Exclusive Excerpt: Straight Up – a new Dan Stagg Mystery by James Lear

Straight Up

by

James Lear

Blurb:

Who is trying to kill the members of an elite special ops team that worked off the radar in Iraq in the ’90s? It’s up to Dan Stagg to track down the survivors — the men with whom he stormed an undefended surveillance station, killing everyone inside. And now, many years later, the team is being targeted in what seems like a series of unrelated attacks.

Dan teams up with his old comrade Al Benson, once a rising star of the USMC, now a respectable married civilian with a few secrets to hide. As they dig deeper into the secrets of the past, Dan discovers that Benson’s looking for more than just answers. An explosive affair threatens everyone’s future, and connects Dan to a past he thought he’d left behind.

Excerpted with Permission From Straight Up: A Dan Stagg Novel

Now, those of you who know me well will have rolled your eyes when I said I worked in a gym. ‘Oh yes, Dan, a gym. A place where guys come and take their clothes off. How convenient.’ I might bust your chops for that, or I might say ‘You’ve got me all wrong, I’m in a relationship now and I don’t fool around,’ and you’d pretend to believe me because you’d prefer to keep your limbs intact. But of course, you’re absolutely right. My official job at The Strong Box – ‘Lowell’s Premier Fitness and Martial Arts Facility’ (ie the only gym in town) – is personal trainer, specializing in kickboxing and other legitimized forms of violence. In between clients, who are sparse, I sit at the front desk, answer the phone, pick up wet towels in the locker room, mop the floors and generally clear up other people’s shit. It’s kind of like working for Uncle Sam, without the killing.

Of course there are opportunities, and yes, I’ve taken them. Not with the members: I can’t afford to lose this job, and the boss made us sign a piece of paper agreeing that any fraternizing with the clients would lead to instant dismissal. I guess a few too many horny housewives got banged up by their personal trainers. They’re safe from me, but their husbands might not be. Nobody need know that. I’m not what you’d call out at work.

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I didn’t sign anything about co-workers, though. People move around a lot in the fitness industry – there’s a high staff turnover even in a little joint like the Strong Box, college grads trying to get a toehold in the business, former athletes whose competition days are over, even a few ex-military men like me. They’re all physically fit, and at a rough guess I’d say about 40 per cent of the men could be persuaded. You get talking about your bodies, you hit the showers after locking up at night, you compare abs or delts or whatever fucking muscle you like, and Bob’s your uncle. And it was just as I was putting the key in the ignition that I remembered I was sharing a shift with Lee, the young English guy who was doing a masters in sports science in a college over towards Boston. Like me he was living in cheap rented accommodation in Lowell, like me he was paying the rent by working at the gym, and in the couple of weeks he’d been there we’d really enjoyed complaining about stuff. He was 21, his first time abroad, his first time living away from home, and he was homesick. I guess I should also mention that he was tall and lean and had played rugby back at home, and hoped one day to play for his country. He had the English rose tattooed on his left pectoral muscle. ‘I want to wear that on my shirt one day,’ he said, the first time I saw him naked. If I had my way he’d never wear clothes again, but I just nodded and said something about sport.

He was already waiting when I pulled up to the kerb, leaning against the wall, wearing jeans and a thick sweater and a watch cap; it was September, the days still warm but the mornings cold as ice, a promise of the winter to come. He’d found a patch of thin early sunshine and was basking in it like a lizard, soaking up the warmth. His face was striking rather than handsome, particularly with the strong shadows accentuating his high cheekbones and deep brow. His eyes were close-set, his mouth large; in repose, he could look quite stupid, a brainless meathead. I liked this. I spent my career giving orders to guys like Lee, and I always had a soft spot for the dumb ones. When he heard the car door slamming he opened his eyes and smiled.

‘Dan!’

He stood up straight, pulled his cap off and ran a large hand over his head. The hair was cut in some crazy style, buzzed at the side but long at the top and back, a kind of modified Mohawk that would look fucking awful on anyone over 22. When you’re Lee’s age you can get away with it – just. His nails were bitten down to the quick, and he had a band-aid on his right middle finger.

I shook his hand, then inspected his fingers. ‘What’s the matter, Lee? Can’t you afford regular food? Been eating yourself?’

He pulled his hand away, stuffed it into his pocket, ashamed of the childish habit. ‘Yeah, right, I know.’

He had a habit of mumbling which, combined with a thick London accent and an unfamiliar vocabulary, made communication interesting. ‘How are you mate?’

‘I’m good. You?’

‘Yeah.’ He did a nervous little sidelong smile, hissed between his teeth. ‘All right. Cold innit.’

‘Let’s open up.’ I checked my watch. ‘Half an hour before we let ‘em in.’

‘I need a shower.’ He sniffed his armpit and grimaced. ‘I fucking stink.’

I scratched my 24-hour stubble. ‘And I need a shave. Come on.’

The Strong Box occupied the basement of two retail units, an outdoor clothing store and a tackle and bait shop, accessed by a metal staircase and a tiny front area into which garbage always blew. Our first job was to clear out the night’s debris.

‘I’ll do this,’ I said, opening the door: as the senior employee, I was entrusted with the keys. ‘You go get the water running.’

‘Cheers mate. I owe you.’

Yeah, and I can think of a thousand ways to make you pay, I thought, watching his ass recede into the gloom of the interior. I kicked the trash into a little pile and dumped it in the bin, hoping there were no sharps. Usual stuff: burger wrappings, cigarette butts, cans. I needed to wash my hands.

I could hear the shower as soon as I walked in; good boy, he’d done as he was told, first thing in the morning it could take five minutes for the water to get up to a bearable temperature. The boiler was always breaking down, which made for pissed off members and smelly employees. The Strong Box was not exactly high-end.

 

Releasing September 8, 2015

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Straight-Up-Dan-Stagg-Novel-ebook/dp/B00NP8MKSO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1441464211&sr=1-1&keywords=straight+up

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Faces of James: Interviewing the ever talented, James Lear

James, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.  

JamesLear

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

London. I’ve lived here since I was 18, and I’ve been in this particular bit of south London since the 80s. I’ve thought about leaving a million times but I just can’t seem to tear myself away.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I’m married with one child, whom we adopted a couple of years ago. I’ve been with my husband for over 20 years, we became ‘civil partners’ in 2009 and are about to convert that into marriage; we’re kind of riding the crest of a lot of legislative change in the UK. That includes changes to adoption law, which allowed same-sex couples to adopt.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I was a journalist for over 20 years, and before that an academic, so I’ve always been writing for a living. I started writing fiction properly in the late 90s, and my first novel was published in 1998. I’ve lost count of how many novels I’ve written since then. Over twenty.

I understand from reading your bio there was a time when you were frustrated with your writing career, a friend suggested you try writing erotica, hence the birth of James Lear. Was switching gears really that simple?

James Lear_The Hardest Thing

Yes, absolutely. I was having trouble getting my literary fiction published, and a friend told me that he knew an editor who was looking for gay porn. My fiction always had a fair bit of sex in it, I like writing about sex, and so it was just a question of foregrounding the sex and making it the main event. While there are certain key differences between erotic fiction and literary fiction, you still have the same basic duty to tell a good story, well structured, with lots of drama. It’s not actually that different, there’s just a lot more penis.

Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

They’re all based on people I know. Most of the guys in the erotic novels are based on men I’ve known or seen at the gym. I can’t actually have sex with them in real life, so this is a good way of getting all that lust out of my system. Sometimes I see men I’ve just been writing about and I think ‘you have no idea what you are getting up to in my new book…’. Some of the protagonists of my novels represent aspects of me – usually nerdy, bookish young men who get involved in doomed relationships with straight guys. That was the story of my young adulthood and it’s a theme to which I seem to return a lot.

What was your inspiration creating the salaciously hunky-hunk, Mitch Mitchell, in the spectacular Mitch Mitchell Mysteries trilogy featuring the sexually charged detective?  

I wanted to create a character who was cheerfully, shamelessly horny, but who also had sufficient brain power to sort out a few mysteries. Mitch uses sex as a way of investigating his cases – he’s always ready to delve into areas that others won’t go. He manages to have sex three or four times a day, but hey, this is fiction. The actual physical character was based on a very sexy American jock who used to go to my gym; he had that cocky confidence that just made me want to fuck his brains out. Mitch is about to return, actually: I’m currently writing a new story for him.

I was excited as hell to come across your latest novel, The Hardest Thing, to discover what I feel is a gay “Jack Reacher” or “John Rain”. There are simply too few gay hard-boiled, rough and tough, ex-military bass-ass thrillers in my opinion? What influenced you to create Dan Stagg?    

I was reading Lee Child, simple as that. I think his books are absolutely saturated with homo-erotic potential – not sure whether he’d see it that way, mind you. All the Lear novels take a solid literary model and then fill it with gay sex. Agatha Christie inspired the Mitch Mitchell novels, and Lee Child inspired the Dan Staggs. I wanted to create quite a dark, miserable character, like Jack Reacher, who has difficulty distinguishing between love and sex.

Have you received criticism from readers and/or reviewers for showcasing Dan Stagg’s active libido?

Straightup2

Criticism of the Lear novels falls into two categories. A) ‘This is a great thriller spoiled by too much sex’ and B) ‘This is a porn novel spoiled by too much plot’. You can’t please everyone, can you? I try to get the balance right, but make no mistake, these are erotic novels and their main purpose is to get the reader off. It always makes me laugh when people complain about the amount of sex. It’s like people buying a porn video and complaining that the dialogue isn’t good enough. I try to keep the literary standards high, because that enhances the reading experience, but really I want people to get turned on and have a wank. That’s the kind of ‘review’ I’m looking for.

Will readers get more of (my favorite) former US Army Major, Dan Stagg, in future mystery/thriller novels?

He rides again in a new novel entitled Straight Up, which comes out in the summer. As usual he’s made a complete hash of his private life and is trying to forget about it by having as much sex as possible, while getting into a very dangerous plot involving ex-members of a USMC black ops team.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

As Rupert Smith, my latest release is Interlude, a story about a young woman who discovers a massive gay secret in her family history. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written. As James Lear, there’s Straight Up in the summer, and I’m currently writing a new Mitch Mitchell mystery, which is set on a Mediterranean island. It’s my tribute to Evil Under the Sun and so on.

Interlude

On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

 

Find James Lear/Rupert Smith on the web:

Website:

http://www.rupertsmith.org.uk/

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Lear/e/B001JS0DBS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1425949423&sr=1-2-ent

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/38335.James_Lear