Noir is to Literature what the Blues is to Music: MysteryPeople Q&A with Bill Loehfelm

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

In The Devil’s Muse, Bill Loehfelm puts his New Orleans patrol woman Maureen Coughlin into a mystery that takes place over one long night when a shooter cuts loose during the Mardi Gras parade. A great take on the procedural, The Devil’s Muse has a strong sense of immediacy and presents an insider’s look at New Orleans.

Bill will be returning to BookPeople for our New Voices In Noir Panel, this upcoming Wednesday, July 26th, at 7 PM, but we were able to get some questions to Bill before the event. He’ll be joined by Rob Hart and Jordan Harper for the panel discussion. 

MysteryPeople Scott: I know you said you were wary about doing a story set around Mardi Gras since it’s a cliched backdrop for authors to use when writing about new Orleans. What did you see as the in to making the story fresh?

Bill Loehfelm: A couple of years ago, a friend and I were discussing writing about New Orleans, talking about avoiding clichés and the postcard version of New Orleans that we’re constantly selling. I told him I had a list of rules, of things I’d never write about, and one of them was Mardi Gras. But instead of agreeing with me, he challenged me, pointed out I had a lot of experience as a waiter and a bartender, a lot of inside experience with Mardi Gras that others didn’t have. That comment put the idea in my head of a Mardi Gras story told from the inside out, a story from the point of view of someone inside the infrastructure of the holiday. It gave me a fresh take on the subject.

When the opportunity for a Maureen Coughlin one-off came, it seemed to perfect time to take up that challenge.

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If you like Don Winslow’s THE FORCE…

Don Winslow’s epic cop novel The Force is one of the must-reads of the summer. If you’ve gotten caught up in intricate tales of police plagued by moral ambiguity we suggest these three books on three different continents.

9781250081537Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

The third in Loehfelm’s Maureen Coughlin series has the newly minted NOPD patrol woman dealing with gangs, white supremacists, and her corrupt fellow officers, all connected to one New Orleans. Loehfelm shows the difficulty in navigating through a corrupt police force and staying clean yourself. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781609452759The Night Of The Panthers by Piergiorgio Pulixi

The head of an Italian police that also works for one mafia family cuts a deal with an ambitious government agent to stop a war between the families right when his men kill an officer when breaking one of their own out of a police van, forcing him to play every dangerous end against the middle. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

9780374265519Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

American crime fiction sometimes seemed defined by intentionality – cops are either effective or corrupt, but certainly never incompetent. Not so in Japanese crime fiction, or at least, in this sprawling Ellroy-esque take-down of a vast police conspiracy designed to cover up a single, stupid mistake. After a botched kidnapping rescue resulting in the death of the victim, a department’s urge to prove professional competency plus the need to save face lead to a cover-up that goes all the way up to the top. Years later, a cop transferred to media relations puts aside his former departmental loyalties to continue the kidnapping investigation and discover the shocking truth behind the initial investigation. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople’s Guide to the Texas Book Festival

Hey Folks! Overwhelmed by the number of amazing panels at this year’s Texas Book Festival? Can’t see the forest through the trees? Never fear, MysteryPeople is here with a guide to mystery, thriller and true crime happenings at the fest. Here’s a link to the full schedule, but in the following schedule, you can see we’ve picked out some of the highlights for crime fiction fans.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Bill Loehfelm

Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Let The Devil Out is Bill Loehfelm’s fourth book featuring Maureen Coughlin, once a cocktail waitress with addiction issues, now a new patrolwoman in New Orleans. The militia group she dealt with in Doing The Devil’s Work returns, with Maureen reluctant to work with the FBI, but ready to take the militia group on. We caught up with Bill to ask him a few questions.

MysteryPeople Scott:  Once again you put Maureen through the ringer with the events from previous books also taking a toll on her. What did you want to explore about her this time?

Bill Loehfelm: I felt it was time for her face down some of the psychological and emotional things she’s been turning away from since she moved the New Orleans. She’s done a geographic cure for the trauma she endured in New York (in The Devil She Knows), and she’s made significant changes in her life, but there’s darkness and rage in her that she’s never faced, and those emotions have started leaking out of her in bad ways. I wanted this book to present a real moment of truth for her. She’s started down the path toward corruption and self-destruction in the last two books, toward letting the evil in others rule her life, and she needs to make some crucial choices.

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Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

The February 16 Alibi: Noir At The Bar Round-Up

Our February 16th Noir At The Bar brought out many of Austin’s literati. In the audience were Elizabeth Crook, Stephen Harrigan, and Meg Gardiner. Since we had heavy hitters reading, everyone was right at home.

noir at the bar book spread

Jesse Sublett and myself (the only questionable author) opened the show. I read from my short story, “Red’s White F-150 Blues” that will be appearing in the upcoming Murder On Wheels anthology, featuring a tribute to Robert E. Howard and a beheading. Jesse really kicked the show into high gear by ripping into the cover of a low down and dirty Cab Calloway cover, followed by an original.

Our first guest author was Trey Barker. Trey writes Texas noir that evokes dangerous blues and greasy barbecue. He proved it by reading from Death Is Not Forever, his book that was released that day. The tale featured a crooked judge and his minions dealing with a burning dope stash.

lou berney

Bill Loehfelm was kind enough to give up his Mardi Gras to join us. Like his series character, Maureen Coughlin, a cocktail waitress-turned-cop, he’s a New Orleans transplant from Staten Island. He put us in in the shoes of Mareen’s patrolman shoes from the opening of his latest, Doing The Devil’s Work, showing how an officer can be relieved to find a dead body.

Lou Berney was our last guest author. He read from February’s MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, The Long And Faraway Gone. It’s an ambitious book, delivering a gamut of emotions. His reading style complemented his skillful writing; he picked a passage that was an amusing look at teenagers working in a movie theater than moved into a somber poignant tone that only a master craftsman can pull off.

noir at the bar round up

Jesse Sublett wrapped up the show with the same pizzazz he showed earlier in opening it, discussing his upcoming true crime book, 1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked The Capital (release date scheduled for March 1) that looks at the Overton Gang. He talked about how one member endured the Texas Ranger version of water boarding. Look out for the book this March. Pre-order a copy early. 

We then mingled, the authors signed books for fans, and we all had one for the road. There was also a discussion about margin sizes that got lewd. Look out for the next time we’ll be at Opal Divine’s.


Thanks to all who came, and sorry to all those who couldn’t make it – you missed a wonderful evening! Noir at the Bar combines three of our favorite things – books, booze, and the powerful prose of crime fiction read aloud. Keep a look-out for more great MysteryPeople events!

MysteryPeople Q & A with Bill Loehfelm: Scene of the Crime – New Orleans

New Orleans is a town that has always been ripe for crime fiction. One of the latest practitioners is Bill Loehfelm who, much like his series character, cocktail waitress-turned-cop Maureen Coughlin, is a transplant from Staten Island to New Orleans. Loehfelm’s latest is Doing The Devil’s WorkHe joins us for Noir at the Bar Monday, February 16, at Opal Divine’s on South Congress. Here, Bill talks about his adopted city and how it applies to his books.


MysteryPeople: What makes New Orleans such a great city to write about?

Bill Loehfelm: The familiar refrain is that all the crime, corruption, and the abundance of general weirdness leaves a writer with no shortage of material. While that’s true, there’s more to it. There’s incredible and singular beauty here, natural and human, and such complicated history, and one inexplicable moment happens after another. Just the other day, I walk out my front door in the middle of the afternoon and a couple of blocks down Third Street, someone in full Native American regalia is riding a horse along Constance Street through the Irish Channel. That kind of thing happens all the time.

Also, New Orleans is made up of such a complex tangle of subcultures, from the city and civil services to the Mardi Gras krewes to the different neighborhoods, even certain streets – exploring them, trying to translate them and present them, not just how they look but how they function, is fascinating. People really put their imaginations to work down here. I’m just trying to keep up.

MP: How has it shaped Maureen?

BL: She hasn’t been in New Orleans that long, so I think the way it shapes her the most is though what the city inspires in her. For the first time in her life, she wants to belong somewhere. She wants to fit in very badly in a city that’s virtually impossible to understand. And her social skills aren’t very good to begin with. Writing her relationship with the city at times feels very much like writing about someone falling in love. This growing passion for the city, the desire to be accepted and to understand and be understood, these feelings cause a lot of conflict in her.

MP:  What is the biggest misconception about the city?

BL: I think the biggest general misconception is that New Orleans is just a big theme park. Like the city is some kind of Deep South Disney World for adults, and we’re all here to serve the tourists. Y’all are always invited, but the parties we throw are for us. That we’re all functional alcoholics because our drinking laws are, shall we say, casual, is another one. And that it’s a superficial decadence, that the sin is all for show – not necessarily. But we save our best sins for ourselves, as well.

And I do run into people now and then surprised to find the city isn’t still half underwater.

MP:  You deal a lot with the town’s corruption. Is there something that makes it standout from other cities?

BL: I’ve never looked into other cities quite like I have New Orleans so I can’t say for sure. The motivations are certainly the same: greed, money, power. We’ve had some people go down over some pretty small stakes, a few thousand here and there, which is interesting to me. I will say our tolerance of corruption used to be a point of civic pride, but that changed after the storm. People took an ownership of the city that changed things. Not entirely, but for the better. There are thing city politicians get called out for that they never would have in the past.

MP: Your first three books took place in Staten Island. What is the biggest difference about writing in each city?

BL: One challenge is that I wrote the Staten Island books in New Orleans, which gave me a freer hand with making things up. Writing about New Orleans while living here, I leave the house to run errands and find half a dozen mistakes I made the night before while writing. It’s harder to make the necessary allowances for fiction.

Also, I think the Staten Island books have a narrower focus. Each book is as much about a family, the Sanders, the Currans, the Coughlins, as it is about the island. I didn’t write very much about the rest of the city, about the politics and civic and social structures of New York City as a whole. The New Orleans books are bigger in scope and more ambitious. Hopefully, you get just as much character, but you also get more of the intricacies of the location and the times the characters are living in.

MP: What can happen in a New Orleans crime novel, that can’t happen in any other?

BL: You can run someone over with a Mardi Gras float, I guess. We had a guy walk out of a supermarket with eight pounds of crawfish tails down his pants the other day. In a way that’s an ‘only in New Orleans’ crime. On the other hand, it’s shoplifting and petty theft, same as everywhere else. And I guess that’s New Orleans for you, kind of the same as the rest of America, and all its own place, both at the same time.


You can find copies of Doing The Devil’s Work on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Copies will also be available for purchase at Noir at the Bar. Noir at the Bar starts at 7pm on Monday, February 16, at Opal Divine’s.