3 Picks for January

The New Iberia Blues: A Dave Robicheaux Novel Cover ImageNew Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke
Dave Robicheaux has to contend with the body of a dead woman found floating on a cross, a wunderkind film director with plenty of secrets, and a new partner he’s falling for with her own history. Burke brings his sense of place, people and poetry to one of crime fictions most tortured cops.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Psychotherapist Leo Faber’s obsession with the case of Alicia Berenson and artist who refuses to talk after she murdered her husband takes him to the run down psychiatric hospital she was put in. with only her art and a diary to lead the way, Faber unlocks what really happened that night. A thriller with one hell of a reveal.

Take Out by Rob Hart

Hard boiled author Rob Hart gives us a collection of stories involving crime and food. All of Hart’s pathos, humor, and style are on display here. The story “Creampuff,” about a bouncer at a pastry shop, is worth the price alone.

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INTERVIEW WITH MATT COYLE

Matt Coyle’s Wrong Light was our December Pick Of The Month. It’s the fifth in the series featuring San Diego private detective Rick Cahill. Rick is hired to protect Naomi Hendrix, a radio personality being stalked. The problem is her tormentor could be tied to some secrets she is keeping and the job puts Rick in a plot involving the Irish gypsy con artists known as the travelers, the Russian mob, and Cahill’s own troubled past. Matt will be joining Patricia Smiley and Puja Guha on January 9th at 7pm at BookPeople. He was kind enough to answer some questions beforehand.

Wrong Light (Rick Cahill #5) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: You had Rick go through a major character arc in the previous novels. Now that he’s come to terms with certain things from the past, what do you want to do with him now?

Matt Coyle: In some ways, Rick is now starting with a clean slate. He’s cast away one heavy anchor from his life that helped form who he is even though he learns the facts were not what he thought they were. Still, he’s more free to be the man he wants to be, but can never escape the actions he’s taken throughout his life and their repercussions. In Wrong Light, Rick is forced to confront who he has become and who he wants to be.

MPS: Naomi Hendrix is a great take on the mystery woman in P.I. fiction. How did you go about constructing her?

MC: Thanks. When I decided to write about a talk radio host being stalked, I thought back to radio personalities of the past before the airwaves became so politicized and confrontational. There used to be nighttime shows where people called in with problems and hoped for sage, soothing advice. Naomi is from that era, but I put her in today. I wanted her to be charismatic and mysterious. Once I figured out her background, which is a mystery for much of the book, she came to life and took over the rest.

MPS: You use the Irish con artists, the travelers as part of the story. What appealed to you about them for part of a book?

MC: They are very clannish and insular and I wanted that secretiveness to shroud some of the mystery of the story. I wondered what it would take to escape that world and what would happen when you tired.

MPS: What I love about the Cahill books, they have everything you want from P.I. fiction, but there is a real feel of detective work with its stake outs and tailing. What do you want to capture about the way Rick does his job?

MC: I try to show the unexciting parts of the job to make Rick’s day to day life seem real without letting the story get boring. If he’s sitting on a stakeout when, seemingly, nothing happens I like to throw in a little twist that steers the story in a different direction. My main concern, though, is showing how Rick becomes emotionally invested in some cases and how dangerous that is to him and those he tries to help.

MPS: While the books have a modern voice, there are echoes of classic hard boiled detective fiction in them. Do you draw from any influences?

MC: While I don’t consciously try to let my influences inform my work, I don’t think one can ever completely escape them. That’s probably a good thing. I read Chandler and Macdonald when I was a teenager and I’m sure they’ve influenced my work more than I realize. The one trope I’ll admit to using is the lone wolf detective. I like to think of Rick as a gunfighter who comes to town to try to right wrongs according to his own sense of justice. However, he has become more collaborative in his investigations which shows some growth on his part. Progress!

MPS: What does the private eye story allow you to do as a writer?

MC: To paraphrase what Ross Macdonald once said, a private eye can encounter all the social strata of America with the simple excuse of following where the clues of his case lead him. It’s very freeing. You’re not limited to one lane. Beyond that, I think P.I. stories are best when they examine character and crime is an avenue to do that. Stress reveals character and nothing causes more stress than the murder of a friend or loved one. Not only does the murder stress the family and friends of the victim, but also the people investigating the crime and even the murderer. Give me murder and I’ll show you character.

FINDING CHARACTERS IN A PATCH OF DEAD LAWN

Patricia Smiley was kind enough to write a piece for us about creating characters for her books. She’ll join us in the store January 9th for a panel discussion with Matt Coyle & Puja Guha to discuss their various subgenres.

Writers are curious people. We obsess about human behavior and construct theories about what motivates it. Sometimes our stories are personal. Sometimes we use newspaper articles filtered through our own sensibilities. Sometimes we simply make stuff up. That works, too.

The Second Goodbye (Pacific Homicide #3) Cover ImageWriter curiosity is never more important to me than when I create characters on the page. Finding depth and poignancy in each one is important because I want readers to care about the people in my books. Like many writers, I create a biography for all my characters, even the minor ones, which usually includes a sociological and psychological profile, a back-story, descriptions of speech patterns, gait, quirky habits, and a history of successes and failures that drive his/her behavior.

The essences of real people I know often inveigle their way onto the pages of my novels. This is especially true for Davie, her grandmother, and her boss Frank Giordano. The gender or appearance may change, but the core attributes remain. Character inspiration isn’t limited to friends and relatives. Strangers often make an impression, as well. Once long ago I was stopped at a red light on my way to work. I glanced over and noticed a homeless man on a bus bench, dressed in grimy clothing, gently brushing lint from the shoulder of his well-worn coat. That gesture was a poignant lesson I never forgot—that we can maintain our dignity regardless of our circumstances. Years later, that man’s ethos made its way into the character of Rags Foster, a homeless junkie in Pacific Homicide. When I began researching the second novel in the series, I used the war in Vietnam as a plot element. I interviewed former veterans, fictionalizing the pathos of their stories to craft Outside the Wire. I used the same process for The Second Goodbye, the third novel in the series, and had particular fun with a minor character named Gerda Pittman, a comic version of a former boss.

I’m always on the lookout for characters to populate my stories. For example, several times a week, I walk to the grocery store past a few remaining post WWII bungalows dwarfed by flashy new construction. Along the route I often see a wiry older man with slicked-back gray hair, working in his front yard. I’ve never noticed anyone else with him. Even on the hottest days, he wears a tidy wool suit jacket that has seen better days. The jacket is dark blue with wide lapels, outdated padded shoulders, and is paired with mismatched trousers. His dress shirt is buttoned to the neck without benefit of a tie. The ensemble seems from another world, possibly Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

In this Westside L.A. neighborhood, the summer-ocean breezes once cooled the houses. But the days have become hotter, even in winter, so his front windows are often open to catch any random puff of air. The exterior of the house needs paint and repairs but the gutters along the street are clean and tidy. Many days I see him bent over, sweeping away the debris with a battered kitchen dustpan and brush. Later, when I walk home with my bag of groceries, the area is spotless and any residue that may have crept onto his walkway has been swept away. He never looks up from his task to nod or say hello. I accept his terms.

What piques my curiosity is his front lawn, which is a patch of hard-packed soil except on the rare occasion when it rains. He apparently doesn’t like the look of the weeds that sprout in the aftermath, because he plucks each one out by hand until the area is once again a tidy field of brown dirt, raising all kinds of dramatic questions: Was there ever a lawn? Did the high price of water force him to let it die? Nonetheless, the compulsive weeding tells me he has a keen sense of order. I want to know the story behind his dignity and pride: where he’s from and what’s happened in his life that allows him to find purpose in a small patch of dead lawn.

Someday I’ll answer those questions in a book. The character may not be this man. It may be a woman. Her part may be small but she’ll be a metaphor for something important in the book. I’ll give her a happy ending. Maybe after all she’s been through she deserves that much, at least.

Puja Guha on writing spy fiction

Puja Guha has just finished her Ahriman Trilogy that deals with a spy and assassin in love with each other as world events, government plots, and despots not only tear them apart, but often pit them against one another. Puja will be joining private eye writer Matt Coyle and police procedural author Patricia Smiley to discuss their subgenres at BookPeople January 9th at 7pm. Here she discusses what draws her to spy fiction.

Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction Cover ImageWhen people first learn that I write spy fiction, I get two reactions. The first is surprise, bordering on shock. How could this five-foot-three Indian woman write something like spy novels? Once they get over the fact that I’m a writer, the question that follows is, wouldn’t I be better suited for non-fiction books about economics or international development? That question always makes me chuckle, since the thought of writing a book on that makes my stomach turn.

The second, and more fun one, is from those who know me a little better, or at least know about my travel schedule (especially if they know about my trip to Afghanistan a few years ago). That reaction tends to go something like this—“Oh, you write spy fiction – because you’re secretly a spy!” I have to admit I love that reaction. There’s something about their perception that changes, as if they start to see me as a lot more bad ass. I may not be a spy, but I certainly like to think of myself as someone who could be, at least in terms of the fun portrayal of what that life is like that we see in a lot of movies and books. Obviously, the reality is far from the action sequences of The Bourne Identity but it’s fun to think that there are people like that around the world.

Perceptions aside, I love spy fiction. I grew up reading all sorts of thrillers, devouring the books off my Dad’s bookshelf, including Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum, and John Grisham. Spy fiction was a sizeable portion of that, offering action and adventure combined with mystery and investigation. Those books also gave me another opportunity to travel and explore nuanced characters, including the cost of deception on an emotional and personal level. I read so many of them I guess it’s no wonder I ended up writing in this genre. Sometimes I use it to explore new places that I haven’t gotten to visit yet, like Iran, in my first book Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction. More often, writing spy fiction gives me an opportunity to showcase a place that I’ve already been—to bring readers to it, to see the sights and experience the culture, the sound, and the smells, all within a “web of intrigue”. That last phrase makes me smile, I love the twists and turns that greet me when I’m plotting out one of my novels. A lot of it takes me by surprise, when the characters draw me in a direction that I didn’t anticipate. Being able to share that journey with readers is something that I cherish.

In this day and age, I also relish the opportunity to expose bits and pieces of culture from the places I’ve visited and later write about. People have a lot of different ideas when they think of countries they’ve seen in the news like Kuwait, countries they often know very little about like Madagascar, or even places they may have seen a lot in TV or movies like Paris or New York. My parents gave me the travel bug when I was little, and I’ve taken it to a whole new level, having now visited 55 countries and counting. Certainly, a ton is different between each of these places, but at a human level, it’s more incredible how much is the same. I love being able to show that to my readers when I take them somewhere new, or to expose some endearing detail of a place or culture they might not have expected. Putting that into a mystery or an adventure just adds to it, they get to have as much fun reading it as I do writing when they go along for the ride.

That’s enough about me and why I write spy fiction. If you’re a reader in this space, I’d love to hear from you. What draws you to it? What keeps you coming back?

Pick Of The Month- In A House Of Lies by Ian Rankin

When Ian Rankin brought back Rebus, the books had a feeling of old home week. The surly DI getting back with former partner Clarke and facing off with her new one, Fox (who Rankin wrote about in two books before Rebus’ return) play on the idea of the history we’ve had with these characters and fondness for them. Even “retired” crime boss Cafferty was a welcome sight. With In A House Of Lies, Rankin takes a slightly different tact with our feelings and knowledge of these people.

In a House of Lies (A Rebus Novel) Cover ImageThe discovery of the remains of a private detective’s body in a rusted V.W. leads back to an old unsolved missing persons case where there were questions of police neglect. The fact that the ankles are handcuffed support the allegations. Clarke catches the case and Fox, with his experience in Complaints (the Scottish version of Internal Affairs), is to assist. Rebus, who worked with the cops on the missing person case becomes involved too. Soon questions arise if it’s for redemption or obfuscation, particularly when we discover Cafferty is involved as well.

This is his twenty-fifth novel with Rebus, and Rankin demonstrates an ease with the characters that comes with time. He realizes how well the readers know them and their idiosyncrasies and plays with that knowledge. He executes it brilliantly in a chapter where Rebus and Cafferty meet up, and he also uses it to keep the reader off center as Clarke’s investigation points to Rebus’ involvement into the private detective’s demise. Rankin makes it feel like we’re learning something we don’t want to know.

Our knowledge of Rebus and his world allows Rankin to delve into ideas about history and friendship in In A House Of Lies. The clash of Rebus old school investigating with Clarke and Fox shows how facts of the past can be rearranged from point of view, particularly in our modern times. The only thing we can put faith in is our friends, but the author has us questioning that as well.

Scott Montgomery’s Top 10 Crime Novels Of 2018

Emotion was the consistent thing that made crime fiction great in 2018: whether the lead was a hard boiled detective or Brooklyn woman looking for redemption, the lead lived in the suburbs of New York State or Ancient Rome, each author mined what they were going through with their bruised hearts speaking to ours. Here are the ten I thought spoke the most clearly.

The Man Who Came Uptown Cover ImageThe Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos

A truly humane hard boiled tale of a man fresh out of jail, blackmailed into going back to his life of crime, who finds solace in a job well done, books, and the prison librarian who turned him on to reading. Pelecanos aims for the quieter moments in this story to deliver real people and emotions.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Another piece of beautiful, dark prose poetry from the queenpin of noir set in the world of science a tale that female competition, friendship, and the burden of secrets. Abbott continues to push the genre in new directions without ever clipping off its roots.

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle

A former party girl who has retreated into a more enclosed life finds herself returning to her ways of the night when she witnesses a murder. A gritty crime novel that explores society, mind, and heart with eloquence and pathos.

Depth Of Winter by Craig Johnson

Sheriff Walt Longmire searches for his kidnapped daughter in Narco Mexico and a final confrontation with his nemesis Tomas Bidarte. Johnson proves he can retain the humanity of his hero, even when placed in the most inhumane of situations.

The Line (A Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Novel #13) Cover ImageThe Line by Martin Limon

Limon starts out with the best opening of the year with Army CID investigators Sueno and Bascome examining a murder victim on the demarcation bridge with North Korean and U.S. armies pointing rifles at each other, then unravels a mystery that examines the plight of women in both Korean and military society. This series has hit its stride with no evidence of faltering.

The Line That Held Us by David Joy

Joy gives us a rural noir set up of a poacher who has his friend help him bury the town tough’s brother he accidentally shot and sets us on an intimate tale of friendship, adulthood, and grace. Best introduction of an antagonist (who may be the protagonist) this year.

In The Galway Silence by Ken Bruen

Bruen somehow finds an even more harrowing rabbit hole for his Jack Taylor to go down, facing off against a killer who calls himself Silence out to take the remains of his shattered life. A crime thriller of style, wit, and madness that perfectly reflects our times.

What You Want to See: A Roxane Weary Novel Cover ImageWhat You want To See by Kristine Lepionka

In the second Roxane Weary novel, the Ohio PI tries to clear her client for murder and dives first into a real estate scam where the con artists have no problem with killing to cover their tracks. Lepionka brings all the goods for a great private eye read.

If I Die Tonight by Allison Gaylin

Gaylin weaves through the dark side of suburbia and social media in this thriller concerning a teen killed while supposedly saving a former teen pop star from a car jacking. Through a jigsaw puzzle of several perspectives, the reader puts together a narrative that questions how we interact with one another today.

Throne Of Caesar by Steven Saylor

Gordianus The Finder is confronted with another historical crime while dealing with the assassination of the emperor during The Ides Of March. An entertaining blend of well researched history that brings time and place alive and skillfully drawn characters (both historical and fictional) that does the same for the emotions.

Meike’s favorite mysteries of 2018

My Sister, the Serial Killer: A Novel Cover Image1. My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite:

Believe the hype and grab this darkly comedic tale of 2 sisters—the younger, beautiful, favored sister with a predilection for killing boyfriends and the steady older sister who’s left to clean up the mess. A smart, funny tale of murder by a fresh new voice in crime fiction.

 

 

Give Me Your Hand Cover Image2. Give Me Your Hand

By Megan Abbott:

No one delves into the dark side of the female psyche quite like Abbott. Two young women are in competition for the coveted academic research position they’ve worked towards for years, but a long-buried secret from their shared past threatens their ambitions.

 

 

The Wife: A Novel of Psychological Suspense Cover Image3. The Wife

By Alafair Burke:

An economics professor and best-selling author with a burgeoning media career is accused of inappropriate conduct by a college intern. Initially his wife stands by him, insisting the accusations are false—but when the intern disappears, the wife is forced to take a closer look at the man she loves and the seemingly perfect life they’ve created.

 

 

Sunburn: A Novel Cover Image4. Sunburn

By Laura Lippman:

This masterwork of modern noir evokes the shadier side of summer with this searing tale of secrets and passion. A woman who has just abandoned her husband and daughter on a family vacation begins an affair with the private eye who was hired to follow her. What ensues is a twisted tale of betrayal and murder that leaves the reader guessing till the very end.

 

Into the Black Nowhere: An UNSUB Novel Cover Image5. Into the Black Nowhere

By Meg Gardiner:

Women are disappearing in and around Austin, and newly minted FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix is called to investigate what appears to be the work of a serial killer. Her investigation zeros in on one individual and Caitlin has to use all her skills to bring him to justice.

 

 

Daughters of Bad Men Cover Image6. Daughters of Bad Men

By Laura Oles:

This gritty and suspenseful debut introduces us to Jamie Rush, a skip tracer with a particular set of skills she learned from her somewhat shady family. When Jamie goes looking for her missing niece, she finds herself in the middle of a dangerous turf war.

 

 

A Reckoning in the Back Country: A Samuel Craddock Mystery Cover Image7. A Reckoning in the Back Country

By Terry Shames:

When a visiting physician is brutally mauled by a pack of vicious dogs, acting Police Chief Samuel Craddock suspects there may be a dog-fighting ring operating in Jarrrett Creek. He balances his careful investigation with the appearance of a new woman in his life and the appearance of a new puppy. Shames’ considerable talents for portraying the darker side of small towns are on full display.

 

Dominic: A Hollow Man Novel Cover Image8. Dominic

By Mark Pryor:

In this follow up to Hollow Man, the titular Austin-based British prosecutor—who happens to be a psychopath—will go to any length to keep his past crimes hidden. It’s a testament to Pryor’s talents that the reader can’t help rooting for this cold-blooded killer.

 

 

The Three Beths Cover Image9. The Three Beths

By Jeff Abbott:

Three women named Beth disappear from Lakehaven, an affluent suburb of Austin. Coincidence? Read this gripping, twisty psychological thriller and see for yourself.

 

 

 

A Stone's Throw: An Ellie Stone Mystery Cover Image10. A Stone’s Throw

By James Ziskin:

Ziskin’s intrepid 1960’s girl reporter is one of my favorite characters in the genre, and in this latest she investigates a double murder at an abandoned stud farm in upstate New York located just a stone’s throw from the glamour of Saratoga Springs. Ziskin is particularly adept at unspooling a perfectly paced thriller with his uniquely lyrical voice.