Friday, September 04, 2015

Publicity Push: Mark Coggins' August Riordan Novels

Mark Coggins is a crime novelist who writes mysteries because “of [his] admiration for the work of Raymond Chandler.” His novel, The Immortal Game, the first to feature hardboiled private eye August Riordan, was selected as a top ten crime novel of the year by both the San Francisco Chronicle and Detroit Free Press. There have been five additional August Riordan novels published, and the most recent, No Hard Feelings, is available now.

Mr. Coggins writing, and the August Riordan series, have received critical praise—

“This third outing for Coggins’s private investigator August Riordan proves him a worthy successor to the iconic Sam Spade…[A] volume that fits comfortably alongside those of Hammett and Chandler. Highly recommended.”  —Library Journal on Candy from Strangers

“Riordan's deadly cat-and-mouse game involves surviving both the murderous intentions of members of Argentina's ruling class and the seductive advances of some beautiful Latin American women. First-person narrative, first-class yarn.” —Booklist review on The Big Wake-Up

The August Riordan novels are below—if you click the title you will be transported to each book’s Amazon page—with the publisher’s brief description and the first paragraph from each novel.

Publisher’s description: When the world's most innovative computer chess software is stolen, wisecracking, jazz bass-playing PI August Riordan is hired to find it.

Sifting through a San Francisco peopled with bruising, ex-NFL henchmen, transvestite techno geeks, and alluring, drug-addicted dominatrices, Riordan has got his work cut out for him.
But with a smart-ass attitude like Riordan's, nothing is easy ...

First paragraph: The left front tire of my battered Ford Galaxie jolted into a pothole, and the last of my factory hubcaps popped off and went rolling down the slope behind me. I slowed the car to a stop and watched in the rear view mirror as the hubcap hit the shoulder of the road and bounced into the brush below. I had planned to use the hubcap with my silver tea service as a crumpet tray, but I could see now those plans were kaput.

Publisher’s description: When venture capitalist Ted Valmont is belatedly informed that the Chief Scientist of NeuroStimix--a biotech firm in which he has invested--is missing, it's not just business, it's personal. Not only is the scientist an old school chum, but his disappearance jeopardizes the development of NeuroStimix's most important product: a device intended to aid spinal cord injury victims. Since Valmont's twin brother, Tim, was paralyzed in a college diving accident, finding the scientist and getting him back into harness is of the utmost importance to both brothers.

Valmont engages August Riordan to assist in the search and the men soon discover that the disappearance is part of a larger conspiracy to use NeuroStimix technology for perverse applications. And when a beautiful, mysterious young woman comes onto the scene, it's impossible to say whether the technology will provide the ultimate means to save them all or be the catalyst for tortuous, self-inflicted deaths…

First paragraph: KTVC was the station. Amelia Crenshaw was the reporter. Her producer, cameraman and the station van were arrayed along the narrow shoulder of Highway 280 while Amelia, microphone in hand, did a stand-up with the exit sign for Sand Hill Road looming behind her.

Publisher’s description:  Caroline Stockwell has a secret: she and her best friend Monica are “cam girls.”

Soliciting cash donations and gifts via wish lists from anonymous admirers, the young women have put up a web site featuring still photographs, video and blogs to help pay their way through art college. But when Caroline goes missing and her mother Ellen engages jazz bass-playing PI August Riordan to find her, Riordan discovers her secret and it appears to everyone that someone she met through the web site is responsible for her disappearance.

Set against the real-world backdrop of Internet predators using social networking sites like Facebook to find and ensnare their victims, Candy from Strangers is the first novel to explore the phenomenon of teenagers and young adults displaying themselves online in exchange for material favors—often without their parents' knowledge—which some are calling the newest form of prostitution.

First paragraph: When Henry Glover wrote It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion) in 1952 for the King Records R&B group The Swallows, I’m sure he never anticipated the trouble it would cause. The Swallows had made a modest hit of the song, but the risqué lyrics and the fact that white kids weren’t buying many records from black groups limited its play. It took Chris Duckworth belting it half-century later to really do some damage.


Publisher’s description: August Riordan—private investigator, jazz bass player, smart ass with a foolish heart—is going to find out. He's been hired by Leonora Lee, the all-powerful “Dragon Lady” of San Francisco's Chinatown, to investigate the results of the city's recent mayoral election. It seems the Dragon Lady's candidate failed to even carry the Chinese precincts, and she's convinced that someone must have rigged the outcome by hacking the city's newly installed touch-screen voting machines.

A runoff between the two remaining candidates is days away, but it takes Riordan mere hours to find the Director of Elections dead in his office. A visit to the offices of Columbia Voting Systems—the suppliers of the city's touch-screen machines—results in another corpse. A wide range of political interests share a stake in the election, so Riordan's got plenty of suspects.

First paragraph: I shouldn’t have been surprised when the backhoe materialized out of the Chinatown fog, ran onto the sidewalk and took out a column supporting the pagoda roof of the Bank of Canton. But I was.

Publisher’s description: The odyssey of María Eva Duarte de Perón—the Argentine first lady made famous in the play and the movie Evita—was as remarkable in death as it was in life. A few years after she succumbed to cervical cancer, her specially preserved body was taken by the military dictatorship that succeeded her deposed husband Juan. Hidden for sixteen years in Italy in a crypt under a false name, she was eventually exhumed and returned to Buenos Aires to be buried in an underground tomb said to be secure enough to withstand a nuclear attack.

Or was she?

When San Francisco private eye August Riordan engages in a flirtation with a beautiful university student from Buenos Aires, he witnesses her death in a tragic shooting and is drawn into mad hunt for Evita's remains. He needs all of his wits, his network of friends and associates, and an unexpected legacy from the dead father he has never known to help him survive the deadly intrigue between powerful Argentine movers and shakers, ex-military men, and a mysterious woman named Isis who is expert in ancient techniques of mummification.

First paragraph: ‘Are you hoping for a souvenir or checking to see if they’re your size?’

Publisher’s description:  Winnie doesn’t remember the last time she felt anything below her neck. Her spine is severed at the seventh vertebrae, but thanks to implants from a sabotaged biomedical start-up, she has regained mobility. She is a prototype: a living, breathing—walking—demonstration of revolutionary technology that never made it to market.

Her disability has become her armor. Because she doesn’t register fatigue, she has trained relentlessly. Her hand, arm, and leg strength are off the scales for a woman, and she has honed self-defense techniques to channel that strength. She’s a modern-day Amazon who feels no pain.

When the sociopath who torpedoed the start-up sends killers to harvest the implants from her body, Winnie must team up with broken-down private investigator August Riordan to save both their lives—and derail sinister plans for perverse military applications of the technology.

First paragraph: When she got to San Francisco and found that August Riordan wasn’t there, she decided to kill herself. She took a cab from downtown to the Presidio and walked out on the Golden Gate Bridge. She went past the historical marker placed by the Native Sons of the Golden West, past the section of the walkway bordered by a chain-link fence, and onto the part where the only barrier between pedestrians and a two-hundred-fifty-foot drop was a chest-high railing.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE MURDERER VINE by Shepard Rifkin

Every so often a novel sneaks up on me.  It catches me unprepared for its power.  It sits with me long after its last page has been turned, and the narrative swirls around the edges of my intellect.  I read such a book recently.  It is titled The Murderer Vine.  It was written by a mostly forgotten midlist writer named Shepard Rifkin, and published in hardcover by Dodd, Mead & Company in 1970.

The Murderer Vine is a piece of social commentary—specifically civil rights era South—disguised as a taut, lean, and hard suspense novel.  It explores the obvious bigotry and hate, but it also illuminates the red heat of greed, love, betrayal, and regret.  The novel opens in a nowhere Nicaraguan village of Puerto Lagarto where a lonely drunk tells his story to the only American he has seen in two years—
“Here we sit in Puerto Lagarto—Port Lizard. It’s on the old Mosquito Coast. Lizard and Mosquito, the two species down here. We’re far below Yucatan. Compared to this dump Yucatan is civilization. You put on a fresh shirt and thirty seconds later it’s sopping wet. No paved streets and only one place with ice. That’s the local cantina, La Amargura de Amor. The Bitterness of Love.”   
The narrative motionlessly transforms from melancholy to terse hardboiled and back again.  It is a microcosm of the civil rights movement; a hard and melancholy sadness masked with hate, rage, and fear.  Joe Dunne is a New York City private detective who makes his living knee deep in society’s murky below.  He takes photographs of cheating spouses, investigates black mail, and works corporate theft cases. 

Everything changes for Joe Dunne when a wealthy businessman approaches him with a special job.  The man’s son is missing, likely dead, and he wants Dunne to find the men, obtain enough evidence to convict, and then kill each.  The son was in Mississippi registering rural black voters, and it appears to be a clear case of organized murder.
Joe doesn’t like the job, but the money is enough to disappear to a warm climate with a fishing boat and enough beer to keep him for life.  His plan is dependent on his young Georgia-born secretary who weaves her way into the story with vivid alacrity.  She is the good and wholesome contrast with dark decay of everything (and everyone) else.

The Murderer Vine is a fascinating novel.  Its structure is complicated simplicity.  Its theme is nothing less than the gnawing corruption of good.  Its characters are drawn deeply with smooth, stark strokes, and none are simply good or bad, but rather the varying shades burn brightly on the page.  Joe Dunne is something of an everyman.  His anger, guilt and greed are common to us all.  He elicits empathy and understanding throughout, but in the end it is something much closer to pity. 
The Murderer Vine was reprinted by Hard Case Crime in 2008.  The cover art is by Ken Laager.    

This review originally went live November 13, 2013. I haven't read The Murderer Vine since, but I often, nearly two years later, think about it.     

Thursday, August 27, 2015


I’m not sure how these escaped my notice when they were first released, and now all I can say is wow. Seven or eight months ago Crossroad Press released several novel collections, and they all sound great. The on that caught my fancy is A Murder of Mysteries. It features 20 novels by some of my favorite writers—

Too Late to Die by Bill Crider
Death is a Cabaret by Deborah Morgan
A. P. B. by Dave Pedneau
Switch by William Bayer
Blood Moon by Ed Gorman
The Turner Journals by Robert J. Randisi
The Hanged Man by T. J. MacGregor
Pink Vodka Blues by Neal Barrett, Jr.
Dead on the Island by Bill Crider
A Hard Day’s Death by Raymond Benson
Prophecy Rock by Rob MacGregor
The Changing by T. M. Wright
A Minor Case of Murder by Jeff Markowitz
Sins of the Flash by David Niall Wilson
Case File by Bill Pronzini
Rough Cut by Ed Gorman
Murder, Sometimes by Patricia Lee Macomber
Tango Key by T. J. MacGregor
One Dead Dean by Bill Crider
Tangier by William Bayer

I have read five of these—Too Late to Die, Blood Moon, Dead on the Island, A Hard Day’s Death, and Case File (a collection of Nameless stories)—and really enjoyed each. A Murder of Mysteries  is available only as an ebook, and the best part is the amazingly low price of $2.99.

Purchase a copy of A Murder of Mysteries at Amazon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Finn Harding is a private investigator who lost his license for unethical, and really, illegal behavior. A corporation hired him to do a background check on a CEO candidate; what it really wanted was access to the candidate’s medical records. Finn got the file, but he also got caught. Now he is trying to make a living as an unlicensed investigator, which limits the pool of clients to those who work in the shadows (i. e. the wrong side of the law).

Finn is approached by a man who runs a website called The Shadow Brokerage where stolen credit cards, social security numbers are bought and sold. The website was hacked, and the hacker is extorting Finn’s client for $50,000 a month to keep the information secret. The client, a man named Bishop, wants the hacker found, and dealt with. Finn agrees to do the finding, but he doesn’t want to know what “dealt with” means. The job goes sideways, and Finn finds himself running for his life.

The Shadow Broker is an entertaining private eye novel. The setting is Cincinnati, and Finn lives on a decrepit house boat on the Ohio River. He has an ex-wife, a daughter he fears losing, and a father living in a nursing home who wants out. It is written in both first and third person—Finn’s perspective in first—and the author makes it work very well. There is a bunch of violence, and Finn makes a number of bad moves. The prose is smooth, the story interesting, and there are a couple very nice twists.

The Shadow Broker is a finalist for the 2015 Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. Novel, and I hope it wins.

Purchase a copy of The Shadow Broker at Amazon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "In the Hour Before Midnight"

In the Hour Before Night was published in the U. K. by Hodder & Stoughton, and Double Day & Company in the U. S. The edition that caught my eye was the Lancer paperback edition published in the early 1970s. It is pre-The Eagle Has Landed, and a marketing blurb at its top reads, “As Gripping as the Godfather!” I love Jack Higgins’ U. S. editions published before the The Eagle Has Landed. They seem more pure, and I, no matter how many copies I have of a particular title, always buy another when I find it. The cover art is deceivingly simple—it is a pencil drawing with surprising detail, and an orange man with a gun dead center. The artist: Harry Schaare.  

The opening paragraph:

“I suppose he must have died during the night, but I only became aware of it in the heat of the day.”

Lancer also released this title as The Sicilian Heritage. The cover art is limited to the big-nosed man at the bottom of this edition with a black background. I had a copy not long ago, but it disappeared in my last move.  

[This is the eighteenth in a series of posts featuring the cover art and miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchase as much for the cover art as the story or author.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TIEBREAKER by Jack M. Bickham

In 1989 a midlist writer named Jack Bickham published the slim suspense novel Tiebreaker. It was the first of six novels featuring aging professional tennis player, current teaching pro, sometime magazine writer, and former CIA asset Brad Smith. Brad is a step beyond the tail of his career and, after investing his prime years’ winnings unwisely, earns a living as a teaching pro at a club in Richardson, Texas. The novel’s opening is too good not to share—

“The last thing I had on my mind was somebody breaking into my condominium and dragging me into the past.”

It wasn’t on his mind because he was playing the finals of his tennis club’s first annual Richardson Charity Tournament against a hotshot college player acting like John McEnroe and threatening to clean the court with Brad. A battle between age and arrogance. When Brad makes it home, so both he and the reader can discover who and what is going to drag him into the past, he finds his old agency contact, Collie Davis, watching a western on television with a beer in his hand.

The agency has an assignment requiring Brad’s specialized credentials; a young Yugoslavian tennis star named Danisa Lechova wants to defect to the west, but her passport has been confiscated, and the UDBA (Yugoslavia’s version of the KGB) is openly watching her. Brad agrees, reluctantly, to act as Danisa’s go-between for the defection, using his cover as a tennis writer.

The Brad Smith novels rank as my favorite featuring a serial character. Brad is uniquely American. He does odd jobs for the agency due to a perceived debt he owes—

“ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”

—but he often doesn’t like the assignments, or the agency’s work overall. In a sense he is supporting the lesser of two evils—meaning the CIA against the KGB and the Soviet Union. He is a patriot, but it stops somewhere short of murder, coups, criminality, and E. Howard Hunt. He has a conscience and a well-defined ethical awareness that is unique to spy thrillers. He is also likable, admirable, mostly, and has more trouble with women than imaginable.

The novels, and Tiebreaker is no exception, are written in both first and third person. Brad’s perspective is in first, and an assortment of characters, including good guys and bad, are in third. The alternating perspectives give the novel a hybrid feel—Brad’s narration is more closely related to a private eye novel with social commentary making it more personal, and the third person expands it into a broader and larger suspense-spy story.

The tennis is an integral element to the story, and it is described so well it becomes a secondary character—

“Somehow I got my Prince composite on the yellow blur and bounced it down the line, hitting the back corner, close. He glided over to get it and I thought I saw the angle and guessed, chuffing up toward the net.”

The suspense is expertly designed around the story questions—a clue is identified, but its impact and relevance is not revealed for several pages. It is done without any annoying tricks or contrivance. The characters—both Brad Smith and the secondary folks—are well defined without any doubts about motivation or outcome. There are no crazy monsters, or unexplained actions. Everything is logical and smooth.

I like Tiebreaker and its five sequels so well that I re-read the entire series every few years, and if I was any more weak-willed I would probably read them more often.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Publicity Push: John Hegenberger's Elliot Cross Books

[Publicity Push highlights a book, or a series of books. It is intended to introduce something interesting and new—without the necessity of writing a specific review.]
John Hegenberger is making a splash in the crime community with two new books, both featuring private eye Eliot Cross. The first, Cross Examinations, is a collection of short stories, and the second, TRIPL3 CROSS, is a novel. The books have received critical praise—

“A great debut for a protagonist readers are sure to want to see more of!” —Wayne D. Dundee, on TRIPL3 CROSS

 “It’s a fast-moving tale of mystery and espionage that will engage you right from the start. Check it out.” —Bill Crider, on TRIPL3 CROSS

Cross Examinations is a prequel for TRIPL3 CROSS, and both are available at Amazon—click the titles and you will be transported to each books Amazon page. The novels are below with the publisher’s brief description and the first paragraph from each book.

Publisher’s description: A series of serious crimes: Kidnapping. Murder. Art Thief. Blackmail. Comic Books.

Private Investigator Eliot Cross faces heartache, headache, backache, and a royal pain in the neck in these rollicking noir stores from the heart of the Heartland.

First paragraph: I hung a left and bounced into the lot of Bailey’s Quality Cars as the policeman jumped to his feet, waving his hands like a burning blind man. I stomped the brake, leaving the tail of my Dodge Charger out in the curb lane. [from the story “Headache”]

Publisher’s description: It’s 1988, and small-town P.I. Eliot Cross is searching for his long-lost father. Then, a CIA informant says that Dad has been in deep cover for over twenty years. Now, the informant’s been murdered and Eliot is on the run.

Scrambling to clear his name, Eliot journeys from Washington D.C. to Havana, Cuba, struggling against deadly drug-runners, syndicate hit-men and his own violent nature. But the worst is yet to come, as Eliot discovers his father is at the center of an international conspiracy, a nuclear threat and a double cross...or is that a triple cross?

First paragraph: The new 1988 Ford van had been following me for days. I’d ducked it twice, but here it was coming up from behind me, a reverse image in my rearview mirror.

Mr. Hegenberger also has four novels scheduled for release later this year featuring L.A.P.I., Los Angeles Private Investigator, Stan Wade. The series will run at least four titles—Starfall, Superfall, Spyfall, and Stormfall. The first is scheduled for release in October. Mr. Hegenberger's website has a very nice description of each.