Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Celebrates Texas Writers Month with Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale Calling In for The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club’s Discussion of Sunset and Sawdust

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  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The Murder In The Afternoon Book Club celebrates Texas Mystery Writers Month by reading one of the state’s best authors. Sunset And Sawdust is one of Joe Lansdale’s most underrated books. We’re happy to shed light on it as well as have Joe be a part of our discussion.

The book takes place in the Depression era sawmill town of Rapture, Texas, where Sunset Jones has just murdered her abusive husband, Pete, while he was trying to assault her. She turns to the only person who can help, her mother-in-law who owns half of Rapture. Knowing her son was no good, she helps Sunset get the job of town constable; newly available since the last person to occupy the position was the now-dead Pete. With the help of a charming Woody Guthrie type hobo and a hulking deputy who is sweet on her, Sunset enforces the law and wades into a mystery involving her late husband, oil, and a baby in a jar.

With this novel dealing with issues of gender, race, and class, creating a vivid portrayal of the depression, and containing characters both entertaining and complex, Lansdale gives us much to talk about. Luckily, Joe will be joining us via conference call for part of the discussion. Join us for the discussion on BookPeople’s third floor, May 15th, at 1PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.

You can find copies of Sunset & Sawdust  on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets to discuss it on Monday, May 15th, at 1 PM. The club meets the third Monday of each month. 

MysteryPeople Review: ROBERT B. PARKER’S LITTLE WHITE LIES by Ace Atkins

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  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

I’ve mentioned in some of my reviews of Ace Atkins’ later Spenser books that he is bringing more of himself to the series, adapting the characters to reflect his own voice. After proving in the early books like Lullaby and Wonderland that he could do Parker’s voice and had his characters down, Ace began to bring more of his own sensibility into the books, starting with Cheap Shot. It may have come to full fruition in his latest and best Spenser book yet, Little White Lies.

Ace took inspiration for his latest from an article he co-wrote for Men’s Journal. Spenser’s therapist girlfriend, Susan Silverman, refers one of her clients to him. The woman has been bilked out of $300,000 by M. Brook Wells (or that is the name he is at least currently going by), a man selling himself as ex-special forces and CIA. Tracking Wells down gets Spenser shot at by some real military types and he discovers a trail of conned marks, including a seedy gun merchant, cable news bookers, an entire church, and a gang of gun runners. Dealing with one dangerous revelation after another, Spenser has to invite bad ass back-up, Hawk, for a trip to Georgia.

Of the six Spenser novels, this is Ace’s most personal. He shows his knowledge of Spenser lore, bringing back characters like feminist writer Rachel Wallace, who guides him through the world of cable talk, and gay sniper Vinnie Morris, who gets pulled in by Hawk and Spenser for more fire power. He also shows off the Boston character as well as Parker ever did – but when Spenser goes down south, we are definitely in Ace’s own territory. Atkins portrays Georgia less with local color than with local attitude. The themes of religion, politics, and hypocrisy and how a con man uses extreme belief in God and country to do his work, could have easily popped up in a book featuring Ace’s own Mississippi hero Quinn Colson. However the more iconic Spenser fits the scene perfectly and the story updates him as our detective searches for facts in Trump’s America of alternative facts. Even though it was written before the election, the result is still the same.

In Little White Lies Ace Atkins uses Robert B. Parker’s characters and style to tell a story only he could. Atkins’ talents meet with those of his influence, bringing the character into modern times. Not only is this one of Ace’s best Spenser novels, it is one of the best in the entire Spenser series.

You can find copies of Little White Lies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE LONG DROP by Denise Mina

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780316380577Denise Mina has often used true crime and scandal for the basis of her novels. Usually she tears off the headline and runs with it, going further with the ideas and situations it suggests. With The Long Drop, she takes one of Glasgow’s most notorious murder cases, keeping the names of those involved, cutting closer to the bone and going deep instead of far. The result is her finest book to date.

in 1956, three women, Marion Watt, her daughter Viviene, and family friend Margret Brown were found in bed with a bullet in each head. Marion’s husband, William Watt, a man with a known drinking problem was the first chief suspect. Mina creates a fictional account of Watt meeting Peter Manuel, a petty burglar who was eventually put on trial for the murders, in a club arranged by Watt’s lawyer. Manuel agrees to tell him everything about the night of the killings if they ditch the lawyer. The story proceeds to follow their dark pub crawl, interweaving it with Manuel’s trail two years later.

Mina tells the interlocking stories contrasting in tone, yet reflecting off one another for deeper thought and meaning.The night between Watt and Manuel has the feel of a subdued thriller filled with quiet Watt’s quiet desperation as he is at the whims of a quiet mad man. First the novel is about finding the truth, then the nature of truth itself is put to the question. The last part of that question is examined in the sensational trial that captured O.J. level interest in Scotland with Manuel defending himself and Watt testifying on a stretcher. This part starts at a great distance, capturing place and period more by attitude of the time than tossing historical detail at the reader. Mina slowly becomes more intimate, yet cold as we get to know those involved with the case, creating a feel much like Capote’s In Cold Blood especially near the end. For Americans unfamiliar with the case, only look into it after you’ve read the book, since it creates some unintended suspense for us.

Just a little over two hundred pages, the novel is concentrated Denise Mina. Class, a subject she often explores, is examined through Watt’s and Manuel’s interactions. It becomes especially apparent when when Watt mocks in his mind a club that Manuel would find posh even though it is below his tastes. It’s an odd feeling of superiority displayed by a man at the mercy of the other. Forms of guilt and sin are measured. Mina creates a mystery out of Watt’s goal for information. Through Manuel is he trying to find justice for his wife and daughter, simple exoneration, or a deeper absolution? There appears to be enough guilt to go around.

The Long Drop is a well cut, cold hard diamond of a novel, showing off the many facets of its thematics. While much is revealed, we are properly left with more haunting questions than when we started. Denise Mina respects her readers and their emotional intelligence in her acknowledgment that no murder, solved or unsolved, punished or unpunished, ever has closure.

The Long Drop comes out May 23rd – pre-order now! 

Shotgun Blast From the Past: THE LONG HAUL by A.I. Bezzerides

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  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

A.I. Bezzerides’ The Long Haul is a minor classic that should be considered a major one. It owes its status to the fact that the novel can be hard to define. Only technically does it fit the definition of a crime novel. When it comes to working class heroes, terse tone and style, and tight storytelling, The Long Haul gives the best of noir and hard boiled a rune for its money with a jaundiced view of depression-era capitalism.

“If you’re up for it, take this hard trip down a heartless highway.”

Bezzerides used the trucking industry he grew up in as a backdrop to his novel. The Benay Brothers Nick and Paul navigate their way through the one-step-forward-two (sometimes three)-steps-back life of produce truckers, fighting sleep deprivation, blown tires, break downs, and dangerous roads. Even worse, they have to contend with the wholesalers and grocers out to delay payment, under pay, or not pay at all. Nick, the hustler of the two, believes their bad luck can only go so long and they’ll catch a break. Fate and the greed of others puts that to the test.

The Benays’ world is perfectly and precisely described. The reader gets the raucous nature of the markets and the solitude of the highway. You can smell the rotting lettuce and taste the coffee, both hot and cold. Bezzerides’ terse style gives our minds just enough to conjure up everything we need to address the senses.

Bezzerides’ descriptions intensify our perception of Nick and Paul’s struggles. Heat bears down when Nick has to haul butter before it melts. Tension that feels like life and death is created when he has to drive an unlicensed truck. Bezzerides never lets us forget the possibility of a breakdown or a wreck.

The Long Haul takes you to the edge with two men hustling a buck in risky fashion, looking for a break in a capitalist jungle that gives few. If you’re up for it, take this hard trip down a heartless highway.

You can find copies of The Long Haul on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: MISSISSIPPI BLOOD by Greg Iles

Greg Iles comes to BookPeople to speak and sign Mississippi Bloodthe concluding volume to his epic Natchez Trilogy, tomorrow, Tuesday, April 18th at 7 PM. Our reviewer Meike Alana has followed the series since its inception, and below you’ll find her take on Iles’ latest. 

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9780062311153It’s finally here—the riveting conclusion to Greg Iles’ Natchez trilogy featuring Penn Cage!  (For a quick refresher on the series, please see the overview prepared by BookPeople’s fantastic blogger Molly Odintz, aka “Mystery Molly”).

In Natchez Burning, revered town physician Dr. Tom Cage is arrested and accused of murdering his former nurse Viola Turner.  Her son believes it was a racially motivated killing, but circumstances indicate it may have been an assisted suicide.  A young reporter uncovers some new leads which suggest links between Viola and the Double Eagles, widely feared and regarded as the most hateful racist group in the state.  Iles unfolds details of the story slowly throughout the first novel and its follow-up, The Bone Tree. 

In Mississippi Blood, Dr. Cage’s trial has begun.  His son Penn continues to search for clues that could clear his father’s name, yet Tom somehow seems determined to end up in prison—even going as far as to remove his son from his counsel team.  As testimony reveals increasingly disturbing details about the past and the relationship between Tom and Viola, long-held secrets become known that threaten the safety of the Cage family as well as the Double Eagles—and the latter won’t hesitate to continue killing to keep the past hidden.

As the trial unfolds, each character relates his or her version of events.  The stories are the same, but the interpretations vary based on each individual’s unique background and experience.  What is the truth, after all, but our own perception of reality?  Rarely has a courtroom drama been as complex and riveting as Iles’ examination of Tom’s actions and culpability in the suffering and death of his former nurse.  As the novel reveals what really happened the night Viola Turner died, the reader is challenged to view issues of guilt and conscience in new and unsettling ways.

Come by the store Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 PM, to hear Greg Iles speak and sign the stunning conclusion to his Natchez trilogy. You can find copies of Mississippi Blood on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

A Brief Foray into an Epic Story: MysteryPeople’s Introductory Guide to Greg Iles’ Natchez Trilogy

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Greg Iles comes to BookPeople to speak and sign Mississippi Blood the stunning conclusion of his Natchez Trilogy featuring long-time character Penn Cage, this upcoming Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 PM. When I first found out we had booked him, I pumped my fist in the air. This guy is a big deal for crime fiction, and for Southern literature as a whole. Before his visit, we thought we’d make a quixotic attempt to summarize the enormous amount of content contained within each massive volume of the trilogy (without giving away any spoilers, of course.)

Iles has been known as a crime writer for some time, yet his Natchez Trilogy has elevated him to the status of a modern-day Faulkner. The three volumes together – Natchez BurningThe Bone Treeand Mississippi Burning – tell a sordid tale of small-town secrets, Southern racism, and the difficult task of achieving justice for the lost and vengeance against the powerful and guilty. Much of his work has featured Penn Cage and his family as they fight against the entrenched racism and dark secrets of their town of Natchez, and the trilogy continues the family’s epic story.

His website’s content emphasizes his position as both the conscience and the tourism bureau of a beautiful and problematic region – you can click to visit Natchez and stay in Iles’ historic building of an office, or scroll down further to read a petition by Mississippi’s most prominent citizens to remove the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi state flag. I recognized a number of crime writers on the list, but it shouldn’t surprise me that a state known for such violence in its past could be a center of writers reckoning with that violence in the present.

Some parts of his trilogy read like the best courtroom dramas, with the action of John Grisham and the powerful language of Harper Lee. Iles tells his tales from multiple perspectives and from multiple time periods, emphasizing the lingering presence of powerful 1960s antagonists into the 90s to shrink our perception of the length of history and to make more immediate the connection between the pre-civil-rights South and its modern-day, theoretically less discriminatory incarnation. As Faulkner once wrote, “the past isn’t dead – it’s not even past,” a phrase that especially rings true in the state of Mississippi, where those responsible for the pain of history faced consequences for their actions years, if not decades, after their initial crimes (if they faced consequences at all).*

Natchez Burning shifts back and forth between the 1960s and the 1990s. The sixties scenes place the brutality of the KKK and similar organizations on full display, while the nineties scenes more subtly address the lingering effects of violence too long ignored and unpunished. In the nineties, Penn Cage, mayor of Natchez, works to clear his father, Dr. Tom Cage, of murder charges after his father is accused of aiding his former nurse and lover, Viola, with her assisted suicide in suspicious circumstances. Viola’s son believes Penn’s father to have committed a racist murder, while flashbacks tell a more complex story of Viola and Dr. Cage’s relationship. Meanwhile, an inquisitive journalist gets some new leads and hopes he’ll finally be able to link the unsolved murders of a series of young black men in the sixties to the Double Eagles, the local racist group responsible for the killings.

The Bone Tree takes up where Natchez Burning left off, as Penn Cage continues to try to clear his father while edging closer to discovering his family’s secrets. The Bone Tree also expands on the vast conspiracy of the previous volume for an entirely fresh take on the JFK assassination. Mississippi Blood violently resolves the loose threads of the previous two novels while going ever deeper into the town’s secrets – including the family ties across racial boundaries that the aging Double Eagles (and many of the townspeople) will do virtually anything to keep from the public light.

Come by the store Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 PM, to hear Greg Iles speak and sign the stunning conclusion to his Natchez trilogy. You can find copies of Mississippi Blood on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

*A Washington Post review of The Bone Tree also uses this quote to describe Iles’ work, but I read that review after I dropped in the quote, so I’m keeping it.

MysteryPeople Review: PRUSSIAN BLUE by Philip Kerr

9780399177057Philip Kerr comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest Bernie Gunther novel, Prussian Blue, on Saturday, April 8th at 6 PM. You can find copies of Prussian Blue on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Philip Kerr has always excelled at highlighting the small crimes within the large crime, usually through his character Bernie Gunther’s quixotic attempts to help bring justice to individuals under the governance of the Third Reich. Despite acting under the orders of a high-ranking Nazi, Gunther gets called in to work when the Nazi leadership is in need of a professional detective to solve a crime, rather than assigning blame to a convenient scapegoat. Gunther, in each of Kerr’s works, gets his kicks and preserves his own safety by pitting Nazis against one another or in later settings, playing every side of the Cold War.

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