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MysteryPeople Q&A with Billy Kring

Billy Kring is a former Texas Border Patrol Agent and consultant for law enforcement agencies around the world. He is also a friend and regular BookPeople customer, so we we’re excited to carry his debut, Quick, a novel about a brutal criminal that draws a Texas Border Agent, Hunter Kincaid, two Florida cops, John Quick and Randall Ishtee, together in taking him down. We talked to Billy about the the book and the personal background that informed it.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for Quick come about?

BILLY KRING: I wanted to write a story that would allow me to use my work experiences in South Florida, West Texas, and Mexico by weaving the tale through those environments.  Many people don’t realize there is a Border Patrol presence in Florida, so I thought that would be something new for readers to discover, too.  I also wanted to write a story that was hard to put down, and by forcing the story to keep moving from place to place, I felt I could keep the action and suspense high.

MP:  Hunter Kincaid works for the Border Patrol, like you used to. What did you want to convey about your former job?

BK: I hoped to make the reader feel like they were in an Agent’s footsteps, and experiencing how isolated many of the locations are; how much physical effort it often takes for Agents to perform their duties.  There are places where there is no help within miles if trouble occurs, and these places have dead areas where no communication is possible, so you’re pretty much on your own if it comes down to it.  Working alone, forty miles from the next closest Agent, and on a trail of smugglers…it’s not dull, let me put it that way.

MP: One of the things I liked about Quick was that there was little of that cliche friction between Hunter and the Florida cops. In your experience, do most law enforcement agencies want to work together?

BK: Agencies get along, that’s been my experience.  There are exceptions, but on the whole, most law enforcement people I’ve dealt with, especially at the street level, know the old adage of strength in numbers.  The other plus of working together is that an expanded range of enforcement laws comes into play.  Combining state laws with federal laws makes a much wider net to arrest a criminal.  Most multi-agency task forces are put together with this in mind, and they work very well.  It also builds a communications network for law enforcement at the street level that bypasses a lot of formal red tape and power plays from higher up the chain.  It doesn’t have to always be “through official channels” to get things done.  And the network seems to hold up for years and many friendships develop that way.

MP: The book is quite brutal in places. What made you decide to go that far?

BK: They came from crime scenes I witnessed while working as a consultant in Mexico.  I had seen dead people and murder scenes while in the line of duty, and I thought I was hardened, but these particular ones rocked me.  I felt it was necessary in Quick to show how even a hardened law enforcement officer like John Quick could be shaken to the core, and how that could affect his actions and mental state afterward.

MP: Conan is a particularly scary villain. Is he drawn from anyone you encountered in your work?

BK: Not that I personally encountered.  Cop stories of legendary bad guys make the rounds through all agencies, and Conan is partially based on a few of those, plus my imagination.  And bad dreams or some bad moonshine, I’m not sure which.

MP: This being your first book, did you draw from any influences?

BK: You bet.  All the authors you’ve recommended to me when I come into BookPeople! That is a true fact.  Also script writers like John Milius and Sam Peckinpah.  A few of the authors are: Don Winslow, Elmore Leonard, Craig Johnson, Thomas Harris, James Carlos Blake, Megan Abbott, Peter Farris, Frank Bill, James Lee Burke, Jonathan Woods, Benjamin Whitmire, Robert Crais, and a ton of others.

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Quick is available on our shelves now and online via bookpeople.com.

The Look Out: HOP ALLEY by Scott Phillips

Look Out For: Hop Alley by Scott Phillips
On Our Shelves 5/13/14

Scott Phillips is one of the best authors currently working. One of his best books the Western noir Cottonwood. There is a point in Cottonwood where the photographer, saloon keeper, philanderer and criminal protagonist, Bill Ogden, mentions time in he spent in Denver prior to the novel, which has him wind up in San Francisco. Denver holds a bloody history for Ogden, and you’re left with a lot of questions. In comes the short novel Hop Alley where Phillips answers those questions and shows us what exactly happened to Ogden’s during those lost years in Denver.

Odgen is scraping by under an assumed name because of the events in Cottonwood. He has a photography studio and is having an affair with a laudanum-addicted dance hall girl named Priscilla. When the father of one of his employees is murdered, it is pinned on two men from the city’s Chinatown section. Things start to spiral out of control from here. With the city about to riot and Priscilla’s constant manipulations, Bill’s personal life and the tumultuous air in Denver come crashing into one another.

Phillips weaves historical fact, satire, and a fresh spin on noir tropes into a book just as unique as Cottonwood, that serves well as either a standalone or companion piece to the original book. It is a fun visit from one of the most complex anti-heroes in Phillips’s rogues gallery. You can get reacquainted with Bill on May 13th, when Hop Alley officially hits shelves.

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Hop Alley is now available for pre-order via bookpeople.com.

A Conversation with Jo Nesbø

JoNesbo

~post by Chris M

Three years ago I had never heard of Jo Nesbø. I was still relatively new to crime fiction and had only really covered the essentials: Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, etc… I remember the day I cracked open my copy of The Redbreast, which was the earliest Inspector Harry Hole novel available in America at the time. I was sitting in a coffee shop on South 1st here in Austin, TX. I distinctly remember taking a sip of my coffee and burning my mouth. So I read a few pages, or so I thought, reached over and took another sip of coffee and it had gone cold. I looked at the corner of the page and quickly realized that those few pages I read were actually the first hundred.

I was enthralled. I finished The Redbreast in two days. Within a month I’d read four Harry Hole novels. By the end of that year I’d read every Nesbø novel I could get my hands on.

2011 was the year Jo Nesbø became my favorite modern crime writer, and in October of 2013 I got the chance to interview him. I remember having a slight freak out in the minutes before I was supposed to call Jo at his hotel in Vancouver, BC. I was pouring over the questions I’d written in advance, sweating, and chain smoking in a futile attempt to calm my nerves. But when I did finally connect with Mr. Nesbø the strangest thing happened; I forgot all about my pre-written questions, my nervousness faded into the empty space at the back of my mind, and my cigarette burned out without my noticing.

It was a singular experience for me, a guy who rarely gets star struck. I was all geared up to wow my favorite author with intellectual questions about art, and writing, and the deeper meanings buried within his novels, but when the time came to ask those questions I just shot from the hip. And we just talked. We talked about his characters, his writing process, his future plans, and the international success of his novels, but it wasn’t forced. We didn’t follow the typical interview protocol of posing a question, getting a response, and moving on to the next item on the agenda. It was a conversation between two people, one of whom happens to be an international and critically acclaimed writer.

When the conversation ended I quickly scrambled to my computer to plug in my digital recorder to review the interview, only to find that my batteries had died about 20 minutes into our conversation. I was crushed. Here I was, ready to transcribe every word and publish it for all to see, and now I had nothing to show. No proof that my dream-come-true had even occurred. So I present to you faithful reader, a very short version of a great conversation with Jo Nesbø.

CHRIS: Do you think there is any redemption for a Harry Hole, a man who is a career alcoholic and addict?

JO NESBØ: I think so. Harry is a haunted guy. Everything he does is for others. He spends a lot of his time trying to help other people because it is his way of repenting. He’s a police inspector because that’s something he excels at. Where he is more or less in control. Relationships are not the same for him, and he struggles with maintaining control. He has a fear that the people in his life will leave him, and I think that informs a lot of his choices.

CHRIS: In a recent NPR segment, you were interviewed while walking the streets of Oslo. Based on that interview it seems like Oslo is a little brighter than the version you write in your novels. Do you think the city is as dark as you present it, or is Harry just the type of character who requires a darker landscape?

NESBØ: The Oslo in the Harry Hole novels is a version that does and doesn’t exist. Oslo has good and bad areas, like lots of cities, but I sometimes focus on the darker aspects of Oslo. We have drugs and prostitution. You can still find working girls and junkies in Oslo, so it’s got its problems, but as a fiction writer you get to create things, so the Oslo in my books is an exploration of those darker things.

CHRIS: Olso is a city that has a bit of a sordid past in the world of music, specifically the Black Metal movement in the early 1990′s. Do you still see those extreme attitudes in present day Oslo?

NESBØ: Not really so much anymore. I think there are still those who believe in that sort of ideology, but it’s not expressed in extreme ways. For example, my band went to a recording studio to record our record and there were these black metal guys in the studio too, but they were very professional. We play a sort of pop-rock n roll and these guys look like the party guys, but it was us who ended up being the partiers! The metal guys were all very nice and respectful. Totally professional.

CHRIS: There is a rumor floating around that Martin Scorsese is going to be direction the film version of The Snowman. Is this true?

NESBØ: Well he was initially supposed to direct it, but he is so busy that he won’t be able to. He is very interested in the film. He is still going to be involved with it, but not as a director.

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So there you have it. A very short version of the epic conversation I had with Jo Nesbø. I would like to thank the good folks over at Random House for giving me this opportunity. If you haven’t read a Nesbø novel, come find me at BookPeople and I will make sure you leave with at least one (but probably more like 10).

Crime Fiction Friday: SILENT PARTNERS by Hilary Davidson

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Even though Hilary Davidson is one the sweetest people in crime fiction (find out for yourself at her event here Thursday, April 24th, at 6:30 PM), she writes some of the meanest hard boiled short stories out there. We have a sample today for Crime Fiction Friday that was originally published in Rose and Thorn.

 

Silent Partners by Hilary Davidson

“I hear you’re the best in New York,” said the blonde in the short red dress. “You’re younger than I thought from that picture in the paper. Cuter, too.”

Sam flushed as he stepped around his steel desk. There were two metal chairs in front of it, theoretically for clients, though most people were too ashamed to cross his threshold. The chairs were piled high with files and Sam tackled the shortest stack.

“You can guess why I need to talk to you,” the blonde said, sitting down.

Sam looked her over. She was showing a lot of skin, but he didn’t see any telltale red marks. “You think you got an infestation? Lotta people come to me thinking they got bedbugs, turns out it’s just carpet beetles.”

“No, no infestation. Not yet,” said the blonde.

“Nothing to be embarrassed about. Neighbor could pick ’em up, then they crawl on into your apartment. Little bastards are thin as a credit card.” Sam’s male clients cut to the chase, but women agonized about being unclean. Bedbugs were the new leprosy.

“How do I get bedbugs? Can I buy them?”…

Click here to read the entire story.

MysteryPeople Review: FEDERALES by Christopher Irvin


Federales by Christopher Irvin
Reviewed by Molly

Christopher Irvin’s Federales could not be timelier in its subject matter, especially for a book set in Texas. Irvin writes tough, hard prose with a mission – he sets out to bring awareness of the true story of cartel violence against a female mayor campaigning against drug violence, and he does exactly that. If you don’t get the message from the novel itself, the afterword certainly hammers it home; Irwin writes that he hopes his book “brings some attention to the never-ending struggle that is mostly out of sight, out of mind to us here in the United States.”

The plot follows a detective in Mexico City who, after having stayed under the radar of the cartels for most of his career, finds to his dismay that he has come to their attention and must flee the city. He finds new employment protecting a politician and her daughter from threats made by the cartels, and in so doing, finds companionship.

The threats surrounding the politician are very real. Two previous assassination attempts have already left her without a husband and with hideous scars, but she has much more to lose.

Irvin’s writing is tough, and his book is short, so you can expect every sentence to pack a punch. The violence is extreme, as befits a story of the cartels, and some parts of the tale read more like a horror story than a hard-boiled detective novel. Irvin is relentless in his harrowing vision of modern Mexican society and the effect of powerful cartels on ineffective bureaucracy. Read this book in bed with the lights on and you just might remember that Irvin’s vision of reality does not constitute the whole, but merely a very, very disturbing part.

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Federales is available on our shelves & online via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with J. A. Jance

~Q&A Conducted by Scott Butki

Let me start this with a confession: This is my first J.A. Jance book. I have seen her books at the library and at the bookstore and always made a mental note to read her books. I’ve finally gotten around to it. I read her latest, Moving Target, and the stride she’s hit after publishing forty-nine other titles over the last thirty years produced a really fun read.

So, when I was given a chance to interview her for MysteryPeople, I made sure to ask where readers should start when jumping into one of her four current mystery series.

All that aside, Moving Target is a great novel with some interesting twists and fascinating characters, and it didn’t seem to matter much that it was well into an established series. An added bonus: part of the book was set in Austin and the Austin area.

I would like to thank J. A. Jance for the chance to interview her, and School Librarian Mary Zell for help with the questions.

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this story develop?

JA JANCE: The story started with my husband sending me an article about the dark web — how to access it; what’s available on it.  That put me on the trail of Lance Tucker, a kid who develops GHOST (Go Hide On Server Technology) which is a program allowing users to access the dark web without leaving any cyber footprints.

MP: How would you summarize this book?

JAJ: From what I said above, it sounds like a techno-thriller, but it’s really a story about the people involved- some good and some very bad. Lance Tucker, the teenaged hacker who invented GHOST, is targeted by people who want to control his program.  He’s in a juvenile detention facility and facing a bleak future at the beginning of this book. It’s up to Ali Reynolds and her fiancé, B. Simpson, to keep him safe and get him on track to a better future.

MP: One part of the story is about a school district requiring students to wear GPS devices so they can be tracked, watched or helped. What do you think about such policies?

JAJ: Lance Tucker and I are on the same page on this one.  (Since I created Lance Tucker, that’s hardly a surprise!)  I personally feel that the kinds of programs that compel students to wear any kind of tracking device is an unfair invasion of their privacy.

MP: This is the first book of yours I’ve read and it’s several books into one of your series (the Ali Reynolds series). Where should readers new to you start? At the beginning of the series or can they just jump in anywhere?

JAJ: I always recommend readers start at the beginning, in this case with Edge of Evil.  In that one, Ali, a long time news anchor in LA, is booted off her news desk because she’s considered to be over-the-hill. When her marriage ends at the same time her career does, she goes home to Sedona as she looks for what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.  This is a book about losing your dream in middle age and going about finding another one.

MP: As an Austin resident of five years I got excited at the events based in and around Austin. Have you been here?

JAJ: Yes, I was there a year ago in November for the first F1 race on the Track of Americas.  Loved the race; loved Austin.  I was also there this past September on the book tour for Second Watch.

MP: How does your police-trained protagonist differ from many other protagonists in the mystery genre?

JAJ: I think my protagonists are people first and cops second.  They live complicated lives with family, friends, church and community commitments, and pets.  A lot of the other police procedural folks seem to be loners living lonely lives and living only to work.  I strive to have balance in my life, and I want my characters to have the same thing.

MP: What kind of research do you do for books like this?

JAJ: As much as necessary.

MP: This is your 50th book in 30 years. That’s an amazing output. That comes out to almost two books a year. How are you able to write so fast? Or is there another reason you’re able to put out so many books?

JAJ: I’ve always loved writing — it’s been my dream since second grade — and most of the time, since I’m living my dream, it doesn’t seem like work.  But I agree, 50 books in thirty years is pretty remarkable; especially for someone who wasn’t allowed in the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona in 1964 because I was a “girl!”

MP: Is Wikipedia accurate in saying you use your initials for your pen name because a publisher told you that disclosing your gender would be a liability for a book about a male detective?

JAJ: That is correct.  That’s what I was told by the marketing folks at Avon books in 1983.  Going by J.A. Jance rather than Judith Ann Jance has saved me a ton of time over the years.  J.A. Jance is much easier to autograph than Judith Ann Jance.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Hilary Davidson

Today is the release day of our April Pick Of The Month, Blood Always Tells  by Hilary Davidson.  It is an interesting take on family, shared history, and story telling itself. Hilary was kind enough to talk about the book with a for a few questions.

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: Which came first, the story or the way you decided to tell it?

HILARY DAVIDSON: The story came first, and it came about in a way that was very unusual for me. I was actually working on another book that featured Desmond Edgars in a relatively small but essential role. But he was such an intriguing, compelling character that he and his backstory started taking over that book. I realized I was more interested in Desmond and his world than the book I was writing, and I made the gut-wrenching decision to set aside the 40,000 words of it and work on Blood Always Tells instead.

The structure of Blood Always Tells evolved organically. Even though it was the character of Desmond that brought me to the book, I realized that it would never work if his sister, Dominique Monaghan, didn’t have as strong a voice as he did.

MP: What was the biggest difference between writing Blood Always Tells and the Lily Moore books?

HD: One major difference was that I went into this knowing so much more of the story than I ever did with any of the Lily Moore books. That was simply because substantial parts of it originated as Desmond’s backstory in that unfinished book I set aside. I can’t say that nothing changed — there were some major shifts from what I originally envisioned. But being more certain of the story I was telling meant that I felt freer to play with the narrative. I love writing from Lily’s point of view, but it means that there’s no way for scenes she’s not witnessing to make it into those books. Blood Always Tells is told in the close third person, so readers still get inside the characters’ heads, but because the perspective changes, it means the essential action is always onstage.

MP: Point of view is not only part of the structure, it also differentiates the characters by how they see the same thing or person differently. What did you want to explore with point of view?

HD: There were a couple of things. One is that I wanted each section of the book to be revealed through the eyes of the character who has the most to gain or lose. The stakes are incredibly high for each of the three characters who control the narrative. In some ways, they couldn’t be more different, and yet each character makes a major sacrifice at some point in the story.

I was also fascinated with questions of memory, and how what you hold in your mind shapes your identity. The characters in the book remember essential events and people in completely different ways. I dedicated the book to my grandmother for several reasons, one of them being that it was her death that made me think about how differently two people in the same family could interpret the same action so differently. My brothers and I all loved her, but we have such distinctly different memories of her. That led to conversations about other things from our childhood and how we remembered or interpreted things in completely opposite ways.

MP: The first part of this book has more of the noirish vibe of many of your short stories. What was it like sustaining a darker tone for a longer period of time?

I thought it would be hard to do that, so I was surprised by how much I liked it. In my short stories, the reader is often inside the head of a criminal, and when you first meet Dominique, you know she’s planning something bad for her boyfriend. But her motivations are complex, and the more time I spent with her, the more I understood her and sympathized. Plus, her plans are interrupted by people who’ve got far worse intentions. The scenes after she and her boyfriend are kidnapped were sometimes harrowing to write, and what got me through them was Dominique’s sense of humor. It’s ironic that Dominique’s section of the story is the most noirish and yet the funniest.

MP: Many of your characters in this book, the Lily Moore series, and your short work come from broken homes. What draws you to family dysfunction?

HD: I was lucky to grow up with supportive parents and a close family, but that’s not the case for many of my friends, and for other members of my own family. I’m not so much drawn to dysfunction as I am to resilience. What really drives me is, what keeps people going when they’ve gone through tragic circumstances? My grandmother lost one of her children when he was thirteen years old, and that was something that marked her for life. It didn’t make her any less of a fighter or a powerhouse character, but a loss like that casts a long shadow. I want to explore how people live under a shadow like that.

MP:  What’s in store for your readers next?

HD: I’m working on another standalone novel right now. If you like my dark side, you’ll be glad to know that goes into some very dark places. I’ve got several short stories coming out soon. There’s one in Ellery Queen called “My Sweet Angel of Death” about a serial killer at work in the Andes mountains. I’m also in a collection that David Cranmer is putting together in memory of his nephew, and in Trouble in the Heartland, an anthology edited by Joe Clifford featuring stories inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs. I never stray far from my dark roots.

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Blood Always Tells is available now on our shelves & online via bookpeople.com. Hilary Davidson will be in our store on Thursday, April 14 at 6:30pm in our third floor event space to speak about & sign copies of Blood Always Tells

Hard Word Book Club Goes to Norway with Jo Nesbo & THE REDBREAST

On April 30th, The Hard Word Book Club leaves our normal American environs for one of the foremost practitioners of Scandinavian Noir. Jo Nesbo has rocked crime fiction readers around the world with his Harry Hole series. We will be reading his first book ever published in the States, The Redbreast.

The Redbreast was the first book to have the hard drinking, depressive yet tenacious cop, Harry Hole, out in his own Oslo stomping ground. Due to his past indiscretions, he’s put on a “light” routine assignment of surveillance of a group of “skin-heads.” The assignment becomes tied to the murders of several WWII vets, leading Harry into a plot that involves his country’s dark past.

Our discussion will start at 7PM on Wednesday, April 3Oth on BookPeople’s third floor. The book is 10% off for those who participate. Our co-host, Chris Mattix, is a die hard Nesbo fan, so there will be much to discuss.

Crime Fiction Friday: ‘Devine, TX’ by George Masters

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Being from the Lone Star State, the title of this installment of Akashic’s Monday’s Are Murder series (crime fiction under 750 words, posted every Monday) got my attention. The author’s prose and dialogue style grabbed me soon after that. He’s currently shopping publishers his novel, Concerto For Harp. We wish him the best and a bright future. Her’es a taste of his work.

Devine, TX’ by George Masters

“By eleven in the morning the streets of Devine, Texas were as flat and as hot as the griddle the cook downstairs was doing bacon and eggs on.

Returning from the bathroom, Ellie got back into bed. She smelled of toothpaste, soap and cigarettes….”

Read the rest of the story.

SCENE OF THE CRIME: Brad Parks & Newark, New Jersey

newark postcard

As his new book,  The Player, demonstrates, Brad Parks weaves hard edged crime fiction and comedy together. His investigative reporter, Carter Ross, covers the mean streets of Newark, Jersey. We asked Brad a some questions about the town where he used to work as a reporter.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What is the best thing about writing about Newark, Jersey City?

BRAD PARKS: That it’s not some tranquil town in Vermont where, ten books into the series, people are going to say, “Really? Another murder? Seriously?” It’s a sad but true fact that Newark has one-third the population of Austin but drops nearly four times as many bodies a year. I would never make light of the horrible human cost of that–and I certainly don’t in the books. But, on the plus side, it means I’m never going to run out of plausible crime to write about.

MP: How does Newark inform Carter as a character?

BP: One of the ever-present tensions in the series is that Carter is this straight-laced, upper-middle-class white guy–raised in suburban comfort and privilege–who plunges into the roughest housing projects and worst tenements. But he does so while remaining completely true to himself. “You have to know what flavor of ice cream you are in this world,” Carter says in The Good Cop. “And I am vanilla.”

MP: What is the biggest misconception about the city?

BP: That crime is the only thing that happens there. I realize I run the danger of perpetuating that stereotype by setting a crime fiction series there. But any balanced presentation of Newark needs to report that yes, there is crime; and, yes, there are urban ills of all stripe; but there are also a lot of well-meaning people who are working hard to make Newark a better place. In every book, I’d like to think I present a healthy number of those people, too.

MP: Thanks to HBO and the news, we tend to associate the mob and corruption more with new Jersey than with New York now. What do Jersey gangsters have over New York gangsters?

BP: Fongool! Loro sono fottuto conigli! (Warning: do not run this through Google translator around your mother).

MP: What can you write about in crime fiction set in Newark, that you can’t anywhere else?

BP: The thing I love about New Jersey–and, by extension, Newark–is that it really loads a writer’s toolbox with possibility. New Jersey has every ethnic, religious and immigrant group out there. It is the second richest state in the country, by per capita income. It also has, in Newark and Camden, two of the poorest cities. Yet because it’s the most densely populated state, all those people–representing every color, creed and class–can’t help but bump into each other with a frequency and magnitude that they don’t in other places. Those intersections are where you find great stories.

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The Player is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

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