Crime Fiction Friday: CRAZY LARRY SMELLS BACON by Greg Bardsley

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Greg Bardsley Is a master of stories that walk the border between the lives of seemingly ordinary people and the extraordinarily violent. He’s received acclaim for his debut novel Cash Out and well as this particular short story of his, “Crazy Larry Smells Bacon”:

“Honey,” my mom whispers, “Larry’s got a buck knife.”

Our neighbor Larry lives across the street. On weekends, he tends to his cactus garden in flip-flops and a skin-colored Speedo. And coco butter – lots of coco butter.

My mom squints through our sheer curtains.

“Honey,” she whispers harder. “Larry’s lost his mind.”

My dad flips through the Chronicle, bifocals on the tip his nose. When it comes to Larry, my dad has heard it all, except for maybe the buck knife.

Larry is heaving the buck knife into his garage door. Every ten seconds or so, a loud thud echoes throughout the deserted neighborhood.

We watch Larry.

He does look good in the Speedo.

My mom sighs. “That poor lady.”

Read the rest of the story over on plotswithguns.com.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with R. Thomas Brown

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If there’s any justice in the future, R. Thomas Brown will be considered a respected voice in Texas crime fiction. His first book, Hill Country, one of our exclusive books from Snubnose Press, has been popular with our buyers. It concerns Gabe Hill, a central Texas resident, whose involvement with a fight and pretty girl get him deeper and deeper into a criminal plot connected to his estranged and absent brother. Full of humor, suspense, hard boiled action, and vivid characters, it’s a book that shows great promise of things to come. We caught up with Mr. Brown to ask him a few questions about the book.

Hill Country

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Like some of the leads in your short work, Gabe Hill is an everyman who’s had contact with the rougher side of life. What about this type of character appeals to you?

R. THOMAS BROWN: I’m just a guy. Middle class (sometimes lower middle) childhood, intact family, no real shady activity outside of some immature vandalism, pretty normal life, office job, the kind of thing that seems perfectly plain. So, when I think about crime, it’s still at times a scary thing that threatens to strip away all the normalcy that defines my existence. I put that into my characters. I don’t have the attachment to people who have lived with crime their whole lives, people for whom it’s all just normal. My imagination runs to the damage the rougher side of life has on people who assume they’ll never see it.

MP: Central Texas is practically a character in the book, what distinguishes it from the rest of the Lone Star state?

RTB: The central Texas of the book is one formed from my memories of little towns between San Antonio and Austin. Not the ones along 35 that get all the traffic, but the ones where the highway was 281 before it was very big. Now, much of that is gone. There’s some of that in the book also. There are the people who come from Austin where being weird is a slogan or from SA where the river is just something they dye green on St. Patrick’s day. But there are still those other people. The ones who don’t see themselves as big city people, but who don’t feel rural, either. They just love the natural beauty of their little slice of the state, enjoy the mix of cultures, and wonder why someone would pick the flat plains, humid gulf or western desert when the best part of the state is so close.

MP: Your plot is tight, yet the story has a loose feel to it. How much of it was planned out?

RTB: The key points of the plot were worked out before I wrote the first draft. They remained pretty much as initially designed until the end. The original draft had all the action in about half the length, but Brian at Snubnose offered encouragement to explore some of the back stories and side action to flesh out the characters.

MP: It being your first book, did you draw from any influences?

RTB: The biggest influence was The Maltese Falcon (the film). All the players working to get the upper hand over what may or may not have value. You’ll also see some other little nods to the movie and its actors throughout.

MP: You also have some fun villains. How do you approach writing the bad guys?

RTB: The bad guys are larger than life. A part of that is just that I think exaggerated bad guys are fun. But there is a point to the exaggeration beyond fun. Back to the first question, the Everyman who fears the chaos of crime sees criminals as villains. So, to get the reader to see the world as Gabe sees it, the villains need to take on the proportions of his fear.

MP: What can we expect from you next?

RTB: There’s a follow-up story to Hill Country called Reckoning. It has a darker tone, but shares the same setting and touches on some of the characters from HC. I’m working on a third story in Comal Creek, this one a little more comic.

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Copies of Hill Country are available on the shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

Remembering Elmore Leonard

I can still remember reading Stick in my 9th grade study hall, May of ’85, reading it before the movie came out. I remember the dialogue popping off the page and characters I could easily picture, even though there was little description given. I also remember thinking to myself, “This is how I want to write.”

I know I’m not the only writer, accomplished or struggling, who remembers his first Elmore Leonard book. I’d suspect some remember their first Elmore Leonard novel better than their first kiss. With forty-six books and dozens of short stories, he revolutionized two generations of novelists and screenwriters.

Elmore “Dutch” Leonard started out, with the help of a subscription to Arizona Highways magazine, writing short western stories for magazines in the early Fifties. Inspired by Hemingway because he was also “writing about guys in the mountains with rifles”, these tales were more character driven and strayed from the black and white morality the genre was known for at the time. Already, what his characters said meant as much as what they did.

He had a bit of a criminal approach when writing the short work and some of his early novels. He picked up the habit of writing on yellow legal pads,because he could work on them at his ad agency job and nobody would question what he was doing.

His westerns gained acclaim. “The Captives”, “Three Ten To Yuma” and his novels Valdez Is Coming and Hombre were turned into movies. The film version of Hombre is in the Western Writers Of America’s Top 100.

However it was in crime fiction where he truly fond his voice and made his mark. Inspired by George V. Higgins’s The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, he found the style he wanted to use to approach the genre. He took Higgins’s sprawling, dense style of dialogue and streamlined it, making it more accessible for readers and infusing it with a strong sense of pace.

For somebody who proclaimed his goal was to entertain the reader, his books dealt in the small scale. The money being fought over was usually less than half a million and the the only world threatened was their own little one. A Leonard stand -ff could just as end easily end in negotiation as it could in gunfire. When I was talking to the legendary writer James Crumley about Leonard, he said of his colleague, “Dutch is the master of the understatement.”

His books also carry a social significance that he doesn’t get enough credit for, maybe because of that understatement. Even when you don’t sympathize with his criminals, which you often do, you understand where they come from and where they are trying to get to. Many are looking for a better life but are caught in a cycle that traps them in the old one. Split Images deals with a rich psycho who finds ways to kill people and get away with it legally. Leonard was also one of the rare male writers who portrayed women protagonists in a realistic way. In Out Of Sight, when Karen Sisco talks about why she joined the U.S. Marshals, instead of the other law enforcement groups, we learn that much of it had to do with where she would feel accepted.

My first event as a bookseller was with Dutch for the release of Mr. Paradise. It was one of those times when fan boy love trumped professionalism. He patiently put up with my gushing over him, wile I handed him copies to sign. At the end of the night, he autographed mine with the inscription “Scott- Thanks for all the help”. I joked that if anybody asked what it meant that I’d say he got stuck on chapter twelve and gave me a call. Without a beat he responded, “Whatever gets you by.”

He always knew the right line of dialogue.

With over 46 books, here our 10 that will give  you a good idea of Elmore Leonard’s work:

1. Freaky Deaky

At one time his personal favorite, this one is about a Vietnam vet Detroit cop who finds himself in the middle of former Sixties radicals, an extortion plot, and a few bombs. This subtle satire of baby boomers in the Eighties also has one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read.

 

2. Unknown Man #89

Loved by many crime fiction writers, Unknown Man #89 is part of the earlier and grittier novels of his “Detroit Era”. Leonard captures the life of Jack Ryan, a process server who can find anybody, and the streets he has to navigate when hired to find a man who’s inherited a lot of money, as well as some enemies gunning for him. This book gives you the feeling of driving through a bad neighborhood.

3. Out Of Sight

Quite possibly the quintessential Elmore Leonard book. This story of A U.S. marshal falling for the robber she’s after balances humorous dialogue and situations with sudden and hard edged violence. Also one of the best film adaptations.

 
4. The Complete Western Stories

All of his western short work. Most were written in the Fifties and are still ahead of their time. Three, “The Captives”, “The Tall T”, and “The Tonto Woman”, have been turned into films.

 

5. Forty Lashes Less One

One of his finest western novels. You could argue it’s one of his first crime novels. It deals with an Apache and a black man doing time in a turn-of-the-century Yuma prison. Most of Leonard’s inmates from this book cold easily be dropped into his modern tales.

 

6. Get Shorty

The book that made him a household name. This story of a loan shark in LA is one of the best and funniest send ups of Hollywood.

 

 

7. City Primeval

This could be Leonard’s toughest book. Subtitled “High Noon In Detroit”, it is basically a modern western with a cop and crook circling each other in a decaying urban landscape. The hero, Raymond Cruz, makes cameos in later Leonard novels.

 

8. Gunsights

Commissioned by a publisher who was a western fan, this was his last one in the genre. It’s a fun tale of two friends who square off while the newspapers look on.

 

 

9. Maximum Bob

One of his funniest, the title character in this one is a judge who tries to kill his wife with an alligator. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

 

10. Be Cool

While he wrote better books, this sequel to Get Shorty is also a look at Leonard’s writing process. Chili Palmer gets involved with shady music business types as a way to develop a new movie idea.

5 Short Story Collections to Look Out For

With Hilary Davidson’s The Black Widow Club recently available as an eBook and the Kasey Lansdale-edited Impossible Monsters out now (featuring the likes of Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, and Kasey’s father, Joe), we got to thinking about some other great short story collections that are coming out. Here are five we’re looking forward to.

deadmansroadDeadman’s Road by Joe R Lansdale (Just released)
These stories featuring Lansdale’s gun-toting, whiskey-swilling Reverend Jedidiah Mercer could previously only be found together in a pricey collector’s edition. Now in an affordable trade paperback, everyone can follow the “good” Reverend across the old, weird west as he battles werewolves, zombies and other forms of nastiness

Nightmare Range by Martin Limon (September 24th)
Sueno and Bascom, two Army CID cops in Seventies Korea, first appeared in short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock Magazine before Limon’s first novel, Jade Lady Burning. They’re here for the first time in one collection. Limon, a career Army man, who spent much of the service in Korea, gives you a great feel for the place and the military at the time, while delivering both a human and hard boiled story.

The Hunter And Other Stories by Dashiell Hammett (November 4th)
A few years back, a handful of never-before-published Dashiell Hammett stories was discovered at The Harry Ransom Center. Some appeared in The Strand magazine. Now all are together, along with some film treatments and unearthed unfinished pieces. There’s even a story featuring the iconic Sam Spade.

Dallas Noir edited by David Hale (November 5th)
Both crime and general fiction authors take on the Big D in this collection, from the manipulators in the sky scrapers to the hustlers in the gang ridden neighborhoods. Even its suburbs aren’t safe. So far I’ve loved what I’ve read from my advance copy and I haven’t even gotten to my favorite authors like Harry Hunsicker and Jonathan Woods.

USA Noir edited by  Johnny Temple
As a part of the upcoming tenth anniversary of their “city noir” series, Akashik has put together the best tales from the books dealing with American towns. Over five hundred pages feature the likes of George Pelecanos, Megan Abbott, and Dennis Lehane.

On Shelves Today: HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN

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Louise Penny started out with a fresh mix of police and village mystery in her debut, Still Life. As the Inspector Gamache series continued, the books got more complex, with its lead investigator slowly revealing himself as much as the the mysteries he looks into. Her latest, How The Light Gets In, is a game changer in the series and a culmination of the past eight books.

We find Gamache both personally and professionally alone. Police politics have stripped his unit of many of the top members and his nemesis, Chief Superintendent Francoer, is trying to out him. As a favor, and maybe for a bit of relief, he goes back to Twin Pines to help bookseller Myrna Landers find a missing friend.

The search leads to a dark web of political and family history. Much of it involves a set of quintuplets who were famous in Quebec during the Fifties and Sixties. It also leads to a series of cover ups that tie into Gamache’s troubles in the Surete.

Both plots dovetail elegantly. There is one of those classic but rare moments where you’ll gasp at a major reveal. So much of this has to do with Penny’s sense of craft and understanding of character, particularly of her protagonist. She give echoes of Still Life that reverberate through the book.

How The Light Gets In is an important book in a series that shows a master storyteller’s sense of balance. Gamache’s simple virtues and professionalism cut through the complexity of the plot. It’s a darker book that deals with the corruption of institution, yet shows the hope that the individual provides. While it continues many things from this series, it poses further questions for and about the inspector.

Louise Penny will be here at BookPeople Tuesday, September 3rd at 7PM to speak about & sign How The Light Gets In. The talk is free and open to the public. If you’d like a signed copy of the book, you can order one over on the BookPeople website

History of Mystery Discussing WHEN THE SACRED GIN MILL CLOSES

Our free History Of Mystery Class looks at authors who put their mark on American crime fiction. This month, we look at one of the prolific and influential Lawrence Block. Block has been writing since the ’50s and is still going strong. He has written in many sub genres, innovating practically all of them, particularly with his unlicensed New York PI, Matthew Scudder.

Scudder is an ex-cop with a serious drinking problem who left under a dark cloud. His cases take him to some dark and seedy places in New York and in the human soul as he stumbles around a redemption he doesn’t even know he’s looking for. The books also serve as a look at Scudder and Block’s city for the last forty years.

When The Sacred Gin Mill Closes is considered one of the best in the series by both fans and fellow writers. It has three entwined mysteries and provides a definitive change in the series as Scudder confronts who he is. Its last line has stuck with many a reader.

We’re looking forward to having author Chris F. Holm, who’s own Collector series shows a Scudder influence, calling into our discussion. The class starts at 6PM on Sunday September 1st on BookPeople’s third floor. Copies of When The Sacred Ginmill Closes are 10% off to those planning to attend.

Crime Fiction Friday: SHUT UP AND KILL ME by Robert Randisi

Robert Randisi is an author’s author. A master craftsman in both mystery and western with over 300 books to his credit, he was one of the writers responsible for bringing the tough guy hero into the modern world. He is also the creator of one of the most underrated private eyes, Nick Delvecchio. It’s a true honor to share this Delvecchio story published in Beat To A Pulp.

photo credit Amy Sprandel

Shut up and Kill Me by Robert Randisi

I took a bad beating once, a long time ago. After that I promised I’d never take another one, no matter what. So when I’m faced with a situation where it looks like I’m going to get my ass kicked, I do the ass kicking first.

When the three leg breakers came into my office they had bad intentions. It was written all over their faces. I wasn’t about to wait and see if they intended to maim me, or kill me.

I moved first.

But it really started when she walked in earlier that day …

Read the story.