Tuesday, May 29, 2007

High Priest of Low-Life America

Probably because of his new book, Up in Honey's Room, I've been reading a lot of interviews with Elmore Leonard. He's always fascinating to listen to and has a unique spin on things. There's a good one by Duane Swierczynski done just before the release of Honey's Room. But I stumbled across this one from 2003 that has become one of my favorites. The "Dickens of Detroit" covers more area and a broader set of topics than most interviews you'll see/hear from him.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Funny Pages

As most of you know, The New York Times has been running serialized fiction in their Sunday paper for about a year now. It started off with a 14 part serial by Elmore Leonard - the reason I checked it out. I've sort of wandered in and out, reading Leonard's and Michael Connelly's. For some reason I thought about it the other day and I noticed that a new serial by Ian Rankin had just started. The first two installments have just been published, and they look promising. I encourage everyone to check them out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Book Review: Memorial Day

I first stumbled across Vince Flynn in 1999 or 2000 with his first Mitch Rapp novel Transfer of Power. Rapp is set up as the CIA's top counter terrorist operative, but a bit of a hothead with a lone wolf streak. Seven books later, Rapp and Flynn are still going strong. I haven't read the sixth or seventh yet, but I just finished Memorial Day (the fifth) and it could be the best of the series since Transfer of Power.

Memorial Day starts out with Rapp interrogating a suspect at a CIA facility in Virginia. Information from this suspect leads to a raid on a meeting of top al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan and the uncovering of a plot to set off a nuclear bomb in Washington, D.C. What follows is the expected: numerous twists and action set pieces in another page-turner from Flynn.

One thing Memorial Day has over the previous installments is the absence of Rapp's wife, Anna Riley. She was an intriguing character in Transfer of Power, her introduction, and it was interesting to see the relationship between her and Rapp grow in The Third Option. But, in the next two books of the series, her purpose seemed to just be a whiny, home front storyline for Rapp. By the end of Executive Power, the fourth Rapp book, I almost completely hated her character.

On to the more artistic side of things, Flynn sparkles yet again. There are long narrative passages throughout the book, but they further the plot instead of being a bunch of hooptedoodle. His pacing is top-notch as well. It was very easy for me to rip through about 100 pages in a sitting, so this 600 page book was finished in less than a week.

Memorial Day and the whole Rapp series are highly recommended. I'll probably order the sixth and seventh books, Consent to Kill and Acts of Treason, over the summer.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Behind The Heist

As I said before, in writing The Auction I came up with additional stories for Handsome Rob and Nice-Guy Eddie. The Heist was written the weekend after The Auction. I already had Handsome Rob and his girlfriend, and I knew it was going to be about how Rob was sent to prison. He needed a partner, and I decided that it should be his fault that Rob got caught on this job. The character of Jimmy Shrub was born. At first, he was going to be a motormouth and a hot head, but the more he kept talking, the more I heard Quentin Tarantino's voice in my head. So, Shrub morphed into a movie-quoting pop culture obsessed pothead.

The other thing I wanted to show was that Handsome Rob, while a crook, was an honorable man. Hence the ending where he saves the hostages.

Still in the beginning stages of writing Handsome Rob #3. So far, the tone is a bit different than the first two. Not sure if I should try to match it, or continue with the way things are going. Though the new tone does seem to match the storyline a bit better.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Heist

“Have a nice day at work,” said Handsome Rob as he was sipping coffee from his favorite mug. He didn’t have to be up this early in the morning, but he liked to have breakfast with Brenda and see her off to work. She was a marketing coordinator for a small company that sold some kind of fancy widget or something. Rob was never quite sure what her company did, but he knew they paid her well and she enjoyed what she was doing.

“See ya, babe,” Brenda said. “You going to be here when I come home?”

“Maybe,” said Rob, taking another sip from his mug. “I’ve got a couple errands to run.”

This made Brenda frown a little. “Just be careful,” she said. Brenda kissed him on the cheek and rubbed her had across his shoulder. “One of these days you have to get a real job. You know that, don’t you?”

Rob just nodded and took another sip of his coffee as she slipped out of the apartment. His “errand” was the Chase Bank on 14th in Chelsea. She knew he robbed banks, but they never talked about it directly. He was always “running errands” or “making a pickup.” What kind of person would have the nickname “Handsome Rob” other than a criminal?

It’s not that he viewed himself as a criminal; it was just his job to take other people’s money. He followed the old axiom, “find something you’re good at and do it.” And Handsome Rob was one of the best in the business. He’d been robbing banks since he was 18. He never got caught and had never hurt anyone in any of his robberies. He wasn’t flashy with his money and always gave a large portion of the take to local charities (anonymously of course). The Catholic school down the street from the apartment he shared with Brenda was one of the main beneficiaries of his work.

He finished his coffee and moved into the living room to watch the end of Good Morning, America. The weather guy said it was going to be a nice day and sent it back to the studio where Diane Sawyer was talking to some celebrity about some cause they were fighting for this week. In about an hour, Rob would meet Jimmy Shrub at one of the public parks a couple blocks away.

Shrub and Rob had been introduced to each other by Oberg Wyatt, a friend of Rob’s from the projects. Wyatt had been Rob’s partner for the first couple years, but he’d gotten pinched last year on a solo job. Now he was serving 20 years up in the state pen. Rob and Shrub had hooked up on a more permanent basis then, but Shrub wasn’t the professional that Wyatt had been. Always talking too much during the jobs. Bought himself a flashy Escalade after one particularly good heist. There was usually a third member of the crew too, usually some local muscle on a rotating basis. They never got a big cut of the score, but were an insurance policy in case something bad went down. For the Chase job it was a goon named Max.

Rob switched off the TV before Regis & Kelly came on, and grabbed his leather jacket. He went over to the dresser and opened the top drawer. That’s where he kept his favorite weapon: a sliver and black .50cal Desert Eagle. He made sure the clip was full before sliding it into his belt in the small of his back. His jacket nicely covered the bulge. Even if you knew he was carrying a gun, you couldn’t tell it was there.

He pulled the chain across the door as he left, and headed down the stairs. The building’s landlady was sweeping the floor in front of the door to her first floor apartment. “Good Morning, Mrs. Melnitz,” Rob said.

“Good morning, dear.”

“It looks like it’s going to be a nice day today.”

“Oh yes, I just love this time of year,” she said. “By the way, I saw Brenda on her way out this morning. Such a lovely girl. One of these days you’re going to have to marry her.”

“Yes, Mrs. Melnitz,” Rob said with a smile. “Just saving up a little more money. I want to do things right, you know.” Before she could answer, Rob was out the front door. He walked the couple blocks to the park and spotted Shrub’s Escalade near the basketball courts. He got in the front passenger’s seat as usual. Handsome Rob always rode shotgun and the muscle in the back seat. Those were the rules and everyone knew them.

“Alright, let’s do this,” said Shrub. He turned the key and pulled out into the street. Rob thought he looked a bit more jittery than normal. “I saw this great flick last night, man. It was called The Day After Tomorrow. It was awesome, man. It’s about the weather and shit. Like a second ice age, man. It’s like New York got all frozen over and we all had to go to Mexico or something. Really freaky stuff, man. That global warming’s a bitch. Fucking hole in the ozone layer melts the ice caps and we’re all underwater. Shit, man, we gotta protect the environment.”

Apparently he didn’t see the irony of his speech while driving a big-ass Escalade. “Yeah, I saw that one,” said Rob. “It sucked. Sub-par action movie with that environmentalist pseudo-science thrown in to try to make it more interesting.”

“Man, you just don’t get it,” said Shrub. “Hey Grizzly Adams! You see it?”

“Nah,” said Max. That’s pretty much what you can expect to get out of the hired goons. They pulled up in front of the bank and left themselves plenty of room for a getaway.

“Alright, let’s do this,” Shrub said again.

Once inside, Handsome Rob scanned the tellers for a mark. There was a cute redhead at the second window who looked perfect. Rob sauntered up to the counter and leaned on it. “Hi! What can I help you with today?” asked the teller.

Rob looked her in the eye and flashed her his trademark grin. “Good morning, Nicole.” He read her name off the tag she had pinned to her blouse. “Nice day isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. I’m glad that the rain is gone. It was starting to bum me out,” said Nicole. He could tell she was interested in him. Handsome Rob had a way with women.

“I’m here to make a withdrawal. I want all the money from the drawer, except the bottom bill in each stack. As quickly as you can, please.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re being robbed, love,” said Handsome Rob. “Now, if you don’t do what I say, my partner over there is going to blow a hole right through your manager.”

She looked over and saw Max standing very close to her manager. Rob thought he looked like former mayor Rudy Giuliani. “Oh, and don’t trip the silent alarm. OK?”

Nicole nodded and started putting the money from the drawer into one of the deposit bags she had under the counter. Rob could feel the other patrons in the bank start getting antsy, like they knew what was going on.

At that moment, Jimmy Shrub pulled the shotgun from under his jacket and fired it into the ceiling. “Alright, everybody be cool, this is a robbery!”

Shit, he’s quoting Pulp Fiction again, Rob thought. “Don’t mind him,” he said to Nicole. “Just give me the money. I promise nobody will get hurt.”

“Everybody down on the ground,” Shrub said. “Hurry up!”

“Just cool it, bro. Everything’s under control,” Rob said.

“Shit! Cops,” said Max.

“Alright, everyone in the middle of the room on the floor,” Shrub barked.

Handsome Rob went over to hold the door as Nicole and the other tellers came out from behind the counter. “Don’t worry. Just keep quiet and stay calm. We’ll all be out of here soon. Nobody’s going to get hurt.”

The phone started to ring. They all knew it was the cops. “They work fast,” said Shrub.

Rob answered it. “Live from the Crime Scene.”

“This is Detective Stone of the NYPD. Who am I talking to?”

“Come on, detective. You know we’re not stupid enough to give you names.”

“Alright, if you put down your weapons and come out now we won’t charge you with taking hostages. You know as well as I do what the outcome of this is going to be if you dick around with us.”

“Ah, a cop I like. Tell you what. Why don’t you give us a couple minutes to talk about it and we’ll get back to you?” Rob hung up the phone.

“Shit. Shit. Shit. This is bad, man,” said Shrub. “There’s like 10 cars out there, man. How the fuck did they get here so fucking fast?”

“Just calm down. We’ve got to plan our next move,” said Handsome Rob.

“This is fubar, man. You know: Fucked up beyond all recognition?” Rob noticed a crazy look in Shrub’s eyes. He was more jittery now than he was in the car.

“Dude, are you high?”

“I always toke a little before a job, man,” said Shrub. “It calms me down. I think one of these fuckers hit the silent alarm. It was you wasn’t it?”

He grabbed the manager by the scruff of his neck and dragged him away from the group. Shrub threw him violently against one of the desks and pointed his shotgun right at the manager’s chest.

“Hey! Hey! Calm down,” said Rob.

“This fucker hit the alarm. I’m going to blow his fucking head off,” said Shrub.

“Am I the only professional here? If you kill him, the cops’ll rush this place and they’re going to shoot to kill.” By this time, Rob had his gun out from the small of his back.

“You always talk about being a professional,” said Shrub. “I think you’re just a fucking pussy.”

“You promised me no one would get hurt,” said Rob.

“Well,” said Shrub. “Shit happens.” He pulled the trigger and blew a wide hole through the bank manager’s chest, killing him instantly. A few seconds later, the bank lobby was filled with the sound of shattering glass. The door was kicked in and blue-suited policemen started piling in. Jimmy Shrub and Max took up positions behind one of the desks in the middle and prepared to shoot it out with the cops. Handsome Rob looked at the body of the bank manager, then over at the hostages. He caught Nicole’s eyes and felt her fear. He knew what he had to do.

Rob raised his Desert Eagle and fired two rounds into the back of Jimmy Shrub’s head, blowing it clean off his shoulders. Max turned around with a stunned look on his face. “Shit happens,” said Handsome Rob. He put two more rounds into Max’s chest.

The cops froze just inside the door, not sure what to make of the scene. Rob slowly put his gun on the floor and slid it away from himself. He put his hands behind his head, interlocking his fingers, and got down on his knees.

**********

The trial was quick. The city charged him with armed robbery, no charges for the hostages, accessory to murder of the bank manager, or killing his two partners. Rob had pled guilty to all counts and didn’t make his public defender work very hard. Brenda came every day to watch. Most of the patrons, Nicole, and the first cop through the door, Sgt. Ray Archlend, all testified on his behalf. The judge was stern, but took into account his killing of his partners into consideration during the sentencing phase. He got ten at a prison upstate, with parole available after five years. Rob had no plans to appeal the sentence.

Brenda stopped him at the railing as the bailiffs were leading him out of the courtroom. “I love you,” she said and kissed him on the lips.

“I know,” Rob said. He wished he could give her a hug, but his hands were cuffed behind his back. He kissed her on the forehead instead.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” said Brenda.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Quick Note

The Auction's sequel, titled The Heist, will be published in this space on Monday. Later in the week, I'll post a second story behind the story.

In other news, I'm finishing up the second short story starring the PI I created here. The first draft is about 5800 words. I know I want to go back and flesh out the opening a bit more, so it'll be 6000 or more when finished. I also cheated a bit and started working on the third story starring Handsome Rob (star of The Auction and The Heist).

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Marvel vs. DC

Here are some pretty funny parodies of the "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" commercials. Watch and laugh.