Normally I use vacations as an opportunity to research and explore foreign countries for writing purposes, as I like to base my stories against exotic backdrops so that the places themselves almost become a character in the narration. This time, however, I was adamant I wasn’t going to go anywhere near pen and paper (or laptop, for that matter). My missus has been working in Hong Kong since we got married 2 years ago and we’ve only seen each about half that time so we were looking forward to just spending time with each other with no other distractions whatsoever. The fact that we had planned the trip to coincide with the 4 July celebrations as this was also our wedding anniversary made the trip even more special.
Miami, however, is such an intriguing place that it was impossible for an aspiring crime writer not to be drawn in by its wonderfully colourful history. In the end we took three tours of the city, by coach, boat and also sea plane, and the Tour Guides in each of trip provided me with an abundance of crime-related information. Locals will openly tell you that much of Miami has actually been constructed from the proceeds of crime; whether it is from funds seized and confiscated by the US law enforcement agencies or through illegal drug trafficking and money laundering activities. This is still very much the case today. Even just last week the British press ran coverage of HSBC’s breaches of US anti-money laundering procedures relating to its use of bearer share accounts. Under the rules for these accounts, ownership of shares and the income they incur can apparently be passed from person to person in secrecy. HSBC’s US subsidiary HBUS had opened more than 2,550 accounts for bearer share corporations. Most of the bearer share accounts – some 1,670 – were opened at the Miami office of HBUS. At their peak, these Miami accounts held $2.6bn of assets and generated annual revenues of $26m! There is also the recent story of Miami Beach hotel developers, Mauricio Cohen Assor and Leon Cohen Levy. The father and son used HBUS accounts opened under the names Blue Ocean Finance Ltd. and Whitebury Shipping Time-Sharing Ltd. to help hide $150m in assets and $49m of income. The pair were subsequently jailed in 2010 for 10 years for criminal tax fraud and filing false tax returns.
With many tales like this hanging over the city, set against a wonderful backdrop of incredible beaches and fleets of lamborghinis and Ferraris purring along Ocean Drive each night, it was impossible not to be thinking about a future writing project. And so now I’ve gone as as far as writing a rough outline plus opening chapter for a new crime novel, ‘Game-Changer’.
We stayed at the Hilton Bentley on Ocean Drive and the hotel employees there were wonderful; very polite, always attentive and really made our vacation stress-free. The photo at the top shows the view from our suite, which overlooked both South Beach and the city.
“Rose are Red” and “Violets are Blue”
Of course, I also managed to get a lot of reading in during the down-time. A massive fan of James Patterson, I read two of his novels; “Roses are Red” and “Violets are Blue”, which were standalone novels in their own right, but also closely linked, following each other along the same timeline. I have to say that although I love the pace that Patterson injects to both these and all his other novels, I found the actual plots in “Roses…” and “Violets…” a little bit disappointing. In the first novel I had already guessed the rather unlikely identity of the main villain, ‘the Mastermind’, long before it was revealed to the reader. The Mastermind is first introduced in Roses Are Red as the head of a local crime spree involving robberies and murder. At the end of the novel Detective Cross’ partner is raped and murdered and it is shortly after her body is discovered that the reader is made aware of whom the Mastermind actually is. It is not until near the end of Violets are Blue, however, thatour hero discovers his identity and the two finally get to clash. Another, rather unlikely, plot in “Violets Are Blue”, Cross goes up against, well, a cult of vampires!
Also in ‘Rose are Red’, as the story gets going we learn that Janelle, Alex Cross’ daughter, has a serious brain tumour. In my mind I thought this would cue the opportunity for the reader to be taken on a journey where we are reminded about the fragility of life, and that despite our protagonist being heroic, that there are things even he can’t control. But no, we seem to be rushed through a side story where Janelle is successfully operated on and subsequently given the all-clear, all in the space of just one chapter – which kind of left me wondering “why bother in the first place?” ‘Roses…’ was published in 2000, and ‘Violets…’ in 2001, so they were among James Patterson’s earlier novels (albeit the sixth Alex Cross novel). I have to say that I honestly think it showed as his later novels are far superior.
Another novel I read was “The Network” by Jason Elliot. In the months leading up to 9/11 the intelligence community is on high alert for terrorist threats. A former army officer is recruited by MI6 to destroy a weapons cache in Afghanistan, but in the spy world, nothing is quite as it seems. This was a wonderfully authentic novel about exploitation and deceit and also about a friendship tested to the very end. I was bowled over by the sheer level of knowledge and detail depicted in this book, and found it a far more intelligent and superior novel than other SAS-type novels out there. I hope there is a follow up!
Neidermayer & Hart
The last novel on my trip was ‘Neidermayer & Hart’ by MJ Johnson. I was originally drawn to this novel after striking up a Twitter conversation with its author, and then reading the opening chapter which is on his website. As soon as I read it, I immediately bought the novel. As the story goes, there’s something rotten in the basement of Niedermayer & Hart Fine Porcelain, which recovering alcoholic photographer Jim Latimer discovers when he is commissioned to photograph their porcelain collection for an upcoming catalogue. Jim soon realises that there is something very wrong with his employers, and it isn’t long before he finds himself fighting to save not just his life, but his very soul. But there’s a lot more to it! I am going to review this novel more fully in my next blog, but I can tell you that I when I started reading this, I literally didn’t put it down until I had finished it – much to the annoyance of my wife whom I largely ignored on the last day of our vacation! Perhaps not the best way to end a second honeymoon!
And finally, on the subject of my better half, I’d just like to say that there are so many reasons why I’m in awe of my wonderful wife, and I was reminded of just one of them when we were having dinner one evening in a restaurant called ‘Bellinis” on Ocean Drive. As we sat down we noted a party of four next to us, comprising of a mum, dad and two excitable daughters who looked about ages 9 and 12. As we ordered our meal one of the waiters produced a small cake with a candle and they group began to sing Happy Birthday to the eldest girl. It looked like they were having a wonderful time. And then came one of those moments that we all dread, when the waiter approached the father and explained that his credit card had been declined for the third time. Deeply embarrassed, the father set off with the youngest girl to find an ATM, whilst his wife and eldest sat at the table. Eventually they had to stand in the middle of the restaurant as the father was taking so long and they needed the table, and by the time we had finished our meal and paid our bill the father had still not returned. It wasn’t until shortly after my wife had returned from the restroom and stopped on the way to chat to the wife and her daughter that I learned from our own waiter that she had actually paid the family’s dinner and drinks bill – over $100. When I asked her why she said, ‘Well it was the little girl’s birthday and I didn’t want the credit card problem to spoil their night.” Awww, I love you, baby!