Noir on a Hippie Commune: MysteryPeople Q&A with Rob Hart

Interviewed by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna series gets better and better with each book. This time, in Hart’s latest, South Villagewe find our tarnished unlicensed investigator trying to find peace on a commune, working as a cook. Of course murder interferes. Rob will be joining Reavis Wortham and Tim Bryant for a discussion on Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM. We got to grill him about his setting, writing, and food.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did a hippie colony become the latest setting for Ash’s latest novel?

Rob Hart: Something like 10 years ago, I visited a place called The Hostel in the Forest down in Georgia. A friend of mine was a manager at the time. It was a lot of fun, and I came away wanting to write a book set in a place like that.

It struck me as a good fit for a couple of reasons: First, It’s a logical step for Ash to take following the events of the second book. Second, I wanted to focus on how he related to other people, and the world around him, and a commune is a good place to do that. Finally, I get to tell people it’s noir on a hippie commune, which is a fun hook.

Ash is the kind of person who uses substances to handle his problems and I needed to get him away from that impulse. Plus, if I’m going to have him hallucinating and freaking out, may as well be in the woods.

MPS: What did the rural setting to for you as a writer as opposed to the urban settings you had in the first two?

RH: This is something I wrote about in the book, but: When you grow up in a place like New York City–like I did and like Ash did–you’re surrounded by this electric hum. Like a television constantly left on in another room. And it’s so incredible to be in a truly quiet, rural place. Like in the desert, or deep in the woods. It’s actually a little unsettling, until you get used to it. Ash needed the space for some distraction-free introspection.

Plus, it’s a challenge. I’m a city kid. I like being out of my comfort zone, because it makes me work harder. Same with Ash; the less comfortable he is, the more fun he is to write.

MPS: You give Ash the added trouble of going through the DTs at the worst time. Besides an added hurdle, was there another reason you wanted to do that?

RH: A lot of private eye characters are drinkers–sometimes heavy drinkers–and you don’t always see the consequences of that, outside some wicked hangovers. Ash is the kind of person who uses substances to handle his problems and I needed to get him away from that impulse. Plus, if I’m going to have him hallucinating and freaking out, may as well be in the woods.

I’m a city kid. I like being out of my comfort zone, because it makes me work harder. Same with Ash; the less comfortable he is, the more fun he is to write.

MPS: You have a lot of vegan cooking in the book. Are those your own recipes?

RH: They are not! Here’s the thing: I like meat, and I also love to cook. As I’m getting older, I’m trying to incorporate more vegan and vegetarian meals into my diet. But it’s not a preference, so that Ash is working in a vegan strip club in book two, and in this one, as a chef on a vegan commune–I don’t know, it probably means something but I’m not sure what. Maybe I’m just going for easy jokes.

It was important that Ash be a chef in this because I didn’t want him to be doing security-related work. I wanted him to be trying to get away from that type of stuff–but still falling into a job where he’s taking care of people. Because that’s who he is.

I wanted to focus on how he related to other people, and the world around him, and a commune is a good place to do that. Finally, I get to tell people it’s noir on a hippie commune, which is a fun hook.

MPS: What is the biggest challenge Ash provides for you as a writer?

RH: Keeping him fresh, and at the same time, kind of broken. I want him to evolve from book to book, but I can’t evolve him so much that he’s fixed. At least, not until I’m done. I feel very lucky in that, as I’m finishing the edits on the fourth book (The Woman from Prague, due summer 2017 I think?) I’m not tired of his voice. And I’m excited for the fifth, which I’m laying the groundwork for now. That one is going to be the last one, probably. Then he’ll be fixed, and our time together will be done.

You can find copies of South Village on our shelves and via Come by BookPeople this Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM, for a panel discussion featuring Rob Hart, Reavis Wortham, and Tim Bryant.

Joyrides and Family Feuds: MysteryPeople Q&A with Reavis Wortham

  • Interviewed by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

We’re happy to be hosting Reavis Z. Wortham this Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM, as part of a panel discussion with Rob Hart and Tim Bryant. His latest in his Red River series, Unraveled, has the lawmen of Central Springs, Texas, as well as teen cousins Top and Pepper, contend with the fallout from a car crash. The accident injures two people of the opposite sex and race, who belong to opposite sides of a feuding family. We caught up with him to discuss the book, music, and the book’s 1968 setting.

MysteryPeople Scott: I know Unraveled was inspired by a song. What was it about the tune that sparked the idea for a novel?

Reavis Z. Wortham: I’m a huge country music fan, and by that I mean traditional country and not the bubble-gum rock and roll hick rap crap that’s out there right now. Sorry if I’ve alienated any readers, but good country tells a story, sometimes about the good things in life, but mostly death, cheating, troubles, heartache, misery, and Life that’s wrested from the ground by blood, sweat, and hard work. You know, the fun stuff to sing about…or listen to. It’s played with three chords in 3/4 or 4/4 time, and touches the heart.

A couple of years ago I was on a road trip, listening to an old song about two people who shouldn’t have been in a car together. I’d heard it a hundred times since it first came on in the Old Man’s pickup back in the ‘60s and it continued to resonate through the decades. I must have been in just the right mood when it came on that day and the subject matter inspired me to tinker around with a short story that quickly evolved into an entire novel, Unraveled, because it’s about people’s lives unraveling in more than one way.

MPS: I felt like this was the most you focused on Center Springs, itself, since The Rock Hole. What did you want to explore about the community this time?

RW: I felt it was time for a return to the taproot of this series. The little fictional farming community remained at the core of the other storylines, but the characters moved progressively farther from Center Springs and into other states and even across the Rio Grande into Mexico. The plot of Unraveled refused to move beyond Lamar County, and no matter what I tried, the story remained right there on the Red River, and I soon realized there was a reason for that.

My granddad (who is the real constable Ned Parker) once told me that small towns and communities are like ponds. They’re still and calm on the surface, but full of life and death down below. Knowing the stories of those who grew up and lived in the country gave me the inspiration to explore the secret lives of common people. I think Unraveled brings all that together, but with a backbeat of rock and roll from Pepper’s transistor radio.

At the same time, the characters developed on their own. When the other storylines dictated where the action went, it seemed that I was unable to look into the relationships of the people living in that community, how their lives comingled, and what drove them. This time there’s more family interaction involving the Parkers, and the feuding Clays and Mayfields. It’s all there, for better or worse.

MPS: Was there a particular reason this story fit in the turbulent year of 1968?

RW: We’ve been following Top and Pepper since The Rock Hole, and saw how the family lived in the early 1960s while the world swirled and spun around them. As the kids grew older and stepped into adolescence, that year became important in many ways for both youngsters and adults as well. Lots was going on in 1968 as riots broke out all across the country, the insanity of the Vietnam war accelerated, and the Democratic National Convention spiraled out of control. Folks were marching and struggling for civil rights, the accelerating Apollo Space Program was going strong and looking toward the moon, and the rapidly changing counter-culture had kids marching and organizing sit-ins opposing the war and the U.S. government. There was lots going on, but in small towns folks mostly watched all that drama on television.

I felt it was the perfect time for this story to be told. Now Top and Pepper are finally in their teenage years, driven by hormones and torn between the simple life they love and the siren call of the Love Generation. Adults are resisting the changing culture that threatens their traditional values. With all that going on, folks are still living their lives, some struggling in quiet desperation, while others do their best to break away.

Unfortunately, when I looked beneath the surface of that community in Unraveled, there was a darker side. Despite what was going on outside of their little world in 1968, people encountered problems, sometimes of their own making, other times thrust upon then, and every now and then they were saddled with the actions of their elders. Morals and values are always challenged, but families stick together (or should), no matter what. In Unraveled, people stand up for what they believe in, no matter if it’s right, or wrong.

MPS: How has Top grown over the books?

RW: Through the previous five novels, Top and Pepper have seen a lot and the trauma of everything from shootings to kidnappings have taken a toll on their childhood. Top wants to be tougher than he is, but asthma and a slow growth cycle is holding him back. He’s the direct opposite of his precocious cousin Pepper, who is filling out and lives for adventure and rock and roll. She listens to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Top stays with the lighter side of music, leaning toward The Archies and the Monkees. Since The Rock Hole, when Top was ten years old, he’s revealed feelings that others don’t see, and their emotions sometimes drives the action, or reveals secrets they carry way down deep inside. Though he’s still immature in his actions and thoughts, you can tell that he’s growing and learning.

MPS: You have said that these books show how the sixties effect this small town. What do you think Center Springs and your main characters have retained through the decade?

RW: The characters in the Red River series maintain the foundation of their lives, the family. Through the books, their moral codes and loyalties have been tested and stretched. This foundation may have small cracks, but it remains remain solid. Despite the outside influences that flow through the community like a river slipping its banks, families pull together in every situation. It’s how life was when I was a kid, people helping each other and I wanted the books to reflect that loyalty.

MPS: You have a new series coming out next year. What can you tell us about it?

RW: I’m excited about the series that will be released by Kensington Publishing. We danced for a couple of years before the Sonny Hawke thrillers solidified, and now I can tell you the first novel, Hawke’s Prey, featuring Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke, will be released on July 1, 2017, in a paperback format that will be distributed across the nation. I’m honored to have Kensington behind me on these thrillers that are dramatically different than the Red River series.

Hawke’s Prey is set in the fictional town of Ballard, Texas, over an hour’s drive from Big Bend National Park. Terrorists take over the local courthouse at the same time a 100-year blizzard shuts down all of West Texas, and Sonny Hawke is the only monkey wrench in the works.

My updated website ( will launch in a few weeks, and there you’ll find the cover for Hawke’s Prey, as well as a detailed description of the characters that fill the pages. I think this is going to be a fantastic series, and for those who love thrillers, grab one on July 1, 2017, and hang on for the ride.

You can find copies of Wortham’s latest on our shelves and via Wortham comes to speak and sign his latest this Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM. He’ll be joined by Rob Hart and Tim Bryant for a panel discussion to be remembered. 

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A new book about the infamous yogurt shop murders

Attention, true crime aficionados, long-time Austinites, and cold case questioners everywhere: Beverly Lowry comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her new history of Austin’s infamous 1991 Yogurt Shop Murders, WHO KILLED THESE GIRLS, tonight, at 7 PM.

BookPeople's Blog

2016 is not only the year that true crime enters the mainstream with several documentary series and podcasts devoted to the subject, it is also an anniversary year for more than one of Austin’s own community-shattering hometown murders. August 1st represented the 50th anniversary of the Charles Whitman UT sniper spree, and on August 28th we hosted Monte Akers, Nathan Akers, and Roger Friedman, authors of The Tower Sniper: The Terror of America’s First Active Shooter on Campus9780307594112.

December 6th represents the 25th anniversary of the Yogurt Shop murders and on Tuesday, October 18th, we will welcome Beverly Lowry to talk about her new book Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.

Examining this unsolved murder, Lowry goes into detail about what we know versus what we thought we knew. The book’s title and cover design reflect the famous billboards featuring black and white school…

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MysteryPeople Review: THE PASSENGER by Lisa Lutz

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781451686630If you pick up a copy of Lisa Lutz’s latest, The Passenger, make sure you clear your calendar first—you won’t be able to move off the couch until you finish this thrill ride of a book.  

“In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death.  I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it.”  And so we meet Tanya Dubois—who upon discovering her husband’s body (the victim of an apparent tumble down the stairs) packs a suitcase, cleans out his gambling stash, and hits the road.  

She soon trades in her car, dyes her hair, takes on a new name, and heads south until she lands in Austin.  There she meets bartender Blue, who recognizes a kindred desperation in Tanya’s eyes and offers her a place to stay.  But things get a little crazy and it seems whatever Tanya’s running from might be catching up with her.  Blue proposes a solution—she and Tanya trade identities, and soon Tanya is on the run again as Debra Maze–new day, new name, new car, new hair color.  As she zigs and zags from town to town, desperately trying to outrun her past, she dons and discards identities at a dizzying pace.  

Throughout the novel, the reader is given glimpses of email correspondence between Jo (presumably Tanya/Debra in a former life) and someone named Ryan. Slowly we begin to build a picture of what might have led to her life on the run.  It all comes together in the end, but in a completely unexpected and satisfying way.  Divulging more would get into spoiler territory; suffice to say that this whirlwind of a novel is thoroughly engaging.

We’ve all seen those photos of “wanted” individuals, and I’ve often thought that it can’t be that hard to get lost.  Change your name, cut and color your hair, throw on some glasses and a hat—surely it can’t be that difficult to assume a new identity?  But living life without being true to yourself exacts its own price, and Lutz does an outstanding job of portraying the emotional cost of trying to erase who you really are.

I first became a fan of Lutz’s best-selling The Spellman Files series, the hilarious adventures of PI Isabel “Izzy” Spellman and her family’s investigation firm.  The Passenger is a new direction for Lutz, but she pulls off this dark psychological thriller with an assurance that promises more greatness to come.

You can find copies of The Passenger on our shelves and via

A Hard Word Halloween

The Hard Word Book Club takes on John Connolly’s Supernatural Thriller Every Dead Thing


  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

For the month of October, the Hard Word Book Club has chosen a book with a touch of the supernatural, Every Dead Thing. It is the first in John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series. Here you get to see our hero take his first steps toward the abyss.

Parker, a former New York cop, found his wife and daughter murdered in a horrifying fashion. A colleague from New Orleans, tells Charlie about a voodoo woman who helps him on cases. She dreamt of a future victim with similar wounds to Charlie’s family. This puts Parker and his lethal friends, Louis and Angel, on the trail of a a killer referred to as The Travelling Man, leading them through the deep South, putting them up against the mob and more dangerous things.

If you don’t mind going to some dark places, join our discussion. We will be meeting Wednesday, October 26th, at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. The books are 10% off in store to those who attend.

You can find copies of Every Dead Thing on our shelves and via The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month, and will meet next to discuss Every Dead Thing on Wednesday, October 26th, at 7 PM

If you can’t get enough supernatural thrillers, another of our mystery book clubs, the 7% Solution Book Club, will be discussing Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King, on Monday, November 7th. 

If You Like Myron Bolitar & Win….

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780525955108Recently, Harlan Coben delivered a new Myron Bolitar novel, Home, after what seemed like a long wait. One of the keys to the success of this series is his relationship with his rich and lethal buddy, Win. If you like great banter with a sketchy sidekick who always has the hero’s back, here are three other crime fiction bromances I’d suggest. You can find copies of Coben’s latest on our shelves and via Signed copies available!

Hugo Marston & Tom Green

Created by Mark Pryor

the booksellerFirst Book Together: The Bookseller

Hugo Marston, the square-jawed head of security at the American Embassy in Paris, has a sense of morality that could put a boy scout to shame. For morally ambiguous tasks, he often relies on a friend from his FBI days, Tom Green. Tom works with the CIA, has no filter and will drink anything in a bottle and chase anyone in a skirt. Anybody who has a dealt with a self destructive, yet entertaining friend will recognize these two.

Spenser and Hawk

Created by Robert Parker

9780440171973First Book Together: Promised Land

Hired gun Hawk was brought in by the bad guys during the fourth book in Robert B. Parker’s series to take on white knight PI Spenser. and ended up as the textbook detective-sidekick relationship. Whether written by creator Parker or torch carrier Ace Atkins, these books show how this kind relationship is done.

Easy Rawlins & Mouse

Created by Walter Mosley

devil in a blue dressFirst Book Together: Devil In A Blue Dress

Takes the peaceful-hero-violent-sidekick relationship to a higher, more complex level. While the sociopath buddy often allows the crime fiction hero’s hands to be clean with the results obtained, Easy is all too aware of his complicity in bringing Mouse into his dangerous games. It also shows how society and racism can push two unlikely people together.

MysteryPeople Review: PRECIOUS & GRACE by Alexander McCall Smith

– Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781101871355Precious Ramotswe and her sidekick, Grace Makutsi, are back in Alexander McCall Smith’s latest (his 17th!) installment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Titled simply Precious and Grace, our heroines’ latest adventures are told in McCall Smith’s signature charming and deceptively simple prose. I’ve been a fan of the series (indeed, of all McCall Smith’s work) since the series was introduced 13 years ago and the latest doesn’t disappoint.

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi (who has recently been promoted to agency co-director) are approached by a young Canadian woman who spent her early childhood in Botswana and wants the agency’s assistance in recovering important pieces of her life there. She can provide only a faded photograph, but Precious and Grace set out to find the house that the woman used to live in as well as the nanny who took care of her all those years ago. But as their detective work uncovers some unexpected developments, the ladies are forced to evaluate whether some truths may be better left uncovered.

Although the investigation is challenging, Mma Ramotswe is never too busy to help her friends—who seem uncannily able to land themselves in hot water. Next door at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, the hapless mechanic Fanwell has found himself helplessly attached to a homeless dog—and Fanwell can hardly take care of himself, much less another creature. And sometime detective Mr. Polopetsi has become entangled in an ill-advised business scheme that could have dire consequences. Mma Ramotswe, with Grace by her side, brings her usual kindness and sympathy to her friends’ assistance—and McCall Smith leads the reader to surprising insights into the healing power of compassion, forgiveness, and new beginnings.

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of more than 50 books and recipient of numerous literary awards. In addition to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series (which has achieved bestseller status on 4 continents), he has written the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He currently lives in Scotland, where he is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Scotland. In his free time (one wonders how that is even possible!) he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra).

You can find copies of Smith’s latest on our shelves and via