CRIME FICTION FRIDAY- AGAINST HIS WILL BY HOWARD GIMPLE

Our final story out of Akashic’s Monday’s Are Murder to celebrate International Crime Fiction Month is Howard Gimple’s take on a piece of London’s shadow history in “Against His Will.” Get ready for intrigue, fights, and someone famous losing an eye.

 

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Meike talks to Martin Walker about Bruno, Chief of Police

Martin Walker’s character Bruno, Chief of Police, is a perennially popular figure in crime fiction. We look forward to each new book, and since Taste for Vengeance is just out, we got to talk with Martin about his inspiration, his writing, and Bruno. If you missed our event with Walker, you can buy signed copies of Taste for Vengeance in our store or on our website.

MysteryPeople Meike: You have an extensive background in journalism.  How and why did you make the transition to fiction?

Martin Walker: I was so entranced by the prehistoric cave art that I felt compelled to write about the kind of ancient society that could have produced such masterpieces and wrote ‘The Caves of Perigord.’ (2002) But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to write about the place now, its lifestyle and the its food and wine and the way the history weaves its way into everything so I began to write the Bruno tales.

MPM: You’re originall

y from the UK but now you split your time between Washington DC and the Perigord region of France, which is where the Bruno series is set.  What was it about that region that drew you in originally and what do you love most about it?

MW: At first it was the landscape and the food and wine and the sweetness of life there, but soon I became fascinated with the history and prehistory of the Perigord, the extraordinary work of the cave painters at Lascaux 18,000 years ago. Visiting the 25 painted caves and the hundred-plus caves with engravings, one can never again think of these people as primitive. Their artistic sensibility is instantly and movingly familiar to us.

MPM: What is the biggest misconception that Americans have about France and its people?

MW: That they behaved pitifully in World War Two. I have learned enough about the Resistance to know better. And never forget that under Napoleon, they took Moscow – something Hitler’s Wehrmacht never achieved.

MPM: Food is an important theme in the Bruno stories, and in addition to being a celebrated writer you have received recognition for your knowledge of foie gras and wine.  Can you tell us a little about those honors?

Photo of Martin WalkerMW: I was elected a chevalier of foie gras by the regional confrerie, which brings together producers, vendors and gastronomes and we run the annual competition to find the best. And I was elected a Grand Consul de la Vinee de Bergerac (founded 1254) by the other Consuls, people in the wine trade, so I began making my own wine, Cuvee Bruno, with friends in the region. I chair the jury of the Prix Rageneau, the regional cookery prize, and Bruno’s Kochbuch,’ which I wrote with my wife for the German market, was awarded by Gourmand International the prize of ‘world’s best French cookbook’ of the year in 2016.

MPM: Food and wine are an integral part of your novels, and indeed an integral part of French culture. What led you to explore the cuisine so fully in your novels? What can we Americans learn from the French in our approach to food?

MW: We all have to eat so we might as well take time to enjoy it and make a ceremony of necessity. It is also a sacrament of community; there are few greater pleasures than dining with old friends and pleasing them with your cooking, even more when the fruit and vegetables come from your own garden. The key is to take your time: think about food, find the best sand freshest ingredients, plan your meal and the wines. And remember the old saying that a Frenchwoman takes greater care in choosing her cheesemonger than in choosing her lovers.

MPM: Can you describe your “dream” dinner?  Who would you invite, and what would you prepare?

MW: If it’s summer and we’re eating in the open air, I’d make my own version of gazpacho from the garden, then fresh trout from the river, grilled with lemon slices, then aiguillettes of duck cooked in honey and mustard seeds and served with pommes de terre Sarladaise, with garlic and parsley and a truffle grated over the potatoes at the table, just before serving. Then cheese and salad and finish with a tarte au citron to echo the lemons with the fish. For the first two courses I’d serve a Cuvee Quercus dry white Bergerac from Pierre Desmartis and then for the duck a Tour des Verdots red from David Fourtout.

MPM: Bruno has a penchant for falling for strong, independent women thus he’s still the most eligible bachelor in the area–will we see him settle down any time soon?

MW: Who knows? He hasn’t told me yet. I keep trying to set him up with interesting new women but Isabelle keeps hauling him back. I learned when I tried to have him seduced by a wicked femme fatale (and he refused) that he has a mind of his own and sometime won’t follow the plan. It’s interesting; he’s more real to me than some of my friends.

MPM: Bruno is a marvelously nuanced character–a decorated war hero yet a gentle soul who doesn’t like to carry a gun, volunteers with local youth, and devotes tremendous time and effort to organizing elaborate meals with his friends. What was the inspiration for Bruno and what is it about him that keeps drawing you back to his story?

MW: The inspiration was my village policeman in France, who may be old and fatter than Bruno and has a wife and family, but the skills and character traits are there. He’s also my tennis partner.

MPM: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

MW: Once I have the book planned, chapter by chapter and the research and character notes complete, I start to write and set myself a firm target of producing a minimum of 1,000 words a day, wherever I am and whatever else I’m doing. For an old journalist, that isn’t difficult.

MPM: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

MW: Write every day, read what you write aloud to yourself and never stop for the day at the end of a chapter, nor even at the end of a paragraph. It makes it much easier to start again tomorrow.

 

SCOTT BUTKI’S INTEVIEW WITH CHERYL A. HEAD

Cheryl Head is a fresh voice whose mysteries include references to diversity and tolerance, in addition to humor and good plot twists. This is all on display in her new book, Wake Me When It’s Over, the second in her Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series.

The new book is set in Detroit as Charlie Mack’s team of investigators is hired to try to head off any attempts at terrorism during the annual Detroit Auto Show. The book is full of rich characters, a good plot and surprises.

Cheryl Head readingCheryl Head is originally from Detroit but now lives in Washington, D.C. Before writing this series she worked as a writer, television producer, filmmaker, broadcast executive and media funder.

Cheryl, herself a women of color, explores race as part of the mysteries, which feature Charlie Mack, who is black and a lesbian. At one point, for example, a character notes she does not know why terrorists might attack but is “glad that Mack woman is in charge of this. Because in America, I know black people have way more experience with terrorism than white people.”

Her first book in the series, Bury Me When I’m Dead, was a finalist for the 29th annual Lambda Literacy Award for Lesbian Mystery.

Cheryl was kind enough to let me interview her via email.

Scott Butki: How did this story develop?

Wake Me When It's Over (Charlie Mack Motown Mystery) Cover ImageCheryl Head: I’m a real fan of the mystery/thriller genre.  I read quite a bit of it (but there are so many good novels I’m finding it hard to keep up) and I love to watch movies/TV programs in the genre.  I lived in Detroit almost 40 years. I’m quite aware of the city’s influence of my world view on culture, politics, social issues as well as how the city has shaped my personality.  There are cultural events in Detroit that have always brought together a broad cross-section of people who live in the region-one of those events is the North American International Auto Show; known by most as the Detroit Auto Show. It’s a big deal in the city…and in the automotive world. Since my books are set in the mid 2000’s in Detroit, I began doing research on the 2006 Super Bowl.  Detroit had a huge opportunity with the Super Bowl XL to promote a different view of the city at a time when it’s reputation was dismal. It occurred to me that the auto show, a month before the world’s spotlight turned on Detroit for this global sporting event, would be a temptation for people who are up to no good, to create serious mischief. That’s how Wake Me When It’s Over came to be.

SB: What kind of research did you do for this book? Had you been to the auto show before?

CH: Yes, I’ve been to the Detroit Auto Show many times.  Growing up in Detroit, it was the place where anyone could go and see the best cars in the world, and dream about owning one.  The Auto Show brings in three-quarters of a million people during its run, but it also feels intimate. You can touch the cars, see the latest concept cars, breathe in the new car smell, feel the power as you sit behind the steering wheel of a truck. I did a lot of online research on what models and technology were available in 2006. I spoke to a former convention executive to hear what goes into producing a show of this scale, and I made a visit to the area around the Cobo Convention Center, the home of the Detroit Auto Show. Cobo has undergone massive renovation in the last five years, but the area around it wasn’t different, and the show’s general schedule, hype, and activities haven’t changed. What was of great interest to me, and became a plot point in the novel, was 2006 was the first time a Chinese automaker had exhibited at the Detroit Auto Show.

SB: The press materials for your book says you often have “themes of diversity in the broadest sense, acculturation and tolerance, sometimes with a bit of danger and always with a lot of humor, food and music.” I love that. Why did you decide to include those themes in your book?”

CH: I believe race and class are still critical elements of the American story.  I’m also an African-American woman of a certain age, and my experience has been colored (no pun intended) by how I am perceived by the people I interact with in life.  I believe my work as a writer is to provide a fuller picture of what it means to be a person of color in America. I have consciously chosen this path, and my goal is to do this without being didactic. I’m also a lesbian and that brings with it further perceptions, and misconceptions, by people I see, meet, and speak with. I know tolerance and civility and empathy are the values our country needs to embrace right now, and I think that comes with knowing, more intimately, the stories of people who are not like us. I’m writing fiction but my characters are composites of people I know or have witnessed. On humor, food, and music?  You don’t grow up in Detroit without having a street Ph.D. in all those subjects.

SB: What made you decide to use fiction as a way to explore these and other ideas?

CH: I’ve been a non-fiction writer most of my adult life.  I worked in public TV and radio for more than 30 years in Detroit and Washington, D.C., writing scripts, news stories, proposals, magazine articles, reports to Congress, that kind of thing.  I’ve always been a storyteller. I was working as a national executive in public broadcasting when Ken Burns produced his acclaimed documentary series on World War II. What I was struck by at the time was WWII stories always seemed to focus on the heroic acts of courage in battle. Of course, those dramatic stories are important, but those were not the stories I’d heard from my father, and others in the black community, about their WWII experiences. Their stories were of faithful service far away from battlefield glory. Their courage was exemplified in their steadfastness and pride in doing a good job in a segregated, and discriminatory, U.S. military environment.  Regardless of their uniforms or ranks, they were often relegated to a second-class status. I wanted to tell the story of black, U.S. soldiers-men and women-whose acts of valor were carrying out their duties under those demoralizing conditions. That’s why I wrote Long Way Home: A World War II Novel. I self-published this book, I couldn’t find a publisher who would take it on at the time. It went on to become a double finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the African-American Literature, and Historical Fiction award categories.

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from these books?

CH: First, and foremost, I hope readers of my books will be entertained. I really do laugh at myself, I don’t take myself too seriously, and I want readers to see and enjoy my writing where it pokes fun at various aspects of the human condition. Not every situation has glimpses of humor, but many do. I also hope to reveal the power of empathy. I often acknowledge to myself that I am writing for white readers. That was certainly the case in Long Way Home.  I wanted to provide an insider’s look at what it’s like to grow up as a black person in rural America in the 1940’s. In my Charlie Mack Motown Mystery Series, I hope I’m attracting a broad audience. Not just readers of lesbian fiction (that’s the primary audience of my publisher) but readers who like a complex mystery or thriller. I want to create a puzzle about how human nature and human frailty can create chaos, and then proffer a world in which an African-American woman can be the protagonist in solving these puzzles.

SB: Can you talk about the work you do around diversity? Is it as a speaker, a writer, an organizer?

CH: My diversity work has changed since I formally retired from my corporate work. Before, I was a regular speaker about the merits of a diverse workforce. I wrote position papers, and funded media projects with a focus on diversity and inclusion.  As a volunteer, I’ve been an organizer and board member for organizations doing diversity work. Now I consult, formally and informally, on diversity activities including writing diverse characters, serving as a so-called “sensitivity reader”, and employee recruitment. 

SB: I understand you serve as the Golden Crown Literary Society Director of Inclusion. Can you say more about what that is and why you do it?

CH: The Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) is the premier, non-profit membership organization focused on supporting and recognizing lesbian-themed literature.  I applied for this position to help GCLS broaden and diversify its membership, and to increase the inclusion of younger, and more diverse attendees at the organization’s annual conference.  I’m doing that by assisting GCLS in identifying new partnerships and advising on internal processes and practices.

SB: How has your background in public broadcasting helped you as a fiction writer?

CH: I had amazing opportunities in public media to travel.  My writing themes are a culmination of my experiences growing up in Detroit, and the insights I’ve gained through the national and international travel I’ve done.  I’ve been in the room, and often at the table, with national politicians, heads of state, celebrities, academics, community organizers, educators, artists, and engaged citizens who have shifted my paradigms, and expanded my interests.  I’ve been on both sides of the microphone/camera in public (and commercial) media but the best part of that has been to sweeten my powers of observation, and increase my intention to be an active listener.

SB: What are you working on next?

CH: The second book in the Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series, Wake Me When It’s Over has just been released and is in launch phase now. I’ll be doing a small book tour this summer. Book 3 in the series is completed, and under contract with my publisher, Bywater Books. It is about an investigation of a series of heinous crimes against homeless people in a neighborhood of Detroit. I’m currently writing the fourth book in the series; it’s set against the backdrop of a grand jury trial.  I’m organizing a dozen short stories –not mysteries — to be published in a collection. I’ve been included in a couple of recent anthologies, and I’ve begun to explore the possibility of re-issuing Long Way Home: A World War II Novel with a publishing house that can give the book more air. I wrote that book five years ago, and I’m still getting requests to read from, and talk about the book. The Amazon reviews also continue to trickle in. It’s amazing to me how much WWII books resonate with the reading public.

Make IQ Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show Summer Read!

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Jimmy Fallon has announced the first ever Tonight Show Summer Reads list! 

On his top 5 is one of our favorite books of last year, IQ. And now you can vote to make it Fallon’s top pick & summer read for the show! Vote now for this fantastic read.

Back when the book came out our own Molly Odintz said, “Joe Ide has turned his childhood growing up in South Central LA and his love for Sherlock Holmes into a unique take on the Holmes/Watson origin story. IQ follows Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) during his teenage years, after the death of his brother forces Isaiah to turn his superintelligence to moneymaking schemes with his street-smart roommate Dodson, and in his adulthood, as he teams up with an old frenemy to find out who’s trying to derail a rapper from finishing his next album. As Ide switches between then and now, we follow Isaiah’s path from teenage mastermind to confident private investigator. IQ especially shines in its moments between characters – IQ’s strained relationship with Dodson allows both the characters plenty of room for growth. Calvin “Black the Knife” Wright, a rapper slowly undergoing a complete mental breakdown, provides some excellent comic relief for what would otherwise be a dour tale. If IQ gets a movie deal, Cal will definitely steal the show.”

Read more about it on our site and vote now!

 

INTERVIEW WITH JAMES A MCLAUGHLIN

James A McLaughlin’s Bearskin is a debut novel that announces the a new talent with a lot of promise. The protagonist is Rice Moore, a man hiding from a Mexican drug cartel in Applachia as the caretaker of a wilderness preserve. When he discovers the carcasses of mutilated bears on his land, he goes up against a black market ring as well as his old enemies. It is a crime thriller rich in character and sens of place packing one powerful voice. Mr. McLaughlin was kind enough to talk about Bearskin and where it takes place. 

Image result for james mclaughlin bearskinMysteryPeople Scott: Rice Moore is a complex character that is full of contradictions, yet I saw a certain moral through line to him. How did he come about?

James A. McLaughlin: When I decided to completely rewrite the first version of Bearskin after a long hiatus, I stripped out all of the main characters but kept the setting and the fundamental premise. For the opening scene I had a cabin on a mountain, a big meadow, vultures flying around, and a formless, faceless male protagonist. I even had this specific image of a vulture flying low overhead: what the guy sees is its shadow, a big dark form coming at him too fast. This happens to me every now and then, and it can be startling. I thought, what if he overreacts to the buzzard-shadow, has a moment of serious fight-or-flight before he realizes what it is? Say he has a reason to expect an attack; something, someone is hunting him. He has suffered some trauma, has done something terrible, and now he’s jumpy as hell because he’s hiding from the consequences. But he kind of likes the vulture spooking him, he sees the humor in it. He’s wry, tough, generous. Rice Moore just took off from there.

Bearskin: A Novel Cover ImageMPS: I found the crime you mainly deal with, bear poaching, horrifying because I hadn’t heard about it. What made you choose it as the crime to propel your narrative?

JM: Actually it was the crime itself that sparked the narrative in the first place. In the summer of 1994, I was about to start at a creative writing program, and my cousin told me this story about poachers leaving mutilated bear carcasses in the woods near where we grew up. I did some research and found out about the black market, the use of bear parts in traditional medicine and cuisine, the money that poachers could make back then. I wondered what might happen if you caught bear poachers on your property. For my first workshop piece in the writing program, I turned in the beginning of a story—eventually a novel—built on the basic idea that hasn’t changed since: protagonist finds bear carcasses, tangles with poachers.

MPS: The book is set in Appalachia. Besides familiarity, what makes it a good setting for you to use as a writer?

JM: I set Bearskin in a fictional county in eastern Appalachia, on the very edge of the region, a place where you can find demographic and ecological mixtures, striking contrasts—there’s a lot of inherent conflict there and that makes for a rich setting. Wild forests shading into open agricultural land and woodlots, bears coming off the mountain to raid exurbanists’ bird feeders, rich and impoverished people in close daily contact. In a Wal-Mart you could easily see a poor but proud mountain family in line behind a lean-limbed horse person whose wardrobe sold on eBay would feed the mountain family for months. These folks come from different dimensions, and you’d find very different stuff in their shopping carts, but there they are sharing the same physical space, usually acting friendly, but the gulf of privilege is breathtaking. In my book, the sociological edge effects show up in different ways. For example, the nature preserve where Rice works is owned by a rich family’s charitable foundation, and there are a lot of blue collar neighbors who resent the exclusion, the very idea of preservation, of removing natural resources from the local economy. Rice Moore is from the outside, from Arizona, and he’s caught in the middle. He has a job to do as caretaker, and he has developed real affection for this amazing forested mountain property under his care, but he also has sympathy for the locals’ perspective. Naturally, he gets in trouble.

MPS: What do think the biggest misconception of the place is?

JM: Probably that it’s homogeneous, and that all the people there are like the characters in Deliverance…or, to use a more contemporary stereotype, that the entire region is deeply depressed and everyone’s laid off from the coal mines and hooked on meth and oxy and black tar heroin. There certainly is a lot of that, and in the more depressed parts of the region I gather those things are indeed tragically prevalent. But Appalachia encompasses a large geographic area, including some mid-sized cities, and twenty-some million people live there.

MPS: As a debut author, did you pull from any authors who inspired you?

JM: Debut author indeed, but I’ve been writing for decades, and a complete list of inspiring authors would be impossibly long! Among contemporary writers, I’m probably most inspired by Cormac McCarthy, though as I’ve said elsewhere, you really can’t try to write like he does. Also Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane, Rick Bass, Edward Abbey. More recently, Tana French and Kem Nunn. I probably pull from nonfiction just as much, from writers who help me deep-dive into the aspects of life most important to me: Paul Shepard, Barry Lopez, Charles Bowden, David Quammen…there are so many.

MPS: Is there another novel you have lined up in the future?

JM: I’m working on two right now, both related to Bearskin. The first, set in the Southwest, focuses on a brother and sister, estranged for years and brought together by a dangerous inheritance. Rice Moore and his girlfriend Apryl Whitson—this is a couple of years before the events of Bearskin—appear in the final third of the book. The second novel I’m working on is a sequel to Bearskin, and I’m still in the fun stage of sketching out possibilities for that one.

Manning Wolfe on Lawyers, Sex & Golf

Local author Manning Wolfe joins us Sunday, June 24th, at 2pm to talk with Jay Brandon and our Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery about legal thrillers. She wrote a post for us about how her book, Green Fees, came to be.

A few years ago, I read an article about naked women on a golf course serving up sex at each hole to golfers depending on their score (no puns intended). A news crew got wind of the event, flew over the course, and videotaped the action. Ironically, the charity event was for the Make a Wish Foundation. The play-by-play has gone viral on social media and been the basis of many golf jokes over the years.

Green Fees: A Merit Bridges Legal Thriller Cover ImageShortly after that incident, a young golf professional was referred to my law office asking for legal representation. He wanted to extricate himself from a usurious contract with a promoter, who was a de-facto loan shark. Under the agreement he was obligated to pay half of his earnings to the money lender. In addition, the pro’s hands were scarred from a childhood accident, and discomforting to look at. Surprisingly, they functioned well and purportedly enhanced his golf game.

About that same time, I met Barbara Puett, who became my golf instructor. Barbara was a protégé of Harvey Penick, both of Austin. He wrote Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book and she matched it with alittle green book, Golf Etiquette. I don’t know a single golfer who doesn’t own the Penick book, if not both. 

The three concepts, lawyers, sex, and golf merged together somehow in my misguided mind, and a legal thriller, Green Fees, was conceived.

In Green Fees, young golf pro Mark Green borrows money from the wrong guy to keep his PGA tour dreams alive. He finds himself in so deep with Russian loan shark, Browno Zars, that he begs his lover and attorney Merit Bridges for her help.

Meanwhile, uncertainty and fear grip Austin as a murderer, who the press labels The Enforcer, avoids identification and capture.

After Merit uses every legal trick in her book to extricate Mark from Browno’s grip, she becomes a target of Browno. Merit awakens to find herself hanging from a meat hook in an Austin warehouse and staring into the face of evil.

What unfolds is a story of deceit and betrayal as the identity of The Enforcer is revealed. Merit must then outwit the sinister and dangerous adversary to save herself from torture and certain death.

In the tradition of Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, a Poirot mystery, Harlan Coben’s Back Spin, and Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, Green Fees takes place around the world of golf, but is not a golf mystery. It’s a legal thriller, an Austin mystery, and a cautionary tale about trust.

This week, I saw a news article about Whataburger serving hamburgers on tortillas because of the delivery of bad buns by suppliers.

I remembered a legal case in my office involving swans that had invaded an apartment swimming pool causing a lawsuit with the next-door neighbors.

I saw a graffiti artist being arrested near the South Lamar railroad tracks, carrying a bag of paint cans.

After a little contemplation, I wonder what my misguided mind might do with all that. Buns, Birds, and Body Bags?

Manning Wolfe, an award-winning author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas, writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. Her series features Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges. As a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peak into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.