Shadows in the Fog Excerpt
DANGER LURKING IN THE SHADOWS
By Greg Messel
In my series of mystery novels generating suspense is one of the greatest challenges. I’ve always thought that the unknown is more threatening that the known. It is true in building suspense in your story as well.
When you are alone in your bed late at night and hear strange noises it immediately builds “suspense” in your life. Upon investigation you could discover that something harmless is causing the noise. However, as you lie in bed your imagination runs wild about what it could be. Generally, you imagine the most terrifying of possibilities to be the source of the strange noise.
As you get out of your bed to try to find the noise in the darkness, there is true suspense and terror. We should keep this in mind as we build suspense in our writing.
It’s not necessarily the shark attack but the anxiety that comes when a shark fin suddenly appears in the water and has not yet been sighted by the protagonist.
There are a few things that can be done to amp up the suspense. One is don’t take it too easy on your main characters--put them in peril. I went to a writer’s conference in the Seattle area last fall and one best selling author, when discussing development of plot, said you should pull up a big truck of poop (he didn’t say poop) and dump it on your protagonist to start the story and let them work their way out of it.
The stakes need to be continually raised so that there is some urgency. Nothing builds suspense like a race against the clock. It helps to have an powerful, ruthless villain that you are convinced will stop at nothing. This adds to the sense of foreboding.
An example is found in Chapter 29 of my new thriller “Shadows In The Fog.”
Amelia and Sam are being followed by two mysterious men in a dark blue car. We know that but Sam and Amelia have yet to realize it. It heightens the sense of foreboding when the reader knows something that the characters do not know.
Amelia decides to go visit a friend and the two men who have been tailing them immediately notice. Here’s the excerpt:
When Amelia walked out the front door of the office building on Grant, it attracted the attention of two men in the dark blue car who’d been tailing the Slaters.
“Well, what do ya know? Look who’s leaving all by herself?” the Chinese man exclaimed.
“I wonder where’s she going?”
“I hope she gonna get in her car and take off—away from all this congestion. We need to get her isolated somewhere so it will be easier to grab her.”
The man behind the wheel started the blue car and then pulled on some gloves. “We may have finally got lucky.
Looks like she’s headed for that green car down the block. I’ll flip a u-turn. It’s time to get to work. Let’s use the ropes and the black bag. Ya got ‘em?”
“Yeah, right here. We’re all set.”
The man pulled into an alley and backed out preparing to follow Amelia’s car.
“This is perfect. The best way to get Slater’s attention is to do something to the girl.”
“And besides, it will be lots more fun for us,” the Chinese man said to his partner with a maniacal laugh.
“Once we get her, where do you want to take her?”
The Chinese man thought for a moment. “I know a good place. Let’s take her to the old windmill. It’s quiet and usually no one’s around. We won’t have any interruptions until we’re finished with her.”
The men in the car have some dark plans for Amelia. Our imagination begins running wild as to the specifics. And poor Amelia doesn’t know she’s in danger yet. We can’t wait to read the next chapter to see what happens.
In another book in the mystery series, “Fog City Strangler,” most residents of San Francisco—particularly young blonde women—are very jumpy and hear lots of things that go bump in the night.
The man who calls himself the Fog City Strangler, seems to be a phantom. He suddenly attacks women in the privacy of their homes, murders them and disappears leaving behind no clues. No one can figure out how he’s getting into the women’s apartments.
This excerpt from Chapter 2 focuses on a young blonde woman and the fear that she is living with.
The petite Nancy Roskelly, age 22, a San Francisco secretary, just over five feet tall, had twinkling green eyes and shoulder length blonde hair, which was often pinned up on her head to give her a more formal appearance in the gray flannel suit, button-down world of San Francisco’s financial district.
Nancy had lived alone for almost two months. Her previous roommate, Sarah Bradshaw, had moved out after her marriage in September. Nancy was hoping to find the right young woman for a roommate very soon. She not only wanted the companionship but she also missed having someone else to pay half of her rent.
“I hate to admit it,” Nancy said in a low conspiratorial tone as she entered her apartment with her boyfriend, Tony Lee, “but I’ve been pretty jumpy lately. Every creak of the floorboards in this house gives me the chills.
When I’m in my bed and I hear sounds, I’m just sure someone’s breaking in. Sometimes I’m certain that I hear footsteps.” She rubbed her arms to calm down the prickly sensation she felt from even talking about it.”
Many people enjoy reading as they go to bed at night. I had a friend who said she loves to be reading a book that makes her anxious to go to bed each night.
As an author I try to put “hooks” in at the end of my chapters, so the reader is anxious to read the next chapter.
Examples of hooks in “Fog City Strangler” are one chapter ending with a man suddenly appearing and holding a knife to Amelia’s throat. Another chapter ends when after Sam and Amelia have gone to bed at the beach house, a mysterious car slowly drives into the driveway with it’s lights off. The driver puts on gloves, grabs a gun out of the glove compartment and then sneaks towards the house.
As an example, in the second installment in my mystery series--Deadly Plunge--the two main characters are investigating the goings-on in a creepy old house. The house has signs of a lot of strange activities but at the time it is unoccupied. It is a multi level old house and I established that it has very creaky stairs between the levels. This sets up a chance to build suspense later.
As the characters are quietly searching through the house for clues, they hear creaking sounds on the stairs a couple of levels below. Someone is coming! Who could it be? Are the protagonists in the story in danger? What will happen next?
The main characters were nervous about poking around in the strange house. That last thing they wanted to hear was footsteps on the stairs. As the footsteps get closer and louder, Sam and Amelia must decide what action to take--and quickly.
There is a plot in “Deadly Plunge” where the main female character, Amelia Ryan is being stalked by a creepy guy who has become obsessed with her. His intent is to kidnap her.
In this case, the reader knows this stalker is after the female protagonist but the main characters don’t. This adds to the suspense because they are doing things which will--unbeknownst to the main characters--put themselves in danger.
I concluded one chapter with the kidnapper watching Amelia’s bedroom window waiting for the light to go out so he can strike. One another occasion Amelia is taking French lessons and listening to tapes through a set of headphones. This makes her vulnerable to the attacker as he creeps closer to her without detection.
In “The Last of the Seals” the main characters, Sam Slater and Amelia Ryan, are being secretly observed and tracked by some mysterious figures. Sam is still uncertain about why these people are stalking him and his girlfriend.
One night, as Sam is running down a pier in the fog to escape one peril, there is something in the fog that he fails to see. It is two men sitting in a car watching him. They are obscured by the shadows and fog. What do they want and what happens next?
Fog is wonderful. San Francisco fog practically becomes a character in the story. Fog conceals people and events and prevents a clear picture of what’s occurring. It adds to the creepy feeling where at any moment something can suddenly appear out of the fog.
It is exhilarating to read a story like that and it is exciting to write a suspenseful story, especially when it works.
One of the tag lines I’m using to promote my book sums up the feeling I’m going for in my mystery novel.
“Danger lurks just around the corner in foggy San Francisco.”
The story begins on a stormy morning in February of 1959. The front page of the morning paper is dominated by news of the plane crash which killed rock ’n roll stars Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens.
Private Eye Sam Slater is hired to perform what he thinks is a routine two-day job as a favor for a friend. However, it all goes terribly wrong when a young San Francisco policeman is gunned down while sitting in a parked car with Sam.
The murder sets off a chain of events which will pull Sam and his wife and partner, Amelia, into a dangerous web of intrigue in the dark, shadowy alleys and back rooms of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
In the winter of 1959, Amelia resigns as a TWA stewardess and is now Sam’s full time partner in the private eye business. Sam and Amelia inadvertently come in conflict with the San Francisco mob boss after helping a crusading newspaper reporter who is working to expose corruption in Chinatown. Now a mysterious dark car follows the Slaters every where they go. Sam and Amelia discover a hidden world of corrupt cops, gambling parlors, brothels and human trafficking exists right under their noses.
At the same time, a rising California politician hires Sam and Amelia to find his daughter who disappeared without a trace three years earlier. The search is prompted by the sudden appearance of a letter from the woman, who was presumed dead.
As Sam and Amelia pursue these cases, they discover that all the clues lead them back to Chinatown. The Slater's want to avoid taking on the San Francisco crime lords head-on. However, when Amelia is kidnapped in an alley during the Chinese New Year’s celebration, Sam plunges himself into danger desperately searching Chinatown to find her before it’s too late.
The reader will be drawn into fast moving events which culminate in a harrowing conclusion as Sam Slater races against the clock on a foggy night in Chinatown.
“Shadows In The Fog” is the fifth book in the the award winning Sam Slater Mysteries Series but is a stand-alone thriller in the tradition of great whodunits.
The heavy blanket of clouds that had hung on the city all day was especially thick in the Ocean Beach area near Playland. It felt like rain.
When Amelia arrived at her car, which she had parked in a side lot by the Funhouse, she opened the door before removing her trench coat and tossing it on the front seat. She had been overdressed in Cassandra’s parlor, leaving on her coat over her gray wool dress.
As she stood by her car, a slow moving large blue car caught her eye. She froze. There were two lines of parked cars in the lot. Amelia noticed that the driver of the car seemed to be watching her as he slowly drove through the parking lot.
She watched the man suspiciously and wondered if he might be looking for a parking spot. Maybe the man in the blue car was waiting for her to vacate her spot. Amelia continue to watch him and thought if he tried something she could always turn and run into the Funhouse.
The large blue car then stopped as it entered the row where Amelia was parked.
Amelia leaned in to place her purse on the seat and thought of taking the handgun out of her purse. It was then that the blue car suddenly accelerated and then slammed on it’s brakes with a screech right behind Amelia’s car.
Amelia had been concentrating on the slow-moving car and never saw the second man rapidly approaching her from behind. The assailant put a black hood over Amelia’s head and grabbed her arm, painfully twisting it behind her before pushing her into the back seat of the blue car. The swiftness of the attack was so unexpected that Amelia had no chance to cry out before she felt herself being held down on the back seat by the large powerful man.
She heard the car door slam. “Let’s get outta here!” the man said to his partner and the car began to drive away.
MORE IN THE SERIES
This giveaway is now over.
Greg Messel has written four novels and three unpublished memoirs. He published his premiere novel “Sunbreaks” in 2009, followed by Expiation in 2010 and The Illusion of Certainty in 2011. Last of the Seals is the first in a series of mysteries which are set in 1957 San Francisco. The second book in the series Deadly Plunge will be published around Christmas of 2012. Greg grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has had a newspaper career as a columnist, sportswriter and news editor. He won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist while working for a daily newspaper in Wyoming. Greg also spent many years in the corporate world as a Financial Manager. He now devotes his energies to writing at his home in Edmonds, Washington on the Puget Sound just north of Seattle, where he lives with his wife, Carol.