Friday Reviews: Calypso and Ghosts by Ed McBain

Calypso by Ed McBainCalypso

Ed McBain

A calypso singer is murdered one night walking home from a gig in the rain. In the wee hours of the following morning, so is a hooker. With the same gun. Before it’s all over, the reader is introduced to an insane woman holding a man prisoner.

I didn’t really like this 87th Precinct. It seems like it’s recycling the previous two novels. In this one, Carella worried about his faithfulness to his wife, Teddy (though never crosses any lines.) This was a major subplot of Long Time No See. And just two novels after Bert Kling’s wife is taken hostage by a stalker, So Long as You Both Shall Live, we have the roles reversed with a male captive and an obsessed female stalker. Even the presence of Monaghan and Monroe, the useless homicide detectives who do their vaudville schtick to the annoyance of Carella and the other detectives of the 87th, wear out their welcome in this one. So does Genero, the precinct’s resident idiot. Only Fat Ollie Weeks, who has become the series’s resident Archie Bunker, seems to be interesting in this one. I was disappointed.

 Ghosts by Ed McBainGHOSTS

Ed McBain

Detectives Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes respond to the fatal stabbing of a woman outside her apartment. The woman was stabbed once as she carried groceries into the building. While they start work on her death, a call comes through that another person is stabbed inside the building, this one a famous writer named Gregory Craig, who wrote a bestselling book about a haunted house in Massachusetts. The only witness? Craig’s young girlfriend, who is a dead ringer for Teddy Carella, Steve Carella’s wife.

The temptation of Carella has become a regular theme to the story at this point. Hillary Scott, the woman who could be Teddy’s twin, has a twin herself, one who eventually hits on Carella. In Calypso, it sounded like a rehash of Long Time No See. This time, however, the resemblance to Teddy Carella adds a new spin that not only messes with Carella but also resident lothario Cotton Hawes. Hawes finds the sisters very attractive but is made nervous by their resemblance to his partner’s wife. Late in the story, Carella is asleep in a motel room when he seems to dream that he gave into temptation. By the end of the scene, he’s not so convinced. So maybe the precinct’s resident boy scout may have finally screwed up.

Near the end of the story, in a scene reminiscent of Detective Rick Genero’s introduction in Fuzz, the character of Tak Fujiwara makes his debut. While I haven’t read any of the books featuring Tak, I suspect he’s there for two reasons. First, the squad needs a little diversity at this point. By 1980, Arthur Brown is the squad’s sole black officer, and his race only seems to be mentioned anymore if Fat Ollie Weeks is in the story. Second, Genero as the young rookie detective is kind of a dud. It seems like he’s supposed to be play the wet-behind-the-ears noob that Bert Kling had played up until Fuzz. However, he’s sort of become the village idiot, displacing bigoted lout Andy Parker in tandem with a smarter, more likeable bigot, Fat Ollie. However, while Fat Ollie (who gets only a passing mention in this story) is smart but ignorant with an interesting personality, Genero is little more than a punchline. Bringing in Tak off the streets is probably to correct that shortcoming. And notice that Parker hardly rates a mention anymore. Good riddance. He was an annoying character.

This one feels a bit more modern as McBain is clearly referencing The Amityville Horror, which had come a year before this, the first 87th Precinct novel of the 1980s. In one bizarre sequence, Carella may have actually seen a ghost. It not only scares Carella into paralysis but causes the psychic Hillary Scott to faint. McBain never actually says if it’s an actual ghost, but it’s enough to rattle the steely Carella. It’s a different entry in the 87th Precinct, which isn’t quite as flat as Calypso.

Your Politics Suck

Willy Wonka explains it allMost of you reading this live somewhere with free speech. This is wonderful. It turns Orwell’s vision of Big Brother on its ear because while Big Brother is watching, he’s seeing a lot of middle fingers waved at him.


Let’s talk about social media, shall we? I get that you’re passionate about your beliefs. It’s why too many atheists sound like Jehovah’s Witnesses these days.

“Religion is the root of all bigotry and hatred in the world.”

That’s nice, dude, but I only asked if you liked the Seahawks in next week’s game.

I tend to ignore religious posts. The point of most religions, including atheism, is “Don’t be an asshole. You’re not that important,” a universal and undeniable truth. What are people usually mad about? Other people being assholes. Sometimes, it’s assholes arguing with other assholes. Sometimes, I’m even an asshole, though I try not to be.

And then we come to politics. I submit that politics, not religion, makes for the most morally bankrupt posts on social media. Why? Let’s look at Mr. Webster’s fine book on what words mean, shall we? Here’s the online entry for politics:

Most of you think you’re “debating” this:
1a:  the art or science of government
What you’re really ranting (I won’t dignify it calling it “debating”):
3c: political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices

And so we get Facebook walls full of such egregiously stupid things as “Obama is a socialist” (posted normally by people who could not define socialism if you put a gun to their head) or some faux outrage from pointing out that Mitch McConnell forgot to wipe his ass once in the Senate restroom before shaking hands with the Pope.


Let’s be clear at something. 75% of political posts on Facebook have nothing to do with facts, or the facts are conveniently chosen with no context. The most benign quotes are spun in the worst possible light. And how about that rant you posted two days ago on Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton that just got debunked on Why don’t you feel like the idiot you just made out of yourself?

I don’t believe in grand conspiracies. They require too much cooperation and effort on the part of people who frankly don’t give a damn about each other’s interests, let alone yours. I do believe in trends, however, and every outrageous factoid you post is carefully designed to stir up your outrage and get you frothing at the mouth so you’ll vote against whoever it is that’s against whomever the source loves/works for. That’s not a conspiracy, kids. That’s marketing. It’s the same reason you know the Golden Arches mean fast food along that lonely stretch of Interstate. It’s why some of you buy into the Cult of Apple while Samsung makes billions off some of you who hate it. Marketing.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s your willing participation in the process. Stop that.

Now I’m not going to insult your intelligence telling you I’m objective. I’m not. It’s no secret I lean left, though I’m not sure I’m quite left enough to be called liberal. I openly mock a lot of conservative posters because they tend to post the most nakedly stupid things on Facebook. But…

You may be surprised to learn that I’ve unfriended and unfollowed more people who agree with my views than those who oppose them. Why?

Tell me, why do I want to wallow in your hatred and negativity when I don’t want to listen to theirs? All you do is feed the machine campaign managers depend upon. Why is it okay for you to post questionable facts and passive-aggressive bullshit, but not the other person? Doesn’t that make you just like the person you despise? What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish? To impress your like-minded friends? How do you think we got a useless Congress in the first place. If you foam and froth at the mouth at the slightest provocation, those tasked with getting politicians elected are going to see that as a valid means of getting the job done.

The question you must ask yourself is this: Does this accomplish anything besides expressing whatever outrage I’ve been told I have this morning? If the answer is no, you screwed up.

Less Than A Week Away…

Gypsy's KissIt’s coming. And in less than a week. Gypsy’s Kiss will draw the saga of Cleveland PI Nick Kepler to a close.

What happens? Where does he go? Does Elaine finally leave her philandering husband for him? And what is going on with Nick’s favorite informant, Gypsy?

Gypsy’s Kiss builds on the events of “Roofies” and not only brings Nick’s story to a close, but Gypsy’s as well.

High-priced call girl and former stripper Gypsy is leaving the sex trade for good. She’s saved and invested wisely and is moving on to more legitimate endeavors. And she wants Nick to be her final client. The fee? One dollar.

Nick agrees to this, arranging for a quiet evening of watching old movies and splitting a bottle of wine, a token trick that need not be turned. But someone is upset with Gypsy’s move to a better life and lets her know it violently. Nick stashes her on an island in Lake Erie, abandoned during the cold weather, and searches her past for someone looking for revenge. In the meantime, Nick’s business is dying. Leaving the insurance company digs has turned out to be costly for him and partner Elaine. They have a way to salvage the business, but if Nick wants to go that route, Elaine wants something from Nick she herself has not been able to give back: commitment.

Aside from The Kepler Omnibus and a box set later this year, Gypsy’s Kiss will be my final independent long-form story. You can pre-order Gypsy’s Kiss here before it’s February 1 debut.

Friday Reviews: Purgatory by Ken Bruen

Purgatory by Ken BruenPurgatory

Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor has been through hell. He’s had fingers chopped off. He’s going deaf. Alcohol and Xanax threaten to do him in despite fits of sobriety. He’s even had a run-in with the Devil. or so he thinks.

And now, someone calling themselves C33 is pretending to be Dexter, a serial killer who targets bad guys. And C33, who, in certain POV scenes, freely admits to being a psychopath, wants Jack to play a game. Jack doesn’t bite. He’s come into some money and, in the wake of the Celtic Tiger’s collapse, just wants to sit out the austerity that has come to Galway. But Zen pal Stewart wants to take out C33. So does Ridge, Jack’s cop friend who, despite being a lesbian on a male-dominated force, has made sergeant. Meanwhile, a tech mogul named Reardon comes to Galway intent on buying and squandering the city. With him comes his assistant, Kelly, an American woman who takes a shine to Jack.

Bruen paints a bleak picture of Ireland as it reals from the euro crisis during the Great Recession. Gone is the vibrant, booming Galway of previous Taylor books. In its place, a city of people worried about losing their homes and with a seething hatred of their government. Not the British government. The Irish government.

Ridge and Stewart have major scenes here and are POV characters, as is the mysterious C33. The transitions are sometimes confusing as Jack’s scenes don’t always start with “I” in the first few lines. However, spiritual co-author of this book seems to be Oscar Wilde. Kelly, Jack, and even Stewart constantly quote or talk about him. Even C33 is a Wilde reference, the number of the playwright’s cell at Reading Gaol.

As with the previous Taylors, I keep wondering how much more Jack can endure. This one has an ending almost as harrowing and sudden as The Dramatist.

Holland Bay Away! Almost

red-inked manuscript

(C) 2008 Nic McPhee, used under Creative Commons

The manuscript is tweaked. The final new scenes have been added. Holland Bay is ready to return to the agent.


Before you sub it, proof it. (And I’m sure there are a few short story editors seeing this and saying, “When the hell has Winter ever proofed his work?”) The last thing you want to do is send in a manuscript with an ungodly amount of typos in it. And there will be typos. You can’t get them all. Maybe a copy editor or the poor intern stuck proofreading the final edit can get them all. My TBR stack says no, they don’t always get them.

A funny thing happened on the way to this latest final draft. (It’s not really final until it’s published.) I’m actually making more corrections to scenes she’s already looked at than the new ones. It’s not absolute. The new scenes have missing words in places or lines where I typed too fast and scrambled the word order. Those are typical early draft errors. But things like word choices in the older scenes are cropping up. Referring to something as “it” instead of “he,” “she,” or the dreaded singular third-person “they.” (Actually, my agent won’t accept them. “Dick,” being independent, can use it all he wants.) It’s not a bad thing, but it strikes me as odd that I’m proofing scenes I’d already written and vetted before I began this latest round of revisions.

Some time before this weekend, I will send Holland Bay back to my agent. If she likes it, you’ll know who she is soon enough. If she doesn’t…


Gypsy’s Kiss might not be my last independent release.

Winter’s Quarterly: Violet

Winter's Quarterly - Jan 2015The original plan for Winter’s Quarterly was to post a story every month under Get Into Jim’s Shorts, then take the previous three months’ stories and publish them in a quarterly zine. That’s still the plan, but since I started in September, I thought it’d be a bad idea to give you stories for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in a zine published in January. As a result, “Violet” is the only short that appeared on this site. The other two shorts are originals that I’ll talk about in the coming weeks.

“Violet” is a harrowing tale that has some strange beginnings. Part of it comes from my habit of starting with song titles as the germ of a story, possibly the title. I once recall a rather obnoxious fanficcer who demanded everyone one the usenet forum change all the titles based on songs because “That was clever exactly once.” To which I said, “OK, sweetie. When you’re Kurt Cobain or Patty Smith or Paul McCartney, you can lecture me on clever. In the meantime, why don’t you work on your writing, such as it is.” For this story, I found myself putting Hole’s “Violet” into playlists quite frequently. The lyrics do not sound like a woman trapped in anything more than a relationship she’s clearly putting behind her. (In this case, Courtney Love was venting at former boyfriend Billy Corrigan, a man with no love for Nirvana or the Foo Fighters to begin with.) But the chorus sparked an idea.

When they get what they want, they never want it again

In other words, the singer feels disposable, at least in the eyes of someone else. Around this time, a coworker at Medishack told me about her husband, a Cincinnati Police officer who had worked a couple of prostitution stings around town. These were starting to make the news quite a bit then. Both WXIX and NBC ran stories about women coerced or lured into prostitution as virtual slaves. Song title plus dark lyrics plus horrific situation = really dark short story.

And this one really is dark. The situation Violet finds herself in is one repeated over and over around the world. One local church has partnered with an organization in Mumbai, India, to get girls there out of that system. It has a side benefit of leaving a trail for the police to come smashing in doors. So sections of Mumbai are getting cleaned up. Unfortunately, it happens all too often here in America, and they use the cover of “slavery ended in 1865” as one weapon to hide it all. You might have seen the ads. They disguise themselves as personal ads, get the johns to come to a hotel where they think the girl they’re about to sleep with is no different than the one on the web cam. We still, in our society, have visions of call girls pulling down thousands of dollars a night (and they do exist) or street corner girls in short skirts kicking back a cut to a flamboyantly dressed pimp. The latter seems to have gone the way of the VCR and Plymouth cars. In reality, some girls are lured by men who “have a job.” While the most common scenario is a woman illegally in the country and little fluency in English (or even Spanish), women who would otherwise lead a normal life find themselves as easily trapped. The modern “pimp” uses blackmail, coercion, and even outright abduction to force the women to perform. And how much do these women make?

Zip. Nada. These women are slaves. Which last time I checked, had not been legal since, as mentioned earlier, 1865.

So I put the girl Violet into this situation, tried to get into her mind. There’s an Irishman named Paddy, whom her captor clearly fears. Violet decides to let Paddy do whatever he wants because he treats her decently and whispers promises, however false, of taking her into his home for his own. It’s still servitude, but she sees it as a way out, or at least a way to something like a normal life. She fears John more, the man who “owns” her and holds her captive in a place where she can’t tell what part of town she’s in. He’s already killed a girl and made Violet help dispose of her body. So imagine her joy and horror when her father finds her by posing as a john and carrying a pistol.

The ending is horrific. The story, set in a section of the fictional Monticello, may be incorporated into the follow-up to Holland Bay as Paddy is a planned character for the next chapter. It’s dark. That’s why I put it first in this issue.

Friday Reviews: Dreamcatcher


Stephen King

A UFO crashes in a remote section of rural Maine. The setting alone should already tell you it’s a Stephen King novel. The crash disrupts the annual hunting trip of four lifelong friends from Derry (Remember It, Bag of Bones?) An elite and secret military unit led by a crazed man named Kurtz swoops in to turn the area into a scorch mark to prevent the alien “Ripley” infection from spreading. And yet one alien, dubbed Mr. Gray because he looks like the classic view of an alien, takes over the body of one of the four friends. The key to stopping him? A renegade soldier, the one member of the gang having suicidal thoughts, and a dying middle-aged man with Downs syndrome named “Duddits.”

Dreamcatcher is the first novel King completed after the accident that almost killed him. Echoes of that accident make it into the story through the hijacked character of Jonesy. It hits on the familiar themes of King novels past: Childhood friends in adulthood (It, The Body), a secret government organization ruthless and maybe misguided (Firestarter), and a menace that has no real form (It). It also comes at a time when King began writing, to put it bluntly, doorstops. There’s a rhyme and reason to why The Stand, It, and The Dark Tower novels run so long. Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher, and Black House probably could stand a bit of whittling. The real meat of the story is the chase in the back half of the novel. Henry, the suicidal shrink, and Underhill, the killer soldier with a conscience, go after Jonesy, who is trapped in his own mind by Mr. Gray, who has taken over his body. Kurtz, the mad colonel who, at one point, ignores orders to stand down and shows a contempt for the president unacceptable from an officer (Regardless of your politics, he is your commander-in-chief), Kurtz wants Underhill. Why? He crossed the Kurtz line.

But what makes the story work despite its bulk and lengthy setup is Duddits. Introduced as a teenager, Duddits has Downes syndrome yet is the glue that holds the group of Henry, Jonesy, Pete (shown as an alcoholic as an adult) and poor, simple Beaver together. The boys, like Duddits’s mother, can understand what he says despite consonants being a challenge. But King does a beautiful job of writing one scene inside Duddits’s head. Duddits’s thoughts are simple and limited but surprisingly clear, showing a wisdom most normal people can’t even dream of.

The book has a murky ending, however, which is somewhat anti-climactic. On the other hand, it’s much better than the movie ended, with Duddits morphing into an avenging alien to destroy Mr. Gray and save the world. (And really, Morgan Freeman made a lousy screen version of Kurtz, who makes the Heart of Darkness character he’s based on look well-adjusted.) King’s skills are all still here. They’re just rusty. The mojo hasn’t left, but it’s slow as molasses.

Remission: The Weight Coming Back Off

Jabba the Hutt


December proved to be a depressing chapter in my quest to lose weight and great rid of most, if not all, of the brown bottles in my medicine cabinet. Of course, I have to keep things in perspective. The version of diabetes I have is insulin resistance caused by eating a lot of…

Let’s not call it crap. Let’s call it really good but nutritionally suspect food. Because, let’s be honest, it ain’t Friday night without bar food.

My main focus has been running, and I made it to three miles a run before the perfect storm of sinus infections, bronchitis, and possibly the flu hit the Winter household. Happy holidays, folks. Try not to hack into the manger.

So New Year’s Eve, I started over again with a mile. Slowly. It forced me to abandon plans to run the half marathon event at this year’s Flying Pig Marathon. I can’t finish my last semester of college and go from couch to half marathon by May if I’m starting in the hole.

What I have done, however, is cut out more of the snacking. I still occasionally love my peanut butter, and I still hit the bar food every so often. But fewer pop tarts (which make me sleepy late in the day anyway) and fewer trips to the convenience store for candy have paid off in an immediate drop in weight. I started this past week at 272 pounds after ending 2014 at 279.

Snacking is the single worst culprit in weight gain, weight fluxuation, weight inertia (neither going up nor down). Oh, this candy bar won’t hurt. Oh, one donut won’t kill me. I won’t insult your intelligence and say I’ve stopped altogether. I have, however, slowed down on it. I still have one vice. At work, we have a cafeteria that serves breakfast. Every morning, I seem to find myself getting a biscuit and bacon. I love bacon, but grabbing it midmorning after having breakfast at home is not something I need to be doing on a regular basis.

But there are unexpected benefits besides a sudden drop in weight. I don’t get the later afternoon crash anymore. I also sleep better. I’ll take that. I’m sure exercise has a lot to do with it, but snacking less has to be playing a part.

So now that exercise and snacking are handled, I need to start looking at my regular meals.

I’ll ponder that over a beer and fried cheese sticks.

Putting Back In

red-inked manuscript

(C) 2008 Nic McPhee, used under Creative Commons

I spent December reducing Holland Bay down to two POV characters. This also had the effect of paring down the manuscript from 90,000 words to 60,000. The ideal size of a book from a first-time trad published author, which is the set of rules I have to play by, is between 70-80K. The nice lady who wants to be my agent said 75,000.

So back in went a couple of subplots. Was it hard?

The hard part was creating original scenes to revamp the altered main plot lines. One character, a corner boy moving up in the city’s drug operation, had scenes written to put him in earshot of the higher ups to preserve the politics of gangland business. Only a few scenes were altered to raise the profile of the other protag, a female cop named Branson. I did preserve a minor POV plot by a stripper who works for the city’s drug lord as what happens to her and her reaction to it plays a pivotal role in the story’s climax. I also put back in a reduced subplot featuring Branson’s eventual partner as he interacts with her more in the later. Finally, I stripped down a minor subplot from late in the previous version featuring a shooter from a rival gang.

As of Sunday morning as I write this, the manuscript is back up to 71,000 words. Can I add more?

Yes. I have to be careful, however. Done wrong, it’s padding. Done right, it’s bringing the reader deeper into the story. And, of course, I have to remember not to think of this at the final version. In traditional publishing, it ain’t finished until it’s published.

And we’re still a ways off from that happening.