MP Review: POINT & SHOOT by Duane Swierczynski

A couple years back, Duane Swierczynski started his Charlie Hardie trilogy, where the tough ex-cop-turned-house sitter fell into a one-man war against a secret cabal originally known as “The Accident People”. The First two books, Fun & Games and Hell & Gone, came out in 2011, with Charlie being shot at, beat up, burnt out of a house, thrown into a strange underground prison where he was both captive and guard, and then we were left hanging with him being shot into space. After what has felt like one of the longest waits in crime fiction, he wraps up the trilogy with Point & Shoot.

Charlie has been orbiting Earth in a satellite for over a year now. He knows he’s guarding inside it, but not what it is, agreeing to keep safe so the accident people don’t go after his ex-wife and son. His dull spaceman routine is interrupted by another craft attaches itself to the airlock. He has a visitor.

It’s hard to tell you much more without revealing the many fun twists that come after a great fistfight in the satellite. Swierczynski tosses them about with the swift precision of a circus knife thrower, closing a chapter that has one throwing time and commitment to the wind, going to the next chapter. What I think I can safely say is that the story concerns getting back to Earth and saving his family and that it involves a number of gunfights and fist fights, his doppelganger, and the return of his nemesis, Mann, the ultimate femme’ fatale. We also learn why Hardie as survived everything that’s been thrown at him.

Like the other two books Point & Shoot is flat out fun. Swierczynski keeps the story flying and makes the action non-stop. In the last few years, he has written for about every major comic book company brings and over that top attitude to play. A friend of mine described the series as “a thriller set in the Marvel Universe”. That said, he grounds the story in human emotion as Charlie and his dysfunctional family learn to function in these extreme circumstances.

Point & Shoot delivers what the first two books promised, capping off a modern pulp masterpiece with the trilogy. It wraps up everything we need to know in an entertaining way, dangling a few questions to tempt our imagination. Well worth the wait.


New in MysteryPeople: April 30th 2013

Here’s a little taste of the latest hardcover and paperback releases available now in MysteryPeople!

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Almost twenty-five years after the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—still the largest unsolved art theft in history—one of the stolen Degas paintings is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist. Claire Roth has entered into a Faustian bargain with a powerful gallery owner by agreeing to forge the Degas in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But as she begins her work, she starts to suspect that this long-missing masterpiece—the very one that had been hanging at the Gardner for one hundred years—may itself be a forgery. The Art Forger is a thrilling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

Phantom by Jo Nesbo (paperback)

When Harry left Oslo again for Hong Kong—fleeing the traumas of life as a cop—he thought he was there for good. But then the unthinkable happened. The son of the woman he loved, lost, and still loves is arrested for murder: Oleg, the boy Harry helped raise but couldn’t help deserting when he fled. Harry has come back to prove that Oleg is not a killer. Barred from rejoining the police force, he sets out on a solitary, increasingly dangerous investigation that takes him deep into the world of the most virulent drug to ever hit the streets of Oslo (and the careers of some of the city’s highest officials), and into the maze of his own past, where he will find the wrenching truth that finally matters to Oleg, and to himself.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

In her latest novel Mary Higgins Clark, the beloved, bestselling “Queen of Suspense,” exposes a dark secret from a family’s past that threatens the lives of two sisters, Kate and Hannah Connelly, when the family-owned furniture firm in Long Island City, founded by their grandfather and famous for its fine reproductions of antiques, explodes into flames in the middle of the night, leveling the buildings to the ground, including the museum where priceless antiques have been on permanent display for years.

The ashes reveal a startling and grisly discovery, and provoke a host of suspicions and questions. Was the explosion deliberately set? What was Kate—tall, gorgeous, blond, a CPA for one of the biggest accounting firms in the country, and sister of a rising fashion designer—doing in the museum when it burst into flames? Why was Gus, a retired and disgruntled craftsman, with her at that time of night? What if someone isn’t who he claims to be?

Now Gus is dead, and Kate lies in the hospital badly injured and in a coma, so neither can tell what drew them there, or what the tragedy may have to do with the hunt for a young woman missing for many years, nor can they warn that somebody may be covering his tracks, willing to kill to save himself . . .


On Friday April 26th, Jenny Milchman, debut author of the well reviewed Cover Of Snow, will be here with fellow writer Marjorie Brody teaching the workshop Publishing Your Book Today. In our guest blog, she answers the question, most author’s avoid, “Where do your ideas come from?”

A Real Life Mystery: the Story of a Novel

In just a few weeks, I will be driving through Texas for the first time. No great mystery there. Lots of people drive through Texas.

My trip is part of the seven month, 40,000 mile book tour I’m currently on with my debut novel, Cover of Snow, but while that definitely qualifies as bizarre —who takes the whole family on book tour for seven months?—it isn’t exactly mysterious.

It took me thirteen years to get published. Cover of Snow is my debut novel, but it’s the eighth one I wrote. How the publishing industry works is definitely a mystery, and not one I’ve figured out yet, although I try to share some insights with readers and emerging writers at book events.

One of those events is to be right here at BookPeople, and we planned a fairly substantial squiggle on our route to be able to come. When it takes more than a decade to get published, there are certain bookstores you dream of reaching.

There are other parts of life as a published author I’ve dreamed of, too. But solving a real life mystery, the story of how my debut came to be, wasn’t one of them. That came as a total surprise.

If you had asked me how I came up with the idea for my novel, during any of the paradisiacal, glowing months when I was writing it, I would’ve said this: “Cover of Snow was born when one question grabbed me around the throat and wouldn’t let go. What would make a good man do the worst possible thing he could to his wife?”

I would still say this and it’s still true. But it isn’t the whole story.

One of the joys of this crazy long trip is the different people we meet in every town we come to. Hundreds of them already. One person I met happens to be an expert on creativity, and during lunch one day she pressed me a bit on my explanation.

“Usually there’s more,” she said. “A germ, or a spark. Something older that gives birth to a story.”

I looked at her across the bowl of soup I was eating, and suddenly the table wasn’t there anymore, and neither were the people around it. Instead, I was eight years old and in my childhood bedroom, flowered wallpaper and all.

My babysitter had just walked into my room. It was long after bedtime, and he sat down on the edge of my bed. He told me that he was going to kill himself later that night. And he asked me not to tell anyone.

I lay awake and wrangled with the two roads before me, as a child would see them. Obeying the big kid’s command versus being a snitch. A tattle tale.

Still later that night, my mother came home and checked on me. It felt as if years had gone by instead of hours. I blurted out what the babysitter had told me, and my mother turned and left the room without a word.

In the way of memories that are very old, several connecting moments have disappeared. Did my mother say that I had done the right thing? She must have, but I don’t remember it. I do remember her later relaying that she’d called my babysitter’s mother, who found him with pills in bottles all around him, but alive.

He was alive. I remember that.

I had largely forgotten about this incident, even during the time I was writing and editing Cover of Snow, until that day at lunch, when I realized how it had inspired my novel without me even being aware of it.

I believe that writers cast a net. And every moment they experience goes into that net.

But which ones come back out again remains a mystery.


We can’t wait to host Philip Kerr this Thursday, the 25th, at 7PM for the signing and discussion of his latest Bernie Gunther book, A Man Without Breath. Not only is this the ninth book in the series, it’s one of the best and Phil is one of the most charming and entertaining speakers out there. As an example, here he is holding his own with fan and fellow Scotsman, Craig Ferguson.


A Man Without Breath is Philip Kerr’s ninth book featuring Bernie Gunther, the left leaning sometimes private/sometimes police investigator in Nazi era Berlin. Kerr merges social history with the noir detective genre, with one pushing the other past their expected norms. This book is one of the best examples of how he delivers thrilling hard-boiled entertainment with bitter truths.

The novel starts out with cynical irony, Bernie having found a place for himself working as an investigator for Germany’s War Crimes Bureau. It’s a month after Stalingrad and morale is low. When news that the Russians have massacred over a hundred Poles in the Katyn Woods is received, he is sent to the nearby city of Smolensk to put a professional polish on a discovery they hope will break the Western alliance with Stalin.

The ground is too frozen to dig up the bodies, so Bernie is forced to wait. However, another case comes his way when the bodies of two signalers are found with their throats slit. While it’s assumed that partisans are involved, the crime scene tells Bernie it could be a fellow German. What he discovers could earn him more enemies from The Reich, including Hitler himself

As usual, Kerr gives us a reflection of people in an extreme political climate. Here it is when the German knight is dying in his armor. Those in high command doubt the Fuhrer, but few know who they can safely express those doubts too. Still, as the Reich begins to crumble, its bureaucracy survives; creating a cold hypocrisy that obliterates any common decency. However, an experienced civil servant like Bernie can negotiate it to pull him out of a jam as many times as his pistol.

The book also focuses on the German aristocracy of the time. Smolensk is an enclave for the Prussians who run the Werchmacht, a group of intermarrying upper-class barons for whom Bernie doesn’t hold his contempt. We’re reminded that not only is he navigating the Second World War but also is a survivor of the first, which was brought about by these types. Now they scoff at Hitler after they stop to refuse his ascent. As Bernie says, “You can’t expect the aristocracy to save society, when they’re concerned about little more than themselves.”

Even Bernie himself doesn’t escape a cold hard look, not that he ever does. I’ve always questioned if he truly is a hero, as someone who tries to do what right he can without trouble, but refuses to seriously go up against the establishment, since it would be suicidal. There is a point in A Man Without Breath where a great reveal is given. Bernie gets the information because a character believes he is the one to set things right. The passage is funny, dark, and ultimately heartbreaking as Bernie explains why this should be under wraps and why he doesn’t like to be burdened with it. After reading enough books in the series, you realize Bernie is a hero, but the backdrop he’s placed in demands him to be a survivor, making him something more complex and, if the reader is willing to admit, more relatable. He is the citizen who carries the sins of his country.

A Man Without Breath further proves the series’ brilliance in balancing suspense, character, period, and politics. It is a well-crafted genre tale using the idea of the tarnished knight on a quest of truth. The art that Kerr applies is the meaning of that quest in a place where truth is manipulated all the time. It’s what gives the modern contemplation to his historical fiction.


MysteryPeople Q&A: Phillip Kerr

Philip Kerr’s latest novel, A Man Without Breath, has Bernie Gunther working for the war crimes department, looking into the massacre of Polish soldiers so it can be pinned on the Russians. When two German signal corps members are murdered, he is also asked to look into it, finding answers that would create more than a few enemies. This is a fascinating book about class and the “rules” of Nazi Germany and the sins a citizen carries for his country. We can’t wait to discuss it further with Phillip at his MysteryPeople signing event on April 25th at 7pm. Because we are so impatient, we had our first floor Inventory Manager Raul M. Chapa ask him a few questions to sate us before the event.

MysteryPeople: Bernie Gunther is a great character to follow; he is everything we would expect of a detective. What real or fictional detectives have served as a format for Bernie?
Philip Kerr: I don’t know that there are any detectives I’ve consciously used very much. Certainly not of late. In the beginning there was a little bit of Marlowe, but really no one else. With regard to Marlowe I had tried to imagine what kind of book Chandler would have written if after leaving school in England – he attended Dulwich College in South London – he had gone to live in Berlin instead of Los Angeles. In fact I think I am luckier than Chandler in that Berlin in the thirties and forties is so much more interesting that LA to write about; and let’s face it even Chandler thought that LA is as dull and uninteresting as a paper-cup. All he had to write about were a few crooked cops and dodgy mayors; I have the Third Reich. It makes for more interesting scenarios. Also I am only pretending to write crime and detectives; the real thrust of the books is politics. How is it possible to remain a committed and social democrat in a Nazi society? How can you work and stay alive if you are a leftish cop with a fascist boss? Can you keep your mouth shut when you see your country in the hands of your political enemies?

MP: Your use of actual historical events to move the story is fantastic. This story centers on the discovery of the bodies of Polish soldiers executed in the Katyn forest. How much research do you have to do to pin down what you want in your story?

PK: As always I do a lot of reading and then a lot of thinking. There was one detail of the Katyn Forest massacre that I discovered which hadn’t ever been noticed before and this transformed my research and my story. I discovered that the man who had ‘stumbled’ across the bones of a Polish officer in Katyn Wood and who set the whole investigation into motion was Colonel Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff. I wanted to know more about this man and soon discovered that this incredibly brave man had – at the time of the discovery of the mass grave – been closely involved in two attempts to kill Hitler in as many months. In the second attempt, he planned to detonate two landmines in his coat pockets as he gave Hitler a personal guided tour of Berlin’s Zeughaus – the Arsenal. It was one research detail that informed everything else.

MP: Bernie always has a love interest; things usually work out for a while in the story, but he seems to have trouble with long term relationships. Is this something you see, as a writer, that would need addressing, or will Bernie always be alone?

PK: I think it is existentially necessary that the detective should remain alone. A cosy domesticity is unthinkable as a milieu for a character like Gunther. It just doesn’t work. And that kind of thing doesn’t interest me. Being alone entails angst which is a very necessary mental state for a good detective. I could go on about The Other and Sartre’s idea of peeping through a keyhole being the essence of describing someone else and these are certainly important facets of what being a literary detective involve. I also like the idea of Bernie as an absurd figure – also existential. What could be more absurd than having a left-leaning detective working for the Nazis. And by the way the Nazis used left-leaning people all the time. Heinrich Muller, the chief of the Gestapo was a former communist; he never even joined the Nazi party; it may even be that he was a Russian spy all along. There in essence is what Bernie is all about.

MP: One of the best aspects of Bernie’s character is his willingness to be blunt about things that someone, at least with an ounce of sense, would not want to bring up before Nazis or suspects. How does this make him, in your opinion, a better detective that what you read in contemporary fiction?

PK: I don’t care for a lot of contemporary detective writing. I don’t care whodunit. I don’t care about policemen in my own country. They don’t interest me in the slightest. I can’t see the point of a lot of it. I find the stories lack ambition. It’s of no interest to me if Inspector Bloggs drinks a lot and investigates crime in wherever. Such a novel provides no opportunity for what I call the operatic echo. I like a story to mean something in a larger context and the Nazis can always be guaranteed to provide this.

Bernie’s humor is a political act and his one opportunity for true resistance. It also marks him out as a typical Berliner: Berliners are a little like the English – maybe that’s we like it so much there – in that their humor is anarchic, cruel, black. In some ways Berliners are ungovernable which is why Hitler – and before him Bismarck and the Kaiser – disliked Berliners so much. They are capable of revolution in a way other Germans never were. That is still true today. If you own an expensive car and leave it parked somewhere inappropriate in Berlin today you are quite likely to have it torched as a political act against ‘gentrification’. In 2011 almost 400 cars were burnt in this way.

MP: If you could trade places with Bernie, actually live within the historical events he finds himself in, would you want to?
PK: No. I would hate to live in Nazi Germany. Perhaps for a day or two. But I would find it horrifying to see anti-Semitism practised on a daily basis. That’s the point of the books. This is not to say I don’t like going to Germany. I love modern Germany. Could I live there? Yes, although I’d prefer to live in Munich.

MP: Going by the years that document Bernie Gunther’s life, the books from Berlin Noir to this new book, it feels like we are approaching the end of the story. Do you have plans to continue stories of his life beyond WWII? If so, what do you see in Bernie’s future after the Nazis are gone?

PK: I already did what you ask. Book 3 is mostly set in 1947. Book 4 is set in 1948. I think I got up to 1954 before I turned around and looked back and thought I could pull off a few stories that take place during the war. A lot depends on sources. When I first started writing – back in the mid 1980s – there was very little information about domestic life in Germany. Now there is a ton. Then I had to stick to 1936 because that year was pretty well documented for obvious reasons. However, I don’t know how many more books I can write about this subject. It’s difficult spending time with the Nazis. I always feel like I need to take a shower whenever I finish a Bernie Gunther book.

New in MysteryPeople: April 23rd 2013

Here’s your weekly dose of new releases. Get em’ while they’re hot!

The Hit by David Baldacci

Will Robie is a master of killing. A highly skilled assassin, Robie is the man the U.S. government calls on to eliminate the worst of the worst-enemies of the state, monsters committed to harming untold numbers of innocent victims. No one else can match Robie’s talents as a hitman…no one, except Jessica Reel. A fellow assassin, equally professional and dangerous, Reel is every bit as lethal as Robie. And now, she’s gone rogue, turning her gun sights on other members of their agency. To stop one of their own, the government looks again to Will Robie. His mission: bring in Reel, dead or alive. Only a killer can catch another killer, they tell him. But as Robie pursues Reel, he quickly finds that there is more to her betrayal than meets the eye. Her attacks on the agency conceal a larger threat, a threat that could send shockwaves through the U.S. government and around the world.
Kaleidoscope by Gail Bowen

 A Globe and Mail bestseller in its first week, the thirteenth in Gail Bowen’s beloved Joanne Kilbourn mystery series is the best of them all: very bad things happen very close to home, and Joanne may never be quite the same again.

“Security for any one of us lies in greater abundance for all of us.” For many years, this was the core of Joanne’s political beliefs, but for a number of reasons, she has drifted away from it. But soon after she retires from her university teaching post, Joanne is forced to experience its truth. Two groups — developers with a vision for a revitalized neighbourhood on one side, protestors who fear gentrification will further marginalize their community on the other — are close to war and Joanne and Zack have loved ones on both sides. One night their house is blown up, and that is only the first of several terrible incidents that force Joanne to consider what it means to live in a world where she can count on nothing.

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer. When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails. Along with a circle of girlfriends known as “the vampires,” she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime–a downward spiral that eventually leads to Las Vegas and a dangerous underworld, with Maya caught between warring forces: a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. In the care of her grandmother’s old friend, Manuel Arias, and surrounded by strange new acquaintances, Maya begins to record her story in her notebook, as she tries to make sense of her past and unravel the mysteries of her family and her own life.

Crime Fiction Friday: REED FARREL COLEMAN

Reed Farrel Coleman is one of our favorite writers. Our crime fiction coordinator, Scott Montgomery, has said many times he is the greatest living private eye author. Many of his books traverse the area of Coney Island. Here he uses the location in an interesting short story for the new Akashic blog: in this week’s Mondays Are Murder installment of short fiction. Look for Reed’s new Moe Prager novel, Onion Street, on May 18th.

MP Review: HELSINKI BLOOD by James Thompson

Review by Chris Mattix

James Thompson has slowly but surely made a name for himself as an author to watch in the world of crime fiction. His series character Kari Vaara, a man who seems to get a little rougher around the edges with each novel, has quickly become one of my current favorites. In Thompson’s latest novel, Helsinki Blood, Vaara is even more battered and bruised, and the end result is a surprisingly action-packed story about redemption and the need to protect the ones we love.

Helsinki Blood picks up right where Helsinki White left off. Kari Vaara is still recovering from the gruesome events that concluded the last novel. His wife, Kate, is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after killing a man to save Kari and his friends, and because of this she has run off with their child. In Helsinki White Kari was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent surgery to fix the problem, leaving him emotionally flat. He is still recovering, both emotionally and physically, when we meet him at the beginning of Helsinki Blood.

In his fourth novel, Thompson forgoes the tried and true formula of a mystery-driven plot and instead opts to flesh out the emotional fallout caused by Kari’s job as head of a secret police task force. He made a lot of enemies because of his work, and now those enemies are rallying against him and his colleagues; Milo and Sweetness. Because of this Helsinki Blood reads more like Helsinki White version 2.0 than a standalone novel, but that’s not a bad thing.

Often times authors in the crime genre write characters who seem invincible, but Thompson is happy to dive head first into the psychological issues that plague ordinary people who have faced extreme circumstances. All of this works to deepen the scope of the characters. By the end of Helsinki Blood you feel as though you really understand the motivations behind the actions. Each character is given care and attention, which humanizes them on a level few writers ever reach.

It’s a shame that Thompson isn’t a bigger name, because his novels tell stories in a fresh and unique way. For now, he is one of those authors whose name is dropped by others working in the genre, but don’t be surprised if you start hearing it more frequently. The appeal of the Kari Vaara series is broad enough for fans of all types of crime fiction. I picked up Thompson’s first novel, Snow Angels, on a whim and now I eagerly await new material. If you give him a chance, Thompson will make a believer out of you as well.