Crime Fiction Friday: “McKenna” by Billy Kring

billy-kBilly Kring is a MysteryPeople favorite. Whether he and his fictional border patrol agents, deal with issues and evil on the Texas-Mexico line or his private detectives Ronnie Bacca and Hondo banter and and take down L.A. bad guys, he demonstrates and understanding of crime fiction and a craftsman’s approach to writing. We were excited when he asked if we’d like to print this original short story about gangsters and a good employee.


by Billy Kring


He answered Carmen’s help wanted sign one morning and went to work that afternoon as the butcher in her store. His first name was Rick, but he went by McKenna.

Carmen liked him because he didn’t say much, did his work and stayed busy doing things without being asked.

The day Teddy Corso came in, McKenna and Carmen sat at a table eating a lunch of pastrami sandwiches, chips and soft drinks.

Teddy stopped behind Carmen’s chair and played with her hair, a New England Patriots Super Bowl ring prominent on his ring finger. McKenna noticed the tape wrapped around the bottom so it fit Teddy’s finger. Teddy said, “I’m here for the pickup, Babe.”

Carmen moved her head away from Teddy’s hand, “You came by two weeks ago.”

“It’ll be three a month from now on.” He suddenly realized he didn’t know the man sitting with her. “Who’s this?”

Carmen said, “McKenna, he works for me.”

Teddy asked, “You’re not a local.”

“Not for a while.”

“How long?”

“Ten years.”

“About the time our family took over the neighborhood, right, Carmen?”

McKenna put his sandwich on a napkin, the bite showing like a small knot in his cheek, “How’d that happen?”

Teddy smiled, “What it was, Vincent Gennaro had this area but wasn’t sharing wit others, so…” Teddy spread his hands, “Somebody decided that wasn’t a good thing.”

“I read about it. That you?”

Teddy grinned, tapping two fingers to the back of his head, showing where the bullets went, “I don’t brag, but it happened. People know. So now I make rounds for the family.” He looked at Carmen, “Give me the money, Carmen, and throw in a couple ribeyes. I got other stops to make besides yours.”

“I don’t have the money.”

Teddy gave her a cold stare.

“I can have it in the morning.”

“You better, sweets. You don’t want Teddy Corso mad wit you.”

McKenna went to the meat counter, catching Teddy’s eyes by holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.

“Make it two.”

McKenna cut, trimmed and wrapped the thick steaks in white butcher paper, handing the bundle to Teddy, who said, “You’re pretty handy with that knife.”

“I try to keep my boss happy.”

Teddy said to Carmen as he left, “Tomorrow morning.”

McKenna returned to the table as Carmen said, “He starts coming three times a month, I’ll have to let you go.”

“How often has he been collecting?”

“Only once the first year, but every month since. It crept up fast. Now it’s twenty times a year, plus he’s pushing hard to get in my pants, says he’ll make it worth my while.”

McKenna raised an eyebrow, and Carmen said, “I’ll close this place down before that happens.” She pushed her half-eaten sandwich away and said, “Can you close up? I’m not feeling too good.”


It was a little after ten PM when Teddy tapped on the front door’s glass above the Closed sign. McKenna looked up from the meat counter, and Corso motioned to open the door.

McKenna opened it and Teddy followed him to the meat counter saying, “I’m throwing a party, gonna need another ten steaks. Tell Carmen it’s interest on what she owes.”

McKenna went to the cooler and brought out the meat and used the long thin blade of the knife to cut steaks.

“Hey, you remember this?” Teddy held up a laminated page of a newspaper showing Gennaro’s body face down in an alley. “See, right there? The two holes in the back of his bald head.”

McKenna finished with the last steak and said, “What about the one in his eye?”

Teddy half-blinked.

McKenna’s eyes changed, “I shot him in the right eye and put two in the back of his head as a message. Papers never mentioned the eye. Then I had to leave town because of the heat. I’m not leaving again.”

Teddy grabbed his pistol as McKenna rammed the knife into his temple and wiggled the blade.

When Carmen came in the next morning, Teddy’s Super Bowl ring was on the register, with a note from McKenna, I like to keep my boss happy.

About the Author: Billy is an author and sometimes actor, and in another life, he was a Border Patrol Agent and consultant on terrorism and international border issues. He has worked in South America, including Columbia and Ecuador, and in Eastern Europe along the borders of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Turkey, as well as Mexico’s southern border. He has also worked in the Caribbean and Pan Pacific, instructing officials on how to handle the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

You can shop his titles in-store and online now.

Work-A-Day-Guys: An Interview with Wilson Toney, author of ‘Alibi For a Dead Man’

9781944520861Wilson Toney’s Alibi For A Dead Man won the Carter Brown award and much like the work of that awards namesake, the book is a fun, fast moving romp that never takes itself too seriously. It’s two bantering National Agency detectives Bug and Roche (pronounced “rock”) are assigned a car accident that could be fraud. When one of the vehicles was the getaway car for a bank robbery, it leads to a trail of missing money, bad men, and bullets with our heroes in the hard boiled middle. Mr. Toney was kind enough to take a few questions from us.


Scott Montgomery: You have two unique detectives with a unique case.  Which came first?

Wilson Toney : The detectives came first.  I came up with Roche a long time ago, and while my original take on his character has changed considerably, the constant of him being a work-a- day guy that just wants to do his best then go home, and get paid for his effort, has remained a constant. Bug, however, was something different and is loosely based on a man I worked with for a lot of years. He was unique, and while he wasn’t quite as funny as Bug, still he was never at a loss for words, and didn’t mind who heard him whether it was a boss or not didn’t enter into his thought process.

The case came after a lot of thought and many false starts, and frankly a lot of revisions.  It is hard to come up with something that hasn’t been done before, and to make it as logical as possible.  I likely spent more time on the plotting than I did the actual writing, for once you get the blueprint in place, the writing goes rather smoothly.    I hope to be able to repeat this process in the future, but only time will tell.

S.M.: Was writing a plot with so many moving parts a challenge?

W.T.: Was it ever.  Even with a plot outline, it still required a lot of re-thinking and a lot of thought to make sure I said enough to keep the reader interested and not to give away the game too early.  But I always liked complex plots, which I think is reflected in my writing. That being said, I wanted to make the plot challenging, but intelligible and try to not have an ending where only the protagonist knows some obscure clue that is revealed in the end, and thus the bad man, or woman for that matter, is revealed.  I hate those types of novels, and I hope never to write one.

S.M.: The book’s voice has echoes of the forties and fifties detective novels.  Did you draw from any influences?

W.T.: Without doubt, the Gold Medal novels from the 40s-70s influenced me greatly.  Some of them were great, most less so, but they had a hard-boiled edge that I enjoyed and likely some of that shows in my books.  More importantly, I have read many other types of mysteries and the butler did it type always left me cold and quickly were banished from my budgetary allowance.  I am sure that some of the greats such as Chandler, Hammett, and Hamilton influence my thought processes, but I’ve read a lot more bad fiction than good and I am afraid that some of the lesser greats have their share of blame as well.  Ultimately, when I decided to write, I decided to write the stuff I would want to read, because, I didn’t really think anyone else would ever see the stuff. I was the most surprised person in the world when I won the Carter Brown prize, but I wrote the novel before I knew of the contest, and I wrote it for myself.

S.M.: What made you decide to have Bug and Roche work for an agency?

W.T.: I knew I wanted to write about work-a-day guys, and those guys just had to work for an agency.  My own work history explains most of that decision. I have worked at several engineering firms in my long and not so storied career, and I wanted to give the reader a flavor of just how it would be for guys to be doing this for a living not because they were dedicated crime solvers, not because they were trying to help the helpless, these guys are doing it for a buck, it’s how they earn their living and they do it for that living.  I also wanted to be able to call on others in the agency when needed for specialty work such as data analysis and photographic enhancement. The easiest way to accomplish that was to have them work at an agency. Ultimately though, it was because I didn’t really think this particular form of detective fiction had been done to death. The errant knight has been done to death and I did not think I could write a convincing novel using that as my template.

S.M.: What makes the book work is the relationship between Bug and Roche.  How did you approach it?

W.T. :Roche is everyman, the guy that’s not special, but does his job, and expects to be paid for same.  Bug is the kid in the back of the glass, cutting jokes every time the teacher turns his head. That was the basis of the novel, the interplay between them is based on a lot of years of banter between fellow workers, mostly male admittedly but some female.  I personally am likely a mix of the two with Roche being what I liked to think I am, but Bug being who I am more often than not. It was a case of making sure that their dialogue rang true, was funny when comedy was needed and being serious when that was required.  All that being said, what really happened was I wrote the thing based on my initial outline, then rewrote it probably two or three more times, thinking of just what these guys would say to each other. I also gave Bug his pet Agnes, because he needed something in his life that was real.  Roche is made of different stuff so I gave him bad books to read. I have both a cat and have read a lot of bad books, so like I said, these guys are likely a mixture of what I hope I am. Doubtless I am wrong.

S.M. : What made you want to tackle a detective book as your first novel?

W.T.: There’s an old saying in writing, write what you know.  What I know, engineering, is mostly boring and would definitely not hold a reader’s interest, likely not even the interest of a fellow engineer.  But I do know detective fiction. I have been reading detective fiction (not exclusively, but more than any other genre except for physics books) for fifty years and I know what I liked when I read those stories.  As a result, I wrote a detective novel, again, for myself more than for any other reason. I am glad this work has resonated with those that publish books for a living, and I can think of no better future than writing more Bug and Roche novels until the end of my days.

Alibi for a Dead Man is available for purchase in-store and online now.

“…My Family, My Heritage, and My Ninja Training.” – An Interview with THE NINJA DAUGHTER’s Tori Eldridge

9781947993693_6a1efTori Eldridge’s The Ninja Daughter is a unique take on the vigilante hero. The title character, Lily Wong, is diminutive enough to be nicknamed “dumpling” by her Swedish Father and Chinese mother, but trained in the Japanese ninja arts, she can be lethal. She targets the bad men in women’s lives and offers protection and retribution. Her latest quest for justice gets her involved with a sordid plot involving the Ukraniane mob and L.A. Transit system. Eldridge delivers action heroine excitement, crime fiction mood, and me too justice in spades. She was kind enough to talk about her book and her background that went into it.


Scott MontgomeryThe Ninja Daughter is such a unique book, how did it come about?

Tori Eldridge: Lily Wong appeared to me during a stream of consciousness writing for a short story. I discovered her as the words hit the page. She was sitting at a bar with a mysterious man. The night ended badly. She walked away. He didn’t. That scene became a pivotal part of Lily Wong’s origin story. I didn’t know much about her at that time, but I had a clear image of who she was relaying this story to and under what circumstance. Later, I incorporated that short story into an early chapter of The Ninja Daughter and opened the novel with the circumstance I had envisioned. The rest of the story—the complexity of the mystery and the diverse characters—emerged through the outlining stage, which, for me, is a very creative and exploratory process.

S.M. : One thing that differentiates Lily from most other vigilante heroes is her family, especially her mother. What does this allow you to do with Lily as a writer?

T.E. : Most vigilante heroes are older and either estranged from their families or have lost them through tragedy. They tend to be lone wolves who are fighting the demons of their past. Lily, on the other hand, is twenty-five years old, living above her father’s restaurant, and raised in a family-oriented Chinese culture. She can’t escape her family because no matter how urgent or dangerous her professional life becomes; Lily is bound to them by love and duty. Her family isn’t just a plot device to complicate her life, they define who she is.

Lily is at a stage where she’s finding her way as an adult and redefining her relationships with her parents. This process is complicated by the tragedy her family has suffered and the different ways in which they’ve handled their grief. There’s also a cultural dynamic that complicates Lily’s relationships with her parents—an ever-present tension from her Hong Kong mother and the unfulfilled filial obligation that has been passed onto Lily. All of this provides a fascinating playground for me to play in as a writer.

S.M. : There’s echoes of Chandler with the way you portray the city of Los Angeles and its intersections of politics and crime. What did you want to express about your city?

T.E. : I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over thirty-five years—in the city, the valley, the hills, and the beach. I’ve worked as an actress on film lots in Hollywood and taken social entrepreneurship programs into South Central and East Los Angeles. I’ve hung out at backyard parties where a loud crack has everyone in attendance hitting the ground and hosted holiday parties on top of ritzy Sunset Plaza Drive. I could live in my city another thirty-five years and barely break the surface of what lies beneath it. That’s what I want to share—the rich variety of culture, community, geography, and lifestyle.

I want to show the virtue and corruption of my city, side by side, so readers can feel both attracted and repelled. I want them to rethink their perceptions of Los Angeles as often as they change their perceptions of Lily—and as often as she changes her perception about herself. In this way, Los Angeles serves as a macrocosm of Lily’s own polarity and diversity.

S.M.: This being a debut novel, did you draw from any influences?

T.E. : The greatest influences on this novel came from my family, my heritage, and my ninja training. I wanted to delve deeply into relationships and portray culture and modern-day ninja as authentically as possible. I also enjoy complex mysteries and fast-paced thrillers. The challenge was to do it all in one book. For that, I leaned on my screenwriting techniques for plotting, pacing, and keeping track of various story lines. As for being influenced by other authors, I’m a great fan of F. Paul Wilson’s economically descriptive prose.

S.M.: The fight scenes are wonderfully executed. As someone who is a martial artist, herself, what did you want to get across about the art?

T.E. : One of my biggest goals for The Ninja Daughter was to blast through the stereotype and present ninja in a realistic, contemporary, and authentic way. Everyone is familiar with the magical ninja assassins portrayed in literature and film. But I wanted to show a modern perspective. Many people don’t even realize that Ninjutsu, in all its many forms and lineages, is an actual martial art. I wanted to show my readers the subtle grace and efficiency of ninja movement without bogging them down with too much detail. With a mention of alignment here and a stealing of balance there, I hoped to intrigue my reader to want to know more. There’s also an esoteric side of the art that is important to me that I wanted to share. I describe bits of this in the privacy Lily’s home dojo.

When it comes to fight scenes, it’s essential to me that the combat is authentic, exciting, and appropriate to the characters. The way a person fights is as individual as the way they speak. It’s like a signature to their personality—their training (or lack there of), their emotional state, how they view themselves and their relationship with others. A fight is more than a combination of techniques or a use of weaponry: It’s a revelation of character. A good fight scene evokes emotion and moves the story forward. But most of all, it reveals secrets about the person.

S.M. : What is often depicted inaccurately about martial arts in fiction and film?

T.E. : Fights last longer than they normally would. Techniques used don’t always reflect the character’s style or degree of training. Heroes seem impervious to physical damage or pain. Devastating blows, like a pipe swing to the head, have no lasting effects.

On the flip side, films like Grosse Point Blank and The Borne Identity have exhilarating fight scenes that make sense to the characters and circumstances. Even the insanely long fight sequences from Atomic Blonde—which, by its nature, pushes the boundaries of plausibility—comes through as appropriate to the character’s personality, ability, and body type. In fiction, I’d recommend Jonathan Maberry, Zoë Sharp, Taylor Stevens, and Weston Ochse. All of them have hit the mark in every fight scene of theirs that I’ve read.

The Ninja Daughter (2019) and author, Tori Eldridge

The Ninja Daughter is available for purchase in-store and online

REVIEW: ‘Ninja Daughter’ by Tori Eldridge

9781947993693_6a1efJustice is a bitch. And so am I.

This is the declaration from an exciting new heroine created by an equally exciting new author. Lily Wong (or Dumpling to her parents) is The Ninja Daughter, a vigilante straight out of the seventies and eighties paperback original era, but with aspects of Raymond Chandler and creator Tori Eldridge’s experiences, she becomes so much more.

Lily trained in the ninja art of kunicchi to avenge her sister and now uses those skills to help other women with bad men. Her latest crusade is to protect Mia Mikkelson from retaliation from J. Tran, a club owner and rapist she testified against. As Lily goes to work on Tran, she discovers a plot involving Ukrainian mobsters and the L.A. transit system. The huntress becomes the hunted, but the hunters have no idea who they are after.

Many moments of the book play on Lily being underestimated as a female victim. Her parents, a Swedish father and Chinese mother, nicknamed her Dumpling due to her diminutive size . However when a man either gropes or attacks her, he finds his ass getting handed to him, if he’s lucky.

Eldridge grounds all of the genre fun she delivers. An actual practitioner of kunicchi, her fights are well executed, never losing the reader in the action. She also puts in missed landings and strikes that half connect to bring down any comic book feel. She also gives Lily the reality of family life. Her relationship with her mother is reminiscent of S.J. Rozan’s Lydia Chin with her mother or even Jim Rockford’s with his dad, other than there is even more nuance.

Much like Lily, herself, The Ninja Daughter is a beautiful amalgam. Her voice fuses the men’s action paperback with a Chandler-esque take on LA and twists it into an entertaining piece of feminist pulp that keeps a deft foot in reality. I look forward to Lily’s further quests for justice.

The Ninja Daughter is available for purchase from BookPeople now.

Plot Always Comes Last: Scott Butki Interviews Luke Geddes, Author of ‘Heart of Junk

9781982106669For his debut novel, Luke Geddes has written a clever, sharp book with lots of intriguing, well-drawn characters. The book, Heart of Junk, is about an eclectic and eccentric group of merchants at an antique mall in Kansas who become implicated in the kidnapping of a local beauty pageant star, Lindy Bobo.

While Wichita is panicking over the kidnapping, the collectors have their own concerns, namely their compulsions, neurosis and collections of just about anything you can imagine.

Meanwhile, there’s another drama afoot: the impending arrival of two stars of a famed antique show, Pickin’ Fortunes, for an episode some are hoping will save the mall from bankruptcy.

Geddes does a great job making these collectors interesting, fascinating even, drawing readers into their lives and their drive for this or that last item that will complete their collection.

Contributor to the blog, Scott Butki, had the opportunity to chat with Geddes about his debut.

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?

Luke Geddes: It started with setting. I spend a lot of time at antique malls, flea markets, used record and book stores, thrift shops, etc. It’s a world I love being in, which is important considering I’d end up spending 8 years or so inhabiting it as I wrote, rewrote, and edited the novel. I didn’t know when I began the book that it would be set in Wichita but a few chapters in it became obvious. I lived in the city while getting my MFA and more importantly it’s where my passion for antique malls blossomed—there wasn’t a lot else to do in Wichita!

SB : Which came first, the characters or the plot?

LG: Plot always comes last and with the most difficulty for me. I’m a slow writer and thinker, so I have to figure out who the characters are sentence-by-sentence before I can even vaguely picture a book with the kind of holistic-ness that plot requires. The exterior plot, regarding the kidnapping and the dire financial straits of the mall, is really just a feint that gave me room to explore the psyches of the individual characters.

SB: How did you research this book?

LG: Since I share most of my characters’ interests, writing the book wasn’t a research-

Heart of Junk author, Luke Geddes

heavy project. A friend who’s read it asked me where I got all the arcane information related to music and record collecting. I replied that it comes from a friendless adolescence with plenty of free time to spend at the public library, on the internet, and stalking record stores. For example, the trivia about the variation of The Monkees’ Headquarters album where the band sports facial hair in one photo was something the owner of a record store in my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin mentioned way back when I first started buying records as teenager, and it’s stuck in my mind. The exception would be the classier stuff that the characters Margaret Byrd and Stacey Stoller are into, glass and art pottery. For that I browsed through related price guides, websites, eBay listings, etc. I’m sure that sooner or later a real antique glass expert will read the book and send me an outraged email about how wrong I got it…

SB: How did you develop so many interesting characters? Were any based on people you have met?

LG: A few gestures or lines in the novel may have come from interactions with real people at flea markets and the like, but it’s more so that the characters grew out of various booths I’ve come across at different antique malls over the years. For example, I can pinpoint the exact booth in the exact mall that inspired the characters of Seymour and Lee—but to protect the innocent, I won’t! Even without meeting them, you can get a strong sense of dealers’ personalities not just from the stuff that they sell but the way it’s arranged, how it’s priced, how frequently or infrequently the stock changes, etc.

SB: Were you interested in the fine line between junk and antiques well before you began working on this book?

LG: I actually don’t share Margaret Byrd’s fastidious obsession with this distinction, though I think it’s clear from the book that I am interested in the tension between “high” and “low” culture and the mysterious process through which the ephemeral becomes collectible or valuable and the mass-manufactured achieves scarcity and singularity.

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

LG: I want readers to be free to take away what they will and what they choose to. It’s a comic novel and I hope it’s appreciated as such by readers who take humor seriously. In a nutshell, I hope it reaches readers like me, who read widely in terms of subject matter and genre, who find humorless texts facile but also don’t like it when books are just funny or only trying to be funny.

SB: Are you a collector? Of what? Do you think collectors play a role in society that’s often ignored?

LG: I collect a lot of things but I’m not a completist about any of them. I go through phases. I suppose I have collections of vinyl records, pulp paperbacks, Halloween decorations, Marx figures, coin banks, midcentury rock ‘n’ roll ephemera, and various vintage toys.

I don’t know if they’re ignored by society but I do think collectors are often unfairly maligned as hoarders, though perhaps parts of my book are guilty of that, too. The vintage resale milieu around which the book revolves is at heart one whose purpose is quite noble: recycling and historical curation. That said, the idea of collecting brand new products manufactured expressly to be sold as “collectibles” with artificial degrees of scarcity, like Funko Pops, depresses me greatly.

SB: The press materials for this book mention that it is a biting commentary “on our current Marie Kondo era.” What do you think about this era and Marie Kondo?

LG: This might surprise you, seeing as I’m far from a minimalist myself, but I generally agree with her philosophy. I think it’s often presented as “get rid of everything you don’t need,” but as I understand it, it’s closer to “keep the things you truly want and like.” I just happen to want and like a lot of junk!

SB: What are you working on next?

LG: A novel influenced by—but not about—podcasts, Charles Portis’s novel Masters of Atlantis, and the music of The Shaggs.

SB: Lastly, my bonus question: Here’s your chance to ask and answer a question you have wished you would be asked in an interview.

LG: I’d like to be asked about Works of Love, the record label I started to release the artist Benjamin Dean Wilson’s 2018 album The Smartest Person in the Room on vinyl. I discovered his first album, Small Talk, earlier this year while trawling eBay for Jonathan Richman records—one seller used him as a point of comparison. Richman is my favorite artist of all time and without hyperbole I can see that Wilson is near his equal. There’s a thread in Heart of Junk about bands and albums overlooked at the time of release that are hailed decades later as geniuses and masterpieces. I very much want Wilson, who is not well known, to be appreciated in his prime. You can find out more about the record and order it through a link on my personal website.

Vintage collectible Star Wars action figures by Kenner.

Heart of Junk is available for pre-order now from BookPeople.

Meike Reviews “Turn to Stone”

Part-time bookseller, Meike, joins us on the MysteryPeople Blog for a guest review of a James Ziskin’s latest, Turn to Stone.

9781633885523It’s late summer 1963 and “girl reporter” Ellie Stone has traveled to Italy to attend an academic symposium honoring her late father. She’s invited to spend the weekend at an elegant villa just outside Florence, and a possible German measles outbreak means no one can leave. Trapped in a luxurious Tuscan villa with plenty of fantastic food and wine, and a group of scholarly friends who entertain themselves with tales drawn from Boccaccio’s Decameron (and no small amount of flirting), Ellie is enjoying her stay immensely—until the man who organized the symposium is found floating in the Arno, and foul plan is suspected.

Thus begins the perfect set-up for a locked room mystery that has Ellie wondering if one of her new friends could be capable of murder. And leave it to the intrepid and insatiably curious Ellie to seek out the truth and make sure someone is brought to justice.

I’m always so excited to get my hands on a new Ellie Stone mystery, she’s one of my favorite sleuths. Ziskin has crafted a delightfully complex and compelling character—Ellie is virtually alone in the world with no close family, but she’s remarkably brave and resilient. At times she can be lonely and frightened but she’s never intimidated–she’s whip-smart and won’t back down from any challenge. She defies the expectations that society places on a young woman of her time (witness the frequent belts of whiskey) while simultaneously embracing her femininity.

Ziskin is a linguist by training and it shows in the lyricism of his prose. Sprinkled throughout the text are Italian phrases that perfectly convey the temperament of a character, the temperature of a lazy afternoon, the tempo of the music that’s playing. His playful use of the Italian language lends a particularly unique and fun aspect to the story.

Setting a series in a specific era, particularly one that many of his readers may not have lived to experience, presents unique challenges and Ziskin proves himself up to the task–from the fashions to the news stories to the music, his extensive research and attention to detail lend an authenticity to his work that create an immersive experience for his readers.

Just be forewarned, after reading this latest Ellie Stone tale, you’ll find yourself searching for Tuscan villa rentals on HomeAway!

Turn to Stone is available for purchase in-store and online today!

Crime Fiction Friday: “Two Guys Come Through the Door with Guns” by Karen Heuler

11246Pressed to find a good short piece of crime fiction, we went to a reliable source: Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder site, where authors have to write a crime story in less than 750 words. Author Karen Heuler used the format for this often funny, existential yarn about the goons you hire to go through a door.

About the Author: Karen Heuler‘s stories have appeared in over one hundred literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, such as Conjunctions,Tin HouseWeird Talesand a number of Best Of anthologies. She has received an O. Henry Award, and has been a finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the Bellwether Award, the Shirley Jackson short story award, and others. She has published four novels and a novella, and her fourth story collection, The Clockworm and Other Strange Storieswas recently published by Tartarus Press.

Shotgun Blast From the Past: “The Long-Legged Fly” by James Sallis

9781641291439_998ceJames Sallis’ Lew Griffin series is one of the most respected in private eye fiction. Following the life of a black New Orleans private detective turned writer and teacher, it probes race, family, and politics with literary gravitas. Sallis has described working on the books as a poet and short story writer learning how to write a detective novel. That is definitely apparent in the first book, The Long-Legged Fly.
The book is basically four stories, each set in a decade of Lew Griffin’s life. Some aren’t even long enough to be considered novellas. The first has Lew tracking down a missing activist in 1964. He’s in search of a runaway in the seventies, a friend’s son in the eighties, and pulled back into being a detective to find his own in the nineties. Many of these stories examine human frailty, including Griffin’s own. There is something missing in these missing persons and he often carries their weight.
Sallis’ skills as a poet are put to use. In the opening chapter, he uses the sound of an oil derrick outside his office to repeat effect as Lew discusses the case with his client. Descriptions of New Orleans and its people float on top of the city’s thick bayou air. Only Reed Farrel Coleman, another poet turned crime writer, rivals him in description and emotion.
The key to the novel is Lew Griffin, himself. Sallis gives the character the kind vulnerability that you find in a classic R&B tune that pulls us in. We are with Lew, even at his worst. We know he can handle these mean streets, but they’re breaking his heart, if not his bones.
It has been said that the Lew Griffin books are more novels about a private detective than private detective novels. Lew Griffin is a character who lets you in, but holds back enough with you wanting to know more. Sallis sets him up beautifully in The Long-Legged Fly.

The Long-Legged Fly is available for purchase in-store and online now from BookPeople.

Murder in the Afternoon Goes to England!

9781616954079_0115eThe first pick for the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club is in! We will discuss a book that takes us back almost a hundred years — Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. This first novel, featuring the post-World War I London detective, is one of the most popular series in MysteryPeople.
The book, much like the series, is a mix of historical fiction and  mystery with a unique and plucky heroine at its center.
Masie is a former housemaid who was taken under the wing of her socially progressive boss and given an education that  was interrupted by the war. On return to service, she becomes a private investigator. Her first case takes her to an island for mutilated veterans that none of them return from.
The group should be bringing it to our discussion. We have a couple of hardcore fans of the series and a historian in the mix.
Join us on at 2PM, Monday, January 20th on BookPeople’s third floor. The book is 10% off to those who plan to attend.

Watching the Detectives: Austin Talent

Rounding out our group of authors and experts for discussion on private eye fiction, Watching The Detectives, Saturday January 11th at 2PM, we have some of our local talent. Laura Oles writes about Jamie Rush, a skip tracer who operates out of a Gulf Coast town. Jeff Vorzimmer is a writer, crime fiction expert, and editor who has put together The Best Of Manhunt collection as well as A Trio Of Beacon Books, that focuses on the lurid “expose” paperbacks.

laura-oles-225x300-1From Laura Oles:

Isabel (Izzy) Spellman: Isabel Spellman has been described as “the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy,” which is one of the many reasons I love this character. As a licensed investigator in her family’s firm, she’s extremely capable and sharp, even as she navigates the pitfalls that come from working with her dysfunctional family. Her cleverness has an edge that keeps me turning the pages, and her sarcasm always sticks the landing. 

V I WarshawskiI’m drawn to a strong and complex female protagonist, and VI absolutely fills this role. She doesn’t apologize for who she is and how she makes her way in the world. VI is skilled in a street fight, appreciates Torgiano red wine and doesn’t suffer fools. What’s not to love?

Tess Monaghan:  I discovered Tess during a time when my career required a great deal of travel. I picked up Baltimore Blues and never looked back. Tess’s investigative journalism background and her balance of strength and compassion compelled me to continue with the series. Laura Lippman gives us such a layered and authentic view of Baltimore through Tess’s eyes. And Tess ventured to go where few female detectives have dared—motherhood.

Jim Rockford:. When I think about private detectives on television, my mind always goes to Jim Rockford. Maybe because he kept me company in my childhood. An ex-con who served time in San Quentin and then was later pardoned, he ran his investigative business out of a mobile home in LA and preferred fishing to most other pursuits. His father never felt being a PI was a real job, and the fact he was often getting shorted by clients didn’t help his end of the argument. Jim Rockford was fallible at times, skilled at working cold cases but not always coming out on top in a brawl. He rarely used his gun. He was human, and I find that particularly appealing. And that theme song is pretty catchy, too.


15377465From Jeff Vorzimmer:

Chip Harrison: Okay, so, technically the first two Chip Harrison novels aren’t detective novels, or even crime novels for that matter. It isn’t until Chip goes to work for private detective Leo Haig—a Nero Wolfe wannabe—that Chip himself could be said to do any detective work. In book three Haig hires Chip to be his amanuensis, à la Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin. The books are written with the byline of Chip Harrison, as if they are autobiographical, but Chip Harrison was eventually revealed to be Lawrence Block. I had Larry Block sign my copy of No Score, the first book. After he signed it, I glanced down at the title page to make sure he didn’t sign it “Chip Harrison”.

Harry Fanin: Probably another odd choice. David Markson wrote in a variety of genres. He wrote the western, The Ballad of Dingus Magee, but unfortunately only two detective novels, both featuring private detective Harry Fanin. The books Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat were written in 1959 and 1961, respectively, and set in Greenwich Village. Think Johnny Staccato or Peter Gunn, with every bit as many beatnik characters. Stylish and cool with beautiful covers by Robert McGinnis.

Shell Scott: As politically-incorrect as you can get these days. So, I read them as an escape back to the days before anyone worried about such things. I don’t think many people read Shell Scott anymore, but hey, I think something’s lost. After all, how many of today’s private eyes swing naked on a vine onto a move set? None but Richard Prather’s Shell Scott.

Johnny Staccato: My favorite TV detective. Unfortunately Staccato only lasted one season (1959-60). Played by John Cassavetes, Staccato was not only a private eye, but a pianist in a Greenwich Village jazz club as well. He was cool and suave like Cassevetes himself. In his own private eye novel, Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon’s PI Doc Sportello praises Staccato as “the shamus of shamuses,” ranking him right up there with Marlowe and Spade.

You can hear more from Oles and Vorzimmer at the Watching the Detectives panel this Saturday, January 11th at 2PM on BookPeople’s Third Floor.