Big News for Elmore Leonard

The Library of America will be printing a collection of Elmore Leonard’s early crime fiction. For someone who has influenced two generations in the genre as well as authors outside of it with his approach to plot, character, and dialogue, this is an honor well earned. Check out the complete Reader’s Almanac article HERE.

November 14 “The National Book Foundation will present its 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Elmore Leonard… Martin Amis will present the medal to Leonard, who is the twenty-fifth winner of the award that has previously gone to John Ashbery, Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Joan Didion.” Read the full article HERE.

A pilot is also in the works over at USA based off of one of Elmore’s short stories from When the Women Come Out to Dance. “The project centers on a Miami businessman who, contemplating a run for political office, tries to increase his chances of being elected by marrying a Colombian woman who is on the run from her troubled past. What starts as a marriage of convenience quickly escalates into much more as his new wife proves to be more resourceful at “fixing” any problem the corrupt South Miami political scene throws at her husband.” Read the full article HERE.


Join a Conversation with Peter Spiegelman

Here at BookPeople on Wednesday Sept, 26th, at 7pm, the Hard Word Book Club will be discussing one of the best modern private eye novels out there, Peter Spiegelman’s Black Maps. It is a book both unique in setting and tone, introducing us to Spiegelman’s series character John March.

March turned his back on his family of Wall Street financiers to become a deputy sheriff in upstate New York. After his life is shattered with the murder of his wife, he moves back to the city. While trying to put his life back together, he hires himself out as an investigator. Because of his family connections, most of the jobs involve the life he left behind.

In Black Maps, March is hired by a self-made investment  banker, Rick Pierro, who is being blackmailed. As John John tries to find the blackmailer, he discovers Pierro may be involved in something more criminal and personal than he thought.

Peter Spiegelman brings two pieces of his background together that make the book and the rest of the John March series a distinguished read. Peter used to work as a software designer for several Wall Street firms and said he encountered many people as dark and reckless as anything from a Jim Thompson novel. He conveys these people with nuance and shading, taking them beyond cardboard Gordon Geckos. His background as a poet produces a different rhythm and flow from the usual Chandler approach to prose. The word choice  is clean and can cut right to the emotion without over-emoting.

We’re honored to have Peter Spiegelman call in to our discussion on Wednesday, September 26th as we examine this novel that holds a unique place in the genre. Hard Word Book Club is free to attend, no registration necessary. Just show up. 

Crime Fiction 101

If you want to be a crime fiction writer, the New York Daily News reports on what could be the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for the genre, taught by some of the best in the business – Crime Fiction Academy.

From the article:

“Elmore Leonard, Dennis Lehane, Lawrence Block, Laura Lippman, Lee Child, Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates, Susan Isaacs, Harlen Coben, Linda Fairstein, S.J. Rozan, Jason Pinter, Val McDermid and Karin Slaughter are among those eager and willing to educate the genre’s newbies.”

Would you sign up?


My fellow MysteryPerson, Chris Mattix and I have been raving about Ariel S. Winter’s The Twenty Year Death for the last month. Winters gives us three books in one, each in the style of a crime fiction great, with his character of Shem Rozencrantz becoming more prominent in each book. While the novel can be thoroughly enjoyed on its own, familiarity with the work of the three authors Winter’s borrows from – George Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson – adds an extra dimension. Chris and I decided to suggest three titles from each writer that best reflect each book-within-a-book.

G E O R G E  S I M E N O N
(reflected in Malniveau Prison)

Friend Of Madame Maigret

Maigret is sent out of town to look into the murder of a criminal who boasted of his friendship with the inspector, even though Maigret never heard of him. Much like Ariel S. Winter’s Inspector Pelieter, Maigret has to navigate the local law to find the killer.


Bar On The Seine
Simenon once again takes Maigret out of Paris. Winters takes a cue from this book to make the town of Malniveau. Both places share a rich array of citizens each inspector questions.



Maigret and the Man On The Boulevard
Malniveau Prison’s existential tone seems to come from this one. Both victims wear clothing not their own and each bring up the question of identity.



R A Y M O N D  C H A N D L E R
(reflected in Falling Star)

The Little Sister

Without a doubt, Chandler’s skewering of the movie business was an influence on Winter’s Falling Star. Written after Chandler’s stint as a screenwriter, The Little Sister was the Get Shorty of its day.


The Lady In The Lake

The bad marriage of Ariel S. Winter’s Shem and his wife, Clotilde, is influenced by this book. They also share a look at damaged women.



The Long Goodbye

Shem Rosencrantz has a lot in common with both Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox and alcoholic writer Roger Wade. Both Marlowe and Falling Star‘s Dennis Foster each pay a price for getting emotionally involved in a case.


J I M  T H O M P S O N
(reflected in Police At A Funeral)

Nothing More Than Murder

The plot of a murder cover up that leads to darker deed serves as a model for Police at a Funeral. They also share a less-than-alluring femme fatal.



The Killer Inside Me

Winter captures the mental breakdown of a man Thompson portrays in this chilling tale of a sheriff’s deputy who is also a psycho killer



Savage Night
It seems like every hooker, low rent gangster, and any other low fife in this book changed their name and moved over to Winter’s book.

After reading these books, you’ll develop an appreciation for these authors and for the way Winter’s captured their voices.

Joe Lansdale on Poe

Joe R. Lansdale is one of the best authors writing in both the horror and mystery genres, much like one of his influences, Edgar Allan Poe. Joe has a piece up right now on the Mulholland Books website talking about that influence and explaining why his East Texas home is Poe Country. He begins:

“I can’t think about Edgar Allan Poe without thinking about my life, because he was there in dark spirit, in my room and in my head. He was out there in the shadows of the East Texas pines, roaming along the creeks and the Sabine River, a friendly specter with gothic tales to tell. ”

Terrific writing, as always. Check it out.

Get to Know Jim Thompson

~Post by Chris M.

Let’s face it; Scandinavian crime fiction is becoming a densely populated scene due to the recent success of Steig Larsson and his The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (aka The Millennium Trilogy) books. Because of this American readers are seeing more and more books plastered with the phrase “For Fans of Steig Larsson” and “If you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo…” but it’s all just a marketing ploy designed to cash-in on the success of one man’s work, and it doesn’t do Scandinavian writers any favors. Contrary to what American publishers would have you believe all Scandinavian crime fiction is not the same. As an avid reader of Nordic crime novels it’s a little disheartening to see this unique brand of fiction glossed over and compared to its most successful export. So where does this leave readers who are interested in Scandinavian crime fiction? Sadly, it leaves them mostly in the dark. But never fear, dear readers, for I have come to shed some much needed light on this diverse and varied genre!

Even as I write this I’m thinking of dozens of great Nordic crime writers who have little in common with Mr. Larsson yet somehow get lumped in the same pile. As much as I’d like to rattle off a list of my favorite working Nords, I will restrain myself. What I am going to do is give you an introduction to a promising new writer who I believe will satisfy your need for icy crimes and desolate landscapes. That writer is James Thompson, an American (gasp!) who’s been living in Finland for over a decade and who’s Inspector Kari Vaara novels rival some of the best crime writing from native Scandinavians and Americans alike.

I was first introduced to James Thompson when Book People’s crime connoisseur Scott Montgomery handed me a copy of Thompson’s first novel, Snow Angels. Scott knows I’m a sucker for snow-covered carnage, but I don’t think he had any idea of just how much I’d love James Thompson’s work.  In Snow Angels we are introduced to Inspector Kari Vaara, the chief of police in a small Finnish village (his home town). Vaara is the quiet brooding type. He hides his emotions and is loyal to the ideal of justice, which is essentially what drives him. At first I didn’t know what to think of Vaara. He’s a tough guy with a heart of gold, but so are tons of other characters in this genre, so why should I care about him?

The thing that makes Vaara unique from other characters is the way he justifies his actions and the lengths he will go to protect his loved ones. He’s not a crooked cop, but he will be if it means doing what’s best for his family. This creates an interesting tension within Thompson’s novels. In Snow Angels we watch Vaara investigate the brutal murder of an African Finnish movie star, and over the course of the investigation Vaara is confronted by characters from his past; including his ex-wife, his abusive father, and the memory of his dead sister. When I think of Thompson’s novels together I better understand the progression of Kari Vaara. Snow Angels is his origin story. It is where we learn his flaws, strengths, and motivations, and it’s also a way to contextualize him. This is the man as he exists now: having already gone through trauma both physical (a bum knee) and psychological. Thompson presents us with a character with a rich history, which is a smart move because it gives him plenty of content and characters to play with, and in every one of his novels he sends Vaara reeling into his own sordid past.

Vaara is not alone is his quest for justice. His wife Kate, an American, plays a vital role in both his personal and professional lives. Kari is a protector, it’s his nature, and one of the most interesting things about him is the ways in which he attempts to protect his family, sometimes with physical violence, but more often with his words. He struggles between telling Kate too much and not enough, and he constantly worries that he’s said the wrong thing when, in reality, he hasn’t. It’s a depth of character that we crime fans don’t often see, and it makes Kari Vaara that much more believable and endearing. We want the best for him, and he wants the best for his family. In Snow Angels Vaara deals with death and destruction on a massively personal level, and by the end it’s a wonder that he’s still standing on his own two feet.

After the events of Snow Angels Kari and Kate move from their desolate village to the bustling metropolis of Helsinki. In Thompson’s second novel, Lucifer’s Tears, Vaara takes a job as a homicide detective for the Helsinki Police and life finally seems to be getting back to normal, except for the excruciating headaches and insomnia he now suffers.  Lucifer’s Tears is very different from Snow Angels. Sure, the protagonist is the same, but by changing the setting from quiet village to major city Thompson opens up the scope of his imagination and really excels. Don’t get me wrong, Snow Angels is absolutely wonderful and necessary in the series, but Thompson seems to hit his stride as an author in Lucifer’s Tears. The characters he introduces are more complex, the crimes are more inventive, and the added historical information adds so much depth to the novel it’s hard to imagine he was content writing about a tiny little Finnish village.

I think of Lucifer’s Tears as the start of Kari Vaara series, while Snow Angels is more like a prequel. The events of Lucifer’s Tears introduce us to a lot of characters who will play vital roles in Thompson’s third novel, Helsinki White, thus further giving it that feeling of true beginning. Snow Angels is about Vaara and Lucifer’s Tears and Helsinki White are about Vaara and his friends and family in Helsinki. They are worlds away from each other in both tone and scope and, in my opinion, are better written. Just as Lucifer’s Tears outshined Snow Angels, so too does Helsinki White outshine its predecessor.

Helsinki White is by far my favorite of Thompson’s novels, but if you think you can just skip the first two and go straight for number three you are sorely mistaken. I love Helsinki White because it continues to pull at the threads from the other novels. Vaara is still haunted and there is no easy fix for what troubles him. The tension is still there, but it has been affected by the events he’s witnessed. Helsinki White is also the most socially reflective of Thompson’s novels; it deals with the growing racial tensions in modern day Finland and the attitudes toward ethnic minorities throughout Europe. The focus of Helsinki White gives it a little more punch than previous novels. It’s a subject that is close to home for American and European audiences, and it can be hard to read at times because it feels so real. It combines the classic police procedural with elements of espionage and covert tactical warfare to create something totally unique. It’s an immensely satisfying novel that I could not put down.

What I’ve enjoyed the most about the Kari Vaara novels is that each one is better than the last. Thompson is getting better with each installment. He understands his characters and knows how to write them. There is more consistency, scope, imagination, twists, and good old-fashioned carnage in every new novel, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more. I can tell that Thompson is having fun, and that makes it all the more enjoyable for me. My hope is that James Thompson will continue to grow as an author so that we readers can reap the benefit of his wonderful imagination. He may be an American, but damn if he doesn’t write Scandinavian crime better than most Scandinavians. He has an intimate knowledge and respect for the country he writes about, and it shows. Crime writers should take a cue from James Thompson and inject that same passion and love into their work, because it really does pay off in the end.