With The Watchers, the first of his Angelus Trilogy, Jon Steele set up a shadow world of angels warring with demons and their half-breed counterparts. Steele introduced us to Katherine (a high-end call girl), and Harper (an English private eye) who discovers his very unique past. In Angel City, the two take us deeper into that world.
Picking up a few years after The Watchers, Angel City hits the ground running with a scene that would serve as a climax in most books. It entails Harper foiling an attack in Paris, an act that garners international attention. On the other side of the world, Katherine is living a quieter life as a candle maker in the Pacific Northwest while raising her son, Max. Both of these events play a part in the larger picture of the Angel Wars when a defrocked priest with a scarred face and questionable motives unlocks a prophecy about a “child of light.”
While The Watchers had more of a slow burn quality of suspense about it, focusing on Harper and Katherine learning about this world and their place in it, Angel City moves at a much quicker pace. Harper charges into action delivering quips like a British Humphrey Bogart, while Max gives Katherine purpose, making her question less before she acts. It’s nice to see motherhood did little to change her brassy nature. It’s these characters and their emotions that tether the series of revelations and action sequences that out aggrandize your average Michael Bay movie.
Angel City is very much in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back as the second in this trilogy. Darker, yet more entertaining, Jon Steele gives a wider scope to his mythology, connecting it to human complexity. He also leaves you with an ending that will shock you as well as leaving you hungry for the final installment.
The Texas Twist by John Vorhaus (now available at MysteryPeople)
THE WEIRDNESS RUBS OFF, IT DOES
By John Vorhaus
One of the reasons I decided to set my new novel, The Texas Twist, in Austin is that I’ve long loved the city from afar, and rightly figured that a trip to the town would certainly be called for, in the name of both research and spurious tax deductions. So, at a crucial and yet wholly arbitrary point in the novel’s development, I flew from my California home to see if the most not-Texas part of Texas lived up to its billing.
And from the giant guitars in the airport baggage claim area to the fried pickles at Abel’s on the Lake, I knew I was home. A place this self-consciously weird, I thought, must necessarily make room for the scam artists and scalawags who populate the world of my imagination. And the Cathedral of Junk? Man, if I can’t find a reason to weave that location into my tale, dude, I ain’t half trying.
Now look, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. It’s not like I did serious research or anything. That wouldn’t be me. I hate research like a cat hates baths. All I did was…absorb Austin. I saw the sights, ate the food, drank the beer, and just basically contemplated the isness of it all. And when my long weekend was over, when I’d consumed all the bodacious barbecue and (512) Pecan Porter I could handle, I went home and let my new awareness of Austin inform and shape the rest of the work on my novel, both the completion of the first draft and the fervid rewrites that followed.
Now look (he said again, violating his own personal rules against A) starting consecutive paragraphs the same way and 2) referring to himself in the third person), I don’t normally pad guest blogs like this with excerpts from my own work, but in this case I think it’s justified. In order for you to understand how my trip to Austin made its way into my work, I give you this “clip” from the text, wherein our hero, Radar Hoverlander, appraises the work of his new enemy, Adam Ames, thus:
Ames forcefully percolated his own personality through detailed elaborations of his newfound love for Austin, Texas. To Radar, Adam’s monversation appeared almost formulaic. No, it was formulaic. 1) Name an Austin trait or landmark. 2) Express admiration for one of its qualities. 3) Make a self-deprecating joke. 4) Swear loyalty.
He did this four times.
“I mean, the food in this town? I had ribs at the Salt Lick. Seriously delicious. But I’d better be careful.” He patted his stomach. “Flab city, right? Anyway, the locals tell me that Artz’s is the real deal for barbecue. I can’t wait to try them all.
“Hook ‘em Horns, yeah? Big 12 champions, baby. If I had a spare arm and a leg, I’d get season tickets.
“South by Southwest, does anything rock harder? Not that me and my tin ear would know. Still, great for the city, huh?”
And so on.
If you’re flattered, I’m happy, but I have to warn you: All the characters in my novels are con artists, self-serving fabulists, and shameless liars. Ames is happy to swear loyalty to Austin because it serves his nefarious ends. He would swear loyalty to Hákarl, which is fermented Icelandic shark and the world’s most vile food, if it he thought it would advance him toward his goals. So, yeah, my characters fall in love with Austin but, yeah, they can’t entirely be trusted.
That, I think, is what gives them their charm.
And in that sense, they’re a perfect fit for Austin, not because y’all is liars and whatnot, but because (according to my outsider’s perspective) yours is a city that has more than the normal amount of self-awareness…bordering on self-consciousness. It seems to me that keeping Austin weird is as much your holy mission as Lourdes’ is to keep itself miraculous. I salute you for that. Seriously, I think it’s awesome and great.
And for the record, I did find a way to shoehorn the Cathedral of Junk into my yarn. Did I do a good job? Did I capture the authentic mis en scene of that crème-de-la-weird locale? Guess you’ll have to read the book to find out.
Which was kind of the idea in the first place.
I hope you enjoy the read, and I hope I’ve done justice to the town you call home. If you have questions, comments, or gripes, I am entirely at your service. -jv
Jedidiah Ayres is one of the up-and-coming authors in the world of crime fiction. Dark and, at times, sick and twisted, he tends to focus on losers clinging to the lower half of the ladder. His short story collection, A F*ckload Of Shorts has sold out at MysteryPeople. However, more will be here when Jed shows up for our Fathers Day Noir At The Bar with Scott Phillips at the South Congress Opal Divine’s. One of the collections’ stories, Amateurs, recently appeared on the Mullholland Books Blog. Check it out.
A Serpent’s Tooth is possibly the oddest book in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series. While it has all the elements of humor, action, and strong characterizations, the tone does a a major, though seamless, shift to extremes. In a lesser authors hands this book would fall apart, but in Johnson’s it may be a landmark book in the series.
Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe is an informationist, able to obtain the information you need, no matter how clandestine, if the price is right. If you haven’t read about her you’re missing out. Steven’s has a knack for placing her protagonists in plots that challenge their internal conflicts as well as their physical, like no other in the field. Her latest, The Doll, is further proof of her talent.
The book hits the round running when she is kidnapped from the Dallas streets and taken to Croatia. There she is brought before a creepy shadowy white slaver, The Doll Maker, who feels Munroe owes him for something she did in her past and must deliver one of his “dolls”, Neeva, to a client in France. If she doesn’t take the assignment they will torture and kill Logan, her lover whom they have also kidnapped, who runs Capstone, a Black Water type organization
The book skillfully follows two story lines. The main one has Munroe on her road trip with Neeva, that includes many action packed stops as she tries to figure out a way of being in a situation that goes against her principals, and why she was picked to do it in the first place. She uses the gritty side of the European locales to ground the story with skill. We also get the Capstone team in their search for Logan, giving Stevens a broader canvas to work with. Usually regulated to her lone wolf character, she seems to relish sketching out the characters that work as a team. It also allows her to use her sense of humor more often.
That said, as always, it is Munroe who makes these books tick and Stevens pushes her further than ever before. Vanessa has always had the ability to shut down her emotions to do the job with cold professionalism, but here she is given a moral dilemma where she must deal with them. She’s forced to really think about how much Logan means to her, and if loving Logan is right for her. All of this is expressed through action and terse dialogue; like the fantastic discussion Munroe has with Neeva on how to survive.
The Doll builds on a body of works that puts Taylor Stevens in the company of Jeff Abbott, Lee Child, and her hero Robert Ludlum. She knows how to turn a phrase, whether it is Munroe’s actions or speech, entwining her in a well-paced plot that challenges her on all levels. With Vanessa Michael Munroe, Stevens has given us an unpredictable heroine who goes places we never imagined. The only thing you can be sure of, it won’t be boring.
A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson
The success of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series that began with The Cold Dish continues to grow after A&E’s hit show Longmire introduced new fans to the Wyoming sheriff. As the Crow Flies marked the series’ highest debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Now, in his ninth Western mystery, Longmire stares down his most dangerous foes yet.
It’s homecoming in Absaroka County, but the football and festivities are interrupted when a homeless boy wanders into town. A Mormon “lost boy,” Cord Lynear is searching for his missing mother but clues are scarce. Longmire and his companions, feisty deputy Victoria Moretti and longtime friend Henry Standing Bear, embark on a high plains scavenger hunt in hopes of reuniting mother and son. The trail leads them to an interstate polygamy group that’s presiding over a stockpile of weapons and harboring a vicious vendetta.
The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver
It was a “million-dollar bullet,” a sniper shot delivered from over a mile away. Its victim was no ordinary mark: he was a United States citizen, targeted by the United States government, and assassinated in the Bahamas.
The nation’s most renowned investigator and forensics expert, Lincoln Rhyme, is drafted to investigate. While his partner, Amelia Sachs, traces the victim’s steps in Manhattan, Rhyme leaves the city to pursue the sniper himself. As details of the case start to emerge, the pair discovers that not all is what it seems. When a deadly, knife-wielding assassin begins systematically eliminating all evidence-including the witnesses-Lincoln’s investigation turns into a chilling battle of wits against a cold-blooded killer.
The Doll by Taylor Stevens
Haunted by a life of violence and as proficient with languages as she is with knives, Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and hunter, has built her life on a reputation for getting things done—dangerous and often not-quite-legal things. Born to missionary parents in lawless Africa, taken under the tutelage of gunrunners, and tortured by one of the jungle’s most brutal men, Munroe was forced to do whatever it took to stay alive.The ability to survive, fight, adapt, and blend has since taken her across the globe on behalf of corporations, heads of state, and the few private clients who can afford her unique brand of expertise, and these abilities have made her enemies.
On a busy Dallas street, Munroe is kidnapped by an unseen opponent and thrust into an underground world where women and girls are merchandise and a shadowy figure known as The Doll Maker controls her every move. While trusted friends race to unravel where she is and why she was taken, everything pivots on one simple choice: Munroe must use her unique set of skills to deliver a high-profile young woman into the same nightmare that she once endured, or condemn to torture and certain death the one person she loves above all else.
Driven by the violence that has made her what she is, cut off from help, and with attempts to escape predicted and prevented, Munroe will hunt for openings, for solutions, and a way to strike back at a man who holds all the cards. Because only one thing is certain: she cannot save everyone. In this high-octane thriller for fans of Lee Child, Stieg Larsson, and Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy, Vanessa Michael Munroe will have to fight fast, smart and furiously to overcome a dangerous nemesis and deliver her trademark brand of justice.
Mission To Paris by Alan Furst
Late summer, 1938. Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl is on his way to Paris to make a movie. The Nazis know he’s coming—a secret bureau within the Reich has been waging political warfare against France, and for their purposes, Fredric Stahl is a perfect agent of influence. What they don’t know is that Stahl, horrified by the Nazi war on Jews and intellectuals, has become part of an informal spy service run out of the American embassy. Mission to Paris is filled with heart-stopping tension, beautifully drawn scenes of romance, and extraordinarily alive characters: foreign assassins; a glamorous Russian actress-turned-spy; and the women in Stahl’s life. At the center of the novel is the city of Paris—its bistros, hotels grand and anonymous, and the Parisians, living every night as though it were their last. Alan Furst brings to life both a dark time in history and the passion of the human hearts that fought to survive it.
Ace Atkins has gotten to be one of MysteryPeople’s good friends. Not only is he one of the best writers currently out there (Edgar nominated in the past two years), he’s a great supported of the genre, bookstores, and all around good. At 7PM, May 31st, between our annual Shiner Bock and BBQ get together, I’ll be moderating a Q&A with Ace for his signing of two new books, The Broken Places with his original series character Quinn Colson and Wonderland, his second book that continues Robert B Parker’s Spenser series. To get an idea of the discussion, here’s a quick interview we did recently.
MysteryPeople: Do you think Quinn has changed any since The Ranger?
Ace Atkins: Perhaps a bit more understanding? Ten years as a U.S. Army Ranger can harden a man. But returning home, being with his family, and seeing problems on home soil humanizes him a bit.
MP: A tornado plays a major part in The Broken Places. Since that is a disaster many have experienced and all have seen on the news, how did you approach writing it?
AA: A tornado touched down maybe a mile and a half from my farm two years ago. After tearing through a small community called Pine Flat, it skipped over to Smithville, Mississippi. The entire town of Smithville was destroyed. The story of Jericho is probably only half of what happened to Smithville. That entire town was destroyed and has yet to recover. A year later, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal published a retrospective of the tornado that included wonderfully written first-hand accounts. I owe a lot to that reporter, Kristina Goetz.
MP: In this series you tackle a subject some authors try to avoid, religion. Can you write about the South without dealing with it?
AA: I am not what I would call a religious person. But as a Southern writer, you can’t avoid religion. It’s in every aspect of Southern life, whether it should be or not. Every political campaign in Mississippi tries to show their candidate is more of a Christian than the opponent — often overshadowing the real issues. Some of the religion is true and genuine, too. And as a writer, you must write about both.
MP: Country songs and musicians, both old and new, get referenced frequently in the book. Does the form have a particular influence in this series?
AA: Music has played a huge role in my writing since my very first novel, Crossroad Blues. I’ve learned a lot about writing from musicians I admire — from Robert Johnson to Johnny Cash. When I first started writing The Ranger, I wanted it to read like/sound like a Johnny Cash ballad.
MP: One of the main characters in Wonderland is Sixkill, the Cree and PI in training who Parker introduced in his last Spenser novel. Did you feel like you had more license with this character than some of more established ones in the series?
AA: That’s a great question. Yes, in some ways I think I am able to complete the idea of a character that Parker created in his last work. There is not much to discuss about Hawk. Hawk is Hawk. And I wouldn’t try and tell you anymore about him. Sixkill has lots to tell me and readers. And is the perfect character to complement this stage of Spenser’s career.
MP: Wonderland reminded me of me of one of your favorite Spenser books, Early Autumn, in by having Spenser mentor somebody, you learn about him and his code. What did you want to get across about who Spenser is?
AA: Spenser taught Paul how to live his life on his own terms. He’s teaching Sixkill the same lessons but compounded by making a living and surviving in a violent world. One does not become Spenser or Hawk overnight. He is a work in process. Spenser is passing down his talents and skills. For him to want to work with Sixkill tells us more about Sixill than Spenser. Spenser is not a man to waste his time.
MP: After writing in the world’s of Spenser and Quinn Colson what similarities have you found in Boston and Mississippi?
AA: Ha! Actually many. Deep religion. Dirty politics. You don’t step on a man’s honor in the deep South or South Boston. Southerners and people from Boston all come from the same place pretty much.
Reed Farrel Coleman’s Onion Street, is our Pick of The Month for good reason. Both well plotted and poignant, it takes Reed’s Moe Prager character and gives us his coming of age in 1968 through an involving mystery. We got a chance to ask Reed a few questions about the book, the Sixties, and Moe, for a fun and interesting MysteryPeople interview.
MysteryPeople: In the Moe series, he refers to his past, but there isn’t much detail. Were you waiting to do this book?
Reed Farrel Coleman: I never planned the books in the series. I never sat down and said, “This is going to happen then,” or “Such event will be revealed in book 7.” It’s just not my nature to write that way. I wrote the Moe books as a kind of reflection of where I was in my life and where I had been. That is not to say they are strictly autobiographical. They aren’t. I just liked seeing where I was, the world was, and what I felt like exploring at any given time. Having said all that, I knew there were only going to be nine books in the series and that next year’s The Hollow Girl would be a book that took place in the here and now. It occurred to me that I had never really explored Moe’s becoming an adult. I thought the time had come for that because I’d just watched my children pass through that stage and I was nostalgic for that time period in my own life. It was a dangerous thing to do, to tackle a prequel and the 60s because they are often done so badly. But what the hell, right?
MP: Onion Street and Walter Mosely’s Little Green, which also deals with the late sixties counter culture, both came out this week and other crime fiction writers of your generation like Libby Fischer Hellman (Set The Night On Fire) and Edward Wright (From Blood) have used it lately for their novels as well as Robert Redford in his new thriller. Other than it being a the time period of Moe as a young man, what prompted you to look at that era?
RFC: Well, I think most things written about the 60s focus too much on the incredible chaos of the times and not the lives of the people who actually lived through them. I lived through them as a child and as a young teen, so I tried to see that time through the eyes of my older brothers and their pals. It also made me go back and look at Brooklyn not through my world wearied eyes, but my fresh eyes. I wanted to remember Brooklyn as I first saw it, long before it became the coolest place to live. Do you know that in France when they think something is hot or chic, they call it Tres Brooklyn or very Brooklyn. That was unimaginable to me in the Brooklyn I grew up in. I wanted to look at that world.
MP: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the period?
RFC: Great question. As I was telling my kids recently, just in the first 6 months of 1968, the following events happened: the Pueblo Incident, the Tet Offensive, Apollo Missions 5 & 6, Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. 6 months! Are you kidding me? Yet in spite of that, my dad got up every morning and went to manage his grocery store. My mom still shopped and cooked and sent us off to school. My brothers went to college and I went to PS 209. I played stickball after school. Life went on. That was the thing. Life went on. Not everyone wore love beads, granny glasses, bell bottoms and long hair. Life shouldn’t be reduced to cliché and neither should books.
MP: I thought Lids, the burnt out prodigy turned drug dealer who helps out Moe, is one of your best supporting characters. He seemed so painfully real. Was he inspired by some of the people you grew up around?
RFC: I went to high school with some totally genius kids who never seemed very happy. I mean, is anyone very happy in high school? In any case, it was easy for me to remember those kids and extrapolate a character like lids. Lids, by the way, for those of you who didn’t live through the 60s, was a term for an amount of marijuana. You bought lids, not ounces or nickel bags. Research. I swear. I was too young to know that myself back then.
MP: Many of the Moe books take place in recent history. What is a key thought to have when writing about a period the reader may have lived through?
RFC: As I referenced earlier, make it about the characters’ lives, not about the historical touchstones. Don’t be heavy handed in your depiction of an era. Allude to it without shoving it in your readers’ faces. In the early books I did this by having Moe make predictions about the relevant new technologies and always getting it wrong. I do it in Onion Street as well. I think I learned that lesson because I grew up reading a lot of sci-fi and many of the predictions those writers made were totally erroneous.
MP: Can you give a hint about what you have in store for Moe in the last book?
RFC: I’d be glad to. In The Hollow Girl, Moe is in a bad way. A woman out of Moe’s past hires him to find her missing daughter, but he’s not convinced she’s even missing. As Moe tries to pick up her trail, he confronts some hard questions about his past and about the rest of his life. I dare not say more. I can tell you I think it will be a fitting end to the series.