Crime Fiction Friday: “Two Guys Come Through the Door with Guns” by Karen Heuler

11246Pressed to find a good short piece of crime fiction, we went to a reliable source: Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder site, where authors have to write a crime story in less than 750 words. Author Karen Heuler used the format for this often funny, existential yarn about the goons you hire to go through a door.

About the Author: Karen Heuler‘s stories have appeared in over one hundred literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, such as Conjunctions,Tin HouseWeird Talesand a number of Best Of anthologies. She has received an O. Henry Award, and has been a finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the Bellwether Award, the Shirley Jackson short story award, and others. She has published four novels and a novella, and her fourth story collection, The Clockworm and Other Strange Storieswas recently published by Tartarus Press.

Shotgun Blast From the Past: “The Long-Legged Fly” by James Sallis

9781641291439_998ceJames Sallis’ Lew Griffin series is one of the most respected in private eye fiction. Following the life of a black New Orleans private detective turned writer and teacher, it probes race, family, and politics with literary gravitas. Sallis has described working on the books as a poet and short story writer learning how to write a detective novel. That is definitely apparent in the first book, The Long-Legged Fly.
The book is basically four stories, each set in a decade of Lew Griffin’s life. Some aren’t even long enough to be considered novellas. The first has Lew tracking down a missing activist in 1964. He’s in search of a runaway in the seventies, a friend’s son in the eighties, and pulled back into being a detective to find his own in the nineties. Many of these stories examine human frailty, including Griffin’s own. There is something missing in these missing persons and he often carries their weight.
Sallis’ skills as a poet are put to use. In the opening chapter, he uses the sound of an oil derrick outside his office to repeat effect as Lew discusses the case with his client. Descriptions of New Orleans and its people float on top of the city’s thick bayou air. Only Reed Farrel Coleman, another poet turned crime writer, rivals him in description and emotion.
The key to the novel is Lew Griffin, himself. Sallis gives the character the kind vulnerability that you find in a classic R&B tune that pulls us in. We are with Lew, even at his worst. We know he can handle these mean streets, but they’re breaking his heart, if not his bones.
It has been said that the Lew Griffin books are more novels about a private detective than private detective novels. Lew Griffin is a character who lets you in, but holds back enough with you wanting to know more. Sallis sets him up beautifully in The Long-Legged Fly.

The Long-Legged Fly is available for purchase in-store and online now from BookPeople.

Murder in the Afternoon Goes to England!

9781616954079_0115eThe first pick for the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club is in! We will discuss a book that takes us back almost a hundred years — Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. This first novel, featuring the post-World War I London detective, is one of the most popular series in MysteryPeople.
The book, much like the series, is a mix of historical fiction and  mystery with a unique and plucky heroine at its center.
Masie is a former housemaid who was taken under the wing of her socially progressive boss and given an education that  was interrupted by the war. On return to service, she becomes a private investigator. Her first case takes her to an island for mutilated veterans that none of them return from.
The group should be bringing it to our discussion. We have a couple of hardcore fans of the series and a historian in the mix.
Join us on at 2PM, Monday, January 20th on BookPeople’s third floor. The book is 10% off to those who plan to attend.

Watching the Detectives: Austin Talent

Rounding out our group of authors and experts for discussion on private eye fiction, Watching The Detectives, Saturday January 11th at 2PM, we have some of our local talent. Laura Oles writes about Jamie Rush, a skip tracer who operates out of a Gulf Coast town. Jeff Vorzimmer is a writer, crime fiction expert, and editor who has put together The Best Of Manhunt collection as well as A Trio Of Beacon Books, that focuses on the lurid “expose” paperbacks.

laura-oles-225x300-1From Laura Oles:

Isabel (Izzy) Spellman: Isabel Spellman has been described as “the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy,” which is one of the many reasons I love this character. As a licensed investigator in her family’s firm, she’s extremely capable and sharp, even as she navigates the pitfalls that come from working with her dysfunctional family. Her cleverness has an edge that keeps me turning the pages, and her sarcasm always sticks the landing. 

V I WarshawskiI’m drawn to a strong and complex female protagonist, and VI absolutely fills this role. She doesn’t apologize for who she is and how she makes her way in the world. VI is skilled in a street fight, appreciates Torgiano red wine and doesn’t suffer fools. What’s not to love?

Tess Monaghan:  I discovered Tess during a time when my career required a great deal of travel. I picked up Baltimore Blues and never looked back. Tess’s investigative journalism background and her balance of strength and compassion compelled me to continue with the series. Laura Lippman gives us such a layered and authentic view of Baltimore through Tess’s eyes. And Tess ventured to go where few female detectives have dared—motherhood.

Jim Rockford:. When I think about private detectives on television, my mind always goes to Jim Rockford. Maybe because he kept me company in my childhood. An ex-con who served time in San Quentin and then was later pardoned, he ran his investigative business out of a mobile home in LA and preferred fishing to most other pursuits. His father never felt being a PI was a real job, and the fact he was often getting shorted by clients didn’t help his end of the argument. Jim Rockford was fallible at times, skilled at working cold cases but not always coming out on top in a brawl. He rarely used his gun. He was human, and I find that particularly appealing. And that theme song is pretty catchy, too.


15377465From Jeff Vorzimmer:

Chip Harrison: Okay, so, technically the first two Chip Harrison novels aren’t detective novels, or even crime novels for that matter. It isn’t until Chip goes to work for private detective Leo Haig—a Nero Wolfe wannabe—that Chip himself could be said to do any detective work. In book three Haig hires Chip to be his amanuensis, à la Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin. The books are written with the byline of Chip Harrison, as if they are autobiographical, but Chip Harrison was eventually revealed to be Lawrence Block. I had Larry Block sign my copy of No Score, the first book. After he signed it, I glanced down at the title page to make sure he didn’t sign it “Chip Harrison”.

Harry Fanin: Probably another odd choice. David Markson wrote in a variety of genres. He wrote the western, The Ballad of Dingus Magee, but unfortunately only two detective novels, both featuring private detective Harry Fanin. The books Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat were written in 1959 and 1961, respectively, and set in Greenwich Village. Think Johnny Staccato or Peter Gunn, with every bit as many beatnik characters. Stylish and cool with beautiful covers by Robert McGinnis.

Shell Scott: As politically-incorrect as you can get these days. So, I read them as an escape back to the days before anyone worried about such things. I don’t think many people read Shell Scott anymore, but hey, I think something’s lost. After all, how many of today’s private eyes swing naked on a vine onto a move set? None but Richard Prather’s Shell Scott.

Johnny Staccato: My favorite TV detective. Unfortunately Staccato only lasted one season (1959-60). Played by John Cassavetes, Staccato was not only a private eye, but a pianist in a Greenwich Village jazz club as well. He was cool and suave like Cassevetes himself. In his own private eye novel, Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon’s PI Doc Sportello praises Staccato as “the shamus of shamuses,” ranking him right up there with Marlowe and Spade.

You can hear more from Oles and Vorzimmer at the Watching the Detectives panel this Saturday, January 11th at 2PM on BookPeople’s Third Floor.

Watching the Detectives: Favorites of Matt Coyle and Billy Kring

81enf2yoldl._sy500_On Saturday, January 11th, 2PM we will be hosting Watching The Detectives: A Discussion Of Private Fiction on Bookpeople’s Third Floor.

We will have six experts in the genre, whether authors, historians, booksellers, or combination. I asked each one to list three of their favorite detectives in books and at least one in film or TV. Today we will be sharing the favorites of Billy Kring and Matt Coyle, who write about West Coast detectives. Billy uses L.A. as the stomping ground for Ronnie, struggling actor who pays the the bills as a detective. Matt uses San Diego for his haunted Rick Cahill, but took him to Santa Barbra in his latest, Lost Tomorrows, facing his past. Both also seem to share a love for the ultimate L.A. detective film, Chinatown.

Lost Tomorrows (2019) author, Matt Coyle

Matt Coyle

Detective #1: Philip Marlowe. A PI that lived by his own code. The touchstone (from several Raymond Chandler novels and stories).

Detective #2: Lew Archer. The melancholy detective who knew that family secrets are the darkest (from Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer series).

Detective #3: Easy Rawlins. The P.I. without a paper badge (from Walter Mosely’s Easy Rawlins series).

Detective #4: Elvis Cole. The World’s Greatest Smart-Ass Detective (From Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole & Joe Pike series).

For my big screen PI’s:

Jake Gittes (from 1974’s Chinatown). Tried to do the right thing in a city full of wrong.

Jim Rockford (from TV’s The Rockford Files). Could lead with his chin and get up off the floor.


Hunter’s Moon (2017) author, Billy Kring

Billy Kring

Detective #1: Spenser. Because his stories are so well written, and the dialogue is second (barely) only to Elmore Leonard. Plus, of course, his returning cast of characters! (From Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels)

Detective #2: Elvis Cole. Best plotting in the modern PI writer’s world. Great characters, and a sidekick (Joe Pike) who is a great compliment to Elvis, similar to Hawk with Spenser. (From Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole & Joe Pike novels).

Detective #3: Travis McGee. Iconic. A thoughtful protagonist who is an unlicensed PI, who can respond with deadly resolve when the need arises. His partner, Meyer, is a reflective sounding board for Travis and helps the reader follow the internal dialogues with a lot of entertainment. The books are slightly dated (takes place in the 60s and 70s), but still outstanding, with terrific prose. (From John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee novels)

My movie PI, JJ Jake Gittes, in Chinatown. This Oscar-winning film has Jack Nicholson as Gittes, and he shines as an ordinary investigator involved in an extraordinary series of events. So many layers in this well-written script! This is one of those “gotta see” type films.

Catch Coyle and Kring this Saturday, January 11th at 2PM where they’ll be joined by an assortment of mystery writers and editors to discuss PI fiction in a conversation moderated by BookPeople’s own Scott M. Join the fun on the third floor. 

An Interview with Jay Brandon

from-the-grave-cover-2_origJay Brandon introduced us to Edward Hall, a once hot shot Houston lawyer, now disbarred, in his legal thriller Against the Law.
He has come back for a second time, in From The Grave, with a chance to practice again. The only problem is that he knows he has to lose the kidnapping case he’s asked to take, since the victim was the D.A.’s sister and the more he works, the more he believes his client to be innocent.
Jay will be at BookPeople at BookPeople January 10th at 7PM to discuss and sign From The Grave and was kind enough to take the stand.

Scott Montgomery: Had you planned to go back to Edward Hall after Against The Law?

Jay Brandon: I had no plans for Against the Law to be anything but a stand-alone.  It didn’t even seem like the beginning of a series, because the premise was Edward Hall was disbarred from the practice of law.  Essentially he’s pretending to be a lawyer again, because his sister needs him. But that book was successful enough that the publisher wanted a sequel.  I realized since Edward did well in that first book he might get a chance to come back to practicing law

SM: How did the premise of being asked to “lose” a case come about?
JB: For a suspense/mystery novel to be good, you have to put as much pressure on the main character as possible.  Character develops under pressure. Edward could probably only begin his comeback as a criminal defense lawyer with the blessing of the District Attorney, who was not his friend in the first book.  So I gave her a motivation to agree: the victim of the kidnapping is the D.A.’s sister, and Edward is asked to defend the man she’s accused. So the D.A. has to remove her and her office from the case, but she still wants as much control over it as possible.  She and Edward both know he needs to keep her happy to have any chance of getting his law license back. Plus this development gave me the opportunity to have a special prosecutor character, who adds interest herself.
SM: The case takes Hall into Houston society. What did you want to explore in that culture?
JB: In the first novel Edward and his sister came from a wealthy, prominent Houston family, just because I’d never set anything in that world before, and also because it made Edward’s fall from grace even worse.  This time, because the victim and her husband are also from that society, I needed to explore that a little, which was fun. I created more of a past for Edward, including an old friend who knows all the gossip.  I knew a little about that society from having lived in Houston at one point and from going back for book events, sometimes in people’s homes. I decided really to explore Houston in this novel, setting locations all over the place.  My agent, who’s from Boston, said it made Houston seem interesting to her for the first time.
SM: Do you think there is anything unique to practicing law in Houston or Texas in general?
JB: There are unique aspects to practicing law in every county.  Houston certainly has its own particular aspects. Size, for one thing.  It’s far and away the most populous county in Texas, so it has the most courts, judges, and lawyers.  There are intricacies to practicing in a place that big, in a Criminal Justice Center that’s more than twenty stories tall.  But it’s the characters who make any story interesting. Edward has a past and knows other people’s histories too.
SM: There is a great reveal at the end of the novel. Were you aware of it before you started writing?
JB: Usually I have a book plotted out well enough before I start writing that I know what’s going to happen at the end.  This time, though, the big reveal at the end didn’t come to me until I was at least two-thirds of the way through writing the novel.  As more and more about the characters and the story revealed themselves to me, I had the revelation. Ironically, I found that subconsciously I had already laid the groundwork for it.
SM: Do you have future plans for Edward Hall?
JB: Yes, the publisher has asked me for another book and I’ve sent them a proposal.  I met my editor at this year’s Bouchercon in Dallas, told him the idea, and he likes it.  This one involves high school, which is all I’ll say. Another fraught world I’ve never explored in writing.

Jay Brandon’s From the Grave is available for purchase in-store and online now. And don’t miss your chance to see Brandon when he stops by BookPeople this Friday, January 10th at 7PM where he’ll read from, discuss, and sign From the Grave.

3 Picks for January

MysteryPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott M., kicks your year off the right way: with three new releases that are sure to get your heart bumpin’. Read on for more on these top picks.

The Ninja Daughter by Tori Eldridge
This book introduces us to a heroine I hope to follow for a long time. Lily Wong learned the skills of a ninja to avenge her sister and now uses them to help women in trouble with bad men. Eldrige grounds the pulp aspects of the book into something believable and human, giving us a fun mix of paperback action and Raymond Chandler with a feminist twist.
From The Grave by Jay Brandon
Edward Hall gets a chance to be reinstated as an attorney as .long as he takes a kidnapping case he is expected to lose since the victim is the D.A.’s sister. The only problem is he soon  realizes his client could be innocent and the case is linked to another crime. Brandon gets the details and culture of the court down to fascinating details. Jay Brandon will be signing and discussing From The Grave Friday, January 10th, 7PM at BookPeople.
The Wild One by Nick Petrie
Peter Ash, the former marine suffering from PTSD in Petrie’s series, travels to Reykjavik to locate a boy believed to be kidnapped by his father, discovering a government plot and several people out to kill him. Petrie mixes up a solid formula thriller that examines the nature of violence while it dishes a lot of it out.

These titles are available for purchase and pre-order from BookPeople now!