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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Baker's Men by Donald Levin (Author Guest Post / Book Review)

In association with Pump Up Your Book Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for The Baker's Men by Author Donald Levin!

Author Guest Post

How & What To Learn From Other Writers
By: Donald Levin

You’ve probably heard time and time again that the two best ways to improve as a writer are to write and to read. Everybody can understand why writing a lot helps . . . if you don’t write, you won’t get better, just like if you don’t practice the violin you’ll never improve.

But did you ever wonder how you’re supposed to improve by reading? There are many reasons for that. But in this post, I want to suggest one important strategy for reading other authors that will virtually guarantee you’ll get better. Simply put, that strategy is this: find an author who does well what you want to do, ask yourself what are that author’s strengths, and then analyze the works to discover how the writing accomplishes those strengths.

Here’s an example. One of the big events of the year at the school where I work is a lecture series held every April that brings in a guest writer to give a free public reading. In my former role as chair of the department that hosts the event (I’m now a dean at the college), I was the emcee for the evening, which meant my job was to preside over the gathering and sometimes introduce the writer.

A few years ago the guest author was a certain crime novelist who shall remain nameless. Rarely had our past writers (mostly literary novelists and poets) provoked the kind of passionate public excitement that this writer did. For months before the reading, I was fielding phone calls from the public as their anticipation mounted. They couldn’t wait to see him; his readership idolized him.

To prepare my introduction, I gave myself a crash course in his works, reading through all his series as well as his stand-alone books. As a crime novelist myself, I read with a double vision: looking not only for what I could use in my introduction of him, but also for what I could learn from him for my own writing. After all, he was fabulously successful as an author, and I wanted to discover some of the secrets of his success. In my heart, of course, I hoped I could get some of his magic to rub off on me and my works.

While many aspects of his writing turned me off—his cliched use of sex and violence, for example, as well as the (to me) deadening similarity of plots and situations—I found much to learn from him, both in terms of what to avoid and what to do.

Primarily, what I learned had to do with what I felt were his real strengths: how to create characters that leap off the page, how to manage multiple plot lines, and how to move the story along quickly and effectively.

One of the things that struck me most about the phone calls that came in about him was the fanatical devotion this guy’s readers had to his characters. Where did that come from, I wondered? In my reading, I discovered he has an incredibly deft touch in populating his fiction with people whom his readers recognize from their own lives. He lets his characters talk in voices that are recognizable and real, and he paints thumbnail portraits of how they look and act in ways that resonate with his readership.

Another strength was the way he handled three, four, and even five interrelated plot lines at a time, juggling incidents from his private detective main character’s personal life with his current cases and his ever-present past that he struggles to outrun. Analyzing his work was like taking a master class in how to move plot threads along. I saw how he started scenes at the optimum moment, how he shaped them for maximum effect, and how he ended them with enough suspense to get the reader to turn the page. I saw how he jumped into a chapter or section using a juicy exchange of dialog, and how he used transitions to get the main character from one place to another most efficiently.

As I sat down to revise my latest mystery, The Baker's Men, I found myself putting these lessons into practice time and again. It’s another reminder of how much we can glean from deeply reading authors who—whether we like their work or not—are at the top of their crafts.

Did all this turn me into a best-selling author? Sadly no. But it did help me improve my books in important ways. And that’s good enough for me. Are there lessons you’ve learned from your favorite authors? I’d be interested in hearing about them.

About The Author

An award-winning fiction writer and poet, Donald Levin is the author of The Baker’s Men, the second book in the Martin Preuss mystery series; Crimes of Love, the first Martin Preuss mystery; The House of Grins, a mainstream novel; and two books of poetry, In Praise of Old Photographs and New Year’s Tangerine. Widely published as a poet and with twenty-five years’ experience as a professional writer, he is dean of the faculty and professor of English at Marygrove College in Detroit. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan, the setting for his Martin Preuss mysteries.

You can visit Donald Levin’s website at


Book Review

The Baker's Men by Donald Levin
Book 2: The Martin Preuss Mystery Series
Publisher: Poison Toe Press
Publication Date: April 20, 2014
Format: Paperback - 338 pages
              Kindle - 821 KB
ISBN: 978-0615968568
Genre: Mystery / Crime Fiction / Police Procedural

BUY THE BOOK: The Baker's Men

BUY THE SERIES: The Martin Preuss Mystery Series
Book 1: Crimes of Love
Book 2: The Baker's Men

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Pump Up Your Book Tours.

Discuss this book in our PUYB Virtual Book Club on Goodreads.

Book Description:

Easter, 2009. The nation is still reeling from the previous year’s financial crisis. Ferndale Police detective Martin Preuss is spending a quiet evening with his son when he’s called out to investigate a savage after-hours shooting at a bakery in his suburban Detroit community. Was it a random burglary gone bad? A cold-blooded execution linked to Detroit’s drug trade? Most frightening of all, is there a terrorist connection with the Iraqi War vets who work at the store?

Struggling with these questions, frustrated by the dizzying uncertainties of the case and hindered by the treachery of his own colleagues who scheme against him, Preuss is drawn into a whirlwind of greed, violence, and revenge that spans generations across metropolitan Detroit.

Book Excerpt:

The man hurried along the sidewalk on the other side of the street with both hands clasped on top of his head. He looked like he was trying to keep his scalp from floating away.

“Hold it, baby,” Jared Whalen murmured into his cell phone.

He watched the man lurch past the cooling units of the Foodland, then dodder out of his line of vision. He had parked his scout car in the lot of the Ethiopian restaurant across from the supermarket to make his call.

Burly in his Kevlar and with close-cropped blond hair, Whalen put the cruiser in gear and eased up to the edge of Nine Mile Road. The financial meltdown of the previous year brought a spike in B&Es around Ferndale and neighboring Pleasant Ridge, so they were all warned to be alert for anything unusual.

Case in point: this guy.

As he watched, the man continued down the sidewalk, more or less in a straight line.

Seems harmless, Whalen decided, and settled back. This character might just be a bit tipsy, maybe got over-served at Rosie O’Grady’s down the street and started to walk home. At least he wasn’t lit to the point where he was weaving all over the place so he’d step into traffic and become Whalen’s immediate problem.

“What’s the matter, sugar?” the woman on the phone said. “Nothing more to say to me?”

Whalen smiled at the petulance in her voice. He turned his attention from the man on the sidewalk and pictured her pillowy red lips drawn in the pout he loved. He met her last Valentine’s Day when he stopped her for speeding on Woodward, and one thing led to another and now they were dating. They hadn’t spoken all day because her ex never picked up their kids as he promised he would so she was busy with the two girls. But now they were asleep and she could talk freely.

“C’mon, baby,” he said. “There’s lots more where that came from.”

He went on with her for another ten minutes until the Dispatcher’s voice broke in.

“10-56, 7-Eleven at Nine Mile and Pinecrest. Meet the clerk.”

Whalen sighed. 10-56, intoxicated person. The 7-Eleven was four blocks west of where he was parked. Probably the guy he just saw walking down the street. No big deal, but still.

Reluctantly he said goodbye to his sweetheart and told the police radio, “Unit 1267 responding.”

He swung the cruiser onto Nine Mile toward the convenience store.


“Did you see him?” Nadine Kotter asked.


“Guy I called about. He just took off.”

No one was inside or outside the store. Whalen walked around the side of the building and checked behind the dumpster.

Nobody there.

Out front again, he said, “I don’t see anybody, Nadine. What’s going on?”

Standing in the doorway, she sucked the last of her cigarette and backhanded it onto the blacktop. She was a tough-looking woman with spiked hair bleached white and tattoos of roses twined among her knuckles on both hands. Whalen liked to stop in to say hello and share a smoke on quiet nights.

“Guy comes into the store and starts mumbling some shit about the bakery.” Her words came out in staccato bursts of smoke. “I go, ‘Dude, what are you talking about,’ and he’s all, ‘The bakery, the bakery.’”

“Sunday night,” Whalen said. “Always brings out the wackjobs, Nadine.”

“I know, and this guy seemed pretty jumpy. But then he goes, ‘Police.’ Then he’s back outside sitting in the corner, and in another minute he’s up again and walking away.”

“Which direction?”

“Up Pinecrest.” She pointed around the corner of the store.

“Thing was,” she said, “his head. It was a bloody mess.”

Whalen stared at her.

“I’m serious. Like he took a shampoo in it or something.”

“We’re talking about a stocky black male, dark sweatshirt and levis? Walking kind of like he’s in a daze?”

“So you did see him.”

“Further up the street I did, yeah. There was blood on his head?”

“Uh, hello?” Nadine gave a loose wheezy laugh, like a bag of gravel shifting in her chest. “The whole right side of his face was covered with it.”

The right side . . . the side away from Whalen.

“I thought he might have fallen, maybe hurt himself. Anyway he didn’t seem right so I called it in.”

“Where was he sitting?”

“Over there.” She pointed toward the metal rack that held propane tanks at the far side of the store.

In the white glare from the overhead lights Whalen saw spots on the ground beside the rack. He swept his flashlight beam over the area. Definitely blood.

A second blue-and-white rolled up and another patrol officer stepped out adjusting the gear on her belt. Gail Crimmonds was a substantial woman with dark hair pinned back and skeptical eyes. Whalen filled her in quickly and asked her to take Nadine’s statement.

He jumped into his scout car and wheeled it around the lot and out to Pinecrest.

Thinking: Bakery, blood, police—this is not good.

He eased the car north, scanning the empty sidewalks and pausing at each corner to shine his spotlight down the side streets. When he reached Blair Park, he figured the guy could be anywhere inside the dark grounds so he made a Y-turn back toward Nine. He called Dispatch and asked for assistance to search the neighborhood.

At the traffic light on Nine he took a left and drove east, picking up speed as his unease grew. The only bakery left in Ferndale was the Cake Walk, near the southeast corner of Nine and Planavon. There used to be two but the other one went bust the summer before. Most Ferndale businesses weathered the financial crash but a few, like the other bakery, couldn’t hold on and now there were empty stores like missing teeth around the downtown.

He skidded to a stop in front of the Cake Walk facing the wrong way on Nine. The street was deserted and dark except for the lights at Rosie’s down toward Woodward.

The front selling area of the store was empty, with bare display counters and shelves. The front door was locked.

He saw a light glowing in the rear so he trotted around to the back of the building. The bakery was the third business off the side street, beside two restaurants closed for the night.

He pulled at the handle of the steel rear entrance to the Cake Walk and the door opened.

He drew his duty weapon and stepped inside. A short corridor from the door to the back room ended at a partition that blocked his view.

He heard no sounds except the pounding of blood in his head and the knocking of his heart.

He stood for a moment, quieting his breathing, getting himself ready for what he might find, and looked into the workroom.

Lit by overhead fluorescents, the scene took his breath away.

He struggled to stay upright against the partition. He stood like that until the room stopped spinning.

Then he pulled himself together to call it in.

It was 9:32 on the evening of April 12, 2009.

Easter Sunday.

My Book Review:

Easter Sunday 2009 ... Ferndale Detective Martin Preuss is called out during the evening to investigate an after hours shooting at the Cake Walk Bakery. With one employee murdered, and another seriously injured, is the bakery shooting a random robbery attempt gone wrong? As Detective Preuss conducts an investigation into the shooting, he discovers that there is an intricate web of mystery surrounding the motive, and the possible people who could have been involved in committing the shootings, including local drug gangs and a radical Iraqi terrorist element connection. Balancing the frustrations of the investigation, the treachery and betrayal within his own police department, and his close relationship with his young son Toby, Detective Preuss is determined to solve the case at any cost.

In The Baker's Men, the second book in The Martin Preuss Mystery Series, author Donald Levin weaves a riveting mystery / police procedural tale that follows Ferndale Police Detective Martin Preuss' latest investigative adventures.

Set in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, The Baker's Men is a fast-paced, action packed, and gritty crime / mystery tale that easily draws the reader into Detective Preuss' investigation of the Easter night bakery shooting.

Author Donald Levin provides the reader with a gripping storyline that has enough mystery, suspense, drama, treachery, betrayal, and intriguing twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing, while weaving an intricate and complicated web of what the motive of the crime could have been, and the a spectrum of possible participants who could have been involved in committing the crime. And if that isn't enough to captivate the reader, the author adds a wonderful touch of sensitivity and humanity into the storyline with the heartwarming relationship between Detective Preuss and his young son Toby, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This is an exciting story police procedural / crime mystery story that has realistic characters; witty dialogue and interactions; rich descriptions of the setting that transports the reader to the suburbs of Detroit; a fascinating in depth behind the scenes look at police procedural and investigative techniques; and a complicated storyline that draws the reader into the criminal world of drug gangs, terrorist plots, and local greed and betrayal. The author provides a story that has a wonderful balance between the crime investigation and the backstory into Detective Preuss' life and investigative style. This is the kind of mystery series that easily keeps the reader captivated, guessing, on their toes, and wanting more!

Even though The Baker's Men is the second book in The Martin Preuss Mystery Series, it can be a standalone read, but why not do yourself a favor and read this riveting series in sequential order so you can follow Detective Pruess on every new investigative adventure!


Virtual Book Tour

Tour Schedule:

Wednesday, October 1
Brenda’s Books and Blog – Author Guest Post

Thursday, October 2
Readalot – Book Spotlight

Friday, October 3
Bound 2 Escape – Book Spotlight

Monday, October 6
Deal Sharing Aunt – Book Review

Tuesday, October 7
Jane Reads – Book Spotlight

Thursday, October 9
Mystery Thrillers and Romantic Suspense Reviews – Book Spotlight

Friday, October 10
My Life, Loves and Passion – Book Spotlight

Monday, October 13
The Writer’s Life – Author Interview / Book Spotlight

Thursday, October 16
Book Readers – Author Guest Post

Friday, October 17
As The Page Turns – Author Interview / Book Spotlight

Monday, October 20
The Story Behind The Book – Author Guest Post / Book Spotlight

Thursday, October 23
Life According To Lina – Book Review

Friday, October 24
Lilac Reviews – Book Review

Monday, October 27
Read My First Chapter – Book Excerpt

Wednesday, October 29
The Crime Scene – Book Review

Friday, October 31
Jersey Girl Book Reviews – Author Guest Post / Book Spotlight / Book Review

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