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New Releases: The Foundation, Aurora: Meridian and Shatterwing!

Posted September 11, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

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We’ve got three fantastic new releases out today, and we’re so excited about them. First up:

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High pace political thriller: Read a sample here.

 

He who holds the pen holds the power.

“Great fun. A two-fisted thriller, escaped from five minutes into the future.”

—John Birmingham, author of the Axis of Time and Disappearance trilogies.

When a corrupt think tank, The Foundation for a New America, enlists a Taiwanese terrorist to bomb a World Trade Organization conference, the US and China are put on the path to war.

Star journalist Jack Emery is pulled into a story far more dangerous than he could have imagined. Because the Foundation’s deputy director, the ruthless Michelle Dominique, recognizes that whoever controls the message controls the world. And she will take control, no matter the price.

Enter Jack’s boss, Ernest McDowell, owner and chairman of the largest media empire on the planet. In the midst of political upheaval, EMCorp is about to become the final play in the Foundation’s plan. When Dominique traps the EMCorp owner in her web, Jack’s the only one left to expose the conspiracy before it’s too late.

As the world powers smash each other against the anvil of Taiwan, Jack will risk everything to battle the Foundation and prevent them from taking control amid the devastation of a global war.

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The third in our fantastic Aurora series, read an excerpt here.

Their hardest battle will be fighting the enemy within …

Captain Saul Harris has found himself at a crossroads. Haunted by dreams of the dead, he fights to keep his soldiers safe as events spiral out of his control. But has his search for the truth led him to discover there is more to this mission of chasing Sharley than meets the eye?

 Meanwhile, Corporal Carrie Welles seeks revenge. Consumed with demons from her past two missions, she goes rogue in the hope that her actions will end all the pain and suffering the Aurora team has endured. But will facing the enemy free them all from Sharley’s cruel grasp, or has she condemned herself to a suicide mission?

 As the mystery of Sharley and UNFASP unfolds and lives hang in the balance, Harris and Carrie are forced to search deep inside themselves, and what they find will shock them.

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Epic contemporary fantasy: read a sample here.

Dragon wine could save them. Or bring about their destruction.

Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.

 The most precious of these resources is dragon wine – a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But the making of the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.

 There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison’s best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.

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Best Dad Jokes – Win a Father’s Day Book Bundle!

Posted September 5, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

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Do you like DAD JOKES? At Momentum, we love dad jokes. Jokes that make you roll your eyes and say ‘Daaaaaaaaad’ and then you get on your skateboard and go and hang out with Samantha.

Because we love DAD JOKES so much, we’re offering a bundle of books to anyone who gives us an excellent dad joke in the comments. Look at all the amazing books you could win:

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So just leave your favourite dad joke and your email, and you too could win!

This competition is closed as of Monday 8th September, congrats to the winners!

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Excerpt: The Phoenix Variant (The Fifth Column, #3) by Nathan M. Farrugia

Posted August 11, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

It’s only a few days until The Phoenix Variant (The Fifth Column, #3) by Nathan M. Farrugia is released!

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Here’s a sneak preview to get you excited. And if you haven’t started his thrilling series The Fifth Column, #1, The Chimera Vector, is currently free for a limited time only!

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Chapter 1

 

Ekne, Norway

1944

The moment Denton sat down, he identified the most dangerous man in the room.

‘We’ve reviewed your request for the transfer of Victor,’ the Colonel said.

Denton had noticed poor Victor, the German mineralogist, on his way in. He was a prisoner at the camp, but they seemed to treat him well in exchange for his specialized work.

‘That’s why I’m here,’ Denton said. ‘Victor will be very useful for our team.’

When Denton arrived at the Norwegian boarding school turned Nazi prison camp, he’d been asked to hand over his Polish Viz pistol for the duration of his visit. It put him on edge, and he enjoyed it.

Denton smoothed the lapels of his SS coat. He had to give it to the Nazis, they sure knew how to make a uniform. Turning slightly in the metal chair, he checked the edge of his vision and observed the posture of the guards standing by the door. His threat assessment was complete.

‘I’ve noticed an irregularity in your records, which complicates things,’ the Colonel said, taking a seat at his desk in front of an ornate marble fireplace. The Colonel’s head was shaped like a watermelon. He had a receding hairline and a smirk that irritated Denton.

‘Irregularity?’ Denton asked.

‘You’re an American spy.’

Denton kept his breathing slow. ‘I can see how that might complicate things.’

Standing by the Colonel’s shoulder: Greyleg, the chief prison guard. His eyes gleamed at Denton. Watching.

The true influencer in any group was not always the person with the highest rank.

The Colonel cleared his throat and leaned forward. His stomach pressed his uniform taut.

‘Here is what will happen, Lieutenant Denton, Office of Strategic Services,’ the Colonel said, pushing his chest forward in small increments. ‘I’m short on test subjects for our experiments. You’re going to fill that. A strictly short term arrangement.’

There was that smirk again. Denton ignored it.

Greyleg was circling. He knew why.

‘If it’s all the same with you, I prefer the spy thing,’ Denton said, grasping his armrest. ‘Plus, your uniforms are fantastic. It’s a shame this Hugo Boss fellow doesn’t make suits.’

The Colonel touched the oak leaf on his collar. ‘One of many shames.’

While Denton might’ve looked like his focus was on the Colonel, his attention was riveted to Greyleg.

One look at the man and Denton recognized someone unburdened by humanity’s weaker emotions. He was free to operate at his full potential. And that involved shooting Denton, shooting the guards, and shooting the Colonel. Greyleg would blame it on Denton and receive his promotion.

Denton knew this because that’s what he would do.

Greyleg approached Denton’s nine o’clock, where the guards couldn’t see him draw. The Colonel was busy showing Denton how deep his voice could go, and hadn’t noticed Greyleg’s movements.

Denton stood. Greyleg went for his Luger P08 pistol. Chair in hand, Denton slung it into Greyleg’s midsection. The chair’s leg knocked air from his lungs and dropped him to his knees.

Denton closed on the Colonel.

The smirk was gone, but there was a glint of oxide steel. A Luger, identical to Greyleg’s. The Colonel drew his Luger. He should have drawn the pistol close to his chest, punching out and firing. But like many soldiers Denton had killed this year, the Colonel tried to swing the pistol from his hip. The barrel struck the edge of the desk, slowing his draw.

Denton reached the desk and slid under it. The Colonel brought the pistol across his body, hunting for a target. Denton emerged beside the Colonel, deflected the arm as the trigger squeezed.

The round discharged, clipped Greyleg in the arm. Much to Denton’s amusement.

Greyleg’s firing hand fell limp, his pistol skittering towards the slowly reacting guards. Denton twisted the Luger from the Colonel’s bulging fingers and used the Colonel’s body as a shield against the guards.

The guards advanced, trying to move wide enough for a shot around the Colonel. Denton applied trigger pressure to the base of the Colonel’s skull and they hesitated. The round would not only punch through the Colonel’s brain but, if he was lucky, strike one of the guards.

From the edge of his vision, he saw Greyleg recover.

Denton took aim over the Colonel’s shoulder and killed one guard. The second guard aimed, unsteady finger moving over the trigger. Denton dropped to the floor. Shots punched above him, through the marble fireplace. Denton lay under the desk, watching from an upside-down perspective as the guard’s legs moved closer. He fired a round through each leg, waited for the guard to drop, then continued firing as he collapsed. Through his chest, through his neck, through his nose.

At the same time, the Colonel slumped beside Denton, catching the poorly aimed rounds from the guard.

Greyleg’s boot crushed Denton’s pistol-wielding hand, pinning it to the floor. Denton was about to move in closer but he saw the knife early, just as Greyleg kicked the pistol across the floor. Denton pulled back, flipped the desk onto him. It glanced off Greyleg’s head, but didn’t slow the man down.

Denton appreciated the challenge. Engaging with Greyleg made the adrenalin burn sweeter. He brought his hands up, ready. Let’s see how Greyleg does without a firearm, he thought.

Greyleg leaped over the table in one stride, but then tripped on the Colonel’s body. Denton sidestepped as the man stumbled into the fractured marble shelf. A sharp edge tore Greyleg’s neck as he fell. He shuddered, hands clutched over scarlet.

Greyleg collapsed on top of the Colonel and bled out.

Denton lowered his hands.

‘That was disappointing.’

The Phoenix Variant is released on the 14th of August, where all good ebooks are sold. Or you can preorder now!

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Cover Reveal: The Phoenix Variant (The Fifth Column, #3) by Nathan M. Farrugia

Posted August 1, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

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Sophia: former black operative, current enemy of the state.

Moments before a catastrophic hurricane hits New York City, a terrorist attack vaporizes a museum and a large chunk of the Upper West Side. Almost caught in the explosion, Sophia gives chase to a suspicious figure running from the blast zone.

Amid the chaos, Sophia recovers a rare meteorite from a black operative and is quickly ensnared in a hunt between clashing factions of a labyrinthine covert government known as the Fifth Column.

The meteorite contains traces of the ancient Phoenix virus. The effects of the virus are unknown to Sophia, but she soon discovers it is more powerful than she dared imagine – and that the Fifth Column will stop at nothing to get it.

Unarmed and outnumbered, Sophia and her allies hurtle towards a confrontation that will determine not only their fate but that of all humanity.

The PHOENIX VARIANT goes on sale August 14th where all good ebooks are sold. You can also preorder!

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Cover Reveal: The Foundation by Steve P.Vincent

Posted by Patrick Lenton

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He who holds the pen holds the power.

9781760081911_Foundation_cover

When a corrupt think tank, The Foundation for a New America, enlists a Taiwanese terrorist to bomb a World Trade Organization conference, the US and China are put on the path to war.

Star journalist Jack Emery is pulled into a story far more dangerous than he could have imagined. Because the Foundation’s deputy director, the ruthless Michelle Dominique, recognizes that whoever controls the message controls the world. And she will take control, no matter the price.

Enter Jack’s boss, Ernest McDowell, owner and chairman of the largest media empire on the planet. In the midst of political upheaval, EMCorp is about to become the final play in the Foundation’s plan. When Dominique traps the EMCorp owner in her web, Jack’s the only one left to expose the conspiracy before it’s too late.

As the world powers smash each other against the anvil of Taiwan, Jack will risk everything to battle the Foundation and prevent them from taking control amid the devastation of a global war.

The Foundation goes on sale on the 11th of September 2014 where all good ebooks are sold. Or you can preorder it now!

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Monsters vs. Men

Posted June 19, 2014 by Stephen Jones

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So excited am I by the new Greig Beck Arcadian book I’ve combed through my e-library and have created the ultimate Monster and Men showdown list. Behold, humanity, your champions!

All heroes must face the ultimate monster at the end of the story and defeat it, or else their Hero Card (which gets you 10% off at Rebel Sport) gets revoked and you have to go back to the farm you grew up on.

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Nope, no adventure for you

So, the following are, in my opinion, the best of the best of literary face-off between monsters and men. I’ll be looking at their strengths and weaknesses and deciding if the author got it write (Hah! Deliberate!) All the arguments stem from the original source material, not from the sequels, re-makes, adaptations etc.

Also, spoilers. Duh.

Round 1

Polyphemus vs. Odysseus from The Odyssey

The-Odyssey-Book-Cover

Polyphemus

Polyphemus

Strengths

  • Son of Poseidon
  • Giant
  • Musician

Weaknesses

  • Depth perception and, after the face off, any perception
  • Totes gullible
  • Eats his guests

Odysseus

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Strengths

  • Great-Grandson of Hermes
  • Cunning
  • Smart

Weaknesses

  • Having the last word
  • Asking for directions
  • Lots of murdering

Blinding-the-Cyclops

Odysseus loses some hero points for eye-gouging with a fire sharpened stick, but Polyphemus did start it by eating his guests and in Greece eating one’s guests is a greater faux-par then blinding so I’m saying Homer got this one right. If Odysseus had just kept his big mouth shut then the rest of his journey would have been much quicker but he wouldn’t have had all that sweet Circe lovin’ so…swings and roundabouts.

 

Round 2

Cerberus vs. Hercules from The Twelve Trials of Hercules

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Cerberus

Cerberus

Strengths

  • Three heads, mane of snakes and lions paws
  • Guardian of the Underworld gates
  • Giant freaking three headed dog

Weaknesses

  • Action by committee – never a great start
  • Not a fantastic guardian of the Underworld gates, not so much gates as revolving door
  • At the end of the day…still just a dog.

Hercules

hercules

Strengths

  • Son of Zeus, so…physically, lots
  • Smart (ish)
  • Looks great in lion-skin which not everyone can pull off

Weaknesses

  • Has an eternal enemy in Hera, Queen of the Gods
  • Easily succumbs to madness (sent by Hera, Queen of the Gods)
  • Kills readily and with divine ease (like, for example, Hera – Queen of the Gods).

Cerberus was the 12th labour of Hercules to atone for the slaying of his wife and kids. He faces off with Cerberus without any weapons and bests him, taking him live before King Eurysteus.

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Hercules then became immortal and was accepted to Mount Olympus. I’m guessing he left the giant three-headed monster dog for the king to deal with? The literature isn’t really clear but Eurysteus had been a bit of a dick to Hercules so he totes had that coming.

 

Round 3

Dracula vs. Van Helsing from Dracula

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Dracula

Dracula_1958_c

Strengths

  • Control over weak minds
  • General super-strength
  • Sexiness, both having and inspiring it

Weaknesses

  • Things that cleanse e.g. fire, sunlight etc.  (Ajax?)
  • Predictable actions- tends to turn the female best friend of the protagonists fiancée
  • Starring in terrible films (looking at you, Dracula 3000)

Van Helsing

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Strengths

  • Knowledge of Dracula’s weaknesses and predictability
  • Passes this knowledge on through generations/lives a really long time
  • Can fashion a cruciform out of anything

Weaknesses

  • Being human (compared to Dracula)
  • Taking too long to connect any, and all, dots pointing to the fact that his constant and almost eternal arch-enemy is back, again, and getting his vampiric vengeance on
  • Co-starring in terrible films (still eyeballing you, Dracula 3000)

Dracula and Van Helsing have been facing off through the centuries ever since Van Helsing was summoned to help identify the mysterious illness Miss Nina was succumbing to (hint: it’s vampire). Since then it’s been Van Helsing winning.

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EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Which I personally disagree with. With Dracula’s specific skills (hint: VAMPIRE) he should be kicking arse and taking names, and as the name is always Van Helsing he’s all outta names. I’m available to write Dracula 4000, by the way.

 

Round 4

Creation vs. Dr. Frankenstein from Frankenstein

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Creation

FRANKENSTEIN-cumberbatch

Strengths

  • Dedicated and focused to the task at hand
  • Has read and can recite passages from Milton’s Paradise Lost
  • Undead/not quite alive/somewhere in between?

Weaknesses

  • Being ugly (not a personal judgment, read the book. It’s seen as his greatest flaw.)
  • Constant recitation of Milton’s Paradise Lost (it’s pretentious and gets kinda annoying)
  • Being a virgin

Dr. Frankenstein

Peter-Cushing-Doctor-Frankenstein

Strengths

  • Being a doctor, because an education is important. Stay in school
  • Can mix chemistry and alchemy
  • Creation of life, itself!

Weaknesses

  • Poor decision making skills
  • Changing his mind quickly (serious flip-flopping)
  • Dying of pneumonia

Classic eye-for-an-eye behaviour from the central characters leaves everyone without a mate. The doctor decides not to let his creation have a wife to run away to Brazil with and so, in an understandable fit of anger, the creation turns around and doesn’t murder Frankenstein but Frankenstein’s new wife Elizabeth.

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Because why not? Then the doctor hunts down his creation, and his creation is hunting down the doctor and it all ends in the frozen north with them both dying virgins.

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There is a lesson in there for everyone.

 

Round 5

Moby Dick vs. Capt Ahab from Moby Dick

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Moby Dick

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Strengths

  • Big white whale, so lots of privilege in modern society
  • Big, whale
  • Just a huge freaking white whale really

Weaknesses

  • None, due to being just a big white whale.

Capt. Ahab

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Strengths

  • Finding big white whales
  • Knowing the names of his crew
  • Determination

Weaknesses

  • Determination, above and beyond the call of duty
  • Needing vengeance
  • Losing, really badly

Yeah, Ahab loses. He loses everything. For more information feel free to watch Star Trek: First Contact which is my favourite, therefore THE BEST, adaptation of Moby Dick. Except the ending, which is different. You know what? Read the book.

 

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An ancient evil awakens….GORGON by Greig Beck, available now where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

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GORGON by Greig Beck – Excerpt

Posted June 11, 2014 by Mark

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City of Uşak, interior Aegean region, Turkey

The Uşak rug bazaar was one of the largest in the country, with buyers coming from neighboring provinces to select the best, which they would sell internationally at greatly inflated prices. Before dawn, hundreds of sellers crossed the Lydian Cilandiras Bridge over the Banaz Stream, to compete for space in the bazaar and for the buyers’ attention. It was still dark, but soon the sun would rise, and the cacophony of hawkers’ voices, haggling traders, and playing children would turn the park-like grassland into a riotous circus of sound and color.

Halim watched his mother and grandmother unroll a pair of enormous rugs, their best. Pressure was on all of them to sell their wares early and then be off home. There was death about, a grotesque illness sweeping the countryside. The whispers hinted that the army had collected the bodies of the afflicted, and whole families, whole towns had been wiped out. The newspapers had urged people to stay indoors. A djinn, his grandmother had whispered knowingly. Other old women had picked up the word, and made the sign of the evil eye over their faces, so the devil would not see them this day.

Halim’s mother held his shoulders tight and stared into his face as she laid down the law to him: he was to stay close to her or his grandmother. Halim hummed and drew on the ground with a stick, watching his mother smooth the rug’s edges, and then work with a fine pick to adjust any thread that dared to lift its head above its brothers. He knew why she paid the rug such fussy attention – it took many months to weave, dye, and then dry, but a single sale could deliver enough money to keep the family comfortable for the next half-year.

Bored, Halim said he was going to have to pee, and headed off to the tree line. Once out of sight, he changed course and instead made for the bridge. His mother would scold him if she knew, and his father would more than likely thrash him for disobeying her. But this time of year, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and all sorts of wonderful creatures came out to bask in the day’s warmth. If he could catch one, it would keep him amused for the entire day.

He leaned over the side of the bridge, and waved at his dark reflection. He had the stream to himself, save for several large dragonflies, about a thousand chirruping crickets, and a few small birds warbling in the trees hanging over the water. There was a chill on the back of his neck – cold, but not unpleasant. Halim had collected a handful of stones, and now he dropped them one at a time into the cool swirling water, causing a few minnows to dart out of the reed banks to investigate, before vanishing in flashes of silver and green. He hummed tunelessly in the pre-dawn. He knew if they didn’t make a sale early, they would be there all day and long into the warm evening, before grandfather came with the truck to carry the three of them back home for a late supper. Until then, it was dry flatbread with pickle jam – luckily, he liked pickle jam.

As he watched the water, chin on his hand, the air misted and became cooler – like smoke lazily drifting across the stream surface to dull its sparkle. He looked skyward, expecting to see clouds pulling across the sky – which would be a tragedy for his mother, and all the rug sellers. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year they prayed for rain, but on the day the rugs were unfurled in all their brilliant dyed glory, they prayed for it to be dry. Today there were no clouds, just the same thin mist drifting in from the east. He squinted; it seemed thickest down the road, as if his grandfather’s truck was backing up, blowing exhaust fumes. But there was no truck, no noise, and even the birds and crickets had grown quiet.

Halim angled his head, his face creasing as he concentrated. In the center of the rolling mist, something was taking form, rising up, solidifying, a dark center appearing as if the cloud was denser at its core. The shape was tall, moving toward him, but gliding rather than walking. He grimaced, rooted to the spot. Something about the dark mass instilled dread in the pit of his stomach.

‘Hello?’ His voice was weak, betraying his nervousness. Speak like a man, his father would have said. Halim regretted wandering away from his mother and grandmother. He had the urge to turn and flee, and not stop until he was hugging his mother. But he couldn’t move.

The mist began to clear, and just as the form became a figure, something warned him to look away. He spun, crushed his eyes shut, and placed his hands over his face. He leaned far out over the bridge, holding his breath while he waited. He could feel it now, freezing cold on his back, every hair on his body standing erect, his skin prickly with goose bumps. There was no sound; it was like he had stuffed cotton in his ears, the air muffled and silent around him.

He couldn’t take it any longer and opened his eyes, looking down into the stream. He saw himself in the water, and looming up behind him, something so monstrous, so horrible and terrifying, that he immediately voided his bladder into his trousers. He felt bile in his throat and an explosion of pain behind his eyes. The warmth down his legs unlocked his stricken throat and he found his voice, screaming so long and loud he thought he would never stop.

He did, when consciousness left him.

When he awoke, his head hurt, and there was a needle-like pain behind both eyes. His senses slowly returned – he felt the sun hot on his face; he heard the stream slipping by underneath the bridge, crickets singing, dragonflies zooming about, their iridescent wings and green eyes like tiny jewels.

Halim had never owned a wristwatch, but the sun was well above the horizon – hours must have passed. His mother would skin him alive. He got to his feet, staggered a few steps, then began to run, back along the path, through the trees and into the bazaar. But instead of the swirling dust, riot of color, and noise of hundreds of people haggling, fighting or laughing, there was nothing. A silence so total, he had to rub his ear to make sure he hadn’t been struck deaf.

‘Mama? Nana?’

People everywhere, but all so still. Some were lying down, others were kneeling or sitting, many with hands thrown up trying to shield their faces. Halim saw that all were a ghastly white, even their eyes were the bleached blankness of dry sand.

He found the small square of ground marked out by the beautiful reds and blues of the rug dyes his family preferred. Mama was there, sitting crosslegged, one arm out, the other hand over her face. Nana was kneeling, tiny as always, her hand in front of her face, warding off the evil eye. It hadn’t worked.

‘Mama?’ He touched her – she was as hard as stone.

He nudged his grandmother, and she toppled over, her body remaining in its pose, stiff and unbending.

Halim crouched next to his mother and edged in under her outstretched arm. ‘I’m sorry, Mama. I fell asleep. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

His head ached terribly as he leaned against her, feeling the hardness under her clothes. The familiar feel and smell of her, of her warmth, perfume, and love, was gone. A tear rolled from his cheek, to splash onto her leg. It dried quickly on the stone.

 

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GORGON is available now where all good ebooks are sold

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Cover Reveal: The Spartan by Charles Purcell

Posted April 9, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

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Chinese extremists want to destroy America—and now they’ve got the means to do it.

When a rogue Chinese general threatens to unleash a biological Armageddon across the U.S., there’s only one man who can stop him: the Spartan. Tier One’s toughest soldier has just seven days to prevent China’s toughest special forces soldiers from detonating their plague canisters across the U.S., poisoning millions and sending the world teetering towards war.

By the Spartan’s side is Teresa Vasquez—a former Juarez policewoman whose family was murdered by the cartels. Vasquez is now the owner of the world’s first invisibility suit, after joining forces with the formidable Colonel Garin, Homeland Security’s top troubleshooter and the Spartan’s mentor.

Besides the terrorists, standing in the Spartan’s way is the mafia, the Mexican cartels, the triads, U.S. special forces … and one vengeful U.S. General who never forgot the recruit who refused to salute his superior.

The race is on for the Spartan to stop the canister conspiracy and save the world before the bombs go off on the 4th of July … or before his enemies can kill him.

An exciting new thriller in the tradition of Chris Allen and David Rollins – preorder The Spartan here. 

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The best fictional diseases. Wait, worst. The worst fictional diseases.

Posted March 19, 2014 by Mark

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Flu season is almost here so I thought it would be a good time to look at some horrible diseases from fiction. Most of these will get you a lot more than three days off work…

 

TheStand

Captain Trips (The Stand by Stephen King)

A highly contagious, constantly mutating flu-like virus that is fatal in 99.4% of cases. Starts as a cough and ends in brutal death. Originally developed as a weapon.

 

phage-60

The Phage (Star Trek: Voyager)

A disease that kills off organs and other body parts, the only effective treatment is replacement of the infected organs.

 

A GAME OF THRONES new HC

Greyscale (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)

A flesh-based disease that leaves its victims disfigured but can lead to madness and/or death.

 

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Bone-itis (Futurama)

“My only regret…is that I have…bone-itis!” It’s a horrific disease that, if left untreated, kills you by snapping every bone in your body.

 

WorldWarZ_200-s6-c30

Solanum Virus (World War Z by Max Brooks)

A virus that attacks the human brain, killing the host and then reanimating them as a flesh-eating zombie.

 

Cell_by_Stephen_King

The Pulse (Cell by Stephen King)

Another brain-attacking virus, this one also turns the host into a flesh-eating zombie. But this one is spread by a mobile phone signal. Most phone companies would charge extra for that.

 

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Rage (28 Days Later)

The rage virus is highly contagious and develops in seconds, turning the victim into a mindless rage machine, driven to violence and nothing more.

 

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Vampirus (I Am Legend by Richard Matheson)

This diseases causes light-sensitivity, tooth growth, and compels its victims to drink blood and appear in bad Will Smith movies.

 

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Meningoencephalitis Virus One (Contagion)

A flu-like virus that starts as a severe cough and ends with brain haemorrhage. This movie’s tag line should have been, ‘Nothing spreads like fear. Except meningoencephalitis virus one.’

 

 

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Dave’s Syndrome (Black Books)

If a sufferer of Dave’s Syndrome is exposed to a temperature over 88°F, they’ll go on a Hulk-like rampage, usually involving a loincloth of some sort. Heat-be-gone-booties are not good at preventing an episode.

 

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Irumodic Syndrome (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

A neurological condition that degrades the synaptic pathways leading to memory loss and confusion.

 

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Uromysitisis Poisoning (Seinfeld)

A potentially fatal illness that’s caused when the victim fails to relieve themselves.

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Excerpt: Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky

Posted March 13, 2014 by Mark

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A nuclear device the size of a briefcase has been developed in Pakistan. The scientist  responsible has disappeared with it. The CIA believes the target is on US soil.
When the disappearance of the miniaturized nuclear weapon is uncovered a covert division of the CIA sends Ryan Nash, a major in the 82nd Airborne, to Pakistan. His mission is simple: assassinate the rogue physicist before the drop-off to a fundamentalist Islamic cleric can occur in the North-West Frontier Province.
But the mission is not as simple as it seems.
The CIA’s budget is being slashed in the wake of the disastrous war in Iraq, and the covert division is being shut down. The deputy director of the CIA, Conrad Lawrence, wants to stop the mission, and is willing to go to any lengths to achieve maximum deniability.
Will the team be able to stop the weapon getting to the United States? How far is Lawrence willing to go to stop the mission? Is the target really what it seems? Nash and his team must race against the clock to stop the terrorists and uncover the corruption at the heart of the CIA in this high-voltage military thriller…

 

“ETA three minutes,” said the Blackhawk pilot through the microphone.

All eleven men from the 82nd Airborne Division began to systematically check their gear, weaponry, and ammunition. The M4 carbines, with their attached M203 grenade launchers, were readied. The night-vision goggles attached to their helmets were pushed out of the way and their flak jackets, designed to protect them from shrapnel and light arms fire, adjusted and pulled tight. It was a ritual they’d performed dozens of times before. Rations wouldn’t be needed this time; it was going to be a short operation.

Major Ryan Nash checked the lipstick camera attached to his Kevlar helmet. This would send live pictures of the mission via satellite to their command post in Jalalabad.

He and his men were on their way to recover the last of the five Navy SEALs killed in Kunar. The bodies of the other four had been recovered before the initial rescue mission had to be aborted. Earlier a helicopter that was attempting to recover the body came under heavy Taliban fire from a strongly fortified cave high above the dried riverbed, where the body of this SEAL still lay, and was forced to abandon the rescue. Nash was determined that this wasn’t going to happen again.

The fallen SEAL was coming home.

The Blackhawk roared just ten feet above the barren terrain as it raced toward their target. Banking to starboard, it dropped to just above the sandy surface of the riverbed’s winding path and charged along it. Suddenly the Blackhawk turned a bend in the river and came to a hover, hanging in space like a huge insect. From its doorway an M60 air-cooled fifty-caliber machine gun exploded angrily to life.

One of the aircrew rained five hundred and fifty shots per minute of hot lead onto the granite clifftop and the heavily fortified cave only three hundred meters away. The empty cartridge cases and links spewed into the canvas ejection-control bag to stop them being flung into the path of the rotor blades or turbine-engine intake.

As the Taliban ran for cover near the cave’s mouth, pieces of rock, shrapnel, and dirt exploded like bombs all around them.

Just below the Blackhawk and several meters ahead of it the body of the Navy SEAL could be seen wedged between some boulders on the edge of the riverbank. Clouds of dust, as fine as talcum powder, swirled about as the helicopter dropped from the sky and bounced on the uneven terrain on the edge of the riverbed. The doors rumbled open.

“Go! Go! Go!” Nash screamed as he leaped from the doorway, followed by seven of his men. As they clambered across the rocks, the fine dust and sand blew over them, covering them in a deathly red mask.

“Rodriguez! Johnson! Recover the body,” Nash barked.

The two men hurried toward the fallen SEAL.

Suddenly the persistent and unique sound of AK-47s cut through the air, biting into the earth and ricocheting off the rocks around them, followed by the unyielding fire from a heavy machine gun.

The Blackhawk leaped back into the sky to avoid the relentless fire from the mouth of the cave, retreating a few hundred meters further and firing brutally toward the cave and its militia.

“Get some cover, over there!” roared Nash as he and the rest of his men raced over a landscape that was totally devoid of grass, trees, or vegetation of any kind. The rocks and pebbles, as hard as iron and as sharp as razors, cut into their leather boots and rolled beneath their feet as they scrambled for cover.

It was as if they had landed on the surface of the moon.

To his right he could see that Rodriguez and Johnson had reached the SEAL and were lifting him into the green rubberized body bag. Even over the din of the fight and the helicopter noise he imagined he could hear the sound of the zipper closing.

Raising his binoculars, Nash looked at the cliff face and studied the cave at the top. At its entrance, protected by the hedge of boulders, a band of five or six Taliban was firing down on them. Given that the SEAL commander had reported around twenty, the rest must have fled or were hiding deeper in the cave somewhere, he thought. Four of the Taliban had established a defensive position at the cave’s mouth and were enthusiastically firing the heavy machine gun.

“Kelly!” he called.

“Yes, sir.”

“Take them out!”

Kelly nodded to Jacobs and Bennett. They armed the M203 grenade launchers attached to their carbines and fired. The rocket-propelled grenades exploded in front of the cave between its mouth and the gun emplacement. Two bodies flew high into the air like bolts of cloth and dropped out of sight.

They waited for some returning fire. There wasn’t any.

Pausing to assess the situation, Nash peered through his binoculars and then signaled his men to carefully and silently make their way up the stone path that snaked up the mountain. With their weapons readied, they edged in single file along the rocky and rough track that climbed toward the cave’s entrance.

Arriving at the cave’s mouth, they found three Taliban fighters dead: one slumped over the machine-gun position; the other two bent and twisted in the dust nearby.

“Bennett, Kelly, come with me,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta M9 automatic and made his way into the cave. Kelly followed with his favored weapon, a flamethrower, which was held firmly out in front of him.

Standing in the cave’s entrance, Nash was surprised at how large the inside was. A small oil lamp barely lit the interior, and seven bedrolls were on the floor. A satellite phone was sitting on a box of ammunition next to an assortment of papers and maps.

Nash signaled silently with his fingers. Bennett and Kelly moved to his left. The three of them crept further into the bowels of the cave complex, which split into two passages and disappeared into total blackness.

The remainder of Nash’s team took up defensive positions just inside the cave’s mouth, watching the terrain below for any sign that the Taliban or their reinforcements were returning.

As Nash, Bennett and Kelly edged their way silently down the main tunnel, a volley of nine-millimeter bullets flew out of the darkness and tore into Kelly. Instinctively he squeezed the trigger of his flamethrower. A dripping liquid flame, some twenty meters long, shot from its mouth and raced into the depths of the cave, setting everything in its path alight. As Kelly fell to the cave floor, a barrage of sickening screams came from the direction of the flames.

Crashing through the wall of fire, two Taliban, their clothes ablaze, raced toward them. Thrashing their arms about wildly, they were trying to beat out the flames that were consuming them.

Nash aimed and fired two shots. Both bullets hit the first of the Taliban squarely in the head, and it exploded like a ripe melon. Bennett fired his M4 carbine and the second Taliban crashed to the cave floor. The screaming stopped as the stench of burning flesh and rancid smoke began to fill the cave.

Nash leaned over Kelly. The first bullet hadn’t penetrated his flak jacket but the second had caught him in the side of the neck, where his carotid artery was vigorously pumping the life from him.

“Did I get him?” Kelly asked.

“You sure did—barbecued him good,” Nash replied.

Kelly smiled and then said, “I’m really cold, sir.”

“You’ll be fine,” said Nash, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be. “Get the medic in here!” he called to Bennett, who rushed from the cave toward the rest of the men.

Cradling Kelly in his arms and with his thumb pressed hard against the artery in his neck, Ryan Nash watched another of his men die.

Suddenly, through the smoke, Nash thought he heard a sound. He laid Kelly’s head gently onto the cave floor. Covered in blood and moving to his right, he stepped through the smoke and came face to face with another Taliban fighter. This one was armed with a knife.

Nash looked deep into the man’s black eyes. “A knife …?” he asked.

The Taliban didn’t utter a word. He simply smirked through a shaggy black beard and broken yellow teeth.

“Maybe some other time,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire. It was jammed. He pulled the slide back to try to free the shell, but the Taliban lunged forward, slashing at Nash with his blade.

Nash leaped to one side, dropped the Beretta onto the cave floor and pulled his Special Forces dagger from its sheath. With a twenty-two-centimeter blade of hardened blue steel it was sharp enough to shave with.

As his enemy lunged again, knife held high, Nash leaped to his right and grabbed the Taliban around the head and shoulders. The Taliban’s arm carrying the knife was now pointing straight up into the air and was pinned hard against the side of his head. Nash lifted him above the ground. The Taliban’s feet flayed about desperately. He was much smaller and lighter than Nash had expected.

“This is for Kelly,” he whispered as he slit the man’s throat to the spinal column and dropped him to the ground.

The blood gushed from his neck, a strange gurgling sound filling the silence of the cave as his life drained from him and raced across the rocky dirt floor.

Nash stepped back through the smoke and into the cave’s entrance, where the medic was crouched desperately over Kelly. Nash looked down and the medic simply shook his head. In the corner Bennett was busily collecting the papers and maps that had been left beside the bedrolls and satellite phone.

Bennett stopped and stared intently at the piece of paper in his hand. “Major, you’d better look at this.”

Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky is available for $5.99 where all good ebooks are sold. Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

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Cover Reveal: GORGON by Greig Beck: Alex Hunter Returns

Posted March 11, 2014 by Mark

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Bestselling author Greig Beck (This Green Hell, Black Mountain) is back, and so is Alex Hunter, the Arcadian.

An ancient evil awakens…

Alex Hunter has been found – sullen, alone, leaving a path of destruction as he wanders across America. Only the foolish get in the way of the drifter wandering the streets late at night.

Across the world, something has been released by a treasure hunter in a hidden chamber of the Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul. Something hidden there by Emperor Constantine himself, and deemed by him too horrifying and dangerous to ever be set free. It now stalks the land, leaving its victims turned to stone, and is headed on a collision course with a NATO base. The Americans can’t let it get there, but can’t be seen to intervene. There is only one option – send in the HAWCs.

But Alex and the HAWCs are not the only ones seeking out the strange being – Uli Borshov, Borshov the Beast, who has a score to settle with the Arcadian moves to intercept him, setting up a deadly collision of epic proportions where only one can survive. Join Alex Hunter as he learns to trust his former commander and colleagues again as the HAWCs challenge an age-old being straight from myth and legend.

GORGON will be available worldwide on 10 June 2014, where all good ebooks are sold. Pre-order now, and check out Greig’s other bestselling titles from Momentum:

 

 

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The First Bird 

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Black Mountain: An Alex Hunter Novel

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This Green Hell: An Alex Hunter Novel

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Arcadian Genesis: An Alex Hunter Novella

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Return of the Ancients: The Valkeryn Chronicles Book 1

 

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Cover Reveals: TROLL MOUNTAIN by Matthew Reilly

Posted March 5, 2014 by Mark

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On April 8, the adventure begins as worldwide bestselling author Matthew Reilly takes you on his wildest adventure yet!

A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.

Journey to the mountain …

In an isolated valley, a small tribe of humans is dying from a terrible illness.

There are rumors, however, that the trolls of Troll Mountain, the valley’s fearsome overlords, have found a cure for the illness: a fabulous elixir.

When his sister is struck down by the disease and his tribal leaders refuse to help him, an intrepid youth named Raf decides to defy his tribe and do the unthinkable: he will journey alone to Troll Mountain and steal the elixir from the dreaded trolls.

But to get to Troll Mountain, Raf will have to pass through dangerous swamps and haunting forests filled with wolves, hobgoblins and, worst of all, the ever-present danger of rogue trolls …

The journey to the mountain has begun.

Troll Mountain is being released exclusively as an ebook serial through April…dates and covers: 

 

 

TROLL MOUNTAIN: EPISODE I

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8 April 2014

 

 

TROLL MOUNTAIN: EPISODE II

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15 April 2014

 

 

TROLL MOUNTAIN: EPISODE III

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22 April 2014

 

 

TROLL MOUNTAIN: OMNIBUS EDITION

29 April 2014

 

 

Available where all good ebooks are sold at retailers worldwide

 

 

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Where do you get your great ideas? A brief chat with JR Carroll

Posted February 27, 2014 by Mark

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1. What is your daily writing routine?

In the past I used to write about 6 hours a day, beginning mid-morning. But now … a couple of hours, maybe 11 to 12 and then another hour during the afternoon. Much of my writing time is fragmented, done whenever it suits me or when I think of something that absolutely must be written at that time. I spend a lot more time actually thinking about the book – what happens next, where this or that character is going, how it’s going to end – than I used to. Thinking up plots doesn’t get any easier, I find.

2. Name some books or authors that have influenced you

Authors who have influenced me over the years are many – Graham Greene, who got me interested in fiction, Hemingway, for his taut, masculine style and the stoicism of his protagonists, Elmore Leonard ( who himself owed a debt to Hemingway, without whom, in his opinion, there would be no crime fiction as we now know it), Raymond Chandler, because of his literary qualities and his perfection of the suffering, lone wolf detective (we all have damaged cops these days; how much of that is owed to Chandler?), Philip Kerr, who carries on that noble tradition with Bernie Gunther, Michael Dibdin for the same reason and also because of the Venice setting, Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, for his brutal style and evocation of place and time, Michael Connelly (who comes through that ‘Great Tradition’ of modern American crime fiction), Ruth Rendell, for her psychological insights into the twisted mind … And ditto for Colin Wilson. The list goes on. I suppose I have been influenced by every author I’ve encountered in one way or another.

3. Why should people read 8 Hours to Die?

I would hope people would read 8 Hours to Die to be transported into a truly frightening world, if only for a few hours, to experience vicariously blind terror at the hands of vicious desperadoes in that scariest of scenarios – the home invasion. One never knows how one would fare in such a situation. whether one would be heroic or not … Character is the core of a crime novel, and in this one I’ve pushed that to extremes, to see what human beings are capable of under great duress. The most unexpected things can happen, good and bad. I’ve always loved the idea of the ‘siege thriller’, ever since seeing Peckinpah’s horrific and controversial film ‘Straw Dogs’ back in the early seventies.

4. What do you hope readers take from your book?

Pretty much as above. I would also hope the reader is kept on a knife’s edge at the narrative level, trying to figure out what is happening and how it’s all going to pan out. And then, when it’s over, to experience nightmares, to jump slightly when the doorbell rings at night … So I would like the reader to carry this sense of fear, and dread, a knot in the stomach, that such things can and do happen to just about anyone.

5. What are you currently reading?

Since I’m living in Venice at present, my reading is determined by what’s on the bookshelf here, in our apartment. I have read and enjoyed Michael Connelly’s ‘The Gods of Guilt’, Philip Kerr’s ‘A Philosophical Investigation’ (1992, before the Bernie Gunther series), Robert Harris’s acclaimed Nazi thriller ‘Fatherland’ and one of Ian Rankin’s, ‘Black and Blue’.

6. Where do you get your ideas?

I get my ideas from everywhere I can. Real crime is a constant source of material. I’m particularly fond of long-unsolved murders, police corruption, disgraced politicians and businessmen, crime families and the culture of the outsider they instill in their young, to ensure that the cycle of criminality is perpetuated, organised blue-collar crime, terrorists, bikie gangs, the lot … I find that with each new idea I decide to base a book on, just a single incident perhaps, I have to create a new set of characters and a new setting, so I’ve never been able to settle into the ‘serial character’ pattern. That makes life more difficult, but also more interesting as there are so many bizarre and fascinating crimes out there waiting for someone to turn them into fiction.

8 Hours to Die is available now where all good ebooks are sold. Click here to find it at your preferred retailer

“Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series

8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series

 

 

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Nine reasons to be excited about Jurassic World

Posted by Mark

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The long-awaited fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise is about to start filming. If you’re anything like me, this fills you with a joy so profound you can’t really describe it. Here are a few reasons you should be getting excited.

1. It’s been a really long time since there was a good dinosaur movie

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21 years to be exact…

 

2. Chris Pratt is the lead actor

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I’d love to see him do the role as Andy from Parks and Recreation.

 

3. It will form part of the 2015 orgy of nostalgia

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Between this and Star Wars Episode 7, we’re all going to feel like 12 year olds with no friends again!

 

4. The director is Colin Trevorrow

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Who made the charming time travel film Safety Not Guaranteed, with another Parks & Rec star, Aubrey Plaza.

 

5. It’s not the ‘mutated dinosaurs being trained for the military’ storyline that was talked about a few years back

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While the exact details of the story aren’t known, it’s definitely not that.

 

6. It promises to show the park as a successful, functioning theme park

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You were always curious as to what the park could have been had it succeeded and now you’ll know!

 

7. It’s a sequel, not a reboot

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Although the suits at Universal would have been tempted to go for a complete do-over, this way there’s still a chance that Jeff Goldblum or Sam Neill could turn up.

 

8. The screenplay is based on a script by the writing duo behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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Now there was a reboot that offered a fresh, inventive take on an established franchise.

 

9. Velociraptors 

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Clever girl.

 

 

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In the mood for more dinosaurs? Greig Beck’s The First Bird is  Jurassic Park meets The Walking Dead and has just been nominated for an Aurealis Award for best horror novel! 

 

 

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Excerpt: Lethal Metal by Harry Ledowsky

Posted February 25, 2014 by Mark

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After three children stumble on dumped radioactive waste in a Murmansk forest, one of them dies from radiation poisoning. 

Outraged by such a tragic waste of a child’s life, American doctor John Ross joins forces with a Typhoon class submarine captain (the father of one of the surviving children) and an undercover operative from the Russian Radiation Authority to hunt down those responsible.

This puts them on a collision course with a Russian Mafia boss and an Al-Qaeda agent determined to acquire nuclear material.

They find themselves entangled in a web of brutality, bribery and blackmail, where no one is who they seem and everyone is expendable …

 

ONE

‘Captain! Captain!’

Captain Andriev Alenkov was suddenly woken by frantic pounding on his cabin door. He flung it open and in front of him stood Vasili Masorin, the second officer, wearing a thermal wetsuit and dripping with water. The look on his face told Alenkov there was something seriously wrong.

‘What is it? What’s the problem?’

‘We’ve lost a man overboard …’ Before Masorin could continue, Alenkov had grabbed his jacket and begun to run through the control room. His six-foot frame raced up the step ladders to the bridge in the conning tower and into the black Arctic night.

Although it was early summer, the Barents Sea had a reputation for sudden and violent changes in weather conditions. A storm with forty-knot winds and a thirty-foot swell had arrived. The rain, mixed with swirling snow and ice, hit and stung his face. The lack of moonlight and low cloud cover meant that the darkness was absolute. He couldn’t imagine worse conditions for a sailor to be lost at sea.

Alenkov was instantly reminded of the last time the Russian Northern Fleet had lost someone overboard, just over a year ago.

Two sailors had been washed off the deck of a Delta-class nuclear submarine that had surfaced in stormy weather in the eastern part of the Barents Sea after experiencing technical problems. The crew was tracking two NATO submarines patrolling the area, when one of the outer hatches on the Russian submarine refused to close properly. As the submarine had submerged and begun to gain speed, the water rushing over the faulty hatch was so loud that the NATO submarines soon realized the Russians were tracking them. The captain of the Russian vessel decided to surface and send two of his officers topside to seal the hatch. A huge wave had washed both men overboard. One body was recovered that same day; the other was never found.

Now Alenkov clambered into the conning tower. Uri Chirnovich, the first officer, was directing the search and rescue operation like a traffic cop at a busy city intersection.

Lieutenant Uri Chirnovich, who was in his early thirties, was a replacement for the TK20’s regular first officer, who had suddenly been transferred to a training post in Sebastopol. Why, Alenkov wondered, had this ambitious individual not chosen a more interesting patrol, or even a higher paying administrative role back at Andreeva Bay? There was something about Chirnovich that didn’t sit comfortably. He was very efficient, well educated, well connected, but too willing to please. Thick set and five foot nine inches tall, with a dark complexion and short salt-and-pepper cropped hair, Chirnovich never questioned a thing. Alenkov had already decided that he couldn’t be trusted, even though he was now his first officer on board.

The largest submarine ever built, TK20, a Typhoon-class nuclear submarine, was the length of two football fields. It weighed eighteen-and-a-half thousand tons and had a maximum speed of twenty-five knots underwater. It carried twenty Makeyev solid fuel rockets, twenty-two torpedoes and a dozen Novator missiles. Each was armed with a nuclear warhead.

TK20 was an awesome example of naval firepower. Tonight she was lit up like a Christmas tree. All six of the port and starboard lights were on. The work lights amidships were ablaze, and two large spotlights mounted on the conning tower swept the sea, struggling to pierce the sheets of rain and spray being whipped up by the wind and waves. Six of the crew, attached to the deck by safety lines, were directing those in rubber boats that were skipping from wave to wave like flat stones bouncing across a lake. The Barents Sea waves broke into clouds of angry white swirling mist, which curled over and tumbled down the front of the wave.

The two men on board each boat were shouting into the blackness, fighting against the roar of the waves and the howling of the wind. They called desperately to the missing crewman and strained to hear a word of response as their torches lit the waves, and saltwater and rain lashed at their faces. But there was nothing. The storm was now furious and well and truly upon them.

‘Number One, who have we lost?’ Captain Alenkov asked.

‘Illya Stepanovich, one of the reactor crew,’ replied his first officer.

‘When?’

‘About twenty minutes ago.’

‘Twenty minutes ago! What the hell took you so long to begin the search?’ Alenkov demanded, failing to hide the anger in his voice.

‘We were rotating the crews on deck as agreed, when suddenly the weather began to close in.’

‘So …’ Alenkov was becoming impatient.

‘I decided we’d be better off continuing submerged to get out of the weather. After we dived we started the first roll call …’

Roll calls were standard procedure after crews have been on deck and again after a dive had begun, designed to avoid the very accident that had just occurred.

Chirnovich continued, ‘When I called the roll the first time Stepanovich didn’t reply, so I called his name again; when he didn’t reply a second time, we conducted a full search of the ship. We didn’t find him, so we surfaced and began the search.’

‘Why did you call the roll? Isn’t that Kuroyedov’s responsibility?’

Stanislav Kuroyedov was the petty officer on watch.

‘He was in the head, so I did it.’

Alenkov glared at Chirnovich, and then lifted his binoculars to scan the wild water, hoping to see something, anything. He then looked at his watch. Stepanovich, if he had been left on deck, would now have been in the water for close to thirty-five minutes. The heavy thermal jacket, pants and boots he was wearing would rapidly fill with water and weigh the best part of eighty to ninety pounds. That extra weight, and a water temperature of somewhere between thirty-two and thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit, meant that if he hadn’t been dragged under by his water-laden clothes, he would certainly have been claimed by the freezing waters of the Barents Sea in about twelve minutes.

Suddenly a thirty-foot wave broke over the bow of the TK20. White water crashed onto the port side and grabbed two men on deck, flinging them into the sea. Their screams, and the shouts of desperation from those still on deck, cut through the roar of the storm.

‘Grab the lines! Grab the lines!’ called the chief petty officer, who was on the deck directing the rescue.

Alenkov watched as TK20 dipped in the heavy seas and rolled frighteningly when another wave smashed over the bow. The remainder of the crew members were slipping and sliding over the deck as they grabbed for the safety lines of their desperate shipmates, finally managing to drag the ashen-faced and spluttering men out of the blackness and back onto the heaving deck.

Alenkov turned to Chirnovich. ‘We can’t risk any more men in this weather. If he’s out there somewhere, he’s gone now. Bring them back in and do another thorough search of the boat. Let’s hope we find him somewhere on board.’

Chirnovich spoke. ‘Would you like me to stay on the bridge, sir?’

Alenkov thought for a moment. There was nothing more he could do, and although they would have to return to base, he still needed to decode the remaining orders for this patrol.

‘Yes, I’ll be in my quarters.’

Alenkov disappeared down the hatch into the control room and headed to his cabin.

His suspicions began to grow. The whole incident was riddled with questions. Why wasn’t Chirnovich the last to leave the conning tower? It was the watch commander’s responsibility to make sure no one was still on deck. Reaching his cabin, Alenkov stepped inside and took a small towel from the back of the door to dry his hair and face.

He had short brown hair, steel blue eyes and was an honors graduate from the largest of the submarine schools, the USSR’s distinguished Sebastopol Naval Academy in the Ukraine. His training over, Northern Fleet Command had offered him a prestigious teaching position at the Sosnovy Bor training center. Alenkov, however, wanted to be at sea.

At thirty-two, he became the youngest captain of a Typhoon-class nuclear submarine. Admiral Gennady Chirkov had taken a fatherly interest in him and his career ever since he joined the naval college. Chirkov was Chief of Staff of the Northern Fleet at Andreena Bay, the largest submarine base in the USSR. Alenkov’s rapid rise through the ranks was in no small part due to his influence and support.

Today, the Russian Northern Fleet was in a state of decay, financially run down and without the resources to carry out more than the most basic of routine maintenance. Demoralized and lacking in funding, it had turned its heroes into workhorses. One of Alenkov’s colleagues, the captain of a Victor III-Class submarine, had recently been ordered to transport potatoes and fruit from the Kola Peninsula in Russia to the Yamal Peninsula on the northern coast of Siberia. Missiles and torpedoes were removed to increase the space for the potatoes.

TK20 normally carried a crew of one hundred and seventy-five officers and men, but budget cutbacks and the failure to pay many of the enlisted men for months on end meant that they were sailing with just one hundred and twenty-two. The rest had simply not bothered to return from shore leave.

Many officers had resigned their commissions; sailors had just deserted to join the growing ranks of black marketeers and smugglers, the growth professions of the day in Russia. Submariners, once the elite of the Soviet Navy, were now reduced by poor pay and conditions to being mere ‘sailors’. It was a navy that bore no resemblance to the one Alenkov had joined.

Since leaving their base at Andreeva Bay, in Murmansk, on Russia’s most northern coast, Alenkov and his crew had been at sea just sixteen hours. This six-week patrol off the frigid waters of the Norwegian and Russian coasts was now effectively over.

Alenkov looked around his cabin. It was large by submarine standards. There was a small bathroom, a luxury reserved for the captain alone. A single bunk bed ran from there to the bulkhead, against which stood one chair. Opposite the bed, on the right, was the captain’s desk, and under the desk, a small safe. Above the desk was a photo of his wife, Nadia, and son, Valentin. Nadia had the softest green eyes and a smile that always made him feel warm inside. Valentin had that cheeky grin of all nine year olds, with a missing front tooth. Alenkov stared down at his desk. Papers, charts and correspondence were liberally scattered over it. It looked untidy, but he knew what and where every single piece of paper was.

What a nightmare this first day at sea had become.

He hung the towel back on the hook and returned to his desk. There were regular dispatches and reports from Northern Fleet Command and all except one had been decoded. That envelope was clearly marked ‘FOR THE EYES OF CAPTAIN ANDRIEV ALENKOV NUCLEAR SUBMARINE TK20 ONLY’.

Alenkov took the longish brown envelope and stared at it for a second. As he leaned down to reach the safe beneath his desk, the chain around his neck swung forward. On it were two keys. One had a blue tag and the other a red. The red-tagged key activated the nuclear weapons system on board. The blue key was for his safe. He took the chain off his neck and placed the blue key in the safe’s keyhole. After one full turn the small door swung open. He reached inside, pushed his navy-issue nine-millimeter Makarov pistol to one side, and grabbed the small, and somewhat dog-eared, beige-colored codebook.

Placing the book next to the message, he began to decode it:

‘You have on board Commander Nicholi Tirenko of the Gosatomnadzor.’

The Gosatomnadzor was the Russian State Radiation Authority. It had earned a fearsome reputation as the incorruptible enforcer of environmental radiation laws, and for prosecuting criminals involved in the theft and blackmarket sales of nuclear material—the sort of material that could be used in the stage-one production of nuclear weapons.

Alenkov read on:

‘He has been working undercover investigating the theft of seventeen pounds of weapons-grade Plutonium 239 from the nuclear waste storage facility at Andreeva Bay. This is enough plutonium to make a bomb equal in intensity to the one dropped by the United States on Nagasaki. He is listed on your crew manifest as Able Seaman Illya Stepanovich.’

‘Stepanovich! Shit!’ Alenkov couldn’t believe it as he stared at the name that leaped at him from the page.

‘He will identify himself to you only if he needs your assistance,’ it went on.

Too late now, he thought.

‘Destroy this message after reading.

Yours faithfully,

Admiral G.A. Chirkov

Chief of Staff, Northern Fleet Command’

Alenkov leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath as his mind raced. What a fuck-up! Why was an undercover operative from the Gosatomnadzor on his ship? Who was he tracking? And why had Alenkov not been told sooner that he was on board? Maybe he could’ve helped. One thing was certain: it was too late now.

Northern Fleet Command would give him hell over the events of the past two hours. They took a relatively pragmatic view of accidents at sea when they involved navy personnel. In fact, the navy even budgeted to lose a dozen or so men to accidents each year across the entire fleet. But when it involved an outside authority, and a very high-profile one like the Gosatomnadzor, it became very public and very messy. Someone would have to be sacrificed and, as the Captain of TK20, Alenkov expected it would be him.

He suddenly felt much older than his forty years.

A firm knock on his door snapped him out of wandering too far into self-pity.

‘Enter.’

Chirnovich, still wet from the storm, stepped into the cabin.

‘We’ve conducted a thorough search of the ship,’ Chirnovich began, ‘and I’m afraid Able Seaman Stepanovich is definitely not on board, sir.’

‘Very well, head back to base submerged. Surface twelve miles from Murmansk Harbor. I want a full report on this incident before we dock at Andreeva Bay. Get onto it, Chirnovich, and leave nothing out. Is that clear? Nothing.’

Chirnovich simply nodded, knowing full well what was expected.

Alenkov looked up and noticed Chirnovich glance, with more than passing interest, at the message from Northern Fleet Command.

‘That’ll be all.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Chirnovich said, and he turned and left the cabin, closing the door behind him.

Lethal Metal by Harry Ledowsky is available from 25 February 2014 where all good ebooks are sold. Click here to find your preferred retailer.

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Excerpt: 8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll

Posted February 18, 2014 by Mark

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Perfect isolation. No phones. No neighbors. No help. 
Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.
But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?
As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.
But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

 The following excerpt takes place after Tim and Amy have reached their isolated cabin. Night has fallen, they’re having dinner, when there’s a sudden knock on the door…

Friday, 7.53pm

Tim had his hand on the door knob and had begun to turn it when a little voice kicked in: Danger, beware: sabre-toothed tigers out there. He opened it a crack, a bit more than that, glimpsed a tall figure standing there, face obscured, head ringed by the outside light. Maybe someone else behind him; Tim wasn’t sure.

‘Yes?’ he said.

‘Special delivery package for one Tim Fontaine,’ the man answered. ‘You Mr Fontaine?’

Tim was used to FedEx deliveries in his business life; they were a normal, everyday occurrence, but out here?

‘Depends,’ Tim said. ‘What’s it about?’

‘Guess,’ the man said. Tim saw his hand come out from behind his back; a weapon in it, he thought. He didn’t wait to find out. It all happened in a flash as he slammed the door hard in the man’s face even as he tried to shove a foot inside. Then Tim jumped to one side as a barrage of bullets ripped through the solid timber door amid ear-shattering screams from Amy, who was standing at the table. He heard a shattering of glass and swivelled to see she had dropped her wine glass on the floor.

‘Amy! Get down!’ he yelled. She seemed to be rooted to the spot, unable to move. He rushed to her side and pulled her to the dining room with him as more shots tore through the door. He gripped her wrist as splinters flew and the room began to smell of gunsmoke.

‘What is going on?’ she screamed. Through her wrist he could feel her trembling. They were standing pressed against the wall.

‘I don’t know!’ he said. ‘Some guy with a gun—I don’t know! Shit!

‘Mr Fontaine!’ a voice called from outside. ‘Come on, now. I have to deliver this package!’

‘Leave it there and fuck off!’ Tim shouted back, realising at once the absurdity of his riposte.

The man outside laughed—two men laughed; maybe three. Fuck. ‘Can’t do that, Mr Fontaine,’ came the answer. ‘Against company regulations. You have to sign for it, see. As evidence. I could lose my job.’

More laughter from outside. But at least they weren’t shooting—for the moment.

Tim said nothing in return. His mind was working fast. Thoughts collided, became chaotic as fear swamped his rational mind. He put an arm around Amy; her shoulders were shivering.

He looked at her scared face, then at the door, splinters of timber sticking out of it.

He had to get his shit together. This was suddenly a bad place.

‘You OK?’ he said, almost a whisper.

Amy gave a nod in return. But she wouldn’t look at him.

The man outside was yelling: ‘Give it up, mate. You can’t win this one.’

‘Who is he?’ Amy said.

‘I don’t know. No idea. Some rough-looking bastard, middle-aged, bikie gear.’

‘Bikie?’ she said. ‘What the bloody hell—’

‘No idea.’ He was trying to think of any connection he’d had with bikies. If he had bikies after him for some reason, they were in deep shit.

He turned his attention to the house. Tim had always been security conscious—had to be, both as cop and lawyer. His current home in Canberra was no fortress, but not too far off it: high brick fences, sophisticated alarm system, sensor lights. Here on the farm, which was unoccupied much of the time, he’d been more concerned about ferals or drifters breaking in. So he’d gone to considerable trouble with the door locks, and steel bars on the front windows.

There were two doors to the house—front and back. Both were made from heavy timber, not the cheap, off-the-rack stuff; both were fitted with multiple deadlocks set in steel plating. Since arriving they hadn’t gone out the back, so the security door was still locked.

Only two ways into the house—and only two out.

‘Mr Fontaine!’ the man outside shouted. ‘Come on, now. We need your cooperation.’ He then lowered his voice into a growl: ‘We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Choice is yours.’

Tim was thinking about the windows. Windows were always a weak spot in any house. No need to smash through a door if you could force a window. These were all of the traditional farmhouse sash type. No large glass panels or floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. The windows all had locks fitted, but most of the frames wouldn’t budge anyway due to warping and numerous coats of paint over the decades. They were stuck fast. The kitchen and dining room windows were double sash, with small quarter panels in the upper half and a single pane below. Tim had never been able to raise or lower them. Plus, they were protected by steel bars set too close together for anyone to squeeze between, even if someone was prepared to smash the panes and try to wriggle through.

But—these were obviously dangerous and determined men. They had at least one gun. They were here on a mission. Maybe they had the tools to lever the bars off, or force them wider apart.

Somebody wants to get in badly enough, they will find a way in. Matter of when, not if.

 

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series

8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series

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Where do you get your great ideas? A Brief Chat with Harry Ledowsky

Posted February 14, 2014 by Mark

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1. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m an early morning guy, start about 7- 7.30 and finish around 12-12.30

2. Name some books or authors that have influenced you.

Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and John Grisham. I’ve always liked stories, that although fiction, could actually happen.

3. Why should people read Lethal Metal?

Because it’s a story inspired on an actual event and involves the greatest submarine disaster the Russian Nuclear fleet history the sinking of the Kursk, a Russian Mafia boss and an al Qaeda terrorist. It’s set in Murmansk the biggest city in the Arctic circle and the home of the Russian Nuclear submarine fleet at a time when the Russian military machine is in desperate decline, where a terrorist buys nuclear material to make a bomb and is hunted. A scary scenario and one that could actually be playing out somewhere right now.

4. What do you hope readers take from your book?

First and foremost I hope that they enjoy it. I write to entertain and involve and am not interested in sending any sort of social or political message. If the pace leaves them breathless and they can’t put the book down then I think I’ve done my job.

5. What are you currently reading?

“The Good Food Guide” for 2014. Silly I know but I’ve several family events on the horizon and need to be prepared. As far as a novel is concerned nothing. I’m taking a break from writing & reading and giving my brain a rest. Although late last year I read “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden”, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Why Nations go to War” Normally it’s the daily papers and car mags….. not very high brow stuff really.

6. Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are everywhere all you need to do is look around, that’s one thing I’ve never had a problem with. That’s probably why I was reasonably successful in adverting for thirty years. Writing three hundred pages is where the hard work is, the ideas aren’t. Right now I’ve enough ideas for another three books.

Lethal Metal is available from 25 February 2014. Click here to preorder from your preferred ebook retailer. 

About Harry Ledowsky

Harry Ledowsky is one of Australia’s most awarded Creative Directors and has been a judge on every major Advertising Award in Australia. Creator of “Oils Ain’t Oils” for Castrol, “Aussie Cossie” for Speedo, “Happy Joe Happy” for the NRMA and “The Bundy Bear” for Bundaberg Rum. He was National Creative Director and head of the Worldwide Creative Directors for Young & Rubicam and was named as “the second most outstanding individual in Advertising” by the Financial Review. He has won over 150 National & International Advertising Awards and been nominated to the Australian Advertising Hall of Fame, who said he was: “A master of drama, pathos and humour….

Having retired from the ad industry he now presents the Morning show on 99.3 Northside Radio.

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Excerpt: Dark City Blue: A Tom Bishop Rampage by Luke Preston

Posted January 29, 2014 by Mark

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Dark City Blue: A Tom Bishop Rampage is the Kindle Daily Deal for Australia today! Grab it now for only $0.99. 

Here’s the first chapter from the book that’s been described as “noir on no-doze”.

CONTENT WARNING: Please note there is violent imagery and language in the following excerpt.

Chapter One

Two days ago, division found a half-beaten, half-pretty, naked fifteen-year-old girl stumbling down the Hume Highway. The case got bumped to Sex Crimes, then the CO bumped it to Tom Bishop. The girl didn’t speak a word of English, and after a translator arrived she didn’t speak a word of anything. Yesterday, Bishop and Ellison hit up every pimp and whorehouse in a two-kilometre radius of where she was found. An hour ago, they got an address from a gonzo smut shooter as to where simulated rape videos were being shot. Only they weren’t so simulated.

Ellison shifted her attention from the dirty windscreen to the clock on her phone. ‘What the fuck takes so long?’

‘Relax,’ Bishop said. ‘It takes as long as it takes.’

She mumbled a profanity and shifted her weight from one arse cheek to another.

Bishop lit a cigarette and wound down the window. The shit smell of three-day-old roasting garbage blew through the car from the rubbish bins some bastard had kicked over the night before. He fixed his gaze on the green stucco house at the end of the street. Three bedrooms. One bathroom. Paint-chipped walls. Overgrown lawns and a burnt-out shell of a car in the yard. A shithole.

The radio crackled to life. ‘Any movement?’

Ellison picked it up, pushed it to her lips. ‘Nothing but the street.’

Moose and Winters were around the back of the house doing the same thing they were: sweating, waiting and trying to stay alert.

Twenty minutes and another cigarette later, Bishop watched a car pull up in the rear-view. He slipped on his sunglasses, climbed out and clocked the street: empty in every direction.

Reeves emerged from the fleet and approached Bishop with a shake of his head. ‘They wouldn’t do it, mate.’

Ellison kicked the side of the car. ‘Fuck.’

She left a dent in the door that Bishop ignored. ‘Did you go to Kean?’ he asked.

‘And to Beechworth and Pointon. All said the same thing: not enough evidence for a warrant.’

A breeze pushed across Bishop’s sweaty face as he turned to watch the green stucco house. His mind raced with all the horrible things that were going on inside. Still, probably nowhere near as bad as the reality of it.

He took a breath.

Fuck it.

Bishop popped the boot, pulled out a shotgun, racked it and moved toward the house with Ellison and Reeves in his wake. ‘You hear that?’ he said.

Ellison looked up and down the street. ‘Hear what?’

‘Screams. Waiting for a warrant, we heard screams then entered.’

Ellison pulled her weapon, checked the chamber, let the slide fall back into position. ‘Works for me.’

‘Reeves, go get lost in traffic.’

Reeves nodded, headed to his car. A moment later, it pulled into the street and the engine faded away.

Bishop wiped his face with the sleeve of his leather jacket as they crouched behind a dilapidated picket fence. Ellison handed him the radio.  He pushed it to his face.

‘I want you boys to wait a couple of minutes, then meet me around the back.’

Winters’ voice filtered back through the two-way. ‘Sure, boss.’

‘Where do you want me?’ Ellison asked. She couldn’t keep still; her eyes darted every which way.

‘Front of the house, pick the door quietly.’

‘What if the shit hits the fan?’

Bishop gave it some thought, rubbed his jaw. ‘Then kick it in.’ Bent at the waist, he made it down the street and into the front yard.

There were two cars parked on the kerb and a shitbox Ford up on blocks. Bishop slid in behind it, peeked over the bonnet. Tattered yellow curtains that were once white hung in the windows and blocked any way of seeing in. He moved closer. Dry grass crunched under his feet as he crept between the house and the fence. The windows were painted black and beyond that, at the rear of the property, lay burnt grass and a makeshift fireplace surrounded by empty longnecks and cigarette butts.

He pushed against the back wall of the house and waited.

Movement.

Winters and Moose. Each held their weapon with one hand while they climbed over the rear fence with the other. The pair wore Hawaiian shirts, loud, offensive. They sidled up to Bishop. ‘I take it we’re going in, boss?’ Winters asked.

Bishop nodded. ‘There’s no warrant; you boys up for that?’

‘Cool with us,’ Moose said. ‘I’m assuming we heard screams?’

Bishop nodded. His eyes shifted to the back door. ‘That thing locked?’

Winters slipped his fingers around the knob and quietly turned. Locked.

‘Pick it.’

Winters got started as Bishop knelt down beside the basement trapdoor. The forty-dollar padlock was a good attempt at security, but the rusted-out latch it was connected to wasn’t. Bishop pulled his flick knife and undid the screws. He looked to Winters and Moose and their Hawaiian shirts. ‘Try to blend in.’ And then he stepped into the darkness.

The smell was terrible. Shards of light pushed through the cracks in the newspaper-covered windows. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the black. Dog cages lined each side of the damp pit.

A sound.

Bishop swung his shotgun low and to the left: a cage. Naked girl. Twelve years old, maybe. She huddled in a corner and tried to cover herself, but there wasn’t much space for her to move and nothing to cover herself with.

Bishop brought a finger to his lips. ‘Shh.’

Whatever language she spoke, she understood.

He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out a flashlight. Hitting the switch, he scanned the basement: two more cages, two more girls.

The floorboards above creaked. Dust sprinkled down and fell through the light; somebody was in the house and, judging by the steps, they were around one hundred and fifty kilos’ worth.

Bishop headed up the three wooden steps, wrapped his fingers around the doorknob, opened it a crack and peeked through. The hall was empty. He stepped onto the warped floorboards and closed the basement door behind him. Despite their attempts at blacking out the windows, the hall was bright. The walls were bare, yellow, the floors scuffed and dusty. Muffled sounds of fucking leaked from the front of the house. Bishop raised his shotgun and took baby steps toward the source. Each room he passed was bare and cold. Nobody lived there and hadn’t for a long time.

The scene was common enough: the makers shoot fuck films in empty houses for a couple of weeks before moving on to another location. By the time the movies are shot, cut, distributed and intercepted by the VPD, the location is already two months old and pointless tracking down.

Bishop passed through the kitchen. The fuck sounds grew louder as he neared the doorframe and waited, the nightmare only inches away on the other side of the flimsy wall. Sweat ran down his face. His palms were wet. He wiped them on his jeans, took a breath … Then his heart stopped.

A barrel pushed into the back of his neck. ‘Easy,’ the voice said as a hand took away his shotgun. Bishop turned and ran his gaze from the .357 up the arm of the musclebound monster. He was tattooed from head to toe, With a minor tilt of his head, the monster motioned to the other room and Bishop stepped into the lounge.

Four men.

Girl on the floor. Crying. Dirty mattress.

Table of knives.

Above the girl, a fifth man. Masked. Naked, Machete in hand.

Bishop was outmanned and outgunned. ‘You’re all under arrest,’ he said.

Nobody was amused.

Ellison kicked the front door to splinters. Scanned the room. Aimed. Bishop hit the deck. She fired. Sprayed what was left of the monster’s head on the wall.

Scumbags yanked out weapons.

Sidearm in hand, Bishop rose to his feet. The masked man moved on him. Machete above his head. Bishop fired. The blast slammed him back into the wall.

A scumbag lurched at Ellison. She fired. Missed. He tackled her to the ground.

Bishop felt a gun on him: the director. He raised his weapon as the girl on the mattress jumped to her feet. Terrified. She tried to run, didn’t know where. Bishop shifted his aim.

‘Down,’ he yelled.

She didn’t hear. Couldn’t hear. The director about to shoot them both. No time: Bishop slammed the butt of his gun across her cheek. Out cold.

Scumbag fired. Missed. Hit Winters instead. He hit the floor.

They opened up. Bishop took out the director as Moose put six into the one on the right.

Ellison was still down on the floor. She had a bastard twice her size in a headlock. Veins on his forehead popped. Spit pushed though his clenched teeth. A moment later, his body went limp.

As fast as all the bad noise started, it came to a stop, leaving only the heavy breathing of the living and gun smoke lingering in the air.

Moose helped Winters to his feet. He leant against the wall and coughed.

‘You alright?’ Bishop asked.

Winters tore at the velcro and let the bullet-ridden vest drop to his feet. He ran his fingers over his chest. ‘Think I busted a rib.’

‘You’ll live.’

Ellison peeled herself off the floor, scooped up her weapon.

‘How about you?’ Bishop asked.

‘I’m good.’ She motioned to the brick shithouse on the floor. ‘Better than him anyway.’

The smoke burnt Bishop’s throat. He lit a cigarette and called to Moose. ‘There’s three girls in the basement; get them out and call an ambulance.’

As Moose left, the adrenaline in Bishop’s body began to bleed away. He dry-rubbed his eyes. When he opened them, it was to the sight of a naked child, battered, bruised and out cold by his feet. Bishop lifted her onto the couch. She weighed next to nothing, and his leather jacket looked enormous draped over her small body. Greasy hair lay over her face; he slipped a strand behind her ear.

‘What is she, thirteen?’ Ellison asked.

‘If that.’

A cracked window from a stray bullet let a warm breeze flow over the room, drying the blood on the walls. In the distance, sirens blared.

 

If you like Dark City Blue, grab a copy of the sequel, Out of Exile: A Tom Bishop Rampage, available now!

9781760080495_Out of Exile_cover

 

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Excerpt: 8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll: Chapter 1

Posted January 20, 2014 by Mark

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8 Hours to Die is the intense new thriller from JR Carroll. 

When the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.

But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?

As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.

But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

CLICK HERE to preorder from your preferred ebook retailer

WARNING: Violence and language ahead…

 

Chapter 1

Friday, 3.15pm

After a late June electrical storm—brief and spectacular—the sky was a clean, washed-out blue, so pristine it was hard to imagine where all that rain had come from. It was warm and snug inside the car. Columns of peeling gum trees crowded both sides of the road; whole battalions of cockatoos and galahs perched in the trees and on the grass alongside the road.

Few other cars, however. Not one, in fact, in either direction. Situation normal in these parts.

Hordes of stationary birds. No cars. A sci-fi movie scenario, where one might be abducted by aliens. Or one of those deserted interstate highways in an American road movie, disappearing for hundreds of kilometres into an empty, and maybe threatening, wasteland ahead.

Tim Fontaine’s gaze was fixed on the broken white line forever rushing towards him. The Kluger’s heavy-duty Kumho tyres sang a high note on the smooth bitumen of the Monaro Highway. Alongside him, his wife, Amy, dozed like a contented newborn, her soft face nestled into a pillow set against the window. He could see her breath misting up the glass.

Tim was impressed. Amy always slept soundly when they were on the road. He could never do that, not in a million years, nod off when someone else was driving. Even when Amy was driving, he kept a sharp eye out. Good or bad, Tim Fontaine had always needed to hold his destiny in his own hands. But apparently Amy had no such qualms. Apparently she had trust and belief in his driving. That was comforting.

Trust. Belief. Big words. When they’d started out, when they were white-hot, trust and belief didn’t matter. No words did. All they wanted was each other—anywhere, anyhow. But now a good part of that heat had evaporated. Things had changed. Hell, everything had changed. Time did that—reconfigured you. In the end you were a different unit from how you started out. They were a normal married couple now.

On the radio a female ABC announcer was playing classical music—something by Prokofiev. Tim didn’t fancy it; he scanned for something else. Norah Jones turned up on one of the local FM stations. She could sing all right, in that sad and wistful style so common among the current crop of songbirds. But you couldn’t tell one from the other.

You’re showing your age, he told himself.

He glanced at Amy again. She was a picture. To his eye she hadn’t aged one day in the eight years they’d been together. In the beginning, Amy’s passionate lovemaking was most unexpected, even shocking, coming from someone with those elegant Gwyneth Paltrow looks. That had made it all the more exciting for him.

But when he looked in the mirror, his face told a different story. His once-dark hair was greying and wearing thin at the crown, his jowls had thickened and deep creases ran across his throat, as if he’d been slashed. Worst of all, goddamned liver spots had begun sprouting on his shoulders and on the backs of his hands. Just a few years ago he was considered young for his age, but suddenly, it seemed, the unforgiving march of time had eaten that up. Now he looked every one of his fifty-three years.

Whenever he dwelt on this subject—every morning as he shaved—Tim worried that Amy might dump him for younger blood. The potential was there once he was no longer sexually attractive. And she’d left someone for him, so why wouldn’t she do it again?

The future was an impenetrable haze. But for what they’d had together, Tim was truly thankful.

Now, though, he had some doubts about her. He’d been wondering if she was the kind of woman who got hot for a man in a flash, then turned off him when the fire went out. It shamed him to admit it, but there were signs that she was going off him. She often faked sleep to thwart his night-time advances; you didn’t have to be a gun detective to tell when someone was pretending to be asleep. There were times when she ended a telephone conversation abruptly when he came home unexpectedly. He could hear her ringing off as he closed the front door behind him. If he asked who it was, she’d say, ‘No one,’ or something equally lame, and then change the subject. Then there were the hang-up calls when he answered the phone—at least once or twice a week for the last six months. And, increasingly, she went out with friends, especially when Tim worked late, which he often had to do to keep the coffers well filled. In the beginning, a twenty-year age difference didn’t matter, but by the time she hit her mid-forties and he was pushing seventy—seventy!—it might be a different story. If they lasted that long.

Maybe he was paranoid, but Tim had developed serious concerns about Amy—sleeping now like a baby by his side, a picture of purity and innocence, though she had a strong-willed, sometimes volatile, temperament. He wasn’t sure how he’d deal with it if she left him. He’d once acted for a multi-millionaire businessman—a perfectly respectable Rotary and Chamber of Commerce type—who had stabbed his wife sixty-six times, and then cut her in half, simply because she told him she was leaving. Every day in the papers there were stories about men who did crazy, violent things even when their wives threatened to walk. Madness lurked in most people, if not everyone, but Tim could never imagine himself doing anything to hurt Amy.

As he drove, these thoughts churned around in his mind. Tim knew this alone could send one nuts: he shook his head to expel the negativity. He became aware that he was strangling the wheel, and flexed out his fingers. It’s all fine. She’s not going anywhere. Amy had a comfortable life: a great home with an infinity pool in Red Hill; tennis club membership; skiing vacations in Colorado; clothes from Vera Wang. Tim was by no means the wealthiest barrister in Canberra, but he did all right, better than all right, considering his humble origins in Sydney’s wild west.

His thoughts drifted even further backwards. He remembered the first time he got it on with Amy, in a Canberra bar, after she’d interviewed him on her radio program. At the time she had the breakfast slot on one of the popular stations. He’d been taken with her name, Amy Hightower, and then, when he came face-to-face with her … well, the chemistry was palpable, right from the introductions. From the moment he locked eyes with her, Tim’s only thought was: How soon can I get her into the cot? The answer: not long. Two days, in fact.

Those thoughts dragged him further into the past, to his pre-lawyer days, years on the force as a uniformed cop, a ‘jack’ as the boys on the street called him. It was equivalent to being called a dog, or a pig. ‘Hey, jack!’ they’d yell when he cruised past in a patrol car, giving him the bird. Not much respect there.

Tim Fontaine was no sentimentalist, but there were odd moments when he indulged. Remembered—with fondness, mostly—growing up in that vast tract of grief and sorrow otherwise known as Sydney’s western suburbs. That was back in the day, when he still went by his full name: Tim de la Fontainebleu. He sure copped plenty at school because of it. Not that there was anything fancy about his family—they were blue-collar all the way through, right down to the second-hand clothes and Christmas presents.

Once, this mountainous, small-eyed thug named Clive Dane came up to Tim in the playground and said, ‘You’re a weak cunt, de la Fontainebloo.’ Next thing, Tim was flat on the ground, seeing stars. He never saw that big, fat fist coming.

Clive Dane. The Dane family was a tribe of retards, thieves and bash artists, rotten from the top down. Old man Dane was forever beating up on the wife. Cops were always around at the Dane house, which was a humpy thrown together from scrap—no doubt stolen—materials. They were the pits.

That same night, Tim’s dad, a senior constable at the local stationhouse, took him down the milk bar for a double-header ice-cream. A double-header! This was an unusual treat—unheard of, really. Next day he gave Tim a pair of boxing gloves, second-hand, naturally. ‘World’s full of Clive Danes,’ his father told him. ‘You want to get by, you have to defend yourself.’

That was when Tim started travelling on the train to a police boys’ club in a nearby suburb, two or three times a week after school. There he was taught the rudiments of boxing by off-duty cops, usually ruddy-faced and reeking of beer. Still, they were performing a service in their own time, and for nothing.

Tim learned how to defend himself, and got better as he grew taller and put on weight. By the time he was sixteen he could, in the parlance of the street, go a bit. Every night he attacked the heavy bag his old man had rigged up in the shed until he couldn’t raise one more blow. But he only ever got into a blue one time, at a dance in Blacktown. Tim found that boxing wasn’t much use up against gangs armed with bottles and knives and knuckledusters. He hit one guy good and hard and then got the hell out. After that he steered clear of the Blacktown rock music scene.

Inevitably he followed his father into the force, never really thought about doing anything else. By the time he was eighteen he was a raw-boned, grinning probationary constable with a gun on his hip. And he got to drive fast cars. What a buzz that was.

Amy came out of her stupor, stretched her eyes open. Gave him a dozy smile.

‘How much further?’ she said.

‘TomTom says … one hundred and twenty-four point seven,’ Tim said, glancing at the GPS. ‘Nearly halfway there.’

‘Cooma?’

‘Been and gone. About ten minutes ago. You missed all that excitement.’

‘Huh.’

Silence for a minute or two as she gazed at the countryside rushing by.

‘You listening to this?’ she said. Queen: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

‘No way,’ he said.

She started scanning for something more acceptable. Tim became aware of a big truck in his rear-view, a B-Double, right on his tail. Where the fuck did that come from? Tim was sitting on ninety-five. He pushed it up another five. The B-Double stayed right there, practically tailgating him. The truck had a bank of lights on a roof bar. Tim put his foot down. Now he was on a hundred-ten. The B-Double matched his speed. Then its horn blared. That was when Amy first noticed they had a tail. ‘Shit!’ she said, twisting around.

‘Christ almighty,’ Tim said. ‘What does this joker want?’

‘Tim!’ she said. ‘He’s nearly hitting us!’

‘Fuck! Can’t pull over,’ he said. ‘He’s too close anyhow. If I hit the brakes he’ll smash into us for sure!’

‘Do something!’ Amy screamed. Tim saw in her eyes that she was scared to death. So was he.

Tim wrenched the wheel to the left, touching the shoulder of the road. The B-Double edged out, looking to pass, but then another truck came thundering the other way. Coming up was a long curve, double lines all the way. Tim hugged the shoulder, giving the B-Double all the room he could afford. Suddenly it pulled out and screamed past them, horn blaring nonstop. The rush of air between the two vehicles rocked the Kluger, forcing Tim further off the bitumen, into the gravel and dangerously close to a fence and overhanging branches. Right then he was pretty sure he was gonzo. Hold on, hold on. But the Kluger suddenly swung sideways in the truck’s ferocious backwash, spinning on the loose stones. Tim stomped on the brake pedal and gripped the wheel for dear life. Amy was screaming, grasping her head in both hands. The all-wheel drive momentarily tipped, going onto two wheels, then righted itself and skittered on down the road at a dangerous angle—travelling backwards. There came a terrible shriek of rubber as he practically stood up on the brakes. He knew that was wrong, totally wrong—in this situation, you never hit the brakes, you steered in the direction the car was swerving—but he was going too fast and unless he could stop the car he was certainly going to wrap them around a tree …

In that instant, the moment before his death, his mind flashed on a TV news item showing bits of car wreckage scattered along a highway, a young reporter telling his audience the two occupants had no chance.

And then, in a dense cloud of dust and gravel and gum leaves, the Kluger skidded to a halt—in the middle of the road, and pointed the wrong way.

Tim took a deep breath. Then another. His heart was racing. The dashboard was a constellation of red lights—he’d stalled the car.

‘Holy. Fucking. Shit!’ he said in a rasping voice. ‘You—you all right, baby?’

Amy’s face was still buried in her hands. He touched the top of her head, and she convulsed violently, as if he had hit her.

Tim turned his attention back to the Kluger. He restarted it with some difficulty, four or five tries, and then brought it the right way around with a three-point turn. He drove slowly on until he found a place to stop for a spell.

When he’d switched off the engine and unsnapped his seatbelt, Amy said, ‘I thought I was dead then.’

‘Yeah.’

‘No, I mean—really dead. And then … when you touched me, I got a shock because I suddenly realised I wasn’t. I was … I was in another place, all silent and serene.’

Tim was nodding. ‘Scary. Christ, what a bastard!’

In a minute or so she said, ‘Did you get his number?’

‘Afraid not. Had a bit on the plate.’ He blew out some air.

They sat quietly for a good five minutes, listening to the ticking of the engine.

‘I wouldn’t mind a cigarette,’ Amy said. She’d given up five years ago, hadn’t lit one since.

‘Sorry I can’t oblige,’ he said. ‘I could actually use something stronger.’ He’d just noticed that his hands were trembling uncontrollably. Not an ideal start to a relaxing weekend away.

‘Anyway … let’s push on,’ he said, turning the key. ‘Onward and upward.’ He grinned at her, a false heroic gesture, but didn’t get one in return.

Tim and Amy were headed for their weekender deep in the Pericoe Valley, adjacent to the South East Forest National Park and around thirty kilometres inland from the fishing port of Eden. Most of it was virgin bush country, dense pine forest with a handful of residences, old farmhouses, caravans and derelict shacks scattered about. The boom period for Pericoe had been during the early seventies, when a community of hippies and dropouts had settled there during the wave of anti-Vietnam war flower power and a different way of being. It was supposedly modelled on Nimbin, the thriving hippie community in northern New South Wales. People cut down trees and built their own shelters, planted vegetables, raised chickens, goats and pigs, smoked a lot of weed, sang songs by Donovan and Melanie and Bob Dylan, embraced the concept of free love and free everything else. Disturbed long-haired Vietnam veterans arrived in army greens, hoping to escape their wartime nightmares and put their lives back together. For a few years it must have been some kind of paradise, where people went nude and painted their bodies and grew dope, babies were born and raised totally insulated from the military–industrial complex—that evil conglomerate that ran the western world—and no one was trying to shoot the crap out of anyone else.

Problem was, the soil wasn’t capable of supporting much except some hardy plants along with the dope. Dense forest cover blocked sunlight and sucked up most of the nutrients. More crucially, there was no regular water supply—no river or lake, or even a dam. Whoever chose the location failed to notice why no one else lived there. Disillusion soon set in. A five-year drought pretty much finished the commune off. By the early eighties, Pericoe had gone from the Garden of Eden to the Valley of Despair. People abandoned their shacks and caravans. The pigs, cats and dogs were left to run loose as the inhabitants packed up their meagre belongings and hitched rides back to the real world. Only a few resolute souls remained. Nowadays, there were probably about thirty people scattered through the Pericoe Valley, although no one could say for sure.

*

Half an hour on, Tim was deep in thought as he sped through the bush, barely noticing any of it as he barrelled along the Mount Darragh Road. In his mind he was replaying the incident with the B-Double, but seeing the car flip over, screeching down the road on its roof before coming to grief. Beside him Amy was sitting up, eyes wide open, staring straight ahead. Nothing dozy about her now. Neither had spoken a word since they’d restarted their journey. Tim was picking up a negative vibe, as if she somehow blamed him. And oddly, he did feel a bit responsible for putting her in danger.

‘Well, baby doll,’ he said, patting her leg, ‘least we’re still here to tell the story.’

Amy turned to him with a faint, mirthless smile, one side of her mouth turned down. But she still didn’t say anything. Tim put it down to shock. He removed his hand and put it back on the wheel.

In a little while they passed through the small town of Wyndham. The late sun was casting long shadows of trees across the road—always disconcerting. Tim blinked, concentrating harder. Only forty kilometres to go. He turned onto Barragate Road, then Towamba Road—last leg of the trip. At the junction was the general store, which had been there for at least a hundred years. The last chance saloon for all essentials.

Tim pulled in out front and killed the engine. Amy maintained her silence. She seemed locked into a world of her own—apparently unaware that they’d stopped.

‘Hey,’ he said softly.

She looked at him with her pale blue Gwyneth Paltrow eyes.

‘Come on,’ he said, smiling—but not overplaying it. ‘Time to pay our respects to His Worship.’

The store was of the old-world variety, packed to the rafters with hardware, tools, drygoods, household items, sturdy outdoor clothing, fishing tackle, groceries, bottled water. There was also a range of locally made gourmet products: preserves, chutneys, bread, confectionery. It also had the only telephone in the district. Anyone needed to make a call, they came to Gus’s store and used his 1980-vintage wall phone, complete with scratch pad and pencil dangling on a string alongside. And since there was no mail delivery hereabouts, the store also served as an unofficial post office.

Whenever Tim came through the fly-wire door to be confronted with the wondrous array of provisions, he imagined the pioneers with their bullock drays calling in for their pots and pans and sacks of flour before pushing on into the great wilderness—it had that kind of feel to it. It was a step back through time.

The store had been run forever by a disapproving octogenarian named Gus. He was a local fixture and a sort of unofficial councilman for the entire valley. Gus was often referred to as the mayor. Seemingly without ever leaving his post, he knew everything that went down hereabouts.

Tim and Amy stood at the counter, surveying the stacked mass of goods, much of which bore brand names that had ceased to exist long ago. It all seemed haphazard, quite chaotic, yet no doubt Gus could put his hand on anything a customer wanted straight away. No sign of him right now, however. Tim pressed the worn-down brass buzzer on the counter, connected by wires that made their way through the guts of the store to a residence out the back where Gus lived alone. Apparently his wife had died decades ago.

Eventually Gus appeared, weaving through racks of King Gee overalls and clusters of kerosene lanterns hanging from the ceiling. His expression didn’t change when he saw Tim. Tim had never seen Gus smile. Amy thought he was a grumpy old bastard, and he was, but Tim had time for him. He had a story to tell, no doubt. And there was a sense of humour buried in there, somewhere.

‘Afternoon, Gus,’ Tim said.

‘Afternoon yourself,’ Gus said in his friendly, gruff manner—though one could never be sure how much ‘friendly’ was in there. Seemingly aware of her dislike of him, he barely acknowledged Amy, giving her only the slightest nod. She believed he was a misogynist, but Tim wasn’t so sure. He thought Gus was uncomfortable with women rather than disliking them.

‘So … how’s business of late?’

‘Business never changes,’ Gus said. ‘Like me. Man might as well be a wooden Indian.’

Tim, nodded, smiling. This was the standard rigmarole.

‘Old Kaw-Liga,’ Tim said, referring to the Hank Williams song from the fifties.

‘That’s right,’ Gus said. ‘Made of knotty pine. That’s how I feel most of the time.’ He looked out the window at the gleaming silver Kluger. ‘Got yourself a new conveyance?’

‘Yeah,’ Tim said. ‘Only had it a month or so.’

‘Not even run in,’ Gus said. ‘What is it, a Humvee? All those off-road war wagons look the same to me.’

Tim smiled at the very idea. ‘No, mate—she’s a Kluger.’

Gus frowned. ‘Kluger. Sounds German. No time for Germans.’

‘Not German. It’s a Toyota—Japanese.’ Soon as he said it, Tim realised his mistake. Too late.

‘Don’t talk to me about the Japanese,’ Gus said, spitting the word. ‘Not after what they did to my brother, Tyrone, God rest his soul, at Hellfire Pass.’

Tim was nodding, tight-lipped. He wasn’t about to say anything to encourage Gus down that road. Amy, meantime, was inspecting the jars of fancy preserves and whatnot.

‘They beat him half to death when he fell down on the job,’ Gus said. ‘Died the next day from dysentery and starvation. Weighed sixty-five pounds by then.’ A dark shadow crossed his face as he reimagined the ordeal his brother had gone through. ‘Like to have seen ’em try it in a fair fight. Tyrone would’ve taken a dozen of ’em, one hand tied behind his back.’

It was a long time ago, Gus, Tim thought. World’s moved on a bit. Words he’d never dare utter.

‘True enough,’ he said, to fill the space. He allowed a respectful moment or two to pass before changing the subject. ‘What about Malcolm? How’s he going?’

‘Who could possibly say,’ Gus said.

‘Think I spotted him in the bush once,’ Tim said. ‘Last time I was here. But I wasn’t too sure.’

‘If he doesn’t want you to see him—you won’t.’

‘Right.’ Tim turned to Amy. ‘Anyway … must press on. We’d better have some of Mrs Brennan’s sourdough bread. And a couple of dozen of the spring water. Anything you want, baby?’

Amy had collected several jars of chutney and jam. ‘I’ll have these,’ she said, dumping them on the counter. Tim selected four loaves of the bread while Gus hefted two shrink-wrapped twelve-packs of water from a stack and put them with the rest.

‘Anything else you need?’

‘Should just about do,’ Tim said. He shelled out some cash. Gus worked it all out with a notepad and pencil, then made change from an ancient wooden drawer, worn smooth and blond.

What remained was a ten-kilometre drive down a dirt road. After fifteen or so minutes, about four kilometres from Tim’s place, among trees so tall dusk seemed to have suddenly come down, he slowed at a small cabin set back a way from the road, half concealed in shrubbery.

He left the motor running while he looked at the cabin.

‘No signs of life,’ he said.

‘What would you expect? It looks deserted,’ Amy said.

Tim got out and opened the back of the car. Amy watched him pick up a dozen of the water bottles and two loaves of bread. Then he made his way to the cabin.

Malcolm—the only name he was known by, other than Mad Malcolm—was one of the original settlers of the Pericoe valley. He was a disturbed Vietnam veteran, suffering from what would nowadays be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD. But whatever name you gave it, Malcolm was one screwed-up motherfucker. When everyone else pulled the pin, he stayed on. He was such a loner he probably didn’t even realise they’d all gone. How he survived, Tim didn’t know. There was no sign of a vegetable garden, no chickens, nothing. Not even a dog. He was never seen at the store. He had no car. The only explanation was that he lived off the land, hunting the feral pigs or rabbits or whatever else came under his gunsights. Tim had heard the occasional rifle shot ringing out in the woods, and he always assumed it was Malcolm snaring his dinner. In his mind’s eye he had visions of a demented wildman, a frightening vision of tangled red hair wearing a loincloth made from animal hide, and bare feet: a modern-day William Buckley, the escaped convict who lived with Aborigines for half his life.

The cabin was a well-constructed, solid little dwelling built from logs that had been split in half with an axe. Mortar was a rough mix of mud and grass, similar to that used in the old wattle-and-daub pioneering days. You could imagine a family of gnomes living in it. There was a front window that, in Tim’s experience, always had a cloth blind of some sort.

Tim knocked a couple of times. No answer. He rapped again, waited a minute. Then he put the water and bread on the ground in front of the door. He had never expected anyone to open it.

This was part of the ritual whenever Tim came to the valley. He had got into the habit of leaving these offerings for Malcolm for reasons he couldn’t properly explain. As he left the property, Tim stopped in his tracks. He had that unmistakeable feeling of being watched. He turned around, but saw nothing. No sign of life anywhere. He scanned the bush. It was all quiet and still. Not even a bird breaking the silence. Still he felt eyes on him. There had been something …

‘Mission accomplished,’ he said, climbing back aboard the car.

‘I don’t know why you bother,’ Amy said.

‘Neither do I,’ he said. ‘Guess it gives me a nice warm feeling—you know, reaching out to help the dispossessed and alienated.’

‘Lawyers don’t do that,’ she said. ‘At least none that I know.’

‘I realise it’s dead against the code of ethics,’ he said. ‘But what the hell.’

‘Like leaving out cake for Father Christmas,’ she said. ‘But at least he gives you something in return.’

‘Amy,’ he said, turning towards her as they trundled down the dirt road, ‘I hate to be the one to tell you, but … there is no Father Christmas.’

Amy laughed, and at that moment, in his peripheral vision, Tim noticed a dark blur flash in front of the car. Instinctively he hit the brakes, but too late. Thump. Amy let out a shrill cry. Tim pulled up.

There was blood on the windscreen.

Shit.

‘What is going on!’ Amy shouted, no hint of a question in her tone.

Tim got out of the car and saw a writhing kangaroo on the verge of the road behind them. It was thumping its tail furiously on the ground. Tim approached the animal and, sensing his presence, it started freaking out, trying to drag itself out of harm’s way, back to the safety of the bush.

Blood was spattered over the grey fur on its chest—a great deal of blood, coming from its mouth. Tim took a step closer. The kangaroo’s leg twitched as it scraped at the dirt with its front paws. It was not long for this world.

There was only one thing to do. Tim found a dead branch just off the road. He advanced on the desperately struggling animal, trying to get behind it so it couldn’t see him.

‘What are you doing?’ Amy screamed at him. She too had got out of the car.

‘It’s dying, Amy. I have to put it out of its misery.’

‘No!’

‘I have to! You can see he’s had it! Can’t just leave him here like this, can we?’

He stepped closer to the stricken kangaroo, which suddenly convulsed violently, desperate to escape its fate.

‘Don’t you dare!’ Amy screamed.

Tim froze, the branch raised above his shoulders. He turned and looked at her. Amy was, he was discovering, much more squeamish about cruelty to animals than to humans. Violence against people didn’t seem to bother her much. But then, he thought, maybe that wasn’t unusual, since people are so often responsible for their own grief, through stupidity, greed, whatever, but animals can’t be blamed for their plight.

Astonishingly, Amy had once been romantically involved with a gangland figure, a hardcore criminal named Lance Delaney, who had done time for fraud, violent assaults, armed robbery, car theft and, finally, murder for hire. That was before Tim came along and stole her away while Delaney was upriver, doing penance for a murder he claimed he didn’t commit. It was one of several, but he never faced charges for the others.

Tim couldn’t believe it when Amy told him about Lance. What Amy, a diplomat’s daughter with a degree in anthropology and a respectable job as a radio announcer, was doing with a dirtbag like Delaney was one of the world’s great mysteries. When he put the question to her later, she said it was a buzz being around him. ‘Lance isn’t all bad. He can be sweet and charming. He has charisma. He has dash. He doesn’t just sit in a corner and behave himself. But I don’t expect you to understand,’ she’d said pointedly. She even attended court as a supporter during one of his trials, and visited him in prison couple of times, until Tim drew a line. Sweet and charming Lance Delaney was not. Narcissistic, cunning and manipulative, yes. And what was this ‘dash’ that was so appealing? All it meant was a willingness—a desire—to live outside the law instead of holding down a real job.

*

‘Amy,’ he said, ‘for Christ’s sake, get a grip! Turn away!’

Miraculously, after a moment’s hesitation, she obeyed.

Tim dispatched the kangaroo with a single, sickening blow to the skull.

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Coming Soon: Thrilling Crime Novels from JR Carroll

Posted January 15, 2014 by Mark

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When the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.

But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?

As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.

But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied

8 Hours to Die is released on 11 February 2014

On 21 January 2014, we’re releasing five JR Carroll classics as ebooks. Check out the details below:

9781760080198_Clan_coverNo-one can mess with the clan and expect to live…

The Killing: An unarmed teenage ram-raider is gunned down by police in a back alley …

The Family: The Beatties, one of Melbourne’s most notoriously lawless clans stretching back to the Sixties. Now their youngest is dead, and Melbourne holds its breath, waiting for the payback it knows is coming.

The Job: But someone is planning the biggest hold-up in Australia’s history, and no-one, not even the Beattie family, is allowed to get in the way ..

9781760080228_Hard Yards_coverIt’s September 2000, and the Olympic Games are about to descend on Sydney. The city is at fever pitch, but Barrett Pike, private investigator, couldn’t care less.

The excitement in Barrett’s life comes via his part-time squeeze, the glamorous and successful Andrea Fox-Fearnor, and the after-dark activities of Sydney’s notorious criminals – in particular, the sartorial stand-over man, Ernesto “Hollywood Jack” Tucci.

When a violent incident at a restaurant in which Barrett’s bull-at-the-gate treatment of an infamous piece of pond scum is witnessed, Barrett is made in an offer even he can’t refuse – $150,000 to bodyguard Titus “Bunny” Delfranco, the fastest man in the world. Sounds like easy money, but the sprinter has a million-dollar tag on his head, and an American ex-marine turned bounty hunter, Edward Hickey, is going to have Bunny running for his life. And Barrett, together with his main man, the formidable Geoff O’Mara, is going to have his work cut out staying in the game – and staying alive.

Add to this mix a shadowy team of car-bombers, an exotic beauty with gangland connections and a doomsday sect hell bent on revenge, and the result is a complex, nightmarish thriller that pushes the genre about as far as it can go this side of the apocalypse

9781760080242_No Way Back_coverHis fellow cops say he’s trigger-happy. 

His ex-wife says he’s unstable.

His new lover says he’s obsessive.

His superiors say he’s off the case and under investigation.

His world is coming apart …

He’s a cop on the trail of a killer the law can’t touch.

He has his own brand of justice.

He’s got nothing to lose. Except his life.

When you’ve been pushed to the edge, there’s no way back ..

9781760080266_Out of the Blue_coverThe shockingly violent death of his wife was no accident. And Dennis Gatz knows it.

But the cops aren’t interested. Gatz is a loose cannon who couldn’t handle the force. No longer one of them. No longer worth the trouble.

But trouble’s on the way. Someone’s out to get Dennis Gatz and he can’t wait to meet them. Head on.

This time it’s personal. This time he’ll do anything for revenge. And the best revenge comes out of the blue

9781760080280_Cheaters_coverBig risks, big reward. But no-one ever said that cheating was easy… 

Danny Gold has the Midas touch on the roulette tables. Soon he’s making big bucks washing cash for businessman-turned-porn-movie-maker Sigmund Barry, with all the fringe benefits.

Robert Curlewis lived the good life — until booze and smack took hold. When a fellow desperado, Florence, witnesses the vicious slaying of a young gambler in Melbourne’s Chinatown, Robert is no longer wasting his life, he’s trying to hold onto it.

Throw in a wild card, a rogue Kiwi commando running his own agenda, and you have a full deck of players with one thing in common. They are all CHEATERS.

 

 

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Excerpt: Standoff by David Rollins

Posted December 4, 2013 by Mark

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One

I was earning an honest day’s pay as a special agent in the Office of Special Investigations, doing my best to apprehend Senior Airman Angus Whelt, officially AWOL from Lackland Air Force Base roughly three hundred miles to the east. Whelt wasn’t inclined to make it easy for me and my current partner, Hector Gomez – not the Hector Gomez who plays shortstop for the Colorado Rockies but the carsick Texas Ranger Hector Gomez who was throwing up onto the floorboards in the passenger seat beside me, making the cabin reek of regurgitated spicy ground beef, corn chips and refried beans as we bashed along a dirt trail close to the US–Mexico border.

Whelt wasn’t making it easy for us because if we caught up with him he’d soon thereafter be doing a big slice of federal time. He was on the run because OSI had closed in on his narcotics operation. “Doctor” Whelt and his partner, Airman First Class William Sponson, also AWOL, were, according to various sources, the dealers of choice at Lackland until someone tipped them off about OSI closing in on their asses. So they fled. The Air Force grinds its heel on drug dealers and neither man was too keen about becoming something sticky on the bottom of the Air Force’s boot. We knew where Whelt was – playing hard to get on a dirt bike at our eleven o’clock. Sponson’s whereabouts were presently a mystery.

Ahead, an overhang in the bend jutted out suspiciously – a root ball maybe. I yanked the wheel hard over to clear it. Our rental – a Jeep Patriot from Thrifty – hit it anyway. Or maybe the damn root ball hit us. The impact jarred like an uppercut and pitched the vehicle on its side, up on two wheels. We teetered there like a stunt car, on the verge of rolling over while I wrestled with the wheel. Gomez was thrown sideways against the window. He left behind a smear of something on it: either bile or banana smoothie, I was too busy to make a positive ID either way. Fortunately, nudging the opposite berm jolted us back down onto the relative security of all four wheels.

“Je … sus!” Gomez said, bouncing around beside me, one hand braced hard against the ceiling.

Whelt was on what looked like a Honda motocross bike. He’d chosen to make his escape on it with good reason: the asshole rode like a Crusty Demon. His record said that he’d been some amateur national motocross champion before joining the service. Any moment I fully expected him to loop his bike in midair and flip us the middle finger.

He suddenly speared off the trail and took to the virgin bush, the bike’s rear wheel spewing a rooster tail of rock and sand as he rode a divergent course from ours, away from the trail. Shit, I’d known he was gonna do that eventually. I glanced across at my partner, the Ranger, fighting the heaves. He was a mess. And, yeah, re window smear: banana smoothie.

If we were going to catch Whelt, we had to follow the guy into the rough. Gomez looked over at me, read the play instantly and shook his head, his eyeballs large. Like we had a choice.

I turned into the low dirt wall that bordered the trail we were on. The jeep’s front wheels hit it with a sickening graunch and the hood reared up as the front wheels clawed at the sky. The rear wheels punched into the berm next and the vehicle reacted, bucking viciously fore and aft. When everything settled a little I stood on the gas pedal and steered for the crest, the tires scrabbling for traction while the front air dam smashed into rocks and low bushes.

My hope was that Whelt would make a mistake and put his bike down so that we could catch him, cuff him and take him in, but that hope was fast disappearing over the hill in front of us, standing up on the footpegs, the bike leaping and bounding over the terrain as it was designed to do. Behind Whelt meanwhile, the Patriot, designed for Walmart parking lots, didn’t at all appreciate the treatment we were giving it.

“Hey!” Gomez said, pointing.

He was indicating the US–Mexico barrier fence in a depression below us, an eighteen-foot-high, rust-colored steel mesh barricade that looked about as solid as a parked freight train, one that snaked across the land as far as I could see.

“What’s he … up to?” Gomez wondered aloud.

The Great … Escape.”

The pounding, crazy ride was making talking difficult.

“What’s . . . that?”

The GreatEscape … with Steve McQueen. Movie.”

“So?”

“McQueen’s running from the N … Nazis. Steals a bike, makes a break for Switzerland …” I swerved to avoid a boulder and ran the jeep nose first into a ditch. A thick wave of dirt spewed up and over the hood and windshield. “Only the border’s … fenced – like we got here,” I continued.

“Lemme guess, he jumps the fence,” said Gomez. Whelt had stretched his lead, almost gone. “You think that’s what this guy’s gonna do?”

I doubted tunneling was on his mind.

Ahead, another hill. Whelt was already beyond the crest, only his dust visible.

Gomez shouted: “It’s a movie, so … he makes it, right?”

“No, he gets … hung up on the fence.”

I wasn’t ready to give up. And anyway, it was this or paperwork. I steered toward the crest, foot to the floorboards. We came over the rise, the jeep’s motor racing, tires spitting gravel, the dust thick inside the cabin.

“Whoa!” Gomez yelled, bracing for impact as we shot over the crest.

My left boot beat him to it, standing on the brake pedal. The jeep slid sideways one way and then the other as we ploughed down the hill, coming to rest while a rolling ball of our own dust overtook us. Below, in the crook between the hill we were on and the one beyond it, was a crowd of people and vehicles. A crowd of illegals – Mexicans. Significant numbers of Border Patrol Agents were marshaling them together. There were well over fifty people and a dozen off roaders down there, out in the middle of nowhere. The attraction that brought everyone to this particular point appeared to be a break in the fence, a five-by-ten-foot section of the steel mesh simply cut out by an oxyacetylene torch. On the other side of the fence, the Mexican side, were chewed-up tracks of numerous vehicles that, presumably, had brought the illegals to this point. A departing dust ball on the southern horizon confirmed it.

Several of the BPAs were looking up at us, presumably wondering who we were and what the hell we were doing. One of them was starting to move in our direction, hand on the butt of the pistol on his hip, coming to investigate. I scanned the area for Whelt and found him on the crest of the hill opposite. He’d stopped and was looking back at us. Okay, so the guy wasn’t upside down in midair but he was still flipping us the bird. No way were we gonna negotiate our way through this parking lot and catch him.

Gomez wiped his mouth clean with a wad of Kleenex. “Shit.”

“You were saying about real life?” I asked him.

My cell was buzzing in my pants pocket. Taking it out and looking at the screen, I saw I had half a dozen messages from a familiar Maryland number: Andrews AFB, home of the people keeping me in the style to which I ought to have left far behind by now at age 34 – the OSI. Gomez wandered down to talk with the BP Agent coming up the hill, his ID and badge held above his head, while I checked in. My supervisor and buddy, Lieutenant Colonel Arlen Wayne, picked up after a ring and a half.

“Vin …” Arlen said, the signal sketchy. “Where are y …”

“Where am I?”

“…”

“I can’t hear you,” I said. “I’ll call you back later.”

“… NO …”

There was a bar and a half of signal strength registering on the display. I walked around, trying to find another bar or two. “That better?”

“Yeah. Where … you?”

“On the border with Gomez letting Doctor Whelt slip through our fingers.”

I noticed a major dent in the Patriot. The panel just below the front fender had been stove in. I bent down to have a closer look and saw a pool of hot engine oil spreading on the gravel between the front tires, ants running from the steaming black tsunami. I hoped I’d checked the insurance box on the rental agreement and, if not, that Thrifty were a bunch of understanding folks.

“For … bout him,” Arlen said.

“Did you just say forget him?”

“They . . . his buddy, Spon …”

“They found Sponson?”

The rest was even more garbled though I gathered he wanted to know how far away from El Paso we were. “Thirty miles, give or take,” I told him.

Arlen sounded like he was in a dentist chair, a drawer full of cutlery in his mouth. But I caught the key message: Get to Horizon Airport at El Paso and monitor the El Paso Sheriff’s Office radio in the meantime. “We’ll hurry. Call you when we get there,” I confirmed.

Just before the line went dead I heard him say, “Vin … slaughter. Jesus, some real bad shit.”

Our other runaway, Whelt’s pal Airman First Class William Sponson, had turned up in less than ideal circumstances. Arlen didn’t often swear. It had to be some extra fucked-up ass-burger to move him into four-letter-word territory. Unlike me. A wisp of steam escaped through the jeep’s grille. Fuck, shit and urination. This pile of spot-welded horse flop was going nowhere in a hurry. “Do you remember checking the insurance box on the rental agreement?” I asked Gomez as he walked back up the hill toward me.

“Nope.”

 

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Will the real Vin Cooper please stand up?

Posted November 29, 2013 by Mark

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This post first appeared on www.davidrollins.net

I know some of you will find this hard to believe, but there is a real Vin Cooper. Okay, so there are several billion people on the planet and there’s bound to be a few of them kicking around. But this Vin Cooper is also Special Agent in the OSI.

Yeah, utterly freakish, right? In fact, my entire universe tipped on its side and a couple of galaxies rolled off the edge when I found out.

The real Vin Cooper contacted me over Facebook. He told me that a buddy had given him one of the books. He reckons he read it mostly with his jaw hanging open on account of, he says, well, that I’ve basically written about him.

So I thought it might be interesting to compare the two. See if you can guess which one’s the genuine article.

 

 The Real Vin Cooper?  The Real Vin Cooper?
Hair color? Brown Sandy
Eye color? Green Green
Height? 5’ 9” 6’1”
Weight? 175 lbs 215lbs
Married? Married. No, thanks.
Favorite drink? Crown Royal, Jack Daniels, and Johnnie Walker. Single malt when available (Glen Keith), or bourbon whisky (JD or Maker’s) when it’s not.
How do you take your coffee? Strong with two lumps. Strong, black.
Favorite people? Amy (my wife), Devin (my daughter), and a select few. Ones that wear (short) skirts.
Least favorite people? Most reality TV stars. Divorce lawyers (my ex’s).
Religion? Not religious. Anything that serves wine and bread can’t be all bad. Though some cheese would be a welcome addition.
Your idea of a great first date? One my wife approves of. I prefer the old dinner and a movie date. I don’t like to have many distractions when I’m trying to get to know someone. She survives.
Are you funny? I think the character Vin is funny. We both crack jokes at the worst possible moments and we are both sharp witted, though I’m quicker-witted than Vin is. I’m into fast one liners, whereas Vin’s is more of a joke approach. My humor’s probably more offensive than Vin’s. Are you kidding?

 

Standoff, the new Vin Cooper thriller is released on December 1. Preorder your copy here

 

 

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Summer Book Excerpts – Hunter: Intrepid Book 2 by Chris Allen

Posted November 17, 2013 by Mark

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With summer just around the corner, it’s time to load up your ereader with some escapist reads! Here’s an excerpt from Hunter by Chris Allen, book 2 of the international spy series, Intrepid:

Finally, with just a gasp left in his rapidly failing lungs, blood streaming from a deep gash above his left eye and the physical exertion of the affray threatening to conquer him, Morgan reached for the SIG Sauer P226. The big man’s massive thumbs were closing down on the Intrepid agent’s windpipe with the power, precision and finality of a hydraulic press. A victor’s grin split the man’s battered features. Morgan could sense rather than feel himself lifting the SIG the last agonizing fraction of an inch clear of the thigh holster. But his fingers were numbing. There was no power in his hands. The oxygen supply to his limbs had depleted. He fumbled. The thumbs around his throat tightened more. The gun was slipping. His lungs were screaming for air. Every bit of the man’s weight was behind the squeeze. Morgan knew the gun was going. He felt his life draining from him. Then disaster – the SIG fell from his grasp. The grim reality that his last vision on earth was to be the hideous face of a gangland thug flashed through some still-functioning corner of his subconscious.

A surreal euphoria overwhelmed Morgan, taking control of the last moments of his life. Sight and sound were abandoning him. His body became a dead weight under the crushing assault of the bodyguard’s pressure.

The monster saw the transition washing over the face of the dead man in his hands. He’d seen it before – strangulation had been his signature and even though the exhaustion of this particular struggle had taken an equal toll, he had finally prevailed. This guy was done.

With a final, utterly exhausted expulsion of air, he released his grip.

Click here to purchase Hunter by Chris Allen from your preferred ebook retailer

Click here to purchase Hunter from the new Australian Amazon store

Defender: Intrepid Book 1 is also available:

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Horror in the 21st century

Posted November 8, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Recently I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It was a book I had been meaning to read, having gathered a reputation as one of the pre-eminent horror novels of the twentieth century. A portion of this reputation stems from its recommendation by Stephen King in his book on the horror genre, Danse Macabre:

‘It is usually easy to divide horror novels into those that deal with inside evil and those that deal with outside evil. Occasionally a book comes along where it is impossible to discover exactly where the line of evil is. The Haunting of Hill House is such a book.’

A rather more significant reason for its reputation is that it’s exceedingly well written. Taut, tense, and very much playing into a Gothic tradition of the haunted house, Jackson wrings the reader dry with a character’s slowly decaying sensibility in the atmosphere and environment of Hill House.

It is, though, unfortunately a little underwhelming. I was more intrigued by the style and mood of the book, rather than by the horror of it. Despite a couple of moments of real frights, neither near the ending mind you, I was never really lifted into anything terrifying. To put it another way, I didn’t go and lock the book in another room of the house after I finished it. (I’ve heard of people putting horror books in the freezer. I wouldn’t go that far. I might need something from the freezer.)

Regardless, this got me thinking. What constitutes a horror novel? Back in that forgotten era when Borders existed, it used to have its own section, largely stocked by King and Koontz and Straub. But these days it seems to have been subsumed by the Sci-Fi and Fantasy sections (I’m not a fan of dividing fiction up this way in bookshops, but anyway). It’s interesting to note that it seems to be a genre people are avoiding, even resistant to as a label.

It does have certain connotations, granted. Mention horror and people generally envisage something of the Gothic supernatural, dashes of Poe, unspeakable unmentionables of Lovecraft, and the aforementioned tomes of King. Lately, newly published books that might otherwise be called horror are being relabelled as dark fantasy, even dark mystery, as if we might need to deliver horror by subterfuge to the reader. It feels akin to the Harry Potter books being repackaged with more ‘sensible’ covers so that adults could read them and not worry on the train of looking like they were reading kids’ books.

Anyway, I wanted to get to the bottom of where horror is at the moment, as a genre. Is it its own? Does it have its own defined rules? Boundaries? Tropes? Is it more than werewolves, vampires and mummies? Or is it a subgenre of something else? Or an extension – an extra – to pre-existing genres?

We certainly know what horror used to be. From Frankenstein to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dracula, to The Raven and At the Mountains of Madness, we can clearly chart the path of horror as a tradition. But now?

Can we clearly say what horror is?

The easiest path for me to answer this is to read more horror. And the first port of call is one of the established horror fiction associations: The Horror Writers Association. A worldwide association, it was formed in the mid-eighties during the ‘new’ horror boom of popular fiction. On its launch, it then began the Bram Stoker Awards, a prize for superior achievement in horror writing, an award that has been given every year since 1987.

This seemed to be a good place to start. And it’s a good list too. For however long it takes me, I’m going to read my way through the winning books in order to get a greater understanding of where horror is now, 26 years after the first Bram Stoker Award. (I should add, they award novels, short fiction, graphic novels, screenplays and a whole host of categories, but for the purposes of this exercise I’m going to just look at the novels.)

With just a brief scan down the list, there’s some cracking reads on the horizon: American Gods, The Silence of the Lambs, Lost Boy Lost Girl, Zombie. And before you suspect it’s just a thinly veiled excuse to read more King, there’s only a few of his, and I’ve not read any of them before. Though you’re probably right.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the genre has to offer. What the different authors do, and how different they are to each other. Great horror, I feel, is a rare thing, and a difficult thing to write, and exceedingly undervalued.

Oddly, the first winner was a joint award, to King’s Misery and Swan Song, by Robert R. McCammon. And in the spirit of fairness, I’m going to forgo Misery and just focus on McCammon, given that I’ve not read anything of his before, and he has three winners on the list. Clearly worth looking at.

Twenty-six horror novels. And me.

I’ll keep you posted.

Though I don’t know how my ereader will go in the freezer.

 

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The greatest twist endings

Posted November 1, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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If only someone could bottle the experience of watching a great twist at the end of a film. It’s something you can never repeat, except by tracking down some unknowing friend, forcing them to watch it as you sit there watching them, clutching your knees and hoping to god they find it as mind blowing as you did.

What follows is my list of the greatest twist endings in cinema. My criteria was simple: the film must conform to The Three Laws of Twists.

The twist has to occur in the final act of the film.

The twist must force the viewer to re-evaluate everything they’ve seen.

The twist must not undermine everything the viewer has seen.

Needless to say, GREAT BIG SUPER SPOILER TWIST SPOILER WARNING SPOILER SPOILER.

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10. The Others 

A twist so maddeningly simple it’s a joy to rewatch. Brilliantly devoted to the haunted house genre, Alejandro’s Amenabar’s film ratchets up the atmosphere by not only draping everything in ridiculous fog, it also ties us to an unreliable narrator, who is revealed to actually be the one doing the haunting. Bonus points for getting Nicole Kidman in a good film.

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9. Memento

I had to see this again after many years recently just to remember how deft the sleight-of-hand is. Like all good twists, it gives you the answer directly – remember Sammy Jankis? - and you have no idea it’s happening. Again with the unreliable narrator (there’s a few of them in this list), Guy Pearce’s Leonard not only let his wife overdose on insulin, he’s also on a never-ending revenge murder spree. The best thing about this twist and about the film is the structure. By giving us a character who has amnesia, it places the twist at the beginning, but then through its reverse narrative places that beginning at the ending.

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8. Magnolia

The twist that isn’t a twist. Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling San Fernando Valley mosaic begins with the brilliant Rick Jay’s voiceover recounting three urban legends. What the characters in the film are unaware of, and the audience too, is that the apocalyptic rain of frogs that brings about the denouement reveals them all to be participants in their own (sub)urban legend. The frogs are a release for the characters, and bring a sudden clarity and resolution to their fractured, messy lives. Additionally, Ricky Jay is one of the world’s expert magicians.

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7. Psycho

Can’t really leave it off the list. Still shocks and chills new-time viewers fifty-odd years after release, Hitchcock had life-size cutouts of himself placed in cinemas around the US bearing a message of request to viewers not to reveal the ending to incoming queues. Great publicity, in that there was a priming for the shocking twist, but no suggestion that there were actually two: the brutal murder of the hero halfway through the film, and the final reveal of Norman and his mother/son split personality.

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6. Shutter Island

A real punch in the face of an ending. It also has ongoing ripples of reveal: Leonardo DiCaprio’s detective investigating a missing person case from a mental asylum on the titular island discovers firstly that there is no missing person. Then that he is actually an inmate of the asylum. Then that he murdered his wife. Then that he has had this series of facts revealed to him several times already, but he constantly regresses back into fantasy. And then, shockingly, the final scene where he either regresses yet again, or voluntarily chooses to have a lobotomy so as to forget forever.

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5. The Prestige

Another one from Christopher Nolan, and again one where he tells you the answer bluntly and directly. In fact, he challenges you in the opening frames to believe him when he gives you the answer: are you watching closely? The story of two duelling magicians is actually a story about story, about how we believe the make believe, and don’t want to accept the reality. The ending’s two reveals – one magician is a twin, the other is making duplicates of himself – is so built into the narrative we can’t help but feel we knew this all along, we just really didn’t want to believe it was anything but magic.

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4. The Usual Suspects

The original film for me where you force someone to watch it just to enjoy the thrill of the reveal all over again. Bryan Singer revels in his glorious final twist – that the arch-villain Keyser Sose is actually the man talking to us – it’s a joy to watch and rewatch the cross cutting of revelation on Chazz Palminteri’s disbelieving face and the once crooked steps of Kevin Spacey’s limp straighten out and stride away. Even better, the twist rewards future viewing, in that it unravels every possible strand and makes you wonder where the truth of the story ends and the lies begin.

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3. Seven

More than Shutter Island, this ending just ruins you. Brad Pitt reportedly had the ending written into his contract – that his character completes the cycle of seven murders by shooting the serial killer – as so many executives were disturbed by the moral culpability of it they couldn’t believe anyone would actually film such a disturbing ending to what was already a pretty damn disturbing film. The terror of Morgan Freeman, as he realises that his and Pitt’s detectives have no control over the situation, is perfect. And for lasting impact, we all still believe we saw Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in that box, even though it’s never shown. Great filmmaking, great twist.

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2. Chinatown

The greatest ending, the only one that could oust Seven for greatest twist in cinema. Like that film, it doesn’t rely on an unreliable narrator, on fooling the viewer with a clever narrative trick, Chinatown just delivers a cruelly lush and patient exploration of mystery, murder and missing water, as Jack Nicholson’s P.I. investigates the death of a chief water engineer, believing it to be a political crime. Only, the more he investigates, the more he realises he has no idea what’s going on, and the biggest crime here is far more personal and immoral. It’s such a great twist I can’t even spoil it here.

And in the final twist for me, rather than the Number 1 twist, I’m going to give you the Worst Twist Ending Ever.

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1. The Sixth Sense

Appalling. Awful parlour trick masquerading as elegant cinema. It breaks the third rule above, in that it undermines everything that came before in the film. So, wow, Bruce Willis was actually dead and was one of the ghosts the boy saw all the time. Big deal. The point of the film up until that moment, the reason of the narrative until that ridiculous ending, was to discover why the boy saw dead people. But rather than answer that big question, hit the audience with a surprise, cue the credits, and run away before anyone realises that it’s a terribly crap film. Ta-da.

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