Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Spy thriller takes you on wild ride in Sudan

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Legitimate Business
Michael Niemann
218 pages
Coffeetown Press   March 2017
Kindle $6.95, Trade paper $13.33

Legitimate Business is a different type of mystery.  It’s an intriguing spy novel, a thriller loaded with exotic atmosphere and foreign intrigue and a mystery, all in one.

Valentine Vermeulen is a New York-based fraud investigator with the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services. When he’s on vacation in Dusseldorf, Germany he’s reunited with his daughter whom he hasn’t seen in eight years, following his messy divorce.  As soon as he and Gabby patch things up, he’s off to Darfur, Sudan. 

Responding to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the UN Security Council has approved a significant military and police presence. Some 25,000 military and civilian people work for the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  Millions of dollars in supplies and services are required to support the large operation.  Vermeulen’s job, initially, is to examine the books, but it quickly escalates.  

A member of an all-female peace-keeping police unit from Bangladesh is shot and killed.  Is she a random victim of the war that has plagued Sudan, or was she killed because she discovered the kind of criminal scheme Vermeulen is supposed be looking for?

Vermeulen’s life gets worse—as he predicts—when he tries to track down the source of crooked deals that are jeopardizing the UN mission and fattening the wallets of someone. The mystery evolves and unravels at a brisk pace with descriptions that put you in the seat of a four-wheel drive vehicle dashing across the desert as machine guns rattle, lead you down dark Sudanese city streets and surround you with the gloom of a sprawling refugee camp.

Author Niemann knows his subject.  He studied in Europe and the U.S. and has lived in Africa.

“Since the days of British colonial rule, the coast around Port Sudan had been the Red Sea Rivera.  It was still a destination for holiday makers, but the international sanctions had cut down the foreign tourists’ travel.  The once splendid corniche along the water’s edge with its benches, palm trees and open-air restaurants had the dispirited atmosphere of a seaside town in winter.”

Niemann’s crisp and descriptive writing keeps you reading.  He explains a Vermeulen hangover this way:

“His throat was dry and his tongue a dead animal in his mouth.”

Vermeulen is caught in a mortar barrage at an encampment.  A round lands in a latrine near him.

“The stink of shit mixed with the reek of burnt gunpowder.”

When Vermeulen finds himself in the middle of a fire fight:

“Acrid smoke made his eyes tear up, and for a moment the world blurred into an ugly watercolor painting.”

One minor point, but one I’ve seen missed by others, Niemann knows the popular Glock semi-auto lacks a traditional safety. “…Vermeulen pulled the pistol from his pocket.  He remembered that Glocks don’t have safety levers.”  If you write about firearms you need to know how they work.

This fast-moving African adventure is an appealing start to Niemann’s Valentine Vermeulen thriller series.  Illicit Trade is the second in the series.  Start catching up now.  The third novel, Illegal Holdings, debuts next month.

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Courting Inspiration

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By Wendy Tyson

It was cold the morning I wrote this. Three degrees according to the deck thermometer. Of course, in Vermont there is a saying (to be fair I think it’s a saying everywhere winters are cruel) that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Nevertheless, I eyed our snowshoes with suspicion. I’d rather be writing by the fire than traipsing out in the woods, but traipsing we would go. Hopefully by then it would be closer to ten.

We’d promised my fourteen-year-olds and one very large Labrador we’d go hiking. The forest can be a magical place, and watching the twins get lost with their canine companion in the white-coated outdoors reminds me that they’re caught between childhood and manhood. For them, Inspiration exists in the icy inclines, snow-covered clearings, and giant, uprooted trees. For a while they can forget the pressures of high school and pretend—or just be.

While I cherish the family time, I also needed to get out of my head. After several tight deadlines and three rounds of work travel, I was feeling fried. It’s one thing to be productive on a tight schedule, but it’s another thing to court Inspiration. With a blank page in front of me—Greenhouse Mystery #5—I needed the thrill of Inspiration, not the pride of accomplishment.

I’m often asked where I find my Inspiration. The truth is, I don’t always know. I can’t tell you the exact moment when the universe comes together and an idea begins to take shape. I can only tell you that Inspiration isn’t something I wait for—I have to court it. And I have to be able to recognize it when it appears. Like my boys in the woods, it helps if I nurture my imagination, allowing myself to dig deep into its recesses, into that untamed part of my consciousness that will spot a great concept and develop it into something bigger. I have to be willing to go out into the wild.

But how?

The process is different for everyone, but here are a few techniques I’ve found helpful for finding and capturing Inspiration.

  • Connect with the page. I mean that quite literally. There is something visceral and real about writing the old-fashioned way, using pen and paper. When I want to connect with what author Natalie Goldberg calls “wild mind,” I pull out a notebook and a favorite pen and free write. There are no rules in free writing. I don’t think about grammar, spelling or themes. I don’t care if what I write makes sense. The idea is to dig deeper, find something that will resonate and possibly lead to a story. This almost always works for me—and I use it when I am stuck on a novel as well.
  • Silence the critic, court the muse. I don’t know about yours, but my inner critic is quietly insidious, almost diabolical. She whispers mean little sound bites into my ear, pouring vinegar into every sensitive open writing wound I have. When I want to find Inspiration, I have to shut her up, allowing her more timid sister to visit instead. Free writing helps with that, and writing early in the morning, before my inner critic is fully awake, helps too. I find that Vivaldi lulls the critic into silence, and a change of scenery can mask her voice (a bustling coffee shop or a busy ski lodge, perhaps). Sometimes it’s pure will that puts my critic in her place. “You’ll have your time when I’m revising,” I tell her. Occasionally she even listens.
    • Hit the road. I love to travel. Not the highly scheduled travel I do for work, but the kind of off-the-beaten-path travel that invites reflection. I find leaving my comfort zone, even for a little while, offers a change of perspective and new ideas. Some of my best concepts have come to me while on a train or driving along an unfamiliar stretch of foreign roadway.
  • Go outside. Leave your cerebral nest, don a jacket and sneakers (or in my case this morning, four layers of long underwear and down alternative), and enjoy Mother Nature. I’m convinced that Inspiration lives in the woods and at the beach, in the snow-covered rocks, under the icy river water, on the rough sand and in the fallen trees. When you need to find her, get out of your head for a while and play, unapologetically. Remember what it’s like to be a kid. You might be surprised—Inspiration just may come to you.

 ———–

Wendy Tyson is a writer, lawyer, and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy writes two mystery series, the bestselling Greenhouse Mystery Series and the popular Allison Campbell Mystery Series. Wendy’s short stories have appeared in literary journals, and she has short fiction in two anthologies, Betrayed and the forthcoming The Night of the Flood. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Penn Writers, and International Thriller Writers, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for International Thriller Writers’ online magazines, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins. Wendy and her family live in Vermont.

For the holidays I’m reprising one of my  flash fiction stories from “Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words.” Happy holidays to all.

Christmas Bracelets

Trays of expensive necklaces were scattered across the mall jewelry store counter.  A heavy-set man with a white beard and red suit slumped next to the policeman.

“D’you know how many stupid crooks try to rob stores dressed as Santa this time of year?” said the slightly bored detective.

Outside the store, a crowd gathered.

“Take him in,” said the detective to two uniformed officers.

“Don’t put cuffs on me,” said make-believe Santa. “Look at all those kids out there.”

The detective frowned.

“Police escort,” shouted unshackled Santa.  As they walked out, he waved to the crowd with both hands.

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