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Chapter 1 of The Wreckage

Next month we are publishing The Wreckage by Michael Robotham. Start reading the book that Booklist called (in a starred review), “Fine and ambitious with characters who are wonderfully human–smart, determined, decent, and flawed. Thoroughly compelling.”

Have you killed?”

“Many times.”

“Were you scared?”

“No.”

“Never?”

“It’s not hard to take a life when a life has been taken from you. It is not about embracing revenge or nurturing hatred. And forget about taking an eye for an eye. Equality is for the weak and stupid. It’s about pulling the trigger… simple as that. One finger, one movement…”

“Who was the first?”

“A schoolgirl.”

“Why?”

“I can’t remember, but I’ve never forgotten the warmth of the day, the blinding glare, the dust on the leaves of the apricot trees. It was apricot season. In that final instant everything slows down—the cars, the buses, voices on the street. Everything goes quiet and all you hear is your own heartbeat, the blood squeezing through smaller and smaller channels. There is no other moment like it.”

“Why do they call you the Courier?”

“I deliver messages.”

“You kill people?”

“People kill every day. Nurses push needles. Surgeons stop hearts. Butchers slay beasts. You’re doing something good here. You and the others are going to be famous. You are going to create a day that will live forever, a date that doesn’t need an explanation. History made. History changed. These things begin somewhere. They begin with an idea. They begin with faith.”

“Why me?”

“The others will also be tested.”

“Are you going to film it?”

“Yes. Here is the gun. It won’t bite you. This is the safety. Pull back the slide and the bullet enters the chamber.”

“Nobody will see my face?”

“No. Now walk through the door. He’s waiting. Seated. He will hear you coming. He will beg. Don’t listen to his words. Press the barrel to the back of his head and pull off the hood. Make him look at the camera’s red light: the drop of electrified blood.”

“Should I say something? A prayer.”

“It’s not what you say—it’s what you do.”

1

BAGHDAD

The most important lesson Luca Terracini ever learned about being a foreign correspondent was to tell a story through the eyes of someone else. The second most important lesson was how to make spaghetti marinara with a can of tuna and a packet of ramen noodles.

There were others, of course, most of them to do with staying alive in a war zone: Do not make an appointment to see anyone you do not trust absolutely. Do not go out before checking whether any suspicious vehicles are loitering outside. Do not assume that a place that was safe yesterday will be safe today.

These security measures were followed by all western reporters in Baghdad, but Luca had added a few of his own over the years—advice that came down to possessing three vital tools for survival: a natural cowardice; several US hundred-dollar bills sewn into his trouser cuffs; and a well-developed sense of the absurd.

The first call to prayer is sounding. Sunrise. Luca had been woken by the racket of washing machines, TV sets and air conditioners coming to life simultaneously. The government can only provide electricity during certain hours, which means the appliances trigger at random times, day or night, creating a strange symphony of music and metal.

Continue reading “Chapter 1 of The Wreckage”

A Master On Top of His Craft: A Review of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

Lawrence Block is one among a very small number of true masters of crime fiction, and A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a delight to readers who really care about seeing the right words on the page.

Ex-cop and detective Matt Scudder, a favorite Block character with fifteen novels worth of cases behind him, has always had a problem with the hard stuff.  As I recall, many years back, in Eight Million Ways to Die, he used to like his whiskey “straight, just the way God made it.”  Now he’s been fighting the urge with mixed success for some time.  He’s in Alcoholics Anonymous, and has been seeing a lady friend named Jan, who is also sober, regularly on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.  When an acquaintance and AA member named Jack Ellery is murdered, Scudder is the natural one to begin an informal inquiry.

Scudder’s investigation is an elegant piece of plotting.  Victim, witnesses, informants, and suspects are all in the closed world of recovering Manhattan alcoholics.  People’s lives are lived within a geography and a schedule that consists of the Sober Today Group on Second Avenue and Eighty-Seventh Street, the midnight meeting at the Moravian church, Scudder’s regular meeting at St. Paul’s, the Commuters Special near Penn Station, the meeting near Grand Central. Scudder makes his way from lead to lead with the sure expertise of a seasoned cop covering his own turf. Of course he finds his man, but when he does, it doesn’t look easy—it looks like fate constructed by competence and persistence.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a wise and fascinating addition to the Matthew Scudder cannon.  It could not be more welcome, nor could it have been written with more understated craftsmanship.  The dialogue sounds exactly like things people say to each other, but it isn’t.  It’s better, quicker, smarter.  Read this book attentively.  It’s much more fun than taking lessons.

Thomas Perry was born in Tonawanda, New York in 1947. He received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1969 and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Rochester in 1974. He has worked as a park maintenance man, factory laborer, commercial fisherman, university administrator and teacher, and a writer and producer of prime time network television shows. He is the author of eighteen novels. He lives in Southern California.

Chapter 2 of Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark

Keep reading GUILT BY ASSOCIATION by Marcia Clark as we prepare for the book’s publication on April 20th. If you missed the Prologue or Chapter 1, there’s time to catch up here. Stay tuned to the site next week for a Marcia Clark Extravaganza.

2

Scott turned and wove through the throng of police and firemen and made his way into the motel. I slid into the driver’s seat and tried not to think about the “passengers” that’d ridden around in the cargo space behind me.

A few more clouds of smoke drifted out as firefighters began to emerge from the building. One of them was rolling up the hose as he walked. They’d been here only a few minutes; if they were already wrapping up, this couldn’t have been much of a fire.

I watched the hunky firefighters at work and was pondering the truth of the old saying—that God made all paramedics and firemen good-looking so you’d see something pretty before you died—when a deep, authoritative voice broke my concentration.

“Miss, are you with the coroner’s office?”

I’d been sitting sidesaddle in the van, facing the motel. I turned to my left and saw that the owner of the voice was somewhere around six feet tall, on the lean side but tastefully muscled under his blue uniform, his dark-blond hair just long enough to comb. His eyes were a gold-flecked hazel, and he had wide, pronounced cheekbones, a strong nose, and a generous mouth. The bars on his uniform told me he was brass, not rank and file. His nameplate confirmed it:

LIEUTENANT GRADEN HALES.

His skeptical look annoyed me, but his presence made an already weird scene even more so. What the hell was a lieutenant doing here? I mustered up my best “I belong here” voice and replied, “I’m a DA, but I’m waiting for Scott.”

I expected that my status as a prosecutor would end the discussion. Wrong.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 of Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark”

The Spaces Between Stars

Cité interditeMy name’s Warren Ellis.  I’m mostly a science fiction writer.  I’m sometimes also a crime writer.  These are essentially the same thing.

Let me try and explain that.

I don’t think HG Wells and Raymond Chandler ever met.  I don’t know that they would have had a lot to say to each other if they did.  Perhaps Wells might have gloweringly reprimanded Chandler for being mean about his friend AA Milne’s detective novel.  Or perhaps he might have asked for a go on Chandler’s wife, I don’t know.  But I like to imagine that an interlocuter bringing them together – perhaps in 1940, Wells’ twilight and Chandler’s emergence – would have explained why they should talk.

It was HG Wells, in large part, who made science fiction into social fiction.  You can trace back the roots of that movement to Mary Shelley and beyond, but it was Wells who both concretised it and gave it common currency.  Science fiction is nominally about the novum, the new thing that disrupts the world of the story.  But THE INVISIBLE MAN is not about an invisibility process, just as THE TIME MACHINE is not really about a time machine.  The great Wells fireworks were novels about the human condition, the sociopolitical space and the way Wells saw life being lived.

In crime fiction, of course, the story is nominally about the crime: the disruptive event introduced into the world of the story.  But THE BIG SLEEP isn’t about a murder, and FAREWELL MY LOVELY isn’t about a missing person.  Chandler’s great leap – and of course there were antecedents and even peers, but it’s Chandler who is indelible – was to make crime fiction fully an expression of social fiction.

These became the dual tracks upon which our mediation of the 20th Century ran.  Science fiction and crime fiction contextualised, explored and reported on rapidly changing and expanding modern conditions.  And they did it in ways that spoke to the felt experiences of our lives, to our hopes and our fears, in ways that other fictions, or even other reportage, couldn’t approach.  Science fiction and crime fiction explained to us where we really are, and where we might be going.

So when I write science fiction I’m a crime writer, and when I write crime fiction I’m an sf writer.  I’m talking about our lives, and the way I see the world.  I’m writing about the new thing, the disruptive event that enters that world, its repercussions and the attempts to deal with it.  But I’m talking about where I think I am today, and what I think it looks like.

In GUN MACHINE, I’m writing about a disruptive event: a small sealed Manhattan apartment filled with hundreds of guns, each one used in a single unsolved homicide.  But what I’m talking about is money, the acquisition of power, the deals we make in the name of security, the unique soul-killing exhaustion that comes of caring too much for too long, and the faces madness take in our lives.

Also quite a lot of people get shot.

I just have to trust that the good people at Mulholland Books will catch me when I get confused and give my New York City police detective rocket pants and a ray gun.

[Editor’s Note: We are proud to announce today that Warren Ellis is joining Mulholland Books for two books, the first of which will be GUN MACHINE and will be published in Fall 2012. Warren Ellis is more than just a writer. He is a movement. We are thrilled to be the publishers of GUN MACHINE.]

Warren Ellis is the award-winning creator of graphic novels such as TransmetropolitanFellMinistry of Space and Planetary, and the author of Crooked Little Vein. The film Red, based on his graphic novel, was released in October 2010. He has written a number of graphic novels under option for film and TV. He is personally adapting his series of Gravel graphic novels into a screenplay for Legendary Pictures. He lives in south-east England.

Mulholland Books will publish GUN MACHINE in Fall 2012.

Chapter 1 of Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark

Keep reading GUILT BY ASSOCIATION by Marcia Clark as we prepare for the book’s publication on April 20th. If you missed the Prologue, catch up here.

1

“Guilty? Already? What’d they do, just walk around the table and hit the buzzer?” Jake said, shaking his head incredulously.

I laughed, nodding. “I know, it’s crazy. Forty-five-minute verdict after a three-month trial,” I said as I shook my head. “I thought the clerk was kidding when she called and told me to come back to court.” I paused. “Now that I think about it, this might be my fastest win ever on a first-degree.”

“Hell, sistah, that’s the fastest win I done heard on
anythang,
” Toni said as she plopped down into the chair facing my desk. She talked ghetto only as a joke.

“Y’all gotta admit,” I said, “homegirl brought game this time.”

Toni gave me a disdainful look. “Uh-uh, snowflake. You can’t pull it off, so don’t try.” She reached for the mug I kept cleaned and at the ready for her on the windowsill.

I raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got a choice: take that back and have a drink, or enjoy your little put-down and stay dry.”

Toni eyed the bottle of Glenlivet on my desk, her lips firmly pressed together, as she weighed her options. It didn’t take long. “It’s amazing. For a minute there, I thought Sister Souljah was in the room,” she said with no conviction whatsoever. She slammed her mug down on my desk. “Happy?”
I shrugged. “Not your best effort, but they can’t all be gold.” I broke the small ice tray out of my mini-fridge, dumped the cubes into her cup, and poured the equivalent of two generous shots of Glenlivet.

Toni shot me a “don’t push your luck” look and signaled a toast.

I turned to Jake and gestured to the bottle. “Maybe a token?” I asked. He was a nondrinker by nature, but he’d occasionally join in to be sociable.

Continue reading “Chapter 1 of Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark”

Start Reading Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark

April is the month we’ve been waiting for here at Mulholland Books. We finally get to bring our books into the world. Since this is the first day of our launch month, we thought we’d bring you a prologue from our debut novel GUILT BY ASSOCIATION by Marcia Clark. The book that James Ellroy called “a damn, damn, good thriller” and David Baldacci said was “as sharp as they come in the genre.”

PROLOGUE

He snapped his cell phone shut and slid it into the pocket of his skintight jeans. The last piece was in place; it wouldn’t be long now. But the waiting was agonizing. Unbidden, the memory of his only ride on a roller coaster flooded over him, like a thousand tiny needles piercing his face and body: eight years old, trapped in that rickety little car with no escape, the feeling of breathtaking terror that mounted as it click-click-clicked its slow, inexorable climb to the top of the sky.

He shook his head to cleanse his mind of the memory, then abruptly grabbed his long brown hair and pulled it tightly into a ponytail behind his head. He held it there and exhaled again more slowly, trying to quiet his pulse. He couldn’t afford to lose it now. With the lift of his arms, his worn T-shirt rode up, and he absently admired in the little mirror above the dresser the reflection of the coiled snake tattooed on his slim, muscled belly.

He started pacing, the motel carpet crunching under his feet, and found that the action helped. Despite his anxiety, he moved with a loose-hipped grace. Back and forth he walked, considering his plan yet again, looking for flaws. No, he’d set it up just right. It would work. It had to work. He stopped to look around at the dimly lit motel room. “Room” was using the term loosely—it was little more than a box with a bed. His eyes fell on a switch on the wall. Just to have something to do,he went over and flipped it on. Nothing happened. He looked up and saw only a filthy ceiling fan. The sour smell of old cigarettes told him that it hadn’t worked in years. There were stains of undetermined origin on the walls that he thought were probably older than he was. The observation amused him. Neither the stains, nor the foul smell of decay, nor the hopeless dead-end feeling of the place fazed him at all. It wasn’t that much worse than a lot of the places he’d lived during his seventeen years on the planet.

In fact, far from depressing him, the ugly room made him feel triumphant. It represented the world he’d been born into, and the one he was finally leaving behind… forever. For the first time in a life that had nearly ended at the hands of a high-wired crackhead while his so-called mother was crashing in the next room, he was going to be in control. He paused to consider the memory of his early near demise—not a firsthand memory since he’d been only two months old when it happened, but rather a paragraph in the social worker’s report he’d managed to read upside down during a follow-up visit at one of the many foster homes where he’d been “raised” for the past sixteen or so years. As it always did, the memory of that report made him wonder whether his mother was still alive. The thought felt different this time, though. Instead of the usual helpless, distant ache—and rage—he felt power, the power to choose. Now he could find her… if he wanted to. Find her and show her that the baby she’d been too stoned to give a shit about had made it. Had scored the big score.


In just a few more minutes, he’d say good-bye to that loser kid who lived on the fringes. He stopped, dropped his hands to his hips, and stared out the grimy window as he savored the thought of having “fuck you” money. He planned to extend a vigorous middle finger to the many foster parents for whom he was just a dollar sign, to all the assholes he’d had to put up with for a meal and a bed. And if he did decide to find his mother, he’d show up with something awesome for her, a present, like a dress or jewelry. Something to make her sorry for all the years she’d let him be lost to her. He pictured himself giving her whatever it was in a fancy, store-wrapped box. He tried to picture the expression on her face, but the image wouldn’t resolve. The only photo he had of her—taken when he was less than a year old—was so faded, only the outline of her long brown hair was still visible. Still, the thought of being able to play the Mac Daddy puffed him up, and for a moment he let himself go there, enjoying the fantasy of his mother really loving him.

The knock on the door jolted him back to reality. He swallowed and struggled for a deep breath, then walked toward the door. He noticed his hands were shaking, and he quickly rubbed them on his thighs to make them stop. He slowly released his breath and willed his face to relax as he opened the door.

“Hey,” he said, then held the door open and moved aside to let in his visitor. “What took you so long?”

“Lost track of the time, sorry.” The visitor stepped inside quickly.

“You have it all?” the boy asked, wary.

The visitor nodded. The boy smiled and let the door close behind him.

Keep reading.

Marcia Clark is a former LA, California deputy district attorney, who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder case. She wrote a bestselling nonfiction book about the trial, Without a Doubt, and is a frequent media commentator and columnist on legal issues. She lives in Los Angeles.

Seven Things Screenwriters Should Know About Writing Novels

After the unprecedented success of yesterday’s column, I decided I would flip it around and provide you the converse list of things screenwriters should know as they switch from Final Draft to MS word to scratch that prose itch.

1.  Publishers Want To Sell Books. It’s a common misperception that screenwriting is for commercial aspirations while novel writing is a place to pen esoteric ideas and ramblings.  The truth is:  publishers want commercial books.  They want to reach a wide audience.  The same forces that drive a spec script sale drive a spec novel sale.  Will this book attract a large number of readers?  You have to write a novel the same way you would write a movie:  with compelling characters, surprising plot twists, strong dialogue, and a unifying theme that encompasses all.  Sure, you don’t have to worry about set pieces and budgets and casting, but you’re going to have a hard time if you write for a very narrow niche.

2.  The Money Is Not The Same (At First). When I received my first book contract, I called a novelist friend of mine in London.  “How do novelists make a living?” I asked.  Her reply:  “They don’t!  They all want to be screenwriters!”  Unless you are one of those amazingly successful novelists:  King or Connelly or Grisham or Clancy, the money just isn’t the same as you would get for writing and selling a screenplay.  So don’t write a novel thinking you can quickly switch careers and won’t have to deal with studios and producers anymore but will make the same money.  Unless you write THE FIRM… then you can.

3.  Publishers are Your Friends. You know how, as a screenwriter, you’re constantly wary of your status on your own project?  Like at any moment, you can be fired for seemingly no reason?  How every word you write can be changed at the whim of a junior executive fresh out of film school?  It takes a little while to get used to, but your publisher actually likes your opinions on your work.  They treat you deferentially as they suggest… key word “suggest”… edits.  They consult you on everything from chapter breaks to the book covers.  And they are pulling for you and your book to do well.  I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but so far, it hasn’t.  Not one word gets changed without your permission.  Somebody slap me.

Continue reading “Seven Things Screenwriters Should Know About Writing Novels”

Why Crime?

The Burning of BooksWhy crime? This is the question most crime writers get asked more than any other. For a long while I couldn’t answer it. Honestly, I had no idea. To start with I didn’t read crime, which is a weird confession to make and one that could see me strung up by my thumbs above a bonfire of copies of The Wreckage, a very combustible read.

In my very first newspaper interview I was famously misquoted as having read only one crime book— which became the headline for the entire piece. The mistake has haunted me ever since with people desperate to know “which one.” Either it was the very best crime novel ever written, or the worst one—why else would I have stopped?

What I tried to tell the journalist (and obviously failed) was that I tried to read one of each because there are so many new crime writers emerging every year. We live in a golden age of mystery and crime fiction, with some truly brilliant practitioners of the craft. We all have our favorites. We all find our level.

But I go back to the original question: Why crime?

I can answer the question now. I know why I write crime novels. I can even pinpoint the day when the seed was planted (although it took more than twenty years to germinate).

On April 2, 1980, a young man called Raymond John Denning hid amid prison garbage and became the first inmate in eighty years to escape from Grafton Jail, 400 miles north of Sydney, Australia.

I was nineteen at the time, a cadet journalist on the old Sydney Sun, working the graveyard shift, midnight to eight.

Denning was serving a life sentence for the savage bashing of a prison warder during an earlier attempted escape. The warder later died. Although only in his early twenties, Ray was already a hardened criminal who had been in and out of prison since he was fifteen, and was notorious for his many escape attempts.

Denning was immediately classified as the second-most-wanted man in Australia (behind Russell “Mad Dog” Cox, who comes into the story later). He was almost caught within days in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, when police stopped a car being driven by a girlfriend. Denning fled into dense bushland and evaded police roadblocks and helicopters.

He spent the next twenty months on the run, not just avoiding the police, but taunting them. He managed to turn himself into a modern day folk hero by pulling publicity stunts designed to embarrass the police.

Continue reading “Why Crime?”

Why does an Englishman write American crime?

This is a question I have been asked so many times.  Enough times for me to take a long look at it, if for no other reason than to have an answer next time I am asked.

Paul Auster said that becoming a writer was not a “career decision” like becoming a doctor or a policeman.  You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accepted the fact that you were not fit for anything else, you had to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days, and I concur with his attitude.

I feel the same way about genres.  I think the genre chose me, as opposed to my choosing the genre.

The thing that has always fascinated me, and the thing that I believe is the only thing that fascinates authors really, is people.  It’s that simple.

Life is people.  People are life.  Without people there is nothing to talk about, nothing worth saying.

And why American crime?  Because such a genre presents me with a broad canvas, and upon that canvas I can write conspiracy, thriller, romance, history, politics, social commentary.  I think US crime holds a mirror up to society better than any other genre.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly for me, crime gives me an opportunity to present my “people” with situations that they would never experience in ordinary life.  This then gives me possibility of putting those people through the mill emotionally, and that is where my true interest lies.

Continue reading “Why does an Englishman write American crime?”

Sinking the Titanic

Man with Tommy GunBest interview question I’ve ever been asked: What’s the worst thing your parents think you’ve done? Not actually done, but that they think you’ve done.

My answer: Heroin.

I love doing research. It’s like cheating, but with permission.

Here are some of the things I have done in the name of Research: learned to ride a motorcycle; became a certified EMT for both New York State and Monterey County, California; had my sneakers stick to the floor in a peep-show booth back when Times Square was not a place where you took the kids; drunk tea with nuns; crawled through the Portland Shanghai Tunnels; watched a domme flog her sub in an S&M club while he hung on a St. Andrew’s Cross; visited the Oregon State Police Crime Lab; learned to play guitar from a former member of Everclear; learned how to field-strip an M1911; gone on countless ride-alongs in countless cities; fired an HK MP5 on single, three-round, and full-auto; fired a Tommy Gun (only full-auto); fired many other types of firearms; hung out with junkies; hung out with methheads; hung out with rock bands; argued politics with a Political Officer at the State Department; gotten bronchitis standing in Lancashire fields taking reference photographs; been politely asked to leave the premises of Vauxhall Cross; run a day-long “scavenger hunt” through New York City and the boroughs (had to see if the route was possible, and to get the timing down); gotten sick-drunk with men who wouldn’t talk to me sober; been attacked by rats; trespassed; eavesdropped; learned the best way to burn someone alive; used a Starbucks bathroom seat-cover dispenser for a dead drop; been laughed at, mocked, threatened, and ignored.

Some of the things I’ve done.

Continue reading “Sinking the Titanic”