7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: THE THIEF by Fuminori Nakamura

the thief


This Monday, June 1st, the 7% Solution Book Club will be discussing Fuminori Nakamura’s award-winning exploration into the world of pickpockets, The Thief. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor to discuss an eclectic range of detective fiction. Book club selections are 10% off at the register in the month before discussion.


– Post by Molly

Fuminori Nakamura, a Japanese novelist who bridges the gap between literary fiction and noir, broke out onto the international crime fiction scene in 2010 with The Thiefpublished in English translation through SoHo Press, and winner of the Kenzaburo Oe and David Goodis prizes. The novel tells the story of a pickpocket at the top of his game, yet increasingly aware of his own mortality.

The titular character mentors a young shoplifter, mourns the loss of his partner, and watches his choices narrow as he finds himself increasingly drawn in to Yakuza business, all while skillfully – nay, artistically – picking the pockets of Tokyo’s wealthiest. Nakamura lists some sources at the end of his novel, and his careful research into the techniques and argot of the pickpocket’s world shows throughout the novel.

The Thief is a mystery novel, a minimalist roman noir, but it also carries on the tradition of the outsider novel, telling the stories of the lumpen-proletariat realistically, without glamorizing the underworld. If Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal had been written with the same noir sensibility of The Stranger, it perhaps would have read like this. I thought of Jean Genet frequently while reading The Thief. 

The Thief is a novel about petty criminals, buffeted by forces they have no power against and may or may not ever affect them. It is set in a world where the gap between those who commit nonviolent crimes and the masterminds that occasionally (and dangerously) recruit their labor is such that no reader would lump each into the same dehumanizing category of “criminals.” The Thief is one of those fascinating explorations of underworld society where the authorities are those who are higher up in the criminal world, and the police exist only as figures to avoid, rather than as the prime impediment to criminal activity.

“This tension, between the neutrality of looking and the citizen’s burden of response, seeps from the narrative into the reader’s own sense of self, drawing attention to the voyeurism inherent in all fiction, but especially crime fiction.”

The cops are shadowy, ominous presences, appearing to the story’s characters in the same way that the prosperous may lay awake at night, worrying about the spector of home invasion. What matters to Fuminori Nakamura’s characters is that with which they can allow themselves to be concerned – namely, their day-to-day hardscrabble existence, mixed with the long-term fantasies of their broken dreams, or the fiendishly complex schemes they embark on that cannot possibly go wrong – at least, for the man in charge.

I chose Nakamura’s latest novel, Last Winter, We Parted, for last November’s MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, and while the two are very different narratives – Last Winter, We Parted follows a journalist’s investigation into the psyche of a murderous photographer who burns his victims alive – the two novels are equally obsessed with the act of watching others, and the overlap between observing others and targeting them.

Last Winter, We Parted stars a photographer whose obsession with capturing beauty leads him to kill his victims, while the protagonist of The Thief spends his days observing others intently, using observation to pick targets and execute theft – another blurring of the barrier between observation and action, recording the present and determining the future. This tension, between the neutrality of looking and the citizen’s burden of response, seeps from the narrative into the reader’s own sense of self, drawing attention to the voyeurism inherent in all fiction, but especially crime fiction.

It seems no coincidence that The Thief won awards named after Kenzaburo Oe and David Goodis – Nakamura’s writing seems to draw inspiration from both, or perhaps his writing just dovetails nicely into the bleak, noirest-of-the-noir characters and relationships of Goodis while including the stark minimalism and fate-defying humanity of Oe’s post-war Japan. Both Oe and Goodis were known for their desperate, yet moral, characters living on the edges of society.

Oe and Goodis each made frequent use of characters who, although doomed, continue up until the last second to live within their own code and do what they consider to be the right thing, and this adherence to their own ethics rested entirely outside of society’s ever shifting moral compass. Perhaps, for Goodis and Oe, two writers of the mid-20th century, adherence to ethics with no discernable reward was the only way to preserve humanism beyond World War II. Perhaps, for Nakamura, this notion of decency without benefit is as true today as in the blighted landscape of Japan after WWII, and the United States during the Great Depression. Perhaps, this notion should not cheer me, but it does.


You can find copies of The Thief on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. June is International Crime Fiction Month, and this month we’ll be traveling all over the world in our three mystery book clubs. On Tuesday, June 16th, at 2 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor, the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club will be discussing Jean-Claude Izzo’s underworld classic, Total Chaos, the first volume in his Marseilles Noir trilogy, and the Hard Word Book Club tackles Jacob Arjouni’s Happy Birthday, Turk!  on Wedesday, June 27th, at 7 PM in BookPeople’s cafe. 

Guest Post: Mark Pryor Talks Texas Writing for Texas Mystery Writers Month


English-born Mark Pryor is a prosecutor for the City of Austin and, in his spare time, writer of the popular Hugo Marston series., The books follow Marston, head of security for the US Embassy in Paris and proud Texan, as he solves crimes and encounters danger in the narrow Parisian side-streets. Pryor’s fifth book in the series, The Reluctant Matadorcomes out June 2nd, and takes Marston to Barcelona to solve the mystery of a young woman’s disappearance. Mark Pryor is also the most Texan Brit in Austin since Robert Plant left town. You can find copies of all of Mark Pryor’s novels to date on our shelves and via bookpeople.com


– Guest post by Mark Pryor

You know what Texas represents to many English people? The entirety of the United States. It’s true, if absurdly reductionist, that for many people of my generation (born and raised before the Internet) America was a place of cowboys and wide-open spaces, a place where gun-toting good guys rode across the plains and cooked over campfires at night. It was a place where desperate entrepreneurs struck gold, or oil, and where a man could be who he wanted to be, no limits, no restrictions. It’s an old-fashioned portrait of a much more complex place, I know, but even today Texas has that special aura surrounding it, to me and my English friends who come out to visit.

The creation of my series hero, Hugo Marston, didn’t consciously tap into that vein of thinking but as I’ve gotten to know and develop him, and as I look at the way he conducts himself in each story, I think it’s clear that he’s very much a throwback. Sure, he wears a hat and cowboy boots as he walks the streets of Paris, but it’s more than that. He’s a handsome man but he describes himself as a watcher, not a player. And that brings to mind the steely-eyed gunslingers of my childhood, the men who saw right and wrong and acted accordingly, no matter the risk.

And so I wonder if I would’ve written Hugo the same way if I still lived in England, or even in my home of ten years, North Carolina. I think not. It may not have occurred to me to make him a Texan. And what a shame that would have been because there’s something special about the hat and the boots, about the sartorial swagger belonging to a quiet, kind, but strong man from Texas, a crime fighter who carries a badge and a gun, but who fights crime in a foreign city.

I’m often asked about that apparent disconnect, the fact that an Englishman writes a series about a Texan living in Paris, France. To me, it’s not a disconnect at all. It’s just the way things are, and perhaps the way things should be. After all, every book in the series has been written right here in Austin, a place known for being a little weird and a place that’s still Texan enough that a man, even an author, can do his job the way he sees fit, no limits and no restrictions. The old-fashioned way.


And this brings an end to May as Texas Mystery Writers Month. Up next, June is International Crime Fiction Month! Look out for reviews and top lists of international crime fiction, recent and classic, and an interview or two. We’ve also got plenty of events coming up, so keep an eye on the now-entirely-up-to-date events page on the MysteryPeople blog. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Joseph Kanon


– Interview by Molly

Joseph Kanon has been writing spy novels for quite some time, focusing on the murky politics of immediate post-war Berlin as the starting point for much of his work. Last month, I profiled Joseph Kanon’s latest spy novel, Leaving Berlinas an atmospheric triumph, with impeccable plotting, deep research, and a measured pace that accelerates to frenetic by the end of the novel. Mr. Kanon was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the novel. 


Molly O: Your main character faces persecution for being Jewish in Nazi Germany, and as a Communist in McCarthy-era USA. His character seems to epitomize the vulnerability of stateless peoples, before and after WWII. He is in between countries, just like the private detective in a PI novel is between criminals and cops. What drew you to such a character?

Joseph Kanon: I needed a protagonist who would be above suspicion to the Soviet occupation authorities and someone who had defied HUAC would certainly have filled that bill in the late ’40s. In a sense, his principled defiance of the committee becomes a perfect ‘cover’. His being half-Jewish was important in explaining his reluctance to return to Berlin (his parents have been murdered in the Holocaust) but also helps to explain his feeling of being, at least partly, an outsider, someone looking, wary about committing to either side. And of course it’s also part of the reason he’s so taken with the von Bernuth family– he’s not just in love with Irene, but with their heedless self-confidence, their absolute certainty about their place in society.

MO: Postwar Berlin is such a perfect setting for shifting alliances and evolving identities, and many of your books are set in the immediate post-war period. What draws you to this setting, this time period?

JK: I think it was the hinge of the last century, a point of real transformation– there was before the war and then there was after and this ‘after’ world, in all its gray areas of moral ambiguity, is the one we inherited. Events such as the invention (and use) of the atomic bomb, the revelation of the Holocaust, changed things forever. It is therefore an inherently dramatic period, and one not as explored in fiction as some others (always appealing to a writer)– ordinary people are making decisions that will affect how we live for the next 50 years or so. I’m interested in the effect of history on people and this was a period when everybody was affected, whether he wished to be or not.

MO: You do a wonderful job of distinguishing an intellectual’s vision of communism from the warped mentality of the Soviet state. With communism-bashing an ever-present temptation, what made you decide to demonstrate radicalism’s philosophical appeal?

JK: I was interested in how the GDR (East Germany) came to be. Most people here think of it as an inevitability, another Soviet client state like Poland or Hungary, but the GDR was a political anomaly, an improvised state. How the Cold War split Germany in two is a complicated story, but it could not have happened without the support (or at least acquiescence) of the German Communists and their sympathizers. These were people who believed they had survived Hitler and fascism (whose first targeted victims they had been) and now had a responsibility to bring into being the Germany they had once envisioned and lost, a socialist state. To write about this period without acknowledging the political idealism on the left (however betrayed and misguided it later became) would be to miss the engine driving the ideological split.

MO: Leaving Berlin explores the relationship between pretense and art and pretense and politics throughout. What inspired you to set a Cold War thriller in a cultural milieu?
JK: Well, it was the Russians themselves who made culture a weapon in the ideological cold war. It was they who actively lured German emigre artists back home. I was fascinated by these returning writers (and other artists) whose position became so hopelessly compromised. Tired of all the wasting years abroad, eager to work again in their own language, their own culture, they come to help build a socialist paradise and end up helping to build their own prison.

MO: I loved the fallen Junker family, still haughty in their bombed-out house. Where did you get the idea for the aristocratic characters and their roles?

JK: I wanted a family whose wartime experiences were varied by who nevertheless were all permanently damaged by it. I chose a Junker family to suggest that not even privileged Germans escaped. So this family that Alex had once thought so golden now has experienced Nazi collaboration, war crimes, the death of children, the loss of all moral compasses as they cope with the overwhelming horror of the war (including those who helped perpetuate it).

MO: Clearly, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have access to much more information than before about life under the Soviet state. Can you tell me a little bit about your research methods, and if you drew on sources that would have been unavailable prior to the 1990s?

JK: Yes, very much so. After 1989 came a tsunami of archival material and new information. It took a few years for scholars to sort this out (and translate it- my German is very rudimentary) but the books indeed followed and they offer us a rich, detailed account of how Berlin (and Germany) broke apart and what the occupation was like in each zone. I rely heavily on print sources, especially things written at the time (letters, journals, etc.), but I’m also a great believer in getting to know one’s setting, walking the city. Of course this also provided a great excuse for me to go back to Berlin and spend time there (it’s a city that, obviously, fascinates me). So many things are now open to us which were closed or difficult to access years ago– Stasi headquarters, residential neighborhoods in the East, etc. I can spend days just walking in Berlin. What I see may not always appear in the book, but I think if you know a place well, you can ‘see’ it in your mind’s eye when you write, just as the character would be seeing it.


You can find copies of Leaving Berlin on our shelves and via bookpeople.com, as well as copies of Joseph Kanon’s many works. Look out for more espionage-oriented interviews and reviews!

Guest Post: Minerva Koenig Weighs In on Texas Mystery Writers Month

May is Texas Mystery Writers Month, and we’re celebrating with guest posts from Texas authors all month long. Up next, we bring you some thoughts from Minerva Koenig, whose debut novel, Nine Dayswowed us last year. As strong as her characters, Koenig writes plucky heroines well able to take care of themselves – in fact, if you called them plucky, they might throw a drink in your face. Look out for her second novel, coming out in the next year. 


Guest Post by Minerva Koenig

You’re sitting somewhere vast, alone. It’s so quiet you can hear the blood rushing in your ears. You don’t know what to do with your brain. It keeps trying to have a conversation — because you’re human, and that’s what human brains do — but there’s nothing there to answer, not even your own consciousness. It’s busy trying to grok the emptiness around you.

There’s a quiet twitch of awareness that you could die out here with no one the wiser, food for the buzzards. You start to feel the bottoms of your feet, the insides of your thumbs.

“Get a grip,” you tell yourself, and nearly jump out of your skin when you realize you’re talking out loud. A sudden, disturbing affinity for the weirdos you used to see shuffling down Newton Street in mid-soliloquy gets you on your feet.

There’s a roadhouse in the hot distance, a wreck of faded boards and grimy windows that you skipped on your way out, ruling it too sketchy to enter. Now it looks like the Taj Mahal.

“You ever read Dostoyevsky?” the bartender, a fresh-faced tomboy with a tiny diamond in one freckled nostril, asks you as she sets down your cold Lone Star.

You give her a look, and she says, “I never been to Russia, but it almost feels like it, after that dude’s stuff. You know?”

You do know. You felt that way about Texas, reading Goodbye to a River back home in Massachusetts.

God, you love that word: Massachusetts. It makes you remember the ancestors, their warm feet on the cool soil, the sound of that old silence, the way the air must have smelled then. Your sentences used to be like the landscape there; closed and hilly, winding around and turning in on themselves, enchanted and spooky like those girls they burned at the stake.

The conversation your head is trying to have with itself down here sounds different. It’s wider, more relaxed. The words spread out and need more syllables, and the spaces in between keep filling up with these minuscule, unspeakable epiphanies about things that have baffled you in the past. You try to corral them on paper, circle them with words and compress them down into edible parts, but they’re like wild hogs, slipping the noose at the last moment. You start to yearn for the relative simplicity of the things you used to think about before you came down here.

F**king Texas. Between the rattlesnakes, the weather, the long stretches of barren highway, and the freaks who like all of that stuff, the state itself feels lethal. You think about all the ways you could die again, and need half the beer to keep yourself from starting some unholy Socratic dialog with the bartender.

You drop a couple of bucks on the scarred wood serving top and step back out into the blinding heat, grimly optimistic. Somehow, you’ll get it all down on paper. It’s that or lose your mind under this endlessly arching, neon-bright sky.


You can find Minerva Koenig’s debut novel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.  Look out for more great guest posts for Texas Mystery Writers Month, including a post from Austin-based prosecutor and novelist Mark Pryor. 

Texas Characters – What More Could a Writer Want? Guest Post from Janice Hamrick for Texas Mystery Writers Month

May is Texas Mystery Writers Month, and we’re celebrating with guest posts from Texas authors all month long. Up next, we have one of our favorite Austin mystery writers, Janice Hamrick, whose novels, like her personality, sparkle with dry wit and charming details. We couldn’t celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month without her.


Texas Characters – What More Could a Writer Want?


Guest Post from Janice Hamrick

Texas is a goldmine of inspiration for writers. Need a setting? Take your pick – coastal fishing village, desert ghost town, hill country honky tonk, or sophisticated metropolis. Need some background? Try crooked politics, ranching dynasties, wild west outlawry, heroic revolution, or high tech scandal. Need characters?  Ah, now that’s where Texas really excels. No people anywhere else on the face of the planet are quite like Texans.

Now don’t get me wrong. Other places have their characters. I’m currently living in Edinburgh, and trust me, you can’t swing a cat on the Royal Mile without taking out someone playing the bagpipes or telling the chilling story of one of the many ghosts who linger in the dark narrow closes of Old Town. But it’s a different kind of character.

“Need characters?  Ah, now that’s where Texas really excels. No people anywhere else on the face of the planet are quite like Texans…”

Texans are as varied as the state itself. Heroes, villains, sneaks, nerds, even ordinary teachers forced to confront a stone cold killer – they are all there, and all just a little extraordinary simply because they are Texan. Something about the grandeur of Texas permeates the atmosphere, makes everyone stand up just a little straighter, live just a little larger, be just a little bit more than they would be in any other location. Spend five minutes talking to the woman serving pie at the Texas Pie Company in Kyle or a minute and a half with the ranch hand holding your horse at Rancho Cortez in Bandera and you have enough inspiration to spark a dozen novels. The very best Texans are open, friendly, and direct – boy, are they direct. But at least they never leave you wondering how they feel about a topic, and if they’ve been Texan for longer than six months, they are proud both of their past and their present (and the more different that is from anything ‘up north,’ the better).

There aren’t many places that inspire such fervent devotion, not many states that people so proudly claim as part of their identity. “I’m a Texan,” is a statement that always draws nods of understanding, even as far away as Europe. I recently met a student from Norway, and in response to my accent, he ventured, “You are from one of the two countries in North America, are you not? I don’t dare guess which.”

I smiled and said, “Yes, I’m from Texas.”

His face lit up, and he said, “Ah, I should have said one of the three countries in North America.”

Damn straight.


You can find Janice Hamrick’s novels on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more great guest posts for Texas Mystery Writers Month. MysteryPeople is also holding a workshop with three Texas authors, including George Wier, Les Edgerton, and Reavis Wortham, this Saturday, May 23rd, from 10 AM to 5 PM. Come for part or all of the day! The workshop is free and open to the public.

MysteryPeople Double Feature: MARLOWE


– Post by Scott M. 

This Sunday, May 24th, at 6:30 P.M., MysteryPeople presents a screening of Marlowe, the film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sisterstarring James Garner as Marlowe, followed by a discussion of the book and film. 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.


Phillip Marlowe may be the private detective with the most portrayals in film after Sherlock Holmes. Bogart’s iconic image gave him a tough guy edge, Elliot Gould deconstructed him, and Mitchum portrayed him as an aging knight. When it comes to being the closest to Chandler’s creation, I argue for James Garner in the fittingly titled Marlowe.

The film is based on Chandler’s The Little Sister. It was his first novel in six years. Most of that time was spent as a screenwriter under contact for Paramount, a job he despised. For the quintessential LA writer, this was the first time to cover the film business, and he writes it with an axe to grind. With a plot hinging on a blackmailed starlet in one of his funniest books, The Little Sister was the Get Shorty of its time.

The film, the first Marlowe film to be set in a contemporary period much later than the book was written, is hit and miss. Since it was a studio film, the makers didn’t want to stick it to themselves, so they set their sights on television. Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who worked in the first golden age of television, co-creating Route 66, looks at what the medium has turned into. By setting it in late Sixties TV, the stakes seem lower. Also the condensing of the novel, tends to focus on the plot, Chandler’s weaker point as a writer, than his mood and view of Los Angeles.

The film’s major saving grace is James Garner. His wisecracks are delivered effortlessl,y with no posturing, like some of his predecessors. He projects both the ease and gravity that define the character. The performance also shows us some insight into the future when he creates another iconic LA private eye, Jim Rockford.

Marlowe is one of those adaptations with an interesting relationship with its source material. Its style, period, and intent are all set in the history surrounding it. It is also a great look at the character, exploring, at least partially, the cipher of Philip Marlowe.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence To Book (1-5)

I’ll give it a three. The story veers some, the tone is not completely there, but Garner completely captures Marlowe.

Adherence To Quality Of Book

This gets a two. While the film has its moments, it is not as near as funny as Chandler’s novel.

Recommended Films

Harper, The Long Goodbye, Tony Rome

Recommended Books

The Falling Star (Can be read separately or part of the mega-meta-novel The Twenty Year Death), by Ariel S Winter, The Fame Thief by Tim Hallinan, The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald

Fun Fact

The way Marlowe outwits a kung-fu thug played by Bruce Lee is repeated in a Rockford episode.


Copies of Chandler’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Marlowe on Sunday, May 24, 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. Come for the movie, stay for Scott’s defense of his favorite ever depiction of Marlowe. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with George Wier


George Wier is best know for his pulp influenced yarns involving Austin hired gun, Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, is a bit more serious (although there is plenty of humor) following a West Texas sheriff who has to deal with a man returning to town after he got him out of murder charge that he thought was wrong, though many in town believed he did it. We caught up with George Weir before he participates in our May 23rd workshop to ask him a few questions.

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?

GA 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.

3. 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?

GThe 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’m originally from a small town. 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. Butlet 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.”

Thanks, Scott. Your questions, as always, make me think, and I do appreciate that. As you know, I’m basically a lazy person, and I don’t like to have to think so much, so thanks for making me articulate all of these things.


You can find copies of Murder In Elysium on our shelves, along with the rest of Mr. Wier’s oeuvre. Come by Saturday, May 23rd, for a workshop on crime writing presented by Sisters in Crime and Austin Mystery Writers, to find out more about writing from some of the most entertaining personalities in the whole detective-novel-writing world. George Wier will be presenting alongside Les Edgerton and Reavis Wortham. The workshop runs from 10 AM to 5 PM, and is free and open to the public.