First Chapter, Reviews

Review Tour of The Black Song Inside by Carlyle Clark

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Book BLURB: Atticus Wynn and Rosemary Sanchez, newly engaged private investigators, have seen the dark and violent side of life. Nothing, though, has prepared them for an explosive murder investigation that threatens to tear their relationship apart as they struggle to solve a case that could leave them in prison or dead.

Atticus’s manipulative ex-girlfriend bursts back into their lives wielding a secret about Rosemary’s family that she exploits to force the couple into investigating the execution-style slaying of her lover. The case thrusts Atticus and Rosemary headlong into the world of human trafficking and drug smuggling, while rendering them pawns in Tijuana Cartel captain Armando Villanueva’s bloody bid to take over the cartel.

The Black Song Inside is a vivid crime thriller rife with murder and madness, melded with gallows humor and the heroism of two flawed and compelling protagonists who, if they can save themselves, may learn the nature of redemption and the ability to forgive.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

ATTICUS WYNN’S GAZE locked on the distorted twin reflections of himself in Detective Meadows’s sunglasses as he prepared to spur himself toward an action that had, for countless people, led to immediate and violent death.

The two men stood in Atticus’s driveway, facing each other a body length apart. Bloated clouds riddled with darkness, threatening to add to San Diego’s record summer rainfall, bunched and rolled across the noon sky as though something large and better unseen moved restlessly inside them. The moisture and heat conspired to transform the air into the breath of a beast.

Detective Meadows stood spread-legged in a pair of khakis, his palms upturned, fingers hooked. His gray golf shirt bulged across his waist, but his arms and shoulders were humped with muscle. His smile was as unnatural as his gel-spiked hair. “Are you going to help us out or not” he asked. “We’re just looking for some professional courtesy here.”

Atticus, back to the wall of his Spanish-style stucco home, hands jammed beneath his armpits with the thumbs skyward, narrowed his eyes. Professional courtesy? That meant Meadows knew Atticus was a private investigator. The subtext was also clear–tell us what you know or lose your license. What had Claire gotten him into? No way to know but to go with Meadows. Before he did however, there was one ploy he could try. It was risky, perhaps fatal. Like every other African-American man, Atticus’s elders had jack-hammered into him the need to never surprise a cop, and he never had, until now.

Atticus lunged into Detective Meadows’s personal space, his face wrangled into a grin. His hand darted up to clutch and squeeze the tall man’s shoulder as he said, “I’d be glad to help.”

The detective flinched, shoulder flexing under Atticus’s palm, fair-skinned cheeks roaring with redness. Atticus stepped back, hands dangling at his sides. He gauged Meadows’s reaction, expecting threats, a tirade, a freckled fist crashing into his jaw–anything but a conciliatory nod and a thin-lipped grin like a slit in an overripe peach.

The black-veined clouds felt very close then, their shadows obscuring the rules of the world Atticus knew. In his experience, men like Meadows considered every encounter a confrontation and would have it no other way. What could motivate him to meet Atticus with such a commitment to faux friendliness?

The detective stepped over to his gray, unmarked cruiser; its buggy whip antenna, fastened into an arc like a scorpion’s tail, quivered with the opening of the door. The back door.

“What happened to professional courtesy?” Atticus said.

Meadows held the smile, the tendons in his neck as taut with potential as the power lines overhead. “Regulations”.

“Of course,” Atticus said, walking toward the cruiser. “What other reason could there be?”

An hour later in police headquarters, Atticus had spent forty-five minutes alone in an interrogation room that reeked of ammonia and fear, with no idea whether his wait was to last seconds or hours. He expected that. It’s part of how they break you. The waiting and wondering make you feel powerless even when you know that’s what it’s supposed to do. If it were important, they’d talk to you immediately, right? So it’s probably no big deal. No need to keep your guard up. By the time they finally come for you, you’re desperate to talk yourself out of your situation. And getting you anxious and talking is what interrogation is all about.

In the age of the smartphone, the isolation ploy doesn’t work as well with a cooperative witness like Atticus. But smartphones create problems too. Like trying to explain why you didn’t call your fiancee, who’s also your partner in your PI business, the moment you had a chance. Pondering Rosemary’s reaction, Atticus shook his head.

No way could he actually talk to her. She’d hear the stress in his voice before he finished his first sentence. And what could he say? “Why am I stressed, honey? Well, the cops are questioning me. Why you ask? Well, it’s like this. Remember Claire? That’s right–my ex, Claire. You know, the sister of your former fiance who killed himself after you dumped him? The one who despises you, swore she’d never forgive you. Well, funny thing, hon. Guess what! She’s blackmailing me into helping her beat a murder charge. What has she got on me, you ask? What could she possibly blackmail me with? Oh nothing. Nothing at all. Actually, the person she’s got something on is you.”

He compromised and texted Rosemary, asking her to shoot him as much info as she could on Meadows ASAP.

Meadows shoved the door open and marched in with a man he introduced as Detective Morales, his partner. Morales stood behind Meadows, thumbs hooked in his belt, and smiled vaguely at Atticus. He seemed to be trying for harmless, but stocky and clad in a bright-banded shirt, his dark-skinned face spattered with nodules and pockmarked, black-pebble eyes measuringly cold, and a bald head, he looked like a Gila monster eyeing a wounded rabbit.

Meadows sat at the head of the table and plunked down a tape recorder. “We’re going to play a 911 call. Please tell us if you recognize the voice of the caller or have any idea what she’s talking about.”

Atticus nodded, suspecting the real reason they wanted to play it for him without a hint of what it was about was to keep him from having the chance to guard his reaction. That didn’t worry him. His childhood had trained him to hide his feelings well. The question was how was he going to glean more information than he gave?

“911, what’s your emergency?” the dispatcher said.

“There’s a girl,” a woman said, choking back tears. “She needs help.”

“Is she there with you?”

“No, no, oh God help me. I left her out there.”

“Left here where, ma’am?”

“In the desert. She was dying and I . . .I just left her there. You have to understand! She was already dying. There was nothing I could have done. It was hours ago. She’s dead by now anyway.”

Meadows leaned toward Atticus. Morales seemed to stop breathing, but who can tell with a Gila monster?

Then came the sound of five quick thwacks that sounded like the receiver was being banged against something while the woman repeated “fuck” over and over.

“Listen, ma’am,” the dispatcher said, “you need to calm down and tell me who you are, where you are, and where the girl is. We can send people to give you whatever help you need.”

The woman was suddenly back, her voice tight and venomous. “You can send me whatever help I need? That’s so wonderful. Can you send someone who can tell me how to get my soul back?”

“Ma’am, I–“

“It’s a very simple fucking question! Can you send me someone who can help me get my fucking soul back, or can’t you?”

“Ma’am, you need to calm–“

“GOD HELP ME!” the woman shrieked.

There was banging again, but this sounded different, not something hard against something hard, but soft against hard. The woman’s crying grew fainter, along with the sound of footsteps walking away, and then came the roar of a car engine and the squeal of tires. The tape ended.

“What was that at the end there?” Atticus asked. He hadn’t recognized the voice or had a clue what was going on, which was good, for him at least. For that woman and that girl, the moon was closer than good.

Morales and Meadows glanced at each other. Morales shrugged. Meadows said, “She was calling from one of those three-quarter phone booths. We’ve got a witness who said she went crazy at the end, banging the plastic with her fists, palms, elbows, her head, everything. Then she staggered away crying, got into a car, and drove away.”

“Was she alone?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know what girl she was talking about?”

“The question is, Atticus, do you?”

“Not a clue.”

“When was the last time you saw Clarice Rousseau?”

Atticus blinked, paused, blurted too late, “About two hours ago.”

Morales tilted his head, his brow furrowing, a caricature of confusion.

Meadows leaned forward and said, “Took you awhile to remember. Weird, isn’t it?”

So much for not giving anything away, Atticus thought. Damn. He had been foolish to think he could spring a trap laid by professionals, snatch the bait, and spring away unscathed. Now they had him on the ropes, and the way to get off them was by swinging. “I wasn’t remembering. Just found it quite a coincidence that you would ask about her right after the first time I’ve seen her in years. You were following her, huh? Then you followed me. The timing’s about right. You ran my license, pulled my files, and then decided to drag me in here. But you came to see me alone, Detective. Isn’t that a break with your beloved regulations?”

Meadows’s blue eyes were almost as unreadable as his sunglasses were. “Was your meeting with Claire planned?”

“My lawyer said she wanted to see me. I met her there.”

“Why did she want to see you so bad?”

“Claire didn’t really want to see me,” Atticus said, skating the rim of a lie. “She was just hoping I would clean up her mess like I used to.”

“Mess?” Meadows asked.

“She said you guys think she killed her boyfriend, and the Tijuana Cartel thinks she has the drug money her boyfriend supposedly had.”

When the detectives heard “drug money”, their gazes sharpened. Atticus couldn’t tell if he had surprised them or confirmed something they suspected.

“How much money?” Meadows asked.

“You guys don’t know?” Silent stone cop faces was the reply, so Atticus said, “Don’t know. Way she talked, it sounded like a lot.”

“Why come to you?”

“We dated in college. Maybe she thought I was still carrying a torch for her and would be eager to help her out.”

“Will you?” Meadows was poking around, feeling out whether Atticus was a broken-hearted puppet awaiting the return of his puppeteer, a pathetic man who would murder on command for a lover who’d scorned him.

Atticus shook his head. “Seeing her was the best thing that could have happened to me. Now I know I’ve moved on. I don’t wish her any ill, but she’s on her own.”

Meadows’s expression told Atticus that the last line sold it–the jilted lover taking a smidgen of pleasure in his ex’s pain, but not enough to be suspected of being the cause of it. Pettiness can be useful.

“Do you know a Steven Delacroix from Morgan City, Louisiana?”

“No, but I know he’s the victim,” Atticus said. Claire was from Morgan City, but she had never mentioned Delacroix back when she and Atticus were together.

Meadows and Morales eyed him expectantly. When you’re innocent, they expect you to proclaim it loudly and passionately, to anyone who will listen, but to Atticus that felt like begging, and begging he would never, ever do. But show emotion? That he could do, just by cracking open the bottle he kept it in. Instead, he stared into the space between the detectives, keeping his face pleasant and quizzical, knowing that few could bear a charged silence like the detectives had created. Atticus let the moment stretch.

What were the detectives really up to? Too many things from the moment Meadows stopped him in his driveway didn’t make sense. They were too loose with information without knowing what he knew. Like they needed him to know certain things. Could the interrogation be a ruse? If so, why? What did the girl and woman on the tape have to do with the murder of Claire’s boyfriend and the missing drug money?

Atticus knew that despite what primetime TV might say, cops never turn to civilians looking for Sherlock Holmesian feats of investigation. They use civilians as informants, willing or unwilling, knowing or unknowing, pawns pushed into battle with knights, bishops, rooks, and queens. As for the fate of the pawn, that’s on him. It’s a blame-the-victim world.

Review:

OMG!  Really, Mr. Clark?  Where have you been all of my life?  Your debut is stunning.  It has murder, mayhem, twist and turns that left me breathless and a villain that we can honestly hate.  What really drew me in was your writing.

Yes, I love a good crime thriller and I read them all.  But with you, your pacing, dialogue, character development and overall sense of the story is brilliant.  I don’t think I’ve ever read one as breathtaking as yours.  I’m not talking about unicorns and flowers.  I’m talking about taking my breath away.  There is something to be said when an author has one his characters find a bit of humor in the book to break up the tension.

Another thing is that even though the book is about a newly engaged couple, the romance is not the focus.  Yes, this is primarily a romance blog but somehow I didn’t need all the romance to show the intensity of the Atticus and Rosemary has for each other.  It’s there with a glance or just a line or two.  Plus, I also liked that the ex was a plot point…not a device.  Nicely played, I mean written.

Between the human trafficking, an evil drug cartel and The Priest…*shakes head* I’m still trying to come done from reading it.  I don’t think a crime thriller has ever made me sit and think about what I’ve read.  The brutality of the subjects that were brought up in the book are not easy ones to read.

I have to applaud you Mr. Clark for your stunning debut and I look forward to more of your work in the future.  J

 

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4.5harlies

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BIO: Carlyle Clark was raised in Poway, a city just north of San Diego, but is now a proud Chicagolander working in the field of Corporate Security and writing crime and fantasy fiction. He has flailed ineffectually at performing the writer’s requisite myriad of random jobs: pizza deliverer, curb address painter, sweatshop laborer, day laborer, night laborer, security guard, campus police, Gallup pollster, medical courier, vehicle procurer, and signature-for-petitions-getter.

He is a married man with two cats and a dog. He is also a martial arts enthusiast and a CrossFit endurer who enjoys fishing, sports, movies, TV series with continuing storylines, and of course, reading. Most inconsequentially, he holds the unrecognized distinction of being one of the few people in the world who have been paid to watch concrete dry in the dark. Tragically, that is a true statement.

 

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4 thoughts on “Review Tour of The Black Song Inside by Carlyle Clark”

  1. Harlie, Carlyle is my husband, so of course I love his work, but I just wanted to thank you personally for your enthusiasm and let you know how thrilled I am that you enjoyed this novel. I wish you limitless joy for the holidays and all year long.

    Best to you and yours,

    Suki Michelle

    1. I can’t wait to read more of your husband’s work. I did post my review on Amazon, too. I’m Brian’s Mom!

      Happy Holidays!

      Harlie

  2. I thought this was really good too – there were times where it was a so intense that I had to stop to sort of regroup but overall I thought this was a very good thriller!

So what do you think?