MysteryPeople Review: THE POOR BOY’S GAME


The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

If there was any justice in publishing, Dennis Tafoya would be a name everyone would know.  With only two books, Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park, his ability to convey the hardship and raw emotion of people on the margins has already made him a respected voice in the genre. No punches are pulled in his delivery, and though it’s been a few years, Tafoya’s back in full force with his third novel, The Poor Boy’s Game.

Following Frannie Mullen, a US Marshal, the book begins with a well-crafted buildup to a shootout in downtown Philadelphia. Frannie goes into what appears to be a routine take-down in a sports memorabilia store, but then, things go wrong. And once the shooting starts, Tafoya captures the brutality of every bullet, including the one that takes out Frannie’s partner.

Blamed for the shooting, Frannie resigns from the Marshals and is caught in a dark limbo connected with her past. That past suddenly comes charging back when Frannie’s father, Patrick Mullen, a brutal union enforcer, escapes from federal prison, leaving behind a bloody trail of witnesses. It’s up to Frannie to protect her newly sober sister, Mae, and Patrick’s pregnant girlfriend from her father, putting Frannie between the feds who think she helped him escape and union boss Adolf White, who knows the truth behind Patrick’s rampage.

While The Poor Boy’s Game has all the trappings of a great hard boiled novel, the story is, essentially, the portrait of a family. Tafoya shows us the cracks and fissures parents can create in the relationships between siblings. He shows how familial love, no matter how broken or twisted, can survive. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not this is good or bad.

The Poor Boy’s Game is Dashiell Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neill. It puts us in the grimy world of the Mullens, letting us feel every drop of cold sweat. The dialogue is that of a darker Elmore Leonard and can be as harrowing as some of the fight scenes. The Poor Boy’s Game is a crime thriller that shows how a bruised heart still beats. Welcome back to the game, Dennis. It’s good to have you.

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Dennis Tafoya leads a free writing workshop here at BookPeople this Thursday, May 1 at 6:30pm. Bring a pen and paper and join us up on the third floor. No registration or RSVP required. 

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Video Interview with Megan Abbott & Jo Nesbø

Coming up this Wednesday, April 30th, our Hard Word Book Club will be discussing Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast  here at BookPeople. We’re also already looking forward to next month, on May 28th, when we’ll be talking about Megan Abbott’s The Song Is You.

In our excitement for these books, we found this interview from the Adelaide Writer’s Week back in 2012. It’s a great way to bone up for either of our book club meetings or simply learn more about these great authors.

Check it out here.

 

Crime Fiction Friday: IS THAT YOU by Patti Nase Abbott

patti abbott

Patti Nase Abbott is one of those authors who deserves more attention. She’s earned respect from her peers for short stories like this one published in All Due Respect. Much like Margaret Millar, Dorothy B. Hughes, or her own daughter, Megan Abbott, she has an ability to draw mood from character. Hopefully, she’ll be better known after her book, Concrete Angel, is released next year. In the mean time, be sure to check out her blog.

“Is That You” by Patti Nase Abbott

She saw kids like him every day since the café sat only a block from the juvie court. But this one—hunched in the doorway at seven a.m.—looked a bit older. More worn down than the usual teenager. Skeletal and dirty, like he hadn’t had a shower or even a basin to wash in for days. Smelled, too. Not outrageous, but damn ripe. He’d probably spent the night in one of the stairwells that snaked through the development. With the recent cutbacks, Tucson cops had better things to do than chase down vagrants.…”

Click here to read the full story.

KNOWING WHERE TO STAND: Guest Post by Hilary Davidson

One of my favorite ideas about writing actually comes from Ansel Adams, one of the great photographers of the twentieth century. Famous for his breathtaking shots of majestic national parks, he was remarkably straightforward about his process. “A good photograph is knowing where to stand,” he said. It’s a concept that applies just as well to writing fiction.

There is nothing I love more than getting inside a character’s head while I write. Figuring out which narrative perspective to use to tell the story is the author’s way of finding where to stand. It’s how you ground yourself in the book. If you’re not on solid ground, it’s all too easy for the thread of the narrative to slip out of control.

My first three novels are told in the first person from the point of view of one character, which made sense because those books were as much about her evolution as they were about the plots. But my latest novel, Blood Always Tells, is a completely different case. I knew from the start it was a much more complicated story, and there was no way to tell it from one character’s point of view. Instead, the book allowed me to get inside the head of three characters: Dominique Monaghan, a former model looking for revenge on her cheating lover; Desmond Edgars, an ex-military man determined to come to his sister’s rescue; and a third character (whom I’ll leave nameless to prevent spoilers), who is one of the villains of the story. Why these three characters? In their respective sections of the book, they’re the people with the most to gain and the most to lose.

Dominique, at the start of the book, is hell-bent on vengeance, so much so that she’s willing to spike her errant lover’s drink to get him into serious trouble. She’s aware what she’s doing is wrong, and she hears her late grandmother’s voice, over and over, chiding her for her actions. When her plan goes horribly wrong, she’s both stunned and guilty. She knew it was a terrible idea from the start, but she went ahead with it anyway. Later, she’s given an awful choice to make: she can go free if she sacrifices another person. The decision she makes sets in motion a series of events with far-ranging consequences.

Desmond is trying his best to best to be an upstanding citizen: he’s retired from the Army after twenty years of service, and he’s got his hands full with his day job as a pilot and the volunteer work he’s committed to. But a call from his sister, Dominique, in desperate need of help, pulls him off that path. As a kid, Desmond wasn’t such a straight arrow, and his rusty skills for picking locks and breaking into places start to come in handy as he searches for the truth about his sister. He’s acutely aware of doing wrong, but he believes his ends justify his means. The irony is that his attitude is mirrored by the criminal in the third act of the book, whose many awful actions are motivated by a desperate desire to protect another person.

All of my characters are flawed in some way. I don’t like perfect people on the page; they always seem like caricatures rather than characters. What’s tricky for me is that my villains are motivated by the same impulses that drive my protagonists. In that way, they’re like a shadow side of my “good” characters. I like to push my characters to see how far they’ll go to get what they want or need. There’s a powerful tension in watching a character who’s good at heart cross a moral line they know they shouldn’t. How far over can they go before they lose their moral compass?

For my protagonists, doing what’s right is a struggle between head and heart. They experience the same dark impulses that the antagonists do, but they fight them. The villains, on the other hand, might well experience guilt over their actions. It’s not that they don’t know the difference between right and wrong. It’s that there’s no end to the cruelty they’re capable of to achieve their ends.

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Hilary Davidson will join us to talk about & sign her latest book, Blood Always Tells, tonight, Thursday 4/24 at 7PM. Visit bookpeople.com for more information.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Christopher Irvin

~post by Molly

We’re proud to have Christopher Irvin‘s novella, Federales, on our shelves. It’s a tight, violent, hard-boiled story that looks at the Mexican drug wars. I caught up with the author to ask him a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: The moral center of your story, Eva, is consistently portrayed as an enigma, seen through the eyes of the much more problematic detective Marcos. Did you decide to distance the readers from Eva because her actions are so moral as to be difficult to identify with?

CHRISTOPHER IRVIN: Yes, that is part of it for sure. Eva demonstrates an almost mythical level of perseverance and sacrifice that I think would be difficult to grasp/believe from her perspective without a long narrative. I tried to walk a fine line on Eva being a very strong character, but not irrational or unlikeable. Readers get to view and perhaps come to understand Eva through Marcos’s skewed vision.

I think this helps ground her character, especially since the book is a novella, with limited time to develop Eva and her struggle. I also really like to use a close third person point of view, and while Federales is both of Eva and Marcos’s story, I thought Marcos was the best window (albeit clouded) to tell it through.

MP: The story’s inspiration comes from the real life murder of anti-cartel campaigner Maria Santos Gorrostieta, yet the story focuses more on the relationship between her, her daughter, and her protector. Was this mainly so as to set the story within the detective novel conventions? What inspired some of the major differences between the story and its inspiration?

CI: It’s interesting that you bring up detective novel conventions, as the book definitely has some, though it’s not consciously what I set out to do. My aim was to tell a character-driven story to get at the heart of the struggle in Mexico, and on a low enough level that it feels real. Marcos came to mind when I first read about Gorrorstieta (more on that below) and I think he drove the major differences between the story and its inspiration. I didn’t want to recount Gorrostieta’s life, though Eva does take on much of her past.

I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that from the beginning the reader has a good idea of where the story is headed and what the fates of Eva and Marcos might be, so I think the relationships between the two and Eva’s daughter were more important than ever to drive the story. If the reader knows what’s coming, how can you make them stick with it and hopefully) surprise them a little? In hindsight, that question drove a lot of my thinking and edits.

MP: How did you come upon Gorrostieta’s story, and what in this story made you want to turn it into a novel?

CI: I make a point to read about Mexico in the news. It’s a fascinating country and the level of violence that exists is as baffling as it is unsettling. That said, I actually stumbled upon Gorrostieta’s story on report of her murder. Gorrostieta’s crusade against the cartels is both inspiring and terribly tragic. While searching for more detail, I found it difficult to learn about her life aside from the summaries reported at the time of her death.  As I mentioned earlier, around this time bits of Marcos began forming in my head, and once the two came together I just felt like it was a story that I had to write.

MP:  As a follow-up, what do you hope for people to take home with them, from such a timely novel?

CI: I hope readers take away a glimmer of the toll of corruption and violence on Mexico. Federales is a work of fiction, but you can find the essence of the book in the news almost every day. Here in the United States, the Southern border and immigration issues dominate the headlines, keeping our neighbor and her people mostly out of sight, out of mind. I think it can do good to put a face on the struggle.

MP:  I was so intrigued by the ending. I have to ask, it seemed to me that most of the novella is a particular narrative about a policeman protecting a politician and her daughter. At the end, however, the story gets much more symbolic and filled with dramatic irony.

Did you set out with the intent of telling a particular story and then get a bit more literary as you went on or was your initial intention to have the main characters as stand-ins for the larger historical drama?

CI: A bit of both (if I can shoot for the middle.) I think the novella is very much a tale of two halves, with the latter half organically growing a bit more literary because of where the book turned. I did intend for the characters to represent some of the larger picture, and I’m happy if some of the readers–yourself included–came away with that. The larger context came about after a decision to challenge myself to add more layers to the book. My first idea (read: never go with your first idea) was more of a straight revenge tale, but it was boring and felt done to death. Elements of the first idea made it into the final book, but they ended up being very different works.

I think most importantly, the ending felt honest and true to me – the only place for the story to go. I’m proud of how that turned out, and I think readers are picking up on it.

MP: Since that last question was a bit long, I’ll just finish up with a short one – what’s next?

CI: Thanks for asking! I’m working toward completing a novel (very different from Federales) and I’ve outlined a spiritual sequel to Federales, tentatively titled “La Milicia,” centering on the militias in western Mexico. I’m also working on Expatriate, a comic series with artist Ricardo Lopez Ortiz (should have more to share on that soon, here.)

As for stuff on the horizon, I’ll have a short story in the latest issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, which drops on April 15th, and a short story in Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen, edited by Joe Clifford.

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Federales is available on our shelves now and online via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Billy Kring

Billy Kring is a former Texas Border Patrol Agent and consultant for law enforcement agencies around the world. He is also a friend and regular BookPeople customer, so we we’re excited to carry his debut, Quick, a novel about a brutal criminal that draws a Texas Border Agent, Hunter Kincaid, two Florida cops, John Quick and Randall Ishtee, together in taking him down. We talked to Billy about the the book and the personal background that informed it.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for Quick come about?

BILLY KRING: I wanted to write a story that would allow me to use my work experiences in South Florida, West Texas, and Mexico by weaving the tale through those environments.  Many people don’t realize there is a Border Patrol presence in Florida, so I thought that would be something new for readers to discover, too.  I also wanted to write a story that was hard to put down, and by forcing the story to keep moving from place to place, I felt I could keep the action and suspense high.

MP:  Hunter Kincaid works for the Border Patrol, like you used to. What did you want to convey about your former job?

BK: I hoped to make the reader feel like they were in an Agent’s footsteps, and experiencing how isolated many of the locations are; how much physical effort it often takes for Agents to perform their duties.  There are places where there is no help within miles if trouble occurs, and these places have dead areas where no communication is possible, so you’re pretty much on your own if it comes down to it.  Working alone, forty miles from the next closest Agent, and on a trail of smugglers…it’s not dull, let me put it that way.

MP: One of the things I liked about Quick was that there was little of that cliche friction between Hunter and the Florida cops. In your experience, do most law enforcement agencies want to work together?

BK: Agencies get along, that’s been my experience.  There are exceptions, but on the whole, most law enforcement people I’ve dealt with, especially at the street level, know the old adage of strength in numbers.  The other plus of working together is that an expanded range of enforcement laws comes into play.  Combining state laws with federal laws makes a much wider net to arrest a criminal.  Most multi-agency task forces are put together with this in mind, and they work very well.  It also builds a communications network for law enforcement at the street level that bypasses a lot of formal red tape and power plays from higher up the chain.  It doesn’t have to always be “through official channels” to get things done.  And the network seems to hold up for years and many friendships develop that way.

MP: The book is quite brutal in places. What made you decide to go that far?

BK: They came from crime scenes I witnessed while working as a consultant in Mexico.  I had seen dead people and murder scenes while in the line of duty, and I thought I was hardened, but these particular ones rocked me.  I felt it was necessary in Quick to show how even a hardened law enforcement officer like John Quick could be shaken to the core, and how that could affect his actions and mental state afterward.

MP: Conan is a particularly scary villain. Is he drawn from anyone you encountered in your work?

BK: Not that I personally encountered.  Cop stories of legendary bad guys make the rounds through all agencies, and Conan is partially based on a few of those, plus my imagination.  And bad dreams or some bad moonshine, I’m not sure which.

MP: This being your first book, did you draw from any influences?

BK: You bet.  All the authors you’ve recommended to me when I come into BookPeople! That is a true fact.  Also script writers like John Milius and Sam Peckinpah.  A few of the authors are: Don Winslow, Elmore Leonard, Craig Johnson, Thomas Harris, James Carlos Blake, Megan Abbott, Peter Farris, Frank Bill, James Lee Burke, Jonathan Woods, Benjamin Whitmire, Robert Crais, and a ton of others.

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Quick is available on our shelves now and online via bookpeople.com.

The Look Out: HOP ALLEY by Scott Phillips

Look Out For: Hop Alley by Scott Phillips
On Our Shelves 5/13/14

Scott Phillips is one of the best authors currently working. One of his best books the Western noir Cottonwood. There is a point in Cottonwood where the photographer, saloon keeper, philanderer and criminal protagonist, Bill Ogden, mentions time in he spent in Denver prior to the novel, which has him wind up in San Francisco. Denver holds a bloody history for Ogden, and you’re left with a lot of questions. In comes the short novel Hop Alley where Phillips answers those questions and shows us what exactly happened to Ogden’s during those lost years in Denver.

Odgen is scraping by under an assumed name because of the events in Cottonwood. He has a photography studio and is having an affair with a laudanum-addicted dance hall girl named Priscilla. When the father of one of his employees is murdered, it is pinned on two men from the city’s Chinatown section. Things start to spiral out of control from here. With the city about to riot and Priscilla’s constant manipulations, Bill’s personal life and the tumultuous air in Denver come crashing into one another.

Phillips weaves historical fact, satire, and a fresh spin on noir tropes into a book just as unique as Cottonwood, that serves well as either a standalone or companion piece to the original book. It is a fun visit from one of the most complex anti-heroes in Phillips’s rogues gallery. You can get reacquainted with Bill on May 13th, when Hop Alley officially hits shelves.

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Hop Alley is now available for pre-order via bookpeople.com.