If You Liked Frank Sinatra in a Blender…

If you’ve been anywhere near the mystery section at BookPeople in the last month and a half chances are either Scott or myself (Chris)  have looked at you with big dopey grins and handed you a copy of Matthew McBride’s stellar debut novel Frank Sinatra in a Blender. If you took the bait and did literary somersaults like us then check out these other titles we are sure you’ll love!


Pike by Benjamin Whitmer
Brutality gets redefined in this firecracker of a novel. Benjamin Whitmer tells the tale of Douglas Pike, a retired hustler searching for the truth regarding his estranged daughter’s death; and now responsible for taking care of his granddaughter Wendy. Whitmer’s quick prose, snappy dialogue, and gruesome imagination transform a seemingly ordinary yarn into a blood-soaked tale of vengeance and redemption. Pike  is crazy, crazy good.

Blood Father by Peter Craig
John Link, a former Hell’s Angel turned home tattoo artist, reverts back to his old habits when his daughter Lydia witnesses a murder perpetrated by her scum-bag boyfriend. Now John is Lydia’s only hope as she runs from her boyfriend and his goons. Blood Father is Peter Craig at his best, and is a must-read for fans of hard-boiled crime.

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
The latest novel from the twisted mind of Warren Ellis is a pitch-black take on the standard police procedural. John Tallow is a detective who’s lost his passion for the job, but when his partner is gunned down in a shoot-out Tallow stumbles across an apartment overflowing with guns. Tallow’s discovery sends him reeling when each gun turns out to be responsible for a previously unsolved murder. Along with a team of oddball Crime Scene Unit officers, Tallow must track down a killer who’s been stalking the streets of New York for over two decades. Gun Machine is one of 2013’s best thus far.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE HARD BOUNCE

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for February: The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson

Todd Robinson is one of those writers who has been in the trenches for some time. He’s written short work for over ten years and founded the webzine Thuglit, which gave notice to authors like Frank Bill and Sophie Littlefield. Finally, Todd gets a deserved spotlight for his debut novel, The Hard Bounce.

Our two heroes are Boo and Junior. Combined, they make up 470 lbs (mostly Boo) and over $10,000 in tattoos (mostly Junior’s). Their friendship started in a state home and continues at The Cellar, a Boston nightclub where they work as bouncers. Robinson, who has spent a large part of his life in the bar business, brings this professional culture to life.

The two are asked to find a missing girl, Cassie. Skeptical to take the job since they aren’t detectives, their need for cash makes them accept. The girl’s trail leads them into a world of runaways, the sex trade, snuff films, and a lot of punching. If things weren’t dangerous enough, they learn the person who actually hired them is Cassie’s father, a mob boss with a bad reputation.

Like Andrew Vachss, Todd depicts a community built on the fringes of society. Boo, Junior, and their tech buddy, Ollie, are all state raised with a friendship that has been bonded by hard knocks. It’s a tight group of misfits and a selective one. When an outsider walks in who Boo feels for, it threatens the pack.

Robinson’s voice acts as fuel for this tale. You can hear the Boston accent as Boo narrates. He also uses a lot of hard boiled humor that tempers some of the dark deeds our heroes face. The tone is like a New England version of Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard novels, with a much more brutal Hap.

The Hard Bounce delivers on what it promises. We get all the hard boiled tropes with a fresh take. Robinson makes Boo and Junior two guys you care about even though you might step out of their way if you saw them in real life. I hope they travel down more mean streets and dark alleys in books to come.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Robert Crais

robert crais

Robert Crais is one of those rare authors who is both a fan and a critic. Part of this comes from the fact that he is constantly evolving and changing as an author. His latest, Suspect, is a stand alone that deals with a cop who lost his partner and a Marine-trained German Shepard who lost her handler. They’re put together in the LAPD K-9 unit. We caught up with Bob to ask him a few questions about the book and writing from a canine perspective.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What’s the key to writing a dog as a main character?

ROBERT CRAIS: I’ve always been a dog guy.  I have cats, too, and I love them, but I’ve had dogs since I was a boy.  I lost my last dog fifteen years ago, a big Akita I had for twelve years.  He was my boy, through and through, only, thing is, when he passed–and he died in my arms, me blubbering like a baby–I was never able to get another dog.  The idea of replacing him felt disloyal.  All these years have passed, and I began thinking about the bond we had.  I started thinking, jeez, am I crazy?  So I began reading about the special relationship people have with dogs, and dogs have with people, and why dogs are the way they are.  Maybe I was doing all this to heal, but pretty soon I had Maggie, and knew I had to write about her.

MP: So much of this story relies on the senses, whether it be Maggie’s sense of smell or both she and Scott working through their PTSD. Did you find yourself really working that writing muscle to do this? Was it a challenge?

RC: It’s always a challenge to write about a character you haven’t written about before, and to make that character true and believable.  I did a lot of research on dogs, both by reading the available literature, observing, and asking questions of experts. I wanted to write about a real dog — and was careful not to anthropomorphize her.  I didn’t want Maggie to be a cartoon.  I wanted my portrayal of her to accurately reflect how dogs perceive the world and yes — that was a challenge.

MP: This was a story that could have been maudlin or precious, but you avoided that at every step. Were you aware of sidestepping over sentimental or manipulative pitfalls or did the story just flow naturally?

RC: While researching the nature of the human-canine relationship, I realized that the bonds between dogs and their human handlers were far closer than most people realize.  It’s the purity of that bond that not only inspired me to write this book, but also helped me to avoid being maudlin or precious. When something is true you don’t have to force it.  You don’t have to “sell” it and manipulate the reader.  You just have to tell the story authentically from your heart.

MP: You did some work with the K-9 unit for the book. What surprised you the most from your research?

RC: I was most impressed by the intensity and dedication of the handlers, and the difficulty of the job they do.  Being a police K9 handler is not a job; it is a way of life.   The dog lives with the handler, hence, the handler is always on duty and on call.  The training never stops.  They train their K9 partners every day, and the complexity of the training is astonishing.  This is mandatory because of the difficult nature of their job–the handler must maintain precise control of their dog in complex, high-stress situations.  The dogs are trained to respond appropriately, even when they are off-leash and operating out of the handler’s sight.

MP: What do the stand-alone novels do for you?

RC: Stand-alones give me the opportunity to create new characters that hopefully my readers will love.  Writing this book opened surprising doors for me.  It helped me heal in a lot of ways.  I have a horrible weakness of falling in love with my characters and now I have Maggie and Scott to add to the list.

MP: Every action sequence in this book pops. How do you approach action when writing them?

RC: The same way I approach any other scene.  I never include an action scene simply to have gratuitous action.  If the evolution of the story leads to an action scene, this is because the rising emotional tension finally explodes into violence.  Explosions are sharp, declarative, and dangerous.   The concussion should rock the reader–and the writer.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Matthew McBride

matthew mcbride

Matthew McBride’s Frank Sinatra In A Blender has been a book we’ve been raving about. Hell, we’d adopt it if we could. It centers on the violent misadventures of  St. Louis PI Nick Valentine and his terrier Frank Sinatra. Both hard boiled and funny, with it’s own kind of heart, it’s a debut that announces a great new talent. Our new favorite author was kind enough to answer a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the character of Nick Valentine come about?

MATTHEW MCBRIDE: I wanted to write something different. But at the same time, I wanted to write something with a familiar theme. So I ended up writing a PI novel. What appealed to me about the genre was that I could make my PI as good or as bad as I wanted, without having to worry about the sort of constraints a cop working for the police department would be subjected to. I wanted my private eye to play by his own rules. And he pretty much does.

MP: Does he have any kinship to characters you’ve read or watched in movies?

MM: Honestly, I’ve always thought of Nick Valentine as a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Sterling Archer. So, there’s that. But I’ve never actually read a PI novel, so I have no idea how closely Nick Valentine would compare to a character like Phillip Marlowe. But I’m pretty sure he could out drink him.
MP: Was Frank Sinatra always with him?

MM: I came up with the title before I ever wrote a word of the story, which is never how it works for me. But in this case, that’s how it worked, though I did know I wanted to write about a dog from the beginning. Because dogs are cool, and I felt like Frank could be a great character as long as I wrote him right. We have two cantankerous little dogs at home and neither one of them really likes me—despite my best efforts at trying to force my love upon them. They bite me and pee on my stuff. So the inspiration for Frank was right in front of me the whole time.

MP: Other than John Lutz and Robert Randisi, you’re one of the few authors who uses St. Louis as a setting. What makes it different from some of the usual settings like LA, New York, or Chicago?

MM: I was born in St. Louis and I worked there for many years, so I know the area well. But St. Louis is one of the most violent cities in America. Though FSIAB is funny, I wrote a dark book. So I needed a background that reflected that darkness. There are a lot of stories set in places like New York or LA, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted this book to feel different and St. Louis seems largely unexplored.

MP: What I loved about the book was that it had such a wild, over the top tone that you usually only find in short stories. Was it difficult to sustain that for the entire novel?

MM: (Long pause) I’ve never really thought about that. I just wrote what felt natural. It is wild and over the top. When I wrote it, I knew they would never name a library after me. And I’m OK with that. Because I never set out to do anything other than write the kind of book I’d love to read. I wanted to write a fun book, and reading about characters that come alive on the page is fun. Scott Phillips said that once and its always stuck with me.

MP: I know you’re at work on a rural hardboiled right now, but do you have any future plans for Valentine?

MM: I don’t think so. Then again, maybe.

If you have your own questions for Matthew McBride, come out to our Hard Word Book Club discussion of Frank Sinatra In A Blender on January 30th at 7PM here on BookPeople’s third floor (603 N. Lamar Blvd). McBride will be calling in to chat with us. The meeting’s totally free, no RSVP required. Just show up and talk some crime fiction with us. 

3 Picks From Chris

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Collins’ latest for Hard Case Crime takes the real-life 1950s witch-hunt for Tales From The Crypt publisher EC Comics and spins a noir yarn that harkens back to golden ages of crime fiction and comic books. The great thing about Seduction of the Innocent (other than the great story) is the accompanying artwork done in classic EC Comics style. A must read for crime and comic fans alike.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
by Charlie Huston

Long-time genre favorite Charlie Huston has one of the most unique writing styles in modern crime fiction. While he may ignore some grammar rules, his dialogue and characterization are some of the best in the game. In The Mystic Arts… Huston tells the tale of Webster Goodhue, a guy so down on his luck that he takes a job as a crime scene cleanup technician. What happens next is both hilarious and heartbreaking. One of the most fun books I have ever read.

The City & The City by China Mieville

For many of you the name China Mieville might not mean much, but for Sci Fi and fantasy loyalists it is a name synonymous with unending imagination and literary grace. You’re probably asking yourself why I am including a Sci Fi/fantasy author on the MysteryPeople blog, but I promise you this little gem of a book fits the profile of great noir. Set between the fictional cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, The City & The City is a police procedural that’s anything but ordinary. I don’t want to give away too much, so just trust me on this one and grab a copy.

If You Like Rebus….

With Ian Rankin bringing back his popular Rebus character in his new book Standing in Another Man’s Grave, it made us think of other brooding detectives in fiction. We put together a list of other sleuths you may find as engaging as the hard case, Scottich DI.

1. George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret

First Book: Lock 14

The original moody police detective. Maigret’s mysteries have as much to do with life and French society as they do with murder. Still one of the greatest existential sleuths of all time.

2. Leighton Gage’s Mario Silva

First Book: Blood Of The Wicked

Silva is a rarity in San Paulo, Brazil – an honest cop. From an upper class family, he carries a dark history, delving into every social strata in his city for justice.


3. Russel D. McLean’s J. McNee

 First Book: The Good Son

An ex-copper turned PI in Dundee Scotland, McNee carries a smart mouth and a lot of baggage. His cases, like The Lost Sister, prove to be both emotionally and physically harrowing.

4. Jonathan Woods’ Inspector Diaz

First & Only Book: A Death In Mexico

Diaz is a policeman in cartel-controlled Mexico. Even though there are few vices he turns down, he has a personal sense of honor. Possibly the funniest of our picks.

5. Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Laughlin

First Book: Shatter

O’Laughlin is a British psychiatrist, who consults with the police and is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Helooks into the most twisted minds of his country. His banter with ex-copper pal Ruiz is reminiscent of the way Rebus talks with his partners.

Get to Know Will Beall

will beall

There are very few authors who are known for one book, but Will Beall is one of those exceptions. His noir policer, L.A. Rex, has only gotten better known and grown in respect since it was published in 2006. It is a blend of hard boiled melodrama, recent history, and personal experience.

Will Beall spent much of his life as a police officer in South Central LA’s 77th Precinct. He was first a patrolman, then a homicide investigator in the area where the officers “rode to the sound of gunfire”. He was still working there while writing L.A. Rex, giving the story an immediate sense of place and danger.

L.A. Rex concerns two uniform cops. The veteran is Marquez, hardened by the streets and aware of the politics out there and in the squad room. Ben Halloran is the rookie with a lot to learn. It seems like a standard pair, but there’s more to it.

The book starts with the murder of a supposed ex-Mexican Mafia member by two possible cops. This incites a street war, involving a Crip leader, Darius. When he’s stopped, Daruis recognizes Ben from his past, but not as a cop.

We then get two interwoven stories, the war in South Central’s present and Ben’s mysterious past. He starts out as the privileged son of a prominent lawyer, taking a dark emotional journey that leads him to the precarious point he’s at in the LAPD. Beall uses these flashbacks to paint the post-Rodney King Riot history of L.A.

Through Darius he shows more humanity than you’d expect from a gangbanger character. While never excusing his deeds, we see the past that molded him into his thug life. It is how gangs become the families for fatherless children. In just one chapter where Darius finds himself in a suburban mall, Beall gives great insight to race in modern America.

L.A. Rex is probably best known for its violence. The first scene involves a man’s hand being shoved into a garbage disposal and that’s about as soft as it gets. There’s a series of shootings, dismemberments, torture, and even dog attacks. Beall said, “I wanted to give an impression of where one wrong step could mean it’s over.”

Unfortunately for L.A. Rex fans, success snared Beall into screenwriting. He’s worked on the show Castle and received a lot of attention for the script he wrote for Gangster Squad. When watching the film you can see some of the moral and political ambiguity evident L.A. Rex that was probably reined in for more standard entertainment. Beall has also been tapped for a Justice League movie, a Lethal Weapon reboot, and even an adaptation of L.A. Rex.

Will Beall has spoke of a book in progress, Lion Tamers, that serves as both a sequel and prequel to L.A. Rex. It moves forward with Ben and moves into Marquez’s past. Hopefully between the busy days and glitter of Hollywood, Beall can find time to return to the grit of South Central.

Mystery Fiction Goes to the Dogs

It seems that every dog is having its day in mystery fiction. The genre that was ruled by cats as animal protagonists (really, a cat’s going to care if you’re murdered?) has been putting man’s best friend in the spotlight. After the success of Spencer Quinn’s Chet & Bernie series, we’ve seen James Rollins add an Army dog to his Sigma Team and even cat mystery practitioner Rita Mae Brown has gone to the dogs with her Mags Rogers series. Now bestselling author Robert Crais contributes to canine crime fiction with Suspect.

The hero dog here is Maggie, a marine trained German Shepherd. We get an intense introduction to her when she loses her handler, Pete, to a sniper in Afghanistan. She looks at the both of them as a pack with Pete as the alpha. Without the alpha, there is no pack and Maggie is nothing.

The next chapter gives us another hero losing a partner, LAPD patrolman Scott James. Scott and fellow uniform, Stephanie, get involved in a violent and well written gunfight. He watches her go down before he’s shot. Badly wounded and unable to remember many details of that night, he blames himself for his partner’s death.

Obsessed with finding the culprits, Scott chooses to stay on the force, but he doesn’t want a partner. This leads him to the K-9 unit and Maggie, who is about to be returned since she has not worked out as a police dog. Scott sees a kindred spirit and asks to be given two weeks to work with her. With the help of a female detective who caught his case, working through the trauma of that night, and Maggie, Scott starts putting the pieces together.

Suspects is best when dealing with the dog side of things. Crais gives us an inside look at the K-9 unit. We get some of the techniques used to train a dog to react to certain smells, take down a perp, and most important, keep calm in a tense situation. He also looks at what dogs do to an individual, what we project on them, and the gaps they fill. When the unit’s hard-ass commander, Leland, gives a speech to his trainees about dog,s he seems to be saying more about what he thinks of humans:

“These dogs are not machines, goddamnit. They are alive! They are loving , feeling warm blooded creatures of God, and they will love you with all their hearts! They will love you when your wives and husbands sneak behind your backs. They will love you when your ungrateful misbegotten children piss on your graves! They will see and witness your greatest shame, and will not judge you! These dog’s will be the truest and best partners you can ever hope to have, and they will give their lives for you. And all they ask, all they want or need, all it costs YOU to get ALL of that is a simple word of kindness. Goddamnit to hell, the ten best men I know aren’t worth the worst dogs here…”

Crais does a strong job of writing Maggie’s perspective. He avoids giving her human traits, which makes her believable. By emphasizing her sense of smell, he puts us in her point of view and inside her thought process. By never veering away from the fact she is a dog, she ends up being the most humane character. We root for Scott to become her worthy alpha.

Suspect‘s set-up could have led to an over sentimental or precious novel. Crais’ straightforward prose style avoids this. He develops emotion through action and dialogue and knows just when to temper a situation with humor. With  this lack of manipulation and a liberal use of gunfire, Suspect proves to be a unique and solid take on the boy-and-his-dog story.