Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Remembering My First Book Signing


I lost my book signing virginity in a crowded Toulouse bookstore on a warm Saturday afternoon.

Placed at a table next to the cash register in my new “business casual" suit I had a view on the comings and goings of the store’s customers and would-be buyers of ‘The Perfectionist’ strolling past me during what was a busy day for the bookstore. I sat behind little piles of my book, pen clenched in my sweaty hand, smiling brightly at those who made eye contact with me. Some even dared small-talk, take one of the flyers I’d created, or pick up a copy of the book, flick through the pages, read the back cover blurb. Others would look down and get a good mental snapshot of me, the well-dressed author who writes about psychopaths and disgusting serial killers when he should be locked up somewhere and hidden from the general public.

Okay, I admit, that’s a bit harsh. That’s not exactly how it went down.

The initial idea of hosting a book signing was terrifying, like throwing a party and being certain no one will come, and then eventually sitting there alone, looking lost, scared and stupid. Any script I thought I’d prepared in my mind simply went out the window. In fact it turned out that I didn’t see the four-and-a-half hours of the book signing go by.

True, I was playing on home turf and I’d engaged in some pretty frequent pre-event promotion: My girlfriend was never very far, friends made appearances and kept the conversations flowing, and the store workers sometimes popped by to check on how I was doing. But I had no idea what kind of public turnout to expect.

Rather extraordinarily, total strangers did actually engage in conversation with me, and that I have to say was a pleasing experience. The event was relaxed, spontaneous and I loved the questions. It’s a great thing to sit in a bookstore for 4.5 hours among people who love to read and it’s a wonderful surprise to be the centerpiece of attention, a magnet of focus somehow attracting people of all ages and inexplicably making them walk over to the table. I got a huge kick out of obtaining reactions/connections with these people I’d never met before – I suppose it beats looking like a depressed vulture waiting for something to die at my feet.

After a short while I wasn’t afraid to smile cheerfully and greet customers. I engaged some of them in conversation: "This is my new book. It's about... Do you read crime fiction? … Oh and by the way it’s in English…" The answers are generally negative, but it can still be a good time to hand them the promotional flyer. You never know, they may pass it on to others who are interested. I tried to make them feel comfortable no matter how interested they were. My book may not have been their cup of tea but I might be remembered regardless. No act of kindness is ever wasted.

Then the unbelievable happened and one of those strangers bought a copy of the book. That act alone gave me the confidence to look around and talk to people more. And rather mysteriously, that prompted the sale of even more books. There was even an old lady who’d purchased the book in the store a few days prior to the signing and came back because she knew I’d be there. Safe to say, at that moment in time my self-esteem level was pretty much at its apex, I was fully embracing my fifteen minutes of fame, and I laughed at that myth about book signings not making money.

Each time I signed a book, I had fun, it felt good, it was meaningful and I had the opportunity to begin sharing my story with new people. I hope I was able to let my passion shine through.
I realized that what is most important at a book signing isn't to sell your books, it's to sell yourself. My face and my name were in front of the reading public, and that's the best promotion you can get.


 
 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Excerpt from 'The Perfectionist' - Chapter 10: Bach's Suite for Orchestra, No. 3, in D Major and some gruesome pictures

Only 2 weeks left until my first book signing event in Toulouse.

Here's a new excerpt from 'The Perfectionist', a chunk from Chapter 10. Enjoy!


***


Night had fallen on Chicago. The regular Saturday evening hustle and bustle which engulfed Lincoln Park and its neighborhood had started to fade. Young families left the park. Yuppies were preparing for the night out. Happy children could be heard on their way back from the zoo. On Lincoln Avenue, occasional sounds of police car sirens and taxis honking accompanied the noisy talking and laughter of the foot traffic. In tandem, they filled the surprisingly warm late-April air, echoing all the way to the rooftops.

Such noises, however, didn’t make their way past the double-glazed and fortified windows of Gerry Stokes’s apartment, towering from the fourth floor on the street below.

The lights were on. They’d been on all day.

The apartment was half-buried in paper, stacks of newspapers and printed out documents. Paperwork, old and new, was piled up in corners of rooms, or scattered haphazardly on tops of furniture. Magazines and cardboard boxes occupied large spaces in the living room and in the kitchen. The kitchen sink was full of a week's worth of dirty dishes and scummy coffee mugs.

Among all the chaos, a tired Stokes had emptied his couch, turned it into a makeshift office. His laptop, placed on his knees, was overheating. He was oblivious to the switched-on TV facing him. It showed footage of the suspect apprehended in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The sound had been muted. At times he glanced at the screen passively, immune to the horror on display.

Another sound. Johann Sebastian Bach. The chords gradually filled the room after Stokes switched on his IPod with a remote control. He closed his laptop and placed it next to him. He spread his arms on the cushioned rail of the couch, and tilted his head upwards, stared at the ceiling. He wanted to absorb the early harmonious build-up of Bach's Suite for Orchestra, No. 3, in D Major.

Chords continued in an emotional crescendo in the overture. Stokes lowered his gaze and tilted his head to the wall separating his bedroom from the rest of the apartment. He’d redecorated it with a map of America which nearly filled the entire wall. Pinned on the map were small plastic red and gray flags with strings linking most of them together. On the borders of this giant map were a large number of newspaper pictures and Missing Persons database print outs. Pictures of the disappeared and deceased. A whole wall of death. Jane and John Does. Murder victims. Ghosts haunting his life.

He closed his eyes in a bid to forget the gruesomeness of it all. A desperate and naïve attempt to reach temporary salvation. He concentrated hard on Bach's Suite, soaked it all in, head bobbing slowly. He’d learned to appreciate and love the music. It bordered on perfection. He found refuge in the pleasant vibes. They didn't take him all the way to the Zimmermann Coffee House in Leipzig's Cather-Strasse, but it was enough to calm his thoughts for a while.

Bach's overture came to an end. Stokes switched off the IPod and stared at the TV screen as if it were a tool to suck him back into reality. The news channel had moved onto another matter. An FBI representative was being interviewed by a reporter. The man, in his late-forties, seemed to carry all the weight of the world. He spoke frantically in turn at the reporter and at the camera; his serious gaze suggesting urgency, seeking immediate attention from the audience.

Stokes flicked the sound back on in time to catch the end of the interview.

A banner at the bottom of the screen indicated the FBI agent's name, Elliot Keppler. He addressed the camera again, serious as a heart attack, requesting members of the public to come forward with any witness accounts as soon as possible. The FBI, he said, was counting on the citizens to help bring the perpetrator to justice.

The leads were scarce, but the motivation seemed high, thought Stokes.

The camera turned to the female reporter. She informed her TV audience that law enforcement was firing on all cylinders to catch who they suspected to be a repeat killer or killers. She signed off by stating her name, Heather Mills, and saying she was reporting live from Sun Valley, California, for CBS2/KCAL9, the Los Angeles branch of CBS. The broadcast ended.

Stokes was intrigued. The name Keppler rang a bell. He’d seen it before. Something he’d read recently.

He grabbed his laptop and entered the FBI agent’s name into the search engine.

Stokes had become a keen observer and reader of the daily news with a few specializations: homicide, violent deaths, abductions, mysterious disappearances. Every evening he searched the net and read as many credible sources as possible to find out about new cases all over the nation. He never ceased to be amazed by the magnitude of the new horrors he encountered. Sun Valley, California, was only one of multiple locations to have witnessed human tragedy in recent times. It sickened him.

He checked his internet history and retrieved the articles he’d read in the past few weeks. He had archived a whole list of local and national press reports, spanning over the past ten days. Many cited Keppler.

Then it all came back to Stokes. Keppler had worked on a previous case, one in which the body of a man in his early twenties was found in the basement of an empty house in San Bernardino, California, on the morning of April 10, 2013, by a group of junkie squatters. The tweakers had alerted the authorities, who arrived shortly afterwards. The police sealed off the house and tried to set up a roadblock, but were too late. Reporters had tuned into police radio dispatch frequencies and were quick to send film crews.

Although the police managed to prevent the cameras from penetrating the crime scene, a rookie blue was caught on camera vomiting in the house’s front yard. A journalist managed to get a statement from the young cop, who, feeling overwhelmed by the crime scene, hadn’t realized he was dealing with a member of the press.

‘I can’t fucking believe it. There was fucking blood everywhere. They slit his throat and jerked his tongue out from the wound!’ were his words.

By midday, the news of the killing had hit the wires, and a second wave of TV crews flocked to the house. They moved like flies on dog shit.

It was out there. Somebody had been executed the Colombian necktie way.

Obviously without pictures or footage of the victim, reporters had to be creative. For the very same evening CBS had managed to gather a panel of experts. Psychologists, ex-LAPD anti-gang squad members, even a writer who’d done research on Colombian drug lords. Although the experts had diverging opinions with regard to the origins of the Colombian necktie, they all seemed to agree that the perpetrator would likely be a drug-pushing gangbanger, using this method of assassination as a means to scare and intimidate whoever was associated with the victim.

The police departments of Los Angeles and San Bernardino gave a press conference the following day. Little information leaked out, and the victim’s identity was still unknown. This fact alone had caught Stokes’s attention. Reporters, however, discovered that the FBI was monitoring the situation closely due to the particularly gruesome nature of the crime.

I.D. was eventually confirmed on April 14. The victim, Jesus Reyes, was aged twenty-two, worked as a mechanic, and was a resident of Enterprise, Nevada. He’d been reported missing on April 2.
Stokes paused for a few seconds, got up from the couch, and walked to the map. He’d placed gray flags on Enterprise and on San Bernardino and linked them with some string.

The stories on the Reyes murder faded away for the next couple of days, only to be picked up again and given extra dimension on April 17, when a second Colombian necktie murder victim was found in Sun Valley. The corpse was discovered in a junk yard.

I.D. for the second victim was quickly confirmed during the course of the day. The victim’s name was Maximiliano Gutierrez. Gutierrez was twenty-four years old and worked as a clerk at a gas station in Henderson, Nevada, before disappearing on April 4.

Although LAPD had local gangs as the focal points of their investigation, it was decided that the FBI work on the case more actively, seriously consider non-gang motivations, and look at the case as a matter of either spree killing, or even serial killing. After all there was more than one murder victim and there had been, further to coroner examination, enough downtime between both murders.

The LAPD and the SBPD jointly organized a second press conference with the FBI, early on April 18. Elliot Keppler had been mentioned from that point onward as the agent representing the FBI and the man in charge of the investigation.

Stokes considered the map again. Gray flags were also placed on Henderson and Sun Valley. He crouched to the floor and picked up his bundle of string, snapped a bit off, and hooked the string between both flags.

He knew he’d be spending all night cross-checking the facts in both murders. It was necessary. He had to be sure they were connected before changing the gray flags with red ones. He had a strong hunch they were.

Either the killer had spent a few days in the Las Vegas area and dumped both bodies north of Los Angeles – that would mean a car trunk would not have been sufficient - or he had been travelling back and forth. In either case, he’d pulled it off again. This time though, Stokes wondered about the victims and how fast it’d been to identify them. Why was this? Why run such a risk? Stokes was puzzled.

The killer had proved himself to be cocky in the past. He’d gotten accustomed to freely roaming around the country and never being caught for his crimes. Maybe he was getting older and couldn’t cope with all the hassle of covering up his tracks anymore? In that light, why maintain the complications? Maybe he was getting sloppy? Or was he just plain confident that the police would never be able to trace it all back to him?

Stokes fetched a Rolling Rock from the refrigerator, pressed the cool bottle against his forehead. The cold bite was comforting. He then returned to his laptop and opened up a document in which he planned to write down all the new thoughts and ideas he had with regard to the killing spree. He quickly typed his latest angles of thought and wrote a few notes on the more recent facts concerning Maximiliano Gutierrez, while taking swigs of his beer.

Over the past few years Stokes had accumulated an impressive amount of information, both factual and hypothetical. He had a full library of documented cold cases, reconstituted police files, and additional data to the publicly-available Missing Persons files. He’d spent time digging, and digging deep. He’d established a chronology of a likely killing spree, which spanned over years, prior and posterior the Cecilia Åkerblom and Ted Callaway cases. The map on the wall was a testimony to that. Interestingly, he’d also organized his information in a manner that provided him with a substantial backbone to a narrative. He’d written text here and there. He was already at 200,000 words and there were still gaps to fill. There were several loopholes in the chain of events, uncertainties he still needed to iron out, and his conclusion was still unclear. He’d also compiled a synopsis and a tentative title. It was his novel, the fruit of nearly three years of hard labor.

The two recent Colombian necktie cases, if his research linked them to the rest, were perhaps the breakthrough he was looking for. For Stokes the killer had stopped his deadly spree in 2005. Now with these two new cases, the killer was surely stalking his next victim and would be seeking to improve his surgical performances with a better necktie. If not, then he’d have achieved perfection with Gutierrez, and would be looking to carry out another method of execution. It would be consistent with his killer’s pattern.

Stokes never ceased to be both shocked and amazed by the killer as the man had been so imaginative and innovative over the years. In some strange way Stokes kind of admired the guy. He was out there somewhere, at large. His track record and resulting body count was impressive, even more so with the nation unaware of what he was up to for the past twenty-plus years. But one person would eventually disclose this killer to the world. And that person would be Stokes.

He put the bottle to his lips, sipped some more beer, felt triumphant.

He had the documentary evidence. He’d made the connections between the disappearances and the murders. He’d established the guy’s patterns. Now he needed a name. He’d find a publisher for his novel who would want to go to press quickly and cash in on the scoop. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in a book called Tracking America’s Greatest Serial Killer?

Sure, Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, confessed to the murders of seventy-one people; Ted Bundy killed thirty-five or thirty-six; and John Wayne Gacy wasn’t far behind; but Stokes’s killer had just claimed his eighteenth and nineteenth victims. That placed him above crazies like Jeffrey Dahmer, Robert Hansen, and Richard Ramirez.

Interestingly, Stokes’s killer had been stalking in different killing zones over the years and wasn’t confined to a single sector. He operated interstate. For the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, most serial killers have very defined geographic areas of operation. They conduct their killings within comfort zones that are often defined by an anchor point, such as their place of residence, their employment, or residence of a relative. Serial murderers will, at times, spiral their activities outside of their comfort zone, when their confidence has grown through experience or to avoid detection. However, still according to the FBI, very few serial murderers travel interstate to kill.

Stokes had spent considerable time studying the FBI’s criminal profiling theories and didn’t necessarily agree with their categorization of serial killers. Nonetheless, he knew his killer conformed to the FBI idea that a serial murderer operating outside his comfort zone was either an itinerant individual who moves from place to place, or a homeless, transient person. Stokes was of the opinion that his killer’s employment lent itself to interstate travel. But there were many jobs in that category. There were truck drivers, salesmen, military service, even clowns working for fucking travelling circuses, for Christ’s sake… The list was long.

One thing was certain. His interstate killer definitely had a travelling lifestyle, which provided him with many comfort zones in which to operate. He also had a vehicle, most likely a discreet utility vehicle, enabling him to abduct victims and exit locations rapidly and comfortably.

His killer simply defied the odds.

Stokes raised his arms behind his head and yawned. He accidentally knocked over his beer bottle, dumping it all over a file on the floor. ‘Goddammit!’ he shouted.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Excerpt from 'The Perfectionist' - Chapter 1: Meet Gerry Stokes

Only 5 weeks left until my first book signing event in Toulouse.

In the run-up to the event, a few excerpts from 'The Perfectionist' will be published on my website - http://simongduke.blogspot.com. Today, you get the chance to read Chapter 1.




Chapter 1
Clarion, Iowa - February 2, 1988.
 
The fog came rolling in from the fields, closing in, and shutting out the world. Impenetrable and hostile like the eerie silence engulfing the town. An opaque layer of frost covered front lawns and rooftops, gutters bent under the weight of crystal daggers. Trees shimmered pale gray, and parked cars had turned into sculptures.

Cautiously breaking through the dense white mass of dawn fog, a noisy GMC Sierra pick-up drove slowly down Madison Avenue. The fog swirled in the light of the headlamps in a thick flow of white dust, and the truck’s windshield wipers painfully scratched away at the thin but stubbornly resistant sheet of ice. A minute later, the Sierra’s driver hit the brakes and pulled up to the curb beside the Wright County Sheriff’s Office, the only source of light in the deserted street.

Gerry Stokes cut the engine and stepped out of his vehicle. He looked around. Fog and silence. The merciless cold of the icy blasts hit him hard. Surprised by how cool it was, he shivered and zipped up his coat. Rubbing his hands, he walked energetically towards the sheriff’s office. Stokes knocked and entered without waiting for an answer. Despite the early hour he knew he was expected.

Two men he knew well were sitting in an office near the entrance. Both turned to look at him. They were clutching coffee mugs, inhaling the hot brew’s fumes as if their lives depended on it. They seemed nervous, preoccupied, stricken by some intangible menace.  

The elder of the two, Sheriff Dwayne Clanton – a gray-haired and weary man, who was counting the days until his retirement - waved slowly at Stokes and pointed to a spare chair in the corner of the room. As Stokes grabbed the chair and placed it nearer the Sheriff’s desk, he couldn’t help noticing how tired the man looked. His eyes were bloodshot, with dark circles, surely nicotine-induced. He was badly-shaven and his uniform was creased and scruffy. Stokes was unaccustomed to seeing Clanton in such a neglected state.

‘Sheriff… Earl. Morning to you both… Can you tell me what’s going on?’ Stokes asked.

‘Take a seat!’ Earl DeVries, Stokes’s Editor-in-Chief, ordered.

‘Seriously, guys. You’re making me nervous.’

‘We got a situation here, Gerry. Dwayne’s going to give you the lowdown,’ DeVries said.

Dwayne Clanton glared at Stokes before gulping some more coffee.

‘It’s a fresh pot. You want some, Gerry?’ he asked, wiping his mouth with his shirt cuff.

‘I’m fine, thanks.’

‘I need your help.’ He turned to DeVries. ‘Both of you. I got a dead man. Found him a couple of days ago in one of Jim Hardy’s corn fields bordering Hancock Avenue, right near Eagle Grove. Coroner tells me he’s been dead for at least a week. There was no way to I.D. him at the scene and I still haven’t been able to put a name on the stiff. We reckon he could be in his sixties. Deputy Hobbs and I looked through all the Missing Persons reports. We cross-checked with the sheriff’s offices of Humboldt, Webster, Hamilton, Hardin, and Franklin counties. We got nobody matching the description.’

‘Well if he’s not a local, he could be from just about anywhere,’ Stokes said. ‘Have you considered casting the net to all counties or state-wide?’

‘Dwayne wants to keep this contained. He doesn’t want to spark a panic wave in Clarion,’ DeVries interjected, brushing off Stokes’s remark.

‘It’s the first stiff I’ve had for a long time,’ Clanton added. ‘I don’t want townsfolk going haywire, thinking we got a killer on the loose. I can’t imagine the shit-load of pressure I’d be under if this goes public.’

‘Then why request our help?’ Stokes asked.

‘Well, Earl and I go way back. Don’t we Earl?’

DeVries nodded. ‘I’ve been tipping the Wright County Monitor for years and I’ve never shunned away from making comments.’

‘Dwayne, you don’t need to justify yourself to Gerry,’ DeVries said. ‘He’s still junior and learning the tricks of the trade.’

DeVries stared at Stokes for a while; his dark eyes questioning his employee’s amateurism, suggesting he keep his mouth shut. Stokes remained unfazed.

Looking back at Clanton, he said, ‘Dwayne, if you need a favor, you know you can count on us.’
Clanton seemed relieved. ‘Thanks Earl. Appreciated.’

He pressed the coffee mug to his lips again and sipped some more.

‘I was telling Earl that I kept you guys out of the loop because I didn’t want any media coverage until I was sure about what I’d be dealing with. Now I’ve got to the point where I need some assistance from the public.’

Stokes nodded out of politeness, hiding his frustration that they were already a few days behind on a murder story.

‘Gerry, I need you to go see Blake Anderson,’ Clanton resumed. ‘He’s got the stiff in cold storage. He’s only going to keep our John Doe there until tomorrow. Afterwards we’re going to have to get the funeral home involved. He’s not going to need a full-sized casket, though.’

Stokes waited for the explanation. As it wasn’t coming he steered his gaze to DeVries, who wasn’t acting surprised. The Sheriff waited for his cue to continue.

‘What do you mean?’ Stokes asked.

‘Well Gerry, we ain’t got a body. All we got is a hacked-off head.’

Taken aback Stokes felt shivers down his spine. He finally realized why Clanton was so worked up and why DeVries was showing support for the old man. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

‘Just a head, you say. That’s fucking sick!’ Stokes said.

‘In my entire career in law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything so crazy. Clarion has had its fair share of homicides under my tenure. Mainly husbands beating up their wives too much or the occasional harvest accidents, but this is something else. This is cold-blooded fucked-up shit, young man!’ Clanton said, rubbing his chin anxiously. ‘Jim Hardy found the head when out checking the frost damage on his crop. First he thought it was some kind of sick prank. Then he realized it wasn’t and lost his balance, tripped over, crashed to the ground. That’s what he told me. Anyhows, Jim hurried home and called me. So I got off my ass and drove there like a bat out of hell. Jim was waiting for me, shaking and clutching his rifle. He led me to the head, right in the middle of the field. It was there on the ground. Eyes shut. Bruised and smashed up. The teeth had been jerked out. There was dirt all over. It seemed like the guy had been buried and only the head was above ground. I took Hardy’s rifle, pressed it against the earth right next to the head. Ground was solid. I then gently touched the head with the rifle’s butt. And it fucking rolled over.’

Clanton took a deep breath. He’d been through this only minutes before with DeVries, yet his tale seemed to frighten him as if he were physically reliving the experience.

‘I told Jim to go home, stay put and mention this to nobody. I surveyed the scene for a few more minutes. Then I returned to the car and radioed Deputy Hobbs for assistance. Franklin arrived with all the gear I’d asked him to bring. We sealed off the crime scene, looked around for the body or any trace of evidence, but found nothing. Later Hobbs returned to town, picked up Dr. Anderson, and brought him back for an expert opinion. After a preliminary inspection he told us it was likely that the head had been there for a few days and the cold weather had already inflicted a lot of damage. The only bright spot was that the cold had helped slow down the head’s deterioration. We decided to place the head in a bag and take it back to town. It’s been at Blake Anderson’s clinic since.’

‘Dwayne wants us to run a short article in tomorrow’s edition in which we’ll include a picture of the head,’ DeVries said.

‘What about the panic factor? I thought this needed to be contained,’ Stokes replied.

‘Well this is where we do a favor for Dwayne. Blake Anderson has cleaned the head. He’s camouflaged the bruises, used some make-up and whatnot. He’s also stitched the head temporarily to another corpse retrieved from the county morgue, and worked his magic again to hide the neck level stitches as much as possible,’ DeVries continued.

‘I’ve seen the end result. It’s real Dr. Frankenstein crazy shit!’ Clanton said.

‘Anyhow I need you to go see Blake Anderson, take the best headshots you can. No pun intended, Gerry. And we’ll make sure our dead guy looks as much alive as possible. Hopefully with the picture being black and white, the readers won’t notice what we did,’ DeVries said.

‘Don’t think I’ll manage anything better than a headshot,’ Stokes interjected.

DeVries seemed oblivious to the joke. ‘Just take care of the article. We’re just going to say that the Sheriff’s Office is looking for this man. The guy may be able to help in an ongoing investigation. We’ll add a phone number. Who knows? Maybe some good Samaritan might have some information to share.’

Sheriff Clanton nodded approvingly. ‘Yeah, maybe it’ll help us catch the sonofabitch who did this?’ he said, smiling for the first time.

Stokes struck back angrily, ‘Sheriff. With all due respect, I think the sonofabitch who did this is long gone by now. He’s got a week’s head-start and you’ve been wasting time by not involving the state police or the media. And all that for the sake of not frightening the people of Clarion… I don’t buy it Sheriff. It seems like this case if way above your head and you are too old and proud to admit it!’

‘Shut the fuck up, Gerry!’ DeVries hollered. ‘You’ve got no idea what’s at stake here. Covering a murder story, sure, it’ll sell a few papers. It’ll get us some attention from TV crews in Des Moines. We’ll be local heroes. We’ll get the spotlight for a day, maybe two. But when the dust settles, we’ll return to our normal state of anonymity. The people of Clarion will be insecure. They’ll hate us for not reporting the facts earlier. And Dwayne, well he might just end up becoming the laughing stock of Iowa. There’s no way in hell we’re going to let that happen.’

‘But Earl…’

‘No buts, you arrogant little prick! Just do what you’re told. I knew I’d made a mistake in hiring you. You simply don’t get it, do you? We run a tight ship here in Clarion, and we’ve got no room for recklessness. You’ve got ambition to report big murder stories? That’s fine, but you’re keeping your mouth shut on this one. Do I make myself clear?’

Stokes hesitated, before replying a feeble ‘Yes, Earl.’

‘Guys. Keep this bitchin’ for later. You got jobs to do,’ Clanton said. ‘Oh, and Earl, I want to see that article before you run it.’

‘Sure. Will do, Dwayne,’ DeVries answered, bobbing his head like an obedient dog.


**
 
Where to buy 'The Perfectionist'
 

Amazon.com (Paperback price $9.99 / Kindle price $3.25): http://www.amazon.com/The-Perfectionist-Simon-Duke/dp/1517648491






Smashwords ebook (Price $2.99): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/585299


- FNAC.com ebook (prix €2.68): http://www4.fnac.com/livre-numerique/a9184739/Simon-Duke-The-Perfectionist#FORMAT=ePub

Monday, 9 May 2016

Author Event: Book signing - Librairie Privat (Toulouse, 17 September 2016)

Simon Duke, the author of 'The Perfectionist', will be in Toulouse on September 17, 2016 for a book signing event at Librairie Privat.

Time: 3pm onwards.

Venue: Librairie Privat, 14 rue des Arts 31000 Toulouse

http://www.librairieprivat.com/agenda.php?agenda=4579&date=20160917#356076


 



Thursday, 17 March 2016

Our Battle

Below is my entry for the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook Short Story Competition 2016 (theme: ageing): ‘Our Battle'. I wrote this short story in November 2015.

Our Battle

By Simon Duke


I don't know why but my wife thinks she lives across the street.
She walks up to me, determination and purpose evident in her pace, and points at the house the other side of the street. 'I've got to go there,' she says.

'No you don't. That's Keith Robertson's house,' I reply as I hit the mute button on the TV remote control, putting a sudden halt to John Motson's commentary. Man U and Liverpool are level at 1-1.

Clearly having none of it, my wife continues, 'No, I live there.'

For drama's sake, she looks me down with fiery and unforgiving eyes. She's suspicious and somewhat austere. The football match goes on in silence.

'No, you don't live there,' I say, turning my gaze away from the screen for the first time.

'I want to go home!' she hollers.

'But you are home, Judy, darling.'

She turns on her heel and storms across the living-room, yanks nervously at the front door handle.
I don't have enough time to rise from the armchair and intervene; the door is wide open and she's already halfway across the dimly-lit street.

I stand up and gaze at her from the window as she continues her furious march toward our neighbour's house. I then watch her ring the bell. She waits for the door to open, somewhat awkward in her posture.

A minute or so later she walks back and I come to meet her on the porch. Her disappointment is almost tangible. She says to me, 'There's nobody home.'

I do my best to speak clearly and naturally in a warm and calm voice. 'Where did you go?'

'I went home,' she says earnestly, in her usual animated tone.

'But this is your home', I insist, hoping I don't hurt her feelings.

She walks inside briskly, brushes past me, nearly bumping into me in the process.

'I'll make supper,' I say while shutting the front door and turning the key in the lock.

She turns around and looks at me with inquisitive yet softer eyes. 'Don't leave me alone,' she pleads.

It's better not to argue with her and change the subject. I've come to the realisation that it's OK to let delusions and misstatements go.

'Perhaps you could lay the table, darling?'

A cue. A purpose. A new challenge.

Judy says nothing. She heads for the kitchen, full sail ahead.

I search for the remote control to turn the TV off but am momentarily distracted by the game. Man U are a goal ahead. 2-1. Rooney must've scored while I was watching Judy from the window. Liverpool have a corner kick and about another half-hour to draw.

I eventually switch off and join Judy in the kitchen. To my surprise, she is pacing around aimlessly, looking disoriented. She is opening cupboards and shutting them for no apparent reason.

'What are you doing, darling?' I say, warm and calm again.

'Nothing. I…' The rest of what she says is incomprehensible. Utter gibberish. None of the words make sense or are real words at all. She's talking to herself, feeling confused and panicked.

'Can you grab us two plates, darling?'

A cue. A purpose. A new challenge.

She reaches for not two but all six plates in the cupboard above the sink. She accidentally knocks over a glass into the sink with her elbow. I hear it shatter. Judy remains unfazed but holds all six plates in both hands. I tell myself that it's only a glass. No need to cause a fuss, or worse, spread panic to my wife.

Her grasp on the plates isn't firm. She turns around and looks at me. All of a sudden she can't remember why she is here, in the kitchen. I focus on the plates as she shakes them. Her hands are arthritic, clumsy, and hard to bend. She doesn't know where to go next, can't decide what to do.
Yet she staggers away, eventually finds the living-room and sets the plates on the coffee table.

She says, 'OK'. She pauses, obviously regrouping, trying to organize her mind, acknowledging each little step made.

She studies the plates on the table, maybe trying to figure out what's missing. But then she tells me that she's got nothing to do. So she gives up.

I sometimes think that's her biggest problem.

'It's getting a bit chilly,’ I say. ‘Why don't you put on your lovely white sweater, you know the one I got you for Christmas?'

A cue. A purpose. A new challenge.

She heads for the stairs, climbs them, finds our bedroom. I hear clanging and banging of drawers and cupboard doors opening and closing, the hustle and bustle, and endless racket of mayhem and despair as the search for the sweater begins.

Judy suddenly talks to herself again, surely responding to the constant jabbering going on in her head.

'I'm hearing all this stuff and I can't turn it off,' she used to tell me back when we didn't know she was living with dementia - dementia that was here to stay, cruel and unforgiving in its hold over Judy.

I listen to the ongoing noise of drawers slamming and the hurried footsteps on the floor above.

I sigh and take a deep breath before climbing upstairs myself. Witnessing my wife working herself into a frenzy is a painful and disheartening sight, perhaps the one facet of her manic behavior I have the most difficulty getting used to.

I press my back against the doorframe and look at the mess she has created.

'This is most annoying,' she says standing amidst clothes spread all over the carpet. Looking for a sweater and not finding it can do that to you if you are unfortunate to have her condition.

She opens another drawer and pulls out half its contents, dumps it all on the bed in a new heap. 'This is not a sweater,' she protests frantically, holding a skirt. 'This certainly isn't my white sweater!'

She flings the skirt on top of the pile of clothes and proceeds to open the last drawer, the right one. She seizes all her sweaters in a bundle.

'OK, sweaters found,' she mutters. One small step made.

'OK, I think I've found the white sweater.' Another step. The elimination process continues but she unloads the bundle on the bed. The desired clothing item is lost in the heap. Eventually she bends over, feeling confused, no longer knowing what she’s supposed to do.

She starts folding all the clothes on the bed, forgets that she was looking for a white sweater. The white sweater is in her grasp but she folds it along with everything else.

Moments later Judy sits on the bed out of sheer frustration, visibly unhappy and lost. I push a few clothes aside and sit next to her, wrap a reassuring arm around her shoulders. 'You're doing OK', I lie. And we sit there in fidgety silence.

'I'll make your supper now,' I say to put an end to the lull. 'Don't worry about the white sweater. Just put something on that'll keep you warm and join me downstairs.'

A cue. A purpose. A new challenge.

Five minutes later I realise my wife has once again lost the notion of time. Her bowl of soup and her hot melted cheddar sandwich are ready and starting to cool down.

I call her name again. Judy soon staggers into the kitchen wearing her old fur coat, looking a bit eccentric. I'd like to voice an opinion and ask her to remove the coat she herself is supposed to find old-fashioned. But as I said, it's simply better not to argue with her. Now I can't help but smile as she sits down like a stubborn queen waiting to be served.

In spite of her condition and regal posture, Judy loves to eat. I make her supper every night. After the chaos of the day it's a comforting ritual for us both, a few shared moments when things rarely go wrong.

I set the bowl of soup and the plate with her sandwich in front of her on the table. She looks down at her food with delight and says, 'You made that?' Joy fuels her gaze but her manner is still suspicious.

I shrug, big smile smacked on my face, 'I'm a good cook.'

I don't tell her that some of stuff on her plate comes from the nutritionist's, some I got from the supermarket. It's only a hot cheese sandwich but she thinks it's great.

I watch her munch on the sarnie and slurp the soup with pride.

My cue. My purpose. A challenge I gladly take up.

I return moments later with pudding. I give her coffee and then I give her a slice of carrot cake.
She's happy. She never says I'm not hungry.

I kneel down and hold her hand. I gently massage her palm, softly reviving the intimate bond I crave for. My wife is peaceful.

I look up at her. We maintain eye contact and smile simultaneously. I see the beautiful woman I fell in love with all those years ago; the woman I married and with whom I had two wonderful children; with whom I will finish the final chapter of my life.

I say to myself that I'm lucky at this point. But what it's going to be like down the road, I don't know.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

More Praise for 'The Perfectionist' by Mystery/Thriller Reviewers

A big thank you to Lance Wright at Omnimystery News and Jeff Kivela at Buttonholed Book Reviews for their recent support for 'The Perfectionist'. Jeff has written a new review and Lance has published our recent Q&A interview.

Make sure to check both articles in full at:

http://buttonholed.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-perfectionist-by-simon-duke-2016.html

&

http://www.omnimysterynews.com/2016/01/a-conversation-with-crime-novelist-simon-duke-5f7125f0.html

Here are some excerpts:

Buttonholed Book Reviews

"The Perfectionist took me as a tale of exceptional writing crafted by a seasoned pen. Simon Duke wrote a superb tale of crime and mystery not to be missed folks."

"Enthralling read folks.  Really really good read. There are plenty of  twists and turns as you travel with Gerry across the United States and when you come upon the part with Avery - just watch how Simon Duke's characters meld into other character development."

"There were, it seemed to me, places Simon Duke wrote The Perfectionist almost like a procedural manual on how to go about uncovering a murderer. He had to have done his homework to make plausible scenes go according to plot. I'm not an expert, I can say though, I've read Patricia Cornwell's Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper Case Closed - that's how you do your homework for plausible scenes."

"As I read, the scenes and settings were coherent with my senses, so, being in the midst of all the action is a must for a reader and Simon Duke does a beautiful job in handling that bit of necessity."


Omnimystery News

"Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead characters of your crime novels. What is it about them that appeals to you as a writer?

Simon Duke: I have a soft spot for loners. Kyle Hunt, the lead protagonist in my first novel, 'Out of Bounds' (published in 2014), is an anxious man, someone who fights for his family's safeguard, someone who tries his best in risky situations. He's someone with inner demons and past angst. And he can only find his way out using his brain capacity and by persevering. I like the idea that my lead protagonists, be it Kyle or Gerry Stokes in 'The Perfectionist', have realistic behaviors. When threatened, these guys don't just pull out guns and shoot to kill. Instead we read their minds and connect with their emotions. Gerry Stokes is a seasoned business journalist working for the Chicago Tribune — a real hotshot with talent and flair, yet he's also human: he's a self-centered, obnoxious and arrogant guy with a soft spot for sex with prostitutes. But like Kyle, Gerry Stokes is a complex character. The morbidity and seriousness of the investigation will change him, and so will his relationship with the woman who puts him on the track in the first place, Sarah Howard. Gerry's shift in attitude enables him to open his eyes to what he needs to preserve from the evil surrounding him during his investigation to track down the killer. Gerry's evolution in the book is gradual and we grow to like his character. I also have a journalistic background and I've always dreamed of stumbling on a killer myself and pursuing him before submitting the proof of his guilt to the police. So in some ways, Gerry Stokes lives that dream for me."

"OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

SD: I enjoy researching prior and during my writing. Most often it is carried out using the Internet or by reading books and watching videos. For locations, I tend to favor the places I've already been to and that I'm more or less familiar with. However, there again, the Internet is a handy tool when it comes to researching details (street names, addresses, overall vibe of the area …) when lacking your own photographic support. The challenge whilst writing The Perfectionist was exploring the minds of serial killers and reading about some pretty gruesome and deterring details of what these people did, and still do. However, it was a very intense and exciting experience. I've always wanted to write about serial killers. They fascinate me. In fiction, serial killers are highly stylized and even real-life serial killers have become celebrity monsters through media coverage. Serial killer behavior seems inexplicable to us, so we feel a duty to try and understand what their motives are. The killer in The Perfectionist could be considered the ultimate serial killer. He seemingly chooses his victims at random across America; he has been at large for more than two decades; he has flown under the radar of the cops and the FBI by navigating through the loopholes of the federal law enforcement system; he respects a unique and horrific modus operandi and fine-tunes methods of execution to seek artistic perfection. In the world of law enforcement, there exists a scale on which to rate killers. My killer does not feature on the scale."

"OMN: You mentioned that you work in a local movie theater. What kinds of films do you enjoy watching?

SD: I'm a movie geek who's loved cinema since childhood. I even studied films in the UK when at university. I grew up watching many American film classics and loved the 80s films and music (some of it). I grew fond of the modern gangster and of the transition from film noir and epic to the more gritty and realistic portrayal of crime in more recent times. Some direct influences for The Perfectionist include Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986), Thief (Michael Mann, 1981), Se7en (David Fincher, 1995), Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986), Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994) … I have been told that my writing is rather visual. That's true because I like to picture scenes in my head as if I were maintaining a mental storyboard. Nursing an image in my mind is a means to more easily translate thoughts into words. On November 16th, I posted a video trailer for The Perfectionist, which I produced myself. I integrated some very eerie footage, still shots of the book cover, and I incorporated (courtesy of the Marmoset music agency) a track by Josh Garrels. I'm very proud of the result, and putting aside the promotional nature of the video it's real proof of my love for writing and the cinema, all merged into one."

"OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime novelist and thus I am also …".

SD: … what George Orwell would call a "thought-criminal". My mind is geared a little differently than your average man in the street; slightly quirky and sometimes brooding, but my heart's in the right place!"