Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2019

The roaring twenties are upon us. And I am already tired of the Gatsby references. Luckily there are plenty of books to take us away from those things. And there will be some awesome books in the New Year likely to make us forget all about Fitzgerald. Maybe.
There were some damn good stories in 2019 and killer short reads that don’t necessarily count as books. This includes S.W. Lauden’s fantastic “Power Pop” novella. The memoir “Resurrections in the Dark” by Janice Blaze Rocke provided a living, breathing tale that’s hard to forget as well. I’d recommend checking both out, not to mention “All the Way Down” by Eric Beetner.
I did a terrible job of tracking my reading over the last year. By my estimate I read about 21 books, down from last year’s count, but not bad for a slow page turner like me. Here’s the usual disclaimer – I read these books in 2019, but that doesn’t mean they came out this year. Some did, of course, but I choose my annual favorites from the stack and not by publication date.

Wonton Terror by Vivien Chien

“Wonton Terror” is the latest installment of Vivien Chien’s wonderful cozy mystery series and pits our series hero Lana Lee against a murderer who knows a thing or two about blowing things up. Lana is nearly killed by a bomb blast in Ohio’s Asian Night Market. While she makes it through with minor injuries, a family friend isn’t so lucky. Lana is determined to know why he was killed.
Having discovered Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series just this year, I have endeavored to consume them all. Fun, fast reads, and she’s already got at least two more in the literary pipeline.
Visit the Noodle Shop here.

101 by Tom Pitts

Thank God for friends. Young Jerry Bertram finds himself in deadly peril after snatching cash from a biker gang in northern California. When they come gunning for him, his mother steps in to help, enlisting the aid of a pot grower and all-around tough guy Vic. But even their aid may not be enough to kill what’s coming for them.
Pitts takes the silencer off the barrel and comes in guns blazing with his latest book. It’s always a thrill to read this guy’s stuff.
Take a trip on the 101 here.

Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson hits one out of the fantasy ball park in his latest book, “Spine of the Dragon.” We’re given some truly creative characters and fantastic fantasy elements, ones readers will be daydreaming about well after turning the last page. Here we meet King Adan Starfall, the disgraced Brava Elliel, King Kollanan, the ancient Wreths; we explore the Commonwealth, and of course wake the dragon! I totally enjoyed this read and look forward to book two in this new series.
Grab your sword and read the book here.

Cold Girl by R.M. Greenaway

Talk about creeping dread. That’s what readers can expect when they enter the world of R.M. Greenaway’s “Cold Girl,” the first in her B.C. Blues Crime series. The novel centers on the disappearance of a local musician and the realization she may be in the hands of the notorious Pickup Killer. Called a police procedural, but damn hot for us readers who like chilling scenes and frozen climates in our killer crime fiction.
Lay your cold hands on a copy here.

Call Down the Thunder by Dietrich Kalteis

Author Dietrich Kalteis brings reader into the thick of the 1930s Dust Bowl in his 2019 novel “Call Down the Thunder.” In it we meet the tough as leather Sonny Myers, who happens to be a bit down on his luck, and his vibrant wife Clara, who wants a little more than Sonny can offer. Not that anyone else was doing much better in Kansas at the time, anyone except the crooks. Sonny comes to realize this sad fact and decides to help himself to a bit of the loot the same way the crooks do.
This is a fantastic historical crime thriller, which takes readers into a desperate chapter of American life, and adds a touch of sweetness only Kalteis can create.
Get your thunder on here.

Read an excerpt from Call Down the Thunder: A crime novel by Dietrich Kalteis

Call Down the Thunder
By Dietrich Kalteis
ECW Press (October 15, 2019)

Dietrich Kalteis has produced another gem with his latest historical crime novel, “Call Down the Thunder,” out this month from ECW Press. Read the description below followed by an excerpt of the novel courtesy of ECW. Find your copy here!

Amazon.com description:

Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on: their land’s gone dry, barren, and worthless; the bankers are greedy and hungry, trying to squeeze them and other farmers out of their homes; and, on top of that, their marriage is in trouble. The couple can struggle and wither along with the land or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the others. Clara is all for leaving, but Sonny refuses to abandon the family farm.
In a fit of temper, she takes off westward in their old battered truck. Alone on the farm and determined to get back Clara and the good old days, Sonny comes up with an idea, a way to keep his land and even prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery. He sets the scheme in motion under the cover of the commotion being caused by a rainmaker hired by the mayor to call down the thunder and wash away everyone’s troubles.

Author photo by Andrea Kalteis.

Call Down the Thunder book excerpt:

Not getting out of Kansas tonight. The dusk was coming on.

Clara sat on the bumper. The steam had stopped rising from under the hood. Had only been the one truck drive by since she broke down. Likely end up sleeping in the truck.

Then she heard it, coming from a long way off, raising dust behind it. An old Packard with the square cab, the headlights high and on either side of the windshield, the kind of truck they used for delivering the post when she was a kid. This one painted brown, gold lettering down the wood-
paneled sides. The driver slowed to a stop and leaned across the seat, calling out the window.

“Got trouble?”

Some kind of scorn would likely have the man driving off. Clara smiled and said, “Darn thing started clunking and blowing steam, then quit. Sure be grateful in case you got some water to spare, mister.” Clara sizing the man up, medium height with a hawk nose, bug eyes and bushes for eyebrows and sideburns, looked harmless enough.

“Your lucky day. Water’s my game,” he said, pointing at the lettering down the side.

Eugene Cobb, Rainmaker.

Getting out, he stuck a bowler on his head, came around the front bumper and said his name, looking over the old Hudson, never seen something on the road with this little paint left on it.

“Rainmaker, huh?” She smiled and said her name.

“Spoken with the note of the skeptic, Clara.” Pulling open his passenger door, Eugene took a canteen from behind the seat, giving it a shake and offering it to her.

“You make it?” Taking it, she smiled and had a drink. Couldn’t believe how good it felt going down.

“Pumped it fresh this morning.”

“Let me ask, how you go about making it rain, Eugene?” She drank some more.

Crooking a finger, he wanted her to follow to the rear of his truck, flapping back the musty canvas. Behind some packs and tubs of supplies stood a kind of mortar on a tripod, strapped to the truck’s floor. A simple affair of a tripod base, a long barrel and a bipod mount. The thing painted black with his name painted gold along its barrel.

“That like a cannon?”

“Cannon’s more an artillery gun, fires a flat trajectory. Roundshot mostly.” He climbed up in back. “What I fire’s more of a canister shot, what I call my Cobb-busters.”

“Shoot them where?”

“The sky, of course.”

“Can I ask why?” She drank some more.

“Causes it to concuss, see? Makes it rain.”

Clara looked up at the cloudless evening, the moon and stars starting to show.

“Can see you’re a doubting Debbie.”

“Never seen a fella do it, blast the sky, is all.” She looked at the tubs of sulfur and black powder, bottles of colored liquid, some labeled ether.

“Pack them special, my Cobb-busters.” Reaching a hollow tube with welded propellent fins, his name down the side. Cradling it in his arms, he explained about removing the explosive, how he repacked it, then dropped it in the cast-iron tube, how it hit the firing pin and shot into the heavens, the special blast bringing about the rain. Saying, “I calculate the trajectory, windspeed and velocity, you see?” Smiling, Eugene set the missile back down, pushed a pack aside and came up with a jug, sloshing it around, holding it out.

“What’s this?”

“Water . . . for your radiator.”

“You make it?” She smiled again, handing the canteen back.

Tossing the empty canteen to the corner, he hopped down, took the jug over to her truck, looking under the folded hood. He scraped remnants of seeds and nuts from the radiator, pointing to where some rodent had chewed through the tubes.

Clara leaned in and saw what he was pointing at.

“Little buggers built nests, see there?”

“How far you figure I’ll get?”

“Was wondering how you got this far.” Shaking his head, he set the hood down. “Need a new hose, at least that.”

“Saying I’m damn out of luck.”

“Well, I can offer you a lift.”

Clara looked up the road, then back the way she’d come, then at him. “Where to?”

Excerpted from Call Down the Thunder by Dietrich Kalteis. © 2019 by Dietrich Kalteis. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd. www.ecwpress.com

Michael Newton – a chat with an amazing author

Michael Newton is one of the hardest working writers in the industry. He’s published more than 335 books, some under a different name, including The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, a number of fiction series such as the M.I.A. Hunter, The Gun westerns, and plenty more. His work in non-fiction is as prolific as his work in fiction. He’s written books on the subject of writing, as a matter of fact, which anyone interested in writing should read.


He’s also well known for his contributions to The Executioner series originally created by Don Pendleton and he’s even written for The Destroyer series. Newton got his start as a “ghost author” for the Mack Bolan Executioner titles and has written 131 “episodes” of the popular man-of-action series to date, with more on the way.

Beginning in 2018 and ending this year in 2019, he penned a series of 10 novels for Wolfpack Publishing based on the history of the Federal Bureau of investigations. In Honor Bound is the first of the series. Set in 1917, it follows three law school graduates as they set out to join the fray for World War I. Before they get a chance to register for service, J. Edgar Hoover extends to them an invitation to join the U.S. Department of Justice.


The series charts the Bureau’s history through the lives of five families: the Gantts, the O’Haras, the Giordanos, the Sawyers, and the Babins. Book 10, When Honor Dies, features a world of terrorism threats from the home front and from the Middle East. The fates of the series’ families are revealed amidst the tragedy of 9/11.

I recently had the honor of talking to Michael about his writing. He said he first got the idea for The Bureau series in 1986.


“I’ve long enjoyed similar (much better!) series by Max Alan Collins, John Jakes, Stephen Hunter and W.E.B. Griffin, but I fell far short of their great achievements this time around. Toward the end it felt a bit like Vietnam or Afghanistan: no exit,” Newton said.


When it comes to his writing, Newton said he’s wanted to be a writer ever since he learned how to put words on paper in grade school. He’s currently hard at work on a new Executioner title, the first ever biography of Albert Anastasia, and much more.


“The money [was] also an attraction, freeing me from a dead-end Nevada teaching job in 1986 and allowing me to write full-time ever since,” Newton said. “For years the Bolan work represented roughly half my yearly income, but 2014 took a toll, my Berkley Western editor fired and an ongoing series canceled, then Harlequin bought out by HarperCollins and the end of the Bolan series announced in December. They’ve reconsidered that, as you know, but at a rate of four books yearly rather than 24, so with luck I get one rather than the former three or four.”


He’s recently fallen back into the realm of “writer-for-hire” as well.


“[This includes] three books for an action series forthcoming from Wolfpack Publishing, rumbles of a Western series (also from Wolfpack), and a two-book contract for Berkley under the late Ralph Compton’s name (also Westerns),” Newton said. “All of those pay by the word, and I’m back to the kind of thing that was my staple during 1978-81, before Gold Eagle came along. I don’t know if that’s coming full-circle or just circling the drain.”

Learn everything there is to know about this amazing guy over on his website.

REVIEW AND INTERVIEW: That’ll Be The Day with S.W. Lauden

Cover for That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist
by S.W. Lauden

There’s always that one sibling. It seems there’s one in every nuclear pod. In That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist by S.W. Lauden, we’re introduced to Jackson Sharp the moment he breathes free air for the first time in a long while. Only he may not be breathing it for much longer thanks to his brother, Jamie, who has a heist in mind that’s sure to make any fan of the Beatles froth at the mouth. Should things go wrong, Jack will end up right back in the bowels of Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where neither of his siblings ever care enough to visit.

With a setting near Tulsa, Lauden’s toe-tapping, gritty novelette is like the Outsiders on a punked-up, rockabilly high. It’s a smooth crime story with a playlist sure to get a song or two stuck in your head while you read.

That’ll Be The Day drops June 18th. Boogie on over here for your copy. My interview with the man himself, S.W. Lauden, is below.

S.W. Lauden

WHITEHURST: Besides short stories featured in anthologies, you’re the author of three books in the Greg Salem series and two Tommy and Shayna novellas. Why write a novelette?

LAUDEN: I didn’t exactly set out to write a 17,000-word story, but I always knew it would end up somewhere between a short story (5,000 words) and a novella (30,000 words). My other books have all been published by indie presses, but I’ve been interested in the idea of self-publishing for a while. With a story like That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist—an odd length and a super niche-y subject—I decided it was time to give it a whirl.

WHITEHURST: What was your inspiration for That’ll Be The Day?

LAUDEN: Late last year I got offered the chance to co-edit an essay collection about power pop with Paul Myers (it’s called Go All The Way and Rare Bird Books will publish it this October). Re/discovering bands like Raspberries, The Knack, The Records, Shoes, The Shivvers, Dwight Twilley, The Bangles, Teenage Fanclub, Fountains of Wayne, New Pornographers, etc. quickly became an obsession. I didn’t plan for my power pop research to also become a crime novelette, but I’m really glad it did. It was a blast writing about the Sharp brothers, their failed music career, and the life of crime that followed.

WHITEHURST: Your knowledge of music, bands, and instruments is solid. What’s the story there?

LAUDEN: Most of my life has been organized around music. I had older brothers that got me into classic rock and heavy metal as a kid, before I discovered punk in junior high. From there I was off to the races, listening to a lot of glam rock, post punk, new wave, power pop, alternative rock, Brit pop—you name it. I started playing drums in bands in high school and didn’t stop for any real length of time until my early 40s. I got to make a few records and tour, etc. Given all that, I suppose it’s no surprise that a lot of my crime fiction revolves around music and musicians.

WHITEHURST: What’s next for you?

LAUDEN: I recently played drums on a record for an LA-based garage rock/power pop band called The Brothers Steve. We’re self-releasing a limited run of vinyl in late July, but songs will start popping up in various places between now and then. We definitely won’t be touring (too many adult responsibilities for anything crazy like that), but we might play a couple of shows here and there.

Info at https://www.thebrotherssteve.com.

WHITEHURST: Thanks for stopping by for a chat!

LAUDEN: Thanks for reading the book and inviting me to your blog!

BIO: S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including Bad Citizen Corporation, Grizzly Season and Hang Time. His Tommy & Shayna novellas include Crosswise and Crossed Bones. A new novelette, That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, will be released on June 18, 2019. S.W. Lauden is the pen name of Steve Coulter, drummer for Tsar and The Brothers Steve. More info at http://swlauden.com.