MysteryPeople Review: MURDER ON THE QUAI by Cara Black

9781616956783– Review by Molly O.

I’ve followed Cara Black and her oh-so-stylish detective, Aimée Leduc, throughout Black’s Paris-set series, as the Leduc Detective Agency solves many a case and Aimée’s wardrobe acquires many a Chanel suit. Her new addition, Murder on the Quai, should delight long-term fans and newcomers to the series alike! Cara Black will be at BookPeople this Thursday, June 23rd, at 7 PM, to speak and sign her latest. She’ll be joined by Texas author Lisa Sandlin for a panel discussion on private eyes from Paris to Beaumont.

Murder on the Quai takes the reader back to Aimée’s med-school days in 1989, before her decision to join her father’s detective agency as a partner. A woman claiming to be a distant relative of Aimée’s mother comes to the Leduc Detective Agency seeking information about a string of killings. Aimée’s father refuses to investigate, instead undertaking a mysterious mission to Berlin. In her father’s absence, Aimée accepts the case, hoping to discover more information about her mother, and to distract herself from an increasingly frustrating med-school experience. Aimée’s 1989 case slowly dovetails with a series of flashbacks to rural France during WWII, in which several farmers attempt to combine resistance to fascism with a quest for personal gain, triggering terrible consequences.

Cara Black has done her fans a service with an excellent prequel that answers many of her series’ biggest questions, including, finally, the reason for Aimée’s mother’s disappearance. The 1989 setting is used to great effect – Black portrays a moment in French history stunned by the end of the Cold War and torn between past crimes, and historical legacies and future dreams.  As always, Black excels at mixing Parisian fashion with PI gadgets – even in her youth, Aimée Leduc is a tough and stylish heroine ready to sick her bichon frise on anyone who crosses her.

You can find copies of Black’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Cara Black joins us here at BookPeople this Thursday, June 23rd, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by Texas writer Lisa Sandlin for a panel discussion of two very different private investigator heroines. 

 

The Hard Word Book Club Goes Italian

Hard Word Book Club to discuss: The Night of the Panthers by Piergiorgio Pulixi

9781609452759June’s Hard Word Book Club celebrates International Crime Fiction Month with a discussion of The Night Of The Panthers by Piergiorgio Pulixi. It is a book that is a violent and blunt look at the streets and politics of Italy, full of moral ambiguity. The book reads as if the television show The Shield was dropped in the country.

The novel starts with Irene Pistelli, an ambitious agent for the National Crime Bureau out to put the lid on a mafia war. To do this, she must cut a deal with Biago Mazzeo, the leader of an elite narcotics unit, who was just arrested for being in bed with the mob. As Biago cuts a deal with Pistolli, his unit kill a cop as they try to break another member out of custody. Biago must play his alliances off one another with his own life and those of his men on the line.

This look at dishonorable men trying to keep their honor in a dishonorable and violent world allows for a lot to discuss. The Hard Word Book Club will meet at 7PM, on BookPeople’s third floor, on Wednesday June 29th. Books are 10% off in-store to those who attend. You can find copies of The Night of the Panthers on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Interview with a Translator: Alex Zucker on Translating INNOCENCE, OR MURDER ON STEEP STREET, by Heda Margolius Kovaly

On Monday, June 20th, at 1 PM, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets to discuss famed Holocaust memoirist Heda Margolius Kovaly’s novel Innocence, or, Murder on Steep Street, a noir account of secrets and lies in 1950s Prague, and a rare glimpse at the painful effects of Soviet-imposed Communist rule from a woman’s perspective. Innocence begins at a movie theater, mainly staffed by women whose husbands have either died in World War II or have been arrested by State Security, the Communist Party’s secret police. When a dead body is discovered at the theater and the police begin an investigation, we learn more about each woman’s backstory, and see the ways in which the state’s relentless search for informers has torn apart the communities and families represented in the book. 

Earlier this year, I interviewed Alex Zucker, the novel’s translator, via Skype. We chatted about the book, translation, and the enduring appeal of Czech literature to American readers. Some of the interview has been condensed to summary form. 

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: It seems to me that Czech literature has inspired more interest in America than other Eastern Bloc countries. When I try to name writers from other small European countries; for example, Bulgaria, or Lithuania, or Belgium, I come up short; when I think of Czech writers, automatically, there are a bunch that come to mind. Why do you think that Czech writers have such a high reputation and recognition among American readers, compared to writers from other smallish languages? 

Alex Zucker: I guest-edited an issue on Czech literature for Words Without Borders, and I wrote an introduction to the issue that talks about the popularity of Czech authors; my theory is the reason these Czech authors, Kundera,  Klíma, Hrabal, Havel,  Škvorecký, the reason as many Czech writers are as well known as they are is because they had people in this country championing them, and writers from other countries have not had this same level of support…There has been a critical mass of important influential people in the US and Europe in publishing who really vouched for Czech authors, and made sure they got published, reviewed and got attention. I think Czech literature in the United States does not have a champion right now; there’s nobody writing about Czech literature on a regular basis, in contrast to the UK, where Czech books are reviewed regularly in the Times Literary Supplement.

Alex goes on to name figures in support of Czech literature in France and the Czech Republic as well.

A lot of translators and publishers now are starting to look more at books that might in the past have been considered less literary. They’ve realized that readers don’t care if a book is a translation as long as it’s a good read.

MO: Do you think that writers in the Czech Republic have more celebrity status than writers in the United States? 

AZ: Than in the United States? For sure; but I think, the whole position of intellectuals is different in most European countries than here; there’s a long tradition of them writing for papers, in France they have intellectuals on talk shows…We don’t have intellectuals on talk shows, here, we have “experts.” It is much more common for writers to write for newspapers about topics not about literature or their own writing, so in the Czech Republic you have writers weighing in on public affairs on a regular basis.  Alex points out that, during the Prague Spring uprising of Czechoslovakia against Soviet oppression, writers were an integral part of Czech opposition to the Soviets, and spoke out for political change before and after, despite their party membership and orders to toe the line. 

MO: Tell us about the initial publication of Innocence.

AZ: Innocence, by Kovaly, was originally published in Czech in 1985 by an emigre publishing house in Cologne, in Germany, called Index, under a pseudonym, and I would guess she wrote it in the early 80s, but set it in the 50s….One of the reasons people are interested in this book is that it is to some degree a fictionalized account of the author’s life in the 50s after her husband was falsely accused of being a traitor to the Czechoslovak communist regime, despite being a high official and member of the Communist Party. Throughout the Eastern Bloc there were show trials with wild accusations against mostly high-ranking Jews in communist parties in Eastern Europe of disloyalty to the Soviet Union as part of a Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy.

In 1952, Kovaly’s first husband, Rudolf Margolius, was tried and accused with a group of mostly other Jewish members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party….Rudolf Margolius was, along with Heda Margolius, a survivor of Auschwitz and a few other camps  (this was in the intro to the book that her son wrote.) The accusation of Zionism among high-ranking Jewish Communists in Czechoslovakia [was particularly ironic] given that the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was the main supplier of arms to the new Israeli state after 1948….But that’s another chapter of history. Kovaly’s story reflects the fickle nature of Stalinist politics and how the waves rippled through the East Bloc through the early 50s and even after Stalin’s death in 1953.

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

 

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

  • 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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