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Crime Fiction Friday: ROADBEDS by Ed Kurtz

crime scene
Roadbeds by Ed Kurtz

We can’t wait for next week, Friday 22nd at 7PM to host Ed Kurtz to discuss his first crime novel The Forty-Two (along with a screening of one of his favorite grind house movies, Vigilante). Starting out as a horror writer, Ed has been earning respect for those in crime fiction with his short work, like this story from Shotgun Honey.

“Roadbeds” by Ed Kurtz

 

“Maury was taking a smoke break when the two thugs showed up. They arrived in a black Lincoln and summoned the crew boss from the dusty light of the car’s headlamps. Lucky was bawling out a digger at the time, a Puerto Rican backhoe operator, and Lucky didn’t quit bawling a guy out for anything. But he quit it for them.

The P.R. stared and Maury figured he was probably the only guy on site who didn’t grasp the situation. He’d never seen Cuco Minchillo’s guys come around a worksite in the dead of night, didn’t even know they worked for the guy whose name was on all the equipment. Minchillo & Sons. Both his sons were dead…”

Click here to read the full story.


Ed Kurtz will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Friday, August 22nd at 7PM! You can pre-order signed copies of The Forty-Two now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Glenn Gray

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Glenn Gray’s The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories has won us over, but the collection has earned fans beyond MysteryPeople. Both Joe Lansdale and Scott Phillips are fans of his work. A practicing radiologist, he often uses medical anomalies to launch into his genre-bending tales. We put a few questions to Glenn and here’s what he said.


MysteryPeople: In simple genre terms, you’re all over the place. How would you describe your work?

Glenn Gray: Some kind of twisted medical type stuff maybe? Not really sure. I’ve heard it referred to as body horror, weird fiction and medical noir. I never really thought much about genre, I just write and see what happens. The medical stuff seems horrific to some readers, but to me, it’s often funny. I write the kind of stories I’d want to read, and I found over time I got a kick out of writing certain types of stories. Certain genres overlap in my mind anyway, like noir, horror and crime. To me, it’s all just dark. If I had to pick one description of my work, friend and writer buddy David James Keaton early on dubbed my
stuff as Cronenboiled or Cronenbergian noir, which I really dug. I owe DJK for that one.

MP: Much of your work comes from your experience in the medical profession.  What do other writers who are non-practicioners get wrong about the field?

GG: I’m an anatomy nut, so any description of anatomy has to be correct. And things have to make sense from an anatomic or physiologic standpoint. For example, if there’s a knife or gun wound to the neck, and the jugular was sliced, it wouldn’t be pumping fountain-like arcs of blood. The jugular is a vein, it doesn’t pump. It’s a minor point because it’s next to the carotid artery, which will pump, so if one is cut it’s likely the other will be too. Those are the kind of details that stand out to me. Fun part is, I’ve had writer friends message me and ask all sorts of wild questions, like the proper way to rip someone’s head off with bare hands, or if something with a medical element sounds plausible. It’s great fun being able to help out that way.

MP: Who are your influences?

GG: Roald Dahl, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Chuck Palahniuk and Joe R. Lansdale, to name a few. Mostly because they write what I like to read and write, dark and often with a humorous component. And usually a little twisted or with a fantastical element. I like stuff that goes off the rails but has some basis in reality, however minor. So the reader thinks, this is a little crazy, but I wonder if it could really happen? They all write a lot of short fiction too, which is cool because I love reading the short stuff.  And they’re hard to pinpoint on genre, which helps enforce the notion that it just doesn’t matter. Write whatever the heck you want, what makes you happy first, then worry about it later. That’s the way I see it anyway.

MP: Do you have any interest in doing a novel?

GG: Working on it. I just finished a sci-fi novella and I’m working on a second collection of short fiction as well. The novel is turning out to be a mix of genres like the short stuff.  Some medicine, some crime and some weirdness.

MP: What is your main aim for the reader when you write?

GG: First and foremost is to entertain. I want the reader to have fun. The bonus is if they feel something. Something visceral. Queasy maybe? And think about their body in a way they haven’t before. About how complex the body is, how we’re all just one mishap away from disaster. How so many organ systems keep functioning in concert day after day. It’s amazing to me that more doesn’t go wrong more often.

MP: Is there anything too gross to write about?

GG: Nah. Don’t think so. And I’ve learned that everyone’s definition of gross is very different. I think any topic can be written about, it’s just how you do it. It’s all about the angle.


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!

MysteryPeople Review: THE FORTY-TWO by Ed Kurtz

the forty-two
The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

Setting has always been an important element in crime fiction. Whether Hammett’s San Francisco, Chandler’s LA, Hillerman’s Four Corners, or Pelecanos’ DC, the protagonist has an intense relationship with their hometown. Ed Kurtz shows his understanding of this in his novel, The Forty-Two.

The title refers to New York’s Times Square of the early Eighties. Kurtz brings it to life in all of its sleazy glory with the hookers, junkies, peep shows, and questionable dining establishments. Most important to our hero, Charley McCormick, is The Forty-Two‘s
grindhouse theaters that crank out exploitation films from their projectors. The first chapter is a beautiful introdution to Charley and the Square on a Friday night as he looks for his film fix, the bloodier the better.

Charley gets more blood than he bargained for. A young woman sits next to him during a slasher double bill, even though the theater is half empty. When the first feature is over, Charley discovers she’s been murdered. He’s plunged into a nightmare involving mobsters, arson, an archaic form of porn, and the future of his beloved Forty-Two. Kurtz uses his tools as a horror writer, ratcheting the dread and tension like a dark craftsman and delivers the emotion and Charley’s observations with the skill of a veteran hard boiled poet.

It is in the depiction of Times Square where the book really shines. Kurtz transports you back to a time and place with details that pop, but never overwhelm. We get the sights, sounds, and (be forewarned) smells of the place which express Charley’s love for it.

The Forty-Two terrorizes, entertains, and transports us. Ed Kurtz hits all the genre tropes with a fresh, lurid spin. He gives us an involving read that serves as a look, both subtle and deep, at the places we attach ourselves to.


Ed Kurtz will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Friday, August 22nd at 7PM! You can pre-order signed copies of The Forty-Two now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

Crime Fiction Friday: OWEN’S BAD NIGHT by Benjamin Welton

crime scene
Owen’s Bad Night by Benjamin Welton

You can always count on the Shotgun Honey for a quick hit of hard boiled. It is the king of flash crime fiction. One of the latest entries is this quick mix of robbery, revenge, and wrestling.

Benjamin Welton is a freelance and amateur journalist who occasionally writes short stories and poems. He fails at all three. He is currently at work on a novel, runs a blog called The Trebuchet.

DUE TO LANGUAGE AND CONTENT, THIS STORY IS INTENDED FOR MATURE READERS

“Owen’s Bad Night” by Benjamin Welton

 

“Death Breath’s boot crashed on Owen’s head. It cut him hardway…”

 

Click here to read the full story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant’s latest book featuring post-war Fort Worth private eye Dutch Curridge, Spirit Trap, involves theft and the murder of a family, with members of a western swing band as suspects. Tim will be joining us with Ben Rheder and Reavis Wortham for our Lone Star Mystery authors panel this Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. Tim was kind enough to answer some questions beforehand.


MysteryPeople: Music always plays a big part in the book and this time, Dutch has to deal with a lot of them in this mystery. Being one yourself, what did you want to get a across about a band?

Tim Bryant: There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into Spirit Trap. I experienced it, in some ways, as I would if I were reading it. Still, I brought my history in music to it. I would have to say what came out of that was the dichotomy that, if you look at a band from the outside, it appears very much as a family, a unit that works together. Seen from the inside out, though, it’s made up of a bunch of individuals, each of whom will have their own motives and may see what they’re doing in completely different ways. Both of those things can be useful in writing about life, especially when you’re talking about mystery.

MP: Dutch’s voice is so unique and it carries the book. How did you develop it?

TB: There’s a lot of myself in Dutch, so I didn’t have to invent him from whole cloth. Obviously, we share a dark and rather twisted sense of humor. There’s also a good bit of my grandfather in him, and  people that I remember from my grandfather’s era, men who hung around him. I have an ear for how those kinds of people talk. Not just what they say, but how they say it. I had written a series of short stories with a character called Cold Eye Huffington. Cold Eye was a good bit like Dutch, although he was set in New Orleans. The very first story I ever wrote with Dutch as a character was published in REAL literary magazine, and his voice was pretty much fully formed from the beginning.

MP: Which came first to write about, Dutch or Fort Worth?

TB: After the Cold Eye stories, I wanted to develop a Texas character, because I do consider myself to be a Texas writer. Of course, with Cold Eye, I had the whole New Orleans music scene as a backdrop, and I very much wanted to keep music in the picture. It’s something I know well and enjoy writing about, and there’s endless fodder for storylines. So, looking at Texas, and being a huge fan of both western swing music and jazz, Fort Worth became the obvious setting for Dutch. Fort Worth has such a rich music history, and a lot of people aren’t aware of just how rich it is. I mean, Bob Wills and Milton Brown are both  associated with Fort Worth, but so is Ornette Coleman. Plus, I knew that Dutch would be a little guy going up against bigger foes, and Fort Worth, always being in the shadow of Dallas, fit into that psychology.

MP: One of the things I Iike best about Dutch is his sense of humor. How important is humor in a story when you’re dealing with somber subject matter?

TB: I think it’s important as a writer and a reader to have that spark of humor there in the dark, but it only works because it’s important for Dutch himself to have that humor. It’s a survival mechanism for him, as much as anything. And he’s no longer a churchgoer, but he remembers from childhood that a joke is always funnier when you’re in a place it doesn’t belong or isn’t expected. The humor just comes naturally from what’s going on. I suppose they all come from my mind as I’m writing the story, but it honestly feels as if they come from the mind of Dutch as he goes about things. That’s what makes it natural, what makes it work.

MP: For an author, what makes Dutch Curridge a character worth coming back to?

TB: The fact that I know him like a friend. I not only know what has happened to him in the three novels, but, at this point, I know the day he was born and I know the day he dies. Elvis hasn’t arrived on the scene in the books yet, but I know what he thinks about Elvis. He’s like any friend. I may need a break from him every once in a while, because he’s pretty intense in a lot of ways, but after a while, I start to hear him whispering in my ear, and I start to miss the guy.


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. His latest novel, Spirit Trap, is available on BookPeople’s shelves and via bookpeople.com.

New Book Club! Join Us for Murder in the Afternoon

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Sometimes you can’t wait until the evening to talk about murder. With that in mind, we invite you to join us for Murder in the Afternoon, a brand new afternoon book club, meeting on the third Tuesday of each month at 2PM on BookPeople’s third floor (603 N. Lamar Blvd). Join us for coffee, tea, and discussions of some of some of our favorite books in the mystery genre. All meetings are free and open to the public!

Discussion Schedule:

Tues 8/19 – The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
***Craig will call in to discuss the book with us!

Tues 9/23 – In The Woods by Tana French

Tues 10/21 – The Carter Of La Providence by George Simenon

Tues 11/18 – Death On Tour by Janis Hamrick

Tues 12/16 – The Beggar King by Oliver Potzsch

Tues 1/20 – Death In The Andes by Mario Vargas Llossa

Book club books are 10% off at BookPeople! Just let your cashier know you’re buying it for book club. Or give us a heads up in the Comments field when you’re checking out at bookpeople.com.

For books & to bookmark the schedule, visit bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE IRON SICKLE by Martin Limón

the iron sickle

MysteryPeople Pick for August: The Iron Sickle by Martin Limón
Reviewed by: Scott M.

Martin Limón‘s series featuring George Sueño and Ernie Bascome is a must read. The cases of these two CID Army detectives in the South Korea of  the ’70s explore culture, bureaucracy, and the hard pursuit of justice, with an approach both hard boiled and human. The latest, The Iron Sickle, is the epitome of this.

The title refers to the weapon used by a killer who went on  base and murdered two personnel. Some think it is the work of a North Korean agent, given the communist symbolism of the sickle. The plot becomes even more convoluted when Bascome and Sueño find themselves in an investigation where neither the U.S. Army nor the Korean government want to be responsible for finding the perpetrator. With the help of a female Army psychologist, who is after Sueño as well as the killer, the two follow a trail of violence that leads to a mountain village and its dark history, where the line between victim and victimizer blurs.

Limón always creates a vivid sense of his investigators’ time and place. Like Sueño, he has an understanding and respect for the cultural surrounding. We learn much about Korean society through the detectives and their interactions with customs and protocols.   He also covers the Army politics and bureaucracy that get in the way of investigations. Sueño has an amazing explanation of how their civilian dress code makes them stand out while trying to work.

The book is also one of the best examples of Sueño and Bascome’s friendship. Sueño is an orphan from the L. A. barrio who has fallen in love with the world he’s landed in. Bascome fought through three Vietnam tours and is driven by action and an adversarial nature. The two are more than a cop-buddy relationship of opposites. We see their subtle effect on each other. Both are comrades united by a clear sense of righteous purpose that doesn’t fit the group they are in.

The Iron Sickle is a great introduction to the Sueño-Bascome series while building on what came before. Limón looks at history and culture, and at the sins of each, with two heroes who understand the true meaning of justice. You’ll be going back for the other books after you’ve read this one.


The Iron Sickle hits shelves August 26. Pre-order now via bookpeople.com

Crime Fiction Friday: SHIMMIE SHE WOBBLE by Tim Bryant

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Tim Bryant will be joining us for our Lone Star Mystery Writers Panel, Wednesday, the 6th at 7PM, along with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder. His latest, Spirit Trap, deals with music, the past, and a unique view of things, much like his tale here.

SHIMMIE SHE WOBBLE
by Tim Bryant

Lee Ray Murvin, who most people called Sardine, was down on his knees barking like a dog, and Clement Whitaker was still trying to pour more oh be joyful into him, first from a wooden ladle and then from one of Sardine’s own boots, which along with his trousers and work shirt, were strewn across the hardwood floor. Micah Lockwood sat in a corner playing five-card stud with his friend and kettle drum player Henry Compton and trying to ignore Clement’s devilry, but you can only turn your back for so long.

“Let him alone, Clement. He’s had enough.”

Clement, who was every bit as tanked as Sardine but had the fortune of being Sardine’s foreman on day shift at the mill, was having none of it.

“You got no dog in this, Lockwood.”

Clement laughed at his own cleverness and barked at Sardine who flinched and backed into a corner. Sardine’s face was drenched in sweat, and he had a look behind his eyes that unsettled Micah.

“Get him some spoonbread to settle his stomach,” he said.

He stood up from the table and took a few steps toward the kitchen, where Anna was sitting with a paperback book creased on her knee, passing time until she could send everyone home and close down for another night.

Clement turned like a pitcher on the mound, hurling Sardine’s boot with enough force that it hit Micah’s left cheek like the foot was still attached.

Later, when the law showed up and wanted to take witness accounts, most of the men in the room agreed that it was at this point that they knew things had crossed the line. Two of them, in fact, stood up and left Anna’s Lounge immediately.

As for Micah Lockwood, none who remained had much argument with his claim that everything beyond that point was a big blur. If they agreed that he had lunged at Clement, they also admitted that Clement had it coming. Clement, sensing that he had his hands full, dropped the bottle but drew the ladle up, first in a defensive posture, but then began to poke and prod his opponent with it. That, they said, was when Micah pulled the fife from his pocket.

“No, not a knife,” they told the law. “A fife.”

Micah Lockwood had lived his whole adult life on a cotton farm outside Coffeeville. He seemed to have sprung from the black Mississippi soil fully formed, because no one had any recollection of either his family or his childhood. He played in a fife and drum band called the Coffeeville Ramblers. While they rambled all around Coffeeville, playing at weddings and funerals, family get-togethers and picnics, they never left Yalobusha County.

Micah played a six-inch, five-hole fife that he carved out of the cane fields which grew all along the back of the farm. You were liable to see him at Sweet Jim’s Domino Hall or Hully Gully’s or sometimes, like today, at Anna’s Lounge, but no matter where you saw him, he’d have that whistle in his hand or in his pocket.

By Saturday, September 28, 1935, both Coffeeville cotton farms had sold off their equipment, most of the workers moving north, where jobs were more plentiful. Lockwood lost his bass drummer to a factory job in Chicago and his snare drummer to a jazz band gig in Memphis, but he and Henry Compton stuck around, finding occasional work in the
turpentine mill or in the butcher shop or doing simple carpentry work on the houses and barns in the area.

That night, Micah Lockwood showed up at Anna’s just before the mill workers, driving his mule Oscar and a wagon but arriving alone. Henry Compton showed up a little later. The Mississippi Mud Stompers, a black string band popular all across the deep south, were scheduled to play just around the corner at Jim’s that night, having played to the
west in Clarksdale on the previous evening. The plan was to play cards until the music started and then head on over. Maybe in the breaks, the Mud Stompers would let Micah and Henry play a tune or two, or, if they were lucky, they’d be invited to sit in with them for a few.

Sardine Murvin showed up at Anna’s with the same idea, but only after stopping by Mattie Whitaker’s place to see if she would join him. Mattie was, by unanimous agreement, the prettiest girl in town. She had light brown hair that framed her face like a picture, and she dressed like no one around these parts. She looked like she belonged in Memphis or Chicago or maybe riding down river to New Orleans in a paddleboat. Anywhere but Coffeeville. Mattie was also sixteen years old. Eight years younger than Sardine.

The boot heel collided hard enough with Micah Lockwood’s nose that he immediately smelled blood. He had a habit of losing his temper when that happened. His eyes saw nothing as he swung wild with his first punch and caught air. Clement laughed, which was a mistake because it allowed Micah to readjust. The second blow caught Clement square in the gizzard. Clement shook it off and kept coming, jabbing the damn ladle into Lockwood’s ribs and trying to make a joke of it. Nobody else was laughing.

Clement never saw the fife until it welted him across the face with a loud popping sound that made Anna jump and drop her book. When the blowing end came blowing into the corner of his left eye socket, Clement hit the floor. Bottles scattered, reminding Micah of one of the arcade games at the fall carnival every year in Oxford. Clement didn’t come back up, and that’s when everyone realized the fife was still lodged there in his eye hole.

“I had it in mind that I was going to put a stop to all this nonsense,” said Anna. “But when I saw Mr. Whitaker rise up with that plank in his eye, well, that was more than I was in it for.”

Henry Compton went on to describe in great detail how Clement had pulled himself to his feet and had gone at Mr. Lockwood at full stride, taking a great leap into the air, only to come down on Micah Lockwood in such a way as to drive the wooden instrument so far back into his skull that it came near to poking out on the other side.

“We all looked down at him laying there on the floor,” Henry said, “and we agreed that that’s what it was, pushing against the back of his head like a worm trying to break through an apple.”

Several of the men collected the body and hauled it over to the Whitaker family house on Micah’s wagon, drawn by old Oscar. Only Micah wasn’t there by that point. They made most of the ride in silence, but when they got within eyesight of the place, they took a show of hands and voted not to implicate Micah. The fife had been worked back out of Clement’s head the same way it had gone in. No reason to get the Whitakers all worked up. Nothing good, they decided, would come of it.

Micah Lockwood, on the other hand, had a problem. When they returned his fife, covered in blood and brain matter, he measured it in his outstretched fingers and found that it came up short by an inch. A four-hole fife was enough to get him hung. The old Mississippi
Cakewalk.

Micah moved out of the cotton farm the following day and made his way up Shiloh Road, somewhere close to Shiloh Cemetery. Some people around Coffeeville claim that he stayed for three days and nights in the old Shiloh Baptist Church. That’s not right, but he did show up at the services there on the following morning.

“I’ve been washed in the blood,” he said, “Does that mean I’m bound
for paradise?”

“My friend,” the Reverend Chesley Benefield said, “the Son of Man says if you’ve been washed in the blood, then surely you are already good as gold. Your garments have been made spotless before the Lord your God, and your place in glory is secured.”

And so Micah Lockwood walked into the woods, and that’s where he stayed for three days. And during that time, a great army of men was gathered, and they all went out to find Micah, because a price had been placed on his head. Clement Whitaker’s body had been taken to Oxford, where they scrubbed it and prepared it for burial, and, during
the preparations, Dr. Douglas Whitney had plucked the missing inch of cane fife from the skull of the dead man.

“That can’t belong to none other but Micah Lockwood,” said the dead man’s father Jonas.

The word got passed around so that everybody from Coffeeville to Tillatoba, from Greenwood to Shiloh, knew the name, if not the face, of Micah Lockwood. Because of this, the Yalobusha sheriff sent two of his deputies out to collect witnesses and set their stories down. As people began to compare the stories, a good two-thirds of the army
looking for Mr. Lockwood fell away. It wasn’t worth the money, they said. They didn’t want the blood on their hands. One group of men tracked him down in the woods above Shiloh and urged him to go farther. Travel west to Texas, they said, or north to Paducah,
Kentucky. Carbondale, Illinois.

“My father gave me this,” Micah said, holding his fife out to the gathered men.

“Your father?” one of them said. “We never knew your father. Surely he didn’t give you the fife. You’ve told us yourself, you cut it from the sugarcane growing along Cypress Creek.”

Micah tightened his hand around it until it disappeared from view.

“Not this very one,” he said. “But the gift of the pipe. He showed me how to play the Shimmie She Wobble. The pipe, he said, would deliver me.”

The men went away without having talked him into moving on, but they left him with a warning.

“It’s been two days. In one more day, the family of Clement Whitaker will have a funeral. His family will be arriving from Oxford and from Koskiusko. After he’s laid in the ground, after the last hymn is sung and the dirt shoveled back into the earth, they will come looking for you.”

The next morning, horses and buggies began lining up outside the Whitaker household well before the dew was off the grass. Family and friends, church people and workers from the turpentine mill. The women hurried inside, where they busied themselves preparing food for the masses. The men stood around outside, kicked at the ground and talked about the white deputies who came around and did a bunch of talking and then shrugged and left.

“Everybody knows who done it,” one of them would say.

“If he’d done it to a white man, them deputies wouldn’t of shrugged and walked off,” someone else would say.

They would stare at the ground again and then circulate like they were changing partners at a dance and start it all over again.

At ten thirty, the hearse pulled up with Clement’s casket, and, at eleven, everybody followed it solemnly through the town and out to the negro graveyard on the back side of the white one. A number of people came out to the graveside service who normally wouldn’t have bothered, including a handful of white men. They knew something was bound to
happen, and they either didn’t want to miss it or they planned to do what they could to help one side or the other when it did.

At the appointed moment, Reverend Cecil Calabash, with his stovepipe hat and his long gray whiskers, stood up and began singing, Death is gonna straighten out all you liars
one of these days.

It wasn’t any kind of song to be singing at a funeral. The townspeople knew it, and the mourners did too, but it didn’t stop them from joining in. As if to show the devil himself that they meant business, they followed that one up with all four verses of Keep On The Firing Line.

Just when things were starting to get so tense you thought Clement himself might leap up out of his box, the people in the town started hearing something that sounded like a big thunderstorm coming over the ridge from the west. Jim Swain, who was called Sweet Jim by everybody— even people who didn’t like him— came out of his place and looked up
in the sky.

“Oh my God, will you look what’s coming yonder,” somebody in the street said, and around the bend came Micah Lockwood. He wasn’t alone. He came walking into town with a full drum corps behind him. Henry Compton was there. Charles Freeman. Haskell Cook and Lum Johnson and Miner Gilliam. Micah, ten paces in front, was holding up a fife that seemed to catch the light of the sun, but he never once brought it to his lips. Instead, he was singing.

Glory glory hallelujah
when I lay my burden down,
I’ll go on to live with Jesus
since I laid my burden down,
Every round goes higher and higher
since I laid my burden down…

He was still two blocks shy of the cemetery when a woman came running by Sweet Jim and wrapped herself around Micah. A gasp came up from the gathering crowd when they saw who it was.

“Isn’t that Clement Whitaker’s mother?” said Anna.

No one could believe it, but it was Viola Whitaker, sure as the world. If Micah Lockwood hadn’t come walking past half of Coffeeville that morning, if it had just been a story passed around in the domino hall or at Hully Gully’s, no one would have ever believed it. But when he moved through, he did so with Viola embracing him as if he were her
own flesh and blood.

Praises went up from the crowd, who stepped back into the shadows if not into the buildings, mostly to get out of the way of the drummers, who were stirring up a dust cloud and shaking the ground beneath them with their rolling rumble. Micah kept his eyes fixed on a point straight ahead and in the distance.

“Micah Lockwood, I want you to hear me good,” said Viola Whitaker as she leaned into him. “If they kill you today— and there’s plenty who aim to do just that— I want you to know that they’re gonna have to go through me first. Do you understand me?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said.

“I’m not going to stand by and let that just happen,” she said. “You and me do understand each other, don’t we?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said.

She grabbed his face and turned it toward her. “I need to hear you say it, Micah. I need to hear it from you.”

He stopped walking for the first time since he’d started down the Shiloh Road.

“They kill me, they’re gonna have to kill you too, ma’am.”

“And why is that?” she said.

“Because you don’t want me going on to glory and seeing your boy today while you have to stay behind and wait for it.”

She nodded.

“You don’t get to just lay your burden down easy and expect me to pick it up and carry it for the rest of my days,” she said. “It don’t work that way.”

Jonas Whitaker dropped his Colt .45 to his side when he saw his wife holding Micah by the hand. Two other guns also got holstered at his signal. The crowd quickly enveloped the two and, when the drums came to a stop, a quiet confusion seemed to fall over the whole town, as in old biblical times when God confused the tongues of men. Viola looked
her husband dead in the eye.

“Love, you have a decision to make,” she said. “You can kill this boy and risk sending him to his reward, to be with our only son. If you do so, I pray that you send the bullets through me first and don’t punish me twice by leaving me behind again.”

She stood across Micah like the moon passing across the sun.

“I aim to send Micah Lockwood in the other direction, into the everlasting fire,” Jonas said.

His thumb and fingers danced nervously on the grip of his gun.

“I’ve been washed in the blood,” Micah said. “Lord have mercy.”

Jonas raised the Colt up. Micah closed his eyes and waited.

“That was the blood of my son you was washed in,” Jonas said, and pulled the trigger.

The single bullet cracked like a drumstick against the side of a drum, scattering teeth east and west. Micah opened his eyes to see the old man fall empty at his feet.

The food at the Whitaker house was left to spoil, and the crowd at the graveyard grew throughout the afternoon as Mr. Whitaker was made ready for burial next to his son. The only people who weren’t there were the white deputies, who were away in Jackson, and Sardine Murvin, who was laid up in his bed with a frightful case of turpentine poisoning.

“Where are we gonna put that boy?” Sweet Jim said.

“I say we throw Micah in the jail and let the deputies worry about him when they get back,” said one of the plant bosses.

“We don’t have a key,” said Sweet Jim.

“We could always lock him in the outhouse behind the church,” said the plant boss.

“Lock him in it and then burn it to the ground,” said Anna.

They might have done it if Reverend Calabash hadn’t stopped them on account of it wasting a perfectly useful outhouse. Seeing an opening in the proceedings, it was sixteen year old Mattie Whitaker who walked up to her mother’s side, and, placing herself between Viola and Micah, said that killing Micah Lockwood would make them all no better than
they claimed him to be.

“Micah never laid a hand on my daddy,” she said, “and he didn’t aim to kill Clement neither. On the other hand, you all are standing here in broad daylight with murder in your hearts.”

Lee Ray “Sardine” Murvin, as hard as he tried, had never won the hand of the beautiful sixteen year old, but it was because Micah and his music had won her heart years before at summer picnics and church singings.

And so Mattie kept Micah alive that day with a teenager’s love, and Micah and Viola kept each other alive for several more years with something deeper and darker, neither trusting the other to lay down the terrible burden they shared.

“Remember,” she would say, “it don’t work that way.”

On June 8, 1940, Reverend Benefield pronounced Micah and Mattie man and wife at the Old Shiloh Baptist Church, and all three of them moved into a shotgun house on upper Shiloh Road.

“Remember,” Viola would say.

A boy named Earl was born in 1942.

“Remember.”

A girl, Nonie, came the year after.

Stories of far away wars arrived over a Rogers Majestic tabletop radio, but the names of the places were strange and seemed no more real than The Thin Man or The Shadow.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

The battles at home took a daily toll. Drought and sickness were enemies that couldn’t be charged. So, too, fear and vindictiveness. In the winter of 1945, Micah appeared on the streets of Clarksdale. He was telling a murderous tale that no one could quite believe and making a kind of music that hadn’t been heard around there.

“What kind of pipe is that you’re playing?” said a little boy who wasn’t much older than Earl had been.

The boy was holding a three-string guitar and looking like he wasn’t sure what to make of the ghost of a man before him.

“It’s carved out of bone,” Micah Lockwood said. “Pure bone.”

He pulled it from his lips with a kiss and handed it to the boy.”

 

7% Solution Book Club to discuss: PAPER TOWNS by John Green

paper towns
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.


MysteryPeople Review: THE LITTLE BOY INSIDE AND OTHER STORIES by Glenn Gray

GlennGray_TheLittleBoyInside

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, a radiologist, 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!

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