Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Review: in Death's Shadow


This is one of those books where I cannot tell you how it came to my consciousness. 

I recall getting a review copy. For all I know, Kal could have mentioned asking for reviewers in one of our groups and I just volunteered.

However I am glad that I got a chance to get this particular review copy, though I cannot tell you for the life of me how it came into my possession. 

This book has so many fun entertaining elements to it, it is hard to know where exactly to begin.

  • You have Metallurgy on bullets that I have not seen since the first Monster Hunter novel. 
  • It brings in Creative elements that would make Jim Butcher want to take notes. 
  • And frankly I also believe that there is a Quantum Leap reference just thrown in for good measure. (When you have a entity that no one else can see except our protagonist and he is called Sam I try to remember back to Quantum Leap to remember which character was played by Dean Stockwell — Al or Sam.)

Welcome to In Death's Shadow.
Ari lives in the shadow of death.
Ari is a combat veteran who has chosen to leave the military behind and live a quiet, normal life.  He's got a few problems though.  For one thing, the cops think he's a serial killer.  For another, a vengeful politician has put Ari in his crosshairs.  To make matters worse, Ari has a guardian angel... and not just any angel, Ari's protector is the Angel of Death.  When his life is in danger, people start to die, and Ari's guardian can sometimes be indiscriminate whose life he takes when protecting him.

That's not even the worst problem.  Death wasn't assigned to him by mistake.  An ancient werewolf wants Ari dead and even with death on his side, Ari might not survive.

Ari needs to find a way to stay alive, to clear his name, and most importantly to get out from under the shadow of death and live a normal life... even if it kills him.
Yes, a reaper playing guardian angel. I appreciate how Kal has avoided making our hero utterly indestructible by giving him a guardian angel who is akin to a weapon of mass destruction. 

Also appreciated? The execution and showing us the point of view of how at this reaper operated within his rules and regulations. 

Overall the book is so much fun I didn't put it down from the moment I picked it up. Right now I am only waiting for book two to come out (and I suspect book 3) so I can just buy all of them in hardcopy and spread them among my friends and family.

Kal brings a lot of wonderful little touches to his writing style. He has one of the better opening lines I've seen since "the building was on fire and it was not my fault." The very off-hand casual easy descriptions and backstory feels effortless -- largely executed with nice sharp background notes that leave a nice little sting and then move on with the rest of the story, easily throwing them out... But boy, does the reader feel them. 

There is also a lot of very easy humor such as how Sam (our Guardian Reaper) chooses to protect our hero. Sometimes to laughable degree — that though Kal never resorts to a Rube Goldberg mechanic. In terms of little touches, there are lines like "I'd managed to avoid ruining this set of clothing with blood at least." 

As I said, it's the little things.

Due to the nature of the Guardian reaper, Sam's protection has led to him having more than a few run-ins with the police. 

Kal even manages to have to make use of the old canard 
"Do you have plans for the day?" "No, I can't make plans, then they can throw around words like premeditation." 
I've been waiting for someone to use that in a novel for years. He just slid it in like a nice stiletto and moved on.

And no, even though Sam is very thorough about his job, he never turns into a deus ex machina. Never. That's freaking impressive.

I even like the little bit about how Sam really enjoys he 24 hour news cycle as "like an athlete staying up on sports news". Also, Sam's commentary on CNN is beautiful.

Great one liners include
"Are demons common in Detroit?" "Clearly you haven't been to Detroit lately." 
"Angels are the police of the Supernatural world" "What does that make Sam?" "Designed sniper."
There are several elements that almost feel like nods to other genre novels. For example one could be forgiven for thinking that Harry dresden's werewolf / Terminator scene is slipped in this one, or having supernatural beasties encountered in Afghanistan feels a little bit like Monster Hunter. And again, little touches like casually mentioning a werewolf and "how thermite grenades work wonders." 

As I said above, some of the metallurgy is so good, I intend to steal a lot of it. Including silver and mercury arounds, as well as electrum.

We have great action, dark humor, easily executed backstory that is all relevant to the plot, along with some great world-building at a pace Mickey Spillane would have loved.

I will also admit to highly enjoying Kal's version of werewolf mythology and lore. He does some nice variations that I personally have never seen before. And he comes up with perfect reasons and rationale for werewolves to be 100% pure evil all the time. After all, one of the enemies is literally a soul sucking werewolf from Hell.

And these are some of the lesser problems our hero will have to deal with. Because on top of a wonderful first novel, Kal has effortlessly set up a sequel without any actual sequel baiting. There is no Empire Strikes Back level BS. There is no "to be continued." And there is only an ending that would have worked perfectly well with the final line of a comic book movie. I mean a good one.

Spriggs is such a good author that it was nearly halfway through the book before I realized how many tropes and cliches that Kal had made good use of without them feeling at all like cliches or tropes. Including: a dead fiance, memory loss before a certain age, et al. However it feels more like the sort of mash up that brought us something as brilliant as Jim butcher's Codex Alera novels. 

At the end, we even get a little of the "hero of the borrowed heart."

Anyway, 5/5. This book was excellent. I look forward to the next one. Hopefully, it comes out soon.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The return of the Planetary anthologies

So, Pluto is out

Luna is out.


And the returning anthologies are already up and ready to go.


Mars is up for pre-order, and it has a new editor. 





Mercury is back for pre-order 




As is Venus.




You can pretty much order or pre-order the entire series as of right now. Just click here.


Image

But yeah. They've got editors and they've got covers, and they have release dates and everything.

Tuscany Bay is such a nice, efficient publisher, and they run a tight ship.


It's so nice working with people who know what they're doing.


The entire Planetary Anthology series.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Review: Psycho (and Psychic) Games

I've already reviewed Amie Gibbons' Psychic Undercover (with the Undead), a law enforcement UF novel that really makes Laurell K. Hamilton look like an amateur (okay, LKH does guns better, but since LKH has even managed to make Edward a useless character, I'm not feeling charitable).

And now, we have Psycho (and Psychic) Games (The SDF Paranormal Mysteries Book 2)

Psycho (and Psychic) Games is ... 

Well, let's just say this is what happens when southerners make a Hannibal Lecter.


And they thought catching the serial killer was difficult...

Psychic Ariana Ryder just completed her probationary year and is now a full agent in the FBI's Special Division Force, a semi-secret branch that investigates paranormal crimes. She's got a great, if strict and strictly yummy, boss, a vampire for a boyfriend, and yeah, that has its issues and politics, but overall, life's lookin' pretty good.

The director, in a bid to score political points, puts Ariana on interrogating famous serial killer JB Truck, aka The Puzzle Master. Truck's been in prison two years and the authorities still can't figure out who all his victims were or where his vast resources came from.

Ariana's mission is simple, get visions off the psycho until they get the information they need.

But nothing's ever simple when there's magic afoot. The vampire queen's gunning for Ariana, there's a mysterious new shifter in town who needs a psychic's help (and is way too flirty considerin' she's a lady with a boyfriend), and Truck's got a few tricks of his own.

And he didn't end up in Nashville by chance.

Frankly, this book already has a very nice summation of the novel.
"This isn't Silence of the Lambs, it's freaking Nightmare on Elm Street."
I think this sums it up nicely.

I would say that this is as good as the first novel, though there are some minor issues. You don't "sick people" on others. There were one or two moments where I was concerned we were going to enter into squicky Anita Blake BS. Don't worry: while the sex did get heavier into detail, it's still better (and easier to skip) than the Hamilton books. In fact, it's more like how I with Hamilton would write her books. Maybe I could get back into them.

But as I said, this was is just as good as Gibbons' first novel in the series. It has elements of fantasy microbiology (which was my favorite parts of Grimm, and I would like to see more of that in fantasy in the genre in general).

And Gibbons' does some cute bits of business with the psychopath du jour. There was a good deal of 3D chess going on that reminded me of the Joker. And then he turns into Deadpool (from before he became a popular character)

This one even solved a lot of my problems with the first one. Because this was the book where our heroine is a full agent, and it was time for her to just grow the hell up.

And then she ends by setting up book three.

I've only got one noticeable problem with the series in general so far and this individual book in particular.

With the book, it's a bit unbalanced. About 75% deals with the serial killer. Then we have a break and we switch tracks, where it turns into a relatively good variation on an Anita Blake novel (a bit of soap opera, a touch of melodrama, and let's talk about feelings -- though that was in service of actually FURTHERING THE PLOT, so it gets a pass).

With the series. I don't have a really good sense of place. This is something that is occasionally a problem with even Jim Butcher. I don't get a sense that this is Nashville. I like to get an idea of where the heck I am. But aside from some of the accents, this could be almost any city and state in the union.

To be perfectly honest, this is still a 5/5. The problems in the book are easily overlooked and forgiven. If I were being more nitpicky, I'd penalize the overall score. But I'm not. And the book was still enjoyable.

So if you're interested into a nice mystery, something that harkens back to the days before Anita Blake before it became Penthouse letters, you're going to want to read this one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Villain As Hero?

If I have to hear one more BS statement about how "Villains always think they're the good guy," I think I'm going to hit someone.

This is a lie. Because it assumes way too much about what happens inside of the villain's head.

Let's face it, every real world vile sumbitch has not, does not, and never has consider "good" or "bad" in their equations. They considered what was good for them. You can always say that they're the hero of their own story, but never, ever say that they think that they're the good guy. 

Why?

Because "I'm the hero" is the sort of narcissism you can see in ... anyone selfish enough to pull off villainous deeds. Because each bad guy must start with the premise that "I need to do X to Y because my needs are more important than Ys."

Evil thinks that it is the center of the universe. Of course it's the hero. But the only good they see is their own. 

Let's take the Devil...

Work with me here, I've got a punchline...

Traditionally (no, not Lucifer's non-Christian heresy) Satan literally thinks he knows better than God-- even though it is impossible. Satan sees humans as so beneath angels it's ridiculous. 

"Oh, but Satan was the good guy of Paradise Lost." No, he was the protagonist. There's a difference. So was Dexter in the Jeff Lindsay books. But at the end of the day, Satan would rather reign in Hell, because serving is beneath him. Because "he knows better."

Notice, I am being very picky in my word choice. I'm talking about people who are villains, not necessarily antagonists. I've done this blog before, I'm not doing that again

Villains are evil. To think that they believe themselves as "the good guy" is idiotic. Hell, in most versions of the Joker I've ever seen, he will out and out boast that he's evil and just having so much fun.

Pick a serial killer. Jeffery Dahmer is my usual example. He had a perfectly healthy middle class background growing up .... killed his first victim when he was a teenager. Grew up to be a rapist sodomite and cannibal murderer. Ted Bundy, another psychopath, was a total narcissist who even blamed his victims -- who he strangled to death as he raped them.

Villains don't care about good or bad. Just what they want. They might add some self-justification from time to time ... but that's only for the highly reflective jerks.

And yes, this is not to say that villains are Johnny one note all the time. Perhaps one of the better bits from Man of La Mancha is where we find a caravan of thugs singing to a bird "with the gentility of truly brutal men."

Don't believe me? Hitler was a vegetarian who painted roses. Eichmann -- despite every filmed attempt to make him look sinister -- was the most boring bureaucrat ever tried for mass murder, who out and out said "Every time I thought about what I was doing, it made me ill. So I just didn't think about it."

... If you ever want to know what goes through the mind of a low level minion, Eichmann's your guy. The answer being "Very little."

Of course, when writing, do try to give your villain as much background as you give your hero. You don't necessarily need it, but we need to get a sense of the character.

Heck, use some of my own bad guys lately. It's possibly the least amount of background I've given a villain.

Hell Spawn featured a possessed serial killer -- most of the time, everyone interacted with the demon. But the ultimate reveal is that the demon and the host were in sync, and that tells you everything you need to know about that psycho. 

Death Cult had a truly political animal. It's amazing how much power for its own sake can go.

Infernal Affairs ... well, let's just say that the villain monologue does help.

City of Shadows, Crusader and Deus Vult actually did a fairly good job with their villains.

And yes, they are unremitting evil, AND they think they're the hero of their own little worlds. Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Clerical Error: out now

Clerical Error is out.

This one is going to be interesting.

There are no fights.

There are no explosions.

There are no ... okay, there's one murder.

Maybe one or two people are just a wee bit injured.

But no one is shot. Or stabbed. Or poisoned. 

A lot of this book falls under your traditional cozy. There's a lot of talking and maneuvering. There's a lot of local politicking and environment...

It helps that this is a historical novel dealing with local issues and murder in 1976.
James is a college philosophy professor with too much time on his hands. When an old classmate asks for a favor, he drops in with little notion of what’s ready for him.

The year is 1976, during the dark times – for both the Catholic Church and New York City.

James’ college classmate is Father Gus Sadowski, the pastor of Saints Gabriel, Columcille, and Rocco church in the middle of Bed-Sty, where there drive by criminals are on one side of the parish, and the mob is one the other. Father Gus is all alone to run the parish, and needs some help – because the live-in priest in the attic, Father Timothy A. Lessner, is worse than useless.

When Lessner takes a tumble down the stairs in the middle of the night, the casual favor has turned into a nightmare.

Can James solve the mystery of who killed Lessner before he finds himself the main suspect?

So, obviously, this is different for me.

The joke I've been using has been "If things go wrong, I'll just blame the co-author."

Since the co-author is my father, that's part of the joke.

Anyway, it's out. I think you can even return e-books if you don't like them. So give it a shot.

Be well all.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Review: Adam Lane Smith's Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood


You may previously remember Adam Lane Smith from his work in Burrito Avenger and Making Peace (reviews in the links)

Adam has moved on to Christian Fantasy dystopia.

You have to be pretty flipping awesome to make me get through dystopia of any type. Mostly, you have to be named John Ringo.

If this sounds interesting, then you can get out Adam's main series of Deus Vult Wastelanders. The featured character is Gideon Ira -- imagine Judge Dredd as a crusader knight in powered armor. 

I wasn't a fan of book one. I blame the poor editing -- It opened with a fight with a demon, then tried to make us care about Gideon Ira, then put us with a fight against random thugs. Which isn't how you do story structure. Book two of Deus Vult Wastelanders was better.

The one I really liked is Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood. It's a spin-off from the main series, but I think it did a better job of introducing the world through character interactions than the first two books.


The Valkyrie revives in a coffin.

As she climbs from her tomb, she finds the end of the world has come and gone. Demons roam the blasted wasteland of what was once America. Humanity hangs by a thread and she, one of the last surviving Valkyries, is tasked with driving the rampaging legions back into Hell.

As she battles waves of demons, raiders, and mutants, the Valkyrie faces far darker questions: Does a created being have a soul? What does it mean to protect mankind as humans prey upon each other? When she confronts the cult of Moloch hidden beneath the ruins of an ancient abortion clinic, her burning need for justice may just prove more powerful than her orders to protect mankind.

The last survivors of humanity need her. Will she be our protector, or our destroyer?

Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood has multiple advantages over the main series. 

To start with, the Valkyrie has a personality. She's almost charming in her observations. She has a character arc and development.

And let's just say that she has an inventory system that feels like a very meta comedy about video game systems.

Another advantage this has over the main series is that our heroine is working with a team of various personality types. Adam's already got team dynamics down from Making Peace, and it really is one of his strengths. 

Overall, this was better than the last two. And if you want better than Larry Correia's Son of the Black Sword, and looks like a cross between Solomon Cane with a protagonist out of Nier: Automata (if Neir Automata was, you know, GOOD), then give Valkyrie Doll and the Ashen Brotherhood a try.



Friday, March 20, 2020

Review: Mel Todd's No Choice

So, what happens when you are a cop in the middle of a bank robbery -- you're held hostage, a child is about to die.

You turn into a giant puma and kill them all, of course.

Officer McKenna Largo is having a very strange day.

But she has No Choice.
Book one in the completed Kaylid Chronicles. Over 500,000 words. Start the journey here.

Being a Cop – difficult but rewarding.

Cougar – WTF? But can be dealt with.

Targeted by drug dealers and dirty cops – Watch out, this cat bites back.

McKenna Largo loves police work and would rather no one focus on her. Transforming into a cougar in the middle of a bank robbery, is a shock. But when a video of the event goes viral, she becomes the reluctant public face of shifters appearing around the globe.

The police department uses her for “PR”, and the governor creates and inclusiveness campaign, putting criminals behind bars seems a million miles away. Trying to juggle the animal she now is, the strange attention, and a society changing faster than anyone expects, McKenna worries she might be a monster. When criminals capture her and innocent young shifters, the cougar and the cop combined must decide where duty takes them.

Will McKenna run scared from the animal inside, or will she save the day and set her inner beast free?
If you like strong characters, fast-paced action, and unique shifters, then you'll love Mel Todd's exhilarating novel. Buy No Choice to shift into a thrilling urban fantasy today!

No Choice (Kaylid Chronicles Book 1) by [Todd, Mel]

But millions of people around the world are also changing, shifting into various and sundry furry predators.

And no one knows why.

Officer Largo and her partner are at the heart of the firestorm. A long the way, she has to deal with police regulations, media nutcases, and unwanted celebrity.

Mel Todd is really fairly awesome at this.

Imagine doing cops as well as Grimm or Blue Bloods.

AND doing media relations as well as Carrie Vaugh's Kitty Norville.

AND examining the full spectrum of cultural impacts of the supernatural twenty times better than the Anita Blake novels.

No Choice would be that book.

No Choice is book one. I got the entire set for $.99, and this is more than worth it. I probably would have paid full price if I had heard of them in advance.

5/5 Stars. Easily.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Before the #EscapeFromItaly

As the joke goes -- so, Aside from all that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln?

Yes. You know what leaving from Italy looked like. How about the rest of the vacation?

It was pretty good for the first six days. Even the day we arrived in Italy -- after a seven hour overnight flight where neither of us could sleep -- was pretty good.

We arrived at the airport and grabbed out driver after we spent at least half an hour trying to get from the plane to the exit. We had a driver arranged for by the travel agency (we probably would have just grabbed a taxi, but it came with the service) and we were off.

Now, it's hard to describe the drive from Leonardo da Vinci airport to Rome. But the first thing that comes to mind?

New Jersey.

Not even kidding. Much of the land to either side of us was flat and dead, filled with flora that hadn't seen a good day in a decade. There was the occasional hill springing straight out of the ground. There were small circles of homes placed almost at random. The roofs looked like what Americans would call mission style.

Then there were the projects.

I have no idea what they called the communities in Italy, but I swear we drove past the projects. They were tall apartment buildings almost stacked on top of each other, placed at odd angles to one another. The only real difference was the architecture style, which was mercifully, less 20th-century Soviet and more, well, Italian accented. 

Image may contain: indoorImage may contain: outdoorWe got to our hotel in Municipio II, a block away from Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs), a beautiful church that was worked on by Michelangelo (not the Ninja Turtle) out of the repurposed Diocletian baths.

We got into the hotel and fell asleep.

Image may contain: indoorAs I said, seven hours overnight flight, and no sleep for either of us.

We only fell asleep for four hours. Otherwise we were going to wake up in the evening and turn into vampires and I've already written that series.

No photo description available.... Though it does bring to mind that I was going to have a follow up series called Honeymoon from Hell. Irony, considering how this trip ended.

Image may contain: indoorAnyway, we were up and moving and ... yeah, then we actually went into Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.

Image may contain: indoorSo, yeah, it looked at good as you'd imagine with Michelangelo being involved in the design. You can go to my Facebook page and look at all the photos, so we can look at all of them.

No, I'm not going to post all of them in this post. Does this look like Instagram to you?

Image may contain: 2 peopleMoving right along, we walked past the church. We saw Saint Mary of Victory on Via XX Settembre, then hung a left. Then we hung a right at the four fountains. 


We weren't wandering aimlessly, you understand. We were trying to get to the Spanish Steps, as well as a restaurant to the left of the steps and you come off of them.



Image may contain: food
Italian Pizza
Image may contain: 1 person, indoorWe were highjacked into a restaurant by a charming hustler who fed us so well, we didn't mind the deranged price tag. The restaurant was The Golden Lion. It's a great place, but watch the price tag, it will sneak up on you and club you over the head.


By the time we were done, we were so tired, we walked back to the hotel.

And that was the end of Tuesday the 3rd.

For Wednesday the 4th, we had a plan. My wife wanted to see Trajan's column. I wanted to see the Angelicum and the Gregorianum, then Trevi fountain and finishing at the Spanish steps.


Image may contain: table, outdoor and indoorImage may contain: sky and outdoor

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

This is the Trevi fountain. Very impressive. 


I'm not going to do the history on this one. Because If I lecture about Italian history, I'll just write another book.

I don't think any of us have time for that one.

Trevi, like most of the historic buildings and elements in Rome, is owned by the Italian government.

Because historic monuments are apparently nationalized automatically. Because Europe.

.... Ahem. Enough editorializing. 

Our path was as mentioned above (Trajan's column, the Angelicum, the Greg, Trevi, and the steps.)


Image may contain: sky and outdoor
Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoorTrajan's column was interesting. It's located in the ruins of the imperial forum. 

One problem: the Kenyans. Yeah. If you think Europe has a gypsy problem, yeah. The Kenyans and the Middle Eastern migrants made the gypsies we saw look like pikers.


Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor
We were approached by black fellow asking where we're from, pretty much shoving stuff into our hands and onto our wrists ... and then asking for money.

Yeah. Right. Of course.

We paid off the first guy. Then we flashed our bling at the next few Kenyans, to let them know we'd already been conned, thank you very much.

Which was fine the first day. We won't even go into the rest of the week. After the first few days of being accosted by multiple guys daily, I was about ready to commit assault.

No photo description available.Image may contain: table, tree and outdoorThe Gregorianum ("The Greg") is the Jesuit Pontifical university. It's down a narrow street a few blocks down from the Trevi fountain. 
Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor
It was ... a bit disappointing. The buildings didn't allow visitors. Some of the buildings needed paint. Or a wrecking ball. They didn't even have a good bookstore -- no hats, sweaters, mugs ....

What? My father is a college professor. My family have more college Tchotchkes than we know what to do with. Still. I have polo shirts from CUA that are twenty years old and in great condition.

... Same with the Angelicum. 

Thursday was the Vatican.
Image may contain: outdoor

.... It's the freaking Vatican.

No comment.

Again, check the photo album.

Friday was the archaeology museum, which was the beginning of the Corona BS. They put a cap on people who could come into the building.

ImageImageSaturday?

Saturday was the Colosseum. 

Complete with tour guide.

It was the "emptiest" our tour guide had ever seen. 

Considering that this was off season, and I had been nearly run over by multiple people every day during my time in Rome, I wondered what it looked like at peak season.


Image may contain: outdoor
Image may contain: sky and outdoorSunday, we visited Castel Sant'Angelo. 

It was closed.

We knew we were going to have a problem sooner rather than later.


* * * *

As I said on Monday, I liked the people. The government needs to be removed. 

If you're interested in throwing us a few pennies, or a few dollars to go after the fee, you can click at the link here.

If you don't want to throw us any cash, could you consider throwing me a nomination for a Dragon Award?

You may want to check out my latest release, Coven, over at the Silver Empire site.

Be well all. Be safe.

Meanwhile, I'm going to be in "quarantine" four two weeks, away from everyone.

Yeah. I'm a writer. Please. Twist my arm.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

NEW RELEASE: COVEN




Before I get into the full announcement, a quick note wherein I follow up on the post from yesterday.

For the record
  • No, I do not have a fever
  • Yes, I have a cough. It's once every hour or so. I had it before I left for Italy.
  • I do not have a sore throat, it's more like a mild weakness when I talk or sing.
  • Yes, I'm taking vitamin C (1000mg / day) and zync is next on the list.
  • My wife is asymptomatic for the moment.
On to the news of the day...

Image may contain: 1 person, possible text that says 'DECLAN FINN NYPJ SAINT COVEN TOMMY BOOK 1'Just in case you thought I was going to slow down after Italy....

You would be wrong.

Because now, the next Saint Tommy novel is life....

And it's live on Silver Empire's website.

Yes, just Silver Empire. It's going to be live for weeks before it goes up on Amazon.

Why? 

Because screw Amazon. 

Not even joking. Amazon's algorithms have been rejiggered so much, I don't even think Amazon knows what's going on. Kindle Unlimited is becoming so unprofitable, everyone I know seems to be abandoning it (and for good reason).

So now, Coven.


Detective Thomas Nolan has finally returned home.

In typical police fashion, he is welcomed home with a murder case and gunfire.

After one arrest goes spectacularly wrong, Tommy is assigned another case and another dead body.

But everything goes wrong from the start. The deceased is a member of a nearby military base, and no one wants to answer his questions. A local bodega gives him mind-splitting headaches.

Worst of all, someone is after his children.

But just to make matters worse — Tommy no longer has his charisms.

So you can get it here, and have the jump on .... everyone over at Amazon.

Enjoy.

Monday, March 16, 2020

I have returned from Italy (Part 1: Oh Corona)

Last week, I made the announcement that I went to Italy.

I'm back just a little bit early.

You can probably guess why.

It rhymes with "Sharona."

But yeah, Italy decided to freak out over the Corona Virus.

You're probably wondering, Declan, why go there in the first place?

Because when we went, it was Lombardi that was the problem. Milan and Venice, et al were the problems.

Lombardi was "under lockdown."

I figured, "It's Lombardi. It's a quarantine. How do you fuck up a quarantine? Close the roads, the border, and shut down planes and trains in and out of the area."

Yeah, it sounds a little fascist, but it's Italy, they should know from fascism, right? 

HELL, Pope Francis declared a Jubilee year in 2015; the Italian government decided to "increase security" by putting armed soldiers in the streets with automatic weapons. The guys in fatigues with the automatic rifles are still there. They're not on every street corner (yet) but they're parked at nearly every public place.

So yeah, you'd figure that Italy, which deploys soldiers for day to day use, would be able to lock down a region using some simple tactics and strategy that could have been learned from the novel The Hot Zone of thirty years ago.

Nope. Totally fucking incompetent. No lockdown of the roads. There were STILL airplanes flying out of Milan and Venice on Friday the 13th.  What exactly did the lockdown of Lombardi consist of? Stern language?

But noooo, that would have gone against their open borders policies. EU. Peace and love and acceptance, and apparently, plague pestilence and death.

My wife and I knew shit was hitting the fan on Monday March 9th. "Oh My God! Corona is spreading!" And they promptly shut down all of the museums and public gathering places. The Pope shut down all masses until April 3rd. In fact, my wife and I attended one of the last masses in Rome.

But this announcement shutting down the museums was made in the middle of Sunday night. Sometime after 10PM, because we woke up to it on Monday morning. Our scheduled tour of the Vatican museums were canceled. Everything was canceled. We got to Castel Sant'Angelo, but we only saw the outside.

We knew it was time to leave on March 9th at 5PM that evening (Rome time). 

We called the AAA travel agent and said, "Okay, we're out of here."

But the AAA rep was working through Avanti destinations. And apparently, they could only change the time, the place, or the date of the plane out of town -- pick one.

We picked the date, because we weren't going to come back a week from Tuesday. 

Because "It wasn't an emergency."

Uh huh. Sure. Italy shutting down its ... entire tourist industry ... wasn't an emergency? Or the sign that it was about to get worse? Heh heh. Right. Whatever you say Avanti. Just get us. The fuck. OUT OF HERE.

The AAA agent would get back to us.

Later on, I heard back from the AAA rep. Avanti had come through, under the constraints they were held under.

That we could leave ... on Thursday.

... From Florence. 

Why Florence? Because we were originally scheduled to leave from there. We were to take a plane from Florence to Rome to JFK airport. Therefore, we were stuck with leaving from Florence.

Okay, fine. We had a train to Florence on Wednesday night. Far as I was concerned, we could stay in the terminal and stay.

That was all well and good. But since we had the day, my wife and I would pay a visit to the US embassy to Italy on Tuesday the 10th.

However, for reasons I can only guess at, the embassy wouldn't open until two in the afternoon. (It happened to be 9PM in the US, because the US had started Daylight savings, and the Italians wisely hadn't. That's my guess).

We had two Americans ahead of us who wanted to tour the embassy. They were denied, but they had a question about a "hard lockdown." They ended up on the phone with a consulate official. 

So my wife talked to them to hear the answer they were given, and the phone was handed to me. I asked about any evacuation plans for Americans still stuck in Italy, since our window opportunity was closing and our options were narrowing.

The official said that there was nothing she could talk to me about, since there were still ways out of the country. For the moment.

At around 10:30PM night, Italy went into "full lock down."

This ended up with a whole bunch of flights being canceled. 

So, that shifted the plane from being at 11:30AM from Florence.... to a 6:30AM flight out of Florence.

I wanted to just stay in the airport waiting room and wait there overnight.

So, Monday was the phone call for the evacuation. Tuesday was the embassy. Wednesday was the train to Florence.

Then there's Thursday.

First, it started at two in the morning. I may have gotten four hours of sleep, total.

We got there at 4:30 am. It was a local flight from Florence to Rome, so I only needed to be there two hours in advance.

The check-in took until 5:15 am. 

But they decided that I was overweight on every single piece of luggage and I had to pay a hundred euros.

Paying off the luggage took until 5:55 am.

The ticket said that the flight started boarding at ... wait for it ... 5:55 am.

So we had a gate number, so we bolted for it.  I still had my laces untied from the security check point. So it sucked.

We got to the gate at 6:15. The gate was EMPTY. Completely empty. We saw the plane o nthe tarmac, and it had a staircase going up to the plane.

Okay, I figure we're screwed. We're going to be stuck there a while.

Then my wife pushed off through the doors onto the tarmac. I followed. Maybe we'd be able to get on the plane after all. Maybe we're not screwed.

The guys on the tarmac turned us back, saying that the gate was changed.

I thought: Really? I only got the ticket twenty minutes before. They changed the gate already? Fine. Let's get on the damn plane.

My wife had to go to the bathroom. I waited.

I was then approached by an airport official who asked if I spoke English. And where was "the other one."

Enter, the cops.

From 6:15 am to 6:45, we ended up with a gathering of three cops. They took our passports and radioed them in to their superiors. They took our luggage tags so they could take our checked-in luggage off the plane.

And they waited for people above to reply. 

And waited.

And then, boarding really started. The ticket had lied to us about both the time and the place?

And my wife and I watched as the last plane we had any hope for disappeared. The cops stared at each other with vacant expressions, waiting for someone from on high to tell them what to do and what to think.

At 6:45, they took us to the security office. And they explained that, no, we didn't actually commit a crime. We were not under arrest. We had merely committed an administrative infraction. We would only have to pay a fine.

That fine? That would be two thousand euros

You can do the conversion rates.

And then we waited.

And we waited.

At quarter to nine, after we had been held in the little concrete room for two hours, I called the American embassy, because despite everything that had said, it really started to feel like we were under arrest.

The embassy emergency people had a chat with them. A guy with terrible English came out and reiterated everything we were already told.

It wasn't until the paperwork came that we realized they meant two thousand euros... EACH.


By the time we were released it was 10:45.

A security guard walked us to the ticket counter and they explained what happened.

When I asked about getting tickets to Rome, then to New York, the idiot behind the ticket counter just shrugged and said, "I can't help you." That's it. He didn't even look it up on his computer. Just So sorry, nothing to be done. Didn't even ask what we would be willing to pay. He was about as useful to us as the floor tiles. 

Sorry, that's wrong. I could at least stand on the floor tiles.

.... Okay, fine. We can play that way.

Since I was only in fucking Florence in order to fly back to Rome, because the stupid rules said I had to be, I worried that I would be screwed somehow if I made a move on my own.

I had to wait until 2:30PM, local time, for AAA and Avanti designations to open up.

So I waited. Patiently.

My wife and I sat in the waiting room at the airport, and we read.

By the time I was done, I had managed to finish off Mel Todd's wonderful novel No Choice, which I will review at some point soon.

So, it's 2:30, I've been up over twelve hours already. I was sleep deprived and fatigued.

I also wanted to burn down the airport and everyone in it so they could die screaming. But that's for the next novel.

I called AAA. My travel agent wasn't in that day. The women I did get was willing and eager to help me, but she needed to look up my file.

Fine. I can play this like bingo cards. I called AAA to get them in on it. I called Allianz travel insurance, put them on it. I called Avanti destinations, got them in on it.

The cheapest plane was $2,000. Per ticket. Through Delta.

I watch the plane boards cancel planes one by one. Every plane to every where gets canceled. 

By the time I hung up with Aventi the first time, all but two planes out of Toscano Airport were canceled.

But by 4:30 PM, we had a plan.

I would get on a train back to fucking Rome, Avanti would put us up in a Rome airport hotel, and book us on a Norwegian airline flight. In first class. And both tickets for Norwegian were cheaper than one ticket for Delta for economy class.

Fine. We went back to Rome. We paid for the train directly.

We made it to the Fiuminco airport Hilton by nine at night. We would be leaving from Rome airport at the Norwegian 6:30 PM.

We got there ... and the airport was all but shut down.

Norwegian airlines had one person at their check-in counter.

The flight was canceled only hours after we had booked it. There were no notifications to us from anybody.

So, back to square one.

We put Avanti and AAA back on task while I went around to the ticket counters... you know, the four that were open.

One ticket counter lied to me directly, telling me there were no flights to New York City. Anywhere. Ever again. And it wasn't their fault, it's all Trump's fault.

Funny, the EU travel ban had over eight hours before it went into effect. Trump wasn't canceling these fucking flights. Perhaps spiteful government Italians.

After striking out there, I called the American embassy. Surprise, they couldn't help.

Bingo card number three, Allianz travel insurance, put us onto a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, which would take us to Heathrow, which would take us home.

Great. Awesome.

Run down two terminals to find Lufthansa's ticket seller.

"It's sold out already. Can't help you."

Funny, I didn't even ask for any further help yet, how could you know what I wanted from you, you malingering son of a bitch?

I talked to AAA, who told me that we would have to be more aggressive and "proactive" in talking to people at the ticket booths.

I explained that people were either directly lying to us, or that they were so stupid that they couldn't figure out how to operate their own fucking systems.

After waiting two more hours, Avanti had finagled an Al Italia flight out ... for Saturday morning. At 2:30 pm. 

Back to yet a different hotel.

At this point, we had a few dozen friends on Facebook and Twitter pulling for us-- they were praying, and more importantly, they were coming up with back up plans. I think they had come up with plan M after a while. One person looked into trains out of Italy to the UK. Another looked into a ferry to a train to the Chunnel. Another suggested we climb over the Alps singing "Climb every mountain." Someone suggested we go to military bases and hitchhike. Elephants over the alps? Flaps your wings and try to fly?

Saturday came. We showed up at the airport at 11:30. 

The flight wasn't canceled... 

Yet.

We went to the Al Italia counter and the moderately long line. It was processed quickly. We came to the counter.

"Americans?"

I showed her the passports. 

"No," she said.

No? What do you mean no? Are you going to cancel our flight again? Am I going to have to leap across your sad, pathetic Corona rope line and throttle you into giving us a boarding pass out of this Hell hole? How much more ransom do we have to pay to get us out of here!

She took an abnormally long breath, thought about what she had to say next, and continued, "Other check in, around the corner."

Whew. No manslaughter charges for me today. 

We went to the other check-in counter. We were the first ones up, since everyone else had checked in while we were on the other line, probably -- all fifty people for this one flight.

They processed us with a little extra paperwork explaining where we'd been in relation to quarantine zones -- Rome and the Vatican, full stop.

We were given the boarding passes ... but no gate.

We made our way through the airport ghost town. We didn't have a gate yet.

But there was "direct flights to the US" security. There was "all boarding passes" security. There were at least three checkpoints we had to traverse before we could break free to actually look for our suite of gates.

By the time we made it to the "E-gates," it was one in the afternoon.

We had to wait ten more lousy minutes.

At 1:09, I was parked in front of a departures board, waiting for the gate to be announced. I left my wife to have a seat in the comfy chairs about a hundred feet away from the board.

Some people talk about the longest minutes of one's life. This was pretty much it for me.

Then 1:10 hit.

The gate number hadn't changed.

I double checked my phone's time against the time on the board. The board said 1:09.  

That's fine. Nothing odd about being a few seconds off.

Now I just waited for the board to acknowledge the time.

Finally, one minute passed....

The gate didn't change.

I thought, hey, it's Italian time. Italians are never on time. Italian time means siesta, right?

It took at least thirty seconds to shift over. It's the only wait to explain why it felt like thirty minutes.

The flight gate number went blank.

"Please God, not canceled again."

Then it turned to E24.

We had a gate.

WE HAD A GATE! YES! FUCKING ITALIAN POLITICO HACKS CAN'T KEEP US HERE!

...Right? They couldn't just cancel the flight with checked in passengers and a boarding gate, right?

Less than an hour later, we were boarding. All fifty passengers of AZ 610 to JFK airport.

We got home. We landed at around 7:20-something Saturday night.

.... And then we taxied.

We continued to taxi.

Huh.

After the first twenty minutes of taxi-ing, I became worried. Were they going to send us back? Naw. That would be stupid. And costly. And I'd have to kill someone.

At 8:10, we stopped. And they were finally going to let us off the plane.

But NOT JUST YET.

The CDC had paperwork for us to fill out. And temperatures to take.

At 8:45 PM, we had our bags, we had our taxi, and we were on our way home.


* * * *

I would like to state, right here and now, for everyone who pulled through for us in all of this. From the people who sent prayers to the people who sent backup plans. I'm relatively certain the only reason we got out was due to a miracle.

As for us .... two weeks of self isolation.

Gee, I'm a writer. This is what I call a work day.

My feelings on the matter? Let's just say that I am pissed off enough that I will no longer admit to Italian heritage. My mother is Sicilian. Which means I'd sooner cut one of these Tuscan mutherfuckers than look at them.

... Anyway. What did I think of Italy? I liked the people. The government, though? Well, I at least know where the Red Brigade went -- into management.

If you're interested in throwing us a few pennies, or a few dollars to go after the fee, you can click at the link here.

If you don't want to throw us any cash, could you consider throwing me a nomination for a Dragon Award?

If you're reading this on Saint Patrick's Day, 2020, or later, you may want to check out my latest release, Coven, over at the Silver Empire site.

Be well all. Be safe.

And for the love of God, don't go to Italy if you can help it.