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1. Review: Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville takes his writing up another notch in his latest thought-provoking and tragic crime novel. This isn’t a crime novel where a mystery needs to be solved or a vicious killer is stalking victims, although you are kept guessing at different times. This is a crime novel about what happens afterwards, after a crime […]

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2. Review: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

I am not a fan of long running crime series. While a recurring character can be like a familiar friend sometimes the longevity of a series means it falls into the realm of incredulity. Tess Monaghan was a character I fell in love with but was also quite happy when she was put on the […]

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3. Review – The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

9781846556951Jack Lennon returns in Stuart Neville’s relentless new thriller.

It has been a while between drinks for Jack Lennon. We last caught up him in Stolen Souls and we left him a lot worse for wear. The intervening period though has not been kind. Suspended from the police pending multiple reviews of his health and performance Jack has developed some extra bad habits to the ones he already carried, mainly involving painkillers and alcohol. His relationships are in free fall including, sadly, the one with his estranged daughter who his is the only family he has left.

Just when Jack thinks things couldn’t get any worse an ex-girlfriend contacts him. She has just inherited a house from her uncle. An uncle she never met who lost contact with her family years ago. She has contacted Jack because she has found something in a locked room. A journal detailing murders going back two decades and it appears there are links to her father, a prominent Belfast politician. She can’t trust him and she can’t go to the police so instead she has turned to Jack, who can’t even help himself at this point.

I really love what Neville has done with the Jack Lennon character. He was only a few mentions inThe Twelve before assuming the lead in the next two books. He is not your typical flawed detective, flawed is too nice a term for Jack, yet he still manages to keep your loyalty.

Stuart Neville doesn’t take his foot off the pedal once in this gripping thriller and once again demonstrates why he is the crime writer everybody is and should be talking about at the moment.

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4. Review – Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

This book needs to come with a warning that if you don’t have time to read it the rest of the day don’t start it! Lauren Beukes takes her writing and her dark imagination to another level following the utterly amazing The Shining Girls. Beukes has chosen Detroit for the setting of this novel, the perfect place […]

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5. Review: The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos

This is George Pelecanos’s first collection of short stories and once again demonstrates his consummate class, not just as a crime writer, but a writer. The title piece is the longest of the collection but Pelecanos saves it for last. The preceding stories are a blend of what makes Pelecanos great. Stories about the street, […]

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6. Police Procedure & Investigation - A Must-Read Handbook for Mystery Writers

This book is part of the
Writer's Digest Howdunit
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve joined Sisters in Crime and the local chapter, Capitol Crimes. The local chapter meets monthly, and each month guest speakers share their expertise in either writing mysteries or being connected in some way to concerns of the mystery writer. One such concern is always whether a writer is presenting crime scenes or police procedures that are accurate. Last month we were fortunate to have Lee Lofland, the author of Police Procedure & Investigation, as our guest speaker, and he addressed those very concerns. 

Lee Lofland is a former police detective, and the bad news is that much of what you see on your favorite crime show is misleading and/or inaccurate. His book, on the other hand, is a very thorough coverage of everything an author would want to ask their local police department. Blurbs by best-selling mystery writers (including two of my favorites, Rhys Bowen and Hallie Ephron) give his book high praise, and I was pleased to find that the writing – entertaining and sobering by turns – is always a good read. He presents facts that you really want to know in a way that don’t make your eyes glaze over. A few examples:
The difference between police officers and detectives; how they’re trained; what they do.  
Arrest and search procedures.
The differences between homicide, murder, and manslaughter.
The difference between a crime scene and the scene of the crime.
DNA and fingerprinting
What can send you to prison and what can send you to jail.
A section on different drugs and the effects of each one.
Differences in weapons (with photos) and how they work

The book’s appendices include a glossary of terms, police 10 codes, a drug quantity table, and a federal sentencing table. It isn’t necessary to read this book straight through, chapter by chapter. There’s a thorough index that helps when you just want to look up something useful at that moment in your writing, along with good visual aids (charts, diagrams, photos of tools, etc.) throughout the book. This is a must read for any mystery writer who wants their police procedural scenes to ring with accuracy.

Lee also shared with us the Writers’ Police Academy, held in August in Appleton, Wisconsin. Yes, there really is such a thing. You can register now and have hands on experiences that will enhance your scenes. For more information about what is covered, check out their website HERE  .

Lee’s book is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon HERE .

You can contact the Lee Lowland at his website, The Graveyard Shift, HERE, and learn even more about police work to enrich your mysteries from his frequent blog posts.  
The author and friendly officer.

A must have book.

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7. Penguin to Re-Launch Dutton Guilt-Edged Mysteries as a Digital Imprint

Penguin Group (USA) has relaunched Dutton Guilt-Edged Mysteries as a digital imprint. Dutton editor-in-chief Ben Sevier will oversee the imprint.

Dutton Guilt-Edged Mysteries will publish original crime short stories and novellas as Penguin eSpecials. Every year, the imprint will publish “at least one writer” from Book Country‘s online fiction workshop community.

Two projects in the works include Murder in Mumbai, a debut novella by NPR news editor Krishnadev Calamur and an original Dismas Hardy story by prolific crime novelist John LescroartFollow this link for more details on submission guidelines.

Here’s more from the press release: “From 1947 to 1956, Dutton Guilt-Edged Mysteries was a pulp noir publisher that specialized in hardboiled detective fiction, including the work of noir icon Mickey Spillane, whose first seven Mike Hammer novels were published under the Guilt-Edged logo. The new program will be dedicated to publishing original crime short stories and novellas as Penguin eSpecials. The imprint will launch in Summer 2012 to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Guilt-Edged publication of Spillane’s first Mike Hammer novel, I, the Jury.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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8. “You don’t know a high-water mark until you’ve seen a lot of low water.” Winner of the Best First Fiction Ned Kelly Award

Review – The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt

“You don’t know a high-water mark until you’ve seen a lot of low water.”

9781921922930I was totally blown away by this book. This is crime fiction at its absolute best. Zane Lovitt literally bursts on to the literary scene with this book and I can say without a doubt is destined for huge things. This is not a new writer who has potential, this is a new writer whose skill and talent just oozes out of the page. From the structure of the novel to Lovitt’s distinct style, from the black as night dark humour and cynicism to the deep recesses of human emotion and frailty this is the most original, absorbing and utterly compelling crime novel I’ve read in a long time.

The Midnight Promise is told in ten cases. Cases, not short stories. Although the magic of this book is that they each work perfectly on their own. And I want to be clear here, this is not ten short stories mashed together. This is not ten short stories that form a novel. Think of the ten cases more like vignettes or episodes. They are self contained but together they combine to make something truly special. As you read, everything slowly starts to form together and cases you thought had no bearing on each other actually play a vital role in the story.

As you put the individual pieces together, a bigger picture is formed, a wider story is told and you’ll be in awe of what you’ve just been reading. You are following an intricate and subtle arc that is slowly but surely spiraling down. And this is the genius of the book. You think you’re reading ten cases, ten separate stories that have no bearing on each other but they have all been leading to a certain point, a midnight promise. A deal made at rock bottom, never to get here again. But the journey to rock bottom is what is important, as well as realizing what rock bottom actually is.

There are only a few authors who I can still vividly remember the first time I ever discovered them. The moment, the feeling, stuck in my reading memory: George Pelecanos (The Big Blowdown), Don Winslow (The Power of the Dog), Laura Lippman (Every Secret Thing), Ken Bruen (The Guards), Peter Temple (The Broken Shore), David Simon (Homicide), Adrian McKinty (Dead I Well May Be). You knew you’ve just read a writer who you will follow anywhere. I’m adding Zane Lovitt to that list.

Buy the book here…

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9. Burlesque in New York: The writing of Gypsy Rose Lee

By Noralee Frankel

In celebration of the anniversary of the first burlesque show in New York City on 12 September 1866, I reread a fun murder mystery, The G-String Murders, by Gypsy Rose Lee. “Finding dead bodies scattered all over a burlesque theater isn’t the sort of thing you’re likely to forget. Not quickly, anyway,” begins the story.

The editors at Simon & Schuster liked the setting in a burlesque theater and appreciated Gypsy’s natural style, with its unpretentious and casual tone. Her knowledge of burlesque enabled her to intrigue readers, who were as interested in life within a burlesque theater as in the mystery. Providing vivid local color, the novel describes comedic sketches, strip routines, costumes, and the happenings backstage. In a typical scene in the book, Gypsy muses about her strip act: “The theater had been full of men, slouched down in their seats. Their cigarettes glowed in the dark and a spotlight pierced through the smoke, following me as I walked back and forth.” Describing her band with precision, she wrote, “Musicians in their shirt sleeves, with racing forms in their pockets, played Sophisticated Lady while I flicked my pins in the tuba and dropped my garter belt into the pit.”

Gypsy worked as hard on her writing as her stripping, and The G-String Murders became a best seller. “People think that just because you’re a stripper you don’t have much else except a body. They don’t credit you with intelligence,” Gypsy later complained. “Maybe that’s why I write.”

Gypsy Rose Lee, 1956

Gypsy Rose Lee, full-length portrait, seated at typewriter, facing slightly right, 1956. Photo by Fred Palumbo of the World Telegram & Sun. Public rights given to Library of Congress. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The G-String Murders briefly describes Gypsy’s career as a burlesque queen at a fictitious theater, based on those owned by the Minsky family, in New York City. In the book someone strangles a stripper, La Verne, with her G-string. The police turn up an abundance of suspects, including Louie, La Verne’s gangster boyfriend; Gypsy; and Gypsy’s boyfriend, Biff Brannigan, a comic working in the club. After someone tries to frame Biff by placing the lethal G-string in his pocket, he aids the police in solving the crime. He’s also concerned that the police suspect Gypsy and he wants to clear her by finding the actual murderer. After deducing the identity of the murderer, Biff proves his theory by suggesting that Gypsy act as bait and remains in the theater alone to tempt the murderer to strike again.

More than just a page-turner, Gypsy’s novel stresses the camaraderie among the women. Sharing a dressing room, they throw parties with everyone contributing to buy drinks and food. The women joke, drink together, and confide in each other. The women also sympathize with each other over man problems and working conditions. Gypsy describes the strippers’ dressing room with a complete lack of sentimentality. The cheap theater owner is indifferent to the disgusting condition of the stripper’s dressing room toilet. To help the women, the burlesque comics pool their meager resources to buy the strippers a new toilet.

Gypsy expressed her conviction in the importance of organized labor through a character in The G-String Murders: Jannine, one of the strippers recently elected secretary to the president of the Burlesque Artists’ Association. When the strippers receive a new toilet, the candy seller suggested having a non-union plumber install it to save money. She refuses, forbidding any non-union member to enter the women’s dressing room. She snapped, “Plumbers got a union. We got a union. When we don’t protect each other that’s the end of the unions.” She reminded the other strippers of conditions before they joined a union, when they performed close to a dozen shows without additional compensation.

In the novel, Gypsy provided Jannine with another opportunity to talk about solidarity among burlesque performers and the unequal class structure in the United States. In a tirade against the police over the treatment of the strippers during the murder investigation, Jannine raged that the performers, both the strippers and comedians, might squabble but they were loyal and do not inform on each other. When a police sergeant tried to interrupt her, she retorted: “It’s the social system of the upper classes that gives you guys the right to browbeat the workers!”

Gypsy peddled the G-String Murders in the same clever ways that she publicized herself. In a prepublication letter to her publishers, she offered to “do my specialty in Macy’s window to sell a book. If you prefer something a little more dignified, I’ll make it Wanamaker’s window.” In an interview, she joked that if people did not know her in bookstores, she would remove an earring and ask, “Now, do you recognize me?”

As an added bonus, Gypsy put a lot of herself into this book, so the reader learns quite a bit about her burlesque work life, her sense of humor, her political beliefs, and sense of independence. Spending time with this mystery is a perfect way to celebrate a New York City burlesque anniversary.

Noralee Frankel is author of Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee. She recently co-edited the U.S. History in Global Perspective for National History Day. Dr. Frankel is a historical consultant and can be reached through LinkedIn or Facebook.

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10. Clyde Phillips to Aspiring Screenwriters: ‘Don’t fall in love with your first script too much’

MediabistroTV recently talked to Clyde Phillips, bestselling crime novelist and current showrunner for Nurse Jackie. He shares some advice for aspiring writers, and tells why novel writing is not that different from TV writing:

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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11. When she was bad, she was horrid

Saw an interesting comment by Michael Connelly, writer of the Harry Bosch series. On being asked about his Irish roots, he replied:

“ Yeah, I have complete Irish roots, and I went to Catholic schools and all of that ….But, you know, I don’t consider myself an Irish crime writer or an American crime writer, I consider myself a storyteller. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if a character is interesting to the reader, it doesn’t really matter where that character is or where the writer is. That kind of story crosses all oceans and all boundaries.” 

It gets to the nub of writing – it is what we should all be, just story tellers with good characters. Characters that readers are interested in and who they care about. The genre is secondary – it is why good crime fiction does so well (in my view) it is because the stories are so good. Your attention is held. And you have characters in them that you care about (even more so in series where you have a central recurring character – think Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole.)

I am reminding myself here as much as others – I have a tendency to wander off from the story. Sometimes this is good as it leads the story to new places – other times it is just bad (like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead .. when she was good she was very very good, when she was bad she was horrid!). Note – I am not suggesting here that when I am good I am very very good … it just brought the nursery rhyme into my head. The ‘horrid’ still stands.

Wandering off in the middle of a story can lose you your reader – which is why I try to keep my reader in my head. They change shape depending on what I am writing – but sometimes they are a very specific person. I read aloud a piece I have written and wonder what they would think of it. It is not to say that I do not write for myself, I do, but that is not enough – I write so others can read – and if I don’t think about them I do them a disservice.

Anyway that came into my mind as I was talking to a lovely writers group during the week and it made me, once again, think about writing. The why, the what and the wherefore.

PS It is also about the words and how they are strung together – the last line of this little poem bears that out. Apart from rhyming with forehead, the use of the word horrid is just so perfect!


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12. Review – Darkness, Darkness by John Harvey

9780434022939John Harvey has written a superb final case for the enduring and never weary (ok, just a little weary) detective Charlie Resnick. It has been a while between drinks and the way Cold In Hand finished a few years ago had me thinking that might have been the last we’d seen of Resnick. However John Harvey had other ideas and gives Resnick one last hurrah.

Now retired Charlie Resnick is still involved with the job he loves, and can’t get away from, assisting with witness statements and other administrative work. However when a body from thirty years ago is unearthed during some excavation work Charlie is asked to lend his expertise.

Thirty years before and at the height of the miners’ strikes Jenny Hardwick disappeared. Jenny was heavily involved in the strike movement however her husband refused to stop work in the local mine. Rumour had it she had run off with another man. Her disappearance only raised small suspicions and a limited investigation. Until now, thirty years later.

Resnick was heavily involved with the police action at the time, police action which is now under the microscope. Command wants the case cleared up as quickly and as quietly as possible. However with the trail of evidence and witnesses buried in the past questions are only going to open old wounds.

John Harvey’s mastery is on full display as he crafts together not only an intricate and intriguing murder mystery but also a look back at the social powder keg that the miners’ strike was. Not only on a national scale but for a small town and within a marriage.

Charlie Resnick gets the farewell he and his fans deserve and if you haven’t encountered him before I implore you to go back and read one of the best crime series ever written by an author who continues to get better and better.

Buy the book here…

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13. Loot: How to Steal a Fortune - a review

Watson, Jude. 2014. Loot: How to Steal a Fortune. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)

After my book club meets tomorrow, my Loot will be long gone. Here's a quick preview before it's snatched up.

It begins with a foreboding prophecy regarding stolen semiprecious moonstones:

You will be caught tonight and made to pay.
Death by water, before the moon is set.
Before the passage of thirteen years, the two birthed together will die together.

Two of the prophecies have already come true. Two thieves are dead.

Now, 12-year-old March, son of a thief, must figure out the mystery with no other assets than a getaway bag, some cryptic clues, and remembered advice from his deceased father,

Never trust a guy who says, "Trust me."
Never give your real name to a cop.
Never let someone steal your getaway car.
If you think nothing can go wrong, you'd better think again.

March, his twin sister, and fellow foster home escapees, Izzy and Darius, will match wits with jewel thieves, fences, cops, and millionaires in a desperate search for answers and the mysterious moonstones. This is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller with plenty of plot twists and intrigue—a globe-trotting trek with its roots in the underbelly of New York City.

Due on a shelf near you June 24, 2014.
For grades 3-7
272 pages

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14. Review – Life Or Death by Michael Robotham

9780751552898The advanced reading copy bills this as “the best novel yet from Michael Robotham” which is a big call considering his previous nine novels. While I’m not a fan of the Joe O’Loughlin novels that has nothing to do with Robotham’s writing just the fact I don’t like psychological thrillers. But what all Robotham’s books have in common is precision plotting. Robotham knows exactly how to unfurl a story, keeping you interested and guessing in equal measure. My favourite Robothom was Lost (aka The Drowning Man) which demonstrates this perfectly. But I have a new favourite Robotham now because this is beyond doubt the best novel yet from Michael Robotham.

The idea for this novel came to Robotham over twenty years ago, well before he’d written his first book. But Robotham didn’t know if or how he could pull the story off. Nine best-selling novels later he knew how he was going to do it and it was worth the wait.

Audie Palmer has spent the last ten years in prison for an armed robbery that netted 7 million dollars. Money that has never been recovered. Everybody wants to know where the money is; other prisoners, guards and various law enforcement. Audie has survived beatings, stabbings and other assaults and is finally due to be released from prison tomorrow. Except he has just escaped. And so begins an epic thriller. Nobody knows why Audie has escaped but they think it has to do with the money. As Audie’s plan unfolds we learn that there are stronger motivations than money. Motivations that people will kill for, motivations people will live for.

This is far and away the thriller of the year. It will keep you glued to end of your reading chair, it will keep you guessing until the very end and, best of all, it will break your heart.

Buy the book here…

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15. Books and Churros

Exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash by our roving reporter.

3rd day - Sunday, June 13

I would like to dedicate this post to the tents of La Semana Negra, to the smell of oily churros, waffles, French fries and sandwiches that populate the air.

I’d heard that at La Semana Negra there was more than books, writers and conferences, but to see it with my own eyes, is an incredible experience. There are tents full of horror books, next to a sandwich and hamburgers joint. Needless to say, a churro tent is located between a detective fiction book tent and another one of fantasy genre.

The event this year is held at Poniente Beach in four tents where most of the film screenings, conferences and other events take place. Your shoes get full of sand everywhere you go, but if it rains, as it did last Friday, what you step in is mud. Nothing to complain about though; you’ll still enjoy a great conference about new book releases or a screening of the 1950’s classic vampire movies of “El Vampiro Mexicano” with an introduction by the vampire himself, the great Mexican actor, Germán Robles. [more on that tomorrow]

The fair is set up as a long line of tents facing the sea. It starts everyday at five o’clock and in a few hours all the tents are lighted. Tons people walk around, eating, talking, and sporting La Semana Negra hats--a black, detective hat given free as a pretty keepsake to people who attend.

There are also tents set up as bars, nightclubs and restaurants. At night, these places are full of people listening either to a live rock band or dancing to the sounds of techno or house. Paco Ignacio Taibo, II proudly said that this year “there are as many bars as bookstores.” When he said this, you could see his gray-haired mustache became a big smile.

La Semana Negra also contains a big concert stage where everyday at 10:30 there are concerts, and spectators comfortably sit on the sand, drink beer, sidra, or their drink of choice and enjoy the music.

The tent bookstores close at 12pm, so it is not rare to see people with bags full of books, tired of carrying them around, having a beer while reading a book they just purchased. I shed a tear every time I see someone with a book by Dashiell Hammett in one hand and chocolate churro on the other. Plain and simple paradise.

This picturesque scenery and the great variety of tents is something Paco Ignacio Taibo II tries to convey every year. In the inauguration ceremony he made a note of that (roughly translated): “this is a celebration for the masses, for the great majority”. And this is entirely true.

You don’t only see intellectuals, professors and other nerds walking around the fair. There are all sorts of people--from the abuelito who can barely read anymore because his sight is not as good as before, to the young guy who prefers to wait until the movie comes out instead of reading the book--who come to La Semana Negra just to have a good time and maybe, after looking at so many books, even buy one.

Great books, food, drinks, and people, just some of the many things this event brings to the city of Gijón and to the people who come and visit during this amazing week.

Besos desde Gijón!

Thania Muñoz

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16. The Mexican Vampire

Exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash by our roving reporter.

4th day - Mexican actor Germán Robles

This year La Semana Negra
is paying homage to Germán Robles. Robles is a very well known actor in México and other parts of the world for the collection of vampire movies he did during the late 1950s. He is considered “the” Latin vampire of our time. As critic Jesús Palacios (author of the ¡A mordiscos! book distributed free each night) said, “the Americans have Bela Lugosi, the English, Christopher Lee. We have Germán Robles, one of the greatest”.

La Semana Negra has been screening his movies since Saturday, every night at ten thirty. Since the first day the tent has been full, definitely because at the beginning of each screening, Germán Robles himself presents the movie, and tells spectators an anecdote about the movie. Although he is an elderly person now, he still maintains a posture and an enviable elegance. He is a great actor and is not afraid to say it himself, as on Sunday, “I’m a great actor, and since I don’t have my grandma to be saying good things about me, I have to say it myself: I’m a really good actor!”

Although he has been recognized for his work around the world, and his movies have been translated into more then fifty languages, he is not very well known in Spain. This is especially sad, because although his whole career is centered in México, Robles is from Gijón.

This was a big surprise for the people of this city. Robles’s dad fled the country during the years of the war and settled in Mexico City.
Seven years later his wife and son Germán followed him, and the seventeen-year-old Germán Robles started working as an actor and draftsman. He filmed “El Vampiro” in 1957, directed by Fernando Mendéz, before Christopher Lee!

Germán told Sunday’s audience an amazing anecdote about this.
He said he had a Mexican friend who used to work at London’s BBC, and at an event he had the opportunity to talk to Christopher Lee. Lee asked him if he was from México and if he knew the actor Germán Robles, to which the reporter, Robles’ friend, answered, “Yes, yes, we are like brothers”. Then Lee told him, “Well, tell Mr. Robles that he was been a true inspiration for me.” Who would have thought that a Mexican inspired the acting as a vampire of an Englishman! An incredible anecdote that Robles told with great pride and a definitely well deserved recognition.

I don’t know how hard it is to find his movies now, but it is definitely worth a try. There are incredibly good Mexican movies from the so-called, “cine de oro mexicano.” Instead of gothic cathedrals or houses with enormous chandeliers as we are used to seeing in dark vampire movies, you see an old Mexican hacienda in a little town of provincial México, a beautiful actress, and an indigenous man, endlessly praying throughout the movie.

Germán Robles's character is an elegant vampire who speaks well, and as Robles himself said, “you can smell his lavender cologne from meters away.” Well directed and aesthetically perfect, even though it was 1957, the special effects are good and the acting amazing.

I emphatically recommend Roble’s vampire collection, and as La Semana Negra continues, so the screenings will continue special homage to a special bloodsucking Gijones.

Thania Muñoz

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17. Las Tertulias at La Semana Negra

Exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash by
our roving reporter.

I've been looking for a word to correctly translate “tertulias.” Since unfortunately I didn’t bring my big and thick Oxford dictionary with me, I relied on wordreference.com. The definition it gives doesn’t transmit the same meaning to me, but then again, I think about all the translations in the world, from the classics of literature to Latin American literature translated into English, and I convince myself and say "don’t be so stupid, translations are not that bad."

So, according to my online translator tertulias are: literary gatherings, and I’m sticking to that term. At La Semana Negra, every day at five, there are tertulias where the invited writers discuss a topic. It’s an hour-long debate where they give their own opinions and even get into arguments with the other writers.

The first three literary gatherings where dedicated to the “monsters” of literature or film. The panel included Mexican writer, Miguel Cane, Spanish writers, Elia Barceló, Cristina Macía, Rafael Marín, Daniel Mares, Marc R. Soto, Victor Condé, Federico Fernández Giordano, Rodolfo Martínez, Juan Miguel Aguilera, Eduardo Angulo and Manuel Nonídez.

Right off the bat, the debate heated up. Some said Mr. Hyde is the worst monster of all time; others thought it was zombies and of course the always scary vampires. Although the list of monsters was very long, Mr. Hyde took the prize. Rafael Marín took the discussion to another level by saying Mr. Hyde scares us because he demonstrates that “we could be monsters, too.”

After that “Alien” made an appearance in the discussion and writer Elia Barceló defended him, affirming that “the only thing Alien is trying to do is defend himself.” Some agreed, some didn’t, but what made the literary gatherings more interesting was the great number of people listening to this conversation full of some very nerdy details on movies and books.

Although at the beginning in the “Carpa del encuentro”, Semana Negra's main tent, there weren’t many people, as time went by more slowly started coming. I would look around at the puzzled faces: some were ready to get up and say something, and others nodded when they agreed with what one of the writers said.

The guys next to me confided in me (I think because I was taking notes the whole time), “Yeah, I know it’s so cool to find out that you are not the only one that talks endlessly about these things.” These tertulias bring people closer to the writers so they have the opportunity to get to know them in a more personal way. After the debates are over, you see spectators coming up to the writers, saying they agreed with what they were saying, that the other writers were wrong, or something of the sort.

After the “monsters” tertulias, the next two followed the theme entitled “El mal y sus protagonistas” (wordreference.com again: “Evil and its main characters"). This time it was Paco Ignacio Taibo, II, the Cuban Lorenzo Lunar, Colombians Mario Mendoza and Nahum Montt, Mexican writer Eduardo Monteverde, the Chilean Roberto Ampuero, the Chicano Rolando Hinojosa, and Spaniards Ángel Tomás González, Kama Gutier, Juan Ramón Biedma and Achy Obejas.

This tertulia focused on evil in these writers' own literature, why they write detective fiction, hardboiled, gothic and such, summarizing why their characters or stories are in some way evil. Juan Ramón Biedma at one point, firmly and passionately said, “Because good characters are boring.”

Simple and clear as that, but Roberto Ampuero, the Chilean writer who teaches at the University of Iowa, said “I live in a country (USA) that is constantly trying to separate good from evil, and of course George W. Bush is always saying that we are good, but it’s a lie and it makes no sense. That’s something that intrigues me--why people are always trying to differentiate good from evil, if in reality we are both.” The debate continued on that note, and most of the writers agreed evil is very ambiguous and that we all have the possibility of being the hero or villain, because evil is something within us, something natural.

I don’t want to scare anybody--I know Vampires and Mr. Hyde are not the prettiest things--but I definitely wanted La Bloga readers to know what topics are discussed at La Semana Negra and to make sure everyone gets a feel of the types of discussion that happen here. But not only that; I also wanted to pass on the excitement and happiness that people who attend this gathering feel.

I’m sure some of you reading this will love hearing your favorite writer talk about his horror characters or why they write the way they do and how they build their characters. It’s a special thing and the spectators certainly recognize this, because during the discussions, they didn’t stop taking photos and notes. As someone behind me said, “I’m posting this on my blog.”

Saludos desde Gijón!
Thania Muñoz

4 Comments on Las Tertulias at La Semana Negra, last added: 7/30/2008
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18. Poets José Emilio Pacheco, Joaquín Sabina & Luis García Montero

Exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash by
our roving reporter.

6th Day - Thursday's Poetry Reading

This morning, José Emilio Pacheco, Joaquín Sabina and Luis García Montero read their poetry at the main tent of La Semana Negra. Since the recital was scheduled for one in the morning, I had planned to arrive an hour before, thinking I was going to get a good, comfortable spot. But it seemed dozens of people thought the same thing. Usually at this hour people are at the clubs dancing away the night, and you would think no one would even think about poetry. But in Gijón this was not the case.

As Paco Ignacio Taibo, II said, “Some years ago when I proposed a poetry reading late at night, people said I was crazy, that no one would actually attend.” But in fact a lot of people attended, and as I made my way through the audience that was trying to find chairs and move closer to the stage, I soon realized I wasn’t going to get a chair. So I made my way through to the front to sit wherever possible. I got a little spot right on the front between two couples and took out my camera. I’m a big poetry reader and just thinking that I was going to be listening to these three important poets of the Spanish language made me shiver. Before the recital, the tent was noisy, people desperately trying to find a place, but by 1:00am, no one else was able to get in. This made me feel more excited, and I felt envious looks from people behind me.

The recital got started by Yampi who livened up the tent with his guitar so people started singing. With his endless smile, Yampi thanked everyone for being there so late at night. He honored the deceased poet Ángel González by singing some of his poems, verses that quickly changed the mood of the tent. Ángel González died this year on January 12th and his death is most felt at La Semana Negra, because since the late-night poetry readings got started by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Ángel had never missed a year.

Joaquín Sabina, famous songwriter and poet, has been attending La Semana Negra for the last six years and Luis García Montero, has also attended for many years. The only newbie was José Emilio Pacheco, who in some way came to replace Ángel González. Not an easy task, but knowing that José Emilio is considered one of the most important Mexican poets of our time, with his brilliant work in narrative, translation and most importantly poetry, he had nothing to fear.

A little after 1:00 Paco Taibo went on the stage and people went crazy clapping. Taibo said how happy he felt that so many people were at the event and that he knew we would truly enjoy it because, "poetry has less and less space in our society." He introduced the poets and surrounded by claps, cheers and yells, the three poets got on stage and waved to everyone. It was an amazing moment when the poets took their seats. Sabina and Montero seemed very comfortable on stage. Pacheco on the other hand seemed nervous and timid, but this didn’t stop his smile.

The recital started with Sabina and Montero together reciting a poem dedicated to Pacheco, verses that truly evoked the importance of Pacheco’s place in Spanish language poetry. The two poets declared that the poem was an homage, following the example of Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca's tribute poem to Ruben Darío. The poem was recited with enthusiasm, vividly, full of respect and admiration for the Mexican poet. Pacheco was moved by the poem to reply, “The least I can do you for you is read you poems that haven’t been publish yet.” He read three short poems and afterward timidly thanked everyone.

For an hour the poets took turns reading their poetry, and after each, the crowd got rowdier and louder. Many times you would see Taibo II trying to silence everyone from the side, because as he said at the beginning, “I want to establish a quiet and peaceful atmosphere so everyone can hear well and enjoy the poetry.” This was impossible. People would scream and tell Sabina or Montero that they loved them; or to Pacheco, “You are the greatest,” and similar remarks. I have to confess I was loud too, but how could you not in the presence of these eminents breathing the same air you are, stepping on the same sand and, most importantly, listening to their verses in such an intimate space?

Joaquin Sabina was the last to perform; García Montero joined him by singing the choruses. It was a tango entitled "Semana Negra", lyrics especially dedicated to La Semana Negra and all the happiness it brings to Gijón. After the song, a lot of people tried to get on stage. I got pushed and stepped on, until Taibo announced the poets would be signing books, but that everyone had to make a line. The organizers of La Semana Negra also gave away copies of a special anthology of Pacheco’s poetry to everyone.

For half an hour the poets signed books, and people in line were excited and had big smiles on their faces. Unfortunately, when the poets tired and decided to head to the hotel, people still in line got a little crazy and started pushing. Security intervened to protect the poets, who at the moment were much like rock stars. I don’t blame anyone; getting their autographs is special.

After the poets left, there was a strong energy in the air. It was like one of those moments you don’t believe just happened and you know they will never happen again--truly an unforgettable night for the people and visitors of Gijón.

I love La Semana Negra!

Besos desde Gijón,
Thania Muñoz

1 Comments on Poets José Emilio Pacheco, Joaquín Sabina & Luis García Montero, last added: 7/20/2008
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19. A Taste For Bones

Murder One: A Writer's Guide to
Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino

I realize I have a morbid taste for bones--a guilty pleasure, to be sure. I find myself fascinated with the way evidence forms a code to be deciphered in order to understand the horrible, the devastating. In trying to develop believable scenarios of homicide for a possible novel, I needed texts that describe complicated forensic material in accessible language, suitable for the writer/criminalist wannabe. Murder One is a great resource in that regard.

Written by two investigators for the Monmouth County, New Jersey Prosecutor's Office, this text gives a clear cut overview of different kinds of homicide, appropriate investigation techniques and evidence collection. Both Corvasce and Paglino have been in law enforcement since 1978, and have an excellent handle on presenting information to the general public. The chapters of the book are organized into the following sections:

• familial murders, usually triggered by simmering feuds
• gang murders, from contract hits to drive-by shootings
• organized crime hits, and the psychology and code of behavior within crime families
• business and financial murders, directed to silence whistle-blowers
• the rising trend in vehicular murder • crimes of passion, their triggers and underlying motivation • cult murders, serial murders and the details of real-life investigations

The authors also delve into legal definitions, forensic terms and definitions and the basic structure of initial homicide investigation; allowing reader/writers to explore opportunity, motive, use of weapons, and details at the scene of the crime. Interspersed throughout is the authors' commentary, reflecting their own case files experiences. Since I plan on describing more than one unholy execution,
I was excited to get the corporeal goods necessary to get the right take down on paper.

Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries
David W. Page

Dr. David Page has extensive trauma surgery experience, and is currently an associate clinical professor of surgery at Tufts' Baystate Medical Center. In Body Trauma, what happens to organs and bones maimed by accident or injury is the subject matter of this detailed, yet easy to read book. This text reveals in simple, but descriptive language the following:

• The four steps in trauma care
• Details of skull and brain injuries
• What the Glasgow Trauma Scale is, and why it's important
• Specifics of both penetrating and blunt injuries, especially as it relates to head and neck trauma. • The "dirty dozen' dreadful, but survivable, chest injuries
• The effect of blunt trauma, puncture and bullet wounds on abdominal organs

While at some level, this kind of immersion seems like overkill, (no pun intended) I feel like I have to capture a large amount of information to best make the story hold together and seem believable. Mind you, I'll have to edit and delete passages because there's too much information, that's how much I was able to glean from these resources.

I'm fascinated by my own ongoing interest in this kind of take on mortality and the reductionist perspective that certainly is bound to it. It's a seeming contradiction for me, whose own poetry tries to focus on spirit and its power to animate and heal.

I think it has something to do with embracing the concrete aspects of mortality--the frailty of the body, the effects of violence. As I write fiction with these themes, I make a certain sense of them that may be a crime novelist's conceit--to make sense of the irrational, the terrifying, the unspeakable.

Lisa Alvarado

0 Comments on A Taste For Bones as of 7/24/2008 9:49:00 AM
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20. Dueling Comments: A George Pelecanos Concordance

The TurnaroundWhat kind of prose do you prefer in crime novels?

Over at Sarah Weinman's excellent blog, mystery readers are debating crime writer George Pelecanos' style--he's the author of 12 novels and and a producer on my favorite retired television show, The Wire.

Sarah points us towards a Washington City Paper article that charts the crime writer's style--Pelecanos moved from a more effusive style (in A Firing Offense towards hardboiled haiku (in The Turnaround). 

Opinions of this style shift are mixed in the comments section. Check them out, and meet a new writer in the process. Barbara (who shares my obsession with Batman's political metaphors) writes that she was disappointed with later Pelecanos: "I liked Hard Revolution much better, and some of his earlier ones; the Big Blowdown might give you a sense of what all the fuss is about. He's good at nailing eras as well as place," she writes.

John weighs in with a more measured review. "There's no accounting for taste, is there. A book that one loves another loathes. And so it goes."


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21. Memento Mori

Studs Terkel, prize-winning author and radio broadcast personality was born Louis Terkel in New York on May 16, 1912. His father, Samuel, was a tailor and his mother, Anna (Finkel) was a seamstress. He had three brothers. The family moved to Chicago in 1922 and opened a rooming house at Ashland and Flournoy on the near West side {LISTEN}. From 1926 to 1936 they ran another rooming house, the Wells-Grand Hotel at Wells Street and Grand Avenue. Terkel credits his knowledge of the world to the tenants who gathered in the lobby of the hotel and the people who congregated in nearby Bughouse Square, a meeting place for workers, labor organizers, dissidents, the unemployed, and religious fanatics of many persuasions. In 1939 he married Ida Goldberg and had one son.

Terkel attended University of Chicago and received a law degree in 1934. He chose not to pursue a career in law. After a brief stint with the civil service in Washington D.C., he returned to Chicago and worked with the WPA Writers Project in the radio division. One day he was asked to read a script and soon found himself in radio soap operas, in other stage performances, and on a WAIT news show. After a year in the Air Force, he returned to writing radio shows and ads. He was on a sports show on WBBM and then, in 1944, he landed his own show on WENR. This was called the Wax Museum show that allowed him to express his own personality and play recordings he liked from folk music, opera, jazz, or blues. A year later he had his own television show called Stud's Place and started asking people the kind of questions that marked his later work as an interviewer.

In 1952 Terkel began working for WFMT, first with the "Studs Terkel Almanac" and the "Studs Terkel Show," primarily to play music. The interviewing came along by accident. This later became the award-winning, "The Studs Terkel Program." His first book, Giants of Jazz, was published in 1956. Ten years later his first book of oral history interviews, Division Street : America, came out. It was followed by a succession of oral history books on the 1930s Depression, World War Two, race relations, working, the American dream, and aging. His latest book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken : Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, was published in 2001. Terkel continued to interview people, work on his books, and made public appearances until his death. He was Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Chicago Historical Society.

(Courtesy: http://studsturkel.org)


Tony Hillerman was born in 1925, in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. Although he was raised among the Pottawatomie and Seminole Indians and studied at an Indian boarding school, Tony Hillerman is not Native American. He attended Oklahoma State University (1943), the University of Oklahoma (B.A. 1946), and the University of New Mexico (M.A. 1966). He worked as a journalist in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico (1948-63), lived in Albuquerque, and taught journalism at the University of New Mexico (1976-85).

He has written numerous mystery novels drawing on Native American culture, the most successful featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police. His many bestselling novels include Sacred Clowns, Coyote Waits, and A Thief of Time. Hillerman is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and has received their Edgar and Grand Master awards. His other honors include the Center for the American Indian's Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for best novel set in the West, and the Navajo Tribe's Special Friend Award. He lived with his wife, Marie, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

(Courtesy: http://mysterynet.com)

Lisa Alvarado

1 Comments on Memento Mori, last added: 11/12/2008
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22. Jim Nisbet at his "Wildest and Weirdest!"

Jim Nisbet's Windward Passage continues to received extraordinary review attention from all over the globe. Here's a new one, written by book critic Woody Haut for Crime Time, a terrific website from the International Association of Crime Writers:

"Jim Nisbet, author of The Damned Don't Die, Lethal Injection, Prelude to a Scream, Death Puppet and Price of the Ticket has long been one of my favorite noirists. In Windward Passage, his tenth book, he pulls out all the stops, combining his long-standing noir sensibilities with an off-the-wall post-modern disposition and cultural critique. Pacey, but filled with enough tropes to keep the most hardcore Jim Thompsonite happy- at least those partial to the final section of The Getaway or the surrealism of Savage Night- Windward Passage centres on a ship that sinks in the Caribbean, its captain chained to the mast. A logbook, a partially written novel, a brick of cocaine and the DNA of a President are all that remain. The appropriately named dead sailor's sister, Tipsy lives in San Francisco, where she hangs out at bars with her gay friend Quentin. That is until she runs into Red, Tipsy's brother's old employer.

Scrambling genres and voices, Windward Passage flits around geographically as well as linguistically, high-tailing it from San Francisco to the Caribbean and back again, dove-tailing from fast-talking, never-less-than-witty dialogue to tangential asides, reportage, paradoxical quips and a novel within a novel. With his ear to the ground, Nesbit not only updates the traditional noir narrative, combining it with a sea adventure story, conundrums, a dash of cyberpunk, and a sprinkling of literary concerns (including the likes of Tom Raworth, Paustovsky and Leonard Clark's The Rivers Ran East). From a prologue that will leave you scratching your head for at least a hundred pages, Windward Passage sometimes reads like a hardboiled Saragossa Manuscript, and bound to appeal to anyone looking beyond the confines of the genre. Still, I remember thinking while reading the novel that this is the sort of book we're told doesn't get published these days. So hat's off not only to Nisbet, but to Overlook Press. Because this is Nisbet at his wildest and weirdest. I'm still not sure what it all adds up to, other than an entertaining, insightful and highly recommended adventure."

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23. A wonderful reception for Susan Hill's SHADOWS IN THE STREET

Susan Hill's latest Simon Serralier mystery, SHADOWS IN THE STREET, went on sale in the U.S. last Thursday, and we're thrilled to see that others are loving her wonderful work as much as we are. Did you miss her review in the New York Times? See below for the full review and some other praise that has been rolling in for SHADOWS IN THE STREET.

"As every Trollope reader knows, English cathedral towns can be hotbeds of viciousness and vice. And so it is in Lafferton, where Susan Hill sets her thoughtful mysteries. As if it weren’t bad enough that flesh traffickers from Eastern Europe have been deploying a small army of underage prostitutes on the edge of town in THE SHADOWS IN THE STREET (Overlook, $24.95), the unpopular new dean of the cathedral, a “happy-clappy” Anglican evangelical, and his overbearing wife (“the Mrs. Proudie of St. Michael’s”) are hell-bent on saving the souls of these “Magdalenes,” whether they like it or not. Simon Serrailler, the brooding detective hero, doesn’t appear on the scene until a serial killer begins picking off some of the local working girls who’ve been displaced by the foreign competition. But his absence allows Hill to direct her elegant prose to other characters, especially Serrailler’s widowed sister, observed in depth as she struggles to live with her grief." -- The New York Times

“This is the fifth of Hill's exceptional series (after The Various Haunts of Men, The Pure in Heart, The Risk of Darkness, and The Vows of Silence). Her characters continue to be intelligent and engaging, and the perfect balance of drama, atmosphere, and suspense holds the reader to the very last page. Highly recommended for fans of thoughtful British mysteries, especially those written by P.D. James, Martha Grimes, and Tana French.” -- Library Journal (starred review)

“It is really the characters that are so strong in these novels and even the minor characters are brought to life... As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.” -- Canadian Bookworm Blog

“Hill continues to engage us with fresh characters and intriguing story lines.” -- MostlyFiction.com

"Right from its rain drenched opening lines, Shadows draws the reader into its bleak landscape. Hill is a master at creating atmosphere – the autumn chill hovering over the town seeps right into the story, and tightens its hold on the reader as the plot hurtles towards its climax… strong writing, taut pace and finely etched characters” -- BookPleasures.com

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As the Crime Editor of Ireland’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper, Niamh O’Connor is writing about the gangs and deprived inner city tower locks she’s knows only too well from her day job.  This a fast paced thriller with a very likable heroine. Jo Birmingham not only has a troubled teenage son but also a year old baby and she juggles career ambitions with single motherhood. The fact that her ex husband is also her boss doesn’t exactly help.  In this novel she is on the track of a serial killer with a very detailed knowledge of scripture – nothing as basic as the seven deadly sins.
It takes a lot of hard work to be an easy read and this books slips down as easily a crème caramel.  I would have liked a bit more stretch marks and worries about childcare but I like Jo and her ex husband comes across as edgy, sexy and attractive – attributes that are hard to communicate when all you have is words .
Niamh O’Connor feel very strongly about the way victims are treated and joins with Rape Crisis campaigners in arguing that they should have separate legal representation.  As does Jo Birmingham  who continually argues the case with government departments. It would have been more effective to have that issue developed as part of the story – show don’t tell – but perhaps she will do that in future novels.

0 Comments on BOOK REVIEW --- IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN by Niamh O’ Connor as of 2/20/2011 6:56:00 AM
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25. Interview with Author Yvonne Eve Walus

 Super big welcomes to Echelon Author Yvonne Eve Walus! Please enjoy learning more about her and check out her work!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello and thank you for having me on this blog. My name is Yvonne Walus, and I write murder mysteries set in South Africa. I’m a set of contradictions, really. Originally Polish, I write in English. I’m a mathematician and I write books. I live in New Zealand, yet my heart is in South Africa.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I was lucky to find Echelon Press when they were still taking new authors and I was equally lucky that the editor wanted to take a chance on my quirky books.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The criticism is actually a compliment: that the characters in my books are not South African enough. This means, of course, that readers all over the world can relate to them.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Ask yourself why you write: to please yourself, to please the reader, or to make money.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

I write my South African murder mysteries to please myself. Hope you like them as much as I do!

What’s coming soon?

I’ve just spent two days in an absolutely amazing hotel in Cape Town, New Zealand – the Mount Nelson Hotel. Soaked in history and dating back to the 1800s, the hotel is colonial in architecture and modern in conveniences such as aircon and wifi. It is just the absolutely perfect background for a James Bond type of a thriller, and my next book will definitely be set there.



Do you have deep dark secret?


How about a shallow grey one?


What sort of coffee would you order? Simple coffee, complicated soy-non-fat-extra-espresso-half-caff-nightmare?

No milk or sugar. Loose-leaf, preferably earl grey.

Is there any food you refuse to eat? (Other than brussel sprouts because NO ONE likes them)

I’ll eat brussel sprouts. Not my favourite food on earth, but I’ll cope. I’ve eaten bird soup, shark fins and a durian. . Once I even ate mopane worms (http://lodges.safari.co.za/African_Travel_Articles-travel/mopane-worms.html) – after all, I do write about Africa. Won’t eat squirrel or pigeon, though.

If you could live off of chocolate would you? What kind?

My favourite is Lindt chocolate, the light brown kind. I can easily eat 200g or more of it a day… provided that’s not the only thing I eat. I was once touring Europe on a shoestring budget, with only chocolate in my backpack. After 6 days of the exclusive chocolate diet, I lost 3kg. On Day 7, I chose to eat nothing rather than another slab of chocolate.

Have you every done anything really crazy?

Does skydiving count?

Do you regret it?

No. Won’t do it again in a hurry, though.

Do you like making up strange

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