International Crime Fiction Pick: PENANCE by Kanae Minato

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9780316349154Kanae Minato’s second crime novel, Penance, already a popular mystery-turned-TV-series in Japan, was published early this year in US markets; from the first page Penance plunges the reader into a profoundly disturbing tale of murder, consequences, and retribution. After schoolgirls Sae, Akiko, Maki, and Yuko witness the murder of classmate Emily, they fail to accurately describe the murderer. Years later, with Emily’s killer still on the loose, the victim’s mother curses them with a need to seek penance for their failure if the murderer is not caught within 15 years, or the statue of limitations for murder in Japan.

As the deadline approaches, each woman reaches out to the victim’s mother with their own complex and suspenseful tales of atoning for their classmate’s demise. Each adds additional details of the murder, in a Rashoman-like series of overlapping and contradictory accounts, to what slowly builds to a gothic twist. Like the status-conscious novels of the 19th century and the wicked works of the 1950s, Kanae Minato’s Penance takes a look at the toxic consequences of obsession with status and guilt for those sins which belong to others, or which are not at all sins.

The women’s stories are presented in a variety of forms, showcasing the author’s versatility in the form and in her character development – a letter is followed by the transcript from a controversial PTA meeting; one woman’s story is presented as her confused recollections given to a therapist, while the fourth woman tells her version of the tale to hospital staff as she gives birth.

Sae’s identity is submerged by her husband into that of a doll, her acceptance of womanhood halted forever by her fear of the dangers maturity brings. The reclusive Akiko views herself as a bear, big and strong, cutting herself off from the appreciation of delicate objects after she ruins a ruffled blouse the day of the murder, and finally achieves her chance to protect the cute and delicate from harm years later when her brother’s adopted child is in danger.

Maki forces herself to enter an occupation she despises as self-punishment for her failure to save her classmate, only to find an opportunity to defend her students against a violent intruder on school grounds later on, while Yuko is inspired by the murder to begin shoplifting, her covetous gaze a theme throughout her encounters with the murdered girl. She covets everything from Emily’s family to small objects in shops; she envies the attention given to her sickly sister, and desires her sister’s policeman husband.

An AV Club review of the TV series based on the novel described the set-up as “pitched partway between folktale and cold-case procedural,” a fitting description for the original novel. Children are metaphorically devoured by their elders, while some characters experience symbolic metamorphosis into animals, objects, or each other. Fairytale monsters (in the form of a variety of damaged men) endanger others, and the women in the story must summon all their strength to protect themselves and others.

Yet Penance is also a modern tale of obsession, status anxiety, alienation, and covetous behavior. Coveting that which others possess drives not only the fourth woman’s desires, but in effect, the entire novel. Characters’ concern for their own reputations, and their jealousy of others’ status and possessions, directly result in most of the novel’s emotional and physical violence.

Hidden pregnancies, loveless marriages, fear of desirability, and fear of loss of status – each character either fears to covet or to be coveted. Some try to impose their own desires on others in the way they want, not in the ways their objects of desire wish to be valued; others run into trouble by accepting the desires of others without questioning them until they find themselves sublimating their entire identities to the desires of others.

Every character is defined by what they want but cannot have, or by what they deserve but will not allow themselves to possess – Emily is named for her grandfather’s lost love, Yuko wants the attention paid to her sister; Akiko denies herself the right to be girly; Maki forces herself to work at a job she hates; Emily’s mother (in flashbacks) will not allow herself to date the boys she likes, instead romancing a boy desired by her best friend; and Sae clings to the innocence of childhood, convinced that it was Emily’s physical maturity in comparison to her peers, not childlike vulnerablity, that allowed her to be a target of the strange man who caused her death.

Immediately after finishing up Penance, I ordered in a copy of Minato’s best-selling first novel, Confessions, a psychological thriller known as the Gone Girl of Japan (despite its publication years earlier). You can read Steph Cha’s compelling review of Confessions for the LA Times here for a better idea of the disturbing depths Minato gleefully explores. According to various reviewers, Kanae is known in Japan as the “queen of iyamisu”, or “eww mysteries,” a new subgenre of mystery celebrating the grotesque and visceral.

Both Confessions and Penance explore the vengeance of mothers and the cruelty of children. Both celebrate female psychosis in a way normally reserved for horror films, and in a way reminiscent of Natsuo Kirino’s chilling tales Out and Grotesque. Those looking for the disturbing, the complex, and the utterly compelling, look no further.

Penance is Japanese crime fiction at its most disturbingly meta – identities shift and change, characters slough off large portions of their self in order to atone for another’s acts, and the fresh mountain air of the small village where the attack took place serves as metaphor for the problems inevitably caused by human nature, no matter how quaint, rural and pristine the setting may be.

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

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Shotgun Blast from the Past: Two from Simenon

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

 

Simenon is my favorite writer to capture post-war European malaise (when he wasn’t banging away at his numerous and utterly charming Inspector Maigret novels), and the contrast between his pre-war and post-war work shows the same loss of innocence and sense of amorality verging into guilt that defined much of European literature in the 1950s and 60s.

I recently picked up Simenon’s The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue) after it had been abandoned by a browsing customer. I felt compelled by this sleazy tale of cheating and betrayal from the very first sentence, as one lover asks another, “Did I hurt you?” The answer may be “no” to start with, but as we dive further into this sordid tale of cheating husbands and wives, it’s hard to believe the answer will remain “no” for much longer.

After a lovers’ chat in a hotel room ends abruptly with the unexpected return of the woman’s husband, the narrative veers back and forth between an ongoing affair between two married people and police interrogations of the cheating husband (as unreliable a narrator as can be). The affair began after a chance meeting by the side of the road, as a man stops to help a woman change a tire, only to realize that when the two were together at school, she had a crush on him the whole time.

At first put off by her statuesque beauty, describing her as seemingly made of stone, the man takes the woman up on her offer to finally kiss him and discovers an unbridled sensuality that both appeals to him and frightens him. Not a first-time cheater, but a first time participant in a long-term affair, the man feels no guilt, only fear. He worries that this time, his dutiful, meek wife will discover his extramarital affairs and put an end to what seems to him to be a perfect life. As we read further into the novel, the police ask him disquieting questions about the nature of his marriage and the details of his affairs, as he reveals all while protesting involvement in an as-yet-unspecified crime.

The Blue Room is as explicit and as menacing as many of the NYRB releases from Simenon, despite its publication as part of Penguin Classics’ reissues (which have tended to concentrate on the Maigret series). It has the feel of a Patrica Highsmith novel; The Blue Room exudes dark sensuality while it pillories the hypocrisy of the 1950s successful, obsessed with the appearance of success while continuing to embrace their darkest desires in secret.

Collectively, his non-Maigret novels are known as “romans durs,” or hard novels, most of which Simenon wrote during the war while holed up with his wife and mistress, and immediately after the war, while still living quite happily with both women. One wonders if he was able to have a reasonably functional relationship with not one, but two women (and any number of others) because he poured out his more sadistic images of sexuality into the pages of these novels. Anyone who watches enough horror films will agree that lust, obsession, and violence, inextricably entwined, make for very good entertainment. I encourage the readers of this blog to embrace the voyeurism inherent in the crime genre and check out The Blue Room, and Simenon’s other sultry, sordid tales.

Chief among Simenon’s romans durs, for me anyway, is my favorite of his wartime novels, Dirty Snow. This novel also happens to be one of the only works I’ve finished in French. Simenon’s deceptively simple sentence structure and oh-so-disturbing themes make his works perfect for practicing one’s language skills, although I am grateful to Penguin and NYRB for their superb translations of his work. In Dirty Snow, or La Neige Etait Sale, the snow isn’t the only thing turned to grey miserable slush – each character was morally ambiguous even before the war began, and in their lives under the occupation, they descend to new levels of compromising behavior.

Dirty Snow follows Frank Friedmeier, son of a brothel owner catering to Nazi officers, after he kills a German soldier late at night and wanders aimlessly through the streets of Brussels, unsure of the meaning of his act but ready to say the literary equivalent of “f*** you” to anyone who tries to stop him. He is the ultimate antihero, and like his mother’s assistant (a former prostitute suffering from long-term injuries caused by a sadistic German) the reader can’t help but find him attractive, even while full of disgust for both the character and his actions. His only saving grace is his behavior after his sudden and unexpected arrest by the occupying forces. He refuses to cooperate, and his belligerent behavior, ruthless and dastardly when it comes to his mother’s workers, turns into something resembling nobility when directed at occupying Nazis.

Most antiheroes are tempered by their love for at least one other person in their lives. Holden Caulfield had his brother, Dallas Winston had Johnny, Dexter Morgan had his adoptive family, and so one. Frank Friedmeier is more along the lines of a Thomas Ripley, or a Pinkie Brown (of Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock) if suddenly in the midst of their schemes and sprees they had been placed in a scenario wherein continuing the same behavior suddenly made their actions honorable.

Frank taps into a vicious part of ourselves that values honesty over morality. He sees his world as it is, not some version of what it could be, and his ability to survive for a time in occupied Brussels makes for interesting fodder in discussing sociopathic behavior in wartime. One has the sense that for Frank, life is filth and always has been, and the Nazi takeover of his nation only confirms what he already suspects the world to be.

Dirty Snow is light-years ahead of the same conclusion’s arrival at the cinemas in the French film Lacombe, Lucien. The film recounts the story of an amoral teen from the countryside who, after he is deemed too young to join the French Resistance, joins the Gestapo instead. Lacombe, Lucien explores the uncomfortable nature of impulsive choices made outside any moral parameters. The screenplay, recently reissued by Other Press, was written by Patrick Modiano, a crime writer and Nobel Prize winner whose father survived the war through collaboration.

No one likes a hypocrite, yet anyone with a strong concept of morality is almost invariably a hypocrite – if we stuck to all of our own rules, we’d live miserable lives full of second-guessing and free of compassion and compromise. Every once in a while, though, I find it refreshing to read the story of a badly behaved character who stays consistent to his lack of morality for the whole ride. The characters in Simenon’s Romans Durs  never change – they merely enter into increasingly bad situations, where inevitable consequences put an end to their bad behavior once and for all.

You can find copies of many of Simenon’s works on our shelves or via bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Riley Sagar

Riley Sagar’s The Final Girls thrilled us, chilled us, and kept us nailed to our seats until the last page. Riley was kind enough to be interviewed for the blog by our new MysteryPeople blogger Matthew Turbeville, who also wrote us a review of The Final Girls.

We’ve always enjoyed the crossover between horror and mystery here at MysteryPeople. Those who’ve finished up Final Girls and anxious for more mystery-horror crossovers, check out our reviews of John Connolly’s works, or our interview with Gina Wohlsdorf, author of the slasher novel Security, for some further reading suggestions.

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Matthew Turbeville

 

Matthew Turbeville: What were your favorite slasher films growing up? What slasher films in particular inspired Final Girls?

Riley Sager: For me, the gateway drug to slasher flicks was Scream. I was in college at the time—which is dating myself tremendously—and a film studies major. So even though I wasn’t a fan of slasher flicks, I was curious about a movie attempting to ironically revitalize the genre. I saw it opening night and was just blown away. It was the perfect combination of scary and funny. I loved it. And I especially loved Sidney, played by Neve Campbell. She got to be strong and witty and smart and vulnerable. I honestly hadn’t seen a character like her on screen before.

After that, I watched as many horror movies as I could, both classics like Halloween and those influenced by Scream, such as I Know What You Did Last Summer. When I sat down to write Finals Girls, I wasn’t thinking of one particular slasher flick. I was inspired by the genre itself. It was my attempt to understand what it means to be that character—the final girl—and how that title affects every aspect of your life.

I will say that a big inspiration was Single White Female. I thought it would be very interesting to take two strangers who have nothing in common other than being survivors, put them in an apartment together and see how they influence one another.

“One of my goals was to bring the concept of final girls and slasher flick-like massacres into the real world and make it all seem believable. That became a bit of a tightrope to walk. Stray too far from the horror genre and you lose that creepiness that makes it special. Lean into it too much and it becomes campy. I think what helps is that all the slasher flick elements are in the past and told in flashbacks. The psychological thriller aspects make up the present-day plot. I think that separation helped me balance the two.”

MT: As a man who writes frequently about and from the POV of women, I constantly fear accusations of appropriation and other types of backlash. Have you experienced that at all? Why did you choose the pen name Riley Sager?  

RS: The pen name was a necessity. When I wrote Final Girls, I was at a crossroads in my career. I had tried my hand at a series of small-town mysteries, without much commercial success. Then I did a historical mystery, which I loved writing and was crushed by its failure. It was either hit the reset button on my writing career or have no career at all. Those were literally my only two options. So I hit that reset button as hard as I possibly could. Now, I didn’t write Final Girls because psychological thrillers are hot right now. I wrote it because I love that genre. I mostly read that genre. I wanted to contribute to it rather than simply emulate it to make some cash.

Yet my agent and I also knew the subject matter of Final Girls and the way the story is told would carry certain expectations based on the gender of that pen name. I’m not saying that women only read women and men only read men, because we all know that’s not true. But gender does play a part in how many people respond to a work of fiction, especially one in which violence against women is a major plot point. So we decided the best course of action would be to take gender out of the equation. Just have a name that could easily belong to a man or a woman. My publisher agreed, which is why there’s no mention of gender in my author bio and no author photo on my website. It wasn’t an attempt to trick women into buying my book. There was never any discussion of pretending to be a woman on social media. We simply wanted the book itself to be the sole focus, not the gender of its author. The book addresses many issues, including trauma, the effects of PTSD and how the media insists on portraying women as victims and not survivors. Those are the things we want people to talk about. Not me. I am literally the least interesting thing about the book.

MT: Did you find any challenges writing from the POV of someone different from you? How did you channel the being of, say, Quincy? How long did it take you to get her voice in order, to establish her frame of mind?

RS: I found Quincy’s voice immediately. Mostly because Quincy and I have more in common than I probably should admit. I was going through a very difficult time when I wrote the book. Without getting into specifics, I’ll simply say that a lot of bad things happened in a short amount of time. So I totally related to Quincy’s anger and fear and loneliness. I was experiencing them as well. Writing her story was also a bit of catharsis for me.

“Throughout its history, horror films have been criticized for alleged misogyny and their depiction of violence against women. I’ll be the first to admit that some of that is justified. But few people ever mention that horror consistently features strong, smart, capable women.”

MT: Have you seen Scream 4? It’s an absolute favorite of mine—Emma Roberts is, pardon the pun, killer—and it’s been argued that the film is the first truly feminist horror film. Would you argue that Final Girls is a feminist novel? How do you create such realistic, well-rounded women characters?

RS: It’s undoubtedly a feminist novel. At least, that was my intention. Throughout its history, horror films have been criticized for alleged misogyny and their depiction of violence against women. I’ll be the first to admit that some of that is justified. But few people ever mention that horror consistently features strong, smart, capable women. That’s why the genre is so popular among teenage girls. They see themselves on the screen. That’s the aspect of horror flicks I wanted to focus on in Final Girls. These fierce women who have survived so much and are still struggling. They’re flawed. They make mistakes and sometimes do bad things. But at the end of the day, they stay strong, smart and capable.

As for the characters, I never once thought of them as “women” characters. To me, they were simply distinct characters with their own personalities, thoughts and feelings. I can’t recall a single moment where I thought, “What would a woman do in this situation?” It was always, “What would Quincy do here? How would Samantha react?”

MT: Final Girls is a fine balance between slasher and crime genres. How did you balance the two so expertly? What elements did you draw from both?

RS: One of my goals was to bring the concept of final girls and slasher flick-like massacres into the real world and make it all seem believable. That became a bit of a tightrope to walk. Stray too far from the horror genre and you lose that creepiness that makes it special. Lean into it too much and it becomes campy. I think what helps is that all the slasher flick elements are in the past and told in flashbacks. The psychological thriller aspects make up the present-day plot. I think that separation helped me balance the two.

As for elements, well, the slasher flick flashbacks feature a group of friends going to a cabin in the woods for the weekend. You honestly can’t get more clichéd than that, which was definitely on purpose. Part of the fun of writing Finals Girls was taking some of these clichés and then dismantling them until they turn into something fresh and surprising. The psychological thriller aspects are also firmly within the genre. Unreliable narrator, memory loss, substance abuse problems. Again, it was an attempt to take these elements that are familiar to readers and then twist them in a new direction.

“…a big inspiration was Single White Female. I thought it would be very interesting to take two strangers who have nothing in common other than being survivors, put them in an apartment together and see how they influence one another.”

MT: In Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws, arguably the definitive book on final girls, the ultimate purpose of the final girl is to live on to tell her legacy.  How do you think that comes together in your novel? What legacy do you give your final girls to tell?

RS: The day Final Girls was released, I gave a shout-out to Carol Clover on Twitter because the book literally would not exist without her. In my book, it’s less about the final girls living to tell their legacy and more about living to give others strength. At the start of the book, there are three final girls—Lisa, Samantha and Quincy. They’ve survived similar horrors and have been treated the same in the press, so you’d think the three of them would have formed some strong bond. But that’s not the case at all. All three deal with their trauma in different ways, including Quincy’s de facto response of denial. So one of the journeys these characters take is learning that they’re stronger together than they are apart.  

MT: What’s next? A sequel? Another crime novel, or something entirely different?

RS: I can say with a great deal of confidence that there won’t be a sequel to Final Girls. Endless sequels of declining quality is a horror movie cliché I’d like to avoid. That might change in the future, but for now I think it’s best to leave those characters alone. My next book is a blend of mystery and psychological thriller. We’re still in the editing and revision phase, so I can’t say too much about it yet. Like Final Girls, it features a cabin in the woods, but under very different circumstances and with very different results.

MT: What advice do you give to aspiring writers? Any hints as to how to get Stephen King—Stephen King—to blurb your book? Surely, that’s a very special club—and well deserved on your part.

RS: Read Mr. King’s On Writing. That’s my first piece of advice. Other than that, I’m reluctant to give too much advice because everyone works differently and has a different journey. My journey involves reading everything I could get my hands on and just absorbing ways to tell a great story. I also wrote a lot, much of it unsuccessful. My past is littered with unfinished novels. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached the 100-page mark only to abandon the book because I had no idea about what to do next. I’ve also completed novels that will never see the light of day. The first book I ever had published technically wasn’t my first book. I wrote two other novels before it that were never published and never will be. I think of them as exercise and training for what came after. Writing is a craft. You learn by doing. That means sitting down and writing something that may never get published.

Despite having that sought-after Stephen King stamp of approval, I’m still not sure how it happened. He was given the book, obviously. But I don’t know when or how or what made him pick it up from the pile of books he surely receives every week. But I’m honored that he did decide to read it. I will forever be in his debt.

MT: It was nice talking to you, Riley.  You’re always welcome here at MysteryPeople. Any closing remarks, advice, or thoughts on Final Girls, slasher films, crime fiction, or writing in general?

RS: Thanks for inviting me. Since I’ve rambled on enough, I’ll simply make some recommendations of things that have recently rocked my world. Everyone should read The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, see Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled and watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, which takes a horrific scenario and makes it deeply, profoundly funny.

You can find copies of The Final Girls on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

 

MysteryPeople Review: ODD NUMBERS by Anne Holt

MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki splits his time between education, advocacy, and reviews and interviews. You can find a full list of his interviews and reviews at http://thinkingandtalkingandacting.blogspot.com/2015/11/an-index-of-my-interviews-with-authors.html. Below, you’ll find his review of Anne Holt’s latest Norwegian noir, Odd Numbers,  a disturbing and timely read. 

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

9781451634730With Odd Numbers Anne Holt has written a fascinating, intricate novel about life in Norway in awful, exhausting circumstances. The book is the ninth and penultimate in her series featuring cold case specialist Hanne Wilhelmsen.

The novel’s action begins with a bomb going off in an upscale part of Oslo, targeting the Islamic Cooperation Council’s headquarters and killing 23 people. Law enforcement suspects an extremist organization is responsible for that and future attacks. That said, they are finding it hard to prove that assertion.

Holt does an excellent job explaining what characters in Norway think about Muslims living in Norway – some are racists, some encourage diversity, and many draw less clear lines.

Interestingly, Holt explains in a postscript that “comments placed, directly or indirectly, in the mouths of extremists on both sides in the novel are slightly paraphrased quotes from real statements.”

This part of the novel was difficult for me to read considering all of the seemingly senseless attacks against civilians around the world in recent months and years. In a word, it’s still too raw.

It probably didn’t help that I finished this book and typed up this review the weekend Nazis and white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Va., reminding us that the kinds of hate Holt described are front and center here still.

There’s a subplot that I prefer regarding solving a cold case decades old, with more interesting characters and plot twists.

I am new to Holt’s writings and would probably have liked and understood some parts of the book better had I read the earlier novels. That said she proves with this book why Jo Nesbo has called her the “godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction.”

You can find copies of Odd Numbers on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor is one of our favorites here at MysteryPeople – we’ve followed his Hugo Marston series from the very beginning, and we’re happy to welcome The Sorbonne Affairthe seventh volume of the series, to our shelves. Mark joins us to speak and sign his latest on Saturday, August 26th, at 6 PM, along with James W. Ziskin and Traci Lambrecht of P.J. Tracy. Ahead of the event, our Meike Alana sat down with Mark to ask him about the book, Paris, his busy schedule, and what’s next. 

 

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: Your love of books (which you share with your protagonist, Hugo Marston) is on full display in the series (titles include The Bookseller and The Paris Librarian). Your latest, The Sorbonne Affair, deals with a best-selling American romance writer who discovers a hidden camera in her room at Paris’ Sorbonne hotel. You poke some fun at the romance genre–Hugo is slightly disdainful towards romance, and is incredulous to discover that many of his accomplished, intelligent friends are fans of the author. Do you care to elaborate on your own views?

Mark Pryor: Absolutely—my position is that a good book is a good book. As such, I hope it comes across as people poking fun at Hugo for being a book snob. I know for a fact some of my readers are also lovers of the romance genre, and just last month I gave a talk to a crowded and enthusiastic room of romance writers.

Ha, but you’re wondering if I read romance, though, aren’t you? Yes, I have and I would. My problem is that I don’t have time to read much, and almost all my reading time these days seems to be taken up blurbing books for other people. That means I have to prioritize, which in turn means I have a giant stack of unread books in my bedroom!

But again, what I’m trying to point out in a playful way is that if a book is good, its subject or genre shouldn’t matter, and yet there are some people who insist their reading or writing are more… let’s say elevated and don’t include one genre or another.

MA: This is the 7th installment of your series featuring the Paris-based Hugo, although Hugo has traveled to London (The Button Man) and Barcelona (The Reluctant Matador). For anyone planning a visit to Paris I always recommend they read one of your books–you so aptly capture the Parisian energy and mystique. Yet you’re a Brit who lives in Austin, Texas. How do you manage to capture the spirit of the City of Light so perfectly? And what’s your favorite spot in Paris?

MP: Thank you for the kind words, I try hard to bring Paris to my readers. To do so, and I know it’s tough, but I try to make myself go there as often as possible. Choke down a croissant or two, suffer through a dozen garlic snails, drag myself along the city’s boulevards on crisp autumn evenings. We all know artists suffer, and as you can see, I suffer as much as any of them…

As for my favorite spot, well, I have several. I always visit the bookstore Shakespeare & Co., and a walk in front of Notre Dame is a must. Other than that, I try to find new places to explore and share. There are always undiscovered cafes and restaurants, little parks and squares and churches.

MA: Previous Hugo novels have hinted at his previous FBI career but we’ve never learned the details about why he left that agency. We learn more about that in The Sorbonne Affair. What made you decide it was time for the reader to learn about the events leading up that his career change?

MP: Your boss. Seriously. That marvelous bookseller Scott Montgomery has said to me since the very first novel that he was sure there was a story behind Hugo and Tom leaving the FBI. I assured him on multiple occasions that no, there really wasn’t.
Turns out he was right.

As for why, I think it’s because I’m always trying to show a new side to Hugo. He’s a hard man to get to know so this particular event gives us a really good look at his psyche, and why his friendship with Tom means so much—to both of them. I better stop there before I give too much away.

MA: Given the complexity of your plots, the evocative Paris setting, the well-developed characters many readers would be surprised to know that you don’t write full-time; in fact, you balance your writing with a challenging legal career and a full family life including 3 young children. How in the world do you find time to write? Do you have to be very disciplined and organized, or do you just randomly throw words on the page when you can carve out a few free minutes?

MP: It’s all about the discipline, filling every spare moment with either writing or something book-related. The way I explain it is to say that I never, ever, have a moment in my life when I think, “Oh, nothing going on today, what should I do?” Ever. Even on July 4 I had to take time to write a couple thousand words in between pool trips and burger-making.

That said, I have no complaints at all. I have a fascinating job, books I love to write, and hugely supportive family and friends (and readers!). So, yes, I’m crazy busy but in all the best ways.

MA: What’s next for Hugo?

MP: I have a few ideas rolling around in my head but so far it’s all a little hazy. More than likely he’ll be paying a visit to Lake Como in Italy, which won’t be too much of a hardship I suspect (for him or me!). I want to develop the secondary plot like from The Sorbonne Affair a little more, the new threat to Hugo and Tom. And I think I want a princess in the book. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

MA: In addition to the Hugo series, you wrote the outstanding psychological thriller Hollow Man. (For anyone who hasn’t read it, the book tells the story of Dominic, a psychopath British district attorney who lives in Austin. Pryor is a British district attorney who lives in Austin. He assures us the work is “completely fiction.” Hmm….) Any plans for another book about Dominic?

MP: Dang it Meike, you know what a sweet, kind, non-psychopathic chappie I am! I haven’t killed anyone for ages and ages, I promise!

Actually, on January 30, 2018, the sequel to Hollow Man will be published by Seventh Street Books. It’s called Dominic, which is suitably ego-centric for that character. This time around he’s set his sights on a judgeship that he would like, but to get there he has to deal with two significant problems: a colleague going for that same position, and a detective who still has questions about Dominic’s role in a murder that someone else went to prison for.

MA: We always like to ask for reading recommendations from our favorite writers. Read anything lately that you want to tell us about?

MP: Oh, good, this lets me have a quick rave about Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, which is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in years. I’m also about to delve into Unsub by Meg Gardiner and Blame by Jeff Abbott. Oh, and the new James Ziskin, Cast The First Stone. Love that series. As you can see, my TBR pile is greater than my recently-finished stack, but to be fair it’s because I’m reading some manuscripts for blurb purposes, and not so much published work.

You can find copies of The Sorbonne Affair on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Mark Pryor joins us Saturday, August 26th at 6 PM to speak and sign his latest. He’ll be appearing with fellow crime writers Traci Lambrecht (of P.J. Tracy) and James W. Ziskin. 

The Hard Word Book Club Pulls Another Score With Parker

The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month to discuss the best of hard-boiled and noir crime fiction. On Wednesday, August 30, at 7 PM, the Hard Word Book  Club will meet on BookPeople’s third floor to discuss Comeback by Richard Stark. 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780226770581The August 30th discussion of The Hard Word Book Club will look at the return of of one of the hardest of hard boiled anti-heroes. In the aptly titled Comeback, Richard Stark (the pen name of Donald Westlake) brought back his heist man Parker after a twenty-three-year hiatus. As the book proves, the bad man hasn’t slowed down.

Stark hits the ground running with the robbery in progress. The mark is a big time evangelist at a stadium revival. Things go wrong, gunfire erupts, and Parker is separated from the money by one of the gang members, Liss. To track down the double crosser and the loot, he takes the guise of an insurance investigator to team up up with the church’s head of security chasing the gang down. Full of reversals, terse dialogue, and visceral violence, this is Parker returning in full form.

Comeback gives us much to talk about. Some of the topics will be how Parker and the books have changed over the twenty years, the series in general, and heist novels. We will be meeting on Wednesday, August 30th, at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. The books are 10% off for those planning to attend.

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

Crime Fiction Friday: FANCY FOOTWORK by Robert Dean

  • Selected and introduced by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

One of the great things about hard boiled crime fiction is it’s visceral appeal. I recently met an author from our home base in Austin, who goes by the name Robert Dean, who has that down. In this take on the boxing crime story, Dean delivers a few fresh takes and a lot of brutality. If you’re a fan of Frank Bill or Benjamin Whitmer, you will like Robert Dean and if the first paragraph of this story is too much, the rest of it will kill you.

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Fancy Footwork

By Robert Dean

A fist the size of a phonebook crashed into Jimenez’s mouth like driver spinning on a DUI. He felt the sting of the knuckles moving past the lips, through the canines and headed straight for his molars. Canines rocked loose in their sockets while blood pooled where the rips of flesh barely held the teeth in place. Goddamn, did this son of a bitch have a punch.

Despite having a skull like a bag of concrete, the strikes Jimenez endured felt like a whole new agony. Defenseless, he sat with his arms tied to the back of a metal folding chair.

Chuckie May, Anton DeRulo’s goon was hard at work beating the ever-loving fuck out of him. Chuckie struck Jimenez like he was living out a fantasy, taking shot after shot, but also turning the event into a strange sexual exploitation as he threw fists into the meat of Jimenez’s core.

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