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Crime Fiction Friday: JUNKYARD DOG by Thomas Pluck

crime scene
Seems like dogs are marking their territory (so to speak) on crime fiction as of late. With the popularity of the Chet and Bernie series and Dennis Lehane’s short story Animal Control being turned into the film, The Drop. A few years back Thomas Pluck wrote this pitch black hard boiled for Plots With Guns about the love between a tough guy and his dog. Not for the squeamish.

“Junkyard Dog” by Thomas Pluck

 

“I like hard work. It keeps my mind right. A cool day’s best for it.

It’s cool this morning and still dark when I park by Earl’s house. He’s got a place on Frelinghuysen. He’s not on the porch like he usually is, waiting to waddle to my truck in his overalls, with a list of jobs on a scrap of yellow paper. Not today.

I eyeball up and down the street. It’s quiet, barely dawn. I like this hour, have since I was a boy. Feels like it’s just me in the world, and nothing hurts. I climb out, and a lady hurries into her car, fear in her eyes.

I don’t blame her none. I know how I look. Six and a half. Three fifty. And I got a dent in the side of my head like a bruised apple. But I never hurt no woman.

I walk up Earl’s driveway slow. Maybe he’ll come out, tell her I’m good. I slap his front door, her car squeals off. It needs a fan belt. I could fix it. She won’t let me.

‘That you, Denny?’

‘Yeah.’ I put my face by the little hole he looks through.

His locks open, sound like a good break in pool.

Earl’s a head shorter than me. Big belly fills his overalls. Horseshoe of gray hair on his shiny brown head, and a beard to match. I shave everything clean; probation officer said it made me less scary. I been with Earl six months now, moving junk and scrap. Officer Fiore was right…”

 

Click here to read the full story.

HARD WORD BOOK CLUB discusses JADE LADY BURNING

On September 24th, the Hard Word Book Club goes overseas and back in time with Martin Limón as he helps us discuss his novel Jade Lady Burning. The book is the first in the series featuring George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, two CID Army cops stationed in Korea during the Seventies. In Jade Lady Burning they are assigned the case of a murdered Korean girl  with a G.I. as their prime suspect. They soon discover the soldier isn’t as guilty as he looks and both the US and Korean governments want the murder swept under the rug.

Not only does the book introduce us to Sueño and Bascom, but everything that makes this series great. Limón was stationed in South Korea and always gives an authentic look at Army life overseas. His love of the country’s culture comes though as it clashes with Americans dealing with it. He uses the setting and cases to show how justice gets lost in bureaucracy and politics.

Martin Limón will be joining us, via conference call for our discussion of Jade Lady Burning. The discussion will start at 7PM, Wednesday , September 24th. Copies of Jade Lady Burning are 10% off to those who will attend.

MysteryPeople Q&A: Mark Pryor

buttonman
We’re always thrilled to have Mark Pryor back a new Hugo Marston book. This Saturday at 3PM, he’ll be signing and discussing The Button Man, taking us to London and Hugo’s past, looking at his early days with an early assignment as head of embassy security and how he met his ally, Meryln. Molly asked Mark some questions about the book beforehand.


Molly: You have chosen to represent a version of England experiencing the hangover of a more judgmental and restrictive era. Did you set out to show the link between conservative social politics and vigilantism? Do you feel that British conservative politics are on the upswing?

Mark Pryor: Let me start by saying, or emphasizing, that issues like politics, religion, and Beatles v. Rolling Stones should never be (in my humble opinion) front and center in crime fiction. The soapbox I possess is very small and is never produced when I’m writing. These issues reverberate in the back of my mind, as they do with us all, and so creep into themes and sub-plots. They are capillaries not aortas, country roads, not freeways.

That all said and understood, and in the context of The Button Man, I think that inevitably there is a strong link between vigilantism and a perceived better time, between the vigilante and a combined sense of impotence and nostalgia. A lot of my stories begin for the characters way before Chapter One, with a dose of personal history that surfaces and propels them into action. So it was here – a character feels powerfully that injustices would be lessened if the past could be resurrected. And since society as a whole won’t do it, the character will.

And you’re right, there is a parallel here between the story and the way I see things. To be fair, I’ve not been to England that much since I left but I do follow the news closely. And times have been hard for a lot of people, which makes them long for better days. They can’t see what’s coming up in the future so they look back. One area where this is true is immigration – if you think feelings are running high here, have a look across the pond. At least here there seems to be an acknowledgment a fix is needed, some sort of accommodation. But in Europe, not just in England, a lot of people are harking back to yesteryear, wanting to blame their travails on the open borders and wrap themselves in the comforts of the past.

Molly: You grew up in England, now living in Austin, and your character is a Texan living in England and then France. Why did you decide to write the character that way?

Mark: Originally, it was to honor my new home. I love Austin, I love Texas, and so I started there with Hugo. As must be obvious, I also love Europe and there’s no better start to a story than to drop someone where he doesn’t belong. Of course, Hugo adapts and loves being in Paris, and London, but a Texan strolling the boulevards of the City of Lights in his cowboy boots, well, I guess that was an image I couldn’t resist.

I had an interesting discussion with some people about Hugo recently. An older gentleman said that Hugo was the very image of an American. That took me (and a couple of other people) aback because I think people’s image of the average American may be a little less flattering. But he explained that he was thinking of Hugo’s Texas as the wild west, and Hugo himself as a cowboy figure. I didn’t have a cowboy in mind when I created him but it struck me that the gentleman was absolutely right – he’s the cowboy sipping his whiskey in the saloon, watching, staying out of trouble but able to handle himself when need be. I love that image of Hugo now, a modern cowboy.

Molly: The Button Man is a rather kinky novel at times. What made you want to explore the BDSM scene and its dynamics in a murder mystery?

Mark: Just so we don’t scare people off, I’ll point out that any kinky happenings take place off the page! But yes, I did want to use something a little different to spice things up, and I have several reasons. First, I wanted to challenge Hugo. I always tell people that he’s the most open-minded and live-and-let-live person, he doesn’t judge at all. He’s also very phlegmatic in his daily life. My fault, of course, I made him that way. But I wanted to press him a little, take something that’s totally foreign to him and see how he’d deal with it, what assumptions he’d make. I could have done it with a grisly murder or some other more criminal way, but this just struck me as more fun. And yes, after his initial surprise, he does manage to have some fun with it.

I also liked the idea of inserting something into the novel that ran strongly counter to the stuffy image a lot of people have of the English. It’s a broader point, I think, because it’s so true that you never really know what your friends and neighbors might be getting up to. And isn’t that sort of a fun idea? I personally love that about life, the knowledge that my neighbor might secretly be hoarding priceless stamps, that the English teacher across the street has fantasies about becoming a cat burglar, or that the old lady I walk across the road used to be a dominatrix.

Molly: Merlyn is such a fascinating character. What was the inspiration for her?

Mark: Thank you. As with most of my characters, she’s an amalgam of people I’ve known. And, I guess, people I’d like to know. I think I like Merlyn a lot because she really exemplifies two extremes – a great confidence and strength, but also a great delicacy of feeling. She’s also the only one to tell Hugo what’s really going on, she’s the one able to reach across from the kinky world he finds himself in, to explain it and try to make sense of it to him. The thing is, to do that she has to reveal secrets about herself, ones that most people would be embarrassed to share but she doesn’t feel any of that. She is the person that she is, exploring her inner desires with curiosity and honesty, not shame. Wouldn’t we all like to be a little more like that?

Molly: Your previous novels in the series have taken place in France, and The Button Man, as a prequel, takes place in England. What did you find most enjoyable about the change of scene? Do you have plans for Hugo Marston to travel elsewhere on the continent?

Mark: Like most people, I have great nostalgia for the place I grew up. I wanted to share that with my wife and kids, and then I wanted to share it with Hugo and my readers. So it made perfect sense to feature the village of Weston (where I grew up) and have something grisly happen in the churchyard there. People keep telling Hugo about the legend of Jack O’ Legs, too, from the village and I’ve always thought it a cool story, one worth sharing.

One of the traits Hugo and I share is a love of travel, seeing new places. And basing my books in Europe seems like too good of an opportunity to waste, for both of us. So yes, in the next book Hugo (and Tom) will have to go to Barcelona. The daughter of a young friend is missing and they trace her to Spain… I think after that I’ll return to Paris for book six. Maybe Bordeaux will feature, I don’t know yet. But definitely back to France. After that? Well, he and I will have to wait and see.


Mark Pryor will speak and sign The Button Man this Saturday, September 13, at 3pm. Copies of The Button Man are available on our shelves and bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: NINE DAYS, by Minerva Koenig

nine daysMinerva Koenig has just published her debut novel, Nine Days, and will be speaking and signing her book on Friday, September 12, at 7pm, on BookPeople’s second floor. Minerva Koenig, when not writing mysteries, works as a licensed architect in Austin, and spends her days engaging in numerous activities, including wrangling cats and fighting the patriarchy.


 

Nine Days announces a great new voice in Minerva Koenig. The story sweeps in like a southwest breeze, dry in wit and hot in attitude. It is a book that embraces its characters, warts and all. It even goes so far as to practically celebrate their warts.

The lead heroine, Julia Kalas, is particularly unique. Short, round, and pushing forty, Julia used her California building renovation business as a cover for her husband’s gunrunning trade for decades. After the Aryan Brotherhood assassinates her husband, she finds herself in Witness Protection in a small Texas town, in a nice twist on the typical California-to-Texas move, stuck with a tough female marshal she refers to as “The Amazon” looking over her shoulder.

Julia finds work at a local bar owned by Hector, a man with his own dark past, and sparks between them soon fly. When a body turns up on top of the bar, Hector becomes the main suspect. To clear his name, Julia gets involved, using her own criminal contacts. She crisscrosses the state and the Southwest, getting in deeper and deeper, eluding The Amazon and a few bullets along the way.

It is Koenig’s love and respect for her characters that make this book pop. Many are unconventional and few are pretty. They and Koenig don’t ask you to like them and that’s why you love them. Julia herself makes no apologies for who she is and proves she can get a man as easy, sometimes easier, than some teen centerfold. Koenig understands that the way to her characters’ humanity is through their unconventionality.

Nine Days introduces us to a fresh hard-boiled voice. Koenig embraces the genre, yet doesn’t completely play by its rules. I can’t wait to see what other conventions she’ll break.


Minerva Koenig will be speaking and signing her latest novel, Nine Days, Friday, September 12, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. You can find copies of his new book on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: THE BUTTON MAN, by Mark Pryor

buttonman

 

--Post by Molly

Mark Pryor grew up in England, moved to Texas, and now works as an assistant district attorney in Austin. He is also the author of the Hugo Marston series, and has just released a fourth book in the series. Mark Pryor will join us this Saturday, September 13, at 3pm, to speak and sign his latest release, The Button Man.


Mark Pryor has just released The Button Man, a prequel to his Hugo Marston series. What’s the twist? This one is set in London, not Paris, and Marston has just begun his new career as head of US Embassy security. At the sleepy embassy, he spends much of his time researching Jack the Ripper and trying to link the serial killer with other, American serial killers, in particular the Servant Girl Annihilator of late 19th century Austin.

One night, while on the historical prowl for evidence in a graveyard, Hugo comes across a more recent corpse – a dead woman, hung by the neck, face covered in a white shroud. The corpse turns out to be an American starlet. The starlet’s husband, also an actor, is in jail for killing a farmer while driving drunk. If there was not enough scandal already, the actor, upon release, won’t stay put in the American embassy and Marston must cooperate with British police to find the rogue American before he, too, pops up dead in a graveyard. Marston’s search leads him to a mysterious manor in the countryside used for secretive and rather salacious purposes, and he must get aid from a mysterious young woman with a strange name and a double life.

As Marston continues to search for the American actor, he gains many an opportunity to ruminate over the current state of affairs in society, including such topics as England’s lack of a death penalty, the possibility of redemption for criminals that have served their time, and the extreme susceptibility to exposure and blackmail of those members of society who lead taboo lives. In general, however, Marston pursues his target with vigor, leading to quite a few thrilling chase sequences as Marston grows closer to the truth. Pryor carefully structures the narrative to include just as much conversation as action, and every scene obeys the old writing adage to either move the plot forward or aid in character development.

The stunning English scenery, like the Parisian backdrops of Marston’s previous adventures, shines throughout the book, and Pryor has a particular gift in bringing the spookiness of the old country to an American audience. Pryor makes good use of cemeteries, manor houses, tiny English villages, and even Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum to impeccably meld place and setting. His portrayal of England – sunk under the weight of history – almost makes me glad to be an American, although many of the historical issues with which British characters in the story grapple are still very much part of the American present. Fans of the series will find that despite the difference in setting, Pryor’s latest fits in perfectly with the rest of the Hugo Marston novels, and I look forward to many more Marston stories to come.


You can find all the Hugo Marston books – The Bookseller, The Crypt Thief, The Blood Promise, and The Button Man, on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com. Mark Pryor will read from and sign his new novel Saturday, September 13, at 3 pm, on BookPeople’s second floor. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.

 

Crime Fiction Friday: BAD MAN’S MONEY by Mike McCrary

crime scene
We’ve already become fans of Mike McCrary with his novel, Remo Went Rogue. Check out the full review of Remo Went Rogue on this blog for more. Beyond the humor and fast-pacing, you’ll quickly learn that whether in the novel or this story from Out of the Gutter, McCrary is able to grab your attention immediately and have you follow a character, even if you don’t necessarily like them, to the very end. A nasty, gritty, though perhaps deserved, end. With McCrary, we are in good hands. Now, enjoy the ride.

“Bad Man’s Money” by Mike McCrary

 

“Let’s be clear. I am not a bad man.

A desperate man? Sure. A drunk with his fair share of struggles? Absolutely, but not a bad man.

A bad man is cruel. He profits from the weak, takes more than he gives and cares nothing about other people.

I have stolen from such a man…”

 

Click here to read the full story.

MysteryPeople Review: REMO WENT ROGUE by Mike McCrary

remowentrogue

Reviewed by Scott

Some of the most entertaining crime fiction is simply about nasty people trying to get one over on each other. There is a visceral charge to get out of people unrestrained by morality. Mike McCrary understands this completely in his new novel, Remo Went Rogue.

The first chapter is a story of violence, told during sex. The violence involves a bank robbery committed by the Mashburn Brothers, who leave no witnesses. The sex is between Remo Cobb, their defense attorney, and the assistant district attorney. Remo has got the Mashburns to tell him where the money is and now he’s throwing the case, with the plan they’ll get either life or death.

But they don’t. When they get out they go looking for Remo with a Jesus loving psychopath and a lot of guns. Remo finds refuge with a contract killer he’s defended.

McCrary knows exactly what kind of book he’s writing and he delivers. He gives us a tight read, under 200 pages, that never stops moving. The action is clear, punchy, and visceral. All of of the conniving and brutality is viewed with a jaundiced eye that barely blinks. Any time the story seems to veer towards sentimentality, Remo’s slimy viewpoint swings it back on to the rough road.

Remo Went Rogue is a fun, fast ride. It is a mean, hard boiled novel with a fresh spin on the genre and filled with rich black humor. Now if someone will make the movie.


You can find Remo Went Rogue on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: THE DROP by Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane‘s The Drop had an interesting journey to becoming a published novel. It was originally a manuscript he shelved years ago, then later used a piece of for his acclaimed short story “Animal Control” that first appeared in Boston Noir. He later adapted the story into a film featuring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini that will be released on September 12th. When asked if he’d be interested to do a tie-in novel, he took elements from the the manuscript that started it all. The result is a tight, emotional ride that will please old fans  and find new ones.

The main character is Bob Saginoswki, a man life and circumstances have left behind. He works as a bartender for Cousin Marve, a one-time small-time gangster, whose bar is now owned by the Chechen mob as a temporary hiding place for their ill gotten gains, A drop bar. Living alone, with only visits to a local church, he has little outside Marve and the bar.

Two events upend this solitary, quiet existence. One is the discovery of an abused and abandoned pup in the trash outside the apartment of Nadia, a woman who has seen her share of damage. The two develop a tentative relationship after she helps him with the dog after he adopts it. Then Cousin Marve is robbed. The Chechens want their money from Bob and Marve or else. Both story lines entwine when the psychotic owner of the dog comes back to claim the animal.

This is a compact book with a lot packed in it. Everything locks into place perfectly. The story is well-paced as it builds to a wonderful, hard-boiled climax. Lehane introduces  information, then holds back, revealing it’s importance at just the right time. With Bob, he gives us a lead we feel deeply for, hinting at something dark underneath. He’s Paddy Cayefsky’s Marty with a slow burn fuse. You don’t only root for him to get out alive, but still have his heart intact.

The Drop is everything a Dennis Lehane lover wants, especially fans of Mystic River and his Kenzie-Gennaro series. He mainlines human emotion from tough people in a hard world with little compromise and still give a slam-bang read. Now we wait for the Broadway musical version.

MysteryPeople Review: THE GOOD LIFE, by Frank Wheeler, Jr.

the good lifeReview By Molly

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.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: CRY FATHER, by Benjamin Whitmer

cry father

MysteryPeople Pick for August: Cry Father, by Benjamin Whitmer

Review by Scott

When I got my hands on Cry Father, I knew I was going to love it. Benjamin Whitmer‘s debut, Pike, had caught the attention of every hard-boiled fan with its masculine prose and unflinching look at people on the margins and the brutality in which they find themselves trapped. Before even opening it, I knew it would be in my Top Ten of the Year. Whitmer delivers a novel for the decade.

As the story opens, we follow Patterson Wells, a tree cutter who clears limbs and wrenched timber from disaster sites. He also tries to clear the wreckage of his own life caused by the death of his son. Part of his attempt involves writing letters to his son that are interwoven beautifully throughout the story. On his way home to Colorado, he stops by a friend’s place and finds his buddy high on meth and his friend’s girlfriend hogtied in the bathtub. Patterson’s decision to free the woman, plus his involvement with Junior, a drug courier with severe father issues and a hair-trigger personality, unspool several brutal encounters that challenge Wells’ humanity.

While Cry Father shares many of the character types and ferocity of Pike, it has a wider scope. Pike‘s tighter structure compressed the genre tropes and more dramatic elements together, with violence present throughout the book. Here, Whitmer takes a more self-assured pace, allowing the characters, thematics, and bloodshed to settle into the story and dominate it less. The result is a book that is multilayered with a threat of violence vibrating through it like a rattle on a diamondback that will strike in due time.

Whitmer brings his version of the modern West and its people vividly to life. As desperate and brutal as the  circumstances are, it doesn’t come off as your standard rural noir. We simply follow people dealing with their lives without the middle-class advantage of being able to put a mistake behind them. Struggle permeates the book more than doom.

Cry Father finds a way to be deep, nuanced, wild, and dramatic all at the same time, making it difficult to fully comprehend in one reading, much less encapsulate it in one review. Its sense of loss and portraits of people in search of grace without a road map make the story linger. Whitmer honestly deals with what he tackles. He realizes there are things we can not get a grip on or put behind us. We’re best judged by how we carry them and can expect to stumble at times with that weight.


Cry Father hits the shelves September 16. It is available for pre-order now at bookpeople.com.

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