MysteryPeople Q&A with David Swinson

David Swinson has captured our cold, twisted hearts with his Frank Marr trilogy. Marr is a drug-addled former cop who first appeared in all his complicated degenerate glory in The Second Girlwherein he becomes an accidental hero after a trip to buy drugs becomes a rescue mission for a kidnapped woman. In Swinson’s second tale to feature the character, Crime SongMarr takes on a more personal case. We sent him a few questions about his latest. 

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

MysteryPeople Scott: This time Marr is pulled into a more personal case involving family. What made you want to explore that part of him, particularly for his second mystery?

David Swinson: I’ve always seen the Marr series as a trilogy. For the second book I wanted to get into his past a bit more, and his history with not only his aunt, but music. He needed something more personal to disrupt him.

MPS: This novel has several twists and reveals. How much had you worked it out before starting the first chapter?

DS: I knew where I wanted to take the story when I began writing. I don’t outline, but I do take a lot of notes, usually when I’m in bed and near sleep. It can drive my wife crazy, but that’s when the ideas come. And it’s usually while writing the first few pages when I take the most notes. A lot will change, though, when the story takes a life of its’ own.

A lot of the twists and turns is a result of that. Some of them even surprised me.

MPS: I felt a subtle change in Frank from The Second Girl, particularly in the way he looks at his addiction. Are being thought of a hero in the first book and what he is facing in Crime Song effecting him, more than he is admitting?

DS: Definitely. Again, that happened when the story started taking on its own life. I think his young cousin had a lot to do with that too. Frank was selfish, thinking he could grab a little something for his stash. It didn’t work out that way. In fact, it turned bad for his cousin. Frank knew he should have intervened so that tore him up emotionally, and when he started to question not only his motives, but the beast that controls him.

MPS: One of the things I love about your writing is I feel the emotion of the story, yet it never overwhelms or feels manipulative. How do you approach emotion without being overwrought?

DS: When Frank Marr first came into my head and started to come to life, I knew he would be a character that would never feel sorry for himself, and would rarely complain. Brooding was out of the question. Sometimes I forget and interject myself into him, my own anxieties. That isn’t Frank. I usually catch it in the first draft. If I don’t, my editor Josh Kendall will. He understands Frank Marr as much as I do. The tension and the emotion that happens should be something natural so I am very conscious about not overdoing it.

MPS: I’ve noticed if things become really bleak in your work, there will be a spark of humor to lighten the events. Are you looking for the humor or is it organic?

DS: It is organic. When it’s not, then it doesn’t feel natural. For me, a lot of the humor happens through dialogue, and that’s not planned out.

MPS: The music of Bread plays an integral part of the plot. Any particular reason you went with them?

DS: That is a bit of my history. I know I said I don’t interject myself into Frank Marr, but so much of it is based on life experience. There’s a difference between that and putting my emotions into Frank Marr’s head. When I was a teenager, my mother used to listen to Bread. It was after my parents’ divorce, and was always something she listened to when she was feeling sad. I’m a devout fan of bands like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Social Distortion, and most early punk rock and alternative music, but I admit I grew to like Bread, as corny as they were. That part of Frank is also me. Only that part.

You can find copies of Crime Song on our shelves or via bookpeople.comThe Second Girl is now out in paperback – you can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Review: THE PAINTED GUN by Bradley Spinelli

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781617754982Postmodern private eye novels are always a tight rope for an author. Referencing classic works and their style often reminds the reader of the old masters that did it better. It is a matter of tone that is usually the deciding factor for if these works measure up to those they imitate, something Bradley Spinelli uses to great effect in his new novel, The Painted Gun.

First, he introduces us to a hero who balances familiarity and freshness, then drops him into a provocative premise. David Crane works as an information consultant in mid-nineties San Francisco, talking and narrating in a hard-boiled style that never becomes tongue in cheek. Down near his last dollar, he takes a case from a shady detective from L.A. It seems that people are looking for a mysterious artist only know as Ash. The only clue, her paintings are of Crane at various moments of his life.

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Murder in the Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets to discuss Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer on Monday, March 20th, at 1 PM. You can find copies of The Sympathizer on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9780802124944Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer has left me stunned. This hybrid spy-novel-cum-literary-satire won the Edgar Award in 2015 (which is how I convinced the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club to read it) and the Pulitzer the same year, which should begin a long career of appreciation in highbrow and lowbrow circles alike.

At face value, The Sympathizer is a Vietnam War novel from the Vietnamese perspective, ostensibly the perfect place for American readers to immerse themselves in the Vietnamese experience. Yet what Nguyen does best in the novel is expose hypocrisy. Rather than gently guide his readers into unknown waters, he plunges us into confrontation with our own assumptions, our own prejudices, and our own pompous behavior. While reading it, I felt more blown away by observations about the American character than any points about Vietnamese society.

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Shotgun Blast From the Past: CROSS by Ken Bruen

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780312538842Cross, by Ken Bruen, is the sixth book  to feature his caustic “finder” (detective is a suspicious word in Ireland), Jack Taylor. I feel it is one of his lesser lauded novels in the series. This could possibly be because it is often considered a sequel to the fifth book, Priest, and can’t be discussed without dropping spoilers from the previous novel (WARNING- That will happen in the next paragraph). However, it is one of the most focused and emotionally resonate books in the series. Here, Bruen seems intent on getting Jack to another place in his life. Apparently to do this he had to destroy the man he introduced us to in The Guards.

Cross starts out very soon after Priest as Jack faces the fallout from the previous volume’s events. His surrogate son, Cody, lies in a coma, from a bullet probably meant for Jack. Jack suspects the person who fired it could be Cathy, a former friend whose child died under Jack’s drug-addled baby sitting. After going cold-turkey sober, he is approached with two jobs. First, he’s hired to look into a rash of dog disappearances (Jack subcontracts this gig to another former guard). His next case is brought in by his pal in the guards, Ridge. She knows being a lesbian has hampered her rise in the ranks and thinks solving the crucifixion death of a young man may make her career. She asks for Jack’s assistance.

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Life Is a Gamble and There Are No Guarantees: MysteryPeople Q&A with Henry Chang

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Henry Chang’s Lucky is the fifth book in his series featuring NYPD detective Jack Yu. That said, much of the novel deals with Jack’s criminal bloodbrother, Tat – also known as”Lucky.” Tat is a former Ghost Legion gang leader, who comes out of an 88 day coma after being shot in the head twice. 88 is considered a number of high luck and Louie presses it by getting some the old gang back together for a spate of daring robberies against some of the leaders of Chinatown’s organized crime. It’s up to Jack to stop his friend before his luck turns bad. This is the most action packed book in the series yet, and still gives us a great look into New York’s Chinatown. Recently, Henry Chang was kind enough to take a few questions from us.

MysteryPeople Scott: Even though all your work is tight, Lucky had even a tighter pace to it. Where you conscious of that while you were writing?

Henry Chang: The tightness of the pace was an adjustment to the storytelling style. Lucky‘s written more like a thriller than a mystery, where you can’t wait to see what Lucky does next. Unlike Jack’s usual investigative mysteries, which can meander culturally as the clues arise, Lucky is an escalating conflict-driven crime world drive-by. Lucky’s actions drive the narrative.

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Crime Fiction Friday: “Born Under a Bad Sign” by William E. Wallace

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  • Selected and Introduced by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

I was saddened to hear William E Wallace passed away a couple of weeks ago. Wallace was a former crime reporter turned crime fiction writer and advocate; his work was seen often in anthologies or online. Here is a great example of his voice in a piece for Shotgun Honey.

“Born Under a Bad Sign” by William E. Wallace

“To the average gomer sitting in the stop-and-go, it was just another Central Valley commute snafu…”

Read the rest of the story.

From the Web: William Boyle on Daniel Woodrell

One of our favorite rising stars of crime fiction is William Boyle. His status in the states, while high, may be eclipsed by his popularity in France, where he’s in the running for several prizes and his novel Gravesend has been published as part of the prestigious Rivages/Noir collection. Recently, for LitHub, a website that agglomerates the best of the literary web while also bringing readers original, provocative content, he wrote this piece about a favorite author of his (and many), Daniel Woodrell.

As fans of both Boyle and Woodrell, we suggest getting one of the Woodrell books mentioned in Boyle’s article, then getting his own novel, Gravesend, and see how Woodrell’s tales of the Ozarks influence Boyle’s gritty new York burrough. Rural noir has been perfected and defined by Daniel Woodrell, and we’re glad to see growing interest in his work. Tomato Red, Woodrell’s most famous contribution to the genre, soon hits the big screen, so start with this one before you see the film and work from there!

Read William Boyle’s ode to Daniel Woodrell. 

You can find copies of Boyle’s Gravesend on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

You can find copies of Woodrell’s works on our shelves and via bookpeople.com