Michael Haskins

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dixon Rice's "The Assassins Club"

My fellow write Dixon Rice’s first book has been published and, believe me, you want to get in on the bottom floor of this guy’s books. There’s more to come and you’ll be able to say, “I read him when . . .”
Here’s a taste of why I believe that.

The thriller THE ASSASSINS CLUB follows two serial killers in 1970, nearly a decade before the term ‘serial killer’ was invented by FBI profilers. This 1,000 word excerpt includes the end of chapter one, where Tyler (in Montana) ‘accidentally’ becomes a killer, and chapter two, where a second killer (in Baja, Mexico) discovers his identity:
Driving the black Barracuda past stands of lodgepole pines straight as soldiers on review, Tyler Goode noticed the gas gauge needle hovering near E. He pulled into the Express Chest, a dingy beer-and-gas shack squeezed between an acre of peeled logs stacked to the north and a defunct heavy equipment dealership to the south. He usually gassed up in Kalispell to save on a fill-up, but forty-eight cents a gallon would have to do. Ty parked, climbed out and glanced at the attendant approaching him through the mucky snow.

Oh, shit!

Brute carried a two-by-four in one massive hand. Just like last night, he never said a word. He swung the board at Ty’s head with both hands.

Ty managed to duck under it. Meeting no resistance, Brute’s powerful swing took the big man off-balance and he spun half around.

Ty put his left hand on the slushy asphalt and swung his outstretched right leg, sweeping Brute’s feet from beneath him. It would’ve meant a red card in soccer, but Ty didn’t hear a ref’s whistle. He watched the expression on the big man’s face as he fell, and realized Brute was trying to decide whether to let go of the two-by-four and cushion his fall, or keep it so he could kill his prey quicker.

Brute clung to the board, landing hard on shoulder and cheek. He groggily rose to his feet.
Ty stood waiting for him. “Put it down, Brute, and let’s work this out.”

The bully lifted the two-by-four over his head like an axe.

Ty stepped backwards just as he had practiced a thousand times in various martial arts dojos. This time he stumbled on some loose gravel. The club grazed his head as he slipped to the ground. He landed flat on his back, dazed, watching the board arcing up for a final blow. It started its descent toward his skull. Ty rolled awkwardly away through half-melted snow until he bumped into the curb around the pumps.

The stud came down hard on the damp pavement next to Ty’s head and bounced out of Brute’s hands.

Ty grabbed the two-by-four as it bounded past. He jumped up with it firmly in his grip, and clobbered Brute on the temple.

The big man toppled like a redwood in the forest, striking his head on the curb.
He didn’t move.

Still dazed, Ty got down on one knee and felt up and down the groove on the side of Brute’s neck. Then he checked both wrists.
No pulse.

He stood up. No people in sight, no cars.

Was it possible nobody saw? Ty didn’t remember hearing any vehicles pass by during the fight. How long had it lasted – thirty seconds? A minute?

He threw the bloody stud into the trunk of the Barracuda, then splashed through slush into the shack and cleared all the cash from the register. He kicked over a stool and knocked over a display case of candy bars and gum, making it look like a robbery. He pumped a few

gallons of gas into his car, wiped off the pump handle and drove away. He turned onto the deserted street and headed toward the Ruff Rider.

The meanest sonuvabitch in the valley, and Ty had killed him.

“Guess I’ve done my good deed for the year,” he said to himself.
* * *
Twelve hundred miles southwest, a bearded man fights his way through the surf. A giant wave crashes over his back and knocks the air from his lungs. He struggles to stand upright, his arms and legs heavy as lead. He vaguely recalls thrashing around in the cold water and turning around in time to see the stern of a sailing ship as it glides toward the horizon, jaunty carnival tunes in its wake. Other than that, he doesn’t remember much.

Did I fall from that? Or get pushed?

The water tugs at his legs like a needy lover. He finally falls to his knees on hot, white sand. He has a pounding headache and blood on one hand from when he touches the throbbing knot on the back of his scalp.

Where the hell am I?

Who am I?

The voices in his head provide no answers.

A hazy figure appears far up the beach and so he walks in that direction. The sun feels good on his back. Seagulls circle overhead and chatter in their private language. After a few minutes he can make out some details of the approaching person – a tall thirty-something woman with sunflower-gold hair, wearing a flowing white gown. She walks with her head down as if overwhelmed by a great sadness. Or maybe looking for pretty shells.
A terrible fear jolts his heart.

She’s in mortal danger. Something awful is about to befall her.

Close now, she finally looks up and notices him. She laughs. “Jesus, you’re naked!”

So that’s who I am.

A thunderstorm roars in his ears. Lightning flashes behind his eyes. The ground shakes so, Jesus fears it will open up and swallow them both. The woman becomes a blur of color and motion and desire and spite.

When the earth stops shaking, Jesus crouches over her naked, still body. He wonders if she is uncomfortable with her neck bent at such a strange angle.

“I’ve never known a man like you,” she says in a voice that sounds much like his own. 

“You are a magnificent lover.”

“Thank you,” he says. Her praise makes him feel awkward.

“The white cloak was meant for you. Please accept it as a love offering.”

“Bless you, my child.”

Jesus washes his hands in the surf and then pulls on the robe. A bit snug under the armpits but otherwise a good fit. He kisses the woman goodbye and then walks in the direction she’d come from. Another premonition strikes him as he climbs a low dune.
This direction is north. This is where my destiny awaits.

The amazon.com link to the $2.99 e-book is http://www.amazon.com/The-Assassins-Club-ebook/dp/B006PTIO1C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325011420&sr=8-1

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Consummate Traitor by Bonnie Toews

If you're a fan of WWII spy novels, check out my fellow writer Bonnie Toews' newest. 

The Consummate Traitor by Bonnie Toews

A World War II spy novel brings together two women whose destinies cross unlikely paths, yet that fateful moment commits them to a mission that exposes a secret England wants buried forever. 
Monday, April 26th, 1937 

Distant droning roiled across the mountaintops. The engine’s thrum blended with the faint babbling that echoed skyward from the small town tucked in the foothills of the valley below her.

Lee Talbot had chosen this escarpment for its magnificent view of Guernica in northern Spain. Drawing flushed out her helpless rage and horrible memories of the civil war in Madrid.

She held out her sketch at arm’s length and studied it. Everything dissolved as she focused on each line and curve, and squinted. Something was missing. She looked up. Her gaze settled on the highest peak stabbing the sky above the Pyrenees mountains. Ah. A very important detail. She settled the sketch back on her fold-out easel and, with her charcoal pencil, short-stroked puffs of white snow capping the brow of the ancient Mont San Miguel.

There, that’s better. Her attention shifted.
Even this far up the mountainside, she could make out the dim buzz of townspeople bartering over produce and crafts. When she arose at dawn, she had listened from the window of her hotel room to the clip-clop of horses’ hooves over the cobblestone streets and watched farmers from the surrounding hillsides haul their loaded carts to the market square just in front of her hotel. There, they set up stalls. Now, their far-off nattering combined with the surrounding meadow sounds of sheep bleating and birds chirping washed over her like healing springs. She felt safe, for the first time in months.

Wafts of smoke drifted windward from the chimneys of cottages dappling the countryside. She sniffed and imagined bread baking inside their brick ovens. Her stomach gurgled. The thought of fresh bread smothered in creamy butter reminded her she had forgotten to eat. Where’s Quinn? He had promised to bring lunch. She glanced at her wristwatch. Four-thirty. Time to return to the hotel.

Again she examined her sketch before she scribbled on the lower right-hand corner: Monday, April 26, 1937. GUERNICA. 

A deep-throated roar sprang from behind her. Startled, Lee jumped to her feet and spun around. She knew that sound. A twin-engine aircraft. Cupping both hands over her eyes, she strained to see against the sun’s glare in search of the intruder.

Vibrating air whipped from above, pinning her feet to the ground. She raised and pressed the palms of her hands upward against the slipstream. Her neck arched backward and her gaze froze on the underbelly of a twin-engine bomber. For a split second, the German Dornier Do 17 hung as if suspended overhead, engines whistling in her ears, before it swept screaming down the valley and veered onto a south-to-north track barely above the trees. The plane cast the shadow of an eerie cross rippling over the Rio Mundaca, which wound along the valley floor toward Guernica and the town’s streets rising from the river’s shore.
The bomber banked and then circled back, its nose aimed at her heart in a game of chicken between the pilot and Lee on the outcrop. She stood mesmerized. At the last moment, she ducked as the Dornier rocketed over her head towards the towering peaks behind her. She turned in time to watch it vanish.
Lee gasped, dumbfounded. Had she imagined it? Did she see darts pinned in racks under the bomber’s wings? Only this morning Quinn had told her about an incendiary bomb the Nazis had developed. It could produce massive fires wherever it landed, but he had no idea what the new bomb looked like. Could the cone-shaped canisters the Dornier carried under its wings be test incendiaries?     
The thought chilled her. Maybe the pilot was looking for a place to drop them because the Nazis were forbidden to test such weapons on German soil. Though the Treaty of Versailles banned Germany from ever arming again after World War I, Hitler now manufactured the most advanced weapons in the world. Who would care about his testing bombs in a civil war the League of Nations ignored? 
But this was Basque country. As yet, the Basques had not joined the Republican government to quell the Fascists even though the Republicans had finally granted them home rule. There was no reason the German Luftwaffe should be flying over Guernica.
Lee had to find a phone and report long distance about her sighting to Collier’s Weekly, Ohio’s Springfield-based magazine that specialized in investigative journalism. This time she would scoop Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, whose co-authored features stateside were attracting “freedom” lovers, Marxists and anarchists to join the International Brigade in their support of the Republicans in Spain. But it was George Orwell who made her life miserable. He not only filed stories from the front line, he also joined in the fighting against Franco’s Nationalist uprising. How could she beat that kind of real-life writing? It dwarfed her sideline observations in her weekly column. Sighting the German bomber now gave her a chance to show her editor that she was as good an investigator as his star war correspondents.
Lee folded the legs of her easel, jammed it, her sketchpad and charcoal pencil into her shoulder bag, flung its straps over her head and looped the bag behind her back, out of the way. As she scrambled down the steep slope, she tripped and sprawled on all fours. Cursing, she pulled her skirt under herself and slid down the rest of the way to her bicycle waiting by the roadside. No sooner had she yanked the bike upright than she heard the warning rumble again.
She checked the sky behind her. There, the same bomber slipped over the southern ridge further west. Her eyes followed its route. It took the same northern heading above the Mundaca River, but higher. Maybe four thousand feet. Fear knotted her stomach. Something dreadful was about to happen. 
Lee ran the bike down the road before mounting it and pedaled off. At the S-turn, she misjudged the sharp angle and almost lost her balance. The bike skidded on the rim of the front wheel before she righted it. For a split second, it wobbled. She regained control and carried on cycling downhill, dangerously careening from side to side at breakneck speed.
Her mind raced in sync with her pedaling. She had met Quinn Bergin in Madrid and immediately liked him, because, unlike most newsmen who continually made passes, he didn’t. Instead, he invited her to join him on a trip to Guernica to study the Basques. She would never have gone alone because her Spanish was too awkward, and the Basques didn’t speak English. So Quinn acted as her Spanish translator. According to him, in Spain’s Civil War, if the rebel Fascists under Francesco Franco were to defeat the Madrid government, they had to beat the Basques first. The question for him was: How vulnerable were they to attack?
 This morning, anticipating war strategies was her last concern. When Quinn selected the spot where she could enjoy the best view of the valley for her sketching, she thought he might join her for a picnic and suggested he bring back a boxed lunch from the hotel. He agreed but never returned. What held him up? Where was he? She pedaled faster.
POP! Pop-Pop! The sounds echoed up the hillside like fire crackers exploding one after the other, while green fluorescent flares splintered upward from the valley below. Recklessly jamming on her brakes, Lee locked the wheels and nearly flew over the handlebars.  Pop! Pop-pop pop! The strange eruptions continued. She jumped off her bike, using her feet like drags to bring it to a standstill.
In horror, she gazed downward from the roadside at the fires smothering Guernica’s heart. The market! Her fingers squeezed the handlebars, while the steeple bells of the Santa Maria church rang like banshees pitching their strident warnings over the pass.

As a journalist, Bonnie Toews has covered significant events such as the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Her eyewitness view contributes to the plight of children in war as a recurring theme through her novels. With hundreds of published articles and five business press awards in her portfolio, Bonnie currently advocates for better care and treatment of Canada’s wounded warriors and is a member of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, Military Writers Society of America, American Authors Association and American Christian Fiction Writers. THE CONSUMMATE TRAITOR is her first novel in a trilogy about treason.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"White Knight Syndrome" now an eBook

Son of Spade blogger Jochem Steem has put "White Knight Syndrome," a Noah Milano PI novel published earlier as a paperback, out  as an eBook for $2.99

Jochem recently told me, Noah Milano is a Los Angeles security specialist with more than a few family problems. Because, in his case, his family is the family. He's the estranged son of a mobster, which creates a big deal of tension and more than a few problems. Fiercely independent, and determined to sever all ties with his past, Noah has to adjust from being a spoiled mobster son to being an independent operator with little money.
When he's hired to bodyguard a beautiful and rich teenage girl he's drawn into a web of family secrets, homicide and the dangers of falling in love.It's not easy to be a White Knight in a world filled with betrayal and mob violence but Noah Milano is going to try anyway... Even if he has to die doing it...

The link is:

I know you'll enjoy this read.

Son of Spade blog can be found at www.sonofspade.blogspot.com.

Monday, December 19, 2011

If you like short stories, Lia Fairchild's book is one you're going to enjoy. Read on and enjoy my friend Lia's work.
A Hint of Murder: The Anthology compiles all three A Hint of Murder stories in one book:
A Hint of Murder: The Writer
Alicia Fairfield didn’t plan on being famous. Now a bestselling author with millions of fans, Alicia also has the attention of a killer. Someone has been recreating the murders from her books and the suspects are piling up; her mentally ill son, a disgruntled associate, and possibly even her loyal literary agent. The pressure of public recognition along with the guilt over these senseless killings could be enough to drive Alicia over the edge. Can she hold it together long enough to uncover a killer? (Story length 9,000 words)
A Hint of Murder: The Doctor
Russell Morgan had it all; good looks, the perfect woman and a rewarding career as a well-respected physician. When the doctor’s patients start turning up dead, his world comes crashing down. Second in the “A Hint of Murder” series, this short story brings Detective John Lewis back in action to track down the killer. (Story length: 12,000 words)
A Hint of Murder: The Bouncer
Bobby Crane was tired of being a bouncer and a glorified errand boy. He longed to be a professional singer and was just about to get his big break. Then Allen Schaffer is found murdered and Bobby’s car was spotted at the victim’s home. Third in the A Hint of Murder series, this story has detective John Lewis returning with a new partner to uncover a murderer. (Story length: 10,400 words)
Excerpt from A Hint of Murder: The Writer
Since the first body was discovered, she’d had nothing but heartache, worry and guilt. Alicia Fairfield prayed it was a coincidence; that the murdered young woman had nothing to do with the story she had created. A story that was played out on the big screen just last week. Perhaps making Vegas Vendetta, her tenth bestseller, into a movie had been a mistake. The Las Vegas Showgirl was fatally stabbed the night of the premiere. Alicia and her agent Edward spoke to the police the next day before Alicia returned to her million-dollar home snuggly perched in the rolling hills of Marin County.
Alicia clutched the bottle tightly, closed the medicine cabinet and stared at herself in the mirror. A pair of icy blue eyes gazed back at her as she smoothed down her straight blonde hair. At forty five, she was just beginning to show the signs of aging. For a moment, the stranger in the reflection hypnotized her but she tore herself away from the image and left for the kitchen. She passed through her dining room, decorated to perfection, and her hallway adorned with gorgeous paintings, some of them her own creations. When she reached the sink, she filled a glass with water and took it along with the pill bottle to the other side of the counter. Then she set them down next to her laptop and took a seat at the end barstool.
Alicia glanced down at the morning paper, and reread the headline. “Copy Cat Killer Strikes Again.” The article detailed the killing of the showgirl and linked it to the recent murder of a nurse found dead behind a free clinic in Novato. A source told the paper that a page from A.J. Field’s novel From the Shadows had been left with the nurse’s body. The pen name was Alicia’s attempt to have a private life and keep her family—mainly her mentally ill son—away from public scrutiny.
Alicia set the paper down and turned to her laptop. Mesmerized by the blinking curser, she contemplated what she would write. For the first time, these would be her words. It was possible two lives had been taken because of the words she’d written in her novels. Should these be the last words anyone would ever read from A.J. Field?
The white page grew blurry as tears welled in her eyes. She rested her hands on the keyboard, sighed and began to type the incoherent thoughts that scattered in her mind:
To my dearest David, a beloved son that never found happiness, I am truly sorry. And, my agent Edward, thank you for years of support and friendship. I would never have made it this far without you. To all my faithful fans out there, I’m so grateful I enriched and heightened your love of reading. As I truly believe that our decisions—
A loud pounding at the door startled Alicia and made her jump. She sat frozen wondering what to do. The pounding came again accompanied by a loud grumbling voice. “Alicia! Alicia, open the door! It’s me Edward!”
Fearing the dreadful tone in his voice, Alicia grabbed the pills and stashed the bottle in her purse. She raced to the door and opened it.
“My God, Alicia!” her agent said out of breath and leaning on the door jam. At sixty, he wasn’t in the best of shape. “Why haven’t you answered my calls?” He didn’t wait for an answer and stepped into the foyer. “Are you all right?” He glanced around the area, cast a concerned look upon her, and waited for answers.
“Edward, I’m fine. I just needed some time to think.” Her voice was calm; believable. Alicia grabbed him by the arm and led him to the kitchen. “Let’s get you something to drink, have you rest a bit.” Even though she saw him as a big brother—he was more than ten years her senior—she often felt the need to take care of him.
Alicia went to the refrigerator and pulled out a pitcher. “Tea?” she asked as Edward took a seat at the bar.
He nodded with a smile and watched as she poured the tea. Then suddenly, Alicia gasped as she realized she hadn’t closed the keyboard before running to the door. Her hand shook uncontrollably and her calm cover had been blown. Tea splashed over the glass onto the counter causing Edward to go to her.
“Let me help,” Edward said. He removed the pitcher from her hand with care and set it on the counter. Instinctively he took her in his arms and held her close. “You’ve heard the news I take it,” he said in a gentle tone. “It’s okay, Alicia. You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here.”
She barely made a sound, yet Edward’s shirt dampened beneath her cheek. Surprisingly she had never let him see her like that and wasn’t sure how he would react. His gentle voice and strong arms were comforting and different from his routine business demeanor.
Edward walked Alicia into the next room, rubbing her back. “Here…let’s sit and talk.” He had grown expert in dealing with Alicia during difficult writing times. Whenever she had a notion to quit it all and concentrate on her painting, or was conflicted over a storyline or character, he always skillfully talked her down. But this was different. How could he tell her everything would be all right when there were two innocent girls that had been murdered? Killed in almost the exact circumstances of her last two novels.
“Did the police contact you?” he asked.
“Yes, they were here a couple hours ago,” she answered without looking up. She rested her head on his shoulder and explained her visit with the police.
When the two investigators arrived earlier that day, Alicia tried to be as helpful as possible. She offered them both a drink and asked if they’d like to sit. Detective John Lewis declined for both and seemed anxious to get down to business. His partner didn’t provide his name and spoke as little as possible.
“I’m sure you’ve read the paper by now, Ms. Fairfield.”
“Yes, I’ve seen it,” Alicia said nodding.
Detective Lewis pulled a small pad of paper from his back pocket. He was a tall, solidly built man. His voice was deep and scratchy but was camouflaged by a friendly smile. “We just have a few questions to ask.”
“I understand Detective. I’ll do whatever I can to help. Obviously I’m very concerned,” Alicia said.
“You and your agent were in Las Vegas for the premiere of Vegas Vendetta, correct?”
“Yes, we already spoke to the police there.”
“Yes…and both of you reported that you were in your hotel rooms at the time of the murder.”
“That’s correct,” Alicia answered. She couldn’t help worry where he was going with the questioning.
“And last night, could you tell us where you were?”
“I was here, painting.”
“Oh.” The detective looked up. “I thought you were a writer,” he questioned with a smile.
“I paint for my own pleasure. Writing is my profession.”
“Was anyone here with you?”
“No. I live alone,” Alicia stated defensively. “Detective, I’m assuming you are trying to see if I have an alibi, which I don’t. But let me tell you something, I do feel responsible. Those were my words on the pages left by the killer. Don’t you understand how horrible that makes me feel?” Alicia’s face grew flush and her eyes glazed over as she wrapped her arms around herself.
At that point the silent detective came to Alicia’s side and put a hand on her shoulder. “Ma’am, try not to blame yourself. These crazies are going to kill if they want to kill. We’re just trying to get all the information here.”
Alicia stepped away to gain her composure. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Detectives? I’ve got a conference call in a few moments.”
Lia Fairchild is a native Californian who loves reading, writing, movies, and anything else related to the arts. Lia says: “Writing is something I’ve thought about all my life, so the completion of my first novel, In Search of Lucy, is truly satisfying. I hold a B.A. degree in Journalism and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. My most enjoyable moments are spent with my family, traveling, spending time outdoors, or simply laughing and being together. Look for more on me and my books at http://www.liafairchild.com andhttp://www.ahintofmurder.blogspot.com or follow me on Twitter athttps://www.twitter.com/#!/liafairchild
The Anthology is available on
Amazon US 
Amazon UK 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Last Refuge by Chris Knopf - an eBook

Fellow writer Chris Knopf has just released The Last Refuge as an eBook.  If you are an eBook reader, or expect to be one after the holidays, check Chris’ book out.

The Last Refuge
Sam Acquillo’s at the end of the line. A middle-aged corporate dropout living in his dead parents’ ramshackle cottage in the Hamptons, Sam has abandoned his friends, family and a big-time career to sit on his porch, drink vodka and stare at the Little Peconic Bay. But when the old lady next door ends up floating dead in her bathtub it seems like Sam is the only one who wonders why. Burned-out, busted up and cynical, the ex-engineer, ex-professional boxer, ex-loving father and husband finds himself uncovering secrets no one could have imagined, least of all Sam himself. Meanwhile, a procession of quirky characters intrudes on Sam’s misanthropic ways. A beautiful banker, pot-smoking lawyer, bug-eyed fisherman and gay billionaire join a full complement of cops, thugs and local luminaries in this tale of money and murder.
About Chris Knopf
Chris has been writing himself out of trouble since he talked a teacher into accepting a short story in lieu of an essay, and an essay in lieu of a multiple choice exam. A college professor wrote a comment on a friend’s paper that would have also applied to him: “You write well, which is good because you have very little command of the subject matter.”
To support his fiction habit he started working for PR firms. That evolved into a career as an advertising copywriter and later a creative director at Mintz & Hoke Communications Group.
His command of subject matter continues to be thin, but now more broadly based, having written technical papers for chemical engineering and bioscience companies, TV commercials for construction products, tire cleaners, banks and hospitals, radio spots for car dealers, yogurt and popsicles, and print ads for jet engines, medical insurance, valves, liquid chromatography, missiles, bicycles and casinos. To name a few.
His preferred environment involves a lot of saltwater, having summered as a youth on the Jersey Shore. He lives with his wife Mary Farrell in Connecticut and Southampton, NY, where he sets sail on the Little Peconic Bay.
“Knopf has mastered the verbal drill for tough guys in tight situations, and like Sam’s nautical know-how, his banter with imperfect strangers is a cut above the norm. This unexpected sail into danger makes for a stimulating story, providing Sam with a lot to tell the gang at the bar when he finally gets home.”
- New York Times Sunday Book Review, May, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stairway to the Bottom review

'Stairway to the Bottom' Finds Haskins in Top Form
By Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades - December 4, 2011

'Stairway to the Bottom' Finds Haskins in Top Form
By Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Another kickback relaxing weekend and I just finished reading "Stairway to the Bottom," Key West author Michael Haskins' latest (and seventh) entry in his Mad Mick Murphy mystery series. Before I tell you it was a very entertaining book, I should offer full disclosure that I consider Haskins a friend. What's more, he named a passing character in the book after me.
None of that influenced me -- much.
Like with all the Mick Murphy mysteries, our reluctant hero is a red-bearded freelance journalist who found his way to Key West from Boston by way of California. He likes cigars and Jameson whiskey and has a sailboat. He's nothing like Boston-bred journalist Michael Haskins (who smokes cigars and drinks Jameson and likes to sail) in that Haskins isn't a redhead. I'm sure there are other differences if I thought hard about them.
"Murphy's much braver than me," Haskins explained over a café con leche one afternoon.
In this latest adventure, Mick gets a phone call from a guy who runs a local jet -ski rental, then finds a dead woman lying in a pool of blood beside a silenced Beretta in Dick Walsh's house.
Turns out, Walsh is not who he claims to be. In fact, he may be two other people -- a hit man for onetime Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger or a missing spy who's managed to tick off the CIA, the FBI, MI5, Mossad, DCRI and the KGB.
And now all these alphabet agencies (not to mention the U.S. Marshals and Cuban-born Key West Police Detective Luis Morales) are ticked off with Mick, thinking he knows more than he does.
Everybody seems to be chasing Whitey Bulger's hidden millions or the spy's stolen diamonds or some other elusive fortune.
The plot pays homage to Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" -- and Haskins admits that in the book. As Mick puts it, "They're all looking for something that might not exist but they keep searching."
Indeed they do.
"You want the diamonds and expect to beat the others to them with help from me," Mick says to one of the spies. "The truth is I don't know where Walsh has gone and I don't wanna know. Probably most important, or it should be, he's not the guy that conned all those diamonds from the governments. He's a psycho from Boston and I'd bet my life on it that he's never been out of the country."
"You are betting your life," the spy tells him. "The French, the Russians, even the Brits wouldn't hesitate to kill you to get what they want."
"And the Mossad?"
"We kill our enemies," he replies. "We protect our friends, no matter where they are."
"I have to be one or the other?"
Caught in the middle of this clustermuck are Mick Murphy's fiery Puerto Rican girlfriend, Tita, and his guardian angel, Norm Burke, a mysterious government agent and friend. Making for a dangerous situation that doesn't end well.
You will meet other Mick Murphy regulars like Padre Thomas, the priest who gets his inside information from angels (the heavenly kind), and the police chief, Richard Dowley, who finds that being a lawman and Mick's pal a sometimes conflicting position. Pauly the smuggler is here, too, watching Mick's back. Not an easy task.
In addition, the book is sprinkled with the real names of such Key West denizens as Ron Leonard of Harpoon Harry's, Charlie Bauer of Smokin' Tuna, Howard Livingston and his Mile Marker 24 Band, beauteous Carol Tedesco, assorted bar maids and colorful waterfront characters ... even a dead CIA agent named Shirrel Rhoades.
The locales are familiar, from Hog's Breath Saloon to the Green Parrot, from B.O's Fish Wagon to Schooner Wharf, from Garrison Bight to Duval Street after midnight.
Haskins -- uh, I mean Murphy -- leads this conga line of not-so-secret agents on a merry chase out to the reef and back. Taking a battering in the process.
In "Stairway to the Bottom" Murphy -- uh, I mean Haskins -- gives us a mix-'em-and-match-'em who's-on-first adventure that holds your interest from the first page (Dick Walsh's phone calls) to the last (plotting revenge against the Russian mob).
Personally, I enjoy a story where the author is having as much fun as the reader. And Michael Haskins is certainly having a good time in his current incarnation as a popular mystery writer.
He credits his sister for helping him understand that "dreams are part of life." As he says, "I got on with it and she was right."
He also thanks his old drinking buddy Kris Kristofferson whose music "helped me make it through the night and any number of days."
Several locals get a nod for helping with the book, ranging from advisor Jim Linder to editor Nadja Hansen to photographer Rob O'Neal for "taking my photo and running it through PhotoShop enough times to make me appear human." And Mike Dennis, Jessica Argyle and Sarah Goodwin-Nguyen, writers who offered their helpful critiques.
But in the end, "This story is the result of many hours of being locked in a room alone with my imagination and a laptop," he says.
I told you I liked the book. It may be Michael Haskins' best. But, truth be told, I would have liked it better if he hadn't killed off certain characters -- including that CIA agent with a most familiar name.
Key West Island Books will have a signing on Friday, Jan. 13.

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