Our Favorite MysteryPeople Moments

mysterypeople panel
From the left, Scott Montgomery, Jesse Sublett, Hopeton Hay, Meg Gardiner, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, and Molly Odintz.
  • Introduction by Scott Montgomery

This past weekend, MysteryPeople celebrated our fifth anniversary, with a panel discussion featuring local authors Mark Pryor, Jesse Sublett, Meg Gardiner, and Janice Hamrick, and local critic Hopeton Hay. Molly and I moderated the discussion. Afterwards, we all enjoyed celebratory cake, beverages, and most importantly, trivia with giveaways.

After our anniversary party on Saturday wrapped up, we decided to share some of our favorite event moments throughout the history of MysteryPeople. Below, we’ve shared our favorite memories of the fantastic authors who came through and the fun times we’ve had with them during and after our events. Molly and myself picked six standout moments each. As you will learn, Craig Johnson in particular has gotten to be an important part of our store.

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Scott’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2014

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, Eleven)


This was quite a full year for crime fiction. Raymond Chandler came back and Moe Prager left. Emerging voices like Benjamin Whitmer  and Matthew McBride made a stand and veterans like James Ellroy came back. Matt Scudder was in a great movie and the poster couple  for toxic marriage in Gone Girl got beautifully adapted. Needless to say it was difficult to make a top 10 list, so I found a way to  shoehorn in eleven.


cry father1. Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

This book, following the dark criminal adventures of a tree cutter in disaster sites in mourning for his son, is a perfect piece  of brutal poetry. Raw in its emotion, it speaks to and for the people society pushes to the margins. I plan to read this book at  least every ten years for the rest of my life.

 


hollow girl2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

The final Moe Prager novel deeply involves Coleman’s recurring theme of identity in a way that forces one of the most human private detectives ever put on the page to deal with his own concept of self. A pitch perfect swan song.

 


fever3. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Mysterious seizures hit a group of high school girls, causing hysteria in an upstate new York town. Abbott blends mystery, horror, and  coming of age, digging emotionally deep into community, family, and female friendship with an aching and dark mood.

 


swollen red sun4. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

A masterpiece of rural crime fiction. When a Missouri sheriff’s deputy steals $72,000 out of a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of  weakness, it sets the spark that sends a corrupt county up into flames. A relentless novel that moves like a muscle car on an open  road.


the drop poor boys game5. The Drop by Dennis Lehane & The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

Both of these books tapped into the emotional core of their stories with poignancy while still delivering a bad-ass hard-boiled tale.  Lehane’s lonely bartender being batted about by the mob and Tafoya’s damaged U.S. marshal who has to fight the mob off are characters  who will stay with you for some time.


last death of jack harbin6. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

The second Samuel Craddock novel has the retired police chief looking into the murder of a disabled war veteran. As he investigates, Samuel  becomes a witness to the sins of his town and society in this moving mystery.

 


the forty-two7. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

A tension filled thriller that effectively uses early Eighties Time Square as a backdrop in all its seedy glory. Kurtz uses grind  house theaters, peepshows, and greasy spoons like Hitchcock used Mount Rushmore and The Statue Of Liberty.


forsaken ace atkins8. The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

The fourth Quinn Colson novel has the Mississippi sheriff dealing with race issues, biker gangs, county Kingpin Johnny Stagg, and an  old crime connected to his father who disappeared years ago. Entertaining dialogue and action with strong thematic undercurrents.


mark pryor the blood promise9. The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

A great thriller with vivid characters and a plot that ties a modern treaty signing to an event during The French Revolution. Further  proof of why Pryor’s Hugo Marston is one of the best new heroes.

 


after im gone10. After I’m Gone by Laura Lipman

Lippman looks at the disappearance of a shady businessman through the wife, daughter, and murdered mistress he left behind. Lippmann  uses the lives of these ladies as a clever window into family, class, religion, and feminism in the last half of the twentieth  century.


Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Dennis Tafoya

Dennis Tafoya got the attention of both hard boiled fans and writers alike with his debut, Dope Thief, before quickly following it up with the equally emotional The Wolves Of Fairmount Park. His deeply felt novels look at family and the working poor and have drawn as many comparison to Bruce Springsteen as to Dashiell Hammett. His latest, The Poor Boy’s Game, has already been getting glowing reviews. It deals with Frannie Mullen, a disgraced US Marshal, who has to protect her dysfunctional family from her own father, a union enforcer who broke out of prison. To promote the novel, Dennis will be teaching his One Hour Mystery Class at BookPeople on Wednesday, May 1st at 6:30pm. We caught up with the man to ask a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE:  Even compared to your other books, Frannie is a truly damaged character. Is it a challenge or more freeing to write for such a flawed lead?

DENNIS TAFOYA: More freeing, definitely. I wanted to write about somebody on the right side of the law, who lived an upright life, but I saw Frannie as somebody who leans on a hard sense of right and wrong as a way to draw a line around herself. She’s trying to wall herself off from the consequences of what she sees as the bad decisions other people make out of weakness, even if that means being remote from her family and keeping friends at a distance. The Poor Boy’s Game is structured as a thriller, but I hope that the real attraction of the book is watching Frannie’s elaborate defenses break down as she is forced to come to grips with her past.

MP: The book kicks off with an intense shoot-out. How do you approach your actions passages?

DT: I spend a lot of time thinking about the action in those sequences. I want them to be exciting, but I want them to reflect the ambiguity and messiness of real life. It’s ridiculous how much research I do and how much time I spend looking at streets and intersections in real life and online. I also try to read as much as I can by people I think do that well, folks like James Dickey and Denis Johnson. In everything I write, I try to keep coming up with a way to make things new. I’m always worried about cliché and familiar language and situations.

MP: I really enjoyed your criminal characters. They reminded me of George V. Higgins characters with a darker shade. How did you approach writing them?

DT: Love Higgins! I can’t imagine a better guide to writing criminals as fully realized people. In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Eddie himself is a bundle of contradictions, and Higgins is never afraid to show his main character as a blowhard or a guy who thinks he knows the angles when the reality is that he’s being manipulated and outmaneuvered by his friends. Writing guys like the career criminal Jimmy Coonan are a lot of fun because they’re guys you could see yourself having a beer with, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

MP: While reading The Poor Boy’s Game, I felt it had as many cinematic influences as literary ones. Is that a fair assessment?

DT: Sure! I love crime movies, just like every crime writer I know, and I think it’s pretty clear now that there’s an interplay between page and screen that goes both ways: books become movies, and movies influence writers. I especially love the small, independent films like Frozen River or Hard Eight, films that show criminal behavior as human behavior with complex motivations. There are the big films, too, like Heat – I think it would be tough to write gunplay without a film like that coming up as a reference in your head.

MP: Broken families appear in much of your work. What draws you to that dynamic?

DT: I think we all wonder how much we’re made by our families of origin and how much by our circumstances and character. It’s a question I think we spend our whole lives thinking about, and our perspectives shift as we age. We want to believe we’re independent actors, but are we, really? Certainly, even if we’re in perfect control of our lives, For better or worse, I think the way we’re raised provides a context and a way of thinking about experience that is very hard to leave behind.

MP: You’re giving your short mystery writing class at our store on Thursday, May 1st. Can you tell those attending what to expect?

DT: I hope it will be a fast, fun introduction to writing crime fiction. We’ll do some quick readings from a number of crime classics and talk about how some of the masters like Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block have approached character, setting, plot and the other elements of fiction. And we’ll do an exercise or two, because writing is always more fun than talking about writing.


Thanks again to Dennis for answering our questions. Check out a review of The Poor Boy’s Game here on the MysteryPeople blog and be sure to stop by the store Thursday May 1st at 6:30for a free Mystery Workshop with the author.

MysteryPeople Review: THE POOR BOY’S GAME


The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

If there was any justice in publishing, Dennis Tafoya would be a name everyone would know.  With only two books, Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park, his ability to convey the hardship and raw emotion of people on the margins has already made him a respected voice in the genre. No punches are pulled in his delivery, and though it’s been a few years, Tafoya’s back in full force with his third novel, The Poor Boy’s Game.

Following Frannie Mullen, a US Marshal, the book begins with a well-crafted buildup to a shootout in downtown Philadelphia. Frannie goes into what appears to be a routine take-down in a sports memorabilia store, but then, things go wrong. And once the shooting starts, Tafoya captures the brutality of every bullet, including the one that takes out Frannie’s partner.

Blamed for the shooting, Frannie resigns from the Marshals and is caught in a dark limbo connected with her past. That past suddenly comes charging back when Frannie’s father, Patrick Mullen, a brutal union enforcer, escapes from federal prison, leaving behind a bloody trail of witnesses. It’s up to Frannie to protect her newly sober sister, Mae, and Patrick’s pregnant girlfriend from her father, putting Frannie between the feds who think she helped him escape and union boss Adolf White, who knows the truth behind Patrick’s rampage.

While The Poor Boy’s Game has all the trappings of a great hard boiled novel, the story is, essentially, the portrait of a family. Tafoya shows us the cracks and fissures parents can create in the relationships between siblings. He shows how familial love, no matter how broken or twisted, can survive. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not this is good or bad.

The Poor Boy’s Game is Dashiell Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neill. It puts us in the grimy world of the Mullens, letting us feel every drop of cold sweat. The dialogue is that of a darker Elmore Leonard and can be as harrowing as some of the fight scenes. The Poor Boy’s Game is a crime thriller that shows how a bruised heart still beats. Welcome back to the game, Dennis. It’s good to have you.

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Dennis Tafoya leads a free writing workshop here at BookPeople this Thursday, May 1 at 6:30pm. Bring a pen and paper and join us up on the third floor. No registration or RSVP required. 

The Look Out: THE POOR BOY’S GAME

Look Out for The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya
On Our Shelves April 29th

It’s been close to half a decade since Dennis Tafoya came out with a new book. His take on Philly area crime has the gritty pathos of a Springsteen song. The Poor Boy’s Game proves he hasn’t lost his rhythm.

The main character, Frannie Mullen has more than her share of demons. The main one is her father Patrick, a vicious union enforcer. Patrick escapes from prison and in his wake leaves a trail of dead bodies. Everyone is in danger, including Patrick’s pregnant girlfriend. It’s up to Frannie to confront him and protect those closest to her.

The story is a dysfunctional family tale disguised as a crime novel full of intense shoot-outs, grimy settings, and hard dialogue. Like a great cop film from The 70s, The Poor Boy’s Game is uncompromising entertainment.

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The Poor Boy’s Game is available for pre-order online via bookpeople.com.

Top 6 Books To Look Forward to In 2014

2014 is looking like a great year for crime fiction fans. It’s so good that while I was making a top 5 list of books I’m looking forward to, I realized I had to make it 6.

 

1. Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

This will be a bittersweet read, since it will be the last book featuring my favorite contemporary private eye, Moe Prager. Moe is one of the most fully realized characters out there and this series contains some of the most poignant books I’ve ever read. I may be wiping tears as I turn pages. On Sale 5/18/14. Pre-order here.

 

2. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

As much as I love Hilary’s Lily Moore series, this novel of blackmail, kidnapping, and bad relationships sounds like the kind of book I’ve been waiting for her to write. Leaning her towards darker short fiction, this could be the Gone Girl of 2014. On Sale 4/15/14. Pre-order here.

 

james ellroy3. Perfidia by James Ellroy

Ellroy goes back to The City Of Angels to revisit some of the characters from his LA Quartet in their earlier days. This could be a return to the sprawling, stylish, down and dirty Ellroy we all got hooked on. On Sale 9/9/14. Pre-order here. 

 

 

4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

I’ve been waiting years for Dennis Tafoya to come out with a new book – read Dope Thief to know why. This tale of an ex-US Marshall protecting her sister and step mother from her father on the streets of Philadelphia should have all the gritty heart I’ve come to expect from him and be well worth the wait. On Sale 4/29/14. Pre-order here.

 

5. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McGinty

The final installment of The Troubles Trilogy featuring Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop in Thatcher-era Belfast. My only hope is that McGinty will find a way to continue with this complex character and his biting sense of humor. On Sale 3/4/14. Pre-order here. 

 

6. The Fever by Megan Abbott

A new book by Megan Abbott. That’s all that needs to be said. On Sale 6/17/14. Pre-order here.

Crime Fiction Friday: DOE RUN ROAD by Dennis Tafoya

If Bruce Springsteen wrote crime fiction it would probably be like Dennis Tafoya’s. Full of working class pathos and hard won emotion that’s never sentimental, his work makes you feel for the junkies, criminals, and everyday survivors on the bottom rungs. If you like this short story that appeared in Plots With Guns, immediately find copies of his books Dope Thief and The Wolves Of Fairmount Park.

Doe Run Road by Dennis Tafoya

Junior Knapp was driving east on 30 as the sun went down, going home to see his mother one last time. He had pieces of a bullet lodged under a rib and when he breathed deep it was like there was broken glass moving around in his lungs. The stupid guard had gotten excited, and Junior shook his head again to think of it. They weren’t supposed to pull their guns. It was against the insurance, he’d wanted to say when the old fart was there with the smoke standing in the air between them, the man just as surprised as Junior to hear the heavy report of the gun and see the blood pouring out onto the linoleum. Junior remembered the man making an ‘O’ with his mouth, a witless, surprised look that he still had when Junior jerked the .45 free of his jacket and worked the trigger until the old guard went down.

Read the story.