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AJ Basinski

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“Thank you, Captain Carpenter”

The impetus for my latest military thriller, A Rainy Night in Georgia, came from certain events that occurred while I was in basic training during the Vietnam war. But the inspiration for that novel goes back even further.
When I entered the University of Pittsburgh as a freshman in 1965, the school required every student to take a course in writing. My writing class was taught by a graduate assistant, Mr. Carpenter. He looked to be about 30 years old, had close-cropped hair and a commanding presence. He told the class that he had graduated from Harvard and that he was just back from Vietnam where he had been a company commander in the United States Marine Corps, with the rank of Captain. My brother was about to be sent to Vietnam with the First Infantry Division where he would serve almost 6 months. In 1970 I would be sent to Vietnam where I served a little over six months.
Of course, all that was then in the future. But now I was anxious to begin class and improve my writing skills. Up to that point I never thought I was a particularly good writer. I was concerned that I lacked the imagination to capture the elements of description, dialogue and other aspects of writing fiction. I soon found Mr. Carpenter’s class was exactly the right place to learn those skills and more.

The first few assignments in the class were somewhat mundane. They were of the “what I did last summer” variety. As we got deeper into the course, the assignments, particularly those done in class, became more intense and demanding. I began to grasp what it meant to write well. Mr. Carpenter occasionally would put one of my stories on the overhead projector and show it on the screen to the entire class. I have to admit I found it exhilarating to have him choose my stories.

I took a number of other writing courses and ended up majoring in writing. None of the courses were as good as Mr. Carpenter’s. As I neared graduation, I recognized it would be extremely difficult to make a career in writing. I always wanted to be a lawyer like Perry Mason and decided to go to law school.

Before I could start law school, I was drafted the United States Army. After I was discharged, I did go to law school. After graduating, I practiced in the area of civil litigation with two prominent law firms for almost 40 years before retiring. All through those years, I continued to write fiction, mostly short stories.

Once I retired, I began writing in earnest. I wrote a trilogy featuring Lieutenant Mario Morales, a retired LAPD homicide detective, as the protagonist: Dead in the Water, A Reservation for Murder and The China Connection. Once the trilogy was complete, I pivoted back to my own personal history and wrote A Rainy Night in Georgia. The book is a chronicle of one soldier’s experience during that chaotic period, not unlike the present, when the country was tragically divided. The protagonist, Frank Grabowski, is a newly admitted lawyer who is called upon to represent his friend, Perry Morrocco who is charged with murdering a brutal drill sergeant. Grabowski is not me although we share some characteristics. I have tried to convey what it was like for someone caught up in the draft and sent to Vietnam to fight a war that was deeply unpopular and the toll it took upon our country for those who did. But this is not just a military thriller. Here is the special sauce: the novel educates the reader in detail how a lawyer investigates, prepares and tries a murder case, with all of its ups and downs.


I have described Morrocco, the accused murderer, as one of the organizers of antiwar demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago that descended into rioting. Recently, Aaron Sorkin, the widely acclaimed creator of The West Wing, has written and directed a movie, now showing on Netflix, called The Trial of the Chicago 7.That film follows the actual trial of the leaders of the accused rioters. My novel, A Rainy Night in Georgia, is the perfect fictional coda to that story.

Thank you, Captain Carpenter.

THE CHINA CONNECTION Cover
THRILLERS

THE CHINA CONNECTION

BY AJ Basinski • POSTED ON Nov. 28, 2017

A former cop must find the culprit who brutally assaulted his wife in this third installment of a thriller series.

Lt. Mario Morales is head of security on the cruise ship the Mardi Gras. He spends his downtime with his wife of seven months, Sun Li, who’s also a ship employee. One night, Morales awakens in the couple’s cabin to find a masked individual beating Sun Li. The assailant dazes Morales with a blow to the head before escaping, although no passenger sees anyone run from the room.  Sun Li’s injuries are so severe that the Coast Guard picks her up for transportation to a trauma hospital. When the ship finally returns to the Miami home port, local police take over the investigation. But they surprisingly arrest Morales and charge him with attempted murder. Morales’ new lawyer, Rick Chopin, gets him out on bail but the ex-cop doesn’t plan on sitting around. Prior to his arrest, he’d surmised the attack had ties to Shanghai Blue, the company where Sun Li once worked, which Morales learned was a front for illicit deeds. He’ll most likely have to head to China if he hopes to identify his wife’s attacker. Basinski (A Reservation for Murder, 2016, etc.) knows how to keep his plot moving. Smoothly transitioning perspectives from Morales and Chopin showcase two distinctive investigations, as the attorney is less assertive than the experienced former cop. The author moreover sets a stellar pace with short chapters and concise dialogue. There’s only a modicum of mystery, although Morales stumbles onto an apparent conspiracy and discovers a shocking secret about Sun Li. But a few elements of the tale are a bit bewildering. For example, at one point, Morales is certain he watches an individual die, only for the character to turn up alive later; it’s not clear, even by the end, how exactly that came about.

A likable recurring hero fronts a brisk but sometimes-confusing detective story.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-981243-14-3

Page count: 204pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

A Reservation for Murder Cover
MYSTERY & CRIME

A Reservation for Murder

BY AJ Basinski • POSTED ON July 22, 2016

The second in Basinski’s (Dead in the Water, 2015, etc.) thriller series finds returning retired cop Lt. Mario Morales cutting his vacation short when he reluctantly joins a murder investigation.

Morales hasn’t even checked into the Bonita Inn on Florida’s Palm Island when he hears about a floating cooler with pieces of a body inside. But he’s there to spend time with Sun Li, hoping their friendship will develop into something more. After several days, the local chief of police (and fellow LAPD officer back in the day), Ed Shipley, asks Morales for help finding whomever shot and killed the victim, Mark Sullivan. Morales says no thanks, but when Sun Li unexpectedly splits, a letter left as explanation, he changes his mind. Ed believes Sullivan may have found gold, an alleged batch the CIA lent to the Cuban government in the ’60s that went missing. That’s not quite as shocking as someone taking a shot at Ed and Morales, though it’s unclear which one was the target. Morales heads to his home base of Little Havana for intel from the CIA and eventually confirms that someone’s definitely trying to kill him. He gradually uncovers a web of deceit surrounding Sullivan, as well as another body, and soon worries that Sun Li didn’t leave—not willingly, at least. Basinski quickly builds sympathy for his protagonist with Morales’ undeniable devotion to Sun Li. The ex-cop is slow to start questioning people, but once he does, the case escalates. He adds a suspect or two, for example, attempting to link Sullivan to the second murder, and with credible evidence, including an insurance policy and blackmail, red herrings aren’t easy to identify. An incriminating clue near the end perhaps too conveniently points to a killer, but that doesn’t make the inevitable confrontation any less intense. Morales’ first-person narrative makes him even more endearing, describing his surroundings not like a meticulous detective but an ordinary guy; a dinner table, for example, reminds him of Sunday meals with his grandma.

Readers will surely root for this good-natured gumshoe.

Pub Date: July 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5238-6390-7

Page count: 176pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

DEAD IN THE WATER Cover
THRILLERS

DEAD IN THE WATER

BY AJ Basinski • POSTED ON Feb. 27, 2015

In Basinski’s debut thriller, a murder aboard a cruise ship may not be so simple to solve for a retired Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant, especially when there’s no body.

Former cop Lt. Mario Morales, head of security on the Mardi Gras, is awakened by a guard who claims there’s been a murder. Robert Weigand, on his honeymoon, believes wife Linda is dead since he can’t find her anywhere. Morales doesn’t make much headway in his investigation before the ship docks in Miami, finding no evidence of foul play—or a corpse. But once the feds take over the case on land, they quickly name and arrest a suspect—the newlyweds’ boss, car dealer Joe Hugo, who bankrolled and joined the couple on their trip. Morales, however, thinks a Chinese businessman’s interest in the bankrupt cruise line Mariner may have played a part in the nefarious events onboard. The novel opens with an exquisite atmosphere: the Mardi Gras, now the site of a possible murder, floats still in the water, shrouded by fog. Scenes depicting the ship’s innately claustrophobic setting are terrific but disappointingly few, since the vessel reaches shore well before the story’s over. Nevertheless, Basinski takes the time to develop characters introduced during the cruise: Sun Li, an enigmatic woman who knows about Linda’s murder before other passengers, and attorney Bud Gorley, who never even boards the Mardi Gras and first appears in flashback. Mysteries surrounding these characters all come to light as Morales sets out to prove Joe’s innocence. Morales is a likable protagonist, a levelheaded man who considers every possibility. Unfortunately, he’s a bit lacking as an investigator. A few significant things he does in Miami, such as peruse the ship’s surveillance tapes, he could have just as easily done onboard. But he does ask endless questions—a sure sign that the steely man won’t stop until he finds a solution.

A modest but effective thriller with a protagonist who has the potential for his own series.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-1503270725

Page count: 248pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2015

A RAINY NIGHT IN GEORGIA Cover
THRILLERS

A RAINY NIGHT IN GEORGIA

BY AJ Basinski

Basinski’s legal procedural is set on Georgia’s Fort Daley Army base in 1969 when the Vietnam War is raging and the anti-war protest movement is gaining traction.

Drafted after completing law school, Pvt. Frank Grabowski is in basic training and not by choice. It’s a cold October morning when he learns that Sgt. Eustice Benson has been killed, repeatedly stabbed to death during the night. Benson had been an especially brutal drill sergeant, but he was also a war hero. The Army intends to conclude the case quickly. Within the day, they arrest Pvt. Perry Morrocco and charge him with premeditated murder. A year earlier, Perry had rescued Frank from the police-instigated violence during Chicago’s Democratic convention. Now they are serendipitously serving in the same unit in Fort Daley. Perry has been an active anti-war protester, and his induction in the Army was the unconventional result of having been arrested for drug possession after leaving Woodstock. It’s through such narrative snippets that Basinski evokes the political, legal, and social turmoil that was roiling the country at the time. Much to Frank’s surprise, Perry is refusing to talk unless his just-out-of-law-school buddy is assigned to the Judge Advocate General defense team. JAG attorney Lt. Karen Farrall is co-counsel, and she and Frank begin the search for other plausible suspects, indulging in a bit of romance along the way. This is first and foremost an engaging legal drama, pitting the idealism and naiveté of an inexperienced attorney against the institutionalized power of the U.S. Army. But it also serves to highlight one of the tragic ancillary problems arising out of the Vietnam debacle—the easy availability of drugs in Southeast Asia, resulting in a dependency that plagued too many returning troops. Legal enthusiasts will find some disturbing examples of the differences between civilian and military codes of justice. Conversational narration and easy-flowing dialogue propel the story forward at a good pace, with a couple of surprises along the way, including an unsettling epilogue.

An enjoyable, intriguing read that captures the atmosphere of a chaotic era.

Pub Date:

Page count: 195pp

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2020