Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


“What do I want from you? Simple. Find out who’s planning to kill me.”

These words were spoken by one Kenneth J. Kingston as he sat across from Julius, his voice having a thick nasal quality that bordered on whining. Kingston’s legs were crossed, his manner seemingly casual and unconcerned, his mouth compressed into a curious smile that seemed at odds with what he had just told Julius.

Kingston was a well-known Boston-area crime writer. I’d say he was a bestselling writer, but he wasn’t, at least not with his last several books. He was forty-nine and physically almost the exact opposite of his fictional private eye, and he certainly had no resemblance to tough guy crime writers like Mickey Spillane or Robert B. Parker. Dressed in an Armani suit and wearing expensive Italian loafers, he was five feet eight inches tall, and thin with a slight build. I had seen his publicity photos, so I thought I knew what to expect, but those must’ve been carefully posed because in real-life he didn’t resemble them very much. From his demeanor you could tell that he believed himself to be good-looking, but he wasn’t. Even if his tight curly hair hadn’t begun receding up his forehead, he wouldn’t have been. Not with his thin nose being as pointy as it was, and not with his chin being even pointier, and certainly not with that mouth of his being too big and wide for his angular face when it wasn’t compressed into a curious smile. If I had olfactory senses, I would have been able to describe the cologne he was wearing, but since I don’t, I could only guess it was some sort of dense musk. Of course it was possible he wasn’t wearing any cologne, but he seemed like the type that would.

Kingston wasn’t the first person to ever sit in Julius’s office and speak those words, or at least words to that effect, but those other prospective clients appeared anxious and worried as they did so. I found Kingston’s smile and his overall behavior confusing, maybe even disconcerting. If it confused Julius, I couldn’t tell. Julius didn’t respond to Kingston’s bombshell. Instead, he sat expressionless, although the fingers of his right hand began drumming lightly on the top of his antique walnut desk, which indicated an annoyance on his part.

After Kingston had called Julius for an appointment, I built a profile on him, hacking into whatever databases I could find that referenced him, financial or otherwise. I discovered a number of things, including his past tax returns and his current net worth. While he had a hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars in savings and investments, he was not the millionaire you’d expect a well-known author to be, but I guess that wasn’t so surprising since, as I’d already mentioned, he was no longer a bestselling one. Four books ago he was, but since then his sales have been trending downwards. His last book sold a little over thirteen thousand copies, which was an unmitigated disaster given that his publisher printed a hundred thousand. As part of the profile, I also analyzed all of his books—both the early ones he had written with his writing partner and the ones he later wrote by himself. I didn’t get much from this analysis other than general indications that Kingston thought very highly of himself, and that the books were poorly written, at least the ones he wrote by himself, which most likely accounted for the downward trend in sales. I now went back to his profile hoping to discover a clue as to why Kingston would be smiling in such an unusual fashion for someone who believed his life to be in danger.

You’re probably confused at this point as to what’s going on. Let me explain. While Kingston probably believed there were only two sentient beings at that moment in Julius’s office, himself and Julius, there were actually three; although I was the only one not of a biological nature even though I acted as Julius’s accountant, personal secretary, unofficial biographer and all-around assistant. What I am is a two-inch rectangular-shaped piece of space-aged computer technology that’s twenty-years more advanced than what’s currently considered theoretically possible—at least aside from whatever lab created me. How Julius acquired me, I have no clue. Whenever I’ve tried asking him, he jokes around, telling me he won me in a poker game. It could be true—I wouldn’t know since I have no memory of my time before Julius.

So that’s what I am, a two-inch rectangular mechanism weighing one point two ounces. What’s packed inside my titanium shell includes visual and audio receptors as well as wireless communication components and a highly sophisticated neuron network that not only simulates intelligence, but learning and thinking which adapts in response to my experiences. Auditory and visual recognition are included in my packaging, which means I can both see and hear, although as I’ve already mentioned, olfactory senses were left out. I can also speak. When Julius and I are in public, or when he is with a client as he was now, I speak to him through the wireless receiver that he wears in his ear as if it were a hearing aid. When we’re alone in his office he usually plugs the unit into a speaker on his desk.

Julius calls me “Archie”, and I’ve grown to think of myself as Archie, just as I’ve grown to imagine myself as a five-foot tall heavyset man with thinning hair, but of course I’m not five-foot tall, nor do I have the bulk that I imagine myself having, and I certainly don’t have any hair, thinning or otherwise. I also don’t have a name, only a serial identification number. But for whatever reason Julius calling me Archie seems right; and besides, it’s quicker to say than the eighty-four digit serial identification number that has been burnt into me.

The reason I have an image of myself being five-foot tall is easy to explain. Julius wears me as a tie clip, which puts me at roughly a five-foot distance from the ground when he stands. At one point when Julius realized the effect he was having on my self-image, he tried wearing me on a hatband, but I found this new height disorienting, as if I were walking around on stilts, and Julius likewise found it uncomfortable wearing a hat, so we mutually agreed I’d go back to being worn as a tie clip. I’ve never quite figured out where my self-image of thinning hair and heavyset build came from, but guess they were physical characteristics I picked up from Dashiell Hammett’s fictional PI, the Continental Op; which could be explained by Julius patterning my personality and speech on the works of some of the most important private eye novels of the twentieth century, including Hammett’s Continental Op novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. Or maybe for some reason I identified with Costanza from Seinfeld—one of the few television programs Julius indulges in.

I was searching through a database of photos from classic Hollywood scenes when I found one that showed the same smile that Kingston was now wearing. The photo was taken from “The Third Man” and it showed Orson Welles the moment a passing light catches his face while he’s hiding in the shadows. The same smile. A smile of amusement. It didn’t add up. Why would Kingston be so amused over the fact that he had an unknown assailant planning to kill him? I was going to ask Julius about this, but decided to hold off. From the way he was tapping on his desk, I knew the slightest nudge—intentional or otherwise—would have him demand that Kingston leave his office immediately.

The newspapers and TV had Julius as Boston’s most brilliant and eccentric private investigator. They were right about the brilliant part, but as far as the eccentric part, maybe they were right, I don’t know, but I’d call it more laziness than anything else. Julius’s true passions were fine food, finer wine and gambling, and until he met Lily Rosten, womanizing. He hated to forego his true passions for the drudgery of work and only did so when it was absolutely necessary; in other words, when his funds were dwindling and he needed money so he could continue collecting wine for his cellar, indulging at Boston’s most exclusive gourmet restaurants and wagering a good deal of money in either high stake poker games or on the horses. And even then it would take days of unrelenting nagging on my part before I’d be able to get Julius to budge. So Julius was never in a good mood when he took cases, and now he was in a worse mood than usual with Lily gone on a business trip and his recent steep and puzzling losses in poker. When he started drumming his fingers harder on his desk, I knew he was seconds away from dismissing Kingston.

“There’s that case of Chateau Margaux 1995 waiting for you at the Wine Cellar,” I reminded him.

His drumming slowed down. Julius had been looking for that vintage for several years, and it went for four hundred dollars a bottle. He would have to choose between suffering Kingston’s intolerable smugness or losing that wine, and I was betting on the former, which served my purposes. I took satisfaction from helping Julius, but I also had my own agenda. I wanted to solve a case before him. You see, I long ago figured out the name he gave me, Archie. It came from the fictional private eye, Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s second banana who was always one step behind his boss. So yeah, I got the joke, but one of these days I was going to surprise Julius. It was only a matter of seeing enough cases and analyzing the decisions Julius makes to allow me to readjust my neuron network appropriately. One of these days he was going to have to start calling me Nero.

Julius made his decision and stopped his drumming completely. “Sir, if this is some kind of joke,” he started.

Kingston’s eyes opened wide in a mock display of surprise. “Oh, this is no joke,” he claimed. And then he giggled. I didn’t think writers who wrote tough guy crime fiction were supposed to giggle, but that was the only way to describe the sound he made.

I could almost feel Julius sink back in his chair, resigned to the fact that he wanted that case of wine more than he wanted to be free of this man. While the newspapers may be right about Julius’s eccentricity, they were completely wrong about his being particular about which cases he took. That was a myth. While Julius tries to avoid the more unseemly cases, especially those involving domestic issues, his primary concern was the fee that the cases would pay. It took a good deal of money to support Julius’s lifestyle, more now than ever with Lily in his life, and before booking the appointment with Kingston I arranged for a minimum fee of ten thousand dollars, which was money Julius now needed. Right now he had enough to stake him for his weekly poker game, but not enough for his next month’s expenses or other luxury items, 1995 Chateau Margaux included.

“You say this is not a joke, yet you act like it is,” Julius said with a sigh.

“I assure you it isn’t,” Kingston said, his tone more serious, but still with a smirk on his lips. “As I told your assistant, I’m willing to pay you ten thousand dollars for what should be no more than a few hours of your time.”

Julius grunted. “Either you overestimate my abilities or you don’t need my services, not if you believe you only need a few hours of my labor,” he said.

Kingston’s eyes dulled. He was beginning to get bored with whatever game he was playing. “No on both counts,” he said. “I’ll pay you the ten thousand dollars up front, and I won’t need more than four hours of your time. You can bill me whatever outlandish fee you’d like if it takes more than that.”

Julius nodded slightly, his features marble hard. “Go ahead, explain to me why you think someone is trying to kill you.”

Kingston tried smiling again. Not his amused smile from before but more of a forced one. “How much do you know about book publishing, Katz?” Kingston asked. Julius showed remarkable restraint by simply shrugging and not asking what this had to do with someone plotting to end his life, as I badly wanted to do. Kingston’s lips tightened as he shook his head. “It’s a brutal business,” he continued. “It’s always been brutal, but now more than ever before. It’s the whole blockbuster mentality as publishers fight for limited space in the retail stores. Did you know that sixty percent of all books sold in this country are sold through retail stores, even though they’re only selling books as loss leaders? They’re the ones who are dictating what’s being published these days, and the quality of the book be damned. It no longer matters. It’s all about other factors now.”

Again Julius showed remarkable restraint, maintaining a placid expression and not commenting on the quality of Kingston’s own writing. Upon booking Kingston’s appointment, I emailed Julius an excerpt from one of Kingston’s recent books, and while reading it Julius made a face as if he had sipped a good cabernet that had turned vinegar. He could only read two and a half pages of it before putting it away, claiming that the writing would ruin his appetite for dinner.

Kingston stopped to rub an index finger over his lips, his eyes growing distant. Then his lips tightened into a thin smile and his eyes shifted to catch Julius’s. They were pale, unpleasant eyes.

“My last book didn’t sell as well as it should have,” he conceded. “My next book is good, very different from my others, but good nonetheless. If it isn’t a bestseller, my career is over. We’re taking steps to make sure that happens. Usually books are sent out to reviewers and other writers months ahead of their publishing date for reviews and blurbs, but we’re keeping my next one under wraps until the day it’s released in three weeks. Reviewers, advance readers, nobody is seeing it until then. We’re not even telling anyone the title. It’s one of the ways we’ll be creating an excitement for the book.”

Kingston reached inside his suit jacket and pulled from a pocket a folded sheet of paper which he handed to Julius. Julius unfolded this paper and glanced at it for a moment before placing it on his desk. There were six names on the paper. I recognized five of them from the profile I had built on Kingston. The sixth name I recognized because he was also a Boston private investigator. I told Julius who the first five people on the list were. I didn’t bother telling him about his fellow private investigator since he knew about him as well as I did.

I was confused by all this, but from the way Julius’s eyes narrowed as he stared at his prospective client, I doubted that he was. “And what exactly am I supposed to do with this list?” he asked coldly.

“What do you think?” Kingston said. “That’s the list of potential suspects. I want you to interrogate them. And don’t worry, they all probably want to kill me, all except maybe my wife, although maybe she does too. You should have fun trying to figure out which one of them wants to kill me the most.”

“This is only a publicity stunt,” Julius stated.

“Bingo! That’s why you’re the world class genius detective. So all I want from you is to spend an hour, two hours at the most, interrogating them as a group. Make it look real. They’ll all think it is. I’ll have a TV crew present. Then in two weeks, after the buzz and media attention has been building, bring everyone back for another round of questioning. This time when you’re done act as if you’re stumped and I’ll jump in and name the guilty party. It will be a brilliant piece of publicity that will get the public hot for my book.”

Julius sat completely still with his lips pressed tightly together. I felt as if my processing cycles had ground to a halt—a sensation that I knew was akin to holding my breath with anticipation. Under normal circumstances I knew Julius would tell this man to leave his home, but now I wasn’t so sure. He needed the money. His recent poker losses were not only unexpected but steep—over thirty thousand dollars. Usually Julius had clients lining up to hire him since he’s Boston’s most famous private eye, but when he finally consented a few days ago to take a case this time the pickings were slim, at least among well-heeled prospective clients. There was the Bolovar securities fraud case. They wanted to hire Julius a month ago, and they still wanted to hire him, but that case would require extensive traveling which was something Julius hated. So given all that, I understood the temptation for Julius to take this farce of a case and the ten thousand dollar fee that it offered for no actual work, which I knew also appealed to his innate laziness. If he accepted what Kingston was offering, it would be at least another month before he would take a genuine case, which would be at least another month before I’d have the opportunity to refine my neuron network. My processing cycles felt as if they had slowed down even more, and I realized this new sensation was dejection.

“Sir, I decline your offer,” Julius told Kingston.

My processing cycles nearly hummed as they raced along again. Kingston looked dumbfounded.

“What do you mean you’re declining my offer?” he snapped, his voice even more of a nasal whine than before. “Ten thousand dollars for no more than four hours work? Are you nuts?”

“If you wish to hire a trained seal for your amusement, I suggest you go to the aquarium. I’m sure it will cost you far less than ten thousand dollars. We’re done here.”

Kingston gave Julius a hard stare. “Twenty thousand dollars,” he said.

“I’m not interested.”

“Twenty-five thousand.”

There was a hesitation before Julius shook his head. “It is bad enough,” he said, “that at times I must sell my services to afford the necessities of life, but I have no intention of selling my dignity for any amount. I’m not interested in this charade, and you’ve wasted enough of my time. I must ask you now to leave my office and home.”

Kingston looked like he wanted to argue, but instead nodded and stood up, a thin sneer etching his face. “I’m not done with you yet, Katz. You’ll see.” He left the office then while Julius stayed seated, brooding.

I followed Kingston on several of the webcam feeds that had been set up through the house to make sure he wasn’t up to any mischief and watched him as he left without incident. Once the front door closed, I asked Julius about 1995 Chateau Margaux being a necessity of life. “And Le Che Cru and all the other fine dining establishments that you frequent. These are necessities?”

“For me, Archie, they are.” Julius let out a soft sigh. “I suppose you’re going to be pestering me about turning down an easy twenty-five thousand dollars,” he said.

“No, sir,” I said. “I have to believe that your reputation is worth far more than that sum of money, and it would’ve been unbearable having to watch you play the dupe to someone like him.”

Another sigh escaped from Julius. “It’s good that you understand that, Archie,” he said. “It shows you’re progressing nicely.”

“There’s still the matter of your finances, or lack of such. I know you have your poker game in four days, but we can’t count on any poker winnings from you after your last two disastrous outings. I also know you don’t like the amount of traveling you’d have to do to Los Angeles and Atlanta, but Bolovar still wishes to hire you, very much so, in fact, and their fee would be substantial.”

“Please, Archie, my last twenty-five minutes were unpleasant enough.”

I shut up after that. It would’ve been pointless to continue. Besides, it was almost three-thirty and Julius had been planning to go to the Belvedere Club for their cognac sampling, so he’d be leaving soon. For several minutes Julius sat listlessly, his gaze resting on the book Kingston had brought for him—his previous effort that had disappointed his publisher with sales of only thirteen thousand copies. Kingston had signed it, writing inside: ‘the best book you’ll read this year, at least until you read my next.’ I expected Julius to toss it in the garbage, but instead he let it sit on his desk. When he finally pushed his chair back and got to his feet, instead of heading outside so he could walk the three blocks from his Beacon Hill townhouse to the Belvedere Club, he headed down to his wine cellar. When he picked out a fair Zinfandel, that only confirmed the funk he was in. For whatever reason, Julius only drank Zinfandel when he was sulking, and the more he was sulking the fairer the label of Zinfandel he would choose. I kept quiet about it. I waited until he returned back to his kitchen and prepared a plate of assorted cheeses and crackers to bring out to his private garden-level patio before mentioning to him how he could be sampling exceptional cognacs now instead of drinking what was at best a fair Zinfandel, one that the Wine Spectator had scored at only 81.

Julius sat on a red cedar Adirondack chair that had faded over the years to a muted rust-color and poured himself a glass of the aforementioned wine. His gaze wandered to one of the many rose bushes that were in bloom. The patio was the crown jewel of his townhouse; over two thousand square feet, which Julius had professionally landscaped with Japanese maples, fountains, and a vast assortment of other plantings.

“This is what suits me now, Archie,” he said.

His sulking wasn’t going to do him any good. I knew it wasn’t over the lost fee, but instead over the fact that he had spent twenty-five minutes entertaining Kingston in his office, time that could’ve been spent in other pursuits. At first I thought of needling him about this childish display of his in an attempt to knock him out of it, but decided to try a different approach knowing that his mood was also being affected by Lily Rosten’s absence and the sting of his recent poker losses.

“I’m sorry about booking that appointment,” I said. “I thought it was a legitimate case. He promised that ten thousand dollar fee, but all he would tell me was that it was matter of extreme importance. A life and death issue.”

“Not your fault, Archie,” Julius said.

“Yeah, well, I still owe you an apology. If I had seen him first instead of just talking to him over the phone, I would’ve sized him up better. You know those Italian loafers he was wearing? Six hundred and twenty-four dollars was the lowest price I could find online. That alone should tell you everything you need to know about the guy. I’m surprised you didn’t invite him to your next poker game. You could’ve taken him for a bundle.”

Julius smiled thinly at that. “I was tempted,” he admitted. “But it would’ve meant several more hours of his company, which I decided was a poor bargain at best. Archie, for now I’d like some quiet.”

Yeah, I got it. He wanted to sulk, and he didn’t want me interfering with that. Fine. While he sat and drank his wine, I did some hunting for a prospective client to replace Kingston but couldn’t find any suitable candidates, and after that spent my time playing poker online. I won three hundred and forty dollars, bringing my balance to a little over four thousand dollars, which I had built from the twenty dollars they gave me as a promotion for opening up an account. I didn’t keep many secrets from Julius. In fact, my having this money was the only one, but I had my reason so I adjusted my programming to allow me to keep this one secret from him.


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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Guide with movie-style ratings

With my 12th book, A Killer's Essence, recently published, and my 13th book, appropriately a horror novel, 'Monster: A Novel of Frankenstein' out next summer through Overlook Press, I thought it would be a good idea to put out this book guide complete with movie-style ratings. As you can tell from this , I've written crime, noir, horror, mysteries, hardboiled PI, thrillers, and sometimes a mix of these genres. I've arranged this book guide from my charming and humor-filled JULIUS KATZ & ARCHIE to my brutal and fierce crime noir novel, PARIAH. This guide can also be found on my website.

JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE (available now for $2.99, e-book only) The first full-length novel feature Julius Katz & Archie from my award-winning Ellery Queen stories. Charming and fun mystery. Rating: PG

THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD (available hardcover, trade paper, e-book) Horror novel shortlisted by ALA for best of 2010. Black Quill nominee for best dark genre book of the year. Rating: PG

A KILLER'S ESSENCE (hardcover available now, e-book) Gritty crime novel with supernatural element that takes place with the 2004 ALCS Yankees-Red Sox series in the background. Rating: R

DYING MEMORIES (e-book only) Thriller. Rating: R

OUTSOURCED (trade paper, e-book) Crime thriller, bank heist. Booklist calls this 'a small gem of crime fiction'. Rating: R

BAD KARMA (out of print, e-book) Hardboiled PI, sequel to Bad Thoughts but very different tone with its evil yoga studios, dangerous Russian mobsters and deviant gurus. Rating: R

KILLER (trade paper, e-book) 3rd (and best) book of my 'man out of prison' crime thriller series. Much quieter than Small Crimes and Pariah, and in a way a quiet meditation into the mind of a killer. Rating: R

MONSTER: A NOVEL OF FRANKENSTEIN (hardcover out next summer) A gothic retelling of Frankenstein from the monster's point of view and where Victor Frankenstein and the Marquis de Sade are in league to bring hell to earth.

SMALL CRIMES (trade paper) 1st book of my 'man out of prison' crime thriller series. Named by NPR as one of the 5 best crime & mystery novels of 2008.

BAD THOUGHTS (out of print, e-book) A grim & bleak horror/crime thriller. To some, nightmare inducing. Rated: R

FAST LANE (out of print, e-book) My first novel. A mix of full-blown Jim Thompsoneque psycho noir and deconstruction of the hardboiled PI genre. Rating: R

BLOOD CRIMES (e-book) the first book of a planned 5-book series. A wild thrill ride of a book, wickedly paced, and loaded with sex, violence and intense horror. I'm sure Twilight readers who find this are going to be horrified, but Blood Crimes is quickly becoming a favorite among noir and horror readers. Rating: NC-17

PARIAH (trade paper) 2nd book of my 'man out of prison' crime thriller series. Named by The Washington Post as one of the best books of 2009. Fierce crime novel, as well as a satire on the publishing industry. Rating: NC-17

Friday, November 18, 2011

The trend continues and over 24,000 Julius's

This is a short book, but it works. The Aukowies, though barely described, are a constant and lurking presence. Wisely, the author doesn’t give an explanation, or an origin, and so the book takes on a mythic aspect. As the book progresses, the questions of reality, mental illness, and faith arise, and soon even the main character begins to question himself as much or more than the other characters...It’s short, but it does everything a classic story should.

The trend continues with THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD getting another damn fine review, this one over at DAMN FINE HORROR.

Over 24,000 JULIUS KATZ MYSTERIES downloaded to the kindle so far, and it's been gratifying to see comments from readers who are now discovering Julius & Archie for the first time; such as:

"Loved the characters"

"Julius Katz may be a lazy detective, but he sure is fun to read about! A surprising and enjoyable find"

"Fun short stories with sufficiently satisfying plot lines and characters. A nice modern take on mystery stories"

"I am not sure what happened - but I had no intentions of reading this book at all. It was obviously nothing like the paranormal books I normally enjoy. But after reading this book I bought the next book in the series"

"These are clever modern updates of the Nero Wolfe tradition. While the mysteries are excellent traditional mysteries, it is the "relationship" between Katz and his AI assistant Archie that is the star of the show."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Archie Interviews

Last year I conducted this 5-part interview with Julius Katz's erstwhile assistant Archie.

DZ: Archie, it's been quite a treat so far chronicling the cases that I have, first the Brewer case that we simply called 'Julius Katz', then the Penney case which Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is going to be running later this year with the title 'Archie's Been Framed!', and now the Kingston case, which is probably the most fascinating of all of them and which I should wrap up chronicling soon. People outside of the Boston area who are unfamiliar with the Penney case have a hard time believing how accurate the title we gave it is.

Archie: Yeah, well, they should believe it. If Julius didn't pull my bacon out of the fire, they could've fried me for that one. And even though I've got a titanium outer shell, fifty thousand watts would be more than enough to short out my circuits.

DZ: It's one year ago today that you called me to chronicle these cases. I have to admit for a number of reasons I was surprised you picked me and not one of the more better known Boston crime writers, like Lehane. It wasn't because you and Julius thought I'd work cheap?"

Archie: Nooooooooooo....

DZ: Okay, that's a relief. Still, it was a surprise, especially with how different the tone is for some of my crime novels with what you and Julius were looking for.

Archie (chuckling): Yeah, calling the tone of Pariah and Small Crimes different might be the understatement of the year. But Julius is a fan, and as twisted and dark as he found some of your books, there was still that humor he was looking for. And I think you letting him read early drafts of Killer and The Caretaker of Lorne Field cinched it for him.

DZ: Do you think there's any chance we'll be able to get Julius to make an appearance here?

Archie: Roughly 0.00456 percent chance.

DZ: Roughly?

Archie: Plus or minus 0.000001

DZ: In other words, we've got a better chance of seeing pigs fly.

Archie: No, that's not true. With recent advances in genetic engineering, there's a higher probability of pigs flying.

DZ: Okay, not very encouraging. Something I've been thinking about. I've been unable to get releases from all of the suspects from the Kingston case, for obvious reasons. It looks like I'm going to have to come up with some fictional names for a few of them. What about allowing a fan of 'Julius Katz' having his or her name used instead for one of the murder suspects?

Archie: Interesting... I'll run the idea by Julius. (Note from DZ: Julius later declined this as he found the idea unseemly)

DZ: Your actual size?

Archie: Two inches long, one point one seven inches wide, and I weigh approximately one point two ounces.

DZ: You've mentioned that you imagine yourself as a five foot tall, balding heavyset man.

Archie: Yeah.

DZ: Why five foot tall?

Archie: Julius wears me as a tie clip, so when he's standing that would be my height if I was of a biological nature.

DZ: Does Julius know this?

Archie: Yeah, I told him once. When he realized the effect he was having on my self-esteem, he started wearing a hat with me attached to the hat band. That didn't work. First, Julius doesn't like wearing a hat, and second it was disorienting for me, almost as if I was walking around on stilts. So I'm back to being worn as a tie clip, but that height feels comfortable to me now. No complaints.

DZ: How about the balding, heavyset part of your image?

Archie: I'm not sure. Julius doesn't watch much TV, but he does like to indulge in Seinfeld reruns so maybe it's that I find myself identifying for some reason with Costanza. Or maybe it's me identifying with Hammett's Continental Op.

DZ: You told me about how your personality and experience base was initially built by feeding in important 20th century crime novels. So you find yourself most identifying with the Op?

Archie: Maybe. I'm a bit of a mutt, with a mix of Spillane's Mike Hammer novels, all of Hammett's works, Chandler's Marlowes, Ross Macdonald's Lew Archers, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfes, and others, including Damon Runyan's works.

DZ: Why Runyan?

Archie: I think so I'd be quicker to spot grifts.

DZ: And how'd you get the name Archie?

Archie: It's not my name of course. All I have is an 84-digit ID. But Julius started calling me it, and even though he started it as a joke, it seemed right.

DZ: A joke?

Archie: Yeah, the obvious one. That I'd be like another Archie. Archie Goodwin. Always beaten to the punch by his boss in solving the case. So far that's been true, but one of these days it won't be. All I need is to see Julius solve enough cases so I can keep adjusting my neuron network. One of these days he's going to have to start calling me Nero.

DZ: Julius turns down almost all the cases he's offered.

Archie: Yeah. 99.63 percent, to be exact.

DZ: He's that particular?

Archie: Nah, he's that lazy.

DZ: I don't get you.

Archie: Julius is lazy. Incredibly lazy. At least when it comes to work. He wants to spend his life pursuing his true passions, and he only works when his bank account hits anemic levels. When that happens, he'll take any case that pays enough. The whole 'particular about his cases' thing is a media derived falsehood, and one that Julius makes no effort to correct.

DZ: I think I know this already, but what are his true passions?

Archie: Wine, of course. He's got a cellar filled with the stuff. Top notch bottles too. Gambling, especially poker, but the horses also. And food. Julius is very much the gourmet. Probably hard to tell given how fit he is, but if he didn't spend an hour each morning with his intensive martial arts training and another hour with even more intensive exercise he'd be fat. Women also used to be one of his true passions, at least before he met Lily Rosten. Now it's just one woman.

DZ: He's a good-looking guy. He must've done well with the women.

Archie: I couldn't tell you how many nights he stuck me away in his sock drawer. Well, I could. But I won't.

DZ: I'd have to guess Julius is good at gambling.

Archie: One of the best at poker. He has no tell, at least when he doesn't want to have one, and I've spent hundreds of hours trying to find one. And he picks up other players tells faster than I can. But sometimes he'll get stubborn and stick with the horses and have losing streaks. I hate to admit this, but I always look forward to those losing streaks, because it usually means he'll have to take a case.

DZ: Since chronicling the Brewer case and having it published in Ellery Queen, I've heard from readers from other parts of the country who didn't realize this was a true crime case. That instead I had written a pastiche on Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe.

Archie: Yeah, well, Julius is real alright. And while I'm artificially derived, at this point my neuron network is as complex as any human brain.

DZ: I know that, people in Boston know that, but you can understand how some people might think Julius's name is a play on Nero Wolfe's.

Archie: Only a coincidence. Most people probably don't realize Spenser is real too.

DZ: I didn't realize that. I thought he was a fictional creation.

Archie: Nope, Parker was doing the same as you now, which was chronicling Spenser's cases. Spenser, Susan, Hawk, all real.

DZ: Julius ever run into Spenser?

Archie: Yeah, he'd drop by occasionally and share a bottle of wine with Julius and talk shop.

DZ: You'll have to show one of your video recordings of that sometime.

Archie: I'll ask Julius.

DZ: Julius has his 5th degree blackbelt in kung fu, Spenser all bulked out with his weightlifting. Who do you think would win in in a fight.

Archie: It wouldn't be much of a fight. There were a few times after half a bottle of wine Spenser would try talking Julius into sparring with him. Fortunately for Spenser's health, Julius never took him up on it. They did arm wrestle once.

DZ: Really?

Archie: Yeah. Spenser goaded Julius into it. Thing with Julius is, while he's only 180 pounds, all of his martial arts training, especially his internal training, allows him to generate amazing power. He was kind and waited 30 seconds before slamming Spenser's arm to the table. I think he did it harder than he wanted to. There were tears in Spenser's eyes afterwards.

DZ: Spenser was crying?

Archie: He claims it was allergies.

DZ: You're usually kept busy being Julius’s accountant, personal secretary, unofficial biographer and all-around assistant, but what do you like doing during your down time?

Archie: You mean like hobbies?

DZ: Yep.

Archie: Well, it's not what most people would think of as a hobby, but I spend most of my free time adjusting my neuron network.

DZ: Probably not. What's involved with that?

Archie: I'll have a closed loop where I'll replay the events of a case, and I'll make adjustments, add new analytical models and additional pattern recognition modules to see if I can then make the same deductions that Julius did. It's a slow process, but eventually it will pay off.

DZ: With the pay off being...?

Archie: Solving a case before Julius. Someday it will happen.

DZ: So no hobbies?

Archie: I do have a few. There are some famous unsolved math problems where they offer two million dollar prizes for the solution. For about a year I've been working to find a solution for the Hodge conjecture. So far no luck, but I have ideas to explore. I also at times will analyze famous chess games to find flaws, and I've found a few. But most of my time is spent trying to replicate how Julius's brain works. I have a long way to go with that.

DZ: While chronicling the Kingston case I came across a name I never heard before. Desmond Grushnier.

Archie: A shadowy figure. Probably best we don't talk about him.

DZ: Julius has had run-ins with him?

Archie: Yeah, but that's probably all I should say on the matter.

DZ: Okay, I won't push you on it. What's Julius doing now?

Archie: It's 6:08 PM and Julius is sitting outside in his private garden-level patio, enjoying the summer evening, as well as one of his favorite Chardonnay's from his cellar and a platter of fine cheeses and meats. Lily will be stopping by in an hour, and he has 8:30 reservations at Le Che Cru.

DZ: Any new cases on the horizon?

Archie: Probably not for a while. With the money Julius still has in reserves from the Kingston case, not a chance I'll be able to pester him to take another case unless he finds some expensive wine to bid on at auction or he has a bad few weeks at the track.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Killer's Essence at the Harvard Coop, now on kindle, latest review

I'll be at the Harvard Coop tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 15th) at 7pm, reading/signing for A Killer's Essence.

My publisher has also just made A Killer's Essence available as a kindle download.

I'd like to thank Andrew Leonard over at The Man Eating Bookworm for giving A Killer's Essence its latest stellar review, saying in part:

I've read more books this year by Dave Zeltserman's than any other author, so it was no surprise to this bookworm that I was going to enjoy A KILLER'S ESSENCE. What still gets me though, what always blows me away, is that with each book of his I read, I think there is no way he can top it.

Then he does.

You can read the entire review here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The case for Julius Katz

So far over 23,000 copies of JULIUS KATZ MYSTERIES (JKM) have been downloaded to kindles. This ebook is made up of two award-winning stories that were previously published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine:

'Julius Katz' which won last year's Shamus Award for best private eye story, given out by the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA), and also the Derringer Award for best novelette, given out by the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

'Archie's Been Framed' which won this year's Ellery Queen's Readers Choice Award as it was chosen by Ellery Queen's readers as their favorite story published in the magazine in 2010 among some fierce competition, including Doug Allyn's Edgar-award winning story (Doug took second place in the Readers Choice Award).

Right now you can download JKM for free at Amazon for your kindle and for $0.99 at B&N for your Nook, and along with these there's also a full-length Julius Katz mystery novel titled JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE that is priced at $2.99 at both Amazon and B&N, and two more stories scheduled to be published in Ellery Queen--ONE ANGRY JULIUS, where a very petulant Julius solves a murder while sitting on a jury, and ARCHIE SOLVES THE CASE, where Archie (at least according to him) beats Julius to the punch in solving a case. I'm also planning to start writing a second Julius Katz mystery novel soon.

These stories and the JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE novel are very different from my crime and horror fiction. Most readers describe them as charming, witty and a lot of fun. The Wolfe Pack has endorsed them, and I've gotten emails from readers who are Rex Stout, Agatha Christie and Robert B. Parker fans, who have all enjoyed these stories and the novel immensely. I've also gotten enthusiastic endorsements from the following writers who have also enjoyed the exploits of Julius & Archie: Ed Gorman, Timothy Hallinan, Roger Smith, Bill Crider, Paul Levine, Naomi Hirahara, James Reasoner, Paul Brazill and Joe Barone.

Now here's the interesting thing (at least to me). I've also heard from a number of readers who are fans of my noir/crimes novels and The Caretaker of Lorne Field (horror), and not only are these fans of my much dark and more violent books enjoying Julius Katz, but some are telling me that JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE is their favorite of mine, and these are readers who typically never read mysteries.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Q. R. Markham should've read Pariah

If he had, he would've known what his Frankenstein quilt of a novel, Assassin of Secrets, would've bought him.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Over 20,000 Julius's and counting

Over 20,000 Kindle versions of JULIUS KATZ MYSTERIES have been downloaded since Amazon set the price to $0.00 last week. Tomorrow I'll be getting back into the trenches for the first time since I sold SMALL CRIMES to Serpent's Tail to talk about this.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kindle publishing tip--better to use Author Central

I've had several writers recently ask me how I got the book titles bolded in the description for JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE, and the way that was done was using Amazon's Author Central instead of their KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) pages.

Author Central is just a much better way to enter you ebook description. You can bold and italicize text, and you can enter in a lot more information than you can from the KDP method. For example, using this approach you can enter 4000 characters for the book description, then another 8000 characters in the 'From the Back Cover' section, which is a good place to put blurbs for your book, as well as blurbs for other books.

You can take a look at my JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE page to see how much better this can look than using KDP.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bookreporter.com on A Killer's Essence

Dave Zeltserman is arguably better known to literary critics and to fellow authors than he is to the public at large, which is puzzling. His output is steady and consistently strong. Best of all, his books have the potential to appeal to even casual fans of the mystery and thriller genres. His style and topics are meaty and accessible. Read the first page of any one of his books, and you will keep reading until the tale is told; read one of his books, and you will want to read them all. Part of the reason for this is that while Zeltserman deals with issues pertaining to crime in all of its manifestation, his stories also concern themselves with the affairs and situations of everyday living that are important yet often hobble us in the course of completing tasks that are (or seem to be) life-or-death matters.

So it is that A KILLER’S ESSENCE, Zeltserman’s latest effort, concerns itself with the hunt for a serial killer in New York, and much, much more. It is told in the world-weary voice of Stan Green, a New York City police detective who is driven and dedicated, possibly too much so. Green is assigned to a case involving the brutal mutilation and murder of a middle-aged woman on a bustling street in broad daylight. There is a witness to the crime, who, interestingly enough, is unable to describe the killer. Green is saddled with a superior who is never satisfied, even with the best work. There is no succor for Green at home, either. He is living with a high-maintenance girlfriend named Bambi (who, he hastens to tell us, is neither a stripper nor an escort); to be fair, she is asked to put up with a lot. His children live with his ex-wife and her new husband out of state, and his promises to them are more broken than fulfilled.

You can read the entire review here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Killer's Essence, price cut for Dying Memories, more Julius Katz and Archie!

I'd like to thank Beth Kanell for sending over this photo showing a stack of A Killer's Essence being prominently displayed at the Mysterious Bookshop in NY.

I'd also like to thank Naomi Johnson for reviewing A Killer's Essence over at The Drowning Machine, and also to Bruce Grossman for doing the same over at Bookgasm.

Massive price cut for my thriller, Dying Memories, for the Kindle--$2.99 to $0.99. This is only going to be for a short time, so if you want to read a fun, fast-paced thriller that's very different from the norm (and very different from anything else I've written), now's your chance to pick this up for under a buck!

Over 12,000 kindle downloads of my award-winning Julius Katz Mysteries since this wen free 2 days ago! And there's been a carryover effect for JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE:

#17 in Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Mystery > Hard-Boiled
#18 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mystery & Thrillers > Mystery > Hard-Boiled

I'd like to thank everyone who's picked up copies of these, and let's help spread the word about JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE and get it #1 over at Amazon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Award-winning Julius Katz Mysteries now a free Kindle download

My award-winning Julius Katz Mysteries is now available as a free Kindle download from Amazon. That's right. $0.00, nada, zip, absolutely free. Not surprising that 1000s of readers have already taken advantage of this and that Julius Katz Mysteries is currently ranked third on Kindle's hardboiled mystery list. And here's the beauty of this--after reading these award-winning stories, the first full-length Julius Katz novel, JULIUS KATZ & ARCHIE, will be waiting for you as a $2.99 Kindle download. And other Julius Katz mysteries will be gracing the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in the near future, the next one being ONE ANGRY JULIUS. So if you haven't discovered Julius Katz and Archie yet, now is the perfect time!