[Publicity Push is a new feature highlighting a book, or a series of books. It is intended to introduce something interesting and new—without the necessity of writing a specific review. I’m planning to do two or three of these each month. If you are a writer, or a reader, and want to recommend something to be highlighted please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Richard S. Wheeler is best known as an author of historical Western novels. He has won an impressive six Spur Awards, and the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Western Writers of America. He has been called “one of the best Western writers around today,” by Publishers Weekly, and “a master storyteller,” by Library Journal. He is also a consummate gentleman, and very nice man who did an excellent interview here at Gravetapping.
While Mr. Wheeler is primarily a writer of historical Western novels, he has also written five novels featuring Milwaukee homicide detective Lieutenant Joe Sonntag as by Axel Brand. The setting is historical—1940s Milwaukee—but the plots are criminal. The series has received critical praise—
“[Brand’s] noir style effectively combines muscle and cheek, and Sonntag is an appealing laconic sleuth.” –Kirkus Reviews on The Hotel Dick
“[The Dead Genius is] buoyed by Brand’s crisp prose and Sonntag’s reflexive wisecracks.” –Kirkus Reviews on The Dead Genius
Crossroad Press has recently—over the past few months—reissued all five of the Joe Sonntag novels in ebook form, and you may want to try one. The 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. I particularly like the first few lines of The Hotel Dick.
Publisher’s Description: “It’s 1948 Milwaukee. The Lakeshore Towers Hotel house detective, J. Adam Bark, is murdered while sitting in a barber's chair. Homicide detective Lieutenant Joe Sonntag is sent to investigate, but has a difficult time with the barber’s insistence that Spencer Tracy killed Bark.”
First paragraph: “Joe Sonntag knew the victim this time. He never liked the man and wasn’t surprised that someone put a bullet through his mouth and another through his heart. There would be maybe two hundred suspects.”
Publisher’s description: “Armand de Trouville is dead. The little genius pioneered a new field, forensic document examination. Thanks to Trouville, forgers and people who write fake wills and stickup men who pass notes to bank cashiers are in jail.”
First paragraph: “The death notice in the Milwaukee Journal announced the visiting hours. Joe Sonntag thought he could manage it during his lunch break because the mortuary was only six blocks away, and it would be a good day to walk.”
Publisher’s description: “Milwaukee, 1948. Joe Sonntag, ace investigator for the police department, faces a riddle: a lovely young woman is found dead at the zoo, near the lion cages, lying in a bed of ferns. She has been carefully laid out there, her arms folded. Nearby, a lioness prowls her cage. Plainly, whoever put her there cared for her.”
First paragraph: “The body was near the lions. That’s what they told Lieutenant Joe Sonntag when they woke him up early. A young woman had been found dead at the Washington Park Zoo, a few blocks from Sonntag’s house, so the dispatcher had called him.”
Publisher’s description: “A violent strike; murder at the factory gates. Milwaukee, 1949. There’s labor turmoil in Beer City. Joe Sonntag gets called to the strike-bound West Allis tractor factory, where a temporary employee has been shot and killed in the middle of the night. The struggle between the Machinists Union and the company has boiled over into murder. But it proves to be more complex than that.”
First paragraph: “The phone knocked the crap out of his beauty sleep. Joe Sonntag staggered out of bed, while Lizbeth stirred, and made his way to the kitchen, where the phone li9ved. It took effort to wake up; he hadn’t slept long, and had been yanked like a marionette out of a peaceful slumber. He flipped on the kitchen light and headed for the upright phone and yanked the receiver off the black stalk.”
Publisher’s description: “A church potluck dinner. A sudden, shocking murder right after the pastor says grace. Joe Sonntag is a horrified witness, and swiftly arrests Manfred Wittstein, who claims his wife Freda killed their children, Matthew, Mark, Gerta, and Reuben. Thus begins an odd quest to learn why the killer shot Freda, and whether his wife had destroyed their children. It soon proves to be a case unlike any other Sonntag had tackled. The children are, indeed, missing. And no one can say what happened to them.”
First paragraph: “If there was one thing Lieutenant Joe Sonntag dreaded, it was being trapped inside of a church with pious people. He couldn’t help it. He had no use for churches. He wasn’t against them; he just was totally uncomfortable in them. And now he was stuck.”