Last year, when I was at Bouchercon in Indianapolis I went to an event called (as I recall it) "author-go-round" where fans would sit at tables and authors with first books traveled in packs to the various tables spilling the beans about their babies. To be honest, I was there to support local author Lisa Bork, but I also came away with the name of another author I was impressed with. His name was Stephen Jay Schwartz. I went back to the hotel room that night and saw that he was going to be part of the "Author's Bazaar" happening the last day, so he was my first stop that Sunday morning. I got a free copy of BOULEVARD, got it signed, and took it home. Unfortunately, I don't live at Bouchercon, so other priorities arose in the intervening months, and it wasn't until I got an offer to be a stop on Schwartz's blog tour for his new release BEAT that I went back and read BOULEVARD.
The first book is the story of Hayden Glass, LAPD detective and sex addict. The disease has already ruined his marriage and its underlying presence affects all his other relationships. Complicating matters, and driving the novel forward, is a series of murders that only Glass is willing to see as connected. Glass is constantly struggling with his addiction, succumbing to it and then getting sober again for a length of time. It is this condition that pushes Glass into a neo-noir category, detailing his descent into moral ambiguity. But his classic noir descent is present as well, as the ending of the book details.
BEAT picks up a few months after the end of BOULEVARD, in the wake of the consequences of the first book. (Sorry, I'm unwilling to spoil the end of BOULEVARD for those that have yet to read it, but fear not, BEAT stands alone if you want to read it first, as you will see.) Glass is recovering and still struggling with his addiction, but this time when he slips, he gets hooked on internet porn, specifically the interactive sites that use cameras for real-time communication. He gets obsessed with a particular girl named Cora and tracks her to San Francisco. But as soon as he finds her, they are attacked and Cora is re-kidnapped and taken to a fortress-like sex club where Glass can't get to her. Unlike BOULEVARD, which is definitely centered on a mystery, BEAT becomes more of an addiction-addled urban adventure, where the prize at the end of the journey is Cora's rescue, and every attempt raises the stakes both in terms of danger and personal responsibility.
Schwartz's characters, and especially Glass, live in a very dark world. These books are not for the faint of heart, both in terms of violence and sexuality. But this content is not there without a reason. Glass's entire existence is steeped in his sex addiction, which brings him into contact with a world where sex and violence are intrinsically linked. This is the true darkness of the books, that Glass is trapped within his addiction, that no matter what his actions might be, his impulses are internal and cannot be escaped.
Both BOULEVARD and BEAT move with the zip-line pace and urgency of a thriller, but the narrative is solidly based in character, providing a grounded and meaningful narrative that resonates long after the last page turns.
Stay tuned for an interview with author Stephen Jay Schwartz. And if you want to read more on Schwartz's blog tour, try these sites: Author Exposure, Book Trends Blog, Violet Crush, In Reference to Murder, Murder by 4, Lunch, The Book Trib, and Cheryl's Book Nook, as well as Stephen's own site and the great Murderati blog, which Stephen contributes to.