MysteryPeople Review: PALE HORSES by Nate Southard

Nate Southard is a new addition to the crime fiction genre, crossing over from his previous experience writing horror. Like Tom Piccirilli and David Schow, Southard uses his skill at mining the dark side to look at the human horror in our lives. He moves into the genre seamlessly with Pale Horses.

The book involves the murder of a woman that affects the lives of two men in a small Indiana town. Sheriff Hal Kendrick is one of the lawmen on the case. He’s trying to hide the fact that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. This is poignantly established in the first chapter. In the scene, Kendrick is preparing to go out to the crime scene while talking to his wife whose name he struggles to remember. The main suspect in the murder is Korey Hunt, a vet from Iraq, who is suffering from PTSD. Ostracized in town, Hunt lives with his mother, struggles to cope and often falls into a pattern of self-medicating at the local tavern. His violent outbursts and black-outs even make him doubt his own innocence.

The investigation pushes both men over the edge. Hal struggles to hide his condition as it gets worse, pushing away those closest to him. Korey’s mental state takes him further and further from finding peace; returning him to the violence in Iraq. Southard gives an insightful look into how both characters are marginalized – the treatment society gives to the walking wounded. Much like his past horror novels, Southard has created a town that must know its own descent into Hell to pay for its sins.

Pale Horses paints a portrait of modern rural America. Southard populates the place with vivid characters from it’s bar denizens, to easy going but sharp lawmen, and a villain with a Christina Ricci obsession. His women are strong, but strained from picking up the pieces of the broken men in their lives. Most impressive is the journey of the life of the victim prior to the crime. She comes alive in a way that keeps the story crisp.

Pale Horses is a novel that takes you over, subtly. Fusing genres and subgenres, it defies whatever predictions you have of it, leaving you with a feeling you just can’t shake.

If Nate Southard decides to spend more time in crime fiction, he’ll be most welcome.

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Copies of Pale Horses are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com

What’s Next for Samuel Craddock: Guest Post by Terry Shames

The first two Samuel Craddock books I wrote came to me without much thought as to “what happens next?” in the series. But when I contemplated writing the third book, I suddenly realized that I had some big decisions to make.

Would Samuel age in my books? Would he develop and grow, or would he stay pretty much the same? Would Samuel always be an ex-chief of police, or would he officially slip back into the role of chief? How many crimes can one small town support? Would I continue the same characters, or would some of them disappear, one way or the other? My editor suggested that I do a “prequel.” When would be the appropriate time to tuck it into the series? What about Samuel’s love life? Would he continue to mourn his ex-wife or would he take up with one of the women around him?  Or, would a new person come to town?

I discovered that I had answers for most of these questions. I read series and in my favorites, characters change. In my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, Samuel was a man looking for purpose in life after his wife died. All his qualities—his strong sense of responsibility, his humor and decency–are there from the beginning, but he has no place to focus them. Investigating the death of an old friend reawakens him to his abilities. I want him to continue to learn new things about himself and the world around him. I want the town to change, and Samuel to change with it.

If Samuel is to continue to grow more confident in his role as an investigator, that means that I, as a writer, also have to grow—I have to learn more about what a small-town lawman is expected to do. Not that I have to include every detail in the books—but I have to know the reality of what would happen in tight situations.

I started researching guns and discovered that I couldn’t possibly learn everything about guns by simply reading. There’s a weekend police workshop for writers that I can’t wait to take so I can put myself in Samuel’s shoes.

I also had to research the structure of Texas crime prevention forces. Who really investigates serious crime in small town Texas? What is the role of the Texas Highway Patrol (hint: it’s a lot more than just chasing speeders). And what about the Texas Rangers? How did they fit into the mix? Having grown up in Texas, I knew something of their notorious reputation. How much of that was true? Had it changed? How were police chiefs selected in small towns? By ballot? Were they chosen by the county sheriff? And what did they really do? What I discovered is a hodge-podge of crime prevention and investigation. In other words, it was a writer’s dream—whatever I made up would probably be true somewhere, in some small town in Texas.

As for the question of how many crimes I can set in a small town, people are fond of pointing out that some of the best series happen in small towns. And what I discovered is that in reality there is more mayhem in small towns than you might imagine. Still, I wanted to mix things a little and not just do one book after another in Samuel’s hometown. The first book happened outside of my fictional town of Jarrett Creek. Books two and three happen in Jarrett Creek, each with a different focus. Book four I’m going to set in Bobtail, the fictitious county seat. And because of the art theme that runs the book, I will be taking Samuel somewhere outside of Jarrett Creek to investigate a to-be-determined crime centering around art. And then there is the prequel. I think I can keep going for a nice, long series.

As for whether the same characters will continue, the book has quite a few geezers in it and we all know what eventually happens to geezers. Somebody, in some book, has to go. I don’t know who it will be, but it’s inevitable.

Also, with a man who still has vitality and interest in the world, Samuel will eventually become interested in another woman. Stay tuned…it’s going to happen. And then the next question will be, how far do I follow him into the bedroom. Yikes! More decisions.

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Terry Shames will be in the store TONIGHT at 7PM speaking & signing copies of her latest book, The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames

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Terry Shames‘ latest Samuel Craddock mystery, The Last Death Of Jack Harbin, is rich in theme, character and emotion. Terry was kind enough to talk about these elements of the novel witih us

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How different an experience was writing the second book in the series as opposed to the first?

TERRY SHAMES: I almost feel as if the first two books were one big project. As soon as I finished the A Killing at Cotton Hill, I immediately began The Last Death of Jack Harbin. It took me about eight months total to write both books from the beginning of the first to the polished draft of both. I don’t know how or why it happened so fast, but I was happy to go with it.

So the answer I’m going to give you is about book three. I’m having a tiny little nervous breakdown about it. I have several Craddock books in mind, and thought that the one I’m working on now would be the best to move the series forward. I wrote the first draft quickly, but was dissatisfied with it. Right about the time I was beginning to be nervous about it, my editor said he needed it fast…and that’s when I began to panic.

Suppose this third book was a poor shadow of the first two? Before the first book was published, I never needed to worry about anyone’s opinion but my own. Suddenly, I have readers to satisfy. That’s the best dilemma in the world for a writer—but still a dilemma.

I threw myself on the mercy and competence of my writers group, and they assured me that the changes I need to make are cosmetic – Oh sure, it’s only cosmetic to throw out one entire story line? To ditch a couple of characters? To jettison the first two scenes? But their advice only confirmed what I already knew. I’m still nervous but at least I’m not ready to ditch writing and become a plumber.

MPYour victim is a young disabled vet. What did you want to convey about today’s vets?

TS:Good question about vets. In writing about Jack Harbin’s situation, I hoped to illustrate something that really bothers me these days about how people treat veterans. People are perfectly willing to send young men and women off to fight wars to “keep us safe,” and they are willing to spend trillions of dollars to keep the wars going. But they aren’t willing to spend the money to support these young warriors when they come home damaged physically and/or mentally. I think it’s a disgrace. And the fact that there isn’t a good support system for these young men and women means that they are prey to scams and mistreatment.

MP: Guilt seems to be the big emotion in The Second Death Of Jack Harbin. What did you want to explore about it?

TS: I hadn’t really thought of the book as exploring guilt, but your question made me think about it, and it’s true. Jack’s high school friends, Taylor and Woody, his mother, his friend Walter, and even Samuel himself are haunted by misreading situations in the past and making decisions that they believe were misguided. They believe things could have been different if they had made better decision.

People deal with the guilt in different ways, but everyone is changed by it. For some people it engenders a determination to do better or to make amends, like Woody and Walter. Others are crippled by it, like Jack’s mother. And then there are those who have no capacity to feel guilt. A lack of remorse is at the core of sociopathic behavior. I’m thinking of the dastardly Walter White in the recently concluded Breaking Bad. He feels a whole range of emotions, but guilt is not one of them. Jack’s brother, Curtis, is a little like that, though he doesn’t act it out so dramatically. He could help Jack if he chose to, but it doesn’t occur to him, and he feels no guilt at all about it.

Guilt is a useless emotion unless action follows on its heels. I admire Woody for wanting to find a way to assuage his guilt through action- even if his plan is a sadly impractical…At its most basic use, punishment is a way of letting the guilty atone for their guilt. I wonder if the guilty party in The Last Death of Jack Harbin feels some relief, knowing that there is a way to pay for the crime?

MP: What compels Samuel to always come out of retirement to investigate?

The simple answer is that Samuel feels a sense of responsibility to his community. Because of his reputation, he has always been a fallback when the current chief of police isn’t up to the task. I talked to one of my readers who adored Samuel. She said, “We all need a person who looks out for us.” The larger question is, where does this sense of responsibility come from? In a way, it’s a stance that has a certain amount of hubris—Samuel feels as if he has the strength and ability to make a difference in people’s lives. As I’ve developed Samuel, I’ve noticed similarities between writers and lawmen. Both are observers and in a sense live apart. And both can use their jobs as a way of bringing justice to a situation. The hubris part I’ll leave for others to comment on.

MP: Which supporting character did you have the most fun writing?

TS: It sounds sappy, but I love all my characters—even the killer. Most of my characters are fully developed people in my mind. I know their hopes and dreams, their strengths and shortcomings. So who is most fun to write, the good guys or the not-so-good guys? In this particular book, I have to say I enjoyed writing Walter Dunn. I didn’t have to work to discover his character—he jumped onto the page and told me who he was from the first time he showed up on his motorcycle. I liked him from the beginning and grew to have great respect for him, as I think Samuel does.

MP: As someone who writes about where you used to live, do you have to do anything special to write about Central Texas in Northern California or are your memories that clear?

TS: I read somewhere that James Joyce couldn’t write about Dublin until he moved away. Not that I compare myself to James Joyce, but I think it’s true of some writers that we don’t see a place as clearly until we leave it. I go back to Texas often to visit relatives, so it isn’t as if I’m marooned in California. But what interests me is what happens when I go back to the town that I based Jarrett Creek on. I always have a sense that I’m enveloped by it. I never lived there; my grandparents did. But it always had a hold on my imagination. Now, when I got there, I drive whoever I’m with crazy because all I want to do is walk around. That’s all. I don’t have to go inside anywhere, I don’t have to talk to anyone. I just want to smell the air that seems particular to that place; feel it on my skin; hear the sounds of birds and wind in the trees; see the color of the grass; the architecture of the houses; the composition, smell and look of the soil; the constantly changing color and clouds of the sky.  Here’s the funny part: I could never live there. I hate the climate—it’s muggy and hot much of the year. Nevertheless, I carry a little piece of it with me, and I cherish it.

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Terry Shames will be in store Monday, Jan 27 at 7PM speaking & signing The Last Death of Jack Harbin. Pre-order signed copies of the book via bookpeople.com.

Mystery Review: THE SECOND DEATH OF JACK HARBIN

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Terry Shames showed amazing promise last summer with her debut, A Killing At Cotton Hill. The book, featuring her series character Samuel Craddock, a widowed retired Chief of Police, looked at issues of aging and community in a small Texas town. In her follow up, The Second Death of Jack Harbin, she digs even deeper into Craddock’s story.

Before his own life is cut short, death seems to be a regular part of the title character’s life. Jack Harbin, the former high school football player, witnessed plenty of death in Iraq before he lost his sight and legs in the war. At the beginning of the book, his father and caretaker dies of a heart attack. Then, Samuel finds Jack brutally murdered in his home while stopping by to check in on him. Asked to look further into the killing, Samuel uncovers a shady V.A. home, issues with the local football team, and other dark and complex revelations . Much of the mystery seems to center on a love triangle between Jack, his former best friend, Woody Patterson, and the woman they both love – she married Woody when Jack went off to fight in the war.

In Shames’s world and writing, still rivers run deep. She subtly looks at the effects of war on a small town, the town’s passion for high school football, tested friendships, and broken dreams. Her nuanced touch makes it a truly moving novel. Samuel may have solved the murder, but not the issues surrounding it. The best he can do is serve witness. With his even temper and experienced insight, that may be even more important.

The Last Death Of Jack Harbin is a moving mystery. Like A Killing At Cotton Hill, it focuses on  parts of our society we don’t look at enough in a true and engaging fashion. Terry Shames has exceeded expectations for her second book and set higher ones for her third.

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MysteryPeople welcomes Terry Shames to BookPeople on Monday, Jan 27 at 7PM to speak about & sign copies of The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

Hard Word Book Club Takes on THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH

Usually the Hard Word Book Club discusses short, punchy novels. Many times we read books under two hundred pages. Get ready for a work out this month, though, with The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel Winter, coming in at a little over six hundred pages.

In fact, the novel is three books in one; each reflects a classic author who was writing at his peak in the time period the story is set in. The first takes place in the 1930s with a French inspector- in the vein of George Simenon’s Maigret – who looks into the death of a prison inmate killed outside the prison. He becomes drawn to the victim’s daughter who is married to an American writer, Rozenkrantz. We then go to the 1940s in LA with a Raymond Chandler-style PI hired to protect a daughter who is now an actress. The third tale is a Jim Thompson-esque downward spiral of Rozenkrantz. By the end the sum of all three books creates a fourth novel.

The Twenty Year Death will provide a great discussion about style, genre, character, and the different authors Winter deftly imitates. We’ll be meeting up at 7PM on the third floor on January, Wednesday the 29th. The book is 10% off for those who attend. Next month, on February 26th, we’ll be discussing Jedidiah Ayres’ F*ckload Of Shorts.

2014 Edgar Award Nominees Announced

The Mystery Writers Of America announced this year’s Edgar Award nominations. You can personally congratulate one of the Best Novel nominees, Ian Rankin, when he’s here at BookPeople on January 28th with his latest Rebus novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible. 

BEST NOVEL

Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook
(Grove Atlantic – The Mysterious Press)

The Humans by Matt Haig
(Simon & Schuster)

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
(Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
(Minotaur Books)

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin
(Hachette Book Group – Reagan Arthur Books)

Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy
(Penguin Group USA – Dutton Books)

See the nominees in all categories. Congrats to them all! 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mark Pryor

We can’t wait to host our friend Mark Pryor this Friday, Jan 17 at 7PM for a reading & signing of his latest featuring Hugo Marston, The Blood Promise. Here’s an insightful interview he did with us to give you an idea of what to expect.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: In Blood Promise you are telling two stories, one in the past and one in the present, that merge. How did you go about juggling the two?

MARK PRYOR: Clear chapter headings! Seriously. Okay, a few other things, too. You’re right in that combining past and present was a challenge. On one hand, I wanted to make the historical action stand apart so that the reader was very clear on where and when things were happening. But there had to be a link, too. What I tried to do, as well as the clear chapter headings, was limit the number of chapters set in the past. In the same way you don’t want your reader to “head-hop” from character to character, I didn’t want my readers to expend a huge amount of mental energy in time travel, figuring out which century they were in. The way to do that, I thought, was to keep the number of chapters set in the past to a minimum and make every event in those chapters memorable and relevant.

Also, those chapters were purely action and activity. There was no musing, solving, or deduction. All the links from then to the present were established in the contemporary chapters. That’s sort of inevitable, of course, but it’s another way to make those chapters read differently. And, of course, revealing those links was Hugo’s job so those revelations had to come in the modern setting.

MP: All three of the Hugo Marston books deal with some aspect of French history. What do you find compelling about the country’s past?

M. Pryor: It’s not just French history that fascinates me, it’s all history. And that’s something of a recent revelation because I went to very traditional English boarding schools where history was memorized from a book, a series of kings, battles, and dates. But history touches us everyday. Our family history impacts who we are, where we live. Society’s development, a result of historical successes and failures, impacts us as a whole. That’s what appeals to me about history: the way it reaches out to us from the past and not just in a way that makes us behave in a certain way, but perhaps in a way that gives us a choice in how we behave.

Now, I will concede that there is a certain romanticism when I think of French history. Every nation has had great historical figures. As a writer who loves to see strong individuals characters, the likes of Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and Joan of Arc are always going to impress me. I’m not saying the French have produced more or better figures in the past. For me, with my preconceived penchant for things French, I see those characters through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s more than just personalities, too. Places contain history that speak to us, to me. The best example is the grand Paris cemetery of Pere Lachaise, a place truly unique to the city.

MP: You introduce a transgender policewoman, Lerens. How did the idea for her come about?

M. Pryor: One of the most fun things about being a writer is that you can create people in any image you choose. It can be done for fun or because a character fits a need in the plot. Or, it can be done to acknowledge certain aspects of humanity that matter. That sounds kind of touchy-feely, so I’ll start by saying how much I loved bringing Tom alive. He’s fun to write, of course. A reason for that is he reflects a part that lives in most of us, the guy or gal who wants to say what they think, to be loud and loyal and not care so much about consequences. Likewise, I love working with Hugo because he reminds me of the good things I’ve seen in people, the honesty and lack of judgment I saw (and hopefully inherited from) my father, and the intelligence and integrity I’ve seen in so many police officers.

Which brings us to Camille Lerens. She’s different in that I don’t know any transgender people. But I was talking to a good friend who is half-black, half-Hispanic, and lesbian. We were talking about book characters and just talking with her I realized how many straight, white men I have in my books. Even the bad guys!  As as result of that, and because I like to test my own boundaries, I came up with a mixed-race male-to-female transgender character.

MP: What kind of research did you do for her?

M. Pryor: Thank heavens for the internet, right? I actually tried pretty hard to connect with someone in real life who had been through that process; but the way the deadlines for the book came about, I didn’t manage that. I learned a lot about the surgeries and physical changes from medical web sites and personal accounts online.

But it’s important for me to emphasize that I didn’t want to make her gender the only important thing about her. Initially I was kind of annoyed with myself for failing to sit down and get one person’s in-depth experience. But now, I’m not because I wonder if I would have infused too much of that into Camille. In other words, I might have risked making her trans-gender status the only important thing about her. That would be ridiculous because, for her, all she wants to do is be a cop. Not a trans-gender cop, just a cop.

I’m sort of hoping to get feedback from real trans-gender people to see if I’ve done a decent job. I’m definitely open to both positive and negative feedback.

MP: While many of your stories deal with politics, you don’t take a political stance in your books like Barry Eisler or Brad Thor. Is that deliberate?

M. Pryor: Yes, it is. I haven’t read those guys so I’m not commenting on them specifically, but I can’t imagine it’s ever a good idea for a writer to start a novel while on his soap-box; or clamber aboard his high-horse for specific issues. Readers are too smart to be manipulated like that, and I know it would irritate me as a reader. As far as Camille Lerens, I tried doubly hard to stay away from my own views. The fact is, no matter what you think, there are people like her all over the world, and all around us. Novelists should reflect the world around them, the good the bad and the ugly. As I mentioned, I had a lot of straight white dudes in my first two books, so I’m looking to change that a little – prepare for the half-Asian, wannabe dominatrix. Seriously.

I also think that a person who challenges the norms can, and should, be used for reasons that aren’t political, but that show the characters of the other people in the book. Hugo is “Mr. Accepting,” so his response to Lerens reinforces a consistent personality trait. In other words, we can learn a great deal about other characters by their responses to unusual people and events.

MP: Hugo seems very comfortable in a foreign setting. Do you see him as an American or more a citizen of the world?

M. Pryor: This is a great question and brings me back to the basis for Hugo’s personality. My father was born in a tiny village in England; but the first chance he got, he rode a motorcycle around America (and met my mother!). He loved to travel to Europe whenever possible; and when they were in their fifties, my parents moved to Africa for three years. On their return, they moved to a little village in the Pyrenees mountains.

So, Hugo was born bearing the DNA of a man who loved to travel and explore the world. His own personality, though, furthers those interests. He is inherently interested in people, and sure, you can meet a million folks just in Texas. But if you really want to experience the gamut of human personality, you should probably expand your circle to include Oklahoma, then Colorado, and New York. And why not Paris?

That said, he’s a man of deep loyalty and appreciation for where he comes from. I sometimes wonder if he’s minutely insecure, hanging on to his cowboy boots and his Texas manners and charm. I hope these things make him a complex and real character. The truth is I don’t feel like I know everything about him yet. That’s part of the joy of writing, and hopefully reading, a series.

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Mark Pryor will be here Friday, Jan 17 at 7PM to speak about & sign The Blood Promise. If you can’t make it to the event, you can order a signed copy order a signed copy via our website. We ship all over the world. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Brad Taylor

Wednesday, Jan 15 at 7PM we will be hosting Brad Taylor to discuss and sign his latest, The Polaris Protocal, a thriller dealing with a plot to shut down the GPS system. We talked to Brad about the premise of his latest book and about the popular series in general.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: The main threat from the bad guys in this book concerns the GPS system. How likely is it that something like that could happen?

BRAD TAYLOR: Having had the honor of being allowed on the floor of the control center for the GPS constellation at Schriever Air Force Base, my initial answer is “very little chance.”  Access to the GPS constellation is one of the most secure areas I have ever seen, and I’ve accessed some pretty secure areas.  Having said that, I’ve also done business inside the NSA – which is locked up pretty tight – and yet that traitor Edward Snowden managed to walk off with our entire playbook.  At the end of the day, trust is the cornerstone of any organization, and it scares me that we have people like Snowden within our intelligence architecture who believe more in their own innate sense of right and wrong and are willing to ignore the damage to national security for their own personal vendetta.  Long-winded answer, but no, given what I saw, the GPS architecture is very secure.  On the other hand, that’s exactly what the NSA said a year ago.  All it would take is one jerk like my character, Arthur Booth, to cause chaos.

MP: What’s the key to writing a good action sequence?

BT: For me, it’s the reader’s ability to visualize what is happening seamlessly.  That’s it.  Am I conveying the words in such a way that the scene is flowing across the reader’s brain, to include the emotional impact that it deserves, without bogging the reader down with needless details that cause a blip in the enjoyment?  That would seem to be easy. But in truth, when you’ve got five bad guys and five good guys, it’s hard to do.  Everyone needs to be actively engaged, and everyone needs to act in a manner that is commensurate with what that character would do in a particular situation.  All too often I write a scene and really like the emotional impact. Then, upon reading it a week later, I think, “Why on earth would he do that?  No way would I do that.  I’d grab weapon X and start shooting target Y.”  I then enter into the re-write trying to get it right.

MP:  You use a lot of movie references in your books. Are you influenced by filmmakers as much as novelists?

BT: Okay.  Hidden secret:  I am influenced by movies, though not as much as I am by books.  Reading is my first pleasure. But the fact remains that we live in a visual world.  Not a day goes by where I’m talking about my books when someone asks, “When’s it going to be a movie?”, as if that were my goal.  I don’t write anything because I want to see it on film. I do use movies as reference because I’m more certain the reader will relate to it.  But it’s not an absolute.

I just used a reference to Gollum from The Hobbit in my forthcoming book (available in July), Days of Rage; and I’m sure someone will think I’m talking about the movie, but I haven’t even seen it.  At the end of the day, though, I love a good movie as much as a good book, and there are certain scenes that just stick with me.  In fact, The Princess Bride has become a reoccurring reference in my books precisely because I’ve always loved that movie.  I have an Easter egg from it in every single manuscript since All Necessary Force, including The Polaris Protocol.  In the past, it was obvious. Now it’s a little harder to discern, but it’s there.  Beyond that, though, some movie scenes are just really, really good.  Clint Eastwood  as Josey Wales, “Dying ain’t much of a living,” or  William Munny, “We all got it coming kid.”  They evoke the same emotion as the written word, and have influenced me the same way.

MP: As a writer, what makes Pike and the rest of the team worth returning to?

BT: For me, it’s the characters.  The action scenes are fun to write, but it’s the impact and affect on the world I’ve created that matters. Coming back to watch Pike and Jennifer grow, along with how the bureaucracy evolves around the Taskforce—which provides it’s own challenges in keeping current—are what bring me back.  Life marches on in my real world, with my family and my previous military career, so it’s fun figuring out where my characters’ lives will go.  I’m sure it’ll get harder and harder, but that’s why I like coming back.

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MysteryPeople Presents Brad Taylor here on Wednesday, Jan 15 at 7PM. If you can’t make it to the event, we’re currently taking orders for signed copies of The Polaris Protocol via our website. We ship worldwide. 

Review: SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE

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Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
Reviewed by Raul

John Rebus has been one of my favorite detectives for years, and Malcolm Fox is becoming another; that Ian Rankin, one of the best mystery writers around, can create two disparate characters who are compelling on an individual level shows his mastery of the genre. In the Saints of the Shadow Bible, Rebus and Fox work together to solve a thirty year old case that is related to Rebus’ early years.

When Rebus started as a DI in the Summerhall CID, he was inducted into a club of good ol’ boy cops named the Saints. These were the cops who regularly coerced, lied, and sometimes beat confessions out of suspects. On one occasion, a snitch named Saunders avoided an inquiry into the beating death of a man with the Saints’ help. Fox becomes involved because the solicitor general wants to prosecute the man since the double jeopardy laws have changed in Scotland, and Saunders may testify against the Saints.

Meanwhile Rebus, demoted to DS, is working a case with DI Siobhan Clarke involving a car accident that has suspicious undertones. The friendly banter that has developed over the years between the two detectives plays itself out delightfully well in this book; Clarke is Rebus’ superior officer, but that does not stop the ribbing that goes back and forth. When the simple investigation is complicated by more serious crimes, Rebus is convinced that there is more going on that what they have discovered.

Fox, on the outs from the Complaints, is eager to find out the truth about what really happened thirty years ago, and uses Rebus to get information on the Saints. The remaining members of Summerhall CID, in particular the former director Gilmour, ask Rebus to get information on the inquiry and report back to them. When evidence begins to disappear, the inquiry takes on a darker tone. The book illustrates why Rebus is such a remarkable character, for no one can play both sides against the middle as well as he does.

The best part of the book has to be Rebus and Fox working side by side. A straight-laced cop like Fox and the pragmatic Rebus soldier on despite the deceit because they both want to find out the truth. Rebus helps the solicitor general’s inquiry when it becomes stuck and Fox helps Rebus and Clarke make actual progress on the accident case. There is a new respect burgeoning between the two, and fans can feel confident that either a little bit of Rebus will rub off on Fox or some of Fox will rub off on Rebus.

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Ian Rankin speaks about & signs Saints of the Shadow Bible here at BookPeople on Tuesday, January 28 at 7pm. Books & tickets for the signing are now available in-store and via bookpeople.com. We are currently taking orders for signed copies of Saints of the Shadow Bible. We ship worldwide.