The May 11th Alibi: Noir At The Bar Roundup

Noir at the Bar w Ace 5.11.14(Order of appearance, left to right: Ace Atkins, George Wier, Jesse Sublett, Jim Wilsky, Scott Montgomery)

Our May 11th Austin Noir At The Bar was one of our best and biggest. Folks braved the storm warnings to come out and see Ace Atkins, Jesse Sublett, George Wier, and Jim Wilsky, who all provided enough thunder and lightning of their own to give the weather outside a run for its money.

After a couple of murder ballads from Jesse Sublett, Jim Wilsky got up for his first ever public reading. He explained that as a businessman, he’s spoken in front of thousands, “but this ain’t business.” Jim proved he was all business, delivering some of the hardest of the hard boiled, reading from his co-authored book, Blood On Blood.

Next, introducing George Wier, I tried something different- I said nice things about him. George reciprocated by giving us one of his best readings. His dead man in the middle of a bunch of east Texas bar denizens had everyone laughing.

Our headliner, Ace Atkins, who’s latest novel, Cheap Shot, continues the adventures of Robert B. Parker’s character, Spenser, was next. Reading from the first book from his own Quinn Colson series, The Ranger, Ace told us that he had been aiming for the feel of a Johnny Cash ballad. The excerpt certainly proved that he had captured the spirit of the man in black.

As is tradition, Jesse wrapped everything up with a reading. He read a passage from Grave Digger Blues from the perspective of his musician character, The Blues Cat. He read with such a rich rhythm, you could almost hear the cool bass playing in the background.

If you missed out or can’t wait for the next one, you’re in luck. We’ll be doing another Noir At The Bar on July 7th with Tim O’Mara, Dan O’Shea, and other authors to be named later. Ace will also be back on July 28th, signing and discussing his latest Quinn Colson novel, The Forsaken. Because when it comes to Noir At The Bar, the party never ends.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Craig Johnson

craig johnson

Our buddy Craig Johnson’s latest Walt Longmire novel, Any Other Name, hit the shelves this week. In preparation for his visit to the store Wednesday, June 11 at 7PM, we caught up with Craig for a quick Q&A about the book and the success of Walt.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Serpent’s Tooth was such a game change of a novel for many of the characters in the series, how much of an effect did that have on this one?

CRAIG JOHNSON: There are large-scale reverberations in Any Other Name. The life-altering acts happened to be in A Serpent’s Tooth, but the fallout is in subsequent books. I’ve said it before, but the lifeblood of a series is in the ability of the writer to allow the characters to grow and change. I think it’s easy to become complacent and sink into a formulaic style, but I don’t think that’s the kind of novel my readers expect and Lord knows that’s not the kind of book I want to write. When I was writing this one, I noticed there were an abundance of head to head conversations between Walt and the other characters and that very few of them had to do with the actual case. It’s a book about relationships—a redefining of them.

MP: In many ways the book deals with the conundrum of doing what is right and what is legal for law enforcement. What did you want to express about a lawman caught in that debate?

CJ: It’s always going to be judgment calls in law-enforcement, very rarely are the situations cut and dry. It’s easy to have some tough guy stand up and throw off some bon mot that supposedly strikes fear into the heart of evildoers, but that’s really crap writing. Generally it’s about untangling and cleaning up the mess no matter how legal or right.

MP: Wyoming is such a beautiful state, yet it seems like you went out of your way to depict its less scenic locations. Was there a particular reason for that?

CJ: It’s the most beautiful place in the world, but that doesn’t mean that all of it is beautiful… The first thing I did in the acknowledgements is apologizing to the city of Gillette and Campbell County as a whole. You really have to think about the environs of a novel before you start writing it, what are the aspects that are going to amplify or illustrate what the story is about. This is a dark book, all of the humor aside, and it’s hard to write a travelogue about a place where the strip clubs get raided and the dancers pay their fines with one dollar bills, and the courthouse ladies count the money wearing plastic gloves…

MP: You did a wonderful job of depicting the officer who shot himself before the story starts. How do go about giving dimension to a character who is dead before the story begins?

CJ: Gerald Holman is the reason for this book. When you’re in the throes of a novel or an investigation it’s easy to forget the victim but Walt always seems to bring the investigation back to the essential question of the novel—why did Gerald Holman kill himself? Gerald Holman is a living, breathing question in this book and everything he did in those last few weeks of his life loom large in this investigation. He was a by-the-book kind of guy who, as Lucian says, “Never broke a law by force of bending it.” And then took his own life. It’s tragic, really, and Walt’s job is to follow this story to its tragic ending in both the beginning and the ending of the book.

MP: Lucian has a prominent role again. What does he provide the series as a character?

CJ: In this particular investigation Walt is out of his jurisdiction and only becomes involved because of a debt owed by his predecessor, Lucian. A lot of the more procedural questions are a comparison/contrast with the way Walt and Lucian approach a case; they both want justice to be served, they just rarely agree on how it should be served. One of my favorite scenes is when Lucian warns Phyllis about Walt when he thinks Walt is asleep, “He’s like a gun; once you point him and pull the trigger it’s too late to change your mind.” I think both of the characters have limitations on how far they’ll go in solving a case, and probably both are beyond what is deemed as reasonable and prudent.

MP: Besides a new lifestyle of glitz, glamor, beautiful women, and fast living, what has the recent bump of success of the Walt Longmire novels provided?

CJ: I have a new Carhartt jacket, it’s the fancy kind with a hood.


Craig Johnson will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Wednesday, June 11th at 7PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Any Other Name now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

Mind-Blowing Mysteries from Japan: Keigo Higashino

~ post by Raul M. Chapa

The rarest and most precious of mysteries are, in my opinion, the ones that twist the facts, that make you scratch your head, then totally astound you when you finally puzzle out the truth.  Following the clues to find out who the killer is before the end has always been what appeals to me in these stories, but then there are always those immortal titles which keep you guessing to the end, and are completely unforgettable: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man and Ellery Queen’s The Greek Coffin Mystery to name a few. Into this league of masters, I’d like to add Keigo Higashino’s mysteries, and though only a few of these have been translated into English (which is a shame), Higashino enjoys wide fame in Japan and Asia in general.

In print and available now are two novels from his Detective Galileo series – The Devotion of Suspect X and The Salvation of a Saint.  Both of these books deal with a police detective named Kusanagi, and his unconventional, genius physics professor friend, Yukawa. The good doctor, Yukawa, is nicknamed “Dr. Galileo” for his unique and on-target solutions to mysteries that have left Kusanagi at wit’s end, though he usually arrives at his conclusions in eccentric ways.

The Devotion of Suspect X is a brilliant cat and mouse game between the primary suspect and Yukawa, who used to be friends. Since they each knows how the other thinks, the story plays out with several intellectual feints and twists, and when it all comes together, the solution will surprise you. The Salvation of a Saint includes Kusanagi’s colleague who is convinced a wife has poisoned her husband, though she was far away when it happened. Unable to find any evidence, Kaoru Utsumi turns to Dr. Galileo for help. This play on the classic whodunit has more to do with how it was done, and once again, the answer will throw you for a loop.

Coming out in October is a book called Malice, a separate mystery series with Detective Kyoichiro Kaga looking into the murder of a bestselling author. This story takes the form of written journals by the murderer as well as notes and interviews by the detective. It leaves us with various threads to try and unravel to find the motive for the crime, and in following them up, the reader comes to a new understanding of what malice really is.

I hope you pick up Higashino’s books, because they will twist your mind in deliciously intriguing ways – and if you are looking for something along the lines of some of the best in the genre, you are missing out if you don’t at least try him.

3 Picks for May

 

 

The Three by Sarah Lotz

There’s been a lot of buzz around this story of three children who survive four simultaneous plane crashes. Sarah Lotz takes a unique approach to the suspense thriller, looking at religion, media, and fear in the modern world. This could be one of the most talked about books of the summer.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

The wait for a Greg Iles book is over. His Penn Cage character is now town mayor, but when a local nurse is murdered and his father becomes a suspect, Cage becomes determined to prove his father’s innocence. Penn’s quest for the truth sends him deep into his father’s past, where a sexually charged secret lies waiting to tear their family apart. A comeback for the king of the Southern-set thriller.

Borderline by Lawrence Block

Our friends at Hard Case Crime have unearthed another Block tale. This one deals with the collision of several scheming and desperate characters in a sleazy town between El Paso and Juárez. The book also contains some short stories that appeared in classic magazines like Manhunt. Another work from one of our most acclaimed and highly decorated living mystery writers.

MysteryPeople Q&A with David Downing

David_Downing

David Downing has earned a following with his World War II-set espionage adventures featuring John Russell. With his latest, Jack Of Spies, he’s switched his attention to the First World War with Scottish car salesman and secret agent Jack McColl. To warm up for our in-store discussion on Sunday, May 18th at 4PM, we caught up with the author himself.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: This book has a less somber feel than the Russell books, with a more devil-may-care hero (at least at the beginning). Were you looking forward to creating a somewhat lighter tone?

DAVID DOWNING: Not at all. I hope Jack of Spies works as an exciting story in its own right, but it’s also meant to function as a scene-setter for the whole series. If there is a less somber feel, it’s very much the calm before the storm. The horrors of the trenches and a world-changing upheaval in Russia are only just around the corner.

MP: There is a lot of globetrotting in Jack of Spies. What did you want to convey about that time, during the period?

DD: Mostly the fact that the European powers still controlled, either politically or economically, most of the rest of the world, and that a war between them was bound to have repercussions almost everywhere. And tied in with that, the obvious fact that those fighting their colonial overlords were bound to see the war as an opportunity to push their own causes. As the saying had it, ‘England’s trouble was Ireland’s opportunity’.

MP: What was your favorite city to write about?

DD: Shanghai, I think. In 1914 it was a wonderfully exotic mix of medieval and modern.

MP: One of the biggest differences between Jack McColl and John Russell is that Jack wants to be a spy. What drives him to this call of duty?

DD: Partly a yearning for excitement, partly plain naivety. And, at the beginning, a sense that he’s fighting for the right side. He’s not guided by patriotism, so when he begins to doubt that there is a right side, things start getting complicated.

MP: Caitlin, Jack’s love interest, could carry her own book. How did you come about her as a character?

DD: I’m fascinated by the early 20th century feminists, by the American left around this time, by the Bolshevik approach to women’s rights, and by the Irish struggle for independence. These are the multiple contexts for Caitlin, which allow her to act as Jack’s foil, and sometimes his conscience. She’s brighter than he is, and much more certain of her role in the world. In succeeding books she’ll be sharing the spotlight on an equal basis.

MP: After dealing with both of them in fiction, what is the biggest difference between the two World Wars?

DD: There are several huge differences. The First was a revelation, the Second mere confirmation. The First was all about being stuck, the Second all about movement. The First was fought by soldiers on battlefields, the Second almost everywhere, by soldiers and civilians alike. The First achieved absolutely nothing, the Second at least got rid of the gangsters then ruling Germany. The Second contained the more obvious crimes against humanity, but I think the First had a deeper impact on how we think and feel about the way we live.


David Down will be speaking & signing Jack of Spies on Sunday, May 18 at 4PM. You can pre-order signed copies now, via bookpeople.com. The book will be on our shelves on May 13th.

Jim Wilsky Interviews Ace Atkins

crime scene

One of our latest Noir At The Bar  guests, Jim Wilsky, has recently started the site The Write Answers, where he interviews other authors. It just so happens that his latest interview is with another author from our recent Noir At The Bar line-up, Ace Atkins. Ace is one of the most admired (and nicest) guys in the business. See if Jim, a wonderful practitioner of noir, can find the dirt on him here.


Signed copies books by Ace Atkins and Jim Wilsky are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Review: JACK OF SPIES by David Downing

jack of spies

Last year, David Downing wrapped up his Station series featuring John Russell, a British journalist reluctantly drawn into the espionage game of World War II. In Jack of Spies, he begins the adventures of Jack McColl and World War I. In this first novel, he promises to explore the character event in an equally engaging way.

McColl is a Scottish automobile salesman for a company wanting to develop an international market. His position also happens to be the perfect cover for his new job moonlighting as an agent for the fledgling British Secret Service. First tasked with obtaining information regarding any hidden interests held by the Germans or Chinese, his new line of work quickly gets Jack into a Shanghai knife fight.

Soon, Jack is on a global trotting mission alongside Caity Hanley, an American journalist he meets in Peking. The pair travel from San Fransisco to New York, before McColl carries on to revolutionary Mexico to foil a plot involving the IRA, which hopes to take advantage of the opportunity created by world upheaval. Downing creates an exciting and exotic world, one ready to explode at the merest spark.

Downing also successfully depicts the new modernism of the period. One gets a sense of the people, still in a nineteenth-century mindset, trying to catch up to the new inventions and ideas of the modern era. Even Jack’s profession as a spy is new to the British government, and somewhat looked down upon. His love interest, Caitlin, the American suffragette and journalist, embodies this theme as a character. While Jack is attracted to Caitlin’s free spirit, it is something he can’t seem to completely comprehend.

In many ways, Jack Of Spies reflects The Great War. Our protagonist enters it with a devil-may-care attitude and slowly finds himself in several sobering quandaries. Downing seamlessly moves from Ian Flemming adventure to John LeCarre politics across the broad canvas of a particular time period, never losing the intimacy with his characters. I’m certainly looking forward to learning more about Jack McColl and his war.


David Downing will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Sunday, May 18 at 4PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Jack of Spies now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ace Atkins

ace-atkins

Ace Atkins will be joining us for tonight’s Noir At The Bar, starting at 7PM at Opal Divine’s. We asked the author a few questions about his new novel, Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot. Also, be sure to check MysteryPeople’s review here for more on Ace’s latest.

cheap shot 1

MYSTERYPEOPLE: While Spenser, Hawk, and the rest of the gang sound and act like they should, Cheap Shot  has more of your voice, with some new bad guys and a touch more introspection. How much of this was a conscious choice for the book?

ACE ATKINS: With each Spenser I write, I’m certainly becoming more comfortable continuing this iconic series. I think with the third novel, I can use some of my own story telling to expand and grow Spenser’s world. But keeping core players intact.

MP: Football, something that you and your father (Bill Atkins) were heavily involved in, is the backdrop to this story. What did you want to convey about the game and its players?

AA: I mainly did not want pro football or that circus to overshadow the family drama. I played SEC football and my father worked for the NFL as player, coach and scout. So I wasn’t overwhelmed with wanting to bring out every detail I learned. I wanted the focus on the Heywood family.

MP: It seems that Robert B. Parker helped you continue the series by creating Six Kill, Spenser’s protegee, in the last book. What do you hope to do with the character?

AA: It was his final gift to readers – an apprentice for Spenser. I wanted to honor this and make him a continuing part of the series. But I do foresee a day when Z will be ready for his own adventures.

MP: You told me part of this book was an allusion to the Glenn Ford film Ransom. What did you like about that movie so much to pay it homage?

AA: The combustible household where the action takes place and the fantastic twist when Ford’s character makes a controversial decision on how to get his son back.

MP: Is there anything you’ve discovered about Spenser writing for him, that you didn’t notice as a reader?

AA: His incredible patience in all things. Person and professional.

MP: You’re headlining our Noir At The Bar on May 12th. How many drinks do you plan to have before you read?

AA: This is an important question. Two beers to start. Any recs, Scott?


Ace Atkins will be reading from his new novel at MysteryPeople’s Noir at the Bar on Monday, May 12 at 7PM at Opal Divine’s. You can order copies of Cheap Shot now, via bookpeople.com. You can also check out the MysteryPeople review of Ace’s latest here.

Crime Fiction Friday: THE SEA OF GRASS by Jim Wilsky

crime scene

A week ago, we featured George Wier for Crime Fiction Friday. This week, we’re excited to bring you a story by Jim Wilsky, who will be joined by Ace Atkins, Jesse Sublette, and George for our Noir At the Bar on May 12Th, 7PM, at Opal Divine’s, 6031 South Congress.

Alongside Frank Zafiro, Jim is known for the excellent noir series featuring their femme fatale character, Ania. On his own, Jim has written several skillfully crafted stories like this one, and we’ve heard whispers that a full collection of short stories is on the way. This week’s story, Sea Of Grass, was first published in Rose & Thorn, where you can read the full version. Using Texas’ Llano Estacado as a setting, Wilsky delivers a haunting tale of past, present, and place.

“THE SEA OF GRASS” by Jim Wilsky

“’For as far as you can see, Tyler, and then twice that far again, son, this is the Llano Estacado. Barren, desolate, hot as Hades itself. It makes the moon look like Shangri-La. This part of West Texas and New Mexico, too, there ain’t nothin’, boy. I mean nothin’. Even old Coronado said there was no trees, no water. Hell, no rocks bigger around than a man’s fist, nothin’ growin’ higher than a boy’s knees. Said it was a sea of grass, he did…’”

Click here to read the full story.

MysteryPeople Review: ROBERT B. PARKER’S CHEAP SHOT by Ace Atkins


Cheap Shot
by Ace Atkins
Reviewed by Scott

With Cheap Shot, Ace Atkins continues to prove that Robert B. Parker’s Spenser character is in good hands. What makes this book stand out is that we are beginning to see Atkins’ own voice emerge in the series. While Spenser, Hawk, and Susan sound and act as we would expect, they are dealing with new themes and a new world which has begun encroaching on their old one.

Ace draws on his own football experience for Spenser’s latest case. He’s hired to figure out who is stalking the controversial player, Kinjo Heywood, of the New England Patriots. Things escalate when Kinjo’s son, Akira, is kidnapped. Spenser’s search for the perpetrators and Kinjo’s behavior (some of it an homage to the Glenn Ford 1956 crime drama, Ransom!) reveal that these incidents could be tied to a shooting that Kinjo was involved with.

Ace uses Cheap Shot to explore his own interests and add to Spenser’s Boston. Without interfering with the pace, he explores race, class, and the gun culture among professional athletics (don’t worry, Spenser’s psychologist girlfriend, Susan, is given the briefest time possible to analyze this). He also introduces us to some Russian mobsters for Spenser to add to his Rolodex of thugs.

Where Atkins truly makes his stand in Parker’s world is in his use of Zebulon Sixkill, the Cree Indian and former college football star whom Spenser has taken on as a protege. Without aging Spencer, Atkins uses Zebulon as a counterpoint in the youth versus maturity debate. This dynamic is perfectly displayed in a passage where the two are chasing some bad guys. Spenser is having trouble keeping up with Sixkill as they leap over fences, but needs to, in fear of what his rasher, younger sidekick might do. I hope to see more interaction between Sixkill and Hawk, Spenser’s bad ass ally who is also much older.

By now there should be no doubt that Ace Atkins is worthy of handling Spenser. He can write with Parker’s propulsive grace and deliver the voices of the characters with perfect pitch. He is also able to skillfully add modern social critiques and new character’s to Spenser’s world, much like Parker himself. Cheap Shot is a stupendous addition to the series for fans both young and old.



Ace Atkins will be reading from his new novel at MysteryPeople’s Noir at the Bar on Monday, May 12 at 7PM at Opal Divine’s. You can p
re-order copies of Cheap Shot now, via bookpeople.com. The book will be on our shelves on May 6th.