Last Words, by Rich Zahradnik: New York City on the Brink in 1975

last_wordsLast Words ($13.95, 248 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-207-8), by debut author Rich Zahradnik, is book one of a new hardboiled detective series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor. In Last Words Taylor struggles to keep his job and repair his tarnished reputation as he pursues a story about a dead teenager. The series is set on the mean streets of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs in 1975.

Last Words is a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Contest.

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“A fast-paced, deeply entertaining and engrossing novel. Last Words is the first book in a mystery series featuring the intrepid investigative reporter. Readers will be glad these aren’t the last words from this talented author.”  Read more ….

Robin Farrell Edmunds, ForeWord Magazine, Winter 2014

“The sights and sounds of the city in that day ring true to those of us old enough to have gone through the seventies. The author deftly uses the gritty landscape, the cops on the take who will do anything to those who even remotely consider crossing them, and the smell of fear that blanketed the city. From the very first sentence to the stunning end, readers will likely struggle to put the book down. It is fast-paced and riveting, and well worth the read.”  Read more….

—Edie Dykeman, BellaOnline

4 Stars: “Mr. Zahradnik did a great job portraying the color and culture of the time. If you want to read about a slice of New York history during the 1970s then you’d probably enjoy this mystery for that reason alone. It’s fast paced and the dialogue is natural sounding and I felt true to that era. With so many books now set during modern times with its cell phones and all the new gadgetry that can help a sleuth solve the crime, I found this one a refreshing change and will look for more in this series.”  Read more….

–Long and Short Reviews

“The story has a lot of twists and turns, which kept this reader on the edge of my seat waiting to see where the next turn leads. It was an exciting story right up until the end, and what an ending! For everyone who likes mystery, this book is for you.” Read more ….

—Ann’s Reading Corner

Last Words (A Coleridge Taylor Mystery) is a wonderful novel by Rich Zahradnik. He gives readers great visuals of New York City in the 1970s: how the Vietnam War changed social and economic conditions in the United States… The story is captivating, and it is obvious from his writing that Rich Zahradnik is familiar with the setting he describes so well. Coleridge and Voichek are likeable, classic characters, and I enjoyed learning Voichek’s hobo language. Last Words is not only entertaining, but also informative about a past era.”  Read more….

—Michelle Stanley for Readers’ Favorite

“Set in the 1970s, it is a fun return to the past and good crime fiction, you’ll enjoy Last Words. RECOMMENDED.”  Read more ….

—Vikki Walton, I love a Mystery

“Zahradnik develops characters of all types and sizes in this novel. He gives readers a real sense of New York in the 70s via his cast, and the way that they view things. Top this off with an amazingly well developed and very interesting main character and you have a winner. Zahradnik’s knowledge of the life of a reporter really shines through here, bringing the story to life.” Read more ….

—Pure Jonel, Confessions of a Bibliophile

“Coleridge Taylor is a highly complex, hugely interesting character and he is surrounded by a fairly interesting supporting cast. Mr. Zahradnik has written a story that will keep you going in circles as Taylor tries to sort through all the clues. Last Words is quite an engrossing book. Don’t start this book late at night as it will cost you sleep.”  Read more….

—Vic’s Media Room

“I didn’t realize how much I missed seedy gritty corrupt crime-ridden New York City of the 1970s till I read Zahradnik’s debut thriller. Last Words captures the palms-out politicians, the bully cops, the not-so-hapless homeless, the back-stabbing reporters of a city on the brink. The pace speeds up; the whispers and clues and leads all come together for a big empty-the-revolver and fling-the-vodka bottle finale. Well worth the trip back in time.”

—Richard Zacks, author of Island of Vice and Pirate Hunter

Last Words sizzles like the fuse on a powder keg. Hero reporter Coleridge Taylor is gritty and unstoppable as he plumbs the mean streets of New York City during its darkest days.”

—Paul D’Ambrosio, author of Easy Squeezy, winner of the Selden Ring investigation prize and a Pulitzer Prize gold medal finalist.

“Rich Zahradnik is a superb craftsman. Like a painter, he adds layers of detail to a canvas he loves until he has created a picture that enthralls. Last Words has both beguiling landscape and revealing portraits and is a picture worth all its thousands of words: Rich in intrigue.”

—Jeff Clark-Meads, author of The Plowman and Tungol.

“In 1975, as New York City collapses into a financial and violent sinkhole, journalist Coleridge Taylor dodges bullets and bounds from borough to borough to find the killer of a seemingly homeless boy, a crime that the NYPD can’t or won’t solve. The Bronx is Burning meets The Poet in Rich Zahradnik’s Last Words, a taut debut novel that keeps you guessing until the very end.”

—Vito J. Racanelli, author and journalist

“Like any great crime thriller, Last Words keeps the pace frenetic, dangerous, and surprising at every turn. Zahradnik delivers an intelligent, flawed hero in Coleridge Taylor while showcasing the darkness of New York in the ’70s that devoured the weak and unsuspecting. A visual, visceral debut from both the author and his lead crime reporter. I’m looking forward to more pulpy chapters.”

—Diane Becker, Producer, FishBowl Films

Last Words is as hard to put down as a grisly tabloid murder story. And indeed that’s what the story is about. Despite his literary name, Coleridge Taylor is the ‘Columbo’ of beat reporters, suffering no fools and pursuing the facts at all costs. Set in 1975, the discovery of a deceased kid, presumed homeless, sets in motion Taylor’s chilling odyssey.”

—Claire Atkinson, senior media reporter, the New York Post

In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul.

A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official.

Taylor’s efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits page—as a headline, not a byline.

Says Zahradnik, “The year 1975 and the city of New York intrigued me because of the very striking parallels to America today. Then as now, an unpopular war was finally coming to its sad end. A major institution, the city itself, tumbled toward bankruptcy, threatening a cataclysm on the entire financial system. This as banks and ratings agencies ignored the warning signs or willfully misled the public. I chose this time period for the differences as well as the similarities. Solving a mystery in 1975 required good old fashioned legwork and serious brainwork, rather than science fiction-like instant DNA typing and surveillance video available from any and every angle. Taylor has to find a pay phone when he needs to call someone. There’s something satisfying in that for me.”

Rich Zahradnik has been a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine, and wire services. He lives with his wife, Sheri, and son, Patrick, in Pelham, New York, where he teaches elementary school kids how to publish online and print newspapers. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“You’re the best goddamned reporter in the place.”

The passion in her voice forced Taylor to raise his eyes from his plate. Laura’s porcelain white skin reddened delightfully at any sort of emotion—anger, embarrassment, happiness.

He didn’t have a good answer. “I don’t need your pity.”

“No, you don’t. You’re wallowing in it fine all on your own. I stopped by again this morning. How can an obit writer be out of the office so much?”

“I was over in the South Bronx.”

“South Bronx?”

“I’ve got a lead on a good story, believe it or not.” He couldn’t help it. He needed to talk to someone. He told her about the search for Joshua Harper and Mark Voichek, all to ID a dead kid at Bellevue. He threw in the Street Sweepers for good measure.

“Man, Taylor, I’d hate to see what you’d do if they put you on the society desk.”

In spite of himself, Taylor chuckled and shook his head. “What do you want from me, Laura?”

“I’m worried about you. You’re one of the smart ones in that place.”

“That’s not saying much.”

“And to be honest,” she sipped her coffee, “I need your help.”

“Help?” It surprised him. He was having a hard enough time helping himself.

“They’re sticking me with all the nickel-and-dime stories. Two alarms, B&Es. Half don’t even make the Metro Briefs. Worse, they’ve got me doing research for other reporters. You know why? Because I’m a woman. Merton is covering a multiple on the Upper West Side. He just got out of grad school. Even I’ve been there longer.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“He’s a man. That’s all he needs. I talked with Kathy Loring on the political desk. Unless I want to work the society beat, girls end up doing research at the mighty MT, beacon of reform and liberality.”

Grandpop set Laura’s plate and coffee down. She took a bite and smiled. “Mmm, that’s so good, Stamitos. Your food is amazing.” Her cheeks tinged pink. “My plan is to uncover my own leads. I want your help.”

“Welcome to the find-your-own-story club.”

Grandpop topped off their coffee cups. He was visiting the table at least twice as often as necessary. He squeezed Taylor’s shoulder as he went back to the counter.

“I like your grandfather.”

“Such an old dear.”

“I don’t mean it that way. He cares about you. It’s obvious.”

“He’s the best my family has. Left, that is.”

“Your family did pretty well by you.”

He stabbed a couple of fries and a piece of his omelet. He so missed talking to Laura. Was she interested in him or his story ideas? He had never been sure. Christ, trying to figure out what a woman wanted turned him into a complete idiot. Everyone seemed to be playing by a different rulebook. The younger women, certainly. The sexual revolution and all that. The ones in their thirties, like him? They’d settled down long ago with other men after adding up the hours and pay of a newspaperman.


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