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.
For 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-
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.
Heart of Junk is available for pre-order now from BookPeople.
Part-time bookseller, Meike, joins us on the MysteryPeople Blog for a guest review of a James Ziskin’s latest, Turn to Stone.
It’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!
Pressed 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 House, Weird Tales, and 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 Stories, was recently published by Tartarus Press.
James 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 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.
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.
From 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 Warshawski: I’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.
From 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.