Crime Fiction Friday: MUSIC CAPITOL OF THE WORLD by Joe Canzano

joe-canzano

Akashic Books has a great weekly short story post: Mondays are Murder. Every Monday, they publish a story with a 750 word limit that features a particular town. Recently they gave us this tale by Joe Canzano set in MysteryPeople’s home: Austin, Texas.

“Music Capitol of the World” by Joe Canzano

“So Johnny Fizz was dead and now it was my problem.

Not because I was some hotshot Austin cop working the 6th Street district, wrestling with drunken punks the way Stevie Ray had wrestled with that fire-breathing Strat. No, it was my problem because I’d played in a band with Johnny for years, and I knew at least a hundred people who wanted to see him with his head blown off.

But there was one person who wanted his head more blown off than the rest, and she was my first stop….”

Read the full story by following this link.

MysteryPeople Review: BLACKBERRY PIE MURDER

Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke
Reviewed by Michael

For the 17th installment of the Hannah Swenson Mysteries with Recipes series author Joanna Fluke serves up a mystery with a unique twist in Blackberry Pie Murder: the main character is the killer.

While driving through a violent rainstorm on the back roads of small town Lake Eden, Minnesota, Hannah hits a man with her delivery van. The mystery is not who-dun-it but, instead, who’d-it-get-dun-to. The victim is a stranger with a diamond in his tooth and Hannah is determined to find out who he is and why he was wandering around in the rain. And, is that dark stain on his shirt blackberry pie …or blood?

In addition to solving crimes and running the local bakery, Hannah and her sisters are helping plan their mother’s upcoming wedding. This seems even more difficult than solving the mystery because her mother changes her mind at least once a day.

The term “cozy mystery” is the perfect description of this book. The atmosphere is never dark. The goodness of the characters is clearly drawn. Even though this is my first visit to Eden Lake, I felt quite at home with Hannah and her family. There were many things happening with family and friends that were not part of the mystery. But, I’m sure fans of this series felt right at home in this atmosphere. Especially entertaining is Hannah’s romantic indecision between her two suitors: the local dentist & the sheriff’s deputy.

And, let’s not forget the recipes. There are, I think, twenty-five recipes for cookies, pies and other baked goodies put in between the chapters. They all sound delicious.

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Joanne Fluke will be at the store on Tuesday, Mar 4 at 7PM speaking & signing Blackberry Pie Murder. Click here for more information & to pre-order your signed copy.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Laura Lippman


Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone deals with a cold-case detective’s investigation into the disappearnce of shady businessman Felix  Gottshalk’s that occurred exactly ten years after after the murder of his mistress, Julie. Instead of focusing on Felix, the book focuses on his wife, Bambi, his daughters, and Julie. Laura was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about this well crafted novel.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Your book is based on a true missing persons case, but you chose to focus on the people left behind. What pushed you in that direction?

LAURA LIPPMAN: I think the minute that Felix walks out that door, he opts out of his family’s life — a tragic, selfish choice. You know, a lot of us (myself included, sometimes) are present but missing. In some ways, this is a cautionary story about what you might miss — the good, the bad moments, the big and the little ones. Felix misses everything.

MP: What was the biggest challenge in covering all the time periods?

LL: Getting it right. I think readers would be amused by the lengths I go to when I’m trying to nail down certain details. Those earrings! The hours expended upon finding the right earrings for Felix to give Bambi. And then there’s the serendipity of meeting a reader who went to Forest Park High School and could describe the dances for me.

MP: While it’s subtle, Bambi’s Jewish background is always present in the book. Do you think the story would be much different if the family were WASPs?

LL: I honestly don’t think so. Bambi’s class origins — upper middle class, but not truly rich — are more important than her religion in some ways. Now if she were a blue-blood, old-money WASP — yes, that would be very different. Perhaps this is one place where my imagination failed me; because the real-life inspiration was Jewish, it never occurred to me not to write her as such.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Sandy is a wonderful investigator/guide for the story in the sense that he’s fully dimensional as a character, but he never draws the attention away from the women. Besides being a cold-case cop, what made him perfect to question the rest of your characters?

LL: He’s so solitary. I think, over the course of the investigation, he taps into Julie’s longing to be part of a large, intertwined family. All she has is her sister. All he had was his wife — and the son from whom he is now estranged. And the estrangement does not speak well of Sandy. But there’s a yearning there, a real wistfulness.

MP: Bambi is a woman who has more layers to her than you may initially think. Do you see her as a woman of her generation or a woman trapped in her generation?

LL: They certainly had tight parameters, fewer choices. Bambi is very much a woman of her time and class. But she’s also, to my mind, wonderfully resilient and clever. Bambi might not have made it through a semester of college, but she shows at the end that she’s very smart.

MP: The themes of class, religion, and family are very nuanced. Did you have them in mind before writing the book or did it grow out of the story and the characters?

LL: The book initially started with a Jewish High Holidays scene that never made it. Then I backed up, started with Michelle’s bat mitzvah. So the religious themes were always there. But in the case of this book, the characters arrived as themselves and dictated where I was to go. I don’t usually sound so airy-fairy, but Bambi was just there, as were her daughters.

MP: You’re one of the best short story writers out there, you have one of the most entertaining series PIs, and you’ve given us some knock out stand-alones. Is there anything you can’t write?

LL: Oh, wow. I cannot begin to take a compliment like that. I am desperate to say something self-deprecating. I’ll be sincere and admit that it’s one of my great disappointments that I cannot write poetry. Every year, when I teach at Eckerd College, Peter Meinke does a reading and I’m enraptured. I’ve also had the pleasure of hearing my friend Beth Ann Fennelly read her poetry. And this year, at the closing night reception for the Eckerd College Writers in Paradise program, the president of the college, Donald Eastman, read an anti-war poem that blew us all away. I don’t even try to write poetry. It’s a form so demanding that even the spaces between the words have to be perfect.

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Laura Lippman will appear at BookPeople alongisde author Jeff Abbott on Wednesday, Mar 5 at 7PM. For more information and to order a signed copy of the book, visit our website, bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: THE RED ROAD

One the best things about crime fiction is its potential for social awareness. Ever since Dashiell Hammett wrote Red Harvest, the detective novel has been able to delve into issues of the here and now. Few carry on that tradition finer than Scottish author Denise Mina, evidence of which can be seen in her latest, The Red Road.

The book starts in 1997, the night of Princess Diana’s death. Rose, a teen prostitute in the rough Red Road projects, kills two men. While the victims were of questionable character, the killings weren’t in self defense. Her attorney takes an interest in her. He gets her the lowest sentence he can, and later, he brings her into his family after her release. We then go forward into near present-day with Detective Inspector Morrow acting as a witness for the prosecution of a gun dealer. Trouble arises when the defendant’s prints are found at the scene of a murder that took place during his incarceration. It is all ties to Rose and that night in 1997.

Like many other characters in Mina’s Morrow series, Rose serves as much as a main character as her inspector. She embodies the debate of nature versus nurture. Through the time juxtaposition, Mina creates her as two different characters, tied by a common history, where this newer Rose was given hope. Much of the book’s tension comes from us wondering if the old Rose will resurface.

Morrow has more of a presence than she did in Mina’s previous Gods & Beasts. We learn that her brother is a known gangster, and that her taking on the investigation puts her reputation on the line. We also get a glimpse of her as a mother. It’s interesting to watch her navigate and use the relationships in her work and life. When she meets up with Rose, it’s electric.

The Red Road is about a lot of meetings and clashes: past and present, psychology and sociology, duty and justice. Mina has created a moral mystery as much as a murder mystery, with few getting off the hook.

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Copies of The Red Road are currently available on our shelves at BookPeople and via our website, bookpeople.com.

The Look Out: BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS

Hilary Davidson has two personalities as a writer. Best known for her edgy psychological thrillers featuring travel writer Lily Moore, she has also penned several noir short stories with a pitch black sense of humor (many collected in the eBook, The Black Widow Club). She fuses both styles brilliantly in her first stand alone, Blood Always Tells.

The book is told from three points of view. We start with a mistress trying to get back at her three-timing boyfriend. Her plan of attack involves blackmail, but then she gets caught up in his kidnapping. Then, the story later shifts to her brother, Desmond, who is trying to rescue her from everything she’s gotten herself entangled with. Lastly, near the end we hear from the point-of-view of a character who has been a fly on a wall through the whole thing.

Each character changes the story into a different sub-genre- from black comic crime to hard-boiled detective, all fitting together perfectly to make one novel.

No matter which perspective you are reading, Blood Always Tells is one engaging read. Its many twists, dark humor, darker psychology, and complex good, bad and somewhere-in-the-middle characters make it one of the best books in what is looking like a banner year for crime fiction. It’s hard to tell you more without giving away the great surprises. You can find out for yourself when the book comes out on April 15th. Make sure to join us on Thursday, April 24 at 6:30PM when Hilary will be here at at BookPeople to sign and discuss the novel.

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Hilary Davidson will be at BookPeople on Thursday, Apr 24 at 6:30PM speaking & signing copies of Blood Always Tells. For more information & to pre-order signed copies, visit bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Johnny Shaw

Johnny Shaw has almost single-handedly brought back the men’s action paperback with his zine, blog, and book, Blood & Tacos. We asked Johnny a few questions about the concept and genre.

 

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for Blood & Tacos come about?

JOHNNY SHAW: Around the time my first novel Dove Season came out, I was playing with the idea of creating a hoax for my blog. I wrote up a few pages of what would become the “Chingon” story in the book. My plan was to write about how I found this paperback in a thrift store, including the pages I wrote. I was going to get my favorite artist (and wife) Roxanne Patruznick to paint a cover (she painted all the original oil paintings for the Blood & Tacos covers). And then to complete the hoax, I was going to get a couple crime writer pals to back me up and claim that they remembered the series on their blogs.

All said and done, it just seemed like a lot of work. I found I wasn’t interested in maintaining a blog. And I didn’t know where I would go from there. But I liked the premise and was curious if other writers would be interested in getting in on the fun. So, at my first Bouchercon in St. Louis, I brought up the idea to Cameron Ashley and Gary Phillips. They were immediately on board, pitching me ideas right there in the hotel bar. I was kind of obligated at that point. When I presented it to Pete Allen, the head honcho over at Creative Guy Publishing, he was all in. And four issues, a book, a phone app, and a podcast later, here we are.

MP: Is “Chingon” based on any particular paperback heroes?

JS: Not really. For me, it was more about using those stories as inspiration and seeing where it took me. All the writers for Blood & Tacos not only came up with their own characters and stories, but they had to create a persona for the author that wrote that story. My alter-ego is Brace Godfrey.

By writing as another person, it gives me the latitude to really play with the voice. The idea was that Brace wanted to promote more minority and female characters, but, unfortunately, he still relied heavily on racist and sexist stereotypes and caricatures. That led to series titles like “Ghetto Force,” “The Oriental Tornado,” “Knockers O’Malley: Lady Cop,” and of course, “Chingon.”

MP: What were some of your favorite male paperback series?

JS: As a young reader, I got caught up in the gateway drug of the Frank Frazetta cover. It starts small, a Conan here, a Burroughs there, but before you know it you’re branching out to the paperbacks near them on the stands.

Because many early pulp heroes were re-released in paperback in the 1970s and 1980s, in my mind, those reprinted stories are grouped in with the contemporary stories of that time. Characters like Tarzan, Conan, Doc Savage, the Avenger, the Shadow, and the Spider existed right next to the Executioner, the Destroyer, the Death Merchant, the Penetrator, and all the others. A character like Nick Carter spans both eras.

When I get time to read any now, I am much more partial to the more obscure or esoteric series from the era. I don’t know if I could get through an Executioner novel past #10 or so. Unfortunately, the stranger series usually had much shorter runs. I highly recommend Swamp Master and Radcliff.

MP: You were able to get Stephen Mertz who created the MIA series to contribute. How did that come about?

JS: One of the first readings I ever did was at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was paired with Joe Lansdale. No pressure there. I’m assuming that Joe was worried that no one would show up, so he asked me to bring in my three fans for safety.

Steve and Joe are pals. In fact, they both wrote books in the Stone: MIA Hunter series. Steve also created Cody’s Army and wrote some Executioners, among others. He showed up to the reading and we hit it off and kept in touch. At first, I was just going to do an interview in Blood & Tacos , but when he expressed interest in writing a story, I knew I was going to include it. What an honor.

There are some many authors that cut their teeth in men’s adventure. Nelson DeMille (Ryker), Lee Goldberg (.357 Vigilante), Marc Olden (Black Samurai), Piers Anthony (Jason Striker), and Robert Randisi (The Gunsmith), Michael Avallone (The Satan Sleuth), just to name a few.

MP: What are you taking away from the process of writing this book?

JS: If anything, it’s really about a sense of fun.  The subtitle on my series books, Dove Season and the upcoming Plaster City, is “A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco.” I don’t write mysteries. I write fiascoes. The books are more grounded than “Chingon,” but should be just as fun.

I’ve always described the aesthetic of Blood & Tacos as ridiculously awesome. Big, never-boring, and just outrageous enough to be unique. But fun doesn’t have to be frivolous. A story doesn’t have to be bleak to be about something. More often humor can relay depth and emotion more effectively because it’s not as heavy-handed. Making something look effortless takes effort.

Chandler said, “When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” When it comes to Blood & Tacos, I would say, “When in doubt have an albino come into the strip joint with a spear gun in his robot hand.” That’s ridiculously awesome.

MysteryPeople Review: Blood and Tacos

blood and tacos

A few months ago I reviewed Thomas Pluck’s Blade Of Dishonor, stating  it was a throwback to the men’s adventure paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s. Interest in those books has been promoted by author and editor Johnny Shaw’s Blood & Tacos, a series of print-on-demand stories written by different authors. You can now purchase all of those stories in one fantastic book,  Blood & Tacos: The Beginning.

The anthology is a collection of stories “found” by each contributing author. In many, the story of how the author “discovered” the work is included, along with the bio of the author who supposedly wrote it. Todd Robinson’s bio for Holleran Oates, purported creator of the macho deep sea diver Studs Winslow, is equally as entertaining as his story.

The stories range in type of heroes and approach (although of course, true to genre, every other lead is a Vietnam vet). Gary Phillips pays spot-on homage to these beloved paperbacks with his Compton vigilante, The Silencer (a character I hope he revisits). However, many stories are more tongue and cheek, such as Thomas Pluck’s kung-fu bad ass Sugar Brown Brookdale thwarting a KKK strip joint. Author Josh Stallings uses the supporting character in his Moses McGuire series for Sunshine: Stripper Assassin. And as if that wasn’t enough to entice you, there are also government agents, American Indians out for vengeance, commando teams, and bastard mercenaries with politics both left and right. Shaw even wraps it up with a story from Stephen Mertz, who wrote many of the original early paperbacks.

Whether parodying or playing it straight, these tough guy (and sometimes gal) tales are always entertaining. Blood & Tacos will pump you full of good times and nostalgia.

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Copies of Blood & Tacos are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com