Crime Fiction Friday: “Lluvia, Leche y Sangre” by John Manuel Arias



  • Introduced by Scott M.

In honor of International Crime Fiction Month the rest of June’s Crime Fiction Fridays will share a link to a story on Akashic Books’ Mondays are Murder series, where each Monday they post a story under 700 words that take place in cities around the world. Our first stop is San Jose, Costa Rica, where to author John Manuel Aria, marriage and murder are not just an North American mix. He also gives one of the best descriptions of the taste of a cigarette.

“Lluvia Leche y Sangre” by John Manuel Arias

“Without realizing it, she had bludgeoned him to death with a statue of La Virgen de los Ángeles.

But how had it killed him? It was just a hollow, bronze replica of the black Madonna and child. Was it because it was filled with holy water? Or because she had slammed it like a machete into sugar cane?”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Lisa Sandlin

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

We’re happy to have Lisa Sandlin joining us next Thursday, June 23rd, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by Cara Black, author of the Aimee Leduc series, set in Paris. Lisa Sandlin’s novel The Do-Right made the list of our Top Five Texas Crime Novels of 2015. The Do-Right follows Delpha Wade, just out of prison, as she rebuilds her life and finds a new career in Beaumont. She starts working for a former oil worker turned PI, Tom Phelan, and the two take on cheating husbands and corrupt oilmen, all against the background of Texas during the Watergate hearings. We caught up with Lisa earlier to talk a little about the book, her characters, and Texas.

“The wax-and-wane chorus of tree frogs, crickets, cicadas was our soundtrack afternoon and night, and everybody’s bread and butter was the refineries.”

Molly Odintz: Your book is so Texas. How did you capture such a strong sense of place?

Lisa Sandlin: Born and raised in East Texas, except for three years in Italy. Long as I can remember, there was the surround of tall pines, filtered sunlight, brown pine needles underfoot, logging trucks on two-lane. My grandmother lived in Livingston close to the Big Thicket. (My other grandparents lived for years in Gatesville.) The wax-and-wane chorus of tree frogs, crickets, cicadas was our soundtrack afternoon and night, and everybody’s bread and butter was the refineries.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Timothy Hallinan


  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Timothy Hallinan’s latest featuring Junior Bender, King Maybe, has the L.A. burglar going from one break-in to another in a cheerfully convoluted plot circling round a depraved studio exec. Tim was kind enough to take some questions from us last month about the book and writing in general.

MysteryPeople Scott: King Maybe started with the title in mind. Do most of your books start with something small like that and grow out of it?

Timothy Hallinan: I wish I could say how they start. If I could, maybe I could learn how to write one on purpose. Only once before have I begun with a title, and that was the first book I ever completed. It was about a private eye working in Hollywood (surprise!), and it was dreadful, except for s splendid title: The Wrong End of the Rainbow. For the last 4-5 months I’ve been getting glimmerings of a story to go with it.

All the books start differently. Sometimes it’s a character or an image, sometimes a general situation that seems to have the potential for interesting complication. The one I’m writing now, a Poke Rafferty called Fools’ River, began to develop a year or so ago in Bangkok when a friend took me to a ladyboy bar and I spent the evening talking to an 18-year old wisp who had been born male in Vientiane and, despite looking as frail as a dying plant, had transformed herself from a boy in Laos to a girl in Bangkok, a leap in every sense of the word. She barely spoke above a whisper, but she had a steel of spine, ten times the strength of character I possess. So I’m writing about her now.

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MysteryPeople Q&A: UNDER THE HARROW by Flynn Berry


  • Post by Molly Odintz

Flynn Berry’s debut novel, Under the Harrow, is a powerful novel about women, their choices, and their relationships with each other. Nora, London sophisicate and ex-party girl, takes the train to Cornwall, expecting a nice, bucolic visit with her sister Rachel. Upon her arrival, she finds her sister murdered. Her vacation away from the stress of the city turns into a nightmare of rural secrets and resurfacing traumas as she seeks her sister’s killer. 

Under the Harrow has received a ton of praise this summer, all of it well deserved. RT Book Reviews, in just one of many gushing reviews, called the novel “the stuff of classic crime fiction, but this is deeper than a caper—it is the story of a woman working through her stages of grief.” My favorite blurb comes from author Claire Messud described Berry’s debut as “like Broadchurch written by Elena Ferrante,” which I took to mean the novel does not sacrifice pace for feminism, or vice versa. I also must admit that while I hate recommending books as “beach reads,” I did read most of Under the Harrow at the beach, and the dark atmosphere of the novel provided a perfect antidote to the hot, hot sun. 

Flynn Berry joins us Saturday, June 18th, at 6 PM to speak and sign her debut. She was kind enough to let us interview her before the event. 

“The “girl” trend is funny, but so understandable. Publishing is hard, and if you have a shortcut to get a reader’s attention, it makes sense that there’s pressure to use it. I also like that “girl” is now shorthand for “dark and twisted.” That’s so satisfying.”

Molly Odintz: Under the Harrow is your debut, yet it perfectly mixes mature themes and a nail-biter of a plot. What was your writing process for the novel? What advice would you give writers starting out in the genre?

Flynn Berry: I spent a year writing Under the Harrow. Then there was another year of revision and copyedits once it was with the publisher. My writing process is that I write longhand, while listening to the same few songs on repeat. I try to write for three hours a day. But I was also working, so often it was less.

And the other thing is that I wrote two full novels before this one, that I didn’t send out. I loved working on them and was committed to them, but they weren’t quite ready.

So I think my biggest piece of advice is to be patient. And to just always keep nudging it forward, even if all you can do in a day is write one sentence or figure out a character name.

MO: It’s so rare to find women avenged by other women in crime novels – usually a man goes out to seek revenge for the death of a woman. In fact, I can’t think of a single crime novel where a woman sets out to avenge the death of an adult male figure. What was your inspiration for the women in this story, and why do they seek their own vengeance?

FB: That’s so interesting—I’d never considered it before, but you’re right, I can’t think of one either.

I was really angry when I started the book. There had been a few awful crimes against women in Austin that made me furious on behalf of the victim.

So the book is sort of a revenge fantasy. And I kept asking what I would do next, and that led Nora further and further into obsession.

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MysteryPeople Double Feature: REBECCA

  • Post by Molly Odintz

Come by this evening, Monday, June 13th, for a screening of Hitchcock’s classic film Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, followed by a discussion of the film and book. The screening is the first of our Noir Double Feature Film Series, where we screen film adaptations of the crime fiction we love all summer long.

To prep for the screening and discussion, I picked up du Maurier’s novel a few days ago, expecting to read just enough before the screening to stumble through discussion afterwards. Instead, I finished the novel in two sittings, staying up late on my night off from work and unabashedly involving myself in one of the greatest romantic suspense stories of all time. Hitchcock’s film is fairly faithful to the original novel, and that’s a good thing – the novel is as gripping and surprising as the film, and the two compliment each other; the film merely manifests in image what du Maurier described in the novel so well, including the lush, forbidden landscapes of Manderley, subject of the novel’s famous first line, “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” Also, Daphne du Maurier passes the Bechdel test throughout the novel, including every conversation between Mrs. Danvers and the second Mrs. de Winter.

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Top International Crime Novels from Authors Janice Hamrick & Mark Pryor

This Sunday, June 12th, at 2PM, MysteryPeople is celebrating International Crime Fiction Month with a panel discussion on our favorite international crime fiction. The panel will include booksellers Scott Montgomery and Molly Odintz, authors Janice Hamrick and Mark Pryor, and KAZI Book Review host, Hopeton Hay. To give you some idea of how the conversation will go, both Janice and Mark have listed three of their favorites.

Janice Hamrick’s Top International Crime Fiction Picks

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Written by a Scottish man, the series is located in Botswana and features a female detective (Precious Ramotswe). I enjoy the entirely different world – McCall Smith grew up in Rhodesia and lived and worked in Botswana for a number of years. I also like the gentle pacing of the novels.

The Storm by Neil Broadfoot

Set in Edinburgh, this novel starts with the brutal murder of newspaper editor in front of investigative reporter Doug McGregor. This is one of the new examples of a genre they’re calling Tartan Noir and published by a very small independent press called Saraband. I discovered it because my daughter was the proofreader.

Acqua Alta by Donna Leon

Set in Venice during the “high water” flooding that occurs during the winter, Leon’s Inspector Brunetti investigates murder in the art world. Leon is an American ex-pat living in Venice and her setting is as much a character as any other. A really nice series.

Mark Pryor’s Top International Crime Fiction Picks

Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas

Like all her books, Vargas infuses this story with odd characters, suggestions of magical realism, and wonderful snippets of French life. The protagonist Chief Inspector Adamsberg is both quirky and brilliant, using his imagination as much as solid clues to solve this and all his mysteries.

In The Woods by Tana French

I don’t think there’s any more lyrical writing in crime fiction today. This is French’s first novel and maybe her best because the plot is realistic and compelling, the characters engaging, and the prose masterful. I’ve wondered about a couple of her subsequent plots, but even then her writing keeps me hooked.

The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

This is a brilliant series generally but there’s something about the post-war setting in France that makes this one special. The protagonist, Bernie Gunther, is his usual cynical and pragmatic self, and this time he’s mixing it up with writer Somerset Maugham and some delightfully naughty British spies. I’m a busy man and can rarely say this: I read this book in one weekend.

Molly’s Top International Crime Writers

Come by BookPeople this Sunday, June 12th, from 2 PM to 4 PM for a panel discussion on international crime fiction, featuring authors, booksellers, and critics. There will be lots of giveaways (and possibly cookies, but you’ll have to come to the event to find out!). All of the books listed below are in print and available either on our shelves or via

Leading up to our panel discussion on international crime fiction coming up this Sunday, we’ll be running top lists of world crime writers all week long. Below, you’ll find a list from bookseller and international crime fiction enthusiast Molly.

  • Post by Molly Odintz

I’ve always been intrigued by fiction in translation, and especially crime fiction from around the world, yet after a few years of concentrated reading in these areas, I still feel as I’ve barely scraped the surface of what world crime fiction has to offer. Every nation has its great crime writers, and only some have been translated and are still in print, yet just in our mystery section alone, one can find countless stories from all over the world.

Rather than choose my favorite international books, an overwhelming task, I have decided to list my preferred international authors. To narrow the scope, I picked only authors in translation. I have read and enjoyed multiple books by each of the authors mentioned below, and each one combines brilliant writing, a dark vision, and deep knowledge of their genre.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II

As a student at UT Austin, I spent a great deal of time up on the Perry Castaneda Library’s 6th floor, where the crime fiction and foreign language texts were located. Browsing the stacks, I discovered the works of Paco Ignacio Taibo II, activist, historian, and prolific author of the Hector Belascoaran Shayne series as well as many stand-alone. Taibo fled Franco’s Spain for Mexico City, which I guess makes him the literary equivalent of Manu Chao in his turn towards political action in Latin America (except even cooler!!).

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MysteryPeople Q&A with C. J. Howell


  • Interview by Scott Montgomery

We are excited to have C,J. Howell joining us for our Sins Of The Southwest panel happening tomorrow, Friday June 10th, with J. Todd Scott. His latest, The Hundred Mile View, deals with an FBI agent who transfers out to the Navajo reservation, mainly to get back with his ex, and gets swept up in the violence of the Southwest. We talked to C.J. about his books and what drives his characters.

MysteryPeople Scott: You’ve used the Navajo Reservation as a setting for both of your books. What draws you to that setting?

C. J. Howell: There’s endless complexity. It’s a proudly American foreign country inside of America. The Last of the Smoking Bartenders has Navajo characters but like everyone in the book they fit into the landscape of social and economic isolation in the modern west. For The Hundred Mile View, I wanted to return there but go deeper. People can have strong religious and cultural identities and be isolated from “American” culture, or have multiple and separate identities, or travel freely and confidently in both societies. That and the most harsh, beautiful, and dramatic landscape in the world makes for fertile writing ground.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with J. Todd Scott

J. Todd Scott’s debut, The Far Empty, tells about a deputy pulled into the cold emotional war of Stanford “Judge” Ross, a crooked Texas sheriff and his son, Caleb, who believes he murdered his mother. It is an uncompromising look at masculinity, western society, and emotion. Mr. Scott was kind enough to talk about the novel, its Texas setting, and writing. He’ll be at BookPeople to speak and sign his debut, joined by fellow novelist of the Southwest C.J. Howell, this Friday, June 10th, at 7 PM. 

“I came to Texas (and El Paso) sight unseen; I knew nothing about the area, but quickly fell in love with its rich cultural heritage, the history, and the austere beauty. It’s a unique place, and even now still has a certain “wild west” feel unlike any other place I’ve lived. I wanted the reader to experience that if possible.”

MysteryPeople Scott: I was telling some retired Texas lawmen about The Far Empty and they recalled events it reminded them of. Is it based on an actual situation?

J. Todd Scott: The story of former Presidio County Sheriff Rick Thompson, who was originally given a life sentence for his role in smuggling more than a ton of cocaine from the small Mexican village of San Antonio del Bravo to a ranch outside of Alpine, Texas (and that was ultimately discovered in a seized horse trailer in Marfa) is well-known in the region, and is definitely echoed in The Far Empty. Sheriff Thompson was an iconic lawman recognized as an anti-drug crusader and a pillar of his community, and claimed at the time of his arrest that he was actually conducting his own reverse undercover sting operation to catch drug traffickers in Dallas! While there are some conscious similarities, my Sheriff Stanford Ross was not specifically based on Thompson, whose life sentence was cut to thirty years in January of this year.

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MysteryPeople Review: HEART OF STONE by James Ziskin

Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781633881839In James W. Ziskin’s latest Ellie Stone mystery, Heart of Stone, our heroine is enjoying a lazy August holiday in an Adirondack cabin belonging to her aunt. One morning, two men are found dead just a few feet away from a tranquil lake—they appear to have fallen from a treacherous cliff. The police treat the deaths as an unfortunate accident, but for Ellie things don’t quite add up—the two men apparently didn’t know one another, and a station wagon belonging to neither was found a few feet from where the men must have fallen. So why did they die together?

In true Ellie fashion, she sticks her nose where it isn’t wanted—encountering a colorful cast of characters with loose morals, zealous political views, and secret romances. She’s tough, smart, and sassy—and can hold her Scotch with the best of them—but her heart may be at risk when she becomes involved with a fellow vacationer. And as she delves deeper into the mysterious deaths, more than her heart may be in peril. The plot has plenty of convolutions with a supremely satisfying ending.

Ellie is one of my favorite characters in the genre. Her intelligence and fearlessness belie her youth. She’s at once vulnerable yet self-assured, intelligent yet impulsive, liberated yet yearning for a romantic connection. But what really sets Ziskin’s books apart is the poetry of his writing—a linguist by training, he excels at poetic and evocative descriptions of the fascinating characters and the nostalgic 1960’s upstate New York setting. Previous installments in the Ellie Stone series are: Styx & Stone; No Stone Unturned (an Anthony Award nominee for Best Paperback Original); and Stone Cold Dead (a 2016 Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Award nominee for Best World Mystery Novel).

Heart of Stone comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via