Monthly Archives: May 2012
~Post by Chris M.
If you are a fan of comic books in the slightest, then chances are you’ve heard of Greg Rucka. A veteran of the medium, and one hell of a talented writer, Rucka is responsible for some of the best comics writing of the last decade. When I was asked to do a Rucka write-up for the MysteryPeople blog my mind immediately raced in a dozen directions. What should I write about? Queen & Country seemed like a good place to start, but was that really where I wanted to focus my attention? How about his seminal word for Marvel or DC? But what about his indie stuff like Stumptown? There’s just too damn much!
Instead of going on and on about the illustrious career of Mr. Rucka, I decided I should make things a little more personal and talk about the books that really blew my mind when I read them. There are two: The Question (aka The Five Books of Blood) and Batwoman in Detective Comics. I still remember reading Greg Rucka’s run on The Question. It is permanently burned into my mind because I couldn’t believe how much I was having. After finishing the book the first time I immediately turned back to page one and read it again. This all happened in the span of two hours.
Rucka’s decision to cast Renee Montoya as The Question had been a topic of discussion among some of my nerdier friends, but I found myself convinced right away. I’ve always liked The Question because it is a character that doesn’t really have any super powers. Instead The Question functions more like a private eye and has to make decisions based on limited abilities, and because of this The Question is somewhat of an anomaly in the DC Universe. Rucka took Renee Montoya and turned her into a downright badass. The Five Books of Blood also introduced us to Rucka’s take on Batwoman, and I distinctly remember telling my local comic shop owner that nothing would make me happier than if Rucka could write an entire run on Batwoman. Sometimes dreams come true.
Batwoman in Detective Comics is on my list of greatest comics ever written. The story of Kate Kane as Batwoman is so unbelievable satisfying that – I dare say – it can’t be improved. Along with Rucka’s captivating story, the art of J.H. Williams III is some of the most breathtaking comic book art I’ve ever seen. The other great thing about Rucka’s run on Batwoman was the supplemental The Question story included in every issue. Sometimes I wonder if Greg Rucka can read minds, because he consistently delivers the goods on characters that I love.
I know this little op-ed has been a little gushy, but sometimes a nerd needs to vent! Over the years my admiration for Greg Rucka has grown and grown. He is one writer I will always follow, no matter what he’s writing. I can’t wait to meet him at Book People tonight, and I hope he doesn’t get too annoyed when I aske him to sign a bunch of stuff.
MysteryPeople welcomes Greg Rucka to BookPeople to speak about & sign his new thriller, Alpha, tonight (Thursday 5/31) at 7:30pm.
Our last History Of Mystery Class looked at Donald E. Westlake’s tight and tough books featuring Parker, the robber who is not opposed to violence, which Westlake wrote under the name Richard Stark. Sunday June 3rd at 6pm, we take a look at Westlake’s lighter take on crime with The Hot Rock.
The Hot Rock was originally concieved as a Parker novel, but Westlake found the premise of a diamond the crooks had to steal over and over again too humorous. He transformed Parker into a hapless thief, named him John Dortmunder, and kicked off a new series of books that practically invented the comic crime novel.
A discussion of The Hot Rock should prove interesting and entertaining. We’ll look at similarities between Parker and Dortmunder, comparing the comic heist novel to a hardboiled one, and hopefully have a few laughs. Before our discussion at 6pm, we’ll be viewing the film version directed by Peter Yates (Bullit; The Friends Of Eddie Coyle) and starring Robert Redford and George Seagal. The film starts at 4pm. Find us up on BookPeople’s third floor.
Here’s a clip of Robert Redford in the film version of The Hot Rock:
Book: The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor
Reviewed by: Chris M.
In order to give you an accurate review of my experience with Steven Saylor’s latest novel, I must be honest; historical fiction is not my cup of tea. That being said, mysteries and private investigators are most definitely a cup of tea that I willingly guzzle all the time, and in The Seven Wonders Saylor seamlessly blends the scope and detail of top quality historical fiction with the suspense and brutishness of a good mystery.
The Seven Wonders is a prequel to Steven Saylor’s long running mystery series featuring ancient Roman private eye Gordianus the Finder. This being my first experience with Saylor’s work, I was a bit worried that this novel would leave me feeling like an outsider due to my lack of prerequisites, but that was most certainly not the case. An older, wiser Gordianus narrates the novel, and Saylor does an excellent job of illustrating the youthful wonder of a young man who is seeing the world for the first time. Because of this, the novel feels like the untold beginning of tales of Gordianus, and as a reader I felt welcomed into a strange new world because the world being described is strange and new to the young Gordianus.
True to its name, The Seven Wonders follows Gordianus as he travels to each and every wonder of the world accompanied by his tutor, and world famous Greek poet, Antipater (who has faked his own death and is traveling in disguise). Beginning with the Temple of Artemis, where Gordianus witnesses a most peculiar murder, and ending at The Great Pyramid in Egypt, where the curse of the mummy rears its ugly head, Gordianus and Antipater’s travels prove to be both treacherous and eye-opening.
In all honesty, I never expected to enjoy The Seven Wonders half as much as I did. Steven Saylor’s attention to detail, clever prose, and ability to pack these few hundred pages with mystery after mystery won me over, and now I can’t get enough. This is a truly great introduction to a long-standing character, and from here I plan on reading every Gordianus book I can get my hands on. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of The Seven Wonders, and join us at Book People on Monday, June 4th 7p when Steven Saylor will be here speaking and signing his new novel.
Book: Alpha by Greg Rucka
Reviewed by: Joe T.
I first discovered Greg Rucka a few years ago when I chanced upon the first volume of his Queen and Country graphic novel series at my local Half-Price Books. An unofficial sequel to an obscure 1970s BBC spy show called Sandbaggers, it was an amazing comic and the best espionage novel I’d read in a long, long time. I was hooked and, after finding out that Rucka was a novelist, I proceeded to hunt down his books.
I read the Atticus Kodiak novels. An interesting collection of novels centered around a bodyguard to the rich and powerful, I enjoyed them but they seemed to lack a certain “frisson” that was found in the Queen and Country and, by the end, the series had turned into something else entirely. Then I read the Tara Chase books, based on the main character in the Queen and Country comic. I found them static and wordy, everything that the comic wasn’t. I was beginning to think my love for Rucka’s work was a fluke, a one-off, and then I read his newest novel (and the first in a new series) called Alpha.
The story of a terrorist attack upon a Disneyland-like theme park, Alpha is everything I wanted from a Greg Rucka novel. Taut and streamlined, focusing like a laser on the tropes of the thriller genre, it reads like a book version of the terrorist/heist flicks from the seventies such as Ransom, Day of the Jackal, and Nighthawks. On top of all this, Jad Bell, the ex-Delta Force “hero” of the book shares the cool, dispassionate professionalism with Tara Chase from the Queen and Country I had fallen in love with.
In all fairness, the plot is not all that unique. It is basically Die Hard in Disneyland. But what makes it a page turner and why I couldn’t put it down is the way he embraces what might be considered cliched plot points. He doesn’t so much as subvert the tropes of the thriller as breathe new life into them, reminding us that what made them tropes in the first place is that they work so well in the hands of a master craftsman.
So, all in all, if you’re looking for a good solid thriller or a great summer read, you can’t go wrong with Alpha by Greg Rucka. And you should also pick up the Queen and Country graphic novels. You can never read enough or too many strong espionage novels.
MysteryPeople welcomes Greg Rucka to BookPeople to speak about & sign Alpha on Thursday, May 31 7:30pm.
Peter Farris has gained much attention with his debut Last Call For The Living, a gritty crime drama that incorporates his Georgia background. He’s already been recognized as a noteworthy member of the rural noir movement that includes the likes of Daniel Woodrell and Frank Bill. We’re pleased to have him join us at Opal Divine’s on June 7th, 7pm for Noir At The Bar. If you like Peter’s work, he was kind enough to suggest five other Southern set crime novels you might also enjoy.
The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Although set along the Ohio River, it might as well have been the Mississippi in Grubb’s riveting rural suspense novel. The Night of the Hunter is beautifully written, surprisingly dark even by today’s standards, and features one of my favorite criminal sociopaths in “Preacher” Harry Powell. In fact, I’d argue Powell is one of the most artfully drawn (and dastardly and manipulative) antagonists in all of crime-suspense fiction—even if you can’t help but hear Robert Mitchum’s voice in every line of dialogue.
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
My favorite of the Dave Robicheaux novels, and might just take the award for most mystical crime novel ever written. But one of the reasons I love Burke’s writing is for his descriptive powers, his sense of place, and nowhere in fiction (except for Woodrell’s St. Bruno) is the Louisiana bayou more alive and alluring than in Electric Mist. There is not a page in my worn paperback copy that doesn’t have a highlighted passage.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Crooked Letter works on so many levels: a crime novel at its core, a coming-of-age story full of estrangement and tragedy that could appeal to a mass audience, and a commentary on the lies and misunderstandings that can haunt a life spent in the “country”…all written by a guy firmly rooted in the southern literary tradition. Nobody has captured race relations and rural decay in the 21st Century South quite like Franklin has with this novel, the fringe existence of folks in his Mississippi no different from what you might find in Georgia, South Carolina or Alabama and no less depressing. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter has heart and soul, an authenticity you can’t teach, and that magic that the finest storytellers are able to perform.
Muscle for the Wing by Daniel Woodrell
My favorite of the “St. Bruno” novels and a work that reinforced my enthusiasm for southern noir. Muscle for the Wing is inventive to the point of intimidation, and so sophisticated, so loaded with attitude, it left me jealous after every goddamn sentence. And as rich and complicated as Detective Rene Shade is, it’s outlaw Emil Jadick that steals the show in my humble opinion. Let’s put it this way: if they made posters for crime fiction characters like they did for professional athletes, I’d have one of Jadick on my wall. (Muscle for the Wing can be found in the compilation The Bayou Trilogy.)
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
Centered around the kidnapping and rape of a young girl, Sanctuary could probably be considered a horror novel as much as a potboiler. And speaking of criminal psychopaths, I’d argue Faulkner’s “Popeye” is as monstrous as any character in southern fiction. But it’s the tragedy (and corruption) of Temple Drake that to this day chills me bone deep. That tragic element excites me the most about crime fiction— the notion that characters good and bad can be transformed so drastically over the arc of a story—and the reason Sanctuary has made such an indelible impression on me.
Of all the crime fiction writers I hang out with, Jonathan Woods is the one I’m most likely to get into trouble with. We’ve lurked San Fransisco streets for a hidden party, he was on on my infamous Sex, Violence, and Bad Language Bouchercon panel, and we’ve found ourselves at a bar many times with Jonathan saying quotable things I can’t always quote in public. When we decided to do Noir At The Bar here in Austin, he was the first person I thought of inviting. With two published books, Jonathan Woods has proven to be a fearless author who’s writing skill is only matched its audacity.
Jonathan started writing at the age of sixty, giving up a successful law career to do so. Much of his early work was in online magazines like Plots With Guns. He developed a style that was sharp, tight, many times funny, often outrageous, and always unique.
New Pulp Press collected many of his stories with some new work in Bad JuJu. The mix of gonzo pulp with touches of weird horror hit many of us crime fiction aficionados like a shot of Patron. Stories ranged from those about sexy, hard boiled heroines, a jab at the superhero genre, to a haunting erotic ghost story. No Way Jose, a standout that caps off the anthology, is a wild, violent, hilarious series of events that culminate skillfully and swiftly. The writing is intelligent, fast, fun, and has no fear. Jonathan once described his writing as lowering a bucket into his brain. “….and this is what I pull up.”
God knows what that man dreams at night.
Being known for his short work, I wondered how Jonathan would handle the demands of his first novel, A Death In Mexico. He more than delivers with Inspector Diaz, a rumpled police detective whose cynicism has overwhelmed but not conquered his romanticism. He frequently indulges his vices, has interesting conversations with the local priest, and is quite dogged on a case. In a city where the cartels control everything, for Diaz justice is more personal than institutional.
Diaz’s investigation concerns an American art model. Many of the suspects are U.S. expats and painters, all with their personal depravity. Diaz finds himself brushing up against them and the cartels, jumping across the border, getting roughed up, doing some of his own roughing up, getting involved in some insane car chases, flirting with his partner, and delivering many a sharp observation. I rooted for his triumph, not only because I was personally connected, but because I wanted to read about him again.
Jonathan Woods has quickly become an author to be respected. A couple of years ago, we both had a great meal with booksellers and authors after one of Murder By The Book’s famed noir nights. As we walked back to our cars, Jonathan put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Much better than being a lawyer.”
Speaking as a friend and a fan, I glad he made the change, too.
Jonathan Woods, along with Peter Farris, Barry Graham, and Jesse Sublett, will read from his work at Austin’s Noir at the Bar, held at Opal Divine’s on Thursday, June 7, 7p.
Our other big on-sale announcement of the day: Austin author Janice Hamrick’s Death on Tour is now in paperback! This novel, about a Texas high school teacher who works to uncover the mysterious death of a fellow tourist while on vacation in Egypt , won the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. The next book in the series, Death Makes the Cut, goes on sale July 17th. We’ll have Janice here to celebrate the release on Friday, July 27. Mark your calendars! And start reading these books, Janice is a wonderful writer (take a look at her previous posts on this very blog for the proof).
Greg Rucka is a man of many talents. Author of nearly a dozen novels, many short stories, and known by many booksellers here for his comics, Rucka now has a brand new thriller on shelves, the first in a series, Alpha.
“It always comes down to commitment to your craft. That’s the only thing you can control. You cannot control anything else. All you can control your relationship to your work and the effort you’re willing to put into it, and how willing you are to recognize that you’re never going to be good enough and that you always have to get better.”
We’ll welcome Greg Rucka to BookPeople on Thursday, May 31 at 7:30pm to talk about his new book and his wide body of work. If you haven’t read him before, this is a great time to get to know him as he launches this brand new series.
The online zine Spinetingler announced their nominees for Best Short Story On The Web. We were happy to see two of our good friends, Hilary Davidson and Peter Farris nominated. Peter will be here June 7th at our Noir At The Bar being held at Opal Divine’s off Sixth. Peter’s debut novel Last Call For The Living will be in store June 22nd. Not only can you vote for him, Hilary, or one of the others, you can read each nominee over on their site. Good luck, guys!
Mulholland Books pointed us towards this nifty little post for thriller writers today. Author David Morrell, a New York Times bestselling author, offers his Five Rules for Writing Thrillers over on his website. This is a nice piece – not only bullet points you’ll swallow and forget, but in depth explanations regarding motivation, technique, research and more. Lots to dig into on a Friday afternoon. Enjoy.