A New Voice in the New York Crew

There’s something about modern New York crime writers. The likes of Lawrence Block, Reed Farrel Coleman, and SJ Rozan hit the heart like no one else. Whether it comes from an awareness of loss that can only be conveyed by people who live so close to Ground Zero or the sense of an intense mingling of cultures and community, even if they write about a loner (making the tone even more melancholy), there’s something that sets these writers apart. Tim O’Mara proves to be a welcome addition to the New York crew with his debut, Sacrifice Fly.

O’Mara’s hero is Ray Donne, an ex-baseball player and cop. Ray is embedded in his Brooklyn neighborhood as a high school teacher and fill-in bartender at The Line Up, a local cop bar. He’s so involved with his community he goes looking for one of his students, Frankie, before he’s marked truant and loses an athletic scholarship. When he checks the apartment of the boy’s father, he finds the man dead and Frankie the main suspect.

Ray  uses his police skills and connections (his uncle is the chief of detectives) in his continuing search for Frankie. His personal investigation puts him up against some cops as well as some very religious gangsters. It also forces him to face who he is and the trauma from his police past.

It’s the sense of Brooklyn that shines in this book. Not since Craig Johnson’s work have I read a hero who interacts with his community so fully. Ray’s brothers and sisters have a traditional monthly dinner that I hope will be a staple of the series. The denizens of The Line Up and their banter echoes films like Marty and A Bronx Tale. The story really stands out when Ray is at school. O’Mara, a working school teacher, gives us a feel for this job, both in its grind and in its art. The interactions Ray has with students and coworkers is something I hope he mines in further books.

Tim O’Mara has created a fresh character in Ray Donne. I look forward to revisiting his Brooklyn. It’s tough  and dangerous enough to provide an exciting backdrop, and populated with people who have enough true heart and warmth you want to spend time there.

We’re Talking About the Best There Is

This November, MysteryPeople has been discussing one of the best crime novelists ever, James Crumley. An influence on the the likes of Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos, Crumley expanded the possibilities of the genre. He took the standard private eye and dragged him into his time.

Crumley wrote about two detectives who were based out of Meriweather, Montana (a fictional stand in for Missoula where he made his home). Milo Milodragovitch, introduced in The Wrong Case, was a good natured Korean War vet, ne’er do well, drunk, and cocaine abuser. He would sometimes fall into the trap of romanticizing his profession and his clients. That was not a problem for C.W. Shugrue, a man with a mean streak and questionable record in Vietnam, who prefers tending bar to taking a case. Crumley said they where the good and necessary bad side of him. When critics charged that both were the same character, he put both of them in the novel Border Snakes to prove them wrong.

Crumley was definitely a writer of the ’70s. What Pekinpah was doing with film and Hunter S. Thompson with journalism, Crumley was doing with his detectives. He used the American West to look at his country and its last gasps of freedom. His men roamed their homeland in a post-Vietnam and Watergate malaise. He was one of the first mystery writers to make the political personal.

Earlier this month, our History Of Mystery class took a look at James Crumley with a discussion of The Last Good Kiss. The book introduces C.W. Shughrue, roaming the highways of the country with an alcoholic writer and bulldog, in search of a missing girl. The book is rough, violent, funny, full of pathos and passion, with one of the most quoted openings.

Wednesday November 28th, our Hard Word Book Club will discuss, Dancing Bear at 7PM. The second appearance of Milo has him taking what seems to be easy money from a rich widow and stumbling into a crooked land deal, drugs, guns, and grenades. Considered to be his funniest, Dancing Bear serves as a great snapshot of the Northwest in the ’70s.

Each book is 10% off to those who attend. Don’t miss the chance to know more about one the best authors in any genre.

Noir at the Bar Celebrates Two Years of MysteryPeople

It has been a little over two years since we started out as MysteryPeople. We couldn’t have done it without some our favorite authors and customers. To celebrate we’re bringing both together for a special Noir At The Bar tonight.

We’ll be hosting an extraordinary talent, Reed Farrel Coleman. Reed’s book, Walking The Perfect Square, has been one of our biggest sellers and his style of hard boiled humanism has shown new directions for the genre. His latest, the MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, Gun Church is a stand alone noir thriller about a group of people in a small town who worship handguns.

Another writer we love is Sarah Cortez. Sarah is a triple threat as an editor, writer, and poet, that is when she isn’t patrolling the streets of Houston as a police officer. Her short story work has a haunting quality that holds a lot between the lines. She’ll be reaching her poem “How To Undress A Cop” which I’ve seen make some of her hard boiled colleagues blush.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Noir At The Bar without Jesse Sublett, who has supported us from the get go. In fact, Austin’s Noir At The Bar wouldn’t exist without him. Jesse will continue the tradition of reading from his work in progress, Grave Digger Blues, and playing a few tunes.

Festivities start at 7PM over at Opal Divine’s, 700 West 6th Street. Well have the author’s books there so you can grab a signed copy along with your beverage of choice. So come out, hear from from some of our favorites, get a signed book, and eat cake (yes, there will be cake).

And to every customer and every author who has come to an event, browsed our shelves, to everyone who reads our work here and all of you who have supported us during these two years, thank you.

How I Came to Write Cash Out

~Guest post by author Greg Bardsley

Living on San Francisco peninsula, I’ve often wondered, Where were the people I grew up with? Where were the fellow souls of my Bay Area youth? How could it be that, less than twenty years later, so few of my people—the locals—could be found at my tech company and in my neighborhoods?

Why did I feel like an outsider?

It was no different when I visited my mom and sister in nearby San Francisco. The city had changed. Gone, it seemed, were the values of socioeconomic diversity and tolerance that had made this place so special in my youth. How had we ended up with this new culture of status and affluence? Did anyone else notice how empty some neighborhoods got during the holidays, when people would return to their true hometowns? Was I witnessing that dreaded phenomenon: gentrification?

And then later I wondered: was I gentrifying, too?

In about ten years, I had gone from “starving journalist” to “Silicon Valley speechwriter.” From East Bay everyman to peninsula property owner. And as the years passed, I wondered if I was slowly losing my way. Was I becoming a fancy boy? Hell, no, I decided. I embraced my old Honda, my Chico State sweatshirts, my power tools and flip-flops. I built things with my hands and got dirt under my fingernails. I got back into volleyball, explored coastal towns packed with longtime Californians who seemed to smile back a little more often. Even so, back in the Valley, I couldn’t relax. Had I been sucked slowly into the hyperventilating, overachieving lifestyle of the peninsula, this twenty-first-century magnet for highly educated fortune-seekers? Was I losing this battle with myself?

As I watched a new wave of people strike it rich, I thought about some of the people I was meeting along the way—good people, like a former WD-40 public relations guy who had become one of the first one hundred employees at Google. What would I do if I were in his shoes and could cash out? Would I chase new dreams? Would I try to put balance and moderation and human connections back into my life?

Reflecting on all of this—the changing demographics and culture of the Bay Area, the unprecedented wealth of my surroundings—I wondered if anyone was writing about this. Sure, people were writing about the riches folks were making, and some were noting a new kind of gold rush for California, but was anyone exploring this from a more personal and cultural level? This story, which I felt so deep in my bones, hadn’t been told.

In writing Cash Out, I decided to stick with what I knew best. In some ways, I gave my protagonist, Dan Jordan, some of my own traits and circumstances. Like me, Dan would be a speechwriter in Silicon Valley working with an array of really smart and interesting people. Unlike me, he’d live across the street from a spry older man who saunters about his front yard in a skin-colored Speedo.

I decided to put Dan on a collision course with some of my favorite characters, and then pile on the pressure: put his cash-out money on the line, put his family life in jeopardy. As I wrote, I found a connection to some of those larger themes (the pursuit of balance and meaning) that I think so many of us think about. I drew from my own dreams, added new challenges wherever they would advance the story. Onto Dan’s shoulders I piled motive upon motive, burden upon burden.

I wrote late at night, after my wife and kids had fallen asleep. Some days I wrote at lunch, or when the family was out for an hour. Some nights I couldn’t stop, and I’d write into the very early morning. The first draft of Cash Out was written during a thousand stolen moments over the course of a few years.

But at last I got the story out. I took Dan Jordan right to the edge, to a place where resolution, one way or the other, would be obvious and within reach—if not in our own lives, at least for him.

______________________________

Greg Bardsley is the author of the novel, Cash Out, which is available on the shelves at BookPeople and via www.bookpeople.com.

Greg has worked as a Silicon Valley speechwriter, a newspaper reporter, a columnist, and a video producer. His ghostwriting for high-profile business executives has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, and the Financial Times. His short fiction has appeared in Plots with Guns, 3:AM Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Storyglossia, Crime Factory, Thuglit and Pulp Pusher, as well as the anthologies Sex, Thugs And Rock & Roll, Uncage Me, and By Hook or Crook: The Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Sarah Cortez

Sarah Cortez is a woman of many talents – poet, editor, fiction writer, educator, police officer. She brings a lot of experience and a unique perspective to the table. We’re looking forward to her reading at our next Noir at the Bar on Tuesday, November 13 at 7pm at Opal Divine’s. She’ll be joined by Reed Farrel Coleman and Jesse Sublett. In addition to celebrating these terrific authors, we’ll also celebrate MysteryPeople’s second anniversary at Opal’s, which means one thing – there will be cake!

Sarah was kind enough to answer a few questions for us in advance about her work.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: As an editor, what is your main priority for a writer?

SARAH CORTEZ: My main priority as an editor is to select brilliant narrative and excellent craft in whatever genre I am creating the anthology or journal.  There are so many good writers these days, the writer who gets published has to be at the top of his/her game in both conception of idea and execution of the piece.

MP: As someone who writes crime fiction, where has being a police officer affected your writing?

SC: I’d like to think that being a cop has made me operate with a bit more common sense about both human nature and practical crime scene components like police procs and ballistics.

MP: The poem you’ll be reading at Noir At The Bar has always been one that stuck with me. Do you remember how the idea came to you?

SC: The idea of writing the poem entitled “Undressing a Cop” developed along the idea of how easy it is to get laid if you wear a uniform.  I don’t quite understand it.  Actually, it’s funny how intrigued some folks are with 2 1/2 yards of blue cloth.  I think what makes the poem work is that the erotic overlay is merely an amusing cover for what really matters, both in a civilian’s life and a cop’s life, which is emotion and reaction.

MP: You’ve written several affective short stories, particularly “Montgomery Clift” which appears in Lone Star Noir. What do you enjoy about the form?

SC: I love the short story.  My writing career actually began as a short story writer, not as a poet.  Given the word count of a short story, the writer had better make sure every component, every breath becomes crucial to the outcome.

MP: You’re appearing at Noir At The Bar with Reed Farrel Coleman. What should readers know about him?

SC: Folks should know that Reed is not only one of the nicest writers around — genuine and caring, but also an excellent writer who consistently creates characters that his readers adore.

MP: You’re a poet, short story writer, educator, editor, and police officer. What else do you need to do?

SC: Poetry and policing are my two greatest loves.  Becoming a cop is the best thing I’ve ever done — it’s a chance to stand up for what I believe in.  Most people agree that criminals should be stopped from illegal activity, but how many people are not willing to strap on a badge, a gun, trousers, and boots, then get in a patrol car (after learning the law) and try to stop the criminals.  In the cartel violence in Mexico, we have an example less than 500 miles away from Houston of a society where no one can stop the criminals and police officers can’t be trusted.  We’re so lucky in America to have the strong and stable, upright policing that we do have.

Get to Know Gary Phillips

Few mix politics and pulp as well as Gary Phillips. Few are as qualified. A former  labor organizer and activist, he is still involved with issues in L.A. He is also one of the most well read in the genre. I spent some time with him last year in the Bouchercon book room at a table specializing in 30s and 40s pulps. He could talk about any author they had, particularly the obscure ones. It’s this combination of social awareness and bravado story telling that make him such a unique voice.

He is probably best known for his Ivan Monk private eye series. Deeply rooted in Compton, Monk owns a doughnut shop as well as his one-man investigation business. He also lives with a Japanese American judge who provides a foil both romantic and political for Monk. Picture Shaft, a bit older, a little mellower (but still a bad ass), and more civically engaged.

The first Monk book, Violent Spring, involved the discovery of a Korean merchant’s body at a groundbreaking ceremony a year after the Rodney King Riots. Monk’s search for the killer pits him against street gangs, politicians, businessman, and some bad history. In many ways it set the the standard for his body of work. Instead of using a mystery plot as a soapbox for issues, the politics serve the story, fueling Gary’s bullet paced writing. His style is something of a throwback to the hard boiled 50sauthors like Dan J. Marlowe, Peter Rabe, and early Westlake (I’m sure Gary could reference some more accurate names.)

Several of his books veer more towards the pulp side. The Jook, his story of a disgraced football player hustling to hold onto his money and glory, is practically a Once Upon A Time In The West version or noir fiction, taking practically every plotline and trope in the genre, giving a heady hard boiled mix. The Perpetrators is a violent road trip that gives any four color comic a run for its money in over the top action. He’s even written comics, most notable, Angel Town and Cowboys for Vertigo and The Rinse, a crime comic about a money launderer.

He latest novel is The Warlord Of Willow Ridge. The story concerns O’Connor, a roaming criminal who chooses a foreclosed home in a gated community to squat. He catches the eye of his neighbors and becomes their unwitting protector. It’s a mix of stranger-rides-into-town western, crime novel, and satire on the SNL crisis and post-crash suburban life. Leave it to Gary to color with more than one crayon and give us something to think about while he entertains the hell out of us.

3 Books to Read Right Now

Beluga by Rick Gavin

Gavin’s follow up to his highly entertaining debut Ranchero has his heroes Rick and Desmond in deep trouble with the Memphis mob and a schoolgirl ninja when they try to move a truckload of stolen tires. A fun, rollicking redneck hard boiled read that’s perfect for fans of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series.

 

Return Of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

When MGM asked Hammett for a synopsis for the second and third Thin Man movies, he gave them two novellas. Now they are in print for the first time, with a history on the pictures and this point in Hammett’s career. A must for any film or mystery buff.

 

Kansas City Noir edited by Stephen Paul

A brilliant collection of authors cover the unique town of Kansas City, touching on a sordid past and present. Steve Eck follows the affair of two people fathered by mass murderers and Daniel Woodrell delivers a poetic look at a famous murderess of the city. K.C. proves to be a setting both hard hitting and haunting in this collection.