Bouchercon Recap, Part 3: Panel Redux

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
bouchercon-haul
My Bouchercon Book Haul

If you’ve noticed a bit of radio silence on our blog these past couple weeks, that’s because MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery, Meike Alana, and I took a road trip to the Big Easy for the “Blood on the Bayou” Bouchercon, one of the world’s largest gathering of mystery writers, fans, bloggers, agents, editors, marketers, librarians, booksellers and publishers. The breath of those titles pales in comparison to the diversity of day jobs talked about, past and present. Poison experts mingled with ex-cops, ex-cons, ex-journalists, and expert martial artists. This year’s conference, due to its desirable locale, was busier than most, so trust me when I say that the memories I’ve brought back represent a small slice of the enormous number of great experiences had over the weekend at Bouchercon.

Bouchercon exists on many levels. First, there are the official events: the panels, the awards, the signings, the book room; in short, plenty to entertain a mystery lover. There’s also plenty of behind the scenes industry action, as publishers celebrate anniversaries, authors celebrate book releases, and meetings galore happen across the city. Then, there’s that special camaraderie that only occurs from geeking out about mystery with folks just as weird as we are. That part seems to happen mainly in the hotel bar.

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Edgar Nominations Announced!

 

mwaThe nominations for the 2016 Edgar Awards were announced last week. This seemed to be the year where great minds think alike – many of the nominees made in on to our best of 2015 lists, put together by Scott and Molly. 

We want to congratulate old friends and new favorites, including Duane Swierczynski, nominated for his novel Canary, David C. Taylor, for Night LifeMichael Robotham, for Life or DeathMegan Abbott, for her short story “The Little Men,” Philip Kerr, for The Lady From Zagreb, Lou Berney, for The Long and Faraway GoneLori Rader Day, for Little Pretty Things, David Joy, for Where All Light Tends To GoGordon McAlpine, for The Woman with the Blue Pencil, Jessica Knoll, for Luckiest Girl Alive, and Adrian McKinty, for Gun Street Girl.

Congratulations all the others who made it. Best of luck to everyone and have a great time in New York.

Click here for the full list of Edgar Nominees.

Molly’s Top 10 U.S.-set Crime Novels of 2015

2015 has been an eclectic year for crime novels. Below, you’ll find historical fiction, reissues, domestic suspense, sophisticated city thrillers, and coincidentally, several books detailing the nightmarish and inescapable legacy of high school. Whether you are looking for dark and dense or light and playful, there’s a book on this list guaranteed to tickle your fancy. 


1. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hugheswomen crime writers 1940s

Hughes’ tale of an homme fatale turns the sexualized imagery of crime novels on its head, and like much of the genre, once again reminds us how to find the eroticism in death, and the violence in sex. In a Lonely Place, after decades out of print, is now available as part of the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers of the 40s & 50s.


2. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegheileen

In Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh takes us on the tour of small town life in mid-century America. Eileen, a repressed juvenile prison administrator stuck taking care of her drunk father in their filthy house, is fearful and disgusted by virtually every bodily function or urge. When a glamorous new coworker joins the prison staff as the new juvenile therapist, the two form an intense bond, liberating each from the confines of their historical context.

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Bouchercon 2015: Southern Comfort in Raleigh

Scott Montgomery and Allen Eskens
Scott Montgomery and Allen Eskens

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery gives us the low-down on this year’s Bouchercon, THE mystery convention. 

I met Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter. That will be my takeaway from this year’s Bouchercon. It made sense to meet her at this conference, held in the scarily clean city of Raleigh North Carolina. Organizers seemed to be interested in crime fiction’s past, present, and future.

Ali Karim should get credit for some of the best panels ever put together at a B-con. Reed Farrel Coleman was moderator for The Private Sector, a discussion of the PI genre that became a discussion about reality versus fiction when it came to the audience Q&A. Michael Koryta, a former private investigator, said he knows a writer is doing their work when they get surveillance right. He also suggested to research the job as if you were going into it as a profession. As detailed as it got, J.L. Abramo, author of the Jake Diamond series, put it all in perspective when he said, “Herman Melville wasn’t a whaler.”

 

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Molly’s Top Ten of the Year, So Far

  • Post by Molly

innocence or murder on steep street1. Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovaly

Heda Margolius-Kovaly lost her family to the Holocaust, her first husband to Soviet purges, and the right to visit her native land to her defection to the United States. She also translated Raymond Chandler’s work into Czech, and his style, combined with her experiences, are the inspiration for Innocence, a bleak and hard-boiled noir about a woman who engages in increasingly desperate acts to secure her husband’s release from political imprisonment. You can find copies of Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
The Meursault Investigation may not be shelved in the mystery section, but if The Stranger is considered “Mediterranean noir,” then I dub this post-modern redo of The Stranger, told from the perspective of the Arab victim’s family, “De-Colonial Noir.” The Meursault Investigation reads like Said’s Orientalism as a mystery novel, which to me is the best thing in the universe. Spoiler alert: Meursault did it. You can find copies of The Meursault Investigation on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Lori Rader-Day

  • Post by Molly

Lori Rader-Day’s first novel, The Black Hour, established Rader-Day as an author to keep an eye out for and was heartily approved of by the 7% Percent Solution Book Club here at BookPeople. Her second novel, Little Pretty Thingsuses a murder case as a jumping off point to explore the nature of female competition and friendship while building to a thrilling conclusion. She was kind enough to answer some questions about Little Pretty Things. Read our review of the novel. 


Molly O: Juliet and Madeline, as their high school’s two biggest track stars, are the best of frenemies, spending all their time together, understanding each other’s experience, yet held back from true friendship by their mutual jealousy. Friendship sullied by the nature of competition, and redeemed through female community, is a common theme in narratives exploring female relationships. What inspired the particular relationship of Madeleine and Juliet? 

Lori Rader-Day: I can’t say that I’ve ever had a friendship quite like the one Juliet and Maddy had when they were young, but I’ve definitely had close friends—or I thought so, anyway—turn out not to be life-long parts of my life. And I think it’s quite easy to feel envy for people you love and only want the best for. I’ve told this story a few times already, but I got serious about writing only after a friend of mine from high school published a novel. I was so simultaneously proud and envious of him that I was spurred to action. His name is Christopher Coake. You should read his books; they’re excellent. I don’t think I’ve had a real frenemy before. I only have friends and archenemies. No one in between. That’s a joke, just in case the harsh black and white of the internet doesn’t convey it.

MO: Another theme in Little Pretty Things is the vulnerability of the young, talented and neglected. To riff off of my previous question, Madeline’s talent and beauty, through the jealousy they inspire in other women, isolate her from her peers. Why explore talent not as an asset, but as a trap? 

LRD: It’s more interesting, isn’t it? We all wish we had talent, but most pluses have a minus. And of course all the people we think have it all together have their own dark secrets. We forget it, though. We still do the thing where we compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides, and find ourselves lacking, every time. I thought of Maddy as that woman who is so proud of the fact that she’s better friends with a bunch of dudes than another woman. There’s a reason for that, in my opinion. I’ll leave it at that, because I’m already going to get letters.

MO: Little Pretty Things, like The Black Hour, tells the stories of characters feeling trapped, who are released from their humdrum lives by the horror of assault or murder of someone close, and are able to reclaim a sense of ownership over their own destiny through being forced into action. Noir had been described as, “starts bad, gets worse,” but the heroines of your novels tend more towards the “stuck in a rut, experience a trauma, kick some ass, and move on to bigger and better things” model of detective novel. How do you combine noir style and feminist empowerment so nicely?

LRD: Oh, wow, my writing has never been described like that, but I love it. You’re hired. I like dark stories, but I also like stories that end well and maybe even a little hopeful. I think there must be room on the shelf for stories about women facing some real-life shit (as the character Yvonne says in Little Pretty Things) without having to go on suffering forever. I like to punish my characters, but then when they run the maze, they get the treat. I also want to write women characters who win in the end. We don’t, always, and we usually don’t win at all in crime fiction. All those nameless, trait-less dead women in crime fiction… but I digress. There are plenty of feminist crime fiction writers and feminist crime fiction characters—I don’t know that I’m inventing anything here. But I like being in that kind of company, and I think the readers I care about do, too.

MO: Noir generally implies a hero or anti-hero with an addiction, traditionally of the alcohol and cigarettes model. Lately, I’ve noticed a change in the kinds of addictions in detective novels – an addiction is, after all, anything you push too hard at and feel like you can’t live without, and you insert cross-country running into the place previously occupied by less healthy addictions. Did you set out to write Juliet as a character who drives herself with exercise rather than alcohol? Does the modern detective need to overdo at least one thing in their life in order to be a compelling, noir figure? 

LRD: Well, Juliet has given up running when we meet her and she has a new obsession, but I imagine her new twitch is the same kind of thing. She swipes things people have left behind in the motel rooms, lost objects, orphans that nobody else wants or have forgotten. She believes these things will be her downfall eventually, but she can’t help herself. It’s like a drug for her. I feel like we’ve gotten so carried away with the flaws our detectives have to have. They all have to be highly idiosyncratic at this point—seems like a very high standard to keep up with. But really we just want our detectives—all of our characters—to be real people. Well rounded, complex, troubled. They don’t have to be one foot in AA anymore. They just need to have a complex relationship with happiness, like every person you know. When the good guys are interestingly bad, a bit, we know we’re going to go on a ride, with someone else (maybe slightly damaged) driving. That’s what we pick up books for, right?

MO: As someone who has taught mystery writing, and also is now two books in to an authorial career, what’s some advice for aspiring detective novelists? 

LRD: Write the book you want to read. Read a lot and write a lot, as Stephen King says. Bad first drafts are OK, as Anne Lamott says. I just reference a lot of other people, you see. I love writing books, looking for the best way to phrase and remind people of things they need to keep hearing. Most people who want to write study all this advice like tea leaves, so they know it intellectually, but they need to hear reminders and encouragement to keep them moving forward and working. It’s a long game, and they need to hear that, too. The truth is sometimes really hard to hear but then when it IS a difficult, at least they know it’s supposed to be that way. The other best advice is to find some writers to share pages and encouragement. You just need one person, but if you can find a community, even better. For aspiring mystery writers, Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime are really fantastic places to find your tribe.

You can find copies of Little Pretty Things on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: LITTLE PRETTY THINGS by Lori Rader-Day

little pretty things

– Post by Molly

Lori Rader-Day burst onto the literary detective novel scene last year with her murder-in-academia debut, The Black HourI could tell from the first paragraph that Lori Rader-Day is not just a good writer – she has a perfect handle on noir style, and understands how to marry the toughness of the traditional private eye with the deep psychological insights of, well, a mature female protagonist.

What’s more, she taps into many of the themes prevalent in the wave of recently published domestic thrillers made possible by Gillian Flynn’s runaway success with Gone GirlThe Black Hour takes on class, sex, female community versus competition, and that most controversial of all academia subjects, funding, for a gleeful send-off of modern academic institutions, culminating in a thrilling fight sequence during the college setting’s annual regatta.

 Little Pretty Things, her recently released second novel, takes on a different setting, but many of the same themes. Maddy and Juliet, both former cross-country stars, spent high school as the best of frenemies, and then drifted apart after school. When Maddy shows up at the dingy motel where Juliet splits her time between cleaning and bartending, just in time for their ten year high school reunion, Juliet feels only envy for Maddy’s escape from their small, impoverished town. Plus, she still has a chip on her shoulder from a high school track career spent always getting second place to Maddy’s first.

Juliet and Maddy don’t get much of a chance to work things out, for Maddy is found murdered the day after her arrival in town. Juliet sets out to discover the culprit and clear her own name of suspicion, delving into their complex relationship as she seeks out Maddy’s secrets from a decade before. Through her investigation, Juliet gains new appreciation for all those things she thought she never had, including support from her family and her friendship with Maddy. She even discovers a hidden talent for coaching, and begins to appreciate that Maddy’s exceptional talents, on and off the field, increased Maddy’s vulnerability, while Juliet gained protection and perspective from her own mediocrity.

In Lori Rader-Day’s novels, men are ancillary. They exist, and they play important roles, but a reader is never in doubt – these are supporting roles. Strong female characters pervade Rader-Day’s work, and it’s hard to find a chapter in her work that doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Her female characters have names. They are powerful. They talk to each other about many subjects, and they don’t just talk – they act. They are also vulnerable and problematic. Even Rader-Day’s protagonists are far from deified – they make plenty of mistakes, have selfish motivations, and are blinded, at least at first, to the crimes of those they love. I’m a huge fan of tough prose, strong women, and a moody atmosphere, and Lori Rader-Day’s novels make the cut.

Little Pretty Things reads rather like a combination of Grosse Pointe Blank and The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerOr like a re-write of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where Romy gets murdered in the first five minutes and Michele forgets all about blue binder guy and spends the whole movie solving Romy’s murder while reexamining every facet of her and Romy’s life. Readers of Megan Abbott, Tana French, Mette Ivie Harrison, and Jamie Mason should get plenty of enjoyment out of Lori Rader-Day’s work, but there’s a limit to any exact comparison – Lori Rader-Day’s got a style and sensibility all her own. But don’t take my word for it – thanks to Seventh Street Books and their affordable paperback releases, you can find out for yourself.

You can find copies of Little Pretty Things on our shelves and via bookpeople.com