Crime Fiction Friday: MATTHEW MCBRIDE

We’ve been raving about Matthew McBride and his book Frank Sinatra In A Blender since December. We can’t wait to introduce him to you all in person at our Noir Night on April 5th. To hold us over, here is his short story, Have Chainsaw, Will Travel, published in Plots With Guns that has a few things in common with his debut novel.


This week three of my favorite books from 2012 are out in affordable paperback editions. They range from humorous mystery to hard core crime novel, showcasing the talents of authors that deserve to be discovered. So now that the financial risk is out of the equation, get hooked on one of these writers.

A Quiet Vendetta by RJ Ellory

If you like historical, mob, or thriller novels this book will please you. When the daughter of the Louisiana governor goes missing, a mysterious elderly man, Ernesto Perez, walks into the police station saying he’ll explain everything if he talks to Ray Hartman, a federal prosecutor in Washington with seemingly no connection to him. Perez then tells his life story which weaves through sixty years of Mafia history as Ray and others try to put the pieces together. This is a smart, sweeping book that only reveals its hand in the final paragraph.

Death Makes the Cut by Janice Hamrick

The second book in the Jocelyn Shore series centers around a murder in the workplace, when the tennis coach is murdered at her high school. A very funny “light” mystery that has a more of an edge than you might expect, with a sharp look at high school politics and human behavior. It also gives you a great tour of Austin, Texas.
Last Call for the Living by Peter Farris

Quite possibly my favorite debut from last year. This story of an Aryan Brotherhood bank robber and the odd bond he develops with the teller he takes hostage has some great action sequences that hold there own with Joe Lansdale and Frank Bill,  a wonderful rural noir vibe, and characters you learn to feel for on their own terms. Farris does the best thing an author can do with his first book, have us eagerly awaiting his second.

Shotgun Blast From The Past: FREAKY DEAKY by ELMORE LEONARD

Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard

Post by Scott Montgomery

About ten years ago, when I told Elmore Leonard Freaky Deaky was my favorite book of his, he said “mine too”. It probably contains every thing he’s known for. While very funny, it isn’t defined by it’s quirkiness the way many of his post Get Shorty books are. What he does so deftly is weave a subtle satire on the battle between the 60s and the 80s, within a suspenseful crime novel.

The book begins with one of the best first chapters I have ever read. It could be lifted from the book and be a sharp short story all its own. Chris Mankowski, a cop with one day left on the bomb squad, responds to the call from a Detroit drug dealer. An explosive device has been rigged to the chair he’s sitting in. If he gets up, he blows up. Mankowski steps outside to talk with another cop, and Leonard deals with character exposition tied completely to the situation, literally with a ticking bomb in the background. Not only do we learn that Mankowski is transferring to Sex Crimes, we also realize through his actions that while a descent guy, he’s not necessarily a hero. The chapter concludes with a great twist that can only work in prose form.

We then go to our main “bad guys”, Skip and Robin; two former revolutionaries who have gone underground after bombing a federal buiding. Skip has been working as an explosives expert in film, while Robin writes historical romances under a pen name “with lots of rape and adverbs.” Robin believes they were turned in by Woody Ricks, a rich former collegue who now produces musicals. The two hatch a plan to extort money out of Woody with Skip’s explosive skills.

On Mankowski’s first day at Sex Crimes he takes the complaint of a young actress, Greta Wyatt. She’s had an aggressive casting couch situation. Her attacker, Woody Ricks.

Mankowski’s investigation leads him into Robin and Skips plot, as well as the scheming of Donell Lewis, a fomer Black Panther who now works as Woody’s assistant and bodygaurd. The characters circle one another and switch alliances. In typical Elmore Leonard fashion, we get stand offs that result in negotiation as often as gunfire (or in this case, explosions).

Every major character except Greta, who has to be told who Bobby Seals is, are 60s survivors negotiating the 80s. Mankowski, a Vietnam vet, deals with his past in the Leonard definition of cool (“existing only in the moment”). The only time he mentions it he simply says he served, went to a few protests, then became a cop. Ordell has become jaded and is now out to get his from Woody, who is lost in his decade’s indulgences. Robyn still sees a cause, but uses it as a rationalization for her narcassistic plan. Skip simply looks at that decade as a great excuse to have a lot of sex, do a lot of drugs, and blow shit up. In an odd way his attitude makes him the most likable, albeit the most unstable, character in the book.

Freaky Deaky is Elmore Leonard’s masterpiece. While it has a lot to say, it is said through the characters instead of the author. When talking with the great novelist James Crumley about Leonard, he said, “Dutch is a master of the understatement.”

Freaky Deaky is a great example of that.

MP Guest Blog: Hilary Davidson

Ava Gardner and Lily Moore

By Hilary Davidson

“Hard-partying, foul-mouthed, wisecracking and iconically beautiful, Ava Gardner was one of the biggest stars of the ’50s and ’60s, though most of her films are now forgotten.”

I read that line a few weeks ago, and it left me stunned. That wasn’t so much because of my own admiration for Ava Gardner (though I think she was a great actress, and that anyone who thinks that films like Mogambo, Show Boat, and The Killers have been forgotten is quite the dullard). It was because of Lily Moore, the main character in my three novels, and how she would react to such scorn directed at her idol. Forgotten films? Hardly.

If you’ve read my novels, you know that Lily adores Ava Gardner. Ironically, that wasn’t true when I started writing The Damage Done, the first book in the series. I knew that Lily loved vintage clothing and classic movies, but at that point Ava was interchangeable with Barbara Stanwyck, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman as part of the pantheon of great actresses who starred in noirish films. But when I pictured Lily, she looked a lot like Ava Gardner in my mind’s eye, and I put a photograph of Ava on my desk to keep her image in my mind as I wrote.

That small connection made me read a little bit about Ava Gardner’s life, and I remember the shock I felt when I found out Ava’s father had died when she was 13. Lily’s father had died when she was 13, and that was a detail that had been part of her story from the very beginning, when I’d written the first draft of the first chapter. There was something eerie about that coincidence, and it made me feel like the connection between Lily and Ava went deeper than pure fandom.

Part of the appeal, I think, is that Ava and Lily are both survivors. More than that, they manage to thrive in spite of adversity. Ava Gardner was a person who loved life (and bullfighters, and drinking, and, well, lots of things), and she was wildly successful as not caring what other people thought of her. Lily isn’t quite there yet, but she’s working on it. In my latest book, Evil in All Its Disguises, she starts to see the difference between the studio version of her heroine, and the real-life one:

I turned on the bedside lamp and stared at an image of Ava Gardner on the wall. It was a studio portrait, one of those perfectly posed and lighted visions that looked beautiful, yet held her personality and vibrancy so tightly in check that it almost seemed shot from inside a cage. In a way, it was: Ava hated the endless photo sessions that were demanded by her studio bosses at MGM. The candid shots of the real-life Ava Gardner from the same era were striking by comparison. So often her hair was mussed or her dress was creased, and often she wasn’t wearing shoes. But her vitality, her voracious appetite for life, and her carefree spirit were in plain view and they were overwhelming.

In the first two books, there was a line of Ava’s that Lily had play through her mind now and then: “Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.” That was something her sister used to chide her with, and it stung. In the third, Lily starts to see her idol’s self-mocking words and determination to enjoy life as something more akin to a virtue. She’s been through hell, so if she wants to let her hair down and kick her shoes off and enjoy herself, she will. She’s earned it.

Hilary Davidson will be reading and signing copies of her new novel Evil In All Its Disguises tonight (March 26th) at 7pm on BookPeople’s third floor. Stop by and tell her how great she is!


New Releases in MysteryPeople: March 26th 2013

As always, here’s what’s new this week in MysteryPeople.

Last Call for the Living by Peter Ferris (paperback release)

For bank teller Charlie Colquitt it was another Saturday. For Hobe Hicklin, an ex-con with nothing to lose, it was another score. For Hobe’s drug-addled, sex-crazed girlfriend, it was more lust, violence, and drugs. But Hicklin’s first mistake was double-crossing his partners in the Aryan Brotherhood. His second was taking a hostage. He and Charlie could hide out for only so long before Hicklin’s past catches up to them. Hot on Hicklin’s trail are a pair of Brotherhood soldiers, ready to burn a path of murder and mayhem to get revenge. GBI Special Agent Sallie Crews and Sheriff Tommy Lang catch the case, and soon Crews is making some dangerous connections. For hard-drinking, despondent Lang, rescuing Charlie might be the key to personal salvation.

Frozen Solid by James Tabor

The South Pole’s Amundsen Scott Research Station is like an outpost on Mars.  Winter temperatures average 100 degrees below zero; week-long hurricane-force storms rage; for eight months at a time the station is shrouded in darkness. Under the stress, bodies suffer and minds twist. Panic, paranoia, and hostility prevail.  When a South Pole scientist dies mysteriously, CDC microbiologist Hallie Leland arrives to complete crucial research. Before she can begin, three more women inexplicably die. As failing communications and plunging temperatures cut the station off from the outside world, terror rises and tensions soar. Amidst it all, Hallie must crack the mystery of her predecessor’s death.

In Washington, D.C., government agency director Don Barnard and enigmatic operative Wil Bowman detect troubling signs of shadowy behavior at the South Pole and realize that Hallie is at the heart of it. Unless Barnard and Bowman can track down the mastermind, a horrifying act of global terror, launched from the station, will change the planet forever—and Hallie herself will be the unwitting instrument of destruction. As the Antarctic winter sweeps in, severing contact with the outside world, Hallie must trust no one, fear everyone, and fight to keep the frigid prison from becoming her frozen grave.

Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski

Occupied Breslau, 1933: Two young women are found murdered on a train, scorpions writhing on their bodies, an indecipherable note in an apparently oriental language nearby …Police Inspector Eberhard Mock’s weekly assignation with two ladies of the night is interrupted as he is called to investigate. But uncovering the truth is no straightforward matter in Breslau. The city is in the grip of the Gestapo, and has become a place where spies are everywhere, corrupt ministers torture confessions from Jewish merchants, and Freemasons guard their secrets with blackmail and violence. And as Mock and his young assistant Herbert Anwaldt plunge into the city’s squalid underbelly the case takes on a dark twist of the occult when the mysterious note seems to indicate a ritual killing with roots in the Crusades …

The Bone Man by Wolf Haas

The wry and rueful Columbo of Austria investigates a grisly murder at a beloved restaurant where snooty Viennese gourmands go to eat … fried chicken. At a wildly popular chicken shack in the Austrian countryside, a gruesome discovery is made in the pile of chicken bones waiting to be fed into the basement grinder: human bones. But when former-police detective now private eye Simon Brenner shows up to investigate, the woman who hired him has disappeared …

Brenner likes chicken, though, so he stays, but finds no one will talk. And as he waits for the disappeared manager, there’s one ghastly find after another. Perhaps the most raucous book in the series, The Bone Man manages to make fun of institutions from high cuisine to soccer while nonetheless building relentless suspense based in all-too-real social issues. Smart, tense, and funny, the book makes clear why Carl Hiaasen called Wolf Haas “the real deal.”

Crime Fiction Friday: TODD ROBINSON

Todd Robinson will be with us twice in the next two weeks. He’ll be calling into our Hard Word book club on March 26th and will be attending our Noir Night April 5th with Jesse Sublett & Matthew McBride. His book, The Hard Bounce, stars Boston bouncers Boo & Junior. Here’s a story Todd sent us with one of their other misadventures.

The Legendary Great Black Cloud of Ralphie O’Malley

“4DC Security,” Junior answered the phone in a falsetto about as feminine as Hulk Hogan. Junior had been answering our office phone like that for a good three years running and the joke never seemed to wear on him. He called the voice “Wendy”.

Wendy was our imaginary receptionist, which was fine since our imaginary office was a desk stuck in the liquor room above The Cellar, Boston’s shittiest rock & roll bar.

I try not to let Junior answer the phone all that much.

I hit the button to turn on the speakerphone just as a weary sigh replied to Wendy’s greeting. I recognized the sigh as belonging to Barry Hardon, Boston’s lowest of the low-end parole officers. “I don’t know why I even call you turkeys.”

“Because we work cheap?” I replied.

“Boo, that you?”

“It’s me,” I answered. Because it was.

“Don’t forget me, sexy,” Junior said, as Wendy again.

“You’re about as sexy as ten-foot catheter.”

“Thanks, Hard-On” Junior said in his natural voice, which was somewhere closer to a Rottweiler chewing on gravel.

Barry sighed at the dig, which he’d probably heard at least three times a day during the fifty years he’d been on the planet.

“What’ve you got for us, Barry?”

Barry sighed again. Seventy to eighty percent of conversation with Barry Hardon consisted of him sighing in various tones and pitches. “I need you guys to go get Ralphie O’Malley again.”

“What now?”

“He had a hearing two days ago. Dummy fell asleep drunk on the train. He got picked up for vagrancy.

“Vagrancy? Seriously?”


“That still a law? The fuck is this, the Great Depression?”

Barry went on. “Kinda. Probably would have gotten it dismissed, if the fuckwit had actually shown up for court.”

I swear, only Ralphie O’Malley could get arrested for vagrancy. “We’ll have him in by this afternoon. Fee?”

“Two hundred.”

“Deal.” I hung up the phone.

“How much?”  Junior asked.

“Two bills.”

“Dammit,” he said as he pulled on his coat. “It’s fuckin’ freezing out. Shoulda got another fifty.” Junior pulled knit mittens over his hands. He saw me smirking. “What?”

“Nice mittens, Mary.” If you can’t see why mittens covering the knuckles of a man with H-A-R-D and C-O-R-E tattooed across them is funny, then I can’t explain it to you.

“Hardy-har. You’re gonna have a good time explaining to the E.M.T’s how these mittens got inside of you.”

Ralphie O’Malley always said that his luck permanentlyRead More »

3 Picks from Chris

Helsinki Blood by James Thompson

The fourth installment of Thompson’s Inspector Kari Vaara series is here and it’s a real winner. After the brutal conclusion of Helsinki White Kari Vaara is left crippled and alone. His wife has run off to Miami, leaving Kari to care for their infant daughter. When a woman comes to him asking for help locating her Down syndrome daughter, Kari takes it as a chance for redemption. As he struggles to find the missing girl his past begins to catch up with him. Death threats and teargas grenades coming flying through his window, reminding him that the people he crossed are not so easily kept at bay.

The Bastard Hand by Heath Lowrance

Another gem from the good folks at New Pulp Press. Charlie Wesley has escaped from a mental institution and is hitchhiking his way south. He’s been talking to his brother, but his brother is dead. He makes his way to Memphis and meets Reverend Phineas, a man with dark urges and a darker agenda. Things get weird when Charlie gets sucked into the Reverend’s apocalyptic plan. The Bastard Hand is high-quality and tons of fun.

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross

Fans of the BBC show Luther rejoice! The show’s creator has put pen to paper and written the origin story of one of televisions best new characters. In Luther: The Calling we get a stand-alone story that highlights Luther’s early days as a murder inspector. The novel hits all the right notes, and serves as a great companion for fans of the show as well as being a great story for those unfamiliar with the character. If you love the show, get this book. If you’ve never heard of the show, get this book.



MP Pick of the Month: THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan

The Rage by Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan is an Irish author who has drawn comparisons to Elmore Leonard, probably due to his entertaining look at the mundane lives of his his coppers and villains and seemingly loose plot lines that tie together in a fitting conclusion. If the comparison is true, the books resemble those from Leonard’s “Detroit Period”. In some of his first crime novels like Unknown Man #89 and City Primeval, Leonard held more grit than his later, quirkier work. He looked at cops and working class criminals in a way that reflected the people and problems of his decaying city. The same could be said of Kerrigan’s Dublin in The Rage.

The winner of last year’s Gold Dagger award for Best Crime Novel, The Rage focuses on three characters who reflect different sides of Ireland. DS Bob Tidey is a good lawman dealing with the politics in his squad room as well as the perps on the street. Then comes Vincent Naylor, fresh out of prison and back with his old crew for a new robbery. Bringing these two together is Maura Cody, a retired nun who has only the view from her window for entertainment. What she witnesses will draw all three of them together for a violent confrontation.

Each character is loyal to a group that may not be worthy of them. While Vincent is ruthless and violent, he’s loyal to a crew that creates messes that he has to brutally clean up. Tidey has to contend with the possibility of committing perjury for some less than stellar officers, knowing his life on the job will be hell if he doesn’t. He and Maura have an interesting conversation about how they each carry the sins of their institutions, and the public scandals that color the way people see them as individuals.

While it works as an intertwined crime novel and police procedural, The Rage is basically about people trying to find there way in a society that traded Catholicism for a capitalism that failed. Each has been failed by what they serve, but they continue on in it, in some blind search for grace. Grace, itself, even comes into question near the end when Maura admits to having her doubts about confession:

“…No one has the right to the clean slate, except the people we’ve harmed. And they’re out there somewhere, struggling to get on with their lives- our guilt is not their problem.”

In Kerrigan’s Dublin, they’re not only trying to figure out where the money went, but their purpose as well.

MysteryPeople Interview: HILARY DAVIDSON

Hilary Davidson has become one of those great voices in the new generation of crime fiction. Accessible with an edge, her books, The Damage Done and The Next One To Fall, featuring travel writer Lily Moore have won a large cross section of fans. We can’t wait to see her on March 26th for the signing and discussion of her latest, Evil In All Its Disguises. Until then, here is an interview to tide you over.

MysteryPeople: How did you come to choose Acapulco for the setting?

Hilary Davidson: It was a long, strange process to find the right setting for Evil in All Its Disguises. That’s partly because the premise — a journalist going missing while on a press trip — was based on a real events. I worked for Frommer’s Travel Guides for a decade, and in May 2000, one of the editors, a woman named Claudia Kirschhoch, went missing on a press trip to Jamaica. It’s a heartbreaking story: legally, she’s been declared dead, but her body has never been found.

I didn’t want to set the book in Jamaica, because Evil is in no way a telling of Claudia Kirschhoch’s story. The book reflects certain things that happened in real life — such as the resort’s attempt to pretend there was nothing wrong, and then trying to defame the missing journalist by claiming she was using drugs and being sexually provocative — but it’s a work of fiction. I decided to move it to another Caribbean island, and chose Barbados because it’s such an amazing place, caught between the wild waters of the Atlantic and the serenity of the Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately, that location didn’t work at all. I love Barbados, and my affection for the place got in the way of the writing. It was turning the book into more of a travelogue, which was the opposite of the isolated, Gothic feel I wanted.

Partway through the first draft, I stopped writing and decided to find another setting. I chose Acapulco for two main reasons: it has a very glamorous Hollywood-connected history, which appeals to Lily; and it’s a place where crime is out of control at the moment. The news stories that are in the book, like the headless bodies that turn up on the beach, and the one about a drug cartel trying to extort money from the teachers’ union, are all true. They created such an atmosphere of dread about the place. Lily is claustrophobic, and I wanted to have a sense of the walls closing in around her in this book.

MP: I was glad to see you use the travel writer culture I’ve heard you talk about. What was important for you to get across about those characters?

HD: Travel writing is a particularly strange business, because it puts you in close quarters with virtual strangers and you can’t escape each other. You learn a lot about the other journalists over the course of a few days because you’re on the road together, having all of your meals together, and basically living out of each other’s pockets. Sometimes that’s a wonderful thing — some of my closest friends are travel writers I met on the road. And sometimes you encounter characters that belong in a book. The sexual harassment of female journalists and PR people is an ongoing issue in the business, and it’s an open secret in the travel-writing community who the lecherous photographer is based on. I actually stole some of his best lines for the book.

Travel writing also makes you aware of how kind people can be. There are a couple of older journalists on Lily’s trip who drive her nuts, but who rally around her while she’s down. For better or worse, a press trip is a bit like a particularly neurotic family. The people on it tend to take care of each other if someone gets sick or needs help.

MP: The hotel that Lily finds herself in almost has the persona of a classy evil henchman. How do you approach locations as a writer?

HD: I’m so glad you saw the Hotel Cerón that way! For me, a major location like that is a lot like a character, but one without any spoken lines, so it communicates differently. It has its flashy front, with its elegant lobby and dramatic public rooms. When you get deeper inside — say, into a guestroom — you start to see that it’s worn and less polished than it seemed at first. By the time Lily gets into its hidden places, you know there’s going to be something bad waiting in the darkness. It’s also why you catch glimpses of things that aren’t supposed to be there, like the snake in the first chapter, or the nasty guard who’s watching the grounds. The hotel’s staff make both disappear quickly. The hotel wants you to see its fine furniture and flowers and framed celebrity photographs, not its seamy side. In my mind, it’s a lot like a gangster in an expensive suit who’s trying to mix with nice company and hoping you won’t notice his gun.

MP: While you put Lily through hell as usual, you also have her come closer than she ever has in coming to terms with some emotional wounds. Was that an imperative for you on the third book or did it just simply work out that way because of the plot?

HD: When I was writing the first book in the series, The Damage Done, I knew what the emotional arc of the character would be over the next two books, even though I didn’t know anything about the plots of those books. For me, it’s always been about character first and foremost, and that means going deeper into Lily’s mind and heart with each book. She isn’t a naturally introspective person. Before The Damage Done, she was quite happy to run away from her problems, rather than confront them. But Lily’s life changed dramatically in the course of that book, and that forced her to change as well. In the second book in the series, The Next One to Fall, she was struggling to pick up the pieces of her life. In Evil in All Its Disguises, she’s starting to recover from some of those wounds, but she has a lot of baggage from the past that she’s never unpacked, and she’s just starting to confront it. This is why Lily needs a break for a little while. She’s been through a lot in the past year!

MP: I noticed on a list of your favorite crime novels, you had the highly underrated The Way Some People Die by Ross MacDonald. Is there anything from that book or the Lew Archer series that you try to apply to your own work?

 HD: The Way Some People Die is a masterpiece, and I wish more people would read it. One of the ways that MacDonald’s work influences mine is the understanding that the main character is carrying around wounds from the past that could split open at any time. Don’t get me wrong: Lew Archer is a cipher compared to Lily Moore, and you have to read several books in MacDonald’s series to get a strong sense of him. But once you do, you realize that Lew Archer has been damaged, and there are hints at physical abuse in his past and a dark cloud of depression that follows him. It’s something that evolves over the course of many books, and MacDonald handles it beautifully. Archer, for all of his world-weariness, cares deeply about people. There’s a lot of pain in him, and a surprising amount of empathy. If Lew Archer met up with Detective Bruxton, I think they’d have a lot of common ground.

There’s also an intensity to MacDonald’s best work that I love. Many of his novels are set over the course of two days. That was something I did with Evil: most of the book is compressed into a 36-hour period.

MP: I know you’re working on a standalone for your next book. Can you tell us anything about it?

HD: I handed it in the week before Evil came out, so it’s very much on my mind. I can tell you that it begins with the kidnapping of a wealthy, adulterous couple, and that things go wrong very quickly… so wrong that one of the kidnappers, in the aftermath of that awful weekend, tries to piece together what really happened. I’m worried that if I say more, I’ll give away spoilers! But I’ll tell you one thing I haven’t told anyone else: the working title is Blood Always Tells.