All the Noir At The Bars sprouting up around the country are mainly due to the one in St. Louis. Scott Phillips told his friend Jedidiah Ayres about attending Peter Rozosky’s unique event in Philadelphia where authors read at a local tavern and they decided to do their own. Since they started, they’ve introduced the likes of Jonathan Woods, Frank Bill, and Matthew McBride. My Austin Noir At The Bar accomplice, Jesse Sublett, and I are happy to welcome our hard boiled brothers this Father’s Day to our own Noir At The Bar at a new location.
Of all the the authors I’ve come to know, Scott Phillips has been my friend the longest. He was the one who introduced me to Jesse. Not only is he a great guy who put many a good book on my radar, he’s one of the most talented writers out there. If you’re not familiar with his work, you need to be. He has a great ability to make you laugh and cringe at the same time. He proves it again in his latest, Rake.
Jedidiah Ayres has been making a name for himself with his short fiction. Most have been collected in A F*ckload Of Shorts, a collection of twisted, violent tales with a a special brand of humor. Many times he uses the decaying St. Louis cityscape as the backdrop for his losers who struggle to hold on to the bottom rungs of the ladder.
Jesse and I will be joining Scott and Jed at Sunday’s Noir at the Bar here in Austin. As usual, Jesse will provide music as well as a reading. His new book, Grave Digger Blues, is a fun novel where hard boiled meets beat writing. I’ll also be doing a reading (feel free to leave to get a beer then).
Little Green, the latest from legendary author Walter Mosley, hits shelves today. We’re excited to announce that Little Green has been chosen as the Statesman Selects pick for May. BookPeople and the Austin American-Statesman team up each month to recommend one book you should not miss. This month, Little Green is definitely it. Check out the Statesman’s review on Sunday, May 26 and join us here at BookPeople when we welcome Walter Mosley to speak about and sign Little Green here at BookPeople on Tuesday, May 28 at 7pm.
When Easy Rawlins’ car took a dive into the Pacific at the end of 2007′s Blonde Faith, we thought he was done for. Now fans of of the private eye who works the streets of postwar and 60′s LA can rejoice for two reasons: Walter Mosely has brought him back for a new novel, Little Green, and it is one of the best Easy novels he’s written.
Mosley uses Easy’s near death experience to enhance the story with allusions to Rip Van Winkle, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Alice’s Adventures Through The Looking Glass. Coming out of a coma he’s been in for several months, Easy finds himself in an L. A. that’s changed, become more psychedelic, with the boundaries of race still there, but fuzzier. At times it becomes difficult for him to navigate. Still weak from the coma, he goes to Mama Jo, a local voodoo queen. She gives him an elixir she calls Gator’s Blood. It gives him strength when he’s down, but gives him an impulsiveness that rivals his violent buddy, Mouse.
It’s a favor to Mouse that plunges him into this new world. A woman close to Mouse, even though she doesn’t seem to like him, has a son who has gone missing. The young man, Evander “Little Green” Noon, was known to hang out on the Sunset Strip. Easy noses around the hippie scene of 1967, finding a group of mixed, but mostly white, youth who treat him as an equal. With the help of a pretty flower child he finds Little Green’s trail. It does not lead to peace and love.
Mosley uses the genre and his jazz prose style to explore a time and place like no one else. He uses the detective story to show the seamy side of the counter culture. Many of the bad guys are ones who use the movement for their own ends, preying on the youth, corrupting them and their message. With Easy Rawlins, Mosley gives us a character believably aware and not just acting as a vessel for the author’s observations. A good example of this is when Easy is at a coffee shop when police cruise by. Easy notices that, while it’s not exactly the same, this generation of white young people has similar problems with the establishment that he and his people have had for the last century.
Little Green reminds us that Easy is one of the best PI’s out there. He gives us a vantage of the past few of us have. We get that view with a range of anger, fear, and passion, crystallized into a poetic voice we can relate to. it’s good to have him back.
This week three of my favorite books from 2012 are out in affordable paperback editions. They range from humorous mystery to hard core crime novel, showcasing the talents of authors that deserve to be discovered. So now that the financial risk is out of the equation, get hooked on one of these writers.
A Quiet Vendetta by RJ Ellory
If you like historical, mob, or thriller novels this book will please you. When the daughter of the Louisiana governor goes missing, a mysterious elderly man, Ernesto Perez, walks into the police station saying he’ll explain everything if he talks to Ray Hartman, a federal prosecutor in Washington with seemingly no connection to him. Perez then tells his life story which weaves through sixty years of Mafia history as Ray and others try to put the pieces together. This is a smart, sweeping book that only reveals its hand in the final paragraph.
Death Makes the Cut by Janice Hamrick
The second book in the Jocelyn Shore series centers around a murder in the workplace, when the tennis coach is murdered at her high school. A very funny “light” mystery that has a more of an edge than you might expect, with a sharp look at high school politics and human behavior. It also gives you a great tour of Austin, Texas.
Last Call for the Living by Peter Farris
Quite possibly my favorite debut from last year. This story of an Aryan Brotherhood bank robber and the odd bond he develops with the teller he takes hostage has some great action sequences that hold there own with Joe Lansdale and Frank Bill, a wonderful rural noir vibe, and characters you learn to feel for on their own terms. Farris does the best thing an author can do with his first book, have us eagerly awaiting his second.
Evil In All Its Disguises by Hilary Davidson
We’re starting a new weekly feature with Crime Fiction Friday, showcasing short stories from some of our favorite authors. It seemed fitting to start with Hilary Davidson. Her novels featuring series heroine, Lily Moore, always have a dark undercurrent to them. That undercurrent becomes a tidal wave in her short work, like the the second in her “Bastard Trilogy” first published by Spinetingler
Hilary will be at BookPeople signing her latest Lily Moore book, Evil In All It’s Disguises, on March 26th.
So Damn Lucky by Deborah Coonts
This month we travel to Sin City with Deborah Coonts. Deborah and her series character, Lucky O’Toole, who works in customer relations for the high end Babylon Hotel. It’s a job that pulls her into murders that reflect Vegas’ weird side. Her third book, So Damn Lucky, has just come out in paperback and her her latest, Lucky Bastard will be out in May. Deborah was kind enough to answer some question about the town that feeds her fiction.
MysteryPeople: As a writer what do you love most about Las Vegas
Deborah Coonts:Vegas–45 million people walk through here annually. They come here from every corner of the universe with hopes and dreams, baggage and problems. And they all are looking for something. Whether it’s something as benign as a few good meals and a show or two with their spouse, significant other, partner or plaything, or something more mischievous–there’s a story there. Whenever my well of ideas is running low, I wander down to the Strip, buy a yard of margaritas, and sip as I watch the herd of humanity stroll by. It doesn’t take me long to start imagining their stories again…and I’m off and running.
MP: How does the town shape Lucky?
DC: Lucky is Las Vegas, at least to me. She embodies the best of this town–it’s open arms, welcoming one and all. Like Vegas, Lucky is non-judgmental, willing to take each person who crosses her path at face-value. Vegas–the city of second chances. No one cares where you came from or what you left behind. Face it, most of the folks here are running from something. It could be something as simple as boredom or a failed relationship or a miserable childhood. Or, it could be something more….sinister:)
MP: What is the biggest misconception about the Las Vegas?
DC: Everyone thinks we all live on the Strip–that that is all there is to Vegas. Actually, Vegas is a nice town. I tell people it’s just like southern California but without the beach…and the high taxes.
Lucky Bastard by Deborah Coonts
MP: You’re books are known for being funny. Do you think the town is fertile ground for humor?
DC: When people come to Vegas, they usually leave good judgment at home in Iowa, or wherever they hail from. If you don’t believe me, just go down to the Strip and look at what they are wearing! There are clearly Vegas clothes (read: clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead in back home) and clothes for the rest of the world. And the cops here will tell you that that whole what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas thing just made everything a bit more naughty here. People really believe that the folks back home won’t hear about the drunken brawl at the Strip Club they started. Wishful thinking or justification on their part, but for me, wonderful fodder for stories:)
MP: What can you do in a Vegas mystery you can’t do in another town?
DC: Be more over-the-top. This being Vegas, most people expect things to be very silly–and they are. But I have to take it up a notch. I mean, no one would believe the Adult Video Awards take place anywhere else. And, my heroine was raised in a whorehouse–can’t do that too many places and not have anyone bat an eye. Her mother, the former madam, is considering a political career. And Vegas truly is the only palce where a former hooker could be elected to serve the people. Isn’t there just something so….fun…about that?
MP: For someone visiting Las Vegas, what would you consider a must-go-to place?
DC: It all depends on what you are hoping to find here. But, I’d say you have to go to the Bellagio–it’s just the most magnificent place–the fountains, the Chihuly glass flowers on the ceiling of the lobby, the Conservatory…classy taken to a whole new level…but there for everyone. And that, my friends, is Vegas.
Last Call For The Living by Peter Farris
My favorite debut novel of 2012 is now available in paperback. Peter Farris tells the story of an unlikely bond formed by an Aryan Brotherhood bank robber and his hostage amid some grisly action. This book shows the promise of a great new voice on the crime scene.
Criminal Enterprises by Owen Laukkanen
Laukkanen brings back law enforcement agents Windermere and Stevens from his breakout debut, The Professionals. This time the two are after a sympathetic bank robber. Laukkanen has a knack for delivering a breakneck pace that never sacrifices strong characterization.
The Beggar’s Opera by Peggy Blair
For mystery fans who like foreign settings, try this debut that introduces us to Cuban police inspector Ricardo Ramirez. He has seventy-two hours to secure an indictment for the killer of a young boy before he leaves the country, all the while suffering from dementia that allows him to see the victims of his unsolved cases.
Donnybrook by Frank Bill
With just two books, including our Pick Of The Month Donnybrook, Frank Bill has become one of our favorite new authors. Frank seems to like us too, since he was willing to talk to us about fighting, writing, and movies.
MysteryPeople: Is it true you got the idea for Donnybrook by talking to a fellow martial arts student?
Frank Bill: Part of the idea came from a student I ran around with and studied with, yes. This was back in the mid-90′s. He worked for a printing company and the rumor around his work was that men were hosting these underground fights at unknown locations, but none of us ever went, that is if they even existed. But that rumor stuck in my head.
MP: The story has a loose and rollicking style, but it comes to a logical conclusion. How much of it had you planned out before you started writing?
FB: I never outline, so I never really plan anything. For me everything starts with a moving description. Followed by ideas and scenes I scribble down in my journal. Then type them out to hardcopy. Print them. Line edit and build everything from there by re-writing and revising obsessively.
MP: One thing that’s remarkable about the book is how, you have several characters and plot lines, but there’s an incredible momentum to the narrative. Do that many characters make it a challenge or do they actually help you keep it moving?
FB: For me, the multiple plotlines/characters keep things moving. I have a hard time with attention, so my mind tends to bounce and wonder back and forth, hence my multiple story lines and the movement within them.
MP: Donnybrook has some of the best fight scenes I’ve read. What do you try to keep in mind when writing these kinds of moments?
FB: I break everything down the same as we did with my teachers when I studied and trained in martial arts. Its like choreographing the fight. Looking at the details of a situation and how one acts and reacts. Footing. Body mechanics. In some cases I actually stand up and go over it in mind, and in front of a mirror. Reflecting on how the body moves.
Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill
MP: You wrote a great novel and one of the best short story collections in recent memory. Do you have a preference of either form?
FB: Thank you. I dig each of them, but I do like the novel, as there’s a bit more room to build the tension and offer backstory and characterization.
MP: There’s a visceral feel from your books you generally associate with film. Are there filmmakers who inspire you as much as authors?
FB: Tarantino, Rob Zombie, PT Anderson, Xavier Gen, Nicolas Winding Refn, Alejandro Gonzalez, Takashi Miike, David Ayer, Neil Labute, just to name a few.
Donnybrook by Frank Bill
Frank Bill announced his presence in 2011 with Crimes In Southern Indiana, a collection of connected short stories that take place in a meth ravaged Midwest town. His terse prose, blood soaked violence, and colorful characters who live on the fringes were a literary punch to the gut. With his first novel, Donnybrook, he proves there’s no slowing down.
Much like Crimes In Southern Indiana, Donnybrook connects the lives of several characters. However, these characters all have a single destination, Donnybrook, a three-day bare-knuckle boxing competition held by a Midwest gangster; where the last man standing wins $20,000. The book starts with one fighter, Jar Head, robbing his local gun store for the thousand-dollar entry fee. Ned Newton is paying for his by stealing a batch from a crank cooker, Chainsaw Angus, with the help of Angus’s sister Liz. Now Ned has to contend with Chainsaw as well as lawman Ross Whalon and Fu Xi, a debt collector with some martial arts skills and few scruples, who are already after him. These and a few more red neck ne’er do wells travel a strange, rollicking, funny, often violent road to get to the fight and when they get there, Bill ups it in a great convergence of a conclusion.
Everything great about Crimes In Southern Indiana goes double for Donnybrook. The dialogue pops and the characters are defined through extreme yet believable actions. Bill gives Elmore Leonard a run for his money when it comes to criminals who aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. He’s also gotten to be someone who writes one hell of an action sequence. The violence has a visceral feel and each fight is written in detail; each is specific to the two characters that are fighting, the situation and emotion. When talking with hard-boiled writer, Christa Faust about the book, she said, “Frank writes fist fights like John Woo directs gun fights.”
Donnybrook proves Frank Bill is one of the great emerging talents out there. Like Joe R Lansdale, he captures the voice of his region, turning it into a literary voice of his own and he delivers a rush that’s often more associated to cinema than to books. I’m already waiting for his next one.