CRIME FICTION FRIDAY – THE ART OF DYING BY KRISTEN LEPIONKA

Kristin Lepionka got our attention with her debut novel, The Last Place You Look in 2017. Her next case with Ohio PI Roxane Weary, What You Want To See, will be out next month, on May 1st. To get a glimpse of her talent, check out this piece of flash fiction about tattoos and revenge published in Shotgun Honey.

 

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DRUGS, DRONES, & DEATH: A GUEST ARTICLE BY HUNTER’S MOON AUTHOR BILLY KRING

When Hunter Kincaid and her partner, Gary follow the tracks of a single male for miles through the desert, they don’t expect to find the man lying face down with bullet holes in his back and head, and all fired from close range, especially when there are no other tracks, except his for as far as they can see.

They call the Sheriff’s Department and the Sheriff himself responds, along with two high profile passengers: multi-millionaire and former Marine and ex-CIA agent-and current presidential advisor Lincoln Jones, and his second–in-command, Ashton Dean. Jones and Kincaid’s personalities clash, until Hunter hears that the dead man at their feet is Jones’ stepson, Cory. Cory is also a CIA Agent, and was working in Mexico as he and his partner, Art Gonzales, hunt through the unfamiliar terrain and towns to locate a drug ring that uses drones to transport and drop drug loads across the U.S. border. Neither was familiar with the Cartel’s new players or the two-thousand square mile area around Ojinaga, Mexico, and the Big Bend. Art is positive this led to Cory’s murder. Hunter also meets three delightful teen boys she sees flying small drones and they teach her how to fly one, as well as educating her on how many types there are.

The climax to this adventure occurs on the banks of the Rio Grande, where Hunter’s new skill flying drones pays off, while unexpected betrayals bring all parties together for a final confrontation.

 Drones play a vital part in this novel, and the ones mentioned are all real, with some still not released by DARPA(the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), like the TERN(Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), which can take off like a helicopter and land like a plane.

Drones today are continually being modified at a fever pace, much like personal computers were in the eighties. New ones or new variations seem to appear every week, and many are made by individuals—for a myriad of purposes, both ethical and unethical. Cartels are using them, although the use is selective, not widespread as of yet (still more economical most of the time to smuggle things using the old tried and true methods).

Here’s a video of near-future drone capability (it’s also a sales pitch by the company, but is entertaining–and disturbing–to watch) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlO2gcs1YvM

The use of sarin gas, made from castor beans, was a favorite of the Japanese terrorist group, Aum Shinrikyo. On March 20, 1995, they unleashed a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, which partially failed, but even with limited success the attack still killed thirteen and injured five thousand, totally overwhelming the Tokyo first responders and hospitals to the point of incapacity. Today, twenty-three years later, a number of victims continue to suffer physical or mental after-effects of the sarin attack, experiencing complications such as impaired speech, blurred vision and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the unlucky ones are still confined to their beds. There are still over one thousand members of this terrorist group at large, and most are using assumed names and living in Europe.

Other toxic gas such as chlorine can also be used this way. In my Hunter Kincaid novel, The Empty Land, I describe a chlorine attack, and it is based on first-hand reports of actual chlorine-related attacks and accidents. Very nasty stuff, and easily obtained.

SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST- CLIFTON ADAMS NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER

Clifton Adams is one of those genre authors that deserves more of a reputation. Mainly known for his westerns (Desperado, Noose For A Desperado), he wrote a handful of crime novels not too long after World War Two. A great example of his crime work is never Say No To A Killer, recently republished by Stark House on their Black Gat line.
The main character, Roy Suratt, is far from what you’d call a hero. We meet him, executing a prison break, killing a guard in the process. He plans to meet his old cell mate, John Vanci, on the outside. John will pay him and help him disappear if he does a certain job. Instead, he finds Dorris, John’s widow.
The Vanci’s ran a successful  black mail operation in their town, until they crossed the wrong mark. John wanted Roy to take the man out before he and Dorris were murdered. Dorris says she’ll honor their deal. Roy agrees to do the hit only if he becomes her partner in the business.
The book delivers several twists and turns. As in noir tradition, few of them are good for Roy. You know that his greed and lust will doom him, it is simply by what means, a mark, a rival, the law, or the love triangle he develops with Dorris and one of the mark’s wives. You don’t really root for Roy to survive. The suspense lies in how far he will go.

Adams tells this tale in the style of a bad man’s nightmare. It is rich and tightly plotted with a mood as black as a moonless night. Never Say No To A Killer  stands as proof that Clifton Adams was a master story teller, no matter what story he was telling.

 

Guest Post By William D. Darling

There are many mysteries in my first book, Morgan’s Point, but none that involved murder. Two sudden, unfathomable and sickening deaths were a part of the story, but I didn’t focus on willful murder. While I don’t exactly think of myself as a pacifist, I had to overcome some trepidation in my second book, Anahuac, and commit a murder—or, at least, commit to chronicling a murder in print.

Anahuac Cover ImageBut even though there is a murder to solve, in the historic and isolated Texas town of Anahuac (Anna Whack is the way a resident would pronounce it) that gives the book its title, the story revolves around mysteries that may be darker than murder.

Most of us abhor violence. Yet mystery, especially when it involves murder, is one of our favorite literary genres. The “why” of its popularity is not so hard to understand when one accepts that the violence and death in a murder mystery are usually purely fictional. We shiver in anticipation as the roller coaster reaches the top of the hill, because the exhilaration of the bottom dropping out is “safe.” Mystery lets us enter into the violent world of murder without actually being in danger. The journey is aided by the fact that our imaginations don’t—in the moment, at least—distinguish between real danger and the imagined.

Make no mistake, my latest novel Anahuac is a murder mystery, pure and simple. If you liked the Coen Brothers movie Blood Simple, you will probably like Anahuac. The mysteries surrounding the living are as dark and complex as the question of what happened to the dearly-departed woman my readers meet (briefly) in the first few pages.

So, how to write about the murder of a human being by another?

Anahuac is a story told in first person. Jim Ward, the series narrator, is not present at the time of the murder—he’s a lawyer called in to defend the out-of-town stranger who is at the murder scene. We learn the details, through Jim’s eyes, in retrospective interviews and testimony.

Solving the crime in Anahuac does not turn on how the deceased was killed. There is more than one person with the means and the motive to have committed the crime. Anahuac is a murder mystery with a heavy emphasis on multiple mysteries. The perpetrator’s identity—a preacher in a sharkskin suit with a following of evangelicals—is the key to there being a story in the first place; but the murder serves as a vehicle to explore dark questions related to greed, religion, and justice. Without the murder, the other dark mysteries explored in the story would never surface.

A murder defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury’s task of judging the credibility of witnesses is most complex when multiple witnesses in the trial have an incentive to have killed the deceased. The paucity of information about the act of murder is often the case in real life crime. As in life, the jury and the reader are called to judge the credibility of the witnesses in Anahuac.

And to complicate matters, the town of Anahuac is about to be illuminated by the glare of big city television news and newspapers, enticed by the strange circumstances around the case. In 1972 Anahuac was a remote town even by Texas standards. Outside scrutiny of the small town’s justice system puts more than the defendant on trial.

Anahuac puts you in the jury box with a jury made up of rice farmers and the local undertaker. The defendant’s version of the events leading to the death of the victim is sketchy, but he has evidence that points to someone else. If there is a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, the jury must acquit. What if that means that there might not ever be anyone punished for the crime?

I spent time as both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer. Justice is all too often in the eye of the beholder. The rules of evidence don’t care who is guilty. Convicted criminals seldom think that justice was done. Convicted innocent defendants are sure it wasn’t.

I am writing the sequel to Anahuac. The story is set in Austin, Texas in the mid-1970s and recounts a murder involving the cosmic cowboy music scene, politics, romance, and demands for women’s rights. Ah, yet again I am confronted with the violence of the act of murder. I wonder how I’ll handle it this time.   

HARD WORD DISCUSSES EARLY DANIEL WOODRELL

Give Us a Kiss Cover ImageFor our April Hard Word Book Club we will be reading from one of the masters of rural crime fiction. Daniel Woodrell is one of those authors other authors revere. Best known for Winter’s Bone, he chronicles the marginalized in his Ozark home area. We will be reading his first book to do this, Give Us A Kiss.

The book follows Doyle Redmond, a ne’er do well writer, leaving his California wife in her Volvo. As a favor to his folks, he goes down. He goes to his home town of West Table, Missouri, to convince his brother Smoke to turn himself in to Kansas City law enforcement. Instead, Doyle finds his own trouble, when a marijuana deal from Smoke’s “money garden”  goes wrong and Doyle reignites a blood feud with The Dollys, a family of hardcore criminals.

This is Woodrell at his most entertaining. The book is laid back and funny with sudden pops of violence that build suspense into the story the further it goes as it looks at family, history, and literature itself. This should be one of our more fun discussions. We will be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, April 25th, at 7PM. The book is 10% off to those planning to attend.

In May we will be discussing a book by one of Daniel Woodrell’s mentors and friends, James Crumley’s The Final Country.

Review Of Culprits edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips

Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning Cover ImageIt is hard for me to resist a heist novel or film. A bunch of sharp professionals with an even sharper plan that somehow goes sideways can always hook a reader or writer no matter how formulaic. Writers Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips found a handful of fellow writers in love with the big score to give it a fresh take with Culprits: The Heist Was Just The Beginning.

Both Gary and Richard write the first chapter together, featuring a unique target. Hard case heist man O’Conner gathers a group of smooth criminals to steal an illegal slush fund off a wealthy right-winger’s Texas ranch. A double cross happens with the pilot who was supposed to fly them out, leaving each member on the run with their split of the take. That’s when the other writers take over.

Each author takes a character and writes about them dealing with the fall out of the heist. Zoe Sharp and Jessica Kaye respectively take the inside players, the power broker’s trophy wife and her penny-ante thief lover, delivering well executed double and triple crosses that ripple through the book. Joe Clifford taps into the hard fatalism of a classic Manhunt magazine story, telling us the fate of “Eel Estevez.” Gar Anthony Haywood gives another side to the turncoat with “I Got You.” David Corbett gives us a slow burn suspense tale featuring the financier of the heist. Brett Battles and Manuel Ramos also deliver great contributions. Richard and Gary come back at the end with the climax.

The movement from each author’s story to the next is fluid. While each works individually as a short story, when placed in sequence each story shows its relationship to the previous. Since each chapter is from the point of one of the criminals, the various author voices never become incongruent.

Like master heist men themselves, Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips gathered their crew together and pulled off a perfect hard boiled job, though nothing went sideways. Most “shared novels,” even the best, come off as little more than an interesting experiment and a fun way to get writers together. This was the first time I felt a seamless story was being told with one. If I was going to join a gang of criminals, I’d want Gary and Richard to be the leaders.