well thanks to authors who focus not on blue-in-the-face litigators hollering “Objection!” at one another, but on good old fashioned storytelling about characters who just happen to be lawyers. When the industry had all but written off the so-called “legal thriller” in favor of high concept novels in the spirit of THE DA VINCI CODE, Linda Fairstein and Lisa Scottoline continued to dominate bestsellers’ lists because they wrote damn good books. Today, Michael Connelly has put to rest any lingering questions about the viability of the subgenre by bringing Mickey Haller to every medium — #1 in hardback and digital, and $46 million and counting at the box office. What makes these books irresistible aren’t the bells and whistles of the technical ins and outs of the legal system, but memorable characters and solid plotting in the hands of masterful storytellers.

With GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, Marcia Clark joins the ranks of Scottoline, Fairstein, and Connelly. Her debut novel introduces us to Los Angeles prosecutor Rachel Knight, a member of the office’s elite Special Trials Unit. In the opening pages, Knight’s friend and colleague Jake Pahlmeyer is found dead at a seedy motel under even seedier circumstances. She inherits a high-profile rape case from his desk. While the victim’s father exerts political pressure for an arrest, the investigation takes Rachel into LA’s gang world and makes her a target. As if that weren’t enough to keep a gal busy, she can’t help poking around into Jake’s death, despite strict orders to mind her own bees’ wax.

Like the finest books in the legal thriller subgenre, very few pages of GUILT BY ASSOCIATION take place in the courtroom. Instead, we see Rachel’s interactions with cops, contacts, and witnesses. We see the action as it unfolds, not as it is summarized later in the artificially sterile courtroom setting. We see Rachel at home with her friends. We get to know – and like – her.

Much attention will certainly be paid to Clark’s former career as a prosecutor in Los Angeles, most notably as the head prosecutor in OJ Simpson’s criminal trial. That platform will also undoubtedly bring extraordinary attention to a debut novel. But an unfortunate consequence of any emphasis upon her significant legal career might be an inaccurate perception of the book itself. Clark’s expertise about the criminal justice system leaps from the pages of GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, but not because she shows off her knowledge of the law, rules of evidence, or courtroom procedure. Rather, her experience allows her to write with confidence rarely seen in a first novel – about Los Angeles, about Rachel Knight, about the secondary characters who occupy Knight’s world and become a part of ours. GUILT BY ASSOCIATION succeeds because of Clark’s gifts as a writer, not as a lawyer. With those gifts, she has created a true legal thriller – emphasis on the thrill.

ALAFAIR BURKE is the bestselling author of six novels, including 212, Angel’s Tip, and Dead Connection in the Ellie Hatcher series. A former prosecutor, she now teaches criminal Law and lives in Manhattan. Long Gone, her first stand-alone thriller, was published by Harper in June 2011. [Read more about Long Gone in her Conversation with Jen Forbus.] Never Tell, the next Ellie Hatcher thriller, will be published by Harper in June 2012.

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION is now available in paperback in bookstores everywhere.


Mulholland Books Best of 2011

If you got an eReader for the holidays this year, the time has come to fill it up with eBooks! Why not try some of our titles that hit the Best of 2011 lists all over the country!

A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block “FAVORITE PERFORMANCE BY AN OLD PRO: For sentimental reasons, I’m going with Lawrence Block’s nostalgic novel, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, set in New York in the 1970s, when Matt Scudder was still a working cop and crime was still “the leading occupation” in his Hell’s Kitchen ­neighborhood. -Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

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GUILT BY ASSOCIATION by Marcia Clark: “A corker of a debut novel in which a brainy, plucky female prosecutor refuses to rush to judgment….That the novel is marked by authenticity is no surprise given Clark’s credentials—she was, after all, lead prosecutor in the headline-grabbing O.J. Simpson trial—but what may surprise some readers is the quality of the writing, plus the considerable charm of Rachel and her buddies.” -Kirkus Reviews

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THE HOUSE OF SILK by Anthony Horowitz: “As told by Watson in language that returns us to 19th-century London, The House of Silk wrangles three individual mysteries, witty dialogue and the best bromance around into a book you can’t put down.” –The Houston Chronicle.

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THE REVISIONISTS by Thomas Mullen: “Mullen’s third book is Blade Runner meets John LeCarre. A time traveler, Zed, returns from the future to do a dirty job. He has to make sure that all the terrible events of history – the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Verdun, New Jersey Shore – take place exactly as they happened. Past imperfect preserves a future perfect (we are led to believe) free of problems. Zed must hunt down other time travelers who want to change the past … so the future changes. The sci-fi premise, once you take the bait, leads to a thoughtful, suspenseful novel of intrigue.” –Paste Magazine

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TRIPLE CROSSING by Sebastian Rotella: “FAVORITE DEBUT NOVEL / FAVORITE ACTION THRILLER: Sebastian Rotella scores twice for TRIPLE CROSSING, which begins on the San Diego-Tijuana border and sends good guys from both sides of the fence to combat drug smugglers and terrorists in the badlands of South America.” -Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

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FUN AND GAMES and HELL AND GONE by Duane Swierczynski: The first two books in the Charlie Hardie trilogy have trapped our tough ex-cop in a house with nefarious killers outside and a crazy starlet inside, then put him in a prison where he may or may not be a guard. This is pulp fiction on an epic scale told with grand skill. I cannot wait for the conclusion with Point & Shoot this Spring. –Book People

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And if you’re in search of a deal, check out these Little, Brown titles that are available for reduced prices wherever eBooks are sold:

Kate Atkinson’s WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? (until 12/26)

Michael Koryta’s SO COLD THE RIVER (until 12/26)

Denise Mina’s STILL MIDNIGHT (until 12/26)

Marcia Clark’s GUILT BY ASSOCIATION (starting 12/26)

Ian Rankin’s THE COMPLAINTS (starting 12/26)

George Pelecanos’s WHAT IT WAS (pre-order for delivery on 1/23. Just .99!)

Worlds Colliding

Ex Factory: the windowMy name is David Morrell.

I write thrillers.

On occasion, people are puzzled when they learn that I also have a PhD in American literature from Penn State and that I was a full professor at the University of Iowa, where I taught Hawthorne, Melville, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

For me, the two worlds blend perfectly. In my youth, I earned the money for my undergraduate tuition by working 12-hour night shifts in factories. In one memorable task, I made fenders for automobiles, shredding several pairs of thick leather gloves during each shift as I handled razor-sharp sheets of metal. When I was transferred to another area of the factory, the man who replaced me lost both his hands in the fender-molding machine.

I noticed that, even though the workers had the glazed look of zombies, they read books during their lunch hours. When I looked closer, I discovered that every book was a thriller. The excitement of the plots took the laborers away from the terrible tedium of their lives.

One morning, after my factory shift ended, I drove to the nearby university, where I was scheduled to meet with my advisor about the requirements for finishing my BA studies. During that drive, I had an epiphany. I had already made the decision to become a writer, and I had no doubt that I wanted to write thrillers. After all, they had given me a psychological escape when I was a child and family arguments so frightened me that I frequently slept under my bed. I knew that the kind of stories that had been my salvation would be the kind of stories I would write.

But how would I do it?

My epiphany came in this form. Struck by the contrast between the factory I had left and the university I approached, I wondered if it was possible to write thrillers that satisfied two different types of readers at the same time: those eager for distraction, and those who wanted the kinds of themes and techniques that I was accustomed to in university literature courses. A thriller—by definition—must be thrilling. Could it accomplish that primary goal and simultaneously have other purposes? I was reminded of illustrations that seem to depict one thing when observed from a particular angle and then depict something else when seen from a different perspective.

Back in 1915, Van Wyck Brooks, a famous analyst of American culture, deplored the use of “highbrow” and “lowbrow” as labels that critics used to categorize fiction. Brooks condemned both extremes and suggested that there weren’t inferior forms of fiction, only inferior practitioners. In his view, it was possible for popular fiction to have serious intentions without ever sacrificing entertainment appeal and narrative drive.

That became my goal. The letters that most gratify me are of two different types. In one, readers thank me for distracting them from the harsh reality of fires, car accidents, lost jobs, divorces, serious medical problems, and similar calamities. In the second kind of letter, readers tell me that, when they reread my books, themes and techniques that weren’t obvious upon first reading suddenly emerge from the background, with the result that the books become different with a later reading.

This shifting nature of reality, depending on the angle from which we perceive it, is one of my favorite themes. My upcoming novel, Murder as a Fine Art, takes place in 1854 London. Its main character, Thomas De Quincey, uses the theories of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (“Does reality exist objectively or only in our minds?”) to solve a series of mass killings that imitate the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders that occurred forty-three years earlier.

Call me schizophrenic—or the sum of my contradictions. All these years after I left the factory where I worked and drove toward the university where I studied, I continue to be two separate people when I write, with two different kinds of readers in my imagination.

[Editor’s Note: We are proud to announce today that Mulholland Books will publish David Morrell’s novel Murder as a Fine Art  in 2013. The novel is a historical thriller featuring Thomas De Quincey investigating a series of crimes which appear to be based on essays that he had written.]

“The mild-mannered professor with the bloody-minded visions,” as one reviewer called him, David Morrell is the author of thirty-two books, including First Blood, the novel in which Rambo was created. Morrell is a co-founder of the International Thriller Writers organization. He is a three-time recipient of the distinguished Bram Stoker Award, Comic-Con International honored him with its Inkpot Award for his lifetime contributions to popular culture. With eighteen million copies of his work in print, his work has been translated into twenty-six languages.

The Fact and the Fiction: Jim Thompson Trivia

Mulholland Books is pleased to announce the publication of Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME, THE GRIFTERS, A SWELL-LOOKING BABE, THE NOTHING MAN, and AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, available as e-books for the first time.

Jim Thompson’s sometimes charmed, sometimes troubled life has been the subject of much debate–just like in his fiction, which often found inspiration from real-life experiences, it’s sometimes hard to separate the cold, hard facts ofThompson’s life from pure fantasy. Below are a few tidbits from the life of Jim Thompson you may or may not know. Rememeber: if you’ve never read a Thompson novel, it’s now easier to get started than ever before!

Jim Thompson wrote nearly half of the The Killer Inside Me, his most recognizable work, in just two weeks, after a fateful meeting at the Empire State Building offices of Lion Books, where the idea of a cop who covers up the murder of a prostitute
was first introduced to him. He then left New York City for the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia where he finished the first draft of the novel in another two-week surge.

When Thompson was courting his future wife Alberta, he used to tease her by claiming he was born in jail. The boast was half true—he was actually born one floor above the cell block of the Caddo County Jail, in the apartment his family lived in while his father was deputy sheriff of the county.ere his sister Maxine lived with her family, where he finished the first draft of the novel in another two-week surge.

Many have speculated at the psychological roots of Thompson’s focus on crime and criminality in his writing; some have suggested it might have had something to do with Jim Thompson’s father, with whom the author had a famously fractious relationship. His editor at Lion Books,
Arnold Hano, has been quoted as follows: “Regarding all the
violence [in Thompson’s novels], I suspect his I suspect his relationship with his father is much more of a causal factor than anything else. The anger, the quiet murdering, was Jim getting back somehow.”

Late in life, Jim Thompson enjoyed a brief creative partnership with Stanley Kubrick, who had read Thompson’s work and considered him a singular talent. The two went on to collaborate on two of Kubrick’s earliest notable films, The Killing and Paths of Glory. But their friendship ended over a bitter dispute over Thompson’s writing credits on the two films.

Thompson’s most famous creation, the local sheriff, serial-killer-in-disguise Lou Ford, appears in slightly different form in one other Jim Thompson novel, Wild Town, in a series of events that predates those of The Killer Inside Me. But
Thompson wrote Lou Ford into another completed manuscript as well, which would become the novel The   Transgressors. The novel, written during the late stages of Thompson’s career, would have featured Lou Ford as a protagonist, but Thompson decided against it at the last minute for reasons having to do with the motion picture rights to The Killer Inside Me. Instead of a significant rewrite, Thompson simply renamed the Ford the phonetically-similar moniker Tom Lord.

In addition to his many novels, Thompson wrote two autobiography-as-tall-tales, Roughneck and Bad Boy that shed light a darkly comic light on his unusual upbringing and wild early years.Before becoming a full-time novelist, Thompson was variously employed as a hotel bellboy, an oil field laborer, a factory worker and a freelance journalist.

Up to his death, Jim Thompson was certain he’d be revered as an acclaimed author—on his deathbed in 1977, he told his wife he’d be famous in a decade’s time. He was right—give or take a few years.

Jim Thompson was born in Anadarko, Oklahoma. He began writing fiction at a very young age, selling his first story to True Detective when he was only fourteen. Thompson eventually wrote twenty-nine novels, all but three of which were published as paperback originals. Thompson also co-wrote two screenplays (for the Stanley Kubrick films The Killing and Paths of Glory). Several of his novels have been filmed by American and French directors, resulting in classic noir including The Killer Inside Me (1952), The Getaway (1972), and The Grifters(1990).

Over the next year, Mulholland Books will be publishing Jim Thompson’s entire body of work in e-book format for the first time. Look for the next batch next month.

A Spotlight on Black Light from Don Coscarelli

It’s publication week for BLACK LIGHT by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Stephen Romano. Today, producer/ director/ screenwriter and horror expert Don Coscarelli weighs in on what he calls “a damn fine horror novel.”

I first became aware of Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan from their appearance on the reality series Project Greenlight. What stood out was their creative way of putting a story together and their dogged determination to get their movie made on their own terms, despite anything Hollywood heavyweights, Ben Affleck or Matt Damon might throw at them. With the lovable John Gulager selected as director, we watched this holy trinity of terror valiantly strive to make their movie, Feast, on a microbudget. It made for great television, mostly at the expense of these fine writer’s reputations. The fact that they survived the horror of this reality show and have flourished in the genre is a credit to their tenacity and talent. Now they have turned their skills to the novel and have teamed up with Texas writer Stephen Romano to create the amazing new novel, Black Light.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have collaborated on several projects with Mr. Romano including our episode “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” for the Showtime Networks series Masters of Horror and also the sequel script to my film Bubba Ho-tep entitled Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires. I have to admit that I am not unbiased in my opinion of Stephen. He is an amazing writer and I truly enjoy his style and edge and it was a genuine pleasure to be asked to comment on his new book.

Black Light is a fantastic book…freaky too. The basic concept is that “sensitive” Buck Carlsbad, using his ability to manipulate a spectral vision called “Black Light,” can see ghosts everywhere.  Born with an innate talent to capture and subdue spectres, called “The Pull”, Buck uses this skill to stalk and run down the spiritual remains of the most vile humans on earth. But it gets better. Once he finds these malevolent spirits still haunting this mortal coil, Buck pulls them, right down his throat, into his guts and digests them. But it keeps getting better! Then Buck regurgitates the remnants of this spiritual muck into a silver urn and buries it six feet under. These evil Caspers are laid to rest permanently after Buck nails them with the Black Light treatment.

The authors have created a high-energy, fast-paced story that moves from the dark underbelly of Austin through glitzy Hollywood on a white knuckle express straight through hell, by way of Vegas. Some fantastic characters follow the action including Darby, a man Buck has previously killed. Darby is what’s called a “Walker,” a half-living ghost who is always hovering near Buck with pithy advice usually just when he most desperately needs it. Buck also hooks up with Bethany Sin an idolized vision of what Britney Spears might have been. The authors herein posit a fascinating concept which is, what if the genuine entertainment superstars a la Bono and Elvis, were born with the psychic ability to connect with their audiences. In Black Light this power is called “The Gift” and when Buck meets Bethany a potent mix of passion and hallucinatory telepathic lovemaking ensues.

Black Light is a damn fine horror novel by three amazing filmic talents. I’d love to read more from this crew but my better instincts tell me that if they move permanently into the world of literature, the world of movies will be a much dimmer place.

Don Coscarelli is an American film director, producer and screenwriter best known for horror films. His credits include the Phantasm series, The Beastmaster, and Bubba Ho-Tep.

The Border Bosses: A Conversation with Sebastian Rotella and Luis Alberto Urrea: Part II

border patrol - sasabePart Two of the in-depth conversation between Luis Urrea and Sebastian Rotella on all things border. If you missed Part I, start reading here.

LU: That’s a really great part of your book, though, that kind of density of experience goes from the first pages.  He’s working with the good guys, allegedly, at the beginning, but then there are all these levels of that from the getgo.  There’s the Border Patrol. There are all these layers of macho and swagger and rule-bending.  It’s a slippery world he’s in to begin with.  And then, he goes in to a different world and like you say, the world is upside down because the worst guy arguably in the book is also one of the best guys and also looks out for him.  And is kind of an avuncular in a terrifying way to the people he is carrying for.  It’s really fascinating.  You don’t know where to stand, which is, I think what for me, even though it’s a thriller, that to me was thrilling.  Because I had a sense of dread; I had a sense of eternity looming.  At any second from any side, you could die and that’s part of what made it kind of a throat clencher for me.

SR: Well, thanks man.  That’s great praise coming from you.  There are so many ways of trying to explore the terror of that world.  There’s violence in the book and obviously, if you wanted to, you could go whole hog on blood and gore at the border.

LU: Oh yeah.  Oh yeah.

SR: But I felt it was better to just have glimpses of the horror. I wanted to try to hopefully get at some of the psychological turmoil and psychological terror.  Certainly, some blood gets spilled, but I felt that those were very important elements to try to tell the story at a human level.

LU: I think his suffering and confusion is fascinating.  I was surprised.  I thought it was going to go into crazy Grand Gugniol gore because that’s part of the milieu.  I often tell people who want to learn about this narco war, like you say about the journalists, I say, “Well, you can look at the anonymous blog del narco website,”  But I tell them, “Whoever those young journalists are, they’re heroes because they’re in some serious danger.  On the other hand, if you can stomach things, like snuff films, go there, but you’ll see things you probably not want to see because you can’t un-see them.”  But I think it’s important for people to see how foul some of the stuff is that’s going on.  But I thought you handled it with real restraint and it managed to be scary.  I think if it turns into a full on gross-out, it becomes porno after awhile.

SR: I think that’s exactly right.  That balance is the key.  You want to give enough of a flavor that you’re not sugarcoating it or somehow shying away from the harsh reality, but you want to do it in an artful way.  I have to say how much I liked The Devil’s Highway. It’s a book that gave me chills at various points, including the end when the official at the consulate blows out the candles for the dead.  You wrote those passages where one realizes vividly what it’s like to die in the desert of thirst and what happens to the body, but the way you did it, it wasn’t just gross.  It was totally necessary in an almost clinical way to understand this experience.  When you’re dealing with this world, I have to think that that’s one of the hardest things to do: how you handle this question of violence and cruelty and suffering if you want to tell a story that’s artful and not just a splatter-fest.

Continue reading “The Border Bosses: A Conversation with Sebastian Rotella and Luis Alberto Urrea: Part II”

Cover Reveal: The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz

A few months ago, we revealed that Mulholland Books will be the US publisher of the first ever new Sherlock Holmes novel authorized by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. It will be written by Anthony Horowitz, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Alex Rider series and the award-winning writer of PBS’s Foyle’s War and Collision, as well as many other film and television projects.

The book, entitled The House of Silk, will hit bookstores on November 1st, 2011. Today, we are thrilled to reveal the cover of the The House of Silk for the first time ever, here on  We can’t wait for you to read this fantastic novel in November. For regular updates about The House of Silk, become a fan on Facebook.

Learn more about the book in this video where Anthony Horowitz reads from The House of Silk.

The Walls: An Original Short Story (Part II)

HypoNeedleWe are thrilled to present Part II of an original short story written by BLOODLINE author Mark Billingham titled “The Walls.” (Missed Part I? Start reading here.) To double the fun, we’ve also created an audio version of the story, read by Brad Negbaur (see below). BLOODLINE is also available as a downloadable audiobook read by Paul Thornley.

She and her mother were sharing a room, so we went to mine. There was not a great deal of choice in the mini-bar, but she didn’t seem too picky, so I told her to help herself. She took a beer and a bag of chips and we sat together on the bed with our feet on the quilt and our backs against the headboard.
The window was open a few inches and the traffic from I-45 was just a hum, like an insect coming close to the glass every so often and retreating again.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel,” she said.
She nodded.
I remembered her face when she’d been talking in the bar. The way she’d talked about wanting it to hurt. “Pretty good, by the sound of it,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll feel good…and relieved. I mean how I’m going to feel when I’m watching it happen, though. It’s not something everyone gets to see, is it?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Probably something you never forget, right?”
She made it sound like she was going whale-watching. She slid down the bed a little and kept on closing her eyes for a few seconds at a time.
“You think you might feel guilty after?” I asked.
Her eyes stayed closed as she shook her head. “Not a chance.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Why the hell should I feel guilty when he never did?”
“You know that for sure?”
She opened her eyes. “Well it wasn’t like I was visiting him every week or nothing, but I don’t think a man like that has any normal human feelings.” She took a swig of beer, ignored the dribble that ran down her neck. “He wrote us a letter a month or so back and he said he was sorry, all that shit, but it’s easy to come out with that stuff when you know the needle’s just around the corner, right? Probably told to do it by his lawyer. So they’ve got something to show when they’re pushing for a stay, you know?” She tried to brush away the remains of the chips from her shirt. “Said he’d found God as well.”
“I think that happens a lot.”
“Yeah, well tomorrow he’ll get a lot closer to Him, right?”
“You religious?”
“Sure,” she said.
“So this isn’t a problem for you?”
“Why should it be?”
“What happened to ‘thou shalt not kill’?”
“Shame he never thought about that.”
“He obviously didn’t believe in anything back then,” I said.
She shook her head again and screwed her face up like she was getting irritated. “Look, it isn’t me that’s going to be doing the killing, is it?” She raised the bottle, then thought of something. “Okay, smart-ass, what about, ‘as you reap, you shall sow’? It’s something like that, right?”
I nodded. “Something like that, yeah.”
“Right.” She turned on to her side suddenly and leaned up on one elbow. She slid a leg across the bed and lifted it over mine. “Anyway, what the hell are we talking about this stuff for?”
“You were the one started talking about God,” I said.
“Yeah well there’s other things I’d rather be talking about.” She blinked slowly which she probably thought was sexy, but which made her seem even drunker, you know? “Other things I’d rather be doing.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Come on,” she said. “I know that’s what you want. I saw you looking in the restaurant.”
“Yeah, I was looking.”
“You’ve had too much to drink.”
“I’ve had just enough.”
I smiled. “You won’t feel good about yourself tomorrow.”
“I’ve got more important things to worry about tomorrow,” she said. She put a hand between my legs. “Now are you going to get about your business, or what?”
I did what she was asking. It didn’t take long and it was pretty clear that she needed it a damn sight more than I did. She cried a little afterwards, but I just let her and I’m not sure which of us got to sleep first.

I left early without making any noise, and when I turned at the door to look at her wrapped up in the thin hotel sheet, I was thinking that, aside from the fact that I am crazy about nachos and salsa, almost everything I’d told her about myself had been a lie.

God only knows why they call it “The Walls”. They’re thick enough and tall enough for sure, but the men behind them have got a damn sight more to worry about than what’s keeping them inside.
The Huntsville Unit in particular.
One of the deputy wardens led me across the compound from the Visitor’s Waiting Area and in through a grey, metal door. They try to keep the families separate until the last possible moment, which is understandable I suppose and even though there was only me and some crazy woman who’d been writing to Anthony for the last few years, we had our own escort. The prison chaplain would be a ‘witness’ too of course, but I guessed he had no choice but to be kind of neutral about what was happening, so he didn’t really count.
The deputy warden’s highly polished shoes squeaked on the linoleum floor as we walked towards the room next to the execution chamber. Then he opened the door and politely stood aside as I walked in.
The place was pretty crowded.
I knew there would be a few State officials as well as representatives from the media, but I hadn’t figured on there being that many people and it took me a few seconds before I spotted her. She was sitting on the front row of plastic chairs, her mother on one side of her, the other older woman and her psycho brother on the other side. Like everyone else, she’d turned to look when the door opened and I saw the color drain from her face when I nodded to her. Her mother leaned close to whisper something, but she just shook her head and turned round again.
I walked towards the front of the room and took a seat on the end of the second row. We sat in silence for a few minutes, save for some coughing and the scrape of metal as chairs got shifted, then one of the officers ran through the procedure and raised the blind at the window.
Tony was already strapped to the gurney.
There were three men inside the chamber with him and one of them, who I figured was the Warden, asked Tony if he wanted to say anything. Tony nodded and one of the other men lowered a microphone in front of his face.
Tony turned his head as far as he was able and said how sorry he was. For what he’d done, and for all the shit he’d laid at his own family’s door down the years. He finished up by saying that he wasn’t afraid and that everyone on the other side of the glass should take a good look at his life and try to learn something. I’m not quite sure what he meant by that and, things being how they were, it wasn’t like I had the chance to ask him.
He closed his eyes, then the Warden gave the signal and everything went quiet.
Three drugs, one after the other: the sedative, the paralytic and the poison.
It took five minutes or so and Tony didn’t really react a great deal. I saw his lips start to go blue and from then until it was finished, I paid as much attention to her face as his. She knew I was watching her, I could tell that. That I was thinking about all the things she’d said, and the things she’d asked me to do to her the night before at the Huntsville Palms Hotel.
Wanting to see just how good she felt about herself the next day.
I left the room before she did, but I waited around just long enough to get one last look at her. Her face was the color of oatmeal and I couldn’t tell if her mother was holding on to her or if it was the other way around. I guessed she was right about one thing; that it would not be something she would forget.
I had to shield my eyes against the glare when I stepped back out into the courtyard and walked towards my car. I drove out through the gates and past a small group of protesters with placards and candles. A few of them were singing some hymn I couldn’t place and others were holding up Tony’s picture. Later on, I would be coming back to collect my brother’s body and make the arrangements, but until I did, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Right then, all I wanted was to get away from “The Walls” and drive south-west on I-45.
To get another look at that big beautiful lake in the daylight.

Mark Billingham worked as an actor, a TV writer and a stand-up comedian before becoming one of the most critically acclaimed crime novelists in the world. He lives in North London with his wife and two children. Learn more at

Now Available LA Noire: The Collected Stories

Today is the publication date for LA Noire: The Collected Stories a series of short stories some of which are based on characters and cases from the world of L.A. Noire, Rockstar’s new magnum opus of video gaming.

Throughout the day, we will be posting short vignettes by the contributors to the collection. Contributors include Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski and Andrew Vachss.

For now, download the collection for free from your eTailer of choice. | | iTunes | Sony