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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Jenny Milchman’s Top Five Tales of Domestic Suspense

  • Guest post by Jenny Milchman

There’s a new genre in town, and it goes by the name of domestic suspense. Syndicated reviewer Oline Cogdill coined the term family thriller, which also suits it.

A family thriller focuses on a circumstance we can relate to. The kind of tale that could, given a slight twist of the knob, happen to us or someone we love. This novel takes ordinary people and places them in an extraordinary situation. What do they do then?

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Page to Screen On the Radio

(Hopeton Hay and Ace Atkins here at BookPeople)

~post by Scott M.

I’ll be doing Hopeton Hay’s Book Review on Austin’s KAZI 88.7 this Sunday, September 2 at 12:30P discussing books and their translation to film. Click here to listen to KAZI 88.7 live, and be sure to tune into Hopeton Hay’s show.  Hopeton will be focusing on Devil In A Blue Dress, I’ll be taking Double Indemnity. This made me wonder what some of my favorite authors considered their favorite book to film adaptations.

Author of  Dutch Curridge
The Maltese Falcon, John Huston got the tenor of Hammett’s story note-perfect, and Bogart was Bogart, i.e. the quintessential Sam Spade.

Author of Last Call For The Living
The Night of the Hunter, Adapting Davis Grubb’s novel, Charles Laughton directs an absolutely frightening Robert Mitchum in a masterwork of mood and style.

Author of Still River
–  Mystic River (Dennis Lehane)  and The Town (The Prince Thieves by Chuck Hogan) and emotional highs and low of both stories while being true to the plot and spirit of the novels.

Author of When It All Comes Down To Dust
The Friends of Eddie Coyle. It’s my all-time favorite novel, so I avoided the film until last year – and it turns out it might be as good as the book. Beautifully faithful to what Higgins wrote, and definitely Mitchum’s greatest performance.

Author of Bahama Burnout
Get Shorty. Elmore Leonard has had some pretty good movie adaptions, but John Travolta nailed the role of Chilly Palmer!

Author of Late Rain
– Willeford’s The Woman Chaser and/or Miami Blues; both films caught Willeford’s offbeat vision.

Author of Amarillo
The Last Picture Show. How a New York boy like Peter Bogdanovich could perfectly recreate a small Texas town’s denizens is a tribute to both him and Larry McMurtry, who wrote the book.

Author of The Prophet
A Simple Plan. Stunning novel, Oscar-nominated script, and Scott Smith was a rookie at both forms. That’s rare air.

Author of Gun Church
Winter’s Bone. A chilling novel with a veiled message of hope and determination. The movie is true to the book in spirit and in deed.

Author of The Lost Sister
Point Blank (adapted from The Hunter)may be one of my favorite adaptations. More than anything, its about Lee Marvin’s performance. With barely a word, he makes you believe utterly in his ruthlessness and single-mindedness. And somehow, he colors the role so that, for me, Parker becomes Marvin no matter which book I’m reading; that walk, that glare, that tightly coiled menace that makes you glad you’re not the one standing between him and money.


MysteryPeople Review: TONIGHT I SAID GOODBYE

People who have read Michael Koyta’s debut, The Night I Said Goodbye, feel the need to recommend it to other private eye readers. I know this because it has been recommended to me often. It won him the St. Martin’s Minotaur/PWA First Private Eye Novel Contest at age twenty-one. When Michael came out to Noir At The Bar earlier this month, I finally got around to reading it. Now, I’m recommending it.

The book introduces us to Lincoln Perry. In his late twenties, Lincoln is younger than most world weary PIs, but he’s gone through a lot. Having to leave the Cleveland Police Department in disgrace, he bought a gym and disappeared from the world. Through some goading, he finally started an investigation firm with Joe Pritchard, a retired cop. Both Joe and Tracy, a reporter friend, back Lincoln up on cases, as well as keep him on track as he engages with life again.

The case Lincoln takes in Tonight I Said Goodbye is both classic and unique. A fellow investigator’s death has been ruled as a suicide, presumed to have been committed after he murdered his missing wife and daughter. The man’s father thinks different and hires Lincoln and Joe to find his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.  The trail involves an extortion plot with the Russian mob, more than a few moral dilemmas, and an interesting take on justice.

What makes the story work, as in all his work, is Koyta’s sense of character. He makes it the source for mood, style, even plot at times. He uses his experience as an actual private investigator to describe the attitude one has at working on a job more than the detail of procedure. The relationship Lincoln has with Joe feels lived in and believable and provides a great deadpan banter between them. It’s a humor that reflects their experience of being cops together.

Tonight I Said Goodbye was Michael Koryta’s first step in a voice that has never stopped growing. He wrote three more Lincoln Perry books, then moved on to acclaimed stand alone thrillers, many with a supernatural bent. He’s won well earned praise and comparisons to Lehane and Pelecanos with his latest, The Prophet. He has developed an amazing body of work in less than a decade. I hope he can come back with that maturity and revisit Lincoln and Joe.

Vengeful & Apocalyptic Private Eyes and Flesh Eating French Kissers: Another Noir at the Bar

On August 16th we had our second Noir At The Bar over at Opal Divine’s with special guest Michael Koryta. It was a great night, and great to see as many writers in the audience as we had on stage. Two of the three authors who make up the pseudonym Miles Arceneux showed up. Their book, Thin Slice Of Life, is a fun thriller set along the Gulf. They’ll be here at BookPeople October 1st. Lee Thomas and Ed Kurtz, part of Austin’s horror scene, also dropped in.

Scott M. & George Wier

Jesse Sublett kicked things off with tunes from his stand-up base, proving my claim that he’s the coolest guy in Austin. George Wier, known for his story “Duck Weed” in the collection Lone Star Noir, scarred us for life with his story “Death Kiss” about a serial killer’s disturbing use of flesh-eating bacteria. Michael Koryta read a passage from his current book, the acclaimed The Prophet, which sobered us up no matter what we were drinking. Jesse returned to close the night with an enthusiastic and funny performance from his work in progress, Grave Digger Blues, which follows a PI during the end of the world.

Michael Koryta reading from THE PROPHET
Jesse Sublett giving a rip-roaring reading from his latest work-in-progress.

A side note – legendary singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard invited Michael Koryta and me to his show at Shady Grove later that night. Apparently these things happen when you’re standing next to Michael. Michael was excited since he played a lot of Ray’s music while working on his book The Ridge. We caught the tail end of the performance. Right after Ray played “Screw You We’re From Texas” he said to the crowd, “You all need to go over to BookPeople and get The Prophet.”

Michael turned to me and asked “Can I come back?”

Any time, Michael. For anybody who loves noir, there’s always a place at The Bar.

Noir at the Bar Continues

We kicked off Austin’s Noir At The Bar at Opal Divine’s last June with a strong start. Our mix of readings from hard boiled writers, music, and drink proved to be fun for both customers and fans. Tonight we continue the party.

Michael Koryta’s publisher told us he’d be a perfect fit for our Noir Bar. His award winning Lincoln Perry series was a mix of classic PI plotting with a realistic and moving central character. After moving to a series of acclaimed supernatural thrillers, like The Cypress House, he gives us his best book to date with The Prophet. The story focuses on two brothers, estranged because of their sister’s twenty year old murder, who have to face their demons and each other when another killing occurs. This book made my top 10 list of books for the year so far and I wont be surprised if it will be on my year-end list, as well.

I’m also happy to have my buddy, George Weir join us. He came to the attention to many with his short story, Duck Weed, that appears in Lone Star Noir. He will be reading a story titled Death Kiss. He told me it is “very noir and very Austin.”

Jesse Sublett returns providing both song and spoken mayhem. As well as playing a few tunes, he’ll be reading  from his work in progress, Grave Digger Blues, an apocalyptic private eye novel. His mix of words put to music brought down the last Noir At The Bar.

So join us tonight, Thursday, August 16th, 7pm, at Opal Divine’s on 6th and help us continue a tradition. There will be time to drink and mingle with the authors and I’ll be hanging around if anybody wants to talk crime fiction. Spend a good night with great writers.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Michael Koryta

Michael Koryta has given us one of the the best PI series with his wounded detective Lincoln Perry. He took a break from straight up crime with a group of supernatural thrillers, like The Cypress House. He’s come back to crime now with a moving novel, The Prophet. Michael will be joining us for our Noir At The Bar this Thursday, August 16th at 7pm, at Opal Divine’s on 6th St. As you can tell from our recent interview, he is as smart as his work.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: While The Prophet definitely has your voice, it’s a bit different from your Lincoln Perry series and the five other thrillers you wrote. How did it come about?

MICHAEL KORYTA: The Prophet is a book I’d wanted to write for a long time, actually, and I couldn’t find the right way in. I knew the starting point – a kid who was supposed to get his sister home from school safely and didn’t. She was abducted while walking a short distance home, killed by a guy who was supposed to be in jail and had skipped out on bond. As an adult, the older brother is a bond agent, he’s made his life a mission of atonement for something he can never set right. But I wanted to pair him against another brother who had gone another way. At first I started with a minister. That didn’t take, though, it was too on-the-nose, I think. So it wasn’t until I found the other brother, Kent, as the high school football coach and community hero and who has involved himself with prison outreach programs that I really got the story rolling. I needed that dramatic tension between the two of them.

MP: What I love about the book is that the emotions of Adam and Kent ring true for the violent situations they have to deal with. How difficult was it to deal with such sobering subject matter?

MK: I appreciate hearing that, because it was certainly the goal. I told my editor early, this one has to hurt, it has to cut to the bone, or I didn’t do it right. If people ask me my favorite of my own work I’d probably say The Cypress House, and then I’d say that The Prophet is the best, and the reason would be that I think it does have a higher level of emotional reality and depth. Though you know an author is the worst judge of his own work. It was a damn sad book to write, though, it really was. I remember commenting on that a lot to the people close to me. I’d finish a writing session feeling wrung out and exhausted in a way I never had with a book. It wore on me emotionally and I was surprised by that. My emotional investment with Adam was very deep, and as you can imagine, that made it a painful story most of the time. He’s a pretty wounded guy, he’s very damaged. In this really bizarre way, I kept wishing I could save him, that I could force him to make different choices. Now, of course I could, I’m the writer. But it doesn’t feel like that. It feels as if the characters have free will and you’re narrating a drama that you can’t stop.

MP: You last three books had an element of the supernatural to them. Did it seem much of a change dealing with more banal or “real” evil?

MK: Well, because I’d started my career with straight crime fiction, I don’t think it was as much of a shock to the system. I originally anticipated the killer’s voice would be used more than just in the prologue and that would provide almost a support system for the creepiness I was losing by giving up the supernatural edge. But that didn’t hang together. In the end I felt as if I wanted him to be the guy who walks us around the town and introduces us. And we know he’s there, but the town doesn’t, and then he smiles and winks at us and he’s gone into the fog and we’re waiting to see him again. And knowing that we will.

MP: Both with The Prophet and your Lincoln Perry books, you appear to use the characters as the source of style and mood. How do you approach creating them when they dictate so much?

MK: Yeah, that’s a fair observation, though I can’t explain much about the process. Their moods feed the narrative, and the atmosphere of the books build from the inside-out, but that’s not something I can sit back and assess at the start. It just develops as I get to know them better.

MP: One rule some writers follow is never to discuss politics and religion, but you explore Kent’s faith very deftly. Did you find it a challenge?

MK: No, and I don’t get the idea that you’d never discuss those things — unless you wanted to avoid making a point and thus limiting your audience, in which case you’re writing with marketing in mind. Dangerous ground to tread. But I’m not making a point, I’m trying to turn them into real people as much as possible. And real people have religious and political views, you know? To real people, those things tend to matter a great deal, no matter what camp they are in. So I’d feel odd hiding those traits away. I’d feel odder still writing about “good people” who have to be in one camp or the other, that’s the sort of cable-news world I have no interest in exploring. I’m interested in flaws and struggles. So in this one I’m writing about two brothers who had to cope with intense grief. I considered the ways in which people do cope, in real life, and I landed in a place where one brother would have gone down the road of faith and forgiveness and a desperate need to believe that this happened for a reason, that sort of assurance against a random act of violence, while the other believes the only thing that can possibly be done to set it right is to kill the killer. Revenge, blood for blood. And I think we see a lot of the latter in crime fiction but not much of the former, perhaps because it seems such a passive route to take? I don’t know. But I thought back to my days working as a reporter and a PI and observing how people dealt with tragedy, and those were the two paths that seemed most dominant. So I sent one brother down each path with the idea that they’d meet along the way.

MP: I found out that you’re contributing a piece on Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan for Books To Die For, a collection of essays from crime fiction authors about one of their favorite crime novels. What do you want to draw from that book for your own work?

MK: Oh, wow, so much. He’s a master. That book certainly informed The Prophet because I think it’s a great novel about brothers, dark though it may be. What Smith does there is create a wonderful character arc in that when we meet Hank, we not only understand his decisions, we can buy into them. Is he making the right choice? Well, no. But is he making one we might just possibly make ourselves, given the same opportunity? Sure. And then we watch it play out from there, and it is all the more intense because throughout the story you have that uneasiness that stems from the sense of “I am not so far from this…” I think about it a lot watching BREAKING BAD, I would be stunned if Vince Gilligan did not read that book. If he didn’t read it, he’d enjoy it. Because there is a shared sensibility at play there. I just love that book. Adore it. One of the greatest debut novels in crime fiction history.

MysteryPeople will host Michael Koryta in another round of Austin’s Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s Thursday, August 16 at 7p. He’ll be joined by George Weir and Jesse Sublett. Crime fiction, music, beer & good times. All are welcome.

MysteryPeople Review: THE PROPHET by Michael Koryta

Meet Michael Koryta at Austin’s next Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s Thurs 8/16 at 7p.

Michael Koryta has moved from sub-genre to sub-genre, building his reputation along the way. He splashed onto the scene with his PI novel, Tonight Said Goodbye. After following detectives Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard for four books, he wrote several acclaimed supernatural thrillers, including The Ridge. Now with The Prophet, Koryta delivers a book with an emotional and social depth that puts him in the company of Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.

The story centers on two brothers, Adam and Kent Austin, estranged after the murder of their sister over twenty years ago. Adam, the oldest, threw away his football career and became a bail bondsman and PI in their rust belt town. Kent has thrown himself into faith and football as the coach of the town’s winning team.

A teenage girl hires Adam to find her father who just got out of prison. After he gives her his whereabouts, the girl is found murdered and one of Kent’s players is the chief suspect. Kent looks into the murder to help his player. Adam is out to avenge his client in the way he couldn’t with his sister. When an old football card of Kent’s gets sent to him, both are brought together and entwined in sins past, present, and future.

The book’s impact comes from Koryta’s subdued approach. The occurrences are matter of fact. Knowing the power of his characters’ emotions, he simply lets them play out mainly through action and dialogue. There is a banality to the violence, making it even more disturbing as it sends ripples throughout the book.

Koryta never forgets it’s the brothers and their pain that carry the story. Adam is stuck in memories before the murder, not selling the family house and keeping his sister’s room as it was. Kent dove into religion more as a coping mechanism than out of true spiritual salvation. Koryta uses these men as the source to build plot, mood, and style. As always with his work, it comes down to character.

The Prophet is a stunning next step for Michael Koryta. It takes the themes of family, faith, guilt, redemption, and justice and forms a novel that keeps the pages turning and the heart engaged. I look forward to what he writes next.

MysteryPeople will host Michael Koryta in another round of Austin’s Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s Thursday, August 16 at 7p. He’ll be joined by George Weir and Jesse Sublett. Crime fiction, music, beer & good times. All are welcome.