EAT THIS BOOK: Five Moves of Doom by A. J. Devlin

Great news, Readers!

I just finished Five Moves of Doom, the third book in the PI “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead series – and it’s terrific! Set in gritty East Vancouver, protagonist Jed has an unusual occupation: he’s a retired professional wrestler.

What makes for a gripping story, as in Fellini’s classic film La Strada and even hit Canadian comedy series, Trailer Park Boys, is the classic trio of characters representing brains, brawn and heart. Hammerhead Jed embodies all three in one person– and author A.J. Devlin pulls this off brilliantly. Jed is first and foremost a physical person. That, sometimes to his detriment, is his self-identity. But clients and bad guys tend to underestimate his intelligence – and that is always to their detriment.

In Five Moves of Doom, Jed is hired by former UFC fighter, Elijah Lennox, to find Elijah’s million dollar, diamond-encrusted championship belt. Trustingly, Elijah had it on display at his martial arts studio, but now it’s gone missing. Jed recovers the belt thanks to his smarts and underworld contacts, though finding it seems too easy. Then Elijah ends up dead and Jed’s heart drives him to find the murderer and bring them to justice.

Jed’s quest draws him into the murky realm of illegal fighting.  Devlin has created an ogre of a villain in Cassian, the ringleader, who wears the dog tags of his victims round his neck as trophies. (To me they’re more like the shrunken heads worn by a cannibal king!) Taking on Cassian draws Jed into some very dark places, many within himself. It takes a skilled writer to draw the reader along to explore Jed’s troubled path and Devlin pulls it off.

There are two aspects of the Hammerhead series that I especially enjoy. The first is the sheer physicality and choreography of the fighting scenes. Too often, fights in crime fiction are a bit predictable resulting in an urge to flip the page. Not so here.  Devlin knows fighting and that shines through in every scene. (Learn more about AJ’s fighting background on Cyber Café here.)

I also love Devlin’s secondary characters like Jed’s cousin, Declan, Irish barkeep and former IRA commando, who always has his family’s back. The chapter written from Declan’s POV is a tour de force of writing. My personal favorite is Sykes, Jed’s shady entrepreneur and informant, who in the previous book was bookmaking on dachshund racing.  This time out, Sykes has taken up goat yoga. That’s right goat yoga.  Both are comedy gold and even better, Readers, both weird activities are real.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

FIVE STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

MOST IMPORTANT: WHERE TO BUY THE HAMMERHEAD JED SERIES!

Five Moves of Doom, as well as Cobra Clutch and Rolling Thunder, are available for purchase on Amazon, Indigo, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and anywhere paperbacks and eBooks are sold.

In addition, Cobra Clutch is now available as an audiobook on Audible and wherever audiobooks can be found.

Order the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series through bookshop.newestpress.com, which features a Find Your Local Bookstore link to support indie bookstores and shop local.

Finally, AJ is proud to have partnered up with his friends at the terrific Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam, where copies of all three “Hammerhead” Jed books with personalized inscriptions can be requested and purchased online exclusively through their website WesternSkyBooks.com.

CYBER CAFE: Meet Fab Thriller Writer A. J. Devlin

A. J. Devlin

I’m delighted to welcome A. J. Devlin to Cyber Cafe!

We met at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver and bonded immediately over the movie business.  My daughter is a VFX producer in Montreal and AJ spent many years in Hollywood working as a screenwriter. 

AJ grew up in Greater Vancouver and moved to Southern California to earn two degrees in screenwriting. Luckily for Canadian crime fiction, he moved back home to Port Moody, BC, where he now lives with his wife and two children and writes full-time.

Cobra Clutch, AJ’s first book in the “Hammerhead” Jed professional wrestling mystery-comedy series, was released in spring 2018. It was nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery and won the 2019 Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best First Novel. 

The sequel, Rolling Thunder, was released in spring 2020 and was featured in the Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Globe and Mail, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal Reviews, as well as on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio.

The third book in the series, Five Moves of Doom, was published by NeWest Press on September 15th, 2022.  Look for my review here on Eat This Book, Monday, October 3rd. (Spoiler alert – it’s terrific!)

 

 

 

Welcome to Cyber Cafe, AJ. You worked many years as a screenwriter. How did you turn to crime…fiction?

I grew up loving films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and The Last Boy Scout and remember vividly reading The Silence of the Lambs (at probably too young of an age), so crime stories always captivated me.

When I was living in Southern California earning my BFA and MFA in Screenwriting from Chapman University and the American Film Institute Conservatory, I studied closely under my mentor and friend, Academy-Award nominated screenwriter and novelist Leonard Schrader. He also shared the same passions and planted the seed that crafting crime fiction wasn’t that dissimilar from structuring screenplays, but it wasn’t until I moved home, got married, and became a father that I finally took a break from writing scripts and tried my hand at a mystery novel.

Why set your thrillers in the world of wrestling? How did your hero, Hammerhead Jed, appear in your imagination?

As I immersed myself in crime fiction, especially during my college years, I began exploring sub-genres, and one of my favorites was the athlete-detective since I grew up very much into sports. My father was a star basketball player for Simon Fraser University and later the Canadian Men’s National team, having competed in the 76 Olympics. So, it’s safe to say athletics factored heavily into my childhood.

I also spent my youth as a rabid fan of professional wrestling, enjoying the over-the-top feats of strength and agility combined with the in-ring panache of the squared circle. After reading about boxer-detectives, basketball-player sleuths, and surfer PIs, it occurred to me that, to the best of my knowledge, no one had cooked up a grappling gumshoe.  I saw that as an opportunity to draw upon my knowledge and experience while hopefully providing a series character who was a little unique.

You write terrific fight scenes. How do you research the moves?

Thank you! I definitely prioritize the choreography of such scenes.  I figure it’s likely that a guy with the moniker of “Hammerhead” Jed could handle himself in a scrap, and like me he has trained in freestyle wrestling and Judo. I definitely researched a lot about combat and beefed up his skill set by giving Jed experience with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I also wanted him to have a formidable striking ability; hence his proficiency in Krav Maga and other such martial arts. But at his core Jed is definitely a “grappler,” and his identity as a fighter is examined in Five Moves of Doom.

I especially love your colorful minor characters like Jed’s informant, Sykes, the bookie. Now Sykes is into goat yoga? Why goat yoga??

I love the juxtaposition of a dapper, well-manicured, and upscale gentleman like Sykes having a vested interest in unusual or atypical business ventures. He was originally conceived as a one-and-done character for Rolling Thunder, but my editor encouraged me to bring him back for Five Moves of Doom.

This now seems like a no-brainer, especially given what a breath of fresh air I find Sykes to be when he appears. It’s also been fun to explore the evolution of Sykes’ affinity for “Hammerhead” Jed and how despite being so different, these two men have become unlikely allies with great respect for one another.

My mom (who I dedicated this threequel to alongside my wife) was the person who started keeping an eye out for quirky and offbeat sports and activities as my series progressed.  She suggested goat yoga could be something fun to use in my future books. Coincidentally at the time, I had started exploring hybrid-yoga myself through the DDP Yoga Program (created by professional wrestling legend and WWE Hall of Famer, Diamond Dallas Page) as a way to increase my own functional strength in an effort to keep up with my kids. Both ideas dove-tailed for Five Moves of Doom.

In Rolling Thunder, Sykes is into dachshund racing. Is that real, too?

100%! Every year at the Hastings Racecourse there are the Annual Wiener Dog Racing Championships, sponsored by the venue itself and Schneiders Premium Meats. I may have taken a few creative liberties in Rolling Thunder, but make no mistake, competitive dachshund racing is the real deal and serious stuff with prize money at stake.

Your books are a terrific blend of comedy and violence. Sometimes you take us to very dark places, too. What advice do you give emerging writers on keeping the balance right?

That’s high praise and I’m much obliged! And I think you pose an excellent question. For me personally, particularly for this series, I use sports entertainment itself as a kind of North Star. Pro-wrestling can be so goofy and light-hearted at times, but many of the behind-the-scenes stories are the opposite, rife with tales of addiction, tragedy, and even murder. I also believe that humor can be an essential coping mechanism in times of great grief or adversity.  I like to think Jed’s wisecracking nature helps balance out the trouble his cases bring not only for himself but also the reader. 

What’s next for Hammerhead Jed?

More adventures are definitely the plan! Hammerhead Jed was always conceived as a series protagonist uniquely suited for unusual investigations. I’m looking forward to perhaps taking him away from athletic-centric mysteries and having him delve into more unique subcultures in future stories, something that is touched upon in a subplot in Rolling Thunder.

And in addition to more “Hammerhead” Jed shenanigans, I’m also flirting with ideas for spinoffs and standalone stories, which could be a nice change of pace. But I certainly won’t be forgetting about my Piledriving PI anytime soon as he’s just too much fun to write and has been awfully good to me.

More importantly, what’s next for AJ Devlin? Do tell us about your upcoming podcasts and author appearances.

I’m excited to be back promoting the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedies in person for sure, and have numerous author events, wrestling and MMA shows, and Fan Expos where I will be appearing. You can follow what I’m up to both in person and online at my website https://ajdevlin.com and / or on my social media under the same handle @ajdevlinauthor.

Catch AJ at upcoming events here:

 

MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: WHERE TO BUY THE HAMMERHEAD JED SERIES!

Five Moves of Doom, as well as Cobra Clutch and Rolling Thunder, are available for purchase on Amazon, Indigo, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and anywhere paperbacks and eBooks are sold.

In addition, Cobra Clutch is now available as an audiobook on Audible and wherever audiobooks can be found.

Order the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series through bookshop.newestpress.com, which features a Find Your Local Bookstore link to support indie bookstores and shop local.

Finally, AJ is proud to have partnered up with his friends at the terrific Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam, where copies of all three “Hammerhead” Jed books with personalized inscriptions can be requested and purchased online exclusively through their website WesternSkyBooks.com.

 

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! In the Spirit of 13 Available for Pre-Order

 

MY 15TH RIDE TO CONQUER CANCER!

First ride 2008!
And now! I’m an avatar in the digital age!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings Readers!

Time and its winged chariot and all that…hard to believe that this year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer was my 15th straight ride. And it’s thanks to your support, dear friends, that I’ve been able to maintain this streak!

According to stats provided by the organizers, there are 90 riders in the 15 year group, less that 1% of the estimated 40,000 participants. Certainly the Ride treated us very well, beginning with a free “diamond” helmet.

Because of COVID, the Ride’s past two years went virtual, which meant I’d been taking it easy, doing 200 km in four 50 km segments in the week before our designated weekend. Back in the Real World though The Ride was 100+ km each day over the weekend of June 11/12. I had work to do to get back in shape!

First the good news:  I had a great training buddy, Peg, an old running friend who wanted to cross The Ride off her bucket list.  Now for the bad news: she’s a machine. Not only is she a super-fast runner, she’s a veteran of quadrathons where you run, swim, bike and kayak. ARGH! Needless to say, trying to keep up was agony, if not impossible, but it got me back on track!

June so far had offered up perfect training weather but predictions for June 11/12 looked dire. Two days of rain back-to-back? Mind you, I have done The Ride in the rain though it was only one day. And I did get drenched despite my then rain jacket.  Wisely, as it turned out, I bought a new, truly impermeable jacket.

Day 1 of The Ride dawned…stormy. All the 15-year vets gathered on the steps of Princess Margaret for a group photo.

Ready to roll
A loud cheer for Princess Margaret Hospital

 

 

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We then rode in a peloton down to the starting line at Exhibition park. That added 7 km to the 103 km distance to Hamilton, but so what? Totally worth it to be part of such a wonderful group of people.

Day 1 went smoothly. The rain held off except for a few sprinkles though the skies did look unsettled for the whole journey. The route has improved a lot since 2008: fewer hills, excellent signage alerting you to hazards, traffic police stationed at busy intersections. But The Ride still owes a lot to its intrepid volunteers who man the rest stations and who sweep the route in cars or on motorbikes to fix broken-down bikes, get riders medical help and even to pick up the exhausted ones and their bikes.

Arriving at McMaster

The route ended with a fab 5 km downhill zoom into McMaster University where the 15 yr vets had another treat waiting: champagne and nibbles reception at the PMH / KPMG tent. Ed, my faithful road crew every single year,  I indulged! Great to connect with fellow riders. I especially love this guy’s shirt BTW.

 

Champers reward
Love the shirt, love the message

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating with fellow 15-yr vets

Day One was the easy one, Day Two was…not! At 6:30 am, I retrieved my bike from safekeeping and hit the road for Niagara Falls.  There’s a long climb up onto the escarpment, a low gradient bike trail 7 kilometres straight up. It’s a doable grind with a spectacular view at the top.  I could see across the lake all the way to Toronto – and the storm clouds gathering overhead.

Wet and c-c-c-cold

The rain started – with determination. I’d stopped by the side of the road to pull on my new rain jacket when a fellow rider hailed me. She’d taken shelter under the eaves of an old barn. The  weather app on her phone showed a rapidly approaching thunderstorm.

As I made my way over, the heavens opened. In the ensuing downpour, our shelter was rapidly filled up by storm-tossed riders. Crowded in like the Tokyo subway, we waited for the thunderstorm to pass.

 

As the rain eased up, I set out, having ridden in wet conditions before. Soon I discovered that the helpful vents in the side of my jacket didn’t keep out serious rain. Oh, well. Ed brought me hot Starbucks coffee at the next rest stop. He got several cash offers for it from other riders!

But the rain hid something wonderful. As I passed through Jordan, I spotted our friends, Bill and Lynda, standing by the road. Turns out that this year, the route  passed right by their house! They’d braved the storm and gotten soaked to cheer me on – I couldn’t believe it! We hugged and cheered – and then I was back on the road.

The rain continued sporadically as I rode through the farms and vineyards of Niagara. Though flat, this point in the journey can feel endless. I marked off the Thorold drawbridge, the town of Pelham and at long last the Niagara River.  Amazingly, people have docks and boats that close to The Falls!

Brave…or not?

During the last stretch to the finish line, I chatted to another 15 yr rider who, due to back issues, has done the distance every year on a recumbent bike. And I thought my 120 km were hard work. Great to cross the finish line.

Number 15 is done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More great surprises: I ran into my yoga buddy, Della and her riding partner, also veteran riders!

Della, me and Della’s friend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how did my training buddy, Peg, make out? Well, I saw her at the start of the ride on Day One and then didn’t see her again. We kept missing each other because she was leagues ahead of me. We celebrated our successful Rides a few days later at The Granite Brewery – out of the rain!

Best of all, this year 3700 riders raised $16 million for cancer research at the Princess Margaret Hospital. In 15 years, The Ride has raised $250 million to fight cancer, the most successful charity fund raiser in Canada’s history!

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS!

Greetings Readers!

Lots happening this beautiful summer to share with you. First of all, I’m delighted to reveal the striking cover of Red Dog Publishing’s GONE anthology. I’m honored to have my story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, in this collection. GONE will be available for pre-order August 1st.

And I had a wonderful opportunity to be part of the Dead to Writes podcast where fab  designer, Sara Carrick, reveals her secrets behind the cover for In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s 10th anniversary anthology. In discussion with publisher, Donna Carrick and the story wrangler (me).

S5 E103: The Mesdames of Mayhem, In the Spirit of 13, Sara Carrick & M.H. Callway on cover design

And last but far from least, I’m honored to be a guest blogger on Writers Write. Here’s my take on Why I Write Short Fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CYBER CAFE: Meet Lynne Murphy, Author of Potluck

Lynne Murphy

It is my great pleasure to welcome my mentor and fellow crime writer, Lynne Murphy to Cyber Cafe. For the past 20 years, Lynne has been the leader of our writing critique group. We’ve gone through many ups and downs of the writer’s life together, but more importantly, champagne parties to celebrate our many triumphs. 

Lynne can’t help being funny. She is the creator of the gang of feisty residents in the Golden Elders Condo. The ladies are the heroes of  stories in several Sisters in Crime and Mesdames of Mayhem anthologies. Lately, she’s penned darker tales like “The Lady Killer”  in the upcoming CWC Anthology, Cold Canadian Crime and “The Trespassers” in the Mesdames new book, In the Spirit of Thirteen.

Lynne has now published her collected works in Potluck together with her new novella, A Damaged Heart. And yes, that’s Lynne on the cover offering special brownies… 

Potluck launches on Zoom this Saturday, April 23rd, at 2 pm, hosted by Lynne’s publisher, Carrick Publishing. All readers most welcome. Here’s the link: Launch Meeting – Zoom

 

 

MHC: Were you always a writer? Did you know from childhood?

I learned to read when I was four. I read everything I could get my hands on from then on. When you like reading so much, you want to write. There was a weekly paper in Saskatchewan called The Western Producer and it had a young people’ page called The Young Co-operators. Our motto was “We Co-operate.” The Saskatchewan spirit! They accepted contributions and it was a thrill when I was ten to see my fiction in print.

MHC: What draws you to writing crime fiction?

I like puzzles: jigsaws, crosswords, mysteries. I especially like stories with a twist, stories that surprise you. I hope there are some surprises in the stories in Potluck.

MHC: Potluck contains your collected short stories. I especially enjoyed reading about the adventures of the residents of the Golden Elders Condo. How did you come up with scenarios like growing marihuana in the flower beds?

We had a garden committee at the condo where I lived. One of my friends there had an arthritic shoulder and nothing seemed to help her. This was before marihuana was legal in Canada so I started thinking “What if?”  The best stories seem to start with that, don’t they? Most of the stories about the Golden Elders are rooted in real events from my former condo.

MHC: Tell us about your new novella, A Damaged Heart. What inspired you to write darker this time?

It was the character I created, Kirsty. I started out writing about a man who had been a traitor during WWII and how that affected his daughter. But then Kirsty took over and the treason disappeared. She had a miserable childhood and there wasn’t much to be funny about. Although, she has her own dark sense of humor that pops up now and then.

The story I have coming out in Cold Canadian Crime, the new CWC anthology, is also very dark. Grim, in fact.

MHC: What do you especially enjoy about being part of an anthology, like the Mesdames of Mayhem or Sisters in Crime?

I like how we all support each other. We show up for launches and buy each other’s books and write reviews if we enjoy them. It’s great to be part of a community.

MHC: Why do you believe that your stories tend to be humorous?

The humor sneaks in even when I’m trying to be serious. I mentioned the Western Producer: when I was about eight,  I won a poetry contest they had for kids. My poem was called “Peaceful Thoughts Disturbed”, and it described the beauty of the landscape and ended with the line, “Yeow, there’s a bug down the back of my neck”.  I was trying to be funny even then.

MHC: What will you be writing next? Will you explore other genres in addition to crime fiction?

I have a short story I’m working on right now about a woman in the Golden Elders who forgets to lock her door and comes home to find a man in her bed.  That happens quite often in seniors’ residences, where people can’t find their own apartments. But this man is dead!  I have a story in Potluck called “The Trespassers”, which is more horror than mystery, but the horror is real.

DO JOIN US FOR LYNNE’S ZOOM BOOK LAUNCH, THIS SATURDAY, APRIL 23RD, 2 PM!

NEWS! Story in Moonlight and Misadventure

Greetings Readers!

Delighted that my story, “The Moon God of Broadmoor” , has been accepted for Judy Penz Sheluk’s upcoming anthology, Moonlight and Misadventure.  Publication is scheduled for June 18, 2021. Exciting! I can’t wait to read the other stories in the collection.

Through Superior Shores Press, Judy has edited and published two previous anthologies, The Best Laid Plans and Heartbreak & Half-Truths, both of which have received critical acclaim.

Stay tuned for the cover reveal and more updates.

EAT THIS BOOK: Never Going Back by Sam Wiebe

Novellas are relatively rare in crime fiction where formats are far more rigid than in literary and speculative fiction.  Short story lengths greater than 5000 words are tolerated…barely. And novels must be no less than 65,000 and no more than 95,000 words.

No doubt the formats are dictated by business rather than artistic imperatives. The story or book length a publisher believes will hold readers’ attention spans.

So what is a novella exactly? A long story or a short novel? As an author whose work naturally tends to fall in this category,  I believe a novella is a story with a linear plot but with more texture, atmosphere and complexity of character than can be captured in 5000 words or less.

The Orca Rapid Reads Series  breathed life into the crime fiction novella. Mostly because of this series, the CWC Awards of Excellence have had enough entries to create and sustain a novella category. (CWC defines a novella as a story between 8000 and 20,000 words.)

The Rapid Reads series is aimed at adults who are ESL students, who have difficulty reading or those who simply want a fast satisfying read. Although the language is uncomplicated, the books are not simplistic. They are hard-hitting, with adult themes and they often focus on social issues.

It’s a challenge for an author to streamline their writing style without losing its essence. That’s why Orca contracted with leading Canadian crime fiction authors for the 68 books in the series, including my friend, Sam Wiebe.

Sam’s novella, Never Going Back  (Orca, 2020is one of the latest books in the Rapid Reads series.  Its protagonist, Alison Kidd, is a tough young woman, a master thief who’s just gotten out of jail. She hated prison and she’s determined to go straight, but the local crime boss blackmails her into pulling off a risky job. If she refuses, her brother will be killed. Can she outsmart her old boss and save her brother and herself?

Sam’s hard-hitting, critically acclaimed Dave Wakeland series and his debut novel,  The Last of the Independents, are both written very much from a man’s point of view. I was intrigued that Sam chose a woman hero for Never Going Back. Could he pull it off?

I’m delighted to say that, yes, Sam did! Alison Kidd is a terrific and likeable character.  (More books and stories with strong women, Sam!) The plot has the twists and turns of a switchback highway and the suspense that goes along with it. An excellent thriller!

EAT THIS BOOK:  5 STARS

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Writer #5 – Lia Matera and Star Witness or UFO’s and Me

As a kid I was space mad. I longed to become an astronaut or an astronomer. And while I was growing up, sightings of UFO’s were prominent in the news.  I became convinced that space aliens were visiting  our planet.

Maybe that’s why I have fond memories of Lia Matera’s thriller, Star Witness, the fifth book in her Willa Jansson series. The book opens with a hit-between-the-eyes description of a horrific road accident: a sporty Fiat has dived into the roof of an old Buick, squishing the driver. The owner of the Fiat, Alan, has vanished. When the police locate him, he claims he was abducted by aliens. They’re the ones who dropped his car on the Buick!

It falls to grumpy lawyer, Willa Jansson to defend Alan and his incredible alibi. But delving into reports of UFO’s and encounters of the third kind, her skepticism dissolves. Holy Cartman’s anal probe!

Matera did a deep dive into UFO’s and weird encounters and included a listing of books and videos at the end of Star Witness. In her foreword  she describes how  her personal skepticism took a journey much like Willa Jansson’s.

Even today in Canada, we have firm believers in UFO’s. (Check out the meet-ups in Toronto alone!) Many years ago, I met and chatted with one of BC’s leading UFO believers thanks to my friend, retired filmmaker, Chris Windsor.

Chris had studied film making at UBC while I slogged away at my doctorate in organic chemistry. His student film, Roofman, was a huge hit with audiences at the university. That success and his talent landed him a job making industrial training films in Alberta. Mind-numbing and soul-destroying to be sure, but at least he was earning a living in his chosen profession.

In his spare time, Chris began working on a documentary about UFO’s.  By then I was living in Victoria and writing my PhD thesis. Out of the blue one afternoon, Chris phoned. Would I help him out on a film shoot? He and his cinematographer were in town to interview the President of BC’s UFO Society.

Boy that was a hard choice – cranking out dry scientific prose or skiving off with two friends  to explore UFO’s. Hell, yes!

The three of us headed off in Chris’s car to interview the UFO President at his house in a rural part of Vancouver Island. He turned out to be a  kindly middle-aged man who lived in a tidy, respectable middle class home: he looked and acted like our dads though if memory serves, he did don a tinfoil hat.  And his belief in UFO’s was absolute.

I’ll always owe Chris for that amazing life experience. I don’t know what happened with his UFO documentary, because shortly after that I handed in my thesis, graduated and moved back to Ontario.

So what happened to Lia Matera and Chris Windsor? Lia Matera , herself a  lawyer, was chief editor of the Constitutional Law Quarterly and a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School, when she took up crime writing. She wrote the Willa Jansson and Laura Di Palma series of crime novels, twelve books in all, plus a dozen short stories. Her work collected several nominations for leading awards: the Edgar, Anthony and Macavity. She won the Shamus award in 1996.

Matera wrote from 1987 to 1996 then very little thereafter though Ellery Queen Magazine published her chilling tale, “Snow Job” as recently as 2019. Did she go back to law? Did she retire? The crime writing world is poorer for it!

Chris did go on to make a feature film, Big Meat Eater, a horror comedy that was released in 1982.  It got favorable reviews and was a finalist at the 1983 Genies  for Best Original Screenplay, but it never became a huge hit.  Chris told me that unfortunately, as a Canadian film it was eclipsed by the American film, Eating Raoul, another horror comedy about cannibalism.

Andrew Gillies, Chris’s star in Roofman and Big Meat Eater went on to have a long career as a stage and film actor, with roles in The Virgin Suicides and Orphan Black. 

Sadly, Chris left the film business. He may simply have burned out. To learn about the arduous art of film making, read his excellent article in the Georgia Strait here. He now lives in Asia where he has worked for many years.

VALUE: So what’s my used paperback copy of Star Witness worth on Abe Books? About $2 to $8US.  It doesn’t appear to be available in Canada

BOTTOM LINE: Keep. In honour of UFO’s!

 

 

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: THE COLD VANISH by Jon Billman

I was a bookish child and so inept at sports that my friends would fight to NOT have me on their team. But two amazing women got me to love sports – and changed my life forever.

In university, my sister-in-law got me into hiking, biking and downhill skiing. (We also had adventures dinghy sailing.) And my friend, Marian Misters, co-owner of Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore, introduced me to road running.

Hard work and perseverance accomplished more than I dreamed of: I’ve run a marathon, regularly biked 120 km at a stretch and skied black diamonds without dying! But I remain in awe of ultramarathoners, adventurers and mountain climbers whose exploits I devoured in the late, great Outside magazine.

Jon Billman, is a search-and-rescue expert, a former wildland firefighter and regular contributor to Outside. In The Cold Vanish, he explores how and why people continue to go missing in the wilderness. It’s been said that the solution to an enduring mystery is often sadly banal. That may be true of the many cases Billman writes about, but like Jon Krakauer, he unveils the tragedy behind each story – and a warning.   Venturing into the wilderness requires an abundance of caution.

Billman’s book reads like a thriller. I couldn’t put it down. The overarching  story centers on Jacob Gray, a 22 year-old cyclist who disappeared in Olympic National Park in Washington State.  He’d embarked on a cycling journey but shortly after leaving home, his bicycle was found abandoned by the side of the road, all his gear intact.  Close by was the fast-flowing Sol Duc River. Searchers assumed the worst: that he’d tried to fill his water bottle, fallen in and drowned.

Billman formed a close friendship with Jacob’s father, Randy, who never gave up hope of finding his son. They searched for Jacob for over a year, chasing scenarios from Jacob being involved in the drug trade to joining a cult to simply walking away from the world.  (No spoilers, you must read through to the end of the book to find out what really happened to Jacob.)

The reasons behind these disappearances range from murder to accidents to running away. Billman interviews scientists – there aren’t many of them – who  research how and why people go missing in the wilderness.

So how do people go missing? Much of the time accidents are to blame, usually falls when the person was on their own.  The other main reason? Simply getting lost and dying from exposure, which usually means dehydration or hypothermia. People greatly underestimate the amount of water they need when hiking, especially in the heat. And even temperatures as moderate as 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) can lead to hypothermia.

Sadly the vast majority of the cases do not end well. Billman does include a miraculous rescue, that of a young yoga teacher who went missing in Hawaii for over two weeks. She wandered off the marked trail in a nature preserve and got lost. She survived a fall and a broken leg, but knew enough about nature to stay dehydrated.  Search planes found her by chance in an area of the preserve far outside the search range. She’d wandered much farther than anyone had predicted.

The takeaways from the stories: those who go missing for a long time are found by chance and by people unassociated with the original search and rescue team.  Often as not, the missing  person is in a location logic did not dictate.

Important to remember that our predominantly urban society is spectacularly underequipped to deal with the wilderness. It’s not Disneyland. When exploring the wilderness, listen to the advice of forest rangers and park wardens. Don’t wander off marked trails.  Take the right amount of water, food and supplies with you. And never go alone.

My rating: 5 stars  Eat this book!

A Footnote:  In 2016, at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, Arizona, I took a tour of the Apacheland Movie Set museum. Our guide told us how a hiker had died the day before of heat and dehydration. He’d wandered off the beaten track and gotten lost, one canyon looking much like another. Also that day, three German tourists had set off into the desert with umbrellas to ward off the sun, but greatly underestimated the quantity of water they needed. Fortunately they were rescued, dehydrated but alive.  Read the full story here.

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