Hard Word Book Club Continues with The Red Riding Quartet

On Wednesday, March 28, 7p, the Hard Wood Book Club takes it’s next step reading through David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet this year with the second novel, Nineteen Seventy-Seven. It takes place during the year of the Yorkshire Ripper Murders and two men will discover much worse is going on.

Bob Fraser and Jack Whitehead, two minor characters in the First Red Riding installment Nineteen Seventy-Four, find themselves in one cruel summer. Fraser is a police detective having an affair with a hooker, trying to protect her from the street life that has become more violent. Whitehead, the rival of Seventy-Four’s Eddie Dunford, is a star crime reporter whose politics of the job have made him subservient to the Yorkshire police. His coverage of The Ripper Murders reveal that not all of the murders were committed by the serial killer.

Their parallel journeys plunge into Yorkshire’s corruption. They find themselves against the system they are both a part of. Much light is shed, revealing the dark souls of characters we met in Seventy-Four. You also won’t ever look at a screwdriver the same way again, either.

The book makes for great discussion of institutionalized and individual evil. Nineteen Seventy-Seven is 10% off at BookPeople for those who attend. Also, there’s plenty of time to catch up with Nineteen Seventy-Four. We’re planning to discuss the third book, Nineteen Eighty, in August.

Just Who Is Richard Castle?

(Post by Tommy)

Just who is Richard Castle? If you have to ask that my friend then your literary finger is very far from the pulse of the mystery world. Richard Castle is the darling of the New York mystery scene and has been for the last ten years. He first broke into the field of mystery writing with In a Hail of Bullets, the winner of the Nom DePlume Society’s Tom Straw Award for Mystery Literature, though he is probably best known for his Derrick Storm series that ended four years ago with Storm Fall. Recently, Castle has been hotter than ever with the release of his newest detective character: Nikki Heat, based on real life NYPD detective Kate Beckett.

Nikki Heat, for those of you who do not know, evolved out of Castle’s research into the NYPD that he conducted by shadowing and assisting NYPD detective Kate Beckett, or so he told me at a swanky publisher’s dinner this winter in New York. Either way, helping Beckett or not, Castle’s writing has shown itself to be very much like good wine; it only gets better with age. Rick Castle’s Nikki Heat has brought readers inside the long closed world of the NYPD and has given us a wonderful cutting edge thriller series that has the entire mystery world buzzing.

What sets Heat apart from even Derrick Storm is the depth of characterization that takes place with Heat and her fellow detectives Raley and Ochoa. Though the character of Jameson Rook, a magazine writer shadowing Heat much the way that Castle shadowed Beckett, does indeed bear marked resemblance to Castle himself, the character gives us a fascinating window into what Castle’s experiences with the Twelfth precinct have been. One of the big selling points of the series is the steamy on again-off again relationship between Heat and Rook. Though both real life parties deny it, there has been rampant speculation on page 8 that the two of them are in fact romantically involved.

The other thing that draws us to Rick Castle’s Nikki Heat is the emotion that can be found if you make a little effort to read between the lines. As you read both further in each book and further in the series as a whole, you can see the affection that Castle feels not just for Beckett but for 12 precinct detectives Ryan and Esposito and the recently deceased Captain Montgomery.

The saying goes that art imitates life and in this case I’m very glad it does because it has brought us the wonderful world of Nikki Heat from the fantastic mind of none other that my favorite mystery writer, and occasional poker buddy Richard Castle.

-Thomas Wilkerson, Modern Lit Magazine
March 19th, 2012

…..

A note to all readers, the above piece was written as though I had bought into ABC’s wonderful story that Castle is real and the only fiction is the Nikki Heat books. While I’m sure many of you may think that the idea of tie-in books for a television series is just another new way for a giant media conglomerate to make more money, and while they may indeed be raking in a pile of money on this, ABC has also done everything they could to make these books an absolute joy to read. For fans of the television show who have yet to grab a copy of one of the books, go out and get a copy of Heat Wave right now!

The book reads like something that could only spring from the wonderfully diseased mind of Richard Castle. The books characters are not exactly carbon copies of the show characters but they are definitely thinly, or maybe not even so thinly, veiled versions of Fillion’s Castle and Stana Katic’s Kate Beckett. The best things about these books is that they are able to explore the characters of Rook and Heat, basically Castle and Beckett, in fashions that the show cannot or will not. The biggest of these explorations, of course, is what a relationship between Castle and  Beckett might look like.

This relationship, played out through the proxies of Rook and Heat, jerks through ups and downs worse than most roller coasters, but it also gives us the thrill of finally seeing Castle and Beckett together, something most fans have wanted to see since the first episode. The books also take an affectionate jab at the characters of Esposito and Ryan and the friendship and partnership the two have by naming their book characters Raley and Ochoa and dubbing the duo ‘Roach’.

For lovers of the show these books are an absolute joy to read, and for those who have never read  the books they are still a wonderfully witty and entertaining way to pass several hours as you tear through their compelling stories. The best thing that ABC does with these books is that they go to somewhat ridiculous lengths to preserve the idea that Richard Castle is a real person and these books were written by him. The dedications, author bios and photos, and acknowledgments are all written in character. The books are dedicated to Kate Beckett and other members of the show’s character list, the photos are all pictures of Nathan with his trademark smirk in place, and the bio is a short writeup of the fictional author Richard Castle.

ABC’s attempt to make Castle a real boy, much like Pinocchio, doesn’t end there. With each book release they host several ‘author signings’ which Nathan attends in character as Castle and where he signs the books and other merchandise of the fans lucky enough to be in the New York area.

In short, if you’re thinking of giving the Castle tie-in books a pass simply because they are a television tie-in series, don’t. They’re a blast to read, even for people who aren’t fans of the show, and they add that much more depth to the world of the already pretty amazing television show that they were spawned from.

Thomas Wilkerson, BookPeople bookseller
March 22nd, 2012

Review: ‘Edge of Dark Water’ by Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale speaks about & signs 'Edge of Dark Water' here at BookPeople Thurs 4/5, 7p.

It’s always a thrill to get the latest Joe R. Lansdale book. He is one of the most most entertaining and engaging authors out there with a style all his own. Like Elmore Leonard, even his “weaker” books outshine the complete works of others. At his best, a Lansdale book can be a religious experience. Get ready to see the light with his latest, Edge Of Dark Water.

The book is reminiscent of his coming of age tales The Bottoms and A Fine Dark Line, with a darker tone. It begins when Sue Ellen, a sixteen year old in Depression era Texas, finds her friend May Lynn’s body in the Sabine River tied to a sewing machine. She tells her two other pals, Jinx and Terry, about it. Since all three see no future where they are, they decide to burn May Lynn’s body, go down river on a raft with her ashes, get a ride to Hollywood, and deliver the remains to the town where she planned to be a movie star. At the last minute Sue Ellen’s alcoholic mother forces her daughter to take her along. To finance the trip they come across money hidden from a bank robbery that put a crooked constable and his demented henchmen, Skunk, on their trail.

The journey structure is perfect for Lansdale. His loose narrative style can flow with ease. The river trip allows his characters to breath and talk in that dialogue that only he can create. It also allows him to throw in anything and anyone, like a bitter, old, pistol waving woman who grew up in the Civil War. We travel through a dusk world that is mainly reality, with a touch of harsh enchantments, and punch of what can only be described as Lansdale. There is a point the book reaches where the style becomes an important part of the substance. Picture Huckleberry Finn crossed with the film Night Of The Hunter.

Edge Of Dark Water has Joe R. Lansdales’ talents singing in harmony. He is able to to employ his talent for dark satire and deliver dialogue that his both pointed and realistic. He uses an unsentimental eye and still delivers a work of true emotion. It’s easy to tell that he’s a Mark Twain fan. That said, I think Mr. Clemens, himself, would love this particular ride down the river.

We’ll welcome Joe Lansdale and his daughter Kasey, who will perform a few songs, to BookPeople to speak about & sign his new book on Thursday, April 5, 7p.

Book Review: THE THIEF by Fuminori Nakamura

It’s no surprise Fuminori Nakamura’s The Thief won The OE Prize, one of Japan’s biggest literary awards. Both a crime thriller and character study, it is a unique and engrossing read, keeping a distant yet thoughtful eye on the people it follows.

The story itself is relatively simple, in fact the main character is only known as The Thief. He’s been living a low-risk criminal life as a pickpocket who hits Tokyo’s more high toned areas, making himself as unnoticeable as he can. It’s a practice that has lead him to be detached from life and people. That is until he spots a boy trying to pickpocket with less finesse. At the same time, an old accomplice pulls him into his plan for a home invasion. When the robbery goes wrong and it looks to be part of a political assassination, The Thief begins to see himself as a protector of the boy and his sex worker mother, developing emotions at a time when he needs them the least.

Nakamura’s use of detail in his protagonist’s world is a fascinating and integral part of of the novel. Its look at Tokyo’s criminal class makes it at times read like a Japanese The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. Watching The Thief hone in on a mark and apply his trade really pulls you into the story. Something that’s unique from many western crime novels is that because of the country’s strict gun control laws, the outlaws use knives and short swords. If you think this would make the book less violent, think again.

It is that sense of detail that brings the characters out, no matter how hard they are. It reflects their lives in a society that has pushed them from humanity. When they take a few stumbling steps toward it, Nakamura never forgets how jaded the people he’s writing about really are. He may be looking at his story with a cold eye, but the warmth he sees is real and all the more poignant because of its faintness. It’s a haunting undercurrent, making The Thief a book that’s hard to shake once you’ve read it.

A Writer’s Life – Guest Post by RJ Ellory

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 a few 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.

__________________________________

A writer’s life is often considered to be a life of ease.  Apparently there was a survey last year of the British public, and following on from ‘professional footballer’ as the most favoured profession, writer came second.  I think somewhere there must be a viewpoint that a writer rises late (he would have to following the quantity of alcohol consumed at last night’s lavish launch party, surrounded by adoring fellow celebrities, the red carpet rolled out, assistants and attendants on hand to cater to every whim), and while fielding telephone calls from Hollywood producers vying for movie rights, both Alan Yentob and Melvyn Bragg offering ever-increasing quantities of money to feature in a prime-time documentary, our writer would breakfast on scallops and quails’ eggs, smoke a packet of Lucky Strikes, down three cups of Blue Mountain hand-ground coffee, and then type a handful of words on his battered Underwood or Remington before retiring to the club for an afternoon of witty repartee and fine cigars with the likes of Sebastian Faulks and Ian McEwan.

Sorry to have to let you down, but a writer’s life is not quite this way.

I think it was Gideon Flowers who said that “Writing is easy…all you have to do is stare at a blank page until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Leo Rosten said that “The only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can’t help it.”

As Bennett Cerf so astutely observed: “Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire, and then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer–and if so, why?”

Of course, once you attain that lofty position of having been published at all, it then becomes a full-time job to stay there.  Writing is a competitive business, to say the least.  Apparently only two percent of books published are bestsellers.  Over eighty percent of books published in the UK sell less than five hundred copies.  The average working writer in the UK draws a salary from his writing of less than seven thousand pounds.  This, my friends, is not the level of independent income that will provide scallops and quails’ eggs for breakfast.

So why do people do it?

Russell Baker said, “The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.”  A nice idea, but – frankly – utterly untrue.  Writing is a job of work, and for those few that generate enough income from their writing that they can survive without extra-curricular activity (like a full-time job), then the discipline necessary to get out of bed and write three thousand words a day can test even the hardiest literary animals.

Terry Pratchett said that, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”  So no excuses there, I’m afraid.

Hemingway added, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way,” which implies that continuing to write requires a degree of study, continual self-education, the willingness to listen to editors and critics and see where your own work could be improved.

Which, as a necessary aside, brings us neatly to critics…

You’ve worked like a dog for a year.  You’ve sweated blood through your fingertips onto the keys of the typewriter.  You’ve written and re-written, self-edited, edited once more, and then with a huge rush of accomplishment and self-satisfaction you release your child of a book into the world…and you are met by the critics.

“I picked up this book and from front cover to back cover I couldn’t stop laughing.  One day I might even read it.” (That was from Groucho Marx, but you get the point, right?)

C.N. Bovee commented that, “There is probably no hell for authors in the next world — they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this,” while Christopher Hampton was astute enough to observe that, “Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.”

Though I am nowhere near as vehement or vitriolic in my dislike of critics (and I have found, routinely, that they have actually been extraordinarily kind), it does nevertheless raise a question about criticism.  I think it is safe to say that there is criticism and there is review, and they are entirely different subjects.

Somerset Maugham was quick to point out that, “There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are,” which explains why one book is loved, and another hated.  Criticism, even review, is utterly subjective.  By its nature, by its perspective, it can never be anything other.  In an attempt to edify a potential reader regarding the ‘likes’ of a book, a fair reviewer or critic is bound by the nature of the task to illuminate also the ‘dislikes’.  Sometimes a critic might be an unpublished author.  Here we sometimes encounter an attitude influenced by sour grapes.  An author – dented and disillusioned by critical slant – might be well served to appreciate Sibelius’ comment when he said, “Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been erected to a critic.”  Also Jean Kerr who advised that 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 writing is one of the only professions where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.  But that does not mean it is an ignoble or ill-advised profession.  A philosopher once said that a culture was only as great as its dreams, and its dreams were dreamed by artists.

Telling stories is as old as speech, and no less important.

Telling stories is a tradition, a heritage, a legacy…it is the past making its way toward the future in an effort to show us those things we have failed to learn by our own experience.

Telling stories is a hope that magic can be restored to an age that has almost forgotten.

I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to be a working writer. I consider it a privilege to be able to spend my time in the business of writing, and now I have accomplished at least some small degree of success I believe it is my duty to work as hard as possible to maintain the relationship I have established with my readers.  I believe that a reader and writer have a contract.  It is very simple.  A reader is asked for a small financial contribution, and then a larger contribution of time to read the book he or she has bought.  The writer’s clause dictates that he provide entertainment, perhaps education, some degree of enlightenment, but most of all that he convey the reader to some world, some universe, some reality that the reader would otherwise never experience.  If the writer fails to do this then he is in violation of the terms of his unspoken contract.  Readers are forgiving, but only for so long.  Violate that contract two times, perhaps three, and your reader will find another writer who works harder to maintain his end of the bargain.

So, aside from the work itself, aside from the reviews, the criticisms, the spats that one has with one’s editor when he smiles, nods resignedly, and says, “Perhaps it needs a little more work, eh?”…aside from all the extraneous additions to this trade, there is only one important factor to be taken into consideration: the reader.

We write for ourselves yes, but really we write for our readers.

We write because we don’t have the nerve to rob banks, of course, but truthfully we write for our readers.

So buy books – buy as many as you can – and then read them.  Not only will it entertain you, enlighten you, enchant and edify you, it will also keep writers off the streets.