Blog Archives

Crime Fiction Friday: FALCONER by S.J. Rozan

crime scene
S.J. Rozan is one of the most resected crime fiction writers out there. Her intertwining series featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith have a master crafts-person’s fusion of story and character. In Falconer, at Akashics’ Mondays’ Are Murder site, she goes to different setting to deal with a different kind of crime.

“Falconer” by S.J. Rozan

 

“‘Ulan Bator, Republic of Mongolia

Tuguldur didn’t like the city.

His father had never come, nor his father’s father. Nothing called them. They drove their herds to the ridges, within sight of the distant towers and haze, and sold them to middlemen. They turned their horses when the business was done and rode back to the steppe, to the autumn camps and their families and the young, strong animals that would survive the howling winter and fatten in the spring…”

 

Click here to read the full story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins’ fourth Quinn Colson novel, The Forsaken, has the combat vet-turned-sheriff, looking into an old crime that a black drifter was lynched for. It has biker gangs, shoot outs, and fun dialogue as well as looks at race, family, retribution, and our relationship with the past. Ace is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times-bestselling novels in continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, and has been nominated twice for the Edgar Award for Best Novel with his first two Quinn Colson novels.

Meet Ace Atkins here at BookPeople on Monday, July 28 at 7PM.


MysteryPeople: In The Broken Places you looked at religion in the South. Here you address race some. What did you want to get across about that subject in your culture?

Ace Atkins: A discussion on race and religion is definitely hard to escape when writing about the South. I don’t know if I really had an agenda about either only a good story to tell. In The Broken Places, the easy tale of religion as fraudulent was turned a bit. But in The Forsaken, the dirty, harsh tale of hate crimes is as ugly as the truth. There are a
lot of attitudes that have changed down here in the last 30 years. But it’s far from gone.

MP: The book deals with the past of his town and his family. The past seems to be an important theme in Southern literature. Do you think the area has a different relationship with it than other parts of the country?

AA: History is certainly an important theme in two of my favorite writers — William Faulkner and James Lee Burke. Southerners just obsess on it more. I can see the whole history of the town — a recent history — from settlement shortly before the Civil War all the way up to today. This was a harsh country, wild country I’m writing about. The people
are certainly more hardened. The family stories are core to who we are.

MP: Family is playing a bigger and bigger role as the series goes on. What do you want to explore in that dynamic with Quinn?

AA: We’ve talked about this a lot — the ridiculous preconceived notions of the limits of a crime novel. I love the form — there are no constraints for me. The interaction between Quinn and his family — their personal struggles — is something I wanted to tell from the very beginning with these books. That’s the fascinating and the draw for me moving forward. The Colson family is everything in this series.

MP: There are chapters set in the past dealing with Quinn’s father and his involvement with a particular crime. How did it feel to write a finally be writing a character who has only been talked about in the last three books?

AA: I felt it was about damn time. I’ve been teasing readers for the first three books about Quinn’s dad. I just had to run across a storyline that would involve him. He had to be key to the story. When I ran across the true event of these two teen girls in 1977, I saw a way for this to be part of Jason Colson’s personal story.

MP: Pop culture plays an important part in your books. Some authors are afraid to use it. What draws you to it as a part of your work?

AA: I’m a kid who grew up in a world bombarded by popular culture –books, movies, music. I love the good and the bad. It just seeps into our everyday world it’s tough to ignore. Whether it’s a reference to a classic Western like High Noon or having a character listening to a God-awful Kenny Chesney song, it’s just true to the modern world.

Probably my most use of pop culture was in my novel, Infamous — set in 1933.

MP: The Forsaken is dedicated to two men who recently passed Elmore Leonard and Tom Laughlin (AKA Billy Jack). What qualities in their work do you hope reflects in yours?

AA: Elmore Leonard was my hero. I was lucky enough to get to know him a bit. And I learned a lot from him. All the stuff I love about writing novels can be found in Leonard’s work.

Tom Loughlin was a guy who made films about the stuff he believed in — they were tough, exciting and also had something to say. There’s a lot of Billy Jack in Quinn Colson. I love that movie and that story of a soldier returning home and having to fight a corrupt world means a lot to me.


Ace Atkins speaks about and signs The Forsaken here at BookPeople on Monday, July 28th at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. If you’d like a signed copy of one of Ace’s books but can’t make it to the event, you can order signed, personalized books via our website, bookpeople.com.

International Crime Fiction: Adrian McKinty’s TROUBLES TRILOGY

adrian mckinty- Post by Molly

Adrian McKinty wrapped up his Troubles Trilogy earlier this year with his novel In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, thus concluding some of the most thought-provoking, historically well-grounded, and satisfying crime fiction trilogies ever written. For this month’s international crime fiction post, we have decided to profile McKinty’s trilogy but with a special emphasis on his recent concluding volume.

Few trilogies are able to take a set of characters and a few plot twists and slowly add on all the world’s cares until you a have a sweeping condemnation of an entire society. Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir Trilogy did this for Germany in the thirties. John Le Carré’s Smiley Trilogyconsisting of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley’s People, did this for the winding down Cold War in the 70′s. And Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy does this for the height of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in the 80′s.

McKinty’s three Detective Sean Duffy novels seamlessly integrate multiple aspects of Northern Ireland’s troubles to provide a narrative that demonstrates all the intransigence and complexities of the conflict. His first novel in the series, The Cold Cold Ground, takes place in Northern Ireland at the height of the hunger strikes. Detective Sean Duffy is put on the case of what appears to be a serial killer targeting gay men, and may turn out to have larger political implications. McKinty’s second novel in the series, I Hear The Sirens In The Street, follows the mysterious case of a tanned torso found in a trunk, bringing the political intrigue to the fore. His third, In The Morning I’ll be Gone, follows Duffy on a quest to find an old classmate escaped from jail against the background of the Falklands conflict.

McKinty carefully designs his detective, Sean Duffy, to have an outsider perspective. Duffy is one of the few Catholics in a Protestant dominated police force. His minority viewpoint serves as a moral challenge to his generally bigoted and lazy coworkers, who view their prime purpose as backing up the British soldiers rather than solving crimes. Sean Duffy is also possessed of a manic curiosity that refuses to let him leave well enough alone, and constantly gets him in trouble for asking too many questions. He has a fairly realistic trajectory to his character arc over the trilogy, in keeping with the brutal realism of a Northern Irish setting.

In each book, he battles with his superiors over his right to solve politicized crimes in an apolitical way, and by the start of McKinty’s third book in the trilogy, Duffy has been busted down to patrol officer and no longer spends his days solving murders, but instead engages in mini bursts of violence with the IRA all over the six counties. Luckily for Sean, an old classmate escapes from prison and some oh-so-secretive Brits promise Duffy temporary reinstatement as detective inspector if he agrees to hunt his old friend down.

Duffy gets fairly reflective over the symbolism of such a search – his classmate had turned Duffy down when he tried to join the IRA right after Bloody Sunday, and in the parallel universe where Duffy did join, then they would have ended up as comrades instead of enemies. Instead, Duffy stayed out of the IRA just long enough to get sick of their tactics and join the police instead, and now he checks for car bombs daily instead of making them. This third book is not only a search for a parallel Duffy that could have existed, but also a confrontation with those parts of Sean’s mind that have never felt comfortable being a part of an oppressive occupying force that discriminates against him. A third part of Duffy, the part of him that loves confiscated hashish and the company of a good woman to the background soundscape of Lou Reed, is just happy to once again do a job that challenges him. Sean’s apolitical ability to excel is the aspect of the novel that really helps to provide perspective on the conflict. Duffy’s consistent inability to find a non politicized space for his talents represents the true tragedy of a sharply divided country.

Sean Duffy goes from valued member of the police force to Judas in three novels, through no fault of his own. The way that the British secret service manipulates Duffy into killing his old friend stands for the impossible choices of a troubled nation. McKinty certainly writes with a plague on both your houses mentality, and one gets the sense that he, too, must have felt the shackles of choosing sides in his youth. The British, however, come out looking worst of anyone. Duffy’s handler delivers a chilling speech at the end of the novel summarizing the entire conflict, and it’s no disservice to the rest of the novel to quote a little bit here:

“I’ll tell you a little story. After victory in the Franco-Prussian war, an adjutant went to General Von Moltke and told him that his name would ring through the ages with the greatest generals in history, with Napoleon, with Caesar, with Alexander. But Moltke shook his head sadly and explained that he could never be considered a great general because he had ‘never conducted a retreat.’…That’s what we’ve been doing since the first disasters on the Western Front in the First World War. Conducting as orderly a retreat as possible from the apogee of empire. In most cases we’ve done quite well, in some cases – India, for example – we buggered it.” (307)

For fans of:

Stuart Neville
John Le Carré
Jean-Claude Izzo
Philip Kerr

Follow the MysteryPeople blog to find our monthly posts profiling the best in international crime fiction.

MysteryPeople Review: THE FORSAKEN by Ace Atkins

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins
Reviewed by Scott M.

With echoes of both William Faulkner and Elmore Leonard, the latest Quinn Colson novel by Ace Atkins, The Forsaken, goes deep into both Colson’s character and his culture. Like Southern literature’s best novels, Atkins centers his narrative around themes of family and of the past, with a few great action sequences thrown in to keep things interesting.

As The Forsaken opens, Chains LeDoux, leader of The Born Losers biker gang, has just finished up a twenty year prison stretch, and he comes out gunning for Sheriff Colson’s nemesis town fixer, Johnny Stagg. Quinn, himself, is looking into a cold case involving a a man who raped one girl and killed another when the town was celebrating the Bicentennial.

The town quickly decided to lynch a black drifter for the crime, but evidence has arisen years later pointing to his innocence. As Quinn looks into what really happened, he finds much resistance from the town. Like Faulkner, Atkins uses the mystery structure to look at the past’s relationship to the present. Many chapters take place in the ’70s and feature Quinn’s estranged father, Jason, and his involvement with a neighborhood gang called The Born Losers, all leading up to that dark July 4th. The back-and-forth structure creates a conversation between Jason’s prior actions and his son’s current investigation. This past and present dynamic enriches the book and gives it its authenticity.

We get a realistic modern Southern town in Jericho. The classic country from the barbershop mixes with the hip-hop from a passing pick up. Quinn’s mother still cooks lard-fried bacon and eggs with biscuits and gravy, but he has to make due with a salad when spending the evening with his girl. Ace also shows how ignoring the past can drag progress made towards the future.

With The Forsaken, Ace Atkins digs into the specifics of southern life, mining universal truths of history, family, and society. His characters are both true and entertaining (Leonard fans will love the dialogue of his villains) and the world he creates breathes with a lived-in quality. All that and kick-ass action too.

Look for an interview on our MysteryPeople blog with Ace Atkins later on this week. Ace will be speaking and signing his latest novel, The Forsaken, on Monday, July 28, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. You can order signed copies of The Forsaken via bookpeople.com. We ship worldwide.

Double Feature: THE LONG GOODBYE

This Wednesday, July 23, at 6 pm, we will be screening Robert Altman‘s film adaption of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye as part of our double feature film series. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.

Ask any Raymond Chandler aficionado about Chandler’s best book and most will say The Long Goodbye. Rich in Southern California detail and somber meditations on friendship, it is the the closest we get to understanding his private detective, Phillip Marlowe. Although The Long Goodbye, as a novel, has achieved near-universal acclaim, Robert Altman’s film version has drawn controversy for its unconventional interpretation.

While Playback is technically the last book in the series, The Long Goodbye feels like Chandler’s true farewell to the character. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler uses the classic noir structure of two seemingly unrelated cases that soon become intertwined. One case deals with his friend, Terry Lennox, whose wife is found dead after Marlowe gives him a lift to Mexico. Soon Terry is also assumed dead, but Marlowe thinks the truth is otherwise. As he tries to figure out Terry’s whereabouts, he takes on the job of hunting down a drunken novelist, Roger Wade, to whom he ends up acting as part-time nursemaid.

With the Lennox mystery, Chandler looks at Marlowe deeper than ever before. This is the first time Marlowe is truly personally involved in a case. We watch him try to balance his friendship with Terry and his famous personal code. We also get  a stronger sense of his loneliness, making The Long Goodbye one of the most existential private eye novels out there.

What makes the book even more personal is Marlowe’s relationship with Wade. Wade and Marlowe share a similar history, especially when it comes to his drinking and marriage. Even when he’s reading one of Wade’s books, Marlowe criticizes him for overusing similes, the simile being something he was known (and often parodied) for. It was as if he was using his detective to investigate himself.

“It’s certainly his most character-driven book, and a lot more ambitious than the other Marlowe novels,” said crime novelist Wallace Stroby when I asked him about the book and movie.  “And Terry Lennox is a unique creation. I can’t think of any other crime novel beforehand, except maybe for Dashiell Hammett‘s The Glass Key, in which male friendship is so central to the plot. It’s probably Chandler’s most autobiographical novel as well. It deals pretty straightforwardly with alcoholism. It’s also been hugely influential on the genre. James Crumley‘s The Last Good Kiss is in many ways his take on The Long Goodbye.”

In Altman’s film version, Marlowe is at a distance. Shot in his famed long takes in large frame with a flashing technique he developed with cinematographer Vilmos Zigmund, the movie has a hazy feel about it. Altman said he approached the material as “Rip Van Marlowe”, with the detective coming out of a twenty year sleep that he started right after World War II and then woke up post Vietnam. This time lapse matches the twenty years difference from the release of the book to the premiere of the film. Gould plays him as if he’s sleepwalking through the cases, getting sharper as he figures out he’s getting played, ending in a confrontation far different from the book.

The movie has become a form of debate among Chandler fans. Some believe the film portrays Marlowe in way respectful to the original, while others feel that the film trashes the novel completely.  Some place Altman’s cynical depiction of L. A. as in keeping with the Chandler tradition. Some, like myself, have a different reaction each time we see it.

“It’s a love or hate proposition,” says Stroby. “I love it. But I think you have to look at it more as a Robert Altman movie than a Raymond Chandler adaptation. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and very much of its time, but it has some real noir cred, too. It was written by Leigh Brackett and has a great late-career performance by Sterling Hayden (as Wade). In fact, the whole ensemble cast is terrific. I’d much rather the filmmakers took the approach they did, than to just make another Marlowe pastiche set in the ’40s. I think it’s right up there with the best films based on Chandler’s work.”

The major concept that both film and novel share is the idea of Marlowe in changing times. Chandler starts The Long Goodbye in the ’40s, when he meets Terry Lennox, then gets the plot going in the ’50s. Marlowe feels time slipping away and his values slipping with it. With “Rip Van Marlowe” it’s already gone when he wakes up. For both PIs, time is the most dangerous and deceptive femme fatale.

 

DOUBLE FEATURE STATS FOR THE LONG GOODBYE

Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5): 2 (The ending is very un-Marlowe)

Adherence To Quality Of Book: 3 (Many will argue I’m being either too kind or unkind)

Suggested Viewing: Marlowe, Chinatown, Devil In A Blue Dress (Which you can see at our next Double Feature Wednesday on August 6th) Suggested Reading- Moving Target by Ross McDonald, Brown’s Requiem by James Ellroy, Concrete River by John Shannon

And for the record: The Long Goodbye is not Wallace Stroby’s favorite Chandler novel. “‘That would be Farewell, My Lovely, for its characters, mood and plot that – unlike the other Marlowes – is actually fairly simple.”

Come join us Wednesday, July 23, for a free screening of Robert Altman’s film interpretation of The Long Goodbye. It’s sure to spark a great discussion! As always, events are free and open to the public. Come join us at 6pm on the third floor.

Crime Fiction Friday: AN OPEN DOOR by Chris F. Holm

crime scene
Chris F. Holm is one of our favorites. His work has appeared in such publications as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. He’s been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and a Spinetingler Award winner. He has a wonderful gift for mixing genres like this cross between noir and horror (with a touch of comedy) that recently appeared in Beat to a Pulp.

“An Open Door” by Chris F. Holm

 

“‘… leave …

 

When Simon heard the voice, his mouth went dry, his palms went slick with sweat, and his heart pounded like a drum line in his chest. It wasn’t so much what the voice had said that spooked him, or the menace its throaty whisper conveyed. What spooked him was that it was so clear, it sounded as though it’d spoken directly into the digital recorder in his hand—and yet he hadn’t heard the voice at all until he played it back. Add to that the fact there wasn’t another living soul for miles around—the old Amalgamated Paper mill had been left to rot damn near seventy years ago, and Simon himself had been forced to scale one fence and shimmy through another to even get inside—and that voice seemed downright otherworldly.

 

The thought sent gooseflesh spreading down Simon’s arms, and slapped a dopey smile upon his face. After all, that’s why Simon was here…”

 

Click here to read the full story.

SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST: They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross

they don't dance much
I came by James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much when it was recommended to me by Joe R. Lansdale. Daniel Woodrell had suggested it to him. Even Raymond Chandler was a fan. Last year, Mysterious Press came out with a reprint of the novel (including a forward by Woodrell). The book shows that rural noir could be just as mean, nasty, and engaging as it is now, possibly more so.

Our narrator is Jack McCall. When is his farm goes bust, Jack throws in as a manager with Smut McCall, the charming local bootlegger, who opens up a road house. Smut’s saviness and ambition are only outmatched by his lust for the wife of the town operator, who he sees as often as he can. When Smut pulls Jack into a crime, holds out on his share of the profits, the two play a cat and mouse and mouse scenarios that out Tom & Jerry to shame.

The book is a mix of Chandler and James Cain soaked in Southern barbecue. The prose style grabs you from the first paragraph, makng Jack’s dialect and manner as its style. Much of the suspense is built through his desperation. Ross gives us detail in the day-to-day business (both legal and not) of running that road house, showing the constant moral compromises these men make and thier justifications. It’s not a shock when murder is treated indifferently.

They Don’t Dance Much is more than just a look at one of the first rural noirs. it’s an involving, seedy tale of compromised men who become thier own undoing with enough twisted humor to satisfy a Lansdale fan. Read it and you’ll recommend it.

James “Big Boy” Medlin Guest Post: Origin of SLAP NOIR

slap noir
~guest post by James “Big Boy” Medlin

“Did you hear about Milton Smith getting his head blown off?” My mother was calling me from West Texas. I was in Austin.

“Wha…no…what?” I stammered.

“You remember Milton,” she wrongly assumed “He has that Texaco station where they take care of my car. He and 4 or 5 big shots play cards down there every Saturday. Well, Sunday morning they were found shot to death. And everyone of them was holding a pistol.”

From that phone call, so many years ago, my novel Slap Noir was conceived. The painful gestation period covered decades. For years I would forget about that shootout. But it would always sneak back into my consciousness when least expected…like in the shower when I ran out of hot water, or while sitting in traffic on an L.A. freeway for no good reason. All I knew was that nobody ever figured out exactly what happened. Or if they did, they weren’t telling.

Then five years ago, I sat down to write about my Vietnam experience. Or maybe about my days pitching story ideas and dealing with Hollywood. Somehow the poker shootout took over. It was the story I had to write.

I wanted to focus on how such a tragedy could impact the people of a small community. How it was dealt with. And hopefully come up with a satisfactory explanation, not though an examination of the facts, but through the freedom of my imagination.

The story had to be dark. A noir mystery. I love noir, from Chandler to Thompson to Phillip Kerr. Lately I have been reading a lot of Scandinavian noir. For a place with all that bright snow, they sure can celebrate the dark.

The problem? I prefer stories with some humor. Existence is indeed dark and hopeless if we cannot laugh at its absurdities. The Scandinavians are not all that funny. Neither are Kerr’s murder mysteries set in Nazi Germany.

No worries. I decided humor could be found in abundance in the chaos surrounding the investigation of my poker shootout. Just allow the action to come from the characters. They did not disappoint me. Now it is up to you, noble reader, to decide if I found the proper balance between mystery and humor.


At 7PM this Friday, July 18, James “Big Boy” Medlin will be speaking and signing his novel, Slap Noir, which is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: THE BLACK HOUR by Lori Rader-Day

the black hour
The Black Hour
by Lori Rader-Day

~post by Molly

Lori Rader-Day has been in the crime world for a while – she teaches mystery writing in Chicago and is active in several mystery author organizations. The Black Hour is her first novel, and hits on some fairly heavy themes for a debut, including suicide and a
mysterious campus shooting. Random acts of violence are on America’s mind, and they seem to have been on Lori Rader-Day’s mind as well. Since the novel is set in academia, the fierce competition for prestige and funding in higher education plays a prominent role. There are, it seems, quite a few more reasons to kill someone in the ivory tower than one might realize before starting this thrilling descent into the depths of the near-Ivy League.

The Black Hour begins with a professor returning to work after being gut-shot by a student a year earlier. Why? No one knows – some assume the two were having an affair, but most accept it as random violence that cannot be understood. Dr. Amelia Emmet, however, studies the sociology of violence for her living, and with the help of a secretive graduate student and a persistent reporter, she just might find out the truth. Realistically, it might take a while – every moment she gets closer to a resolution, she hits yet another hurdle in her recovery from injuries and her repairing of relationships wrecked long before her shooting ever took place. The narrative might develop gradually, but Rader-Day’s ear for dialogue and compelling characterizations keep the pace from ever feeling slow.

This is a very human story – Lori Rader-Day shies away from sweeping condemnations of society in favor of a more nuanced take on a woman’s struggle to find closure. Curiosity, personal and professional, also play a part, and Rader-Day enjoys bringing to the fore the central irony of the story – a professor specializing in the sociology of violence has become the victim of that which constitutes her livelihood. The identity crisis caused by this intimate violation of academic distance allows Rader-Day to delve more deeply into the psychology of murder, and sparks additional discussions of class, gender, privilege, disability, and asymmetrical sexual relationships. She presents this all with a dry wit and cynical edge, while drawing towards a suspenseful and satisfying conclusion. The Black Hour is one to read, and Rader-Day is definitely one to watch.


The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Hard Word Book Club Discusses BLOOD & TACOS

blood tacos

~Post by Scott M.

The Hard Word Book Club is known for its share of tough guy fiction, but we get real manly on July 30th with the anthology Blood & Tacos edited by Johnny Shaw. It is a great tribute to the men’s action paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s.

Shaw rounded up some of the best talent, including Thomas Pluck, Josh Stallings, and himself. Each contributes a story he “found” from the era, along with a bio of the author (which can be as entertaining as the tale). The stories range from straight up homages like Gary Phillips’s The Silencer Strikes or semi-parodies, such as Todd “Big Daddy Thug” Robinson’s story featuring the deep-sea-diving and womanizing he-man Studs Winslow. Many are funny, all are fun.

The discussion should be a blast with Johnny joining us on the phone. We start at 7PM, on the third floor, Wednesday July 30th. Books are 10% off to those who attend. Check bookpeople.com for more info.

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