MysteryPeople Review: ROUGH TRADE by Todd Robinson

Todd Robinson joins us for our next Noir at the Bar event, coming up Tuesday, September 20th, at 7 PM at Threadgill’s off of Riverside. Noir at the Bar features readings from several authors at a cozy locale – come grab a brew and enjoy the show! We’ll be giving away some of our favorite titles of the year. Todd will be joined by authors Zoe Sharpe, John Lawton, Rick Ollerman, and Jesse Sublett, with a musical contribution from Mr. Sublett to kick things off. 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

97819438180061Rough Trade is Todd Robinson’s second book to feature Boo and Junior, two Boston bouncers working at a bar called “The Cellar” with a penchant for for trouble. We’ve had almost four years to wait for this one after the debut of Hard Bounce. Todd has made the wait pay off.

Boo and Junior are asked by their co-worker, Ginny, to throw a scare into Byron, her abusive ex. They smack him around and put him in a trunk. When Byron is found dead with Junior’s cell phone, he becomes the main suspect. It’s up to Boo and their small but tight circle of friends to clear his name.

This is classic hard boiled fused with modern themes. Robinson gives us a plot involving a mysterious saxophone case, Irish mobsters, fun and funny dialogue, and a lot of punching. The book is also an intriguing look at homosexuality and our responses to it. The novel starts with the two bouncers trying to stop some skinheads from beating up two men they found making out. Robinson follows through on the theme with an exploration of  Junior’s hang ups. He jettisons political correctness to get to the heart and emotions of the matter.

The book never stops entertaining as it deals with these issues. Boo’s narration is engaging and often humorous, cracking the fourth wall. Rough Trade delivers the sex, violence, grittiness, and male friendship one would expect in a book like this with a theme that both clashes and connects with its genre roots. I look forward to the next misadventures of these knuckleheads.

You can find copies of Rough Trade on our shelves and via

7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll

On Monday, September 12, the 7% Solution Book Club meets to discuss Jessica Knoll’s stunning debut, Luckiest Girl Alive. October’s book is Last King of Texas, by Rick Riordan. As always, book club selections are 10% off at the registers in the month of their selection. 

  • Post by Molly Odintz

97814767896441There are few things I can reveal about the fascinating journey that is reading Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive. The novel holds too many surprises to speak much of what occurs – although I do feel “trigger warning” would be an apt phrase to attach to the novel. For those who’ve already read the book and are interested in discerning fact from fiction in the novel’s inspirations, here’s a haunting article from Jessica Knoll about how her own experiences made their way into Luckiest Girl Alive.

The novel’s darkness is matched only by its level of success. Reese Witherspoon has plans in the works to turn the book into a film, and Luckiest Girl Alive has become an international bestseller. The novel’s appeal stems from its perfect merger of societal critique, mystery novel,  and message – of hope, recovery, forgiveness (for some) and vengeance (for the deserving).

Knoll’s debut begins with a facade. TifAni FaNelli is a woman who has achieved career success, found a blue-blooded fiance, and adopted convincing upper-class mannerisms. Only TifAni FaNelli’s name gives her origins away – a working class childhood and a severe Catholic school, full of bullies, misfits and targets. She’s been contacted by a camera crew making a documentary about a traumatic event at her high school, forcing FaNelli to take a step back from her hard-won success and take a look at the lingering scars of her past.

As the novel switches between grown-up TifAni and teenage TifAni, the reader sees much of the journey of modern womanhood. Grown-up TifAni knows how to rule the roost; she uses a series of psychological tricks to establish dominance over her interns in the first few chapters, and knows exactly what statement she makes with every aspect of her ensemble. Teenage TifAni, beautiful and naive, tries to fit in with the rich kids at her new school, ready to blend in and assume a higher social status. Instead, the school’s elites exploit her and then turn on her, devoting much of their energy to harassing her and smearing her reputation (to put things lightly).

Luckiest Girl Alive’s examination of bullying and slut-shaming is both eye-opening and contemporary. Of particular note, Knoll immerses the reader in the distance between a woman’s relationship with her own body and society’s attempt to equate her curves with her experience. Knoll additionally excels at establishing sympathy for characters capable of heinous acts, while destroying the sympathy unjustly rewarded to those who deserve their suffering.

You can find copies of Luckiest Girl Alive on our shelves and via The 7 % Solution Book Club normally meets the first Monday of each month, but due to Labor Day, we have moved our September meeting to the second Monday, September 12, at 7 PM

31 Crime Novels by Women: A New Year’s Resolution Progress Report in Honor of Women’s Equality Day

  • Post by Molly Odintz

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.

Minotaur Books Created This Stunning Image to Celebrate Women's Equality Day
Minotaur Books created this stunning image in celebration of Women’s Equality Day (this year, Friday, August 26th).

With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.

This year, to my surprise, I’m a bit further on the path to completing my reading goal, so time to brag and share it with you all, despite my failure to complete it as of yet. Hey, I’ve got four more months left, so why not put the cart before the horse and smugly tell you all about my accomplishments? After all, I’m 31 books in, 31 crime novels by women that I can now confidently recommend in the store and on the internet, because I have read and enjoyed them. Before I (prematurely) rest on my laurels, I’d like to trace the origins of this mighty goal.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town: MysteryPeople Q&A with Jesse Donaldson

Jesse Donaldson’s The More They Disappear deals with the murder of a sheriff in a Kentucky town, just as OxyContin gets introduced to rural towns in the late nineties. It is a compelling debut, nuanced in both its emotions and morality. We asked Mr. Donaldson some questions over e-mail as we prepare for his visit to our store this upcoming Friday, August 26th, at 7 PM.

“The novel takes its title from that common desire to leave your town, to disappear. There’s some thematic kinship to this Bruce Springsteen record I love – Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

MysteryPeople Scott: What spurred you to write a whodunnit where the reader knows who did it?

Jesse Donaldson: This is a trick question. I mean, it’s not a whodunit if you know the who, right? And in The More They Disappear that happens rather early. Another writer, Smith Henderson, called it a whydunnit. I’d say the novel has more in common with a police procedural, a la Richard Price – only it is set in rural Kentucky instead of New York City. You follow the deputy sheriff, Harlan Dupee, as he sets about solving a violent crime. The tension is driven by that investigation and its consequences. The larger question is: in the aftermath of a violent crime, will this town held together by increasingly fragile bonds, fall apart?

MPS: What made the early days of the Oxy crisis the right period?

JD: I always wanted to write about the Oxy crisis. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it didn’t get nearly as much media attention as it should have. Newspapers and magazines were more interested in covering the country’s Meth problem. Exploded meth labs make for a nice dramatic photo. The Oxy story was and is way more complicated and in the long run more devastating. It was created by lax regulation by the FDA and states, a dishonest pharmaceutical company, crooked doctors, and millions of people suffering from some sort of “pain”—be it physical or emotional. Moreover, the Oxy issue is directly responsible for the degree of our country’s current heroin epidemic, so it seemed worthwhile to explore its origins.

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Scene of the Crime: MysteryPeople Explores P.J. Tracy’s Minnesota

The mother-daughter writing team of P.J. Tracy have used their native Minnesota to great effect in the fun Monkeewrench series, featuring a group of computer programmers who work with the police. It’s been a bit of a wait for the sixth book, (apparently seeming longer to some), but it is out now, titled The Sixth Idea. it’s also been a while since we’ve done our regular post Scene Of The Crime, where we talk to authors about their settings. So welcome back both.

MysteryPeople Scott: What makes Minnesota a great state to write about?

P. J. Tracy: Minnesota is perceived as being a very hegemonous state, but in truth, there is so much diversity here, both ethnically and environmentally.  We have vibrant and sophisticated urban areas like Minneapolis and St. Paul with large enclaves of many different nationalities, vast swaths of rural farmland that help feed the nation, the Mississippi River and Lake Superior, untouched wilderness, and more than ten thousand lakes.  Each of these widely varied settings has a unique character and culture all their own, so the inspiration for writers is virtually limitless.  For anybody who thinks this is fly-over land, they’re missing out.  (Just for the record, we’re not on the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce payroll.)

MPS: How has it shaped your protagonists?

PJT: Our detectives, Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth, both grew up here, so they have native perspectives on everything they encounter and share it with the readers.  The Monkeewrench gang is comprised of transplants from the southern U.S., so their experiences with Minnesota culture are conveyed through the lens of outsiders who are constantly learning and adapting to the nuances of a foreign land.

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Rot in Rural America: MysteryPeople Reviews THE MORE THEY DISAPPEAR by Jesse Donaldson

Come by BookPeople this Friday, August 26th, at 7 PM, for an evening with Jesse Donaldson, speaking and signing his debut, The More They DisappearDonaldson is a graduate of the prestigious Michener Center for Writers, located right here in Austin, and is one of the emerging voices of our time. He will appear in conversation with Philipp Meyer, author of The Son. 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781250050229Jesse Donaldson’s debut, The More They Disappear, looks deep into the darkness that causes rot in American rural towns. It uses a murder in the fictional Marathon, Kentucky to explore the ramifications of the introduction of OxyContin to small-town America in the early nineties. Donaldson argues that, at the time, corruption was making those places ready to be taken by anything.

Events are set in motion as Lew Mattock, the sheriff of Marathon, is shot by a sniper at his own fundraiser. The killer, Mary Jane Finley, a young woman from an upper middle class family, slips away without being noticed. Harlan Dupree, the chief deputy promoted to interim sheriff, attempts to solve the murder of his boss, a man he was at odds with.

Since we know Mary Jane is the killer, the book becomes more of a whydunit than a whodunit. We learn Mary-Jane’s history that lead her to drugs and murder. The description of her first time with Oxy beautifully explains the drug. As Harlan closes in on her we’re given a tour of Marathon’s underbelly and criminal connections. He goes up against both the political and class system, learning Mary Jane is just one part of a larger crime and that she may be a victim as well. With Harlan snooping around in a town so small everyone, including the guilty, can see him snooping, the tension builds for characters and readers alike.

The More They Disappear is both visceral and nuanced. Much like Ace Atkins’ latest novel, The Innocents, it rages at small town indifference and speaks for the unspoken. Here though, there are no Quinn Colson heroes, only victims.

You can find copies of The More They Disappear on our shelves and via

Crime Fiction Friday: “Riviera” by Julie Smith


  • Selected and Introduced by Scott Montgomery
Akashic Books recently released Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin, a great addition to their Noir series. The volume features established talent like Ace Atkins and Megan Abbott and talented up and comers like William Boyle. To get us amped for the collection, Akashic posted this great story set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Julie Smith on their Mondays Are Murder Site.

“Riviera” by Julie Smith

‘”Shit on a stick,” Roy said. “It’s her.”

“You’re lyin’!” Forest said. “Not The Dutch Treat, please, Jesus. Anything but that!”

“AKA Spawn of Satan.”

They were at the Gulfport Shaggy’s, about to celebrate a decent haul on a pot deal with a late-morning bloody and there stood The Treat, looking less Dutch than usual, a little more redneck, talking to some senior stoner with ass-length white hair in a sectioned-off ponytail…’

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Double Feature: GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

Come by BookPeople this upcoming Monday, August 22nd, at 7 PM, for a screening of Gone Girl [2014], followed by a discussion of the book and film. The screening will take place on the third floor and is free and open to the public. 

– Post by Molly Odintz

gone girlWhen I sat down last week to read Gillian Flynn’s mega-blockbuster of domestic suspense Gone Girl ahead of our upcoming screening of the film this upcoming Monday, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew before going in that the book had already made waves as a bestseller, despite (or, perhaps, because of) its unlikable female protagonist. My friends who had already read Gone Girl assured me that the husband was just as bad, although an unlikable male protagonist, in the form of the anti-hero, is much more pervasive.

As a passionate reader of mysteries and an ardent feminist, it would be difficult for me to underestimate the impact of Gone Girl in encouraging publishers to embrace challenging, complex female characters. The early aughts brought with them the compelling but simplistic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the late aughts ushered in the era of The Girl in the Title, in which one Swede and a host of imitators forever linked “girl” with “dark and twisted,” as Flynn Berry pointed out in an interview earlier this year.

Then, with the 2012 release of Gone Girl, we entered into the era of the Unlikable Female Protagonist, previously a category embraced by literary fiction and issued in short print runs, now a qualifier for any bestseller of the domestic suspense variety. Why, you might ask, would I consider an unlikable female protagonist as a positive for feminism?

First, it would be patronizing to write every female character as a sop, morally superior to the no-damn-good men around her, who are thus freed from the responsibility of matching womanly perfection. A woman in literature, just as in life, has a right to complex motivations and wicked behavior.

Second, society has a problem with its willingness to listen to those women not bending over backwards to appeal to their audience. Maybe it’s time to have a whole trend of listening to women we don’t like, because their opinions, feelings, and experiences are just as complex and valid as those of the girl next door, or as Flynn calls it in Gone Girl, the “cool girl.” Gone Girl‘s Amy is not just hard to like – she’s been wronged, viscerally, and irreversibly, and her vengeance, while over-the-top, comes to a place of legitimate pain.

It’s difficult to say much about this book without discussing its abrupt, fascinating end, and so if you continue beyond this point, SPOILER ALERT. I repeat, SPOILER ALERT.

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Philly, Then & Now: MysteryPeople Q&A with Duane Swierczynski



Duane Swierczynski’s latest novel, Revolver, looks at the 1964 shooting of two policemen and its legacy through the generations, as the son of one of the dead officers plots revenge in 1995, and his daughter Audrey looks into the murder in 2015. Swierczynski is known both for his crime fiction and his contributions to the comics world. We talked to Duane about the book and how he explores family, place, and time.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did Revolver come about?

Duane Swierczynski: This idea was one of those rare gifts from the gods – it was like I had an idea aneurysm one morning (March 23, 2014, to be exact). I’d read a Philadelphia Inquirer piece about the 1963 murder of two police officers in New Jersey, and the impact it had on the family in the present. And then boom – I knew exactly the kind of story I wanted to write, and how it even connected with some characters in my previous novel, Canary. I also knew that it would take place in three different time periods. What I didn’t know? How the hell I was going to pull that off.

“If Revolver has a hero, it’s Audrey Kornbluth, and at first, we think she’s nothing more than a bitter, hot mess who drinks way too much. But by the novel’s end, you kind of fall in love with her. I know I did.”


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MysteryPeople Q&A with James W. Ziskin

Heart Of Stone is the latest in James Ziskin’s series featuring early 1960s “girl reporter” Ellie Stone. James will be joining his fellow Seventh Street author Mark Pryor at a BookPeople signing this Saturday, August 20th at 6PM. Our Meike Alana got some early questions in.


  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: The Ellie Stone novels are written in the first person, and you write a very convincing female in her early 20’s. How did you develop that voice?

James W. Ziskin: I try to imagine a fully developed character in Ellie. Her thoughts, aspirations, loves, hates. Her joys and pains. Simply describing what she’s doing from chapter to chapter doesn’t cut it, even if her behavior happens to be believable to the reader. That makes for a cardboard-thin character, flat and, ultimately, uninteresting. Instead, I want to climb inside Ellie’s head and create a fully formed character and, by extension, a voice. So how do I get inside Ellie? I mine those emotions I mentioned above. I imagine how she would feel and react in certain situations. Would she keep quiet, mouth off, or feel defeated? What would she say to a man dismissing her as “just a girl”? What would she do if he patted her rear end? What kind of man would she find attractive? Irresistible? Contemptible? It’s hard to do, of course. If you’re truly going to hang flesh on the bones of your character, be she a woman or a man, you need more than just a physical description and a couple of quirks or mannerisms. You need to empathize with your characters. Understand them, think them through. Make them complex, multidimensional, dense, and deep. Give them weight. And once you’ve done that, the voice will come.

“If you’re truly going to hang flesh on the bones of your character, be she a woman or a man, you need more than just a physical description and a couple of quirks or mannerisms. You need to empathize with your characters. Understand them, think them through. Make them complex, multidimensional, dense, and deep. Give them weight. And once you’ve done that, the voice will come.”


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