MysteryPeople Review: ONE MINUTE GONE: A PORTER HALL NOVEL

One Minute Gone

One Minute Gone begins when our lead Porter Hall, a successful businessman living with his twin son and daughter in New York, receives three phone calls. One is about finalizing his divorce; the second is about his soon-to-be-ex being committed; the last is his friend Jamie, making a lunch date. When Jamie doesn’t turn up to lunch, all three calls quickly become tied to the mysterious plot of an unknown enemy to put Porter in prison.

The conspiracy working against him is complex and works on many different levels. As Porter begins to untangle the mystery to find out who his real enemy is, he discovers links to old alliances, big business, family politics, and the mob. Though complex in nature, Hansard’s clean writing style allows the reader to navigate the many twists and turns easily.

He also draws us in with the use of an engaging everyman hero. Porter Hall’s rugged individualism from his Wyoming upbringing is paired with a New York slickness and wit. We can immediately identify with him as a man and a father who wants to be left alone with those he loves, which in turn only strengthens the empathy we feel at the horrible intrusion he has suffered. He has an innate decency and believable set of skills that help him move through ever-tightening circumstances.

Hansard also uses the city of New York itself as a character, though at times his portrayal feels like a western landscape, mixing the two the elements in interesting ways. Like a seasoned cowboy, Porter navigates the city and uses it to his advantage. It’s difficult to picture this story taking place anywhere else.

One Minute Gone is a brilliant debut. It is accessible and engaging with a hero worth investing in. I look forward to Porter Hall getting into more trouble.

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Copies of One Minute Gone are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com

3 Picks for February

The Red Road by Denise Mina

DI Alex Morrow gets involved with a case that involves gun-running tied to money laundering and two crimes that occurred on the same day as Princess Diana’s death. Mina’s deep characterizations and deft plotting make her one of the best authors looking at society’s relationship to crime.

Dashiell Hammet: Man Of Mystery by Sally Cline

This tight overview of the godfather of hard-boiled detective fiction challenges some of the long-believed facts of Hammett’s life, while still showing it was an interesting one. The book is at its best when chronicling the ambition and approach of each of his novels.

Blood & Tacos edited by Johnny Shaw

This collection of short stories is done in the style of the men’s action/adventure paperbacks of the 1970s and 80s. It’s a wonderful tribute to the books many of us grew up on. From Kung-Fu Fighting Sugar Brown Brookdale, to Sunshine, Stripper Assassin; these stories are filled with action, some questionable dialogue, and a lot of fun.

TAKE A CRACK AT IT: OPPORTUNITY FOR ASPIRING MYSTERY WRITERS

The Sisters in Crime, Heart of Texas Chapter here in Austin is offering a fun opportunity for  aspiring mystery authors. The Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event (BBSAWE) is calling for all unpublished, aspiring writers of  thrillers, true crime, noir or any mystery genre for, young or old readers, to submit the first 500 words of their mystery manuscript along with a brief synopsis. All who submit will be paired with a published author mentor for one-on-one sessions and recognition at the BBSAWE in May of each year. The submission deadline is March 31, 2014. 

This is not a contest – there is no judging and no fee. It is a wonderful opportunity for writers unpublished in the mystery field to be mentored by published authors and recognized by the Austin Sisters in Crime chapter. All aspiring writers MUST attend the Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event to be held Sunday, May 18, 2014, in Austin, Texas, at 2 p.m. at Recycled Reads, 5335 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX 78756.

All entries should be received by March 31, 2014. Unpublished mystery writers should email their 100 word synopsis along with the first 500 words of their manuscript to Gale Albright at bbshotsinc@hotmail.com. Only one submission per person. Formatting rules, submission guidelines, and answers to any questions can be found on the BBSAWE website.

 

Austin Hosts Noir City

NoirCityAustin

Austin is the latest city to host Noir City, a film festival devoted to noir film. Held at the Alamo Ritz, February 28th -March 2nd and hosted by Noir Historian and Crime Fiction Writer Eddie Muller, part of the proceeds go to help fund the Film Noir Foundation, a preservation society for noir film.

Eddie Muller says, “I couldn’t be more thrilled that Austin is the latest addition to the NOIR CITY roadshow. I love the Alamo Drafthouse and am excited to be part of its mission: keeping creative and communal rep programming thriving. Since this is the first NOIR CITY at the Drafthouse, it’s a virtual ‘greatest hits’ of all the titles the Film Noir Foundation has restored or recovered from obscurity. It’ll be a fantastic weekend.”

Ten different screenings at just $7.75 a pop. The full line-up of screenings can be found here.

FEBRUARY PICK OF THE MONTH: THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN

Terry Shames’s debut novel, A Killing At Cotton Hill, was our pick of the month in August of 2013. Now her retired Texas Chief Of Police Samuel Craddock has returned in her second novel, The Last Death Of Jack Harbin. This is a poignant mystery with Samuel looking into the murder of a wounded Iraqi vet.

We recently reviewed the book, praising it, and we aren’t the only ones:

Lesa’ Book Critiques – “If you watched or read Friday Night Lights, you might want to check out The Last Death of Jack Harbin. Fans of Craig Johnson or Steven Havill’s Posadas County mysteries might want to check it out. Or, you might just want to check out Shames’ Samuel Craddock mysteries if you want a complex, riveting story dealing with contemporary issues.”

Terry Ambrose – “The characters in The Last Death of Jack Harbin are as diverse as they are realistic. The small town atmosphere rings true throughout the novel, including in the dialogue and descriptions. From the opening scene in a feed store, the reader is immersed in a world of small-town politics, rivalries, and actions.”

The Toranto Star – “Craddock emerged in his detecting role a year ago in Terry Shames’s first crime novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, and with the new book, Shames clinches Cradock’s status as the most engaging new American sleuth in crime fiction.”

Snubnose Prestidigitation

snubnose press

~ post by Chris M.

The world of crime fiction is an insulated entity. Many of my favorite reads in the genre have been recommendations from other crime writers, and those authors always seemed elated to tell me all about their friends. That, in essence, is what I love about this particular genre; it’s familial. Crime writers have each other’s backs, and they all cheer when one of their own makes it to the big time.

I can’t remember who introduced me to Snubnose Press; it was most definitely a crime writer…Joe Clifford perhaps? At this point it doesn’t really matter, because I know they weren’t telling me about this little indie press so that I would come back and thank them. No, the only real way to say thank you, in my opinion, is to read the books; so that’s what I did.

After a cracking through Eric Beetner’s Dig Two Graves and R. Thomas Brown’s Hill Country I was officially a believer. I couldn’t believe Snubnose Press was basically an online only publisher. I mean seriously, this is good! Shortly after my introduction to SNP, BookPeople’s Mystery guru Scott Montgomery informed me he had struck a deal with them and that BookPeople would now be the only bookstore where you could find their catalog. Needless to say, this was big news for us.

The kind folks over at Snubnose sent us a little care package containing a smattering of their catalog, which Scott and I fought over like two kids who’ve just been told there is only enough ice cream for one person. In the end I ended up grabbing a few collections of short stories and in doing so, exposed myself (pun not intended…unless Jed Ayres is reading this) to three fantastic authors; Court Merrigan, Joe Clifford, and Jed Ayres.

I had heard of all three authors in passing, but never actively sought out their work, mostly because it was a little harder to find than the average Big 6 crime writer. But, as my personal history has proven, I’m occasionally an idiot. I immediately fell in love with these collections and began fervently hand-selling them to any customer who would listen.

Court Merrigan’s Moondog Over The Mekong was the first collection I read. I don’t know what I was expecting to find when I cracked the spine on this one, but I know that what I found was a hell of a lot better than what I’d imagined. In Moondog, Merrigan takes his readers on a journey from the slums of Thailand to the dregs of Wyoming. Merrigan’s style is a clever take on pulpy noir that is both punchy and laced with imagery.  My favorite story in the collection is “We Would Start Here,” a tale set in an unnamed coastal city and told in the form of flashbacks and the present. It’s a story that really highlights Merrigan’s ability to humanize his characters and break his reader’s hearts into a millions pieces.

Joe Clifford’s collection, Choice Cuts, is an example of how much fun one can have with gritty noir. The majority of the collection is rooted in the noir tradition. Clifford is careful not to rehash old clichés, though, and does an excellent job putting his own spin on a genre that can stagnate easily. For me Clifford’s strongest trait as a writer is his ability to use scope and show his readers just how big the world is and how insignificant one person can be. For me, the most affecting story in Choice Cuts is “Favors,” which tells the tale of a grubby lawyer who is asked to look in on his addict stepbrother. Clifford’s characterization chops strip away the gloss of hidden family tensions, and show us the aging and calloused reality of life in a broken family.

The last collection I read was Jed Ayres, F*ckload of Shorts, and it is absolutely brilliant. The stories in this collection are twisted, violent, touching, and hilarious. The thing I love about Jed’s writing is the way he is able to immerse his readers into a completely ludicrous situation as if it’s just another normal day. Of all the stories in F*ckload of Shorts, my favorite is “The Whole Buffalo,” which tells the tale of a shady funeral home owner who has been thrown in jail for questionable practices like reusing caskets, giving the bereaved the wrong ashes, and chopping the feet off of a dead body so it will fit into a coffin. It’s a ridiculous story told with conviction, and that’s what makes it so damn funny. I had the pleasure of meeting Jed at an Austin Noir at the Bar last summer and this was the story he read to the audience, which was a real treat for me. Jed is also a stand-up guy, so buy him a beer.

If you can’t tell by now, Snub Nose Press is putting out great material. Their roster has a lot of heavy hitters who don’t get the recognition they deserve; and so I feel it is my duty to inform you, dear readers, of some great new crime fiction. If you are familiar with publishers like New Pulp Press and Beat To A Pulp, you will most certainly enjoy what Snub Nose is doing. If you have no idea who those publishers are, great! You are in the enviable position of going in blind, so have fun, but beware, because these stories might make you something of a hermit.

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Snubnose Press titles are available on our shelves at BookPeople. You can also order them via our website, bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: THE CONTRACTORS

It’s been over five years since there was a novel from Harry Hunsicker. After three books in his skillfully crafted hero series featuring Dallas PI Lee Henry Oswald, he has mainly been known for his acclaimed short stories that had a much darker tone. With his new novel, The Contractors, he melds both into a gritty tale of guns, drugs, and double crosses across Texas.

The story deals with two independent contractors  working for the DEA. Disgraced ex-Dallas cop, Jon Cantrell, does the work to provide care for his father who is retired from the force and suffering from Alzheimer’s. His partner, Piper, is a no-nonsense woman with a knack for firearms and some interesting coping mechanisms. The two are hired to bust a drug warehouse, where they discover that they’re pawns in an assassination attempt on a witness, Eva Mendez. With their livelihood and lives on the line, they take the girl with them. As more secrets come to light, things get tighter and tighter, shattering the few beliefs the two have.

Hunsicker takes the hard-boiled novel to epic proportions: a scheming senator who acts like a god in a Greek myth, the sordid history of both Cantrell and his father, bad guys on both sides of the law and border, and some intense action set pieces. Then, there’s his ability to invest you in the characters, giving them room  to breath, with some great dialogue that never slows the pace. By having them move and fight in the differing regions of Texas, he uses the Lone Star State as a frame for his wide canvas.

The Contractors is a tough guy (and gal) thriller that looks at betrayal in different forms: from friends, employers, country, and even of our own ideals. It deals with compromised characters trying to hold on to what’s left of their humanity. However, Hunsicker gives us some light when he shows what happens when a couple of those people decide to be heroes for one day.

Harry, when you come back, you come back big.

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HARRY HUNSICKER will be at BookPeople on Sunday, Feb 16 at 4:30PM speaking & signing copies of The Contractors. For more info & to pre-order your signed copy, visit bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with THOMAS PLUCK

Thomas Pluck is one of those authors who I hope sees much success, mainly because reading will be a hell of a lot more fun if he is. He’s written several stories that can be found online. One of my favorite features 1970S African American Kung-Fu Fighter Brown Sugar Brookdale in his story for Blood & Tacos, a homage to men’s action paperbacks from that era. His novel, Blade Of Dishonor, is an update of the genre, featuring an Iraqi war veteran and former MMA fighter, Rage Cage Reeves, caught in a centuries old war between ninja and samari over an ancient sword. We caught up with Pluck to ask him a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for Rage Cage Reeves come about?

THOMAS PLUCK: David Cranmer of Beat to a Pulp approached me with the idea after I sent him a story about an MMA fighter called “A Glutton for Punishment,” that connected with readers. The comment section got wiped out in an upgrade, but even Lawrence Block liked it–I’m kicking myself for not taking a screenshot–and David approached me with an idea about a mixed-martial arts fighter battling ninjas over a magic sword. It didn’t grab me at first, but after some research, I learned that the most treasured of Japanese swords, handed down to the Tokugawa Shoguns, went missing at the end of World War II. That’s when it came together. I train in Kachin Bando, which is Burmese boxing and grappling, and I trained at a Shooto Dojo in Japan that all helped make Reeves the fighter he is.

MP: The book is a throwback to the action paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s. Do you have a favorite title in that genre?

TP: I like The Rat Bastards, and, of course, The Destroyer, which I came to in a roundabout way- I saw the Remo Williams movie on HBO. It’s not the best ’80s actioner, but Chiun is unforgettable. He’s so much better in the books. He’s a huge inspiration for old Butch. I liked Lawrence Block’s Tanner books, and Marc Olden’s Black Samurai, too.

MP: The fight scenes are great. As someone who is a practicing martial artist, what advice can you give about writing these kinds of scenes?

TP: I actually choreographed a few of them at the gym I train at, Asylum Fight Gym in Mahwah. My trainer Phil Dunlap loves action films, and I wanted to make the fights as realistic as possible, so class would begin with me asking, “What’s the best way to break someone’s clavicle?” My advice would be to keep the fights short. Overlong slugfests are rare, and they can be criminally boring. I took advice from Frank Bill: keep them short, brutal, and jarring. From my experience, I don’t remember much from fights, just details -like “I had my fist around his throat and then I was flat on my face with his knee in my back,”- and I tend to write that way, not from a play-by-play football game perspective.

MP: Butch’s World War II flashbacks are full of adventure, but you get a sense of the emotional toll it took on him. What did you want to convey about that war?

TP: The book is dedicated to my great-uncles, all veterans of that war. I saw the emotional toll it took on them every Sunday when we met at my grandmother’s for coffee. I feel like WWII and the Greatest Generation are slowly becoming the cowboys of the American West for our culture. They were all morally upstanding, brave, and believed in the cause. Which is a load of horseshit, as Butch would say. They were people in a war they didn’t want to fight; they wanted to be back home with their families. And, as in any war, you do some crazy things to protect the man fighting beside you. All sides did some terrible things. We don’t talk about Japan’s Unit 731 because we’re allies now. [A biological & chemical warfare research facility that conducted human experiments. ] We dehumanized each other. And it’s all too easy to do that in fiction, but I made every villain have good reason to do what he did, at least in his mind. Doesn’t justify it, and it surely doesn’t stop Reeves from killing them.

MP: You also edited a short story collection, Protectors. Can you tell us about that?

TP: Protectors is a charity anthology I edited to support PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children. They are a non-partisan, pro-child and anti-crime nonprofit organization which lobbies for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. 100% of the proceeds from the book go to PROTECT, and I’ve donated thousands of dollars since it was published. Authors including Joe Lansdale, George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Ken Bruen, Chet Williamson, Roxane Gay, Josh Stallings, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, and many more contributed stories, many of which appear nowhere else- including “Spectre in the Galway Wind” by Ken Bruen, and “Runaway” by Dave White, which was included as a distinguished mystery story in The Best American Mystery Stories 2013. The book was a labor of love and continues to find readers, and I know you have some on the shelf at BookPeople. It is also available on Kobo through your store, if folks want it on their e-reader.

MP: You’re working on a book titled Bury The Hatchet. What can you divulge? It stars Jay Desmarteaux, the Cajun bruiser who stars in “Gumbo Weather,” which you so kindly chose for Crime Fiction Friday in January.

TP: Here’s the pitch: When Jay Desmarteaux walks out of prison after serving 25 years for the murder of a vicious bully, he seeks his family and follows the advice of his convict mentor: the best revenge is living well. But old friends want him to disappear, and new enemies want him dead. With his wits and fists, Jay unravels a twisted tale of small town secrets and good old New Jersey corruption. He only wanted to bury the hatchet… and now someone wants to bury him instead.
Today they’d say Jay has attention deficit disorder. I’ll just say he’s quick with his fists and deals with the consequences later. And there are always consequences. If you liked the taste of “Gumbo Weather,” he gets in a lot more jams in this one. Guess you can say he jumps out of the gumbo and into the pot of crawfish boil.

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