Monthly Archives: June 2012
I read that James Rollins grew up on Doc Savage, the bronze tinted pulp hero of brains and brawn who trotted the globe fighting some very weird forms of evil with a group of eccentric specialists. In reading his latest Sigma Force book, Bloodline, it comes as no surprise. Rollins has created the the closest thing there is to modern pulp (and that’s absolutely a compliment.)
Rollins introduces us to two events right off the bat. One takes place in the year 1134 with a female member of The Knights Templar as she comes to the bloody end of a quest. The other brings us up to the present as an assassin prepares to take out the President in four days. The killer is Sigma Team commander Grey Pierce.
We are then plunged into a Sigma Force mission. Somali pirates have kidnapped the President’s daughter. It’s up to Pierce and his soldiers trained in various scientific disciplines to rescue her before her identity is discovered. To help track her down they take on Captain Tucker Wayne, his army dog Kane , and a former Somali pirate.
While this would be enough for one story, it’s just the first third. It’s not long before we’re dealing with killer robots, evil scientists, and a centuries long conspiracy involving the secret to immortality.
Rollins never lets these fantastic elements become over the top or cheesey. He creates a bed of actual science, history, theory, and traditional legend for them to grow from. He also gives his characters real problems outside of their work such as Grey having to deal with his father’s Alzheimer’s.
That said, Rollins is in the business of providing wonder and adventure. His characters are colorful, locations exotic, and his writing has a smooth visceral feel I really enjoyed.
MysteryPeople welcomes James Rollins to BookPeople to speak about and sign Bloodline on Saturday, June 30 at 5pm.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins
Higgins explores a more realistic side of crime with this gritty novel focusing on Boston’s criminal underworld. Filled with gunrunning, double crosses, and bank heists, this book is exactly what I look for in crime fiction. Honest and dark.
Criminal by Ed Brubaker
Brubaker is single-handedly responsible for turning me into a crime enthusiast. This series has given us six stand-alone stories, all set in the same nameless town, and all focusing on a myriad of different characters. Ed Brubaker knows crime fiction better than anyone. Any fan of the genre will appreciate this collection.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
This is THE classic detective story. You have no excuse for not having read this already.
Don Winslow is one of the most fearless writers out there. He pushes the stylistic side of the genre. While others play with point of view, he will switch form from his tight prose, to poetry, screenplay, he’ll even give dictionary definitions for chapters. This practice and his short, punchy chapters could be tossed off as MTV writing, but it expresses a lot. This is where genre fiction and experimental novel meet. What is even more amazing is how accessible his writing is. His latest, The Kings Of Cool, is no exception.
Some of us were apprehensive about him doing a prequel to his break-out book Savages, the story of high-end marijuana dealers Ben and Chon trying to get their mutual girlfriend, O, back from a Mexican cartel that wants to take them over. On the surface the prequel seemed like an attempt to cash in on previous success and the film version of Savages. We forgot Don always goes beyond the surface. Here he uses the origin story for something grander.
Not only do we learn how the three bonded when some gangsters and crooked cops set out to take them out of business in 2005, we meet their parents in the ’60s. As revelations from each time build, the stories merge not only as a microcosm of forty years of Southern California history, but also as a meditation on how a generation who protested the Vietnam War ended up sending their offspring to Iraq. As Ben’s father ponders in a long soliloquy:
“…we saw a dream turn into a nightmare we saw love and peace turn into endless war and violence our idealism into realism our realism into cynicism our cynicism into apathy our apathy into selfishness our selfishness into greed and then greed was good…”
He even connects the greed to being parents. Then Winslow goes further. No generation is safe.
This is crime fiction as social examination, even social conscience. The novel’s style prevents the book from getting bogged down in self importance or preaching.
It also gives us hope. Society may have gone to pot smoke, but Ben, Chon, and O prove that footing and a possible future can be found in honor, trust, and love. In fact The Kings Of Cool makes an argument that the bond of friendship is stronger than blood.
Don Winslow has created a perfect mix for a virtuoso crime novel. The Kings of Cool has an unnerving eye for violence, sharp dialogue, heroes trying to find honor in dishonorable business and an even more dishonorable world, true emotion, and balls to spare.
And style, lots of style.
James Rollins writes adventure like no one else. His stylistic fusion of thirties pulp fiction with Crichton-esque science fiction has landed him on bestseller lists for over a decade. Saturday, June 30th at 5pm, Mr. Rollins will discuss and sign his latest Sigma Team novel (on sale today), Bloodline, here at BookPeople. He was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance to give us an idea of his work.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Knights Templar legend has been a popular one for authors in the last decade. What did you see in it for Bloodline?
JAMES ROLINS:The mythology of the Knights Templar has always been shrouded by whispers of lost knowledge or hidden treasures. For this new book, I decided to address a suspicious lapse in Templar lore. Historical documents state that there were nine founding members of this ancient order. Eight of these knights are actually referred to by name, but the ninth’s identity has become lost in history. Which makes me as a writer ask: Why was this ninth knight’s name stricken from history, what secret needed to be buried with that name? Answering that question became the thrust for this new book.
MP: Unlike many adventure heroes, you give your hero Gray problems outside of work, for example dealing with his father’s Alzheimer’s. What does this add to the story and character for you?
JR: First, such details flesh out a real character. It allows readers to relate at a more intimate level. Each of us at some point in our lives has struggled to balance the responsibilities of our personal lives with the pressure of our professional roles. Gray is faced with the same balancing act. It humanizes him and instills sympathy–so when I do put him in harm’s way, you care about his fate. I also wanted to try to capture on the page the sheer devastation of Alzheimer’s, how it effects an entire family.
MP: How did the idea of Sigma Force come about?
JR: As more of a fluke than anything. Sigma first appears in my novel Sandstorm, which was written as a stand-alone, but I was fascinated by the idea of this unique team of covert agents: former soldiers who have been retrained in various scientific fields. Basically scientists with guns. Once I was done that first book, I knew I wanted to know more about them and to go on further adventures. Bloodline is the eighth in the series, but like Sandstorm and the other Sigma stories, this novel does stand on its own, and the series can be read in any order.
MP: Your action scenes are very visceral and immediate without any compromise to flow. Any advice of what to keep in mind for those trying to writing an action scene?
JR: I put myself deeply and intimately into a character’s shoes during an action sequence–because it’s not the ballet of blood that makes an action scene spring off the page. Instead, it’s the characters in jeopardy who get people turning pages. If you care deeply enough about a certain character, even stubbing his toes can be fraught with tension. Additionally, it’s important to weave additional sensory descriptions into those moments: the smell of gunpowder, the touch of cold steel, the coppery taste of fear. Such details make an action scene come alive in all of its bloody glory.
MP: It’s been said you’re a fan of the Doc Savage books. What do you hope to have in your novels that are in those classic pulps?
JR: What I loved best about those old pulps was the pure bravado of storytelling, where the lines between genres blurred. I try my best to capture that in my Sigma series, to put a modern spin on that old pulp adventure, to blend historical mystery, scientific conjecture, and riotous adventure all in one book. For me, it never grows old.
MP: You’ve mixed adventure with thriller and horror and write fantasy under another name. Is there any other genre you’d like to explore?
JR: I’m always open to new horizons, and in fact, I do have a secret project, one that I’m working on with a fellow author, an award-winning mystery writer named Rebecca Cantrell. But this new book is not a mystery, but the genre-bending beginning of a new epic series. I’m still not at liberty to say much more about it due to its controversial storyline. That novel, titled The Blood Gospel, will be out in January.
MysteryPeople welcomes James Rollins to BookPeople on Saturday, June 30 at 5pm. The event is free and open to the public.
~Post by Chris M.
1. Filthy Rich by Brian Azzarell
This little graphic mystery comes courtesy of Vertigo comics’ Vertigo Crime imprint and is filled to the brim with pulpy fun and hardboiled thrills. In Filthy Rich Azzarello harnesses his inner Spillane-expect plenty of sex, greed, and violence.
2. The Bar on the Seine by Georges Simenon
Simenon is undoubtedly one of the greatest mystery writers of all time and The Bar on the Seine is a fantastic starting point for the uninitiated. Read Simenon, and thank me later.
3. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
With a new Harry Hole mystery due out in October, now is the perfect time to either revisit or jump on board Mr. Nesbo’s wild ride. The Redbreast is a perfectly paced thriller that will have Steig Larsson fans wondering why they wasted all that time on some girl with a lame tattoo.
~Guest post by Jon Jefferson
A few years ago, my dear friend (and fellow novelist) Sheila Curran gave me a copy of a great essay called “My Life in Sales,” written by Ann Patchett and published in The Atlantic. Patchett, Clyde Edgerton, and Allan Gurganus were drinking in a hotel lobby bar in Mobile, AL, and discussing the mixed blessings of book tour: the surreal experience of spending days or weeks trudging from city to city, from hotel to hotel, from bookstore to bookstore, signing copies for hundreds of strangers (if Fortune smiles) or for thousands of strangers (if the authorial lottery ticket pays off).
“We all had books that had recently been published,” Patchett writes, “or were about to be published, and now was the time for us to go out into America and sell them. None of us felt particularly energized by this prospect.” She goes on:
“You’ve got to drink plenty of water,” Clyde said, and pulled a bottle of Evian from his bag to make the point. He had decided that the reason his last tour had been so hard was that he had gotten dehydrated along the way (all that flying). He believed the lack of water had led to his prolonged post-book-tour despair. Post-book-tour despair, that surprising companion to the despair one feels during book tour, was then discussed at length. Of the three of us, only Allan was sanguine. “The only thing worse than going on book tour,” he said, “is not going on book tour.”
Patchett’s essay is on my mind because I’m just back from book tour: a dozen days and fifteen (sixteen?) events to promote and sign The Inquisitor’s Key—including a lovely event at Patchett’s own bookstore, Parnassus Books, which she and Karen Hayes opened, recently and bravely, in Nashville. Since returning home, I’ve managed to do my laundry and fumigate my running shoes—which had gotten soaked during a deluged-drenched run halfway through book tour, and smelled thereafter like an entire pack of wet dogs—but I’ve not yet tackled the stack of mail piled on my desk.
Those of us who are lucky enough to go on book tour love to whine about it. Indeed, it’s often grueling and occasionally deeply dispiriting. This tour’s most deflating event transpired 20,000 feet beneath me on Day 2, at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ: the event began, transpired, and ended while my plane circled overhead throughout, fended off by a freakish thunderstorm; I landed just in time to catch my red eye flight back to Atlanta. Disappointing, for sure, but my book-tour nadir remains the evening two (three?) years ago, in a highly regarded indie bookstore, when only two people showed up, and neither one bought the new book … because the much-ballyhooed bookstore had neglected to order the damned thing.
But for every misery-making moment, there are dozens of glorious ones. Fifteen days ago, at one of my favorite bookstores on earth, one of my favorite booksellers on earth pressed two books into my hands as gifts—important books, she said, that I absolutely must read. Fourteen days ago, more than a hundred people paid ten bucks a head for a book talk and signing—a fundraiser for one of my favorite public libraries on earth.
Libraries, and bookstores, and blogs, and book tours matter enormously, because books matter even more. And readers matter most of all. So if you’re reading this, and especially if you’re reading The Inquisitor’s Key: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Jon Jefferson is the “writer” half of the bestselling novelist Jefferson Bass (the other half being world-renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass). The latest Jefferson Bass forensic thriller, The Inquisitor’s Key (William Morrow, May 8) debuted at #24 on the New York Times list.
Watch the trailer for The Inquisitor’s Key:
Not only has has Peter Farris given us one of this year’s most exciting debuts (and MysteryPeople Pick of the Month) with Last Call For The Living, he proved he can find work as a Pentecostal preacher at Noir At The Bar Austin, when he did a reading from the passage that leads up to the book’s much talked about shoot out. We caught up with Peter on the road and he answered a few questions.
MysteryPeople: It’s very rare, even in a story about criminals, when one of the central characters is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. What compelled you to use that background for Hobe?
Peter Farris: I’ve had a lifelong fascination with prison culture and prison gangs, and the alpha-male criminal sociopaths they can produce. Given the AB’s reputation, I thought giving Hicklin ties to the gang would make for a dynamic, complicated character.
MP: Is there anything an author needs to know about writing a book with a central character who has so many socially unacceptable traits?
PF: It’s important to write the character as dispassionately as possible, because the moment you inject any sympathies or antipathies I don’t think you’re writing fiction anymore…you’re writing propaganda. I knew it was essential to write about a white supremacist with that type of neutrality, both to serve the story and hopefully challenge the reader to accept (and maybe pull for) this outlaw despite his blind superiorities and reprehensible views. I’ve heard from a few readers who told me they couldn’t believe I had them rooting for such a despicable person. I admit I take a real satisfaction in that.
MP: This is your first novel. What did you get out of the experience?
PF: I’ve wrestled with a few emotions directly before and after the book’s release, including a strange sense of relief which was probably due to my own anticipation and eagerness.
One valuable lesson I’ve learned is that once your baby goes out into the world, there’s not much you can do about it. Just get on with the next sentence, the next gig, and don’t sweat how many reviews you have on Amazon or if somebody hated the novel on Goodreads and let everyone know about it.
MP: The book does a wonderful job of balancing a pulp spectacle with beleivable detail and character. Did you have any influences who you pulled from?
PF:I consider David J. Schow a real mentor and I’d argue next to Stephen Hunter nobody can go do gun play in a novel quite like David can. And if my house was burning down and assuming the loved ones and pets were safe, I’d probably try and save the James Ellroy hardcovers.
I have a deep love for regional fiction, too, and would definitely acknowledge Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown and Harry Crews as a few of my Mount Rushmore writers.
MP: When you wrote the shoot out in the snake handler church did you think it would catch everyone’s imagination the way it has?
PF:I didn’t think folks would respond the way they have, but while writing that scene I did have a supsicion that it was something that hadn’t been done before. Assuming that’s the case, I suppose I do feel a little proud. If the novel is remembered as the “one with the shootout in the snake-handling church” that’s perfectly fine by me.
MP: You’re in the middle of your first book tour. What have you learned from being on the road?
PF: I’ve realized that there is a remarkable community of readers (and booksellers!) out there, folks who just love turning each other on to great fiction, writing reviews, helping spread the word for work they’re passionate about. Authors tend to be shut-ins (myself included) so when you venture out into the world and meet like-minded souls willing to spend their money on something you’ve written, that’s a pretty profound thing. I’d like to think most novelists are trying to satisfy themselves creatively with each project, but after receiving some very kind e-mails from readers and chatting with folks out on the road, I’ve gained a deepening respect for the “audience.”
MP: You hinted that your next book is a southern Mystic River. Can you give any more detail?
PF: Well, Mystic River may not have been the best comparison as they couldn’t be more different story-wise, but with a little distance from the last draft I’m starting to think of the book as maybe a kindred spirit to Larry Brown’s “Fay.” I am really happy with my next novel though, and do hope (much like Lehane’s work) that it’s not only a compelling, entertaining read but something that resonates emotionally with the reader…the kind of crime fiction that lingers with you long after you’ve read it. The book is set in south Georgia, and about a teenage prostitute who finds sanctuary with an eccentric bootlegger.
It can be argued that Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series has been the most influential mystery series in the last fifty years. He introduced so many tropes to the PI genre, that authors who have never read him (or even claimed to have not cared for his work) have used some of them. In Pursuit Of Spenser, a collection of essays by some of the best mystery writers around, is a fun and smart look at the man, his work, and the art of crime fiction.
Many authors look at specific elements of the Spenser novels. Gourmet cook and author Lindsey Faye shows how Spenser’s feelings are expressed through food. SJ Rozan gives a sharp comentary on controversial girlfriend Susan Silverman. Gary Phillips‘ dissection of bad-ass side-kick Hawk also serves as a great mini-history of black crime fiction. Parenell Hall basically gives a workshop on wisecracks, focusing on the books use of humor.
Two authors take us through some of Parker’s non-Spenser work. Reed Farrel Coleman gives insightful analysis to the Jessie Stone series, linking their roots to westerns. Ed Gorman looks at Parker’s forays into that genre with his take on Gunman’s Rhapsody and the Hitch & Cole series, showing which traditions he utilizes and which ones he bucks.
Even though most of the writers knew Parker in passing at best, many are able to get personal. Jeremiah Healy shares advice he got from the author. Dennis Lehane recalls a night they threatened a ten year old. Ace Atkins, who is continuing the Spenser novels, gives a moving account of how the books served as a compass for becoming a man after his father died.
Even though the essays vary on topic, they are all smart and entertaining. Authors tend to reveal more about themselves and their craft when talking about the work of others. The subjects of Parker and his private eye give them a lot to talk about.
With Father’s Day this Sunday, I thought I’d make some suggestions concerning what Dad might like instead of that tie or aftershave.
1. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson – Sheriff Walt Longmire has to contend with someone in his small Wyoming town picking off a group of boys who basically got a slap on the wrist for the gang rape of a Cheyenne girl. Johnson blended this dark crime with a feel for the region, humor, and humanity, and just enough tough guy action. This is the book that kicked off the acclaimed series that has now inspired a TV series, “Longmire” premiering June 3rd. Signed copies now available.
2. Jade Lady Burning by Martin Limon – The first in an addictive series with Sueno and Bascome, two Army CID cops in seventies Korea. Fast paced with the author’s experienced look at the country and the military, this series has become the favorite of many dads. A personal favorite of my father, an ex-MP.
3. Old Boys by Charles McCarry – Even though this is in the middle of the novels featuring CIA agent Paul Christopher, it’s a great place to start. Christopher is presumed dead, but his nephew gathers his old intelligence buddies to find out what really happened. Your father will be casting parts for Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, and Eastwood as he reads.
4. Billy Boyle by James Breen – For Dads interest in WWII. The title character is a Boston policeman recruited to work as Eisenhower’s staff investigator, looking into a crime that endangers the D-Day invasion.
5. Roman Blood by Steven Saylor – This fun spin on the private eye genre set in ancient Rome has our hero Gordianus The Finder taking a job for Cicero. Smart ass quips and hard boiled action take place in a well-researched Rome.
The great thing about all of these books is that they are part of a series, so if he likes his Father’s Day gift, you’ve got at a few holiday gifts set.
Just received this from the James Rollins camp, it’s the book trailer for his upcoming Sigma 6 thriller, Bloodline. Rollins talks about war dogs, a trip he took to Iraq, his experience as a vet, and of course the new book:
Rollins’ books have been called “a cross between Indiana Jones and The Divinci Code”. We’re looking forward to having him here Saturday, June 30, 5p to talk about Bloodline and all of his Sigma 6 books. As always, the event is free and open to the public. Hope you can join us.