Monday, July 27, 2009

TOWER interview #2: Reed Farrel Coleman

The Tower Interviews by Craig McDonald

In September 2009, Busted Flush Press will publish Tower (978-1-935415-07-7; trade paperback original; $15), a collaboration between award-wining crime novelists Ken Bruen (London Boulevard; Once Were Cops; The Guards) and Reed Farrel Coleman (Walking the Perfect Square; The James Deans; Soul Patch). Tower was edited by Edgar Award-nominated crime writer, editor and literary agent, Allan Guthrie (Kiss Her Goodbye; Two-Way Split; Slammer). In the following interview, the trio discusses the process of writing and editing a novel that Publishers Weekly calls "brutally poetic."

Edgar Award-nominated crime writer Craig McDonald (Head Games; Toros and Torsos) interviewed Bruen, Coleman, and Guthrie. Craig ("a genuine expert on the history of crime fiction" — Eddie Muller, San Francisco Chronicle) is an accomplished interviewer, and two collections of his interviews with major crime writers have been published: Art in the Blood (PointBlank Press) & Rogue Males (Bleak House Books; May 2009). Here is the second interview, with two-time Edgar Award nominee Reed Farrel Coleman! [Interview #1, with Ken Bruen, can be found here.]


Craig McDonald: The way it was explained to me, you were presented with Ken’s fragment, and essentially had to drive it home. What was your strategy for advancing the narrative and making it whole?
Reed Farrel Coleman: It was the hardest and, in many ways, the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I had to develop the strategy as I went. Ken takes no credit for this, but the fact is that he left room to breathe in his half of the narrative. This allowed me the space to develop the storyline and to bring both lead characters to life. It also let me bring the book to a crescendo. If he had written his narrative more densely, it would have left me nowhere to go. As written, Tower builds (sorry about the bad pun) to, what I think, is a powerful and emotionally satisfying ending.

CM: One of the appeals of fiction writing is that autonomy and freedom to build worlds, set atmosphere, plot and to define character. Was collaboration at all confining for you in any of those areas?
RFC: It’s difficult to separate this answer from the first answer, but I’ll try. I tell my students that to be a writer you need to develop an incredibly strong and healthy ego. Not a big ego, a strong one. When you really think about it, the notion that someone is going to shell out fifteen or twenty-five bucks to buy a bunch of words that you strung together is pretty ballsy. In order to be a good collaborator, one needs an especially strong ego because you have to both subvert it and rely more heavily on it. To work with Ken I was willing and able to do that.

Wordsworth wrote a sonnet that I often refer to entitled “Nuns Fret Not.” The sonnet is a very strictly defined form and the life of a nun has many strictures. Wordsworth’s point is that even with severe constraints a person can achieve much satisfaction. So it was with Tower. That I had to write characters that weren’t my own invention within a structure that was not my own and according to a timeline that had already been laid out for me was nearly impossible. However, it drove me to do things and reach for strengths I never knew I possessed both as a writer and a person. I am a far better writer for having even tried it.

CM: What particular challenges did you face in writing this book, as opposed to one of your own novels?
RFC: Well, the obvious ones. The characters weren’t my own invention nor was the plot, but that’s not all bad. As a non-outliner, plot develops for me organically. With Tower I was relieved of that gnawing tension that I suffer through with my own novels. The plot was laid out for me. The tough part was making Todd, the character I was responsible for, a reflection of me as an author. This was the brilliance of what Ken did. He gave me an empty vessel into which to pour my vision of Todd. I look at it this way; Ken gave him a name and I gave him a life.

CM: Ken says the “Rashomon” approach of presenting certain events from varying perspectives evolved as you began to expand the work. Was this something you consciously pursued in the early phases?
RFC: I think we need to back up some and get something straight. Doing stuff with Ken isn’t like doing stuff with anyone else. I mean that as an extreme compliment. Ken and I discussed the book in passing, but just like an idea. You know: “Reed, I’ve got this idea for a book. Maybe we could do it together. Here’s what I’m thinking…” Then we didn’t talk about it again for months. One day I get an email and attached is Ken’s half of the book and a prototype book cover he had done with out names on it. The email said something like, “Have at it, buddy!” I mean, that is so Ken. We didn’t really discuss it or plan it. That’s the thing you gotta love about Ken. He can do things like this. He understands challenges and challenging his friends. I took the challenge of Tower as the greatest compliment Ken could give me. He trusted me enough not to screw it up and rise to it. So I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying there wasn’t a lot of preplanning and conceiving here on my end.

CM: What was the most satisfying aspect of this project?
RFC: There are many, but I think the most satisfying will be when I stand up with Ken at the launch party and we read from the book.

CM: Is there anything in the experience you found frustrating?
RFC: In the beginning of the process, there were a million. I’d never taken on anything like this. I really struggled with self-doubt and finding my way ahead. I was frustrated because I couldn’t rely on the old tricks I use with my own stuff. It was like learning a new language all on my own.

CM: How was the editing process in terms of having another writer involved?
RFC: Here’s where Ken really understood the process of collaboration. He had his say, but for the most part trusted me to do the early editing. Then I ran the changes by him and there was very little disagreement if any. We did need an objective eye for the final edits and to make sure we didn’t miss anything because we were so close to the project. This is where Al Guthrie, a splendid writer in his own right, with a sharp editorial eye who knew our work, did a splendid job.

CM: How would you measure the character of Todd against your other series characters?
RFC: I wouldn’t, but for argument’s sake I’ll have a go at it. I went more deeply into Todd’s psyche than I’ve ventured with Dylan Klein or Joe Serpe—the character I write under "Tony Spinosa"—or even Moe Prager. Todd is more violent than any of those characters and has much less impulse control. In fact, loss of control and trying to regain it is the central drive in Todd’s life. That’s the note I hit on because it was a reflection of the task set before me by Ken. How could I regain a sense of control in a book that wasn’t mine to begin with. I realized it only in retrospect.

CM: Have you read the Bruen/Starr collaborations? If so, was there anything you consciously did to avoid comparison with those books?
RFC: I’ve read them, yes, though I’m partial to Bust, which was, in part, dedicated to me—Thank you, boys. And being privy to Jason and Ken’s process for their books helped a lot with Tower. All collaborations are different and neither Ken nor I was interested in trying to repeat what he and Jason had accomplished. From the start, the tone was diametrically opposed to the satirical, winking pose Jason and Ken take for their books. Tower is many things, but funny isn’t one of them.

CM: Tower bears the Bruen convention of heading chapters with quotes from other works. Did you choose your own quotes, or was that style point something overlaid by Ken?
RFC: I enjoy the thing Ken does with the quotes because I learn from them and they, like a prologue for an entire book, help set the tone of the chapter. I used my own quotes and hope they are more in line with the character of Todd as the quotes Ken used are more in line with Nicky. It was great to break out of my own stylistic constraints and try on some different clothing. I’ve always been good at imitating voices and this was a way to do it in writing.

CM: My understanding is that the prologue and epilogue are yours. What inspired this framing decision?
RFC: Pragmatism, plain and simple. When both of our narratives were done, the book still wasn’t of a piece. It wasn’t complete. We both saw that and some of our early readers agreed. So I tried several different prologues—to go back to the question about frustrations, this was the biggest one I had—and, after what felt like a million tries, I hit upon the solution. Ran it by Ken and he loved it. Still, we needed something contextual to round it out. The prologue had created a different kind of imbalance. Prologues and epilogues are more my style than Ken’s, but he let me try an epilogue. I don’t know where I pulled that one out of, but the introduction of a third narrative voice just seemed right. Part of being an artist is knowing when you’re not done and when you’re done. When we took a look at the book with both prologue and epilogue included, we knew it was done.

CM: Was there any disappointment arising from the fact the novel kept you in your NYC setting? Did you wish you’d had another shot at writing Ireland, à la Dublin Noir?
RFC: To tell you the truth, I couldn’t have taken any more challenges with this book. If I had to imagine our characters in another setting, I would have gone completely out my mind. Maybe somewhere down the road, Ken and I can do something set in a different place.

CM: Have Ken and you discussed how you might divide eventual awards/Edgar® statuettes?
RFC: I think we’ll worry about that if and when we get there. Ken and I are both two-time Edgar losers and I don’t think tempting the gods is going to help any.

CM: What are your thoughts on the state of the genre presently?
RFC: I think the genre is indestructible: good times or bad. I believe that. As to the state of the industry… I think they have to look back at what befell the music industry and make some hard decisions. The music industry, as those of us older than forty understood it, no longer exists. It’s a shell of what it was and I would hate for that to happen to publishing. But I would hope that publishers would include the suppliers of their product—writers and agents—in their considerations of how to move ahead. The Kindle is a good idea, but it’s way too expensive to have a huge impact. If the price comes down or if it’s simply given away with the reader guaranteeing to purchase X amount of books, it could be huge. What do I know, I’m just an author?

CM: What’s next for you?
RFC: I’m working on a new book with a new protagonist, but I don’t want to give too much away. I’ve also been working on a very complex novel for many years. It has so many moving parts that I need to step away from it for long periods of time in order to refine it. But I never know exactly what’s next.

CM: Anything you’d like to add?
RFC: I’d like to thank David Thompson for believing in us and for being a publisher on the rise. With the industry in the state it’s in, Busted Flush Press is well-positioned to give a home to great authors and to keep careers alive and flourishing.


Look for the 3rd interview (with editor/crime writer Allan Guthrie) to run soon, along with an excerpt and more! Tower will be published in September 2009. Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman will both appear at Bouchercon in Indianapolis! Booksellers / librarians: Order Tower through Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The Frog and the Scorpion, by A. E. Maxwell
(978-1-935415-00-8; paperback; $14) Now available!

Chapter One

IT WAS THE bomb that really ticked me off. That was the sound it made, too. Tick, tick, tick, just like it had been hoked up on a George Lucas special-effects assembly line. I remember looking at the bomb, recognizing what it was, and wondering whether the Timex sitting on top of those three sticks of dynamite was shock-resistant.

But the story really began well before that, back in 1978, when the Ayatollah left Paris and flew back to Teheran in triumph. Or maybe it was in 1948, when the Brits left the Arabs and the Jews to fight it out in what was at that moment Palestine and soon became the bloody Middle East.

Oh hell, it was probably two hundred or six hundred years ago. Or a thousand or two hundred thousand, or a million, before men were men, back when they were renegade apes. Or maybe it all began with hummingbirds.

I say this because I remember sitting on the deck in my backyard, face turned up to the sensuous July sunlight, when the first phone call came in. I was watching the hummingbirds at play around the hummingbird feeder Fiora had given me for my birthday just before she took off for five weeks at Harvard, a midsummer seminar on leverage deals and silver bullion futures trading. Rigor mortis set into my soul at the thought of sitting through a few learned lectures on how to screw thy neighbor while preserving every legal nicety. Fiora didn’t see finances that way. The thought of money manipulations brought a light to her eyes that could only be equaled by the prospect of a prolonged romp in bed.

Unfortunately, a romp was not why she had dropped in on me that morning. When I reached for her, she kissed me just enough to get my full attention, smiled beautifully and handed me a package.

“I wouldn’t want you to be bored while I’m away,” she said, “so I brought along some world-class warfare for you to watch.”

My relationship with this honey-haired, hazel-green-eyed woman is a complicated one. We are still married in a lot of ways, although we try to keep the natural friction of two strong wills and two different natures at manageable levels by the polite paper pretense of divorce. Life isn’t that easy, of course. Society can make a union legal or illegal, but it can’t do a damn thing about unruly hearts. Fiora and I still care for one another in extraordinary and sometimes painful ways.

Fiora knows that one of the biggest problems in my life is boredom. She even feels a bit responsible. After all, she’s the one who took the steamer trunk full of currency that my uncle Jake left me and turned it into a small fortune with some shrewd manipulations of the sort taught at Harvard during the summer doldrums. So when Fiora takes off on business junkets, as she regularly does, she tries to leave me with something amusing.

That afternoon I took the package from her and began pulling off bright ribbons when I sensed her watching my hands. The scars don’t show too much anymore; only small, vaguely shiny little circles remain to mark the places where nails from the Oxy-Con packing crate slammed through flesh and bone. But the hole left in Fiora’s life was considerably larger and didn’t show at all on the outside. We rarely talk about her twin brother’s death and our own encounter with his murderer. The memories are there, though; they show in Fiora’s eyes when she watches my hands; they show in the sad gentleness with which she touches the scars, giving me silent apologies that I never asked for and certainly don’t deserve.

Fiora brushed the corner of my mustache and traced my mouth with an elegant, smooth fingertip. “This present is to keep you out of trouble while I’m gone,” she said in a husky voice.

“I’m perfectly capable of amusing myself,” I said, deliberately misunderstanding her. I ripped the gift paper with more force than necessary.

“That’s what I am trying to prevent,” she retorted.

“Then this had better be a hell of a lot sexier than the square box suggests,” I muttered.

Fiora slid a nail into the crease between my lips and I opened my teeth to catch it. Like I say, we have a very complicated relationship with a pretty simple core.

“Sex is a part of this,” she said, tapping the package. “But it has a lot of other things you like, too. Power and competition, courage and cowardice. All the bloody absolutes that fascinate you.”

With that introduction I was not expecting a bird feeder. I gave her a look that had become familiar after years of marriage and separation.

“Love,” she whispered, bending over, ruffling my hair and nerve endings, “have I ever misled you?”

There was an obvious answer to that, but pinpointing the specifics was as elusive a task as identifying the fragrance Fiora wore.

“On second thought,” she said, “don’t answer. It’s such a beautiful day.”

As she reached for the cardboard carton, she gave me that special smile, the one that crushes hearts—or makes them whole. She was right. It was a beautiful day. I smiled in return, admiring the way her hair and body shimmered beneath sunlight and pale green silk. I saw her hesitate and knew that she was thinking about chucking the bird feeder in the koi pond and dragging me off to bed. Then she sighed and began prying at the stubborn package.

“No?” I asked softly.

“No,” she said, regret clear in her tone.

I watched her slender fingers moving over pictures of soft little hummingbirds and reminded myself that where Fiora was concerned, patience was the only virtue that mattered. She had an unusual amount of trouble opening that box but I didn’t offer to help. If I touched her again right away, it would take more than a lovely smile to make me let her go.

Finally a brash red-and-yellow plastic feeder emerged from the shambles Fiora made of the innocent cardboard box. The more I looked at the feeder the uglier it got. I tried to hide my reaction to her present. I shouldn’t have bothered. That woman can read me like a ledger sheet. She shot me an amused glance and turned the feeder in a complete circle for my greater aesthetic appreciation.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “These things look like whore’s Christmas, but they’re more fun than a seat on the Grain Exchange.”

With what I hoped was a polite expression of disbelief I eyed the contraption dangling from her hand. There was a clear glass bottle that ended in four red plastic bugles which I assume were intended to look like big flowers whose unlikely centers were a chrome-yellow mesh. I have a feeling, now that I know a bit more about it, that the flower likeness is for the humans rather than the hummingbirds. Hummers have very little of what I would call an aesthetic sense, but their olfactory equipment more than compensates. They could scope out a drop of nectar in a parking lot the size of Kansas. They sure as hell don’t need phony stamens and pistils to point the way.

Fiora reached into her Gucci bag and produced a pint bottle full of a transparent scarlet fluid. “You can make this stuff yourself,” she said. “Don’t bother to buy the prepared nectar. They price it like it’s something special, but it’s just sugar and water and a little food coloring.”

Her motto is: Watch the pennies and the dollars take care of themselves. A true Scot. I, on the other hand, am a true son of Uncle Jake, who loved adrenaline more than he loved dollars but spent both with equal abandon.

“Fiora, I don’t like to seem ungrateful,” I said, trying to be tactful, “but you’re in the wrong place. This may be California’s Gold Coast, but I’ve never seen a hummingbird in my yard. Maybe the salt air doesn’t agree with them.” I added, waving toward the endless sapphire ocean that was my backyard. “Or maybe the rent’s too high.”

“That’s what I thought about Beverly Hills,” she said. “C’mon. I’ll show you where to put the feeder.”

She filled the feeder and hung it on a nail sticking out of an overhead beam in the middle of the patio deck. Then we sat in the brilliant afternoon sunlight, drinking a bottle of crisp Fumé Blanc from Rutherford and watching the world’s ugliest imitation flower.

After fifteen minutes I said, “Better than most television, I have to agree.”

Fiora lifted one honey eyebrow at me. “Patience, Fiddler.”

So we watched the damn thing for a while.

I was about to suggest that we adjourn to the bedroom for our second glass of wine when I heard a low, thrumming roar about three feet from my ear. My head snapped around. For an instant I saw something hanging in midair, staring at the unlikely flower dangling from the nail over the deck. The “something” appeared to be a cross between a redheaded bumblebee and a green Gambel’s quail.

So help me God, at first glance that’s what the hummingbird looked like. And a glance was all I got. The sudden movement of my head startled him and he darted off so quickly I wasn’t even sure I had seen him in the first place.

“Don’t worry,” Fiora smiled. “He’ll be back.”

Fifteen seconds later the hummingbird reappeared as though he had teleported into position six inches from the feeder. This time I clamped down on my reflexes and watched without so much as moving an eyelash. The hummer wasn’t much bigger than my thumb. His tiny wings beat so rapidly that they were nearly invisible. He was shiny and soft and cute—a tiny Disney character—until I noticed that he was equipped with a beak that looked as long as a darning needle and about as sharp.

As I watched, he hovered, inspecting the garish feeder. Then he snapped forward like he was on an invisible rubber band and thrust his sharp bill into the heart of one of the plastic flowers. After a moment he withdrew, then thrust again. A little bubble boiled up through the red fluid, indicating the bird’s success at solving the minor mystery of the feeder.

“No hummers around, huh?” said Fiora, licking a bit of the wine with a quick pink tongue. “If you get one this fast, you’re going to have a swarm before long.”

She was on a plane for Boston when her prophecy came true. I had dropped her off at LAX, kissed her until I had her full attention and reminded her that I cared a great deal for her. By the time I got back to the house on Crystal Cove, between Newport Beach and Laguna, it was evening. I tucked the Cobra into the garage and walked along the deck to the back door. Before I reached the back patio I heard a harsh, metallic squirring and caught sight of a pair of hummers circling and darting and slashing around the feeder. I stopped and stared, fascinated by the most dazzling and bloodthirsty aerial display I’d seen since the Harriers and the Pucaras traded insults over the Falklands on the CBS news.

Like most modern battles, this one lasted for about fifteen seconds. There was a king on the ocean bluff—I assumed he was the original discoverer of the world’s ugliest flower—and a pretender to the plastic throne. The two hummers flew directly at one another, stopped to hover in midair a few inches apart, darted sideways a foot and hovered again. Then the franchise holder thrust with the speed and grace of an Olympic duelist. The interloper fled. His dominance successfully enforced, the king darted off to perch in my lemon tree.

Five seconds later the interloper reappeared, facing the intrepid defender and challenging him with a sound like a fingernail on a blackboard. They darted side to side, then clashed and locked, hanging in midair for a moment before falling with a soft thump onto the redwood deck. They lay there almost at my feet, oblivious to anything but each other and their war.

In an odd way the battle was all the more vicious for the badminton heft of the combatants. You expect lions or eagles to go at one another talon and claw, but hummingbirds? They’re so small. How can those little bodies hold so much courage and hatred?

There was no answer and the birds knew it. They untangled beaks and claws and scrambled back into the air. One hummer fled and the other zipped off to the lemon tree, which was about ten feet from the feeder. With the bad sportsmanship I have come to associate with hummers, the winner jeered metallically at his vanquished opponent and then sat preening his minute feathers with his warrior’s beak. I walked onto the deck. That silly bird screed at me, warning me off the ugly flower.

“You must have heard about David and Goliath,” I said politely. “You know, the boy with more guts than brains.”

The hummer sat and cursed me nonstop.

“Right, Davy. I can take a hint.”

Five minutes after I went inside I heard another battle, and it went on that way for the rest of the summer. As long as I kept the feeder primed there were about a dozen fierce hummers doing battle for their positions around the ever-blooming flower. Hummers are hyperkinetic. They can go through several times their own weight in food every day, so a constant source of energy was worth fighting for.

And fight they did.

At first it was entertaining to watch them. Their patterns of behavior were so erratic and yet so predictable. The head son of a bitch was King David, a little greenish guy with a ruby throat that extended almost to his eyes. He spent hours on guard, driving away any and all comers. Maybe once an hour he would let a small, soft-gray-green female drink but he would terrify any male who appeared.

And then, for reasons I still have not been able to explain, at the close of day the flower warden would declare a twilight amnesty. For a few minutes it would be free-for-all, with four or five hummers at a time lined up to refuel under the head hummer’s baleful screeing. King David would squirr and curse up a storm, but he wouldn’t defend the flower. After a seemly amount of time, he would take to the air again and clear the skies, a miniature Von Richthoven in a blood-red scarf.

For a while I thought that it was nice of King David to share the wealth of the bottomless flower. But then I found myself wondering whether he let the others drink simply to keep them from losing heart and flying off to other flower kingdoms where they might have a chance of becoming the head hummer. That kind of perverse generosity isn’t a comforting or comfortable thought, I suppose, but then life isn’t always comforting or comfortable.

I had reason to reflect on such matters over the next few weeks. And these reflections began and ended with the hummingbirds, the phone call I got from Shahpour on a bright July morning, and the bomb that had started ticking long, long before.

The sharp-beaked warriors were in full flight when the phone rang, the sunlight was molten gold on the back deck, and the Pacific was a blue so bright it burned. I had finished the newspaper and was glancing about for something to do to amuse myself. That’s the price you pay for not having to work for a living, for being what Fiora calls “independently well-heeled.” Ultimately, you have to invent your own way of proving self-worth and social value.

Well, self-worth, anyway. Social value is a matter of organized opinion, like the number of angels that can do unseemly acts on the head of a pin, or whether the United States is the Great Satan and Khomeini is the Third Coming. Some people go to the office every day to reinforce their sense of self-worth. Me, I fiddle around in other people’s business, lending a hand where I can and deviling the comfortable in behalf of the uncomfortable. But I had no special projects at that moment, so I was in precisely the proper frame of mind when the phone rang and a secretary on the other end asked me to hold for Shahpour Zahedi.

Shahpour was a shrewd, handsome Middle Easterner who owned controlling interest in a little bank down the Gold Coast from me. I knew he was Iranian, and that his father had been finance minister under the late, lamented and lamentable Shah, but I tried not to hold that against Shahpour. I figured the sins of the sons are bad enough without stacking on holdovers from the previous generation.

Fiora and Shahpour met a few years ago when they collaborated on financing a small business park near Los Angeles International Airport. Since he knew Fiora was playing the game with my money, I was included in the obligatory business lunches. That was the first test and Shahpour passed it with all flags flying. You see, besides having a tangled personal life, Fiora and I present some unusual challenges to modern business sensibilities. When it comes to money, she is the heavy. I’m not a fiscal dummy, but I have sense enough to recognize genius and to give it—or rather her—the power of attorney.

Cops, Latinos and Middle Eastern types are baffled by the power structure of my relationship with Fiora. They have a hell of a time figuring out just who does what and with which and to whom. There is usually a fair amount of thrashing around and some minor bloodshed at Spago or Jimmy’s where the high-powered male executive we’re lunching condescends to Fiora and flatters me. Then he gets totally confused trying to figure out why she is feeding him his lunch and I’m sitting there smiling at my beautiful mate and applauding every slice and slash.

Middle Easterners can be overweening, particularly in their disdain for women. But Shahpour was different from the outset. For one thing, he talked to both of us as intelligent adults; I don’t think Fiora had to zing him once to get his attention. Shahpour had been educated in the West—Paris and the Wharton School of Finance—and he carried in those dark eyes a shrewd self-assurance that both accepted the intricacies of American culture and acknowledged importance wherever it was found. Fiora was one of those important intricacies. I was another. Shahpour enjoyed us both.

“Fiddler, how are you?” he asked as he picked up the receiver.

There was not a trace of accent, neither French nor Farsi. His voice was like his mind, endlessly flexible and enormously quick. The tone was different from what I had remembered, though. There was an edge to it that was more than worry and less than fear.

“I’m fine, Shahpour. How are things in the banking business?”

“I’m afraid my family picked the wrong time to get into the American market,” he said. “We bought our shares at the Gold Coast Bank for the right price, but the returns aren’t as strong as we had expected.”

I knew enough about reading bank prospectuses and profit-loss statements to know that the returns on the four million dollars Shahpour had pumped into Gold Coast Bank were substantial. I also knew that bankers were never satisfied.

“Well, you could always find a spot on your board for Fiora,” I said. “She has a few ideas about how to run banks.”

There was a low chuckle. “She does indeed. But I have a different kind of problem, one that you’re, ah, better equipped to handle than she is.”

I felt like a hummingbird that has just scented nectar. It was unusual for Shahpour to get to the bottom line so quickly. Whatever his problem was, it was just slightly less urgent than a heart attack.

“I would prefer not to discuss my, ah, difficulty on the phone,” continued Shahpour. “I know it’s an imposition, but could I ask you to have lunch with me? Today?”

Like I said, I was bored. Besides, it’s nice to encounter someone who appreciates your talents, particularly the kind of limited talents I seem to possess.

“Where and when?” I asked.

“The Ritz-Carlton. One o’clock. But, Fiddler . . .” He paused, as though unsure of his words.

"Yes?” I said, wondering what had left the eloquent Shahpour speechless.

“I’ll be at a table alone. If I don’t greet you, ignore me and leave. I know that sounds unusual, but there may be a certain element of, ah, risk in being seen with me. My precautions are for your own safety.”

I almost hummed with pleasure. With every word my incipient boredom faded. “I’m a big boy, Shahpour,” I said carelessly, “but I won’t say hello if you don’t.”

There are days when I’m as arrogant as a hummingbird with a full feeder. I never know which days those are until it’s too late to apologize to anyone who might be kind enough to still be speaking to me. This turned out to be one of those days. Shahpour really was worried about my neck. And with good reason. King David and his darning-needle beak wouldn’t have anything on the men Shahpour led me to, men who possessed courage, stupidity and hatred in equal, ever-blooming measures.

I didn’t know what I was getting into then. I only knew later, when I was counting my wounds and my losses—those shiny new scars across my self-esteem.


A. E. Maxwell's second Fiddler & Fiora thriller, The Frog and the Scorpion (978-1-935415-00-8; trade paperback; $14), has just been reprinted, available for the first time in fifteen years! Find copies at your favorite independent, chain, or online bookseller. See the list at the right for some of the indies that support & stock BFP titles. ALSO AVAILABLE: The first Fiddler / Fiora thriller, Just Another Day in Paradise (978-0-9792709-6-3; paperback; $13). Read an excerpt from it here.

“Are you in the market for some good news? Try this: David Thompson, publisher of Busted Flush Press… is putting one of his, and my, favorite series ever back into print—the Fiddler books written by A.E. Maxwell… When the Fiddler books first came out, their lean prose and evocative looks at California life won comparisons to Spenser and McGee. Now, thanks to Thompson, we can all relive the pleasures of our youth.”—Dick Adler, former crime fiction reviewer for the Chicago Tribune, “The Knowledgeable Blogger"

"Wit, humor, suspense and a believable plot with just the right mix of action and dialogue."—United Press International

Friday, July 10, 2009

A quick post... BFP news...

I'm sorry to dash off this post so quickly, but much has been going on, and I promise to write in more detail next week...

Finally, A. E. Maxwell's second Fiddler & Fiora thriller -- The Frog and the Scorpion (978-1-935715-00-8; paperback; $14) -- should arrive in stores in about 2 weeks. A Jewish Iranian friend of Fiddler’s is being blackmailed by terrorists and needs Fiddler’s help. "One of the most interesting and engaging private eyes since Robert Parker’s Spenser."—Advertising Age

We're working on the tour schedule for Tower (by Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman; 978-1-935415-07-7; September; paperback original; $15). Due to scheduling conflicts, Ken Bruen may not be able to take part in events outside of NYC and Bouchercon (two of his books are currently filming, with the likes of Colin Farrell & Jason Statham... and Ken's even supposed to have lines in Blitz!), but we'll keep you posted. In the meantime, Reed will be in New York, Minneapolis, Denver/Boulder, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Austin, Houston... and of course, Bouchercon in Indianapolis! More to come...

Busted Flush just signed up Scottish crime writer Donna Moore (Go to Helena Handbasket) for the American publication of her second novel, Old Dogs. This is an incredibly funny caper thriller... reads like a Guy Ritchie adaptation of The Thomas Crown Affair. I'll post more on this soon, including, at some point, interviews with Donna & her agent, fellow crime writer Allan Guthrie. Old Dogs will be published in summer 2010.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Publishers Weekly (07/06/09)

Tower (by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman; Busted Flush; $15; paperback original; 978-1-935415-07-7) "Divided into two halves, this short, brutally poetic tour of the underside of Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia marks the first collaboration between noir masters Bruen (The Guards) and Coleman (The James Deans). Drawing on the classic theme of childhood friends pulled toward different sides of the law, the coauthors tell the story of Nick and Todd in quick concise scenes, sketching backstories and love lives, flipping time and incidents like Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Running errands under the cold eyes of an enforcer, Griffin, for the Bible-quoting gangster Boyle, the heroes learn fast enough that 'you live in the rain forest, you get wet.'... Bruen and Coleman shine, dropping in-jokes, experimenting and displaying all the literary chops that have made their novels such cult favorites among mystery fans."

Tower will be published by Busted Flush Press in September. Please contact your favorite independent, chain, or online bookseller -- or library! -- to reserve your copies now.