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.

AFFECTS ON A BRILLIANT MIND : SHERRY THOMAS’ LADY SHERLOCK

Rachel R., who co-leads the 7% Solution Book Club, wrote about Sherry Thomas’s new Lady Sherlock book and Holmes adaptations ahead of the release of the latest book in the series. 

Sherlock Holmes fandom has been active since the publication of the first short stories. It’s a commonly known fact that the only reason Holmes came back from the dead, for example, is because too many fans wrote angry letters at Arthur Conan Doyle demanding his return. These days, it’s almost as common to see a Sherlock Holmes adaptation as it is to see one of Shakespeare. What tends to make or break a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, in my experience, is not a supposed “faithfulness” to the characters or the cases (though that’s too often used as an excuse for lazy writing), but a thoughtful engagement with the world that Holmes and their ilk inhabit. Take Elementary, for example; many of the cases, if they reference the original stories at all, do so in name only, and Holmes and Watson, though true to the spirit of their Conan Doyle counterparts, live in different places in society. They’re not gentlemen of leisure; the detective work is their livelihood. But what makes Elementary so captivating as a Holmes adaptation is the extent to which the show examines what someone with Sherlock’s capabilities would struggle with in the 2010s in New York City: drug use, mental health, et cetera. At one point Sherlock, speaking during an AA meeting, asks, “Sometimes I wonder if I should have been born in a different time…ours is an era of distraction, it’s a punching drumbeat of constant input, this cacophony which follows us into our homes and even into our beds…In my less productive moments, I am left to wonder, if I had just been born when it was a little quieter out there, would I have even become an addict in the first place?”

This attention to place and its effect on a mind as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes’ is no less acute in Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series, though she still resides in 1880s London. Charlotte Holmes cannot move about society, restricted by her gender, and instead pretends to be an assistant for her recluse brother, the nonexistent Sherlock Holmes. But this gender reversal doesn’t just serve as a story hook, something cool and new and different—there have actually been several Holmes adaptations in which Holmes or Watson or both have been women over the years—but instead Holmes’ gender fundamentally alters the world in which the story takes place. Holmes, no longer the aforementioned gentleman of leisure, desires and wants things from a world that does not immediately provide them: mostly autonomy, bodily, financial, or otherwise. At one point while trying to figure out her financial situation, Charlotte explains, “I do not like the idea of bartering the use of my reproductive system for a man’s support—not in the absence of other choices.” These wants extend past Charlotte herself; she wants that for her landlady and confidante Mrs. Watson, for her sisters, and the many women of all classes that she encounters in the ins and outs of her cases. By changing Holmes’ gender, Sherry Thomas has done something that Arthur Conan Doyle was never able to do: she has made Sherlock Holmes altruistic.

Thomas is well acquainted with the significance of setting in her work. In her romances, both historical and contemporary, the setting often serves to inform the plot beyond mere contrivance. Her young adult fantasy novels, with their rich worldbuilding, still keep one foot firmly in the “real” world, giving each character who crosses over to the fantastical setting the gift of awe at seeing magic for the first time. It is a delight to be a bookseller who reads across genres, watching her become more and more refined in her craft, as she continues to interrogate what is important about stories, whether they be romance, or fantasy, or mystery.

Sherry Thomas will be at BookPeople Tuesday, October 2nd at 7PM to celebrate the release of the third Lady Sherlock book, The Hollow of Fear. The 7% Solution book club (which I co-lead) will be meeting directly before the event on the third floor to discuss the second in the series, A Scandal in Belgravia, before we attend the event together. All are welcome to join, whether or not you finished the book, although there may be spoilers for the first two novels. We usually meet the first Monday of every month at 7PM; upcoming discussion titles can be found on BookPeople’s website here.