Megan Abbott not only one of our favorite writers here at MysteryPeople, she is one of the most insightful when in comes to understanding crime fiction. Recently, she a lot of attention from an article in Slate about how she looks as the misogyny in classic crime fiction, particularly with her “first noir love” Raymond Chandler in the MeToo# movement. Tomorrow, you can experience her full genius as she and Ace Atkins (The Sinners) discuss their books and crime fiction.
When it comes to portraying the darkest desires of the human heart and the actions they trigger, Megan Abbott writes about them with grace and elegance that creates eerie noir able to completely connect with the reader. Her latest, Give Me Your Hand, uses the backdrop of the science field to look at the danger of ambition and secrets with two researchers reunited in competition for a research project under an esteemed scientist and a shared confidence severed their bond in high school. Megan will be joining Ace Atkins whose new book is The Sinners for an event here Tuesday, July 24th at 7pm.
MysteryPeople Scott: On first glance, the world of science and the lab seem like an atypical setting for noir. What did it allow you to do with the genre?
Megan Abbott: I guess I’ve always thought of labs as spooky places, full of atmosphere. Slick surfaces, dark corners and the body and mortality. Blood. And once I started to read about the hothouse environment in competitive labs, I knew it was perfect.
MPS: What was your biggest take away in researching that world?
MA: The stakes are very high there. I became fascinated about stories of “labotage”—researchers sabotaging one another’s work, mixing up slides, dumping results. And it’s also a world where women are still very much in the minority, making it very complicated for women working in that world…which is what we see with Kit and Diane.
MPS: How did premenstrual dysphoric disorder become the research subject?
MA: Given the lack of funding for research into women’s health issues, I knew I wanted them to be studying a “female” condition. And I began reading about PMDD (AKA extreme PMS)—how calamitous it can be for women who suffer from it, how it can rule their lives. The extreme mood swings, the anger, the despair. I’m always drawn to stories that enable you to explore the way women’s bodies are seen as disruptive, dangerous.
MPS: Diane is one of those noir characters you often use who is part a full-fledged person and part the gaze of the protagonist. Do you have to keep anything in mind when dealing with that kind of character?
MA: What a great question. I think, with those characters, they’re mysteries to me during the first stages of writing the book. And then I slowly uncover their secrets—as I did Diane. And then ultimately, I grow to love them—as I did Diane. And that love is the only way the book works, if it does. I have to fall in love with my mysteries.
MPS: How did you get the name Diane Fleming, since it fits both who she is and what people picture her to be perfectly?
MA: Boy, names are so hard. I usually keep changing the name over and over until one finally sticks, feels right. And I admit, this one just came to me. I hadn’t even thought of its larger resonances, but you’re right!
MPS: I couldn’t help but think Severin’s lab with a pool of smart talented people working on a project by an esteemed professional in the field sounded to me what the writers’ room of “The Deuce” might be like. Did you pull anything from your own experience for Give Me Your Hand?
MA: Haha! I don’t think so. But it was a very male environment for Lisa (Lutz) and me, so maybe there’s something to it!
MPS: You’ll being doing an event with us on July 24th with Ace Atkins, a writer who you are a big fan of. What do you admire about him?
MA: His ability to pound bourbon and talk Burt Reynolds movies until all hours of the night? His good looks and charm? Yes, yes, and yes. But most of all, it’s his books. I’ve read them all, I love them all, and The Sinners is Ace at his best. No one paints a world more vividly than Ace. No one has a richer palette of characters. He’s the best.
There are few authors who push themselves like Megan Abbott. In doing so, she has expanded noir as well, demonstrating the elasticity of the genre. She has blazed a trail from seedy bars and back allies to suburban homes and high school gymnasiums. In her latest, Give Me Your Hand, she proves science can be full of sin.
The book centers on the relationship of two scientists. Kit Owens toils as a researcher for the prominent Dr. Severin. She is in the running to be part of Severin’s team for a prominent study of premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Her chances are good, until Severin unknowingly brings in someone from the darkest part of Kit’s past.
Diane Fleming moved to Kit’s high school with whispers of her past and possessing the kind of discipline and drive Kit lacked at the time. Their friendship drove the other to be their best, physically and mentally. Abbott is able to describe their relationship with nuance and subtleties to portray something much deeper than competitiveness. The bond becomes severed when Diane shares a dark secret with Kit, not as much for the revelation itself but the fact that Kit is burdened to hold it. Now that Diane has returned to her life in this manner, the secret becomes even heavier.
Abbott deftly uses that secret as the centerpiece of the book. It drives the front part of the narrative with the story building tension by the withholding of it and juxtaposing Kit and Diane’s teen years with their reunion. Both the timing and the subject turn the reveal into a well executed bomb. The rest of the book’s suspense come from where and how hard the fragments crash after the explosion.
The lab setting would seem less fitting for noir, but Abbott uses the world to her advantage. The competition of the study sets up subtle back-biting that could lead to back stabbing, A certain job involving an incinerator comes in handy. The antiseptic environment makes for an interesting contrast to the messy emotions that play out in the harsh sterile light.
With Give Me Your Hand Megan Abbott ratchets the tension at page one and never stops as she delves into female friendship, different forms of sexism in science, and ambition. While seated deep in noir, it never goes for the obvious tropes. Once again, she takes the genre on her her own terms and takes no prisoners.
Make sure you’re here July 24th at 7pm when Megan is here to discuss the book along with Ace Atkins.
What I’m looking forward to reading in 2018 by Meike Alana
2017 has been a fantastic year for crime fiction fans, but 2018 promises to be even better. Here are just a few titles that I can’t wait to get my hands on:
Dominic by Mark Pryor: Picking up where Hollow Man left off, the titular Austin attorney/musician (who happens to be a psychopath) continues his murderous ways.
A Reckoning in the Back Country by Terry Shames: When a resident of Jarrett Creek is mauled by vicious dogs, Texas lawman Samuel Craddock suspects a dog-fighting ring may be operating in his town.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani: Originally published in France where it became a #1 bestseller and winner of France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt, it marks the American debut of an exciting new voice in crime fiction
Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner: Following last year’s smash thriller Unsub, newly minted FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix investigates a series of murders around the Austin area.
Sunburn by Laura Lippman: The New York Times bestselling author returns with a superb novel of suspense about a woman who knows how to play the long game to get what she wants.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell: A Victorian gothic tale about a young pregnant widow who is sent off to her late husband’s creepy, crumbling, and possibly haunted estate.
If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin: The award-winning Gaylin brings us an addictive story of psychological suspense told from multiple viewpoints.
A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum: Yocum’s A Welcome Murder was a 2017 favorite of ours here at MysteryPeople and we can’t wait for this tale of a local basketball star in a small Ohio town who tries to remake his life but instead gets tangled up in murder.
See Also Proof by Larry Sweazy: Sweazy’s series featuring North Dakota indexer Marjorie Trumaine is another favorite of ours. As she’s mourning the recent death of her husband during a particularly harsh winter, she helps investigate the disappearance of a neighbor’s disabled daughter.
A Stone’s Throw by James Ziskin: Ziskin’s series features 1960’s news reporter Ellie Stone, who is one of my personal favorite characters in the genre. This time the intrepid Ellie investigates a double murder set in the glamorous world of horse racing.
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott: The queen of noir (part of the writing team behind HBO’s The Deuce) returns with a mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever or ultimately tear them apart.
The Three Beths by Jeff Abbott: Three women, all with the same name, have gone missing from idyllic Lakehaven. Given that Abbott is one of the best thriller writers of our day, it’s pretty much a given that this is not a coincidence and that there are some sinister goings on here.
We were happy to see many of our favorite books and authors nominated for this years MWA Edgar Awards. Many of the books that made it into our Top 10 lists of the year, like Reed Farrel Coleman’s lyrical noir Where It Hurts and Alison Gaylin’s tale of celebricide What Remains Of Me, made the cut. Two of our favorite debuts of the year, Flynn Berry’s Under the Harrow (a tale of sisterly revenge) and Joe Ide’s IQ (an imaginative take on Sherlock Holmes, set in South Central LA), made the list for best first novel.
This may be the first year of mother-daughter nominees, with Patricia Abbott up for Best Paperback Original for Shot in Detroit and Megan Abbott up for Best Short Story for her contribution to Mississippi Noir. Some of out favorite anthologies, including Mississippi Noir, St. Louis Noir, and In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired By The Painting Of Edward Hopper had at least one story nominated for Best Short Story.
- Post by Molly Odintz
The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.
With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.
Many of the books below are part of the zeitgeist – you’ll see a lot of girls in the title. I’ve also tried to focus on reading some of their antecedents, and you’ll see works on the list from Dorothy Hughes, Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, and other classic women crime writers of mid-century America, plus a couple of golden age works from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. You won’t find many representatives of the tough second-wave protagonists of the 80s and 90s, or many works in translation – both areas, I’m sorry to admit, I neglected in the past year.
You will find quite a few books set in Texas, and some that have yet to be released; both quirks of a bookseller’s reading habits, as we tend to dive deep into the literature of our areas, and often receive early copies of upcoming releases.
- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
This was a great year for crime fiction. Established authors experimented with new ideas or pushed what they were doing further. People with great debuts in 2015 proved it wasn’t just beginners luck this year. 2016’s new releases were so good, it was difficult to narrow them down, so I put a few together and made it a dozen.
This year Coleman started a new character, ex-Suffolk-County-cop-turned-sorta-PI Gus Murphy (Where It Hurts), ended the series featuring dwarf detective Gulliver Down (Love & Fear), and delivered a Game Change in the life of Robert B Parker’s Jesse Stone (Debt To Pay.) All of it was executed with a poet’s choice of words, haunting emotions, and believable leads in a struggle to find who they are and what matters to them. He also had brilliant short stories in the anthologies Crime Plus Music and Unloaded. It wouldn’t surprise me if Reed made out some moving grocery lists as well.
2. The Second Life Of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton
Possibly one of the best crafted crime novels in a decade. Nick Mason finishes a twenty-year stretch in five due to a criminal kingpin who runs his empire from the inside. Upon Mason’s release the kingpin’s lawyer hands him a cell phone that is the condition of his release – he must answer the phone at any time and do whatever he is told on the other end. Everything Hamilton sets up in the first few chapters falls beautifully into place by the end.
3. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
This dark, morally complex tale looks at ambition and the dynamics of family support for their gymnastics prodigy daughter as the family and community react to a murder that occurs in their sporting community. Abbott further pushes the boundaries of noir.
4. An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson
Sheriff Walt Longmire, Henry Standing Bear, and Deputy Vic Moretti find themselves having to solve a mystery in a town overrun by a motorcycle rally. Guns, outlaw bikers, federal agents and a woman from Henry’s past all play a part in unraveling the final mystery. Johnson strips down the cast to his most essential characters for one of the most entertaining books in the series.
5. What Remains Of Me by Alison Gaylin
A multi-layered psychological Hollywood thriller, in which a present-day murder of an actor is tied to the past murder of a director, and the same woman gets blamed for both. Gaylin’s character development beautifully dovetails with a plot that is never revealed until the final sentence. Beautiful, stunning work.
6. The Innocents by Ace Atkins
The latest and angriest of The Quinn Colson novels has our country boy hero and Sheriff Lillie Virgil solving a torturous murder of a former cheerleader, dealing with the worst aspects of Southern small town society. A book that enrages as it entertains.
7. Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman
Spiegelman introduces us to his new series character, a doctor who keeps his Skid Row clinic afloat by making “house calls” with his mercenary pal to the rich, famous, and criminal, who don’t need anything reported on medical records. A very interesting, complex hero, and an interesting look at L.A.
8. Murder At The 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane
In Murder at the 42nd Street Library, Con Lehane introduces us to another great new character, Raymond Ambler, Curator of the Crime Fiction Collection for the New York Public Library and amateur sleuth. A satisfying mystery with a lived-in, warm look at friendship and a worker’s look at New York.
9.City of Rose & South Village by Rob Hart
The seconds and third installments following unlicensed private eye Ash McKenna takes him to two very different places, tracking down a stripper’s daughter in Portland and a solving a murder on his friend’s Georgia commune, charting a progression of a broken man putting the pieces of himself together. Plot and character meld seamlessly into this compelling tale of a lone hero who feels he can not be a part of the society he helps.
10. Night Work by David C Taylor
This follow up to veteran screenwriter David C. Taylor’s debut, Night Life, has police detective Michael Cassidy protecting Castro during his famous New York visit. Taylor makes the city and period a living, vibrant thing coming off the page.
11. Shot In Detroit by Patricia Abbott
This story about a photographer who gets obsessed with a project involving young black men challenges us at every turn about race, class, and art and crime fiction itself. It is a book where the author complements the reader by assuming you are as intelligent and open to difficult topics as she is.
12. Genuinely Dangerous by Mike McCrary and Kiss The Devil Goodnight by Jonathan Woods
Two dark wild rides through a pulp hell that is pure Heaven for crime fiction fans. if Barry Gifford was still running Black Lizard he would have signed these guys up.