Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Hey authors, don’t kill the dog!

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In this guest article, animal behaviorist and author Amy Shojai examines the peril novelists face if one of their murder victims has four legs.

I’m a dog lover (and a cat lover) and I adore reading fiction that includes unique pet characters or animal plots interwoven in a creative and believable way. But don’t you dare, kill the dog…or I’m liable to lob that book into a dumpster and cross you off my TBR list. And I’m not alone.

My perspective isn’t purely emotional, either. As a certified animal behavior consultant, I deal every day with pet owners who desperately need help understanding and solving their pet peeves. I address these issues directly in my nonfiction pet books, and in my thrillers, animal behavior remains intrinsic to the plot.

My September Day thriller series features an animal behaviorist and her service dog Shadow, a German Shepherd Dog with his own viewpoint chapters. Both September and Shadow go through hell. Shadow even has his own story arc and has such a presence, the series would die should he become a victim of the antagonist. There are other animal characters introduced peripherally, along with veterinary or animal welfare plots, and in the real world, I know all tooShow-and-Tell-pet-novel well bad things happen.

Including pets can be lazy writing

Killing pet characters is a furry line I won’t cross, not just because it hurts my heart. It can be bad business, and too often is simply a lazy shortcut to demonstrate the antagonist’s level of “evil.” At the other extreme, writers may be advised to give their hero a pet to make the protagonist more likeable.

Honestly, I have to argue that it’s not owning the pet, but the relationship with that animal (or any other character) that makes the hero likeable or the antagonist unlikeable and unsympathetic. A pet character in a story opens an opportunity to show a relationship, and that, indeed, will broaden a character’s depth and the reader’s engagement.

But when pets are used as a prop, interjected simply as a label like “red headed killer” or “dog loving taxi driver” or the tired old ploy “serial killer starts by killing pets,” there’s no relationship. You want that relationship, so readers care, and good writers ensure that readers are vested in what happens to their story characters including the pets. Killing the pet, however, after the reader becomes emotionally invested, betrays the reader’s trust in a horrific way. Done purely for shock or as a shortcut, killing pets in novels is a cheap shot pet-loving readers rarely forgive. Here’s why.

Why killing pets backfires

Today, pets are considered to be members of the family, in some cases surrogate children. Just as many readers become offended by fiction that details “on-stage” murder/mayhem directed at children, so too, are they offended by the same directed toward pets. Continue Reading →

Stave off the winter blahs with an engrossing read

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Two new novels, a thriller and a mystery, promise unusual excitement in diverse settings. Brendan Reilly’s An Unbeaten Man moves from a deceptively serene college campus in Brunswick, Maine, to a hidden laboratory in the United Arab Emirates, to a showdown at an isolated dacha outside Moscow. In Bryan E. Robinson’s Limestone Gumption, the plot leads readers from a small quiet Florida town into underwater caves in this fast-paced cozy mystery.

Unbeaten-man--web-optiAn Unbeaten Man: A Michael McKeon Book
Brendan Rielly
Down East Books Nov. 2015
334 pages
$24.95 hardcover

 

 

 

 

A microbe that instantly cleans up any oil spill, no matter how large, by devouring the oil should be the breakthrough that defines a career, but for Bowdoin College microbiologist Michael McKeon, it unleashes a nightmare.

In An Unbeaten Man, American, Russian and Saudi leaders fly to Moscow in a last ditch effort to defeat ISIS and its splinter groups and stop the Middle East from burning by creating a Middle East Marshall Plan. At the same time, The Global Group sabotages those efforts by capturing and threatening to kill Michael’s wife and daughter unless he uses his microbe to annihilate hundreds of billions of barrels of Saudi and Russian oil.

As Michael races against the clock, Deputy NSA Director Melissa Stark joins forces with Michael’s oldest friend, an NSA agent code-named Longfellow, to stop The Global Group and save Michael and his family. Framed for Michael’s kidnapping, she escapes.

With The Global Group, the NSA, the Secret Service and the FSB after them, Stark and Longfellow must stop the plot even if it means sacrificing Michael’s family. Just as he successfully contaminates the heart of Saudi oil production at Abqaiq, Michael is captured and tortured by Saudi security forces.

Forging a new alliance with a deadly Saudi agent, he agrees to save Saudi oil in order to save his family. When Global Group assassins nearly kill him, Michael faces the grim reality that his family may already be lost.

Brendan Rielly is an attorney who lives with his wife and three children in Westbrook, Maine. He’s the middle of three generations of Maine authors with his father and son (as a high school senior) also published. This is his first thriller.

 

Limestone-Gumption-web-optiLimestone Gumption: A Brad Pope and Sisterfriends Mystery
Bryan E. Robinson
Five Star Publishing  Jan. 2016
314 pages
$19.95 trade paper

 

 

 

 

When Brad Pope returns to his boyhood hometown to settle a debt with his long-lost father, the 35-year-old psychologist becomes a prime suspect in the murder of football legend turned cave diver, Big Jake Nunn. Perched high on the east bank of the Suwannee River, the sleepy town of Whitecross, Florida, is known for its natural crystal-clear springs and underwater caverns. Locals are online and computer savvy, but if asked about blackberries, they think cobbler, not wireless. And townsfolk die of natural causes, not murder.

Until now.

As if being accused of murder isn’t shock enough, the psychologist’s hopes of confronting his father and reconnecting with his cantankerous Grandma Gigi are hindered by the surprised horror surrounding his father’s whereabouts and sinister secrets of the Women’s Preservation Club (WPC).

The six quirky “sisterfriends” in the club founded by Grandma Gigi—whom Brad expects to jabber about preparing Sunday’s church bulletin or the next bake sale—start to look more like cold-bloodied killers than church ladies. As Brad learns of more dead bodies and that each sisterfriend has reason to kill Big Jake, his suspicions sour into the clabbered taste of fear.

Bryan Robinson is a novelist and licensed psychotherapist. His thriller received the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award for best mystery. He is a veteran author of 35 nonfiction books, has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, World News Tonight, The Early Show, and NBC Nightly News. He maintains a psychotherapy practice in Asheville, N.C., where he is working on book 2 in the series.

Thriller Novel Preview: ‘Nation of Enemies’

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By H.A. Raynes

Chapter One

April, 2032
London, England

So, this is freedom. No sirens pierce the air. Buildings in the distance are whole. Yet the ground beneath his feet feels no different. Dr. Cole Fitzgerald glances past their docked cruise ship, to the horizon. The sky blends into the ocean, a monochromatic swatch of gray. A chill in the air penetrates him, dampens his coat and makes all the layers underneath heavy. When they left Boston, pink-tinged magnolia petals blanketed the sidewalks, blew across overgrown parks and the burnt remains of brownstones. He’d reached up and touched a blossom, still hanging on a limb. It’s remarkable to see beauty amid war.

The din of discontent is constant. On the vast dock of England’s Southampton Cruise Port, a few thousand passengers stand in line, all on the same quest to flee the United States. He’s heard that three million citizens emigrate annually. But no one documents whether those people are more afraid of the lone wolves and militias, or of their government bent on regaining control. Cole isn’t sure which is worse. But London is a safe place to start again. They have family here, built-in support. No point in dwelling.

Beside him, Lily’s usual grace and composure are visibly in decline. He reaches out and gently strokes the nape of his wife’s Nation-of-Enemiesneck, where pieces of her dark hair have strayed from her ponytail. The coat she wears can’t hide her belly, now twenty-nine weeks swollen with a baby girl. Cole wishes he could offer her a chair. Instead she rests on one of their enormous suitcases.

Their son Ian sits cross-legged on the asphalt and reads a paperback. Throughout the journey, he’s gone along with few complaints. Ten years ago he was born the night the Planes Fell, the night that changed everything. Living in a constant state of fear is all he’s ever known. The joy and devastation of that night was so complete. To become parents at the same time terrorists took down fifty passenger planes … there were no words. It was impossible to celebrate while so many were mourning.

The mist turns to rain as night comes. Every fifty feet or so instructions are posted: Prepare left arm for MRS scan; Citizenship Applications must be completed; Use of electronic devices prohibited. Finally they cross the threshold of the Southampton Port Customs and Immigration building. The air is sour with sickness and stress and filth. Dingy subway tiles cover the walls of the enormous hall. Ahead, above dozens of immigration officer booths, a one-way mirror spans the width of the wall. Cameras, security officers, judgment. Cole’s skin prickles. Continue Reading →

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