Billy Kring is known as an author with a feel for life on the Texas-Mexico line where he worked as a border agent. His debut, Quick, captured it in all it’s gritty glory. In this story published on Shotgun Honey, he goes to Cajun country.
“Henri Arceneaux said, ‘Member what I teach you, you.’ He straddled the body in the bottom of the pirogue, making the small, green boat bob like a cork, ‘We want dem to stay down, so we gots to tickle dem diaphragm.’ He was seventy years old and shirtless, his chest and stomach marked with old scars from knife and bullet. He looked hard, like he was made of gristle and bone. He motioned at me with a finger, ‘Take off dat shirt, it’s too hot dis morning.'”
MysteryPeople’s Molly Odintz and Scott Montgomery were invited to be moderators at the 19th Annual Texas Festival Of Books held at the state capitol last weekend. It was Scott’s fourth time moderating at the festival and Molly’s first time ever. They both survived to tell the tale to report back.
Crime fiction had its strongest presence yet at the festival with six panels and three one-on-one interviews with the likes of Walter Mosely and James Ellroy. Even before the actual festival got underway, I got to sped some time with the authors. Timothy Hallinan, author of the Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty series, shared some BBQ as we talked books and his time working with Katherine Hepburn. I also got to spend some time with friends Harry Hunsicker, Mark Pryor, and the three authors who make up the pseudonym Miles Arceneaux before they went to their panels. Then I had my own.
First up was an interview with Craig Johnson, who’s latest book, Wait For Signs, is a collection of all the short stories featuring his Wyoming sheriff hero, Walt Longmire. He told the audience that Walt’s last name came from James Longmire who opened up the trail near Washington’s Mount Rainer and had the area named after him. He felt the combination of the words “long” and “mire” expressed what his character had been through. He added it also passed the test for a western hero name in that it could easily be followed by the word “Steakhouse.”
My panel discussion, Risky Business, had Jeff Abbott and debut author Patrick Hoffman looking at the art of thriller writing. The discussion got interesting when when it got into the topic of being categorized in a genre. Jeff said he wanted to get pigeon holed, “That way I know I’m selling.” He added it has never interfered with the type of book he wanted to write. We also got into an interesting talk about use of location. Patrick Hoffman talked about how he would often use his company car to drive to the location of his San Fransisco centric, The White Van, and write there on his lunch hour. Jeff and I also had fun drawing as much attention we could to our friend, author Meg Gardiner, who was in the audience and should have known better.
By the time the festival was over my body dehydrated, my voice was shot, and my blood alcohol content was questionable. Can’t wait til’ next year.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of moderating two mystery panels at the Texas Book Festival. This was my first try at moderating panels and I am so thankful to MysteryPeople and the Texas Book Festival for giving me the opportunity to channel an NPR interviewer.The first, a panel on International Crime, featured authors Kwei Quartey, on tour with his latest Darko Dawson novel, Murder at Cape Three Points, and Ed Lin, with his new novel Ghost Month. Kwei Quartey’s novels take place in Ghana and increasingly focus on the economic and social imbalances of modern day Ghanaian life. Ed Lin has previously written novels depicting the Asian-American experience, including his Detective Robert Chow trilogy, set in New York City, and Ghost Month is his first to take place outside of the country.
We talked about what it means to write international crime fiction, the place of food in the detective novel, fiction as a method of dealing with historical and current societal trauma, and how to escape from a crashing helicopter. Both authors are published by SoHo and you can find their books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
The second panel, looking at crime noir, brought together authors Rod Davis, with his latest, South, America, and Harry Hunsicker, with his new novel The Contractors. South, America follows a Dallas native living in New Orleans as he finds a dead body, gets tangled up with the dead man’s sister, and must go on the run from mobsters. The novel reaches deep into the twisted Louisiana web of racism and poverty to write a lyrical portrait of two desperate people.
Harry Hunsicker is the author of many previous novels, and his latest, The Contractors, explores the blurred lines between public and private when it comes to law enforcement. His two protagonists are private sector contractors working for the DEA and paid a percentage of the value of any recovered substances. They get more than they bargained for when they agree to escort a state’s witness from Dallas to Marfa with two cartels, a rogue DEA agent, and a corrupt ex-cop following them.
We talked about the meaning of noir, the craft of writing mysteries, the purpose of violence in fiction, and stand-alones versus series. South, America and The Contractors are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
One of our recent stories was a Lawernce Block tale featuring Matt Scudder, the PI hero featured in the film adaptation of A Walk Among The Tombstones.This Friday we have a short story written by the writer-director, Scott Frank, that was on Popcorn Fiction. Scott Frank is the screenwriter of the acclaimed films Little Man Tate, Dead Again and The Lookout. He has also adapted a number of titles for the screen, including Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, Minority Report and most recently, Marley & Me.
“As Ivan slowly let Rima slip from his grasp, he had no idea that her fall would become the stuff of Big Top legend everywhere. If you could have seen his face that night, you would have seen that Ivan’s mind was clearly somewhere else. Before this particular night, Ivan had caught Rima over thirty-five hundred times without incident. Theirs was a relationship based on trust; Rima knew that Ivan would always be there with strong hands and perfect timing. And Ivan knew that Rima would always be there, hanging in space, reaching for him. Sure, there were many close calls: Rima would step on his shoulder, scrape his ear with the point of her heel. Ivan would flinch from the pain, and loosen his hold on her leg, but in the end, he would always catch her. And sure, there had been hundreds of times where he almost dropped her. But he had never completely let go before. He was always there. He had always caught her. But, unfortunately, on that fateful night in Jnimski, he was thinking about something else.”
HARD WORD BOOK CLUB TAKES ON TOUGH GUY AUTEUR AND NOVELIST SAMUEL FULLER
The Hard Word Book Club will wrap up this year with a hard boiled master of the screen and page, Samuel Fuller. Fuller was best known as a filmmaker with tough guy classics like Pick Up On South Street, Shock Corridor, and The Big Red One. He also wrote several novels, including The Dark Page. Hard Case Crime recently brought one of his last books, Brainquake, to the U.S. for the first time. We will be discussing it and all things Fuller.
Brainquake begins in classic Fuller fashion with a murder by baby. That odd rub-out starts a series of events that put a syndicate bag-man, who suffers from odd brain seizures, and a mob widow on the run from Father Flannigan, a hit man who dresses like a priest and crucifies his victims. It gets even more outrageous with the action moving from New York to France , with several reminders of Fuller films.
October is here, and as the weather cools, the end of the year stealthily approaches. But 2014 still has plenty in store for us, this month especially. Here are the three MysteryPeople picks for this month:
One of the best from 2013 is finally coming out in paperback. At the turn of the last century in east Texas, a young man hires a bounty hunting dwarf, an African American tracker, and their hog find the outlaws who took his sister. Peter Dinklage just bought the rights to turn this into a movie. Full of humor and adventure, this book is loved by everyone who has read it.
Neville’s latest with Belfast police detective Jack Lennon. Lennon is asked by a former lover to look into go off the record to look into eight possible murders that may have happened and could compromise her politician father. Neville is a skilled storyteller who looks at the sins of his country with an unflinching and entertaining eye that becomes universal.
This may be the darkest book of the Akashic Noir series. The short stories, most written by current and former inmates, all take place in our country’s incarceration facilities. These are looks into life without freedom, both well written and unflinching.
Last month, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club discussed Tana French’s In The Woods, her much acclaimed debut novel. For October, we have chosen a book of no less quality but of slightly less heft – Georges Simenon‘s jewel of a novel, The Carter of ‘La Providence’.The novel follows Inspector Maigret, Simenon’s main recurring detective, as he enters into the close-knit community of bargemen, boaters, and lock-keepers to solve the murder of a wealthy woman, found strangled in a barn.
To solve the crime, Maigret must bicycle to and fro on the canal interviewing all the flotsam and jetsam of humanity floating down the canal. Through his investigation, we get a close-up of the world of French barge travel in the 1930s, as well as the lives of peasants in the small towns that the barges must pass through. As the inspector’s respect for the small world he has invaded grows, and his dislike of the murder victim increases, Maigret gets closer and closer to an answer he will almost certainly find to be unpleasant.
The world of the canal, and the small feeder communities that support the travelers along it, provide a fascinating glimpse of French society in miniature. Maigret must conduct investigative interviews at all levels of this society in order to solve the crime, from yachts filled with faded mistresses and international playboys to barges carrying cargo and pulled by horses. The setting of The Carter of ‘La Providence’ – in the world of boats, canals, and cozy cabins – draws inspiration from Simenon’s own life as an avid boater, and this novel is one of several that he wrote on board his own boat, the Ostrogoth. The language of The Carter of ‘La Providence’, like in any Simenon work, is a masterpiece of minimalism, and David Coward has done an excellent job of translating Simenon’s deep thoughts hidden in short sentences. Simenon describes each little world with only essential details but in a way that draws the reader entirely into the scene.
Georges Simenon lived a full and busy life, writing over 75 novels with the character of Inspector Maigret, as well as numerous short stories and other stand alone novels. Many credit Simenon with creating the prototypical French roman noir, a novel so dark it can be shelved in a mystery section without even a murder. New York Review of Books has re-released many of Simenon’s stand-alones, including Dirty Snow, a stunning and amoral journey into the heart of a black marketeer in Nazi-occupied Paris. These twisted journeys into the human psyche first piqued my interest in Georges Simenon, but it was Maigret’s love of humanity and earthy humor that sealed the deal in my becoming a Simenon fan for life. Penguin Classics has reissued many Maigret novels over the past year and a half in new translations, and you can find many of these stories on our shelves today.
Simenon does not go for shock value. In his novels, ordinary people commit ordinary crimes and an ordinary and rather worn-down detective solves them. Simenon’s characters are crass, humorous, occasionally shocking, and constantly eating. Through his Inspector Maigret novels, Simenon manages to convey what to me is a singular human truth, and one that is often lost in more hard-boiled novels – nothing is justifiable, everything is understandable, and almost anything is forgivable.
Copies of The Carter of La Providence are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come to the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Tuesday, October 21, to discuss this eminently satisfying novel.
If you’ve read my review or talked to me lately, you know I’ve become a huge fan of the adaptation of Lawrence Block’sWalk Among The Tombstones. For fans of the the New York PI, Matt Scudder, here’s a short story involving Matt from when he worked for the NYPD that appeared on the Mulholland Books website. Block gives the reader a good sense of what his hero’s morals were like at the time.
“When the phone call came I was parked in front of the television set in the front room, nursing a glass of bourbon and watching the Yankees. It’s funny what you remember and what you don’t. I remember that Thurman Munson had just hit a long foul that missed being a home run by no more than a foot, but I don’t remember who they were playing, or even what kind of a season they had that year.
I remember that the bourbon was J. W. Dant, and that I was drinking it on the rocks, but of course I would remember that. I always remembered what I was drinking, though I didn’t always remember why…”