They Commit Themselves: An Interview with Lisa Sandlin

9781947627130_9b9d1Lisa Sandlin follows up her first detective novel The Do-Right, with The Bird Boys – it features Seventies era Texas Gulf P.I. Tom Phelan and his secretary, Delpha Wade – just released from prison for shooting her rapist – with their latest case. After dealing with the mess from the previous book, the two are hired to find a missing brother. The further they look into it, the more they realize one of them could be a killer. Lisa will be at BookPeople August 4th, at 2PM to discuss and sign her book. She was kind enough to take a few questions from us beforehand.



  1. What made you decide to start The Bird Boys almost right after The Do-Right ends?

I got what I thought was a great idea—to makes the books (3 or 4) a seamless story. Maybe I was goaded by a comment from someone about sequels: how you have to tuck in necessary information so that readers can follow a sequel and how it must it stand on its own, as well, and I thought, Well, I’ll fix that an easy way: I’ll just keep on going. It sounded so practical. By the time I thought maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, I’d already written the scene with Delpha at the police station, and though my own wishes are not a consideration mostly, I wanted to keep that scene. So I cut others—one of Delpha in the hospital and a black doctor who’s having his own bad time with the white hierarchy—and just started with Phelan cleaning up the crime scene.

      2. The book starts out as a missing persons case and develops into something more                complex in both plot and morality. How did the idea come about?

I always knew it was about 2 brothers, only I didn’t know who was going to become the killer—I thought it would be the hiding brother. As a prompt from real life (as Dean Arnold Corll was an IRL prompt for “The Do-Right”) I used both Robert Durst, who commits murders over a very long period of time, and an old man my social worker friend Greg ran into. Called to the house by the concerned landlady (a routine social services call), Greg finds an old man with knives and peculiar stories. After time and reflection, he puts the disparate stories together and realizes that not only is this guy older than he thought (around 97) but he’s serially killed people over these long years. With that in mind, I made the character.

  1. Not only do you get the details of the seventies, it many time feels like the novel was written during that era. Does the period have any effect on how you approach the books?

Sure. I’m bound by the history, even if I do fudge the chronology a bit sometimes, like moving the date of the Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs tennis match, or a hurricane. I adore Wikipedia bc I can go there to jog my memory about events and find pictures to use for clothing, look up which songs were popular. Often I have songs in mind, but sometimes I find better ones. There was always a sound track, wasn’t there? I was young then so I remember the times and high points of current events—like sitting at the dinner table when Lyndon Johnson announced he wouldn’t run again, and my father almost spit out his coffee.

  1. What makes Delpha and Tom good detectives, even though they are new to the profession?

One thing is the quality most writers have: they’re curious. They commit themselves to a matter/case and then they want to follow it through so they really know what happened. Second, they’ve got to make a living, both of them, so that keeps them going. Third, they wanted a new life, one different than they’d been living. Delpha, of course, wanted to construct a free life, and from scratch. Tom wanted the same, though on a smaller existential scale—he didn’t want bosses anymore.

  1. What do you think having two detectives allows you to do with the mystery story as opposed to one?

Since they can each take different strands of a plot, the tenor of the scenes may be a bit different due to the personality and manner of each. Delpha, eager to learn, soaks up the information Mrs. Singer of the antique store has to teach her about rare objects. She soaks up the relationship between the brother and sister, who are also business partners of long standing. She’s intensely curious about their family bond, the quality of which is attractive to her. Tom wouldn’t react the same way. In “The Do-Right,” there’s a scene between him and an assistant chemist, in which the smart-mouth chemist ridicules him for lack of experience. It was great fun to write, and Tom gets the chemist back in the end. But that was not a Delpha scene.


  1. Besides familiarity, what does the Galveston setting provide you as a writer?

It’s the Bolivar peninsula, really, that I’m familiar with. The wetlands scenes here are not even that far. I visited Anahuac and the lands around Winnie, and took notes on my phone, descriptions of the land. The place and the animals are beautiful, and they are still wild and free (since they’re nature preserves). I just like writing about that. (Bc I mourn what has happened to the Gulf. Mourn the loss of sand dunes and so much beach.) A German culture magazine will feature that excerpt soon.

  1. You do a great job of depicting the research less glamorous aspects of the job without it being drudgery to read. How do you approach those scenes?

I’m really glad you say it isn’t drudgery to read—bc it WAS! When I first wrote it, I went through EVERY LAST STEP of research and discovery to make sure the plot was working and that I’d given enough info for the reader. One of my very first jobs was as a skip tracer for the Credit Bureau, so I knew some of those research materials. E.g., bc I love detail the way a poet does, I’d written passages about NOLA’s Blue Book, which Delpha comes across when researching City directories. Fascinating—but that part had to go. Anyone reading the book at that stage pulled their hair out—and told me so. Not until the German publisher strenuously objected did I pull myself up and rewrite the whole book with a stern eye to movement. Working 12 hours a day, I streamlined like crazy. October 2018, the girl worked hard for her money.

Face Time: Billy Kring Interviews Stephen Hunter


On July 31st, BookPeople is hosting a special event. Stephen Hunter will be here with his latest Bob Lee Swagger book, Game Of Snipers. The Nailer comes out of retirement to take on a sniper much younger and possibly more skilled. Mr. Hunter will be interviewed by one of our favorite Texas authors Billy Kring, creator of the series featuring border agent Hunter Kincaid and a die hard Stephen Hunter fan. Here is a little taste of what you are in for between the two.



  1. How did you come up with the idea of using Juba the Sniper as Bob Lee Swagger’s protagonist and make him current in today’s time?

I had heard rumors, myths, legends for years. In fact I had used him in two other plots which died and buried themselves between the  outline and the keyboard. So he was THERE, in my imagination. He has in fact surfaced in a few other pop cult takes on the war. I tried to imagine where the rumors might have come from: there had to be a kernel of truth behind them, so I created THAT guy, knowing he wasn’t the legend of Juba just as Bob isn’t the legend of Bob the Nailer. I wanted him as real, as human as possible; I’m not a superhero guy.


  1. Janet McDowell, the woman who motivates Bob Lee to take on the assignment is in a class by herself, a force of nature. How did you develop her for the book?


She’s based on a Baltimore woman, Tracy Miller, whose son Nick was a graduate of my son’s prep school, Boy’s Latin. He went to Falluja as a marine sniper and came home in a box. It hits so hard when it hits nearby and I have thought a lot about the loss of the young man and the alchemization process by which she became a veteran’s counselor at Towson State University.  I was so impressed with that and wanted to quietly salute it.


  1. Did you base the hunt for Juba on any real-life incidents?


Not purposely, .but I realized about halfway through that I had indeed stolen the plot–that is, from the original intelligence breakthrough to the analysis of forensic information to the near-miss raids to the last second dash from someone else. Fortunately that person was me: it’s very similar to “The Master Sniper,” my first published book, from 1980.


  1. When Bob Lee physically confronts Juba, we see the strength and skill of the terrorist, and how Swagger is physically outmatched. For me as a reader of your stories, it was shocking, and really set up the rest of the book. Did you plan for this (Showing Juba as so formidable) when you first began writing the story?


One of my rules is that gunfights are better if the shooters know and have had face-time with each other. So I wanted a confrontation, even if only for seconds. Then I thought rigorously about the outcome and realized that no other was possible. There’s also a scene where Bob falls out of a tree. I’m sure no other thriller hero has fallen out of a tree. Can you see Harry Bosch falling out of a tree? However, at 73, I fall a lot, my forehead looks like it belongs to a pirate, and I live in fear of that horrible moment when you realize gravity now owns your ass and will do with it as it pleases. I thought both things were details not normal to the genre and I’m always looking for something–oops, I just fell off the sofa! Anyhow, I’m always looking for something like that.


  1. Was there anything in your research that surprised you?


I had seen s many bogus mile-long shots in movies, I wanted to document how difficult, how arduous, how math and tech-intense such an undertaking might be. You just don’t crank up the elevation on the scope and pull. The surprise wasn’t that the math was daunting, particularly to me, who finds keeping up a checkbook daunting as well but that it was endless. It has to equations with Greek letters in them. Those issues are like Alice’s wonderland, unknowable, so the surprise wasn’t how much I got in but how much I had to leave out.


  1. Age and injuries are playing an ever-larger part in Swagger’s life. I’m hoping you have some future adventures planned for Bob the Nailer?


Yes, but he will be old. I think someone would pay for a 35-year-old Bob Lee, but I won’t be writing it. I have no idea what a 35-year-old feels like when he wakes  up in the morning. I do know what 73 feels like: first he’s grateful that he DID wake-up, and then he begins to take roll-call on the pains–hip, check, finger, check, shoulder, check, toe, check. Hmm, all quiet on the knee front today but something seems to be going on in that OTHER shoulder!


One Way Ticket: An Interview with Matthew McBride

End of the OceanMy friend Matthew McBride is one of the more exciting authors out there, never repeating himself, he goes to that fearless side where real artists go, where the footing is never sure. His latest, our Pick Of The Month, The End Of The Ocean, takes place in Bali with an American nursing divorce wounds, getting involved with an island woman, and Wayne Tender, a shady guy on the hustle. I’ve described it as Graham Greene meets Elmore Leonard, but in this interview we did, Matthew shed a little more light on it.



  1. I remember you saying you were going to Bali and would use the experience to write a book. Did you know this was the story you were going to tell before you went?

I remember that. We were at Noir at the Bar, in Austin, where I’d just been interrupted, in the middle of my reading, by a woman whom I had offended. Not by what I’d read, mind you. It was my attire. I was wearing a t-shirt that said Nicholas Sparks is an asshole and she didn’t like it.

But, to answer the question, I had no idea what I would write. I wrote the first thousand words while working at my regular job (over the years I’ve found that’s when I do my best work—when I’m being paid to do something else). After that, I realized if I wanted to be true to the story I had to physically go to Indonesia, so the day I got my first royalty check for A Swollen Red Sun I bought a one-way ticket to Bali, said “fuck my job,” and never looked back.


  1. What did the location give to you as a writer?

It gave me everything I needed. Because there are some things you cannot Google, and I wanted more than pictures. I wanted words and conversations and to explore the thoughts in my own head. I wanted to know how I’d be treated, so I’d know what my character could expect. I experienced strange and beautiful things I could not have imagined that found their way into the book.

  1. To me the book is about love, but not looked on it in a typical way. What did you want to explore with that emotion?


I wanted to write a novel that was completely different from anything I had previous written. I don’t think of it as a book about love—to me, it’s about the absence of love, and what that does to a man. I didn’t want to write about a tough guy with a gun. I wanted him to feel things: Love and hate and pain and guilt. It’s a crime novel you don’t realize is a crime novel until you do.


  1. As a friend, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities you have with Sage. What are the major differences?


I think an author who truly cares about their work would be unwilling to confirm or deny any similarities or differences between the main character and themselves and would always prefer to keep their audience guessing.

  1. Wayne is one of those wonderful characters who you can never quite put your finger on until the end. How did you go about constructing him?


Although I’d already begun to write him, I could never quite picture him (visually) in my mind. I just figured he would eventually come to me, sometimes that’s how it works, and when it did, I was actually on the flight to Bali. I was sitting beside a guy on the plane who looked like Nick Cave. He looked important. Well-dressed. I wondered who he was and where he was going? He looked important to me, and mysterious, and in that moment he became Wayne Tender. The rest just fell into place.

  1. It seems each book gets more personal. Does that affect the writing of it in any way?


Hemingway said it best: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.


You can order copies of End of the Ocean from BookPeople now!


In Deguello, Billy Kring’s latest to feature border agent Kincaid, Hunter gets her vacation with fellow agent Norma interrupted by a kidnapping they foil. However the kidnappers get away. The child belongs to drug lord Solomon Chapa. When a less fortunate parent believes the same group took her child, Hunter can’t help but act. What follows is an action packed story with the Hunter and  friends having to navigate the tricky politics of the border and it’s criminals. Billy with be joining Kris Lackey (Greasy Bend) for a discussion about their law enforcement heroes, but we got a few early questions in with him about his character and his heroines profession that he once had.

Hunter is up against the kidnapping trade in Mexico. What did you want got get across to the reader about that crime? 

The primary thing is that it has changed. While it used to be that kidnappings were ransom crimes, where the victim is basically sold back to those who care for him or her, these new kidnappings are completely different. Children are kidnapped and sold, primarily for sexual purposes. Their loved ones rarely ever see their children again. It is a cold, heartless business, and the money is so good (to the criminals) that it reaches globally. The kidnappers in my story are using a sophisticated underground railway of sorts to ferry the children far away and overseas to countries in the middle east.

What makes kidnapping so lucrative for criminals on the border? 

The money’s so incredibly good. The tastes of some foreigners have grown more exotic, so children of unusual attractiveness can draw very high prices, and I’m talking way up there. The downside for kidnappers is that people on both sides of the border detest such things, and if they’re caught, the penalty is harsh, more so than drugs.

It was great to have another female agent backing Hunter up. How did you go about constructing Norma? 

She’s based on several female Agents I know, and I gave Norma a lot of their actions and characteristics. She is different from Hunter, and a lot more fun. But she’s still a solid law enforcement officer, she just likes her days off and looking at attractive men. She’s the one you see at a dance and want to ask to two-step, but there are already a half-dozen guys in line waiting to do the same thing.

What is the biggest misconception of the border?

BK: People think of it in static terms but it isn’t. The border is more like a living thing, and actions that occur there are fluid. One area may be devoid of people or vehicles for a week, but the next day, people, firearms, drugs, and hi-tech military equipment (like weapons-grade computer chips, etc.) come across and disappear into the interior, then the very next day the area is uninhabited again. It is like that for the entire border, and that’s both north and south borders, and that’s 2,000 miles and 4,000 miles of area, and I’m not even mentioning the oceans, which are also used more than most people think. If criminals in Mexico see news teams or reporter crews coming to the border, they disappear. They return when those people leave, and the perception is that the border is safe, at least to some of the news teams and reporters and those with them (not all of them). This isn’t new, the same thing was going on in the seventies and up to now. People who work daily on the border, no matter what their job, know it can be both dangerous and beautiful, and people on both sides can be evil or good. It’s human nature.

What is the biggest misconception of the border patrol?

BK: That everything about the border is under the Border Patrol, which is not true. The Ports of Entry at the border are not Border Patrol manned, and neither are the detention facilities, or ICE, which is the investigative branch. They are separate departments. It is more like cousins, each with different parents, etc. They all have something to do with the border and immigration, but that’s as close as they get. The Border Patrol detects and apprehends aliens and drugs and anything else illegally coming into the country, then only holds the people long enough to process them and turn them over to another agency for continued processing. Because of that, people are only held for as long as it takes to fill out the paperwork and transfer them to the other facility, unless the main facility is overflowing, then the Border Patrol has to hold them longer. Because of that, the Border Patrol doesn’t have much space for holding people, which is why cages are used, often only the size to hold ten or twenty people. When an unusually large group or groups are caught at one time, and they have to be held until the processing is finished, the holding facility can get crowded because they have to be held until processed, but it is only temporary. Then they are moved to more adequate long-term facilities with beds, showers, food, medical treatment, television, etc. The other thing is that putting children with adults can put the children in harm’s way, so for safety’s sake, they are kept separate unless the parents are there. People don’t realize that over 30 percent of juveniles are crossing without parents or older siblings. Agents try to keep families together, but again when there is overcrowding, sometimes families are separated.
Also, the Border Patrol has rescued over 4,000 aliens this year, both in the river and in the desert. Unfortunately, there were some they couldn’t save.

As a writer, what makes Hunter Kincaid a character worth returning to?

Honestly, I find out more about her every time I write, which is fascinating to me. I didn’t expect that. And because I created her with composites of my female friends, as they continue their lives and we talk, I find other things that automatically find their way into Hunter’s DNA. She has her flaws, including a hot temper at times, but her heart is good, and she wants to do what is right as she sees it. In my novels, Hunter tends to find herself in situations where she is helping the aliens against some really bad people. I guess the bottom line is, I like the way she treats everyone with dignity.


Greasy Bend is the second novel to feature Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Sergeant Bill Maytubby and Johnson County Deputy Hannah Bond. Each track a personal case when Bill’s childhood friend is killed in a Casino robbery, and an elderly girlfriend of Hannah’s is murdered. The hunt for both killers entwines, involving a criminal scheme that takes them out of their jurisdiction to Louisiana with a lot of bullets fired along the way. Kris will be joining MysteryPeople favorite, Billy Kring, to discuss their books. Kris was kind enough to go one-on-one before hand for this interview.

The plot of Greasy Bend has several different crimes from several different places intersecting. How did the idea for it come about?

In this book I wanted to fashion personal motives for both Maytubby and Bond, so the victims are their friends. I also wanted to link the murders so that the investigations dovetailed. To do that, I needed a large criminal enterprise.

This one had more action sequences than Nail’s Crossing. What did it feel like, using that writing muscle more?

Oh I love to write action. It’s exciting, and the pages come much more quickly than dialogue pages. Writing exciting dialogue is, by comparison, drudgery.

Like the characters in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, your characters, particularly the law enforcement ones, have a good sense of humor. How essential do you see it in writing these kinds of stories?

Menace and humor are both trusty accelerants. A blend makes good villains. Humor in sympathetic characters enlarges their power as thinkers, lovers, and antagonists. In literature it’s a mark of charisma. I’m not naturally funny, so writing unforced comic exchanges gives me the howling fantods.

Hannah Bond has gotten to be a favorite character in the series. What do you enjoy about her as a writer?

She is blunt, she is droll, and she is smarter than everyone else. Her brutal childhood stripped away any sympathy for cruel people, so she packs vengeance everywhere. She foils off Maytubby, who is cooler and more measured in his reactions. She is elemental. And her lack of experience outside rural Oklahoma opens up comic interplay with Maytubby’s wider history in academia and the world.

What does the Oklahoma setting give you besides familiarity?

What it gives me arises from familiarity. Its cultural and climatic collisions play out wildly and perpetually. The southern plains spawn drought and floods, twisters and wildfires. Also rich bounties of peaches and wheat; soybeans, corn, and sand plums.  Plains tribes that were removed to the western part of the state and tribes removed from the east to Indian Territory are building sturdy national economies with solid social services.  Previously erased swaths of Oklahoma history—like the Tulsa genocide of African Americans in 1921 and the mass murder of oil-rich Osage citizens by greedy white people—are upsetting the state’s narrative of valiant European pioneers. More recently, the booms and busts of the gas patch have caused economic havoc, and fracking disposal wells briefly made the state the earthquake capital of the world.

What makes Bill Maytubby a good detective?

He wields preternatural recall, he knows the landscape and class structure of south-central Oklahoma by heart, he listens, and he is intuitive.  He enjoys disguise and play.  He came of age in the country, so he knows fences, livestock, hunting, and botany. He got a classical education at St. John’s in Santa Fe, and his grandmother taught him the Bible.  The former lets him step outside his immediate duties, and the latter connects him to Oklahoma evangelicals. His Chickasaw education—from his grandmother, father, books, and friends—is uneven, but it often finds its way into his investigations.


Laura Lippman is a MysteryPeople favorite, particularly of our Meike Alana. She interviewed the much lauded author about her latest, Lady In The Lake, a period newspaper thriller that deals with class, race, and gender issues in sixties Baltimore.

The central character in Lady in the Lake is Maddie Morgenstern Schwartz, a privileged Jewish housewife who leaves her husband to pursue her dream of being a newspaper reporter. The book is set in 1966 and Maddie encounters a number of barriers to her ambition. Can you talk a little bit about her struggles and how those may have been informed by your own experiences as a reporter?

Lady in the Lake: A Novel Cover ImageThey were more informed by my experience as a woman, if that makes sense. I think of myself as a second wave-second wave feminist—there were a lot of women in front of me, who did the heavy lifting. This was true in newsrooms and PI fiction. Maddie is about the same age as my mother and—I’ve literally never made this connection before—my mother went back to school in the late 1960s, early ’70s, got a master’s in library science and became a school librarian. That was a “safe” way for a woman to enter the work world. She didn’t have to leave her family, her hours were very family-friendly. But, as it happens, my mother loved to browse at The Store, LTD (a location in the book) and she had dresses made from Marimekko fabrics.

Maddie pursues her ambition, and at times she has little regard for how her methods may affect others. Women are often disparaged for being too ambitious, and we’re taught that we need to put others’ needs and considerations before our own. You make no judgment about Maddie’s actions, but I wonder if you can share your views on how this dilemma can play out for women.

I’ve never heard a woman described as ambitious in a positive way. Even with men, we sometimes struggle with the idea that ambition is positive, but, boy, do we hate it in women. I own the fact that I’m ambitious, competitive, driven. Once a man on a train asked me if the file I had open on my laptop was the Great American Novel and I said, “It just might be.”

But, you know, there’s that famous Joan Didion edict, the one that Janet Malcolm somewhat misrepresented, about how a reporter is always selling someone out. It’s true and it’s not true. People who write obituaries are doing a public service. I’m not joking—if I had stayed in newspapers, that’s the job I’d have now. I loved writing obituaries. It combined everything I loved—reporting and writing on deadline, writing about people who weren’t necessarily famous—but it often made people happy.

I’m really big on women giving up self-deprecation and doing what I call “Sing out, Louise.” Because you know what? No one else is going to do it for you.

The title refers to the body of an African American woman that was recovered from the fountain of a park lake in Baltimore, and Maddie sets out to make a name for herself by investigating the case. What was the inspiration for this story?

So in 1969, a young girl was murdered and the newspapers were all over that story and I never forgot it. But the same year, an African-America woman was found dead in the fountain at Druid Hill Park and I never even heard of the case until I went to work at the Evening Sun in 1989. It was the juxtaposition that fascinated me, the girl whose disappearance and death was Page One news, the woman whose disappearance was ignored by the daily papers, whose death was presented almost as a curiosity. (It wasn’t even ruled a homicide.) By the way—I don’t think things have changed that much, 50 years later.

There are a number of African American characters throughout the book, and you explore a variety of ways racism can play out. Can you elaborate on where you derived your inspiration for these characters and their situations?

I grew up in Baltimore, live here now. It’s a majority black city, yet one that remains extremely segregated. Racism is a big part of the history—and present—of Baltimore. Not all my books center on race, but it’s hard to write honestly about Baltimore and not write about race unless you keep it to a very narrow world.

The structure of this book is just brilliant. You tell the story from alternating viewpoints of different characters—some are the central characters, others are “bit players” who appear only briefly. For me the pacing was lightning quick with extraordinary detail. What unique challenges did that present?

Those chapters came about because I wanted to showcase all the stories that Maddie was missing while looking for THE story. I very much belonged to the school of journalism that you should be able to find a story in almost anyone’s life. Rob Hiaasen, to whom this book is dedicated, was also one of those reporters. There’s a line that I’m not sure remained in the book, but it was the first impression that Donald Weinstein had of Maddie, when they meet in a bar. He thinks she’s like a greyhound and that’s Maddie—practically quivering, ready to chase that mechanical rabbit around the track. She missed so many stories along the way! And at the end of the book, when we have that little glimpse of her in the future, she knows that about herself.

Oh, but you asked about unique challenges. Well, it was finding the voice, but not falling back on lazy, old-fashioned tricks like dialect. And, I think, finding the dignity in each character, recognizing what they yearned for, what they feared.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

I write in the mornings, I try to get 1,000 words done minimum. I’m a pantser, but I usually know the big secret.

Last summer you gave us Sunburn, which made our top 10 list of books for 2018. This summer we have Lady in the Lake which will no doubt make our list of favorites again. Can we expect another great summer read in 2020?

Possibly, but the nature/genre of that read might surprise you. There’s a novel under way, about as different from Sunburn and Lady as possible. But there are some other things cooking.


The return of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith is great news to many private eye fans. Lydia, a first generation Chinese American, and Bill, a former Navy man, operate out of New York, trading off points of view with each book. The unique pairing allows them to travel through many of the sub genres and crime and detective fiction. Now after close to a decade long hiatus, the two are back in Paper Son, a novel that drops them in a different environment.

Paper Son: A Lydia Chin/Bill Smith Novel Cover ImageLydia’s mother, who has never been proud of her profession, shocks her by telling her she needs to help a family member Jefferson Tam, arrested for killing his father. She’s even more surprised when she learns she has relatives in Mississippi. Her mother insists she take “the white baboon”, so Bill tags along.

They are met by Lydia’s uncle, Captain Pete, a professional gambler who definitely looks like a relative of Lydia’s, but who could out southern Strother Martin. Pete acts as a guide through the territory and Mississippi Chinese culture. When he takes them to the grocery store Jefferson runs with his father, they find it ransacked. Soon they get word Jefferson has broken out of jail.

The book is an exquisite work of craftsmanship dealing out two different kinds of information. A seasoned pro in the genre like Rozan can lay down the clues, misdirections , and piece meal dirt with an organic ease moving the plot forward at an ever accelerating pace. Here she gives us a southern potboiler involving on line gambling, meth dealers, race, and politics. She also unearths a little known part of Chinese American life in the delta and their place in the state’s economics and racial tensions, facts that become as intriguing as the fiction they are presented in. She skillfully dovetails both in a climax involving where the story gets it’s title.

Paper Son provides a wonderful return for Bill and Lydia, ranking as one of the best in the series. The banter between the two of them is like comfort food with a Chinese barbecue rub provided by Captain Pete’s interjections. It also serves the function that a great mystery can take you into another culture. Welcome back, you two.


2019 is proving to be a great year for crime fiction. Authors are stretching themselves in creative ways. Nobody’s timid. I’ve already read three books over five hundred pages. There was also great work in a range of subgenres. I couldn’t just pick the usual ten in what I see as the standouts from January to June .

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover Image1. A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle

One of the freshest pieces of crime fiction to come around for a while. Also one of the funniest, with a mob widow and an ex-porn star on the road to Florida in a stolen classic Impala with a bunch of mob cash and several unsavory men on their trail. Every character is fully drawn out, and the relationship between these two ladies who find each other is complex and nuanced.


Metropolis (A Bernie Gunther Novel #14) Cover Image2. Metropolis by Philip Kerr

A beautiful swan song for the late Kerr and his character Bernie Gunther. Ironically, he delivers a fitting ending by taking him back to his beginning on his first homicide as a KRIPO detective, hunting a killer of prostitutes and homeless vets. It puts him in touch with many of Berlin’s artists of the time and provides heartbreaking foreshadowing of things to come.


Conviction Cover Image3. Conviction by Denise Mina

Mina delivers a suspenseful and often humorous thriller with wonderful touches of humanity in a tale of a dumped trophy wife with a secret past and a male anorexic former pop star out to solve an old murder through podcast. A great example of an author delivering a more accessible novel without compromise.



The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog #3) Cover Image4. The Border by Don Winslow

Winslow puts an end to his Drug Wars epic with one big literary exclamation point. Populated by characters who live in a world where the choices are between bad or worse, no matter what side of the law you operate, this book serves as a great argument for legalization.



Trigger (Frank Marr #3) Cover Image5. Trigger by David Swinson

Swinson wraps up his trilogy with drug addict PI Frank Marr, with Frank trying to clear his former police partner of a bad shooting. Full of human and thematic ambiguity that defines a great detective novel. Here’s hoping Frank Marr can pick up another case now and then.



This Storm: A novel Cover Image6. This Storm by James Ellroy

The second installment of Ellroy’s World War Two L.A. quartet explores the allure of fascism as it continues to follow the investigations, crimes, and sins of his LAPD members and the women drawn to them. A huge, big picture kind of book that gives a wild ride through a Hollywood Hell.


End of the Ocean Cover Image7. End Of The Ocean by Matthew McBride

Elmore Leonard meets Graham Greene in this tale of an American licking his divorce wounds in Bali, who becomes involved in smuggling to be with the island woman he fell in love with. Use of finely drawn players, an intriguing setting, humorous dialogue, and harrowing suspense create a character driven thriller that probes the idea of love.


The Book Artist (Hugo Marston #8) Cover Image8. The Book Artist by Mark Pryor

Pryor’s latest Hugo Marston novel, has the head of our Paris embassy’s security trying to clear girlfriend Claudia of murder and teaming up with buddy Tom Green to put an end to a ghost from their past. A well crafted, cleanly written mystery and thriller that also looks into the complications of relationships.



A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary: A Samuel Craddock Mystery (Samuel Craddock Mysteries) Cover Image9. A Risky Undertaking For Loretta Singletary by Terry Shame

Police Chief Samuel Craddock tries to find his missing pal Loretta, taking him into the world of computer dating. Shames’s knowledge of small town life and her characters help create a believable, suspenseful, and at times humorous mystery.



Night Watch Cover Image10. Night Watch by David C. Taylor

Fifties New York cop Michael Cassidy returns, catching a homicide that leads to the CIA, former Nazis, and a tenacious assassin. Once again, Taylor brings time and place to vibrant life.




Murder Once Removed (Ancestry Detective #1) Cover Image11. Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins

An Austin genealogist gets involved in politics and murder when she discovers the ancestor of a senate candidate possibly murdered the relative of his opponent in the past. The beginning of a light mystery series that shows richness, humor, and promise.



The Elephant of Surprise (Hap and Leonard) Cover Image12. Elephant Of Surprise by Joe Lansdale

In this stripped down and relentless Hap and Leonard yarn, the boys try to protect a young albino Chinese American woman from an ever growing number of killers during one of the biggest storms in East Texas. The actions and banter are non stop as Joe gives us pure pulp pleasure.


J Todd Scott’s latest novel, This Side Of Night, has his returning protagonist Sheriff Chris Cherry dealing with the politics of his first election and a possible cartel war spilling over the border. Teaming up with DEA agent Joe Garrison and backed up by his deputies like America, takes on bad men from every side. Mr. Scott will be at BookPeople July 18th to discuss This Side Of Night, but took some questions in advance from us.

This Side of Night Cover ImageI felt Chris Cherry has grown some since The Far Empty.

I’d say he’s definitely “growing into” the badge he wears. And, frankly, he’s a little more world weary by now. He never wanted to wear a badge and struggles with both the authority and the responsibility, neither of which he takes for granted. In each of the three books, I’ve given Chris a mentor, an older cop he can learn the job from, both the good and the bad. In The Far Empty it was Stanford Ross. In High White Sun, it was Ben Harper. Now, in This Side of Night, it’s Joe Garrison. These are men whose lessons and philosophies Chris can emulate or reject, so maybe what we’re really seeing is Chris grow into his own.

It’s interesting you and Don Winslow both used the same true life massacre of a busload of protestors in Mexico as the inciting incident for your books this year. What did you want to explore with that crime?

We’re both writing about Mexican cartels and the border, covering some of the same terrain (literally and figuratively), so it’s no surprise we were both drawn to that tragic event.  For someone like me, who’s worked on the border for nearly half of my DEA career and, until the Ayotzinapa massacre, truly believed I had seen it all, I discovered I can still be horrified by cartel violence. Nothing I could ever write could ever explain what happened, or honestly, add much new to the conversation, but I hoped by including it in This Side of Night, I could—in some small way—draw attention to those still lost and the families who still grieve for them.

America has become one of my favorite characters in the series. As a writer, what do you enjoy about her?

I’ve said it in other contexts, but America has always been the “center of gravity” of the books, and when we optioned them and began the long (and still ongoing) process of bringing them to the screen, every discussion at every studio has involved America’s prominent role as a “co-lead” with Chris Cherry. Also, as the father of three girls, I wanted to portray a strong female character who has her own agency, and I hope I’ve done that with America. She’s tough and determined and easy to root for, but she’s far from infallible, and that’s the best sort of character to write.

As a DEA agent who works with local law and other agencies, what do you want to convey to readers about those in law enforcement?

It’s tough because I don’t want my career to serve as a broad-brush generalization of law enforcement or those who carry a badge and gun. My only experience is twenty-five years as a federal agent, both overseas and domestic, with about half of that on the Southwest border. I’ve never been a homicide detective or state trooper or a patrol officer; never had to notify or interview the next of kin in a murder investigation or answer a domestic violence call. However, I’ve known many, many, others who have done all those things and more, and all of us in law enforcement share a certain bond through our unique calling. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best criminal investigators in the world, and by and large, all of them have been a credit to the badge they wear—unfortunately, those aren’t the ones I tend to write about!

As grim as things get, I noticed more humor in this book, than the previous two. What do you think allowed for that?

I’d like to think I’m far funnier in person than ever comes across on the page, but I don’t know that I tried to “lighten up” in this third book! I do think this story had a few more characters who lent themselves to that. Cops and agents—and criminals—often have a gallows humor, and since this book more than any of the others really deals with “cops and criminals,” it’s no surprise that more of that sharp-edged humor found its way to the page.

Have you discovered anything that both your profession as a writer and your one in law enforcement share?

Patience. Drug cases aren’t made overnight and neither are writing careers. That being said, there’s also a fair amount of creativity involved in catching people who desperately don’t want to be caught, and before I started writing again, catching bad guys was my only creative outlet. However, it’s a helluva lot safer writing about cartels and criminals than facing that out on the street.

Interview With Alison Gaylin, Author of Never Look Back

Never Look Back: A Novel Cover ImageAlison Gaylin’s latest thriller to deal with family, media, and murder, Never Look Back, centers on the the crime spree by two young people dubbed thrill killers in the seventies, Gabriel LeRoy and April cooper, and the effects of their crimes on the present. Quentin Garrison, whose aunt was murdered by them, is doing a podcast about the two. His research leads to the possibility that April may still be alive under a different name. His investigating leads him to Robin Diamond, April’s possible daughter. Not soon after he gives Robin the news, someone breaks in and attacks her parents, leading to an unraveling of dark secrets. Alison is a good friend and I’ll be interviewing her at BookPeople July 15th. She was kind enough to take some early questions from me though.

The story of Never Look Back is a mix of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, Branch Dividian, pop and podcast culture. How did it come about? 

I’ve always been fascinated by the Starkweather murders, mainly because it seems to me that Caril Ann Fugate was so clearly a kidnapping victim, yet she was tried and convicted—at barely 15—as an accessory to murder. I wanted to explore this type of destructive, consuming relationship, though I couldn’t make April the way I perceive Caril to have been—a true victim in every sense. I wanted to create somebody who was a bit more of a survivor, someone a little more empowered by the hate she feels for the man who abducts her, someone who changes drastically with each murder. There’s definitely a Branch Dividian element to the Gideons too—that’s a great observation on your part. I think with all of these other elements in the book, it’s just the case of me writing about things that I’m obsessed with. As you know, I’ve always been obsessed with pop culture, and I really, really love so many of these true crime podcasts—particularly the very personal way in which so many of the stories are told.

What spurred the devise of April’s story by her writing the journal for her future child?

I had initially thought about making those entries diary entries, but one of April’s most telling qualities is that she sees herself as motherly and longs to be a mother. She has these protective, maternal feelings for her little sister, and I feel like the person she would find it easiest to talk to wouldn’t be herself (as in a journal/diary.) It would be her future child. I think she sees her future child as her ultimate confidante. I also liked starting it off as a school assignment. It intrigued me, the idea of this young girl trying to focus on a school assignment as her entire life has been pulled out from under her.

This is the third book in a row where examining the media is part of the book. What about that subject draws you to it?

I have my masters in journalism and have been a magazine writer for years. So, in a way, for me getting into the head of a journalist is “writing what you know.” I also have long been fascinated by the way things like magazines, TV news, social media and more recently podcasts relay “facts”—how these media are often the most subjective and unreliable of narrators.

You have an odd structure that works where one protagonist sort of hands the story off to another. How did you deal with that challenge?

I realized that the story is equal parts Quentin’s, Robin’s and April’s. (with a few others thrown in for reasons that are spoilers.) I like choosing the point of view of a character who has the most at stake, and in this story, it’s definitely these three. I initially began telling the story from Robin’s point of view, and then went back in time a little bit when I switched over to Quentin. But then I realized that the story is already so complicated, it made a lot more sense to give it a simpler, more linear structure. That meant starting off from Quentin’s point of view.

I was happy to see Brenna Spector pop in a cameo. Ever plan to use her again in the future?

I’m glad you liked seeing Brenna! I was happy to be able to include her and Nick Morasco, and I definitely will continue to do that when my setting allows. I keep thinking I want to pick up on Brenna’s story, but these standalone ideas keep coming to me!

What other authors would you recommend to fans of your work?

There are so many great psychological suspense authors out there that everyone knows about, but as far as someone who might like me wanting to find someone new, I just started reading a new book called No Bad Deed by Heather Chavez—I think it comes out early next year. I am really finding it very suspenseful and love the family relationships she explores.