Lights Out Summer, by Rich Zahradnik: City in the Dark

lights_out_summerIn the summer of 1977, New York City is cast into darkness. And Son of Sam isn’t the only killer in town.

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Lights Out Summer ($15.95, 296 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-213-9), by Rich Zahradnik, is book four of a mystery/thriller series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor. The series is set on the mean streets of Manhattan and surrounding boroughs in the ’70s. While the rest of the media pursues the Son of Sam story in the spring and summer of ’77, Taylor investigates a murder that happened the same night as one of the serial killer’s attacks. The story will take him places he’s never gone before, including into Park Avenue society and onto the streets during a blackout when the city endures massive looting.

Read “Rich Zahradnik Reflects on Lights Out Summer” in the Mystery Tribune.

Book 1, Last Words, won Honorable Mention in the mystery category of ForeWord Magazine’s 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. ForeWord called it: “A fast-paced, deeply entertaining and engrossing novel.”

Book 2, Drop Dead Punk, was a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 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. RT Reviews wrote, “Hours of engrossing entertainment [….] A thoroughly satisfying read.”

Book 3, A Black Sail, earned a starred review in Library Journal: “Fans of the late Barbara D’Amato and Bruce DeSilva will relish this gritty and powerful crime novel.” It is also a finalist in ForeWord’s 2016 Book of the Year Contest.

“Well-plotted [….] Zahradnik nails the period, with its pack journalism, racism overt and subtle, and the excess of the wealthy as places like Studio 54, as he shows how one dogged reporter can make a difference.” Read more….

—Publishers Weekly

“A descriptive, fast-paced story that is very well researched. Readers will fly through the pages in order to reach the climactic conclusion.” Read more….

—Keitha Hart for RT Reviews

“Taylor Coleridge is a protagonist who is well conceived and very, very well developed. Rich Zahradnik was himself a longtime and well-respected newsman and his knowledge, experience, and love of journalism pour through Taylor. It appears to me that this series is growing in focus and strength—the episodes are getting better and better. [….] Good reading.” Read more….

—Diana Borse for Reviewing the Evidence

“Lights Out Summer is a gripping multiple-murder mystery overlaid with tremendous atmosphere and action. Here’s hoping a fifth Coleridge Taylor adventure is in the works.” Read more….

—Rachel Jagareski for ForeWord Clarion Reviews

“The perfect visual and suspenseful mystery led by a believable and easy-to-like character.” Read more….

—Amy Lignor for Feathered Quill

“[Taylor’s] fight for justice creates a gripping murder mystery chock full of action and brimming with social consciousness.” Read more….

—Tribute Books Mama

“[Taylor’s] zest for doing what’s right while following such gory leads makes the reader root for him from end to finish. It’s wonderful to see Rich broaden the world he’s created around this determined character. […] The author has painted the emotions and situations these characters find themselves in so vividly that you can imagine yourself standing beside them as they dive deeper into the world around them. If you have yet to experience this series, I truly recommend it. More, please!” Read more….

—Lissette Manning, Simplistik.org

“The beauty of the story is that the author makes the reader care. The characters are delineated well. They are real people. [….] You just may get hooked on the Coleridge Taylor mysteries.” Read more….

—The One True Faith Blog

“Rich Zahradnik’s gritty writing allows the reader to feel he is with Taylor going into rough territory in New York, digging to get his story. [….] Be ready to sit on the edge of the seat as the mystery unravels!” Read more….

—Belinda Wilson for InD’Tale Magazine

Lights Out Summer is the fourth in this series by Rich Zahranik. I have not yet read the first three, but if they are as well-written as the fourth, they shall be high on my must-read book list [….] How all this is resolved would make your heart stop for a moment or two.” Read more….

—Mary Ann Smyth for BookLoons.com

In March 1977, ballistics link murders going back six months to the same Charter Arms Bulldog .44. A serial killer, Son of Sam, is on the loose. But Coleridge Taylor can’t compete with the armies of reporters fighting New York’s tabloid war—only rewrite what they get. Constantly on the lookout for victims who need their stories told, he uncovers other killings being ignored because of the media circus. He goes after one, the story of a young Black woman gunned down in her apartment building the same night Son of Sam struck elsewhere in Queens.

The story entangles Taylor with a wealthy Park Avenue family at war with itself. Just as he’s closing in on the killer and his scoop, the July 13-14 blackout sends New York into a 24-hour orgy of looting and destruction. Taylor and his PI girlfriend Samantha Callahan head out into the darkness, where a steamy night of mob violence awaits them.

In the midst of the chaos, a suspect in Taylor’s story goes missing. Desperate, he races to a confrontation that will either break the story—or Taylor.

Says Zahradnik, “As Taylor enters 1977, I knew there were two major crime stories I could not ignore—the serial killer Son of Sam and the looting and rioting during the mid-July blackout. Taylor, of course, can’t pursue the Son of Sam case as his story in the book. The detectives who broke that case are a matter of historical record. But I wanted Taylor to dance in and out of the tabloid frenzy that surrounded the forty-four caliber killer, particularly as it was the year Rupert Murdoch took over the New York Post. So Taylor does what he always does best, he finds a victim the rest of press are ignoring. a victim whose story needs to be told. The blackout was a bit easier to work in, as I could portray those terrible hours—the moment when New York really hit bottom—by reading the news stories and history books and having Taylor observe the destruction.”

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:

“The killer lay in wait and came out of the stairwell after she returned from the chute. He must have been targeting her. That means a plan and a motive. Who would want to murder your sister?”

“No one.” Abigail began weeping. Her head tipped to one side like she couldn’t quite control her neck. Taylor looked for a box of tissues, but saw it was on a side table next to the couch. He waited.

After wiping her eyes, she said, “Makes no sense, someone doing that to her. She picked this neighborhood because it was safe. She worked hard to stay here.”

‘Makes no sense.’ The unending chorus of the families of the murdered.

Abigail went to a small black table crowded with pictures and handed him a portrait of a pretty black woman in a black graduation gown looking over her shoulder as people did in such shots. Her smile was on the edge of laughter, like she’d cracked up right after the shutter snapped. The eyes, a deep brown almost-black, were in on the joke, crinkled at their corners. Her hair was parted in the middle, wavy and thick, falling down around her shoulders.

“You don’t understand. Martha didn’t make enemies. She didn’t make mistakes. Her high principles wouldn’t allow her to stay at Manning. She moved on. She was going to get another office job. She was going to do whatever she wanted.” Abigail had probably been sitting here for two days, waiting for someone to tell this to. “I don’t have a job …. She was taking care of me.”

The phone rang. Abigail went to the kitchen to get it. The low mumbled conversation lasted a couple of minutes.

“That was her boss, Mr. DeVries. He wanted to know if I was okay. If I needed anything. I said I couldn’t think now. I’d let him know.”

Shows a lot of concern for the sister of a murdered maid. Is that normal?

Taylor didn’t know. He didn’t know much about big Park Avenue apartments and the maids working for the families inside them. The police beat rarely took him to such homes. Maybe this DeVries was being a good human being. Good people lived at all sorts of addresses in New York City. Still, he circled the name and address in his notebook. A visit to the victim’s workplace was always worthwhile.

He lifted his head from the pad, and as he did, Abigail, who was absently scratching her lower arm, yanked the sleeve of her thin red sweater all the way down, holding it in place with her fingertips. Before she could get her arm covered, Taylor caught sight of bruised blotches—the ruptures of needle tracks.

Drugs got you killed in New York City. Easy. All the time. Mess with the wrong pusher. Owe too much. Turn snitch or get accused of same. He observed Abigail with fresh eyes. He’d taken her for too thin and not thought much of it, but there were hollows in her cheeks and dark patches under her eyes. She’d been slumped on the couch and slow in her speech, which he’d thought was grief. Those were also signs of being high.

“You live here too, then?”

“When I’m not at my boyfriend’s.”

“When is that?”

“Here two or three nights a week. My boyfriend never comes over. Martha wouldn’t allow it.”

Without the thinning of the face and the dark areas under the eyes, she resembled Martha—as far as you could tell from a photo. Abigail’s hair was pulled back, so it was hard to guess at length.

“Do you think you two looked alike?”

“Some say. We didn’t think so.”

“Could a killer have been gunning for you?”

 

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