The Story Takes Place in San Francisco's Chinatown
is an experiment in publishing in which you have free access to a complete
mystery novella (about 20,000 words) without having to have a special e-reading
device or a special program. It can be
read on a laptop, desktop, pad or smart phone. As long as you can log into a
website, you can do this.
posted this short novel for a couple of reasons.The first is to introduce readers unfamiliar
with my work to my writing. The second is to encourage all readers to explore
the idea of short novels or novellas.It
is an interesting form and especially appropriate for reading on-line,
especially in smaller time windows — on the plane, in the waiting room, or
right before sleep.
start at chapter one and scroll down for as long as you enjoy the story.All the way, I hope.
The Dangerous Secrets of Ted Zheng is a traditional mystery
about a young, Chinese American forensic accountant from Arizona who
reluctantly gets tangled up in a Chinatown murder case.There is something more than a murder, or
murders, to solve. The investigation leads to a larger and more personal
the end of each chapter, there is a comment section. Please feel free to
express yourself as you go along or at the end.
you enjoy this mystery, perhaps you’ll check out some of my other mysteries,
many of them available for less than $4 in various e-book formats and some in
trade paperback as well.If you want to
explore this kind of short fiction, check out Death in the Haight and Mascara:
Death in the Tenderloin.
WARNING:At a time
when violence in films is under increased scrutiny, perhaps a warning is
appropriate for these two films — Wild
Things and Bound. We’ve go an
abundance of sex and violence.
A second warning should be sounded for Wild Things — not for sex and violence — but to alert viewers to
not give up on it before they catch on.The film begins as some sort of slick, adolescent comedy, a Mean Girls kind of movie.It isn’t.What you think is happening isn’t.What you figured out is actually happening isn’t. It’s not what you
think.And you need to watch the entire
film, including the credits because when the film appears to end, it hasn’t.
Matt Dillon plays
a guidance counsel, accused of rape by two young girls — Neve Campbell and Denise
Richards. Police sex crimes investigator Kevin Bacon wants to nail Dillon.And Bill Murray, a sleazy
lawyer, is tapped to defend the accused.There is actually more sex than violence in this one. And the only one
who keeps his clothes on is Murray. Wild
Thing was directed by John
McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a
Serial Killer) and released in 1998.
If you think that the sex between Neve Campbell and Denise
Richards is torrid, then you must hide your eyes when Gina Gershon and Jennifer
Tilly get into bed.There are those
who mistakenly categorize this as a lesbian film as if that would be the
primary audience.It is that, but it is
more than that.It is a major crime
thriller as well.
Tilly’s character is desperate to get away from her gangster
boyfriend, but has always depended on the support of men she didn’t love to
survive in the fashion she had become accustomed to, feigning empty-headedness
and enduring some abuse and humiliation as the price she had to pay.But she’s tired of it.When she meets a very butch, gorgeous,
independent, and tough Gina Gershon, all hell breaks loose. Joe Pantoliano is exactly right as the
boyfriend, who is about to be swindled out of $2 million dollars by the new
lovers and who will, therefore, be on the hit list of the mob to whom the money
belongs.Of course, it’s not as easy as
The supporting cast is stellar, including Law & Order’s Christopher Meloni as the son of a mafia boss.Bound
was the first full-length feature by Andy
and LanaWachowski, who also
directed Matrix, V for Vendetta and Cloud
Atlas.It was released in 1996 to
shock and acclaim.
Bound would rank
pretty high on my list of all-time crime films.And these two are perfect for small-screeen, stay-at-home night.And if you aren’t driving then a few bourbon
on the rocks for the sensuous and suspenseful evening are appropriate.
It may be a silly thing to do, considering my
inconsequential position in the universe. But I do more than dabble in
The first draft of a book with stories from my life is done.
I’ve named it Albion and New Augusta,
Confessions of a Midlist Writer.Albion is a small town in Wisconsin where my father grew up and New
Augusta is an area now incorporated in Indianapolis where my mother remembers
the golden years of her childhood.Below
is the draft of the preface, which I may use if the book is ever published.
I Never Slept With Rita Hayworth
We are told
not to write prefaces.No one reads
them, they say.But I feel the
need.I have a confession to make.One is that I might not be a “midlist” writer
as the subtitle suggests.It’s probably
something not quite “mid.” It’s probably lower midlist.Even so, I have published more than a dozen
books and have almost always received good reviews.Not always, but mostly always. That, of
course, shows that good reviews do no necessarily translate into good sales or
being a household word.And, in fact,
the stories about mystery writing are few. It’s simply one little life amidst
billions of them. Perhaps you’ll find some of it amusing if it is published and
you are stranded on a deserted island when a copy floats ashore.
wanted to tell you upfront that while I know many wonderful, talented and
interesting people, upfront, I don’t know any famous ones. I worry that the
word “memoirs” might promise more than it delivers in terms of celebrities or
important historical information. The disclosures here won’t make it to gossip
TV.For example, I have to tell you a
few things — things like I never slept with Rita Hayworth or partied naked with
Prince Harry. You should not expect a lot of juicy confessions that involve
people you’ve heard about.However, in
the interest of full disclosure, I’ll put my celebrity contacts up front:
Nietzsche On Acid?
hands with Roy Rogers at a rodeo when I was five.I was once in an elevator with Brenda Lee. William F. Buckley stood behind me once as I
exited a plane.Clayton Moore winked at
me.Rita Moreno touched my shoulder at a
charity affair. I nodded to Kurt Vonnegut at the bar at an event where he
spoke.I was in the lobby of a hotel
when both Julian Bond and Roy Orbison checked in. It was night. Roy was wearing
sunglasses.Emilio Estevez and I
exchanged polite hellos in an advertising agency once.I had to dodge Kiefer Sutherland in an Irish
bar in L.A. He was headed to the bathroom.He had just left a booth still occupied by Julia Roberts, who was
smoking like a chimney. George Lukas once walked by me during an art show in
San Francisco. I may have been a table away from Daniele Steele at a restaurant
on Union Street and I may have seen and exchanged nods with Barry Bonds, but
I’m not 100 percent sure.It may have
been some other guy who felt awkward that a stranger was staring at him.
Now that the
rich and famous and powerful are out of the way, we can proceed with the story
with expectations appropriately diminished.
be fair, drugs and sex are involved.So
is Nietzsche, as well as calling in a Cobra helicopter attack on a porcupine
and some dicey adventures in French Lick, Indiana.
The idea was to write about a life.Not a sensational or famous life — though not
really a normal life either, if there is such a thing?
The Authors Guild Bulletin
reported that Evelyn Waugh once said, “Only when one has lost all curiosity
about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.” I suspect
that is true; but there may be other reasons. Maybe it is to come to some
understanding and to wrap things up.
Crime, in the broader context, encompasses wars and other
social uprisings that involve deceit and cause death and destruction.For those seeking an evening double feature that
allows us to escape escape from the news — and there are many times I want just
that — this isn’t it.For those with a
strong constitution and a desire to try to understand what is going on in the
world, these two films will explore conditions that are historically repetitive
and provoke at least one question.Have
we learned nothing?
I was watching Charlie
Rose a week or so ago. He had a fascinating interview with General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded
troops in Afghanistan and was forced to resign because of his criticism of the
Commander in Chief. It was an interesting discussion of war and torture and
trying to win over a country while also trying to occupy it. The interview was
worthwhile for many reasons, but for this post what came out of this was an unusual
request made by the General. As he tried to educate or sensitize military teams
and troops in Afghanistan, he had them watch the film, Battle of Algiers, released in 1966.
One might call this a dangerous film.On one hand it shows the effective strategy
used by — depending on what side you’re on — the revolutionaries or
terrorists.On the other hand, the
film quite clearly shows how the French occupiers continued to make matters
worse through torture, intimidation and bombing — with all its collateral damage.
The film was critically acclaimed everywhere, except in
France, where it was initially banned.It
was also used as a lesson plan for those fighting insurgents and the insurgents
In addition to its cinematic brilliance — and its unheeded
warnings before the U.S. fully engaged in Viet Nam, it’s hard to imagine a more
relevant film, especially as we attempt to disengage in Iraq and Afghanistan
and try very hard to make all the right moves in the quicksand of the Greater
The Battle of Algiers
is a film that has a clear, documentary feel.Sin Nombre tells a more
personal story in a more traditionally cinematic way, but it too rings true.Both films carry the seeds of much larger
thoughts about problems in the world at large. With Battle
of Algiers, we deal with the problems of occupation.With Sin
Nombre, we are looking at escape — from the conditions we were born into,
from the choices we’ve made in the past and toward a better life.But there are all sorts of roadblocks in the path
of redeeming the soul — or simply staying alive, for that matter.
In most big cities there are areas, usually poor and usually
inhabited by disenfranchised minorities, where children join a gang not just to
have an identity, though that may be part of it, but also to survive.It is the creation of a tribe in order to
survive the order and rules of the world they know.
Willy (“El Casper”) is a member of such a gang.He is not especially enthusiastic about it,
but he’s tough enough to deal with it.He even brings a younger Mexican kid, who is in need of a tribe to
protect him, into the gang.But things
go wrong for Willy.The gang leader
kills his girlfriend in a failed attempt to rape her.Willy tries to repress his anger; but when
the gang leader again tries to hurt a young woman during a robbery, Willy loses
it and kills the gang leader.He knows
he is a dead man.He befriends the young
woman he saved during the robbery and tries to protect her as they both flee
their demons.They embark on a long trip
north to the U.S. during which Willy helps her into a new world he understands
he will never see.
This is a well-acted, beautifully photographed film that
picked up dozens of international awards.Cary Joji Fukunaga directed
this 2009 film.
A reminder though, this is a reality-based evening.We have the sense that real, bad things are
happening to real, breathing human beings and that the real story doesn’t end
when the credits roll.I’d drink
moderately during the films if you drink at all, and consider perhaps tequila
A couple of years ago I finally felt that I had enough San
Francisco in my soul to use it as the setting, even a character, in a new
private eye series.So far, there have
been two books and two novellas featuring Paladino & Lang Investigations.
The office is inhabited by Carly Paladino, a fourth generation San Franciscan whose
PI background comes from an executive position in a high-toned security firm; Noah
Lang, a somewhat lazy, street-wise P.I. who just wants to get by; over the hill
Harry Brinkman, an old-school kind of guy who just wants keep his hand in and
have a place to go; and Thanh, a gender-bending, multi-talented, part-time
operative who keeps everyone on their toes and in their places.
Over the last few years, in my meanderings throughout the
city, I’ve taken photographs of the city, and its diverse neighborhoods. And
I’ve recorded some of the incredible art that local muralists have given to the
public to view.So I thought I’d put a
few of those photographs together to give you an idea of the San Francisco I
see and the city where my fiction occurs.This snippet is roughly three minutes long, including some sneaky shots
of book covers from the series.Let me
know what you think.
P.S.To read them in
order, get Mascara, Death in the
Tenderloin, Death in Pacific Heights,Death in North Beach and Death in the Haight.
The words “point of view” for the writer usually relates
to the storyteller.We’re talking first
person, second person, or third (usually the omniscient).But that’s not exactly what I mean by
We live in a contentious world and we live in a contentious
country.The incredibly clear line
between what is called red states and blues states, which bears a strong
resemblance to the North and the Confederacy, indicates a country almost
equally divided with each having passionate opposition to the other.The closeness of the presidential elections,
the stalemate between republicans and democrats in congress, the great gun
debate, same-sex marriage and the possible teaching of creationism as a science
in public schools seems to have split us pretty wide apart.
There are a number of non-fiction as well as “literary”
works that put these problems before us.Many of them try to explain the origins of the arguments and some
suggest the superiority of one point of view versus another as well as
potential paths to victory of one view or other. These are, some more obvious than others,
social commentary. But what about the genre writers?If we write mysteries are we in any way
obligated to keep our stories free of politics or personal opinions?
Focusing on the word “obligated,” I’d have to say, of course
not.But as a matter of pragmatism,
perhaps it is wise, in “our entertainments,” to keep from alienating a good
chunk of the population.Readers, or
consumers, as they are sometimes called, may very well avoid those views with
which they disagree.
How Do You Take Your Crime Fiction?
In a slight variation of Hoosier philosopher Kin Hubbard’s
comment, “You pays your money, you takes your chances.”If you write a book that is little more than
a political diatribe, then that is what you have and you will take your chances
with book buyers and reviewers. Most readers, myself included, certainly don’t
want political rhetoric in my evening read.We may have picked up an escapist bit of crime fiction in order to avoid
the constant nattering.At the opposite
end, if your book is completely “relevance free,” then you take your chances
with book buyers and reviewers, who might see it as without substance. Though
we all may differ on our preferences, personally, I want contemporary,
realistic crime novels and it doesn’t bother me at all if what I read causes me
to contemplate a larger picture.
What many writers do, I believe, is touch upon something
particularly relevant to the times, but gloss over the larger moral or ethical
significance. They do so by focusing on the puzzle of the mystery itself or on
one person and the wrong done to them, a wrong that by and large, we, of nearly
all political persuasions, can agree is wrong — premeditated murder, blackmail,
rape, fraud and any kind of deception that takes advantage of the innocent.
But individual writers are as likely to be political as
anyone else, though less likely to make their persuasion public.Would you buy one of so and so’s books if you
knew he or she gave $10,000 to the political party or candidate you abhor?
Would you suddenly look at the story he or she told with a more cynical
eye?Has the writer’s political point of
view crept into the novel? Might we think it has, even if it hasn’t?And why would you want to provide financial
support to someone who gives financial support to those who might be trying to
screw you over.
And there is this question.Is it even possible for our POV not to have some bearing on the stories
we tell? I can’t imagine that one’s views
on the issues of our times aren’t a factor in the creative process.We create situations, or rather define them,
and build characters who make choices. And the book ends.
But one person’s revolutionary is another person’s
terrorist.For one, an immigrant may be
a noble being, willing to suffer hardships and risk imprisonment in order to
seek a better life for his or her family.For another, an immigrant may be a criminal. The law is the law.
One question to ask is:Do you know the politics of your favorite authors?Can you tell what they are from his or her
writing?Does it matter?Even in the slightest?
Since I asked, I’ll try to answer the question.I don’t know the politics of any of my
favorite mystery writers — and by favorite I mean those who I regularly
read.To pick one, I’d be willing to
guess that my politics were not far from James Lee Burke’s, though I don’t and
probably can’t know that. I pick up something about him as he writes about the
people in his novels and the actions of Robicheaux and Purcell.There is a sensibility to his writing and characters
that I find comfortable — essentially a point of view.Michael Connelly is another prolific writer
that I keep up with.And here, I have no
idea of his personal politics or really the POV of his main characters.Perhaps it is his journalistic background or
perhaps it is on purpose, but other than “get the bad guys,” I have no sense of
Harry Bosch beyond wrestling with evil and of the Lincoln lawyer himself, who
has learned to live with it.
Because of the fact that I’m fascinated with politics, and
even though I have absolutely no right to know, I would find it interesting to
know which of today’s popular mystery writers voted for Romney and which for
Obama.But the truth is: Sadly, if I
did know what is clearly none of my business, it might very well influence what
Incidentally, the notion of relevance plays a part in
Friday’s Film Pairings.
directed the low-budget film To Live and
Die in L.A., based on the novel by Gerald
Petievich.It’s a fast moving, stylish
piece of cinema — with the notable presence of the music of Wang Chung — about secret service
agents and the pursuit counterfeiters. A largely unknown and svelte William Petersen was cast as the
primary secret service agent, supported by a cast that included Willem Dafoe, John Turturro and Dean
Stockwell.This is a great Friday
night escape, with visually riveting, tense action, but with little to tax the
The success of this film and especially Petersen gave the
future CSI principal a second film in which to shine — Manhunter, directed by Michael
Mann. Like To Live and Die, there is what some might say is an overriding
sense of style.It may only have been a
little ahead of its time.The film ages
well and is gaining increasing support as a cult DVD hit.Manhunter,
oddly enough foreshadowed two other cinematic events — the first appearance of
the character Hannibal Lecktor* and the extensive use of crime scene technology
to solve crimes long before Petersen, many years later, starred in a show that would
set the bar for such forensics-centered crime-solving drama in the hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its
impersonators and incarnations.
based on Thomas Harris’ first book
about Hannibal Lecter*, Red Dragon.According to Wikipedia, Harris was not
thrilled with the film, so the book was made into a second film, Red Dragon, in 2002. Anthony Hopkins reprised his stunningly
scary Silence of the Lambs role in
the remake, which is essentially a prequel to Silence. Brian Cox
nonetheless made a fine psychopath as the imprisoned Hannibal in Manhunt, and Tom Noonan, also does a fine job as the current madman and Hannibal
wannabe, who must be stopped before he kills again.
The 2002 version (Red
Dragon), probably riding on the box office and critical success of Silence of the Lambs and the chilling
performance of Hopkins, was a more successful film than Manhunter at the times of their respective releases.However, time is more than redeeming the
earlier version. There are many who
regard Manhunter as the best of the
Hannibal Lecter* series even though it not part of the “official” collection.Petersen, however, did not go on to be a major
Hollywood lead. On the other hand, fame did not escape him. As many people know
of Petersen’s Gil Grissom on the highly popular CSI for nine seasons as they do of Hopkins’ Hannibal.
While I am tempted to suggest fava beans and a nice Chianti
for the evening, that should be saved for Silence
of the Lambs.However, a hearty red
is not out of the question nor is sipping some Scotch on the Rocks.
*The spelling of Lecktor is used for Manhunter.Lecter is used in
I asked Michael Z. Lewin about his new book,
which is a bit of a departure from his two critically well-received and popular
mystery series. Here is Mr. Lewin’s response:
Confessions of a Discontented Deity is a different kind of book for me, for sure.A novel, yes, but not obviously a mystery
except in the mystery-of-life sense.But
that doesn’t mark a sea change in my oeuvre
or my interests.I’ve always been more
interested in people than in poisons, more interested in why people do things
than how they kill each other.A writer
friend of mine, Carter Wilson, responded to my previous book (Family Way) by saying that as a mystery
writer I was like a surgeon who got into the slicing and dicing before he
realized blood and guts were involved.
is the God who narrates these Confessions
much of a stickler for what one might call the genre of religious forms and
practices.The basic idea is that if God
created man then to understand God all you need to do is look at man, men, and
work backwards.That reasoning offers
you a geek who likes to play with His toys, get laid, and avoid hassle.
men can change — well, some of them.So
God too can change.And in Confessions He reconstructs the latest
time when He discovered Himself to be changing.And He tells what He did about it.In the course of the reconstruction He explains about Life, on earth and
elsewhere in the Universe.And why men
(and women) came to be created.And
what’s going to happen next.
even a chapter in which God solves a crime.
Michael Z. Lewin
is not my first book that has been “different,” and I’ve never been one to
stick even to a single series.In the
late ‘90s I published Rover’s Tales.In that book Rover narrates his adventures as
an “independent” dog, but in many ways it’s really a book about humanity,
looking up from ground level.Well, now
“dog” has reversed itself and become “god” and instead of looking at man and
womankind from below, Confessions is
a view looking down from the heavens.So
maybe it’s a new series.Dog, God…What’s next?The Ogds?Whatever they are.Meanwhile
Rover, though unnamed, does make an appearance in Confessions.
long time ago it was a revelation to me that for the tax folks instead of being
a writer I was a “small business.”If I
were a better businessman I would have been writing versions of the same book
over and over, like many of the most successful crime folks seem to do.But I’m not much of a businessman.So here, instead of more Albert Samson, is
God.How good a writer I am is up to you
for those interested in Samson, just let me say that I’m just finishing a
Samson short story.It is the fourth in
a series in which he has the same client.The first of these stories, “Who I Am” is the one honored by the Private
Eye Writers of America with the short story Shamus this year.It was followed in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by “Good Intentions” with “Extra
Fries” yet to be published. And, I hope,
the fourth and last in what amounts to a mini-series.MZL
Michael Z. Lewin has
written more than 20 novels and numerous short stories as well as stage and
radio plays. A resident of Indianapolis for many years, he lives in Bath,
unlike such directors as Spielberg or Capra, has nearly as many detractors as
fans.I’m a fan.And as such, I understand that I will not
necessarily get an uplifting message in the end. I also understand I might get a flawed film.
However, I am pretty much guaranteed a film that will keep me glued to the
screen until the credits start rolling.
Some writers have said this was Stone’s homage to the genre,
and I’m guessing that U Turn fits the
strictest definition of “noir.” Stone manages to turn blinding sunlight into
noir.And you don’t know what having a
bad day is compared to these couple of days in the life of small-time operator Sean Penn on his way to pay off his
debt to some gangsters.He cruises down
a desolate Southwest highway in his 1964 and1/2 red Mustang convertible.Penn’s punk character, under a deadly
deadline, gets stalled in Superior, Arizona.
The film is based on a book by John Ridley who, along with Stone, wrote the screenplay.The film is inhabited by an incredible
collection of characters — a most disgusting mechanic played almost too well by
Billy Bob Thornton, an abusive
husband played by Nick Nolte, a
game-playing siren embodied by a sexy, sultry Jennifer Lopez and the town tough-guy wannabe, played by Joaquin Phoenix.John
Voight, who was skewered by the critics in this one, plays the wise (or
crazy) possibly “blind” Greek chorus in Native American clothing — a kind of
“artistic” flourish, possibly. With all the other strange characters, I would
ask, “why not?”
We witness greed, betrayal, violence, murder and a whole lot
of bad luck. U Turn was released in
1997 to mixed reviews.I say go for it.Next time I think I’m having an unbelievably
long run of bad juju, I’ll think of Mr. Penn in U Turn, yell an obscenity at the universe and count my blessings.
Body Heat (1981)
is modern noir as well.There is also
less disagreement among the critics about it being a genuinely good film.While not based on a book, the film has its
roots in the classic novel and legendary film Double Indemnity.Fortunately, Body Heat stands
on its own with extraordinary performances by Kathleen Turner and William
Both U Turn and Body Heat are steamy films and not just
because they are in Arizona (not a dry heat in this case) and Florida,
respectively, but because the sex approaches soft porn.You may not want to watch either of these
with your kids.
Again, in Body Heat,
we have a nasty, wealthy husband (Richard
Crenna), a sex-hungry wife (Kathleen Turner) and a horny man (William Hurt),
not tethered by responsibility, who has a compromised sense of morality that is
easily tempted into further compromise.A young Mickey Rourke and a
young Ted Danson have supporting
roles in this excellent film, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan.
In both films, killing the spouse, seems to be the expedient
solution.So take a few hours off from
winter and enjoy the sweaty bodies dealing with lust and greed.If you turn the heat up at your place, maybe
you can make one of those drinks with umbrellas in it to enhance the dark