MysteryPeople’s Top 5 Texas Mysteries of 2013

1. The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

A mix of Southern Gothic, crime, and western with that distinctive Lansdale voice. A young man journeys with the son of slaves, a whore, and a dwarf bounty hunter seeking justice and his abducted sister in turn-of-the-last-century Texas. A grand yarn told in high style.

 

2.  The Right Side Of Wrong by Reavis Wortham

A group of Texas lawmen have to contend with the new drug business and the violence it brings to their part of the state in the early ’60s, causing them to cross lines both geographic and moral. Great sense of time and place with one hell of a climactic gun battle.

 

death rides again3. Death Rides Again by Janice Hamrick

Jocelyn Shore visits the small town where she grew up for a Thanksgiving family reunion to find her cousin, Ruby June, missing and Ruby June’s husband murdered. Janice Hamrick’s light, funny mystery takes on some heavy ideas about family, relationships, and modern small towns.

 

4. These Mortal Remains by Milton T. Burton

If Chandler ended up in east Texas, he may have written something like this tale of a small town sheriff dealing with race, politics, and three murders. An involved plot, pitch perfect tone, and rich voice make this one engaging novel.

 

5. Long Fall From Heaven by Milton T Burton and George Weir

To solve the murder of their friend, two private security men in 1980s Galveston have to also uncover a string of murders that happened on the island during World War II. Filled with dark secrets and Lone Star history, both authors blend their styles to create an involving and moody thriller.

Books for Fans of John Grisham

grisham

We all have at least one Grisham fan in our midst. And of course that fan has read ALL the Grisham books on the shelf (including his latest one, Sycamore Row). What’s a gift giver to do? Here are our recommendations for great books to give the Grisham fan on your list. 

breach of trustBreach Of Trust by David Ellis

Author David Ellis, a prosecutor in the Blagojevich impeachment, wrote this involving thriller of a prosecutor who gets a job in a corrupt Illinois governor’s office to find out about the death of his informant and his wife.

guilt by association

Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark  

Clark’s special prosecutor Rachel Knight takes on the case of a murdered colleague while looking into his sordid death in this engaging debut series that gives us an insider’s view of LA and its justice system. Clark was a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office where she handled a number of cases, including the O. J. Simpson murder trial. This is the first in a series. Also check out books two and three, Guilt by Degrees and Killer Ambition

corrupt practices

Corrupt Practices by Robert Rotstein

Rotstein has received rave reviews for this book about a lawyer with stage freight who takes on a cult after he’s accused of embezzling millions.

 

Pro tip: Print this list and bring it down to BookPeople where we’ll be happy to pull the titles from our shelves for you. Our volunteers will be happy to gift wrap! (Or grab them via bookpeople.com

 

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT: A Christmas Adventure For All Seasons

spirit of steamboat

When Craig Johnson was asked to do a short Christmas story with his Wyoming sheriff, Walt Longmire, for his publisher, the story got a little out of hand and became longer than he intended. The result is the recently published novella, Spirit Of Steamboat. While under two hundred pages, it has the richness many long novels lack.

The story takes place on a Christmas Eve. Walt is in his office with only a copy of A Christmas Carol for company. A woman comes in looking for the sheriff. When he introduces himself, she says he’s not the one. He figures out she’s looking for his irascible predecessor, Lucian Connolly.

As Walt takes the woman to Lucian, we’re taken back to the ’80s and Walt’s first Christmas Eve as sheriff when a car wreck caused the death of a married couple. Their daughter is badly burned and could die too if she doesn’t get to a Denver hospital in time. With the roads down and an ugly blizzard, the only hope is a decommissioned WWII era B-25 bomber, The Spirit Of Steamboat. The only person who can fly it is former Dooolittle Raider, Lucian. Walt grabs him at the bar on his third bourbon and the two, along with the daughter, her Japanese grandmother, Dr. Isaac Bloomfield, and a professional female pilot Lucian insists on calling “Toots”, take the flight of their lives.

Johnson has created a white knuckle adventure. A rattling plane in dangerous weather combined with jury rigged medical equipment (two things at which Walt is a novice) provide hair raising passages.

Yet even in a story as tight as this one, it’s Johnson’s use of emotion that permeates. Since Walt’s wife Martha is still alive this Christmas Eve of memory, we get to hear her voice in a couple of phone calls, but Johnson keeps her out of physical range, remaining a bittersweet spectre who hangs over the series. It is through these conversations we see Walt start down the road of duty that conflicts with his  focus on his family. Johnson even uses an ironic ending to create a moving turn.

For a small book, The Spirit Of Steamboat gives us a full experience. Along with the flight we get WWII and Wyoming history woven throughout the tale. Johnson has created a Christmas adventure for all seasons.

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Copies of Spirit of Steamboat are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Anonymous-9

At our last Noir At The Bar, Anoymous-9 (aka Elaine Ash) wowed the crowd, including her fellow authors, with her reading from Hard Bite. This story of Dean Drayhart, a paraplegic who gets revenge on hit run drivesr with the help of his trained monkey and runs afoul of the Mexican Mafia, was a download sensation, earning tons of awards and great word of mouth. As a result, our friend Jon Basoof printed it as a NewPulp Press title. We talked with Anynmous about the the book.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea of Hard Bite come about?

ANONYMOUS-9: HARD BITE came about when I adopted the pseudonym “Anonymous-9.” Up until then, when I was writing I had the sneaky feeling the “brakes” were on. The minute I took another name my imagination and subconscious went into overdrive. Ideas I’d never dreamed of started flying in. HARD BITE was one of the very first ideas and began as a short story. When it won Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Short Story on the Web 2009 competition, I started expanding it into a novel. I don’t really need the pseudonym anymore but I’m stuck with it.

MP: How did you approach writing a lead who is so different from you?

A9: Dean isn’t so different from me in a few aspects. We all find life overwhelming sometimes. We all have moments of frustration where we’d “like to kill somebody” but of course we never do it. Dean is my id let loose with no restrictions or supervision—running wild in print. In terms of the technical aspects of writing about a paraplegic man with a helper monkey the answer is research, research, research. Writing 101 says “write what you know.” I knew nothing about paraplegics, helper monkeys or police procedure. Doh! But I had this first person voice for a character living in that world. So I spent time and money learning what I didn’t know.

MP: Do you have anything in common with Dean?

A9: Yes. Dean never gives up. No matter how bad the odds or how steep the obstacles he throws himself at goals with no fear of failure. Unlike Dean I feel lots of fear (but do it anyway). My goal is to write balanced on a razor’s edge of risk, originality, and craft. I’m not interested in playing it safe. The downside is possibly missing the mark—spectacularly. Wow, look at her—CRASH! I care about that but I can’t stop myself either. I’m proud that Ray Garton, the 1990 World Horror Grand Master Award recipient, said HARD BITE was the best, most fiercely original crime novel he’d read in a long time. “Fierce” and “original” are my favorite review adjectives.

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

A9: Full disclosure: it’s not my first novel. I had another one many years ago under another name that is best forgotten. But because of this technicality I disqualified myself from any best new novel awards (which hurt like hell). All was not lost, though. HARD BITE has been nominated for a 2014 Thriller Award as Best Paperback Original. It also won a Readers’ Choice Award in 2012 from The House of Crime and Mystery (Canada).

Back to your question about influences… JAMES M. CAIN blew me away by tackling verboten topics and exposing the dark sides of “nice” people. TOM ROBBINS is unequaled for intense energy, imagery and magical realism. He’s all about voice. T. JEFFERSON PARKER wowed me with L.A. Outlaws and set the bar for crime characters, action and adventure. TOM WOLFE defined “unflinching observer” for me and pioneered The New Journalism. JOHN BURDETT invented the most original detective I’ve ever read with Sonchai Jitpleecheep of the Bangkok series. RAYMOND CHANDLER pioneered his own genre. Those are big influences.

BP: Like many crime novels, you also give us a look at LA. What did you want to say about the city?

A9: Los Angeles is noir. Underneath the bright California sun and behind the beautiful people with sparkling teeth there is a double streak of corruption and decadence that never improves, it just evolves—pure cocaine to a writer of hardboiled crime. It’s always been like this, it’ll always be like this. I moved to Los Angeles fifteen years ago not for the weather and not for the beauty but because I needed freedom to write whatever I damn well wanted in a city crawling with talent and great writers. Los Angeles is like a cruel lover that gave me what I desired most and stripped me of anything that wasn’t. One day I’ll move somewhere kinder and more sensible. But until I’m done writing about Los Angeles it gives me what I need.

BP: Hard Bite is such a fun read, what was the most fun about writing it?

A9: Thank you! The most fun was writing Dean’s searingly honest, hopelessly politically incorrect voice. I also had a ball with Sid who gets away with truly outrageous antics and people love him anyway because after all, he’s just a monkey. It’s such a blast hearing that people laugh reading the book. The story called for a writing style that was hilarious, heartbreaking, and hardboiled all at the same time. How much fun is that?

Finally, Scott, I want to say how much fun it was coming to Austin and reading a bit of HARD BITE at your Noir at the Bar held at Opal Divines. It was a big deal to finally meet The BookPeople guy who is always mentioned at writing conferences and on panels, and who does so much to promote crime writers. Thank you.

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Copies of Hard Bite are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com

BLADE OF DISHONOR: Fun, Fast Action

blade of dishonor

For my generation, our pulp fiction was the men’s action paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s. Series like The Executioner, The Destroyer, or my favorite title, The Rat Bastards, were full of action, beautiful women, and the toughest of tough guys. The stories ranged from vigilantes, martial artsists, to World War II commandos. Thomas Pluck lovingly crams in as many of the tropes as he can in his epic update of the genre, Blade Of Dishonor.

Our hero is Rage Cage Reeves, a former MMA fighter returning from service in Afghanistan. He stays with his grandfather, Butch, a World War Two vet who lives above his army surplus store. After a bar fight where we see Rage Cage in action (and where he meets up with his old flame, Tara, a sexy and sarcastic ambulance driver), a Japanese businessman makes an offer for Butch’s store. When Butch refuses, an attempt is made on his life and the store is burnt to the ground.

Along with Tara, Reeves is on the run and out for revenge. It’s all tied to a war between samurai and ninjas over a sword Butch gave Reeves. We’re given flashbacks of Butch’s war years as a commando and how he got the blade, as Reeves’ journey of revenge takes him to the far east and the ultimate cage match.

This book is The Raiders Of The Lost Ark of pulp paperbacks. It has everything we love about those old pulp classics, fast pacing, tough beautiful women, macho guys, codes of honor, and a lot of action, all done with a high level of execution. Pluck gives us tons of gratuitous fight scenes, yet motivates it so well it never comes off as such. A martial artist himself, he delivers the blow by blow with a visceral feel. He also knows when to give a humorous aside, giving a nod to the reader. His love of the genre acts as a great undercurrent to the story.

Blade Of Dishonor is the most unpretentious book I’ve read in a long time. It simply wants to entertain and pulls out all the stops to do so. I hope Thomas Pluck realizes that many of these pulp books had a hundred to a series.

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Copies of Blade of Dishonor are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Daniel J. Hale

Daniel J. Hale is one of those writers who could have been comfortable writing for Black Mask in the ’30s or Manhunt in the ’60s. He’s the consummate craftsman. “In The Air”, his story in Dallas Noir, which uses The Texas State Fair as part of the backdrop, is a throwback to classic noir suspense. We asked him a few questions about his story and his style.

dallas night

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea of your short story come about?

DANIEL J. HALE: I wanted “In The Air” to include Deep Ellum and Highland Park, perhaps the two parts of the city with which I’m most familiar. I also knew it had to feature the State Fair of Texas, specifically the Texas Star, which was until a few months ago the tallest Ferris wheel in North America. I had a vague idea for a storyline until a chef friend showed me an expensive knife he’d just bought — the protagonist and the plot sprang forth from that chance encounter almost fully formed.

MP: Your story takes place in Deep Ellum. What makes that a distinct part of Dallas?

DJH: I lived in a renovated factory on the edge of Deep Ellum for five years before moving to a leafier part of Dallas over a decade ago. During my time there, the area held a distinctive mix of the seedy and the trendy and the artsy. There were nice restaurants on the same block as seedy tattoo parlors and luxury lofts. It was Disneyland for adults. It was one of the places to “be.” Deep Ellum’s seen better days, but lately there’s been a resurgence in the area. With Pecan Lodge (one of the top BBQ destinations in the USA) moving there next year, Deep Ellum may well be on its way to recapturing its former glory.

MP: Your work has a very classic feel. Who are some authors who influenced you?

DJH: That’s very kind of you to say. Jim Thompson is, for me, quintessential noir, and he continues to be a big influence. I also love the works of Elmore Leonard and Patricia Highsmith. Some good friends of mine are brilliant (i.e. best-selling and/or award-winning) authors of noir, but I’d rather not mention any names for fear of accidentally omitting someone.

MP: What can you do with a crime story in Dallas you can’t do any most other towns?

DJH: Dallas is city of contradictions. It is, in some ways, a manifestation of cognitive dissonance. It’s a beast of blatant capitalism carefully cradling a helpless child. It’s a glitzy city with a wild-west mentality. It’s sin city and the buckle of the Bible belt. There are lawbreakers in the best and the worst parts of the city. Dallas holds so many different sets of conflict, it’s a natural for crime fiction.

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David J. Hale, along with other authors featured in Dallas Noir, will be here at BookPeople to talk about his work and the collection on Friday, December 6 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public.