Serenity in Name Only

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, June 14, 2008, 10:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton (John Clark photo)

Shelby Alexander barely lets the reader take a breath in this opening salvo of Craig A. Hart’s series of thrillers. Serenity is not to be confused with the noun. It’s the name of the town in northern Michigan that, based on the hero’s experience, is hardly apt.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover)

Hart writes my kind of books. I wasn’t ten pages in before the hero started reminding me of Hal Kinley, the flawed counterbalance of evil in my political thriller, Forgive Us Our Trespasses. Hal plays second fiddle to the despicable Denny Frawley, a politician headed to the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion regardless of how many he has to kill and imprison in order to get there.

Hart’s protagonist figuratively plays lead guitar. He is at the center of every spine-tingling scene, and someone is out to kill him in most of them.

Shelby is a tough guy, an ex-boxer who who has been involved in his share of tawdry business. Fate puts him in harm’s way … constantly. He allows himself to be drawn into a territorial war between meth dealers, or at least that’s the way it seems. It’s hard to see the truth because the bad guys keep dying while they are enthusiastically attempting to kill him.

Serenity – the town, that is – has a new sheriff who is either awfully naive or terribly crooked. Shelby has a girlfriend, a honky-tonk angel, who is half his age. He has a meddling daughter determined to patch up relations between Shelby and his former wife, her mother. A friend, retired from the Detroit police force, comes in handy.

Hart’s yarn affords precious little time to relax. Someone is trying to kill Shelby most every time he stops moving. Hart has crafted a hero capable of carrying many more installments, provided he can manage to survive the perpetual action. I expect he will. His is a valuable franchise.

(Steven Novak cover

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.


The Right Stuff of the Vanities

By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 3:38 p.m.

For many years, I thought The Right Stuff was the best non-fiction book I ever read. Now I consider it neck and neck with William Prochnau’s Once Upon a Distant War.

When I wrote a novel about a pot-smoking songwriter fleeing the feds, I used The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for reference. I’ve never dropped acid. I’ve been to Oregon. Riley Mansfield ate mushrooms there. I thought reading was a better way to do research than taking hallucinogens.

I’ve gotten old.

When Tom Wolfe died, I lost a go-to guy. John Steinbeck was another, but he was gone before I went. I miss Elmore Leonard, Dick Francis, Wallace Stegner, Larry Brown and Graham Greene, too. I am a writer, which means it’s hard to like others. It makes me jealous that they’re so great and I’m not.

I liked The Right Stuff movie twice as much because I read the book first. I liked The Bonfire of the Vanities half as much because I read it, Wolfe’s first novel, before I saw that putrescent movie.

Wolfe wasn’t a dispassionate observer. He was a passionate observer. He didn’t party with Ken Kesey or guzzle shine with Junior Johnson. He watched the world around him and then ripped it to shreds.

Has ever there been a great writer who was also so flamboyant?

A deep regret of mine is that I never met Pat Conroy. I should have. I didn’t care enough to make it happen. I’ve never had much interested in autographs. Harry Gant was the same way, even though he cheerfully signed them.

“Beats all I ever seen,” the stock car racing yeoman told me. “I just don’t get it. I loved Elvis, but I never cared nothing for how he signed his name.”

I did meet Wolfe. He and I had a brief chat. It was about Stegner, who helped teach Wolfe how to write and me how to understand my own father. Stegner was an actual teacher of Wolfe’s. I just read his novels.

Wolfe had a marvelous sense of the absurd. Perhaps a fat sportswriter in a NASCAR press box asking him about a Western literary figure piqued Wolfe’s taste for the absurd, but he stopped and engaged me on the subject of Stegner’s differences with Kesey.

It was marvelous. It wasn’t just marvelous. He actually agreed with what I had to say about Kesey, Stegner, the Beat Generation and Larry McMurtry. He seemed to enjoy talking with me, and, if he didn’t, I’m glad he hid it so well.

About all I learned from the obituary was that Wolfe wrote one final novel I haven’t read.

I’ll be on it soon.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Guilty Pleasure in a Guilty Pleasure

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 1, 2018, 1:25 p.m.

Green Goes Forth. The protagonist and narrator is a guy named Joe Green. He grows “green,” which is one of many code words and synonyms for cannabis. No need to write a paragraph of them. The title is a double entendre.

By Monte Dutton

Appropriately, Green Goes Forth is a relaxed thriller. Green has quite the adventure, taking it as it comes. Not much bothers him.

The strangest coincidence sets it off. Green, a very close to innocent bystander, sneezes in a phone conversation that is being monitored by the FBI. This implicates him with criminals and makes him sought after to rat his uncle out.

He has to bolt. He has to go undercover. The feds definitely want him, and the mobsters might. Green has to give up a college degree and the comfort zone of home in Washington, D.C., a girlfriend and a dog. He particularly misses the dog.

An old compadre takes him in. He arrives in Wine Country. It’s also Weed Country. It’s the late 1970s. They went hand in hand, then as now. Reagan intervened in between. By the way, it’s fun for the reader to compare that time to this.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

If the reader accepts one premise – not only is pot not that bad; it’s good – then Bob Gilbert’s novel is damned near inspirational. Most of the characters are pleasant. Most of the bad guys aren’t so bad. No guilt or remorse is involved when Joe goes into the illegal pot business with his buddy. A man’s got to make a living, even when he’s in hiding.

The cops don’t go after them that hard. They come to terms with the rival dealer. With hard work and a few precautions, they don’t veer too near disaster, though the reader anticipates its approach a few times.

Joe makes his fortune in the Golden State and feels the lure of home. While out west, Joe becomes quite a bit more learned. He develops an understanding of literature he could barely fathom back east. Yet he returns there when the criminal heat subsides, carrying a bunch of cash and a general plan to distribute his Ghani Purp strain to the consumers in Our Nation’s Capitol.

He enters political society, finding the Republicans as likely as the Democrats to value his product. Then Joe opens his own used-book store, having developed a taste for the finer words of art.

Everything gonna be all right.

Green Goes Forth is a quick, casual read, though I didn’t read it quickly because I was immersed in my own writing. It whets the reader’s appetite without keeping him or her up until 3 a.m. It’s a tale to pick up when one’s favorite team is either well ahead or way behind. It’s useful to read a chapter on the phone while a dinner order is being prepared at a restaurant. I hesitate to call it “a beach read” only because that term has become maddeningly cliched.

I’m casually looking forward to another Bob Gilbert yarn about Joe Green.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Imagination

(Steven Novak cover)
By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 6, 2018, 10:45 a.m.

This week has seemed slow. Most seem fast. Yet my life has been full of activity.

First the audio version of my stock racing novel, Lightning in a Bottle, was released. The audio version is fantastic, thanks to the diligent work of narrator Jay Harper. He made the very best of what I wrote.

(Steven Novak cover)

Then, on April Fool’s Day – I trust the date is not telling; Lightning in a Bottle was released on the same date a year earlier in print and Kindle – my new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, hit Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Meanwhile, my next novel, The Latter Days (unless a better title happens by), is five chapters into a rough draft. It’s about baseball. Last year’s novels – Life Gets Complicated is the sequel to Lightning in a Bottle – were quick reads, humorous and fun to write. The Latter Days is going to follow that formula, except not about stock car racing.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a return to the serious. You won’t find a book on the market that is more current. Out of all the tasks I’ve undertaken in the year to date, by far the most time has been devoted to writing a new ending. America may go to war next week. The world is turning so fast that it’s impossible to keep up for long. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at least hits the ground running.

Readers who like the way things are won’t like the brand-new tale of crime, politics, and corruption. It might make them mad. It’s almost impossible not to make people mad. That’s another characteristic of our time. Many people assume anyone who disagrees with them is stupid. That lack of civility – that inability to respect the view of others – is itself stupid. The only people who are really stupid are those who think everyone who disagrees with them is.

Of course, you may disagree. If so, there’s no need to read Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I’m kidding. Everyone should read it. I’m jaded, too.

(Joe Font cover design)

Lightning in a Bottle was the most fun to write of any of my novels since the first, The Audacity of Dope, which was published in 2011. By the way, it seems pretty current these days, too. I knew it was ahead of its time when I wrote it.

In Audacity, Riley Mansfield is a rebellious, pot-smoking, hard-headed musician. In Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, Barrie Jarman is a rebellious, hard-headed stock car racer who would smoke pot if his career would let him. I had lots of fun inventing both of them.

I like flawed heroes matched against unscrupulous villains. Like what I encounter in real life, the world of my fiction contains no saints and only a few sinners. Most characters are somewhere in between, though evil lurks out on the fringes in the form of villains such as Jed Langston (Audacity), Ned Whitesides (The Intangibles), Buckley Cumberland (Crazy of Natural Causes), Celia Tragg (Forgive Us Our Trespasses), Glen Trimmel (Cowboys Come Home), Cade Rawlings (Lightning, Complicated), and Wade Sanderson (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell).

Three of them are still around at the end of their respective yarns.

Perhaps one day I’ll settle into a pattern, a formula. I’m just waiting on one that works.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The Eighth Novel Is Out!

(Steven Novak cover)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 1, 2018, 12:24 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will make some readers angry. What doesn’t?

This novel is either my best or my best mess. I did my best. I put lots of effort into it. No one is objective about oneself. The readers decide for themselves, and their verdict is the one that counts.

This tale begins with isolated incidents.

A veteran sports columnist unexpectedly loses his job.

A rebellious young writer takes a weed-clouded trip to Southern California with a tawdry dropout.

Darin Fowler, armed. (Monte Dutton sketch)

An English teacher at a prep school toils in vain on a breakthrough novel, watching his teen-aged pupils grow rebellious and decadent and wondering if he is part of the solution or part of the problem.

All are related. All are drawn together as they gradually learn they are pawns in a vast illegal conspiracy.

The columnist’s new job is not one he chooses. The young writer mistakenly believes she is selling drugs by choice and rationalizes it in the name of writing a tell-all novel. The teacher sees in his charges mistakes he has already made.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

One is another’s daughter. She is the other’s lover.

Everything will be fine as long as they are obedient. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Against the backdrop of a presidential election, a group of powerful men work to corner the market on the illicit sale of marijuana. They have members with ties to tobacco, entertainment, law enforcement, national security, and politics.

Innocent people are being shot down in the streets by policemen who never are punished. Could this be more than coincidence?

(Monte Dutton sketch)

The plan seems perfect … until the election of Martin Gaynes, a man as corrupt as those who run the Consortium. Extreme measures are necessary as a potential dictatorship rises in the tumult.

No one, no matter how far from the center of power, is safe. No one can afford to mind his (or her) own business. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell becomes dangerous, impractical, and deadly.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

It began with two thoughts. One was that the title phrase, once used to describe a policy regarding gays who serve in the military, applies broadly to our lives. This novel has nothing to do with military service at all.

I watched the spread of incidents involving shootings of innocent people that were explained away as mistakes. The police thought a cell phone was a gun. They had a warrant for one person and shot another because of mistaken identity. For some reason, the surveillance cameras were turned off.

I thought, what if they weren’t mistakes? What if they were hits?

The idea grew and grew, repeatedly overrunning its banks.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been driven by this urgency to get it out because, as of right now, it’s current. Things in this country are changing so rapidly that a novel that is ‘ripped from the headlines’ is fleeting. Also, truth is so strange that it’s hard to write fiction. Right now, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is up to date with the culture around it. The evidence suggests this won’t last long.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

Adventure Among the Ruins

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 8, 2018, 9:03 a.m.

Imagine Professor Indiana Jones, only damaged by the trauma of the Great War.

Imagine the alternative “Indy,” deeply neurotic and wearing a half-mask to hide the part of his face disfigured fighting the Germans, for whom he understandably bears a grudge. He moves to Cairo, purchases a grand house and operates an antiquities shop out of it. He is a learned man.

By Monte Dutton

Meet Augustus Wall, the principal character in Sean McLachlan’s The Case of the Purloined Pyramid. It’s the first in the author’s new series, The Masked Man of Cairo.

Wall enlists the help of another learned man, Moustafa Ghani, whom he finds while investigating an archeological dig. Moustafa is a proud, self-educated Soudanese, both respectful of the ruling British and resentful of their condescension. Then is there Faisal, a resourceful young beggar of the streets, who proves useful on occasion though Augustus and Moustafa try in vain to be rid of him.

Meanwhile, the evil nemeses are familiar. A band of Germans is seeking ancient secrets that will restore their beleaguered nation to what they perceive to be its rightful place. These Germans rather presage the Nazis. They believe Aryan supremacy is rooted in the Great Pyramids of Giza, and they will go to any length to uncover the secrets that lie beneath them.

When the bullets start flying, Augustus has a disquieting tendency to succumb to flashbacks of the horrors he experienced in the trenches of Europe. Moustafa learns to shake him back to his senses. Together they craft a tale of delightful, if often reluctant, cohesion, set amidst a panorama of foreign intrigue and revolutionary tumult.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my NASCAR blogs at If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

At Best, It’s Delightfully Bad

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, January 28, 2018, 4:49 p.m.

I read Preacher Man, by Clint Morey, of my own free will. I found it on Amazon. It was a quick read. The sample seemed promising.

It’s preposterous.

By Monte Dutton

That I actually completed a novel I found this insipid is astonishing. It is an inspirational story. It is a quick read. Its absurd plot is written well. Sometimes I chuckled in the same way I might chuckle at the exploits of Jethro Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies. It reminds me of what I once said about a race car that had an engine running so rough that it rattled the windows of the press box but made it through the whole feature.

“That fellow can build a bad engine good.”

Mark Twain allegedly said something along the lines of, the reason truth is stranger than fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

Preacher Man doesn’t make sense. The reader has to suspend disbelief with cables that would hold the Golden Gate Bridge up.

Luis is a two-bit criminal who accidentally witnesses a drug deal and knows that a corrupt cop is involved. The cop arrests Luis for jaywalking and attempts to kill him by handcuffing him to the steering wheel of his police cruiser, which he leaves on railroad tracks in front of an approaching freight train. Somehow, in seconds, Luis removes the steering wheel and escapes. Then the real Pastor Paul picks him up in the middle of the desert, has a heart attack, and crashes another car. Luis drags the comatose pastor into the town of Borax, Nevada, where he, a young Latino hoodlum, is somehow mistaken for the elderly Pastor Paul, who slowly recovers under the beautiful town doctor’s care. Luis has never been in a church before and has no idea what is in the Bible, but somehow his clueless sermon is acceptable to the local people, and its sheriff, in spite of it being delivered by a man who is handcuffed to a steering wheel while he is delivering it.

Meanwhile, the authorities are looking for Luis, most notably the corrupt police lieutenant who still aims to kill him because he knows he’s on the take from drug dealers, one of whom, Carlos, makes a few appearances of his own.

Borax, Nevada, makes Hooterville seem like a citadel of learning.

The story is inspirational and uplifting. It has amusing dialogue. The Pastor Paul impostor endears himself to the local citizens.

I’ve never read a novel this wildly nonsensical. I kept on reading to see how bad it could be. I wanted to know how the author was going to work his way out of this. I read it off and on because I was diligently completing a novel of my own at the time.

It’s a quick read with lots and lots of very short chapters. I’ve seen movies as bad — I think a movie of this novel would have to star a latter-day Elvis Presley or Frankie Avalon and have musical interludes — and perhaps some sixties sitcoms. Something along the lines of Mr. Ed or My Mother the Car.

Sometimes I watch such a movie or sitcom because it has pretty girls in it, and I’m amused to see how bad it gets.

I guess that’s why I stuck with this one.

There’s a perpetually drunk pilot, a doctor with a modicum of sense, a likable but naive sheriff, teens in love, grouchy old women and an inept football coach.

All the ingredients are in place, right down to a loving God. Maybe you should read it. Maybe you’re like me. Judging from other reviews, lots of readers like it.

As I brace for the author of this work to go online and “one-star” every single book I’ve written, I’d like to invite you to read them for yourself here.

If you enjoy my style of writing and wish to support my modest writing efforts, particularly in terms of blogs about NASCAR and other sports, please consider a pledge on my Patreon page by clicking here.