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This Monday, August 4 at 7PM, the 7% Solution book club will be discussing John Green’s Edgar Award-winning novel Paper Towns. In this mature and mysterious exploration of teenage psyche, Quentin Jacobson, a high school senior, is taken on a wild, midnight adventure by his next-door neighbor and long-time crush, Margo Roth Spiegelman. After their one night of risk-taking, Margo skips town, and Quentin must solve a series of intricate clues in order to locate his missing lady love.
John Green said about writing this book that he intended to kill the Manic Pixie Dream Girl through the character of Margo Roth Spiegelman, and he succeeds admirably at doing so. For those who haven’t heard the term yet, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl flutters into a story, says some uplifting things to a depressed young man who falls in love with her, and then flits away. In other words, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is not an actual woman, but an idealized version of a woman, without any problems or complications of her own. Her sole function in a story is to heal or inspire a man through her irrepressible bubbliness and sense of adventure, and she has no agenda of her own.
Margo Roth Spiegelman starts out the story as Quentin’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a character to worship from afar. She has a reputation for taking risks, running away, and organizing impossibly elaborate pranks. Her friends are beautiful and popular, and she and the nerdy Quentin haven’t been close since they were children. As the story evolves, her character evolves with it, and by the end of the novel, not only are we left with a complete and human depiction of Margo’s character, but we also go full circle and find out who she, as a child, worshiped as an impossible paragon of virtue.
Paper Towns is not a mystery in the strictest sense – there is no murder, only an investigation, and the investigation follows clues carefully designed by Margo to hint at where to find her. As Quentin follows the clues and gets closer to discovering her physical location, his understanding of her character continues to grow, and each clue leads to another realization about the girl he has loved from afar for too long without trying to understand who she is up close. The clues Margo has left may be complex, but John Green’s message is simple – real love requires real knowledge, and to love someone without knowing them does them a disservice and for you, creates an impossibility.
Glenn Gray’s The Little Boy Inside And Other Stories was suggested to me by several respected opinions before I picked it up to read. Authors Matthew McBride and Scott Phillips raved about it. Joe R. Lansdale put up a glowing post recently on Goodreads. Now that I’ve finally finished the collection, I can say everyone knew what they were talking about. This is a book worth picking up.
Gray, an anesthesiologist, uses his medical background to write about the bad relationships people have with their bodies. Many of his stories are mash-ups of horror, sci-fi, and crime fiction, while others defy genre entirely. The most noir of his stories involves the illegal use of steroids in “Jacked,” an intense tale of a user caught between cops, fellow criminals, and his habit. Just about all of these stories have disturbing vibe. “Expulsion” is a satirical take about a man who “gives birth” to an organism. “A Blind Eye” is a somber look on medical ethics.
While many of these stories aren’t for the weak of heart, it is the skill, not the shock value, that make this writing stand out. Whether working as a slow-burn or grabbing you with an alarming first sentence, Gray knows what cards to show and which to hold close to the vest in order to keep you in the game. Every word has impact and meaning.
The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories is like crossing Richard Matheson and filmmaker David Cronenberg. These are masterfully crafted stories playing to the worst fears of our own bodies. Don’t eat while reading.
Copies of The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories are only available on our shelves at BookPeople. Stop by or give us a call at (512) 472-5050 to pick up your copy today!
Tim Bryant shares with us a little bit about each of his books, and a little more about his Dutch Curridge Series. He will be speaking and signing his new book, Spirit Trap, on Wednesday, August 6 at 7 pm.
I’ve been lucky enough to get some entertaining reviews of my books, but one of my favorites– if it wasn’t the one that said “this was the best time I ever had with three dead bodies”– might have been the one where the guy wrote something along the lines of “Bryant never uses five words when four will do.” If I never write like I’m being paid by the word (even when I am), you can probably blame it on my background in songwriting. Twenty years of telling stories in three verses, a chorus and (maybe) a bridge can have that effect on you.
My friend Joe Lansdale gave me the best advice I ever got. “When you want something done, ask a busy person.” Joe might be the busiest person I’ve ever met, but he damn sure gets a lot done. He’s been a good friend to me and my writing, and I’m certainly glad to know him, but I don’t believe the old maxim that “it’s all who you know.” Write a bunch of crap and give it to Joe, it’s still a bunch of crap. And he’ll tell you so in no uncertain terms.
My friend Elaine Ash, who writes under the pseudonym Anonymous-9, told me that, when writing a series of novels, the second novel is always a bitch to complete and the third is an unmitigated joy. The worst thing a writer can be is predictable, but I went for that one hook, line and sinker. I spent too much time writing and re-writing my second Dutch Curridge novel (Southern Select)but the third (Spirit Trap) was magic from day one.
I wasn’t even planning to write Spirit Trap. I was writing a non-Dutch novel, called Constellations, and, by the time I’d reached the end of it, things were going so well that I was sad to end it. I turned the page and immediately started Spirit Trap.
I had the title and the first scene, and that’s it. Didn’t matter. I wrote the whole thing without ever stopping to outline, watching the story unfold as if I were reading it. Sometimes the best stories come that way. (Beware: some of the crappiest ones do too.)
The Dutch Curridge series has a great number of female fans, including readers who tell me they don’t normally read this particular genre. I don’t know what to make of that, but I like it. I do think Dutch speaks to a wide range of people and issues. He’s damaged. He’s unreliable. He’s afraid of love, and he’s afraid of death. He likes good music, Jack Daniels and Dr Pepper (together) and close friends, and he’ll never be able to tell anybody how much he cares for Ruthie Nell Parker. Especially himself.
Dutch is a lot like me. We’re both interested in Native American issues. We both like barbeque. We’re big fans of Bob Wills, and we like Jim Thompson a lot too. And yes, it’s true: both of us deal with Asperger’s Syndrome. On the other hand, he can flat out drink me under the table. And he knows even more stories than I do.
Dutch may treasure the sound of Lester Young’s saxophone, but he’ll always be an old country song. The good kind, like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell sang. The kind that sound like they’re full of ghosts. Where you can feel something going on in between the words, even though– and maybe because– they’re so damn simple and direct. Dutch is definitely three verses and a chorus. No bridge necessary.
MysteryPeople welcomes Tim Bryant, along with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that we’re living in a golden age in crime fiction. It’s only the middle of the year and I have more than enough to fill out a Top Ten list. So to fill in your summer reading time, I’ve come up with 10 (okay, 12) books that you need to read in August.
Both of these books showcase the wide range of rural crime fiction. McBride’s relentless noir novel and Atkin’s latest book starring heroic lawman Quinn Colson are both skilled gothic spins on communities and their underlying corruption.
2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman
Moe Prager takes on his last case with the humanistic toughness we have come to expect from Coleman’s work. This book delves into the series’ recurring theme of identity in a new way and lets Moe go out with class.
3. The Fever by Megan Abbott
Abbott’s take on the mysterious seizures of several high school girls in a small town borrows moods and tones from several genres. In The Fever, Abbott has created a unique thriller about populace, sexuality, and parental love. Another Megan Abbott book that’s hard to shake.
4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya
Tafoya’s latest reads like Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neil. A damaged ex-US Marshall tries to protect what’s left of her family when her father, a corrupt union enforcer, breaks out of prison and sets out on a brutal trail. The emotion is as intense as the gunfire.
5. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames
Retired police chief Samuel Craddock gets pulled into the murder investigation of a returned vet and ends up acting as a witness to the sins of his town and country. A moving mystery about a very relevant topic.
6. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz
This suspenseful ode to the sleazy Times Square of yesteryear stars a young grindhouse addict who ends up in his own horror show when the girl who sits next to him during a slasher double-bill is stabbed to death. One of the best uses of setting I’ve ever read.
7. Blood Promise by Mark Pryor
The latest Hugo Marston thriller has the embassy security head involved with a conspiracy linking French Revolution history to current politics in this fun and involving story with many strong characters. Proof of why Mark Pryor is one of the fastest rising talents in the thriller field.
8. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
A brilliant use of flashback and cold case murder investigation. Lippman weaves a tapestry of family, identity, religion and class with a strong, suspenseful thread.
9. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson
A botched blackmail attempt combines with a botched kidnapping for a tale that contains an ever-changing set of sub genres and points of view. The story moves from black comic noir to detective story to thriller, all the while presenting engaging characters and a relentless plot.
If newspapers are dying, the newspaper mystery isn’t. In Providence Rag, DeSilva’s series character Mulligan is pitted against a crusading reporter whose exposé of prison corruption could release a serial killer he helped put away. Tucker’s debut, Ways of the Dead, has his D.C. journalist covering a murder case that links the city’s lower class and the power class. Both books show the untapped potential of the newspaper subgenre.
Read these bokos, take a breath, and brace for Fall with more books from authors like James Ellroy and Jon Connolly. Four members on today’s list will publish a second novel this year, as well, so look for new books from Terry Shames, Reed Farrel Coleman, Mark Pryor, and Ed Kurtz before 2014 is up.
S.J. Rozan is one of the most resected crime fiction writers out there. Her intertwining series featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith have a master crafts-person’s fusion of story and character. In Falconer, at Akashics’ Mondays’ Are Murder site, she goes to different setting to deal with a different kind of crime.
“‘Ulan Bator, Republic of Mongolia
Tuguldur didn’t like the city.
His father had never come, nor his father’s father. Nothing called them. They drove their herds to the ridges, within sight of the distant towers and haze, and sold them to middlemen. They turned their horses when the business was done and rode back to the steppe, to the autumn camps and their families and the young, strong animals that would survive the howling winter and fatten in the spring…”
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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The year is far from over, but these days, a good list is appropriate for any time. The first chunk of this year has been a whirlwind. It’s been a combination of great authors in the store and great books on our nightstands, and we can’t wait for what the rest of 2014 will bring. For now, Molly provides some of her favorites:
Molly’s Top 10 OF The Year So Far
1. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone – Adrian McKinty
McKinty proves that the third in a trilogy can be just as good as the
first and second in his explosive conclusion to Detective Sean Duffy’s
trials and tribulations amidst the Northern Irish Troubles.
2. Laidlaw – William McIlvanney [reissue]
Europa editions proves their commitment to international crime
classics once again by reissuing William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, the
first Scottish noir.
3. The Fever – Megan Abbott
Abbott’s latest exploration of the dangerous world of adolescent girls
is stunning in its complex attitudes and twisting plot points.
4. Borderline – Lawrence Block [reissue]
Hard Case crime has released this little-known relic of the porn
paperback industry, and when you pick it up, prepare yourself for some
wild 1950s hipster eroticism on the Texas-Mexico border.
5. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair - Joel Dicker
Joel Dicker has written an intricate mystery in the guise of a love
story, and his exploration of murder in Maine exists on several
6. The Black Hour – Lori Rader-Day
Lori Rader-Day tackles issues of school shootings, suicide, and
vicious academic competition to create a thoroughly enjoyable and
highly topical debut novel.
7. Wolf - Mo Hayder
In Mo Hayder’s latest Jack Caffery novel, Wolf, a family is trapped in
a country mansion by psychopaths and Caffery must race to secure their
release in order to follow his own quest to find his brother.
8. Federales – Christopher Irvin
Christopher Irvin plunges into the dark world of drug cartels in
Mexico in this violent and heart-wrenching novella.
9. Prayer – Phillip Kerr
Phillip Kerr heads to modern day Houston to write a stylish thriller
about the horrors of religious zealotry and the power of belief.
10. Phantom Instinct – Meg Gardiner
Meg Gardiner writes a new tough heroine for her stand-alone
techno-thriller Phantom Instinct, and brings the suspense and the