EskieMama & Dragon Lady Reads Sunday Spotlight w/Giveaway: Ghosts and Shadows by H. Max Hiller
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Ghosts and Shadows
by H. Max Hiller
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Tell us about Ghosts and Shadows.
The story is the third installment in an initial five book story arc for my central character. Each book has peeled a fresh layer from his shadowy background as a disavowed intelligence operative who took a job as a state police detective to find answers to his father’s disappearance after Hurricane Katrina. Detective Holland’s investigative methods are usually at odds with those of the local and Federal officers and agents he interacts with because he insists on not simply enforcing the law but also considering the unintended consequences of doing so. He usually ends up looking for justice instead of settling for enforcing the law. In this installment, the detective finds himself in the crosshairs of a conspiracy to bring the classified mission that nearly got him killed in Iraq to the streets of New Orleans as a means of eradicating a drug cartel instead of jihadists.
What initially inspired you to write Ghosts and Shadows?
The first two books make allusions to Detective Holland’s classified intelligence work and military background in the Special Forces, but specifics have always been few and far between. This book is meant to bring everything to light, so he is having to deal with his friends and family finally knowing what he used to do while still having to do his job. The plot to the book is also a study in the way poor decisions get made by those who are meant to protect us, as the task before Detective Holland is to thwart someone doing almost exactly what he did in Iraq as a way to combat a growing menace from drug gangs in the still-recovering city because Detective Holland realizes that these methods would endanger the entire city of New Orleans at a time when it is packed with Mardi Gras and Super Bowl revelers.
Tell us little about the characters in Ghosts and Shadows.
The central character is State Police Detective “Cadillac” Holland, who got his nickname from driving one of the Cadillacs that NOPD appropriated from a dealership when their own fleet of vehicles was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. His father was NOPD’s Chief of Detectives when he was growing up but he went into the Army’s Special Forces and then went to work for various intelligence agencies, which ended abruptly with his near-death experience in an ambush. He made a promise to his sister and mother to return to New Orleans to search for his father, who had gone missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Holland’s partner is the chef in a Creole-Italian bistro the chef, Tony Vento, opened a year after the two returned to New Orleans. Everyone believes the chef is from Sicily and is just a good friend of the detective. He was actually an unwilling member of Iraq’s secret police who was blackmailed into doing their bidding in Europe. He had gone to Iraq after the fall of Hussein and teamed up with Detective Holland to track down the men who had forced him to do their bidding, and then stayed with the Detective to eliminate guerrilla and jihadist cells threatening American troops. He still lends an occasional hand in the Detective’s current cases.
William Avery is the new Chief of Detectives and has to find a way to incorporate Detective Holland into his own department. He has begun to use the detective to handle what he always believes are small cases that his own men would be wasting their energy to pursue. Every case proves to be far more complicated and scandalous than he could have imagined, yet the detective somehow always seems to be able to resolve each case without attracting attention to his own role in solving the case.
There are three primary female characters. Central to the story is the detective’s mother, a shrewd but slightly batty matriarch of a still-powerful family in Louisiana politics. She has begun consulting an online psychic about her life rather than submit to the psychiatric help she clearly could use after hearing her son was dead and then alive, losing her husband in every way imaginable, and having both of her homes washed away by the hurricane. His sister, Tulip, is a noted civil attorney who gets to practice criminal law by advising her brother on how to manipulate his cases to focus any justice on those who deserve it, which is not always the criminal he has been sent to arrest. Tulip also complicates the detective’s life by having a romantic crush on Chef Tony Vento and also being part of a work-group trying to find evidence of war crimes by the intelligence agencies her brother and Tony worked for. The third woman in the detective’s new life is a prosecuting attorney for the state of Louisiana. Katie O’Reilly was Tulip’s babysitter when the detective was still in high school. They lost touch until one of his cases brought them back together and she has been trying to help him find his humanity and to build a civilian life for himself. The detective has to constantly find ways to be honest with his girlfriend but also shield her from his way of handling his cases.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
I have never written anything this long or complicated. It took a number of rewrites to be sure the reader could follow the plot, subplots, and character development without losing the pace of what is a pretty fast moving story. It just went to prove the value of good editors and honest beta readers in the writing process. This book would be something far less than it is without them.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Chapter Thirty Five. It is a major turning point in the story and hinges on the detective dismantling a surveillance operation that has been tracking his movements while he has been unraveling what he has begun to see as a conspiracy to literally start a gang war. The chapter moves very quickly, but in it the reader finally gets to see the intellectual and physical capability that he detective brings to his new line of work. He has mapped out a way to isolate and expose a half dozen trained surveillance operatives without firing a shot and in a way that turns the tables on the person who has wanted to know his every move. It was a fun chapter to outline and stage in my head and then it almost wrote itself. It is the least edited chapter in the book and has a raw energy because of that.
What are your future project(s)?
I am presently wrapping up a prequel novel to the series, despite a distaste for such things, to be able to enter a writing competition on Amazon. I found out about it far too late to start from scratch so I grabbed one of the false start beginnings from my first book and have built a novella based on that framework. Following that, I still have two books to go in the initial story arc for my detective. I am also compiling material for a new character, a small town sheriff in the Midwest, that I think might be fun to spend time with as well.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers about this book/series?
Often the story of how a character or book sprang to life is at least as, if not more, interesting than the book itself. Detective Holland is certainly one of those characters. He is not flawed in the traditional way of literary detectives. He is not a hard-nosed, hard-drinking, broken shell of a man looking for redemption or revenge. He is transitioning from a life as the keeper of secrets to a life as a finder of truths, and our story arc finds him at the tipping point between the two worlds.
The idea for the detective came from time I spent with men caught in that cusp. I dated a woman who knew a number of men from her own military career who were trapped in exactly that odd cocoon. They had done extraordinarily brave and important things to protect their nation and its interests overseas, but could not divulge even where they had been on a given date or time at any point in their often multi-decade careers, except to anyone who had been with them. They were some of the warmest and friendliest people I ever met, but there is always this elephant in the room when people start sharing memories.
The character’s name hung in my mind for years before I ever found someone to hang it on. I used to drive between New Orleans and Kansas City a half dozen or more times a year and would keep myself awake by concocting short biographies for imaginary people, whose names I made up using highway exit signs. Exit four on Interstate 55 in the bootheel of Missouri is for the towns of Cooter Holland on route E, so I spent years trying to find a use for someone named Cooter E. Holland. Hurricane Katrina gave me the need for a way to tell Katrina stories that weren’t being told to a reading audience that quickly grew numb to the horror of the storm and travesty of the recovery. It is shameful that there is not a single book that focuses on the stories with either the Superdome or the New Orleans Convention Center in the week after the storm, despite the tens of thousands of people trapped in each location.
I was told by a string of agents that readers don’t want to read about veterans unless they are heroes or have overcome their injuries and become leading figures in their communities and readers are worn out by Hurricane Katrina. While my sales have not been spectacular, the reviews and comments from my readers seem to validate my belief that there is a market for a story about a guy trying to make a new life for himself in a city that is often as much of a mess as he is himself.