Parker Hits the Big Screen

While Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake’s) Parker books have been adapted into almost half a dozen films, notably Point Blank and The Outfit, film producers have never been able to use the character’s actual name because no one wanted to make the whole Parker series, as Westlake wanted, only one book at a time. That will change this January with Parker, the new movie based on the book Firebreak. Starring Jason Statham as the bad ass heistman, it is planned to be the first in a series of films based on the books.

Their has been some debate about having a Parker with a British accent (watch him try to pass himself off as a Texan), but I’ll argue he brings the attitude. You can be the judge by looking at the trailer. If for some reason you haven’t read a Parker book, pick one up immediately, they are diamond hard with dialogue you can use to hammer a railroad tie.

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Cleveland Rocked!

Injuries, New Authors, Noir at the Bar, The Classy John Connolly, & A Book to Die For at Bouchercon 2012

John Kenyon. Kent Gowran, Thomas Pluck, Tommy Shaw, Christa Faust, Peter Farris, and myself. The hard boiled Algonquin Roundtable.

Heading toward the venue of the 2012 Bouchercon, I realized Cleveland was a perfect setting for the world’s largest crime fiction conference. Walking some of the streets where a post-Untouchable Eliot Ness worked fighting corruption and trying to solve the still open case of “The Torso Killer”, rain pelting my hat and coat while I passed the town’s historic buildings, put be in a noir mood. No wonder this town has served as an inspiration for the likes of Les Roberts and Michael Koryta.

We even had our share of injury. After looking fine Wednesday, Wallace Stroby became bedridden in his hotel room for most of the conference. Reed Farrel Coleman sported several stitches the last two days after taking a tumble off the risers when his panel ended. He told us he’ll have a great scar to show off at our Noir At the Bar on November 13th. Another author took the same tumble at the award ceremony. Even this bookseller ended up with a nasty twist to the ankle . In true hard boiled fashion, we were all at the hotel bar on the last evening of the conference nursing our wounds (and wounded egos).

The opening ceremony was held at the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. John Connolly gave a funny keynote speech, featuring an interview with the “stand in” for the controversial Jack Reacher choice, Tom Cruise, and we all got a tour of the museum. The only thing cooler than seeing Elvis’ Caddy was finally meeting Big Daddy Thug himself, Todd Robinson, creator of Thuglit magazine and impresario of the New York Noir At The Bar. I even got to go back to the hotel in a limo van, since these things happen when you’re standing next to John Connolly.

Noir At The Bar had its own night on Friday. Hosted by new publisher on the block, Snubnose Press, at the Wonder Bar, it featured several of their writers including buddies Jonathan Woods and Jedidiah Ayres (co-founder of St. Louis’s Noir At The Bar). I also discovered Josh Stallings, an author whose work I can’t wait to dive into. He read from the darkest, toughest, grittiest and funniest thing there, and it was from his memoir. The talent was hard hitting, poetic, and mostly drunk.

Chatting with Peter Farris and John Rector before “Bringing Back Noir” panel.

This year had some of the best panels. “Eve Of Destruction” featured women writers like Sophie Littlefield and Deborah Coonts who write about crime fighting ladies. Debra said one of the most gratifying things about her writing is “…having men do what I think they’ll do.” The following hour went to the other gender with “Man Fiction” (a term which everyone on the panel dismissed). Max Allan Collins gave some great advice about writing hard boiled fiction with its more melodramatic elements. “When the story is a shout, I try to write at a whisper with character and setting to make it as recognizable as possible.”

My favorite panel was “Heroes & Villains” moderated by Mark Billingham with Karin Slaughter, Alafair Burke, John Connolly, and Martyn Waites. The authors discussed heroes and villains in their own life and on the page. Somehow the discussion got to sex scenes. Martyn said he always knows when his wife gets to one in his work. “She sighs and says, “Here’s something else I have to live up to.”

John Connolly delivered an eloquent statement about the need to put a part of himself in his heroes, villains and everyone in between. “That way they all have meaning.”

Connolly also started an impassioned discussion when he was asked who his real life villain was. He answered people who use the terms, “legacy publishing” and “dead tree publishing”. “There’s animosity with some people against the printed book…All I’m asking for is a choice.”

Mark Billingham added, “It’s like escalators being threatened by stairs.”

I also got to know some authors who are new to the game. Tim O’Mara, a New York schoolteacher, created buzz with his debut, Sacrifice Fly. If he can tell a story on the page as good as he can at the bar we’re all in for a treat. I also met ex-con turned novelist Les Edgerton, who dropped a great piece of life advice – “Never let anyone rent space in your head.”

An author who made quite a splash was buddy and fellow Texan Reavis Wortham. Both of his books, The Rock Hole and Burrows, which look at the effect of the ’60s on a small town, sold out in the book room. He also seemed to be surrounded by at least two beautiful women every time I saw him. Not bad for his first Bouchercon.

The true star at Cleveland was Books To Die For, a collection of essays edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke, with assistance from my fellow Mystery Bookstore vet Ellen Clair Lamb, where the authors asked over a hundred of their fellow crime writers to pick a book they would passionately advocate people read. One of the largest lines at the conference was to get signatures from thirty of the contributors. John told the crowd, “We laughed when we we’re told it was the hardest thing we’d ever do…We’ll never do it again.”

As closing ceremonies ended and the authors gave each other a goodbye hug before heading to the airport, I sat with Christa Faust and Johnny Shaw plotting out deeds for next years Bouchercon in Albany. I see more injuries ahead.

History of Mystery Gets Groovy with THE BIG FIX

We’ll be holding our free History Of Mystery class on a special date this month – October 14th. For those not familiar with the class taught by myself and Mystery Scene contributor David Hansard, the class looks at American authors who have made their mark on crime fiction. Roger L. Simon definitely did that when he updated the private eye with The Big Fix.

Trying to get published at a house started by Rolling stone magazine, Simon created a gumshoe for his generation. He traded in the trench coat for a jean jacket, fedora for long hair, turned his bottle of bourbon into grass, and gave us Moses Wine, ex-activist, divorced with two kids, trying to find his footing in the ’70s. He proved popular enough for eight more books. Even Ross MacDonald considered it a seminal book.

Moses is lured onto a case by an ex-flame from his radical days. Hired by a progressive Senatorial candidate, he has to locate an Abby Hoffman-type activist who is endangering the campaign. The trail involves Satanists, Latino revolutionaries, and a California  quickly going from the Age Of Aquarias to The Me Generation, as Moses holds onto his detectives code as well as the one from his past. Simon gives the detective novel, particularly the LA one, a new perspective.

We’ll be meeting on the third floor, October 14th at 6pm to discuss the book. Try to come earlier at 4pm for a viewing of the film starring Richard Dreyfuss as Moses Wine with the scipt adaptation done by Roger L. Simon.

Check out the trailer from 1978:

MysteryPeople Review: THE BOOKSELLER

Mark Pryor gives us a fresh take on the action-thriller with his debut, The Bookseller. He delivers stalwart hero Hugo Marston, the US embassy’s head of security in Paris, and gives him a good number of guns and bad guys to face. He also gives Hugo a great sidekick, a number of characters in a moral grey area, and tosses him into a situation where old crimes meet new in The City Of Lights.

Besides being a man of action, Hugo is also a bibliophile; something that leads him into his first adventure. On visiting Max, the elderly operator of a bookstall, he witnesses the man being forced into a car. Out of his jurisdiction, Hugo’s search for Max takes him through every social strata in Paris, encountering drug smugglers, and a sexy journalist. The plot becomes more layered when Hugo discovers Max was a Nazi hunter who specializes in collaborators.

Pryor does a wonderful job of giving us the thriller standards with a hero to root for and a twisting, page turning plot with a breezy writing style while also bringing new life into the genre. Much of this comes from Tom Green, Hugo’s semi-retired CIA friend. Tom serves as a reactionary counterpoint to Hugo. With the banter and loyalty between the two, Pryor introduces a fun buddy element to a genre filled with lone wolves. The use of Paris is also important. It comes off more as a character than a backdrop for set pieces. Pryor views it as a place still healing from its occupation wounds. If that isn’t enough, he also gives us an interesting and unique glimpse of the book world with it’s different stores, sellers, and collectors.

The Bookseller is one of those ideal weekend reads. It’s tight and flows with a wonderful steady pace and contains some good guys you like to spend time with. It also gives us a sense of place and history as well as morality – black, white, and gray – that we carry with us after the last page. I can’t wait to see what else Mark Pryor has in store with Hugo Marston.

MysteryPeople welcomes Mark Pryor to BookPeople to speak about & sign The Bookseller on Friday, October 12 at 7pm.

Three Books to Read Right Now

Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara

New York School teacher O’Mara uses his background to tell this story of an ex-cop turned educator looking for a missing student in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Intense and moody, this book was the talk of 2012 Bouchercon.

 

 

Books To Die For edited by Michael Connolly and Declan Burke

Connolly and Burke asked over one hundred crime fiction writers to write an essay on the book they were passionate advocates for. The result is this collection by some of the best in the world, ranging from Joe Lansdale’s take on Farewell My Lovely to Scandinavian Liza Marklund’s appreciation of the Nancy Drew story, The Ghost Of Blackwood Hall. A great gift for any crime fiction fan.

 

Ranchero by Rick Gavin

Now out in paperback, this a great, violent romp follows repo man Nick Reid and his buddy Desmond’s adventures across the Mississippi Delta looking for a stolen Ranchero car. Fun, funny, and full of action.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor is a debut author who is as fascinating as his hero Hugo Marston, head of security for America’s Paris embassy. Raised in England with an American mother, Pryor works as a prosecutor in Austin Texas (he’ll publish a true crime book about one of his cases next year.) His novel, The Bookseller, deals with rare books, drug cartels, and the French history of collaborating with the Nazis. It’s also a fun buddy adventure. Mark was kind enough to answer some of our questions about himself and his book.


MYSTERYPEOPLE: One of the the things that make this a unique thriller is your lead’s job as head of security for the American Embassy in Paris. How did you choose that occupation?

MARK PRYOR: It was mostly a matter of practicality.  I needed Hugo to have a job that gave him access to police resources to solve crimes, and to a group of fellow Americans so that I didn’t have to make him speak in French the whole time.  The Embassy was a good choice because it provides those to him, and also allows him to travel, which I plan to have Hugo do in future novels.  Additionally, it lets him meet (and guard/save/investigate) all manner of interesting if shady dignitaries, which will also be a feature of upcoming books.  As well as the practical side, I think it’s an interesting and somewhat secretive role, so I have a little bit of discretion or leeway with how I have him act, what I make him do.  At least until the State Dept. comes knocking.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Part of the mystery is tied to French citizens who collaborated with the Nazis. What drew you to that?

MARK PRYOR: As an Englishman, the Second World War was a large part of my consciousness growing up, I think Americans would be surprised how powerful its effect on the national psyche remains.  Additionally, I have always been fascinated by the impossible moral choices people sometimes face.  The Second World War provides so many examples of that, from the grand scale (do we use an atom bomb?) to the individual dilemmas that tortured the souls of ordinary citizens.  On the micro level these decisions usually came down to self-preservation v. doing the ‘right’ thing, and I’m well aware how mind-numbingly tough those choices were for people.  So I wanted to explore that issue and take it a step further by showing how these difficult choices didn’t just affect those making them (or those being betrayed) but how the effects lingered on and touched the lives those people’s children.  Two important characters, Max and Claudia, both suffer as a result of horrendous decisions made by other people and they deal with their suffering very differently but in neither case, I think, can we make absolute value judgments about their reactions.  But I would love for people to read about these dilemmas, think about them and wonder what they might do in that situation.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Paris setting is very evocative. Does it come more from experience or research?

MARK PRYOR: Thank you, one of my goals with the book was to bring a sense of Paris to the reader.  I have been there many times and my mother lives in the Pyrenees mountains, in the south west of France, where Hugo visits on his quest for answers.  Online research is so easy to do these days, with mapping tools and the internet generally but I think to effectively portray a place like Paris you have to spend time there.  In fact, The Bookseller was conceived in Paris and I began writing it in a cafe there.  I’m headed back in December to do some digging around for my third Hugo novel and, as you might imagine, I don’t view the necessity of in-person research as a hardship, not one little bit!

MYSTERYPEOPLE: One of the other standouts in a thriller like this is the fun buddy relationship that Hugo has with his CIA buddy, Tom Green. Besides back up and resources, what else do you think Green does for him as a character?

MARK PRYOR: Thank you for picking up on that because I absolutely love dreaming up and writing the scenes with Tom in them.  In fact, I see him as a release for Hugo, and for me as a writer.  Hugo is old-fashioned, he might cuss now and again but he’s pretty stoic and you never quite know what he’s thinking.  Tom, on the other hand, will shoot from the lip every time.  That makes him an enormously fun character to write because being with him is like being with my best two or three friends after a martini or two.  But he’s also a great foil for me and Hugo professionally – in most crime fiction, you have to push the boundaries of an investigation, take a chance here and there.  Hugo can’t do that very often but Tom can, and once Tom kicks that secret door open, well, Hugo might as well follow him through.  But Tom also allows Hugo to show his softer side because they don’t just go busting doors down together, they are true friends.  You’ll see that in the second and third books, when the pair find it necessary to look out for each other outside of the job.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What makes Hugo a character worth following for you as a writer?

MARK PRYOR: I would like to think he has some depth.  Of all the characters in The Bookseller he may be the most decent, honest, and likeable but I also think he’s the hardest one to get to know.  He’s reserved and watchful, and his private life is just that.  As a writer, this let’s me develop him over the series in almost the same way I develop a plot, dropping in clues as to his personality here and there, showing him in different situations and exposing his strengths and weaknesses.  I’m into the third book now and am working on showing a side of him that will even surprise Hugo himself, at least a little bit.  I like the idea that my readers will be intrigued by him and want to get to know him, and will be rewarded by a more gradual revealing of his character in the same way you get to know a real person.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: It appears from the book you’re a bibliophile. Do you have any prize books in your collection?

MARK PRYOR: Very observant.  This is something I have always wanted to do, and still plan to.  As of right now, I don’t have a collection but I’m drawn like a moth to a flame when I stand in front of old books and one day I hope to have a library of them.  Part of the problem is knowing where to start but the other part of the problem is having kids who are equally fascinated by books and crayons… but one day!

MysteryPeople welcome Mark Pryor to BookPeople to speak about & sign The Bookseller on Friday, October 12 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. To order a signed copy of the book, visit www.bookpeople.com or call 512-472-5050.