Monday, May 30, 2016

Assassin’s Silence … Better Dead {+ Giveaways}

Hello everyone, I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful and safe Memorial Day! Boy do I have an interesting post for you today. Fun authors, thriller mysteries and an awesome giveaway.

I have the pleasure of welcoming not one, but two acclaimed mystery/thriller writers here to talk about their latest releases. Both are answering questions about their books. In addition, thanks to the lovely Emily and the great folks at Tor/Forge, I have three print copies of each of these books to giveaway. Please see the end of the post for more details.

Visiting today are Ward Larsen with his release ASSASSIN’S SILENCE and Max Allan Collins with BETTER DEAD. This post will be a bit longer than the usual post, but oh so worth the read.

Ward Larsen has experienced war firsthand as a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who flew more than twenty missions in Operation Desert Storm. An award-winning author whose true gift for storytelling and the superb quality of his writing led to his breakout success with his assassin David Slaton series (The Perfect Assassin and Assassin's Game). Slaton returns for another breathless adventure in Assassin's Silence (5/3/16), the latest installment in the assassin series. 

Max Allan Collins, award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Nathan Heller series (Bye Bye, Baby, Target Lancer, and Ask Not) as well as The Road to Perdition, returns with Better Dead, a taut mystery-thriller featuring controversial figures Senator Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn and the aftermath of the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Publishers Weekly calls Max Allan Collins “a new breed of writer,” and Andrew Vacchss says that "Collins combines the historical and the hard-boiled thriller into a new genre—uniquely American, and uniquely his own."
Forge Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is thrilled to announce the on-sale availability of a thrilling new hardcover and eBook title, ASSASSIN’S SILENCE (ISBN 978-0-7653-8577-2; $25.99; May 3, 2016), by USA TODAY bestselling author WARD LARSEN. In this new David Slaton novel, a terrorism plot unfolds that threatens to throw the entire world into chaos.
          When it comes to disappearing, David Slaton has few equals. After all, he is a former kidon, the most lethal Israeli assassin ever created. Police in three countries have written off trying to find him. His old employer, Mossad, keeps no forwarding address. Even his wife and son are convinced he is dead. So when an assault team strikes, Slaton is taken by surprise. He kills one man and manages to escape, going on the run.
          Half a world away, in the baleful heat of the Amazon, an obscure air cargo company purchases a derelict airliner. Teams of mechanics work feverishly to make the craft airworthy. On the first flight, the jet plunges toward the ocean.
          The CIA assesses the two spectacles: a practiced killer leaving a trail of bodies across Europe, and a large airplane disappearing without a trace. The two affairs are increasingly seen to be intertwined. Langley realizes the killer is a man long thought to be dead, and the lost airliner has been highly modified into a tool of unimaginable terror and destruction. When their worst fears are realized, Langley must trust the one man who can save them: David Slaton, the perfect assassin.
          While ASSASSIN’S SILENCE is the third in the David Slaton series, it can also be enjoyed by new readers as a standalone. Larsen takes readers across oceans and continents from Malta to the Middle East, to Europe, to the United States, and to South America on a wild and thrilling race against time.      
Forge Hardcover | 978-0-7653-8577-2| $25.99 | 400 pages
EBook | 978-0-7653-8579-6 | $12.99

Please welcome Ward as he answers the age-old question. Welcome, Ward.

How did you come up with that (referring to the story)?

It’s undoubtedly the most common question authors are asked: Where do you get the ideas for your stories? Others writers might answer differently, but for me there is one clear answer: I get them from the real world.

It is often said that there’s nothing stranger than the truth, and as a thriller writer I subscribe to a corollary of that idea—there is nothing more thrilling than the truth. We live in a world where fanatical terrorists create videos of beheadings, and where nations build sandbars in oceans so that they can claim sovereign territory. Cameras seem to record everything in our daily lives, and corruption is rampant in many quarters of the world. Not a day goes by without a headline that lends itself to a story. The inspiration for my most recent book, Assassin’s Silence, is a bit of recent history involving a decades-old radiological accident.

The small city in Brazil named Goiânia is virtually unknown outside that country, but any health physicist knows it well. Of all the world’s nuclear accidents, what occurred in Goiânia ranks sixth in terms of released radiation. But the tragedy is unique in one way—among the top ten most damaging radiological events, it is the only one to not involve either the generation of nuclear power or the weaponization of fissile materials.

On September 13, 1987, two men broke into a closed and partially demolished hospital whose ownership had been tied up in court. Knowing security on the site had fallen lax, the pair of opportunists raided the building and came upon an abandoned radiotherapy machine. They had no idea what they’d found, but thinking the heavy source assembly might be valuable as scrap, they separated it and hauled it in a wheelbarrow to one of their homes.

There the men began to disassemble a containment vessel holding 93 grams of radioactive cesium-137. Over the course of the next two days, they hammered away at the metal container until it finally surrendered what looked like glowing blue grains of rice. It was on the second day that one of the scrap-hounds began feeling poorly. Suffering from diarrhea and dizziness, he went to a local clinic, only to be told he was likely suffering the effects of something he’d eaten.

His undeterred partner kept working. Thinking the glowing material might be some kind of gunpowder, he tried unsuccessfully to ignite it. Frustrated, and not sure what to do with his find, the man began sharing the material with family and friends. They were every bit as intrigued. The lustrous blue grains were soon turned into jewelry, deemed to be mystical, and heralded as having medicinal powers. For two weeks the cesium was ingested as a cure-all, rubbed on aching joints, and it leached into the kitchens of a number of homes. With radiation being spread unwittingly across the city, a steady stream of people began arriving at clinics with curiously similar, but unexplainable symptoms. Finally, a visiting medical physicist with a scintillation counter recognized what was happening and raised the alarm.

In the weeks after the story broke, over 130,000 people presented themselves to overwhelmed hospitals. Two hundred and fifty people were eventually found to have suffered radiation poisoning. Of those, four died. Contamination was found on three buses, fourteen cars, and inside forty-two homes. Among other oddities, fifty thousand rolls of toilet paper had to be destroyed. In the subsequent cleanup effort, tons of topsoil were scraped away from affected sites. Even so, pockets of radiation continued to be discovered for years afterward.

When I read about Goiânia, I recognized the makings of a story. Unlike the more serious accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima, it did not involve a nuclear power plant, but a far more common and often ignored radioactive source material. Cesium-137 is used across the world for medical and industrial purposes, as are a vast array of equally hazardous isotopes. Some countries do a good job of tracking and regulating these materials. Others do not. I also found it intriguing that the individuals who precipitated the Goiânia tragedy were not rogue governments or elite soldiers, but ordinary people trying to scrape out a living, in concert with a typical bungling bureaucracy. So I did what writers do—I began with a real life scenario, and built a tale around it.

My version of Goiânia is titled Assassin’s Silence.

Author Ward Larsen, photo credit Rose Larsen
WARD LARSEN is a two-time winner of the Florida Book Award. His work has been nominated for both the Edgar and Macavity Awards. A former US Air Force fighter pilot, Larsen flew more than twenty missions in Operation Desert Storm. He has also served as a federal law enforcement officer and is a trained aircraft accident investigator.

His first thriller, The Perfect Assassin, is currently being adapted into a major motion picture by Amber Entertainment. For more information, visit

Forge Books is proud to announce the newest addition to the Nate Heller mysteries, BETTER DEAD (ISBN 978-0-7653-7828-6; $26.99; May 3, 2016) by Max Allan Collins. He is the author of the acclaimed graphic novel Road to Perdition and recipient of “The Eye” award from the Private Eye Writers of America in recognition of his lifetime achievements. 

It’s the early 1950's, and the fear of communism runs rampant. At the heart of this is Senator Joe McCarthy who campaigns to rid America of the Red Menace. Working for McCarthy is our hero, Nate Heller, though he is disheartened by McCarthy's witch-hunting tactics.
Along the way, he makes friends with a young staffer, a certain Bobby Kennedy, and also trades barbs with a potential but certainly powerful enemy, the attorney Roy Cohn. The clock is ticking for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as Cohn successfully prosecutes the so-called Atomic Bomb spies. Heller is then embroiled in a last-minute attempt to save them, a plot involving famous mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and a group of showbiz and literary leftists.
Known for his taut mystery-thrillers, Max Allan Collins has done it again. Tackling issues of government surveillance and national safety versus personal freedom, BETTER DEAD is a shock to the system as readers are reminded of today’s resonant political issues. An intelligent and suspenseful exploration into the Second Red Scare, BETTER DEAD is also a detective novel at heart and true to the genre.

BETTER DEAD | Max Allan Collins
Forge Hardcover | 978-0-7653-7828-6| $26.99 | 336 pages
EBook | 978-1-4668-6078-0 | $12.99

Please join me in welcoming Max as he talks about ‘the love life of a fictional private eye’. Welcome, Max.

          The publication of my latest novel, Better Dead, from “the memoirs of Nathan Heller,” renews a moral concern and narrative dilemma that’s been with the saga from the beginning.
          The Heller novels are noir detective novels in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.  Hammett in The Maltese Falcon created the prototypical private eye with cynical Sam Spade.  Chandler in The Big Sleep and the other Phillip Marlowe novels gave his weary, quietly idealistic hero the voice of an urban poet.  Spillane in I, the Jury accelerated the sex and violence of the genre as a reaction to the loss of innocence experienced by returning WW II  G.I.’s like his vengeful detective, Mike Hammer.
          But the Heller memoirs are also historical novels in tradition of Alexandre Dumas, Samuel Shellabarger and George MacDonald Fraser.  Dumas in The Three Musketeers and its sequels used real historical figures in his cast, treating them rather cavalierly.  Samuel Shellabarger, unfairly forgotten today, in his Captain from Castille and Prince of Foxes, inserted a swashbuckling fictional hero into well-researched history.  MacDonald somewhat satirically placed his anti-hero, Flashman, into numerous famous events in “memoirs” that may reflect an untrustworthy narrator.
          Nathan Heller is a tattered modern knight in the Spade/Marlowe/Hammer mode, and all of the classic elements of tough private eye fiction – violence and sex included – are present. 
          But my M.O. has been to put Heller at the center of rigorously researched historical novels focusing on various unsolved (or controversially resolved) crimes of the 20th Century.  Among the real cases he’s tackled are the Lindbergh kidnapping (Stolen Away), the disappearance of Amelia Earhart (Flying Blind), the assassination of Huey Long (Blood and Thunder), the Roswell Incident (Majic Man), the mysterious death of Marilyn Monroe (Bye Bye, Baby), and the JFK assassination (Target Lancer and Ask Not).
          Since the Heller memoirs are at heart a mystery series, the unlikelihood of one detective being involved in so many famous cases is something of a moot point.  No mystery series – from Nero Wolfe to Hercule Poirot, from Miss Marple to Perry Mason – can be enjoyed if readers allow themselves to be crushed under the improbability of so many murders being solved by so few detectives.
          The moral concern and the narrative dilemma are tied up in my depiction of real people.  Unlike historical novelists who came before me, I am writing about relatively recent events.  In the thirty-some years I’ve been writing about Heller, I have heard from a number of relatives and friends of real people who I’ve had the temerity to write about as if they were fictional characters; often I’ve been complimented on how well I’ve done.  I even once heard from a major character in one of the novels (who liked the book).
          My approach is to research the crime/mystery in depth, preparing to write what could be the definitive work on the subject.  Then I write a private eye novel instead.  In doing so, having familiarized myself with the major historical figures at hand, and many minor ones, I treat them like fictional characters I’ve created.  Otherwise I would be intimidated – by the force of their reputations and by history itself.  First and foremost, I must entertain.
          The most controversial aspect of this approach has to do with Heller’s love life.  There are occasional fictional characters in the novels, and a fair number of composite characters, which means that some of the women my somewhat randy detective encounters are as fictional as he is.
          Let me take a moment to explain – not to defend exactly – the strong elements of sex and violence in the Heller novels.  I grew up on Hammett, Chandler and especially Spillane, who broke many taboos.  I also, at a tender age, devoured Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.  These writers created protagonists who slept with women.  They didn’t always marry them.  Some of their affairs ended tragically.  Some did not, though the women tended to disappear between novels.  That DNA is in the Heller novels (although my protagonist does marry).
          This is not cheap pandering, in my opinion.  Sex is life and violence is death, and those are the two big topics.  If you can think of bigger, more overriding ones, let me know.  I’ve noticed that some members of the most recent couple of generations seem squeamish where “sex scenes” are concerned.  Some reviews in very recent years have complained about such content.  I would remind these folks that there’s a difference between sex and sexism. Without the former, none of us would be here.
          So if we can agree, for the sake of argument at least, that Nate Heller is free to make love to other fictional characters, what about real flesh-and-blood women?  There (so to speak) is the rub.  Nate has a number of affairs with famous women, among them Sally Rand, Amelia Earhart, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe.  In Better Dead, which is a Red Scare 1950s novel, he gets to know Bettie Page.
          Here’s the thing.  I know this approach makes some people uncomfortable.  This practice of mine (and Heller’s) even makes some people mad.  I got more than one death threat for depicting Amelia Earhart as a bisexual as well as a Heller love interest.  Recently a reviewer found it “awkward” for Heller to have sexual relations with real-life, famous women.  On occasion, when I hear from a reader who objects to Heller making love with, say, Marilyn Monroe, I point out that he didn’t really.  Nate Heller is a fictional character.
          The women in question have all been extensively researched.  The way Bettie Page is depicted in Better Dead comes not only from the several biographies about her, but a documentary that featured extensive audio interview with the famous pin-up queen.  I would not suggest that any of these well-known women might have sex with the likes of Nathan Heller unless the research made it feel possible.  I promise Nathan Heller will leave Mother Teresa alone.
          I do understand that some people are offended by the real women who become, in my hands, my own fictional creations.  As for those who don’t like sex scenes, my suggestion is not to read them – skim and get to where you’re comfortable.  Those scenes make up a small portion of the narrative.
          Because after all, narrative is the thing.  I have one overriding principle: that a novel has its own integrity and I have to respect it.  People can be offended, if they like, but the story will go where the story wants and needs to go.    

Author Max Allan Collins
MAX ALLAN COLLINS is the New York Times bestselling author of crime fiction, including the acclaimed graphic novel Road to Perdition and the Perdition Saga. He is the author of the Nathan Heller mysteries, including Bye Bye, Baby, Target Lancer and Ask Not.

Collins also wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip for fifteen years, and is an independent filmmaker. For more information, visit

Ward and Max, thank you both for visiting with us today.

As I mentioned earlier, this is an awesome giveaway. Thanks to the lovely Emily and the great folks at Tor/Forge, I have three print copies of each of these books to giveaway. The giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only and will end at 12 a.m. (EST) on Tuesday, June 7.

To enter the giveaways, just click on the Rafflecopter widgets below and follow the instructions. The widgets may take a few seconds to load so please be patient. A winner will be selected by each of the Rafflecopter widget and I’ll send an email with the subject line “Thoughts in Progress Giveaway.” The winners will have 72 hours to reply to the email or another winner will be selected. PLEASE be sure to check your spam folder from time to time after the giveaway ends to make sure the notification email doesn’t end up there. If you win and you’ve already won the book somewhere else or you just decided for whatever reason you don’t want to win (which is fine), once again PLEASE let me know. There will be up to six winners in this giveaway. However, those entering who won a copy of each book if the Rafflecopter widget selects them.

Thanks so much for stopping by today during this holiday while these two amazing authors visit. I appreciate your time. What are your thoughts on today’s post?


  1. Thank you - and both featured authors.
    Truth is indeed often stranger (and nastier) than fiction.
    And all of us have the solution to hand if we don't like a book. Move on. Or out, if the offence is terminal.

  2. I prefer either true stories or historical fiction, so BETTER DEAD sounds like it would appeal to me.

  3. It's so interesting to compare the way different authors go about doing what they do, and learn where they get their inspiration. And both books certainly sound like action-filled stories that still make the reader think. Thanks, all.

  4. Thanks for this great feature and captivating giveaway. Both books are fascinating and intriguing.

  5. Better Dead sounds really good!

  6. I've never read either of these authors. The books sound like ones I might enjoy. Thank you!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.