Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hitting the Mark

This is a bit of a departure for me, but with the first review in for my fifth Greg McKenzie mystery, I decided to feature it in today's blog. The review is written by Larry W. Chavis for The GenReview. The site is devoted to reviewing genre fiction, which it describes this way:

"Referred to as 'popular fiction' by many (and as 'trash' by some snooty members of the pseudo-intelligentsia), the term genre fiction usually connotes stories written primarily for their entertainment value.  While this may seem to be a very broad definition, what is implicit is that the genre fiction story or novel is mainly intended to pass the time rather than expand your consciousness."

Having said that, the site adds, "the line between genre fiction and so-called 'literary fiction' is a very fine one and often is obscured.  Certainly The Maltese Falcon is genre fiction, but it also explores the dark side of the human psyche and what drives people to do what they do.  So, it’s not always clear-cut.  However, while most authors of genre fiction would be pleased to have their work called 'literary,' most authors of literary fiction would be offended to have their work described as genre fiction."

Here's the review of A Sporting Murder:

In the week before Christmas rumors have surfaced that something is amiss with a proposed deal to bring a National Basketball Association franchise to Nashville. Local P. I. Greg McKenzie, with his wife and partner, Jill, are hired to investigate by a group of hockey fans opposed to the NBA’s coming, fearing loss of the hockey team’s fan base.  An informant promises information on the deal that will “blow your mind,” but turns up shot in the face instead. Is his murder the result of being in the wrong part of town or connected to the case? Greg and Jill determine to find out.

But this will be no ordinary Christmas week. Besides the murder and Greg’s finding the body, an old case rears it head in the person of a former Air Force lieutenant whom Greg had helped convict of drug-dealing back in his days as an OSI investigator. He’s out of prison, and still carrying a grudge. As the book moves along at a fast pace, the McKenzies are hard-pressed to unravel the events and dangers into which they are thrust. Are they connected to the NBA deal or to Greg’s old enemy? We are kept guessing until the disparate threads all come together on Christmas Day in a rousing and satisfying climax.

Readers of Mr. Campbell’s previous books will be pleased to be back in his Nashville with Greg and Jill McKenzie. His writing is clean and spare, giving us enough sense of place and character to feel as if we’ve settled in with friends, and then in turn ratcheting up the tension and suspense. Greg McKenzie is not a hard-boiled private investigator, but he’s tough and smart, well aware of the qualities Jill brings to the partnership. The way the case plays out against the backdrop of their lives gives them a genuineness that makes the reader feel these would be good folks to spend an afternoon with - or to have along in a gun fight. Once again, Campbell has hit the mark.

Copyright 2010 Larry W. Chavis

The book will be available in early fall. It can be pre-ordered at

Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting Celebrity Status

I remember back when a 60th anniversary of anything seemed like a really big deal. That was before my calendar ramped up to its current lofty status. However, I now find that it could make me something of a celebrity.

I got a call last week from an airman with the 119th Command & Control Squadron of the Tennessee Air National Guard at McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard Base in Knoxville. He said he was looking for former Lieutenant Chester Campbell. I admitted that was me. He said the 119th Squadron planned a 60th Anniversary celebration at the base on August 7. They would be delighted if I could come.

I hadn't heard of the 119th in years and wasn't aware that it still existed. I joined the unit in the fall of 1950, shortly after it was organized.  At that time it was known as the 119th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron, a radar outfit. Radar was just coming into its own as an air defense weapon after its development during World War II. I didn't k now much about radar, except that it had a line that swept around a small screen and picked up blips that could be identified as aircraft.

Since I was a newspaper reporter with a monstrous curiosity, they slotted me into the Intelligence Officer position. When I take on a new subject, I always start with plenty of research, and I quickly found the intelligence field fascinating. Being an insider is always fun, and my "secret" security clearance made me privy to a lot of inside information (it was later upgraded to "top secret").

Another event occurred halfway around the world at about the same time. North Korea sent its troops across the DMZ into South Korea, starting a conflict that hasn't been fully resolved yet. By the following year, the U.S. was fully engaged in the war and reserves were being called up. We knew our time was coming. Not wanted to be caught short, I applied for and was admitted to the Air Force Intelligence School at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. I got back to Knoxville just in time to be called to active duty with the 119th. We were promptly dispatched to Otis AFB on Cape Cod. For me, that didn't last long, as they began picking out officers to send overseas as replacements. I wound  up in the Estimates Division of the Directorate of Intelligence at Hq 5th Air Force in Seoul.

But back to the anniversary. The young airman called a few days later with more information and said so far I was the only original member of the unit they had found. I'm sure there must be more, and hopefully they'll be located before August. But at the moment, it looks like I'm the celebrity.

I get a little antsy when people start thanking me for my service. I didn't fire a gun or drop a bomb, and nobody shot at me. True, I got a nice medal for meritorious service in monitoring enemy air activity and lecturing on it to United Nations personnel visiting the headquarters. But I didn't do anything any other concerned American would have done. I served willingly and would do it again, though I doubt they'd be interested in a gray-haired old guy now. The people I admire are the young men and women who are doing their best in Iraq and Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world. They're my heroes.

Still, it'll be interesting to reminisce on the fifties when I get to Knoxville in August.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Unique Venue for a Booksigning

I'll be taking part in a bit of historical trivia on Saturday, June 19, when mystery writer colleague Beth Terrell and I sign books in a booth at the 16th annual RC-Moon Pie Festival. The location is the quaint little town of Bell Buckle, TN, 45 miles south of Nashville. With a population in 2008 of only 411, you might wonder why we're signing books there. Here's why:

The annual RC-Moon Pie Festival sponsored by the Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce attracts more than 15,000 visitors. It's one of the top twenty events on the Southeastern Tourism Society calendar.

If you're unfamiliar with the two Southern delights being honored, the Moon Pie is made in Chattanooga where it was created in 1917. About the diameter of a hockey puck, it contains two round chocolate-covered graham crackers with marshmallow cream between. The RC Cola came along in 1934 from a Columbus, GA pharmacy. During the thirties, the two concoctions, at a nickel apiece, came to be known as a "workingman's lunch."

The town of Bell Buckle is a bit more historic, dating back to 1852. The origin of the name is uncertain. One possibility, according to the Chamber of Commerce, goes like this: "The first white man to traverse the area now known as Bell Buckle discovered carvings in the shape of a cowbell and buckle on a tree near a free-flowing creek. This carving was interpreted as a warning from Indians that the domesticated animals of white civilization were intruding upon their lands."

However it started, the town became a booming place with arrival of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. The boom days ended, however, with the Great Depression, and by the 1960s many of its one-story businesses had become shuttered and dilapidated. A revival movement turned the town into a mecca for arts and crafts shops and antiques. An area including the downtown and out to the Webb School property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Webb School, founded by William R. "Sawney" Webb in the late 1800s, is an internationally-recognized college prep school.

Belle Buckle is located in the same county as Shelbyville, home of the Tennesee Walking Horse National Celebration. Its unique festival features everything from a 10-mile run in the morning to country and bluegrass music, a parade, games, barbeque, and cutting of the World's Largest Moon Pie.

It should be a fun day to sell books.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What's Sporting About Murder?

According to my American Heritage Talking Dictionary, a sport is "An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively." Doesn't quite fit the current discussion, but one of it's synonyms is "distraction." The slaying in A Sporting Murder is definitely distracting to Greg and Jill McKenzie as they pursue an investigation into reports of something kinky about an effort to bring an NBA basketball team to Nashville.

As you'll note here, I now have a cover for the book, also a release date: October 15, 2010. The story takes place around Christmas, and it'll be out just in time for the gift-buying season. I wouldn't say it's a Christmas story but a story with a tie-in to Christmas. Matter of fact, it winds up on Christmas Day.

This is the fifth book in the Greg McKenzie Series and, like most of the others, takes place around the Nashville area. Besides a group of businessmen intent on bringing an NBA team to town, it includes a rival group of Nashville Predators NHL hockey fans dedicated to thwarting their efforts.

One interesting feature of the new book is a character modeled after information provided by a former cop, who told me how the city's crime was divided up several years ago by four kingpins who each ruled a specific territory. They were involved in illegal gambling, such as Vegas-type machines.

This is my second novel that includes a character named after a real individual. The first time I chose someone in a contest. This time a friend insisted I use him as a bad guy. You'll have to read the book to find out if he's the bad guy. He has a rather unusual name, which gave me some ideas on how to use him. Louie Aregis, besides being a character in the book, is owner and chief instructor of Aregis Taekwondo in Goodlettsville, a Nashville suburb. Our grandson, Justin Jones, now nearly thirteen, received his probationary black belt there last year.

With a new book coming out, it means I'll have to revise my website. That will take a little thought, so it may be delayed a bit. However, I should soon have the opening chapters of A Sporting Murder available for viewing.

This will be my third release by Night Shadows Press.