On August 31st we had a fun panel on BookPeople’s third floor, “Tough Guys & Dangerous Dames: A Discussion Of Hard Boiled Fiction” to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Stark House Press and the recent release of their collection The Best Of Manhunt.
Participants were the anthology’s editor, John Vorzimmer, author and crime fiction historian Rick Ollerman, author and owner of the Boss Light bookstore, Tim Bryant, and authors Josh Stallings and Joe R. Lansdale. We may have confused as much as enlightened, but some knowledge was dropped and it was very entertaining. You can replay this fantastic discussion here now!
You can still grab a signed copy of The Best of Manhunt at BookPeople in-store and online now.
Heaven, My Home
is the second book to feature Attica Locke’s black Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews. She has created a character who takes us in a very personal way through black Texas culture and examine the American tange and tension of modern race relations. In this second book, Locke shows how those issues are tied together over centuries.
The story takes place during the holidays after the 2016 election. Matthews is riding the desk and the eye of a D.A. due to the events from the first novel, Bluebird, Bluebird. To hopefully get out of this jam, he takes the case of a missing nine-year old son of an Aryan Brotherhood member in prison for murder, The search takes him to a town whose main business is giving tourists a taste of of the antebellum south. As Matthews digs deeper, he discovers ties to the boy’s family that had to do with the dark side of that history as well as getting a black man accused of killing the boy into further danger.
Fans of James Lee Burke should take to these books. Matthews’ Texas past hold on to him as hard as Robicheaux’s Louisiana history. However, with an African American hero, the canvas is bigger and allows for more depth. A relationship with a friend or order from a superior contains different shades and meanings. Locke examines these complexities in the eyes of a complex hero who often has to question if he’s on the right side, even if he is on the side of the law.
Locke and Ranger Matthews deliver on the promise of Bluebird, Bluebird and then some. It looks at race relations through Texas culture both past and present. After you finish reading , you may wonder if our country is less racist or that if racism learned to be more nuanced.
Both Bluebird, Bluebird and Heaven, My Home are available at BookPeople in-store and online.
We’re excited to have John Vercher at BookPeople this weekend on September 22nd at 2PM with Jamie Mason. His debut novel, Three-Fifths is a novel that explores race, friendship, and identity against a working class backdrop. For a taste of his talent you can read this piece of flash fiction published in Akashics’ site, Mondays Are Murder.
Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things is an of-the-moment take on one of the world’s greatest unsolved art heists. Fourteen-year old Carly Liddell is walking home from school when she notices a young man following her. She isn’t fast enough to evade him, and he pushes his way inside her home. But Carly’s a badass, and she fights back hard—hard enough that she leaves him out cold on the entryway floor. Carly knows that her stepfather John has installed a series of security cameras outside the front of their home, but she and her mother are surprised to learn that there is also a hidden camera inside the house. While this is a boon for Carly—the attack is caught on a video loop that quickly goes viral and leads to the apprehension of Carly’s assailant—it’s not great news for John. The interior camera has picked up a partial shot of the painting that hangs inside the entry, and it’s a painting that John would prefer remain hidden. When the video goes viral some shady characters from John’s past come looking for him and the painting, threatening to expose a past that he would prefer remain hidden.
Mason’s story was inspired by the largest unsolved art theft in history. Thirteen works of art valued at close to a half billion dollars was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and this novel explores what may have happened to one of those pieces—a lesser known work by Govaert Flinck called “Landscape With Obelisk.”
Mason takes this thoroughly unique concept and puts her masterful word-smithing to work, crafting a wholly original thriller that explores the hidden secrets in one man’s past. Mason herself has aphantasia, which means she doesn’t see images in her mind. It’s been said that people who lack one sense make up for it with enhanced abilities in other senses, and perhaps we have Mason’s aphantasia to thank for her amazing way with words–she can string words together in a uniquely evocative way. The discerning reader is in for a treat with this one–the prose is as thrilling as the plot.
Jamie Mason will be presenting The Hidden Things alongside John Vercher and his novel, Three-Fifths, on September 22nd at 2PM. They will be in conversation with Scott M., our resident Crime Fiction Coordinator
BookPeople will be hosting John Vercher and Jamie Mason on September 22nd at 2PM. Vercher’s debut novel Three-Fifths examines race and identity through the plight of Bobby Saraceno, a bi-racial young man, who witnesses a hate crime committed by his white supremacist freind. Vercher deals with these issues head on through some well fleshed out characters. Mr. Vercher was kind enough to take a few questions about the people who populate his novel.
- Which came first, the character of Bobby or the premise he is thrown in?
Bobby came first. His story has been bouncing around in my head since I was an undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh. I was a freshman when I took a course in Black Film History and had been introduced to the “tragic mulatto” and passing narratives with the film Imitation of Life, which as young mixed-race man had a significant impact on me. From there, I discovered books like Nella Larsen’s Passing, as well as more contemporary novels like Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, and wanted to create my own version of that kind of story.
- It seems that many books have difficulty depicting a character with extremely racist beliefs without falling into stereotype. How did you avoid doing that with Aaron?
No villain thinks they’re the villain—they’re the hero of their own story. Making Aaron a caricature would have made him far less interesting or terrifying. The most intimidating “bad guys,” to me, whether in books or in film, are the ones where, to our discomfort, we see some of ourselves in. I find it far more compelling to read antagonists who are not inhumanly evil, but humanly flawed—a person, that despite their terrible actions, have real feelings and connections with other people. Aaron doesn’t think he’s evil—he believes he’s justified in everything he’s done because of what’s been done to him, and he’s not afraid to hold up a mirror to those who choose to judge him—whether that be Bobby or the reader.
- What made you decide this was a story that needed to be told from multiple points of view?
It was mostly a decision based on rhythm. I love novels that switch from multiple POV’s because each section almost acts as a cliffhanger. When it’s done effectively, it takes readers up to the brink, and just when they think things are really going to kick into high gear, the author pumps the brakes. It’s almost a necessary breather, to slow things down, whether it be character development or plot, and it makes for a page-turner. I hope I was able to effectively do that in Three-Fifths.
- What made you decide to set the story during the O.J. trial?
The trial came just a few years after the L.A. Riots, and the wounds were still open. The O.J. trial so fiercely divided people along both racial and class lines, and contributed to the tension and mistrust of police officers by people of color. I was in Pittsburgh as a student at that time, so placing the story in that context helped me to place myself in the environment to sort of “look around” to tell the story and capture what I observed at that time.
- Each character in this book comes off as a complete, complex, breathing human being. How do you approach your characters when constructing them?
As a reader, I’m, drawn to literary fiction—as long as something happens. What draws me to it, though, are the fully fleshed-out characters. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick—not just what they’re thinking, but what they say, how they say it, and what motivates what and how they say these things. The best writing advice I’d ever heard was write the books you want to read, so I try to create characters that feel like I know them in real life (as pretentious as that might sound). I love Vonnegut’s notion of putting characters up a tree and then throwing rocks at them. Characters in trouble will immediately be more complex and interesting to me.
- You also demonstrate your knowledge of comic books in the book. Any super hero you’d like to write for?
Oh, man—all of them? Recently, my oldest son, while watching one of the MCU movies, asked me why there weren’t any Falcon movies. He said Iron Man and Captain America have their own movies—why not Falcon? So I’d LOVE to write a Falcon graphic novel. In addition to writing for existing characters, I recently wrote a short story that I’m going to turn into a longer work, but I haven’t decided yet if that will be another novel or a graphic novel. If there are any comic book editors out there reading—hit me up!
Don’t forget to stop by BookPeople on September 22nd at 2PM and catch John Vercher and Jamie Mason in conversation with BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery.
John 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 thebackdrop. 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.
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.