PICK OF  THE MONTH – THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE BY JOE R. LANSDALE

When it comes to straight up entertainment, few authors can hold a candle to Joe Lansdale. His working class East Texas voice provides both a perfect and unique bed for action and humor, and few characters are as entertaining as liberal redneck Hap and his gay, black, Republican buddy Leonard. The two have been in more scrapes and exchanged more quips than both the real and fictional Butch and Sundance. Joe’s latest foray with the boys, The Elephant Of Surprise, proves to be one of the most entertaining in the series.

The Elephant of Surprise (Hap and Leonard) Cover ImageThe story is stripped down and simple. Hap and Leonard are trying to get home before a storm hits and comes across an Asian American woman with her tongue sliced halfway through with a short kung-fu expert and a big guy who’s good with guns after her. Since they’re good guys and Texans, they help the lady and soon have more bad men after them. Things escalate from chase, siege, more chases, and a showdown in a bowling alley as the storm builds.

In many ways, this is Joe getting back to basics.With the exception of a couple of calls Hap makes to his wife Brett and their deputy pal Manny helping out, any of the usual supporting characters only appear in the last chapter. Joe keeps the plot simple, although he makes us wonder how the damsel in distress’s story is on the up and up. It allows for a great amount of forward momentum with danger escalating as they get more and more outnumbered. Lansdale taps deeper into the pulp and fifties paperback roots of the earlier books in the series.

The Elephant Of Surprise is like a master blues man’s acoustic set. It’s taking everything to its bad ass bare essentials. Joe Lansdale shows that’s all he needs to rock.

Mark your calendars to join us April 3rd at 7pm when Joe is here to speak and sign copies.

Meike reviews Last Woman Standing

MysteryPeople contributor Meike Alana has reviewed Amy Gentry’s new novel, Last Woman Standing. Gentry will be in the store Tuesday, January 22nd, at 7pm to discuss her book and sign copies.

Last Woman Standing Cover ImageAmy Gentry wowed us with her debut novel, Good as Gone, and her latest suspense novel is every bit as thrilling. Last Woman Standing introduces us to Dana Diaz, a Latina stand-up comic from Amarillo struggling to make it in a comedy scene dominated by men and rife with sexual harassment. Dana has recently returned to the Lone Star State from LA after a split from her childhood friend and writing partner. She’s grown accustomed to expect little from an industry where she’s continually reminded that a woman (particularly a woman of color) has little value, but her frustrations have reached a critical point. What she has told no one is the real reason she left LA—she was drugged and sexually assaulted by a well-known comic she idealized during a meeting purported to be about discussing her future.

One night during her set she aptly fends off a vulgar heckler. Computer programmer Amanda witnesses the encounter and offers to buy Dana a congratulatory drink. One drink turns to several, and the two women bond over their shared experiences of injustice and misogyny. Soon they strike a kind of Strangers on a Train deal—each will seek revenge on the other’s abuser. Revealing more would be crossing over into spoiler territory, but the ensuing plot twists make for a riveting tale of deceit and paranoia.

There is a definite #MeToo vibe to the book, and Gentry shines a harsh light on the myriad injustices that women face every single day. The novel examines the issues of sexual harassment and assault from a variety of angles, including the confusion that a victim can experience. Dana doesn’t even know how to put words to what happened to her—she knows it was “bad” but doesn’t initially realize that the episode qualifies as assault. When she describes her experiences to her male best friend, he’s dismissive and tells her she’s overreacting–an all too often experience for survivors of these encounters. As she comes to recognize exactly how deeply she’s been violated, she also realizes that a long-buried event from her past qualifies as rape. When she’s finally able to express her anger, Dana is shocked at the level of rage she feels as well as the violence she may be capable of. After all, there never seem to be any repercussions for the male perpetrators—so perhaps women need to take matters into their own hands.

Meike Reviews Jeff Abbott’s latest

Jeff Abbott is a perennial BookPeople favorite, and his new book doesn’t disappoint. Here, Meike reviews it ahead of Jeff’s visit to the store Thursday, October 25th at 7pm to discuss it.

The Three Beths Cover ImageYou know that feeling you get when you think there might be someone following you? You walk a little faster, and then they walk faster, too? And the faster you go, the faster they go, until at the end it’s straight up race for survival? That’s how Jeff Abbott’s latest standalone, The Three Beths, feels. You’ve been warned.

It’s been a year since Mariah Dunning’s mother Beth vanished from their home in Lakehaven, TX,  a comfortable suburb of Austin. The residents there have known each other for years, so Mariah acutely feels the suspicion that’s fallen on her father Craig. One day she briefly catches sight of a woman who Mariah believes might be her mother, and she becomes more determined than ever to discover the truth to her mother’s disappearance. That’s the only way she can prove not only that Craig didn’t kill his wife, but also that Beth didn’t choose to walk out on her daughter. With the help of a crime blogger, Mariah discovers that two other Lakehaven women disappeared recently—both of them named Beth.

In a story with multiple plot lines like this, the pacing is critical and Abbott hits the mark — each part of the story is revealed subtly and at just the right time. That leaves the reader simultaneously wanting to race to the next clue and trying to slow down so as not to miss any important details. And there are just the right amount of twists and turns to keep things lively without going off the rails.

 

SUPPORTING THE BLUE: REAVIS WORTHAM TALKS ABOUT WRITING, THE ADVANTAGES OF AGE, THE LAW, & HIS LATEST NOVEL

Reavis Worham’s latest in his Red River mystery series, Gold Dust, has the folks who keep the law in nineteen sixties Central Springs, Texas, and their families off in different directions with plots involving a CIA experiment, modern cattle rustles, and a fake gold rush. On October 9th Reavis will be at BookPeople with Melissa Lenhardt (Heresy) to discuss their books, but we grabbed him ahead of time for a few questions.

Image result for reavis worthamMysteryPeople Scott: What aspects of the sixties did you want to explore in Gold Dust?

Reavis Wortham: The initial idea came from the true story of a CIA experiment in 1950 called Operation Sea-Spray, in which a supposedly benign bacteria was sprayed over the city of San Francisco in a simulated biological warfare attack. A number of citizens fell ill with pneumonia-like illnesses, and at least one person died as a result.

So as usual, I wondered, “What if?” What if something similar happened to the tiny northeast community of Center Springs at the end of the 1960s, that complicated decade full of war, civil unrest, and space travel? As in all my novels, I thrust normal people in abnormal situations and watch how the characters respond to an unexpected world of challenges. What happens if someone starts a gold rush in Northeast Texas while at the same time cattle rustlers murder a local farmer in a completely separate incident? How does law enforcement separate these crimes that might be connected?

I’ve heard stories of gold buried and lost in Lamar County, and after the novel came out, I learned of a real gold mine near Chicota, Texas.

So after wandering around a bit with this answer, the truth is I wanted to explore the ultimate question of what Constable Ned Parker would do if his family faces this personal danger from a government he trusts, while at the same time an entire world of mystery swirls around the community. I honestly didn’t know he’d load up with an old friend and head for Washington D.C. to find out who was responsible for nearly killing Top, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Gold Dust (Red River Mysteries #7) Cover ImageMPS: You’re near the end of the decade. How has it affected Center Springs?

RW: Small towns are like small pools or stock tanks, with little exposed on the surface, but if you could peer underwater you’d find an entire hidden world full of beauty and danger. I think of that tiny community as a vortex, the swirling center of situations that involve the characters that have grown through the seven Red River novels. We’re all impacted by our decisions, and oftentimes, the decisions of others.

As I said earlier, the 1960s were packed with significant events that come in from the outside world and involve people who only want to live their lives with as little trauma and drama as possible. When outside influences impact those farmers who live off the land, they respond with force. Center Springs wants to be left alone, but when the world intrudes, it changes the community a little at a time, drawing them into life beyond Lamar County.

The community is scarred from those intrusions, but holds on to the past in many ways, because these were people who survived the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, and are enduring Vietnam. They still raise their own crops, slaughter cattle and hogs for food, and often wear the same style of clothes year after year. They’re hardened even more by the end of the decade, but still hold dear those same senses of family and community they’ve always possessed.

MPS: You brought retired Texas Ranger Tom Bell back. What does he bring to the ensemble?

RW: I left Tom Bell wounded and dying in Mexico at the end of The Right Side of Wrong. Since then, I haven’t been to a signing or speaking event that someone didn’t ask if he was ever coming back. Tom proved to be a favorite character who has his own following and I realized he needed to return from the dead.

He has many of the same moral values as Ned Parker, but he’s darker, more experienced in the outside world, and will step over that gray line between right and wrong when necessary. He’s tough, smart as a whip, experienced in more ways than we have yet to realize, and full of surprises. Tom is that guy who watches, waits, and when necessary, responds in a way that most true Texans appreciate, dispensing justice without remorse, because it’s the right thing to do.

MPS: Ned and Tom, the oldest characters, handle themselves the best. What does age give them over the younger folks?

RW: They handle situations due to their experience as lawmen. The younger characters are on a learning curve, and sometimes hesitate to make dramatic decisions, whereas Ned and Tom will do what’s necessary to protect family and freedom. They’ve already made the mistakes younger people are yet to experience, and operate with that knowledge in the back of their minds.

MPS: You have at least four plots running that the reader follows without any problem. How did you approach those spinning plates?

RW: There are four? Dang. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Honestly, I write these novels without an outline, and simply follow the characters as they stumble through life. When a plot line diverges, I’ll follow it to see what happens. Each chapter is a surprise for us all. I guess if I had to examine what I do, I’ll simply say that by the time I finish a chapter that follows one character or plot line, I want to see what the rest are doing, so I’ll just “change the channel.” It’s satisfying to know that readers can progress without getting lost. That means I’ve done my job.

MPS: Many of your characters are in law enforcement. What do you want to get across about that profession to the reader?

RW: I have a simple philosophy. If you don’t break the law, you won’t find yourself in opposition with those who wear a badge.

Growing up, my grandfather, Joe Armstrong, was the constable in Lamar County Precinct 3. I heard from my parents and grandparents from day one that law enforcement officers were my best friends. I know friends and family members who have been police officers, sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Marshals, and judges. They are all that stands between us and anarchy.

Just look around and see how quickly things can go bad. I support the blue, and though there are always bad apples, or terrible mistakes, these men and women who wear badges have my utmost respect.

 

Great American Reads Discussion : Villains & Monsters

This Sunday a 1pm on BookPeople’s third floor, we will continue our discussions tied to PBS’s Great American Reads. The subject will be villains and monsters.

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery will be leading the discussion along with authors Meg Gardiner, who has created many a memorable villain in her thrillers and Mark Pryor, creator of Austin sociopath, Dominic. All three have listed three of their favorite villains and monsters below

Scott Montgomery

Frankenstein’s Monster- A wonderful reflection of the protagonist and pretty much the start of the man created threat. A great example of an often interpreted monster.

Deputy Lou Ford – Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me is still the most chilling novel I ever read. It is mainly do to the benign way this psychopath with a badge discusses his crimes.

Adan’ Berrera – In Don Winslow’s The Power Of The Dog and The Cartel, he took much of Narco lord El Chapo’s life and created a wily, charming, do-whatever’s-necessary crime boss who pushes DEA agent Art Keller into the dark action to take him down. No villain has manipulated a hero so thoroughly.

 

Mark Pryor

Professor James Moriarty – the finest example of a bad guy so captivating that, even though he was created to finish off Sherlock Holmes, he became far larger than anticipated by the author.

Hannibal Lecter – simply the gold standard for intelligent, evil, and mesmerizingly interesting antagonists.

Anton Chigurh – from No Country For Old Men, great book and great movie. He’s a hired killer, and normally those are fairly uninteresting because they have no deep-seated compulsion or motivation to kill. Yet, Chigurh’s personality quirks and ruthless make him fascinating (to me at least).

 

Meg Gardiner

Hannibal Lecter: So compelling that almost everybody else in the novels where he features simply seems to melt away. Everybody except the heroes, seemingly ill-equipped to counter him, who must rise to the challenge—Clarice Starling and Will Graham.

Randall Flagg: from Stephen King’s The Stand. A handsome, charismatic leader, a ruthless destroyer, the avatar of all cult messiahs who turn out—in this case, perhaps literally—to be the devil.

The shark in Jaws- voracious, relentless, and terrifying, it roams the unseen deep. It’s a primal manifestation of Nature’s dangers, and a reminder that death can rise up to rip into us at any moment.

 

Join us Sunday as we take a deep tour through literature’s rogues gallery.

 

AFFECTS ON A BRILLIANT MIND : SHERRY THOMAS’ LADY SHERLOCK

Rachel R., who co-leads the 7% Solution Book Club, wrote about Sherry Thomas’s new Lady Sherlock book and Holmes adaptations ahead of the release of the latest book in the series. 

Sherlock Holmes fandom has been active since the publication of the first short stories. It’s a commonly known fact that the only reason Holmes came back from the dead, for example, is because too many fans wrote angry letters at Arthur Conan Doyle demanding his return. These days, it’s almost as common to see a Sherlock Holmes adaptation as it is to see one of Shakespeare. What tends to make or break a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, in my experience, is not a supposed “faithfulness” to the characters or the cases (though that’s too often used as an excuse for lazy writing), but a thoughtful engagement with the world that Holmes and their ilk inhabit. Take Elementary, for example; many of the cases, if they reference the original stories at all, do so in name only, and Holmes and Watson, though true to the spirit of their Conan Doyle counterparts, live in different places in society. They’re not gentlemen of leisure; the detective work is their livelihood. But what makes Elementary so captivating as a Holmes adaptation is the extent to which the show examines what someone with Sherlock’s capabilities would struggle with in the 2010s in New York City: drug use, mental health, et cetera. At one point Sherlock, speaking during an AA meeting, asks, “Sometimes I wonder if I should have been born in a different time…ours is an era of distraction, it’s a punching drumbeat of constant input, this cacophony which follows us into our homes and even into our beds…In my less productive moments, I am left to wonder, if I had just been born when it was a little quieter out there, would I have even become an addict in the first place?”

This attention to place and its effect on a mind as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes’ is no less acute in Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series, though she still resides in 1880s London. Charlotte Holmes cannot move about society, restricted by her gender, and instead pretends to be an assistant for her recluse brother, the nonexistent Sherlock Holmes. But this gender reversal doesn’t just serve as a story hook, something cool and new and different—there have actually been several Holmes adaptations in which Holmes or Watson or both have been women over the years—but instead Holmes’ gender fundamentally alters the world in which the story takes place. Holmes, no longer the aforementioned gentleman of leisure, desires and wants things from a world that does not immediately provide them: mostly autonomy, bodily, financial, or otherwise. At one point while trying to figure out her financial situation, Charlotte explains, “I do not like the idea of bartering the use of my reproductive system for a man’s support—not in the absence of other choices.” These wants extend past Charlotte herself; she wants that for her landlady and confidante Mrs. Watson, for her sisters, and the many women of all classes that she encounters in the ins and outs of her cases. By changing Holmes’ gender, Sherry Thomas has done something that Arthur Conan Doyle was never able to do: she has made Sherlock Holmes altruistic.

Thomas is well acquainted with the significance of setting in her work. In her romances, both historical and contemporary, the setting often serves to inform the plot beyond mere contrivance. Her young adult fantasy novels, with their rich worldbuilding, still keep one foot firmly in the “real” world, giving each character who crosses over to the fantastical setting the gift of awe at seeing magic for the first time. It is a delight to be a bookseller who reads across genres, watching her become more and more refined in her craft, as she continues to interrogate what is important about stories, whether they be romance, or fantasy, or mystery.

Sherry Thomas will be at BookPeople Tuesday, October 2nd at 7PM to celebrate the release of the third Lady Sherlock book, The Hollow of Fear. The 7% Solution book club (which I co-lead) will be meeting directly before the event on the third floor to discuss the second in the series, A Scandal in Belgravia, before we attend the event together. All are welcome to join, whether or not you finished the book, although there may be spoilers for the first two novels. We usually meet the first Monday of every month at 7PM; upcoming discussion titles can be found on BookPeople’s website here.