Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wicked Wednesday Villains We Love - Michael Lister's Gauge

"Did you just take a picture of me?"

The voice is not hostile. In fact, it's friendly and even a little whimsical. But that doesn't last long. Remington is in deep trouble. He discovers this when he attempts to take another picture of the man behind that voice, and a rifle slug nearly takes his head off.

"I'm tired of having my picture took." As Remington flees into the woods the words of the murderer echo in his head..."It's the end of the line, partner."

But it's not the end of our encounter with Gauge, the killer in Double Exposure. It's just the beginning.

Michael Lister's suspense novel, Double Exposure, places his hero in mortal danger early in the story. Remington retrieves his camera trap from deep within the Florida wilderness and discovers a series of photographs that could make his reputation as a photographer. That's the good news.

The bad news? Those photographs could also get him killed.

The photos expose the murder of a woman and the man who murdered her. Remington has to get out of the woods and to the police. Unfortunately he's not alone, as he discovers when the camera trap is triggered and the flash goes off. And a voice from the dusk asks a question. "Did you just take a picture of me?"

Gauge is one of the most disturbing villains in crime fiction, because he's so damn likable. I haven't encountered a villain quite like this in crime literature since I first read The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson.

Even after being shot at, Remington finds himself talking to the very man who is hunting him, courtesy of a walkie talkie he lifted from one of Gauge's friends, called in to help hunt Remington down. Remington had to kill the man in self defense, and Gauge uses this knowledge to his advantage.

"You out there killer?" he says over the airwaves. He plays with Remington's emotions, pointing out the similarities between them. Both men have killed, both in order to defend themselves. At least that's the story Gauge feeds to Remington as he tries to create self doubt in the young photographer's mind. This self-rationalization has only one purpose, of flush out Remington, kill him, and destroy the evidence. The soothing voice of the devil could be the man at the corner diner having breakfast with you before a deer hunt.

What do we know of Gauge? He's an employee of the Florida Wildlife Dept, as evidenced by the patch on his uniform. He knows the woods as well, perhaps better than Remington, who grew up in them. He comes from the same background, the same culture. And we also know that he has killed a woman, and buried her in the Florida woods. Remington has the pics to prove it, and Gauge can't allow him to leave these woods alive.

The author described him in these words: "Gauge is a character I feel like I "met" or was introduced to far more than one I created. He seemed to arrive fully formed to do only what he wanted to do. I view him as a charming shark, a sociopath. He is honest and practical and as cold as you'd expect someone without a soul to be. He doesn't have a conscience and he doesn't believe he's missing out on anything. Unburdened by empathy, he has decided to try and have fun during every immoral act he commits."

We see what Michael Lister means as the novel progresses and the night deepens. Gauge continues to talk to Remington, even flattering the young man. He's giving Remington odds on his survival. They started at 20 to 1. They're now down to 12 to 1.

"I'll take a piece of that. Put me down for twenty," Remington says.

"You got it," Gauge replies.

The reader gets the impression that Gauge is actually an OK guy. But the illusion doesn't last when Gauge strikes out at the person Remington cares most about. I never saw it coming. Neither will you.

It's easy to create a protagonist you can admire. It's a lot harder to create villains with sympathy who aren't two-dimensional. Michael Lister does both. And it's a pleasure to read. If we're lucky, we'll never meet Gauge in person...or someone like him.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Hail Storme is a Pounding Thriller

Ex-NFL player Wyatt Storme is bow hunting in Missouri when he stumbles across a huge marijuana field in the middle of the woods. He manages to subdue the guard dog and it's handler, but his discovery sets off a chain of disasters that Wyatt feels compelled to put right. The sheriff he alerts is shot dead the next day, and other people drawn into the investigation face danger from a drug conspiracy far bigger than just a few dozen acres of illicit weed. In the rural town of Paradise, some powerful businessmen have plans to mass produce a new drug called Dreamsicle that will make the crack epidemic of the 1980s look like a cozy tea party. Wyatt is determined to stop them before everyone he cares about is killed.

He teams up with Charles (Chick) Easton, a bounty hunter who's after the chemist who has concocted this new drug. Both men are Vietnam veterans and have seen more than their share of killing. They quickly bond as only battle hardened soldiers can. As Wyatt puts it, "He would be difficult to avoid liking." I liked him. You will, too. In fact, Chick is so likeable, he steals the scene in several chapters. Perhaps the author will give Easton his own series someday.

In the meantime, check out Hail Storme.  It has snappy dialogue and a story that keeps the pages turning. It's a great start to a excellent series, by W. L. Ripley.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Christmas Carol For Writers

For all writers who have submitted a query this year to an agent in hopes of getting published, this song will ring true! Sing to the tune "Oh, Christmas Tree".

Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling,
with hope that they will never say
"You're storyline's appalling!"
I edit you all day and night,
to prove that I can truly write,
Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.

Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.
Revisions done, it wasn't fun.
My fingertips are bleeding.
My query's sent with greatest hope
that it will show I'm not a dope.
Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.

Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.
My hopes and dreams wait anxiously,
Rejections can be mauling.
It's ramen noodles for my next meal
Until I snag that three-book deal.
Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Picks By Pat Mentioned In Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

I'm humbled to learn that my mystery blog, Picks By Pat, was mentioned in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's Sept/Oct issue. This magazine has been a staple for lovers of crime fiction since 1941. Hat tip to Julie Mangan Tollefson.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Writers Born Today - Joel Goldman

It's the birthday of Joel Goldman, born October 23, 1952 in Kansas City.  He began his career as a lawyer, but switched to another life of crime; a writer of legal thrillers.

While joking around with another attorney in his firm, Joel suggested the best way to handle a difficult colleague was to write a mystery and kill him off. It was a good joke, but it got Joel to thinking. The result was his first thriller, Motion To Kill, published in 2002. Publisher's Weekly said it was filled with  high tension and had an electrifying finish. Four more thrillers followed featuring his smart and sassy protagonist Lou Mason, including Deadlocked, which Mystery Scene Magazine called "a real page turner delivered by a pro." It seemed that Goldman could do no wrong. Then unexpected health problems ended his legal career. Rather than dwell on the matter, Goldman turned to writing full time and created a new hero, FBI Special Agent Jack Davis, and gave his hero the same health issues that plagued him  as a way to deal with the change in his life.

Not content to just write crime fiction, Joel got into the publishing business with a new company he started with fellow crime writer Lee Goldberg. They started Brash Books in 2014 with the ambitious goal of publishing "the best crime novels in existence". At first they focused on top notch authors whose works had gone out of print, and even went so far as to hire a private detective to track down one missing writer who they wanted to publish! Since the company started they have published dozens of award winning authors and over 80 novels.

"Ask yourself the question I ask myself each time I start writing a new mystery – what happens when things go wrong, especially when you think no one’s looking?"

- Joel Goldman

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Writers Born Today - S. S. Van Dine

It's the birthday of Willard Huntington Wright, born October 15, 1888 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He wrote under the pen name S.S. Van Dine, in part because he was too embarrassed to admit to his high brow friends that he had stooped to writing "detective fiction". He created the dapper amateur detective Philo Vance, who was an immediate hit, both in print and on the silver screen, portrayed by such actors as William Powell and Basil Rathbone. Few people living today have ever read one of Van Dine's novels or even heard of him. Yet for a brief period of a dozen years, be was one of the most widely read authors on the planet.

Wright began his career as a critic, first for the Los Angeles Times and later for Smart Set, a jazz age magazine owned by the great writer H. L. Mencken, one of Wright's literary influences. Although Wright was known for his scathing reviews of romance and detective fiction, he never achieved the fame he felt he deserved, and after a series of personal and business setbacks, he was ordered complete bed rest by his doctors to deal with his drug abuse.

Bored, he began reading detective novels by the dozen, and to his surprise, found some of them quite entertaining. He decided to try his hand at a couple, but aware of his own reputation for slandering the mystery genre, came up with the pen name S.S. Van Dine to disguise his authorship. He created Philo Vance, a protagonist modeled after himself, or at least, how Wright saw himself...educated, cultured, wealthy, and an expert on any number of subjects, a man to admire with his fancy clothes and monocle. He was the perfect detective for the jazz age, a model for the boom years when it seemed everyone was destined to become wealthy and wise. First with The Benson Murder Case and the blockbuster The Canary Murder Case, Van Dine's writing formula was a hit. By the time the third Philo Vance novel was published, Wright was as rich as his main character. So popular were his books that they helped keep his publisher from going out of business during the Depression.

Wright even penned a guide for other writers with an essay he published called Twenty Rules For Writing Detective Stories. It holds up well and still has some good advice. Van Dine influenced many other writers of the mystery genre, perhaps the most famous being the writers who created Ellery Queen.

Van Dine's novels and trademark character lost popularity as the Jazz Age and the Roaring 20s gave way to the deepening Great Depression. By the mid 1930s his wealthy protagonist began to appear dated and out of place. New writers, such as Dashiell Hammett and James Cain emerged with a gritty, realistic style that caught the public's eye. By the time the last Philo Vance novel, The Winter Murder Case was published in 1939, Van Dine's literary shooting star had burnt out. And not just his career was over. He died on April 11 of that same year from heavy drinking and heart disease.

"There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse, the better."

                                                                   - S.S. Van Dine

Friday, October 6, 2017


On October 6, 1866, the Reno Gang pulled the first moving train robbery in U.S. history near Seymour, Indiana. The four brothers made off with 10,000 dollars in gold and currency, worth over
166,000 dollars in today's money. It was a daring and inspired crime that set off a wave of copycats. 

For a while, it became the most profitable method of robbery in the Wild West. The transcontinental railroad had just been completed, uniting the country. Large sums of cash were being hauled around by rail to stock banks and mines with payroll money in the fast growing western territories. But the area was still sparsely populated. Robbers had plenty of isolated spots in which to ambush trains, and organizing a posse to chase the thieves was nearly impossible. Rugged landscapes provided countless hiding places.  Even the infamous crime duo Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid got in on what seemed to be easy pickings.

But it was not to last. Train owners didn't like being robbed (imagine that). They began to protect their cargo with larger safes, armored boxcars and armed guards. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was hired to chase down the gangs, sometimes with men on horseback leaping from special train cars. By the late 1880s, the good times were over.

It ended a lot sooner for the Reno Gang. Three of the brothers were arrested after a train robbery in 1868 in which a guard was beaten to death. An enraged mob of vigilantes stormed the jail where they were being held and hung them.