Monday 19 June 2017

New Book Release: Suspect N°1

Suspect N°1 Out Now - Disponible dès Maintenant

"Un polar au suspense haletant", publié par Talents Hauts Éditions, illustré par Marie Avril Art -

Andrew Jones, citoyen américain, est arrêté en France pour conduite en état d’ivresse. Dans la boîte à gants du véhicule, la gendarmerie trouve un pistolet semi-automatique Smith & Wesson, la même arme que celle dont les balles ont tué une dizaine personnes aux États-Unis ces derniers mois. Le lieutenant David Lopez est chargé de l’enquête et les interrogatoires sont menés par un certain Sheldon Black, un profiler tout juste arrivé des États Unis. Au fil de l’enquête, le comportement de ce dernier va s’avérer de plus en plus étrange...

New Interview: Mes Premières Lectures

Rencontre avec Simon Duke - auteur bilingue - pour parler de son roman "Suspect N°1", tout juste sorti aux éditions Talents Hauts !

Friday 21 April 2017

"Suspect N°1" - My new book in French-English/mon nouveau roman en français-anglais

Hello all/Bonjour à tous! 

Après mes romans en anglais « Out of Bounds » (2014) et « The Perfectionist » (2016), mon nouveau roman « Suspect N°1 », cette fois-ci en version bilingue français-anglais et pour un public adolescent, paraîtra aux éditions Talents Hauts à partir du 15 juin 2017. Il est illustré par Marie Avril.

Talents Hauts est une maison d'édition indépendante, créée en 2005. Elle publie des livres pour la jeunesse, des livres percutants, forts, drôles, qui bousculent les idées reçues. « Suspect N°1 » fera partie de la nouvelle collection bilingue DUAL. Le premier chapitre du roman est en français, le deuxième en anglais et ainsi de suite. C’est un concept unique (testé par des parents, des enseignants et des linguistes) qui fait ses preuves depuis près de dix ans et qui non seulement aide un public adolescent à améliorer son niveau de compréhension de l’anglais, mais en même temps lui procure une bonne dose de divertissement. C’est aussi l’occasion pour moi de partager une littérature policière et le monde du thriller avec les jeunes lecteurs.

Donc si vous voulez le lire ou le faire lire à vos ados et me soutenir, je vous invite à vous le procurer mais aussi à faire circuler l'information autour de vous. En attendant, et en plus de la couverture ci-dessus que je trouve vraiment très réussie et qui illustre bien l’ambiance du roman, voici un petit résumé de « Suspect N°1 » – de quoi vous donner l'eau à la bouche :

« Andrew Jones, citoyen américain, est arrêté en France pour conduite en état d’ivresse. Dans la boîte à gants du véhicule, la gendarmerie trouve un pistolet semi-automatique Smith & Wesson. La même arme a tué une dizaine personnes aux États-Unis ces derniers mois… Le lieutenant David Lopez est chargé de l’enquête et les interrogatoires sont menés par un certain Sheldon Black, un profiler tout juste arrivé des États-Unis ».

Plus d'infos le mois prochain sur 

Merci à tous et bonne lecture.

« Suspect N°1 ». Edition bilingue français-anglais Simon Duke (Auteur) Marie Avril (Illustration) Roman adolescent dès 13 ans en anglais / français (broché). Existe aussi en version audio.

Déjà disponible en pré-commande : 

Friday 31 March 2017

2 Books You Must Read this Summer: The Redemption of Charm and The Last Laugh

Book Review: 'The Redemption of Charm' by Frank Westworth

'The Redemption of Charm' is a very good read with dark humor, good characters, nice suspense, a little shocking violence, and some smart payback... In other words another amazing installment in the Killing Sisters series!

I really liked seeing the cast from Westworth's previous books once again. In this final part of the trilogy, ex-black ops assassin and former soldier JJ Stoner is laying low in remote and wild USA, hiding from his enemies back home in Britain and generally keeping to himself. Isolated and out of action, we discover a more vulnerable side of Stoner, a man struggling to deal with the emotional tidal wave provoked by the brutalization of his woman and a series of betrayals. However, the nomadic hero eventually returns to his former, stone cold self and must confront Charm, the final Killing Sister, and find out who is friend and who is foe in order to survive.

Accustomed to the violence, humor and explicit sex scenes of the previous books in the series, 'The Redemption of Charm' was a change of scenery and a much welcomed new direction in plot. Though at first it took me a little while to find my bearings I was taken by pleasant surprise with the more slow-burning approach. It prepared me for the fast-paced action to come. The action and the unfolding of the plot seemed organic and melded well with the often savant element of Stoner's personality.

The series of JJ's encounters stateside and then back in England punctuated a captivating story, which I truly recommend to fans of Frank Westworth and to newcomers with an interest in the witty and gritty. It can be read as a standalone novel, but to really appreciate the denouement and the grand finale, make sure to also read parts one and two.

Westworth's writing grows on you and improves with each new book. Somewhat surprised when I originally came across his work, I learned to appreciate his style and how his sharp, timely-delivered dialogue is oftentimes more impactful than the action itself. It's subtle and intelligent. But at the same time - and this is me being perhaps too critical - Westworth may overdo it at times.

Stoner and the rest of the cast can be too smart for their own good. I'm amazed at how long the characters can keep up the witty retorts and never get tired. Long chunks of dialogue can be double-edged swords as there is always a danger that the reader can lose focus, no matter how punchy the lines are. And if I were to be even more finicky, I'd ask for a little less emphasis on blues and motorcycles (though we don't all share these passions, these are close to the writer's heart) and for an explanation on this strange obsession with coffee drinking and making breakfast throughout the novel.

'The Redemption of Charm' is vivid, hard-hitting, satisfactory story-telling. Keep it up, Frank!

Available at:


Book Review: 'The Last Laugh' by Paul Duke

Refugee camps. Fundamentalist terrorist organizations. Ruthless dictators. Violence. Bloodshed. Horrors of war. Oppressed populations. Clowns... Spot the odd one out. Not only does Paul Duke's debut novel manage to combine all these plot elements but it does so weaving in adventure, razor-sharp wit and some genuine funny moments. As a result 'The Last Laugh' is a gripping read.

Duke's dystopia offers a wonderful satire of radicalization and a fair portrayal of the NGO world and how the international community reacts to foreign threats. I enjoyed The Last Laugh's realism and its colourful cast of characters. I cared about main protagonist Franck Rousseau's commitment to the cause. I felt like I was part of his crew, travelling the dusty desert roads, entering hostile territories, generally fearing for my life... and appreciated their camaraderie, in-jokes and solidarity when the narrative was less tough. I was emotionally-connected, and at the end of the day, that is what matters when I read books.

The novel is dotted with the real-life experiences of the writer when he carried out humanitarian missions in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, or Pakistan. This not only propels the story forward but does so with ambition. Mixing humour with sensitive subjects like terrorism, war, or politics isn't an easy endeavor but Duke has pulled it off with panache.

'The Last Laugh' is a great achievement and puts Paul Duke on the literary map. This is a writer to look out for.

Available at:

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Remembering My First Book Signing

I lost my book signing virginity in a crowded Toulouse bookstore on a warm Saturday afternoon.

Placed at a table next to the cash register in my new “business casual" suit I had a view on the comings and goings of the store’s customers and would-be buyers of ‘The Perfectionist’ strolling past me during what was a busy day for the bookstore. I sat behind little piles of my book, pen clenched in my sweaty hand, smiling brightly at those who made eye contact with me. Some even dared small-talk, take one of the flyers I’d created, or pick up a copy of the book, flick through the pages, read the back cover blurb. Others would look down and get a good mental snapshot of me, the well-dressed author who writes about psychopaths and disgusting serial killers when he should be locked up somewhere and hidden from the general public.

Okay, I admit, that’s a bit harsh. That’s not exactly how it went down.

The initial idea of hosting a book signing was terrifying, like throwing a party and being certain no one will come, and then eventually sitting there alone, looking lost, scared and stupid. Any script I thought I’d prepared in my mind simply went out the window. In fact it turned out that I didn’t see the four-and-a-half hours of the book signing go by.

True, I was playing on home turf and I’d engaged in some pretty frequent pre-event promotion: My girlfriend was never very far, friends made appearances and kept the conversations flowing, and the store workers sometimes popped by to check on how I was doing. But I had no idea what kind of public turnout to expect.

Rather extraordinarily, total strangers did actually engage in conversation with me, and that I have to say was a pleasing experience. The event was relaxed, spontaneous and I loved the questions. It’s a great thing to sit in a bookstore for 4.5 hours among people who love to read and it’s a wonderful surprise to be the centerpiece of attention, a magnet of focus somehow attracting people of all ages and inexplicably making them walk over to the table. I got a huge kick out of obtaining reactions/connections with these people I’d never met before – I suppose it beats looking like a depressed vulture waiting for something to die at my feet.

After a short while I wasn’t afraid to smile cheerfully and greet customers. I engaged some of them in conversation: "This is my new book. It's about... Do you read crime fiction? … Oh and by the way it’s in English…" The answers are generally negative, but it can still be a good time to hand them the promotional flyer. You never know, they may pass it on to others who are interested. I tried to make them feel comfortable no matter how interested they were. My book may not have been their cup of tea but I might be remembered regardless. No act of kindness is ever wasted.

Then the unbelievable happened and one of those strangers bought a copy of the book. That act alone gave me the confidence to look around and talk to people more. And rather mysteriously, that prompted the sale of even more books. There was even an old lady who’d purchased the book in the store a few days prior to the signing and came back because she knew I’d be there. Safe to say, at that moment in time my self-esteem level was pretty much at its apex, I was fully embracing my fifteen minutes of fame, and I laughed at that myth about book signings not making money.

Each time I signed a book, I had fun, it felt good, it was meaningful and I had the opportunity to begin sharing my story with new people. I hope I was able to let my passion shine through.
I realized that what is most important at a book signing isn't to sell your books, it's to sell yourself. My face and my name were in front of the reading public, and that's the best promotion you can get.


Friday 2 September 2016

Excerpt from 'The Perfectionist' - Chapter 10: Bach's Suite for Orchestra, No. 3, in D Major and some gruesome pictures

Only 2 weeks left until my first book signing event in Toulouse.

Here's a new excerpt from 'The Perfectionist', a chunk from Chapter 10. Enjoy!


Night had fallen on Chicago. The regular Saturday evening hustle and bustle which engulfed Lincoln Park and its neighborhood had started to fade. Young families left the park. Yuppies were preparing for the night out. Happy children could be heard on their way back from the zoo. On Lincoln Avenue, occasional sounds of police car sirens and taxis honking accompanied the noisy talking and laughter of the foot traffic. In tandem, they filled the surprisingly warm late-April air, echoing all the way to the rooftops.

Such noises, however, didn’t make their way past the double-glazed and fortified windows of Gerry Stokes’s apartment, towering from the fourth floor on the street below.

The lights were on. They’d been on all day.

The apartment was half-buried in paper, stacks of newspapers and printed out documents. Paperwork, old and new, was piled up in corners of rooms, or scattered haphazardly on tops of furniture. Magazines and cardboard boxes occupied large spaces in the living room and in the kitchen. The kitchen sink was full of a week's worth of dirty dishes and scummy coffee mugs.

Among all the chaos, a tired Stokes had emptied his couch, turned it into a makeshift office. His laptop, placed on his knees, was overheating. He was oblivious to the switched-on TV facing him. It showed footage of the suspect apprehended in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The sound had been muted. At times he glanced at the screen passively, immune to the horror on display.

Another sound. Johann Sebastian Bach. The chords gradually filled the room after Stokes switched on his IPod with a remote control. He closed his laptop and placed it next to him. He spread his arms on the cushioned rail of the couch, and tilted his head upwards, stared at the ceiling. He wanted to absorb the early harmonious build-up of Bach's Suite for Orchestra, No. 3, in D Major.

Chords continued in an emotional crescendo in the overture. Stokes lowered his gaze and tilted his head to the wall separating his bedroom from the rest of the apartment. He’d redecorated it with a map of America which nearly filled the entire wall. Pinned on the map were small plastic red and gray flags with strings linking most of them together. On the borders of this giant map were a large number of newspaper pictures and Missing Persons database print outs. Pictures of the disappeared and deceased. A whole wall of death. Jane and John Does. Murder victims. Ghosts haunting his life.

He closed his eyes in a bid to forget the gruesomeness of it all. A desperate and naïve attempt to reach temporary salvation. He concentrated hard on Bach's Suite, soaked it all in, head bobbing slowly. He’d learned to appreciate and love the music. It bordered on perfection. He found refuge in the pleasant vibes. They didn't take him all the way to the Zimmermann Coffee House in Leipzig's Cather-Strasse, but it was enough to calm his thoughts for a while.

Bach's overture came to an end. Stokes switched off the IPod and stared at the TV screen as if it were a tool to suck him back into reality. The news channel had moved onto another matter. An FBI representative was being interviewed by a reporter. The man, in his late-forties, seemed to carry all the weight of the world. He spoke frantically in turn at the reporter and at the camera; his serious gaze suggesting urgency, seeking immediate attention from the audience.

Stokes flicked the sound back on in time to catch the end of the interview.

A banner at the bottom of the screen indicated the FBI agent's name, Elliot Keppler. He addressed the camera again, serious as a heart attack, requesting members of the public to come forward with any witness accounts as soon as possible. The FBI, he said, was counting on the citizens to help bring the perpetrator to justice.

The leads were scarce, but the motivation seemed high, thought Stokes.

The camera turned to the female reporter. She informed her TV audience that law enforcement was firing on all cylinders to catch who they suspected to be a repeat killer or killers. She signed off by stating her name, Heather Mills, and saying she was reporting live from Sun Valley, California, for CBS2/KCAL9, the Los Angeles branch of CBS. The broadcast ended.

Stokes was intrigued. The name Keppler rang a bell. He’d seen it before. Something he’d read recently.

He grabbed his laptop and entered the FBI agent’s name into the search engine.

Stokes had become a keen observer and reader of the daily news with a few specializations: homicide, violent deaths, abductions, mysterious disappearances. Every evening he searched the net and read as many credible sources as possible to find out about new cases all over the nation. He never ceased to be amazed by the magnitude of the new horrors he encountered. Sun Valley, California, was only one of multiple locations to have witnessed human tragedy in recent times. It sickened him.

He checked his internet history and retrieved the articles he’d read in the past few weeks. He had archived a whole list of local and national press reports, spanning over the past ten days. Many cited Keppler.

Then it all came back to Stokes. Keppler had worked on a previous case, one in which the body of a man in his early twenties was found in the basement of an empty house in San Bernardino, California, on the morning of April 10, 2013, by a group of junkie squatters. The tweakers had alerted the authorities, who arrived shortly afterwards. The police sealed off the house and tried to set up a roadblock, but were too late. Reporters had tuned into police radio dispatch frequencies and were quick to send film crews.

Although the police managed to prevent the cameras from penetrating the crime scene, a rookie blue was caught on camera vomiting in the house’s front yard. A journalist managed to get a statement from the young cop, who, feeling overwhelmed by the crime scene, hadn’t realized he was dealing with a member of the press.

‘I can’t fucking believe it. There was fucking blood everywhere. They slit his throat and jerked his tongue out from the wound!’ were his words.

By midday, the news of the killing had hit the wires, and a second wave of TV crews flocked to the house. They moved like flies on dog shit.

It was out there. Somebody had been executed the Colombian necktie way.

Obviously without pictures or footage of the victim, reporters had to be creative. For the very same evening CBS had managed to gather a panel of experts. Psychologists, ex-LAPD anti-gang squad members, even a writer who’d done research on Colombian drug lords. Although the experts had diverging opinions with regard to the origins of the Colombian necktie, they all seemed to agree that the perpetrator would likely be a drug-pushing gangbanger, using this method of assassination as a means to scare and intimidate whoever was associated with the victim.

The police departments of Los Angeles and San Bernardino gave a press conference the following day. Little information leaked out, and the victim’s identity was still unknown. This fact alone had caught Stokes’s attention. Reporters, however, discovered that the FBI was monitoring the situation closely due to the particularly gruesome nature of the crime.

I.D. was eventually confirmed on April 14. The victim, Jesus Reyes, was aged twenty-two, worked as a mechanic, and was a resident of Enterprise, Nevada. He’d been reported missing on April 2.
Stokes paused for a few seconds, got up from the couch, and walked to the map. He’d placed gray flags on Enterprise and on San Bernardino and linked them with some string.

The stories on the Reyes murder faded away for the next couple of days, only to be picked up again and given extra dimension on April 17, when a second Colombian necktie murder victim was found in Sun Valley. The corpse was discovered in a junk yard.

I.D. for the second victim was quickly confirmed during the course of the day. The victim’s name was Maximiliano Gutierrez. Gutierrez was twenty-four years old and worked as a clerk at a gas station in Henderson, Nevada, before disappearing on April 4.

Although LAPD had local gangs as the focal points of their investigation, it was decided that the FBI work on the case more actively, seriously consider non-gang motivations, and look at the case as a matter of either spree killing, or even serial killing. After all there was more than one murder victim and there had been, further to coroner examination, enough downtime between both murders.

The LAPD and the SBPD jointly organized a second press conference with the FBI, early on April 18. Elliot Keppler had been mentioned from that point onward as the agent representing the FBI and the man in charge of the investigation.

Stokes considered the map again. Gray flags were also placed on Henderson and Sun Valley. He crouched to the floor and picked up his bundle of string, snapped a bit off, and hooked the string between both flags.

He knew he’d be spending all night cross-checking the facts in both murders. It was necessary. He had to be sure they were connected before changing the gray flags with red ones. He had a strong hunch they were.

Either the killer had spent a few days in the Las Vegas area and dumped both bodies north of Los Angeles – that would mean a car trunk would not have been sufficient - or he had been travelling back and forth. In either case, he’d pulled it off again. This time though, Stokes wondered about the victims and how fast it’d been to identify them. Why was this? Why run such a risk? Stokes was puzzled.

The killer had proved himself to be cocky in the past. He’d gotten accustomed to freely roaming around the country and never being caught for his crimes. Maybe he was getting older and couldn’t cope with all the hassle of covering up his tracks anymore? In that light, why maintain the complications? Maybe he was getting sloppy? Or was he just plain confident that the police would never be able to trace it all back to him?

Stokes fetched a Rolling Rock from the refrigerator, pressed the cool bottle against his forehead. The cold bite was comforting. He then returned to his laptop and opened up a document in which he planned to write down all the new thoughts and ideas he had with regard to the killing spree. He quickly typed his latest angles of thought and wrote a few notes on the more recent facts concerning Maximiliano Gutierrez, while taking swigs of his beer.

Over the past few years Stokes had accumulated an impressive amount of information, both factual and hypothetical. He had a full library of documented cold cases, reconstituted police files, and additional data to the publicly-available Missing Persons files. He’d spent time digging, and digging deep. He’d established a chronology of a likely killing spree, which spanned over years, prior and posterior the Cecilia Åkerblom and Ted Callaway cases. The map on the wall was a testimony to that. Interestingly, he’d also organized his information in a manner that provided him with a substantial backbone to a narrative. He’d written text here and there. He was already at 200,000 words and there were still gaps to fill. There were several loopholes in the chain of events, uncertainties he still needed to iron out, and his conclusion was still unclear. He’d also compiled a synopsis and a tentative title. It was his novel, the fruit of nearly three years of hard labor.

The two recent Colombian necktie cases, if his research linked them to the rest, were perhaps the breakthrough he was looking for. For Stokes the killer had stopped his deadly spree in 2005. Now with these two new cases, the killer was surely stalking his next victim and would be seeking to improve his surgical performances with a better necktie. If not, then he’d have achieved perfection with Gutierrez, and would be looking to carry out another method of execution. It would be consistent with his killer’s pattern.

Stokes never ceased to be both shocked and amazed by the killer as the man had been so imaginative and innovative over the years. In some strange way Stokes kind of admired the guy. He was out there somewhere, at large. His track record and resulting body count was impressive, even more so with the nation unaware of what he was up to for the past twenty-plus years. But one person would eventually disclose this killer to the world. And that person would be Stokes.

He put the bottle to his lips, sipped some more beer, felt triumphant.

He had the documentary evidence. He’d made the connections between the disappearances and the murders. He’d established the guy’s patterns. Now he needed a name. He’d find a publisher for his novel who would want to go to press quickly and cash in on the scoop. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in a book called Tracking America’s Greatest Serial Killer?

Sure, Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, confessed to the murders of seventy-one people; Ted Bundy killed thirty-five or thirty-six; and John Wayne Gacy wasn’t far behind; but Stokes’s killer had just claimed his eighteenth and nineteenth victims. That placed him above crazies like Jeffrey Dahmer, Robert Hansen, and Richard Ramirez.

Interestingly, Stokes’s killer had been stalking in different killing zones over the years and wasn’t confined to a single sector. He operated interstate. For the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, most serial killers have very defined geographic areas of operation. They conduct their killings within comfort zones that are often defined by an anchor point, such as their place of residence, their employment, or residence of a relative. Serial murderers will, at times, spiral their activities outside of their comfort zone, when their confidence has grown through experience or to avoid detection. However, still according to the FBI, very few serial murderers travel interstate to kill.

Stokes had spent considerable time studying the FBI’s criminal profiling theories and didn’t necessarily agree with their categorization of serial killers. Nonetheless, he knew his killer conformed to the FBI idea that a serial murderer operating outside his comfort zone was either an itinerant individual who moves from place to place, or a homeless, transient person. Stokes was of the opinion that his killer’s employment lent itself to interstate travel. But there were many jobs in that category. There were truck drivers, salesmen, military service, even clowns working for fucking travelling circuses, for Christ’s sake… The list was long.

One thing was certain. His interstate killer definitely had a travelling lifestyle, which provided him with many comfort zones in which to operate. He also had a vehicle, most likely a discreet utility vehicle, enabling him to abduct victims and exit locations rapidly and comfortably.

His killer simply defied the odds.

Stokes raised his arms behind his head and yawned. He accidentally knocked over his beer bottle, dumping it all over a file on the floor. ‘Goddammit!’ he shouted.

Monday 8 August 2016

Excerpt from 'The Perfectionist' - Chapter 1: Meet Gerry Stokes

Only 5 weeks left until my first book signing event in Toulouse.

In the run-up to the event, a few excerpts from 'The Perfectionist' will be published on my website - Today, you get the chance to read Chapter 1.

Chapter 1
Clarion, Iowa - February 2, 1988.
The fog came rolling in from the fields, closing in, and shutting out the world. Impenetrable and hostile like the eerie silence engulfing the town. An opaque layer of frost covered front lawns and rooftops, gutters bent under the weight of crystal daggers. Trees shimmered pale gray, and parked cars had turned into sculptures.

Cautiously breaking through the dense white mass of dawn fog, a noisy GMC Sierra pick-up drove slowly down Madison Avenue. The fog swirled in the light of the headlamps in a thick flow of white dust, and the truck’s windshield wipers painfully scratched away at the thin but stubbornly resistant sheet of ice. A minute later, the Sierra’s driver hit the brakes and pulled up to the curb beside the Wright County Sheriff’s Office, the only source of light in the deserted street.

Gerry Stokes cut the engine and stepped out of his vehicle. He looked around. Fog and silence. The merciless cold of the icy blasts hit him hard. Surprised by how cool it was, he shivered and zipped up his coat. Rubbing his hands, he walked energetically towards the sheriff’s office. Stokes knocked and entered without waiting for an answer. Despite the early hour he knew he was expected.

Two men he knew well were sitting in an office near the entrance. Both turned to look at him. They were clutching coffee mugs, inhaling the hot brew’s fumes as if their lives depended on it. They seemed nervous, preoccupied, stricken by some intangible menace.  

The elder of the two, Sheriff Dwayne Clanton – a gray-haired and weary man, who was counting the days until his retirement - waved slowly at Stokes and pointed to a spare chair in the corner of the room. As Stokes grabbed the chair and placed it nearer the Sheriff’s desk, he couldn’t help noticing how tired the man looked. His eyes were bloodshot, with dark circles, surely nicotine-induced. He was badly-shaven and his uniform was creased and scruffy. Stokes was unaccustomed to seeing Clanton in such a neglected state.

‘Sheriff… Earl. Morning to you both… Can you tell me what’s going on?’ Stokes asked.

‘Take a seat!’ Earl DeVries, Stokes’s Editor-in-Chief, ordered.

‘Seriously, guys. You’re making me nervous.’

‘We got a situation here, Gerry. Dwayne’s going to give you the lowdown,’ DeVries said.

Dwayne Clanton glared at Stokes before gulping some more coffee.

‘It’s a fresh pot. You want some, Gerry?’ he asked, wiping his mouth with his shirt cuff.

‘I’m fine, thanks.’

‘I need your help.’ He turned to DeVries. ‘Both of you. I got a dead man. Found him a couple of days ago in one of Jim Hardy’s corn fields bordering Hancock Avenue, right near Eagle Grove. Coroner tells me he’s been dead for at least a week. There was no way to I.D. him at the scene and I still haven’t been able to put a name on the stiff. We reckon he could be in his sixties. Deputy Hobbs and I looked through all the Missing Persons reports. We cross-checked with the sheriff’s offices of Humboldt, Webster, Hamilton, Hardin, and Franklin counties. We got nobody matching the description.’

‘Well if he’s not a local, he could be from just about anywhere,’ Stokes said. ‘Have you considered casting the net to all counties or state-wide?’

‘Dwayne wants to keep this contained. He doesn’t want to spark a panic wave in Clarion,’ DeVries interjected, brushing off Stokes’s remark.

‘It’s the first stiff I’ve had for a long time,’ Clanton added. ‘I don’t want townsfolk going haywire, thinking we got a killer on the loose. I can’t imagine the shit-load of pressure I’d be under if this goes public.’

‘Then why request our help?’ Stokes asked.

‘Well, Earl and I go way back. Don’t we Earl?’

DeVries nodded. ‘I’ve been tipping the Wright County Monitor for years and I’ve never shunned away from making comments.’

‘Dwayne, you don’t need to justify yourself to Gerry,’ DeVries said. ‘He’s still junior and learning the tricks of the trade.’

DeVries stared at Stokes for a while; his dark eyes questioning his employee’s amateurism, suggesting he keep his mouth shut. Stokes remained unfazed.

Looking back at Clanton, he said, ‘Dwayne, if you need a favor, you know you can count on us.’
Clanton seemed relieved. ‘Thanks Earl. Appreciated.’

He pressed the coffee mug to his lips again and sipped some more.

‘I was telling Earl that I kept you guys out of the loop because I didn’t want any media coverage until I was sure about what I’d be dealing with. Now I’ve got to the point where I need some assistance from the public.’

Stokes nodded out of politeness, hiding his frustration that they were already a few days behind on a murder story.

‘Gerry, I need you to go see Blake Anderson,’ Clanton resumed. ‘He’s got the stiff in cold storage. He’s only going to keep our John Doe there until tomorrow. Afterwards we’re going to have to get the funeral home involved. He’s not going to need a full-sized casket, though.’

Stokes waited for the explanation. As it wasn’t coming he steered his gaze to DeVries, who wasn’t acting surprised. The Sheriff waited for his cue to continue.

‘What do you mean?’ Stokes asked.

‘Well Gerry, we ain’t got a body. All we got is a hacked-off head.’

Taken aback Stokes felt shivers down his spine. He finally realized why Clanton was so worked up and why DeVries was showing support for the old man. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

‘Just a head, you say. That’s fucking sick!’ Stokes said.

‘In my entire career in law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything so crazy. Clarion has had its fair share of homicides under my tenure. Mainly husbands beating up their wives too much or the occasional harvest accidents, but this is something else. This is cold-blooded fucked-up shit, young man!’ Clanton said, rubbing his chin anxiously. ‘Jim Hardy found the head when out checking the frost damage on his crop. First he thought it was some kind of sick prank. Then he realized it wasn’t and lost his balance, tripped over, crashed to the ground. That’s what he told me. Anyhows, Jim hurried home and called me. So I got off my ass and drove there like a bat out of hell. Jim was waiting for me, shaking and clutching his rifle. He led me to the head, right in the middle of the field. It was there on the ground. Eyes shut. Bruised and smashed up. The teeth had been jerked out. There was dirt all over. It seemed like the guy had been buried and only the head was above ground. I took Hardy’s rifle, pressed it against the earth right next to the head. Ground was solid. I then gently touched the head with the rifle’s butt. And it fucking rolled over.’

Clanton took a deep breath. He’d been through this only minutes before with DeVries, yet his tale seemed to frighten him as if he were physically reliving the experience.

‘I told Jim to go home, stay put and mention this to nobody. I surveyed the scene for a few more minutes. Then I returned to the car and radioed Deputy Hobbs for assistance. Franklin arrived with all the gear I’d asked him to bring. We sealed off the crime scene, looked around for the body or any trace of evidence, but found nothing. Later Hobbs returned to town, picked up Dr. Anderson, and brought him back for an expert opinion. After a preliminary inspection he told us it was likely that the head had been there for a few days and the cold weather had already inflicted a lot of damage. The only bright spot was that the cold had helped slow down the head’s deterioration. We decided to place the head in a bag and take it back to town. It’s been at Blake Anderson’s clinic since.’

‘Dwayne wants us to run a short article in tomorrow’s edition in which we’ll include a picture of the head,’ DeVries said.

‘What about the panic factor? I thought this needed to be contained,’ Stokes replied.

‘Well this is where we do a favor for Dwayne. Blake Anderson has cleaned the head. He’s camouflaged the bruises, used some make-up and whatnot. He’s also stitched the head temporarily to another corpse retrieved from the county morgue, and worked his magic again to hide the neck level stitches as much as possible,’ DeVries continued.

‘I’ve seen the end result. It’s real Dr. Frankenstein crazy shit!’ Clanton said.

‘Anyhow I need you to go see Blake Anderson, take the best headshots you can. No pun intended, Gerry. And we’ll make sure our dead guy looks as much alive as possible. Hopefully with the picture being black and white, the readers won’t notice what we did,’ DeVries said.

‘Don’t think I’ll manage anything better than a headshot,’ Stokes interjected.

DeVries seemed oblivious to the joke. ‘Just take care of the article. We’re just going to say that the Sheriff’s Office is looking for this man. The guy may be able to help in an ongoing investigation. We’ll add a phone number. Who knows? Maybe some good Samaritan might have some information to share.’

Sheriff Clanton nodded approvingly. ‘Yeah, maybe it’ll help us catch the sonofabitch who did this?’ he said, smiling for the first time.

Stokes struck back angrily, ‘Sheriff. With all due respect, I think the sonofabitch who did this is long gone by now. He’s got a week’s head-start and you’ve been wasting time by not involving the state police or the media. And all that for the sake of not frightening the people of Clarion… I don’t buy it Sheriff. It seems like this case if way above your head and you are too old and proud to admit it!’

‘Shut the fuck up, Gerry!’ DeVries hollered. ‘You’ve got no idea what’s at stake here. Covering a murder story, sure, it’ll sell a few papers. It’ll get us some attention from TV crews in Des Moines. We’ll be local heroes. We’ll get the spotlight for a day, maybe two. But when the dust settles, we’ll return to our normal state of anonymity. The people of Clarion will be insecure. They’ll hate us for not reporting the facts earlier. And Dwayne, well he might just end up becoming the laughing stock of Iowa. There’s no way in hell we’re going to let that happen.’

‘But Earl…’

‘No buts, you arrogant little prick! Just do what you’re told. I knew I’d made a mistake in hiring you. You simply don’t get it, do you? We run a tight ship here in Clarion, and we’ve got no room for recklessness. You’ve got ambition to report big murder stories? That’s fine, but you’re keeping your mouth shut on this one. Do I make myself clear?’

Stokes hesitated, before replying a feeble ‘Yes, Earl.’

‘Guys. Keep this bitchin’ for later. You got jobs to do,’ Clanton said. ‘Oh, and Earl, I want to see that article before you run it.’

‘Sure. Will do, Dwayne,’ DeVries answered, bobbing his head like an obedient dog.

Where to buy 'The Perfectionist' (Paperback price $9.99 / Kindle price $3.25):

Smashwords ebook (Price $2.99):

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Monday 9 May 2016

Author Event: Book signing - Librairie Privat (Toulouse, 17 September 2016)

Simon Duke, the author of 'The Perfectionist', will be in Toulouse on September 17, 2016 for a book signing event at Librairie Privat.

Time: 3pm onwards.

Venue: Librairie Privat, 14 rue des Arts 31000 Toulouse