Grofield Breaks Into MysteryPeople

Fans of Donald Westlake’s hardboiled alter ego, Richard Stark, can rejoice. All of the Alan Grofield novels are back in print. Grofield served as a trusted partner in crime to the hardest of hard criminals, Parker. A stage actor who stole to support his summerstock company, he was a flamboyant and talkative foil to the ice cold bad man. Parker was constantly saying, “Shut up, Grofield.”

Grofield appeared in four Parker books, then was in four others featuring himself. Hard Case Crime brought back Lemons Never Lie over five years ago and now, University Of Chicago Press has brought back the other three, The Damsel, The Dame, and The Black Bird, now that they’ve republished the Parker series. With Grofield being a lighter character, the books run closer to Westlake’s comic Dortmunder series (beginning with Hot Rock) and are more adventure fiction than crime fiction. After being out of print for decades, it’s great to see the old crook back in action.

If you’d like to learn more about the world of Parker, our History Of Mystery Class will be discussing Richard Stark and the book The Outfit on May 6th at 7pm. We will have author Wallace Stroby (Cold Shot To The Heart and Kings of Midnight) calling in and there will be a viewing of the film version starring Rober Duvall beforehand at 4PM.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Marcia Clark

Last year Marcia Clark hit the crime fiction scene with her novel Guilt By Association. Introducing her series character Los Angeles special prosecutor Rachel Knight, it was more hard boiled procedural than legal thriller, and it was one of the fresher reads of 2011. MysteryPeople will welcome Marcia to sign and discuss her follow up, Guilt By Degrees, this Friday, April 20th at 7pm. I recently asked her a few questions about being a new writer, how she has adapted her former life into hr fictional one, and her love of jazz.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What was more challenging for you, your first book or the follow up?

MARCIA CLARK: Though the second book was no walk in the park, I’d have to say the first book was the more challenging one. Setting up a series requires the creation of a set of characters and a world. And both the people and the world have to offer possibilities for stories and character development that are as limitless as possible, in the hope that you get to write a whole bunch of sequels. In order to do that, you have to think carefully about all your elements.

For example, I think it’s important to give each character a back story that can entertainingly – and believably – have impact on them in current time. In addition, I needed to decide how much of that back story to reveal in the first book. In Guilt by Association, I alluded to a traumatic event in Rachel’s life but didn’t delve into it. I did that for a couple of reasons: first of all, no normal person spills their whole life story the first time you meet them – you know the weirdo who corners you at a party and tells you about how they got dumped by their first boyfriend in junior high because they wouldn’t let him get to second base? That’s not the kind of person who can carry a series because who wants to hang out with a self-obsessed blabbermouth like that? Second of all, Rachel Knight is a private person who has a hard time sharing her feelings even with her best friends and the traumatic event in her childhood is a secret she’s kept from everyone.

She ultimately does reveal it in Guilt by Degrees, but only because circumstances force her to.

So those were some of the challenges in the creation of the book itself. But the most challenging thing about the first book was the devotion of time and energy with no clue as to whether it would ever see the light of day. At the time I wrote it, I was handling a full case load (I take court appointed criminal appeals cases) and I squeezed the book into what little down time I had. Between the book and my day job, I was working about 120 hours a week. I knew I was going to keep at it until I pushed the book into the best shape I could manage, but I also knew that I couldn’t keep up that work pace forever. This book was it: do or die. So…no pressure, right? Laughing.

This is the classic struggle with nearly all first time authors. What if, after all this time, all this hard work, no one likes it? You work alone, night after night, with no assurances that anyone besides your most long suffering friends will ever read it. At times, I felt as though I was kicking the stall in an abandoned barn. But what was worse, albeit of briefer duration, was the waiting period after I sent the book out for the first time. Let me tell you, sending that first book out was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

MP: Rachel’s police detective pal, Bailey, plays an even larger role in this book. One of the strongest elements in the book is their relationship. How did you design her as a foil for Rachel?

MC: I needed a counterpoint for Rachel. Someone who could be the voice of reason when Rachel’s impulsiveness or recklessness – or emotional baggage vis a vis her love life – got out of hand. But it also had to be someone who was similar enough to her in temperament and common interests that they’d believably wind up as best friends. My goal was to set up a dynamic that allowed for them to bond in both their work and personal lives, with a good mix of comedy and drama. It was very important to me that Rachel and company not only be great at what they do, but also know how to have a good time. And although they rank on each other whenever possible, underneath it all, they have a great deal of mutual respect and admiration for one another.

MP: Guilt By Degrees seems a bit more hard boiled with Aryan Brotherhood gangs and more action. Did you set out to write a tougher book?

MC: I really didn’t. The thing that drives me is the need to create a story that will keep my interest. Writing a book is a marathon, so the story has to be intriguing enough to make me want to stick with it.

The initial spark for Guilt by Degrees was the true story of the homeless man in New York who saw a woman being attacked on the street. He fought off her attacker, which allowed her to escape, but in the process, he got stabbed by the attacker. He lay dying on the sidewalk for hours as people stepped over his body. That story stuck in my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I used that as my jumping off point.

MP: The police officers themselves have more influence and you show a range of personalities in the profession. What did you want to get across to readers about those in the profession?

MC: Really just that: to show the range of personalities in the police force and to explore the fact that there are good and bad, moral and amoral, people in every profession. Not all sociopaths are deranged serial killers…or Wall Street executives – kidding!

MP: You’re relatively new to crime  fiction. What did you discover about the form after you dove in?

MC: Freedom! The absolute joy of getting to set up my own case, create my own evidence, weave it all together and do it “My Way.” Laughing. Having spent so many years dealing with reality, it was very liberating not to have to deal with those limitations. Not that there aren’t limitations in fiction. We forgive a certain amount of literary license, but if an author pushes us too far outside the boundaries of believability, that we don’t forgive. It’s a fine line, as they say, and you risk losing your audience if you fall on the wrong side of it.

MP: On a panel, you said you missed the camaraderie of being a prosecutor. Have you found some with other crime writers?

MC: To an extent. But it can never be the same. You can share stories, discuss plot points, or commiserate over the hard work – because creating novels is unquestionably that – but you always wind up alone in front of your computer for hours, days, weeks, and months at at time. Writing is a solitary endeavor.

MP: You’ve given Rachel your love of jazz. What three albums would you suggest that would turn people on to the form?

MC: Oh no! Lists of favorites always make me go cross-eyed. The minute I choose, I smack my forehead and say: “wait, what about…?” But okay, here goes: “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, “Takin’ Off,” or “Headhunters” by Herbie Hancock, that leaves me with only one more? But…there’s still Mingus, Jobim and Getz, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins…AARRGGGH! How to choose? I guess, in an effort to collect as many as possible, “Jazz at Massey Hall,” with Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Mingus, and ‘Charlie Chan.’


Join us at BookPeople this Friday, April 20 7pm when we welcome Marcia Clark in person!

Review: PRAGUE FATALE by Philip Kerr

MysteryPeople welcomes Philip Kerr to BookPeople Saturday, 4/21, 7p.

~Post by Joe T.

Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels are a marvel to behold. Marrying the cynical world-weariness of a Dashiell Hammett to the cynical moral relativism of a John Le Carre, each book attempts to be the perfect summation of noir fiction. Oh yeah, and they’re a blast and a real treat to read.

One of the many joys of the series is how it does not unfold in chronological order. Each book is capable of filling in gaps in the life of Bernie Gunther, one time private investigator, oft times cop, and unintentional SS member in Nazi Germany. 2011’s Field Gray was the apotheosis of this approach, featuring narratives nestled within narratives spanning the time from 1931 to 1954. It was, perhaps, the high water mark of the series.

Prague Fatale takes a step back and delivers a streamlined tale that harkens back to the first collection of Gunther tales, Berlin Noir. Set in 1942, it finds Bernie home from the Soviet front, back in a cop’s uniform, and, unfortunately for him, still an SS member under the patronage of Heydrich, the mastermind of the Jewish Holocaust.

Instructed to find the death of one of Heydrich’s aides-de camp, Gunther finds himself in the middle of a locked door murder mystery straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Interviewing the Nazi brass, Bernie gets the opportunity to really let it rip, allowing himself some minor moral victories as he slowly drowns himself in larger moral losses.

Philip Kerr’s novels have been one of my favorite discoveries over the last couple of years, each book exploring facets of the German psyche amidst the chaos and banality of evil that is Nazi Germany. They are all great books and Prague Fatale is no exception.

Join MysteryPeople as we welcome Philip Kerr to BookPeople on Saturday, April 21, 7p to speak about & sign Prague Fatale.

Book Review: KINGS OF MIDNIGHT by Wallace Stroby

Wallace Stroby introduced us to heist woman Crissa Stone last year in Cold Shot To The Heart. The book earned Stroby some of his best reviews. Now he brings Crissa back in Kings Of Midnight, a more than worthy successor to the first book.

Crissa is still trying to steal enough money to grease the political wheels necessary to spring her lover and mentor from prison. The book opens with a slam-bang ATM robbery. When her cohorts argue after the job, guns are drawn and it goes bad and bloody, putting Crissa on the run. A contact hooks her up with Benny Roth, a former gangster turned stool pigeon. Benny thinks he knows where five million from the famed Lutfhansa Heist (Remember the big score in Goodfellas?) is located. Two problems – it’s in the possession of a notorious wiseguy, and Benny’s not completely sure about it. Desperate, Crissa takes on a score and partner she can’t completely trust.

Even with its inventive set pieces and sharp action, it’s Stroby’s gift of character and realistic tone that make the book stand out from other heist yarns. He doesn’t give us complex, stopwatch-slick capers. The robberies always seem clunky and messy and pretty low-tech. Even the professionals don’t come off completely professional. His criminals are working class guys who speak in a dialogue reminiscent of Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins. In Stroby’s world, it’s not cool being a criminal. It’s these imperfect people that give an authenticity and pathos to a wonderful pulp premise.

Meeting Marcia Clark – Yes, THE Marcia Clark

Last year I had the opportunity to meet Marcia Clark when I was asked to interview her for the Texas Book Festival. I had not read her debut, Guilt By Association, at that point even though it earned great reviews and many of my friends liked it. When I did, I ended up finding both the book and the author a very pleasant surprise.

I’m not always attracted to legal thrillers, but I discovered Guilt By Association to be much more than that. It has many of the conventions, following Rachel Knight, a driven special prosecutor with a dark past, through the inner workings and politics of the L. A. courts as she looks into the suspicious death of a colleague while taking over his last case that could be tied to his death. What sets it apart is Rachel’s actual job. As a special prosecutor, she starts a case at the scene of the crime, gathering as much evidence as she can. It gives her books more of a procedural element as Rachel works with the police, particularly her close friend Detective Bailey Keller. A fan of Conelly or Craise should be able to enjoy these books as a L. A. crime novel.

I also found out that Marcia is completely different from the person I had seen on TV. Most of us know her from her days as a prosecutor on the OJ Simpson trial and now as a CNN legal expert, giving her take on Casey Anthony and the Trayvon Martin shooting. None of these are subjects that demonstrate one’s lighter side. When I met her, we were at ease with each other immediately. She’s warm and charming with no pretense. She’s always looking for a reason to laugh or trying to get one out of you. Her interaction with the audience at the Book Festival was great, treating them all like old friends.

Her latest book, Guilt By Degrees, is a slightly grittier book than Association. Rachel takes on the possible murder of a homeless man, leading her through Skid Row, Beverly Hills, and even an Aryan Brotherhood compound. It’s not long before she discovers the crime could be linked to the death of a police officer. Bailey has a larger role this time, creating a great female buddy dynamic not often seen in the genre.

We will be getting copies of Guilt By Degrees early so that we have them in time for Marcia Clark’s reading and signing on Friday, April 20th, at 7PM. I hope you’ll come out and take advantage of this opportunity to meet a rising star in crime fiction. Take it from me, you won’t be disappointed.

Trailer for SAVAGES Released

Don Winslow’s Savages found it’s way to many Top Ten lists a few years back. Now this summer, the wild violent yarn of two high-end pot dealers being muscled by a drug cartel will hit the big screen, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Taylor Kitsch, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, and Selma Hayek as Elana, one of the best villianesses in the last decade. Even better news, Winslow co-wrote the screenplay. The trailer was released last week.

If you haven’t read Don Winslow, pick up Savages, California Fire And Life, Dawn Patrol, Power Of The Dog, or anything he’s written. He’s truly a virtuoso talent.


The Other Berlin Noirs

With Phillip Kerr coming to MysteryPeople Saturday, April 21st, we realized how many authors have used Nazi Germany and its occupied cities as a setting for noir and crime fiction. With brownshirts and SS roaming the streets and shadows, you can’t have a more dangerous city with so little trust. Here are five authors who place one of the darker genres in one one of the darkest times in history.

Willi Krause Series by Paul Grossman

Willi is a police detective during the end of The weimar Republic and a hero in the Great War. He is also Jewish. In Grossman’s talked about debut, Sleepwalkers, he has a dead woman with deformed legs on his hands and superiors who are trying to throw him off track. Our Seven Percent Solution Club will be discussing this title May 7th.

Inspector Hoffner Series by Jonathan Rabb

Hoffner’s cases are tied closely to actual events and people. In Shadow And Light, the acclaimed director Fritz Lang assists him. There is also an interesting generation gap between the rebellious Hoffner and his conformist Nazi son.

Hannah Vogel Series by Rebecca Cantrell

Cantrell caught the attention of many crime fiction aficionados with her Berlin reporter, who tries to find her missing brother in Trace Of Smoke. Since then she has written two other books that follow the rise of Hitler through the eyes of the German citizens.

John Russell (Station) Series by David Downing

We first meet the British journalist John Russell during 1939 in Zoo Station. Forced to stay in Germany due to loved ones, he finds himself getting pulled further and further into the espionage community. Known for his great use of atmosphere, Downing has been compared to Alan Furst.

St. Cyr/ Kohler Series by J. Robert James

Talk about your buddy-cop pairings. Louis St. Cyre is a Parisian inspector teaming up with Kohler, a Gestapo officer. The two must solve crimes in a city where “allies” and “enemies” both have shaky definitions.