Author Spotlight: Michael Niemann

Nieman.jpgMichael Niemann is an author I like to follow. His popular Valentin Vermeulen series follows a UN investigator to exotic places around the world. His thrillers are well-plotted and crisp stories. His new book Illegal Holdings is the third in his Vermeulen series. Here is a synopsis of Illegal Holdings:

UN fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen is on assignment in Maputo, Mozambique. His ho-hum task is to see if Global Alternatives is spending UN money the way they promised. The nonprofit was set up by hedge fund mogul Vincent Portallis to revolutionize development aid. The only upside for Vermeulen is the prospect of seeing his lover Tessa Bishonga, who is reporting on foreign land acquisitions in Africa.

When Vermeulen notices that a five-million-dollar transfer has gone missing, he is given the run-around. First he is told the files have been mislaid, then stolen, then he is assured that the money was never transferred to begin with. But the money was transferred, so where is it now? Vermeulen’s dogged pursuit of the missing transfer makes him the target of some ruthless operators. And once he meets up with Tessa, she is inevitably sucked in to the story as well, which turns out to be far more nefarious than either of them imagined.

Illegal Holdings is available in all formats. Here is an excerpt:

“An Uncanny Sense

It was just another Tuesday morning in late January, the warmest and rainiest month in Maputo. Acacia pods littered the streets of Mozambique’s capital, and its million-and-a-half residents were looking forward to winter.
The email, which arrived at the Nossa Terra office at eight thirty, hit Aisa Simango like a fist in the stomach.
She was looking out the window. That much she remembered afterwards. Looking at the Avenida Vladimir Lenine, thinking that the street seemed forlorn in the watery morning light. Why she was looking out of the window, she didn’t remember. She should have been printing the agenda for the nine o’clock staff meeting, steeling herself for the chaos that erupted when her staff barged into the office.
Instead, she was standing by the window, pensive. Maybe she’d stopped to straighten the picture of her children, Alima and João, on the windowsill. Sometimes the vibrations of a heavy truck driving by nudged it closer to the edge. Or perhaps she was thinking about the Sofala Project, wondering if it stood any chance of being completed on time.
In any case, her computer dinged, she sat down and opened the message.
It came from the Maputo office of Global Alternatives, the Swiss foundation set up by hedge-fund billionaire Vincent Portallis. The foundation was a newcomer to the development-aid field. It undertook big, flashy projects, lured famous actors to its causes, and dispensed a trickle of the millions of dollars it leveraged to local subcontractors like Nossa Terra.
The message itself started with the usual noncommittal niceties—Greetings, Aisa. How are things? It’s been a while—but got to the point quickly. We’ve emailed Helton  Paito repeatedly regarding a discrepancy in the disbursements. We’ve received no reply. Would you kindly review the numbers in the attached spreadsheet and supply the proper documentation, or alternatively, remit the specified amount to Global Alternatives?
She wasn’t worried yet. Not then. The message sounded more pro forma than anything. Just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Making sure all the numbers added up, accountability and efficacy being big buzzwords in the donor community. Most likely, Helton was already dealing with it. Her first glance at the spreadsheet also didn’t raise any suspicions. Yes, they had proposed to spend those sums for those purposes. She knew, because she had personally reviewed the project proposal before submitting it five months ago.
It was the last column that sent her reeling. She rubbed her eyes, focused on the street outside, then back on the screen. The numbers were still there, including the last one, bold and in bright red. Like dabs of blood left on the screen. The number was too large, too ghastly to imagine. Five million dollars. Unaccounted for, missing, not properly documented. No matter what phrase she came up with, it still meant trouble, serious trouble.
Of course, it was all wrong. Five months ago, when they’d been notified that the project in Sofala had been accepted, everybody had clapped. But so far, they’d only received a small disbursement. Enough to set up the infrastructure and hire personnel. Certainly not five million dollars.
She got up. Went to the window. And back to her desk. She grabbed her mobile. Call Global Alternatives, ask if there has been a mistake, if this is someone’s idea of a joke. She didn’t. Obviously, Global Alternatives wouldn’t make a mistake or a joke.
There were documents, receipts, invoices for the hundred thousand they’d received. They could account for all expenditures. She dialed Helton’s number. He would know where the mistake lay, which numbers had ended up in the wrong column, projected expenses instead of disbursements, or vice versa. He was her second in command and usually the second one through the door in the morning. He answered after four rings.
Bom dia, Helton,” she said. “Where are you?”
“Just got off the chapa at Julius Nyerere. Be there in fifteen.”
“I need you here now.”
The chapa stop, where the minibus taxis dropped and picked up passengers, was close enough, one of the reasons they had chosen an office so far from central Maputo. But Helton liked to check out the wares of the hawkers along the roundabout connecting Avenida Vladimir Lenine and Avenida Julius Nyerere.
“I still need breakfast. Why the hurry? Tudo bem?”
“No, everything isn’t okay. Where are we with the Sofala Project.”
“We completed the first phase. We rented a space, hired a local manager, did the registration and all that. Next phase is community meetings. Then comes the big stuff—land acquisition.”
“And we’ve spent what, a hundred thousand?” She hated the guessing game. A sheet of paper, better yet, an old-fashioned ledger with dated entries for every last centavo would have calmed her.
“Yes, about that much.”
“And you have documentation for every expenditure?” She held her breath without meaning to. Helton had been good for Nossa Terra, even if she didn’t always get along with him. He was the accountant who’d made it possible to land projects like the one with Global Alternatives.
“Of course. I’ll be there soon. Até já.”
He sounded both upset and defensive when he ended the call.
She went back to the window. The melancholy she felt when looking at the Avenida Vladimir Lenine in the rain was more bearable than the dejection evoked by the stark office. When Nossa Terra first moved here after their big expansion four years earlier, the soulless space had weighed on her. But the rent was cheap and Nossa Terra had no money. Since then, new employees had tried to spruce it up. They affixed posters to the walls and brought in all sorts of plants. In the end, they all surrendered to the futility of the makeover, giving in to the cement walls, impervious to any improvement.
Before the move, Nossa Terra had been a scrappy community organization fighting for land so its members could farm. It had taken Aisa in thirteen years earlier. She had just given birth to João sixteen months after having Alima. Their father up and left, unwilling to face raising children. She was desperate for food, shelter, companions. She wasn’t much of a farmer, but she had an uncanny sense of the limit beyond which the authorities would abandon any pretense of accommodation and just call the police. That skill helped her get concessions, then leases, and eventually, land titles.
By that time, the global aid complex had fully embraced Mozambique. Nossa Terra was noticed. Graduate students from Scandinavian universities came to study it. A documentary filmmaker from Brazil shot enough footage to put together an hour-long feature.
When the foundations came knocking, Aisa, the single mom, was ready. She hired three staff not knowing how she’d pay them at the end of the month and drew up a proposal to expand the work Nossa Terra had done near Maputo to the next province. After submitting the proposal, she landed her first project, worth a hundred thousand dollars, three days before payroll came due.
Helton barged into the office. He seemed to compress the air in any room he entered. The others called him “Hilton,” not because he was as refined as a luxury hotel, but as big as they imagined a Hilton to be. It wasn’t just his size. With his shiny face, wooly hair, spotty beard, and big smile, he exuded maleness, not in a primordial sense, more in a here’s-a-guy’s-guy sense. Men liked him automatically. Many women did, too. Even some who worked at Nossa Terra. Aisa wasn’t one of them.
“What’s the matter with the Sofala Project?” he said, stopping in the open door.
“Have they contacted you?”
“Yes. Routine stuff. Why?”
Closing the door, he walked to his desk, took off the blue suit coat, and hung it over the back of the chair. Helton always wore a suit, shirt, and tie. Since he only had the one suit, time had taken its toll on the garment. Aisa thought a simple shirt with tie would look far better, but the suit was part of Helton’s guyness.
“So far they’ve disbursed a hundred thousand?” she said.
“Yes, yes. I told you.”
“I received an email from Global Alternatives. They mentioned discrepancies. They say they have repeatedly sent you messages.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve gotten requests for documentation,” he said. “I sent them.”
“Well, the discrepancies are still there.”
“What discrepancies?”
“Five million dollars worth of discrepancies,” she said.
“Impossible.”
She turned to the computer, thinking that Helton’s protestation made him look like he knew more.
“Look at the spreadsheet.”
He plopped into Aisa’s chair, which squeaked under his weight. He jiggled the mouse. The picture of Maputo’s beachfront disappeared and the columns and numbers reappeared, the last one still a blood-red punctuation mark. Helton followed the numbers, his right index finger moving down the screen. He mouthed each number silently. As the finger approached the red number, he started shaking his head.
“No,” he said so quietly she barely heard it. “No, no, no.” His voice became louder with each “No.” Whatever defensiveness Aisa thought she’d noticed was gone. The Helton before her was a man utterly shocked.
“This can’t be,” he said. “They’re basically saying we’ve accepted five million and submitted no expenditure reports, no receipts, nothing. As if we took the money and socked it away in a secret account in Jo’burg.”
“But we didn’t, right?”
He gave her a withering look. “Do you have to ask?”
“I’m sorry, but I do. For the record.”

END.

Here is Niemann’s bio:

Nieman Author pic.jpg

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he switched to mysteries as a different way to write about the world.”

Find Michael online here:

http://michael-niemann.com

Twitter: @m_e_niemann

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelNiemannAuthor/

Amazon: (https://www.amazon.com/Illegal-Holdings-Valentin-Vemeulen-Thriller/dp/1603815910/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8)

Barnes and Noble: (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/illegal-holdings-michael-niemann/1127477738?ean=9781603815918)

Kobo: (https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/illegal-holdings-1)

 

Cynthia Kuhn -The Art of Vanishing

I wanted to take a minute to post about the newest release from one of the authors I follow. Cynthia Kuhn’s “The Art of Vanishing,” came out in February 2017, if you are building your summer reading list this might not be a bad place to start. See below.

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Series, which includes The Semester of Our Discontent, an Agatha Award recipient (Best First Novel), and The Art of Vanishing, a Lefty Award nominee (Best Humorous Mystery). The third in the series, The Spirit in Question, will be out in fall 2018. She is professor of English at Metropolitan State University of Denver and current president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

Synopsis:

When Professor Lila Maclean is sent to interview celebrated author and notorious cad Damon Von Tussel, he disappears before her very eyes. The English department is thrown into chaos by the news, as Damon is supposed to headline Stonedale University’s upcoming Arts Week.

The chancellor makes it clear that he expects Lila to locate the writer and set events back on track immediately. But someone appears to have a different plan: strange warnings are received, valuable items go missing, and a series of dangerous incidents threaten the lives of Stonedale’s guests. After her beloved mother, who happens to be Damon’s ex, rushes onto campus and into harm’s way, Lila has even more reason to bring the culprit to light before anything—or anyone—else vanishes.

Excerpt from The Art of Vanishing (Henery Press, 2017):

“Damon strode through the crowd, cutting a clean swath right down the middle as people moved out of his way, and entered a room at the end of the corridor. He slammed the door. A handful of people followed, as if pulled along in his wake, and someone banged on the door until a roar emerged, telling them to leave him alone. Tally Bendel squeezed her way to the front and turned around to face the people standing there.

“Let’s give Mr. Von Tussel a break, shall we? I’ll see if he can talk to you later, but for now, please give him some space. Help yourself to a coffee on your way out.” She gestured toward the area on the right.  “It’s by the far wall.”

Slowly, the others did as she asked. She knocked on the door again, identifying herself. The door cracked open slightly. She spoke through the opening in a low voice. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but after a minute, the door slammed again, and Tally left.

This was my chance. I moved quickly down the corridor until I was in front of the door. I cupped my hand and listened for a second, but I couldn’t hear anything. I knocked gently. There was no answer. I twisted the door handle, but it was locked. There was nothing else to do but return to the niche and try again later.

One by one, Damon’s agent spoke to some lingerers in the main area, and they left. When it was down to Tally and Mr. Bow Tie, they returned to the room where the author had sequestered himself. She called out to him. There was no answer.

The man called out as well, with the same result.

“Can’t you just unlock it?” Tally asked him, placing her hand on his forearm.

He removed a large set of keys from his pocket and sorted through them. “Are you sure?” he asked, looking nervous. Maybe his jitteriness wasn’t natural but had been born from earlier encounters with Damon.

She nodded firmly. “He needs me.”

He slid a key into the lock and turned the handle. Tally flew into the room, emerging a moment later with a confused expression. She said something I couldn’t hear, then they both hurried inside.

I moved to the doorway and peered around the two of them. The room was empty.

Damon Von Tussel had vanished.”

SOCIAL MEDIA Links: 

Website: cynthiakuhn.net 
Twitter: @cynthiakuhn
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cynthiakuhnwriter

 

 

BUY LINKS

Amazon: amzn.to/2gsGddK
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Intl: http://authl.it/B01NBHR7Y6

Author Spotlight: Mark Bacon’s Desert Kill Switch

Desert Kill Switch Front cover final smal

Mark Bacon is a former crime reporter turned novelist. His newest release Desert Kill Switch is the second offering in the Nostalgia City Mystery Series and bears a look. Attached is the synopsis and other information about Mark and Desert Kill Switch.

Synopsis

A life-and-death chase across the Nevada desert in the middle of August highlights the action in Desert Kill Switch a complex mystery spread across the southwest

On an empty desert road, stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming finds a bullet-riddled body next to a mint-condition 1970s Pontiac Firebird. When he returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies: no car, no body.  Does the answer lie in Nostalgia City where Lyle works? The Arizona retro theme park re-creates—in every detail—an entire small town from the early 1970s.  It’s complete with period cars, clothes, music, hairstyles, food, shops, fads, restaurants—the works.

Lyle swapped his job as a Phoenix homicide detective for a cab in Nostalgia City when the anxieties and disappointments of police work nearly pushed him over the edge.

Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Nevada on park business when she gets mixed up with a sleazy Las Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” and GPS trackers in cars he sells—mainly to low-income buyers.  Miss a payment—sometimes by as little as a few days—and your car is dead.  Maybe you are, too.

When Kate’s accused of murder in Reno, Lyle arrives to help his blonde, not-quite-girlfriend and they plow through a deadly tangle of suspects and motives.  Kate and Lyle hit one dead end after another as they struggle to exonerate Kate, catch a blackmailer, save a witness’s life, and help find the missing corpse.

Praise

“In Desert Kill Switch, Lyle Deming, an ex-cop who drives a cab in a retro theme park, and co-worker Kate Sorensen, are unexpectedly thrown together again when Kate becomes a murder suspect. If you like fast-paced mysteries, nasty characters and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing to the end, this is a must read!”

“Love this book! I was so happy to be back in Nostalgia City, the retro theme park. Bacon’s protagonist Kate Sorensen is a three-dimensional character, who stands up to challenges without being ‘super woman.’ This is the kind of book where you keep saying ‘just one more chapter.’”

Mark’s Bio

Mark S. Bacon began his career as a southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades.

After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing when he became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the road from Disneyland.  Experience working at Knott’s formed part of the inspiration for his creation of Nostalgia City theme park.

Before turning to fiction, Bacon wrote business books including Do-It-yourself Direct Marketing, printed in four languages and three editions and named best business book of the year by Library Journal.  His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express News, and many other publications.  Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Desert Kill Switch is the second book in the Nostalgia City mystery series that began with Death in Nostalgia City an award winner at the 2015 San Francisco Book Festival.

He taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University – Pomona, University of Redlands, and the University of Nevada – Reno.  He earned an MA in mass media from UNLV and a BA in journalism from Fresno State

As always don’t forget to check out my new book, Where Angels Sing: Spoilers Book Two.

Where Angels Sing Cover

 

Detective X

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You remember the JJ Abrams show Fringe? I loved that show but I think what I loved the most about it was the crazy scientist Walter Bishop. The character was similar to other anchors of a good mystery series. The odd genius who can come up with a quick fix, or some obscure science that nobody understands to save the day. Kind of like a MacGyver without the mullet.

What if there was a real life genius who had a hand in almost a thousand criminal cases, laid the ground work for modern forensics, and was almost completely forgotten by history? I know, it sounds awesome. See below.

In 2014, a curator was searching the archives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for a new exhibit. In a box, she found nine notebooks that belonged to a little known scientist who’d worked for the agency in the early 20th century.

Wilmer Souder was an everyday farm boy from southern Indiana. He went to college and earned his Ph.D. In 1916.  He then went to work at the National Bureau of Standards (now known as NIST).

Historically Souder is known for his work on materials used for dental fillings. When he’s mentioned in NIST historical records he’s described as the founder of the dental materials research program. His biography however also contains a seemingly random anecdote noting he was involved in investigating the murder and kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Turns out that in addition to being an expert on dental fillings Wilmer Souder moonlighted as a sought-after forensic expert in handwriting analysis, typewriting analysis, and ballistics. His expertise and influence effected more than 800 cases throughout his career. Prior to the uncovering of his journals he was known to history only as Detective X.

How Souder came to be involved in forensic is not clear however at some point a request was made to develop a systematic way to do handwriting and typewriter analysis. Souder, whose specialty was taking exacting measurements and making precise comparisons, joined the project.

The nine notebooks found in the basement at NIST showed that during his career Souder was requested to lend his expertise to a variety of cases brought to the bureau by the Post Office, the Department of the Treasury, and various other government bodies. In addition to appearing in court as an expert witness, he helped pioneer some techniques still used in modern American Forensics.

He developed a method of projectile analysis in which he used a recent invention, the microscope, to compare expended bullets to see if they were fired from the same weapon. He advised the founder of the FBI’s forensic lab on policy and protocol. When he analyzed handwriting from ransom notes during the Lindbergh case he matched them to Bruno Hauptmann, who was eventually convicted and executed for the crime.

Souder brought the scientific method and statistics to law enforcement, a profession that was more art than science during that early era. The head of the New York Police Department at the time is reported to have said of Souder that he was, “the most outstanding expert [in forensics] on the continent in the last one hundred years.”

Somehow Souder’s work was lost to history, and Souder himself may have had a hand in that. While he actively published his dental work. Souder tended to downplay his work in the field of criminalistics. Some believe Souder feared criminals learning too much from his methods, or seeking him out for retribution. Souder had a wife and daughter, it’s understandable that he would not want his prosecutorial work to follow him home.

When Souder retired none of his contemporaries at NIST continued in the field of forensic research and eventually the agencies link, and Souder’s, to forensics was lost.

What a great story. One of those rare nuggets from history where an unsung hero finally gets the recognition he deserves. Kind of has a Sherlock Holmes vibe to it. And how cool would it have been to have the nickname “Detective X”?

Maybe I need to venture into the historical nonfiction genre for my next project.

John Stamp Author Page

References:
Greenwood, Veronique. “Secret Crime-Fighter Revealed to Be 1930s Physicist,” National Geographic, March 17, 2017. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/20…