An Urban Thriller by Russell Atwood

About Russell Atwood

Chapter One of
East of A

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Cindi LaSpada

Sue Bellworthy

Karen Meek

Carolyn Milne

Grace M. Bryan

Kelly Chandler

Barbara Murray

Barbara Betts

Russell Atwood photo
A native of Westfield, Massachusetts, Russell Atwood attended the American University of Washington, D.C., where he co-founded the student magazine American Library. Afterward, he moved to New York City and served as the managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. He has worked as an off-Broadway house manager at the Orpheum and Westside Theatres, and also as an editor at A&E Monthly magazine, writing the "Mystery Page" column and interviewing crime-fiction luminaries. In 1996 he published his first mystery short story (the introduction of private investigator Payton Sherwood) in Ellery Queen: "East of A." The namesake of that story now initiates Russell Atwood's career as a novelist. The author lives in the East Village of New York City.

Visit Russell Atwood's Web site at: www.eastofa.com

Praise from booksellers:

"East of A completely re-energized me after I had suffered Bad Novel Burnout. I'm always looking for 'different,' which is why I loved this tight, lean novel; one of its charms is its economy. Beyond that, it's as good a picture of New York as anything since Lawrence Block's early Matt Scudder novels."
--Steven Stilwell (Once Upon a Crime Bookstore, Minneapolis)

"In East of A, Russell Atwood evokes The City so well he almost makes an expatriate New Yorker want to come home. Almost."
--Bruce Taylor (San Francisco Mystery Bookstore)

"East of A has a well-developed plot and quirky characters. It's written for the literate reader who wants more than a routine noir ride. Hop aboard the 'A' train; you won't be disappointed."
--Chuck Levitt (Bookstar, Marietta, Georgia)



An Urban Thriller by Russell Atwood
February 1999
$22.00 | 0-345-42776-9

New York City's hot-wired East Village: From Avenue A to Avenue D, Alphabet City is a magnet for all-night revelers, actors, musicians, and artists. But it's also a lair for desperate hustlers, con men, and last-chance addicts.

Just part of the scene East of A.

Payton Sherwood knows that scene. He lives it daily. But Payton also lives by a creed derived from the white-knight heroes of Golden Age detective fiction. And like those renowned hardboiled private eyes, he is riddled with loss--the loss of an old love who still exists in daydreams, and the loss of a city he barely recognizes.

Payton returns to the Lower East Side after a short absence to find himself an outsider. When he takes a wrong turn on a side street, he stumbles into trouble in the form of three bull-necked heavies and a tough sixteen-year-old runaway named Gloria Manlow. After taking a savage beating, Payton is robbed of his Rolex watch and left bleeding on the sidewalk.

For Payton, trying to retrieve his three-thousand-dollar wristwatch has its perils. So does tracking Gloria, whose trail zigzags from a stray dog to a psycho boyfriend to an ice-hearted killer.

Following clues both hot and cold, Payton winds his way through Alphabet City--in and out of trendy after-hour dives, across barrio tenements and vacant lots where the homeless camp, and finally on a descent into a nightclub in a defunct church: the Hellhole. Here, the shadows that frighten aren't those that shade the street, but rather the soul. Payton's dusk-to-dawn nightmare on the wild side is about to begin--and nothing will stop it but death.

There may be millions of stories in the Naked City, but few are as riveting as the one Russell Atwood tells. A black-lit, neo-noir urban thriller, East of A is a bloody valentine to classic detective fiction--and an original hard-drive narrative so seductive and compelling it takes the reader hostage and never lets go.

Praise for Russell Atwood and East of A:

"EAST OF A is an impressive debut. Russell Atwood takes the rusty private eye novel and oils it and gives it new charm and a fresh look. Most of all, he gives the genre an intriguing new hero in Payton Sherwood."
--Michael Connelly

"East of A presents quirky characters in amusingly noirish, nouveau city mode. It's New York--the essential Alphabet City of any good cynic's lexicon--and the entanglements and entrapments are sometimes as surreal as they are suspenseful. I had a wonderful time reading Russell Atwood's novel."
--Ann Beattie

"Russell Atwood dishes up a winning debut in East of A. Populated with quirky, yet real, characters--and speeding along like a subway express-- East of A establishes a new category of suspense fiction: downtown noir. Atwood definitely has his finger on the pulse of the city that never sleeps."
--Jeffery Deaver

"Debut thriller set within the neo-noir confines of New York's East Village. . . Good suspense, plenty of action, and great local color add up to a winner."
--Kirkus Reviews (a starred review)

"As the series develops, one can imagine [Payton Sherwood] attracting fans as a second-generation Matt Scudder la Lawrence Block. The East Village setting functions as a seductive, vibrant, and somewhat dangerous background character. Atwood and Sherwood are both new players worth watching."

"Readers nostalgic for the shabby PI with the manly integrity of Bogart will cheer the debut of Atwood and his '90s noir hero, whose turf includes the stained sidewalks, perilous tenements, and pierced, tattooed denizens of New York's Lower East Side. . . Atwood sets up a devilishly classic denouement. The narration pulses with verve and threat."
--Publishers Weekly

"[Atwood] pays heartfelt tribute to the long-suffering residents of the district and to hardboiled novelists of the past."
--Library Journal


(We sent out advance reader's editions of the book to some lucky mystery readers who were randomly chosen from the many requests we received. These are their thoughts.)

It is generally with great apprenhention that I try a first time author. With Russell Atwood's East of A,I was more than surprised. From the opening page it was nothing but twists and turns. His descriptions were so vivid that you could both see and hear the streets of New York. I thought he gave a correct depiction of the night club scene as well as the drug world that lurks just below the surface. I thought that Mr. Atwood's writing style as well as the character Payton Sherwood reminded me of Robert Parker and his Spenser series. Both are written in the first person and make you feel as though you are walking right beside them. The only drawback was the ending. I would have like another page or two so that the characters could be wrapped up a little more.

I truly enjoyed Mr. Atwood's book and look forward to his next endeavor. I would like to see Payton Sherwood become a series. Mystery lovers are always looking for a good new series.

--Cindi LaSpada

"East of A" begins slowly, leading the reader to wonder where the story is heading--but all such doubts are soon dispelled as the action commences and the pace of the story increases steadily to the "unputdownable" climax. Evocative descriptions characterize the book and Mr. Atwood weaves a skillful picture of the neighborhoods and characters of Alphabet City on New York's Lower East Side.

Payton Sherwood, the principal character, is comfortably flawed. Like a latter-day knight in less than shining armor he seeks to help Gloria, a streetwise girl falsely implicated in a complicated drug theft, albeit initially against her will and for less than wholly altruistic motives.

The book has a very satisfactory conclusion. Like all good heroes, Payton survives the ordeals to win the day and in the process neatly ties together all the main threads of the story, leaving just one stray strand to keep the reader wondering. It is to be hoped that Mr. Atwood will soon share further cases from the files of P.I. Sherwood.

--Sue Bellworthy

I have to admit I'm not a hard boiled/noir fan but I am a sucker for books set in New York, having spent a few days there last year. The East Village is not a part I've visited or now plan to, based on the description in East of A. The author paints a vivid picture of life in this part of New York, a place apparently inhabited by the hopeless and the dangerous.

Payton Sherwood, an impoverished P.I., steps in to protect a teenager from attack by three thugs and is beaten up badly in her place. As reward the young woman steals his $3,000 watch, thus embroiling Payton in a quest for his most valuable possession. This leads to an involvement with drug dealers, a revenge plot, and more violence, with all the action taking place in a breathless 36 hours.

This novel has a very strong sense of place and the hero is a likeable character who does feel pain but can also talk himself out of (some) trouble. There were several throwaway comments I really liked. Personally, I just found the book a bit too grisly, but then I prefer offscreen violence! I think fans of this genre will enjoy it.

--Karen Meek

I had a hard time staying with the story. Usually I can visualize what the characters in a book look s like, personality, area they are in etc. The main character was too clinical and impersonal.

Basic story was ok but at times confusing.

--Carolyn Milne

Struggling P.I. Payton Sherwood witnesses the mugging of a young street girl, and coming to her aid, he is savagely beaten. Only to have her steal his gold Rolex watch as he lies bleeding in the street. Thus begins Atwood's debut thriller East of A. Atwood captures the gritty realism and dark allure of the Big Apple. As Sherwood searches for his stolen Rolex, he becomes entangled in the seamy underworld of the city. Full of quirky characters and tough-talking prose--first time novelist Russell Atwood has crafted an exciting noir thriller that packs a punch from its opening scene to its final, unforgettable conclusion.

--Grace M. Bryan

Where is Humphrey Bogart? Atwood's first foray into novel-length material is a star turn of noir for the new millenium. Our hero, Payton Sherwood, is a not quite successful private eye who likes to think of himself as both a white knight and a hard-boiled P.I. at the same time. A pose very difficult to maintain in New York--especially in the East Village--especially when a runaway has stolen your Rolex and is in terrible trouble with the really bad guys. Can Sherwood find the girl and the watch and solve the crime? He takes to the streets determined to do just that. Will he succeed? Stay tuned.

Atwood, like his predecessors Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, uses some of the phrases that will be dated soon, but will fix forever the time and the place. For example, the "Got milk?" sequences had me laughing out loud. I know that this subgenre isn't supposed to be funny, but we all know that you just can't be dark all the time. Sometimes an in joke sets the time and place perfectly. East of A takes you on a ride through the rough, shadowed places of the human psyche and leaves you begging for more. Here looking for a sequel, kid.

--Kelly Chandler

East of A by Russell Atwood clearly captures the noir feel of New York City. Payton Sherwood is a down-on-his-luck private investigator who gets mugged the night he returns home from an out-of-town court case. He is now determined to get his Rolex back. His search leads him through the back alleys of NYC and brings him into contact with several interesting characters, both good and bad.

This is definitely not a cozy; Payton gets beaten up several times and does his own share of violence. The action is nonstop, and the characters are brought vividly to life. I especially liked Jimmy, a homeless gardener, and his dog, Pike. The only minor quibble I have is that I couldn't quite believe that he would get this involved over a watch no matter how valuable the watch was. But if you accept the beginning premise, the rest of the book is excellent. I will certainly be looking for the next book by Russell Atwood.

--Barbara Murray

What can be said of a man like Payton Sherwood? Is he a man without a city? Is he a man in search of a life he once had that is now out of reach and a neighborhood he once knew but is now foreign to him?

First let me begin by being positive. I believe Mr. Atwood is a talented writer. He writes with a certain flair for analogies that I envy. "The music was beating too loud to be polite, brute force was necessary to make any headway. I felt like a blood clot in the midst of angina." Mr. Atwood also captures the real essence of the people of Payton's neighborhood from the initially unknown Gloria through all the characters Payton meets along the way. Unfortunately most of those meetings wind up being detrimental to Payton's health. Mr. Atwood also does this with a great sense of humor. "The milkman swore. Then swore down at me, using his boot for punctuation. Talk about your lactose intolerants." As well as, "My eyes opened to a rose hue, but at least I could see out of both again. If I believed what I saw: a fuzzy blue house slipper tap-tapping the sidewalk in front of my face. Sprouting from it, a hairy, walnut-brown ankle growing up into a knobby knee. To see more of him, I had to turn over."

It is clear Mr. Atwood is very knowledgeable of the East Village and the people. The problem I had with the book was with the plot. I'm not sure I understand what was so important about a Rolex that you would risk your life several times over for it. More importantly, the first time Payton risked his life it wasn't even for his Rolex. It was for some total stranger involved in a situation that he happened upon. So I asked myself, was it really about the Rolex initially? It couldn't have been, otherwise Payton would have let it be once he got his watch back. And if it was not about the Rolex, then what was it about? Is Payton trying to fill some void in his life left by Clair? Does he feel he screwed up his relationship with her and now must do something to atone for that? Is he getting the mother/father/big brother fix by helping figure out who set Gloria up? Or is it about his neighborhood and wanting in some way to preserve it? Does he feel that by rescuing Gloria he is fulfilling some duty to protect and defend his neighborhood and its occupants, some of whom don't even know him? Do I care by the time it is all over with? Frankly, no. It took me a long time to read this book because I just could not care about what happened to these people and I sure as heck couldn't fathom why Payton should care.

The characters made much more of an impression on him then he ever made on them. And even at that, they wind up being mere images on a screen passing through his life. The incident with the Chungs and why they left the neighborhood and why that is important to the story is never explained! Gloria is left sleeping in his apartment while he goes clubbing and resolves the whole mystery. So what happens to Gloria? Does she thank him for absolving her of any wrongdoing and go back to living with the few friends she has among the living? Does she turn her life completely around because of what Payton has done for her? And what about the way this book ends? It ended so abruptly and left so much unexplained. The ending was as much a disappointment to me as the rest of the story. I really believe there should have been an epilogue.

I don't know if an epilogue would have solved all the problems I think this plot had, but it certainly would have helped. I read somewhere that this book was generating a lot of buzz before I had an opportunity to review it. I don't know what kind of buzz it is generating, but it must be among people who like the unusual and iconoclastic type of mystery novel with designer drugs as one of the threads winding through the plot (good luck finding the end of that string). It is cleary a novel for the 90's, but not for me!

Thank you so much for the opportunity to review a book and I would welcome this chance any time it came up again!

--Barbara Betts

More to come!

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