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.
“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…”
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.
Minerva 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.
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.
“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…”
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.
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.
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 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.