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.