Hawaii-based Harry Pines, one-time Army Ranger and ex-con, has settled into a quieter life managing a beachfront apartment that he owns with his Chicago restaurateur friend, Muhammad Ali (not that one, another one). Pines is a good friend to his friends and a dangerous opponent to his enemies and when Muhammad appeals to Harry for help with a wrongly accused friend it he is ready to help. The accused man has been found unconscious in a locked room, sprawled on top of a model dead from gunshot wounds and it’s looking bad for him – but he insists he’s innocent. Harry begins to dig and it doesn’t take long before the case against his client begins to unravel and the violence begins.
This is the second novel to feature Harry Pines (the first being An Ice Cold Paradise) but already Holland has his character down , an almost old-school hero of the Fleming mould, charming, witty, a magnet to beautiful women, fortunately leavened with a healthy dose of wit, irony and a more modern sensibility (he loves that cooking!) more Travis McGee than James Bond perhaps.
From the Victorian-style conceit of the locked room crime to the careful pacing of the narrative you know that you’re in the presence of a masterful and confident storyteller, in full control of his material, putting together an entirely satisfying thriller. Holland doesn’t mistake complex characterisation with complex writing. He keeps the writing simple and pushes the story along. This is unapologetically good storytelling.
Which raises the question. Why is Terry Holland self-publishing? Why isn’t one of the big publishing houses running with this series? The answer could be the hapless state of crime fiction publishing in the US and the UK. It is now so hard to find a publisher that is prepared to take on a new author and have the wherewithal to push and promote that writer to the point where the whole exercise becomes profitable. Publishers are rightly nervous of their profits but it can be almost impossible to get that first break. On the other hand it may be something to do with the changing face of contemporary publishing and the new direct-to-market opportunities opening up for new writers.
Fortunately Holland himself gives some insight into his choice to self-publish. In an author’s note he says:
"You may have noticed that I published this book. As the industry has evolved in the digital age, there simply is no other choice. Any other form of publishing is like throwing money on the ground" and elsewhere he has written: "It’s about control and profit. If I have more of the first I gain more of the second."
And in many ways he’s right. With the rise and rise of ebooks the publishing industry is undergoing convulsions and one of the possible benefits of that is the emergence of the valid self-published work. In the old order self-publishing was synonymous with vanity publishing and the refuge of the half-literate and the deluded. Agents and publishing house editorial staff were the gatekeepers of quality, resisting the never-ending flood of unpublishable nonsense, but as market conditions became tougher it was a system that could also on occasion frustrate writers with potential but without the immediate prospect of taking a large market share. Now the prospective writer can, through the medium of ebooks and affordable print-to-order systems, enter a market directly, without the mediation of a publishing house, and offer their work in affordable digital and hard copy versions.
Terry Holland is a shining example of how contemporary self-publishing should function. Notably he credits JT Lindroos as editor, which is a clear indication that he has enough perspective to realise the value of getting a more objective, professional viewpoint before going in to print. And the book itself is as professionally designed and produced as anything you would find from a mainstream publishing house. All told, Terry Holland has done a damn good job. This is assured writing and great storytelling, an entirely engaging mix of violence, sex, chicanery and cooking. Now all he needs is a massive marketing budget to bring it to the attention of the book-buying public!