Terrance McCauley is one of those authors that have been writing for close to a decade and delivering solid genre writing. He has a western coming out in September and his period detective thriller, The Fairfax Incident, has gotten great reviews, In this piece published in Shotgun Honey, he gives us a unique idea for a career decision.
The Sinners continues Ace Atkins’ southern crime fiction series with Afghan war vet and Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson. His jurisdiction of Tibbehah County is hopping with a murder tied to a nemesis of the previous sheriff, Quinn’s dead uncle. His buddy Boom finds himself working for a questionable trucking company. All his tied to Mississippi queen-pin Fannie. If that wasn’t enough, Quinn’s getting married. Ace will be at BookPeople on July 24th with Megan Abbott with her new book Give Me Your Hand to sign and discuss their latest books and crime fiction. We caught up with him early to catch us up with Quinn.
MysteryPeople Scott: Family plays a big part in the series, but especially in this one, with Quinn going after a criminal family who are in some part a result from the sins of his uncle. You also have him getting married. What did you want to explore?
AA: When I first started this series, I liked the idea of playing with time. Being able to go back into the history of Tibbehah County and seeing the ripple effect of major events really interests me. Or as Mr. Faulkner says, the past is never dead . . .
I hope as the series moves forward to really explore the county — from its founding to the wild days of bootlegging and beyond. The connection to the important – and infamous – families keep us all tied to one big story.
MPS: I was happy to see Boom get a large amount of time as a character. What made you want to put more focus on him?
AA: I figured it was about damn time. Boom has been a supporting figure for far too long. He’s always interested me as a complex man who’s been to hell and back, coming home from Iraq with a horrific injury. I wanted Boom to to have his own story, away from Quinn, and outside Tibbehah County. I’d always like the idea of truckers, a big fan of the trucker films of the 70s, and thought Boom was ideal to take the wheel. I’ve heard about a lot of one-armed truckers who overcame their disability and conquered the road. There was no doubt Boom could do it.
MPS: Fannie grows to be a more complex and interesting character with each book. How did she initially come to creation?
AA: Oh, I love Fannie, too. She’s so much fun to write. She really came from a few places. Most notably Joan Crawford’s performance as Vienna in Johnny Guitar. I also borrowed a lot from a woman named Fannie Belle, a real life madame, I’d written about in one of my True Crime Novels, Wicked City.
I think her role – in the big picture of all the novels – has certainly grown. And her relationship with Quinn and her cohorts in the Dixie Mafia has only gotten more complex. She is a very strong independent woman in a male dominated world of crime. But she proves time and again, she can outsmart them all.
MPS: There is a great balance of the crime plot and the planning of the wedding, that never feels like a B story. What does that part of the book allow you to do with Quinn?
AA: That was really the toughest part of The Sinners for me. I knew Quinn was going to marry Maggie going back to The Fallen. It’s high time for him to get hitched, although he’ll never settle down. But I didn’t want write anything overly sentimental or melodramatic. And that’s hard as hell with a wedding. I think Quinn getting married, and now having a family with a young son, will only make the stories more interesting.
MPS: Do you think marriage means Quinn is settling down or will provide new struggles for him to deal with?
AA: I’d look at Quinn being married like Spenser with Susan Silverman. Just because a man is monogamous doesn’t mean his life is boring. In fact, I find the the bed-hopping hero to be a little old and unbelievable. Maybe in the sixties. But not now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at an author writing a hero who’s irresistible to women.
MPS: You’ll be doing an event with us at BookPeople with Megan Abbott. What makes her a stand-out author to you?
AA: Megan Abbott is simply the best! I admire her writing and her knowledge of the genre a ton. Whether it’s film noir or classic hard boiled heroes, few know more than Megan. We’ve been close friends for a long while and can’t wait to sit down and talk about her novel in Austin. Her latest book — Give Me Your Hand – is just outstanding, gut wrenching and mean as hell. I loved it.
When it comes to portraying the darkest desires of the human heart and the actions they trigger, Megan Abbott writes about them with grace and elegance that creates eerie noir able to completely connect with the reader. Her latest, Give Me Your Hand, uses the backdrop of the science field to look at the danger of ambition and secrets with two researchers reunited in competition for a research project under an esteemed scientist and a shared confidence severed their bond in high school. Megan will be joining Ace Atkins whose new book is The Sinners for an event here Tuesday, July 24th at 7pm.
MysteryPeople Scott: On first glance, the world of science and the lab seem like an atypical setting for noir. What did it allow you to do with the genre?
Megan Abbott: I guess I’ve always thought of labs as spooky places, full of atmosphere. Slick surfaces, dark corners and the body and mortality. Blood. And once I started to read about the hothouse environment in competitive labs, I knew it was perfect.
MPS: What was your biggest take away in researching that world?
MA: The stakes are very high there. I became fascinated about stories of “labotage”—researchers sabotaging one another’s work, mixing up slides, dumping results. And it’s also a world where women are still very much in the minority, making it very complicated for women working in that world…which is what we see with Kit and Diane.
MPS: How did premenstrual dysphoric disorder become the research subject?
MA: Given the lack of funding for research into women’s health issues, I knew I wanted them to be studying a “female” condition. And I began reading about PMDD (AKA extreme PMS)—how calamitous it can be for women who suffer from it, how it can rule their lives. The extreme mood swings, the anger, the despair. I’m always drawn to stories that enable you to explore the way women’s bodies are seen as disruptive, dangerous.
MPS: Diane is one of those noir characters you often use who is part a full-fledged person and part the gaze of the protagonist. Do you have to keep anything in mind when dealing with that kind of character?
MA: What a great question. I think, with those characters, they’re mysteries to me during the first stages of writing the book. And then I slowly uncover their secrets—as I did Diane. And then ultimately, I grow to love them—as I did Diane. And that love is the only way the book works, if it does. I have to fall in love with my mysteries.
MPS: How did you get the name Diane Fleming, since it fits both who she is and what people picture her to be perfectly?
MA: Boy, names are so hard. I usually keep changing the name over and over until one finally sticks, feels right. And I admit, this one just came to me. I hadn’t even thought of its larger resonances, but you’re right!
MPS: I couldn’t help but think Severin’s lab with a pool of smart talented people working on a project by an esteemed professional in the field sounded to me what the writers’ room of “The Deuce” might be like. Did you pull anything from your own experience for Give Me Your Hand?
MA: Haha! I don’t think so. But it was a very male environment for Lisa (Lutz) and me, so maybe there’s something to it!
MPS: You’ll being doing an event with us on July 24th with Ace Atkins, a writer who you are a big fan of. What do you admire about him?
MA: His ability to pound bourbon and talk Burt Reynolds movies until all hours of the night? His good looks and charm? Yes, yes, and yes. But most of all, it’s his books. I’ve read them all, I love them all, and The Sinners is Ace at his best. No one paints a world more vividly than Ace. No one has a richer palette of characters. He’s the best.
Gabino Ingesias is one of our rising talents in the Austin crime fiction scene. He blends his Latin culture with a dead on understanding of where his protagonists are coming from to deliver a muscular, gritty style of writing that holds a dark humanity to it. A perfect example is this nasty little piece recently published in Shotgun Honey.
It’s impossible to talk about Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police mystery series without talking about food and wine. (And it’s equally impossible to read the books without getting hungry!) Set in the Perigord region of France, the novels describe the local culinary traditions in great detail and Bruno’s love of good food and fine wine are integral themes of the book. From his morning croissant to an evening meal featuring copious amounts of duck fat and a few glasses of the local wine, Bruno is a true connoisseur of all that the local farmers have to offer. He’s also deeply invested in the friendships he’s formed, volunteering with local youth and organizing dinners with friends who might not otherwise get to see each other. The Perigord is a region steeped in history (it’s been continually occupied for some 70,000 years) and Walker brings the abundant cultural and comestible traditions to vibrant life.
But don’t be deceived by the seemingly bucolic setting—Walker’s novels aren’t cozies by any means, they’re intricately plotted works teeming with political and international intrigue.
In A Taste for Vengeance, Bruno is adjusting to his new role—instead of being responsible only for the town of St. Denis, his territory will now cover the entire valley and a couple of other jurisdictions. He must navigate a new chain of command while not alienating former peers who now report to him—a delicate balancing act for the modest Bruno.
A friend asks Bruno if he can find out why one of her cooking school students, German tourist Monika Felder, didn’t show up as planned; his investigation reveals that the woman had been travelling with someone other than her husband, a mysterious Irishman presumed to be her lover. When the two turn up dead, the investigation deepens and Bruno learns that the Irishman was operating under an assumed identity and had not only a background in intelligence but also a military connection to Monika’s husband.
Meanwhile, Bruno learns that the star member of the youth rugby team he mentors is pregnant—a development he perceives as potentially catastrophic on the eve of her possible nomination to the national squad.
As always, Walker weaves these disparate plot elements together seamlessly and the reader is treated to a riveting and complex tale of crime while gaining insight into Bruno’s rich and varied personal life.
In July our Murder In The Afternoon book club will continue to work through one of the best current crime fiction series, the Walt Longmire books. For those not familiar, it follows an aging yet capable sheriff who struggles to keep the peace in his Northern Wyoming county as well as get his life back on track after his wife’s death. We will be reading the fifth book, The Dark Horse, where Walt deals with a murder that takes him out of his jurisdiction.
Walt helps out the town of Absalom by jailing a prisoner for them. Mary Barsard has confessed to murdering her husband, but the prescription drugs in her system cause a lack of focus, giving Walt doubts about her guilt. He attempts to go undercover in her small town in the Powder River and find the truth. As he finds it, Walt also finds trouble.
The Dark Horse is a rich blend of mystery and modern western. It deals with the issues of the area, the struggles of women in it, all while subtly examining crime and western fiction. We’ll be able to learn a lot about the book, including the movie that loosely inspired it, with author Craig Johnson calling in to the club. We’ll be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor, Monday, July 16th, a 1PM. The books are ten percent off to those who attend.
A Tooth For A Tooth is Ben Rehder’s latest novel to feature Roy Ballard, a legal videographer operating in Austin with his partner and now fiancé Mia. Roy takes a job to prove fraud in what may be an insurance scam, but finds darker crimes when people start shooting at him. It’s hard to say more about the book without giving away surprises, but both Ben and I tried our best in this interview. Take a look and join us Sunday at 2pm when Ben is here with Reavis Z. Wortham and Billy Kring to talk about their books.
MysteryPeople Scott: I felt A Tooth For a Tooth was one of your more complex mysteries, yet it made crystal clear sense in the unraveling. Did you have it all plotted out before you started?
Ben Rehder: I’ve always started my novels with just an idea and a few characters, but not an outline, so I’m largely making it up as I go along. The good news is, that leads to a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. Glad it made sense in the end!
MPS: I notice that Roy seems more likely to have a gun ready and possibly less trusting. Have past jobs made him more jaded or just more aware?
BR: He’s always had a gun accessible, but it’s probably on his mind more in recent books. I think he has more to lose, and more to protect, now that he’s in a relationship with Mia. He doesn’t want some goon to come along and screw that up! Both of them have had to deal with violent people on several occasions, and now more than ever, Roy wants to be prepared for whatever might come along.
MPS: While he deals with her over the phone, Mia isn’t physically there with Roy at the beginning of the book. Was there a particular reason for that decision?
BR: I wanted Roy to be on his own for a period as he dealt with some personal issues and grappled with some poor decisions he’d made in the past. Some of these involved Mia, and some would certainly impact their relationship.
MPS: Did it present any challenge?
BR: Not particularly, no, and it gave Roy time to put more thought into one particular challenge than he otherwise might have. Hate to be cryptic, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers.
MPS: While you deliver a first rate detective plot, you take time to deal with Roy and Mia’s relationship, and have chapters that deal with the repercussions of the plot, like a wonderful exchange with a neighbor complaining about the shootout. Do you feel these moments are as essential to the story as the plot?
BR: Absolutely. If you build a character well, readers are interested in all aspects of their lives. You also want your reader to understand that your protagonist is human and has moments of self-doubt, like everyone else. Roy struggles with that sort of thing more than he would ever let on. For instance, he doesn’t want to be the guy endangering his neighbors, but at the same time, he’s irritated that the neighbor is making him think about such things.
MPS: Even in your more satirical books, when someone is shot, the act is rarely dismissed. Do you feel an author has a certain responsibility when portraying violence?
BR: To a degree, yes, but less so when the violence is obviously used for farcical or comic effect. It also depends on the context. If I wrote a series in which violence was frequently presented as the solution to most of my protagonist’s problems, I’d feel uncomfortable with that. If one of my characters is tempted to commit violence in a serious scene, I want him or her to struggle with it, before, during, and after. That’s how most people with a conscience would handle it in real life.