Plot Thickens

I wanted to call this post Plotting and Collaboration but my Blog title header does some weird stuff, now I just try to use one or two words. Makes my life easier until I get a new design installed.

Plotting is something I’ve always struggled with (I can see people who have read my work saying, sheesh, you’re not kidding.) That’s right, contrary to popular opinion, I am not a plotting genius…until now!! Haha. Yes, I have a handle on the whole plot thing! How did this happen? How did I become a Plotting Ninja Master of Doom! Read on…

Continue reading Plot Thickens

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Language

Again … (groan) Again, I was lambasted for tweeting without the proper use of Capitals. The wanker in question told me ‘Capitals Matter See’, to which I replied ‘You Sad Arsehole. Capitals Matter See.’ At least it was less than 140 characters.

These prosaic morons seem to be cropping up more and more these days, and are getting right on my tits. Someone corrected a sign the other day that was written by (I think) a girl scout selling cookies for charity. The buffoon whipped out a felt tip pen (a sharpie) and added an apostrophe as if the mere sight of the word uncorrected might blind her! What a loser!

Please, if you don’t like the way I tweet, for fucks sake just unfollow, unfriend and socially exile me. I am absolutely cool with that. But DO NOT correct, as I am not interested in your opinion.

And for the other writers that might be reading this, following is a short video by Stephen Fry (a superb linguist) providing his take on the resurgence of the grammar nazi.

PS: If you are wondering what the strange logo is in the corner … the grammar nazis actually have an insignia! I found it on Google.

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Make Crap Art

Recently I came across a very short manifesto named ‘crap art’ that was interesting and liberating. Regardless of what you think of my writing I always considered it crap art. Not that it was terrible or smelly but that it was fluff, the stuff of nonsense as meaning to anyone’s life as a gameshow. In a nutshell escapist entertainment.

The manifesto of crap art can be read here. The bottom line though is to keep making art over and over quickly. This should be done every day and they even have a challenge for musicians called ‘Album in  a day‘. That’s right, its like NanoWriMo on crack. Write, arrange and produce a whole album in one day. This might not be your finest hour but should be fun and will probably contain an idea or a nugget in there that could be used for slower more thought driven action.

Back in my earlier writing career I wrote a ton of short stories. Every week our writing group would gather and we would share our output. It was always interesting. Lots of bad stuff but over time some of the material became … great. One of the guys in the group likened this to pottery manufacturer  When a potter is apprenticed he is tasked with making ten or fifteen pots (a jug, for example) every day. It was totally time and task driven, if you didn’t get the allotted pots out you had to face a stern taskmaster. So the apprentices really hopped to it. After the completion of the allotted number, they were fired in the kiln and then reviewed the next day. Bit of a judging thing, probably American Idol style without the vote. Then all the post were smashed! And the day began again. Do another ten jugs. Over and over. Groundhog day.

The side effect of this, after months of this program ,was that the potters became amazingly good and did not get emotionally attached to any of the material. If a potter produced a jug that blew him away and he wanted to take it home to show his mum how good he was now … no dice. It got smashed with the rest. Make ten more, better than the prize one.

Now, in a more recent example, this theory was put to the test by a renowned kiln. One group spent all day on one pot, the other group threw fifteen down. By the end of the week, which group do you think was producing the best pots?

Doesn’t take a lot to work it out. Make crap art. That’s where the gold is.

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Interview with the Black Mask and Sons of Spade

The Black Mask and Sons of Spade are blogs that celebrate the fictional PI or Detective. It was my honor last week to be interviewed by Jochem Steen. Here’s the interview in full in case you missed it:

Q: What makes Matt Spears different from other hardboiled detectives?
One of the main things that makes him different is that he isn’t a PI or Police detective. He’s a debt collector with a checkered past and a team of people he works with, who are quite colorful. I still stick to several of the hard boiled crime conventions when I work on Matt’s novels, for example, there is always a clearly defined task (mystery) that must be solved, he is part of a duo so he has a foil to work off, there is usually violence and a little sex, plus the language is very contemporary. It’s not very often that one of the gangsters in my books get shot in the leg and says ‘oh fooey!’. To me the writers who present vicious and nasty characters and don’t allow them to speak are copping out. I’m not saying they need to scatter expletives all the way through but it still has to be real.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
He was the culmination of several characters that I tried to work with but didn’t quite hit the mark. To a degree all heroes or heroines are expanded versions of the consciousness of the writer. They are the writers alter-ego: tougher, smarter, sexier. I wanted him to be a little flawed too. His partner Nathan Draper is a homogenized side kick from various sidekicks or heroes that I had been reading or watching on the small screen from being young. He is smart, dapper, efficient and also violent. He even has some blue blood, so a type of Raffles-style hit man, if that makes sense. Matt can only go so far, then you need another more extreme character to go the remainder of the distance. More of Nathan is revealed in the second book ‘As the Sun turns Black’ and his links to MI-5.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I really think this is as important to the publishing industry as the Gutenberg press. The shift in technology and the publics acceptance has opened doors to many types of fiction that may not have seen the light of day in traditional publishing. To me, this is a carbon-copy style movement that the music industry has been transitioning through for the last twenty years. There are good and bad parts of this. I am still nostalgic (as my children seem to groan about) of vinyl discs. Nothing was cooler than going and buying a couple of seven inch singles on a weekend and rushing home to play them and then decide on whether the B-sides were go or not. The whole thing was an experience. Like browsing a bookshop, buying a novel because you thought the cover was cool and then reading it only to be amazed at how good it was and why you had never heard of the author. It was cool…but it’s the past, and that’s long gone!
Q: What’s next for you and Spears?
The plot for Spears three is pretty much in shape, but I am working on the prequel to the novella ‘Nothing’ right now. It’s an enjoyable process and involves quite a bit of research so Matt and Nathan’s next adventure will have to wait a few more weeks before the fun begins.
Q: How do you promote your work?
Mostly I use Twitter as my social media outlet as well as my blog and also the KDP Select program from time to time. It’s important to try and cut through the noise sometimes and offering people free samples is an easy way to get some eyeballs on your fiction and hopefully turn them into fans. I’m not very happy about the number of new ‘writers’ that are coming to Amazon as some kind of get-rich-quick scheme and using all kinds of tricks to get readers to buy. They seem to forget one of the most important elements of selling fiction – writing. Recently I’ve picked up a few pieces of fiction that need a tremendous amount of work before they should have been released and one of the “authors” revealed that they didn’t even write it. It was ghost-written for them, they were in essence just the promoter! This sucks, and muddies the water for the writers that look at writing as a long-term career.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
My reading tastes are pretty broad. Right now, I’m reading a Jeffrey Archer novel and a new Russel Blake action thriller, they couldn’t be further apart. But if pressed I would say the mystery/crime genre is my thing but I do enjoy Horror fiction too. Horror was my first love and I was a big fan of Brian Lumley (Necroscope series) when I was younger, so I would always fall back on the scary stuff if needed.
Q: What’s your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
Love them all. Much prefer the colorful over the top nut jobs as good guys than the prosaic bumbling buffoon of the thirties and forties. Give me a Tarantino style sidekick any day of the week.
Q: In the last century we’ve seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
Personally, I think David Peace’s novels will change the landscape of crime fiction. In the UK for sure, maybe not in the US unless enough people get turned on to him. Most of my novels are UK based with the exception of the Zero quartet which is based in Michigan and California, so I get the way Peace works. David Peace has not only introduced a new style to the crime fiction genre but also created a world where true crime and fictional crime cross over. It’s very hard boiled and not for everyone but his Red Riding series blew my mind. The only other crime writers I see emerging as new leaders are the scandinavians: Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell. They seem to be leading the charge, but to me they are heading back around to the beginnings whereas Peace is heading into something new.
Q: O’Neil DeNoux came up with the following question: How did you come up with the name of your detective?
Lots of names belonged to the main series character before I landed on Matt Spears. I have another series character who is part of a paranormal mystery series and his name is Alex Campbell. I was going to go with Alex initially but thought that I might want to use Alex Campbell in the future so I had to be more creative. (Alex is the protagonist in Killing Flow). So I have a friend called Matt and I thought that worked. First name then was in the bag. The last name came about when someone was doing an interpretation of first names and how they related to biblical times. They used a book, so my wife put her name up for analysis, which came up blank – it’s Wendy and just for you trivia buffs this name was invented by JM Barrie solely for the purpose of the Peter Pan books. Another name Peter was interpreted as The Rock. My name came up next and Barry was interpreted as The Spear. I wrote this down and then when I got home I looked it up and then thought, what about Matt Spears. It stuck.
 Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
That’s a tough one! I would probably ask about the process. Do you plot or do you write and discover the storyline as you go along? That’s something that interested me with writers since I began. For the Matt Spears Mysteries I write and plot methodically. Each scene is plotted and the whole thing hangs together as a tapestry before I even write the first word. For the Zero quartet I tend to write scenes by hand based around the previous scene and then when I have 20,000 words in the can I start typing them into my writing software (I use Scrivener) this then allows me to polish them, add more scenes, scrap the bad ones and then add more story or depth if needed.  I like to understand the process of how a novel came to be. This is as intriguing to me as the mystery contained in the novel itself.
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Wanna Play Kindle Ball?

Kindle Ball, Money KDP or KDP Ball … I can’t decide?

I enjoyed the film Money Ball though and thought the concept was cool. If you don’t like Baseball, Brad Pitt or both, stay with me here, I’ll reveal all in a second.

I’m English so Money Ball was something of a complex storyline for me to understand. Like trying to explain cricket to an American! I had to work it out as I have no knowledge of baseball or the politics/systems involved in pro ball and how players move from one team to another – which was the basis for the screenplay and the story. Even so, I really enjoyed the movie and I thought there were lessons in there…somewhere.

Then I read a non-fiction piece on Money Ball and how it related to another sport. It was interesting, and thought provoking, then the idea that a writer could apply the idea of statistical analysis to promotion of their work using the KDP platform made complete sense.

For the most part I am skeptical of systems in the arts. Nothing is worse (to me at least) than something that comes off as forced or self conscious. I am as guilty of this as the next writer … and I know when it’s bad. But, when it comes to doing the promotion side of the business (the devils work) then having a system is actually a pretty neat tool.

Using the Money Ball concept…I now have to stop to briefly explain: the main idea was to buy players for the Oakland A’s who could get to first base. I’m not going to go any further than that just in case I make a fool of myself, though it’s safe to say that getting to first base in baseball seems to be pretty important if you want consistent results.

There is another element of baseball that is essential to the story and I find unique plus it lends itself to the KDP concept. Baseball Pro’s use statistics to make decisions about the team. The essence of Money Ball is that if you can fill your team with players who can get to first base then you can compete. They might not be able to do much else, but the Oakland A’s proved that they could compete with the teams that had real money – tens of  millions more. So Brad Pitt and the kid that used to be fat spend a super small budget buying old, attitude ravaged, burn outs that ‘statistically’ could get the team to first base. It worked. Cool. They made a movie. Adapt or die was their motto.

Okay, what’s this got to do with KDP. Well, the first thing I needed was statistics, and the stats had to relate to KDP only. Along came the report from Freebooksy. They had carried out a study 72 Authors who had enrolled on the KDP Select Free program and were happy to reveal their numbers. Good, I had some stats as a point of reference. Step One complete.

The next thing I needed to understand: What is a Writers first base on KDP Select?

This may come as a surprise but after working through all the statistics in the Freebooksy report one of the most significant factors was the number of reviews that your novel in the KDP system had – just the volume. In fact the actual report states “The number of free downloads was most positively correlated with the number of reviews a book had.” Not the average reviews score, though the median from the study was 4.2. The study was clear that the number of reviews was the perfect correlation.

This was an Aha moment. The first stage then (first base) in getting a high number of sales via KDP was punting a high number of reviews. I went back and looked at my own figures, this stat and concept was validated. I always (without fail) got a higher number of downloads with the books that had the highest number of reviews, and vice versa.

Take from this what you will, but if you are entering into the fray of KDP Select Free promotions then you should look to have at least ten reviews or higher. Haven’t got that many? Maybe you need to give Auntie Gladys a ring, she might be happy to oblige.

I’ll talk about getting reviews and stuff of that nature in the next post, just in case Auntie Gladys doesn’t want to help out.

NOTE: For God’s sake, please don’t give yourself reviews from a dummy account(s). That’s why the accounts are called ‘dummy’ accounts!

 

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It’s Easy.

There is an easy solution to the latest brouhaha surrounding the RJ Ellory ‘scandal’.

I enjoyed the way Joe Konrath approached this subject and especially enjoyed the video he attached to the blog post. To read Joe’s version click here and if that’s just too much then I’ve included the video for your entertainment at the bottom of this post.

Normally I wouldn’t get involved in anything like this but I was irked by the chest-beating and mud-slinging on a Facebook group I am a member of. This FB group is essentially about marketing for Indie writers. It’s pretty cool and is more a support group for the likes of me, a bloke just trying to sell a few paperbacks every now and then.

Last week though the thread began about RJ Ellory, John Locke and Stephen Leather. Members were aghast at such under handed behavior. I pretty much ignored the whole deal. My solution to all this crapola is much easier:

If you think RJ Ellory and Stephen Leather are underhanded assholes and need to be exiled to some distant isle. It’s not necessary. Just write a series of better novels than these two and you’ve jolly well shown them. See. Easy.

If you think John Locke is a disgrace because he bought a ton of five star reviews. Don’t sign a petition or put a contract out on him. Just sell more than a million eBooks in the next year and that will bloody well put him right in his place.* Easy.

If you think Lance Armstrong is a cheating motherfucker and should be hung along the Champs-Elysées with the above authors then all you have to do is win the Tour De France eight times and you are totally above this low-rent cyclist / charity sweetheart. Easy.

If you knew James Frey was a lying prick when he wrote a Million Little Pieces and that anyone with a drug addled brain couldn’t produce such prose let alone a memoir (then to start with you are smarter than Oprah Winfrey) but you could damn well show him, right? All you do is write your own memoir (for fucks sake make it interesting) which is not only accurate but should have a Frank McCourt style of honesty. Easy.

Or you could just stop this whole witch hunt bullshit right now and start creating some great art that is exciting and appealing to the masses as well as yourself. Even writing this blog post, I know this is a distraction from what I should be doing: Writing Fiction. Do you think I give a shit what RJ, Stephen, John, Lance and James are doing this weekend?

What do think? Scratch that … shouldn’t you be writing!?
*: If John Locke hadn’t sold a million copies of his Kindle novels does anyone think that he would be a story at all. I bet for every John Locke trying to game the system there are ten thousand unknown indies carrying out the same practices as all the ‘celebrities’ named above.

Video Below is just for your entertainment. Thanks to JA Konrath for the inspiration.

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Numbers

Okay, so the results are in! I used August as my first ‘real’ KDP Select program. For those not initiated in the Kindle KDP Select program it basically boils down to giving your novels away for free for a short period of time. You do not get paid any royalties for these free downloads, so it doesn’t seem (at first glance) that their is much advantage to this!?

The actual advantage though, is that once you achieve a specific number of downloads then you begin to show up on other bestseller lists within the Amazon system. This creates a certain amount of buzz for your title plus it affects your rank once the promotion is over. This was how I was led to believe it worked and during this month it was a relatively successful promotion.

I ran the promotion the first week of August on Tuesday and Wednesday. I published the fact that one of my novels ‘Missing’ had gone Free for two days on a series of Facebook sites and asked other indie authors to cross promote for me. I did NOT promote this fact on my own threads as most followers/fans were already readers and I didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask them to spread the word. This may have impacted the result, we’ll never know.

When this promotion on KDP Select went live I only had three titles available. Two priced at $3.99 and one at $1.99. The numbers below are the results of the promotion and it’s legacy for the remaining 28 days. Don’t forget I only went ‘free’ for two days on one title.

Total Free KDP Downloads: 14,968

Total Books Sold: 494

Total Prime Books Borrowed: 125

Total Commissionable Sales: 619

Average Top Line Royalty for the month: $1708.44

KDP Conversion Percentage: 4.13%

This is quite a profitable month and worked very well considering it was a trial period. Give it a try and post your numbers on your blog for comparison. If I could have done it twice in one month (with different titles), and if the closing-percentage remained the same the overall gross $$$ could have been a lot better.

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In Praise of Council Estates

A friend of mine (Jewish kid) said “a worm in horseradish knows only horseradish” and although I had no fucking clue what he was talking about or the profundity of this Yiddish expression it soon became apparent. Wherever you are, that’s all there is! I added the exclamation point to emphasize. Period. The End. Full Stop.

Are you aware of the implication this has on your life? Where you are, right now? I didn’t until recently. I got caught up in a discussion with another pal of mine who went to the same school and had the same teachers. We discussed the various local council estates (projects) we grew up on. Laughed and realized we knew nothing else. We didn’t realize we had no money. We didn’t have a pot to piss in or a policeman to throw it at. The coppers didn’t come round our way too much. Even though that’s where all the villains were. The obstacles on the municipal golf course were burnt out cars, negotiating the putting greens meant avoiding the ruts of the tire tracks and used johnnies.

But was it bad? No way!

This was an amazing and wonderful childhood. My friends are still close friends to this day. In fact, more brothers than friends. The folk on my estate were funny, colorful, soulful, wise, generous and smart. Sure, we had our fair share of ‘characters’ hard knocks and felons but this didn’t make us feel separate, quite the opposite, it made us (kids) feel inclusive. We knew someone from every walk of life.

When I see the dicks on American Pop Star, So you Wanna be a Chef, Screw it’s Let’s Dance and other reality show bollocks say (usually tearfully) things like:

“This just doesn’t happen to people where I come from,”

“You don’t understand … this means everything to me,” (and they are fourteen years old)

“My dad (mum, brother, sister, guy across the street, please delete) was an alcoholic (drug addict, gambler, murderer, paedophile – please delete) and they are (dead, in rehab, in jail, indisposed – delete again) this is for them.”

I just think – fuck off and get a proper job! Stop using your background as an excuse and just – sing / dance / cook (I would delete the lot if it were up to me) and if you are crap just move on. What’s wrong with being a plumber or a dinner lady all of a sudden?!

It’s crap. It’s all crap. When you do live inside an impoverished (and oftentimes) dangerous environment. You don’t even know it when that’s all you know. So all this ‘wrong side of the tracks’ rhetoric is horseshit. They probably grew up middle class and had a pretty okay upbringing, just want to be famous for fifteen minutes. The problem is more like they are talentless wankers than they grew up poor or stupid.

Tell me they grew up in Bosnia/Serbia/Rwanda in the early nineties and I might (and I mean might) just cut them some slack.

An accountant got out of a Mercedes to continue a negotiation with a client and a buyer. The accountant told the client he wasn’t sure if he could take another day of these negotiations to which the client told him, “You just jumped out a Mercedes to talk to some guys all day and earn a fucking fortune. It’s not a Higgins boat to Omaha Beach.”

Council Estates are the backbone of modern society. You just need perspective.

PS: For British readers, the Higgins Boat reference above was a bit like Dunkirk but the US version … like being sent to certain death by walking into incoming enemy fire. We just don’t know how good we got it!

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One Word

Just came across a neat little website that I use to get the wheels moving. It’s a great tool.

It’s rare that I don’t have something to write or need much motivating to write but every now and then I’ll hit a scene that I’m just not sure how to start.

The overall theme of what I want to happen I might have mapped out in my head, but just can’t find the right words to get the piece moving. This is when I use One Word.

One Word is a website named quite aptly One Word and the idea is that the system spits out a word at the top of the browser and gives you some space to write whatever you like using this word in the space provided. Here’s the cool part: you are on a timer and only have one minute then you are locked out of the screen. So there is no time for thought or over-thought which so often cripples our minds when we first face the blank page. To add to the pressure, as you write, the minute is scrolling along a bar at the bottom of the screen like sand from an egg timer so you can see you’ve only got 30 seconds, then 20 then 10 then you have to STOP … it does allow you to finish up the last sentence before you click submit.

You can just use it or (like me) log in and see what other users wrote with the same word and the same minute of time. If you are a logged in as a user it automatically shares the piece you’ve got down. Then it displays all the other writers and their interpretation of the word. It’s amazing. We’re all looking at the same word. The viewpoints couldn’t be more different.

After using One Word as an exercise it feels like a warm up before working out, but only lasts a minute and is far less taxing. Something in my mind unlocks and I start to write more freely. It’s usually bad (like most first draft work) but it’s got the ball rolling and I’m away. Mission not quite accomplished but certainly started.

Give it a try www.oneword.com

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Interview with Jenny Hilborne

BC: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?

JH: I’m a native Brit living in San Diego and mystery/thriller author. I started writing novels in 2007, after a college English professor read some of my work and suggested I try to get it published.

BC: How do you go about the actual process of writing? (location, time, set schedule or whenever, longhand or typed, laptop or smartphone or desktop computer, etc)

JH: There’s a process? I work write I have time and always on a laptop. With a full-time job, my writing is limited and squeezed into every available moment. It’s turned me into a couch potato.

BC: How do you personally like to read books you buy these days? (eg: length – novels, short stories, etc; and method – paper, kindle, iphone, etc)

I read about 50% on Kindle and 50% paperback/hardback. Most of the books I read are full length thrillers and mysteries. I’m not into short stories – they aren’t long enough for me to become vested in the characters. Most of what I buy is through recommendation.

BC: Which authors (or books) have had the most influence on your writing style, and why?

JH: Sidney Sheldon is the inspiration behind my writing career. I love the way he crafts a mystery and started my first manuscript (Madness and Murder) right after I finished one of his books.

BC: How do you go about planning your writing?

JH: I start with a title and a motive and let it spin out from there. I don’t plan in advance and write whatever comes into my head at each session. All of it gets cleaned up in the edits, which is when the story really takes place. I’m often surprised by the extra twists my stories take during editing.

BC: Why did you decide to write the novel, “Hide and Seek”?

As a teenager, I played hide and seek out in the country in the grounds of an old manor house in the UK. We called it stalking and it was scary, much more so than a regular child’s game of hide and seek. We used only our senses to find the person hiding, no flashlights allowed. My experience gave me the idea to use the game in a novel.

BC: Who are the readers would enjoy this series the most?

JH: Those who like games, riddles and puzzles might enjoy Hide and Seek. A games themes runs all the way through the story. The killer loves to play games. So does the victim.

BC: What other items are you working on at the moment?

JH: I’m currently working on my 4th mystery, this one set in Oxfordshire, England. Someone is murdering corporate execs, members of the “C-suite.”

BC: Sounds good. There are a few Execs I’d like to bump off … fictionally of course. If you could somehow change reality and become the author of any published book instead of the person who originally wrote it, which book would you make your own and why?

JH: I’ve never thought about it. What a tough question. There are so many excellent books out there, I don’t think I could just pick one. One of the books I most enjoyed reading was 11/22/63 by Stephen King because of his amazing imagination. Every one of the 800+pages held my attention. To write a book with 800+ pages and keep readers interested is incredible, so I’d have to go with 11/22/63.

BC: Good Choice. Thanks for coming in.

Jenny Hilborne is the author of three novels. She has worked in the retail music industry, residential real estate, commercial real estate and finance. She is the second of four daughters, born and raised in Wiltshire, South West England, and relocated to Southern California in 1997. Jenny began writing novels in 2007. She is a member of Wolfwriters, a group of professional writers who meet bi-monthly in Northern San Diego. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime. Madness and Murder, her first novel, was released in July 2010.

Brief Description of her Latest Novel – Hide and Seek

Halloween. A group of friends gather at a mansion and decide to play a game. When one of them disappears and a large pool of blood is found on the grounds, San Francisco homicide inspector, Mac Jackson, is called out to investigate. Two days later, the body is discovered.

As Jackson questions the guests, he uncovers old hostilities, secretive pasts, and the victim’s ties to another unusual death. At the center of it all is the lingerie bar, where the victim once worked. Are the girls in some sort of danger? Who is the thug with the scar? His best chance at solving the case hinges on an uncooperative source and Jackson must work fast, before it’s too late and his source disappears. Buy it Now on Amazon.com

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