The Worst Situation Possible: An Interview with Steve Cavanagh

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In Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen, his series character, con man turned lawyer Eddie Flynn, takes on a celebrity murder case. However the true murderer, a serial killer, has gotten himself into the jury pool. Steve will be at BookPeople on August 15th at 7PM to discuss and sign Thirteen, but was kind enough to take this early examination.

 

1. Can you remember how the idea for Thirteen came about?
I had the idea when I was writing my first novel. Writers get ideas all the time, it’s figuring out which ones would make a good book, which is the tricky part. My ideas usually come from day dreaming about what would be the worst situation possible – and Thirteen, with a serial killer manipulating his way onto a jury, seemed pretty nightmarish. When I first had the idea I remember thinking I really liked it, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to write that book. Not then. I saved it, and now that I’ve written it I’m glad I waited. I needed more experience before I tackled this book.
2. Kane is a creepy and formidable antagonist. How did you go about constructing him?
Like a lot of thriller writers I spend a good deal of time finding out about bad people. Killers – what makes them tick? Why do they do these terrible things? I knew from the premise of the novel I needed a serial killer character, so I researched a lot of serial killers and decided that Kane’s psychology would come from a more unusual place. He has a rare genetic condition called congenital analgesia, which means he feels no pain. I wondered what that condition would do to someone with a troubled mind? The result is Joshua Kane.
3. This is one of those stories where the antagonist has as many if not more hurdles than the protagonist. Did that change any way you approached the novel?
This is more a two-hander than previous books. I wanted to create a well-rounded character for Kane, so I had the idea of treating him like he’s the hero in his own story. Some readers have even told me they were rooting for Kane at some points of the book. He can be very charming, after all. Ultimately, it meant balancing the book with Eddie Flynn’s perspective. Most people are behind Eddie Flynn, the con-man turned lawyer in the trial. The book then develops as a cat-and-mouse game, where only one character knows he’s even playing a game.
4. How did New York become Eddie’s stomping ground?
I love American crime fiction, so it seemed natural to set my novels there. When I came up with the character of Eddie Flynn I knew he would be a fast-talking, hard man lawyer with a big heart. He kind of is New York City. So it seemed natural to me at least to set the books in what would be Eddie’s natural habitat.
5. I enjoyed the friendship between Eddie and Harry. What makes up their bond?
Harry is Eddie’s mentor. He’s the reason Eddie quit the grift, and became a lawyer. They have a special relationship because each of them have their flaws, and they are both very aware of them and they try to help one another. Everyone needs that someone in their life who will go to hell and back for you at the drop of a hat. Eddie and Harry have that kind of relationship – and there’s no rivalry between them. Harry is an older man, and he’s trying to keep Eddie on the right path. Harry is set in his ways, and has a healthy disrespect for authority so Eddie has to keep him in check. Together, they kind of function.
6. As someone originally from Ireland who writes about the American legal system, what are the main differences that stand out?
In Ireland and the UK we have a legal aid system for criminal cases. This means if you are charged with a crime and you can’t afford a lawyer, you can apply for legal aid. If it’s granted, and it nearly always is, you can have any lawyer, from any firm, and they can’t charge you a penny. The lawyers get paid from the legal aid system. So a defendant who is broke can have the same quality of representation as a multi-millionaire. The system is constantly under attack from the government, but it really works. Also, we no longer have capital punishment. Those would be some of the big differences. 
Grab a copy of Thirteen today and be sure to join us on August 15th at 7PM to hear Steve Cavanagh chat with Chandler Baker about his latest!

Murder in the Afternoon Mixes Humor with Homicide

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Our August Murder In The Afternoon book will have the club laughing to death. In Junkyard Dogs, Craig Johnson  intended to write a somber novel about the effects of winter on the human condition. He ended up creating what many consider to be the funniest book in The Sheriff Walt Longmire series.
Walt finds himself  caught in the middle of a land dispute between the local junkyard owner and a prominent town member. When one of them is murdered, the investigation uncovers rivalries and secret romances Walt wishes  remain secret. He even has to contend with an Austin lawman  who resembles one of our book club hosts.
Junkyard Dogs is a fun read that should make for a fun discussion. To make it even more entertaining, Craig may possibly be calling in.

 

Join us on BookPeople’s third floor, Monday, August 19th, 1PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.
Buy it here!

Sweet Tea & Murder: An Interview with S.J. Rozan

 

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S.J. Rozan’s Paper Son is a perfect return for PI’s Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. The two travel to Mississippi to clear Lydia’s cousin of a murder charge. S.J. delivers both a compelling private eye story and a look into the culture of Chinese Americans in the south and its history. S.J. was kind enough to take a few questions from us.

1. How did returning to Lydia and Bill after almost a decade feel?

Well, the seed for Paper Son started to grow in 2014, the first time I went to Mississippi, which was only three years after Ghost Hero came out. So I never felt as though I’d left Lydia and Bill, even though I’d written other things. And I’d done a couple of short stories with Lydia’s mom, so I’d been in and out of that world. I found I could just slide right into Lydia’s voice; I didn’t feel rusty at all.

2. How did you first come across the Chinese culture in Mississippi?

I went to Clarksdale to visit my friend Eric Stone, a writer and photographer who’d recently moved there. He showed me Clarksdale’s Jewish cemetery, which was beautiful, and promised to show me the larger, older one in Greenville the next day. And then he said the magic words: “It’s not far from the Chinese cemetery.” I hadn’t known the Chinese had enough of a community in the Delta to have a cemetery. “Sure,” Eric said. “You know, the grocers.” I did not know the grocers. But the more I learned, the more fascinating the story seemed. When I got back to NYC I did some research, then went back to Mississippi to talk to some of the remaining Chinese folks. Then more research, then a third trip. Then I started the book.

3. What is most fun about putting your characters in a new environment?

Lydia’s reactions to the South were pretty much mine. Everything that knocked her for a loop had thrown me, too.  I enjoyed being able to articulate those things. Sweet tea? The one-drop rule? Football worship? These are real things in Mississippi.

4. Was there anything to keep in mind when writing about the South?

I worked hard to portray the people accurately, dialect and all, but without slipping into parody. It’s easy for us in the rest of the country to patronize and dismiss the Deep South but that’s a cheap trick and not worthy of the people I met. Even the bad people — and, like anywhere, there are many — are whole people and deserving of full portraits.

5. Captain Pete, Lydia’s cousin who serves as a guide, is a fun character. How did you go about constructing him?

All I knew when Lydia and Bill went to Clarksdale was that Pete was a former Navy man and a professional gambler, raised in the back of the store. He’s one of those characters who opens the door and is there fully formed. It doesn’t always happen but a writer knows when it does. In these cases all the writer has to do is get out of the way. I’m sorry; I know that sounds sappy. But it does sometimes happen — Lydia’s cousin Linus is the same — and it’s a writer’s greatest joy when it does.

6. Will there be a shorter wait for the next Lydia and Bill book?

Absolutely. It’s a Bill book and I’m wrestling it to the ground now.

Buy your copy of Paper Son here.

3 Picks for August, Stark House Style

With us celebrating Stark Houses twenty years this month, we decided to draw attention to the three books they all have coming out in August. All have the stamp of fifties hard boiled crime and noir told with style and raw emotion. Take on any of these three if your tough enough.

9781944520816Stool Pigeon by Louis Malloy

An angsty, gritty tale of  a Little Italy cop obsessed with nailing the the gangster he grew up with. His quest risks both his life and morality. Louis blends the story’s dense emotions and New York street life into an entertaining cop tale. How this didn’t get turned into a film with Rod Stieger, Lee J. Cobb, or Brando, I don’t know.

 

 

 

 

9781944520755Tall Dark And Dead by Kermit Jaedecker/ The Savage Chase by Frederick Lorenz/ Run The Wild River by D.L. Champion

Three books from Lion Books, right next to gold medal when it came to producing great fifties crime fiction. Whether the New York private eye yarn, a funny take on a missing gambler and the hustlers on the look out to use him, or the rise and fall of a border vice lord, these stories move fast and take no prisoners, embracing their quirks. Reading all three is like getting into a fiction propelled time machine.

 

 

9781944520779Death Is A Private Eye: The Uncollected Stories Of Gil Brewer edited by David Rachels

Gil Brewer delivered believable menace with a muscular yet lean prose style that followed lower middle class types driven by lust or greed, and often both to their dark fates. Here Rachels unearths a treasure of his writing, mainly from the seventies, seeing light for the first time.

Pick of the Month: The Warehouse by Rob Hart

The Warehouse Rob Hart continues to build on his promise as a writer. After his five novel arc of unlicensed private detective Ash McKenna, delving into several different sub genres, he now melds thriller, satire, and a touch of sci-fi. The result is The Warehouse, a novel about a future that could occur by the the time your finished reading the book.

Global warming is frying Earth, automation is on the rise, employment on the drop, but consumerism is still chugging along. Hence, The Cloud, an amazon on steroids, that has become a literal refuge. The employees, live, shop, and dine in the place where they work, Mother Cloud facility, factory, mall, and apartment complex in one.

Hart views the the story through three characters. He first introduces us to Gibson Wells, the founder of Cloud, communicating through his blog posts. He informs the public that he is been diagnosed with cancer and is taking a farewell tour of the Mother Cloud facilities across the country as he decides on who will be taking control of the company. Paxton, a newly minted security guard for a Cloud facility, takes the role of protagonist. His back story of his small business being put out by Cloud will sound familiar to some who remember the amazon-Hachette feud several years back. His boss tasks him with finding the distributors of a designer drug, employees are using in the facility. He falls for Zinnia, another new hire, except she is on the shipping floor. She is also working as a spy for another corporation, trying to discover the energy source that powers the facility.

The story’s expert craftsmanship moves both plot and characters along, threading the two with emotion. Hart could have gotten away with a dark satire about the lack of humanity in runaway capitalism with the characters as symbols, but he realizes we can’t truly think about what a story has to say unless we feel. He brings each character to emotional life. Paxton is the perfect underdog. A regular guy who has lost out so often, he’s got to win something this time. Zinnia proves to be a perfectly constructed bad ass lady, who we slowly sympathize with as she has to fight her own sympathy for Paxton and her “fellow workers.” As in previous works, Rob Hart shows his talent at dealing with people fighting the behavior that life has shaped for them.

Gibson Wells proves be a creation of nuance. Introduced to us by telling us he’s dying, we are already connected. He has both a sense of humor and purpose. He is out to fight global warming. At first he appears to be a descent if sometimes misguided man. However, blog post after blog post, we glimpse more of the ego that leads to the hubris of men who make decisions that affect the many.

Hart also builds a believable world, less Mad Max than just crappy. It has become a world owned by the one percent with everyone else working for them, if they’re lucky, and becoming more aware of that reality that day. The people are more accepting of the circumstance and search to numb it, whether through drugs or consumerism. a few choose to fight. The book captures the inertia of it and how something could give at any moment.

The Warehouse serves as a keen observation of things to come without ever losing track of the people who live and work in that future. Hart realizes we can’t fear for humanity if we feel no human contact with the characters. With The Warehouse he creates a frighteningly big world seen through an intimate scale.

You can pre-order The Warehouse now!

They Commit Themselves: An Interview with Lisa Sandlin

9781947627130_9b9d1Lisa Sandlin follows up her first detective novel The Do-Right, with The Bird Boys – it features Seventies era Texas Gulf P.I. Tom Phelan and his secretary, Delpha Wade – just released from prison for shooting her rapist – with their latest case. After dealing with the mess from the previous book, the two are hired to find a missing brother. The further they look into it, the more they realize one of them could be a killer. Lisa will be at BookPeople August 4th, at 2PM to discuss and sign her book. She was kind enough to take a few questions from us beforehand.

 

 

  1. What made you decide to start The Bird Boys almost right after The Do-Right ends?

I got what I thought was a great idea—to makes the books (3 or 4) a seamless story. Maybe I was goaded by a comment from someone about sequels: how you have to tuck in necessary information so that readers can follow a sequel and how it must it stand on its own, as well, and I thought, Well, I’ll fix that an easy way: I’ll just keep on going. It sounded so practical. By the time I thought maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, I’d already written the scene with Delpha at the police station, and though my own wishes are not a consideration mostly, I wanted to keep that scene. So I cut others—one of Delpha in the hospital and a black doctor who’s having his own bad time with the white hierarchy—and just started with Phelan cleaning up the crime scene.

      2. The book starts out as a missing persons case and develops into something more                complex in both plot and morality. How did the idea come about?

I always knew it was about 2 brothers, only I didn’t know who was going to become the killer—I thought it would be the hiding brother. As a prompt from real life (as Dean Arnold Corll was an IRL prompt for “The Do-Right”) I used both Robert Durst, who commits murders over a very long period of time, and an old man my social worker friend Greg ran into. Called to the house by the concerned landlady (a routine social services call), Greg finds an old man with knives and peculiar stories. After time and reflection, he puts the disparate stories together and realizes that not only is this guy older than he thought (around 97) but he’s serially killed people over these long years. With that in mind, I made the character.


  1. Not only do you get the details of the seventies, it many time feels like the novel was written during that era. Does the period have any effect on how you approach the books?

Sure. I’m bound by the history, even if I do fudge the chronology a bit sometimes, like moving the date of the Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs tennis match, or a hurricane. I adore Wikipedia bc I can go there to jog my memory about events and find pictures to use for clothing, look up which songs were popular. Often I have songs in mind, but sometimes I find better ones. There was always a sound track, wasn’t there? I was young then so I remember the times and high points of current events—like sitting at the dinner table when Lyndon Johnson announced he wouldn’t run again, and my father almost spit out his coffee.

  1. What makes Delpha and Tom good detectives, even though they are new to the profession?

One thing is the quality most writers have: they’re curious. They commit themselves to a matter/case and then they want to follow it through so they really know what happened. Second, they’ve got to make a living, both of them, so that keeps them going. Third, they wanted a new life, one different than they’d been living. Delpha, of course, wanted to construct a free life, and from scratch. Tom wanted the same, though on a smaller existential scale—he didn’t want bosses anymore.

  1. What do you think having two detectives allows you to do with the mystery story as opposed to one?

Since they can each take different strands of a plot, the tenor of the scenes may be a bit different due to the personality and manner of each. Delpha, eager to learn, soaks up the information Mrs. Singer of the antique store has to teach her about rare objects. She soaks up the relationship between the brother and sister, who are also business partners of long standing. She’s intensely curious about their family bond, the quality of which is attractive to her. Tom wouldn’t react the same way. In “The Do-Right,” there’s a scene between him and an assistant chemist, in which the smart-mouth chemist ridicules him for lack of experience. It was great fun to write, and Tom gets the chemist back in the end. But that was not a Delpha scene.

 

  1. Besides familiarity, what does the Galveston setting provide you as a writer?

It’s the Bolivar peninsula, really, that I’m familiar with. The wetlands scenes here are not even that far. I visited Anahuac and the lands around Winnie, and took notes on my phone, descriptions of the land. The place and the animals are beautiful, and they are still wild and free (since they’re nature preserves). I just like writing about that. (Bc I mourn what has happened to the Gulf. Mourn the loss of sand dunes and so much beach.) A German culture magazine will feature that excerpt soon.

  1. You do a great job of depicting the research less glamorous aspects of the job without it being drudgery to read. How do you approach those scenes?

I’m really glad you say it isn’t drudgery to read—bc it WAS! When I first wrote it, I went through EVERY LAST STEP of research and discovery to make sure the plot was working and that I’d given enough info for the reader. One of my very first jobs was as a skip tracer for the Credit Bureau, so I knew some of those research materials. E.g., bc I love detail the way a poet does, I’d written passages about NOLA’s Blue Book, which Delpha comes across when researching City directories. Fascinating—but that part had to go. Anyone reading the book at that stage pulled their hair out—and told me so. Not until the German publisher strenuously objected did I pull myself up and rewrite the whole book with a stern eye to movement. Working 12 hours a day, I streamlined like crazy. October 2018, the girl worked hard for her money.