A Conversation with DCI Elaine Hope from A R Ashworth’s Elaine Hope Series

Thanks to author A.R. Ashworth for writing this guest blog post, a conversation with his character DCI Elaine Hope. Ashworth will be in the store Friday, November 2nd at 7pm.

Two Faced: An Elaine Hope Mystery Cover ImageDetective Chief Inspector Elaine Hope runs a Murder Investigation Team in the London Metropolitan Police Service. A.R. Ashworth has written two thrillers about Elaine’s cases: Souls of Men and Two Faced. He’s currently working on the third novel in the series. In early October he sat down for a conversation with Elaine. True to form, she took control almost from the start.

A.R. Ashworth: Thanks for making time, Elaine. I know you’re busy with a new case.

Elaine Hope: I am, but I owe you. You invented me. This won’t take long, will it?

AA: It shouldn’t, but with you I never know. Tell me why—

EH: I bet your readers wonder why you’re writing about me. Maybe because I’m so patient and charming. Or maybe because I’m six feet tall and I don’t give rat’s a—sorry, I forget about tender American sensibilities—I don’t give a rat’s bum about how glamourous I look.

AA: I’m certain that’s not why I write about you.

EH: Not bloody likely. It’s because I’m good at catching killers.

AA: Bingo.

EH: You live in Texas but your stories are set in London. You’re a man, writing about a woman. From what bourbon-soaked, cob-webbed corner of your brain did you conjure me?

AA: Some days I wonder that, too. You’re asking me to explain myself. I don’t think I need to; my stories stand on their own. But here’s a synopsis. I’ve spent a lot of time in London, been to the locations in the books, drank in the pubs. Besides a few mystery writers and some barmen, my Brit friends include two retired Met detectives. I got hooked on Dorothy Sayers back in the ‘70s because her writing was richer and deeper than Christie or Marsh. I’ve loved the darker British-style mysteries ever since. And female authors write about male protagonists all the time.

EH: Sayers. You once told me I have a bit of Harriet Vane in me—that I don’t need a man in my life, but I’ll listen if he makes a good case. I fight the male establishment but I’m not Jane Tennyson in so many ways.

AA: I wasn’t thinking of them when I created you. Maybe Harriet Vane a little, with Peter. But as I got to know you, I saw a few similarities. You’re gritty, strong, assertive, but never a bitch. You can be vulnerable, but never a victim. You evolve and learn on-the-fly. You never back down.

EH: You can tie a ribbon ‘round that. What were you thinking, making Peter the protagonist in the first draft of Souls of Men? I’m glad we had that talk.

AA: We? You did all the talking. I nodded and rewrote it, didn’t I?

EH: You admitted it. Peter’s a helluva guy, but it was me you turned loose on the Srecko brothers. Reviewers said Souls of Men was a strong, smart debut. Gritty, dark, satisfying. You can thank me for that. I don’t tolerate violence against women, and you dumped me right in the middle of those toerags. Talk about gritty and dark. One reviewer compared me to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. She said we’ve both seen the worst. You were damn hard on me.

AA: That was Karen Keefe from Booklist. You handled it.

EH: Yeah, the world’s full of surprises, innit? It changed my life. In Two Faced I was set on revenge, running a rogue investigation, screwed up with PTSD. Thanks for Fiona. She’s even more messed up than me, but she’s the friend I need. Barefoot Woman. That was a hoot.

AA: I gave you Peter, too. How’s that going?

EH: I miss the hell out of him. Long-distance affairs are hard, even without a six-hour time difference. He plays Sam Cooke songs to me when we Skype, so I think we’re solid. I just hope he won’t go ballistic when he hears—

AA: Stop! We agreed no spoilers. Can you tell me something about your current case?

EH: The one you’re calling If I Can’t Have You. I’m back from compassionate leave, running a murder investigation team, up to my eyeballs in—say, can you give me a hint about who wants to kill Tessa? Didn’t think so. And I’m dealing with that other, erm, possibly ballistic situation. I have a lot on my plate.

AA: You’re a London cop.

EH: I couldn’t be anything else. People need justice. Need the Met. Need me. Time to get back to the nick. You’ll see me tomorrow afternoon. We’ve got scenes to write.

AA: Yes, we do. See you then.

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Interview with Martin Limón

BookPeople made The Line, Martin Limón’s latest mystery with Ernie Bascome and George Sueno, two U.S. Army cops stationed in early seventies Korea, our October Pick Of The Month.  It starts with the two called to a murder scene on the demarcation bridge between North and South Korea that leads into a mystery involving the South Koreans that work for the U.S. Army. While trying to find the real killer when an innocent G.I. is locked up, they also have to locate the missing wife an officer. Martin was kind enough to give us some in-depth answers to some questions about the book, the series, and the state of both Koreas. Martin Limón joins us Friday, November 2 at 7pm to talk about the book with author A.R. Ashworth and Scott Montgomery.

The Line (A Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Novel #13) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: The Line has one of the best openings of the year.  How did it come about?

Martin Limón: I’ve been to the Joint Security Area (JSA) a few times, starting in 1968.  It’s always been an intense place and there have been more than a few skirmishes over the years.  One of them, the August, 1976 axe murder incident, resulted in two U.S. soldiers being hacked to death by North Korean guards.  Ironically, the JSA is also called “the truce village of Panmunjom.”

At some point it occurred to me that this would be a good place to set a murder.  Of course, I knew who would be going up there to examine the crime scene, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom.  Then all I had to do was decide who would be murdered, what time of day they would be going up there, etc.  Once I had all that I decided to place the corpse right on the most contested spot in the world—the Military Demarcation Line—and imagined what would happen.  Not difficult. There would be an armed standoff; the North Koreans on one side, the U.S. on the other. Sort of a difficult setting for detectives to exam a crime scene but, undaunted, our boys take up the challenge.

MPS: You have George and Ernie work both a murder and a missing person case.  How did you deal with the challenge of two mysteries?

ML: I like plots and subplots, both as a reader and when I’m writing my own stories.  The challenge is to get them to blend together in some way that’s (hopefully) believable and, more importantly, for their essences to somehow complement one another.  In this case I had the Korean Noh family, who had suffered the grievous loss of their son, in the main plot and the American Cresthill family, experiencing the anguish of marital breakup, in the other.  I hope the two stories worked well together. I was actually contemplating a third subplot; that of the Korean-American lawyer, Corrine Fitch, searching for her birth mother. But it was too much for my meager intellect to work out.  Instead, it remained implied but not fleshed out.

MPS: I felt this book looks at women in both Korean and Army society.  What did you want to explore with the female characters?

ML: Military spouses and other family members often feel isolated.  Sometimes physically, as at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert where the nearest town is forty miles away.  Or at 8th Army headquarters in Seoul. Even though the 8th Army Yongsan Compound sat in the heart of a city of over 10 million souls, that city was South Korea’s capital and a teeming Asian metropolis if there ever was one.  Some of the Americans on base felt as if they were floating on a small raft atop a churning sea. And the military expects those family members (which they call dependents), and especially the wives, to follow a precise and lengthy list of unwritten rules.  Don’t ever dare embarrass your husband, number one. Accompany him to the many and varied command social events where you must smile, smile, smile. Volunteer your time to charities specified by the spouse of the commanding general. Some women rebel, by turning inward.  Others act out. I’ve seen it and it is sometimes not pretty, but always very human.

With Corrine Fitch I had the ambition (probably not realized) of depicting the ambivalence of someone returning to the country of their birth but being fundamentally a stranger.  What must that be like? What questions must arise? I didn’t take that part of the story as far as it needed to go but it still intrigues me.

MPS: How would you describe George and Ernie’s relationship with the Army?

ML: Love/Hate.

What George loves about the army is that it gives him a sense of purpose.  A job with a very specific aim: to solve crime and rescue the innocent.

What Ernie loves about the army is that it encourages him to replace heroin addiction with the perfectly acceptable alternative of alcoholism.  As a bonus, the pomposity of the army brass gives him a world of blowhards to rebel against.

What George hates about the army is their overwhelming bureaucratic desire to cover up any and all bad news.  Especially crime.

What Ernie hates about the army is they make him wear a hat, which he believes is a plot to cut him off from the universe.

MPS: Your latest books have been some of your best.  What has experience lent to your work?

ML: When I started writing, over 30 years ago, I realized immediately that this was a craft or sullen art (to quote Dylan Thomas) in which I would always keep learning—and never master.  I do think my books and short stories are a little better now, mainly because of the help of editors and agents and critics and even the occasional reader. Reader complaints, of which I’ve had some which were extremely bitter, feel like a hot needle shoved into a raw nerve.  However, I crave them. First, it proves that the person read and cared about my work. Second, it gives me a chance to evaluate the criticism and decide whether or not it is valid. Usually, it is. And once that needle sinks into tender flesh, I can never forget it. And the next time, when a similar case arises, I’m prepared to do better.

MPS: North and South Korea have been in the news even more.  What should people in the U.S. know about the culture?

ML: Someone asked me if I wrote The Line because the North Korean crisis is so much in the news lately.  The fact of the matter is that I conceived and wrote the first draft long before Donald Trump ever made his fire and fury or little rocket man comments.  In fact, back then when I started no one imagined he’d ever become president.

Since 1953 the Korean DMZ has always been in crisis.  In January 1968 a North Korean commando unit unsuccessfully attacked the Blue House, the South Korean version of our White House.  In the same month, the North Korean navy committed an act of war by boarding and commandeering the USS Pueblo on the high seas. They held the American crew in a brutal captivity for almost a year.  In April 1969, North Korea shot down an EC-121 US Navy reconnaissance plane, immediately killing 31 sailors. And there have been plenty of violations since then. South Korean military deaths, at least back in those days, were common and many of them went unreported in the international press.  The US Army averaged about one American death at North Korean hands per year.

Now these friendly fellows have the bomb.  I, for one, don’t believe they’ll ever give it up. No matter how many bows and handshakes our president provides.

Culturally, on both sides of the border, the desire for Korean reunification is great, and it’s the official policy of both governments.  From what I’ve read, Kim Jong-un’s goal in life is to reunify the peninsula under his regime. To him, mutual nuclear disarmament means that the US would withdraw our troops from South Korea and remove the South Koreans from the protection of our nuclear umbrella.  Once that happened, I believe, he’d feel free to start bullying the South Koreans and use political and military pressure to gain his aims. He knows that if he did manage to reunify Korea, even under such a brutal totalitarian state as the one he now runs, his place in Korean history as a great hero would be assured.

Meike Reviews Jeff Abbott’s latest

Jeff Abbott is a perennial BookPeople favorite, and his new book doesn’t disappoint. Here, Meike reviews it ahead of Jeff’s visit to the store Thursday, October 25th at 7pm to discuss it.

The Three Beths Cover ImageYou know that feeling you get when you think there might be someone following you? You walk a little faster, and then they walk faster, too? And the faster you go, the faster they go, until at the end it’s straight up race for survival? That’s how Jeff Abbott’s latest standalone, The Three Beths, feels. You’ve been warned.

It’s been a year since Mariah Dunning’s mother Beth vanished from their home in Lakehaven, TX,  a comfortable suburb of Austin. The residents there have known each other for years, so Mariah acutely feels the suspicion that’s fallen on her father Craig. One day she briefly catches sight of a woman who Mariah believes might be her mother, and she becomes more determined than ever to discover the truth to her mother’s disappearance. That’s the only way she can prove not only that Craig didn’t kill his wife, but also that Beth didn’t choose to walk out on her daughter. With the help of a crime blogger, Mariah discovers that two other Lakehaven women disappeared recently—both of them named Beth.

In a story with multiple plot lines like this, the pacing is critical and Abbott hits the mark — each part of the story is revealed subtly and at just the right time. That leaves the reader simultaneously wanting to race to the next clue and trying to slow down so as not to miss any important details. And there are just the right amount of twists and turns to keep things lively without going off the rails.

 

MysteryPeople goes to Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival returns to the capitol in Austin, Texas, October 27th and 28th. MysteryPeople will be representing in three different panel discussions and a section of the Lit Crawl. For those interested, here’s our schedule, and you can visit this page for a complete schedule of events at the Texas Book Festival. 



Saturday:

10-10:45AM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crimes of the Centuries with Steven Saylor & Lou Berney

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery will talk with two authors who have created crime fiction plots linked to two of history’s biggest assassinations. With his latest Gordianus book, The Throne Of Caesar, Steven Saylor has his ancient Roman detective, Gordianus, trying to uncover a conspiracy against the emperor during the Ides Of  March. Lou Berney gives us a mobster on the run when he realizes he was an unknowing part of the Kennedy assassination and finds refuge on the road with a runaway housewife and her two daughters in November Road. They will be discussing how their fictional characters interact with real events and how the crime novel allows them to explore history.

8PM Lit Crawl Noir at the Bar (Chilled to the Marrow) at Stay Gold 

Noir at the Bar returns with some of =festival guests, Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, and Scott Von Doviak, joining our regular Noir at the Bar miscreants Max Booth, Mike McCrarry, and ringleader and emcee Scott Montgomery reading their darkest, nastiest, and funniest crime fiction. This will be a part of many Noir at the Bars going on for the weekend across the country and in London for author Duane Swiercynski, whose daughter is going through a bone marrow transplant in her fight with leukemia. We will be raffling off two special bundles of books to help with the medical bills and you can also give here

Sunday

12-12:45PM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crime and Place with Reavis Wortham & Scott Von Doviak

Scott’s back again talking with two of his author friends who use specific, real locations for their crime novels. Scott Von Doviak’s Charlesgate Confidential uses Boston’s historical building for a crime that leads to several others in three separate decades. Reavis Wortham uses Big Bend National Park for an intricate showdown with his Texas Ranger Sonny Hawk up against a passel of revenge hungry villains in Hawke’s War. Both show all you can do with one space.

2PM – 2:45PM at the Texas Tent: Texas Crime Writers with Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, & Julia Heaberlin

Three of the lone star state’s bestselling crime novelists gather around for a discussion with MysteryPeople contributor Meike Alana. She will lead them through the art of crafting a good thriller, the diversity of Texas settings, and cracking wise. All three are great story tellers in person as they are on the page.

INTERVIEW WITH LOU BERNEY

Lou Berney has created a stand out mix of genres in his latest, November Road. The story deals with two people who meet on the road after the Kennedy assassination. Charlotte Roy, a housewife leaving her alcoholic husband, and Frank Guidry, a New Orleans  mobster who realizes he played a part in the murder and knows the mob will want to cut loose ends. The two develop an intense relationship as they head west while Barone, one of the mafia’s most efficient hitmen closes in. We got to talk to Lou about the book and mixing genres.

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: November Road is a unique book. It is a mix of genres set to a particular week in history that one of the protagonist was unknowingly a part of. What was the first part of it that entered your mind and how did you build on it?

Lou Berney: The book started with the idea of two very different lives colliding – a big-city mafia lieutenant and a small-town mother. I was interested by the notion that we all play different roles, and that by changing roles we might actually change who we are.

MPS: Was there a particular reason you made Guidry cajun and not Italian?

LB: I wanted Guidry to be a little bit of an outsider – a little bit removed and more independent than your typical mob guy. And I also wanted him to have the kind of easy charm that very distinctive to New Orleans and Louisiana.

MPS: Charlotte is a different kind of character for you. What did you enjoy about her as a writer?

LB: I loved how Charlotte developed into a forceful, fearless kind of character. It was always in her, but to see it come out as the pages flew by made me happy. And I really liked her sense of humor, which developed over the various drafts. I didn’t imagine that she would have a lively sense of humor when I conceived her, but she quickly informed me otherwise.

MPS: What did you want to get across to the reader about that week after the assassination?

LB: The assassination was such a detonation, a seismic event in American life. Everyone was affected in one way or another, and often profoundly so.

MPS: Barone is an interesting take on the hitman character. How did you go about constructing him?

LB: A lot of trial and error. I didn’t want Barone to be a cliche. I wanted him to be a fully realized and complex character, but also one who is a scary, relentless killer. Giving him his own point of view and a character arc of his own, a key relationship with another character, made him come alive for me.

MPS: What was the most interesting thing you found in your research?

LB: The morning of the assassination, in his hotel room in Fort Worth, JFK casually mentioned to Jackie that it wouldn’t be hard at all for someone to kill the president. A killer would just need a high-powered rifle and a a spot high in a building,

INTERVIEW WITH HELEN CURRIE FOSTER

Helen Currie Foster’s latest mystery to feature Texas lawyer Alice MacDonald Greer, Ghost Next Door, starts with her small ranch being invaded by drones and escalates when a food writer is murdered during the first barbecue cook-off her town of Coffee Creek is putting on and the killer has her sights on her. With her gal pal, Red, she is out to unravel this very fun, Texas-flavored mystery. Helen was kind enough to take a few questions from us about the book.

Ghost Next Door Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: With this mystery, you delve the town of Coffee Creek. What did you want to explore with that?

Helen Currie Foster: The Hill Country is beginning to change, but local flavor remains strong. The landscape itself demands character in the people: they’re either dealing with drought or flood, are either baking or freezing. As Molly Ivins put it, “Texas! –land of wretched excess!”

Bland suburbanization continues its inexorable march west, but people still love places like Coffee Creek: the feed store, the post office where everyone picks up the mail, Friday night lights with the bats darting after the bugs and the PTA frying burgers and selling hot dogs…… AND big sky, live oaks, limestone, and secret springs.

MPS: What I really enjoyed about the book was the relationship between Alice and Red. Where you wanting to say something about female friendship?

HCF: Alice knows she’d never have moved to Coffee Creek, much less begun to belong there, without Red. Red’s a long-time friend who lured Alice (at the lowest point of Alice’s existence) out to Coffee Creek to start over again. Alice loves Red because Red speaks truth, declines to put up with any of Alice’s introverted angst, and honors her own deep Texas roots. Red has Alice’s back; Alice has Red’s. Red’s game for adventure, even (or especially) for danger. She also says yes to frivolity. Alice knows she needs Red. Alice’s friendships with Red (and Miranda) are crucial to her survival.

MPS: Cooking, especially barbecue plays a big part in the story. Did you do any kind of research for this?

HCF: Oh, yeah. A lifetime of research. I’m deeply competitive when it comes to brisket. So competitive that, unlike in Ghost Dagger, where I did share a character’s recipe for Scottish pastries, I didn’t share the character M.A.’s recipes in Ghost Next Door for the dry rub or the mop she uses on her prize-winning brisket, or for the secret technique that keeps it juicy and not burned on the bottom. Like many others, I’ve spent decades pursuing the perfect brisket, whether mine or someone else’s. An all-time best was the brisket taco with the “green sauce” from a food truck on the courthouse square in Fort Davis…EPIC. I will share the recipe for that green sauce on the website.

As to the Coffee Creek Cook-Off, the town adapted the actual Lone Star Barbecue Society Rules.

MPS: One of things that makes your books work is how even characters that are just on a few pages pop. Do you have an approach in writing every person Alice encounters?

HCF: Yes. Even when characters get bit parts, they play an important role in the plot. Alice pays attention to them, watches them, listens to them. She picks up key clues from them. So they must be as alive, as vivid, as any main character—but they have less time to make that impression!

Characters reflect people I’ve met, worked with, been scared of, been enchanted by. Real people. Like the south, the southwest revels in its characters. The guy at the garage, the old man who loads hay at the feed store, the plumber planning to start a commercial venture with marijuana, the clerk at the post office—they revel in their independence, they expand into their own stories, they’re comfortable in their own skins. They don’t try to look like everyone, or talk like everyone.

MPS: As a writer, what has made Alice a character worth coming back to?

HCF: Great question. Alice isn’t perfect. She’s insecure, introverted, critical. And she’s driven. As a lawyer she feels absolutely compelled to finish what she signed on for, what her clients need done. She’s sometimes short-tempered and hasty, because she’s infuriated by people who try to intimidate her or her clients. I admire her strong sense of justice. And you know, Alice loves mystery novels…I have to admire a fellow mystery-lover.

 

REVIEW- NOVEMBER ROAD BY LOU BERNEY

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageLou Berney’s third book, The Long And Far Away Gone, proved him to be a major talent. He took two poignant mystery stories, tied them through theme, and deftly examined his characters through use of the detective story. With his latest, November Road, Berney uses the gangster thriller, tying two souls together through an American tragedy.

The story unravels the week after the JFK assassination. Frank Guidry, a Cajun fixer for New Orleans crime boss Carlos Marcello, realizes the murder is tied to the car he was asked to drop off at Dealy Plaza. Knowing he is a loose end Marcello has to cut, he hits the road to Vegas where Carlos’ rivals may help him.

Along the way, he meets Charlotte Roy, whose car has broken down. Charlotte took her two daughter and the dog and left her alcoholic husband. She yearns to make a life where she is more than a housewife. Guidry offers to drive all of them to California, since they will provide great cover. The situations both are escaping and the time on the road leads to an intense relationship, while a mob hitter, Barone, closes in.

Berney plays the plot, period, and each character like  jazz instruments in a melancholy ballad. We spend several chapters with both Guidry and Charlotte so we understand who they are and where they are coming from. Both want the exact opposite of what the other wants, yet embody that desire of the other. The relationship is both believable and bittersweet. The fact that it takes place during a national tragedy lends to the emotions. it also reinforces the story’s theme of fate. Berney looks at how each character faces fate and asks if it can be shaped. He then has Barone turns up in chapters like a steady beat of death growing faster faster. Berney even creates him with care, presenting something more than just a cold professional killer.

November Road is a thriller that taps into honest emotions that enhance the crime thriller it presents. By tying his characters into the JFK assassination, Berney examines loss, evolution, and human connection. In a way it becomes a reverse Casablanca, saying the lives of two people do at least mean a hill of beans. However, there is still an understanding of needed sacrifice.