~post by Molly
International Crime Fiction Month has finally reached its conclusion. We profiled Europa Editions, Akashic Books, and Melville House, each for their exceptional commitment to bringing us the best in international crime fiction. Now it is time to add one more to that list. Grove Atlantic, with their Mysterious Press and Atlantic Monthly Press imprints, publish a sizable chunk of the international mystery authors on our shelves. These two imprints mainly bring us crime fiction from the UK, but they also put in print many of our favorite crime writers in translation. Prominent authors include Ken Bruen, Val McDermid and Mo Hayder, as well as South Africa’s “king of crime fiction” Deon Meyer. When asked about the commonalities between their authors, a spokeswoman replied that “the main thing we look for in international crime fiction, as in all our books, is simply good writing.”
Through their use of the Mysterious Press imprint, they bring attention to crime fiction publishing history as well. The legendary Otto Penzler founded the Mysterious Press in 1975 with the mission of releasing quality editions of quality mysteries. He used acid-free paper, full-cloth bindings, and artist-designed color dust jackets, all uncommon in the publication of genre fiction at that time. All these visual innovations helped to elevate detective fiction out of the realm of pulp and into the world of modern classics. When Grove Atlantic acquired the imprint, they expanded its offerings of international crime fiction while continuing to publish the best in American noir.
Our featured authors from Grove Atlantic include Christopher Brookmyre of Scotland and Mark Billingham of the UK. Brookmyre writes intriguing exposés of establishment corruption and violence through the eyes of an investigative journalist. Like many international crime authors, he uses his medium as a form of radical reportage. His latest, Bred in the Bone, serves as a reminder of Glasgow’s vicious underworld. His latest also features the attention to place and detail that is a hallmark of great international noir. In Mark Billingham’s new novel, The Bones Beneath, a detective and a notorious serial killer set off on a journey to a remote island to recover a long-dead body. The Bones Beneath places the rugged coastal geography of Wales in a starring role.
So (belatedly) ends the International Crime Fiction Month with MysteryPeople. Thanks for joining our reading world tour, and be sure to stop in and swap recommendations with us the next time you’re in the store!
This Wednesday, July 9 at 6PM we will be screening the film Purple Noon as part of our biweekly noir double feature series. Each event features a screening of a noir film based on a classic of the genre.
Purple Noon is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 classic chiller and best-known work, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Purple Noon was made in 1960 and directed by Rene Clemont. Patricia Highsmith collaborated with French screenwriters to bring the book to the screen. Together, they created a vision of The Talented Mr. Ripley that drastically
departs from the book in its details yet preserves much of its tone.
Patricia Highsmith rose to prominence in 1950s America as the master of psychological drama. She captured the fears, obsessions, and compulsions of a hypocritical post-war society in her work. The inner lives of her protagonists are drastically at odds with their surface personalities. At any moment in her work, a terrible thought can turn
into an irreversible action. Her killers are complex and her victims are far from innocent. This is never truer than in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
As the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley begins, Tom Ripley is a small time crook mooching off his blue-blooded New England friends. When an acquaintance’s father approaches him with a strange proposition – go to Europe and convince his son Richard to come home – Ripley jumps at the thought of an all-expense paid vacation. Ripley joins Richard and his girlfriend, Marge, in Southern Italy. Soon, however, his friendship with the couple soon sours, and is replaced by jealousy and dark ambitions.
Purple Noon begins with Tom and Phillipe [Richard in the novel] already fast friends. The two engage in an ugly night about town, pulling cruel pranks for their own amusement, before heading back home to a distraught Marge, who immediately accuses Phillipe of cheating on her.
The film and the novel differ greatly in their characterizations of Richard and Tom. The film portrays Tom as a full-blown con man from the start, and Phillipe as menacing and manipulative. The novel, written from Tom’s point of view, delves continuously into his
justifications for his actions. The novel portrays Richard as more entitled and unconcerned than mean.
Marge, too, has a very different role on-screen than in the novel. Film Marge is sultry, erotic, an object of desire for both Tom and Phillipe. Tom, in the novel, finds Marge to be repellent, obnoxious, and representative of everything he hates about America. In the film, Marge’s relationship with Phillipe is defined as emotionally abusive, while in the novel the two treat each other with semi-platonic tenderness and she is Richard’s best friend.
Aside from characterization, the film only loosely bases its structure on that of the novel. Major plot points are preserved, but with infinite small variations. Purple Noon does, however, successfully integrate The Talented Mr. Ripley’s menacing tone and hovering potential violence. The film preserves the playfulness and desperation of Highsmith’s narrative, but presents a drama in which the characters are cynical, hardened versions of their book selves.
Both the book and film are ripe for analysis. I like to read The Talented Mr. Ripley as a metaphor for the plasticity of identity in a world where appearances mean everything. In such a world, to deceive is to achieve success.
The story can also be read as an exploration into the ways in which repressive societies can twist desire into unhealthy obsessions. In the novel, Tom refuses to acknowledge his attraction to Richard, but remains fixated on the object of his affections, with dire
Yet another way to read the novel, and the film, is as parody of the American dream. Ripley is a con man and an identity thief, obsessed with the luxurious possessions of those wealthier than him. He gains status through impersonating those with higher status, and he feels that he has earned this status through hard work.
However you interpret Highsmith’s writing and the films based on her novels, her themes are as fresh and intriguing now as they were fifty years ago. Come join us Wednesday, July 9 at 6PM for the screening and discussion of Purple Noon and The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s sure to be a great evening out of the summer heat.
Double Feature Stats
Adherence to book (Scale of 1-5) – 2
Adherence to quality of book - 5
Knife in the Water, The Third Man, Coup de Torchon
MysteryPeople’s 3 Picks for July
The three picks for July are all the fourth book in a series which you should know about. Each author has written their books in a way that anyone can dive in without reading the previous titles. With that said, chances are you’ll be going back for the other three.
Herbie’s Game by Timothy Hallinan
(on our shelves 7/15!)
Burglar and ad-hoc private eye for criminals, Junior Bender is back. This time the case involves a missing list of criminals used to set up hits. When his mentor in crime, Herbie Mott, ends up dead, he’s out for vengeance, learning the secrets his old friend kept. Hallinan’s Junior Bender series is a perfect balance of hard boiled crime fiction
and laugh out loud humor.
Vengeance Is Mine by Reavis Wortham
The Lawmen of Central Springs, Texas get more than they bargained for when a hitman on the run from the Vegas mob settles in their town. This book weaves character, humor, and coming of age tale into an engrossing thriller with some kick ass shoot outs. Meet Reavis wortham at August 6th with Tim Bryant and Ben Rehder for our Texas Mystery Night.
The Competition by Marcia Clark
(on our shelves 7/8!)
Special Prosecutor Rachel Knight looks into a tragic school shooting in the San Fernando Valley. As she looks closer, she learns the assumed perpetrators could in fact be the victims. Clark gives us a complex hero in Rachel Knight in a series that engages like no other.
MysteryPeople Pick of the Month:A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride
Matthew McBride caught the attention of crime fiction readers and writers alike with his debut novel, Frank Sinatra In A Blender. It introduced a new and exciting voice with a wild, almost satirical hard boiled novel. With his follow up, A Swollen Red Sun, McBride tones down the satire, but is no less wild.
The action takes place in Gasconade, a meth lab of a county in eastern Missouri. Dale Banks, a decent sheriff’s deputy, has a moment of weakness when he takes $52,000 from the trailer of local dealer Jerry Dean Skaggs. Most of the cash was supposed to go to Jerry’s partners and a crooked lawman to keep up the operation of his boss, the drug kingpin preacher Reverend Butch Pogue. The theft sends these characters and the county into a violent spiral.
This book is relentless. With no chapter breaks, Mcbride jumps from character to character. He has honed his prose style to where every word has punch and velocity. While travelling down some of the territory of fellow Missourian Daniel Woodrell, he goes for a more terse, visceral feel. Less interested in contemplation, he wants you in the moment, no matter how dark or violent.
The book becomes a study of corruption in its personal, institutional, and spiritual forms. With Banks we see a man who must face the consequences of his moral slip. Reverend Pogue shows how justification perverts religion to the point where its spirituality is scorched. Overall, the novel has the feel of Dashielle Hammett’s Red Harvest, showing how a corrupt society eventually destroys itself.
A Swollen Red Sun is a huge leap for Matthew McBride. It expands on his promise, demonstrating more depth as it moves from the intimate to the big picture with the skill of those who have a dozen books behind them. It looks like we’ve only scratched the surface of his talent.
Copies of A Swollen Red Sun are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.
We can’t wait to have our friend Jonathan Woods back at our Noir At The Bar On July 7th, reading from his latest collection of short stories A Phone Call From Hell. His gonzo noir tales of crime, murder, and kinky sex remind us how part of genre writing’s joy is subverting convention. Here he does it in a tale originally published in Akashic’s Monday’s Are Murder feature.
“Jiao Lee, the first female owner of Golden BBQ, stood in the restaurant’s doorway. She watched the morning traffic on Hollywood Road in the heart of Hong Kong Central. Massive apartment blocks rose up the slope of Victoria Peak like giant Lego sculptures. Rain clouds of a winter cold front roiled above.
Mostly antique shops and galleries inhabited Hollywood Road, with an occasional sly, upscale restaurant or bar here and there. As the landlords hiked the rents, the galleries were moving away. Life was ever changeable, thought Jiao.
Golden BBQ had been at its location for five generations, offering succulent, mouth-watering barbecue to its clientele. In the window, a suckling pig, a dozen pressed ducks and a brace of geese—favored for their fatty flesh—hung from metal hooks…”
On Wednesday, June 25th, at 6PM, we’ll be kicking off our Double Feature screenings. Each Double Feature will include a noir film based on a book, with discussion afterward. We’re starting with the classic early noir, Double Indemnity.
James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity is practically a blue print for noir in any medium. The story about insurance man Walter Huff and Phyllis Nirdlinger’s scheme of killing her husband for his policy money, barely over a hundred pages, provides a bare basics of the boy-meets-girl, boy-commits-murder-with-girl, (spoiler alert) boy-ends-up-dead-or-in-prison-because-of-girl tale that many writers and filmmakers have put their own spin on. One of the first was screen writer/director Billy Wilder in his 1944 adaptation.
Cain, a former newspaperman, had a clean writing style that stripped a story to its marrow. Indemnity was written as a follow up to his
successful novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. While both of those books share many similarities, Double Indemnity‘s propulsive quality and less-than-humane humanity, bring out a sharper, cynical edge.
And who could have been drawn to a cynical story more than Billy Wilder. He got hard boiled master Raymond Chandler to work on the
script with him. Chandler didn’t much like the book, finding it a sleazy story about amoral people. It appears he found an anchor in making
Neff’s friend and the insurance companies investigator, Keyes, into the conscience of the story. Keyes observations about life and murder
could easily be quoted by Chandler’s private eye, Phillip Marlowe.
There are several other major differences between film and novel, beside changing Keyes’ role and changing Walter and Phyllis’s last names to
Neff and Dietriechson. One is the relationship between Walter and Phyllis. With the novel, it deteriorates right after the murder with Phyllis kicking him of the car. Wilder’s direction and Fred MacMurray’s performance suggest Neff as something of a dupe, lured into the scheme of a femme fatale. The book had revealed early on that he was thinking about doing something like this for some time. Cain appears to have them drawn together more by mutual sin than passion, with little left after the murder is done.
The film follows close to the plot, until the third act. It may come as a shock to the reader more familiar with the movie. Wilder kept the corruption personal, between Walter and Phyllis. Cain, the cynical reporter, had all of society in on the scam in a way that Hollywood wouldn’t have been ready to express.
That said, Cain seemed very pleased with the adaptation, saying ” …It’s the only picture I ever saw made from my books that had things in
it I wish I had thought of. Wilder’s ending was much better than my ending, and his device for letting the guy tell the story by taking out the office dictating machine – I would have done it if I had thought of it.”
Both book and film set the template for the look and attitude of noir. They both present a quality both stripped down and stylized that
contributes to the genre’s malleability. It’s about that short cut to the American dream, that questions the trip and maybe the dream
Double Feature Stats
Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5) - 4
Adherence To Quality Of Book - 5
Fun Fact- The supermarket scenes where Walter and Phyllis meet after the
murder had armed guards on the set. It was filmed during World War Two
and due to rationing, the market was afraid the cast and crew would steal
Other Films- The Prowler, Gun Crazy, Body Heat, and The Last Seduction
Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner
~reviewed by Molly
Meg Gardiner has been known for some time for her strong female protagonists and tense, electrifying plots. She won the Edgar Award in 2009 for her novel China Lake and has continued to produce new, award-winning material almost as fast as her growing fan base can read them (almost). Although Gardiner writes from England, her latest thriller, like many of her others, is set in LA and the surrounding desert. Phantom Instinct slowly ratchets up the suspense, as a young ex-thief and a brain-damaged policeman play cat-and-mouse with a psychopath. Their task is complicated by the system’s refusal to believe such a killer exists. Throughout, Gardiner mixes good, old-fashioned criminality with a fair share of techno-crime, lending freshness and modernity to the thriller genre while still creating compelling human stories.
As Phantom Instinct opens, Harper Flynn, Meg Gardiner’s latest heroine mourns her boyfriend, shot dead in a nightclub attack. On the anniversary of his death, she notices herself being followed by a mysterious figure. She immediately suspects him of being a third gunman from the nightclub; never apprehended at the scene and believed by the FBI to never have existed at all.
Harper has only one ally on the side of the law. Detective Aiden Garrison believes her to be telling the truth. Unfortunately for Harper, Aiden suffers from a traumatic brain injury sustained during the nightclub fire. He now sees false enemies everywhere, obscuring his ability to spot a real threat and occasionally turning him into one.
Harper and Aiden must work together to protect Harper from her unknown stalker and convince the law that anyone is endangering her at all. In the meantime, past revelations about Harper and her relationship with the criminal underworld place her increasingly in danger and her story increasingly in doubt.
In her characterization of Harper and Aiden, Gardiner has created realistic depictions of flawed and vulnerable individuals. In their struggle to resolve enduring questions from the nightclub fire that killed Harper’s boyfriend, they also must resolve their own issues and find new compromise with old and painful memories. Their external struggle mirrors the internal as the two descend further into Harper’s past in order to protect her right to a future. Gardiner makes good use of her native Southern California city glitz and desert starkness to echo Harper and Aiden’s journey. Momentum builds as someone Harper cares for dearly is endangered, and the plot rushes forward at breakneck pace towards Phantom Instinct’s strong and satisfying conclusion.
Meg Gardiner will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, June 28th at 4PM! You can pre-order signed copies of Phantom Instinct now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.