Author Archives: mysterypeoplescott
Federales by Christopher Irvin
Reviewed by Molly
Christopher Irvin’s Federales could not be timelier in its subject matter, especially for a book set in Texas. Irvin writes tough, hard prose with a mission – he sets out to bring awareness of the true story of cartel violence against a female mayor campaigning against drug violence, and he does exactly that. If you don’t get the message from the novel itself, the afterword certainly hammers it home; Irwin writes that he hopes his book “brings some attention to the never-ending struggle that is mostly out of sight, out of mind to us here in the United States.”
The plot follows a detective in Mexico City who, after having stayed under the radar of the cartels for most of his career, finds to his dismay that he has come to their attention and must flee the city. He finds new employment protecting a politician and her daughter from threats made by the cartels, and in so doing, finds companionship.
The threats surrounding the politician are very real. Two previous assassination attempts have already left her without a husband and with hideous scars, but she has much more to lose.
Irvin’s writing is tough, and his book is short, so you can expect every sentence to pack a punch. The violence is extreme, as befits a story of the cartels, and some parts of the tale read more like a horror story than a hard-boiled detective novel. Irvin is relentless in his harrowing vision of modern Mexican society and the effect of powerful cartels on ineffective bureaucracy. Read this book in bed with the lights on and you just might remember that Irvin’s vision of reality does not constitute the whole, but merely a very, very disturbing part.
Federales is available on our shelves & online via bookpeople.com.
Being from the Lone Star State, the title of this installment of Akashic’s Monday’s Are Murder series (crime fiction under 750 words, posted every Monday) got my attention. The author’s prose and dialogue style grabbed me soon after that. He’s currently shopping publishers his novel, Concerto For Harp. We wish him the best and a bright future. Her’es a taste of his work.
“By eleven in the morning the streets of Devine, Texas were as flat and as hot as the griddle the cook downstairs was doing bacon and eggs on.
Returning from the bathroom, Ellie got back into bed. She smelled of toothpaste, soap and cigarettes….”
As his new book, The Player, demonstrates, Brad Parks weaves hard edged crime fiction and comedy together. His investigative reporter, Carter Ross, covers the mean streets of Newark, Jersey. We asked Brad a some questions about the town where he used to work as a reporter.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What is the best thing about writing about Newark, Jersey City?
BRAD PARKS: That it’s not some tranquil town in Vermont where, ten books into the series, people are going to say, “Really? Another murder? Seriously?” It’s a sad but true fact that Newark has one-third the population of Austin but drops nearly four times as many bodies a year. I would never make light of the horrible human cost of that–and I certainly don’t in the books. But, on the plus side, it means I’m never going to run out of plausible crime to write about.
MP: How does Newark inform Carter as a character?
BP: One of the ever-present tensions in the series is that Carter is this straight-laced, upper-middle-class white guy–raised in suburban comfort and privilege–who plunges into the roughest housing projects and worst tenements. But he does so while remaining completely true to himself. “You have to know what flavor of ice cream you are in this world,” Carter says in The Good Cop. “And I am vanilla.”
MP: What is the biggest misconception about the city?
BP: That crime is the only thing that happens there. I realize I run the danger of perpetuating that stereotype by setting a crime fiction series there. But any balanced presentation of Newark needs to report that yes, there is crime; and, yes, there are urban ills of all stripe; but there are also a lot of well-meaning people who are working hard to make Newark a better place. In every book, I’d like to think I present a healthy number of those people, too.
MP: Thanks to HBO and the news, we tend to associate the mob and corruption more with new Jersey than with New York now. What do Jersey gangsters have over New York gangsters?
BP: Fongool! Loro sono fottuto conigli! (Warning: do not run this through Google translator around your mother).
MP: What can you write about in crime fiction set in Newark, that you can’t anywhere else?
BP: The thing I love about New Jersey–and, by extension, Newark–is that it really loads a writer’s toolbox with possibility. New Jersey has every ethnic, religious and immigrant group out there. It is the second richest state in the country, by per capita income. It also has, in Newark and Camden, two of the poorest cities. Yet because it’s the most densely populated state, all those people–representing every color, creed and class–can’t help but bump into each other with a frequency and magnitude that they don’t in other places. Those intersections are where you find great stories.
The Player is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
I’m gearing up to go on the road trip of my crime fiction life this month: Dallas, St. Louis, Memphis, Oxford, and New Orleans. I’ll be hanging out with (okay, leeching off of) a lot of my writer friends, including Harry Hunsicker, Scott Phillips, Jedidiah Ayers, Ace Atkins, and, winner of the University Of Mississippi Johns Grisham Writer In Residence fellowship, Megan Abbott. I have advance copies of Ace and Megan’s books (Cheap Shot and The Fever) packed to take with me, along with a collection of Mississippi writer Larry Brown’s stories.
If you need help finding a good crime novel at the store while I’m gone, introduce yourself to our new employee, Molly. She knows her stuff.
I promise to take pictures of sights along the way.
1970 didn’t just usher in a new decade, it also brought us a new era of crime novels. That year gave us at least three books that would transform the genre by cracking it into sub-genres, bringing different readers to the fold.
The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake
Originally concieved as a story for his hard-as-nails detective Parker series, Westlake discovered that the story– a diamond that has to be stolen over and over– was too silly for that series. He changed Parker to Dortmunder and not only created a second popular series character, but popularized the comic caper novel.
The Friends Of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, Dennis Lehane
Fictional criminals would never be the same again after this book. A former attorney and reporter, Higgins knew the bureaucracy and politics of the justice system as well as the beleaguered cops and criminals caught up in it. His story about an aging mob soldier that is being played by both the law and his lawless cohotrs, has a work-a-day atmosphere of crime and punishment. This novel has some of the most vivid dialogue put on paper. It has influenced modern writers like George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. Elmore Leonard credited the book for his appraoch to writing crime fiction.
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
By using his knowledge of the Native American Tribes in the Four Corners area and a little influence from Australian writer Aurthur Upfield’s mysteries, Hillerman introduced the world to Navajo tribal officer, Joe Leaphorn. The series opened up the west as a setting for crime and murder, giving big cities a run for their money; and it paved the way for other Native American mysteries by the likes of Margret Coel and C.M. Wendelboe. Even more important, it introduced the idea of the mystery anthropology sub-genre where the “whodunit” story investigates a culture as much as the crime.
Frank Bill is one of our favorite new voices. His brand of rough and tumble, visceral country crime fiction has a fresh hard boiled style that has landed him respect with the literary set as well as crime fiction fans. His books Crimes In Southern Indiana and Donnybrook have received some great praise. If you haven’t experienced his work, here’s a taste from a story published in Beat To A Pulp earlier this year.
“Tobar Hicks and Molly Sellers’d led a life fueled by blistered hands of bad luck and the greasy-boned labor of living below the poverty line, scrapping everything from spent trailers, fridges, washing machines and A/C units to barter an existence from salvage yards in and around southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. With the windows down and the 10 a.m. sun bringing the burn of another thick day, sweat bucketed down Tobar’s forehead as he wheeled the ’88 Ford Ranger with four slick treads from Freedom Metals’ tin-sided exit. Chris Knight blared from the CD player singing “Jack Blue.”
The truck coughed, jerked and lost power….”
I recently read two of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder books, moving through the acclaimed series in anticipation for the film version of Walk Among The Tombstones coming out this Fall. One of the books was the earlier, lesser known, In the Midst Of Death. The other was one of the more more highly praised, Eight Million Ways To Die. Both books deserve notice.
For those not familiar with Block’s Matthew Scudder, he, along with Robert B. Parker’s character, Spenser, are the most influential crime novel detectives to come out of the 1970s. Already an alcoholic, Scudder accidentally shoots a young girl while attempting to stop a robbery. After that, he dropps out of the force, gives up on his marriage, and moves into a cheap hotel and a spiritual purgatory. As a semi-functional drunk and unlicensed PI, he stumbles around with a certain grace.
As with the entire series, New York is almost another character in both books.It’s the dirty and dangerous New York of the 1970s. After the city goes bankrupt, the environment puts him in as much danger as any case he takes on. The irony is the places of safety and comfort seem to be the bars.
In The Midst Of Death sees Scudder hired by Jerry Broadfield, a whistle blowing cop charged with murdering a call girl. With little help and some interference from the NYPD, Scudder finds his investigation leading to a web of secrets and ambitions belonging to his client and their prosecutors. Many aspects of the book appear to be drawn from the life of Robert Leuci, the real life narcotics detective-turned-informer in Robert Daly’s nonfiction book, Prince Of The City, which was adapted into the Sidney Lumet film of the same name.
There is little actual violence in the book, yet a jaundiced oblivion hangs in the air. Because of what his client has done and the contempt the other cops have for him, Scudder is reminded of his own tarnished past as a law officer. The passages with Scudder and Broadfield’s wife, another lost soul, are poignant without being sentimental. It is a brief connection of two people who have lost their identity in different ways.
A murdered call girl is also at the start of the plot rolling into Eight Million Ways To Die. The victim, Sunny, had hired Matt to negotiate the break from her pimp, Chance. When she is found savagely executed with a machete, Chance hires him to find her killer. There are millions of reasons to not to take the case, but a major one compels him. Now wanting to change, Scudder needs to think about something other than drinking.
The book is actually more about addiction than murder. As Scudder questions the other prostitutes and an alcoholic cop working the case, we come across people addicted to drugs, money, sex, love, and rage. When Matt faces his own addiction head on without blinking, it is utterly moving.
In The Midst Of Death and Eight Million Ways to Die are both great examples of the jagged character arc Matthew Scudder travels in this series. Block realizes that even when you take that big step in deciding to fight your demons, the demons will often fight back. I believe these books argue that in this corrupt world it’s the fragile, broken, and discarded souls that need saving the most.
Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
If the movie didn’t fill your hunger for more Mars, Rob Thomas comes through with the first of two books written with Jennifer Graham about his cult hit creation. Veronica takes on the town of Neptune’s corrupt cops and dangerous secrets as she goes looking for a coed who goes missing on spring break in her first case back in Neptune as a private eye.
The Kill Switch: A Tucker Wayne Novel by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood
Rollins teams up with military thriller writer Blackwood in this spin-off from his Sigma Force series, featuring Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his working dog, Kane. Blackwood’s Army edge brings a deeper realism to Rollins’ daring and weird science adventure in a book that travels through Russia and Africa and involves a deadly weapon with origins in the Boer war.
Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman
Milchman follows up her critically acclaimed thriller Cover Of Snow with the story of a woman uncovering her husband’s dark past in order to find where he’s taken her children. Read it now and join us at BookPeople June 16th when Jenny is here to sign and discuss the novel.
MysteryPeople April Pick of the Month: Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson
I’ve said before that Hilary Davidson is somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde author. Her short fiction has a hard noir style, usually showing the worst of humanity. Her series featuring travel writer Lily Moore consists of edgy thrillers with a damaged-but-decent heroine confronting her problems. With Blood Always Tells, a stand alone thriller, Davidson fuses both sides of her writing personalities.
The book begins with Dominique Monaghan, a second tier model having an affair with an ex-boxer who married another woman for money. After Dominique discovers he’s cheating on her, as well, she slips a muscle relaxant into his drink, hoping to get him talking about the wife and affairs all while recording the conversation for blackmail purposes. The plan goes awry when some guys with guns burst in and kidnap both of them.
This isn’t your average kidnapping. In one entertaining passage, Dominique is schooled by one of the accomplices on the many reasons for kidnapping. This section has the darker motives and even darker humor of Davidson’s short fiction work.
After a little over a hundred pages, the book goes into hard-boiled sleuth mode as we follow Dominique’s brother Desmond as he tries to find her. The search puts him up against Gary’s diamond-for-a-heart wife and more than a few unhinged criminals.
Davidson has a gift for taking you seamlessly through these different point-of-views and sub-genres. By crafting many well placed reveals and twists that become a part of the pace, she makes the reader accustomed to the speed at which she likes to change it up. There’s also a theme of the importance of family weaved throughout the book that binds it together. All three of the characters come from broken homes and the double edge sword of bother-sister relationships.
Blood Always Tells is a fresh and engaging read. It plays with genre and narrative in a unique way, not flinching when it comes to the characters and their past. I look forward to Hilary’s next walk on the wild side.
Blood Always Tells is available for pre-order on our website. Hilary Davidson will be in the store on Thursday, April 24 at 7PM speaking & signing copies of the book. Click here for more information & to pre-order your signed copy.
Bruce DeSilva‘s latest book involving Rhode Island newspaper man Liam Mulligan, Providence Rag, is a bit different in approach. Mulligan races against time to keep a killer in prison as another reporter is uncovering prison corruption that would set him free. We turned the tables on the former reporter and asked him a few questions.
MYSTERYPEOPLE I found the story Providence Rag takes on a much darker and somber tone than the previous Mulligan books, which are partly known for their humor. What was it like working on a novel where you couldn’t always pull that humor tool out of the box?
BRUCE DESILVA: I don’t entirely agree with the premise of your question. I think my second novel, Cliff Walk, which peers into the bleak world of the sex trade and deals with the abuse and murder of children, was an even darker story. And there is humor in Providence Rag. For example, there’s Mulligan’s displeasure with his new roommate, Larry Bird, his attempt to fob the creature off on Whoosh, and the way he deals with the gangsters who want the bird back. However, I do understand what you’re driving at.
What changed in Providence Rag was the point of view.The first two novels were written in the first person with Mulligan as the narrator, so his trenchant observations and wise-guy humor were never far from the surface. Providence Rag, however, is written in third person limited. Sometimes we see the story from Mulligan’s point of view, but nearly as often we see it from the point of view of his earnest young colleague, Mason. And parts of the story are told from the points of view of their friend Gloria, the one-eyed photographer, and of the killer. Mason and Gloria aren’t humorless, but they are not given to the kind of smart remarks Mulligan is noted for. And the killer does not display much of a sense of humor. It was necessary to change point of view in this novel because the story was too complex to be told only from Mulligan’s vantage point. The very heart of the novel required that readers be exposed to how different things look depending on where you sit. But in the fourth Mulligan novel, tentatively titled A Scourge of Vipers, Mulligan will return as the lone first-person narrator. That book is already finished and will be published in March of 2015.
MP: Mason comes into his own during the book and drives the story as much as Mulligan. How did you handle two characters sharing the spotlight?
BD: Providence Rag poses a troubling question: What are decent people to do when a loophole in the law requires that a murderous psychopath be released from prison–and the only way to keep him locked up is to fabricate charges against him?
To tell the story, I needed a strong character on each side of the issue. Mulligan, whose youthful idealism long ago gave way to cynicism about how the world really works, is the one willing to look the other way if that’s the only way to protect public safety. Mason, given how his character developed in the first two novels, was the logical one to take the position that allowing public officials to subvert the criminal justice system is dangerous. After all, if they can fabricate charges against this killer, they could do the same thing to anyone.
Of course, the moral dilemma the two friends, and the whole state of Rhode Island, face in the novel has no right answer. No matter which side of the issue you make your stand on, you end up condoning something that is reprehensible. So Mason, and Gloria as well, do drive the action more than the supporting characters did in the first two books. But the Mulligan novels have always had ensemble casts. In the first, Rogue Island, Mason, Whoosh (Mulligan’s bookie), and his best friend Rosie Morelli, all play major roles. Mulligan is always Seinfeld to their Kramer, Elaine and George–but in Seinfeld, nobody got stabbed or shot.
MP: Your serial killer, Kwame Diggs, I found to be as chilling as Hannibal Lector, yet more believable. How did you approach him?
BD: The serial killer is loosely based on Craig Price, a real teenage serial killer I wrote about as a journalist many years ago. But Price was already in prison when I researched and wrote his story. I never met him face-to-face. I know little about his childhood, have never heard him speak, and can’t even say for sure what drove him to murder. So the background, motivation, and speech patterns of the killer in the novel are drawn entirely from my imagination. I chose to reveal Diggs to the reader in three different ways:
1. With the overkill and chilling blood-lust he unleashes on his victims.
2. With the string of lies he tells to Mason in a series of jailhouse interviews.
3. With a series of flashbacks in which the reader sees him as a young child in the process of becoming a monster.
Each approach provides a different look at him, but together I think they reveal the full measure of the man
MP: Not only do Mulligan and Mason have ethical dilemmas about what is being uncovered, but so do the editor and owner of the Providence Dispatch. As someone with a journalism background, what did you want the reader to understand about how a paper faces those situations?
BD: Journalists face ethical dilemmas almost every day. Many of the stories they do print not only inform the public but have the potential to both benefit and harm. Sometimes the people harmed by news stories deserve what they get. Sometimes the harm is not deserved but is nevertheless unavoidable if the truth is to be told. But journalists should be cautious about harming people unnecessarily. As a writer and as an editor, I always tried to take care to prevent that from happening. In Providence Rag, I did want readers to see how seriously reporters and editors struggle with this–although few real-life dilemmas are as extreme as the one the book presents. But I also wanted readers to consider how the prosecutors, prison guards, politicians, and citizens of the state grappled with the same moral question–and to ask themselves how they would deal with it as well.
MP: From talking to you at Bouchercon, I know that you’re an aficionado of crime fiction. Which author from the past hasn’t got his due?
BD: If I may alter the question slightly, I’m more concerned with a couple of writers who were popular in their day but have been largely forgotten. Nobody reads Richard Prather or Gregory Mcdonald anymore. Prather’s hard-boiled Shell Scott novels, most of them published in the 1950s and 1960s, were great fun and really well-written. And Mcdonald’s, two series, Fletch and Flynn, published in the 1970s and 1980s, were both funny and devastatingly effective at lampooning sacred American institutions.
MP: Other than being able to draw from your experiences, what makes a reporter a great crime fiction hero, as opposed to, say, a PI or cop?
BD: Real private detectives are nothing like fictional ones. The real ones spend their days serving court papers, investigating insurance claims, back-grounding job applicants, chasing child-support delinquents, and trying to figure out who’s pilfering from warehouses. They go their whole lives without ever shooting anyone down or beat anyone up. The amateur detectives in popular fiction — many of them little old ladies – don’t exist in real life either. Aside from the many varieties of local, state, and federal law officers, the only professionals who regularly investigate wrongdoing are investigative reporters.
In my own career as an investigative reporter, I exposed political corruption, voter fraud, criminal business practices, child abuse . . . In fact, I even investigated a murder. So it was natural for me to make my protagonist an investigative reporter. But unlike cops, reporters don’t get to handcuff people and bring them in for questioning. They can’t get judges to issue search warrants or approve wiretaps. That makes their work more difficult and more challenging – and the inherent difficulties make for good fiction.
Providence Rag is on our shelves now and available via bookpeople.com. Bruce Desilva will be at our store on Friday, Mar 28 at 7PM in conversation with Tom Abrahams (Allegiant) and signing copies of Providence Rag. Click here for more information & to pre-order your signed copy.