Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Craig Johnson Book Giveaway!

Update: The winner of the random drawing for Any Other Name is Rosanna Sharp. Congratulations! And thanks to everyone for entering. I'll be giving away more books in the near future. I wish you luck in any future drawings.

To celebrate the new release in paperback of Craig Johnson's novel Any Other Name I'm giving away a free copy! To enter the contest, just post a comment here on THIS blog post saying you'd like to have Craig Johnson's new paperback Any Other Name, or send me a tweet on twitter to @patrickbalester, to have your name entered. The contest starts at 5 PM Central Standard Time on Wednesday April 29th, 2015 and runs for 48 hours until 5 PM Central Standard Time on Friday, May 1st, 2015. The entries will be picked at random and the winner will be announced Friday night at 10 PM CST May 1st, 2015.

Rules (stuff the lawyers make me say):

1) One entry per person. Post your entry on this blog post or send me a tweet to @patrickbalester. Include either the author's name, Craig Johnson, or the name of the book, Any Other Name.
2) Must be a U.S. resident to enter.
3) Deadline will be determined by time stamp on the blog comment or twitter tweet.
4) If you win, you agree to have your name only published on my blog, Facebook and on Twitter (but not your personal address; though I will need that to send you the prize, it will not be shared).
5) Entries from my relatives are ineligible (although most of them love to read...sorry).
6) Entries from YOUR relatives are most welcome!
7) Winner will be chosen randomly from all submitted entries placed in Craig Johnson's cowboy hat (or a close facsimile).
8) This giveaway is subject to state and local laws and not sponsored by Google, Facebook or Twitter.
9) Giveaways may be taxable, but your name will NOT be given to the IRS, CDC, FBI, CIA, or the NSA (although the NSA probably already has it). Reporting taxable prizes is the responsibility of the winner.
10) No pushing or shoving. The Marquess of Queensberry Rules shall apply at all times. I thank you!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


It's an old cliche - Crime Doesn't Pay. But is it really true?

As J. A. Konrath says, "Well, Not Exactly".

A recent study found that while drug Kingpins can rake in an average of 1.7 to 2.5 million dollars a year, the average corner drug peddler nets a mere $4,756.00 annually.

That's less than the minimum wage. And it's the corner drug pusher who stands the highest risk of being arrested or killed. Not very good odds for a job that forces most pushers to live at home because they can't afford a home or apartment. This disparity between the highest and lowest paid workers in the drug trade is much greater than the one in corporate America. Where's the outrage?

Bank robbers fared a little better. A study done in the United Kingdom whose findings were published in Scientific American found that the average take per bank heist was $31,600. Divided among the gang, it netted each participant $19,700 - "roughly equivalent to a coffee shop barista's annual salary", according to the study. However, the study also found that by the fourth robbery, most participants had been caught and were looking at long prison sentences.

The real money seems to be in public corruption, a fact that politicians have long understood. According to a report by Jo Ciavaglia, a news reporter in Pennsylvania, Bensalem District employee Frederick Lange was convicted of stealing from the school that employed him to the tune of $400,000 over 10 years. But he got to keep his pension, including the contributions from the taxpayer and the interest. And he's not the only public employee raking in the dough. Former PA state representative Mike Veon, who may soon be released from prison after a conviction in Bonusgate, was ordered to pay $219,000 in restitution. So far, he's only paid 1200 bucks. Another former state rep John Perzel was convicted of corruption and sentenced to five years, but withdrew $203,000 in pension benefits AND kept his Philadelphia home. Ordered to pay One Million Dollars in restitution, so far he's coughed up only $960.

Is this a great country, or what? (Well, it is if you're a corrupt public employee or legislator).

Pennsylvania House Bill 17 has been proposed by Rep Scott Petri to outlaw such financial scams on the taxpayer, according to Ciavaglia's report. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

And then there's the crime writer. The men and women who entertain us with thrilling tales of scams, robbery and murder motivated by lust, greed and jealousy. Does crime pay for them? Sadly, despite the hopes of best sellerdom and the examples set by Stephen King and James Patterson, most published writers make less than 5,000 dollars a year from their work.

Now that's a crime. It's almost enough to make a crime writer look for honest work.


Monday, April 27, 2015

The Verdict Is In - The Case Of The Purloined Painting Is Guilty As Charged

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury have you reached a verdict?

We have, Your Honor.

In the case of Carl Brookins vs the Reading Public, charged with writing a highly entertaining PI novel with malice aforethought on providing historical accuracy without boring the reader, how do you find? Is the defendant Guilty or Not Guilty?

Guilty, Your Honor.

There you have it. The Case of the Purloined Painting is not only entertaining, but (gasp) educational as well. As an added footnote, the novel, which is one of a series featuring the private detective Sean Sean, stands on its own feet without requiring prior knowledge of the character by the reader. However, this charge was dropped in the interest of expediency.

This is my first encounter with Sean Sean (the PI so nice they named him twice). He doesn't fit the typical stereotype of a Private Eye, and that alone is refreshing. He hails not from sunny Florida or the gritty streets of New York, but Minneapolis, Minnesota. It seems that citizens of the upper Midwest from good Norweigan stock have the same foibles as the rest of us...they commit crimes. That's where Sean steps in - all 5 1/2 feet of him (another break with tradition).

A mysterious woman comes to him and claims to have seen a man tossed from a bridge after being accosted by two men. For reasons she won't explain, she is reluctant go to the police and hires Sean to investigate. When a dead body with the name of Manfred Gottlieb does turn up, Sean starts following the trail of clues. They lead to a painting which may have been looted by an American G.I after World War II, a painting that was used to build a huge fortune for a powerful Minnesota family. And as Sean begins to peel back the layers, lots of folks take a sudden interest in art history. The head of a local law firm, the police, and even the Justice Department pay Sean a visit. But they're mere annoyances compared to the shadowy figure that's trying to kill him.

The painting may not even be the grand prize. Sean begins to uncover pages from a ledger written in German that catalogue more pieces of artwork, much of which now rests in museums around the world. Is this a wish list for an art collector, or a crime list of Nazi plunder?

Either way, it may be the list that led to Gottlieb's murder, and the killer has no qualms about adding to the body count. It's up to Sean to keep that to a minimum while trying to solve the crime. How he manages that task provides the reader with a page turning story and along the way proves that art, and art crime, can haunt us long after the artist's paintbrush is put away.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Writers Born Today - Rex Miller

It's the birthday of Rex Miller, born April 25, 1939 in Sikeston, Missouri. He was a popular DJ in Chicago in the 1960s before he started writing novels. Harlan Ellison encouraged him to turn his skills to the typewriter.

His family history included several violent deaths, including an uncle who was murdered by the Nazis and another who died under mysterious circumstances in Switzerland while working as a delegate for the League of Nations.

Rex Miller had this to say about his writing: "I'm writing for realism, the power edge, a kind of dual catharsis I suppose. If I could pass one message along through my work, it's this: those repeat-offenders who victimize the helpless are neither 'sick,' 'troubled,' 'disturbed,' nor 'dysfunctional' They're evil."

Most of his novels featured Chicago detective Jack Eichord who tracks a 450 pound serial killer named Daniel Bunkowski. Bunkowski, also know as Chaingang, is an ex-government assassin who continues to kill once he returns from Vietnam, simply for the thrill of it.

The first novel in the series, Slob, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award in 1987.

Stephen King described Miller's writing as "terrifying and original". Miller's fiction was a cross between traditional crime and horror. He was popular during the early period that came to be known as splatterpunk, a fiction sub-genre that is experiencing a renaissance with writers such as Christine Morgan and  J. Michael Major.

"You have to have the self-confidence of a rhinoceros to write...", he once said in an interview for the St. Joseph News-Press. "You spend a lot of time alone. You've got to really want to do this."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mystery History - Odd Man Out

It was on this day in 1947 that Odd Man Out was released in the United States. Set in Northern Ireland, it's the story of an armed robbery that goes wrong when the gang's leader is wounded and left behind by his fleeing compatriots in the IRA. James Mason portrays Johnny McQueen as the wounded gunman who kills a cashier during the robbery and must flee into the back streets of Belfast while the police throw a dragnet around the city.

The lead role was offered first to Stewart Granger, a very popular British actor at the time, but he turned it down. Mason got the part and gave one of the best performances of his career.

Carol Reed directed the film, and did a brilliant job as he used the dark street settings to enhance the sense of claustrophobia that surrounds Johnny McQueen as he scurries through the streets seeking someone...anyone, who can help him. But each person he encounters is a person who can also betray him. We see the other members of his gang meet this fate when they trust the wrong people. The only person Johnny can really trust is Kathleen Sullivan (played by Kathleen Ryan). But she has no idea where Johnny is hiding, and must venture into the streets to join the search and hope to find him before the police do.

The movie won the BAFTA award for Best British Film in 1949. The New York Times called it "a picture to see, to absorb in the darkness of the theatre and then go home and talk about." James Mason said it was one of his favorite movie roles.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mystery History - The Murders In The Rue Morgue is published

It was on this day in 1841 that The Murders in the Rue Morgue was published by Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia. Edgar Allan Poe's tale about a series of mysterious and graphic murders is acknowledged as the first modern detective story. The word "detective" hadn't even been invented yet, through it would appear within a year.

It was originally entitled Murders in the Rue Trianon but Poe renamed it for shock effect. Many of the techniques used in the story later became standard fare in the mystery novel. The Sherlock Holmes character owes much to Poe's story, such as employing the detective's assistant as a narrator and the use of logical deduction to solve the crime. Poe published the story again in his 1845 collection, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

The story has been redone numerous times on the stage, radio, in the movies, and even as a board game.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Final Chapter - Charlene Weir, Kansas born Mystery Writer

Mystery writer Charlene Weir passed away on April 4th, 2015 in El Cerrito, California. She was born in Nortonville, Kansas, a small town of 400 about 36 miles from Topeka. She was a voracious reader,
according to her online biography, and carried library books home by the armful. He mother was always after her to "put down that book and go outside, get some sunshine and exercise".

Writing wasn't her first choice as a career. She really wanted to be a nurse. After graduating high school she got her nursing degree and moved to California. But health problems nagged her...tiredness, numbness in her limbs, vision problems. One doctor, unable to diagnose her symptoms, suggested she see a shrink. Finally, a doctor in Stanford diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis. It was the end of her nursing career. But she still had her children, and her puzzles, and her love of reading.

Writing still didn't enter her mind, until her husband suggested she try writing a novel after an off the cuff remark about a book she'd just finished. "He pushed me into a life of crime" Weir said. 

She started writing a series about a San Francisco detective who moves to a small Kansas town to wed the police chief. After he is gunned down, Susan Wren vows to hunt down the killer. This first novel, The Winter Widow, won the Malice Domestic Award for Best First Traditional Mystery in 1992.  Her second, Consider The Crows, was nominated for an Anthony Award in 1994.

Five more books in the series followed. They won critical acclaim from reviewers as well as readers. She was never afraid of her illness. There were other things to fear.

"There is nothing scarier than a blank computer screen".

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Writers Born Today - Tom Clancy

It's the birthday of Tom Clancy, born April 12, 1947 in Baltimore Maryland. Early in his life he took a deep interest in reading and military history, a combination that would serve him well as a writer.

But after graduating from college, he went into the insurance business, his dream of being an author postponed. His poor eyesight also kept him from pursuing an active career in the military. But it didn't stop him from devouring military news, journals and magazines.

In 1980 he purchased his own insurance agency, and began to write at night in his spare time. His first novel, The Hunt For Red October, was published by a small press that specialized in military non-fiction. They almost didn't buy it, but an editor, Deborah Grosvenor, pushed hard for its acquisition. The novel came out in 1984. The story of a high tech Soviet submarine whose crew defects to the United States was about to make publishing history.

Clancy hoped it would sell a few thousand copies so he could earn his meager advance. One of those copies found in way into the hands of the President of the United States, and after he praised it, sales soared into the millions. Suddenly, the insurance agent with thick eyeglasses was an international best-selling author.

The book was packed with so many technical details and tactics on submarine warfare that many people in the military suspected that Clancy may have used Top Secret or classified information. The Secretary of the Navy John Lehman wanted to know who had cleared its publication. But all the research had been conducted using public sources.

More best-selling novels followed, and Mr. Clancy became the premiere novelist of Cold War thrillers. His second, Red Storm Rising, was required reading at the Naval War College. Some of the technology from his novels, which didn't exist at the time of publication, has since been found on the battlefield, which led one military historian to compare him to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

When he died in 2013, his reputation among military personnel and the CIA was so great that the CIA published a tribute to him in the form of a parody of his most famous work, called The Hunt For Red October: The Untold Story. It poked fun at the typical day of a CIA analyst.

Although he sold over 100 million copies of his novels, Clancy insisted that the writing never came easy. "A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mystery History - The Dark Corner Released Today in 1946

It was on this day in 1946 that The Dark Corner was released in theaters. This under-rated noir film tells the story of an ex-con turned PI named Bradford Galt. He discovers that he's being followed by a man who claims to work for his old double crossing partner Tony Jardine.  But it's a trick. Jardine is actually the target for a murder by an art gallery owner, who simply wants to pin the murder on Galt, whose history with Jardine will make him a natural suspect. When Galt is found next to the dead Jardine, a fireplace poker in his hand, his secretary Kathleen hides him.

The movie featured several big names, including William Bendix, Clifton Webb and Lucille Ball as Galt's faithful secretary.

Most people are unaware that the woman who graced television screens in the 50s and 60s as America's Sweetheart appeared in several noir films in the 1940s. Lucille Ball gives a good performance as the loyal secretary who tries to uncover the murderer and protect Galt from a frame job. Her snappy dialogue and admiration for her employer capture the audience from the opening scene. When she's on the screen, you want to jump in and join her on the dance floor or take her for a cup of coffee. No wonder we all fell in love with her.

Dark drama just wasn't Ms Ball's forte (at least according to the studio heads). It would take a match with a Cuban musician named Desi Arnaz to place her at the top of television comedy for more than a decade. But she's a delight to watch in this movie.

Much of the film's visual appeal is due to the skillful directing of Henry Hathaway, and cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who uses bright light mixed with shadow to set the dark mood.

Clifton Webb gives a strong performance as the art dealer who works behinds the scenes to manipulate the players. William Bendix as a shady tail holds up well. The movie got good reviews, with the New York Times calling it a "sizzling piece of melodrama."

Lucille Ball would go on to make a few more movies, including another noir, Lured, before her career would make TV history in I Love Lucy.

Lucille Ball: "Mr Galt, I think someone is following us...I've never been followed before."
Mark Stevens: "That's a terrible reflection on American manhood."