MysteryPeople Q&A with Craig Johnson


This Thursday, May 21st, at 7 PM, our pal Craig Johnson is back in the store. His latest Walt Longmire novel, Dry Bones, has the Wyoming sheriff involved with a murder investigation that is right in the middle of a fight for the rights to a rare and sizable Tyrannosaurs Rex fossil. Longmire must also deal with an unexpected tragedy that strikes close to him. We caught up with Craig to ask a few questions (he mostly answered) about his book, his state, and the direction of the series.


MysteryPeople: Much of Dry Bones‘ plot revolves around the discovery of the most complete Tyrannosaurus fossil and who has the rights to it. In your research, what was the most surprising thing you learned about the dino-world?

Craig Johnson: That scientists are just as capable of heinous activity as the rest of humanity. You would think that by pursuing the high-minded tract of empirical data that they would be above the petty squabbles and backbiting that plague us mere mortals, but that’s not the case. In the historic battles between Cope and Marsh, two of the greatest paleontologists in American history, they salted each others’ sites with incorrect bones, wrote horrible articles about each other, and at one point one of them had the skull of the other on his desk. All of which makes the dinosaurs seem pretty civilized.

MP: The subject reinforced the idea of how history has been an important element in the series. How does history apply to Walt’s part of the country?

CJ: Well, there’s history and then there’s history… Less than 20% of native religious items and bodies have been repatriated to the tribes, which in this day and age is ridiculous. Wyoming is the outdoors. As your good buddy James Crumley once said, “The west is the out of doors, just go to Casper, Wyoming and look at the town. That’s not the West, but look out and away, that’s the West.” I think westerners are confronted by the natural world to a greater degree, and the history is all around us, whether it be teepee rings from a couple hundred years ago, or bones from sixty-five million.

MP: Dry Bones’ plot is comparatively “light’, compared to your last few novels, yet almost halfway into the story, a large personal situation occurs that throws a somber shadow over the book. What do you have to consider when dealing with different tones and moods in a novel?

CJ: Without giving too much away, it’s happening all around us just now. Police officers are being lured into situations and being killed. I’m afraid that the truth of the matter that when you buckle on that gun belt and pin that badge on in the morning you’re never sure if you’re going to be coming home that night. You can have the characters in crime fiction blithely move from novel to novel, but that really isn’t honest to the material. When tragedy strikes it’s almost always unexpected.

MP: I thought this was your best use of Dog in the series. Other than a sounding board for Walt, what else does he bring to the stories? 

CJ: He humanizes Walt and makes him a better person, just like all our pets do for all of us if we let them. There are 5,416 species of mammals on this planet and that’s just the mammals. I think realizing we’re a part of the natural world and not some dominant species that towers above it is a good thing for all of us. We’re part of a miraculous instance that we need to be aware of, if for no other reason than to be in awe of it.

MP: This is another Walt Longmire novel where the land is as dangerous as the murder suspects. What is the most precarious circumstance you have found yourself in with Wyoming nature?

CJ: When I complain to my wife that dinner appears to be late:)

Probably up on the mountain in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area. I climb Cloud Peak every other year in the Bighorn National Forest, sometimes by myself, and it’s humbling to be that far out and having to rely on only yourself with 1,731 square miles of wilderness surrounding you. Especially if the weather turns bad at thirteen thousand feet…

MP: Dry Bones feels like it’s setting up Walt for a some big changes and possible compromises of who he is. Can you tell us some of the things he will have to confront for the next ten books?

CJ: No. Sorry–you’ll have to keep reading.


Craig Johnson comes to BookPeople with his latest Longmire novel, Dry Bones, on Thursday, May 21st, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Events are free and open to the public. In order to join the signing line, you must purchase a copy of Mr. Johnson’s latest. You can find copies of Dry Bones on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Can’t make it the event? Purchase a copy ahead of time online or over the phone and we’ll get it signed for you! 

MysteryPeople Review: NINE DAYS, by Minerva Koenig

nine daysMinerva Koenig has just published her debut novel, Nine Days, and will be speaking and signing her book on Friday, September 12, at 7pm, on BookPeople’s second floor. Minerva Koenig, when not writing mysteries, works as a licensed architect in Austin, and spends her days engaging in numerous activities, including wrangling cats and fighting the patriarchy.


 

Nine Days announces a great new voice in Minerva Koenig. The story sweeps in like a southwest breeze, dry in wit and hot in attitude. It is a book that embraces its characters, warts and all. It even goes so far as to practically celebrate their warts.

The lead heroine, Julia Kalas, is particularly unique. Short, round, and pushing forty, Julia used her California building renovation business as a cover for her husband’s gunrunning trade for decades. After the Aryan Brotherhood assassinates her husband, she finds herself in Witness Protection in a small Texas town, in a nice twist on the typical California-to-Texas move, stuck with a tough female marshal she refers to as “The Amazon” looking over her shoulder.

Julia finds work at a local bar owned by Hector, a man with his own dark past, and sparks between them soon fly. When a body turns up on top of the bar, Hector becomes the main suspect. To clear his name, Julia gets involved, using her own criminal contacts. She crisscrosses the state and the Southwest, getting in deeper and deeper, eluding The Amazon and a few bullets along the way.

It is Koenig’s love and respect for her characters that make this book pop. Many are unconventional and few are pretty. They and Koenig don’t ask you to like them and that’s why you love them. Julia herself makes no apologies for who she is and proves she can get a man as easy, sometimes easier, than some teen centerfold. Koenig understands that the way to her characters’ humanity is through their unconventionality.

Nine Days introduces us to a fresh hard-boiled voice. Koenig embraces the genre, yet doesn’t completely play by its rules. I can’t wait to see what other conventions she’ll break.


Minerva Koenig will be speaking and signing her latest novel, Nine Days, Friday, September 12, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. You can find copies of his new book on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tom Abrahams

Tom Abrahams has applied his experience covering politics as a TV reporter to some involving thrillers. His latest, Allegiance, draws a politico into a conspiracy involving Texas politics. Tom will be joining Bruce DeSilva on Friday, March 28 at 7PM for a discussion here at BookPeople. We shot Tom a few questions in advance.

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: You do a wonderful job of taking what seems like a far fetched premise and making it believable. How did you approach the antagonist’s plan?

TOM ABRAHAMS: Thank you. I’m glad the plot rang true. I approached the plan through research. My idea was to mix a political thriller with plausible science fiction. It blends my love of George Orwell and my enjoyment of all books Michael Crichton. To me, there’s no bigger influence of Texas and, by extension, Texas politics, than energy. I knew the science fiction element needed to be built around oil and gas and alternative fuels. So I did some online research, reached out to some leading nano-scientists, and crafted a plot that would seem realistic enough to both the reader who knows nothing about nanotechnology and someone who works in the field. Those scientists help me craft the right scenario and the best way to convey it. The trick was giving just enough detail without overwhelming the reader with too much scientific jargon.

MP:  Texas and its politics play an important role in Allegiance. What did you want to say about the state?

TA: I don’t know that I have a message about Texas, so much as I wanted Texas to be a central character in the book. Texas politics and politicians are so often larger than life. From LBJ and Anne Richards to Barbara Jordan, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry; Texas consistently produces people who engage the public in unique ways. They sometimes become caricatures of themselves. I hope that, in some small way, the novel indicates a love for Texas and what it contributes to the national debate.

MP:  How does being a reporter inform you as a writer?

TA: As a reporter, I write every day. I ask questions. And I tell stories with little waste. In those respects, my job as a journalist benefits my job as an author. It also helps that I work in television. As a TV reporter, I think visually. So when I sit at my computer writing a novel, I craft the scenes in my head. I can see what’s happening as I write it. I also think the healthy cynicism I’ve developed over the years translates into a novel with an underlying grit, a darkness that doesn’t jump off the page but is always lurking underneath.

MP: Do you pull from any influences when you write?

TA: My two favorite authors are George Orwell and Michael Crichton. When I write, I try to pull a little from their voices. Though I’ve yet to use deus ex machine in the way Crichton typically does at the end of his novels, I’d like to think the complexity of the plots approaches his storytelling.

MP: What makes thrillers the genre for you to write in?

TA: It’s what I read. I think to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Subconsciously, I’m pulling from all of the great (and not so great) thrillers and suspense novels I’ve read since I plucked my first Hardy Boys book from the school library shelves. There’s a saying in television that the camera doesn’t lie. Neither do books. A reader can tell if I’m informed, and more importantly invested, in the story I’m telling. I wouldn’t be a good romance or cozy mystery writer, because it’s not what I read. I tried writing a police procedural years ago. It lacked. I don’t read enough of that genre to be good at it. That’s why I chose this genre. I like politics. I like thrillers. I love science fiction. I wrote a book I’d like to read.

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Allegiance is on our shelves now and available via bookpeople.com. Tom Abrahams will be at BookPeople in conversation with Bruce DeSilva on Friday, Mar 28 at 7PM speaking & signing copies of Allegiance. Click here for more information.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Cara Black

We’re happy to be hosting Cara Black in conversation with Mark Pryor this Sunday, Mar 9th. Black will be discussing her latest, Murder in Pigalle. I know Mark’s going to have a fun time interviewing Cara about the book. We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions in advance.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What differentiates Pigalle from the other neighborhoods in Paris?

CARA BLACK: Pigalle is Paris’s red-light district; its theaters and clubs comprise the city’s “world of the night.” As rumor goes, American GIs couldn’t pronounce the quartier’s name, so they called it “Pig Alley.” Perhaps this was more a result of the postwar edginess of the 1950s, when the clubs were run by Corsicans, gangsters from Marseilles and the women of the night.

A friend of mine who raised her children in Pigalle–and still lives there–once told me that it has two very different faces: one during the day, and another at night. There are many families who live there; they shop, send their children to school, and frequent Pigalle’s squares and cafés. But it also remains a major theater and entertainment district, meaning that makeup artists, set and costume designers, crew members, and actors and actresses move to the area to be close to work. If you ever visit the Moulin Rouge or the Folies Bergère, their marquees are still lit up, recalling their glory days at the turn of the century.

Pigalle has a long history as a district for resident artists–Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec–and was originally named after the French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. It has also been home to several classical musicians, including Chopin, Lizst and composers like Berlioz (whose former apartment, with its Belle Époque interior, is now a very trendy, exclusive club). Parts of Pigalle have become quite bourgeois; others are rapidly changing with gentrification, and yet others remain beyond the limits of the law, filled with massage parlors and hostess clubs.

MP: How has Paris changed from how it is depicted in your first novel, Murder in the Marais?

CB: Good question! Murder in the Marais takes place in November 1993, and now (14 books later!) we’re in June 1998. So about five years have passed, in Aimée Leduc’s fictional life and Paris’s, too. Aimée still pays in Francs (today, it would be Euros), can smoke in her local café (there’s no way this would be possible today) and has a cell phone (quite common now). But this era is pre-Google, Facebook, Twitter and texting. Any GPS devices were strictly in the domain of the military. I never thought I’d end up writing an entire series and have Aimée moving around the city–albeit very slowly. It’s been freeing not to have her deal with her problems via text message and receive immediate answers. She’s got to work a lot harder, I suppose one could say, even though we all got on just fine before the tech explosion of the new millennium.

MP: Did writing a thriller with a protagonist who was pregnant present any particular challenges?

CB: This aspect did present several challenges. My primary concern was to have Aimée’s role as a mother-to-be be believable, and that her actions were plausible for a woman nearly five months pregnant. She needed a compelling reason to be drawn into this investigation, and she finds one that turns out to be highly personal. My second greatest challenge was finding her a maternity couture wardrobe.

MP: This is a suspenseful story. Aimée is racing against the clock to save a girl who’s been abducted by a rapist/murderer. What must an author consider when they introduce a race-against-time element?

CB: Always keep the clock ticking. Didn’t Hitchcock say something along those lines? I believe he was referring to the ticking time bomb. I think it’s good advice, and the authors who do it well never let their character or us (the readers) come up for air. They create characters we care about, characters we root for, and that’s so important. We want these characters to succeed, overcoming the obstacles hurled in their way, so we keep turning the pages.

MP: For you as a writer, what makes Aimée Leduc a character worth coming back to?

CB: I’d love to have her apartment on the Île Saint-Louis. When I write, I get to go there and “live” with Aimée, take her bichon frise, MeelsDaveez, for a walk on the quai along the Seine, stop at the local cheese shop where “we” know the owner well. For me, writing Aimée is visiting Paris even though I’m in sweatpants, sitting at my computer in San Francisco. Each time I come back to Aimée, I get to experience a different slice of Paris, speaking with the locals and understanding the way people think and act in the City of Light. I feel so lucky, and it sure saves on airfare.

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Murder in Pigalle is currently on our shelves and available via bookpeople.com. Cara Black will appear here at BookPeople on Sun, Mar 9 at 1PM, to read from and sign the book. Click here for more information or to order a signed copy of the book.

MysteryPeople February Pick of the Month: THE ACCIDENT

Chris Pavone spent close to twenty years as a book editor before he wrote his attention-getting debut, The Expats. That book used the espionage thriller to look at marriage. For his follow up, The Accident, he turns an eye to his former profession.

He hooks us immediately with an anonymous author finishing up his nonfiction book. The book centers on a crime that could rock both the financial world and the CIA. When the agency gets wind of it, they decide to stop the information from getting out by any means necessary. Caught in their sight is Isabella Reed, a literary agent handling the mysterious manuscript. Pavone keeps us in suspense about who will survive, what the information in the book is, and the identity of the author, all in the span of one tense day.

Pavone mines the publishing backdrop for all it is worth. He not only delves into into the mechanics of the business, but the personalities, as well. He takes away a lot of the romantic notions and shows the resigned hardships of folks working in a business with a thin profit margin and how a bombshell of a book written by an unidentified author can affect it. He truly makes us believe a book can be a matter life and death.

Pavone also creates fully realized characters. Very few of them can simply be defined as good or bad, yet their clear motivations make for a clean narrative. What makes them complex and interesting is how  all are a part of something bigger, whether that is family, country, or literature. Many find themselves trapped by those passions.

The Accident works both as a tight thriller and subtle satire of the publishing industry, often at the same time. As neurotic and self involved as many of his characters are, we are tied to them and care about them for their love of words. Pavone gives us an exciting argument for how powerful those words can be.

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The Accident will be on our shelves March 11. Chris Pavone will be here at the store on Thursday, March 20 at 7PM to read from & sign copies of The Accident. We’re now accepting orders for signed copies via our website, bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Laura Lippman


Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone deals with a cold-case detective’s investigation into the disappearnce of shady businessman Felix  Gottshalk’s that occurred exactly ten years after after the murder of his mistress, Julie. Instead of focusing on Felix, the book focuses on his wife, Bambi, his daughters, and Julie. Laura was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about this well crafted novel.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Your book is based on a true missing persons case, but you chose to focus on the people left behind. What pushed you in that direction?

LAURA LIPPMAN: I think the minute that Felix walks out that door, he opts out of his family’s life — a tragic, selfish choice. You know, a lot of us (myself included, sometimes) are present but missing. In some ways, this is a cautionary story about what you might miss — the good, the bad moments, the big and the little ones. Felix misses everything.

MP: What was the biggest challenge in covering all the time periods?

LL: Getting it right. I think readers would be amused by the lengths I go to when I’m trying to nail down certain details. Those earrings! The hours expended upon finding the right earrings for Felix to give Bambi. And then there’s the serendipity of meeting a reader who went to Forest Park High School and could describe the dances for me.

MP: While it’s subtle, Bambi’s Jewish background is always present in the book. Do you think the story would be much different if the family were WASPs?

LL: I honestly don’t think so. Bambi’s class origins — upper middle class, but not truly rich — are more important than her religion in some ways. Now if she were a blue-blood, old-money WASP — yes, that would be very different. Perhaps this is one place where my imagination failed me; because the real-life inspiration was Jewish, it never occurred to me not to write her as such.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Sandy is a wonderful investigator/guide for the story in the sense that he’s fully dimensional as a character, but he never draws the attention away from the women. Besides being a cold-case cop, what made him perfect to question the rest of your characters?

LL: He’s so solitary. I think, over the course of the investigation, he taps into Julie’s longing to be part of a large, intertwined family. All she has is her sister. All he had was his wife — and the son from whom he is now estranged. And the estrangement does not speak well of Sandy. But there’s a yearning there, a real wistfulness.

MP: Bambi is a woman who has more layers to her than you may initially think. Do you see her as a woman of her generation or a woman trapped in her generation?

LL: They certainly had tight parameters, fewer choices. Bambi is very much a woman of her time and class. But she’s also, to my mind, wonderfully resilient and clever. Bambi might not have made it through a semester of college, but she shows at the end that she’s very smart.

MP: The themes of class, religion, and family are very nuanced. Did you have them in mind before writing the book or did it grow out of the story and the characters?

LL: The book initially started with a Jewish High Holidays scene that never made it. Then I backed up, started with Michelle’s bat mitzvah. So the religious themes were always there. But in the case of this book, the characters arrived as themselves and dictated where I was to go. I don’t usually sound so airy-fairy, but Bambi was just there, as were her daughters.

MP: You’re one of the best short story writers out there, you have one of the most entertaining series PIs, and you’ve given us some knock out stand-alones. Is there anything you can’t write?

LL: Oh, wow. I cannot begin to take a compliment like that. I am desperate to say something self-deprecating. I’ll be sincere and admit that it’s one of my great disappointments that I cannot write poetry. Every year, when I teach at Eckerd College, Peter Meinke does a reading and I’m enraptured. I’ve also had the pleasure of hearing my friend Beth Ann Fennelly read her poetry. And this year, at the closing night reception for the Eckerd College Writers in Paradise program, the president of the college, Donald Eastman, read an anti-war poem that blew us all away. I don’t even try to write poetry. It’s a form so demanding that even the spaces between the words have to be perfect.

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Laura Lippman will appear at BookPeople alongisde author Jeff Abbott on Wednesday, Mar 5 at 7PM. For more information and to order a signed copy of the book, visit our website, bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: AFTER I’M GONE

It is always exciting to read an author who is aiming for a highly ambitious book. It is even more exhilarating a read when you feel the writer may have even surpassed her intended goal. Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone is such a read.

Loosely based on a true unsolved missing persons case, the plot centers on Felix Gottshalk, a man involved in decades of shady business and facing prison time, who disappears without a trace on our country’s bicentennial. An exact decade later, his mistress, Julie, is murdered.  In 2012, Sandy Sanchez, a cold case cop, is assigned to look into her death. To solve Julie’s killing, he has to look into Felix’s disappearance, which involves studying Felix’s life through those who knew him. Sandy ends up operating like the reporter in Citizen Kane trying to figure out what “Rosebud” meant.

It’s how Lippman uses the technique of the investigation and flashbacks that sets this book apart. The focus ends up being less about Felix than the women he left behind. Bambi, the wife, is the most pivotal character. We first get to know Felix through her perspective as they meet at a Valentine’s Day dance in 1959. Their marriage shows how one becomes a part of other’s sins in a relationship.

As for Julie, she is not the stereotypical mistress. Neither a vixen nor a naive romantic, she is politically aware, savvy, and independent.

We also get the viewpoints of the daughters he left behind. All these women are connected to Felix in different ways, all with their share of secrets.

Through the story, Lippman bounces us through the Mad Men era to the post-feminist era. Through Julie we get the emergence of ’70s feminism, though she is far from militant in that respect. She also guides us through the transition from the  ’70s into the ’80s, working as a volunteer for independent Presidential hopeful John Anderson. All of this is done with a nuanced tone that reflects the characters.

After I’m Gone is a fully realized novel. It is rich in character and theme, holding several ideas on family, religion, and class in a cohesive manner, and never lacks the suspense and reveals of a strong thriller. Once again, Laura Lippman has exceeded the high expectations we have of her.

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MysteryPeople welcomes Laura Lippman to BookPeople on Wednesday, Mar 5th at 7PM to speak about & sign copies of After I’m Gone. For more information and to order signed copies of After I’m Gone, visit bookpeople.com.