MysteryPeople Q&A with Don Winslow

Don Winslow’s sequel to Power Of The Dog, The Cartel, is one of the most talked about books of the summer, as well as our June Pick of the MonthThe Cartel reignites the feud between DEA agent Art Keller and Mexican drug trafficker Adan Barrera, taking us through the war on drugs in the new millennium. Mr. Winslow was kind enough discuss the book, his approach to it, and the conclusions he drew from creating his opus.


MysteryPeople: What moved you to reignite the feud between Art Keller and Adan Barrera?

Don Winslow: The simplest answer is that it felt right.

But let me back up a little. At first, I didn’t want to ‘reignite the feud’ because I didn’t think I wanted to write this book at all. I spent over five years on its predecessor, The Power of the Dog, and it was an exhausting experience. I really thought I was done with the topic of drugs. I decided to write The Cartel (and thus reignite the feud) because the situation in Mexico had become so much worse, and I thought I had to write about it.

The two books combined – some 1300 pages covering over forty years – needed a strong through-line to give them a cohesive structure and knit them together in terms of chronology and theme. Otherwise, they would just be two separate books about the drug trade, and I want them to be, collectively, a saga. So the through-line between the two volumes is a story about the deep, bitter and abiding conflict between these two men.

That, indeed, felt right. The Cartel is a big story with a large cast of characters moving quickly across a fast-changing terrain. The Keller-Barrera conflict is like a laser beam homing device through that story.

But more important are the two characters themselves, who they are and what each represents. As they move against each other under the backdrop of the War On Drugs, each becomes more ruthless, more isolated, more angry and bitter. Their battle escalates as the war does.

Having said that, I don’t think that the two characters are equals – either in moral terms or in their importance to the books. This is primarily Keller’s story –a man sets out to do good, compromises his principles to achieve what he thinks is the greater goal, and then pursues revenge that he calls justice. In a sense, he’s right – Adan Barrera is evil, he deserves everything that Keller does to him. The larger question is what does it cost Keller? Keller is the war on drugs – he starts with every best intent, and it costs him everything he treasures, including his soul.

MP: Most of The Power Of The Dog involved trafficking on the California-Mexico border, while here it seems to have moved toward Texas. Did the change in geography have any affect?

DW: Tremendous effect. The actual events in Mexico over the two periods covered in the books dictated their locations. ‘Dog’ was largely centered in the Tijuana/San Diego area because that was the most important locus of the drug trade in those years. But to tell the story of what happened in the past ten years required a shift to the real-life battlegrounds of Nuevo Laredo, Juarez, Michoacan and Mexico City. Tijuana, while still significant, became something of a side-show – the events there were largely dictated by events that happened elsewhere. It’s a larger story that rapidly shifts locations because that’s what the war itself did. You were always looking at multiple fronts and shifting alliances.

The affect on the writing – on the substance of the novel itself – was significant. I had to describe the locations without lapsing into ‘travel writing’ or overlong descriptions that would have slowed down the action. For the most part, this was a matter of finding ‘brush strokes’ – quick dashes of color that gave the reader a sense of locale without bogging down the narrative. I spent more time on descriptions of Juarez because it was such an important part of the story. I chose do it mostly through the eyes of a local journalist who loved his city and hated the changes he saw happening. Doing that allowed me to give a more emotive account of the city, attaching feeling to location.

“The cartels aren’t in the drug business, they’re in the territory business – control of the lucrative (an understatement) trafficking routes. The prohibition is what makes their profit. We need to stop the futile insanity of the War On Drugs.”

MP: What draws you to illegal drugs as a crime to cover?

DW: If you write politics, you want to cover the White House. If you play football, you want to go the SuperBowl. Drugs are the most important subject in the field of crime, in fact, in society as a whole. It’s the front line, so that’s where I want to be. I want to write about other things as well, but it felt important to write about drugs.

MP: The female characters take on a more prominent role in this book. What did you want to say about the women in Mexico?

DW: The courage, moral backbone, and dedication of these women is awe-inspiring. The role of women during those years in Mexico is a vastly under-told story. You have women taking the roles of mayors, councilwomen and police chiefs when they knew that their predecessors had been killed. And they did it anyway – with mostly tragic results. I don’t know how to account for that kind of courage.

MP: How do you keep a story this mammoth in control?

DW: Even before I decided to write the book, I knew that control would be the major challenge. The first thing I did was to establish a chronology of the actual events in Mexico during those years. That alone was a 157 page single-spaced document. Then I went through it to find the watershed events – occurrences that had consequences. If an event didn’t cause a subsequent important event, I eliminated it. So the real life developments provided a rough chart of the book’s structure. But the spine of the story was still the conflict between Art Keller and Adan Barrera – everything else had to impact that battle. So then it was a matter of weaving Keller and Barrera through those events, while still staying faithful to the actual history. The book is a novel, fiction, but I wanted the reader to gain an understanding of the real background to the headlines. So I had to move Art and Adan where it would make sense. The other issue was point-of-view, deciding which character would be in the best position to take the reader through which event, while not losing touch with Keller for too long, and always moving toward an ultimate confrontation.

MP: While there is no easy answer, what can we do as a country to help the situation in Mexico?

DW: First, own our drug problem. It’s not Mexico’s problem, it’s ours. It’s just that Mexico suffers more from it. We criticize corruption in Mexico, and certainly it exists, but what kind of corruption within our own society makes us the world’s largest drug consumer? Second, legalize drugs. It’s our simultaneous appetite for drugs and prohibition of them that funds and fuels the violence in Mexico. The cartels aren’t in the drug business, they’re in the territory business – control of the lucrative (an understatement) trafficking routes. The prohibition is what makes their profit. We need to stop the futile insanity of the War On Drugs.


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

MysteryPeople Q&A with international crime fiction publisher Ilan Stavans

– Post by Molly

All month long here at  MysteryPeople, BookPeople’s mystery bookstore-within-a-bookstore, we’ve been celebrating International Crime Fiction Month in a variety of ways, including book club picks, internationally-themed Crime Fiction Friday posts, and a film screening of Coup de Torchon, Bertrand Tavernier’s 1981 adaptation of Jim Thompson’s classic noir novel, Pop 1280. We also brought you an interview with Danusia Stok, who has translated Marek Krajewski’s Inspector Mock series, among many others.

As June wraps up, we’ve got another interview for you. Molly asked Ilan Stavans, publisher at Restless Books, about what it’s like to work in international publishing. Mr. Stavans was kind enough to send some answers along. Ilan Stavans has had a variety of literary occupations, including essayist, translator, publisher, and short-story author. He is a prominent cultural commentator and public intellectual who is known for his analysis of American, Mexican and Jewish culture, as well as Latino and Jewish identity.

Mr. Stavans has worked as the publisher for Restless Books for the past two years. According to its mission statement, Restless Books is “an independent publisher for readers and writers in search of new destinations, experiences, and perspectives…committed to bringing out the best of international literature—fiction, journalism, memoirs, poetry, travel writing, illustrated books, and more—that reflects the restlessness of our multiform lives.”

Restless Books works to publish great international literature, and that includes science fiction, crime fiction, nonfiction, and a soon-to-be-launched classics line, Restless Classics. Don Quixote, Restless Classics’  first release, comes out in October in a special 400th anniversary edition. Restless Classics will add two titles to the line each year. The next four classics are Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folks, and Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz’s Poems and Protest.

Restless Books has also recently reissued one of my favorite detective novels, Four Hands, by Mexican crime novelist, historian, and prominent left-wing activist Paco Ignacio Taibo II. Four Hands is available as an ebook only and you can find it on your Kobo reader, the e-reader that supports independent bookstores. Read the interview below to find out more about Ilan Stavans, Restless Books, and the world of international publishing.


ilan stavans

Molly O: What are your thoughts about translating crime fiction, and genre fiction, in particular?

Ilan Stevens: I’m a lover of genre fiction: a voracious reader of detective and crime novels as well as SF. Restless Books has just published two extraordinary Science Fiction novels from Cuba, Agustín de Rojas’s Legend of the Future and Yoss’s A Planet for Rent. As you know, SF often focuses in the dystopian future as a metaphor of the exhausted present and these two novels are an extraordinary opportunity to understand the way the future has been approached in Cuba, a place that for over fifty years has stubbornly proposed an alternative, if equally imperfect and mendacious present.

Genre literature is often criticized as formulaic. But there is great talent in bending the formula, making it elastic, more idiosyncratic. That is the impression one gets when reading genre fiction from across the world. Dashiell Hammett is better appreciated against a background of hard-boiled novels from Pakistan, Bolivia, Israel, and Poland. Thus, translating their hard-boiled books is not only entertainment and a good investment(because genre fiction comes with a built-in-audience), but also culturally enriching.

Restless Books will bring out more SF next year. It has already published Paco Ignacio Taibo II, a master of the hard-boiled in Mexico. And it is preparing more detective novels.

MO: Low numbers of books are translated into English from other languages each year, compared to the number originally published into English. What accounts for the low numbers?

IS: The United States, the world’s superpower and a country made of immigrants, is embarrassingly parochial when it comes to literary translation: according to estimates, only around 3% of new books published annually are translations. This is in contrast with countries like Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, and Norway, where the percentage can sometimes reach above 50%. The empire is insular, the empire is shallow at its core. We appear to say to others: gives us your poor, your huddled masses, but once they are here, we’ll make sure they don’t look back because we believe we are better than everyone else. What accounts for this pitiful allergy, this meager literary diet? It also has to do with the dominance of English as a global language. And with the way literary markets work, giving others the impression that what gets translated into other languages is proof of success in English. Restless is part of a small but significant group of small publishers of literary translation in America (Archipelago, Other Press, Melville…) eager to bring change.

MO: What do you think are the languages easiest to translate into English? Which are some of the hardest?

IS: Translation is never easy, no matter the language, although it might appear deceivingly simple in some cases. There are books that have been translated into English twenty times (one example is Don Quixote) while thousands of others merit the journey but linger in oblivion. When translating a book that has already been done, it is important to pay tribute, even to draw from one’s predecessors. And when the effort is the first in line, it is crucial to remind the reader that the work at hand comes from elsewhere, that there is an element of foreignness in it that is essential.

MO: When a book has appeal across many different languages and cultures, what, do you think, accounts for this appeal? What themes and genres translate most widely?

IS: Ours in the twenty-first century is a global culture: we want to know what others in remote places of the planet thinking, what they dream. We want to feel that they are our contemporaries, that we live the same present moment in different ways. Global culture, to exist, depends on an emphasis in local elements. Truth is, books that become universal have a way of emphasizing regional aspects. This is a difficult line to walk: how to reach others beyond one’s confine by focusing on what we know best, our own little corner, our home. Audiences are rather open to genres and themes as long as the author, they feel, is at once original and authentic. The translator’s challenge is to preserve that originality and authenticity while also reminding readers that what they have in front of their eyes is foreign.

MO: This one is kind of a broader question – what is it like to work in the world of international publishing?

IS: It is enormously inspiring. As an essayist, translator, and cultural commentator (born in Mexico), for years I complained that American readers have a disturbingly constrained literary diet. A few years back, when I turned fifty, I decided to stop complaining and do something about it. This has taken me from one side of the page (putting words on it) to another (producing that page). I have been able to understand, from within, the laws that govern international literary markets, to appreciate how fashion is shaped, and, hopefully, to look for the courage to make a difference.

International Crime Fiction Friday: Brand New and Back In Print

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

– Post by Molly

For the last Friday in June, we’ll finish off our celebration of International Crime Fiction Month with two excerpts highlighting the diversity of crime fiction in translation available now. Much of the crime fiction that makes its way to American audiences is published within a few years of a successful release in its original language and country. Other novels wait for translation until they become classics, and other novels wait still longer, for their writers to gain international fame or win international prizes, as in the case of Patrick Modiano, who before winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014, had few novels translated into English.

Today we bring you examples of new and classic international crime fiction from German author Jakob Arjouni and Indian crime writer Mukul Deva. Below, you’ll find excerpts from two of Jakob Arjouni’s novels, Happy Birthday, Turk!, recently discussed by the Hard Word Book Club, and One Man, One Murder, courtesy of the New York Times. Jakob Arjouni was known best for his classic German detective series starring Turkish-German private eye Kayankaya, recently available for the first time in English from Melville International Crime. Mukul Deva is an Indian writer known for thrillers incorporating the author’s experience in the military and in private security, and thanks to Criminal Elements and their Writing The World blog series, you can read an excerpt of Weapon of Vengeance below.

Excerpt From Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni: 

“I approached the railroad station. The sex-shop signs proclaiming “Moist Thighs” and “Sweaty Nymphomaniac Nymphets” did not seem all that enticing.

In this weather, everybody’s thighs were moist.

A couple of bums reclined on the sidewalk among empty Coke cans and burger wrappings, wavelets of red wine lapping against the insides of their skulls.

On the other side of the station the streets became empty and silent. I looked for the address until I stood in front of an old building with a crumbling façade. Two Turkish kids were kicking a soccer ball against the wall. I wondered if they’d manage to remove the remaining stucco by evening.

◆ ◆ ◆

At first I was afraid that she’d sink her long scarlet fingernails into my cheek, but she simply pushed a small white button next to the beer tap. I hastened to pocket my change and turned to face the door with the PRIVATE sign. Two or three seconds passed before it opened, slowly, and out of it emerged three tank-sized types in pinstripe suits with bulges under their armpits similar to mine. Their eyes surveyed the room. Sedately they advanced to the bar and gathered around me like old friends. The shortest of the three wore a mustard-colored tie with a pattern of light-green elephants. He looked down at me, placed his paw on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. I clenched my teeth.”

Click here to read more of this excerpt. 

Excerpt from Weapon of Choice by Mukul Deva: 

“DAY ONE

The woman with the Mediterranean complexion blinked as she emerged from the aircraft into the bright Sri Lankan sunlight. Though early in the day, the light was already harsh. As was the medley of thoughts clashing in her head.

Lowering her wraparound shades over large, almond-shaped eyes to cut out the glare, she paused at the top of the stairs and surveyed Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport.

Stark brown fields with intermittent patches of green stretched away beyond the barbed-wire fence ringing the runways. Scattered along the fencing were security posts with tall, searchlight-mounted sentry towers. Grim reminders of the insurgency that had torn apart the island state.

Barring an odd airport vehicle and caterpillar-like luggage trolleys snaking around, the runway was devoid of life. An air of despondency hung all around. Not a good feeling. She gave a slight shiver, as though to shake it off.

As she descended toward the bus waiting to take passengers to the squat, yellow terminal in the distance, she watched a jetliner swoop down like a huge hawk, its blue and white Finnair logo sparkling in the sun. She heard a distant thud, followed by the smoky blistering of rubber as the jet’s wheels made contact with the tarmac. The roar of engines faded as it vanished down the runway.

It was a short walk to the bus, but she could feel sweat in her armpits. Arriving from the London chill, she was annoyed by the heat, which caused her to hurry into the air-conditioned comfort of the bus. It did not take long for the bus to fill up. Soon they were on their way. Almost everyone was switching on mobiles, several already in animated conversations. The young girl standing beside her had tuned out the world with her iPod and was swaying to some unheard beat.

Conditioned by her training, the woman did yet another rapid scan with practiced eyes. She had done this many times during the flight, but compelled by habit, did it again. Her danger antennae remained quiet. Nothing out of sync. Yet.”

Click here to read more of this excerpt.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Translator Danusia Stok


As part of our celebration of international crime fiction during the month of June, we bring you the following interview with Polish-English translator Danusia Stok, who has translated Marek Krajewski’s Inspector Eberhard Mock novels, among other works. Melville House Books, with Danusia as translator, has brought many of Krajewski’s novels to English audiences over the past few years, including Death in Breslau and, most recently, The Minotaur’s HeadBelow, you can read Molly’s interview with Danusia about the experience of translating crime fiction. Molly is MysteryPeople’s resident international crime fiction expert/fangirl.

 – Interview by Molly

Molly Odintz: I’ve been reading primarily fiction in translation for many years; partly, because it seems to me like a shortcut to finding excellence. What qualities spur the translation of a novel? 

Danusia Stok: Firstly, of course, the book needs to grip my interest and this applies both to content and style.  I guess content is the first attraction since I like to be engrossed in what I’m reading.  But then the importance of style quickly slips in.  If, as is the case with a crime novel I am reading now, the action is good but the language and style is poor, there is, I feel, no point in translating the work – just as I find reading poorly written English novels a waste of time and patience.  Another aspect which I believe is important is characterisation.  Novels where the characters are little more than caricatures or clichés fall in my estimation.  Whereas novels where the characters reflect the culture of a given country and a psychology which is both universal yet, in certain aspects, specific to a particular culture may well be worth considering for translation.  And then there is the geographical element – as in Krajewski – as well as the particular historical and sociological context.

MO: Tell me a bit about the experience of translating Marek Krajewski’s crime novels. How did your appreciation and understanding of Krajewski’s work evolve as you translated multiple novels by him? 

DS: I’m not sure that my understanding of Krajewski’s work evolved as I translated the various novels.  I sensed an affinity from the very beginning.  Certainly, I became increasingly engrossed in the city and historical set-up.  But as for my appreciation, I liked Krajewski’s work right from the start.  However, as I continued translating his novels, I grew to feel that Mock and Popielski were long-standing friends of mine.  I may not have liked every aspect of their characters (especially Mock’s) but I felt very close to them.

MO: Marek Krajewski immerses his readers in a pre-war Poland and Germany that look very different today than the period in which his novels are set. Did translating his lush descriptions of interwar Central Europe change your understanding of the world he describes? 

DS: Certainly.  Although I, myself, am Polish, I was born in England and history was always the weakest of my subjects working on Krajewski’s novels kindled my interest in both the topography, geography and history of 20th century Poland.  In fact, it has heightened my interest and desire to visit other Central European countries. (To such an extent that I have just been on a short break to Budapest).  There is something about the era about which Krajewski writes that I find both fascinating and disquieting, disturbing.  I now plan to visit Wroclaw/Breslau.

MO: How do translators keep up with their craft? Does one need to read widely and constantly in the languages you translate in order to keep up with evolving phrases and linguistic usage?

DS: And this is a bit of a problem, finding the time – because yes, a translator needs to read continuously – both in the original language and the target language, since both languages are living (and literary trends changing).  Then there are various workshops and conferences we attend.  Interaction with other translators – and publishers of course – is also very beneficial and energising.

MO: Can you give me a couple examples of some of the harder to translate phrases used in Polish crime fiction?

DS: I’m afraid no particular examples as to difficult phrases to translate in crime fiction come to mind.  However, what is extremely difficult to translate is jargon, slang, dialect, street language etc.  The criminal underworld is full of specific terms and to find the equivalent can prove very, very hard, to say the least.

MO: When a book has appeal across many different languages and cultures, what, do you think, accounts for this appeal? What themes and genres translate most widely?

DS: Do you know, I think this changes.  Trends come and go.  At present I believe that crime  novels in translation which delve deeper into the psychology of the characters are proving increasingly popular.  They offer the reader something they can identify with – basic aspects of human psychology are much the same across countries – while providing a certain objectivity; the familiar i.e. the emotions and reactions, is brought up against the unfamiliar, i.e. the foreign setting.  Crime novels which immerse the reader into the culture, traditions and atmosphere of another country, too, are of interest.  People are – hopefully – becoming more open to other cultures, other ways of thinking and behaving, and a gripping novel which offers a reflection of these “other worlds” is an attractive way of learning and experiencing this “otherness”.  I, for one, find I can retain and learn more from a historical, let us say, crime novel in translation, than from a text book.

MO: This one is kind of a broader question – what can we gain from reading literature in translation? 

DS: Much of what I’ve written above pertains to this question, too.  Literature in translation opens out the world – and I know this sounds very clichéd.  But it is true.  It immerses us into other cultures, histories, beliefs.  It presents us with other angles on life.  In so doing it could well – and let’s hope it does and will – teach us tolerance towards what may initially appear unfamiliar or even alien to us.


You can find copies of Marek Krajewski’s books as translated by Danusia Stok on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant is a writer attracted to the past. His Dutch Currridge series features a detective in post-war Fort Worth. His latest stand alone, Constellations, ping pongs through different historical periods. The story begins with a young reporter in the late fifties. He comes across a man telling life stories that may or may not reach back to the Civil War. Tim Bryant comes to speak and sign Constellations, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Mr. Bryant joins us in conversation with Joe R. Lansdale, whose latest novel is Paradise Sky. We talked to Tim about the book, music, and and time. 

MysteryPeople: Constellations is very much a unique tale, mixing several genres. How did it come about?

You never know where you might find the seed of a story. With Constellations, it all started when I read a magazine interview with Bob Dylan, and he was talking about transfiguration. He had this bizarre idea that he’d somehow been transfigured from this other guy named Robert Zimmerman who had died in a motorcycle accident. And the way he talked about it was kind of off-the-wall, but it was spooky too, and I was drawn in by that spooky element. This idea of supernaturally taking on the spirit of another person, of projecting ourselves through time like this, just resonated with me. Then, combining it with that dark, southern Christian element, it just seemed like something to start with. And so it was. It all unrolled from there.

I read a lot of history, especially local, Texas and southern U.S. history, and I was also interested in the history of riverboat communities. It’s an era that came and passed quickly, and maybe that’s why it’s so fascinating to me. It’s almost like a mirage, this blink-of-an-eye after the industrial revolution but before the railroads. And this small Angelina River in East Texas, this river that I was so familiar with, had been a route for riverboats to take cotton down toward Houston, although, to see the river these days, you’d never think of it or think it was possible.

So I guess these disparate ideas, these ideas that dealt with what’s possible and what’s not possible, and the chance that maybe the line isn’t as definite as you would think or that we don’t know as much as we think we do; these are the things that set Constellations into motion.

As far as mixing different genres goes, it was and is a mystery to me. That’s where it begins and ends. It’s as much a mystery as Dutch Curridge is. Maybe it doesn’t rely on typical tropes, but it’s about life, and life is a mystery.

MP: How did working on a stand-a-lone feel after hanging out with Dutch Curridge in three books?

TB: It was nice to work on something that wasn’t going to be a series, because it allowed me to follow the arc of the story to its end and let that end carry its full weight. Not having to leave Art as a viable character for further novels meant I didn’t have to write consciously. My best writing is intuitive, meaning I don’t outline and chart things out. That’s true with at least the first and third of the Dutch Curridge novels, but I do have a few rules that are always in the back of my mind with Dutch. There’s a continuity of character that dictates certain things. The main one, of course, being that he has to leave the book ready for the next one.

With this one, I didn’t know if or how Art would survive the end until I wrote it, and so I was taking the same trip through the story as the reader. All the way to the end. Practically speaking, it means I had the opportunity to get the ending exactly right. I wrote it instinctively, but I had time to live with the ending, think about it, talk it over with a few people, and I found that I learned more about why it ended the way it did after I had written it. If I had projected myself onto it, it might have ended very differently.

“So I guess these disparate ideas, these ideas that dealt with what’s possible and what’s not possible, and the chance that maybe the line isn’t as definite as you would think or that we don’t know as much as we think we do; these are the things that set Constellations into motion.”

MP: As with most of your books, music plays an important part. Here it seems to have a feeling of solitude as well as connection. What did you want to explore about it this time?

TB: I’m glad you picked up on that, because that was the idea I was trying to open up. This idea of music being so intrinsically part of us that it represents both our separateness, being that intensely personal expression that identifies each of us as an individual soul – whether it be our spiritual fingerprint or the fingerprint of God on us — and our connectedness. The connectedness for the fact that we all seem to have it in common, or at least the propensity for it, and that singing or playing music together is very much a chance for dialogue, a common language and even religion.

Obviously, music had a spiritual make-up long before we got to Art and the Black spirituals of the American South. Going back to Africa, back Native Americans and most indigenous peoples, music has been seen as akin to prayer, this communication with something bigger or better than ourselves. Art absolutely sees it in those terms.

So do I. The epigraph of the novel is a line from The Waterboys’ song“Don’t Bang the Drum,” which asks a question: “What show of soul are we gonna get from you?” I wrote that epigraph at the top of page one of CONSTELLATIONS and began writing, and it was my guiding light all the way through. It makes the connection to music explicit. If that doesn’t do it, I’ll admit that I named Art after Art Blakey, the legendary jazz drummer. If that doesn’t do it, the chapter headings should, as I named them like you would song titles on an old blues album. The more I could give this story the feel of old blues and jazz music, which is what the story is filled with and, to a large extent, told through, the better.

MP: Constellations deals with myth versus fact. Do you see a place for myth?

TB: Most definitely. I think there’s a place for myth in all of my stuff. The story of Whitey Calhoun in Dutch Curridge, the wild boar in SPIRIT TRAP, both deal with finding the line between truth and myth. You know that saying, if you’re confronted with truth and myth, always go with the myth. I believe in that. Of course, my characters are concerned with finding the truth, whether it’s Dutch solving a case or Art seeking the truth of his identity and his past. It’s probably the tension between my characters seeking that truth and me seeking the myth that’s at the heart of my writing. There’s also the thought that you can tell more from a society from their myths than anything, and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. There’s often more truth in myth than people want to admit.

MP: Most of your books take place in the past. What draws you to other times?

TB: I’ve tried to figure that out, and I’ve even talked to other writers about it, and I can’t figure it out. But they all tell me to keep doing what I’m doing. I think the whole mythologizing thing probably plays into it. If I’m going to write characters into a world, I guess I’m just more interested in putting them in a place that’s a bit mysterious to me, so that I can poke around and discover it.

Having said that, I’ve always been interested in the Civil Rights era south, because there was so much tension and change and upheaval going on. Those are things you look for when you’re writing, and I guess most Southern writers end up dealing with that stuff in one way or another. With Constellations, I just backed up and took a wider view.

In some ways, it’s not incredibly different from the Dutch books. It is the first one I’ve written from the Southern Black perspective. You might think that was a major change, but, once I did the necessary research — which included talking with as many people who were there and still remember – it really wasn’t. I wrestled for about an hour with the question of how to authentically write an African-American protagonist. Once I came to the realization that you write them the exact same way you write any other protagonist, I was good to go.

MP: You’ll be doing the event with fellow Nacodoches resident Joe R. Lansdale. What about East Texas creates good writers?

TB: It’s definitely something in the water supply. That also accounts for all the misfits and oddballs, which give us plenty to write about.


Join us here at BookPeople for a visit from Tim Bryant, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Bryant will be speaking and signing his latest novel, ConstellationsYou can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale, one of our favorite authors here at BookPeople in any section – and he’s in several – comes to speak and sign his latest novel, Paradise Sky, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Paradise Sky tells the fictionalized early adventures of Nat Love, one of the first black western heroes. We caught up with him to discuss the book and the period he was writing about. Mr. Lansdale joins us in conversation with Tim Bryant, whose latest novel is Constellations

MysteryPeople: What struck you about Nat Love to make him the hero of a novel?

Joe R. Lansdale: First off, there is so little written about the black experience in the west. I also liked he was a real person. I could tell from reading it he had had a real cowboy experience. He enhanced it the way all the storytellers of that time did, and I liked the mythical aspect of him stretching the truth in the same way other frontiersmen did. I hadn’t read anything like his book about the black experience in the west.

MP: You also have other historical figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Bass Reeves. Was there one in particular you had fun portraying?

JRL: Bass Reeves. He was revered by most, but some thought him over tough. I played on that. Again, I wanted to touch on people who had done to some degree what Nat in his autobiography, claimed to have done.

MP:  What did you want to express about the place and time?

That people had to be rugged to survive, and that in most ways it was a harder experience for African-Americans, and unlike movie portrayal, they were more than cooks and maids. A large portion of the working cowboys were black.

MP:  Are there any rules you go by when writing for period?

JRL: I actually try to follow a historical timeline and I research the real people I write about.

MP:  I also think this is your first novel where written from an African American first person point of view. How do you approach writing from a different race or gender?

JRL: Except for historical situations, I just write people.

MP: In a way you create a counter legend to the standard legend of The West. Do you see a merit in legends?

JRL: I love the creation of myth. I tried to walk the line between myth, legend, and reality.

Join us here at BookPeople for a visit from Joe R. Lansdale, Thursday, June 25th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Lansdale will be speaking and signing his latest novel, Paradise Sky. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Review: PALACE OF TREASON by Jason Matthews

Jason Matthews joins us at BookPeople Tuesday, June 23rd, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. He will be speaking and signing his latest novel, Palace of Treason, his follow-up to his highly successful debut novel, Red Sparrow. 


– Post by Molly

Spy fiction may have its origins in the adventure narratives of the early 20th century, but the genre came to his gritty, gadgety prime in the midst of the Cold War, where spy battled spy across the globe. Many of the greatest spy novelists of the 20th century, including John le Carré and Ian Fleming, came up in very halls of institutions that they would later critique, glorify, or otherwise interpret in as many ways as fiction would allow.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, spy fiction has expanded; it has delved into the narratives of corporate greed, government corruption, future techno-espionage, and most frequently, historical fiction set during the tensest, most atmospheric moments of history, many involving the Soviets at their hidden-microfilm-camera best. Yet spy fiction has veered away from what is still, arguably, an important and unpredictable force in the world of secrets – Putin-led Russia.

Jason Matthews, a former member of the CIA, is bucking that trend; first, with his debut novel, Red Sparrow, and now, with his intricately-plotted follow-up, Palace of TreasonRed Sparrow first introduced us to the former ballerina and current Russian secret agent, Dominika Egorova. Dominika is a graduate of the “Sparrow School”, a training academy in the arts of seduction. Her training combines with a sort of emotional synesthesia that allows her to sense others’ thoughts.

Egorova returns in Palace of Treason with some new close combat skills, which she immediately puts to use in a series of high-octane sequences before Matthews slows the pace down just enough to whirl the reader into a complex maze of conflicting loyalties, unfulfilled passions, and murderous competition. Matthews never speeds up the pace too much to let his characters develop, and keeps tight control of his plot throughout the narrative.

Palace of Treason goes a little afield from Red Sparrow‘s classic double agent plot, exploring the secretive world of unsanctioned nuclear weapons programs. Egorova, along with Nate, her American CIA handler, seduce, karate-chop, and talk it out in their quest to sabotage Iranian uranium production. Matthews’ CIA background shows in his characters disciplined approach to their work – these are smart spies, and through their actions and language, Matthews transmits a career’s worth of obscure abbreviations, ingenious methods of information gathering, and maddening inter- and intra-organizational rivalry.

He also provides a recipe at the end of each chapter. These dishes, combined with his liberal peppering of Russian into dialogue and his strong sense of historical context, demonstrate the high levels of experience and excellence Matthews has poured into his second novel.  I haven’t read Red Sparrow yet, and I assure you, Palace of Treason functions wonderfully as either a sequel or stand-alone.


You can find copies of Palace of Treason on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. BookPeople’s events are free and open to the public. In order to get a book signed, you must purchase a copy from BookPeople. MysteryPeople has events going on all week – keep an eye on the BookPeople calendar for more great events!