HARD WORD DISCUSSES EARLY DANIEL WOODRELL

Give Us a Kiss Cover ImageFor our April Hard Word Book Club we will be reading from one of the masters of rural crime fiction. Daniel Woodrell is one of those authors other authors revere. Best known for Winter’s Bone, he chronicles the marginalized in his Ozark home area. We will be reading his first book to do this, Give Us A Kiss.

The book follows Doyle Redmond, a ne’er do well writer, leaving his California wife in her Volvo. As a favor to his folks, he goes down. He goes to his home town of West Table, Missouri, to convince his brother Smoke to turn himself in to Kansas City law enforcement. Instead, Doyle finds his own trouble, when a marijuana deal from Smoke’s “money garden”  goes wrong and Doyle reignites a blood feud with The Dollys, a family of hardcore criminals.

This is Woodrell at his most entertaining. The book is laid back and funny with sudden pops of violence that build suspense into the story the further it goes as it looks at family, history, and literature itself. This should be one of our more fun discussions. We will be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, April 25th, at 7PM. The book is 10% off to those planning to attend.

In May we will be discussing a book by one of Daniel Woodrell’s mentors and friends, James Crumley’s The Final Country.

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Review Of Culprits edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips

Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning Cover ImageIt is hard for me to resist a heist novel or film. A bunch of sharp professionals with an even sharper plan that somehow goes sideways can always hook a reader or writer no matter how formulaic. Writers Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips found a handful of fellow writers in love with the big score to give it a fresh take with Culprits: The Heist Was Just The Beginning.

Both Gary and Richard write the first chapter together, featuring a unique target. Hard case heist man O’Conner gathers a group of smooth criminals to steal an illegal slush fund off a wealthy right-winger’s Texas ranch. A double cross happens with the pilot who was supposed to fly them out, leaving each member on the run with their split of the take. That’s when the other writers take over.

Each author takes a character and writes about them dealing with the fall out of the heist. Zoe Sharp and Jessica Kaye respectively take the inside players, the power broker’s trophy wife and her penny-ante thief lover, delivering well executed double and triple crosses that ripple through the book. Joe Clifford taps into the hard fatalism of a classic Manhunt magazine story, telling us the fate of “Eel Estevez.” Gar Anthony Haywood gives another side to the turncoat with “I Got You.” David Corbett gives us a slow burn suspense tale featuring the financier of the heist. Brett Battles and Manuel Ramos also deliver great contributions. Richard and Gary come back at the end with the climax.

The movement from each author’s story to the next is fluid. While each works individually as a short story, when placed in sequence each story shows its relationship to the previous. Since each chapter is from the point of one of the criminals, the various author voices never become incongruent.

Like master heist men themselves, Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips gathered their crew together and pulled off a perfect hard boiled job, though nothing went sideways. Most “shared novels,” even the best, come off as little more than an interesting experiment and a fun way to get writers together. This was the first time I felt a seamless story was being told with one. If I was going to join a gang of criminals, I’d want Gary and Richard to be the leaders.

Meg Gardiner at Murder In The Afternoon

Unsub Cover ImageOur April meeting of the Murder In The Afternoon will be a special one. We will have bestselling author Meg Gardiner in person to discuss her book Unsub. Be ready to steel yourself before reading.

Unsub is a serial killer novel that delivers what you want from the sub-genre with fresh twists. The Prophet, who terrorized the Bay Area, resurfaces after twenty years. The FBI tap narcotics cop Caitlin Hendrix to get information from her father, Mack, the detective who came closest to catching the killer and lost his sanity in the process.

There is a lot to discuss, the real Zodiac who inspired the character, starting a series, and researching the material. Meg has a gift for explaining the process, making her a perfect live guest. So meet us all on BookPeople’s third floor April 16th at 1PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.

3 Picks for April

Bottom Feeders Cover ImageBottom Feeders by John Shepphird

The cast and crew on location in a small, low budget cable movie gets picked off one by one with arrows. It could be anyone from an angry local to the mobsters who invested. Shepphird, a man who has directed his share of low budget enterprises, captures the microcosm of filming while giving us an engaging whodunnit. You can meet him and Billy Bush (The Oaxcan Kid) on May 5th, 2PM, at BookPeople.

 

 

High White Sun Cover ImageHigh White Sun by J Todd Scott

Scott continues his South Texas crime saga, following The Big Empty. Chris Cherry, now the sheriff after killing the corrupt former one, investigates the murder of a river guide putting him and his deputies against the Aryan Brotherhood. A gritty, often grim novel that mines lone star life and legend for some strong story telling. J. Todd Scott should be an author on the rise.

Greeks Bearing Gifts (Bernie Gunther Novel #13) Cover ImageGreeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

Bernie Gunther returns, although under a different name, working as a Munich insurance adjuster in 1958. A claim takes him to Athens, where there is still no love for Germans, and he becomes involved in plot involving war criminals, stolen gold, and a few murders. Kerr continues Bernie’s saga with historical insight, and tragic fallout of Hitler’s plan, tempered by noir humor. Kerr, of course, passed away last week, and we are saddened by that news.

Pick Of The Month: A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum

Readers of this blog have likely noticed the diverse tastes reflected by its contributors, so it’s rare that 2 of us will agree on one of our year-end Top 10 selections.  Robin Yocum made it happen last year with A Welcome Murder, so there was a bit of a tussle when the ARC for his latest, A Perfect Shot, arrived in our offices. This writer prevailed, and was definitely not disappointed—the ride was just as wild, with twists and turns that made it a blast.

A Perfect Shot Cover ImageNicholas “Duke” Ducheski is probably the best-loved citizen of the eastern Ohio steel town of Mingo Junction.  Some 20 years earlier, he orchestrated what is remembered to this day as “The Miracle Minute”; in a span of 63 seconds, Duke put up enough points to propel the Mingo Indians’ high school basketball team to the state championship. Hardly a day passes that someone doesn’t want to talk about “the game,” and you can replay the recording on local jukeboxes.

But Duke’s pushing forty and thinks it might be time to leave his high school glory days behind. He decides to capitalize on his popularity by opening a restaurant he christens “Duke’s Place.” Things are popping until disaster strikes—“Little Tony” DeMarco (a known mob enforcer who just happens to be Duke’s brother-in-law) comes into the restaurant and murders Duke’s oldest friend. DeMarco thinks he’s untouchable, but Duke has other plans—he thinks he’s found a way to take DeMarco down, but it would mean leaving Mingo Junction (and his identity as the town hero) behind forever. And if he’s not the Duke of Mingo Junction anymore, then who would he be?

Fans of Yocum’s work will recognize similarities between Mingo Junction, Briliant, and Steubenville (settings of his previous novels). It’s an area Yocum knows well, and the reader senses his deep love and respect for this hard luck region of the country. These towns saw better days when the steel industry was booming; most of its natives have moved off for jobs, and those who stay behind often struggle to get by. For many of them, high school was about as good as it got; in Duke that created a yearning for something more. And when circumstances conspire to keep Duke down, he has to figure out just how far he’ll go and how much he’ll give up to become who we wants to be.

Murder In The Afternoon celebrates Mickey Spillane’s 100th With One Lonely Night

For March, our Murder In The Afternoon book club will celebrate the month that marks the hundredth year of hard boiled writer Mickey Spillane’s birth. With the creation of tough guy detective Mike Hammer, Spillane launched the paperback boom that gave us a new generation of great genre writers. We will be discussing his fourth Hammer book, One Lonely Night.

The story begins with Mike walking along the bridge on a rainy night after a judge has read him the riot act about his tactics. A woman runs toward him chased by a gunman. He shoots the man down, but frightens the woman so much, she jumps off the bridge. Out of a mix of guilt and blood lust, he tracks down those responsible in a back alley trail of thus, politicians, and (this being the fifties) communists.

There will be a lot to talk about with One Lonely Night – how Spillane reacted to his critics, Hammer’s relationship with violence, and genre fiction in the age of The Red Scare. We will also be showing a documentary — Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, directed by friend and fellow writer Max Allan Collins featuring authors like Lawrence Block, Sara Paretsky, and Walter Mosley. We will be meeting in BookPeople’s Third Floor at 1PM, Monday the 19th. Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Volume 2 that contains One Lonely Night is 10% off to those who plan to attend.

For more Spillane, the Hard Word Book Club will be discussing The Girl Hunters on the night of March  28th at 7PM, along with viewing the film version starring Spillane as Mike Hammer.

Review: Walter Mosley is back at it with DOWN THE RIVER UNTO THE SEA

Walter Mosley is one of the most prolific mystery writers working today — this is his 53rd book. Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery reviewed his latest ahead of his event here Saturday, March 3rd, at 6pm

No matter what genre or subgenre Walter Mosley brings to us, you can always expect it to be smart and have a voice. His use of style conveys emotion and thought to connect the individual protagonist with his larger society, connecting the reader to it all. With Down The River Unto The Sea we get a new detective and different style, but the voice is there.

Joe “King” Oliver operates a little one man agency in New York with his teen daughter Aja acting as a gal Friday. Two cases come his way. One involves getting an activist known as The Free Man off death row for killing two police officers. The other ties to his past, connected to a woman who helped frame him for a sexual assault charge that got him bounced off the force.

This may all sound familiar, but Mosley weaves it into a prescient novel. King appears to be the least angst ridden of Mosley’s detective heroes, resembling more of Hammett’s Sam Spade than Chandler’s world weary Marlowe who his Easy Rawlins often reflects. Even the tighter prose style reflects Hammett, making it even more effective when the character drops some knowledge at the end of a paragraph. Oliver’s attitude and actions beautifully entwine, particularly when they seem to run counter to each other.

As always, the author uses setting perfectly, though it is different from the shadow societies created by the people the mainstream has pushed to the side. King inhabits an increasingly gentrified New York with unwashed nooks and crannies in the form of diners and dive bars he ducks into for information and salvation. While races mingle it is on tectonic plates that could shift any minute.

 

In this book, Mosley tries to hold out on the theme until the climax, or at least appears to. As he uncovers the mystery and the deeds of his former fellow boys in blue, he faces harsher truths, 

and the reader is presented with harsher questions about living in today’s world. He is driven to make a decision that asks how far we will go in correcting an injustice when it is perpetrated by institutions that are supposed to provide justice. While King’s decision provides a satisfying arc that doesn’t betray the character, Mosley still asks us to question it.

Mosley takes many tried and true tropes of the detective genre and molds them into a tale for our times. When we feel a need to mobilize with the oligarchs gaining more ground, he asks us how far are we willing to take the fight. We may need that tarnished knight errant to go down those mean streets more than ever.