MysteryPeople Review: THE GIRL BEFORE by Rena Olson

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781101982358I read this all in one night, when I was looking for a book disturbing enough to distract me from the results of the election. The Girl Before delivered! Rena Olson works as a marriage therapist, evident in her realistic portrayal of the most f*&^ed up marriage in fiction since Gone Girl. As The Girl Before begins, her protagonist Clara is ripped from her husband and daughters as law enforcement raids their home, and told by her husband to keep her mouth shut. Depressed and in denial of the reason for her arrest, Clara initially refuses to cooperate – she insists that her marriage has been defined by love, rather than control, and refuses to accept any information to the contrary.

Through flashbacks, we’re introduced to what appears to be a finishing school, where young girls, isolated from men, are taught obedience, languages, and various other ‘womanly arts,’ or face violence or expulsion. We slowly learn that what Clara conceived of as a happy childhood at an exemplary school was actually a life spent in a bordello training facility for underage girls intended for the international sex trade.

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Rugged Adventure: MysteryPeople Q&A with Erik Storey

  • Interview and Review by Scott Butki

Readers may find it hard to accept that Nothing Short of Dying is Erik Storey’s first novel – it has the kind of action and adrenaline that will make you feel like you just went on a caffeine bender. Plus, it is that rare action novel that has both an excellent plot AND well developed characters – rare for any thriller, let alone a debut novel.

“He’s a rugged wandering adventurer. He’s spent almost two decades roaming the third world, making his living with a rifle, trying to help the little guys. He considers himself outside of any law other than Nature’s, so he is able to do things you and I can’t.”

Nothing Short of Dying, set in Colorado, is the start of a series, and I will definitely be looking forward to what happens next to its protagonist, Clyde Barr. As the series begins, Barr has just been released from a Mexican prison. He hopes to stay out for a while, but a call from his sister, who has been kidnapped, pulls him back into his old pattern of breaking laws and fighting bad guys. Clyde is aided in the quest to find Jen by Allie, another well-rounded character who has gotten out of a jam or two, who he meets while hunting for his sister. Allie’s character and their interactions help keep the story sizzling.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Beth Lewis

Beth Lewis stunned us all with her forceful debut, The Wolf Roada psychological thriller that follows a Elka, a half-wild girl, as she flees from her evil guardian across a post-apocalyptic landscape. As she flees through a Black Forest fairytale version of British Columbia, she works to come to terms with her own part in her guardian’s crimes. New friendships with a protective wolf and a sassy female traveler help Elka clarify the horrors of her past, reclaim her identity, escape the long arms of her psychotic guardian, and build the future she wants. We caught up with Beth Lewis about the perfect crossover read that is The Wolf Road. 

 

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: Some reviews of The Wolf Road have focused on the relationship between Elka and her dangerous woodsman savior, rather than the equally important dynamic between Elka and her female companion on the last leg of her journey. I spend a lot of time thinking about representations of female community, and I loved that Elka got a chance to form a healthy friendship with another woman as a counter to her previous replacement family unit. What did you want explore in the novel’s depiction of female community?

Beth Lewis: I love depictions of strong female friendship. Too often in my opinion female characters seem to be shown fighting over a man or competing in some way, otherwise the friendships are written as quite superficial. There aren’t enough deep and abiding friendships, ones with life and death stakes, and I wanted to write one that felt real and almost unconditional. Elka and Penelope save each other, physically and emotionally, multiple times and as such, their bond becomes iron. This is going to sound a bit precious but I’ve always felt that, when I’m writing, the characters appear. I don’t decide on their gender or appearance or voice, they just are, as if I’m meeting a real person for the first time. I didn’t consciously set out to write about these two women but I knew that I wanted them both to have ultimate trust in each other, which is something neither of them had before. It’s something special to trust someone so completely, it’s powerful and rare to know without a doubt that if you put your life and your safety into this person’s hands, they wouldn’t let you down.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town: MysteryPeople Q&A with Jesse Donaldson

Jesse Donaldson’s The More They Disappear deals with the murder of a sheriff in a Kentucky town, just as OxyContin gets introduced to rural towns in the late nineties. It is a compelling debut, nuanced in both its emotions and morality. We asked Mr. Donaldson some questions over e-mail as we prepare for his visit to our store this upcoming Friday, August 26th, at 7 PM.

“The novel takes its title from that common desire to leave your town, to disappear. There’s some thematic kinship to this Bruce Springsteen record I love – Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

MysteryPeople Scott: What spurred you to write a whodunnit where the reader knows who did it?

Jesse Donaldson: This is a trick question. I mean, it’s not a whodunit if you know the who, right? And in The More They Disappear that happens rather early. Another writer, Smith Henderson, called it a whydunnit. I’d say the novel has more in common with a police procedural, a la Richard Price – only it is set in rural Kentucky instead of New York City. You follow the deputy sheriff, Harlan Dupee, as he sets about solving a violent crime. The tension is driven by that investigation and its consequences. The larger question is: in the aftermath of a violent crime, will this town held together by increasingly fragile bonds, fall apart?

MPS: What made the early days of the Oxy crisis the right period?

JD: I always wanted to write about the Oxy crisis. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it didn’t get nearly as much media attention as it should have. Newspapers and magazines were more interested in covering the country’s Meth problem. Exploded meth labs make for a nice dramatic photo. The Oxy story was and is way more complicated and in the long run more devastating. It was created by lax regulation by the FDA and states, a dishonest pharmaceutical company, crooked doctors, and millions of people suffering from some sort of “pain”—be it physical or emotional. Moreover, the Oxy issue is directly responsible for the degree of our country’s current heroin epidemic, so it seemed worthwhile to explore its origins.

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On Hollywood and Hemingway: MysteryPeople Q&A with Shaun Harris

In The Hemingway Thief, the recently released debut crime novel from author Shaun Harris, a writer of popular vampire novels is on the trail of the suitcase containing Hemingway’s original draft of A Movable Feast, with a cast of questionable characters. Our Meike Alana got to ask Shaun some questions about the book and the writing process.

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

“As I started to do some research I realized that I hate Hemingway as both a writer and a man. At the prospect of having to read more of his work and then aping it, I decided to go in a different direction.”

Meike Alana: How did the legend of Hemingway’s lost suitcase become the inspiration for your novel?

Shaun Harris: A number of years back I was watching the movie Wonder Boys for the 8 billionth time and Michael Douglas’s character mentioned the lost suitcase in a throwaway line. I looked it up and thought it was an intriguing idea. At first I went for the obvious idea of having the protagonist find the suitcase and pass it off as his own. As I started to do some research I realized that I hate Hemingway as both a writer and a man. At the prospect of having to read more of his work and then aping it, I decided to go in a different direction. So the idea sat in my brain for a while until I came up with what that direction would be. And that will be answered in a later question.

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MysteryPeople Review: THE HEMINGWAY THIEF by Shaun Harris

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781633881754In 1922, an as-yet-unpublished Ernest Hemingway asks his wife Hadley to pack up all of his stories and meet him in Switzerland.  While waiting for her train in the Gare de Lyon station, Hadley leaves the suitcase unattended to buy a bottle of water; when she returns, the suitcase has vanished, never to be seen again.  This legend is the inspiration for Shaun Harris’ debut novel, The Hemingway Thief

At the beginning of the novel we meet Henry “Coop” Cooper, a novelist struggling with a literary identity crisis.  He has achieved a level of fame writing a series of 32 romance novels under the nom de plume Toulouse Velour and featuring Scottish vampire Alasdair McMerkin, and his agent is pressuring him to write number 33.  But Coop is tired of “Scots, vampires, and genital euphemisms” and is anxious to try publishing under his own name.  At his agent’s urging, he is taking a short break in Baja.

One evening, he and Hotel Baja owner Grady Doyle are lounging in the cantina and sipping run with lime when a drunken tourist is roughed up by two thugs.  Grady steps in to help, and Coop joins him for the sake of a good story.  The drunk turns out to be Ebbie Milch, a small time thief on the run in Mexico because he has stolen the never-before seen first draft of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast from a wealthy rare book dealer.

The manuscript may reveal clues to the whereabouts and contents of Hemingway’s lost suitcase, so Coop and Grady set out with Milch and hotel “handyman” Digby to locate this rare literary prize.  But they aren’t the only ones in pursuit of the legendary writer’s lost work, and their venture soon becomes deadly.

The novel is an absolutely fantastic thrill ride of adventure.  Coop and his ragtag bunch escape one close call after another and the body count rises as they draw closer to finding the suitcase.  There are plenty of thugs, guns, wild rides, drugs, and booze.

But this is a crime spree story for book lovers.  Our hero is a writer, the villain is a rare book dealer, and their quest is the pursuit of a literary treasure.  Coop explains his motivation for continuing the hunt in spite of the danger:  “I am not just a writer, but also a reader.  I have a voracious appetite for the written word that borders on addiction.  Surely, just as the dipsomaniac is unable to stop until the very last pour from the bottle, I cannot stop a story until it is done.  I must know how it ends…I must finish the bottle.”

And the writing is outstanding.  While the action sequences are described in a simple, direct style (much like that of Hemingway himself), the book includes descriptive passages about the setting and characters that suck the reader right in:  The night sky “looked like sugar spilled over dark linoleum.”  The  breeze “blew over the lush blades, kneading them into waves that seemed to rise, crest, and crash against twin mesas….ascending from the sea like a couple of raging Poseidons.”  A character’s voice “sounded like pure maple syrup and had a rhythm to it that made the simple phrase sound like a soul song.”

Unbelievably, The Hemingway Thief is Shaun Harris’s debut novel.  I for one can’t wait for more from this new voice in crime fiction!

You can find copies of The Hemingway Thief on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: GOOD AS GONE by Amy Gentry

  • Review by Molly Odintz

9780544920958Journalist, novelist and long-time Austinite Amy Gentry joins us here at the store this Thursday, July 28th, at 7 PM to speak and sign her debut thriller, Good As GoneHer debut takes the reader into a torn family coping with the still-unsolved disappearance of their eldest, a decade before. When a young woman with a fantastical tale comes knocking on their door, they work to accept her as their long-lost daughter, yet holes quickly appear in her story, and questions remain as to her identity and her past.

Gentry splits her narrative between the matriarch of the family, Anna, and her reclaimed child, Julie, as they tip-toe around issues of trauma, identity, acceptance and return. Anna’s perspective follows a linear path through the novel; Julie’s perspective is told backwards, with a rotating cast of character names, teasing the reader through much of the novel as to who “Julie” might be, and what role, exactly, Julie played in her own kidnapping. While Gentry’s debut passes Alison Bechdel’s simple test for feminism in fiction (Does a named female character speak to another named female character about a subject other than men?), the many names of “Julie” bring out another side to the named female character – she can be named, over and over again, by those attempting to control her, and with each new name, the core of her identity becomes further separated from any marker as changeable as a name.

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