MysteryPeople Review: THE LAST GOOD GIRL by Allison Leotta

  • Review by Event Staffer and MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781476761114Allison Leotta’s latest thriller, The Last Good Girl, tackles a subject that’s been getting a lot of attention—campus rape and the powerful effect it has on victims and their families. Leotta knows her topic and it shows—she was a federal sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, DC before leaving the Justice Department to pursue a full-time writing career.

Emily, a freshman at Tower University in Detroit, is missing. She was last seen leaving a bar around midnight on a Friday; security video shows her running towards a fraternity the students call “The Rape Factory,” being chased by a fellow student named Dylan.

But these aren’t just ordinary students–Emily is the daughter of university president Barney Shapiro; Dylan is the son of state lieutenant governor Robert Highsmith, one of the most powerful political figures in the state. Just a few short months prior to her disappearance, Emily had accused Dylan of rape.

Assistant US Attorney Anna Curtis is called in to find Emily, but her investigation hits a wall. The grainy video footage seems to be the only clue; though it suggests Dylan was involved in Emily’s disappearance, Anna can’t seem to find any additional evidence. Dylan’s Beta Psi fraternity brothers close ranks and won’t discuss the case. The Highsmith family’s powerful lawyers try to prevent Anna from asking Dylan any questions. Emily’s father seems more concerned with protecting the university’s reputation than in finding Emily.

Then Anna finds a video log that Emily had recorded for a class assignment, and she learns the particulars of Emily’s rape accusation. It seems that Dylan may be a sexual predator and that Emily isn’t the first girl he’s attacked. The more Anna learns, the more it seems they aren’t dealing with a simple disappearance and that Emily may never be found.

The Last Good Girl is Leotta’s 5th novel featuring federal prosecutor Anna Curtis. She’s a brilliant, tough investigator who is dealing with emotional turmoil in her personal life. Leotta has created a complex, fascinating character.

You can find copies of The Last Good Girl on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Mysterypeople Q&A with Larry D. Sweazy

  • Interview by Event Staffer and MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

See Also, Deception is Larry D. Sweazy’s second book to feature indexer Marjorie Trumaine. This time she uncovers dozens of her small North Dakota town’s secrets as she looks into a librarian’s apparent suicide. MysteryPeople’s Meike Alana caught up with Larry about the book, its setting, and the lead character.

 

Meike Alana: Marjorie is an incredibly strong, resourceful, independent woman—particularly given her environment of living in a small, rural farm community. What was your inspiration for the character? Was she based on a particular person in your life?

Larry Sweazy: I was raised by a single mother until I was ten years old. My mother supported the three of us kids the best she could on her own, and with the help of family, of course. My grandmother was diminutive in size (4’9”), but big when it came to heart and strength. So my early role-models were two very strong, determined women. I’m sure some of the traits I witnessed as a boy went into creating Marjorie. But I also think that the era and the setting are also a huge part of character building. Marjorie was a Depression baby, so she was impacted by that time of strife, as well as the uncertainty of the farming life. The weather of the plains that she had to endure through the years helped to form her character, too. Winters in North Dakota are not for the weak of spirit or strength, especially when all you have to rely on is a wood stove and your wits in frequent blizzards and brutal subzero temperatures.

“I also think that the era and the setting are also a huge part of character building. …Winters in North Dakota are not for the weak of spirit or strength, especially when all you have to rely on is a wood stove and your wits in frequent blizzards and brutal subzero temperatures.”

MA: You do an incredible job of conveying the loneliness and desolation of the North Dakota plains. How did you decide to base the series there?Read More »

MysteryPeople Q&A with Steve Hamilton

  • Interview and Introduction by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

We’re only to the end of May, but I’m already sure that our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, The Second Life Of Nick Mason, is one of the best books of the year. In Hamilton’s latest, the title character gets released from prison twenty years earlier than scheduled, but is given a cell phone that he has to answer at any time and do whatever he is told to from the person on the other end. We caught up with the author, Steve Hamilton, to talk about the book and his approach to writing. He also has a question for our readers.

 

“Heroic is all a matter of perspective, I think. If you follow a main character throughout a book or a series and you find yourself rooting for him to succeed, and find yourself admiring certain essential traits that the character possesses… Does that make him heroic?”

MysteryPeople Scott: The Second Life of Nick Mason is built on a great premise. How did it come about?

Steve Hamilton: It really started from a simple desire to try something new. After ten books with Alex McKnight, I was itching to try something completely different, just as I had done with Michael the young safecracker in The Lock Artist. But in this case, I wanted to develop a fully committed career criminal, and see if I could still create that bond with the reader – just like the great Donald Westlake did with Parker, one of my favorite series ever. If you think about this impossible situation Nick Mason is in, having to keep his end of the deal he made when he was released from prison… There’s just no easy way out.

MPS: This is one of those well-crafted crime novels where everything – plot, characters, and theme – fall perfectly into place by the end. How much do you plan your novels out in advance?

SH: Well, thanks for the compliment, first of all. My own approach has evolved over the years. Where I would once just start a book and then see where it went, I’ve become much more disciplined now. I really want to know where the book is going before I start, so I can concentrate on making every scene count.

“I wanted to develop a fully committed career criminal, and see if I could still create that bond with the reader – just like the great Donald Westlake did with Parker, one of my favorite series ever.”

Read More »

Guest Post: Terry Shames on Writing About Texas as a Lone Star Expat

As we continue on with essays by Texas crime fiction writers in celebration of Texas Mystery Writers Month, we turn to Terry Shames, who will be teaching at our free workshop coming up this Saturday, May 21st, from 9:30 AM – 4 PM. Here Terry discusses writing about her home state as a Lone Star expat.

  • Guest post from Terry Shames

James Joyce said of writing about Dublin, “if you wanted to succeed, you had to leave—especially if success meant writing about that place in a way it had not been written about before.” He writes about Dublin as a setting where he felt constrained by the essence of the place that was so much itself. I wouldn’t think of comparing myself as a writer to James Joyce, but I understand what he meant and I feel in a visceral way the truth of what he said in my writing about Texas.

“The Two dog is about as low a dive as you’ll find. Fifteen feet outside the city limits, it looks like it was built of rotten lumber that someone discarded after tearing down the oldest house in town…The interior is strung with blue lights hind the bar. It has a dance floor big enough for two couples and an old- fashioned jukebox.” A Killing at Cotton Hill

When I first spread my wings as a writer, I was already out of Texas. I wrote short stories, most of them in an imaginary town I called Jarrett Creek, Texas. The characters lived and breathed the air of Jarrett Creek. Based on the town where my grandparents lived when I was a child, Jarrett Creek seemed a natural setting when I began a mystery series. It was familiar, it was in my blood, and it offered a place I had observed my whole life, and now had some separation from.

Jarrett Creek is not singular. I get emails from people all over the country saying, “This book could be set in my town.” Does that mean the smell of the railroad tie plant that still permeates the town of Jarrett Creek is the same in a town in Indiana? Does it mean that the paralyzing heat and humidity occur in small-town Pennsylvania? Do other towns have water that tastes like iron, and have red soil that stains your hands? Do they have the snakes, the fire ants, useless soil, the drought and flooding rains?

“The backyard is as scrubby as the front, with exhausted patches of grass barely holding their own in the red dust. There’s a big hulk of a barn…The heat shimmers off the roof, the glare piercing…” The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake

I think what my readers mean is that someplace has entered their subconscious, and resides there and my books call up that place for them. As a writer, deep memory is what drives my understanding of “place” in Texas. If as a writer I am able to impart the romance, the reality, and the spirit of a place through prose, it translates for the reader into their own known landscapes. .

It’s possible that had I not left Texas I would have been able to describe it well enough, but I think there is a certain romance that creeps in when you haven’t lived in a place you loved for a long time. Nostalgia creates yearning, and that drives my poetic feel for the smell, sight, sound, and feel for Jarrett Creek. But I also know well the hard reality of Texas. In this passage you get the push and pull between beauty and the disagreeable that I constantly balance.

“The west is full of threatening clouds and heat lightning, and in the late afternoon sun, with shadows from the trees beyond the pond, the air is almost lavender. The mosquitoes are in full force when we get near the scummy water. I slap at my arms and legs.” The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake

Come by BookPeople this upcoming Saturday, May 21st, for a free writing workshop taught by Terry Shames, George Wier, and two out of three members of Miles Arceneaux! The workshop starts at 9:15 AM and goes till 4 PM. No reservations required!

MysteryPeople Q&A with Con Lehane

murder at the 42nd street library_MECH_01.inddWe are happy to have Con Lehane as one of our readers at Noir At The Bar on May 12th. Con, who wrote three books with New York bartender Brian McNulty is now giving us a new amateur sleuth – crime fiction curator for the New York Public Library Ray Ambler. Ambler’s first mystery, Murder At The 42nd Street Library, has the hero dealing with a murder in the library dealing with an author’s notes and dark secrets. Con was kind enough to talk to us about the book, influence, and his city.


 

1.What drew you to a librarian for your main character?

When my publisher cancelled my McNulty the Bartender series, my editor, Marcia Markland at Thomas Dunne Books, suggested I think about setting a story at the 42nd Street Library. She thought another book set in New York City with a different cast of characters and setting might work better than the New York City bars worked. I don’t remember if she suggested using a librarian as the detective, but it’s logical. The fact is Raymond Ambler is a curator, or archivist, not a research librarian. I did this because librarians know too much for an interloper like me to fake it. Curators are subject area specialists. I figured I could fake one of those, if I used the right knowledge area. I invented “crime fiction” as an area of expertise. It’s an area I know something about, though I’m far from an expert.

2. What did you want the reader to know about the folks who work in that profession?

I’m a great admirer of libraries and how they function and what they do in the community. Librarians are the curators of our collective knowledge and, as important, our culture. Libraries are a unique institution in the greed-driven society we’re living in. Could you imagine in today’s United States someone proposing setting up institutions in every city, town, and village of the nation that would provide access to books, records, movies, computers, and advice on how to use and get the most from all of those things—and all of it for free? Yet the United States more-or-less invented the concept of free libraries, and one of our most famous robber barons, Andrew Carnegie, provided the funding to build a couple of thousand of them. The librarians are the drivers of the train. Librarians, probably more than any other profession, with the possible exception of writers and other artists, are the fiercest protectors of free speech in our society. So for my character Raymond Ambler, I like that he has this pedigree as a seeker of truth and a fighter for freedom of speech.

3. I was happy to see your other series character, bartender Brian McNulty, as a supporting player. How did you end up putting him in?

I actually wrote the first Ambler book (unpublished) with Ambler as an historian. The crime-fiction curator idea didn’t come until I began the second book. When I was writing the first book, I realized that by the third chapter I’d already come up with three scenes that took place in bars—you can take the man out of the barroom but you can’t take the barroom out of the man— so I figured I might as well go with it. I created an after-work watering hole, so to speak, for the librarians. The bartender took their order, said something—in that unpublished book, it was about going to the track—and lo-and-behold, there was McNulty, worming his way into the book. He’s an actor, remember? So I told him: Remember what Stanislavsky said, ‘There are no small parts, only small actors.’

4. What do you like about the amateur sleuth?

I guess I didn’t think I had background enough to write a private eye or a cop as the detective, though Mike Cosgrove, the NYPD homicide detective in Murder at the 42nd Street Library, took on a bigger role in the story than I’d expected, maybe even a bigger role in the second book, so I do have a sort of police procedural guy. I’m interested to see where that might lead.

5. Ross Macdonald is referenced throughout the novel. what do you admire about him?

I’d forgotten I referenced him in the book. I was in Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookstore last night (is it okay to mention a competitor?) and Robin Agnew asked about Ross Macdonald’s influence on me. I came to mystery writing in a roundabout way. One summer I read all of Sherlock Holmes; after that, I read The Maltese Falcon. I was really taken with the Hammett book and read all of the rest of his work. What might be unusual is I was most interested in the politics behind his stories. Anyway, I went from Hammett to Chandler to Ross Macdonald, as many writers did, although as many or more veered off toward John MacDonald. What impressed me and I think influenced me was the structure of Ross Macdonald’s plots, where something that lies buried in the past is working itself out to a conclusion in the present action of the story. The connections between people and how those connections get untangled, the hidden motives, things not being what they seem, and people not being whom they seem, all of that appealed to me. And I like that there’s a kind of running commentary on the world in which the story takes place that doesn’t get in the way of the story.

6. One of the things I dig about your books is that you have a very lived-in view of New York. What makes living in that city great for a writer?

My fascination with New York City began when I was a child. I grew up outside the city in the Connecticut suburbs. My father was a gardener on private estates, owned by rich people who worked in the city (shades of “The Big Sleep”). My folks were from Ireland and had relatives and friends (“people from home”) in the city, so we’d go to visit in the city, in Manhattan—working people lived in Manhattan in those days—and in Brooklyn. And folks from the city would come to visit my father and mother. A number of the men who came to visit, usually for a couple of days in the summer, were bartenders in the city. Good-natured, jovial, funny guys. So maybe the obsession started then. The first story I ever published, not crime fiction, was set at IS 89, what they used to call middle schools in New York. The hero of my first novel (not crime fiction, not published) was from the Bronx. The McNulty series is based on my own experience tending bar in New York. I wrote another novel (this one is crime fiction and unpublished) set in New Hampshire. My editor (the one who came up with the 42nd Street Library) was exasperated. “What are you doing writing about the woods? Steve Hamilton writes about the woods. You write about New York.” So there you go. No explanation.

MysteryPeople Q&A With Paul Charles

 

paul charlesWe are looking forward to hosting author Paul Charles along with the three writers who make up Miles Arceneaux on Wednesday, May 11th. His latest novel featuring Inspector Starrett has the policeman and his squad looking into a murder at a very interesting location, a home where the Catholic Church hides away their problem priests. Paul was kind enough to answer a few questions about religion, writing and St. Ernan’s Blues.

1.The premise of a whodunit with most of the suspects being disgraced priests is brilliant. How did it come about?

Well the house came first. I spend a part of each summer in Donegal (my wife is from there) and on our many travels we came across St Ernan’s Island with St Ernan’s House.  Even more interesting is the fact that all the history in St Ernan’s Blues about the house and the Island are all true. I always find fact more fascinating than fiction and so I resolved to use the island, house and history of both in one of my books but it wasn’t until I started the Inspector Starrett stories that I had an opportunity to use it.

So I had this amazing house on this amazing location and the priests idea fell into place pretty quickly due to Starrett’s back story.  

2.What did you want to get across to the reader about those who work for the church? 

Well I’ve always felt that there are bad people and there are good people and if you’re a priest it doesn’t necessarily make you a good person and if you’re a crook it doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. Equally, if you’re a priest it doesn’t guarantee you’re a bad person either. People are people and we all deal with our foibles the best we can.

3. Do you have a favorite suspect?

Yeah, Bishop Cormac Freeman is my favorite suspect by a country mile. I can’t really say why without ruining the story.

4. Even though I have no law enforcement background, I identified with the workplace society of Starrett and his team. How do you approach writing an ensemble of investigators?

I try to put myself in their company to the degree that I’m allowed to eavesdrop on their conversations and actions.  I try to follow them and “report” what’s going on. I always feel that Starrett, myself and (hopefully) the reader are all uncovering the information at the same time. I don’t feel that it’s ever acceptable to hide things from the reader.

5. You have a background in music. Does that influence your writing in any way?

Well in some of the books The Last Dance, The first of the True Believers and some of the Christy Kennedy stories yes music is most definitely a part. With Starrett I tried to make sure that he’s not a big music fan. I mean he loves with a passion Rory Gallagher, the Clancy Bros, Christy Moore and Neil Diamond. But he doesn’t know a lot about music outside of that. He doesn’t have a lot of CDs, maybe a dozen and maybe a couple dozen vinyl albums. He doesn’t feel a need to have every single record these people make. In fact he has one Christy Moore album, to him that’s enough, it doesn’t lessen his love of Christy’s music to be happy with just the one.  His love of Rory comes not from any records or CDs but from seeing him a couple of times live and experiencing live changing moments as he watched him. Starrett was an exile for a good few years and so Neil Diamond’s I Am… I Said got him through many a night when he was suffering with homesickness. And The Clancy Brothers… well show me a man of a certain age who doesn’t like the Clancy brothers and claims to be Irish and I’d advise you to check their passport.   

6. Ireland has made great contributions to crime fiction with authors like John Connolly, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty, and yourself. What do you think your countrymen and women bring to the genre?

Well I’ve always thought that the Irish and Scottish can look at the dark sides of life while resisting the temptation to close their eyes.

Can’t make the event? Order a signed copy of St. Ernan’s Blues now!

noir at the bar

Noir at the Bar Gets a New Home

 

 

Our famed Austin Noir At The Bar is moving to a new location on May 12th. The good folks at Threadgill’s asked to be our new hosts and we were quick to say yes. To inaugurate the move we have a strong lineup of talent to read.

Con Lehane returns with a novel after an absence close to a decade. His series featuring bartender Brian McNulty are worth trying to find. With his new novel, Murder At The 42nd Street Library, he introduces us to the crime fiction curator for The New York Public Library. Con gives a great New Yorker’s view of the city.

Jordan Harper is quickly becoming one of the more respected writers among his peers. His day job is for writing TV shows like “The Mentalist” and “Gotham.” At night, he writes some of the best down and dirty crime fiction. His collection, Love And Other Wounds is full of great, violent tales of life on the margins.

Les Edgerton has had a life that could have been a noir novel. Luckily, he survived to write some of the strongest, lived-in crime novels. His latest is an edgy caper story, Bomb. Les has a talent for finding humanity in the darkness.

As always, Jesse Sublett will be providing music and reading. His 1960s Austin Gangsters is one of the best books abut the city. So join us at 7pm, Thursday, May 12th, at Threadgill’s on 301 West Riverside Dr. There will be plenty of room! Books by the authors will be there to sell. Come out and help celebrate this big change in our life of crime.