MysteryPeople Q&A with Cara Black

Cara Black joins us here at BookPeople to speak and sign her latest Leduc Investigation, Murder in Saint-Germain, this Monday, June 12th at 7 PM. You can find copies of her latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.comCara Black was kind enough to answer a few questions about her latest before her upcoming event.

*Warning: those who have not yet finished Murder on the Champs de Mars will find a spoiler in the following interview, although there are no spoilers as to the contents of Black’s latest. 

She’s a Parisian. Politics and discussion are in the air all the time. She doesn’t trust the government, the police or sometimes her concierge but she’d do her civic duty because she’d like liberté, égalité and fraternité to be real!

Molly Odintz: Your previous novel in the series, Murder on the Quai, was a prequel, and the book before that in the series, Murder on the Champs de Mars, left readers with a bit of a cliffhanger after a shocking denouement! Was it tricky to figure out how to continue the series and keep up the momentum with Murder in Saint-Germain?

Cara Black: Good question! After the denouement in Murder on the Champs de Mars, I didn’t know what would happen to the characters. This was a game changer. But I had no clue where to go. My editor Juliet said that’s a perfect time to write a prequel and explore Aimée’s origins, how she became a detective, got her dog Miles Davis and meeting her future business partner René. Take her back to 1989 and her year in pre-med and when her father was alive so we finally get to meet him after hearing about him in so many books.

For Murder in Saint-Germain, the challenge was to forge ahead in Aimée’s ‘present’ life in 1999, her real time, and see how she was dealing with being a single mama, having an eight month old and balancing work and the man in her life. And still be a fashionista. But once I started, I just picked up with her life and put her in a hot rainy July on the Left Bank working at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and with her baby sitter going on vacation; then the story took off.

MO: Murder in Saint-Germain has Aimée Leduc juggling a number of different cases, including an investigation into Balkan war criminals, a private security concern, and her continuing investigation into her parents’ secrets. How did you balance all her different cases, and what was your inspiration for these interlocking cases?

CB: Yes, it seemed like a balancing act, but then after being a mother I understood those pushes and pulls. After all Aimée has to butter the family baguette by taking on projects and running her business, her everyday world if you will. Nothing in life or work can be counted on to run smoothly, as I found out in my own experience, and you do the best you can. On top of this work at Ecole des Beaux Arts, where she dips into a scandal, the primary story came from a top female policewoman (I’d met) who’d worked in an elite squad and served on an international team from the Hague to investigate war crimes in the Balkans. This woman fascinated me and as respected and proficient as she was, her time there traumatized her. I knew that Aimée would owe a big favor to a woman in a similar position and do her best while trying to manage everything else in her busy life. Her parent’s secrets well…more to come!

MO: France has just emerged from a contentious election, with more votes for the far right than in Aimée’s time (and the heyday of the elder Le Pen). What would Aimée think about French politics in the moment?

CB: Zut alors! She’s a Parisian. Politics and discussion are in the air all the time. She doesn’t trust the government, the police or sometimes her concierge but she’d do her civic duty because she’d like liberté, égalité and fraternité to be real!

MO: I liked getting to know the younger Aimée in Murder on the Quai, but was pleased to explore the mature Aimée’s life once more, including her complicated relationships with Melac, Morbier and with her new bebe. How have the birth of Aimée’s new baby and the death of her father changed her character?

CB: She’s developed, as she’s needed to, grown up – mostly – and motherhood has changed her. Given her another view into life, relationships and try to cope with the loss of her father, which has still left a big hole in her life. She thinks about what he taught her, how he’d show her a way and that is how she keeps his memory alive and what she can impart of him to her own daughter.

MO: Aimée has a cell phone, but she’s still cut off from using many of the technologies we take for granted today, although she’s on the cutting edge of tech for her time period. Do you plan to take her far enough into the 21st century that she has to use the internet? Has she ever used Minitel services to solve a case?

CB: She’s used the Minitel. So has her partner, René and they still use dial up because it’s the 90’s. But René, a computer hacker geek, is kind of genius at what he does and his friends in Zeelakon Vallee (Silicon Valley) send him stuff to beta test ie a precursor of Google maps in Murder on the Champs de Mars.

MO: You’re recently returned from a trip to Paris – were you researching your next Leduc investigation?

CB: Yes, and I’m excited about the next story!

Cara Black joins us here at BookPeople to speak and sign her latest Leduc Investigation, Murder in Saint-Germain, this Monday, June 12th at 7 PM. We’ll also be discussing her first in the series, Murder in the Maraisat the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club on Monday, June 19th, at 1 PM on BookPeople’s third floor.

MysteryPeople Review: SHE RIDES SHOTGUN by Jordan Harper

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780062394408Jordan Harper’s name buzzed around crime fiction circles with his stand-out short stories, many of them appearing in the collection, Love And Other Wounds. His hard boiled tales of outlaws and others on the edge are written with a gritty poetry and visceral tone. He kept both intact in his debut novel, She Rides Shotgun, a book as bada** as its title.

Harper takes us on one of the darkest daddy-daughter bonding experiences in fiction since A Paper Moon. Nate McClusky, a father and a career criminal, crossed a white supremacist gang, Aryan Steel, at the end of his prison sentence. Upon his release, he discovers the prison gang has killed his ex in retaliation and they now have their sights set on Polly, his eleven-year-old daughter. He grabs her at school, taking her on the road. Their initial goal of escape quickly turns into a crime spree as Nate robs the gang’s criminal enterprises as leverage for a truce. As he gets to know Polly, he notices an inner coldness that could serve as a key to her survival.

Harper uses this simple, streamlined crime fiction plot to deliver a tight, tough as nails novel, that allows him to dive deep into the relationship of Nate and Polly without any stops. He finds detail and believability in both their voices. He also captures the sleazy Southern California underworld in all its rough and tumble glory.

She Rides Shotgun is a rocket ride through that sunburned land of the violent and desperate that is SoCal. Harper gives us a portrait of outlaws with one foot in the grave, just waiting for the earth to swallow the rest; through the novel’s family relationships, he explores the many ways love is tough. This novel-length debut promises great things for Jordan Harper.

Jordan Harper joins us for our New Voices in Noir panel discussion coming up on Wednesday, July 26th, at 7 PM. He’ll be joined on the panel by Rob Hart and Bill Loehfelm. You can find copies of She Rides Shotgun on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

MysteryPeople Review: MURDER IN SAINT-GERMAIN by Cara Black

9781616957704

Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

I’ve adored Cara Black’s ever-so-stylish Aimée Leduc Investigations ever since I first picked up my sister’s well-worn copy of Murder in the Marais over ten years ago. My Francophile sister and I read everything we could about France, so of course we would fall in love with a series that started in Paris’ historic Jewish quarter, wherein we have wandered, thought about the past and eaten falafel, while appreciating the neighborhood’s mélange of old and new, gay and cis, Jewish and Muslim, and global and local. The reasons I initially fell in love with the series are personal and simple, but the series itself portrays a complex and richly detailed world, full of evolving relationships, tie-ins to French politics, and some seriously chic style.

Cara Black has just released Aimée Leduc’s 17th investigation, Murder in Saint-Germainand while her life has been complicated from her first appearance, Aimée spends much of Murder in Saint-Germain juggling intrigue with the needs of her new bebe, the fallout from her father’s death, and new challenges in her always-difficult love life, for a very French, and very detective novel, twist on having it all. Black has set the majority of her Leduc Investigations in the 90s, with the exception of her previous installment in the series, Murder on the Quaia story that took us back to Aimée’s early days as a medical student and takes us through her first case. Murder in Saint-Germain takes us right back to where we left off at the end of Murder in the Champ du Mars – once again, we can appreciate Black’s mastery of her historical moment, as well as admire her character’s elegant style and commitment to social justice.

In her latest, Black puts Aimée to work on three different cases, while carefully updating us on all the loose ends in Aimée ‘s personal life. Leduc Investigations, let by Réné, is hard at work on a business security investigation, while Aimee is recruited informally to track down a Serbian war criminal and find out why members of a French task force previously stationed in the Balkans are now disappearing. She also is still in pursuit of more details surrounding the shocking denouement of Murder on the Champ de Mars, and is hard at work avoiding the inevitable confrontation between herself and her father’s killer, who also happens to be a surrogate parent to her, and one of her oldest confidants.

Cara Black joins us to speak and sign her latest Leduc Investigation on Monday, June 12th, at 7 PM. You can find copies of Murder in Saint-Germain on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

Three Picks for June

This month covers the big three of crime fiction protagonists: cops, private eyes, and criminals.

9780393249644Fateful Mornings by Tom Bouman

Finally, Officer Henry Farell of rural Pennsylvania returns for a second book that somehow tops Bouman’s Edgar-award-winning debut, Dry Bones. After a hippie is found murdered, investigators suspect her abusive relationship as the cause, but they soon expand widen the net as the case becomes a sordid mixture of drugs, class conflict, and more killings. A compelling hero immersed in a vivid place and beautiful writing. Fateful Mornings comes out June 27th. Pre-order now! 

9780062394408She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

A career criminal crosses an Aryan gang who kills his ex-wife for retribution and now has sights on his eleven year old daughter, forcing him to go on one hellish road trip with her. Harper’s debut novel is a hard boiled rocket ride through a sunburned California of lost societies, violent men, and where love has to be many forms of tough. Jordan will be joining us on our New Voices Of Noir panel with Bill Loehfelm and Rob Hart on July 26th. She Rides Shotgun comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

 

9781616957704Murder in Saint-Germain by Cara Black 

Aimee Leduc, still grieving the loss of her father and consumed by the needs of her new bebe, is one busy detective in Cara Black’s latest. Leduc Investigations is hard at work on a corporate espionage case, much to Rene’s satisfaction. When an old friend reaches out to Aimee after spotting a war criminal in a local cafe, then goes missing, Aimee has even more on her plate. Despite her busy schedule, she’s still the definition of effortless Parisian chic – read this book if you like detectives that can kick butt in 5-inch heels! (In fact, read the whole series.) Cara Black joins us to speak and sign her latest Leduc Investigation on Monday, June 12th, at 7 PM. You can find copies of Murder in Saint Germain on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

MysteryPeople Double Feature: RAGE IN HARLEM by Chester Himes

MysteryPeople Partners with Authors & Auteurs for Return to Normal: A 50s Film Noir Film Series

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

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For the past few years, MysteryPeople has highlighted some of our favorite noir cinema based on crime fiction, with discussions following each screening to discuss the book and film. This year, MysteryPeople’s Double Feature film series is partnering with the Author & Auteurs Book Club for a summer of films highlighting the injustices and rot beneath the glamorous veneer of 1950s America. We’re kicking it off with a screening of A Rage In Harlem, Chester Himes’ seminal 1957 crime novel adapted into director Bill Duke’s 1991 movie, this Sunday, June 4, at 2 PM. In some ways the relationship between book and film contradicts the usual film adaptation.

A Rage In Harlem is not only a rollicking, tight, fast moving crime novel, it is a densely packed look at life and culture of the neighborhood in the title. The story follows a somewhat innocent mortician, Jackson, who loses his money and woman, Imabelle, who could easily be part of the scam. To get her back, he enlists his hustler brother Goldie. Their search maneuvers through neighborhoods and cat houses, and past preachers, hotel bell boys, gamblers, and carousers, and connects the brothers to a trunk full of treasure some bad men from Mississippi, Harlem crime boss Easy Money, and hard ass cops Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson (who become the series leads in later Himes novels) are all after.

The film does its best to capture the book. Bill Dike worked with cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita, production designer Steve Legler, and costume designer Nele Samples deliver a Harlem of bright, mostly primary colors. Forrest Whitaker and Gregory Hines play Jackson and Goldie with the broad style of the story, while making them human. Robin Givens goes an underrated turn as Imabelle, that keeps you guessing of her intentions. To capture the absurdity of Chester Himes’ work, several of the supporting characters are played by comic actors.

This is the rare occurrence where the film augments the story of the novel instead of condensing it. Himes’ tight plotting allowed for some explanation of the back story.  The film opens with an intense shootout where we learn about what happened with that trunk in Mississippi. The story is given more heart as we see how Jackson and Imabelle got together.

It is odd to discover that the book from 1957 is raunchier and more violent than a 1991 film. The adaptation proves to be a colorful look at the past, made from a novel that took a detailed look at Himes’ present. The social, political, and racial themes are less overt. The adaptation creates some disconnect, but it is still entertaining.

Double Feature Stats:

Adherence To Plot Of The Book: 4.4 out of 5

Adherence To Quality Of The Book: 3 out of 5

Further Reading: Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker, Fearless Jones by Walter Mosely, more Chester Himes

Further Viewing: Devil In A Blue Dress, Shaft, Hoodlum

Fun Facts: Roger Ebert viewed an early cut of the film that was muddled, giving it a thumbs down on At The Movies, but after seeing the minute-shorter release version gave it a recommend print review.

The book was first published in France with the title Queen Of Fools.

You can find copies of A Rage In Harlem on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The Authors and Auteurs Book Club will meet on Sunday, June 4th, starting at 2 PM, to screen the film adaptation of Himes’ classic work.

Film screenings for the Authors and Auteurs Book Club occur on the first Sunday of each month and are free and open to the public. Film screenings will be followed by discussion of the book versus the film. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Lori Rader Day

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Lori Rader-Day first appeared on our radar with her first crime novel, The Black Houra wicked tale of murder in academia that pleased every member of the 7% Solution Book Club when discussed. Her second foray into the genre, Little Pretty Things, takes us into a high school reunion from hell as a former student athlete investigates the murder of her recently returned frenemy, and won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

In her third crime novel, The Day I Dieda handwriting expert with secrets to hide is recruited to analyze the ransom note left behind after a toddler’s disappearance. Soon, her son’s investigation into his own past and budding teenage rebellion will put this handwriting analyst on a collision course with her own past, leading to a denouement with a surprising amount of both action and heart. The Day I Died is an IndieNext pick for May and Lori Rader-Day will be here at the store to speak and sign her latest this Wednesday, May 31st at 7 PM. 


Molly Odintz: When I first picked up your writing, your voice, more than any plot point, was what initially drew me in. Your books explore ordinary settings in the most hard-boiled of language – did you set out to contrast the banality of the ordinary with the darkness that lurks within?

Lori Rader Day: I set out to tell a story and entertain myself. I never thought of my language as “hard-boiled.” That’s fun. But I do enjoy ordinary settings—Midwestern settings—being tainted by violence. Darkness within that leaks out into bad decisions and bad deeds.

I see what you mean about the hard-boiled language now.

MO: I’ve read a series of books recently exploring the instability of female identity and the dynamics between female friends – you go beyond the Bechdel Test in your latest to use a mystery to investigate one woman’s relationship, not with other women, but with herself at different stages. What did you want to explore about our changeable natures?

LRD: You are giving me a lot of credit here, but I like your interpretation. I wanted to write about a person willing herself into another identity—a strong woman character, we call them, right? But she’s so strong and so good at separating herself from the path she’d been on that there’s nothing in front of her. The future is wide open but by that, I mean it’s empty. I wanted to write about a character who is strong enough to survive the worst and then also doubt her choice.

MO: Atmospheric setting plays an important part in The Day I Died – which came first, the setting or the story? How did the setting influence the story (or vise versa)?

LRD: The story came first, because this story started as a short story. Thirty pages, forty. And then when one of my writing instructors told me it was a novel instead of a short story, I had to figure out what the story would be beyond the ending of the short version. For a long time, I didn’t know the setting would be so crucial to the plot. I know at one point I was shopping around for a location to set Anna’s hometown but then realized I knew exactly where it should be. I based the town on a place I had been vacationing for years in north Wisconsin, way up where it’s easy to disappear, which fed me all kinds of ideas about how Anna would feel about her home and about not being there.

MO: The Day I Died is certainly a mystery, but it’s also a book about motherhood, and the extremes to which one will go to protect one’s child (or someone else’s child). With May the month of Mother’s Day, what did you want to say about parenthood with your latest?

LRD: I’m in awe of people who become parents and take it seriously, like my friends and my sister. I’m no one’s mother. I have a dog. I started writing this story ten years ago, so maybe I was exploring the what-if of parenthood that I was not choosing.  Probably more likely, I was looking around at what my friends were choosing, and thinking what-if… that’s how the writer-brain works. You write what you know but you write what you don’t know, too.

MO: Without giving away anything about the ending, it seems like the theme of the story is personal change. Your main character has transformed her identity before, but the act of running has, in a way, restricted her identity into a mere alias, while those characters the reader expects to be frozen in time have actually changed significantly over time. To ask the broadest question possible, can any of us really change?

LRD: I think we can, in some ways. Just as a for-instance, I used to be very shy. I would have done anything to avoid public speaking. At one point I had given up writing for five years, just by letting time pass me by. And now my daily life is that I write fiction and then go talk to strangers about it.

In the book, I was careful (I hope) to leave some of these calls up to the reader. Anna doesn’t make these judgments, either, but she makes room for the judgments to be made.

MO: Your main character has an intriguing profession – why a handwriting expert, and what kind of research did you do to prepare your character for the role? Should I be glad I’m typing these questions to you rather than hand-writing them?

LRD: Back in 2007 when I was in my master of fine arts program in creative writing, I went to the library to troll for story ideas and came out with a book about handwriting. So handwriting was the origin of the entire story, and the character and everything else came after. I read that book and did some online research. Since the book was written, I’ve had the chance to talk to a handwriting specialist—who says I got it right, good news—but I never took any classes in the subject or anything. I feel like I’m disappointing people when I admit this. So you can send me a handwritten note and I won’t analyze it—I don’t know how.  

I can tell you that when I was deep in the middle of the research, my own handwriting suffered a bit. It sometimes still happens that I’ll be writing something and, mid-word, will get self-conscious and muff whatever I’m writing. Sometimes it’s my own signature.

MO: I’ve followed your crime fiction for a few years now, and I’ve watched your name become increasingly prominent. What did it feel like to win the Mary Higgins Clark award for Little Pretty Things?

LRD: It was amazing, of course, to stand on the Edgars stage accepting an award (the first year the Mary Higgins Clark was given out at the Edgar Awards). I was especially humbled because I had read all the nominated books. Reading Mary Higgins Clark books was part of my writer’s education growing up, so it was extra special to me for that reason.

MO: Your main character has suffered in her past, and in ways that (if I interpret the novel correctly) were known to her small town, yet her neighbors failed to provide her with assistance in confronting the brutality in her life. What did you want to explore about small town violence, and secrets that aren’t really secrets?

LRD: I’m really interested in small towns, having grown up in a few, but also small communities of any making, how they operate, how they break down. If violence and tragedy can bring out the best in us, it can also bring out the worst, or at least cause us to freeze and withdraw into the isolation that’s so easy out in the country. Oh, sure, we’ll have opinions, but we might not voice them, because we’ll have to live with the fall-out. So…isolation or making nice. That’s the Midwestern way, anyway. Maybe Texas does it differently.

MO: You can start to see the main character’s tattered past in the ways she reacts to the present, even before the reader is given concrete details about the character’s past – her stunted reaction to the kidnapping of a young child, and potential sympathy for the kidnapper, immediately makes her a more interesting character (to me, anyway). Which came to you first, the present-day kidnapping or the character’s backstory?

LRD: I started writing this story as a short story in 2007, so forgive me if the details of construction are a little hazy. I know I started with the handwriting and then gave that job to the character, but I think Anna’s backstory developed alongside her present self simultaneously. I enjoy ironies and parallels in my characters, so when I decided the story would be about a kidnapping, I went searching for ways that Anna might have encountered kidnapping before. I probably chose her backstory from there because it was the most complex. Writers like to give ourselves interesting assignments; I gave myself such a difficult assignment, in fact, that I had to put the book away and let my skills develop for eight years before I could write it the way I imagined it. And now I’ve given away all my writing secrets.

You can find copies of The Day I Died on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Lori Rader Day comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Wednesday, May 31st, starting at 7 PM. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Steve Hamilton

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Last year, prolific and internationally-renowned crime writer Steve Hamilton blew us away with The Second Life Of Nick Mason, about a criminal who gets an early release from prison as long as he does the bidding of Darius Cole, a kingpin who rules his empire from a cell. In the second in the series, Exit Strategy, Nick plots an escape from Darius as he has to carry out his latest chore, kill several witness in Witness Protection all across the country, that are testifying against Darius for his retrial, one his lethal former gunman.

Steve will be doing a live stock signing for us, Tuesday, May 23rd, starting at noon, so come on by to get your books signed and say hello to one of the best in the genre. We caught up with him ahead of time to talk about Exit Strategy and and writing criminals.

MysteryPeople Scott: When writing The Second Life of Nick Mason, did you know you that Nick and Darius had at least another story in them?

SH: Absolutely! In fact, I had the first seven books in this series all laid out in detail, before I ever started.

MPS: How do you think Nick has changed since the first book?

SH: In the first book, Nick Mason was released from prison to become a killing machine. It was something Darius Cole saw in him, something that Nick didn’t even know he had inside him. But now in this second book – as the assignments get more and more brutal – Nick can see it happening. He is becoming this machine and he can’t even help it. That’s what drives him to find his “exit strategy,” before he loses his humanity forever.

MPS: Your books usually stay in one city or town for most of your books. Did going across the country affect your writing in any way?

SH: Where you come from is a big part of you are. For Alex McKnight, it was Detroit. For Nick Mason, it just felt to me like he had to have come from the South Side of Chicago. And in the past few years, I’ve gotten to know and love that amazing city so well. That’s one of the best parts of being a writer.

MPS: What does having a protagonist like Nick allow you to do that you couldn’t with Alex McKnight?

SH: Clearly, Nick Mason lives on the other side of the law, which is the first obvious difference. From the very first page of book one, you have to acknowledge that he’s a career criminal – even if he’s lived by a strict personal code, and even if he takes the deal to get out of prison just so he can see his family again. And now he’s made this choice to do whatever he’s told in his new life – something that Alex wouldn’t be able to do, no matter the stakes. But one of the most overwhelming things about writing this series is how much readers have responded to him, and how much they’re actually rooting for him in these books.

MPS: Darius is one of the best antagonists in recent crime fiction. He is as smart as he is unscrupulous and even has a complex set of justice. What is it like writing for him?

SH: An antagonist like Darius Cole has to be a complex, fully realized character, with his own reasons for doing what he does – reasons that make perfect sense in his own world. Hemingway said the writer’s job is to understand, not judge. I just try to make him as real as possible, and let the reader do the judging.

MPS: There are at least four major characters plotting their fate against each other like chess players. How much pre-planning went into Exit Strategy?

SH: I knew from the beginning where each character would be in the end. The challenge was to make those threads all come together in a way that was both surprising and satisfying at the same time. But that was really the main theme of this book – each character had his or her own “exit strategy,” trying to escape from his or her own personal prison.

Steve Hamilton comes to BookPeople for a public stock signing Tuesday, May 23rd, at 12 PM. You can find copies of Exit Strategy on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.