Author Archives: mysterypeoplescott
Adrian McKinty wrapped up his Troubles Trilogy earlier this year with his novel In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, thus concluding some of the most thought-provoking, historically well-grounded, and satisfying crime fiction trilogies ever written. For this month’s international crime fiction post, we have decided to profile McKinty’s trilogy but with a special emphasis on his recent concluding volume.
Few trilogies are able to take a set of characters and a few plot twists and slowly add on all the world’s cares until you a have a sweeping condemnation of an entire society. Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir Trilogy did this for Germany in the thirties. John Le Carré’s Smiley Trilogy, consisting of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley’s People, did this for the winding down Cold War in the 70′s. And Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy does this for the height of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in the 80′s.
McKinty’s three Detective Sean Duffy novels seamlessly integrate multiple aspects of Northern Ireland’s troubles to provide a narrative that demonstrates all the intransigence and complexities of the conflict. His first novel in the series, The Cold Cold Ground, takes place in Northern Ireland at the height of the hunger strikes. Detective Sean Duffy is put on the case of what appears to be a serial killer targeting gay men, and may turn out to have larger political implications. McKinty’s second novel in the series, I Hear The Sirens In The Street, follows the mysterious case of a tanned torso found in a trunk, bringing the political intrigue to the fore. His third, In The Morning I’ll be Gone, follows Duffy on a quest to find an old classmate escaped from jail against the background of the Falklands conflict.
McKinty carefully designs his detective, Sean Duffy, to have an outsider perspective. Duffy is one of the few Catholics in a Protestant dominated police force. His minority viewpoint serves as a moral challenge to his generally bigoted and lazy coworkers, who view their prime purpose as backing up the British soldiers rather than solving crimes. Sean Duffy is also possessed of a manic curiosity that refuses to let him leave well enough alone, and constantly gets him in trouble for asking too many questions. He has a fairly realistic trajectory to his character arc over the trilogy, in keeping with the brutal realism of a Northern Irish setting.
In each book, he battles with his superiors over his right to solve politicized crimes in an apolitical way, and by the start of McKinty’s third book in the trilogy, Duffy has been busted down to patrol officer and no longer spends his days solving murders, but instead engages in mini bursts of violence with the IRA all over the six counties. Luckily for Sean, an old classmate escapes from prison and some oh-so-secretive Brits promise Duffy temporary reinstatement as detective inspector if he agrees to hunt his old friend down.
Duffy gets fairly reflective over the symbolism of such a search – his classmate had turned Duffy down when he tried to join the IRA right after Bloody Sunday, and in the parallel universe where Duffy did join, then they would have ended up as comrades instead of enemies. Instead, Duffy stayed out of the IRA just long enough to get sick of their tactics and join the police instead, and now he checks for car bombs daily instead of making them. This third book is not only a search for a parallel Duffy that could have existed, but also a confrontation with those parts of Sean’s mind that have never felt comfortable being a part of an oppressive occupying force that discriminates against him. A third part of Duffy, the part of him that loves confiscated hashish and the company of a good woman to the background soundscape of Lou Reed, is just happy to once again do a job that challenges him. Sean’s apolitical ability to excel is the aspect of the novel that really helps to provide perspective on the conflict. Duffy’s consistent inability to find a non politicized space for his talents represents the true tragedy of a sharply divided country.
Sean Duffy goes from valued member of the police force to Judas in three novels, through no fault of his own. The way that the British secret service manipulates Duffy into killing his old friend stands for the impossible choices of a troubled nation. McKinty certainly writes with a plague on both your houses mentality, and one gets the sense that he, too, must have felt the shackles of choosing sides in his youth. The British, however, come out looking worst of anyone. Duffy’s handler delivers a chilling speech at the end of the novel summarizing the entire conflict, and it’s no disservice to the rest of the novel to quote a little bit here:
“I’ll tell you a little story. After victory in the Franco-Prussian war, an adjutant went to General Von Moltke and told him that his name would ring through the ages with the greatest generals in history, with Napoleon, with Caesar, with Alexander. But Moltke shook his head sadly and explained that he could never be considered a great general because he had ‘never conducted a retreat.’…That’s what we’ve been doing since the first disasters on the Western Front in the First World War. Conducting as orderly a retreat as possible from the apogee of empire. In most cases we’ve done quite well, in some cases – India, for example – we buggered it.” (307)
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This Wednesday, July 23, at 6 pm, we will be screening Robert Altman‘s film adaption of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye as part of our double feature film series. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.
Ask any Raymond Chandler aficionado about Chandler’s best book and most will say The Long Goodbye. Rich in Southern California detail and somber meditations on friendship, it is the the closest we get to understanding his private detective, Phillip Marlowe. Although The Long Goodbye, as a novel, has achieved near-universal acclaim, Robert Altman’s film version has drawn controversy for its unconventional interpretation.
While Playback is technically the last book in the series, The Long Goodbye feels like Chandler’s true farewell to the character. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler uses the classic noir structure of two seemingly unrelated cases that soon become intertwined. One case deals with his friend, Terry Lennox, whose wife is found dead after Marlowe gives him a lift to Mexico. Soon Terry is also assumed dead, but Marlowe thinks the truth is otherwise. As he tries to figure out Terry’s whereabouts, he takes on the job of hunting down a drunken novelist, Roger Wade, to whom he ends up acting as part-time nursemaid.
With the Lennox mystery, Chandler looks at Marlowe deeper than ever before. This is the first time Marlowe is truly personally involved in a case. We watch him try to balance his friendship with Terry and his famous personal code. We also get a stronger sense of his loneliness, making The Long Goodbye one of the most existential private eye novels out there.
What makes the book even more personal is Marlowe’s relationship with Wade. Wade and Marlowe share a similar history, especially when it comes to his drinking and marriage. Even when he’s reading one of Wade’s books, Marlowe criticizes him for overusing similes, the simile being something he was known (and often parodied) for. It was as if he was using his detective to investigate himself.
“It’s certainly his most character-driven book, and a lot more ambitious than the other Marlowe novels,” said crime novelist Wallace Stroby when I asked him about the book and movie. “And Terry Lennox is a unique creation. I can’t think of any other crime novel beforehand, except maybe for Dashiell Hammett‘s The Glass Key, in which male friendship is so central to the plot. It’s probably Chandler’s most autobiographical novel as well. It deals pretty straightforwardly with alcoholism. It’s also been hugely influential on the genre. James Crumley‘s The Last Good Kiss is in many ways his take on The Long Goodbye.”
In Altman’s film version, Marlowe is at a distance. Shot in his famed long takes in large frame with a flashing technique he developed with cinematographer Vilmos Zigmund, the movie has a hazy feel about it. Altman said he approached the material as “Rip Van Marlowe”, with the detective coming out of a twenty year sleep that he started right after World War II and then woke up post Vietnam. This time lapse matches the twenty years difference from the release of the book to the premiere of the film. Gould plays him as if he’s sleepwalking through the cases, getting sharper as he figures out he’s getting played, ending in a confrontation far different from the book.
The movie has become a form of debate among Chandler fans. Some believe the film portrays Marlowe in way respectful to the original, while others feel that the film trashes the novel completely. Some place Altman’s cynical depiction of L. A. as in keeping with the Chandler tradition. Some, like myself, have a different reaction each time we see it.
“It’s a love or hate proposition,” says Stroby. “I love it. But I think you have to look at it more as a Robert Altman movie than a Raymond Chandler adaptation. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and very much of its time, but it has some real noir cred, too. It was written by Leigh Brackett and has a great late-career performance by Sterling Hayden (as Wade). In fact, the whole ensemble cast is terrific. I’d much rather the filmmakers took the approach they did, than to just make another Marlowe pastiche set in the ’40s. I think it’s right up there with the best films based on Chandler’s work.”
The major concept that both film and novel share is the idea of Marlowe in changing times. Chandler starts The Long Goodbye in the ’40s, when he meets Terry Lennox, then gets the plot going in the ’50s. Marlowe feels time slipping away and his values slipping with it. With “Rip Van Marlowe” it’s already gone when he wakes up. For both PIs, time is the most dangerous and deceptive femme fatale.
DOUBLE FEATURE STATS FOR THE LONG GOODBYE
Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5): 2 (The ending is very un-Marlowe)
Adherence To Quality Of Book: 3 (Many will argue I’m being either too kind or unkind)
Suggested Viewing: Marlowe, Chinatown, Devil In A Blue Dress (Which you can see at our next Double Feature Wednesday on August 6th) Suggested Reading- Moving Target by Ross McDonald, Brown’s Requiem by James Ellroy, Concrete River by John Shannon
And for the record: The Long Goodbye is not Wallace Stroby’s favorite Chandler novel. “‘That would be Farewell, My Lovely, for its characters, mood and plot that – unlike the other Marlowes – is actually fairly simple.”
Come join us Wednesday, July 23, for a free screening of Robert Altman’s film interpretation of The Long Goodbye. It’s sure to spark a great discussion! As always, events are free and open to the public. Come join us at 6pm on the third floor.
Jeff Abbott is an author who consistently proves you don’t have to pander to the audience to please it. His latest book in the Sam Capra series, Inside Man, is full of action and intrigue that would put any Hollywood product to shame, yet it is also a serious look at family and the power struggles that define it. Jeff was kind enough to take a few questions from us about the new novel and offer a few reading recommendations.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: As the title suggests, you have Sam Capra going under cover for a large portion of the novel. What does a writer have to keep in mind for this scenario?
JEFF ABBOTT: First, being an inside man means playing a role, selling a story about who he’s pretending to be. Sam is weaving his story about his false identity while I’m writing the story about him, so he and I are being storytellers, together. A character like Sam who is living a lie just has this incredible dramatic tension around him, the danger of discovery is constant, a sort of simmering suspense, so it’s great fun to write. It’s also the kind of story where you can throw in a lot of twists and turns, where the slightest accident can have big repercussions. I love stories where someone has to play a role where they could be caught and lose everything like Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar or Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley books.
MP: Family is a major theme that runs through the story. Sam poses as an employee with a powerful family to avenge the death of someone who protected his family when he was young, and he is constantly reminded of his brother. What did you want to explore about family?
JA: My books are often an unusual mix of family drama and international intrigue. And I really think that family aspect surprises readers sometimes; I think that may have been why Inside Man was an O Magazine pick for their summer reading list. In this case, Sam’s gone undercover into this family, the Varelas, but he¹s not sure if they’re actually responsible for his friend’s death. He is surprised when he begins to care for them, and that sets up quite a challenge for him: what does he do if they are responsible? And then he’s caught up in a bigger question: what exactly is this family’s secret, what has made them so dangerous? King Lear, which I think is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy about family, was a big inspiration to me in writing this book. Readers will see some parallels, although my story is very different in how it plays out. It was an inspiration, not a template. I wanted to explore how a family might try to stay together under pressures that could destroy them. Whether they succeed or not. . .that’s the story. Like Lear, it starts off being about revenge and ends up being about love and death.
MP: This time the setting is Miami. What inspired you to use that locale?
JA: Miami’s a fascinating place. I’d been there many times before, but this time I really got to explore the city. Miami is glamorous and seductive and full of interesting characters and I thought it would be a compelling setting. I love that, in the Sam series, since he owns bars all around the world, I can set the books wherever I please, which means I got to explore a wide range of Miami bars. Books & Books, one of America’s great indie stores, has a cameo in the book. So clearly, if Sam’s ever in Austin, I’ll have to do the same for BookPeople.
MP: You write some of the best action passages around and you have a master craftsman’s sense of structure and a pace that is cinematic. Are you as influenced by film as you are by literature?
JA: Wow, thank you. This is now my favorite interview question ever! I think it’s nearly impossible not to be influenced by TV or film as a writer today, because – guess what – your audience already is. That doesn’t mean everything has to read like a movie. It’s a book; it should be totally true to being a book. I actually try to be kind of sparing of the action scenes, not have too many, and make sure that they happen because of the character’s choices, not because it’s just time for an action scene. We have seen so many well done ones in film – from John Woo to Kathryn Bigelow to the Bourne films – that I really do try and choreograph it carefully in mind, and not repeat myself. There’s a chase scene in Inside Man that is actually very slow. Not fast, like you’d expect. Yet the tension I felt when writing it was huge. In the opening of Inside Man, with Sam in a car plummeting off a cliff, that’s not pure action, there are some subtle hints in that scene about what is to come in the book. People don’t believe this, and reviewers are sometimes dismissive of books that include them, but the action sequences are very hard to write. Like writing a sex scene, it’s easy to do badly. Re-pacing and structure; I really try to keep the story moving at a pace that interests me and recognizes that the reader has a thousand other demands on their time and could put the book down and go do something else. It’s a balance between action and revelation and emotion and trying to forge connections with the characters for the reader. I just want to keep you turning pages. I hope that makes sense and doesn’t sound pretentious. It takes a lot of work, but I love it.
One influence of films: I love to write while listening to film soundtracks. Some of my favorite film scores are The Hours, Inception, Henry V, Oblivion, The Fountain, the Bourne films, and the music to the TV show LOST.
MP: To me, Sam Capra lives in a heightened reality, yet I completely buy everything that happens in it. How do you keep a story grounded that could easily be over the top?
JA: Thrillers reflect the world we live in, but they’re escapism, too. I try to keep Sam emotionally grounded. He’s a young father. He’s a young man who doesn’t have a girlfriend. He’s trying to run a bunch of bars. So, on one side, he has very normal stresses that any reader can relate to: family, loneliness, work. On the other hand, he’s ex-CIA, and he gets pulled into very dangerous situations, with a set of stresses that are definitely the stuff of thrillers. He has this skill set that sets him apart from ordinary people. So I go for a balance, and I hope it works.
MP: I know you’re a big reader. After folks zip through your book, what else should they pick up for reading this summer?
JA: This is a fantastic summer for books. I am very much looking forward to Megan Abbott’s The Fever, Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead, Tom Rob Smith’s The Farm, Taylor Stevens’s The Catch, Meg Gardiner’s Phantom Instinct, and Adam Brookes’s Night Heron.
Jeff Abbott speaks about and signs Inside Man here at BookPeople on Tuesday, July 8th at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. If you’d like a signed copy of one of Jeff’s books but can’t make it to the event, you can order signed, personalized books via our website, bookpeople.com.
MysteryPeople Pick of the Month:A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride
Matthew McBride caught the attention of crime fiction readers and writers alike with his debut novel, Frank Sinatra In A Blender. It introduced a new and exciting voice with a wild, almost satirical hard boiled novel. With his follow up, A Swollen Red Sun, McBride tones down the satire, but is no less wild.
The action takes place in Gasconade, a meth lab of a county in eastern Missouri. Dale Banks, a decent sheriff’s deputy, has a moment of weakness when he takes $52,000 from the trailer of local dealer Jerry Dean Skaggs. Most of the cash was supposed to go to Jerry’s partners and a crooked lawman to keep up the operation of his boss, the drug kingpin preacher Reverend Butch Pogue. The theft sends these characters and the county into a violent spiral.
This book is relentless. With no chapter breaks, Mcbride jumps from character to character. He has honed his prose style to where every word has punch and velocity. While travelling down some of the territory of fellow Missourian Daniel Woodrell, he goes for a more terse, visceral feel. Less interested in contemplation, he wants you in the moment, no matter how dark or violent.
The book becomes a study of corruption in its personal, institutional, and spiritual forms. With Banks we see a man who must face the consequences of his moral slip. Reverend Pogue shows how justification perverts religion to the point where its spirituality is scorched. Overall, the novel has the feel of Dashielle Hammett’s Red Harvest, showing how a corrupt society eventually destroys itself.
A Swollen Red Sun is a huge leap for Matthew McBride. It expands on his promise, demonstrating more depth as it moves from the intimate to the big picture with the skill of those who have a dozen books behind them. It looks like we’ve only scratched the surface of his talent.
Copies of A Swollen Red Sun are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.
On Wednesday, June 25th, at 6PM, we’ll be kicking off our Double Feature screenings. Each Double Feature will include a noir film based on a book, with discussion afterward. We’re starting with the classic early noir, Double Indemnity.
James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity is practically a blue print for noir in any medium. The story about insurance man Walter Huff and Phyllis Nirdlinger’s scheme of killing her husband for his policy money, barely over a hundred pages, provides a bare basics of the boy-meets-girl, boy-commits-murder-with-girl, (spoiler alert) boy-ends-up-dead-or-in-prison-because-of-girl tale that many writers and filmmakers have put their own spin on. One of the first was screen writer/director Billy Wilder in his 1944 adaptation.
Cain, a former newspaperman, had a clean writing style that stripped a story to its marrow. Indemnity was written as a follow up to his
successful novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. While both of those books share many similarities, Double Indemnity‘s propulsive quality and less-than-humane humanity, bring out a sharper, cynical edge.
And who could have been drawn to a cynical story more than Billy Wilder. He got hard boiled master Raymond Chandler to work on the
script with him. Chandler didn’t much like the book, finding it a sleazy story about amoral people. It appears he found an anchor in making
Neff’s friend and the insurance companies investigator, Keyes, into the conscience of the story. Keyes observations about life and murder
could easily be quoted by Chandler’s private eye, Phillip Marlowe.
There are several other major differences between film and novel, beside changing Keyes’ role and changing Walter and Phyllis’s last names to
Neff and Dietriechson. One is the relationship between Walter and Phyllis. With the novel, it deteriorates right after the murder with Phyllis kicking him of the car. Wilder’s direction and Fred MacMurray’s performance suggest Neff as something of a dupe, lured into the scheme of a femme fatale. The book had revealed early on that he was thinking about doing something like this for some time. Cain appears to have them drawn together more by mutual sin than passion, with little left after the murder is done.
The film follows close to the plot, until the third act. It may come as a shock to the reader more familiar with the movie. Wilder kept the corruption personal, between Walter and Phyllis. Cain, the cynical reporter, had all of society in on the scam in a way that Hollywood wouldn’t have been ready to express.
That said, Cain seemed very pleased with the adaptation, saying ” …It’s the only picture I ever saw made from my books that had things in
it I wish I had thought of. Wilder’s ending was much better than my ending, and his device for letting the guy tell the story by taking out the office dictating machine – I would have done it if I had thought of it.”
Both book and film set the template for the look and attitude of noir. They both present a quality both stripped down and stylized that
contributes to the genre’s malleability. It’s about that short cut to the American dream, that questions the trip and maybe the dream
Double Feature Stats
Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5) - 4
Adherence To Quality Of Book - 5
Fun Fact- The supermarket scenes where Walter and Phyllis meet after the
murder had armed guards on the set. It was filmed during World War Two
and due to rationing, the market was afraid the cast and crew would steal
Other Films- The Prowler, Gun Crazy, Body Heat, and The Last Seduction
Wolf by Mo Hayder
Review by Molly
Wolf, Mo Hayder’s latest Detective Jack Caffrey thriller, rings true to the series as Hayder delivers her bleakest visions of humanity yet. A family is trapped by psychopaths in a remote manor, and Caffrey must rescue them in order to obtain new information relating to his brother’s childhood disappearance.
This installment veers farther from the traditional police procedural than most. Jack Caffrey is on a quest and this book gives us a glimpse into what he will do for a simple piece of information, including taking off from work without so much as a by-your-leave in order to solve a case in which he has no interest and for which he will not be paid. One the other hand, this piece of information, to Jack Caffery, is very dear indeed.
At first, the book reads a bit like Michael Hoeneker’s film Funny Games – a family trapped in an isolated country house with a pair of sadistic criminals doing whatever they please. However, Mo Hayder is not willing to just leave it there. Soon, a connection appears between the gruesome deaths of two teenagers fourteen years before and the family held hostage in the present day. As you delve further in, the twists, turns, and well-realized motivation become ever more intricate.
Wolf demonstrates, like the previous books in her Caffrey series, that Hayder is a master of the slow reveal, and she adds to this a dizzying set of reversals. She understands the slow pace of police work, but that doesn’t give pause to the driving force of her narrative. Caffery’s process allows time for Hayder to delve into each of her characters’ agendas, and she pays close attention to motivation. She also has a deep respect for the ability of victims and civilians to figure things out for themselves, and, occasionally, to defend themselves. She draws the reader inti the psyche of sociopaths, although making sure to keep the acts of violence as shocking as possible.
Mo Hayder’s is not an easy vision of society. Her crimes are nasty, violent, and not easily solved. Like Hayder’s other work, Wolf has a strong tinge of psychological horror, as well as rather grisly details (figuring prominently in this one – intestines, draped in a heart) and this book is not for the weak of stomach or who mind empathizing with the occasional serial killer or two. Always stylish, always provocative, and with ne’er a dull moment, Wolf does justice to Mo Hayder’s reputation as the creepiest woman in mystery since Patricia Highsmith.
In The Hollow Girl, our May Pick Of the Month, Reed Farrel Coleman gives us the last book, with his painfully human Private Eye Moe Prager. Hired by Nancy Lustig, a woman who appeared in the very first book, Walking The Perfect Square, to find her missing daughter, the case takes Moe to the online blogging and New York acting world in a story that deals with the concept of identity. We caught up with Reed to ask a few questions about his final novel with Moe.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: You ended Hurt Machine with Moe in a pretty good place, what did you feel he needed to go through before you wrapped up the series?
REED FARREL COLEMAN: I felt there was the origin story to tell–Onion Street–so that when I closed the series with The Hollow Girl, there would be a perfect set of bookends. I always wanted to explore Moe as a younger man, before he was a cop, before he was jaded and world weary. When we first meet Moe in Walking the Perfect Square, he’s already done with his police career. He’s been beat up by his life and the job. I wanted to experience Moe and, by extension, the readers to experience Moe before all of that. I wanted to see Moe untainted and untested. I had to do that before I ended the series.
MP: What makes The Hollow Girl case the perfect one for him to go out on?
RFC: It’s the type of story that is symbolic of Moe’s career as a PI and as a man. Not to give too much away, but there have been big regrets in Moe’s life and this was a chance for his redemption and forgiveness.
MP: He’s hired by Nancy Lustig, a woman who has a appeared twice before in the series. For Moe, who has had his share of loves, requited and unrequited, what does she mean to him?
RFC: In our real lives, we seldom get a chance for resolution with past loves–requited or unrequited. Here, Moe gets to experience resolution in a way we don’t often get to. So Moe is symbolically living through something for all of us. I certainly felt that way. There are relationships I’ve had that ended on terrible notes that I wish I could, not so much rekindle, but explain. I think there are apologies I would like to make and talks I would like to have with old friends and lovers. I gave Moe his wish and mine.
MP: While we get get reacquainted with many characters in the past and Moe recalls some previous cases, which happens in a lot of the books, The Hollow Girl doesn’t announce itself as a fond farewell. Was there a reason for that?
RFC: I want readers to enjoy The Hollow Girl as they would any Moe Prager novel. If I kept signaling “THIS IS THE END” all through the book, I don’t think readers would enjoy the book as much as I hope they would. But by the end of the novel, I want them to leave Moe feeling satisfied and uncheated both in terms of the mystery in this book and in terms of farewell. I guess we’ll see.
MP: I read Eight Million Ways To Die right before I picked up The Hollow Girl and noticed a few echoes. You’ve cited Lawrence Block’s Scudder books as an influence. Do you hope your series has anything in common with those books?
RFC: I’ve had the honor of knowing Larry Block, as much as someone like me can know him, for over a decade. Although I have never gushed it to him, because he would hate it, there is little doubt that without Scudder there would be no Moe Prager. When I started the Moe series, I aimed at achieving the same sort of quality and hard reality that Larry Block brought to Scudder. Did I achieve that? It’s not for me to say, but I am proud to have tried my best and glad that I had Scudder there as an example of excellence.
MP: Any last words on Moe?
RFC: THE END
Copies of The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com. Also be sure to check out MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month review of The Hollow Girl.