No Shelter By Z. Constance Frost

If you write and publish a book and no one reads it, does it exist? It's a scary thought to consider but one that must be considered. But before I get into that, I wanted to say that tonight I finally watched The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I didn't care much for the book -- while I found the overall storyline really interesting, the writing was longwinded and boring -- but I really enjoyed the movie. As it's a foreign film, it was pretty explicit in parts, and I'm curious to see how much they clean it up in the American version. Everyone talks about how Lisbeth Salander is one bad ass chick, and while she certainly is, I recently read about another bad ass chick I wanted to tell you about.

Here's the description of No Shelter by Z. Constance Frost from Amazon:

Holly Lin is living two lives. To her friends and family, she's a pleasant, hardworking nanny. To her boss and colleagues, she's one of the best non-sanctioned government assassins in the world.

But when a recent mission goes wrong causing one of her team members to die, she realizes she might no longer be cut out for the work — except the mission, as it turns out, is only half over, and to complete it will take her halfway across the world and bring her face to face with a ghost from her past.

Things are about to get personal. And as Holly Lin's enemies are about to find out, she is not a nanny they want to piss off.

Not bad, right? Well what really sold me was the cover, as seen above. Apparently my friend Wyatt Perko did it. In an e-mail Z. Constance Frost told me she loved what he had done with The Silver Ring, checked out his website, and ended up contacting him about doing a cover for her book. And Wyatt, as always, came up with something really awesome. So then obviously, I told myself, I had to check out the book. I'm very glad I did.

Initially (and sheepishly) I intended on No Shelter being a "Kindle phone book." My "Kindle phone books" are the ones I read whenever I have a few spare minutes and can pull out my phone and open my Kindle app and read a chapter or two. Only sometimes I become really engrossed in the story and it takes priority over the "main book" I'm currently reading (the ones I feature on this website's sidebar). I started No Shelter last Wednesday and finished it Friday. It was fast-paced and well written with a style that reminded me of Charlie Huston with just a touch of Duane Swierczynski. Here's a part from the beginning, when the protagonist Holly Lin goes into a Las Vegas hotel for a hit:

I turn back and jump for a place just beside the door. I flick the switch for the lights just as the knob turns and the door is pushed open. I realize my heels are going to be a burden and pull them off, place the one on the floor, keep the other in my hand. I hold it with the toe pointed toward my wrist, the heel pointed out.

The door opens wider, yellow light suffusing the plush expensive carpet. The man’s silhouette holds a gun at his side.

“Jerold?” he says, caution now in his voice as he takes a step forward.

I wait for him to take another step before I lean out and swing the heel. I aim for his face but luck out and strike him in the throat. His mouth opens and his eyes go wide and his free hand goes to his neck like it will do any good, which it won’t, because I’ve driven the heel right into his larynx.

He tries raising the gun with his other hand but I grab it, turn it around so it’s aimed at his chest. I place one bullet there and push past him into the main room, see that with the four girls two men in suits have been lounging on the couches. The men are already scrambling to their feet, already reaching for their guns. I put two bullets in the one guy’s head, two bullets in the other guy’s, and then I’m running forward, the gun aimed at the guy behind the wet bar.

He ducks behind the glass, comes back up with a TEC-9, sets it on automatic and lets it rip.

I dive behind one of the couches for cover. I’m barely aware of the girls screaming and the rap music blaring and the deafening blasts of the gunfire. I eject the clip, see how many rounds I have left, pop the clip back in, rack the slide and wait a moment, a half second, before I make my move.

The guy behind the wet bar’s an idiot—he exhausts the entire clip, which gives me the chance to pop back up from behind the couch, aim and fire toward the wet bar. He sees me and ducks but I plan for that and aim low, striking him in the chest.

Two of the girls have been caught in the crossfire, their dead bodies spread out like rag dolls on the floor. The other two girls keep low with their hands on their ears, crying and screaming.

The foyer door opens and the gunfire starts up again, the guy who’d frisked me charging in with his finger pressing the trigger of his nine. I put it down to a rookie mistake—you never charge into a gunfight, not if you don’t know what’s what first—and I shoot him in the left leg twice, the guy crying out, falling, dropping his weapon.

I reach him a second later as he tries to stand back up, tries to reach for the gun. I bend down and pick his gun up, knowing he has more rounds in his piece than in mine.

His face is red. It looks like he’s hyperventilating. I should tell him to take it easy, just breathe, but instead I point his own gun at his face.

I was so impressed with this book I wondered why the author had decided to self-publish it instead of trying to go the traditional route. So I e-mailed her with this question, and after some back and forth in which I learned hardly anyone knew about the existence of this book (let alone its author), I wanted to include her answers here.

RS: As I noted, I enjoyed your book a lot. Is it really your first novel, and why did you decide to go the self-publishing route instead of going through a traditional publisher?

ZCF: Thanks again, Robert! I'm so happy you liked No Shelter. And to answer your question, no, this is not really my "first novel." I've written three other novels before this one, all which I guess would be considered "chick lit." But one day I was reading a Lee Child novel and thought it would be cool to make a female character as tough and smart as Jack Reacher. And so Holly Lin was born. It took me about six months to write it, then another six months before I managed to sign with an agent. I was thrilled but then the rejections started coming in. Basically a few editors liked it but didn't like it enough, or they liked it but didn't know how they could properly market the book. Long story short, my agent decided it was time to put the book away. And that was really disheartening, because I wrote it as the first book in a series. It wasn't like I could write the second book and try to sell that. So I decided it wouldn't hurt to self-publish it as an e-book. :-)

RS: From what you've told me, you're new to the whole social networking game, right?

ZCF: Yes, that's true. Between work and taking care of my children, I barely have enough time to write let alone try to promote myself online. But I realized that if I did self-publish this book as an e-book, I would have to make some kind of online presence. So I created a blog and got onto Facebook and that's about it. It's probably not enough but for now it's all the time I have to spare.

RS: Where does the book's title come from?

ZCF: The title is taken from a Rage Against the Machine song. If I do continue with the series (I guess it depends on how well this first book does), then I plan on titling all the books after songs. I even have the next book's title in mind, "Down in a Hole" by Alice in Chains.

RS: Final question: what does the "Z" stand for?

ZCF: Sorry, it's an old family name, and my lips are sealed. :-)

If you like fast-paced thrillers (or books with a female lead that kicks a lot of ass), I encourage you to check out No Shelter. Visit Z. Constance Frost's website for details on how you can get a free copy and a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Amazon.

P.S. On a completely different note, Ricky Gervais is awesome!