Author of 'Sendero' and 'Who Sings to the Dead?'


Talk to the Head – Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

They say you have the best conversations with yourself.

How about with the severed head of your hooker girlfriend’s former lover?

When the object of desire in a story is a head in a bag you know you’re onto something.


Warren Oates plays Bennie, a man who sees an opportunity to get a head. (Sorry)

When it’s the head of a man who impregnated the daughter of a Mexican gangster you know immediately why it’s worth a million dollars.

When the man who longs for it the most is a down-at-the-heel gringo piano player in a Mexican brothel grabbing for one last score, you know all you need to know about the protagonist.


The happy couple. Mexican actress Isela Vega plays Elita. She also wrote one of the songs for the film.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is Sam Peckinpah’s finest film. Made during the director’s  alcoholic decline, the movie has a tragicomic power that is relentless, that drives it like a drunk coming home in the middle of the night. He knows the way–or did when he was sober; he’s running on autopilot now and is likely to inflict untold harm on himself and others getting to his destination. But he’s determined to get there. The movie is a parable for Peckinpah’s life. Warren Oates, who plays Bennie, understood this, and wore Peckinpah’s sunglasses throughout the movie, even in bed, channeling his mentor.


Bennie buying his soulmate a bag of ice to keep it from decomposing.

Despite the cheesy ‘70s film-making, the signature slow-motion Peckinpah death scenes, the gratuitous boob shots, all of that and more, the strength of the story and distinctiveness of the two leading characters prevail, making us root for a sleazy crook who carries his treasure across the barren Mexican desert in a gunny sack, talking to it, coddling it with ice as it becomes blanketed with flies, even giving it a shower at one point. It’s a journey of self-discovery. Not a happy one. But you probably guessed that.

Kris Kristofferson plays a rapist biker. He's probably more picky about roles these days.

In an early role, Kris Kristofferson plays a rapist biker. He’s probably more picky these days.

Bennie defending his nest egg. The white suit is the first of many bad decisions.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia remains a cult classic. It’s sucks you in with its dark genius. It’s the kind of film that makes you stop channel-surfing when you happen upon it late at night, and compels you to watch, matter how many times you’ve seen it, no matter how late it is. And next day you’ll be savoring the movie all over again, wishing there were more like it. But there aren’t.

The Cain File – On Dangerous Ground

The Cain File

The Crying Ground
The Quito assignment was supposed to be a milk run for Special Forensic Accounting Agent Maggie de la Cruz: just hand over the two-million-dollar payoff and get the signatures of a corrupt oil minister and two oil-company bigwigs. Then stand back while the arrests are made.

But that’s not quite how things play out. When the sting is sabotaged and Minister Beltran wants the two million anyway, Maggie says no.

Bullets start to fly. And Maggie has to run.

Back home in the U.S., licking her wounds, Maggie learns that Minister Beltran has just been kidnapped by a deadly eco-terrorist group protecting the Amazon jungle from oil drilling.

The Agency’s covert-operations section needs to send Maggie back to South America, along with Field Agent John Rae Hutchens, to rescue Beltran for, ironically, another two million.

Another milk run? Perhaps—if everyone involved doesn’t have a secret agenda.

Events continue to go off-kilter: the suspicious detainment of a field agent at Bogotá International, leaving Maggie on her own; terrorists who seem more interested in the payoff money than the cause; case handlers with shadowy links that can’t be easily explained; and worse.

And agent de la Cruz must deal with it.

Any way she can.

The Cain File is not yet available  … stay posted.

Are you a literary agent looking for a fast-paced international thriller that will appeal to readers of Ludlum and John le Carré and fans of Homeland? Let’s talk!

Email: Max Tomlinson

Silent Scream – Angela Marsons #BookReview

This is a thoroughly engaging, well-crafted police procedural set in the UK that will appeal to fans of Prime Suspect and the like. Kim Stone, the protagonist DI, is sort of a young jaded Jane Tennison with issues, and a gruff person as a result but, as one might expect, her heart is in the right place. She gets the job done, brandishing her acerbic wit (and temper).
silent scream
When an employee connected to a state run institution is found drowned in her bathtub, DI Stone begins to investigate the murders of three unfortunate girls who are found buried in a shallow grave outside a former orphanage from hell. More bodies pile up. And maybe one or two more. The story itself might stretch the reader’s belief system a bit but it’s a well-told one, with excellent investigation details, nuanced supporting characters (I love Bryant, especially when he – [mini spoiler] – adopts the dogs), terrific descriptions of the Black Country locale and a genuine commentary on institutional systems that create monsters and misfits out of their inhabitants and administrators.

I would easily have given this book five stars if not for…


Multiple murderers. Come on! For those of us who enjoy trying to piece the clues together and ‘solve the crime’, this is such a disappointment. The author is in good company here (Gillian Flynn, anyone?) but it’s not playing fair with the reader. A writer who works this hard can surely tell a compelling mystery without obfuscating the story with over-complicated plot lines and pulling the wool over our eyes the easy way.

Having said that, I would recommend Silent Scream to fans of crime fiction, and personally look forward to more in this series.


Spenser Version 2.0: Wonderland by Ace Atkins #BookReview

Back in the dark ages before Kindle, one of my favorite authors was Robert B. Parker. His Spenser PI books were enormously readable: entertaining, witty, with literary allusions for the college grads who read pulp, not to mention some pretty decent plots. Spenser was the updated wise-cracking detective, tough and tender, the lone gunman who could jump through windows or whip up a gourmet meal with one hand while drinking an imported beer with the other. Spenser’s sidekick Hawk introduced the American reading public to perhaps their first minority mystery character, and Spenser’s main squeeze, Susan Silverman (Spenser is monogamous, despite the efforts of many persistent females), added some pop psychology and sophisticated banter. I remember reading my first ‘F’ word in a mystery novel ever in a Spenser book back in the 70s—what a shock. In close to forty books Parker took a tired format and punched it up to become one of the most popular PI series ever. There was even a television show: Spenser for Hire.

0-ABC-SpenserWhen Robert Parker passed away in 2010 I assumed that was the end of Spenser as well, who was perhaps getting to be a little old to be jumping through any more windows (even though Spenser, the man with no first name, never ages). Times were moving on and we had a new cast of grittier, darker, more urban detectives to read.

So when Ace Atkins (author of the acclaimed Quinn Colson ‘Ranger’ series) took on the Spenser books in 2011, I held off. I have never found a book continuation that ever truly worked under a different author (not even Parker’s Chandler). The smudges on the copy were always too evident for my liking.

Well, I was wrong.

I started with Wonderland, simply because it had the highest Amazon ratings, and was more than pleasantly surprised. Spenser is back, version 2.0, with upgraded smart-aleck remarks and current themes. Spenser’s signature humor is even punchier than I remembered. The settings and PI tone are just about perfect to the original. There’s a new sidekick, a Cree Indian named Z, who is kind of a junior Hawk in training, but one with personal issues he must deal with. And the usual cast of good and bad guys. A cross-country airplane flight whizzed right by.

Wonderland opens with some thugs pushing Spenser’s boxing pal Henry Cimoli and his neighbors around, trying to muscle them out of their condo building. Spenser and Z get involved, thinking they’ll shoo off the bad guys and be back to drinking beer and trading one-liners in no time. But the toughs don’t scare easily. Then Spenser finds a disused, broken-down dog track by the name of Wonderland near Henry’s condo complex to be the center of interest for some Vegas hoods and a local Boston politician. When a moneyed real estate developer a la Donald Trump loses his head—literally—Spenser realizes he’s onto something big. Then come the fisticuffs, gunfights and a beautiful unclothed female, along with the usual Spenser fare. But most of all there is Spenser’s classic wit, extremely well-handled by Atkins. Maybe even better than Parker’s. I read an interview with Robert B. Parker (way back before there were Kindles) and recall him saying he essentially wrote one draft of each Spenser book. That was it. Well, towards the end of Spenser version 1.0, it showed. Not so with Atkins, however, who has polished Spenser’s dialog to a shine that dazzles. I found myself rereading much of it for sheer pleasure.

The plot in Wonderland gets a little elaborate past the half-way mark, with an ever-growing cast of bad guys and some questionable motives by the lead suspects, but it doesn’t really matter by then. When the last page came, I was ready for more Spenser version 2.0.

Two Faces of January – Dead Bodies and Love Triangles – Book Review

Patricia Highsmith’s wonderfully deviant, amoral characters set her books apart in a genre where sociopaths are the norm and just about essential for any psychological thriller worth its salt. No other suspense author drills down into the inner workings of their players quite like Highsmith did. Much of the reason is that she took her time to build her characters, letting small details work their tension, blending the mundane with the immoral so that we as readers identify with some fairly reprehensible people before we can be repelled by them. A saved letter about an unattended funeral speaks volumes about a young man’s feelings towards his father, allowing us to comprehend his later actions. A man’s love for his young wife makes us overlook a good deal of his criminal behavior. In Highsmith’s novels it’s not easy to discern the hero from the villain and often, as in her popular Ripley books, it’s the criminal (usually murderer) we end up rooting for. The same forces are at work in The Two Faces of January but to a subtler degree. You won’t find a truly good person in these pages but it doesn’t matter. In this story of three expat Americans who cross paths in early 1960s Athens, you’ll want at least one of them to get away with breaking the law.

Dead bodies and love triangles tend not to go together well. (Photo from the motion picture adaptation of Two Faces of January.)

Rydel is a wandering Peter Pan living off his grandmother’s money, putting off the inevitable trip back to the US to face responsibility and tedium, when he encounters Chester, a crooked stockbroker on the run, who accidentally kills a Greek policeman who is onto him. For no other reason than Chester reminds Rydel of his father, Rydel helps Chester hide the body and acquires forged passports for him and his comely wife, Colette. Chester then invites Rydel to accompany him and Colette to Crete to help the couple navigate their way out of Greece, beyond the reach of the authorities (Rydel speaks Greek and has shady connections). But Colette’s infatuation for Rydel upsets the applecart, and Chester sees red. No one seems to think twice about the death of a policeman, let alone marital vows. It may even feel like love–for two of the three anyway–but it doesn’t end well.

Rydel is one of Highsmith’s better creations, quite affable as he keeps veering away from doing the right thing. He just can’t seem to. The reader understands. Chester is a perfect villain, because he knows who he is. Colette is a well-nuanced temptress, made of real flesh and blood, with a heart and soul. The secondary characters in this novel are all Highsmith quality as well.

I’m not sure why this book is trending towards three stars in the ratings—it’s one of Highsmith’s better ones, with its simple tale of three people who think they can do no wrong but end up doing an awful lot of it.

My only minor disappointment came in the final few pages, where I was hoping for one final twist that didn’t come. The ending I envisioned seemed glaringly obvious to me but Patricia Highsmith clearly wasn’t thinking what I was thinking when she penned this book—or maybe she didn’t want to be predictable. But it works, and redeems one of the characters.

Regardless, by the time Two Faces is rolling, the plot feels inevitable. And that’s the mark of a master.

Looking for the Dead Boys: Now on a Kindle near you

Dredge thought Spider said they were going to buy the kilo from the Mexicans. 

Not pull a fast one…

Looking for the Dead Boys Web

It’s 1977, California. Once blissed-out hippies have taken a liking to crystal meth. Punk rock is on the turntable.

More than anything, misfit Dredge wants to be one of the Dead Boys, a motorcycle gang bent on controlling Santa Cruz’ growing methamphetamine market. But first he has to impress Spider.

Spider isn’t going to let anyone take over his lucrative dealing action. A drug deal with a Latino gang trying to move into Dead Boys’ turf turns into a killing spree.

With long red hair, an oil-burner dope habit and a pair of earrings that look like little silver birds, Eva Braun—not her real name, of course—is Spider’s old lady. Her self-destructive streak leads her to tell the cops about the murder of four Latin gang members. Dredge would love to save Eva, but maybe he better find a way to save himself.

Colleen Hayes did ten years in prison for killing her ex. With a gun in her pocket, she’s heading to Santa Cruz on a mission: to rescue her glassy-eyed daughter from the Dead Boys.

Nobody crosses Spider. Not the Latinos. Not the Chinese Tong waiting to make their move. Not Dredge. Or Eva. Or Colleen. And not the little girl who lives next to the Dead Boys’ house and watches everything, especially the pretty lady with the red hair and bird earrings.

Their lives are on a collision course and time is running out.

Looking for the Dead Boys: Peace, love and vengeance.


Take equal parts Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith and Cormac McCarthy, add a dash of Quentin Tarantino and stir in a stolen kilo of methamphetamine. Blend it with what Henning Mankell calls “my own language” and you have LOOKING FOR THE DEAD BOYS.

Do you want to order Dead Boys? Of course you do! –> Order Dead Boys <–

¡Vivan los escritores!

Don’t read Sendero

That’s correct. Don’t read Sendero, an edgy thriller set in Peru, a country still haunted by the dirty war of twenty years ago.

Listen to it!

Sendero is now available as an audio book.

Downloadable from Audible or iTunes,  you can listen to the book that Kirkus rated as one of the top 100 Indie novels of 2012, as narrated by the incomparable Sarah Van Sweden. Sarah is a terrific reader and a woman of many voices. I found myself caught up in her rendition of Sendero and believe me, I’ve read this book myself more than a few times. I know what happens. The lady can read the phone book and make it suspenseful. Check out the audio sample and see if you don’t agree.

Sendero Audio Book

Click the image to check out the Audible audio sample

If you’re new to Audible and sign up, you can get the audio book for free. If you’re more of an iTunes type, you may click here,

Ten books that made me want to be a writer

Who doesn’t read ‘top ten’ lists? There’s one going round at the moment where people rate their ten favorite books, and I was inspired to list the ones that influenced me as a writer. Here are ten by authors at the top of their game, whose stories reverberated, whose voices made me want to find one of my own. Books that made me say ‘I want to do that.’

10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson) – Many a true word written in jest. Wins the opening line award: ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’


the_postman_always_rings_twice-cover9 The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain) – Cain was master of the breakneck-paced novel with scummy characters you love to root for.

8. The Stranger (Albert Camus) – Another terrific opener: ‘Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday.’ Who says you can’t tell vs. show? Fun Fact: Camus was influenced by James M. Cain.

7. The Dancer Upstairs (Nicholas Shakespeare) – The story of a South American detective trying to do the right thing in a country beset by corruption and civil war. And then he falls in love.

6. Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith) – Anything Highsmith wrote is steeped in psychological turmoil. This was her first. Hitchcock was compelled to make it into an equally excellent film.

"My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people." - Patricia Highsmith

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.” – Patricia Highsmith

5. God’s Pocket (Peter Dexter) – An orgy of wonderfully low rent characters, including one who drives around with a body in the back of a refrigeration truck and you just hope he gets away with it.

4 Killshot (Elmore Leonard) – Leonard pioneered the modern crime novel. This is his darkest and most powerful.Unknown

3. Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham) – 50,000 words too long but what words. Daring stuff for its time about a lost soul who falls for a woman of questionable morals. There’s a reason Maugham was one of the most popular writers of his era.

2. The Road (Cormac McCarthy) – I dare you not to be moved by this haunting tale of love between father and son during the apocalypse.

1. The Ginger Man (JP Donleavy) – One man’s battle against sobriety, decency and sanity. Hysterically funny and tragic at the same time. A masterpiece.


Those are my ten. Did I miss a must-read gem? Feel free to let me know.

Viven los escritores!

Sendero – an international thriller – 0 cents for a limited time

“A vividly described journey through Peru’s underbelly as the narrative gains momentum, hurtling toward a dramatic climax.”

Read the book that Kirkus listed as one of the top 100 Indie novels of 2012 – for 0 cents. Free. Nothing. How can I do it, you ask? Volume, that’s how. So avail yourself to the wonder of the world wide internet and download Sendero from Amazon,  Smashwords, iTunes, B&N. For Free.


[Click image for more …]

Watch the trailer. Read a sample.

Out by the Trees – Short Dark Fiction – Free

My short story collection is now free from most online retailers …
OutByTheTrees min 100