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Dark Sacred Night is Michael Connelly at the top of his game

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Michael Connelly is The Godfather of the modern police procedural.

The longtime journalist — he worked as a crime reporter for several U.S. newspapers before landing a job with the prestigious Los Angeles Times in 1987 — has used his Harry Bosch series to define the structure and tone of the modern-day police investigation. Through 20 Harry Bosch books, Connelly has brought to vivid life two unforgettable characters in the forms of homicide detective Harry Bosch and the City of Los Angeles, which always plays a starring role in any Bosch book.

Dark Sacred Night is not a Bosch book. Rather, the latest from Connelly is the first in what could be a new series. Judging by its entry on Amazon, Dark Sacred Night is a Ballard and Bosch novel. Book one, to be precise. The Ballard of the title is Renee Ballard, an LAPD detective who first appeared in Connelly’s 2017 The Late Show. Ballard was an immediate hit with Connelly’s fans. And for good reason. Ballard is a memorable, tough female character who speaks to many of the most topical issues of the day — such as, oh, the #metoo movement for starters.

Now, Connelly has brought the two together in Dark Sacred Night, a story that basically takes up where the last Bosch book ended. Readers of Two Kinds of Truth may remember one of the closing scenes of that book where Bosch promises to find the killer of the 15-year old daughter of a women he has just `rescued’ from opiod addiction and an unfortunate future. In Dark Sacred Night, Bosch picks up the case once more, and he’s not alone. The first few chapters of Dark Sacred Night bring Bosch and Ballard together as they agree to work on the case together. It’s a thrilling premise with much promise.

Connelly is a master of structure and tone and he doesn’t disappoint. Dark Sacred Night works best when it is unpacking the ins and outs of police work, the victories, the setbacks, the petty gripes among cops. Connelly’s writing works because it is in these details and in the granularity of police work and relationships that he makes the stories real and tangible and concrete. Ballard and Bosch are no proxies. They are living, breathing characters with hopes, dreams — and flaws.

When the emotional punch of Dark Sacred Night comes, it comes with force. Connelly has never shied away from making his characters live with the consequences of their actions, and this newest entry is no different. The relationship between Bosch and the mother of the 15-year old girl whose death he is investigating is one of the emotional anchors of the book, though Connelly has enough skill and experience to play the scenes with nuance and impact without overdoing it.

In the end, Dark Sacred Night is a hopeful book. It is a book about desire being fulfilled, about the good guys ultimately succeeding, about bringing justice to the wronged. But it’s also a book of its time. So, dark. And sometimes depressing. And maybe a bit of an emotional ride. Kind of like the news cycle every day in these `interesting’ times.

But, finally, Dark Sacred Night is a great read. Two great characters. A wonderful setting written with great skill. An author adept at plot and tone. What more could one ask? Especially from The Godfather.

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HAMMER TIME -- In Stores Now.

HAMMER TIME is available now on Kindle and other ebook platforms such as Kobo.

The new release is a short novella — just 140 or so pages — featuring a story from the early days on the Job for Boston homicide detective Jonas Brant.

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HAMMER TIME finds Brant in the throes of a police raid to take down Russian gangster Sergei Volodin. When the raid goes bad, Brant is enlisted by his captain to pick up the trail and to try and make right what went wrong the first time around.

During his pursuit of Volodin, Brant brushes up against some of the rougher elements of Boston’s drug trade. But it’s not all smooth sailing for Sergei Volodin either. The Russian finds himself caught between trying to establish his own dominance of the drug trade and his need to keep his suppliers happy. The suppliers, in this case, aren’t the forgiving type and Volodin is motivated to gain their trust without handing over too much of his empire.

HAMMER TIME is inspired by research I conducted into the Mexican drug cartels and the War on Drugs. It’s also partly inspired by the writings of Don Winslow and his excellent Cartel series of books. Winslow’s writing is terse, strong and evocative. I tried with HAMMER TIME to bring a bit of that to Jonas Brant.

I had a great deal of fun writing HAMMER TIME. Some projects seem to come easier than others, and this was the case with HAMMER TIME. Perhaps it was the length. Perhaps it was the pared back story. Whatever the reason, the book came together in a few months from start to finish.

For those familiar with Brant from THE KILL GENE, they will find a different kind of detective in HAMMER TIME. Brant is raw. He is rough around the edges. He still has much to learn. He’s also emotional and motivated.

If you enjoy HAMMER TIME, please consider leaving a review. Also, stay in touch with news on other releases and developments with Jonas Brant by joining my newsletter. I won’t spam you. Promise. You’ll hear about upcoming projects, but you’ll also read about books I’ve read and enjoyed, podcasts I’m listening to, and I’ll maybe even be publishing a few interviews with various celebrities and such. Check out this link to sign up. I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

To buy HAMMER TIME, check it out on Amazon or Kobo. Newsletter subscribers can download the first five chapters free by clicking here.

Happy reading, Phillip








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Ebooks are Here to Stay. The Publishing Industry Needs to Live With It.

I’m an unabashed and unashamed indie author. For those unfamiliar with the book industry, that means I’m on my own. I don’t have a big publisher behind me to help promote my books or arrange for editing and cover design. In the bad old days, indie was known as vanity publishing or self-publishing. There are many in the `traditional’ publishing industry who still look down their noses at indie authors. But here’s the thing, indie is here to stay thanks to the ebook — and the Kindle — it’s growing, and it’s only going to get bigger. Like the music and news industries, the Internet has been a huge disruptor to the book publishing industry. It’s never been a better time to be an author. Where once aspiring authors had to run the gauntlet of gatekeepers — agents, publishers and the like — today it’s possible for almost anyone to become a published author. All you really need is the patience to write a book and a little bit of technical savvy to get a book up on the Amazon Kindle store or any of a number of other ebook outlets. Amazon even offers a print on demand service, meaning indie authors can very easily get their books into the hands of readers who prefer physical copies.


So it’s relatively easy to publish, but there’s the rub. The indie industry has rightly been criticized to some extent because some of the early efforts were, well, crap. Poorly written. Poorly edited. Amateur covers. But, again, times are changing. Today, some of the most successful indie authors produce books that are indistinguishable from offerings from the big publishers. Don’t believe me? Check out the works of Mark Dawson, J.F. Penn or L.J.Ross. Like these authors, I do my best to make sure my books are of the highest quality and that means a fairly significant investment on my part. What does it involve? Besides the time I spend writing, I also must pay for development editing, copy editing, formatting, cover design, web hosting services, email services — for my newsletter — and various other expenses related to the design of logos and other promotional material.

Professional covers are one of the biggest investments, but to me it is also the single most important investment outside of spending the time to write the best book possible. I have been very fortunate in that I have found an outstanding cover designer who has been invaluable in helping bring my vision to fruition. It’s a funny thing. Often, months pass between the initial idea for a book, the drafting, the writing and the rewriting. But it isn’t until I see the cover that the book is `real.’ For The Kill Gene, Hammer Time, and the upcoming The Dragon’s Dollar, my covers have been designed by Jeroen ten Berge. I came to know Jeroen’s work after reading a blog post by author Barry Eisler who’s best known for the John Rain series of thrillers. Barry had been traditionally published but he was embarking on a hybrid career where some of his books were being published through Amazon’s thriller imprint while he was publishing others by himself. In his blog post, Barry mentioned that Jeroen had done some of his covers. I reached out to Jeroen and, well, the rest is history as they say.

For Hammer Time, a short novella based on an early case involving my main series character, Jonas Brant, I had wanted a cover that was simple and strong. But it also had to be different from the covers used in my series novels in order to distinguish it from the main series and to communicate to a prospective reader that Hammer Time is a slightly different type of book. The brief to Jeroen was actually pretty simple. I gave him one or two examples of a few other novels in the same genre, told him I wanted Hammer Time to be distinct from the other books in the Jonas Brant series, and set him to it. Within a few days, Jeroen came back with a cover that blew me away. In fact, I was so impressed with the cover that I rewrote one of the final scenes of the novella to kind of tip my hat to his artistry. Here’s what Jeroen had to say about the cover: “The cover shows a Boston Police badge, with a mourning band, as well as fresh blood droplets on it, lying on a grungy dirty wooden floor. It is immediately clear this is a story about a cop, someone (a cop) dies and this is where the story starts. I briefly considered mirroring the R in the title, to hint at a Russian element, but it felt contrived.”

Initially, I was going to publish Hammer Time only as an ebook and only for subscribers to my newsletter, but I was so happy with the cover and the way the novella turned out that I decided to do a paperback and make the book available on Amazon after a short time as an exclusive offer for subscribers. It was the right decision. The paperback is beautiful. The book is fairly short — just 160 pages or so — but it really is a beautiful thing to hold and admire. And it would make a wonderful stocking stuffer for Christmas!

For readers interested in some of the other tools I have in my indie author tool kit, I use Scrivener to write the first and second drafts. The manuscript is then converted into an almost final format using a piece of software called Vellum. Though I purchased Vellum for the final formatting, I’ve found it to be extremely useful to make a series of copy edits while at the same time being able to see what the book will look like when it’s published. For my website, I use Squarespace. For my newsletter, I’m using MailChimp. To help with free giveaways and the distribution of advanced reader copies, I use a service called BookFunnel.

As I said earlier, it’s a pretty good time to be an author given how open and democratic the process has become. But it’s also a long, lonely road. Often, there is little in the way of feedback and then when it comes, often in the form of very blunt, very terse reviews, it can be pretty hard to take. But that’s okay. Every reader will have their own experience with a book and that is as it should be. If a review is written with the intent to hurt, that’s tough. But if a review is written from the perspective of a reader wanting to share what she or he found problematic, disappointing, cliched, and THEN the reader points out ways they see could be improved, well that’s the best feedback. For someone to engage in the work and invest even a little bit of time —even if the feedback is negative — is very rewarding and invaluable for an author.

It’s just a few days to go before HAMMER TIME is on sale through the Kindle store. I hope readers enjoy this short novella. Through my newsletter in coming weeks, I will be offering up a few tidbits about the writing of HAMMER TIME, including a chapter that didn’t quite make it into the final draft. I’ll also be offering a free giveaway of a few paperback copies to celebrate the Kindle release. But more on that in coming days. Finally, I’m well into draft 2 of The Dragon’s Dollar. I have the cover but I won’t be releasing it until I’m closer to finishing the book. I’ll also be putting out an early peak at the first couple of chapters.

So lots to come and lots to keep me busy. I hope everyone is having a good fall. Remember, Michael Connelly’s Dark Sacred Night is released on Oct. 30. I have my ebook copy on pre-order at the moment. And consider signing up to my newsletter. I can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading, Phillip

 Hammer Time cover by Jeroen ten Berge. Notice the blood on the badge? There’s a nod to that image in one of the final chapters.

Hammer Time cover by Jeroen ten Berge. Notice the blood on the badge? There’s a nod to that image in one of the final chapters.







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Read Chapter 2 of Hammer Time here.

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Back Bay, Boston

Wednesday

Brant wakes early.

His alarm is set for 6 but he’s up two hours before. Since the shootout, sleep doesn’t come easy. 

He rolls over and strokes Maggie’s hair. His hand reaches out and caresses the fullness of her pregnant belly. Maggie responds with a murmur clouded by the fog of sleep.

“How’s junior?” he asks, addressing the comment to his wife’s distended baby bump.

No response.

“You gonna be a fighter like your mom?”

Maggie tugs at the covers.

“Our kid is practicing the high jump,” she says.

“Sorry to wake you, Mags.”

“I was half awake. Still can’t sleep?”

Brant frowns.

The truth is, he’s bothered. He’s used to being under fire. Iraq and Afghanistan. He’d seen serious action. Dodged a couple of bullets, too. Life was short back then. And brutal. But he’d persevered and learned to survive long enough to make it home safely. So, no, he wasn’t particularly perturbed by being shot at. But Murray was different. The ambush had unleashed something — a primal, hidden anxiety Brant had suppressed since his return. 

Shit.

Not good.

A burned out cop is no use at the detective’s table.

He stares at the ceiling as morning light creeps across the still-dark bedroom. The luminous dial on the alarm clock casts a silver glow over the room. He gives up on sleep, pulls the bed covers off and gets up. 

He steps into the bathroom and goes through the motions of his morning ritual. Shave. Shower. Get dressed.

Brant descends the stairs to the kitchen and prepares scrambled eggs and bacon.   

While the bacon spatters, he checks his overnight messages.

Brant has been on administrative leave since the shooting. Told to talk to no one except internal affairs and the department shrink. He has an appointment this morning at 10. A waste of time as far as he’s concerned, but what’s he going to do? Gareth Oliver won’t let him back until the shrink gives the all-clear and that’s not going to happen until Brant serves the requisite time in the chair spilling his guts. 

He needs to keep Gareth Oliver happy. Except nobody who knows the man actually uses that name. For those familiar with the captain, he’s Jolly Olly — an inside joke because Oliver is anything but jovial. 

Actually, Jolly isn’t all bad, Brant thinks. The man has his moments. Also, Brant knows something the other cops don’t. Brant’s years in the military had honed his instincts. He’d learned to suss out the chosen ones, and in this place and time, Gareth Oliver is a man on the rise. So if Jolly says spill your guts to the shrink, that’s exactly what Brant needs to do. Within limits.

His phone chirps. He reads the screen and shakes his head. A summons from Jolly. 

COME SEE ME AFTER THE DOC. ASAP.

Brant acknowledges and plugs the phone back into its charging cradle. He’s got a feeling he’ll need a full charge. It’s going to be that kind of day.

An hour later, he’s about to head out the door. He runs upstairs to find Maggie wrapped in the blankets. He leans over and kisses her on the forehead then strokes her belly.

“Be good to your mother,” he tells his unborn child. “I love you, kid.”

* * *

The appointment with the shrink lasts an hour. The talk is mostly about the shooting and its aftermath. 

“You’re not in the dog house,” the shrink says, his voice betraying a lack of confidence.

“Feels that way,” Brant says.

The shrink chews on the end of his pen, a habit Brant had noticed in their first session. 

“You’ve had time to think about what happened. Would you do anything differently?”

Brant furrows his brow and considers the question. Anthony Gilbrand is mid-forties and bookish. Big round glasses, tweed jacket with patches, corduroy trousers. The man is a walking cliche, the tortured, misunderstood academic who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else.

Gilbrand shifts his weight in his oversized armchair.

“Well?”

“You mean could I have done anything that wouldn’t have gotten Glenn Murray killed?”

“That’s not what I said,” Gilbrand says, brandishing the chewed end of his pen like a sword. 

“But that’s what you meant.”

“Let’s assume that’s what I was asking.”

Brant processes the request for a second time.

“The intel was good. Murray knew what he was getting into. Shit happens.”

Gilbrand frowns. “That seems a bit harsh. What are your feelings about Mr. Murray? You served in the military and I know you saw action. I’m assuming you’ve experienced combat losses before.”

Brant nods. Gilbrand had hit his mark.

“Couple times in Afghanistan. There was this one time, a buddy of mine….”

Brant’s voice trails off. The story remains untold as he begins to shut down. Gilbrand looks at him sympathetically, but the silence lingers.

“Been sleeping?”

Brant shrugs.

“Like crap. I’m tired…but my body can’t relax.”

Gilbrand sucks on the end of his pen. “I’d like you to think for a moment. Have you experienced any moments of heightened anxiety, any time when you’ve felt like you’re out of control?”

Brant considers the question.

“Not really.”

“Are you sure? Either since your return from Afghanistan or after Lieutenant Murray’s death?”

Brant rejects the thought a second time.

“How are you with tight spaces? The subway or a crowded street car?”

“There was an incident a few days after the shooting. I was on the Green Line to Kenmore when my heart rate shot through the roof. And the thing is, I had this taste in my mouth. Some weird metallic taste. Never had it before, never had it again.”

Gilbrand smiles weakly.

“The shooting is triggering unpleasant memories of your time in Afghanistan. That metallic taste, some studies suggest it may be a minor bleeding of the gums brought on by the heightened state of anxiety. That anxiety may also be why you can’t sleep. We need to quiet your mind.” 

“The captain’s not letting me back so what’s the point?“

”I can talk to the captain. He’s more sympathetic than you realize.”

Brant frowns. He shifts his focus.

”How’s the kid?”

Brant picks up a framed photograph sitting on an end table. In the picture, Gilbrand has placed his arm around the shoulders of a young man with doughy, soft academic features. 

“We’re not here to discuss me,” the shrink says as he takes the frame from Brant. “And you’re avoiding the subject.”

“We both know this is a futile exercise. Jolly’s using what happened with Murray to keep me out of the department and away from the dick table.”

“Assuming that’s true, why would the captain want you here with me?”

“I don’t know? Check the boxes maybe. Build a paper trail.”

“You’re being paranoid. The captain is genuinely concerned about your well-being. The department looks after its own, Detective Brant.  What is it you REALLY want? You’re here speaking to me now. I’m assuming you want something.” 

Brant cocks an eyebrow. He hadn’t expected the question.

“What do I want? I want to catch the bad guys, I want to make the world a safer place for our kids…for your son and for my baby. I want a level playing field. I want good things to happen to good people. I want to make sure the bad guys in this world get what they deserve.”

Gilbrand pulls out a folder and begins flipping through its pages.

“And who are the bad guys?”

“You know who I mean, doc.”

“No I don’t. Who is it you’re really talking about? Pimps, drug pushers, car thieves?”

“Some,” Brant says without pause. 

“You don’t say that with much conviction.”

Brant places his hands on his knees and leans closer to Gilbrand. The shrink looks back at him with burning eyes.

“You want to know who the real bad guys are, doc?”

“I do.”

Brant leans back as he prepares his fusillade. Anger builds within him.

“I’ve been in this department almost six years. The bad guys aren’t the poor black kids on the corner slinging dope or the whores selling their junk. They’re doing what they can to get by, to work a system that’s stacked against them from the start. The real bad guys are the cocksuckers at the top. They’re the money men who never worked a real job in their lives, the Harvard-educated lawyers who won the life lottery by being born into wealth, the CEOs and the public relations managers, the lobbyists and the political consultants who all have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Those are the real bad guys and they’re the ones I’m going to take down.”

Gilbrand closes the file.

“You’re a man with a mission.”

“You could say that.”

Gilbrand chews the end of his pen.

“The folks you’re talking about, they don’t give up their wealth and power without a fight.”

Brant shrugs.

“Yeah, I’m counting on that.”

“What about Sergei Volodin? Where does he fit?”

“He’s my white whale, doc.”

“And you’re who? Captain Ahab?”

“If it fits, sure.”

Gilbrand shakes his head.

“I just have one more question for today. You said your mission is to catch the bad guys. How does catching Volodin help you bring down the people you spoke about?”

Brant’s eyes twinkled with energy.

“Volodin’s a thug and a beast. He’s a shark. But you know, the thing about sharks is they’re feeders. They feed on whatever floats their way. They’re part of the food chain. I take out Volodin, I disrupt that chain. Who knows what happens then, right?”

Gilbrand takes out a pad, writes a note and hands Brant the piece of paper.

“Next time we meet, I’ll have a few names of programs that I think will help you. I have some ideas but I want to make a few calls first so we can get you the right help.”

“Thanks, doc, but I don’t want a prescription.”

Gilbrand waves away Brant’s protest.

“Take it. At least for now.”

Brant shoves the script into his pocket and stands to leave. 

When he’s in the waiting room outside Gilbrand’s office, he reaches into his pocket and retrieves the prescription. He  reads the tight, precise script.

“Don’t end up at the bottom of the sea, Captain Ahab.”

Brant folds and pockets the note.


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Brant is back - Hammer Time is available now for pre-order.

Back in 2015, after I published the first book to feature Boston homicide detective Jonas Brant, I began work on the second in the series. That book now has a title — The Dragon’s Dollar — but it is still at the draft stage. In the meantime, I wanted to write something a little bit different, something that would adopt a tighter, grittier style that I could release as a quick read. Hence, Hammer Time.

Anyone familiar with Brant’s first outing in The Kill Gene will find a different Jonas Brant in the new novella. Hammer Time takes place in 2009 at a time when Brant is still getting his feet under the desk so to speak and still trying to sort out what kind of cop (and man) he wants to be. This is Brant before the death of his wife and the birth of his son. And it’s also a Brant much younger than he appears in The Kill Gene. Age has a way of mellowing us all, and so it does also for fictional characters. The Jonas Brant in Hammer Time is younger, quicker to action, a bit rough around the edges, and much more inexperienced.

With Hammer Time, I also wanted to spend a bit more time with Sergei Volodin, the Russian who featured so prominently in The Kill Gene. One of the defining features of any good villain in my mind is nuance and shades of gray. So the Sergei Volodin in Hammer Time is all of that and more. His motivation is clear, as are his methods and his end-goal.

I hope readers of Hammer Time enjoy the story. But beware, just a few notes. To give Hammer Time a distinctive feel compared with the other books in the series, I used present tense. The novella is also slightly more graphic than The Kill Gene. Just a word of warning so there are no surprises.

Hammer Time is available free for a limited time to subscribers of my mailing list. You can get the book here. The novella is up for pre-order now on Amazon and will be available to buy on Nov. 2 if you’d rather not become a newsletter subscriber.

And a final note on Hammer Time. The cover is by Jeroen ten Berge. I’ll be posting in the next few days with details on the process behind coming up with the cover. I think it’s excellent and extremely evocative of the story. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave a comment.

 A short novella from Brant’s early days on the Job.

A short novella from Brant’s early days on the Job.

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