SCOTT BUTKI’S INTERVIEW WITH GREG ILES

Greg Iles, the bestselling author of the Natchez Burning trilogy, returns with a new novel, Cemetery Road, about friendship, betrayal, and shattering secrets that threaten to destroy a small Mississippi town.

I was captivated by the Natchez Burning trilogy with deep characters, a fascinating protagonist in Penn Cage, lots of plot twists and an interesting exploration and investigation of white supremacists in the south in the past and present.

For this new book the main character is Marshall McEwan. He vowed never to return to his hometown after leaving at 18. The trauma that led to his departure won him journalism praise. As a former reporter I approve of Iles’s descriptions of journalism in this and other books.

But now events in McEwan’s hometown have conspired to make him return: His father is dying, his mother is struggling to keep the family newspaper from going under, crime rates are high, to name a few.

Mr. Iles, the author of 16 books and a novella, was kind enough to let us interview him by email for his new book, which comes out today.  He worked for several years as a guitarist, singer and songwriter in the band Frankly Scarlet. He quit the band after he got married and started writing his first novella. He, along with Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan and others, is a member of the literary musical group The Rock Bottom Remainders.

Cemetery Road: A Novel Cover ImageScott: Where or how did this story come to you?

Greg: Cemetery Road actually grew out of the shocking secret revealed at the novel’s conclusion.  I don’t want to say more than that, but the core of my novels is always psychological and emotional, rather than depending on the externalized structure or details.

Scott: How would you describe your protagonist, Marshall, and his struggle in this book?

Greg: He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington, D.C. journalist, who is forced to leave his career at its height to return to the small Mississippi town where he was raised.  Because of a bad relationship with his father, he swore he would never go back. But when his father is dying, he must return to run the family newspaper until it can be sold.  This is what throws him into contact with the corrupt group of men who run the town, much as their ancestors had since the Civil War. To his surprise, the crimes he uncovered there stretch all the way back to Washington, D.C.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Greg: That much of what we see around us in life is dictated by knowledge that remains hidden.  At bottom, this is a book about secrets between parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings.

Scott: Did it feel weird to be doing a book other than Penn Cage after your amazing trilogy?

Greg: It was actually a relief after the ten-year struggle that it took to produce the trilogy, which ended up exceeding two thousand pages.

Scott: I really enjoyed your three volume trilogy set in Natchez, Miss., which I only recently learned you wrote while recovering from a terrible car accident. What did the folks of Natchez, the city where you grew up and now live, feel about your portrayal of it?

Greg: A critic once wrote that I do my hometown the backhanded compliment of setting my novels there.  In general, the people of Natchez have been great about what I have written. That may be partly because the novels have ended up generating a fair amount of tourism for the city.

Scott: When does your next Penn Cage book come out and what’s it about? I read you said there was still more you wanted to write about Penn Cage. Will we found out what that means in that book?

Greg: A lot of readers were a bit disturbed by the fate of Tom Cage at the end of the trilogy.  I always intended to return and deal with the rest of Tom’s thread. The Fates aren’t quite finished with Penn and Tom, and I think readers will be glad to learn that.

Scott: I have read that you long avoided writing series. What changed your mind on that?

Greg: Nothing changed my mind.  The first Penn Cage was intended to be a standalone.  Seven years later I wrote Turning Angel, thinking it would be the last.  Seven years after that, Penn tapped me on the shoulder, and the Devil’s Punchbowl was the result.  And when I decided to deal with the Ku Klux Klan in Louisiana and Mississippi, Penn and Tom Cage turned out to be the ideal characters to do that.

Scott: As a Southern writer do you feel an obligation to tackle the mythology and stereotypes about the south?

Greg: Yes.

Scott: How does your work as a musician affect or help you as a writer?

Greg: As a musician and a songwriter, you learn a great deal about the rhythm of language and develop the ability to say a lot with very few words.  I write very long books, but I can hit readers in the solar plexus when I need to.

Scott: What is the status of the films being adapted from your books?

Greg: There has been a lot of interest all along, and some abortive deals made, but nothing is headed into production at this moment.

Scott: What are you working on next?

Greg: I’m working on at least three other things.  I don’t want to give away what they are, but they are all very different from each other.  There is one more Penn Cage novel to come. A lot of readers were unhappy with where Penn’s father ended up at the end of the last novel.  So that will come, but it’s unlikely to be the next novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTT’S TOP FIVE CRIME FICTION SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS PART 2 – ANTHOLOGIES

To continue celebrating short stories for a short month, we’re moving to some of my favorite anthologies. Anthologies are a great way to discover new talent and enjoy your favorite authors at the same time. All the ones I picked here have a theme or challenge each author had to adhere to and some help support good causes.

Lone Star Noir (Akashic Noir) Cover ImageLone Star Noir edited by Bobby and Johnny Byrd – I might be biased since it covers my adopted state, but this gives a great overview of the the great crime writing talent we have in Texas as well as grabbing a few writers who normally write outside the genre. Joe Lansdale riffs off the movie Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, Jesse Sublett pulls an Austin heist man’s revenge, and George Wier’s “Duckweed” is a fun yarn with a man on the run. Lisa Sandlin’s story lead to her wonderful PI story The Do Right. The Byrds even unearthed a story by the late great James Crumley. This is a great example of the Akashic Noir anthologies.

Trouble In The Heartland: Crime Fiction Based On The Songs Of Bruce Sprinsteen edited by Joe Clifford- Being a Springsteen fan makes me biased again. Whether playing off the song title or playing close to the lyrics, these stories capture the working class pathos of The Boss. Dennis Lehane kicks it into gear with his take on “State Trooper,” then Jordan Harper plants his own flag, using “Because The Night.” Hilary Davidson takes a dark haunting look at “Hungry Heart” and Les Edgerton gets you into the mind of a cold blooded “Ice Man.” If you can handle a lot of stories with brutality give this one a shot. Proceeds go to The Bob Woodruff Foundation for veterans.

In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper Cover ImageIn Sunlight Or In Shadow edited by Lawrence Block – Block had each auther pick a Dennis Hopper painting and write a story behind it. Jeffery Deaver used “Hotel by The Railway” for a spy yarn, Stephen King shows “The Room In New York” is less serene than it appears, and the editor’s interpretation of “The Automat” is haunting. All of the stories show how great art and an artist from one medium can spark creativity in ones from an other.

Wall Street Noir edited by Peter Spiegelman – Speigelman, a former programmer on Wall Street took the Akashic Noir idea of stories centered around a certain place and expanded it to the reach of that place, starting with the street, New York City, then U.S., and finally internationally. Megan Abbott looks at crime and finance in Harlem, John Burdette looks at business and sex in Asia, and Peter Blauner gives a story about a broker, his psychiatrist, and the movie The Godfather.

The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers, and Dark Roads: Original Stories by Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, C. J. Box, Diana Gabaldon, Ace Atkins & Others Cover ImageThe Highway Kind edited by Patrick Milliken – A great collection of stories of crime and automobiles. George Pelecanos uses a muscle car as a meditation on rage, death, and change in “The Black Ford Cuda.” Joe Lansdale (who is in three of these anthologies) creates a Depression-era Tom Sawyer-like romp with “Driving To Geronimo’s Grave”, and Wallace Stroby puts us on a desolate highway with a tense encounter with a motorist and a biker in “night Run” that carries echoes of the Richard Matheson classic “Duel.”

SCOTT’S TOP FIVE CRIME FICTION SHORT STORY COLLECTION PART 1 – AUTHOR COLLECTIONS

With BookPeople celebrating short stories for this short month of February, I thought I’d share some of my favorite collections. First is author collections. Many of these authors have written  some wonderful novels, but their craft really shines in short fiction. In all these books, not one writer has a weak one in the bunch.

The Big Book of the Continental Op Cover ImageThe Big Book of Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett – The punk rock of detective fiction. Fast, hard, and from the proletariat. Hammett, a former Pinkerton operative, tore apart the gentility of the drawing room detective and made him a working class hero. His story “The Tenth Clew” is practically a dismissal of the Sherlock Holmes story.

Crimes In Southern Indiana by Frank Bill – Every tale in here is a fine if tarnished gem. Each is a violent portrait of a decaying Midwest where the gun culture has met the drug culture. A story reminiscent of the Maltese falcon, but with a coon hound replacing the black bird, has a great last line.

Love and Other Wounds: Stories Cover ImageLove And Other Wounds by Jordan Harper- It’s as if Harper took Hammett’s rough and tumble hard boiled style and expanded on it for this century. All of these are edgy tales with that views many of it’s survivors and criminals on the fringe with a beautiful dark romanticism.

Cannibals: Stories From The Edge Of The Pine Barrens by Jen Conley- Conley delivers a wonderful empathy to her characters whether they be a single barmaid trying to make the best choice for her grandchild for a different life than her or her daughter’s, small time crooks, or her reccurring police officer Andrea Vogel.

Take-Out: And Other Tales of Culinary Crime Cover ImageTake Out by Rob Hart – Hart finds intersection of crime and food (or sometimes drink) in these well crafted tales that often explore his home of New York City as well. The story “Creampuff” about a bouncer at a designer pastry shop is worth the price alone. Hart shows there can be a lot of humor and humanity in hard boiled.

 

SOMETHING EQUATING THE TRUTH: AN INTERVIEW WITH IAN RANKIN

Ian Rankin’s latest novel featuring John Rebus, In a House of Lies, has the now retired inspector drawn into an old missing persons case he was involved in that has turned into one of murder when the body is finally discovered and assigned to his former partner Clarke. The question is, is he trying to help or throw her off since police corruption is connected to officers he worked with. Ian was kind enough to take some questions from us about the book and his main character.

In a House of Lies (A Rebus Novel) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea for In a House of Lies come about?

Ian Rankin: A magazine in the UK published a piece about a real-life private eye who had been ‘executed’ in a car park three decades back.  He had been investigating alleged links between gangland and high-ranking police officers. Well, that got the cogs turning in my mind…

MPS: Clarke and Fox’s investigation gives doubts about Rebus’ reason for his involvement in the case. As someone who doesn’t outline before he starts, did you have your doubts about his motives in writing it?

IR: I always have doubts about Rebus and his motives.  Whose side is he really on? How committed to morals and ethics is he?  How far will he push against legality? Back in the 1980s, cops in real life had fewer qualms about bending and breaking the rules – mainly because there was less chance of them getting caught!  Rebus belongs to that generation…but he’s trying to be good.

MPS: Much of the the book deals with possible police corruption or malpractice. What did you want to explore about the subject?

IR: I’m interested in the past and how it connects to and is different from the present day. Policing has changed radically. There’s a lot of new technology around. Ways of tackling a murder case have changed.  I like to place a question in the reader’s mind: things are different these days, but are they necessarily better? If rules or laws had to be broken before you could get justice, would you want that to happen?

MPS: To me the theme of the book is the relationship between facts and the truth with different lines of investigation and points of view effecting the conclusion each investigator comes to. Do you see a difference between facts and the truth?

Image result for ian rankinIR: There’s maybe a seminar’s worth of discussion in that question!  Heck, maybe even a semester of moral philosophy, social and political theory, class structure, belief systems, et cetera!  But in a nutshell: we live in an age of fake news and distorted commentary. Maybe those were always with us, but we are more aware of them now when they happen (I think/hope).  Back in the day, it was easier for organizations such as the police to control the narrative. But they cannot hope to control what goes on in social media/online these days. There are competing stories, and somewhere buried within those stories lies something equating the truth.  That’s what a detective is always doing: sifting competing narratives or versions of what happened to try to end up with knowledge and closure. And along the way, self-knowledge may also arise.

MPS: What have you enjoyed the most about writing for “retired” Rebus?

IR: I was worried about Rebus in retirement.  The challenge was: how does a ‘civilian’ inveigle his way into criminal cases?  But that challenge keeps me on my toes and also keeps Rebus on his toes. His health is another consideration as he gets older, and he no longer knows many of the (young) detectives with whom he comes in contact.  So he’s having to work harder. But that makes him fun for me to write: he hasn’t grown stale; he is always evolving.

MPS: During part of her investigation Clarke has to watch a film called Bravehearts Vs. Zombies. Any chance you’ve considered pitching that to a studio?

IR: Bravehearts versus Zombies would be a fun B-movie, no doubt about it.  I’ve not pitched it yet, but who knows…

 

THREE GREAT COUPLES IN CRIME FICTION AND THRILLERS

In honor of Valentine’s Day, MysteryPeople presents three couples that fall in love until possible violent death do they part. Either schemers, sleuths, or spies, these lovers hold our attention.

Double Indemnity Cover ImageWalter Huff & Phyllis Nerdlinger (James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity) – Maybe not the nicest couple, but along  with Frank and Cora from Cain’s The Postman always Rings Twice, these two set the noir trend of lovers bumping off one’s spouse for the sweet life. The movie version went in a different direction in the last third of the story with Cain’s version giving them a fate both more romantic and darker.

 

 

And Only to Deceive (Lady Emily Mysteries #1) Cover ImageLady Emily & Colin Hargraves (Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series) – These two did not meet cute. It was when her fiancé was murdered and he was the best man in And Only To Deceive. Both rebels of their Victorian upper class, these two flirt and bicker while solving crimes and sometimes saving Britain. Picture Jane Austen writing The Thin Man.

 

 

 

Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction Cover ImagePetra Shirazi & The Ahriman (Puja Guha’s The Ahriman Trilogy) – Petra is a spy, The Ahriman is an Iranian assassin. They find themselves in each other’s sights, but still fall in love as they are manipulated by bad men and their own governments, building up a lot of trust issues. Guha keeps you caring about their relationship as much as their lives as you flip through the pages.

 

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SWINSON

The MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, Trigger, is the final installment of David Swinson’s trilogy featuring Frank Marr, a private detective who is also a drug addict. We find Frank trying to quit when he is given the job to help clear his former D.C.P.D. partner from an alleged bad shooting. Another part of his past comes into play when he has to work with Calvin, a young black man he mistreated when he was a cop. It is a gritty crime novel with few easy answers but a lot of humanity. David was kind enough to take some questions from us.

Trigger (Frank Marr #3) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Did Frank Marr’s attempt at kicking his habit inform the tone of the book?

David Swinson: Yes, since it’s written in first person, present tense, Frank’s voice had to change. Being high on cocaine all the time hid a lot of the real Frank, and I tried to bring more of his true character out in Trigger.

MPS: In the opening chapter I felt that Frank was putting his life more at risk now that he was off drugs and what he was replacing the rush with, than when he was using. Is that a legitimate feeling?

DS: I think Frank put himself more at risk while using. He wasn’t hundred percent. He thought cocaine made him one-hundred percent, but it put him more at risk, both emotionally and in certain situations like hitting a dealer’s house, all because of the powerful need for the drug. Cocaine always comes first so that makes it more dangerous. He’s more calculated now, even tests himself. That, and alcohol is his new high. Still risky, though.

MPS: The main plot deals with Frank getting information to absolve his former partner from a bad police shooting. As someone who is a former police officer, what did you want to convey about those situations that the media reports and debates, but doesn’t fully examine?

DS: I want to show the audience that things aren’t always clear cut. There is a lot of gray. I wanted to touch on that, and try to show the reality of both sides, in particular, what a good cop goes through. Also, that smartphones have changed everything because a lot of officer-related shootings are now caught on camera for everyone to see. That’s not a bad thing, just like I don’t think body cams are a bad thing. The difference is that smartphones catch shootings that the media wouldn’t otherwise know about, and justified or not they are put out there for everyone to see. Every case is different. Some are obviously criminal, but most of them are not. It’s hard for the public to understand that, though, because any shooting that involves serious bodily harm or death is a terrible thing.

MPS: I picked up more humor in this book. Where do you think that came from?

DS: Much of it came from the awkward relationship between Frank and Calvin. I also think Frank sees things a bit differently being off cocaine.

MPS: You’ve said these books were planned as a trilogy. As a writer what did you enjoy most about Frank Marr?

DS: Being able to write about a character that is outside of myself. Before I sat down to start writing The Second Girl, I  took tons of notes. Frank Marr was already in my head, but during the course of writing The Second Girl he took on a life of his own, changed a lot. I always knew who he’d be, but the trick while writing was to figure out how to make him likeable. That I think was the most fun.

MPS: You’ve had several different and varying occupations. Any idea of what you’d being doing now if you weren’t a writer?

DS: Since my teens, I have not imagined myself being anything other than a writer. I knew I’d have to work a job because I wanted to pay bills, but being a writer was always there. I can’t imagine not writing because it has been with me for so long – the desire. I suppose that if I didn’t have the desire, I’d remain happily retired (hopefully), spending time with my family like I do now, but with more time on my hands.

 

ACE ATKINS CALLS INTO THE MURDER IN THE AFTERNOON BOOK CLUB

Infamous Cover ImageThis month, the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club goes down the outlaw road with Ace Atkins’ Infamous. The book is a well-researched historical crime novel concerning George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Ace will be calling in to talk about the fact and fiction of it.

Infamous mainly looks at Kelly’s biggest crime, the kidnapping of oil magnate Charles Herschel. Most of it was planned by his wife Kit, who goaded her husband into a life of crime. The book focuses on their relationship and Kit’s drive as they contend with a wily ex-Texas ranger out to nab them for the FBI and some criminals meaner than George out for the ransom money.

Infamous is a fun read, full of humor, vivid characters, and flying bullets. The fact that most of it really happened makes it all the more engaging. If you show up at our discussion you’ll find Ace to be as entertaining as his writing. We will be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor. Monday, the 18th, at 1PM. The books are 10% of for those attending.

Meike Reviews THE BOOK ARTIST

The Book Artist: A Hugo Marston Novel Cover Image

Mark Pryor will join us at BookPeople on Saturday, February 9th at 6pm to discuss The Book ArtistCheck out our review and join us! 

All of us at MysteryPeople are huge fans of Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series and we agree that his latest—The Book Artist—is the best one yet.

Hugo Marston is a former FBI profiler who works as head of security at the US Embassy in Paris. The book takes its title from the opening scenes when Hugo’s boss, Ambassador Bradford J. Taylor, strongly encourages Hugo to attend an art exhibition at the Dali Museum. Hugo is initially reluctant–art isn’t really his thing, he’s more of a bibliophile–but he’s drawn to the exhibition when he learns that it involves sculptures created from rare books. (The fact that the artist is an “indescribably beautiful” young woman doesn’t hurt either.) When a museum guest is brutally murdered, Hugo jumps to help the police find the killer. And when they arrest someone Hugo believes is most certainly not the killer, he feels an even deeper urgency to bring the real culprit to justice.

Meanwhile, Hugo’s best friend Tom is getting himself into a spot of trouble in Amsterdam. In their former lives, Hugo and Tom were responsible for sending a man to prison. That man has been released, and Tom believes he may have traveled to Europe to seek revenge. As the pursuit unfolds, the avid Hugo fan finally learns some hidden truths about Hugo and Tom’s shared past.

It’s difficult to delve much further without divulging any spoilers, because there is one twist after another in The Book Artist. Pryor seamlessly weaves the disparate plot lines together, and his voice demonstrates a new level of assuredness.

Pryor’s characters have become old friends to this series devotee, and the long-time friendship between Hugo and Tom is just so much fun to witness. The hard-drinking, womanizing Tom is the perfect foil to the more serious and straight-laced Hugo. Underneath Tom’s relentless teasing one can sense his deep admiration and love for Hugo, and the affection runs both ways. In The Book Artist we finally get a glimpse into their shared past and learn how they ended up leaving their former employers.

And any discussion about the series has to include the setting. Pryor clearly loves Paris, and his detailed descriptions of the neighborhoods, the restaurants, and the people makes the reader feel greatly tempted to hit up Expedia for the next jet to the City of Light. If your budget won’t allow for that, at least pick up a croissant and fix yourself a café au lait to enjoy while you delve into The Book Artist!

3 Picks for February

The Book Artist: A Hugo Marston Novel Cover ImageThe Book Artist by Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor returns with Hugo Marston, head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris. Hugo has to clear his girlfriend Claudia for the murder of a sculptress he took to dinner. Also, Cofer, the criminal from Tom Green and his FBI past comes back for revenge. Pryor juggles both of these stories with wit, suspense and a seemingly effortless style. Mark will be at BookPeople February 9th at 6PM  to discuss The Book Artist.

 

Brothers Keepers Cover ImageBrother’s Keeper by Donald Westlake

A monk tries to save his monastery on Park Avenue from being bought out by a greedy land developer, committing several sins in the process. Hard Case Crime brings back this Donald Westlake novel from 1975 that demonstrates his craft for character and humor. A subtle satire of religion, big business, and all our human frailties that the author appears to embrace.

 

Last Night (The Searchers #2) Cover ImageLast Night by Karen Ellis

When a black working class nineteen year old helps a white upper middle class girl find some weed to buy, they take a dark journey through New York. Ellis weaves their story with the the two police detectives each trying to find them after they have been reported missing. Every character you meet is both fully formed and sharply delineated in this story that looks at class, race, and the ways a city divides.