“It’s the Only Fun I Have”: An Interview with Martin Limón

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Martin Limón’s latest to feature George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, two Army CID cops stationed in seventies South Korea, is titled G.I. Confidential. The two investigate a group of bank-robbing soldiers as well as a general on the DMZ who procured prostitutes for a meeting. With the help of a reporter they uncover something more sinister and get a target put on their backs for several to shoot at.
Mr. Limón was kind enough to take some time to be interrogated by Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

Scott Montgomery: Did the idea of bank robbing GIs come from your military experience or author’s imagination?

Martin Limón: Imagination.  Because suddenly it dawned on me that I’d never heard of bank robbery committed by American GIs in Korea—and back in those days there were very few bank robberies committed in the country at all.  The elements needed for a successful bank heist just didn’t exist. Very few people, other than the wealthy, owned a car. And in order for a crook to make his getaway, a la Bonnie and Clyde, he needed wheels.  And there was total gun control. Only the military and the police were armed. So the occasional bank robbery was virtually always an inside job. Embezzlement rather than armed robbery. But GIs had access to vehicles and they had access to arms.  So good old American know-how made it possible for these guys (fictionally) to get away with their crime spree.

SM: How do you go about creating a criminal as dark and believable as the main robber they are closing in on?

ML: Years ago, I briefly worked for a guy who was Armenian.  He talked to me about their genocide and diaspora and since he was older than me he sometimes counseled me about reaching my personal goals.  The small business he owned was moderately successful but his real dream in life was to paint. He tried to sell those paintings or get them exhibited but hit a brick wall everywhere he went.  He was very smart and very kind but he had a dark side. In despair, I believe, he killed himself in a single-victim car crash. So in building my villain, I started with this good person I once knew, made him younger, enlisted him in the army, and gave him a burning desire to build up a nest egg of $5,000, a lot of money for a GI in the early 70s.  And I set him to work.

SM: You have a second plot that deals with a general bringing in prostitutes for his men.  Was the character influenced by an officer you heard of?

ML: Not specifically, no.  But some of the senior ROK Army officers were known to throw lavish entertainments, often including beautiful kisaeng, young women similar to Japanese geisha.  I started there and made it even more sordid.  By the way, the women wouldn’t be for his “men.”  That is, the enlisted men. They would be strictly for the senior officers and their invited guests, often American military brass.  And since I was never amongst their exalted rank, I could only imagine what the partying must’ve been like.

SM: Two newspapers play a part in the story.  The army’s Stars and Stripes and the Overseas Weekly.  What did you want to examine about how things were covered?

MLThe Stripes, as we used to call it, was an officially sanctioned Department of Defense publication.  Therefore, more staid and largely without an opinion of its own. The Overseas Weekly, however, was a newspaper owned and operated privately, with a very pro-GI point of view.  It covered Vietnam and the rest of the Far East from, I believe, 1966 until going out of business in 1975.  Gaudy tabloid headlines were interspersed with plenty of photos of pinup girls in bikinis, so the GIs called it the Oversexed Weekly.  They did real journalism, however, and exposed graft and corruption and outright stupidity in the military that really stuck in the craw of those officers with stars on their shoulders.

SM: Katie is a wonderful character to team up with Sueño and Bascom.  How did you go about constructing her?

ML: The late Ann Bryan Mariano was the main reporter for the Overseas Weekly in Vietnam.  I never knew her, of course, but I located her papers which are archived at the State Historical Society of Missouri and managed to borrow some microfilm with many years worth of editions of the Overseas  Weekly.   I had her in mind, along with the other truly intrepid female reporters in Vietnam when I created Katie Byrd Worthington.  I don’t suppose visiting Austin and Houston last year hurt either; since you’ll notice she’s from Fort Worth. She has the frontier spirit and, unlike me, never gets fooled by anyone.

SM: I’ve noticed more humor in the last few books and you allow more time with Bascom and Sueño to bulls#!t and banter.  Are you having more fun with these characters?

ML: Yes.  It’s the only fun I have.  Other than that, I’m a pathetic old shut-in.  But when I’m with George and Ernie, I’m a real boulevardier.  A man-about-town. I was gratified to run into a woman last year who told me that my books made her laugh out loud.  I thanked her for her compliment but also asked if she had considered seeking out a mental health professional.


G.I. Confidential is available for purchase now in-store and online at BookPeople

The Resilience, the Art, the Humor: An Interview with ‘The Pearl Dagger’ Author, L.A. Chandlar

9781496713452 The Pearl Dagger, L.A. Chandlar’s third Art Deco mystery features Lane Sanders, an agent for mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who with an intrepid reporter and Irish cop, who is also her lover, take on corruption, often connected to the Red Scroll Society. A racket with pinball machines leads her to England the Society, Tolkien, and secrets from their past.

L.A. will be at BookPeople, along with Mark Coggins and Heather Harper Ellet, on October 28th at 7PM to discuss her books, but Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, got to chat for a bit with Chandlar before her event to discuss her series and the setting.

 


Scott Montgomery: Which came first for the series, the character of Lane or LaGuardia era New York?

L.A. Chandlar: La Guardia himself actually came first to the scene! When I was about to move to New York City, I was flying there to sign a lease on 9/11. So, obviously, the move didn’t happen that fateful day. However, I moved two weeks later. Around that time, I happened to pick up a biography about New York’s 99th mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. I saw some striking similarities of my own time in a broken and hurting New York, with the era of the Thirties. But it was the way the city handled adversity that floored me. I knew a lot about the Depression era, but what I didn’t know was the resilience, the art, and the humor that was the backbone of New York, just like in my own day. When I started to read about Fiorello, I immediately thought that he was so over-the-top adventurous, funny, daring and the ultimate underdog (being 5’2” and a double minority, half-Jewish and half-Italian)…he would be a fantastic character in a historical novel. So he came first to the table and then the era.

That time is often pigeon-holed into being solely about the Depression. But there was so much more going on than the soup lines. The most favored of all Art Deco buildings, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center…all were built after the stock market crash. I love that beauty out of adversity theme. And women were holding much more prominent positions in the work force, way before the Rosie the Riveters hit the scene. That’s where Lane Sanders, my protagonist and aide to the mayor, comes into play. I wanted to show another side to the 1930s story and I tell it first person through Lane’s eyes. I gave it a lot of thought about writing it first or third person. But one of my main objectives in these stories is to help the reader experience the city and the time. There is something immersive when you read first person. Even if you’re not like Lane, a female in her mid-twenties, you can’t help but put yourself in her shoes when you’re reading it.

SM: Was there anything you had to keep in mind when Lane went over to England?

LAC: Well, the biggest thing was that Europe was ramping up to the second World War much faster than we were. Plus, they were still healing from WWI in ways that America never had to. I have intentionally kept my books solidly in the 1930s so that I can tell that story and not suddenly leap into WWII, of which there are many books. So I had to have enough of both wars in the story in England so that it was an honest view of it, but also not delve right into the serious preparations they were already making for WWII. The oddest thing was the cameo of Winston Churchill. I love having cameos because they give you a holistic sense of a time period, of what other things were going on, who the movers and shakers were, and who wasn’t yet a mover and shaker. At the time, Churchill felt he was in a “political wilderness” in his own words. And he most definitely could have been in the circles where Lane operated. As well as the PM and the head of Scotland Yard (who also have really fun roles in The Pearl Dagger).

SM: How did the use of Orson Welles’ Voodoo MacBeth make it into the story?

I always have a piece of art in the background of all my books. It’s a way to highlight the era and the way art is such a powerful force in our own lives. So I’ve done a lot of research into art in the Thirties, and I happened to just come across Voodoo Macbeth. Orson Welles worked with the Federal Works Project then, and they did all kinds of art programs and were the force behind many of our highest esteemed artists such as Jackson Pollock and DeKooning. Welles put together the first all-black theater cast with both professional and amateur actors from the US and a few from England. They wanted to do Macbeth and set the stage in Haiti where they took the three witches and had a single witch doctor for the role. I personally hadn’t known about this play, and the way the articles described it, it was pure magic. It was sold out for weeks and toured the country. It was extremely successful. It’s one of those seminal events that I would do anything to go back in time to witness it. And in the Thirties. Far before any significant race relations and civil rights were tackled well. But this is what art can do. Outside the theater there were race riots. People were brought together. Each community, the black community, the white community, and the Shakespearean purists, all thought it’d be doomed to failure. And all of them were wrong. Each community loved it. This is one of those brilliant experiences that I wanted to bring to today’s readers. To experience it.

SM: You also embrace the attitude and style of pulp fiction of that era. Are there any authors from that period you consider as influences?

LAC: That’s another way I love to help readers really experience an era and a city, to get a feel for what life was like. Lane loves to read, so I have her reading big novels of the day. In my first book, The Silver Gun, she reads Gone with the Wind, which was billed as a romance novel. I read all the books Lane reads, and yes, there are quite a few authors of that time period that influenced me in different ways. For one, Tolkien of course, but she hasn’t read The Hobbit yet, because it comes out fall of 1937, but Tolkien influences Lane and myself. I love his sense of journey, friendship and also of spontaneity and the freak nature and mystery of life (like the intriguing Tom Bombadil). I’m still a little freaked out by Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and the actual back cover description. But one of the authors who influenced me a lot, is Karen Blixen, whom Lane will read in the next book. The movie Out of Africa was such a soaring, beautiful film when I was growing up. And I loved Blixen’s daring personality. The love of beauty, the romance of adventure, and the idea of doing for what others say you can’t do has always struck a chord with me.

SM: Who are some historical figures you’d like to see Lane meet in future books?

I want her to have more interaction with the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she meets in prior novels. Albert Einstein made an appearance earlier, too, and it’d be fun for her to need to chat with him about the scientific side of a mystery. Amelia Earhart for sure – she disappears in July of 1937 which is coming up fast in Lane’s time frame. She and Lane would be interesting together. I’d also like to get James Stewart to come over to Aunt Evelyn’s one day. I always liked him a lot.

SM: What do you hope to convey about LaGuardia through the books?

LAR: La Guardia was known as The People’s Mayor. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to write about a real politician, who had foibles and flaws, yet was full of integrity and tried so hard to do what was right for the little guy. His energy and his zeal for life is actually the backbone of the entire series. Everything is reflective of that. But I have a lot of his real efforts and real life publicity stunts that have a lot of panache because they’re so funny and so enjoyable. His world was just as corrupt or more so than ours today, so I would love readers to know that real people can make a difference. When Fiorello died, President Truman wrote Fio’s wife a telegram. It said, “He was as incorruptible as the sun.” Can you only imagine that today?


Be sure to join us on October 28th at 7PM when Chandlar stops by BookPeople with Mark Coggins and Heather Harper Ellet in tow, for their panel-style discussion with Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery. The Pearl Dagger can be found in-store at BookPeople and is available for purchase online now.

Review of ‘G. I. Confidential’ by Martin Limón

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George Sueño and Ernie Bascom have become investigators I look forward to reading more and more. The two Army CID cops stationed in seventies Soule, South Korea takes through the institution of the military and the culture of the country, often at odds with the former and mystified by the latter. Author Martin Limón has hit his stride in this series, which the latest, G.I. Confidential, serves as proof of.

The book entwines two cases. One is a string of bank robberies apparently committed by U.S. soldiers. Sueño and Bascom want it, but their superiors won’t have it, assigning two brown-noses who will lead the investigation away from Army blame. Instead, they are assigned to look into a general who procured prostitutes for a special meeting near the DMZ. By pushing their way onto one case, when the next robbery takes the life of a teller and following the leads to their assigned one, they get a target placed on both of their backs and wade into what could be an international incident of major consequence.

Limón strikes a great balance between character and story. He hooks us right in at the beginning with the description of the first robbery. The story is able to bring out Sueño and Bascom’s nature as they clash with Army protocols and bureaucracy and work to get information. They also team up with Katie Byrd Worthinington, an American reporter and ire of the brass. She adds to the humor and banter between the two. As they uncover more information, they find themselves up against two of their most dangerous antagonists they’ve come across and coming to a reveal I couldn’t have predicted.

G.I. Confidential is one of the best in a series that gets better and better. You feel close to our two heroes, the themes are bigger and more complex, and even with all that, Limón brings it all in with a tight, well paced tale. I’m already looking forward to the next one.


You can purchase G.I. Confidential from BookPeople in-store and online now.

Meike Reviews ‘The Right Sort of Man’ by Alison Monclair

9781250178367_9325f This week we’re featuring a special guest review from part-time bookseller/event host and full-time mystery lover, Meike. She discusses The Right Sort of Manthe first installment in a new series by Allison Montclair. This is a title that may have flown under your radar when it published earlier this year.


At loose ends after WWII, two very different London women join forces to launch a business venture in hopes it will help them heal the emotional wounds they’re privately nursing. Following a chance meeting, the quick-witted and impulsive Iris Sparks (this firecracker is aptly named!) and the aristocratic and genteel widow Gwendolyn Bainbridge decide to open The Right Sort Marriage Bureau—many Londoners are anxious to marry and begin families to put the horrors of the war behind them, and our heroines hope their firm’s matchmaking can help others while also giving them a sense of independence.

But their new venture is put at risk when their latest client, Tillie La Salle, is found murdered. The police quickly make an arrest, and the accused is none other than Dickie Trower, the man they introduced her to. While the police are quite certain they have their man, Iris and Gwendolyn are equally certain they do not. When the case generates some bad publicity causing them to lose clients, they join forces to find the real murderer and clear the Right Sort’s name—while discovering hidden talents and depths of emotional strength in themselves and each other.

The Right Sort of Man is Montclair’s first installment featuring Iris and Gwendolyn, and one hopes there will be many to follow. The characters couldn’t be more different yet they complement each other perfectly. The reader gets to know them at the same time they’re getting to know each other; each character has hidden wounds from the war that are gradually revealed as the plot progresses and the result is a perfectly paced story. They also each have a unique set of talents that aren’t immediately obvious (Iris is particularly talented with knives!) The dialogue between the characters is whip smart and funny and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book.

Upon reading the dust jacket, I couldn’t help but being reminded of two of my favorite series—Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and Alexander McCall Smith’s Number One Ladies Detective Agency. Like the former, this is a solid fusion between mystery and British historical fiction. Like the latter, we get to meet two independent female business owners determined to succeed while never forgetting to be kind. Montclair has crafted the perfect new addition to the mystery genre for fans of both.


You can purchase a copy of The Right Sort of Man today in-store and online at BookPeople.

Review of ‘Peccadillo at the Palace’

9781943006908_e70a2Kari Bovée’s Girl With A Gun proved that Annie Okley could make a fascinating amateur sleuth. She mines facets of her early life and wove them into an entertaining whodunnit. With the second book in the series, Peccadillo At The Palace, she proves there is a lot more to use from the biography of The Little Sure Shot.

The Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show’s performance for the Queen Of England serves as the backdrop for the mystery this time. Along with Bill and Annie on the voyage over with Annie and Bill are her husband, trick shooter Frank Butler, her friend, suffragette reporter Emma Wilson, and the queen’s emissary Amal Bhatuka. Early on, after a wild event with Annie’s horse Buck, Bhatuka is murdered by poisoning. Annie and Emma work to find the culprit on board. When they reach England the Agatha Christie-style mystery moves into thriller territory with Irish separatists and an assassination plot to foil.

Bovée weaves character, history, and plot seamlessly together. Annie’s news of a possible pregnancy has her asking what she wants in life. Her friendship with the more progressive Emma leads to reflections of herself and her dreams. As the story builds to a climax in its Victorian setting and thriller plot, we cheer on Annie to both save the world and her place in it.

With Peccadillo At The Palace, Kari Bovée has affirmed that Annie Oakley makes a strong series sleuth. Her real life adventures can easily envelope a fictional mystery. She has skills and resolves to count on and there is the possible journey toward the feminist icon we know. I’m looking forward to her getting her gun for the next one.

Kari Bovée’s Peccadillo at the Palace is available to purchase now in-store and online at BookPeople. And be sure to catch a reading a signing with Bovée when she stops at BookPeople on October 13th at 5PM to discuss Peccadillo at the Palace.

George Pellecanos Calls In To Murder In the Afternoon Book Club

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I can’t wait for our Murder In The Afternoon to discuss George Pelecanos’ The Man Who Came Uptown, a rich, humanistic novel about the power of books and second chances. It was our Mystery People top pick for 2018. As soon as I knew the paperback was coming it got even when George Pelecanos agreed to join in on our discussion.

The story begins when, Michael Hudson, a man who has thrown away most of his life with petty crime and getting high, is released from prison when charges are dropped against him. Inside, he developed a love of books with the help of Ann, the prison librarian. Michael gets a dishwasher job, with a plan to go straight and discover more books, but is pulled back in. The private detective who got the witness to recant, has a sideline of robbing pimps and drug dealers and if Michael doesn’t agree to be his wheelman he’ll put him back in. It becomes even more complicated when he meets up with Ann on the outside.

Complex characters and simple virtues are what make this a great  book. Everyone has their angels and demons. It is how they deal with both that leads to an outcome. It also celebrates the pleasure of reading and gives several great book recommendations. It is a perfect discussion book, even made more interesting by the author calling in to join us. The Murder in the Afternoon book club will be meeting up on BookPeople’s third floor October 21st, at 1PM.

You can purchase The Man Who Came Uptown in-store and online at BookPeople now and receive a 10% discount when you mention that it’s for the Murder in the Afternoon book club.

Three Picks for October

Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, has your required reading for October set with three picks you shouldn’t sleep on.


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G. I. Confidential by Martin Limón

Seventies Seoul-stationed CID cops Sueno and Bascome make some new enemies, going after G.I. bank robbers and dealing with a General who has a Colonel Kurtz bent. Limón continues to flesh out his lifers while depicting Korean and army life, along with a slam bang thriller.

 

 

 

9781641290807_0d283 Sarah Jane by James Sallis

This book combines character study, police procedural , and regional novel for this tale of a female deputy in the Ozarks who becomes sheriff when the previous one is murdered. Sallis captures both the voice and heart of a survivor.

 

 

 

 

9781643960319The Dead Beat Scroll

August Riordan returns to San Fransisco to find his former partner murdered. His search for justice leads to Chinatown gangsters, sugar daddies, and scroll manuscript of Kerouac. A fun traditional P.I. novel that uses its setting for all it’s worth. Mark will be at BookPeople October 28th at 7PM with authors L.A. Chandlar and Heather Harper Ellet.

 

 


You can grab copies of all three of Scott’s picks this month in-store and online at BookPeople.