Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Damn Titles!

I had a tough time coming up with a title for the third Sasha Jackson mystery. I sort of set a bit of a pattern with puns in the titles of the first two books of the series (Blood and Groom, Dead Light District), so I kind of wanted to keep up with the pun theme. As well, the punny titles relate to the plot of each book (weddings in Blood and Groom, prostitution in Dead Light District).

The plot of book three centres on politics and the fetish world, and let me tell you, the title was hard to come up with! I had some great suggestions from fans and friends plus a few ideas of my own, such as:

Cuff Me Tender

Lash and Burn

Tied and True

X Marks the Plot

In the end I chose The Lies Have It (a play on “the ayes have it”) because it encompasses the lies told in the sex games part of the story plus it sort of alludes to voting, although I must say there were things I really liked as well about the other title suggestions.

Now I need to start thinking of a title for book four... can't give many details yet, but it involves XXX films and I don't want to end up with a title that gets blocked by parental controls :-)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Book One is actually Book Three

The Lies Have It (which I refer to as the fetish book or the S & M book) is the third book in the Sasha Jackson mystery series. It’s due to come out in Fall 2011, and I can’t wait for it to be released! You see, even though this will be Sasha’s third mystery, it’s actually the first book, or at least it’s the one I started first. I began writing the fetish book in 2005!

I kept getting stuck on the plot of this book, so I left it on the back burner and had no real plans about writing overall. Then BANG! The idea for Blood and Groom came to me, and I wrote the whole thing in six months and six days.

After that, I tried to do more with the fetish book, but still kept getting stuck on the plot. I liked the overall idea – a murder related to an S & M fetish party – but couldn’t iron out several wrinkles in the plot. Everything I came up with relied too heavily on coincidences and was just too hard to swallow. So, once again I left the S & M book on the back burner.

Then I came up with the idea for Dead Light District, and that book took only five months to write, from start to finish. Its genesis was an essay I did for my MA, and the book practically wrote itself.

Finally, I figured out the plot for the S & M book, and came up with a title for it. The Lies Have It (as it’s now called... but I still think of it as the fetish book). So, book one is actually book three, and even though the other two books were quick to write (six and five months respectively) the third book took about six years! I hope to hell the fourth book will not take nearly as long :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Character Bio: Antonio Agostino Antonelli

We’ll be meeting Antonio Agostino Antonelli in book four of the Sasha Jackson Mystery series (I don’t yet know the title for the fourth novel). Here’s a sneak preview of him.

Name: Antonio Agostino Antonelli

Profession: Porn Producer. Antonio A. Antonelli has produced 577 “adult” films in the last three years. Yes, that’s almost 200 films a year. We’re not exactly talking high art here; most of the porn flicks are made in about a day.

Hobbies: Rug hooking. Currently making a 4’ x 6’ mat with a very chesty naked woman on it.

Secret Dream/Ambition: He has always fantasized about competing in the Tour de France, but at 280 lbs (on a 5’8” frame) it is highly unlikely he’ll achieve this.

Role Model: Larry Flynt.

Pet Peeve: People who bite their nails and unaddressed mail/junkmail. He also hates Campbell’s Soup, any and all flavours, and he'd love to throw acid on those Warhol paintings.

When he thinks no one is looking: He fondles himself and whispers loving words to himself in Italian as he’s doing this. He calls himself “gorgeous” and “handsome” and “hot stuff” and then kisses himself on his hairy shoulder.

Afraid of: Spiders, dogs, marmalade and flying.

Embarrassing Fact/Temper Tantrum: Gained twenty-nine pounds (and three inches) within six months of having liposuction on his gut at a dodgy clinic in Mexico.  Flew back to Mexico to pummel the doctor, who now works as a one-armed street sweeper.

Criminal Record: Rather long, and he was framed... that other guy did it.

Invented the Word: Blowjoberrific.   The meaning should be obvious.

Why would anyone want to kill him?  The list is too long to get into, but he's a dirtbag with no morals whatsoever.  The kind of d-bag who says things like "blowjoberrific".  Unfortunately, no one has done him in... yet...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weird Research: Smut...

The Lies Have It - the third Sasha Jackson Mystery (coming in Fall 2011) centres on the fetish and S & M world. The idea for this book has been  mulling around in my head for many years.  I kept getting stuck on the plot, even though the overall idea struck me as a good one.

Sex is a dominant theme in the Sasha Jackson series.  If you've read Blood and Groom, you know Sasha worked part time at a phone sex hotline in that book.  In Dead Light District, the background to the story is the world of prostitution and commercial sex.  And now, this time around, it's all about leather and latex, and whips and chains, and dominance and submission... YIKES!

For Blood and Groom, I just made up all the phone sex stuff (and laughed my head off while I was doing it).  Since I really didn't have a clue what I was doing (this was my first book after all) I mostly just showed Sasha's reactions to the smut calls, and I had great fun coming up with sarcastic replies or reactions for her.

In Dead Light District, the research came from an essay I did for my MA.  The course was Equality in Context and the paper was about human rights in the sex trade. 

With The Lies Have It, the smut stuff is more central to the plot (as compared to Blood and Groom), so I can't just make it all up.  So, this is where the research comes in.  Believe it or not, one of the first things I looked up was the BDSM entry on Wikipedia! Next up was Google Groups and general Google searches for terms I had stumbled upon thus far.  Some of the many topics or subheadings re: fetish and S&M that you'll find via Google are::

Foot Fetish
Fat Fetish
Vampire (I vant to suckh your... toes?)
Hot Torture
Naughty Nursery Rhymes
Watersports (not exactly windsurfing...)
and on and on and on...

So, this was a bit of an eye opener.  (Note to self: clear cookies from computer).

A second look at Wikipedia led me to the section of types of  "play".  You can probably guess the obvious ones (whipping and handcuffs or things like that) but there's a whole lot of interest in medical role play and there's also a specialty in erotic electrostimulation (ouch).

This list (below) gives names to a long list of quirks or "paraphilias".  Who wouldda thunk there'd be so many?  From Albinaphilia to Teratophilia and everything in between...

Wow.  And I thought writing was about creating settings and coming up with plotlines and writing snappy dialogue...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Works In Progress


I have four things on the go, in addition to The Lies Have It (the third Sasha Jackson Mystery, which will be out in November 2011).

1. The fourth Sasha book

2. The fifth Sasha book

3. A Canadiana thing I hope to finish someday

4. A biography of a guitar legend

So, what can I tell you about each of these?

Sasha Jackson Mystery #4 has something to do with the porno industry. It’s too early to say much else about it for now, other than the plot will centre on XXX movies (video and internet) and I expect to have two dead bodies in it, not just one. I haven’t given any thought yet to a title, but it will likely include some play on words, something vaguely naughty.

Sasha Jackson Mystery #5 is in my head and has been for quite some time. I have a feeling this one will essentially write itself, but given my manner of using days and dates instead of Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc., I need to get book four written first. Dead Light District ends in early September; The Lies Have It ends in October; so book four will take place in November-December. Book #5 needs to be set in winter, January-February. Book #5 will be a wee bit of a departure (I think) from the usual sexually themed backgrounds (a re-cap: Blood and Groom has Sasha working part time at a phone sex hotline, Dead Light District is about prostitution and bordellos, book three – The Lies Have It – is centred around the S&M or fetish world, and book four will be about the porn industry – see above). In the fifth book, Sasha will tackle the construction industry, and a bit of shady real estate as well.

The Canadiana Thing is a pet project. I really like the idea, but it’s not as pressing to me as the Sasha books or the guitar guy book. This is to say, that I carve out less time for it than I do for the others, so God knows when I’ll finish it.

The Guitar Guy is something I am passionate about. It occurred to me ages ago that there needs to be a book written on this person. So that’s reason #1 for this work in progress. Reason #2 is that I miss being a student and doing research. I thoroughly enjoyed working on essays when I was in university. However, I don’t want to go back to school (at least not yet). This book is filling a need or a desire to dig and dig and dig. Let’s see where it goes…

So, those are all the balls I’m juggling for now. I hope to get at least two of them… okay, maybe only one of them, finished by the end of the year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interview with Michael McPherson

In my ongoing series of interviews, today I'm pleased to share my chat with Michael McPherson, author of the Sioux Rock Falls series..  Here's what's going on inside his head...

1. Tell me about your newest release.

I have two books coming out by June 1st:

A Summer of Bridges is an anthology of the Sioux Rock Falls series of short stories that first appeared in Storyteller magazine. Kenny is a teenager sent to work with his uncle's construction crew--five-hundred miles north of Toronto. Kenny's single mother is trying to keep him from hanging out for the summer with a friend that she considers a bad influence. But Kenny finds more trouble in Sioux Rock, and he's forced to make tough choices over the summer that will deeply affect other lives, as well as his own.

Vampire Road is set in a post-apocalyptic future where a disease that causes vampirism has infected over half the population of the planet. I came up with the idea after reading Salem's Lot and thinking: but what if they didn't kill the vampire and he just kept making more vampires? If I make two vampires and they make two vampires, etc, eventually humans will be forced to live in walled towns and fight off armies of vampires.

New religions evolve, as humans stressed to the breaking point fight amongst themselves despite the external threats. Thus our hero, Fitz, finds himself threatened by human enemies as well as vampires, or rippers as he calls them.

Think of the movie, Priest, just released this week, combined with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.

2. What is the best thing about independent publishing?

Speed and control. I've been working on Vampire Road for over ten years, but when a friend sent me the link to a movie trailer for Priest two weeks ago, pointing out how similar it was to Vampire Road, I could respond quickly to take advantage of the promotional hype of the movie. I sent the manuscript to my editor (Storyteller Magazine's former editor) and called a cover artist.

If I sent Vampire Road to an agent or publisher today, they'd say it was too much like Priest and they wouldn't be able to bring it to market for two years. By then readers will have moved on from vampires, and maybe poltergeists will be back in vogue.

3. What is the worst thing about indie publishing?

Getting past the stigma of self-published. Despite the fact that there are many excellent indie-pubbed authors out there, I hear more often about the bad ones, like Howett, author of The Greek Seaman. She went ballistic on a reviewer for complaining about her poor grammar and non-existent copy editing. She dropped the f-bomb a couple of times. It went viral.

But now that mainstream authors like Barry Eisler are going indie, I think readers will begin to realize that a $2.99 e-book can be a good read. Authors like Amanda Hocking, John Locke and J.A. Konrath are also setting the traditional publishing world on edge by proving that there are quality indie-pubbed authors out there making money on their own--although Hocking has recently signed a seven-figure deal with St. Martins.

4. Who is one of your favourite mystery authors and why?

The fun thing about being on the Crime Writers of Canada is that I've been reading a lot of Canadian mysteries over the last few years. I hate to pick just one though. I'm a big fan of Giles Blunt, not just because he's a great writer, but also because the Algonquin Bay (thinly disguised North Bay) setting is in northern Ontario, an area I know well and love. But I'm also a big fan of Barbara Fradkin's Inspector Green novels. And then there's Mel Bradshaw, Sylvia Multash Warsh. I could go on and on.

5. Which is harder to write: dialogue or description?

Description--especially in action scenes, which is why I rely heavily on beta-readers and an editor. I get carried away with the pace and forget to add the details that give taste and touch. Fortunately I have a grumpy editor who helps me fill in the blanks by asking the right questions.

6. What is the most challenging thing about plot for you?

Staying focused. I have a lot of ideas, so it's easy to run amok on side plots that don't drive the main plot and can be ripped out with no loss to the story. As Michael Crichton said: "novels are not written. They're re-written." I look at each story thread and ask, "if I pull this out, will the reader be missing anything at the end of the novel?" If the answer is no, then it has to go.

7. If you could bring any fictional character (from any genre) to life for just one day, who would it be and why?

Jake, from W.O. Mitchell's Jake and the Kid. I had a similar mentor in my teen years. Mentors are important for boys and young men, and Jake is one of those people who can be trusted to point in the direction. He proves that common sense doesn't require a university degree, and it sometimes comes with very rough edges.

The character Merv in A Summer of Bridges is a lot like Jake. I based Merv on my mentor, a man who could swear up a blue streak and drink a bar dry, but he watched out for me and taught me to think about how my actions could affect other people.

8. Imagine writing a profile for Kenny for an internet dating site. What would it say?

Just went to lavalife to see what an internet dating site looks like. So here's what I would put up there for Kenny.

Kenny: reliable skater-dude available for dating. Age: 18. Body type: slim. Smoking habits: Thinking about it. Drinking habits: Socially. Religion: somewhat Catholic.

9. Canada is too small a country for an artist (any of the arts) to really make it “big”, to become a success. And there are those who say that if an author wants to “make it”, he or she needs to have a setting in the USA. How well do you think American audiences respond to Canadian settings?

They've responded well to Giles Blunt's Algonquin Bay, but as Agent Helen Heller pointed out, that is unusual, and Blunt's novels are great depictions of a part of Canada that is unlike anywhere in the US. I think that Canadian writers should stay out of our more American-like cities. Lonely Planet travel guide describes Toronto as an American city in Canada. It simply isn't an exotic location for American readers, so why bother reading about it?

When I launch, A Summer of Bridges, I intend to market it to Canadians, because it’s set in our backyard, but I am going to take a stab at the American market too, because the far north is unique. It's still a frontier, and frontiers sell well.

10. Whether authors want it to be or not, social media is an important part of being an author. What are your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and the like vis vis being a successful author?

Indie published author John Locke has over 20,000 twitter followers and is selling thousands of books. I'm late to social media, so I've a lot of catch-up to do, but clearly this is the marketing that allows an author to connect directly with fans. It's incredible, and it puts indie-authors on the same platform as traditionally published authors.

In fact, publishers that are desperately trying to keep market share in the face of e-books have finally started hiring staff to promote their authors again, a task they have just left up to the authors since the advent of social media.

11. What else would you like readers to know about you?

A friend once described me as a walking contradiction because I was spending my winters working toward a B.Sc in physics and my summers working construction. I think it has given me a unique perspective into our culturally stratified society. I can drink beer and watch the hockey game in a tavern in New Liskeard, Ontario, and yet I would still fit in after a symposium at McLennan Physical Laboratories, sipping wine and discussing particle physics. This helps me bring a wide variety of characters and perspectives to my writing.

For more on Michael McPherson, check him out his website http://www.michaelmcpherson.ca/ 

You can find Michael's works on Amazon at this link.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interview with the Super Fantastic Steven Steinbock

Today I am very pleased to share an interview with Steven Steinbock, President of the International Association of Crime Writers (North America).

Interview questions for Steven Steinbock:

1. You have lots of impressive street cred in the world of mystery fiction, as an editor, a critic, a blogger and so on. How did you get to be Prez of Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers? And are there (or were there) any members who felt the position of Prez ought to have gone to a published mystery novelist?

Thanks. I’m not sure about street cred, but I have been involved in crime fiction for a long time. The path that led me to become president of the North American branch of IACW is a strange one. The short version is that I helped solve a couple of issues we’d been having, and members of the board nominated me. At the time I was nominated I didn’t have any fiction published, but as far as I know, I was the only person who protested.

2. What is your most prized – not necessarily the most valuable – mystery collectible? What elusive mystery or whodunit collectible are you still looking for?

Easy. I spent an afternoon as a guest of Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain) a number of years ago. He treated me to lunch and I treated him to an interview. I brought along a small stack of books for him to sign. When he saw the first edition of Blackboard Jungle in my pile, even he was impressed. He paused for a moment of reflection before signing his name to the title page.

Another treasure: I have everything written by Jacques Futrelle, a turn-of-the-previous-century mystery writer who died aboard the Titanic. My copy of Diamond Master is signed by Futrelle. (I got him to sign it before the Titanic hit the iceberg).

3. In your opinion, is the grammar rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition (as in question #2 above) going the way of the dodo bird?

I don’t know the rule about which you are speaking. Seriously? It’s a bunko rule, designed by uninformed pedantics to criticize better writers than themselves. Shakespeare did it, didn’t he? Imagine if Prospero had said, “We are such stuff on which dreams are made.” Shakespeare probably dangled his modifiers, too, and beautifully.

4. If there were one review you could rescind/undo, what one would it be?

When I was writing for the Maine Sunday Telegram in the 1990s I reviewed a first book by a new author (no names) which I thought was badly written. I didn’t like the style. I felt the tone was wooden. Neither the characters nor the plot grabbed me. I gave it a less-than-warm review. It wasn’t a nasty review, mind you. But it would have been clear to anyone reading it that the book didn’t work for me. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Times all gave the book glowing reviews. I’m not sure I’d rescind the review, but it gave me pause.

5. How has your exposure to and involvement with AudioFile changed your view of books/stories/mysteries?

Words are very aural for me. I love the sound of good writing. Pick up a book by James Lee Burke or Gary Phillips and open it to any page and you’ll find words set out like notes in a symphony, words that beg to be savoured on the palate.

I disagree with the people who think audiobooks are for lazy people, that listening is cheating. Audiobooks may not be for everyone, but something that allows me to “read” – to consume books – while I’m driving or working out is a good thing.

6. Surely you have been to many crime fiction events over the years, at locations far and wide. What was the most memorable mystery event/conference/convention you attended? What was unique/special/interesting about it?

That would have to be Bloody Words in 2010, of course. That’s where I met you, Jill! Every mystery event I go to – the Edgars, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic – is memorable. Crime writers are the nicest people on the planet. We commit murder for a living, but when we get together, you won’t find a more affable group anywhere.

7. Without fawning, there surely must be some author somewhere whom you have met who left you feeling a bit star struck, or maybe you even asked for an autograph or a photo op. Which author were you most excited about meeting and why? Ah, go ahead – fawn away…

I’ve known him now for eighteen years, but Lawrence Block still awes me a little. But like I said in response to your earlier question, crime writers are a genial bunch. Even Mary Higgins Clark is laid back and accessible.

8. Tell me about your current work in progress. I am dying to know more about the madman with the lynx and the quixotic rabbi.

It’s a mystery/suspense novel. My hero is a young, idealistic rabbi named Jake Lurie who wants to do the right thing, but isn’t sure he’s man enough. He’s also lonely. Then he meets up with his complete opposite – sort of cross between Joe Pike, Lord Falstaff, and a mountain man. His name is Santelli, and he makes it his mission to educate Jake in the ways of the world. Oh yeah, and he lives with a lynx.

9. What do you think is the best manner of killing/best weapon in a whodunit?

In one of his novels Earl Emerson dispensed with a villain at a dog-food processing plant. I thought that was pretty cool.

10. You have published one short story in Ellery Queen, and you are now working on a novel. What is the most difficult or challenging difference between short stories and novels?

They’re totally different animals. A short story is an idea or incident that is distilled into its essence and unveiled to the reader in the most efficiently elegant way possible. A novel is a series of characters and events woven and expanded toward resolution into something new. That’s what “novel” means, after all. Something new.

11. Your young, idealistic rabbi… (name?) How much is he like you? How much do you wish you were like him?

Jake is a lot like I was at 28. I wouldn’t mind being 28 again, but other than that, no. As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve become more like Santelli, the madman with the lynx.

12. How many Yiddish words (if any) will you have in the book? You do not need to give the exact number, rounded off to the nearest one-hundredth is fine. I hope you use oy vey at least thrice, fahrklempt (sp?) verklempt (sp?) at least once, and schmuck no less than a dozen times. Have you read much if anything on Yiddish? It fascinates me. This question is more for my own curiosity than for the interview.

Ironically, the person most likely to use Yiddish in my story is the Italian mountain man. I didn’t want the book to turn into a parody of a “Seinfeld” episode. I didn’t want to get caught in Jewish clichés. When a Jew is chomping on a bagel while speaking Yiddish between spittle, it’s cliché. It’s much more interesting when a Korean or a Pakistani calls someone a putz or a shlimiel. An excellent recent book about Yiddish is Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex. It’s informative and clever, and so funny I could almost plotz.

13. I’d like to know more about the transition from theologian to your, ahem, “life of crime”. What do you wish to share? (Not sure how personal this might be and I don’t want to overstep my bounds…)

I rediscovered mysteries while I was attending a seminary in Jerusalem. I found a copy of The Big Sleep and I never looked back. Distilled down to their essences, detective fiction and theology are about the same stuff: chaos and order, crime and justice, and a little sex and intrigue thrown in for good measure.

14. Open ended final question: what else would you like readers to know about you/your writing/your character/your experience in and exposure to the world of crime fiction?

Nothing I can think of. Thanks for the opportunity to chat.

For more on Steven Steinbock, check out:


Updated Profile on Sasha Jackson

The first profile on Sasha was posted so long ago, that it's now time for an update.  Here are some bits of trivia about Private Investigator Sasha Jackson:

Last fiction book read: the latest release by Jasper Fforde... what was it called again?  Thursday Next is a blast.

Last nonfiction book read: "Beyond the White House" by Jimmy Carter.  His post-prez legacy is greater than his years in office.

Pissed off about: missing the Kid Rock summer concert tour. Damn, why do I have to be so far away?

Happy about: going to see Motley Crue and Poison (again).  Hair bands rule.  Bret is hot!  Tommy Lee is uber sexy,  No idea why.

Disappointed in: Canadians... for giving Stephen Harper a majority.  Can we overthrow him? Stage a coup?  Have an out and out revolution?

Three Likes: cheese, palm trees and coffee.  Not necessarily in that order.

Three Dislikes: the letter V, the colour orange and cinnamon.  Exactly in that order. Cinnamon is okay with apple cider or in sticky buns, sometimes.  Orange is never okay.  And you can ne-er a-void the letter V e-en if you make a -aliant effort to do so.

Preferences: Coke over Pepsi; BlackBerry over iPhone, McDonalds over Burger King.

Quotes: Walk softly and carry a big stick.  Hope is the confusion over the desire of a thing with its probability. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.  And of course, Alfred E. Newman saying "What, me worry?"  Words to live by.

To-Do List: Learn to drive.  Take off chipped nail polish.  Figure out my love life.  Find a runaway teen.  Find out who killed the dude at the fetish party.  Get some sleep.  Do it all again tomorrow.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Buffalo High Jump Chicago!

Hey Folks!

Today I am very lucky to have an interview with Howard Shrier.  I've met Howard a few times via crime related things (writing about them, not committing them... at least not yet) and he's a pretty awesome guy and a damn fine writer. Here are Howard's answers to the many deep, meaningful, probing, and insightful questions I asked him.  (For those who don't have time to read the whole interview, Howard's lucky number is 6, his favourite colour is blue, and he's a sucker for Butter Pecan ice cream).

And now, heeeeeere's Howard Shrier:

1. What can you tell me about your current work in progress?

The book I just finished is Boston Cream, the third in the Jonah Geller series. Still recovering from
post-concussion syndrome, Jonah goes to Boston in search of a missing surgical resident, and winds up in the middle of a murderous conspiracy involving some of Boston’s wealthiest, most powerful people. While I wait to hear from my publishers at Random House, which should be any day, I’m starting research on book four, which is mainly set in Montreal.

2. Name one living and one dead writer whom you were influenced by/whom you emulate. Tell me why.

The dead one is easy: Ross Macdonald. He was the first great detective writer I discovered, quite by accident, when my grandparents cleared out their house of thirty-five years to prepare for a yard sale. I was in my early twenties and with one of his books, plucked from a pile in between customers, began my life-long affair with crime fiction. I demolished every one of his books, went back to Hammett and Chandler, came back to Macdonald and sought him out in California in 1980, as he was the only living author of this great American triumvirate of the private eye novel.

All three influenced me in my choice to write first-person private eye books, but in many ways I consider Macdonald the best. Chandler is the more romantic writer, but it was Macdonald who brought his literary talents and keen insight to bear on the danger and treachery not of mobsters or gangs or police, but of the family, which so far has been more my territory. My voyage to meet him in Santa Barbara, when he was already afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, was documented in this article I wrote for Concordia University Magazine when he died a few years later.

My favourite living writer is Elmore Leonard, and has been since I discovered his work in 1985. Westerns and all. Yet I don’t write at all in his style, at least not in the Geller series, which is first person. A smart, secular urban Jew isn’t really in Leonard’s palette, and my characters will always in some way be more naïve than his. For style, tone, personality, I’d have to say a bridge of Robert B. Parker and Robert Crais with a twist of Jewish humour. But I treasure Leonard for his uniqueness. He owes nothing to any crime writer who came before him. He simply took the ethos and characters from his Westerns, set them loose in the cities, and created his own world of crime from scratch.

3. How close – give a fraction or a percentage if you want – is Jonah Geller to you?

He is very close to me emotionally: we are both secular, urban Jews with a world view that mixes cynicism with hope. I think we share a sense of humour. I’d say we both have older siblings who are domineering.

Physically, he is miles away: he is six feet tall and one eighty five when in shape. He is a martial artist with a full head of hair. Those who know me will chuckle at that contrast.

4. Name two LIVING famous people (with whom you have no relation or connection) that you’d enjoy having dinner with. Tell me why or what you’d like to discuss with them.

I’ve been fortunate to meet Elmore Leonard before, so I won’t include him. My first choice would be Steve Earle, the singer-songwriter. Talented, productive, political, driven, a raconteur and survivor of many marriages: I think dinner with him would be fascinating. The other might be Sam Shepard, whose plays I devoured as a theatre student; Tom Waits, if I thought I could get a straight answer out of him; Bob Dylan, for a thousand reasons, and if he didn’t mumble his way through it. Dennis Lehane has been very warm and funny at conferences. And if I wanted to laugh all night until it hurt, I’d invite Mark Billingham, the British comic turned crime writer.

5. Worst memory of school (any grade/level).

Like Jonah, I was a very indifferent student in high school and CEGEP (Grades 12 and 13 in Quebec), so I’d say grades nine through 13 were painful. I hadn’t yet found my stride. It was only when I started writing that I began taking life seriously. Fortunately, I found a guidance counsellor at Concordia University who showed me how creative writing and journalism combined could earn me a degree, and it changed my life. I did as well at school as people always suspected I could and found a way out of those teenaged doldrums.

6. The one thing you wish you had known before getting your first book published...?

That no matter how many awards you win or great reviews you get, book sales in Canada won’t support a growing family. I knew I’d earn a lot less at fiction than I did as a corporate writer. How much less was a shock. I also wish I’d known how much the industry was going to change under my feet, how much the onus of promoting books would shift from publisher to author and how the recession would shake so many good people loose from the industry.

7. Who is (are) your favourite minor/supporting character(s), from your own work?

Dante Ryan is my favourite so far. I always feel like he raises the energy when he’s in the room. Because my books have shifted from city to city most other supporting players, for the most part, appear in one book only. I have a special fondness for Gabriel Cross, the Mohawk ironworker in High Chicago; Jonah’s office neighbour, the PR legend Eddie Solomon; Laura Silver, the targeted mother in Buffalo Jump; and Amy Farber, also from Buffalo Jump, a lovely woman who distributes Canadian meds to a circle of fiftyish friends to help pay for her own arthritis prescriptions.

8. Strangest thing a fan/reader has ever said or done to you (online, at a signing, whatever...)

I’ve been lucky so far; all my fan encounters have been very positive. There was, however, one fellow whose manuscript I was asked to evaluate for a miserably small free. I gave him a thorough and professional assessment which he didn’t like. He then posted a poisonous article about Jonah Geller on the net, demeaning the book and Jonah’s actions on a streetcar in the first chapter of Buffalo Jump, which anyone can read on my web site. I happen to love that scene and so do most readers. That was certainly the weirdest thing to happen to me so far, and may it stay that way. Sadly, it put me off evaluating manuscripts, which I generally like doing. Since then I have only done it through U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, where I teach writing courses. Including one week-long workshop in early July, which is still open for registration.

9. Titles. How hard are they to come up with? How important are they to the overall success of the book? Other thoughts on titles...?

I love book titles and am always thinking of them. When I hear a song, a snatch of conversation, a quote from the New or Old Testament, there is often a second where I consider, is that a good title? Is it copyrighted? Has it been used before? I often search the Library of Congress, amazon.ca and other sites to find out if potential titles have been used, and if so, when and in what media. Sometimes I am devastated to find out a great title has been taken. Poisonville, which I wanted for the name of an e-book I’m launching this summer, had been dormant for more than seventy years, since Dashiell Hammett used it in the book Red Harvest. I had gone through dozens of titles easily before coming up with it. A few days after I submitted the draft to my agent, someone got it first. I saw it in a review and nearly choked. So Poisonville was out and the search was on again.

On the other hand, once I came up with Buffalo Jump for my first novel, High Chicago and Boston Cream both followed easily. Book Four, however, may not follow that two word format. There are a few that I’m still juggling.

10.  What was or is the hardest thing(s) for you to write.

A: Like Raymond Chandler, I believe the best scenes often involve two people working each other across a desk or table. But when there are three or more characters in the room, I find it gets tricky. Keeping the flow going without having any people drop out for significant time… that’s when I feel I have to switch hats to a degree, from storyteller to playwright, which is not as comfortable a territory for me.

11. What is on your writing “wishlist”? You know, that project you began in 1987 but more or less abandoned, or the project where you say if "I ever have time, I’d like to write..." ?

I spent five years as a writer at what was then called the Addiction Research Foundation, and is now part of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I learned a lot in those years and have always wanted to write a somewhat creepy, Gothic novel about a murder at a treatment centre for addicts. I took a writing course with Peter Robinson nearly twenty years ago–so long ago, he only had two Banks novels out–and that’s what I worked on. I have four chapters and an outline somewhere. If I wind up on a desert island that has power, I just might get it done.

You can find Howard's books on Amazon. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sample of Dead Light District - Chapter Four

Saturday, July 18,  10:33 AM

“I’ll have scrambled eggs, home fries, and white toast, please,” I said. I was famished, and a greasy, starchy breakfast would surely hit the spot.

“I’ll have steak and eggs, medium rare steak and eggs over-easy, please, a side order of bacon, home-fries, and an order of rye toast without butter,” said Lindsey.

Oh yeah, like it’s the butter that made the meal fattening.

“I see you’re feeling very Hindu this morning,” I said.

Lindsey’s real name is Lakshmi. Although she was born in Sri Lanka and raised by devout Hindu parents, she is about as Canuck as they come—bring on the beef and bacon.

“I need protein,” she said. “I’ve been working out. Pilates. You should try it.”

“Exercise? What, are you trying to kill me?” I said.

“Would you two please whisper?” Jessica mumbled. “I’m hungover and you’re giving me a headache. Just bring me a coffee please.” Jessica’s normally bright blue eyes were today a mottled shade of watery red, rimmed by dark circles.

A bitter old waitress in a navy polyester uniform and crooked hairnet silently took our orders and shuffled away without giving any indication that she’d heard our requests at all.

I was sitting in the Danforth Café, which really should be renamed ‘Hardened Arteries Eatery’. ‘Café’ just has too much of a positive connotation for a place that hadn’t had a facelift since its grand opening, back in the days when fire was discovered. I was with Jessica and Lindsey, my two best friends, and in Lindsey’s case, my future sister-in-law. Jessica, Lakshmi/Lindsey and I had all known each other since we were teenyboppers. Our friendship is solid, which is why we can get away with saying anything at all to one another.

Lindsey is my brother’s girlfriend. She and Shane finally became a serious couple around two years ago—about a decade later than they should have. They had flirted and teased each other as teens but were both too young, too shy, and too stupid to do anything about it. Then, in early adulthood, the timing had just never been right – one was travelling, the other was in school, one was single, the other wasn’t, et cetera, et cetera.

Finally, a couple of years ago, at a party involving the lethal combination of a bit too much alcohol plus the sledgehammer subtlety of yours truly, Shane and Lindsey had gotten together at last. Now we were all placing bets on when the wedding would be. Any time I mentioned the nuptials, Lindsey magically shut me up by describing in minute detail the horrific tulle and taffeta, puffed-sleeved, pastel-coloured abomination she wanted the bridesmaids to wear.

Well, okay, then, why don’t you just elope? You’d have my blessing.

Lindsey, Jessica and I try to do brunch at least two or three weekends a month. It’s the ritual and conversation that matters, not the food. Good thing too, because it looked like today’s special was Culinary Armageddon.

“So, you’re looking for a Hispanic goddess who was lured into a life of selling her body, and who has now disappeared?” said Lindsey, handing Mary Carmen’s photo back to me.

I nodded. “Yup. What should I call this one? The Case of the Missing Hooker seems too obvious,” I said.

“The Hooker in Hiding?” suggested Jessica. “The Vanishing Vixen? The Wayward Streetwalker? No, wait, The Streetwalker Who Walked Away?”

“No, no, Jessica, you gotta have the Mexican angle in there,” Lindsey said. “Latino something.”

“It’s Latina, not Latino. O endings are for boys and A endings are for girls. Don’t you know anything?” I said.

Not surprisingly, they both ignored me.

Lindsey shrugged. “Whatever. She truly is gorgeous. I wonder why she didn’t go into modelling or something?”

Jessica picked up the photo. “Yeah, she could almost make me switch teams... and after last night’s date, that’s becoming a more distinct possibility.”

“Honey, you’d strike out with the chicks too,” I said.

“Why are we still friends?”

“What a shame she ended up hooking,” Lindsey said. “What a waste.”

“How the hell do you plan to start looking for her?” Jessica asked. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“What makes you think I know? Missing persons cases are tough. I’ll chase down every lead Candace gave me and then I’ll pray or consult a Ouija board or buy a lucky rabbit’s foot,” I said.

“Yeah, the furry little paw was certainly lucky for the rabbit it came from,” Jessica said.

“Is that woman going to bring our food anytime soon? I’m going to die of starvation.” Lindsey was craning her neck around to see if she could spot our unfriendly server.

Jessica sighed. “Who cares about food? I need a lot more caffeine. My head feels like it’s wrapped in barbed wire.”

For the next hour we did a fair imitation of Sex and the City. Jessica filled us in on her night out and the reason for this morning’s hangover.

“So, he was a dud?” Lindsey asked Jessica.

“I had to get drunk to keep myself amused. He kept telling the same stories over and over. I couldn’t stop yawning. I dug my fingernails into my palms to keep from falling asleep.”

“Safe to assume then that you didn’t get laid,” I said.

“There’s no way in hell I would have slept with him. Not even with someone else’s pussy.”

“What a charming image,” Lindsey said.

“Well, Sasha, it’ll be interesting to see who gets out of the desert first—you or me,” Jessica said.

“Don’t remind me. It’s been so long since I’ve had my muffin buttered that I think I’ve forgotten how to have sex.”

The unsmiling ‘waitron’ eventually showed up with our food, all of which was either cold and gelatinous or burned to a crisp. I’m sure it takes a special talent to serve food with both ends of the temperature continuum on one plate. Lindsey and I picked at our meals while the three of us talked about men and dating and sex and fashions, then we discussed men and dating and food, after which we chatted about men and sex and shopping. At one point someone mentioned diets and working out, but those veins of conversation were mercifully short lived. Robo Waitress came by with coffee refills, and I dumped four sugars into my cup to make it almost drinkable.

Jessica asked if she could have her coffee served intravenously. The acid-faced server didn’t even pretend to smile.

After a while, I tuned out the girl talk. My mind had started racing. I’d been trying to come up with a plan, and a few—probably not very good—ideas had come to me. I was anxious to finish brunch and get cracking on the Case of the ... what? We still hadn’t come up with a good handle for this one.

Link to Dead Light District on Amazon

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sample - 3rd Chapter - Dead Light District

Friday,  10:52 PM

Candace had given me a recent photo of Mary Carmen. It was just a head and shoulders shot, but it was a clear, eight-by-ten colour picture of her facing the camera. She was a true head-turner, breathtakingly beautiful: her thickly lashed, deeply set, dusky emerald eyes were absolutely hypnotic.

“She’s a looker, all right, but I ain’t seen her,” said a man in a faded brown maintenance worker’s uniform.

I was traipsing around The Grand Hotel on Jarvis Street, showing Mary Carmen’s photo to every hotel employee I came across. The Grand Hotel reminded me of a quotation from that oh-so-pithy porcine puppet: Miss Piggy. She once said that you never want to stay in a hotel called The Uptowne Royal Olde King George the 5th Regal Châteaux and Suites, or something like that. Her theory was that the longer the hotel name, the greater the disappointment. A good hotel, Miss Piggy claimed, had one name. The Grand Hotel lived up to its mono-moniker: it was classy, bordering on ostentatious, and yet its location was incongruent with its personality. The much hoped for gentrification of this ’hood was still in the embryonic stage.

Jarvis Street is one of Toronto’s seedier areas, home to pawn shops, porn shops, and sketchy diners where one could more easily get a cap of meth than a cup of joe. The street was a favourite of the city’s destitute, drug-addicted, and downtrodden people. It wasn’t altogether surprising to see an abandoned syringe or a soiled condom lying in a saliva and graffiti covered boarded-up doorway. There were panhandlers on any corner that didn’t have a hooker or two trolling whatever cars slowed down in passing. There were dealers and transvestites on the alert to purvey whatever other vices were in demand.

Then, of course, peppered between vacant store fronts and boarded up buildings, there were the charities, religious institutions, and government-funded social services all hoping to rid Toronto of one social blemish at a time.

If you build it, they will come.

The Lighthouse offered hope and rehab to drug addicts; St. Paul’s Mission offered beds for the homeless; The Salvation Army doled out warm meals to those who usually foraged through garbage bins for their three daily squares. Yet, two blocks up from Jarvis Street’s worst stretch stood one of Toronto’s finest hotels, with in-room Jacuzzis, room service delivered on sterling silver trays, and complimentary Egyptian cotton robes and slippers.

The contrasts weren’t lost on me. Obviously nobody had yet told the area’s winos that urban renewal was on the menu.

Knockout that she was, if anyone had seen Mary Carmen, they would certainly have remembered her. But the doormen showed no signs of recognition— ditto the bartenders, waitresses and parking lot employees. Either the staff of The Grand were all involved in an elaborate conspiracy of silence, or they were all very forgetful and possibly visually impaired, or Mary Carmen had never actually been here.

At the front desk, a pimply girl with a bosom that surely must have caused backaches was very helpful and forthcoming, especially after I dropped a fifty-dollar bill in her hand.

“No one checked in. The room was held with a credit card—”

“Name on the card was Candace Curtis, right?” I broke in. “American Express?”

Candace had told me that all hotel room bookings were made under her own name, and guaranteed with her corporate credit card. She later billed the clients for the room, and the, um, extras.

“Yes, that’s right. If people cancel before 6:00 PM then there’s no charge. But if they don’t call to cancel, we hold the room for them, assuming it’ll be a late check in. As far as we’re concerned, the room is sold for that night, whether they show up or not.”

“And you’re sure no one checked in?”

“Yeah. They never came. The file note says ‘no show’ but on the credit card it just goes through like a normal check in.”

“Well, thanks for your help.”

Another fifty dollars got the housekeeping staff to confirm what the desk clerk had said. They were convinced the room had not been occupied at all, and the day shift workers were glad the next day to have one less suite to vacuum and one less bed to change.

Well, I was only a few hours into this case and was already fronting cash that I could hardly spare. I had discussed money with Candace before agreeing to take on her case. She hadn’t even batted an eye when I told her my rates, and that all expenses would have to be covered by her. I immediately wished I had padded my hourly fees. Clients with generous budgets were rare, second only in rarity to clients who paid their bills in full and on time, and didn’t pay me with a bum cheque.

I took a walk along Jarvis, then crossed over to Church Street, and then doubled back to Sherbourne Street. Toronto’s sex trade was contained almost entirely on these three streets, especially Jarvis. I approached hookers on every corner, but few would even look at me, much less talk to me. I suspected I’d have to refine my approach if I was going to pursue this angle.

After batting zero, I decided to call it a night. It was now well past midnight, and I was tired. I had no desire to hang around the neighbourhood once the bars closed for the night and the nocturnal vices and the flesh trade were out in full force.

Stay tuned for the next sample chapter, coming soon!

Link to Dead Light District on Amazon

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sample from Dead Light District - 2nd Chapter

Mary Carmen

¡Puta madre! I think to myself. How in the name of Dios did this monster find me? Where is Dave? What the hell is going on? This cannot be happening to me.

The bastardo stretched his arm way back and then swung his fist forward muy rápido and it slammed into my face and made my ears ring. I could taste the blood of where my teeth cut into my cheeks.

“Did you think I wouldn’t be able to find you? Are you fucking stupid? You dumb fucking Spic whore,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Lo siento. I was scared, please, don’t hurt me again,” I pleaded with him.

I knew it was no good. He used to hitted me and harmed me and hurted me before, and the more I cried, the more I winced in pain, the more I tried to shrink myself into a little ball, the more turned on the bastardo got and the harder his fists on my face was.

“You had no right to run away, bitch. I paid a shitload for you, you useless fucking slut. Your ass is mine, got it? Nobody bails on me. You hear that? Nobody.”

What could I say?

I whimpered and said I was sorry. I made promises to return to him. I asked him to forgive me. All these things, while the pendejo was smacking me around.

¡Dios mío! ¡Jesus Cristo!

He slapped me across the face again, harder. The posts on the back of my earrings digged into my skin. I didn’t taste any new blood because it mixed with the salty taste of the tears running down my face.

“Take your fucking clothes off now, bitch,” he said.

He pulled me by the hair over to the bed and shoved me down. I wasn’t close enough to the bed and slipped down the edge of it onto the floor. The hard corner of the box spring digged into my back.

“Let me help you get undressed, you fucking whore.”

He pulled out his knife, and cut all of my clothes right off of me.

More to come... stay tuned...

Link to Dead Light District on Amazon

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sample from DEAD LIGHT DISTRICT - first chapter

Friday, July 17, 8:57 PM

“So these women get paid to have sex with men?” I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation. 

“Sasha, I know it sounds bad, but it’s not what you think,” said Candace, the expertly coiffed, perfectly groomed madam of the first bordello I’ve ever been inside. I hoped it would also be the last. She seemed matter-of-factly businesslike, almost imperious, sitting there with her legs gracefully crossed at the ankles, absently fingering a thin gold chain as she spoke. Her confident body language was not at all surprising, given that she used her body to make a living. The well-appointed room told me that her confidence was not without merit.

“Sounds to me like it’s degrading, exploitative, unsafe, and a whole bunch of other things,” I said. “Sorry, I don’t want to be judgemental, but I can’t get my head around this.”

“Maybe if you talk to some of my girls, you’ll get a better sense of things. They’re in control. It’s the men who are being used. The girls have a lifestyle here with me that they could never have on the street. For many of them, working here is the only thing that saved their self-respect.”

Never say never, but it was unlikely I would ever get around to seeing things from Candace’s point of view.

“Perhaps for now we should just agree to disagree,” I said. “You might as well tell me why you called me today, since I’m here, anyway. By the way, how did you get my name?”

“Let’s just say we have a client in common. For obvious reasons, I can’t tell you his name. I mentioned to him the other day that Mary Carmen, one of my girls, is missing. We haven’t seen her in just over a week, and no one has heard from her. Our mutual acquaintance suggested I contact you, since, clearly, I can’t go to the police.”

I understood why she wanted to handle things unofficially, but the fact that we shared a client got my curiosity engine going. I’m really stubborn and insatiably curious, two important characteristics for a successful private investigator. I would find out sooner than later which of my clients enjoyed time with Candace’s ‘employees’, but for now I let it go.

“What are the details of the last time you or one of the other girls here saw the missing person?” I asked.

“Last Thursday night. Mary Carmen was here for her regular shift. She usually works Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. She’s slated for the peak hours, from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM.” Candace was so nonchalant about this that she could have been discussing the cashiers’ schedules at Walmart. “We had a request for an outcall. Terra was on the phones. She said the caller was quite specific about what he wanted. Latina, at least five foot eight, green eyes, long black hair. Mary Carmen came to mind before I even looked at my database.”

“You have a database of hookers?”

A stunning, petite brunette in a black satin bustier and fishnet stockings strutted into the room, grabbed a bottle of single malt scotch and two Baccarat glasses, smiled at us, and sashayed away without saying a word.

Candace paid no mind and kept talking. “Please, don’t call them hookers. Most of the girls use the term intimacy consultant, though some call themselves relaxation therapists. I know they’re euphemisms, but they’re important to the girls’ self esteem.”

“Consultants. Right. Got it.”

I felt as if I were on the set of a Peter Bogdanovich meets Ron Jeremy film and half expected someone to click one of those black things and shout, “Hot, Wet Conslutants, take two! Lights, camera, action!”

“Yes, I have everything on my database. Before I tell you more about it, I should offer you a drink. Do you care for ice wine?”

Does a bear shit in the woods? I absolutely love ice wine and don’t get to love it nearly often enough. At
fifty-plus dollars for a 375-millilitre bottle, it’s way out of my budget. Of course, since she was offering, I cheerfully said yes and hoped she’d pour it into a giant tankard.

While Candace was getting our drinks, I took a better look around the room. It was understatedly elegant. The drawing room—since in my mind that’s what it should have been called—was bigger than the whole first floor of the house I share with my dad, Jack, and my brother, Shane.

Candace had clearly spared no expense on even the most minor details. The coasters were marble, the ashtray was granite, and there was a sterling silver Dunhill lighter beside it. The sofas were the softest leather any cow had ever produced. The sculptures and artwork were all authentic Canadiana originals—something I had learned a lot about on my last case. There was an ebony grand piano in the corner, polished to within an inch of its life (if such could be said about an inanimate object), and there were fresh flowers in every brightly-hued Murano glass vase. The walls were painted in the warmest and richest shade of claret Benjamin Moore had to offer, and the carpet was so plush I thought it would swallow me. Oh yeah, classy joint.

I felt out of place in my faded Levis, amethyst tank top and pewter-toned gladiator sandals. At least I’d recently had a pedicure, so all ten little piggies—painted as they were in Mauve Magic—looked really cute.

Candace returned bearing a tray of goodies. She set the platter of flatbreads and artisan cheeses on the coffee table. She then handed me a flute of chilled ice wine and sat down next to me.

“You simply must try this St. Antoine Brie. It’s made in Northern Quebec and tastes fantastic with this wine.”

I spread a healthy gooey blob on a cream cracker. Delish.

“Cheers,” she said as she clinked my glass. “To doing business with Sasha Jackson Investigations.”

I took a sip of the liquid gold nectar before replying. “I haven’t agreed to anything yet. Give me some more details before I decide. What’s on the database?”

“Hmmm. Well... prostitution is a business, and maybe even a science. It’s certainly a service-oriented industry where knowing clients’ preferences and catering to their whims results in loyalty and excellent word of mouth.”

“Kind of like the baristas at Starbucks knowing how you like your non-fat, decaf, extra foam cappuccino with cinnamon, right?” I think this is the first time anyone has ever made an analogy between prostitution and take-out coffee. Venti, VD, Visa.

“In a way, yes. I have things grouped by the physical characteristics of the girls, and by the educations, the professions, and the hobbies of the men. I have clients sorted by fetish, by lingerie preferences—”

I had to ask, “Lingerie for him or her?”

“Both. They’re also sorted by role-playing, and by musical tastes. It’s all about finding a match, and combining the right ingredients in order to produce a spectacular session.”

I hoped my face remained expressionless, but more likely I was blushing with embarrassment. As if right on cue, we heard some ecstatic moans, and the snapping sounds of a whip coming from the bedroom above us. I visualized the fishnet-clad brunette standing behind an espresso machine with a cup of steamed milk in one hand, a cat-o’-nine tails in the other. Purr... snap... who’s your daddy?

Candace continued, “Believe it or not, this is as much for the girls as it is for the men. When my employees are paired with someone they actually like and enjoy being with, and they get paid for it... well, that’s hardly considered work.”

“Again, I don’t want to seem judgemental, but would you suggest this as a career choice for your daughter if you had one?”

“Probably not. But these girls fell into the life one way or another, and since they’re hooking anyway, they may as well do it here. I hire only the very best and I treat them very, very well. I pay top dollar, I give them regular shifts, and I have a high-calibre client roster, not a bunch of dirtbags from the street.”

“Uh huh.”

“Some of the guys take them out for dinner first. Occasionally, they bring the girls gifts. My workers get paid a flat hourly rate no matter what they do during their shift, and they get to use nice, clean, safe rooms here.”

“How many bedrooms do you have?”

“Six. This building is zoned for commercial purposes, and I have it registered as a bed and breakfast, with common rooms on the first floor. The third floor has been converted to an office and a small apartment where I live.”

I suppose, in some weird way, the bed and breakfast claim was loosely true. Sort of. Kind of. More or less.

“Do any of the girls live here too?”

“No. They use the rooms during their shifts. It gets cleaned and changed when they’re done, and at the end of their shifts they go home.”

“You have a housekeeping staff?”

“No. I have a contract with a cleaning company.”

“Would they be able to give me any insights?”

“I don’t think so. They keep pretty much to themselves. They just get the job done and get on their way.”

“How well do you know them?”

“Not well. They have four or five women who sort of rotate. They come twice a day, do the basic cleaning, take the dirty laundry out, and bring in clean linens.”

“I see. You mentioned that the missing girl went on an outcall?”

“Yes. About one-third of the clients prefer to take the girl to a hotel. Clients seem to think it’s more anonymous that way. Whatever, it’s their money, and to me it’s just another transaction, another service we provide.”

“Uh huh.”

“Many of the girls enjoy the hotel bookings. They say it’s like a mini working vacation, although others prefer to stay here on site. They say they’re more comfortable here,” she said.

“That’s a fine bit of spin-doctoring, Candace, but in the end, a strange man sticks his penis into her and fucks her.”

“That’s true. But if you think about it, who’s really getting fucked, Sasha? The guys who pay hundreds of dollars to buy a few hours of intimacy? The guys who naively believe the girls who tell them they’re virile, and sexy, and dynamite in the sack? The smitten puppy dogs who come back every week, bringing flowers and jewellery? Or the guys who really believe the girls find them attractive and fascinating? Give me a break. The guys are getting fucked, but they’re just too dumb to know it.”

Ouch! I didn’t have an answer for that.

I still had an almost full glass of ambrosia, so I decided to string the conversation along as long as I had vino.

“Okay, well, why don’t you tell me more about the missing girl?”

“Mary Carmen is a sweetheart, and I’ve been worried sick about her since last week. Let’s see; she’s twenty-two, she’s from Mexico—somewhere in the North. She’s gorgeous— an unparalleled combination of ethnicity and good genes. Her background is indigenous, think of an Aztec goddess. She has these amazing green eyes, high cheekbones, caramel skin. She’s got a body to die for: tall and slim, quite graceful, really. I can easily picture her on a runway. Her English isn’t the best, but despite that, you immediately get a sense of how warm and kind she is, and she seems to have a good sense of humour. What else do you want to know?”

“Where does she live? What’s her social insurance number? Her date of birth? Where did she go when you sent her out on that call? Who was her client?”

“I have to protect my clients.”

“Then I won’t be able to help you.” Yummy noble rot or not, I set down my drink and made like I was about to leave. My job is hard enough as it is without having to play by someone else’s rules.

I’ve only been an investigator for about a year and a bit, and it’s a more challenging and dangerous job than I ever imagined. I got into sleuthing when I gave up on singing. There are days when the music biz in Toronto seems a more solid and stable profession than private investigating. And, there are times I really miss performing, although some would say that’s exactly what my current job entails.

Despite what it says in the private-eye textbooks, real life sleuthing is neither scientific nor predictable. I’ve been shot at accidentally on purpose; I’ve sat atop rotting food scraps in a dumpster in the pouring rain; I’ve chased and been chased by angry, errant spouses; I’ve uncovered an art fraud ring; and I’ve done a number of boring, routine background corporate checks that almost turned me into a battery-operated robot. Or a zombie.

I never know what’s on the horizon.

As unpredictable as my job is, though, I can’t say I ever expected to be employed by a madam in a bordello, and I’ve never gone looking for a disappeared hooker.

Missing persons is probably my least favourite gig among the myriad cases that fall into my lap. Okay, maybe not exactly myriad. How do you start looking for someone who doesn’t want to be found? Or worse, what if the missing person doesn’t think of herself as missing, but just decided to walk away? There’s no law that says an adult has to stick around. There’s no law that says you can’t leave without saying goodbye.

On one hand, looking for someone is a challenge; on the other hand, missing person cases could make me prematurely grey, and could frustrate me into indulging in any number of irresistibly tempting coping strategies, such as martinis, wine, single malts, or any sweet concoction with a paper umbrella stuck in it.

Candace said, “I’ll tell you whatever you need to know, but only as you need to know it.”

To which I replied, “And how will you know what I need to know when half the time I myself don’t even know what I need to know until after I know it?”

Good thing I’d only had one glass of ice wine because that sentence would have made a lot less sense if I’d been a bit further into my cups.

“I can tell you where she went and when. If you need to know with whom, I’ll eventually tell you that too, but only if it’s germane. I just want to be sure Mary Carmen’s okay. She may have called it quits, and I’d be okay with that. I feel a sense of responsibility for my girls. If anything happened to them because of a job I arranged, I’d feel terrible.”

“I can see your point,” I said.

I wondered how culpable she’d feel if any of her girls got a sexually transmitted disease.

“Mary Carmen might have just decided she’s had enough. That’s happened before. Girls have just walked away from working here, from the life. Others have decided to do exotic dancing instead, some go back to their old pimps, some get messed up on drugs.... Longevity is not one of the hallmarks of this industry. Neither is loyalty. There may be perfectly innocent reasons for why she’s gone, but I want to be sure.”

It struck me as odd to say ‘innocent’ in any sentence discussing a prostitute, much less one who was missing.

.... more to come....

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