THE MURDER IN THE AFTERNOON BOOK CLUB TAKES A FICTIONAL LOOK AT A TRUE CRIME

The Long Drop: A Novel Cover ImageFor October, The Murder In The Afternoon book club will look at one of Scotland’s most notorious crimes through the pen of one it’s finest authors. Denise Mina’s The Long Drop looks at The Beast Of Birkenshaw who murdered eight people around the Glasgow area in the late fifties. Mina takes the facts and blends a fiction that creates something more personal and even darker.

Two of the killer’s victims were the wife and daughter of William Watt who was originally under suspicion. The book begins with a meeting Watt’s lawyer has arranged with Watt and Peter Manuel, a petty criminal who says he has knowledge of where the murder weapon is. He agrees to show Watt the evidence and tell him more, if they ditch the counselor. The two have a nightmare pub crawl that Mina weaves through Manuel’s trial for the murders.

Mina uses both stories to examine moral and social aberrations, delving into media, class, and both sins of commission and omission. Everyone who has read this book has loved it and come away with their own interesting take.  Share yours with us Monday, October 15th, at 1PM, on BookPeople’s third floor. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.

 

IN HER BONES by Kate Moretti

In Her Bones: A Novel Cover ImageI’ve been really excited about the resurgence of the psychological thriller—while I read all over the crime fiction genre, I especially enjoy reading about authentic women trapped in desperate situations (of their own making or not)—but they can occasionally be formulaic. The reader brings certain expectations, and for me those were blown out of the water with Kate Moretti’s latest, In Her Bones.

The story revolves around 30-year old Edie Beckett—a state employee with just a tenuous hold on sobriety and an unhealthy relationship with her brother.  The latter is the only one who knows that their shared history includes a mother who lives on death row, the convicted killer of 6 women. As Edie tries to exist outside the spotlight of her mother’s infamy, she fights a growing obsession—an unhealthy fascination with the families of her mother’s victims. One night she crosses a line and a man ends up dead—and suddenly Edie has become the prime suspect for his murder, with the detective who arrested her mother (and who has taken a keen interest in Edie) hot on her trail. She decides to go underground to find the real killer and clear her name but as she runs into dead ends, she starts to question whether perhaps she has more in common with her mother than she thought, and wonders if she too might be capable of murder.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that you could change your hair color, throw on glasses and different clothes and go underground. I’m also fascinated by the amount of information you can dig up on the internet –it’s truly disturbing how little privacy we have. Moretti takes these concepts and weaves a twisted tale of a young woman trying desperately to escape a childhood of trauma. This was one of those page-turners that kept me up way past my bedtime (but only for the one night it took to finish!)

Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of 6 previous novels, most recently the critically acclaimed The Blackbird Season. Her style has been compared to that of Ruth Ware and Megan Miranda, so anyone who likes the darker side of the domestic thriller won’t want to miss this one.

 

SUPPORTING THE BLUE: REAVIS WORTHAM TALKS ABOUT WRITING, THE ADVANTAGES OF AGE, THE LAW, & HIS LATEST NOVEL

Reavis Worham’s latest in his Red River mystery series, Gold Dust, has the folks who keep the law in nineteen sixties Central Springs, Texas, and their families off in different directions with plots involving a CIA experiment, modern cattle rustles, and a fake gold rush. On October 9th Reavis will be at BookPeople with Melissa Lenhardt (Heresy) to discuss their books, but we grabbed him ahead of time for a few questions.

Image result for reavis worthamMysteryPeople Scott: What aspects of the sixties did you want to explore in Gold Dust?

Reavis Wortham: The initial idea came from the true story of a CIA experiment in 1950 called Operation Sea-Spray, in which a supposedly benign bacteria was sprayed over the city of San Francisco in a simulated biological warfare attack. A number of citizens fell ill with pneumonia-like illnesses, and at least one person died as a result.

So as usual, I wondered, “What if?” What if something similar happened to the tiny northeast community of Center Springs at the end of the 1960s, that complicated decade full of war, civil unrest, and space travel? As in all my novels, I thrust normal people in abnormal situations and watch how the characters respond to an unexpected world of challenges. What happens if someone starts a gold rush in Northeast Texas while at the same time cattle rustlers murder a local farmer in a completely separate incident? How does law enforcement separate these crimes that might be connected?

I’ve heard stories of gold buried and lost in Lamar County, and after the novel came out, I learned of a real gold mine near Chicota, Texas.

So after wandering around a bit with this answer, the truth is I wanted to explore the ultimate question of what Constable Ned Parker would do if his family faces this personal danger from a government he trusts, while at the same time an entire world of mystery swirls around the community. I honestly didn’t know he’d load up with an old friend and head for Washington D.C. to find out who was responsible for nearly killing Top, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Gold Dust (Red River Mysteries #7) Cover ImageMPS: You’re near the end of the decade. How has it affected Center Springs?

RW: Small towns are like small pools or stock tanks, with little exposed on the surface, but if you could peer underwater you’d find an entire hidden world full of beauty and danger. I think of that tiny community as a vortex, the swirling center of situations that involve the characters that have grown through the seven Red River novels. We’re all impacted by our decisions, and oftentimes, the decisions of others.

As I said earlier, the 1960s were packed with significant events that come in from the outside world and involve people who only want to live their lives with as little trauma and drama as possible. When outside influences impact those farmers who live off the land, they respond with force. Center Springs wants to be left alone, but when the world intrudes, it changes the community a little at a time, drawing them into life beyond Lamar County.

The community is scarred from those intrusions, but holds on to the past in many ways, because these were people who survived the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, and are enduring Vietnam. They still raise their own crops, slaughter cattle and hogs for food, and often wear the same style of clothes year after year. They’re hardened even more by the end of the decade, but still hold dear those same senses of family and community they’ve always possessed.

MPS: You brought retired Texas Ranger Tom Bell back. What does he bring to the ensemble?

RW: I left Tom Bell wounded and dying in Mexico at the end of The Right Side of Wrong. Since then, I haven’t been to a signing or speaking event that someone didn’t ask if he was ever coming back. Tom proved to be a favorite character who has his own following and I realized he needed to return from the dead.

He has many of the same moral values as Ned Parker, but he’s darker, more experienced in the outside world, and will step over that gray line between right and wrong when necessary. He’s tough, smart as a whip, experienced in more ways than we have yet to realize, and full of surprises. Tom is that guy who watches, waits, and when necessary, responds in a way that most true Texans appreciate, dispensing justice without remorse, because it’s the right thing to do.

MPS: Ned and Tom, the oldest characters, handle themselves the best. What does age give them over the younger folks?

RW: They handle situations due to their experience as lawmen. The younger characters are on a learning curve, and sometimes hesitate to make dramatic decisions, whereas Ned and Tom will do what’s necessary to protect family and freedom. They’ve already made the mistakes younger people are yet to experience, and operate with that knowledge in the back of their minds.

MPS: You have at least four plots running that the reader follows without any problem. How did you approach those spinning plates?

RW: There are four? Dang. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Honestly, I write these novels without an outline, and simply follow the characters as they stumble through life. When a plot line diverges, I’ll follow it to see what happens. Each chapter is a surprise for us all. I guess if I had to examine what I do, I’ll simply say that by the time I finish a chapter that follows one character or plot line, I want to see what the rest are doing, so I’ll just “change the channel.” It’s satisfying to know that readers can progress without getting lost. That means I’ve done my job.

MPS: Many of your characters are in law enforcement. What do you want to get across about that profession to the reader?

RW: I have a simple philosophy. If you don’t break the law, you won’t find yourself in opposition with those who wear a badge.

Growing up, my grandfather, Joe Armstrong, was the constable in Lamar County Precinct 3. I heard from my parents and grandparents from day one that law enforcement officers were my best friends. I know friends and family members who have been police officers, sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Marshals, and judges. They are all that stands between us and anarchy.

Just look around and see how quickly things can go bad. I support the blue, and though there are always bad apples, or terrible mistakes, these men and women who wear badges have my utmost respect.

 

Great American Reads Discussion : Villains & Monsters

This Sunday a 1pm on BookPeople’s third floor, we will continue our discussions tied to PBS’s Great American Reads. The subject will be villains and monsters.

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery will be leading the discussion along with authors Meg Gardiner, who has created many a memorable villain in her thrillers and Mark Pryor, creator of Austin sociopath, Dominic. All three have listed three of their favorite villains and monsters below

Scott Montgomery

Frankenstein’s Monster- A wonderful reflection of the protagonist and pretty much the start of the man created threat. A great example of an often interpreted monster.

Deputy Lou Ford – Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me is still the most chilling novel I ever read. It is mainly do to the benign way this psychopath with a badge discusses his crimes.

Adan’ Berrera – In Don Winslow’s The Power Of The Dog and The Cartel, he took much of Narco lord El Chapo’s life and created a wily, charming, do-whatever’s-necessary crime boss who pushes DEA agent Art Keller into the dark action to take him down. No villain has manipulated a hero so thoroughly.

 

Mark Pryor

Professor James Moriarty – the finest example of a bad guy so captivating that, even though he was created to finish off Sherlock Holmes, he became far larger than anticipated by the author.

Hannibal Lecter – simply the gold standard for intelligent, evil, and mesmerizingly interesting antagonists.

Anton Chigurh – from No Country For Old Men, great book and great movie. He’s a hired killer, and normally those are fairly uninteresting because they have no deep-seated compulsion or motivation to kill. Yet, Chigurh’s personality quirks and ruthless make him fascinating (to me at least).

 

Meg Gardiner

Hannibal Lecter: So compelling that almost everybody else in the novels where he features simply seems to melt away. Everybody except the heroes, seemingly ill-equipped to counter him, who must rise to the challenge—Clarice Starling and Will Graham.

Randall Flagg: from Stephen King’s The Stand. A handsome, charismatic leader, a ruthless destroyer, the avatar of all cult messiahs who turn out—in this case, perhaps literally—to be the devil.

The shark in Jaws- voracious, relentless, and terrifying, it roams the unseen deep. It’s a primal manifestation of Nature’s dangers, and a reminder that death can rise up to rip into us at any moment.

 

Join us Sunday as we take a deep tour through literature’s rogues gallery.

 

INTERVIEW WITH MELISSA LENHARDT

Melissa Lenhardt’s Heresy is a smart and fresh take on the western outlaw tale. Several different women from several backgrounds escape the lot post-Civil War life on the frontier has cast them and become outlaws, dressing up as men and conducting well executed robberies. Told through diaries and interviews with historians, Heresy is western shoot em’up with poignancy as it examines “herstory” and female friendship. Melissa will be joining Reavis Wortham (Gold Dust) at BookPeople on October 9th to sign and discuss their books. We were able to get some questions to her early.

Heresy Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Heresy is such a unique story in so many ways. How did it come about?

Melissa Lenhardt: The simple answer is I saw the trailer for the Denzel Washington version of The Magnificient Seven and while being impressed with the diversity, I wondered why they didn’t go a step further and include women. Which of course led me to say, I’ll write an all-female version. The long answer is that during my historical research for Sawbones, the lack of historical information about women and their experiences was glaring. I wanted to write a book that compared women’s versions of historical events with the official historic record, and in doing so challenge the idea that women were bystanders and played a very little part in the creation of America.

MPS: How did the choice of using diaries and interviews to tell the story come about?

ML: I assumed I would write the story from one point of view as I did with Sawbones. I realized pretty early on that wouldn’t work. There were too many characters, too many points of view that needed to be shared to tell the full story. By staying firmly in one point of view I would be doing to my marginalized characters – a former slave, a woman struggling with her sexuality and her place in the world – what historians have done with women writ large. So, I knew I had to have multiple points of view. I chose to tell the female points of view through journals and an oral history because that is how women’s history is discovered. Of course, I had to have the “official record” as well, to highlight how the truth of a thing is manipulated into myth.

MPS: Did it present any challenges in the storytelling?

ML: Lord, yes. This book was technically the most difficult book I’ve ever written. Telling one story from three divergent points of view, with one told fifty years later, was a challenge in and of itself. Making sure the timeline worked across all versions, but also allowing for different perspectives, different memories, without confusing the reader with too many contradictions. When I finished I thought, “That sucked. I’m never doing that again.” But writing something that challenges you, that pushes you to your creative limits is a bit like childbirth. You swear you’ll never go through that pain again but then you hold your baby in your arms and think, “Yeah, it’s worth it.”

MPS: I enjoyed the fact that the robberies had more of a heist feel than just running in and shooting like a lot of other western bandits.

ML: Before I started writing I thought it would be more of a heist book, like Ocean’s Eleven in the Old West (this was before Ocean’s Eight was announced as a movie). But, my mood and the mood of the country changed drastically six days after I wrote the first word and I knew that I couldn’t tell a lighthearted story. It just wasn’t in me. There was a moment in time when I thought it was going to be about vengeful women cutting a swath of destruction across the West. That idea was way too on the nose for this era. I found a happy medium, I think, in the final story.

MPS: Were there any books and movies in your mind when you were writing it?

ML: It was pitched as Thelma and Louise meets The Magnificent Seven, so those two, obviously. The Magnificent Seven in an obvious way, a gang trying to right a wrong and the final big battle between the good guys and bad. But, I think Thelma and Louise is the bigger influence on Heresy. Thelma and Louise are running from a patriarchal system that is trying to catch them, to control them, a system that will judge their reactions to assault more harshly than the assault itself. Along the way, these two very different women become platonic soul mates, two halves of the same whole. Neither could survive without the other. Friendship, loyalty, and family in its purest form. I wanted to capture that platonic love with Garet and Hattie’s relationship. Really, the entire book hinges on it. Thelma and Louise is the greatest platonic love story ever told, and I strove to capture that essence in Heresy.

3 Picks for October

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageNovember Road by Lou Berney

After the JFK assassination, a gangster for Carlos Marcello goes on the run when he realizes he played a part in the murder. To throw the mob of his trail, he travels with a housewife fleeing  her husband with her two daughters as cover. Along the way, the two develop a bond as a hit man closes in. Lou Berney delivers a great period crime novel with a poignant story of human connection woven in.

 

 

The Count of 9 Cover ImageCount Of Nine by Erle Stanley Gardner

Hard Case Crime brings back another mystery featuring  private detective Donald Lam and his boss Bertha Cool. The two have to track down the treasures of a world-traveling adventurer that were smuggled out under their nose as well as a few murders. Even today, Gardner is hard to beat for a slam bang mystery yarn.

 

 

Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt

During the 1880s on the western frontier, a group of women escape their lot in life by dressing up as men and committing well executed robberies. A thrilling western heist tale  that explores histories treatment of women and the bond of female friendship. Melissa Lenhardt will be at BookPeople October 9th with Reavis Wortham (Gold Dust) to sign and discuss their books.

PICK OF THE MONTH: THE LINE BY MARTIN LIMON

A sign of a crime fiction series’ maturity is that the stories tend to get looser and in a very good way. There is less emphasis on plot and more faith put into character. The author provides stories for the protagonists to breathe, banter, and live as well as solve the crime. A prime example of this is The Line, Martin Limon’s latest to feature George Sueno and Ernie Bascome two Army CID cops stationed in South Korea during the early seventies.

Limon drops them into one of the best openings of the year. The two are called to investigate a body discovered on the demarcation bridge between North and South Korea. George and Ernie find the crime scene investigation touch and go, caught between the potential crossfire with the North Korean and U.S. Army pointing rifles at one another and the situation escalating.

The shaky political situation hounds them as they try to get proper justice served. They discover the victim to be Noh Jong-bei, a South Korean who is a soldier connected to the U.S. Army. The initial evidence leads to a private, Teddy Fusterman, a friend of Noh’s who was also seeing his sister, something the family didn’t approve of. While Sueno and Bascome believe in his innocence, the army is still more than willing to prosecute, to seemingly cool things down, and assigns them to locating a missing officers wife. The search leads them to the darker parts of Seoul and a possible link to Noh Jong-bei’s murder.

Both mysteries weave skillfully together. Limon places the reveals and reversals like the veteran professional he is and gives many of them emotional resonance. Together both stories give depth and range in the army and Korean society at the time, subtly examining the roles of women in both.

Limon also knows that the main reason we return to these books is because of George and Ernie. He gives them room to argue, discuss army life, women, and each other. We see how each complement the other without over statement and how they’ve developed a bond as brothers for justice in a system that sets that as a low priority. As much as they battle the army, though, it has become their home.

The Line strikes a perfect balance between plot and character. In doing so, it develops themes that are both deep and subtle. The story and the people in it reflect off of one another, creating an engaging mystery with a lot to say about the two clashing cultures it moves in. More importantly, it gives us two heroes we care about and wish we could share a beer with.