MysteryPeople Review: DEAD RED, by Tim O’Mara

With Sacrifice Fly and Crooked Numbers, Tim O’Mara created a series that had me hooked. His books featuring New York ex-cop turned high school teacher, Raymond Donne, have developed into smart comfort reads, giving the reader an engaging plot with a human touch and social awareness that never comes off preachy. With his latest, Dead Red, O’Mara steps up his game even more.

O’Mara has established his characters in previous novels: now he lets them run and run they do. The first sentence puts us right in the middle of an execution inside a cab that Donne survives. The cabbie, Ricky Torres, recently returned from service in Iraq and a fellow officer from his police days, has something he needs to tell Ray. The bullets, unfortunately, interrupt their conversation. This kicks off the mystery and a new direction in the series.

While the first two books dealt with the students in Donne’s present occupation, this murder pushes him back into his police past. He finds himself having to team up with his former partner, Jack Knight, now working as a PI. Knight had Ricky helping him search for the missing daughter of a PR mogul. Ray doesn’t seem to have many good memories about the partnership, but he must renew their partnership to get to the bottom of the mystery.

O’Mara works on all cylinders as a storyteller. It is his best plotting yet with a story of love, guns, and politics moving at a steady canter with a great number of twists and turns. He is able to perfectly slip in all of Ray’s friends and family we have gotten to know and subtlety integrates themes of partnership and duty. The story also forces Ray to confront his former profession in a way that he’s been dodging before.

Dead Red works as a great introduction to Ray Donne and is an extreme pleasure to those already invested in the series. O’Mara, in his latest, shows the progress Sacrifice Fly promised. He also demonstrates that there is more to come; for the characters, and for the series.


Copies of  Dead Red are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Ten Years of Walt Longmire

 

This month marks the tenth anniversary of Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish being published. For the last ten years (little over three years in his fictional lifespan with each book representing a season in his life), Walt Longmire, Wyoming sheriff, has appeared in ten books, two novellas, and inspired a television show that even the stupidity of programming executives couldn’t kill. It is interesting that such a traditional, even old fashioned, character becomes one of the more popular heroes for the beginning of the new millennium.

The tension between old and new is what creates much of the drama in the series. Walt may be an old fashioned lawman but many of the crimes, like human trafficking, are not. Those wide open Wyoming spaces have allowed outlaws to practice with little interference until Walt catches wind. When hunting down killers and criminals, very few of his techniques are modern. No CSI, no SWAT, not even a cell phone. Just doggedness and a knowledge of his place, especially its people.

Community is what defines Walt Longmire as a hero. Few authors have dealt with the relationship between a lawman and the society he serves like Craig Johnson has, particularly in the first five books. These five cover an election Walt is running in, yet wondering if he still wants. It helps to set up the political nature of his job. His main skill is knowing who to call upon for assistance. We see it completely at work in Kindness Goes Unpunished, where he is stuck in Philadelphia and has to build a group of allies from the ground up.

The idea of an old school hero also plays into the tension of how Walt taps into the best of western tradition to correct its sins. The fifth book, The Dark Horse, was initially titled “Horses And Women”, a fragment of the western saying “This land is paradise for men and dogs, hell for horses and women.”In it Walt goes to another Wyoming town to help clear a woman charged with murdering her husband. The town seems convinced of her guilt not only because of the frame up, but because she is a woman who stands out.

The responsibility of the present to make up for the past is often seen in Walt’s dealing with American Indians. Walt’s relationship with the American Indian past and present is closely examined with his friendship with chief (no pun intended) ally, Henry Standing Bear. Oddly enough, it is also the source of much of the humor the books’ humor. Walt is both buffer and bridge between his jurisdiction of Absoroka County and the Cheyenne reservation. It’s perfectly fitting that when he’s alone, in desperate straits, a vision of an Indian often helps him. The vision may also be telling him, he’s also more spiritually aware than he realizes.

Craig Johnson has created a man of cohesive paradoxes that we’ve watched play out and with one another. He’s a reclusive man who is saved by his community as much as he has saved it. It is something deals with more as each turn of the earth brings in a new season in his life. Most of all he embodies the the need of his community and its institutions to be strong for individuality to survive and thrive. Here’s to many more years of Walt being able to protect and serve.


You can find all the volumes of Craig Johnson’s Longmire Series on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison


Our January Pick of the Month, Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife, has been getting a lot of buzz. The book, loosely based on at true crime in Utah, looks at a crime within a Mormon community from the perspective of the Temple Bishop’s wife. Mette, who has penned serveral YA novels, delivered a mystery like a seasoned practitioner, fully using the form’s ability to explore a subculture and several issues. We caught up to her to discuss the novel and her approach to it.


MysteryPeople: Your story is loosely based on the disappearance of Susan Powell and the years-later murder-suicide of her husband and children. What was it about the the real crime that made you want to use it for a story?

Mette Ivie Harrison: The real disappearance of Susan Powell unfolded in Utah over a period of years, and even now that Josh (the real life husband) and the two boys are dead, no one knows where Susan’s body is. That was a great mystery to begin with.

But as a Mormon, I wondered how Josh was able to disguise himself so long within the church and why Susan was unable to ask for help. Some of the answers are the same as any abused wife, but some are tied to the Mormon doctrine of “forever families,” I think.

MP: As someone who has been involved with the Mormon Church what did you want to get across to the reader about it?

MIH: I wanted very much for Mormonism to be seen as a legitimate faith and not, as I have so often been accused, of being a cult. But I also feel strongly that refusing to acknowledge problems within the church makes us seem more secretive and less sympathetic.

MP: I thought it was interesting how it’s Linda’s skill as a mother that helps her follow what is going on. What did you want to explore about motherhood?

MIH: Of all my roles (wife, mother, author, athlete, daughter, Mormon) I feel most fulfilled and find most meaning as a mother and I wanted to write about a character who felt the same. I also wanted to write about a mother who had suffered an unbearable loss of her daughter, as I have.

Mormon culture, as most American culture, sometimes overlooks and underestimates mothers. Linda Wallheim plays on that and still is a powerful character who enacts change in her community for those she sees as her “children” in a broad sense. But it is not without cost.

MP: I thought you did a brilliant job of juxtaposing Linda’s internal thoughts with the dialogue. How did you approach a lead who felt she couldn’t always publicly say what she thinks?

MIH: That’s almost completely autobiographical. I write and think prodigiously, but don’t speak well in public for various reasons (autism runs in my extended family). All of my books in the YA world are known for strong internal monologue, though it doesn’t appeal to every reader. I think Linda loves people genuinely and tries to speak to them in a way that they can listen to. She is also only rarely confident she is right enough to act on her instincts, ignoring others.

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

MIH: Linda and Kurt are named after Linda and Kurt Wallander in Henning Menkell’s wonderful series. I also probably draw a lot on the Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton, who I have been reading for about 20 years.

MP: What did you take from writing YA into mystery?

MIH: YA demands quick dialog and a strong, unmistakable voice. Also I’ve spent years working on my fantasy world building skills, which came in handy depicting the Mormon world. But adult also allows more reflection, which I enjoy.


Copies of  The Bishop’s Wife are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The Bishop’s Wife is our January MysteryPeople Pick of the Month – read the review. 

MysteryPeople Review: THE UNQUIET DEAD, by Ausma Zehanat Khan

the unquiet dead

Post by Molly

Ausma Zehanat Khan is a remarkable woman. She has a PhD in International Human Rights Law. She has traveled the world, taught at several universities, and worked as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl Magazine. And now, she has written a detective novel. Not just any detective novel – Khan’s debut, The Unquiet Dead, synthesizes all her previous subjects of research and life experience into a moody and damning exploration of the legacy of war crimes and the experience of Muslims in Canada. The novel also explores child welfare, the history of Spain before the Reconquista, workplace romance, the enmity of old friends, and much, much more. The Unquiet Dead, like its author, is difficult to define in a single sentence.

The Unquiet Dead begins with an interrupted prayer. Detective Esa Khattack is head of Canada’s Community Policing Section, or CPS, a unit designed to handle cases sensitive to minority populations. He gets a call mid-devotion and goes to meet up with his partner, Rachel Getty, to investigate a suspicious death in a wealthy enclave.

Christopher Drayton, a wealthy retired businessman, has fallen to his death on the treacherous bluffs behind his garden. As Khattack and Getty begin their investigation into Drayton’s carefully constructed life, they find evidence that Drayton was concealing his true identity as a war criminal responsible for heinous and genocidal actions in Bosnia. But Drayton was none too popular in his assumed identity either, and Khattack and Getty must contend with an ever-growing number of suspects on their list, along with the nagging suspicion that Drayton’s death may have been an accident, as their investigation becomes increasingly complex.

Khattack and Getty have their own personal demons as well, and Ausma Zehanat Khan does an excellent job weaving her detectives’ personal stories in and out of the main narrative of investigation. Getty and Khattack work well together – Getty’s bluntness, pragmatism, and distaste for fashion mixes well with Khattack’s urbane and elegant demeanor; echoes of Holmes and Watson sound throughout the novel in the detectives’ interactions. They also serve as a cautious support network for each other; reluctant to share details of personal struggles for fear of damaging their working relationship, they nevertheless act with loyalty and support towards the other whenever possible.

Despite her well-realized main characters, Khan jumps from point-of-view to point-of-view, showcasing both her extraordinary empathy and her gift for psychological insights. Much of the novel draws on her research into wartime atrocities in Bosnia, and her novel contains several heart-breaking excursions into the Bosnian experience. Khan has done what many writers have done before her – she has learned the history of a people targeted for their identity, dehumanized, and massacred, and she has put the medium of fiction to work on their behalf, restoring individualism, humanity, and unique experiences, and creating an opportunity for readers to empathize with, not otherize, the experience of Bosnian Muslims.

Ausma Zahanat Khan taps into something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time – the power of literature to bear witness to human suffering, to condemn those who perpetuate it and those who do nothing, and to help readers come to terms with a past whose effects will not cease to linger, and should not. Fiction may be an escape for many. It certainly is not the same thing as reporting a physical truth. But fiction, unlike history, unlike statistics, unlike any fact, can bring to life voices that have been silenced – in other words, fiction can tell us an emotional truth. Fiction can turn a number back into a human being. Fiction can transform a buried and forgotten past into a haunting present. Ausma Zahanat Khan understands this, and that is why The Unquiet Dead is a stunning novel, a damning critique, and hopefully, the start to a long writing career.


Copies of The Unquiet Dead are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Murder In The Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: DEATH IN THE ANDES, by Mario Vargas Llosa

death in the andes

On Tuesday, January 20th, at 2 pm on BookPeople’s third floor, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club will discuss Mario Vargas Llosa’s literary noir Death in the Andes. Mario Vargas Llosa is one of Peru’s most renowned writers and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize. His novels are wide-ranging, and Death in the Andes is perhaps his only book that can be considered a detective novel (although he certainly plays with the genre’s conventions). Other subjects he has written about include the slow destruction of an apocalyptic cult in The War of the End of the World, the life of Paul Gauguin in Tahiti in The Way to Paradise, and many other wide-ranging narratives drawn from his native Peru and all over the globe.

Death in the Andes takes place in the early 90s, written at the height of Shining Path activity (a Maoist guerilla insurgent group based in the Andes). The book is set in a traveling camp of construction workers building a road increasingly doomed to incompletion by avalanches and Shining Path attacks.

Two civil guardsmen are all that stand between the Shining Path and the construction site, and given their low numbers, fulfill a largely symbolic role. The Shining Path could show up at any moment and murder them without a thought, and so the two men spend the book talking about love and waiting to die. One guardsman cares only for his lost love, a prostitute named Mercedes, while the other allows himself to be consumed by his own homophobia and his investigation into the disappearances of three souls from the camp – an albino, a mute, and a disgraced ex-mayor.

The couple who own the only cantina in town may have the answer to the disappearances. The husband and wife practice magic, reading fortunes in coca leaves and palms, and hold the keys to all the gossip in town through their monopoly over the town’s drinking. Through the civil guards’ obsessions, the reader is given a layered portrait of Peruvian tradition, history, conflict, paranoia, sacrifice, rituals, and magic of all kinds.

The events of Death in the Andes occur in one of the most extreme environments in the world, and in the atmosphere of a near-total government collapse. The characters are paralyzed by suspicion, obsession, paranoia, and ignorance, and moved to action by ancient traditions, liquid courage, and dangerous mystical forces. Llosa’s world is a world on the precipice, literally and figuratively; his characters cry out in misery and have no solutions to their predicament. At long last, some of them do find answers, but no solutions.

Death in the Andes has no heroes, no villains (except, perhaps, for the Shining Path ideologues); only humans, fighting each other, judging each other, loving each other, and killing each other. The innocent suffer most, but hardly anyone in Llosa’s world is a true innocent. Many characters are condemned by both the Shining Path forces and the military, and that category includes anyone who wants to have a little fun. This is the ultimate book about being between a rock and a hard place, and not just because of its mountain setting.


 

The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets the third Tuesday of each month at 2 pm. Please join us Tuesday, January 20th, as we discuss Death in the Andes, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Copies are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club members receive 10% off of their purchase of their monthly book club title.

Shotgun Blast From The Past: HARDCASE, by Dan Simmons

hardcase


Mulholland Books is doing a great service by bringing back Dan Simmons’ books featuring ex-con PI Joe Kurtz. The first book, Hardcase, came out last fall. it’s a perfect title in so many ways, introducing you to one of the toughest tough guys to hit the page.

The story begins with Joe’s release from an eleven year stretch for murdering a rapist who killed his partner. He goes directly to Don Byron of the Farino mob. Joe uses the fact that he’s been protecting the don’s son in prison to get a job. The don hires him to  find their missing accountant, presumed dead. The search puts him in the middle of a mob war and a battle within the Farino Family itself.

The book is hard boiled heaven. Joe Kurtz is an uncompromising hero in the mold of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Richard Stark’s Parker (It’s alluded to later in the series that he’s Parker’s son.) Whether blasting away at bad men or bedding badder women, Kurtz does it with an uncanny mix of cool and fervor. Simmons is able to give him real emotion without being emotional and creating a believable world around him that avoids the story and style from skirting parody. If there is even a whisper of sentimentality it is quickly hushed.

It is obvious that Simmons is a fan of the genre, creating a homage that has its own original voice.The other two Joe Kurtz books, Hard Freeze and Hard As Nails, will be out this year. Here’s hoping Simmons can conjure up some more dark alleys for Joe to go down.


Hardcase is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Hard Freeze and Hard as Nails are available for pre-order on our website.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Robert Knott

 


 

Robert Knott’s life as a screenwriter and actor led him to adapting Robert B Parker’s Appaloosa into a script with the film’s star and director Ed Harris. When Robert B. Parker passed, his estate asked Mr. Knott to continue the adventures of Southwest gunfighters Hitch & Cole. His third continuation of the series, The Bridge, has our heroes going up against some vicious killers trying to sabotage the construction of a bridge. They must also deal with a group of traveling performers who have stopped in Appaloosa.

We caught up with Bob before he joins us Wednesday, January 14th, at 7 pm, with Mike Blakely, for a discussion of writing about the west. We asked him a few questions about writing the new book and taking over Parker’s characters.


MysteryPeople: The Bridge is aptly titled because much of it deals with the construction and destruction of a bridge. What drew you to making that the central plot point?

Robert Knott: Changes in culture, evolution, innovation I find interesting…Transportation, communication, commerce in the West – the new frontier – is fascinating.

MP: There’s a group of traveling performers in the story… I know your parents were traveling musicians. Did you draw from any of their experiences?

RK: Sure, I had very colorful characters in my family, and knowing that world makes it easy to conceptualize…I’ve written screenplays and theater pieces that deal with this way of life, so I felt this approach would be fun and entertaining.

MP: One thing you bring to this series is a richer flavor of authenticity. How do you go about research when starting a new book?

RK: I love research! I know a lot of writers don’t, but I really like to get into the moment to moment reality…What characters have to deal with, and how they do it, puts us int he moment as well.

MP: One of the the things the series is known for is the laconic back and forth dialogue between Cole and Hitch. How much work does it take to get that cadence right?

RK: Not much – I grew up in Oklahoma and worked in the oilfields for many years, and, well, this laconic communication is pretty much second nature there.

MP: What have you learned about Hitch and Cole in writing the three books that you didn’t know about them when writing the script to Appaloosa?

RK: Well, like all of us, I think the more we travel, the more encounters we have, the more we have seen and experienced, the more we are affected. And so Hitch and Cole gain wisdom along the way.


Copies of  The Bridge are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Robert Knott and Mike Blakely will be speaking and signing their latest Western-themed novels on Wednesday, January 14, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. The speaking portion of the event is free and open to the public. You must purchase a copy of the authors’ latest to get it signed. Can’t make it to the event, but still want a signed copy? You can buy a copy of the event book ahead of time and get it signed by the author!