New Authors on Old Favorites

In our last Partners In Crime broadcast, we discussed Ace Atkins continuing Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series with Lullaby. This lead to a discussion about which author we would choose to revive a series character. We put the question to some of our author friends and here’s what they had to say:

Barry Graham (When It All Comes Down To Dust):Christa Faust doing Fu Manchu in contemporary LA.”

Ace Atkins (The Broken Places): Robert Crais taking on Marlowe with an old case that connects to Elvis Cole.

Kenneth Wishnia (The Glass Factory): I’d like to see Megan Abbott do a story from the perspective of one of the classic femme fatales of the hardboiled era, like Phyllis Nirdlinger (Double Indemnity), Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Maltese Falcon) or Carmen Sternwood (The Big Sleep).

Chris F. Holm (The Big Reap): Duane Swierczynski taking on Parker. For one, I happen to know he loves the character as much as I do, which is saying something — so you can be sure he’d honor Westlake’s greatest creation at every turn. And for two, it’s clear from Duane’s own fiction that he truly learned at Westlake’s feet, writing taut, propulsive, thrilling novels that still manage to go down less like a handful of Pixy Stix than a full-fledged meal. Could a Swierczynski Parker novel reach the giddy heights of Westlake at his prime? That I couldn’t say. But it’d be a kick to see him try.

Hilary Davidson (Evil In All It’s Disguises): I’d love to see Chris F. Holm continue Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op series. The nameless, crafty, and preternaturally intelligent Continental Op wrestles with morality and his diminishing sense of humanity in a way that has intriguing parallels with Holm’s Collector series, which features a dead-yet-earthbound soul collector. In both cases, smart, sharp, incisive writing make Hammett’s and Holm’s exploration of shades-of-gray characters intriguing. And, having seen Holm’s take on demons, I’d love to see what he’d do with the boss of the Continental Op’s agency, the Old Man.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Eric Beetner

eric beetner

We’re looking forward to this month’s Hard Word Book Club discussion of Dig Two Graves by Eric Beetner (Wednesday, July 31 at 7pm). The lean and mean (under 200 pages) book involves the violent night of a a professional robber as he tracks down his prison lover with cops and gangsters on his tail. Eric will be skyping in to join our conversation. As you can tell from this interview we recently did with him, it should be an informative discussion.

dig two graves
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What’s interesting about Dig Two Graves is that you take a lot of the homosexual subtext that some believe to be in some hard boiled novels and make it text. How did the idea come about for going after a prison lover for revenge?

ERIC BEETNER: Revenge stories are nothing entirely new, so I wanted to mix it up a bit. I thought the idea of this guy battling his own heart and his own desires as well as his sense of honor and the criminal code was interesting. Obviously Val is not entirely homosexual, or at least he hasn’t admitted it to himself. The way he feels for Azin indicates he could go both ways. But the dueling identities within him I think make him a pretty interesting guy.

As far as subtext in other books, I tend to think most of that is BS. It seems like something grafted on long after the fact and perpetuated by either the revelation that an author was homosexual, or by the fact that writers weren’t “allowed” to have a gay character in the classic period anyway of the 40s and 50s. It lets people read subtext where there is none. Not that it didn’t happen, but not as much as some academics claim. In my opinion anyway.

MP: Val is a pretty rotten character who doesn’t even have the level of professionalism of someone like Stark’s Parker, yet I stayed with him. How did you deal with the challenges of writing about such a lowlife?

EB: Writing lowlifes with rooting interest seems to be my wheelhouse.  I’ve been very pleased to hear great feedback on a few of my books where the main characters could be seen as despicable jerks. We discussed this a bit on a panel recently with Johnny Shaw, Seth Harwood, Gary Phillips and Paul Bishop and my response then was that as long as a character is secure in his or her own moral code, I think you can get away with a lot more. Since Val is confident in what he is doing and has justifications that he can explain well, the audience tends to see his logic and go with it. Also, he’s brokenhearted. Who doesn’t relate to that? It’s something I work hard to do – to make characters who do morally questionable or reprehensible things into real, relatable humans. A dash of humor goes a long way. If a character is fun to spend time with, you’ll forgive some of the things that happen when you’re hanging out.

MP: Like a lot of great noir, Dig two Graves comes off as a fever dream. How important is style to your work?

EB: I like stories with a compressed timeline and I think the way Dig Two Graves happens in such a short period of time adds to the rush. Being a novella, too, I was intentionally being brusque with the language. Keeping things tight. Truncated. Clipped. Style is important, but I’m certainly not a stylist over a plotter and character builder. I admire books with great style like Frank Bill’s Donnybrook or the Sailor and Lula books of Barry Gifford. Or Pike by Benjamin Whitmer. All unique styles with a singular voice. I tend to keep things more straightforward, perhaps use too many similes (but I love them like a dog loves a bone) and make sure the story is clear at all times.

MP: Dig Two Graves is a novella and much of your short fiction (most is collected in Bouquet of Bullets) is really short. Is brevity one of your goals as a writer?

EB: I think it’s a product of my busy mind and my writing schedule. I only get a short amount of time to write late at night after the kids are in bed. I write in bursts that are highly productive, but compressed. That has something to do with it. I also prefer shorter works, usually. I come from a film and TV background and once you get in the mindset that you can tell a fully fleshed story in 90 minutes, why do you need to bloat it out beyond that? I know everyone always says, “The book was better.” But I don’t always agree. Very often brevity is what makes a story exciting and engaging. I believe in letting the audience fill in the blanks. It keeps them engaged.

Crime novels used to be much shorter in the Gold Medal paperback era. You look at something like The Postman Always Rings twice and then that is only slightly over 40k words. And it works great.
I have no problem if someone wants to write or read huge tomes. More power to you. I also only get my lunch hour at work to read, so my reading goes the same way as my writing. I feel more accomplished when I read something shorter and it doesn’t take three weeks to finish it. I’d never get to read anything else if I decided to start reading George RR Martin.

I also can’t deny that my day job as an editor for TV informs my creative life tremendously. My brain is wired to trim the fat, keep things moving, cut to the chase. I bring that to my writing without realizing it.

MP: You’re also a graphic artist, designing most of the covers for Snubnose Press. Does the visual art feed the writing for you?

EB: No. That is a lark and I can’t believe I’ve been able to snow people for this long (44 covers and counting) I’m one of those jack of all trades, master of none type of pseudo Renaissance men. I’ll try anything, so I tried making book covers for my own books when the options I had were not to my liking. I’m a very DIY kind of person, sometimes to my detriment. But it’s a great little side venture that allows me to flex a different part of my brain and it’s a ton of fun and I’m quite proud of a lot of the covers I’ve done. Especially considering I don’t have the full version of Photoshop, have never taken a class and generally don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

MP: It’s obvious from your work that you’re a fan of dark, hard boiled fiction. Who do you think is one of the most unsung writers in the genre, either past or present?

I’m a big fan of vintage pulp fiction and I wish people would get beyond the Hammet, Candler, Cain triumvirate. I think Chester Himes never gets enough recognition. His first chapters are always some of the best “grabbers” I’ve ever read. William Ard is one of my favorite old pulp guys, along with Lionel White, Harry Whittington, Day Keene.

Today, I wish more people read Sean Doolittle, Allan Guthrie, Mark Conard. Writers with decent followings who could still break through to the Gone Girl size audience are people like John Rector, Owen Laukkanen, Duane Swierczynski, Victor Gischler. I recently found Grant Jerkins who I am liking a lot. Johnny Shaw has written two of my favorite books in recent years. And my fellow Snubnose brothers and sisters. There are some really great books Snubnose has put out.  Proud to have my cover art adorn these fantastic books. If you liked Dig Two Graves, you’ve got to check out A Wind Of Knives by Ed Kurtz. I think they would make a great Ace Double edition with two books in one. His is about a gay man seeking revenge on the men who killed his lover in the old west. Great stuff.

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Eric Beetner will Skype into our Hard Word Book Club meeting this Wednesday, July 31 at 7pm. The discussion is free and open to the public. You’ll find us up on BookPeople’s third floor. Copies of Dig Two Graves are currently available on our shelves at BookPeople.

Suspense & The Filibuster: Guest Post by Robert Rotstein

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(photo via http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com)

The American political and justice system has provided the backdrop for classic books as diverse as Ross Thomas’s political thrillers, Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men, Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate, and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as countless other suspense novels. In my mystery/thriller Corrupt Practices, attorney Parker Stern defends a client who’s charged with embezzling millions of dollars from a sinister church. Among the themes in the novel are the fairness of the justice system and the limits of religious freedom.

This brings me to the June 25, 2013 session of the Texas State Senate. As a native Californian, I haven’t paid much attention to Texas local politics. But I was among the 180,000 YouTube viewers riveted to a live stream of Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of SB 5, a controversial anti-abortion bill. While the social and moral issues were, of course, paramount, I was also struck by how the whole proceeding unfolded with the type of suspense that you find in the best mysteries and thrillers.

Why was the debate so dramatic? Like a good work of fiction, the Davis filibuster provided for intense conflict. Sure, one reason is the substantive issue—mention the word abortion and there’s conflict. My own novel involves an unscrupulous and powerful Los Angeles cult, a concept that has generated a strong visceral response in some readers. But it isn’t just the overriding issue that makes for good suspense, either in fiction or in life. While other states have passed restrictive abortion laws, those debates didn’t capture a nation’s attention. What was different about Texas?

For one thing, the debate on SB 5 involved the classic mystery/thriller device of a “ticking clock”—literally. The bill’s proponents had to pass the legislation before the proverbial stroke of midnight. For them, every tiny delay compressed time. Conversely, because the bill’s supporters wanted to run out the clock, time slowed down for them. When time flows at anything other than a normal pace, there’s dramatic tension. This created what might be called mini-conflict. Each motion to end debate, each point of order, each parliamentary ruling, and each motion to table affected the end result.

There’s another reason why the Texas Senate debate was so compelling—Wendy Davis. That’s true whether you agree with her or not. She has a fascinating backstory—she began working at fourteen to help support her family, married young, became a teenage mother, divorced, and then improbably graduated from Harvard Law School. During the debate, she wore pick tennis shoes and a back brace. Her challenge in the filibuster was both physical and intellectual—stand and talk for fourteen hours, don’t lean on the desk, don’t take bathroom breaks, don’t get assistance, stay on point. She made an interesting, somewhat quirky protagonist. In that way, Davis shared characteristics of many mystery and thriller protagonists, who often face both physical and intellectual challenges in pursuit of their objective. Parker Stern in Corrupt Practices suffers from stage fright so severe that he becomes physically ill in court and so has to overcome physical, as well as intellectual, hurdles.

Like all good dramas, the Davis filibuster involved moral ambiguities about process and people. I’m not referring to whether the bill should’ve passed. I suspect that each side believes that there’s no moral ambiguity about that. But the debate raised other questions. Was this drama about the tyranny of the majority or an obstructionist minority? Was the protagonist brave and selfless or rather engaging in a publicity stunt to advance her political career?  What about the audience members who ultimately delayed the bill past midnight with their cheering and shouting—were they idealistic supporters of human rights or an unruly mob thwarting the will of the majority?

In short, the Texas filibuster had all the trappings of a classic political thriller. And that’s why an ordinarily dry, technical political skirmish became high drama that unfolded before the entire nation.

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rotsteinRobert Rotstein is an entertainment attorney with over thirty years experience in the industry. He’s represented all of the major motion picture studios and many well-known writers, producers, directors, and musicians. He lives with his family in Los Angeles, California, where he is at work on the next Parker Stern novel. Corrupt Practices is currently available via bookpeople.com.

History of Mystery is Back with Robert B. Parker & Ace Atkins


We’re starting up our History Of Mystery series again on Sunday, August 4th. In this monthly meeting, we look at an author who had a major impact on crime fiction. Our next author had a major influence on anybody who wrote a private eye novel after him: Robert B. Parker. His book Early Autumn is a favorite among his fans, especially other authors like Ace Atkins, who will be calling in for the discussion.

Called “The Dean Of American Crime Fiction”, Robert B. Parker earned a PhD in English from Boston University. His dissertation was on Hammett, Chandler, and Ross MacDonald. In 1971 he introduced us to his detective Spenser in The Godwulf Manuscript, reshaping the tough guy hero for the modern era. He perfected the homicidal sidekick in Hawk. In Early Autumn, he looks at what it means to be a man as Spenser helps a teenage boy find his place in the world.

Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series owes a huge debt to the Spenser books. His talent and his regard for Parker lead Parker’s widow, Joan, to ask Atkins to continue the Spenser series after her husband passed away.

The group meets at 6PM on Sunday, August 4th. You’ll find us up on BookPeople’s third floor. The discussion is free and open to the public. Copies of Early Autumn are 10% off to those who attend.

New Releases in MysteryPeople: July 30th 2013

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

Stunningly dark, hugely intelligent and thoroughly addictive, Ghostman announces the arrival of an exciting and highly distinctive novelist.

When a casino robbery in Atlantic City goes horribly awry, the man who orchestrated it is obliged to call in a favor from someone who’s occasionally called Jack. While it’s doubtful that anyone knows his actual name or anything at all about his true identity, or even if he’s still alive, he’s in his mid-thirties and lives completely off the grid, a criminal’s criminal who does entirely as he pleases and is almost impossible to get in touch with. But within hours a private jet is flying this exceptionally experienced fixer and cleaner-upper from Seattle to New Jersey and right into a spectacular mess: one heister dead in the parking lot, another winged but on the run, the shooter a complete mystery, the $1.2 million in freshly printed bills god knows where and the FBI already waiting for Jack at the airport, to be joined shortly by other extremely interested and elusive parties. He has only forty-eight hours until the twice-stolen cash literally explodes, taking with it the wider, byzantine ambitions behind the theft. To contend with all this will require every gram of his skill, ingenuity and self-protective instincts, especially when offense and defense soon become meaningless terms. And as he maneuvers these exceedingly slippery slopes, he relives the botched bank robbery in Kuala Lumpur five years earlier that has now landed him this unwanted new assignment.

From its riveting opening pages, Ghostman effortlessly pulls the reader into Jack’s refined and peculiar world—and the sophisticated shadowboxing grows ever more intense as he moves, hour by hour, toward a  constantly reimprovised solution. With a quicksilver plot, gripping prose and masterly expertise, Roger Hobbs has given us a novel that will immediately place him in the company of our most esteemed crime writers.

The Highway by C.J. Box

When two sisters set out across a remote stretch of Montana road to visit their friend, little do they know it will be the last time anyone might ever hear from them again. The girls—and their car—simply vanish.  Former police investigator Cody Hoyt has just lost his job and has fallen off the wagon after a long stretch of sobriety.  Convinced by his son and his former rookie partner, Cassie Dewell, he begins the drive south to the girls’ last known location.  As Cody makes his way to the lonely stretch of Montana highway where they went missing, Cassie discovers that Gracie and Danielle Sullivan aren’t the first girls who have disappeared in this area.  This majestic landscape is the hunting ground for a killer whose viciousness is outmatched only by his intelligence.  And he might not be working alone.  Time is running out for Gracie and Danielle…Can Cassie overcome her doubts and lack of experience and use her innate skill?  Can Cody Hoyt battle his own demons and find this killer before another victim vanishes on the highway?

Death Angel by Linda Fairstein

When the body of a young woman is discovered in Central Park, the clock begins ticking for Assistant DA Alex Cooper and Detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace to find the killer who has breached this haven in the middle of New York City. Is the body found in the lake, under the unseeing gaze of the Bethesda angel, the first victim of a deranged psychopath, or is the case connected to other missing girls and women in years past whose remains have never been found? Just as the trio gets their first lead, the investigation is almost derailed when Mike and Alex become embroiled in a scandal.

As Alex attempts to fight the accusations leveled against her and Mike, she follows clues that range from the park’s most buried — literally — secrets all the way to the majestic Dakota, which has experienced its own share of tragedies. When another young woman is attacked in the park, a new question arises: is this enormous urban park a sanctuary—as it seems to the thousands of New Yorkers and tourists who fill it every day—or is it a hunting ground for a killer with a twisted mind?

Once again, Linda Fairstein will thrill both longtime fans and new readers with an explosive page-turner filled with a shocking realism that only she can deliver.

The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd

London, 1850. Charles Maddox had been an up-and-coming officer for the Metropolitan police until a charge of insubordination abruptly ended his career. Now he works alone, struggling to eke out a living by tracking down criminals. Whenever he needs it, he has the help of his great-uncle Maddox, a legendary “thief taker,” a detective as brilliant and intuitive as they come.

On Charles’s latest case, he’ll need all the assistance he can get.

To his shock, Charles has been approached by Edward Tulkinghorn, the shadowy and feared attorney, who offers him a handsome price to do some sleuthing for a client. Powerful financier Sir Julius Cremorne has been receiving threatening letters, and Tulkinghorn wants Charles to—discreetly—find and stop whoever is responsible.

But what starts as a simple, open-and-shut case swiftly escalates into something bigger and much darker. As he cascades toward a collision with an unspeakable truth, Charles can only be aided so far by Maddox. The old man shows signs of forgetfulness and anger, symptoms of an age-related ailment that has yet to be named.

Intricately plotted and intellectually ambitious, The Solitary House is an ingenious novel that does more than spin an enthralling tale: It plumbs the mysteries of the human mind.

Chris’ Top 5 Books of 2013 (so far)

2013 has been a great year for crime fiction, and the year isn’t over yet. Below are my 5 favorite books of the year thus far.

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

The 6th novel in the stellar Harry Hole series may have taken its sweet time getting to American bookstores, but it was well worth the wait. Falling in line between The Devil’s Star and The Snowman, The Redeemer is a story about a hitman (know only as The Little Redeemer) who accidentally takes out the wrong target. Dedicated to completing his mission, he suffers the pains of being a stranger in a strange land while Harry and the Oslo PD are hot on his trail.

The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson

Boo and Junior are not your average private investigators, as a matter of fact they’re not private investigators at all, but when a girl goes missing they are her only hope of rescue. Todd Robinson knocks it out of the park and into the stratosphere with his mixture of hard boiled action, wit, humor, and just a dash of tenderness. The Hard Bounce is required reading.

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is best know for his critically acclaimed comic book work, but he is also a ridiculously talented novelist. In Gun Machine, his second novel, Ellis takes the tried-and-true police procedural formula and turns it upside down. When a shootout in an apartment building leaves Detective John Tallow without a partner he doesn’t think his day can get any worse, but then the police stumble upon an apartment literally filled with guns. Now it’s up to Tallow to find a killer who’s been stalking the streets of New York City for over two decades.

The Eye of God by James Rollins

James Rollins writes badass adventure novels in the vein of Doc Savage and Indiana Jones, and his Sigma Force series has quickly become the go-to for many fans of the genre, myself included. Imagine if Ian Flemming wrote an Indiana Jones story and get the idea. Rollins stories are a rollercoaster ride filled with exotic locations, Bond-style villains, and more action then you think you can handle. Pick up The Eye of God and see what all the fuss is about.

Skinner by Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston’s clever prose, interesting characters, and Tarantino-esque dialogue have made him a rising star in the world of crime fiction. In his latest novel we meet Skinner, a CIA operative with a history of brutal efficiency, who will stop at nothing to ensure the safety of his assets. One part Le Carre style spy thriller with a dose of William Gibson’s cyber-philosophy, Skinner is an exciting and terrifying look into the potential future of our world.

Crime Fiction Friday: TIM BRYANT

Tim Bryant is an author who came to our attention through Texas writer Joe R.  Lansdale. Like Joe, he has a unique voice that fits with his characters, especially when it comes to postwar Fort Worth P.I. Dutch Curridge. Tim was kind enough to write an original Dutch story for our Crime Fiction Friday.

 

Bullet and Bell

by Tim Bryant

I always said my three favorite sounds in the whole world were Lester Young’s saxophone, Lefty Frizzell’s singing and Ruthie Nell Porter saying anything but goodbye. So when Harold “Money” Johnson was playing with Cozy Cole at the Rose Room and took a stray bullet to the bell of his trumpet, mid solo, I took it personal. If word got out that the Rose Room had become a health hazard, Lester wouldn’t book the place again. I couldn’t have that.

The bullet that brought Money’s solo to an abrupt end was, in fact, the third to fly, and it’s a wonder none of them left a body on the dance floor. It seemed, at first, that the culprit managed to miss anything and everything, not counting the poster-covered clapboard wall behind the bandstand and Money’s horn. However, after the crowd moved out into the parking lot and started to disperse, my partner Slant Face Sanders discovered a smeared pool of blood, almost black against the oak floor.

“Look at this, Dutch,” he said.

The night manager, a guy named Hank Porter, came over and pushed the tip of his umbrella around in it, an umbrella he’d already used to usher a few slow moving patrons out into the cool October air.

“Don’t tell me someone was hit.”

I bent down and looked. The blood was fresh. There was a footprint through it, but that might have been anyone. Looked like a worker’s boot.

“Maybe not enough to kill anybody, Hank,” I said, “but I doubt it’s a dancing injury.”

Money Johnson was sitting in a metal chair just inside the kitchen area. Cozy Cole was standing over him, holding the damaged horn under the light.

“Will you looky here?”

Money didn’t even make a motion to look, but a couple of the other guys gathered around, and I followed. Cole was pointing at a half-inch crack in the bell.

“Didn’t punch through, Mon,” he said. “You got yourself a genuine Liberty Bell.”

“Yeah, ain’t hardly playable now,” said one of the other guys, I think the alto sax.

Something caught my eye, and I asked to take a look at it. Cole looked at Hank and Hank nodded, so he handed it to me with both hands outstretched, like he was expecting me to try to play it. It was lighter than I expected. I held the horn down in front of me and carefully turned it. I pointed at a place just inside the bell.

“Small caliber bullet,” I said. “Hit right here and deflected.”

“Mon, you lucky you didn’t suck the damn thing up,” Cole said.

Money shook his head and took a drink from a glass of scotch that had just been sat in front of him by the barkeep.

“Look at this,” I said, and held the trumpet, bell up, toward him. “Not your blood, is it?”

There was an almost unnoticeable stain under the bell. You had to be looking for it to see it.

“I don’t think so,” Money said, and looked at his hands. There was a cut on the small finger of his left hand where the horn had been ripped out of his hand, but it seemed highly remote that his finger had time or opportunity to make any contact with the inside of the horn.

“I’d say your bullet passed through somebody before it hit your trumpet,” I said. “Slowed it down just enough to not do any major damage.”

Money shook his head.

“I’m sorry, sir, but it did plenty of damage. Horn ain’t worth shit like this.”

I handed it back to him.

“I’m talking about damage to you.”

The bullet had passed clean through somebody on the dance floor, which explained the blood, and then had crossed over the stage, right past Cozy Cole, taking out the trumpet and, no doubt, lodging in the interior wall to the right side of the stage. I sent the barkeep to hunt it down.

I walked out to check the parking lot and surrounding streets. Any car left after the show that didn’t belong to the band or staff very possibly belonged to the injured party. I knew it was likely he wouldn’t feel up to driving. Of course, if he had friends who helped him leave the scene, it was also possible that he’d given the keys to one of them. Still, it was something to go on.

It was the first time I’d had a chance to talk with Slant.

“We’ve gotta keep this under control,” I said.

He didn’t have to ask why. Or how.

“You better solve it before it hits the papers then,” he said.

That way, they get the beginning and end of the story at the same time. Case closed. Story over.

“If we can get the story to Ruthie Nell, we can get her to downplay it,” I said.

Ruthie Nell Porter was our connection at the Fort Worth Press. On most nights, she would have also been my partner at the Rose Room, but she was working on deadlines for the Sunday edition. The Press was the little kid on the block, always fighting to grab headlines from the big boys over at the Star-Telegram. Ruthie was also the girl after my own heart, even if she didn’t know it.

The only cars on the street that we couldn’t account for was a cream-colored milk truck pulling away from a house on Commerce and a black ’51 Mercury Monterey parked in front of Ward’s Drugs. Neither held my interest. I wrote down the tags on the Monterey, just in case I needed to run them later, and we headed back to the club feeling less than hopeful.

As we crossed Houston and headed toward Ninth Street, I kicked at a rock and thought I saw a blood spill on the sidewalk. Paint. I booted the rock out into the street and watched a city bus drive over it.

“He could’ve taken a bus,” Slant said.

“The victim could’ve been a she,” I said. “There were just as many women out on the floor.”

Had somebody shown up and found his girl dancing with somebody else? Three shots, the first two going into the wall and the third hitting a target suggested that maybe the killer had shot wildly, finally found his target and then made a hasty exit.

“Or the gunman could’ve been a girl,” I said. “Gunwoman.”

“We could check the hospitals,” Slant said.

There were two Negro hospitals serving Fort Worth, and there was little chance that either one would release information to two white guys showing up in the middle of the night, no matter how many badges I flashed. Only white people they were used to seeing were men sneaking in for treatment of syphilis. I didn’t syphilis, and I didn’t have my badge, on account of it being out of date.

I wasn’t sure what else we could do.

“News like this gets out, Prez’ll never book Fort Worth again,” I said.

I found another rock in my path, kicked it extra hard and listened to it ricochet off a metal storefront sign and echo down the empty street.

“Curridge!”

Hank Porter was standing in the Rose Room parking lot, swinging a flashlight like he was bringing an airplane down Houston Street. Back on the southeast end of the lot, following away from the loading doors until it disappeared ten feet away, was a trail of congealed blood.

“They either disappeared into thin air right about here or somebody picked them up,” he said, pointing to where the blood ended.

“They left by the loading exit,” Slant said.

“Means they probably got out ahead of the crowd,” I said.

I looked around. Most of the spaces around us were still occupied.

“These all employees?”

Hank looked around and nodded.

“They all still here?”

I could see him counting with his eyes. He nodded again.

“You guys are off the clock,” he said. “That means you can go the hell home.”

He looked around at the handful of workers trying their best not to look like they were listening.

“Who’s missing?” I said.

I was looking at the barkeep. He seemed surprised. He wiped his forehead with his towel and glanced around.

“Nobody I guess.”

“Claudia’s missing.”

I turned and saw one of the waitresses standing in the exit.

“Claudia?” I said.

“Claudia Franklin,” Hank said. “I don’t think there’s any way Claudia could be the guilty party, Dutch.”

I didn’t disagree.

“She married?” I said.

“No, but she’s courting somebody,” the waitress said.

“There’s your guilty party, Hank,” I said.

I wasn’t always so sure of myself, but I had a strong hunch.

“Aron is seeing Claudia.”

One of the club bouncers stepped up to me and grimaced. He was a good foot taller than me and outweighed me by eighty pounds. Looked like a wrestler.

“Who would Aron be?” I said.

Hank stepped between us like a referee in a boxing ring.

“Dutch, this is Raymond,” he said. “Aron is his big brother.”

Slant Face tried to suppress a laugh.

“She got an old beau?” I said. “Someone who might be sore that she’s taken up with the big brother?”

Someone who knew a gun would be his only decent shot, if he could manage to get a decent shot off.

“Darrell Ray Fletcher,” said the waitress. “He’s caused trouble before.”

We find Darrell Ray Fletcher, I figured we found the finger that pulled the trigger. With Slant Face along for support, I didn’t foresee any problem shaking a confession out of him. No one knew exactly where he was from, but the waitress was pretty sure he lived on Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania’s trouble, Dutch,” Porter said. “You want, I can send Raymond with you.”

I said Pennsylvania Avenue was nothing of the sort. Any high-falutin resident along that area of town— called the Gold Coast for its collection of nice homes, even if there was no coast within three hundred miles— would be even less enthusiastic about appearing in the crime section of the Press than the bums down on Ninth Street. Raymond the bouncer would have come in handy, but I didn’t think I needed him. Slant and I had walked halfway back to my car, a green 1932 Austin Chummy, when I had a sudden thought.

“Go on ahead,” I told him. “Meet you at the Chummy. I forgot one thing.”

I walked back across the empty lot and up to the exit door, which was now pulled to, with just a beam of light falling out across the dark, landing inches from the place where the last bit of blood had been spilled. I stuck my head back into the club and found the waitress pulling her overcoat on and grabbing her purse.

“One more question, ma’am,” I said. “This Fletcher fella. He wouldn’t happen to work for Meadow Gold, would he?”

She cocked her head and smiled.

“You’re pretty good, Mr. Curridge. His father’s the dairy manager there.”

My three favorite sounds might have been Lester Young’s sax, Lefty Frizzell’s singing, and Ruthie Nell’s laugh, but right behind those was the sweet sound of success. I didn’t get paid a dime for solving the shooting at The Rose Room in October of 1952, but remembering that the Meadow Gold milk truck didn’t run at night was good for a free front row table when The Lester Young Trio played the Rose Room in early December of that year. That was worth everything plus tax.

As Lester leaned into his sax and began chasing notes around and around “Almost Like Being in Love,” a little waitress I’d never seen before came by and left a Jack Daniels and Dr Pepper and a gin sour on the table.

“Mr. Porter says it’s on the house.”

Jack and Dr Pepper. My drink of choice. I thanked her.

“So you’re a cop,” she said.

“I don’t work for nobody but myself,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. “The newspaper said you was the law.”

“Course, I’m the law,” I said. Sheriff, private eye, bouncer at The Rose Room. We’re all cops if you’re trying to get away with something.

Ruthie Nell picked up her glass, stirred and clinked it against mine. She looked incredible that evening, and the band was absolutely breath-taking. Or maybe it was the other way around. I took a long draw on my drink and let it all go to my head.