INTERVIEW WITH DON WINSLOW

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog #3) Cover ImageDon Winslow delivers a conclusion to his epic trilogy at our war on drugs and it’s effect with Mexico with The Border. It puts DEA agent Art Keller as the director of the agency, devising a sting to strike at the cartel’s money and that could involve a presidential candidate, as well as dealing with the cartel wars that have risen to fill the vacuum created by the death of his nemesis Adan Berrera. This is a story told on a large canvas with several major characters, looking at every side of the narcotics epidemic. Mr. Winslow was kind enough to take a few questions from MysteryPeople about it.

1.Since this was never planned as a trilogy, what brought you back to the drug wars for a third time?

Boy, if I really knew the answer to that question, I might not have written the book. Because, you know, as you alluded to in your question, I swore that the second book that was it, I was done. The problem was, the story wasn’t done. We were looking the worst violence in Mexico since they started keeping track, the heroin epidemic here in the US, the immigration issue . . . there was just more to talk about, and, as in the first two books, I thought I had something to say about them through the medium of crime fiction. Also, if I’m being really honest, I somehow knew that I wasn’t through with the main character, Art Keller, that he had to come to some kind of reckoning with himself.

  1. While the title is The Border, this is the book in the trilogy that spends the most time in the United States. What lead the story in that direction?

I’ve long and often said that the ‘Mexican Drug Problem’ isn’t the Mexican Drug Problem but the American Drug Problem. We’re the consumers, we’re the ones funding the cartels and fueling the violence. That truth dictated that the story come home. As I mentioned above, I wanted to write about the heroin epidemic—to, yes, explain its Mexican connection—but also to describe it in personal terms. I also wanted to write about the current political environment here. It’s too easy to point the finger at corruption in Mexico, but we don’t look at corruption here at home.

  1. This is the first time you follow some addicts as main characters. Was there something that spurred that on?

Sadly, yes. I’ve been writing this story for over twenty years, and in the course of that I’ve come to develop a lot of relationships. Some were with addicts. You know that it’s rarely going to end well. (There are, there were, thank God, exceptions.) But that knowledge doesn’t really prepare you for their deaths. The ‘heroin epidemic’ is a headline, we talk a lot about numbers—and we should—but I wanted to get beneath the statistics and try to show the life of an addict from a personal level.  I hope I did that, I don’t know.

  1. Since you killed Adan Barrera in The Cartel and The Border deals with the players filling the vacuum, how did you go after this story without the obvious Cartel kingpin antagonist?

Well, that was the point. A big part of the real-life story I wanted to tell was what happened in the post-Chapo Guzman era, the chaos that ensued as the players were trying to figure out how to fill the vacuum. That was my literary challenge as well—could I make a cast of characters as compelling as a single ‘villain’? I also wanted to write about the next generation of narcos, who were very different people than their fathers.  These were kids who grew up amidst incredible wealth—how would they deal with adversity and conflict? You know, Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V are obviously great plays about a powerful king, but Henry VI, about what happens after his death, is more complex, in some ways more interesting.

  1. I sort of hate myself for enjoying Eddie Ruiz so much. His actions are horrible, but he’s smart, funny, and has an entertaining perspective on the life he has chose. How did you go about constructing him?

That’s funny, so do I. I always felt a little moral contempt for myself for enjoying writing the Eddie scenes so much.  You know, Eddie goes back to Cartel, and I wrote him in that way because I felt I had to bring an American perspective to bring American readers into the Mexican world of the cartels. He was sort of a tour guide. In The Border, I used him in that role—to guide us through the world of prisons, Mexican gangs, money laundering. He’s also a guy who crossed the border and came back again. Dante had to go to the Inferno, but he had to come back in order to tell us about it.

  1. After writing and researching the drug wars for over twenty years, what is your biggest take away of it?

That we need to end the War On Drugs, legalize drugs and treat them as the social health problem that they are. Every horror story you can tell me about drugs (and, believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of them personally) have happened while drugs were illegal. What we’re doing hasn’t worked, isn’t working—the drug problem is worse than ever, more Americans died last year from drugs than in car accidents—and will never work. We will never solve the drug problem on the production end, we can only attack it on the consumption end. But to do that is going to take some deep, serious soul-searching, and I don’t know if we’re ready for that kind of honesty.

SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST – THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH BY DAN J. MARLOWE

The Name of the Game Is Death is considered one of the hardest of the hard hard boiled. It’s right up there with Paul Cain’s Fast One, packed with action, tough guy dialogue, and dangerous dames. What really makes it quintessential to the genre is the hard case at the center of it.

The Name of the Game Is Death / One Endless Hour Cover ImageA bank robber going by the name Earl Drake, admitting it’s not his real one, is introduced to us in the middle of one of the most exciting robberies put on paper. The job goes haywire when the getaway driver loses his cool. Earl gets shot in the arm and tells the only other survivor, Bunny, to take the money and send it to him in thousand dollar increments. When the cash quits coming, Earl goes to the return address in Hudson, Florida under the guise of a tree surgeon to find out what happened to Bunny and the loot. While digging he gets involved with the local barmaid and later on a blond post mistress tied to a sociopathic sheriff’s deputy who apparently climbed up from the Jim Thompson novel below on the spinner rack. The result is a hard boiled masterpiece that leads to an ending that could only be in a fifties or sixties crime paperback and sets us up for the even more violent sequel, One Endless Hour.

Earl Drake or whoever he calls himself at the given moment is the perfect anti-hero narrator. Like a shark he constantly moves through the story and we’re always aware how dangerous he is. He has a talent for trouble, no respect for the law, and outside of animals, little love for anyone. Even his back story from childhood up to the day of the fateful robbery is told at a quick clip and wrung of any sentimentality. However, Marlowe provides just enough human shading to avoid his falling into a tough guy parody. His narration provides the book’s drive as well as observations like “I’ve been around x-ray machines that couldn’t see as deep into a man as a woman’s eyes.”

Stark House Publishing has put out The Name of the Game Is Death in an omnibus with One Endless Hour with an introduction by Marlowe biographer Charles Kelly who tells us about the author’s own amazing true life story. Both crime novels are tight and terse with tough guy personality to spare. Dan J. Marlowe and his man Earl Drake are tarnished angels taking you to hard boiled Heaven.

REVIEW: THE BORDER BY DON WINSLOW

Even though he only planned to write one book about DEA agent Art Keller and the myriad of players in the drug wars, Don Winslow returns to the battlefield for a third time in The Border. Now Art takes a job a head of the agency when the body of his nemesis, Adan Barrera is discovered. However, there are both old and new enemies out there and many come in the form of his allies.

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog #3) Cover ImageIn many ways it’s déjà vu all over again. Art finds himself with the heroin epidemic as when he started out in the seventies in The Power of the Dog. One of Barrera’s last actions was switching to the crop. As in real life it is the result of two things, marijuana legalization killing cartel profits from that crop and big pharma getting people hooked on opioids where they can move in and undercut the market.

After reconnecting with and marrying his love Marisol, a doctor turned mayor who survived five bullets from a cartel assassination attempt in Winslow’s The Cartel, Keller takes the director job in hopes of doing it right and seeking redemption. There is also the fact he knows of nothing else. There is a feeling of responsibility he has for the current wars in Mexico with the cartels muscling into the vacuum Barerra’s death created. As it says—He killed the wolf, now all the coyotes are out.

Art’s main thrust is to go after the money that finances and gets laundered from the cartels. He puts his eyes on a bank believed to do this with New York real estate, involved with in a deal with Jason Learner, the owner of a high rise that’s underwater. As luck would have it (good or bad, it’s hard to say), Learner is the son-in-law of a presidential candidate who has been attacking Keller on twitter. If you are a fan of our current president, you may be angry with this book. Even his name, John Dennison, has a connection to Trump. When Dennison is elected it creates a ticking clock with Keller having to make a major bust before he is fired.

Like Elliot Ness, he organizes a small trusted team for the job. His right hand man is Hugo Hidalgo, son of Ernie, who his partner Barerra tortured and killed, sparking the feud. He works with Mullens, the New York Police chief who recruits top undercover man Cirello to pose as a dirty cop the Cartels can buy and the chief as well. Many of the Cirello parts echo The Force, Winslow’s previous book.

The operation leads into and touches on a vast  number of players both old and new. We follow the life of a junkie Cirello busts so he can get cozy with a New York mobster setting up a deal with Learner, brokered by American Cartel member Eddie Ruiz, a.k.a. Narco Polo, from The Cartel. We also follow others, including a ten year old Guatemalan boy who takes a dangerous trek to the U.S. to avoid the gangs running his slum.

In Mexico, Barrera’s surviving family go to war with the other cartels. They don’t have the skills from building an empire like their predecessors, but have bravado to burn. They are influenced by the pop culture and legends of their ancestors as much as the actual history. The war also pulls in two favorite characters from The Power of the Dog.

Winslow enlarges what was already a a big canvass from the previous books. While over seven hundred pages with a dozen major characters, it is never unwieldy. Each plot line moves into another without contrivance. His poet’s sense of concise word choice allows him to depict person, place, or situation fully in such a sprawling book without tampering with the forward momentum.

Whether intended as a trilogy or not, The Border proves to be the perfect conclusion to this dark epic. Winslow takes the cartel wars and our war on the cartels, dragging it to the U.S. doorstep where it belongs. He offers little hope since he argues that many of the players, especially the ones in Washington, don’t want it to end.

 

SCOTT’S TOP FIVE CRIME FICTION SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS PART 2 – ANTHOLOGIES

To continue celebrating short stories for a short month, we’re moving to some of my favorite anthologies. Anthologies are a great way to discover new talent and enjoy your favorite authors at the same time. All the ones I picked here have a theme or challenge each author had to adhere to and some help support good causes.

Lone Star Noir (Akashic Noir) Cover ImageLone Star Noir edited by Bobby and Johnny Byrd – I might be biased since it covers my adopted state, but this gives a great overview of the the great crime writing talent we have in Texas as well as grabbing a few writers who normally write outside the genre. Joe Lansdale riffs off the movie Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, Jesse Sublett pulls an Austin heist man’s revenge, and George Wier’s “Duckweed” is a fun yarn with a man on the run. Lisa Sandlin’s story lead to her wonderful PI story The Do Right. The Byrds even unearthed a story by the late great James Crumley. This is a great example of the Akashic Noir anthologies.

Trouble In The Heartland: Crime Fiction Based On The Songs Of Bruce Sprinsteen edited by Joe Clifford- Being a Springsteen fan makes me biased again. Whether playing off the song title or playing close to the lyrics, these stories capture the working class pathos of The Boss. Dennis Lehane kicks it into gear with his take on “State Trooper,” then Jordan Harper plants his own flag, using “Because The Night.” Hilary Davidson takes a dark haunting look at “Hungry Heart” and Les Edgerton gets you into the mind of a cold blooded “Ice Man.” If you can handle a lot of stories with brutality give this one a shot. Proceeds go to The Bob Woodruff Foundation for veterans.

In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper Cover ImageIn Sunlight Or In Shadow edited by Lawrence Block – Block had each auther pick a Dennis Hopper painting and write a story behind it. Jeffery Deaver used “Hotel by The Railway” for a spy yarn, Stephen King shows “The Room In New York” is less serene than it appears, and the editor’s interpretation of “The Automat” is haunting. All of the stories show how great art and an artist from one medium can spark creativity in ones from an other.

Wall Street Noir edited by Peter Spiegelman – Speigelman, a former programmer on Wall Street took the Akashic Noir idea of stories centered around a certain place and expanded it to the reach of that place, starting with the street, New York City, then U.S., and finally internationally. Megan Abbott looks at crime and finance in Harlem, John Burdette looks at business and sex in Asia, and Peter Blauner gives a story about a broker, his psychiatrist, and the movie The Godfather.

The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers, and Dark Roads: Original Stories by Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, C. J. Box, Diana Gabaldon, Ace Atkins & Others Cover ImageThe Highway Kind edited by Patrick Milliken – A great collection of stories of crime and automobiles. George Pelecanos uses a muscle car as a meditation on rage, death, and change in “The Black Ford Cuda.” Joe Lansdale (who is in three of these anthologies) creates a Depression-era Tom Sawyer-like romp with “Driving To Geronimo’s Grave”, and Wallace Stroby puts us on a desolate highway with a tense encounter with a motorist and a biker in “night Run” that carries echoes of the Richard Matheson classic “Duel.”

SCOTT’S TOP FIVE CRIME FICTION SHORT STORY COLLECTION PART 1 – AUTHOR COLLECTIONS

With BookPeople celebrating short stories for this short month of February, I thought I’d share some of my favorite collections. First is author collections. Many of these authors have written  some wonderful novels, but their craft really shines in short fiction. In all these books, not one writer has a weak one in the bunch.

The Big Book of the Continental Op Cover ImageThe Big Book of Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett – The punk rock of detective fiction. Fast, hard, and from the proletariat. Hammett, a former Pinkerton operative, tore apart the gentility of the drawing room detective and made him a working class hero. His story “The Tenth Clew” is practically a dismissal of the Sherlock Holmes story.

Crimes In Southern Indiana by Frank Bill – Every tale in here is a fine if tarnished gem. Each is a violent portrait of a decaying Midwest where the gun culture has met the drug culture. A story reminiscent of the Maltese falcon, but with a coon hound replacing the black bird, has a great last line.

Love and Other Wounds: Stories Cover ImageLove And Other Wounds by Jordan Harper- It’s as if Harper took Hammett’s rough and tumble hard boiled style and expanded on it for this century. All of these are edgy tales with that views many of it’s survivors and criminals on the fringe with a beautiful dark romanticism.

Cannibals: Stories From The Edge Of The Pine Barrens by Jen Conley- Conley delivers a wonderful empathy to her characters whether they be a single barmaid trying to make the best choice for her grandchild for a different life than her or her daughter’s, small time crooks, or her reccurring police officer Andrea Vogel.

Take-Out: And Other Tales of Culinary Crime Cover ImageTake Out by Rob Hart – Hart finds intersection of crime and food (or sometimes drink) in these well crafted tales that often explore his home of New York City as well. The story “Creampuff” about a bouncer at a designer pastry shop is worth the price alone. Hart shows there can be a lot of humor and humanity in hard boiled.

 

SOMETHING EQUATING THE TRUTH: AN INTERVIEW WITH IAN RANKIN

Ian Rankin’s latest novel featuring John Rebus, In a House of Lies, has the now retired inspector drawn into an old missing persons case he was involved in that has turned into one of murder when the body is finally discovered and assigned to his former partner Clarke. The question is, is he trying to help or throw her off since police corruption is connected to officers he worked with. Ian was kind enough to take some questions from us about the book and his main character.

In a House of Lies (A Rebus Novel) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea for In a House of Lies come about?

Ian Rankin: A magazine in the UK published a piece about a real-life private eye who had been ‘executed’ in a car park three decades back.  He had been investigating alleged links between gangland and high-ranking police officers. Well, that got the cogs turning in my mind…

MPS: Clarke and Fox’s investigation gives doubts about Rebus’ reason for his involvement in the case. As someone who doesn’t outline before he starts, did you have your doubts about his motives in writing it?

IR: I always have doubts about Rebus and his motives.  Whose side is he really on? How committed to morals and ethics is he?  How far will he push against legality? Back in the 1980s, cops in real life had fewer qualms about bending and breaking the rules – mainly because there was less chance of them getting caught!  Rebus belongs to that generation…but he’s trying to be good.

MPS: Much of the the book deals with possible police corruption or malpractice. What did you want to explore about the subject?

IR: I’m interested in the past and how it connects to and is different from the present day. Policing has changed radically. There’s a lot of new technology around. Ways of tackling a murder case have changed.  I like to place a question in the reader’s mind: things are different these days, but are they necessarily better? If rules or laws had to be broken before you could get justice, would you want that to happen?

MPS: To me the theme of the book is the relationship between facts and the truth with different lines of investigation and points of view effecting the conclusion each investigator comes to. Do you see a difference between facts and the truth?

Image result for ian rankinIR: There’s maybe a seminar’s worth of discussion in that question!  Heck, maybe even a semester of moral philosophy, social and political theory, class structure, belief systems, et cetera!  But in a nutshell: we live in an age of fake news and distorted commentary. Maybe those were always with us, but we are more aware of them now when they happen (I think/hope).  Back in the day, it was easier for organizations such as the police to control the narrative. But they cannot hope to control what goes on in social media/online these days. There are competing stories, and somewhere buried within those stories lies something equating the truth.  That’s what a detective is always doing: sifting competing narratives or versions of what happened to try to end up with knowledge and closure. And along the way, self-knowledge may also arise.

MPS: What have you enjoyed the most about writing for “retired” Rebus?

IR: I was worried about Rebus in retirement.  The challenge was: how does a ‘civilian’ inveigle his way into criminal cases?  But that challenge keeps me on my toes and also keeps Rebus on his toes. His health is another consideration as he gets older, and he no longer knows many of the (young) detectives with whom he comes in contact.  So he’s having to work harder. But that makes him fun for me to write: he hasn’t grown stale; he is always evolving.

MPS: During part of her investigation Clarke has to watch a film called Bravehearts Vs. Zombies. Any chance you’ve considered pitching that to a studio?

IR: Bravehearts versus Zombies would be a fun B-movie, no doubt about it.  I’ve not pitched it yet, but who knows…

 

THREE GREAT COUPLES IN CRIME FICTION AND THRILLERS

In honor of Valentine’s Day, MysteryPeople presents three couples that fall in love until possible violent death do they part. Either schemers, sleuths, or spies, these lovers hold our attention.

Double Indemnity Cover ImageWalter Huff & Phyllis Nerdlinger (James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity) – Maybe not the nicest couple, but along  with Frank and Cora from Cain’s The Postman always Rings Twice, these two set the noir trend of lovers bumping off one’s spouse for the sweet life. The movie version went in a different direction in the last third of the story with Cain’s version giving them a fate both more romantic and darker.

 

 

And Only to Deceive (Lady Emily Mysteries #1) Cover ImageLady Emily & Colin Hargraves (Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series) – These two did not meet cute. It was when her fiancé was murdered and he was the best man in And Only To Deceive. Both rebels of their Victorian upper class, these two flirt and bicker while solving crimes and sometimes saving Britain. Picture Jane Austen writing The Thin Man.

 

 

 

Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction Cover ImagePetra Shirazi & The Ahriman (Puja Guha’s The Ahriman Trilogy) – Petra is a spy, The Ahriman is an Iranian assassin. They find themselves in each other’s sights, but still fall in love as they are manipulated by bad men and their own governments, building up a lot of trust issues. Guha keeps you caring about their relationship as much as their lives as you flip through the pages.