MysteryPeople Review: BLAME by Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott joins us Tuesday, July 18th, at 7 PM to speak and sign his latest, Blamewhich just so happens to come out the day of the event! Come by the store to be one of the first to get a signed copy. Jeff will be appearing in conversation with fellow Austin-based thriller writer, Meg Gardiner. Before the event, our Meike Alana had a chance to review Abbott’s latest, set in a wealthy lakeside community with plenty of secrets…

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781455558438Jeff Abbott is one of the most versatile authors in the crime fiction genre, and his broad story-telling talents are on full display in his latest thriller. The deeply psychological Blame has it all—a cast of fully-realized complicated characters with plenty of secrets, and a tightly-wound suspenseful plot with so many twists and turns that you’ll never see the ending coming.  I’m just glad Blame came out during the longer days of summer because this is one of those books that will keep you up at night–first you won’t be able to put it down until way past your bedtime, and then you’ll lie awake trying to puzzle out the characters’ secrets and the plot’s riddles.

Two years ago Jane Norton crashed her car on a deserted road, killing her neighbor David and leaving her with amnesia.  At first her community is sympathetic, but when what appears to be a suicide note (“I wish we were dead together”) is found near the crash site Jane becomes the town pariah—and no one hates her more than David’s mother Perri.  Jane is still reeling from the trauma of the accident and struggling to reconstruct a complete identity for herself with just shards of memory.  She has a lot of questions about the accident, and no one has answers.

On the anniversary of the accident, a mysterious Internet poster taking the name of Liv Danger threatens both Jane and Perri, claiming that “all will pay” and “I know what you don’t remember.”  As Jane begins piecing together hints from her past, she becomes convinced that she wasn’t trying to kill herself and that the accident may have been murder.  The closer she gets to the truth, the more she realizes that she may not be able to trust those closest to her—her therapist, her closest friend, and even her mother (who is trying to have Jane committed to a mental institution).

The unreliable female narrator has been a popular theme in recent literary mysteries, and Abbott takes that to a whole new level with the amnesiac accident victim Jane.  Although not told in first person, the reader is privy to Jane’s thoughts but not the motivations of those around her.  She’s lost her own identity in the accident that erased her memory; she only knows who she is through the memories that her mother and her friends provide her.  As she comes to realize those memories may not be accurate or complete, Jane begins to question who she herself really is—and the reader is left to puzzle over the truth of the story that’s unspooling for us.

Jeff Abbott is a master storyteller and one of our favorites here at MysteryPeople.  He has written thirteen novels across three distinctly different series, five stand-alone thrillers, a young adult novel, and a plethora of short stories in a variety of anthologies.  Blame is a great introduction to his talents for the first-time Abbott reader.  Rest assured that when you finish his latest, you’ll be hooked—and your favorite indie is ready to feed your new Abbott addiction.

Blame comes out Tuesday, July 18th! Pre-order a copy now. Jeff Abbott joins us here at BookPeople to launch his latest thriller on the day of the release – come by the store Tuesday, July 18th, at 7 PM, and be one of the first to get a signed copy! Jeff will be appearing in conversation with fellow Austin-based thriller writer Meg Gardiner. 

MysteryPeople Review: BAD BOY BOOGIE by Thomas Pluck

9781943402595Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

If Thomas Pluck has a problem in crime fiction, it’s that he’s good at too many things. He writes insightful reviews and does fun informative interviews (visit his website, Die Laughing) and has served has an editor on The Protectors anthology series (the proceeds of which go to child advocacy groups); he also writes short stories that vary from genre fun to hardcore noir – he’s even got a samurai story. A few years back he released his first full-length novel, Blade of Dishonor a rollicking action-packed ode to men’s paperback fiction of the Seventies and Eighties. His latest novel, Bad Boy Boogie, is practically the opposite of his previous work.

While both books have a lot of violence, Bad Boy Boogie doesn’t portray it in the comic book style of the previous one, focusing instead on its repercussions. Jay Desmarteaux, the novel’s protagonist, is a Cajun transplant in New Jersey who once killed a bully when he was in his mid teens, and has just been released from a twenty five year stretch. Some believe he still has to pay, particularly the mob captain father of the boy he killed. The only thing to see him through everything that’s coming at him are a few old friends and his father’s hatchet from Vietnam.

“Bad Boy Boogie is a punch to the heart. Picture James Lee Burke slammed into old-school Dennis Lehane and filtered through Bruce Springsteen, yet having a voice all its own. Now we wait to see what Thomas Pluck does next.”

In Jay, Pluck has created a complex, wounded, and emotionally real character. He captures Jay’s arrested state from his incarceration during the time in his life when most others learn to become a man. Prison has programmed him with a violent instinct,  and he is aware he can’t live like that – but life on the outside doesn’t make it easy for him to put the teachings of prison behind.

Part of his condition is shared by the community he has returned to. Many of his friends haven’t matured much more than he has, living in the past, holding old beefs. Pluck’s New Jersey is a tribal, working-class world, where everybody keeps their old beefs fresh and are ready to create some more.

Bad Boy Boogie is a punch to the heart. Picture James Lee Burke slammed into old-school Dennis Lehane and filtered through Bruce Springsteen, yet having a voice all its own. Now we wait to see what Thomas Pluck does next.

You can find copies of Bad Boy Boogie on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE FALLEN by Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest Quinn Colson novel, The Fallen, on Friday, July 21st, at 7 PM. 

9780399576713Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

A few months ago, I reviewed Ace Atkins’ latest Spenser novel, Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies, full of commentary on the world of alternative facts. With his latest Quinn Colson, The Fallen, he creates a story even more rooted in its time, but with playful roots stretching back to the seventies.

The fallout from the previous book in the series, The Innocent, allows for Atkins to dive into modern politics – crime novel style. After becoming town pariahs for uncovering the crimes of Tibbehah County’s “up standing citizens,” Quinn and his under sheriff Lillie Virgil grow more ambivalent about those they’ve sworn to protect and serve. In a homage to both The Wild Bunch and Point Break, three bandits run into The First National bank with one yelling a modern political variation on Pike Bishop’s opening line. When Quinn and Lillie discuss the crime, when Lillie comes to a conclusion:

“They’re not from around here.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because they’re smart.”

“Do I detect some contempt for Tibbehah County.”

“Tell me you don’t shower after a long day?”

Quinn quickly figures out the robbers are military trained – three war vets doing it as much for the adrenaline rush and brotherhood as they are the cashAn FBI agent on their trail soon predicts that the robbers will escalate to bigger challenges, and that’s when someone gets killed. Atkins builds the tension from Quinn and Lillie having to stop it before it does.

The story of the robbery weaves organically and seamlessly through three subplots. The most serious one has Quinn’s sister Caddy searching for two missing girls who worked for truck stop madame Fanny Hathcock, Quinn’s recent nemesis. Fanny finds herself in a political game with Skinner, a God, guts, and guns politician who wants to put her out of business. Quinn takes some steps toward romance with Margret, a woman who has moved back home and just happens to be the estranged wife of one of the robbery crew.

“The Fallen stands as an example of crime fiction’s ability to reflect society while completely entertaining the reader.”

All of the stories spin into a mosaic that provides a biting look at red state politics and the culture that supports it. Skinner is a politician who preaches family values when he’s more interested in the value of land. Odes to a simpler time pepper his dialogue, yet that time, upon examination, appears to be the one that was best only for white Christian males. The robbers are a fascinating contrast to ex-Army Ranger Quinn Colson, exploring the diversity of veterans’ lives. Many of the townspeople that Quinn and Lily have to deal with prove to be annoying at best and a hindrance at worst, mired in their ideologies. The main character arc of the book is how Quinn, Lillie, and Caddy decide to deal with Tibbehah County.

The Fallen stands as an example of crime fiction’s ability to reflect society while completely entertaining the reader. I laughed out loud through out the novel. It is Michael Mann’s Heat filtered though both Faulkner and Smokey & The Bandit, with Atkins fully engaged in every trope he loves as well as the time he is writing in. I hope they allow him back into Mississippi after the book tour.

The Fallen comes out July 18th – Pre-order now!

 Ace Atkins comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Tuesday, July 21st, at 7 PM. 

MysteryPeople Double Feature: MILDRED PIERCE

 

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

This afternoon, the Authors & Auteurs Book Club meets to view the 1945 adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic tale of California excess, Mildred Piercestarring Joan Crawford in an Oscar-winning role as the title character, a housewife-turned-entrepreneur who builds a California restaurant empire only to crumble in the face of her daughter’s rejection of Mildred’s middle class morality. The film differs significantly from the book, condensing the narrative and adding in more crime story tropes (unsurprising for a film made at the height of film noir’s golden age) yet each shares the same basic story and underlying menace.

Cain’s novel follows the title character through a linear life marked by highs and lows. As the novel begins, Mildred Pierce, after having discovered her husband’s affair, puts an end to her marriage and strikes out on her own, ready to singlehandedly beat the Great Depression into submission by selling pies. Upon her separation from her affable but destitute husband,  she attempts to secure what she considers to be dignified employment, yet finds that with her lack of work experience, her only recourse is to continue developing the skills she’d mastered in the home – her pies and her wonderful cooking.

A playboy named Monty takes an interest – first in her voluptuous legs, and then later, in her money. He also takes an interest in her status-obsessed daughter, Vera, whose schemes provide much of the novel’s momentum towards its shattering conclusion. Vera is as obsessed with music as with hobnobbing with the upper classes, yet her musical talents belie her cold, driven personality. The cruelty she inflicts upon her mother may convince some readers to never reproduce – or to, at least, never give a child everything she wants.

The film completely restructures the narrative as a tale told by Mildred to police officers investigating her after a murder in the family. German expressionist lighting, and Joan Crawford’s eyebrows, together form a menacing picture of extremely dysfunction family life for an adaptation so different from the original, it feels entirely complementary.

Mildred Pierce, as a book, is not quite a classic crime novel, but it certainly fulfills the bleak promise of his more true-to-the-genre work, presenting a brutal vision of the pitfalls of success and showing that a story about a woman clawing her way from mortgaged housewife to entrepreneur extroardinaire is noir as hell (just like any honest tale of capitalist success).

Mildred Pierce may fall more comfortably into the domestic suspense category of crime fiction, but not the contemporary narrative focusing on dangerous husbands – Mildred may have a weakness for loafers, but her conflicts with the men in her life pale in comparison to her epic struggles with her snobbish daughter, determined to cut her mother down for her hard work even as she takes advantage of the financial benefits of a successful home.

The Authors & Auteurs Book Club meets to view and discuss the film and book today, at 2 PM! You can find copies of Mildred Pierce on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: CAST THE FIRST STONE by James W. Ziskin

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor and Mystery Maven Meike Alana

9781633882812Cast the First Stone is the latest installment in James Ziskin’s Ellie Stone mystery series featuring newspaper reporter Ellie Stone.  Ziskin joins us here at the store to speak and sign his new installment in the series on August 26th, when he’ll be appearing with another favorite from Seventh Street Books, Mark Pryor. 

Ellie’s bosses may sometimes assign her the fluff pieces, but as Ziskin’s latest begins, Ellie lands an assignment sure to be interesting throughout. For once the paper’s publisher has a meaty story for her to cover—the New Holland Republic is going to send her to Los Angeles to profile local hero Tony Eberle; the actor has just landed his first starring movie role in the latest beach-themed Hollywood blockbuster.  But when Ellie arrives on the studio set to interview her subject, he doesn’t show up for filming and is promptly fired from the production.   

Ellie refuses to return to New Holland without a story, so she sets off to find the actor and help salvage his career.  But things become complicated when the movie’s producer is found murdered and Tony may have been the last one to see him alive. As Ellie searches for the actor and delves deeper into the circumstances surrounding the producer’s life and death, she confronts the seedier side of Tinseltown-aspiring actors who will do anything to land that big role, and the power players who won’t hesitate to exploit them.  Along the way she uncovers secrets with potentially devastating consequences for more than one big name in the Hollywood movie machine—secrets that someone would go to any length to keep hidden. 

Ellie is a fantastic character (perhaps my personal favorite in the genre) and Ziskin has perfectly paced the revelation of her dichotomy throughout the series.  On one hand she’s young and inexperienced, and her parents’ financial security has sheltered her from some of the world’s starker realities.  But she’s intensely brave and not afraid to blaze forth and face the world head on; she doesn’t shy away from danger or discomfort, and has continued to mature and evolve.  

In each novel Ellie has observed social and political issues that have challenged her innate beliefs and prejudices.  In Cast The First Stone she is confronted with homosexuality and the taboos still associated with that in Hollywood of the 1960’s—gay individuals, a strong presence in Hollywood, remained largely closeted, subject to beatings and even imprisonment were they to be open about their sexuality.  Ellie herself is fairly progressive for that era in terms of her own sexuality, and she comes to examine her beliefs and attitudes about the sexual identity of others.  In its pitch perfect examination of sexual identity issues of the 1960’s, Cast The First Stone is a timely read given the conversations surrounding LGBTQ  issues of today.  

Cast The First Stone is the fifth installment in James Ziskin’s Edgar-award nominated series which includes Styx and Stone, No Stone Unturned, Stone Cold Dead and Heart of Stone.  A linguist by training, Ziskin is the former director of New York University’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimbo, where he collaborated with an impressive catalogue of writers, journalists and academics on cultural and educational events.

You can find copies of Cast The First Stone on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

James W. Ziskin joins us on Saturday, August 26th, at 6 PM, to speak and sign his new Ellie Stone mystery. He’ll be joined by fellow Seventh Street author Mark Pryor, with his latest Hugo Marston novel, The Sorbonne Affair. 

MysteryPeople Review: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

  • Review by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781101985526Meg Gardiner takes the Zodiac killer into the 21st century with her (frankly) terrifying new thriller, UNSUB. Now represented by Shane Salerno’s Story Factory, Gardner’s already signed a deal with CBS to turn UNSUB into a series, and when you sit down to read this pulse-pounding thriller, you’ll immediately understand why. Gardiner’s escalating violence, well-crafted characters, and creative murder scenes will keep you turning the pages as fast as you can (and staying up later than you should – but hey! It’s summer!).

The start of a new series, UNSUB models its Mercury-obsessed murderer off of one of the most eternally befuddling unsolved killers in US history – the Zodiac Killer. Caitlin Hendrix’s father failed to catch a serial killer known as the Prophet during his time in the force, and now it’s Caitlin’s turn to track down the vicious predator when the Prophet resumes his murderous activity after a twenty year hiatus. Unsure if she’s chasing the original killer or a copycat, Caitlin’s sure of one thing – she was born to solve this case. Hendrix and The Prophet play a game of cat and mouse, switching roles back and forth as the Prophet gets personal with his messages to Caitlin, elevating their relationship to nemesis status and heightening the tension of their inevitable confrontation.

This time, the technology has evolved almost as much as the witness statements. Armed with new information and better weaponry, Caitlin works with her colleagues, her father, and some surprisingly effective civilian assistants to track down her ever-more-vicious target. Caitlin must bring together the analogue files of the first investigation with the digital speculation of internet message boards for a fascinating look at the puzzle-like aspects of an investigation. Meanwhile, the killer has access to just as much new technology, putting neither cops nor criminals at a complete advantage.

Caitlin shines as a strong lead, a fine addition to Meg Gardiner’s pantheon of powerful female protagonists. Her single-minded dedication to her case gets her in plenty of trouble in her personal life, but she also makes good use of her friends, family and community to keep her sanity and solve the case. Gardiner’s work is filled with brief appearances by scene-stealing characters who we get to know far better than the word count might suggest, and while I appreciate Gardiner’s leads, I like her quirky secondary characters best. UNSUB is no exception – Caitlin recruits a cheery housewife with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Prophet and the message boards dedicated to his work; the contrast between her bubbly demeanor, dark obsessions, and heroic behavior was at turns charming, admirable and amusing to read.

Meg Gardiner writes thrillers, pure and simple; if you like the genre, you’ll adore her latest. Gruesome murders, creative killers, heart-pounding chase sequences, and poisonous explosions together check off many of my summer-read boxes. Realistic characters, quirky interactions, beautiful language and careful plotting elevate this one to a classic-thriller-in-the-making, perfect for these paranoid times.

Meg Gardiner joins us for the official book launch of UNSUB on Monday, June 26th at 7 PM. We’ll have copies of UNSUB for sale a day earlier than the official release date of June 27th – if you’d like an early bird copy of UNSUB, pre-order now or come by on Monday, the 27th.  She’ll be in conversation with Jeff Abbott, so those who’d like to meet Austin’s two most eminent thrillerists, come on by for what promises to be a fascinating evening. 

The Hard Word Book Club Spends the Summer with Parker

 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

One of our three mystery book clubs here at the store, and the only one dedicated to hardboiled and noir fiction, gets rougher than ever this summer. The Hard Word Book Club has decided to bookend the the summer with the toughest heistman in history. Donald Westlake planned to end the literary life of his ice-cold robber Parker, written under the pseudonym, Richard Stark, in 1974, then decided to bring him back in 1994. We’ll be doing the aptly titled Comeback in August. For this month, it’s the supposed swan song, Butcher’s Moon.

In Butcher’s Moon, the author wraps up loose ends and throws a larcenous reunion. Parker and his partner Grofeld return to the amusement park where Parker had to hide their loot in the book Slayground. When they find it missing, Parker figures the local mob took it. When the badder guys capture Grofeld when they attempt to get it back, Parker takes it personal and calls in every reliable hood he’s worked with to rob the organization, get his partner, and get revenge.

One of the darkest in the series, Butcher’s Moon shows Parker in a different light. We will discuss the book, the series up to that point, and heist novels in general. Join us on BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday June 28th at 7PM. The book is 10% off to those who plan to attend. Return August 30th for Comeback.

The Hard Word Book Club meets to discuss Butcher’s Moon on Wednesday, June 28th at 7 PM on BookPeople’s third floor. You can find copies of Butcher’s Moon on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

You can find copies of Comeback on our shelves and via bookpeople.com