Author Archives: mysterypeoplescott

MysteryPeople Review: THE GOOD LIFE, by Frank Wheeler, Jr.

the good lifeReview By Molly

Frank Wheeler Jr. has just published his second novel, The Good Life, and boy, is it a doozy. Wheeler’s first book, The Wowzer, was well received as a debut novel upon its release in 2012. In The Good Life, Earl Haack Jr., raised by his policeman father to take a rather flexible approach to civil liberties, corruption, and brutality, works to take control of the drug trade in his hometown and carry on the family legacy. Haack is joined by his idiot brother and formidable ex-wife in his efforts to extend control over a huge and warring territory in what feels like equal parts Bad Lieutenant, The Godfather, and The Killer Inside Me.

The Good Life goes well alongside MysteryPeople’s September Pick of the Month, Benjamin Whitmer‘s new book Cry, Father - both star characters that go by Junior and have been virtually destroyed by the legacy of their fathers. While Whitmer’s tale focuses on the ways in which a father can try hard and still mess up, Wheeler’s novel takes a much more Machiavellian approach, showing the damage that can be done by a powerful and dangerous figure who deliberately sets out for his children to follow in his (bloody) footsteps.

Each part of Wheeler’s latest is both terrifying and tongue-in-cheek, starting with the title. “The Good Life” is the state motto of Nebraska, from whence the author hails and where the novel takes place. Another meaning for the title comes from Haack’s belief that he is creating a better world.  By taking out the most violent drug traffickers and moderating the level of violence in the community through his own control of the drug trade, Earl Haack, Jr., thinks he can establish “the good life” for his hometown. Earl also understands that through his corrupt actions, he also gains for himself and his ex-wife “the good life” of a gangster, in stark contrast to any morally driven part of his character. The novel, like the title, draws attention to Earl’s hypocrisy throughout, and although the novel consists mainly of snappy dialogue and extreme violence, Wheeler takes just the right amount of time to meditate on the nature of morality.

Wheeler’s new novel is not only impeccably plotted but also perfectly choreographed, with stylish dialogue and hard, tight writing. Wheeler grounds the narrative well in his native Nebraska, but abstracts the struggles of his characters to represent much of the struggle of modern America as a whole. The Good Life reads like rural noir, but feels like a gangster flick. The entire novel is cinematic in its scope, and if Quentin Tarantino teamed up with Francis Ford Coppola to make a movie about small-town corrupt cops in Nebraska starring Mathew McConaughey and Salma Hayek, it might look something like this book.  Hint, hint, Hollywood.


Copies of The Good Life are available via bookpeople.com and are coming soon to our shelves.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: CRY FATHER, by Benjamin Whitmer

cry father

MysteryPeople Pick for August: Cry Father, by Benjamin Whitmer

Review by Scott

When I got my hands on Cry Father, I knew I was going to love it. Benjamin Whitmer‘s debut, Pike, had caught the attention of every hard-boiled fan with its masculine prose and unflinching look at people on the margins and the brutality in which they find themselves trapped. Before even opening it, I knew it would be in my Top Ten of the Year. Whitmer delivers a novel for the decade.

As the story opens, we follow Patterson Wells, a tree cutter who clears limbs and wrenched timber from disaster sites. He also tries to clear the wreckage of his own life caused by the death of his son. Part of his attempt involves writing letters to his son that are interwoven beautifully throughout the story. On his way home to Colorado, he stops by a friend’s place and finds his buddy high on meth and his friend’s girlfriend hogtied in the bathtub. Patterson’s decision to free the woman, plus his involvement with Junior, a drug courier with severe father issues and a hair-trigger personality, unspool several brutal encounters that challenge Wells’ humanity.

While Cry Father shares many of the character types and ferocity of Pike, it has a wider scope. Pike‘s tighter structure compressed the genre tropes and more dramatic elements together, with violence present throughout the book. Here, Whitmer takes a more self-assured pace, allowing the characters, thematics, and bloodshed to settle into the story and dominate it less. The result is a book that is multilayered with a threat of violence vibrating through it like a rattle on a diamondback that will strike in due time.

Whitmer brings his version of the modern West and its people vividly to life. As desperate and brutal as the  circumstances are, it doesn’t come off as your standard rural noir. We simply follow people dealing with their lives without the middle-class advantage of being able to put a mistake behind them. Struggle permeates the book more than doom.

Cry Father finds a way to be deep, nuanced, wild, and dramatic all at the same time, making it difficult to fully comprehend in one reading, much less encapsulate it in one review. Its sense of loss and portraits of people in search of grace without a road map make the story linger. Whitmer honestly deals with what he tackles. He realizes there are things we can not get a grip on or put behind us. We’re best judged by how we carry them and can expect to stumble at times with that weight.


Cry Father hits the shelves September 16. It is available for pre-order now at bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Gregg Hurwitz

Interview by Scott

Gregg Hurwitz is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 novels, most recently Don’t Look Back, You’re Next, The Survivor, and Tell No Lies. Gregg Hurwitz was a mainstay at the bookstore I worked in LA, so I’m excited to be hosting him at our store Sunday, September 7th at 4PM. I caught up with him for several questions about his latest, Don’t Look Back.


MysteryPeople: How did the idea for Don’t Look Back come about?

Gregg Hurwitz: I love the jungle. And having come off a string of Hitchcockian “domestic thrillers,” I wanted to write something where cell phones and cops and evidence played no role. Where an obstacle was an actual physical obstacle. A boulder that blew out a bridge. A band of sweeper ants that eat everything in their path. A tormenta (tropical storm) that dumps a meter of water a day.

MP: How did Eve come to be the protagonist?

GH: I knew I had to write a female protagonist (for the first time) because this character wouldn’t quit working on my brain. I wanted Eve Hardaway to come up against someone who was not just stronger than she was, but who was immensely more capable and menacing. Because this is an “Everywoman” thriller, it was essential that readers understand just how outgunned Eve is. This is a situation she might not make it out of alive. The “bad man” in pursuit of her has a unique set of skills, all of them geared toward tracking and killing people. Eve is a recently divorced single mother from Calabasas. Their views and priorities and strengths are worlds apart. So I threw them together in the jungle and recorded the mayhem. I always knew that Eve had a hidden reserve of strength that she’d have to dig deep to find. Perhaps that’s true for all of us.

MP: One thing that works well in the book is how you believable you make cutting off all the characters from contacting any sort of rescuers in a modern novel. Did you think it is still possible to be in the middle of nowhere and not be able to contact society?

GH: Thank you. And yes, I do! Because I actually went to the jungles of Oaxaca. And I was as cut off there as I’ve been anywhere in the world. Because I see my job as giving readers a front-row seat to the action, I try to experience what my characters do. So I went to  the humidity-drenched jungles, shot down Class IV white-water rafting runs, hiked through ruins, chased after giant snakes, and saw much of what Eve Hardaway encounters in the course of the book. My hope is that the reader can hear the thunder, feel the rain tapping their skin.

MP: What drew you to Mexico?

GH: I chose Mexico because 1. I love the jungle. 2. It was important for spoiler reasons that the jungle in this story is in close proximity to the US.

A perfect storm! Plus I got to drink mezcal. With worm salt. Mmmmm. Worm salt.

MP: You start out with what seems like a killer in the woods story set in the jungle, but the nature of the killer turns it into something else. What is your approach to the antagonist in your writing?

GH: Give him a strong personal motive and well-rounded world view. Early in my career, I stopped writing villains and started writing antagonists. As has been noted by many a writer, “The bad guy never thinks he’s the bad guy.” So giving him a rationale, or better yet, a rationale we can actually relate to? That’s engaging.

MP: What is your main goal when writing?

GH: To find beauty in darkness.


Gregg Hurwitz will be speaking and signing his latest novel, Don’t Look Back, Sunday, September 7, at 4 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. You can find copies of his new book on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Mystery People Review: BRAINQUAKE, by Samuel Fuller

brainquake

Review by Scott

Writer-director Samuel Fuller was a filmmaker from the fifties and sixties whose work still seems fresh, modern, and bold. His grab-you-by-the-throat intensity of style influenced the likes of Goddard, Scorsese, and Tarantino. What some may not know is that he wrote novels from the 1930s up until the the time of his death in 1997. Hard Case Crime gives us a look into this side of his talent by bringing us Brainquake, a Fuller novel that has just been published in the US and in English for the first time.

Fuller’s belief, “If the first scene doesn’t give you a hard-on then throw the goddamn thing away,” is applied to the first line of the novel: “Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park.” The murdered father is a mobster. Before the baby and mother are killed, Paul Pope, underworld bagman, saves them. Paul suffers from mental seizures which he refers to as “brainquakes,” where his mind spins into pink tinted images accompanied by piercing flute music. It is easy to picture Fuller’s avant garde camera cut loose during these passages. Paul falls for the mob widow, who he refers to as “ivory face”, setting up a series of events that ripple through the New York crime syndicate that employs him. The mob puts Father Flannigan, a contract killer who dresses like a priest and crucifies his targets, on to Paul as Flannigan’s next target.

Brainquake has the feel of a Sam Fuller film. The detailed life of a bagman is reminiscent of the attention brought to the lifestyle of the pickpocket Richard Widmark played in Pick Up On South Street. It portrays New York City with gritty realism mixed with pulp stylization. The dialogue blasts out  like gunshots and his tabloid inspired prose has the punchy feel of his editing. The emotions are raw and heightened. Everything is heightened, yet retains the truth in its main characters.

Brainquake is full on Fuller. Those who have seen his interviews can hear his boisterous cigar stained voice in the writing. It is uncompromising, wild, tough, and goes right at you, giving a fresh perspective on a great, often under appreciated artist, while delivering a slam-bang read.


Copies of Brainquake are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Guest Post: Kira Piekoff On Her Latest, NO TIME TO DIE

no time to die

Guest Post by Kira Peikoff

In my new book No Time to Die, Zoe Kincaid, a 20-year-old college dropout, has long endured a mystifying ailment that has stunted her development. The truth will shock her: she’s biologically stopped aging, and her DNA may hold the key to unlocking a secret sought since the dawn of time: why do we age and die? But with some powerful people willing to kill, soon Zoe finds herself at the center of a dangerous manhunt with epic consequences.

I created the character of Zoe after learning about the real-life case of Brooke Greenberg, an adolescent girl who had inexplicably stopped aging as a toddler. Today, six other similar girls have been identified, and they are all participating in a cutting-edge research study that aims to examine their DNA for shared mutations. The hope is that scientists will discover a gene (or group of genes) at the root of the aging process, which could then be turned on or off. Imagine being able to stop aging whenever you wanted; would you do it? I think I know your answer, but think again. What would it really be like to be forever young? Read No Time to Die to find out…

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Copies of No Time to Die are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET, edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan

shadowsoverbakerstreetReview by Molly

Next Monday, September 1st, the 7% Solution Book Club will discuss the short story collection Shadows Over Baker Street. This anthology of terrifying and intriguing tales links characters from the world of Sherlock Holmes to the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. This means no less than a basic confrontation between reason and horror, logic and illogic, the taciturn and the unspeakable, forensic science and occult practice, and last of all, guns and tentacles.

How does Sherlock Holmes apply his unique talents of detection towards saving the world from the call of Cthulu? Each author takes their own approach. In some stories, Holmes finds himself out of his depth (and into the depths!). In most, however, he is unflappable as always, calmly preventing such calamities as an unsuitable marriage between a guardian of the underworld and her less hearty suitor (“The Adventure of the Antiquarian’s Neice,” by Barbara Hambly), or the poisoning of London’s water supply by the monstrous citizens of Insmouth (in which Sherlock Holmes fights a crocodile).

This book is not just the Sherlock show. Watson experiences moments of the supernatural and horrifying, too, both with his companion and on his own. “The Weeping Masks,” by James Lowder, recounts an incident from Watson’s time in Afghanistan, pre-Sherlock. Elizabeth Bear‘s “Tiger! Tiger!” follows Irene Adler on a tiger hunt ready to restore order to the universe and defeat a weird fire-creature, sans Sherlock’s aid. Neil Gaiman‘s 2004 Hugo Award-winning story “A Study in Emerald” incorporates the strangeness of Lovecraft’s world into a fully developed Victorian Britain, with monsters pervading both politics and the arts. Gaiman’s story is the first in the volume, but Thomas, co-host of the 7% Solution Book Club, has suggested that to enjoy the collection best, read “A Study in Emerald” last rather than first.

Shadows Over Baker Street contains a full-on smorgasbord of Lovecraftian monsters, ranging from bee-creatures that mimic the appearance of those we most trust, to weeping zombies, to devouring hell monsters, all the way to the great Cthulu himself and the nightmares he brings. Tim Lebbon‘s story “The Horror of Many Faces” playfully reinterprets Holmes’ love of bees into a new horror, while Paul Finch‘s “The Mystery of the Hanged Man’s Puzzle” and John Pelan‘s “The Mystery of the Worm” explore the blurry line between science and alchemy when the supernatural invades the logical world. Each author in the anthology clearly glories in intermingling the language of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, and the word “unspeakable” appears just as frequently as “deduction.”

Shadows Over Baker Street is just one installment of a running series of short story collections with all original material set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Unlike most of 7% Solutions reading picks, you won’t find this one in the mystery section – it’s shelved in horror anthology.

The concept of Holmes meeting Cthulu may seem rather incongruous at first, when one considers the king of reason solving mysteries involving none other than the epitome of unknowable horror. On the other hand, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft wrote at roughly the same time and in similar nations. Given the steady accumulation of fans willing and happy to write in the styles of either, the two worlds merge together well and bring to mind the early inspiration for both detective stories and tales of horror, the great Edgar Allan Poe.


The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. Book Club members get a 10% discount on the month’s selection. Shadows Over Baker Street is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Martin Limón

Today is the release of our Pick Of The Month, The Iron Sickle by Martin Limón. The book deals with Sueño and Bascome, his Army CID cops stationed in Seventies-era South Korea, going after a killer who uses the title weapon on Army personnel. Martin Limón was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and his writing.


MysteryPeople: How did the idea for the sickle killer come about?

Martin Limón: In addition to my years spent in Korea, I still read a lot about Korea and the Korean War.  Most recently, I’ve been reading post-war Korean literature translated into English by friends of minE, Bruce and Ju-chan Fulton, much of it centered around the lingering trauma of the war.  Also, I was influenced, and appalled, by reports of the massacre of Korean refugees at the village of Nohgun-ri.  In addition, I remembered the naht, the short-handled Korean sickle used by farmers to harvest rice and by gardening crews on the American Army compounds to cut grass.  It all came together in this story.  Still, I needed a person to wield the iron sickle.  A person mad enough to use it and an event, or series of events, that drove him to this extreme level of madness.  Gradually, the story and the characters came together.

MP: It was great to see Mr. Kill back.  What made you want to use him again?

ML: Partially, he is a device to get George Sueño and Ernie Bascom off compound.  They are always in trouble with their superiors and thus always relegated to the “black market detail.”  That is, busting Korean civilian dependents for re-selling American-made products out of the Army commissary and PX.  But when Mr. Kill, the highest ranking homicide investigator in the Korean National Police, asks for their assistance, they are freed up from their more mundane duties.  Nothing irritates a military officer more than having one of his subordinates temporarily detailed outside of his or her direct control.  But when the directive comes down from the 8th Army Chief of Staff, their boss has no choice but to comply.

Also, Mr. Kill is highly educated, not only in the States at an Ivy League university but also in the ancient arts of calligraphy and Classical Chinese literature.  It’s fun to bring these elements not only into the resolution of the mystery but also as a counterpoint to modern Korean society and the anti-intellectual American military world in which George and Ernie live.

Finally, and most importantly, people tell me they like reading about him.  I like writing about him.

MP:  Much of the book’s last half takes place out in the mountain area of Korea.  Do you have to keep some things in mind when Sueño and Bascom are out in the wilderness?

ML: Well, they are both city boys.  Ernie grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and George was an orphan who lived in foster homes throughout Los Angeles County.  George had never seen snow—other than in photos and movies—until he went on his first field maneuver in the army.  In the book, they are surprised that the amenities they’re used to—public baths, mokkolli houses, noodle shops—aren’t available in the Taebaek Mountains but the training they received from the army helps pull them through.

MP: The friendship between Sueño and Bascom is both unique and real. What do they provide each other?

ML: They provide complete loyalty.  Both of them are unabashed “lifers,” career soldiers.  Yet they are in constant rebellion against the restrictions of military life and, more often than not, the go-along-to-get-along attitude of most of their superiors and fellow soldiers.  Since they share these qualities, they look out for one another.  Also, Ernie is focused strictly on the moment.  He does what he wants to do, when he wants to do it.  He never looks back or even ponders anything he’s done, much less regret it.  George, on the other hand, is constantly evaluating every decision he makes and is riddled with regrets about the past and anxieties about the future.  Both of them admire the opposite qualities they see in one another, although they don’t fully understand them.

MP: You were pretty much self-taught as a writer.  Did you draw from any influential writers?

ML: There are four writers who made me realize that the type of stories I had to tell might find an audience.  First, was Herman Melville.  I once got in trouble (I know, it’s hard to believe) and was restricted to compound for one week.  I was so angry at myself that I decided to add to the punishment by spending the week reading a classic (like the ones I wouldn’t read when I was in high school).  At the base library I found Moby Dick.  To my surprise, within the first few pages, I discovered that the young man, Ishmael, who was venturing off to see “the watery parts of the world” was much like me.  He craved adventure and, aboard ship, he hated officers.  I flew through the book, enjoying every word of it.  The next was Jack London, a fellow native Californian.  Read “To Build a Fire.”  That is, in my opinion, the greatest single piece of prose writing in the English language.  Third was Richard McKenna.  After serving 30 years in the Navy, he retired as a Chief in the late 1950s and proceeded to write The Sand Pebbles which won the National Book Award.  It was about common sailors and their day-to-day problems.  Not the heroics that most military stories try to shove down our throats.  Finally, was Darryl Ponicsan.  He wrote The Last Detail.  That book showed me that one could write a story about the real lives of enlisted men in the military, with all its beauty and all its squalor.

When I first set out to start writing, I had these four writers in mind and I was still on active duty in the military.  My goal was to tell the story of the day-to-day life of American soldiers in Korea, and the day-to-day lives of the Korean people who dealt with them.  It was a world that most Americans didn’t even know existed.  In order to show that world, from the cultured environs of cocktail parties hosted by the American Ambassador to the lowest rat-infested back alleys, I figured the mystery genre was the way to go.  I focused my reading on the genre:  Chandler, Hammett, James M. Cain, Robert B Parker, Ross MacDonald and many others.  Fortunately, I stumbled on my all-time favorite:  the Matt Scudder series written by Lawrence Block.  For my money, they’re still the best mystery stories in print; especially the first half dozen or so books in the series.

MP: As with several of the books, The Iron Sickle deals with repressed history.  What is the danger of not knowing all of our past?

ML: The Korean War is often called the forgotten war and for good reason. People forget that Korea had a huge impact on the American strategy in Vietnam.  In Korea, we were able to fight the Communists to a standstill and left the country divided into north and south.  In Vietnam, the goal was the same.  To keep a supposedly democratic South Vietnam and leave North Vietnam under the Communists.  Many people correctly pointed out that to win the war we should invade North Vietnam (either that or withdraw completely).  But the lesson of the Korean War had shown that if we threatened to overrun the north, the Communist Chinese would intervene; as they had in Korea with an estimated two to three million “volunteer” soldiers.  Nobody wanted that, so years of stalemate ensued.

We also forget how much damage was done to Korea.  Our bombing campaign left only “rubble bouncing on rubble.”  Those the words of an American pilot.  Even Winston Churchill criticized the U.S. for “splashing” napalm all over North Korea. Two to three million people died in a country of a little over twenty-five million.  The trauma was inestimable.  And it lingered for years, even to this day, which is what The Iron Sickle is all about.


You can ask Matin Limón your own questions when he calls into our Hard Word Book club discussion of his first Sueño-Bascom novel, Jade Lady Burning, on September 24th, at 7PM.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Matthew McBride

On Wednesday, the 27th of August, at 7 pm, our Hard Word Book Club will discuss A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride. The book follows a chain of violence triggered by a moment of weakness from a sheriff’s deputy when he takes $52,000 from meth dealer Jerry Dean Skagg’s trailer. The book was our July Pick Of The Month, so we can’t wait to discuss it. Matt was kind enough to take some questions from us.


MysteryPeople: How do you feel about all the favorable reactions to the book?

Matthew McBride: It’s very nice, and still kind of hard to believe. As a writer, you hope people will buy your book and you want them to like it, but I never expected to sell as many copies as I have. It’s mind-blowing, and I’m grateful. Having strangers write you and tell you they love your book is cool. Because I know how it feels to read something you love and feel that way. You want to connect with the author, so you reach out to them. I’ve done that.

MP: While meth is in a lot of rural crime fiction, it is practically a character here. How has it affected where you live?

MM: I’ve been tempted to brand the book Meth Lit, because meth really is a character in this book, and it has affected my life and the lives of those around me in various ways. In Gasconade County, if you’re sick, you can’t even buy Actifed from the pharmacy without a prescription. For some things you have to show a driver’s license. For other things you have to drive to another county. And while Gasconade County is not now technically considered the meth capital of the world as I mention in the book (that distinction now belongs to one of our neighboring counties), it has certainly been called that at times. In the 90’s and into the 2000’s—and even still to this day—meth labs are raided almost weekly. And it was much worse a few years ago. You can read about it every week in the Gasconade County Republican. Someone is always getting busted or someone’s house is getting raided. People get caught cooking meth and they go to jail and they bond out and the cops give them a few weeks to regroup and resupply themselves and then they hit them again. Sometimes guys get caught for the second time before they’ve even been to court for the first time.

It’s all about Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient harvested from these pills; the component meth cooks need most to perfect their product. About ten years ago they started making you show your drivers license and sign a sheet of paper at the pharmacy window. Now Gasconade County prevents you from buying anything with Pseudoephedrine in it period without a doctor’s prescription. So unless you want to pay an office visit, you have to drive 40 miles to a different county, show your driver’s license, then sign a piece of paper stating you will not cook meth. While these laws are inconvenient for law-abiding, non-meth producing citizens, they were actually created to make it harder for chefs to get the pills they need to cook with, and these laws have made a difference—to an extent—but for every new law that’s made to curb the accessibility to precursors, there’s a guy who cooks crank that’s a very resourceful gentleman and he will just find a new way to make it. If such and such pill cannot be obtained without a prescription, he’ll just find the next best pill that will work, and then that pill becomes the new pill. The quality of the product may suffer, but people will still buy it. And they’ll love it. Even though the product is inferior to what they had previously known. They’ll still snort it or smoke it or shoot it and be grateful for it, while already scheming about how they will get more crank when the crank they have runs out.

But for old schoolers that have been in the game for the long haul, they remember what the good stuff was like. How pure it used to be and how easily it was obtained, and I’m sure a small part of them (guys like Jerry Dean Skaggs) will always look back with fond memories of previous product and long for the good old days.

MP: Frank Sinatra In A Blender was more along the satirical lines, while A Swollen Red Sun is a bit weightier (but no less entertaining). Was the change in tone conscious?

MM: If I had any real goal with my second book, it was to write something completely different from my first book. The characters are much deeper, and they’re drawn in such a way you can relate to them because they’re dealing with real world problems. Issues that we all deal with: Death and disease and loss. Suicide and infidelity and drug addiction. And the extremes people go to to satisfy those addictions.

While Frank Sinatra in a Blender was about embracing addictions, A Swollen Red Sun is about being a slave to them.

MP: Two of your favorite authors, Daniel Woodrell and Dan Ray Pollock, have endorsed the book. What from their work do you hope to apply to yours?

MM: They have become literary heroes to a generation of writers and if I could write half as well as either one of them I’d be walking in tall cotton. But honestly, when I wrote A Swollen Red Sun back in 2010 all I could think about was how cool it would be to meet them. Then maybe I could figure out a way to ask them to read my book without feeling like an asshole. But eventually I did meet them both, and over the years I’ve gotten to know them well, have even read and drank with them, so having their names and words on the cover mean a lot to me. The very same writers who have influenced me now believe in me, and not a lot of writers can say that—plus, there are blurbs from: Todd Robinson, Hilary Davidson, Johnny Shaw, and Ben Whitmer. Writers I genuinely care about as people and whose work I admire.

Between both books, I’ve gotten some amazing blurbs that I’ll always be thankful for. So anytime I see these people at a bar, I owe them a drink. Always. Because that’s the rule.

MP: You have a reputation among your peers as one of the best self-editors. Can you talk about your process after that first draft?

MM: Surely you’re making this up; I cannot imagine anyone saying this. In fact, I know five or six editors who are giving you the finger right now—but!—if I have become a good self-editor, it’s just because I have worked with much better editors than me and I’ve learned from them. Truth is: editors don’t get enough credit. They don’t. And sometimes they don’t get any. But they should. Because it’s the editor that really ties the book together. They polish the words and tighten everything down. The more you write and publish, the more you’ll work with editors and the more you will learn. You don’t even have to try. You just pick things up and they stick with you. Small skills you didn’t even realize you had until you found yourself using them. But I’m also very obsessive/compulsive, so that surely plays a role. It’s a curse, really. I write quickly, but I’m slow to let things go. I need to reread everything fifty times. I’ll do ten or twenty rewrites of anything before I’ll even show Stacia (my agent), who is actually my first editor.

What it comes down to is this: I loathe the thought of anyone reading something I’ve written that’s not as good as it can possibly be. If I think there’s a way to improve what I wrote and make it better I have to try. It’s all about editing: rereading and rewriting. In a way, writing books has ruined me. I look for mistakes all the time now. Even when I’m dining out. I can’t read a menu. I proofread everything.

MP: Would you tell us what you’re up to next?

MM: I don’t even know myself. Maybe nothing. Then again, I might start a new book a half-hour from now. When it comes to writing, I don’t plan a single word. Planning what I want to say robs creativity from the process. For me, writing is about total freedom.


The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month in BookPeople’s cafe at 7 pm. Join us on Wednesday, August 26, for a discussion of Matthew McBride’s A Swollen Red Sun, available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

The Mystery Community Takes the Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and donations to combat ALS is starting to run through the crime fiction community.

als alifair
Alifair Burke, author of  two mystery series, one starring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, and the other driven by Portland, OR, Prosecutor Samantha Kincaid, accepted the challenge from Michael Connelly, author of the Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch series and the Mickey Haller novels, who also dumped the ice water on her.


Two of the people she challenged were McKenna Jordan, owner of Houston’s Murder By The Book, and her dad, James Lee Burke, winner of the Edgar Award and writer of the Dave Robicheaux mysteries.
reed farrell coleman

One of our favorites, Reed Farrel Coleman, acclaimed author of The Hollow Girl,  took the challenge.

He challenged SJ Rozan, Hilary Davidson, and Gary Phillips. Gary accepted the challenge on Reed’s facebook and Hilary and SJ are good sports, so look forward to more videos.

MysteryPeople Q&A With Ed Kurtz


Ed Kurtz joins us this Friday, August 22nd, at 7 pm, to speak about and sign his new book, The Forty-Two, set in the Times Square of the early Eighties with the feel of the grindhouse movies that played there. Kurtz started out writing horror but has since expanded into noir, and we hope he keeps writing in the mystery section for quite some time. After the event, we will screen Vigilante, a classic of the genre. Ed was kind enough to take some questions from us about the book and the films that inspired it.


MysteryPeople: Which came first, the story or wanting to set one in Times Square?

Ed Kurtz: I’d been wanting to write about the 42nd Street scene the way it was for some time, and between reading Bill Landis’s Sleazoid Express and Jimmy McDonough’s terrific biography of Andy Milligan (upon whom Andy Donovan is based), I decided it was time. The set-up seemed a natural fit to me—a grindhouse fanatic getting involved in a murder right in one of the Forty-Two’s most infamous theaters.

MP: Times Square exists in the story as another character and a complex one at that. How did you go about writing about a place in a previous era?

EK: Quite a lot of research—and quite a lot of maps and photos. As I state (apologize about?) in the acknowledgments, I was born in the wrong time and place to have experienced the Deuce firsthand, but as a lifelong exploitation addict it’s in my blood. That said, I needed to know late 1970s/early 1980s New York well, so I read voluminously, studied all those maps and photographs, and kept my writing space strewn with all of that stuff to completely immerse myself in the milieu. I even got my hands on old copies of the Village Voice so that the films playing in the book are accurate. My biggest fear was messing it all up, of course, so I sent it to a friend and colleague, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, to give it a brutal analysis once it was done. To my delight he told me I’d only flubbed one minor detail. I’m not saying which.

MP:  At times the book has the feel of a grindhouse film to it. What did you want to take from those movies to apply to your own work?

EK: The down-and-dirty electric energy of the best—or at least most entertaining—of the exploitation pictures from that period is what I wanted to emulate in The Forty-Two. I hope when people read the book they can see the grain and spots and cigarette burns on the celluloid, hear the crackle of the overused film print. I love this stuff every bit as much as Charley does in the novel, and I wanted that little obsession of ours, mine and my character’s, to bleed through the narrative. You have to wallow a little bit to really get what makes the sleazehound tick, I think, and the novel allows the reader to slum with Charley without all the danger he faces!

MP: You’ve been writing a lot of crime fiction lately. What attracted you to it?

EK: I have always loved crime fiction, particularly with a noir bent, for its attention to darker impulses among human beings that tend to be more subtle than that found in a lot of horror. Themes like obsessive love and revenge, for example, strike such deeper chords than buckets of blood—though I’m certainly attracted to that, too! I started out in horror, and I think that much is evident in a lot of my crime output like The Forty-Two, but I also don’t think the two are all that different. I’m interested in the choices people make, good and bad, and how it can change them and affect their circumstances. How choices can bring out the best or worst in a character, which seems to me a crucial part of crime fiction storytelling.

MP: As someone who has written in several genres, do you see the point in those divisions or is a story a story to you?

EK: For the most part, the latter. When I wrote A Wind of Knives, I set out to create a story about love and revenge, and found myself puzzled that to most commentators it was a “gay Western.” I can’t see the need in ghettoizing literature to that extent, apart from pointing out those aspects that might be most interesting to particular readers, I suppose. My love for grindhouse and the Times Square scene comes directly from my love of horror, so the two are inseparable in my head—so although The Forty-Two is a crime novel, the horror aspects are there, too. Sometimes I like to say I write about people doing bad things to each other, if I’m forced to categorize. But even that is probably oversimplifying. It reminds me of how aggravated I get when I hear someone refer to a novel as “literary,” when a novel is by definition literary, whether it’s William Faulkner or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

MP: If someone was wanting to understand grindhouse cinema what three films would you have them start with?

EK: Just three? I could give you three hundred, and I’d be happy to do it, but I’ll play nice. Just to spread things around a bit, I’ll touch on some different genres that were common to the place and time Charley McCormick is haunting the Forty-Two.

Five Fingers of Death, aka King BoxerCheng Chang Ho’s 1973 kung fu classic got a bit lost in the shuffle when Enter the Dragon was released the same year, but it was a mainstay on 42nd Street and one of the very best examples of the sort of violent martial arts extravaganzas that opened the door to the kung fu craze…and was a perfect fit for the grindhouse scene and tastes. Highly recommended.

Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SSDon Edmond’s infamous 1974 smorgasbord of sleaze and poor taste introduced Dyane Thorne in her first turn as the sadistic Ilsa, classlessly using the Nazi era as the backdrop for as much nudity, violence, and kinky sex as he could get away with. By no means suitable for everyone, the film nonetheless was a major presence on the Deuce and paved the way for countless mimics. Predecessors from Italy like Pasolini’s Salo and Cavani’s The Night Porter may have set the stage for this sort of WWII-era degeneracy, but no one did it more outrageously than Ilsa. (Fun fact: it was shot on leftover Hogan’s Heroes sets! Bob Crane probably loved it.)

Zombie, aka Zombie 2 — Intended as a cheap, unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was released in Italy as Zombi), Lucio Fulci’s made this gut-munching gore masterpiece a classic all its own and filled it with so many wild set pieces—from the underwater zombie/shark fight to one of the most stomach-churning bits of eyeball violence you’ll ever endure—that the picture is every bit as unforgettable as the American counterpart it was meant to capitalize upon. Bleak, unrelenting, and gritty as hell, it may not be Fulci’s best outing (which is probably The Beyond), but an unbelievably entertaining piece of trashy 70s Eurohorror and another pillar of the Forty-Two.


MysteryPeople welcomes Ed Kurtz to BookPeople Friday, August 22, at 7 pm on our third floor. He will be speaking and signing his new book The Forty Two. The signing will be followed by a screening of Vigilante, a grindhouse classic. Copies of The Forty Two are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.

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