THE BORDER IS MORE LIKE A LIVING THING: INTERVIEW WITH BILLY KRING

In Deguello, Billy Kring’s latest to feature border agent Kincaid, Hunter gets her vacation with fellow agent Norma interrupted by a kidnapping they foil. However the kidnappers get away. The child belongs to drug lord Solomon Chapa. When a less fortunate parent believes the same group took her child, Hunter can’t help but act. What follows is an action packed story with the Hunter and  friends having to navigate the tricky politics of the border and it’s criminals. Billy with be joining Kris Lackey (Greasy Bend) for a discussion about their law enforcement heroes, but we got a few early questions in with him about his character and his heroines profession that he once had.

Hunter is up against the kidnapping trade in Mexico. What did you want got get across to the reader about that crime? 

The primary thing is that it has changed. While it used to be that kidnappings were ransom crimes, where the victim is basically sold back to those who care for him or her, these new kidnappings are completely different. Children are kidnapped and sold, primarily for sexual purposes. Their loved ones rarely ever see their children again. It is a cold, heartless business, and the money is so good (to the criminals) that it reaches globally. The kidnappers in my story are using a sophisticated underground railway of sorts to ferry the children far away and overseas to countries in the middle east.

What makes kidnapping so lucrative for criminals on the border? 

The money’s so incredibly good. The tastes of some foreigners have grown more exotic, so children of unusual attractiveness can draw very high prices, and I’m talking way up there. The downside for kidnappers is that people on both sides of the border detest such things, and if they’re caught, the penalty is harsh, more so than drugs.

It was great to have another female agent backing Hunter up. How did you go about constructing Norma? 

She’s based on several female Agents I know, and I gave Norma a lot of their actions and characteristics. She is different from Hunter, and a lot more fun. But she’s still a solid law enforcement officer, she just likes her days off and looking at attractive men. She’s the one you see at a dance and want to ask to two-step, but there are already a half-dozen guys in line waiting to do the same thing.

What is the biggest misconception of the border?

BK: People think of it in static terms but it isn’t. The border is more like a living thing, and actions that occur there are fluid. One area may be devoid of people or vehicles for a week, but the next day, people, firearms, drugs, and hi-tech military equipment (like weapons-grade computer chips, etc.) come across and disappear into the interior, then the very next day the area is uninhabited again. It is like that for the entire border, and that’s both north and south borders, and that’s 2,000 miles and 4,000 miles of area, and I’m not even mentioning the oceans, which are also used more than most people think. If criminals in Mexico see news teams or reporter crews coming to the border, they disappear. They return when those people leave, and the perception is that the border is safe, at least to some of the news teams and reporters and those with them (not all of them). This isn’t new, the same thing was going on in the seventies and up to now. People who work daily on the border, no matter what their job, know it can be both dangerous and beautiful, and people on both sides can be evil or good. It’s human nature.

What is the biggest misconception of the border patrol?

BK: That everything about the border is under the Border Patrol, which is not true. The Ports of Entry at the border are not Border Patrol manned, and neither are the detention facilities, or ICE, which is the investigative branch. They are separate departments. It is more like cousins, each with different parents, etc. They all have something to do with the border and immigration, but that’s as close as they get. The Border Patrol detects and apprehends aliens and drugs and anything else illegally coming into the country, then only holds the people long enough to process them and turn them over to another agency for continued processing. Because of that, people are only held for as long as it takes to fill out the paperwork and transfer them to the other facility, unless the main facility is overflowing, then the Border Patrol has to hold them longer. Because of that, the Border Patrol doesn’t have much space for holding people, which is why cages are used, often only the size to hold ten or twenty people. When an unusually large group or groups are caught at one time, and they have to be held until the processing is finished, the holding facility can get crowded because they have to be held until processed, but it is only temporary. Then they are moved to more adequate long-term facilities with beds, showers, food, medical treatment, television, etc. The other thing is that putting children with adults can put the children in harm’s way, so for safety’s sake, they are kept separate unless the parents are there. People don’t realize that over 30 percent of juveniles are crossing without parents or older siblings. Agents try to keep families together, but again when there is overcrowding, sometimes families are separated.
Also, the Border Patrol has rescued over 4,000 aliens this year, both in the river and in the desert. Unfortunately, there were some they couldn’t save.

As a writer, what makes Hunter Kincaid a character worth returning to?

Honestly, I find out more about her every time I write, which is fascinating to me. I didn’t expect that. And because I created her with composites of my female friends, as they continue their lives and we talk, I find other things that automatically find their way into Hunter’s DNA. She has her flaws, including a hot temper at times, but her heart is good, and she wants to do what is right as she sees it. In my novels, Hunter tends to find herself in situations where she is helping the aliens against some really bad people. I guess the bottom line is, I like the way she treats everyone with dignity.

LANDSCAPE AND CLASS STRUCTURE: AN INTERVIEW WITH KRIS LACKEY

Greasy Bend is the second novel to feature Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Sergeant Bill Maytubby and Johnson County Deputy Hannah Bond. Each track a personal case when Bill’s childhood friend is killed in a Casino robbery, and an elderly girlfriend of Hannah’s is murdered. The hunt for both killers entwines, involving a criminal scheme that takes them out of their jurisdiction to Louisiana with a lot of bullets fired along the way. Kris will be joining MysteryPeople favorite, Billy Kring, to discuss their books. Kris was kind enough to go one-on-one before hand for this interview.

The plot of Greasy Bend has several different crimes from several different places intersecting. How did the idea for it come about?

In this book I wanted to fashion personal motives for both Maytubby and Bond, so the victims are their friends. I also wanted to link the murders so that the investigations dovetailed. To do that, I needed a large criminal enterprise.

This one had more action sequences than Nail’s Crossing. What did it feel like, using that writing muscle more?

Oh I love to write action. It’s exciting, and the pages come much more quickly than dialogue pages. Writing exciting dialogue is, by comparison, drudgery.

Like the characters in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, your characters, particularly the law enforcement ones, have a good sense of humor. How essential do you see it in writing these kinds of stories?

Menace and humor are both trusty accelerants. A blend makes good villains. Humor in sympathetic characters enlarges their power as thinkers, lovers, and antagonists. In literature it’s a mark of charisma. I’m not naturally funny, so writing unforced comic exchanges gives me the howling fantods.

Hannah Bond has gotten to be a favorite character in the series. What do you enjoy about her as a writer?

She is blunt, she is droll, and she is smarter than everyone else. Her brutal childhood stripped away any sympathy for cruel people, so she packs vengeance everywhere. She foils off Maytubby, who is cooler and more measured in his reactions. She is elemental. And her lack of experience outside rural Oklahoma opens up comic interplay with Maytubby’s wider history in academia and the world.

What does the Oklahoma setting give you besides familiarity?

What it gives me arises from familiarity. Its cultural and climatic collisions play out wildly and perpetually. The southern plains spawn drought and floods, twisters and wildfires. Also rich bounties of peaches and wheat; soybeans, corn, and sand plums.  Plains tribes that were removed to the western part of the state and tribes removed from the east to Indian Territory are building sturdy national economies with solid social services.  Previously erased swaths of Oklahoma history—like the Tulsa genocide of African Americans in 1921 and the mass murder of oil-rich Osage citizens by greedy white people—are upsetting the state’s narrative of valiant European pioneers. More recently, the booms and busts of the gas patch have caused economic havoc, and fracking disposal wells briefly made the state the earthquake capital of the world.

What makes Bill Maytubby a good detective?

He wields preternatural recall, he knows the landscape and class structure of south-central Oklahoma by heart, he listens, and he is intuitive.  He enjoys disguise and play.  He came of age in the country, so he knows fences, livestock, hunting, and botany. He got a classical education at St. John’s in Santa Fe, and his grandmother taught him the Bible.  The former lets him step outside his immediate duties, and the latter connects him to Oklahoma evangelicals. His Chickasaw education—from his grandmother, father, books, and friends—is uneven, but it often finds its way into his investigations.

WHAT THEY YEARNED FOR WHAT THEY FEARED: MEIKE ALANA INTERVIEWS LAURA LIPPMAN

Laura Lippman is a MysteryPeople favorite, particularly of our Meike Alana. She interviewed the much lauded author about her latest, Lady In The Lake, a period newspaper thriller that deals with class, race, and gender issues in sixties Baltimore.

The central character in Lady in the Lake is Maddie Morgenstern Schwartz, a privileged Jewish housewife who leaves her husband to pursue her dream of being a newspaper reporter. The book is set in 1966 and Maddie encounters a number of barriers to her ambition. Can you talk a little bit about her struggles and how those may have been informed by your own experiences as a reporter?

Lady in the Lake: A Novel Cover ImageThey were more informed by my experience as a woman, if that makes sense. I think of myself as a second wave-second wave feminist—there were a lot of women in front of me, who did the heavy lifting. This was true in newsrooms and PI fiction. Maddie is about the same age as my mother and—I’ve literally never made this connection before—my mother went back to school in the late 1960s, early ’70s, got a master’s in library science and became a school librarian. That was a “safe” way for a woman to enter the work world. She didn’t have to leave her family, her hours were very family-friendly. But, as it happens, my mother loved to browse at The Store, LTD (a location in the book) and she had dresses made from Marimekko fabrics.

Maddie pursues her ambition, and at times she has little regard for how her methods may affect others. Women are often disparaged for being too ambitious, and we’re taught that we need to put others’ needs and considerations before our own. You make no judgment about Maddie’s actions, but I wonder if you can share your views on how this dilemma can play out for women.

I’ve never heard a woman described as ambitious in a positive way. Even with men, we sometimes struggle with the idea that ambition is positive, but, boy, do we hate it in women. I own the fact that I’m ambitious, competitive, driven. Once a man on a train asked me if the file I had open on my laptop was the Great American Novel and I said, “It just might be.”

But, you know, there’s that famous Joan Didion edict, the one that Janet Malcolm somewhat misrepresented, about how a reporter is always selling someone out. It’s true and it’s not true. People who write obituaries are doing a public service. I’m not joking—if I had stayed in newspapers, that’s the job I’d have now. I loved writing obituaries. It combined everything I loved—reporting and writing on deadline, writing about people who weren’t necessarily famous—but it often made people happy.

I’m really big on women giving up self-deprecation and doing what I call “Sing out, Louise.” Because you know what? No one else is going to do it for you.

The title refers to the body of an African American woman that was recovered from the fountain of a park lake in Baltimore, and Maddie sets out to make a name for herself by investigating the case. What was the inspiration for this story?

So in 1969, a young girl was murdered and the newspapers were all over that story and I never forgot it. But the same year, an African-America woman was found dead in the fountain at Druid Hill Park and I never even heard of the case until I went to work at the Evening Sun in 1989. It was the juxtaposition that fascinated me, the girl whose disappearance and death was Page One news, the woman whose disappearance was ignored by the daily papers, whose death was presented almost as a curiosity. (It wasn’t even ruled a homicide.) By the way—I don’t think things have changed that much, 50 years later.

There are a number of African American characters throughout the book, and you explore a variety of ways racism can play out. Can you elaborate on where you derived your inspiration for these characters and their situations?

I grew up in Baltimore, live here now. It’s a majority black city, yet one that remains extremely segregated. Racism is a big part of the history—and present—of Baltimore. Not all my books center on race, but it’s hard to write honestly about Baltimore and not write about race unless you keep it to a very narrow world.

The structure of this book is just brilliant. You tell the story from alternating viewpoints of different characters—some are the central characters, others are “bit players” who appear only briefly. For me the pacing was lightning quick with extraordinary detail. What unique challenges did that present?

Those chapters came about because I wanted to showcase all the stories that Maddie was missing while looking for THE story. I very much belonged to the school of journalism that you should be able to find a story in almost anyone’s life. Rob Hiaasen, to whom this book is dedicated, was also one of those reporters. There’s a line that I’m not sure remained in the book, but it was the first impression that Donald Weinstein had of Maddie, when they meet in a bar. He thinks she’s like a greyhound and that’s Maddie—practically quivering, ready to chase that mechanical rabbit around the track. She missed so many stories along the way! And at the end of the book, when we have that little glimpse of her in the future, she knows that about herself.

Oh, but you asked about unique challenges. Well, it was finding the voice, but not falling back on lazy, old-fashioned tricks like dialect. And, I think, finding the dignity in each character, recognizing what they yearned for, what they feared.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

I write in the mornings, I try to get 1,000 words done minimum. I’m a pantser, but I usually know the big secret.

Last summer you gave us Sunburn, which made our top 10 list of books for 2018. This summer we have Lady in the Lake which will no doubt make our list of favorites again. Can we expect another great summer read in 2020?

Possibly, but the nature/genre of that read might surprise you. There’s a novel under way, about as different from Sunburn and Lady as possible. But there are some other things cooking.

REVIEW: PAPER SON BY S.J. ROZAN

The return of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith is great news to many private eye fans. Lydia, a first generation Chinese American, and Bill, a former Navy man, operate out of New York, trading off points of view with each book. The unique pairing allows them to travel through many of the sub genres and crime and detective fiction. Now after close to a decade long hiatus, the two are back in Paper Son, a novel that drops them in a different environment.

Paper Son: A Lydia Chin/Bill Smith Novel Cover ImageLydia’s mother, who has never been proud of her profession, shocks her by telling her she needs to help a family member Jefferson Tam, arrested for killing his father. She’s even more surprised when she learns she has relatives in Mississippi. Her mother insists she take “the white baboon”, so Bill tags along.

They are met by Lydia’s uncle, Captain Pete, a professional gambler who definitely looks like a relative of Lydia’s, but who could out southern Strother Martin. Pete acts as a guide through the territory and Mississippi Chinese culture. When he takes them to the grocery store Jefferson runs with his father, they find it ransacked. Soon they get word Jefferson has broken out of jail.

The book is an exquisite work of craftsmanship dealing out two different kinds of information. A seasoned pro in the genre like Rozan can lay down the clues, misdirections , and piece meal dirt with an organic ease moving the plot forward at an ever accelerating pace. Here she gives us a southern potboiler involving on line gambling, meth dealers, race, and politics. She also unearths a little known part of Chinese American life in the delta and their place in the state’s economics and racial tensions, facts that become as intriguing as the fiction they are presented in. She skillfully dovetails both in a climax involving where the story gets it’s title.

Paper Son provides a wonderful return for Bill and Lydia, ranking as one of the best in the series. The banter between the two of them is like comfort food with a Chinese barbecue rub provided by Captain Pete’s interjections. It also serves the function that a great mystery can take you into another culture. Welcome back, you two.

12 BEST OF THE YEAR… SO FAR

2019 is proving to be a great year for crime fiction. Authors are stretching themselves in creative ways. Nobody’s timid. I’ve already read three books over five hundred pages. There was also great work in a range of subgenres. I couldn’t just pick the usual ten in what I see as the standouts from January to June .

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover Image1. A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle

One of the freshest pieces of crime fiction to come around for a while. Also one of the funniest, with a mob widow and an ex-porn star on the road to Florida in a stolen classic Impala with a bunch of mob cash and several unsavory men on their trail. Every character is fully drawn out, and the relationship between these two ladies who find each other is complex and nuanced.

 

Metropolis (A Bernie Gunther Novel #14) Cover Image2. Metropolis by Philip Kerr

A beautiful swan song for the late Kerr and his character Bernie Gunther. Ironically, he delivers a fitting ending by taking him back to his beginning on his first homicide as a KRIPO detective, hunting a killer of prostitutes and homeless vets. It puts him in touch with many of Berlin’s artists of the time and provides heartbreaking foreshadowing of things to come.

 

Conviction Cover Image3. Conviction by Denise Mina

Mina delivers a suspenseful and often humorous thriller with wonderful touches of humanity in a tale of a dumped trophy wife with a secret past and a male anorexic former pop star out to solve an old murder through podcast. A great example of an author delivering a more accessible novel without compromise.

 

 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog #3) Cover Image4. The Border by Don Winslow

Winslow puts an end to his Drug Wars epic with one big literary exclamation point. Populated by characters who live in a world where the choices are between bad or worse, no matter what side of the law you operate, this book serves as a great argument for legalization.

 

 

Trigger (Frank Marr #3) Cover Image5. Trigger by David Swinson

Swinson wraps up his trilogy with drug addict PI Frank Marr, with Frank trying to clear his former police partner of a bad shooting. Full of human and thematic ambiguity that defines a great detective novel. Here’s hoping Frank Marr can pick up another case now and then.

 

 

This Storm: A novel Cover Image6. This Storm by James Ellroy

The second installment of Ellroy’s World War Two L.A. quartet explores the allure of fascism as it continues to follow the investigations, crimes, and sins of his LAPD members and the women drawn to them. A huge, big picture kind of book that gives a wild ride through a Hollywood Hell.

 

End of the Ocean Cover Image7. End Of The Ocean by Matthew McBride

Elmore Leonard meets Graham Greene in this tale of an American licking his divorce wounds in Bali, who becomes involved in smuggling to be with the island woman he fell in love with. Use of finely drawn players, an intriguing setting, humorous dialogue, and harrowing suspense create a character driven thriller that probes the idea of love.

 

The Book Artist (Hugo Marston #8) Cover Image8. The Book Artist by Mark Pryor

Pryor’s latest Hugo Marston novel, has the head of our Paris embassy’s security trying to clear girlfriend Claudia of murder and teaming up with buddy Tom Green to put an end to a ghost from their past. A well crafted, cleanly written mystery and thriller that also looks into the complications of relationships.

 

 

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary: A Samuel Craddock Mystery (Samuel Craddock Mysteries) Cover Image9. A Risky Undertaking For Loretta Singletary by Terry Shame

Police Chief Samuel Craddock tries to find his missing pal Loretta, taking him into the world of computer dating. Shames’s knowledge of small town life and her characters help create a believable, suspenseful, and at times humorous mystery.

 

 

Night Watch Cover Image10. Night Watch by David C. Taylor

Fifties New York cop Michael Cassidy returns, catching a homicide that leads to the CIA, former Nazis, and a tenacious assassin. Once again, Taylor brings time and place to vibrant life.

 

 

 

Murder Once Removed (Ancestry Detective #1) Cover Image11. Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins

An Austin genealogist gets involved in politics and murder when she discovers the ancestor of a senate candidate possibly murdered the relative of his opponent in the past. The beginning of a light mystery series that shows richness, humor, and promise.

 

 

The Elephant of Surprise (Hap and Leonard) Cover Image12. Elephant Of Surprise by Joe Lansdale

In this stripped down and relentless Hap and Leonard yarn, the boys try to protect a young albino Chinese American woman from an ever growing number of killers during one of the biggest storms in East Texas. The actions and banter are non stop as Joe gives us pure pulp pleasure.

3 PICKS FOR JULY

This month all three book are from authors who will be stopping by.

Never Look Back: A Novel Cover ImageNever Look Back by Alison Gaylin

Gaylin’s latest psychological suspense novel ties a podcaster and film columnist whose families were both affected by two young thrill killers in 1976. Gaylin’s clean style allows her to put the reader on less than solid footing as the story bobs and weaves, with protagonists trading positions, toward one hell of an ending. Alison Gaylin will be at BookPeople July 15th to sign and discuss the book.

 

This Side of Night Cover ImageThis Side of Night by J. Todd Scott

Scott teams up sheriff Chris Cherry and DEA Joe Garrison again when violence from a vicious drug cartel spills over to this side of the border. Scott uses the Texas local, well defined characters, and some fantastic action sequences  to deliver a gritty crime novel that is both epic and intimate. J. Todd Scott will be at BookPeople July 18th to sign and discuss the book.

 

The Best of Manhunt Cover ImageThe Best of Manhunt edited by Jeff Vorzimmer

47 stories from one of the best crime fiction magazines ever. Manhunt published the greats Mickey Spillane, David Goodis, and Even Hunter and gave a start to the likes of  Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block. The collection showcases these writers and many others from the fifties and sixties worth discovering. Editor Jeff Vorzimmer will be joining Rick Ollerman, Jesse Sublett, Josh Stallings, Tim Bryant, and Joe Lansdale for Tough Guys and Dangerous Dames: A Discussion Of Hard Boiled Fiction on BookPeople’s third floor 2PM August 31st.

PICK OF THE MONTH: END OF THE OCEAN BY MATTHEW MCBRIDE

Matthew McBride is a crime fiction voice I always look forward to hearing. Not only is it fresh and unique, it carries a great range. His first book, Frank Sinatra In A Blender, was a satiric, ultra violent, stylized masterpiece while his follow up, A Red Swollen Sun delivered a brooding rural noir gem. His third, End Of The Ocean, gives us an introspective South Seas ballad with a perfect balance of humor and dread.

End of the Ocean Cover ImageThe tale plays on the interaction of three people. At the center is Sage, a hard luck guy, who has traveled to Bali to drink his wounds away from a rough divorce. He falls for Ratri, an island woman whose culture blocks them from being together. Sage also strikes up a friendship with Wayne, a questionable businessman plugged into the country. When Sage realizes the only way out of his dilemma requires a lot of cash, Wayne offers him a job. It involves a run to Thailand for him, a country where drug smuggling is punishable by death and that may be better than being thrown into their prisons.

McBride takes his time building these relationships and this seemingly simple plot in entertaining fashion. He wants us to know these people and the country they move through. We experience Bali and Ratri like Sage, with his romance unfolding for both in a heartfelt way only a damaged man can feel. Wayne’s point of view provides the initial plot and suspense as we watch him hustle and gather a network of people to work for him. He could be one of the Miami hustlers from an Elmore Leonard novel forced to leave the country. We never know how much is talk and how much is the real thing, however like Sage, we want to trust him even though we probably shouldn’t.

When Sage takes the risk, we are in and it’s tense. The plan has more than a few hiccups. One of them lands him in a jail we pray he gets out of. We are so invested in these characters, we cringe at every obstacle in Sage’s path. He then delivers an ending that dovetails beautifully with its theme  to punch us in the gut.

End Of The Ocean continues Matthew McBride’s chain of stand out crime novels that demonstrate the breadth of the genre. Questioning the nature of love, it is also his most personal. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to see what’s next from him.