Frank Wheeler Jr. has just published his second novel, The Good Life, and boy, is it a doozy. Wheeler’s first book, The Wowzer, was well received as a debut novel upon its release in 2012. In The Good Life, Earl Haack Jr., raised by his policeman father to take a rather flexible approach to civil liberties, corruption, and brutality, works to take control of the drug trade in his hometown and carry on the family legacy. Haack is joined by his idiot brother and formidable ex-wife in his efforts to extend control over a huge and warring territory in what feels like equal parts Bad Lieutenant, The Godfather, and The Killer Inside Me.
The Good Life goes well alongside MysteryPeople’s September Pick of the Month, Benjamin Whitmer‘s new book Cry, Father - both star characters that go by Junior and have been virtually destroyed by the legacy of their fathers. While Whitmer’s tale focuses on the ways in which a father can try hard and still mess up, Wheeler’s novel takes a much more Machiavellian approach, showing the damage that can be done by a powerful and dangerous figure who deliberately sets out for his children to follow in his (bloody) footsteps.
Each part of Wheeler’s latest is both terrifying and tongue-in-cheek, starting with the title. “The Good Life” is the state motto of Nebraska, from whence the author hails and where the novel takes place. Another meaning for the title comes from Haack’s belief that he is creating a better world. By taking out the most violent drug traffickers and moderating the level of violence in the community through his own control of the drug trade, Earl Haack, Jr., thinks he can establish “the good life” for his hometown. Earl also understands that through his corrupt actions, he also gains for himself and his ex-wife “the good life” of a gangster, in stark contrast to any morally driven part of his character. The novel, like the title, draws attention to Earl’s hypocrisy throughout, and although the novel consists mainly of snappy dialogue and extreme violence, Wheeler takes just the right amount of time to meditate on the nature of morality.
Wheeler’s new novel is not only impeccably plotted but also perfectly choreographed, with stylish dialogue and hard, tight writing. Wheeler grounds the narrative well in his native Nebraska, but abstracts the struggles of his characters to represent much of the struggle of modern America as a whole. The Good Life reads like rural noir, but feels like a gangster flick. The entire novel is cinematic in its scope, and if Quentin Tarantino teamed up with Francis Ford Coppola to make a movie about small-town corrupt cops in Nebraska starring Mathew McConaughey and Salma Hayek, it might look something like this book. Hint, hint, Hollywood.
Copies of The Good Life are available via bookpeople.com and are coming soon to our shelves.
Review by Scott
Writer-director Samuel Fuller was a filmmaker from the fifties and sixties whose work still seems fresh, modern, and bold. His grab-you-by-the-throat intensity of style influenced the likes of Goddard, Scorsese, and Tarantino. What some may not know is that he wrote novels from the 1930s up until the the time of his death in 1997. Hard Case Crime gives us a look into this side of his talent by bringing us Brainquake, a Fuller novel that has just been published in the US and in English for the first time.
Fuller’s belief, “If the first scene doesn’t give you a hard-on then throw the goddamn thing away,” is applied to the first line of the novel: “Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park.” The murdered father is a mobster. Before the baby and mother are killed, Paul Pope, underworld bagman, saves them. Paul suffers from mental seizures which he refers to as “brainquakes,” where his mind spins into pink tinted images accompanied by piercing flute music. It is easy to picture Fuller’s avant garde camera cut loose during these passages. Paul falls for the mob widow, who he refers to as “ivory face”, setting up a series of events that ripple through the New York crime syndicate that employs him. The mob puts Father Flannigan, a contract killer who dresses like a priest and crucifies his targets, on to Paul as Flannigan’s next target.
Brainquake has the feel of a Sam Fuller film. The detailed life of a bagman is reminiscent of the attention brought to the lifestyle of the pickpocket Richard Widmark played in Pick Up On South Street. It portrays New York City with gritty realism mixed with pulp stylization. The dialogue blasts out like gunshots and his tabloid inspired prose has the punchy feel of his editing. The emotions are raw and heightened. Everything is heightened, yet retains the truth in its main characters.
Brainquake is full on Fuller. Those who have seen his interviews can hear his boisterous cigar stained voice in the writing. It is uncompromising, wild, tough, and goes right at you, giving a fresh perspective on a great, often under appreciated artist, while delivering a slam-bang read.
Copies of Brainquake are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Guest Post by Kira Peikoff
In my new book No Time to Die, Zoe Kincaid, a 20-year-old college dropout, has long endured a mystifying ailment that has stunted her development. The truth will shock her: she’s biologically stopped aging, and her DNA may hold the key to unlocking a secret sought since the dawn of time: why do we age and die? But with some powerful people willing to kill, soon Zoe finds herself at the center of a dangerous manhunt with epic consequences.
I created the character of Zoe after learning about the real-life case of Brooke Greenberg, an adolescent girl who had inexplicably stopped aging as a toddler. Today, six other similar girls have been identified, and they are all participating in a cutting-edge research study that aims to examine their DNA for shared mutations. The hope is that scientists will discover a gene (or group of genes) at the root of the aging process, which could then be turned on or off. Imagine being able to stop aging whenever you wanted; would you do it? I think I know your answer, but think again. What would it really be like to be forever young? Read No Time to Die to find out…
Copies of No Time to Die are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
This Wednesday, August 20, MysteryPeople is proud to present the latest and last installment of our summer Noir Double Feature series. For those of you new to the series, each event is a two-parter: we screen a film based on a book available on our shelves and then discuss the book and movie together. For our last screening, we present to you Winter’s Bone, director Debra Granik‘s 2010 adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.
Winter’s Bone, both as a film and as a novel, presents an icy, poetic portrait of Ozark strength and suffering. The film and novel have much the same plot. The story begins as Ree Dolly, teenage caretaker for her younger brothers and mentally ill mother, finds out that her meth cooker father has put their house up as collateral to make bail. When he fails to appear for a court date, Ree must go on a quest to find him – a quest that proves more dangerous than she could have imagined, as she works her way through relatives and members of the community in an increasingly desperate quest.
Daniel Woodrell lived the world he portrayed, and he understands that teens like Ree Dolly have few options. Ree plans to join the military, something Daniel Woodrell himself did at the age of 17. If she loses her property, she can foist her younger brothers and her mentally ill mother off on relatives. However, she knows that by doing so, she will condemn her brothers to a life of criminality and most likely prison, and she doesn’t trust others to take in her mother long-term. Knowing that she must ensure her family’s safety before she herself can leave means that she will risk any danger to ensure their future well being, and her future escape.
Winter’s Bone portrays a world where men are either obstacles or absent, and women are the forces that preserve their near-destroyed community. As Ree goes from relative to relative looking for her father, she must approach any man through their woman, and it is the women of the community that decide what information to pass on and what to hold back.
Winter’s Bone contains a beautiful reversal of noir tropes – instead of an irresponsible, violent man who has created many of his own difficulties, Woodrell has written a strong young woman who tackles challenges head-on, no matter how insurmountable her difficulties may seem. Winter’s Bone passes the Bechdel test in spades. Ree exist within a fully realized female world where topics of conversation run the gamut. She also has strong bonds of friendship that give her the courage to continue dealing with her extraordinarily difficult life.
Winter’s Bone takes place in a community where predefined roles govern each life from cradle to grave. There are no options other than to mimic the lives of those who have come before, and standing in the community is determined solely by how well you fulfill those roles. Happiness, therefore, can come only through succeeding in your role or in leaving the community entirely.
Winter’s Bone has found universal acclaim both as a novel and a film, and although the film is mostly faithful to the novel, the two compliment each other rather than acting as redundant. Winter’s Bone as a book comes in a long line of critically lauded works by Woodrell. The film catapulted Jennifer Lawrence to fame with her powerful performance, as well as bringing director Debra Granik to prominence. The film does not use sets, but uses actual Ozark houses, and this is just one part of the authenticity of Woodrell’s story and Granik’s production.
Come to BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, August 20, for a near-perfect movie and a perfect novel. Our screening starts at 6, and discussion of the book and film will follow the screening. As always, our events are free and open to the public. Copies of Winter’s Bone can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Double Feature Stats
Adherence to book:
4.5 [out of 1-5]
Ride with the Devil, In Country, Cold Mountain, Harlan County, USA
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.
“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…”
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.
We’re kicking off our Murder In The Afternoon book club with a store favorite. Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish is edging up on its tenth anniversary. It is the first of the Walt Longmire series that inspired the A&E television show Longmire, and will be the first of our book club.
In The Cold Dish, we’re introduced to the Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire and his colorful deputies when a murder case divides his Absaroka County. A couple years back a group of boys raped a girl from the nearby Cheyenne reservation and only received a slap on the wrist for their horrendous crime. Now, someone is picking them off one by one, leaving an Indian feather on each body. Even though the subject matter is serious, Johnson’s characters are often hilarious, giving comic relief and human warmth. The book served as a template for an episode of Longmire, but with a much different ending.
We’re happy to announced Craig Johnson will be joining us via conference call. We will be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor at 2PM, on Tuesday, the 19th. Copies of The Cold Dish are 10% off for those attending.
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 book club, meeting on third Tuesday each month at 2PM on BookPeople’s third floor. 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!
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
“Death Breath’s boot crashed on Owen’s head. It cut him hardway…”
This Wednesday, August 6th, at 6 pm, MysteryPeople will host a screening of Carl Franklin’s 1992 noir classic Devil in a Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s book of the same name. The screening is part of our ongoing Noir Double Feature Film Series, a biweekly MysteryPeople event where we screen a film adaption of a noir classic and follow with a discussion of the film versus the novel. Each screening begins at 6 pm and takes place on BookPeople’s third floor.
Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosely’s first novel to star unlicensed private detective Easy Rawlins, follows Easy as he first enters into the finding-things-out-for-money game. A sinister white gangster hires Rawlins to find a blonde bombshell who likes to frequent black clubs, but when Easy gets a little ways into the case, people around him start showing up dead, and it is up to him to find out whodunit before the law decides to go the lazy route and just frame him instead. Easy Rawlins, as a proud veteran of World War II and the mean streets of Houston’s fifth ward, is up to the task. By the end of the book, he may just have found himself a new career and a permanent outlet for snappy one liners.
Mosley’s novel takes place in 1940s LA, like many a neo-noir, and the book is so cinematically written as to form a perfect bond with Franklin’s jazzy interpretation. With a 20 million dollar budget, Franklin creates a vibrant depiction of African-American neighborhoods in mid-century Los Angeles. This, combined with a tight narrative and stunning early performances from Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle, make this a film not to miss.
As a film, Devil in a Blue Dress shares most symmetry with Chinatown – they both take a modern perspective and delve deeply into LA’s sordid history, and the city plays as large a part as any single character. Walter Mosley and Carl Franklin use the groundwork already laid for LA noir, and Devil in a Blue Dress adds a welcome layer to the cosmopolitan patchwork that is representations of Los Angeles in literature and film.
Devil in a Blue Dress is firmly grounded in the hard-boiled detective novel conventions. Corruption, murder, greed, deviance, prostitution, small-time gangsters – Easy Rawlins does not find post-war LA to be a particularly wholesome world. Easy also has all the particular problems of dealing with racism as an African-American in 1948, including police violence, potential lynching every time he talks to a white woman, and a constant stream of indignities and casual racism from almost every white man he meets. Although Rawlins is well established as a hard-working homeowner in a community in which he is known and respected, the admiration of his peers and the constant booze and sex cannot obscure his place at the bottom of society’s totem pole. The film was made shortly after Compton exploded in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating, and the film struck a particularly heart-wrenching cord upon its release through its portrayal of issues from an earlier time that to this day pervade society.
Detective novels have long been dominated by voices writing from within mainly white communities, where the majority of minority visitors are represented as the other. Devil in a Blue Dress provides welcome relief from such literary tunnel vision – any white visitor to Mosley’s spot-on recreation of 1940s black LA is immediately viewed as a potentially dangerous anomaly. Mosley is, however, certainly not the first detective novelist to represent the African-American experience, and noir set in black communities has a long history stretching back to Chester Himes in the 1950s. Carl Franklin had Denzel Washington read some of Himes’ novels, including Cotton Comes to Harlem, so as to give him a sense of the time and place the film aimed to recreate.
Mosley is one of the most intriguing authors writing now in any mystery subgenre. His detective novels, like his sci-fi and general fiction, have all enjoyed wide renown and crossover appeal. Luckily for us, he is also one of the most prolific authors writing now, and you can find his work all over our shelves. Mosley himself will be coming to BookPeople this fall on Wednesday, October 22nd at 7PM, so keep an eye out on our events calendar.
MysteryPeople is proud to offer a screening of Devil in a Blue Dress, Wednesday, August 6, at 6 pm, up on BookPeople’s third floor. You can find Devil in a Blue Dress on our shelves and at bookpeople.com. Our next MysteryPeople Noir Double Feature will be Wednesday, August 20. We will screen Winter’s Bone and discuss Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.
Double Feature Stats
Adherence to Book [scale of 1-5]: 4
Chinatown, LA Confidential, Long Goodbye, In the Heat of the Night, Boyz N The Hood