MysteryPeople Q&A with Jamie Kornegay

Jamie Kornegay is both an independent bookseller and a debut novelist (needless to say, my new hero). His novel, Soil, has earned a ton of praise since its release last month. The story is about a foiled young farmer, who discovers a body on his property when he is checking out flood damage. His discovery of the body sends him on a paranoid spiral, both comic and tragic. Jamie will be reading at our May 4th Noir At The Bar, which gets going at 7 PM at Opal Divine’s on South Congress. He was kind enough to answer some questions about his book, his setting and how being a bookseller helped him.

MysteryPeople: What drew you to the idea of farming and the earth as a major element in the story?

Jamie Kornegay: I’ve lived most of my life in a rural setting, so the land, for me, has always held intrinsic drama. It lives and changes. It’s your friend and your enemy. So the landscape was first in my mind. Then I conceived a story about a man who finds a dead body on his land, and, since I live in a heavily agricultural region of Mississippi, I made him a farmer. In order to know just a little of what I would be writing about, I planted a garden in my backyard. This was in the late 2000s, when organic farming was becoming a thing, thanks largely to people like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, who came to my bookstore in 2009 and really got me fired up about growing a kitchen garden. And then I became obsessed, making compost and growing uncommon vegetables and reading about biointensive methods. The first chapter of Soil is the most autobiographical, where Jay develops his ideas about a progressive agriculture. And then he and I part ways, and he goes off the deep end.

MP: Jay is a character that you can easily laugh at and look down at, but you have us hold out hope and root for him. How did you approach him as a character?

JK: My initial image was a man not unlike Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, someone compelled to cover up a crime. In Jay’s case, he didn’t actually commit the crime, so I had to regress and uncover what kind of man would jeopardize everything he has to absolve himself of this crime, or at least the appearance of a crime. Turns out he was a man who had lost everything. And I studied this long and hard, trying to imagine what I would do if I was against the ropes like this so completely. Even given his reasoning, I would have called the police and reported the body. But that’s no fun, so I said, let’s see what would happen if he doesn’t call the police but attempts to solve this himself. It’s a story about self-sufficiency, so it made sense to me that he would do this. If a reader can’t see him or herself making that leap, then they must consider that a man bound up in nature like Jay will often take the more primal course.

MP: Obsession is a character many of the characters share. What drew you to that as a key element?

JK: It’s in tune with motivation, trying to understand who these people are. Any interesting person has a passion, a prevailing interest in something. What’s interesting to me about these characters is how they keep these obsessions to themselves, like secrets.

Little vices. Jay has many, among them marijuana, which only exacerbates his paranoia. For his wife, Sandy, it’s eating. For the deputy, Danny Shoals, it’s sex. These obsessions are their crutch, their way to escape the world and their troubles.

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

JK: Certainly there are many influences. For this novel in particular, the primary influences were Dostoevsky and Patricia Highsmith for the dread and psychological intrigue. For the humor, it was Charles Portis and Barry Hannah, my writing teacher in college. For the intricacy of structure, the influences are as diverse as Faulkner and Tarantino. Those are the conscious influences, but there’s no telling what other writers and filmmakers are echoed in this book.

MP: How did working as a book seller influence your writing?

JK: All day I get to talk to readers about the books they love. So I was conscious of the reader as I wrote this — whether it be my wife, a bookstore employee, the loyal little old lady customer who I knew would buy my book, even if I warned her against it. I didn’t let this idea of them limit what I wrote, only to make me get to the point of the story and not belabor it with internal pontification and reams of exposition and long, digressive, paranoid rants. It was fun to try and balance the needs of the reader with honest artistic expression.

MP: Mississippi is like Texas, L.A., and New York City, in that each author has a different take on it. Describe your literary Mississippi.

JK: I think, also, that a writer’s take on a place will change with each story. You characterize Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha by taking into account his dozen-plus novels set there. Likewise, I’d hope that any stories I write set in Mississippi will reflect some different aspect of the place. But as for Soil, I see this version of Mississippi the way an outsider might experience it, without the strong sense of community that is so prevalent here. My version is almost a man against nature scenario, where Mississippi is a writhing jungle bent on destroying a man. It’s a place of easy rolling hills, verdant fields, and stoic rivers, but also tangled vines, dust-choked backroads, and swampy bottomland. A man is never really alone in this place, but he feels a thousand miles from everywhere. The book I’m working on now is also set in Mississippi, though it’s the Delta flats. This place is virtually empty of all but farmland, yet it’s bound by communities where people rely on one another. This state is a varied, layered, and complex place, and I hope to express that as diversely as I can.

Jamie Kornegay joins us for Noir at the Bar Monday, May 4, at 7 pm, at the Opal Divine’s on South Congress. Come join us for a night of booze, books and crime fiction. You can find copies of Soil via Copies will also be available for purchase at Noir at the Bar. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Bruce Rehburg

Bruce Rehburg grew up on an Army base in Germany during the early Sixties. He makes use of this unique past with his debut novel, November’s Shadow. The hero Steve Bodowksi is an Army CID in 1963 Germany, struggling with his drinking and clouded past. When the mutilated body of a young girl is discovered outside the Army base, he is the only shot for truth to be discovered – a truth both the Germans and the Army want covered up.

MysteryPeople: What drew you to set a story in 1963 Germany?

Bruce Rehburg: They say, write what you know. That’s why I choose the setting.

MP: What is the biggest misconception about the period?

BR: Often, we idealize the past. Thinking that, somehow, people were “different” back then is just plain wrong.

MP: Bodowski is an intriguing, flawed hero. how did he come about?

BR: He’s a composite of protagonists from various novels.

MP: November’s Shadow switches between Bodowksi’s fall as a cop and the case he works on in Germany. How did you balance the time lines?

BR: I made it easy on myself by penning so many chapters. Finding good spots to insert back story became easy.

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

BR: I was influenced by every novel I had read that made effective use of flashbacks.

MP: What’s been the best thing about having your first book published?

BR: I had the satisfaction of having gone through the process.

Bruce Rehburg joins us for Noir at the Bar Monday, May 4, at 7 pm, at the Opal Divine’s on South Congress. Come join us for a night of booze, books and crime fiction. You can find copies of November’s Shadow via Copies will also be available for purchase at Noir at the Bar. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with George Wier

George Wier’s latest, Murder In Elysium, introduces both a new character and side to his writing with his latest, Murder In Elysium. It involves an ex-FBI  agent turned West Texas sheriff, Shane Robeling, who helped overturn the conviction of Ben LeFren a man imprisoned for murder. Unfortunately for Shane, half the town still thinks LeFren is guilty. When Shane takes the man on as a ranch hand to protect him, he starts to see things in Ben that sparks his own doubts, particularly when another  murder occurs. While it still has plenty of humor and Texas flavor, it is a bit more somber than his Bill Travis series, with a much more stoic lead. We  caught up with George to ask him about the change in pace.

MysteryPeople: Murder In Elysium has a much different tone than the work you’re known for. What drew you to the story?

George Wier: The idea of the question of guilt or innocence drew me in, initially. I’m from a small Texas town, originally, and the townsfolk seemed to be 1) a tad  insular, and 2) opinionated. If, in their eyes, someone was guilty, then usually their minds were made up and they were already on to “bigger and better  things.” It didn’t matter that they weren’t there when the thing happened, or what the weight of the evidence was one way or the other, or even the lack of  evidence. If you were guilty, well, that was it. Game over, fellah! But from the point of view of the person on the receiving end of the justice system, I  wanted to paint a picture of a guy who was on the inside–and I’m saying all that and trying not to give anything away, of course. I think I managed to do  that.

MP: Shane Robeling is much more laconic and says fewer words than most of the heroes you’ve written. How much of a challenge was that?

GW: A taciturn character is far easier portray when you’re writing in first person. You get to give the character’s viewpoint without a lot of dialogue in the  way, and you get to paint the bulk of the picture of the other characters through their dialogue; their interactions with the main character. Most  importantly, I didn’t want Shane Robeling to be Bill Travis. Shane has the professional law enforcement background that Travis lacks. He’s an insider in that  world and he drew the short straw with the FBI, and this has left him jaded him, somewhat. I wanted that to come out as well. Also, I wanted to take him from  his federal cases and put him in a small town setting (such as that where I grew up) and see how he would do. In a small town, everything is far more  personal. There isn’t a wall between you and the rest of the world. In a small town, you rely on your neighbors. You know them and they know you. And it’s  always a surprise to find out how well they know you. I think Shane does all right in Elysium. I wasn’t so sure when I started out with him, but now I’m  rather proud of him. You’re right, he doesn’t say much, and I wanted what he didn’t say to be as salient as what he did.

MP: The book reminds me of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series in the colorful deputies and townsfolk who help the characters. Was there any particular one who was fun to write for?

GW: The two characters, M.L. “Mucho Love” Harper and Marlene, were my two favorites. I got to throw the kitchen sink into these two characters, even though they  have supporting roles. I had so much fun with Mucho Love that I am now mid-way through the prequel, which is tentatively entitled Sentinel In Elysium. It  stars Mucho Love as Elysium’s Police Chief (Shane’s role, later on), and all the action takes place in 1975, two years before the Fogel murder, which was the  springboard for Murder In Elysium (even though all the action for the first book takes place after the turn of the millennium). In Sentinel, the reader gets  to find out why it is that Mucho Love is no longer the police chief, and never will be again. I’m nearing the halfway point in the book, and it’s rather dark,  but it’s also humorous and surprising. At this point, it’s my new favorite. Marlene is in there as well.

The town of Elysium, though, is probably the main supporting character for each of these books. In the prequel, I’m latching onto the opportunity to explain everything that’s in Murder In Elysium as far as the layout of the town and its history—how the Blitz Drive-In came about, the community college, the  four-plex where the Fogel murder would eventually occur, even why the police department is no longer located in the Courthouse by the time Murder in Elysium rolls around. It’s a lot of fun. No, the town isn’t a thumbnail character sketch. This character has meat on his bones, and skin over the meat, and I did my  best to give the skin some real texture. You’ll see. The book will be out, I’m thinking, sometime in May or June. I’m already planning the third book, which will be a proper sequel: the tentative title for which is Elysium Knights.

MP: What draws you to small Texas towns?

GW: I grew up in the East-Central Texas town of Madisonville during my formative years, and that town has left its stamp on me. I’ll never shake it. Also, there’s a  good deal of mystery there. For instance (and this mystery may have long since been solved, but I don’t believe it ever was, officially), we had a firebug in  Madisonville all through my childhood and into my adulthood. I believe his reign of terror lasted some thirty years. Every so often there would be a fire on  the town square. First, the county courthouse burned when I was no higher than a jackrabbit. Then, spread out every four or five years, each corner of the  town square would have a devastating fire. There were never, to my knowledge, any arrests for the arsons, or if there were, it never made any headlines.  But…wow! I mean, you go through the town today and you may see the effects of those fires (if you knew about them) but you don’t really see it. But let me  tell you, those effects are there. So, for me, it’s “what is going on here that nobody sees?” The short answer is, “Plenty!” That’s the real why behind Murder In Elysium. Knowing what I know, how could I not be drawn in?

MP: What is the biggest misconception about them?

GW: The biggest misconception about small towns is that the people are either slow or stupid or some combination of the two. Nothing could be further from the  truth. One of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known was from a small town. His name was Paul Johnson, and he was a bird colonel in Air Force; he flew with  the Blue Angels. By the time I knew him, he’d forgotten more about aviation, engineering, and physics than most people at the top of those field get to know  in a lifetime, and he was still a font of hidden wisdom and he was sharp as a tack.

I think people tend to equate silence with a lack of knowledge or basic understanding. After all, the truly slow people don’t say much. But it’s sort of like  looking across the surface of a tranquil pond in a pastoral setting. It looks plenty peaceful, but underneath the surface of that little lake there’s life and  death struggle going on. It’s brutal and there’s a lot of motion that is unseen above. Small towns are like that. As I speak to in the book, they have a  certain tempo, a beat, if you will, that you can’t detect simply by passing through. Don’t ever sell a small town or its citizens short. In a pinch you could  quickly find yourself regretting it.

MP: What do you hope the reader gets out of Murder In Elysium?

GW: That goes back to the initial premise—guilt versus innocence. Nothing is cut and dry. I feel that justice doesn’t work well in the hands of human beings.  Oh, we all have an innate, uncanny sense of justice, but it’s in the meting out of justice where we fall short. The death penalty, for instance, is a  permanent fix for a temporary problem, and can’t be undone. A life sentence precludes the possibility of rehabilitation. Quite often, justice misfires. When  it does, the effects are devastating. I wanted to plant a tiny seed, that’s all. I’m not overtly saying we have to tear it all down. I’m not saying that. But  everything is subject to scrutiny. “Why” is far more important than “how.”

George Wier joins us for Noir at the Bar Monday, May 4, at 7 pm, at the Opal Divine’s on South Congress. Come join us for a night of booze, books and crime fiction. You can find copies of Murder In Elysium via Copies will also be available for purchase at Noir at the Bar. 

Noir At The Bar on May 4: Jamie Kornegay, Bruce Rehburg, George Weir, & Jesse Sublett

So much of crime fiction is connected to setting. Chandler had LA, Ian Rankin is synonymous with Edinburgh, and you can’t think of James Lee Burke without picturing a steamy Louisiana bayou. Our May 4th Noir At The Bar has guests that will take take you to West Texas, Mississippi,and early Sixties Germany.

bruce rehburgBruce Rehburg’s debut novel, November’s Shadow, introduces Army CID cop Steve Bodowski, who must solve the 1963 murder of a child outside his Gietsburg base while dealing with his own checkered past. Rehburg uses his own overseas experience, depicting the clash of U.S. and European cultures and drawing attention to the Nazism fresh in every one’s memory, to create a moody procedural. This will be Bruce’s first reading, so cheer him on. You can find November’s Shadow on our shelves, at Noir at the Bar, and via Can’t make it to the event? Pre-order a signed copy!

george wierGeorge Wier, a Noir At The Bar regular, will be introducing a new character as well as a deeper shade to his writing. Murder In Elysium features FBI agent-turned-West-Texas-sheriff Shane Robeling. When Benjamin LeFren returns to town after Shane helps to overturn his murder conviction, Shane takes him on as a ranch hand to protect him from the half of the populace who still believe he did it. As the sheriff observes Ben’s behavior up close and a new murder occurs in town, the sheriff sets to wondering about his own actions and LeFren’s doubtful innocence. Wier’s understanding of small town Texas allows the noir tropes to grow out of his setting’s ground. You can find Murder In Elysium on our shelves, at Noir at the Bar, and via Can’t make it to the event? Pre-order a signed copy!

jamie kornegayJamie Kornegay is another debut author. His novel, Soil, follows a failed young Mississippi farmer’s spiral into paranoia and violence after he discovers a body on his flood damaged farm. Kornegay combines Faulker’s southern Gothic with Jim Thompson’s psycho-noir, then dips it into his own unique voice for a truly fresh read.You can find Soil on our shelves, at Noir at the Bar, and via Can’t make it to the event? Pre-order a signed copy!

jesse sublett as clark gableJesse Sublett will take us back to Austin, reading from his true crime book 1960s Austin Gangsters, a wild romp with the larger-than-life criminals of Austin in the 1960s. His book has already sold out of its initial printing, and is on its second printing now. He will also be kicking off the show with some of his murder ballads. You can find 1960s Austin Gangsters on our shelves, at Noir at the Bar, and via Can’t make it to the event? Pre-order a signed copy!

The authors will hang around to mingle and their books will be on sale to be autographed. Join us at 7PM, Monday The 4th, at Opal Divine’s on 3601 South Congress and get to say you met these rising stars back when.

7% Solution Book Club To Discuss: MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH by Ariana Franklin

mistress of the art of death

On Monday, May 4, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s third floor, the 7% Solution Book Club discusses Ariana Franklin’s first  Adelia Aguilar novel, Mistress of The Art of Death. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club picks are 10% off at the registers the month of discussion.

Post by Molly

As Mistress of the Art of Death begins, a child is murdered in the sleepy hamlet of 12th century Cambridge. The child’s severe injuries lead to a rumor of crucifixion, which leads to a blood libel accusation against Cambridge’s small and beleaguered Jewish community. The Jewish population flees to the castle, the Christian population waits outside, and the lord of the manor sends a missive to King Henry II: if the true murderer is not found quickly, the Jews of Cambridge will face expulsion or death, and the King will lose much of his hefty tax revenue.

A motley trio heads to England from Sicily to find the child-murderer and clear the rumors of ritual sacrifice – Simon, the King of Sicily’s Jewish fixer, Adelia, a doctor of Salerno who is well versed in the art of reading corpses, and Mansur, a Moorish eunuch proficient in both swearing and fighting.

The novel is Ariana Franklin’s first to chronicle the adventures of Adelia Aguilar, female forensics scientist extraordinaire. Adelia is a graduate of the medical academy of Salerno in Sicily, fluent in several languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, and English, and she is, quite possibly, the most cosmopolitan and capable woman to ever set foot in Medieval England, fictional or real. She also has strong allies and a stronger backbone, both increasingly necessary to her preservation as the novel continues.

Mistress of The Art of Death combines many of my favorite things – forensics and feminism; murder and the Middle Ages. Ariana Franklin, in her afterward, admits a certain amount of deliberate anachronisms, in order to create more relatable protagonists. Franklin’s context for her characters’ actions, her grounding of their experience in appropriate physical locales, and her descriptions of earthy humor and punished medieval bodies are all spot-on for the era explored by the novel.

Ariana, Mansur, and Simon all display much more freedom of thought and expression than was available to the average medieval subject, whether peasant, lord, or clergy. In contrast, the host of characters they encounter along their peregrinations and through their search for a murderer represent a diverse array of prejudice, ignorance, and censorship that fit right in with the times.

Franklin’s characters, in their narrow-minded behaviors and cosmopolitan impulses, also represent one of the biggest contradictions of the Crusades. At the same time that crusaders swept across Europe, killing any Jews, Muslims or “heretics” they could find even before reaching the Holy Land, these same crusaders were drastically expanding their worldview through their encounters with diverse cultures and their war-driven need to adapt to circumstances, and thus to other customs.

Franklin’s portrayal of the Middle Ages shows a dynamic society, adapting and evolving to new circumstances; a society engaged in an endless struggle between doctrine and common sense, power and charity, local allegiances and international curiosity.  While Franklin’s characters may frequently express attitudes incomprehensible to the Medieval studies novice, they experience enough upheaval, trauma, and of course, murder to fit nicely into today’s bloody headlines. In short, Franklin, in Mistress of the Art of Death, has written a great Medieval murder mystery.

Copies of Mistress of The Art of Death are available on our shelves and via The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month. As always, books for book clubs are 10% off when purchased the month of discussion.


robert parker lullaby

This month’s Hard Word Book Club looks at one of the most popular tough guys. Robert B Parker’s Spenser put a modern male spin on the classic private eye. He could braise a chicken and beat up a thug with equal skill. When Mr. Parker died, author Ace Atkins picked up the Spenser flame. Our April pick, Lullaby, is the first of Ace Atkins’ Spenser continuation.

Lullaby shows the Boston knight at his finest. Spenser helps a fourteen year old Southie girl find out who really killed her mother four years ago. The investigation leads to the remnants of the gang run by his classic nemesis, Joe Broz. With his tough-as-the-streets partner, Hawk, Spenser gets justice.

Ace will be calling into our discussion to cover topics such as defining the modern hero and the experience of taking over an iconic character from an other author. Join us at 7PM, Wednesday, April 29th on our third floor. The book is 10% off at the register to those who attend. Our book for May will be Joe R. Lansdale’s The Thicket, with the author calling in. Both Ace Atkins and Joe R. Lansdale come to BookPeople this summer! Keep an eye on BookPeople’s events calendar for more information closer to the date.

International Crime Fiction Review: BLOOD-DRENCHED BEARD by Daniel Galera

blood drenched beard

Post by Molly

I’ll admit it. I picked this one mainly for the title of the book – I’m a sucker for anything with violence and facial hair in it, and this book clearly had both. Aside from the amazing title, and the novel’s Brazilian setting, I knew nothing else about this book when I started reading it. After finishing it, I can confirm that the contents of Blood-Drenched BeardDaniel Galera’s first novel to be translated into English, are just as good (as impossible as this might sound) as the title.

Blood-Drenched Beard follows an unnamed protagonist who, after his father’s suicide, takes his father’s dog and moves to a tiny seaside town. The picturesque village is perfect for triathlon training and far from the prying eyes of concerned relatives. His ulterior motive for moving to the middle of nowhere? In the 1960s, his grandfather had lived in this same seaside town until his murder at the hands of angry townspeople in an act of vigilantism.

“Much of what makes a noir can be found in this valley of the uncanny between the readers’ interests and the the characters’ needs.”

Galera’s hero resembles his grandfather enough to spook the townspeople. Initially he finds little help in his quest, and quickly loses himself in the grueling physicality of extreme fitness training while overcoming his grief and working to prove that his father’s dog, too, can thrive after his father’s death. His lack of clarity finds literal representation in the main character’s face blindness: secondary characters, depending on their context, go back-and-forth between familiar and unfamiliar, friend and stranger, in the perfect marriage of character trait and noir sensibility.

In Blood Drenched Beard, Galera’s attempts to solve what I like to think of as the Hard-Boiled vs. Healthy Dilemma. Authors today usually do not embrace the chain-smoking and gin-guzzling antics of their predecessors; not without catching a fair amount of flack for glamorizing bad habits, anyway. When authors step outside the traditional trifecta of booze, beatings, and tobacco, they are confronted with a new problem: how, outside of these habits, can they mimic the obsessive nature and cool style of a hard-boiled detective? How are they to go about pushing the main character to the brink of mental and physical collapse (a necessary part of any well-written noir) without also passing on his or her bad habits to the reader?

“When authors step outside the traditional trifecta of booze, beatings, and tobacco, they are confronted with a new problem: how, outside of these habits, can they mimic the obsessive nature and cool style of a hard-boiled detective?”

Some have dealt with this problem by simply substituting a drug more suitable for modern consumption. Pineapple Express, one of the more creative crime films made in recent years, merely substitutes marijuana for cigarettes, as does the HBO show Bored to Death, while Matthew Scudder, Lawrence Block’s eternal detective, made the switch from bars to AA in the early 80s and has stuck with coffee since. Other authors have responded to this dilemma by having their detectives simply consume every drug, thus potentially negating any particularly harmful influence to the reader by focusing on just one. Detective Sean Duffy, protagonist of Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy, may smoke like a chimney, but he also smokes opium, hash, and heroine, snorts coke while downing valium with a whiskey chaser, and by the end of the series, steals enough drugs from the evidence locker to be able to open up his own pharmacy.

An author can also choose, in place of substance abuse, to substitute addiction to a behavior or ideology. Galera’s hero is an avid triathlete before his move to the Brazilian coast. His devotion to exercise grows alongside his obsessive search for his grandfather. He eventually undertakes a trip to the Brazilian interior that physically taxes him to the mask, bringing him to an almost total physical breakdown, and leads to that magical noir eureka moment where he is pushed to the brink of endurance and and is thus able to find clarity.

The protagonist’s approach to excessive exercise is the perfect noir response to today’s fitness culture: take a popular habit and turn it into a dangerous obsession. Much of what makes a noir can be found in this valley of the uncanny between the readers’ interests and the the characters’ needs.

“Galera has written a novel set in an ever-changing country, mired in its past yet looking towards its future.”

Blood Drenched Beard, come to think of it, explores the Valley of the Uncanny in multiple constructs. The unnamed hero sees himself reflected in his father’s eyes as his grandfather. To escape his father’s crushing legacy, he decides to relocate to the town that killed his grandfather, to whom he bears an increasing resemblance as the the novel continues. His search for his grandfather quickly becomes a search for himself.

The main character’s face blindness, too, explores the valley of the uncanny – a familiar figure, in a different context, or even different outfit, instantly becomes a stranger. His failure to recognize his own resemblance to his grandfather parallels the village’s recognition of his face as that of his grandfather’s, allowing him to sublimate his own identity into that of his grandfather, instead of escaping his father’s legacy through establishing his own, independent concept of self.

Galera’s novel exists on many levels. It is a deep and powerful novel about family, identity, and community memory. Galera subtly explores the fear and paranoia characterizing Brazil’s military dictatorship of the 1960s, as well as the uncertainty of political, economic, and environmental change in modern-day Brazil. The novel delves into conflicts between fathers and sons, cities and country towns, and modernity and tradition; Galera has written a novel set in an ever-changing country, mired in its past yet looking towards its future. Blood-Drenched Beard reflects all the contradictions and inspirations of its setting, and is a great novel for so doing.

You can find copies of Blood-Drenched Beard on our shelves and via 

Shotgun Blast From The Past: THE POWER OF THE DOG by Don Winslow

Post by Scott M.

Over ten years ago, Bobby McCue, my boss at LA’s The Mystery Bookstore, gave me a copy of Don Winslow’s The Power Of The Dog for Christmas. While I love Winslow’s work, for some reason, I never picked up. Maybe it had to do with the five hundred pages. Being spurred on by the June release of its sequel, The Cartel, I finally cracked it open. Now I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

The novel has the sweep and structure of a Herman Wouk-style historical novel, but since it is Winslow’s look at our war on drugs in the last three decades of the Twentieth Century, the style, attitude, and content are hard boiled without a doubt. We follow four characters: Art Keller, a former CIA spook who trades in Vietnam for Latin America with the DEA; Nora Hayden, a high priced call girl; Cullan, an Irish American enforcer and hitman; and Father Prada, a Mexican priest dealing with the poverty and cartel corruption in his country. All four deal with the Barrera Brothers, two heirs to one of the largest drug empires, as allies and enemies at different times.

“Winslow forges his relationship with his readers like a great film director does with his audience. He writes in crisp sentences that sacrifice substance for brevity.”

Each character is swept up in the world of illegal narcotics, struggling to control their own fate. Agent Keller becomes obsessed with nailing the Barreras for his murdered partner. His quest for revenge, it could be argued, is the only thing that gives his position purpose. Father Prada, one of the most heroic and human depictions of a priest that I’ve read, fights for his community against the corruption and violence of the cartels without becoming corrupt himself. Nora starts out as a concubine for Adan, the more sensitive of the Barrera Brothers, and later a power player while she tries to find a sense of purpose working with Father Prada. Cullan bounces from factions to faction, through bloody gunfights, losing his soul as he becomes as much weapon than a man who uses one.

With these characters he takes us through the drug war in an intimate, breaking down the book into digestible sections, creating a narratives within the framework of a larger one. Through Keller, we see how the Regan administration was helping the same narcotics traffickers it had the DEA fighting as part of the Reagan Administration’s deal with the Contras in Nicaragua. Cullan works for the the old school Mafia, eroded by the rise of the cartels. Nora begins as a fly on the wall for the cartels and later finds ways to manipulate and gain power within them. Father Prada and his people are caught in the crossfire. Winslow keeps us engaged with these people and others as they take in the events around them, making everything personal. While it looks at a dark shadow history, it also takes on the bigger theme of finding grace in Hell.

“The Power of The Dog explores the price paid for this unending war we declared.”

Winslow forges his relationship with his readers like a great film director does with his audience. He writes in crisp sentences that sacrifice substance for brevity. He gives perfect moments to his characters, capturing them at their most dramatic and revealing moments. This book has some of the best action sequences, with Winslow doing an exquisite craftsmanship in building up to the violence so it resonates completely. Those five hundred pages fly.

The Power Of The Dog explores the price paid for this unending war we declared. It invests our emotions in the good, bad, and many who float in between with a narrative that never forgets to entertain as it enlightens. Don’t make the same mistake I did, go out and get a copy now.

You can find copies of The Power of The Dog on our shelves and via The Cartel hits the shelves June 23. Pre-order now.

Double Feature: LAURA

On Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM, we will be screening Laura, directed by Otto Preminger and based on the novel by Vera Caspary, as part of our Double Feature film series. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.

Post by Molly

Laura, first published in 1942, was Vera Caspary’s breakthrough novel. She turned the novel into a play, which was then adapted into a hit 1944 film, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb (in his first appearance in a film since the silent era) and a young, handsome Vincent Price. Many today have seen the film; fewer have read Caspary’s fascinating novel, reprinted by The Feminist Press in 2005 as part of their stellar Femmes Fatales imprint. The film and book, despite their gap in fame, are equally fascinating in their context and themes.

Laura begins, like many a detective novel, with the murder of a woman. Laura Hunt is found dead in her apartment, shot in the face with buckshot, with her portrait looming large above her. Detective Mark McPherson is assigned the case after his antagonistic boss decides to keep the young detective from going to the ballgame (just one example of Caspary’s acerbic wit and care for detail) and as he enters Laura Hunt’s world, his admiration for the murdered woman grows in proportion to his disappointment in virtually all of her companions, male or female.

Laura, in her life, was surrounded by a host of characters who alternated between worshiping her, controlling her, using her, and deceiving her. From Laura’s aunt, a faded beauty with designs on Laura’s fiance, to Laura’s best friend, a cynical society columnist who, before her death, destroyed each of her relationships with cutting remarks, to Laura’s gold digging fiance, a penniless Southern aristocrat who uses his good looks to gain Laura’s financial support while looking for a bit on the side – all combine an obsessive love for Laura with the need to exploit her talents and charm. Added to this host of callous, covetous characters, the policeman himself develops a growing interest in in the victim that gets in the way of his ability to solve the case.

I can’t get too much further into the plot – the book and film both have enough surprises that all I can provide is the basic set-up, but trust me, this film and book both have enough subtle nods at taboo topics to make for great between-the-lines reading. The film and book represent a variety of attitudes towards gender, sexuality, class and work. Sometimes, the story reads like a hardboiled version of a 19th century novel in its scathing critique of the Gilded Age upper classes.

The differences between the film and book are subtle, yet worthy of discussion.The story remains basically the same, with the usual shrinking of narrative time in a book-to-film adaptation and more differences introduced in the portrayal of characters than in the plot itself. There’s a rumor that a remake of the film may be in the works, and it would certainly be fascinating to see Laura adapted in post-code Hollywood for modern sensibilities. In the meantime, come watch this classic noir with us – we screen the film on Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. 

Copies of Caspary’s novel are available on our shelves and via We screen Laura on Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast. 

MysteryPeople Review: A DEADLY AFFAIR AT BOBTAIL RIDGE by Terry Shames

deadly affair at bobtail ridge
With her Samuel Craddock series, Terry Shames has shown insight into the human and social condition. She understands how the threats and lightness of life coexist and often mingle with one another. Her latest, A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge, is a wonderful example of this theme.

This story, the fourth of the series, takes place in late spring. Samuel, newly reinstated as chief of police, is getting for the pranks and and wildness that occur during prom night. The Baptists are already up in arms. The worries become minuscule when Samuel’s good friend and neighbor, Jenny Sandstone, tells him her mother is in the hospital. When he makes a hospital visit, her mother tells him that she thinks Jenny may be in danger and to find a man named Howard. She dies before he can get any clearer information. Someone is also trying to fool with Jenny’s horses. It escalates further when she is run off the road. Samuel would like to find out who is behind it, but the person is tied to secrets Jenny refuses to let go of.

“She celebrates surviving in a real and nuanced way, finding quiet triumph in that act alone.”

Shames deftly shades the novel in a spectrum of tones and believable emotions. She follows the politics of the prom week that brings both levity to the book as well as grounding it in a time and place that ties into one of the book’s more somber revelations. Terry uses Samuel perfectly to fuse the light and dark tones of the situation he is in. I mentioned in my review of The Last Death Of Jack Harbin that Samuel is not just an investigator, but a witness. He continues in that capacity as he realizes his town has changed since he last wore a badge and struggles in dealing with that.

A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge delivers what we like about the Samuel Craddock series and more as Terry Shames nudges it a bit further. Her ability to shift tone in both the personal and social contexts allows her to operate on a plane where the reader lives. She celebrates surviving in a real and nuanced way, finding quiet triumph in that act alone.

You can find copies of A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge on our shelves and via