Officer Down By Theresa Schwegel

Samantha “Smack” Mack is a Chicago cop who drinks and smokes as much as her male counterparts. She’s The Wire‘s Jimmy McNulty on estrogen. One night, Smack and partner/ex-lover Fred go into a dark house one night to bust a child molester. Shots are fired, and Smack wakes up in the hospital with a concussion and a dead partner. The police decide she shot him in the dark, a friendly fire accident. Of course, that would only take up four chapters – great for an ebook, lousy for a hardcover.  Instead, Theresa Schwegel’s debut police thriller follows Smack on a dark, twisted path involving police corruption and a perp who is not everything he sees.

It’s not a bad debut, but Schwegel’s protagonist is hard to like. Smack is stubborn, arrogant, and reckless. She tries to be tough and independent, but can become clingy and jealous at the drop of a hat. She even has a married boyfriend she doesn’t trust but can’t be without. It takes a deft hand to make that sort of character likeable. Schwegel manages it, but the results are choppy. Not bad for a first novel, though.

Late To Weinergate

I’ve hesitated to chime in on Weinergate until now.  What more is there to say about Congressman Anthony Weiner? The man with the giggle-inducing last name should have known better with his moniker. Really, even Bill Clinton wasn’t born with this kind of baggage. And photographing yourself in the House gym?

Google yourself. All your embarrassing rants and lewd photos are out there somewhere. Someday, a Girls Gone Wild video is going to become an issue for a Supreme Court nominee, and she’s going to be able to wave it off by saying, “Really, Senator, seriously?”

That day is not here yet. And so we have Anthony Weiner who has never seen the Venn diagram that shows privacy and the Internet as two mutually exclusive entities. In other words, if you are in a high-profile position that requires you to be on your best behavior, behave!

I say this because Weiner did the politicians’ knee-jerk reaction to getting caught: Deny! Deny! Deny! Once… Just once… And it should have started with Bill Clinton… I’d like to see a politician get caught doing something morally questionable but irrelevant to his or her job and totally legal and say, “I’m sorry. Are you my wife? Because my wife is allowed to be in a homicidal rage at the moment. You are just a TMZ junkie looking for a fix, so go f*** y0urself!” (It’ll never be a Republican unless the GOP somehow rediscovers its inner PJ O’Rourke again.)

But what’s truly pathetic – aside from my using this as blog filler a week late – is how some in Congress are falling all over themselves to express moral outrage. Nancy Pelosi seems particularly desperate to remain relevant since losing a job that was hers to blow. On the other hand, the most surprising voice in all this is John Boehner. The Speaker of the House held his tongue until Saturday, when he made fun of his own name during a commencement speech at The Ohio State University before saying, “At least my name isn’t ‘Weiner.'” Only yesterday did Boehner start applying pressure for Weiner to go. (Yes, I’m praising Boehner for something. Stranger things have happened.)

But in the end, it’s not up to the House or (Thank God) the media. It’s up to Weiner. And his constituents, who can be very forgiving if they think their man is doing right by them. Cincinnati once had a mayor who had his own Weinergate. Said mayor wrote a check for a massage that came with a happy ending over in Newport, Kentucky, at the time the local Sin City. He resigned. The people voted him right back in.

And you’d better be glad they did, or you’d have never heard of Jerry Springer, ex-mayor, former news anchor, and freak show emcee.

Um..  Wait a minute…

Cow Tipping

One day last week, AJ and I were driving around and went through a drive-thru. The tip jar at the window said, “Tip us, not cows.” AJ, who has spent very little time in the rural environs of southwest Ohio, asked, “What is cow tipping?”

Cow tipping is an alleged sport wherein participants take advantage of cattle’s tendency to sleep on their feet and their supposed high center of gravity. It is assumed that the cow will go down without too much resistance. However, cow tipping is a myth.

For starters, a bovine can weigh up to 1500 pounds. You try pushing something that big on its side. Second of all, cattle get very agitated, especially bulls. So now you have over half a ton of angry animal that can move pretty fast when upset or scared. Third, cattle do not sleep. Nope. That’s a mammal trait they don’t seem to have.

However, when your kid asks you about something as weighty and heavy as cow tipping, you have to back it up with a story. It just so happens, I and several friends went a-cow tipping one summer night in the Before Time, in the Long Long Ago.

My parents sent me to a church camp for a couple of summers during high school. One night, a bunch of us decided since we were in a campground in the midst of Amish country, we would try this new sport called cow tipping. We slipped out of camp around midnight one night and into the cow pasture of a neighboring farm. The electric fence did not extend to where we entered. There were five of us, and two of my friends decided to take their chances with a very large Holstein bull. Hey, we were teenagers. What could possibly go wrong with aggravating a 1500-pound bovine that still had its horns in the middle of the night?

Well, they found out. So did the rest of us. Do you want to know what else I found out that night? I found out how fast I could run. I also found out how fast angry bulls can run. Three of us found our way back to the camp. The other two?

They found the electric fence. And you don’t really want to find the electric fence at midnight with an angry bull chasing you.

We never tipped a cow (or a bull). And I never went out to aggravate cattle again.

Now, ask me about a couple of relatives who also found the electric fence.

And how they had temporary sex changes for about an hour afterward.

Compact. Powerful. Classic.

Sandra Ruttan and Brian Lindenmuth announce the launch of Snubnose Press, an e-publisher of crime fiction. In my many blatherations about ebooks, I’ve consistently maintained there is a need for publishers who get the ebook model – ‘cuz you still need editing, marketing, and packaging, and not all of us are JA Konrath.

Coming from the publishers of Spinetingler, this one looks like a sure bet. Check them out here.

My Town Monday Cincinnati: Giant Jesus To Rise Again

Once upon a time, a 62-foot statue of Jesus reached to the heavens in sight of all who traveled I-75 through Monroe, Ohio. Built in the reflecting pool of Solid Rock Church, the statue known as Touchdown Jesus (real name, King of Kings) became a local landmark.

And then it happened. One night, during a thunderstorm, despite precautions taken to protect the big guy, lightning claimed Touchdown Jesus.

Labeled for resuse

Labeled for resuse

Within minutes, all that remained was a charred metal frame. A local landmark was gone.

Labeled for resuse

Labeled for resuse

Solid Rock Church, which had been planning a renovation of the statue, vowed to rebuild. A number of designs were looked at, but it was clear Touchdown Jesus was done. Well, now work has begun on a new Giant Jesus. Gone is Jesus from the waist up reaching for the Heavens. In its place will be a full body sculpture of The Lord reaching out to people called Come Unto Me.

Solid Rock Church

Work is expected to be completed at the end of summer.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Another Thing To Fall By Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman, as most crime fiction fans already know, is married to David Simon, executive producer of The Wire. And if you’ve ever talked to anyone even peripherally connected with that show, you know it’s as far from Hollywood as you can get. Simon is a former journalist. Most of his writing staff were either novelists (George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane), many of the cops Homicide: Life in the Streets were based on, and even a few of the criminals those same cops once prosecuted. The result? An unglamorous, realistic depiction of a struggling port city.

Another Thing to Fall is about none of that. No, this outing for Lippman’s Tess Monaghan is about everything you’ve ever heard about Hollywood: neurotic show runners and writers, self-absorbed actors, and back-stabbing staffers, all just as real as The Wire, only Baltimore is more of an escape for the reader than the site of an unrelenting struggle to survive. (Hey, I’ve been to Baltimore. Both Lippman and Simon’s Baltimores are very real.) It’s the folks from the fantasy factory that make you want to look for Omar Little to borrow his sawed-off and some ammo.

Tess is out rowing one morning when she accidentally rows into a shoot for television series Mann of Steel, sort of Flashdance meets Life on Mars meets [insert Jane Austen novel here]. It sounds like something Lee Goldberg or Harlan Ellison might have overheard during a meeting with network executives. Instead of getting hauled off the set by cops, the show runner hires Tess to play body guard to Selene Waites, the show’s 20-something bad girl star. Director Flip Tumulty believes she is behind the accidents plaguing the production. Tess has a hard time taking Flip seriously. His father was a famous director as well, and Flip has daddy issues.

In the process, Tess ends up dealing with the show’s male lead, the aging, nerdy, insecure Johnny Tampa (whose poster once adorned Tess’s wall) and investigating a murder. The murder exposes a totally unexpected scheme by a couple of men who knew Selene as a teenager.

Beginning with By a Spider’s Thread, the Monaghan series has grown more complex, a trend that followed Lippman’s forays into standalone fiction. Indeed, By a Spider’s Thread and Lippman’s first standalone, Every Secret Thing, marked a maturation of her writing. Her characters were more nuanced, and some of her more recent work is not so much crime fiction as it is fiction using crime as a jumping off point.

That said, Another Thing to Fall is a bit of a retro Tess. It has the feel of some of the older Tess novels, and is more of a straight up mystery. Naturally, as Lippman’s skills have deepened since the days of The Last Place, it’s much more complex than the early Tesses.  It’s a bit like Lippman left town for bigger and better things and is coming back to pay a visit.

It was a very pleasant visit.