FAMILY AND FIREARMS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ACE ATKINS

The Sinners continues Ace Atkins’ southern crime fiction series with Afghan war vet and Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson. His jurisdiction of Tibbehah County is hopping with a murder tied to a nemesis of the previous sheriff, Quinn’s dead uncle. His buddy Boom finds himself working for a questionable trucking company. All his tied to Mississippi queen-pin Fannie. If that wasn’t enough, Quinn’s getting married. Ace will be at BookPeople on July 24th with Megan Abbott with her new book Give Me Your Hand to sign and discuss their latest books and crime fiction. We caught up with him early to catch us up with Quinn.

MysteryPeople Scott: Family plays a big part in the series, but especially in this one, with Quinn going after a criminal family who are in some part a result from the sins of his uncle. You also have him getting married. What did you want to explore?

The Sinners (Quinn Colson Novel #8) Cover ImageAA: When I first started this series, I liked the idea of playing with time. Being able to go back into the history of Tibbehah County and seeing the ripple effect of major events really interests me. Or as Mr. Faulkner says, the past is never dead . . .

I hope as the series moves forward to really explore the county — from its founding to the wild days of bootlegging and beyond. The connection to the important – and infamous – families keep us all tied to one big story.

MPS: I was happy to see Boom get a large amount of time as a character. What made you want to put more focus on him?

AA: I figured it was about damn time. Boom has been a supporting figure for far too long. He’s always interested me as a complex man who’s been to hell and back, coming home from Iraq with a horrific injury. I wanted Boom to to have his own story, away from Quinn, and outside Tibbehah County. I’d always like the idea of truckers, a big fan of the trucker films of the 70s, and thought Boom was ideal to take the wheel. I’ve heard about a lot of one-armed truckers who overcame their disability and conquered the road. There was no doubt Boom could do it.

MPS: Fannie grows to be a more complex and interesting character with each book. How did she initially come to creation?

Image result for ace atkinsAA: Oh, I love Fannie, too. She’s so much fun to write. She really came from a few places. Most notably Joan Crawford’s performance as Vienna in Johnny Guitar. I also borrowed a lot from a woman named Fannie Belle, a real life madame, I’d written about in one of my True Crime Novels, Wicked City.

I think her role – in the big picture of all the novels – has certainly grown. And her relationship with Quinn and her cohorts in the Dixie Mafia has only gotten more complex. She is a very strong independent woman in a male dominated world of crime. But she proves time and again, she can outsmart them all.

MPS: There is a great balance of the crime plot and the planning of the wedding, that never feels like a B story. What does that part of the book allow you to do with Quinn?

AA: That was really the toughest part of The Sinners for me. I knew Quinn was going to marry Maggie going back to The Fallen. It’s high time for him to get hitched, although he’ll never settle down. But I didn’t want write anything overly sentimental or melodramatic. And that’s hard as hell with a wedding. I think Quinn getting married, and now having a family with a young son, will only make the stories more interesting.

MPS: Do you think marriage means Quinn is settling down or will provide new struggles for him to deal with?

AA: I’d look at Quinn being married like Spenser with Susan Silverman. Just because a man is monogamous doesn’t mean his life is boring. In fact, I find the the bed-hopping hero to be a little old and unbelievable. Maybe in the sixties. But not now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at an author writing a hero who’s irresistible to women.

MPS: You’ll be doing an event with us at BookPeople with Megan Abbott. What makes her a stand-out author to you?

AA: Megan Abbott is simply the best! I admire her writing and her knowledge of the genre a ton. Whether it’s film noir or classic hard boiled heroes, few know more than Megan. We’ve been close friends for a long while and can’t wait to sit down and talk about her novel in Austin. Her latest book — Give Me Your Hand – is just outstanding, gut wrenching and mean as hell. I loved it.

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A conversation with Ashley Dyer

Splinter in the Blood: A Novel Cover ImageIf you like mysteries with lots of twists you need to read Splinter In The Blood, the debut novel by Ashley Dyer.

The story starts out with a bang, literally, with a scene in which Detective Chief Greg Carver, the lead investigator of a serial killer named the Thorn Killer has been shot. He is sprawled on his seat in his own home. OK, maybe there are other mysteries that have started this way.

But I’m not done setting the stage because Carver remembers the shooter standing in front of him. Soon, by the end of the next chapter, he has remembered who shot him: His partner, Sgt. Ruth Lake, who after shooting him takes away his files, compromising the crime scene.

As the book proceeds there become two investigations: Who shot Carver and who is the Thorn Killer? Lake, of course, doesn’t tell anyone what she did, and is not supposed to be working on the former investigation but can’t stay away.

Gradually, we began to understand her motives, her disdain for Carver as a person and as an investigator. And Lake and the Thorn Killer are both fascinating characters.

Ashley Dyer, who is actually two different people working together, agreed to an email interview. One part of the writing duo is Margaret Murphy, a Writing Fellow and Reading Round Lector for the Royal Literary Fund, a past Chair of the Crime Writers Association (CWA), and founder of Murder Squad. A CWA Short Story Dagger winner, she has been shortlisted for the First Blood critics’ award for crime fiction as well as the CWA Dagger in the Library. The other part is Helen Pepper, a Senior Lecturer in Policing at Teesside University. She has been an analyst, Forensic Scientist, Scene of Crime Officer, CSI, and Crime Scene Manager.  She has co-authored, as well as contributed to, professional policing texts. Her expertise is in great demand with crime writers: she is a judge for the CWA’s Non-Fiction Dagger award, and is Forensic Consultant on both the Vera and Shetland TV series. Thanks to them both for chatting with us, and you can read more about them on their website.

Scott Butki: How did you two decide to join up and work together?

Helen Pepper:  I’d done a lot of work with Ann Cleeves. Ann is a member of Murder Squad, a group of crime writers from the north of England, which was founded by Margaret. So we’d met a few times at writing events. Margaret told Ann she was looking for a forensic advisor and asked if I might be interested. I was VERY interested, because I knew Margaret was such a great writer.

Margaret Murphy: I’d written a one-page outline (more of a blurb, really) for Splinter In The Blood in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I started working on it in earnest. I knew, by this time, that Ruth Lake, one of the two main protagonists, was a former CSI, so naturally, Helen came to mind. You’ve seen her bio, so you will have guessed that she has an ability to bend time – how else would she fit so much into a day? Even so, I was apprehensive that a collaboration of this kind might be a project too far, and I was delighted when she agreed.

SB: How did you go about working together? Some writing partners alternate chapters, others have one do the writing while the other checks the details, for example.

HP: I’m not a writer, Margaret’s the driving force there. What happens is Margaret will come up with an idea, then we’ll get together and talk it through. My job is to come up with ideas as to how we can use forensic science in the story, both to move the story along and maybe to create a few red herrings!

I also advise on police procedure and how things are done in real life, which quite often involves pointing out that, yes, there might be a really fancy piece of kit that will get us a result, but there’s a really straightforward inexpensive way to get to the same result, and police forces don’t have an endless budget.

Margaret then disappears to write the book (a minor job!). Whilst she’s writing we bat ideas back and forth and she sends me completed chapters to check. I love this part of the process, it’s so exciting to see how Margaret makes the story come to life.

MM: When I feel that I have a story idea we could run with, I usually write a short, two-to-three-page synopsis. After that, we bat ideas back and forth, talking about story, forensic procedures that might come into play, police approaches to particular categories of crime, and so on. One example of Helen telling me I can’t have a jazzy piece of kit to do forensics goes like this (no spoilers): I found an academic paper on the use of laser technology to create a 3-D holographic image of a fingermark inside a clear block of material. I took it to Helen, very excited about it, and proud of myself. ‘You could do that,’ she said, ‘but you probably wouldn’t have such an expensive piece of kit, and anyway, why would you, when you could just take a strong flashlight, shine it at an angle through the block, then take a photo?’ (Collapse of stout party.)

After we’ve talked story lines and forensic elements, I mull for a bit, then start on the full outline, which may be 20,000 to 40,000 words long.

SB: How would you summarize the plot and protagonist?

MM: The story begins with an image: a woman standing over a shooting victim; he lies sprawled in an armchair in his own home. She’s holding a gun. By the end of the next chapter, we know that the shooting victim is Detective Chief Inspector Greg Carver and the woman holding the gun is his trusted partner, Detective Sergeant Ruth Lake. By this time, Lake has systematically removed or destroyed evidence and recreated the scene.

For the past year, Carver and Lake have been investigating a series of bizarre, ritualistic killings: five female victims, all tattooed – even the soles of their feet. Over a period of weeks, the “Thorn Killer” inks strange patterns and eyes on the victims – some opened, some closed. Even more cruelly, the ink contains a paralytic which slowly suffocates them. Carver wakes from a coma some days later, and as he struggles towards recovery, he experiences strange hallucinations and ‘auras’ – a form of synaesthesia – caused by the injuries to his brain as he lay near death.

He is lying about how much he remembers and Ruth is lying about what she did at the crime scene – can they catch the killer when they’re lying to each other and everyone around them?

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

HP: Enjoyment, and a need to read the next book!

MM: All of the above, and also one or two instances when they think, ‘Well I didn’t know that!’ Hopefully, akin to the sudden ‘Aha!’ moments in my background reading, when I want to dash out of my office and grab the next person I see to tell them all about it. But I’ve learned to be very careful with those moments as a writer – you don’t want your readers to feel they’re being lectured to – and excitedly approaching a stranger in the street with my latest scientific factoid, doesn’t always end well…

SB: Helen, I’m guessing that as someone who has been an analyst, forensic scientist, scene of crime officer, CSI and crime scene manager you must cringe when watching tv crime shows. Is it thus therapeutic to work on the Vera and Shetland tv series to ensure they got it right?

HP: I don’t watch too many TV crime shows – they tend to make my teeth itch! Though since I’ve been working on Vera and Shetland I’m a little more forgiving than I used to be. I started out thinking that we could make everything absolutely accurate, but it’s just not possible. In real life there’s a huge team, each of whom each make a small contribution. The senior investigator sits in an office juggling budgets and authorizing overtime and detectives spend an awful lot of time filling out forms and writing reports – which doesn’t make riveting TV viewing. So now I see it as my job to guide writers towards realism, but still keeping it interesting.

SB: Margaret, what was the adjustment like going from writing crime fiction on your own versus as a partner?

MM: I’d worked on a few TV and online scripts and story lines in the past which involved ‘round-table’ discussions with visual artists, producers and writers. Although none of these projects were commissioned, I did enjoy the process, so I was looking forward to working with Helen – and she’s made the transition very easy for me.

SB: What were the advantages and disadvantages of co-writing this?

HP: For me there’s only advantages. Working with Margaret gives me an insight into how the writing process works and allows me into a whole different world. I think one thing that CSIs and writers have in common is that we are really nosey – we like poking around in other people’s lives. I love finding out how the writing works, and I adore meeting ‘real’ people at writing events. You might need to talk to Margaret about the disadvantages!

MM: It’s fun being able to share interviews, podcasts and book tours with someone else – it can be lonely on the circuit, staying in motels and watching bad TV for entertainment. From the performance point of view, I can be excitable and expressive, a bit of a mimic, too – whereas Helen is relaxed and very droll, so we riff well off each other, and audiences enjoy the balance.

Disadvantages: Helen has a ‘proper’ job, teaching police and CSIs of the future to solve real crimes, so I sometimes have to curb my need to know something NOW! Immediately! Without delay! while she fulfills her other responsibilities.

SB: Who are some currently working crime fiction writers you’d like more people to check out?

HP: I think Margaret could answer this better than me. I don’t get to read much crime fiction. I’m a judge for the Crime Writer’s Association non-fiction dagger, so I read an awful lot of non-fiction crime. I’m also a university lecturer, so I have to keep up to date with what’s happening in academia – not to mention the TV scripts and Ashley Dyer reading. I have to say, though, that the murder squad writers are all really excellent. Although they all write crime fiction their approaches are really different, so however you like your crime, one of them would have something for you to enjoy.

MM: Dennis Lehane is a master on so many levels. I feel a strong connection to the recurring theme in his books – both series and standalone – that violence has consequences that are individual, generational and societal. But he is able to do all of this in the most stylish, entertaining narratives you will ever find in crime fiction.

Richard Montanari writes menace like no one else. His books are all very different, yet all have a tension and page-turning pace to envy. I’m usually a slow reader, but his prose, sometimes hard edged, sometimes lyrical always has me reading way past my bedtime.

AJ Finn – his debut is a lovely, twisty take on the domestic noir. Though he explores well-recognized tropes, he does it in a fresh, intelligent and witty manner. The Woman in the Window has hugely enjoyable Hitchcockian references and more than one playful nod towards noir films, and the ending is deeply satisfying, too.

SB: What’s it like having publicists comparing your work to Netflix’s Mind Hunters, BBC’s Broadchurch and American TV’s Criminal Minds?

HP: Pretty mind-blowing! It’s such a great feeling when people like what you’ve done.

MM: One word – gratifying.

SB: Are you already working on the second book? How far do you have this planned out?

HP: The second book’s all finished (and it’s an absolute cracker!). We’re just starting out on book three, and I’m really looking forward to it.

MM: Helen has a more objective view (and I hope she’s right!) As a writer, I’m always terribly anxious about submitting a book. We are awaiting our editor’s verdict as we write this…

BTW, we both microblog on our Facebook page @AshleyDyerNovels (we do giveaways and competitions, too!). We’re on Twitter as @AshleyDyer2017 and we even do forensics and background-to the-story videos on YouTube as Ashley Dyer Author – do come and join us!

MEIKE’S REVIEW OF A TASTE FOR VENGEANCE BY MARTIN WALKER

A Taste for Vengeance: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel Cover ImageIt’s impossible to talk about Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police mystery series without talking about food and wine. (And it’s equally impossible to read the books without getting hungry!) Set in the Perigord region of France, the novels describe the local culinary traditions in great detail and Bruno’s love of good food and fine wine are integral themes of the book.  From his morning croissant to an evening meal featuring copious amounts of duck fat and a few glasses of the local wine, Bruno is a true connoisseur of all that the local farmers have to offer. He’s also deeply invested in the friendships he’s formed, volunteering with local youth and organizing dinners with friends who might not otherwise get to see each other. The Perigord is a region steeped in history (it’s been continually occupied for some 70,000 years) and Walker brings the abundant cultural and comestible traditions to vibrant life.

But don’t be deceived by the seemingly bucolic setting—Walker’s novels aren’t cozies by any means, they’re intricately plotted works teeming with political and international intrigue.

In A Taste for Vengeance, Bruno is adjusting to his new role—instead of being responsible only for the town of St. Denis, his territory will now cover the entire valley and a couple of other jurisdictions. He must navigate a new chain of command while not alienating former peers who now report to him—a delicate balancing act for the modest Bruno.

A friend asks Bruno if he can find out why one of her cooking school students, German tourist Monika Felder, didn’t show up as planned; his investigation reveals that the woman had been travelling with someone other than her husband, a mysterious Irishman presumed to be her lover. When the two turn up dead, the investigation deepens and Bruno learns that the Irishman was operating under an assumed identity and had not only a background in intelligence but also a military connection to Monika’s husband.

Meanwhile, Bruno learns that the star member of the youth rugby team he mentors is pregnant—a development he perceives as potentially catastrophic on the eve of her possible nomination to the national squad.

As always, Walker weaves these disparate plot elements together seamlessly and the reader is treated to a riveting and complex tale of crime while gaining insight into Bruno’s rich and varied personal life.

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.

INTERVIEW WITH REAVIS WORTHAM

Hawke’s War, the second novel to feature Reavis Wortham’s hard case Texas Ranger Sonny Hawk, is an action packed paperback that rivals any blockbusters this summer when it comes to blazing guns and perilous chases, with Sonny in the cross hairs of both terrorists and a drug cartel out for revenge in Big Bend Park. Reavis will be joining fellow Texas crime writers Billy Kring and Ben Rehder at BookPeople on July 8th at 2PM, but we talked to him beforehand to get answers to a few questions.

Image result for reavis worthamMysteryPeople Scott: While it can be read by itself, the plot in Hawke’s War is a result from events in Hawke’s Prey. Did you know the first would lead into the second?

Reavis Wortham: The truth is that I have no idea what’s going to happen from one paragraph to the next, let alone from one book to another. Kensington Publishing gave me a three-book contract we call the Sonny Hawke Thriller Series. I pitched the idea for Hawke’s Prey one day and my agent liked it. She contacted Kensington and my editor there was excited about the idea of a contemporary Texas Ranger who walks a fine line between right and wrong. With that, I submitted the first novel for publication and a couple of weeks before they went to press, my editor sent me an email saying she needed the first chapter of Hawke’s War.

I had no idea what would happen. I sat down at my desk, put my fingers on the keys, and Big Bend National Park popped into my mind. I typed the first words that led to more. Before I knew it, four back country hikers were ambushed by an unknown shooter. Even then I didn’t have any idea who he was, or why he was shooting, until one survivor escaped. It was only then, when the narrative shifted perspective, did I know what was happening. It took several more chapters for even me to find out who the assassin was, and who he was ultimately after.

Hawke's War (Sonny Hawke Thriller #2) Cover ImageMPS: Big Bend National Park is the setting for a lot of the action. What made it a great back drop for this kind of story?

RW: After finishing the first novel, Hawke’s Prey, I realized what I was writing was a throwback to the old west. Some might call them modern westerns, but others simply use the term Texas Thriller. While I was working on the first book, the bride and I went out to Marfa and Alpine to explore. We wound up in Big Bend National Park for a few days, hiking and enjoying the high desert. On one of those hikes, I looked up at the rocks overhead and wondered, what if….

The Big Bend area is a vast, rugged landscape where hikers and tourists often get in trouble. The park service routinely rescues lost hikers and discussions with those personnel gave me an idea that eventually became Hawke’s War. To the east of the park is the Black Gap Wildlife Management area with extends down to the Rio Grande. The main two lane road dead ends at Boquillas de Carmen, a Mexican town on the other side of the river. The bridge there has been blocked since 9-11, and the town died. It was the perfect setting for the climax and a wonderful backdrop for a modern western thriller.

MPS: This book has more action packed into it than a John Woo and Stallone movie combined, yet I never lost touch with Sonny, his friends and family. How do you keep us connected to those handful of characters, while keeping things constantly moving?

RW: Wow. What a compliment! Folks are asking me that question more and more and the answer is simple. I don’t know. I truly can’t explain what goes on in my subconscious when I’m writing. I see it appear on my computer screen as if someone else is writing the story, and when character perspective changes, I want to know what’s going on with the others, so I look at the story through their eyes. It’s a juggling act that comes easy on my part, but probably harder with writers who have to outline.

MPS: One of your good friends is thriller writer John Gilstrap. Did you take anything from his books when developing this series?

RW: I haven’t taken anything from John’s books, but a lot from his experience. We routinely spend vast amounts of time consuming either Scotch or gin and talking about the business, sometimes all night long. He’s been a bestselling author for years, and has seen it all. We now read each other’s manuscripts and comment. He’s offered excellent suggestions that have improved my story lines, and helped me avoid a number of pitfalls. This also relates to your question above, about keeping things moving. I read his style and shifting character perspectives, and used those in my own works, with my own twists. Writers learn from other writers, much of the time before they start, when they’re young readers. Then they digest those styles and stories before creating their own characters, books, and series. I’ve learned from the best.

MPS: In both your series, you deal with Texas lawmen. What do you want to get across to the reader about that profession?

RW: As many know, my maternal grandfather was a lawman, a rural constable. I grew up with men and women who upheld the law. At the same time, my parents always told me that “The police are your very best friends. They will help you, and be there for you, if you only ask.”

Law enforcement officers are charged with the most difficult job in this country, in my opinion, and that’s to uphold the law. They deal with difficult people on a daily basis and do their best to maintain this delicate balance we call civilization. If it weren’t for them, this country would dissolve into chaos. That’s why I hold them in high regard, personally and professionally. My characters will always do what’s right and what’s best for the state and its inhabitants to keep them safe. I back everyone who wears a badge, and yeah, there are always a few bad people who damage their profession, but in the long run, they’re all just like us, family men and women who want to do their best every day.

MPS: You’ll have a new Red River book, Gold Dust, coming out in September. What can you tell us about that?

RW: Book 7 in this series, Gold Dust, is a little overdue, but that was to keep two books in two different series from releasing at the same time. For some reason, a number of readers thought the Red River series was over, but that’s not the case. Gold Dust picks up only a couple of months after Unraveled, the sixth book in the Red River series. Here’s the inside flap:

“As the 1960s draw to a close, the rural northeast Texas community of Center Springs is visited by two nondescript government men in dark suits and shades. They say their assignment is to test weather currents and patterns, but that’s a lie. Their delivery of a mysterious microscopic payload called Gold Dust from a hired crop duster coincides with fourteen-year-old Pepper Parker’s discovery of an ancient gold coin in her dad’s possession. Her adolescent trick played on a greedy adult results in the only gold rush in North Texas history. Add in modern-day cattle-rustlers and murderers, and Center Springs is once again the bull’s-eye in a deadly target.

The biological agent deemed benign by the CIA has unexpected repercussions, putting Pepper’s near-twin cousin, Top, at death’s door. The boy’s crisis sends their grandfather, Constable Ned Parker, to Washington D.C. to exact personal justice, joined by a man Ned left behind in Mexico and had presumed dead. The CIA agents who operate on the dark side of the U.S. government find they’re no match for men who know they’re right and won’t stop. Especially two old country boys raised on shotguns.

But there’s more. Lots more. Top Parker thought only he had what had become known as a Poisoned Gift, but Ned suffers his own form of a family curse he must deploy. Plus, there are many trails to follow as the lawmen desperately work to put an end to murder and government experimentation that extends from their tiny Texas town to Austin and, ultimately, to Washington, D.C. Traitors, cattle-rustlers, murderers, rural crime families, grave robbers, CIA turncoats, and gold-hungry prospectors pursue agendas that all, in a sense, revolve around the center of this small vortex called Center Springs.

Gold Dust seems to be fiction, but the truth is, it has already happened.”

Much of this story came from U.S. experimentation on our own citizens back in the 1950s. The more I read about this clandestine and deadly test in California, the more I wondered how many other times researchers used American citizens in their tests. At the same time, a Facebook friend asked if I’d ever heard of gold buried in Lamar County. That conversation led to the book’s second story line and once again, my subconscious took over, tied the two together, and Gold Dust almost wrote itself.

July Top Pick: Megan Abbott’s latest

There are few authors who push themselves like Megan Abbott. In doing so, she has expanded noir as well, demonstrating the elasticity of the genre. She has blazed a trail from seedy bars  and back allies to suburban homes and high school gymnasiums. In her latest, Give Me Your Hand, she proves science can be full of sin.

Give Me Your Hand Cover ImageThe book centers on the relationship of two scientists. Kit Owens toils as a researcher for the prominent Dr. Severin. She is in the running to be part of Severin’s team for a prominent study of premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Her chances are good, until Severin unknowingly brings in someone from the darkest part of Kit’s past.

Diane Fleming moved to Kit’s high school with whispers of her past and possessing the kind of discipline and drive Kit lacked at the time. Their friendship drove the other to be their best, physically and mentally. Abbott is able to describe their relationship with nuance and subtleties to portray something much deeper than competitiveness. The bond becomes severed when Diane shares a dark secret with Kit, not as much for the revelation itself but the fact that Kit is burdened to hold it. Now that Diane has returned to her life in this manner, the secret becomes even heavier.

Image result for megan abbottAbbott deftly uses that secret as the centerpiece of the book. It drives the front part of the narrative with the story building tension by the withholding of it and juxtaposing Kit and Diane’s teen years with their reunion. Both the timing and the subject turn the reveal into a well executed bomb. The rest of the book’s suspense come from where and how hard the fragments crash after the explosion.

The lab setting would seem less fitting for noir, but Abbott uses the world to her advantage. The competition of the study sets up subtle back-biting that could lead to back stabbing, A certain job involving an incinerator comes in handy. The antiseptic environment makes for an interesting contrast to the messy emotions that play out in the harsh sterile light.

With Give Me Your Hand Megan Abbott ratchets the tension at page one and never stops as she delves into female friendship, different forms of sexism in science, and ambition. While seated deep in noir, it never goes for the obvious tropes. Once again, she takes the genre on her her own terms and takes no prisoners.

Make sure you’re here July 24th at 7pm when Megan is here to discuss the book along with Ace Atkins.

3 Picks for July

Some Die Nameless Cover ImageSome Die Nameless by Wallace Stroby

An investigative reporter teams up with a former mercenary who is marked for death to figure out why the dark mission he was on decades ago has someone wiping out all who have knowledge of it. Stroby takes a the political thriller and keeps it real and gritty by putting at street level.

 

 

 

Potter's Field (Ash McKenna #5) Cover ImagePotter’s Field by Rob Hart

Ash Mckenna returns to New York to get his life on track and become a licensed investigator. As soon as he steps foot in the city, he is taken to his former drag queen gangster boss who needs to find his missing crew member. The search puts Ash in the middle of a turf war in the hard hitting, emotional finale to one fine series.

 

 

 

The Sinners (Quinn Colson Novel #8) Cover Image

The Sinners by Ace Atkins

Tibbehah County Sheriff Quinn Colson takes on a shady trucking outfit, an outlaw family, and getting married in this fun new adventure full of action, great dialogue, and explorations of southern culture like the proper sausage biscuit. Ace Atkins will be here July 24th with Megan Abbott to discuss and sign the novel.