«The characters are very well drawn, and in general, the book is very well written. The mechanism of how Strenck escaped is extremely imaginative, and the proposed method gives the book a real touch of novelty. «Flight in February» by Philip Kraske is a genuinely imaginative book that is well-crafted, and is fully worthy of five stars.»
«A great, great read, no holds barred… The characterisation was brilliant and the various different elements that the novel was composed of were all magnificently developed and interesting, from bike riding to the interior of prisons and prison life, all of which takes place across the deformed American politiscape, of which Kraske offers a stark vision.»
— Graham Kelsey, author of Anarchosyndicalism.
«The reader will be hooked from the start when we see Marcus crawling through a blizzard with only a few feet between him and his freedom. The superbly crafted writing takes us through many highs and lows…
«Action, drama, mystery, and suspense, Flight in February is a firecracker thriller from beginning to end.»
«The book abounds with tremendous details, every word chosen with care but provided with seemingly effortless writing…The dialogue drives the story along with precision, humor and wit. These are truly believable characters….
«I won’t compare Philip Kraske to Jonathan Franzen or Paul Auster, but I am sure others will, given the breadth and ambition of this work.»
«An enthralling, well-crafted novel, exciting and suspenseful…The novel is so well written you can feel the cold from the winter wind and the cold shoulders that (Deputy Marshal Henry) Scott has to deal with. The author is a genius in developing a plot.»
Flight in February is a mix of two stories – a prison-escape adrenalin-throbber and a bitter espionage story. The lead character is the downtrodden U.S. deputy marshal, Henry Scott, who is a sort of Willy Loman with a badge. The escaped convict is Marcus Strenk, who is no Willy Loman: just witness his story-opening escape from maximum security. Strenk leaves behind a dozen paintings that fall into a connoisseur’s hands and are soon widely acclaimed. The connoisseur uses the publicity to throw a monkey wrench into the hunt for Strenk.
But the main story is Strenk hiding out at the University of Minnesota, living in an old car, while everyone is after him. He has no money, but through people who owe him favors at the prison, plans to swindle the prison kingpin out of enough money to finance his getaway.
Henry Scott investigates the FBI’s unusual interest in Strenk and discovers a cynical anti-narcotics spy operation that Strenk was the key to. (You’ll learn some surprising things about the sunnier side of relations between cops and drug barons.) But with his step through the looking-glass of espionage, Henry also learns why the FBI must kill Strenk.
Plunk down your cash. The print version of Flight in February is now available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and everywhere else for about 12 dollars. I say «about» because it often changes; the Amazon price once fell to $6.40. Amazon’s Kindle version is cheaper — about $6.50. (The Kindle is of the first edition, since it didn’t make any sense to make a new Kindle of the second.) In case you’re wondering, my cut of any pie, regardless of price, is about a buck; the cannibals between you and me take the rest.
The absolute cheapest version, though, is the PDF, which I will send you for two bucks. Just send a PayPal payment to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send the PDF to your PayPal address. Don’t forget to specify which title of mine you’re buying. And anybody who writes a favorable review of one of my books at an online site gets a free PDF of any other of my titles. No kidding — just two or three delirious sentences, and you’ve got another week of reading free.
The great thing about writing these days is that there’s no money in it — except for the Big Foot writers who churn out doorstops unworthy of the trees sacrificed to them. For the rest of us, it’s all just for love of the art: one person that loves to tell stories talking to another that loves to hear ‘em. That’s the beauty of it.
Here’s an excerpt that sums up best the mystery of Marcus Strenk’s escape from a maximum-security prison on a sub-zero February night in Minnesota.
“Now, as the Bureau agents did take care of the investigation for me and the evidence for the suicide has weight, I suppose that publicly we had better call it a suicide.» Henry tried to make a joke: «After all, I’m just a U.S. Deputy Marshal. What do I know?»
«I resent that comment, Deputy Scott,» said Marshal Meganne. «We are the legally chartered agency in charge of searches for escaped prisoners, not the Federal Bureau of Disinformation.»
«Sorry, sir. Still, for operational purposes, it seems to me we ought to assume that the convict Strenk has escaped until it can be demonstrated otherwise. So a national APB should be issued immediately.”
“Uh-huh. Very prudent,” said Marshal Meganne. “Very wise. And you called me why, Henry?”
“Well, sir –”
“I was not advising the highest in the land at the moment of your call, but I do have some little bit of work to do.” His ashy voice seethed with patience. He was talking on his office intercom, and in the background, Henry could hear Meganne’s inane office music. Neil Diamond was singing “Sweet Caroline.”
“Well, sir, I remembered your standing order that any case that might impact on interagency relations you wanted to be personally informed about.”
Meganne affected an old man’s mumble, which he did whenever he found an opportunity to ridicule the other for being less than articulate. “I-I’m afraid I’m a little dense, Henry. The years, you know. Can you explain yourself?”
“Well, sir, the Bureau is saying it was a suicide, and it could well be that. Washington County Forensics said that they didn’t find human remains in the furnace’s ashes, but they couldn’t be completely sure. Food scraps and a lot of other organic material are mixed in. Besides, they say their business is bodies, not ashes.»
«The likeliest of excuses.»
«So I’ve sent the furnace ashes to Chicago counter-intelligence for further testing. They should get back to me tomorrow. Now I wouldn’t mind showing up the Bureau and calling this an escape straightaway, but if I put out the word of an escape, and the media headlines a breakout, it won’t look so good when we turn around and say, ‘Whoops, we just found a finger of him in the ash bin.’”
«Ah. Indeed. Yes. The Bureau bastards would love that.”
Meganne thought while Neil Diamond sang a chorus. Henry rearranged himself on Warden Fullman’s swivel chair, but could not find a position satisfactory to his back, now murderously tight from the cold. Finally, he stood up and hooked a thigh on the edge of the desk.
“You said that Strenk put a Playboy magazine on the front of the garbage pen. What do the hallway tapes show? Did he just dump it on top?”
“No — that’s a strange one, too. When he went into the guards’ break room, it wasn’t there. He came out, and there it was.”
“And of course you tracked down every guard in the break room at the time and they told you that Joe Shmoe was looking at it, finished it, nobody wanted it, and he chucked it on top?”
Henry had thought of that, too. “No — that’s the thing. Nobody saw it, nobody chucked it on top. It just appeared out of the blue.”
“To distract the guard at the security gate,” said Meganne. “All right, that’s a solid point for the escape theory, and the guard will soon be unemployed. What else? This square of acid across the chimney grate. Was it parallel with the bars of the grate?”
“No, slightly off.”
“Damn.” A huff. “Well, what the hell does it look like, Henry? You said this chimney is in the middle of the exercise yard. Let’s say our boy climbed out of it. There are the usual electronic doodads to detect that kind of thing, I trust. What’s the matter? Are they defective in a snowstorm?”
“No, sir, there’s nothing wrong with them. I just spent some time with the chief of security. Man named Hank –”
“Spare me the fucking details, Deputy Scott!”
Henry swallowed. “We checked both ground-pressure and movement sensors all over the place. All systems are in perfect order, even though it’s snowing like the dickens out here.” Why does he deflate me so completely? Henry wondered with despair.
“And how high up did you check those sensors on the chimney, eh, Henry? Did you remember to –”
“Yes, sir,” Henry said, thanking his Maker that the same thought had occurred to him. “They sense everything to within a few feet of the top. After that is the smoke, so they don’t aim any higher. And the sensors on the rail around the courtyard are turned outward.”
“All right, so he could have stood on the top and waited for, say, a helicopter to come pick him up.”
Henry jerked back the phone and stared at it. What kind of a ridiculous idea is that? “That’s true, sir, except that helicopters make noise and vibration, and everyone in the offices around the yard would have heard it.”
“And how many people are in government offices at six-twelve in the evening?” Meganne barked.
“I haven’t checked, but –”
“I’ll tell you — maybe two — the two that work like hell and are deaf and blind by evening as a result. Like me.”
“Sure, but there’s a twenty-four-hour guard circling the prison complex. They would have heard. Besides, in a snowstorm, it would be one hell of a trick to pick someone off a chimney-top in one swoop.”
Another bitter silence. “And this parasol pole,” said Meganne. “It wouldn’t have reached from the chimney –”
“To the railing around the courtyard?” Henry finished. “No sir, not, not even half-way — or a quarter.”
Silence. «Sweet Caroline» ended. Another song began, something bouncy. “Well, this is an underground prison, what about the grounds on top of it? You checked, I’m sure.”
“Combed the field with men and dogs. Not a thing. And the electronic security is running like a top. Even with the snow, the ground sensors picked us up easily.”
“Anything on the acid?”
“Sent a sample to the lab. They’ll get back to me in a day or two.”
Another silence. Henry heard a loud bang, and supposed that it was Meganne’s fist whacking the table.
“All right, so what are the options?” he said wearily. “Jesus H. Christ, we’re down to the choice between evils again, aren’t we? No wonder consumerism is so damnably attractive. Tell me the options, Henry, and let’s get on with it.”
“The best is that we ignore the Bureau entirely, which is what I would have done if they had never interfered, and put out the APB, figuring that the Chicago results will turn up negative and we won’t end up with egg on our face.”
“Faces. We do not have one sole face,” Meganne snapped. He was always correcting the grammar in Henry’s reports.
Henry listened to «Here You Come Again.» “Well…I guess that’s the best thing — for the moment.” Meganne’s dissatisfaction dripped like a leaky faucet.
“It’s a funny case, sir. I don’t –”
“You’re damn right it’s funny! Escape from maximum security is a mathematical impossibility — even if he did get up the damn furnace chimney. But we don’t have a body — no fucking body!”
“Well, Chicago forensics may well find that –”
“And maybe they won’t,” Meganne snapped, to Henry’s secret delight. “You don’t need brilliant forensics to find human remains in a trash bin: just a bit of tooth or elbow would sew up the whole thing.”
“Well, time will tell.”
“Too much time will tell: another whole day! You said it yourself, Henry: if he was smart enough to get up the chimney, he’s smart enough to have an escape plan ready once he got there. He didn’t go down into that furnace floor all wet for nothing. And he had 550 bucks in his pocket — that will buy you a nice long taxi ride.”
“I was surprised the Bureau agents didn’t see that he was wet.” It was as much as Henry had alluded to them.
“So am I. The Bureau birds are a little too proud sometimes, though. All right, Henry — get moving. Just one word before you start. You are my deputy marshal in charge of Enforcement Section. A convicted criminal may have escaped, and if he has, I will hold you personally responsible for his capture and return. Your man will have a two-day jump on you, and you’ll have to know him inside-out in order to catch him. So while Chicago runs its comb through the ashes, bone the hell up. Memorize his file, find out whose butt he smelled in prison, talk to his playmates, learn his shoe size. And for Chrissakes, talk to Jim O’Brien in Minneapolis Bureau Narcotics; you know him, I think?”
“Sure, we were detectives on Minneapolis Homicide back in the good old days.”
“That’s right, too, isn’t it? And then he went up to the Bureau and you came sideways to the Marshals because you wanted to be some kind of exec, isn’t that right, Henry? Order people around, choose their pay grades? Waste of talent if you ask me.”
“I haven’t considered –”
“You haven’t tried much, Deputy Scott! For a long time. Now let’s see what sort of cop is left of you.” Papers skirmished amidst the music as something new captured Meganne’s interest. “All right, get on with it.” Dolly Parton warbled for several seconds, as if Meganne were weighing something else to say — or perhaps his attention had darted off, and only his gray hand was blindly crawling across the desk toward the phone. The phone went dead just as she entered a new chorus.