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. 

Hilary Davidson Tackles Mystery’s Misogyny Controversy

ljx131201wwebmysDavidsonb-201x300At the 2013 Bouchercon, the subject of misogyny and violence came up often. Hilary Davidson’s comments on one panel got the the attention of the Library Journal who asked her for this blog post that has been making the rounds in the Mystery community.

“Sadistic violence on the page has been on the rise for some time. I don’t think it’s fair to pin it on one book, but in my mind, there’s a divide between crime novels published before 1988 and those that came after. That was the year Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs came out. That title was brutal, but its violence was essential to the psychological underpinning of the book and to the development of its characters. Its massive success inspired imitators, but many of those seemed less concerned with psychology than splatter.”

Read the rest of the post by clicking here.

Crime Fiction Friday: ‘Gumbo Weather’ by Thomas Pluck

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Thomas Pluck’s Blade Of Dishonor made our Top Five Debuts of 2013. It gives Frank Bill’s Donnybrook a run for its money for the most fight scenes in one book. Pluck is also the editor of and a contributor to Protectors, a collection of over forty tales that raises money for child advocacy groups. He was recently published in Needle: A Magazine of Noir with this little piece of bayou nastiness.

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Gumbo Weather
by Thomas Pluck

The daily sun shower speckled the windshield with diamonds.

“Know what you’re thinking,” Russ said from up front, perched like a stork in a motorcycle jacket.

“Reckon you do,” Jay replied. He lounged in back, cracking his knuckles. Squinting his steely, sunken eyes and turning the diamonds into stars. He ran a hand through his shock of black hair.

“You stomp this dumb shit’s hands with your work boots, he’ll just kick the kid around instead.”

“Maybe I’ll back the car over his ankles, then.”

“Man can’t work, he can’t pay. Sally Jiggs’ll want his twenty large from your pocket.”

Three points on twenty grand meant six yards a week. Steep price to pay, Jay thought.

Their man’s name was George Fells. Back when the Saints were the Ain’ts, George had bet against them hard. They won the big one, and he’d been paying for it since. Russ called it penance for disloyalty to the home team.

The man drank at Sally’s bar on Napoleon, near the port. If they busted George in there they’d scare off the gamblers, bring too much heat. So they waited a few spots behind his car in their banged-up cab, listening to summer rain hit the roof.

* * *

Last time George Fells was late, they found him at home. A little green house off Tchoupitoulas. It was windy and cold; gumbo weather. Jay rapped on the door.

“Get the damn door,” George said from inside.

“I’m making roux.” A woman’s voice.

George sank as he recognized them at the door. He was a swarthy bayou boy like Jay. He wore a Ragin’ Cajuns sweatshirt with the sleeves ripped off, and showed them his back after he turned the lock.

A little blond blue-eyed boy worked Crayolas at the kitchen table, and a woman in sweats and a ponytail stirred a pot of chocolate roux at the stove. Gumbo starter; flour and oil. She had her trinity—celery, bell pepper, and onions—diced in a bowl and ready to go. The heady scent filled the kitchen.

The woman rolled her eyes as the two men came in from the cold.

“Ma’am,” Jay said, nodded. Russ smirked.

George bumped his wife’s bony hips aside as he stomped past. His son looked up, hopped off his chair, went to hug his daddy’s leg.

“Outta my way, ya little shit.” He walked right through the kid. The boy fell on his behind, little eyes went wet. He started to wail.

The boy’s momma sighed, turned off the heat. “Ruined,” she said, avoiding Jay’s eyes. As she picked the boy up, his shirt lifted, revealing leopard-spot bruises.

Jay watched the room fill with red mist. Took a step, then Russ squeezed his shoulder hard. Brought him back to the acrid odor of burning roux.

George returned with a roll of bills and a frown carved above his stubbled coal chunk of a chin.

Russ counted. “You’re a yard short.”

“You’re taking it out my boy’s mouth, you vultures.”

“That boy you use as a punching bag, you piece of shit?” Jay grabbed George’s pinky and twisted. George shrieked, fell to his knees.

“Jay,” Russ said.

“You son of a bitch,” George said.

“Yep. A 22 carat bitch she was,” Jay said. “Not half as mean as the dog who fucked her.”

Jay dragged George by the hair to the stove.

George’s eyes went wide as Jay tilted the pot toward his face. “Roux gets hot as napalm. I made the bitch stop stirring, once. Can’t remember why. Still got the scars down my back.”

“Jay, c’mon now,” Russ said.

Jay shoved George away. “Now Georgie, you go kiss the little girls and make ‘em cry. But next time you’re short on the puddin’ and pie, I’m bringing the tin snips. And if that boy’s got a mark on him—”

“How’m I gonna work? I work with my hands!”

“We know all you do is type and talk,” Jay said. “You can hunt ‘n peck with nine.” He pushed him onto the floor, gave a dead-eyed stare. “Tell your wife I’m sorry we ruined supper.” He set the pot on the stove, and they left to make their next collection.

When they cleared the book best they could, they left the day’s envelope at the bar drop. Parked the work car at Sally’s taxi stand, and headed out in Jay’s purple Challenger for steaks at Charlie’s. Charlie had needed a loan to restore after Katrina. Sally anted up, so his boys ate free.

“You can’t beat the sick out of a man like that,” Russ said.

“Sure feels good trying.”

“Just saying, our job’s to collect, not save the world. Most of ‘em are degenerate gamblers. Some worse.”

“You can sit there, knowing he’s taking it out on her and that boy?”

“I took a whipping almost every day, growing up.”

“Me too. Don’t mean we liked it.”

“It ain’t our business.”

They worked on their steaks a while.

“You take the belt to your kids?”

“Hell no. But it ain’t your business if I do.”

“Okay, then. So you think it ain’t right.”

“I don’t kick back with Early Times every night like my old man did, neither.”

Jay pointed with his fork. “What if someone made it their business? Busted up your old man?”

Russ shook his head, poked at his potatoes. “I’d have to side with my Pop. He’s my blood. What about you?”

“I told you about that. Still looking for him.”

“You gotta let that go. It’s not like he named you Sue.”

Jay laughed, took a slug of Wild Turkey.

“You got the right,” Russ said. “What he did? It was me, I’d say he needed killin’ too.” He’d seen the constellation of cigarette burns on his partner’s belly. “But the rest of us, who just came up getting knocked around? It’s more complicated.”

“Reckon so,” Jay said.

“They didn’t know better,” Russ said. “Their folks whaled on ‘em too. That’s all they knew. Don’t make it right. Not one bit. Makes it harder to hate ‘em, that’s all. Once they’re old and weak.”

Jay nodded, staring into the amber of his glass.

“Your stepfolks, they ever slap you around?”

“Not a hair on my head.”

“I know, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth.”

“Nope,” Jay said. “Slide right off like it was the Virgin Mary’s left tit.”

They shared a laugh, and bourbon too.

“Just ain’t that simple,” Russ said. “You hate what they did, but you love ‘em. So you find a good woman who holds you all night, tells you the sun shines outta your ass. She shits out a few beautiful kids for you. And you love ‘em the best you can.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Jay said. And they did. “You think George’ll whup ‘em harder, after what I done?”

“Who’s to say? You didn’t make him start. You ain’t gonna make him stop. Comes down to it, a man’s gonna do what he wants.”

* * *

That was three months back. Now there was another cold snap, and George Fells was a week late once more. He’d come in to Sally’s to bet on the Tigers game. Russ got a text from Clyde the bartender when he showed.

Jay stared into his own eyes in the rear view, then down at his hands. His step dad Poppa Andre had been good with his hands. Made a tidy living, working the beauty out of wood, making furniture. He and Aunt Angeline had fled Louisiana with him, saving Jay from that pit of hell. And they’d paid hard for it later.

Andre had told Jay to go school, to use his head, not his hands. But that hadn’t worked out. Jay had to take care of a bully at school who beat on his friends, and raped one. A mean son of a bitch who needed killing. Jay had paid for that with a quarter century in prison.

Now he tallied how he much he was willing to pay for George Fells.

He could sell the Challenger. It might cover the principal, and whatever bullshit payoff fee Sally charged. A Shylock never made it easy to quit. They’d bleed you forever, to get that weekly juice. Maybe Jay could buy a shitbox like this cab, and buy George’s loan.

Then he could slam George’s hands in the back door, and drive his wife and the boy to her kin, wherever they were. He could tell George the new vig was letting them go.

It felt about as real as the diamonds on the windshield.

George huddled against the rain in a gray hoodie. Russ rolled the window down and whistled for him. Instead, he took off.

Jay shouldered the back door open and ran. When he caught up, he yanked the strings of George’s hood closed, kneed him in the gut. Russ came up the curb to cut them off. Jay threw him in back, jumped on top, elbow first.

“Rent was due Friday, and you’re betting like a free man? Sally don’t like that.”

George coughed. “Gotta be so rough?”

“I’d rather be sitting at the bar eating oysters,” Jay said, and slapped him through the hood. “You make me run, I’m liable to be ornery.”

“Ain’t got it on me.”

“Pick a finger. Russ, get me the tin snips.”

“I got it at home,” George said. “No need for that kind of talk.”

Russ double-parked in front of the green little house. Was getting to know the way by heart.

Same small kitchen with the steel-legged table and white peeled floor. Gumbo simmered on the stove. George’s wife looked up with a yellow ring round her eye, as they shuffled in from the rain. Boy was on her knee, reading from a Little Golden Book. He eyed his father quick, then went back to his book.

“Two weeks’ juice, now,” Russ said.

George limped in back for the cash.

Jay whispered to the woman. “You got kin, ma’am? This ain’t right.”

“Mind your business,” she hissed, and didn’t look up.

George came out with an ugly little pistol.

“Easy now,” Russ said, and raised his hands.

“George, what are you—”

He cracked the butt down on her head. “Shut the hell up!”

She moaned and low-walked out the room with her wailing son in tow.

Jay kept quiet. Hands up. Stepped away, felt the heat of the gumbo pot at his back.

“You do this, you’re bringing hell down on your whole family.”

“This how it’s gonna be, boys. Russ, I know you got children. You stay.” George aimed the gun at him. Kept his distance. “Jay? You’re gonna hit the money drop.”

“You crazy? What you think that’s gonna do? That’s Sally’s money. You’re good as dead.”

“If you catch up to me.”

“It won’t be us, George. They’ll be worse. Don’t think they won’t shoot that boy of yours.”

“Jay, get goin’ now.”

“Russ has the piece, Georgie.”

“You think it’s real funny, callin’ me that?” He stepped forward, stuck the little revolver into Jay’s eye socket. “Maybe you come back, we’ll all be dead. Ain’t no other way out from under this rock!”

Russ’s hand drifted into the coat for his pistol. Jay saw it with his good eye. He wondered if George saw him look, if that was why he turned and shot Russ in the throat.

Jay dumped the soup pot on him. George screamed, firing into the ceiling as he clawed his bubbling face. Jay swung the pot back and forth by the handle, clanging off the man’s skull. When George collapsed, Jay hammered his face until it resembled a rotten cantaloupe.

Russ stared at the ceiling, haloed in a widening ruby pool. He mouthed a few silent words before his eyes went blank.

“I’m sorry, partner.”

Jay slipped the .45 and the payment book from Russ’s jacket.

He left the woman moaning in her parlor. Dumped the cab in Gert Town with the keys in the ignition, and took a streetcar back to the Challenger.

* * *

“Clyde, send him in.”

Jay shuffled in with his head down, hands in the pockets of his pea coat.

Salvatore Gingerelli held court in back of his bar, hunkered over a poker table littered with empty oyster shells and fat envelopes. He looked like a track-suited linebacker gone to seed, well-tanned, a fat cigar in his jeweled hand. His two favorite earners, Philly Lasardo and Lee Walker, flanked him.

Philly had a thick mane dyed black and wore glasses on a chain around his neck. He counted bills, and didn’t look up. Lee turned his pinched face toward Jay without a word. The iceman never said much. His eyes said enough.

“What’s on your mind, Jay?” Sally exhaled a dragon plume of Montecristo smoke.

“Russ is dead, Sal. George Fells shot him. I took care of him.”

Jay took the book out of his jacket, let the dog-eared pages flop among the seashells.

Sally nodded. “Sit down, Jay. Let’s talk about this.”

Jay hunched into his seat, chewing his lip. They already knew, that he was sure.

Sally took a decanter of scotch from the private bar behind him, poured it into two cut crystal rocks glasses. He nudged one toward Jay, who took a gulp.

“Anyone see you?”

“No. Wife and kid were in the other room.”

“So she knows. Lee, why don’t you call our friend at the 2nd precinct. Have him send someone friendly over.”

Lee nodded, flipped open a black phone, and walked to the back.

Sally dipped the chewed end of his cigar into his scotch. Scratched at his leg.

“George worked at the port, didn’t he?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good life insurance. Let her slide a few weeks. Get the funeral taken care of.”

Jay rocked in his chair, nodded. Fingered his keys in his pocket.

“Sal, she was asking. What would it take to pay off the principal?”

The big man laughed. “Whatever she’s got and twenty large more. Her husband killed a good soldier.”

Jay nodded. “He was a good man.” He stared at the shucked oyster shells a moment, then slid an envelope from his pocket. “Today’s bag.” He handed it to Philly, then stuck his hands in his pockets again.

“He was,” Sally said. “It’s our life. It is what it is.”

Philly opened the envelope, and frowned at the newsprint inside.

Jay fired the .45 under the table twice. Sal’s cigar dropped, the rest of him froze solid.

Dirty bills flew like feathers as Philly fell backward in his chair. Lee, a wiry old lion, leaped across the table at Jay and they tumbled to the checkered floor. He straddled him and wrenched Jay’s gun hand, the meat of his thumb against the hammer.

Jay reached up and stuck two fingers in Lee’s mouth. Yanked hard, gave the dour man a bloody smile. When Lee clutched his ruined face, Jay shot him through the hands. Philly wailed at the back door, pawing the bolt. Jay pushed himself up, Lee’s limp body rolling off him.

A shotgun barrel broke the outline of the doorway to the bar.

“Clyde,” Jay hollered. “Drop that thing, you dumb shit. Before I shoot you through the damn plaster.”

“You gonna shoot me anyway!”

Jay shot twice through the wall. The shotgun dropped. He never learned if he hit Clyde or not. Sally’s head hit the oyster shells, thick lips bubbling red. Snubby .38 in his hand. Jay put another round in his bald spot.

Out back, he shot Philly between the shoulder blades. Took the keys to his Cadillac from his pocket.

* * *

Cruising over Lake Pontchartrain, Jay boomeranged the gun toward the dirty water. He’d miss the Challenger’s muscle.

His father would get to live out his days whoring and stubbing out cigarettes in some backwater saloon. But Jay would leave the fat envelope with Russ’s wife, and whoever took over Sally’s book would find George Fell’s number marked paid in full.

Top 6 Books To Look Forward to In 2014

2014 is looking like a great year for crime fiction fans. It’s so good that while I was making a top 5 list of books I’m looking forward to, I realized I had to make it 6.

 

1. Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

This will be a bittersweet read, since it will be the last book featuring my favorite contemporary private eye, Moe Prager. Moe is one of the most fully realized characters out there and this series contains some of the most poignant books I’ve ever read. I may be wiping tears as I turn pages. On Sale 5/18/14. Pre-order here.

 

2. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

As much as I love Hilary’s Lily Moore series, this novel of blackmail, kidnapping, and bad relationships sounds like the kind of book I’ve been waiting for her to write. Leaning her towards darker short fiction, this could be the Gone Girl of 2014. On Sale 4/15/14. Pre-order here.

 

james ellroy3. Perfidia by James Ellroy

Ellroy goes back to The City Of Angels to revisit some of the characters from his LA Quartet in their earlier days. This could be a return to the sprawling, stylish, down and dirty Ellroy we all got hooked on. On Sale 9/9/14. Pre-order here. 

 

 

4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

I’ve been waiting years for Dennis Tafoya to come out with a new book – read Dope Thief to know why. This tale of an ex-US Marshall protecting her sister and step mother from her father on the streets of Philadelphia should have all the gritty heart I’ve come to expect from him and be well worth the wait. On Sale 4/29/14. Pre-order here.

 

5. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McGinty

The final installment of The Troubles Trilogy featuring Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop in Thatcher-era Belfast. My only hope is that McGinty will find a way to continue with this complex character and his biting sense of humor. On Sale 3/4/14. Pre-order here. 

 

6. The Fever by Megan Abbott

A new book by Megan Abbott. That’s all that needs to be said. On Sale 6/17/14. Pre-order here.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Archer Mayor

(Q&A conducted by Wil)

Archer Mayor’s Three Can Keep A Secret is the latest book featuring Vermont inspector Joe Gunther. As BookPople’s biggest Gunther fan and a former Vermont citizen, I sat down to ask Mr. Mayor a few questions.

MysteryPeople: True or false: Joe Gunther is the one character in your books that is your rock. He doesn’t change his basic character despite the changes that happen around him.

Archer Mayor: Essentially, true.

It occurred to me from the start that, for most of us, having a rock-like character in our lives is a good and enviable thing; and yet, so much of our fiction is populated with “flawed” heroes, who are crippled by any number of exotic setbacks — physical, emotional, substance-related, or all three. I opted instead to have a few such people in my series, but to make the central-most character a rock. He would be human. He would make mistakes. He might even inadvertently hurt people. But he would always atone, and his basic decency would always counterbalance whatever damage he might inflict. As a result, I hope that what I’ve created in Joe Gunther is a person that we can admire and respect, as well as root for. In an ever more cynical world, I felt that such a personality might be a worthwhile icon to create and keep.

MP: In Three Can Keep a Secret, as usual in your novels, you paint a vivid picture of Vermont’s beauty, geography, people and her politics. Do you consider yourself a spokesperson, a critic, or a simple reporter for the state of Vermont?

AM: Perhaps more a reporter. My work as a cop, EMT, firefighter, and a medical examiner preclude my simply being a local cheerleader. I’ll leave that to the Chambers of Commerce and the state Tourism Department. I’m comfortable inhabiting the real world (and writing about it), where beauty and grace can easily co-exist with ugliness and misfortune and sometimes change from one to the other (and back) in a heartbeat.

MP: The portrayal of Hurricane Irene and the subsequent flooding in your latest novel rings true. It seems everyone – especially down here in Texas – has a flood story. What’s yours?

AM: I was working as a cop on the day that Irene dropped by, engaged in a search for a young man who had gone missing. To this day, he hasn’t been found, and we have no idea if Irene played a role in his vanishing. That being the case, I therefore spent all the time surrounding the storm scouring the ravaged surrounding environs in this search, and thus became very familiar with its impact – and also getting very wet.

I was called in on another case, in my role as a medical examiner, to help locate the washed-away contents of a local cemetery, but my role as a cop took precedence.

MP: Both Willy Kunkle and Beverly Hillstrom have been long standing colleagues in Joe Gunther’s life. In this book, which character has been the most fun (or the most interesting) to write about: Willy the ever-crotchety investigator who is now a new dad, or Beverly the state medical examiner with her cadavers and her ongoing history with Joe? Yes, I’m honestly forcing you to choose.

AM: Well, Willy remains a reliable force with me. My daughter even tells me that I’m the template for his personality- which I hope is only partially true. Therefore, since you are being forceful, I will opt for Beverly in this narrow instance. She is Joe’s equal in many important ways (intelligent, kind and a dogged worker) and now seems to be willing to add to his happiness as well. And I think that we can all agree that he’s due for a little of that by now. But we also know that relationships are tricky and need constant nurturing. So what has developed between Beverly and Joe will deserve attention from me, and will therefore make them challenging and enjoyable as a couple.

MP: Do you ever feel like you’ve tapped into every bit of crime the setting of Vermont has to offer?

AM: No more than any other chronicler of human misbehavior. Vermont is rural and small and thinly populated, true. But it also contains human variables that are available most everywhere else (if in fewer numbers) from domestic violence to gangs to dopers to sociopaths — as well as altruists, idealists, and kind-hearted community volunteers. I consider myself a social anthropologist. I write less about crime, per se, than about the human condition. As a result, I don’t see myself running out of material any time soon.

MP: Are there any crimes to which Vermont is immune?

AM: Maybe the defoliation of the rain forest. That’s not something we see much locally. On a more serious note, however, while our numbers may appear sometimes ludicrously low, our diversity is there to be exploited. People are people wherever they are.

MPAre there any new topics of criminal activity that you’re keen to write about?

AM: Not specifically. As I mentioned above, it is less the crime that captures my interest, and more the circumstances that either stimulate it or surround it. Thus, I’ve just finished writing about hoarding as a social artifact (for Proof Positive, due out next Fall) and have tied some criminal activities to it, of course. But I’m hoping that it will be the overall story that will capture the reader’s imagination, and not merely some arcane and glittery piece of criminal over achievement.

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Copies of Three Can Keep a Secret are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com