Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: Thriller novel

Author creates a good fracking mystery; here’s how she dug up the story

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By Sherry Knowlton

Topical issues that affect real people are a perfect foundation upon which to construct a suspense novel. And you can’t get much more topical than fracking mixed with government and corporate corruption.  The research I did into fracking uncovered environmental nightmares and much more. That’s why I chose it as the backdrop for my new Alexa Williams novel, Dead of Spring. 

I’ve long considered myself an environmentalist, so I’ve followed the evolution of fracking quite closely, both here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  In my day job, I interact a lot with Pennsylvania state government. That’s given me a front row seat to the contentious debate about whether the Commonwealth should tax fracking companies.  I’ve been concerned that the negative impact of fracking on people and the environment has been overshadowed by the drive for energy independence and economic growth.  That’s what I wanted to explore in Dead of Spring – in a suspense story context.

But what exactly is fracking?  It’s the commonly used term for a natural gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing.  This process is unique in that the gas wells are drilled, first vertically, and then at a 90-degree angle that can extend as much as a mile both down into the earth and parallel to the surface.  The process has opened up huge swaths of geologic formations known as shale to gas drilling.  In Pennsylvania, the region that is being fracked is known as the Marcellus Shale. 

Fracking has its pros and cons.  It has opened up new reserves of natural gas, lowering energy costs and helping reduce the US reliance on foreign oil. And advocates argue that natural gas is cleaner burning than coal and other fossil fuels.  But the drilling process uses a slurry of toxic chemicals, releases methane into the air and can degrade water supplies. The injection of the fracking waste back into the ground has caused earthquakes.  Oklahoma’s dramatic increase in earthquake activity is well-publicized. Maryland and New York have banned new fracking activity.  But, other states have welcomed fracking’s economic boost. Needless to say, fracking is a controversial issue. 

One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking.  He leased in the early days of fracking and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.  He shared his experience by showing me his photographs of the process that transformed his property. A beautiful woodland that step by step by step turned into an acre of gravel and machinery.  Pristine drinking water that now requires constant filtering just for showers and bathing. Battles with the energy company about compensation for various problems. Although I did considerable additional research, that visit was most enlightening.  Continue Reading →

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Darkness and light in this Tahoe thriller

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Tahoe Dark
Todd Borg
341 Pages
Thriller Press  August 2016
Trade Paper $16.95 Kindle $3.99 or free with Kindle unlimited

One of my favorite flavors of mystery is the story that includes more than one serious crime.  The reader struggles not only to figure out whodunit but also to determine if the crimes are connected.  If you think you have a line on a promising suspect, you have to ask yourself, is this person also involved in the other crime(s)?

This mystery device complicates a story in ways that draw you in and appeals to both your left and right brain.  Todd Borg does this admirably in his 14th Owen McKenna mystery, Tahoe Dark.

And it starts with a bang.  David Montrop’s son is kidnapped and ransomed.  Montrop is forced to empty his bank account by tormentors who seem to know his every move.  Next, he’s killed with something rarely considered a weapon.  

 When private detective Owen McKenna’s phone rings, it’s the Reno police telling him the murder victim left a note suggesting McKenna as the likely murderer.  That sets McKenna off on a quest to find out why he was singled out by the victim and who really killed Montrop and kidnapped his son. 

Soon, an armored car is robbed in State Line, Nev., by four armed men in menacing hockey masks.  The armored car company president hires McKenna to find the robbers and the money. 

See the connection?  Is there one?  If so, it stretches from Lake Tahoe to Reno and runs through more law enforcement jurisdictions than you can imagine necessary to patrol one lake, albeit the largest alpine lake in North America.

 One of the appealing aspects of the book, and there are many, is Borg’s creation of an engaging, complex victim/suspect.  She’s a seemingly vulnerable, impoverished house cleaner who appears to have connections to all the crimes in McKenna’s world.  In Tahoe Dark, that world includes additional victims murdered in a most unusual, original and gruesome way.  The murder scenes are as chilling as he’s written in 14 books.  Try not to visualize.

You will also learn fascinating, if gross details about maggots in dead bodies delivered by forensic entomologist, Street Casey, McKenna’s girlfriend:

“Street told me that when an animal or person dies, the average length of time before a fly finds it and lays eggs is ten minutes.” 

One of the funniest lines in the book involves these bugs.  But I won’t spoil it. There are other good lines:

“I wondered if we could find out what it [a substance with an unusual odor] was without waiting two weeks to get a lab test.  So I asked this woman at the office who’s got a killer sniffer.  You know,  the kind who can smell a scent and say it’s a Lady Slipper orchid or the cleaning solution they used on the floor at the main post office in Bakersfield.”

You expect a PI to pop off snappy lines like this, don’t you?  Borg doesn’t disappoint, even offering a line about another PI:

“The couch faced a TV so old it had probably broadcast original episodes of The Rockford Files.”

Borg fans will be pleased to see his continuing characters including Casey, Tahoe cop Diamond Martinez and of course Spot, McKenna’s Great Dane sidekick.

Borg muses on the grandeur of the lake and the Sierra providing a contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of murder.  In Tahoe Dark, Borg offers both light and shadow, and he does this with assurance.

Why is there a Ferris wheel on my book cover?

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By Michael Niemann

It’s admittedly an odd choice for a thriller, but let me explain.

The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel, was designed and built in 1897 by British engineers to commemorate the golden anniversary of emperor Franz Josef. And it is indeed of giant proportions, 212 feet tall. However, it wasn’t the tallest in the world. The original Ferris wheel, designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.  in 1893 for the Chicago World Columbian Exhibition, was 264 feet tall. Other illicit_trade-niemann-covergiant wheels built in London and Paris around the same time were also taller. But after a couple of decades, those other Ferris wheels had all been taken down.

By 1920, the Wiener Riesenrad was the tallest wheel in the world. It held that position until 1985 when the 289 foot Technostar wheel was opened in Japan. Currently, the tallest wheel is the High Roller in Las Vegas which stands 550 tall more than twice the height of the Riesenrad.

No Ferris wheel has played a bigger a role in popular culture than the Wiener Riesenrad. It featured in three spy thriller films, The Third Man, Scorpio, The Living Daylights, and one romance, Before Sunrise. It also made an appearance in several novels.

The wheel’s feature role in spy thrillers is not an accident. The Third Man takes place just a few years after World War II when Austria and Vienna were still divided into four sectors, occupied by Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the U.S. Obviously there was plenty of spying going on then.

The agreement that ended the occupation stipulated that Austria had to remain neutral henceforth. No wonder that during the Cold War, Vienna became a hub of clandestine meetings, shady dealings and generally a playground for spies from all over the world. That has not changed.

Inside the The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel.

Inside the The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel.

Austria’s neutrality also made Vienna a perfect location to host one of the United Nations headquarters. And that brings me back to my book. My protagonist, Valentin Vermeulen, works for the UN and a case of fraud brings him to Vienna. Once I had him there, I remembered The Third Man and watched the movie again. The scene featuring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton is one of the most gripping scenes in the movie. Continue Reading →

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