A Black Sail, by Rich Zahradnik: A Corpse Surfaces as Boats Fill the Harbor for NYC’s Bicentennial

A_Black_SailA Black Sail ($15.95, 264 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-211-5), by Rich Zahradnik, is book three of a mystery/thriller series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor and set on the mean streets of Manhattan and surrounding boroughs in the ’70s. While covering Operation Sail in 1976, Taylor witnesses a heroin-laden corpse being fished out of the New York Harbor and concludes the woman was a pawn in a drug war.

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Starred Review: “Taylor, while out to get the story and get back to the crime beat, is complex and has a good heart. Verdict: Fans of the late Barbara D’Amato and Bruce DeSilva will relish this gritty and powerful crime novel.”  Read more….

—Library Journal

“The pace is of necessity quick and varied, Rich Zahradnick’s characters are well established and interesting, and the plot is intense and convoluted. There is a wonderful retro dime novel flavor to the protagonist and the telling which really suits the New York City setting. And Zahradnick’s knowledge and use of the huge variety of watercraft is smoothly researched and presented. Gritty, tough, and well done—this one’s a treat.”  Read more….

Diana Borse for Reviewing the Evidence, September 2016

4 Stars: “Coleridge Taylor is a character fans can firmly stand behind. His dogged pursuit of the truth and commitment to helping others while exposing his foibles is what makes him so sympathetic and complex. Zahradnik ratchets up the action in this novel, which quickens the pace and keeps readers engaged…. a truly enjoyable read.”  Read more….

—Keitha Hart for RT Reviews

Book 1, Last Words, won Honorable Mention in the mystery category of ForeWord Reviews’ 2014 Book of the Year Contest, was a Bronze Medal Winner in the mystery/thriller eBook division of the 2015 IPPY Awards, and a finalist in the mystery division of the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. RT Book Reviews gave it 4 stars: “Hours of engrossing entertainment…. A thoroughly satisfying read.”

Book 2, Drop Dead Punk, was a finalist in ForeWord Reviews’ 2015 Book of the Year Contest, a Gold Medal winner in the mystery/thriller Ebook division of the 2016 IPPY Awards, and a finalist in the mystery division of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. ForeWord Reviews called it “fast-paced, deeply entertaining and engrossing.”

“A terrific mystery with just the right amount of drama and intrigue to carry the reader along…. As a journalist, I could really relate to Taylor and his desire to write a really great story…. Samantha also helps Taylor in the investigation, and I liked her character very much. She is a good counter-point to Taylor’s idealism, as well as bringing her skills as a police officer to his efforts to find out who is bringing China White into the country.”  Read more….

—Maryann Writes Blog, It’s Not All Gravy

“Taylor is a very likeable protagonist, with all his faults and hang-ups, and I was happy to see that Samantha Callahan as well as Mason the dog, were back to soften up Taylor’s gruff exterior…. If you love a good murder mystery, check out this series—I promise you’ll be hooked in no time flat.”  Read more….

—Ellen Feld for Feathered Quill Book Reviews

“A beautifully written crime story; absorbing, fast-paced, and laced with literary gems that will make the overall reading experience fun and enjoyable for fans of mystery and murder.”  Read more….

—Divine Zape for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

“I like that Taylor is a reporter with a heart…He wants justice for a woman whose body he personally witnesses getting pulled out of the harbor, and he’s determined not to rest until he does. Even if it costs him his job, his sanity, even his life. Because that’s the kind of reporter he is, and it’s why you’ll enjoy reading about him.”  Read more….

—The Character Connection

“Rich Zahradnik weaves a tale that truly engrosses the reader. We get caught up in the mystery, diving further into the story to find out more about what’s happening. His easy and quite pleasing way of storytelling allows us to envision the environments he creates for his characters. We also feel their uncertainties, confusion, and the myriad of emotions they feel along the way.”  Read more….

—Lissette E. Manning, Simplistik Blog

“I liked the parallels that were drawn to the present day. In 1976, there are bombings in Boston. There’s discord with Russia. There’s a strong racist element among those in power. And there’s a presidential election, looming in the fall…. And that’s what great storytelling, like this book, gets us to do—think, look beyond the surface and question the status quo.”  Read more….

—The Plot Thickens

On the eve of the U.S. Bicentennial, newsman Coleridge Taylor is covering Operation Sail. New York Harbor is teeming with tall ships from all over the world. While enjoying the spectacle, Taylor is still a police reporter. He wants to cover real stories, not fluff, and gritty New York City still has plenty of those in July of 1976. One surfaces right in front of him when a housewife is fished out of the harbor wearing bricks of heroin, inferior stuff users have been rejecting for China White, peddled by the Chinatown gangs.

Convinced he’s stumbled upon a drug war between the Italian Mafia and a Chinese tong, Taylor is on fire once more. But as he blazes forward, flanked by his new girlfriend, ex-cop Samantha Callahan, his precious story grows ever more twisted and deadly. In his reckless search for the truth, he rattles New York’s major drug cartels. If he solves the mystery, he may end up like his victim—in a watery grave.

Says Zahradnik, “I love Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels about the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and have read all but one. When I looked ahead after Drop Dead Punk left off in November 1975, I realized I had the chance to put ships of sail in the next Taylor mystery. I lived near New York during the Bicentennial and remember the tall ship parade in New York Harbor—flickering images on TV up in Dutchess County. I needed to do a great deal of research on those craft, using newspaper coverage and books published at the time. Unlike Mr. O’Brian, I knew little or nothing about jibs, staysails, and ratlines. Lucky for me, there were only 16 ships—not an entire navy—and I’d be writing through the eyes of Taylor, who knows as much as I and cares a whole lot less. This was one of those times when I could bring in one of my oddball interests to dress the set, while still telling a story of heroin dealers and murder in the NYC of 1976. Taylor’s frustration at having to cover the Operation Sail events is typical of reporters who don’t think of features as serious journalism. His bad attitude helped propel the story.”

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 kids how to publish online and print newspapers. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Almost out of gas, he huffed up the steps and walked through the big doorway. The cathedral was a long, soaring tunnel of rose light framed by two rows of identical pillars climbing to the ceiling—or maybe the sky. The light brightened to the white of daylight at the far end, where the high altar looked to be about a mile away. The sightlines were spectacular—which meant they were terrible for Taylor. He doubted heroin dealers respected the idea of sanctuary. Did anyone anymore? Inhaling through his nose and exhaling through his mouth to make as little noise as possible, he walked along the left aisle and slid down behind a pillar near the altar. He grimaced. His whole right side ached.

Stone against his back, Taylor tried to get his bearings. He felt small. And alien. The cathedral was another world from the Greek Orthodox churches his mother had taken him and his brother to as kids. Even the large ones were dark, foreboding, their walls crowded with icons of flat-faced saints. Those churches always had the mystical wall separating the worshippers from the altar and the priest in his beard and long robes. Here there were no dividers. You could see everything. What would his mother have thought of this place? He couldn’t remember if she’d ever been. All these years and he still missed her, saddened by all she’d missed of his life.

He waited and listened.

St. John’s was the biggest cathedral in the world. Or so he’d been told. New York specialized in the biggest, and as with all its citizens, the memory of all those giant things might as well have been planted at birth. He wouldn’t change his mind about the cathedral until he got real proof. He was stubborn that way.

Was it stubbornness put him in this situation? Or plain stupidity? When the Chinese guys had showed up, it’d looked like confirmation of what he’d heard had appeared right in front of his nose. He couldn’t believe it. He’d needed to get close enough to make sure something big really was happening in the heroin trade—something no one was talking about. So what had he done? Stared like a tourist at the foot of the Empire State Building.

Amateur hour. The result: a colossal mess.

Had the driver of the garbage truck been shot? Why else would the truck have veered? Then there was Mary. She was in serious shit now. If only she’d left when he told her. Reggie knew she’d fingered him. The tong members knew. Junkies, the most disposable human beings in the city, disappeared when they snitched. No one went looking for them.

Feeling stupid was too much like feeling sorry for himself. He didn’t have time for that. Better to focus on his next move before some other bad thing happened. He had to find Mary before they did. As much as he hated the thought, he’d also have to go in to the local precinct and report what he’d seen. This added more urgency. He needed to get to Mary before he dealt with the local cops, who could tie him up for hours.

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