Scott Butki Interviews Shane Kuhn

Post by Scott Butki
Shane Kuhn is a new force to be reckoned with. His new mystery/thriller, Hostile Takeover, is a roller coaster of energy, adrenaline and plot twists. This is his second book in his series. In his first book, The Intern’s Handbook, protagonist John Lago explains how his company trained people to be hired by companies as interns… So they could go on to assassinate whoever they were instructed to take out. In The Intern’s Handbook, Lago kills his boss, Bob, previously in charge of teaching interns physical and survival skills.

Kuhn explains all this on page 9 of Hostile Takeover: “It was actually a genius concept and the perfect cover for wet work, if you’re into that kind of thing. To quote Bob, my former and thoroughly dead boss, ‘Interns are invisible. You can tell executives your name a hundred times and they will never remember it because they have no respect for anyone at the bottom of the barrel, working for free. The irony is that they will heap important duties on you with total abandon. The more of these duties you voluntarily accept, the more you will get, simultaneously acquiring trust and access. Ultimately, your target will trust you with is life and that is when you will take it.”

Wild but brilliant concept, right? Things get even crazier for John when he falls for Alice, a fellow “intern.” This results in situations that go from affection to trying to kill each other in a matter of seconds. And of course they do what assassin couples do, namely marry but still try to kill each other. Kuhn writes tightly, meaning no wasted words and little time spent on descriptions, opting instead for action scene after action scene.You feel like you’re along this quick reckless ride yourself. Just hold on and enjoy the ride.

I interviewed Kuhn by email about his first two books, as well as his full time work in the entertainment field, including writing and directing credits.

Scott Butki: How did you come up with the stories for these two books, the idea that interns would actually be hit men?

Shane Kuhn: First, I have been obsessed with creating an original assassin story ever since I started film school in the 90’s. The problem was, there were so many great movies and books, that coming up with something unique was difficult. Then, in 2009, I was working on a TV show pitch that dealt with corporate crime – portraying the world of corporate criminals as far more powerful and sinister than even the mafia or drug cartels. Who else pillages billions in retirement funds and still gets multi-million dollar severance packages? In this process, I thought about the strata of players, from bosses (execs) to minions (admins and interns). Then I focused on interns because there is an inherent humor associated with interns, and I like black comedy. Also, I wanted to subvert the idea of interns as minions and actually empower them. That’s when it clicked. That’s the perfect cover for an assassin.

SB: Was the plan always to have the first book turned into a series? If so how many books are planned for the series and how many of them are written?

SK: In the beginning, the plan was simply to successfully complete and publish a novel. I had written one before, back in film school, so I had very limited experience. Thus, in the beginning, all I wanted to do was see if I could finish the damn thing. As I got into writing it, I fell in love with the process. I have always hated screenwriting because it feels like thankless grunt work. But writing a novel, where I could fully express my inner darkness and insanity, was a joy I couldn’t wait to return to every night. After completing and selling The Intern’s Handbook, I immediately wanted to do a second book, which is how Hostile Takeover came to be. Now I have an idea for a third Lago book; I don’t know how many books might be in a series, but I hope a great many! I might even throw in an Alice book for good measure.

SB: The writing is very tight and concise with nary an extra word. Is that how you usually write or did you use that style since the books are about a guy who himself sticks to the action?

SK: This is a function of me as a writer and John as a character. I am a trained screenwriter and copywriter, so brevity is in my DNA. Also, as a reader (with ADD), long descriptions have always been vexing to me…unless Nabokov wrote them. I could read his prose for days on end. As a writer, I like to try to take many elements and distill them down into the least amount of language. So, even though my books are shorter than some, they are also dense with action and I want the prose to really pack a punch. Additionally, John is a man who would not have the time or inclination to be too literary. He’s a killer with a gun to his head and he needs to get this out before someone pulls the trigger.

SB: You’ve received some great book blurbs including one from Lisa Lutz, one of my favorite writers. Her blurb said, “Shane Kuhn’s debut thriller crackles with dark humor, pyrotechnic action scenes and twists you’ll never see coming.  Just like the intern who’s getting ready to snuff you out.”  Do you have a favorite of the blurbs?

SK: I LOVE Lisa’s blurb too. Another favorite blurb came from fellow Simon & Schuster author Andrew Pyper: “The Intern’s Handbook is Tarantino funny and as tense as a Mexican standoff. Shane Kuhn has written a movie lover’s thriller that’s as entertaining as it is smart.”

SB: What was the inspiration behind John Lago’s intern disguise?

SK: Perfect cover. Pure and simple. In The Professional, Léon talks abouthow the best assassins kill with a knife because that’s how good they are at making sure you don’t see them coming. No one sees an intern coming. Most people can’t remember their names, even after working with them for a full year!

SB: Can you tell me about your work with Universal, Paramount, Sony, Fox and Lionsgate? How did doing writing for them compare to writing the books? What projects have you written and/or directed?

SK: For Universal and Paramount, I co-wrote scripts. For Uni it was “Scorpion King 3” (woo-hoo!) and for Par we sold a pitch and wrote a script for a found footage time travel movie called “Time.” For Sony, we sold a pitch and wrote a script called “Twitch.” Actually Neal Moritz from Original Film, same producer working on The Intern’s Handbook, was producer on the Twitch deal. Of those, only SK3 was produced. Sucky thing number one about Hollywood: much of what you do sits on a shelf forever collecting dust. For Lionsgate, we sold a script and co-directed a horror movie called “Drive-Thru.” And I directed a feature on my own when I was in film school called “Redneck.” That film helped to start the Slamdance Film Festival and it was distributed by a small distributor in the 90s.

For me, writing books is a far superior experience. There is so much more creative control and when you’re done, you don’t need to rely on someone raising millions of dollars to see your work come to life. I could have written the script for The Intern’s Handbook but chose not to because I am a novelist with deadlines now and nothing is going to stand in the way of that.

SB: Would you prefer readers start with the first book?

SK: Definitely! The Handbook is a great intro to John and HR, Inc. and the entire concept. It really sets the table for a series and creates a ton of dramatic tension around John’s relationship with Alice, which is paid off on Hostile Takeover. Having said that, HT can very much be enjoyed as a standalone, and Intern’s could serve as a prequel – for those lovers of nonlinear narratives.

SB: What other new writers do you suggest?

SK: I don’t know if you could consider these people “new” per se, but I’ll just tell you what I have recently read and thought was amazing. First, The Martian by Andy Weir. Incredible. I loved this book for the same reasons I loved 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. Both authors take you to a completely foreign world and immerse you in it so perfectly that you become the protagonist. I devoured The Martian in two days. Second, I was completely bewitched by Sara Gran’s book Come Closer. I love horror and paranormal books and movies but this is the most elevated story of demonic possession I’ve ever experienced. Like Andy Weir, Sara makes this feel so real and grounded that you are convinced it could happen.

SB: Do any of the characters resemble anyone you know?

SK: Characters for me are amalgamations of several people. Of course, there is a lot of me in every character I write. I just need to walk in their shoes for them to feel authentic to me and to the reader. So, I will do that and then start layering in traits from either people I know or public figures. It’s a little like how Johnny Depp makes character choices based on recognizable personalities, like the way he brings Keith Richards into Jack Sparrow.

SB: What are you working on next?

SK: Currently, I’m editing my third novel, Business Class. It is not a John Lago thriller. It’s a standalone concept, which I’m calling an espionage thriller set in the world of frequent air travelers. I have been one of those poor bastards for six years now and this concept was really born out of my experience as a road warrior. It will be more of a “mainstream” thriller and I am excited to show readers another side of me. I love John Lago and he will live on, but I have a quite a few more creative arrows in the quiver.

You can find copies of Hostile Takeover on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Three Picks For August

archer filesThe Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Detective by Ross MacDonald

Reissued for the 100th anniversary of Ross MacDonald’s birthday, this collection has all of his short stories featuring introspective PI, Lew Archer. Editor Tom Nolan has also provided unfinished work as well as a biography of the character. A good crash course for one of the most influential detectives in fiction. You can find copies of The Archer Files on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


collector of secretsCollector Of Secrets by Richard Goodfellow

A young American teaching English in Japan gets tangled up in a conspiracy over a diary that could shake the country to its political foundation. He is chased by both the police and Yakuza with a game designing Shinto Priest. This debut thriller is nimble on its feet and full of fun characters. Collector of Secrets comes out August 11. Pre-order now!


in the dark placesIn the Dark Places: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson

Inspector Banks is back. He and his team have to solve two separate murders in freak snowstorm. Rich characterization and story make Robinson a procedural author praised from Louise Penny to Michael Connelly. In the Dark Places comes out August 11. Pre-order now!

Crime Fiction Friday: “Ceiling Fan In My Spoon” by Brian Panowich

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

Anybody who has stepped into the store recently has heard me rave about Brian Panowich’s debut novel Bull Mountain. Brian is a former musician and the book has as much in common with Johnny Cash and Steve Earle as it does with his literary influences. Signed copies of Bull Mountain are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. This story, featured in Shotgun Honey, has all the feel of a dark country murder ballad.

“Ceiling Fan In My Spoon” by Brian Panowich

“I’ve been here fourteen years.

Today’s the day.  Sammy brought me a steak.  He’s a pretty good guy, I hope he gets the fuck outta here before this place kills him on the inside.

I deserve to be here. Day in, day out, twenty-three hours in this box, and thirty minutes in the yard.  I did the math once, it added up to a hundred and six days of daylight.  Less than a year of fresh air to show for my adult life.  I never complained though, like I said, I deserve to be here.  I killed a little girl.  A beautiful little eight-year-old girl named Stacy.  I know she was beautiful from her pictures in the paper and the photos they showed in court.  I shot her and her old man point blank with a shotgun loaded with double aught buck.  I don’t remember doing it, but I’ve heard the playback so many times over the past fourteen years of courtroom reenactments that I can recite every detail…”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Rob Hart

Rob Hart’s New Yorked is both a quirky take on the the hard boiled crime novel and a heartbroken valentine to his ever-changing city. His hero, unlicensed Brooklyn PI Ash McKenna, has as much trouble with hipsters than criminals. we got a chance to grill Rob on writing, his book, and his town.

MysteryPeople Scott: Ash is such a unique tough guy hero. Is there a specific way he came about?

Rob Hart: I wanted to write a private detective-type character, but at the beginning of his career. We often join these characters after they’d been operating for years, jaded and set in their ways. I wanted to open at the start—dig into what would push someone onto that path, make it a story about a good-hearted but misguided kid looking for his moral compass. He’s capable and he’s tough and he’s good with his fists, but he’s also immature and impulsive and still has a lot to learn about the world.

MPS: The backdrop is a gentrifying New New York that angers Ash. What did you you want to question about it?

RH: New York is two cities. For natives, it’s this thing that gets in your blood, and you love it no matter how much it hurts you. For people who came from somewhere else, it’s Shangri-La; the answer to a question you’ve been asking your whole lives. And those two factions can often be adversarial. Natives grumble about gentrifiers taking up space. Gentrifiers grumble about the holier-than-thou natives.

I’ve lived here my whole life, so I understand those feelings of displacement and frustration. You think you’re due something for putting up with all the bullshit this place throws at you. But I also understand how this could be a place of reinvention and salvation.

Really, I’m just endlessly fascinated how this city exists for people—it’s so big and so diverse no two experiences are the same. I wanted to take a snapshot of mine.

MPS: What is the biggest misconception about the city?

RH: That it’s still dangerous as it used to be. It can be dangerous, just like any big city, but we’re very far removed from the Death Wish era. If anything, the city is safe to the point where it’s lost an edge. Living here used to be something you had to earn. Now it’s so sanitized and expensive, it’s easy to feel like in another twenty years there will be armed guards on the bridges, turning away anyone who doesn’t make a six figure annual salary.

New York is two cities. For natives, it’s this thing that gets in your blood, and you love it no matter how much it hurts you. For people who came from somewhere else, it’s Shangri-La; the answer to a question you’ve been asking your whole lives. And those two factions can often be adversarial. Natives grumble about gentrifiers taking up space. Gentrifiers grumble about the holier-than-thou natives.

MPS: For your first novel, did you draw from any influences or did you simply expand from your short work?

RH: This grew out of a short story I wrote in a workshop led by Craig Clevenger. It’s very different—different narrator, different circumstances. It was set around the closing of CBGB. If I dug up that story now I wouldn’t be surprised to see that none of the details survived from there to here. But that feeling of displacement, of the way this city can wear on you no matter how hard you love it, that stuck with me throughout.

MPS:  You also work on the publishing side of things. What should every author know who doesn’t have your experience?

RH: No one knows what they’re doing and anyone who tells you they do is lying. So much of publishing is unknowable. Something works and you just try to replicate it until something else catches fire—then you try to replicate that.

That said, the publishing industry is full of kind, passionate people who work very hard to put out good books. They often get cast as villains, called “gatekeepers” like it’s a dirty word. Yes, good books fall through the cracks, and good authors have gotten bad deals. But at the same time, a rejection doesn’t have to be an indictment of the whole system—it might just mean you have to work harder.

MPS: Ash sees his possible escape in moving to Austin. As a resident of that town, I was curious why you picked it.

RH: I wrote this during a period when I was convinced I was leaving New York. Austin was at the top of the list. A good friend of mine lived there, and my brother went to college in San Marcos, so I’d been down there five or six times, and I loved it. I felt like it was the kind of place I could live, and I don’t feel that way about a lot of places. Plus, I was thinking of setting the second book there, since I envisioned it as a play on a Western.

Sadly, it didn’t work out—I stayed in New York, and I moved the second book to Portland (a much more absurd location for a Western). That said, Ash did go to Austin immediately after the events of New Yorked, and I’m toying with the idea of writing a short story about what happened there that it didn’t work out. He probably got himself into some trouble on Sixth Street. Maybe someday.

You can find copies of New Yorked on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

7 % Solution Book Club to Discuss: THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO AUSTIN by Rick Riordan

devil went down to austin

On Monday, August 3rd, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s third floor, the 7% Solution Book Club will discuss Rick Riordan’s The Devil Went Down to Austin, a Tres Navarre novel. Our pick for September is Heat Wave by Richard Castle.

Here at BookPeople, we appreciate Rick Riordan. We love him for his Percy Jackson books (the basis for Camp Half-Blood, our literary summer camp), we love him for his easy and fun interpretation of mythology, and we love him for his San Antonio-based murder mysteries starring Tres Navarre and his enchilada-eating cat, Robert Johnson. Riordan’s detective novels tackle many of the issues and changes seen in Texas today, including corrupt development, shady tech start-ups, growing gentrification, and the ever-popular I-35 drug pipeline.

On Monday, August 3, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s third floor, the 7% Solution Book Club takes on Riordan’s Austin-set Tres Navarre mystery, The Devil Went Down To Austin, and although most Austin residents claim the city has drastically changed since [insert date they moved here], this 2001 novel presents a highly recognizable Austin, both in landmarks and in themes. Riordan even complains about the traffic.

Riordan wrote this novel in the wake of the 90s tech boom and in the middle of Austin’s transformation from a sleepy town full of full-time musicians, sometime students and part-time legislators into a hub for creative technology. His exploration of the world of start-ups and the exploitation of up-and-comers in the tech industry feels as local and contemporary as when the book was first written.

As The Devil Went Down To Austin begins, Tres Navarre, English professor and part-time private eye, is enjoying his time restoring his father’s ranch when his lawyer shows up with bad news. His brother Garrett – programmer, ganja enthusiast, and die-hard Jimmy Buffet fan – has mortgaged the ranch to fund a now-failing tech start-up company. Tres goes to Austin to confront his brother about the ranch.

Upon his arrival, he finds out that Garrett and his business partners are not only in danger of losing their assets. If they don’t sell their start-up for peanuts to Matthew Peña, a ruthless tech mogul trailing suspicious deaths in his wake, they could lose their lives. Tres initially ignores his brother’s worries, but when Garrett’s business partner is murdered and Garrett comes under suspicion, Tres goes on a mission to discover just how dangerous the tech world can be.


You can find copies of The Devil Went Down To Austin on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Book Clubs are free and open to the public, and book club picks are 10% off at the register in the month of their selection. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month on BookPeople’s 3rd floor.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay, after a long career as a newspaperman, began writing thrillers full-time in 2004. He has since published over a dozen thrillers, including several bestsellers. Mr. Barclay joins us at BookPeople on Friday, July 31st, to speak and sign his latest thriller, Broken Promisethe first in a new trilogy. It revolves around a small town’s dark secrets, a downsized reporter trying to clear his cousin of murder, and Detective Duckworth, a police investigator, confronted with a rash of odd crimes. The book deals with ideas of community, family, and dark obsessions. Mr. Barclay was kind enough to answer some of our questions about it.


MysteryPeople Scott: In Broken Promise, the town is as much of a character in itself and a morally questionable one. How do you approach writing about a community?

Linwood Barclay: It’s funny, but I don’t think a great deal about it. I think about the people first, and once they’ve been drawn, and we see what they are dealing with, the community itself starts to form. I do, however, give consideration to the the economic factors affecting Promise Falls — the downturn in employment, the loss of a newspaper, etc.

MPS: As in many of your books, family plays an important role. what draws you to that subject?

LB: I don’t think there’s anything much more important than family in a novel. How one defines it may change, but whether it’s a thriller or a literary novel or whatever, it’s the connections between individuals that matter most. If we don’t care about the people in the novel, and if they don’t care about each other, why should we care what happens to them?

MPS: I like the fact that you had Detective Duckworth battling weight gain. what made you decide to go with that for the major police character?

LB: Detective Duckworth has been appearing in my books going back to Too Close to Home. He’s also in Never Look Away, has a cameo in Trust Your Eyes. He’s always been on the heavy side, and when it came to Broken Promise, I knew he was going to play a more prominent role. Broken Promise is the first of three linked novels, and the third will be told, mostly, from Duckworth’s point of view. His weight struggle humanizes him, makes him even more someone we can identify with. And unlike so many fictional detectives who are divorced and alcoholic and deeply troubled, Duckworth is in a happy marriage and he doesn’t drink too much. He needs one vice, and that happens to be food.

MPS: The plot revolves around at least two investigations and several crimes. How are you able to keep all the plates spinning?

LB: That’s the fun part. There are many things going on in this book and the two that follow it. What I like about all those “spinning plates” is it allows me to jump from storyline to storyline. I can take you to the edge of your seat with one story, then shift the focus elsewhere. I think that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to get back to that other story to find out what the heck is going on.

MPS: I know you have great respect for Ross MacDonald. What is it from his work you’d like to incorporate into your own?

LB: No writer had a greater impact on me professionally, and personally, than Ross MacDonald. I became obsessed with his novels in my late teens and early twenties, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that he was using the conventions of the mystery novel to explore social issues, dysfunctional families, the degradation of the environment. I don’t think I’m consciously trying to do what MacDonald did, but my opinions and political leanings do have a way of sneaking into my books. And my concern for the state of the newspaper industry — where I worked for three decades — has popped up in at least two of my books.

Mr. Barclay joins us at BookPeople on Friday, July 31st, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his latest thriller, Broken Promise. You can find copies of Broken Promise on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: LITTLE PRETTY THINGS by Lori Rader-Day

little pretty things

– Post by Molly

Lori Rader-Day burst onto the literary detective novel scene last year with her murder-in-academia debut, The Black HourI could tell from the first paragraph that Lori Rader-Day is not just a good writer – she has a perfect handle on noir style, and understands how to marry the toughness of the traditional private eye with the deep psychological insights of, well, a mature female protagonist.

What’s more, she taps into many of the themes prevalent in the wave of recently published domestic thrillers made possible by Gillian Flynn’s runaway success with Gone GirlThe Black Hour takes on class, sex, female community versus competition, and that most controversial of all academia subjects, funding, for a gleeful send-off of modern academic institutions, culminating in a thrilling fight sequence during the college setting’s annual regatta.

 Little Pretty Things, her recently released second novel, takes on a different setting, but many of the same themes. Maddy and Juliet, both former cross-country stars, spent high school as the best of frenemies, and then drifted apart after school. When Maddy shows up at the dingy motel where Juliet splits her time between cleaning and bartending, just in time for their ten year high school reunion, Juliet feels only envy for Maddy’s escape from their small, impoverished town. Plus, she still has a chip on her shoulder from a high school track career spent always getting second place to Maddy’s first.

Juliet and Maddy don’t get much of a chance to work things out, for Maddy is found murdered the day after her arrival in town. Juliet sets out to discover the culprit and clear her own name of suspicion, delving into their complex relationship as she seeks out Maddy’s secrets from a decade before. Through her investigation, Juliet gains new appreciation for all those things she thought she never had, including support from her family and her friendship with Maddy. She even discovers a hidden talent for coaching, and begins to appreciate that Maddy’s exceptional talents, on and off the field, increased Maddy’s vulnerability, while Juliet gained protection and perspective from her own mediocrity.

In Lori Rader-Day’s novels, men are ancillary. They exist, and they play important roles, but a reader is never in doubt – these are supporting roles. Strong female characters pervade Rader-Day’s work, and it’s hard to find a chapter in her work that doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Her female characters have names. They are powerful. They talk to each other about many subjects, and they don’t just talk – they act. They are also vulnerable and problematic. Even Rader-Day’s protagonists are far from deified – they make plenty of mistakes, have selfish motivations, and are blinded, at least at first, to the crimes of those they love. I’m a huge fan of tough prose, strong women, and a moody atmosphere, and Lori Rader-Day’s novels make the cut.

Little Pretty Things reads rather like a combination of Grosse Pointe Blank and The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerOr like a re-write of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where Romy gets murdered in the first five minutes and Michele forgets all about blue binder guy and spends the whole movie solving Romy’s murder while reexamining every facet of her and Romy’s life. Readers of Megan Abbott, Tana French, Mette Ivie Harrison, and Jamie Mason should get plenty of enjoyment out of Lori Rader-Day’s work, but there’s a limit to any exact comparison – Lori Rader-Day’s got a style and sensibility all her own. But don’t take my word for it – thanks to Seventh Street Books and their affordable paperback releases, you can find out for yourself.

You can find copies of Little Pretty Things on our shelves and via bookpeople.com