MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW edited by Lawrence Block

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781681772455In the upcoming short story anthology In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, editor Lawrence Block presents a daunting challenge to his authors: pick a painting by Edward Hopper and write a story about it. Hopper was known as a non-narrative painter. When he used human subjects they come off more of a collection of shapes with few distinctive features than flesh and blood, with their two biggest activities being smoking and reading. What his work does supply is mood, which each of these writers tap into and bend to their own will.

Many use the subject and scene of the paintings as the focal point of the the narrative, telling us there is more than meets the eyes. This is true of the editor’s take on Automat. Stephen King uses A Room In New York‘s sedate appearance as a counterpoint of tension for the goings on behind the door behind the couple. Megan Abbott further explores her themes of female sexuality with the woman in “Girlie Show.” It comes as no surprise that she delves into the noir mood with which many Hopper painting are associated. It also has an opening line Megan wasn’t willing to say in public.

“Each story defies what we see on the the surface of the painting. Many go inside the painting, like a skilled jazz master with a standard, turning it inside out.”

Some add their series characters into the world of a painting, or incorporate multiple paintings into their tale. Michael Conelly uses the famous Nighthawks for a tale that takes us back to his character Harry Bosch’s private detective days, Jeffery Deaver uses Hotel By The Railroad and several other paintings for his cold war thriller.

Some stories have the painting as part of the protagonist’s world. Joe Lansdale makes the usherette in New York Theater the object of desire for his title character, “The Projectionist.” The story’s last line conjures up the loneliness and alienation inherent in much of Hopper’s work. Craig Ferguson’s “Taking Care Of Business” uses South Truro Church as the workplace for his dying lead. it is a funny, human look at friendship, life, faith, and death with another wonderful opening line, “The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs.”

In Sunlight Or In Shadow not only shows the in influence of Hopper on the writers, but how their imagination pushed that influence. Each story defies what we see on the the surface of the painting. Many go inside the painting, like a skilled jazz master with a standard, turning it inside out. It is fitting that an anthology concerning Hopper reminds us there is no boundary with art and artists.

In Sunlight or In Shadow comes out December 6th! Pre-order now! 

Letters to Santa: Tom Ripley Edition

MysteryPeople will feature letters to Santa from beloved (or infamous) mystery characters throughout the month of December. Our first letter comes from everyone’s favorite 1950s psychopath, Tom Ripley, and takes place between the first and second in the series. 

 

Dear Santa,

talented mr ripleyWhile I have many desires for this Christmas season, there’s no room to detail them all here. I’ve had quite a productive year, traveling across Europe, sailing the Mediterranean, acquiring the wealth and status I have always dreamed of, and acquiring the elegant company I have so desired. I certainly have miles to go to ensure a long-lasting happiness, and to secure my status in the world, and to these ends, I do have a few small requests.

  • I would like to secure a certain measure of security, as well as status. To this end, please send the documents and companions necessary to fully take on the life of a (particular) upper class gentleman.
  • I would like swimsuits to be banned, and for all to wear full linen suits with Italian leather shoes to the beach.
  • I would like a fine companion, all to myself.
  • I would like the deed to an Italian villa, preferably secluded.
  • I would like a standing reservation for skiing in the alps.
  • I would like (as has been the case before) to have little notice taken of me, that I might live in the shadows and achieve my wildest dreams.
  • And of course, I would like a yacht. Make that two yachts. One for the Riviera and one for the Cote D’Azure.

Best regards,

Tom Ripley

You can find Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels on our shelves or via bookpeople.com. The series begins with The Talented Mr. Ripleyand continues with Ripley Underground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripleyand Ripley Under Water

A Thrill Ride of a Novel: MysteryPeople Q&A with R. G. Belsky

  • Interview and Review by MysteryPeople Contributor and Reporter Scott Butki

R. G. Belsky does two things quite well as a mystery author: He shares what the news media life is really like and he tells one hell of a great story, always complete with a few fake endings and excellent twists.

As a fellow former newspaper reporter who still pays much attention to my first profession I really get excited when I saw a writer who is sharing not just the newspaper lore but more importantly shattering the stereotypes and explaining the problems rampant in the industry, particularly reporters having to do more with less.

‘…when people ask me where I get the ideas for my fiction, I’ve always said: “Hey, I just go to work in a newsroom every day!”’ – R. G. Belsky

By now I don’t think any news organization has managed to avoid layoffs which affect the rest of the group. Meanwhile, newspaper reporters are often these days encouraged not just to write an article, but also do work on other platforms, be it podcasts, television appearances and, of course, keeping stories current online.

That said, a story just telling about those changes wouldn’t sell many copies. What’s needed is a great plot, and an excellent array of characters and now you have the readers hooked and having trouble putting the book down.

I interviewed Mr. Belsky before for  Mystery People about some of his earlier work with his protagonist, Gil Malloy. Those were good books, so when I saw he had a new Gil Malloy novel I arranged an interview before I started the book, certain this one too would have lots of twists and turns.

“Newsrooms – especially the ones I’ve been a part of in New York – are wonderfully crazy, exciting and fun places to be. Especially when you’re chasing after a big story.” – R.G. Belsky

I can now say, having finished the book, that this one, I think, is his best. It’s not just that this is the rare book about a female serial killer but that helps. It’s not just that Malloy’s personal and professional lives merge together, at the same time that some truth about a journalism scandal that nearly killed his career, resurfaces. But when you also add in the interactions between the brilliant serial killer and the journalist getting scoops because she is as fascinated by him as she is with her, and a great cast of characters, now we’re talking about why this book is such a thrill ride of a novel.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot for fear of giving away any spoilers.

So let’s get to the interview, which Belsky was once again gracious enough to conduct with me via email.

 

Scott Butki: What was it that inspired this story?

R. G. Belsky: I suppose that would have to be the Son of Sam murders. It’s probably the most famous serial killer case of my lifetime – and I helped cover it as a young journalist at the New York Post back in the 70s. The media became a big part of it, of course, with the Son of Sam killer taunting law enforcement authorities in letters to the New York City tabloids. So I thought it would be interesting for Gil Malloy to get caught up in a sensational modern day serial killer case like this. The big difference, of course, is that Son of Sam was a man killing women for sexual thrills – while Blonde Ice is a woman, a femme fatale murdering men for her own bizarre reasons.

SB: I applaud you for revealing in your books what the news consumers often are unaware of, namely that journalists have to do more (not just write a story and/or do a podcast or man a twitter and/or post video) with less due to layoffs. Are you making a conscious effort to do that in each book?

RGB:  I think it’s impossible to write a book set at a newspaper today without including the massive changes in journalism brought on by social media and the disappearance of many print newspapers. And all of this is happening at a very rapid pace.

In the first Gil Malloy book, The Kennedy Connection, Gil is still pretty much a traditional newspaper reporter writing for the next day’s paper. I included some of the social media changes in Shooting for the Stars. But in Blonde Ice we see what a newsman really has to do to keep pace with the news audience today – filing on twitter, doing livestreams from the scene, worrying about traffic to the paper’s website. The days of the reporter who ran to a pay phone with his story and told the city editor: “Get Me a Rewrite” are long over. Gil’s a traditional newsman who’s trying to adapt to these changes – but still realizes the most important thing is getting the story first and getting it right.

SB: Another thing I love about your series is having Gill Malloy encounter ethical dilemmas, of which there are so many in this field. Are you going to continue doing that for each book?

RGB:  Most journalists (including myself) have strong ethical standards we live by – no matter how relentlessly and sensationally we may chase after a big story. For Gil, his biggest ethical dilemma was the focus of the first book, The Kennedy Connection. He strung together a series of second hand quotes and pretended they came from a direct interview with a legendary prostitute named Houston. He crossed the ethical line there and it is something he will always have to live with in all the books. As Gil says at one point: “No matter how many big stories I break the rest of my life, there will always be someone who says: ‘Oh, yeah, he’s the reporter that made up the story about the hooker!”

SB: How did you come up with the idea of a sexy serial killer lady?

RGB:  All the famous serial killers have been men. Son of Sam. Ted Bundy. Zodiac. The Boston Strangler. There have been women who’ve committed multiple murders – but it’s always been for insurance money or a nurse with some kind of “angel” complex, etc. The only thing close was Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute who murdered seven men in Florida. But she always claimed that started out as self-defense when she killed a customer who was attacking her – and then took out her anger on other men she picked up. So I thought it would be interesting to have a pure woman serial killer who murders men just for the sexual thrill of it – sort of a female Son of Sam. In this case, she’s also a beautiful and brilliant adversary for Gil, who eventually fears for his own safety from her.

SB: How much do you use past news stories you know of or were part of when writing these stories. I thought, for example, of the Janet Cooke fiasco when reading about Malloy’s Houston problem.

RGB: Oh pretty much everything I write in the Gil Malloy books is inspired by a lot of stories I’ve seen and covered over the years in real newsrooms. The Janet Cooke case was certainly a good example of a reporter going over the ethical line, but there have many others too that gave me the idea for Gil’s Houston problem. I’ve covered a lot of great stories in my lifetime. So when people ask me where I get the ideas for my fiction, I’ve always said: “Hey, I just go to work in a newsroom every day!”

SB: Are you still working as a journalist in some capacity or are you a full-time fiction writer these days.

RGB: I wrote the first Gil Malloy book, The Kennedy Connection, and the novella, The Midnight Hour, while working full-time as a Vice President for Digital Content at NBC local stations and later as a managing editor at NBC News. I now write fiction full-time.

SB: If no longer a journalist do you miss working any particular stories, like perhaps this crazy election or the Cubs victory?

RGB:  What I miss most is working in a newsroom. Newsrooms – especially the ones I’ve been a part of in New York – are wonderfully crazy, exciting and fun places to be. Especially when you’re chasing after a big story. That’s why I try to capture so much of that newsroom atmosphere – the good, the bad and, most of all, the intensity – in the Gil Malloy books. I think Gil is only really at home living in a newsroom and he can’t imagine what would happen to him if that life were taken away.

SB: Why do you think readers find stories about journalists interesting?

RGB: Oh, I think Watergate (Redford and Hoffman in “All the President’s Men”) certainly romanticized journalism 40 years ago. But I don’t know that readers find journalists any more interesting than cops, lawyers, private eyes or any of the other protagonists found in mystery novels. It’s the character itself they find interesting. I think of Gil the character more than I think of Gil the journalist. I tried to create someone as interesting as the mystery characters I love the best – Philip Marlowe, Harry Bosch, Spenser, Kinsey Millhone – plus even Rockford or Columbo from TV.

SB: What’s it like to have best-selling authors like Jan Burke championing you?

RGB:  I’ve been thrilled and honored to get support from great authors like Jan – as well as Sandra Brown, Jimmy Breslin, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Steve Berry and others. I actually met Jan at my very first Bouchercon mystery conference many years ago – and didn’t even know if she’d remember me. It’s terrific that successful authors like this are willing to take time to read my books – and even better when they like them!

SB: What’s next for you and for Malloy?

RGB: Right now, I’m just focusing on Blonde Ice and continuing to build the fan base for the series. Then we’ll see where it goes.

You can find copies of Blonde Ice  on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Crime Fiction at the Fest: A Celebration of Diverse Literary Voices in Texas

Scott & Molly join other community voices for the panel discussion “Social Justice in Crime Fiction” at KAZI Book Review’s December 3rd event “A Celebration of Diverse Literary Voices in Texas”

kbr_logo_mediumMolly and I are excited to be a part of this year’s Celebration Of Diverse Literary Voices, presented by KAZI Book Review with Hopeton Hay, to be held at Huston-Tilletson University this upcoming Saturday, December 3rd, from 10 AM to 4 PM. We’ll be joining author Minerva Koenig, Peggy Terry of Folk Tales Black Women’s Literary Society, and author and moderator Marrick Armstrong, for a panel discussion on how crime fiction can be used as a tool for social justice. The festival also includes panel discussions featuring prominant local figures on cultural diversity in fiction, Black intellectual thought in education, and emerging Mexican American fiction, as well as an awards ceremony.

MysteryPeople regularly appears on KAZI Book Review during the last Sunday of every month to present our crime fiction recommendations to the world, and we’re honored to play a small part in this weekend’s upcoming literary festival.  Our panel will be running from 1:30-2:30 on Saturday at Huston-Tillotson University.

Find out more about the festival here!

Crime Fiction Friday: “Vikings” by Scott Montgomery

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  • Introduced by Molly O.
MysteryPeople’s very own Scott Montgomery has a new story up on Shotgun Honey. Below, you’ll find the link to 750 words of pure sleaze, inspired by a chance conversation between Scott and author Laura Lippman at Bouchercon one year, as the two speculated on how a not-so-dynamic duo might form. This story is seriously creepy, y’all – but on this site, and to our fine friends at Shotgun Honey, creepy is a compliment. 

“Vikings” by Scott Montgomery

“The Blonde brought their beers and took their wing orders. Bob wished they had the brunette with the glasses. He eyed the babe with the red hair…

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Review: THE GIRL BEFORE by Rena Olson

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781101982358I read this all in one night, when I was looking for a book disturbing enough to distract me from the results of the election. The Girl Before delivered! Rena Olson works as a marriage therapist, evident in her realistic portrayal of the most f*&^ed up marriage in fiction since Gone Girl. As The Girl Before begins, her protagonist Clara is ripped from her husband and daughters as law enforcement raids their home, and told by her husband to keep her mouth shut. Depressed and in denial of the reason for her arrest, Clara initially refuses to cooperate – she insists that her marriage has been defined by love, rather than control, and refuses to accept any information to the contrary.

Through flashbacks, we’re introduced to what appears to be a finishing school, where young girls, isolated from men, are taught obedience, languages, and various other ‘womanly arts,’ or face violence or expulsion. We slowly learn that what Clara conceived of as a happy childhood at an exemplary school was actually a life spent in a bordello training facility for underage girls intended for the international sex trade.

The psychological manipulation of the bordello’s owners, the love of their son, and Clara’s early age at the time of her kidnapping all contribute to a heart-rending description of a “good girl” who, through behaving as she is told to in her atrocious milieu, becomes guilty of unspeakable acts. Like the well-behaved across society, she knows the punishment meted out for wrong behavior is extreme, yet deludes herself into a belief that the rules that govern her world are justified, and can be obeyed. Olson reserves almost as much sympathy for Clara’s husband, the scion of Clara’s kidnappers, forced into continuing the family business, yet showing a rare skill for intimidation and violence. No matter now much I hated Clara’s husband, I loved Olson’s choice to represent not only his violent acts towards his wife, but also his willingness to choose her life over any around him, including his nightmarish bordello madame mother.

Olson does a convincing job showing how warped our sense of normal becomes when raised within a toxic environment – Due to her relative privilege compared to the others in the brothel, Clara has a tremendously difficult time accepting her life as unhappy, despite her husband’s abuse and her duties turning kidnapped girls into obedient future courtesans. The brutality of Clara’s life is akin to the wife of a Southern slaver – she endures her husband’s violence, metes out punishments to the girls in her charge, and tells herself and her “daughters” that all that is done to them is for their own benefit.

Olson, through her choice of setting, highlights the uncomfortable similarity between older models for women’s behavior and the modern-day tasks of a teenage courtesan preparing for auction. Tasks once considered a woman’s duty, including obedience, sexual servitude, and keeping other women in line, are reinterpreted in their modern context: as the tools of a brutal trade, and the watch-words of the patriarchy. The girls of The Girl Before are not just being prepared to be hookers. They’re to be sold as high-class courtesans, obedient and skilled, their virginity preserved to increase their value. They straddle the line between wife, child, and prostitute.When the girls rebel against their training, they wind up in the compound’s brothel, exposed to filth, disease, and endless work – this fate serves as a warning to the rest, and keeps the compound’s residents competing against one another, rather than banding together.

Clara’s sense of her own privilege, her delusion that the compound’s rules are justified and the punishments meted out for other girls’ infractions are deserved, her insistence on following the rules in a game that’s rigged – all of these combine to shine an uncomfortable mirror back onto a society that has (more often than not) chosen inequality for most, rather than risk losing privileges for some. Like Clara, many of us are tempted to confuse power and privilege with happiness. Like Clara, many of us are feel the urge to insist that the love of others can somehow compensate for their abuse. Like Clara, when faced with a new normal, we adjust. Like Clara, when confronted with the truth of our past actions, we suffer. Like Clara, when provided with the support of our community, we can heal.

You can find copies of The Girl Before on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

I Could Fit Five Bodies in the Trunk of My Sedan: MysteryPeople Q&A with Patrick Millikin

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The Highway Kind is a collection of short crime fiction, dealing with cars, driving, and the road. It features crime and general fiction and even a singer/songwriter. Authors include the likes of Joe Lansdale, Ace Atkins, and Michael Connelly. We talked to to the editor Patrick Millikan about cars and crime.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea of The Highway Kind come about?

Patrick Millikan: My original thought was that it would be cool to have an anthology of crime stories in which each author chose a particular car and wrote a story about it. The cars would be prominently featured. I was surprised that there hadn’t been (at least to my knowledge) a collection like it. Over time the idea morphed into something, at least in my opinion, much more interesting. As I mention in the preface, when I commissioned the stories I left the guidelines pretty open – the pieces would simply be about “cars, driving and the road.” As the stories started to come in I was surprised and intrigued by how personal, almost confessional, many of them were.

MPS: How did you go about choosing the authors?

PM: I wanted a mixture of different styles and approaches, and I didn’t want all of the pieces to be “noir” (the term has been so co-opted as to become almost meaningless). I put together a kind of dream list of writers and just went for it. The early commitment from Gary Phillips, Michael Connelly and Diana Gabaldon gave me the confidence to put together an official proposal. I started with a core list of about twenty five writers, realizing that they all wouldn’t be able to come through. I couldn’t be happier with the final roster. It was a real honor to work with them.

MPS: You have a few authors who never wrote crime fiction before. How did you know they were up for the task?

PM: Ha, good question. There are several such writers in the book. Willy Vlautin was way up high on my list of potential contributors. Although he doesn’t write crime fiction per se, his work really captures the atmosphere I was looking for, and I must say, I think his story is one of the finest in the collection. Willy actually put me in touch with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers. I admire Patterson’s songwriting and was eager to see what he’d come up with story-wise. I was really impressed…! He’s a damn good writer and I think we’ll be seeing a novel from him one of these days. I was hoping to get a story from Jay Farrar from Son Volt, another writer whose work I admire, but I couldn’t get in touch with him.

MPS: Which author surprised you the most?

PM: Probably Patterson Hood and Kelly Braffet. I hit up Kelly because I loved the voice of her novel, Save Yourself, and knew she would write something interesting, but I had no idea if she was up for a crime story. Boy did she deliver…

MPS: Outside of this book, what is your favorite story involving a car?

Tough, tough question. I can’t pick a favorite but I love Donald Hamilton’s Death of a Citizen (which I think very underrated), Theodore Weesner’s The Car Thief, Bezzerides’s Thieves’ Market, Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and more recently, Duane Swierczynski’s The Wheelman and James Sallis’s Drive and Death Will Have Your Eyes. There are loads more that I’m forgetting. One of the weirdest I’ve come across is Harry Crews’s Car.

MPS: For you, what would be the best automobile to commit a crime with?

Probably the most innocuous car that nobody would remember, like a tan Ford Taurus.
Then again, I could probably fit five bodies in the trunk of my 1960 Cadillac Sedan Deville…

You can find copies of The Highway Kind on our shelves and via bookpeople.com