With two of March’s visiting authors, Tim Dorsey and Deborah Coonts, being known for mixing homicide with humor, it seemed like an appropriate time to point out other authors whose characters are known for their laughs as much as their detection.
1. Rex Stout set the trend of bantering detectives with the eccentric genius Nero Wolfe and streetwise Archie Goodwin. Stout was a good friend of PG Wodehouse and many times feels like Jeeves and Wooster with a body.
2. Lisa Lutz’s Spellman Files introduced us to PI Isabelle “Izzy” Spellman and her dysfunctional family business. When they are not spying on strangers during a surveillance job, they spy on each other.
3. Bill Fitzhugh is a first rate satirist, whether skewering Nashville in Fender Benders or following bug exterminator Bob Dillon who’s mistaken for a freelance assassin. Always over the top and always hilarious.
4. Steve Brewer’s hapless PI, Bubba Mabry, was first hired by the actual Elvis-in-hiding in Lonely Street. His car thief stand alone, Boost, recalls Donald E Westlake at his best.
5. Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series may not fit the category of comic crime novel, but many follow the put upon Wyoming lawman for his humor. The banter between Walt and his Cheyenne buddy, Henry Standing Bear, are worth the price of the book alone.
For more than a century the world has been obsessed with the wonderfully complex detective mastermind known as Sherlock Holmes. From his first appearance in A Study in Scarlet to his wild adventure in The Final Solution, Sherlock Holmes was an object of fascination for an entire society, and then without warning Arthur Conan Doyle killed his greatest character and left fans wanting more. Ten years passed and though fans and publishers begged, Doyle refused to bring back a character he felt no love for and supposedly despised. Then with just as much warning as was given of his death, Doyle brought Holmes back to life first with a flashback story, Hound of the Baskervilles, and then with new adventures. It is the mystery of why Doyle brought back Holmes with what appears to be no motivation that Holmes fans have been puzzling over for century, and it’s the mystery that Graham Moore’s debut novel, The Sherlockian, delves into.
Many authors have attempted to write new Holmes stories over the years, but with every new Holmes mystery, I’ve wondered when someone was going to write a mystery that focused not on Doyle’s greatest creation but on Doyle himself. Now I can finally stop wondering. The Sherlockian tackles the mystery of Holmes’ “death” over Reichenbach Falls not only from the perspective of a Holmes scholar in the present looking back into the past, but from the perspective of Doyle himself trying to solve a brutal murder. The chapters jump back and forth from the modern day, where the story revolves around a murdered Sherlockian and a diary missing from Doyle’s personal papers, to the turn of the twentieth century and a story that revolves around Doyle and fellow writer Brahm Stoker attempting to solve a series of brutal murders. Far from throwing the narrative into disarray, Moore’s time-jumping chapters actually tie the story together more effectively as events of the past effect the present and the mysteries of the present are made clear in the events of the past. The investigations run simultaneously through this book and, as the dual climaxes approach, begin to cliffhang back and forth.
As the mysteries through both time periods begin, Moore’s characters quickly begin to emulate Doyle’s as they settle into Watson/Holmes relationships. In the modern day, on the trail of a murderer and a missing diary worth a fortune to the right person, Harold White, a fan of Doyle’s and truly obsessed with Sherlock, evolves from a modern day film consultant into a late 19th century consulting detective as his intrepid sidekick, Sarah, morphs from a nosy reporter into a loyal Watson, always pushing Harold to reach further than his already brilliant deductions have taken him. In Doyle’s half of the story, the author, once so diffident about his character, attempts to emulate his own fiction by taking a case away from what he considers to be the imbeciles at Scotland Yard and promising to solve it himself. As for a Watson, that role is filled by Doyle’s longtime friend and confidante Brahm Stoker who, much like Sarah in the modern chapters, pushes Doyle to continue his investigation even after it seemingly falls apart around them. With riveting characters, well written prose, and a unique blend of both gaslight crime fiction and modern thriller tropes The Sherlockian cannot fail to delight fans of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian mysteries, or literary thrillers.
Book People’s Seven Percent Solution Mystery Book Club is reading this book for our March meeting on Monday March 5th at 7:00 P.M. If you’re intrigued, pick up a copy of this awesome book and come hang out with us as we talk about Graham Moore’s The Sherlockian, one of the best Holmes related mysteries I have ever read.
When it comes to comic crime novels, few stand out more than those written by Tim Dorsey and featuring his character Serge. Serge, a so-crazy-he’s-brilliant vigilante and trivia master, brings mayhem and murder to those who ruin his beloved Florida. He and his cannabis-consuming buddy Coleman ride a wave of Donald E. Westlake-style humor as they fight for truth, justice, and marijuana legalization. In his latest misadventure, Pineapple Grenade, Serge enters the world of espionage.
Along with becoming a pen pal to Sarah Palin, Serge has taken up being a spy, doing it as a hobby until someone hires him. With The Summit of The Americas taking place in Miami, the hobby leads him to a bed of intrigue. It involves the assassination plot of a South American leader, the CIA, carjackers, a Homeland Security head looking for a new color to frighten people, and a sexy spy who wants Serge. All revolve around our crazy hero, turning him into the sane one. Oh, and I almost forgot about the shark in the middle of the street.
Once again, Dorsey throws you in a hurricane of crooked politicians and businessman, criminals, murder, destruction, and laughs. The winds never stop blowing every satirical plot strand around until it forms a certain synchronized chaos. And if all of that wasn’t enough, Serge and Coleman perform a rap.
We’re currently hosting a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He came through Austin in January while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of having him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for the next seven weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.
I think any author possess the desire to write great novels. I don’t think anyone – in their heart of hearts – writes because it’s a sensible choice of profession or for financial gain. I believe it was Steinbeck who said, ‘The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business…’
Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Such testaments to the craft pose the question – Do you really want to be a writer — and if so, why?
There is a considered opinion that artists – anyone who creates something for the enjoyment or aesthetic appreciation of others – is composed of fifty percent ego and fifty percent insecurity. That makes a great deal of sense to me. You are sufficiently arrogant to consider that the rest of the world should enjoy your creation, and yet you are terrified of their rejection or dismissal! To live with such an internal contradiction makes for a fascinating and challenging existence.
We create, we purvey our creation, we await the response. We contend with critics. Everyone contends with critics, no matter their walk of life. But there seems to be something all the more penetrating about a criticism of something you have created with your own hands, your own heart, something that came from the soul. Perhaps it is because it is taken as not only an attack on what you have created, but who you are.
Criticism seems to require no qualifications. I have never seen such a position advertised in the newspaper.
People read books more than they read reviews. Ultimately they care less about critics than they do the work that is being criticized. As Christopher Hampton said, ‘Ask a working writer what he thinks about critics…you may as well ask a lamppost how it feels about dogs.’
Wendell Holmes added, “What a blessed thing it is that nature, when she invented, manufactured and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left!”, to which Jean Kerr added, “When confronted by an absolutely infuriating review it is sometimes helpful for the victim to do a little personal research on the critic. Is there any truth to the rumor that he had no formal education beyond the age of eleven? In any event, is he able to construct a simple English sentence? Do his participles dangle? When moved to lyricism does he write I had a fun time? Was he ever arrested for burglary?”
It is true that no statue has ever been erected to a critic.
Personally, I have no complaint with critics or reviewers. Generally I have been treated very kindly. I think review and criticism is all part-and-parcel of the business of creation. To determine that criticism is unfair is to question the validity of freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, and that is an entirely different subject for an entirely different discussion.
Regardless of his or her views about whether the work should be evaluated positively or negatively, an author is perhaps the very last person who should judge the value or quality of his own work. All they can do is evaluate their own motives for what they do.
Some of us, I imagine, write out of anger; some out of pain; some write out of prejudice or loss, some out of passion, the promise of something better, perhaps the belief that – even now – a book can be capable of changing a life.
Some of us write to remember, some to forget; some to change things, some to ensure things stay the same.
Some of us – as my editor and agent will all too easily testify – write because we cannot stop.
Renard said that “Writing is the only profession where no-one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.” Moliere said that first we write for ourselves, then we write for our friends, and lastly we write for money. I am still writing for myself, and believe I always will be. And the thing that drives me forward, the thing that reminds me of why I do this, and how important it is, is the reason for writing in the first place. Because it matters. It matters to the same degree as music, painting, dancing, sculpture, architecture, poetry, film, and all else that we create. Is not the quality of life in a society judged by the degree to which its artists are supported and acknowledged? Is not the society itself evaluated against the scope and substance of its artistic endeavors?
I just love to write, and though the subject matter that I want to write about takes me to the States, it is nevertheless more important to me to write something that can move someone emotionally, perhaps change a view about life, and at the same time to try and write it as beautifully as I can. I also want to write about subjects – whether they be political conspiracies, serial killings, race relations, political assassinations or FBI and CIA investigations – that could only work in the USA. Powerful subjects, emotive, contentious perhaps, but written with a view to engaging the emotions, the mind, the heart, the soul, and getting people to think about what they believe, what they see as the truth within our society, and perhaps to even change their preconceptions.
So what is a great novel?
Perhaps it is nothing more than a novel that challenges who we are, what we believe, and possesses the power to change our viewpoint about something, however certain that viewpoint might be.
R. J. Ellory is the author of eight novels, including the bestselling A Quiet Belief in Angels, which was the Strand Magazine’s Thriller of the Year, nominated for the Barry Award, and a finalist for the SIBA Award. His novel A Simple Act of Violence won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award.
This week, J.K. Rowling, famed author of the Harry Potter series, signed a deal with Little, Brown to publish her first novel for adults. UK paper The Guardian suspects this highly anticipated new book may be crime fiction. Apparently the Little, Brown editor who will be working on the book has also edited Dennis Lehane, Carl Hiaasen, and others. Considering the elaborate plot that stretched out over all of those Potter books, not to mention such villains as He Who Must Not Be Named, seems like a natural fit for her. Are you a Potter fan? Will you read it?
With Joan Hess coming to the store this Saturday, February 25th, 7p with Deader Homes & Gardens, it made us think of some of the other more genteel mysteries, known as traditional or cozies, that we enjoy. Known for the violence mainly happening off page, little or no foul language, these books typically feature an amateur sleuth and many times revolve around the protagonists’ occupation or craft. Think Murder She Wrote, not Mike Hammer. Here are five authors known for looking at the lighter side of murder:
1. Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen has been solving murderers in her eccentric hometown when not running her bakery, since Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. Joanne provides recipes in the book right alongside as a fun mystery. As someone who’s had her cookies and read her books, I can say she does a great job with both.
2. Maggie Sefton looks at the culture of knitters with her sleuth and avid knitter Kelly Flynn. Funny with plenty of heart, her first two books Knit One, Kill Two and Needled to Death can be found in the the omnibus Double Knit Murders.
3. Texas author Susan Wittig Albert introduced us to the world of herbs with her attorney-turned-shop owner China Bayles in Thyme Of Death. Each mystery is tied to a different herb, and highlights their various uses and the lore surrounding them.
4. KarenOlson provides a slightly edgier cozy with her Tattoo Shop Mysteries. Her high end tattoo artist, Brett Kavanaugh, travels through the stranger sides of Las Vegas solving crime. Start with The Missing Ink.
5. Janice Hamrick won the St. Martins/MWA First Mystery Prize with Death On Tour. This funny, low rent version of Death On The Nile introduces Hamrick’s divorced Austin middle school teacher Jocelyn Shore, as she deals with intrigue and murder on a discount tour through Egypt. The book has also been nominated for The Mary Higgins Clark Award.
When The Comedy isFinished, the forgotten manuscript of master story teller Donald E. Westlake, was recently found, it luckily made its way to publisher Charles Ardai and his imprint, Hard Case Crime. Charles was a fan and later an editor and friend of Westlake. I recently had a chance to ask Charles a few questions about the book, on sale today, and its author.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Did I hear right that The Comedy Is Finished was sitting in the drawer of author Max Allan Collins for over twenty years?
CHARLES ADIA: Well…not a drawer. But it is true that Max had it packed away in a cardboard box down in his basement, and it was more like thirty years. Don sent him a carbon copy of the manuscript around 1980 or 81, and then when Don decided not to publish the book, Max just put it away for safekeeping. Then when we published Memoryand claimed it was Don’s final unpublished novel, Max remembered this one and let me know there was actually one more.
MP: I heard the reason that Donald Westlake decided not to publish it because he saw similarities to the Martin Scorcese’s The King Of Comedy. Other than it’s about a kidnapped comic, I noticed no similarities in plot, characters, theme or anything. Did you?
CA: No – aside from the basic premise (famous television comedian gets kidnapped), the two are very different. In one case it’s by a crazy stalker and a would-be TV personality, in the other it’s a group of domestic terrorists with a political agenda. But I guess Don was still concerned about it. It’s not as bad as the story I heard about Ellery Queen throwing away a completed novel because Agatha Christie released And Then There Were Noneand it turned out to have the same solution. At least Don’s book got put safely into storage – the Ellery Queen novel is lost forever.
MP: It’s rare to get an unedited manuscript from an author after his death. How did you go about working on it?
CA: I’d worked closely with Don on the previous books we’d done with him, so I knew the sorts of things he liked and didn’t, what he would have gone for gladly and what he’d have pushed back on. Of course it wasn’t the same without him, but I just sort of pretended he was there and tried to hear his voice in my head, guiding me. Fortunately (and not surprisingly), the book didn’t need much editing. A few spots where a passage could be tightened up a bit; a few inconsistencies or typos. But Don was a great writer, and even if he’d been alive I doubt we would have done a lot more.
MP: What struck you most about the book?
CA: The way every single character comes to life. It’s a big book with a lot of characters – the victim, the kidnappers, the victim’s agent, his wife and kids, the FBI agent hunting for him – and every one of them is a fully fleshed-out, vibrant, memorable character, even the ones who make only brief appearances in the book. It’s really breathtaking. In so many novels, even the main character feels two-dimensional and never really breathes, but here even the minor characters feel like people you know well by the end of the book. And of course that makes it all the more painful when they start meeting violent ends.
MP: Westlake takes an interesting look at Koo and the radical kidnappers as two different generations whose eras are both coming to an end, and there are some barbs at our TV culture. Is this the closest Westlake came to more overt social commentary in his books?
CA: I think Don had more social commentary in his books than people give him credit for. Sure, many are just escapist fun, but look at a book like The Ax, which is about the lengths a man might be pushed to by protracted unemployment in a desperate economic downturn. That book was written decades ago, but he might as well have been writing about the economy of 2012.
MP: You were a fan of Westlake as a reader, who later became his editor, putting some of his books back into print, and his friend. What should people know about him as a writer and a person?
CA:Don was such a joy to work with. We did most of our work together by e-mail, and the man was incapable of writing an e-mail, even one tossed off in passing, without being witty. My face lit up any time I saw a message from him in my inbox. I miss it, and I miss him.
Today begins a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He recently came through Austin while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of hosting him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for the next seven weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.
The best explanation of the difference between non-fiction and fiction, I feel, is that non-fiction’s primary purpose is to convey information, whereas the purpose of fiction is to evoke an emotion in the reader.
I think great books work on an emotional level. Fear is an emotion, a very powerful emotion. Perhaps people read thrillers and horror novels because it is a way of experiencing emotions that you ordinarily don’t experience in life, but without putting yourself directly in harm’s way. I think, also, that it is an effort to try and better understand the aspects of the human psyche that we don’t have answers for. The more we ourselves understand about human nature, the better we will survive. I know we operate that way, so all reading – of whatever genre or subject – has to also come down to the fact that we are trying to understand more of ourselves and others to better our own comprehension of life, and thus improve the quality of our existence.
Someone once said to me that there were two types of novels. There were those that you read simply because some mystery was created and you had to find out what happened. A puzzle or an unresolved questioned was presented in the opening, and there you followed a tortuous maze of clues, mis-directors and red herrings until the denouement. The denouement was satisfying or not, but still this was not the type of book you read for the lyrical prose, the scintillating turn of phrase, the stunningly descriptive passages. It was airport literature, and that term is not applied derogatorily. Such novels are compelling, and the urgency with which you have to reach the end is remarkable. You need to know what happened! Having read such a book, however, perhaps you would be asked some weeks later whether it was a title you had encountered. You would pause for moment. ‘Remind me again what it was about?’ you would say, and that simple question would say all that needed to be said about the level of emotional engagement inherent in such a book. Wonderful plots, clever twists, but not a book to change your preconceptions about life.
The second kind of novel was one where you read the book simply for the language itself, the way the author used words, the atmosphere and description. Janette Winterson once said that there were some books she read simply ‘because of the way the words tasted in her mouth’. That makes sense to me. I understand precisely what she means. Annie Proulx does that to me, as does Cormac McCarthy, as does Daniel Woodrell.
The truly great books – however – are the ones that accomplish both.
I was asked one time how I would define a ‘classic’.
I paused for a moment, and then replied, ‘A classic is a book that presents you with a narrative so compelling you can’t read it fast enough, and yet is written so beautifully you can’t read it slowly enough’.
We all know such books. Even as we are reading them we are forcing ourselves to slow down. Why? Because if we don’t slow down we will finish it, and if we finish it there will be none to read tomorrow.
So what is it that these books do to us? They become friends. They become anchors. Perhaps they read us, just as much as we read them.
And that raises the question, how do writers choose what to write about? Do they in fact choose their subjects and genres, or do the subjects and genres choose the writer?
I am so often asked why all of my books are set in the USA, despite that fact that I am British. To be honest, I think I was weaned out of infancy on American culture. I grew up watching Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, The Streets of San Francisco, all those kinds of things. As a musician, I was always so involved with the origins of the blues and country music, both of these American in origin. I loved the atmosphere, the diversity of culture. The politics fascinated me. America is a new country compared to England, and it just seemed to me that there was so much color and life inherent in its society. I have visited many times now, and I honestly feel like I’m going home. At some point in the future, I believe I will move there permanently. And I believe that as a non-American there are many things about American culture that I can look at as a spectator. The difficulty with writing about an area with which you are very familiar with is that you tend to stop noticing things. You take things for granted. The odd or interesting things about the people and the area cease to be odd and interesting. As an outsider you never lose that viewpoint of seeing things for the first time, and for me that is very important. A great many writers are told ‘Write what you know’, and though I don’t think this is wrong, I do think it is very limiting. I believe you should also write about the things that fascinate you. I think in that way you have a chance to let your passion and enthusiasm for the subject come through in your prose. I also believe that you should challenge yourself with each new book. Take on different and varied subjects. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of writing things to a formula. So here we come back to the same message. Emotion. It’s all about emotional engagement. We love those books that engage us emotionally. They become part of us. In a way our favorite books define us. It is the same with writing. Great writing comes out of a passion for the subject, out of emotional engagement. We read books, and we write books, for the same reason perhaps.
So, as the old joke goes, a waitress in a diner someplace sees someone with a book, and instead of asking, ‘What ya readin’?’, she asks ‘What ya readin’ for?’. If ever asked such a question, your response should encompass and communicate nothing more than the message conveyed by those four words above the doorway at the Library of Thebes: Medicine For The Soul.
R. J. Ellory is the author of eight novels, including the bestselling A Quiet Belief in Angels, which was the Strand Magazine’s Thriller of the Year, nominated for the Barry Award, and a finalist for the SIBA Award. His novel A Simple Act of Violence won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award.
Just came across the book trailer for Pineapple Grenade, the latest Tim Dorsey thriller starring Florida serial killer Serge Storms. Take a look:
That’s one powerful pineapple. We’re going to have to counter with an equally powerful Pineapple Grenade Punch when Dorsey’s here next month. A little Tito’s, a little pineapple juice, a little club soda. I’m feeling inspired.
PineappleGrenade is on the shelves now. Publisher’s Weekly has a delightful review, saying, “…neither Dorsey’s fast-paced prose nor his delight in skewering human foolishness has lost its mischievous sparkle.” And whoever authored the Kirkus review is clearly a long time fan: “Don’t (rival CIA supervisors) realize that Serge belongs to no man, having dedicated himself wholly to Truth, Justice and Florida Trivia?”
Personally, I love this cover. The orange really pops out at you on the shelf. The book just looks like a good time. Which has me excited for Dorsey’s visit. Between the video and the book cover, I’m thinking a shopping trip for a Hawaiian shirt is in order.
Hilary Davidson is a great writer in at least two ways. Her work presents a fresh new voice that has earned her a great deal of awards and accolades coming out of the gate. Her 2010 debut, The Damage Done was on many booksellers; Top Ten list and earned an Anthony award. Her sequel, The Next One To Fall, will surely be on many, as well. Also, she is one of the sweetest people in the business. She promotes her peers as much as herself and will do anything she can for a writer or (as I can attest) bookseller. She’s never said a bad word about anybody and a bad word can’t be said about her. She also has a sense of history and respect for the genre. Hilary was kind enough to allow me to ask her a few questions recently.
MysteryPeople: How did the character of Lily come about?
Hilary Davidson: I always feel a little embarrassed admitting that I have different characters living inside my head, but it’s true. Lily’s been around for quite a while. I started working as a travel writer 13 years ago, and that’s let me explore some amazing places, such as Peru, Easter Island, and Israel. But I’ve always felt like the world’s most boring travel writer, because while I love to explore new places, I’m also eager to get home at the end of a trip. On the road, I’ve met writers and photographers who were the opposite — they had bad situations waiting for them at home, and they would do anything to keep traveling for long stretches of time. I started thinking about what it would be like to live like that, always on the run. That’s the position Lily’s in, and thinking about what she’s running away from really shaped the character she is now. She’s a travel writer who never wants to go home.
MP: Did you find it difficult to do a sequel to a book that seemed very self contained?
HD: While I was writing the first book, I also had ideas for two more books with Lily going through my mind. I wanted The Damage Done to have a very clear, well-defined ending, because I wasn’t sure if I could sell one book, let alone three. But I knew exactly where I wanted to pick up with her in the second book. The Damage Done is very much a book about loss. At the beginning, Lily has a strong, albeit somewhat artificial, sense of who she is and where she belongs. She has a glamorous, independent life she’s created for herself, but while she’s searching for her sister, she loses everything she considers important. The Next One to Fall begins soon after, with Lily at the lowest point in her life. She’s drifting through her days like a ghost, and she’s consumed with grief and guilt. Her friendship with Jesse is the only deep connection she has to anyone, and he’s dragged her to Peru because he thinks it will be shock therapy for her system. It is, but not in the way he expected. When Lily finds a woman dying at the foot of a staircase, she’s horrified, but when that woman’s death is dismissed as an accident, she becomes enraged. The police find evidence that the woman used drugs, and they don’t want to look further into the case. Lily gets drawn deeper and deeper into the situation, because it forces her to think about her sister. On some level, Lily feels that if she can get justice for this dead stranger in Peru, she’s getting the justice her sister never really got.
MP: How did Peru get chosen for the setting?
HD: I traveled in Peru for three weeks, and when I saw Machu Picchu, my first thought was that it would be the perfect place to kill someone. It’s an incredibly beautiful spot — you’re on top of a mountain, with this perfectly preserved Inca city around you — but it’s also dangerous. Machu Picchu is filled with steep, stone staircases that are slippery because it rains a lot up there. You’re on a mountain that’s eight thousand feet in the clouds, and it’s a long drop into the valleys below. There’s no hospital around for miles, and there’s not even a road that leads there; if anything happened to you, you’d have to be airlifted out by helicopter.
That pretty much sums up the beauty of Peru: gorgeous, but dangerous. We take a lot of things for granted in North America that you can’t take for granted there. The air is so thin in places like Cusco that you’re pretty much guaranteed to get altitude sickness just by walking around. Travel, generally speaking, makes you vulnerable because you’re putting yourself in an unfamiliar setting, and you may well be jetlagged and sick and dealing with an unfamiliar language, too. I wanted Lily to be in a place where the physical danger mirrored her inner turmoil. At the same time, even in the middle of what can be a difficult place, there’s beauty and grace to be found.
MP: If your two books had to be shoved into a category it would be “the woman in jeopardy thriller” (feel free to disagree) and your character is definitely feminine (I can’t think of learning more about fashion than in any other series I’ve read). That said, you have a large male following. What do you think attributes to that?
HD: I find it so hard to categorize my own books! Woman-in-jeopardy is probably a fair description, though that somehow makes me think of a lady waiting for a man to save her, and that’s definitely not the case with Lily. There’s a scene in The Next One to Fall where she’s gotten herself trapped and starts to think, “Well, if I do X, maybe someone will rescue me…” Then she snaps out of it and realizes that if she doesn’t save herself, she’ll die. She’s definitely a survivor.
I’ve gotten so much support from both male and female readers, and the only way I can explain that is to say that some things are universal. If you can get a reader caught up in a story, and especially if you get them inside the head of a character, I think they’ll keep reading. I keep hearing that men don’t read books by women, but that’s just not true in my experience. I bet writers like Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Linda Fairstein, Sophie Littlefield and Sara Gran would back me up on that.
MP: There seems to be a Hitchcock influence in the books with use of location and ideas of identity. I know you’re something of a film buff and Lily is to an almost disturbing level. Is your writing influenced by film as much as other books?
I used to think I was a film buff. I’ve seen a lot of old movies, and I mistakenly believed I remembered enough to work film references into the books as a sort of touchstone for Lily. Her home life was unstable growing up, and she had to keep friends at arm’s length because of all the secrets she was keeping, and so I thought of her watching old movies almost as a substitute for having real friends. I had no idea I’d end up watching hours and hours of movies just to be able to throw in some offhand reference to Ava Gardner!
That said, I love Hitchcock’s films and consider them a strong influence on me. There’s also a lot of film noir I’ve seen — my grandmother’s favorite actress was Barbara Stanwyck, so we watched a lot of dark movies together. When I’m writing, I tend to think in scenes, and they play in my mind like a movie. But books have been a bigger influence on me than movies, I think. Lily has lines of Edgar Allan Poe’s verse in her head, and that’s an easier fit for me, because those lines are in my head, too. I went through an intense phase of reading gothic fiction — one of my favorite books is The Monk by Matthew Lewis — and that left a strong impression. Some of my favorite novelists, such as Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith, had several of their books turned into movies, so sometimes there’s crossover — but I generally prefer the books to the movies!
MP: You were somebody who started to contributing fiction to online sites like Beat To A Pulp and Thuglit. It seems like they’ve become the pulp magazines for our generation of crime writers. How did they help you?
HD: If it weren’t for Thuglit, I don’t think I’d be publishing fiction today. I got so much rejection from magazines and websites before Thuglit published me, and their encouragement made all the difference; that first story also attracted the interest of an agent, so it helped me get a book deal in a practical way, too. I also got tremendous support early on from Crimespree and Beat to a Pulp, and later from new venues such as Crime Factory and Needle. Five years ago, I kept hearing that “the short story is dead,” and now there’s been this revival of interest. I think that speaks to the quality of the work that’s being published online. The standards tend to be really high.
MP: While you provide a grittier, darker tone to this kind of thriller, your short work is truly hard boiled. Do you plan to be that ho-holds-barred with a novel down the road?
HD: I used to say that I wouldn’t want to spend that much time inside the head of a desperate or depraved person, but now… let’s just say I’m not ruling it out. I just finished writing a third novel about Lily, which will come out in 2013, and I have a fourth novel under contract with Forge. It’s going to be a standalone. How dark will it be? We’ll see. I’m not an outliner, so I won’t know myself until I start writing!
Hilary Davidson will sign and discuss The Next One To Fall on our third floor here at BookPeople on Saturday, March 18 at 4p. Come out and see why she is one of our favorite people in the crime fiction community.