MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW edited by Lawrence Block

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781681772455In the upcoming short story anthology In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, editor Lawrence Block presents a daunting challenge to his authors: pick a painting by Edward Hopper and write a story about it. Hopper was known as a non-narrative painter. When he used human subjects they come off more of a collection of shapes with few distinctive features than flesh and blood, with their two biggest activities being smoking and reading. What his work does supply is mood, which each of these writers tap into and bend to their own will.

Many use the subject and scene of the paintings as the focal point of the the narrative, telling us there is more than meets the eyes. This is true of the editor’s take on Automat. Stephen King uses A Room In New York‘s sedate appearance as a counterpoint of tension for the goings on behind the door behind the couple. Megan Abbott further explores her themes of female sexuality with the woman in “Girlie Show.” It comes as no surprise that she delves into the noir mood with which many Hopper painting are associated. It also has an opening line Megan wasn’t willing to say in public.

“Each story defies what we see on the the surface of the painting. Many go inside the painting, like a skilled jazz master with a standard, turning it inside out.”

Some add their series characters into the world of a painting, or incorporate multiple paintings into their tale. Michael Conelly uses the famous Nighthawks for a tale that takes us back to his character Harry Bosch’s private detective days, Jeffery Deaver uses Hotel By The Railroad and several other paintings for his cold war thriller.

Some stories have the painting as part of the protagonist’s world. Joe Lansdale makes the usherette in New York Theater the object of desire for his title character, “The Projectionist.” The story’s last line conjures up the loneliness and alienation inherent in much of Hopper’s work. Craig Ferguson’s “Taking Care Of Business” uses South Truro Church as the workplace for his dying lead. it is a funny, human look at friendship, life, faith, and death with another wonderful opening line, “The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs.”

In Sunlight Or In Shadow not only shows the in influence of Hopper on the writers, but how their imagination pushed that influence. Each story defies what we see on the the surface of the painting. Many go inside the painting, like a skilled jazz master with a standard, turning it inside out. It is fitting that an anthology concerning Hopper reminds us there is no boundary with art and artists.

In Sunlight or In Shadow comes out December 6th! Pre-order now! 

I Could Fit Five Bodies in the Trunk of My Sedan: MysteryPeople Q&A with Patrick Millikin

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The Highway Kind is a collection of short crime fiction, dealing with cars, driving, and the road. It features crime and general fiction and even a singer/songwriter. Authors include the likes of Joe Lansdale, Ace Atkins, and Michael Connelly. We talked to to the editor Patrick Millikan about cars and crime.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea of The Highway Kind come about?

Patrick Millikan: My original thought was that it would be cool to have an anthology of crime stories in which each author chose a particular car and wrote a story about it. The cars would be prominently featured. I was surprised that there hadn’t been (at least to my knowledge) a collection like it. Over time the idea morphed into something, at least in my opinion, much more interesting. As I mention in the preface, when I commissioned the stories I left the guidelines pretty open – the pieces would simply be about “cars, driving and the road.” As the stories started to come in I was surprised and intrigued by how personal, almost confessional, many of them were.

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Bouchercon Recap: Part 1

– Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery


New Orleans is a city known for sin, drinking, and corruption; a perfect place for the 2016 Bouchercon where hundreds of crime novelists, publishers, and fans meet. I’ve been going solo to these things, but this time I was joined by my fellow MysteryPeople, newly named Director Of Suspense Molly Odintz and and MysteryPeople Blogger Meike Alana to divide and and conquer. That said, I was still exhausted after I was done.

Even the panels were more rollicking than usual. When Moderator Laura Lippman spoke on behalf of Megan Abbott on their “Real Housewives” discussion, panelist Greg Herren called up Megan to see if Laura was right. for the record, she was. On a panel on vigilante justice in crime fiction Stuart Neville questioned the authors who talked about the need for a vigilante hero, by saying it is a fascist trope. A panel on the use of violence got interesting when Taylor Stevens, author of The Informationist, talked about the need for it in her writings. “Our characters are gladiators in the arena and our readers want to see them get bloodied.”

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Guest Post: Manning Wolfe on The Drama of the Law

The Drama of the Law: What’s the Origin of the Legal Thriller?

Guest Post from Manning Wolfe

Lawyer and writer Manning Wolfe was kind enough to contribute a piece to our blog on the early days of the legal thriller, plus plenty of recommendations of contemporary and classic legal thrillers. Her debut, Dollar Signsis a legal thriller set in Austin. Come by BookPeople on Tuesday, July 12th, at 7 PM, for an evening with Manning Wolfe, Martin Limón, and Billy Kring. 

Before I began writing legal thrillers, I asked myself why we love the law and what brought about our fascination with civil conflict stories and those involving people in trouble with authority. I went in search of the origins of the genre and found a rich history of chills and thrills.

What is a legal thriller?

John Grisham, the most well-known attorney writing in the genre says: “You throw an innocent person in there, get ‘em caught up in a conspiracy and you get ‘em out.” I think we must include a bit of education about the law and its procedures, possibly a courtroom scene, and that about sums up the legal thriller. The history behind the evolution would take a book or two to recount. Here are the highlights.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with John Connolly

John Connolly comes to BookPeople Tuesday, November 18, at 7 pm, and we’re looking forward to having him back at the store. His latest Charlie Parker novel, The Wolf in Winter, has the Maine PI tracing a missing woman to a town with a dark secret. We talked to John about the book, myth, history, and some of his favorite writers.

MP: A town with secrets seemed perfect for you, since it is an archetype for both detective fiction and horror. What did you want to do with the idea?

JC: I’m not sure I think of ideas in those terms.  It suggests that I’m much more organized than I actually am!  I suppose the starting point was really the Green Man mythos, which is very European in origin, and has ties to folk and pagan beliefs.  (For those not familiar with the Green Man, it’s the name given in Britain to a face formed of leaves and branches that adorns some very old churches, a link between the new Christian religion and a much older mythology.)   Then a lot of stuff encroaches in quite random ways: the proliferation of gated communities, which keep the wealthy separated from the poor, both in the US and, for example, South Africa, where my other half is from, and the mindset that goes with that kind of separation or exclusion. And you’re right: there is a point at which that notion of an enclosed community lashing out against its enemies, perceived or otherwise, offers a point of crossover between the mystery novel and supernatural fiction, and that blurring of the lines has always interested me, especially because the two genres have much more in common than conservative commentators on both sides – but the mystery side in particular – might care to admit.

MP: Several homeless characters play an important part in the book and you depict their lives in an honest way. What did you want to get across to the reader about people who live on the street?

JC: I had no interest in preaching.  No reader wants to hear the sound of the apple crate being drawn up, and the author clearing his throat. But mystery fiction does have an engagement with the real world, and I was conscious that in Portland, Maine – which provides a focal point for many of the books – there was a debate going on about the city’s obligations to its homeless people and whether, by providing them with shelter during winter, the city was in some way encouraging homelessness, which is a very odd way to look at the situation.  The reality in Maine is that if you don’t give the more vulnerable people a place to sleep during winter – even if it’s just a chair in a lobby, as is sometimes the case in Portland – you’ll find them dead on the streets the next morning.  Now there are those who seem relatively content to let that happen – to discourage the others – but I certainly don’t want to live in that kind of society, and nobody I respect wants to either.

MP: This book has some of the best Louis and Angel dialogue in the series. What has made you keep them as supporting characters?

I think they’ve become more important to Parker as the books have proceeded, and therefore their presence is more obvious.  At about the time of The Black Angel Parker was presented with a kind of choice between domesticity and a new family, represented by his girlfriend Rachel and their daughter Sam, and being able to confront wrongs and evils – and to release some of his rage, all of which was represented by Angel and Louis.  The two urges are incompatible, and so he chose the latter, and they came more to the fore as a consequence.

MP: One of the things I admire about Charlie is he seems to have carved out a life with all of the tragedy and darkness around him. What allows him to cope and live?

JC: Ultimately these are novels about hope, particularly the belief that by acting in the service of good, the world can be improved slightly, even if it is at some personal cost.  The Irish writer Edmund Burke once said that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  The kind of mystery fiction that I read, and write, examines the implications of that statement.

MP: Like with a lot of your books, The Wolf In Winter, the story is connected to an involved history. Are most of these histories based on something factual?

JC: Well, the Green Man mythos is real and, of course, the idea of people of a particular religious persuasion fleeing to the New World to escape persecution.  But, as with the line between mystery and the supernatural, I find it interesting to blur the distinctions at the edges, so people aren’t entirely sure what is real and what is invented, which I hope adds an additional element of unease to the books.

MP: In Books To Die For you wrote an essay on both Ross MacDonald and Michael Connelly. Is there any traits from those authors’ works you’d like to have in your own?

JC: Well, Macdonald is the great poet of empathy in the genre, and he was also a gothic writer at heart in the sense of his novels being examinations of family histories, so I see his influence in my own novels.  Michael does something very different from me, and I wrote that essay primarily as a fan, although we have a point of connection in that we are both outsiders writing about an adopted place – his is Los Angeles, mine is Maine.  I just think The Black Echo may be one of the finest first novels in the genre. He was brilliant from the start.

John Connolly will speak and sign his new book Tuesday, November 18th, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s second floor. You can find copies of The Wolf in Winter on our shelves and via Can’t make it to the event? Pre-order a copy to be signed and we’ll get it signed for you!


The Mystery Community Takes the Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and donations to combat ALS is starting to run through the crime fiction community.

als alifair
Alifair Burke, author of  two mystery series, one starring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, and the other driven by Portland, OR, Prosecutor Samantha Kincaid, accepted the challenge from Michael Connelly, author of the Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch series and the Mickey Haller novels, who also dumped the ice water on her.

Two of the people she challenged were McKenna Jordan, owner of Houston’s Murder By The Book, and her dad, James Lee Burke, winner of the Edgar Award and writer of the Dave Robicheaux mysteries.
reed farrell coleman

One of our favorites, Reed Farrel Coleman, acclaimed author of The Hollow Girl,  took the challenge.

He challenged SJ Rozan, Hilary Davidson, and Gary Phillips. Gary accepted the challenge on Reed’s facebook and Hilary and SJ are good sports, so look forward to more videos.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Brad Parks

brad parks

~Interviewed by Scott Butki

Author Brad Parks and I share some things in common. I’ll admit from the start that this may be a conflict-of-interest and why I’ve always look forward to reading his books. However, it doesn’t seem like I’m the only one who feels that way. Brad Parks has won the 2010 Shamus Award, the 2010 Nero Award and the 2013 Lefty Award, becoming the only author to have ever won all three. He and I were both newspaper reporters – he on the East Coast (New Jersey) and me on the West Coast (starting my journalism career in California). We both enjoyed covering corruption. We both like reading mysteries. We both left the profession. From there, our differences emerge – he left because he was writing popular mysteries, I left to work in special education. I kept interviewing authors, especially journalists and mystery writer and sometimes, in the cases of Michael Connelly and Brad Parks, interviews with mystery writers who were former journalists.

Scott Montgomery recently interviewed Parks about Camden N.J., which is where Carter Ross, the reporter who is the protagonist in Parks’ series, lives and works. I focus more on his books and his relationship with journalism. And with that let’s get to the interview:

Scott Butki: How did this story develop?

Brad Parks: I’m almost afraid to answer this one. The fact is, I’ve long had an interest in land use issues and brownfield redevelopment in particular, and I wanted my protagonist, Carter Ross, to be able to explore some of those subjects. But when you say “land use issues” and “brownfield redevelopment,” people’s eyes tend to get this glaze. So I’ve learned to say: I realized I had reached book five in a series set in New Jersey without ever having tackled toxic waste or the mob. This book remedies that egregious oversight.

SB: Some of your earlier books were based on actual events you covered. Was that also the case with this one?

BP: Yes and no. While I did cover the topics of land use issues and brownfield redevel…. uh, I mean, of toxic waste and the mob, and while I draw on that experience heavily in writing this book, there are no actual events that inspired the plot to this story.

SB: Do you run some of your stories/books past current reporters, especially at your NJ employer, to fact check anything?

BP: I keep in touch with other reporters, mostly because they’re my friends and I like them. I wouldn’t say I use them as fact checkers. But I definitely had other sources for this book. One may or may not be inside Newark City Hall. The other may or may not work for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. But since either of those theoretical people were not authorized to talk to a disreputable author such as myself, I could not confirm or deny having ever spoken to them. And I certainly couldn’t list them in my acknowledgements.

SB: You talk about the mob in this book and naturally, thanks to the Sopranos, everyone thinks the Mob practically runs N.J. Can you separate fact from fiction on that front?

BP: If by “the mob,” you’re speaking of organized crime tied to certain groups of Italian ancestry, then yes: the mob is still extant in New Jersey, particularly in certain industries I won’t mention because if I ever move back to the state I’d like my garbage to actually get picked up. Is it the force it used to be? Well, no, of course not. For example, numbers running has virtually disappeared – there’s now a state lottery. Sports betting and other forms of illegal gambling have been eroded by the Internet.

The protection rackets are all but dead. A lot of it, if we’re talking about the Italian mob, is part of an inevitable demographic shift that has happened with other ethnicities throughout America’s history. Part of what drives ethnic groups to become organized criminals in the first place is the lack of economic opportunity attendant with their immigrant status. But as the years go on, those ethnic groups become more assimilated into the mainstream. As economic opportunities improve, there’s less reason to go into crime. That, and the ethnic group becomes more geographically dispersed. What’s happening with Italians in America now happened to the Irish and Jewish mobs at the turn of last century. And… oh, never mind, this has been a long enough, pedantic enough answer already.

SB: Do you miss newspaper work be it reporting, interviewing, etc?

BP: I love what I do now. I could scarcely imagine a better, more fulfilling life – at least one that doesn’t involve me discovering I’m an heir to the Walton fortune. With that as a caveat? Yeah, I miss reporting. I miss the newsroom – such a wonderful, chaotic place filled with so many entertaining characters. I miss the thrill of deadline, chasing the big story. I miss the immediacy, and feeling like the thing I’m writing about is the thing that everyone is talking about. And I miss finding and telling great (true) stories. I think that’s part of the reason I keep writing Carter Ross: he has become the vessel for all of my unrequited journalistic desires.

SB: Do you, like me, sometimes see or read about a news story and wish you could go back to report on that particular story? If so, which story(ies)?

BP: Oh, yeah, all the time. Newark recently had a mayoral election, and I was dying to jump into that fray somehow. Governor Chris Christie’s BridgeGate seemed like it would have been a lot of fun, too. That said, I also like getting to sit out stories now. The Newtown school shooting – and every other school shooting, for that matter – is a good example of that. I’ve got school-aged children myself. I just can’t imagine having to confront that kind of horror, even in the refracted way a reporter does.

SB: I am happy to see you share with me a preference of soda over coffee. In your experience was coffee still the stimulant of choice at your employers?

BP: The coffee-holics still probably win out, but by much less of a margin than they used to. The aspartame army of diet soda drinkers is slowly gaining. On a separate but related topic, I was very pleased that my most recent book tour was sponsored in part by Coke Zero, which I  — like Carter Ross – consume in large quantities on a daily basis.

SB: How far out have you planned this series?

BP: I’m just completed a draft of book six and… yeah, that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I wish I was one of those writers who could image an enormous, 17-book story arc for my characters. I’m just not that smart. I take it book by book, scene by scene. I’m constantly asking the characters (who, yes, I have conversations with in my head) what they would do in a certain circumstance or how they would respond to a certain problem. The goal is to make sure they’re remaining true to themselves, not conforming to some predetermined ideas I have for them. It sounds hokey to put it this way – because I know who’s actually doing the typing here – but I really try to let the characters dictate their own arcs.

SB: What’s next? Any plans for any standalone books?

BP: There’s a standalone somewhere in my future. I just haven’t yet figured out when that future is going to begin. As I just alluded to, Carter Ross No. 6 – which doesn’t yet have a title – is done and due for publication sometime in 2015. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten at the moment.

SB: You get a bonus question – pick something you wish you would be asked but aren’t and then you can answer that question.

BP: If you could ban one thing from the reading universe, what would it be?:

The phrase “guilty pleasure.” It pains me when I talk to someone who says, “I can’t wait to read (BOOK BY AUTHOR THEY REALLY LOVE) but first I have to get through (BOOK BY AUTHOR WHOSE NAME HAS BEEN REDACTED DUE TO PROFESSIONAL COURTESY).” Please don’t slog through a book because you feel like you “should” read it, or because someone else has deemed it “important” or because, like a trip to the dentist, you feel like it’s “good” for you. (Unless, of course, you really like going to the dentist—I’m cool with that). If reading something gives you pleasure, don’t feel guilty. Life is too short to go around apologizing for what’s on your nightstand.

Brad Parks’ latest book, The Player, and other titles are available now on our shelves and via