Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page


In crime on June 26, 2012 at 5:15 am

You gotta suffer if you want to sing the Blues. If you want to write convincing crime fiction, you have to know some criminals. Up close, on a first name and a.k.a. basis. They tend to be a suspicious and sometimes violent lot, so this could be tricky and possibly dangerous. But Art is sometimes a stern mistress, and nobody said this would be easy.

The best way to get to know criminals is to engage in crime. At least marginally. Drug addiction is a quick and sure path. A dizzying percentage of our prison population is serving time for drug-related offenses. So, the minute you pick up an illegal substance, you’re well on your way to understanding the ins and outs of outlaw activity. If a life of misery and despair doesn’t appeal to you, there’s always gambling. Of course the type of compulsive betting that’s likely to expose you to genuine bad guys is no picnic in the park, either.

For the squeamish or morally stubborn, an alternate entre’ into the underworld might be through working in the Criminal Justice System. Parole officers, social workers, and cops come into contact with miscreants all the time. The problem here is that the relationship is usually strained, to say the least. It’s nearly impossible to gain real insight into someone’s psyche who is constantly lying to you. People on the wrong side of the law tend to say what they think people on the right side of the law want to hear. It’s simple self-preservation.

My introduction to the exciting world of lawbreakers came by way of the US Government. Three decades ago the economy was in pretty rough shape, and jobs were almost as hard to come by as now. In a fit of humanitarianism, the federal government instituted a program similar to the Depression Era’s WPA. One of the unintended results was that, at least in my town, it attracted every shady character who could scratch his name on the application. Plus me and a handful of other guys desperately seeking honest labor. To describe me as a Babe in the Woods would be eerily accurate. Especially since we actually spent a lot of time in the woods, clearing brush and cutting trees and generally trying to look busy.

On my first day I met my first criminal. Let’s call him Ray. He was on a work release from Somers Prison. For some reason we hit it off. Probably because we had a common enemy. We were designated as a two-man chainsaw team, and we spent a lot of time trying to keep from being ripped to ribbons. Neither of us had ever used any kind of cutting tool more dangerous than a pair of scissors. We eventually graduated to the wood chipper crew, but I digress.

The days were long, the work repetitive, and Ray liked to tell stories. It made the mind-numbing labor tolerable. He’d been locked up for dealing in stolen merchandise. And possession of drugs. And refusing to rat on some guy. I was never clear on the exact charges, and I didn’t ask. I quickly learned that if I kept my mouth shut, his would keep going. This habit of silently listening, with the occasional knowing nod, served me well with all the felons I became friendly with.

Ray and I took our breaks together and, after a while, began to socialize after work. It wasn’t long before he loosened up enough to school me in everything from how to boost a car radio, to the method of wrapping the butt of a pistol with electrical tape to avoid fingerprints. It didn’t matter that I never showed the least inclination to use any of this information. Ray just assumed the responsibility of passing the knowledge along, just in case. Kind of like an uncle who feels every boy should know how to bait a hook, whether he wants to fish or not.

Some of the other people I got to know on the job made Ray seem as discrete as a mute priest. They struck me as pitifully proud of their crimes, past and present. I soon realized that most of these guys weren’t caught through brilliant police work. If they weren’t shy about talking in front of me, it was only a matter of time until they shot off their mouths to someone who mattered. And talking wasn’t all. I witnessed drug transactions, hot items bought and sold, and I was there the day a particularly scary individual fired several shots into the side of the tool truck. When someone asked him what he was doing, he said he borrowed the pistol from his cousin and wanted to make sure it worked. He went on the say he was planning a B & E for that night. When the same guy asked what was up with the gun, the shooter came back with one of the most chilling phrases I’ve ever heard: “In case anybody’s home”.

The job lasted exactly one year, the term of the program. In that time I got to know shoplifters, burglars, one stickup man, and a lot of people with a criminal bent but no particular specialty. I discovered the purely professional crook was rare. A little like musicians who need a day job to make ends meet. I also found out that familiarity breeds complicity. If you’re around all the time, people begin to assume you belong. I’ve lost touch with everyone I met during that year but, whenever I need a crooked character, they’re right there for me.

Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to Ray. I ran into his girlfriend about six months after I’d last seen him. She was angry that he hadn’t listened to her when she warned him that nobody would keep anything valuable in a warehouse with a three dollar padlock on a wooden door. Ray’s big heist turned out to be fifteen cartons of Left sneakers. Seconds, at that. The cops were laughing so hard they could barely handcuff him. And if that wasn’t bad enough, on his way out of the court appearance for the Sneaker Caper, he got caught stealing a rack of dresses, twenty yards from the courthouse steps. For all his knowledge, he couldn’t get past the impulsiveness that seems so much a part of criminal nature.

Sometimes people can fool you. Sometimes people can change. I like to think that Ray is doing all right and not sitting in some prison cell. Or worse. And I like to think that if he found out how much of him I’ve borrowed over the years, he’d be glad he was able to help out the innocent kid who was, for a brief time, his friend.

Lester Thees can be found on Amazon:

Leaving Town is his new novel.



In crime on June 25, 2012 at 5:20 am

Lester Thees has worked as a welder, office manager, truck driver, and private investigator, to name just a few. He spent a while in college, another while in a Catholic Seminary, and many years in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. His writing career began when a friend cornered him in a dark alley and forced him to confess his unholy urge to write stories. Quirky, peculiar, and strange stories that leave him cackling like a madman as he scribbles them on scraps of paper.

“Character-driven fiction fascinates me. I love to read it and write it. There’s nothing as thrilling as creating characters, then following them around to see what they’ll do.”

His short stories have appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies.

His novel, Leaving Town, is modern pulp. Edgy, violent, and oddly comedic. Set in a small town, the pair of protagonists stumble through a pack of characters who could force a ten-way tie in the Misfit America Pageant.

Leaving Town is available for Kindle at   


In crime on June 19, 2012 at 6:38 am
Crime Time

Crime Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose there comes a time when every writer in our chosen genre thinks at some point about committing the perfect crime I know I have from time to time.  Although the other thought of what’s the point if you can’t brag about it also crossed my mind ?

It is also true that many dismiss the subject as some sort of unattainable goal or myth and it’s  for sure the police would love for us to believe that it is quite impossible,  if only as a means of convincing us to remain honest.
However for me and my Oh so logical brain it has to be not only possible but has in all probability already happened, many, many times.  For instance we know that every year hundreds of crimes go unsolved – however these crimes can hardly be considered perfect in so far as they maybe unsolved but they are not undetected.
We also know that many crimes go unreported, whether this a public statement of confidence, or lack thereof, for our justice system is a discussion for another time, suffice to say here that again these crimes have still been detected and for that reason fail to meet the criteria of perfect.
Therefore the interesting question is ‘how do we know if the perfect crime has ever been committed if it remains undetected or at the time it was dismissed as having another cause such as of natural causes an accident or suicide ?’
If like me you are an avid fan of all TV series involving crime and forensics you might well consider a life in crime a waste of our talents being as it is almost certain that the bad guys always get caught.  That’s of course unless you work for a Government agency in which case all your pals rally round and make all the naught things you have done go away. That or they  lose or misfile the evidence, put a block on all computer records or just give you a new identity a slap on the butt and tell you not to do it again.
But we’re crime writers, right!  We know better than that,  TV, like the books many of them are based on have a hidden agenda, make the good guys look good and make the bad guys pay for their crimes.
But surely that’s just pure Hollywood, the ‘White Hats’ win and those that wear the ‘Black Hats’ get shot, hung or go to jail….   Although the same thing happens nightly on British TV as I’m sure it does in every other country.   “Yeah ! Go Good Guys !”
However, I’m talking real life here where crime and the criminal always seem to be at least two steps ahead of the law.  For sure they seem better equipped and certainly better funded than the forces of law and order. Isn’t it funny how we never see crime bosses on the news bitching about budget cuts or a slump in available victims.    I suppose it’s a bit like the world of medicine, have you noticed how the cure cannot be discovered before the disease, same goes for crime and detection ?
Now science is a whole new ballgame, if we are to believe everything we see and hear on TV then if you even dream about committing a serious crime like murder you’d better wake up and apologise  because the people in the white coats will nail your butt faster than you can say  DNA !
On the other hand, as an alternative to watching crime shows on TV if by chance you were to watch the news and read the newspapers instead you might come to realise that there is a distinct pattern to the many crimes that get reported and of course the ones that get solved.
The police will happily announce solved crimes this after all is good news, sells newspapers and makes the folks at home feel safer.  However for the other side of the coin you have to watch ‘Crime Watch !’
Only serial killers make the news on a regular basis and only when they don’t get caught.
When many writers research crime the tendency is to turn to the official reports and the newspaper archives, unfortunately I think these tend to give them a skewed and biased one sided view of things because it deals mostly with those crimes that have an outcome.
As an example of what I mean I am reminded of a wartime story of our fleet of Bomber aircraft.  Someone in aircraft design made a point ofphotographing and analysing the damage done to the aircraft by enemy fire after they had returned from their mission.  In a detailed report they recommended adding extra armour plating to the damaged areas.  The response from the Air Ministry was a suggestion to put thearmour plating on the other places… being as this represented the aircraft that didn’t come back !
So in the same vain when seeking the perfect crime we need to look at the old unsolved crimes or even better the ones marked  ‘NFAR’ No Further Action Required.
Now here’s a helpful pointer,  a lot of murders are crimes of passion or a heated overreaction while under the influence of drink and or drugs.  The police know this so their usual first line of investigation is always going to be one looking for direct connections to the victim(s).
So I would summarise their main areas of investigation logic are Means, Motive and Opportunity.
Means:  Our ability to commit the Crime.     (How?)
Motive:  Our reason to commit the Crime.    (Who and Why?)
Opportunity:  Our chance to commit the Crime. (Where and When ?)    
Of course showing the presence of these three elements is not in itself sufficient to convict a person beyond reasonable doubt.  There must also be evidence to prove that an opportunity was present and was indeed taken by the accused.
Incidentally, motive is not a necessary element in many crimes however supplying motive will often help to convince a jury.
Plus if accused then it is always handy to have a decent alibi with which you can prove you were not able to commit the crime in question.
Also at this stage it may be convenient to point out that most criminals get caught because they cannot keep their mouths shut.  Remember a secret shared… Is not a secret !
However consider this, remember the ‘Ego’ of human beings, what’s the point of committing the perfect crime if no one ever knows how clever you are ?
Never be tempted to brag about it !
Therefore to commit the perfect crime you need to operate way outside any form of investigative logic and avoid leaving any evidence directly traceable back to you.
You must be fully aware of all the modern day tools available to the police such as CCTV all over the place, especially in busy public places and all travel locations such as Airport check in areas, train and bus stations and most major roads.
Consider too that many High street shops and stores use CCTV for security inside and out, as do vehicle filling stations and hole in wall cash machines. Great for creating an alibi but not so good if they put you in the right place but at the wrong time.  Till receipts and credit card transactions are date stamped.  Again perfect for helping to create an alibi but a tool that can and will be used against you.
Then there’s the science departments designed to find the unwary by collecting their fingerprints and DNA.
DNA is fast becoming the surest way to prove someone committed a crime therefore it is absolute imperative that you don’t leave any DNA behind you and that is extremely difficult.
Of course you could commit the crime in a place where it is likely to have a lot of DNA from a lot of people while you yourself take extra care with your own.  Why not take lots of extra DNA from lots of other people and scatter it around.   How you might ask, well how about mixing in some used chewing gum, coffee cups with finger prints, lots of different hairs and fibers off used clothes.  Then throw in lots of animal hair from cats and dogs ( not your own pets that’s just dumb)  it will be like creating the haystack hopefully without the proverbial needle in it.
Don’t make the most common of mistakes that of trying to hide the crime, just make sure you minimise any personal connection to it.  If the crime involves a weapon of any sort leave it at the scene, assuming you have made absolutely sure there is no possibility of  any linking evidence such as DNA or fingerprints Etc.  (Wear thick gloves not the thin rubber ones you see them use on TV.)  Don’t move or even touch the body and never bother to try and hide the body or worse try to dispose of it.  Plus don’t steal or take anything away from the scene that could link you back there. (You were never there remember.)  Of course you could always give the police a suspect by leaving the DNA of a perfect stranger on the body ! (Mean but rather them than you… right ?)
Of course the best thing to wear would be those wonderful all in one white hooded overalls you see the police forensic people wearing, complete with shower caps over your feet and a face mask.  Trouble with that is you might stick out a bit !  Nothing to say you can’t wear all that under your own clothes to help minimise what you might leave behind though !
Oh yes, don’t wear your own clothes,  plan an out of town shopping trip weeks or months in advance, go to large supermarkets, buy cheap common brands and only pay by cash and DO NOT keep the receipts.  Then after your crime destroy everything quickly and quietly without creating suspicion (so no bonfires or flushing things down the toilet).  It’s amazing what a bottle of full strength domestic Bleach does to clothes Not to mention DNA !!
It should go without saying that timing is another key element in committing the perfect crime.  Being alone on quiet streets late at night or in the early hours of the morning is always going to arouse suspicion unless you can contrive a very good reason for being there.
I think invisibility is the key solution and here I am not talking about the Harry Potter type of invisibility with a magic cloak.   For my latest novel I have been looking closely at the science of invisibility and of camouflage and the art of hiding in plain sight.
Think about your own experiences, how often when walking through a busy town centre or shop and you observe people walking towards you.  You may expect them to give way or perhaps stop talking long enough to acknowledge your presence and may be move over… Yet they do neither and if you didn’t move then there would have been a collision.   What are we talking here, supreme arrogance on their part, rudeness or were they just so caught up in their own tiny world that you were truly invisible to them ?
Now extrapolate that out into the world, seeing a postman delivering late at night is to say the least unusual but in the morning do you still see him ?  Was it indeed a him or a her ?  Could you describe them in detail or identify them in a police lineup of say twelve identically dressed post people ?
See what I mean about invisibility?  Our eyes and brains are constantly bombarded with tons of information which has to be sifted and sorted into relevant and irrelevant, normal (no threat) or abnormal (possible danger and threat).   Our brains do this automatically while we get on with living, which includes wearing ‘Hoods up Head down,’ listening to iPods, talking on mobile phones or those around you.   Let’s face it, a UFO could land next to some people and they wouldn’t notice a damn thing.
Continuing with the invisibility theme while we consider the two aspects of Timing and Proximity, now given that we have covered the fact that it virtually impossible for us to come and go without being recorded we must consider using the snoops tools to work for rather than against us.
We all know that all Bad Guys wear masks, a striped pullover and carry an over the shoulder bag with ‘SWAG’ written on it so if we look normal and act normal we should be OK right ?
UM! Well … No, here in the UK we have over four million CCTV camera and that means the average person is going to be caught on camera over 300 times every single day. Learning  where cameras are sighted will help but is no guarantee and of course for the perfection we seek ‘Nearly’ is not good enough.
So we need to forget the cameras altogether and use them against the ‘Big Brother’ Snoop system and become someone else and here the more banal the better.
Just as import we need to consider removing ourselves from the area with as little fuss as possible.  How about a push bike rather than a getaway car ? On a bike you can use side streets go off road and travel quickly.  Don’t forget to look the part and don’t look like you.
It is of course wise to have an alibi but don’t be too anxious to use it or produce it if merely stopped for routine questioning.  Don’t be too helpful to the forces of law and order just answer the questions they ask, do not offer more information than is required abut don’t raise their suspicions by being overly obstructive.  Don’t tell unnecessary lies if you can possibly avoid it, just in case you are questioned again.
Be somewhere else – you could forward plan a trip away, book two rooms in a hotel and become two people (you with your credit card your alter ego pays cash). Of course both of you need to check in and out.   You need to go to a Trade show or convention and attend. Try and use a small hotel with few staff and no cameras.  In the early hours travel to the place of your crime, commit it, and return. Then enjoy the remainder of your trip (on your credit card) and return home the next day.
What happens afterwards?   Well live your life as normal, but one thing I wouldn’t read any newspapers or watch the news on TV.  The police can and do use both of these as physiological weapons to convince you they know more than they do.  Just continue your everyday life. Yet again I remind you DO NOT BRAG about your crime to anyone (that includes posting on Twitter and Facebook!)
If you do get arrested, this does not mean you have failed to commit the perfect crime.
However, if it happens, do not speak. The police need evidence to convict you – if you have done the job right, there won’t be any right ? Or if there is it points in a direction away from you, better if it points to someone else, Yeah, yeah, I know that’s not nice but remember the police are likely to give up looking when they have someone in the frame.  Perhaps to commit the perfect crime we need to give them that somebody.
 Do not help the police with additional or embellished testimony, Remember the powers that be need to find you guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.
Finally and just in case PC Plod is out there reading this it is only the entertaining ramblings of a deranged writer hoping to promote his next book which involves the art of invisibility when committing murder.   No, not a sequel to Harry Potter with his magic cloak but the true art of perfect camouflage where you can actually be in your victim’s direct line of sight and still they will not see you until it’s too late.

Merlin Fraser can be found on: and


In crime on June 12, 2012 at 5:16 am

In 2009, I was on a research trip to the James Ellroy archive at the University of South Carolina when I came across a letter addressed to Ellroy written by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis. In it he describes Ellroy’s novel Killer on the Road as ‘the best novel about a serial killer that I have ever read.’ This is truly remarkable praise considering American Psycho is one of the most famous (and infamous) novels about serial killers, and Killer on the Road is probably Ellroy’s least known work.

Killer on the Road’s obscurity may be attributed to its bizarre plot. Essentially, it is a confessional narrative, with the character of Martin Michael Plunkett giving a first-person account of his life from his troubled childhood to his voyeuristic sexual fantasies and finally the mass murders he commits. Does this form of self-portrayal make the serial killer sympathetic? No, for Plunkett has other off-putting qualities that keep the reader at bay, including his colossal ego. The ‘I’ only seeks to justify his killing spree: he regards his own uniqueness as good enough reason. But the reader is able to see the true reasons for his building rage– his repressed homosexuality and his social awkwardness among them. Feelings which are of course both common and normal, thus Ellroy taps into what truly fascinates and revolts the public about serial killers – that they could just as easily be one of us.

Although he has a huge ego, Plunkett aspires to be invisible to the society he lives in, and he becomes obsessed with a pulp comic book character named ‘Shroud Shifter’ who can make himself invisible. Yet unlike the comic book character, it is the failures of the system Plunkett exploits rather than any super intelligence or power, which gives him success. He drives across the US on a killing spree practically unnoticed, taking advantage of the bureaucracy and rivalry between state police departments. Plunkett is briefly captured by police halfway through the novel, leading to a plot twist which is as unexpected as it is ludicrous. In the final quarter of the novel, the invisibility (as an unknown murderer) and visibility (as the narrator and controller of events) are simultaneously challenged as the focus shifts from Plunkett’s viewpoint to the dogged FBI agent Thomas Dusenberry, who will engage Plunkett in a professional and emotional standoff.

Ellroy readers would probably cite the LA Quartet and Underworld USA novels as his best work. Killer on the Road has not fared so well critically. Published by Avon and released in 1986 under the title Silent Terror, later republished in 1990 under Ellroy’s preferred title Killer on the Road, the novel has been largely overlooked. Ellroy’s own feelings towards the novel are ambivalent. He has repeatedly stated he does not like serial killer novels and when challenged by one interviewer that Killer on the Road is a serial killer novel he replied, ‘Yeah, but at least it’s strictly from the serial killer’s viewpoint and not a roman policier on any level.’ But even this qualification is not strictly true given the late introduction of the Dusenberry character.

Despite its flaws, Killer on the Road is still a fascinating, suspenseful novel which is at its best satirising popular cultures warped fascination with serial killers. In a memorable encounter Plunkett humiliates Charles Manson when they are both serving time in the LA County Jail, as he finds the psychopathic hippie to be more banal than prophetic. Another scene features Plunkett wandering into a cinema where a documentary titled Save Our Seals is being played:

Seals were being beaten to death on the screen. Their yelps were what I had heard, and now they were joined with sobs from the audience. The sound was thrilling, but the sight was ugly and pathetic, so I closed my eyes. The absence of sight brought the taste of blood – the blood of every body I had ever desired. Soon I was sobbing, and the taste deepened until the yelps were replaced by music. I opened my eyes, and people were filing past me, giving out looks of sympathy and commiseration. My shoulders were patted and my hands were touched – as if were one of them. None of the people knew that the origin of my tears was in joy.

The contrast between Plunkett’s psychosis and the audience’s subliminal delight in their own grief is one of many striking images Ellroy conjures. Once again, Plunkett is invisible. People assume his tears make him ‘one of them’. Killer on the Road is not Ellroy’s greatest work, but it is an interesting novel nonetheless. Ellroy has seldom written about serial killers since its publication but a few words from his introduction to the little-read anthology Murder And Mayhem: An A-Z of the World’s Most Notorious Killers (1992) appear reminiscent of the main theme of Killer on the Road, ‘Fear the killers; pray for their victims; extend sympathy towards murderers’ childhoods. Think of the line between us and them as fragile and in need of jealously guarding.’

Steven Powell can be found on:


In crime on June 11, 2012 at 5:30 am

I have been fascinated with crime fiction from the age of sixteen, ever since I stumbled across James Ellroy‘s American Tabloid in a bookshop while holidaying in south-west England. However, I would not formally study the genre until I began my PhD, returning, after an MA in Victorian Fiction to the author whose work had so defined my teenage years. While studying for my PhD,  Demon Dog: James Ellroy and the Narrative of Persona, I started a blog about crime fiction, The Venetian Vase, to express my more diverse interest in the genre. I have also edited two books and contributed a chapter to a monograph. Although these projects began at different stages of my PhD, they will all be published this year.  Conversations with James Ellroy, published by University Press of Mississippi, consists of a series of interviews Ellroy has given over the course of literary career and includes several interviews that I conducted with Ellroy personally. 100 American Crime Writers, published next month by Palgrave Macmillan, is an anthology of short, critical biographies of the most prominent and influential crime writers to emerge from the United States. My essay Betty Short and I Go Back: James Ellroy and the Metanarrative of the Black Dahlia Case was published in Cross-Cultural Connections in Crime Fiction, which was released by Palgrave Macmillan in May. I live in Liverpool, UK, with my wife Diana and our dog Henry, a Cavilier King Charles Spaniel.

Steven can be found on:

Tomorrow, Steven will be entertaining us with his post “Killer on the Road: James Ellroy’s Forgotten Novel”. Don’t miss it!


In crime on June 5, 2012 at 6:18 am

I write fictional stories, about various subjects. They’re one time adventures, except my private detective, Samuel (Sammy) D. Shovel series. Sam Spade was my detective hero as I grew up. My concept was to offer another twist to the Who Done It novels.  The readers know for the most part what person threw down the first gauntlet. My detective, while despised, and yet haltingly admired by various San Francisco policemen, gets drawn into their world of heinous crimes by circumstances beyond his control. When trapped in the uncomfortable role of assisting the police, he eventually finds out what turned an innocent child into enemy number one. An excerpt from his introductory novelette, An Adventurous Night:

“I guess you know she almost murdered you tonight?” Bracque (a homicide inspector) reminds Sammy.

“Yes, I know all that, but it’s the why that has me choked up.”

Mystery readers like trying to solve the crime as they turn page after page. Ah, ha, is this a red herring? Oh no! There was that clue on page 122, of course. Drat, I missed it. They love it, and beg for more. My stories contain most of these important elements, plus more. I delve into the why instead of revealing the who. It’s exciting writing mystery stories about a child, who was turned into a clever criminal.

I played with all kinds of children and began to classify a few as different, during my formidable years. My first clue was that some of the boy and a few girls didn’t want to play with their peers. It had nothing to do with their home life. All of their siblings were happy playmates, and home life varied from being abnormal to loving. Regardless of the parents’ idiosyncrasies, life styles, or being rich verses poor, ninety five percent turned out good kids, and upstanding citizens. The other five percent make my day as book villains.

An actual example:

Two high school bullies, with the same social backgrounds ended up with one going to San Quentin and other becoming a police officer. Both were bona fide dragoons, but one used his vicious demeanor for easy scores, and the other to bully the populous legally.

My stories include the trigger that defines the moment that a child’s open mind changes and/or recognizes an opportunity for a new glamorous life style. Hundreds of children are turned evil in real life every day. If the circumstances are ripe, and before a child can distinguish right from wrong, a charming predator can and will cease the day, and befriend a waif. A chance meeting, a childhood dare, unforgiving greed, hearing something they shouldn’t, to name a few, can lead to all kinds of intrigue. In one of my stories the predator and child are one in the same.

Take a child of six in a war torn country who needs food; he or she grabs a piece of bread from a known reprobate’s plate when he’s eating lunch at an outdoor café. Detected, the child expects a whopping; the malefactor spots opportunity. A childhood dare, followed by heinous authorities will destroy innocence. Children can sense that something is wrong at home, but when their easy lifestyle never changes, they ease into comfort for many years, until abruptly, the cash is cut off—then all hell erupts. In my stories the trigger, that released the touch of evil in each and still lurks a tad in everyone that’s human, is never revealed until the very end.

I have two more Sammy Shovel novels completed and they will be released in the next few years. If you like my introductory character, Sammy Shovel, and my style of writing, keep watching for all my books.

I have an interesting novel, about two young men who wrote a musical, set in 1974, called The Two Jacks.

I’m on facebook:

I have two blogs: & a blog on my wordpress site,
Next week, Steven Powell, the PhD student who knows everything about James Ellroy. Don’t miss it!


In crime on June 4, 2012 at 6:08 am

Author Ronald James was born in Oakland, California, during the Great Depression. He didn’t have lot of toys, but didn’t know any better.His father and mother loved the movies. The local theaters were cheap, about 15¢ for adults and 10¢ for him. He liked the musicals, and cops and robbers best. These films were his training ground for future stories. He was treated to Humphrey Bogart’s breakout role of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon as a child.

While watching films in dark palaces of the Golden Age of movies was entertaining, maturity demanded: get a job. He went to the University of California, Berkeley and became an architect. When the world of architecture changed from fun to drudgery, he still practiced architecture, but looked around for something that would be exciting again. He didn’t know if he found creative writing or it found him, but his first three-page story had a detective running aimlessly about in an adventurous night.

Years passed. While working in San Francisco he met San Francisco homicide detectives and discovered they were no different than him—only their job description changed. He began expanding that first story. He attended three “Mystery Writers Conferences at Book Passage,” Corte Madera, California. He added color and gave the characters depth and a voice. For his protagonist, his mind returned to his youth and that old reliable character, Sam Spade. He loved Spade’s poise—always sure, rarely tricked, but not perfect. He could clearly see Spade and his cockiness, but he consider his detective soft-boiled—he can laugh, has feelings and is built short and stocky—not the Hollywood image of a gumshoe, who were always stoic, and never smiled. As an added treat for the reader, he plays with references to the Sam Spade movie and novel, and purposely lets other characters occasionally mix up Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in his books.

In his own words he explains how he writes:

I’m a middle of the road writer, neither précised nor rigid. No more writing by the seat of my pants. But, I will not tolerate so-structured chapters that will not allow any deviations. I get an idea, and start forming a story within my mind. I develop an outline, chapter by chapter and then make 5×3 character cards for each essential person in my story, but I leave room for another character to reshape the twists and turns that are expected, and perhaps add a few more chapters when a character is introduced, and their actions might prod me to extend their role. Sometimes I write the first and the last chapter’s drafts before working out the guts of the story. This creates richness to the story, and the last chapter will change as the stories characters demand. I love it. It’s like when I practiced architecture; I couldn’t wait to get to work, and I watch my architectural lines gradually become a real edifices, for people to live, work, and enjoy. I guess it stems from my design training, the client knows what he wants, but if you can take the box, and create vistas of space and light that will tickle the user, you’ve satisfied the owner, their family, and buildings’ workers.

Even though you know who did most of the mayhem in my detective novels, it’s fun to see how my detective, Sammy Shovel, uncovers ominous human actions.

Ronald James has two more Sammy Shovel novels completed and they will be released in the next few years. If you like his introductory character, Sammy Shovel, and his style of writing, keep watching for all his books. He has an interesting novel, about two young men who wrote a musical, set in 1974, tittled The Two Jacks.

Here is a shot book summary to introduce you to Sammy Shovel.

This short story introduces my detective protagonist, Sammy Shovel. He’s short and built like a rain barrel, similar to the English actor, Bob Hoskins. Street people dress better than he does. Five years ago, bullets that were meant for Sammy, snuffed out his senior partner, Harry Hart. Since that fateful night, Sammy’s had a constant chip on his shoulder. He will do anything to make a buck—even resort to dreaded repos.

Sammy is drinking up a storm at one of Harry’s old spots when he sees an opportunity to make a quick buck. The time is December, when Christmas music blares and ornate decorations keep reminding Shovel he’s alone in a city that doesn’t care.  This sacred season brings back memories of a happier childhood, and that irks Sammy even more. He has no one. Both his gentle mother and his forgiving father passed away about the same time Harry ate lead. Sammy has no siblings and has never married, because of shyness around the opposite sex. He knows why suicides increase from Thanksgiving to the New Year; the temptation lingers constantly within his own shallow life.

The adventure starts with two hit men, Guido and Bennie, waiting outside of a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco for old man Crowder, their target for tonight’s shoot-to-kill fun.

While Sammy is kibitzing with the bartender, Pete, at Scotts, in Oakland’s Jack London Square, in rush Guido and Bennie. The two have mixed up the name of the restaurant where the hit is to take place with a similar-sounding restaurant across the bay. However, Sammy surmises they’re there for instructions for a robbery. When he gives up his dinner to follow the two creeps for a potential quick reward by a grateful owner, he is instead treated to an adventurous night, filled with intrigue, murders, and resulting mayhem.

In each subsequent detective book, Sammy’s shoulder chip gets whittled away, and he embraces a new life style – the reason? A woman of course!

Ronald James can be found on:

and his

Tomorrow, Ronald James post, Turning A Child Into Evil. Don't miss it!