-Post by Molly
I have been a fan of Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell novels ever since my sister pressed The Beekeeper’s Apprentice into my hands and, one Sunday afternoon, I finally read it. I immediately fell in love with the indomitable Ms. Russell and her adventures with her rather-older paramour, Sherlock, as they wandered across the world, putting the lie to Holmes’ rumored retirement and semi-permanent bachelor status, and solving cases for who-knows-which governments, in the province of soon-to-be-gone empires, for the benefit of the not-for-long wealthy and their soon-to-triumph underlings. In other words, Laurie R. King situates one of the greatest Victorian creations in the context of a steadily declining empire, and modernizes him by pairing him with an American-Jewish scholar-flapper well able to keep with with Sherlock’s complex cases.
In Dreaming Spies, Russell and Holmes are headed to Japan on holiday after finishing up a case in India. Upon boarding their steamer set for the South Seas, they soon discover that a blackmailer may be on board the ship, and he may have sinister intentions for those on board and those awaiting him at his destination. Russell and Holmes take some valuable lessons from a Japanese gymnast just returning from school abroad, and while learning all about the customs and culture of their destination, also begin to suspect their tutor in all things Japanese may know more about the mysterious circumstances of the blackmailer on the boat than she initially led them to believe.
The book is split into three parts: the journey to Japan, journey through Japan, and the later appearance of a Japanese visitor to Russell and Holmes’ country house in Britain. The book dedicates most of its space to the equally exotic environments of a luxury sea voyage in the 1920s (the last days of the great ocean liners) and Japan in the process of modernization yet still very much rooted in traditional practice. Without ever losing sight of the plot, King gives us charming digressions into such topics as the importance of determining one’s table mates for the duration of a long sea voyage, the vicious competition over train seats in an otherwise polite Japanese city, and the pleasant intermingling of Japanese and English gardening styles.
King, as always, has done her research, and Dreaming Spies is full of rich historical detail, much of it charming tidbits – the type of minutiae that end up in the end notes of the history books, but bring historical fiction to life. King’s latest is also full of intrigue, blackmail, spies, and of course, a healthy dose of murder most foul. You don’t need to understand the historical background of Japanese-English relations in the 1920s to enjoy Dreaming Spies - in fact, King becomes rather playful in the sizable conspiracy taking up much of the book, which by the end, reaches epic proportions.
You can find copies of Dreaming Spies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
As a reader, making that discovery of an author you know you are going to read forever is one of the best things that can happen. Immediately locking onto a voice that is fresh yet one you have faith in for future work is always a gift. It’s like starting a romantic relationship, but with more trust. It is the way I felt when reading David Joy’s Where All Light tends To Go.
The book begins both poignant and pitch perfect with the protagonist, Jacob McNeely, looking down at a high school graduation in his North Carolina home town. It would have been his class, if he hadn’t dropped out. He feels the lost chance for a different path and a life with Maggie, his lost love, as she tosses up her cap. He also feels trapped – caught in his small town forever to work for his meth-running father, a life he refuses to accept Maggie sharing.
The book then jumps to that summer after graduation, where Jacob struggles to escape his fate. He meets Maggie at a graduation party he crashes. It’s a moment that rekindles their relationship and shows the violent outbursts that he can succumb to when he spots someone giving her cocaine. Soon after, his father pulls him further into the family business by making him the accomplice to a murder. When a witness survives, Jacob is ordered to finish the job.
Joy vividly captures the feeling of being weighed down by one’s background and circumstance. Jacob’s father may be nothing more than a barracuda, but his small pond makes him a shark, and he thinks he has a kingdom and a legacy. He’s done all he can to make Jacob believe there is a fence around him, preventing all hope of escape. One wonders if his violent outbursts are part of family breeding and training. When Maggie tells him she should follow him out of town when she goes to college all he can think of are the reasons not to. It all melds with the noir trope of faith beautifully.
All of this is placed with great craftsmanship. By placing the story in an eighteen year-old’s summer, Joy sets his story into a tight structure, yet allows an assured pace that breathes with character and life. He can also deliver a strong action scene, like a chase with Jacob pursued by the police when he is holding.
By infusing a new perspective into rural noir, Joy gives new life and possibilities to the subgenre. He gives us a society where drugs and poverty have scorched the earth so harshly, there is no chance of the seeds of youth to grow, all presented in the style of a well crafted singer-songwriter ballad. Yes, everybody needs to get know David Joy.
You can find copies of Where All Light Tends To Go on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
As we sit in our armchairs, waiting for the cold weather to go away, here’s a few other things to look forward to…
World Gone By by Dennis Lehane
Denis Lehane finishes up the saga of Joe Coughlin, still involved with the Tampa mob as an adviser while raising his son. Both come into jeopardy when a traitor is thought to be in their midst. Lehane uses the backdrop of organized crime’s involvement in WWII and Cuba for an exciting and emotionally nuanced character portrait. World Gone By hits the shelves March 10. Pre-order now.
Endangered by C.J. Box
Joe Pickett’s next case is personal when his adopted daughter runs off with her rodeo cowboy boyfriend, Dallas Cates, and is found beaten in a ditch. Joe’s search for justice has him gong up against the whole Cate’s family. Few can create a pressure cooker of a story like C.J. Box and it is hard to beat his western setting. Endangered hits the shelves March 10. Pre-order now.
Life Or Death by Michael Robotham
Robotham gives us something completely different with this Texas-set novel dealing with a convict who escapes one day before his prison release and has both sides of the law after him and his (stolen) millions. Robotham keeps you guessing to the end as well as entertained with his involving characters. Life Or Death hits the shelves March 10. Pre-order now.
Kelly Whitley is a great practitioner of crime flash fiction. In this story published in A Twist Of Noir, she shows how to set up a seemingly mundane opening that promises something more dangerous and delivers in spades.
Bart and Lana walked into the Four Seasons Hotel. In the Aspen Room, the reception for the new Mr. and Mrs. Blake Potowski was well underway. Guests packed the ballroom, laughing, talking, and dancing. A long table against one wall held a cornucopia of wedding gifts ranging from large boxes festooned with ribbons to demure envelopes containing monetary gifts.
Lana froze in the doorway and gripped Bart’s sleeve. “I think we might be underdressed. Everyone here is decked out for black tie. We look like we don’t belong.”
Looks like winter is going out like a lion instead of a lamb. That’s why Molly and myself are each offering three novels to take you out of the cold and give you a warm vacation – with a little violence of course.
– Scott M
THREE FROM SCOTT M.
Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen
If the South Florida setting doesn’t warm you up, the laughter this book causes will. It starts with dead Shriner found on the beach with a top alligator stuffed down his throat and gets weirder from there. Hiaasen’s first use of the crime novel as a satire on his state pokes fun at those who live and visit there.
The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow
This is the first book to feature Boone Daniels, part time private detective, full time surf bum. Winslow dances with his reader, starting out as a fun action private eye novel, leading you through darker depths, then spinning you back into the light, weaving Southern California history with an engaging plot. You can feel the ocean breezes while reading.
A Death In Mexico by Jonathan Woods
Inspector Hector Diaz looks into the murder of an artist’s model, found in the plaza where a number of American expats live. Diaz takes the investigation over the border with a cute cop helping him go up against the rich and powerful while interfering with his beloved vices. A Death In Mexico is a fun and often funny mystery with a hero who beautifully represents his country.
THREE FROM MOLLY
The Stranger by Albert Camus
There’s nothing like a re-read of The Stranger to make you realize that Camus’ great existentialist novel is also an extremely noir story about murder, and is considered by many to be the founding text of Mediterranean Noir. As the winter storms roll over the plains and into our beautiful city, let Camus’ boiling-hot Algerian sun act as a reminder that heat equates to short tempers and bursts of violence.
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani
When escaping the cold of winter, what better to read than a book set in a desert? Chris Abani’s fantastic exploration of side-show freaks, mad scientists, South African war criminals, and a guerrilla army of atomic bomb radiation survivors may sound a bit like The Hills Have Eyes goes to Vegas, but Abani has written a thoughtful and carefully plotted detective novel that evokes more of Tod Browning’s Freaks or Kathryn Dunn’s brilliant satire Geek Love than C.H.U.D. Let Abani take you on a journey, from the sweltering heat of Vegas, to the stifling oppression of Apartheid-era South Africa, and back again.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
This book does not take place anywhere sunny. Quite the opposite – the icy locales of the Arctic will remind you that Texas winter (especially this one) is a joke in comparison. This is not a book to escape winter, so much as to realize that we have automatically escaped winter, merely by living in Texas. By the end of this novel, you will learn that you in fact have no idea what winter is, nor do you ever wish to find out. Journey from Copenhagen with Smilla, Greenlander, glaciologist, and grim avenger for a murdered child, as she ventures out into the arctic find her vengeance. Prepare to realize just how warm you are, and just how cold you could be.
You can find copies of the above listed books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
On Monday, March 2, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s third floor, the 7% Solution Book Club discusses Jacqueline Winspear’s second Maisie Dobb’s novel, Birds of a Feather. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club picks are 10% off at the registers the month of discussion.
Birds of a Feather, Jacqueline Winspear’s second novel starring the indomitable Maisie Dobbs, begins with a missing person. A powerful grocer hires Maisie, now out on her own working as a private investigator after the retirement of her mentor, to find his missing daughter, run away again, this time at the mature age of 32. Dobbs quickly suspects there is more to the woman’s disappearance than the vestiges of teenage rebellion. The recent deaths of several of the missing woman’s old school friends only confirm Maisie’s suspicions, and she must discover what the four estranged friends – three dead, one missing – had once shared in common to make them all targets.
Meanwhile, Dobbs must conquer challenges in her personal life, including the increasing lack of communication between herself and her own father, brought to the fore by her search for the errant daughter of another. She also must figure out a way to help Billy, her assistant, as he turns to drug use to help with the pain from his old war wounds and gas-damaged lungs. She, too, must figure out a way to heal from her own wounds, psychological and physical, left by the war.
Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs may live in the mid-1920s, but her characters exist just as much in the past as they do in the present. Their paths in their current lives are still determined by the legacy of the war as much as any attempt to move past it into the future. How can they? Many of the characters in the novel no longer have a future – the war robbed them of theirs, in the form of sons, lovers, fathers, and husbands; all gone or returned irreparably damaged. The world of Maisie Dobbs is also a world of women; women who have taken over the traditional roles of men, first in the war, and then afterwards, in the post-war context of few men and many unmarried women.
Maisie Dobbs, in her work as a private investigator, uses intuition and empathy far more than deduction. Her detecting skills offer a welcome relief from the cold logic of a Sherlock or the bumbling niceness of a Watson, and she can pick a lock or interrogate a suspect as well as the next (wo)man. Jacqueline Winspear has created a believable and heroic female detective for a post-war Britain partially defined by its dearth of men, and has been justly applauded for her efforts.
Copies of Birds of a Feather are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month. As always, books for book clubs are 10% off when purchased the month of discussion.
Duane Swiercynski is one of the most exciting genre authors practicing today. He has an ability to use his knowledge and passion for crime, horror, and sci-fi and create something fresh and unique, not just a simple homage. He also has the ability to write a different book each time, even in his Charlie Hardie trilogy. Duane proves both of these facts in his latest, Canary.
The set-up and tone for Canary’s opening chapter suggest a satirical direction like some of his previous novels, including The Blonde and Severance Package. Sarie Holland, a college freshman, drives a boy she likes to a sketchy side of Philadelphia. She learns too late that it was a drug pick up. The boy runs off, leaving her with the drugs and arrested. To avoid prosecution, she agrees to be a confidential informant for an ambitious narcotics detective. Soon, she is playing a complex cat-and-mouse game with cops and criminals while keeping it quiet from the school and her family.
Swierczynski writes to a more realistic feel than in previous books. He portrays Philadelphia’s suburbs and mean streets with equal believable detail. The cop and criminal passages have the feel of a great Seventies movie like The Seven Ups or The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. The violence is swift, random, and rarely applied with much skill.
It is in his depiction of Sarie where truly he excels. Swierczynski depicts her predicament in both a raw and sober tone, taking a girl at an age where you’re just starting to navigate the complexities of your emotions and putting those feelings through extreme circumstances. Part of this is done by with first person sections that are done in the form of Sarie writing to her recently deceased mother. Much like Tarantino at his best, Swierczynski has the ability to to deliver all the colorful genre goods, then hit us with an earned poignancy when we least expect it.
Canary has everything we like about Duane Swierczynski’s work. The dialogue is crisp, the action passages more with a visceral force, and it has a master craftsman’s pace. However that pace, is less frantic as usual. He appears to be going in a different direction, playing more to emotions, putting more faith in character. Canary shows you’ll follow Daune Swierczynski wherever he goes.
You can find copies of Canary on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Our February 16th Noir At The Bar brought out many of Austin’s literati. In the audience were Elizabeth Crook, Stephen Harrigan, and Meg Gardiner. Since we had heavy hitters reading, everyone was right at home.
Jesse Sublett and myself (the only questionable author) opened the show. I read from my short story, “Red’s White F-150 Blues” that will be appearing in the upcoming Murder On Wheels anthology, featuring a tribute to Robert E. Howard and a beheading. Jesse really kicked the show into high gear by ripping into the cover of a low down and dirty Cab Calloway cover, followed by an original.
Our first guest author was Trey Barker. Trey writes Texas noir that evokes dangerous blues and greasy barbecue. He proved it by reading from Death Is Not Forever, his book that was released that day. The tale featured a crooked judge and his minions dealing with a burning dope stash.
Bill Loehfelm was kind enough to give up his Mardi Gras to join us. Like his series character, Maureen Coughlin, a cocktail waitress-turned-cop, he’s a New Orleans transplant from Staten Island. He put us in in the shoes of Mareen’s patrolman shoes from the opening of his latest, Doing The Devil’s Work, showing how an officer can be relieved to find a dead body.
Lou Berney was our last guest author. He read from February’s MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, The Long And Faraway Gone. It’s an ambitious book, delivering a gamut of emotions. His reading style complemented his skillful writing; he picked a passage that was an amusing look at teenagers working in a movie theater than moved into a somber poignant tone that only a master craftsman can pull off.
Jesse Sublett wrapped up the show with the same pizzazz he showed earlier in opening it, discussing his upcoming true crime book, 1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked The Capital (release date scheduled for March 1) that looks at the Overton Gang. He talked about how one member endured the Texas Ranger version of water boarding. Look out for the book this March. Pre-order a copy early.
We then mingled, the authors signed books for fans, and we all had one for the road. There was also a discussion about margin sizes that got lewd. Look out for the next time we’ll be at Opal Divine’s.
Thanks to all who came, and sorry to all those who couldn’t make it – you missed a wonderful evening! Noir at the Bar combines three of our favorite things – books, booze, and the powerful prose of crime fiction read aloud. Keep a look-out for more great MysteryPeople events!
Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full, comes to BookPeople Tuesday, February 24, at 7 pm, to talk about her new novel, Monday’s Lie. She joins us in conversation with Mark Pryor, author of the Hugo Marston novels.
- Post by Molly
Whether you’ve been reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife, or Jamie Mason’s just-released thriller, Monday’s Lie, you may notice a trend in the genre: authors are finally addressing the primacy of relationship violence as opposed to stranger danger. These three novels all explore the strange ways in which love slowly turns to hatred, and marriage becomes a battlefield with increasingly deadly reactions to ever smaller offenses.
Monday’s Lie begins with Dee, unhappily married to Patrick, and struggling to express her frustrations, fearing the loss of normality that she has worked hard to achieve. Dee’s reason for seeking a cookie-cutter lifestyle in the suburbs with a man she doubts, fights with, and possibly fears? The roots lie in Dee’s childhood, where her mother, a CIA operative gone at the drop of a hat on sometimes lengthy missions, taught Dee and her brother extensive memory and observation skills. Dee, as an adult, craves the stability and normalcy she never had as a child, and links her intensive observation skills with the unhappiness she felt at her mother’s profession. As the novel continues, and Dee’s marriage reaches a crisis point, Dee must re-activate her childhood abilities, this time not as a game, but as a matter of life and death.
Monday’s Lie is a novel of subtle, numerous ironies. The story zeroes in on how a person can ignore warning sings through the novel’s ironic depiction of a CIA-trained woman unwilling to take seriously the warning signs she can’t help but notice. Mason also explores the irony of keeping up appearances. All Dee has ever wanted was to be normal. She then realizes “normal” is based solely on the public expression of her life, and has nothing to do with who she is. By striving for normality, Dee sets herself up for the gulf between reality and appearance, a gap that grows wider as her husband becomes increasingly distant in private while presenting himself as boisterous and loving in public.
Mason has written not only a fascinating exploration of observation and deliberate ignorance, but also a darn-good thriller whose plausibility reminds us that sometimes, fear is not just paranoia, and to pretend the world, and the people in it, are harmless is to give up one’s ability to anticipate others’ actions. Mason’s protagonist is incredibly observant, and as the danger to her increases, she must come to terms with her power, and act on the things she observes, in order to preserve her own safety.
I think I enjoyed this book so much because Mason, instead of writing a story about a woman who must learn how to empower herself, tells the story of a woman who already has agency, but must empower herself simply by being willing to use that power. Dee continually weakens herself through ignoring her own powers of observation in favor of falsely upheld notions of domestic bliss, and when she comes to terms with that which is already in her, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.
As women, we may not all have through-the-roof detection skills learned from our mothers, but we all have some knowledge, some power, that we refuse to use effectively. We may or may not feel that “normalcy” is a goal to strive for, with its implication of feminine weakness as a desirable quality, but we all could use our talents a little more, and let ourselves be blinded by our own desires a bit less. In other words, we could all benefit from a read-through of Monday’s Lie.