New York State of Mind

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Our Pick Of The Month, Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara, uses New York City as a rich canvas. His hero, Ray Donne, is a man involved deeply with his city and its citizens. When we asked Tim to give us five of his favorite New York novels, his respnse was, “Only Five?” Here they are in no particular order.

purchase here12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose, David Mamet

“Not a book, but a play, which we still teach at my middle school — 12 Angry Men. Reginald Rose created a dozen NY men who could not be more different than each other and stuck them in a hot jury room to decide the life and death of a kid they didn’t know. In the midst of this drama, the city is calling to each of them from outside; some hear the call as a reason to just get through the decision as quickly as they can and others as a call for justice. You never “see” the city in the play, but it’s there inside each of these men.”

purchase hereWhen the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

“When the Sacred Ginmill Closes was my introduction to Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder. There are bodies, thieves, New York baddies and weirdos galore, but it’s a story of a man who begins to realize he doesn’t like himself when he’s drinking–and he’s always drinking. I admire the was Block shows his respect for this deeply flawed character; and throughout the story, and other Scudder books that followed, slowly allowed Scudder to redeem himself.”

Slow Motion Riot by Peter Blauner

Peter Blauner’s Slow Motion Riot floored me. His “hero” is a probation officer–with a liking for the booze, as well–who gets caught up in an out-of-control situation involving one of his parolees, who just happens to be a violent sociopath. Blauner gives us an insider’s view into one of NYC’s more dysfunctional agencies and the politics behind it.

purchase hereBodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez

Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez taught me not only how to write cliché-free about life in the projects, but also how to make fiction read like memoir. Quinonez poured his heart and soul–corazon y alma–into this book and I’d love to sit with him one day and talk about the “real” parts of this book and those he made up.

purchase herepurchase hereFranny and Zooey  and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger

And, to get away from the crime stuff, JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Short stories by one of the masters of the form. These stories are better–more laser like–than Catcher in the Rye. Here Salinger’s taking snapshots of the people and the places–mostly wealthy–he knows well. Not all the stories take place in NYC, but the city runs through these characters’ blood.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Tarquin Hall

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In 2012, I received an unsolicited book, The Case of The Deadly Butter Chicken, by Tarquin Hall. I gave it a try, and liked it. It was not a heavy read, but it was fun and charming. Since it was set in India, and also comments on the society there, it felt a bit educational, as well. I had a pleasant interview with the author.

So, when I received a copy of his new book, The Case of the Love Commandos, I quickly agreed to do another email interview. This book has even more social commentary than the last. So, I wanted to make sure to ask questions about the issues raised in the book.

If you want to read a charming and fun book about a detective (Vish Puri) in India who loves to eat, try this book out. A bonus is that Hall always includes a few recipes in the book, as well as a glossary of words used in the book that those not living in India may not know.

Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who lives in Delhi. His Vish Puri series has received praise from authors  and critics like Alexander McCall Smith and Marilyn Stassio, crime novel reviewer for The New York Times Book Review.

Here is our interview about The Case of the Love Commandos:

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this story develop?

TARQUIN HALL: I’d heard of the Love Commandos, a real life charity that works with young people from different castes and religions who want to marry against the wishes of their families.  At the same time, I wanted the fourth book [in the series] to be set in rural India and to explore the caste issue. So, bingo, the two ideas came together. And, I came up with the love story idea: a boy from an untouchable family running off with a high caste girl, with the Love Commandos helping them out.

Then, I read an article about how researchers have been mapping the human genome here in India and how fascinating the findings are proving to be because you’ve had different endogenous groups of people living in the same communities as one another and never mixing for centuries. So, that became a big part of the plot, too.

Basically that’s how I work: I find what I want to talk about, so that each book tells you more and more about India. Then, I try to come up with a decent plot.

MP: How would you summarize the book?

TH: It’s basically about how caste continues to dominate Indian society and politics – less so in the cities. But, to be honest, even in a place like Delhi, it’s a big factor in most communities.  It’s an extraordinary thing, caste, unlike any other system that exists in any other society I’ve come across.  If you’re unfortunate enough to have been born into a low caste, the chances are you will still end up doing the most menial of tasks.  It is changing slowly.  And, there are many, many exceptions.  But, generally speaking, that’s still the case.

MP: Tell me more about the “Love Commandos’…

TH: I spent quite a bit of time with the Love Commandos, seeing how they work. I met run away couples in safe houses here in Delhi.  These couples were on the run from their parents.  Some of them were worried that they would be killed if they were found; that their relatives would do anything to stop them marrying someone from another caste or religion.

You have to remember that 99% of all marriages in India are arranged.  So, the parents and the rest of the family have to give their consent.

MP: Where do yourself stand on the topic of arranged marriage? Why did you decide to include the debate over the topic in this book?

TH: It’s definitely better to have choice in my opinion; to be able to have a say and decide for yourself.  And, obviously, sometimes arranged marriages can be absolutely terrible, with people locked into an awful situation with someone they don’t love – or worse with someone who persecutes them.

That said; I have seen a lot of arranged marriages that work very, very well.  People get on, learn to love one another. When times get tough, I think, sometimes, it helps to feel this sense of commitment to not only your husband or wife but the rest of the extended family.

MP: Some of the capers in your books, especially those involving Mummy, are quite funny. Do you smile or laugh as you write those?

TH: Yes, absolutely.  Sometimes, I just burst out laughing and can’t stop. That’s a great feeling.  In fact, as a writer, I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying.

MP: I found fascinating the explanations of the caste system, the Yadavs and the Brahmins. Can you explain it to our readers, and talk about why you decided to include that topic in this book?

TH: Well, as I show in the book, the power and position of the different castes has shifted in the past 60 or so years.  Traditionally, the Brahmins (the priestly caste) have been at the top.  But, nowadays, that’s not always the case.  Not all Brahmins are necessarily priests. Even if they are, they’re not necessarily that well off.

Because of the affirmative action system set up after India gained its independence from Britain, there have been government job quotas for the lower castes.  So, that’s empowered some of them, and in some areas – it’s hard to generalize – altered the local power structure.

Democracy has also played a big part in bringing change.  The lower castes have become powerful politically as they represent big vote banks.  The Yadavs, whom I write about in the book, are a good example of this.

MP: Was it hard deciding which Hindi words to include in the glossary?

TH: Not really.  Some are absolutely necessary.  You can’t write about, say, caste or Hindiusm without using some words that people outside India are not familiar with.  But, there are others that I include because I think they enhance the sense of place and language.  That’s the case with food, especially.

Also, people here will often mix Hindi and English – use a word that doesn’t translate or for which there’s only really one word, and that’s fun to reproduce.

MP: How about deciding which recipes to include in the book?

TH: That’s tougher.  Because, there are so many that detective Vish Puri likes!  But I generally go with ones that have been mentioned in the book.  To be honest, it’s kind of an afterthought.  But, with book number three, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, I obviously had to go with butter chicken!

MP: How would you describe the protagonist, Vish Puri and his competitor?

TH: Puri is in his mid fifties, overweight, extremely pompous, but very honest and sincere.  He’s rather old-fashioned – likes to hang out at his gentleman’s club and drives an old Ambassador car, which is very outdated.  His methods are sometimes a little suspect, and he relies a lot on his undercover team who go into all sorts of situations.

As for his main competitor, Hari, he’s a lot more together in many ways, certainly more polished.  And, he doesn’t suffer from too many scruples.  He wears Italian suits and loafers and doesn’t think much of Puri’s Safari suit

MP: What question do you wish you would get asked more often.. and then go ahead and answer it

TH: Actually I got asked an interesting question, recently.  An elderly gentleman, at a book promotion event – this was in the States – asked me whether I thought people from different countries and cultures were that different from one another.  I think he was asking in the context of terrorism and trying to understand why people wanted to kill innocent civilians.  I answered, along the lines that geneticists have found that we’re about 98% the same.  Skin colour, shape of the nose – that’s all determined by about 2% of our DNA.

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Copies of The Case of the Love Commandos are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

History of Mystery Discusses RED DRAGON

Our History Of Mystery Class moves into the ’80s with an author who would change the thriller forever, Thomas Harris. His second novel, Red Dragon, practically created a sub genre. It also gave us two characters who redefined the protagonist and antagonist in crime fiction, Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.

Heavily researched, Red Dragon took on the procedural mystery, leaning heavily on forensics and the art of profiling. Our hero, Will Graham, is a retired FBI agent who is brought back into service to track down a killer striking families across the U.S. He is so good at getting into a murderer’s mind, he has the potential to have a psychotic break. For help he must consult the killer who put him so close to the edge, Hannibal Lecter, one of the most sophisticated sociopaths. Lecter set the standard for the serial killer after his appearance in Red Dragon and its sequel, Silence Of The Lambs.

Our discussion of Red Dragon at 6PM, Sunday November 3rd will be preceded and followed by two screenings. At 4PM we will watch Manhunter, the first film to adapt Red Dragon directed by Michael Mann. After the discussion we’ll view the pilot episode of Hannibal. Copies of Red Dragon are ten percent off for those planning to attend.

Our next discussion on December 1st will be on Elmore Leonard and Out Of Sight.

Crime Friction Friday: CHARACTER STUDY by Tim O’Mara

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Tim O’Mara’s Crooked Numbers is our pick of the month for October. In it, he shows a great feel for his New York streets. He was kind enough to share this shorter tale from the Big Apple that makes us here at MysteryPeople wonder about his “technique”.

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CHARACTER STUDY
by Tim O’Mara

“I knew it,” he said aloud to no one as he examined what used to be the rear passenger-side window of his car and looked at the broken glass littering the empty seat that had earlier held his laptop. “Leave something out in the open like that and it’s just a matter of time.”

He removed his cell phone from his jacket pocket, found the GPS app, and turned it on. Within thirty seconds, the GPS had locked onto the device he’d installed on his laptop for just this occasion. Whoever had it, was moving west—a blue dot—towards the Hudson River, a few avenues away from where he’d parked on a Hell’s Kitchen side street. As he walked passed the Midtown North precinct, he caught himself smiling. Sure, it would be easy enough to go inside, explain to the uniform working the front desk what had happened, and sometime within the next hour or so one of the bored cops might head over to the river and look into the matter. By that time, the laptop thief would be long gone, as would his laptop.

No, this was something he needed to take care of by himself. After all, he was the one who’d left the damn thing right out in the open. Like he’d been asking for it. He zipped up his jacket, put a glove on the hand that held the cell phone and put the other hand in his pocket.

******

A wintry breeze was coming off the Hudson making the already chilly air feel about ten degrees colder. The tiny park he had entered was officially called Clinton Cove, but nobody called it that. It was usually just referred to as the Hell’s Kitchen Pier. There was a group—a gaggle, he remembered—of geese hanging out on the lawn eating what was left of the brown grass and crapping all over the “No Dogs Allowed” area. Come springtime, the grass would be green again, benefitting from all that free fertilizer.

The Circle of Life.

Sitting on a bench facing the water, was a solitary figure: the blue dot was now humanized. As he got nearer, he saw it was a guy in a hood-less winter jacket. Both the guy and the jacket had seen better days. He went over to a bench about twenty yards away and sat down, slipping both hands into his pockets. He looked over after a while and saw that the guy had a bulge under his jacket. If the GPS on his phone was right, the bulge was his laptop. He took in a couple of deep breaths from the cool Hudson River air and stood up.

He walked over to the guy and took a seat on the bench next to him, careful to keep the metal armrest between them. No reason to be stupid about this. The guy didn’t acknowledge his presence or even take his eyes off the river. He seemed to be in some sort of trance. High, probably. Even in the breeze, the smell of smoke could be detected coming off the guy and it wasn’t from Marlboro Country.

“Pretty cold day to be sitting along the river, huh?” the man said. He waited thirty seconds for a response, and when none came he said, “Feels good, though. Makes you feel more alive.”

The guy slowly turned his head, careful to keep his hands in his pockets protecting the bulge. He whispered something that sounded like “Duck Soup,” but probably wasn’t. The man smiled. That was good.

“What do you got there, friend?” he asked. “Under the jacket.” The guy blinked three times and turned back to look at the river. “How much you get for something like that?” “Like what?” the guy said.

“Like that.” The man motioned with his head at the bulge. “Couple of hundred?” The guy moved his head slightly and said, “Whatta you know about it?” “I know I just had my car broken into and my laptop was taken. It’s not a great laptop, about five years old, but it’s got some stuff on it that’s important to me.” The guy smiled. His adult teeth were not all present and those that were needed some serious whitening. “Not sure what you’re talking about, Mister, but why would you leave something important in the backseat of your car?”

Now it was the man’s turn to smile. His teeth were perfect. “Who said it was in the backseat?”

The lesser of the smiles disappeared and was followed by those two words that were definitely not “Duck Soup.”

“So, really,” the man said. “Whatta you hope to get? Two hundred? Three?”

The guy with the bulge under his jacket made a move to stand up. The man next to him reached out and grabbed him by the wrist.

“We’re just talking here, pal,” he said. “Shooting the breeze.” The double meaning of that made the man smiled harder. Good stuff.

“You don’t wanna be touching me, man,” the guy said. The man laughed. “What are you going to do? Call the cops?”

“Maybe.”

“With what?” the man said. “You can’t possibly have a cell phone. You broke into my car and stole a laptop from me. People like you don’t have cell phones.”

The guy shook the man’s hand off, squinted into the man’s face and said, “People like me? The hell you know about people like me?”

“I know you’ll take fifty bucks for what’s under your jacket. You’d probably take twenty, but I’m in a good mood.”

“What even makes you think it’s yours?” the guy said. “I mean, if I do have a laptop under my jacket?” The man took his phone out, showed the map on the GPS to the guy and pointed to the blue dot. The guy looked at it as if it were the designs for a nuclear submarine. He squinted again.

“Take it out,” the man said. “I’ll show you. It’s got a short story I’m working on.”

The guy gave the man the same confused look he had just given the map on the phone. “You a writer?” He sounded close to impressed.

“Yep. Almost done with this piece. I needed a little more research.”

“Writers do research? About what?” The man leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “In my case, about what kind of scumbag breaks into someone’s car and steals a laptop. I mean, seriously, you gotta have pretty low morals to pull something like that, right?”

“I got morals.”

“We all have morals,” the man said. “Yours are just lower than most.”

The guy wiped a wind-driven tear from his eye and said, “Just ’cause I need money don’t mean I don’t got no morals, man. It means I don’t got not money.”

“And I’m sure that’s someone else’s fault right. Not a result of any decisions you’ve made over the last few years?”

“I take what I need. No more.” “You got healthcare?” “Huh?” “What do you do when you get sick?” the man asked slowly. The guy laughed like that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. “I go to the doctor, man. Plant my ass in the ER ’til someone comes to look at me.”

“And who do you think pays for that?”

“I don’t know. Jesus?”

“Me. The taxpayer pays for that. That’s just as bad as you breaking into my car and stealing what’s mine.”

The guy thought about that for a bit, looking for something to say. What he cameup with was, “My parents pay taxes, so I’m just taking my inheritance early.” That was good, too.

“When’s the last time you were in jail?” the man asked.

“Hey, Mister. I do drugs, not time. I shoot junk, not bullets.”

The man smiled. This guy was great. “Okay if I steal that from you?”

“For one of your stories?”

“For this story.”

Confusion once again took over the guy’s face and he went back to squinting. “This ain’t no story, man.”

“Sure it is. I had something you wanted. Now you have something I want. The fact that it’s the same thing connects us.” He did that back and forth thing people do with their index fingers to signal making a connection. “That’s what makes this a story. Our wants are not only the same they’re in conflict. It’s beautiful.”

The guy thought about that and then allowed the laptop to slide out from under his jacket. “That mean you gonna give me two hundred for this?”

The man laughed. “I said fifty.”

“You also said you had important stuff on here.” For a junkie, this guy was a good listener.

“Let’s make it a hundred then.” Bargaining. As if he had any real intention of paying this guy anything. The man pulled out the five twenties he had in his jacket, fanned them out, and let them flap in the breeze.

The guy was mesmerized by the five bills waving back and forth, and handed over the laptop. When he reached for the money, the man pulled it back.

The guy stood up on wobbly legs, listed slightly in the breeze and mumbled something that sounded like “Gimme the duck and money.”

The man stood also. “You’re kidding, right? You think I’d actually pay for something that’s already mine? That’s your view of how the world works?”

“You said you would. You said this was a conflict. I was helping you with your story. That’s worth something, right?”

The man nodded. “It is.” He looked around—there was no one else in the park except him and the guy—and pulled something out of his other pocket. “It’s worth this.”

The guy looked at it and said, “What’s that? A comb?”

“Hardly.” The man pressed a button and a blade appeared. “I know it’s a bit old school— always reminds me of Twelve Angry Men —but still a useful tool.”

The look on the guy’s face as he stared at the blade was one of confusion: Move forward or backward? He chose the first, as did the man with the knife. They met each other halfway and the blade sliced through the guy’s coat and entered his stomach. There was no more confusion on the guy’s face anymore. The look was now one of certainty. And dull pain.

The man twisted the knife, held it for a three count, and then pulled it out. He looked around again and found the park still empty except for the gaggle of geese and the guy. The guy fell to his knees and looked up at the man.

“Why?” the guy whispered.

The man looked down and smiled. “No, I’m done with motivation,” he said. “I just needed your help with character. The dialogue was a nice surprise. Thanks.” He took a few steps toward the railing, closed up the knife and flung it twenty feet into the Hudson River. When he turned back, the guy was lying on his side, trying desperately to stop the blood flowing out from under his coat onto the white pathway. Nice imagery.

This was good stuff.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Jeri Westerson: SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST

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With Shadow of the Alchemist out this week, Jeri Westerson has written another thriller in a genre she calls “Medieval Noir” that is fascinating and fun to read. We have here an author writing about a male protagonist’s adventures in 14th century London.

I became a fan of Westerson and her Crispin Guest series a few books ago and have been promoting and publicizing her with each book since, including Troubled Bones and Blood Lance.

Crispin Guest is a detective of sorts during the medieval era, a man who was previously a knight. This fall from grace gives an opportunity to talk about class and changes in one’s life.

Jeri was nice enough to let me interview her again, including patiently explaining what was so exciting about alchemy. There’s a character in the book trying to make alchemy work.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this particular story develop? How would you summarize it to our readers?

JERI WESTERSON: I like to mix up the styles of the books I write, while still keeping it a medieval mystery. It’s easy to fall into something formulaic — Crispin must find a relic, there’s a murder, a bunch of history, blah, blah, blah. So if I mix it up a bit, I keep myself interested as well as the readers. I wanted to write a treasure hunt story at the heart of it, with puzzles and riddles to figure out. But I also like the idea of thriller, of time ticking and running out. Which meant that this time, some chapters are in the point of view of the kidnap victim.And since I am including venerated objects along with relics, it seemed ideal to include the philosopher’s stone among Crispin’s adventures. Alchemy also brings to mind certain mystical qualities that could be woven into an intriguing story.

The blurb:   Once a Knight of the Realm, Crispin Guest was stripped of his title and his lands and now must earn his living with his wits.  In various corners of late fourteenth century London, Guest has become known as The Tracker, a man who can solve any puzzle or find any missing object — for a price. Because of that reputation, Guest is sought out by Nicholas Flamel, a famed alchemist. Both Flamel’s wife and his apprentice are missing, and he wants Guest to find them and bring them home.

Before he can even begin looking, Guest discovers that Flamel’s house has been ransacked. Ancient symbols start appearing on walls and carved into stones around London, and Flamel’s assistant turns up dead, hanging from the rafters with a note pinned to his chest by a dagger. It is a ransom note that promises the safe return of his wife in exchange for the Philosopher’s Stone, which is reputed to turn lead into gold and create the elixir of life. And the kidnappers aren’t the only ones after it. From the highest nobility to Flamel’s fellow alchemists, everyone is seeking the stone for themselves. With the help of his young apprentice, former cut-purse Jack Tucker, Guest must use all his skills and wits to unravel the mystery, rescue Flamel’s kidnapped wife, and find the stone before it falls into unworthy hands.

MP: If memory serves, you always do some research. This time did you do research on alchemy, both its history and how close they came to making it possibly work? What did you learn? Is alchemy going to be possible some day?

JW: Well, technically, on a molecular level, scientists are doing it now. Not necessarily changing lead into gold, but new elements have been created. Some lasting only milliseconds, but still. In the strictest sense, alchemy is the attempt of the medieval person to make sense of the world around them. It is the precursor to the scientific method, while at the same time making use of spiritualism, mysticism, numerology, astrology, and just plain imagination. The alchemist relied on the writings of those that had come before, including the Greek philosophers and Jewish documents of Kabbalah and mythology, that didn’t so much as experiment with science but merely proposed how the world worked, without the benefit of empirical evidence.

It was fun and interesting delving into the history of alchemy and who became its stars.

MP: Will Jack Tucker, Crispin Guest’s apprentice, get his own book or series? He’s become my favorite character.

JW: Jack will, in fact, get his own Young Adult series. They won’t be mysteries but will lean more heavily into the paranormal, taking advantage of Celtic folklore. It’s actually going back to my roots, what started me interested in writing when I was in high school lo these many years ago. I’m in the planning stages of a three-book series, the Jack Tucker Tales: The Dark Peace Series. The first is called The Changling Tithe:

Jack is thrown into a realm he could scarcely have imagined. The legends of faeries were not all golden tales of lovely maidens with butterfly wings. He was well aware of the traps and tricks these ancient souls could play, and how jealous and downright nasty they could be when crossed.  And Jack crossed them. Oh how he crossed them! But he had only done the chivalrous thing and saved the life of a beautiful young girl who was going to be hanged by the sheriffs. She knows nothing about herself, how she came to be on the gibbet, where she comes from, and who she is save for her name: Fia. How was he to know he’d become the target of the wrath of the malicious realm of faeries from the Unseelie Court? Fia is in danger from more than the sheriff’s noose. He takes her on a desperate chase through the streets of fourteenth century London, reluctantly seeking the help from a trio of witches and a young monk, only to enter into the shadowy realm of malevolent faeries, gruesome redcaps, deadly kelpies, and the other denizens of legend, trying to save the girl’s soul, keeping the world of Man safe from the Devil himself, while at the same time trying to save his own skin from being swallowed up in the twilight lands, never to see his own home again.

I guess that’s what he does when Crispin doesn’t know where he is.

MP: What’s your writing regimen like? Do you write each morning, for example?

JW: It’s a job, like any other, and so I start in the morning and tromp into my home office and work to the late afternoon. Sometimes I don’t get much done in the morning hours and work better into early evening. Because I write full time I have that advantage. I try to get in a minimum of ten pages a day. But while I’m doing this I’m also promoting past books, prepping to promote the upcoming book before its release by writing blog posts for a blog tour, doing in-person appearances, and all the promotional blather an author has to do these days. When I can, I write seven days a week.

MP: How far out do you have this series planned? For example, do you have a certain idea how many books you’d like this to go, how you’d like things to end, etc? How far out have you written the series?

JW: I think any series can get stale if it goes on too long. I always had a last book in mind and know just what will ultimately happen to the characters. Since I am following the actual historical timeline, it turns out to be seventeen books in all, at this point. That means eleven more to go! Unless I decide to skip a few years, in which case there might be half of that to go. I’ll have to see what the immediate future holds for Crispin and publishers.

MP: Do you have any interest in writing a book outside of the Crispin series?

JW: I do. Lots! I’ve already completed the first in what will be a six book urban fantasy series, The Booke of the Hidden series. It’s got paranormal big time, humor, action, romance and all sorts of fun elements. The first book is called Booke of the Hidden.

Kylie Strange moves all the way from California to Maine to start a new life and discovers an ancient blank book called “The Booke of the Hidden” in the wall of her new herb and tea shop, Strange Herbs & Teas, and suddenly new worlds open up for the feisty young woman…and by that she means different plains of existence releasing dangerous creatures into her world ready to suck the life out of you! Who knew that she’d have to learn to use a crossbow before she figured out her wireless network? Local misfit Wiccans to the rescue! Sort of. But what about the tall, dark stranger who comes into town and can’t seem to stay away from her shop? And what the heck is the Booke of the Hidden anyway?

Plus, I continue to write my gay mystery series under my pen name, Haley Walsh. The Skyler Foxe Mysteries features a young high school English teacher who stumbles into murder and tries to solve them with the help of his fabulous friends and his police detective bff, while navigating the intricacies of romance and relationships, and what it means to be a gay man in this ever-changing cultural revolution. The books are funny, heartwarming, romantic, and fun. There are currently three in the series, with a novella of short stories. I am currently working on the fourth, Foxe Fire, for a fall or winter 2013 release. Details here.

There’s also my other medieval series, a medieval caper called Oswald The Thief. It’s Ocean’s 11 in the Middle Ages with thieves, con men, and loveable scoundrels. My agent is sending that one around, so we’ll see what happens there.

And, of course, the Jack Tucker series.

I keep pretty busy.

And I even have a few more up my sleeve. Not only is it tough getting published, it’s tough staying published and so authors can’t be afraid to branch out, try new things. In fact, it’s a must.

MP: Why did you decide to have a character who is deaf and mute? As someone who works with people with special needs I was excited and appreciative of that move.

JW: I always like Crispin to be faced with the prejudices of his era and have those entrenched ideas get turned on their ears with his personal experience. And Avelyn makes an intriguing romantic foil for him; unafraid, wise, clever.

I noticed this time,perhaps more than with others, just how often they drink wine, which seems to be something they do when they have a social occasion, when they get home, with every meal, etc.? If people these days drank as much as they would they be essentially functional alcoholics, right?

Probably. But I don’t think they drank even as much as our American Revolutionary forefathers. Those guys could put away the ale and rum! Go look it up. The problem was potable water. The Thames was no good for this. Too much waste went into the river. So cisterns to catch rainwater were set up all over London. Ales were not often not as strong, especially when you watered them down; they were sweeter and without hops as a preservative, would go bad quicker. Wine didn’t ferment as long and was less alcoholic as well. Cow and goat’s milk was made into cheese, something that had a longer shelf life with no refrigeration. And juices were for cooking at a time when expensive sugar was considered a spice. Even kids drank wine and ale.

MP: Where are you taking this series next?

JW: Well, that’s a good question on many levels. Ordinarily, I would already have the next one written and in the can. But without a publisher, I have put off writing the next Crispin (Shadow of the Alchemist is the last Crispin to be published by Minotaur Books). I am sad to say that it is not likely we will have the next Crispin in 2014. However, I do have it mapped out and will be writing it at the beginning of the new year. It’s called The Silence of Stones and concerns the missing Stone of Scone from the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey, three witches, a contingent of Scottish spies, and Jack Tucker in some very big trouble.

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Copies of Shadow of the Alchemist and all of Westerson’s books are available on our shelves here at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Douglas Corleone

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Douglas Corleone’s Good As Gone is a great thriller with a hard-boiled detective edge. We asked Doug a few questions about his new book and new character, Simon Fisk

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea of Simon Fisk come about?

DOUGLAS CORLEONE: My inspiration for Good As Gone came from a one-page article I’d read online about a private investigator in Tampa, Florida, who specializes in retrieving children kidnapped by their estranged parents and taken overseas to countries that don’t recognize U.S. custody decisions. Fortunately, I printed the article and saved it for two years at the bottom of my filing cabinet.

When my agent said that my editor would like to see something new from me, I immediately went digging and had a one-page synopsis for Good As Gone a few hours later.

MP: While Good As Gone has some comic relief in it, it is more somber than your Kevin Corelli series. Did you welcome the change in tone?

DC: I have mixed feelings. It’s fun to write funny, but it’s also very difficult to sustain a significant level of humor for 350 pages. I also love to challenge myself when writing, and I was happy for the opportunity to write a novel substantially darker than my Kevin Corvelli books.  So I did welcome the change in tone in many ways, but that’s not to say I don’t miss Kevin Corvelli’s quirks and his unique worldview.

MP: One of the things I loved about Good As Gone was that Simon has a sidekick for almost every country he’s in. How did you approach writing these characters?

DC: Simon Fisk is very much a loner like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. But, I knew he’d need help along the way. You can take a number of risks with a sidekick that you can’t take with a main character, especially the hero of a series.

So, I tried to be fearless in creating characters like the Berlin Private Investigator Kurt Ostermann and the Warsaw lawyer, Anastazja Staszak. I allowed Ostermann to be as hard and as brutal as he seemed to want to be. Ana, well… Ana is based on someone I knew well and who was very special to me.  I permitted Ana to be herself, and she was every bit as smart and funny, and courageous and stubborn as I expected her to be.  If the real Ana reads the book – and I suspect she might, since it was translated into Polish, and is being released in Poland this fall – I think she’ll immediately recognize herself.  And then she’ll insist that I got her all wrong, simply because she’s a contrarian.

MP: There is a lot of globe trotting in the book. How do you go about bringing out the personality of each setting?

DC: I let the characters bring out the personality of each setting. If I accomplished what I set out to, then the reader won’t notice me at all.  When I read a thriller, I dread lengthy descriptions of setting.  I think the setting’s personality is best established through the hero’s interaction with the place and time he’s in.

If an author knows the place he’s writing about well enough (through firsthand experience and/or rigorous research), then the setting shines through as brightly as the characters and the author’s hand is invisible. Simon doesn’t stop to smell the roses; he can’t afford to.  But he may spot them from the corner of his eye, and if they’re relevant he’ll tell you about them.  If not, he won’t.

MP: Fisk has gone through hell in his back-story. What keeps him going?

DC: What keeps Simon going is empathy. He’s experienced the pain of losing everything; and if he can prevent someone else from experiencing that kind of suffering, he’ll risk life and limb to do so.  He’s also keenly aware that he doesn’t want to die without knowing what happened to his daughter.  He wants to know who took her and why; and he’ll never stop looking.

MP: Your books are a unique mix of sub-genres. Does a writer as unique as you have any influences?

DC: I have many influences and they come from a variety of genres and sub-genres.  Readers might catch the reference to Patrick Bateman, Bret Easton Ellis’ anti-hero from American Psycho. Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson were major influences on Kevin Corvelli’s sense of humor.  Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a major influence on Simon Fisk. Other influences of mine are Ken Bruen for his Irish noir, Jeff Abbott for his jet setting, David Rosenfelt for his wisecracks, and the late great Elmore Leonard for his dialogue, just to name a few…

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We have several copies of Good As Gone with signed book plates available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Look Out For: DALLAS NOIR

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Look Out for Dallas Noir edited by David Hale Smith
On Our Shelves November 5th

The Akashic City Noir series takes a dark look at The Big D. Editor David Hale Smith has put together a range of talent in Dallas Noir. Whether crime or general fiction authors, these writers capture every aspect of the city.

The collection serves as a study of the town and noir. We get it all – from the skyscrapers to the tough streets of South Dallas where hard-boiled master Harry Hunsicker’s “Stick Up Girl” resides. Going north, Matt Boundurant’s White Rock suburbs prove to be equally dangerous.

We also get range in the genre. Daniel J. Hale gives us a classic noir nightmare, while Ben Fountain’s, “The Realtor” shows a subtler shade of noir. The collection is capped off with “Swingers Anynmous,” a piece from the neo noir movement by Jonathan Woods. Just try to get that one out of your head.

This collection is a great literary mosaic that describes a complex city. It will also introduce you to more than a dozen authors you need to know. Grab it on November 5th.

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Copies of Dallas Noir are now available to pre-order via bookpeople.com.