Hard Word Book Club Goes Completey Dark with THE DISASSEMBLED MAN

The Hard Word Book Club is ending 2013 with possibly the darkest book we’ve ever discussed. The Disassembled Man by Nate Flexer (AKA New Pulp Press founder, Jon Basoff) is considered one of the roughest reads in neo-noir. Even the reviews that rave about it feel the need to give warning.

Frankie Avicious is a slaughterhouse employee with a checkered past, living in a small town that could be described as Norman Rockwell “…if Norman Rockwell had been an unemployed drug addict.” His boss is his father-in-law, his wife is a shrew, and his mistress is a stripper with a psycho boyfreind. She may have two psychos if you count Frankie, and you probably should.

We learn more about Frankie’s dark past after a mysterious salesman sets him on a path to a violent future. Frankie decides to get his step dad’s money, his stripper’s love, and get out of town. Can you even imagine a happy ending to this?

If you dare join us for the discussion on Wednesday, Oct 30th, 7pm, your copy of The Disassembled Man will be 10% off here at BookPeople. Jon (or Nate) will be calling in to explain himself. You can meet him in person November 7th when he performs at our next Noir At the Bar at Opal Divine’s, along with Anonymous 9, Nate Southard, and Jesse Sublett.

The Hard Word Book Club will be taking a break for the holidays, but use that time to read our January book, the epic noir The Twenty Year Death. It is a novel comprised of three books each written in the style of a different master of crime fiction.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Thatcher Robinson

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Thatcher Robinson’s White Ginger is a colorful, action packed debut novel featuring Bai-Jiang, a souxan or “people finder” in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

We caught up with Thatcher to ask him about his new work and the culture he taps into inside the book.

MysteryPeople: I can’t think of a lead character who is as different from its creator. How did Bai Jiang come about?

Thatcher Robinson: I love Asian television, Asian food (including sushi), and Asian deserts like manju. I even eat tofu.

Bai is a composite of women I’ve known and women I’d like to have known. My wife, Susan, is a tall, beautiful and remarkably intelligent Asian woman. Bai Jiang shares some of her physical and psychological traits.

Another of Bai’s major influences is a Korean actress by the name of Kim Sun Ah, who has a sharp tongue and a sardonic wit. Kim is a big star in Korea; but few people know of her in the States, which really is a shame given her talent.

MP: Do you have anything in common with her?

TR: Bai has my sense of humor and my sensibilities. Everyone struggles to make sense of the crazy world in which they live. To do that, many of us turn to philosophy, religion, or alcohol. I’ve adopted a pseudo-Buddhist philosophy where I strive to be a better person; but, like Bai, my temper and impatience sometimes sideline my efforts. When that happens, I turn to the healing power of a good blended scotch.

MP: What makes the Chinatown triads interesting for crime fiction is the fact that so little is known about them. Could you rely much on research or did you use the mystique to create your own world?

TR: I did quite a bit of online research then tweaked reality to give a bit more structure to the way Sun Yee On does business compared with the way triads actually operate.

In reality, the Sun Yee On triad carved out a large territory in Hong Kong during the 1970’s and 80’s. They made money extorting businesses, especially film crews trying to make Kung Fu films on the streets of Hong Kong. When the Kung Fu mania died down in the 90’s, Sun Yee On tried to open up a territory in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Their efforts culminated in a shootout in a Chinese restaurant resulting in Sun Yee On’s being forced out of San Francisco. They then relocated to Los Angeles, but they never really recovered the prestige or power they held in the 70’s and 80’s.

Readers might be interested in the gang slang included in White Ginger. It’s the result of research on common gang language produced by the Hong Kong Gangs Task Force. I went back and forth as to whether or not to include the Chinese slang: it makes the scene, in my opinion, more interesting and realistic but also makes reading it a bit clumsier. I finally decided readers might like to learn how to swear in Chinese. I’ve found it comes in really handy when venting at public events because no one has a clue what I’m ranting about.

MP: What did you want to get across about Bai Jang’s culture?

TR: Entering a Chinatown in any major city is like traveling to a foreign country. The inhabitants of these inner city enclaves have different traditions, physical characteristics, foods, and language. However, we all share the same human frailties. We have a common bond in that we work hard for our families while worrying about our children, our parents and growing old.

Not surprisingly, another word for ‘foreigner’ is ‘friend’.

Bai’s world is a sub-culture within that more recognizable sub-culture. In her world, almost everyone is associated with organized crime. For the most part, a skewed perception of right and wrong is pervasive amongst those with whom she associates, a concept which creates opportunities for lots of dark humor. At the same time, some of the characters exhibit redeeming qualities like loyalty and courage.

As children we’re taught that good and bad are absolutes, like black and white. As we mature, we realize the difference between good and bad is often a matter of perception. Like many aspects of being human there are shades of gray.

MP: You have some really well executed action scenes. How do you go about crafting those passages?

TR: I love the action scenes. If I could write action scenes all day, I’d die happy. But action scenes, especially the fight scenes, are really difficult to orchestrate. I don’t so much write them as I re-write them over and over again until they flow.

Redundancy is the biggest problem. There are only so many ways a person can get smacked and only so many names by which you can refer to the combatants.  I wish there was a magic formula for writing these scenes; however, each is unique, and I never know what’s going to happen until the image springs from my imagination.

I do have some experience in the martial arts. Small for my age as an adolescent, I studied a couple of martial arts disciplines until I realized I harbored absolutely no talent as a fighter. In all, I spent about ten years getting the crap kicked out of me so that no one could beat me up. The experience helps me to gauge what might be considered realistic, though I’m not above pushing the boundaries if doing so will make the scene more exciting.

MP: Do you have anything in store for Bai Jiang in the future?

TR: The sequel to White Ginger has already been penned. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but I will say that the action in the second book is an absolute juggernaut. The book is full of surprises when Bai learns that to win a war you sometimes have to lose a battle.

I plan to start work on the third installment of Bai Jiang in early 2014.

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Copies of White Ginger are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

Size Does and Doesn’t Matter

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Reed Farrel Coleman has gone compact in a couple of ways. Raven Books Rapid Reads, a publisher specializing in short books for teaching adult literacy as well as providing for readers who would like the experience of a full novel in one or two sittings, hired him for a series. The character he gave them was Gulliver Dowd, a tough New York private eye, who is also a dwarf.

Dowd’s height and history have a lot to do with his toughness. Born an outcast, he has been having to prove himself all his life. That created an awfully big chip on his shoulder.

purchase hereWe learn in the first book, Dirty Work, that his police officer sister died in an unsolved murder. He received combat training from Ahmed, an ex-SEAL who sometimes acts as his back-up. And, he works as a Private Investigator to support himself on other people’s cases so he can develop the skills necessary to solve his own case: what happened to his sister.

If this sounds overly pulpy or comedic, you haven’t read Reed Farrel Coleman before. The books have the humanity and heart of his Moe Prager series. Gulliver’s tough guy attitude is something he uses to keep his romantic nature at bay. Anybody who has felt like an outsider will be able to identify with him. You root for him to find love and cringe when that chip on his shoulder gets in the way.

purchase hereIn the latest Gulliver Dowd story, Valentino Pier, his good heart is working overtime. He helps a homeless boy find his missing dog, Ugly, a fitting name for the bug-eyed beast. After finding poor, mangy Ugly, he returns the dog to the boy. However, later Dowd is shocked to discover the boy has been beaten so severely he was put into a coma. Dowd’s search for the perpetrators leads him to find a unique brand of criminal. It also sheds new light on his sister’s murder while teasing with a possible relationship with a veterinary’s assistant.

When I heard what Reed was doing for Rapid Reads, I thought it was an odd match. A writer with a background in poetry known for his command of the language writing “easy reads”? It proved to be the perfect choice.

Coleman knows which words to choose for clarity, impact, and emotion, while never writing down to the reader. The tightness and accessibility give each book the feeling of a great episode from a seventies PI show like The Rockford Files or Harry O.

If only he could write them as fast as I read them.

WHITE GINGER Will Hit You Like a Ninja

Leave it to Seventh Street Press to come up with another original commercial thriller. Thatcher Robinson’s White Ginger is an exciting and tough tale told with pulp fun on a human scale. His Bai-Jiang is a great addition to crime fiction’s kick ass heroines.

Bai-Jung is the daughter of a prominent member of the Chinatown triads in San Fransisco. A single mother keeping as much distance from her family’s life as possible, she works as a “souxan” or people finder. Skilled with a knife, she’s backed up by her business partner, Lee, a suave gay man who shares her outsider status.

When Bai-Jiang is hired to find a missing girl, she finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for. The trail leads to white slavery and war amongst the triad. If that wasn’t enough, she has to go back to her daughter’s father, also a member of the triad, and ask for help finding the girl. You soon figure out that Bai-Jung is used to trouble, and it’s why she’s so good at getting others out of it.

White Ginger has the feints, weaves, and impact of a martial artist. The pace is strong, the action is well crafted, and there’s a good dose of humor throughout. I’m looking forward to Bai-Jiang’s next case. Fans of Sara Paretsky and Stieg Larsson should enjoy this promising debut novel by Thatcher Robinson.

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Copies of White Ginger are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Painting it Black: Bouchercon 2013

On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.
On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.

Albany is a quaint city, with rolling hills (I swear I was always walking uphill, even on the way back), historic buildings and friendly people who say, “Absolutely,” when you ask them for a favor. Into this bucolic atmosphere descended thousands of crime fiction writers, publishers, booksellers, and fans like a plague of dark, drunken, philosophical rats from September 19th – 22nd. I can say this because I was one of the them attending this year’s Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference.

Debate went into high gear during the New Noir panel. Moderator Reed Farrel Coleman introduced the idea that there are now two different kinds of noir fiction. One is traditional that relies more on mood and psychology. The newer form relies on violence and shock value. It was probably the most engaging discussion at the conference, with Duane Swierczynski defending the new form along with Jason Starr admitting that his works tend to fall into this category. The discussion wrapped up with a few jokes about Reed’s age and a quip from Hilary Davidson that would make any femme fatale proud.

Les Edgerton’s Pulp Fiction, Baby! panel also discussed playing on the dark and moody side of the street. As happened last year, Les had the best line of the year: “Paint your character black and the light will shine through.”

Josh Stalling talked about how he enjoyed hiding real ideas and social commentary in pulp fiction. He also cited James Crumley’s Dancing Bear and the original Winnie The Pooh as the books most influential in his process. When asked which Pooh character he relates the most with, he answered, “I’m always Eeyore.”

The Shameless Dead Cats & Bad Girls panel hosted by Laura Lippman dealt with taboos in crime fiction. Megan Abbott cited Gone Girl as proof that the mainstream has embraced the type of dark fiction that was more marginalized in the past.

0921131611Discussion of what is taboo in noir fiction was the theme amongst most panels at Bouchercon. Taking advantage of that, David Corbett turned his I Go To Extremes panel into a drinking game with the words, “noir,” “taboo,” “transgressive,” and “Tarantino.” Unfortunately for David, he forgot Todd Robinson, Glenn Gray, and I were in attendance. We’re three guys known for being loud and opinionated even when we’re sober.

The panels definitely covered a lot outside the question of what has become taboo.

I learned more about Austin author Mark Pryor at The Liar’s panel, where they played a game with the audience to guess when Mark was telling a lie, the truth, or a half-truth.

At the WW2 and Sons panel, Martin Limon spoke about how the culture clash he witnessed as a GI stationed in Korea between the locals and the US military lead to writing the Sueno & Bascome series.

In a discussion about writing unreliable narrators, Megan Abbott talked about how she believes noir protagonists will always be unreliable, since they are always attempting to justify their actions. Laura Lippman agreed, adding that the

y are also trying to convince the reader that they would have done the same.

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With party hosts, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tom Schreck, and Jon and Ruth Jordan.

You couldn’t let this group of dark, philosophical rats go without a night of revelry. On the first night of the con, authors Reed Farrell Coleman, Tom Schreck and Crimespree magazine’s Jon and Ruth Jordan threw a spectacular party. The Franklin Towers Bar was all shook up with classic rock n’ roll covers flowing from the stage, with Johnny Rebel And The Jail House Rockers at the helm. It was overwhelming to see such a who’s who in crime fiction. The place was so packed, even the sidewalk outside was crowded.

I would love to share more details, but it might be a little too risqué for the blogosphere.

I hung on until the bitter end, so I was able to see every dark nook and cranny of this year’s Buchercon. I went to the annual Dead Dog Dinner with those left over on Sunday night. Then, the next morning, it was breakfast and sightseeing with author RJ Ellory and bloggers Ali Karim and Peter Rozovsky before we had to catch our trains.

I don’t know if we attendees ever answered the question about whether or not we’ve gone too far in noir fiction. Maybe we have.

Will we push it further? Absolutely.

GOOD AS GONE: Setting the Tone for a Great New Series

Douglas Corleone is mainly known for his legal capers featuring Kevin Corvelli. He moves into a much more sobering world in As Good As Gone. The thriller firmly establishes his new hero, Simon Fisk.

Fisk is a hero both highly capable and haunted. A former US Marshall, he lost his wife to suicide after their daughter was abducted and murdered. He now specializes in the retrieval of children from their noncustodial parents, particularly when they are in foreign countries.

This kind of work can get him in trouble with the law. When it does in Paris, the authorities offer him a way out. Lindsay Sorkin, a young American girl, has been taken. So her parents won’t go to the media, the authorities offer them Fisk’s services. This puts him in the very position he avoids, one where he could find a dead child.

The job has him running across Europe. With Lindsay’s father involved in defense work, the stakes get higher as he moves through Germany, Poland, Russia, and others. One of the fun novelties of the book is how Fisk has a sidekick for practically every country including, a lovely lawyer and a brutal and hilarious German, Osterman.

Corleone has skillfully crossed the commercial thriller with a rough and tumble PI novel. It has a thriller’s wonderful forward momentum with a driven hero for an engine. Fisk could be a larger than life character, but the wounds Corleone gives him bring him down to human scale. He knows many of the mean streets of the foreign locales he visits, giving us glimpses of the seedy world of child pornography and even the after effects of the Chernobyl disaster.

With Good As Gone, Corleone sets the tone for what promises to be a great series. I’m already looking forward to the next Simon Fisk novel. He’s a character that can go anywhere geographically and emotionally. Douglas Corleone has proven to be one hell of a guide.

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Copies of Good as Gone are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Miles Arceneaux

Miles Arceneaux is the pseudonym for authors Brent Douglas, John T Davis, and John R Dennis. Their first book, Thin Slice Of Life, is a fun crime novel set on the gulf Coast in the early ’80s with a ne’er do well Charlie Sweetwater returning home to find out who killed his shrimper brother. Their latest, La Salle’s Ghost, finds Charlie sixteen years later, a shrimper himself now and getting involved with sunken treasure from a French settlement and the shady characters it attracts. Both Brent and James will be in the store tonight at 7PM. In a recent interview, we learned the three of them can not only write but actually answer questions together, as well.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How was this writing experience different from Thin Slice Of Life?

MILES ARCENEAUX: Well, for one thing, this one didn’t take us 25 years to complete. We managed to get a pretty good work flow established with TSOL, in terms of passing the manuscript back and forth, editing and embellishing on the fly and incorporating input from a handful of trusted readers. It also helped that when we started the book, we had a real-time deadline. The international La Salle museum exhibit was originally supposed to open at the Bullock State History Museum this month (October, 2013), and we had hoped to time the release of La Salle’s Ghost to coincide with the opening. Alas, the exhibition has been pushed back one year, and will open in October 2014. From what we’ve heard, it should be a spectacular exhibit.

MP: How has Charlie Sweetwater changed from the first book?

MA: The book takes place 16 years after TSOL. Charlie is older, though not necessarily wiser. He’s not as given to impetuous gestures and actions as he was in the previous book, but his heart still overrules his head on frequent occasions. He’s also stumbled into a small pile of money, which is pure wish fulfillment on the authors’ part. Among the things that haven’t changed, Charlie remains kind of a magnet for trouble and ne’er-do-wells. But the wisdom that comes with age hasn’t completely escaped him, and he can generally spot trouble on the horizon. He just isn’t much inclined to avoid it.

MP: There is a lot about the history of the French in The Gulf. What kind of research did you do?

MA: Yes, the French flag is one of the famous “six flags over Texas,” but the French role in our history has long been nothing more than a footnote. The excavations of La Salle’s ship, La Belle, and his doomed settlement, Fort St. Louis, created quite a buzz in the archeology world, and the research that resulted from these two discoveries added much to our historical knowledge of a short, but fascinating chapter in our state’s history. The narrative of La Salle and his ill-fated colony offers a great story, particularly since we didn’t have to live through it. We tried to tether our modern story to the historical events surrounding the La Salle expedition, and several times in the book we ask the question, “what would Texas be like today if the French mission had succeeded?”

We relied heavily on three books: From a Watery Grave—The Discovery and Excavations of La Salle’s Shipwreck La Belle, by James Bruseth and Toni S. Turner (Texas A&M Press); The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle, by Robert S. Weddle (Texas A&M Press); and of course, the eyewitness journal of La Salle’s friend and Lieutenant, The La Salle Expedition of Texas, The Journal of Henri Joutel, 1684–1687  (Texas State Historical Association). Additionally, we received excellent feedback from Jim Bruseth, who directed both the La Belle and the Fort St. Louis excavations.

MP: In both books, the Gulf is a character in itself. How do you go about creating a sense of place?

MA: Some stories are just linked to particular places. I mean, Dracula just kind of belongs in Transylvania, and the gothic setting makes the gothic story possible. It wouldn’t work in Kansas. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee anywhere but the Florida coast or James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux outside of Southern Louisiana. And the thing about Texas, and the Coast in particular, is that it spawns a certain type of person which makes a certain kind of story possible. We’ve spent years down on the Texas Coast, and we’re very connected to the people and the history down there.

MP: Do you have further plans for Charlie?

MA: Charlie is in for further adventures, but our next book in the series will take place in the 1950s, and will feature Charlie’s kin, who butt heads with the Galveston Mafia. Charlie is around, but he’s too young to get into serious trouble. He leaves that to his uncles on Ransom Island.

MP: How is three writers a plus?

MA: We can keep each other going when our enthusiasm flags, which is a definite plus. Also, one of the three of us might have a particularly sharp insight on a given character or aspect of the plot, so it’s good to have three people with different expertise to call on. Being three authors, we can—and do—call bullshit on one another when the need arises. It changes your perspective when you begin to think of yourself in the plural, offering a kind of absolution that’s hard to come by even in church. Anytime someone doesn’t like a particular passage or turn of a phrase, we can always blame it on each other, “Yeah, that was Brent”, or “James insisted on it.” Each of us can therefore remain blameless, or at least create a reasonable doubt.

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Meet the guys of Miles Arceneaux here at BookPeople tonight, Wednesday October 2 at 7pm.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: CROOKED NUMBERS by Tim O’Mara

MysteryPeople Pick for October: Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara

Last year’s Sacrifice Fly was one of those debuts that sowed both the promise of a new writer and his series character. The book, featuring ex-cop-turned-teacher Ray Donne, is both gritty and warm, showing its Brooklyn’s sense of community as well as its tough streets. O’Mara is delivering on his promise with the follow up, Crooked Numbers.

Donne looks into the murder of a former student who made it into a private school and was repeatedly stabbed. To find out what happened, he navigates a New York of male and female gangs, class difference, and race, where it can be difficult to know which group protects and which preys upon. His inquiries take him to people struggling to make a life, some bravely weathering their circumstances, others completely lost in the cold city wind. An encounter with the victim’s father is truly heartbreaking.

It’s Donne’s circle of friends and family that make this book and Sacrifice Fly an engaging read. His uncle Ray, a tough and politically savvy police captain, shows up to help him in a particular subplot and chews him out. The senior officer’s dressing down of a young thug is one of the more entertaining and insightful passages. His sister Rachel shows up for one of their dinners which I’m glad to see seems to be a part of each book. There’s also the gang at the cop bar where he moonlights, and his friendship with reporter Allison Rogers has both the strength and fragility of a burgeoning relationship.

O’Mara realizes it’s people, not plots, that make a good mystery series. He’s developed a lead and supporting  characters who I’ve gotten to know and am looking forward to discovering more about. Ray Donne is a great everyman hero, both descent and complex, searching for a place in his life and his city. I’m rooting for his peace of mind and look forward to his next steps toward it.

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Copies of Crooked Numbers are available on the shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.