The 19th Element Virtual Book Tour November & December ’10Authors on Tour, Featured — By Dorothy Thompson on October 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm
Join John L. Betcher, author of the suspense thriller, The 19th Element: A James Becker Thriller (Createspace), as he virtually tours the blogosphere November 1 – December 17‘10 on his first virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!
About John L. Betcher
John L. Betcher is a University of Minnesota Law School graduate and has practiced law for more than twenty-five years in the Mississippi River community of Red Wing, Minnesota. He possesses substantial first-hand knowledge of the Prairie River Nuclear Plant’s real world counterpart, as well as Red Wing’s airport and the flight rules around the nuke plant.
The author has also been a long-time supporter and coach of youth volleyball in and around Red Wing and has authored three feature articles for Coaching Volleyball, the journal of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. His most recent article was the cover story for the April/May, 2009 Issue.
His book on volleyball coaching philosophies entitled The Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching is available at www.johnbetcher.com and at amazon.com.
About The 19th Element
In addition to their own devoted forces, the terrorists enlist some homegrown anarchists, and a Three Mile Island survivor with a pathological vendetta against the nuclear establishment, to assist in the assault.
James “Beck” Becker is a former elite U.S. government intelligence operative who has retired to his childhood hometown of Red Wing, Minnesota – just six miles down the Mississippi from the Prairie River nuclear facility.
Possessing wisdom born of experience, Beck suspects the terrorists’ intentions as soon as the body of a university professor turns up on the Mississippi shore – the clear victim of foul play.
He recognizes connections between seemingly unrelated incidents – the murdered agronomy professor, a missing lab assistant, an international cell call, a stolen fertilizer truck – but can’t piece it together in enough detail to convince government authorities that a larger threat exists. Only his American Indian friend, “Bull,” will help Beck defuse the threat.
So it’s Beck and Bull versus international terror.
May the better men win.
Read the Excerpt!
Tuesday’s discovery of a dead body washed up on the Mississippi River shore just north of Red Wing had turned the small town into a press Mecca. Television and print media crews from the Twin Cities and Rochester converged on the murder scene, each vying for the most gruesome, and attention-grabbing, visuals possible.
News helicopters swooped up and down the river valley, past the grassy riverbank where the swollen spring currents at the confluence of the Prairie River with its larger counterpart had deposited the corpse.
The body was that of an older man – in his sixties, the Ottawa County Medical Examiner had estimated. Police hadn’t released the probable identity of the victim. And despite photographers’ best efforts, the only crime photos that made the nightly news programs were of boaters in small craft, gawking in the river channel, and of four Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputies hoisting a vinyl body-bag from the weedy beach into their covered flatboat.
The remainder of the news footage showcased well-dressed reporters, looking serious, and speaking with concerned voices about the tragic discovery near the small Minnesota town. But all that was yesterday.
Today was Wednesday and I was at my office. Becker Law Office. James L. Becker, Attorney-at-Law. Nearly everyone who knows me calls me ‘Beck.’
I arrived at this lawyering gig via an unusual route. Follow-ing my retirement from more than twenty years of sub rosa mili-tary intelligence operations, my wife, Elizabeth, and I decided to move our family to my childhood home of Red Wing. Beth and I had agreed at the time that the relatively crime-free life in rural Minnesota would be a plus for our girls. Having me working near home more of the time would reduce my family’s justified worries for my safety. And I could blend in seamlessly in my old home town.
Lawyering would be a fairly easy professional transition for me. I already held a largely-unused law degree from my pre-Agency days. The segue into small town private practice would not be difficult.
So five years ago, Beth and I, and our two children, Sara and Elise, had picked up our lives and come here to live in Red Wing, a Mississippi River town of about twenty thousand. In this setting, we were able to use our real names. And we hoped to regain for our family a sense of normalcy.
Although being an attorney is not difficult, it can be less than exciting. For the sake of appearances, I maintain the cover – but we really don’t need the money.
Our family financial situation is a bit more favorable than most, owing entirely to an invention I had patented during my tenure on ‘the Team’ – a radically new aerodynamic design for sniper bullets.
A change in the shape of a bullet might not seem like much. But after extensive testing, a government defense contractor had happily purchased my patent for quite a lot of money.
Later, I was pleased to learn that incorporation of my bullet design into new sniper rifles allowed a reliable ‘kill shot’ at up to a mile and a half – a significant improvement over the traditional .50 caliber long-range projectiles. A win-win for both me and the military.
Of course, the defense contractor got the glory. But that wasn’t important. Glory is fleeting and fickle. Neither to be sought nor trusted.
Given our financial independence, my new ‘job’ is really just my new cover. My true vocation really has no proper name. I guess you could say I am professionally wayward. At least, I like that description. It implies a Huck Finn sort of freedom, combined with a Tiger Woods drive for excellence – minus some of Tiger’s extra-curricular pursuits, of course.
My professionally wayward approach allows me complete freedom to select causes and goals; but once chosen, it also requires me to pursue all such matters with utter commitment and maximum preparedness. This combination of dedication and preparation has, thus far, assured my success in numerous challenging undertakings.
I am most certainly not a Jack of all trades. I am, however, a master of many.
Professionally wayward. I definitely like that.
At 9:30 a.m. it had already seemed a long morning at the law office. And I wanted to get the inside info on the floater murder. It was time for an informational visit to my friend in local law enforcement.
When I arrived at the Ottawa County Law Enforcement Center, a five minute drive from my office, the atmosphere was still electric in the wake of the previous day’s disturbing discovery. So much so, that I had managed to slip through the usual administrative roadblocks and right into Gunner’s inner office.
‘Gunner’ is Ottawa County’s Chief Deputy Sheriff, Doug Gunderson. He’s in his mid-forties, six foot, 180 pounds and in pretty good shape. Though he displays a hint of a belly, his body is mostly muscle. Gunner’s round face, light complexion and short, reddish-brown hair are not atypical of many fourth-generation Scandinavian immigrants to this area of Minnesota.
Gunner is also one of the very few people in town who has any idea of my true life experiences as a covert intelligence operative during my twenty-year absence from Red Wing.
We had known each other in our youth, and had been casual friends in high school, but hadn’t kept in contact until my return to Minnesota five years ago. On one occasion, a couple years back, he had pressed me for details concerning my life after leaving Red Wing.
As a professional investigator, he can be irritatingly tenacious.
At the time, it hadn’t been my first choice to let Gunner in on my secrets. But he was persistent. My gut told me I could trust him. And a friend in local law enforcement is not a bad thing. So I had elected to come clean about my government past – minus many details, of course. In return, he’d vowed to keep my secrets to himself – a promise he had faithfully fulfilled.
Since then, Gunner and I had ‘cooperated’ on a few cases. He operated by the book. I, by my own rules. The differing approaches created some conflict. But we shared common goals, and we understood each other well enough to make it work. As a side benefit, being involved with law enforcement activities satisfied my desire for more action than mere lawyering alone could provide.
Gunderson was seated at his desk, deeply absorbed in review of glossy crime scene photographs. He looked up when he heard my voice.
“So what’s going on today, Gunner?” I inquired. “Things are hopping around here. Is Oprah planning a visit?”
Gunner looked up from his work.
“Becker. Who let you in here?” He was trying to sound irritated.
“Always nice to be welcome,” I said.
Following the exchange of greetings, Gunner answered my question.
“You know damn well what’s going on, Beck. Everybody from the Sheriff, to the Mayor, to the frickin’ Press is all over our asses to solve this murder case. Deadline is yesterday.
“And of course, the big wigs’ve gotta fight over the juris-dictional issues. The State guys want in on the investigation. The FBI claims that it oughtta be in charge because the body was found in interstate waters. Actually, our own department has the best claim to the case, since it appears that the murder occurred on our dirt.
“So in short, it’s a madhouse right now. No one is in charge. And despite all the activity around here,” – Gunner made an arm motion circling his head – “not much investigating is really getting done.”
I looked at him, feigning shock.
I’m pretty sure Gunner could sense my lack of sympathy for his bureaucratic hiccups.
Gunner frowned at me for a few moments, then lightened up.
“Oh geez. You might as well have a seat,” he said at last. “I need a break anyway.”
Gunner motioned me to one of his side chairs.
It was stacked full with manila files.
I raised my eyebrows at him.
He returned the look. But the files didn’t move.
So I cleared the chair myself, stacking the manila obstacles alongside a similar pile of files already reclining against the wall. Then I sat down.
Commotion continued in the hall outside his office.
With hands crossed comfortably over his torso, Gunner leaned back in his 1960s-vintage vinyl office chair, looking at me as if waiting for something to happen.
“So . . . ,” I began. “Do you know who the unlucky fellow is . . . was?”
I could see that Gunner was trying to project cool and calm – but the butterflies were definitely fluttering in his gut. A murder in Ottawa County was a very big deal. But Gunner wasn’t about to let his excitement overtake his professional persona.
“We’re pretty sure it was a prof from the U of M Ag Lab at the Ottawa Facility,” he said, locking his fingers behind his head.
I noted the obvious perspiration under his arms.
“His wife reported him missing to the Cottage Grove Police early yesterday morning. And he hasn’t shown up for work the past two days. Car’s missing, too.
“Oh yeah.” He paused for dramatic effect. Gunner likes drama. I think he watches too many cop shows on TV. “There’s a large amount of dried blood in the Lab parking lot. We’re assuming it will match our victim.”
I paused for a moment.
“Seems a logical assumption,” I said, bypassing the drama. “Have you got a name?”
Gunner looked a little wounded that I hadn’t been more impressed with the big blood puddle.
Overcoming his mild disappointment, he leaned forward, referencing the notepad on his desk. “Donald G. Westerman, PhD. Home address is in Cottage Grove. We’ll be inviting the wife to the morgue to identify the body as soon as we can make it . . . ah . . . presentable.”
The killer had nearly severed Dr. Westerman’s head from his body. Some tidying up was prudent before exposing the wife to her husband’s corpse.
“Don’t s’pose you found a weapon?”
“No such luck. The M.E. is trying to get us a description of the blade. But since it’s a slash, that’ll probably come back ‘inconclusive.’ In a stabbing, you can maybe get a cast or some-thing. With a cut, usually its just whether the knife is serrated, and how thick.”
Based on my experience with knives, Gunner was probably right about the forensics.
“And at present, no motive either?”
I had all the smart questions.
“Not really,” Gunner continued. “Though it is interesting to note that the fellow’s lab assistant has also failed to report for work since the murder.”
He consulted his notes again.
“One Farris Ahmed. British exchange student in the graduate program at the U of M. Sent a couple deputies by his apartment. No one home. We’re working on a search warrant.”
In my former military career, I had once encountered a radical Muslim Jihadist who went by the name of Farris Ahmed. It was a common enough name in Arab countries – but given my past experiences, one might understand why this name did not sit quietly in my gut.
“What ethnic derivation is Mr. Ahmed?” I asked. “Muslim Brit?”
“Not strictly relevant, Beck. You know there’s no racial profiling in this department.”
Ah. The company line.
Gunner gave me a steely stare. I waited.
“Officially, we have no word on Mr. Ahmed’s ethnicity. We’re a small department. We can’t do everything at once, for god’s sake. Anyway, we try to save the bigotry assignments for the BCA.”
The BCA was the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehen-sion, the branch of the State Police charged with criminal invest-igations. They would likely take a lead role in the murder investigation, regardless of any Sheriff’s Department protests to the contrary.
The mention of the name ‘Farris Ahmed,’ and the international background of the lab assistant, had further piqued my interest.
“Gunner. You would probably ask the BCA to do this anyway . . . but would you mind checking for any international telephone calls made from the vicinity of the Lab around the time of the murder? I mean, not just the assistant’s phone, or the land lines, but anonymous, throw-away cell phones, too?”
“Why?” Gunner replied, leaning forward in his chair. “Do you suspect a connection beyond Minnesota?”
I didn’t want to get Gunner off track just because my gut had a twinge – especially with no evidence at all of global foul play. But I wasn’t going to ignore my instincts either.
“Well . . . the assistant was from overseas – just thought you’d want to be thorough.”
Gunner looked me in the eye before continuing.
Gunner leaned back again in his chair. I surmised I was about to receive some wise advice from the seasoned law man.
“You realize, Beck, that the assistant may be another victim, and not at all culpable in this mess?”
“I suppose that’s true,” I conceded. “Still, I would appreciate your checking the phone call situation.”
“All right, Beck. I’ll ask the BCA to do it . . . as a favor to you.”
Gunner pretended to think it was a dumb idea. But he has always been a bad actor . . . and a thorough investigator. My concern wasn’t so far-fetched that he was going to ignore it.
“‘Course I can’t guarantee that the BCA’ll do anything about it. They don’t work for me, you know.”
Gunner aimed a forefinger across the desk at me.
“And if I catch any crap for making this request, you will owe me one.”
I had gotten what I wanted. No point picking a fight.
“You have a deal. Thanks. And good luck with the investigation.”
“Right. Thanks, Beck. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”
“Oh, I think you can count on it.”
And I left.
Here’s what critics have to say about The 19th Element!
“The 19th Element won John L. Betcher his own place on my list of favorite authors. This novel firmly sets the character, Beck, in a solid role of hero in my book! Not willing to give away anything, I can only say that the climactic plane scene is really amazing!”
– Book Readers’ Heaven
“The author brings all the players together for a tour de force final few dozen pages that make The 19th Element one of the most entertaining, exciting thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Becker is a character that you can cheer for. The banter between Beck and his wife, and Beck and Gunderson shows the author’s substantial talent for writing dialogue. A relentless pace, quirky yet realistic dialogue, and fascinating, believable characters keep the pages turning. Considerable research, attention to detail, and a well-plotted story make this a memorable read. Highly recommended.”
– Readers Choice Reviews
“I am so glad John Betcher sent me the extraordinary thriller. It is scary good!! I say this because this fiction could easily become reality. This could definitely be a “ripped from the headlines” story. When I think of terrorist targets in the United States, I think of major cities, Washington D.C., New York, maybe Los Angeles, but this story takes place in my “backyard”, the Upper Midwest. Also we know from history there are terrorists and their supporters here in the states, and this story brings them out front and center. Yes, this story is fiction but it has all the details that make you realize this could really happen. While this book entertains it also raises the readers awareness that there are people that want to hurt Americans.”
– Dollycas’s Thoughts Blog
“Do you need an entertaining and action-packed book for your summer reading? This is it! A very realistically portrayed terrorist attack in an unusual setting provided me with a nerve-wrenching adrenalin rush. If you’re into suspenseful thrillers, try this one on for size. John Betcher’s description of how the terrorist attack on the power plant is planned, with technical details all in place, is far too real. . . . this fictional account should scare you out of your socks. Let it be a warning.”
The 19th Element Virtual Book Tour Schedule
Monday, November 1
Guest blogging & book giveaway at Dollycas’ Thoughts
Wednesday, November 3
Guest blogging at Writing Daze
Thursday, November 4
Interviewed at Literarily Speaking
Friday, November 5
Interviewed at Pump Up Your Book
Monday, November 8
Book reviewed by Rundpinne
Tuesday, November 9
Guest blogging at Beyond the Books
Wednesday, November 10
Interviewed at Working Writers
Friday, November 12
Interviewed at Blogcritics
Monday, November 15
Interviewed at As the Pages Turn
Wednesday, November 17
Guest blogging at A.F. Stewart’s Blog
Thursday, November 18
Book reviewed at A Moment with Mystee
Friday, November 19
Book reviewed at Libby’s Library News
Monday, November 22
Interviewed at Examiner
Tuesday, November 23
Guest blogging & book giveaway at Cafe of Dreams
Wednesday, November 24
Interviewed at Book Marketing Buzz
Thursday, November 25
CLOSED FOR THANKSGIVING
Friday, November 26
Book reviewed at Readaholic
Monday, December 6
Book reviewed at Pick of the Literate
Tuesday, December 7
Guest blogging at As the Pages Turn
Wednesday, December 8
Guest blogging at The Story Behind the Book
Friday, December 10
Interviewed at The Writer’s Life
Monday, December 13
Book reviewed at Rainy Day Reviews
Tuesday, December 14
Interviewed at The Hot Author Report
Wednesday, December 15
Book reviewed at Book Journey
Thursday, December 16
Interviewed at Review From Here
Friday, December 17
Book reviewed at Books R Us
John L. Betcher’s THE 19TH ELEMENT VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ‘10 will officially begin on November 1 and end on December 17, ‘10. Please contact Dorothy Thompson at email@example.com if you are interested in hosting and/or reviewing his book or click here to use the form. Thank you!
Update! John L. Betcher’s The 19th Element Virtual Book Tour is now closed. Thanks to all participating blog hosts and reviewers!
If you are a tour host and would like to add his banner to your sidebar, please use the html code directly underneath the graphic. Thank you!
John and Pump Up Your Book would like to wish you all a happy holiday!