Cops, Teachers & Swingers: Austin’s Next Noir at the Bar

One of the reasons we put together our Noir At The Bar series is to introduce Austin to crime fiction writers who are not getting the attention they deserve. On Monday, July 7th at Opal Divine’s, we hope to put some top tier talent on your radar with our latest Noir at the Bar. Whether you like police action, hard boiled mystery, or dark, strange stories, we’ll have an author you need to know.

Dan O’Shea writes a cop novel like no other. In the latest book in his series featuring detective John Lynch, Greed, a soldier of fortune brings blood diamonds into Chicago to sell, putting Lynch in the middle of drug cartels, terrorist cells, government agencies, a spoiled actor who puts out a mob contract, and a lot of bullets. O’Shea gives us an intense shoot-out and chase finale that lasts for a hundred pages. Dan’s John Lynch books have a great mix of literary plotting and scope, with a cinematic pace and attitude.

Tim O’Mara’s character is Raymond Donne, an ex-cop who now works as a teacher in a Brooklyn school. The last novel, Crooked Numbers, had Ray looking into the murder of his former student, which involved family, class, and an unusual crime. O’Mara plays with moods and tone like an expert jazz musician.

For something completely different, we have Jonathan Woods. His first short story collection, Bad JuJu, was like a bunch of wonderful experiments brought to life by a mad noir scientist. His new collection, Phone Call From Hell, has crime, kinky sex, barbecue, and an appearance by Charles Manson. As wild and strange as his tales are, there is a skilled level of loose craftsmanship that’s to be admired. One of the stories, “Swingers Anonymous” is being turned into a film.

So come out to Opal Divine’s at 360 South Congress on Monday, July 7th at 7PM to meet these authors. Austin musician and author Jesse Sublett will provide both a music and a reading. Books by the authors will be available for sale. Grab a drink, hold on to your fedora, and prepare to be blown away by a new wave of crime fiction.

Crime Fiction Friday: A BAD DAY FOR BARBECUE by Jonathan Woods

crime scene
We can’t wait to have our friend Jonathan Woods back at our Noir At The Bar On July 7th, reading from his latest collection of short stories A Phone Call From Hell. His gonzo noir tales of crime, murder, and kinky sex remind us how part of genre writing’s joy is subverting convention. Here he does it in a tale originally published in Akashic’s Monday’s Are Murder feature.

“A BAD DAY FOR BARBECUE” by Jonathan Woods

“Jiao Lee, the first female owner of Golden BBQ, stood in the restaurant’s doorway. She watched the morning traffic on Hollywood Road in the heart of Hong Kong Central. Massive apartment blocks rose up the slope of Victoria Peak like giant Lego sculptures. Rain clouds of a winter cold front roiled above.

Mostly antique shops and galleries inhabited Hollywood Road, with an occasional sly, upscale restaurant or bar here and there. As the landlords hiked the rents, the galleries were moving away. Life was ever changeable, thought Jiao.

Golden BBQ had been at its location for five generations, offering succulent, mouth-watering barbecue to its clientele. In the window, a suckling pig, a dozen pressed ducks and a brace of geese—favored for their fatty flesh—hung from metal hooks…”

 

Click here to read the full story.

MysteryPeople Q&A With Meg Gardiner

meg gardiner
~interviewed by Molly

This coming Saturday, June 28th at 4PM, MysteryPeople will be welcoming Meg Gardiner to the podium to discuss and read from her latest, Phantom Instinct. Molly already reviewed Phantom Instinct, but was able to catch up with Meg before Saturday’s event to get the full scoop.

Molly O.: Your two main characters, Harper and Aiden, are hobbled in their pursuit of justice by Harper’s past as a juvenile delinquent and Aiden’s traumatic brain injury, which leads him to see enemies everywhere. Their flaws drew me in to their characters much more so than any of their more heroic attributes, especially in the case of Aiden. What was your inspiration for creating such flawed characters?

Meg Gardiner: I want to write about characters who have their backs up against the wall. For a novel to be suspenseful, the characters must be vulnerable to real danger. If they have no flaws, no limitations, then they face no real challenge. That story’s boring.

Even Superman has Kryptonite.

The only real way to find out what characters are made of is to crack their world in half. Then you learn whether they can fight their way clear of the debris, rescue people who need help, and rebuild from the wreckage.

Harper Flynn was forced into crime in her teens. To escape, she broke the world she grew up in. It was a dirty getaway. She has always feared that it would come back to haunt her. Now it has.

Aiden Garrison wants justice for the victims of the shootout where he suffered the traumatic brain injury. But that injury has smashed his life as a lawman to pieces. He’s searching for some new way to soldier through.

Phantom Instinct is about how Aiden and Harper try to fight past all these flaws to stop a killer before he gets to them and the people they love.

MO: Where did you get the idea for Aiden’s condition in particular?

MG: Fregoli Syndrome is a kind of face blindness. It causes the mistaken belief that the person you’re looking at is actually someone else in disguise. I stumbled across it while reading, and thought: there’s trouble for a cop. A delusional misidentification disorder.

Aiden can no longer trust his own eyes. And the department no longer trusts him with a gun—after all, at unpredictable moments he becomes convinced that a friend, colleague, or the kid bagging his groceries is actually a hired killer in disguise.

MO: Much of the dramatic tension in Phantom Instinct stems from Harper’s difficulty in convincing anyone that she and her loved ones are in danger, and the suspense is doubled by Harper’s struggle to deal with her life in danger but also to convince others that her life actually is in danger. Do you think that this atmosphere of paranoia and disbelief is integral to the thriller?

MG: Some thrillers work brilliantly when you know exactly who’s good and who’s bad. But this book is about trust. Harper and Aiden are drawn toward each other, but with everything they learn, the less they trust each other. They need to work together, but every secret that’s exposed sends them further off kilter. They have to decide: who should you trust? When do you take a leap of faith? Their lives depend on jumping the right way.

MO: Was Harper’s incredible resourcefulness a motivation in denying her help early on?

MG: Never make it easy. Trouble builds character. That’s Thriller Writing 101.

MO: I particularly enjoyed the combined use of cyber-crime and good, old-fashioned thievery by the modern criminals of Phantom Instinct. Many thrillers focus on technology based crime as entirely separate from thuggery, but in Phantom Instinct, one strategy leads naturally to the other. Do you think that these tactics are indicative of the future of criminality, or do they belong more in a thriller than in reality?

MG: Law enforcement agencies including the FBI will tell you that cyber crime is a growth industry. Street gangs and organized crime have realized they can make serious cash without butchering the competition.

But at some point, thugs gonna thug. As they do in the book.

MO: How much of these tactics did you see in your law career?

MG: My practice was in commercial litigation, not criminal law. The only crooks I wrestle with are the ones I invent.

MO: You’ve written series and stand-alones, and are adept at each. What do you get from writing a stand-alone that you can’t get from a series, and vice versa?

MG: With a series you can explore the characters’ world, build it up, blow it up, and put it back together again. Over the course of multiple books, you have the scope to dive deep into the characters lives, and to let them develop. And some characters need more than one adventure.

But some stories demand to be told that don’t fit with a series. That’s when I write a stand-alone. A novel about an ex-thief who teams up with an injured cop to catch a killer before he kills again… that story needs to have the ex-thief and the cop at its heart. So Harper Flynn and Aiden Garrison are the heroine and hero in Phantom Instinct.

MO: I really enjoyed your strong sense of place when writing about Los Angeles and surrounding Southern California. You lived in the UK for quite some time. Was it the change of place that made you want to revisit your home and explore the territory for darker themes?

MG: I started writing about California when I moved to the UK. I loved England, but missed Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I also came to realize that the British saw Southern California as wildly exotic. I was only too happy to write about a place I adored, and which fascinated my new friends.

MO: What attracts you to writing about Southern California in particular?

MG: There’s a dream version of California: wide open cities, seas, deserts, huge skies, hope and promise and endless possibility. Of course, pain and darkness inevitably churn beneath the bright sun of paradise. The juxtaposition makes California a fertile ground for novels—thrillers, noir, pulp, you name it. It always has. In my novels, empty souls want to drag down those who try to make a place in the sunlit world.

I love California. Now I’m living in Austin, and still love writing about the state where I grew up.


Meg Gardiner will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, June 28th at 4PM! You can pre-order signed copies of Phantom Instinct now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store. Also, check out Molly’s review of Phantom Instinct on the MysteryPeople blog!

International Crime Month: Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö 1
~post by Molly

As Scandinavian detective fiction has exploded onto the international scene over the last twenty years, it is sometimes easy to forget that the genre has been experiencing international renown since the late 1960s. With so much attention paid to contemporary authors, it is time to contextualize the recent history of Scandinavian detective fiction in terms of the region’s most classic crime writers, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

These two authors, over the course of ten years and ten novels, single handedly created the modern police procedural. Their oeuvre has been the model for Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and pretty much every detective show on television. Their cast of detectives, cantankerous, flawed, and with all the personality clashes of long-time coworkers, have become the template for cop dramas at home and abroad. Their detective, Martin Beck, has been played by Walter Mathau, which by itself indicates their commitment to portraying the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Their story, too, has been the model for many an author’s journey.  The two began in investigative journalism and from there decided to put political opinions to paper in a popular and accessible format. Inspired by the social criticism in such authors as Dashiell Hammett and George Simenon, they chose detective fiction as their medium.

Unusually, however, they wrote as a team – Sjöwall and Wahlöö lived together as a common law couple and each night, after putting their children to bed, each wrote an alternating chapter. The next day, they would switch chapters and edit each other’s work. In this way, they wrote one novel a year, for ten years. In the tenth year of their collaboration, Per Wahlöö died, and Maj Sjöwall never wrote again.

As a collaborative team, they found common ground not only in their mutual affection, but in their shared left-wing politics. They established a model for social criticism in Scandinavia still used today, in which they focused on examining the shadowy nature of capitalism embedded within the post-war welfare state. They wrote in a time of social and political upheaval, especially in terms of gender roles, and the crimes investigated are carefully chosen to match the spirit of the times. Many of the Scandinavian crime writers we most associate with the genre draw heavily from the allegorical nature of Sjöwall and Wahlöö ‘s crimes, and in such pointed pieces as Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo we find increasingly refined and yet somehow less immediate variations on a theme.

Despite their politically motivated message, the two never wrote in a heavy-handed manner, choosing to embrace the simplest prose and the most compelling discourse as a way of creating Marxist critiques accessible to all. Their police procedurals are humanistic and humorous, with plots carefully crafted to entertain and flawed detectives with whom any reader can empathize. Their detectives hem and haw at the demands of the state, try to get out of riot cop duty, and try to solve as many real crimes as possible. When it is winter, and a character smokes too many cigarettes, he gets a cold.

Their vision has endured; forty years after their original publication, their work is still in print. Their message is as immediate and urgent as ever, and their combination of humor and humanism is still unmatched by their peers. Read them in order for the best experience, but to get hooked, start with The Laughing Policeman.

For fans of:

Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Craig Johnson, Carl Hiasson, and or any TV show about cops. Seriously, any. They all draw from this series.

MysteryPeople Q&A With Alison Gaylin

alison gayllin

Alison Gaylin’s latest series features Brenna Spector, a missing persons investigator with complete autobiographical memory triggered by her sister’s abduction. When her own daughter goes missing it ties to her tragic past in her latest, Stay With Me. We caught up with Alison before she joins us with Megan Abbott on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM to talk about the book and writing for such a unique heroine.

MysteryPeople: So much comes to a head in this third book. Did you have the idea of a trilogy when you started?

Alison Gaylin: When I first proposed the series to Harper,  I had planned on Clea being Brenna’s “one armed man” — her disappearance being the one mystery that haunts Brenna and drives her, throughout however many books the series turns out to be. But by the time I  was writing And She Was — and focusing more and more on what happened to Clea myself — I became impatient to tell the whole story. Three books seemed a lot more reasonable, and more satisfying as well.

MP: Family has always played a part in the series, but here it is involved in the plot and practically every sub-plot here, particularly with the female characters. What did you want to explore about dealing with female family members?

AG: I’m so glad you noticed this! Yes, Stay With Me is all about being a mother — the joy and terror of it.  There are all sorts of crimes in this book — abduction and murder included — but to me the most frightening thing in it is the realization that your child is a separate human being just like you are, with complicated emotions and secrets you’ll never know about. You can only keep them so safe. You can only get so close (Wow, I’m scaring myself again….). Anyway, like Brenna, I’m both a daughter and a mother and I wanted to explore those very complicated, very consuming ties.

MP: What made you decide to threaten Trent, Brenna’s womanizing assistant, with fatherhood?

AG: Well, in the previous book Trent was almost killed. I thought, What could throw him even more off balance than a violent brush with death? The positive pregnancy test seemed like the obvious answer. On another level though, I like for all my characters to experience the consequences of their actions — and Trent has seen a lot of action. Being a possible dad-to-be makes Trent have to answer to somebody other than himself. He starts to see the world differently and relate to Maya’s disappearance in a more personal way. Life slaps everybody around in this book, Trent included. It’s sort of interesting to see him take something seriously.

MP: How does having a lead character with total recall influence the writing?

AG: Brenna’s memories are visceral, incorporating all five senses. They take her out of the moment when she is experiencing them, so in order to make them feel more immediate, I write them in the present tense (the present action is told in past tense). I do a lot of editing on the memories and try not to have them go on for too long unless they are integral to the plot, but it is definitely a challenge. I think Brenna’s total recall makes the storytelling a little more complicated than it would normally be.

MP: What did you want to convey about the condition?

AG: It’s perfect autobiographical memory. Not perfect or photographic memory. So, for instance, if Brenna was reading a police report ten years ago but thinking about what she was going to eat for lunch, the contents of the report wouldn’t be in her memory; the lunch plans would. What I wanted to convey in this book is that, despite Brenna’s sometimes enviable condition, there is a lot that she doesn’t know. Brenna’s mother tells her that perfect memory doesn’t necessarily mean she’s right about everything. And that’s a very important idea in the book.

MP: If you could tell Brenna one thing, what would it be?

AG: Well after this book, it would probably be, “Get some rest!”


Alison Gaylin will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Stay With Me now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

MysteryPeople Q&A With Megan Abbott

megan abbott
~interviewed by Molly

Megan Abbott’s The Fever is one of the most talked about books of the summer and is the Statesman Selects pick for June. It portrays a tight family of father, son, and particularly daughter caught in the hysteria of a small town when several of the teen girls suffer mysterious seizures.  Though Megan will be in-store with Alison Gaylin, Thursday, June 26 at 7PM, we took the opportunity beforehand to speak with Megan about her new book and the writing process.

Molly O.: I was struck by the similarities between the behavior of the girls in The Fever and the actions of adolescents during the Salem Witch Trials. I was then surprised to learn that you were inspired by a true story. Were you also inspired by the Salem Witch Trials?

Megan Abbott: I’ve always been fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, and have been reading about them since I was a kid, so I’m sure that
was hovering there somewhere. And the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson. All these tales of American small towns or communities under siege, with the assault somehow coming from within. I’ve always loved stories where there’s an unidentifiable danger==and because it’s unidentifiable, everyone projects their own fears and desires onto it. Whatever theory a character has for what’s afflicting these girls says a great deal about the character.

MO: You hit on some edgy, controversial topics (vaccines, pollution, teen sexuality) as your characters theorize about what could be making a group of teenage girls sick. Did you set out to write a novel tapping into the zeitgeist? What are you worried about in the world right now?

MA: No. I guess I don’t really write that way—from an intellectual place. I write more from an emotional place. I have loads of thoughts about
the world (too many!) and how hard it is to be a teen or a parent of a teen, but when I write it comes from a different part of my head. I
follow character, and just keep on digging. The nature of the characters in The Fever—in particularly, this close-knit family of father, son and daughter. I saw them as the three investigators and just followed their paths.

MO: Traditionally, noir fiction has incorporated quite a bit of the “male gaze” in terms of a sexualized way of viewing women through a
male character’s eyes. In The Fever, I thought you did an excellent job of reversing that trope through the character of Deenie’s brother
and the way in which girls at his school approach him as an object of desire. This is just one aspect of your complicated and nuanced
approach to sexuality and sexual agency. Is this a life-long mission, to bring female agency, especially in terms of sexuality, to noir
fiction?

MA: If I’m honest, my only mission is to tell stories that feel true. But I am beyond thrilled with this question—and flattered by it. I really
did see Eli as a kind of “homme fatal”—through no fault of his own (just as it’s not the femme fatale’s fault that males keep falling for her). I really wanted to write about the way girls look at boys. How they foist all kinds of fantasies onto them, just as boys do with girls. And I really wanted the girls in this book to want, to desire… as we all know girls do. I think we’re still so uncomfortable as a culture with girls having sexual desires and acting on them. We either make a joke out of it or make it horror show, instead of just letting it be real, authentic, awkward, overwhelming—all the things that being a teenager is.

MO: Your last few books have all focused on the dangerous lives of adolescent girls. Why this age group?

MA: I guess because there’s so much rich territory to mine there, and it’s still pretty “under-mined.” That age is so powerful, on the cusp of
adulthood but with all the frenzy of youth. Each day is such a whirlwind of emotion, everything matters so much. It’s the perfect place to find character, story.

MO: You come to noir both as a creator and an academic – a rare combination in today’s world of specialization. Which came first, the
urge to write or to analyze? How would you like to see your own work analyzed?

MA: They’re really two separate parts of my brain—and they never speak to each other! I’ve always done both kinds of writing and thinking, but I never apply my analytical lens to my own work if I can help it. In my case, I think that’s deadly to the creativity. As for how I’d like my
own work analyzed? The real answer is any way any reader likes. There’s no “solution” or “right interpretation.” We all bring our own fascinations and experiences and personal histories to whatever we read, and that’s why reading is so intensely personal an experience. And it’s why it matters so much.


Megan Abbott will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM. You can pre-order signed copies of The Fever now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

Double Feature Film/Book Series Kicks off this Wednesday with Double Indemnity

double indemnity

On Wednesday, June 25th, at 6PM, we’ll be kicking off our Double Feature screenings. Each Double Feature will include a noir film based on a book, with discussion afterward. We’re starting with the classic early noir, Double Indemnity.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity is practically a blue print for noir in any medium. The story about insurance man Walter Huff and Phyllis Nirdlinger’s scheme of killing her husband for his policy money, barely over a hundred pages, provides a bare basics of the boy-meets-girl, boy-commits-murder-with-girl, (spoiler alert) boy-ends-up-dead-or-in-prison-because-of-girl tale that many writers and filmmakers have put their own spin on. One of the first was screen writer/director Billy Wilder in his 1944 adaptation.

Cain, a former newspaperman, had a clean writing style that stripped a story to its marrow. Indemnity was written as a follow up to his
successful novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. While both of those books share many similarities, Double Indemnity‘s propulsive quality and less-than-humane humanity, bring out a sharper, cynical edge.

And who could have been drawn to a cynical story more than Billy Wilder. He got hard boiled master Raymond Chandler to work on the
script with him. Chandler didn’t much like the book, finding it a sleazy story about amoral people. It appears he found an anchor in making
Neff’s friend and the insurance companies investigator, Keyes, into the conscience of the story. Keyes observations about life and murder
could easily be quoted by Chandler’s private eye, Phillip Marlowe.

There are several other major differences between film and novel, beside changing Keyes’ role and changing Walter and Phyllis’s last names to
Neff and Dietriechson.  One is the relationship  between Walter and Phyllis. With the novel, it deteriorates right after the murder with Phyllis kicking him of the car. Wilder’s direction and Fred MacMurray’s performance suggest Neff as something of a dupe, lured into the scheme of a femme fatale. The book had revealed early on that he was thinking about doing something like this for some time. Cain appears to have them drawn together more by mutual sin than passion, with little left after the murder is done.

The film follows close to the plot, until the third act. It may come as a shock to the reader more familiar with the movie. Wilder kept the corruption personal, between Walter and Phyllis. Cain, the cynical reporter, had all of society in on the scam in a way that Hollywood wouldn’t have been ready to express.

That said, Cain seemed very pleased with the adaptation, saying ” …It’s the only picture I ever saw made from my books that had things in
it I wish I had thought of. Wilder’s ending was much better than my ending, and his device for letting the guy tell the story by taking out the office dictating machine – I would have done it if I had thought of it.”

Both book and film set the template for the look and attitude of noir. They both present a quality both stripped down and stylized that
contributes to the genre’s malleability. It’s about that short cut to the American dream, that questions the trip and maybe the dream
itself.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5) – 4

Adherence To Quality Of Book – 5

Fun Fact- The supermarket scenes where Walter and Phyllis meet after the
murder had armed guards on the set. It was filmed during World War Two
and due to rationing, the market was afraid  the cast and crew would steal
groceries.

Other Films- The Prowler, Gun Crazy, Body Heat, and The Last Seduction

Other BooksMiami Purity by Vicki Hendicks; They Don’t Dance Much by
John Ross; Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell