May 13 2013 12:00pm

Fresh Meat: Shotgun Lullaby by Steve Ulfelder

In Shotgun Lullaby by Steve Ulfelder, Conway Sax must  help a recovering substance abuser who reminds him a little too much of his estranged son (available May 14, 2013).

The third Conway Sax novel by Steve Ulfelder opens with Conway beating down a guy over a lemon car sold to a new Barnburner, one Gus Biletnikov. In other words, Conway’s still acting as a half-assed investigator-slash-enforcer for the special group of AA members he credits with saving his life. And he’s still doing it with his perfect blend of heart, gruff, and bullheaded luck.

A long time ago, after more tries than you could count, I finally put together some sobriety. A couple of months, my longest dry stretch since I was fourteen.

It was awful. I didn’t know what I was doing. My knuckles were white, my teeth were ground to nubs, my nightmares lasted all day.

It was slipping away, and I knew it. I was feeling shame already over the next backslide. Had a feeling it would be the last one, the one that carried me all the way down.

And then I stumbled into a Barnburners meeting.

They were different. You saw it the minute you stepped into the basement at Saint Anne’s. The old-timers arranged fifteen or so chairs jury-style, so they could watch the speaker at the podium and keep an eye on the crowd, too. Anybody who spoke or laughed or sneaked out for a smoke earned a dirty look or a little talking-to. I learned that night the Barnburners’ watchword was “serious AA for serious people.”

Soon enough, I would learn more. The Barnburners were born after World War II of a bizarre wreck between AA, which was new at the time, and a vigilante biker group—combat veterans who trusted nobody but fellow dogfaces and took a blood oath to watch each other’s backs.

Barnburners take care of Barnburners. And the small Meeting After the Meeting crowd runs the show.

At its heart, though, Shotgun Lullaby is a book about family, biological and otherwise. And the Barnburners are definitely a kind of family. They look out for one another. They take care of each other’s problems. And they hold one another accountable.

The night Butch Feeley told me to stick around for the Meeting After the Meeting was and is the best night of my life. My silent vow: I would do anything this crowd asked me to.

And I do.

And I take the weight that comes with it.

Mary Giarusso—Switchboard Mary, gossip queen, organizer of events, keeper of the telephone tree—patted the bench next to her.


A ninety-two-year-old Barnburner who got confused easily had been ripped off by gypsy roofers. They’d squeezed him for eight thousand that he knew of, maybe more.

“Keeps it in a focking cigar box,” Carlos Q said. “I’ll take that one. Kick the shit out of these gypsies, then talk that fool into getting a savings account.”

“Isn’t that one more up my alley?” I said.

Most everybody looked at their hands or the picnic tables before them while Butch Feeley slipped Carlos Q a picture of the roofers’ license plate.

“What?” I said, picking up the vibe. They’d talked about me before I joined them. It was obvious.

Butch cleared his throat. “Whyn’t you sit this one out, Conway? Looks like your plate’s pretty full as it stands.”

I felt redness crawl up my neck. “I can handle both.”

“Don’t look to me like you can handle neither,” Carlos Q said, eye-locking me.

Conway is living with his girlfriend and her two kids, the oldest with an eating disorder, and her family is his family. He has an ex-wife he doesn’t really speak to and a grown son who won’t speak to him. It’s Roy, his son, who most has him feeling extra-loyal to Gus. Barnburners might look after Barnburners, but Gus hasn’t been with them that long. He’s only marginally one of theirs, but he looks too much like Roy. He does the things Conway wishes Roy still did—like riding dirt bikes with the old(er) man—but he also does some things Conway hopes to hell Roy doesn’t (namely the drugs that landed him in the Barnburners’ basement Meeting).

“Cokehead. Rehab kid. College kid. Big bullshitter. Probably doing AA because Daddy made him. I had to guess, I’d say he’ll quit the coke and drink like a fish for the next twenty years. Then he’ll come back to AA for real.”



“But you care about him a lot.”

I waved a hand. “I’m just helping out a Barnburner.”

“Nonsense.” She smiled.

“Okay. I like the kid. He’s got a heart. He’s scared. If he works at it, he could be a man.”

“What’s your next move? As if I didn’t know.”

“I need to figure out who’s got a problem with Gus.”

“And look into it.” She sighed as she spoke.

“Of course.”

“Conway Sax takes in another stray.” She said it softly. “He reminds you of your son. You can admit it to me. You might even want to admit it to yourself.”

“Everybody’s a damn shrink.”

Which is why, when three people get gunned down at the Almost Home halfway house—one of them in Gus’s room—Conway wants to make sure Gus wasn’t the target. Which means getting into Gus’s life, meeting his family, and finding out that there are people who make Conway’s domestic difficulties look positively quaint. (Three words: “Spurnings and strikings.”)

Not everyone comes out better than when they went in, especially Conway, who does a few more things he shouldn’t but has to. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but then, most of these characters are aiming for hanging on, keeping it together, and getting by. By those standards, most of them come out on top and the ones that don’t? Some you’ll mourn. Others you’ll feel they had it coming. Kind of like family.

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

This Sweepstakes has Ended. See our Sweepstakes feature page for current opportunities.

To enter for a chance to win one of 3 hardcover copies of Shotgun Lullaby by Steve Ulfelder, make sure you’re logged in as a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) May 13, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET on May 20, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010

Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
2. mosaix
Special AA Barnburners! Yes!
4. T.D. Hart
Conway Sax gets it wrong so often. He's stubborn, scarred, and terrified of screwing it all up again.

How can you not love a guy like that?

Steve Ulfelder
5. SteveUlfelder
Neliza, I'm grateful for such a thoughtful take on the book - thank you!
Kristen Heyl
6. H0CkEyGrrL
Sounds like a great book. I would love to win.
Jody Darden
7. jldarden
Always looking for a good new read! This sounds like it fits the bill.
Neliza Drew
8. nelizadrew
Thanks. It was a terrific read.

@T.D. Hart
Bob Keck
9. ky2here
I'm in recovery myself so I'll bet I'd really enjoy this read. Thanks for offering this.
Sheila Korman
10. skkorman
I would love to read this book—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!
Max Cage
11. maxcage
I love this bit in the description:

"...half-assed investigator-slash-enforcer for the special group of AA members he credits with saving his life."

Would love to read it!
Pam Howell
16. phowell13
The book sounds interesting. Thanks for the exerpt.
Shaunterria Owens
20. shaunterria
I love stories like this one - kind of reminds me of Easy Rawlings. Bullheaded and loyal to a fault :)
Kelley Tackett
21. tackettfamilyky
Seriously, is there a better name than Conway Sax? I don't think so.
Deborah Dumm
23. deb730
I can't wait to read this series. Sounds very good!!!!!!!!
erin f
24. efender1
looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing!
Marie-Louise Molloy
26. Wezzie
New to me author and series, would like to get better acquainted!
Rosa Abraham
28. ravensfan
This looks like a great series. Would love to win the book!
Tina Branco
30. TinaTutu
Oh - I want more of this one. Enter me please.
Mary Ann Brady
32. mirahana
Sound like a really interesting read. Would love to win this Thx.
Linda Deming
35. lindem
Would love to read this series. Winning this book is the start of my wish list!
Allison Moyer
36. The Loopy Librarian
I love complex characters who don't always get it right. Sounds like a good read. Thanks for the drawing!
Terry Heald
38. TerryH
Lovin' the thought of winning this one to read on vacation. Thanks for the sweepstakes opportunities.
charles weaver
41. bweaverinbox
Sounds Great!
Looking forward to a new Barnburners adventure.
And a free copy would be even better!
Andrew Kuligowski
43. KuligowskiAndrew
Hi Neliza, from one Florida-based Drew (ANdrew in this case) to another!

I haven't read your material yet, but if the G-ds who run random draws are benevolent, I'll be jumping in with this volume and then have to catch up.
Ginny Horton
45. oregongin
This sounds like a great read with a complex character. I love the fact that Hank Phillippi Ryan gave a recommendation on the cover. Thanks for the opportunity to win. I'm not acquainted with Steve Ulfelder's books but really impressed that he was an Edgar Award finalist.
Joyce Mitchell
46. JoyceLm
Sounds interesting - thanks for the chance to win.
caite fitzgerald
47. caite
loved the first two. can't wait to get my hands on this one, one way or another. but to win one would be best! ;-)
Cindi Hoppes
48. CindiHoppes
I loved the previous two books by this author...It would be
great to win this third book!
Many thanks, Cindi
Linda Rodriguez
49. LindaRodriguez
I love Steve Ullfelder's books! And this one looks absolutely terrific!
Rosemary Simm
50. Ocalarose
I haven't read any of Steve Ullfelder's books, but I really love his character, Conway Sax. He isn't that know it all type, but rather bumbles through life like the rest of us. Sounds like a good series to read.
Karen Appleby
51. kkappleby
Would love to be the winner of this book. Always looking to add new authors to my favotire's list.
Jim Belcher
52. librarypops
Bikers, veterans, crime. What a mix. cannot wait.
William Hamilton
53. billham68
I haven't been able to find Steve Ullfelder's books in our local bookstores or library. Hope I get a chance to read this one.
56. shannon Baas
I would love this.
Anita Yancey
58. yellowrose29
Sounds like a really great read. I would really enjoy it. Thanks for this chance.
60. Kent Hill
Thank you for the peek at a new novel. Looking forward to reading this in its entirety.
Justine Heredia
61. dogforever46
Awesome title! Love shot guns but what chick doesn't?
Dorothy Hayes
66. DorothyHayes
I love crime fiction that addresses current issues, put me down for this one!
Jackie Wisherd
67. JackieW
I would enjoy reading this book. Great title.
susan beamon
70. susanbeamon
Murder mystery in the adiction community sounds like puzzles within puzzles compounded by the desire to avoid dealing with problems and the desire for severe privacy. What a tangled web for our hero to wander in and maybe untangle. Let me have a copy of this one.
Melissa Dials
72. Mimi
Two faves--mysteries and families with problems!
Heather Martin
73. CrystalMirror
Books with messed up, but decent, characters are the most fun to read.
Charles Fraker
78. CharlieF
Thanks for the contest. Looks like another good read.
lynette barfield
80. lynette
Love his books. Would love to have a copy.
85. runner
Groovy Shotgun!
Susan Mahaffey
86. Smbirds
Looks like a great read. Hope I win!!!
Juli Lear
87. jlear
Looks like a good series. Thanks for the opportunity to win!
Anna Mills
89. Anna Mills
I have nothing to say other than I will MAKE time to read this!!
Patricia Nicklas
94. pmernick
Looks like a good read. Enjoyed the excerpt
John Clark
98. sennebec
Sounds like one I want to read and then add to our library mystery collection.
vickie dailey
99. kidcurry
characters sound interesting - think it would be a great read - thanks for the opportunity to win
104. CherylMc
seems to be good read
I liked the first book in this series, and I'll be reading this one as well.
Michael Lee Smith
106. strangerwmancandy
I really relate to this book .. can't wait to read it
Ed Nemmers
108. saturdaynightfever
I would love to read the work of Steve Ulfelder!
Kari Flores
110. kari944
Looks like a good book, would love to read it.
111. liz l
Seems like a good book
Shirley Zolenski
113. daveshir2005
Awesome giveaway!!! Thanks
Buddy Garrett
It sounds great. Thanks.
Helen Gibbs
119. hrg126
Sounds like a good read for summer.
Edward Vandenberg
121. Crunch57
This looks like a good book. Thanks for the excerpt.
LeAnn Knott
123. knottlady
Looks like a good book for the front porch reads this summer!!! I need a little mystery!
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