From The “Feeling The Heat In Miami File” by Sean E. Ali

Yes, there’s some art for a book I’m not attached to, but felt compelled to create because…

Well, therein lies the tale…

Since coronavirus came to town my world in particular had gotten crazy and uncertain…

But on the upside, my days aren’t nearly as stressful as say coming home to find the place ransacked and picked clean of profits from something you worked pretty hard to get through means you’d rather not discuss…

…It’s criminal what a guy has to go through.

And what makes it worse is that it happens in the last place you’d expect things like this to happen: a quiet suburb just outside of…

…Miami.

Especially when you just settled down there after retiring from your last job in Las Vegas. But as you’ll soon discover, whatever happens in Vegas, could have consequences you never expected.

Which is a set up for Van Allen Plexico’s all the fun you’ll find in this second helping of professional heisters Harper and Salsa as they find themselves putting in work in MIAMI HEI$T.

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Heist stories, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, have a special place in my heart. They’re entertaining, tricky to plot and execute, and offer some insight into what motivates people to take what doesn’t belong to them and the extremes they’ll engage in to get the job done. And Van, bless him, chose the 1960s to set these up in where these guys were both brutal and cool thanks to films like the original OCEAN’S 11 and books like the series featuring professional criminal Parker written under the pen name Richard Stark by the late, great Donald Westlake. There’s nostalgia and a wonderfully tech free world to work in carry your action without the fear that one of your crew will be posting up video to social media and blowing the job.

So when we last saw our heroes, John Harper and Saul “Salsa” Salzman have successfully managed to get out of Vegas in one piece and considerably richer than they were going in…

…given they were a team of four at the start of the caper, there were a few hitches.

Well we are now months and miles away from Nevada and deep underground on the sun splashed beaches of Miami where Harper has adopted a new name, bought a new home he’s rarely at in Flagler Beach, and picked up a (presumably) new girlfriend Connie Perrigen – who is aware of what Harper does and has none of the issues expected of grad student, and a new Camaro which has brought him back to said new home after leaving (presumably) new girlfriend down at a South Beach hotel after getting a message sent to his new adopted name letting him know someone, somehow knows exactly who he is, where he lives and what he has

…from that time in Las Vegas.

When Harper gets to his house, he finds that his stash with his money from Vegas is long gone from where he hid it. He checks in with Salsa who got an earlier message from Harper that sent him, not to his stash to check his loot, but to the house of Lois Funderburk, who was the finger for the job in VEGAS HEI$T and is now Salsa’s steady girl. By the time Harper gets to Salsa’s office, he finds out Salsa’s been cleaned out too. Lois, being a practical woman, had the bulk of her cut tied up in legitimate investments or it’s in the bank earning its interest on more faith than Harper and Salsa has for those institutions. As despair and desperation kick in, Salsa brings up a job that Harper passed on earlier tied to a local but solitary spot known as Ruby Island which houses an old estate converted into a casino and a legend that there may be gold hidden away in the grounds.

Gold that came there by way of a Nazi submarine during World War II.

Harper and Salsa have a limited crew of themselves and the ladies and while scouting the job they come across a second crew looking to pull a straightforward robbery run by Big Bob Bigelow, a local planner who is talked into supporting Harper’s effort, but is a little annoyed to find the pay day may not be as nice as his team co-opting the job for their own for the risks they’re taking. Harper himself wasn’t too keen on the job from the beginning, and the number of red flags he’s noticed and ignored haven’t helped any.

But with their Vegas money gone and no idea of who took it and where to find it, Harper and Salsa have to play some long odds and go for broke.

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Now, I’ll stop with the summary because I caught myself about to reveal things you shouldn’t know about if you plan to read the book, or details you may be a little fuzzy about if you haven’t bought/read VEGAS HEI$T, which this book leans on heavily to set things up to tell its tale. I want you to check in without spoilers of any sort on my end.

As to how I felt as it played out though?

Yeah, I can share that with you…

Heist stories are solid because most folks think of them as two major acts: everything up to the heist, and the heist itself and everything that follows. You watch the job get planned, you see it executed, you wait for whatever fallout comes of doing what they did and any flagged aberrations that will flip the circumstances in different ways, and you hope all of the above is executed in such a way that you feel you invested your time well. But the thing about heist stories and the folks who occupy them is nothing’s ever according to plan with a nice neat finish. Look at some of the best literary heisters and con artists and in a lot of cases the antihero be it a “gentleman thief like Raffles, or Earle Stanley Gardner’s Lester Leith, or Westlake’s Parker, or TV shows like LEVERAGE and HU$TLE, you’ll find a certain element of chaos that adds to the tension of the story as everything goes off the rails making the crooks we’re rooting for got to work on trying to get everything back under control. The thing is that the bulk of these guys keep their cool and tend not to be reckless as they adjust. And while that’s all well and good, what you almost never see is what happens when your guy pulls off the big job, gets away…

…and it still blows up later.

What MIAMI HEI$T does is take that exact route, if snatches away a successful job with a messy finish in VEGAS and turns this tale into a heist, a caper…

…and a getaway story of sorts. Which is a part of the whole heist genre that gets overlooked as a subcategory a lot. In this case, things don’t just go wrong, but they’re going wrong from the last job which is spilling over into how this job is put together. It’s a nice play of controlled panic and desperation where all concerned are pushed well out of their comfort zone from the folks we met in VEGAS and the new members of the cast who turn up in MIAMI. You get the feeling right away that Harper’s winging this more than he wanted to because he has no safety net, but everyone around him thinks he’s got it together.

It is a beautifully put together character examination of Harper over the rest of the cast where he’s fleshed out a bit and slight divergences from his spiritual father of Westlake’s Parker are starting to show up. Mostly because Parker wouldn’t have gone this route with so many potential holes in the plan. Van also shows some subtle things with Salsa who still wears his feelings on his sleeve, especially where Lois is concerned, Connie may be a keeper, her role in this left me wondering how she and Harper hooked up and exactly what kind of life she had led up to this introduction. There are great character bits, small stuff that puts some weight to Salsa being thought of as a partner more than a convenient associate. Van makes it understandable why Harper works with Salsa and even gives us a sort of Salsa moment from Harper which could very well lead them into their next big job after going to a movie. I also like that I’m personally uncomfortable with Lois being involved as she is. Her use in this book and the way Van plays with her interactions with everyone makes her the same sort of question mark she was in VEGAS but maybe more so given the callouts to the first book. But this is more Harper’s story than anyone else’s and you get inside his head a little with him being more desperate than in control.

The cast is a bigger than the last book as moving parts go, but it was well worth it because, like any good heist story, you’re trying to figure out exactly where the twist is…

…and I’m telling you now, you’ll never see it coming.

…or that other one…

…and definitely not the one…

Well, you get the idea.

Get a neck brace though, you will get whiplash trying to follow all of this after the heist when everything gets WILD!

Plus there’s a lot of loose ends dangling that could (and should) be followed up and at least one guy I’d like to see the crew catch up to on camera as opposed to off. That guy turned out to be slicker than a kitten on skis.

No need for a spoiler alert, that’s the bulk of the cast in this book.

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If there’s any complaint it’s that the McGuffin was gotten to pretty easily, but it set up some really nice sequences after the job was done. Also, though it works from a marketing standpoint, you really should pick up VEGAS HEI$T to really appreciate everything that happens this time around. And you can find that definite gem of crime writing at a link like this one: https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=pd_aw_sim…/146-2096148-8091948…

Also, if you’re so inclined by what I said above, check out MIAMI HEI$T. I picked up a copy for my Kindle app right here:

https://www.amazon.com/Miami-Heist-Harper…/…/ref=mp_s_a_1_1…

Available in ebook and hard copy. Sadly we don’t get a movie version, but hey never say never…

Now, did I enjoy this one more or less than VEGAS?

Let’s just say I doodled a lot more this time around.

Until next time…

…Be good to yourselves and each other.

Oh yeah

As for the doodling inspired by this…?

Told you there were a lot…

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Dispatches From Windy City #4: A Last Series of Images

And actually that title is downright misleading because I’ve been back from Windy City for a week already. So this dispatch isn’t coming to you from Windy City but from the good old Ferguson Ponderosa in Brooklyn.

But this is the first time I’ve had to sit down at my desktop computer since I’ve been back (don’t ask…it’s a long story) since I had to unceremoniously flee from Chicago due to a freak snowstorm on Sunday morning. Which meant I had to miss a panel I was to sit on and for that I apologize to one and all. If I can make it up to you, please let me know.

But I wanted to cap off my Wind City adventure with some final images of the good time I had and share them with you good folks. So please enjoy and as always, thank you for your kind indulgence and support.

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Sean E. Ali Double Downs On VEGAS HEIST

From the “Viva, Lost Vegas” File…

Like the artwork?

Nah, it’s not a job I’m on, this was just me doodling on my down time inspired by something I read recently.

Occasionally the grind of life gets you down, you’ve gotten in a rut, and it seems like all you do is go do your job so you can go home and wait to go do your job and then go home and…

Well, you get the idea.

Then, out of the blue, you get a call from a guy you know who wants to get together and he can invite you and a couple of other guys out for a trip so wild…

…it’s criminal.

Which is why it helps that the destination that this guy has in mind is…

…Las Vegas.

This is really one of those times where you’re gonna want what happens in Vegas to stay in Vegas. In fact, this situation takes place in the early days of the Strip in 1965, so it’s possible this is the thing that happened that stayed where it happened in the first place.

Which is a breezy primer for Van Allen Plexico’s fun little crime tale VEGAS HEIST.

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Now, as I’ve said before: I love heist stories and their second cousins caper stories. Give me a crew of thieves with an eyes bigger than their stomachs crime on the schedule with seemingly impossible obstacles and toss in a couple of twists and I’m good. Toss in some of that classic Sinatra/Rat Pack “Ocean’s 11” and mix liberally with nods to other characters of that era in crime fiction and I’m not only in, I want a window seat. So Mr. Plexico is swinging in the right direction for me right out the gate.

So let’s break down the plot just a little. We start with John Harper, who is in the middle of putting his foot down on a loose end from a job he pulled prior to the start of our story: an associate who feels his take should’ve been bigger. Roughly Harper’s share of that job bigger. Harper disagreed with that assessment of the situation…

…rather forcefully.

As this exchange is going on, Harper gets a call from another associate whom he’s had a more positive relationship with: Saul “Salsa” Salzman, an attorney who occasionally moonlights as a heister, a roper, and an inside man who fingers potential jobs based on keeping his eyes and ears open and seeing an opportunity when it presents itself. Salsa’s got a lead on a job and it would require a first rate planner to work out the angles. Harper agrees to a meet, and gets back to what he was doing. Later, and in as neutral a locale as you can find, Salsa drops the caper on Harper: he’s got enough inside information on a mark that he wants Harper’s help to pull off a heist…

…in Las Vegas.

He has a crew: Bobby Donovan, an old school “jugger” (safecracker) who has been knocking knobs off of safes long enough to be considered one of the best. Besides being their vault man, Donovan also has a way to bankroll and arm themselves for the job without being on the line to another party who’d take a cut as his pay back on the vig, or the principal investment, plus the juice in the form of interest. There’s a catch, but nothing he, Harper and Salsa can’t handle. Plus Donovan brings with him Brett Rooker, a former boxer and wrestler who hires out now as muscle to crews who need it for a cut of the take. Rooker asks few questions, keeps himself to himself to a degree, but he’s hitched up with Salsa’s caper because of the notoriety of this particular crew’s individual reputations.

After they secure their money and weapons, the crew hits the road and move on to Vegas.

And they have a plan to break the bank while they’re there.

Now, I’ll stop there because it was really hard not to spoil the bits of business above with more details, but let’s get down to cases. VEGAS HEIST is a story you’ve seen, heard, read, probably even wrote at some point. It’s a little bit of Sinatra’s “Ocean’s 11”, it’s a little Richard Stark’s Parker, it’s all been done, yes, that too.

However…

…it’s all about execution that lets you know if you’ve got a hack job or really nice piece with the flavor and feel of a nice 1960s era crime flick with enough twists and turns in all the right places. Van hits the latter over the former, VEGAS HEIST is just a lot of fun. It’s a departure from Van’s usual bailiwick of superhero action adventure and space operas, but he really stepped into this genre with an obvious affection for it. If this continues on as a series of stories, I’m going to assume his characters will be fleshed out a bit more. Not too much, I don’t need an origin story or two, but it’ll be nice to see them develop past their obvious inspirational sources into distinct characters with unique voices. Still the way Van wrote these guys you get some subtle insights into how they see the world around them like Salsa’s gregarious nature having him presume that Harper’s a friend, while when he writes Harper’s point of view, Salsa’s more like a reliable associate he can trust not to stab him in the back. Plus, the other characters involved in the plot do have specific and distinct places in the narrative and the action.

And the twists, Lordy lord the twists in this tale are so much fun to see play out. There were plenty of places where I figured out the twist early but then Van would toss in something I took my eye off of and do something you kind of saw coming…

…but not like that.

Folks, Van kind of nails it.

So, VEGAS HEIST was a lot of fun for me, so much so, I decided to fool around with a what if scenario and make up one of those old house style ad like pieces that might’ve made it into a magazine or a movie marquee if HEIST got that kind of traction.

So, if you’re so inclined, check out VEGAS HEIST. I picked up a copy for my Kindle app right HERE.

Available in ebook and hard copy. Sadly we don’t get a movie version, but hey never say never…

Oh yeah, from left to right at the bottom of the image you’ve got Donovan, Rooker, Harper and Salsa…

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…because much was made of Salsa’s hat in his initial visual description…

Until next time…

…Be good to yourselves and each other.

 

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