A Monster's Game has received two reviews so far. Fortunately both have been excellent. Let's hope there will be many more to come.
Four Star Review Posted February 1, 2013 on Amazon by Constance Culberth: Novels about serial killers are often compelling. A Monster's Game raises the bar. Crime reporter, Alamanda Tyler, is a complicated women who comes with plenty of baggage. The personal narratives of the antagonist and other characters, including members of law enforcement, politicians and particularly the media, contribute to a story that is both thought provoking and at times frightening. The recurring theme about the death of a 6 year old girl killed in a drive by shooting helps make this work of Muller's a home run.
Madeline Erickson paid close attention to her surroundings as she hurried to her car on a warm July evening. Nearly midnight, the shops and bistros in downtown Birmingham, an affluent suburb north of Detroit, had closed hours ago. Having heard muggers avoid targeting people who project an air of confidence, she squared her shoulders and held her stylishly coiffed blond head high to avoid appearing as if she would be easy prey.
At fifty-seven, Madeline’s figure was still trim; her taut, unlined face providing testimony to a willingness to come under the surgeon’s knife on more than one occasion. Her first grandchild was due in December and Madeline blushed with pleasure each time a friend insisted she looked far too young to be a grandmother.
The call that morning from Rosalind Whittaker, an old friend from college, saying she was in town and suggesting they meet in Birmingham for a bit of shopping and a latte had been a pleasant surprise. The two women were having such a good time, they decided to have dinner at the restaurant in Rosalind’s hotel. After dinner, the conversation was still going strong. They ordered another glass of wine—and then another. When Madeline confessed she was a bit lightheaded from the wine, they ordered coffee.
Now, as she peered cautiously into the shadows of each doorway she passed, Madeline scolded herself for not moving the car into the hotel’s valet parking. Instead, she had used her annoyance over finding that silly parking ticket tucked under the wiper blade when she went back to feed the meter, as an excuse not to bother about moving the car. Listening to the rhythmic clacking of her fashionable high heels echoing in the dark, she regretted that decision.
* * * *
The driver of the black Escalade did a double take when he spotted the well-dressed woman coming out of the hotel. A silver Mercedes three blocks away was the only car still parked on the street. He drove past the hotel without slowing and pulled in behind it. Shutting off the engine, he hunched down low in the seat to wait. His heart beating so hard, he could almost hear it.
Five minutes later, the Mercedes’ tail lights flashed twice accompanied by the clicking sound of the driver’s side door unlocking. Giving the visor of his Detroit Tigers cap a quick tug for luck, he grabbed the baseball bat lying on the passenger seat and jumped out.
The terrified woman struggled frantically to get the car door open, but he was too quick. He swung the bat with such force it split open her skull, killing her instantly. The sight of the blood-spattered body sprawled on the pavement turned his stomach.
Get over it, dude. The bitch deserved to die. Follow the rules and get the hell out of here.
Two more blows transformed the target’s face into an unrecognizable mass of bloodied flesh and shattered bone. Glancing around to be sure there were no witnesses, he tossed the bat into the back seat of the Escalade and drove away.
Alamanda Tyler sat alone in her room on the fifty-first floor of the Marriott at the Renaissance Center gazing out across the Detroit River at the night skyline of Windsor Canada. The stunning auburn haired reporter had flown in from New York City that evening to write a human-interest story about Cassandra Lewis, a six-year-old girl killed in a drive-by shooting while riding a bicycle in front of her home. The still unanswered question was whether Alamanda’s boss would agree to run the story.
The first time Alamanda met Dan Kennedy, Reveal Magazine’s notoriously politically incorrect Crime Editor, he reminded her of Andy Rooney. She soon realized small stature and bushy gray eyebrows were all the two men had in common. While she admired the late Rooney’s warmth and acerbic wit, she found Kennedy to be a heartless cynic.
“If it had been up to me, there’s no way in hell you’d have gotten this job with that anorexic resumé of yours,” Kennedy told her as she sat in his office on her first day at Reveal. “So if you can’t cut it, I’ll do my damnedest to get you tossed out of here on your tight little ass.” When he suddenly began treating her with a modicum of respect a few weeks later, Alamanda assumed he must have found out Worldwide Media CEO Richard Mallinger was the person responsible for her getting the job.
Kennedy wasn’t keen on her idea of doing a story about Cassandra Lewis. “Our readers don’t give a shit about what happens in Detroit. Eighty percent are conservative white Republicans who are sick and tired of their tax dollars being used to support a bunch of lazy free loaders.”
“This is a story about the death of a child, Dan. Do you really believe our readers don’t care about children?”
“They care plenty about their own and the pro-lifers care about the black and brown ones while they’re in the oven. But once they pop, they’re on their own.”
“Give me a break, Tyler. You’ve been working here long enough to know a sob story about a dead black kid isn’t a good fit for this magazine.”
“Did you ever think that providing our readers with a story outside their comfort zone occasionally mighty be a good idea?
“I don’t think so—and Richard Mallinger won’t either. Our readers don’t like surprises. The reason Reveal is still around when so many other print publications have gone down the tubes is our readers can count on us to dish up the same crap every week. The Political Section carries water for the far right, Arts and Entertainment is nothing but an excuse to run pictures of half-naked women and Crime’s job is to provide readers with their weekly dose of how twisted and perverted people can be.”
Alamanda couldn’t argue with Kennedy’s assessment of Worldwide Media’s flagship weekly news magazine. When she accepted the job as a crime reporter, she didn’t realize the magazine’s coverage of crime was limited to four or five feature stories a half page in length followed by a list of a dozen or so short items describing the previous week’s most violent and bizarre crimes. The upside was the features always carried the byline of the reporters who wrote them. The down side was Kennedy personally selected the subjects. His favorites were ones accompanied by mug shots of celebrities, sports figures and politicians.
“Dan, if you’ll let me go to Detroit for a few days, I promise to come back with a story worth running.”
Kennedy signaled surrender with a shrug. “My gut is saying no, but I’m going to approve your little trip to the Motor City anyway. But I’m warning you, Tyler. I’d better not hear any bitching and moaning if the piece ends up in the trash.”
* * * *
Alamanda looked down at the moonlight marking a trail across the Detroit River. She stretched, yawned and checked the time on the laptop’s tool bar. It was almost one o’clock. Stripping off her clothes, she pulled on a pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt before going into the bathroom to brush her teeth.
Under the harsh bathroom light, the tiny winkles at the corner of her hazel eyes seemed deeper; the strands of gray mixed in her auburn hair more noticeable. She ran her index finger over the small bump on the bridge of her nose, a souvenir from a pick-up baseball game with her brother Ray and his friends.
Damn, I guess what they say is true. It’s all downhill once you hit thirty.
Switching off the bathroom light, she requested a wake-up call for six-thirty before climbing into bed. When she was a child, Ray, who was three years older, would often come into her room at night to make sure she said her prayers. After all these years, she still said a prayer before going to sleep. A gesture she suspected was more a tribute to the brother she dearly loved than a genuine act of faith.
Please watch over Ray, Carol and the kids.
And Mom too, wherever the hell she is.
Sorry about the thing with Mallinger
I know it’s a sin, but I can’t help it.
Alamanda Mae Tyler was born in Delton, Mississippi, a small town thirty miles northeast of Jackson. Rita Springer, her mother, was an exceptionally pretty girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Rita dropped out of high school to marry Samuel Tyler believing the soft-spoken elementary school teacher would be her ticket out of the town that treated her family like white trash. After living in a loveless marriage for six years, she realized, in spite of her incessant nagging, Samuel intended to remain in Delton until the day he died.
One morning Rita sat her five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter down in front of the television, poured them each a bowl of Cheerios, packed her suitcase, scribbled a note saying she wasn’t coming back and fled to Memphis with a man she met at the Walmart the week before. When Samuel came home, he found his children alone in the house.
Ray and Alamanda lost more than their mother the day Rita left. Samuel’s capacity to love went with her. His days were spent going through the motions teaching bored fifth graders; his nights seeking solace in his books. The responsibility for raising his children, he placed in the hands of a black housekeeper named Selma Wallace.
Although barely more than a toddler himself when their mother deserted them, Ray kept a watchful eye over the little sister he nicknamed “Al” because Alamanda was too much of a mouthful. As they grew older, he allowed her to tag along with him and his friends—until they reached puberty and having a young girl around became problematic.
Growing up in a small southern town was considerably harder for Alamanda than for Ray. Delton mothers weren’t keen on their little girls spending time with the daughter of a trashy woman who ran off with a man she hardly knew. Alamanda’s unusual first name didn’t help the situation. Most white girls answered to names like Ashley, Emma and Jennifer. Black girls had the strange sounding made-up names.
Alamanda fled the classroom in tears the day her fourth grade science teacher announced to the class that her namesake, the yellow Alamanda, was a poisonous plant belonging to the Dogbane family. Years later, she learned her studious father had actually named her after Alamanda de Castelnau, a noblewoman who lived in the south of France during the Middle Ages.
As she grew older, Alamanda spent most of her free time reading. If Samuel noticed she was sneaking into his study to borrow his books, he never mentioned it. Classics like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Ellison’s Invisible Man and Dickens’ Oliver Twist vastly expanded Alamanda’s horizons, nurturing within her an uneasy feeling that all was not right with the world.
Her uneasiness increased dramatically when Selma Wallace’s son Malcolm disappeared after taking a white girl to the senior prom. Selma had been like a mother to the Tyler children, washing their clothes, packing their lunch boxes, caring for them when they were sick and bandaging the countless cuts and scrapes Alamanda incurred trying to keep up with her older brother.
After her son’s disappearance, Selma moved about the house as if she was in a trance. One morning, Alamanda found her staring out the kitchen window, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I’m real worried about Malcolm, honey. He ain’t never worried me like this before. Something terrible has happened. I just know it.”
A week later, Ray and Alamanda were doing homework at the kitchen table when Sheriff Billy Bob Williams, a big-bellied man with bowed-legs and a short fuse, pulled into the driveway. Carefully extricating himself from behind the wheel of the police cruiser, he made his way around to the back of the house. Peering through the screened door leading to the kitchen, he saw Selma standing at the sink drying dishes. He rapped twice, pulled open the door and stepped inside.
“I’m afraid I’ve got some real bad news.” His gaze shifted to Ray and Alamanda. “It’s best you children go outside. Selma and I need to have a talk.”
Ray got to his feet, but Alamanda didn’t budge. “Did something happen to Malcolm, Sheriff Williams?” she asked.
Annoyance flashed in Williams’ eyes. “Take that sister of yours outside, Ray. What I got to say ain’t something a girl her age ought to hear.”
Selma dropped to her knees clutching the dishtowel to her breast. “Oh my God! What did they do to my baby?”
Yanking Alamanda out of the chair, Ray dragged her outside and down to the creek that ran behind the house. A moment later, they heard Selma scream.
Alamanda flailed at Ray with her fists. “Let me go!” Let me go! Selma needs me!”
“Damn it! That hurts! Can’t you get it through that thick head of yours? There’s nothing you can do.”
She stopped struggling. “Malcolm’s dead, isn’t he, Ray? They killed him ‘cause he took that white girl to the dance.”
“Then I hope they burn in hell!” She spit the words out angrily, her voice no longer sounding like that of a child.
A few days later, Alamanda overheard a group of white boys in the schoolyard laughing about the castrated body of Malcolm Wallace being found with a noose around his neck in a swamp outside of town. When six months passed and there still had been no arrest for the murder of Malcolm Wallace, Selma told Ray and Alamanda she was moving to Jackson.
“I’m real sorry to be leaving you children like this, but I can’t keep wondering if somebody passing by me on the street is the one who killed my boy.”
Shortly after Selma moved away, Alamanda’s tomboy ways ended abruptly when she fell in love for the first time. Tommy Hilliard, the object of her affection, was Ray’s best friend and the son of Frank Hilliard, editor of the Delton Weekly Post. A week before Christmas, Hilliard was fired for printing an editorial alleging local developers had bribed members of the town council to gain approval to build a golf course along the riverbank. Realizing he had no future in Delton, Hilliard took a job with an Atlanta newspaper.
The night Tommy came to say goodbye, he broke down in tears. “It’s not fair, Ray. Those bastards got my Dad fired for telling the truth.”
“It may not be fair,” Ray said, “but people with money don’t always have to play by the rules.”
Alamanda decided to talk to her father about what happened to Frank Hilliard. She found him in his study checking papers.
“Dad, did you know what Mr. Hilliard printed in the paper was true?”
He answered without looking at her. “Everybody in Delton knew it was true.”
“I’m no crusader,” he said, his gaze still fixed on the paper he was correcting. “What happened to Frank Hilliard is none of our business. Now run along. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“But it is our business,” Alamanda insisted. “Ray’s best friend is moving away because his father got fired for telling the truth.”
When he looked up at her for the first time, she saw the anger in his eyes but missed the pain. “For God’s sake, Alamanda. When you’re older, you can run off to the big city like your mother and go tilting at all the windmills you can find. Until then, leave me in peace!”
Stunned and hurt, Alamanda managed to stand her ground. “I think it was cowardly of you not to help Mr. Hilliard.”
“What you think isn’t important.” He closed his eyes. When he opened them, Alamanda was gone.
Later that night, Alamanda crept into Ray’s room. “Are you awake, Ray?”
“I am now,” he said, switching on the lamp beside his bed.
”I’ve been wondering. Do you think Mom left us because she knew Dad’s a coward?”
“No. I think she left because she didn’t love him or us enough to stay.”
“No way. You’ll probably become a lawyer or maybe a reporter like Mr. Hilliard and spend your time battling for truth and justice.”
“Why don’t you be a lawyer and I’ll be a reporter. We can fight for truth and justice together.”
He smiled. “That sounds like a plan to me. Now go back to your room and let me get some sleep.”
By the time Alamanda started high school, she was just as determined as her mother had been to get out of Delton. She excelled academically and served as editor of the high school newspaper—until the faculty advisor threw her off the staff for distributing bootleg copies of an article he’d forbidden her to run. Undaunted, she applied to the schools with the best journalism program winning a full academic scholarship to Penn State’s College of Communications.