Monthly Archives: April 2012
Last night the winners of the Edgar Awards were announced. Congratulations to all of these wonderful writers! Also, big congratulations to our friends Ace Atkins and Janice Hamrick on their nominations. Catch Ace here at BookPeople June 6th, and catch Janice’s Death on Tour on our shelves, we highly recommend it.
Gone by Mo Hayder
BEST FIRST NOVEL
Bent Road by Lori Roy
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett
BEST FACT CRIME
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
BEST CRITICAL BIOGRAPHICAL
On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda
To view all of the award winners and the nominees, visit the Mystery Writers of America website.
Lullaby by Ace Atkins
(On sale 5/1)
Ace was hand-picked by Robert B. Parker’s widow to continue the adventures of his famed PI, Spenser. There is no author more knowledgeable about the books and with the skills worthy of continuing the character. Ace will be here at BookPeople June 6th to discuss this book as well as The Lost Ones from his Quinn Colson series.
Last Call For The Living by Peter Farris
(On sale 5/22)
An attention getting debut about an Aryan Brotherhood member who takes a Georgia bank teller hostage after a robber. As the police and other criminals close in, the two develop a strange bond. A great rural noir with strong characterization and one of the best shoot outs that takes place in a church – a church of snake handlers.
Lady, Go Die by Mickey Spillane with Max Allan Collins
(On sale 5/8)
Collins continues to complete Spillane’s unfinished Mike Hammer novels, this one an intended follow up to I, The Jury. The New York hard Hammer finds himself in a small town looking into a case involving the body of a naked woman (“doll” in Hammer terms) found on the statue of a horse. Put on your fedora, pour a glass of scotch, put on “Harlem Nocturne” and start reading.
One of my all-time favorite writers, Megan Abbott, has a great Q&A with Elmore Leonard in the Los Angeles Times Magazine this month. She gets some good stuff out of Dutch.
Megan’s latest book, Dare Me, is out in July. I’ve been describing it as cheerleader noir, thought it’s a lot tougher than that sounds. Abbott deals with the hierarchy of a cheerleading group and proves they’re a lot tougher than you would think. Great read. Can’t wait to put in people’s hands this summer.
Since its release least year, Lee Thomas’ The German has been building steady buzz among readers who are up for provoking, intelligent genre material. Initially championed in the horror and gay fiction circles, it deserves a wider range of readers as it uses a historical setting to probe contemporary themes.
On the surface, it is a serial killer novel. Someone is killing and skinning boys in a Texas Hill Country town during World War Two. He leaves snuff boxes in their mouths with notes written in German.
The story follows three different characters. It mainly arcs through Tim Randall, a boy in his early teens, whose father is fighting in Europe. With one foot still firmly in adolescence, he plays war and spy games with his friend, viewing combat in black & white matinee heroics. Looking into the murders is Sheriff Tom Rabbit, a small town lawman who is in way over his head. Not only is he under pressure to solve the murders, but a large percentage of the town is comprised of German immigrants and war time tensions coupled with the murders are creating a powder keg. The title character, Ernst Lang, a former German officer who left when Hitler took over, scarred from battle and detached from life, is hardened by his life and pride. Also, he is a a homosexual, who while discreet, would not be considered closeted, at least for the period.
Thomas deftly delivers these three voices in revolving chapters, each with a different tense. He gives none a clear morality. He is more concerned with how each man will act in his moment of truth than if the killer will be caught. He’s not afraid of taking his characters or the reader into dark terrain. He also doesn’t give those characters a perfect clarity of conscience that strikes them like lightening before they do the unspeakable. He has enough respect for the readers’ knowledge that once some lines are crossed, you can never completely step back over them again.
It is that sensibility that makes the theme resonate. The book could have simply used the fear of Germans as an allegory for the way American Muslims are currently treated and still have a highly affective story. Instead he goes further, questioning if cruelty is an inherent part of human make up and if xenophobia and homophobia are merely symptoms. Like Peter Straub and Joe Lansdale, Lee Thomas realizes one of the best ways to terrify the reader is to confront the horror they personally carry around.
MyteryPeople wlecomes Lee Thomas, along with Robert Greer, to BookPeople on Thursday, May 3, 7p.
Reviewed by: Kester
Fleece Skaggs has disappeared. So have the drugs he was meant to sell for his boss, Lawrence Gruel. The dealer seems concerned and confused about his employee and his hash, but Fleece’s half-brother, James Cole can’t decide if Gruel is sincere. In the hope of finding out just what happened or is happening, James Cole offers to work for Gruel in his brother’s place. And we’re off and running.
The story is strong, but it is Kirby Gann’s carefully crafted cast of characters that sets his newest book so far ahead and apart. Ghosting is rural noir on par with Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone and Donald Ray Pollack’s The Devil All The Time. The pacing is perfect; a slow burn that threatens to end in an explosion. The tone is both moody and mysterious, and yet infused with the sort of humor one might find in an Elmore Leonard western.
This is the story of being in over your head; ordinary folks in extraordinary circumstances. 2011 introduced us to Frank Bill’s raw and relentless Crimes In Southern Indiana. Kirby Gann’s Ghosting offers something similar for 2012.
South Dakota author Lori Armstrong has slowly been earning a name for herself. Some may consider her the female answer to the rural/western hardboiled authors who have been putting a new spin on the genre as of late. When you read her, you’ll discover she has her own distinctive voice and proves she can deliver anything as down and dirty and tough as any of the good ol’ boys with a pen.
In Blood Ties, she introduces her first heroine, Julie Collins, an apprentice PI and Bear Butte County Sheriff’s Department secretary, who is dealing with a dysfunctional family and love life. She’s forced to confront both when her mentor and would-be boyfriend, Kevin Wells, is hired to look into the past of a murdered girl. As the series continues, Julie gains a stronger sense of herself as she becomes a full fledged investigator. No matter how self assured and bad-ass she becomes, Armstrong never loses sight of the character’s vulnerability, femininity, and humor. She has a very telling and funny passage in Blood Ties where Collins has to question a bad boy suspect, fighting arousal as she gets information. Lori won her PWA Shamus Award with her fourth Collins book, Snow Blind.
She earned her second Shamus with No Mercy, the debut of her more hardened character, Mercy Gunderson. Mercy, a sniper in a secret all-female unit, returns to her family’s ranch after being sidelined. To protect her family and their land, she must return to her old skills. In some ways, the character is much more complex than Julie Collins, as she’s trying to learn how to take her armor off yet having to put it back on when her and her own are threatened. The second book, Mercy Kill, continues the great mix of thriller intrigue and western attitude and setting.
No matter which character she uses, Lori Armstrong creates an engaging world out of her South Dakota home. It’s rough and tumble country, where the weather determines fortune like a Greek God and the society is tight knit. It has macho gay bartenders, dangerous bikers, wild ranch hands, and Lakota Indians still fighting for dignity and survival. There is low humor and a high sense of honor. Traditions may be marginalized, but they are far from dead and land is something still worth fighting for and occasionally over. It’s a place where you need strong body and character and the women tend to have both in spades.
Daniel Woodrell is one of those authors who other authors admire. With deft characterization and poetic phrasing, he takes an unblinking look at those living on The Ozarks’ rough edges. He practically invented the rural noir genre.
When the public caught up with him after the film adaptation of Winter’s Bone was released, they found few of his books in print. Now, Back Bay Books is bringing them all back in beautiful trade paperback copies with forwards by authors like Megan Abbott and Dennis Lehane.
The first two that have released, Tomato Red and The Death Of Sweet Mister, are vintage Woodrell. Tomato Red, about a red neck ne’er do well’s tragic falling in with an Ozark family, has one of the best first sentences, first paragraphs, and first pages ever written; in fact, they’re all one and the same. It is possibly his funniest book. His darkest is The Death Of Sweet Mister, following a young boy and his relationship with his mother and her criminal boyfriend. Woodrell said he wrote it to see where mass murderers come from.
In June, Woodrell’s moving account of the Missouri-Kansas Border Wars, Woe To Live on will be available, as well as Give Us A Kiss, the book that coined the term “country noir”. After that, we wait for his next new book.
Fans of Donald Westlake’s hardboiled alter ego, Richard Stark, can rejoice. All of the Alan Grofield novels are back in print. Grofield served as a trusted partner in crime to the hardest of hard criminals, Parker. A stage actor who stole to support his summerstock company, he was a flamboyant and talkative foil to the ice cold bad man. Parker was constantly saying, “Shut up, Grofield.”
Grofield appeared in four Parker books, then was in four others featuring himself. Hard Case Crime brought back Lemons Never Lie over five years ago and now, University Of Chicago Press has brought back the other three, The Damsel, The Dame, and The Black Bird, now that they’ve republished the Parker series. With Grofield being a lighter character, the books run closer to Westlake’s comic Dortmunder series (beginning with Hot Rock) and are more adventure fiction than crime fiction. After being out of print for decades, it’s great to see the old crook back in action.
If you’d like to learn more about the world of Parker, our History Of Mystery Class will be discussing Richard Stark and the book The Outfit on May 6th at 7pm. We will have author Wallace Stroby (Cold Shot To The Heart and Kings of Midnight) calling in and there will be a viewing of the film version starring Rober Duvall beforehand at 4PM.
Last year Marcia Clark hit the crime fiction scene with her novel Guilt By Association. Introducing her series character Los Angeles special prosecutor Rachel Knight, it was more hard boiled procedural than legal thriller, and it was one of the fresher reads of 2011. MysteryPeople will welcome Marcia to sign and discuss her follow up, Guilt By Degrees, this Friday, April 20th at 7pm. I recently asked her a few questions about being a new writer, how she has adapted her former life into hr fictional one, and her love of jazz.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What was more challenging for you, your first book or the follow up?
MARCIA CLARK: Though the second book was no walk in the park, I’d have to say the first book was the more challenging one. Setting up a series requires the creation of a set of characters and a world. And both the people and the world have to offer possibilities for stories and character development that are as limitless as possible, in the hope that you get to write a whole bunch of sequels. In order to do that, you have to think carefully about all your elements.
For example, I think it’s important to give each character a back story that can entertainingly – and believably – have impact on them in current time. In addition, I needed to decide how much of that back story to reveal in the first book. In Guilt by Association, I alluded to a traumatic event in Rachel’s life but didn’t delve into it. I did that for a couple of reasons: first of all, no normal person spills their whole life story the first time you meet them – you know the weirdo who corners you at a party and tells you about how they got dumped by their first boyfriend in junior high because they wouldn’t let him get to second base? That’s not the kind of person who can carry a series because who wants to hang out with a self-obsessed blabbermouth like that? Second of all, Rachel Knight is a private person who has a hard time sharing her feelings even with her best friends and the traumatic event in her childhood is a secret she’s kept from everyone.
She ultimately does reveal it in Guilt by Degrees, but only because circumstances force her to.
So those were some of the challenges in the creation of the book itself. But the most challenging thing about the first book was the devotion of time and energy with no clue as to whether it would ever see the light of day. At the time I wrote it, I was handling a full case load (I take court appointed criminal appeals cases) and I squeezed the book into what little down time I had. Between the book and my day job, I was working about 120 hours a week. I knew I was going to keep at it until I pushed the book into the best shape I could manage, but I also knew that I couldn’t keep up that work pace forever. This book was it: do or die. So…no pressure, right? Laughing.
This is the classic struggle with nearly all first time authors. What if, after all this time, all this hard work, no one likes it? You work alone, night after night, with no assurances that anyone besides your most long suffering friends will ever read it. At times, I felt as though I was kicking the stall in an abandoned barn. But what was worse, albeit of briefer duration, was the waiting period after I sent the book out for the first time. Let me tell you, sending that first book out was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.
MP: Rachel’s police detective pal, Bailey, plays an even larger role in this book. One of the strongest elements in the book is their relationship. How did you design her as a foil for Rachel?
MC: I needed a counterpoint for Rachel. Someone who could be the voice of reason when Rachel’s impulsiveness or recklessness – or emotional baggage vis a vis her love life – got out of hand. But it also had to be someone who was similar enough to her in temperament and common interests that they’d believably wind up as best friends. My goal was to set up a dynamic that allowed for them to bond in both their work and personal lives, with a good mix of comedy and drama. It was very important to me that Rachel and company not only be great at what they do, but also know how to have a good time. And although they rank on each other whenever possible, underneath it all, they have a great deal of mutual respect and admiration for one another.
MP: Guilt By Degrees seems a bit more hard boiled with Aryan Brotherhood gangs and more action. Did you set out to write a tougher book?
MC: I really didn’t. The thing that drives me is the need to create a story that will keep my interest. Writing a book is a marathon, so the story has to be intriguing enough to make me want to stick with it.
The initial spark for Guilt by Degrees was the true story of the homeless man in New York who saw a woman being attacked on the street. He fought off her attacker, which allowed her to escape, but in the process, he got stabbed by the attacker. He lay dying on the sidewalk for hours as people stepped over his body. That story stuck in my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I used that as my jumping off point.
MP: The police officers themselves have more influence and you show a range of personalities in the profession. What did you want to get across to readers about those in the profession?
MC: Really just that: to show the range of personalities in the police force and to explore the fact that there are good and bad, moral and amoral, people in every profession. Not all sociopaths are deranged serial killers…or Wall Street executives – kidding!
MP: You’re relatively new to crime fiction. What did you discover about the form after you dove in?
MC: Freedom! The absolute joy of getting to set up my own case, create my own evidence, weave it all together and do it “My Way.” Laughing. Having spent so many years dealing with reality, it was very liberating not to have to deal with those limitations. Not that there aren’t limitations in fiction. We forgive a certain amount of literary license, but if an author pushes us too far outside the boundaries of believability, that we don’t forgive. It’s a fine line, as they say, and you risk losing your audience if you fall on the wrong side of it.
MP: On a panel, you said you missed the camaraderie of being a prosecutor. Have you found some with other crime writers?
MC: To an extent. But it can never be the same. You can share stories, discuss plot points, or commiserate over the hard work – because creating novels is unquestionably that – but you always wind up alone in front of your computer for hours, days, weeks, and months at at time. Writing is a solitary endeavor.
MP: You’ve given Rachel your love of jazz. What three albums would you suggest that would turn people on to the form?
MC: Oh no! Lists of favorites always make me go cross-eyed. The minute I choose, I smack my forehead and say: “wait, what about…?” But okay, here goes: “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, “Takin’ Off,” or “Headhunters” by Herbie Hancock, that leaves me with only one more? But…there’s still Mingus, Jobim and Getz, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins…AARRGGGH! How to choose? I guess, in an effort to collect as many as possible, “Jazz at Massey Hall,” with Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Mingus, and ‘Charlie Chan.’
Join us at BookPeople this Friday, April 20 7pm when we welcome Marcia Clark in person!
~Post by Joe T.
Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels are a marvel to behold. Marrying the cynical world-weariness of a Dashiell Hammett to the cynical moral relativism of a John Le Carre, each book attempts to be the perfect summation of noir fiction. Oh yeah, and they’re a blast and a real treat to read.
One of the many joys of the series is how it does not unfold in chronological order. Each book is capable of filling in gaps in the life of Bernie Gunther, one time private investigator, oft times cop, and unintentional SS member in Nazi Germany. 2011’s Field Gray was the apotheosis of this approach, featuring narratives nestled within narratives spanning the time from 1931 to 1954. It was, perhaps, the high water mark of the series.
Prague Fatale takes a step back and delivers a streamlined tale that harkens back to the first collection of Gunther tales, Berlin Noir. Set in 1942, it finds Bernie home from the Soviet front, back in a cop’s uniform, and, unfortunately for him, still an SS member under the patronage of Heydrich, the mastermind of the Jewish Holocaust.
Instructed to find the death of one of Heydrich’s aides-de camp, Gunther finds himself in the middle of a locked door murder mystery straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Interviewing the Nazi brass, Bernie gets the opportunity to really let it rip, allowing himself some minor moral victories as he slowly drowns himself in larger moral losses.
Philip Kerr’s novels have been one of my favorite discoveries over the last couple of years, each book exploring facets of the German psyche amidst the chaos and banality of evil that is Nazi Germany. They are all great books and Prague Fatale is no exception.
Join MysteryPeople as we welcome Philip Kerr to BookPeople on Saturday, April 21, 7p to speak about & sign Prague Fatale.