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 bookpeople.com. 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 bookpeople.com. 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 bookpeople.com

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

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

OTTO PREMINGER’S 1944 ADAPTATION OF VERA CASPARY’S LAURA

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 bookpeople.com. 

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

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARTIN RITT’S 1965 ADAPTATION OF JOHN LE CARRÉ’S THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

 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 bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening MarloweSUNDAY, MAY 24 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARLOWE, PAUL BOGART’S 1969 ADAPTATION OF RAYMOND CHANDLER’S THE LITTLE SISTER

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 bookpeople.com. 

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

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

COUP DE TORCHON, BERTRAND TAVERNIER’S 1981 ADAPTATION OF JIM THOMPSON’S POP. 1280

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 bookpeople.com. 

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

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

SCOTT FRANK’S 2014 ADAPTATION OF LAWRENCE BLOCK’S A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

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 bookpeople.com.


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 bookpeople.com. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club members receive 10% off of their purchase of their monthly book club title.

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.