A Certain Kind of Ruthlessness: An Interview with Scott Phillips

9781641291095_f585dScott Phillips is one of those authors other authors revere (or are downright jealous of). He often uses the crime novel as a frame for satire, but never lets his characters simply fall into types or symbols. His latest target is Southern California with attorney Douglas Rigby, who lost all of his money, actually his last client’s money, on a drug deal. To get it back, he hatches an art fraud scheme involving his wife, mistress, and a forger dealing with a painting owned by the client, Glenn Haskill, a t.v. producer in sixties and seventies with fond memories of his casting couch. The book is funny, profane, and engaging as all hell. Scott will be joining Jon Bassoff and Jason Pinter for our Crime Writing Outside The Lines discussion on March 16th, but went solo for this interview we did with him.


Scott Montgomery: You’re mainly known for covering the Midwest, what set your sights on L.A.?

Scott Phillips: I lived there for more than a decade. It’s really about Ventura and Santa Barbara than LA, about an hour to two hours away, depending on traffic.  I think I can only write well about places I’ve lived or spent lots of time. Parts of this one are set in St. Louis, where I live now. This was one I couldn’t have set entirely in the Midwest — the old TV producer, Haskill, wouldn’t have fit in, for one thing. Also the desperation of the real estate business and the equally desperate need for a certain kind of Southern Californian to maintain a level of conspicuous consumption.

SM: What is the major difference in writing about the two areas?

SP: There’s a certain kind of ruthlessness to life in Southern California, be it show business or real estate or the law or getting your kids into the right school.

SM: How did you come upon art fraud as the center of the story?

SP: I’ve always wanted to write a book about art forgery. Forgers like van Meegeren, the Vermeer forger who’s mentioned in the book, and Elmyr de Hory, about whom Orson Welles made his documentary F for Fake, have always fascinated me. Originally the book was much more about the forgery and the relationship between Paula Rigby and the old forger, but that didn’t work for me so I trimmed it way back and made it more of a crime novel.

 

SM: This crime novel has even more moving parts to it than The Ice Harvest and The Rake. How do you approach something like this without the characters being drowned out by the plotting?
SP: As I said, this book was originally much more about the forger and Paula, with the other characters being much more minor. When I started concentrating on the plot, each of the characters started taking on more heft. Because a character like Keith, the golf pro, becomes more important to moving the plot forward (one thing I always knew was that he and Rigby were going to have a beat down of some kind), I have to dig a little deeper and figure out what motivates him.

SM: Glenn, the old producer, is a character I like despite myself. How did you go about constructing him.

SP: One thing that I love about Southern California is the presence of the ghosts of Hollywood. I know and knew some old character actors, and they all had great stories about the old days in TV and movies. The fact is that predatory creeps like Haskill were all over the place then, and they’re all over the place now, as the Weinstein trial just demonstrated. Haskill’s not based on any one person, but there were lots of guys just like him. I wanted him to have a little kernel of humanity, which shows through his devotion towards his nephew back in the Midwest, a devotion that doesn’t work out very well for him.

SM: I was happy to hear that SOHO is also reprinting two of your earlier books, The Walkaway and Cottonwood. How would you describe these books, particularly

SP: The Walkaway is a followup to The Ice Harvest, more than a sequel. I started with the premise of the money in the satchel–what happens to that money? It all started one day when I was getting on the 405 freeway near the VA hospital (where my grandfather used to work as a barber) and I saw an elderly man in a suit trying to hitch a ride on the onramp. Later it occured to me that he might have been attending a funeral at the National Cemetery nearby, or he might have just walked out of the VA hospital. SO that was the hook: man with dementia walks out of a nursing home looking for some money he vaguely remembers having hidden years earlier. Cottonwood is the story of the Bloody Benders, serial killers on the Kansas prairie, and it’s also the story of the birth of a town. Its protagonist, Bill Ogden, is the ancestor of a lot of characters in my other books, mostly illegitimately. I’m really grateful to SOHO for bringing them back.


That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available for purchase in-store and online today through BookPeople. And be sure to catch Scott Phillips alongside Jason Pinter and Jon Bassoff for MysteryPeople’s Crime Writing Outside the Lines discussion of crime fiction on March 16th at 7PM!

The Look Out: HOP ALLEY by Scott Phillips

Look Out For: Hop Alley by Scott Phillips
On Our Shelves 5/13/14

Scott Phillips is one of the best authors currently working. One of his best books the Western noir Cottonwood. There is a point in Cottonwood where the photographer, saloon keeper, philanderer and criminal protagonist, Bill Ogden, mentions time in he spent in Denver prior to the novel, which has him wind up in San Francisco. Denver holds a bloody history for Ogden, and you’re left with a lot of questions. In comes the short novel Hop Alley where Phillips answers those questions and shows us what exactly happened to Ogden’s during those lost years in Denver.

Odgen is scraping by under an assumed name because of the events in Cottonwood. He has a photography studio and is having an affair with a laudanum-addicted dance hall girl named Priscilla. When the father of one of his employees is murdered, it is pinned on two men from the city’s Chinatown section. Things start to spiral out of control from here. With the city about to riot and Priscilla’s constant manipulations, Bill’s personal life and the tumultuous air in Denver come crashing into one another.

Phillips weaves historical fact, satire, and a fresh spin on noir tropes into a book just as unique as Cottonwood, that serves well as either a standalone or companion piece to the original book. It is a fun visit from one of the most complex anti-heroes in Phillips’s rogues gallery. You can get reacquainted with Bill on May 13th, when Hop Alley officially hits shelves.

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Hop Alley is now available for pre-order via bookpeople.com.

MP Q&A: SCOTT PHILLIPS & JED AYRES

We are looking forward to our Fathers Day Noir At The Bar Summit this Sunday. Austin founders Scott Montgomery and Jesse Sublette are meeting up with Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres at Opal Divine’s  (3601 South Congress) for a night of music and crime fiction readings. Here’s a little background: Scott Phillips’ latest, Rake, is a tale of an American actor in Paris juggling four women, his violent temper, and a crime while trying to execute a movie deal. We sold out our initial run of Jed’s A F*ckload Of Shorts (there will be more at the event), and if you’re offended by the title don’t bother cracking the book. In fact you may want to avoid the interviews we did with them.

First, Scott-

MysteryPeople: I believe this is your first time to get out of the Midwest for a novel. I know you spent time in Paris, but other than experience what drew you to use it?

Scott Phillips: It was originally written for a collection of novels from a French publisher, La Branche, all of which were intended to be made as TV movies. That plan never went anywhere, but the idea was that it had to be a thriller, it had to be filmable in Paris, and it had to have Friday the 13th in it somewhere.

MP: I didn’t realize until after the book that your protagonist has no given name just the one of the doctor he plays on TV. Was there a specific intention of that?

SP: Not really, but at a certain point I realized I hadn’t given the actor his own name and I left it at that. The friend I based the character on was really a soap opera actor, the star of a show called Santa Barbara, which was enormously popular in prime time in France, and it occurred to me that almost no one in France knew his name, the fans always referred to him by his character’s name. We really did try and make a movie about the arms of the Venus de Milo; in retrospect we’re probably lucky we failed. A lot of the events in the book are exaggerated versions of things that really happened back then.

MP: As a writer, what makes him a fun character?

SP: He’s a self-deluded narcissist, always trying to convince the reader (and himself) that he’s a swell guy, always looking out for other people. And that sort of supreme self-confidence of his is amusing to write. Not dissimilar to Bill Ogden, from The Walkaway and The Adjustment.

MP: While you show the film business, warts and all, isn’t the normal skewering of it that you get with many authors that use it as a backdrop. As somebody who is involved with the industry, how do you view it?

SP: As I say above, many of the events described in the book really happened in the course of trying to get that movie made. People are always trying to get people to work for free, always trying to scam money out of backers, always trying to screw their way into the movie business.

MP: Sex plays a large part in Rake as well as your other work. What’s the best way for an author to approach it without coming off as porn?

SP: I have no idea. I love to write about sex, but it never occurs to me that anyone might find it arousing. I suppose I try and depict it in a matter-of-fact way, awkward and sometimes embarrassing and often thrilling. The worst kind of sex writing, I think, is when the writer tries to idealize it, all arching backs and glistening torsos and simultaneous orgasm. Also terrible is the sort of thing where the author gets overly hyperbolic and starts comparing genitalia to foodstuffs and planetary bodies and automotive parts.

MP: You’re doing our Austin Noir At The Bar with your friend and cohort, Jedidiah Ayres. What do you like about his writing?

SP: He has a willingness, or maybe it’s a compulsion, to go too far. Where a more psychiatrically stable writer might pull back, Jed plunges ahead, damn the torpedoes. The one about the groupie, the dead rock-star and the groupie’s boyfriend is one of the funniest and most disturbing stories ever written, and yet he manages to bring a kind of sweetness to it.

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MP Review: RAKE by SCOTT PHILLIPS

Scott Phillips is an author whose books are always at the top of my reading pile. His smart prose and conscience-deprived anti-heroes turn crime fiction into social satire. His latest, Rake, further proves his talent for making noir funny.

The book starts with a nameless actor knocking out an arms dealer who tried to kill him for a having an affair with his wife. The actor calls his screenwriter, Fred. When Fred runs over to his place they work on a solution for their dilemma.
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We then flash back to a little over two weeks earlier, where half of the story takes place. The actor has gained fame in France as Dr. Martin Crandall, the character he played on a American daytime soap-opera  that became a sensation when it aired there. He decides to use this fortune to get a movie financed with him as the star. He finds Fred, an anti-social bookseller and author of an obscure novel filled with sexual perversity. In classic Phillips form, the “Dr. Crandall” scheme also involves four different women the actor is simultaneously sleeping with; one of which is the leading lady who is married to a possible financier, the arms dealer. The book follows his wheeling, dealing, and screwing, which all lead up to the violent act that starts the novel. They then scramble to deal with the repercussions while still hustling to get the film made.
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With Rake, Phillips has once again created a protagonist whose voice suits his writing style. You might dislike him, if he wasn’t so cavalier and intelligent. While he gives us wild justification for his actions there exists a little hypocrisy in him, at least when he tells his tale. It’s also hard to admit we’d behave differently if we could get away with it. One could say that Scott Phillips  gives us a cold look at his characters, and the film business, but the narration and the protagonist’s devil-may-care attitude give Rake a sleazy warmth.
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Rake is Scott Phillips at his most entertaining. His wonderfully amoral and hedonistic characters, with their scheming and trouble shooting, provide a subtle yet laughable loud look at how the US has exported its worst traits abroad. Who knows, maybe someone will make a movie out of it?
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An Appreciation Of (And Apology To) Scott Phillips

After our MysteryPeople Top 10 Of 2011 list was published on our blog, I realized I made a grave error. I had forgotten to put Scott Philips’ The Adjustment on it. Not only was it a book I loved, pushing the genre in a unique direction, and the fact that he’s one of my favorite writers, but he’s also on one of my good friends (at least up until then).

Scott has a history of great work that has never quite gotten the attention it deserves. Even though his work exists in a shared universe, he never writes the same novel twice, making him difficult to categorize for some. In many ways, he is as much a satirist as anything else, using gene to frame his commentary without drawing attention to it.

No book did that better than his debut, The Ice Harvest. The story follows Charlie Arglist, a morally bankrupt Kansas lawyer spending his Christmas Eve going from bar to strip club, tying up loose ends after executing a mysterious plan, before he skips town. He careens around a beautiful, icy strip club owner, a drunken ex-in law, his partner, and several other shady, two-faced citizens, who pose as much danger as the town’s winter streets. This book gets funnier as it gets darker, leaving you with one of the most talked about endings among noir enthusiasts.

Ice Harvest also introduced us to Wayne Ogden, an unscrupulous character who plays an important part in that ending. He became the lead in Scott’s next book, The Walkaway, which starts over a decade after, as well as sometime before, The Ice Harvest. Phillips switches from chapter to chapter with an Alzheimer-stricken Wayne’s search for the only woman he truly loved and the sordid details of their affair. Scott has said it is the closest he’ll get to a happy ending. That said, don’t expect Danielle Steele.

And don’t expect Zane Grey when Scott goes to post-Civil War Kansas to look at Wayne’s photographer and saloon owner grandfather, Bill, in Cottonwood. Bill becomes partners with a businessman who says he knows the railroad will be coming through town. As that prospect becomes doubtful, he has an affair with the man’s wife. Part noir, part western, with a lot of humor and a mass murdering family thrown in, Cottonwood pokes holes in the ideas of rugged individualism and founders of the community as well as exploring a point in time where the West became The Midwest.

Scott has continued the Ogden saga. The family has appeared in various short stories. A humorous standout, “The Girl Who Kissed Barnaby Jones” that appears in LA Noir, has Wayne’s grandson dealing with a crazy actress/waitress. He also visits a member of the clan in the dystopian future with his novel Rut.

Last year Scott returned with Wayne, just out of the Army, in The Adjustment. He’s back at his job, which mainly consists of protecting his philandering boss and missing the action he saw in the war. For Wayne, that action was in how he used his supply sergeant position to be a pimp and black marketer. He chases his boredom by cheating on his pregnant wife and getting involved with pornographers and a blackmail scheme, all while getting mysterious letters from someone who knows about his war time past.

The book is so suspenseful, raunchy, hilarious, and just down right fun it’s easy to forget how skillfully written it is and the subtle yet scathing comments it makes on our past. No matter how repugnant the characters, Scott’s genius ear for dialogue gives them a voice you can relate to. His pornographers have as much decency as his preachers. All are trying to find their way back to “normalcy”, having lost the definition after five years of war. Some, like Wayne, redefine it or maybe forget about it all together. The Adjustment looks at The Greatest Generation from an angle Tom Brokaw missed.

It is Phillips’ ability to show the ugly side of these sacred cows that make him an important author. We live in a period when many use those cows to take us to the slaughter. Phillips shows the hypocrisy in those legends and the ones who exploit them. His books are great reading during election years.

Scott has said he writes dirty books for a living. If so, there is something very sacred in his profanity.He gives an entertaining yet unblinking tour of America and a heartland that is dark at heart.

I only hope he can find it in his own heart to forgive me.

Scott’s Top Ten (Eleven, Actually) Crime Fiction Books of 2020 So Far

Meike joined us on the blog earlier this week to discuss her ten favorite mystery reads of 2020 so far. Now it’s Scott M.’s turn to chime in. Read on to see what he’s been vibing with during this…unusual…year. It’s no mystery that books have been sustaining us all throughout this ordeal.

This year the halfway point list seems more important than ever. Many great books got lost when the pandemic hit. MysteryPeople was down, unable to crow about many of these fantastic reads. So here are the books that impressed me the most in the first six months of 2020.

 

1. The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

A waitress looks for answers and justice in her Ozark town after her twelve year-old daughter is murdered along with her friend. The deeper she goes, the more she becomes the woman she’s always feared being- her criminal mother. This rural noir packs one hell of a punch.

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2. City Of Margins by William Boyle
This story looks at how a murder in the past effects several citizens who feel trapped in their Brooklyn life. Funny and heartbreaking, Boyle understands his characters like no other author.
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3. Of Mice And Minestrone by Joe R. Lansdale
The author delivers a half dozen short stories that look at the formative years of his characters, Hap and Leonard. The stories run the gamut from fun genre romps, bittersweet nostalgia, and poignant character studies, showing some sides you haven’t seen from them.
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4. Poison Flood by Jordan Farmer
A hunchback songrwriter is pulled out of his reclusive life during a storm that causes an enviromental disaster in his Appalcahian town from the chemical plant leak and leads to him witnessing a murder. Farmer hits to the emotional bone of his wounded characters.
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5. Broken by Don Winslow
Winslow delivers five novellas that range from a fun cat and mouse  game between a cop and thief to a gritty story about a family of New Orleans police out for vengeance. He introduces us to new characters and revisits old favorites, proving in each piece the master storyteller he is.
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6. The Burn by Kathleen Kent
Detective Betty Rhyzyk returns in this exciting police thriller. When informants are getting murdered and word on the street that several kilos have been stolen from the cartel, Betty has to escape from desk duty when the killings hit close to home with one of her fellow cops possibly involved.
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7. That Left Turn At Albuquerque by Scott Phillips
A lawyer has to make up the money lost on a drug deal gone wrong through an art scam. His partner in crime, his wife, mistress, and an oddball forger all make this crime being far from perfect. Funny and profane with characters you love either despite or because of their lack of morality.
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8. Lockdown edited by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle & Both Sides edited by Gabino Igesias
These two anthologies, one dealing with a year-long pandemic and the other looking at the many angles of human migration, run the gamut of tone, style, and perspective. Some are funny, many horrifying, and all break down their subject to its most human elements.
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9. Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley
Mosley brings back New York PI Leonoid McGill as he tries to get a message from an old Black bluesman to his soon-to-be-wedded granddaughter. He has to use his street smarts and contacts to get past the woman’s rich and powerful father who wants to keep his mixed heritage a secret. A great, tight piece of pulp, packing social weight.
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10.  Lost River by J. Todd Scott
Scott examines the human devastation of the opioid epidemic in this gritty, epic thriller of a one violent day that entwines a Kentucky lawman, DEA agent, and EMT. Some of the most vivid writing about the drug war since Don Winslow.
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These titles and more are available to order from BookPeople today.

You can refer to this page to understand availability and find our more about curbside pickup service here.

Meike’s Top 10 Mystery Reads of 2020…So Far!

The first half of the year is in the books and Meike’s ready to unveil her ten favorite mystery titles of the year…so far! Read on to see what Meike’s been savoring and see how your personal list compares to hers.


9780525540670_648f9Long Bright River by Liz Moore 

Long Bright River is a genre-defying thriller that straddles literary fiction and crime fiction with a gripping police procedural that illuminates multiple aspects of the opioid crisis. Michaela “Mickey” Fitzpatrick is a Philly beat copy in the deteriorating Kensington neighborhood where she grew up, and where almost every resident now has a connection to the opioid epidemic. When a series of mysterious murders rocks the neighborhood, Mickey realizes she hasn’t seen her sister Kacey in several weeks. Kacey has been living on the streets, turning tricks to support her drug habit. Although the sisters are estranged, they were inseparable as children and Mickey has always felt responsible for her younger sister. As she hunts for both Kacey and the killer, Mickey is forced to come to terms with the long tail of trauma both girls experienced as children. 

 

9781641291095_f585dThat Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips 

This darkly hilarious crime spree features a cast of characters who are all pretty terrible people, but you just can’t help but root for them. At the book’s heart is attorney Douglas Rigby—he’s facing bankruptcy as his latest shady deal falls apart, so he comes up with yet another swindle that will put him back on top. He enlists the help of his wife (who’s cheating on him with the local golf pro), his girlfriend (who happens to be the wife of his recently deceased business partner), an art forger, the embittered nurse of his last remaining client, and that client’s money-hungry nephew. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, to riotous results.

 

9780062838209_a4012Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson 

Any avid reader of crime fiction will love this homage to some of the most well-crafted mysteries of all time. Malcolm Kershaw is pretty much living my dream life—he’s the owner of The Old Devil’s Bookstore in Boston, with a capable staff that allows him the freedom to come and go as he pleases (and the financial security to live within walking distance to the store and enjoy the occasional excellent glass of wine). But the dream is threatened when an FBI agent comes calling—it seems there have been a series of murders that bear an unusual resemblance to a blog post Malcolm once wrote called “Eight Perfect Murders” and which extolled the virtues of some of literatures most unsolvable murders (from Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train to Christie’s ABC Murders, the best of the best are well-represented).

 

9781250154224_5fd08Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier 

Marin Machado led a charmed life until the day 16 months ago when her young son Sebastian (“Bash”) went missing. Marin was holding his hand in a crowded Christmas market; she only let go of his hand long enough to answer a call from her husband Derek, but suddenly Bash had vanished. Clues have dried up and the FBI have all but given up, so Marin hires a private investigator to resume the search. But what the PI finds isn’t Bash—it’s the younger woman named Kenzie that Derek is having an affair with. Determined not to lose her husband as well as her son, Marin enlists the help of her best friend Sal to fix the Kenzie problem—for good. Hillier is masterful at exploring the dark thoughts hidden in her characters’ psyches; this time around she ratchets up the tension and then blindsides the reader with a gut-punching twist.

 

9780062367686_93c1fA Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight 

Part domestic suspense, part legal thriller (the perfect “marriage,” if you will) this book examines just what compromises, secrets, and even lies are sometimes required to keep a marriage intact. Against her better judgment, attorney Lizzie Kitsakis agrees to defend her former law school classmate Zach Grayson when he’s accused of the brutal murder of his wife Amanda. She soon learns that Zach and Amanda’s seemingly perfect marriage was anything but, and along the way she’s forced to confront the cracks in her own marriage. Anyone who has ever even contemplated marriage will enjoy this exploration of what exactly a “good” marriage entails. Fans of Big Little Lies will love this one!

 

9780525658658_89f89The End of October by Lawrence Wright 

This one might not technically be crime fiction, but it crosses into thriller territory and couldn’t be more timely. A novel coronavirus breaks out in Asia and threatens to spread across the globe (sound familiar?), and epidemiologist Henry Parsons races to contain the virus before it decimates the human population. Wright’s eerily prescient imagining of how a pandemic might play out in the lives of ordinary people throughout the world is backed by extensive research— the reader will come away both highly entertained as well as better informed about the major historical event of our time. Wright is a masterful storyteller and his journalistic background lends a chilling realism to the novel.

 

9780062656384_adbbdThese Women by Ivy Pochoda 

Five very different women who live in the West Adams neighborhood of South LA are connected by a serial killer—but this is their story, not his. Told in a kaleidoscope of overlapping viewpoints, this beautiful story shines a light on women who are frequently overlooked and examines why their stories often don’t seem to matter to everyone. Pochoda imbues these women, who are often dismissed by society, with grace and dignity.

 

 

9781250206923_a07f3Hard Cash Valley by Brian Panowich 

This is the third installment in Panowich’s Southern Noir trilogy, set in the fictional north Georgia McFalls County. Ex-arson investigator Dane Kirby is pulled into an FBI investigation when a mutilated body is found in Jacksonville, Florida. His investigation soon circles around to his own backyard where he’s forced to confront some of the baddest Southern outlaws imaginable while at the same time coming to terms with a tragedy that threatens to destroy him.

 

 

9780525620785_a8a32Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 

Naomi Taboada, a wealthy and glamorous young debutante, receives an urgent letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom. Naomi heads to her cousin’s new home, High Place, an isolated manor in the Mexican countryside. Her cousin’s new husband—an enigmatic and handsome Englishman—and his family are far from welcoming, and Naomi soon learns that High Place is rife with secrets and danger. Naomi is a fearless heroine facing an unimaginable horror, and the resulting chills are a delightful diversion.

 

9781633885523_2d883Turn to Stone by James Ziskin 

It’s late summer 1963 and “girl reporter” Ellie Stone has travelled to Italy to attend a 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. But when the symposium organizer is found floating in the Arno and foul play is suspected, Ellie begins to wonder if any of her new friends could be capable of murder. If you spent your quarantine time anywhere but an Italian countryside villa well-stocked with delicious food and drink then you’ll want to read this wonderful novel to see what might have been… 


These titles and more are available to order from BookPeople today.

You can refer to this page to understand availability and find our more about curbside pickup service here.

An Interview with Jon Bassoff, author of ‘The Lantern Man’

cover-bassoff-lantern-man-300x450pxJon Basoff’s latest, The Lantern Man, is a mix of different media, created news clippings, repots, and diary, as well as prose that tell a gothic psycho noir story of a family whose three children suffer much dark fate. Jon will be attending our Crime Writing Outside The Lines panel discussion with Scott Phillips and Jason Pinter. He was kind enough to take a few questions from us about this different sort of book.


Scott Montgomery: The Lantern Man is a very unique story, especially in its telling. How did it come about?

Jon Bassoff: I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with the narrative techniques of novels, maybe more so than plot or character or anything else. I don’t have anything against conventional narratives, but I get excited when I read works by Nabokov or Danielewski or anybody who pushes the envelope of what a narrative can be. With The Lantern Man, I knew the basic story I wanted to tell, knew that I wanted it to take place in Leadville, Colorado, but it took me a while to figure out how I could effectively use a multitude of point-of-views in a relatively fresh way. I decided to use footnotes and journals and artifacts. Basically, you’ve got the main narrative, which is a journal written by a girl shortly before a rather awful death, but you’ve also got the detective’s investigation, told through the footnotes and artifacts. It’s up to the reader to put all the pieces together, namely, to determine how much of the journal can be believed and how much of the investigation the detective is getting right.

SM: What was the biggest challenge in writing it?

JB: Keeping all the pieces of the puzzle straight. Different characters know different things at different times. Different characters have different motives for being dishonest (or honest). And, as with every novel, a huge challenge was determining how much to reveal to the reader at various points in the narrative. That balance is tricky. I hope I did it right.

SM: One of the themes of the book is about storytelling. What did you want to explore about telling tales?

JB: One of my favorite lines in the novel is this one: “We all need a narrative. Something to get us through the day.” From the time we’re old enough to understand language, we’re told stories. Hell, religions, entire civilizations are based around them. In a lot of ways, The Lantern Man explores the power of stories, not just how they can be used to comfort, but also to frighten and manipulate. The characters are manipulated by the stories. And so, I think, are the readers.

SM: How did Leadville get chosen as the backdrop?

JB: For the better part of the past decade, I’ve gone up to Leadville every summer to write. It’s an anomaly in Colorado—a living, breathing mountain town without skiing or gambling. It’s got an amazing mining history and plenty of secrets buried beneath the dirt. I always knew I needed to write a story that took place there. And when I stumbled upon this old abandoned railroad tunnel, called Hagerman Tunnel, I knew where I wanted the heart of my story to take place.

SM: Is The Lantern Man based on any urban legend?

J.B. : Well, there are mythical creatures referred to as lantern men, and I expanded on that myth to make it my own. More generally speaking, my particular lantern man is based on the boogie man, which has a place in most societies, and in most children’s imaginations. But it comes back to storytelling. That’s what the boogie man is. A story. An archetype. And in my story, he represents the evil that we all possess, depending on the right circumstances.

SM: You live in Colorado where there seems to be a concentration of dark and offbeat crime authors. What’s in the water?

JB: It’s true! We’ve got a lot of strange ones here. Ben Whitmer and Steven Graham Jones to name a couple of the stranger ones. I don’t know if it’s the water. Maybe the high altitude? Messes with our cognitive functioning? But, yeah, I’m glad to have discovered the crime fiction/horror community in Colorado.


The Lantern Man is available for purchase in-store and online today through BookPeople. And be sure to catch Jon Bassoff alongside Jason Pinter and Scott Phillips for MysteryPeople’s Crime Writing Outside the Lines discussion of crime fiction on March 16th at 7PM!

An Intriguing Prospect: An Interview with Jason Pinter, author of ‘Hide Away’

9781542005906_dc4d5Jason Pinter’s Hide Away introduces Rachel Marin, a mother of two who, after a horrifying incident, molds herself into a vigilante. A murder of the former mayor draws her into a plot that puts her up against the two police detectives investigating it and risks her life as well as her children.
Jason, also the founder and editor of the acclaimed indie press Polis Books, will be joining Scott Phillips and Jon Bassoff for our Crime Writing Outside The Lines discussion panel on March 16th at BookPeople. He was kind enough to do this pre-interview with us.

Scott Montgomery: How did the character of Rachel Marin come about?
Jason Pinter: I had been thinking about starting a new series, and Rachel’s character came to me shortly after the birth of our first daughter. I was fascinated by the notion of a protagonist who was smart, capable, and strong but also incredibly vulnerable. And I don’t think you ever feel more vulnerable in your life than when you are literally responsible for the lives of others. So the gears started turning—how would someone balance being a brilliant criminalist with raising two children? How would she deal with the trauma in her past, and how would she try to help her children with it? But I also wanted to know how and why she became who she is. Why did she feel the need to train her mind and body obsessively? Answering all those questions for myself was an intriguing prospect, and I thought readers would enjoy learning them too.
SM: Is there a challenge writing a character who is a vigilante and single mother?
JP: Absolutely. There’s a reason Batman is single with no kids. Can you imagine if he went out every night with the possibility of getting shredded in a million different ways, but also had a spouse and/or children to care for, who loved him? I really wanted to explore the conflict Rachel felt in being someone who was capable of solving crimes, but in doing so could also jeopardize the tranquil life she’d created for her family. And she doesn’t always make the right decision. And when she does, there are more lives at stake than just hers.
SM: You have two story lines, the murder mystery and Rachel’s origin story. Is there a certain rhythm you developed from going from one to another?
JP: It was very important to me that we saw how Rachel got to the point where we see her in the opening chapters. We know something terrible happened to her, and we know that, down the road, she’s very, very capable. But how did she get from point A to point B? I thought it of like Sarah Connor in the first two Terminator movies. How did the waitress become the warrior? I didn’t want the “flashback’ scenes to overwhelm the narrative—after all, the inherent existence of a flashback means the story isn’t being driven forward—so I had to be very judicious about when I used them and how, and that they only came when they needed to.

SM:  All of your characters are indelible. How do you go about constructing them?

JP: That means the world to hear. First and foremost, I hate “stock” characters. People who exist in a book (or movie, or show) just for the sake of existing, or to further the plot. I wanted my main cast of characters to have full lives. This was most important when it came to creating the two police detectives, John Serrano and Leslie Tally. They are at odds with Rachel a great deal of the book, but I didn’t want them to be stereotypical “cops who get in the way of our hero” types. They both have interesting lives and interior motives. They could each be the protagonist of their own novel. And because of that, we understand them and can sympathize with them, which creates more conflict with Rachel. Serrano and Tally are quite competent, and because of that it allows us to doubt Rachel just a bit.

SM: Has being a publisher affected your writing at all?

JP: Absolutely, the most in terms of time. I essentially put my writing career on hold

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Jason Pinter, author of Hide Away

while I was launching Polis Books because, frankly, there are only so many hours in the day. I always wanted to, hopefully, work on both sides of the desk, but I needed to concentrate on the company for a fairly lengthy period of time to get it up and running. Nowadays, I’m very careful about how I wear both hats, especially when I’m at a conference or convention when I might be promoting both Polis titles and my own. It’s hugely hugely important to my authors at Polis that they know I keep my writing and publishing separate—I do not use one to benefit the other. It’s impossible for there to be no overlap—that would be easier if I was, say, a publisher and an auto mechanic. But being a publisher also inspires me, in that we have so many writers telling incredible stories, and it’s a privilege just to work in the same industry as them.

SM: I’ve heard Rachel is going to be a series character. What can you tell us about the future you have in store for her?
JP: I actually just turned in the last edits for the second book in the Rachel Marin series. It’s currently titled A Stranger at the Door, and it’s scheduled to come out in early 2021. After that, I have an idea for the third book that’s hugely exciting to me, and whether that comes out depends on how readers react to the first books. The great thing about writing the second book in the series is that you’ve established the world and the main characters, and now you can go about expanding and exploring that world, deepening the readers’ relationship with the characters you’ve already introduced, while also sprinkling in new ones to spice things up. So I hope I can keep adding to that stew as long as readers are hungry for it.

Catch Jason Pinter later this month in conversation with Jon Bassoff and Scott Phillips for our Crime Writing Outside the Lines panel discussion on March 16th at 7PM.

About the Author: Jason Pinter is the bestselling author of six novels: the acclaimed Henry Parker series (The MarkThe GuiltyThe StolenThe Fury, and The Darkness), the stand-alone thriller The Castle, the middle-grade adventure novel Zeke Bartholomew: SuperSpy, and the children’s book Miracle. His books have over one million copies in print worldwide. He has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Thriller Award, Strand Critics Award, Barry Award, and Shamus Award.

Pinter is the founder of Polis Books, an independent press, and was honored by Publishers Weekly‘s Star Watch, which “recognizes young publishing professionals who have distinguished themselves as future leaders of the industry.” He has written for the New RepublicEntrepreneur, the Daily BeastEsquire, and more. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with his wife, their two daughters, and their dog, Wilson.

Three Picks for March

Scott Phillips returns with a conniving lawyer at the end of his rope when he loses his only client’s money on a drug deal gone bad. To get back in the black and ahead he hatches an art fraud scheme that depends on a forger, his wife, and his mistress. Tight, funny, and populated with the sleaze bags he writes so well, this caper novel skewers L.A. life with precision. Scott will be joining Don Bassoff and Jason Pinter for our Writing Outside The Lines discussion at BookPeople on March 16th at 7PM.
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The Lantern Man by Jon Bassoff
Bassoff mixes psycho-noir with the gothic tale in the tragic story of the Grenier siblings in Leadville, Colorado. After one is drowned in front of the other two, the brother is arrested for murdering a classmate. The remaining sister’s charred body is found in a burned up cabin along with her diary in a safe that proves nothing may be as it seems. Bassoff uses the diary, newspaper clippings, and other media along with his moody prose style to deliver a unique thriller with one hell of  reveal. Jon will also be at the Writing Outside The Lines Discussion on March 16th.
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Are Snakes Necessary? by Brian DePalma & Susan Lehman
The acclaimed director of films like Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, and The Untouchables collaborates in prose for this entertaining potboiler of a photographer, his two lovers, and a ruthless senator’s aid who weave around each other in a tale of sex, politics, and murder. The book contains the style, pace, and quirky, dark humor of many of the director’s films.
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You can shop for all three titles in-store and online this month at BookPeople. And be sure to catch Scott Phillips and Jon Bassoff in-store for their MysteryPeople-hosted panel discussion on March 16th at 7PM.