Crime Fiction Friday: A TWIST OF NOIR by Steve Weddle

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72Steve Weddle has gotten a lot of notice from his crime fiction peers with his short fiction and debut novel, Country Hardball, published in 2013. In this chilling story, he shows how a lottery winner uses his money for revenge.

“A Twist of Noir” by Steve Weddle

“I’d carried the list around for years, every so often adding a name, moving it to a new scrap of paper in my wallet. I read it like some kind of mantra. Calming myself. Focusing.

Jake Martin. Junior year of high school. He punched me in the nose on a dare.

Mike Gibson. First job out of college. Weaseled his way into my spot and got me fired.

Chad Michaels. At the Tire Factory. Sold me three used tires, claiming they were new.

I guess they don’t seem like that big a deal to you. But that’s because they didn’t happen to you. This isn’t about you. This is about me. And the seventeen people on the list.”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Brings Back Free Noir Double Feature Film Series

Last summer, MysteryPeople brought you free screenings of five films based on some of our favorite romans noirs, followed by discussion of the book and film. We screened Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, his adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic novel,  Purple Noon, René ClémentCarl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s first Easy Rawlins book, and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel

Now, we are proud to announce the return of MysteryPeople’s Noir Double Feature Film Series for summer 2015. Starting Sunday, April 26, we will bring you five of our favorite films based on five noir classics. Screenings are free and open to the public and start at 6:30 PM on BookPeople’s third floor. We’ll be profiling each film/book combination closer to each screening, but here’s an overview of each film we’ve chosen for this year’s screenings:

laura picsSUNDAY, APRIL 26 6:30 PM



Vera Caspary’s 1942 novel Laura was just one of many complex psychological mysteries by Caspary to be turned into a Hollywood film, but Laura may contain her most emblematic femme fatale of all. Come discuss this lesser known hard-boiled classic before a screening of the rather more well-known yet equally fascinating film. Copies of Laura are available on our shelves and via 

spy who came in from the cold screeningSUNDAY, MAY 10 6:30 PM



 John le Carre’s classic spy novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the film and novel, with their prescient plague-on-both-houses story-lines, have only gotten better with time. Join us for Richard Burton and Oscar Werner’s electrifying performances in the film, followed by a discussion. Copies of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are available on our shelves and via 

pics for screening MarloweSUNDAY, MAY 24 6:30 PM



In this neo-noir from 1969, James Garner plays Chandler’s Marlowe in one of the stranger adaptions of a Chandler novel. Come join us May 24 for a discussion of The Little Sister and a screening of Marlowe, the 1969 adaption of the book. Copies of The Little Sister are available on our shelves and via 

pics for screening coup de torchonSUNDAY, JUNE 7 6:30 PM



Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280 gives us one of the most chilling looks into a killer’s mind ever written, and Coup de Torchon beautifully adapts Thompson’s novel, changing the setting from the American South to French Colonial Algeria. We picked a French film in celebration of International Crime Fiction Month, which we plan to celebrate in a variety of ways, including international crime fiction pics for all of our book clubs.  Copies of Pop. 1280 are available on our shelves and via 

pics for screening walk among the tombstonesSUNDAY, JUNE 21 AT 6:30 PM



Lawrence Block’s Mathew Scudder series is one of our most beloved in the mystery section, and we are pleased to bring you Scott Frank’s recent addition to the noir canon, his adaptation of A Walk Among The Tombstones. Please join us for a film screening and discussion of the novel. Copies of A Walk Among The Tombstones are available on our shelves and via

Keep an eye out on our blog for more in-depth looks at each of the books and films as we get closer to each screening. A full list of the film series can be found on our website.

Murder In The Afternoon Book Club To Discuss: THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey

daughter of time

The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets the third Tuesday of each month at 2 pm. Please join us Tuesday, April 21st, as we discuss The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

-Post by Molly

On Tuesday, April 21st, at 2 PM on BookPeople’s third floor, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets to discuss Josephine Tey’s vibrant and entertaining historical crime novel, The Daughter of Time. Last month, we read The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, and our next pick is Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks, with a special call-in from the author.

The Daughter of Time may have my favorite excuse to investigate a crime ever. Inspector Alan Grant, confined to his hospital bed as his broken leg heals, finds an unorthodox way to spend his recuperation in his endless struggle against the kind of boredom that only the English can truly experience – he decides to solve a murder. But what kind of murder can one investigate from a sickbed? Grant decides to solve a historical crime; specifically, the murder of two young heirs to the previous king by their wicked, hunchbacked uncle, Richard III.

When Grant begins to examine the evidence against the much maligned figure, he finds nothing in the sources of the time to corroborate the prevailing theory of the children’s murders. In fact, he finds only hearsay, and if there is one thing that a Scotland Yard detective cannot stand, it is a conviction based solely on hearsay. With the help of nurses, actors, and a wealthy American research student, he sets out to exonerate Richard and discover the true villain.

What follows is a fascinating and frequently amusing combination of police procedural and historical fiction. The reader, with the interpretive help of Grant, is immersed in the deadly politics and feisty royals that make the Wars of the Roses such an appealing time period to study and draw upon, even now. George R. R. Martin has based his wildly popular Game of Thrones series on the Wars of the Roses (the Lancasters of history became the Lannisters of fiction, and so on), and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, full of menacing and Machiavellian aristocrats jockeying for power in the court of King Henry VIII, is set only a little while after the bloody mess that Richard III attempted, and failed, to rule over. Only three years ago, bones were discovered, exhumed, and proved beyond reasonable doubt to be those of Richard III, and only last month were these bones re-interred at Leicester Cathedral after a lengthy court battle.

Josephine Tey uses her story not only as an easy-to-follow introduction to a very complex time, but also as a meditation on the nature of hearsay versus history, and how time can erase the burden of proof laid on the accuser and instead turn contemporary doubts into future certainties. Tey may have written the novel in 1930, but while the slang and mannerisms have aged charmingly well, Tey’s exploration of the fine line between fact and fiction feels remarkably contemporary.

Copies are available on our shelves and via 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.

Down and Dirty in the Country: A Quick Look at Rural Noir

Noir is a genre usually identified with the city. Concrete and steel cut off our anti-hero, throwing an endless shadow over him or her. At the same time, however, authors were also looking at the darkness, isolation, and evil in small towns or farms. When we weren’t looking, the sub-sub-genre of rural noir took over like kudzu.

The roots of rural noir come from the Southern Gothic authors. One could argue that William Faulkner was an early practitioner. As I Lay Dying uses many noir tropes with a stylized point of view, family secrets, dark humor, and a bleak look at class. Flannery O’Connor is another author whose influence shows itself in the works of current rural noir authors. Her use of religion and perspective of evil can be seen in the work of Jake Hinkson in such modern classics as Hell On Church Street

“Noir is a genre usually identified with the city…at the same time, however, authors were also looking at the darkness, isolation, and evil in small towns or farms.”

One of the first great examples of rural noir is James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much. Using Southern speech, much like Chandler used the Southern California dialect, Ross tells the story of jack McDonald, a failed farmer who ends up running a road house owned by schemer Smut Mulligan, who later pulls Jack into a robbery and murder. A power play ends up between the two involving Lola, the wife of the town proprietor Smut is having an affair with. It took the James M. Cain noir structure and themes and put a country spin on it.

Jim Thompson wrote many tales from the city, but some of his best dealt with shady small town lawmen. The Killer Inside Me, still one of the most chilling books ever written, features West Texas deputy and psychopath, Lou Ford. Lou pretends to be a dim hick, who mainly tortures the town citizens, many with their own dark secrets and agendas, by talking in cliches and platitudes. When he develops a brutal relationship with a prostitute, he and the town both violently spiral downward.

“…the violence almost becomes redemptive in this black satire on small town culture and bigotry…”

Thompson took the bad lawmen to new heights in the Sixties with Pop. 1280. MysteryPeople screens Coup de Torchon, French director Bertrand Tavernier’s Algerian-set film version of the Pop. 1280, on Sunday, July 7, as part of our Double Feature Film Series. Screenings will be followed by a discussion of the book and film, and all screenings are free and open to the public. Nick Correy is the lazy, philandering sheriff of a small Southern town during the Nineteen-Teens. When he’s challenged in an election and kills to stay in the lead, we learn how smart and dangerous he is. What is odd is how Nick keeps his genial tone and how the violence almost becomes redemptive in this black satire on small town culture and bigotry. It is interesting to note that Thompson’s father was an Oklahoma sheriff who was caught embezzling when the writer was young.

The author who truly opened the door for rural noir was Daniel Woodrell. Originally writing about Rene Shade, a police detective in a corrupt Louisiana parish, in his Bayou Trilogy, he later moved his settings to the Ozarks, were he was born and raised, in such novels as Winter’s Bone (screened last year as part of our Noir Double Feature Film Series) Woodrell’s novels are somewhat the country cousins to George Pelecanos’ D.C. novels, including the recently released and critically acclaimed The Martini Shot: A Novella and StoriesWoodrell and Pelecanos both create character-driven stories, where criminals are motivated by extreme poverty and drugs (crack for Pelecanos, meth for Woodrell) plague an entire community. Woodrell dives into his stories on a personal level with a poetic prose style. The beginning paragraph of Tomato Red, with its page-long, run-on sentence, is work of great humor and craft. He delves into the lives of the working class and the poor from his area, inspiring a wave of other writers to use their rural background in their noir.

“…rural noir has a strong lineage, an established canon, and the manifest destiny to travel down every back road and tell its story…”

Several of these writers inspired by Woodrell have already established themselves in the rural noir cannon. Frank Bill built a reputation through his short stories dealing with hard men and harder women pushed to the brink of violence and beyond, exemplified in the collection Crimes In Southern Indiana. His debut novel, Donnybrook, is about several characters and the trail of blood they leave behind as they head to a bare knuckle fight. Donnybrook shows how meth in the Midwest has fused the drug and culture together. Another great take on the subject is Matthew McBride’s relentless A Swollen Red Sun. McBride sets a Missouri county aflame when a deputy takes seventy-two thousand dollars from a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of weakness. The book is reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest in its look at how a corrupt society destroys itself. Benjamin Whitmer’s anti-heroes get ping-ponged from their country homes to the city, trapped by their violent compulsions, developed of necessity but leaving his characters isolated and alone. Both of his books, Pike and Cry Father, are emotional gut punches.

the genre of rural noir is expanding rapidly, and it has room to do it. Both David Joy and Jamie Kornegay have shown new back roads with their novels Where All Light Tends To Go and Soil. Jamie Kornegay joins us Monday, May 4, for Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s. Frank Wheeler, Jr.’s debut, The Good Life, set in rural Nebraska, hopefully ushers in a long career writing great rural noir set in Midwestern wastelands. We also have yet to see many female writers and authors of color embrace the sub-genre. As rural noir grows in self-confidence and acclaim, I hope to see many more diverse voices in the genre, but already, rural noir has a strong lineagean established canon, and the manifest destiny to travel down every back road and tell its story. Like Hank William’s country boy, the genre can survive, and even thrive.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ryan Gattis


Our April Pick Of The Month, Ryan Gattis’ All Involved, is a book both intimate and epic, as is looks at the six days of rioting in L.A. after the exoneration of policemen filmed beating Rodney King from different perspectives through interlocking short stories. The result is both emotional and balanced. We talked to Ryan about the history he covered, L.A., and hanging out with gang members.

MysteryPeople: What drew you to the L.A. riots as a subject for the story?

Ryan Gattis: Initially, it was the scale. I just didn’t understand how that much widespread rioting, looting, & chaos could be tied to one event—what happened to Rodney King & the subsequent acquittals of his police assailants. One day, sure, but six? At some point, I felt, the riot would have to have become something else entirely. The King verdict was certainly the spark, but the riots morphed into a far more sinister event on Day 2, driven mainly by crimes of opportunity. For me, the most troubling aspects of the riots weren’t necessarily what was happening in designated riot areas with helicopters hovering overhead; it was that large swaths of the city were left without police or emergency assistance, leaving a county of nearly 5,000 square miles open to its 102,000 gang members & potential crimes of retribution.

MP: What do you think the biggest misconception about the event is?

RG: That it is was only black & white, or only about what happened to Rodney King. During the course of my research I was told time & again that, black or brown, every neighborhood had a Rodney King. Everyone knew someone who had been beaten by the police. Beyond that, there are larger contributing factors that are rarely discussed or understood. For one, clear & effective communication is difficult in Los Angeles. With over 90 languages spoken & immigrant communities from nearly every country on earth, it is effectively a Balkanized city with some historic housing, voting, & employment issues. Throwing in a recession on top of that heritage, an unchecked police force, and some very serious problems delivering justice to its people of color (e.g. where the maximum sentence was 16 years in prison, Korean storeowner Soon Ja Du was fined $500, given probation, and 400 hours of community service for shooting Latasha Harlins, an unarmed 15-year-old, in the back), and the riots were a far more dense & layered event than can be explained in sound bites.

MP: How did you come about the approach to tell it in a mosaic of short stories?

RG: The book actually started its life as a novella. It was only Day 1 when I first wrote it, only the stories of the three Vera siblings. I hadn’t had a novel published in nearly ten years at that point, so when I sent it to my agent in London, I was actually expecting her not to understand it. I was very wrong. Within two days, she responded with enormous positivity & pushed me to write the entirety of the riots—all six days—as a novel. After that, I viewed each day as a novella, and that’s roughly how it ended up: with each 24-hour section clocking in at roughly 20,000 words. It seemed the best way to tackle a multi-day event structurally.

MP: What was the most challenging point of view to write from?

RG: It was James, definitely. I lived two blocks from Skid Row, on 5th & Main, for a few years. Because I didn’t have a car & I walked everywhere, I knew many homeless in the neighborhood and I spoke to them often. Many were vets. This was especially heartbreaking for me, coming from a military family, so that was part of my difficulty. But there was something more too: the things I could never get a handle on when living there, and even since, were the untreated psychological issues so many homeless people have. As I wrote James, I struggled with how to characterize his mental illness in a way that still afforded a degree of dignity, as well as plot insight. I’ve never written a character like that before, and I was very, very picky with his voice & word choice. I must have re-written him twelve or thirteen times, whereas the most I rewrote any other character was once.

MP: You deal with a lot gang characters and show aspects of their lives that are surprising and humanizing. What surprised you in your research on them?

RG: In my research, what surprised me most was how easy the former gang members were to relate to. They prioritized family, food, & work just like I do—although, perhaps, our definitions of that work, and our access to it, differed. I think, though, that those shared human values surprised them about me too. Here I was, some white boy professor & writer from Colorado who had traveled to them and stepped into their neighborhood, and I think their perfectly logical first thought was: was I for real? It always came up that I didn’t own a car. My Los Angeles is the one I’ve seen from bus & train windows. That’s how I built my mental map. Same as them. (In fact, one person I spoke to routinely called me “Blue Line” because I often rode the South L.A. line that goes through Watts & Compton.) After that, at some point during those first meetings, I would tell my own story of being a survivor of physical violence (when I was 17, my nose was torn out of my face & I had two facial reconstructive surgeries), and that never failed to elevate the discussion & create a connection. From that moment, it was about being human together. That became primary. Where we were from & even cultural background—it was still there—but both took a back seat to what we’d been through. I was no longer an outsider to their culture of violence then. I was an empathetic survivor who could deeply understand their lives, their pain, and what they’d been through. That opened up opportunities to talk to them about their biggest fears, their dearest hopes. It was, and remains, an honor to have had those conversations with folks who have seen some of the worst stuff the world has to offer. Perhaps most importantly, I think the folks I spoke to during my research & background always understood that this was never a tourist trip for me. I remain in close contact with many of them to this day.

MP: Seeing the reaction to police brutality in Ferguson and New York after writing All Involved, did you notice anything different from those events and the Rodney King riots or was it basically the same thing again?

RG: I think the underlying feelings of injustice & racial targeting are very, very similar. There are certainly patterns there. Now, I have not studied the other situations and I don’t know if this applies to Ferguson or New York, but one of the biggest problems within L.A. law enforcement is their officers’ cultural aversion to living in the City of L.A. As a result, they police a public they do not know personally, or, in some cases, even care about. It is much easier to denigrate, dehumanize, or treat with derision if you can drive away at the end of the day and not deal with the people you have alienated or hurt. I do not know if this is an issue in Ferguson or New York, but I’d not be surprised if it were, and I am curious to find out. However, as I mentioned above, Los Angeles is absolutely its own beast. It is, without question, a breed apart. Its extreme diversity & sheer size mean there is no clean parallel for the scale of the 1992 L.A. Riots, which—to this point—remain the most destructive civic event in U.S. history.

You can find copies of All Involved on our shelves and via

MysteryPeople Review: PINE BOX FOR A PIN-UP by Frank DeBlase

pine box for a pinup

Sometimes (okay, many times) we read crime fiction simply for the lurid thrill. We love getting into the immoral muck while staying nice and clean in our reading chair. Nothing catered to this readership better the crime and detective paperbacks of the nineteen fifties. They were sleaze with style. Frank DeBlase taps into that subversive era of entertainment in Pine Box For A Pin-Up.

Frankie Valentine has both his job and passion connected to the camera. he takes pictures of the dead as a police photographer while snapping cheese cake shots of lovely ladies for fun and sometime profit. Sometimes he gets involved with his subjects, like his latest, Vickie Hayes. Both of Valentine’s lives collide when a call to a murder scene reveals Vickie to be the victim. Soon, Valentine is running through a dark paperback maze of crooked cops, corrupt powers brokers, strippers, and blackmail with himself as suspect numero uno.

DeBlase immerses us into vintage sin. His writing seems to be as inspired by the sensational covers of those paperbacks as by the books themselves. Valentine is almost as lurid as the story he stars in; his sincerity and lack of hypocrisy are his only saving graces. He narrates his story with hard boiled alliteration that stops just short of parody. We get a tour through fifties underground culture, as Frankie grooves on jazzy rockabilly, hits burlesque houses, and tosses off his pin-up knowledge.

Pine Box For A Pin-Up is everything that made the Eisenhower era less square tossed together. DeBlase gives us a hot rod ride down the lost highway of vice and vixens. Much like Valentine, it celebrates guilty pleasures with no guilt involved.

You can find copies of Pine Box For A Pin-Up on our shelves and via

MysteryPeople Review: THE LADY FROM ZAGREB by Philip Kerr

lady from zagreb

– Post by Molly

Philip Kerr’s latest Bernie Gunther novel, The Lady From Zagreb, is released today, and I am pleased to report that The Lady From Zagreb is another stellar excursion into the noir nightmare of mid-20th century history. The Lady From Zagreb is Kerr’s tenth book in his Bernie Gunther series, and perhaps that’s why the novel brings together so many strands, styles and inspirations from Kerr’s previous work, as well as continuing to expand on Bernie Gunther’s wartime experiences as a way of exploring various fronts and the incredible variety of inhumanity characterizing the period before, during, and after the Second World War. Kerr’s last few Gunther novels have placed Bernie at the scene in a number of iconic WWII moments, including the Katyn Massacre, in A Man Without Breath, and Prague under Heydrich’s less-than-gentle administration, in Prague Fatale.

The Lady From Zagreb is no exception – the novel contains, among many other priceless moments, a conference on international crime held at the Wannsee Villa, site of the more infamous Wannsee Conference, where the Final Solution officially became Nazi policy. As per usual, Kerr treads a fine line between pointing out those ludicrous and somewhat humorous aspects of the Nazi regime, elegantly incorporating mystery genre conventions into an appropriate historicity, and plunging his audience into the daily horror that is the fascist reality.

Kerr’s setting and his style are the perfect fit once again, as Bernie Gunther takes a tour of the worst Ustaše (a Croatian puppet government of the Nazis) atrocities in wartime Croatia while on assignment from Goebbels to locate the missing father of a Slavic film star. Upon his return to Germany, Gunther must go off to Switzerland to convince the actress to star in an upcoming propaganda film. While Bernie’s time in bombed-out Berlin and carnage-strewn Croatia will please those fans of Kerr’s wartime novels, Gunther’s trip to Switzerland, Europe’s impossibly peaceful valley of the uncanny, acts as a worthy heir to the menacing atmosphere yet relatively low body-count of Kerr’s Berlin Noir Trilogy, or more recently, Prague Fatale, Kerr’s tribute to the locked-room mystery, which I can only describe as ridiculously amazing.

Kerr’s work draws much of its literary power from the basic irony of trying to solve a small crime in the midst of a large crime – a theme historical detective fiction returns to over and over, examples including, but not limited to, Robert Wilson’s A Small Death In Lisbon, Hans Helmutt Kirst’s Night of the Generals, or in Marek Krajewski’s The Minotaur’s Head. The small crime acts as a measurement for the larger one, contextualizing its magnitude, and increasing the novel’s resonance. Kerr’s Gunther series, as it has evolved, has continuously explored this contrast in a number of different environments, and at this point, Kerr has managed to bring to life, through small investigations by a clear-eyed yet sentimental protagonist, many of the worst moments of the twentieth century.

One of my favorite things about Philip Kerr’s novels is that they solve a basic plausibility problem of the detective genre: one of those nit-picky details that has always bothered me about detective novels set in peacetime, or in countries with incredibly low murder rates, is that the fictional murders tend to vastly outpace real-life statistics. Fortunately, when you set a detective novel in Nazi Germany, you can kill off as many characters as you would like, and the novel will remain plausible throughout. Although it would be near-impossible for The Lady From Zagreb to outpace the body count of previous novels, never fear – Kerr’s latest certainly keeps pace.

 You can find copies of The Lady From Zagreb on our shelves and via Keep a lookout later in the month for an interview with Philip Kerr. 

Three Picks for April

a deadly affairA Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge by Terry Shames

Chief Of Police Samuel Craddock gets involved with a personal case when his good friend and neighbor, Jenny Sandstone, appears to be in trouble, especially when she’s run off the road. Unfortunately Jenny’s problems involve secrets that she wants to remain that way. Terry Shames looks at society and human sin with a precision that would give Ross MacDonald a run for his money. A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge hits the shelves April 7. Pre-order now.

lady from zagrebThe Lady From Zagreb by Phillip Kerr

The tenth in the superb Bernie Gunther series, has the wartime Berlin investigator forced once again to do a job for Joseph Goebbels (which didn’t work out too well in the first book). This one involves UFA film studios, Balkan fascism, and a beautiful woman (which never works for Bernie). Rich in place and time, with Bernie’s entertaining hard boiled voice, Kerr has created one of the most complex heroes for one of the most complex times ever written about in a detective series.   The Lady From Zagreb hits the shelves April 7. Pre-order now.

bitter creekBitter Creek by Peter Bowen

Montana lawman and champion fiddler player, Gabriel Du Pre is back in his fourteenth adventure. Gabriel helps a wounded vet with his spiritual quest: the veteran wishes to find out what happened to a Metis tribe that disappeared in 1910 when they were chased by General Pershing. As the two seek answers, they come up against folks who will do anything to keep that history buried. A great way to be introduced to one of the best in the west. Bitter Creek hits the shelves April 28. Pre-order now.

Crime Fiction Friday: HAVE CHAINSAW, WILL TRAVEL by Matthew McBride


I had been jonesing for some Matthew McBride and was happy to find this story on Plots With Guns. If the title alone isn’t enough, Mat gives us a buffet of dark humor, splatter punk violence, and a unique style and approach that make him one of the best. Those of you who read his first novel, Frank Sinatra In A Blender, will recognize a part of this story, but it still stands on its own. McBride is also the author of A Swollen Red Sun, our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for July 2014.

“Have Chainsaw, Will Travel” by Matthew McBride

 “In 1974, STIHL Incorporated began manufacturing the 015 chainsaws at their new facility in Virgina Beach. I, myself, had  always been a fan of their products. They don’t just make a good chainsaw, but a variety of equipment that comes in handy for a guy like me. A guy who doesn’t tolerate standing…”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Glenn Hamilton

Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut, Past Crimes, is an engaging and fresh addition to the crime fiction genre. The story focuses on Van Shaw, a former thief, who learned from his grandfather, Dono. When he gets letter from Dono, asking to come back to their Seattle home, he finds the old man beaten to a coma. As Shaw searches for the perpetrators, he has to confront his past, his morality, and the relationship he had with Dono. We caught up with Mr. Hamilton to talk about the book, his lead, and his town.

MysteryPeople: Most “family crime” novels are a father and son relationship. What made you go with a grandfather as the patriarch?

Glen Erik Hamilton: I wanted a bit of remove between Van Shaw and his grandfather Dono. Putting a generation between them allows Dono to be a little more old-school Irish and mysterious than he might be if he were Van’s father. Dono doesn’t often explain things to Van like a parent would. It also lets me play a little with expectations, undercutting the idea that grandparents are doting and past their prime. Dono is neither of those things. And finally, it lets the two men be connected by their shared love for the woman they both lost, as daughter and mother.

MP: Past and present converse as well as converge in the novel – how did you approach this?

GEH: The main character is a man returning to his hometown, confronting a complicated past and attitudes that he had abruptly abandoned. If I were to write that solely in the present day, the amount of backstory could become awkward. I also wanted to see the lessons Van was learning as a young thief, and have Dono as an active character in that.

Those choices led to writing chapters – almost short stories – showing Van at different ages, and placing them in between the main action. They’re like stepping stones in a river. They allow a much richer understanding of all the characters involved, at least for me. I also think that the occasional digression makes the main story that much more engaging.

MP: Your characters are great for crime fiction since they are fully realized, yet hard to get a complete grasp on. How do you go about constructing your major characters?

GEH: It’s not a hugely conscious process for me. I do consider what the scene and the plot need, and whether there’s a relationship between characters I haven’t tried before. But I give new characters a little room to move, and they often cut their own path. I’ve had complete jackasses redeem themselves (at least a little) and heroes turn out to be unreliable. Some characters have even merged, when I realize that there are more bodies in the scene than required. When characters become recurring (intentionally or because they put a gun to my head) it’s because their dynamic with Van makes him think or feel a little more deeply.

“Past and present converse as well as converge in the novel…”

MP: Seattle comes off more gritty than other stories I’ve read or movies I’ve seen. What did you want to get across to the reader about your city?

GEH: Yeah, it’s not the Seattle you saw with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or on “Frasier”. Would that we could all afford houseboats and apartments so posh that even their views are impossible. Seattle’s latest boom has been great in many ways, but it’s also driving a larger wedge between the haves and have-nots, who used to intermingle a lot more. Blue-collar neighborhoods of the city, which are still a huge part of shipping and other industries, are being steadily driven out by price pressures. Seattle is in danger of becoming San Francisco, too expensive for most locals to actually live in. That conflict is particularly interesting to me, since I think about how crime and criminals are also forced to change.

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

GEH: More than I can remember! But some of the more obvious early ones would be the Travis McGee series, with its hero scrounging a living off his wits and prowess in between the cracks of normal society. Robert B. Parker’s dialogue and sparse prose – characters implying a lot by what they don’t say. Discovering Martin Cruz Smith and Gorky Park was also a huge catalyst on my wanting to write; I love the way his heroes are usually beset on all sides. There’s a touch of Dame Agatha’s whodunits in there, too.

MP: Van should be a great series lead because he can go in any direction with a set of good friends who can pull him into some bad business. What do you see his main struggle being?

GEH: Van went straight from a criminal childhood into the rigors and structure of military life and Special Operations. He does have to find a new moral center, as you suggest, now that he’s been on both extremes. But he also has to learn how to be a functioning adult in civilian society, and that’s an alien landscape for him. He’s never had to look for a job before. He’s never planned for the future, because part of him never expected to live this long.

Of course, if Van is not very careful and very quick, that last problem will brutally solve itself…

You can find Past Crimes on our shelves and via