Three Picks for February

February brings with it a host of crime fiction events, and plenty of great new releases!

9780399173042What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

Coleman follows his up his Edgar nominated What You Break with the next chapter in the life of broken ex-Suffolk cop Gus Murphy. Hired to look into the daughter of a rich and powerful man as well well as trying to help his friend and co-worker Slava, Gus dives into a realm where evil touches everyone. Coleman strikes the perfect balance of exploring his hero’s interior struggles while pulling off a strong hard boiled tale. Reed Farrel Coleman joins us to speak and sign his latest on Friday, February 10, at 7 PM. He’ll be joined by actor, writer and producer Robert Knott, here with his latest continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Hitch & Cole series. What You Break comes out February 7th – pre-order signed copies! 

9781616957186August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones

Known for his poetry, Stephen Mack Jones has entered the mystery world already possessing the craft to write a complete detective novel, and one which we hope will lead to many more. Set in Detroit, August Snow follows the titular character, an ex-cop and the scion of an African-American father and a Mexican-American mother, as he returns home after a year spent traveling. He’s got millions in his pocket from a successful suit against the town’s corrupt police department and politicians, and he’s ready to use that money for good. Echoes from the past interfere with his future as a full-time do-gooder. When August catches a case that brings up all his old demons, he finally has a chance to lay those demons to rest, and make sense of a string of murders along the way. August Snow comes out February 14th – pre-order now!

9780316311564Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale

Hap and Leonard return in this entertaining private eye yarn with the boys hired to look into the death of a young black man at the hands of the police in their small, yet violent, East Texas town. Lansdale gives us a great buddy novel, looking at small town corruption, with some great fight scenes and plenty of laugh out loud moments, while taking a serious look at an issue that still plagues us today. Joe joins us Thursday, February 23rd, at 7 PM, along with Dallas writer Kathleen Kent. Rusty Puppy comes out February 21st – pre-order signed copies! 

Scrambling to Survive: MysteryPeople Q&A with Patricia Abbott

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Patricia Abbott’s Shot In Detroit was one of my favorite crime novels of 2016. It follows Violet Hart, a down-on-her-luck Detroit photographer who sees her last chance at a big artistic break with her growing collection of photos of the city’s dead young black men. Abbott gives us complex looks at art, race, and morality with a protagonist to match. This bleak satire of art and urban decay is the kind of book you want other people to read, so you can talk about it. Luckily, I had the opportunity to talk to the author herself.

“The idea for Shot In Detroit came from asking myself if Detroit were a person, what would he/she be like? How could I combine the rough, lonely, beaten- down Detroit of 2010 with the brave, humble, and pugnacious one that was still there too. How would that person (a woman in this case) navigate the 2011 streets?”

MysteryPeople Scott: It sounded like the idea for this book had been with you for some time – what was the spark of it?

Patricia Abbott: The idea for Shot In Detroit came from asking myself if Detroit were a person, what would he/she be like? How could I combine the rough, lonely, beaten- down Detroit of 2010 with the brave, humble, and pugnacious one that was still there too. How would that person (a woman in this case) navigate the 2011 streets? Then I came upon an New York Times article about a photographer (Elizabeth Heyert) whose gallery show and book (The Travelers) photographed the deceased in Harlem. That seemed like a perfect fit for Violet Hart. Photographing the dead was something most of us wouldn’t be able to do. Even in the hands of an artist, it might be viewed as distasteful, exploitive, sinister. Hopefully I was able to persuade the reader that it was art by the end of the book. Although getting to that end was treacherous.

MPS: As you say, the city of Detroit plays a part itself. What did you want to say about it?

PA: Detroit, in 2011, was one of the poorest cities in the country. But it was surrounded by some of the richest suburbs. I wanted to draw attention to this. And those suburbs are largely populated by people who fled Detroit, especially after the 1967 riot and the court-ordered busing of school children in the 1970s. What looked like a viable means of desegregation was catastrophic to Detroit. I wanted to also point out that young black men were dying at an alarming rate. And not just from gun violence. The average Detroiter does not have a car, an education, a job, good medical care, a good transportation system, good roads. Putting Violet and her camera there hopefully brought some of this to light. And hopefully in not too didactic a way.

MPS: How did the year of 2011 get chosen?

PA: The great recession started in Detroit in the early 2000s and in fact, bottomed out around 2011. Investors began to buy up property around then. Artists were encouraged to relocate through low rents and a low cost of living. The car industry began its comeback. I wanted to place the story when there was some sort of perspective on what Detroit’s fate would be. In 2010, Quicken Loans, led by Dan Gilbert, moved its headquarters and 1,700 of its employees downtown. After moving all 3,600 Michigan-based employees into Detroit’s urban core by the end of 2010, the company has since created thousands of new jobs and now has approximately 14,200 employees in downtown Detroit. In the last five years, Detroit’s midtown and downtown area have been transformed by Mike Ilitch, Peter Cummings and Gilbert. Hopefully this redevelopment will continue to expand, but it will be necessary to improve the schools and city services for this to take place. You only have to travel a few blocks outside the core to see a still impoverished Detroit.

“Like Detroit, she is on the verge of complete failure when the book opens and hopefully some place better by its end. But she got to that better place through the fallen men of Detroit. Is she scrambling over their bodies to survive?”

MPS: I couldn’t help comparing with what Violet does with crime fiction. Do you see a line in exploring the disenfranchised and exploiting their plight?

PA: Exploring v. exploiting. That’s a great comparison. What is the correct subject matter for an artist or a writer? Is photographing naked children as Sally Mann did acceptable when it veers so close to porn? Can we say the artistic merit of a painting or a book allows it to avoid being called exploitation? This is a question Violet wrestles with throughout the book. More and more as her portfolio grows. She sets some parameters for herself, but perhaps not enough in terms of how she carries out her project. Like Detroit, she is on the verge of complete failure when the book opens and hopefully some place better by its end. But she got to that better place through the fallen men of Detroit. Is she scrambling over their bodies to survive?

MPS: Since I know how well read you are in the genre, what lesser know crime fiction gem of 2016 would you recommend someone to read?

PA: A book that readers might have missed in 2016 is Alex Marwood’s The Darkest SecretOur entire family read and were knocked out by this novel by the author of The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door.

You can find copies of Shot In Detroit on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Congrats to the Edgar Award Nominees!!!

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We were happy to see many of our favorite books and authors nominated for this years MWA Edgar Awards. Many of the books that made it into our Top  10 lists of the year, like Reed Farrel Coleman’s lyrical noir Where It Hurts and Alison Gaylin’s tale of celebricide What Remains Of Me, made the cut. Two of our favorite debuts of the year, Flynn Berry’s Under the Harrow (a tale of sisterly revenge) and Joe Ide’s IQ (an imaginative take on Sherlock Holmes, set in South Central LA), made the list for best first novel.

This may be the first year of mother-daughter nominees, with Patricia Abbott up for Best Paperback Original for Shot in Detroit and Megan Abbott up for Best Short Story for her contribution to Mississippi Noir. Some of out favorite anthologies, including Mississippi Noir, St. Louis Noir, and In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired By The Painting Of Edward Hopper had at least one story nominated for Best Short Story.

A special shout-out goes to our friends at Seventh Street Books who took up half the space in the Paperback Original category! Adrian McKinty is up for even more accolades for his Sean Duffy series with his latest, Rain Dogs. We’re very pleased to have James W. Ziskin, speaking and signing his Edgar-nominated latest, Heart Of Stone, here this upcoming Tuesday, January 24th at 7PMCan’t make it to the event? Pre-order signed copies! 

This year’s list also highlights both the breadth of the awards and the porous nature of crime fiction. You’ll find some crossover hits on the list –  Jane SteeleLyndsay Faye’s take on Jane Eyre as a serial killer, is on the shelves in our historical fiction section. Before the Fall, Noah Hawley’s tale of a plane crash and its consequences, usually resides in general fiction. Since 1989, The Edgar Awards have honored exceptional young adult crime fiction, and have for decades highlighted the best true crime and biographies of the year.

Congratulations to all the nominees, and best of luck ahead!

You can find this year’s full list of nominees here.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames

We’re happy to be hosting Terry Shames tomorrow, January 24th, at 7 PM, right here at BookPeople, for a panel discussion on small town crime fiction with Melissa Lenhardt and James W. Ziskin. Her latest, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, looks into the earlier days of the central Texas police chief. Meike Alana was able to ask Terry a few questions before the event. 

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock takes us back to Samuel’s earliest days in law enforcement. What made you feel it was time for a prequel?

Terry Shames: After my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, came out, my editor said he would like me to write a prequel. I loved the idea, but I already had several current stories in mind, so I put it on the back burner. Eventually I had enough Craddock books published so that people knew Craddock and were invested in him, so it seemed like the right time for the prequel. I knew all along that I wanted to explore how Samuel became the kind of man he is in the later stories, a man of integrity and responsibility, with compassion and a strong sense of ethics. And I also knew the true story that I was going to base the book on.

MA: When your series debuted Samuel was an aging widower, and fans of the series know of the deep love and admiration he had for his late wife Jeanne. In this novel, we get to witness their relationship in its earliest formative period. Was Jeanne as a character already fully formed in your imagination, and was this a chance for the reader to get to know her too? Or was the novel an opportunity for you to explore and discover what Jeanne was really like?

TS: I always knew that Jeanne was not the person the readers saw in the first novels through Samuel’s eyes. He was grieving, and as many people do when they are in the first stages of grief, he made her into something of a saint. I knew that as the books progressed he would start to remember her more clearly. When I tackled the sequel, I knew there would be some things about the young Jeanne that might surprise people. It may even upset some readers who thought they knew her. You have to understand I actually see my characters as real people. If they didn’t have some negatives traits, they would be boring. And as a writer, I feel strongly that sometimes you have to surprise readers with a little dose of reality.

MA: Samuel initially takes the job as police chief thinking it will an easy gig; right away he’s confronted with a multiple murder, drug dealing, and corruption—all while dealing with family drama surrounding his brother. Without giving anything away, can you tell us about how these contribute to Samuel’s character development?

TS: Samuel did not have an easy upbringing, and that could have made him a bitter and irrational person. But he stepped out of that life and went into the Air Force and on to college. Both are institutions that take over of a lot of the choices people have to make while they grow into adults. In a way they are protected from the outside world because there are strict rules that have to be followed if you are going to succeed. When Samuel comes back to Jarrett Creek, he is a different young man than the one who left. He hasn’t decided what he’ll do with himself, and in fact his choices are limited in a small town.

When the job of chief of police is offered to him, he thinks it will be easy—after all how much can a small town of 3,000 people get up to? It turns out they can get up to the same things people get up to in cities. When a horrendous murder is committed in his town, he is not actually responsible for the investigation. State law enforcement agencies are responsible for that. Only when he realizes that the person who in charge is going to do a shoddy job does he confront himself with his choice—will he be a man of character who pursues the true guilty party, or will he let it slide? To force the issue, I conjured up a reporter who is ten years older and who is fiercely dedicated to reporting the truth. She challenges Craddock, and it moves him ever closer to his crisis. I loved this part. It says so much about people and circumstances.

MA: In the titular unsettling crime, a local black man is arrested for murder and Samuel is certain that he’s been wrongfully accused. Knowing that the law works differently for black men, he goes to grea lengths to clear the man’s name despite receiving threats. The racial themes resonate even (or maybe especially) today. What was your inspiration for tackling such a difficult and complex topic?

TS: I grew up in Texas at a time when racial prejudice was rampant. But I grew up with high regard for my grandfather, who once said, “I don’t care what color a man is. If he can work alongside me, he’s okay by me.” That made a great impression on me. I know that Texas has gotten much better at racial inclusion, but there’s still a lot of racism and bigotry alive and well. Not just in Texas, but all over the United States. I really think that as a serious writer, it is up to me to explore these issues. You say it’s difficult and complex, but in reality, Samuel has a core of decency that made the book easier to write than you might think. When decent people take it on themselves to confront a corrupt system, things can be rectified.

“I think for many of us the place where we grew up is deeply embedded. I do return to the town where these books are set and I always have a strong sense of homecoming. The smells peculiar to the town; the taste of the water; the sights of pickup trucks and gravel and the railroad tracks and the vegetation; the sounds of people’s accents are all familiar.”

MA: Which character from Samuel’s past was your favorite to explore?

TS: I enjoyed trotting out Samuel’s mother. I hoped she would not become a caricature. I have actually known people like that who never seem to be able to say a kind word and who live with resentment and bitter judgment. It might have been interesting to explore why she is the way she is, but this story was not hers.

MA: “Terry” is one of those names that could be masculine, and when I started your series I was quite certain it was written by a man living in Texas. I was pretty surprised to learn you are actually a lady living in (of all places) California. I know you spent your younger years in Texas, but you write so convincingly about a place that isn’t actually still your home. Do you write just from memory? Do you make frequent research trips to Texas?

TS: I think for many of us the place where we grew up is deeply embedded. I do return to the town where these books are set and I always have a strong sense of homecoming. The smells peculiar to the town; the taste of the water; the sights of pickup trucks and gravel and the railroad tracks and the vegetation; the sounds of people’s accents are all familiar. That said, Jarrett Creek is really a town that lives in my head. I first wrote about it in the 80s when I wrote some short stories set there. The town in my head bears a lot of resemblance to the real one, but there are also “convenient” differences. For example, in the book I’m working on now I’ve erected a whole line of homes near the lake that don’t actually exist. That’s the value of not sticking to reality.

MA: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

TS: I’m working on the next novel in the series, set in current time. It has a very dark core. I usually like to add humor into the books, but his one is going to take some work to put in light moments. The last Craddock book I wrote was a prequel, so I haven’t written about Samuel Craddock in current times for two years! I found it hard slogging to get back to things as they are now. I keep wanting to refer to people that were in the prequel, but they aren’t part of the story anymore. It wasn’t a problem I envisioned, and it’s slowly subsiding. The book is called A Reckoning in the Back Country. I’m interested when certain words crop up in book titles. Only after I had settled on the title did I hear of another book with the word “Reckoning” in the title, Louise Penny’s current book. It gives me a chill to think of that word roiling through the current zeitgest and cropping up in titles.

You can find copies of An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Terry Shames comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by James W. Ziskin and Melissa Lenhardt, fellow masters of the small-town mystery. 

Researching the Not-Too-Distant Past: Guest Blog from James W. Ziskin

James W. Ziskin’s Ellie Stone mysteries have become one of our favorite series here at the store, and we’re pleased to say that James will be joining us in person on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his latest, Heart of Stone. He’ll be joined by Terry Shames and Melissa Lenhardt for a panel discussion on small town mysteries. 

Researching The Not-Too-Distant Past

  • Guest Blog from James W. Ziskin

I write the Ellie Stone Mysteries, a series of traditional whodunnits with hints of noir set in the early 1960s. Readers often ask me about the research necessary when writing stories that take place in the past. I always say the research is one of the most rewarding and frightening aspects of writing historicals, especially ones set in the not-too-distant past. Rewarding why? Because it’s fun to immerse yourself in another era, to reflect on what people did, how they did it, and what they were wearing when they did it. But for me, the rewards of recreating a believable past come with the fear of getting some historical detail wrong. And having some gleeful know-it-all point out the error for all to see. That’s enough to keep me on my toes.

But the pitfalls of historical research aren’t really so different from the challenges of present-day research. At least historical research isn’t a moving target. Think about technology in contemporary novels. How quickly the latest and greatest becomes laughably antiquated. And how many fine writers have fallen victim to gun errors in their books? That’s one reason I don’t use guns in my books. Another reason is that I prefer strangulation, a well-struck blunt object, or the smart shove off a cliff. Gravity unleashed, I like to call it.

So how do I approach research in my books? I consult various sources for my information, nearly all of which can be found on the Internet. Newspapers, timetables, movies, television shows, music, and history. It’s all out there. And there are less obvious sources as well. For the fifth Ellie Stone mystery, Cast the First Stone (June 6, 2017), I made liberal use of an online Los Angeles Street Address telephone directory from 1961. I managed to locate the addresses of places important to my story, including one of the early gay bars in LA, the Wind Up.

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Elsewhere, I found the timetable for the TWA flight Ellie would have taken from Idlewild to Los Angeles. A minor detail, but one that certainly sets the scene. Spoiler: she took flight 7 aboard a 707 Jetliner.
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From a practical point of view, I consider three things essential in research: accuracy, measure, and effectiveness.

  1. The historical reference must be accurate or, let’s face it, it’s wrong. That doesn’t mean I don’t take liberties with certain details. As the writer, I’m in the driver’s seat. I can blur the focus or omit outright anything I’m not sure of. Imagine my heroine is driving a car and stops to fill up the gas tank. What if I don’t know which oil companies were around at that time? Well, for something as commonplace as filling up, nothing requires me to identify the brand of gasoline or the price per gallon. Unless I want to make it a significant plot point, e.g. the murder took place at the Esso station or Ellie only has enough money for a gallon of gas..
(A caveat on the subject of accuracy: Don’t win the battle but lose the war.  I sometimes wrestle with historical facts that may “appear” anachronistic to the present-day reader but are actually correct. Suppose I know for certain that the first color television broadcast in the US was a baseball game in August 1951. 1951! I would have assumed later. And my readers might, too. I don’t need any angry e-mails telling me there was no color TV in 1951, even if there was. So in my books, I might choose to avoid the problem altogether and leave out the question of color.)
  1. Measure. I weigh the pros and cons of exactly how much detail to provide. In my research, I may have stumbled some fascinating information that blows my mind. But that doesn’t mean I should necessarily include it in my book. You can easily bore the reader with too much detail that stinks of research. Everything in good measure.
  1. Effectiveness. I sometimes use historical details to create more than just plot points. I can evoke the period in just a word or two. I call these words “madeleines” after the nostalgic triggers in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. If my heroine asks the gas station attendant to fill the tank with Ethyl or high test or Good Gulf, the reader will probably know we’re not in 2017 anymore. And older readers might feel immediately transported back in time. That’s gold for a writer of historical fiction.

My madeleines can often evoke period with one or two words better than a recount of the actual news stories of the day. Here are some “madeleines” that I’ve used in my Ellie Stone mysteries.

  • Horizontal and vertical hold. Remember adjusting the picture on your old television sets?

  • Crackling AM radio. No frequency modulation there.
  • Transistor radios. My publisher inserted a transistor radio into the cover image specifically to help evoke the proper time period.
  • Rubbers. The kind you wear over your shoes in the rain.
  • Party line. Sharing a phone line with your neighbors, not an adult phone sex number.
  • Phone booths. Where have they gone?
  • Silver dimes and quarters and half dollars. They stopped making them in 1964. You can hear the difference when you flip them off your thumb or drop them on the floor.
  • Telegrams. Kind of an old-timey Twitter.
  • TWA and PanAm. Gone but not forgotten.

I enjoy my trips to the past. I hope readers will too.

James W. Ziskin comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest Ellie Stone, Heart of Stone, on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

His next installment in the Ellie Stone series, Cast the First Stone, comes out in June. Pre-order now!

 

Nostalgia & Progress in a Small Texas Town: MysteryPeople Q&A with Melissa Lenhardt

The Fisher King is an involving follow up to to Stillwater, Melissa Lenhardt’s small town hard boiled featuring Jack McBride, a newly appointed police chief in his Texas hometown up a against a corrupt political fixer. Here the battle deepens and continues in an engaging manner. Our Meike Alana caught up with Melissa who with be discussing small town crime fiction with Terry Shames and James Ziskin at BookPeople on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM.

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: Your fictional town of Stillwater faces an issue that confronts many small Texas towns—the age old conflict between maintaining the integrity of small town life and embracing the growth that would generate jobs and income. Was there a particular town that you modelled Stillwater after?

Melissa Lenhardt: A few years ago I attended a Texas historical conference and heard an academic speak about two west Texas towns within twenty miles of each other that had two very different histories. One town was a boom and bust town, whose fortunes relied on the success of the latest industry, usually oil and gas. The other town focused on steadier, slower growth. They never got so caught up in the boom that they neglected to nurture other aspects of their economy.

I thought it would be interesting to explore these two opposing civic ideas in my fictional town of Stillwater. Joe Doyle likes the boom and bust model because he’s gotten rich from it either way. When people are doing well, they use his legitimate businesses. When things are going poorly, his illegal business is there to make people feel better. Being a master manipulator, he uses the nostalgia argument to convince good people to go along with his ideas. Ellie, on the other hand, sees the town is dying, and knows the boom and bust path isn’t sustainable, especially when young people are leaving, instead of moving in.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison

 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

 

 

Mette Ivie Harrison has been one of our favorites at MysteryPeople over the past couple years, both for her psychologically astute protagonist and for her richly detailed depiction of a Mormon community. We’ve selected each of her crime novels as our Pick of the Month, including her latest, For Time and All Eternities, which continues her exceptional depiction of internal debates within Mormonism, as well as establishing her growing mastery over the genre.

We’re excited to announce she’ll be joining us to speak and sign her latest next Monday, January 24th, at 7 PM. Mette was kind enough to answer some questions ahead of the event. 


Molly Odintz: I loved the locked-compound aspect of your latest. What inspired you to do a locked-door mystery?

Mette Ivie Harrison: It was only after I’d started writing it that I realized that was what it was. I had to go back in and add a few details to make it a little more locked, like the fence around the compound, and then I had fun, playing with the more elaborate reasons not to call the police and have Linda be the detective without having to step around an official investigation.

“One of the pleasures and pains of this series is that I get to (and must) grapple with Mormonism now, which means that it is changing every moment and I have to be able to write about that in a cogent way.”

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