A story that twists like the Rio Grande



Review of Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III

One of the most satisfying literary discoveries is a truly unique story. This is particularly rare in the mystery-thriller genre. Many thrillers seem to be emulating another derivative book, trying to ride a bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV show.

So when I opened Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III, I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying, completely original story.

The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.

Place of Skulls is the fourth in Pirtle’s Ambrose Lincoln series, a spy-thriller set during the Second World War. A lot of authors give their main characters a huge character flaw—alcoholism, a history of abuse, a physical disability—and Lincoln has what seems to me to be the most debilitating for a spy: amnesia. Ambrose Lincoln has no memory of his past, and cannot remember why he knows the things he does and cannot account for certain skills he has, such as the ability to pick a lock with a hair pin.

But he does have ghosts—at least one. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember.

A rich Dallas oilman named Eliot Bergner hires Lincoln to find whoever killed his brother, Danny. “Danny B.” is a DEA officer who was investigating the smuggling of drugs from Mexico into the U.S., carried by poor, desperate migrant workers. One night, his mutilated body arrives in Texas in an empty boxcar. But not before he sends a message to his brother, Eliot—an observant Jew—that he has found incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.

Drugs and religion: that would seem to be enough for one book, but then the author adds the idea that Nazi Germany is lacing the cocaine and heroine the migrants are smuggling with Thallium, a potent and undetectable poison. Their idea is to addict as many Americans as possible, and then kill them.

As if that’s not complex enough, shady U.S. government operatives are about to launch an invasion of Mexico to stop the influx of addictive poison, but because Mexico is a sovereign nation that, at the time the story is set, has not yet declared which side of the war it’s on (which would have to make it between December 7, 1941 and May 22, 1942, when Mexico declared war on Germany), they have to keep it secret, even from the President.

No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.

If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ came to Mexico before 1492, and getting caught up in a US government plot to invade Mexico to throttle the drug trade, mixing in Nazi spies, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.

There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.

The characters ring true.

Author Caleb Pirtle III

Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Eliot Bergner’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.

The author  gives us a satisfying closing.

Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. Lincoln struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.

Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately.

5*

Visit Caleb Pirtle III’s website for links to buy this and other books.

Happy 150 Canada



 

Image courtesy University of the Fraser Valley

And Happy Independence Day, USA

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, the day when three British colonies in North America became the first four provinces of Canada. Ultimately, after a lot of arguing and angst, it led to what the world now sees as Canada, stretching across the top half of North America.

Some personal images in celebration of Canada 150. Here is one of the few of my pictures to survive my trip down the whitewater Missinaibi and Moose Rivers to Moose Factory last summer, at the put-in. That’s a monument to the early explorers of the fur trade route.

And in three days, Canada’s neighbour to the south (mostly, but there’s also Alaska to the west), the United States holds its annual celebration of its declaration of independence from Britain.

The close association of the two days always prompts comparisons between the histories and cultures of the two countries, and I won’t belabour them here.

But it is a good time to consider our history, and as many people, particularly Canada’s first peoples are pointing out, not all of it is wonderful.

Yes, Canada presents itself as the happy, nice country. And for the most part, that’s true. We are, today, vocally and for the most part tolerant, open, accepting and supportive. We have a good social safety net, public health care, liberty of conscience and religion and speech. We have strong public education and equal opportunity—mostly—for all.

But we do have flaws, and the U.S. does, too, and it is important to recognize these on our annual national day. Despite our claims of equality for all, Indigenous people in Canada (and the U.S.) still do not enjoy the same opportunities, rights or standard of living of most of us—certainly they do not receive what Canada promises. Hundreds of Indigenous communities across the country have not had clean drinking water for decades.

The status of women in Canada and the U.S. still lags behind that of men. Visible minorities do not get the same treatment from society, business and even institutions as white Canadians and Americans. We may not feel comfortable about that, we may wish all were equal, we may be striving mightily to achieve true equality for all, but we have to admit that things are not ideal.

Time to celebrate

But today, and Tuesday, are days to celebrate what is good about our countries. It’s time to be happy, to appreciate what our respective countries do for each of us, and what we can do for our fellow citizens.

We have to acknowledge the mistakes of the past, so we can redress them and avoid repeating them. But a day like the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the current country—which is a wonderful place to live for most of the people here—is a time to look forward to how we can make it even better.

Here are some more of my photos of this country.

An iconic Canadian image: Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

Another iconic Canadian image: Moraine Lake in Banff, the image that used to be on the back of our $10 bill.

 

A picture of my two sons in front of Lake Louise about nine years ago.

Some of the inukshuk sculptures in the Ottawa River last summer.

A collection of Canadian images just would not be complete without a shot of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

I could not resist publishing this one: the 13-year-old Super Nicolas standing on a glacier, halfway up the mountain — as far as it was safe to go without mountain climbing equipment — above Lake Louise.

Rapids on the Dumoine River in western Quebec.

Along the Mattawa River in northern Ontario.

And what would a Canadian photo collection be without a picture of a grizzly bear?

Happy birthday!

What I’m working on now: A new book



After publishing 10 books in the past two years (wow—I just blew my own mind), I am not slowing down, but I am changing direction.

I had a writing and publishing plan.e72b9-bonescoverfinalforweb

Two years ago in July, I published two books in two different Kindle Worlds: Torn Roots in the Lei Crime Kindle World, based on Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series; and Jet: Stealth in the Jet Kindle World, based on the bestselling series by Russell Blake.

Up to that point, I had published only three book-length titles:

  • The Bones of the Earth, book one of a planned Dark Age trilogy, a historical fantasy
  • One Shade of Red, a spoof of Fifty Shades of Gray
  • Army of Worn Soles, the first book in my Eastern Front trilogy, based on the real experiences of my father-in-law in the Red Army during the Second World War.

My plans at that point were to complete the Eastern Front trilogy (done!), then move to the second and third books of the Dark Age series. I also thought I might intersperse those projects by writing and publishing
stories that would tie together into a paranormal-occult-romance novel, Dark Clouds. I had written four chapters, publishing them on various platforms. A lot of people liked the first chapter, which stands alone as a story called The Mandrake Ruse. You can download it for free.

At that point, I had never even heard of Kindle Worlds, and never considered writing fan fiction.

Then Toby Neal diverted me.

Near the end of 2014, Toby Neal, bestselling author of the Lei Crime series and other books, and a prominent member of the BestSelling Reads authors group, selected a few authors to write for her brand new Lei Crime Kindle World. The idea was to publish a novella, something between 10,000 and 40,000 words, based on the characters and situations of her mystery novels.

I was excited and, to be honest, flattered to be one of the first invited to this project. And it also solved another problem for me. I had an idea for a light-hearted thriller with characters based on my family, but I could not make the plot work. When I got Toby’s invitation to write a Hawaii mystery, the plot, setting and characters fell into place.

However, there was one big problem: my main character was a geologist, and I knew nothing about the geology of Hawaii. I wasn’t getting the details I wanted from books or the Web. So I booked my next vacation to Maui, and what I experienced added a lot of realism to the book. And while I missed the first launch in April 2015,
I did manage to write a book, re-write it, get a cover, get it edited and proofread—and share a beta draft with Toby Neal herself—in time for the “second surge” in July.

While I was working on my first Lei Crime book, Russell Blake invited me (and several others) to write for his new Jet Kindle World, too. Its first deadline was the same as the second one for Lei Crime: July 31, 2015.

So, while Torn Roots was with beta readers, editors and proofreaders, I wrote a short, fast-paced thriller called Stealth, introducing two more characters based on people I know: Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun. And I met the deadline without cutting any corners.

My writing went fast in a new direction.

Since then, I wrote and published two more Lei Crime novellas and one novel. I was invited to another Kindle World, based on Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye series about a kick-ass woman detective and her giant dog, Blue. I’ve written two books for this series, both featuring Van and LeBrun.

Now, it’s time to get back to the original plan.

Don’t get me wrong—writing the Kindle World books has been a blast. I really enjoyed the characters and situations I created, and to judge by the reviews, my readers have, too. And I think I will find it irresistible to return to them, putting them in more impossible situations.

But I want to get back to the next book in the Dark Age trilogy. Last year, when I was waiting for medical attention after breaking my knee, I worked out the plot outline for book 2, The Triumph of the Sky. (Guess which song inspired that and I’ll send you a personalized, signed e-copy of The Bones of the Earth.)

The Dark Age trilogy is what I call “historical magic realism.” It’s epic fantasy, but set in a real time and place: the sixth-century CE Eastern Roman Empire, often known now as the Byzantine Empire. But the people there at the time called themselves “Roman,” even though most of them spoke Greek.

The Bones of the Earth, book 1 in the trilogy, was about Javor, a poor Sklavenic boy from beyond the Empire’s borders, who travels to Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, searching for answers about his parents’ death and his great-grandfather’s magical dagger. The second volume will tell the story of Javor as a young man, living in Constantinople with a wife and family, going on several adventures and contending with deep, supernatural forces. It’s based on a number, just as the first volume was. I’ve made some progress: two chapters written. In a future post, I’ll post some advance samples when I’m happy with them.

But don’t get too excited. Triumph is going to be a big book, like Bones was. But I’ll keep you up to date on progress, and I’ll have lots of contests and giveaways along the way. One of the first will be a giveaway to anyone who can deduce or guess which number figures prominently in the plot of The Bones of the Earth, and later another one for the number that’s the basis of The Triumph of the Sky.

See you soon!

Live blogging from my event



 

 Here I am at the Coles The Book People location in the Billings Bridge plaza in Ottawa for my second-ever book signing event. On the table, I have the three paperbacks in my Eastern Front trilogy: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War. 

Traffic isn’t all that heavy—it’s mid-day at the beginning of what looks like a beautiful long weekend. This might have worked better outdoors.  

It’s interesting to watch the shoppers go by. They seem to come in waves. The babies come in groups—one moment, the mall is quiet; the next, three squalling babies in a phalanx of strollers are crowding the mall in front of my table. 

Most people just walk by, not even looking. They’re not here for books. Some people slow down and look at the books on my table. Occasionally, one will stop and talk.

People seem delighted to meet authors, and eager to share what they know about either the war, history or even books. And a few buy books. One lady even bought the whole set, since I’m offering a special price for all three.

It’s a very different experience than marketing e-books online. I like talking with people interested in the subject, or history. And the tactile aspect of a paper book, rather than the virtuality of e-books, well, satisfying.

I may try this again some time.

#LeiCrimeKW Sneak peek: Echoes



It’s just two days until my next book comes out on Amazon, along with eleven others in the Lei Crime Kindle World. You’ve seen previews of Meg Amor’s Pele’s Revenge, Shawn McGuire’s Over Her Head, Rescue in Reno by Julie C. Gilbert and J.L. Oakley’s Volcano House. Today, I’m giving you another look at my latest, Echoes.

DiscoverLCKWMay17FB-2Echoes, Chapter 5:

Coming home again

2014

“The place is different,” Dylan said.

Vanessa agreed. The battered chain-link fence she remembered had been replaced by one made of faux-wood in a cheerful bright green, and the stucco of the house itself had been painted a terra-cotta color. She remembered how she had always thought the car port beside the house, an extension of the roof like a lean-to, was about to collapse. Now it looked freshly painted as well, and solid metal supports had replaced the splintered wooden ones of her memory. The windows were new, too, and the little bit of grass, browning in the Oahu heat, was neatly trimmed. Even the strip between the fence and street was short and neat.

In the car-port itself was a grey Toyota Tacoma that looked no more than five or six years old, and while it had its share of dings and dents from use, it looked in good shape.

“Your Mom has been looking after the place,” she agreed.

There was no step from the ground to the solid-slab front door. Dylan tried the handle. “Huh. Locked. Ma never used to lock the door during the daytime.” He reached into his front pocket for a key.

“You still have a key to your mother’s house? After fifteen years?”

The key would not even slide into the lock. “Wha? She changed the locks?”

Echoes - 529x800 V3“Now that I think of it, it looks like a completely different door handle. Wasn’t it a round knob back then?” Vanessa asked.

“She must’a been doing good,” Dylan said.

The door whipped open to reveal a short woman wearing a floral blouse, cargo shorts and an angry, threatening expression. She had large, dark brown eyes under heavy dark brows. Long dark brown hair was piled into a thick bun on top of her head. Her full lips were drawn into a snarl. She looked up at Dylan, eyes widening and jaw slowly dropping until her mouth described a circle. She jumped up to wrap her arms around Dylan’s neck and pulled his chest into her face. Then she kissed his face over and over, crying “Dylan! Oh my god, where have you been?”

She released him just as suddenly, stepped back and swung her arm to slap Dylan’s face so hard, he staggered to the side. Vanessa put her hands out to steady him. “Where have you been? Fifteen years and you never once came to see me, never once even called me. How could you treat your mother that way?”

“Ma,” Dylan groaned. “I wrote to you, didn’t I? Every month. Never missed.”

“Yah, with no return address, ever. You never even told me where you were. You just up and disappear one day with no explanation, nothing. You left me and your brother alone all these years, and now you show up at my door with no notice? Nothing? What are you thinking?”

“I’m sorry, Ma. I came back to help Cole.”

Dylan’s mother turned away, sighing. “Cole. Yes, he needs help.” She seemed to notice Vanessa for the first time. “Oh my god. Is this … Vanessa Storm?” Without waiting for an answer, she took Vanessa’s head between her hands and kissed her on both cheeks.

What is Echoes about?

“I am hopelessly in love with a memory. An echo from another time, another place.” — Michel Foucault

In 1999, the Kahuna was The Man on Oahu’s west coast. The coolest guy at the wildest parties, with the coolest posse, the best weed and the most beautiful girlfriend.

Then he disappeared.

Fifteen years later, that girlfriend is no longer a high school senior. She is FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm, and she sees through every lie the Kahuna spins when he shows up again to beg her help.

How can she say no when the Kahuna wants her help not for himself, but to protect his little brother. Young Cole ‘Aukai is ready to set fire to the whole Oahu illegal drug trade—for revenge.

Echoes is my fourth Lei Crime Kindle World title, and they all feature Vanessa Storm. If you want to know more about her special character, check out:

Over Her Head: preview of a new #LeiCrimeKW novella



LeiCrime-50titles

May 12 is the launch date for 11 new titles in the Lei Crime Kindle World—new stories by professional authors in the fictional universe of Lei Crime, the creation of bestselling author Toby Neal.

One of those titles is mine: Echoes, featuring my Lei Crime character, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm. You will find it on Amazon as of May 12.

To get you excited about the new books, I will preview a bunch of them over the next several days. Today we have Shawn McGuire’s third Lei Crime Kindle World title, Over Her Head, which happens to feature the main character, Lei Texeira

Let Shawn know what you think of her preview in the Comments. 

“I know I’ve been tough on you these last couple of weeks,” she said.

Lieutenant Lani Kaapana was Gemi’s second FTO. The first had been an officer who was close to retirement and not interested in working all that hard anymore. He taught Gemi some things, but most of what she had learned in the month with him she had either figured out on her own or learned by asking other officers. Now that she thought about it, maybe that hadn’t been so bad.

“You have been tough on me,” Gemi agreed, “but I appreciate your approach. I think you know that I’m not one to take the easy route.”

“You’re going to be a fine officer,” the lieutenant said. “I’ve seen plenty of trainees come through this department over the years, only a handful of them have truly impressed me with their potential. You’re at the very top of that list.” She held out her hand to Gemi. “Don’t let me down.”

For a heartbeat, Gemi was moved by these words, but she knew showing emotion would negate everything the officer had just said. Instead, she shook her hand and thanked her once again.

“Your formal training is done,” Lieutenant Kaapana announced, “but don’t hesitate to come to me if you have questions or need help.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Crossing the parking lot, Gemi smiled, feeling a sense of pride at a job well done. She glanced at the spot where a lightbar would go as she climbed into her Renegade and started for her townhouse southwest of Kahului. Today was a big deal, she really should celebrate. There were only two people she would consider partying with, her friend Consuelo or her sister Ashlyn. Consuelo was finishing her senior year with a couple of summer classes at Kahului College and had a big test tomorrow. She couldn’t bother her. Ashlyn? That was touch and go. Ashlyn hadn’t been happy when Gemi dropped out of nursing school. She’d been even less happy about Gemi’s decision to enter the police academy.

Gemi had to admit, if only to herself, that writing traffic tickets and chasing down car part thieves wasn’t the exciting life she’d hoped it would be. On the positive side, she knew her actions were making the streets of Kahului safer. She would put in her time, however much time that meant, and be the best patrol officer she could possibly be, until she could move up the ranks. Her sights were set on becoming a detective.

Her cell phone rang, and Detective Lei Texeira’s number displayed on the screen. Gemi pulled into the nearest parking lot.

“I hear you’re officially done being a trainee,” Lei said.

“You heard right,” Gemi said. “Not a bad day, either. Busted Ozzie Lee on vandalism and drug charges, then said thank you and goodbye to my FTO. Now, I’m on the way home and will probably celebrate with a long run and maybe a big piece of chocolate cake.”

“You really know how to live the high life. Since you have no other plans, how about you meet me for dinner? We’ll celebrate together.”

The women had known each other for more than a year. Gemi considered the detective to be a friend and mentor. But they had never once socialized together.

“Why do I think you don’t really want to take me out to celebrate?” Gemi asked. “What’s going on, Lei?”

“Meet me at the Paia Fish Market,” Lei said. “I’ll tell you there.”

“You can’t even give me a hint?”

“Fine. You’re going to like it.”

Over Her HeadAbout Over Her Head

When women go missing in Maui, the island’s newest rookie cop is on the job.

One year ago, after rescuing her abducted sister, Gemi Kittredge turned in her college textbooks for a Maui County Police Department uniform. Now, the last thing Gemi expects is a phone call from her friend and mentor, Detective Lei Texeira.

Young women are disappearing and they suspect the Yakuza are involved. Lei doesn’t have to ask twice if Gemi is willing to go undercover to find them; taking down the organized crime group is the reason Gemi became a cop, after all. But when Gemi ends up in the Yakuza’s clutches, she’ll need her entire arsenal—badge, instincts, and mixed martial arts training—to get everyone out safe.

Over Her Head takes place after Dark Lava, book 7 in the Lei Crime series.

About the author

Fantasy and suspense author Shawn McGuire started writing after seeing the first Star Wars movie (that’s episode IV) as a kid. She couldn’t wait for the next installment to come out so wrote her own. Sadly, those notebooks are long lost, but her desire to tell a tale is as strong now as it was then.

She grew up in the beautiful Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota, called the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin (Go Pack Go!) home for many years, and now lives in Colorado where she loves to read, craft, cook and bake, and spend time in the spectacular Rocky Mountains. You can learn more about Shawn’s work on her website, www.Shawn-McGuire.com.

Sneak peek: Echoes launches May 12



Echoes, my new #LeiCrimeKW Kindle World novel, launches along with 8 other new novelettes and novellas on May 12. Don’t forget to go to Facebook on that day—there’s going to be a launch party and a lot of prizes to be won.

But to whet your appetite, here’s a taste of Echoes.

Out of the past

2014

The first time that the Kahuna was able to sneak up on Vanessa was the first time she met him, when she was 16 and he was 19. He wasn’t able to do it again for sixteen years, until a bright morning in Honolulu as impossibly picturesque clouds floated across the impossibly blue sky. Vanessa was walking along Beretania Street, taking an iced coffee to start her day in the FBI Honolulu field office.

One second, she was walking by herself, trying to time her steps so that she would arrive at the corner of Punchbowl Street just as the light turned green. The next second, a tall, muscular Hawaiian man with graying hair tied in a pony tail was in step at her right shoulder. She noticed him and stopped, her mouth open.

Honolulu Hale—the municipal building of Honolulu, HI. Photo: Wikipedia.

“Come here often, Nani?” he said, using the pidgin term for “beautiful.”

Vanessa’s coffee sloshed over the rim of the cup. It took her several seconds to find her voice. “Dylan ‘Aukai?”

He turned on that smile that she remembered had made her knees weak when she was a teenager. “Long time, Babe.”

“What are you doing here? And where have you been for so long?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Nani. But why don’t we get a cuppa coffee and catch up?”

“I already have a coffee, Dylan.”

He tilted his head and turned on the high-beam smile again. “C’mon. You gotta couple minutes, doncha?” He nodded down the street. “You’re right. I don’t actually wanna sit in one of these fancy coffee places that don’t even serve Hawaiian coffee.  Let’s sit in the park, in the shade. I hafta tell you somethin’.”

Vanessa looked at her watch. She’d arrive at the office a few minutes late, but knew it would not be a problem. She found herself walking fast to keep up with Dylan’s strides to the park across the boulevard from the Honolulu City Hall.

Dylan led her to a bench under a koa tree and stretched his long legs out in front of him as she sat beside him, careful not to spill more of her drink. “What do you want to tell me, Dylan? No, wait. Before that: where have you been for the past 15 years, and why did you take off that night without a word of why? What happened?”

He turned and smiled again. “Let’s not dwell on the past, Nani. Let’s look to the future.”

“Knock off the cheesy lines, Dylan. You abandoned me at a very critical moment for a young woman—probably the most vulnerable moment in my life to that point. You know what I’m talking about. What happened?”

Dylan sighed, looking around the park, from the massive and impressive city hall, to the arching koa trees, the carefully watered and maintained grass at his feet, the nannies pushing strollers through the park. He took another deep breath and held it for a moment before looking at Vanessa again. “You’re right. I knew it was a very special time for you. And I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t have to. Truth is, the cops were after me. They framed me. For all I know, they’re still after me.”

“That sounds like bullshit, Dylan.”

“It’s not bullshit. But it’s the past. Look, I came to you for help, not for me, but for my brother, Cole.”

Watch for it on Amazon on May 12.

What’s Echoes about?

In 1999, the Kahuna was The Man on Oahu’s west coast. The coolest guy at the wildest parties, with the coolest posse, the best weed and the most beautiful girlfriend.

Then he disappeared.

Fifteen years later, that girlfriend is no longer a high school senior. She is FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm, and she sees through every lie the Kahuna spins when he shows up again to beg her help.

How can she say no when the Kahuna wants her help not for himself, but to protect his little brother. Young Cole ‘Aukai is ready to set fire to the whole Oahu illegal drug trade—for revenge.

Echoes will be live on Amazon on May 12, 2017. Visit here to find it and all the new releases.

What is the Lei Crime Kindle World?

Echoes is the fourth book I’ve written in the Lei Crime Kindle World. It joins Torn Roots (July 2015), Palm Trees & Snowflakes (December 2015) and Dead Man Lying (2016).

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Lei Crime Kindle World is based on the Lei Crime series, created by bestselling author Toby Neal.