Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, reviews Laird Barron’s latest, Worse Angels. Read his glowing review and be sure to catch Laird Barron and Scott live on Zoom, Monday, June 22nd at 7PM CDT. More details can be found here.
Not only does Laird Barron serve up a kick ass hard-boiled series with his character Isaiah Coleridge, he examines different aspects of the genre and even storytelling itself. The saga of the former mob enforcer, not trying to do good as a private detective, finds both emotional depth and genre commentary through his journey. In his latest, Worse Angels, Isaiah must deal with the fate of the anti-hero and the price to be paid.
Isaiah is hired by Badja Adeyemi, a former dirty cop heading to prison for his involvement in a scandal connected to his boss Senator Gerald Redlick. Adeyemi’s nephew dies working on a super collider project the senator was behind. The death is ruled a suicide, but all the facts don’t add up. He wants a badass to look into it.
Coleridge and his partner Lionel Robard go to the upstate New York town to where the collider project has stalled. The citizen’s are tight lipped and it takes some work to get some answers, not all of it by the rules. They get deeper into a plot involving a cult and weird science.
Barron doesn’t just dive into crime fiction, he shades it with horror, sci-fi, and even fantasy. Fans of his pre-Isiah work could see this a him returning to earlier weird fiction form a little. It all allows him to look at the anti-hero in all forms. He references the character types’ place in literature, film, and other media, including a salute to Mike Grell’s comic book Warlord.
He never allows it to get too meta, applying it to Isaiah’s own struggle. As somebody who has tried to change his life to be a servant for good, he finds that his darker nature can best solve the problem. He also wonders what he is handing down to Devlim, the son of his girlfriend Meg. Isaiah has become more aware he is most effective in taking on the worst of the worst is when he unleashed his own demons.
Barron deftly uses this theme as a thread to sew Isaiah’s external conflicts. He gives us no easy answers about fighting evil on its level. He doesn’t judge Isaiah’s actions. He does ask us to consider the price that is paid when those actions are taken.
Are Snakes Necessary? is the novel debut of director and screenwriter Bran DePalma along with his producing partner Susan Lehman, released in the states by Hard Case Crime. DePalma has often been criticized as being a filmmaker high on style, but of little substance. In Are Snakes Necessary? he proves, when executed properly, style alone can engage your audience.
The plot moves through the lives of several interlocking characters. At the center of this perfect storm of sex, politics, and violence stands Nick Scully, reminiscent of heores in DePalma’s Blow Out and Body Double. A photographer of middling talent, riding on a lucky shot he got during the Ferguson riots. The two women he becomes involved with provide the tendrils for the plot that relies on a fir amount of happenstance and coincidence.
The first he falls for is Elizabeth DeCarlo who kicks the story off, involving herself with a
blackmail scheme that works for Barton Brock, a political hack, but backfires on her. Nick meets her a few years later on a Vegas flight where they end up falling in love. Unfortunately she is now married to a casino mogul who could destroy them both. The last time he sees Elizabeth is her going into one of her husband’s casino to snag a painting that will fund her escape. He never sees her come out and that last image burns in his mind.
To lick his wounds, he takes a job as a still photographer in Paris where his old girlfriend is starring in a remake of Vertigo. (It wouldn’t be a DePalma tale without a Hitchcock reference.) There he meets Fanny, a videographer who ran away from her lover, the senator Barton Brock works for. The aid drives much of the story with his conniving and committing his first murder. Elizabeth, now lying low as an advice columnist, also plays an integral part at the end.
The characters have the depth and nuance as something scripted without the actors fleshing them out.
If this sounds hard to follow, it isn’t. The authors keep the plot mechanics twisting and turning cleanly and clearly. The characters have the depth and nuance as something scripted without the actors fleshing them out. Fanny is described as being “in her full flush of carnality”. However nuance is not what a story like this hinges on and it may have bogged down it’s twenty-four-frames-a-second pace. Through bits of dialogue, action, and some cinematic descriptions, we are connected enough to who we need to be to care about.
That connection is all that is required as DePalma and Lehman put the Rube Goldberg plot into action. Much of the suspense comes from how each of these characters will affect the other, even when they are thousands of miles apart. The construction is reminiscent of many of the films DePalma scripted like Sisters, Dressed To Kill, and Blow Out, delivered with his quirky, perverse humor. One reviewer wrote that it should have been written as a parody to the potboiler. I’d argue it is, but not done in a brash tone and it is also in love with the kind of story they are telling.
It moves at a cinematic clip, bouncing from one character to another, through the romantic, violent, tragic story, that wraps up with some poetic justice.
Much like Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake that Hard Case also published, Are Snakes Necessary? is like one the filmmaker’s movies in book form. It moves at a cinematic clip, bouncing from one character to another, through the romantic, violent, tragic story, that wraps up with some poetic justice. If only DePalma could figure out how to do split screens on the page.
While our doors remained closed to the public through March 29th, you can grab your copy of Are Snakes Necessary? by ordering online or giving us a call at (512) 472 – 5050 to request curbside pick-up service.
Malcolm Kershaw is living my dream life–he’s the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston. Run by his very capable staff, the store leaves Malcolm the freedom to come and go as he pleases. Some days he only goes in to keep company with the resident (yup, you guessed it) CAT named Nero. And he has the financial security to not only live in downtown Boston but also indulge in the occasional libation.
But the dream is threatened when an FBI agent comes to call. Years ago Malcolm wrote a blog post titled “Eight Perfect Murders,” a compilation of literature’s most unsolvable murders. From Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders to Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train to Donna Tartt’s Secret History, the titles represent the best of the genre. Now the FBI has sensed a connection between these stories and a series of unsolved murders, and the agent is anxious to learn what Malcolm might know. But it seems like the real killer might also be interested in Malcolm, so Malcolm begins his own investigation and soon senses threats everywhere he turns. As events escalate, it appears that Malcolm’s seemingly enviable livelihood, perhaps even his life, are at stake.
Any avid reader of crime fiction is going to love this book. It’s a cleverly-plotted story with some ingenious twists and a few red herrings sprinkled in for good measure. And at its heart it honors the legacies of some of the greatest mystery writers of all time. It’s a clever whodunit that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time Mystery fanatic. Her reviews regularly appear on our blog and you can find her recommended reads peppered around the store.
Be sure to grab Eight Perfect Murdersthis week and find your new favorite crime reads when you visit us in-store or shop with us online!
MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month for March 2020 is William Boyle’sCity of Margins. It hits shelves on March 3rd, but before you purchase it, check out what Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery had to say about Boyle’s latest.
Anybody around me for the last twelve months heard me rave about William Boyle’s A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself. The mix of crime fiction and dramedy was a fresh breeze blowing into the genre. The book created some slight trepidation when I cracked open his latest, City Of Margins. I expected a strong piece of writing, but feared it would come off lesser in comparison. Those doubts vanished by the first chapter.
At first glance, City Of Margins, appears to revisit his debut, Gravesend, with him examining the impact of a crime on a Brooklyn community. This time, it is the murder of a degenerate gambler who owed money to the burrough mobster “Big Time” Tony Ficalora. Tommy sends a cop on his payroll, Donnie Rotante, to collect. Donnie’s already problematic temper has recently been pushed by the suicide of his teenage son. Donnie ends up tossing the man off of a bridge. The death is believed to be a suicide.
Two years later, Donnie has been bumped off the force for striking a superior and works full time for Big Time Tommy. The victim’s son Mikey Baldini, dropped out of college and returned home to his mother, Rosemarie, who struggles to pay her husband’s debt. Tommy propositions Mikey to work for him as a collector to erase it quicker.
Instigating much of the action is Nick Bifulco, a weasley high school teacher who wants to break out of his dismal life my selling a screenplay, even though he has no knowledge about the art form. He decides to base it off of Donnie, due to an incident where he went after Mikey with a ball bat years ago. It leads to Mikey going over to Donnie’s ex, Donna. The woman is still trapped in the mourning of her son with a roomful of records. The two find a connection as they and other characters crash into each other, either helping or hurting.
Boyle uses a full author’s pallet to tell this story. Where Gravesend always carried a somber tone, Boyle goes deeper into his into his characters and the reactions to their situations. He discovers they each contain different feelings in combat with each other. Instead of relying on quirks, like lesser writers, Boyle knows these people so well he is able to play off their experiences and degrees of desperation to make each of them stand out. with pathos, humor, and the overhanging threat of violence, he ties the community together and depicts its inertia.
Boyle makes City Of Margins a gritty crime version of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. It looks at two different generations struggling with the despair their lives have trapped them in and the missteps and moves they make to break free, William Boyle brings them to life in all their sad, funny, brutal glory.
City of Margins is available for purchase in-store and online today.
About the Reviewer: Scott Montgomery has worked over a decade as a respected bookseller and authority on crime fiction. His articles and interviews have appeared in crimespree, Crime Reads, and his own site, The Hard Word. His short fiction has appeared online in Slag Drop and Shotgun Honey and the anthologies Murder On Wheels, Lone Star Lawless, and The Eyes of Texas. He is the co-author of the novella Two Bodies, One Grave with Manning Wolfe.
About the Author: William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His books include: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which is nominated for the Hammett Prize; and, most recently, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
MysteryPeople’s Scott Montogmery review’s Walter Mosley’s latest Leonid McGill novel,Trouble Is What I Do.
Leonid McGill is quite possibly my favorite Walter Mosely creation. The ex-boxer and former underworld “fixer” who now tries his best to do honest work as a private detective, often reverting to his old ways to get the job done. Leonid is tough, capable, funny, and knows the score. It’s a joy to have him back in the short novel, Trouble Is What I Do.
An elderly black bluesman, Catfish Weary, hires Leonid, on a referral from an assassin McGill crossed paths with. He needs the detective to get a letter he promised to deliver from an old lover to a granddaughter about to be married, revealing her mixed race she knows nothing about. In McGill’s way is the woman’s well connected banker father, who can’t afford to have the secret out. In fact, right after he hires McGil, someone puts three bullets into him. Leonid hits the streets with some of his associates, including his son Twill, who is even more of a rogue — working hustles, alliances, and underground contacts to get around the power broker and his minions.
Mosely demonstrates his brilliance in creating worlds that exist under or to the side of the mainstream one. Leonid McGill negotiates his quest through a colorful array of criminals, killers, and street personalities. They make up a shadow city where everything could end, including your life, with the wrong step or word. It is how our hero moves through it that makes him so cool.
Leonid McGill and Walter Mosley carry this tale on a wonderful voice. McGill’s dialogue and interior thought have the ring of electric blues, capturing his life’s humor, humanity, and violence. It’s great to have this visit with him. I hope he comes around more often.
Thirty five years ago, Viv Delaney vanished during the middle of her shift as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, NY. There were hints that she didn’t leave on her own–her car was left behind in the parking lot, her purse (and her money) were left behind in the office. Oddly, no one reported her missing for 4 days. The police made a half-hearted attempt to find out what happened to her, but young girls had a habit of disappearing from Fell in those days.
Her aunt’s mysterious disappearance has always haunted Carly Kirk so she travels to Fell to see if she can come up with any clues. On visiting the run-down motel where Viv worked, Carly sees a notice that the hotel is looking for a night clerk—the same position that her aunt disappeared from—and on a whim she decides to apply, thinking it might give her some insight into what happened to Viv. The seedy motel doesn’t seem to have changed at all since her aunt worked there, and Carly quickly comes to realize that there’s something very wrong with the Sun Down Motel. Lights flicker for no reason, doors fly open all on their own, and there’s a mysterious scent of cigarette smoke even when Carly is sure she is quite alone. Certain the motel holds the key to Viv’s disappearance, Carly goes back every night until she’s thinks she might have figured out what happened all those years ago. But is the motel ready to give up its secrets?
I normally don’t read books that edge toward the paranormal, but the amazing cover on this one pulled me in and once I started I couldn’t put this down. The motel itself is as much a living, breathing character as any of the people in the story. It’s seen bad things over the years, and can sense when bad people come around. St. James does a masterful job revealing the story in alternating time lines, switching back and forth between Carly’s story and that of her aunt Viv. The Sun Down Motel is a captivating and chilling psychological thriller.
Part-time bookseller and full-time mystery enthusiast Meike reviewed one of 2020’s hottest thrillers, Liz Moore’s Long Bright River for the BookPeople blog. Check out her thoughts on the novel below.
Long Bright River is one of those genre-defying thrillers that straddles literary fiction and crime fiction with a gripping police procedural that illuminates multiple aspects of the opioid crisis.
Michaela “Mickey” Fitzpatrick is a beat cop patrolling the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia—the
same streets where she spent a difficult childhood. Her younger sister Kacey lives on those same streets, turning tricks to feed her addiction.
Once inseparable—the sisters even shared a bed as children in their grandmother’s home—they haven’t spoken in years. But Mickey has always felt responsible for Kacey—
she never stops worrying about her, and always keeps an eye out for Kacey during her patrols.
When a series of mysterious murders rocks the neighborhood, Mickey realizes that she hasn’t seen Kacey in the past few months. Her worries escalate into a borderline obsession with finding her sister — and the killer. Her search forces her to come to terms with trauma that both sisters sustained as children, something that each dealt with differently.
The story is narrated by Mickey, and that makes the narrative a particular gift to the reader — Mickey is not one to share her innermost thoughts with anyone. She’s a woman of action, and keeps her thoughts and fears hidden from most. This structure conveys the bleakness of the deteriorating neighborhood in which Mickey and Kacey have spent their lives. Almost every resident has some connection to the drug epidemic, and has lost someone dear to them. Both Mickey and Kacey have lost pieces of themselves to
Kensington as well.
Long Bright River is available for purchase now from BookPeople in-store and online now!
About the author: Liz Moore is the author of the acclaimed novels Heft and The Unseen World. A winner of the 2014-2015 Rome Prize in Literature, she lives in Philadelphia.
Kathleen Kent, known for historical novels, proved her ability to cross genres with The Dime. The gritty police thriller, featuring Betty Rhyzyk, a New York narcotics detective who transfers to Dallas to be with her wife, breathed new life into the cop novel and won her praise from the likes of Joe R. Lansdale. Luckily Kathleen and Betty are back for The Burn.
It’s not too long into the book, Betty’s head-first attitude lands her into desk duty. It and other things are not helping the relationship with Jackie. Her frustrations grow when word on the street hits that several kilos of The Sinola Cartel’s heroine got stolen and confidential informants are popping up dead in the sleazier parts of The Big D. Her colleagues leave her behind as they look for El Cuchillo (or The Knife), a Sinola enforcer with a nasty reputation believed to be behind the killings. When Betty gets information that some of the players could be involved with the department and with Jackie, she jumps out from behind the desk and goes rogue.
Kent builds an exciting world of The Dallas Narcotics division and the Texas toned underworld they operate in. She shows camaraderie between the police with undercurrents of infighting, often disguised as joking around.The cheap motels and dive bars where Betty hunts down answers are gritty and hard, either bathed in shadows or reflecting the glare of the Lone Star sun, everything and everybody plays with perception.
All of this fits into Betty’s point of view.. She charges in, not always looking and a situation with few people to trust leads to some justified paranoia. Since there are very few she can trust, she turns to outsiders, recruiting a pregnant dealer’s girlfriend and Jackie’s Vietnam vet uncle, James Earle, into her cause.
The Burn proves to be even better than The Dime. The plotting is well crafted with strong action passages and a believable, dangerous setting with characters who pop. At the center of it all is a complex heroine who couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you like her or not. Here’s hoping Betty can always get out from behind the desk.
Kathleen Kent’s The Burn is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now!
This is the declaration from an exciting new heroine created by an equally exciting new author. Lily Wong (or Dumpling to her parents) is The Ninja Daughter, a vigilante straight out of the seventies and eighties paperback original era, but with aspects of Raymond Chandler and creator Tori Eldridge’s experiences, she becomes so much more.
Lily trained in the ninja art of kunicchi to avenge her sister and now uses those skills to help other women with bad men. Her latest crusade is to protect Mia Mikkelson from retaliation from J. Tran, a club owner and rapist she testified against. As Lily goes to work on Tran, she discovers a plot involving Ukrainian mobsters and the L.A. transit system. The huntress becomes the hunted, but the hunters have no idea who they are after.
Many moments of the book play on Lily being underestimated as a female victim. Her parents, a Swedish father and Chinese mother, nicknamed her Dumpling due to her diminutive size . However when a man either gropes or attacks her, he finds his ass getting handed to him, if he’s lucky.
Eldridge grounds all of the genre fun she delivers. An actual practitioner of kunicchi, her fights are well executed, never losing the reader in the action. She also puts in missed landings and strikes that half connect to bring down any comic book feel. She also gives Lily the reality of family life. Her relationship with her mother is reminiscent of S.J. Rozan’s Lydia Chin with her mother or even Jim Rockford’s with his dad, other than there is even more nuance.
Much like Lily, herself, The Ninja Daughter is a beautiful amalgam. Her voice fuses the men’s action paperback with a Chandler-esque take on LA and twists it into an entertaining piece of feminist pulp that keeps a deft foot in reality. I look forward to Lily’s further quests for justice.
Part-time bookseller, Meike, joins us on the MysteryPeople Blog for a guest review of a James Ziskin’s latest, Turn to Stone.
It’s late summer 1963 and “girl reporter” Ellie Stone has traveled to Italy to attend an academic symposium honoring her late father. She’s invited to spend the weekend at an elegant villa just outside Florence, and a possible German measles outbreak means no one can leave. Trapped in a luxurious Tuscan villa with plenty of fantastic food and wine, and a group of scholarly friends who entertain themselves with tales drawn from Boccaccio’s Decameron (and no small amount of flirting), Ellie is enjoying her stay immensely—until the man who organized the symposium is found floating in the Arno, and foul plan is suspected.
Thus begins the perfect set-up for a locked room mystery that has Ellie wondering if one of her new friends could be capable of murder. And leave it to the intrepid and insatiably curious Ellie to seek out the truth and make sure someone is brought to justice.
I’m always so excited to get my hands on a new Ellie Stone mystery, she’s one of my favorite sleuths. Ziskin has crafted a delightfully complex and compelling character—Ellie is virtually alone in the world with no close family, but she’s remarkably brave and resilient. At times she can be lonely and frightened but she’s never intimidated–she’s whip-smart and won’t back down from any challenge. She defies the expectations that society places on a young woman of her time (witness the frequent belts of whiskey) while simultaneously embracing her femininity.
Ziskin is a linguist by training and it shows in the lyricism of his prose. Sprinkled throughout the text are Italian phrases that perfectly convey the temperament of a character, the temperature of a lazy afternoon, the tempo of the music that’s playing. His playful use of the Italian language lends a particularly unique and fun aspect to the story.
Setting a series in a specific era, particularly one that many of his readers may not have lived to experience, presents unique challenges and Ziskin proves himself up to the task–from the fashions to the news stories to the music, his extensive research and attention to detail lend an authenticity to his work that create an immersive experience for his readers.
Just be forewarned, after reading this latest Ellie Stone tale, you’ll find yourself searching for Tuscan villa rentals on HomeAway!
Turn to Stone is available for purchase in-store and online today!