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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A slice from FAST LANE

Here's a short excerpt from early in Fast Lane where my PI, Johnny Lane, is dishing out some Mike Hammer-like justice to a client who Lane discovered had been abusing his teenage daughter (who Lane was hired to find)... or maybe instead this is more a glimpse into a severely broke psyche? And maybe Fast Lane instead of being the hardboiled PI novel that it at first appears to be is instead a combination of psycho noir and deconstruction of the PI genre. Which of these it is will be left to the reader to discover.

Fast Lane was not only my first novel, but the first piece of fiction I ever wrote with the intention of seeing it published. I originally wrote it in 1990, revised it in '92, self-published it as In His Shadow in '01, sold it to the Italian publisher, Meridiano Zero in '02, and then to Point Blank Press as Fast Lane in '03.

“I’ve been so worried about Debra.” He handed me the drink and sat across from me. “I haven’t been able to work,” he said. “I can’t believe how quickly you found her.”
I took a long sip of the scotch and leaned back in my chair.
“To be honest,” he went on, his smile beginning to show some strain. “You’re making me nervous with the way you’re acting. How bad is it with Debra?”
“Why don’t you pay me the three-thousand-dollar bonus you promised? Then I’ll tell you all about it.”
He sat for a moment, blinking a few times. “I thought I’d pay you once you’d brought her home,” he said.
“I think it would be better if we did it this way.”
“I-I guess it doesn’t matter. You’ll bring her home later today?”
“That’s right.”
“And I could always stop payment on the check if you don’t.”
“Of course you could.”
He pushed himself up. “Why don’t I go write the check?” While I waited for him I finished the rest of my scotch.
When he came back, I noticed some moisture had formed over his upper lip. He handed me a check for three thousand dollars. I put it in my wallet and told him where I had found Debra and what she had been doing.
As I talked he kept muttering about his poor little girl, but for a second, I guess before he had any control over it, a look of excitement flushed over his face. He must’ve realized, because he quickly buried his face in his hands. When he pulled them away he was the picture of the tortured dad. He had even squeezed out a couple of tears.
“Oh dear God,” he cried softly. “My poor little girl. Thank you so much for finding her.”
I stood up and turned away, but I couldn’t get that picture of him out of my mind, of him getting excited hearing what his daughter was doing for a buck in a peep show.
“Oh God,” he was going on, hamming it up. “I’ll make sure she gets professional help. I’ll make sure—”
I spun on my heels and swung at him, catching him hard on his mouth and bursting his lip wide open. He went down like he’d been shot. I only half saw him as he curled into a fetal position, spitting out blood and a couple of teeth.
He lay on the ground blubbering. I stood over him, trembling, trying not to look at him, trying not to think about him, trying not to do what I wanted to do. I went to the bar and poured myself another drink. I downed it quickly and refilled the glass.
Tears streamed down his face and mixed with blood. Between sobs, he murmured that I was insane and that he was going to call the police. I walked over to him.
“Your daughter told me.”
“You’re crazy!” Thick red bubbles popped from his mouth. “Get out of here! Get out of here now!”
I kicked him in the stomach and that started him blubbering even harder. I leaned over and grabbed him by his hair and pulled him up so he had to look at me.
“She told me all about you,” I said. “About you raping her and—”
“You going to believe that lying bitch? That lying little cu—”
I threw him down and kicked him hard in the chest, giving it just about everything I had. I kicked him again. Both times I heard his ribs crack. He moaned and curled up tighter. I was still holding the glass of scotch, although I’d spilled half of it when I was kicking him. I drank what was left. “She’s not lying.” I repeated everything his daughter had told me. When I’d finished I said, “When I bring Debra here later you’re going to be long gone. For good. God help you if she ever sees you again.”
“What am I going to tell my wife?” he asked softly, and then broke out with more blubbering.
“That’s your problem.” I turned away. I had to. I walked over to a rosewood bookcase and picked up a family portrait. In it, Craig Singer was smiling with all his teeth intact, arms wrapped around his wife and daughter. If you glanced at it you’d think it was just as it appeared, a typical upper middle-class family picture. The proud father, the loving but impatient wife, the sullen bored teenager. But if you looked a little more carefully, you’d realize it wasn’t boredom on Debra Singer’s face, any more than it was teenage angst. And if you looked hard enough, you could detect rigid lines around Mrs. Singer’s eyes and mouth that might indicate something more than impatience.
Singer whimpered. I put the photo back on the bookcase. “I’m hurt pretty bad,” he moaned. “I need a doctor.”
“Again, that’s your problem.”
He pushed himself up into a sitting position. I knew he was in a good deal of pain. He’d have to be with a busted up mouth and a chest full of cracked ribs.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “I love my daughter. She’s all I care about. If you give me a chance I can change and—”
“You better stop now while you can. In another minute it’ll be too late.”
He started crying again. “What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to get out of here,” I said. “Now. I don’t know how much longer I can stomach being around you.”
He slowly got to feet, moaning every inch of the way. He grabbed his side loosely and headed towards the staircase. He said he was going to pack a few things. I told him there wasn’t time. He hesitated and then turned around and hobbled to the bathroom. I watched as he cleaned and bandaged his mouth. The bandaged area had already swollen to the size of a small melon. I didn’t see the point in what he was doing, but I also didn’t see any point arguing with him.
When he was done, he asked again about packing some items. I shook my head. I followed him as he left the house.
As he got behind the wheel of his Volvo his expression changed, the submissiveness in his eyes shifting to something else, something cagey. He waved me over.
“You have no right,” he said. “What you did was assault and battery. Possibly attempted murder.”
“I guess you could look at it that way.”
“You guess I could look at it that way? I could sue you for every penny you got and then put you in jail.”
“Well, you could sure try.”
“I could do a lot more than just try.” He watched carefully for my reaction. “If you tell anyone about your allegations or write about them in your newspaper column, you’ll find out how much I can do.”
“Yeah, well, if you’d like we could go to the police right now. I’d be glad to bring Debra along and have her tell her story.”
His jaw muscles tightened as he looked away. Blood seeped from his bandaged mouth and dripped down his shirt. “You better keep quiet about this, Lane. If you don’t, I’ll sue you.” He turned back, facing me. “And I’ll move back home.”
I leaned forward, resting on his window. “Let me make sure you understand something,” I said as politely as I could. “The only reason I won’t write about this is because I don’t want to make things any more difficult than they already are for your daughter. If she ever sees your face again, I promise you there won’t be any face left afterwards.”
He put the car in gear and stepped on the gas. I had to jump back to keep from having my feet run over.
Of course, he was only kidding himself. I guess the finality of it all hadn’t sunk in yet, but it would. It was only a matter of time.
I looked down and saw my hands were shaking worse than a junkie’s. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to think about Craig Singer, about what I almost did to him, about what I wanted more than anything to do to him. Because when I was standing over him I knew I came within a hair’s breadth of sending him straight to hell. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep from doing it.
I stood there for a while and then got in my car and waited until the shaking stopped.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review (translated) of Pariah from the German newspaper Badische Zeitung

One of my best friends since college, Alan Luedeking, who's fluent in at least 3 languages (English, German, Spanish) and close with several others, translated the review of Pariah that ran in the German newspaper, Badische Zeitung. A quick note about Al: we've been buddies since our days in Boulder, Colorado, and Al's been my unofficial editor on almost everything I've written. The reason Al's fluent in German and Spanish is his parents fled Nazi Germany, and even though they're Jewish, they ended up in a detainment camp for German refuges in Texas. When they got out of there, they went to Nicaragua, where starting from nothing built a successful industrial machinery company. When the Sandinistas took over, they then fled to Miami, where they again started from close to nothing and built yet another successful company. Back in Boulder, when I'd be hanging around Al's apartment, and he'd be talking with his parents back in Nicaragua, the conversation would switch rapidly between English, Spanish, and German to confuse anyone from the government who might be listening in.

Here's Al's translation: 

Grandiose anti-bestseller "Pariah" reviewed by Joachim Schneider

There are books which will never make it onto the bestseller list, which their authors know full well, particularly if they deliberately avoid the common clichés. Dave Zeltserman has made himself a game out of that, leaving a bestseller that in two weeks sells a million copies that almost went on his account to [instead] eke out a niche place. Too dark and too angry is “Pariah”, too little romantic. It offers too little identification potential to rip out a place for itself in the criminal genre market.

Yet all could have been good, since the beginning constellation has everything that a fat criminal menu needs. Kyle Nevin is released from the slammer after 8 years. Only one goal drives him: revenge on his boss and mentor who delivered him to the knife. A mobster, as he is in the book, big-mouthed and reckless. An Irish macho, who at times bucks out of the traces but in principle a contemporary to whom one can relate—but one must never cross him.

Rough but heartily goes it in South Boston among the Irish, thus the cliché, but Zeltserman, who sets a hellish pace, lets brutal outbursts flow in from the outset, and it soon becomes clear that here no ordinary or even romantic Gangster-Revenge-Piece will be given, rather a provocation. Here frontiers are explored, and the bearable stretched to its uttermost limits. The first-person narrator outs himself as an unscrupulous scumbag who without a flickering an eyelash tramples over corpses.

In order to finance his revenge mission, Nevin plans a child’s kidnapping, hires his brother as accomplice like in old times, not without destroying his new suburban lifestyle in the process—and not only that. The ten-year-old kidnap victim, a hemophiliac, dies, as the gangster rips out one of his teeth. At that, the oh-so-smart Nevin lets an accomplice pull one over on him. The coup goes thoroughly to shit. No, nobody, wishes this character anything good, not even his [female] lawyer who, on the grounds of an FBI deception garners him an acquittal. This acquittal marks the starting shot to a writing career, after the the big-mouth writes an article about the world that the New York Times actually publishes and which attracts the attention of a crafty publisher.

Admittedly, the public knows much less about this monster than the reader (another slick twist of this novel), yet that the media and public switch off understanding and morality when it comes to a publishing sensation, in terms of authenticity—that one buys from Zeltserman immediately. For what reasons Nevin’s writing career falters, surpasses all imagination in cynicism. In the early morning tv shows the bad guy is unmasked, as what we will not betray. Media satire, metacriminality, fierce thriller, all wrapped up in Zeltserman's terrific book that will now lead a shadowy existence because all traces of romanticism have been eradicated. Nevertheless, a trace of black humor flashes through his lunatic wit.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Winner of signed copy of May issue of EQMM is ...


For transparency, here was the method I  used to randomly picked the winner

Use Microsoft Word to get the word count for Archie Solves the Case
Divide by 3, with a remainder value of 0 selecting the first entry, 1 selecting the 2nd, 2 selecting the 3rd.

Word count turned out to be 14,631, which divided by 3 gives a remainder of 0

And thus, the Winner was picked!

Congratulations, Elizabeth! Once I get your mailing address, a copy will be put in the mail!

The Dame -- On Sale

As part of Amazon's Gold Box sale, The Dame is on sale now for $1.99. I have no idea how long this is going to last, so grab it for this price while you can!

Read an excerpt from ARCHIE SOLVES THE CASE

You can read an excerpt of ARCHIE SOLVES THE CASE over here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Julius Katz fans: Win an autographed copy of the May issue of Ellery Queen

If you're a Julius Katz fan and you want a chance to win an autographed copy of the May issue of Ellery Queen, which has the latest Julius Katz story, Archie Solves the Case, then simply leave a comment here about what you like most about my Julius Katz stories by Sunday 5pm EST. I'll be picking one participant at random, and mailing the lucky winner a copy of the magazine with my story signed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Archie Solves the Case

Good news for Julius Katz fans! The latest Julius Katz story, Archie Solves the Case, is in the May issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which is being mailed out now to subscribers, and I'm guessing should be available generally soon.

So JK fans, are you looking forward to seeing how Archie beats Julius to the punch in solving a case?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bad Thoughts excerpt

A compellingly clever wheels-within-wheels thriller. An ingenious plot, skillfully executed" Elliott Swanson, Booklist

"Dark, brutal, captivating -- this is one hell of a book, the kind of book that doesn't let go of you once you start it. Dave Zeltserman is clearly the real deal." Steve Hamilton, Edgar-award winner for The Lock Artist

"This fast-paced, gritty psychological tale balances the fine line between mystery and horror" Library Journal

Bad Thoughts is very  different than my other crime novels. It was my second novel, and it's got more than its share of craziness and plot twists, and this is the one that readers tell me has given them nightmares.. The excerpt  below can be read as a standalone suspense story.


“Oh God—”
Linda Cassen turned quickly behind her. She felt stupid as soon as she did. There was no one following her, no one lurking in the shadows. She was standing in broad daylight in the middle of Newbury Street which was probably the safest spot in the city. The only thing she had to worry about was being gouged in the pocketbook by one of the high-priced boutiques lining the street.
Still, she couldn’t help feeling shaken. The fear was irrational but it was there and it was intense. A cold sweat started down her back. She turned and entered a gourmet coffee shop. Once inside she stood by the door and stared out at the street. People walked past, but no one paid any attention to her. No one looked in her direction. No one was following her. There was no bogeyman out there after her.
She felt even stupider. She ordered a large latte from the cashier and took it back to a table by the front window. As she sipped it she watched the pedestrians walk by. It had been a bitter cold winter so far, and February wasn’t turning out to be any better. With the wind swirling off Boston Harbor it was below zero Fahrenheit outside. People were just about running past the store; men holding their overcoats shut tight around their necks, women moving in short, almost frantic strides.
Linda Cassen finished her drink and headed back into the cold. The air whipping across her face numbed her, making her feel as if her cheeks had been shot with Novocain. An uneasiness, though, swallowed her up quicker and more intensely than the cold did. It didn’t make any sense. There was no reason for it. Stubbornly, she decided she wasn’t going to let it affect her.
She came to the end of Newbury Street and cut across to the Public Garden. The desolation there didn’t help her mood. It looked like a wasteland. The pond for the swan boats had been emptied before winter and the trees scattered around the park were bare and lifeless. An old lady sitting alone threw bread crumbs to pigeons. She smiled blandly up at Linda. As she walked past the old woman she tried to smile back. Her heart skipped a beat as she noticed the street kids hanging by one of the benches along the other side of the park. All of them wearing hooded sweatshirts. They noticed her, also. Their sullen stares slowly drifted past her. She quickened her pace and got to the outside of the park and to Charles Street.
Once on Charles Street she darted into a convenience store. Winded, her heart racing, her legs shaky. A young clerk working behind the counter asked if she was okay. She mumbled something and grabbed a candy bar and bought it. Her hands shook as she peeled off the wrapper. She ate it greedily, as if it were the only thing she’d had in weeks. The sugar rush helped a little.
The clerk, a young kid, looked concerned. He asked if he should call her a cab. She thought about it but shook her head. Her apartment was only four blocks away. She’d feel more than stupid to have a cab take her four blocks. She thanked him anyway and walked to the door and peered outside. The street kids weren’t in sight. They were probably still in the park. At least she hoped so.
The fear had quieted temporarily but was still in her. As she walked it seemed to take on a life all to itself. Making her panic about crazy things. That she’d forget how to breathe. That her heart would just stop on her. That she would collapse on the sidewalk. Then he would get her. She’d be defenseless against him. The thought stopped her. Who would she be defenseless against? Who was she so afraid of? There was nothing but a fuzzy image floating in her mind. Nothing she could really make out. Just a sour, rancid smell and the hint of a wispy, singsong voice breathing lightly into her ear. As crazy as it was, it became real. The panic became full-blown terror.
The terror wouldn’t let her move her eyes. It kept them frozen straight ahead. It crept through her body, pressing hard against her chest. It made it difficult to breathe. She started to run. She couldn’t help herself.
She ran two blocks up Beacon Hill before her legs gave out on her and she fell onto one knee. And then she started to cry. She didn’t care anymore about feeling stupid. All she wanted was to get home. To be safe. She started making wild promises about what she’d do if she could only get safely locked behind her apartment door. About how she’d become a better person and start spending her weekends working at homeless shelters and her nights helping the impoverished. Anything, as long as she could be safe.
She got back to her feet. The terror was now crashing down over her, becoming something raw and primal. She could barely breathe against it. She could barely hear over it as it roared through her head and drowned out the noises around her. It made it impossible to tell if there were any footsteps behind her. But there couldn’t be any footsteps behind her. Deep down inside she knew that, didn’t she? She was simply losing her mind, going nuts, that was all. That’s what she told herself. She was in the midst of a mental breakdown.
As she turned the corner, she saw her apartment building and started racing towards it, her legs rubbery as she pushed herself forward. And then she was at the front door.
She fumbled with her keys. They slipped back into her pocketbook. Then they disappeared among the clutter. A common nightmare of hers was where simple actions became impossible. Like running through molasses. Or trying to find her keys when her life depended on it. Oh God, she screamed internally as tears streamed her face, please help me find my keys! And then, miraculously, she had them and the main entrance door was open and she was racing up the three flights to her apartment. Her heart pounding within her, feeling as if it were going to explode out of her chest.
And then . . .
She had the door to her apartment open. The craziness of her fear and terror hit her hard and she started laughing and bawling at the same moment. All the emotion came pouring out of her.
And then something else hit her. Much harder than the emotion. Hard enough to send her sprawling face first across the hardwood floor of her hallway. She felt a dullness as her chin cracked against the floor and then heard a click behind her. Someone was locking her door. Then a knee digging into the small of her back. Her arms were pulled behind her, her hands tied together with some sort of cord, the material biting into her flesh.
It all happened so fast. Before she could utter a sound she was flipped over onto her back. A gloved hand was against her throat. Pressing hard and then releasing the tension. It made her think of the way a cat entertains itself with a mouse before the kill.
And then there was the knife—an eight-inch cutting knife. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at it. It was held inches from her face.
A soft, wispy, singsong voice breathed lightly into her ear. A vaguely familiar voice. “Go ahead,” it said. “Scream. This knife has to go somewhere.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

PARIAH in Germany

PARIAH was published in Germany a couple of weeks ago by PulpMaster, and so far the early reviews have been great with comments such as "brilliant and terrific",  "fascinating and disturbing", "diabolical plot that spits truth in your face." The reviews are all finding it a mix of crime noir, meta "book-within-book", and cultural satire that's unlike anything else out there.

The above picture is of one of the reviewers.