Podcasts and New Releases

Hello All!

Well, it continues to be a January full of events and excitement. Maybe a little too much excitement. We can hope that the sailing gets a little smoother from here on out.

I’m glad to say that my animals are currently doing better than they were last month. December was a difficult month for pets, but everyone is now eating again. Renee, my Italian Greyhound, has been living largely off of a mixture of goat milk and tripe, but whatever keeps her happy.

Amongst all this I’ve started working on the audiobook for Honor Court. As I did with the previous book, I’m podcasting it first, so you can listen to it in installments for free right now. I’ve also started a YouTube playlist, which you can find here. And you can catch the podcast on SoundCloudAppleGoogle PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, and TuneIn.

I’ll be adding episodes to it regularly up until release week, so stay tuned if you want to get catch an audio sneak peek of the book! I’m also hoping to record Spring Break, the companion novella that goes with it, but we’ll see whether I have the time or not.

Speaking of audio, I’m participating in an audiobook giveaway this month on Bookfunnel. It’s small but has some pretty good audiobooks, including one of mine. You can check it out here.

And finally, in reading recommendations, the box set Dead Silent is out now! This isn’t something I’m in, alas, but it looks really good, so I wanted to share it with you. It’s discounted to 99c for release week, after which it will go up to $9.99, so snap it up now if you’re interested.

Well, that’s about it, everyone. Stay safe, and happy reading!

Sid Stark

How *did* Rowena meet the love of her life?

Dear All!

How is it the end of November already?!? How time does fly! If you’re in the US, I hope you had a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and wherever you are, I hope you’re staying safe and enjoying the changing seasons.

I’ve been having some adventures this month, both good and bad. I signed up to do NaNoWriMo for the first time, and have been working feverishly on a book for my other pen name. This may delay some Sid Stark stuff, but don’t worry, I’ll be back! I have no intention of abandoning Rowena & co. anytime soon.

I’ve also been having (big sigh) computer trouble. After the excitement of all the basement work this summer, followed by the even greater excitement of the emergency main drain replacement this fall, I was more than ready for some smooth sailing. Famous last words! My computer crashed during a storm a couple of weeks ago, and is now limping along on its last legs. I just ordered a new one, so I devoutly hope that will be a big improvement. I decided to go for a desktop, in the hopes that it would last longer and be more comfortable and cause less eye/neck/back/wrist strain.

[And–breaking news–I was interrupted while composing this update because my neighbors called the cops on the crew working on my roof. Never a dull moment, never a dull moment…]

What about you? Any recommendations for reducing computer-caused work injuries? I think I have a safe job, but I keep discovering that is not the case!

In writing news, I’m excited to include a never-before-seen snippet from Honor Court, my upcoming release in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. But first, I thought I’d mention that the audiobook of Trigger Warning is currently $2.99 for a special Black Friday deal on Kobo only.

And now, without any further ado, here’s an excerpt from Honor Court! This is the first time Rowena describes how she met Dima:

Dima and I had a history. We’d met back when I had been working for an NGO in Russia. I’d been collecting the stories of victims and eyewitnesses to various human rights abuses. Dima had come into my shabby, half-underground office and said that he’d been sent by a friend to tell his story.

“But maybe you don’t want to hear it,” he’d said. “After all, I’m not one of the good guys.”

I’d said I listened to all stories without judgment. And I told myself that my willingness to listen to him had nothing to do with the way his shoulders strained against his shirt, or how his dark stubble emphasized the sharp lines of his Eurasian features, or how his eyes, so dark gray they were almost black, went from staring at the desk to staring at me as we spoke as if we shared some special secret.

The next day I met with him again. “To talk.” About his former life in OMON, the Russian special forces riot police, and his current life as an investigative reporter. The next week he took me home to meet his mother. She had a story to tell too, about being the daughter and widow of war heroes. Eight months later we were engaged.

Eight years had passed since then. We’d never gotten married, or had kids, or done any of the things that we’d promised each other we were going to do. Instead, Dima had sent me away after I’d been kidnapped by men intent on stopping him from releasing his latest story. Then he’d left Moscow for the war in the Donbass, and not spoken to me for a year.

After both of us had ended up in life-or-death situations and decided we had to make peace with each other, we had come, very gingerly, back into contact. I had even thought last fall that Dima wanted to get back together. Then, after the shooting, he had told me he couldn’t stand seeing me in danger anymore, and tried to cut off contact again.

That had lasted for all of three weeks before he’d texted me to wish me a happy New Year. He’d gone silent after that, but here he was, on January 11th, texting me again.


So there you have it! Stay tuned for more coming soon, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

What are my characters listening to?

Dear All! 

Happy Halloween! I hope you have some delightfully spooky but socially distanced fun lined up for tonight. I will be setting out trays of candy on my porch in preparation for what I expect might be hordes of trick-or-treaters. I live in a hundred-year-old neighborhood with small lawns and big sidewalks, so we normally get a lot of kids from all over town. It’s fun–except for my dogs, who are in a constant state of nerves as they try to protect the house from the monstrous intruders. Hopefully this year things will be a little less scary for them. 

On the book front, I just finished proofing the paperback of Trigger Warning. I need to submit a few changes, get a new proof copy, check that, and then hopefully it will exist in beautiful paperback form! I am doing it through Draft2Digital’s print program, which is currently in beta. This means everything is proceeding very slowly, but despite a few minor issues the book looks gorgeous, and I can’t wait to get all my books out in print. When I do, you will be the first to know 🙂 

I have also been having fun creating a playlist on Spotify for the Doctor Rowena Halley series. If you’d like to check it out, you can find it here.  It’s got a broad mix of songs. Most of them are from Honor Court, but I threw in “Get Off On the Pain” by Gary Allan, which John, Rowena’s brother mentions in Permanent PositionThen I have “Girls Like Girls,” Hayley Kiyoko’s lesbian-power anthem, which Mel has playing in her Jeep during a high-tension scene in Honor Court. There’s also “Marching Bands of Manhattan” by Death Cab for Cutie, which plays during another car-related scene, Leonard Cohen’s classic “Anthem,” which Rowena and Alex reference during a tense time in their relationship, and Snow Patrol’s epic song trilogy “The Lightning Strike,” which plays during their reconciliation.  

Here’s the link to the playlist again if you want to check it out.  

And one final fun thing to check out: Dead Silent, an 18-book box by a group of bestselling thriller authors, is currently available for preorder for just 99c.
Get all 18 stories for just 99c!
So that’s about it for this week. Have a safe and spooky Halloween, and happy reading!


Sneak Peek of “Honor Court”

Hi All! 

I hope you are having a wonderful weekend and enjoying delightful fall weather (in the Northern Hemisphere) or delightful spring weather (in the Southern Hemisphere). 

Before I get into the main news of the day, I wanted to let you know that the Chirp deal on the first two audiobooks in the Doctor Rowena Series is still going strong. You can currently get the audiobook of Campus Confidential for 99c here and the audiobook of Permanent Position for $1.99 here.

Okay, now for the big news. I’m thrilled to say that the I have a special treat this week–a sneak peek of Honor Court! Yes, book 5 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series is here!

Well, not quite here. I’m still doing another round of proofreading. But in the meantime, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Honor Court. If you’re intrigued and want to know more, it’s currently available for preorder here.

Some background: Rowena and Chloe are having lunch together on the first day of the spring semester. As the scene starts, Chloe is telling Rowena about her mysterious ongoing health problems.

“Deal. So, they kept going on and on about somatization disorder and did I have any episodes of childhood trauma and what was my difficult childhood like growing up in the ‘hood. I told them I grew up in a loving nuclear family in a well-to-do suburb of Atlanta and I had about the least traumatic childhood a person could have, but they just shook their heads and muttered stuff about repressed memories and sent me to get more psychiatric counseling.”

“Is it helping?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Maybe. I keep trying to tell myself that at least they didn’t find anything really wrong with me, but I tell you what, there were times when I was hoping they would, just so that I could get them to take me seriously—is that girl trying to talk to us?”

A girl in a headscarf was edging towards us. Gosh, she looks North Caucasian, I thought.

“Professor Halley? The Russian professor?”

She sounds North Caucasian too. “Yes?” I said.

“I, um…I hoped I can talk to you,” she said in a rush.

“Yes, of course.”

“In Russian?” she asked hopefully.

“Of course,” I said in Russian.

“Oh, thank God! I’ve been here for years but I still don’t feel comfortable speaking English. My name’s Aishat, by the way.”

Boy, does she sound Chechen. The hairs on the back of my neck had risen at the sound of her distinctive Caucasian hard “n.” Which was completely unfair. Probably she was a perfectly nice person who had nothing to do with the man who had held me at gunpoint in Moscow. But the visceral terror provoked by her accent remained.

“So is Russian your native language, then?” I asked.

“Well…” She looked down, twisting her toe on the floor. “Chechen,” she mumbled, not catching my eye.

“I thought so,” I said.

“Really?” Now she did look up. “Do you know many Chechens, then?”

“I’ve known some,” I said. “Do you want to take Russian classes?” I couldn’t think of any other reason for her to seek me out, although I was surprised that she would do that. There was not a lot of love lost between Chechens and Russians, as a general rule. But maybe it was the closest she could get here in small-town Georgia to reconnecting with her native culture.

“No.” Now she was looking down at the ground again. “I, um…I might need your help. Over a question of honor.”

So there you have it! Here are those links again if you’re interested:

Preorder of Honor Court

99c deal on audiobook of Campus Confidential

$1.99 deal on audiobook of Permanent Position

Happy reading!


Chirp Deal and My Review of the Infamous “Troubled Blood”

Hi All!

I hope you are enjoying some beautiful autumnal/vernal weather, depending on which hemisphere you’re in. Here it’s sunny and slightly cool–finally! AND the Big Dig to replace the main drain to my house is mostly done and I have a fully functional water and drainage system once again.

In celebration of this, or because I just wanted to, I’m running a limited-time deal on a couple of my audiobooks on Chirp. The audiobook of Campus Confidential (book 1 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series) is currently 99c, and Permanent Position (book 2) is currently $1.99. If you haven’t heard of Chirp, it’s the audiobook wing of BookBub. They have their own online store where they offer deals as low as 99c for audiobooks, and their own app for playing them. They also have a daily email with curated audiobook deals. I’ve been a Chirp member for over a year now and I love it, so if you are looking for a way to get low-priced audiobooks, I strongly recommend it.

Those links again:


And now for more (highly controversial) reading recommendations…

I debated with myself for a while over whether or not to bring up Troubled Blood, the latest Robert Galbraith book. As you know unless you’ve been hiding out in a social-media-free cave (not a bad idea, really), Robert Galbraith is the pen name J.K. Rowling uses to publish her Cormoran Strike mysteries, and both she and this latest book have gotten caught up in a whirlwind of controversy over accusations of transphobia.

Having actually read both her statements and the book (unlike, as far as I can tell, many of her attackers), I can state with a fair amount of confidence that these accusations are vastly overblown. I am loath to jump into the cesspool of trolling and hatespeech that is currently roiling around the issue, so I will confine myself to saying that we need to ask hard questions about any movement that gains any sort of political power, just like we need to subject new scientific and academic claims to rigorous scrutiny. This includes the questions that Rowling brings up about the trans movement.

And yes, I’m very aware that it’s easy to use “scientific rigor” as a shield for cruelty and bias. I’m currently reading Edward Said’s foundational work Orientalism, which is all about how Western academics used their “enlightened,” “rational,” “scientific” frames of thought to justify the Western colonization of the East. And as a woman and someone with a longtime illness, I’ve experienced the use of science to label me as defective, aberrant, untrustworthy, inferior, etc. etc. firsthand.

AND YET. We still need to ask the hard questions. With compassion, with humility, with an awareness of our own underlying biases. But we still need to ask them. And right now in particular, with a pandemic raging and the world literally on fire, we really, really need to be considering the importance of physical reality and how it affects us.

So that’s a whole long preamble to Troubled Blood, which doesn’t actually have any trans characters, or mention trans issues once throughout the book.

I know! A whole lot of ado about nothing, you might say! So let’s talk about the book itself and whether or not you should actually read it.

Troubled Blood is the fifth book in the series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. Since it has a long-running plot about their private lives, the series is probably best read in order. However, the mystery in each book functions as a standalone, so you should be able to follow along pretty well if you choose to jump in now. The main mystery in Troubled Blood is a cold case about a woman who disappeared 40 years ago. Was she murdered by a serial killer, as everyone supposes, or did something even more bizarre happen to her?

I myself am not a huge fan of serial killer mysteries. However, gross serial killers aside, I loved Troubled Blood. Like the other books, but maybe even more so, it’s got an incredibly rich, dense, complicated plot. In this case it involves astrology. There’s nothing actually supernatural going on, but a lot of the clues are buried in astrological signs and symbols.

It also has a fair amount of social commentary worked into it. Rowling’s writing tends to include a sharply satirical aspect, and she unleashes it to devastating effect in Troubled Blood. This might make some people uncomfortable, but hey, that’s the point of satire. The thrust of a lot of it here is to argue that people, especially activists, need to prioritize substance over surface, and focus on actually helping people rather than personal exhibitionism. I can’t argue with that, even when she targets causes I believe in very passionately.. Again, this is the kind of criticism that keeps societies healthy.

So, should you read Troubled Blood? I consider it probably the best book I’ve read so far this year. But it’s not necessarily for everyone. It’s long, complicated, intense, and kind of scary. It’s also incredibly human and humane, as well as showcasing some amazing literary craft. I leave it up to each reader to decide whether it’s right for them.

Take care and stay safe!


Thanks for Making the Release of “Trigger Warning” a Huge Success! Plus Audiobook Sale

Hi All!

First of all, a huge thanks to everyone for making the release of Trigger Warning a big success! This was my first “wide” release, meaning the first time I released a book on all the platforms, not just Amazon. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I’m thrilled to say that Trigger Warning attracted readers on all sites, *and* still managed to hit the top 50 in the Political Thrillers category on Amazon.com, which for me was a big deal and very exciting to see 🙂

An especial thanks to everyone who left reviews, which as always are super-appreciated! If you’ve read the book and feel moved to leave a review, or if you haven’t gotten the book yet and would like to snap it up while it’s still at 99c/99p, the universal link is here. There’s a link at the end to a special bonus novella from Dima’s point of view, so be sure not to miss that 🙂

Trigger Warning has also been chosen to be in Kobo’s $4.99 and under audiobook sale, going on right now. So if you’d like to grab some great bargains on some great audiobooks, check out the sale here.

The launch has been taking most of my attention, but I also finished up a second draft of Honor Court, the next book in the series. I will be releasing some sneak peeks soon, so do stay tuned.

One the reading front, I just finished up The House in the Woods, the first book in a new detective series by Mark Dawson. If you enjoy British detective mysteries and PI mysteries, I definitely recommend it.

What about you? What have you been reading lately? Any must-reads you’d like to share?

Thing continue to be wild out in the outside world, whether from coronavirus, wildfires, or political unrest. I’ve been following the events in Belarus, as well as the situation with Aleksey Navalny, and am hoping for a positive outcome for Aleksey and for all my Belarusian friends. Please stay safe, and have a wonderful weekend.


“Trigger Warning” is now live! Grab your copy for 99c

Hi All!

It’s here! It’s finally here! Trigger Warning is live on all retailers. For those of you who pre-ordered it, a huge thank you! If you didn’t pre-order it, you can grab it for a limited time at a special release price of just 99c here.

Trigger Warning holds a very special place in my heart. Of course, all my books do, but each in a different way. The plot behind Trigger Warning was my original inspiration for the entire Doctor Rowena Halley series. There was a fatal shooting at the college where I currently teach, as well as several other student fatalities that semester–but the main press was about an anonymous student website dedicated to exposing racial and economic injustice on campus. The college was very concerned that reading this might trigger emotional harm for the students. The situation struck me as ludicrous, and my vague dream of writing a tell-all book about academia crystallized into a plan to write this specific series, with the storyline of freaking out over a website vs. hushing up a shooting as one of the central storylines.

The inspiration behind Trigger Warning was serious, as it always is for all of my books, but there’s also plenty of satire and straight-up slapstick worked into the story, as usual. I had tremendous fun writing the “Harry Potter Sorting” scenes, and was laughing so hard while trying to record the audio version of the Pre-Turkey Trot that I almost had to give up 🙂 So I hope that you, too, find both plenty of food for thought, and plenty of life-affirming laughter in the book.

Oh, and if you’ve already read an advanced copy of it and feel moved to leave a review, there’s absolutely no obligation, but it would be much appreciated! The universal link is here.

If you’re still thirsting for more reading, do check out the Spyglass Sisters contest on BookSweeps!

Along with dozens of books featuring female sleuths, there’s an ereader up for grabs.

Happy reading, everyone!

Earthquakes, Updates, And Other Fun News (Including Cat Pictures)

Hi All!

I hope everyone is doing well. I know it’s been a while since I checked in. In my defense, I’ve been a little busy.

First there was the Great Basement Repair at the end of July. I live in a 100-year-old house with a basement that floods, which is not great, especially for mold-sensitive people like me. So back in February I arranged to get French drains installed.

Then the pandemic happened. At the time it broke out, I actually had a persistent cough. So I wanted to keep people away from me. Then cases started exploding in my county, so I wanted to keep away from people. I kept telling myself things would get under control and we could safely bring a bunch of random strangers into the house for a multi-day project.

Things did not get under control, but eventually I decided to go ahead with it. There was the concern that it might release a bunch of mold and I’d have to evacuate the house. And that did happen–but only for part of an afternoon. I’m glad to say that my ability to walk (mold exposure causes me to become so weak I can’t walk) quickly returned, and I was able to keep living in my house.

Exciting times! But the story doesn’t start there. Once the French drains were installed, I discovered that some of the flooding in the basement was caused by plumbing leaks.

Fun times, fun times.

Then we had the strongest earthquake in 100 years. No damage was done, but it freaked the cats out, which is what made me decide that Zelda, the long-haired of my two cats, is ill rather than just skinny.

Zelda is the bottom of these two synchronized sleepers

So I just got back from taking her to the vet and am now awaiting the test results. I will keep you posted, since I know there are a lot of cat lovers here!

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I’ve been busy. And I haven’t even gone into my big project to pre-record a bunch of lectures on Russian grammar.

However, I have managed to get some writing-related stuff done. Trigger Warning is chomping at the bit, ready for its release in the beginning of September (the audiobook is already out). And if you’d like to get an ARC of it, or join my ARC team more generally, email me at sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com.

And I’m already about 80k words into Honor Court, the next book in the series! Stay tuned to hear more once Trigger Warning launches.

What about you? What are you up to? Is 2020 treating you the way it is everyone else?

Stay safe, and happy reading!


Reading Recommendations and a Request for Help

Hi All!

I hope you’re enjoying your July. I’m trying, with marginal success, to stay calm, cool, and collected. I’ll get back to you next month on how that’s working.

I have gotten in some pretty great reading recently, at least. So if you’re casting about for something to read, here’s what I’ve been enjoying:

With the interest in reading works by black authors at a high, now is a great time to check out some great thrillers by black authors, featuring black characters. I just read a couple of books from Kevin Macklin’s Jon Dough series, about a drug dealer with a heart of gold who deals out vigilante justice on the side. Maybe it sounds a little off the wall, but “Certain Reprisal,” the book I just finished, has some very telling and prescient critiques of police violence. Plus the books are zippy, fast-paced thrillers that will keep you turning the pages to the end.

In a different but equally enjoyable vein I just finished “Take a Number” by Janet Dawson. The book came out in 1993, so it’s got some amusingly dated stuff in it about fax machines and pay phones (remember those days? What a blast from the past!), but at its heart it’s a complex, richly told mystery featuring a spunky female PI. If you like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, you should definitely check out Dawson. Plus, in “Take a Number,” the heroine is dating a Navy officer named Alex, to my intense amusement!

(Spoiler alert!!!!!!




My heroine Rowena dates an ex-Navy officer named Alex.




Spoiler over).


What about you? Any great reads lately?

Okay, and in a slightly related vein, this is where I ask you for help. First of all, now that my newsletter is getting bigger, I’m setting up a separate ARC team. So if you’re interested in being an ARC reader/reviewer for me, please click here. You’ll get first crack at reading books before they’re released. You’re not obliged to leave reviews, but of course I would appreciate honest reviews, preferably left on at least two platforms since I’m in the process of expanding beyond Amazon.

Here’s that link again.

Second of all, I’m currently working on “Honor Court,” the next book in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. I’m planning for Rowena to go to Monterey, California over spring break. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Monterey myself and even if my health permitted travel, the pandemic wouldn’t! So if you’ve ever been to Monterey, Monterey County, Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Defense Language Institute, or the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, send me your recommendations for landmarks I need to include in the book, and sights Rowena has to see. If I include something you sent me, I’ll give you a shoutout in the acknowledgements!

And now time for this week’s giveaway:

Mystery & Crime Book Cave July

Check out the Mystery and Crime giveaway on My Book Cave

Happy reading!


P.S. I normally listen to music when I write, and sometimes I incorporate the music into my writing. I just worked “Marching Bands of Manhattan” by Death Cab for Cutie into my current work in progress. Check it out below, and keep an eye out for it when the book comes out 🙂

Special Sneak Peek of “Winter Break”

Hi All!

It’s the hottest part of the summer in my neck of the woods, so I figured now was a perfect time to share a special sneak peek of my novella “Winter Break” with you!

“Winter Break” is one of the short stories and novellas I’ve been writing about Dima, my heroine’s Russian ex-fiance. The first one, “Summer Break,” is currently being given away as an exclusive bonus for preordering Trigger Warning. If you haven’t already gotten yourself a copy of “Summer Break,” you can preorder Trigger Warning for 99c and send me the proof of preorder to sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com, and I’ll send you “Summer Break.”

All the “Dima” stories are set in the Donbass, the war zone in Eastern Ukraine, where Dima was working as a war correspondent from 2014-16. In “Summer Break,” which takes place in June 2015, Dima discovers that a hit has been ordered against him. In “Winter Break,” which I’ll probably be giving away as a download bonus when Trigger Warning goes live, the plot thickens…So without further ado, here’s the first chapter!

Oh no, wait, I lied. There is some further ado. As is often the case in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, there’s a certain amount of bad language in this chapter. You’ve been warned!


Happy New Year!

Dima hit the little “Send” arrow on WhatsApp before he could think better of it.

She won’t write back, he told himself. Surely after last time she won’t write back. She shouldn’t write back. But…I can’t not wish her a Happy New Year. It would be…uncouth.

His conscience told him that he had been uncouth, and worse than uncouth, on many previous occasions. Also, he had no business texting Inna, not even to wish her a Happy New Year, after what he had done.

He had meant it for the best, he really had. He was painfully aware of how many of his friends and former comrades-in-arms had made exactly the same excuse for their bad behavior, and here he was, repeating their mistakes. It was humbling to realize how much he was like everyone else, at least in this.

He hadn’t meant drive Inna away again. He had broken off their engagement right after New Year 2014. They had tentatively gotten back into contact in the spring of 2015, when he had impulsively reached out to her after Boris Nemtsov’s murder. Over the summer of 2015 he had vowed to himself that he’d get her back somehow or another, once his life was back in order and he could offer her something other than poverty and danger. But here it was—he checked his phone—12:02am on January 1st, 2016, and he was still broke, still in danger, and still separated from Inna. Worst of all, those were deliberate choices he had made.

“Kuznetsov! Hey, Kuznetsov!”

Dima looked up. Two very drunken men were bearing down on him from the other side of the Svobodnyi Donetsk (Free Donetsk) cafe, carrying a bottle of champagne and three glasses.

“You missed the toast! The Kremlin clocktower striking midnight! And now you’re sitting around by yourself! That’s no way to see in the New Year! You know what they say: How you see in the New Year is how you’ll spend it.”

“You’re right.” Dima put his phone in his pocket and stood up. “Don’t want to spend all of 2016 checking my phone, do I?” Don’t want to spend it in masochistic, destructive, pointless…His phone vibrated.

“Just a moment, guys,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “I have to get this.”

“That must be a hell of a story, Kuznetsov,” said Kirill Fainzilberg, the drunker of the two men. Like Dima, he was a journalist, although unlike Dima, he was in the good graces of both the Donetsk and Moscow governments.

“Or a hell of a woman,” said Rinat Mustafaev, the other man. He was only slightly drunk. He practiced, as he had explained to Dima on more than one inebriated occasion, a fluid, culturally appropriate form of Islam, one that permitted indulging in spirits, within acceptable limits.

“What are acceptable limits?” Dima had asked at one point.

“Don’t get so shit-faced you puke all over yourself and pass out in the gutter,” Rinat had explained. Dima had agreed that that seemed reasonable.

Tonight, in keeping with his fluid, culturally appropriate practice of Islam, Rinat was only wavering slightly, and was hardly slurring his speech at all. By the standards of the party they were at, that was practically stone-cold sober. The only person more sober than him was Dima. But sobriety hadn’t stopped him from sending that text.

“A woman?” Kirill grabbed at Dima’s phone. He missed it, staggering wildly and body-slamming Dima instead. “I didn’t know you had a woman. Is she cute? Does she put out easily? Why didn’t I know about her?”

“She’s not from around here,” Dima said, pulling Kirill upright and leaning him against the wall.

“Where is she from? Ooo, I bet she’s from Lvov or something, isn’t she? Or maybe one of those liberal students from Kiev. A hardcore pro-Western, anti-Russian, black-browed Ukrainian beauty. But secretly she thirsts for a real Russian man. ‘Fuck me, you Russian beast, fuck me hard, officer-style, lobster-style, harder, harder,’ she screams, and then when it’s over, she makes you promise not to tell anyone, doesn’t she?”

“You,” said Dima, “talk a lot of shit. I’d say it’s because you’re drunk, but you talk a lot of shit when you’re sober too.”

“A walking chronic case of verbal diarrhea, that’s him,” agreed Rinat cheerfully. “Come on, Kiryusha: let’s leave him. I think there’s someone from the LNR here; maybe you can get a story from him.”

“The LNR? But we’re in Donetsk,” slurred Kirill. “What’s someone from Lugansk doing here?”

“Strengthening the sacred ties of brotherhood and comradeship between the two glorious new republics, presumably,” said Rinat. “Come on: I know you’ve been trying to get an in with the LNR for weeks. Maybe now’s your chance.”

“So has Kuznetsov,” said Kirill. “He should come too.”

“He can make his own way over when he’s ready,” said Rinat, and shepherded Kirill away before he could do anything to annoy Dima further.

Dima finally looked at his phone. He had been telling himself since he had felt it vibrate that it was probably a source, his mother, his uncle—anyone other than Inna. Or if it was her, it was to tell him to fuck off and die and never speak to her again. Which was no more than he deserved.

Happy New Year to you too! said the message. How are you?

I’m fine, he wrote back. He tried to tell himself the sweat trickling down his sides was from the crush of the party and the half a glass of champagne he’d had earlier. Is it the New Year where you are yet?

Not yet, she texted. I’m in California. It’s only two in the afternoon here.

California? Why are you in California?

I’m visiting a friend.

I didn’t know you had any friends in California. Is this someone from grad school?

No. Even over text message he could feel her sudden reticence.

It’s him, isn’t it? he wrote.


I wish you both a Happy New Year when it reaches California, Dima wrote, and put his phone back in his pocket. It vibrated with another message, but he went over to Rinat, Kirill, and the man they had cornered by the drinks table without checking it.


I hope you enjoyed it! Fun fact: Kirill Fainzilberg is named after Ilya Fainzilberg, one half of the Soviet comedy writing duo Ilf & Petrov. I sort of hint that Kirill is his grandson.

I will be back with more sneak peeks and updates on my progress in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, check out the Mysteries with Humor contest currently going on at BookSweeps. The grand prize is an ereader and 30 free mysteries with humor!

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