BEN REHDER INTERVIEW

A Tooth For A Tooth is Ben Rehder’s latest novel to feature Roy Ballard, a legal videographer operating in Austin with his partner and now fiancé Mia. Roy takes a job to prove fraud in what may be an insurance scam, but finds darker crimes when people start shooting at him. It’s hard to say  more about the book without giving away surprises, but both Ben and I tried our best in this interview. Take a look and join us Sunday at 2pm when Ben is here with Reavis Z. Wortham and Billy Kring to talk about their books.

MysteryPeople Scott: I felt A Tooth For a Tooth was one of your more complex mysteries, yet it made crystal clear sense in the unraveling. Did you have it all plotted out before you started?

A Tooth for a Tooth Cover ImageBen Rehder: I’ve always started my novels with just an idea and a few characters, but not an outline, so I’m largely making it up as I go along. The good news is, that leads to a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. Glad it made sense in the end!

MPS: I notice that Roy seems more likely to have a gun ready and possibly less trusting. Have past jobs made him more jaded or just more aware?

BR: He’s always had a gun accessible, but it’s probably on his mind more in recent books. I think he has more to lose, and more to protect, now that he’s in a relationship with Mia. He doesn’t want some goon to come along and screw that up! Both of them have had to deal with violent people on several occasions, and now more than ever, Roy wants to be prepared for whatever might come along.

MPS: While he deals with her over the phone, Mia isn’t physically there with Roy at the beginning of the book. Was there a particular reason for that decision?

BR: I wanted Roy to be on his own for a period as he dealt with some personal issues and grappled with some poor decisions he’d made in the past. Some of these involved Mia, and some would certainly impact their relationship.

MPS: Did it present any challenge?

Image result for ben rehderBR: Not particularly, no, and it gave Roy time to put more thought into one particular challenge than he otherwise might have. Hate to be cryptic, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers.

MPS: While you deliver a first rate detective plot, you take time to deal with Roy and Mia’s relationship, and have chapters that deal with the repercussions of the plot, like a wonderful exchange with a neighbor complaining about the shootout. Do you feel these moments are as essential to the story as the plot?

BR: Absolutely. If you build a character well, readers are interested in all aspects of their lives. You also want your reader to understand that your protagonist is human and has moments of self-doubt, like everyone else. Roy struggles with that sort of thing more than he would ever let on. For instance, he doesn’t want to be the guy endangering his neighbors, but at the same time, he’s irritated that the neighbor is making him think about such things.

MPS: Even in your more satirical books, when someone is shot, the act is rarely dismissed. Do you feel an author has a certain responsibility when portraying violence?

BR: To a degree, yes, but less so when the violence is obviously used for farcical or comic effect. It also depends on the context. If I wrote a series in which violence was frequently presented as the solution to most of my protagonist’s problems, I’d feel uncomfortable with that. If one of my characters is tempted to commit violence in a serious scene, I want him or her to struggle with it, before, during, and after. That’s how most people with a conscience would handle it in real life.

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INTERVIEW WITH BILLY KRING

If there was any justice in the publishing world Billy Kring’s Hunter Kincaid series would be as well known as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Full of action, great plotting, and always topical, the Texas Border Patrol agent and her cohorts take on the baddest of the bad from two separate counties. In Hunter’s Moon, she is recruited by a CIA agent, Art Gonzales, to track down those who killed his partner, she finds herself up against a cartel who use drones in various illegal ways. Billy will be joining Reavis Wortham and Ben Redher at BookPeople on July 8th at 2pm to talk about the book as well as Texas crime writing, but is flying solo for this interview we did with him.

Hunter's Moon Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: How did drones become a big player in Hunter’s latest case?

Billy Kring: I’ve been watching the technological advances in drones, both in use and in their capability, for the last five or so years, and have read little blurbs here and there on drones being used on the border to smuggle drugs into the country. Some reports from Mexico were more helpful than those from the U.S. side, talking about how their use is expanding, and in a lot of areas, including some that talked about weapons brought into Mexico by drones. And, in the last year, about things like the Sarin gas I used in my story. The possibilities are almost endless. And of course, then I thought about how Hunter would handle them, which started the entire story spinning in my head.

MPS: What was the most surprising thing you learned in the research?

BK: The most surprising thing was how prevalent and specialized homemade drones were becoming. Some are capable of moving loads of several hundred pounds, and flying individuals around on them, like something out of Star Wars. It’s amazing that all of them were made in someone’s garage or workshop. Arming them with weapons was inevitable, but even that surprised me because of their use as potential sniper or assassination weapons with locally purchased firearms.  Commercially manufactured drones like the Predator cost over a million dollars, but handmade drones can run less than a thousand dollars, often much less. And the rate of technological advancement in drones is incredible, both in the homemade area and in the scientific/military arena.

MPS: Did using them present any challenge to you as writer, particularly with many of the action scenes?

BK: Yes, because I’m not a flyer. I learned how to fly them while researching the story, but it still took some thinking about the scenes, because I wrote them from several viewpoints at the same time: the victim, the drone itself, and the flyer. Sure was fun to write, though!

MPS: One thing the Hunter series is known for are the villains. What did you want to explore with Pascual?

BK: Pascual Osorio is an opportunist, with a criminal bent, but not necessarily a killer like some of his associates have been. His power and influence has faded since the death of his deadly ally Prendell “Conan” Taylor, and when he joins with the mastermind of the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo, he does so out of desperation and that sense of lost power. When the terrorist takes over and shoves him to the curb (while Pascual is suffering from cancer), I thought his mental state and desperation would be interesting to explore. Where does a dying man turn? What does he dwell on about this life? That he turned to Hunter Kincaid, his old nemesis, made for a unique alliance. It also played into the old saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

MPS: Hunter is off the books in this mission, did that make the story tougher or easier to right?

BK: It was tougher. When writing about Hunter working in her official capacity, the rules are set out by the agency. When she goes under the radar, she’s operating in an environment with no rules, none. She’s surviving by her wits while still trying to accomplish a mission that’s not sanctioned, well, at least on the surface. Lots of things to think about when there are no rules.

MPS: Art Gonzales, the CIA agent Hunter has to work with, is a great character because he seems like he could go either way as ally or enemy to Hunter. What do you have to keep in mind when writing that kind of character?

BK: Art is just that way: he’s placed with Hunter to assist her to complete the assignment, or to push her out of the picture if she’s obstructing things. He’s one of the elite members of the CIA’s Special Operations Group, and can, if need be, perform sanctions. But, he winds up liking Hunter and they hit it off very well. As for what develops between them, that comes later in the story!

“WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT…” By Tim Bryant

Thanks to Tim Bryant for writing a guest blog post for us about his books and where Wilkie is headed. Tim will be here Saturday, June 16th at 2pm with Mike Nemeth to discuss their work. 

Wilkie John Liquorish has turned out to be every bit the handful I wrote him to be and then some.

Kensington Books put out the first book in the Wilkie John Western series, A World Of Hurt, in November of last year. The second, Dead And Buried, just followed at the end of May. I had just written the fourth book (Old Mother Curridge) of my Dutch Curridge Mystery series in which a flawed anti-hero private detective fought both society’s and his own worst ills in an attempt to level the uneven playing field of 1950s Fort Worth. With Wilkie John, I decided, I would push my protagonist as far as I could. Unfortunately, this also pushes the reader along with him.

Wilkie John is a seventeen-year-old boy, thrown into a violent and unforgiving world of 1880s Texas with no father, and worse, no moral compass at all. He’s trigger happy, and that’s just about the only kind of happiness he really knows. He shoots two people in the first chapter. The body count grows. At one point, he gets a job as a gravedigger, a job that seems to suit his abilities, as he can always kill someone if he needs the work.

There is a black humor to Wilkie John and to the book in general. He doesn’t wear a white hat. If that’s a problem for him, it seems to also be a problem for his readers. Reviews for the first book have proven divisive. One reviewer thought the tale completely unredeemable, even though he threw the book against a wall and failed to finish it. And, may I add, he did get all of his facts completely correct. I couldn’t disagree with much of what he said, although he did leave a great deal unsaid.

Is Wilkie John redeemable? Well, the reader will have to keep reading, but the protagonist does back his way into a job with the Texas Rangers. I finally came to the conclusion that readers who have trouble with the Wilkie John books dislike them mostly for their authenticity. Wilkie John is wild and a little wooly, but in a way very much like Billy the Kid. I started him off at the age of seventeen, both as a nod to Billy and as a way of giving myself lots of room to develop him. With that much room, I decided, I could also give him a lot of need for developing as well.

If the second book does as well as the first, we’re certainly hoping for a third in the series. I’ve learned to like Wilkie John just fine, so I do believe you can too. He’s got some growing up to do, but didn’t we all at seventeen?   

The other thing of note about the Wilkie John westerns is that they’re based around the section of Fort Worth known as Hell’s Half Acre. The 1880s were the era when that outlaw section of town was gaining its fierce reputation. Other wild men like Butch Cassidy and Wyatt Earp (some people now misbelieve that he was a white hat wearing true blue good guy, but he was nothing of the sort) were gambling and carousing in the saloons and brothels there. It’s a fascinating time and place to throw a young morally-compromised boy like Wilkie John into.

In an example of getting the cart before the horse and pulling backward into the past, my Dutch Curridge detective books were also set in Hell’s Half Acre, years before I even thought of writing the westerns. They, however, were set during the sundown of that fabled place, as it was making way for the spiffed-up Fort Worth that we know today. In fact, Gary Goldstein at Kensington read those Dutch Curridge books and then gave me the opportunity to write for Kensington. He never stipulated that they be set in Fort Worth or in any specific location though. Of course, I had done a great deal of research on Fort Worth by that time, and I knew it was prime placement for a 1880s western series.

The Dutch Curridge books were successful enough to get me to where I am today. If you’re interested in the colorful history of Fort Worth or Texas in general, you might enjoy them. You might also enjoy the Wilkie John westerns, A World Of Hurt and Dead And Buried. All they really require is the love of a good story about real people. It might help if you lean more toward Elmer Kelton than Louis L’amour. (Kelton’s The Time It Never Rained and The Good Old Boys are still two of my favorite westerns.) As Elmer himself used to say, “I can’t write about heroes seven feet tall and invincible. I write about people five-foot-eight and nervous.” Wilkie John is five-foot-one with a king-size inferiority complex.

Texas in the 1880s was a wild and lawless place. It could still be that way in the 1950s. There are lots of tales about those days. Some aren’t tall at all. Sometimes they pack a pretty mean punch. Sometimes they shoot first and aim second. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction. Other times, fiction rings truer than any newspaper article or history book. Whether you like it or not.

 

Mike Nemeth’s The Undiscovered Country

The Undiscovered Country is an odd, yet satisfying thriller. It rests partly on a murder nobody knows has occurred. Yet author Mike Nemeth knows the mechanics of this genre and tells it like a master craftsman.

The main character, Randle Marks, has been recently paroled from prison for a crime he did not commit, and is on his way to getting his life back together. When he learns that his mother is seriously ill, he goes back to his Georgia home to help. What he gets in return is being caught in the crossfire of his feuding siblings, each angling for a large chunk of her estate, and questioning the practices of his mother’s care givers. He handles both by searching and researching uncovering secrets about his family and himself.

Nemeth lays a southern family drama over a thriller’s structure and pace. It owes more to Pat Conroy than Patterson. However, his thriller skills show through the pace of reveals and resolutions, to a classic finale with Randle revealing the final major truth to everyone he has called into  a room. He often hits the story beats with an emotion that feels real rather than melodramatic.He taps into situations many of us deal with to connect with the suspense he creates.

The Undiscovered Country is that rare thriller where the reader can relate. He uses real frustrations we have with both the health care system and those closest to us to explore themes of identity and secrets that reverberate from the past. The result is a one of a kind story in the best way.

If you want to know more, join us this Saturday at 2pm as Mike Nemeth joins Tim Bryant here in the store for a discussion of their books!

Q&A with Ricky Bush

Ricky Bush puts his love and knowledge of the blues into his crime fiction. In his latest, The Oaxacan Kid, blues collector Foster Cane is on the hunt for a recording performed by a Latino harmonica player. His search leads to a human trafficking ring and his father’s killers. Billy will be joining author and filmmaker John Shepphird May 5th at 2PM, but we caught up with him earlier to discuss writing and music.

The Oaxacan Kid Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Which came first, the character of Foster Cane or the story about the Oaxacan Kid?

Ricky Bush: My story germinated around the idea of a collector of rare blues records intent on tracking down an obscure bluesman. So, I guess I fleshed out Foster Cane first. During the ’60s a folk music revival was afoot and a lot of musicologists began discovering early blues recordings and started scouring the Mississippi Delta looking for those musicians. They recorded them and brought them out of obscurity, which launched a blues revival. The Oaxacan Kid became Foster’s target. Since few Hispanics have recorded blues, I thought I’d add that twist.

MPS: The blues world serves as a back drop for your books and you are an accomplished harmonica player. What do you want to get across to the reader about the music?

RB: Blues music reflects the human condition. The music is much more bipolar than some people realize, swinging from sad and lonely to upbeat and joyful. Yeah, there are a lot of blues about losing a good woman (or man), but plenty more about finding a good woman (or man), and all life experiences in between.

MPS: Do you see anything it has in common with crime fiction?

RB: Crime fiction is all about the blues. The genre reflects the human condition in much the same way. Plenty of blues recordings are crime stories personified. Check out Pat Hare’s version of ‘I’m Gonna Murder My Baby’ from 1954. Sad thing is that he did just that. Another good example is Lazy Lester’s ‘Bloodstains On The Wall’. That’s crime fiction.

MPS: Family runs through the novel with Foster and his antagonists both having to deal with their relations. What did you want to explore in those dynamics?

RB: You’re right. Family dynamics drive the plot and theme throughout The Oaxacan Kid. The Morenos are as tight knit as the Cane family. One is more intent on the preservation of criminal enterprise and the other is intent of the preservation and safety of the family. ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Sopranos’ explored those dynamics in depth. The ‘Breaking Bad’ series dove into the same waters. I think just exploring how far one will go for love of family, whether it’s controlling criminal territory or the attitude of ‘not with my family, you won’t’ will always create the tension needed to drive a story.

MPS: You use Houston well. Other than familiarity what does the city provide you as a writer?

RB: I grew up sixty miles south of Houston and have lived ninety miles east of Houston for over thirty years. My wife’s from Houston, so I know pretty much know the city. Spent tons of time in the excellent blues venues in Houston and my first protagonists are blues harmonica musicians who gig in Houston and those blues clubs serve as models for my first three books. Houston is constantly dealing with human and sexual trafficking and historically has been a conduit for drug smuggling from Mexico. The Oaxacan Kid explores those themes.

MPS: If you were introducing someone to the blues, what three albums would you tell them to listen to first?

RB: Gotta start with the roots. ‘The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson’ is essential because he’s the most influential for those that followed. Muddy Waters ‘His Best 1947-1955′. He took the blues from Stovall Plantation to Chicago, amplified it, and created the greatest blues band ever. He introduced the world to Little Walter, the greatest harmonica player-ever. Howlin’ Wolf ‘The Definitive Collection’. The Wolf’s blues is gritty, down in the alley, gut bucket blues on par with Muddy’s influence on the genre.

Q&A with John Shepphird

John Shepphird is not only an award winning crime author, he also has spent years as a director of movies in the low budget arena for cable networks like SyFy and ABC Family. He puts that to use in his latest novel, Bottom Feeders. A put upon director struggling to shoot a period drama on a shoe string budget not only has to put up with a diva of a leading lady and tight schedule, but soon someone is knocking off members of the cast and crew with a bow and arrow. It’s a classic whodunnit with a fun insider’s look at the temporary community a film crew forms. John will be here on May 5th at 2PM with fellow crime writer Ricky Bush. We found some time to talk with him earlier about crime fiction and film making.

Bottom Feeders Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: As somebody who worked on film sets in the past, you captured the weird bubble of a society it creates. What did you want the reader to know about film work?

John Shepphird: You rarely see the actual world of low-budget film-making represented and I thought I’d write what I know. Having directed nine TV/straight-to-video movies and hours of television, I’m part of the community of artists that create entertainment found on the fringe of your cable guide–SyFy Channel, Lifetime, USA Network and ABC Family. Contrary to what people are led to believe, there is very little glamour in movie making. You have to get up very early. The hours are brutal and schedules change day-to-day. This is especially true in low budget. There have been plenty of books, movies and TV shows depicting the world of stars, agents, limos and personal assistants. That’s all so cliché. I wrote about the people who aspire to bat in Hollywood’s major leagues.

MPS: While edgier, the mystery is in an Agatha Christie amateur-sleuth. Did a tale with a non-professional investigator in the lead present any sort of challenge?

JS: I love a whodunit. It’s the perfect balance of structure and character. That was my jumping off point. The cast and crew on a set becomes a temporary family with many similar dynamics found in an actual family, including all the dysfunction. I like to put my characters in a pressure cooker, then take a deep-dive into their best and worst behavior. Sondra, the San Bernardino County Deputy Sheriff, is the one outsider, a professional investigating the brutal murders — but she is not the primary focus to drive the mystery. She has challenges and flaws of her own and it’s her perspective that serves to escalate enlighten the story.

MPS: While the book has a unique voice and take its roots are hard planted in the traditional whodunit. Did you draw from any influences?

JS: I’d met author Michael Nethercott at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Albany just as his first novel The Seance Society came out. It paid homage to Agatha Christie, but also Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Stout. I don’t necessarily read cozies. I write dark suspense and noir, but I liked the book so much I bought copies and gifted it to friends and family. I’d been thinking about starting a whodunit but it was this book that inspired me to take a crack. Bottom Feeders started out as an exercise, then the characters took on a life of their own.   

MPS: Which character is the closest to you or someone you worked with?

JS:. Every character is derived from people I’ve worked with, and not necessarily on the films I wrote and directed but also the projects I was hired on as a crew member. Director Eddie’s perspective is probably the closest to mine as he tries to navigate the treacherous waters, and not go down with the ship. There’s a lot of things to worry about, believe me. Many who work in film and TV are very passionate about what they do. I have great respect for them. We’re all a little crazy, sure, and most of us will admit it. I dedicated this book to them.

I dedicate this novel to the legions of hard-working craftspeople and performers who have carried sandbags, set lights, cobbled together wardrobe, swung microphones, memorized dialogue, painted sets, dusted faces, pulled focus, teased hair, coordinated chaos, hit their marks, and built it all up only to tear it down again—making something out of nothing. To the dreamers and the schemers in the low-budget trenches, this is for you.

MPS: Did writing about a subject you knew so well actually present any challenges?

JS: If anything I wanted to include more of the details baked into low-budget filmmaking but they don’t necessarily advance the story. Once the action kicked in I couldn’t slow the pace to explore nuance. The technology has changed, but the fundamentals of motion picture production has remained the same–cut to the chase.      

MPS: How many times have you wanted to commit murder on set?

JS:. I’ve never had urge to kill cast or crew because they’re like family. There are a few executives and producers I’d considered taking a swing at back in the day. Ultimately nature took its course. In the span of my career three executive producers have been incarcerated for securities fraud including Jordan Belfort, the actual “Wolf of Wall Street” depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film. Another producer was jailed in a surrogacy/medical-tourism scheme. The world of independent film is ripe with personalities. There are hidden agendas. Get movie professionals together and horror stories will be swapped. We’re all just crazy enough to jump back into the flame.

Review: Walter Mosley is back at it with DOWN THE RIVER UNTO THE SEA

Walter Mosley is one of the most prolific mystery writers working today — this is his 53rd book. Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery reviewed his latest ahead of his event here Saturday, March 3rd, at 6pm

No matter what genre or subgenre Walter Mosley brings to us, you can always expect it to be smart and have a voice. His use of style conveys emotion and thought to connect the individual protagonist with his larger society, connecting the reader to it all. With Down The River Unto The Sea we get a new detective and different style, but the voice is there.

Joe “King” Oliver operates a little one man agency in New York with his teen daughter Aja acting as a gal Friday. Two cases come his way. One involves getting an activist known as The Free Man off death row for killing two police officers. The other ties to his past, connected to a woman who helped frame him for a sexual assault charge that got him bounced off the force.

This may all sound familiar, but Mosley weaves it into a prescient novel. King appears to be the least angst ridden of Mosley’s detective heroes, resembling more of Hammett’s Sam Spade than Chandler’s world weary Marlowe who his Easy Rawlins often reflects. Even the tighter prose style reflects Hammett, making it even more effective when the character drops some knowledge at the end of a paragraph. Oliver’s attitude and actions beautifully entwine, particularly when they seem to run counter to each other.

As always, the author uses setting perfectly, though it is different from the shadow societies created by the people the mainstream has pushed to the side. King inhabits an increasingly gentrified New York with unwashed nooks and crannies in the form of diners and dive bars he ducks into for information and salvation. While races mingle it is on tectonic plates that could shift any minute.

 

In this book, Mosley tries to hold out on the theme until the climax, or at least appears to. As he uncovers the mystery and the deeds of his former fellow boys in blue, he faces harsher truths, 

and the reader is presented with harsher questions about living in today’s world. He is driven to make a decision that asks how far we will go in correcting an injustice when it is perpetrated by institutions that are supposed to provide justice. While King’s decision provides a satisfying arc that doesn’t betray the character, Mosley still asks us to question it.

Mosley takes many tried and true tropes of the detective genre and molds them into a tale for our times. When we feel a need to mobilize with the oligarchs gaining more ground, he asks us how far are we willing to take the fight. We may need that tarnished knight errant to go down those mean streets more than ever.