Meike Reviews THE BOOK ARTIST

The Book Artist: A Hugo Marston Novel Cover Image

Mark Pryor will join us at BookPeople on Saturday, February 9th at 6pm to discuss The Book ArtistCheck out our review and join us! 

All of us at MysteryPeople are huge fans of Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series and we agree that his latest—The Book Artist—is the best one yet.

Hugo Marston is a former FBI profiler who works as head of security at the US Embassy in Paris. The book takes its title from the opening scenes when Hugo’s boss, Ambassador Bradford J. Taylor, strongly encourages Hugo to attend an art exhibition at the Dali Museum. Hugo is initially reluctant–art isn’t really his thing, he’s more of a bibliophile–but he’s drawn to the exhibition when he learns that it involves sculptures created from rare books. (The fact that the artist is an “indescribably beautiful” young woman doesn’t hurt either.) When a museum guest is brutally murdered, Hugo jumps to help the police find the killer. And when they arrest someone Hugo believes is most certainly not the killer, he feels an even deeper urgency to bring the real culprit to justice.

Meanwhile, Hugo’s best friend Tom is getting himself into a spot of trouble in Amsterdam. In their former lives, Hugo and Tom were responsible for sending a man to prison. That man has been released, and Tom believes he may have traveled to Europe to seek revenge. As the pursuit unfolds, the avid Hugo fan finally learns some hidden truths about Hugo and Tom’s shared past.

It’s difficult to delve much further without divulging any spoilers, because there is one twist after another in The Book Artist. Pryor seamlessly weaves the disparate plot lines together, and his voice demonstrates a new level of assuredness.

Pryor’s characters have become old friends to this series devotee, and the long-time friendship between Hugo and Tom is just so much fun to witness. The hard-drinking, womanizing Tom is the perfect foil to the more serious and straight-laced Hugo. Underneath Tom’s relentless teasing one can sense his deep admiration and love for Hugo, and the affection runs both ways. In The Book Artist we finally get a glimpse into their shared past and learn how they ended up leaving their former employers.

And any discussion about the series has to include the setting. Pryor clearly loves Paris, and his detailed descriptions of the neighborhoods, the restaurants, and the people makes the reader feel greatly tempted to hit up Expedia for the next jet to the City of Light. If your budget won’t allow for that, at least pick up a croissant and fix yourself a café au lait to enjoy while you delve into The Book Artist!

Meike reviews Last Woman Standing

MysteryPeople contributor Meike Alana has reviewed Amy Gentry’s new novel, Last Woman Standing. Gentry will be in the store Tuesday, January 22nd, at 7pm to discuss her book and sign copies.

Last Woman Standing Cover ImageAmy Gentry wowed us with her debut novel, Good as Gone, and her latest suspense novel is every bit as thrilling. Last Woman Standing introduces us to Dana Diaz, a Latina stand-up comic from Amarillo struggling to make it in a comedy scene dominated by men and rife with sexual harassment. Dana has recently returned to the Lone Star State from LA after a split from her childhood friend and writing partner. She’s grown accustomed to expect little from an industry where she’s continually reminded that a woman (particularly a woman of color) has little value, but her frustrations have reached a critical point. What she has told no one is the real reason she left LA—she was drugged and sexually assaulted by a well-known comic she idealized during a meeting purported to be about discussing her future.

One night during her set she aptly fends off a vulgar heckler. Computer programmer Amanda witnesses the encounter and offers to buy Dana a congratulatory drink. One drink turns to several, and the two women bond over their shared experiences of injustice and misogyny. Soon they strike a kind of Strangers on a Train deal—each will seek revenge on the other’s abuser. Revealing more would be crossing over into spoiler territory, but the ensuing plot twists make for a riveting tale of deceit and paranoia.

There is a definite #MeToo vibe to the book, and Gentry shines a harsh light on the myriad injustices that women face every single day. The novel examines the issues of sexual harassment and assault from a variety of angles, including the confusion that a victim can experience. Dana doesn’t even know how to put words to what happened to her—she knows it was “bad” but doesn’t initially realize that the episode qualifies as assault. When she describes her experiences to her male best friend, he’s dismissive and tells her she’s overreacting–an all too often experience for survivors of these encounters. As she comes to recognize exactly how deeply she’s been violated, she also realizes that a long-buried event from her past qualifies as rape. When she’s finally able to express her anger, Dana is shocked at the level of rage she feels as well as the violence she may be capable of. After all, there never seem to be any repercussions for the male perpetrators—so perhaps women need to take matters into their own hands.

Puja Guha on writing spy fiction

Puja Guha has just finished her Ahriman Trilogy that deals with a spy and assassin in love with each other as world events, government plots, and despots not only tear them apart, but often pit them against one another. Puja will be joining private eye writer Matt Coyle and police procedural author Patricia Smiley to discuss their subgenres at BookPeople January 9th at 7pm. Here she discusses what draws her to spy fiction.

Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction Cover ImageWhen people first learn that I write spy fiction, I get two reactions. The first is surprise, bordering on shock. How could this five-foot-three Indian woman write something like spy novels? Once they get over the fact that I’m a writer, the question that follows is, wouldn’t I be better suited for non-fiction books about economics or international development? That question always makes me chuckle, since the thought of writing a book on that makes my stomach turn.

The second, and more fun one, is from those who know me a little better, or at least know about my travel schedule (especially if they know about my trip to Afghanistan a few years ago). That reaction tends to go something like this—“Oh, you write spy fiction – because you’re secretly a spy!” I have to admit I love that reaction. There’s something about their perception that changes, as if they start to see me as a lot more bad ass. I may not be a spy, but I certainly like to think of myself as someone who could be, at least in terms of the fun portrayal of what that life is like that we see in a lot of movies and books. Obviously, the reality is far from the action sequences of The Bourne Identity but it’s fun to think that there are people like that around the world.

Perceptions aside, I love spy fiction. I grew up reading all sorts of thrillers, devouring the books off my Dad’s bookshelf, including Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum, and John Grisham. Spy fiction was a sizeable portion of that, offering action and adventure combined with mystery and investigation. Those books also gave me another opportunity to travel and explore nuanced characters, including the cost of deception on an emotional and personal level. I read so many of them I guess it’s no wonder I ended up writing in this genre. Sometimes I use it to explore new places that I haven’t gotten to visit yet, like Iran, in my first book Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction. More often, writing spy fiction gives me an opportunity to showcase a place that I’ve already been—to bring readers to it, to see the sights and experience the culture, the sound, and the smells, all within a “web of intrigue”. That last phrase makes me smile, I love the twists and turns that greet me when I’m plotting out one of my novels. A lot of it takes me by surprise, when the characters draw me in a direction that I didn’t anticipate. Being able to share that journey with readers is something that I cherish.

In this day and age, I also relish the opportunity to expose bits and pieces of culture from the places I’ve visited and later write about. People have a lot of different ideas when they think of countries they’ve seen in the news like Kuwait, countries they often know very little about like Madagascar, or even places they may have seen a lot in TV or movies like Paris or New York. My parents gave me the travel bug when I was little, and I’ve taken it to a whole new level, having now visited 55 countries and counting. Certainly, a ton is different between each of these places, but at a human level, it’s more incredible how much is the same. I love being able to show that to my readers when I take them somewhere new, or to expose some endearing detail of a place or culture they might not have expected. Putting that into a mystery or an adventure just adds to it, they get to have as much fun reading it as I do writing when they go along for the ride.

That’s enough about me and why I write spy fiction. If you’re a reader in this space, I’d love to hear from you. What draws you to it? What keeps you coming back?

Interview with Martin Limón

BookPeople made The Line, Martin Limón’s latest mystery with Ernie Bascome and George Sueno, two U.S. Army cops stationed in early seventies Korea, our October Pick Of The Month.  It starts with the two called to a murder scene on the demarcation bridge between North and South Korea that leads into a mystery involving the South Koreans that work for the U.S. Army. While trying to find the real killer when an innocent G.I. is locked up, they also have to locate the missing wife an officer. Martin was kind enough to give us some in-depth answers to some questions about the book, the series, and the state of both Koreas. Martin Limón joins us Friday, November 2 at 7pm to talk about the book with author A.R. Ashworth and Scott Montgomery.

The Line (A Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Novel #13) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: The Line has one of the best openings of the year.  How did it come about?

Martin Limón: I’ve been to the Joint Security Area (JSA) a few times, starting in 1968.  It’s always been an intense place and there have been more than a few skirmishes over the years.  One of them, the August, 1976 axe murder incident, resulted in two U.S. soldiers being hacked to death by North Korean guards.  Ironically, the JSA is also called “the truce village of Panmunjom.”

At some point it occurred to me that this would be a good place to set a murder.  Of course, I knew who would be going up there to examine the crime scene, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom.  Then all I had to do was decide who would be murdered, what time of day they would be going up there, etc.  Once I had all that I decided to place the corpse right on the most contested spot in the world—the Military Demarcation Line—and imagined what would happen.  Not difficult. There would be an armed standoff; the North Koreans on one side, the U.S. on the other. Sort of a difficult setting for detectives to exam a crime scene but, undaunted, our boys take up the challenge.

MPS: You have George and Ernie work both a murder and a missing person case.  How did you deal with the challenge of two mysteries?

ML: I like plots and subplots, both as a reader and when I’m writing my own stories.  The challenge is to get them to blend together in some way that’s (hopefully) believable and, more importantly, for their essences to somehow complement one another.  In this case I had the Korean Noh family, who had suffered the grievous loss of their son, in the main plot and the American Cresthill family, experiencing the anguish of marital breakup, in the other.  I hope the two stories worked well together. I was actually contemplating a third subplot; that of the Korean-American lawyer, Corrine Fitch, searching for her birth mother. But it was too much for my meager intellect to work out.  Instead, it remained implied but not fleshed out.

MPS: I felt this book looks at women in both Korean and Army society.  What did you want to explore with the female characters?

ML: Military spouses and other family members often feel isolated.  Sometimes physically, as at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert where the nearest town is forty miles away.  Or at 8th Army headquarters in Seoul. Even though the 8th Army Yongsan Compound sat in the heart of a city of over 10 million souls, that city was South Korea’s capital and a teeming Asian metropolis if there ever was one.  Some of the Americans on base felt as if they were floating on a small raft atop a churning sea. And the military expects those family members (which they call dependents), and especially the wives, to follow a precise and lengthy list of unwritten rules.  Don’t ever dare embarrass your husband, number one. Accompany him to the many and varied command social events where you must smile, smile, smile. Volunteer your time to charities specified by the spouse of the commanding general. Some women rebel, by turning inward.  Others act out. I’ve seen it and it is sometimes not pretty, but always very human.

With Corrine Fitch I had the ambition (probably not realized) of depicting the ambivalence of someone returning to the country of their birth but being fundamentally a stranger.  What must that be like? What questions must arise? I didn’t take that part of the story as far as it needed to go but it still intrigues me.

MPS: How would you describe George and Ernie’s relationship with the Army?

ML: Love/Hate.

What George loves about the army is that it gives him a sense of purpose.  A job with a very specific aim: to solve crime and rescue the innocent.

What Ernie loves about the army is that it encourages him to replace heroin addiction with the perfectly acceptable alternative of alcoholism.  As a bonus, the pomposity of the army brass gives him a world of blowhards to rebel against.

What George hates about the army is their overwhelming bureaucratic desire to cover up any and all bad news.  Especially crime.

What Ernie hates about the army is they make him wear a hat, which he believes is a plot to cut him off from the universe.

MPS: Your latest books have been some of your best.  What has experience lent to your work?

ML: When I started writing, over 30 years ago, I realized immediately that this was a craft or sullen art (to quote Dylan Thomas) in which I would always keep learning—and never master.  I do think my books and short stories are a little better now, mainly because of the help of editors and agents and critics and even the occasional reader. Reader complaints, of which I’ve had some which were extremely bitter, feel like a hot needle shoved into a raw nerve.  However, I crave them. First, it proves that the person read and cared about my work. Second, it gives me a chance to evaluate the criticism and decide whether or not it is valid. Usually, it is. And once that needle sinks into tender flesh, I can never forget it. And the next time, when a similar case arises, I’m prepared to do better.

MPS: North and South Korea have been in the news even more.  What should people in the U.S. know about the culture?

ML: Someone asked me if I wrote The Line because the North Korean crisis is so much in the news lately.  The fact of the matter is that I conceived and wrote the first draft long before Donald Trump ever made his fire and fury or little rocket man comments.  In fact, back then when I started no one imagined he’d ever become president.

Since 1953 the Korean DMZ has always been in crisis.  In January 1968 a North Korean commando unit unsuccessfully attacked the Blue House, the South Korean version of our White House.  In the same month, the North Korean navy committed an act of war by boarding and commandeering the USS Pueblo on the high seas. They held the American crew in a brutal captivity for almost a year.  In April 1969, North Korea shot down an EC-121 US Navy reconnaissance plane, immediately killing 31 sailors. And there have been plenty of violations since then. South Korean military deaths, at least back in those days, were common and many of them went unreported in the international press.  The US Army averaged about one American death at North Korean hands per year.

Now these friendly fellows have the bomb.  I, for one, don’t believe they’ll ever give it up. No matter how many bows and handshakes our president provides.

Culturally, on both sides of the border, the desire for Korean reunification is great, and it’s the official policy of both governments.  From what I’ve read, Kim Jong-un’s goal in life is to reunify the peninsula under his regime. To him, mutual nuclear disarmament means that the US would withdraw our troops from South Korea and remove the South Koreans from the protection of our nuclear umbrella.  Once that happened, I believe, he’d feel free to start bullying the South Koreans and use political and military pressure to gain his aims. He knows that if he did manage to reunify Korea, even under such a brutal totalitarian state as the one he now runs, his place in Korean history as a great hero would be assured.

Meike Reviews Jeff Abbott’s latest

Jeff Abbott is a perennial BookPeople favorite, and his new book doesn’t disappoint. Here, Meike reviews it ahead of Jeff’s visit to the store Thursday, October 25th at 7pm to discuss it.

The Three Beths Cover ImageYou know that feeling you get when you think there might be someone following you? You walk a little faster, and then they walk faster, too? And the faster you go, the faster they go, until at the end it’s straight up race for survival? That’s how Jeff Abbott’s latest standalone, The Three Beths, feels. You’ve been warned.

It’s been a year since Mariah Dunning’s mother Beth vanished from their home in Lakehaven, TX,  a comfortable suburb of Austin. The residents there have known each other for years, so Mariah acutely feels the suspicion that’s fallen on her father Craig. One day she briefly catches sight of a woman who Mariah believes might be her mother, and she becomes more determined than ever to discover the truth to her mother’s disappearance. That’s the only way she can prove not only that Craig didn’t kill his wife, but also that Beth didn’t choose to walk out on her daughter. With the help of a crime blogger, Mariah discovers that two other Lakehaven women disappeared recently—both of them named Beth.

In a story with multiple plot lines like this, the pacing is critical and Abbott hits the mark — each part of the story is revealed subtly and at just the right time. That leaves the reader simultaneously wanting to race to the next clue and trying to slow down so as not to miss any important details. And there are just the right amount of twists and turns to keep things lively without going off the rails.

 

MysteryPeople goes to Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival returns to the capitol in Austin, Texas, October 27th and 28th. MysteryPeople will be representing in three different panel discussions and a section of the Lit Crawl. For those interested, here’s our schedule, and you can visit this page for a complete schedule of events at the Texas Book Festival. 



Saturday:

10-10:45AM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crimes of the Centuries with Steven Saylor & Lou Berney

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery will talk with two authors who have created crime fiction plots linked to two of history’s biggest assassinations. With his latest Gordianus book, The Throne Of Caesar, Steven Saylor has his ancient Roman detective, Gordianus, trying to uncover a conspiracy against the emperor during the Ides Of  March. Lou Berney gives us a mobster on the run when he realizes he was an unknowing part of the Kennedy assassination and finds refuge on the road with a runaway housewife and her two daughters in November Road. They will be discussing how their fictional characters interact with real events and how the crime novel allows them to explore history.

8PM Lit Crawl Noir at the Bar (Chilled to the Marrow) at Stay Gold 

Noir at the Bar returns with some of =festival guests, Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, and Scott Von Doviak, joining our regular Noir at the Bar miscreants Max Booth, Mike McCrarry, and ringleader and emcee Scott Montgomery reading their darkest, nastiest, and funniest crime fiction. This will be a part of many Noir at the Bars going on for the weekend across the country and in London for author Duane Swiercynski, whose daughter is going through a bone marrow transplant in her fight with leukemia. We will be raffling off two special bundles of books to help with the medical bills and you can also give here

Sunday

12-12:45PM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crime and Place with Reavis Wortham & Scott Von Doviak

Scott’s back again talking with two of his author friends who use specific, real locations for their crime novels. Scott Von Doviak’s Charlesgate Confidential uses Boston’s historical building for a crime that leads to several others in three separate decades. Reavis Wortham uses Big Bend National Park for an intricate showdown with his Texas Ranger Sonny Hawk up against a passel of revenge hungry villains in Hawke’s War. Both show all you can do with one space.

2PM – 2:45PM at the Texas Tent: Texas Crime Writers with Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, & Julia Heaberlin

Three of the lone star state’s bestselling crime novelists gather around for a discussion with MysteryPeople contributor Meike Alana. She will lead them through the art of crafting a good thriller, the diversity of Texas settings, and cracking wise. All three are great story tellers in person as they are on the page.

SUPPORTING THE BLUE: REAVIS WORTHAM TALKS ABOUT WRITING, THE ADVANTAGES OF AGE, THE LAW, & HIS LATEST NOVEL

Reavis Worham’s latest in his Red River mystery series, Gold Dust, has the folks who keep the law in nineteen sixties Central Springs, Texas, and their families off in different directions with plots involving a CIA experiment, modern cattle rustles, and a fake gold rush. On October 9th Reavis will be at BookPeople with Melissa Lenhardt (Heresy) to discuss their books, but we grabbed him ahead of time for a few questions.

Image result for reavis worthamMysteryPeople Scott: What aspects of the sixties did you want to explore in Gold Dust?

Reavis Wortham: The initial idea came from the true story of a CIA experiment in 1950 called Operation Sea-Spray, in which a supposedly benign bacteria was sprayed over the city of San Francisco in a simulated biological warfare attack. A number of citizens fell ill with pneumonia-like illnesses, and at least one person died as a result.

So as usual, I wondered, “What if?” What if something similar happened to the tiny northeast community of Center Springs at the end of the 1960s, that complicated decade full of war, civil unrest, and space travel? As in all my novels, I thrust normal people in abnormal situations and watch how the characters respond to an unexpected world of challenges. What happens if someone starts a gold rush in Northeast Texas while at the same time cattle rustlers murder a local farmer in a completely separate incident? How does law enforcement separate these crimes that might be connected?

I’ve heard stories of gold buried and lost in Lamar County, and after the novel came out, I learned of a real gold mine near Chicota, Texas.

So after wandering around a bit with this answer, the truth is I wanted to explore the ultimate question of what Constable Ned Parker would do if his family faces this personal danger from a government he trusts, while at the same time an entire world of mystery swirls around the community. I honestly didn’t know he’d load up with an old friend and head for Washington D.C. to find out who was responsible for nearly killing Top, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Gold Dust (Red River Mysteries #7) Cover ImageMPS: You’re near the end of the decade. How has it affected Center Springs?

RW: Small towns are like small pools or stock tanks, with little exposed on the surface, but if you could peer underwater you’d find an entire hidden world full of beauty and danger. I think of that tiny community as a vortex, the swirling center of situations that involve the characters that have grown through the seven Red River novels. We’re all impacted by our decisions, and oftentimes, the decisions of others.

As I said earlier, the 1960s were packed with significant events that come in from the outside world and involve people who only want to live their lives with as little trauma and drama as possible. When outside influences impact those farmers who live off the land, they respond with force. Center Springs wants to be left alone, but when the world intrudes, it changes the community a little at a time, drawing them into life beyond Lamar County.

The community is scarred from those intrusions, but holds on to the past in many ways, because these were people who survived the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, and are enduring Vietnam. They still raise their own crops, slaughter cattle and hogs for food, and often wear the same style of clothes year after year. They’re hardened even more by the end of the decade, but still hold dear those same senses of family and community they’ve always possessed.

MPS: You brought retired Texas Ranger Tom Bell back. What does he bring to the ensemble?

RW: I left Tom Bell wounded and dying in Mexico at the end of The Right Side of Wrong. Since then, I haven’t been to a signing or speaking event that someone didn’t ask if he was ever coming back. Tom proved to be a favorite character who has his own following and I realized he needed to return from the dead.

He has many of the same moral values as Ned Parker, but he’s darker, more experienced in the outside world, and will step over that gray line between right and wrong when necessary. He’s tough, smart as a whip, experienced in more ways than we have yet to realize, and full of surprises. Tom is that guy who watches, waits, and when necessary, responds in a way that most true Texans appreciate, dispensing justice without remorse, because it’s the right thing to do.

MPS: Ned and Tom, the oldest characters, handle themselves the best. What does age give them over the younger folks?

RW: They handle situations due to their experience as lawmen. The younger characters are on a learning curve, and sometimes hesitate to make dramatic decisions, whereas Ned and Tom will do what’s necessary to protect family and freedom. They’ve already made the mistakes younger people are yet to experience, and operate with that knowledge in the back of their minds.

MPS: You have at least four plots running that the reader follows without any problem. How did you approach those spinning plates?

RW: There are four? Dang. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Honestly, I write these novels without an outline, and simply follow the characters as they stumble through life. When a plot line diverges, I’ll follow it to see what happens. Each chapter is a surprise for us all. I guess if I had to examine what I do, I’ll simply say that by the time I finish a chapter that follows one character or plot line, I want to see what the rest are doing, so I’ll just “change the channel.” It’s satisfying to know that readers can progress without getting lost. That means I’ve done my job.

MPS: Many of your characters are in law enforcement. What do you want to get across about that profession to the reader?

RW: I have a simple philosophy. If you don’t break the law, you won’t find yourself in opposition with those who wear a badge.

Growing up, my grandfather, Joe Armstrong, was the constable in Lamar County Precinct 3. I heard from my parents and grandparents from day one that law enforcement officers were my best friends. I know friends and family members who have been police officers, sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Marshals, and judges. They are all that stands between us and anarchy.

Just look around and see how quickly things can go bad. I support the blue, and though there are always bad apples, or terrible mistakes, these men and women who wear badges have my utmost respect.