3 Picks from Chris

It’s Summer! If you live in Texas then you know what that means; brutal heat and praying at the altar of central air conditioning. Summer is also the perfect time to crack into a great book. I’ve got a few suggestions I think will help you forget about the heat…at least for a few hours.

Joyland by Stephen King

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever. Joyland is Stephen King at his best; fun, exciting, and heartbreaking.

The Eye of God by James Rollins

Have you ever wondered what a mash up of Indiana Jones and James Bond would be like? Well James Rollins has been answering that question over the year with his Sigma Force novels. In The Eye of God Gray Pierce and his team are tasked with recovering an American satellite that crashed in China. The satellite is especially valuable because it contains vital information about the impending doom of the Atlantic coast. Villains, heroes, guns, and a dash of humor make The Eye of God one of the best Summer reads on our shelves.

The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston is one hell of a great crime writer. His books are hilarious, brutal, and endlessly entertaining. MysteryPeople is very excited to be hosting Charlie on July 24th. His new novel, Skinner, goes on sale July 9th but if you can’t wait that long grab a copy of The Shotgun Rule (description below) to whet your whistle.

“Blood spilled on the asphalt of this town long years gone has left a stain, and it’s spreading. Not that a thing like that matters to teenagers like George, Hector, Paul, and Andy. It’s summer 1983 in a northern California suburb, and these working-class kids have been killing time the usual ways: ducking their parents, tinkering with their bikes, and racing around town getting high and boosting their neighbors’ meds. Just another typical summer break in the burbs. Till Andy’s bike is stolen by the town’s legendary petty hoods, the Arroyo brothers. When the boys break into the Arroyos’ place in search of the bike, they stumble across the brothers’ private industry: a crank lab. Being the kind of kids who rarely know better, they do what comes naturally: they take a stash of crank to sell for quick cash. But doing so they unleash hidden rivalries and crimes, and the dark and secret past of their town and their families.”

New Releases in MysteryPeople

The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner

Can a person ever really disappear for good by going off the grid? And what happens when vanishing is no longer an option?

Sarah Keller is a single mother to five-year-old Zoe, living quietly in Oklahoma. She’s also a skip tracer, an expert in tracking people who’ve gone on the lam to avoid arrest, prosecution, or debt—pinpointing their locations to bring them to justice.

When a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER, their quiet life explodes. Zoe’s medical tests reveal what Sarah has been hiding: Zoe is not her daughter. Zoe’s biological mother—Sarah’s sister, Beth—was murdered shortly after the child’s birth. And Zoe’s father is missing and presumed dead.

With no way to prove her innocence, Sarah must abandon her carefully constructed life and go on the run. Chased by cops, federal agents, and the group responsible for Beth’s murder, Sarah embarks on a desperate journey. Can her knowledge as a skip tracer help her stay off the grid, remain one step ahead of her pursuers, and find a way to save her daughter?

Meg Gardiner is acclaimed for her richly drawn characters, propulsive plotting, relentless suspense, and shocking twists. The Shadow Tracer delivers on those fronts and more.

The Wild Beasts of Wuhan by Ian Hamilton

Meet Ava Lee, alluring but deadly, with a mind like a steel trap, as she chases millions of dollars and dangerous criminals around the globe in this exotic and fast-paced new crime series by Ian Hamilton.

In The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, Wong Changxing, a rich Chinese powerbroker, has just been bilked out of $100 million in an elaborate art forgery con. His one hope of recovering the money, and of saving face, is Ava Lee—a forensic accountant with a talent for tracking down untraceable funds. With the help of her mentor, the Triad-connected Uncle, Ava traces the provenance of the meticulously forged paintings to Denmark, the Faroe Islands, New York, and London. As she infiltrates one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world, she uncovers a massive web of corruption, where high art and high-stakes fraud threaten more than just her client’s business—this is one scam that could get her killed. Ava Lee is one of the most scintillating, unique heroines to come along in years.

The Eye of God by James Rollins

In The Eye of God, a Sigma Force novel, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins delivers an apocalyptic vision of a future predicted by the distant past. In the wilds of Mongolia, a research satellite has crashed, triggering an explosive search for its valuable cargo: a code-black physics project connected to the study of dark energy—and a shocking image of the eastern seaboard of the United States in utter ruin.

At the Vatican, a package arrives containing two strange artifacts: a skull scrawled with ancient Aramaic and a tome bound in human skin. DNA evidence reveals that both came from the same body: the long dead Mongol king Genghis Khan. Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma Force set out to discover a truth tied to the fall of the Roman Empire, to a mystery going back to the birth of Christianity, and to a weapon hidden for centuries that holds the fate of humanity.

Never Fuck Up by Jens Lapidus

From Sweden’s internationally best-selling crime novelist, the author of Easy Money, comes the riveting second installment of the Stockholm Noir Trilogy. With his trademark live-wire staccato prose and raw energy, Jens Lapidus returns to the streets of Stockholm with an electrifying tale of seedy police officers and vicious underworld criminals.

Mahmud, an iron-pumping gym fiend raised among the city’s many concrete high-rises, is fresh out of jail and heavily indebted to a Turkish drug lord. To get free he accepts a job from the henchman of brutal mob boss Radovan—a job that quickly becomes something Mahmud wishes he’d never agreed to.

Meanwhile, Niklas is living at home with his mother and keeping a low profile after working as a security contractor in Iraq. When a man is found murdered in the laundry room of their building—a startling event that coincides with Niklas’s discovery of a young Arab girl being beaten by her boyfriend—Niklas decides to put his weapons expertise and appetite for violence to use and begins to mete out his own particular brand of justice.

Thomas is the volatile cop called to investigate the murder in Niklas’s building. When his efforts are suspiciously stymied and the evidence tampered with, he goes off the grid in search of answers. As the identity of the murdered man is discovered, the paths of these three men intertwine, and crimes and secrets far greater than a mere murder come to light—raising the stakes of Stockholm’s criminality to staggering new heights.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner has put her mark on the thriller genre with her characters Evan Delany and Jo Beckett. In her latest, The Shadow Tracer, she introduces us to Sarah Keller, a skip tracer, who is in hiding herself with a girl she has taken to protect from one messed up family. Meg will be at BookPeople to sign and discuss The shadow Tracer at 7PM on tonight, June 26th. She is a great lady with a wonderful sense of humor which can be seen in our recent Q&A.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for The Shadow Tracer come about?

MEG GARDINER: I’m a lawyer who cares about civil liberties, and a mom whose kids’ social lives thrive online. I started thinking about privacy, and how technology enables corporations and governments to keep tabs on us. Also, I had signed up for the UK’s IRIS recognition system, which allows you to skip the passport line at Heathrow airport. My husband was horrified. “You did what? MI5 is probably watching you through the TV right now.” I laughed. Then I read about the vast facility the NSA is building in Utah to store their bajillion-terabytes of information. And I wondered: in today’s hyper-connected world, how do you keep yourself from becoming a fly under glass?

So I thought: What if you needed, absolutely, to run and hide? Could you do it? What if you needed to run… with a little kid? What if the people chasing you had money, resources, and determination? What if they were criminals, and the FBI? From there, the story of Sarah Keller going on the run to protect her daughter Zoe came to life.

I say all this patriotically, in the name of PRISM!

No, don’t write that down.

MP: In the early chapters you get a good sense of how a skip tracer works. What kind of research do you do for your characters’ professions?

MG: I read copiously. Books, articles, interviews – whatever I can get my hands on. And whenever possible I meet people who do the jobs my characters do. That’s the best way to learn what it’s like to be a skip tracer, or a search-and-rescue expert, or a forensic psychiatrist. For the scene in The Shadow Tracer where Sarah Keller serves a subpoena, I talked to my brother, who owns an attorney support service like the one Sarah works for. It was amazing to hear his tales of tracking down sneaks and fraudsters, and to realize how gutsy he has to be to confront them. Of course, my baby brother is now 6’3″.

And I realized how difficult it is to stay under the radar when I ordered a book online, about skip tracing. A dialogue box popped up: “Share that you purchased How To Disappear with all your social networks?”

MP: Sarah is trying to protect a child she has raised from her own biological family. What did you want to explore about motherhood and family in this book?

MG: Sarah has raised five-year-old Zoe virtually since birth. The little girl was handed to Sarah by her dying sister, and Sarah swore to protect Zoe no matter what. The book explores how that promise has become the central purpose of Sarah’s life. She has become a skip tracer to learn how to disappear, because she fears the day that the people who murdered her sister come back for Zoe. At first, Zoe was an unexpected detour in Sarah’s life. But she has become the daughter of Sarah’s heart.

Sarah’s promise to her dying sister is put to the test when the bad guys show up again. Risking herself for Zoe is a choice. When it’s life or death, what will she do?

As for questions about motherhood and family, my son recently texted me: “I just realized that pretty much all your protagonists have kids that aren’t quite theirs. Do we need to have a conversation?”

I assured him that we didn’t… but that I needed to tell him about his evil twin who lives in the attic.

MP: You have a lot of fun with the locations in the book, particularly Roswell, New Mexico. How do you make a setting be more than just a backdrop?

MG: When I was a kid I spent every summer in Roswell. My grandparents lived there. I loved the austere desert landscape. I loved New Mexico — White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns and the Bottomless Lakes and the town of Lincoln, birthplace of Billy the Kid. It was bright and wild and exciting. Now, of course, Roswell has a reputation as UFOville. Which I am not supposed to talk about, okay? Just sayin’.

The southwest is a challenging landscape I have great affection for —  from Oklahoma, where Sarah’s flight begins, through Texas and into New Mexico. I tried to bring my childhood memories to life, and then to add hit men, U.S. Marshals, and car chases.

MP: The action passages in the book are relentless. How do you approach those parts from a craft standpoint?

MG: In a novel, action scenes need to be extremely clear and visual, and even more emotionally powerful than they are on a screen. Readers don’t experience the visceral sensory impact that viewers get from watching action sequences in a movie theater, so I have to make up for it by delivering other kinds of punches. If a chase scene is going to excite readers (not just keep them from becoming bored, but excite them) it has to avoid every cliche and twist that they’ve seen or read before. I have to imagine all the action scenes I’ve seen — or written — and turn them inside out to surprise readers.

Bullitt is iconic. Try to duplicate it, and you’ll just write a cheesy, predictable knock-off.

One other point: explicit violence doesn’t raise the fear factor. What does increase fear and tension is a threat that remains partially veiled in mystery. Readers’ imaginations will create terrors more frightening than I can portray. The theater of the mind is more powerful than a bucket of blood.

MP: As somebody who has two series characters, what does a stand alone do for you as a writer?

MG: Writing stand alones frees me to tell stories that range beyond my series, and to write about characters who, in a series novel, would be secondary. Sarah Keller had to be at the center of The Shadow Tracer. The book is about her world and her life. If the story wasn’t hers, it would have lacked heart and guts. I want readers riding along with her as she makes her desperate run and tries to spirit Zoe to safety.


MysteryPeople welcomes Meg Gardiner to BookPeople tonight, Thursday, July 27 at 7PM, to speak about and sign The Shadow Tracer. If you can’t make it, you can pre-order a signed copy of the book through the store’s website.

SHADOW TRACER: The Summer Action You’ve Been Looking For

If you love Meg Gardiner, you’ll relish her stand alone, The Shadow Tracer. You will want to clear your schedule before sitting down with it, since you won’t want to stop turning the pages. The book shows all of the author’s talents, undistilled.

Gardiner gives us one of her most fascinating heroines in Sarah Keller. In the first chapter, we see her working as a skip tracer in Oklahoma City. We get a a lot of cool details about the approach and philosophy of the job as she grabs someone in hiding. We also soon learn that Sarah is a fugitive herself.

She has been living under a different identity with Zoe, a little girl she took in and and became a mother too. When a bus accident blows their cover, Sarah takes the girl and starts running. She is pursued across the Southwest by the FBI, US Marshals, and the Worthes, the family Zoe is protecting them from.

The Shadow Tracer has the skill and craftsmanship of a well made movie thriller. Each character is clearly defined in his or her purpose. Many of their reasons, like many of the other reveals, are given at the exact right moment for dramatic impact. The pace and action are brilliantly executed with great set pieces, like the final confrontation at an airline graveyard. Gardiner also knows how to weave in humor so you don’t feel pummeled by a story that is so relentless. This could be the only edge of your seat thriller that has an Animal House reference.

This is Meg Gardiner at the top of her game. She gives us an incredibly competent and human heroine in constant danger, peeling the secrets away at a steady pace. DVR your favorite shows and forget about going to the movies. The Shadow Tracer gives us the summer action we crave.


MysteryPeople welcomes Meg Gardiner to speak about & sign The Shadow Tracer here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 27 at 7PM. If you can’t make it, you can order a signed copy via the store’s website.

J.I. Baker is Skyping In for the Hard Word Book Club

The Hard Word Book Club will have a special discussion on its June 26th meeting with a special book, J.I. Baker’s The Empty Glass. The book deals with a deputy coroner drawn into the conspiracy of Marylin Monroe’s death. Told in a unique voice that at times breaks the fourth wall, it’s as much a look at it’s troubled character and a changing Los Angeles as it is a good ol’ fashioned procedural. This is a perfect book for fans of James Ellroy and Megan Abbott.

J.I. Baker will be skyping in for our discussion. The Empty Glass is 10% off for those who participate. Join us at 7PM, Wednesday, the 26th, on our third floor. There will be much to discuss.

MP Guest Post: Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke, cr Deborah Copaken Kogan

Alafair Burke has made a name for herself with her mix of legal thriller and gritty suspense as well as with her new stand-alone novel, If You Were Here. In our guest blog she talks about names and what they mean to a writer.

What’s in a Name?

Thank you so much for the invitation to blog here today.  As supporters of an awesome indie bookstore in Texas, readers here might be interested in something related to another awesome indie bookstore in Texas.

Some mystery readers might recognize a familiar name in my new novel, IF YOU WERE HERE, about journalist McKenna Jordan’s search for a friend who disappeared without a trace a decade earlier.

Yep, that’s right.  McKenna Jordan.  Same name as the owner of Houston’s MURDER BY THE BOOK.

Why the same name?  The short answer is that McKenna’s a wonderful friend and a terrific supporter of the genre, and I’ve always loved both her and the name.  But there’s a much longer explanation.  Here it is, so I can refer people here whenever they ask, as they surely will because McKenna….knows….everyone!

I strive to make my books appear effortless.  For readers to lose themselves in a book, they should be able to believe that story, characters, and settings exist in a parallel world. The writer simply becomes the tunnel for pulling those thoughts onto the page.

For the most part, I’m a tunnel kind of writer.  I see and hear some characters as if I’ve known them for years.

My problem?  These little brats who come to me from the ether never stop and tell me their names!  Hey lady, what am I supposed to call you?

Not much of a whine, is it?  A name for a non-existent person seems pretty easy to conjure.  Absolutely.  In theory.

But here’s an exercise: Let’s say I tell you that a man is a thirty-eight year old lawyer in Chicago.  His name is Robert Simpson.

No, his name is Bob Simpson.

Wait, no, Bobby Simpson.

I don’t know about you, but I just pictured three slightly different people.

Now his name is River Simpson.  Whoa.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with a name like Alafair, but I believe (and my thirty minutes of Google research indicates) that we automatically draw inferences about people based only on their names.  So when it’s time for me to think of a name for a

fully formed person speaking to me from the ether, I really struggle.

When I started the Ellie Hatcher series, nothing seemed quite right for this woman I already saw as a friend.  Ellie grew up in Wichita, Kansas, the daughter of a police detective and bookkeeper.  She lost her father at a young age.  The Wichita Police Department labeled it suicide, but Ellie never accepted the determination.  I knew her route from the teen beauty pageant circuit in Kansas, to waiting tables in New York City, to John Jay College, to the NYPD.   I knew she kept a jar of Nutella and a spoon in her top desk drawer.  I knew she listened to the Clash and the Pixies.  I knew how she felt the first time she took a punch to the face.

But I didn’t know her name.

I looked at baby names from the year of my girl’s birth.  I expended enormous amounts of time looking at cast and crew names on IMDB, trying various combinations of short and last names that might just fit.  Nothing.

Her parents would have given her an old fashioned name, but as a kid, she would’ve altered it to something that still suits her well today.  There’d probably even be a story about what she hated about her given name.  I realized I was searching for something that sounded a little like my mother-in-law’s maiden name, Ellie Hatcher.  I needed to get on with writing the book, so I started using the name as a placeholder, with every intention of doing a search and replace once I figured out her real name.

By the time I finished the novel, there was no going back.  It would be like changing a kid’s name in the ninth grade.  Elsa Mae (Ellie) Hatcher had a name.  I even knew why and when she’d begun going by Ellie instead of Elsa.

In my new standalone, IF YOU WERE HERE, I really knew the two main characters before I started to write, because they are not so loosely based on my husband and me.  (Backstory to the backstory: The greatest compliment we may have ever received as a couple was from my sister, who wants us to go on The Amazing Race.  Unless she just wants to see me fall during some roof-scaling exercise, I think she’s referring to the fact that Sean and I have opposing but complementary strengths and personalities.  Since I can’t figure out how to get us on a TV show, I figured I could use us as the bones for two new characters with our basic skills and personalities, but who face tremendously puzzling and dangerous challenges.)

But what do I name a character based on myself?  Certainly not Alafair, because that’s the name of the author.  And Alafair Robicheaux.  And Alafair Tucker.  I tried Ally, but it sounds too much like Ellie.  And like Alice, the main character in my last standalone, LONG GONE

I had already named the husband Patrick Jordan by looking at my own husband and asking, “What should his name really be?”  Then it came to me.  This main character I knew so well had to be named McKenna.  McKenna (Wright) Jordan.

Fortunately, McKenna was game.  She tells me it was a little hard to get used to seeing her name being bandied about by some fictional character in a book.  I told her that, as a person named Alafair, I could identify.  And I hope that readers who recognize the game will smile to themselves at the insider reference, the way I smile when I see Kiz Rider and Maggie Griffin in Michael Connelly’s novels (both named for booksellers at the wonderful, though now closed, Partners & Crime in New York).

Thanks for the chance to share my little aside here today.

MP Review: DEATH RIDES AGAIN by Janice Hamrick

Death Rides Again by Janice Hamrick


Janice Hamrick’s understanding of human behavior and emotion brings a depth and weight to a subgenre of mystery often referred to as “light.” Her Austin high school teacher protagonist Jocelyn Shore, a realist who would like to be a romantic with a sense of justice and protective love of her own, is willing to get her hands dirty to find the killer. In her latest, Death Rides Again, Hamrick makes murder a family affair. A great opening sentence that sets up plot, tone, and her heroine’s voice:

“The day Eddy Cranny got himself murdered started out bad and went downhill from there…especially for Eddy.”

We first meet Eddy when he’s being threatened with a shotgun by Jocelyn’s uncle Kel. Jocelyn and her cousin Kyla, who often serves as her Watson, have traveled to their hometown of Sandcreek, Texas for a Thanksgiving family reunion. Needless to say, we soon find out they aren’t the Brady Bunch as Jocelyn intercedes the shotgun incident after Kel discovers Eddy has been beating on his girlfriend Ruby June; Jocelyn’s cousin and Kel’s daughter. After the situation is diffused, they discover that Ruby June is gone.

Jocelyn and Kyla’s search for for their cousin takes them around Sand Creek, skillfully rendered by Hamrick in its decorative limbo between Thanksgiving and Christmas, introducing us to its citizens and suspects outside the family. After the search proves fruitless, they return to the ranch where Collin, Jocelyn’s cop boyfriend (or possible boyfriend, which is dealt with in a subplot) is waiting. Later that night, they discover Eddie’s body in his pickup.

The mystery involves corruption, horse racing, drug cartels, and even lions, tigers, and bears. Most of all, it explores family dynamics. As an author introducing so many characters, Hamrick understands the use of stereotypes, as well as how we do this to our own family members, then quickly begins to shade them with dimension. Much of the humor involves how little doubt Jocelyn has in her family being involved with blackmail and murder. Hamrick also looks at the tribalism of family. Jocelyn may refer to half her clan as “rabid hillbillies hopped up on Judge Judy and reruns of CSI”, but nobody else better insult or mess with them.

Death Rides Again shows Janice Hamrick’s skill as an author. Her style serves her characters and story without heavy author flourishes. Being naturally unique, hers is an effortless voice (the kind that much effort and talent are poured into) that easily moves from humorous, romantic, suspenseful, and poignant, because it is so human. It’s a voice I look forward to hearing again.