An Interview with ‘Murder Off the Page’ Author, Cone Lehane

9781250317926_91e7cMurder Off The Page is the third book to feature Raymond Ambler, crime fiction curator for the New York Public Library. When his buddy, bartender McNulty, gets pinned with a murder rap, he aims to clear him and gets caught up in the victim’s daouble life. This a wonderful series that is not overtly violent but has a less than cozy feel. His characters have lived in feel and the story always gives us an interesting view of New York. Con was kind enough to take some questions from us. Lehane was kind enough to take a few questions from Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

 

 


Scott Montgomery: What made you decide to put McNulty in jeopardy?

Con Lehane: McNulty was there at the beginning of the story but I didn’t know what would happen to him, and I didn’t know he had a past with Shannon until deep into the first draft. I may have had a vague idea that he’d be in trouble. The truth is I didn’t know where this story was going when I began. For a while, I was working on two drafts at the same time, two beginnings to the story; one was called The Librarian and the Damaged Girl; the other working title was McNulty’s Story. The first first-draft began in the house next to the lagoon on Long Island that Ambler visits in chapter five in the final version. The dying woman has summoned Ambler and asks him to find the daughter she abandoned years before. The second first-draft had to do with a woman with risky habits who frequents the Library Tavern and whom McNulty is smitten by. I knew he’d run off with her. I didn’t know he’d become a suspect in a murder.

SM: The murder victim is very intriguing. How did you go about constructing her?

CL: As I noted above, I had two ideas in mind when I began the book. The first I mentioned above is Ambler searching for a dying woman’s estranged daughter. The other idea came from a news story in New York some time back of a young woman doctor who died of a cocaine overdose in Chelsea, a hip section of Manhattan. She was an ophthalmologist, I think, with a husband and a couple of kids in Long Island who came into the city to party by herself. Her story kind of haunted me. I ended up with the dying woman’s missing daughter becoming this woman with two lives, a kind of victim of impulses she didn’t understand and couldn’t control.

SM: Cosgrove gets a lot of page time in the book. What do you enjoy about him as a character?

CL: Some of my favorite books are European police procedurals, especially Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret stories, but also Nicholas Freeling’s Van der Valk series, and the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and a bunch of others. I didn’t feel confident trying my own police procedural because I didn’t know enough about police work, and I wasn’t really interested in the nuts-and-bolts, CSI, stuff of how police investigate. So I came up with Cosgrove—intentionally—as my mini-police procedural. I like writing in his voice, and he’s played an increasingly prominent role as the series progressed. He’s a smart guy and knows what he’s doing. I didn’t want him to be a dumb cop foil for Ambler. But he’s different in how he sees the world because he is a cop—different from Ambler and different from me—and I like that.

SM: Ambler is a character who has been through a lot of life even before the series started.  What does a character like that allow you as an author?

CL: I wanted Ambler to have lived enough to have been wrong enough times to be careful about judging others for the mistakes they make. I didn’t want a hero wearing the white hat against the bad guys wearing black hats but Ambler to have some darkness in his life as well.

SM: As an author, what has made Raymond Ambler a character worth returning to?

CL: In some ways, I think I return to Ambler to discover more about him. The same is true with the other characters. I write these stories to find out what’s going to happen, in the same way readers read them to find out what’s going to happen. Most of the time, changes take place in Ambler’s life as he’s looking into what’s going on much more dramatically in the lives of others who are victims or perpetrators of murders.


Murder Off The Page is available for purchase now at BookPeople in-store and online now.

Communing with Chandler: Ace Atkins Discusses L.A. and ‘Angel Eyes’

9780525536826_fc5abAce Atkins returns to Spenser with Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes, this time taking the Boston private eye to Los Angeles, searching for a missing starlet.
Ace will be at BookPeople November 18th at 7PM to sign and discuss the book. We got a hold of him ahead of time to talk about the book and its City Of Angels setting.

Scott Montgomery: What made you decide to take Spenser back to L.A.?
Ace Atkins: When I was hired by the Parker estate and Mr. Parker’s longtime editor – almost ten years ago – one of the very first projects I wanted to write was an L.A. Spenser book. However, my editor at the time felt I needed to keep Spenser very Boston-centric for the first novels I’d write. I think it was a wise move. But after the seventh novel, I figured it was time to reunite Spenser with some series favorites like Chollo and Bobby Horse. I know Parker always had fun taking Spenser to the West Coast. I think it was his way of communing with Chandler.

SM: He gets to meet up with characters that he’s encountered before in the town. Which one was the most fun to write for?

AA: Definitely Chollo. Chollo has often been described as the Mexican Hawk. But I always saw him as much more. There is a certain feel of the Old West – classic Westerns – when Spenser and Chollo join forces.
SM: I thought the story looked at the town’s relationship with women. What did you want to explore with that aspect?

AA: Yes! That was absolutely the genesis of this whole book. Originally it had been set on take on the Harvey Weinstein story. But as it evolved more was coming out about the NXIVM cult and the story was so damn bizarre that I had to include it. For those who didn’t follow the NXIVM trial, it was a sex cult that was supposed to be about female empowerment.
AA: Sixkill has really come into his own in this book. What do you enjoy about him as a writer?
It’s funny, Scott. I had tried my best to stay away from Sixkill. He was introduced in Parker’s last novel as a replacement for Hawk (long story dealing with TV/film contracts and legal ownership of character). When I wrote my first Spenser, Lullaby, I purposely didn’t read Sixkill. I went back to the earlier novels for inspiration. But by the time I got around to it, I saw what Parker was doing. He had created an apprentice for Spenser and someone to carry on Spenser’s legacy. Obviously that hit home with me, and Sixkill has been a big part of the expansing Parkerverse since.
I hope readers will see that he has his own world, ecosystem, in Los Angeles that could be – and has been off-page — a flourishing and exciting saga.
SM: Susan always seems to be a character that even Parker had incorporating into the story at times, but she takes on a significant role in Angel Eyes?
AA: I think most criticism of Spenser and Susan has been due to the fact that Susan is often just Spenser’s sounding board. But in the very best novels – like Ceremony – she is a key player and wonderful strong character. When I thought adding the cult angle to the novel, I knew it was going to be a strong Spenser/Susan storyline. Which I think make the best Spenser books. Their relationship is core to the series.
SM: There are a few passages, particularly one with Spenser telling us about how he feels about the town that feels very much in the mood of Chandler. There’s even some reversals and reveals that reminded me of him. Do you feel the city has that effect on writers?
Absolutely! It’s the American Dream Factory. I love writing about Los Angeles because of what it means to the American psyche. Let’s face it, there would be no Spenser without Chandler. Spenser is the modern, east coast Marlowe. So, not surprisingly, he always feels very at home in Hollywood. It’s good for the character and good for the writer to return to where it all started. Plenty of inspiration for this book and more stories to come.

Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes is available for purchase at BookPeople in-store and online now. And don’t forget to join us on November 18th at 7PM when Ace Atkins returns to BookPeople to read from and sign Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes.

Meike Reviews ‘The Eyes of Texas’

9781643960401Bouchercon, the annual convention that brings together crime writers and their fans, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and what better place to celebrate a golden anniversary than Texas? Timed to coincide with this year’s convention in Dallas, Michael Bracken’s The Eyes of Texas — a collection of Texas PI stories — spotlights the broad range of characters and settings that make up the Lone Star State.


The collection has its share of big city stories set in Houston, Dallas, and Austin but my favorites are those set in disparate, out-of- the way small towns. Some are funny–in William Dylan Powell’s The Haunted Railcar, our hero investigates a possible haunting that might bankrupt Slappy the Clown’s Family Fun Center. Others are poignant—in Sandra Murphy’s Lucy’s Tree an aging PI reminisces about the storm that coincided with his wife’s death as Hurricane Harvey rages around him; Graham Powell’s PI heads into town full of questions—ones to which he might not want the answers—in Blackbirds. And of course some are just plain good mysteries—in The Yellow Rose of Texas, Josh Pachter’s Helmut Erhard investigates the murder of a pretty young English teacher whose body was found with the Texas state flower. Richard Helms perfectly captures the melancholy of a former oil boom town with a dwindling population in See Humble & Die, and Michael Chandos’ West Texas Barbecue describes the melancholic barrenness of West Texas. James A. Hearn’s PI takes a literal Trip Among the Bluebonnets to Lampasas as he keeps an eye on his niece’s husband.

Hurricane Harvey figures prominently in several tales. In Debra Goldstein’s Harvey and the Redhead, a PI who shares a name with the storm meets his match in a mysterious redhead. And in Weathering the Storm, Michael Pool’s tough female PI hunts a serial killer in the worst of the downpour. In Mark Troy’s Shaft on Wheels, a wheelchair bound PI unpacks a really twisted family saga while surrounded by the destruction of the storm’s aftermath.

Austin’s music scene is the backdrop for Scott Montgomery’s No One Owns the Blues, which introduces the reader to contemplative PI Tin Man as he takes on a case for a former flame. The town becomes the butt of a joke in Stephen Rogers’ Purple & Blue when a Boston cop loses a football bet and lands in the Texas capitol (never bet against Tom Brady).

A few of the stories tackle social issues. Trey Barker examines multiple ways to gain revenge on an abuser in Chasing the Straight. And Chuck Bowman examines race and immigration in Unwritten Rules.

And what PI anthology would be complete without some infidelity? Robert S Levinson’s In Cowtown is a twisted tale of cheating, jealousy, and rage set in and around Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s. In John M. Floyd’s Triangles an aging PI unwittingly joins a love triangle. And in Bev Vincent’s The Patience of Kane a pregnant woman wants to know how her husband died—even if she learns he may have been unfaithful.


Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time Mystery buff. You can find her recommendations in-store and online now.

Purchase The Eyes of Texas from BookPeople online and in-store now. And be sure to join us up on BookPeople’s third floor on November 19th at 7PM when Scott Montgomery sits down with editor Michael Bracken and contributor James A. Hearn to discuss all things Texas mystery.

Murder In the Afternoon Mixes Art and Crime

9781681775593_4504eOur November Murder In Afternoon book club will be getting artsy. We will be discussing the anthology In Sunlight Or In Shadow, edited by famed writer Lawrence Block. Block had authors pick an Edward Hopper painting and write a story connected to it.

The list of talent, including Megan Abbott, Lee Child, and Stephen King is impressive. One of the best stories comes from the comedian Craig Ferguson. Block won an Edgar Award for his story.

In Sunlight Or In Shadow will give us a lot to talk about- Edward Hopper, creativity, art and how it’s interpreted.  We may even have one of the contributors call in. Join us Monday, November 18th, at 1PM on BookPeople’s third floor.
The book is 10% off for those planning attend.

“As a Voice Speaking Intimately to Me” – An Interview with James Sallis

9781641290807_0d283Like James Lee Burke, Daniel Woodrell, and Reed Farrel Coleman, James Sallis’ work shows the literary merit of crime fiction. His latest, Sarah Jane, focuses on a woman who becomes sheriff after her boss has been murdered. The novel is less about the mystery than her life and it’s ups and downs in the Ozarks and Middle Eastern battlefields. Mr. Sallis was kind enough to take some questions about the book and writing in general from Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

Scott Montgomery: How did the character of Sarah Jane come to you?

James Sallis: As a voice speaking intimately to me – those first lines of the book, up to “I didn’t do all the things people say I did, not all of them.” So I have to start thinking: What things did she not do?  And what did she do?  And who is this?  At which point I knew I had a novel.  Oddly enough, whereas generally the novels gather from a visual image, both those with female first-person characters, Sarah Jane and Others of My Kind, began with that voice in my ear.

SM: My take on the book is that it’s the study of a survivor. What did you want to say about someone who has been through so much?

JS: Haven’t we all?  But beyond that, I was thinking quite a lot about what I call the biographic folly, where the biographer picks something from childhood and uses that as a tracer bullet for the subject’s entire life.  Yet it seems to me that, as we go through, over, under and around our lives, we are many different people, that our lives are labile, not scripted.

I worked for many years in hospitals with severely injured, ill and dying patients, first adult, then chiefly children and newborns.  This experience confirmed my innate liberalism and my sense of humanity, of the immense suffering that’s so constant in our lives, that every one of us is engaged from moment to moment in pitched battles of which few others are aware.

SM: One thing I’ve enjoyed about your books like this, is rural characters who never come off as caricatures and carry themselves with dignity. What should people not aware of those areas be aware about the people who populate them?

JS: I bid, as a footnote might suggest.  Or as Martin Amis said: All writing is a war against cliche.  It’s our job as serious writers to scratch away cheap veneer and show the fine aged wood beneath.

SM: You are a writer who has never been afraid to have a protagonist of different gender or race than your own. Do you feel there is something you need to keep in mind when doing that?

JS: Swim upstream.  Imagine yourself into that other life.  Push. We’re trapped forever within our own skulls, but the arts are a bridge from that, cracks in the wall, letting us catch glimpses of  how the world appears to others, of how they live in this world we share.

SM: SOHO is also reprinting your Lew Griffin series. What’s best about the books being back in circulation for you?

JS: These were the books in which a short-story writer and poet learned – taught himself – to write novels.  There’s really not much else like them. And them may not be the best pronoun.  I’ve often suggested that the six are one long novel, a sense confirmed as, decades after their writing, I reread all six in a couple of weeks.

SM: Do you see it as a challenge writing characters like Sarah Jane and Lew Griffin as opposed to Driver, who is in very brief moments a challenge?

JS: I certainly hope so, or I’m not doing my work.  One of the first and last things I tell students is that, should they be serious writers, it will never get easier, they’ll never be satisfied.  That their reach will always be far out ahead of their grasp, always.


Sarah Jane is available for purchase at BookPeople now in-store and online at bookpeople.com.

3 Picks for November

Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, has your November Mystery Syllabus ready — three reads that are sure to thrill you as the days get colder!


9781250317926_91e7cMurder Off The Page by Con Lehane

Raymond Ambler, the crime fiction curator for the New York Public Library, gets pulled into another mystery when bartender McNulty becomes a murder suspect.

It becomes even more sordid when the victim is discovered to have had a double life. Con Lehane develops a well crafted mystery populated by believable, lived-in characters.

Spenser revisits L.A., tracking a missing starlet with the help of his protege’ Sixkill and a few friends from the past.
Atkins has great fun with the Boston P.I.’s take on La-La Land.

Ace Atkins will be at BookPeople November 18th, 7PM to sign and discuss the novel.

9781785659454_a9d80Killing Quarry by Max Alan Collins

Collins goes back to his hitman Quarry’s past when he discovers someone has put a contract out on him. Teamed with a beautiful and deadly colleague, he tries to turn the tables on him. A fun package of sex, violence, and hard-boiled dialogue delivered in Collin’s well crafted style.

These titles are all available to order now from BookPeople in-store and online at bookpeople.com.

Pick of the Month: ‘Galway Girl’ by Ken Bruen

9780802147936_bb963Ken Bruen has described his latest Jack Taylor novel, Galway Girl, as a penultimate book with his anti-social, drink and drug addicted finder who drops further and further into the abyss. We definitely see him possibly finding a road to hope. That said, he will walk through fire to get there.

We pick up with Jack still in understandable anguish from events in The Galway Silence. He is pulled into duty when someone is bumping off guards, one he knew. The murders are connected to a trio of killers linked to his past. Jack, who has been more of a reluctant survivor, takes what he’s developed by in his hard life of being one and with the help of a bird he rescued comes at Jericho with a vengeance, resulting in one of the best crime fiction endings of the year.

Jack may be rising from the depths, but he’s not flying out of the ashes phoenix style. It is more like he hovers just above them, his flapping wings kicking up some of those ashes around him. With a second year of Trump and Brexit fallout playing in the background, he’s not just striking out at Jericho, but the entire mad world.

More and more with each Jack Taylor book, Ken Bruen works directly with his time. It has become an important part of the character’s fragility. We identify with the pressure and insanity these days have done to us. Despite his faults, like our own, we want him to make it and find peace. Maybe that’s why he hovers, Ken keeps him close to us.

You can grab your copy of Galway Girl from BookPeople in-store and online now at bookpeople.com