MysteryPeople Q&A With Ace Atkins


Ace Atkins’s latest Quinn Colson novel, The Redeemers, puts a permanent mark on the series. Quinn is ousted as sheriff and things between him and his nemesis, Johnny Stagg, come to a serious head. Ace will be joining us for a discussion and signing of the book on July 23rd at 7 PM here at BookPeople but allowed us an early interrogation for the blog.

MysteryPeople Scott: What made you take away Quinn’s badge?

Ace Atkins: I wanted to mark the fifth year of the novels with a big event. And I wanted to shake up the expected a little bit. I think in many of my books, I keep on going back to High Noon. That movie has been hardwired to my brain. Quinn is pushed away by the community but forced to do the right thing for the greater good. The image of the badge means so much in Western fiction — which although contemporary and in Mississippi, I consider this series.

MPS: While still the hero, you address Quinn’s darker and somewhat unaware side. What made this the book to do that in?

AA: There are rules you are suppose to follow with a series hero. Many of them boring. If anything, I want people to know Quinn is just a guy. A very tough guy but a real person. For me to do this, he has to fall a little bit. I consider this to be the most humorous book in the series. That much said, the intro to Quinn — as he goes into a crackhouse to rescue his junkie sister — may be the darkest scene I’ve written. We never quite see what he does to those who try and stop him, but it’s not pleasant.

MPS:There’s a point in The Redeemers where Johnny Stagg defends what he does. Do you see him as a lesser evil that keeps the larger one at bay  or is he simply rationalizing?

AA: I don’t really know what to make of Johnny’s overtures and statements to Quinn. For sure this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Johnny. But only time will tell if he was the lesser of all evils or the true devil. I never quite trust anything that comes out of that guy’s mouth, even if it sounds true.

MPS:There are a lot of references in the novel to music and movies that are a meeting of Southern culture and corporate created pop culture. What did you want to show with those?

AA: I am a pop culture junkie. I love it and I hate it. I love classic country music, Outlaw country that provides the soundtrack for these books. But I downright hate what’s coming out of Nashville these days. People will buy whatever crap they are forced to hear. And I have a lot of fun showing the “country” and popular crap people absorb these days — whether movies, books, or politics. It’s all the same.

MPS: One of my favorite dialogue exchanges this year is about being “a prismatic son of bitch”. Did you incorporate that from something you heard or did that simply grow from the character?

AA: Ha! Actually it’s “prismatic son of a bitch.” I stole that line from a friend here in Oxford who aptly described a local crook who’d wronged a lot of local folks. The guy was a chronic loser, always swindling and many times bankrupt. A true turd without a spec of honor. When my pal described him that way, I never forgot it. It was dead on.

MPS: The Redeemers is a game changing book. Can you give us an idea of what you’re planning to throw at Quinn in the future?

AA: I have a real barn burner set for Quinn VI. The idea came to me while writing The Redeemers — again a story inspired by real events here in Mississippi. You are right about The Redeemers being a game changer. Some of the players have left the stage now. But nastier ones are taking their place. And Quinn — whether he wants to or not — has to face them and some horrific secrets in Tibbehah County.

Ace Atkins joins us Thursday, July 23, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor, speaking and signing his latest Quinn Colson novel, The Redeemers. BookPeople events are free and open to the public. In order to join the signing line, you must purchase a copy of Atkin’s latest. You can find copies of The Redeemers on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Andrew Hilbert

Andrew Hilbert is a gonzo god of Austin publishing. A publisher and editor as well as writer, he’s drawn to society’s less pretty side. His dark satire punctures holes in consumer culture and looks at the loser as a work of art (even if it is sometimes absurdist art). His novella, Death Thing, looks at booby trapped cars, vigilantism, and the politics of ordering at McDonald’s. We caught up with the man to talk about it.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea of Death Thing come about?

Andrew Hilbert: Someone hit me from behind when I lived in San Antonio. I waved it off because it looked like no big deal but the next day, when I opened the trunk, it wouldn’t shut. I had to jerryrig it to lock knowing full well that if I opened it again, I’d have to spend half an hour shutting it again. Then it struck me. If someone really wanted to ruin my day, they’d stuff a dead body in there and when I finally had the means to fix the damn trunk, I’d be thrown in jail. So that’s where it all started; The paranoid delusions of a man in San Antonio.

MPS: How did segmenting the story into three different points of view help you tell it?

AH: It originally was supposed to be three different stories taking place in the same universe. I wrote the second chapter first, but halfway through Gilbert’s story I realized I could connect everything on a continuous story line. Breaking everything up from there was just an exciting way to get multiple perspectives on some of the horrendous events of Death Thing but it was also fun to know that characters are dropping into other people’s story-lines with no knowledge of each other.

MPS: The story takes place in LaPalma, California. What made that the right setting?

AH: I grew up there and I know it as well as my reflection. It’s the typical suburb. It’s one square mile, relatively peaceful, and the cops spent their surplus on totally unnecessary assault rifles. Death Thing is just an illogical extreme of when these kinds of small town politics get out of hand.

MPS: You’re also an editor and publisher. How does that affect your writing?

AH: I don’t know that it does too much. I can spot the goofy stuff writers do much more easily when someone else does it than when I do it. But I’m trying to train myself.

MPS: You quote Bukowski at the begining. What about his writing do you hope to incorporate in yours?

AH: There’s a realism and conversational tone that Bukowski is a master at capturing. I hope that I can be a tenth as true as his writing is. But that poem is about how all the little things add up to make a person crazy. It’s never a big thing. It’s always a shoelace. Tiny, seemingly insignificant truths make the story.

MPS: You’ll be attending our July 22nd Noir At The Bar. How much should an author drink before a reading?

AH: As many free drinks they’re allotted by the host. So how many is that, Scott?

Come by Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s on Wednesday, July 22nd at 7 PM for readings from CJ Howell, Brad Parks, Jesse Sublett, and Andrew Hilbert. Copies of each author’s latest will be on sale at Opal Divine’s for signing purposes after the speaking portion finishes up.

Noir At The Bar with Andrew Hilbert, Jesse Sublett, CJ Howell, and Brad Parks Happening This Wednesday

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This Wednesday’s Noir at the Bar should be a lot of laughs. Every guest author in attendance – Jesse Sublett, C.J. Howell, Brad Parks, and Andrew Hilbert – is known for the humor in their work. Their characters’ rough escapades provoke as much laughter as gunfire.


andrew hilbertAndrew Hilbert is the zen anarchist of Austin publishing. his own novella, Death Thing, starts with Gilbert, a white, middle-aged man fed up with his car being broken into, so he sets up a brutal booby-trap for the next thief to come along. Soon he’s on a bloody spiral involving a bizzarro cop, a vigilante organization, two slacker drug dealers, and fast food carnage. This book is wrong in all the right ways. Read a review from Dead End Follies. Death Thing will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves, or call to reserve a copy. 


cj howellCJ Howell’s novel, The Last Of The Smoking Bartenders, has been the book people have been telling their other avid reader friends about for the last year and a half. The story revolves around Tom, a man living off the grid, convinced he’s a government agent out to stop a terrorist attack on Hoover Dam. He treks across the modern West populated with disenfranchised Navajo and fringe dwellers, creating a path of havoc and arson in his wake. There is no other other novel to compare to it. The Last of the Smoking Bartenders will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves, or call to reserve a copy.


brad parksBrad Parks is a naturally funny man, so it is no surprise his series character Carter Ross often views the situations he is in from a humorous angle, even if they are dire. In his latest, The Fraud, Ross is juggling a series of carjackings tied to the country club set and the pregnancy of his girlfriend/managing editor. it is a great introduction to a fun series. The Fraud will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


Jesse SublettWe will also have music and a reading from Jesse Sublett. His true crime book, 1960s Austin Gangsters, follows the Overton Gang, whose criminal deeds provided a lot of black humor. 1960s Austin Gangsters will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


We’ll all be down at the Penn Field Opal Divine’s, 3601 Congress, at 7PM, Wednesday, July 22nd. All of the authors’ books will be available for sale at the event. Join us for a drink and more than a few laughs.

Wallace Stroby Shows The Hard Word Book Club How To Plan a Heist

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The Hard Word Book Club meets Wednesday, July 29, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s third floor, to discuss Kings of Midnight, by Wallace Stroby. Stroby calls in to make this a special Hard Word occasion. All book club books are 10% off in the month of their selection.


July’s Hard Word Book Club looks at one of the best crooks since Parker. Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone is a heist-woman doing scores to get her mentor and lover out of prison. Crissa Stone, as a professional thief with a sensitive side, brings a fresh take and and stronger emotional core to the heist novel while still being very hard-boiled. One of the best examples of Stroby’s Stone novels is Kings Of Midnight.

In Kings Of Midnight, Stroby uses true crime as a part of his crime fiction, using the 1978 Lufthansa Robbery made famous by the film Goodfellas. After the robbery it was believed most of the robbers were murdered by their ringleader or the mafia. While some money was found, over five million was never recovered. Kings Of Midnight uses the premise that the remaining loot could or could not be in the home of a mob boss. At least that is what Crissa is told by Benny, a former mobster loosely based on informant Henry Hill. if she can trust a former snitch, it’ll be a big pay off. Either way, the troubles she already has with the mob will expand.

There is a lot to discuss about Kings Of Midnight: the anti-heroine, using real crime in crime fiction, honor among thieves. Luckily, Wallace Stroby joins the Hard Word Book Club in a conference call the day of discussion to help us out. Join us on BookPeople’s 3rd Floor at 7PM, Wednesday, July 29th. The book is 10% off at the register to those who attend.

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

Crime Fiction Friday: TEXAS COCKFIGHTER by Andrew Hilbert

Andrew Hilbert is both a writer and publisher of left-of-center fiction. We’re happy to have him reading at our Noir At The Bar On November 22nd, where he’ll be joined by Jesse Sublett, CJ Howell, and Brad Parks. Noir at the Bar meets at Opal Divine’s at 7 PM. Andrew was kind enough to give us this story originally published by Gutter Press and told me it was inspired by a conversation with a cockfight historian.


“Texas Cockfighter” by Andrew Hilbert

“People talk shit on cockfighting like we was fightin’ dogs or something. We’re not fightin’ dogs. Fuckin’ fightin’ roosters fight to the death naturally. People talking shit on it don’t even know the history.” Charlie took a swig of whiskey out of a flask that he hid in his tattered jean jacket.

“What’s the history?”

“For instance, did you know Abraham Lincoln was called Honest Abe?”

“Every fucking grade schooler knows that, Chuck.”

Charlie put up his hand in an effort to silence Henry.

“Please,” Charlie said. “It’s Charlie now. Chuck seems too white trash.”

“You’re talking about the virtues of cockfighting and you’re worried about sounding white trash?”

Charlie shook his head and looked at his main fighting cock, ba-gocking around, strutting his shit just looking for a fight. Charlie named him Honest Abe, of course.

“Yeah, so what? Every grade school, pre-pubescent girlie boy knows Lincoln was Honest Abe but the history is blacked out. Erased. Censored as if Americans are too dumb to understand tradition. Honest Abe got his nickname because he was a cockfighting referee. People paid him because they knew he’d be fair in his judgments.”

Henry spit out his chew and pointed at Honest Abe the fighting cock.

“If it’s such a pure pastime, then why the hell do you attach blades to its feet?”

Charlie took another swig.

“Otherwise if’n you don’t do that, the damn things will be fighting all damn day. Can’t have a bunch of gambling men hootin’ and hollerin’ and throwing money down for twelve hours. The police are guna notice!”

Henry shook his head. “This is some stupid shit to get arrested for.”

“Fighting birds fight to the death naturally. It ain’t cruelty. You ain’t have to train them. They just do. Dogs, though, that’s cruelty through and through. Dogs are like dumb ass humans. It ain’t right, even if they’s stupid.”

“You oughta pull out of this business. Convert these fuckers into chicken nuggets. I don’t want to turn on the TV and see your face all ugly on the evening news saying you got caught fighting chickens. It’s pathetic. It’s a pathetic crime.”

Charlie leaned in his seat against the picket fence in his backyard and took another swig of whiskey.

“What? You got somethin’ better for me to do? Did you know the fighting bird was in second place to be our national symbol?”

“Jesus Christ, Chuck, get off it.”

“It’s Charlie now. Chuck ain’t respectable.”

Henry stood up and shook his head as he stared at his boots in the dirt.

“I should get going. You’ve got too much cock on your mind.”

“Oh, hardy-har-har.”

“I came here to offer you something more profitable. Something much more profitable than fighting pre-chicken nuggets. If you can drive, you’ve got a job.”

Charlie got out of his seat and put his hand out to his brother. He had a smile from ear to ear. He needed more money for new fighting birds; Honest Abe was getting old. He could barely lift his feet beneath the weight of the blades.

“I can drive, sure as hell can. Not legally, really, but I can.”

“Dogs. We’re transporting dogs. Mobile dog fighting. It’s a big fucking business, man. How much you make on one cock fight?”

Charlie sat back down, shaking his head and waving his hands in the air, he said, “No, no, no. It ain’t about the money, brother. It ain’t about the money. It’s about the tradition. Six thousand years of it.”

“It’s always about the money. We have guys around the world betting on these fights. We stream them online. The feds can’t ever trace us. I made ten thousand last month.”

Charlie shook his head.

“Ten thousand?” He could hardly believe it.

“Ten fucking thousand.”

But Charlie shook his head again and said, “No. I stand by what I said. Cockfighting ain’t cruel but dogfighting is wrong.”

“Have it your way, brother. Take care of that license of yours and give me a call. The offer stands whenever you’re done with these damn chickens.”

Henry tipped his hat and left through the back gate.

Honest Abe was dragging his feet around. The heat was getting to him. Walking around with blades in this hot of weather without a fight probably wasn’t the best idea. Charlie stood up, unhooked the blades, and sat back down with his bottle of whiskey.

“Honest Abe, you got one more fight in you,” he said and took another swig.

Come by Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s on Wednesday, July 22nd at 7 PM for readings from CJ Howell, Brad Parks, Jesse Sublett, and Andrew Hilbert. Copies of each author’s latest will be on sale at Opal Divine’s for signing purposes after the speaking portion finishes up.

MysteryPeople Review: THE DEVIL’S SHARE by Wallace Stroby

the devils share

Crissa Stone, created by Wallace Stroby, has gotten to be one of my favorite series characters for this millennium. Stone works as a professional thief, raising funds to get her lover and mentor, Wayne, out of prison. She provides a certain amount of heart to this hard and streamlined heist novel while keeping her professional cool. Both the character and her relationship are tested in Wallace Stroby’s latest, The Devil’s Share.

A collector doesn’t want to give up his ill-gotten Iraqi art, soon to be repatriated. He hires Crissa to  steal it from his own convoy. She can pick her own crew, but the owner’s security consultant and war vet, Hicks, will provide the weapons and act as a chaperon on the job.

The relationship between Crissa and Hicks really makes the book. A night at a bar where they feel each other out is filled with both electricity and tension. As they work closer together, Crissa starts to question her loyalty to Wayne. Since we know to trust no one in these stories, Hicks becomes a formidable and complex ally or adversary.

Stroby hits the genre like a master craftsman, understanding the importance of brevity in the heist sub-genre. His style is concise, driving moving most of the story through action and dialogue. He keeps the emotion below the surface, creating a sense of tension in each character’s relationships. The artful hi-jacking is executed with a smooth efficiency interrupted by a couple of heart-stopping glitches and the coming aftermath tightens on its characters like a vice.

The Devil’s Share is hard-boiled heaven. Stroby gives a fresh take on the tropes we love with more depth than you might expect. The man knows how to mix his style and substance.

You can find copies of The Devil’s Share on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with C.J. Howell

CJ Howell has gotten praise from critics, readers, and fellow writers from his novel, The Last Of The Smoking Bartenders. In the novel, Tom, a man living off the grid, who may or may not be a secret agent, sets out to stop a group of terrorists from blowing up Hoover Dam. The journey takes him through the lives of several fringe dwellers of the American West with more than a couple acts of arson. CJ Howell will be joining us at our July 22nd Noir At The Bar, along with Andrew Hilbert, Brad Parks, and Jesse Sublett, and was also kind enough to let us ask him a few questions.


MysteryPeople: The Last of the Smoking Bartenders is such a unique novel.  What was the initial idea that sparked it?

CJ Howell: I wanted a character who was traveling off the grid.  When I was young, I hitchhiked from Boulder, Colorado, to Tierra del Fuego.  This was before cell phones and even email.  I crashed on many kind people’s couches and floors and got stuck sleeping on park benches and under bushes or in bus stations.  There was an immediacy to that kind of living that has always stuck with me.  But the character needed motivation for living off the grid, so I steeped him in post 9-11 paranoia and the desperation of the Great Recession and set him off on an adventure.

MP: It is also a unique title.  Did you have it in mind from the beginning?

CJH: No, the original title was “American Wasteland”, but that seemed to be too generic as the writing progressed.  The Last of the Smoking Bartenders was the title of a little end piece to a short story collection of mine and it just seemed to fit thematically.  All the characters are sort of hold outs against change, clinging to the way the West used to be, the freedom that it once offered.

Here is the original The Last of the Smoking Bartenders:

“There was a time, not long ago, although some days it feels like it was just a sepia toned dream, when bartenders carried smokes behind their ears.  They were quick with a match to light your smoke, and if you needed a smoke, they always had one for you (since they knew you’d leave ‘em an extra buck which was worth ten smokes).  They’d keep one smoldering in an ashtray at the end of the bar and take drags off it from time to time.  With shirt sleeves rolled up they’d dribble ashes on the polished oak bar, smoke rolling in the faces of the regulars, whispering a trail to the bronze tiled ceiling.

They don’t let ‘em do that no more.”

MP: Tom is a character who may or may not be living in his head.  How was your approach to writing him.

CJH: I approached him as a sane person who from time to time was forced to question whether the fundamental facts that shaped his life were real. And whether deep down he wanted them to be real.  Or if he had the power to decide.

MP: Do you consider him a hero, anti-hero, or something else?

CJH: I can’t consider Tom a hero, you know, because of all the arson and murder and whatnot, but I think he sees himself as a hero.  He wouldn’t want to be considered an anti-hero.  I don’t think people are good or bad.  They just are.  Whether they come across as a hero or not is a matter of what story is being told and who’s telling it.  I like writing characters that we are conflicted about. That has led to some criticism that sometimes my protagonists are too unlikable.  But I think we like Tom, and I’m good with that.

MP: This is a different look at the American West.  What did you want to convey about the place?

CJH: It’s a good question and hard thing to explain.  In many ways I wrote the book to show what the West looks like through they eyes of the people eking it out on the margins.  I wanted the West to be a character in the book.  The things that happened to the characters couldn’t have happened anywhere else.  Stark, rugged, beautiful, harsh, the vast open spaces and unrelenting danger ever present in daily life.  Modern society is never going to imprint neatly on that landscape.  Today the West is full of contradictions, anachronisms. It is still a place of outlaws and individualists.  But it is only getting harder for them as the march toward progress continues.  I think that’s why the title fits the theme — what’s the West coming to when you can’t even smoke in a bar anymore?  Of course the irony for me is that I quit smoking years back after I gave up bartending and now I can’t even imagine being able to smoke in a bar.  It seems barbaric.  I travel a lot, and I still get a kick out of the few places where it’s somehow not yet outlawed, like Oklahoma and Montana. That’s freedom, man.

MP: What can you tell us about your upcoming book?

CJH: The Hundred Mile View is scheduled for release in 2016.  It’s set on the Navajo Nation and features plenty of murder, meth, and moral ambiguity.  What else would you expect?

Copies of The Last of the Smoking Bartenders are available on our shelves and through special order here at the store or over the phone. Come by Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s on Wednesday, July 22nd at 7 PM for readings from CJ Howell, Brad Parks, Jesse Sublett, and Andrew Hilbert. Copies of each author’s latest will be on sale at Opal Divine’s for signing purposes after the speaking portion finishes up.