Last night the winners of the Edgar Awards were announced. Congratulations to all of these wonderful writers! Also, big congratulations to our friends Ace Atkins and Janice Hamrick on their nominations. Catch Ace here at BookPeople June 6th, and catch Janice’s Death on Tour on our shelves, we highly recommend it.
Ace was hand-picked by Robert B. Parker’s widow to continue the adventures of his famed PI, Spenser. There is no author more knowledgeable about the books and with the skills worthy of continuing the character. Ace will be here at BookPeople June 6th to discuss this book as well as The Lost Ones from his Quinn Colson series.
An attention getting debut about an Aryan Brotherhood member who takes a Georgia bank teller hostage after a robber. As the police and other criminals close in, the two develop a strange bond. A great rural noir with strong characterization and one of the best shoot outs that takes place in a church – a church of snake handlers.
Lady, Go Die by Mickey Spillane with Max Allan Collins (On sale 5/8)
Collins continues to complete Spillane’s unfinished Mike Hammer novels, this one an intended follow up to I, The Jury. The New York hard Hammer finds himself in a small town looking into a case involving the body of a naked woman (“doll” in Hammer terms) found on the statue of a horse. Put on your fedora, pour a glass of scotch, put on “Harlem Nocturne” and start reading.
One of my all-time favorite writers, Megan Abbott, has a great Q&A with Elmore Leonard in the Los Angeles Times Magazine this month. She gets some good stuff out of Dutch.
Megan’s latest book, Dare Me, is out in July. I’ve been describing it as cheerleader noir, thought it’s a lot tougher than that sounds. Abbott deals with the hierarchy of a cheerleading group and proves they’re a lot tougher than you would think. Great read. Can’t wait to put in people’s hands this summer.
Since its release least year, Lee Thomas’The German has been building steady buzz among readers who are up for provoking, intelligent genre material. Initially championed in the horror and gay fiction circles, it deserves a wider range of readers as it uses a historical setting to probe contemporary themes.
On the surface, it is a serial killer novel. Someone is killing and skinning boys in a Texas Hill Country town during World War Two. He leaves snuff boxes in their mouths with notes written in German.
The story follows three different characters. It mainly arcs through Tim Randall, a boy in his early teens, whose father is fighting in Europe. With one foot still firmly in adolescence, he plays war and spy games with his friend, viewing combat in black & white matinee heroics. Looking into the murders is Sheriff Tom Rabbit, a small town lawman who is in way over his head. Not only is he under pressure to solve the murders, but a large percentage of the town is comprised of German immigrants and war time tensions coupled with the murders are creating a powder keg. The title character, Ernst Lang, a former German officer who left when Hitler took over, scarred from battle and detached from life, is hardened by his life and pride. Also, he is a a homosexual, who while discreet, would not be considered closeted, at least for the period.
Thomas deftly delivers these three voices in revolving chapters, each with a different tense. He gives none a clear morality. He is more concerned with how each man will act in his moment of truth than if the killer will be caught. He’s not afraid of taking his characters or the reader into dark terrain. He also doesn’t give those characters a perfect clarity of conscience that strikes them like lightening before they do the unspeakable. He has enough respect for the readers’ knowledge that once some lines are crossed, you can never completely step back over them again.
It is that sensibility that makes the theme resonate. The book could have simply used the fear of Germans as an allegory for the way American Muslims are currently treated and still have a highly affective story. Instead he goes further, questioning if cruelty is an inherent part of human make up and if xenophobia and homophobia are merely symptoms. Like Peter Straub and Joe Lansdale, Lee Thomas realizes one of the best ways to terrify the reader is to confront the horror they personally carry around.
MyteryPeople wlecomes Lee Thomas, along with Robert Greer, to BookPeople on Thursday, May 3, 7p.
Fleece Skaggs has disappeared. So have the drugs he was meant to sell for his boss, Lawrence Gruel. The dealer seems concerned and confused about his employee and his hash, but Fleece’s half-brother, James Cole can’t decide if Gruel is sincere. In the hope of finding out just what happened or is happening, James Cole offers to work for Gruel in his brother’s place. And we’re off and running.
The story is strong, but it is Kirby Gann’s carefully crafted cast of characters that sets his newest book so far ahead and apart. Ghosting is rural noir on par with Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone and Donald Ray Pollack’s The Devil All The Time. The pacing is perfect; a slow burn that threatens to end in an explosion. The tone is both moody and mysterious, and yet infused with the sort of humor one might find in an Elmore Leonard western.
This is the story of being in over your head; ordinary folks in extraordinary circumstances. 2011 introduced us to Frank Bill’s raw and relentless Crimes In Southern Indiana. Kirby Gann’s Ghosting offers something similar for 2012.
South Dakota author Lori Armstrong has slowly been earning a name for herself. Some may consider her the female answer to the rural/western hardboiled authors who have been putting a new spin on the genre as of late. When you read her, you’ll discover she has her own distinctive voice and proves she can deliver anything as down and dirty and tough as any of the good ol’ boys with a pen.
In Blood Ties, she introduces her first heroine, Julie Collins, an apprentice PI and Bear Butte County Sheriff’s Department secretary, who is dealing with a dysfunctional family and love life. She’s forced to confront both when her mentor and would-be boyfriend, Kevin Wells, is hired to look into the past of a murdered girl. As the series continues, Julie gains a stronger sense of herself as she becomes a full fledged investigator. No matter how self assured and bad-ass she becomes, Armstrong never loses sight of the character’s vulnerability, femininity, and humor. She has a very telling and funny passage in Blood Ties where Collins has to question a bad boy suspect, fighting arousal as she gets information. Lori won her PWA Shamus Award with her fourth Collins book, Snow Blind.
She earned her second Shamus with No Mercy, the debut of her more hardened character, Mercy Gunderson. Mercy, a sniper in a secret all-female unit, returns to her family’s ranch after being sidelined. To protect her family and their land, she must return to her old skills. In some ways, the character is much more complex than Julie Collins, as she’s trying to learn how to take her armor off yet having to put it back on when her and her own are threatened. The second book, Mercy Kill, continues the great mix of thriller intrigue and western attitude and setting.
No matter which character she uses, Lori Armstrong creates an engaging world out of her South Dakota home. It’s rough and tumble country, where the weather determines fortune like a Greek God and the society is tight knit. It has macho gay bartenders, dangerous bikers, wild ranch hands, and Lakota Indians still fighting for dignity and survival. There is low humor and a high sense of honor. Traditions may be marginalized, but they are far from dead and land is something still worth fighting for and occasionally over. It’s a place where you need strong body and character and the women tend to have both in spades.
Daniel Woodrell is one of those authors who other authors admire. With deft characterization and poetic phrasing, he takes an unblinking look at those living on The Ozarks’ rough edges. He practically invented the rural noir genre.
When the public caught up with him after the film adaptation of Winter’s Bone was released, they found few of his books in print. Now, Back Bay Books is bringing them all back in beautiful trade paperback copies with forwards by authors like Megan Abbott and Dennis Lehane.
The first two that have released, Tomato Red and The Death Of Sweet Mister, are vintage Woodrell. Tomato Red, about a red neck ne’er do well’s tragic falling in with an Ozark family, has one of the best first sentences, first paragraphs, and first pages ever written; in fact, they’re all one and the same. It is possibly his funniest book. His darkest is The Death Of Sweet Mister, following a young boy and his relationship with his mother and her criminal boyfriend. Woodrell said he wrote it to see where mass murderers come from.
In June, Woodrell’s moving account of the Missouri-Kansas Border Wars, Woe To Live on will be available, as well as Give Us A Kiss, the book that coined the term “country noir”. After that, we wait for his next new book.