REVIEW- NOVEMBER ROAD BY LOU BERNEY

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageLou Berney’s third book, The Long And Far Away Gone, proved him to be a major talent. He took two poignant mystery stories, tied them through theme, and deftly examined his characters through use of the detective story. With his latest, November Road, Berney uses the gangster thriller, tying two souls together through an American tragedy.

The story unravels the week after the JFK assassination. Frank Guidry, a Cajun fixer for New Orleans crime boss Carlos Marcello, realizes the murder is tied to the car he was asked to drop off at Dealy Plaza. Knowing he is a loose end Marcello has to cut, he hits the road to Vegas where Carlos’ rivals may help him.

Along the way, he meets Charlotte Roy, whose car has broken down. Charlotte took her two daughter and the dog and left her alcoholic husband. She yearns to make a life where she is more than a housewife. Guidry offers to drive all of them to California, since they will provide great cover. The situations both are escaping and the time on the road leads to an intense relationship, while a mob hitter, Barone, closes in.

Berney plays the plot, period, and each character like  jazz instruments in a melancholy ballad. We spend several chapters with both Guidry and Charlotte so we understand who they are and where they are coming from. Both want the exact opposite of what the other wants, yet embody that desire of the other. The relationship is both believable and bittersweet. The fact that it takes place during a national tragedy lends to the emotions. it also reinforces the story’s theme of fate. Berney looks at how each character faces fate and asks if it can be shaped. He then has Barone turns up in chapters like a steady beat of death growing faster faster. Berney even creates him with care, presenting something more than just a cold professional killer.

November Road is a thriller that taps into honest emotions that enhance the crime thriller it presents. By tying his characters into the JFK assassination, Berney examines loss, evolution, and human connection. In a way it becomes a reverse Casablanca, saying the lives of two people do at least mean a hill of beans. However, there is still an understanding of needed sacrifice.

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.

Scott’s Top Ten of 2015

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

If there was a common thread through the best books of 2015, it was ambition. Authors stretched themselves by taking on large subjects or writing something much different, or taking their series characters down a different path. All of these authors raised the bar for themselves and leaped over it.


hollow man1. Hollow Man by Mark Pryor

Pryor’s smart use of point of view puts us in the head of Dominic – Austin prosecutor, musician, and sociopath – who gets involved with a robbery and to continue to tap into his darker nature when things go bad. One of the freshest and best neo-noirs to come down the pike.


the cartel2. The Cartel by Don Winslow

Winslow’s sequel to The Power Of The Dog reignites the blood feud between DEA agent Art Keller and cartel head Adán Barrera in epic fashion to show the disastrous effect of the war on drugs in Mexico. A book that both enrages and entertains.Read More »

The February 16 Alibi: Noir At The Bar Round-Up

Our February 16th Noir At The Bar brought out many of Austin’s literati. In the audience were Elizabeth Crook, Stephen Harrigan, and Meg Gardiner. Since we had heavy hitters reading, everyone was right at home.

noir at the bar book spread

Jesse Sublett and myself (the only questionable author) opened the show. I read from my short story, “Red’s White F-150 Blues” that will be appearing in the upcoming Murder On Wheels anthology, featuring a tribute to Robert E. Howard and a beheading. Jesse really kicked the show into high gear by ripping into the cover of a low down and dirty Cab Calloway cover, followed by an original.

Our first guest author was Trey Barker. Trey writes Texas noir that evokes dangerous blues and greasy barbecue. He proved it by reading from Death Is Not Forever, his book that was released that day. The tale featured a crooked judge and his minions dealing with a burning dope stash.

lou berney

Bill Loehfelm was kind enough to give up his Mardi Gras to join us. Like his series character, Maureen Coughlin, a cocktail waitress-turned-cop, he’s a New Orleans transplant from Staten Island. He put us in in the shoes of Mareen’s patrolman shoes from the opening of his latest, Doing The Devil’s Work, showing how an officer can be relieved to find a dead body.

Lou Berney was our last guest author. He read from February’s MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, The Long And Faraway Gone. It’s an ambitious book, delivering a gamut of emotions. His reading style complemented his skillful writing; he picked a passage that was an amusing look at teenagers working in a movie theater than moved into a somber poignant tone that only a master craftsman can pull off.

noir at the bar round up

Jesse Sublett wrapped up the show with the same pizzazz he showed earlier in opening it, discussing his upcoming true crime book, 1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked The Capital (release date scheduled for March 1) that looks at the Overton Gang. He talked about how one member endured the Texas Ranger version of water boarding. Look out for the book this March. Pre-order a copy early. 

We then mingled, the authors signed books for fans, and we all had one for the road. There was also a discussion about margin sizes that got lewd. Look out for the next time we’ll be at Opal Divine’s.


Thanks to all who came, and sorry to all those who couldn’t make it – you missed a wonderful evening! Noir at the Bar combines three of our favorite things – books, booze, and the powerful prose of crime fiction read aloud. Keep a look-out for more great MysteryPeople events!

MysteryPeople Q&A with Lou Berney

Lou Berney has just pulled off one of the most ambitious books to come around yet this year, The Long And Faraway Gone. It deals with two people haunted by crimes committed in Oklahoma City over twenty-five years before. In one narrative, a woman tries to solve the disappearance of her missing sister; in the other, a private investigator, the lone survivor of a robbery at the movie theater where he worked as a teen, returns to the city to work on a case. This moving, well paced, and involving novel is our February Pick Of The Month. Before Lou joins us for our February 16th Austin Noir At The Bar, he was kind enough to answer a few questions.


MysteryPeople: The Long and Faraway Gone is such a unique novel. Was there any certain source of inspiration for it?

Lou Berney: Two real-life crimes were part of the inspiration for the novel. In 1978, six employees of a family steakhouse in Oklahoma City – four of them teenagers – were murdered during a robbery. That really shook the city up, and it shook me up. I was 13 years old and working across town at a hamburger joint. Every time I stepped into our walk-in freezer, I thought about how terrified those kids must have been right before they died. I couldn’t stop trying to imagine what they were thinking.

I was working at a movie theater, a few years later, when two teenage girls disappeared from the State Fair of Oklahoma. It turned out that the mother of one of the girls worked at my theater, checking box-office numbers for the studios. I didn’t know her, but I’d watch her from across the lobby. Again, I just couldn’t stop imagining what she must have been going through.

MP: The plot deals with at least three mysteries. How did you approach those plot machinations?

LB: My first two novels were more about, What happens next? as opposed to, What already happened? So I had to come at this novel in a completely different way. I had to work backwards, essentially. And I broke out each mystery as a separate arc, with an individual outline for each one. Integrating all the various plotlines was probably the toughest part. I wanted to make sure there was balance, and that the reader didn’t lose, or get tired of, any of the threads.

MP: Besides being familiar with the area, how did Oklahoma City city serve you as a setting?

LB: I loved the idea of using Oklahoma City as a setting because it was such fresh fictional territory – there just aren’t that many novels that have been set there. And it’s rich fictional territory too. It’s a complex, surprising, gritty, quirky, beautiful place with a colorful history and a lot more diversity, in a lot more ways, than most people realize (best Vietnamese food in the United States, for example!). And since the Murrah Federal Building bombing twenty years ago, the city has really changed and evolved at a startling pace.

MP: One of the things I loved about the book, was that the mystery revolves around Wyatt and Juliane unravelling each of their mysteries by learning more about the the victim or missing person than the victimizer. How do you write a characters who aren’t physically around in the story?

LB: First, I’m really happy you noticed that this book was more about the people affected by the crimes than about the people who committed them. As for writing characters who aren’t around, my approach was that – for the two main characters, who can’t escape the past – those characters are always around, as much part of their lives than the living, breathing human beings they interact with every day. It’s the old Faulkner quote: for Wyatt and Julianna, “the past isn’t dead, it’s not even past.”

MP: So much of the book deals with people haunted by violence. What did you want to explore in that subject?

LB: Most people know the name of the man who blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Most people who lived in Oklahoma City in the late 1970s know the name of the man who murdered the people at Sirloin Stockade. I wanted to write about the people who died, and the friends and family who had to deal with that grief – and are still dealing with it. I wanted to make those names, in the book, the names you remember.

MP: You pulled off a very ambitious book. What would you tell a writer who comes up with an idea that seems hard to pull off, but it keeps swirling around in his head?

LB: I hope I pulled it off, but the advantage of swinging for the fences is that even if you come up short and don’t hit a home run, you still might bang the ball off the wall for a double. That was my philosophy, at least. There were definitely times while writing this when I thought my reach might have exceeded my grasp. But all the writers I love most always try to do too much, rather than just enough. So that’s what I kept reminding myself.


Lou Berney joins us for Noir at the Bar Monday, February 16, at 7 pm, at the Opal Divine’s on South Congress. Come join us for a night of booze, books and crime fiction. The Long and Faraway Gone hits the shelves on February 10 and is available for pre-order now via bookpeople.com. Copies will also be available for purchase at Noir at the Bar.

Noir at the Bar on February 16, with Trey Barker, Bill Loehfelm, Lou Berney, & Jesse Sublett

Post by Scott M.

On Monday, February 16th, starting at 7 pm at Opal Divine’s, we are back for our first Austin Noir At The Bar for 2015. We have a range of talented authors who will be reading from their hard boiled work. Let Jesse Sublett’s murder ballads put you in the mood, endure my reading (indulge me, the 16th is my birthday), then hold on.

trey barkerTrey R. Barker is a Texas native, now working in Illinois law enforcement whenever he isn’t writing high octane noir. His books, examples including Exit Blood and Death Is Not Forever, are greasy, 200 MPH, high body count hard boiled. Also an accomplished horror writer, he borrows from that genre to give a fever dream edge to his crime fiction.

20080813_Loehfelm_Bill Loehfelm migrated to New Orleans from Staten Island. He uses the backdrop of his adopted city for his series featuring Maureen Coughlin, who moves from cocaine-using cocktail waitress to policewoman. His latest novel is Doing The Devil’s Work The books are atmospheric with a street view of police life, corruption, and racial divides. Picture The Wire and Treme blended together.

lou berneyLou Berney is best known for his funny but edgy books, Gutshot Straight and Whiplash River, featuring nice guy wheelman Shake Bouchon. He gets more serious with his latest, our MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, The Long And Faraway Gone. The book combines two stories, a PI-style investigation and a thriller, that run parallel to each other. As the story begins, a detective gets a case that forces him to come back to his childhood home, where he survived a horrific robbery in his teens. It is an ambitious novel that never loses its pace while delving into deep themes.

jesse sublettJesse Sublett will cap off the night with a reading from his latest, 1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime that Rocked The Capital, a true crime tale of the Overton Gang, one of our town’s more colorful robbers and vice lords. You can then purchase a book and mingle with the authors. Release date March 9 – pre-order now.


The party starts at 7PM at the Opal Divine’s at 3601 South Congress. Books from each author will be available for purchase to be signed at the event. Booze. Books. Crime Fiction.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE by Lou Berney

long and faraway gone

It’s not too long into reading The Long and Faraway Gone that you sense Lou Berney’s ambition. The plot involves at least three mysteries, two of them taking place over twenty-five years ago and interacting with the present, and the thematics raised have no easy answers. Even with these challenges, the author proves to be more than up for the challenge.

We are introduced to two mysteries that begin in Nineteen-Eighty-Six Oklahoma City. One is the robbery of a movie theater after closing, where all but one worker is executed. The other occurs about a month later at the State Fair when Genevieve, a girl in her late teens, leaves her little sister behind to meet up with a carny. She tells the little girl, she’ll be back soon. She never returns.

Berney then takes us to the present to follow two people struggling with each crime. Wyatt, the survivor of the theater massacre, is working as a private detective in Vegas. A favor sends him back to Oklahoma City to help a former cocktail waitress who inherited a club from a millionaire she used to serve. She thinks she’s being harassed by the man’s relatives to give up the property and needs proof. Still haunted by survivors guilt, he grows more obsessed with the question of why he survived when he learns that the men who were accused may have not been the ones to commit the crime.

We also follow Juliane, the little sister left behind on the midway, also weighted with an unsolved past. Not even knowing if her sister is dead or alive, she has warring feelings toward Genevieve. When she learns the carny her sister left to meet is back in town, she sets herself up as bait.

Both stories run parallel to each other. Do not expect a grand James Ellroy conspiracy tying them together. Bernie leaves the complexity for the emotions, knowing to plot as simply as possible for an elegant effect. He gives us just enough tropes in both the PI and thriller genre and gives us fully realized characters to mark each plotline. The book is more concerned with Wyatt and Juliane coming to terms with their history. Solving the crime is just part of the process. It’s fitting that the setting is post-9/11 New York. It did remind me of Ellroy’s My Dark Places, the memoir of the author looking into his mother’s unsolved murder.

What’s amazing is how such an emotional and meditative narrative never loses a brisk pace. Part of this is done by embedding Wyatt’s case with the bar owner into the story. It gives us a more traditional, involving mystery, while it brushed the two main stories up against one another. His main plan of attack is by focusing on revelations more about the victims than perpetrators. It keeps propelling the book forward while challenging Wyatt and Genevieve’s perceptions about the past and the people they love, allowing the subtext to surface.

The Long and Faraway Gone is a book that aims high and hits the mark. It gives us an involving tale that explores loss, history, and obsession. Its emotions are both nuanced and visceral. I look forward to the next bar Lou Berney sets for himself.


Copies of The Long and Faraway Gone hits the shelves Tuesday, February 10 and is available for pre-order via bookpeople.com.