Watch the Film, Discuss the Book with History of Mystery

Last summer I got into a discussion with the brilliant author and fellow 80s-survivor Megan Abbott on how that decade defined noir for the mainstream through various filmmakers and publishers who reprinted forgotten masters of crime fiction. Megan brought up that because most of those publishers were male fans choosing the authors they encountered in the fifties and sixties, many female authors were overlooked. She told me the forties and fifties held many great female hard boiled and noir writers. One lady who is often overlooked is Dorothy B. Hughes, who we will discuss at our History Of Mystery class on February 5th.

A book critic as well as a writer, Dorothy B. Hughes worked in many of crime fiction’s subgenres. Much like her readers of the time, she moved noir to the suburbs. The nice neighbor across the street was just as tortured or as ruthless as the low-life downtown. When it comes to mood and character she was a master. Her best known book is the haunting In A Lonely Place. It follows war veteran and struggling writer Dix Steele, who becomes involved in a serial killer case his police detective friend is investigating. The book uses atmosphere in a unique way and gives a vivid snapshot of postwar Los Angeles in place and attitude.

The book inspired the classic film of the same title directed by Nicholas Ray. Bogart stretched his acting chops as Dix and while the film took several liberties with the book, it keeps it’s tragic tone. One main difference is that Steele is now a working screenwriter, which gives Ray many opportunities to skewer Hollywood. We’ll be viewing the film at 3:30PM before our discussion.

Here’s a trailer of the film:

Also, to bring it full circle, Megan Abbott will be calling in to join our talk about the book and film, being a fan of both. Those who are not familiar with her work should pick up Queenpin or  The Song Is You right now, as well as her first book, Die A Little, which shares a few things with In A Lonely Place. Her latest, The End Of Everything, earned a spot on many Best Of 2011 lists, including mine. You can learn plenty about crime fiction by just saying hello to her.

Once again, the class is on February 5th. The film starts at 3:30, discussion at 6pm, both on BookPeople’s third floor. The class is free and copies of In A Lonely Place are 10% off to those who attend.

Hidden City – Austin Edition

Tonight at 8PM Central on The Travel Channel’s Hidden City, Marcus Sakey (the show’s host and also a crime fiction author) looks at three crimes in Austin, one involving BookPeople. Sackey Sakey and the camera crew visited the store a couple of months back to do some filming and signed copies of his novel Two Deaths Of Daniel Hayes while he was here. We still have a few available if you want to check them out after you tune in.

Get to Know Caryl Ferey

Caryl Ferey is an author who deserves more attention than he’s receiving. A French author, he writes dark, violent books about colonized countries and their colonists’ relationships with the native population. The two that have reached the states, Zulu and Utu, prove him a true and important voice in the genre.

Zulu has sold over two hundred and fifty copies in a little over a year at MysteryPeople. Its hero is Ali Neuman, the head of a Capetown police unit of Zulu decent. Having watched his brother and father killed during apartheid and leading a mostly white group of men, he mirrors South Africa. Old wounds open when the bodies of two white women are found with Zulu tribal markings. The search for the killers and the source for a new drug on the streets have Ali and his men moving through the tiers of criminal society; the Tsotsi gangs that roam the city, the Sicilian Mafia flexing their influence, and Western and corporate interests out to exploit South Africa. What starts out as a dark police procedural moves into the territory of a dark political thriller.

In Utu, Ferey gives us a less heroic lead in Paul Osborne, a self loathing, drug and alcohol addicted, washed up ex-cop. He’s called back to duty in Auckland, New Zealand because of his expertise in Maori society. A mass grave of Maoris has been found, all with their femur’s missing (wait until you find out why). The only other cop familiar with the culture, Osborne’s freind and collegue, committed suicide during the investigation. This is just the first thirty pages. Paul is plunged into the dark side of his country, introduced to its demons and putting him face to face with his own.

Ferey’s books aren’t for the faint of heart. He uses depictions of graphic and many times rough sex to define his characters. Not only is his violence brutal, he has a chilling skill of conveying the sense of victimization. One particularly nasty scene in Zulu, featuring a hibachi and a severed limb, will never completely leave your mind.

Ferey uses these elements and a strong sense of character to look at the double edge of tribalism. It can be a place to find oneself, a place Osborne doesn’t have and one that sometimes battles with Neuman’s role as a police officer. It also creates a social chasm both men have to negotiate. Mainly he looks at how certain powers exploit people so that one half of a society can destroy the other for them.

Ferey’s work is epic noir in both scope and style. He delivers a large tableau where societal and personal corruption meet. His heroes tend to take on a suicidal approach to achieve any power over evil. Caryl Ferey starts at noir and ends the trip close to apocalyptic. For those willing to get on board, it is an insightful emotional, and all together exhilarating ride.

London Gets It

According to Crime Time, a UK crime fiction site, City University of London will now offer the UK’s first degree for crime novelists, the Crime Thriller MA, citing “…student demand and the increasing popularity of the genre,” and because, according to the Programme Director, “There is much talk that we are entering a second golden age of crime writing.”  If you lived across the pond, would you enroll?

I came across the link to this story over at publisher Melville House’s blog, MobyLives. Just this week they started up a brand new facebook page for their crime imprint, Melville International Crime. Head over and take a look, they’re good folks over at Melville House.

Book Review: ‘The Plot Against Hip Hop’ by Nelson George

Before I say anything about this book, I have to admit that I am not a fan of rap. It’s a legitimate form of music and art that I’m just not into. However, the story and possible insight Nelson George’s The Plot Against Hip Hop offered (and the fact that it’s on the high quality Akashic label) intrigued me to pick it up.

George gives us a truly unique tough guy hero in D Hunter, a security expert specializing in the hip hop community. Street tough with a harsh personal history (his brother was shot by the police and Hunter is HIV positive), survival has made him knowing and respectful of life. He also shows a love for the music that he grew up with and that pays his bills, yet has a clear eye of the personalities involved.

When hip hop critic and historian Dwayne Robinson is murdered, he gets a copy of a cassette tape into D’s hands before he dies. When the police write the killing off as gang related, D is in search of a tape player. The mystery leads him through the hip hop world from street thugs to power players. There are hip hop cops with dossiers on artists, hangers-on, fans, conspiracy theorists, marketing execs, and astute journalists. George gives a wonderful look at and has great respect for the music and its power.

In many ways the music is also a character in the book. It has a past and interacts with the characters. George seems to argue that it is as much of a murder victim as Robinson, using the mystery to investigate the intersection of art, culture, commerce, and politics.

Nelson George is an authority on the world he takes us through. He has written collections of criticism on African American artists. I hope he continues in the hard boiled genre as well. He is a man with a lot to say and has created a great hero to say it with.