Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bull Street - My White Collar Crime Thriller #1

Bull Street is the the first of my White Collar Crime Thrillers. It's the story of Richard Blum, a freshly-minted MBA who goes to Wall Street as a naive, novice investment banker and soon discovers he’s landed smack in the middle of an insider-trading ring. As Richard peels away the layers of the skulduggery he's uncovered, he finds out that all the insider trading surrounds the deals of his firm’s largest client, Harold Milner. Milner is the takeover maven of his generation who Richard has idolized for years. In fact, on Richard’s first big deal on the Street, Milner has taken him under his wing. So Richard can’t believe Milner is involved in the insider trading, but stops short when he thinks of telling Milner what he’s discovered.

What if Milner is part of the ring? What if he isn’t but if Richard’s disclosure to Milner leaks to the traders and triggers them to come after him because he knows too much? And then what about the Feds he finds out are sniffing around? Will the footprints he’s left with his own digging cause the Feds to think he’s a participant in the ring and put him in their crosshairs?

Not only does Bull Street have those thriller elements, it's a coming of age story about Wall Street told from an insider's perspective. That's because I wrote the first draft of it when I was a freshly-minted MBA who landed on Wall Street as a naive, novice investment banker. As such, the novel includes many of my jarring learning experiences as I cut my teeth in Wall Street's sharp-elbowed world. I started my career there in an era that saw major insider trading and securities fraud scandals: the likes of Ivan Boesky, Marty Siegel, Dennis Levine and Mike Milken paid huge fines and went to jail in those days.

And so among the usual outsized personalities, misfits and oddballs I encountered in my early days on Wall Street, I also met a number of crooks from that era, a few of them high-profile. Bull Street is fiction, but the grandiose egos, the bare-knuckles negotiating tactics and the questionable ethics of many of the men and women of Wall Street portrayed in the book are true to life.

I hope you’ll give Bull Street a try. It's the first of my White Collar Crime Thrillers, and like all of the books in the series, it offers a window into the world of Wall Street’s financial gamesmanship from the perspective of one who’s been there.

Buy Bull Street: Buy US  Buy UK

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Saudi Religious Police

Saudi Arabia recently announced that it had stripped its religious police of its power to arrest people when carrying out its duties to enforce sharia, Islamic law. It's a subject I've researched and written about throughout my Sasha Del Mira espionage series—Trojan Horse, Sasha Returns, Arab Summer and my most recent novel, On Home Soil. The Saudi religious police, known variously by the names the Mutawwa’in, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (I’m not kidding), and Haia, enforce the strict rules of the Islamic code of behavior as outlined in sharia.

For example, the religious police will arrest women who are not "properly" clothed. That means not wearing an abaya—a formless black robe concealing any aspect of her anatomy—or a hijab—a head scarf covering her hair. Or caught driving a car. Or not accompanied by a male family member or husband; male friends or boyfriends won’t do. Or anyone, man or woman, caught drinking alcohol, using drugs or smoking tobacco in public. That’s not an exhaustive list.

What the new Saudi directive means is that the religious police will have to report those violating sharia to the police or the drug police instead of making the arrests themselves. It's not clear what that means in practical terms, but it doesn't sound like much of a change.

The Saudi regime, which has been led on and off by the Al Saud family for centuries, and which passes down its leadership exclusively through members of its royal family, was founded and is still firmly rooted in the Wahhabi sect of the Sunni Muslim faith. Wahhabism is an especially strict and reactionary interpretation of the Muslim religion, very similar to that of ISIS’ interpretation of it.

That's a scary concept, although the Saudi regime learned decades ago to pacify the Saudi masses with generous social welfare programs to keep the peace and tamp down any potential uprisings that could unseat them. That's also a fundamental element of my Sasha Del Mira series.

Lately, with the collapse of oil prices from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to the mid-20s per barrel in the first quarter of 2016, recently recovering only to the $40 per barrel level, the Saudi regime is under increasing pressure. It’s consuming its financial reserves to maintain funding of its social programs. That is it’s only means of keeping the average Saudi schlub from rising up against the Saudi royal family billionaires who live in the gilded Royal Palace and spend indiscriminately on anything and everything they want.

Think the Saudi 1% trying to placate Bernie Sanders by stuffing billions of dollars worth of caviar and fine French pate down his gullet.

So rather than looking at this recent curtailment of the powers of the Saudi religious police as a major social change, see it only as another means of the Saudi royals placating a restive Saudi public. A Saudi public that feels ever more oppressed by its elitist regime that’s been dominating the Saudi economy and culture for generations.

The situation isn’t stable.

It makes a good backdrop for thrillers.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Waiting for Jesse

Styles, our pitbull, has a high school friend, Jesse, who comes to play ball with him in the afternoons. Manette and I started hiring kids a few years ago from the Babysitters/Dog Walkers listing in a local newspaper. It’s worked out well, and over time we’ve had about a dozen come to the house after school a few days a week. At least that’s how it started.

For those of you who don’t know pitbulls, they’re working dogs who are incredibly energetic and athletic. They need to burn off energy or they come at you with their favorite form of working dog “work,” which in the case of Styles is balls. He’s obsessed with them. Somebody needs to throw them, play tug of war over them or say “What about that one,” and point to another to send him off to pounce on it after dropping the one in his mouth.

Styles quickly became accustomed to having captive playmates and so we needed to organize it on a daily basis. As I said earlier, we’ve had a dozen or so, but Jesse is his champion and he adores her like no other. She doesn’t talk on the phone, watch YouTubes or text with her friends; Styles gets her unqualified attention while she’s here. She strokes his head when she arrives, talks sweetly to him while they play, and blows kisses to him as she leaves.

Now it’s her job exclusively.

That’s Styles in the photo at left, waiting for Jesse at the front door.

I call him Mr. Clairvoyant, because he knows when it’s approaching 3:00 pm and he starts his vigil. Since Jesse recently got her driver’s license, she generally pulls into the driveway, opens the electric gate with the remote we gave her and comes in the back door. When Styles hears the gate opening he starts yelping and crying like he hasn’t seen her in weeks. The yard is fenced in because of the pool, so when Jesse pulls to a stop in the back we let him out to take a victory lap around the yard and greet her as she’s getting out of her car. On days we aren’t home because of appointments, she lets herself in with the key we gave her.

That’s her setup in the other photo at left. She prefers Earl Grey tea with sugar and cream and we usually leave her a cookie for herself and a treat to give Styles.

We know that eventually, like Nikki, Tina, Nico, Megan and the others before her, Jesse will get a job at the mall or go off to college. 

I have no idea what we’ll do when that happens, because Styles will be inconsolable. Maybe, like Manette says, we should just adopt her.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

On Home Soil - Sasha Del Mira Thriller #4

In the fourth installment of my Sasha Del Mira thriller series, On Home Soil, CIA assassin Sasha Del Mira and her agency cohort, Tom Goddard, have become involved in a steamy romance, and both begin questioning their motivation to continue in the spying game. Then ISIS sends its top battlefield commander in Syria, Omar the Albino, to the States to train and mobilize its underground cells to bring its jihad to the U.S. As a result, Sasha and Tom are thrust into an all-out effort to thwart ISIS’ terror.

Omar quickly organizes a series of kidnappings, and ISIS videos begin surfacing on the Internet of American hostages in orange jumpsuits. A CIA plan to enlist the American public in a grass-roots effort to help prevent ISIS terror by reporting on any suspicious activities and supporting agents in the field, begins to complicate Sasha and Tom’s work. Part of the program—termed the Patriot Program—gives rise to an armed nationwide group bent on vigilante justice that threatens to target anyone fitting a Muslim profile.

So not only do Sasha and Tom have to track down Omar before he unleashes a wave of beheadings and terrorist attacks on home soil, but they have to stop the rogue Patriots before social chaos erupts.

I started the novel over a year ago after ISIS surfaced as regional terrorist force in Syria and Iraq. I did most of my research from daily news reports, much the same as I did in researching and writing Arab Summer, the third Sasha Del Mira thriller, based on the Arab Spring uprising a few years ago. I believed that by basing On Home Soil on the idea that ISIS would bring its terror to the West, I was creating a fictional story by extrapolating from the news. As I continued writing I saw ISIS unfold from a regional Middle-Eastern menace to a group with global terrorist activities. I finished the novel in August and have been working with my editor since then. Little did I know what would actually happen in Paris last month, and that we would need to gird ourselves for the possibility of similar attacks here in the States.

I hope you’ll read On Home Soil for what it’s intended to be—a fast-paced action thriller based on current events—and not my attempt to predict what might occur here at home.

The Sasha Del Mira Thriller series (click on cover to buy on Amazon):

CIA assassin Sasha Del Mira and Tom Goddard, her CIA cohort, are involved in a steamy romance, and are questioning their motivation to continue in the spying game, when they’re thrust into an all-out effort to thwart ISIS’ plans to bring their jihad and terror to the U.S.

Buy: US UK

Former CIA spy Sasha Del Mira comes out of retirement to avenge her husband’s murder by Islamic terrorists and stop their Arab Spring uprising to topple the Saudi government.

Buy : US UK

A young Sasha Del Mira must stop multiple attempts to topple the Saudi regime by murdering a Saudi prince, who is like a father to her, and replacing him with one of his sons as a puppet of a Muslim terrorist group.

Buy : US UK

Daniel Youngblood, a world-weary investment banker falls in love with an exotic spy and then teams up with her to stop a Muslim terrorist plot to cripple the world’s oil capacity.

 Read Sample

Buy : US UK

Arab Summer - Sasha Del Mira Thriller #3

My third Sasha Del Mira thriller, Arab Summer is about an Arab Spring uprising in Saudi Arabia led by fundamentalist Shiite Muslims whose goal is to topple the Sunni Saudi regime and use its oil riches to hold the West hostage.  It's the third installment of the Sasha Del Mira series.  Sasha, the heroine of Trojan Horse and Sasha Returns, is a former concubine to the Saudi royal family who was recruited by the CIA as an informant, and later as an assassin.
The uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt that brought down Ben Ali, Qaddafi and Mubarak—dictators who brutally persecuted, repressed and murdered their citizens—started Arab Spring in 2011.  Since then, over a dozen other Arab states witnessed at least some level of civil unrest challenging their governments, including the ongoing civil war in Syria between the al-Assad regime and opposition forces. 
The darker side of the Arab Spring movement surfaced in the form of murderous acts by Islamic fundamentalists, not against repressive governments, but against innocents.  ISIS grew out of disparate groups of armed fundamentalists, the vacuum created by the fall of some of the governments during Arab Spring, and the civil war in Syria.
Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most stable regimes in the Arab states, but the notion of an Arab Spring uprising there isn't so far-fetched.  Protests, some with 70,000 participants, over anti-Shiite discrimination, labor rights, release of prisoners held without charge or trial, and for equal representation in key government offices began in Saudi Arabia in 2011 and continue today.
Imagine this: a group of disaffected Shiite Muslim extremists seizes the Grand Mosque in Mecca—Islam’s holiest site—during the final days of the Hajj, the annual Muslim holy pilgrimage, and takes thousands of hostages.  Their leader says that among them is the Mahdi, the prophesied “Redeemer of Islam” who will drive out all infidels from holy Saudi soil and lead Muslims into a new era.  They broadcast their demands from loudspeakers on the mosque’s minarets, including ceasing oil exports to the US and the expulsion of foreign civilians and military personnel from Saudi Arabia.  Saudi forces try unsuccessfully for weeks to retake the mosque, sustaining heavy casualties.  The Saudis ultimately enlist the help of foreign military forces to drive out the militants.
That actually happened in 1979.
In Arab Summer something like that does again.  Saif Ibn Mohammed al-Aziz, a ruthless terrorist, leads a Muslim fundamentalist group bent on a bloody coup of the Saudi Arabian government via an Arab Spring uprising.  As a prelude to his plan, he has Sasha Del Mira’s husband, Daniel, murdered.  Sasha comes out of retirement to avenge Daniel’s death and to help Tom Goddard, her old mentor at the CIA, stop the plot, putting her face to face with Saif, her former ally—and lover.

I've just released the fourth installment in the series, On Home Soil, in which Sasha must stop an ISIS plot to bring its jihad to US soil. I hope you'll give all the Sasha Del Mira thrillers in the series a try.

The Sasha Del Mira Series (click on covers to buy on Amazon):

CIA assassin Sasha Del Mira and Tom Goddard, her CIA cohort, are involved in a steamy romance, and are questioning their motivation to continue in the spying game, when they’re thrust into an all-out effort to thwart ISIS’ plans to bring their jihad and terror to the U.S.

Buy: US UK

Former CIA spy Sasha Del Mira comes out of retirement to avenge her husband’s murder by Islamic terrorists and stop their Arab Spring uprising to topple the Saudi government.

Buy : US UK

A young Sasha Del Mira must stop multiple attempts to topple the Saudi regime by murdering a Saudi prince, who is like a father to her, and replacing him with one of his sons as a puppet of a Muslim terrorist group.

Buy : US UK

Daniel Youngblood, a world-weary investment banker falls in love with an exotic spy and then teams up with her to stop a Muslim terrorist plot to cripple the world’s oil capacity.

Read Sample 

Buy : US UK

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Old Friends are the Best Friends

My birthday was yesterday and I got a call with birthday wishes from George, one of my friends from our kindergarten days back in Mt. Tabor, the tiny town in New Jersey where we grew up. He calls me every year, and in the days before smart phone calendars I sometimes didn’t set a reminder anyplace and missed calling him back on his birthday exactly two months after mine in January. I don’t miss anymore. Our other joined-at-the-hip-since-kindergarten friend, Bob, has a birthday in March, and George and I talked about Bob, as well as other things.

Other things included reminiscences about the old days, of course, but after a bit of that we just settled into what old friends usually do: chatting about what’s going on in our lives like it was only a week ago, or less, that we last talked. It always strikes me with old friends that you don’t have to lament how long it’s been since you’ve contacted each other, or either of you feel bad about it, or even one of you give the other a hard time because of it. (I have some friends that get all bitchy if too much time passes without a word, who blame me for it, even though they hadn’t picked up the phone or emailed either. Old friends don’t do that.) With old friends you pick up like you’ve never left. You slide back in together like you’re sitting in George’s room listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the first time, or smoking your first joint behind the church again, or gaping once more at Playboys that Bob found in the woods off the fourth fairway on the golf course.

What was going on with George most recently was the evening concert he produces for Children’s Day, the town celebration of children in Mt. Tabor—morning Olympics, an afternoon parade with costumes and floats, a midway with arcade games and food, an evening parade with all the local fire trucks and an evening concert and fireworks—on the first Saturday of August every year; the fact that the bands were supposed to be somebody I didn’t remember opening for Arlo Guthrie, but the town elders decided that even though the first Saturday of August this year was the 1st of the month, that for the first time in 140-something years they had to invoke some rule that Children’s Day was on the first Saturday after the first full week of August, so it fell on August 8th, and Arlo Guthrie wasn’t available, so it was Badfinger (the last one still alive backed by other musicians) opening for Peter Noone featuring Herman’s Hermits instead; that Finn, local Tabor kid who made it big in real estate and finances the concert each year, couldn’t even make it on the 8th.

Then after mentioning Badfinger we went into a long digression about Harry Nilsson (he made a hit out of Badfinger’s song, Without You), me saying that I could never find Nilsson’s version of I Like New York in June that ran with the closing credits of the movie The Kingfisher on any of his albums, so I had to buy the soundtrack of the movie for that one song. We talked for a while about all of Nilsson’s albums, trying to figure out if I Like New York in June was on one of them and finally gave up. I resolved to order the CD for A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night because I haven’t heard it in years: I only have it on vinyl and have no idea where my turntable might be.

What was going on for me was that Manette and Zac were out of town so I had birthday dinner with Jack and Cindy, my in-laws, and of course Styles, our wonderdog pitbull; that I’ve finished my latest novel and am waiting for my editor to free up to work with him on it; that I’m working on another Sasha Del Mira story; that we closed up the pool and the fountain a little early this year; that our taxes went up yet again and as much as I love our house I’m thinking of arranging to have a plane crash on it some weekend we’re up in Milford because it’s worth more dead than alive (replacement cost insurance vs. market value); and that I would take responsibility for contacting Bob to set up an annual hard date for the three of us to get together instead of calling each other randomly and not having it happen for months.

I have a pillow in the den of our weekend house in Milford that I got from my old friends, Jimmy and Charle, that has, “Old Friends are the Best Friends” embroidered into it. So true. If I don’t see George first, I’m looking forward to talking to him on his birthday.