MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: DONNYBROOK

Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Frank Bill announced his presence in 2011 with Crimes In Southern Indiana, a collection of connected short stories that take place in a meth ravaged Midwest town. His terse prose, blood soaked violence, and colorful characters who live on the fringes were a literary punch to the gut. With his first novel, Donnybrook, he proves there’s no slowing down.

Much like Crimes In Southern Indiana, Donnybrook connects the lives of several characters. However, these characters all have a single destination, Donnybrook, a three-day bare-knuckle boxing competition held by a Midwest gangster; where the last man standing wins $20,000. The book starts with one fighter, Jar Head, robbing his local gun store for the thousand-dollar entry fee. Ned Newton is paying for his by stealing a batch from a crank cooker, Chainsaw Angus, with the help of Angus’s sister Liz. Now Ned has to contend with Chainsaw as well as lawman Ross Whalon and Fu Xi, a debt collector with some martial arts skills and few scruples, who are already after him. These and a few more red neck ne’er do wells travel a strange, rollicking, funny, often violent road to get to the fight and when they get there, Bill ups it in a great convergence of a conclusion.

Everything great about Crimes In Southern Indiana goes double for Donnybrook. The dialogue pops and the characters are defined through extreme yet believable actions. Bill gives Elmore Leonard a run for his money when it comes to criminals who aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. He’s also gotten to be someone who writes one hell of an action sequence. The violence has a visceral feel and each fight is written in detail; each is specific to the two characters that are fighting, the situation and emotion. When talking with hard-boiled writer, Christa Faust about the book, she said, “Frank writes fist fights like John Woo directs gun fights.”

Donnybrook proves Frank Bill is one of the great emerging talents out there. Like Joe R Lansdale, he captures the voice of his region, turning it into a literary voice of his own and he delivers a rush that’s often more associated to cinema than to books. I’m already waiting for his next one.

What Scott’s Reading

This week it looks like l’ve got something from the past, present, and future, all written by some of the best in the genre.

Dance Hall Of The Dead by Tony Hillerman

I am reading this for our History Of Mystery class, which is this Sunday (March 3rd), and am enthralled. Navajo tribal officer (and possibly one of the coolest literary cops ever) Joe Leaphorn takes on a case of two missing boys, one from the Zuni tribe and one from his own. His investigation gives us a tour through the Four Corners area with it’s hippies, scientists, and of course Indian tribes. Only his second book, Dance Hall Of The Dead proves that not only was Hillerman creator of the Native American mystery, but he was the master of it. I can’t wait to talk about this book with the class and call in guest, author and Hillerman’s friend, Margret Coel.

Dead Aim by Joe R Lansdale

This recently released limited edition novella, featuring Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard, is a hoot. The two get hired by a pretty woman to keep her violent ex away from her. Obviously for fans of the series, it’s not that simple. The Hap and Leonard takes are literary comfort food with a solid helping of humor and gunfire.

Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman (Coming In May)

Coleman visits his series character Moe Prager’s college years with a mystery that leads him to becoming a cop. He intertwines plot and emotion that are both involving, as well as delivers a meditation on youth, friendship, and the Sixties. This will be the second to last Moe Prager book, so I’m savoring every page.

MysteryPeople Q&A: Jake Hinkson

Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson

Jake Hinkson’s debut novel, Hell on Church Street, blew my mind into unidentifiable pieces. I love the book so much I’ve been forcing it upon just about everyone who will listen. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Jake a few questions regarding his debut, and he was kind enough to supply some great answers.

MysteryPeople: Geoffrey Webb is a bit of an odd character. At first he seems relatively harmless, if a bit devilish in terms of his vices, but he crosses the line almost effortlessly. What inspired you to write this character?

Jake Hinkson: He started out as a voice. He just started talking, “To begin at the beginning, I had an abusive father. I know my kind always does, but we’re a regenerating lot of bastards.” Now, I’ve written some characters that it’s taken me a while to find, but Webb just seemed to be there rattling around in my subconscious. I discovered a lot about him as I wrote, but I didn’t have to force anything out. He just kept telling me new stuff. I felt like a court stenographer recording the confession of a really horrible person.

MP: Hell on Church Street deals with the themes of religion and corruption, are these two things you think go hand in hand?

JH: I think noir fiction is, at its core, about uncovering the rot beneath the rather banal surface of things. People are accustomed to seeing noir used to undercover the rot of politics, the rot of the criminal justice system, the rot beneath the supposed suburban utopia, whatever. For me, though, noir seemed like a very natural mode to talk about religion, and not just any old brand of religion but Christian fundamentalism—which, today, has become the mainstream religion in much of America, certainly in the south where I grew up.

To answer your question more directly, though, I’d say yes. Religion and corruption obviously go hand in hand. They always have. The bible itself is full of stories of corrupt religious officials. The essence of religion is a claim to absolute authority, and that kind of power attracts bad people and corrupts good ones.

MP: Did you pull from any influences while writing this novel?

JH: I like to say that if Jim Tompson had knocked up Flannery O’Connor in a cheap Ozark motel I would have been the offspring. Between his godless Oklahoma and her Christ-haunted Georgia sits my sweaty little slice of Arkansas. I think Hell On Church Street reads like a Thompson character wandered into an O’Connor story.

On a side note, someone the other day said that my second book, The Posthumous Man, reads like a cross between David Goodis’s Black Friday and Faulkner’s Sanctuary. Maybe I just have one foot in noir and one foot in Southern Gothic. That seems about right to me.

MP: The characterization in Hell on Church Street leads me to believe you may know people like the ones you write. Did you base any of your characters on real-life events?

JH: The characters and events in the book are not based on real people or real events. I made it all up. Having said that, I come from a family of preachers and deacons and pillars of the church. I’ve spent a lot of time backstage, so to speak, with preachers and youth ministers and music ministers and evangelists and revivalists. The most common compliment that I get about the book—other than it reads fast—is that it feels like an authentic look behind the scenes at a church. I’m very pleased by that.

Readers always want to know if Geoffrey Webb was inspired by any creepy real life youth ministers. Let’s just say I’ve met some folks who weren’t all they purported to be. Something Webb says in the book is 100% true. Some ministers are good people doing their best to serve god. Others are lazy phonies who just want a cushy job with a three-hour work week. It’s hard to tell the difference unless you know what you’re looking for.

MP: The story is narrated as a flashback and is bookended by present day events. Was this something you wanted to do going into the novel, or did it emerge during the writing process?

JH: That aspect of the book emerged in the writing process. As I mentioned before, I started with Webb’s voice. Once I started writing, I began figuring out where the book was headed. Around the same time, I started writing a short story (or what I thought might be a short story) about a car-jacking. Once I got a little ways into the story, it became obvious that the car-jacking should kick off the book.

After I finished the first draft of the book and began to revise, it dawned on me that the entire book is heading for that final scene. That final scene is really what the whole book is about.

MP: New Pulp Press published Hell On Church Street, what has been your experience working with them?

JH: God, it’s been great. Honestly. Jon Bassoff, the guru at NPP, is a man with a vision. Of course, so was Charles Manson. No one’s perfect.

But Jon’s a straight-shooter. He’s got good taste (or a refined sense of bad taste, depending on your perspective) and he knows what he likes. Our working relationship has been, for me, a joy from start to finish. And I have to say, I look at the catalog of books he’s putting together and I’m proud to be part of it. The author roster of New Pulp Press reads like a rap sheet of degenerate assholes. That’s good company for me to be in.

MP: Any chance you’ll swing by Austin in the future? I’ll buy the beers.

JH: I am going to take you up on that for sure. I have some family in Texas, and I’m hoping to make a trip down there. Probably not this year, but maybe in early 2014. I’ll for sure let you know. Second round’s on me.

Eternal thanks to Jake for taking the time to answer my questions. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy of Hell on Church Street, swing by BookPeople and I will put one in your hands. You can check out my review of HoCS here and you can watch Scott and I get all nerdy about the book’s publisher, New Pulp Press, here. Also, make sure you check out Jake’s blog for some great insight into noir, past and present.

MysteryPeople Review: GODS AND BEASTS by Denise Mina

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina

Review by Scott Montgomery

Denise Mina has proven to be one of the most important writers in international crime fiction. She marries the human and social aspects of the genre like no one else. Her work is political without being preachy, writing about the undercurrents of issues in her home city of Glasgow that are relatable to any place. Her latest, Gods and Beasts, is no exception.

Mina gives us three plot lines in her third novel involving Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow. The book starts with a murder during a post office robbery, where the assailant cuts down an elderly man with an AK 47. The victim’s history, a citizen involved with social change, hints at a connection to another story line involving a progressive politician fighting off (accurate) allegations of his involvement with a seventeen-year-old intern. Long time readers of Denise Mina will be happy to see her other series character, reporter Paddy Meehan, make a few appearances in this plot line. The third story hits close to home, when austerity cuts in the police force help push two officers under Morrow’s watch into stealing some money from a drug dealer and getting themselves blackmailed. Morrow finds herself dealing with all of this and her newborn twins.

What makes all of this work is Mina’s human awareness. She shows her characters in all shades whether copper or villain, with enough insight into their personal lives to push them past those simple definitions. Gods and Beasts also has the social consciousness of her other books. One gets the feeling that the people at large, particularly the disenfranchised, are the really the main recipients of many of the events and their outcomes.

The Glasgow setting also plays an important role. It feels, socially, more like a town than a city, with fewer degrees of separation between coppers, criminals, politicians, and average citizens. Because of this, the collisions and conflicts between them are more intimate and dramatic.

Gods and Beasts works as a believable crime novel that takes one of the genres major ideas, the fallout of bad decisions, and gives it a deeper meaning. It also serves as a current look into Mina’s Glasgow in a way we can relate to, if not recognize in detail. It’s further proof that her reputation is earned.

New Releases in MysteryPeople: Feb 26, 2013

As always, there are a ton of great mystery books hitting the shelves this week. Check out the list and come grab one from the store!

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina

It’s the week before Christmas when a lone robber bursts into a busy Glasgow post office carrying an AK-47. An elderly man suddenly hands his young grandson to a stranger and wordlessly helps the gunman fill bags with cash, then carries them to the door. He opens the door and bows his head; the robber fires off the AK-47, tearing the grandfather in two. DS Alex Morrow arrives on the scene and finds that the alarm system had been disabled before the robbery. Yet upon investigation, none of the employees can be linked to the gunman. And the grandfather-a life-long campaigner for social justice-is above reproach. As Morrow searches for the killer, she discovers a hidden, sinister political network. Soon it is chillingly clear: no corner of the city is safe, and her involvement will go deeper than she could ever have imagined.

Gray Men by Tomotake Ishikawa

Winner of the 2011 Golden Elephant Award for International Genre Fiction.

A young staffer at a jewelry store in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district wants to take his own life. No longer able to bear the intense workplace bullying that besets him in the wake of an unjust costumer complaint. As Ryotaro looks for a place to die, he is accosted by a mysterious figure dressed head-to-toe in gray who purports to be able to identify those who are contemplating suicide. When the youth is saved from himself, he has no idea that the elegant robbery in broad daylight for which he is being recruited is no more than the middle act of a rebellion against the ONE PERCENT!

Black Irish by Stephan Talty

When Jimmy Ryan’s mangled corpse is found in a local church basement, this sadistic sacrilege sends a bone-deep chill through the winter-whipped city. It also seems to send a message—one that Abbie believes only the fiercely secretive citizens of the neighborhood known as “the County” understand. But in a town ruled by an old-world code of silence and secrecy, her search for answers is stonewalled at every turn, even by fellow cops. Only when Abbie finds a lead at the Gaelic Club, where war stories, gossip, and confidences flow as freely as the drink, do tongues begin to wag—with desperate warnings and dire threats. And when the killer’s mysterious calling card appears on her own doorstep, the hunt takes a shocking twist into her own family’s past. As the grisly murders and grim revelations multiply, Abbie wages a chilling battle of wits with a maniac who sees into her soul, and she swears to expose the County’s hidden history—one bloody body at a time.


Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

Our Hard Word book club looks at a book that made a hell of a splash in 2011, Crimes In Southern Indiana by Frank Bill. Bill put together a series of connected short stories about the denizens in a Midwest town that is decaying from unemployment and meth, where a life of crime is about the only way to live. The style ends up being both rural lit and hard boiled pulp at its finest.

Every story stands out. “Hill Clan Cross” sets everything off with a rollicking start and a kicker of a last line. “Coon Hunter’s Noir” is a great take on The Maltese Falcon with a hound instead of a black bird. “Cold, Hard Love” a sort of prequel to Bill’s upcoming novel, Donnybrook, has you laughing and cringing at the same time. One of the more subdued, but most haunting, tales is “The Old Mechanic” about a boy meeting his grandfather who had a history of being abusive. In total they make up a dark mosaic on current small town America.

Our discussion of Crimes In Southern Indiana is at 7:00 PM, Wednesday, February 27th on our third floor and we’re happy to announce that Frank Bill will be calling in to take questions. The book is 10% off for those who attend.

MysteryPeople Review: PARADISE CITY by Archer Mayor

Paradise City by Archer Mayor

I’ve always meant to check out the Joe Gunther series, mainly from talking to its enthusiastic fans. With author Archer Mayor appearing at our store on March 4th, it gave me an excuse to read his latest, Paradise City, and let me tell you what, the Vermont lawman now has a new fan.

Paradise City begins with a burglary gone wrong that results in the murder of an elderly woman. Since the M.O. of the B&E fits several others across the state, Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation unit are called in to help. Soon Gunther finds himself crossing state lines when a Boston connection is revealed.

This novel has a much larger canvas than your usual cops and robbers’ tale. Not only do we get Gunther’s point of view, but we also get that of his unit members, the victim’s granddaughter who does her own digging in pursuit of revenge, a Chinese woman being smuggled into the country by the bad guys, and the bad guys themselves. Each character is three dimensional, with the ability to carry their own book. It’s the strength of each character that keeps the reader grounded to a story of great breadth. It also allows Mayor to mix tones and genres from straight-up procedural, amateur sleuth, and crime noir.

However, it’s the focus on Joe and his unit that really shines. Even though it’s a Joe Gunther book, all the VBI investigators stand out. Mayor, a former medical examiner and sheriff’s department investigator, supplies the human feel of working a case. He rivals Ed McBain in presenting law enforcement as a community, with each individual having an important spot in it.

Paradise City is a great mix of genres, creating a fresh story with a classic feel. It takes an involving look at North Eastern law enforcement and it’s subcultures as well as those on the other side of the law, creating a panoramic crime tale with an intimate feel. I’ll be going through Archer Mayor’s back stock as soon as I can.

*Just a reminder, Archer Mayor will be speaking about and signing copies of Paradise City at BookPeople in Austin, TX on Monday, March 4th at 7pm. Come say hello and join in the festivities.


Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

We are starting up our History of Mystery Class again for 2013. Each class we look at American authors who made an impact on crime fiction. This year we’ll mainly be focusing on the Seventies, one of the most revolutionary decades in the genre. March 3rd, we’ll be looking at one of it’s most underrated authors in terms of influence, Tony Hillerman and his novel Dance Hall Of The Dead.

Hillerman used his extensive knowledge of the Navajo tribe to create a series featuring tribal officer Joe Leaphorn. In doing so, not only did he create a subgenre of American Indian mysteries, he helped introduce the idea of using the mystery novel to look at a specific culture. In Dance Hall Of The Dead, he focuses on the conflict the Navajo have with the Zuni tribe.

The class and discussion will start at 6PM, Sunday March 3rd, on the third floor of BookPeople. Margaret Coel, author of the Wind River mystery series, and friend of Tony Hillerman, will call in to join our discussion. The class is free and copies of Dance Hall Of The Dead are 10% off to those who attend.