A (Partial) Atlas of Texas Crime Fiction

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

A hard land with a difficult history, Texas has always lent itself well to crime fiction. From the crime fiction greats who helped define the genre to those writers shaping the landscape of crime fiction today, Texas has a long tradition of social critiques and sendoffs of hypocrisy (the hallmarks of Texas crime fiction, in my opinion) delivered via murder mystery. Tales of Texas history may gaslight their audiences into believing in the state as a land of triumph, but we crime fiction readers know the dark, murderous truth about the land we call home….

Below, you’ll find an incomplete (of necessity) guide to Texas crime fiction, brought to y’all in honor of Texas Mystery Writers Month (that is, May). Emphasis is placed on well-known classic writers and the wide array of new crime fiction released in the past few years. We know we’re leaving out quite a few of the Texas mystery writer greats, and many of the good one-off novels. Some have gone out of print; others have simply dropped off our radar as we find new voices to champion.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Andrew Nette

Australian Andrew Nette talks heist novels and tells us about his latest, Gunshine State

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Andrew Nette is a rising star from Australia, whose recent book, Gunshine State, puts him in a league of modern hard boiled’s best. It deals with Afghan vet-turned-robber, Garry Chance, on the run and out for revenge when his robbery of a Filipino gangster’s son goes bloody and wrong. Nette plays with the heist tropes in a way that makes them his own. we caught up to him to talk about the book, influences, and writing in general.

MysteryPeople Scott: Gunshine State reminded me of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, in the sense it is a heist novel that spends most of its time with the fallout of the heist. What did you want to do with the subgenre?

Andrew Nette: I’m a major Jim Thompson and The Getaway is probably my favourite of his novels (or a close second to The Grifters). The 1972 Sam Peckinpah film version is also wonderful. So, I take the comparison as a great compliment.

I love heist books, the genius of their plots and the variations they come in, whether it be the all star criminal team assembled for a job or the ex-con desperate for one big score. And the golden rule of heist fiction, which Thomson follows so well in The Getaway, is the heist always, always, goes wrong. Whether something goes awry with the plan, human greed or suspicion, or just plain bad luck, the heist must go wrong and the participants are left to pick up the pieces. And the more twisted and broken things get, the better I like it. My main aim in Gunshine State was to write a uniquely Australian take on the classic heist story set in contemporary times.

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MysteryPeople Double Feature: COUP DE TORCHON

This Sunday, June 7th, at 6:30 P.M., MysteryPeople presents a screening of Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon, the film adaptation of Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, followed by a discussion of the book and film. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.


Nobody understands noir like the French, which makes sense since they coined the term. The get that noir does not so much represent literary style, but rather stands for the relationship man has to the darker side of his nature. Director Bertrand Tavernier’s Coupe De Torchon, an adaption of Jim Thompson’s gothic noir classic, Pop. 1280, takes the dark American fiction that inspired French literary theorists to introduce the term “noir” post-WWII, and puts it on screen in a French context that preserves all the complexity of the original novel.

Pop. 1280 is almost a play on one of his other revered novels, The Killer Inside Me. As in that novel, the protagonist is a questionable small town lawman, Nick Corey, sheriff of the small Southern county of Potts in the Nineteen-Teens. Nick is lazy, talkative, corrupt, and upon first meeting, appears incompetent. He’s Forrest Gump with a badge, gun, and few scruples. When he shoots two pimps who publicly humiliate him, it starts an escalation of violence and a power play involving his wife, mistress, an opposing Sheriff candidate, and the disenfranchised African Americans. The book often reads as a social satire,with murder as a redemptive act.

Coupe De Torchon moves the setting to French Colonial West Africa on the eve of World War Two. The lawman is Lucien Cordier, a village constable played in a bumbling low key demeanor by Phillipe Noiret. The film follows the book almost plot point by plot point, the setting fits perfectly for the sheriff’s benign brutality as he commits crimes in the glaring African light with a matter-of-fact-presentation.

In fact, the main difference is the film’s more reserved tone. Much of this may be translation, for little of Thompson’s ripe prose and Southern dialogue comes through clearly in the film, although the film compensates for the translated dialogue with physical humor that feels very French. That said, it captures the novel’s themes of class and one society repressing another, both with more clarity and slyness. The title is roughly translated into “A Clean Slate”, which fits perfectly as the film and novel are both looks at regeneration through violence.

Coup De Torchon, along with the many other Thompson novels adapted for cinema, proves the malleability of Thompson’s work. The way he looks at violence and the practice of power through violence is timeless and universal in its application to the human condition. Both the novelist and the filmmaker he inspired had a lot to sat about this subject.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence to Book (Out Of 5):

4.5

Adherence to Quality Of Book:

4 (Not As Humorous)

Other Reading:

They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross, Donnybrook by Frank Bill, and anything by Daniel Woodrell

Other Movies:

The Bride Wore Black, Macon County Line, Mississippi Mermaid, Black and White in Color

Fun Fact:

When Pop. 1280 was translated into French, the title became Pop. 1275. Tavernier joked “I don’t know what happened to those five people  on the trip over.”

Copies of Thompson’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Coup de Torchon on Sunday, June 7th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast.

MysteryPeople Brings Back Free Noir Double Feature Film Series

Last summer, MysteryPeople brought you free screenings of five films based on some of our favorite romans noirs, followed by discussion of the book and film. We screened Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, his adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic novel,  Purple Noon, René ClémentCarl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s first Easy Rawlins book, and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel

Now, we are proud to announce the return of MysteryPeople’s Noir Double Feature Film Series for summer 2015. Starting Sunday, April 26, we will bring you five of our favorite films based on five noir classics. Screenings are free and open to the public and start at 6:30 PM on BookPeople’s third floor. We’ll be profiling each film/book combination closer to each screening, but here’s an overview of each film we’ve chosen for this year’s screenings:

laura picsSUNDAY, APRIL 26 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

OTTO PREMINGER’S 1944 ADAPTATION OF VERA CASPARY’S LAURA

Vera Caspary’s 1942 novel Laura was just one of many complex psychological mysteries by Caspary to be turned into a Hollywood film, but Laura may contain her most emblematic femme fatale of all. Come discuss this lesser known hard-boiled classic before a screening of the rather more well-known yet equally fascinating film. Copies of Laura are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

spy who came in from the cold screeningSUNDAY, MAY 10 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARTIN RITT’S 1965 ADAPTATION OF JOHN LE CARRÉ’S THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

 John le Carre’s classic spy novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the film and novel, with their prescient plague-on-both-houses story-lines, have only gotten better with time. Join us for Richard Burton and Oscar Werner’s electrifying performances in the film, followed by a discussion. Copies of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening MarloweSUNDAY, MAY 24 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARLOWE, PAUL BOGART’S 1969 ADAPTATION OF RAYMOND CHANDLER’S THE LITTLE SISTER

In this neo-noir from 1969, James Garner plays Chandler’s Marlowe in one of the stranger adaptions of a Chandler novel. Come join us May 24 for a discussion of The Little Sister and a screening of Marlowe, the 1969 adaption of the book. Copies of The Little Sister are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening coup de torchonSUNDAY, JUNE 7 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

COUP DE TORCHON, BERTRAND TAVERNIER’S 1981 ADAPTATION OF JIM THOMPSON’S POP. 1280

Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280 gives us one of the most chilling looks into a killer’s mind ever written, and Coup de Torchon beautifully adapts Thompson’s novel, changing the setting from the American South to French Colonial Algeria. We picked a French film in celebration of International Crime Fiction Month, which we plan to celebrate in a variety of ways, including international crime fiction pics for all of our book clubs.  Copies of Pop. 1280 are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening walk among the tombstonesSUNDAY, JUNE 21 AT 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

SCOTT FRANK’S 2014 ADAPTATION OF LAWRENCE BLOCK’S A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

Lawrence Block’s Mathew Scudder series is one of our most beloved in the mystery section, and we are pleased to bring you Scott Frank’s recent addition to the noir canon, his adaptation of A Walk Among The Tombstones. Please join us for a film screening and discussion of the novel. Copies of A Walk Among The Tombstones are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


Keep an eye out on our blog for more in-depth looks at each of the books and films as we get closer to each screening. A full list of the film series can be found on our website.

Scott and Molly’s Top Eight Reissues of 2014

This was a great year for publishers bringing back classics into print. It’s important to keep legacy publishing going, to inspire writers and readers alike. Here are eight books brought back into print this year that are well worth your time today.


Molly’s Top Four Reissues


williammcilvanneylaidlaw1. Laidlaw by Ian McIlvanney

When Ian McIlvanney took some time off writing poetry in the 1970s to write the Detective Laidlaw trilogy, he had no idea that he was  quietly creating the genre of Scottish Noir, or as some like to refer to it, Tartan Noir. Europa Editions reissued the first and  second volumes of the DI Laidlaw Trilogy this year – Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch – and the third volume, Strange Loyalties,  is due out April 2015. In a city as grey and dismal as Edinburgh, especially in the 1970s, it should be no surprise that Detective  Inspector Laidlaw is about as noir as it gets.


borderline2. Borderline by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block is one of the most prolific and admired authors writing today, and after a 60-year career, Mr. Block has quite a few  novels to bring back into print. Borderline, a relic of the porn paperback industry, was initially published in the 1950s, and what  read as salacious at that time now reads as coy and clever. Borderline takes place in El Paso and Juarez as several desperate  characters, including a serial killer, collide in a murderous take on the Beatnik experience.


mad and the bad3. The Mad and the Bad, by Jean-Patrick Manchette

This classic, crazed French noir, originally written in the 1970s,and now reissued through New York Review of Books, stars a spoiled heir, a suspicious  red-headed uncle, a nanny recently released from the mental ward, and a professional killer suffering from ulcers, all with a severe  penchant for violence. Follow the nanny and the heir as they are kidnapped by the professional killer, and be rewarded with the most  violent road trip across France since the D-Day invasion. The novel’s ending is explosive and stylish, reminiscent of the recent film  Hanna in the fairy-tale setting of its final showdown.


gb844. GB84 by David Peace

Originally released in 2004, and never before published in the United States, possibly because of its radical politics, GB84 is David  Peace’s epic and intense depiction of the 1984 Coal Miners’ Strike in Great Britain. Through shifting perspectives and shadowy goings  on, lurking Special Branch agents and striking miners beaten by police, Peace merges history and crime novel to create a portrait of  Margaret Thatcher’s England more Orwellian than even George Orwell could have imagined.


Scott’s Top Four Reissues


get carter1. Get Carter (AKA) Jack’s Trip Back by Ted Lewis

Syndicate Books kicked off their publishing enterprise earlier this year with Ted Lewis’ trilogy featuring cold to the bone London mob enforcer Jack Carter. In  this first book, Carter is in full ruthless form, returning to his Northern England home town to hunt down the folks who killed his  brother.


pop12802. Pop 1280 by Jim Thompson

Mulholland books have reprinted almost all of Jim Thompson’s work with elegant new covers, with many having introductions by famed  authors. Daniel Woodrell introduces this violent and satiric tale of a crooked sheriff in the the early 20th century American South. The book looks at race,  greed, corruption, and love with a jaundiced yet inventive eye.


hardcase3. Hardcase by Dan Simmons

Mulholland also brought this hard boiled gift back in print, introducing us to Joe Kurtz, a private eye who makes Mike Hammer look  like a Hardy boy. You can feel Simmons love for the genre as spins this tale of Joe setting himself back in business after a ten year  prison stint, working for the mob boss who’s son he saved in the joint. The follow ups, Hard Freeze and Hard As Nails, will be out in  2015.


elmore leonard library of america4.  4 Novels From The 70s by Elmore Leonard

One of our most influential authors gets the American Library treatment. This first of three volumes features 52 Pick-Up, SwagUnknown Man #89, and The Switch. The reader can track the progress of an already seasoned writer developing a voice that would leave  its mark.

 


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com. All books listed above as forthcoming are available for pre-order on our website.

MysteryPeople Recommends: Five Jim Thompson Novels You Need To Read

Recently our friends at Mulholland Books have acquired the novels of noir master Jim Thompson, and are now reprinting his works in beautiful trade paperbacks, many with forwards from Thompson fans like Stephen King and Daniel Woodrell. Most know him for his truly chilling novel, The Killer Inside Me, but he put out several must-read novels through a lifetime of writing. Here are five more which I would put up there.

pop12801. Pop 1280

Thompson’s other psycho lawman novel. Set in the deep South of the 1910s, this tale of a corrupt, philandering small town sheriff’s manipulation of events through murder is wild, funny, and bluntly violent. The author is working at the top of his game in style and voice.

 

 

after dark my sweet2. After Dark, My Sweet

Possibly Thompson’s most accessible book. A punch-drunk ex-boxer with a few other issues gets drawn into a kidnapping scheme with a former cop and alcoholic femme fatale. Thompson is not always known for pathos, but it comes across here for the reader willing to look.

 

 

nothing more than murder3. Nothing More Than Murder

Thompson takes the James M. Cain lovers-murder-for-money set-up and makes it completely his own. Thompson uses the backdrop of a small town movie theater perfectly and even gives a self deprecating cameo to himself. An often overlooked book, well worth picking up.

 

 

4. The Grifters

As much sordid family tale as sordid crime novel, but really, really sordid. The story follows the power plays of a short-con artist, his mother, who’s also on the hustle, and his girlfriend with her own history of larceny. About as fun as seedy gets.

 

 

the getaway5. The Getaway

This reads like a solid heist novel with touches of Thompson quirkiness. Then you get to last chapter. It is so dark and atmospheric that is reads like something out of a horror novel. Both film versions were afraid to tackle it.

 

 

 


All books listed above are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.