Monday, June 11, 2018

Q&A with Paul Levine

Award-winning author Paul Levine joins us today to talk about his new book, Bum Deal, the third book in the series. Paul's books have been translated into 23 languages. Let's hear about the latest...

Please tell us a little about BUM DEAL.

Jake Lassiter, my old warrior of the courtroom, fights for justice – and his life – in his final adventure. The series began in 1990 with TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, my first novel, which thankfully is still in print. In BUM DEAL, Lassiter, a second-string linebacker turned criminal defense lawyer, finally switches teams. As the appointed special prosecutor in a high-profile murder case, he vows to take down a prominent surgeon accused of killing his wife. There’s just one problem…or maybe three: no evidence, no witness, and no body. Complicating Jake’s life is CTE, the lethal brain disease he may have contracted banging heads in the NFL. So, when I say this is Lassiter’s last trial...well, maybe it’s REALLY his last trial.

BUM DEAL and the novel preceding it, BUM LUCK, both touch on CTE. When did you start developing the idea to include this in your Jake Lassiter narrative? Also, how did you come up with such clever titles for this series?

A close friend of mine, a former football player and international rugby player, died of CTE a few years ago. It affected me deeply, and I decided to visit that horrific plague on my hero of a dozen novels. In BUM LUCK, Lassiter, who suffered multiple concussions playing football, begins showing symptoms of brain damage: confusion, irritability, memory lapses. In BUM DEAL, his medical condition worsens and he undergoes experimental treatments that are based on actual medical procedures. 

The likelihood that Lassiter has the disease, which is always fatal, changes his outlook on life. Perhaps that why he wants to seek justice – that illusory, shadowy concept – on the other side, i.e., the state. Now he prosecutes an accused murderer, instead of defending him.

As for titles – BUM RAP, BUM DEAL, BUM LUCK – I like their crispness. In the era when people search for books on their iPhones, it’s a lot easier to read a two-word title. I loved the book, “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” but I’m not sure you could do that now.

For new readers, tell us a bit more about Jake, as well as his unlikely best friends, lawyers Victoria Lord and Steve Solomon. Where did these characters come from? Who are they?

I started writing “To Speak for the Dead” in 1988, when I was 40 and going through a mid-life
crisis. I was a partner in a large (1,000 lawyers) international law firm. My cases, primarily commercial litigation, bored me. Judges, clients, and partners irritated me. Instead of seeking therapy, I created Jake Lassiter, a guy who would punch out a witness who lied and happily be held into contempt to prove a point in court. “A lawyer who’s afraid of jail,” he says, “is like a surgeon who’s afraid of blood.” In other words, Lassiter would do things I would not. I found his conduct (and misconduct) oddly satisfying.

The recurring themes of the series are the precarious nature of justice and the difficulty (or impossibility) of achieving true justice. Lassiter has long approached the job of the criminal defense lawyer with a certain amount of cynicism. 

“A good lawyer is part con man, part priest—promising riches if you pay the fee, threatening hell if you don’t.  The rainmakers are the best paid and have coined a remarkably candid phrase: We eat what we kill. Hey, they don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord stem from my love of the battle-of-the-sexes dramedy.  Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man” books with squabbling detectives Nick and Nora Charles and of course, television’s “Moonlighting” with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis.

In “Solomon vs. Lord,” Steve Solomon, a street-smart graduate of Key West School of Law, teams up with Victoria Lord, a Chardonnay and pâté Ivy League grad. They defend a woman on charges she killed her filthy rich husband. It’s lighter, funnier than the Lassiter novels. Victoria plays by the book.  Steve burns the book. He has immense respect for justice but little respect for the law, which he sees as insensitive and inflexible and enforced by people who are vain and corrupt.  His own code:  "If the law doesn’t the law." And, “Choose a juror the way you choose a lover.  Someone who doesn’t expect perfection and overlooks your bullshit.” And, “Lie to your priest, your spouse, and the IRS, but always tell your lawyer the truth.” 

Did you always plan for Jake to meet Steve and Victoria? How has the trio surprised you?

I thought Solomon and Lord would spice up the Lassiter series, and I think they have. 

Your previous experience as an athlete and a lawyer obviously informed your plots and the characters. Has your past experience as a screenwriter also informed your novels? How? Will you ever write another screenplay? Why or why not?

Writing for television (“JAG” and “First Monday”) sharpened my dialogue skills. Believe it or not, I’m writing a spec feature script set in 1930's Hollywood.

If Steve, Jake, and Victoria were actually real people, would you be friends with each of them (even Steve!)? Why or why not?  

What? They’re not real?  Seriously, I created these characters. They’re already my best friends!

What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your novels? 

I got away from perjurious witnesses, inept judges, and obstreperous opposing lawyers...except for ones I made up.

What was the last mystery novel you read, other than your own, that you LOVED? Why did you love it?  

“The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn. Slick combination of intricate plotting with smart writing. Really nice wordsmithery.

If you could be any character in a book, who would you be and why?

Sherlock Holmes, without the cocaine and morphine use. Doesn’t everyone want to be the smartest guy in the room?  

Friday, June 8, 2018

Paying Homage to Philip Marlowe with the Gimlet

R.G. Belsky, a longtime New York City journalist and a crime fiction author, is making Gin Gimlet's to celebrate his new mystery YESTERDAY’S NEWS published by Oceanview in May. This is the first book in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station and with RG's experience in newsrooms, it's bound to have the inside story. Can't wait to dig in... 

I'm going to go with the gimlet as the drink for my book YESTERDAY'S NEWS, a Clare Carlson Mystery.
YESTERDAY’S NEWS is about a legendary missing child cold case – and a journalist obsessed with finding out answers to what really happened. 
Fifteen years ago, an 11-year-old girl named Lucy Devlin disappeared on her way to school in New York City – and was never heard from again. Clare Carlson, a young newspaper reporter at the time, became a media star covering the sensational story – even winning a Pulitzer Prize. Now she is the news director of a New York TV station. 
But, on the 15th anniversary of Lucy Devlin’s disappearance, the story explodes into the headlines again with new evidence, new victims and new suspects. 
And Clare Carlson finds herself being drawn back into a baffling story that she thought she had left behind her a long time ago. 
Now Clare, like a lot of people in the New York City media, does a lot of hard-living and hard-drinking around town. She doesn't really drink gimlets, at least as far as I know. Like most journalists, she's more of a beer and straight liquor type of woman.
But the inspiration for YESTERDAY'S NEWS and Clare Carlson (like every other book I've written) really originated back when I first read Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, then decided I wanted to write mystery novels too.
And Philip Marlowe's favorite drink was the gimlet.
Well, the truth of the matter is the gimlet didn't make an appearance in Chandler's work until one of his final books, The Long Goodbye. That's when Marlowe drinks gimlets with his "friend" Terry Lennox and waxes eloquently about the drink. In fact, Chandler mentions the gimlet numerous times throughout the book, identifying it with Marlowe forever in literary history.  The story was that Chandler had discovered the drink on a trip to England and liked it so that he decided to have Marlowe drink gimlets too. 

It's not a common drink today and a bit old-fashioned - but also simple to make.

Classic Gin Gimlet

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • Lime wedge, for garnish


Fill shaker with ice and pour in the gin, lime juice and simple syrup.

Stir until cold.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass – or any glass filled with ice.

Garnish with the lime wedge.


That's all there is to it to drink Philip Marlowe's favorite drink. In fact, it's so simple maybe I'll have Clare Carlson drink one in my next book. Yep, instead of beer or bourbon, I'll have her betting down a gimlet.

I think Marlowe would like that.  

You can find RG on Twitter @DickBel and Facebook.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

We caught up with Kerry Hammond to see what she thought of the latest standalone novel by the prolific British writer Anthony Horowitz.

Anthony Horowitz is the author of the critically acclaimed mystery Magpie Murders, published earlier this year. He was the producer of the first seven episodes of Midsomer Murders, and the creator and writer of another great British mystery drama, Foyle’s War. He was commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write two new Sherlock Holmes books and the Ian Fleming Estate to write Trigger Mortis, a novel featuring James Bond. The Word is Murder, his latest standalone, released on June 5 from Harper publishers.

The Word is Murder began as a bit of a surreal experience. The protagonist of the story is writer Anthony Horowitz. Yes, the very same Anthony Horowitz who is….the author of the book. He lists his credentials as novelist and television creator and producer; then it turns to fiction, or at least I think it does. Horowitz, in the story, is approached by ex-police detective, Daniel Hawthorne, and asked to write a story about his investigation into the death of a woman who planned her own funeral six hours before her murder. Horowitz reluctantly follows along, writing about the search for the killer. The investigation takes them back ten years, to the death of a child in a seaside town at the hands—or vehicle—of their current victim. Whether or not it played a part in the murder is part of the mystery.

I loved that there was a thin and obscure delineation between fact and fiction. The blurred line between the real life novelist and the character he plays in his own book was very intriguing. Horowitz by no means tries to make himself out to be the hero of the story. We actually see how Hawthorne controls the show and leads the writer around in the investigation, sometimes telling him so little about what is going on as to be dangerous to everyone involved.

This is my first Horowitz book but definitely not my last. I enjoyed the author’s ability to tell an interesting and compelling story that kept me engaged and guessing. I felt that Hawthorne was leading me as well, and I, like Horowitz, was clueless until the very last minute.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: See Her Run by Peggy Townsend

Kerry Hammond loves reading new authors and today she’s here to talk about new-to-her author Peggy Townsend.

See Her Run by Peggy Townsend was released on June 1 from publisher Thomas & Mercer. It’s the first book in a series featuring Aloa Snow, a former journalist with a checkered past. Townsend was an award winning newspaper reporter before she became a novelist, covering a variety of stories that have even included serial killers. Her pre-author background intrigued me and I was eager to start the Aloa Snow series at book one.

In See Her Run, Snow, a former Los Angeles Times Reporter, is given the opportunity to write the real story behind the death of Hayley Poole, a well-known athlete who was found in the dessert under suspicious circumstances. The reason this opportunity is so important is because Snow’s career took a nosedive when she cut corners on a previous piece and was fired and subsequently ostracized from the reporting community. Her interest in the story might be because she wants to clear her name, or because she needs the money, or to find out the truth. But the truth is, it’s really all three…and a then some.

Snow is a multifaceted and intriguing character. She felt new and different, unlike any character I have come across. She has some issues she needs to work through and I found this not only human, but very real. Kudos to the author for providing a fresh and interesting protagonist. In that same vein, supporting characters are extremely important; they can make or break a story. Snow’s band of misfits who help her investigate are wonderful. They were quirky enough to be entertaining but not too much as to be over the top. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more in the series.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cocktails with Andy Siegel

Today on Drinks with Reads, Andy Siegel joins us to celebrate his Tug Wiler series of mysteries. 

The new books—Nelly’s Case, Elton’s Case, and Jenna’s Case—which demonstrate the rush to cover up genuine wrongs, will thrust readers headfirst into the emotionally charged high-stakes arena of medical malpractice law. 

In Nelly’s Case, two girls walk into a dentist’s office … but only one walks out. Yet it’s no joke, and there isn’t a punch-line. Discovering exactly what happened to Nelly in that dental chair, anesthesia infusing, and who was responsible lies at the book’s center. The fact that a witness was on hand—Jessie, her half-sister—looks a distinct advantage. But the closer Tug gets to the truth the more elusive it becomes.
In Elton’s Case, could it have happened that, while being transported with less than suitable care in a police van, while wrongfully locked up for a crime he didn’t commit, Elton suffered injuries rendering him a paraplegic in a wheelchair for the past decade? In this twister, Tug finds himself caught in the unlikeliest of conflicts. After all, what’s he supposed to think when the defendant, the City of New York, begins offering him millions to settle while at the same time maintaining its allegation that Elton’s case is a phony one?
In Jenna’s Case, a bright, outgoing, and ace Brooklyn double-Dutch jump-roper is now a nearly mute shadow of her former teen-age self after having had her vulnerability exploited by a doctor without a conscious. As Tug proceeds to amass evidence against the defiant surgeon who’d willfully mutilated Jenna, he soon discovers that the forces set against him are not only more numerous than he’d imagined but also more deadly. 
Now for the attendant cocktail … The Tequila Tug
The Tequila Tug consists of Don Julio 1942 Anejo on ice served in a large stem glass stocked with whole California mandarin orange wedges. The third ingredient—outside the glass—consists of well-grilled asparagus topped with Kosher salt. The best part of this sweet and salty combo: eating the scrumptious tequila infused wedges while racking your brain attempting to solve your favorite Tug Wyler Mystery. 
In Suzy’s Case, the series debut novel (Optioned CBS TV, People Best Beach Read, Suspense Magazine Best Book), Tug finds himself at a bar just after hospital discharge having been run off the road by one of his own client’s. His post-coma craving—which enthralls an attractive bartender mesmerized by coma survivors—is, you guessed it, tequila and asparagus.
Finally, an ambulance chaser that you can root for …