The review-draft of my novel, Shadowman, is complete. 92,500 words and ready to send to first readers. I’ve also got a agent pitch prepared and I’m beginning to send it out.
Shadowman is set in an alternate North America, takes place around the Great Lakes during the first week in November 1913, and involves magic, monsters and Mounties.
The elevator pitch is Beowulf mixed with Frankenstein; flavored with a dash of Crime and Punishment.
Here’s a taste:
Charlie Haggard / Buckman, Canuck Territories / 2 November 1913
Charlie tossed aside the bow tie and starched-cotton collar he had agreed to wear to give his baby girl away and popped open the top stud of his formal shirt.
“Enough of this,” he growled.
Finally free to breathe, he savored the sweet mingled scent of cherry logs, spiced apples and roasted pork that filled the farmers’ hall. Outside, winds might be rising, daylight all but gone and shadows gathering, but everything inside the brand-new building was bright and warm.
“Cozy,” Charlie’s late wife, Meribelle, would have said.
He took a sip of apple jack from his pint jar and watched his daughter, Bethany, stomp across the pegged-plank floor with her new husband. She was Charlie’s favorite child, his only daughter, so he would never say it to her face, but she couldn’t dance to save her life.
Her man, Ray Maguire, didn’t seem to mind, but he had no great skills on the floor himself. And neither would ever win a beauty contest. That hadn’t held Ray back, in any way the world measured, but plain to see the girl took her looks from Charlie; not her mother, dead and gone these twenty years.
At thirty-two, Bethany showed too much chin and nose; too little curve at hip and breast. Always offered too much lip, as well, some people liked to say.
Even so, it didn’t matter the bride and groom had grown up a pair of bucket calves. From this day on, they would never be alone for long, nor have to hope to dance with anyone again.
Out on the floor, Bethany ran her hands back from her brow to smooth her thick, dark hair, then grabbed a hold on Ray again. Ray grabbed right back, emboldened by the alcohol beyond his usual taciturn ways, no doubt, and swung his new wife to the high, fast whine of that old traveler’s fiddle.
Close up, something about the fiddler set Charlie’s teeth on edge. He had a peculiar smell about him – beyond the odor of the road – and the way he eyed you could bring a shiver. But the fellow’s price was right and his music seemed true magic. Hell, everybody felt its power. Children jittered at the edges of the crowd. Old folks showed off store-bought teeth, as they shouted to the tunes. It all made Charlie happy to his bones.
“Great party, Haggard.” Ray’s daddy, Ed Maguire, stood across the room at the fieldstone fireplace, below the portrait of King George. Ed held his jar of cider high and offered up a toast. “To the father of the bride!”
Charlie raised his own jar. “To the father of the groom!”
Maguire took a healthy swallow of apple jack and grinned just like a fool. No; that wasn’t right. Ed was no fool. He grinned like a happy father at his youngest child’s wedding.
“It’s been a grand day, ain’t it, Haggard?”
Charlie returned the silly grin. “I’ll say amen to that.”
It was the truth. The all-the-trimmings Sunday wedding had cost a farmer’s fortune, but Charlie had the money, and he saw the marriage as one more good investment in the future. Barns and silos filled with the bounty of the best harvest the Canuck Territories had seen in years. Himself elected village mayor of Buckman, and the new township farmers’ hall complete, with every cent spent on it covered by donations. Now his blessèd Bethany married into the Maguire clan.
It seemed he had schemed with Ed near on to forever to bring Bethany and Ray together. It hadn’t been an easy task. Ray was big and strong; good enough with cows and horses, but he couldn’t say two words to women near his age.
Anything but shy, Bethany could be impatient, quick to speak her mind and never at a loss for words. And there was the matter of Denton Young. On more than one occasion, Charlie had pushed him away from Bethany, had stepped between them when it was clear they both hankered to be close. And Young was quick-tongued when upset, like Bethany, if not as sharp and clever.
It pushed a man to sinful words some days.
Hell, Charlie liked Young, considered him a decent man, but had another son-in-law in mind. Young’s damnable insistence had made for hard feelings and brought out those sinful words. God knew it had been worth the headaches and hurt feelings, though.
Today, he and Ed had forged a dynasty.
Charlie had a mind to climb into the rafters and crow for joy. That wouldn’t do, though. No sir, that wouldn’t do at all. If she were alive, Meribelle would step in close and pull him down to earth. She would whisper, “You run your mouth too much, old man.”
God in Heaven, Charlie missed the woman, even after all these years.
The fiddle player took up another piece. The crowd roared its approval of Johnny Jump-Up, an old-country drinking tune. Charlie had tipped a mug to it a time or two. Everyone began to clap as Bethany and Ray picked up the pace.
Charlie was a narrow, hard-edged man and everybody knew it. Folks naturally cleared a path. He had no trouble moving among friends and neighbors to the cider barrels.
He called to Ed as he moved. “How‘s Charles Edward sound for the first boy?”
Ed held one hand cupped behind his ear.
Charlie raised his voice to a roar. “I said, do you like -”
The sly bastard waved Charlie’s words away; he had been funning. “I’d rather hear it the other way around,” he yelled.
Charlie gestured. “Come and fill your jar. You and me need to talk some more.”
Ed grinned and began to pick his way across the room. The woman tending bar took Charlie’s jar, but she hadn’t drawn a drop before the entry doors exploded. A massive figure, swathed in leather and wetted wool, roared into the hall, dragging winds and shadows in its wake.
“Christ step down from Heaven,” Charlie cursed.
It was the ruthless butcher newspapers called Shadowman.
Right off, the wanker grabbed Ray and pulled the boy’s head from his shoulders, the way a man would pop a cork from a bottle of well-aged apple wine. His daughter’s anguished screams tore Charlie’s heart to bits, and all the whilst, that damned fiddle shrieked.
Charlie watched the room erupt, as if peering into a broken nickelodeon, catching flashes of the goings-on. Men and women scrambling for babes and weapons. Ed Maguire down on his knees, his right arm a ragged stump. The traveler backed into a corner, his fiddle tucked into his chin, bow flying; ice-blue eyes watchful, wide and bright. Bethany on her backside, Ray’s torn body in her arms, her wedding dress gone all an apple red.
“Hell with this,” Charlie muttered.
No man got away with treating him and his this way. Charlie hurried to his hung-up pistols, then turned to face the monster, holding a blued-steel Colt Peacemaker in each big-knuckled hand.
“Come take your bloody medicine,” he roared.
He thumbed the revolvers’ hammers in a syncopated pattern; shot carefully – not knowing any other way. Each of the twelve bullets hit the mark, but Charlie might have done more damage hurling apple fritters.
He caught the killer’s notice, though. Shadowman bound across the room and caught Charlie square as a freight train thundering west along the Territorial Rail. Charlie might have been a hard man once, but he had grown brittle with the passing years. Pain ripped through his body, savaging his strength. He knew right off he was dying.
But even with his ribs and pelvis shattered, vital organs failing, he refused to throw away the fight. He lashed out with the weapons he possessed, even thought empty guns and farmer’s fists didn’t do a goddamned bit of good. As hidden claws ripped at Charlie’s innards, he had time to consider one last sensation before he died.
“Sweet Jesus,” he whispered.
Beneath the steaming wool and soured sweat, an older, evil odor crouched. A familiar stink out of the past. Half a century ago, the Union of American States had tried to wrest free of the Commonwealth. Crown and Church were having none of that; too much depended on a united front against the goddamned Germans and their jeezly Roman church.
So young Charlie went to war for God and Commonwealth. Turned out the Union had its share of wizards, and they were free and easy with their wicked-clever spells. Now, Charlie recognized the scent of a dark magic he first smelled those years ago. This killer wasn’t human.
Shadowman was necromancer’s git.
“Christ step down from Heaven,” Charlie whispered once again. This time those five words sounded like a dying prayer.