Review: Blood Truth by Matt Coyle

Our review of December’s Pick Of The Month: Blood Truth by Matt Coyle:

Matt Coyle understands mood and emotion is essential to a private eye novel. While delivering and engaging plot with plenty of action, his main ambition is getting into the head and heart of his tarnished knight Rick Cahill. In his latest, Blood Truth, it’s all personal.

Cahill has two cases that haunt him better than any ghost. An old flame he still carries a torch for hires him to follow her husband to see if he is cheating. Also, while at his family’s home, he discovers a hidden safe. Inside are a pistol with two missing bullets, fifteen thousand in cash, and a safe deposit key, all connected to an unsolved murder that resulted in his father’s dismissal from the police. The case for the old flame leads to a body in a car trunk.

Both mysteries dovetail beautifully into one another. Coyle executes the reveals and reversals that pilot the story like a master craftsman. Both involve moral decisions and preconceptions Cahill must face along with the danger as he deals with his father’s sins and lost love, all with a dangling possibility of healing if everything is solved.

Like Reed Farrel Coleman, Matt Coyle is able to tap into that classic melancholy of the private detective. He realizes a true hard boiled hero isn’t completely tough. It’s those vulnerabilities that draw us in as he struggles with his soul. For Coyle, it’s not what lurks down those mean streets that pose the greatest threat for our hero, it’s the loneliness one has walking down them.

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Q&A with Layton Green, author of Written In Blood

Here’s our Q&A with Layton Author, author of our Pick Of The Month, Written in Blood

MysteryPeople Scott: What I really loved about Written In Blood was how Preach’s personal life dovetailed perfectly with the mystery story. Was there any kind of advance planning in the process to pull this off?

Layton Green: My first editor told me to “always make it personal.” Since then, I’ve tried to heed that advice and blend the private lives of my protagonists with the crime, in some way. I agree that when there is a personal stake in the outcome above and beyond the job, the tension is usually heightened.

MPS: Many writers say they avoid dealing with religion and faith, yet some of the best crime novels and television episodes deal with it. What did you want to explore with that part of Preach’s struggle?

LG: To me, no matter the genre, the best novels deal with the tough questions in life, as well as the quotidian details. It doesn’t have to be overt, but as a reader, I want to know what my fictional heroes think about life and death, and good versus evil, and the meaning of it all (as well as their favorite drink). I decided to use Preach’s past lives as a way to explore those topics.

MPS: Kirby is a wonderful supporting character. Is there a way he came into being with the traits he has?

LG: Thanks! Hmm, you know, I don’t actually know from what void he sprang. I was just trying to make him real, and a reflection of his circumstances and his society. I liked him, too.

MPS: There are literary references in the story, many serving as clues. Was there anything you had to keep in mind when using them?

LG: I definitely did my research on this one, as I didn’t want to misstep and use a false reference.

I reread all the books and hit the commentaries, as well as trying to explore them in a novel manner. It was really fun to tie them all together, and I enjoyed the research into the “lineage” of detective fiction. Oh, and I consulted an intellectual property law professor. He says I’m good to go.

MPS: What did the setting of Creekville, North Carolina provide for you?

LG: The whole enchilada! The setting is loosely based on a real town in the Triangle that has many similarities to the one in the book. I fictionalized it so I could take liberties as needed, but the general vibe of the town, the extreme liberalism and quirky nature, are all there. I was fascinated to see the interplay between the progressive culture and the conservative bastions of the Old South. After a few weeks, I knew I wanted to write about that clash.

MPS: Some of the suspects are writers and not very likable. Were you making any comment on your profession?

LG: Not consciously. Just telling the truth, or part of it. There are many sides to a truth . . . and we crime writers tend to focus on the dark ones.

Alison Gaylin Defies Genre: If I Die Tonight

Image result for alison gaylin authorAlison Gaylin is one of the many women leading the evolution of the crime fiction genre.  Her prose is precise and glowing, with characters that are alive and, to be cliché (which she never is), “come right off the page.” Less complex but equally as riveting as 2016’s What Remains of Me (still one of my favorite mysteries of all time), If I Die Tonight concerns a hit-and-run, a mysterious young man, and multiple relationships that are only moments away from surfacing as the novel progresses forward.  Gaylin is, once again, at the top of her game in this novel due out in March, 2018. But what makes Alison Gaylin such an amazing writer and why is everyone from Megan Abbott to Laura Lippman singing her praises?

It begins with Gaylin’s plots.  No one plots a novel quite like Alison Gaylin does, and any author or fan will speak up to this fact.  Her novels are so tightly plotted, it’s hard to imagine Gaylin without an outline by her side at any given moment during the writing process.  Yet, when asked about how she goes about plotting out her novels, her process seems more loose and less strict than that of other authors who stick firmly by their pre-written outlines.  Gaylin somehow creates a magic that is bewitching both for the reader and the critic, finding a way to mystify and conjure up a spell that will entrance readers throughout the entirety of the novel, and almost effortlessly so.

Another compelling aspect of Gaylin’s writing is her thoroughly developed characters, all of whom get equal page-time.  There’s Jackie, the mother of Wade and Conner, who’s trying to do her best as a single mother after her husband has left her years prior.   Conner, likewise, is struggling to keep up social appearances while his older brother Wade is somewhat of an outcast, someone who easily becomes suspect when a hit-and-run occurs in the beginning of the novel. Enter the rest of the vivid and vast cast of characters, from the novel’s victim, a high schooler who’s essentially the boy next door, his girlfriend and her friends, along with a pop singer well past her heyday and now desperately clinging to any sort of fame.  Also at the center of this mystery is Pearl, the newbie detective who just wants to have a suitable workplace and also may be running away from a past she cannot escape.

Obviously, there are a million places this novel can go, and Gaylin pushes each of her characters, as well as the plot and the reader, to his or her limits.  Gaylin is not afraid to push the taboo, as seen in What Remains of Me, and here she does so again, proving exactly how dark she can get in an already dark genre.  Those new to Gaylin are well past her breakthrough, what with her Brenda Spector series, and her fantastic standalone novels.  Now it’s simply time for the world to be aware of her genius, which seems as imminent as the ending of her novel: we know something is coming, we may even know what is coming, but when will it hit us exactly, and how?

Try to guess the ending of If I Die Tonight. Try and guess the killer, who is culpable and who is not, and you will find yourself shocked again and again with each turn of the page. In the end, everyone is culpable in one way or another, and no one is left getting off free. This book will warm your heart and rip it out again all in one paragraph, so be forewarned: Gaylin is not for the reader afraid of feeling, afraid of guessing, or afraid of turning into an investigator themselves.

A true master of the genre, each new book by Alison Gaylin is a book to be treasured.  In 2018, a year full of books by masters of the genre like Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Lori Roy, Alafair Burke, and others, this is truly a book that stands out among the rest.  Give If I Die Tonight a try.  You will not regret it.

Slivers of Truth: Lori Roy on Writing, Setting, and Success

Image result for lori roy authorMatthew Turbeville: Lori, it is such an immense pleasure to interview you.  Each of your books holds a special place in my heart and deservedly so.  Each of your books is so uniquely and individually different.  How do you develop the concepts behind your novels? How do they come to you? And how do you ensure that not one single book is remotely the same?

Lori Roy: Thank you so much, Matthew. It’s a pleasure to work with you on this interview. I have, thus far, always started my novels with setting. By that, I mean I am first inspired by an interest in a time and place. I’m not entirely sure what makes certain settings capture my attention, however they tend to be somewhat gritty and oppressive, and as such, they actively work against my characters.  I think of setting in terms of the part of the country I choose and the period of time. Both decisions are key to the obstacles my characters will face.   A rural and impoverished setting will pose certain challenges, as in Bent Road and Let Me Die in His Footsteps, and the cultural norms of a certain period of time will also give rise to obstacles, as in Until She Comes Home.

The settings, both place and time, largely dictate the voice or texture of whatever novel I’m working on. I fumble around until I find the voice I feel fits the work. There is also always a sliver of some universal truth that starts to simmer once I’ve begun a novel. However, I try to avoid focusing on that sliver as I’m writing.  Instead I focus on character and plot and let the sliver of truth work its way to the surface through the story. I spend a couple of years writing a novel and this sliver of truth is what keeps my interest.

As to how I keep my books from being the same…in a way, like many writers, I think I’m always grappling with the same questions. But I do like switching up my setting because I am regularly inspired by my research of a new place. In my most recent novel, The Disappearing (Dutton 7/18), I am writing about the present day for the first time. While this would probably seem easier than writing something set in the past, I’ve found it to be a great challenge.

MT: You’ve won multiple Edgar Awards and you’re a woman.  How does it feel to be one of the leaders in establishing crime fiction as a genre dominated by women writers, which is incredibly important in today’s world?

LR: Having published a few books now, I think paying-it-forward is the most important thing I can do. I was fortunate enough to learn from great teachers in the early days of my career. Each of them took time out of his or her own busy schedule to work with aspiring writers, so I try to do the same. As to the amazing work being published by women today and in years past, I think of myself as a student of their impressive work.

MT:  Who are some of your other influences, especially fellow female writers? What other influences do you have—what inspires you to write on a day-to-day basis?

LR:   I would say the love of writing inspires me on a day-to-day basis, but that wouldn’t be entirely true, because I don’t always love it. I find the first draft of a novel very difficult to write and I impose a schedule on myself to get through this early stage.  Once I have the framework, I find the process much more enjoyable and sitting down to the computer becomes easier. As to influences, my list could go on and on. Flannery O’Connor is certainly at the top of that list, as are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and John Steinbeck. Mary Lawson is among my contemporary influences, as are Lisa Unger, Megan Abbott, Alafair Burke and Laura Lippman.

MT: I would almost describe your latest book, Let Me Die in His Footsteps, as transgeneric, crossing genres in new and unexpected ways, like the novel does with its hints of magic realism.  What made you decide to incorporate this element of writing—i.e., the girls looking down the wells—into your novel?

LR: This is a great example of the setting influencing my characters. As I researched Kentucky, I came across a good many traditions and superstitions that originated in various parts of the state.  Many of the more magical elements of the book—the know-how, the looking into a well to see the face of an intended, the empty rocking chair that rocks and means someone is going to die—were all rooted in Kentucky superstitions passed down through the years, though I tweaked some to fit my characters and plot. Not only did these elements inform on the way people were thinking at the time, but they also gave rise to obstacles for my characters.  They became the heart of the novel in many ways.

MT: What is your writing schedule like? How do you remain so productive and churn out such breathtaking literature?

LR: I usually try to write first thing in the morning.  If I’m writing a first draft, I can work for about two to three hours per day and I try to generate 1500 during that time. Once I have a first draft and am rewriting, I work the better part of the day. Because I’ve not been successful with outlining, I find I do a great deal of restructuring and editing. This phase will go on a long time.  I take breaks to walk my dogs or go to the gym, but that’s about it. I quit for the day around 5:00.

MT: One thing that strikes me about your writing is your voice.  Whether written in first or third person (which can often feel so personal one forgets it’s not first person), the voice is unique and personal to the character the narrative is following.  How do you establish voice for each book?

LR: Finding the voice for a particular novel is a bit like tuning an instrument or trying to tune a station on an old-fashioned radio. I adjust a little here and little there until I hear the voice come into tune.  I like to read various things from whatever era I’m writing about, or if I’m writing in the present as I did with my upcoming novel and the one I’m working on now, I read about the history of a place.  It all informs on the present and on the characters and slowly that voice comes into tune. I’m also a believer that nouns are of great importance in establishing voice.

MT: You tend to write “period pieces” or “historical narratives,” books set in a different time and place than what we’re used to with crime fiction.  What inspires you to do this and what do you hope to accomplish in doing so?

LR: While doing research for Until She Comes Home, I stumbled across an essay written as an introduction to a cookbook published in 1954. It spoke of mothers struggling to raise children as extended families moved farther and farther away, and of mothers being bombarded by news from the radio and television and newspaper, and of no longer having the friendly butcher to rely on but instead a large, generic grocer, and of having more technology in the home that was meant to make life easier but instead meant more and more was expected of them. I read this passage to a group of friends who were sitting nearby as I was doing my reading, all of them mothers too, and they nodded their heads. Yes, isn’t that true, they all said, and were shocked to hear I was reading about the obstacles facing mothers from 1954. I understood in that moment why I’m compelled to often write about the past.  While much has changed over the years, much has not. Writing about the past can illustrate that the struggles of long ago aren’t so different than the struggles today and that we’re not above repeating the same mistakes.

MT: Was it always your dream to become a writer? If not, how did you get into writing?

LR: When I was very young, I dreamed of being a writer but got no further than designing the cover art for a novel I never wrote. In college, I studied accounting and I worked as a tax accountant for many years.  When I decided to stay home with my children, I began to study writing. I worked for ten years before I sold Bent Road, my first novel.

MT: In today’s challenging political climate, what do you expect your stories and characters—especially your incredible women characters—to say? What do you want people to take away from them?

LR: I would reflect back on my answer regarding why I write about the past. On one hand, I find myself writing about people with a powerful and innate need to belong. On the other hand, I write about those willing to cast aside the weaker among us for the sake of money, power or reputation. I’ve seen these themes rise up in all my work and though they’ve tended to rise up in plots that take place many years ago, we continue to see people desperate for a sense of belonging and those who would cast them aside in our headlines every day.

As to my expectations for what my stories and characters will say to the world…I had to think about the answer to this question for quite a while. In the end, I decided I have no expectations.  I work very hard to write authentic, warm-to-the-touch characters who are struggling to reach a goal. I give them something to want and something to need and then place obstacles in their path.  As they struggle to find their way, they are forced to make choices and those choices inform on what types of people they are.  What are they willing to do in order to succeed? What will they not do? By taking this approach, I find my stories end up with much to say, but I don’t set out with any expectations.

MT: What has been your most challenging book to write to date? What book has been your favorite to write? How difficult was it to break into the writing industry?

LR: I’ll start with my favorite book to write. That was certainly Bent Road. I say that because I wrote my first novel with no thought of publishing it. I wrote for the love of it. I didn’t think about how it might be received or if it would be reviewed or if people would like it.  My most difficult book to write has been The Disappearing. I found it difficult for a few reasons.  It is my first book set in present day, and as such, I had a harder time tuning in the voice. It’s also a novel inspired by actual events surrounding the closing of a boys’ reform school that operated in north Florida for over 100 years. Though the novel doesn’t take place at the school and instead takes place in the years immediately after its closing, it was important to me that I remained respectful to the people who suffered there as children.

As to breaking into the writing industry, I wasn’t nearly as savvy as many aspiring writers are today. I thought very little about the publishing industry when I was writing what would become my debut novel.  Instead I was fortunate enough to study with great teachers and in doing so, I met other writers who have become great friends.  We worked together in writing groups over the internet, encouraged each other and challenged each other’s work. All these things were important in helping me break into the industry because they helped me write a novel that captured the attention of an agent and then an editor.

MT: What are you working on now? What can we expect in your next novel?

LR: The Disappearing is my next novel and it will hit shelves in July, 2018. Here is a brief synopsis of what to expect.

When Lane Fielding fled north Florida after high school for the anonymity of New York City, she never thought she’d return. But twenty years later, this time leaving behind her cheating husband, that’s exactly what she and her two daughters have done. Now Lane is tending bar, living under her parents’ roof on the historic Fielding Plantation, and planning how to escape the crimes of her father–crimes that date back to his role as the director of a local boys’ reform school. A role that some claim turned sinister.

Things take a turn when just six months after moving back to Florida, Lane’s older daughter disappears. Lane initially fears a serial killer–like the one who traumatized north Florida in the 1970s–has again set his sights on her small town. Ten days earlier, a Florida State student disappeared, and ever since, everyone has been keeping a close eye on the town’s girls. But when Lane’s younger daughter admits to having made an odd new friend, Lane must consider that her older daughter’s disappearance is payback for her father’s crimes. Or perhaps for her own.

With reporters descending on the town, chaos reaching a fever pitch, and events taking increasingly surreal and sinister turns, Lane is faced with too many enemies and too little time to bring her daughter safely home.

MT: What advice can you give to new and aspiring writers? What about young women who are looking to make their way to the top just as you have done?

LR: I would refer back to what was most important in helping me break into the writing industry.  My best advice to aspiring writers, men or women, is to work on your craft and write the best book you can.  Nothing else will matter until you’ve done that.  Work in a writers’ group and challenge yourself to help your fellow writers become better, stronger writers.  In working to become a better editor of others’ work, you’ll also become a better editor of your own work.  You’ll learn the rules of the craft and why the rules are rules.  All these things will help you advance your work, and I believe this has to be the first step.

MT: Lori, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you.  It was such a delight being able to pick your brain.  I wish you nothing but luck in the rest of your career, and I can’t wait to read your next book!

LR: Thanks to you, Matthew. I greatly appreciate the time you’ve spent with my work and with the thought you put into your questions.

 

Hard Word Book Club goes to Yuma Prison with Elmore Leonard

For November, The Hard Word Book Club discusses a book by one of the
greats at a transitional moment in his career. Elmore Leonard’s Forty
Lashes Less One was the last western he did before starting crime
fiction. Containing many elements in those future books and taking
place in less than wide open spaces, this can be viewed as him taking
steps forward.

The two protagonists are Chiricahua Apache Raymond San Carlos and
Harold Jackson, a black former soldier, sentenced to life in Yuma
Prison. To put Jackson in his place, the king of the cons, Frank
Shelby, tricks him into a fight with with San Carlos. Raymond and
Harold bond when tossed into the hole and become the pet
rehabilitation project for a the new warden, who is also a minister.
When the inmates need to be moved to a new prison, Shelby plans a
breakout and Raymond and Harold plot revenge.

Forty Lashes Less One is funny, tough, and very unique. It provides
much to talk about with how the characters view race and religion. It
is also provides great examples to talk about crossing genres and
Elmore Leonard. We will be having our discussion on Wednesday, November
29th, 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. The books are 10% off to those
planning to attend.

Interview with James Dennis from Miles Arceneaux

Interview with James Dennis from Miles Arceneaux

The team that that makes us the pseudonym of Miles Arceneaux, James Dennis, John T. Davis, and Brent Douglas, are back with another novel following the Sweeterwater family on the Texas Gulf Coast, Hidden Sea. Here they go back to the character that started it all with Charlie Sweetwater after his nephew who has been shanghaied on a fishing boat, encountering Mexican narcos and sea faring pirates. All three will be joining David Hansard on the 17th. We pulled James aside to talk about the novel.

MysteryPeople Scott: This is the first book in the series to take place in the present. Did that affect the writing in any way?

James Dennis: I don’t think it necessarily had an impact on the writing. This book was pretty research intensive, because it takes place in so many different locations along the Mexican coast and Cuba. And even though it takes place only a couple of years ago, the echoes of the past (both the historical past and the Sweetwater family history) can be heard pretty loudly. I suppose we subscribe to the wonderful line from Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

MPS: Lot of the book is seen through the eyes of Augie, Charlie Sweetwater’s nephew. What did that character bring to the series?

JD: I think we were very conscious of the sense of telling a family’s saga, the way different generations approach a given situation. The question of what we inherit from our family and what we chose to discard is really quite fascinating. Augie is young, a bit naïve, and a bit reckless. In many ways, he reminds me of Charlie and Johnny Sweetwater as young men. That’s in contrast to his father, Raul, who has adopted a much more cautious and careful approach to life. So, in some sense, Augie offers us an assurance that the legacy of the Sweetwater family (a family whose motto is “hold my beer and watch this'”) will live on.

MPS: The setting is primarily at sea on boats. Did the constricted space create any narrative challenges?

JD: I don’t think so. Large sections of the earlier books also took place at sea. But it did lend itself to the sense of Augie’s confinement, and in a larger sense, the confinement associated with the scourge of human trafficking. There’s a sense in which Augie’s feeling of being trapped speaks to the repressive conditions of all those who are caught up in the web of the human slave trade.

MPS: What was it like writing a Charlie who was much older than when you introduced him in Thin Slice of Life?

JD: In one sense, character development is what we look for in every novel, but when you write a series, you have an opportunity to have that character mature (or not) over time. In Charlie, we get a chance to see what remains of his reckless youth, and what he’s decided to let go of. It was actually a lot of fun watching him struggle with some of the issues we will all have to face. And the answers Charlie comes up with don’t necessarily have much in common with the choices that we, individually, have made. But that’s fiction: Charlie has taken on a life of his own, and it’s been a great ride watching it.

MPS: There is a major reveal near the end of the book. Was that planned books ahead or when you started this one?

JD: I suspect the people who know us well would chuckle at that idea. I’m not sure we’re capable of that sort of forethought or methodical planning. It’s true, however, that “that particular story line” was intentionally left unresolved, and I think each of us at various times in the novels that followed Thin Slice of Life has wondered what might happen and played out various alternatives. It wasn’t until this book, however, that we could realistically revisit that story line, and we had to play with several alternatives until we found a way to resolve it.

MPS: What makes the Sweetwater family worth coming back to as writers?

JD: There are probably a lot of different answers to this question. The Sweetwater family has offered us a vehicle to address some of the historical events along the coast that we have found interesting through the years. They’ve also given us a chance to write about some of the characters we’ve known (and wish we had known) in that area. They have given us a chance to laugh, and make each other laugh, and to explore the complex dynamics of a larger-than-life family. Mostly, though, they’ve offered us a place and a way to tell some stories about the people and events we care about. For that, we’ll always be grateful.

 

3 Picks for November

This month we have the return of two unconventional series heroes and a return of a crime novel that will hopefully get more attention now that it is back in print.

Murder In The Manuscript Room by Con Lehane

This follow up to Murder At The 42nd Street Library has crime fiction curator Raymond Ambler and his comrades involved in two murders that may be connected one of new coworker and the other of a labor boss that a childhood friend of Ray’s has been serving time for. Ross delivers a streamlined plot and sense of melancholy that echoes Ross MacDonald.

Never Say No To A Killer by Clifton Adams

Stark House reprints this crime paperback masterpiece of a con who breaks out of prison with the help of a benefactor to do a job. When the only person to meet him is his patron’s wife trouble naturally awaits. Adams packs all the twists, sudden violence, sultry women, and cynicism you’d expect in a moody fifties noir and then some.

Fool’s River by Timothy Hallinan

The latest Poke Rafferty novel has the trouble prone travel writer looking for the missing father of his daughter’s boyfriend. Knowing the man enjoyed Thailand’s sex trade, Poke fears the man was taken for his money and has little time before his life follows. Hallinan gives us another provocative look at the city balanced with a very human feel for family.