Tag Archives: crime

Guest Post: The lowdown on Pasadena, by Tom Gething

Undocumented workers, barrio punks with guns, high-tech strip clubs, grubby city politics, and a backpack full of dirty money—all play a part in the smart new crime novel, Pasadena Payback, by my friend and fellow indie author, M.L. Rudolph.  The action mostly takes place in Pasadena, best known for its Rose Bowl and festive parades, but it starts with a gripping scene on the Arizona border and inevitably leads back there for its life-or-death finale. Serious stuff, but it’s getting there that makes this a fun, fast-paced book.

Crispín, an undocumented landscaper, is at the center of the storm. Everyone is looking for him, or maybe it’s what he knows or what he’s carrying that they want. Poor Crispín has certain obligations he never asked for and family on both sides of the border. He’s just trying to keep a low profile like all those men who stand in front of the Home Depot looking for day jobs. But things go quickly awry.

Rudolph has lots of fun exposing the flaws of the people looking for Crispín, and for me it was this social satire that made the book so enjoyable. Everyone wants power—control really—over others. The ones with power are looking to keep it; the ones with money are looking to buy it; the ones without money are looking to steal it. Power, it turns out, is illusory and quickly vanishes because there’s always a price, or a payback, for getting it.

I enjoyed the West African setting of Rudolph’s first novel, Facing the Son, but this one is even better. It’s gritty, contemporary and right in our own backyard, with characters and issues that are all too real.

Pasadena Payback


(Day Before) Fathers Day FREEBIE!

   June 16, FREE DAY,  for my new novel Pasadena Payback.

   Get Dad a gripping good read for that new Kindle. Take it to the beach. Take it to the shade. Take it with you on your next plane ride.

Crispín Gomez Diaz runs cash between Pasadena and Nogales to pay off his missing brother’s old debt. He has family in Los Angeles and in Sinaloa, and he does what he’s told to keep his family safe from retribution.

  Dirty debts, raw ambition, and old loyalties collide in this fast-moving tale of honor and payback.


PASADENA PAYBACK published today

PASADENA PAYBACK, a crime novel, is the first in my series of Pasadena Crime Novels.

Crispín Gomez Diaz runs cash between Pasadena and Nogales to pay off his missing brother’s old debt. He has family in Los Angeles and in Sinaloa, and he does what he’s told to keep his family safe from retribution.

While Crispín is leaving on his final run for his Pasadena payer, joyriding barrio boys swipe his backpack not knowing that it carries a small fortune hidden among the contents. Crispín has thirty-six hours until his appointment in Nogales. If he shows without the cash he’s dead; if he doesn’t show, his family is.

Meanwhile, Crispin’s undocumented status becomes a behind-the-scenes issue in a local political contest. The gardener no one noticed suddenly becomes popular when he needs to remain invisible until he tracks down his backpack.

Dirty debts, raw ambition, and old loyalties collide in this fast-moving tale of honor and payback.


The Watchman (Joe Pike #1), by Robert Crais

2007. Robert Crais is a master craftsman who delivers on his promise.

There are alot of variations on the LA private eye story. And lots of good practitioners of the genre. Crais is among the best. His two characters Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, in my book, belong among the best LA literary sleuths.

This is Joe Pike’s novel, but Elvis Cole is his buddy and of course he makes more than a cameo. Pike relies on Cole to provide key backup.

Pike is a damaged soul from childhood, but he’s a tough survivor who has beaten back his demons in a way that makes him stronger than anyone else. He lives by a code that prizes loyalty above all else. He protects and serves whether as a member of LAPD or as an independent. He hates bullies in any shape, and he never walks out on a friend.

You can read elsewhere for plot summary. I’m only going to tell you that Pike and his buddy Cole are worth spending time with. Their relationship lifts this story above the standard gumshoe narrative, as do the relationships these men develop with other key people they meet over the course of their cases. The bonds of family and friendship are tested through secondary characters that provide further depth.

Crais knows his police procedural stuff, his ballistics, his forensics, his terrain, and police groupthink. But he knows his characters even better, and that’s why I’ll keep coming back for more.


My First Amazon FREE Day! Sunday, February 19

Rush over to Amazon for my first free promo on KDP Select. Load your Kindle with a wild journey through the African countryside.

Facing the Son, A Novel of Africa

 Go here.  NOW!

And thank you for making the trip.


A Darker Domain, by Val McDermid

2008. A cold missing persons case in a Scottish mining town reopens an unsolved twenty-two year old kidnapping and murder and leads Detective Inspector Karen Pirie to a pair of “unrelated” disappearances which together unravel the complex relationship between the miners and the most powerful man in Scotland.

If that sounds like a huge story, it is. We’ve got: Class warfare. Gender warfare. Abuse of power. Press connivance. Provincialism. Nationalism. Union busters and scabs. Art versus commerce versus love. Marital infidelity and betrayal. Families versus families versus neighbors and friends. Murder, robbery, conspiracy. And the 1984 miners strike in Great Britain.

Plus, to set the clock ticking, a young child is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant from his missing father.

I admire Val McDermid and so do alot of other people. She’s won a shelf of awards and has had her characters and novels brought to life in acclaimed TV programs and serials. She doesn’t need me to write a few words about anything she’s done as journalist or novelist. Her place is secure. My two stars will twinkle in the nighttime sky unseen by anyone but me.

But I barely got through this book. Which made me wonder why we like one book and not another. What makes us connect to a character, say, or a voice? Why do we fall deeply into one story and not care about another? It isn’t simply that one book is well-written and another one isn’t. McDermid writes expertly. She is a master of her craft. I have read other work by her and been blown away.

I like the genre. I lived in London–not Scotland, I admit–and traveled the novel’s terrain. I remember the time and the history of the miners strike.

But reading this book was a chore. So why didn’t I just chuck it and move on to something else? No one forced me to keep reading. That’s what puzzles me.

I kept reading even though I felt led along by made-up characters purposefully created to bring out the class warfare etc as listed above. The plot was overly complex and over the course of four hundred pages it unfolded backwards, as any good mystery does, at a snail’s pace. It didn’t help that nothing was much of a surprise. It didn’t help that nearly all the characters were unlikeable, with the exception of the protag, DI Pirie. It didn’t help that–without giving anything away–a key character explained everything he did in a fifteen page letter, the epistolary equivalent of a drawing room confession, making that character utterly despicable in the process.

McDermid’s fans will probably tell me to get stuffed. Even though the author has deep heartfelt passion for the community of miners, that’s not enough to make for a great or even a good book. Her passion is genuine. The well-crafted book though is a failure. It is flat. It is predictable. It is paint-by-the-numbers.

I guess I’m getting to the reasons why I don’t like this book. But does that translate to why we don’t like one book over another? Do we need to believe, to be surprised, if not wowed, by either story, voice, or character? Do we need to be transported somehow somewhere? Do we need to be more than entertained? Do we need to look up from the book and consider our world a bit differently? What makes a story work, resonate, remain with us?

Don’t have those answers yet. Will keep trying.

Looking on the bright side though, if someone with McDermid’s talent can turn out an occasional clunker, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us. We might just turn the tables on the writing muses and toss off the odd winner.


The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, by Robert Mazur

2009. Without cooperative bankers there is nowhere for the drug trade to wash its billions.

Robert Mazur, Italian American, joined the IRS out of college and became a special agent for their Intelligence Division. In Tampa he learned how to work an undercover identity. After a successful case under his belt, he was offered a job with U.S. Customs meaning a pay cut, a million miles less of red tape, and his dream job.

At his new job, Robert Mazur became Robert Musella, a cover identity close enough to his own New York background for him to easily play the part of a scion of a New York crime family with legit businesses laundering illicit cash flow. Through this cover Mazur/Musella and his colleagues at Customs infiltrated the global financial world of the Columbian drug trade.

From 1983 to 1988 Mazur/Musella little by little ingratiated himself with narco traffickers and narco financiers.  Remember BCCI? They were the dirtiest bank in the world at the time and thrilled to facilitate the flow of narco dollars for fees, all negotiable of course due to the great amounts involved.

These men and women of U.S. Customs put their lives on the line–one wrong step could mean getting whacked–to gather enough evidence to disrupt and seize narco assets, to arrest and prosecute the narco traders and their dirty bankers.

Despite Mazur’s success, at $400 to $500 billion in drug trade revenue per year, $10 trillion has circulated through the world financial system since the success of this case.

The writing reads like a trip report at times but that is part of its appeal. The narrative is straight from the guy who lived through it. Most amazingly, after the takedown and testifying in open court, Mazur survived a $500,000 price tag on his head and wrote this book.

Real story. Real people. Real guts. Real glory.