To say this was one of my most anticipated releases for 2019 would be an understatement. Last year Chandra and I picked up HANGMAN for #allthebookreviews and we could not stop raving about it. I still can’t! (You can see our thoughts here )
JUST ONE BITE – Jack Heath (out today!)
I HIGHLY recommend reading book one, HANGMAN, because it’s amazing and because this is not a standalone novel. You can see my review for HANGMAN here
The shocking, fast-paced and queasily funny follow-up to Jack Heath’s international bestselling thriller, Hangman
Timothy Blake, a former consultant for the FBI, now moonlights in body disposal for a local crime lord. One night he stumbles across a body he wasn’t supposed to find. When the FBI calls Blake back in to investigate the man’s disappearance, Blake is the only one who knows the man is dead and in his freezer.
Then another man goes missing. And another. And another.
There’s a serial killer in Houston, and Blake is the only one who knows it for sure. As they hunt the killer together, his handler, FBI agent Reese Thistle, starts to warm to Blake—but she also gets closer and closer to discovering his own gruesome secret. This is cause for anxiety for the criminal kingpin who employs Blake. It would be better to murder Blake than to risk exposure.
Can Blake uncover the killer, without exposing himself?
My Thoughts: 5/5 stars
Last year I picked up Jack Heath’s HANGMAN – book one in the Timothy Blake series. A consultant for the FBI with a penchant for riddles and puzzles. He is asked to come in on the more complicated cases and assist and in return he would get a very unorthodox payment. Timothy’s dark secret? Well, he’s a cannibal. I HIGHLY recommend picking up HANGMAN first because you will be missing out on a ton of information if you try to jump into the series with book two.
We’re back with Blake and he is now working on the other side of the law. Once a consultant for the FBI he is now working for local crime lord in body disposal – a win/win situation for both parties. One night, Blake comes across a body he wasn’t supposed to find and keeps it for himself. Things get complicated when Agent Thistle from the FBI contacts him to help on a new cases that they’re hoping is just a couple missing person’s cases and not the beginnings of a serial killer.
What I loved about book one was the dark humor and thoughts while living in Blake’s mind. His internal dialogue is great and I loved getting to know him again and see him grow. The relationship between Blake and Thistle has a new dynamic after book one and continues to develop. We get some twists and turns I wasn’t anticipating and I really enjoyed the crazy ride. That ending! I’m not looking forward to the long wait for the third book in the series – I need to know what’s going to happen next!
If you like dark humor and want something that’s a cross between Dexter and Sherlock Holmes, then look no further! Oh, and you’ll get to enjoy a riddle before each chapter (this was something I loved because, like Blake, I love a good puzzle!)
About the Author:
First published as a teenager, Jack Heath is the award-winning author of more than twenty fiction titles for young adult and middle-grade readers.In the course of his research, Jack has toured morgues and prisons, performed as a street magician and travelled through eleven countries, including Russia. His previous day jobs—in which he met many interesting characters—include fry cook, music teacher, TV salesman, call centre worker and bookseller. He plays several musical instruments, and lives on the land of the Ngunnawal people in Gunghalin, Australia.
Connect with Jack Heath:
Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black. I always loved the hard-boiled detective novels written by Raymond Chandler in the fifties, and this new-ish novel captures his style perfectly, from the moment a dame walks into the detective’s office with a case and a hidden agenda.
Q: What book would you take with you to a desert island?
A: Oh, man. I guess I should pick something long, or at least something with a lot of variety. I’ve read How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely several times, and I can imagine reading it again. It’s about a guy who writes nonsense, and fools people into thinking it’s literary fiction. It’s full of extracts from fictitious novels by the other writers the character meets, and they’re all terrific. Then again, I always intended to finish The Last Man by Mary Shelley. On a desert island I might actually get it done.
Q: What does your writing process look like? Do you have any strange writing habits?
A: I start every day with the intention of getting all my writing done by lunchtime. Instead, I immediately get sidetracked by emails, social media, coffee and various other urgent but unimportant things. After lunch I realize my desk is covered with empty coffee cups and I still haven’t done any real work. Cursing my lack of discipline, I take my laptop to my local café—where I somehow smash out about 2,000 words. This whole process is embarrassing to reveal, and I wish I had a better one. But I’ve written thirty books this way, so it’s working.
Q: What is the most difficult part of your writing process? Your writing Kryptonite?
A: About two thirds of the way through the first draft, I start comparing the manuscript to my last published book, and I realize it’s terrible. I find myself thinking, “Maybe I used to be a good writer, and I’m not anymore. I had something, and now I’ve lost it, and I don’t know how to get it back, and because I dropped out of college I’m not going to be able to find another job and my family’s going to starve.” Then I remind myself that this happens every time—I always panic at this point—and so I keep writing. Once the book is finished and edited, it’s always fine, and I wonder why I worried.
Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
A: If I feel blocked, it’s usually because I’ve filled my head with podcasts and haven’t given myself any time to think. I do some pushups and stretches, then I go for a walk—without my phone. Sometimes I take paper and a pen. Usually an hour of boredom is enough to get my brain working again. I write out an outline in bullet point form, then get back to my desk.
Q: Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?
A: I write a detailed plot synopsis and submit it to my publisher every time, but the best ideas usually appear as I’m writing, so I’m always prepared to deviate from the plan. Just One Bite actually started as a synopsis for season two of the Hangman TV show (which doesn’t exist yet). In it there’s a character named Shannon Luxford who wasn’t in the outline at all but plays a huge role in the finished book.
Q: What is your favorite genre to read? Have any authors you’ve read influenced your work?
A: I’ll read anything—sci-fi, nonfiction, children’s books… But I tend to avoid the top 10 bestsellers. I worry that if I read what everybody else in reading, I’ll lose my own voice. So I go looking for authors I’ve never heard of, and I rarely read more than one in a series. Having said that, I read all the Makedde Vanderwall thrillers by Tara Moss. I’m not sure I could have written Just One Bite if I hadn’t read Siren. It was amazing.
Q: Which character in any of your books (Hangman, Just One Bite, or otherwise) is dearest to you and why?
A: I have a soft spot for Reese Thistle. In addition to being fearless and shrewd, she makes me laugh—it’s feels strange to say that, since I’m the one writing the scenes. But when I’m writing her dialogue, it feels more like transcription than invention. Thistle is everything I wish I was, while Blake is much more like I actually am—cynical and weak-willed.
Q: Blake is a unique mixture of appealing and repulsive characteristics. In the opening pages of this latest, he comes across as a bit hapless and even more unsure of himself than in the first book. By rights, these things should add up to a character who is difficult to like and not all that relatable, yet somehow he remains endearing despite all of that. Why do you think that is?
A: Blake was created as a challenge to myself: how repulsive a character could I create, and still get the reader on his side? I’m always walking a tightrope with him, but think it helps that his crimes mostly don’t hurt anybody, that he’s led a ghastly life, and that he’s all too aware of his own shortcomings—he doesn’t cut himself any slack. He uses his skills to help people, often at great personal cost. Readers are also willing to empathize with him because his addiction is so strange. Cannibalism is statistically nonexistent, so it’s surprisingly easy to forgive. If I’d made him a rapist or a Nazi I think readers would reject him, because those people are actually out there.
Q: Which one of Hangman or Just One Bite’s characters was the hardest to write and why?
A: Abbey Chapman was tough. She’s a young woman who gets abducted and held captive for months in Just One Bite. I always try to put myself in each character’s shoes, be they hero, villain or victim. But imagining myself into her position was grueling. And since she’s a victim of sexual violence, I had to be very careful not to sexualize her in those scenes—I didn’t want to fall into the trap of making them seem titillating.
Q: Your books offer a marvelous blend of dark humor and gruesome violence that leaves the reader off-kilter in the best possible way. As a writer, how do you dance that line when crafting your stories?
A: Blake’s world is a grim one, so the humor is essential to keep the reader enjoying the story. I’ve spend a lot of time on tour, talking to audiences about my books, which forced me to develop a sense of what will or won’t get people laughing. Blake’s predilection offers plenty of opportunities for puns, which is great. He also makes it easy to be shocking, which is often funny. But I have to make sure it’s all consistent with the character. There’s a moment in Just One Bite where he’s interviewing a victim while munching on a sandwich with part of her father in it. I wondered if he should offer her a bite—it might have been funny, but it would be very gross. I decided against it, thinking that Blake just wouldn’t do that.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you have received that has always resonated with you?
A: When I sent my first manuscript off to a publisher, my parents advised me to start writing something else while I waited to hear back, so I would have a second manuscript on the go when the first one got rejected. As it happened, the book didn’t get rejected, but it was really good advice. To this day, every time I submit something I immediately start something new.
Q: What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?
A: Read diversely. Write even more diversely. Spend at least as much time editing as you do writing. Show your work to well-read people with different life experience to you, and listen to their feedback. Self-publish—you won’t make any money, but it’s great practice. Join at least one nonprofit writing organization—Mystery Writers of America, for example. Submit to agents, rather than to publishers directly. Remember that the worthwhile agents are picky about which clients they take on, and they don’t get paid unless you do. Don’t write sequels to things which don’t sell. Keep writing, no matter what. Assume a 90% percent chance of rejection for each manuscript (not for each submission)… which means that if you write 22 manuscripts, you have a 90% chance of getting at least one published.
Q: What’s your favorite review of your work?
A: I don’t think I have a favorite, but several reviews have said something like, “I didn’t realize Heath was Australian.” That always makes me happy—I do a lot of research to make my noir distortion of Houston, Texas feel authentic.
Q: What kind of research did you do?
A: I visited Houston, I took a tour of a morgue, I went to some prisons, trained with firearms, and I Googled a lot of disturbing things. My wife even donated her placenta so I could eat some human flesh.
Q: Will there be a third Timothy Blake book?
A: I hope so—he’s so much fun to write about. But I’ll see if the demand is there first. If readers are already sated, I don’t want to insist on dessert.
What has a neck but no head?
If Charlie Warner wants you dead, first she steals your shoes.
Not in person. She has people all over Houston.
One of them is James Tyrrell, a pudgy guy with Coke-bottle glasses and scar tissue on his arm where the number 88 used to be. A coded white-supremacist tattoo—H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. The 88 means Heil Hitler. “I’m no Nazi,” I heard him say once. “But if you want to survive Huntsville prison, you gotta pick a team.”
Tyrrell will open your front door with a police-issue lock-release gun and go to your bedroom wearing latex gloves and a hairnet. He’ll steal your most expensive pair of shoes. Usually black, always shiny—the kind you might wear to a funeral. He’ll take some socks, too, but won’t touch anything else on his way out.
Two more guys will drive a white van with stolen plates to wherever it is you work. Their names are Jordan Francis and Theo Sariklis. They both have thick necks, square jaws and crew cuts. It took me a while to tell them apart. Sariklis is the one with the drooping eyelid and the Ramones shirt. He’s been working for Warner longer than me. Francis is new—just moved here from San Jose, California. He’s the one who cracks jokes. Even in winter he wears a wife-beater to show off his biceps. He might go to the gym after killing you.
Francis will park the van next to the driver’s side of your car. Sariklis will open the sliding door on the side of the van and wait.
You’ll walk out of the office and approach your car. When you go to open the door, Francis will grab you and drag you into the van. It takes seconds. He’s had plenty of practice—in San Jose he worked for one of the Sureño gangs. You won’t even have time to scream before Francis shuts the van door.
You’ll know who they work for. Warner doesn’t target bystanders. They’re here because you stole from her, or lied to her, or informed on her. Or maybe you didn’t pay your tab at one of her businesses. An underground casino, a bordello, a drug den.
They’ll ask you questions. The first few are a test; they already know the answers. If you lie, Francis will hold you down, while Sariklis forces a water bottle into your mouth and pinches your nose shut so it feels like drowning. They do it like that because they’re still in the parking lot. There aren’t many quiet ways to torture someone.
Just when it feels like you’re gonna die, Sariklis will take the bottle out. You’ll throw up. Then Sariklis will ask you some more questions. The real ones. Whatever Warner needs to know. Who have you told? What are their names? Where do they live? Show us the messages.
The final question is always about the PIN for your bank account. You’ll answer that one gladly. You’ll think it means they only want money. You’ll think they’re going to let you go.
After you give them your PIN, Sariklis will stick the bottle back in your mouth. This time he won’t let up. He’ll drown you, right there in the parking lot. Three minutes until your heart gives up, four until brain death.
Francis will stay in the van with your body while Sariklis takes your car, your phone and your wallet to an ATM. He’ll withdraw as much as he can, then drive to a secluded stretch of beach in Galveston.
There he’ll meet Tyrrell, who has your shoes. Sariklis will place your shoes side by side on the sand, your wallet and keys tucked inside like frightened mice. Tyrrell will do a factory reset on your phone, switch it off and hurl it into the sea. They’ll abandon your car on the side of the road, within sight of the gray ocean, and take Tyrrell’s car back to Warner’s office to give her the cash.
I’ve only been to Warner’s office once, and I had a bag on my head for the whole journey. But I was memorizing the turns, and counting the seconds. Afterward I got them to drop me off someplace else, and I memorized that journey, too. Later I looked at a map, and narrowed it down to four city blocks near Market Square Park.
They usually take you on a Friday. If you live alone, you may not be reported missing until Monday. The police will find your car and shoes around Wednesday. Some of them will say you drowned accidentally while swimming. Others will suggest that it was suicide. The shoes are too classy for a normal swim, they’ll say, and there’s no towel. Plus, your bathing suit is still at your home.
Because of the ATM withdrawal, still others will say that you faked your death. You did have some powerful enemies, after all. Your missing phone lends credence to this theory. But anyone who suspects Warner will be smart enough not to say so.
All this is assuming you’re one of the lucky ones, and Warner doesn’t want the credit for your death. Sometimes she kills someone to send a message. No stolen shoes, no water bottle. The body turns up in dozens of pieces, each removed from a living person.
Once upon a time Warner’s men would have just thrown your body into the ocean. The water in your lungs would make sense on the autopsy report. But the bruising around your lips and wrists, plus the damage to your gums, might raise some eyebrows. Now they have a better way.
While Sariklis and Tyrrell bring the cash to Warner’s office, Francis will take the van onto State Highway 12, alone. Your body will be in the back under a sheet, slowly going cold. Francis will drive through the dark, watching the buildings disappear and the trees get taller and taller.
Then he’ll see a beat-up Toyota Corolla parked on the shoulder, miles from anywhere. He’ll pull over. Despite what he’s seen and done, he’ll shudder before he gets out of the car.
Then he’ll slide open the van door, and give your body to me.
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