Review of John Vercher’s ‘Three-Fifths’

9781947993679_3c3edJohn Vercher wrote an attention-getting debut with Three-Fifths in the best way. He takes on the incendiary topic of race and the violence that comes out of it yet does it in a meditative way, knowing it can’t help but be provocative. He examines these issues in a very intimate way, by creating characters who are fully fledged people dealing with those issues.

At the center of the tale is Bobby Serrenco, a young bi-racial man passing himself off as white his whole life. He lives with his mother Isabell, an alcoholic trying to do her best who work with him in the same restaurant. The only thing he seems to live for is comic books.

Bobby picks up his friend Aaron who has just been released from prison. partly due to a beating and sexual assault by black inmates and joining the Aryan Brotherhood to survive, Aaron has become a white supremacist. We feel for Bobby as Aaron sprays racist rhetoric out of his mouth, not knowing what we know. Soon, he will have to deal with not just Aaron’s actions, but his words.

They stop at a popular Philly eatery for Aaron’s first meal back out. A young black man notices Aarons’ prison tats and verbally berates him. It leads to a scuffle in the parking lot, where Aaron shatters the man’s face and puts him in a coma, making Bobby both a witness and accessory.

The physician treating the victim of this hate crime is Dr. Robert Winton, Bobby’s father. A chance meeting with Isabell at a bar triggers the other thread of the story, intertwining with the one of the crime, and setting off a series of circumstances that forces everyone of these characters to face who they are and the secrets they’ve kept.

Vercher mines the issue of race deeply and with a mindful precision. He is not interested in condemnation. He assumes the reader believes racism is evil. Through well constructed characters that breathe and move through their messy lives, he examines race and class in how each person deals with it philosophically, emotionally, and through interactions with one another.

Bobby’s dilemma, takes the difficulty many of us had to deal with with a bigoted loved


 one, and amplifies it to eleven. He agonizes as he justifies who Booby has become, defending him, while he wants to tear down that thinking. He reflects back to when they were both bonded by being comic book nerds in school, making them the other together. The crime not only tests his morality, but his identity, something that is even pushed further when he meets his father.

Dr. Winton is also trapped in his secrets and past. He has been trapped in a cultural double standard as a black man. He must excel to shed low expectations of who he is thought to be, but has to “stay black’ to many in his family. He carries the same weight in baggage as his son.

Aaron could simply be the lost, racist friend, but we get his unending loyalty to Bobby.

The book does two smart things with setting. Working  class Philadelphia serves as the
backdrop. Most of the characters have little That loyalty is a double edged sword, since he expects Bobby to go to the same extremes for him. He has learned that hate is a better way to survive than to live in fear. His racism is more shield than outlook, yet he has to believe it with full conviction to protect him.

respite or escape from their situation. Identity is both currency and trap. In this respect, I couldn’t help but think of many of George Pelecanos’s works. He places it during the O.J. trial, where, for those who remember, it seemed most people seemed to publicly voice their opinions on race, in restaurants and the workplace, no matter how misguided or wrong headed.

Three-Fifths is the first book to come from Agora, an imprint from the impressive independent publisher Polis. Its mission is to bring more diverse voices to print. Three-Fifths proves that this endeavor not only does good deeds, it provides great fiction.

John Vercher will be at BookPeople on September 22 at 2PM presenting his debut novel, Three-Fifths, alongside Jamie Mason and her latest, The Hidden Things.

What Meike Read Over the Summer

The outside temps have made it clear that summer is seemingly going to stay FOREVER, and what’s the best way to chill in the summer heat? You know it: flop down under the nearest ceiling fan and grab a book—one so riveting that you simply cannot leave that lovely breeze. Below are a few I’ve enjoyed recently—you have plenty of time to check them out before sweater weather!

The Swallows by Lisa Lutz:  I’ve been a huge fan of Lutz’s work since The Spellman Files series so I was thrilled that she had a new book out and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. It’s set in a second-tier boarding school and begins when new teacher9781984818232_b9eeb Alex Witt arrives and starts to uncover secrets that have the potential to destroy the school. But Alex has secrets of her own, and an unknown enemy who may know a little too much about them. I can’t say much more without revealing spoilers—suffice to say that this completely original thriller is almost impossible to summarize and not to be missed. It’s definitely going to be in my top 10 for 2019!

The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker: Austin author Chandler Baker’s adult debut (she’s published 5 YA novels) was chosen as the July pick for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club. It’s a thriller about a group of female coworkers who sue a male executive in their Dallas firm for sexual harassment.  When he falls to his death from the 18th floor it’s not clear whether he’s committed suicide—or perhaps been helped on his way.  A timely examination of the myriad facets of workplace inequality explored in the context of a thriller.

9780062390011_29ce7Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman: After last year’s Sunburn, I felt like my summer wouldn’t be complete without a Lippman thriller—and this one didn’t disappoint. In 1966 Baltimore, pampered Jewish housewife “Maddie” Schwartz walks out on her husband, determined to carve out a life with meaning. She helps the police solve a murder, which leads to a job at the afternoon newspaper. When the body of a young black woman is found floating in a park, Maddie sees an opportunity to make a name for herself by reporting on the investigation. What I loved most about this one was the unique structure—the story is told from the shifting viewpoints of a number of characters but the narrative is seamlessly woven

Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin:  Any true crime podcast addicts out there? This is one you’ll love! True crime podcaster Quentin Garrison examines a killing spree that took place more than 40 years ago—one to which he has a personal connection. The teenage killers were believed to have died in a fire, but Quentin has reason to believe that April Cooper may be alive. Shortly after he contacts the woman he believes may be April, she is almost killed in a brutal home invasion. While she lies in a coma, her daughter is forced to confront how little she really knows about her mother’s past—a realization that makes her question who her mother really is. Could she have been that teenage girl who was at least partially responsible for the murders of a dozen victims?

Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware: Ware is a master of suspense, and this is her modern9781501188770_a23de take on Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. London nanny Rowan Caine is looking for something completely different online when she stumbles across the job of her dreams—private nanny to a family living in a luxurious Scottish Highlands manse. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare when one of the children dies and Rowan is arrested for murder. The story is told in the form of letters Rowan writes to an attorney as she explains the events leading up to the tragedy. The suspense builds slowly and then ends with some gut-wrenching twists.

Someone We Know by Shari Lapena: This book starts with a bang when a brutal murder takes place in the first chapter. The story then shifts pace when we learn about the idyllic suburb in upstate New York where the victim lived.  All is not quite as it seems and the tension builds slowly as Lapena gradually uncovers hidden secrets—it appears any number of people may have had a reason to kill the victim. The slow burn builds to a satisfyingly explosive conclusion.

9780451491725_8d9cbMy Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing: The lovely Millicent and her husband seem to have it all—a beautiful home in a prestigious gated community; successful careers (he’s the country club tennis pro and she’s a realtor); 2 great kids; a marriage of over 15 years. But things have gotten a little stale in the bedroom. Normal people take a vacation or buy sex toys—this couple finds that getting away with murder is the best aphrodisiac. Any book that combines sex and murder is not to be missed!

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager: This was one of the most anticipated books of the summer and it certainly lives up to the hype! New Yorker Jules Larsen is desperate for money and a place to live, and she thinks she’s found the perfect solution—an apartment-sitting gig at the exclusive Bartholomew. All she has to do is live in a vacant apartment for 3 months and pick up a $12,000 paycheck. Sound too good to be true? I think you know it is. The plot is super twisty and you won’t see the end coming in a million years.’

Meike is a part-time bookseller and event staffer at BookPeople with a penchant for thrilling reads. Her picks and many more like them can be found at BookPeople in-store and online now!

Interview with Reed Farrel Coleman, Author of ‘Robert B. Parker’s The Bitterest Pill’

9780399574979With The Bitterest Pill, Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest continuation of Robert B. Parker’s character, Paradise Massachusetts Police Chief Jesse Stone, he delves into the town growing and taking on more big city crimes when a drug ring’s merchandise takes the lives of some of the teens. We talked to Reed about the evolution of the character and his surroundings.





  1. What drew you to looking into the opioid crisis as a backdrop?

Truthfully, I hate theme-driven books. So while the crime in this novel is centered around the opioid epidemic, it’s not a book about the epidemic itself, but rather how the epidemic resonates throughout an entire community. I was inspired by reading novels by two of my writing heroes, Don Winslow and Michael Connelly, in which each takes a different slant at the epidemic. I thought I might have a third take on how it rears its ugly head in small town Massachusetts.

  1. There is an interesting parallel with Jesse dealing with people addicted to drugs while he is doing his best to contend with his alcohol addiction. Where do you see him with his battle?

That is exactly what appealed to me as a writer. How does a man battling and struggling with his own addiction deal with other people struggling with an addiction to a controlled substance. Jess is many things, but he isn’t a hypocrite. So he doesn’t take a holier than thou stance. He understands the insidious nature of addition, so he’s not trying to get the users into trouble. He’s trying to find them help while at the same time trying to stem the flow into Paradise. Readers will see several junctures in the novel when Jesse is reminded of his own addiction and how it colors his decisions.

  1. How do you see the relationship with his new ound son effecting his life?

Well, there are several surprises there for readers. It’s always important for Jesse to have more than one issue to deal with. In the past it’s usually been the crime he’s trying to solve and his drinking and/or his relationship with women. Now that Jesse’s been to rehab and is going to AA meetings, he’s got to deal with a fully grown son who has shown up in town and who is living with him. It’s a fascinating dance between father and son, but I’ll leave it there.

  1. Jesse has to interview and work with a lot of teenagers in his investigation. What do you have to keep in mind when writing for teens?

Since Jesse is a new father—although his son is an adult—he is new to the minefield. He has in several earlier books dealt with teenagers, but now he has skin in the game. His perspective is very different from those earlier novels. Jesse realizes this and seeks Molly’s advice. It’s her voice Jesse hears in his head when dealing with the teenagers.

  1. Due to events in the series, Jesse deals with Vinnie Morris more. What has made him a fun character for you?

Well, having grown up in Brooklyn, mob guys are always a fun subject. And Vinnie is by his very nature an interesting man. A sharp dresser and a dangerous man, he’s also prescient and smart. He often gives Jesse, with possibly the exception of Molly, the best advice. It is Vinnie, after all, who had warned Jesse that as Boston encroached on Paradise, its sins would encroach as well. And, of course, there is an explosive secret between them dating back to Diana’s murder and Mr. Peepers. They are bound together, for better or worse.

  1. The book also deals with the town of Paradise itself growing. Are you doing this to give yourself more venues to explore or did it just come organically to the story?

One of the things I realized as I took over the series and re-reading the canon was that I could only keep things local for so long. I didn’t want to risk boring the readers or myself. First, I expanded Parker’s Paradise to include different areas—The Bluffs, The Swap, Pilgrim Cove—and then thought the town had to evolve. I don’t enjoy static series. That’s why I aged Moe in my Moe Prager series. In each of the nine novels in that series, Moe was a different age, his marital status was different, his job status was different. It kept me interested. I can’t really do that with Jesse, so I changed the town instead.

You can purchase Robert B. Parker’s The Bitterest Pill at BookPeople in-store and online now.

Laura Oles Joins Murder in the Afternoon Discussion of ‘Daughters of Bad Men’

Our September Murder In The Afternoon book club will be discussing the book with it’s author in person. Laura Oles has already won accolades and awards, even though she is relatively new to the fiction scene. Her debut novel that we will be reading, Daughters Of Bad Men, is a MysteryPeople favorite.

The book introduces us to Jamie Rush, a skip tracer operating out of Port Arlene, Texas (a fictionalized Port Aransas) with her hulking business partner Cookie Hinojosa and Deuce, the bull dog she won in a poker game. Most of her skills come from the con artist family she distances herself from, but her brother comes to her for a favor. Jamie’s niece has gone missing. Her love for another innocent trying to break from the clan makes her take on the job. The search leads to a dangerous game and the kind of trouble she tried to escape.

Daughters Of Bad Men is a first rate take on the private eye novel. The characters are fun and engaging and the plot is sharp. Laura is sharp and entertaining as her novel, so everything is in place for a good discussion. Join us on BookPeople’s third floor, Monday, September 16th, at 1PM. The book is 10% off to those planning to attend.

Next month we will be discussing The Man Who Came Uptown with author George Pelecanos calling in.

How I Went From Researching Children of Serial Killers to Murderabilia

by John Vonderau

The protagonist of my thriller, Murderabilia, is the son of a serial killer. That premise led me to research the actual children of serial killers. What I found was that these poor kids’ lives were irreparably shattered when their fathers—and in some cases mothers— were arrested. Imagine being told, out of the blue, that the father you loved is a serial killer.

Carl.Suit & VinesMelissa Moore was only fifteen years old when her mother sat her down and revealed what she had just learned: Melissa’s father was the Happy Face Killer. Kari Rawson’s father, Dennis Rader, had walked her down the aisle at her wedding. An FBI agent knocked on her door to deliver the news that he was actually BTK. Michael Brunner was only fourteen months old when his father, Charlie Manson, was arrested. But even a toddler is traumatized when he’s yanked from his parents to live with his grandparents.

There are many others. But almost all of them, when their parent was arrested, felt as if their prior lives were lies. Suddenly many people they knew in their communities saw them as pariahs. How could they, even as children, not have known? They themselves felt guilty that they hadn’t suspected something. The inconsequential oddities of a parent they loved now took on deadly significance. Like the duct tape in the cab of Keith Jesperson’s truck. Or when Fred and Rose West locked their kids in the basement and the kids heard strange noises coming through the ceiling. Or when Dennis Rader lunged at his son and choked him. It only happened once. Every parent loses it one time, right? And worst of all, they questioned what was wrong with themselves. How could they love people who did such monstrous things? As these kids grew up and had children, they had to shield their own kids from their secret family history. These are some of the issues I learned about and explored in Murderabilia.

In my thriller, the protagonist’s father took “artistic” black and white photos of hisMurderabilia Cover with quote victims. Those photos, shot in the Eighties, were now all over the internet. That led to more research and a shocking discovery. There is all kinds of art work produced by actual killers. A whole market exists for this stuff. It’s called “murderabilia.” It is not only artwork but any kind of memorabilia associated with murders and murderers. Dealers sell it both privately and all over the internet. The variety is endless: paintings, letters, poetry, signatures, photos, hair, fingernails, and even ashes. Paintings and writings seem to bring the highest prices. And if that painting is produced by someone notorious? The prices are sickeningly high. John Wayne Gacy’s clown pictures go for thousands of dollars. Even his driver’s license is for sale. But his highest priced work is an oil painting of his house showing the crawl spaces where he buried his victims. That one recently listed for $175,000. Ted Bundy’s glasses were for sale for $70,000. One of Hitler’s paintings was recently sold in Germany for about a half million dollars. Even the U.S. government is getting in the act. To benefit his victims, the government sold Whitey Bulger’s personal items like jewelry and even his sneakers. The more you think about it, the creepier it gets. In my book, my protagonist’s father started the whole murderabilia market with his photos. And thus the name of the book—Murderabilia. Imagine having to deal with that history.

Hear more from John Vanderau when he visits BookPeople on September 9th at 7PM for a panel discussion alongside Edwin Hill and Puja Guha.

Three Picks for September

9780399574979 Robert B. Parker’s The Bitterest Pill by Reed Farrel Coleman

Paradise police chief Jesse Stone takes on a opioid ring while fighting the day to day battle with alcohol. Coleman delivers a strong procedural thriller on a topical subject, hitting all the human notes without sacrificing the entertainment value.




9781947993679_3c3ed Three-Fifths by John Vercher

A young mixed race man, passing for white, in early nineties Philly is confronted with his identity when he witnesses his white supremacist friend commit murder and his black father comes back into his life. Vercher captures the lives and emotions of his working class people in this meditation on race, friendship, and comic books. John Vercher will be joining Jamie Mason on Saturday, September 22nd at 2PM to sign and discuss their books.


9780316479837_7c0c6The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pellecanos

My favorite of 2018 is out in paperback. A young man gets out of jail, trying to get his life together and indulge in his newfound love of reading. When a private detective blackmails him into being a driver for robberies of pimps and dealers, he must navigate his former life of crime and the life he wants. A humanist crime novel that also delves into the pleasure of reading. Our Murder In the Afternoon Book Club will be discussing The Man Who Came Uptown on October 21st at 1PM, with George Pelecanos calling in.

September’s Pick of the Month: Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson


The Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson
The latest in Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series, Land Of Wolves, rewards readers who have followed the big man with the bruised heart ever since his debut in The Cold Dish. It contains echoes of that book and several others as Walt finds himself at an uncertain place in his life, yet feeling a touch of deja’ vu as well. The events from the previous book, Depth Of Winter, have left him with physical and psychic wounds with a mystery that has him facing a mystery with possible international implications, a renegade wolf, and himself.

The book even begins with Walt and deputy Vic Moretti out in Wyoming back country discussing how they’ve been here before and wondering how that turned out. They’ve been brought in due to the disappearance of sheep; the investigation leads to a large wolf prowling the area, who Vic dubs Larry after Lon Chaney Jr.’s character in The Wolfman, and a shepherd hanging from a tree. The man, Miguel Hernandez, worked for the Extepares, a Basque sheep herding family who was responsible for blowing off the leg of Walt’s predecessor, Lucian Connally. Hernandez was also a political dissident in Chile with reasons and people at home and abroad to kill him.

Larry also plays a major part in the story. Much like his Universal Horror namesake, the town is after him. There are several questions about who he is and where he came from. Walt’s Cheyenne pal, Henry Standing Bear, believes the animal is connected to Virgil White Buffalo, the Vietnam veteran Crow Indian who has served as a spiritual guide for Walt in times past. Walt has doubts, but less than he usually does, yet wonders what he’s trying to say.

Walt is in one of his most fragile states. In Mexico, he pulled out a darker side he’s having difficulty contending with now. A fugue state has taken over him and he finds himself disconnected from those he loves, particularly his daughter Cady. He fears he is returning to that person who shut people off after his wife died and he doesn’t want to go back to to that. The title comes form the Basque proverb “A land of strangers is a land of wolves.” Walt has returned to a land of strangers he knows.

If this all sounds depressing, the book is far from it. Vic gets many great moments, particularly  when being forced into the role as Walt’s life coach. Fans of Dog will be happy to see he gets a lot of attention on the page, including one with Walt trying to get him into the bullet that is both funny and poignant. There is also the subplot with Ruby and the deputy’s teaching him to use the desktop computer forced on him, something he fears will lead to a phone.

Land Of Wolves allows Craig Johnson to do what he does best. He is able to to take his time, take in Walt’s friendships and the lay of the land. The result is the reader taking in the life of a survivor and see the benefits and price of being one.

You can purchase Land of Wolves from BookPeople here now.