Jan 232015

The post Genre Blending for Rebels appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Deadly Spells by Jaye WellsI dare you to read this essay by Jaye Wells and not fall under her spell. This Texas-raised, USA Today bestselling author grew up reading everything she could get her hands on, and it shows in her passionate argument for blending the conventions of crime fiction with tropes from other genres. Wells’s forthcoming novel is called Deadly Spells, and Orbit Books will publish it on February 10th. You’d do well to pre-order a copy.

“You can’t do that.”

This sentence had been the driving force behind most of my success as a novelist. See, I write books that are a blend of genres. I like to mix things up, but I’m also pretty stubborn. So if someone tells me that I can’t, say, mix fantasy with crime fiction, it’s pretty much a dare that I will take every time.

The pitch for my Prospero’s War speculative crime fiction series is The Wire with wizards. I got the idea while binge-watching that show. I thought the show was awesome but couldn’t stop thinking it would be cool if Omar and Stringer Bell were wizards.

But, people told me, that’ll never work. For one thing, they claimed crime fiction fans don’t like any hocus pocus messing up their mysteries. Oh yeah?

What if magic is a metaphor for drugs? What if the covens of wizards who sell addictive magic potions are more dangerous and resourceful than drug gangs? But what if the cops who are trying to break up the covens are as hamstrung by politics, budget cuts, and regulations as real cops?

Some people might not see the point. I mean, we already know there’s a war on drugs. People already know cops are hamstrung and that there are lots of problems with the justice system. This is where combining fantasy with the crime becomes important.

See, the beauty of fantasy stories is that they filter the world through metaphor. By using symbols, archetypes, and, yes, magic, these stories allow us to test drive our world in an imaginative way. This metaphorical language of imagination helps us see the problems of humanity and our world in a new light.

So while it may seem simple to use clean and dirty magic as a metaphor for pharmaceuticals and street-level narcotics, it also allows us to explore the issues in non-threatening and expanded terms. Suddenly, we’re not talking about crack and meth anymore. We’re also talking about human nature’s tendency toward addiction in general. We’re able to discuss the false dichotomy of good versus evil, and think about the roles of policing and the struggles facing our cities in new ways.

Or not. Because that’s the other beauty of fantasy: it allows us to not explore those issues at all if we don’t want to. We can read the story and simply enjoy the action and suspense without being forced to face the gritty reality of our own world. In short, we can decide how shallow or deep our reading experience will be.

So when people tell me that it’s a waste of time to expect crime fiction readers to want to read books about magic junkies, I just smile and say, “Wanna bet?”

Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. Deadly Spells, the third book in her Prospero’s War series, releases on February 10.

The post Genre Blending for Rebels appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Jan 152015

The post Why I Write Thrillers (And, Maybe, Why You Read Them) appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Give a big welcome to Gregg Hurwitz! He dropped by our site to share with us an epiphany he had while writing his novel Don’t Look Back, which was published in August by St. Martin’s Press.

OaxacaA friend of mine introduced me to the beautiful Mexican state of Oaxaca, where Don’t Look Back takes place. He gave me access to all the experts and adventures my evil thriller writer mind required. I hiked through ruins. I learned how to drink mezcal properly—with orange slices and salt made with ground-up worms. I ate crickets and desiccated caterpillar. I stepped on giant snakes. I enjoyed some fairly dangerous runs on a Class IV white-water rafting trip through the jungle. Just before we launched the raft, I got stung on the eyelid by a still-not-identified wasp which made my eye swell up to cartoonish proportion. In Mexico, this doesn’t elicit sympathy; it means you get made fun of more. I learned how to make soap and mezcal. I walked (carefully) through crocodile lagoons and got close to a few snaggle-toothed monsters. I went horseback riding across beaches. I dodged a marching line of millions of sweeper ants devouring everything in their path. You can see that this setting has everything a novelist wants. It was a great blend of adventure and manic fun. I always want the reader to have a front-row seat to the action and in order to do that for Don’t Look Back, I had to experience everything myself so I could bring to life the sights, scents, and sounds of this unique part of the world.

As you can see, I loved researching and writing this one. But this book also holds a very personal meaning for me. Smack in the middle of my last tour, my wife was told she had to have brain surgery. I remember exactly where I was when I found out: heading into a literary event in Berkeley where I was expected to address a room full of devoted readers. So the things I was called to do that night—talking to readers (which I love) and being patient (with which I have been known to have my struggles)—were even harder for me.

What was at stake if the surgery went wrong was my wife’s memory—to be precise, her short term memory conversion. So what we were looking at if things went badly was basically Memento (without the tattoos) or 50 First Dates (without Adam Sandler and a ukulele). Though I suppose in the latter instance, if one has to contend with Adam Sandler and a ukulele, one might prefer to have some short-term memory challenges.

My wife’s surgery went as well as it could have. She retained her memory—in fact, her most recent MRI noted that she has an “unremarkable brain,” which I believe is the only context in which that is flattering. I also try to remind her of this when we disagree, though it doesn’t go over quite as well as you might think. But there was a protracted period during which we didn’t know what would happen, so for a while we were really peering into the abyss. That changes you. It made me reconsider the past—how I spent my time, what choices I made and would I make them again. It made me view the present differently—each breath unique, every moment freighted only with the meaning we ascribe to it, good or bad, if we choose to notice it at all. And it made me look at the future differently, as something you can’t wait for, can’t count on, can’t plan for with any measure of confidence. Because at any moment, it can sweep in—a car crash, a hurricane, a cavernous hemangioma—and wipe out any version of your future self.

I get asked all the time why I write thrillers. And why people read them. What’s the allure? Who wants to be scared when there’s so much uncertainty and tragedy in real life? And we get the usual answers—I’ve given them myself: Order out of chaos. Finding meaning in the seemingly pointless. But going through this crisis with my family made me realize that there is something more literal about the relationship we have between the lives we live and the stories we devour.

In thrillers, we meet characters when they’re thrust into crises such that their world hums like a live wire. They, too, are reconsidering their past, the choices they made that landed them here. They are viewing the present differently, breath to breath. They are reimagining a future they hope to survive to see, and they are redefining themselves in the process. And most often, they are fighting to emerge intact for their children, their families, and themselves. Some of us have been through that ourselves. All of us have loved ones who have. And this book is dedicated to my wife for going through it and coming out the other end.

Don’t Look Back features my first female protagonist, Eve Hardaway. She’s recently divorced, is a single mother to a seven-year-old boy, and has recently switched jobs. But the daily grind is wearing her down, and she’s losing track of herself, of who she used to be. She and her ex had long-standing tickets to celebrate their ten-year anniversary, a trip to a small eco-lodge way up in the jungles of Oaxaca, cut off from civilization.

Rather than cancel the trip, she decides, nine exhausting months after her husband has left her for a younger woman, that she’s going to go anyway. She’s going to leave her son in the care of his beloved nanny for a week, travel alone, and rediscover herself in the jungle.

Now because I’m me, I can assure you: This will not go smoothly for her. On her first day, she strays from the group into the jungle and sees something she’s not supposed to see. And it involves A Very Bad Man.

He clues in to the fact that she saw him. Just as he starts to zero in on her and this small band of tourists at their eco-lodge, a tormenta blows in—a tropical storm that can dump up to a meter of rain a day. When you’re in one, it’s hard to find the air in the air. And Eve, single mother and nurse from the suburbs, finds herself pursued through the jungle in the middle of a storm by a brutal man who can outflank, out-fight, and overpower her. She realizes that if she ever hopes to get back home and see her son again, she is going to have to find that unbreakable part of herself, outlast, and prevail. As I said above, at different times in our own lives, we’re all called to do that in less obvious and more commonplace ways. But for now, I’m content to leave it to Eve Hardaway.

The post Why I Write Thrillers (And, Maybe, Why You Read Them) appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Jan 032015

The post Visiting Inspector of the Dead: The Killing Ground of Constitution Hill appeared first on Mulholland Books.

David Morrell’s Inspector of the Dead is set on the harrowing streets of 1855 London. A gripping Victorian mystery/thriller, its vivid historical details come from years of research. Here are photo essays that David prepared about the novel’s fascinating locations. Read the first post about Mayfair and Belgravia.

Almost every day for many years, Queen Victoria’s schedule included a carriage ride at 6 p.m. Her timetable was printed in London’s newspapers. Her route was usually the same. The carriage left Buckingham Palace, turned left onto Constitution Hill, rode up to Hyde Park, veered left into the park, came back to Constitution Hill, and returned to the Palace.


This is Constitution Hill as it appears today. Buckingham Palace is to the left, out of sight.


In the 1840s, four men took advantage of Queen Victoria’s predictable schedule and shot at her from this approximate spot. In fact, one of them (Edward Oxford) shot at her twice, and another (John Francis) tried to shoot at her two days in a row. All told, from 1840 to 1882, seven men tried to attack her.


The first attacker was Edward Oxford. In this 1840 watercolor, Oxford stands next to the horse on the right, aiming one of his two pistols. Note the spiked fence and Green Park in the background. The fence has a prominent role in Inspector of the Dead.


This alternate, highly romanticized watercolor of Edward Oxford’s attack shows his second pistol (in his left hand). Prince Albert did not try to shield Queen Victoria as this depiction indicates. Beyond the commotion, note the Palace wall on the opposite side of Constitution Hill. Like the spiked fence at Green Park, that wall has an important role in Inspector of the Dead.


The second man to shoot at Queen Victoria was John Francis in 1842. This crude newspaper engraving pretends to be a depiction of the event, but it is actually a clumsy recreation of one of the watercolors showing Edward Oxford’s attempt.


The fourth man to shoot at Queen Victoria was William Hamilton in 1849. Again, note the spiked fence on one side of Constitution Hill and the Palace wall on the opposite side.

The fifth man to attack Queen Victoria was Robert Francis Pate in 1850. The event occurred outside Lord Palmerston’s famous house on Piccadilly. For an engraving of that attack, please stay tuned for the final photo essay in this series.

The post Visiting Inspector of the Dead: The Killing Ground of Constitution Hill appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Dec 222014

The post Visiting Inspector of the Dead: Mayfair and Belgravia appeared first on Mulholland Books.

David Morrell’s Inspector of the Dead is set on the harrowing streets of 1855 London. A gripping Victorian mystery/thriller, its vivid historical details come from years of research. Here are photo essays that David prepared about the novel’s fascinating locations.

Much of Inspector of the Dead takes place in London’s wealthy Mayfair district. Ironically, in the 1600s, it was a disreputable field where drunken May Day (or May Fair) celebrations were held. By the 1700s, as London expanded westward, Mayfair became a fashionable area, its impressive residences acquiring a uniform look because of the Portland stone that was used to construct them.


This is Half Moon Street, off a major street known as Piccadilly. In the novel, several shocking murders occur in one of these magnificent buildings.

By the 1820s, an even wealthier area became fashionable. Located southwest of Buckingham Palace, Belgravia sounds like a mythical kingdom in an operetta, but in fact, the name derives from the aristocratic Belgrave family, who developed the area. Its adjacent white-stuccoed houses rivaled those of Mayfair, with the added luxury that the streets were wider. Many of the buildings now function as embassies.


This is the Chester Square section of Belgravia. The shaded area contains a garden. Commissioner Mayne, co-founder of London’s Metropolitan Police, lived here. In Inspector of the Dead, he fights for his life in one of these splendid buildings.

The post Visiting Inspector of the Dead: Mayfair and Belgravia appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Oct 042014

The post What Do You Do With A Pile Of Jim Thompson Books? appeared first on Mulholland Books.

We sent Rob Hart, the associate publisher of MysteriousPress.com, all 25 of the Jim Thompson paperbacks that we reissued in August. He wrote in to report on what he did with them.

Working in publishing comes with a few perks.

Say, for example, you’re grabbing breakfast with a pal and you profess your love for Jim Thompson. Turns out, that pal masterminded the re-release of a good portion of Thompson’s oeuvre in paperback and eBook.

Then one day you come home from work to find this pile of beauties sitting on your doorstep: Pile of Jim Thompson books

That is a lot of Jim Thompson. And it begs the question: What exactly does one do with such a giant pile of books? Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I came up with a couple of ideas…

Post a picture of the stack to Facebook so that your friends will seethe with jealousy. Rob Hart Facebook chat

Use them to get to hard-to-reach spots… like a locked window. Jim Thompson stepladder

Load them into a pillowcase. They’re softer than locks, but still good at delivering a message, without the risk of breaking bones. Jim Thompson is not soft.

They’re great for smuggling weapons. Jim Thompson weapons

Use them to weigh down a gas pedal. This is especially helpful if you need a car to go over a cliff and then explode so that any lingering trace evidence will be burned up. Jim Thompson on the gas pedal

Read them! A Swell-Looking Babe

Thompson rakes his fingernails across your soul. I mean that in the best way possible.

I remember my first: Pop. 1280, recommended to me by a writing instructor. It’s a slim volume, and such a slow burn. The narrator, Sheriff Nick Corey, comes off as a buffoon—at least, in the beginning. But as the story shambles forward, you learn there’s something very dark beating under the floorboards of Corey’s soul. To say any more would be a disservice to those who haven’t read it. Luckily, while it’s not pictured here, it’s one of the 25 Thompson books re-released by Mulholland.

I’m not going to pretend like I’m not jealous—I would have loved to have these books available in our catalogue of backlist titles at MysteriousPress.com. But I’m happy to see that they’ll be more easily accessible to a new generation of readers. Thompson transcends genre and is truly one of history’s great writers. His prose is so immediate, his descent into the depths of the human condition so complete, he’s one of those writers who deserves to be read.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do…

Rob Hart is associate publisher at MysteriousPress.com and class director at LitReactor. He is the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella, and his debut novel, New Yorked, will be released by Polis on June 9. Learn more at his website, www.robwhart.com

The post What Do You Do With A Pile Of Jim Thompson Books? appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Sep 302014

The post Creeping Up Your Spine appeared first on Mulholland Books.

This week’s guest guest blogger is James Grady, who 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.

The post Creeping Up Your Spine appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Sep 182014

The post Horror Reading, Then and Now appeared first on Mulholland Books.

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.

The post Horror Reading, Then and Now appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Sep 112014

The post “A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan appeared first on Mulholland Books.

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.”

Replacing the weapon and returning the book safely to its original location, Duncan began to move into the kitchen for dinner.  “It smells wonderful, dear,” he said to his wife.  “I think I’ll turn in right after we’re done eating.  I’ve got a few errands to run tomorrow, and I’ll need all of my strength.”

The next morning, Duncan sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee and reading the newspaper’s front-page story on the impending execution of convicted murderer Clive Caldwell.  Martha peered over his shoulder as she fixed herself a bowl of oatmeal.

“Are they finally putting him to death this afternoon,” she inquired.  “That horrible murder of the two children from Augusta must have occurred almost fifteen years ago.”

“I think you’re right,” responded Duncan.  “But the wheels of justice must be slow to be fair.  Heaven forbid we put an innocent man to death because of a rush to judgment.”

“Still the avid defense attorney I see,” chuckled Martha as she sat down to enjoy the start of her day.  No sooner had she taken her seat, than Duncan rose, placed his dishes in the sink and kissed her goodbye.  “Off already,” she asked.

“Yes, as I said, I’ve got a busy day.”

“Doing what?  You haven’t been out of the house in weeks.”

“I’ll tell you this evening.”  And with that, Duncan slipped on a jacket to brace himself from the cool autumn air and walked out of the house.

An hour later, Duncan arrived at the Augusta State Medical Prison.  Having visited the facility countless times over the years to call on various former clients, he was well known and highly regarded by the guards.

“Welcome back, counselor,” said one of the correctional officers at the front entrance to the hospital.

“Hello, Deloris,” responded Duncan.  “I see the metal detector is still broken.”

The officer looked over at the dusty metal contraption that had failed to work for the better part of a year.  “With our budget,” the officer said with a laugh, “we lucky to even have someone here watching the door.”  As Deloris gave Duncan the usual cursory pat down reserved for only the most trusted of visitors, she inquired, “Who you gonna see today?”

“Ah, the infamous Billy Brandon,” answered Duncan.

“Infamous?  Compared to your other clients, I’d say he’s practically a saint.  Just another three-time loser serving life-without-parole.  Damn shame.  Remind me what he did to get that last strike?”

“Possession of a felony amount of marijuana.”  Duncan paused before adding, “As you said, in many ways, he does appears to be just another one of the many lost souls in places like this.”

“Mm hmm.”  Then the officer shook her head.  “You know, he’s not doing too well these days.  Something about his liver giving out.  Got him up in the intensive care unit.”

“Well,” said Duncan, “I’d better get up there then before he leaves us all for a better place.”

“You know the way,” said Deloris as she stepped aside.

Duncan proceeded through a set of doors leading to an elevator bank and pushed the button to call his ride.  As he did, two beads of sweat ran down his forehead and into his eyes.  Wiping his brow, he realized that even his many decades of trial experience had not prepared him for the battle he was about to wage or the consequences if he failed.

As he entered the private room containing his client, Duncan peered around at the many tubes and machines assisting the prisoner to live another day.  He pushed the door gently closed, and the lockset made a soft click as it hit the strike plate.

Upon hearing the noise, the prisoner slowly opened his eyes and peered over at his attorney.  “Mr. Duncan.”  Billy Brandon struggled to sit up slightly in his bed.  “I’m so glad you came.  I thought I might be receiving a visit from you today.”

“Then you know why I am here?”

“I do.  It appears you believe we have come to the end of the road, Mr. Duncan.  That the time for our special arrangement has arrived.  But, I’m afraid I can’t agree.  I was clear about my terms, and they have not yet come to pass, as you can very well see.”

Duncan reached in his left jacket pocket and clenched the item he had earlier that day removed from his leather book safe.  “At this point, the timing is merely a technicality for you.  You’ll be dead before long.”

“True, but I plan to live out the few days I have left in comfort, not locked in some dark cell at the maximum security prison.”

Duncan looked fiercely at his client.  “You’re a monster.”

“Mr. Duncan,” said Billy.  “Of course I am.  You’ve known that for more than a decade.  Tell me something.  Do I keep you up at night?  Do I haunt your dreams?  I so hope I do.”  A menacing grin appeared on his face.

Duncan withdrew his hand from his pocket and thrust the item he had been concealing at the bedridden, yet very capable prisoner.  “Do you think I won’t use this?”

“I’m sure you will use it eventually, Mr. Duncan, but today is not that day.  You are bound by your oath, and you are bound by your profession to keep that piece of paper confidential until I die.”

Duncan lowered his hand and let the affidavit signed by Billy all those years ago linger at his side.  “The execution is today, and it should be you in that chair being injected with poison, not Mr. Caldwell.  You killed those two children in Augusta all those years ago, and yet you are going to let an innocent man die of lethal injection despite having the power to stop it.”

Duncan cut himself short upon hearing the doorknob being turned.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw a nurse wheeling a food cart into the room.

“Oh, Mr. Duncan,” said Billy.  “You’re here in time for lunch.  Would you care to join me?”  Duncan shook his head in rejection of the offer.  “Oh now, I’m sure Nurse Tania could rustle you up something.  Without her, you know, I don’t think this place would function at all.  She’s our angel here in the ward.”  Billy gazed appreciatively at the nurse and smiled.

“Oh, Billy,” said the nurse, blushing slightly.  As she finished placing a tray of chicken and rice in front of her patient, she said, “You let me know if you or your friend need anything else.”

Duncan did not speak.  While the nurse walked into the hallway and pulled the door closed behind her, the slightly distraught counselor sat down in a chair beside Billy’s bed.  Though the initial adrenaline of the encounter had spurred the old barrister to renewed strength, he now needed to rest.

Billy took a large scoop of food and thrust it in his mouth.  Without waiting to swallow, he began to speak again, flecks of rice and chicken escaping from the sides of his mouth as he continued to taunt his advocate turned adversary.  “You know, I am almost glad Mr. Caldwell will die before the truth is revealed.  I think it will make us even more famous.  Don’t you?  I wonder who will play me in the movie version of our life together, Mr. Duncan.  Perhaps Sean Penn.  I think he would capture my true soul very well.”

“You know,” said Duncan, his head facing down towards the floor, “I could release this signed confession without your permission.  I could save that man’s life today without you.  The details you gave in here are so specific, no one would doubt you were the true perpetrator.”

Billy set down his plastic spoon.  “Yes, you could do that Mr. Duncan.  But we both know you never will.  You take that oath to your clients too seriously to end your career as a traitor to the bar.”  He picked up his spoon and took another enormous bite.  “If I had ever thought you were the type of person who didn’t believe the attorney-client privilege was the eleventh commandment, I would never have told you what I did to those kids.”

“Why did you tell me,” barked Duncan.  “Why have you forced me to live with this all these years and now stand by while an innocent man dies?”

Billy leaned forward and looked Duncan deeply in the eyes.  “What other amusement do I have here in prison?”

Duncan clenched his fists and stood.  Then, reaching into his right pocket, he pulled out the heavy black revolver.  Billy froze for a moment, stunned by his counselor’s surprising offensive.  “I brought the murder weapon to turn in as further proof of your guilt,” said Duncan, “but, perhaps, I should just use the remaining bullets to kill you for what you did and what you’ve put me through all of these years.”

Billy smiled.  “Oh, Mr. Duncan, I hope you do.  Wouldn’t that be the most fitting end to our story?  To have you turn out to be a monster just like me.”  Billy laughed and then took another enormous bite of his meal.

Duncan lowered the weapon and placed it safely back in his jacket pocket.  “I’m not like you,” he said calmly, now fully aware of what he must do.  “I’m better than you, and that’s why I’m going to save that man despite what it might mean for my license, my reputation, and my oath.”  Duncan turned to walk away.

“You stop right there,” yelled Billy, food once again spraying from his mouth.  “You get back here.  You’re my attorney, damn you.  You owe me your silence.  You.”

Duncan did not hear another word.  As silence fell behind him, he moved with speed he had not mustered for years.  Practically galloping to his car, he slid inside and jammed the key into the ignition.  As he ran a stop sign and maneuvered the car onto the main road outside the prison hospital, he looked at the watch on the dashboard.  The execution was only two hours away, and he needed to present the affidavit and the gun to the Attorney General in hopes of securing a recommendation for an emergency stay of execution.  He pressed the accelerator further towards the floor, and the car jumped forward with even greater speed.

Just over an hour later, Duncan pulled his car into a space next to a fire hydrant outside the Attorney General’s office and leapt out into the road.

“Hey,” yelled a parking attendant on the other side of the street.  “You can’t park there.  You’ll get towed.”

“Do what you must,” yelled Duncan, and he continued into the building.

Forty-five minutes later, just five minutes before the execution was to occur, the Attorney General emerged from his office.  Duncan, who had paced back and force in the reception area after briefing his old friend, stopped in his tracks and looked up with hopeful eyes.

“We got the stay, Duncan,” said the Attorney General.  “We’ll reopen the investigation, but, based on the specificity of this affidavit and the gun, I’d say Mr. Caldwell will be going home very soon.”

Duncan breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you, Roger.  Thank you.”

“You did good,” said the Attorney General as he patted his mentor and former boss on the back.  “Oh, and I made sure that everyone knew that you didn’t violate your oath to the bar.”

Duncan drew up a puzzled look.  “What do you mean?”

“You know, I thought people should know that you didn’t break attorney-client privilege in brining this to us.  I made sure they knew that just as your client had requested in the affidavit, you brought this to us only after he died.  A close call though.”  The Attorney General shook his head in disbelief.  “To think, Mr. Caldwell was saved by a matter of minutes thanks to the true perpetrator choking to death on a plate of chicken and rice the very day of the scheduled execution.  Well, as they say, timing is everything.”

As Duncan walked back into his house that evening, Martha greeted him from the sofa with a smile.  “So how was your day, dear?”

Duncan sat down next to her and reached out to hold her hand.  “I guess you could say that I won my last case today.”

Martha looked surprised.  “What do you mean you won a case?  Are you representing clients again?”

“Oh, no,” said Duncan with relief.  “Quite the opposite, I’m happy to say.”

“Well, you’ll have to tell me more.  Let’s go in the kitchen for dinner.”

“Wonderful,” he said, pushing himself up off the sofa.  “I’ll tell you all about my day over a good meal.  What are we having?”

“Your favorite, dear.  Chicken and rice.”

Lucian E. Dervan is a law professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law, where his research and teaching center on domestic and international criminal law.  He also enjoys writing legal fiction and is completing work on his first novel.

The post “A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Sep 082014

The post Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest appeared first on Mulholland Books.

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.

“The Best Defense” by Bev Vincent. Bev Vincent is the author of The Road to the Dark Tower, the Bram Stoker Award nominated companion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, which was nominated for a 2010 Edgar® Award and a 2009 Bram Stoker Award.

“Reasonable Doubt” by Andrew Italia. Andrew Italia attended the University of Maryland School of Law and works as a trial lawyer in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in family law, criminal law, and assisting victims of domestic violence. In his spare time he enjoys writing, martial arts, scuba diving, traveling, and the pursuit of the immovable spirit. He currently lives with his family and Great Dane Theodore Roosevelt in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

And the winning story is “A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian Dervan. Lucian E. Dervan is a law professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law, where his research and teaching center on domestic and international criminal law. He also enjoys writing legal fiction and is completing work on his first novel.

The law school is grateful to all of the writers who submitted their stories for consideration and to Mulholland Books for both publicizing the contest and publishing Professor Dervan’s story here. I hope readers enjoy it as much as we did.

—Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke is the bestselling author of ten novels, including the thrillers Long Gone, If You Were Here, and the latest in the Ellie Hatcher series, All Day and a Night. A former prosecutor, she also teaches criminal law and procedure at Hofstra Law School. Her co-authored novel with Mary Higgins Clark, The Cinderella Murder, will be published on November 18th. www.alafairburke.com

The post Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Mar 172014

The post Ten Famously Gruesome Murders appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Blood Royal by Eric JagerEric Jager knows we have a thing for historical mysteries. His new book, Blood Royal, tells the riveting true story of murder and detection in 15th-century Paris. In this case, the victim is Louis of Orleans, but his is not the only murder that has shocked and engrossed a nation. In the following guest post, Jager shares with us ten truly grisly murders that will send thriller writers racing to their history books for inspiration.

The (mainly) historical murders listed here are not just gruesome but also involve high-profile victims whose violent deaths were political acts and often dramatic public statements by the killers. Many other cases, including the Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper murders, are thus omitted.

1. Agamemnon

Woodcut illustration of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdering Agamemnon

According to Greek myth, this king of Argos and victorious commander of the Greeks survived the ten-year Trojan War only to die at home by the hand of his wife. Returning with his captive and concubine, Cassandra, Agamemnon was stabbed in the bath by his jealous and vengeful wife Clytaemnestra, who during his absence had taken her own lover. (Sources: The Oxford Classical Dictionary and Aeschylus, The Oresteia.)

2. Holofernes
Judith Beheading Holofernes

According to biblical apocrypha, this Assyrian general was slain by the Jewish heroine Judith. She beguiled him in his tent, then beheaded him while he slept, hiding his head in a bag and tricking his guards into letting her leave. Returning to Jerusalem in triumph with her trophy, she rallied her people against their enemies. (The Book of Judith)

3. Edmund, King of East Anglia

Statues of St. Edmund in Stone and Steel

In 969, he refused to fight the Vikings. Unimpressed, they shot him full of javelins (or arrows) until he looked “like a porcupine, or Saint Sebastian,” then cut off his head and threw it into a forest. A wolf miraculously guarded the king’s head, which cried out to a search party sent to find it, “Here! Over here!” The reassembled body of the martyr-king was then properly buried. (Aelfric, The Passion of Saint Edmund)

4. Thrain (the Slain)

Njal saga

Caught in a legendary feud, Thrain was killed in a battle on frozen river ice (c. 990). His attacker leaped onto the ice and “shot forward with the speed of a bird. Thrain was just about to put on his helmet as Skarp-hedin bore down on him and struck at him with his axe, ‘Battle-Troll.’ The axe came down upon his head and split it right down to the jaw, so that his jaw teeth dropped out onto the ice.” (Njal’s Saga, trans. Bayerschmidt and Hollander)

5. Charles the Good, Count of Flanders

Charles the Good, Count of Flanders

Charles was sliced to pieces with broadswords in 1127 by conspirators from the rival Erembald family, who surprised their victim at prayer in church. Charles’s father, Canute IV of Denmark, had also been killed in a church, reportedly pierced through the flank by a lance after he and his knights barricaded themselves in the sanctuary against a rebel army. (Galbert of Bruges, The Murder of Charles the Good)

6. Louis of Orleans

Louis of Orleans

One night in November 1407, the widely hated brother of the insane French king, Charles VI, was attacked by a gang of masked assassins armed with swords and axes as he rode along a Parisian street. A post-mortem, which still exists, describes “enormous” wounds across the face and forehead that sectioned Louis’s head into three parts and caused his brain to protrude, as well as a severed hand and a nearly severed arm. (Eric Jager, Blood Royal)

7. King Henri IV of France

Death of Henry

Born a Protestant, Henri converted to Catholicism to become king, supposedly remarking, “Paris is well worth a mass.” His reign, marked by religious tolerance, ended with his assassination in 1610 by a fanatical priest, François Ravaillac. Shadowing the royal carriage through a crowd in Paris, Ravaillac jumped aboard and stabbed the king, piercing a lung and severing his aorta. “‘It’s nothing,’ said Henri, before slumping over, his mouth gushing blood.” Within moments he was dead. (Vincent Pitts, Henri IV of France)

8. The Pazzi Conspiracy

The Pazzi Conspiracy

In April 1478, during Sunday mass, an attack by the Pazzi family to seize power from the rulers of Florence left Giuliano de’ Medici bleeding to death with nineteen stab wounds on the floor of the city’s cathedral, Il Duomo. But his brother Lorenzo escaped to avenge him. Accused conspirators, some perhaps innocent, were hanged, beheaded, or chopped to pieces, and the Pazzi were exiled from Florence. (Lauro Martines, April Blood)

9. Tsar Alexander II

The assassination of Alexander II of Russia 1881

A reformer who emancipated the serfs, he was assassinated in 1881 in Saint Petersburg. A first bomb thrown under his carriage killed a Cossack guard, but the tsar escaped injury and got out. A second bomb thrown at his feet shattered his legs and mutilated his face. One of those who helped lift the mortally wounded czar into a sleigh was a third assassin carrying an unexploded bomb. The tsar died soon after reaching the Winter Palace, and reforms in Russia virtually stopped. (Edvard Radzinsky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar)

10. Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky's Office

The Russian revolutionary leader, ousted from the Communist Party and in exile, was attacked at his home in Mexico in 1940 by a Soviet agent almost certainly sent by Stalin. Having gained Trotsky’s trust, the assassin approached him from behind with an ice-axe and struck him on the head. The blade penetrated several inches into Trotsky’s skull but did not kill him at once; indeed, Trotsky bit his attacker on the hand. Taken to hospital, where he underwent surgery, Trotsky died the next day. (Robert Service, Trotsky: A Biography)

The post Ten Famously Gruesome Murders appeared first on Mulholland Books.