Review: In Pocket by Martyn V. Halm

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One of Martyn V. Halm’s many gifts as a writer is his ability to get inside the mind and heart of a protagonist who ought to be unsympathetic and to make the character’s experience so compelling that the reader roots for him. Wolfgang, narrator of this suspenseful tale, is professional pickpocket. He smokes heroin. He lives in his van with a pet rat. He’s not connected to a family or close friends and that’s how he wants it. Life is safer that way. A young man on the wrong side of the law, he has to live without fully trusting anyone, and even then he never can be quite safe. Not someone most of us would identify with. And yet Halm tells his story in a way that makes the reader empathize with the tension of living on the edge and connect with those aspects of Wolf that a law-abiding citizen may fantasize about: the desire to get away with something, to take from the rich and give to oneself, to work only a few hours a day, and to answer to no one.

The gradual destruction of Wolf’s chosen way of life begins with Lilith, a young woman who wants him to teach her his trade. Something isn’t quite right about her, though he can’t figure out what it is. He also encounters the dangerous and enigmatic woman he calls Q, who occasionally hires him when she needs his subtlety and dexterity for some secretive task, and he dares not turn her down. Readers who are familiar with the Amsterdam Assassin series will feel an added layer of threat when they meet Q, though Wolf never learns her name or her occupation. Fans of Halm’s other books  will know.

The story is framed within a series of short present-tense reflections after Wolf has been severely injured in an alley at night, alternating with longer past-tense flashbacks revealing how his life came to this point. This narrative pattern heightens the tension as the events that cracked his isolation and then swept him into deadly entanglements are revealed.

Recommended for readers who enjoy thrillers, suspense, strong characterization, and books that go off the beaten track.

Find buy links on the In Pocket page of the author ‘s web site.

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Worthwhile Advice for Authors

I usually review books by indie authors here, but in this case I’m reviewing a book that may be helpful to those authors.

In Create Your Writer Platform, Chuck Sambuchino is better at addressing the needs of nonfiction than fiction writers and the concerns of authors who are seeking an agent rather than those who have chosen to go indie. Getting an agent is his area of nonfiction expertise. However, the book is still useful for an indie fiction writer. His target readers, new and midlist traditionally published authors, have to do a tremendous amount of their own marketing and platform-building, almost as much as self-published authors do. At four years old, some of the content is dated, and he makes an error in one suggestion about how to get names for a mailing list, but aside from that, if you approach the book with reasonable expectations and a tolerance for too much Chuck-stuff, it’s worth reading.

The case studies in the back are valuable even if the authors are not in your genre. Their insights on what made their blogs successful can apply to all writers. After saying elsewhere in the book that tipping points are mostly beyond our control, Sambuchino nonetheless asks each of these authors to describe their tipping points. For those who have not yet read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which I recommend, this term refers to the way in which ideas, fashions, books, etc., become major trends. It’s not a book on marketing, but a study of influence and influencers. Sambuchino’s book can help writers learn to build a platform, but not necessarily to “tip.”

Key ideas:

  • Blog to give, not to get. Share something of value. It can be humor, experience, insight, advice, or resources. You will connect with readers more by giving value than by asking them to buy your book. Ideally, whatever it is you give builds your platform by having a thematic relationship to your books and creating connections with people who share that interest. The same applies to what you tweet. Ten percent of your social media posts should promote your books. The rest should be either genuinely social (Facebook) or content of value (blog and Twitter).
  • Platform—the subject of an author’s expertise—is both specific and essential for nonfiction writers. It is variable for fiction writers. If you write cozy mysteries with a culinary theme, you probably have a cooking platform. If you write more traditional mysteries, maybe your setting is your platform. Perhaps expertise on writing is your platform.
  • Focus on the aspects of platform-building you enjoy and do well.
  • Never whine in public. Do your venting offstage.

These few main points in no way substitute for the small details. I recommend this book for authors, published or unpublished, who want to get their platform act together.

*****

Amber Foxx is the author of the award-winning Mae Martin Psychic Mystery series.

Review: A Blind Eye by Jane Gorman

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This is a cinematic, complex book, yet also tight and focused. The protagonist is a Polish-American Philadelphia policeman visiting Warsaw as part of a Sister Cities delegation. While there, Adam Kaminski hopes to learn more about his ancestry and culture, and wonders if he might even find relatives. Find one them does, and this leads him into an entanglement with the Polish police, members of the government, and dark secrets from the country’s past. His newly-found cousin, an investigative reporter, is certain that his daughter’s death, ruled a suicide, was in fact a murder. An idealistic and energetic young woman with a passion for politics and justice, Basia Kaminski may have learned too much about some high-ranking, influential people. Her father’s life is in danger as result of his inquiries into her death, and as Adam gets involved he puts his own life at risk as well.

Gorman knows how to pace for maximum effect and portrays her characters and her setting masterfully. She uses details of sight, sound and scent to create a powerful sense of the characters’ experiences. From the wintry streets and public parks to pubs and milk bars, from private homes of all walks of life to the halls of government and the deep recesses of the national archives, the setting is so alive it’s almost like a character itself. The romantic subplot is perfectly interwoven with the mystery, each dependent on the other.

One scene shifts to the perspective of a character whose point of view is not otherwise used, a choice that I found distracting, but that’s more a matter of my preference than a problem in the writer’s style. The quality of her research is outstanding. I highly recommend this book for readers who like political intrigue, dramatic locales, and mysteries with depth and substance.

To read more about her series and some fascinating background on this book, go to http://www.janegorman.com