Shotgun Blast From The Past: Paul Cain’s FAST ONE

fast one

Written in the Thirties, Paul Cain’s Fast One (now published by Gutter Books)  is a litmus test for hard boiled fans to see how hard boiled they are. It was the only novel by its author to use the pseudonym Paul Cain, one of several aliases he went by in life. He took the sub-genre and stripped it down to its essence.

Our protagonist, who goes only by Kells, is a retired East Coast enforcer, taking it easy in LA. With several mobs moving out west, he’s given an offer to go back to his bad ways. When he refuses, Kells is framed for murder. With only the help of his questionable girlfriend and his reporter buddy, Kells is on the run from every cop and hood, all of them gunning for him as he plans to get square.

Fast One is a blueprint for a tough guy crime novel. Under two hundred pages, its tight and fast story is mainly told through action and the tersest of dialogue. It is even stripped of many ideals of heroism. Kells didn’t quit the mob out of any discovered morality, he simply found it a hassle. If Fast One values anything, it is self reliance.

Fast One is essential for the hard boiled reader, if just to test how hard boiled you are. It is a two-fisted book that moves like a roadster with the pedal to the metal, and there is no catching up. It definitely deserves its reputation as a crime fiction classic.


You can find copies of Fast One on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Book Review: 1960s Austin Gangsters


1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital by Jesse Sublett     (Event 3/23/15)

Austin prides itself on individuality. We are both counter-culture and cowboy, known for our own takes on music and food. As Jesse Sublett shows in 1960s Austin Gangsters, even our criminals keep it weird. Sublett chronicles the Overton Gang. They were formed around high school football star Tim Overton, who held a grudge against UT coach Darrell Royal for stopping his chances at being a Longhorn. With fellow football player “Fat Jerry” Ray James, he lead a gang of travelling criminals who burglarized banks and muscled in on vice operations all around Texas, using the new highway system to their advantage, with the Capitol as their base of operations. They were bad men in Elvis haircuts and shark fin Caddies, committing felonies at a rock n’ roll pace.

When it came to Austin history, they were like gangster Forrest Gumps. They hung out at the same club the 13th Floor Elevators played and brushed up against the burgeoning counter-culture. There is even a tense, armed stand-off between Overton and future U.T. tower sniper Charles Whitman.

Sublett uses tons of interviews with the survivors and offspring on both sides of the law. He doesn’t romanticize the gang and doesn’t shy away from describing their brutality, particularly toward their women. However, he does include how some of their victims recall their charming side. He also shows how the methods of overzealous law enforcement almost brought the town back to its wild west roots. Much of the story is told in colorful anecdotes, such as the one about the interaction between a local madam and Overton a few weeks after he robbed and beat her.

1960s Austin Gangsters is a rough, fun ride through Austin’s underbelly during a period of change. Sublett gives us a real world of east side toughs, crooked car dealers, dice men, dogged lawmen, chicken shack patrons, part-time hookers, and elderly brothel matrons.

Yep, even when it came to crime, Austin isn’t what it was.

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Copies of 1960s Austin Gangsters are available on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com

Jesse Sublett speaks about and signs his new book here at BookPeople Monday, March 23 at 7pm.

MysteryPeople Review: LEAVING BERLIN by Joseph Kanon

leaving berlin

Post by Molly


I’ve always been a fan of spy fiction, since I discovered John le Carré, Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, and of course, the great Graham Greene. At its silliest, spy fiction is a collection of gadgets, gizmos, guns and girls (in that order). At its greatest, such as in The Spy Who Came in From The Cold, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, spy fiction becomes a moral minefield; treacherous, duplicitous, paranoid, and thrilling. Agents lurk behind every corner, no one is who they seem, and each stab at connection, empathy and affection is brutally punished by manipulative handlers and their far-away, jingoistic bosses. Berlin, as the secret agent center of the Cold War for nearly a half century, stands out as a setting for spy fiction, and Joseph Kanon, with his latest novel, Leaving Berlin, uses the city just as well as Le Carré. No wonder – Kanon has already made Cold War Berlin his own in such novels as The Good German, and Leaving Berlin is no exception.

Leaving Berlin starts with a perfect set-up. In 1949, Alex Meier a German-Jewish writer with a Dutch passport and a communist past, refuses to testify at the House of Un-American Activities Committee and is promptly deported from the United States. He receives an invitation to move back to Berlin, a city he has not seen since 1933, and join the community of returning Communist exiles, including Bertolt Brecht, determined to help build a new Germany.

Meier, however, does not plan to stay in Germany long – he’s received a promise that, should he provide enough information on his new friends to the CIA, he will be allowed to return to the United States, where his ex-wife and son still reside. The CIA recruits Meier as an agent partially because Meier’s family is dead, and thus they think he has no connections in his former home. Meier proves his handlers wrong, and immediately goes on a quest to find the Junker family who provided him with the funds and opportunity to escape the Nazis after a brief turn in a concentration camp. He finds some of them, including his old flame, still alive, and he decides to help those he can to escape to the west as well.

With such a great setup, its hard to believe that the book could possibly have an equally amazing conclusion. And yet Leaving Berlin ends with one of the best resolutions I have ever read in a spy novel – everyone receives their comeuppances, but not before several double agents, even more murders, a hint of romance, and a thrilling chase sequence during a production of Brecht’s prescient anti-war drama Mother Courage.

Kanon chocks his novel full of historical details. The characters are a veritable who’s-who of East German intellectuals, and the city is described so well as to be almost the protagonist of the novel – in fact, the city, with its ever-shifting sectors and alliances and ever-present construction crews, changes throughout the novel more than any other character. Leaving Berlin, had it been written in 1949, would not have been published, for the censorship at the time on both the Soviet and American sides was far to strict for discussion of certain topics. Kanon’s characters explicitly discuss the mass rape of German women by Soviet soldiers at the end of WWII (encompassing over two million victims and two distinct stages, the first in East Prussia and the second in Berlin). Similarly, characters discuss purges, one-way trips to Siberia, and Stalinist oppression more openly than was possible at the time. Leaving Berlin does, however, read like a novel written in 1949 and hidden in a desk drawer for a day when it could be published, and this is the highest praise I can give to any American writing about the Soviet era.


You can find copies of Leaving Berlin on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. For those spy fiction aficionados who may be reading this post, we are relaunching our MysteryPeople Double Feature film series at the end of April. Join us May 10 at 6:30 PM on BookPeople’s third floor for a screening of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, followed by a discussion of the book and film. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.

Hard Word Book Club Discussing THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS by Ken Bruen, Followed By Screening

magdalen martyrsThe Hard Word Book club will meet to discuss Ken Bruen’s Gaelic Noir masterpiece, The Magdalen Martyrs, Wednesday, March 25, at 7 PM, on BookPeople’s Third Floor. We will follow the book discussion with a special screening of “The Magdalen Martyrs” episode of the Jack Taylor series, starring Iain Glenn. Books for book clubs are 10% off in the month of their selection.


The Hard Word Book Club continues to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with its latest discussion of one of Ireland’s finest. The Magdalen Martyrs is considered to be Ken Bruen in top form. The Magdalen Martyrs proves Bruen a master of Gaelic Noir on two counts: the novel is very Irish and very, very dark.

The Magdalen Martyrs is Bruen’s third book to chronicle Jack Taylor. Taylor is an ex-gardi (Irish police) with a major drink and drug problem, issues with his mother, a love of books, and a lot of self loathing. To make ends meet, he hires himself out as a “finder” in Galway; detective being a dirty word in Ireland.

Jack has two jobs in The Magdalen Martyrs. A young man hires him to find out if his mother murdered his father like he believes. This taps into Jack’s toxic relationship with his own mother. The second involves a favor called in by local badman Bill Cassell. Taylor’s second case quickly connects to the dark history of the Magdalen Laundry: a place where, for decades, the Catholic Church took in unwed mothers, adopted out their babies, and kept the unwed mothers for years as slave labor. A woman helped Cassell’s mother escape decades ago before she met his father and wants Jack to find the lady to thank her. Both cases turn up dark history that folks want left alone and some are willing to kill to keep secret.


The Magdalen Martyrs provides a lot to talk about, including Ken Bruen’s style of writing and what his subject matter. Join us on the 25th of March at 7 PM, on our third floor. The book is 10% off to those who attend. Following our discussion, we will also be viewing “The Magdalen Martyrs” episode of the Jack Taylor series staring Iain Glenn from Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones.

MysteryPeople Review: ENDANGERED by CJ Box

endangered

-Post by Michael S.


C. J. Box’s latest novel, Endangered, begins with murder most fowl. As Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett is investigating the obliteration of a flock of sage-grouse in his jurisdiction, he gets a call that his daughter, who ran off with rodeo hero Dallas Cates, has been found beaten and left for dead in a ditch. Joe is sure Cates is guilty but he’s got to prove it. And he’ll have to do it without the help of his friend, Nate Romanowski, who has been suspiciously ambushed and whose girlfriend is missing.

Demonstrating his characters’ sense of family and loyalty is one of Box’s strengths in his writing, and his new novel proves no exception. Joe is devoted to his wife and kids. His friendship with Nate has held strong through some tough times. His good heart and sense of justice keep him on the straight path. But in Endangered, Box shows us what can happen when family loyalty gets twisted. And the Cates family is twisted with a capital T. Dallas’ mother Brenda is one of the creepiest and most fascinating characters Box has ever given us.

I have enjoyed all of CJ Box’s books and this is one of the best. As always he takes several plotlines (the sage-grouse killings, Nate’s disappearance, April’s attack) and weaves them into an exciting, well-paced adventure with plenty of unexpected turns along the way. And even if you haven’t read a Joe Pickett book before, the characters are so well defined this would be a great place to jump in.


You can find copies of Endangered on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Michael Robotham


Michael Robotham is always known for always trying something different, but this time he goes even further with Life or Death, a Texas-set tale. Convict Audie Palmer escapes prison the day before his release. Soon, people on both sides of the law are out to get both him and the millions he may or may not have robbed. Michael was kind enough to talk to us about the novel.


MysteryPeople: Why a convict would break out of prison the day before his release is such a great question to start with. Did you immediately have the answer when you came up with it?

Michael Robotham: The idea for the story was triggered by a real-life escape 20 years ago in Australia when a twice convicted killer called Tony Lanigan escaped from prison on the eve of his release on parole. Lanigan has never been seen since and many people suspect he was murdered, but I’ve always been intrigued by his escape.

I spent years tossing the idea around – trying to come up with a possible answer. Eventually I settled upon the idea of a robbery and missing millions. I knew there had to be a love story at the heart of Life or Death – otherwise it wouldn’t explain why Audie Palmer endured so much misery and hardship in prison, only to escape on the eve of his release.

MP: The voice, tone, and dialogue is way different from your other work. How much of that was because of the different setting?

MR: The ‘voice’ of the book is very much dictated by the setting. My previous novels have all been tense, almost suffocating psychological thrillers set in the UK. Life or Death is very different. It is more of a classic ‘man-on-the-run’ story, battling against the odds to stay alive.

There is a great history in America of prison-based novels and films, such as The Green Mile, Cool Hand Luke and The Shawshank Redemption. I had this in mind when I chose my setting. I am also a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner and James Lee Burke, among other southern writers, and I was determined to draw inspiration from them. I also listened to dozens of audio books set in the south and read by southern actors, trying to catch the rhythm of the language.

3. What drew you to Texas for the story?

MR: Life or Death is a big story and it needed a big canvas. There’s a slogan that says Texas is ‘like a whole other country’ and it’s very true – not just because of its size and cultural diversity, but its food, pride, people and the history. What other state has it’s own Texas Independence Day or bumper stickers threatening to secede?

MP: How did you deal with a setting you were less familiar with?

MR: I’ve always been a huge fan of American writers ever since I discovered Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner in my teens. Apart from my reading (and listening to) a lot of books, I spent seven weeks in the Lone Star State, scouting locations, sitting in bars, chatting to locals and driving enough miles to get white line fever. During that time I met prison warders, bondsmen, bounty hunters, strippers, deputy sheriffs and a district attorney, who was born in Liverpool, England, but finished up living and working in Austin. Mark Pryor is also a very fine crime writer, who gave me a lot of help with the technical side of legal system in Texas.

MP: Audie reminds me of an Elmore Leonard lead in his zen ways. How did you approach him?

MR: I wanted to create an everyman hero in Audie Palmer, someone caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, who faces enormous adversity yet discovers untapped reservoirs of courage and calmness.

Over many years as a journalist I interviewed a lot of survivors and heroes who risked their own lives to save others. One of the things that struck me is that none of us knows how we’ll react when confronted by death or danger. The most unlikely of people become heroes.

MP: After writing Life Or Death, did you notice any differences between American and British crime?

MR: There may have been differences at one point in time, but I don’t think they exist any more because the genre is so international in scope.

Traditionally, in British crime novels the crime was often an aberration that upset the balance of a peaceful place, whereas in America the crime is more a ‘fact of life’ and ordinary people are caught up in violent events.

The policing and legal systems are obviously different, but one of the reasons I chose to set Life or Death in the US is because at a local level people often elect their local sheriff, district attorney and judges. The fate of any suspect is determined by only a handful of people – who decide what charges someone faces, who represents them and what judge sits on the case. I find this quite scary.


Copies of Life or Death are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

A Look At Nelson George’s D Hunter Series

When I read Nelson George’s The Plot Against Hip-Hop a few years back, I got hooked on his security specialist D Hunter. Brooklyn born, HIV positive, dressed in black, with the voice of a street poet, D protects the rich, famous, and usually African American in tight hard boiled stories that look at where art, culture, commerce, and politics meet. I was happy to see that not only was Akashic releasing a new D Hunter novel, The Lost Treasures of R&B, they are reprinting the hard to-to-get first book, The Accidental Hunter.

In The Accidental Hunter, D is trying to expand his business with an office in Manhattan, winning a bid from The Source Awards’ return to New York. He is also hired by Ivy Greenwich, a legendary and questionable manager, for two jobs. One is to deliver the ransom and bring back kidnapped R&B genius, Night, a close friend of D’s. The other job is to protect a teen sensation while she stays in New York to change her image, Christina Aguilera-style. Both jobs become connected to an urban biker club and the secrets and sins of those for whom D is working.

The book gives us a look a night life culture; both affluent and marginalized. We move through a big party where sports and music personalities mix with thugs, S&M practitioners, yuppies, high end strippers, and drug dealers. George portrays it as a colorful addictive world with a price to pay. As one who has traveled down the road tells D, “…watch this vampire shit. Do it too long and you’ll be sucking your own blood.”

D appears to have taken that advice in The Lost Treasures Of R&B. Downsizing his company and moving back to Brooklyn after the shift in the music industry, he takes on more the role of a protector of nightlife, rather than a member.  Still, he finds himself more in trouble than ever. When a rapper tries to buy guns at an underground fight club, D ends up in the middle of a shootout. While dealing with the fall out from that, he is hired to protect Night for a comeback engagement in London and locate a rare recording of stars from Motown and Stax jamming together. George creates the greatest McGuffin since The Maltese Falcon.

In many ways The Lost Treasures of R&B is a thematic culmination of the previous two books. The series shows how subculture defines the art of our country, how it’s appropriated, and asks who should own it, it can be owned. Both The Accidental Hunter and The Lost Treasures of R&B have rich white girls wanting to be soul divas. They aren’t treated seriously, until they show their knowledge and chops. The Lost Treasures of R&B poses one of the defining musical questions of our time: should one culture be able to curate and own an art form if they are not the one to create it? George gives us no easy answers, but  a dose of believable hope to the questions he raises.

D Hunter is a series character worth following. His voice gets richer and more nuanced and his adventures raise deeper discussions with each book, existing in a culture that has become more integrated into the mainstream, yet is increasingly defined by delineation. Both D and his world have interesting places to go.


You can find copies of The Lost Treasures of R&B and The Plot Against Hip Hop on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The Accidental Hunter is available for special order via bookpeople.com.