Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone is already a favorite of 2014. Fully realized, rich in character and theme, this is Lippman at the top of her game. What’s also interesting to note is that the story in After I’m Gone is inspired by a true missing person’s case. From The Baltimore Sun:
Another Marylander who took a walk into the shadows was Julius “The Lord” Salsbury, the one-time colorful Block nightclub owner and gambling figure who vanished 36 years ago.
Salsbury, who was awaiting the outcome of an appeal on a federal gambling conviction and facing a 15-year federal prison term, walked away from his home at 2912 W. Strathmore Ave. in Northwest Baltimore on a warm summer’s evening.
Thirty-six years have passed since Aug. 13, 1970, when Susan Salsbury saw her husband for the last time….
We were happy to host Laura Lippman here at the store last week. We have plenty of signed copies of After I’m Gone available for those interested. Pick one up at BookPeople or via our website, bookpeople.com. We ship all over the world.
We’re happy to be hosting Cara Black in conversation with Mark Pryor this Sunday, Mar 9th. Black will be discussing her latest, Murder in Pigalle. I know Mark’s going to have a fun time interviewing Cara about the book. We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions in advance.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What differentiates Pigalle from the other neighborhoods in Paris?
CARA BLACK: Pigalle is Paris’s red-light district; its theaters and clubs comprise the city’s “world of the night.” As rumor goes, American GIs couldn’t pronounce the quartier’s name, so they called it “Pig Alley.” Perhaps this was more a result of the postwar edginess of the 1950s, when the clubs were run by Corsicans, gangsters from Marseilles and the women of the night.
A friend of mine who raised her children in Pigalle–and still lives there–once told me that it has two very different faces: one during the day, and another at night. There are many families who live there; they shop, send their children to school, and frequent Pigalle’s squares and cafés. But it also remains a major theater and entertainment district, meaning that makeup artists, set and costume designers, crew members, and actors and actresses move to the area to be close to work. If you ever visit the Moulin Rouge or the Folies Bergère, their marquees are still lit up, recalling their glory days at the turn of the century.
Pigalle has a long history as a district for resident artists–Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec–and was originally named after the French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. It has also been home to several classical musicians, including Chopin, Lizst and composers like Berlioz (whose former apartment, with its Belle Époque interior, is now a very trendy, exclusive club). Parts of Pigalle have become quite bourgeois; others are rapidly changing with gentrification, and yet others remain beyond the limits of the law, filled with massage parlors and hostess clubs.
MP: How has Paris changed from how it is depicted in your first novel, Murder in the Marais?
CB: Good question! Murder in the Marais takes place in November 1993, and now (14 books later!) we’re in June 1998. So about five years have passed, in Aimée Leduc’s fictional life and Paris’s, too. Aimée still pays in Francs (today, it would be Euros), can smoke in her local café (there’s no way this would be possible today) and has a cell phone (quite common now). But this era is pre-Google, Facebook, Twitter and texting. Any GPS devices were strictly in the domain of the military. I never thought I’d end up writing an entire series and have Aimée moving around the city–albeit very slowly. It’s been freeing not to have her deal with her problems via text message and receive immediate answers. She’s got to work a lot harder, I suppose one could say, even though we all got on just fine before the tech explosion of the new millennium.
MP: Did writing a thriller with a protagonist who was pregnant present any particular challenges?
CB: This aspect did present several challenges. My primary concern was to have Aimée’s role as a mother-to-be be believable, and that her actions were plausible for a woman nearly five months pregnant. She needed a compelling reason to be drawn into this investigation, and she finds one that turns out to be highly personal. My second greatest challenge was finding her a maternity couture wardrobe.
MP: This is a suspenseful story. Aimée is racing against the clock to save a girl who’s been abducted by a rapist/murderer. What must an author consider when they introduce a race-against-time element?
CB: Always keep the clock ticking. Didn’t Hitchcock say something along those lines? I believe he was referring to the ticking time bomb. I think it’s good advice, and the authors who do it well never let their character or us (the readers) come up for air. They create characters we care about, characters we root for, and that’s so important. We want these characters to succeed, overcoming the obstacles hurled in their way, so we keep turning the pages.
MP: For you as a writer, what makes Aimée Leduc a character worth coming back to?
CB: I’d love to have her apartment on the Île Saint-Louis. When I write, I get to go there and “live” with Aimée, take her bichon frise, MeelsDaveez, for a walk on the quai along the Seine, stop at the local cheese shop where “we” know the owner well. For me, writing Aimée is visiting Paris even though I’m in sweatpants, sitting at my computer in San Francisco. Each time I come back to Aimée, I get to experience a different slice of Paris, speaking with the locals and understanding the way people think and act in the City of Light. I feel so lucky, and it sure saves on airfare.
Murder in Pigalle is currently on our shelves and available via bookpeople.com. Cara Black will appear here at BookPeople on Sun, Mar 9 at 1PM, to read from and sign the book. Click here for more information or to order a signed copy of the book.
Chris Pavone spent close to twenty years as a book editor before he wrote his attention-getting debut, The Expats. That book used the espionage thriller to look at marriage. For his follow up, The Accident, he turns an eye to his former profession.
He hooks us immediately with an anonymous author finishing up his nonfiction book. The book centers on a crime that could rock both the financial world and the CIA. When the agency gets wind of it, they decide to stop the information from getting out by any means necessary. Caught in their sight is Isabella Reed, a literary agent handling the mysterious manuscript. Pavone keeps us in suspense about who will survive, what the information in the book is, and the identity of the author, all in the span of one tense day.
Pavone mines the publishing backdrop for all it is worth. He not only delves into into the mechanics of the business, but the personalities, as well. He takes away a lot of the romantic notions and shows the resigned hardships of folks working in a business with a thin profit margin and how a bombshell of a book written by an unidentified author can affect it. He truly makes us believe a book can be a matter life and death.
Pavone also creates fully realized characters. Very few of them can simply be defined as good or bad, yet their clear motivations make for a clean narrative. What makes them complex and interesting is how all are a part of something bigger, whether that is family, country, or literature. Many find themselves trapped by those passions.
The Accident works both as a tight thriller and subtle satire of the publishing industry, often at the same time. As neurotic and self involved as many of his characters are, we are tied to them and care about them for their love of words. Pavone gives us an exciting argument for how powerful those words can be.
The Accident will be on our shelves March 11. Chris Pavone will be here at the store on Thursday, March 20 at 7PM to read from & sign copies of The Accident. We’re now accepting orders for signed copies via our website, bookpeople.com.
Akashic Books has a great weekly short story post: Mondays are Murder. Every Monday, they publish a story with a 750 word limit that features a particular town. Recently they gave us this tale by Joe Canzano set in MysteryPeople’s home: Austin, Texas.
“Music Capitol of the World” by Joe Canzano
“So Johnny Fizz was dead and now it was my problem.
Not because I was some hotshot Austin cop working the 6th Street district, wrestling with drunken punks the way Stevie Ray had wrestled with that fire-breathing Strat. No, it was my problem because I’d played in a band with Johnny for years, and I knew at least a hundred people who wanted to see him with his head blown off.
But there was one person who wanted his head more blown off than the rest, and she was my first stop….”
Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke
Reviewed by Michael
For the 17th installment of the Hannah Swenson Mysteries with Recipes series author Joanna Fluke serves up a mystery with a unique twist in Blackberry Pie Murder: the main character is the killer.
While driving through a violent rainstorm on the back roads of small town Lake Eden, Minnesota, Hannah hits a man with her delivery van. The mystery is not who-dun-it but, instead, who’d-it-get-dun-to. The victim is a stranger with a diamond in his tooth and Hannah is determined to find out who he is and why he was wandering around in the rain. And, is that dark stain on his shirt blackberry pie …or blood?
In addition to solving crimes and running the local bakery, Hannah and her sisters are helping plan their mother’s upcoming wedding. This seems even more difficult than solving the mystery because her mother changes her mind at least once a day.
The term “cozy mystery” is the perfect description of this book. The atmosphere is never dark. The goodness of the characters is clearly drawn. Even though this is my first visit to Eden Lake, I felt quite at home with Hannah and her family. There were many things happening with family and friends that were not part of the mystery. But, I’m sure fans of this series felt right at home in this atmosphere. Especially entertaining is Hannah’s romantic indecision between her two suitors: the local dentist & the sheriff’s deputy.
And, let’s not forget the recipes. There are, I think, twenty-five recipes for cookies, pies and other baked goodies put in between the chapters. They all sound delicious.
Joanne Fluke will be at the store on Tuesday, Mar 4 at 7PM speaking & signing Blackberry Pie Murder. Click here for more information & to pre-order your signed copy.
Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone deals with a cold-case detective’s investigation into the disappearnce of shady businessman Felix Gottshalk’s that occurred exactly ten years after after the murder of his mistress, Julie. Instead of focusing on Felix, the book focuses on his wife, Bambi, his daughters, and Julie. Laura was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about this well crafted novel.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Your book is based on a true missing persons case, but you chose to focus on the people left behind. What pushed you in that direction?
LAURA LIPPMAN: I think the minute that Felix walks out that door, he opts out of his family’s life — a tragic, selfish choice. You know, a lot of us (myself included, sometimes) are present but missing. In some ways, this is a cautionary story about what you might miss — the good, the bad moments, the big and the little ones. Felix misses everything.
MP: What was the biggest challenge in covering all the time periods?
LL: Getting it right. I think readers would be amused by the lengths I go to when I’m trying to nail down certain details. Those earrings! The hours expended upon finding the right earrings for Felix to give Bambi. And then there’s the serendipity of meeting a reader who went to Forest Park High School and could describe the dances for me.
MP: While it’s subtle, Bambi’s Jewish background is always present in the book. Do you think the story would be much different if the family were WASPs?
LL: I honestly don’t think so. Bambi’s class origins — upper middle class, but not truly rich — are more important than her religion in some ways. Now if she were a blue-blood, old-money WASP — yes, that would be very different. Perhaps this is one place where my imagination failed me; because the real-life inspiration was Jewish, it never occurred to me not to write her as such.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Sandy is a wonderful investigator/guide for the story in the sense that he’s fully dimensional as a character, but he never draws the attention away from the women. Besides being a cold-case cop, what made him perfect to question the rest of your characters?
LL: He’s so solitary. I think, over the course of the investigation, he taps into Julie’s longing to be part of a large, intertwined family. All she has is her sister. All he had was his wife — and the son from whom he is now estranged. And the estrangement does not speak well of Sandy. But there’s a yearning there, a real wistfulness.
MP: Bambi is a woman who has more layers to her than you may initially think. Do you see her as a woman of her generation or a woman trapped in her generation?
LL: They certainly had tight parameters, fewer choices. Bambi is very much a woman of her time and class. But she’s also, to my mind, wonderfully resilient and clever. Bambi might not have made it through a semester of college, but she shows at the end that she’s very smart.
MP: The themes of class, religion, and family are very nuanced. Did you have them in mind before writing the book or did it grow out of the story and the characters?
LL: The book initially started with a Jewish High Holidays scene that never made it. Then I backed up, started with Michelle’s bat mitzvah. So the religious themes were always there. But in the case of this book, the characters arrived as themselves and dictated where I was to go. I don’t usually sound so airy-fairy, but Bambi was just there, as were her daughters.
MP: You’re one of the best short story writers out there, you have one of the most entertaining series PIs, and you’ve given us some knock out stand-alones. Is there anything you can’t write?
LL: Oh, wow. I cannot begin to take a compliment like that. I am desperate to say something self-deprecating. I’ll be sincere and admit that it’s one of my great disappointments that I cannot write poetry. Every year, when I teach at Eckerd College, Peter Meinke does a reading and I’m enraptured. I’ve also had the pleasure of hearing my friend Beth Ann Fennelly read her poetry. And this year, at the closing night reception for the Eckerd College Writers in Paradise program, the president of the college, Donald Eastman, read an anti-war poem that blew us all away. I don’t even try to write poetry. It’s a form so demanding that even the spaces between the words have to be perfect.
Laura Lippman will appear at BookPeople alongisde author Jeff Abbott on Wednesday, Mar 5 at 7PM. For more information and to order a signed copy of the book, visit our website, bookpeople.com
One the best things about crime fiction is its potential for social awareness. Ever since Dashiell Hammett wrote Red Harvest, the detective novel has been able to delve into issues of the here and now. Few carry on that tradition finer than Scottish author Denise Mina, evidence of which can be seen in her latest, The Red Road.
The book starts in 1997, the night of Princess Diana’s death. Rose, a teen prostitute in the rough Red Road projects, kills two men. While the victims were of questionable character, the killings weren’t in self defense. Her attorney takes an interest in her. He gets her the lowest sentence he can, and later, he brings her into his family after her release. We then go forward into near present-day with Detective Inspector Morrow acting as a witness for the prosecution of a gun dealer. Trouble arises when the defendant’s prints are found at the scene of a murder that took place during his incarceration. It is all ties to Rose and that night in 1997.
Like many other characters in Mina’s Morrow series, Rose serves as much as a main character as her inspector. She embodies the debate of nature versus nurture. Through the time juxtaposition, Mina creates her as two different characters, tied by a common history, where this newer Rose was given hope. Much of the book’s tension comes from us wondering if the old Rose will resurface.
Morrow has more of a presence than she did in Mina’s previous Gods & Beasts. We learn that her brother is a known gangster, and that her taking on the investigation puts her reputation on the line. We also get a glimpse of her as a mother. It’s interesting to watch her navigate and use the relationships in her work and life. When she meets up with Rose, it’s electric.
The Red Road is about a lot of meetings and clashes: past and present, psychology and sociology, duty and justice. Mina has created a moral mystery as much as a murder mystery, with few getting off the hook.
Copies of The Red Road are currently available on our shelves at BookPeople and via our website, bookpeople.com.
Hilary Davidson has two personalities as a writer. Best known for her edgy psychological thrillers featuring travel writer Lily Moore, she has also penned several noir short stories with a pitch black sense of humor (many collected in the eBook, The Black Widow Club). She fuses both styles brilliantly in her first stand alone, Blood Always Tells.
The book is told from three points of view. We start with a mistress trying to get back at her three-timing boyfriend. Her plan of attack involves blackmail, but then she gets caught up in his kidnapping. Then, the story later shifts to her brother, Desmond, who is trying to rescue her from everything she’s gotten herself entangled with. Lastly, near the end we hear from the point-of-view of a character who has been a fly on a wall through the whole thing.
Each character changes the story into a different sub-genre- from black comic crime to hard-boiled detective, all fitting together perfectly to make one novel.
No matter which perspective you are reading, Blood Always Tells is one engaging read. Its many twists, dark humor, darker psychology, and complex good, bad and somewhere-in-the-middle characters make it one of the best books in what is looking like a banner year for crime fiction. It’s hard to tell you more without giving away the great surprises. You can find out for yourself when the book comes out on April 15th. Make sure to join us on Thursday, April 24 at 6:30PM when Hilary will be here at at BookPeople to sign and discuss the novel.
Hilary Davidson will be at BookPeople on Thursday, Apr 24 at 6:30PM speaking & signing copies of Blood Always Tells. For more information & to pre-order signed copies, visit bookpeople.com.
Johnny Shaw has almost single-handedly brought back the men’s action paperback with his zine, blog, and book, Blood & Tacos. We asked Johnny a few questions about the concept and genre.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for Blood & Tacos come about?
JOHNNY SHAW: Around the time my first novel Dove Season came out, I was playing with the idea of creating a hoax for my blog. I wrote up a few pages of what would become the “Chingon” story in the book. My plan was to write about how I found this paperback in a thrift store, including the pages I wrote. I was going to get my favorite artist (and wife) Roxanne Patruznick to paint a cover (she painted all the original oil paintings for the Blood & Tacos covers). And then to complete the hoax, I was going to get a couple crime writer pals to back me up and claim that they remembered the series on their blogs.
All said and done, it just seemed like a lot of work. I found I wasn’t interested in maintaining a blog. And I didn’t know where I would go from there. But I liked the premise and was curious if other writers would be interested in getting in on the fun. So, at my first Bouchercon in St. Louis, I brought up the idea to Cameron Ashley and Gary Phillips. They were immediately on board, pitching me ideas right there in the hotel bar. I was kind of obligated at that point. When I presented it to Pete Allen, the head honcho over at Creative Guy Publishing, he was all in. And four issues, a book, a phone app, and a podcast later, here we are.
MP: Is “Chingon” based on any particular paperback heroes?
JS: Not really. For me, it was more about using those stories as inspiration and seeing where it took me. All the writers for Blood & Tacos not only came up with their own characters and stories, but they had to create a persona for the author that wrote that story. My alter-ego is Brace Godfrey.
By writing as another person, it gives me the latitude to really play with the voice. The idea was that Brace wanted to promote more minority and female characters, but, unfortunately, he still relied heavily on racist and sexist stereotypes and caricatures. That led to series titles like “Ghetto Force,” “The Oriental Tornado,” “Knockers O’Malley: Lady Cop,” and of course, “Chingon.”
MP: What were some of your favorite male paperback series?
JS: As a young reader, I got caught up in the gateway drug of the Frank Frazetta cover. It starts small, a Conan here, a Burroughs there, but before you know it you’re branching out to the paperbacks near them on the stands.
Because many early pulp heroes were re-released in paperback in the 1970s and 1980s, in my mind, those reprinted stories are grouped in with the contemporary stories of that time. Characters like Tarzan, Conan, Doc Savage, the Avenger, the Shadow, and the Spider existed right next to the Executioner, the Destroyer, the Death Merchant, the Penetrator, and all the others. A character like Nick Carter spans both eras.
When I get time to read any now, I am much more partial to the more obscure or esoteric series from the era. I don’t know if I could get through an Executioner novel past #10 or so. Unfortunately, the stranger series usually had much shorter runs. I highly recommend Swamp Master and Radcliff.
MP: You were able to get Stephen Mertz who created the MIA series to contribute. How did that come about?
JS: One of the first readings I ever did was at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was paired with Joe Lansdale. No pressure there. I’m assuming that Joe was worried that no one would show up, so he asked me to bring in my three fans for safety.
Steve and Joe are pals. In fact, they both wrote books in the Stone: MIA Hunter series. Steve also created Cody’s Army and wrote some Executioners, among others. He showed up to the reading and we hit it off and kept in touch. At first, I was just going to do an interview in Blood & Tacos , but when he expressed interest in writing a story, I knew I was going to include it. What an honor.
There are some many authors that cut their teeth in men’s adventure. Nelson DeMille (Ryker), Lee Goldberg (.357 Vigilante), Marc Olden (Black Samurai), Piers Anthony (Jason Striker), and Robert Randisi (The Gunsmith), Michael Avallone (The Satan Sleuth), just to name a few.
MP: What are you taking away from the process of writing this book?
JS: If anything, it’s really about a sense of fun. The subtitle on my series books, Dove Season and the upcoming Plaster City, is “A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco.” I don’t write mysteries. I write fiascoes. The books are more grounded than “Chingon,” but should be just as fun.
I’ve always described the aesthetic of Blood & Tacos as ridiculously awesome. Big, never-boring, and just outrageous enough to be unique. But fun doesn’t have to be frivolous. A story doesn’t have to be bleak to be about something. More often humor can relay depth and emotion more effectively because it’s not as heavy-handed. Making something look effortless takes effort.
Chandler said, “When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” When it comes to Blood & Tacos, I would say, “When in doubt have an albino come into the strip joint with a spear gun in his robot hand.” That’s ridiculously awesome.
It is always exciting to read an author who is aiming for a highly ambitious book. It is even more exhilarating a read when you feel the writer may have even surpassed her intended goal. Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone is such a read.
Loosely based on a true unsolved missing persons case, the plot centers on Felix Gottshalk, a man involved in decades of shady business and facing prison time, who disappears without a trace on our country’s bicentennial. An exact decade later, his mistress, Julie, is murdered. In 2012, Sandy Sanchez, a cold case cop, is assigned to look into her death. To solve Julie’s killing, he has to look into Felix’s disappearance, which involves studying Felix’s life through those who knew him. Sandy ends up operating like the reporter in Citizen Kane trying to figure out what “Rosebud” meant.
It’s how Lippman uses the technique of the investigation and flashbacks that sets this book apart. The focus ends up being less about Felix than the women he left behind. Bambi, the wife, is the most pivotal character. We first get to know Felix through her perspective as they meet at a Valentine’s Day dance in 1959. Their marriage shows how one becomes a part of other’s sins in a relationship.
As for Julie, she is not the stereotypical mistress. Neither a vixen nor a naive romantic, she is politically aware, savvy, and independent.
We also get the viewpoints of the daughters he left behind. All these women are connected to Felix in different ways, all with their share of secrets.
Through the story, Lippman bounces us through the Mad Men era to the post-feminist era. Through Julie we get the emergence of ’70s feminism, though she is far from militant in that respect. She also guides us through the transition from the ’70s into the ’80s, working as a volunteer for independent Presidential hopeful John Anderson. All of this is done with a nuanced tone that reflects the characters.
After I’m Gone is a fully realized novel. It is rich in character and theme, holding several ideas on family, religion, and class in a cohesive manner, and never lacks the suspense and reveals of a strong thriller. Once again, Laura Lippman has exceeded the high expectations we have of her.
MysteryPeople welcomes Laura Lippman to BookPeople on Wednesday, Mar 5th at 7PM to speak about & sign copies of After I’m Gone. For more information and to order signed copies of After I’m Gone, visit bookpeople.com.