Crime Fiction Friday – Best Of Friends By Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton is a master at grounding even the craziest moments in something real. He is the poet of emotions from beat up hearts. If you haven’t read his work, try this piece from Beat To A Pulp and when your hooked get, The Bitch, Bomb, or The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping.
 

Interview with Alex Segura

In Blackout, Alex Segura’s latest book to feature Pete Fernandez has the PI operating in New York, but brought back to his Miami home to find the missing son of a business man politician, mainly because he resembles a young man who went missing when he was last seen with Pete’s high school crush before she was murdered. Alex will be joining us for a discussion and signing of Blackout on May 18th, but we got in touch with him ahead of time for an early grilling.
MP: Blackout has a great hook of a premise with Pete hired to track down a missing person who is tied to a murder of an old crush. It gives you both a promise in plot and emotion. How did the initial idea come about?
AS: That’s a good question – I really want the mystery to harken back to not only Pete’s drinking days, but his youth – to give readers a longer glimpse at him in his formative years. In past books, we’ve explored cases that had some roots in the past, either cases Pete’s homicide detective father didn’t get to resolve or stuff that dates further back, but I wanted this book to completely center on Pete, and to really impact him emotionally. I wanted it to be the case that always haunted him. Growing up in Miami, there were a handful of crimes that just felt ever-present – missing students or kids, constantly being discussed on the news, missing for years, so those two ideas came together, and I made the victim someone that Pete knew and felt an emotional connection with. I also wanted to give him the added baggage of having failed at it once – when he was a mess, drinking heavily and of no use to anyone. So he felt like he’d already struck out twice trying to solve this case. So, when a chance to fix that arises, he jumps in fully, despite the risks involved in returning home, and the damaged relationships he’d have to repair. It’s the crux of the entire book – can you come to terms with your past in order to live out your future?MP: The mystery of Blackout forces Pete to deal with the past, something he has been trying to avoid. What did you want to explore with that idea?

AS: I’ve always liked the idea of telling a story about recovery, as opposed to just spotlighting a hard drinking PI. I wanted to show the steps and stumbles he takes toward getting better. When we find Pete at the beginning of Blackout, he’s not desperate for a drink – in fact, he seems to be in good standing with AA and living a pretty functional life. But that’s on the surface. He hasn’t really dug back into his past and cleared the wreckage. He’s still haunted, and that’s driven a wedge between him and his friends – like his partner, Kathy Bentley, and other supporting characters. So, to answer your question, I wanted to show that Pete’s journey is an ongoing one – he’ll never be completely fixed. No one is. But this book is a big step for him because he’s given an opportunity to make something right, and that, in turn, might allow him to move on, to not be clouded by this guilt and shame, and to maybe embrace being alive. Unfortunately, he has some obstacles to overcome before that can happen – like a deadly cult with its sights set on Pete for meddling in their affairs.

MP:  Usually with modern PI novels the author usually goes an action route that sacrifices emotion and character or a character approach that remains mainly internal. In Blackout you strike a perfect balance of both. How aware of the balancing act are you when writing?AS: Thanks for saying that. It is something I try to be mindful of. For me, it all springs out of character – where do we meet them and where are they at the end of the book? That helps define the journey of the novel. I knew I wanted Pete to reach a turning point at the end of the book that would forever change him and his status quo, so it became a matter of crafting action that pushes him down that path. From my perspective, Blackout is pretty intense – there are few slow scenes, but I try to coat those moments with some emotion and introspection. You get a sense of how these intense scenarios are affecting Pete and Kathy. I never want it to feel clean or without consequence. I like the Pete books when they wallow in the gray areas of life, which feels more real to me – complicated, conflicting, messy. That’s where you get the most genuine stuff.


MP: You’ve mentioned one of my favorite private eye authors, Ross Macdonald, in some of your other interviews. Is there anything from reading his work, you’ve applied to yours?
 

AS: I love Macdonald, so I’m glad you bring him up. I revisited all the Lew Archer books before writing Blackout. And while it wasn’t intentional research, I felt like a lot of that managed to sneak into the writing of the new book. He was a superb plotter, which, to contrast a bit, wasn’t Chandler’s strong suit. And while Lew Archer is unlike Pete in that he doesn’t really experience major, seismic changes from book to book, when you zoom out on the series, you do notice some things, especially when Macdonald plays with themes like the humanity of evil, the environment, or what have you. Those books helped me drill deep and create more compelling “bad guys.” The best villains don’t think they’re villains at all.And, like I said, the Archer books are so tightly plotted. That aspect is often ignored because Macdonald was such a great wordsmith – you can very easily get lost in his language and descriptions. But the books always move at a good clip. Nothing ever feels wasted or like filler. That must have subconsciously nudged me in that direction with Blackout.

MP:  As someone who has friends that have dealt both successfully and unsuccessfully with alcoholism, I thought you portrayed that aspect of Pete in a realistic way. What do you keep in mind about that part of him when you’re writing the books?

AS: I try to be honest. Recovery isn’t a linear process, and it doesn’t stick with everyone. I think a lot of people just assume that once you get into AA or some kind of rehab, you’re okay. It’s silly to type that, but I’ve met people who think it’s like going to a doctor. It’s not. It’s a journey fraught with pitfalls and detours and, for many, relapse. So, I wanted to showcase Pete’s quest to get better with that in mind. Just because he’s not drinking doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it, or thinking about his past as a drinker. He’s a haunted character, and that applies to many people who deal with addiction. It’s a lifelong struggle.

MP:  You’ve more or less stated that your putting Pete to rest at least for a while after the next book. Do you already have other stories or another series character in mind?

AS: I have at least one more Pete novel in me, which I’m starting on now – Miami Midnight. I’m having fun with that and might find myself at the end wanting another Pete. But as I see things now, I think I’ll at least give him a break. I don’t know if I’ll dive into another series just yet, though I do have an idea for a character. The two strongest ideas sound like standalone to me, though, and touch on subjects I haven’t gotten to explore with Pete.

Review Of Blackout by Alex Segura

Alex Segura has slowly made a name for himself with his Pete Fernandez series. The sports writer turned private detective, who battles his inner demons and the bottle as much as the bad guys, is steadily grabbing fans. I’ve been reading to the series for the past couple of years and his visit to BookPeople on May 16th gave me the opportunity to read his latest, Blackout. He now has a new fan.
Blackout finds Pete with an office in New York, staying away from him Miami home and the past. A client comes in, drops it on his desk anyhow. A businessman running for Florida senate wants him to find his missing ne’er do well son. Pete refuses until he sees a photo of the missing person. He resembles a young man who was seen with Pete’s high school crush before she was murdered. Pete heads back down to Florida and with the help of his former partner Kathy Bently get involved in a mystery dealing with a cult, the mob, and old wounds.
What impressed me about Blackout was how as a first time reader of the series, I understood Joe and his world so thoroughly. I knew him as well as Lew Archer, Sheriff Walt Longmire, Moe Prager, or any of the other fictional slueth I’ve read more than a dozen books of. Segura gives us enough history from the previous books and gives us Pete’s connection and emotional point of view to them, showing how they connect to is current actions. He also defines him through his interactions with other series characters, who come off both believable and caring.
Segura balances action and emotion in Blackout like a master craftsman. He carries the reader along with an engaging plot and likable if damaged hero. You root for Pete both to save the day and save himself. I’m looking forward to reading his next case as well as the one before.

Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Celebrates Texas Mystery Writers Month!

Our Murder In The Afternoon book club celebrates Texas Mystery Writers Month with a detective tale with tons of Lone Star flavor. The Do-Right by Lisa Sandlin is a wonderful mystery novel with layers of intrigue and characters who can only be found in Texas. As part of our discussion, Lisa will be joining in, via conference call.
The Do-Right has two protagonists both in the middle of a life change in Beaumont Texas during the early Seventies. Delpha Wade, on parole after getting out of prison for killing one of her rapists, needs to find a job. Her parole officer sets her up as a secretary for his buddy Tom Phelan. Tom lost a part of his finger on an oil rig, With his workman’s comp, he started a private eye firm. Delpha proves to be Tom’s match as they each take separate cases that entwine.
The Do-Right gives us a lot to talk about, Texas in the Seventies, the Watergate Hearings used in the backdrop, role reversal in detective fiction, and you’ll get to ask the author herself. We will be meeting Monday, May 21st at 7PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.
For June we will be celebrating World Fiction Month with the second book in Jean Clad Izzo’s Mareille trilogy, Chourmo.  

DRUGS, DRONES, & DEATH: A GUEST ARTICLE BY HUNTER’S MOON AUTHOR BILLY KRING

When Hunter Kincaid and her partner, Gary follow the tracks of a single male for miles through the desert, they don’t expect to find the man lying face down with bullet holes in his back and head, and all fired from close range, especially when there are no other tracks, except his for as far as they can see.

They call the Sheriff’s Department and the Sheriff himself responds, along with two high profile passengers: multi-millionaire and former Marine and ex-CIA agent-and current presidential advisor Lincoln Jones, and his second–in-command, Ashton Dean. Jones and Kincaid’s personalities clash, until Hunter hears that the dead man at their feet is Jones’ stepson, Cory. Cory is also a CIA Agent, and was working in Mexico as he and his partner, Art Gonzales, hunt through the unfamiliar terrain and towns to locate a drug ring that uses drones to transport and drop drug loads across the U.S. border. Neither was familiar with the Cartel’s new players or the two-thousand square mile area around Ojinaga, Mexico, and the Big Bend. Art is positive this led to Cory’s murder. Hunter also meets three delightful teen boys she sees flying small drones and they teach her how to fly one, as well as educating her on how many types there are.

The climax to this adventure occurs on the banks of the Rio Grande, where Hunter’s new skill flying drones pays off, while unexpected betrayals bring all parties together for a final confrontation.

 Drones play a vital part in this novel, and the ones mentioned are all real, with some still not released by DARPA(the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), like the TERN(Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), which can take off like a helicopter and land like a plane.

Drones today are continually being modified at a fever pace, much like personal computers were in the eighties. New ones or new variations seem to appear every week, and many are made by individuals—for a myriad of purposes, both ethical and unethical. Cartels are using them, although the use is selective, not widespread as of yet (still more economical most of the time to smuggle things using the old tried and true methods).

Here’s a video of near-future drone capability (it’s also a sales pitch by the company, but is entertaining–and disturbing–to watch) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlO2gcs1YvM

The use of sarin gas, made from castor beans, was a favorite of the Japanese terrorist group, Aum Shinrikyo. On March 20, 1995, they unleashed a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, which partially failed, but even with limited success the attack still killed thirteen and injured five thousand, totally overwhelming the Tokyo first responders and hospitals to the point of incapacity. Today, twenty-three years later, a number of victims continue to suffer physical or mental after-effects of the sarin attack, experiencing complications such as impaired speech, blurred vision and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the unlucky ones are still confined to their beds. There are still over one thousand members of this terrorist group at large, and most are using assumed names and living in Europe.

Other toxic gas such as chlorine can also be used this way. In my Hunter Kincaid novel, The Empty Land, I describe a chlorine attack, and it is based on first-hand reports of actual chlorine-related attacks and accidents. Very nasty stuff, and easily obtained.

SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST- CLIFTON ADAMS NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER

Clifton Adams is one of those genre authors that deserves more of a reputation. Mainly known for his westerns (Desperado, Noose For A Desperado), he wrote a handful of crime novels not too long after World War Two. A great example of his crime work is never Say No To A Killer, recently republished by Stark House on their Black Gat line.
The main character, Roy Suratt, is far from what you’d call a hero. We meet him, executing a prison break, killing a guard in the process. He plans to meet his old cell mate, John Vanci, on the outside. John will pay him and help him disappear if he does a certain job. Instead, he finds Dorris, John’s widow.
The Vanci’s ran a successful  black mail operation in their town, until they crossed the wrong mark. John wanted Roy to take the man out before he and Dorris were murdered. Dorris says she’ll honor their deal. Roy agrees to do the hit only if he becomes her partner in the business.
The book delivers several twists and turns. As in noir tradition, few of them are good for Roy. You know that his greed and lust will doom him, it is simply by what means, a mark, a rival, the law, or the love triangle he develops with Dorris and one of the mark’s wives. You don’t really root for Roy to survive. The suspense lies in how far he will go.

Adams tells this tale in the style of a bad man’s nightmare. It is rich and tightly plotted with a mood as black as a moonless night. Never Say No To A Killer  stands as proof that Clifton Adams was a master story teller, no matter what story he was telling.

 

Scott Butki’s Interview With Jack Carr

In his debut novel, Jack Carr has written a thriller about what happens when disaster strikes while protagonist, James Reese, a United States Navy SEAL team commander, is on his final deployment. His entire team is wiped out in a well-planned and deadly ambush that seemed orchestrated.

Carr knows what he’s talking about given his own long work with the military – serving as a Navy SEAL himself – and that experience shows. Carr is a pseudonym, which is explained in my interview with Carr below.

As Reece unravels the conspiracy that brought about the deaths of his teammates, he discovers that corrupt elements in the federal government, the financial sector, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as military leaders in his own chain of command are behind the attacks.  Using tactics learned in his years in the military he goes on a mission of vengeance.

While a fictional story Carr draws from lessons and emotions, including frustration, he experienced during his 20 years as a Navy SEAL. Carr set out with this book to do what so many novels about the military don’t do, namely get all the information correct.

 

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story and how much of it is fact, how much fiction?

 

Jack Carr: It is 100% fiction but there are elements that ring true because the emotions that James Reece, the hero of The Terminal List, feels throughout the course of his journey come from emotions associated with real world experiences I went through in the SEAL Teams.  The guns, gear, knives and equipment are all things I was personally familiar with.

 

James Reece thinks through how to accomplish his mission in a way that someone with a background in special operations would approach the planning process.  Conspiracies sometimes have a hint of truth, and sometimes are exactly that – conspiracies. The Church Hearings in the late 70’s exposed gross abuses of power by federal government agencies in violation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The Terminal List draws on those abuses as inspiration for a modern conspiracy involving our most elite special operations soldiers.

 

SB: How did you research this book? I ask because I’m assuming your background as a Navy SEAL team leader on four continents, provided some of the fodder as you prepared to write this debut novel.

 

JC: I always loved thrillers where the hero had the background to do extraordinary things.  Being able to effectively utilize weapons takes time and dedication. Being able to fight effectively takes time on the mat or in the ring.  The “research” really took place examining how I felt about certain events that transpired during my time as a SEAL and then applying those emotions to James Reece in the novel.

 

SB: As a former Navy SEAL you had to get the military censors to approve this. Was that a frustrating experience? How much did you have to change? Did you write it knowing that some parts might be flagged?

 

JC: I went into it expecting a frustrating experience, but the opposite ended up being true.  I went through a law firm so there would be some separation between me and the Department of Defense, and because the regulations and directives surrounding pre-publication for those that have formally held security clearances can be confusing if you don’t have a law degree.  I just wanted to make sure I honored my commitments and did it right. I was extremely careful throughout the writing process to not compromise anything that could have an adverse effect on national security or my brothers still actively engaging the enemy downrange.  I was surprised when the Department of Defense amended the novel by taking out a few sentences, including some written by my writing partner who has never been in the military.  Be that as it may, I am not the arbiter of what is classified and what is not, so I kept the redactions blacked out in the novel.

 

SB: Why did you decide to write under a pen name?

 

JC: I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Lee Child before I submitted the manuscript to Emily Bestler at Emily Bestler Books.  It wasn’t quite finished, but it was close.  Lee could not have been more generous with his time and advice, making me feel like I was already a member of the club of scribes.  One of the things he told me really stood out. He said, “I love your title, but you need a pen name.”  He went on to tell me how he picked his pen name when he started writing the Jack Reacher series and he recommended I choose a pen name that had short first and last names and that the last name start with a “C.” I figured I would be wise to take his advice.

 

SB: I’m always, as a long-time writer myself, curious about how authors organize books with a writing partner, in this case Keith Wood. How did you two divide up the work?

 

JC: It was such an amazing experience.  Keith has been a dear friend for years and we both shared the dream of someday writing novels in this genre.  Someday ended up being my transition from the military.  We collaborated on every step of the process, from developing an outline, to divvying up chapters, to editing each other’s work, to talking though challenges that James Reece would have to overcome while creatively working our way to a solution. It’s an incredible partnership that has led to an even closer friendship.

 

SB: How do you feel about Guns and Ammo, in this piece, http://www.gunsandammo.com/books/the-guns-of-jack-carrs-the-terminal-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-guns-of-jack-carrs-the-terminal-list – , using it to publicize some of the guns mentioned in the book?

I came across it while googling for reviews of your book. It was one of the most creative ways I’ve seen a magazine report on a novel.

 

JC: I thought Guns & Ammo did a great job.  In the military I was always interested in what was being developed by the private sector that might make us more effective and efficient on the battlefield.  I feel extremely fortunate to have strong connections to the outdoor and tactical industries and have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the novel from those sectors.

 

SB: The final paragraph of your preface says, in part, “The consolidation of power at the federal level in the guise of public safety is a national trend and should be guarded against at all costs. The erosion of rights, however incremental, is the slow death of freedom.” Can you be more specific? I wasn’t sure if this is a response to current and/or former presidents or was more of an objection to actions by the government in general.

 

JC: It is an observation, and something American citizens, as a free people, should study and ponder.  We were given an incredible gift from the generations that preceded us.  I worry the comforts we enjoy today are leading to complacency and we may squander the gift of freedom we were entrusted to guard and pass on to our children and grandchildren.

 

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

 

JC: I want readers to join James Reece on an exciting ride, connect with him over his devotion to family and country, get a glimpse into the mind of a special operator who is surprisingly human, and perhaps give more thought to encroachments on personal liberty in exchange for the promise government protection.

 

SB: The publicity material for this book included this comment: “The book is an adrenalin fueled revenge thriller that makes Charles Bronson’s Death Wish look like a G rated cartoon. It will excite and infuriate and lifts the genre with its raw authenticity.” What’s it like to read those kind of comments about something you wrote?

 

JC: I hadn’t seen that, but my first reaction is one of amazement and gratitude.  It’s exactly what I was going for as I explored the theme of revenge without constraint. What would allow a person with the training, experience and means to unquestionably dismantle and destroy the people involved in a conspiracy that took everything from him?  To me, it had to be more than just not having anything left to live for.  To do it right, this character would have to think he was already dead. How that comes about is one of the central elements of the narrative, so I will leave that for the reader to experience.

 

SB: What are you working on next?

 

JC: There is another novel in the works right now that includes characters from The Terminal List.  Which ones, and in what capacity, that’s a secret…

Review of Joe Lansdale’s Jackrabbit Smile

Joe Lansdale’s not quite dynamic duo of Hap and Leonard have grown to be a series favorite. Their friendship is strong and believable, particularly when irritating each other, and is the kind we hope to have if we don’t already. Joe understands the two in both their consistencies and contradictions. He puts his understanding of them to good use in the latest misadventure, Jack Rabbit Smile.
The book begins at a turning point in Hap’s life, a reception cookout right after his marriage to the beautiful and smart Brett. The good time takes a turn for trouble when Thomas Mulhaney and his mother Judith. two white supremacist Pentecostals, show up. Not initially knowing that the black and gay (also Republican) Leonard is one of the operatives for Brett’s detective agency, they want to hire them to find Thomas’ sister Jackie, aka Jack Rabbit. While not caring for the brother and mother, they want to help Jack Rabbit, and they could use some cash flow. The search takes Hap and Leonard back to Hap’s hometown where The Professor, a cult leader out to build a white utopia, is buying up the land. He also has some hired goons, some Hap’s old enemies, to keep figuring out about Jack Rabbit.
Lansdale has hit an interesting stride in the series that works perfectly for fans. While there is the action and pulp style you’ve come to expect, Joe puts complete faith in his characters. We get to enjoy that wedding cook out for a few pages before the Mulhaneys crash it along with the plot. He allows Hap and Leonard to talk and comment about what is going on or just happened before the next fight or reveal. That said, he provides a good detective plot for strong narrative drive. The result is an easy going story told with forward momentum. It doesn’t rush to the finish, but it never slows down.
The plot also entwines perfectly with the social issues that propel the story just as equally. He dives into strong commentary on race and religion. This is one of the few times where discussing the themes could allude to the spoilers, because they are so well fused to the the tale. Even though he rails against the narrow mindedness of society and their institutions, he sees hope in the individuals who break through the barriers that are putting up, proving their lack of true existence.
Hap and Leonard endure as protagonists because they break those rules and champion others who due. They are even willing to get their souls dirty for justice. They are working class heroes in the best sense of the term and Lansdale proves John Lennon’s belief that that’s something to be.

REVIEW OF MICKEY SPILLANE’S THE LAST STAND

To celebrate the hundredth year of Mickey Spillane’s birth, Hard Case Crime has released a collection of two novellas, titled The Last Stand. It serves as a great way to view the man. One written in the fifties at the height of his career, the other his last finished piece, gives us book ends to the career of one the twentieth century’s most popular writers.
The first tale has one of those great Spillane grab-you-by-the-throat titles, “A Bullet For Satisfaction”. It could have easily been a feature or serialized for Manhunt magazine, where many of his shorter works in the fifties were published. The plot is reminiscent of of William P. McGivern’s  1953 novel The Big Heat, with a homicide detective going rogue when an investigation puts him up against the corruption of his city. However, Spillane’s Cpt. Rod Dexter quickly becomes like Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer, going on a bullet ridden hunt for the killers and to drive out the hoods muscling in on his Midwest city. The pace and attitude are relentless and the reveal is in keeping with many of the Mike Hammer novels of the time. Dexter even sleeps with just as many women as Hammer in almost half the page count.
The second novella, the titular The Last Stand, proves to be a much more easy going adventure. Joe Gillian, a retired Vietnam vet, crash lands his vintage plane in a the desert part of an Indian reservation. A resident, Sequoia Pete, discovers Joe after he’s been thrown from his horse. The two take on a hike back to the village that would seem more treacherous if it wasn’t for the the entertaining banter that cements their friendship. Along the way, Joe finds an arrowhead that is connected to rare minerals that a group of bad guys would love to have. When Joe meets Pete’s smart and pretty sister running Fox, we know he’s in for the fight.
You could say The Last Stand is an older man’s book. Joe and Pete don’t resemble Mike Hammer at all. They aren’t completely capable and admit their fears. Yet this makes them more heroic as they hold their own when the chips are down. They also have a sense humor that allows the reader to feel he is hanging out with them, instead of the rage a traditional Spillane character creates a distance with. If the book is about anything it is how a hero finds peace after his adventures, something Mike Hammer or Rod Dexter wouldn’t have the option of or consider if they did.
These two stories are a perfect way to celebrate Mickey Spillane’s career. In “A Bullet For Satisfaction” we get the brash upstart, connecting with the populace, damn the elite, fully engaged with the genre, pulling no stops. In “The Last Stand” he gives us a story that is less about attitude and more about awareness, that only a more experienced writer can produce. They prove at either end of his career, he was a writer who could entertain.