A Case for the Mystery Novella

Mystery novelette

 Editor’s Note: This post was written by P.I. Tales author / editor Michael Pool

Busy lives and short attention spans. That pretty well sums up the modern world we live in. We have unprecedented amounts of media and technology vying for our time, not to mention careers that blur the lines between home and work more and more via email and text. Especially during the current global pandemic.

It’s harder and harder to carve out the time to curl up with a good mystery novel and lose ourselves in the narrative.

Maybe that’s why the number of Americans who report reading a book within the last year continues to drop. With the rise of streaming services there are so many other options to take in a good story beyond books. And let’s be honest, humans will always love a good story. Stories tell us not just who we are, but who we might become. They highlight the best and the worst of what it means to be a human being, inspire us, and allow us to live hundreds of lives other than our own.

In short, stories are integral to what it means to be a human being. But so is written language, which is why I’m going to posit something oddly radical in the modern context. It’s not just important that we take in stories, it’s important that we read at least some of them.

But who can find the time? you might say. Though I think it is important for brain health and general intellect that we all carve out the time to read a book, I won’t get bogged down with that pie-in-the-sky vision here. For this post I want to concentrate on what might make reading for pleasure less time consuming and thus more available.

Given that short stories never quite seem to catch on with larger audiences (though I personally love them), I believe that an oft overlooked story length may hold the answer to the modern novel reader’s time crunch.

I’m talking about the novella. As a writer, I’ve had the opportunity to write two projects in the 20,000 word length over the last year, and I have to say I’m enamored with it.  

Novellas have all the same punchy, fast-paced advantages of short stories, paired with an adequate length to really draw out a mystery in a way that lingers. More than this, novelettes don’t allow much room for exposition or other forms of side plot, they go straight for the goods, producing a fast pace that makes them difficult to put down. A good novella picks up fast the same way a short story does, but provides more room to stretch out. It generally won’t let off the gas as it pounds through the story, often to an explosive and satisfying ending. Novellas have many of the core advantages of both short stories and novels all wrapped up into one compact package that can be read in a single sitting.

I’ve discovered that they’re not only fun to write, they make a damn fine read as well. Every novella I’ve read this year has absolutely dragged me kicking and screaming through its narrative, leaving me unable to put the story down until I reached the conclusion. A great novel does the same thing, of course, but I can never truly find the time to spend an entire day curled up with a book anymore. And a great short story makes for a fun read, but often leaves me wanting a bit more.

With novellas, all I need is a good hour or so of reading time and I can take in the story. I love them, and I’m betting that other readers will love them too, once they get the chance to try more of them.

Which is how the idea for the P.I. Tales Double Feature Series came about. One novella of this length is too short to put out in a paperback format, but two novellas paired together are just long enough to make a book. The relatively short length of that book means lower printing costs that allow the book to come in at under $10 for a paperback, and under $4 for an eBook.

The first P.I. Tales Double Feature will be out February 2, 2021, and features a short case titled Crimson Smile from my own series PI, Rick Malone, paired with a fantastically entertaining novella from debut author Hunter Eden, whose story The Path of Jackals will kick off his Egypt-set Fennec Suleiman series , which blends the detective genre with aspects of the occult and supernatural.

Both are lightning-fast reads, and each is the perfect gateway into a larger novel series. The eBook is available for preorder here, and the trade paperback will be out on February 2, 2021. Don’t sleep on it, assuming you still have time to sleep anymore. That was a joke. But I do think you’ll love what you read. Oh, and by the way, here are a few other series built around the novella form that I love:

A Grifter’s Song Seasons 1-3 from Frank Zafiro (My own novelette, Rocky Mountain Lie, will be featured in Season Three)

Guns + Tacos from Michael Bracken

BookShots by James Patterson

First Look: The Rick Malone Series

On November 17, 2020, One Way Out, the first book in the new Rick Malone series, will be released. P.I. Tales Production Editor Isa Reeb sat down with author and P.I. Tales creator Michael Pool for an exclusive first look at the series.

 From the One Way Out jacket cover:

When a troubled teenage girl goes missing in a remote Colorado mountain valley, Denver private investigator Rick Malone is called in by an old friend accused of involvement in the disappearance. Within hours, he finds himself snowed into the remote mountain valley and in conflict with the local law, not to mention working with partners from a past he’d rather forget. As tensions run high and reads run low, Malone will learn that all small towns have their secrets, and sometimes powerful people will do anything to keep those secrets buried beneath the snow.

In One Way Out, we see early on that Rick Malone is struggling with a form of mental illness. What made you decide to write a series protagonist with bipolar disorder?

One of the things I think readers will connect with about the series is Rick’s authenticity as a character. A lot of my readers know I work as a private investigator, but few of them know that I also have bipolar disorder. It’s not something I talk about publicly very often, in part because I do endure a lot of private struggles through it.

But I wanted to try and capture elements of that internal struggle in Rick, who I first wrote about in a short story called “In For A Penny” (Editor’s Note: you can join the PI tales mailing list below to get that story for FREE), and then, later, through early writings that eventually became One Way Out.

One of the interesting things about the series is that Rick is not always suffering from symptoms of the disorder. There are some stories, like the forthcoming novella Crimson Smile, where the reader can see Rick on top of his game and fully stable. But in others, One Way Out in particular, events trigger Rick’s manic and depressive cycling, and the reader really gets to see how that affects his work.

It doesn’t look the way people might think, in part because no two people struggle the same way with the disorder. I think a lot of people aren’t aware of the confusion that comes with a manic or depressive episode. When Rick is in the throws of these episodes, he can be doing an awful lot of work, but getting very little accomplished.

I really like the idea of Rick working through these challenges, as they are challenges I had to learn to navigate in my own work and life.  I think it also humanizes him and provides a unique perspective, though often a flawed one. Rick is a good guy and a really good detective, but sometimes his mind gets the better of him. I can personally relate to this, and I think readers will relate to it, too.

Rick has a unique family life as well, can you talk a little about that?

Oh yeah, for sure. Rick is a loner, and his only real friend or family member is an 82-year-old woman named Vera who lives across the street. Rick was raised by his late grandmother in the house he still lives in, and Vera was her best friend. Now she is Rick’s best friend, and there is a great interplay between the two that readers will see more of as the series progresses. In One Way Out, Rick is on the road working out of town, so you just get a glimpse of their relationship. But Vera is the most important person in his life, that much is clear from the very first pages of  One Way Out. She’s cantankerous, she’s hilarious, and she is exactly what Rick needs because she calls him on his BS and he does the same in return.

What is the one thing you want readers to know about Rick?

He’s fair, with a strong sense of justice, and an introspective voice. Rick is a character who will do right as he sees it no matter what the cost, but that doesn’t always mean he sees things correctly. I think Rick has central elements of the “hero” trope, and also has elements of an antihero. But the tenacity with which he works to resolve his cases and the compassion he shows for his clients is unquestionable. Investigation is more than a job for him, it’s a lifestyle, a natural effect of an inquisitive mind.

What’s next for Rick after One Way Out?

P.I. Tales Double FeatureI’ve got a Rick Malone “Short Case” novella called Crimson Smile coming out in February 2021. It’s part of the first P.I. Tales “Double Feature,” paired with Hunter Eden’s fantastic novelette The Path of Jackals, which will introduce his Cairo-set series detective, Fennec Suleiman, to the world. I’m super excited about that pairing because I think the Fennec series is one of the most original detective series I’ve seen in a while. Incidentally, it also deals with a potential form of mental illness. I don’t want to give any more away, but readers won’t want to miss that one because of the Egyptian setting and original approach.

I also wrote an installment in Down & Out Books and Frank Zafiro’s A Grifter’s Song series, called Rocky Mountain Lie. It features Rick Malone matching wits with Sam and Rachel, that series’ central characters, who are professional grifters on the con in Vail, Colorado. The story involves a hyper-sexual, sociopathic Texas businessman and a three-way deception that will keep readers on their toes right up to the chaotic and violent finale. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written, and it was a huge honor to be invited to write in the series.

Anything else you want to mention?

Just, a thousand thanks to you, Isa, for helping me make P.I. Tales a reality. The concept bounced around in my head for a couple years, but I never had the right partner to make it happen until now. I think the detective stories we are telling are as good as any readers will find anywhere. There’s a ton more coming in the next couple of years, so readers should get in on the ground floor now and start reading our first two series, each of which is unique in style and approach!

 

Announcing the P.I. Tales Double Feature series!

P.I. Tales Double Feature

P.I. Tales is proud to announce the launch of our new Double Feature series, an ongoing series of detective novelettes. Each volume will include two unconnected novelettes, some featuring P.I. Tales series characters, others featuring characters who are entirely new to the P.I. Tales world. Two volumes are expected in 2021.

The first installment in the series, to be released on February 2, 2021, will feature debut author Hunter Eden’s The Path of Jackals, which introduces new P.I. Tales series character Fennec Suleiman to the world (to be followed by a first novel in the series later in 2021). Alongside The Path of Jackals will be Michael Pool’s Crimson Smile, featuring P.I. Tales series character Rick Malone.

The Path of Jackals

Sephardi Jew and war-correspondent-turned-private-investigator Fennec Suleiman lives and works in Cairo, Egypt. Suleiman suffers from a traumatic brain injury sustained while embedded in Iraq, an injury that may or may not be responsible for the apparition of the Egyptian god Anubis he often sees and communicates with. Whether chasing down Bedouin hash dealers or consulting mystical cemetery dwellers, Suleiman’s wry dialogue and historical commentary  bring the streets of Cairo alive, maybe even occasionally raising the dead themselves…

From the back cover:

When a clout-obsessed American teenager goes missing in Cairo, Fennec is called in by the girl’s superficial parents to find her. The investigation soon takes him to Cairo’s darkest corners, though none darker than the shadow of Anubis looking over his shoulder. Can Fennec find the girl before she discovers the true price of fame?

 

 

Crimson Smile

Meanwhile, Crimson Smile will mark the second P.I. Tales publication of a Rick Malone Short Case and is a timely follow up to the first novel in the Rick Malone series, One Way Out (November 17, 2020). From the back cover:

Denver PI Rick Malone has seen his share of marriages gone bad. When a local socialite stands accused of slitting her wealthy husband’s throat, Malone is called in by defense counsel to perform a criminal defense investigation. It doesn’t take long for his client’s needs to diverge from the truth he’s uncovered, and that truth has the power to change lives, including his own, forever…

Author submissions for the Double Feature series will open in October 2020. Stay tuned for more information!

Shamus Awards Nomination!

Weathering the StormWith all the chaos of the last several months, it can be easy to forget that summer is here, and with it comes awards nomination season. We are thrilled to announce that Michael Pool’s short story, “Weathering the Storm,” which introduced the world to our series detective Riley Reeves, is a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Private Investigator Short Story!

The story was published in The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From The Panhandle To The Piney Woods, an anthology of Texas-set detective stories edited by Michael Bracken and published by our friends at Down and Out Books.  The Eyes of Texas has received some love of its own, in the form of an Anthony Award nomination for Best Anthology or Collection. Congrats to all the nominees for both awards!

Cover Reveal: One Way Out (A Rick Malone Novel)

We’re thrilled to reveal the cover for One Way Out, which launches our second P.I. Tales series, featuring Colorado private detective Rick Malone . From the jacket cover:

One Way Out Michael Pool

When a troubled teenage girl goes missing in the small mountain town of Glanton, Colorado, Denver P.I. Rick Malone is called in by an old friend who stands accused of involvement in the disappearance. But Glanton holds more than Rick bargained for, and he soon finds himself snowed into the remote mountain valley with only one way out for him and his client, locating the girl, and working toward that end with partners from a past he’d rather forget. As tensions run high and leads run low, Rick will learn that all small towns have their secrets, and sometimes powerful people will do anything to keep those secrets buried beneath the snow.

One Way Out is set for release in late 2020, with the release date to be announced in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out our first series novel, Throwing Off Sparks, and get to know Texas private investigator Riley Reeves.