Hard to say which was the most challenging part of my rebirth as an author after twenty years: writing the fourth book in the Matt Jacob series, TIES THAT BLIND, or getting up for presentations at bookstores and other events. Well, it took a couple outings to finally get legs under me. I had a lot of rust to shake loose. But as I imply in my title, I think I’m back.

sue3This past weekend Susan and I attended the Newburyport Literary Festival as authors and I gotta say, it was a great weekend. Susan had a solo presentation, as did I.



Mystery panel 2015 NLFBut first I was on a panel with two other crime writers, Rory Flynn and Elisabeth Elo.







An extra bonus–Jason Pinter, founder of Polis Books (aka my publisher and editor) was invited to be the panel’s moderator. We finally had the chance to meet in person after a year of two of telephone and email conversations.

J&ZHe’s an incredibly sweet man (and believe me, I’m a not easy on publishers given my writing history). Jason is an author himself, which gives him a sensitivity toward his writers that makes him a pleasure to work with.

Panel 4.25.15Even though I was there as an author, being on the panel also gave me a lot to think about in terms of writing. When I began to write detective fiction oh so many years ago, I stopped reading other mystery writers’ books. I worried that other authors’ ideas or attitudes would seep into my head and I’d somehow use them without even realizing it. But after almost twenty years working in the law world, I’ve come to appreciate due diligence. This time around, whenever I’ve had an appearance with other authors, I’ve read their latest books. And listened very carefully to what they say about how they try to make their stories come alive.

Rory spoke intensely about his vision that “place” is an actual character in his book, THIRD RAIL. And he’s right, his Boston is a multifaceted living entity, an important player within his story. Elisabeth spoke about the depth of her research into the South Boston fishing community. Her ability to turn that research into reality opened my eyes. As someone who lives and writes primarily from inside his own head, it was a pleasure to think about other ways artists approach their work and consider how to integrate them into my own methods.

Z11The Festival took place in many different locations throughout beautiful Newburyport, a coastal New England town dating back to 1764.  My solo do took place at the Jabberwocky Bookshop, always a bonus to appear at an independent bookstore.  I arrived early and when I saw just a sprinkle of people there, I considered tossing my presentation, and inviting folks into a roundtable discussion.  Impatient me.  By starting time, a good number of people had turned out, including a local friend and a good friend’s sister and her husband.  I was pleased they came to this particular presentation because it was the best yet.  I guess I’m officially out of retirement.

Before I finish I want to say a few words about the Newburyport Literary Festival. Of course Sue and I were delighted to be invited, but there’s more than that. We’ve all been to conferences and festivals before, going from one presentation to another without much thought of the work it takes to have them there. This time I was very aware of how many months of planning, inviting, and replacing it took for the steering committee to pull the Festival off. And then the endless running around on the day itself to make everything look effortless.

Somethings you just can’t plan for. My panel was located in the Fire House Arts Center, and as I was consulting my map to walk there I saw firetrucks with flashing lights. How cool, I thought to myself. They actually got firetrucks to signal the location to those of us unfamiliar with Newburyport. Actually they had been called because there was a minor gas leak in the building. Nobody could enter until National Grid signed off on the fix. I’m in the clutch of people trying to be warm, hoping the firemen had a different telephone number than I have for National Grid, or they AND the panel hold be on hold forever.

Luckily they did. And members of the steering committee and a serious cadre of volunteers were able to keep the audience rallied while waiting in the outdoor chill and kept the event on track.

Thank you Sherri Frank of the steering committee for inviting us to this tenth anniversary experience and thank you all for coming out. Thank you my compañeros for your insights, and thank you Jason for not asking me to write Matt Jacob into a 12 Step.


Dear Brookline Booksmith,

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit your wonderful independent bookstore to read and do a Q&A with fellow mystery novelist Peter Swanson. During the 1990s every time I published a Matt Jacob Novel, you invited me to speak. On top of which, after twenty years and my latest book about Matt Jacob (Ties That Blind), you invited me back again. I appreciate your generosity and love your store. I had intended to put up pictures and comments until I realized this column belonged to Patriots’ Day and not my personal accomplishments. (For those of you who might want to see a couple pictures, please visit my Facebook Authors page and, if so inclined, “like” the page.)

Patriots’ Day is a Massachusetts and Maine holiday commemorating the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. Historically it had been celebrated on April 19th, but in 1969 it was changed to the third Monday of every April. This year both days coincide. (Perhaps an omen given the upcoming sentencing trial of the Boston Marathon bomber.)

I used to really enjoy the holiday. For a ton of years my friend Ed and I would go to Fenway Park and watch the Red Sox, who traditionally began their game at 11 AM. We’d hang there until around the 7th inning, (those days the cost for tickets made leaving early reasonable) then walk to our favorite vantage point to cheer on the Boston Marathon runners as they passed by.

I don’t know why, or even when, we stopped our annual pilgrimage. Long enough ago that I’d even stopped watching the winners cross the finish line on TV.

Patriots’ Day 2013 burst my complacency when two bombs exploded close to the Marathon’s finish line, killing at least three, and injuring or maiming hundreds more. Soon after, the Boston Police and Federal Agents linked the horror to the shooting of an M.I.T. security guard and the theft of an S.U.V., which was eventually spotted in Watertown, a city nearby Boston.

Police from Boston and neighboring towns, along with Federal Agents, converged upon the town and shot one of the suspects who was then killed when his brother (the other suspect) inadvertently ran him over in his attempt to escape. Eventually, this second suspect was seen in a boat placed in a yard behind a Watertown resident who informed the authorities.

A massive gunfight ensued in which the authorities fired over three hundred rounds, despite which the suspect lived, brought to a Federal trial, and recently (April 8th) the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found guilty of 30 counts, including 17 that carry the death penalty.

In a previous column I wrote and condemned the abrogation of civil liberties imposed upon Boston and its surrounding towns during the entire manhunt. No need to rehash the matter, other than to say that my post found very few people who agreed with my positions.

I expect the same today as I advocate against the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

During the trial, prosecutors relentlessly used the death of eight-year-old Martin Richard (the youngest of those who died) to impress upon the jury the heinous and depraved nature of Tsarnaev’s actions—including submitting Martin’s burnt clothes into evidence. But this 17th of April, Martin’s parents wrote a public letter requesting that the Feds take the death penalty off the table in exchange for life imprisonment without parole and the relinquishment of all the defendant’s appeals. While I laud the humanity of that letter and fully appreciate their desire for “closure,” my reasons are quite different.

I believe the death penalty is nothing less than state sanctioned murder. And, in this particular situation, the “state” isn’t Massachusetts (a NO DEATH PENALTY STATE by law) but the federal government that overrode state law and tried Tsarnaev under federal laws which allow the possibility of execution.

Let me be absolutely clear. What the Tsarnaev brothers did was totally, reprehensible, unconscionable, and, to me, virtually incomprehensible. I was, and continue to be, repulsed by their actions, which make me stomach sick.

But so do hangings, electrocutions, firing squads, and lethal injections—no matter who does the deed, be it an individual, group, gang, or government.

I am in no way, shape, or form a religious person. But I do adhere to Thou Shalt Not Kill and no amount of lawyering or any circumstance other than defense of self, family, or another person (which even the “god” who said the above permits) can convince me that the words Thou Shalt Not Kill are anything other than what they mean. Killing an innocent or a guilty is flat out murder—whatever suit you dress it in.

For those who legitimately question the cost of housing and feeding murderers, in a recent conversation with a judge I was informed that studies have indicated the taxpayer’s share of the costs of appeals and “stays” of state sanctioned murder are even greater. (To say nothing about our burgeoning “for profit” prisons.)

And I haven’t even delved into the issue of whether a judge or jury gets it wrong—as Project Innocence has shown time and time again.

On this Patriots’ Day I think it important to really ask what kind of country we want to be patriots of.



IMG_3143Thank you, Kate Layte, owner of PAPERCUTS J.P. Last Friday night was my first public talk, reading, and discussion about my new book Ties That Blind. I shared the stage with Christopher Irvin whose latest novel is Burn Cards. The event was organized by Katie Eelman, the store’s Event Coordinator, and moderated by David Hebb who was very familiar with our work.

When my three books were first published about twenty years ago (now reissued as 2233e-books by Polis Books), I did a ton of speaking engagements, which I thoroughly enjoyed. While I know much more about writing now than I did then, the return to public appearances scared the hell out of me. Especially since I decided that this time around I would actually read from my book, something I had never done in the past. Made for a shaky few days leading up to Friday.

Well, despite my nervousness—especially when actually reading—the evening was a real up. 2015-04-10 20.01.00It felt really good to support a new bookstore in my neighborhood. And Chris and I were able to attract a pretty decent audience that asked interesting questions and had insightful comments. Also, Chris and I come at our work from different enough perspectives, so our give-and-take described more than one side of the writing life. That we liked each other and each other’s work didn’t hurt either. Another added value: David’s knowledge about our books and his ability to keep the conversation flowing. All in all a fine do. Anytime PAPERCUTS J.P. would like me to return, I’m there.


How can I leave Jake out of Matt Jacob?

And how can I leave Jake out of a Matt Jacob event?


Last Tuesday night, I went out for dinner and drinks with my friend/music teacher Bob. Although he’s a few years younger than I am, our ages are within hailing distance. After talking about the state of the Red Sox we began to reminisce about Brooklyn. He grew up there and it’s where I went to a Hasidic yeshiva during my high-school years. Surprisingly, we both had experiences with the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and the transformations of what had been primarily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

It was those transformations (in plain speak, Blacks moving into those neighborhoods) that sparked the creation of the JDL. For reasons I honestly can’t explain, one of the rabbis at my yeshiva took me to a couple of the early meetings led by Meir Kahane, the rabbi who formed the JDL. This sense of encroachment into what they considered “their” space enraged the Hasidic and Orthodox communities. So Kahane was organizing neighborhood “watch” groups to communicate with each other and follow every Black male who rode a bike and wore sneakers. It was made clear that violence was not off the table.

I lasted two meetings before I told my rabbi I had no interest in Kahane’s mission (which included applying for gun licenses) and suggested that he shouldn’t have anything to do with the group either. I can’t remember what he said, but I quickly lost his support at the yeshiva where he had often protected me from beatings by other rabbis.

So be it. I hadn’t learned much growing up in my nuclear family, but I’d been taught in no uncertain terms that racism was evil, pure and simple, and not to be tolerated. Kahane represented everything I detested even at that early age. I believed Jews were supposed to be on the side of the oppressed. Never Again was never meant to be an expression of hostility, but rather one of defense.

That’s why Passover has become, for me, a major league conundrum. The holiday expresses the belief in freedom, the sin of slavery, at the same time it praises the lord for slaughtering anyone who stood in the way of the Jewish exodus—and anyone included innocent firstborn babies to boot. The older I’ve become, the more deeply I believe in non-violence. And believe it to be the only real salvation for our species. Yet here we have a story where, without remorse, god used horrific violence to set my people free. How is it possible to embrace my history when the beginning of our own freedom was born from the blood and death of people who our own bible calls half-brothers?

That Old Testament god really knew how to wield a sword and didn’t stop after the parting of the seas. Nor has his “Chosen.” Why does the Israeli government use the honorable idea of Never Again to rationalize keeping Palestinians under their thumb, using incomprehensible, reprehensible violence to do so? I’ve written about Israeli atrocities and US support of them before so there’s no reason to rehash the same ugly facts. But knowing those facts and watching Israel become an apartheid country without any interest in a fair two-state solution just makes it harder to celebrate my own peoples’ liberation.

Despite all those years in yeshivas, I’m not at all religious, but I do think of myself as Jewish. And I continue to tell myself that being Jewish still means taking the side of the oppressed, fighting for those in need. I grasp at the straw hoping somehow Jews will actually see what’s in front of their eyes and reject the violence against the Palestinians and even reject the violence of that Old Testament god who vengefully set us free.

I look for other ways, nonviolent organizations like Jewish Voice For Peace that back boycotts, disinvestments, and sanctions as major tools for Israeli political change. I tell myself that this was the way apartheid in South Africa was finally (and relatively peacefully) abolished. But although I support the JVP, I’m not particularly hopeful. Given the amount of money our politicians receive from American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Since 1998, AIPAC has spent $20,269,436 lobbying on the Hill, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to tracking money in politics.) and the blind willingness of our government to dump more and more aid to Israel (After World War II the United States has provided Israel at least $121 billion [current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars] in bilateral assistance.) with most going to their military. So what is there to hope for?

Now, I’m not a historian but I imagine most, if not all, nations have been created from blood and violence of one type or another. And I assume this has been true from the start of our species. But I am also growing to accept the disheartening reality that any people born from bloodletting will eventually use violence against others. Sad to say, I guess that’s what it means to be human.

I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King Jr.