REVIEW: ADRENALINE JUNKIE BY LES EDGERTON

When Les Edgerton asked if I wanted to read his memoir, Adrenaline Junkie, I jumped at the chance. The several times I’ve hung out with Les have always been entertaining, partially due to the stories he has told of his outlaw life. I strapped myself in for several wild rides when I opened the book, but even knowing what a master story teller he is, I didn’t expect the journey he took me on.

Adrenaline Junkie: A Memoir Cover ImageWe start out with anecdotes from a Huck Finn-style childhood in postwar Texas. Most of it was under the eye of his grandmother, a tough business woman who had as much affect on him as his parents. One of the first heart breaking moments is when his family has to move away from her.

After some time in the Navy that included a tryst with future international sex goddess Brit Eklund, and college, Les fell into a life of crime with very little need for encouragement. Some involved drugs, but most involved theft. Many of these recollections are funny, like robbing a laundromat, knowing a patrol car is out front, and a shoot out during a heist that has an only-in-real-life twist. Les and his cohorts are far from master criminals. They are mainly guys who don’t want to grow up, feeling that luck is in their favor.

Luck finally runs out and Les finds himself in the prison system. He avoids both portraying his incarceration with macho bluster or overselling the horror of the place. He presents it as existing in a society where both routine and adaptation become a daily part of life.

His avoidance of over dramatization is never more apparent than in the chapter he devotes to being raped by a fellow inmate. Just by recalling the the details he remembers and the feelings he had at the time, Les knows this moment is harrowing enough. He perfectly balances the personal and the subjective as we get the feeling that he is still processing the crime after all these years. By avoiding any grand declarations, he neither belittles the violation or other victims of it.

What completely floored me was how the wildest and most adrenaline fueled parts of Les’s life came in the 80’s as hairdresser who put Warren Beatty’s Shampoo character to shame. Learning the trade in prison, Les built a salon and a national name for himself in the business. The money and success bought him a life of sex, drugs, and dangerous romances that almost put him back behind bars. Les allows you  to laugh at many of these harrowing moments and feel happy they didn’t happen to you.

This part of the book, of bouncing between successful businessman and self-destructive hedonist, becomes more vivid since it embodies the theme Les seems to be writing toward. If there is an antagonist in Adrenaline Junkie, it is boredom. Les is often searching for peace then screwing  it up. His goal is to find grace, but the temptation of chaos constantly knocks at the door. It also reflects his life as writer, working to find order within those experiences. We root for Les, like we would a fictional character, for him to finally get it right, mainly because this colorful life  eventually becomes exhausting.

For a memoir to work, the writer must not only have a life worth writing about, but he must know how to examine it. Les Edgerton seems to be as astonished as we are sometimes, with bemused asides at many of its darker moments. He makes no excuses. If he holds himself up as anything, it’s as a survivor, mainly of himself. He gives us no moral to the story of his life, but shows us how he finally found his grace. As a friend, I’m happy he came out the other side. As a reader, I’m glad he lived to tell the tale.

Interview with Nancy Boyarsky on writing in the #metoo era & more

Liar Liar: A Nicole Graves Mystery (Nicole Graves Mysteries) Cover ImageFor her third mystery novel featuring protagonist Nicole Graves, Nancy Boyarsky has written an intriguing thriller that turns what could have been a predictable #metoo movement novel on its head.

In Liar Liar, Nicole is tasked with babysitting a witness who has accused a university’s star quarterback of rape. While the witness, Mary Ellen Barnes, has come off as squeaky clean in public, Graves quickly sees that things are not as they seem.

Soon Mary Ellen goes missing and Nicole, over the objections of her fiancé, gets increasingly in the middle of the case. And then a key figure in the story dies. What follows are twists and more twists.

Boyarsky coauthored Backroom Politics with her husband, journalist Bill Boyarsky, as well as several textbooks by herself on the justice system as well as writing articles of many publications.

She is currently working on her fourth mystery about Nicole in addition to a memoir about growing up in Oakland called Family Recipes for Gastroenteritis.

Scott: Where did this story come from and how did it develop?

Nancy: The plot of Liar Liar involves a rape trial that becomes a murder trial. The idea came to me long before #Metoo got rolling. I started thinking about it three or four years ago when a close friend of mine, who’s a private detective, told me about a rape case at a local college. She’d been hired by the college to interview everyone who had knowledge of the incident and write a report without drawing any conclusions. Normally, her cases are confidential, but someone leaked the report online, and Esquire ran an article about it. It involved two very drunk 19-year-olds, and the fallout from their encounter was pretty interesting. It got me thinking about how difficult it is to determine who’s the responsible party in a “she said, he said” situation.

Of course, I had to change all of the circumstances, since I wouldn’t have had a murder mystery without a dead body. In the real-life case, the parties seemed to be traumatized but no one died. I also changed the locale, setting the college in Malibu rather than in urban L.A.

Scott: How did you create and develop the protagonist, Nicole Graves, for this series?

Nancy: When I wrote the first book, The Swap, I wanted to create a main character who was smart, likeable, curious and doggedly persistent. I’ve read too many books featuring detectives who are emotionally damaged; it almost seems a requirement for this type of character. I wanted my heroine to be a normal, reasonably well-adjusted person. As I went through innumerable rewrites of The Swap, Nicole emerged.

Scott: How would you describe her?

Nancy: As I said, she’s smart, likeable, and doggedly persistent. She’s curious about the people she meets and wants to know everything about them, which is probably one of the traits made her become an investigator. She’s also petite and sweetly pretty with dimples. This bothers her. She feels that some people don’t take her seriously because of her looks. But sometimes it’s an advantage to people have underestimate you.

Most importantly, Nicole is a risk taker, and wants to make sure justice is served. She can’t bear standing by and watching when she knows someone has unjustly been accused of a crime or when the guilty party gets away, leaving an innocent person to take the blame. Oh, and she’s also a romantic. She’s has fallen in and out of love a few times during these stories.

Scott: In what ways are you like her? In what ways are you different from her?

Nancy: Well, I’m certainly not as brave as she is, and I wouldn’t call myself a risk taker. On the other hand, I do share her curiosity about people—what makes them tick, their secrets, their hopes and dreams. I share her desire to see justice done. I’m also petite and (while I don’t have dimples) have a benign appearance that sometimes makes people underestimate me.

Scott: I bet you thought about the #Metoo movement while writing this book in which a character accuses a well known person of rape. What are some thoughts you have about the movement?

Nancy: I’m a big supporter of #Metoo, and it was a lucky coincidence that Liar Liar was published as this movement was snowballing. I don’t know any woman who hasn’t been harassed or sexually victimized at some point in her life. I can remember being a teenager walking down the street and getting cat calls from, for example, construction workers. This was embarrassing and upsetting. But so many much worse things happen to women on a daily basis. It’s good that women are able to come forward and confront abusers about what they’ve done. On the other hand, we have to be careful not to get carried away. For example, there was the woman who anonymously denounced the stand-up comic Aziz Ansari for what many would call a bad date. I thought that was going too far.

In Liar Liar, the story the victim tells is not really what happened. She has been sexually victimized and exploited, just not in the way she says. And the man who’s wrongly accused isn’t completely innocent. But cases like this rarely happen. I believe the vast majority of victims are telling the truth. According to the National Institute of Justice, most rapes, attempted rapes, and other sexual assaults are never reported. Why not? The institute referred to a study that gave a number of reasons: self blame, shame, fear of the perpetrator, fear of not being believed, and lack of trust in the justice system.

Scott: So this is the third in your series — should readers start with the first book or is it okay to start with this one?

Nancy: You don’t have to start with the first one at all. Each book stands on its own. If anything happens that refers back to an event in one of the earlier books, I give a brief explanation.

I wrote the first book, The Swap, as a stand-alone; I had no intention of basing a series on Nicole Graves. When it was done, I’d left a lot hanging in the air. By this time, Nicole seemed almost real to me. I started wondering what would happen to her next. As I thought about it, my second book, The Bequest, began to take shape.

Scott: I understand at one point you were the associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer magazine. Did that help with writing about lawyers in this book?

Nancy: One of things I always had to offer employers was my ability to translate legalize and legislative language into plain, simple terms that the average reader could understand. So, I guess my experience with L.A. Lawyer helped me out there. I did the same kind of work at ARCO, where I was director of communications for political affairs for many years, mostly writing about legislative proposals that affected the oil industry. But my main resource for the workings of the justice system in Liar Liar was my brother-in-law, Jeff Boyarsky, who is a newly retired criminal-defense attorney. I was always asking him questions about what would happen before and during the trials in the book.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Nancy: I hope they’ll be entertained and that the book will take them out of their world for a while. It would also be good if the book could enlighten them a bit about the legal process and what participants in such trials go through.

Scott: How did you research this book?

Nancy: For quick facts, for example how a particular gun would behave in Nicole’s hands, I used Google. The internet makes this kind of research very easy. In the dark ages before the web, I was a freelance writer. To get information, I had to make a lot of phone calls, spend time in libraries, become an expert at using The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and looking at newspaper microfilms. Yikes! That was a lot of work.

For Nicole’s adventures, I have two main experts I rely on—my lawyer brother-in-law and my friend who’s a private detective. They answer questions as I go along and read the manuscript when it’s done.

Scott: How far out have you planned this series?

Nancy: Not at all. I’m just finishing up Book 4, The Ransom, which is due at my publishers on January 10th and will be released next September. I’m thinking that book 5 should take Nicole to Europe. Maybe London again, which was the setting of The Swap.  I know the city pretty well from our visits there. Or maybe Italy or France. I don’t even plan the book I’m working on advance. I just develop it as I go along. While preoccupied with that, it’s impossible to think about what will be in the next book.

 

REVIEW OF IN THE GALWAY SILENCE BY KEN BRUEN

In The Galway Silence is the first book in the Jack Taylor series–it’s a follow up to “The Emerald Trilogy” where the character was involved with a Gaelic femme fatale. We find the semi-functioning Irish “finder” picking up the pieces that Emerald left in her wake in a life that is different. As dark as those three books were, Bruen finds ways to take Jack and the reader further down into the abyss.

In the Galway Silence Cover ImageYou know it is going to be dark when Jack tells you he has found a good point in his life. An inheritance has him flush and he is in a stable relationship. Saving a drowning man and being asked of two things puts him on his new road to Hell. An Irish version of the Trump brothers are drowned and their father wants to hire Jack to locate the killer. He refuses, but finds himself drawn into the case. His girlfriend asks him to look after her bratty son while she is in America for a couple weeks. These events and the return of a lover from the past tie Jack to a killer who calls himself Silence and makes him an opponent in a dark chess game.

Bruen uses the idea of silence as a dual theme. One is the quiet life that Jack struggles to attain, particularly after the chaos with Emerald. Jack follows current events as much as his case, connecting it to our own need for solace from the noise of a Brexit/Trump world. Silence also expresses the death that circles around Taylor as events close in. One great example is Bruen’s use of one small sentence after long rambling paragraph describing the day he spent with someone he gets to know and love. That sentence makes it clear there will never be another day they’ll have.

Bruen follows Taylor as someone attempting to retreat from the damage he’s been a part of. The only problem is, it keeps coming. He wonders if he is drawn to it, his penchant for self destruction only destroying others. He struggles to find a way to connect with anyone if fate always forces him to tap into the darkest part of himself.

In The Galway Silence is both Ken Bruen and The Jack Taylor series at it’s best. Bruen examines his hero and his city with a styles that cuts to the marrow of both. Jack Taylor may not always be a likable character, but we wouldn’t like him any other way.

 

SCOTT BUTKI’S INTERVIEW WITH ALAFAIR BURKE

You Don't Own Me (An Under Suspicion Novel) Cover ImageMary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke have joined forces again for a new book in their Under Suspicion series, You Don’t Own Me.

Longtime mystery writer Clark has joined with younger writer Burke in this series about television producer Laurie Moron who has a television show to solve murders.

With this latest book, Laurie Moran is trying to solve a celebrity doctor’s murder while a mysterious person stalks her. The doctor’s wife, Kendra, is the one under suspicion and acting strangely. The show is her chance to explain herself… and hopefully find the real killer, if it’s not her.

I previously interviewed both writers for The Cinderella Murder, the first in the series. This time I was lucky enough to be able to interview Alafair, who was written some excellent novels on her own.

Scott Butki: How did the story for You Don’t Own Me come together? Was it an idea you had or Mary had?

Alafair Burke: We came up with every aspect of this book together.  We talked through various character and plot ideas we had been playing with individually and wove them together into a single story.

Scott: How would you describe the character, Kendra, who is initially seen as possibly being responsible for the death of her husband?

Alafair: I think Kendra Bell is one of the strongest characters that Mary and I have created together.  She put aside her own promising medical career to be a wife to her successful husband, Martin, and a mother to their two children, only to have her seemingly perfect marriage unravel and then to become the leading suspect in Martin’s murder.  She’s sympathetic and likable in many ways, but flawed enough that she might just be guilty. Without giving away the “who done it,” I’ll say that I think most readers will come away thinking she’s more complicated than first meets the eye.

Scott: How do you and Mary divide up the work on the series you are writing together? Do you write alternating chapters or one has big ideas and the other figures out the smaller details?

Alafair: Neither one of us outlines our own solo books, so we have to change things up when we work together.  What really helps is that we both find plot through character. We talk through every single character — who are they, what’s their backstory, what are their biggest fears and secrets, what’s their journey during the book?  The characters lead us to the plot. Only when we think we have it all do we begin writing, and we start with a synopsis that contains every element of the book. That’s a document we pass back and forth until we basically know the book.  One of us then sketches out a first draft, which we pass back and forth to flesh out. That’s the best I can do to explain the process, but we work together seamlessly at this point. I still have to pinch myself sometimes!

Scott: How do you divide up your work on your own novels versus these done on collaboration? For example, I’ve heard of writers listening to different music for one series versus another?  Do you avoid work on your own books when working with Mary?

Alafair: No, I don’t have any of those kinds of rituals.  Maybe it’s an old habit from lawyering, but I can work on multiple projects at once, though I certainly prefer to be doing the deep work on one while editing or tweaking another.  But the work needs to get done, and that’s the priority.

Scott: How did you and Mary go about researching this book?

Alfair: Most of it takes place in downtown Manhattan, which is my neighborhood, so I like to say that all the hours I spend walking around constitute research.  I don’t love actual research, so fortunately, this book didn’t require much. I think Mary and I are both in the habit of writing from what we know.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this story and others in your series?

Alafair: I got hooked on crime fiction through long-running series characters, especially strong female characters like Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton), VI Warshawski (Sara Paretsky), Sharon McCone (Marcia Muller), Kat Colorado (Karen Kajewski), and Irene Kelly.  I’d like to think that Laurie Moran could hang with that crowd. She’s also surrounded by a rich supporting cast, both at home and work. A good series book is like a visit from an old friend, and I hope readers feel that way about Laurie and her gang.

Scott: Last time I talked to you, in December 2014, you were really into Serial. What crime-related programming are you currently into?

Alafair: I have been cyberstalking a few actual cases myself, but am not deeply into any true-crime programming right now.  I am counting down the days, though, for a podcast Michael Connelly is creating called Murder Book. It’s starting in January.

And though it’s not true crime, I just binged the hell out of Ozark and am about to start (finally) Killing Eve.

Scott: Looking back, was the jump from prosecutor to criminal law professor and novelist a big change or more of a natural progression?

The Better Sister: A Novel Cover ImageAlafair: It all felt normal to me, but I’m sort of a weirdo.  I’ve been both a professor and a novelist for fifteen years. It’s hard to imagine not doing both.

Scott: How long do you see this collaboration going?

Alafair: As long as readers will have us!

Scott: What are you working on next?

Alafair: My book, The Better Sister, will be out on April 16, and I’m working on the screenplay for The Wife.

 

REVIEW OF FOREVER AND A DAY BY ANTHONY HOROWITZ

Forever and a Day: A James Bond Novel Cover ImageIn Forever and a Day, Anthony Horowitz takes on the iconic spy James Bond for a second time. He goes further back to his first mission as 007. While new to having a license to kill, he proves to be lethal from the start.

When the previous 007 is murdered, Bond is recruited into the program. His predecessor noticed something odd about the drug smuggling in Marseilles — it had become almost non-existent. MI6 sends Bond out to find out what the agent learned about this dip in crime that got him killed. When asked what number he’d like to have with his double 0, he chooses seven to let them know they keep coming.

Marseilles proves to be a hive of dangerous scoundrels. After a brief altercation at the previous 00’s villa, Bond befriends Reade Griffith, an amiable CIA agent who shows him around the port city. He soon realizes the person he must find is Sixtine, a sultry freelance spy master with a tragic past, and a certain way she likes her martini. It all leads to a plot of international scale where few can be trusted.

Horowitz captures the flavor of the early Bond books. He replicates the cool tone and matter of fact attitude Bond carries, even in killing. He realizes that even though he may be new to the Double 0 circle, he would be a capable agent. Most of the missteps he makes are in his emotions.

The book also perfectly weaves Bond history into world history. We get Bond’s first meeting with M and a charming one with Moneypenny. Horowitz also plays with expectations of the the cannon, such as his choice of gun. He  uses the cold war backdrop of the fifties to perfect effect, having it play into the villain’s plan and the perfect twist of a last chapter.

Forever and a Day is a treat for Bond fans, particularly those who dug the Ian Fleming books. It is both dry and punchy as the spy’s favorite drink. This kind of mission may be new to the freshly minted 007, but it provides the kind of familiar entertainment his fans have loved for decades.