These titles and other great thrillers are available for purchase in-store and online at BookPeople now.
Our Pick Of The Month, Lost Tomorrows, is the latest novel to feature Matt Coyle’s haunted SanDiego private detective, Rick Cahill. Rick has to confront his past when he goes back to San Diego, where he was a cop and accused of murdering his wife, to attend the funeral of his former partner. His partner’s sister, Leah, believes her death was murder and hires him to look into it, forcing him to go up against cops who think he is a killer and one who could be. Matt will be joining Lara Oles, Tim Bryant, Billy Kring, Tim Maleeny, and Jeff Vorzimmer for our discussion on private eye fiction, Watching The Detectives, January 11th at 2PM on BookPeople’s third floor.
Matt Coyle was kind enough to sit down with MysteryPeople’s very own Scott Montgomery to take a few questions about the progression of his P.I. series.
Lost Tomorrows is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now. And don’t forget to stop by BookPeople on January 11th at 2PM when Matt Coyle joins Scott Montgomery and a fun bunch of crime writers to discuss PI detective fiction.
2019 was a fantastic year for crime fiction and I constantly found myself rearranging my TBR pile in an attempt to read as many books as possible. Below are a few I particularly enjoyed—I hope you’ll check them out!
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz
I’ve been a huge fan of Lutz’s work since The Spellman Files series so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. New teacher Alex Witt arrives at a second tier boarding school and uncovers 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. This is a twisted and timely female revenge fantasy, and a must-read for fans of MysteryPeople darling Megan Abbott.
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
Cha brings a unique perspective to racial conflicts in L.A. while spinning a propulsive noir mystery. In the wake of yet another policy shooting involving a black teenager, a shocking crime brings together two families—one African-America, the other Korean-American immigrants—who are forced to deal with a long-buried secret. An explosive and dark thriller that you’re going to see on just about every top 10 list this year!
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Pampered Jewish housewife Maddie Schwartz walks out on her family, determined to create a life with meaning. She helps the police solve a murder which leads to a job with the afternoon newspaper. When the body of a young black woman is found floating in a park, Maddie seizes the opportunity to make a name for herself by reporting on the investigation. What I loved most about this one is the unique structure—the story is told from the shifting viewpoints of a variety of characters which only someone as gifted as Lippman can weave so seamlessly.
The Book Artist by Mark Pryor
The first book in Pryor’s Paris-based Hugo Marston series, The Bookseller, is perhaps the single title I find myself recommending more than any other—I love this series and want everyone to discover it! It features the straight-laced Texan Hugo—a former FBI profiler who now works as head of security for the US embassy in Paris—and his free-wheeling, hard-drinking, womanizing best fried Tom (who steps in to help out when less reputable crime-solving methods are necessary). In The Book Artist, bibliophile Hugo attends an art installation of sculptures created solely from rare books. When a museum guest is brutally murdered, Hugo steps in to help the police solve the murder—a task that gains urgency when they arrest someone whom Hugo feels quite certain is innocent. Meanwhile Tom has gotten himself into a difficult situation in Amsterdam, one that only Hugo can help resolve.
Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin
In the 1970’s, a teenage couple go on a 13-day crime spree which leaves a dozen victims dead before the killers die in a fire. But modern day true crime podcaster Quentin—whose own life was affected by the killings–has reason to believe that the female killer may have survived and sets out to find her. Meanwhile NYC film columnist Robin Diamond is dealing with her own issues—but when she gets a phone call from Quentin and then her home is broken into, she has to confront the fact that she may not know her mother as well as she thought. Gaylin weaves the various storylines, some of which are told in flashbacks and letters, brilliantly—we’re huge fans of hers over here at MysteryPeople and love getting her books into our customers’ hands.
My 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, 2 great kids, and a marriage of over 15 years–but things have gotten a little stale in the bedroom. Most couples take a vacation or buy some “toys”—but this couple finds murder to be the best aphrodisiac. Any book that combines sex and murder is not to be missed!
Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Ware is a master of suspense and this latest is her thoroughly modern take on Henry James Turn of the Screw. London nanny Rowan Caine is looking for something completely different online when she stumbles across a dream job—private nanny to a family living in a luxurious Scottish Highlands manse. But the dream dissolves into a nightmare when one of the children dies and Rowan is arrested and charged with murder. Told in the form of letters Rowan writes to an attorney from prison, explaining the events leading up to the tragedy, Ware builds the suspense slowly and then ends with some gut-wrenching twists.
Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry
Gentry wowed us with her debut, Good as Gone, and her sophomore effort is every bit as thrilling. Latina stand-up comic Dana Diaz is struggling to make it in a comedy scene dominated by men and rife with sexual harassment. One night she fends off a particularly vulgar heckler, and audience member Amanda offers to buy her a congratulatory drink. One drink leads to many as the women bond over shared stories of injustice and misogyny—and the evening ends with the women striking a kind of Strangers on a Train deal that has a distinct #MeToo flavor. Gentry shines a harsh light on the myriad inequalities women face every day while spinning a well-plotted tale that will have you ripping through the pages.
Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
We’re always so excited when our local Austin authors garner national attention and were thrilled when Baker’s adult debut (she’s published 5 YA novels) was chosen as the July pick for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club (side note—the September pick was The Secrets We Kept by Austin author Lara Prescott!) A group of female coworkers sue an executive in their Dallas athleisure firm for sexual harassment, but when he falls to his death from the 18th floor it isn’t immediately clear whether he jumped or was helped over the edge. This one is a timely examination of the many facets of workplace inequality explored in the context of a keep-you-up-past-your-bedtime thriller.
The Right Sort of Man by Alison Montclair
In post WWII London, 2 very different women—one an aristocratic war widow with a young son to support, the other a tough and impetuous young woman with considerable street smarts—start The Right Sort Marriage Bureau in an effort to establish some independence while also bringing joy to a town still suffering the ravages of war. But when their newest client is found murdered—and the man they matched her with is arrested and charged with her death—their new livelihood is threatened and the women launch their own investigation to clear their client and restore the reputation of their flegling enterprise. Each brings a unique set of skills to the task, but what I loved most about this book is the snappy dialogue—both smart and funny, it kept me tearing through the pages and now I’m completely in love with the characters and hope there’s more to come in what promises to be a fantastic series.
Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time mystery reader at BookPeople. You can find her top 10 titles in-store and online now.
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Larry Sweazy: The Lost Are The Last to Die is based on the short story, “Point Blank, Texas,” (published in the anthology, Lone Star Lawless by Wildside Press). I have a habit of trying out ideas in the short story form, and with this anthology being Texas-themed, I thought it would be a good place to explore a little more of Sonny Burton’s story. After the first book, A Thousand Falling Crows, I thought I was finished with Sonny’s story, but I was wrong. Sonny’s life before he encountered Bonnie and Clyde and lost his arm kept nagging at me. It was like I had a rock in my shoe that I couldn’t get rid of. I needed to know more about Sonny when he was whole in body and mind, who he was when he was younger with his future stretching out before him. I was glad to have revisited Sonny. His life was even more richer than I thought it was.
SM: This could have worked alone as a simple pursuit story, but you go deeper with both Sonny and Billy diving into their pasts. What drove you to that character study side?
LS: Sonny always thought that he could save Billy. But confronting the truth that he couldn’t change him was an acceptance of failure for him, one that paralleled his relationship with his own son. I was interested in the father and son dynamics in this book, about how our actions influence other people in positive and negative ways. Considering that, I had to start at the beginning of the story when Billy was a boy, and when Sonny still hoped he could be the human being he wanted to be; kind, generous, stern, and demanding. The character side is so much more interesting to me than a simple plot story.
SM: You delve into Sonny’s experiences in The Great War. How do you think that affects him, particularly as a lawman?
LS: Sonny’s war experience arches back to the first book. I used Thousand in the title as a term of affliction more than anything else. A lot of men came home with “the thousand yard stare,” including Sonny. He holed up in his house after returning from France. He didn’t want to experience the real world. He had PTSD, shell shock, but there was no treatment for it in 1919. Time and will were the only medicines available, and they didn’t help a lot of men. Being urged back to work as a Texas Ranger saved Sonny, but I think his war experience made him harder, less forgiving in all aspects of his life. He avoided violence after the war as much as he could, which made him more reliant on his mind, on reasoning with a criminal instead of leading with a gun barrel. After the war, Sonny understood what is was like to kill a man. He was able to enter the mind of a killer much easier, tightening that fine line that exists between good and bad. The war gave him tools as a lawman that he didn’t have before. He was on even footing with the bad guy.
SM: By having Sonny work with his son, Jesse, not only is the family and professional tension there, but a comparison of the different era of Texas Ranger. What do you think was the biggest change in the job from Sonny to Jesse’s time?
LS: Along with the father and son dynamic, this book is about transitions, at least for me. The structure demanded that the transitions were clear and concise for the reader to follow along. World War I saw the transition from horse power to tank and mechanical power, as did the world that Sonny lived in throughout the book, between 1909 and 1934. This is a period of huge transitions. When Sonny started out as a Ranger he rode a horse, but as he chased after Billy, he did so in an automobile with a V8 engine. The policing aspect didn’t change much on the surface of things. There were no radios in cars yet, so a Sonny and Jesse were still on their own left to make decisions on the fly without any influence from the higher ups. But there were technological changes that aided police work in the 1930s; the growth of fingerprint analysis, handwriting analysis, the uses of polygraph machines, and the birth of forensics. I think the biggest change for Sonny would have been in the advancements of thought and strategy. Jesse is more by-the-book, influenced by a modern education of professional protocols, while Sonny relies entirely on his experience and his gut.
SM: How did you approach Sonny as a character?
SM: You reflect Texas in the 1930s as its own world. What did you have to keep in mind about that time and place?
LS: I have always been drawn to the Great Depression. I listened to my grandparents tell stories about the “old days” for hours. I knew people didn’t have a lot, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have drama, sadness, and joy in their lives. Those stories led me to the Dust Bowl in the panhandle, and I was curious about the people who stayed, who didn’t pack up and head west in search of a better life. How would staying in Texas affect them? Where was the hope? And I found a strength that Texans always seem to carry with them. I had to find the pride, the square shoulders, and the determination of not only the people, but the land. Texans never quit. That what’s I found, what I knew had to come through in this novel.
The Lost Are The Last to Die, along with other titles by Larry Sweazy are available for purchase in-store and online now at BookPeople.
About the Author: Larry Sweazy is the author of fifteen novels, He won the WWA (Western Writers of America) Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013. He also won the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for books the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer award in 2007 (for the short story “See Also Murder”), and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010. Larry was awarded the Best Books in Indiana in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. And in 2013, Larry received the inaugural Elmer Kelton Fiction Book of the Year for The Coyote Tracker, presented by the AWA (Academy of Western Artists). He also won the 2019 Willa Award (Best Original Softcover). His books have been translated by major publishers in Italy and Turkey. Larry has published over seventy nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled, and several other publications and anthologies. He currently lives in Noblesville, Indiana with his wife, Rose, and his dogs, where he is hard at work on his next novel.
You can find these tiles and many more of our mystery favorites in-store and online at BookPeople!
The Lost Are The Last To Die by Larry Sweazy is available for purchase in-store and online at BookPeople now.
I’m a Chandler junkie. As in Raymond Chandler. Always have been, always will be.
One of the founding fathers of the hard-boiled school of crime fiction, Chandler’s at the head of a semi-long list of writers who taught me a lot about the trade before I ever tried my hand at it.
Most of them are dead. Which means they won’t be calling me out for hanging their names on what I’m about to say about character and dialogue. Not even Chandler, although his cantankerous spirit might just give it a go.
What I learned from Chandler was the importance of character and dialogue over plot. Chandler was, more or less, a ‘pantster,’ the term the modern wags use for writers who tend to make it up as they go along rather than outline elaborate plots and character sketches before they start telling a story.
One of his famous quotes, usually taken out of context: “When in doubt, have a man
come through the door with a gun in his hand.” This line appears in one of the two published versions of his classic essay on the need for realism in crime fiction, The Simple Art of Murder, which is also a diatribe against the set-piece cozy and amateur sleuth who is an ace at deductive logic.
Chandler dropped this line while explaining the need for constant action in the short crime fiction stories of the pulp magazines where he learned his new trade. But when you line up that quote with the body of Chandler’s work, it takes on a broader meaning that represents the second primary lesson I learned from him — use action and concrete descriptions of place to drive a story largely told through character and dialogue.
Character and dialogue are intertwined. You show a character’s traits — you define them — through dialogue, either snappy exchanges with other characters or the internal dialogue they have with themselves.
Dialogue between characters is a dance where they reveal themselves by what they do and don’t say and the way they say it or stay silent. Internal dialogue is a character dancing in the dark with themselves, but the same revelations occur. Or should occur. If they don’t, a writer has blown a golden opportunity to define a character and give the story life, depth and context.
I’ll give two examples from my latest work, The Best Lousy Choice: An Ed Earl Burch Novel. My main character, Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch, is a cashiered vice and homicide detective. He’s also a terminal smartass who doesn’t know when to shut up. I don’t tell you that — I show it through dialogue with a crooked West Texas sheriff looking to frame him for the murder of a prominent local rancher who died in a suspicious barn fire.
“You run the ID on those shooters I blew away? Bet they’re either freelance talent or connected to some other drug lord slimeball. Looks like you got a little turf war going on. Or maybe Dirt Cheap crossed his cousin. Just guesses on my part. But either way, it ain’t a good look for an anti-drug crusader like you, Sheriff.”
Burch looked at Willingham. The anger that colored his face and flashed in his eyes was gone. He wore the stone mask of a poker player and his voice was a husky whisper as he asked a quiet question.
“You a barnburner, son?”
Burch was flummoxed. No smartass quips, no barbed conjecture. All he had as a comeback was the brass to meet the sheriff’s stare head-on and not flinch.
“Let me put it to you this way — are you a man who could set another man’s barn on fire, burn up his horses, burn up the man himself? Are you that kind of murderin’ sumbitch, a fire worshiper, a man-burner?”
“Jesus, Sheriff — you need to make up your mind what you want to frame me for. First you have me as a gun for hire workin’ for this Malo Garza fella, now you got me as the second coming of Ben Quick’s daddy in The Long Hot Summer. I’m way too ugly for any frame job that needs me to look like Paul Newman.”
“Ugly will do, my friend, if I find out you did the crime.”
Burch also has frequent conversations with his dead partner, Wynn Moore. Burch blames himself for getting his partner killed while they were tracking a narco and murder suspect in Dallas years ago when he still carried a gold shield.
These conversations are real as a dime to Burch and show both the guilt that still gnaws at him and the left-handed relief he’s found when Moore appears. They also reveal the simple and brutal approach to police work Burch learned from Moore.
He felt shaky from his session with Bustamante and fished out the bottle of Percodan and a dented nickel flask from his bag. He shook out a pill, broke it in half and popped it on his tongue, washing it down with a long pull of Maker’s. It wasn’t quite noon but he needed a Percodan cocktail to get rid of the jangles and keep the demons in their holes.
He stood under the fan in his boxers, smoking another Lucky until he felt the half-hit and e-less whisky take hold, then carried the Colt into the bathroom and placed it on the porcelain top of the toilet tank. He reached into the shower stall to turn on the water and wait until it was as hot as he could stand it, then stepped into the scalding spray.
You ain’t right, sport model. Poppin’ them pills, sluggin’ whiskey and it ain’t hardly noon yet.
Keeps me sane, Wynn. On track and movin’ down the trail instead of curled up in a corner screamin’ about demons and snakes with wings.
Turnin’ into a goddam junkie and day drinker, you ask me.
I ain’t askin’.
Never could talk sense to you, sport model. One more thing, then I’ll shut my yap. You fly the black flag on this one. Take that rulebook we usta have to work around and chuck it right out the fuckin’ window. You sabe?
Rulebook already chucked, Wynn. No quarter. No prisoners. No judge and jury.
Good deal, sport model.
Chandler’s novels and short stories are packed with detailed physical descriptions of the rooms, places and streetscapes where his stories take place.
These “concrete descriptions” help create a Los Angeles that is so real that it becomes a character unto itself. Far more than mere backdrop, these descriptions of place define the characters that live and move through this landscape. So much so that it’s hard to imagine Marlowe anywhere else but L.A. Or James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux without New Iberia and New Orleans.
This struck a chord with me, largely because of my upbringing and lineage. I come from a long line of North Carolina hillbilly storytellers. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins told stories of our kin and the mountains my ancestors called home, creating a keen sense of family and place in my sister and me, even though we grew up in suburban Philadelphia.
As a journalist, I was always fascinated with how the land shaped the people who lived there, even as they struggled to make a living from it. I also fell in love with the harsh beauty of West Texas, with stark mountain ranges that look like the bones of the earth on display for any and all to see.
It seemed like the perfect place for the bloody tales of revenge and redemption I was trying to tell in my Ed Earl Burch novels, a land so forbiddingly beautiful and demanding that it shapes the characters in my books and gives resonance to their dialogue.
It’s another way of revealing who your characters are. And showing instead of telling is the essence of the writer’s trade.
Jim Nesbitt is the author of three hard-boiled crime thrillers set in Texas and northern Mexico that feature Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch, a cashiered vice and homicide detective. His latest, The Best Lousy Choice, is available at BookPeople in-store and online now.
Joyce Carol Oates: I have done two previous anthologies for Johnny Temple at Akashic Books, New Jersey Noir and Prison, Noir. I had suggested to Johnny that I would like to assemble a collection titled Female Noir, but Johnny thought that the Noir series had to remain geographically specific rather than thematically. I am not sure that there was an “origin” story— the original concept was my own.
JCO: Dividing into sections is a feature of the Noir anthologies at Akashic Books. The divisions are suggestive rather than precise, though in this case the final section is accurately titled.
JCO: We contacted likely writers, who in turn introduced us to others, and these to others. This is the usual way anthologies are organized. I have many writer friends whom I invited to contribute but, unfortunately, not all could accept.
JCO: The major challenge is always to acquire the very best work that one can; the reality is that a number of writers will have to decline because they are simply over-committed to other projects. Among these were Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman. I would have liked to include one more graphic artist, but this did not work out.
JCO: I can’t single out any individual work. Each is unique in its own way. But I was particularly happy to be able to include work by a young woman artist, Laurel Hausler, who should be better known. Her elegantly lurid cover and unsettling illustrations are just right for the book.
JCO: The future of the genre?— this is a massive question. really, I cannot predict.
JCO: The mystery/crime genre is immense, and grows more complicated and all-inclusive each year. Regional, ethnic, idiosyncratic— there are no boundaries.
JCO: I’ve been admiring the richly researched historical “thrillers” of David Morrell; I am currently reading Inspector of the Dead. Quite a tour de force, to create a mystery in which Thomas de Quincy is a primary figure!
Cutting Edge is available for purchase at BookPeople in-store and online now.