Dee for Death

A robin's egg-blue book blends the prose of five rookie crime novelists

John and his friends were members of a lost tribe. People who really had no purpose in life. They were really giving a performance rather than leading a life. A few of them became feared hit men, loan sharks, corrupt union bosses, and rich heroin dealers. Their careers lasted only five to ten years. The ones who made it to 40 were sentenced to 65 or 75 years to life in prison.

Lauzerne, a thin man with gold, aviator glasses and light brown hair, says he has written about 160 pages of The Spree. Right now, however, he devotes most of his writing time to revisions that his colleagues have suggested. "The pebbles have been dropped in the pond, and the ripples haven't reached the other side yet," he says with a trademark metaphor. Lauzerne, age 53, has always played with the notion of writing fiction, he says, but not until he moved to Fort Lauderdale from Los Angeles three years ago did he act on it. Instead of finding full-time employment, he stays home to write and care for his two daughters.

Craig Jordan, James Lauzerne, Bob Bellinger, Rick Sherman, and Johnny Dee conspired to create the Middle River Review
Joshua Prezant
Craig Jordan, James Lauzerne, Bob Bellinger, Rick Sherman, and Johnny Dee conspired to create the Middle River Review

The Spree is about Johnny Mano, a man fresh out of prison, who accepts a ride from a group of girls. The idea came from a tape Lauzerne heard in a friend's Los Angeles apartment. "The speaker told a story about someone out of prison waiting for someone to pick him up. He has the opportunity to get in the car with some young girls, but he doesn't because he knows that would take him right back to prison," Lauzerne says evenly. "So I got to thinking, "What if he'd gotten into the car?' I thought, "Now, that's a starting point.'"

This excerpt from the first chapter describes the thoughts of Johnny Mano, the main character, as he awaits his ride on a Los Angeles street corner:

He imagined young office girls dressed sharp, walking with a bounce to their step as they sailed in and out of skyscrapers that rose from the sidewalks.... Everyone would be looking good. He glanced down at his release clothes and thought about how out of place he'd be, about how he once thought about himself on that side of Broadway, but no longer.

The thought of the office girls and the indistinct face peering at him from the back seat of the Chevy reminded him of how long it had been since he had touched a woman, even his mother. The longing for physical contact was a dull ache that cried out to be satisfied. Maybe the old man was right. He could go sit in the coffee shop and wait for the girls to jump into his lap. Fat chance. Nobody in her right mind would want to be picked up by an ex-con with no money and no future.

In 1993, after majoring in aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota, Craig Jordan moved to Florida to attend law school. Jordan, with cropped dark-brown hair and slate-gray eyes, has a quick, lively sense of humor that appears in his writing. The Park is about a man, Mike Holman, who begins to surface from a deep depression after the tragic loss of his wife and son, only to immerse himself in a world of evil and crime as he and a boyhood friend join together to reopen an amusement park. This excerpt depicts Holman's anxiety as he contemplates asking a woman on a date for the first time since his wife's death:

He saw her every day at the coffee shop where he bought a cinnamon bagel and small coffee before making his way into the office. She was always very friendly to him, and even held his gaze a little longer than someone who was just being polite. He didn't know her name, but he was going to find out. Mike grabbed his coat and headed to the coffee shop.

Peering around the signs in the window, Mike could see her behind the counter. She wiped the counter and the display racks with a level of care that led him to believe she must be the owner. He prepared to go in, but then caught his own reflection, and stared at himself for a moment. He knew this was a good thing. The past had to be put behind him. This didn't mean he didn't love Carol. It just meant he was going on with his life.

He pulled the door open and stepped in, the strong coffee smell immediately filling his nostrils. He walked on the wood floor toward the counter, still unsure of what to say, when she greeted him.

The fifth contributor to the journal, Rick Sherman, who is bespectacled and articulate, worked until a few years ago for a small newspaper in Hammond, Indiana, as a self-described "Chicagoland entertainment critic, celebrity interviewer, and columnist." Sherman, who refuses to admit his age, says he's published 1800 items (that includes newspaper articles, poems, and short stories). This excerpt begins his novel:

Although PJ Williams told herself that cops don't cry, she still sobbed into her pillow. She was scheduled to fly off the next day to Quantico for two weeks and had not yet packed. Instead, she sobbed alone while her white, long, sexy satin nightgown went to waste clinging to her ebony skin.

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