MysteryPeople Review: DEATH MAKES THE CUT

MysteryPeople welcomes Janice Hamrick to BookPeople this Friday, July 27 at 7p.

Last year Janice Hamrick debuted with Death On Tour, a book that won the Minotaur/MWA First Novel competition and introduced us to Austin high school teacher Jocelyn Shore who had to solve a murder on her discount tour through Egypt. The book’s mix of Hitchcock style thriller and romantic comedy, infused with Hamrick’s eye for human detail, made a great read for fans of light mysteries as well as winning over some of us hard boiled fans. With her latest, Death Makes The Cut, Janice Hamrick proves that it wasn’t just beginner’s luck.

In the first book, Jocelyn mentions her experiences as a teacher helps her solve the crime. In the new book, Hamrick puts Jocelyn right in her element with the murder of the tennis coach on the first day of school. The plot deals with possible drug dealing, a Twilight-like movie being shot on campus, school politics and angry parents all putting her own life in jeopardy.

Jocelyn also finds herself in a love triangle. She starts to wonder about her feelings for Alan, who she met in Death On Tour, when the investigating detective, Colm Gallagher, makes himself available for her. There is a very funny scene when the two men meet one another with Jocelyn in between them. Even her ex-husband shows up.

Where Hamrick excels is in her use of the school setting. She shows the gossip between Jocelyn and her fellow educators with ease and believability. She depicts them having as many cliques as the students. She weaves the school politics, bureaucracy, and general soap opera atmosphere into the plot, proving that people are most vicious when the stakes are so low. She also  looks at the happiness the job can bring, especially when Jocelyn becomes the defacto tennis coach.

In Jocelyn Shore, Janice Hamrick has given us a character worth following. She is a smart, every day woman dealing with situations that are over her head in a believable way. What makes her even more relatable is the way she becomes frustrated by her own emotions as much as she’s frustrated by the corner criminals back her into. Start reading and before long you’ll see why it’s not just Alan and Detective Gallagher falling for Jocelyn Shore, it’s readers, too.

MysteryPeople welcomes Janice Hamrick to BookPeople to speak about and sign Death Makes the Cut this Friday, July 27 at 7pm.

Happy Birthday Mr. Chandler

Today is the birthday of one of the masters of private eye fiction, Raymond Chandler, born July 23, 1888. Chandler’s poetic style brought lyricism and humanity to the genre. It’s hard for any author writing a PI character after Chandler not to be influenced by his hero, Philip Marlowe. Here are three must reads by the man.

Farewell My Lovely

Possibly his best balance of entertainment and depth. Marlowe is hired by an ex-con to find his long lost love. The trail puts him in the middle of a missing jade necklace and an LA high society that is just a dangerous as the criminals. Some of the best Marlowe quips are in this book.


The Little Sister

Written after Chandler’s stint as a screenwriter, this mystery eviscerates Hollywood. It’s the Get Shorty of it’s time.



The Long Goodbye

Possibly Chandler’s most realized work and the most intimate look at Marlowe. A moving look at friendship, loyalty, LA, and Chandler’s own writing. Best to read after a few other Marlowe novels.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant came to my attention through the great writer, Joe R. Lansdale. Like Joe, his writing has a unique voice that conjures up the Lone Star State. An accomplished musician and award winning writer, he’s written a great mystery, Dutch Curridge, starring a charming ne’er do well detective in postwar Fort Worth. We are excited to introduce Tim to our MysteryPeople customers at our Lone Star Crime Writers Event on August 1st where he’ll be sharing the stage with Reavis Wortham, Bill Durham, and Ben Rehder as well as opening the night with some music.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Dutch has such a unique voice and outlook. How did he come about?

TIM BRYANT: I’m very much a Texas writer, so I wanted to create to-order the perfect Texas character to push my stories along. And so Dutch is, not coincidentally, a good bit like me. We share a love of music. I’m a big fan of Bob Wills, Texas swing music, blues and jazz and country music from the 1940s and ’50s. I like going out and having a drink or two with friends. I like nosing around in dark corners and contemplating the great mysteries of life.

Dutch also has seen enough to have a pretty wide distrust of those in positions of power. He feels like the game’s been rigged, and his job is, for the most part, a matter of leveling it back out as much as he can. As a character, he started out in a series of short stories that I wrote while getting my Creative Writing degree. I originally thought of tying several of those short stories together into a novel, which quickly proved to be a more daunting task than I had imagined. By then, I’d gotten to know Dutch pretty well, and there were lots of other stories to tell. So the material in the book is almost completely independent of that in the original stories.

MP: What drew you to post-war Fort Worth as a setting?

TB: Fort Worth was the perfect location for Dutch because it had a thriving music scene in that era, and the music is an important backdrop to the story. In fact, it becomes part of the major subplot. Fort Worth had been home to people like Bob Wills and T-Bone Walker, as well as to radio station WBAP, which was important to the whole area in a historical sense. Fort Worth had that renegade, wild west image. It was home to Hell’s Half Acre, which earned its nickname the hard way. The whole town just had a real chip-on-its-shoulder attitude from having to stand up for itself to avoid getting lost in Dallas’ shadow. Finally, in addition to it being a western town, Fort Worth was also very much a part of the south. There was a lot of change coming to postwar America, especially in the South. Established orders were shifting, which caused a great deal of tension and turmoil. Dutch Curridge is quintessentially Texan, but he wouldn’t have been as comfortable in East Texas or the Hill Country or along the border.

MP: One thing I loved about your character’s voice is that it’s deep seated in the culture of his time and place. What kind of research did you do?

TB: I did tons. I read several books, looked at official records, photographs, talked to people who lived in that era and knew it personally. I’ve actually only been to Fort Worth a couple of times, but by the time I finished writing the novel, I’m pretty sure I knew more about the city than most people who live there. Hahaha. Having said that, I did reach a place where I made a very conscious decision to step back from the facts and figures of everything, and write the place as it existed in my head. It is a piece of fiction, so if you come up to me and say, “well, this particular thing actually went more like this than that,” I won’t argue with you. I was more interested in getting the heart of the city, of the people, the feel of the times and the language.

MP: Working on your first book, did you draw from any other writers or artists for inspiration?

TB: By the time I got down to writing the book, as far as the writing itself goes, I would have to say no. All of those things had been worked through. I have lots of influences, and most of them are probably fairly obvious. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, then people like Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers and Harper Lee. Finally, contemporary writers like Stewart O’Nan, Denis Johnson and Joe R. Lansdale. Joe was the first writer who made me realize someone from Nacogdoches, Texas could do this and do it well. Joe’s influence was fairly major, and it turned into a bit of a mentorship and a friendship as well.

The other inspiration that I drew from was the music. I was listening to lots of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, lots of Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb while I was writing. Also T-Bone Walker and a bunch of jazz stuff like Lester Young. All of the music that’s in the book and that was thriving in Fort Worth during the forties and fifties. It really helped me to get into the rhythm of the story, into the right head space.

MP: You have another book, Keachi. Can you tell us what that’s about?

TB: Keachi is a modern day faery tale. Well, it’s part faery tale/part ghost story. I don’t think the world has enough ghost stories. It’s a tale that had been tossing around in my head for quite a while, concerning a town that was submerged beneath Toledo Bend Lake when the reservoir was made in the 1960s. The same dark, mysterious quality that Dutch has, but existing in a world all its own. I had been reading the poetry of Christine Butterworth-McDermott, a world-class fairy tale aficionado who teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, and I thought if I could combine the timeless quality of that genre with the very specific East Texas noir quality of Joe Lansdale, I might get an interesting mash-up of influences.

MP: Do you think being a musician affects your writing?

TB: More than you would probably think. I wrote songs for twenty years before I wrote Dutch Curridge,  recorded and performed on stages, so I brought all of that experience to my writing. It’s obvious that music is an important element to my stories. It’s what I know.

Beyond that, I have to say that there are things I learned from writing lyrics that are very much in effect when I write fiction. Getting that genuine emotional quality with the exact right combination of words. The ability to impart certain information to the reader/listener that the protagonist doesn’t yet understand. That’s all fertile ground in songwriting as well. And when we talk about writers who have influenced me, I would be remiss not to include people like Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, both of whom wrote little stories, almost entire novels, within the constructs of a pop song.


The latest book from award-winning Austin mystery author Janice Hamrick is on our shelves today. In Death Makes the Cut, single high school teacher Jocelyn Shore has to deal with the murder of a colleague, filling in as the tennis coach, and a homicide detective who is taken with her. We’re big fans of Janice’s first book, Death on Tour, and are thrilled to celebrate this new book with her on Friday, July 27 at 7p. Come out and discover why we’re so taken with Janice both in print and in person.

Congratulations, Janice!

MysteryPeople Q&A with Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan has been making a name for himself with his Bangkok set, Poke Rafferty series.  A Nail Through the Heart, The Fourth Watcher, Breathing Water, and The Queen of Patpong. They’ve been translated into several languages and made several “best of” lists. The Queen of Patpong was nominated for the 2011 Edgar and Macavity as Best Novel. His personal favorite, Breathing Water, was named by the Japan Times as one of the ten best Asia books of the year (2009). His latest, The Fear Artist has received starred reviews from PW, Booklist, and Library Journal.

We’re happy to host Mr. Hallinan with fellow SOHO writer Martin Limon on Sunday July 15th at 4pm. To give you an idea of what to expect, Mr. Hallinan was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

MysteryPeople: How would you describe your books?

Timothy Hallinan: The Poke Rafferty books are thrillers, which I hope are character-driven. While the thriller plot begins and ends in each book, the story of the little family that’s at the center of the series (and that’s the element I care most about) continues from book to book. The father figure is Poke (short for Philip) Rafferty, an American travel writer who came to Thailand to write a book and stayed to start a new life; his wife, nicknamed Rose, whom he met when she was dancing in one of the red-light bars on Patpong Road, once Asia’s most lurid street; and their adopted daughter, Miaow, now 12 or 13 (no one knows) whom they adopted off of the sidewalk. They’ve all been damaged and they all need to make a home, so they’re trying with all they’ve got to create one across gulfs of religion and culture and expectations and personal experience. They’ve been together five years now, and if anything the bonds are getting stronger, although Miaow is now entering a very difficult age.

MP: What first took you to Bangkok?

TH: In 1981 I was working on a PBS series about the first tour of Japan by an American symphony orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and I was supposed to take a few weeks off in Japan when filming ended. But it was the coldest February in decades, so I called my travel agent (there were still travel agents then) and asked her to send me someplace that was both Asian and warm. She suggested the Philippines, but I’d spent a couple of months there working on a dreadful movie, and it wasn’t a happy experience, so I went for choice number two, Thailand. I landed in Bangkok wearing a down jacket and a woolen cap on a day when the temperature was just below 100. The immigration guys were falling off their chairs laughing at me as I crossed the terminal, and that was the first time in my life I ever saw immigration people laugh. I was in love with Bangkok by the end of the first couple of days. I’ve had an apartment there ever since.

MP: What makes Bangkok a good setting for thrillers?

TH: It’s got everything, and at both extremes. It’s rich, it’s poor. It’s notoriously libertine and deeply religious. It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the world as people stream in from the countryside to find new lives and find instead poverty and exploitation. It’s the most cheerful big city in the world but it’s also tragic. You can stand on any busy corner and see material for ten books in five minutes. And it’s rich in having a very peculiar expat population; it is, as Somerset Maugham said about Monte Carlo, a sunny place for shady people.

MP: There are people who look down automatically at books written about Bangkok by western men.

TH: Yes, and in some cases there’s good reason. There’s no shortage of what I think of as “me love you long time” books, rhapsodies of wish fulfillment in which gorgeous young brown women fall bewilderingly in love with uninteresting, middle-age white men. Those are rather emphatically not what I’m trying to write. The love stories in these books are among individual human beings (I hope), not two-dimensional racial slide projections. And it’s overwhelmingly monogamous. Rose and Poke have never fooled around, and Poke’s Thai best friend, Arthit, loses his wife in book number three and is inconsolable until he makes a somewhat problematical choice in the new one,The Fear Artist. If there were none of the bar life in the books, though, they wouldn’t be true, so there’s an aging group of discontented sexpats who hang out at a bar in Patpong and serve as a sort of chorus. They’re also a handy expository device.

MP: What’s The Fear Artist about?

TH: It’s about the War on Terror and what happens to someone who is, completely innocently, caught up in its periphery. There’s an ongoing Muslim insurrection in the south of Thailand, with five or six thousand people killed in the past four or five years, and the Americans are very much involved, largely behind the scenes, although they’ve tripled the U.S. Military presence in the country. One component of the War on Terror that most people aren’t aware of is The Phoenix Program, a campaign of assassination that the CIA managed for a couple of years in Vietnam—1800 people a month, on average, mostly civilians who were being suspected of being Vietcong cadres. It was the first time America engaged in wholesale assassination of possible noncombatants, and when the Pentagon was charged with coming up with a plan for the War on Terror after 9/11, they looked at the situation: the enemy largely unidentifiable, living invisibly in the general population in isolated villages, in a country where everyone hates us anyway, and they turned to The Phoenix Program. (When some suspected terrorist leader gets dusted by a drone in Afghanistan, that’s a late, high-tech echo of The Phoenix Program. The villain whom Poke faces in the book, Haskell Murphy, is a veteran of both Vietnam and Phoenix.

MysteryPeople welcomes Timothy Hallinan to BookPeople to speak about his work this Sunday, July 15 at 4p. He will be joined by Martin Limon. This event is free and open to the public. All are welcome.