MysteryPeople Q&A with Reed Farrel Coleman

 

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

In Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest Jesse Stone novel, Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet, the Paradise police chief is mourning the death of the woman he loved, hitting the bottle hard again, and hit with a series of crimes revolving around a reclusive folk singer and the legend of a lost recording. Reed’s understanding and exploration of emotions makes this a stand out in the series, He was kind enough to answer a few question about his direction with Jessie and writing some of the other characters in his world.

MysteryPeople Scott: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you used the previous book, Debt To Pay, to move Jesse more into the realm of the themes and personal challenges you like to write about. Your voice comes through clear in The Hangman’s Sonnet and you are more able to deal with emotions closer to the way do with your own characters. Did you feel more in your own zone with this one?

Reed Farrel Coleman: You know, Scott, it wasn’t premeditated, but I think you’re right. Part of that simply comes from feeling more comfortable in writing the series. After four books, I feel close enough to the characters to have a better understanding of their internal lives. And one of the things I have always said about taking over the series is that Mr. Parker left a lot of room for the people who inherited the series. There was so much unexplored territory in the nine books Bob wrote and the three subsequent books by Michael Brandman. For instance, although the novels are set in Paradise, Mass, there isn’t a whole lot of exploration of the town in Bob’s and Michael’s books. So I had room to expand on that and have, turning a more focused eye on the town. Similarly, there was a lot of room left for me to explore within the characters themselves, especially Jesse. It’s my comfort zone and I have to think Bob would approve. I’ve always said that Ace Atkins has the tougher job because he has so much less free space to operate in.

MPS: In some ways you put Jesse in a place of grieving where you started the Gus Murphy series and Moe Prager has had to mourn in a few books.

What draws you as an author to have them lose someone they love?

RFC: Because I think characters and, for that matter, real people, reveal themselves for who they actually are under the most extreme circumstances. In crime fiction, it’s very easy to show characters in extremely dangerous situations or situations where the cops/PIs/amateur sleuths et al, witness other people’s grief. But I think it’s very revealing to show protagonists in the midst of grief and mourning.

MPS: How does Jesse’s grief process differ from Gus’s?

RFC: Interesting question. With the murder of Diane, Jesse loses his fiancée and the first woman with whom he had a loving and healthy relationship. Terrible. Still, even Jesse would tell you that the loss of a child is worse. In the first Jesse novel I did, Blind Spot, Jesse even discusses it. Although Jesse is knocked off his pins by Diane’s murder, he will recover. Gus will never fully recover from the loss of his son. Never. In fact, the loss leads to changes in Gus so extreme that he begins to believe he is no longer the same person. As Gus says in What You Break about the stages of his life in relation to the loss of his son: “Before John Jr. During John Jr. After John Jr.”

MPS: With the legend of Terry Jester, you have that writer challenge of creating a pop culture character, that everybody was supposed to know, running around with actual artists like Paul McCartney and Jackson Browne. How did you approach him?

RFC: I had a lot of fun with it. I mean, even his name (Jester), was a bit of a wink at the camera and readers. If you recall the lyric from Don McClean’s “American Pie” about “the jester on the sideline in a cast,” you might remember that this was a reference to Bob Dylan and his motorcycle accident. I thought, hey, why not? And I’m old enough to remember that there were a lot of ’60s ” pop stars” that we were sure would last forever and who history has all but forgotten.

MPS: I really loved the character of Hump. He does some bad things but he also acts a little as comic relief and near the end I felt for the guy. How did you approach him?

RFC: Exactly as you have stated. He’s kind of a sweet-hearted buffoon, a little like Lenny in Of Mice and Men. He does bad, but almost innocently and at the behest of people he trusts. And yes, you should feel sorry for him at the end because he comes to the realization of what his life has amounted to. Also, there is something we connect to in someone who appreciates beauty even if he can’t explain it.

MPS: You have a cameo by Spenser. Did you have to keep anything in mind when writing for the famous PI?

RFC: I had to check with Ace to see if it was okay with him and then I ran it by him to see if he bought it as Spenser. Since my books are in third person, I didn’t think I needed Ace to actually write Spenser’s lines. I guess Ace thought I did it well enough. Let’s face it, they exist in the same universe and deal with some of the same people, Vinnie Morris, for example. I think it’s cool that there is some crossover. Now if we get ahold of a literary time machine, we can have Jesse Stone and Spenser help out Cole and Hitch.

You can find copies of The Hangman’s Sonnet on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with William Kent Krueger

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

William Kent Kruger’s latest to feature Cork O’Connor, Sulfur Springs, takes the Minnesota detective away from his usual surroundings as he heads to Arizona near the Mexico border to search for the missing son of his new bride, Rainy. It soon puts him in the middle of different factions along the border. Bill will be at BookPeople on Wednesday, September 13th, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his latest. We asked him a few questions about the book and the change in setting.

MysteryPeople Scott: What was the appeal of taking Cork out of his element?

William Kent Krueger: One of the challenges that confronts those of us who write long-running series is keeping things fresh, not just for readers, but also for us, the authors.  If felt like the right time to take Cork out of his element, to test us both a bit.  The location may be different in Sulfur Springs, but the obstacles Cork faces are not unfamiliar—a landscape that can kill the unwary, forces that disrupt the order of the natural world, and always the question of what speaks truer to him, his head or his heart.

MPS: What do you have to keep in mind when you make your series lead a hero a stranger in a strange land?

WKK: When I change locales, as I’ve done in two previous novels in the series, I know that readers still have certain expectations.  Although the great Northwoods, which is always an attraction, won’t be a part of the story, I try to make sure that the other expected elements are.  Generally, I think readers expect my novels to be about relationships, and this certainly is, as Cork learns more and more about the secrets his new wife is keeping.  Readers expect an issue at the heart of the story, and the conflict along our border with Mexico is front and center in Sulfur Springs.  I think another expectation is that I’ll offer a look at a culture with which most readers are unfamiliar.  In the North Country, that’s the Ojibwe.  In Sulfur Springs, it’s the mix of cultures in the Southwest—Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and, of course, the cowboy culture.  It was great fun for me, exploring this volatile, bubbling witch’s brew of influences.

MPS: What did you want the reader to know about the border?

WKK: It’s a complex situation, but I believe that if we had a more open and accepting heart as a nation, we could solve the problems that affect so many on both sides of the border.  

MPS: Of the different factions on the border, which was the most difficult to research?

WKK: I received no response from the folks who head up Customs and Border Patrol to all of my requests for official interviews.  So I did an amazing amount reading, then traveled to southern Arizona and sought out Border Patrol officers as they went about their duties in the desert.  They generally weren’t excited at first to see me approach their vehicles on those isolated back roads, but when I explained to them what I was about, they opened up wonderfully with regard to the work they do and how they feel about their difficult responsibilities.  

MPS: What did you enjoy about Cork having to deal with Rainy’s history and her side of the family?

WKK: Who doesn’t love poking at skeletons in the closet?  In Manitou Canyon, the preceding book in the series, I set up Rainy’s fears about her past, but I didn’t go into them.  It was fun creating the dangerous backstory of that past, and a delight to write the dance of sharing or not sharing her secrets with her new husband.

MPS: What is the biggest difference between writing about the Southwest and the upper Midwest?

WKK: Trees and water.  When I write about the North Country of Minnesota, I describe a land defined in so many ways by great forests and pristine waterways.  The Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona was such a refreshing landscape to explore personally and then attempt to capture in words.  I was honestly surprised at how what at first seemed nothing but a desolate landscape proved to be a thriving ecosystem, very different from the Northwoods but no less vibrant.

You can find copies of Sulfur Springs on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. William Kent Krueger joins us this Wednesday, September 13, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his latest. 

MysteryPeople Review: THE WESTERN STAR by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Tuesday, September 12th, at 7 PM. We’ve followed the Longmire series from its incarnation, and we’re happy to announce Johnson’s latest is as good as any in the series! 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

WARNING: WHILE NOT GIVING ANY SERIOUS PLOT POINTS AWAY, THIS REVIEW MAY HINT AT SOME OF THE NUANCE AND STRUCTURE THE READER MAY LIKE TO DISCOVER THEMSELVES

9780525426950Craig Johnson understands his hero, the way not every series writer does. We’ve witnessed his put-upon Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire battle depression after his wife’s death, cautiously develop a relationship with his deputy, Victoria Moretti, become a grandfather, and deal with others of life’s challenges, while rounding up the bad guys, all without a false note. This skill is fully apparent in The Western Star where a present day mystery connects to one in Walt’s past, and sets up his future.

The Western Star begins in Cheyenne with Walt and Vic getting re-certified for marksmanship (Obviously, no challenge for Vic). Lucien, the previous Absaroka County sheriff, comes along for the ride, since they are staying with Walt’s daughter and her new baby. Walt and Lucien also have another agenda. A convict has filed for compassionate release, due to a terminal illness. Wanting the man to die in prison, Walt is out to find out about the maneuverings that are making his release possible.

It all goes back to one of his first murder investigations as a deputy. Lucien took him along for a Wyoming Sheriff’s Association meeting that took place on a vintage locomotive traveling across the state, The Western Star. All that can be said without revealing any of the twists or surprises is a murder occurs, leading to a bigger picture when tied to the present.

The Western Star is the novel version of a finely crafted rocking chair – comfortable, sturdy and straight forward, in a way that proves deceptive. It contains a nod or two to Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express and gives that classic a run for its money. Johnson uses seventies references sparingly, yet in an entertaining fashion, so there’s no show-boating in his research. There are plenty of facts that need to be played close to the vest and Craig deals them out at the perfect plot point in a way that is never contrived.

Much of this can be credited to Craig Johnson’s understanding of Walt. Not only does he know Walt, he realizes that after a dozen novels, two novellas, and a short story every Christmas, we have gotten to know him well. He uses it as suspense in the present, given our understanding that our lawman is more interested in justice than punishment, keeping us locked in as we race to discover why he wants to make sure the person dies in prison. With the story on the train, he captures Walt’s hesitancy in emotional manners, less tempered by age, and demonstrates how he started out with the investigative chops we know today, but with a lack of focus he will attain later on.`

It is this understanding of Walt and those around him that make the book work and allow the series to move in a new direction. He picks perfect and believable points to have play against character (try picturing cantankerous Lucien with a baby before reading) and understands the still waters that run dark and deep within them. With The Western Star, Walt’s present and past dovetail beautifully into a satisfying conclusion that sets our hero up for a journey that will define him for books to come.

You can find copies of The Western Star on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Craig Johnson comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Tuesday, September 12th, at 7 PM.

Three Picks for September

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

This month features three series heroes that never disappoint – in serving justice or in providing an entertaining read.

9780525426950The Western Star by Craig Johnson

Sheriff Walt Longmire has to deal with a why-dunnit in the present connected to a who-dunnit he was involved with in 1972 as a young deputy at a Wyoming sheriff’s conference held on a train moving across the state. Johnson tips his hat to Murder On the Orient Express, with a unique mystery that gives the classic a run for its money. Craig Johnson will be at BookPeople September 12th to sign and discuss The Western Star. The Western Star comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Craig Johnson joins us to speak and sign his latest on Tuesday, September 12th, at 7 PM

9781617755859To Funk And Die In L.A. by Nelson George

Hunter D, New York’s security man for hip-hop stars, goes to La La Land to find his grandfather’s killer. It is all tied to the Rodney King riots, gangs, and a reclusive funk star from the Seventies. Nelson gives us another tight, tough hard-boiled detective story that also looks at black culture and the politics of art. To Funk and Die in LA comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

9780399171444Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Jesse Stone’s drinking problem raises its ugly head as he mourns for his murdered love while working a series of crimes connected to a once famous singer and the legend of a lost recording that even involved a Boston PI named Spenser. Coleman takes a look at loss and the human recovery from it while giving us a highly entertaining mystery. Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet comes out next Tuesday – pre-order now!

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD by Attica Locke

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9780316363297Ever since Attica Locke started writing for the hit TV show Empire, I’ve eagerly anticipated her return to crime fiction (while enjoying watching the show, of course.) Her Jay Porter novels, Black Water Rising and Pleasantville, together paint a vivid portrait of African-American life in Houston while continuing the Texas crime writing tradition of featuring lawyers moonlighting as sleuths.

At last, a new Attica Locke book is out! Between the driving plot, the complex characters, and the righteous anger, Locke’s latest, Bluebird, Bluebird, has exceeded my highest expectations. Her latest is also her first to take place in rural East Texas, and her first to be released by Mulholland Books.

When Darren, an African-American Texas Ranger, goes to help out a friend fend off a crazed white supremacist, he faces censure from his department for taking an interest in fighting hate crimes. He’s already disappointed his superiors by attempting to introduce race into the organization’s massive investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood, their tunnel-vision focus on gun-smuggling and drug-dealing a hindrance to any honest reckoning with the powerful prison gang.

After contemplating quitting the force and returning to law school, Darren thinks he’s ready to make his wife happy and retire from his dangerous occupation. When he finds out about two suspicious murders in the small town of Lark, just off of Highway 59, he knows he should move on, but he can’t leave the case alone. A black lawyer and a white waitress have been murdered in a small Texas town within a week of each other, and Darren doesn’t place much trust in local law enforcement’s interest in solving the crimes.

With the reluctant acquiescence of his bosses, under pressure from reporters to appear to be solving the crime, Darren takes on the investigation of both murders. Next thing he knows, he’s treading through muddy bayous and knee-deep in white supremacists and corrupt sheriffs as he tries to solve the two murders before the Aryan Brotherhood succeeds in their mission to assassinate him.

The discovery of the white waitress’ body behind a cafe that doubles as a community space and a safe haven for black travelers puts the entire black population of the town at risk as Aryan Brotherhood thugs try to frame the cafe patrons for the murder. Darren works to protect the cafe and its denizens, while trying to force the town’s authorities to step back from scapegoating and actually solve the crime. Meanwhile, Darren gets closer to proving that an icehouse run by white supremacist meth dealers is most likely the scene of the crime, despite the owners working hard to hinder the investigation.

Bluebird, Bluebird seems to pay tribute to the classic novel and film In the Heat of the Night. Bluebird, Bluebird‘s Northern-educated black professionals (including the murdered lawyer, his grieving photographer wife, and the intellectual Texas Ranger protagonist) all face heightened prejudice from the townspeople inspired by their skin color and their professional status, yet each manages to use that status to fulfill their goals and further the investigation. Darren, like Mr. Tibbs, is a dignified action hero who uses his wits, wiles, and professional skills to shake up a town sick of its own corruption.

As I finished the novel, my mind drew additional parallels to one of the year’s greatest genre films. Like the film Get Out, Bluebird Bluebird uses genre to tackle the horror felt by those who’ve seemingly attained success and safety, but know the difference between life and death is merely the difference between the civilized censorship of the city and the primal hatred of the pines.Believable, timely, and full of outrage – the perfect East Texas crime novel!

Bluebird, Bluebird comes out September 12th – Pre-order now! 

MysteryPeople Review: A CONSPIRACY IN BELGRAVIA by Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, September 5th at 7 PM – the day of the release! You can find copies of A Conspiracy in Belgravia on our shelves starting Tuesday morning, or pre-order now

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9780425281413I’ve seen some fine contributions to the Sherlockian oevre over the past few years of working at the bookstore. In the fiction realm, Joe Ide introduced his modern-day Sherlock, Isaiah Quintabe, in last year’s South-Central-set IQsoon to be followed by this October’s RighteousG.S. Denning showed up on the scene with his Warlock Holmes series, a truly bizarre Cthulu-Sherlock mashup; Laurie R. King followed up on her always excellent Mary Russell series by editing the anthologies In the Company of Sherlock Holmes and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes; Kareem Abdul-Jabar took us on a Caribbean adventure with his novel Mycroft Holmesfollowing Sherlock’s older brother on his first international escapades; Otto Penzler edited The Big Book of Sherlock Holmesa mammoth undertaking from Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; and so on.

We’ve also seen plenty of additions to the field of Sherlock studies. DK Publishing released The Sherlock Holmes Book, a visual and infographic guide to the world of Baker Street and beyond; Mattias Bostrom expanded his already-excellent work of literary criticism From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon for its US publication this summer; and Stefan Bechtel and Lawrence Roy Stains released their new biography Through a Glass Darkly: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Quest to Solve the Greatest Mystery of Alla heartbreaking tale of Doyle’s attempts to get in touch with his son, a casualty of WWI, via seance, this past June. And that’s without mentioning coloring books, children’s books, guides to Sherlockian TV shows, new classic editions of Doyle’s works, or any releases from prior to three years ago.

“In sheer authenticity and charm, however, nothing matches Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series.”

In sheer authenticity and charm, however, nothing matches Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series. With last year’s A Study in Scarlet Women, she introduced us to a series that straddles the line between gentle parody and respectful tribute to late-19th-century writing and social mores, as the observant and rebellious Charlotte Holmes leaves her stifling upper-class family, moves in with the merry widow Mrs. Watson, and starts her own investigation practice.

Charlotte sidesteps social stigmas by pretending to help her ailing brother, Sherlock, with the physical investigation necessary to solve cases, while attributing her success to his bedridden calculations. Charlotte gathers an able coterie to assist her – Livia Holmes, her dreamy sister, chronicles her cases, while she finds assistance in everyday investigation from Mrs. Watson’s mischievous niece, Penelope Redmayne. Meanwhile, the three women tackle the pressures of the London social scene, either turning down proposals, or pining away with the other wallflowers.

Thomas’ second in the series, A Conspiracy in Belgraviais a comedy of manners worthy of Jane Austen and an elegant puzzler that would please Agatha Christie. Sherry Thomas came to fame for her skill in crafting historical romances – a talent that shines bright in the witty repartee and playful skirting of propriety that grace the pages of her second mystery.

Charlotte begins the novel with a visit from Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of her benefactor, friend and sometimes-love-interest Lord Ingram. Lady Ingram seeks information regarding her long-lost lover from before her marriage, who has failed to notify her of his continuing health and happiness, as he has done previously each year of her increasingly unhappy marriage. Charlotte is torn between her duties to her friend and her client, exacerbated by the discovery that Lady Ingram’s former lover is Charlotte’s illegitimate half-brother (and that’s just the first gasp-worthy moment!).

Charlotte faces further complications when she receives yet another proposal from an old suitor, despite her rejection by Society – one who promises to pass along the most puzzling cases he comes across in the Queen’s employ, as long as Charlotte gives up her practice as Sherlock Holmes. Will Charlotte find her half brother? Will Lady Ingram and Lord Ingram reconcile? Will Livia Holmes ever be happy? And what number of chins, exactly, constitutes the Maximum Tolerable Chins so often discussed in the novel over oh-so-British confections?

While readers may get a more complete vision of Charlotte’s world by reading the series in order, I assure that A Conspiracy in Belgravia is delightful with or without background knowledge. Sherry Thomas will be here at the store to speak and sign her latest this upcoming Tuesday, at 7 PM, so there’s plenty of time time to enjoy a long afternoon tea before coming to the signing. We recommend something with currants.

Sherry Thomas comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, September 5th at 7 PM – the day of the release! You can find copies of A Conspiracy in Belgravia on our shelves starting Tuesday morning, or pre-order now

If You Like Louise Penny….

Many of you have already heard of Louise Penny’s impending visit to our fair city – this event’s going to be so big, we’re hosting her outside of our store and over at the Central Texas Presbyterian Church. Tickets are now SOLD OUT thanks to our wonderful mystery community. 

For those looking to get their Louise Penny fix another way, here are a few more atmospheric series, some Francophone and some Canadian, to please the Louise Penny fan who’s all caught up with Inspector Gamache.

9780143109457Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series

Fred Vargas writes the Commissaire Adamsberg series, set in provincial France in a small town that both mimics and parodies the political fractures of the nation. She came to writing from archeology and history, and like Margaret Atwood, her fascination with the plague, mythology, medieval history, and ancient fears has translated into brilliant modern fiction. You can find copies of Fred Vargas’ works on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

9780307454690Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police series

Walker is known for his Bruno, Chief of Police series, wherein Bruno must tackle crimes both petty and perverse while engaging in more politicking than he can stand. He takes plenty of breaks to consume the provincial delicacies of his small French town and meditate on Francophone culture. Fans of Louise Penny will enjoy the quirky cast of characters that populate Bruno’s little fiefdom. You can find copies of Martin Walker’s works on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

the unquiet deadAusma Zehanat Khan’s Community Policing series

For those looking to keep up with the best in Canadian crime fiction, try Ausma Zehanat Khan’s community policing series featuring Detective Esa Khattack and his partner Rachel Getty. The two tackle crime solving in an empathetic, very Canadian way – no swashbuckling, just skillful crime-solving respectful of civil rights and minority communities. This series should please those who appreciate Louise Penny’s series for both its conscientious morality and Canadian settting. You can find copies of Ausma Zehanat Khan’s works on our shelves and via bookpeople.com