FAQ: “How do you get reviews?”

There is a ratio going around that you’ll get on average one unsolicited review for every thousand books you sell. At this moment of writing, I have 115 reviews on GoodReads and 75+ reviews on Amazon. And I can assure you that I haven’t sold a 1000 books per review, more like 30-50 books. And none of these reviews is bought*.

I did a few giveaways on GoodReads that netted me some reviews, but most of my reviews are from two things:

  • I give away ARCs, which are Advance Review Copies. That means that I send reviewers my books before they are published, so they can post a review when the book is published.
  • I ‘request’ reviews from my readers by posting this message at the end of each book:

Thank you for reading the Amsterdam Assassin Series. 
For an independent author, gaining exposure relies on readers spreading the word, so if you have the time and inclination, please consider leaving a short review wherever you can.

Most readers won’t consider leaving a review, because they are not used to voicing their opinion, or because they don’t see the importance, or just because no one asks them for their opinion. That’s why the message at the end of the book is so powerful – I just remind them gently that I would appreciate if they’d tell others about this book they enjoyed, so others can enjoy the books too. And I’m serious about reminding them gently – don’t push readers into feeling obligated to review your books. And be grateful for every review, whether it’s 20 or 200 words long.


 

*Customer reviews now outnumber professional reviews, but that has also made for some underhanded practices – just as you can buy Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers, you can also buy reviews, especially through websites like Fiverr.com which trades in fake reviews that are posted through multiple accounts.

Other loathsome review practices are the ‘quid pro quo’ review circles, where authors buy each other’s books and give each other glowing reviews, and authors creating ‘sock puppet’ accounts to write their own reviews and upvote themselves (and/or downvote their competition. Most of these fake reviews are easy to spot, since they are as formulaic as the books they promote, but it’s still profitable since many readers equate having a lot of reviews with ‘a quality book’.


Excerpt from the new standalone noir, In Pocket:

Around nine-thirty, I entered Small Talk, a luncheonette at the corner of Van Baerlestraat and Willemsparkweg, ordered an espresso and went upstairs to the first floor.
Lilith followed me inside and added a cappuccino to my order. She sat down across from me, took a brush from her shoulder bag and brushed back her damp hair. After dabbing her face with a tissue, she unbuttoned her jeans jacket. Her nipples jabbed the damp fabric of her T-shirt. She shivered and gave me a reproachful look which I ignored. It wasn’t my problem if she didn’t know how to dress for this fickle weather.
“So how many did you take?”
I sipped my espresso. “You didn’t count them?”
“Seven?”
“You’re guessing,” I said. “I told you to observe indirectly, not to let your attention wander.”
Lilith leaned forward, her damp breast touching my jacket. “Could we drop the hostilities?”
I looked into her pleading eyes. “You think I’m being hostile? You blackmail me into instructing you while you have absolutely no aptitude whatsoever for my profession. I’m wasting time I don’t have on this farce, so—considering the circumstances—I think I’m downright congenial.”
“Listen, I’m sorry if I came on like a bitch, but I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t desperate. Have you never been desperate?”
“Never.”
“Lucky you.” Lilith slouched in her chair, her gaze on the tabletop. “I never had any luck.”
“Spare me your life story. Save it for someone who actually gives a shit.”
I could see she wanted to punch me, but her desire to stay in my good graces apparently got the better of her. She rested her chin in her hands and studied me. “How about yours?”
“My life story?” I snorted. “Nothing to tell.”
“Nothing?” She looked up, tilted her head. “I find that hard to believe.”
I shrugged.
“Why don’t you tell me how you become a pickpocket?”
“How?” I smirked. “I became a pickpocket by sticking my hand in other people’s pockets.”
“You don’t want to tell me?”
I finished my espresso. “See? You can be perceptive, with a little effort.”
“Are you going to be like this all day?”
“What did you expect? That I’d ‘revel’ in teaching you my ‘craft’?”
“I’m sorry if I’m a nuisance.”
“You’re not sorry. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. I’m not an idiot.”
“I mean it.”
“No, you don’t. If you were truly sorry, you’d get up and get out of my life.”
“I can’t. I need this. I need you.”
I shook my head. “I was just the sucker who made a mistake in your vicinity. Now I have to pay for it.”
I got up and she followed me to the counter, where she paid for both our coffees. I didn’t thank her, but led the way to the nearest tram stop. The rain turned into a steady drizzle and I noticed she was still shivering in her thin jacket.
She rubbed her arms. “Where will we go now?”
“Albert Cuyp. You bruise easily?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Just answer the question.”
“If I’m knocked about I’ll bruise, but I don’t plan on getting caught.”
I shot her a scornful look. “Never heard of ‘collision theft’?”
“You want me to bump into someone and pick his pocket?”
“You bump into the mark. Extracting wallets is my department.”
“Oh. Okay, no problem.”
I scowled. “We’ll see.”

In Pocket cover by Farah Evers


In Pocket now on GoodReads and Amazon.

In PocketIn Pocket by Martyn V. Halm

As the author, of course I cannot rate or review my own work. What I can do is give you, the potential reader, some background information about In Pocket.

About twenty years ago, when I was working on what was to become Reprobate: A Katla Novel, I had a half-finished story on a busker who lived in a delivery van and pretended to be blind in order to rake in more money. As such, Wolfgang was the only one who saw a murder by assassin Katla Sieltjes, who promptly started hunting him down to shut him up.

The story didn’t work and I wrote a new story with Katla as the protagonist, who breaks her rule of never leaving a witness alive when blind busker Bram Merleyn enters her crime scene. Readers of the Amsterdam Assassin Series know what happened after that, so I’m not going to rehash that story.

In the meantime, Wolfgang was still living in his van with his pet rat Gabriel, but he changed from busker to pickpocket, and acquired a heroin addiction (being one of my characters can be very taxing).

I often write on several projects at the same time, and I kept adding to the story of Wolfgang the pickpocket until it reached critical mass, all the pieces fell together, and In Pocket almost wrote itself.

In Pocket is a stand-alone novel, but it has some connections with the Amsterdam Assassin Series beyond the same locations – if you read carefully, you will find cameos from characters that also appear in the series.

I make free e-book review copies available to readers who want to review In Pocket on GoodReads and retailer sites. To get your hands on a free review copy, send an email to katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘review copy In Pocket’ in the subject line.

View all my reviews

In Pocket cover by Farah Evers


REVIEW: How Do You Deal With Negative Reviews?

Can You ‘Deal’ With Negative Reviews?

I don’t ‘deal’ with negative reviews, since there’s nothing to deal with. A negative review is the opinion of a reader, intended to express their feelings about your work to other readers (not, I repeat, not to you, the author, because that is what ‘feedback’ is for). By the way, I make a distinction between a negative review (where the reviewer criticizes the book) and a bad review (where the reviewer criticizes the author).

I read all the reviews I can find. Not because I like to flagellate myself, but I’m interested in the opinions of my readers, even if they don’t contact me directly. Sometimes you can glean information that might help you avoid a scathing review in the future. File that nugget and go on your way.

The one thing you should never, ever do, is try to convince the reviewer that they are erroneous in their opinion. That has about 0.001% of actually succeeding.

You write a book, but you publish a product. If the product is good, then the ratio of negative to positive reviews will be low. If it sucks, the majority of your reviews will suck. You control the product, not the opinion. If you cannot live with the negative reviews, pull the product.

Personally, I don’t want to give a negative reviewer extra power by becoming upset. Reviews are like the weather, you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s more useful to carry an umbrella than to become angry at the sky for the rain.

There is no book that receives 100% positive reviews. And that is good. Because a book that pleases everyone is probably not worth reading.

If you know anyone who might benefit from this information, share this post using the social media buttons below.


Aconite Attack: ARCs now available!

Aconite Attack, the fourth Katla KillFile, will be published in a few days, but you can get an Advance Reader Copy from today! If you’re interested in reading the story before its official launch date and support an independent author, read on:

Aconite Kill File gray MS

Aconite Attack is the fourth Katla KillFile, after Locked Room, Microchip Murder, and Fundamental Error.

The pitch for Aconite Attack:

Assassin Katla finds a devious way to get a target to poison himself…

The Aconite Attack KillFile (10,600 words) follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, as she gets herself hired by the CEO of a modelling agency to permanently remove his playboy partner, who is quickly draining the firm’s resources on his downward spiral into self-destruction. Katla finds a way to administer a poison to the target, but he has to be isolated for her plan to succeed. But every plan has a fluke factor, and Katla soon finds herself in a struggle for life and death when the target reveals his darker side…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

This e-book features a glossary.

Aconite Attack will be published on New Years Eve, but a limited amount of Advance Reader Copies will be made available to early reviewers.

“Am I eligible for an ARC of Aconite Attack?”

You do not have to be a reviewer for a magazine or other official publication. All readers are eligible for an ARC, provided they are able to write a review and post it on their blog and retail sites (links to the retail sites will be provided to reviewers on the launch date). Reviews don’t have to be long, but honesty is required. Reviews are for readers to make up their mind if they want to read the story, so it’s important to give a fair assessment of the story’s entertainment value.

“What if I don’t like (parts of) the story?”

Please put that in your review. Readers might share your opinion and avoid reading something they don’t like, or they might not share your opinion and like the story for the reasons you don’t like it. Whatever you do, give your honest opinion.

“How can I apply for an ARC?”

Simple, just send an email to katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with “Aconite ARC” in the subject line and you’ll receive an ePub and a mobi file, so you can choose the device you want to use for reading the story. Download the attached file to your hard drive and upload the file into the e-reader of your preference.

“How long do I have to read the story and write and post my review?”

The story is just over 10,000 words, so most readers can read it in an hour or two, maybe three if they read at a leisurely pace. The review doesn’t have to be long. Just state that you’re reviewing an ARC provided by the author, and what you liked/disliked about the story and why. Posting the review on the retail sites and blogs is a matter of minutes. If possible, post your reviews on the launch date. If you’re late, post the review a day or so later, but preferably no longer than a week after the launch.

All ARCs will be sent out until December 30th. Applications after midnight December 30th will not be considered for ARCs, so send your application email as soon as possible.

Thank you for your support,

Martyn V. Halm

If you think your own community might be interested in this offer, please use the social media buttons below to spread the word.


Like to receive a free REVIEW copy of Reprobate?

To get the Amsterdam Assassin Serie noticed among the many books already out there, I offer free copies of Reprobate in exchange for reviews on Goodreads, Scribd, Amazon, Kobo and iTunes.

REPROBATE

Assassin Katla breaks her own rules when confronted with an unusual witness…

Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience, Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her male alter ego Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with clients through electronic means, all to protect her identity. Her solitary existence satisfies her until she meets a blind musician whose failure to notice a ‘closed’ sign causes him to wander in on Katla’s crime scene. And Katla breaks one of her most important rules – never leave a living witness.

Reprobate is the first novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. With authentic details and fast-paced action, featuring an uncompromising heroine and a supporting cast of unusual characters, Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, computer hacking, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, the psychology of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

This e-book now features a glossary.

So, if you want to support me and help me get noticed, send an email to katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘Reprobate Review copy’ in the subject and tell me what e-reader you use and I’ll send you the Reprobate e-book file attached to the email. You can download the file and upload it to your e-reader. Available files are .mobi, for the Amazon Kindle, and .epub for the Nook, Kobo, Sony, iPad and most smartphones with e-reader compatibility.

Thanks to everyone for your support.


Stopped Reading REVIEW: A Smudge of Gray – Jonathan Sturak

A Smudge of Gray: A NovelA Smudge of Gray: A Novel by Jonathan Sturak
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m conflicted about writing a negative review of this book. I stopped reading, which is usually a 1-star (I didn’t like it) review, but the merits of this book still pushed me towards a 2-star rating (It was OK).

The reason for my conflict is that I dislike the style of Sturak’s writing, but I acknowledge that he has a way with words and that there are almost no mistakes in his prose.

Let me first state what I liked about the book:
The cover is brilliant, I think. Ominous and eye-popping despite the lack of bright colours. Clearly a professional cover.
The blurb is also good. Good, clear prose, and a concise conflict that interested me.

Which is why I’m disappointed in the content of the book itself and stopped reading at the end of chapter 10.

Like I said, Sturak has a way with words, but instead of form following function, function was definitely subservient to form. Sounding a bit too pleased at his ability to write a simile or metaphor, Sturak’s convoluted prose strangles the story like kudzu vines killing a tree by taking away all sunlight.

I read part of the sample before I downloaded the book (for free) and was at first captivated by the prose, but after a while I started to long for the clear, concise prose Sturak used in his blurb.

Make no mistake, Sturak can write. I enjoyed the flowery descriptions: “A subway station bustled, infected with morning commuters.” The images were wonderful, however, the descriptions often tended to run several paragraph and dragged down the pace of the story.

Meanwhile the characters are unsympathetic without fail. Trevor Malloy is an arrogant and sadistic hitman, and his wife Laura is described in loving detail as a ‘housewife, a homemaker and babysitter when the kids weren’t in school’ with ‘a hourglass figure’ with the ‘naive look of an auburn-haired Hollywood star from the 1940s with her simple elegance’ who ‘spoiled her children’ and was in turn ‘spoiled by her husband with a large bankroll, which offered her a life filled with salon trips and a closet filled with designer clothes’. She behaves unsympathetic, complaining that she ‘doesn’t understand why her husband bought a trampoline’ when all the children do ‘is jump on that trampoline the minute they got home’. In all the interaction with the children and her husband she comes across as a whiny insecure hellion.
Brian Boise is an overworked detective who’d rather spend time crawling up the career ladder than with his haranguing wife and non-descript sullen kid constantly complaining about Boise’s lack of attention. His colleagues are rude, obnoxious turds who belittle and ridicule him.

Along with the drawn-out descriptions that reeked of verbal diarrhoea, Sturak has a tendency to talk down to his readers as if they are totally ignorant of the world around them:

Katie and Kevin jumped from the trampoline and ran toward their father at the back patio. Their dad was tall and wore a dark gray suit with black onyx cufflinks securing his French cuffs. He was wheeling a 20″ Travelpro Rollaboard carry-on featuring toughened nylon waterproof ball-bearing inline skate wheels and a Checkpoint-friendly laptop compartment–the ultimate addition to the frequent business traveler. The kids hugged him tenderly, just as two kids did who adored their father.

Like we need the retailer’s description of his luggage and the pointers that the kids adore their father.

Brian lowered his voice as lovers did when they expressed their feelings verbally.

This is a detective trying to convince his wife that it’s a good career move to solve a copycat murder case.

The verbosity extends to the use of alternative speech tags for the simple ‘said/whispered/yelled’, but often missed the ball:

“I want spaghetti!” Kevin shouted.
“I want hot dogs!” his sister contradicted.

To contradict is to deny the truth (of a statement) by asserting the opposite, and hot dogs are not the opposite of spaghetti.

“All you do is jump on (the trampoline) all day long.”
“Not all day, Mom. We have school,” Kevin clarified.

Kevin’s reply is a retort, not a clarification.

One of his gloved hands gripped his proverbial briefcase.

I wondered to what proverb or idiom the briefcase referred, but evidently Sturak means that the briefcase always accompanied the character.

The silhouette of an inert figure holding a briefcase stared at him.

Inert means lacking the ability or strength to move, it’s not a substitute for ‘motionless’.

…, the tingle of adrenaline flowing through his amplified veins.

Amplification is the increase in volume of sound, not an increase in physical volume of matter. Though sometimes used to describe the intensifying of feelings (amplified hearing) or concepts (amplified political unrest), or enlarging upon or adding detail to a story or statement, the widening of veins is not amplification.

The verbose prose also tends to dramatise everyday inanimate objects in a way that irritated me:

On the nightstand, a clock blared “11:57.”

The clock is not making any sound, so blaring is odd.

Without warning, the car propelled on the track, and just like that, chaos ensued.

This is a description of a leaving subway train during normal ‘rush hour’. The departure of a subway train is usually preceded by doors hissing shut and the soft tug when the train starts moving, so it’s not shooting forward ‘without warning’. No ‘chaos ensues’, but rather the normal bustle of a subway station continues.

This time he dropped the cake on the floor. It detonated.

The sponge cake ‘detonates’? Since ‘detonate’ means ‘causing to explode’, the description goes awry. Sponge cake, even if flung at a tile floor, rarely explodes and never causes anything to explode.

The third floor elevators sat in tranquility, but then an abrupt ding sliced through the silence. The shining doors opened as Trevor strolled off.

Quite a dramatic description for an elevator arriving and a passenger getting off.

Large maps of the city were sprawled across the walls.

Sprawling is a horizontal action (sitting, lying, falling), not a vertical one.

(Character opens a top drawer.) Inside, a 9mm pistol, silencer, and ammunition glared at him.

So a pistol stares at him angrily or fiercely? While I concur that a pistol might have a menacing or ominous vibe, glaring requires eyes, something a gun lacks.

I’m sure many readers will probably delight in Sturak’s wordiness, but I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself through garrulous blathering with literary pretensions where I expected a tense thriller.

View all my reviews


REVIEW: A Bird Without Wings – Roberta Pearce

A Bird Without WingsA Bird Without Wings by Roberta Pearce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since my noir novelist notoriety is already down the drain after reviewing For Those Who Wait, I might as well review Roberta Pearce’s A Bird Without Wings.

The author was concerned that I would be bored reading her books due to the lack of blood and violence. And disturbed people. However, knowing beforehand that Callie was unlikely to stab Lucius in the eyes or Lucius ending up a spree-killer actually made me focus on their interaction. And I found both Callie and Lucius a lot more engaging than the protagonists of FTWW, mainly because they seemed more ‘fleshed out’.

Callie is a frumpy genius with a crush on her boss, Lucius Ransome, who is called Luscious by the female staff for obvious reasons. Her best friend Rachel learns that Lucius is looking for a researcher into some family history to distract his family while he gets the family’s affairs in order.

Grumpy Lucius hires frumpy Callie, who surprises him by disagreeing with him about a painting, but he doesn’t start noticing her bodacious body after Rachel gives Callie a makeover.

Lucius is always called in to fix the problems of the Ransome family, as he seems to be the only one with some sense. The rest of the family seems obsessed by some ancestral treasure and Callie has to disprove the existence of the Hidden Ransome Treasure while Lucius can fix the problems without his family interfering.

I thought this was a pretty good plot for a romance novel. I admit I haven’t read many, but in comparison with FTWW, where the protagonists aim at preventing a wedding from happening, ABWW is definitely more engaging plot-wise.

Another interesting juxtaposition is that Callie is from a poor background, suffering from self-esteem issues, and focuses on money as important, as people who don’t have any are wont to do. Lucius, however, is born into a rich family and doesn’t think money is that important. Through studying the Ransome family for her research Callie learns the real value of money.

One thing that irked me about Pearce’s prose is her tendency to use alternative speech tags or combining action with speech tags, instead of using beats or standardised speech tags like ‘said/whispered/yelled’. The reason it irked me is that speech tags like ‘she averred’ have tendency to break the spell as I’m reading. The first time I came across ‘averred’ I actually had to look it up, now it’s ‘God, she used that verb again’.

Apart from Pearce’s use of speech tags, the prose flowed well and I stayed up too late reading the last few chapters. Pearce’s has a few instances where her protagonist, who apparently has total mnemonic recall, explains historical facts in a way that skirts exposition but thankfully stays on the interesting side and doesn’t become the dreaded info dump.

The ending was predictable, but well played out.

As to the ending–I disliked the epilogue intensely to the point where I felt it was a blemish on an otherwise well-written and clever novel. Let me explain:

The novel ends with all the issued tied in a neat bow and the protagonist are all set to live happily ever after. Turn the page and there’s an epilogue in the form of a letter Callie sends to a Constance Simms, who turned out to be the second-grade teacher from the beginning of the book. Since I didn’t read the book in one sitting, I had no idea who Simms was again (thank God the ebook has a search function) and I thought the information in the epilogue was wholly unnecessary for the story, except to re-iterate and confirm what the ending already concluded.

My advice to Pearce: Trust you readers and lose the epilogue.

I heard that Pearce’s next novel will include a sociopath in love, so I’m eagerly awaiting an ARC…

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REVIEW: For Those Who Wait – Roberta Pearce

For Those Who WaitFor Those Who Wait by Roberta Pearce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the risk of damaging my noir novelist notoriety, I’m going to say I liked FTWW, but not unequivocally. For one thing, the title was too long. And there was too much romance in it. All these people pining for each other, instead of the fjords, like any Norwegian Blue would…

However, I can’t complain about the romance, because the author herself pleaded with me not to read and review her work. She didn’t want me to risk my alpha male reputation (where do women come up with that tripe?) and she thought I’d be bored out of my skull without at least one dead body.

So there’s this girl Fiona, who pines after the bad boy big brother of her best friend. The BBBB spurns her and marries a girl he knocked up, so he’s doing the honourable thing.

When I complained about this incongruity, the author claimed that I was focused too much on verisimilitude. Apparently I’m not much of a bad boy (hey, I always carried condoms so I wouldn’t be forced into a shotgun wedding). Despite the lack of verisimilitude, I read on.

The book starts at the preparations for a wedding between Mara, Fiona’s middle sister (the protagonist is the eldest of three McKenna sisters) and Fiona’s best friend Will, the younger brother of Bad Boy Noah Wilding (sure, put Wild in his last name, why not?).

Meanwhile, Noah is divorced from the bitch he married, because he found out that he was not the child’s biological father, so the passion between Noah and Fiona is rekindled, although they’re both older and wiser (ha-hum).

Mara is an insecure bitch (or is she just bitchy from having saint-like Fiona for an elder sister?) and Noah and Fiona conspire to break up the wedding to prevent Will from Unhappiness Ever After.

Now, I readily admit my unfamiliarity with the romance genre, so I told the author I would just read the book to comment on the technical aspects. Still, despite my many reservations, I was sucked into the story (or was it because of the torrid sex scenes?). Usually I wouldn’t be interested in the happiness of entitled and affluent beautiful people like Fiona or Noah, but they were so relatable I had to read on and know whether the promised HEA would indeed happen or if the wedding ended up in a massive bloodfest with Fiona snapping and going on a spree killing.

I’m sad to say there was no blood spilled or people maimed. While that was disappointing to me, Roberta Pearce’s readers will probably enjoy the ending of FTWW.

I just segued straight into reading Pearce’s second novel, A Bird Without Wings (another bloody long title).

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Rewritten: The introduction from my Work-In-Progress:

My work-in-progress is a stand alone noir crime fiction novel called In Pocket. The pitch/blurb:

If only Wolfgang hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful things that follow…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel with ties to Martyn V. Halm’s Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possible fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.

Below is the rewritten beginning of the novel (old version is here), which is written in present tense. The rest of the novel is in past tense, except for the interludes…

The world is strangely tilted when I open my eyes to the deafening roar of the helicopter reverberating against the walls around me. The down draft of the blades stir the loose dirt on the grimy bricks and I shield my eyes as swirling grit stings my face. Around me everything remains dark. The helicopter’s searchlight must be trained on something else. Or someone else.

The wind dies down and the roar changes to a bass-line thumping as the police helicopter flies off. Just around the corner I hear a siren starting up. An ambulance, not a police vehicle.

I close my eyes again.

I must’ve passed out. For an instant, I think. Just long enough to lose my bearings. My shoulder smarts from lying on the bricks, but the dull pain in my abdomen is worse. I remember her face looking up at me. And the hard punches in my belly, now a faint throbbing.

Without opening my eyes, I push myself into an upright position, the bricks damp and cold against my buttocks. My legs feel like they’re asleep, but without tingling—the usual pins-and-needles sensation is mysteriously absent.

A bad sign. I think I can forget about running. Or even getting up.

I open my eyes and blink a few times to focus.

The wall across from me is less than two meters away. To my left, a dead-end. To my right, plastic garbage bags leaning against an overflowing dumpster.

The siren grows louder and I lean forward carefully to peek around the dumpster.

Sodium lights flood the sidewalk with sickly orange light that reaches into the dead-end alley just far enough to touch my grubby sneakers. A neon-yellow ambulance races past the mouth of the alley, the sound of the siren fading quickly in the distance.

I go through my pockets to check my possessions, but I seem to have lost them all.

Money, gone. Keys, gone. Straight razor, gone.

I look at my filthy pants, stained with dark spots and smelling of urine. I look at my hands, smudged with street grime. And it all comes back. Why I’m wearing these clothes. My possessions aren’t gone. I left them with her before the stake-out.

I only had my phone and the gun. They’re both gone.

All I have left is the small carton in my inside pocket…

Around the corner I hear muted voices and the crackle of a two-way radio. A moment later I hear a car start up. My right hand grabs one of the plastic garbage bags and a spasm of pain pierces my gut as I heave the bag and toss it next to my legs.

The car halts at the mouth of the alley and the bright beam of a searchlight shines on the opposite wall, then swerves around towards the dumpster that hides me from view. The beam briefly illuminated my grimy pants and the garbage bag hiding my sneakers, but moves away without a pause. The light clicks off and the car trundles away.

I realise I’m holding my breath and let it out slowly.

I listen, but don’t hear anyone else, just my own raspy breathing. I’m alone.

My left hand touches my belly, comes away wet.

Sticky.

I raise my hand to my eyes, but it’s too dark too see.

I peer past the dumpster again, but all I see is a cobblestone quay and a canal. Not enough information to determine where I am. Just another dead-end alley in the centre of Amsterdam. The street sign is missing. Or was never there at all. Not all dead-end alleys here have names.

I remember the carton in my inside pocket and take the pack of cigarettes. I open the lid and brush my finger over the filter tips. And the metal wheel of a cheap butane lighter. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know what would be worse; no cigarettes, or cigarettes and nothing to light them with.

I shake one from the pack and light up. My hands automatically shield the bright flame to prevent giving away my position. In the light I count the contents. Seven left, not counting the one I just lit. And a folded piece of tinfoil curled around a tiny waxed paper envelop. I won’t use that unless the pain becomes too bad.

I glance at my left hand. The sticky stuff covering my palm is red. I lower the lighter to see my belly. The lower half of my shirt is dark with blood. In the weak light the blood looks black. I touch the mess gingerly.

Three holes. Bullet holes.

The lighter sputters and dies. As the flame goes, a ghost-flame shimmers on my retina. I shake the lighter by my ear. Sounds like there is still some fuel left.

I cup the glowing tip of the cigarette in my hand, return the pack and lighter to my inside pocket, and blink to restore my night vision.

A shadow glides over the walls as someone passes the mouth of the alley. I watch from behind the dumpster, unable to draw in my numb legs sprawled amid the refuse that litters the bricks.

The shadow flows over my pants and disappears from view.

I listen to the receding steps.

I don’t want to be found. Not after what I did…

I drag on my cigarette. No idea what time it is. If I’m still in Amsterdam’s old quarter, I should be able to hear the bells from the myriad of churches. And pinpoint my location.

I take a last drag and extinguish my cigarette against the bricks.

The numbness in my legs worries me. Maybe the bullets damaged my spine.

In the distance a church bell chimes.

Once. Twice. Silence.

That sounded like the Oude Kerk, but I’m not sure. If this was the Red Light District it would be busier…

Two strikes, so it’s two in the morning.

Six hours till dawn.

A whole night to die in.

And muse about the events that got me in this predicament.

If only I hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Also, before I will look for a publisher or publish In Pocket myself I will need beta-readers to make sure the story is as good as I can get it. So stay tuned!

If you want to read the next sample, wherein Wolfgang targets the Fat Woman and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his predicament, send me an email at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘password sample?’ in the subject line.

 

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