MP Review: THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG by REAVIS Z. WORTHAM

Reavis Wortham’s debut, The Rock Hole drew comparisons to Harper Lee and Joe R. Lansdale. In his third book, The Right Side Of Wrong, he moves into the territory of Cormac McCarthy. The books have grown darker and the characters confront more ambiguous themes, which amps up the atmosphere and fun.

The book starts with Center Springs, TX constable, Cody Parker driving in a freak snow storm to answer a domestic disturbance call and getting shot off the road. Left for dead, Parker is saved by Tom Bell, an elderly man who has taken up residence in Center Springs. Ned, Cody’s uncle who is a semi-retired constable asks for the help of John Washington, the black deputy in nearby Paris, Texas, to look into the crime. The investigation leads to two murdered moonshiners. As the investigation continues Ned’s niece and nephew, Top and Pepper, start up a friendship with their mysterious new neighbor, Mr. Bell, which is a concern to Ned.

Like McCarthy, Wortham deals with the idea of borders with this novel; things escalates when any of the characters cross into Oklahoma or Mexico. The theme fits well in the series, which looks at the 60s effect on a small Texas town that has changed little over the years. The Beach Boys and Johnny Rivers are pushing Hank Williams and Johnny Rodgers off the radio and the drug racket is moving in on the moonshine trade. Like its title suggests, The Right Side of Wrong looks at the lines crossed when good men have to do bad things; something that culminates in a bloodbath near the end. For Wortham’s characters, you don’t cross those borders and come back the same, if you come back at all.

Reavis Wortham’s talent as a writer lies in his ability to bring light into this dark story, giving us a full human experience. Much of this is done by employing humor (something lacking in much of McCarthy’s work). This seems to be the main reason to have Top and Pepper, especially with the chapters told through Top’s perspective. Wortham is able able to bring everything down to character; there is a conversation between Ned and Tom Bell that holds as much tension as the gunfights.

The Right Side Of Wrong is so involved with its time and place, it transcends it. In the the first two books we watched the citizens of Center Springs confront changing times, but now we see they are beginning to change themselves. I’m curious to see what lines they’ll cross in the future.

Reavis Wortham will be at BookPeople, discussing and signing The Right Side Of Wrong, July 22nd for our Lone Star Mystery Panel that also includes George Wier and Tim Bryant.

 

Get To Know: GEORGE WIER

George Wier writes books that serve as throwbacks to early action novels for today’s audience. His Bill Travis series (now in print versions, available at MysteryPeople) earned a large online following. Even when he’s writing with another author, Wier’s voice still carries through; striving to entertain the reader as much as he can.

His Bill Travis is something of a Texas Travis McGee. A jack-of-all-trades, master of some, he tells us in the first book, The Last Call, that he’s in the business of helping people. This work usually gets him in trouble with both sides of the law and in the middle of a lot of gunfire, dealing out as much Lonestar wit as he does lead.

It’s Wier’s unapologetic sense of fun that makes these books stand out. Two of the influences he cites for the series are Lester Dent’s (aka Kenneth Robeson) Doc Savage series and the Seventies PI show, Mannix. Travis’ personality and forward momentum are a priority in the writing. In The Last Call, he throws everything at the reader but the kitchen sink, including dingos that eat more than babies. His second (and my personal favorite), Capitol Offense, starts with Bill being told by a death row inmate that he blew up Vietnamese fishing boats in Galveston Bay for the man who is now governor and then getting involved in an assassination plot. It’s story telling with bravado.


What makes the books unique is the Texas take on pulp adventure. You hear Bill’s twang as he narrates. And while he operates in Austin, his adventures lead him through many of the state’s small towns. The third book, Long Necks And Twisted Hearts, has him back in his East Texas home town. The state’s past plays an important part role in many of the stories. It could be said that George Wier uses Texas history to shade his tales the same way James Rollins uses science.

This summer will see a collaboration George did with Milton T Burton, Long Fall From Heaven. Finished after Mr. Burton’s death, the two use their love of Texas history to join their writing in a story about an ex-lawman turned security firm owner and his ne’er do well friend and employee. They have to solve a series of killings in nineteen eighties Galveston by delving into a sordid family past during World War Two. The book has a bit more sober tone than the Bill Travis books, yet carries Wier’s strong pace and flow. The blend of the two authors’ voices is pitch perfect.

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George Wier is the writer as craftsman. He knows the right approach and style to put on a tale for maximum fun. I’m looking forward to seeing what he takes a hammer and saw to next.

You can get to know George June 2nd at 4:30PM, as he signs and discusses Long Fall From Heaven here at BookPeople.

MysteryPeople Q&A: MARK PRYOR

We are excited to be hosting Mark Pryor Sunday, May 19th for his signing of The Crypt Thief. The book is a follow up to his successful debut, The Bookseller. The stories feature Hugo Marston, the head of security of the US embassy is Paris. His sense of right finds him involved in adventures in the shadowy corners of the city, helped by Garcia, a Parisian police detective, his sexy journalist girlfriend, Claudia, and hard living CIA buddy Tom Green. We recently asked Mark about his new book and his characters.

MysteryPeople: Was it easier to write Hugo and his friends in the second book since you were familiar with them or was it more difficult in finding that balance of delivering what people like, but making it different?

Mark Pryor: That’s a hard question to answer because I wrote both books before finding a publisher. In other words, I really had no feedback as to the characters until both were finished, which I suppose means that I simply wrote the characters as I felt they needed to be. Quite nice to be able to do so without any pressure, actually!  Now, I just finished the third Hugo Marston book (THE BLOOD PROMISE, to be published in January of 2014) and I did incorporate feedback from readers to some degree. Interesting, Claudia is the one who has provoked the most comments from people, something I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted. Tom, of course, tended to be either loved or not by readers and that’s exactly what I’d have guessed!

 

MP: The Scarab is one of the most chilling villians I’ve across in a while. How did you come up with him?

Pryor: Why thank you.  I knew I wanted to have him… wait, that’d give the story away. Let’s just say that his physical appearance and her personality match very much how he moves about the city. The other thing with him, I wanted to have a serial killer but not the suave, dead-eyed, handsome man who seduces and murders his victims. He’s not really a sadist, he kills because he has a purpose, although (and I didn’t necessarily intend this) he does come to enjoy it. But then he makes himself suffer, too, so he’s all kinds of messed up. Or evil, if you will…

 

 MP: Hugo is a refreshing because he is a throwback to the old fashioned good guy. What drew you to create a lead who is more of a boyscout than the current flawed and brooding heroes in the genre?

Pryor: You know, I always liked those heroes, the old-fashioned ones who drank martinis (Mr. Bond) and were suave (the Saint). Hugo is more in their mold than the tortured alcoholics of some modern series. I don’t mean that as a criticism, I just always felt that I’d be able to write a more emotionally balanced hero and not be as capable as some are of creating the flawed hero. I think it also allows me to focus on moving the plot forward, the mystery itself. I hope that Hugo still comes across as a complete character and in some ways his niceness is, in fact, a flaw, I suppose. Certainly, Tom and Claudia make fun of him for being the nice guy all the time.

 

MP: The supporting characters like Tom, Claudia, and Inspector Garcia are so well drawn they could easily carry their own book. What’s the best advice you could give about writing your hero’s allies?

Pryor: Thank you again, I’m pleased to hear that. I always intended these books to be a series, and I knew I’d want a strong cast of people around Hugo. Any detective, in fiction or in real life, needs interesting and smart people to work with, be friends with, or make love to. I think it’s dangerous to rely on just one strong character for a single book, let alone a series, so each facet of Hugo’s life is complemented in the form of a complete character. And, of course, their roles over-lap, which makes it more important that they are well-drawn, and in some ways makes that task easier for me. As far as advice, I think I’d sum it up by suggesting that a writer should create supporting characters that their hero will enjoy spending time with, who will reflect his strengths and complement his weaknesses.

The other thing I should say, and this is aimed at those characters you named, well, they better watch out. As any hero will tell you, if you start to steal the limelight bad things can happen. Of course, Hugo’s too nice to say that or fight for the spotlight so I’ll warn the reader right now – in the third novel, things go very, very badly for one of the supporting characters…

MP: I was surprised you addressed Tom Green’s drinking so early on in the series. What prompted you to do that?

Pryor: That’s easy. If he’d kept going like he did in THE BOOKSELLER, he’d have died of liver failure by the end of THE CRYPT THIEF. Actually, it was an organic, unplanned thing. I didn’t set out to have him dry out; rather it was his extreme reaction to an extreme event. Of all the characters, Tom is the most reckless and appears to have the least regard for human life and this realization, this taking control of his own life and health, was a way (his or mine, I’m not sure) of showing that deep inside, he’s as scared of dying and as respectful of life as anyone.  It also creates tension between him and Hugo, and within himself because, as you say, it’s early in he series and it’ll be very hard for him to stay sober over the long term. Who knows what might happen if he falls off the wagon?!

 

MP: You practically make Paris another character in both The Bookseller and The Crypt Thief. What do you want to come across most about the city?

Pryor: Paris is a city of many faces. It’s history is as rich as any in the world, and visually it’s one of the most beautiful. That’s a lot of material for me to work with, no?  With the first two books, I wanted to feature particular aspects of the city, the bouquinistes in THE BOOKSELLER and the amazing cemeteries in THE CRYPT THIEF (and one other aspect of Paris which I can’t mention for fear of giving something away!).  I wanted, in other words, to write books that could only have been set in Paris. Hopefully, I can do that with future books in the series, and it looks like Hugo will start venturing out of Paris deeper into France and even to other countries. If I do my research right, each book will explore a (new?!) place and make it integral to the story.

MP Review: THE CRYPT THIEF by MARK PRYOR

Mark Pryor became a sensation in our store with his debut thriller, The Bookseller. It introduced us to Hugo Marston, the square jawed, bibliophile, head of security for the U.S. embassy. Since October, the book has sold over two hundred copies at MysteryPeople. With his follow up, The Crypt Thief, Pryor proves to be no fluke.

The Crypt Thief begins with one hell of an unsettling first chapter at the Pe’re La Chaise cemetery, with young couple visiting Jim Morrison’s grave. Unbeknownst to them, they have gotten in the way of a demented villain known as The Scarab. They don’t make it to Chapter Two.

Since one of the victims is the son of a US senator, Hugo is asked to look into the murders. His CIA buddy, Tom Green, comes along because they are suspicions of a terrorist hit. When Hugo looks at the evidence he thinks it may be something akin to a serial killer. The only thing he is sure of is that The Scarab will kill again.

With just two novels, Pryor proves to be a master craftsman as a storyteller. The plot moves at a brisk and involving pace, and he gives Hugo an adversary as twisted as he is straight.  He slowly reveals The Scarab’s motivations, keeping us on the edge of what his dark plan is. His use of Paris and French history works so well as a backdrop that there is no other region the story could take place.

The main reason I’ve gotten to love this series is the supporting characters. In most books like this the heroes tend to be lone wolves, but Hugo is partly defined by his allies. The French detective, Inspector Garcia, proves to be smart, capable, and well as strong ally, as opposed to many of the obstructive local cops that show up in thrillers. Claudia, Hugo’s sexy journalist girlfriend is much more than a love interest. Her continental ways make her a perfect foil for Hugo and his Boy Scout ways.

It’s the relationship with Tom Green that puts a great buddy spin on the series with the CIA consultant who is a walking id, creates a great dynamic for their relationship. In The Crypt Thief, he explores that dynamic by creating a rift between the two and showing how destructive Green’s personality can be.

Mark Pryor has created a perfect second book for Hugo Marston. It delivers everything we loved about The Bookseller without being a retread. The Crypt Thief is proof that both Hugo and Pryor should be around for some time.