ARC In Pocket, now available for reviewers.

Are you a book reviewer and interested in an ARC of In Pocket? Send an email with ‘ARC reviewer In Pocket’, and maybe you can get In Pocket a month early (publication date August 1st).

Picking the wrong pocket might prove fatal…

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 consequences…

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

In Pocket cover by Farah Evers

Just as a reminder – I will experiment with pre-orders for In Pocket, so the ebook will be available at pre-order for the low, low price of 99c (for those who like the ebook without strings attached), but only until the publication date, when the book will become the (still cheap) price of 2.99.

So follow my blog and get a two dollar discount when you pre-order In Pocket before August 1st!


PUBLISHING: Can You Find The Differences?

My cover designer, Farah Evers, updated my covers to make them more legible at a smaller size. I replaced the covers on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Nook, Scribd, and all other retailers.

Here are the old covers (left) and the new covers (right).

REPROBATEREPROBATE 2

PECCADILLOPECCADILLO 2

ROGUEROGUE 2

LOCKEDROOMLOCKEDROOM 2

MICROCHIPMURDERMICROCHIPMURDER 2

FUNDAMENTALERRORFUNDAMENTALERROR 2

Aconite Kill File gray MSACONITE 2

The differences are subtle and perhaps only noticeable if you have the covers side-by-side, but I’m nevertheless very pleased with the upgrade! What do you think? Improvement or not?


WRITING: ‘What the hell is a blurb?’ or pitching your book

From a discussion on writing blurbs (also known as the pitch), I’d like to share some of my ideas on a ‘formula’ for writing a pitch.

The difficulty with writing a pitch is that most novelist have trouble figuring out how to ‘sell’ their book. I’m taking the blurb of my novel Reprobate as an example on how write a pitch:

First things first, the blurb is not a synopsis of the book, but the blurb has to provide incentive for the reader to read the book.

What is also useful if you write the blurb like a pitch, with three different stages:

Stage one, the elevator pitch: Describe your book in one sentence, preferably less than could be spoken in one short breath. For example: Hungry white shark terrorizes beach community. Lone undercover cop battles terrorists in highrise office building.

Stage two, the story pitch: Try to tell, as succinctly as possible, what happens in the first part of the book that sets up what will happen next.

Stage three, the promise: This book is X genre and part of a series. The author is a gynecologist and therefore qualified to write about this subject. This book is highly recommended for easily excitable readers with short attention spans.

If your three stages work well, the first stage poses a question that is answered in the second stage with another question that is explained in the third stage.

My ABNA pitch (in 2010) for Reprobate was:

REPROBATE is the first novel in a series featuring female commercial assassin Katla Sieltjes, a specialist in making homicide appear as ‘deaths without suspicious circumstances’. The setting of the story is the Netherlands, in particular Amsterdam.

Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience Katla Sieltjes views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her alias Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with principals through electronic means, all to protect her identity.

Resigned to remain single for the duration of her career Katla meets the enigmatic blind musician Bram Merleyn when he enters the gallery where Katla has just killed the owner. Deciding that the blind man won’t make a reliable witness, Katla spares his life. After stalking the blind man to gain information whether he is truly harmless, an opportunity presents itself for a new introduction and Katla becomes intimate with Bram who is unaware of her real occupation. While the relationship between Bram and Katla blossoms and starts to affect both their lives, the suspense mounts to exciting heights as Katla accepts a difficult high-risk assignment from an unreliable principal – not only her possible exposition and fragile relationship with Bram are at stake, but her very life is in peril as Katla scrambles to get back to zero.

Through the developing romance between Katla and Bram, and their interaction with a supporting cast of unusual characters, the reader gains insight in the business of a commercial assassin as well as detailed knowledge about the life of session musicians; local information about the famous Dutch capital; the narcotics trade; motorcycle gangs; mehndi bridal tattoos; martial arts; and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

The strength of REPROBATE lies in authentic details and psychological depth of the characters, mixed with fast-paced action and a realistic plot.

My final description for Reprobate follows my formula, but uses text from the pitch:

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 features a glossary.

You can see the repeated elements. And it’s a lot shorter, because pitches to agents are 150 words max, while ABNA pitches are (were?) 300 words max.

Analyzing your pitch/blurb:

Take the first part of the blurb from Reprobate:

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.

If you analyze this blurb, you see:
Who is the protagonist? Freelance assassin Katla Sieltjes, who considers herself ‘blessed’ by being unburdened by a conscience. So she kills without remorse, which is not a common trait in a protagonist.
What does the protagonist do (what is the status quo? She lives a solitary life, apparently enjoys killing for profit, and takes great pains to remain anonymous
What is the conflict that changes the status quo? A blind man walks into her crime scene, and Katla breaks her own rules and spares his life. And Katla becomes dissatisfied with her solitary existence.

That ‘conflict’ happens in the first of fifty chapters. So, you don’t need to ‘tell the whole story’. Just give a reader enough that they may think, ‘hey, this might be interesting’.

The second part of the blurb is:

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, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, computer hacking, the art of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

The second part is the ‘promise’. What can the reader expect? The first book in a series (so if they like it, there is more), the heroine is unusual (a remorseless killer is often the antagonist, but rarely the protagonist), and she’s not the only unusual character.
Amsterdam is famous all over the world, but the blurb offers a rare glimpse in the local culture and information on a host of other topics, which may or may not be unknown/interesting to the reader. And it contains brutal violence (so the reader won’t think it’s chick-lit and complain about the violent bits).

What the blurb doesn’t do is tell what happens after Katla breaks her rule. Breaking rules is always a risk, and the reader can figure out that there’ll be consequences. Only, to know the consequences, they’ll have to read the book.

If you apply the analysis to your own blurb, see if you can figure out what you’re telling and what not.

Other articles on writing blurbs:

Four Easy Steps to an Irresistible Book Blurb.

If you think other people could benefit from this information, please share this post using the social media buttons below.


Reblogged: We interrupt this story to bring you this Info-dump: Blogger Insights


OPINION: Writing a series is lazy writing to cash in on gullible people!

Recently, a discussion on GoodReads was started by a reader who loved stand-alone books, but every book he was offered seemed to be part of a series. The thread quickly turned ‘anti-series’ with complaints about sequels being less good than the first novel, stories become repetitive, single volume books being enlarged to fill several volumes to make more money from gullible readers, writers becoming too lazy to invent new characters, and so on.

As I write a suspense fiction series, I want to address these issues in this blog article.

When I wrote Reprobate, I had some excellent ideas for additional plot lines that would explore other sides of the freelance assassin protagonist, so I decided to develop the Amsterdam Assassin Series as a series of stand-alone novels and short stories that have the same characters but enjoying one book does not rely on having read the other books/stories. No cliffhangers beyond readers want to know what will happen next in the lives of the protagonists.

As to the concerns addressed in the GoodReads thread:

“Can’t you put just everything in one book?”

No. The books are all over 100K and all have a different theme. The first book, Reprobate, deals with the protagonist breaking her own rules and the consequences. The second book, Peccadillo, has criminals trying a hostile takeover of her legitimate business, unaware that they’re dealing with an assassin. In the third book, Rogue, Katla comes to the attention of global intelligence communities when she kills the wrong target. I’m currently working on the fourth novel, Ghosting, which will show yet another side of the character.

“The first book is mostly good, but the rest is repetitive crap.”

Most reviewers agree that the second book is superior to the first book. I just published the third novel. Feedback from the beta-readers convince me that Rogue is both different from Peccadillo and Reprobate, but just as interesting and entertaining. Just because some people force themselves to turn a stand-alone book into a series doesn’t mean every series writer succumbs to this laziness.

“You write a series to cash in.”

If I wanted to cash in, I’d write short novels in a hot genre, not suspense fiction about a freelance assassin in Amsterdam. And as I sell somewhere around 30-60 books per month, I’m not ‘cashing in’. If I listened to ‘market experts’ I would abandon the series due to the meagre sales. However, I do have fans who want to know what happens to the protagonists and are eager for future books (check my reviews), so I just ignore the sales and keep on writing what I love to write.

“Series are just fluff/sugar coated candy/throwaway books.”

My series is pretty dark, which is quite normal for a suspense fiction series with a freelance assassin protagonist. I’ve been praised for the brief instances of wit that lighten the mood and ground the story in reality. In keeping with the need for verisimilitude, the events in the books have real moral/ethical/physical consequences and I received feedback from fans on how scenes made them reconsider the reader’s own attitudes.

“You’re just too lazy to invent new characters.”

Writing a series is actually more difficult than writing stand-alone novels, mostly because you need to satisfy both the new readers and the readers who read the other books, which requires a fine balance of putting in just enough back story to please both. Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to writing about characters who might never ‘hit it big’ with fans. Writing stand-alones with new characters doesn’t require any referencing to published stories.

Also, the series does feature new characters. Granted, they may be antagonists, but if the antagonists don’t measure up, the protagonist will fall kind of flat. I go by the principle that any character I create should be able to hold their own as protagonist of their own stories, so they have to be fully developed, not just sounding boards for the main characters.

Still I understand how readers don’t want to read series and prefer stand-alone books. In that case, Reprobate would work as a great stand-alone novel because it has all the characters, but all the plot lines are resolved in the end and you don’t need to read the other books.

Except if you want to know what the future holds in store for Katla and Bram…


Inspired by feedback from readers…

This blog article is inspired by the feedback emails I receive from readers who have read my books and are eagerly waiting for Rogue to come out:

Dear Reader,

I appreciate your enthusiasm and understand your eager anticipation of the new novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. I’d love to be able to write more new stories to entertain my readers, but to do so, I really need your help.

I would be able to write more books in a shorter time, if I didn’t have to spend so much time getting my books noticed. And I can’t do it by myself.

I’m a self-published author, which means that after I finished writing, editing and polishing my manuscript to make the work ready for publication, I cannot devote myself to writing the next novel, but I have to become my own publisher. I have to commission a new cover, format the books and get them published on the retail sites.

That’s no hardship for me, but what bites me is that nobody promotes my books for me. And tooting my own horn feels awkward. I love the stories I write, but if I try to communicate my love for my work to other people, even if I just try to tell them I wrote a book that’s worthy of their attention, I run the risk of sounding arrogant and conceited.

Besides, all authors think they write great books (or they wouldn’t be writing them), so my opinion of my books means less than nothing.

What I need is fans like you to help me gain more exposure for the Amsterdam Assassin Series. If my fans champion my books, I can devote myself to writing new stories.

If you want to help, this is what you can do:

  • Write reviews for the books and post them on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Facebook, GoodReads, your blog, twitter, any social media platform you can think of.
  • Recommend the Amsterdam Assassin Series to other readers. Personal recommendations carry great weight. If you’re enthusiastic, you can inspire other people to follow your example. Tell people that they can receive a free copy of Reprobate in return for a review.
  • Give me feedback on how to improve my promotion by telling me how you found me/the books and what you were looking for. Send me comments on what you like or dislike about the books, so I know how my work is received.
  • Follow my blog for the latest news. Like me on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and Amazon.
  • Sign up for an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of ROGUE, so you can read the new book before it is published and write a review that can be posted on retailer sites and social media in the first week of publication, so Rogue will be propelled higher into the rankings.

I’ve been writing for twenty years and I’m not going to stop just because my sales number in the 15-20 books per month, but the less time I have to spend marketing my work, the more time I have to write new stories.

So if you’re eager for my next book, help shoulder my workload and donate some of your time promoting the books you love.

I’m grateful for your support, your feedback makes my day!

Cordially,

Martyn V. Halm


Reprobate, a short novel? An insight into word count.

REPROBATE

I’ve had several people comment on how Reprobate is an excellent story, but ‘on the short side’. This comment puzzled me, since Reprobate clocks in at a word count of 111,932 words. This was one of the reasons why, when TOR editor Melissa Singer considered Reprobate for publication, one of her comments were that Tom Doherty Associates rarely publishes suspense novels over 100,000 words.

Reprobate’s original length was 127,000 words when the manuscript was entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest in 2010 (under the name Peccadillo), where it reached the quarterfinals and received this Publishers Weekly review:

Fast-moving and intricately plotted, this manuscript of Dutch intrigue follows assassin Katla, who’s renowned for her ability to cover up a job. When the U.S. DEA’s base in the Netherlands catches wind of a heroin ring within the U.S. military, they set up an undercover operation. When the heads of the drug ring discover the plot, they arrange for Katla to assassinate the undercover agents, but the assassination doesn’t go as planned. As Katla recovers from injuries sustained in the botched job, DEA agent Deborah Stern and her colleagues investigate. Violence, drugs, and sex abound in this intense story, and the plot is less farcical than a lot of the thrillers clogging the shelves.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I bolded the first words. Even at its most bloated, Reprobate was considered ‘fast-moving’. So I checked what the average word count of suspense fiction should be, and I found this article on Writer’s Digest by Chuck Sambuchino, who writes:

ADULT NOVELS: COMMERCIAL & LITERARY

Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.

Now, speaking broadly, you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words. That is the total range. When it dips below 80K, it might be perceived as too short—not giving the reader enough. It seems as though going over 100K is all right, but not by much. I suggest stopping at 109K because just the mental hurdle to jump concerning 110K is just another thing you don’t want going against you. And, as agent Rachelle Gardner pointed out when discussing word count, over 110K is defined as “epic or saga.” Chances are your cozy mystery or literary novel is not an epic. Rachelle also mentions that passing 100K in word count means it’s a more expensive book to produce—hence agents’ and editors’ aversion to such lengths.

In short:
80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:    Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

Chick lit falls into this realm, but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster. 70-75K is not bad at all.

So, if we take the above in account, Reprobate is ‘too long’ and, according to Rachelle Gardner, an ‘epic or saga’. So why do reviewers comment on Reprobate being ‘too short’ or ‘a short novel’?

Since Reprobate is available in e-book only, it’s difficult to assess the ‘heft’ of the book is, but considering that most novels are around 80-90,000 words, Reprobate is a whopping 25% thicker than the average paperback novel.

Next I went to a website where I could cut and paste the first chapter of Reprobate into a window and have the algorithms calculate the Readability Score. With these results:

Reading Ease

A higher score indicates easier readability; scores usually range between 0 and 100.

Readability Formula Score
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 79.6

Grade Levels

A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 4.7
Gunning-Fog Score 6.9
Coleman-Liau Index 9.9
SMOG Index 5.3
Automated Readability Index 4.3
Average Grade Level 6.2

Text Statistics

Character Count 20,500
Syllable Count 6,473
Word Count 4,694
Sentence Count 452
Characters per Word 4.4
Syllables per Word 1.4
Words per Sentence 10.4

So I can rest easily. Reprobate is not short, but my writing style evidently allows for quick reading and that makes the ‘epic length’ of Reprobate seem much shorter. If you have questions about the readibility of your own manuscript, go to Readability Score and take the test yourself.


Writing During A Motorcycle Trip…

I went on a motorcycle trip from July 1st till July 20th. Just me, my trusty BMW R1100GS motorcycle, and my iPad with Adonit Writer keyboard in my tankbag. And camping gear, obviously. From Amsterdam I rode 700 kilometers motorway to Dijon, from where I rode secondary roads exclusively. First down to the Vercors, then Alpes Maritimes, Parc de la Mercantour and crossing from Sospel to Olivetta in Italy. The coast turned out to be even warmer than I expected, so I spent most of my time riding deserted mountain roads and visiting dusty villages that didn’t see many tourists as I rode a figure-eight through Tuscany. Firenze, Siena, Pisa, Parma.

Taking the example from the Italians themselves, I parked the motorcycle in a shady place around noon and spent a couple of hours writing until the heat dissipated enough to resume riding. My iPad has a longer battery life than most laptops, but I could always use an outlet. In many cases, the cafe/restaurant/hotel were so honored that I used their facilities to write on my novels, that I was treated with a pleasant hospitality, the staff leaving me alone and keeping other guests away from me so I could concentrate.

At home, I have many distractions, but in Italy I didn’t have many other things to do then ride, camp and write. Watching television was useless, since my Italian is ‘Amsterdam Restaurant Italian’, meaning that I knew how to greet and order food, but following an Italian conversation was impossible. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have enjoyable conversations in a mish-mash of Italian/French/English, but an Italian television drama went over my head.

I rarely spent more than one night in one place. I spent two nights in the Vercors to acclimatize myself to camping again, two nights in Firenze because I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and the beautiful city, two nights in Parma, and two nights in Rocaforte because I didn’t want to travel in France on their Quatorze Juillet (July 14th, Independance Day). Instead, I spent most of July 14th in Caffe La Bottega Errante in Mondovi, a very pleasant cafe with excellent cappuccini, high ceilinged cool rooms and an English speaking staff. The atmosphere at La Bottega Errante proved inspirational – I think I wrote close to 8,000 words that day. Other places that were very conducive to writing:

– Chiar di Luna, an Albergo/Ristorante/Pizzeria in Careggine. A glass serre in shadow with a view of the fields and mountains, with a fragrant breeze coming in through the open windows, great pizza and excellent cappuccino.

– Ostello della Giuventu di Parma, the Youth Hostel in Parma, where the English speaking staff helped me with Italian phrases (thank you, Alessio). Along with the comfortable and stylish Auberge de Jeunesse in Liege, these youth hostels were the only places when I didn’t use my tent. In both cases because there were not many campings in the vicinity and the prices for a bed in a dorm were comparable to most Italian campsites.

– Lino’s Caffe in Parma. These coffee shops are part of a chain, but still, sitting in the shadow on a terrace with WiFi provided by the Municipality of Parma while being served strong and tasty cappuccino is difficult to beat. By way of thanks Katla kills someone in Parma’s La Cittadella…

– Caffe Bertaina in Mondovi, who graciously safeguarded my motorcycle gear so I could tramp around Mondovi in cargo pants and sandals, as well as enjoy the shady breeze of their terrace under the arches around Piazza Maggiore.

– The restaurant of Camping Michelangelo in Firenze, where I could write while looking out over this glorious city, with a friendly staff who clearly enjoyed their work.

All in all, when I returned to Amsterdam, I updated my Scrivener file and found that I’d written some 27,000 words while on the road, which comes to an average of 1,350 words a day. Most of the time, at home, I won’t get over 1,000 words a day, if that, so my French Italian motorcycle trip was enjoyable, refreshing and productive as well.

Rogue – A Katla Novel (Amsterdam Assassin Series 3) is now at 86,000 words, with a goal of 100,000+ words in September… Keep your fingers crossed.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from WIP “Fundamental Error”, a new Katla KillFile in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

This is a fragment from Fundamental Error, the third Katla KillFile in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, soon available on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. See the ABOUT page.

Assassin Katla is hired by a client whose brother is planning a terrorist attack…

The Fundamental Error KillFile (9,700 words) follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, on her most dangerous assignment yet. When Peter Brandt watches his brother Roel convert to Islam and turn into a domestic terrorist, Katla needs to enter into the mind of a fanatic suicide bomber in order to thwart a mass-murder attack in the shopping mecca of Amsterdam.

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.

 

PRESENT DAY

Right behind the Royal Palace, at the intersection of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Raadhuisstraat, you can find one of the most elegant buildings in Amsterdam, if not the world. Built to serve as the main post office in 1899 by esteemed architect Cornelis Hendrik Peters in Neo-Gothic style—a mixture of Gothic and Romantic elements similar to the Parliament buildings in London—this beautiful building was added in 1992 to the list of Amsterdam’s ten most valuable monuments. That same year, four renowned architects were invited to submit a renovation plan to transform the building into the first covered shopping and lifestyle centre in the heart of the city. With the new destination came a new name: Magna Plaza.

None of the shoppers or security staff paid much attention to the well-dressed Caucasian man strolling inside and standing silently next to the grand piano in the middle of the hall, gazing upward at the glass dome that covered the roof but let in the sunlight. Roel Brandt—known as Muhammad by the brotherhood—was well aware of Magna Plaza’s history. In fact, the venerable building’s glorious past was one of the main reasons for Magna Plaza becoming the target of the brotherhood’s first public display.

Muhammad turned on his heel, looking down the marble ramp of the main entrance.

After nearly a century of serving as the main post office, the building started its second life in 1992 with only minor additions or changes, the most significant to the façades undoubtedly concerned the main entrance. The almost inaccessible entrance of the central post office would’ve made public use of the building as a shopping centre difficult. After numerous studies trying to balance the accessibility with the integrity of the building’s design, the decision was made to bridge the connection between street level and the 1.5 meter higher main level as smoothly as possible inside the building. The new porch above the main entrance reinforced the improved access above the three new entrances.

Muhammad turned back to the interior. Originally, public access to the huge building was restricted to part of the black-and-white tiled lobby, leaving visitors able to just gaze up at the upper floors where only postal workers were allowed to tread. He studied the interior through the viewfinder of the Olympus camera around his neck, careful not to touch the button designed to operate the shutter. The interior parts of the camera had been removed to house the remote detonator, leaving only the lenses and viewfinder intact.

Even after the conversion from post office to shopping mecca, the central hall remained the building’s main feature. New arches were added to the already present gallery bridges to merge the central part of the building into one large open space surrounded by shops. To the rear of the building opposite the main entrance new elevators were installed, as well as escalators that allowed shoppers to rise slowly and feast their eyes on this Valhalla of greed. The basement—cleared of any unimportant partition walls—was adapted structurally where necessary, currently featuring an exhibition of paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. As a result of these changes, the spaces of the central part connected to form an open triptych, though the new spaces and arcades required structural additions—steel girders masked by prefab concrete covers that fitted in with the existing elements, painstakingly designed to continue the pattern of the existing structure. The new columns and arches—barely recognisable to the average unsuspecting shopper—were glaringly obvious to the man now quietly observing the graceful interior that would soon be turned into rubble and screams.

Muhammad lowered his fake camera, his face a polite mask hiding his disgust. Like the Bijenkorf and Kalvertoren department stores, Magna Plaza was a bastion of capitalism, crowded with people who filled their spiritual void with vapid consumerism. Popular brands like Emporio Armani, Swarovski, Mango, America Today, and Gsus Industries flanked smaller boutiques like Velvet and Sarah Pacini, the enormous shiny plate glass windows displaying their clothes, trinkets, ointments, and multimedia to lure the materialistic morons.

He knew why the brotherhood had chosen him for his current task of bringing down this shining symbol of the perverted Western civilisation. While Roel Brandt had disavowed his name and materialist upbringing—and shown in the camp to be fully prepared to be a martyr for the cause—the blond hair and blue eyes granted by his Dutch heritage allowed him to move effortlessly and without suspicion where his brothers of the faith would be instantly noted. His appearance alone made him valuable beyond the mere possibility of martyrdom through self-sacrifice, not to mention his technical prowess.

So Muhammad had been chosen for a more difficult task.

Despite spiritual guidance and mental cleansing, those who sacrificed themselves for the cause might have doubts before they embraced their martyrdom. Even the strongest believer was still human, still fallible. Any martyr, no matter how well prepared, might have difficulty following the true path and bringing their mission to a satisfactory conclusion. Standing before their God, they might entertain second thoughts, and their flagging determination might need a gentle nudge.

A nudge Muhammad could provide with the remote detonator in his camera.

The phone in his pocket vibrated to signal the imminent arrival of the martyr, so Muhammad went to the escalator, ascending to the first level. Going up another level required walking down the arcade to the next escalator. A deliberate set-up to force customers to pass at least half the shops on a floor to ascend to another level. Probably wouldn’t bother most customers, but Muhammad was disgusted by the manipulative efforts of the capitalist architecture. He looked away from the window displays at the empty space above the lobby as he made his way to the next ascending escalator.

If you enjoyed this fragment of Fundamental Error, check my ‘About’ page for a link to the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Follow my blog and you will be notified about publication dates, more fragments and snippets, and articles on Katla’s Amsterdam.

If you’d like to become a beta reader or reviewer for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.


KATLA FAQ: Why does Katla prefer sharp implements over firearms?

I received some questions concerning Katla’s preference or inclination toward using sharp implements over firearms. Many readers cite firearms as better killing tools than sharp implements, but there are several reasons why Katla dislikes using firearms as killing tools.
One of these reasons is legal. The Dutch have strict gun control laws, maybe even the most severe in Europe. In the Netherlands, only law enforcement officers and army personnel are allowed to bear small firearms. Some occupations, like game warden, allow a restricted use of occupational firearms, like hunting rifles. That doesn’t mean that civilians aren’t allowed to use firearms, but their use is restricted to recreational or sports, and they are only allowed to transport the guns in a locked case, with the bullets separated from the gun.
Same goes for other weapons, like martial arts practice weapons, that have to be transported in closed bags. Transport of a Japanese sword, for instance, is only allowed if the sageo (cord) secures the blade in the saya (scabbard) and the sheathed sword is carried in one or more bags, to prevent the bearer from quickly drawing the sword. A bokken, or wooden sword, has to be carried in a bag as well. About the only ‘clubs’ that can be carried without the need for concealment, are field hockey sticks. And canes, of course.
Since there have been knife skirmishes where people became seriously hurt, the police will hold ‘preventive searches’ at mobile checkpoints, most often around subway stations, where everyone is scanned with a metal detector and has to empty their pockets. These checkpoints are prevalent at certain areas, mainly around Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein/Thorbeckeplein, Nieuwmarkt, Dam, where the mayor has put a law in effect that restricts possession of anything that can be used as a weapon, not just guns and knives, but also screwdrivers, chisels, chains, hammers, and other tools. Also, regular pocket knives, like the Victorinox ‘Swiss Army’ knife are also prohibited.
So, while getting caught with a firearm is a felony and will get you arrested straight away, possession of a sharp implement will often only result in a fine and seizure of the forbidden implement.
For someone skilled in handling blades, there is no real necessity to carry a machete or kukri blade. Several arteries that are fatal when severed are close enough to the skin to be reached by a blade no longer than the width of a hand. Especially the arteries in the crotch, armpit and neck are vulnerable to a knife attack.
Katla’s assignment often take her up close and personal with her targets. As many professionals will acknowledge, killing someone at arms length is the most difficult and dangerous way to end someone’s life, but it’s also extremely reliable. Any projectile weapon will be less accurate than a handheld blade in the assassin business.
I know that’s a controversial stance to take, and many owners and users of projectile weapons will rally the merits of their weapons, but professional assassins prefer a knife, a garotte or even a rumal* to a gun if they have to kill in close quarters.
Combat/warfare weapons are for the battlefield, not the assassination game. Guns are suitable for shooting your way out of a room full of enemies and an AK-47 is awesome when clearing a building of enemy combatants, but professional assassins are often stealth killers and even a suppressed Ruger Mark II .22 semi-automatic pistol** will make more noise than a well-placed spike dagger.
That’s not to say that projectile weapons are unreliable or inaccurate—any sniper adhering to the ‘one shot, one kill’ principle will protest any such claim—but there are too many people surviving bullet wounds to validate my assertion.
But, what about all the people who survive knife wounds? Of course there are plenty of people who get into altercations with someone wielding a knife and survive the encounter. However, in 99% of these cases, the knife wielder was not out to kill, whereas most people who fire a gun aim to kill. And fail.
Amateurs often favour large caliber handguns that ‘can blow your head straight off’, but there’s a reason why police officers don’t carry Desert Eagles. Heavy and unwieldy guns with absurd recoil don’t make the best guns to kill people. Although they might impress a flock of zombies…
Feel free to comment with your own experience as an assassin to negate my argument…

*Rumal, a silk cord with a coin tied to one end, used by the Thuggee cult of India to whip the cord around a neck and strangle someone.
**Do you want to kill someone silently with a gun? Forget about large calibers. Assassins favour the Ruger Mark II .22 semi-automatic for two reasons: a) the long thin barrel doesn’t need much modification to fit in an ordinary soda bottle that will catch the noise gaseous cloud that follows the bullet out of the barrel, and b), a .22 bullet will have enough penetrative force to get into a skull, but not enough to exit. Which means that the soda bottle will muffle the shot, and the ‘weak’ bullet will careen inside the skull, shredding the brain tissue like whipping a cheesecake with a flogger.