Book Review: IN PURSUIT OF SPENSER

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.

MysteryPeople still has copies of In Pursuit Of Spenser signed by Ace Atkins, essay contributor and author of the latest Spenser novel, Lullaby.

Going Beyond the Tie & Aftershave this Father’s Day

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.

Trailer Time

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.

Murder Ballads, Snake Handling, Dog Bites – Noir at the Bar is a Big Success

Last week we launched the Austin version of Noir At The Bar. A night of crime readings, much like poetry in a coffee house, done at a local watering hole had proven to be a success in Philadelphia, St. Louis and L.A., so we decided to do our own spin on it. Opal Divine’s hosted our motley band of authors and we drew a great crowd that made us want to do it again. (Thanks to Peter Farris for the awesome pictures from the night.)

Since we  are in Austin, we started with some music. Alt country singer/songwriter Chris Hoyt got us in the mood with three songs. Then writer, singer, songwriter, and former Skunks member, Jesse Sublett, performed a murder ballad.

Chris Hoyt

Barry Graham was up first, reading from his latest, When It All Comes own To Dust. The book deals with a predator just released from prison and his now adult victim. Barry chose a passage of their first confrontation that also describes the Phoenix, Arizona setting that is practically another character in the book. He then went into a passage from What Do You Think Of Your Blue Eyed Boy that was funny and dark, with a bite like one from the dog featured in the story.

Barry Graham

Jonathan Woods was next with a sexy part of his debut novel, A Death In Mexico. If you are a fan of John Burdette, Derek Raymond, or George Simenon, pick up this book. Woods’ Inspector Hector Diaz is a great mix of vice and virtue. he closed his set with What The F*** Was That? a comic horror tale that will have you picking your nose.

Jonathan Woods

Next up was Peter Farris, who read from the MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, Last Call For The Living. This punchy Southern hard boiled is a must-read. Peter’s reenactment of a sermon from a snake handling preacher that happens before an already infamous shoot out probably had the Opal Divine’s customers downstairs wondering what the heck was going on (we sure enjoyed it).

Peter Farris

Jesse Sublett finished off the evening with a chapter from soon to be post-apocalyptic PI tale, Grave Digger Blues that he read to prerecorded music. The chapter, titled The Last Detective At The End Of The World, had everything – tough talk, violence, wise cracks, and a giant Marilyn Monroe. A perfect note to end on.

Jesse Sublett

The attendees mingled and drank with the writers and had their books signed.  It was a fun gathering of individuals and of voices that were individual. Friends were made, readers were discovered, and plots hatched. Looking forward to doing it again.

Free Workshop: How to Write a Mystery

Think you have a novel in you? Working on some crime fiction of your own and could use some pointers? Then join us this Saturday, June 16 for How to Write a Mystery, a free workshop we’re hosting along with Sisters and Crime. Award winning author Joan Upton Hall will lead three sessions: 9:30-11:30am; 1:00-3:00pm; 4:00-6:00pm. Come for one, come for all, whatever you’d like! There’s no charge, and no registration is required. We’ll meet up on BookPeople’s third floor. All are welcome! Tell your friends!

 

THE SORDID TALE OF NOIR AT THE BAR

Drinking establishments are an intregal part of crime fiction. There are night clubs with shady goings on, the poor sap who seals his fate with the femme fatale in the corner booth, and PI who finds solace at his favorite watering whole. Bars are perhaps even more of a standard than a fedora and forty-four. It’s hard not to read without wanting a belt of something. That’s why a few writers and fans have launched  Noir At The Bar, readings by established and up-and-coming crime fiction talent in local taverns. They’ve been popping up across the country and MysteryPeople is excited to host Austin’s first Noir at the Bar TONIGHT, Thursday June 7th,  at 7PM  at Opal Divine’s on W. 6th Street.

It originally started in Phililelphia by Peter Rozovsky who runs the crime fiction blog Detectives Beyond Borders. The idea came when he was talking to a bartender freind about writing. “It probably helped that most of the decor of his bar was primarily black.”

His first event was with Duane Swierczynski and an actress reading from his violent espionage-action-corprate-satire-thriller Severance Package. He continued to experiment.

“We’ve done a bit of genre jumping, with Jonathan Maberry. I was also pleased when I got Declan Burke and John McFetridge to stop in Philadelphia on the way to Bouchercon 2008 for a twofer international Noir at the Bar – and Scott Phillips showed up. And Dennis Tafoya, piggybacking on a previously planned event featuring Pete Dexter, packed the place. And I’d always be especially pleased when some noisy bar regular would shut up for a minute and pay attention to the reading.

Scott Phillips told his fiend and fellow author, Jedidiah Ayers, about what Peter was doing, they decided to do the same thing in St. Louis.

“Peter had a great name for his event, Noir At The Bar,” says Ayres. “We stole the name. We’d do it again.”

“We wanted to let writers we dig know that they were dug in St. Louis. We wanted to throw them a party. Let’s face it, Benjamin Whitmer, or Jane Bradley, or Les Edgerton isn’t going to sell enough books at a single event to justify making the trip – these guys are doing it ’cause they want to have a good time, and it sounds like a damn good time to them. I hope we delivered.”
“Then there are writers like Kyle Minor, David James Keaton or Jesus Angel Garcia who are just work horses – putting themselves through the wringer physically, psychically and financially to put themselves and their work out there. Drive all day, burn the house down, drive on all night. They remind me of road musicians and I admire the hell out of them. They are welcome at the bar.”It has become  a welcoming point for authors with many a legendary moment.

“There have been moments of infamy, like the bar band striking up in the next room right in the middle of Sean Doolittle’s reading. Sean just got louder – finished that performance like a champ and then Pinckney Benedict followed and belted his weird-ass story over the top of some Sly Stone cover – if you’ve never read his story Pig Helmet & the Wall of Life please do so and then try to imagine it getting even more surreal ’cause that’s what you missed. Fred Venturini got sexually harassed and heckled during his reading by another writer (only time that’s happened at our events). But hey, Fred’s got sexy muscles and probably has that happen a lot ’cause it didn’t faze him.”

They even published an anthology to support  local store Subterrainian Books. It may be known as much for it’s derisive blurbs from authors like Lawerance Block and Megan Abbott, than the actual work inside. The book is still a local bestseller, even though it’s been out for almost a year.

More than anything Noir At The Bar has proven to be great venue for crime fiction fans and writers to gather.

“And the community aspect of the whole thing can’t be oversold,” Jedidiah Ayers said. “One thing I hear again and again from the writers who participate is how isolated they feel in their own town (doesn’t matter if it’s New York or L.A.) My wife encourages me to do these things just so that I’ve got an opportunity to rub elbows with other like-mind weirdos and perverts. If I don’t get this stuff out of my system around them, it’ll come out and be inflicted upon my long-suffering family.”

MysteryPeople is kicking ours off with a grat line up. Peter Farris’s Southern hard boiled debut, Last Call For The Living is the store’s Pick Of The Month. Barry Graham’s books, like When It All Comes Down To Dust, look at evil until one of you blinks; usually evil. Jonathan Woods is drawing comparisons to Siminone and Derek Raymond with his rough and weird A Death In Mexico. Since we are the the live music capitol of the world, we’ll have a reading and performance from local legen Jesse Sublett with an opening set by singer/songwriter Chris Hoyt. Don’t plan on any Sly Stone covers.

I’m gratified and flattered by the Noir at the Bars that have followed mine,” says Peter. “John McFetridge invited me up to Toronto to host an event with Sean Chercover and Howard Shrier, and Jed Ayers and Scott Phillips have done a terrific series of readings in St. Louis. The St. Louis series gave rise to a short-story collection that included a profanity-laced tribute of which I am immensely proud. I don’t know the folks who do Noir at the Bar in Los Angeles, but I think they got Christa Faust for one of their readings, which speaks well of them.”“The successor Noir at the Bars have me thinking about setting up some more events in Philadelphia. (I have at least one guest in mind.) I feel like a proud father watching his children go out into the world and do well. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the little pissers make the old man look bad.”

“Thanks for setting up this event, good luck with it, and welcome to the Noir at the Bar family.”

Thanks for letting us steal, Peter.

Join us tonight June 7, at 7PM at Opal Divine’s (700 West 6th St.).

WATCHING MONSTERS: THE WRITING OF BARRY GRAHAM

Not only does Barry Graham have a sharp writing voice, both tight and flowing like James M Cain, it’s what he does with it. He takes a socially aware look at the people we fear. He focuses on the killers and rapist the nightly news gives three minutes of airtime and stares at them until somebody cracks. Usually, it’s the reader.
Even though several of his books have been praised in Europe, he came to notice in the states last year when PM Press released The Wrong Thing. The first chapter introduces us to The Kid, a boogeyman who roams Phoenix. Part gangster, part cold blooded killer, he is a legend of evil. The following chapters show how he got to be that legend from a broken home, time in juvenile, and a violent encounter. Graham mainly focuses on his struggle with jobs and love, using our knowledge of the impending darkness to build suspense of when it will completely transform someone we’ve grown to understand and maybe even care about. He never lets the kid off the hook, while never letting us forget how he could have gotten in to this world.
Even though Graham deals with predators and crime, there is very little blood and gun play on the page. Most of the tension comes out of his characters trying to carve out a life, using the reader’s knowledge of how difficult that can be under normal circumstance. The violence hangs in the air like an impending and inevitable guillotine, ready to fall.
He does this beautifully with both victim and victimizer in his latest, When It All Comes Down To Dust. We meet Laura Ponte confronting Frank Del Rio, the man who victimized her as a child, on his prison release. Soon after, Laura loses her job by roughing up a wife beater. Without being over dramatic, we watch Laura struggle with her life as she falls for a reporter. Graham captures the fragility of love with the two. We hope the ghosts of her past don’t become demons.
We also see the banality of evil through Frank. We learn about his good upbringing and the potential he had and wants to find again. The guilt he feels for his past is real, but he can’t associate that guilt with his urges.
As these two lives head toward one another, we learn more about the actual crime (one of the rare times I’ve been shocked). Our fear comes less from them losing their lives and more from what their lives will become. While violence in the end may be inevitable, you may find its reasons and emotion surprising.
Barry Graham doesn’t pull any punches and avoids sensationalizing. He keeps our eyes on the aberrations of humanity, long enough to see the humanity in the aberration. That is truly disturbing.
Be sure to come out to Noir at the Bar tomorrow night at Opal Divines to hear Barry speak about his new book When It All Comes Down To Dust. He will be joined by Peter Farris and Johnathan Woods, with music by Jesse Sublett and Chris Hoyt.