A recent interviewer asked me which five books I’d want if I was stranded on a desert island. One of my choices was Good Omens, the now-classic demons/angels turnabout by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. So when I saw the blurb for Ken Newman’s latest novel, The Voice in My Ear, I was looking forward to similar fun. And Newman does not disappoint. I’m so excited to have not only Ken as my guest, but a surprise visitor: Layla, one of the main characters.
I thought we’d start with Ken, but Layla had other ideas. And when you’re dealing with a 4000 year-old demon cursed into life as a tattoo because she can’t survive without a host… Well, let’s just say ladies first.
Welcome, Layla! How were you originally cursed and what are the terms of the curse? Is there an “out” clause? I was nearly unstoppable in my powers and none could oppose me, however I had a crisis of conscience after an encounter with a fallen angel named Larry. I turned from my wicked ways and was determined to redeem myself. In my moment of weakness the people I loved the most, blindsided me. They destroyed my body, in an effort to turn my spirit into an unthinking slave. They wanted me sort of like a Genie using my powers at their beck and call. Boy did that backfire! I am afraid they didn’t regret their mistake for very long.
Your relationship with Zack makes you part of a really…unusual… love triangle. What happened to your last boyfriend? My last relationship was over 3,000 years ago and that was with my husband Kortu Shu. He was the one who reduced me to this state.
If you could manifest in the real world, what is the first thing you would do? (Okay the second thing, not counting Zack…) As a disembodied being who can only observe and not be able to indulge in the simple act of human touch, I am hitting a spa. I have dreamed of a massage for 3,000 years!
How did you meet Larry and why does he find “guardians” for you? Dear Larry is my best friend…and sometimes worst enemy. When I was in my witchy prime I tried to become a God and trust me, that takes power. I decided to take down Larry and syphon his angelic power. I learned quickly that even a fallen angel was out of my league. After he kicked my butt, instead of destroying me, Larry showed me who I really was and I did not like what I saw. It took a year, but Larry made me realize that there was more to life than pushing people around.
While Larry does care for me, Larry always has ulterior motives. Larry is exiled to the earth until his date with Judgment Day, where he will get a rather warm room without a view. In his scramble to escape his fate, he uses people and tattoos to battle forces of darkness on his behalf, so that perhaps if he can make a large enough impression on the powers that be, he can regain his former heavenly rank.
Thanks, Layla. I have a few questions for Ken, starting with the important stuff. What was your first car? My first car was a 1968 Dodge Charger. Candy apple red, it was a real beauty. However, with no seatbelts, it was a fast moving death machine. It is a wonder I survived.
Who would you most like to sit next to on an airplane? Chuck Yeager on one side and Steven King on the other. I would have stories for three lifetimes!
Are the names of the characters in your novels significant? Yes, I named two of the main characters in honor of my grandmothers.
What is the single biggest challenge of creating the settings in your novels? Making the fantastic believable alongside reality. I am a stickler for realism. If I mention a gun, airplane or whatever, I make sure to get my facts down cold, which makes weaving it together with fiction all the more difficult.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard? Develop a thick skin and above all else be professional.
Ken Newman has loved stories of the supernatural since listening to his grandmother’s tales of witches, haints, boogers, and catawamps when he was a child. Author of urban fantasy novels, The Paladin, The Ark, The Voice in My Ear, and the upcoming Black Opal Books, Forsaken, his fiction reflects his Tennessee roots and his love for all things-that-go-bump-in-the-night.
Mixing folklore with modern themes, Ken’s novels create a twisted universe of supernatural creatures and larger-than-life heroes where nothing is as it seems.
When not writing, he enjoys sculpting, cheesy monster movies, and building the occasional trebuchet to keep the neighbors in line.
A member of the Authors Guild of Tennessee, Ken lives in East Tennessee with his long suffering wife Christian and their three zany daughters.
Zack Cole awakes in a pool of blood, bleeding from several large caliber holes with no idea how he got there or who shot him. Moments from death, he makes a desperate deal with a mysterious stranger. To survive, Zack reluctantly becomes the guardian of Layla, an exotic woman struggling under a terrible curse. The spirit of a powerful, 4,000 year old witch, Layla exists as a living tattoo, unable to survive without a willing host. With Layla now his constant companion and voice in his ear, Zack sets out to solve the mystery of his missing time and put his life back together. Despite a rocky start, Layla discovers an intimacy and passion with the cocky, womanizing Zack that transcends her dreadful curse. Determined that Zack will
be hers, Layla uses her vast power to help him solve the mysteries surrounding
his attempted murder, unaware that she and Zack are pawns in a deadly game
between the Fallen.
- Book Title: The Voice in My Ear
- Author: Ken Newman
- Genre: Urban fantasy/Sci-fi
- Length: 280pages
- Release Date: Sunbury Press, Inc. (August 19, 2014)
Contact Links For Ken Newman
My Review: 4 out of 5 stars for Ken Newman’s The Voice in My Ear
And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Except for Larry, of course.
The Voice In My Ear opens with a plea from a senior academic to a deity he’s not sure actually exists. Browbeaten and clinically depressed after a lifetime of academic politics from his career in “voodoo science” (extraterrestrials living secret lives among us), the professor stumbles away from jeering students—and into the clutches of Larry, the Hawaiian-shirted fallen angel looking for a ticket back to his former glory.
“The troubled man had no idea that he was about to be blindsided by a creature, stranger, and more exotic than any ET he could have imagined. The disgraced agent of God had drawn his plans, and Professor Somerton was about to become the unwitting pawn in a brutal game between the Fallen.”
In the eons-old contest between Larry and Lucifer, the lines have blurred to become matters of acceptable collateral damage. Like most other characters in the book, the professor becomes a brief (and expendable) pawn. Small-town sheriffs worried about re-elections, psychopaths, populist preachers, abused daughters, and slightly reformed former-drug-dealer/Vietnam-vet farmers: all are grist for Newman’s version of the eternally grinding mill of good versus evil.
And all that is just the introduction to our meeting with Zackary Howard Cole on the day he’s finally leaving the hospital. After months spent recovering from wounds he could not possibly have survived, Zack has tried to accept his now-useless arm. He’s also learned not to challenge the official story about what happened to him, even though it doesn’t match what’s in his memory—and can’t account for a week that’s just a blank. And then there’s the incredible tattoo he doesn’t remember getting of the beautiful asian woman that covers his back. But he’s anxious to leave because during his hospital stay, the womanizing Zack has fallen hard for nurse Reba Mann. She’s everything he could want in a woman. Needless to say, he’s terrified. And that’s before he meets Larry.
The literal deus ex machina, Larry explains that as Zack lay bleeding out from terminal wounds, he made a deal in exchange for his life. Thanks to that deal, he’s now the guardian of Layla, a gorgeous 4000-year-old cursed demon who can’t survive without a host. Layla, Reba, and Zack make a snarky, unwilling love triangle which careens wildly from one life-threatening situation to another.
I felt a little sorry for Lucifer in this book. When it comes to minions, he doesn’t make good choices. Of course, he has to start with people consumed by dark evil, and surprisingly that apparently limits the candidate pool. But the fact is that Zack, Layla, and Reba aren’t exactly Mensa candidates themselves. That, however, doesn’t matter because the real story lies in how the three learn to accept their fates and each other, and to use each other’s strengths against seemingly overwhelming odds.
I really enjoyed The Voice in My Ear. It was much darker than I expected, with the colossal stakes generating a lot of carnage and ick-factor. But the message that good often looks remarkably similar to evil is well-done. There might have been more twists and turns along the way than I thought necessary, and less humor than I was hoping for. But the pace is brisk, and the dialog appropriately snarky. And best of all, Ken Newman has a kind of genius about creating three-dimensional characters, no matter how minor.
I’d give The Voice in My Ear four stars out of five. If, like me, you like your urban fantasy informed with sci-fi sensibilities and a darkly humorous approach, you’ll enjoy this book. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, and look forward to reading more from Ken Newman.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
The Voice in My Ear Excerpt
The young nurse entered the room and closed the door behind her. Moving close to Zack, she kissed him tenderly.
“You had better be careful, Reba,” he said softly. “Neona will get jealous if she finds out about you cutting in on her territory. I hear she has a mean left hook.”
“I’ll take my chances. I got you a going home gift.”
Reba pulled a small white box from her scrubs.
“You shouldn’t have,” he said as he took the gift.
“I looked all over K-Town trying to find the perfect gift for you, Zack.”
Zack pulled off the top, and inside, on a bed of cotton, lay a four-inch-long, stylized black bird.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t believe it! The Maltese Falcon, just like the one in the movie! It’s great! Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, handsome. I knew you would like it; after all, it is your favorite movie. The bird is uber cool. I may have it done as a tattoo.”
“Really?” he asked softly, pulling her close. “Can I pick the spot?”
Reba giggled. “Alright, if you will spring for the artist who did your sexy China doll.”
“You got it, doll.” Zack softly kissed her. “What sexy China doll?” he asked.
“Don’t play dumb with me! You know very well who I am talking about. She’s the most killer tat I ever saw. Where did you get inked?”
“Where did I get inked? Are you crazy, woman? Never in a million years would I get a tattoo. You know how I am around needles. Just the thought gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
“I got news for you, honey; that isn’t a birthmark on your back. Check it out in the bathroom mirror if you don’t believe me.”
Zack gave the beautiful nurse a sour look, and then began the task of removing his shirt.
“Oh, let me,” she said, quickly unbuttoning his shirt.
Red-faced with embarrassment, Zack allowed her to help him. “I feel so…useless.”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetie. I like undressing you.”
Zack took the shirt, along with the gift, and laid them on the bed. “If my so-called killer tat, is so eye catching, why haven’t you or one of the nurses said something before? I mean, in four months a thing like this would come up in conversation, don’t you think?”
Reba gave him a puzzled look. “Umm, yeah, you’re right, Zack. I can’t explain it. Uh…it’s weird, like I forget she’s there.”
“Forget she’s there? I thought you said it was the most killer tat you ever saw? If this is a joke it isn’t funny.”
“No joke, trust me.”
“I think this is a trick. You’re only doing this to see my manly body and try and take advantage of me.”
“March.” Reba followed him into the small bathroom.
Turning his back to the mirror, Zack looked over his right shoulder and gasped in utter shock. “What the hell is that?”
“What’d I tell you?” Reba was correct. Zack did indeed have a tattoo, and it was even more spectacular than Reba described.
The exquisitely wrought tattoo was of an exotic, oriental beauty dressed in a white robe with long, flowing dark hair. Unsmiling with cold, black eyes that stood in sharp contrast to her pale, flawless skin, the portrait was definitely not a geisha. Her bold stance and aura of authority bespoke a queen. Zack admired the breathtaking beauty, but at the same time, he felt that the near photographic image radiated a touch of menace.
“I must have had one hell of a week. This thing covers my entire back. God, how did I fail to notice this? It must have cost a frigging fortune.”
“For that kind of workmanship, I would say at the very least, ten grand.”
“Again, how did this fail to come up in conversation?”
Reba smiled. “I guess the guy China doll is attached to distracted me. You know Zack, when you figure out who did it, call me. I’ll mortgage my house and have the dude work on me. This is freaking amazing work!”
“Her name isn’t, China Doll,” he said. “It’s…Layla.”
“Layla? Thought you didn’t know about your tattoo?”
“I…well, I don’t,” he said. “But for some reason, don’t ask me how I know, but her name is Layla.”
“You know what this means, Zack?”
“It means your memory is coming back.”
Reba grabbed Zack and held him tightly.
“Yeah, when I remember who did this to me, I’ll give you a ring, Reba. I still don’t understand this…it’s not me. I would not do this.”
Reba produced her cell phone from her smock.
“Care if I get a picture of you and your girlfriend, Layla?”
“Yeah…sure. Knock yourself out.”
Zack faced the mirror and looked over his shoulder at the pretty nurse.
“Perfect. Now give me a big smile and say cheese.”
“Oh no!” said the soft, sultry feminine voice in his ear. “Stop her, Zack, before it is too late!”
“Who said that…” he began, just as Reba carefully depressed the shutter. The brilliant, white flash bathed both the tattoo and Zack.
Zack groaned, as white-hot agony lanced through his very being. It was all he could do not to scream as the pain was unlike anything he had ever encountered. On top of the blinding pain, his ears rang with the screams of a woman in utter anguish.
Zack caught the porcelain sink to keep from falling as his knees buckled. As suddenly as it came, the intense pain vanished, leaving Zack breathing hard.
“Reba, what the hell did you do? And who the hell screamed in my ear?”
“I…I didn’t do anything, but take a picture.” Reba quickly returned the phone to her smock and moved to support the shaking man. “What are you talking about, I didn’t hear anyone scream. Nobody in this room but us, and I know it wasn’t me.”
“Felt like you tried to electrocute me! Damn, that hurt all the way to my toes!”
“Probably a muscle spasm,” she said, wrapping her arms about him. “Maybe I should get Doctor Hensley to check you out.”
“And delay my release? Screw that!”
“Yeah, just a muscle spasm. If you want, I can give you a back rub before you’re released.”
“That would be nice, but I don’t think that is a good idea, beautiful. I am getting sick and tired of cold showers.”
“When you are officially released,” she whispered. “You’ll never have to take another.”
Reba Mann was a black and white kind of girl who did not play games. She loved Zack and made no attempt to hide the fact. In her mind, she was ready for the altar and the words I do.
Zack, on the other hand, while he loved the attention the beautiful woman showered upon him, wasn’t ready to settle down. Women fell far too easy to his charm and looks. In his words, “why buy a bag of candy before you have sampled the entire store?”
Zack refused to admit that he had never been so attracted to anyone in his entire life. It wasn’t just a superficial physical attraction. He found Reba to be a warm, caring, genuinely good person, who made the past months of hellish recovery bearable. Reba’s sunny smile could snap him out of his darkest moods, and her touch stirred him like no woman ever had.
In other words, Reba scared the hell out of him.
Reba closed the bathroom door and turned him toward her. Taking his face in her hands, she gently, lovingly kissed him.
Zack returned the kiss and wrapped his good arm about her slim waist.
“Reba, what do you see in a cripple with only one arm?”
“I wouldn’t care if you were a paraplegic, Zack Cole. I’m crazy about you. You should know that by now.”
“Yeah. You’re way too good for me.”
“Just as long as you remember that, we’ll get along just fine. Now give me half an hour to check on your release and rustle up a wheelchair. I’ll take you down to the lobby myself. You know, I’m going to miss taking care of you.”
“I’ll miss you too, Reba,” he said, absorbed once more in the mysterious tattoo staring back at him from the mirror. “But like I said, give me a few days to get settled in, and I promise that we will have “us” time.”
“I can’t wait. For now, I’ll leave you and your new girlfriend to get better acquainted. Be back in a jiffy.”
His eyes followed her shapely bottom as she exited the room.
“Reba, you are one sexy woman.”
The words died in his throat as he glanced back at the mirror. Astonished, he watched as a smile spread across Layla’s lovely face. Layla’s hand rose to her face whereupon she pursed her full lips and blew him a kiss.
“I didn’t think Reba would ever leave,” said Layla. “Now we can have “us” time, handsome.”
“Reeeeebaaaaa!” Zack yelled as he exploded from the bathroom.
“What’s the matter, Zack?” Layla chuckled. “You shy around girls?”
“Oh God! I’ve lost my ever loving mind!”
Zack was in for another nasty surprise when he found the only exit from the room missing. Instead of a door, there was a smooth, unbroken section of wall, complete with wallpaper and trim.
“You have got to be kidding me!”
“You just can’t catch a break, now can you, Braveheart?” Layla said. “Why don’t you calm down, and we’ll talk about our new relationship.”
Not in the mood for a conversation with an animated tattoo, Zack hammered the wall with his good right fist.
“Hey! Get me the hell out of here! One of those crazy nurses slipped me some acid!”
“Layla’s quite a girl, isn’t she, Zack?”
Zack snapped around at the sound of the male voice and found a stranger sitting in the chair next to his bed. The smiling man looked Chinese and was dressed in a loud, red Hawaiian shirt and board shorts.
Wild eyed and breathing hard, Zack finally stammered, “Wh…Who are you, and what did you do with my door?”
“Who am I? Why Zack, I am just about the best friend you ever had. Now quit screaming like a little girl and sit. We need to have a heart to heart. Afterwards, if you are a good boy, I’ll give your door back.”
“Crazy talking tattoos, a disappearing door, and now, Don Ho…I’ve lost my freaking mind!”
“Don Ho, really?” asked the stranger. “I thought I looked closer to Chow Yun-Fat. Anyway, I am here to discuss the deal we made.”