Book Review: 1960s Austin Gangsters

1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital by Jesse Sublett     (Event 3/23/15)

Austin prides itself on individuality. We are both counter-culture and cowboy, known for our own takes on music and food. As Jesse Sublett shows in 1960s Austin Gangsters, even our criminals keep it weird. Sublett chronicles the Overton Gang. They were formed around high school football star Tim Overton, who held a grudge against UT coach Darrell Royal for stopping his chances at being a Longhorn. With fellow football player “Fat Jerry” Ray James, he lead a gang of travelling criminals who burglarized banks and muscled in on vice operations all around Texas, using the new highway system to their advantage, with the Capitol as their base of operations. They were bad men in Elvis haircuts and shark fin Caddies, committing felonies at a rock n’ roll pace.

When it came to Austin history, they were like gangster Forrest Gumps. They hung out at the same club the 13th Floor Elevators played and brushed up against the burgeoning counter-culture. There is even a tense, armed stand-off between Overton and future U.T. tower sniper Charles Whitman.

Sublett uses tons of interviews with the survivors and offspring on both sides of the law. He doesn’t romanticize the gang and doesn’t shy away from describing their brutality, particularly toward their women. However, he does include how some of their victims recall their charming side. He also shows how the methods of overzealous law enforcement almost brought the town back to its wild west roots. Much of the story is told in colorful anecdotes, such as the one about the interaction between a local madam and Overton a few weeks after he robbed and beat her.

1960s Austin Gangsters is a rough, fun ride through Austin’s underbelly during a period of change. Sublett gives us a real world of east side toughs, crooked car dealers, dice men, dogged lawmen, chicken shack patrons, part-time hookers, and elderly brothel matrons.

Yep, even when it came to crime, Austin isn’t what it was.


Copies of 1960s Austin Gangsters are available on our shelves now and via

Jesse Sublett speaks about and signs his new book here at BookPeople Monday, March 23 at 7pm.

MysteryPeople Review: THE UNQUIET DEAD, by Ausma Zehanat Khan

the unquiet dead

Post by Molly

Ausma Zehanat Khan is a remarkable woman. She has a PhD in International Human Rights Law. She has traveled the world, taught at several universities, and worked as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl Magazine. And now, she has written a detective novel. Not just any detective novel – Khan’s debut, The Unquiet Dead, synthesizes all her previous subjects of research and life experience into a moody and damning exploration of the legacy of war crimes and the experience of Muslims in Canada. The novel also explores child welfare, the history of Spain before the Reconquista, workplace romance, the enmity of old friends, and much, much more. The Unquiet Dead, like its author, is difficult to define in a single sentence.

The Unquiet Dead begins with an interrupted prayer. Detective Esa Khattack is head of Canada’s Community Policing Section, or CPS, a unit designed to handle cases sensitive to minority populations. He gets a call mid-devotion and goes to meet up with his partner, Rachel Getty, to investigate a suspicious death in a wealthy enclave.

Christopher Drayton, a wealthy retired businessman, has fallen to his death on the treacherous bluffs behind his garden. As Khattack and Getty begin their investigation into Drayton’s carefully constructed life, they find evidence that Drayton was concealing his true identity as a war criminal responsible for heinous and genocidal actions in Bosnia. But Drayton was none too popular in his assumed identity either, and Khattack and Getty must contend with an ever-growing number of suspects on their list, along with the nagging suspicion that Drayton’s death may have been an accident, as their investigation becomes increasingly complex.

Khattack and Getty have their own personal demons as well, and Ausma Zehanat Khan does an excellent job weaving her detectives’ personal stories in and out of the main narrative of investigation. Getty and Khattack work well together – Getty’s bluntness, pragmatism, and distaste for fashion mixes well with Khattack’s urbane and elegant demeanor; echoes of Holmes and Watson sound throughout the novel in the detectives’ interactions. They also serve as a cautious support network for each other; reluctant to share details of personal struggles for fear of damaging their working relationship, they nevertheless act with loyalty and support towards the other whenever possible.

Despite her well-realized main characters, Khan jumps from point-of-view to point-of-view, showcasing both her extraordinary empathy and her gift for psychological insights. Much of the novel draws on her research into wartime atrocities in Bosnia, and her novel contains several heart-breaking excursions into the Bosnian experience. Khan has done what many writers have done before her – she has learned the history of a people targeted for their identity, dehumanized, and massacred, and she has put the medium of fiction to work on their behalf, restoring individualism, humanity, and unique experiences, and creating an opportunity for readers to empathize with, not otherize, the experience of Bosnian Muslims.

Ausma Zahanat Khan taps into something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time – the power of literature to bear witness to human suffering, to condemn those who perpetuate it and those who do nothing, and to help readers come to terms with a past whose effects will not cease to linger, and should not. Fiction may be an escape for many. It certainly is not the same thing as reporting a physical truth. But fiction, unlike history, unlike statistics, unlike any fact, can bring to life voices that have been silenced – in other words, fiction can tell us an emotional truth. Fiction can turn a number back into a human being. Fiction can transform a buried and forgotten past into a haunting present. Ausma Zahanat Khan understands this, and that is why The Unquiet Dead is a stunning novel, a damning critique, and hopefully, the start to a long writing career.

Copies of The Unquiet Dead are available on our shelves and via

Shotgun Blast From The Past: HARDCASE, by Dan Simmons


Mulholland Books is doing a great service by bringing back Dan Simmons’ books featuring ex-con PI Joe Kurtz. The first book, Hardcase, came out last fall. it’s a perfect title in so many ways, introducing you to one of the toughest tough guys to hit the page.

The story begins with Joe’s release from an eleven year stretch for murdering a rapist who killed his partner. He goes directly to Don Byron of the Farino mob. Joe uses the fact that he’s been protecting the don’s son in prison to get a job. The don hires him to  find their missing accountant, presumed dead. The search puts him in the middle of a mob war and a battle within the Farino Family itself.

The book is hard boiled heaven. Joe Kurtz is an uncompromising hero in the mold of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Richard Stark’s Parker (It’s alluded to later in the series that he’s Parker’s son.) Whether blasting away at bad men or bedding badder women, Kurtz does it with an uncanny mix of cool and fervor. Simmons is able to give him real emotion without being emotional and creating a believable world around him that avoids the story and style from skirting parody. If there is even a whisper of sentimentality it is quickly hushed.

It is obvious that Simmons is a fan of the genre, creating a homage that has its own original voice.The other two Joe Kurtz books, Hard Freeze and Hard As Nails, will be out this year. Here’s hoping Simmons can conjure up some more dark alleys for Joe to go down.

Hardcase is available on our shelves and via Hard Freeze and Hard as Nails are available for pre-order on our website.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Robert Knott



Robert Knott’s life as a screenwriter and actor led him to adapting Robert B Parker’s Appaloosa into a script with the film’s star and director Ed Harris. When Robert B. Parker passed, his estate asked Mr. Knott to continue the adventures of Southwest gunfighters Hitch & Cole. His third continuation of the series, The Bridge, has our heroes going up against some vicious killers trying to sabotage the construction of a bridge. They must also deal with a group of traveling performers who have stopped in Appaloosa.

We caught up with Bob before he joins us Wednesday, January 14th, at 7 pm, with Mike Blakely, for a discussion of writing about the west. We asked him a few questions about writing the new book and taking over Parker’s characters.

MysteryPeople: The Bridge is aptly titled because much of it deals with the construction and destruction of a bridge. What drew you to making that the central plot point?

Robert Knott: Changes in culture, evolution, innovation I find interesting…Transportation, communication, commerce in the West – the new frontier – is fascinating.

MP: There’s a group of traveling performers in the story… I know your parents were traveling musicians. Did you draw from any of their experiences?

RK: Sure, I had very colorful characters in my family, and knowing that world makes it easy to conceptualize…I’ve written screenplays and theater pieces that deal with this way of life, so I felt this approach would be fun and entertaining.

MP: One thing you bring to this series is a richer flavor of authenticity. How do you go about research when starting a new book?

RK: I love research! I know a lot of writers don’t, but I really like to get into the moment to moment reality…What characters have to deal with, and how they do it, puts us int he moment as well.

MP: One of the the things the series is known for is the laconic back and forth dialogue between Cole and Hitch. How much work does it take to get that cadence right?

RK: Not much – I grew up in Oklahoma and worked in the oilfields for many years, and, well, this laconic communication is pretty much second nature there.

MP: What have you learned about Hitch and Cole in writing the three books that you didn’t know about them when writing the script to Appaloosa?

RK: Well, like all of us, I think the more we travel, the more encounters we have, the more we have seen and experienced, the more we are affected. And so Hitch and Cole gain wisdom along the way.

Copies of  The Bridge are available on our shelves and via Robert Knott and Mike Blakely will be speaking and signing their latest Western-themed novels on Wednesday, January 14, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. The speaking portion of the event is free and open to the public. You must purchase a copy of the authors’ latest to get it signed. Can’t make it to the event, but still want a signed copy? You can buy a copy of the event book ahead of time and get it signed by the author! 

The Hard Word Book Club To Discuss L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, by James Ellroy


This January’s Hard Word Book Club discussion will cover the one crime novel that made BookPeople’s top 100 list, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. The third book in his L.A. Quartet, it stands by itself as a noir masterpiece. Those only familiar with the movie have a lot to learn about the rest of the story.

The novel tracks three compromised men in the LAPD during the fifties, brought together through a police brutality scandal, a bloody massacre at a coffee shop, and a serial killer on the prowl. When condensing the story for film, the main plot was removed and many of the characters and relationships were removed, as well as the book’s ending, muting its themes on male identity and brutality. Ellroy took the idea of the hard boiled novel and made it epic.

We will be discussing L.A. Confidential on Wednesday, January 20th, at 7PM on our third floor. The book is 10% off to those who attend. It’s close to five hundred pages so get cracking.

For February we will be discussing Trouble In The Heartland, a collection of short crime fiction inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs, with editor Joe Clifford calling in.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mike Blakely

Mike Blakely is an accomplished traditional western singer/songwriter as well as an award winning novelist. His latest, A Song To Die For, uses the Austin music scene of the Seventies as its backdrop. Vietnam vet guitar picker Creed Mason is in the midst of building a band for the comeback of  country legend Luster Burnett when he gets in between a Texas Ranger and a mob hitman as they prepare for a showdown. It’s a fun, rollicking tale that oozes with the twang, humidity, and barbecue of its place and time.

MysteryPeople: This is your second book dealing with the Texas outlaw music scene of the Seventies. What drew you to that era?

Mike Blakely: I began performing professionally in a garage band in 1976 at the age of 18, so I experienced the real deal firsthand.   I was able to use quite a few of my own experiences in A Song To Die For.

MP: Are Creed and Luster based on any particular performers of that period?

MB: Both are composite characters based on some famous legends and some lesser-known artists I have worked with over the years.

MP:This is also the fourth book you’ve written with a musician as the central character. What do you want to get across to readers about those folks?

MB: The musically-inclined characters I create are all “lifers.”  They know they can never completely give up making music.  I hope my readers understand through these characters that it’s a tough life and a hard way to make a living but also an endeavor full of occasional rewards and moments of deep satisfaction.

MP: What do most writers get wrong about the music life?

MB: I’m not sure there’s a way to get it wrong in a business where anything can happen.  There are so many paths a musician can take. Some get lucky breaks early on and ride the wave of success for decades.  Others who are just as talented may work for years without much notice.  The music scene can be just as wholesome or as seedy as an individual wants to make it.  It can be a wild romp or a methodical climb to success.  It can be all about the money or all about the music or anywhere in between.

MP: How do you prepare to write a story set in the past?

MB: It starts with historical research, of course.  I read about the era. I read things written during that era.  I seek out objects from the time period so I know how they look and feel.  Every time I sit down to write, I time travel in my mind to the era I’ve chosen.  When writing, I try to assume nothing.  I strive to verify that every detail I insert into the story is authentic.

MP: Do you think the musician influences the novelist side of you and vice versa?

MB: The two disciplines are very different, but they do influence each other.  I’ve written songs about some of my characters in my novels. I have also had characters from my songs find their way into my books. There’s no reason to keep the two creative endeavors completely separated though they are very different in many ways.  When I finish a novel, it may take a couple of years to start getting feedback from the public.  But I can write a song in the morning and play it for an audience that night.

Mike will be joining author Robert Knott on January 14th to talk about writing western fiction and their latest novels (Mike will also be performing a couple of his songs), but we got a head discussing the book and the music life.

MysteryPeople Review: THE BRIDGE, by Robert Knott

the bridge

Robert Knott and Mike Blakely join us Tuesday, January 14, at 7 pm, for an evening of Country-Western flavored crime fiction. Robert Knott will be presenting his novel The Bridgeand Mike Blakely will present his latest novel, A Song To Die For.

Robert B. Parker helped bring the western into the twenty-first century with  his Southwestern gunfighters Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole.  The books fit in the classic tradition of the genre while subtlety subverting it enough for a fresh take. The Bridge, Robert Knott’s third continuation in the series, proves the lawmen still have a lot of territory to ride.

The plot carries strong elements of a thriller, opening with a group of mysterious night riders creating murder and mayhem at a camp building a bridge along the Rio Blanco river. Since Appaloosa is the nearest town, Hitch and Cole are drawn into uncovering what is going on and putting their guns up against one of their most formidable opponents. They also have to deal with a group of traveling performers that come to town that include a beautiful fortune teller that Hitch gets involved with.

Knott knows just the right amount of emotion to bring to the story. Being an actor and script writer, he knows what’s not on the page is just as important as what is. He uses humor and the laconic nature of their friendship to express how his characters feel. He also gives them a group of villains that put them more on edge.

The Bridge gives us everything we love about the Hitch & Cole series, including the wonderful dry dialogue and the bond of two men who have had each others’ back in years of violent situations. Knott delivers on these and goes deeper in the authenticity of period and the characterization of the two. The two gunmen are in good hands.

Copies of the above listed books are available on our shelves and via