3 Picks for August

Untitled
MysteryPeople’s 3 Picks for August

As the summer winds down, we often end up wondering where the time went. To keep us from wistfully looking back at what could have been, we’ve assembled three picks to look forward to this month…

 

after i'm goneAFTER I’M GONE by Laura Lippman

One of the best books of this past year is soon to be in paperback. Laura Lippman uses a cold murder case tried to an even older missing person’s  one to look at family, feminism, and class over fifty years. One of the smartest and unique books I’ve read in recent memory.
Paperback to be released 8/12

 

 

a walk among the tombstonesA WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES by Lawrence Block

This title is finally due to be back in print before the September release of the film version. One of the best of the Matthew Scudder series, with the unlicensed PI facing some of the darkest of human  behavior when he takes on a kidnapping case. Scudder set the template for the likes of Dennis Lehane and Reed Farrel Coleman.
New edition to be released 8/26

 

THE GOOD LIFE by Frank Wheeler Jr.

NewPulp gives us another great debut to be released this month. This tale of a young man taking his fathers job as sheriff of a corrupt Midwest town is violent, poetic, and utterly human. Fans of Frank Bill and Jim Thompson will love it.
Release date to be announced

Guest Post by David Hansard

 

The First Novel of a Lonely Writer
Guest Post by David Hansard

When you see someone’s “first” novel on a shelf, what most readers (unless they’re also writers) don’t realize is that the book they’re looking at is almost never the writer’s actual first novel. Most wrote one, two, sometimes more, complete novels that ended up in the trash or on a shelf. When you start a book, of course, that’s not what you’re thinking. You will think your story is special and unique and that you may never come up with another idea that’s so terrific. It almost never works that way, but it helps to think it will. If you don’t believe in your book, you’ll never finish it.

A friend of mine, now a regular New York Times bestseller, wrote three novels that ended up in the bottom of a file cabinet. He eventually wrote one he thought was a Western, and a standalone. The publisher decided it was a mystery, and a series. He’s now about to publish the fifteenth in the series.

Another wrote two that were a (self-described) “mess.” Her third became her first published novel. She’s written three more in the series, and her next will be a standalone.

It is essential that you have the basic ability to write, but natural talent doesn’t teach you how to weave your words together into an 80,000 word–give or take–novel. You get that in a couple of ways. The first is by trying to do it, seeing what works, what doesn’t, and trying again. The other is by reading. Writing makes you a different sort of reader. You will constantly be looking at why a story affects you in a certain way, why you can’t quit turning pages, or why you have to force yourself to turn pages. There are a lot of books on writing, but the ones that benefitted me the most were Ann Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, Annie Dillard’s THE WRITING LIFE, and—at the top of my list—Lawrence Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT. (One of my all-time favorite mysteries is Block’s EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE).

One of the sticky wickets of novel writing is the title. My first, ONE MINUTE GONE, was originally called THE UNIVERSE OF THINGS. A fairly well known crime fiction agent (not mine) told me, “You’ve got to change it. It doesn’t sound like a mystery.” He was right, and I did, a time or two. Finally, working with my own agent, we came up with ONE MINUTE GONE, which relates to what happens in the story. My second in the series, which will be out this summer, is called BLUE-EYED BOY. I’m not planning on changing that one, but until it’s on sale, you never know.

As published, ONE MINUTE GONE is around 75,000 words, 332 pages. The first draft was 125,000 words. One agent who liked it, said, “Cut it in half.” After I did, she didn’t like it as much. It wasn’t that I cut the wrong things, but some of the things I cut made the story lose flavor, and some of the characters weren’t as fully developed and complex as in the longer version. The solution was not to put back what I had taken out, but to make sure that elements critical to character hadn’t been lost. I had to find succinct ways of including those. You can spend a page explaining that a character is fastidious and obsessive. Or you can do it in a few words of dialogue and a bit of action.

Example: Without taking his eyes from mine, he picked a piece of lint from my jacket. “There,” he said, “all better.”

I would like to be able to tell you that having learned your lessons from a first novel, your second will be easier. It won’t. Each story is unique, and each time you will set the bar higher.

One of the best things I did was get know other writers, through organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (not just for women, though it started out that way), through writing groups, and by going to conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. The panels can be interesting, but the real action is in the bar. After all, we’re talking about writers, here.

Writing is not merely a lonely experience, it’s solitary confinement. If you’re part of a community of writers, it’s solitary confinement with a lot of other people who are also in solitary confinement. One thing you will quickly learn is that unlike those in other professions, writers, even close friends, are not usually inclined to share much about a work-in-progress. There’s something about discussing your WIP, at least in any detail, that let’s the air out of the balloon, so to speak. There’s an adage: If you talk it, you won’t write it. While writers may not share the details of what they’re working on, most are still willing to share their daily agony and perpetual frustration, generally over a drink. Or two, or ten. For me, and for most I know, friends who are writers are an essential part of the creative process. Writing is too lonely a thing to do alone.


David Hansard will be here TOMORROW, 6/5 at 7PM speaking and signing copies of One Minute Gone. He will be joined by bestselling author, Matthew Quirk, who will also be signing his latest, The Directive. Books are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: BORDERLINE by Lawrence Block

borderline
Borderline by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Molly

Lawrence Block is one of noir’s most prolific writers, and his more than fifty novels cover all kinds of sub-genres. His latest contribution to society, Borderline, is a relic of the early fifties porn paperback industry and takes place in the alcohol-soaked hipster paradise of Juárez. This book has aged exceedingly well. The innuendo for a more conservative time now reads like a sly, welcome relief from the bluntness of a less-censored industry. Block’s stylish, stripped-down prose does not detract from the power of his erotic moments but instead seamlessly incorporates them into the overall narrative.

Borderline
reads like a sexier, more disturbing On the Road. Characters speak in hip slang at cool coffeehouses and sexual proclivities of all kinds are not only tolerated, but encouraged. The story takes place over a few days and not too much happens. There are a couple murders,here and there, and a lot of sex without a whole lot of love, but the story carries with it a strong beatnik vibe that fits its picaresque narrative perfectly.

A divorcee, a runaway, a professional gambler, a jaded sex worker, and a serial killer see their paths cross in the steamy bars and permissive atmosphere of life across the border from a puritanical post-war America. Some characters are lucky to meet each other, others not so much. Descriptions of the sex industry combine with the homicidal urges of a stalker to portray a world none too friendly to women, but the female characters hold their own in dialogue and moxie.

In Borderline, Block has created a fascinating critique of Cold War conformity. In the taboo-free zone of Juárez, his characters find outlets to satisfy their pent-up urges, and the consequences are tragic and inevitable. In particular, the story’s resident serial killer is egged on in his obsessions by horror comics, and believes he is justified in committing murder as it elevates his victims out of obscurity.

Included in the volume are three short stories showcasing Block’s talent for the nasty, brutal and short as his characters occupy a Hobbesian world of endless struggle and arbitrary violence. Each story is a self-contained gem that reads well on its own or with the others. Add Borderline to your list of hard-boiled classics.


You can order copies of Borderline now via bookpeople.com, or, find the book on our shelves in-store at BookPeople.

3 Picks for May

 

 

The Three by Sarah Lotz

There’s been a lot of buzz around this story of three children who survive four simultaneous plane crashes. Sarah Lotz takes a unique approach to the suspense thriller, looking at religion, media, and fear in the modern world. This could be one of the most talked about books of the summer.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

The wait for a Greg Iles book is over. His Penn Cage character is now town mayor, but when a local nurse is murdered and his father becomes a suspect, Cage becomes determined to prove his father’s innocence. Penn’s quest for the truth sends him deep into his father’s past, where a sexually charged secret lies waiting to tear their family apart. A comeback for the king of the Southern-set thriller.

Borderline by Lawrence Block

Our friends at Hard Case Crime have unearthed another Block tale. This one deals with the collision of several scheming and desperate characters in a sleazy town between El Paso and Juárez. The book also contains some short stories that appeared in classic magazines like Manhunt. Another work from one of our most acclaimed and highly decorated living mystery writers.

Shotgun Blast From The Past: Double Barrels of Block

I recently read two of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder books, moving through the acclaimed series in anticipation for the film version of Walk Among The Tombstones coming out this Fall. One of the books was the earlier, lesser known, In the Midst Of Death. The other was one of the more more highly praised, Eight Million Ways To Die. Both books deserve notice.

For those not familiar with Block’s Matthew Scudder, he, along with Robert B. Parker’s character, Spenser, are the most influential crime novel detectives to come out of the 1970s. Already an alcoholic, Scudder accidentally shoots a young girl while attempting to stop a robbery. After that, he dropps out of the force, gives up on his marriage, and moves into a cheap hotel and a spiritual purgatory. As a semi-functional drunk and unlicensed PI, he stumbles around with a certain grace.

As with the entire series, New York is almost another character in both books.It’s the dirty and dangerous New York of the 1970s. After the city goes bankrupt, the environment puts him in as much danger as any case he takes on. The irony is the places of safety and comfort seem to be the bars.

In The Midst Of Death sees Scudder hired by Jerry Broadfield, a whistle blowing cop charged with murdering a call girl. With little help and some interference from the NYPD, Scudder finds his investigation leading to a web of secrets and ambitions belonging to his client and their prosecutors. Many aspects of the book appear to be drawn from the life of Robert Leuci, the real life narcotics detective-turned-informer in Robert Daly’s nonfiction book, Prince Of The City, which was adapted into the Sidney Lumet film of the same name.

There is little actual violence in the book, yet a jaundiced oblivion hangs in the air. Because of what his client has done and the contempt the other cops have for him, Scudder is reminded of his own tarnished past as a law officer. The passages with Scudder and Broadfield’s wife, another lost soul, are poignant without being sentimental. It is a brief connection of two people who have lost their identity in different ways.

A murdered call girl is also at the start of the plot rolling into Eight Million Ways To Die. The victim, Sunny, had hired Matt to negotiate the break from her pimp, Chance. When she is found savagely executed with a machete, Chance hires him to find her killer. There are millions of reasons to not to take the case, but a major one compels him. Now wanting to change, Scudder needs to think about something other than drinking.

The book is actually more about addiction than murder. As Scudder questions the other prostitutes and an alcoholic cop working the case, we come across people addicted to drugs, money, sex, love, and rage. When Matt faces his own addiction head on without blinking, it is utterly moving.

In The Midst Of Death and Eight Million Ways to Die are both great examples of the jagged character arc Matthew Scudder travels in this series. Block realizes that even when you take that big step in deciding to fight your demons, the demons will often fight back. I believe these books argue that in this corrupt world it’s the fragile, broken, and discarded souls that need saving the most.

New York State of Mind

1378587383hzom3

Our Pick Of The Month, Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara, uses New York City as a rich canvas. His hero, Ray Donne, is a man involved deeply with his city and its citizens. When we asked Tim to give us five of his favorite New York novels, his respnse was, “Only Five?” Here they are in no particular order.

purchase here12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose, David Mamet

“Not a book, but a play, which we still teach at my middle school — 12 Angry Men. Reginald Rose created a dozen NY men who could not be more different than each other and stuck them in a hot jury room to decide the life and death of a kid they didn’t know. In the midst of this drama, the city is calling to each of them from outside; some hear the call as a reason to just get through the decision as quickly as they can and others as a call for justice. You never “see” the city in the play, but it’s there inside each of these men.”

purchase hereWhen the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

“When the Sacred Ginmill Closes was my introduction to Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder. There are bodies, thieves, New York baddies and weirdos galore, but it’s a story of a man who begins to realize he doesn’t like himself when he’s drinking–and he’s always drinking. I admire the was Block shows his respect for this deeply flawed character; and throughout the story, and other Scudder books that followed, slowly allowed Scudder to redeem himself.”

Slow Motion Riot by Peter Blauner

Peter Blauner’s Slow Motion Riot floored me. His “hero” is a probation officer–with a liking for the booze, as well–who gets caught up in an out-of-control situation involving one of his parolees, who just happens to be a violent sociopath. Blauner gives us an insider’s view into one of NYC’s more dysfunctional agencies and the politics behind it.

purchase hereBodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez

Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez taught me not only how to write cliché-free about life in the projects, but also how to make fiction read like memoir. Quinonez poured his heart and soul–corazon y alma–into this book and I’d love to sit with him one day and talk about the “real” parts of this book and those he made up.

purchase herepurchase hereFranny and Zooey  and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger

And, to get away from the crime stuff, JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Short stories by one of the masters of the form. These stories are better–more laser like–than Catcher in the Rye. Here Salinger’s taking snapshots of the people and the places–mostly wealthy–he knows well. Not all the stories take place in NYC, but the city runs through these characters’ blood.

History of Mystery Discussing WHEN THE SACRED GIN MILL CLOSES

Our free History Of Mystery Class looks at authors who put their mark on American crime fiction. This month, we look at one of the prolific and influential Lawrence Block. Block has been writing since the ’50s and is still going strong. He has written in many sub genres, innovating practically all of them, particularly with his unlicensed New York PI, Matthew Scudder.

Scudder is an ex-cop with a serious drinking problem who left under a dark cloud. His cases take him to some dark and seedy places in New York and in the human soul as he stumbles around a redemption he doesn’t even know he’s looking for. The books also serve as a look at Scudder and Block’s city for the last forty years.

When The Sacred Gin Mill Closes is considered one of the best in the series by both fans and fellow writers. It has three entwined mysteries and provides a definitive change in the series as Scudder confronts who he is. Its last line has stuck with many a reader.

We’re looking forward to having author Chris F. Holm, who’s own Collector series shows a Scudder influence, calling into our discussion. The class starts at 6PM on Sunday September 1st on BookPeople’s third floor. Copies of When The Sacred Ginmill Closes are 10% off to those planning to attend.