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MysteryPeople Q&A with Reavis Wortham

ReavisWortham

Reavis Wortham‘s latest Red River novel, Vengeance Is Mine, is a game changer for Wortham’s Red River series. When a Vegas hitman moves to town and befriends some of the lawmen of Central Springs, Texas, they must then deal with the violent consequences of his actions in ways that may change their town forever.

reavis wortham vengeance is mine

Reavis will be joining Ben Rheder and Tim Bryant for our Lone Star Mystery Discussion on August 6th. We got a few questions in early.

MysteryPeople: Most of the major characters you’ve dealt with before are native Texans. How did you approach the challenge of a Vegas hitman?

Reavis Wortham: Old Vegas has always fascinated me and when I was first thinking about Vengeance is Mine, it kept popping into my head. I wanted to get out of Center Springs for a while, and the idea of Vegas and old Highway 66 was as attractive as a cool swimming pool on a hot Texas day. My bride and I have talked about driving what’s left of that famous old road, visiting the remaining trading posts, and maybe staying in the vintage motels. At the same time, I’d written a short story about San Francisco, with a professional hit man as the main character, but didn’t do anything with it. When I sat down and stared at this blank screen, preparing to start Vengeance, I needed to see something besides a white and a blinking cursor. I pasted the short story onto the first page and read it. Then I deleted the story, kept the hit man idea, and moved the whole thing to Vegas. From there it was research, both online and books. My youngest daughter’s father-in-law lived in Vegas for some time back in the 1970s, so he offered some advice, since he knew folks who’d worked with the mob back then. From there, Tony Agrioli simply gained form and became the character torn between his own demons, mob life, and freedom.

MP: This is some of the best writing you’ve done of Top and Pepper. What did you want to do with them in this book?

RW: What a wonderful compliment. Thanks Scott! I honestly don’t think about what my characters are going to do until they do them. I think that the kids, Top and Pepper, have grown both on the pages and in my mind. As the young cousins have developed, their own desires, fears, and outlook on life have materialized until we all see something we recognize, and maybe in ourselves. It’s been interesting to watch Top struggle to simply grow up in the country. He’s a bookworm, undersized for his age, and enjoying his time as a kid. But at the same time, his first cousin Pepper has already reached puberty and is torn by the times. She’s influenced by the music of the late ‘60s, dark and revolutionary rock and roll, and wants more than a simple country life can offer. She’s precocious, and usually acts on impulse. Like all real kids, I want to see them grow up, happy and safe, but at the same time, I’m watching all the kids I knew back at that time materialize in these characters. They are reflections of the period, and I continue to recall thoughts and experiences as they develop.

MP: The line “Some folks need killing,” comes up again in this book. How do you view that belief in this story?

RW: My granddad, who was a farmer and constable during this time period, had a clear, black and white view of the world. I heard him say that phrase throughout my childhood, and it reflected the thoughts of those people who lived and worked in rural northeast Texas back in those days. He always said the punishment should fit the crime, and had no use for anyone who murdered, robbed, or routinely broke the law. He was also a firm believer in chain gangs. “You’ll never see anyone go back on a chain gang once they serve their time.” If someone murdered another person, and especially if it happened more than once, you could expect him to say, “Some people just need killin’.” It became the brand for the Red River mystery series, because my main protagonist, Ned Parker, is based on Constable Joe Armstrong, from Chicota, Texas.

MP: My father, who is a fan, talked about how the books take him back to the ’60s and living in a small town. What kind of research do you do?

 RW: Please tell your dad thanks for me! A lot of what appears in the series comes from my own experiences. I grew up at that time (I was Top’s age in the books as they progress), and knew the people who lived in rural northeast Texas. Occasionally, things find their way in the books that require some research. The Plymouth in The Right Side of Wrong that had a push-button transmission and that was new to me. Of course I didn’t know anything about 1960s Las Vegas. I spent a lot of time online, looking at maps and history sites, but I still needed to get the location of casinos and hotels in my head, and most photos didn’t give me all the info I needed. Then I remembered a movie I watched in the old Grand Theater in Paris, and it became the best piece of research material I could find.  The opening scene of the iconic Elvis Presley movie, Viva Las Vegas, was shot from a helicopter, and it was the perfect device to show me what the old strip looked like at the time. From there, it was drive portions of Route 66, and listen to old rock and roll.

MP: You’ve said in a previous interview that little is planned in your writing. Which character has surprised you the most over the course of the series?

RW: That would be Tom Bell, the old man who appeared in The Right Side of Wrong. He was completely unexpected when he arrived in the first chapter’s snowstorm, and everything he did was a surprise, even down to the BAR he owned. Who owns a Browning Automatic Rifle? Tom Bell. And just when you think he’s gone, he reappears, in a sense, in Vengeance. Without giving too much away, I think the ending of The Right Side of Wrong is misleading. Who knows, he may continue to surprise us in upcoming novels, even though some say he died at the end of Right Side. Did he? You’ll have to read it, and then decide. Yeah, I love Tom Bell.

MP: As a Texas native who writes very Texas novels, what do you think is the biggest misconception about our state in literature?

RW:  Scott, I don’t think you could have asked a harder question. Maybe the biggest misconception is  that Texas lit is always rural and/or western. More and more, I’m seeing references to my Red River series as westerns. It never occurred to me until, during conversations and interviews, that in a sense, my series set in the 1960s may well be modern day westerns. But that could also describe a number of thrillers or mysteries by folks from all across this country. My plots, and those of others,  could very well have taken place a hundred and thirty years ago, all ending with the final Hollywood showdown at high noon, or sometimes in my case, at night.

Another misconception may well be that there is no other mainstream literature from the Lone Star State outside of Larry McMurtry, Bud Shrake, J. Frank Dobie, Elmer Kelton, or Americo Paredes. But there are others…many others. How about Fred Gipson, Jonathan Graves, Joe R. Lansdale, Laura Furman, Don Graham, Jan Reid, Katherine Anne Porter, Bill Crider, or Bill Witliff? Then there are those who have made their mark within the last few years, such as Taylor Stevens, Deborah Crombie, Ben Rehder, Tim Bryant, and George Weir. All these authors bring their own brand of writing that defines Texas, and Texans. They are as diverse as the landscape of this huge state itself, and all a reader needs to do is take a chance on an unfamiliar name.

 

MysteryPeople welcomes Bill Durham, along with Reavis Wortham, Tim Bryant and Ben Rehder, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm

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

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