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Kelly Whitley is a great practitioner of crime flash fiction. In this story published in A Twist Of Noir, she shows how to set up a seemingly mundane opening that promises something more dangerous and delivers in spades.
Bart and Lana walked into the Four Seasons Hotel. In the Aspen Room, the reception for the new Mr. and Mrs. Blake Potowski was well underway. Guests packed the ballroom, laughing, talking, and dancing. A long table against one wall held a cornucopia of wedding gifts ranging from large boxes festooned with ribbons to demure envelopes containing monetary gifts.
Lana froze in the doorway and gripped Bart’s sleeve. “I think we might be underdressed. Everyone here is decked out for black tie. We look like we don’t belong.”
Looks like winter is going out like a lion instead of a lamb. That’s why Molly and myself are each offering three novels to take you out of the cold and give you a warm vacation – with a little violence of course.
– Scott M
THREE FROM SCOTT M.
Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen
If the South Florida setting doesn’t warm you up, the laughter this book causes will. It starts with dead Shriner found on the beach with a top alligator stuffed down his throat and gets weirder from there. Hiaasen’s first use of the crime novel as a satire on his state pokes fun at those who live and visit there.
The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow
This is the first book to feature Boone Daniels, part time private detective, full time surf bum. Winslow dances with his reader, starting out as a fun action private eye novel, leading you through darker depths, then spinning you back into the light, weaving Southern California history with an engaging plot. You can feel the ocean breezes while reading.
A Death In Mexico by Jonathan Woods
Inspector Hector Diaz looks into the murder of an artist’s model, found in the plaza where a number of American expats live. Diaz takes the investigation over the border with a cute cop helping him go up against the rich and powerful while interfering with his beloved vices. A Death In Mexico is a fun and often funny mystery with a hero who beautifully represents his country.
THREE FROM MOLLY
The Stranger by Albert Camus
There’s nothing like a re-read of The Stranger to make you realize that Camus’ great existentialist novel is also an extremely noir story about murder, and is considered by many to be the founding text of Mediterranean Noir. As the winter storms roll over the plains and into our beautiful city, let Camus’ boiling-hot Algerian sun act as a reminder that heat equates to short tempers and bursts of violence.
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani
When escaping the cold of winter, what better to read than a book set in a desert? Chris Abani’s fantastic exploration of side-show freaks, mad scientists, South African war criminals, and a guerrilla army of atomic bomb radiation survivors may sound a bit like The Hills Have Eyes goes to Vegas, but Abani has written a thoughtful and carefully plotted detective novel that evokes more of Tod Browning’s Freaks or Kathryn Dunn’s brilliant satire Geek Love than C.H.U.D. Let Abani take you on a journey, from the sweltering heat of Vegas, to the stifling oppression of Apartheid-era South Africa, and back again.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
This book does not take place anywhere sunny. Quite the opposite – the icy locales of the Arctic will remind you that Texas winter (especially this one) is a joke in comparison. This is not a book to escape winter, so much as to realize that we have automatically escaped winter, merely by living in Texas. By the end of this novel, you will learn that you in fact have no idea what winter is, nor do you ever wish to find out. Journey from Copenhagen with Smilla, Greenlander, glaciologist, and grim avenger for a murdered child, as she ventures out into the arctic find her vengeance. Prepare to realize just how warm you are, and just how cold you could be.
You can find copies of the above listed books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Trey R. Barker will be joining Lou Berney, Bill Loehfelm, and Jesse Sublett for our Noir At The Bar, this Monday, February 16th, at 7 pm at Opal Divine’s down south. Trey is a great guy and an unflinching author. Like Jim Thompson, he takes a story to to the edge with no fear of falling off in books like Exit Blood and Slow Bleed. You can get a taste of his work in this story for Shotgun Honey.
“He flashed tin and I laughed.
“Why’re you laughing? I’m on the Merit Commission.”
As the junior member of minor commission that handed out minor Sheriff’s Office promotions.
“And?” I said.
“I gotta get home.”
“Road’s closed. Whole town’s closed.”
“I know that.” Red-faced, he shook his badge at me.
“Got some tin, huh?” I made no move to let his minivan through the barricades.
“Your boss – the Sheriff – is a friend of mine.”
Pulling out my cell while my emergency lights cast us in red and blue shadows, I said, “A friend of yours, huh? Well, then let’s call him.”
Two miles in front of us, the entire town seemed to burn, though it was really only the remnants of a freight train. Better than twenty cars had derailed, most filled with ethanol. The fire had been burning for two days now. All of the town’s 350 residents had been evacuated, though only two houses had burned so far. When I was doing a door to door search, I’d found this guy standing in his backyard watching the fire. He adamantly hadn’t wanted to leave.”
This month marks the tenth anniversary of Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish being published. For the last ten years (little over three years in his fictional lifespan with each book representing a season in his life), Walt Longmire, Wyoming sheriff, has appeared in ten books, two novellas, and inspired a television show that even the stupidity of programming executives couldn’t kill. It is interesting that such a traditional, even old fashioned, character becomes one of the more popular heroes for the beginning of the new millennium.
The tension between old and new is what creates much of the drama in the series. Walt may be an old fashioned lawman but many of the crimes, like human trafficking, are not. Those wide open Wyoming spaces have allowed outlaws to practice with little interference until Walt catches wind. When hunting down killers and criminals, very few of his techniques are modern. No CSI, no SWAT, not even a cell phone. Just doggedness and a knowledge of his place, especially its people.
Community is what defines Walt Longmire as a hero. Few authors have dealt with the relationship between a lawman and the society he serves like Craig Johnson has, particularly in the first five books. These five cover an election Walt is running in, yet wondering if he still wants. It helps to set up the political nature of his job. His main skill is knowing who to call upon for assistance. We see it completely at work in Kindness Goes Unpunished, where he is stuck in Philadelphia and has to build a group of allies from the ground up.
The idea of an old school hero also plays into the tension of how Walt taps into the best of western tradition to correct its sins. The fifth book, The Dark Horse, was initially titled “Horses And Women”, a fragment of the western saying “This land is paradise for men and dogs, hell for horses and women.”In it Walt goes to another Wyoming town to help clear a woman charged with murdering her husband. The town seems convinced of her guilt not only because of the frame up, but because she is a woman who stands out.
The responsibility of the present to make up for the past is often seen in Walt’s dealing with American Indians. Walt’s relationship with the American Indian past and present is closely examined with his friendship with chief (no pun intended) ally, Henry Standing Bear. Oddly enough, it is also the source of much of the humor the books’ humor. Walt is both buffer and bridge between his jurisdiction of Absoroka County and the Cheyenne reservation. It’s perfectly fitting that when he’s alone, in desperate straits, a vision of an Indian often helps him. The vision may also be telling him, he’s also more spiritually aware than he realizes.
Craig Johnson has created a man of cohesive paradoxes that we’ve watched play out and with one another. He’s a reclusive man who is saved by his community as much as he has saved it. It is something deals with more as each turn of the earth brings in a new season in his life. Most of all he embodies the the need of his community and its institutions to be strong for individuality to survive and thrive. Here’s to many more years of Walt being able to protect and serve.
You can find all the volumes of Craig Johnson’s Longmire Series on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Mulholland Books is doing a great service by bringing back Dan Simmons’ books featuring ex-con PI Joe Kurtz. The first book, Hardcase, came out last fall. it’s a perfect title in so many ways, introducing you to one of the toughest tough guys to hit the page.
The story begins with Joe’s release from an eleven year stretch for murdering a rapist who killed his partner. He goes directly to Don Byron of the Farino mob. Joe uses the fact that he’s been protecting the don’s son in prison to get a job. The don hires him to find their missing accountant, presumed dead. The search puts him in the middle of a mob war and a battle within the Farino Family itself.
The book is hard boiled heaven. Joe Kurtz is an uncompromising hero in the mold of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Richard Stark’s Parker (It’s alluded to later in the series that he’s Parker’s son.) Whether blasting away at bad men or bedding badder women, Kurtz does it with an uncanny mix of cool and fervor. Simmons is able to give him real emotion without being emotional and creating a believable world around him that avoids the story and style from skirting parody. If there is even a whisper of sentimentality it is quickly hushed.
It is obvious that Simmons is a fan of the genre, creating a homage that has its own original voice.The other two Joe Kurtz books, Hard Freeze and Hard As Nails, will be out this year. Here’s hoping Simmons can conjure up some more dark alleys for Joe to go down.
This January’s Hard Word Book Club discussion will cover the one crime novel that made BookPeople’s top 100 list, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. The third book in his L.A. Quartet, it stands by itself as a noir masterpiece. Those only familiar with the movie have a lot to learn about the rest of the story.
The novel tracks three compromised men in the LAPD during the fifties, brought together through a police brutality scandal, a bloody massacre at a coffee shop, and a serial killer on the prowl. When condensing the story for film, the main plot was removed and many of the characters and relationships were removed, as well as the book’s ending, muting its themes on male identity and brutality. Ellroy took the idea of the hard boiled novel and made it epic.
We will be discussing L.A. Confidential on Wednesday, January 20th, at 7PM on our third floor. The book is 10% off to those who attend. It’s close to five hundred pages so get cracking.
For February we will be discussing Trouble In The Heartland, a collection of short crime fiction inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs, with editor Joe Clifford calling in.
Robert Knott and Mike Blakely join us Tuesday, January 14, at 7 pm, for an evening of Country-Western flavored crime fiction. Robert Knott will be presenting his novel The Bridge, and Mike Blakely will present his latest novel, A Song To Die For.
Robert B. Parker helped bring the western into the twenty-first century with his Southwestern gunfighters Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole. The books fit in the classic tradition of the genre while subtlety subverting it enough for a fresh take. The Bridge, Robert Knott’s third continuation in the series, proves the lawmen still have a lot of territory to ride.
The plot carries strong elements of a thriller, opening with a group of mysterious night riders creating murder and mayhem at a camp building a bridge along the Rio Blanco river. Since Appaloosa is the nearest town, Hitch and Cole are drawn into uncovering what is going on and putting their guns up against one of their most formidable opponents. They also have to deal with a group of traveling performers that come to town that include a beautiful fortune teller that Hitch gets involved with.
Knott knows just the right amount of emotion to bring to the story. Being an actor and script writer, he knows what’s not on the page is just as important as what is. He uses humor and the laconic nature of their friendship to express how his characters feel. He also gives them a group of villains that put them more on edge.
The Bridge gives us everything we love about the Hitch & Cole series, including the wonderful dry dialogue and the bond of two men who have had each others’ back in years of violent situations. Knott delivers on these and goes deeper in the authenticity of period and the characterization of the two. The two gunmen are in good hands.
Copies of the above listed books are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Brad Taylor’s latest Taskforce novel, No Fortunate Son, has the leads Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill kicked out of the secret military team, but called into action when several family members of government power players are kidnapped by a group with a mysterious agenda. Brad will be joining us again on January 7th at 7 pm and will be speaking and signing his new book. He was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of time.
MysteryPeople: What made you decide to fire Pike and Cahill at the beginning of the story?
Brad Taylor: While the books are each stand-alone, they live in a universe I’ve created. Pike went a little nuts in Days of Rage, basically telling the Taskforce to screw off while he executed his own agenda. That agenda ended up saving a lot of lives, but in the real world, it would have repercussions. It would have been disingenuous of me to completely forget the actions in the previous book when starting this one. While the Taskforce and the Oversight Council are both fictitious, I’ve worked real world operations in this arena, and that activity would not go unchallenged. It seemed to be the natural evolution of what would happen.
MP: What kind of challenges did it present you as a writer?
BT: Honestly, not a whole lot. I just took what the “reality” was and worked it from there. It made writing a little difficult in places because I would have really liked to use some Taskforce assets, but I (Pike and Jennifer) didn’t have them, so I had to do a little extra research to figure out what they COULD use. It’s really nothing more than what happens in the real world. People see Hollywood movies and think Operators have this giant canvas of capability – and they do – but sometimes you work with nothing, wondering why someone didn’t think ahead.
MP: I really loved the banter between Cahill and Pike. Other than extra fire power, what does she provide for Pike in the books?
BT: Originally, she was Pike’s moral compass, because his was a little broken, but she (and he) are starting to grow beyond that now. I continually strive to show the evolution of the characters, and she’s definitely the one who changes in No Fortunate Son. It’s a little chauvinistic to say “what does she bring Pike in the books”, because – if anything – half the time she’s solving the problem all on her own. I sometimes get comments about how I’d created her for “the female reader”, and I always chuckle. Far from writing for a specific demographic, I had no idea I’d even be published. I just wrote what I thought I’d like to read, and Jennifer was in it from the start. My publisher calls the series “Pike Logan Thrillers”, but in my mind, it has always been Pike and Jennifer. Pike brings as much to her as she does to him.
MP: These are some of your best villains. How did they come about?
BT: The nugget for the manuscript actually came about because of the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl. We’d been trying to recover him since 2009, putting in significant effort, and he was basically a nobody – with a serious cloud over his head as to why he’d gone missing. I’d wondered what would happen if someone connected to the political establishment had been taken. After all, a host of political elites have or had family in the military including our own vice president’s son, Senator John McCain’s son and Governor Nikki Haley’s husband. As a starting point, I wanted to move away from Islamic terrorism. I’ve studied the phenomena of terrorism for most of my adult life, and before the rise of al Qaida, ISIS, and others, there was the IRA. I decided to go that route for a change of venue. It took some work figuring out what they were doing in the modern landscape, but I think it was worth it.
MP: This book is probably my favorite of the series because the situation creates a grittier street level story reminiscent of a private eye novel. I know you’re a fan of crime novelists like Robert Crais. Would you like to try your hand at writing something more along those lines?
BT: You really hit the nail on the head. I love a good crime story, and I think that infuses my writing more than I care to admit. It’s just fun to read – and I’m a reader before I’m a writer. As for trying my hand more along those lines, I think that’s what I’m doing. Why can’t a counter-terrorism force do the same thing? They aren’t chasing a bank robber, but they ARE chasing a serial killer in the form of a terrorist. Truthfully, that’s exactly what they do anyway. A roadside bomb goes off, and four soldiers are killed. The pieces of the bomb are evacuated, and a signature is found from a specific bomb-maker. The explosives used have a signature that identifies where it came from. Special operations command uses all of this to target the bomb maker. It’s not a crime story with CSI from Miami, but it IS a crime story, and I enjoy writing it as such.
MP: As someone who spent much of his life in the military and now writes about it, what do you want your readers to take away about those in the service?
BT: I guess the biggest thing would be that they’re human, and have human emotions. Too often Special Forces guys are portrayed as robots, making decisions that are either always correct, or have no impact on the soldier. Combat is not a clean-cut thing, and the enemy gets a vote. Soldiers make decisions with the ultimate stake on the line – someone’s life – and they have to decide in the span of time it takes a rifle to cycle a round. Sometimes that decision is based on their own men’s survival, and sometimes it’s based on a perceived threat that may or may not be real, with a civilian’s life potentially in the balance. The decision is made, and there is an outcome. Unfortunately, it isn’t Hollywood. It’s real life, and sometimes that decision is wrong. The men and women in the arena have to live with that decision for the rest of their lives. It’s not a video game with a do-over, and I try to show that in my writing. Pike’s not perfect, and neither are the men he serves with, but they damn sure try to be. And that’s all we can ask of them.
Copies of No Fortunate Son are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Brad Taylor joins us Wednesday, January 7, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s 2nd floor. If you can’t make it to the event, you can pre-order a signed copy of his latest – just go to the event page and we’ll tell you all about it.
Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, Eleven)
This was quite a full year for crime fiction. Raymond Chandler came back and Moe Prager left. Emerging voices like Benjamin Whitmer and Matthew McBride made a stand and veterans like James Ellroy came back. Matt Scudder was in a great movie and the poster couple for toxic marriage in Gone Girl got beautifully adapted. Needless to say it was difficult to make a top 10 list, so I found a way to shoehorn in eleven.
1. Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
This book, following the dark criminal adventures of a tree cutter in disaster sites in mourning for his son, is a perfect piece of brutal poetry. Raw in its emotion, it speaks to and for the people society pushes to the margins. I plan to read this book at least every ten years for the rest of my life.
2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman
The final Moe Prager novel deeply involves Coleman’s recurring theme of identity in a way that forces one of the most human private detectives ever put on the page to deal with his own concept of self. A pitch perfect swan song.
3. The Fever by Megan Abbott
Mysterious seizures hit a group of high school girls, causing hysteria in an upstate new York town. Abbott blends mystery, horror, and coming of age, digging emotionally deep into community, family, and female friendship with an aching and dark mood.
4. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride
A masterpiece of rural crime fiction. When a Missouri sheriff’s deputy steals $72,000 out of a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of weakness, it sets the spark that sends a corrupt county up into flames. A relentless novel that moves like a muscle car on an open road.
Both of these books tapped into the emotional core of their stories with poignancy while still delivering a bad-ass hard-boiled tale. Lehane’s lonely bartender being batted about by the mob and Tafoya’s damaged U.S. marshal who has to fight the mob off are characters who will stay with you for some time.
6. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames
The second Samuel Craddock novel has the retired police chief looking into the murder of a disabled war veteran. As he investigates, Samuel becomes a witness to the sins of his town and society in this moving mystery.
7. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz
A tension filled thriller that effectively uses early Eighties Time Square as a backdrop in all its seedy glory. Kurtz uses grind house theaters, peepshows, and greasy spoons like Hitchcock used Mount Rushmore and The Statue Of Liberty.
8. The Forsaken by Ace Atkins
The fourth Quinn Colson novel has the Mississippi sheriff dealing with race issues, biker gangs, county Kingpin Johnny Stagg, and an old crime connected to his father who disappeared years ago. Entertaining dialogue and action with strong thematic undercurrents.
9. The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor
A great thriller with vivid characters and a plot that ties a modern treaty signing to an event during The French Revolution. Further proof of why Pryor’s Hugo Marston is one of the best new heroes.
10. After I’m Gone by Laura Lipman
Lippman looks at the disappearance of a shady businessman through the wife, daughter, and murdered mistress he left behind. Lippmann uses the lives of these ladies as a clever window into family, class, religion, and feminism in the last half of the twentieth century.
Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via.
-post by Molly
As the year comes to a close, it is time to compile as many lists as possible of our favorite books of the year. Here are my top ten – you’ll see quite a bit of overlap between my top ten international list and this one, but I’ll also profile a few books from inside the states. You may notice a paucity of female authors – one of my New Year’s resolutions is to read more female mystery writers, so you will see more on the list next year. The following books are in no particular order of preference – all are equally fantastic.
1. In The Morning, I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty
McKinty brings his Troubles Trilogy to a (literally) explosive close as Detective Sean Duffy gets assigned by British secret service to track down an old classmate turned IRA bigwig.
2. The Fever by Megan Abbott
Abbott takes on middle class paranoia and the dangerous lives of adolescent girls in this modern update to the Salem Witch Trials. Teenage girls are falling ill in a small, polluted New England town and parents, teenagers, and the CDC work to find the cause before the contagion can spread.
3. Laidlaw by William McIlvanney
McIlvanney wrote this early Tartan Noir in the mid-1970s, and several decades later, it’s back in print and available on our shelves. DI Laidlaw is a dour but compassionate man, working to find a criminal and put him in custody before a murdered girl’s family can take their own revenge.
4. The Day of Atonement by David Liss
Liss takes a break from his Benjamin Weaver character to take us into a stand-alone tale of revenge best served cold – a Jewish Count of Monte Cristo, if you will. A young converso, after fleeing to England, embraces his Jewish heritage and returns to Lisbon to visit revenge upon the inquisitor who betrayed his family.
5. The Good Life by Frank Wheeler
Wheeler takes us deep into the messed-up head of a corrupt Nebraskan sheriff taking control of the drug trade in his small town. As the body count got higher, my willingness to ever visit rural Nebraska got steadily lower. But hey, that’s what people think of Texas, too.
6. Ghost Month by Ed Lin
Ed Lin sets his latest novel in Taipei’s historic Night Market as a college dropout/food vendor tries to find out who killed his ex- girlfriend. Full of vast conspiracies, bizarre foods, and a whole lot of Joy Division lyrics, Ghost Month is the best kind of international noir.
7. Last Winter, We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura
A reporter is assigned to write a book on a photographer imprisoned for burning his models alive in a quixotic attempt to capture their essence. As the reporter learns more about the photographer and the photographer’s sister, he begins to question the nature of reality while at the same time getting ever closer to discovering the pair’s nefarious secrets. The most literary noir I’ve read this year.
8. Rose Gold by Walter Mosley
Walter Mosley’s long-running protagonist Easy Rawlins returns to the page in this wild romp through the swinging sixties and the nascent Black Power movement. Mosely creates a sympathetic portrayal of characters marginalized by society and once again immerses us in his diverse vision of historic Los Angeles.
9. The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
This was my favorite debut of the year. Rader-Day crafts an intricate mystery set in the echoing halls of the Ivory Tower, addressing school violence, battles over funding, and just about every other collegiate controversy you can name. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
10. The Final Silence – Stuart Neville
Stuart Neville has actually written a believable serial killer narrative set in Northern Ireland and seamlessly integrated into the history of the Troubles. I thought it couldn’t be done, and I was wrong. Thank you, Mr. Neville.
Honorable Mention: The Secret History of Las Vegas, by Chris Abani
I just started reading this one, so I don’t want to put it on the official list, but judging by the first ten pages, this will be one of the most beautifully written mysteries I have ever read. Given the psychopathic crimes, conjoined twins, and Las Vegas setting, this will also be one of the creepiest.
Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via.