Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Able Team, Louis L'Amour and Sudden

In my first blog post of 2020, I wrote about my abysmal reading through most of last year. No excuses. But that did not stop me from buying more books, some of which I highlighted in that post. Here are three paperbacks—two westerns and a thriller—that I bought secondhand in 2019. I'm particularly delighted with the acquisition of Able Team and Sudden, which are rare finds in my part of the world.

Ironman is the 19th book in the Able Team action-adventure series written by two pseudonymous authors, G.H. Frost and Dick Stivers. The series—a spinoff of Mack Bolan: The Executioner created by Don Pendleton—was first published in 1982 by American Gold Eagle publishers.

I have been collecting Mack Bolan thrillers and the spinoffs—Able Team, Phoenix Force and Stony Man— for nearly a decade and own some 25 novels, including a few written by Pendleton himself. The books remind me of my teens when I used to collect James Hadley Chase, Nick Carter and Perry Mason, the originals of which are still available in secondhand bookshops in Mumbai.

Synopsis: "Able Team's Carl Lyons travels to the cloud-swept Sierra Madre without his partners and without his weapons. But what was supposed to be well-earned R&R turns into a nightmare of conspiracy and terror when a Fascist international surveillance team identifies Lyons as one of the American specialists who wrecked Unomundo's attempt to seize Guatemala two years earlier."

Carl 'Ironman' Lyons is an old Able Team hand. As a bright LAPD detective, Lyons was tasked with bringing Bolan in—dead or alive; that is, till the Executioner saved his life. Later, he is recruited by Hal Brognola who heads a special organised crime task force.

Western fiction is one of my favourite genres. I like to think of Westerns as the sum total of most other genres—crime, mystery, suspense, action, romance, politics, war, religion. So I'd no hesitation in picking up the Bantam edition of Hanging Woman Creek by Louis L'Amour, an author I read widely in my younger days.

Synopsis: "Barnabus Pike is no gunfighter and not much of a street fighter. Eddie Holt is a black boxer in a white man's world. They've both taken their share of hard knocks. Now they're looking to survive a brutal winter in a remote Montana line shack, collect their pay, and settle down for good. Then they cross paths with a hardworking Irish immigrant and his beautiful, spirited sister, who've been burned off their land. It's a fight Pike and Holt don't want, don't need, and don't dare turn their backs on-especially when one of the perpetrators might be one of Pike's old friends. Hunted like animals across the frozen countryside, Pike and Holt will risk everything-including their reputations, their dreams-and their lives."

If you're familiar with my blog, you'll know much I enjoy reading Sudden novels. James Green—alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw— was created by British writer Oliver Strange, who wrote only 10 books. Much later, English author Frederick Nolan did a fine job of producing five more Sudden novels, including Apache Fighter (my second copy), under the pseudonym of Frederick H. Christian. The original Corgi editions are so rare in India that they're being sold at hundreds, even thousands, of rupees. I have most of the 15 books.

Synopsis: "There was a reward of five thousand dollars for the man who could bring Barbara Davis out of Apacheria alive. Every outlaw, gunman, and scalphunter in the south-west had drifted in to Tucson, then out into Apache country, lured by the dream of easy gold. The Apaches killed some of them slowly and horribly; but still they came. Governor Bleke knew unless the girl was brought out soon, he would have a full-scale Indian war on his hands. He sent for the one man who might be able to do it. A tall, slow-drawling man who wore his six-guns tied low and looked as if he knew how to use them. A Texas outlaw on the run: SUDDEN!"

Friday, January 10, 2020

A Lesson in Deceit by Gillian Larkin, 2016

They came to a crossing and Sam pressed the button. “Anyway, let’s talk about you. How many dead bodies have you found now? Granddad thinks you’re cursed.”

“It’s not my fault I keep finding them,” Julia said with a note of indignation.

© Amazon Kindle
A Lesson in Deceit by Yorkshire-based author Gillian Larkin is the first book in her Julia Blake cozy mystery series. It is a delightful novella about a murder set in the University of Edinburgh.

Julia Blake has a son, Sam, and a daughter. She dotes on them. She lives with her Scottish shortbread-loving dad in Leeds and runs a cleaning business to support her family. Life has not been easy since her husband left them. But her hardships have not deterred her from caring for her family or solving murder mysteries, even if accidentally and often to the mild annoyance of DI Clarke of Leeds.

In the story, Julia is visiting Sam at his university and typically is full of motherly affection and concern. Sam takes her around the campus, including to the local pub where he works part-time. He introduces Julia to his close friend, Elliott, who is covering his shift that day. Elliott works many shifts because he needs the money, and hence misses lectures. In fact, he hasn’t been himself lately, causing Sam to suspect something is bothering his once happy-go-lucky friend. Elliott’s plight stirs Julia's maternal instincts.

But before Julia can think of helping him in some way, her dad’s prophetic words come true again — she finds Elliott dead in his room. There are no signs of injury or a scuffle. Did he overdose on painkillers and sleeping tablets? Or was he poisoned with a heady concoction of the two drugs?

DI Thostlewaite, who has heard of Julia’s reputation and her penchant for turning up where corpses do, gently tells her not to interfere with the case. But she has no option when the local police detain Sam as a suspect.

“Grandad wants to know if you’ve found any dead bodies yet. Ha! He’s so funny.”

“Dead bodies are never funny,” Julia replied.

A Lesson in Deceit is not a murder mystery in the true sense. There is no major investigation and the unearthing of clues, as Julia predictably does at some risk to her life, is kept to a bare minimum. Julia and Sam are likeable characters, mainly because of their strong familial bond, easy relationship and light banter. The author has also nicely interlaced her narrative with values. For instance, when Julia offers Sam extra money so he doesn’t have to work at the pub, he tells his mother that she’d done enough and that he wants to pay his own way.  A nice lesson for young readers.

The novella, available for Kindle, is written in an easy and engaging style, which I suspect is deliberate, and will appeal to both young and old readers. I hope to read more about Julia Blake’s charming mysteries as well as other offerings from Larkin. 

© Goodreads
About the author: Gillian Larkin is the author of several mysteries, both short stories and novels. Her series includes the Julia Blake Murder Mysteries, Storage Ghost Mysteries and Paranormal Mysteries among others. She lives near Leeds, Yorkshire.

Friday, January 03, 2020

The Bodyguard by Lee Child, 2010

© ITW Publications
She took my formal qualifications for granted. I have scars and medals and commendations. I had never lost a client. Anything else, she wouldn't have been talking to me, of course. She asked about my worldview, my opinions, my tastes, my preferences. She was interested in compatibility issues. Clearly she had employed bodyguards before.

If ever I have read about the all-too-real fictional world of bodyguards in about 500 words, it is in The Bodyguard, a short story by Lee Child. In those initial paragraphs, the British author succinctly describes the life and work of a highly-trained bodyguard who quits the military to protect the rich, the famous and the powerful.

Written in the crisp and gripping style of his Jack Reacher novels, Child gives us a nameless bodyguard who could either be real or a phony, and the stakes that go with the unpredictable nature of his job; mostly looking out for automatic targets, the wealthy and the politically connected, and guarding them from kidnapping for ransom. Especially in South America where such abduction is a national sport.

A year after he quits his friend's agency and starts his own business, our bodyguard, "a medium-sized man, lean, fast, full of stamina," is hired by Anna, a 22-year-old rich and beautiful woman whose father is a Brazilian politician and businessman and her mother a television star. But the contract with Anna and a perilous trip to Brazil don't go according to plan.

The Bodyguard is well-written and entertaining, the incredulous turn of events towards the end adding to the pleasure and making it well worth reading. The 3,110-word story is part of First Thrills (2010), an anthology of thrilling stories—of murder, mystery and mayhem—by various authors, and edited by Lee Child himself.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Hits and misses in 2019

2019 was less than an average year for reading and writing. I did not read much and hardly wrote in my personal capacity. I'd be embarrassed to put a number to either. I have a folder titled 'My Writing Projects' that I have been visiting whenever the mood has suited me. While I did not read a lot, I did buy a few books and watched plenty of films, mostly on Netflix. I also travelled a bit, especially towards the end of the year. I continue to remain active on social media, as many of you know, which is partly responsible for the downside to my reading and writing. I will have to do something about it in the new year.

On a more positive and happy note, my daughter, a post-graduate and a chartered accountant by profession, got engaged and married all within a span of three months. My son, a graduate, enrolled for an MBA programme with specialisation in finance. Both are brilliant in Math and Accounts. I count on my fingers. In October, I rejoined a yoga class, which was a big plus for me, though I'm light years away from doing Shirshasana (the headstand) and having a fresh perspective on life. I needed to slow down and de-stress. Now I wake up at 5 am, bathe and shave, do yoga from 6 to 7 am on most days, come home for a quick breakfast, change into formals, and head to work by 7.30 am. 

I'm going to make sure 2020 is different and productive. I have a few unwritten goals that include reading and writing, contributing meaningful essays and articles to magazines and websites, and reviewing books and interviewing authors on my blog. I have missed the last. Hopefully, this is a start.

Coming back to the new and secondhand books I acquired in 2019, I look forward to reading the ones I received as Christmas gifts from my family—India: From Curzon to Nehru and After, a 550-page book on Indian history by Durga Das (1901-1974), a well-known journalist and historian, and Batman: The Killing Joke, a 1988 DC graphic novel written by Alan Moore and featuring Batman and the Joker. History and comic-books have been my favourite genres since I was in school.

At another time, a serious errand ended in a treasure hunt among the old book haunts of King's Circle in central Mumbai and a rare find—an early Coronet edition of P.G. Wodehouse. A welcome addition to my wife's collection of mostly Penguin PGs.

I will leave you with a story in 50 words—a Dribble—I wrote on Facebook; clearly, the influence of yoga.

I sat on the mat, legs folded under me, eyes closed lightly, hands resting on my thighs, the tips of my index finger and thumb touching gently, in Gyana Mudra. I took a deep breath and exhaled, once, twice, thrice, and instantly found balance—in a dusty old secondhand bookshop.

Happy New Year!

Images: Prashant C. Trikannad

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Ganesha Arati Book: Understanding Sukhakarta Dukhaharta, 2019

© Atah

Sukhakarta Dukhaharta—the harbinger of light and the dispeller of darkness—is one of the most popular aratis, or devotional songs and hymns, in the large repertory of Hindu religious anthems.

It is a heartfelt prayer by the devout, seeking the Lord’s miraculous intervention in bestowing peace and happiness on the worshipper and removing pain and obstacles from his life.

The arati is believed to have been composed by Samarth Ramadas, the renowned 17th-century poet-saint from the west-central state of Maharashtra, in praise of the beloved and endearing Hindu deity, Ganesha.

It is said that Sant (or Saint) Ramadas was inspired to compose the arati, in Marathi, after he was blessed with the vision of Mayureshwara, a form of Ganesha, in a temple at Morgaon in Pune district of the state.

© lalbaugcharaja.co.in
Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, intellect and new beginnings, is revered by people across the country but most of all in Maharashtra and in the neighbouring states. The patron deity of arts and sciences is loved and feared in equal measure, though he is chiefly venerated as the god of benevolence, one who does good to those who reach out to him and seek his protection. For that reason Ganesha occupies a special place in the pantheon of Hindu gods as well as in the hearts and minds of devotees, young and old. Children, especially, hold him in awe and love him as a dear friend.  

The Ganesha Arati Book: Understanding Sukhakarta Dukhaharta is more than an exposition of one of the most widely sung aratis at holy rituals (known as pujas) and religious ceremonies; especially during Ganesh Chaturthi, the popular 11-day annual festival celebrating the birth and glory of Ganesha. It brings out the essence of the hymn in a way that will make worshippers—and families who pray together—aware of its inspiring message, even as they join hands and chant the arati with joyful enthusiasm before the resplendent idol of Ganesha. For, to know the true significance of an arati or prayer is to enrich the soul.

The book provides an easy-to-understand English translation of Sukhakarta Dukhaharta, the glorification of Ganesha, in three main stanzas and a chorus stanza repeated after every stanza. The stanzas are interspersed with three fascinating stories—The Legend of Mayureshwara, The Birth of Ganesha and The Story of Kubera’s Feast—which trace the origins of the deity and narrate one of his more famous lessons in humility and human values.

Apart from the excellent rendering of the arati, a lot of thought, research and imagination has gone into this beautifully-designed book. The horizontal format has been inspired by the pathi, in the size and style of ancient scriptures and aratis. Every page of the 48-page hardbound book consists of colourful motifs and illustrations in India's rich temple tradition. A glossary at the end offers a list of non-English words and their explanations. All these elements make The Ganesha Arati Book: Understanding Sukhakarta Dukhaharta a joy to behold, read and preserve for the next generation.

The book is published by Atah Lifestyle, a Pune-based company engaged in making objects related to Indian art, culture and tradition, and is available on its website as well as on Amazon and Amazon

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Memory Man by David Baldacci, 2015

Amos Decker is Memory Man.

The bearded and massively-built protagonist—a former homicide detective-turned-private investigator-turned-police consultant—has a rare gift: he remembers everything and forgets nothing. Events, experiences, people, faces, names, objects, shapes, numbers, dates, time, hour, minutes, seconds…the result of a violent collision on the football field when he was twenty-two years old.

The accident ruins Decker's professional football career but leaves him with a super autobiographical memory, the ability to recall just about everything that has happened in his life. 

If you are a student and about to take a Math or History test, you would want what Decker has.

Decker puts his extraordinary perceptive faculties and deductive reasoning to good use: he joins the Burlington Police Department where he and his partner and friend, Detective Mary Lancaster, make a formidable team in crime investigation.

One evening, Decker returns home from work to find his wife, little girl and brother-in-law murdered; his wife and daughter genitally mutilated. The shocking tragedy sends his life into a tailspin. He leaves home, gives up his job, and lives off the streets, basically not caring what happens to him. Eventually, Decker establishes a semblance of life by working as a reclusive private investigator, taking up inconsequential cases, probably just to stay alive. Meanwhile, the case remains unsolved.

More than a year later, the sudden appearance of a strange man, Sebastian Leopold, who walks up to the police and confesses to the murders, in spite of a watertight alibi, and a calculated mass shooting at the local high school around the same time jolts Decker back to reality. His former boss, Captain Miller, persuades him to be a part of the investigation into the shootout. Decker agrees in the hope that he can also find out who killed his family.

Decker joins his former partner, Lancaster, in the school library—the war room—with the FBI for company. But he works largely alone, much to the annoyance of Lancaster and special FBI agent Sam Bogart, bringing them in only after he has successfully pursued a lead.

What he uncovers over the next few days leaves him stunned—the person (or persons) who wiped out his family was also responsible for killing the targeted students and staff at the school. His remarkable mental abilities initially fail to throw up faces or names of people he might have wronged in the past and who might want to get back at him through his family.

As more people, including a female FBI agent, turn up dead, Decker makes another chilling discovery—he is going to be the final victim.

Amos Decker is one of the most unusual characters I have read in crime fiction. The tragedy has left him bereft of emotion but not without empathy. His brilliant mind makes him unique in a way that it makes everyone around him—his partner Mary Lancaster, special agent Bogart, with whom he has a strained relationship in the beginning, and opportunistic reporter-turned-amateur sleuth Alexandra Jamison—almost redundant. He finds most of the clues and assembles the missing pieces. It comes to a point, later on in the book, where the three wait for a cue from Decker and do exactly as he deduces.

As a reader, I couldn't help question their purpose in the narrative. I also felt it was one of two weak spots in what was otherwise a novel filled with suspense and speculation, though not enough to keep me on tenterhooks. The other was the motive behind all the murders, which wasn't as convincing as I'd have liked it to be.

Still, Memory Man is a well-crafted thriller with an unusual storyline and an intriguing hero. The novel's strength lies in its singular focus on the Goliath-like character who sweeps the crime novel from start to end, both as a grieving family man and as a razor-sharp homicide detective. I will be keen to read more on Amos Decker in the five-book series.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Dangerous Lady by Martina Cole, 1992

The Ryans, Benjamin and Sarah, and their nine children including eight sons and a daughter, live in squalor and deprivation in a seedy district of London. Michael, the eldest, loves his mother and dotes on his little sister Maura, the joy and pride of the Ryans. He is indifferent to his father, a good-for-nothing boozer who introduces him and his brothers to small crimes at a young age. Soon, cops, or "Bills" as they are referred to in the novel, come a-calling. Michael loathes the uniforms so much that, when he grows up to be a ruthless mobster, his antipathy to the police nearly destroys the family he is protective of and fiercely loyal to.

In many ways, Michael Ryan, born into an Irish-English family and ruling the West End of the London underworld, is like Michael Corleone, born into a Sicilian-American mafia family and running the New York gangland. But the similarity ends there.

In spite of Michael Ryan's intimidating presence through most of the 416-page novel, Dangerous Lady is not so much about him as his beautiful sister Maura. Following a secret love affair with a cop, fear of Michael and a painful abortion at the age of 17, she joins her brother and together they build a criminal empire that would’ve made the Sicilian Mafia proud. She proves her worth not just to Michael and her other brothers, but even to the traditionally male-dominated crime syndicates of London. And yet, tough as she comes, Maura has a soft side to her, the result of unfulfilled love that eventually comes back to haunt her and possibly gives her a shot at redemption.

British crime writer Martina Cole’s debut novel is more than a high-octane crime story; it’s the violent saga of a crime family whose exploits stretch from post-war London in the 1950s to the mid-1980s. As the years roll, the Ryans lose more than they gain, both within the family and on the streets of West End.

Though Dangerous Lady is a crime drama with plenty of action and gory scenes, I had a few issues with the novel. One, it was rather long, the narrative seeming to drag on in places and frequently moving back and forth. I'm not much for flashbacks. Two, I thought the writing was ordinary, as was the dialogue. I read somewhere that Martina Cole wrote the novel in her early 20s and published it years later. She has since written over two dozen books to wide acclaim and rave reviews. Three, I felt somewhat cheated that in the end I couldn't empathise with or relate to any of the characters, neither Michael or Maura, nor their strong-willed mother, Sarah, or any of their seven brothers who work for Michael and Maura. It’s not how I expected to come away from a crime thriller of this scale.

In spite of my reservations, Dangerous Lady is both entertaining and readable. It's a dramatic canvas of organised crime and an all-too-real portrayal of an unlikely female gangster with a heart. I plan to read more in the Maura Ryan series as well as other books by the author.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A windfall of books

I bought more books in the first three months of this year than I did in all of 2018. Restraint and resolution went out the window as I scoured book exhibitions and secondhand bookstalls for some of my preferred books and comic-books. A few books, such as Yuval Noah Harari's 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, I bought online (I already have his Sapiens and Homo Deus). I also used my annual office book allowance to acquire a few guides to better writing, two of which are featured here. I ordered Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology for my son, which I intend to read in future.

My catch of the season? Three rare Sudden novels by British author Oliver Strange, including two different Corgi editions of The Range Robbers. The title is the first of the 10 adventures of the Texas outlaw James Green, alias Sudden, so known for his quick draw. English writer Frederick H. Christian (Frederick Nolan in real life) wrote another five based on Strange's eponymous hero. I have 12 of these 15 classic westerns, my favourite in the genre.

Here are the exact covers of some of the books I bought over the past three months.










Saturday, February 23, 2019

Wild by Cheryl Strayed, 2012

©Alfred A. Knopf

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

My thoughts

In order to find yourself, sometimes you have to lose something. Or in the case of Cheryl Strayed, someone. Someone very dear to her, her own mother, who she loses to cancer. The personal tragedy leaves her distraught with grief and sets off a chain of unfortunate events in her life—estrangement from her stepfather and her two younger siblings; extramarital affairs and experiments with drugs; the heartbreaking decision to put down her horse; and divorce from the man she loved and who truly cared for her.

Cheryl is lost in the wilderness of her life. And it is the wilderness she seeks to find herself again or, as she says, “to save myself.”

Four years after her mother’s death, Cheryl embarks on an epic and a fascinating pilgrimage of self-discovery—all by herself—hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail that starts from the Mexican border and ends on the Canadian border. Cheryl, though, begins her redemptive journey from the Mojave Desert, hiking through California and Oregon, and finally making it to the Bridge of the Gods, a cantilever bridge, and to Washington state.

It takes Cheryl over three months to complete the hike, through imposing mountain ranges, forests and plateaus, record snowfall and extreme temperatures, and past deadly creatures such as bears and rattlesnakes. Her remarkable and seemingly impossible expedition, often assailed by fear and self-doubt, is as intimidating as it is beguiling, the rocky terrain as hostile as it is hospitable. In the end, Cheryl emerges triumphant, grateful to the PCT—“the long walk”—for making her whole again. 

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is an engaging and entertaining memoir etched with vivid details of Cheryl’s journey starting with her lack of preparedness, first with her humongous backpack she affectionately calls ‘Monster’ and then with her ill-fitting boots that cause her to lose the nails of her feet; the books she carries (including the oft-repeated The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California), reads and burns on the PCT; the many kind and helpful people, mostly fellow-hikers, she meets on the way and exchanges notes with; and the nights she spends alone in her tent, eating granola bars, listening to the voices in her head and the strange sounds outside. 

Throughout her journey, Cheryl recalls, with a tinge of pain and sadness, the life she left behind—her childhood, the abusive father who abandoned them, the stepfather who admirably filled his shoes, remorse over her failed marriage, and finally, the one person who meant the world to her—her mother, and the illness that snatched her away. The frequent flashbacks, however, do not take away the joy of reading about her hike, though, at 338 pages, I thought it was a bit long. But considering it’s a deeply personal and emotionally-charged account of her early life, the writer would be justified in telling it any how she likes. Cheryl tells hers in first person, in a candid, engaging and almost conversational style.

Wild struck a chord because I’d read of similar journeys of self-discovery, undertaken for different reasons. Notably, Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, where Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Lisette Norman) walked over 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace; the classic Walden, a life in the woods of Massachusetts, by Henry David Thoreau; and my personal favourite, In Quest of God and In The Vision of God by Swami Ramdas, the Hindu monk who walked the length and breadth of undivided India in search of spiritual salvation.

Nearly every one of us must someday get on the trail, not necessarily a physical trail, and find ourselves.

I plan to watch the 2014 screen adaptation of Wild where Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed. I learnt of the film only after I read the book.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Book Extract: Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr

The 3Cs is delighted to reproduce an exclusive extract from Chapter 1 of Justice Gone by writer N. Lombardi Jr. The book, the first in a series of psychological thrillers involving Dr Tessa Thorpe, publishes February 22, 2019.

About the Book

© Roundfire Books
When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down. A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran's counselor, is caught up in the chase.

Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa's patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers gets there first, leading to Darfield's dramatic capture.

Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge?”

The Extract

Bruntfield, New Jersey, just another banal town in a part of the country that nobody thinks about, was about to become famous; or rather, more aptly put, infamous. People sauntered past lackluster shops unaware that in a few days, the lackadaisical streets would bear the rabid frustrations that divided the nation; a pus-like bitterness that was held in check by the demands of everyday survival and the distractions offered by obsessive consumerism and brazen media would inevitably blame the cascade of events on the weather, since the origins could be found on a hot summer day in 2006. Sure, just about all summer days are hot, but this one was close to the record, and humid to boot. By the end of July, the Northeast coast was suffering under a sweltering heat wave. Despite the humidity, no one could remember the last time it had rained. A hundred-year drought was predicted, they'd said.

Bruntfield, among the many places under this curse, had its water supply so severely depressed that the city authorities were forced to impose water rationing. As if that wasn't enough, the excessive load on air conditioners led to incessant brownouts. With the weather nothing less than insufferable, suffocating, oppressive, even provoking, tempers flared along with the temperature. But the local situation, as bad as it was, was about to get worse.

In the heart of this small town, just a block up from the bus depot, sat Sliders, a rather successful drinking establishment catering to young adults, and noted for its ecstasy-fueled rave parties. At four in the afternoon, the owner, Joe Poppet, a burly man with a thick red beard and a well-developed beer belly, was staring out the large glass facade of his bar.

"Screw this heat, man."

Joe was sweating because he didn't want to turn on the air-conditioning; as a rule, he didn't put it on until a half hour before opening. He possessed a rather cynical personality, considering himself continually persecuted by life's little aggravations. Now it was the heat ramping up his electricity bill; soon it would be the freezing temperatures inflating his heating bill…always something. His worries constantly exceeded his hopes. He was sort of a "glass-half-empty" man.

Rudy Glum, the shaven-headed bartender, was an easygoing optimist, a "glass-half-full" kind of guy. He was whistling as he washed the glasses in the sink behind the bar. "Tell me about it," he chuckled. "I hear ya, buddy."

But Rudy's sanguinity did not rub off on Joe. "There's that guy again."

"What guy?"

"That fucking guy we saw yesterday."

"Oh, yeah, he's probably from the bus depot. Lotta homeless hang out there."

Joe continued to stare out the glass facade, feeling helpless.  "For Chrissakes, why can't the city do something and get rid of those bastards. They're a fucking eyesore…it's bad for business. Probably got diseases too."

Rudy finished drying the glass in his hand and hung it up on the beer mug rack. "Yeah, it's a goddamn shame," he said noncommittally, trying to get these glasses done before the evening crowd surged in.

"He doesn't have a shirt on."

"Yeah, well it's hot, ain't it? Wish I could take mine off."

"And we're opening in an hour. Ladies Night tonight."

Rudy said nothing while reaching for another glass from the sink behind the bar.

"Call the cops."

The bartender froze with the glass still in his hand. "And tell them what?"

"I don't know, tell 'em there's someone suspicious hanging out on the corner…trying to break into cars or something. That way they'll come fast."

Reluctantly, Rudy put down his dishrag, picked up the phone, and dialed 911, not feeling good about it at all.

Patrolman Rafael Puente might well be considered an unattractive man. A pencil-thin mustache above diminutive lips made insignificant by his large inflated face, gave his head the appearance of a balloon with a cartoon countenance. His acnescarred skin oozed sweat as he studied the thin disheveled man, shirtless with unkempt hair and a scraggly beard, standing three feet in front of him. "You were trying door handles on cars, eh?"

The man's body wavered, but his gaze was focused hard on Puente's eyes. Then his own eyes darted left and right, revealing his vacillation on how to handle this situation. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Puente began playing with his baton, twirling it down, and then back up smack into his palm. Rotating it down, rotating it up, like a long yo-yo…like the tail of an agitated cat ready to pounce. "Give me a language…tell me a language you speak in."

"Like what?"

Puente's tone rose in hostility. "Tell me a language you speak in."

"I don't know. What do you want to know?"

The humidity was so dense it felt like a sponge rubbing against their skins; so thick you could almost take a bite out of it and chew it.

"I want to know what kinda language you speak."

"I don't know."

"Yeah, well, what do you know?"

"I don't know."

"My partner, he speaks ten languages. Right, Foxy?"

Patrolman John Fox, a clean shaven, waspish-looking man standing to his right, smiled a mouthful of nice bright teeth.

"Yeah, that's right. I can speak Mongolian, Cambodian…" Fox came closer, boxing in the man they were questioning.

"He don't speak English," Puente told his partner.

"You don't?" Fox asked the homeless man.

The figure in front of them became fidgety. "What do you think I speak?"

Fox put his hands on his hips. "I don't know, you tell us. You're speaking English right now, aren't ya?"

Puente interrupted. "You know, it seems I see you all the time, and all the time I gotta say something to you. Do you enjoy that?"

"Oh yeah, I love bumping into you all the time."


The bearded man looked to his left and right, looking for an escape route while at the same time desperately trying to tell himself that these guys were just American cops and not the enemy in Iraq. He was trembling with the effort. "So, what do you guys wanna know?"

Puente's baton was still twirling with a pent-up belligerence. "I asked you already."

"I don't know what…"

"You trying to open car doors?"

"Well, I don't know what you're talking about."

"What does that mean, is that a yes or a no?"

"I don't know, don't know what you're hassling me for, man."

"You got any ID on you?"

"No. I don't need any."

"You don't need any?" Fox voiced with a rising tone of contempt.

"No, I don't drive, I don't vote, no credit card, and I don't use my passport anymore."

"So what's your name?" Puente asked.

"Felson. Jay Felson."

"What's your first name?"

"I just fucking told you, man. Jay."

"'J' is an initial. Tell me your full name."

"Jay, J-A-Y, Felson."

Puente, his question answered, went off on a new tack. "You know, I can take you to jail right now…loitering, suspicion of burglary."

"You don't have anything better to do?"

"What's in your knapsack?" Fox interjected.

"Why? You wanna search it?

"If you don't mind."

The bearded man swung his bag off his shoulders and handed it over. "Knock yourself out."

"Sit down," Puente abruptly ordered.

"Sit down where?"

"On the ground."

This was getting hard. Just cops, he reminded himself, but he suspected something worse.

"I said sit down."

"Where man?"

"Where you're standing, on the ground."

Felson plopped down on the concrete pavement.

"Put your legs out in front of you. Stretch them out."

Just do it. He did so, his arms at his sides supporting him.

"Put your hands on your knees."

No, this is a mind fuck, man. He ignored the command.

"I said put your hands on your knees."

Realizing he didn't have much choice, Jay drew his legs up first, then put his hands on his knees.

"Stretch your legs out."

He removed his hands from his knees and stretched out his legs.

"Put your fucking hands on your knees."

"What the fuck you want me to do. I can't do both."

"Give it a try, lean forward and put your hands on your knees."

Fox was going through the items found in the knapsack. "Got some letters here. They ain't addressed to Jay Felson…let's see, Casey Hull, Donald Darfield… You stealing other people's letters, boy."

"I'm gonna mail them."

"They already got stamps on them," Fox noted. "How come you haven't mailed them yet? You know, just slip them into a mailbox. There's one right over there on the corner."

Puente was still toying with his baton. "Let's take him in on a 4-96." Four-ninety-six was police code for handling stolen property.

Jay Felson, feeling an ache in his lower back, removed his hands from his knees, once again placing his arms in back of him to support himself.

"Hey, what the fuck I tell ya! Hands on knees!"

This time Felson was not eager to comply. He remained motionless in silent defiance.

Puente then reached into his back pocket and slowly, deliberately, put on a pair of latex gloves. He thrust one glove-laden fist in front of Felson's face. "See these fists?'

"Yeah, what about 'em?"

"They're getting ready to fuck you up."

"That just sucks."

"Put your legs out, put your hands on your knees"

"Hey, I'm sick of playing games, which one is it!"

Puente slapped him in the head.

"Hey, wouldya just fucking…"

"Put your hands on your knees!" he yelled, giving Felson another slap.

"Wouldya just fucking…"

Fox got on his handheld radio. "Code three, four-fifteen, bus depot corner Fifth and Clemston." (Code three, urgent, proceed with lights and siren; four-fifteen, disturbance.)

Puente slapped Felson's head a third time. Felson stood up, tired of being hit while on the ground.

Puente raised his baton.

Felson put his hands in front of him to display supplication.

"Hey, hey all right!"

"Get on the ground, get on the ground now!" Fox screamed. Both officers began to hit Felson on his legs and side with their batons, and he did what came instinctively-he ran.

"Take him down, take him down!" Puente yelled.

They grabbed him, got him down on the pavement, pressing his face against the concrete, and the real beating began.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry, sorry, man."

"Put your hands behind your back," the two cops shouted, twisting his arms.

"Okay, I'm sorry…I can't breathe…"

The two cops were on top, Puente with a knee in Felson's back and Fox kicking him. "Stop resisting," they both yelled in turns.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

A second patrol car pulled up with sirens blaring and flashers blazing. Two more officers sprang from the car and piled on. One of the new guys, Victor Fratollini, tasered Felson, zzzzt, and Fox began walloping him over the head with his stun gun. Another unit pulled up. Two more cops, two more assailants, and seeing Fratollini smashing the homeless man's cheekbones with his elbow, joined in the fracas.

Zzzzt, zzzzt, zzzzt they tasered him again and again.

"Dad, Dad, help me!"

More tasering, six times now.

"Help me, Dad! I can't breathe, I can't…Dad…"

Someone pounded Felson's head into the pavement.

"Dad help me!"

A pool of blood formed beneath him. The six police officers relentlessly pummeled him, the scene resembling a feeding frenzy of enraged carnivores…until Felson was no longer able to call for his father.

© Reproduced with the written permission of N. Lombardi Jr and John Hunt Publishing (Roundfire Books)

N. Lombardi Jr (Photo supplied by the author)
About the Author

N. Lombardi Jr (N for Nicholas) has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist.

In 1997, while visiting Lao People's Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years. Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc.

His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.

His latest novel Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.

Nick lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You can read more about him and his work at Goodreads.