EskieMama & Dragon Lady Reads Sunday Spotlight w/Giveaway: Ghosts and Shadows by H. Max Hiller




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Sunday Spotlight!

Ghosts and Shadows
by H. Max Hiller

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of Ghosts and Shadows from H. Max Hiller



The oath Detective Cooter “Cadillac” Holland swore to defend his home against foreign and domestic enemies is put to the test when evil men from both sides of the border start a war on the eve of Mardi Gras, an election, and the first Super Bowl in Saints’ history. A shadowy operation has resurrected the blueprints for the classified operation that nearly got Detective Holland killed in Iraq, and threatens his life again. When Cooter’s friends and family are also put at risk, he is forced to call upon the skills and mind-set learned as a Special Forces and Intelligence operative to keep the peace between local heroin dealers and a violent Mexican drug cartel, outsmart a defense contractor, and take on a loose-cannon Federal official out to cover the tracks of a deal gone bad.



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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.



“What the hell have you done now?”
“By the tone of your voice I can tell you right now that your guess is as good as mine.” I immediately wondered who had just chewed a piece out of NOPD’s Chief of Detectives. Avery seemed intent on replacing his loss with a chunk of mine.
“How do you know Bradford Kinkaid?”
“Strictly by reputation.” I now had to wonder why the Chief of Detectives was asking me about someone way above either of our pay grades.
“Well, he wants to have lunch with the two of us and Captain Hammond. Wear a suit and meet us at your door at noon. Set places for five in a private room and be on your best behavior.”
Hypothesizing why the Deputy Director of Homeland Security was having lunch at my bistro left me little time to wonder about the unnamed fifth person on the guest list which seemed to lack the sort of important people that normally get invited to power lunches with the likes of Bradford Kinkaid. State Police Captain Ken Hammond is my boss, but he’s just a mid-level administrator. NOPD’s Chief of Detectives is not the sort of lowly municipal employee who gets invited to eat at the table of a man tasked with keeping everyone along Interstate 10 safe from real and imaginary threats. I had absolutely no idea how I might have caught the attention of anyone still operating in the dark world I once occupied. I also had no idea why Kinkaid would know I own a restaurant, but assumed the man knew everything about everyone with whom he shared his company.
Captain Hammond’s glossy white Chevrolet SUV stopped in front of Strada Ammazarre exactly one hour after I had hung up the phone. It was followed by a Lincoln Town Car limousine. Two men and one woman exited that vehicle, while another young woman and three more men rode with Chief Avery and Captain Hammond. I was wearing my favorite blue Hugo Boss suit as I’d been instructed. Chief of Detectives Avery and Captain Hammond wore their dress uniforms. Chief Avery seemed especially uncomfortable in his, likely because his pants size had not kept up with his waistline.
I’d arranged for our meal service in one of the private dining rooms on the mezzanine level. Joaquin led our group past the bar, where Chef Tony happened to be using the telephone, and up the wide flight of stairs. Kinkaid’s security detail closed the door behind the invited guests and we all took seats at the large round table. The imposing security detail and administrative personnel were left to stand in the hallway.
I’d asked Belinda to be our waitress because she knows how to keep what she hears to herself while missing nothing. She has served at some of the South’s finest private clubs and restaurants, places where secrets flow like the bourbon. The fiery red-head could have retired long ago on the investments she’s made using her decades’ worth of insider tips, but chose instead to continue pouring sweet tea while she kept her ears open and her opinions to herself.
Bradford Kinkaid’s svelte blonde aide asked for my cell phone. She placed it beside my bosses’ phones in the aluminum briefcase from which she then removed three non-disclosure forms. She passed copies to Chief Avery, Captain Hammond, and me. I didn’t bother reading mine before I signed it and slid the form across the table to her. She retrieved the paperwork and left the room. Avery flashed me a nervous glance.
I studied Kinkaid while he waited for these formalities to conclude. He was much older than I expected, and actually looked more like a retired Texas rancher than the man running domestic intelligence and counter-terrorism operations from El Paso to Atlanta.
“Do any of you gentlemen know why I invited you here today?” Kinkaid grinned slightly when the three of us shook our heads. “Good. I don’t want to have to fire the man in charge of security. The lady here to my left is Jill Bledsoe. She represents D-Tech Industries.”
My ears perked up at the name of the company. My intelligence mission in Iraq had been to identify and locate anyone plotting to target attacks on Coalition forces and to eliminate their ability to carry out those attacks. I’d recruited and led the trigger-happy operators that D-Tech Industries provided to accomplish this mission. The company had an unofficial motto then of “We don’t make the drones. We make the drones scarier,” and their technologies and software programs could make more than drones scary. They had the capacity to covertly turn personal electronic devices, such as phones and computers, into tools for surveillance and targeting. They could take any telephone number and use its metadata to develop an accurate chain of command based on who an individual called, who called them, and anyone to whom they next placed a call. D-Tech could remotely access microphones and cameras on electronic devices to sit in on meetings in real time, and then use a person’s phone to track their exact location. My job had been to analyze the data their technicians gathered to decide the threat level targeted individuals posed. I would single out those who posed imminent threats, and knew I was creating a hit list for the wet-works teams I’d then unleash upon them. I could imagine absolutely no legal domestic applications for anything D-Tech used in that operation, nor for my own role. D-Tech never struck me as a company that was interested in creating any, either.
The meeting was briefly disrupted when Belinda returned with our Caesar salad course and took our entrée orders. Kinkaid asked Belinda if the chef objected to special orders, and then described the seafood dish he wanted in precise detail before she could answer his question.
Kinkaid picked up where he left off as soon as Belinda left.
“Jill, please explain to these men why they have been asked here.”
“The stand-down of our nation’s military in Afghanistan and Iraq endangers the ability of private contractors such as D-Tech Industries to sustain a readiness for future deployment. Homeland Security has decided to utilize their capacities and lessons learned in fighting jihadists to target domestic situations. Gang activity has risen dramatically in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, so we’ve brought an operation to town to address this situation, as it seems local law enforcement has proven itself unable to contain it. We’re authorized to combine the technical capacities we have with the hands-on skill sets of the sort of operatives that Detective Holland once was.” Bledsoe made it all sound so reasonable, and legal.
“I’m sure this is another outstanding example of my tax dollars at work, but how will any evidence your operation comes up with stand up in court?” I challenged. She and I were the only ones in the room who fully understood D-Tech’s precise area of expertise. I recognized Jill’s expression as that of someone imagining myriad ways to have me killed.
“D-Tech’s manager on this operation told me I wasn’t going to like you, Detective. I’ve read your file and am surprised you ever found work after your last assignment. Even so, D-Tech has requested we involve you rather than risk your interference,” Kinkaid interrupted to snarl at me.
“Let me just say that I’m not likely to get on any wagon with D-Tech providing the asses that pull it.” Kinkaid turned a few shades of red before abruptly laughing, allowing my bosses to finally take a breath of air. It was obvious he also wanted to drop me into a dark hole until Jill’s men had completed their dubious mission.
Jill waited a moment before picking up where she’d left off. “The antiquated War on Drugs changed dramatically in the post-9/11 landscape. Terrorist organizations and the drug cartels are increasingly tied together. They now share arms dealers, smuggling routes, and even use the same bankers. The Mexican cartels have begun dealing increasing amounts of heroin since our withdrawal from Afghanistan. The work we intend to do here is, in some ways, just a continuation of the classified intelligence work we have taken part in elsewhere.”
She looked at me as if I might have something to share. I didn’t.
“So you’re here to combine the ‘War on Drugs’ with the ‘War on Terror’?” I ignored the troubled looks in the room. “Or are you just trying to rebrand the ‘War on Crime’?”
Kinkaid and wasn’t amused by my question or my attitude. The Deputy Director took over the sales pitch. “Our approved operation is intended to disrupt the heroin traffic into New Orleans from Mexico by interdicting the supply chain while creating fresh tension between the cartels and their local distribution partners. Drying up the heroin supply will create chaos that the DEA and Justice Department can exploit to make arrests and get convictions high up the cartel ladders.”
“Are you here to start a gang war?” I wanted his answer on the record. The operation I had been part of in Iraq had passed off a lot of our own victims as being part of that country’s bloody civil war.
“My latest briefing indicates there have already been instances of violence and destruction between the factions in question.” The Deputy Director’s statement didn’t answer my question.
“So is D-Tech responsible for this violence?” Captain Hammond has always had problems seeing other people’s big pictures. The Deputy Director decided it was time to spell a few things out for all of us.
“Private contractors are not as constricted by the rule of law as NOPD or the State Police. D-Tech has our permission to use men Detective Holland once described as ‘coming out the shadows to leave ghosts in their wake’ to goad potential adversaries into action against one another. The fires Holland investigated are a by-product of D-Tech’s operation.” My own words began echoing too loudly in my ears for me to focus clearly. He’d just quoted my classified Delta Force exit interview. “We’re here because the operation wants your detective’s services for this operation. Detective Holland is to be assigned any case involving either the El Caminos or a local gang called the Pistol Peetes.”
“And who do I report my findings to?” I was left to wonder.
“Nobody. I understand you have experience with sweeping things under the carpet, and that’s what I expect to be done.” Kinkaid ignored the astonished looks on Hammond and Avery’s faces. The three of us now had our explanation about the purpose of meeting with the Deputy Director and his partner from the world of clandestine private contractors. Captain Hammond had been invited so he’d immediately stop Wheeler’s arson investigation. Avery had been invited so he would begin assigning me the cases I’d be expected to subsequently park in some blind alley.
Belinda returned with five covered dishes on a serving tray. Jill was presented ravioli stuffed with crawfish and lobster bathed in a three-cheese cream sauce tinged with Tabasco. Hammond had ordered the veal Picatta, fragrant with lemon and garlic. Chief Avery dug into his usual lasagna. I had chosen an herb and spice-rich pasta dish called Puttanesca. Jill’s smirk told me she caught my ordering a dish named after Italian prostitutes as being the statement on my situation I couldn’t say aloud.
All of our attention was drawn to the middle of the pasta bowl Belinda now set before Deputy Director Kinkaid. We could all smell the delicious seafood medley swimming in its broth of white wine and marinara, just as he had described it. He had not requested the raw catfish head we could see rising above the center of his meal. The fish’s whiskers drooped from either side of the shallow pasta bowl. Kinkaid used his fork and spoon to gingerly set the severed head to one side before he grinned at the waitress and then winked across the table at me.
“I see your chef isn’t a big fan of taking orders, either.”




H. Max Hiller’s first taste of New Orleans was as a cook on Bourbon Street at the age of seventeen. His resume now includes many of New Orleans’ iconic dining and music destinations. Max uses a lifetime of characters and anecdotes to add depth to the Detective Cooter ‘Cadillac’ Holland series. He now divides his passions between writing at his home overlooking the Mississippi River and as a chef aboard a boat traveling America’s inland waterways.

Comments

  1. Book sounds like a fascinating read. Looking forward to reading.

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  2. Book sounds like a fascinating read. Looking forward to reading.

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  3. Thanks for the giveaway!

    mia2009(at)comcast(dot)net

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  4. Writing is very descriptive which gives a lot of depth to not only the characters but, the setting. Really good excerpt ~ thanks!

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