SCOTT’S TOP TEN (OR ELEVEN) SO FAR

Since there’s a few more weeks left for summer reading, I thought it might not be a bad idea to share my top ten crime novels so far for 2018. Many of these books pushed the boundaries of the genre, showing that it is still growing and has places to go. I also know there is some great work that would be on this list if I read it yet, like May Cobb’s Big Woods or Sunburn by Laura Lippman. Still, I’ve read enough good stuff, I couldn’t just limit this list to ten.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott – Abbott once again dives through the stylish surface of noir and hits its darkest depths, pushing its boundaries in this tale of science, female competition, and the burden of secrets.

 

 

 

 

The Lonely Witness Cover ImageThe Lonely Witness by William Boyle- Boyle shows his skill of examining lives of quiet desperation, then turning up the volume. A former party girl, now living a quiet life, flirts with her past ways when she witnesses a murder and trails the killer who ends up stalking her.

 

 

 

Dominic: A Hollow Man Novel Cover ImageDominic by Mark Pryor- Pryor brings back his Austin sociopath, tying up loose ends from Hollow Man. A great thriller that has you catching yourself rooting for the bad guy.

 

 

 

 

If I Die Tonight: A Novel Cover ImageIf I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin – A harrowing trip through the social media age with a suburban crime that causes rumors to get way out of control. Gaylin uses an ensemble of characters to show how one act can effect a community and the multiple points of view that fracture and event.

 

 

 

What You Want to See: A Roxane Weary Novel Cover ImageWhat You Want To See by Kristine Lepionka – Roxane weary returns for a second case, clearing a client for the murder of his fiance’, taking her into the dark world of real estate fraud. In just two books, Lepionka proves to know her detective, the craft of great plot, and the art of a great shoot out.

 

 

 

High White Sun Cover ImageHigh White Sun by J. Todd Scott – In this follow up to The Far Empty the law of Big Bend County contends with an Aryan biker gang. Scott uses the Texas backdrop and history for one hell of an epic gritty crime novel.

 

 

 

 

Blackout: A Pete Fernandez Mystery Cover ImageBlackout by Alex Segura & Potter’s Field by Rob Hart – Both of these authors take their troubled private detectives through great changes with cases that hold a mirror to their lives. Along with Lepionka, these two prove the future of the PI novel is in good hands.

 

 

 

Blood Standard (An Isaiah Coleridge Novel #1) Cover ImageBlood Standard by Laird Barron- Mainly known for his horror writing, Barron introduces us to his hard boiled series character Isaiah Coleridge, a former enforcer on the outs with the mob. I can’t wait for the next book about this bad ass.

 

 

 

A Tooth for a Tooth Cover ImageA Tooth For A Tooth by Ben Redher- The latest in the Roy Ballard series has the legal videographer on a fraudulent accident claim that turns out to reveal bigger crimes. A fun classic PI yarn with some fresh spins on the genre.

 

 

 

 

Bottom Feeders Cover ImageBottom Feeders by John Shepphird – A fun fair play mystery with the cast and crew of a made for cable movie getting arrows shot into them. Shepphird, who has directed his share of cable movies, captures

 

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WITHIN A GENERATION OF THEIR EXTINCTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID JOY

Our Pick Of The Month, The Line That Held Us, is David Joy’s third book to take place in his home of Jackson County, North Carolina. It concerns Calvin Hooper who helps his friend Darl Moody hide a body he accidentally shot. The body belongs to the brother of Dwayne Brewer, the county’s most vicious criminal. What occurs is a tense thriller that also looks at family, friendship, and search for grace in a place that is going through a lot of changes after it seems to have changed little for over a hundred years. We got a chance to talk about the book with David Joy himself.

MysteryPeople Scott: As in all of your books, family plays a major part in the story. Dwayne is avenging his, and Calvin is trying to save his before it even gets started. What makes the dynamics rich subject matter for you?

David Joy: Maybe more than anything it’s the idea of unconditional love that interests me. I think familial bonds, and deep-seated friendships that become familial, make for some of the richest ground to plow. People will do things that defy reason and that defy even their own morality to protect the ones they love. That’s an interesting place to put a character. There’s immediate conflict. There’s this “I know I shouldn’t do this but I’d do anything for you” kind of conflict. Any time you can create that kind of tension in a story you’re going to have movement, and that’s what a story has to do. It has to move.

MPS: Family seems to be a staple in Southern literature. Do you feel it has a special place in the culture?

DJ: That’s definitely true about Southern literature, but I think the reality is that it’s less a matter of the South or the North or the Midwest, and much more a matter of the rural nature of the setting. Family is an integral part of the rural identity. You could go anywhere in the country and if you get far enough out to places where people are largely isolated and seldom leave and that’s all you have is family or families. Take the county where I live, Jackson County, North Carolina. You go back to the late 1800s when that county was formed and the names on that paper the Brysons and Hoopers and McKees and Dills and Fowlers and McCalls and Shulers and Greens and all these names, those names are the same names that are here now. That’s the culture and place that I’m writing about. The work mirrors that reality.

MPS: Dwayne is such a great antagonist, in fact as the book continues he grows more into a counter-protagonist if there is such a thing. Is there any thing you have to keep in mind when writing for a character like him?

Image result for david joy author

DJ: I think one of the scariest things that can happen with a “bad guy” is when they make perfect sense. When, as a reader, you find yourself nodding your head. There’s this great moment in Larry Brown’s novel Father And Son when one of the main characters, Glen, catches this giant fish that everyone had been trying to catch for years. Glen is a bad dude. He’s come out of prison for killing someone. He’s raped at least one woman that we know of. Anyway, he catches this huge fish and he has this moment where he could take it to town and show it off and for once in his life be a hero. Instead, he turns it loose. When they ask him why, the line is something like, “Because that fish never done nothing to me.” Tom Franklin asked Larry about that scene once and he said Larry told him that even the worst people had moments of humanity. I think that’s absolutely right and I think that’s what you’re getting at here. With Dwayne Brewer, I wanted his logic to make sense. I wanted readers to see him doing incredibly horrific things and somehow feel empathy toward those actions. He’s some sort of balance between instinct and reason, between what we feel in our guts and what we think in our heads. At times, we all wash back and forth between those places and that’s part of why characters like that resonate with us. I think he might be the character I’m most proud of. If nothing else, he’s unforgettable.

MPS: In some ways Calvin is even more difficult to pull off. He’s comes off as the friend you want to have and workmate you respect, but I never felt like we had to like or side with him. Is there a way you approach someone like that?

DJ: Calvin Hooper is really an indifferent character altogether, and maybe that’s what you were responding to. He never struck me as a decision maker, as a leader. He reminds me of friends of mine who always wound up in the back of the car riding along to places they had no business going, with people they had no business being with. There were times, especially when I was younger, when I did the same thing. There were times I wound up in the back of a police car because I went along with something someone else wanted to do. Early on in the novel Calvin makes some pretty horrible decisions based on his love and commitment to his best friend, Darl Moody. After those decisions backfire and things go from bad to worse, there’s this sort of detached reaction toward everything. It’s like he just sort of removes himself and thinks if I just leave everything alone maybe it will settle. Well, of course things don’t settle and one of the biggest conflicts in the book is Dwayne Brewer forcing Calvin to acknowledge what he values most and to make a decision based on that acknowledgement. In that way, I think Calvin shows a lot of growth as a character. There’s that question Dwayne asks Calvin toward the end of the book, he asks, “For whom are you willing to lay down your life, friend? Outside of that there is nothing.” I think that question lies at the heart of what this novel is about.

MPS: It seems like with each book, the outside world is closing in tighter on your character’s communities, posing the same cultural threat to the area as gentrification does to cities. Do you see this as an ever-growing problem in real life?

DJ: When a lot of outsiders think about Appalachia, they imagine the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Where I live, that’s not our reality. I’ve said for a long time that unrestricted land development, tourism, rising land costs, and the resulting gentrification, that’s our coal mining. A lot of people refuse to acknowledge tourism as an extractive economy, but it is. It’s not as ugly on the surface as the timber industry was a century ago, or as coal mining was and is, but the result is the same. The result is the destruction of landscape and the displacement of people.

The jobs that are created from tourism-based economies are low paying jobs. What value there is is in the land. There are places here, entire coves, entire mountains, that have belonged to single families for hundreds of years. That land has been divvied up and divided over generations and nowadays its worth more than it ever has been. The thing about that value though is that it forces the hand. Sure you can sell the property to some out-of-state goon looking to build a second or third home that they can come visit for a few weeks out of the year and sure the money you’re going to make on that acreage is more than you’ve ever had in your life, but there’s no lateral move. You can sell the farm but it’s not like you can drive down the road and scoop up another. There’s no other place to go. Those places don’t exist anymore. The family land is broken up and sold and the local people move away. I think we’re looking at the very last remnants of this culture and these people. We’re within a generation of their extinction.

MPS: All three of your books are stand alone novels. Are there any plans for a series, trilogy, or return to any of your surviving characters?

DJ: I’d never even heard that term “stand alone” until I had a book out. I don’t know, I’d just never really thought about books like that. I didn’t grow up reading series. I typically don’t want to stick with characters that long. I like to jump around. I might read something Southern then jump into something South American. Sometimes I’ll read nothing but poetry for months. I won’t say I’d never write something like a trilogy, but the story would really have to warrant the structure. Other than that, my style lends itself more to individual books.

As far as my novels, I do like to throw anecdotes from earlier books into new ones, things that work whether you’ve read the other books or not. So for instance with The Weight Of This World, the time period when that book is set and what’s happening with the methamphetamine culture is largely resulting from the end of the first novel, Where All Light Tends To Go. With The Line That Held Us there’s mention of an event that happened in Weight Of This World. There’s also a lawyer that shows up in Where All Light Tends To Go and The Line That Held Us. The book I’m working on, one of the main characters from The Weight Of This World appears and I don’t know whether that will stick or not, but the point is that I do enjoy playing with things like that.

All of my books are set very specifically in Jackson County, North Carolina where I live and it’s a small place. You get to know people here. It’s the same names in the newspaper week in and week out. When things happen, you hear about them, and when things happen, especially big things, the stories root themselves into the landscape. Nothing is easily forgotten here and I want my books to mimic that reality.

THE MURDER IN THE AFTERNOON BOOK CLUB EXPLORES IRELAND’S TROUBLED PAST

I Hear the Sirens in the Street: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel Cover ImageThe Murder In The Afternoon book club‘s August book is the second in Adrian McKinty’s Troubles series, a series that’s a favorite to many MysteryPeople staff and customers. It follows Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop in early eighties Ireland, a dynamic that places him at odds with almost everyone. He copes with humor, a strong sense of justice, both personal and social, and a great record collection. In the book we will be discussing, I Hear The Sirens In The Streets, a grizzly discovery leads to larger crimes and a man and car anyone who remembers the eighties will recall.

A torso is found in a suitcase. A tattoo on the body part serves as the thread Sean follows into a dangerous web of murder, business, and politics. before the case is solved, he has to face the IRA and deal with famous (or infamous) car manufacturer John Delorean, who set his plant in Ireland.

I Hear The Sirens In The Streets is a great read. It examines life life in a war zone with a very human eye. Each chapter provides something to talk about. We will be meeting at 1PM, Monday, the 20th on the third floor. The book is 10% off to those planning to attend.

Three Picks for August

The Long Drop Cover ImageThe Long Drop by Denise Mina

One of the best crime novels from 2017 is out in paperback. Denise Mina weaves the events from one of Scotland’s most infamous trails through with the pub crawl from hell between the father and husband of the victims and the man prosecuted. A dark and rich meditation on media, class, and different forms of sin.

 

 

The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday Cover ImageThe Long-Lost Love Letters Of Doc Holliday by David Corbett

The correspondences between the infamous gunfighter Doc Holliday and his beloved cousin come into the hands of an arts lawyer and former rodeo cowboy, ex-art forger, turned western art appraiser. A crooked judge has his eyes on them and soon a militia group and a few other scoundrels are after the the two, Corbett gives us a modern west as wild as the old one, full of colorful characters. The author will be at BookPeople August 27th to sign and discuss the book.

 

Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago Cover ImageScarface And The Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and The Battle For Chicago by Max Allan Collins and Brad A Schwartz

Crime fiction stalwart Max Allan Collins teams up with historian Brad A Schwartz for detailed and informative look at the famous mob boss and the driven government agent out to get him. This epic true crime weaves their biographies as well as the life of prohibition era Chicago for something more exciting than any film or TV show captured about their story.

 

PICK OF THE MONTH: THE LINE THAT HELD US BY DAVID JOY

David Joy is quickly building a reputation as one of crime fiction’s finest voices. He looks at the people on the edge of Appalachian society, a society that is on the margins of American life altogether. His main characters tend to be damaged and many are prone to violence, yet Joy keeps you with them until you realize their full humanity. In his latest, The Line That Held Us, he sets us up for what seems like a simple morality thriller and then digs deeper.

The Line That Held Us Cover ImageIt all starts with two people trespassing, each to commit a different crime. Darl Moody goes poaching for a buck on his neighbor’s land when the man is out of town. He can’t find the deer, but thinks he spots a wild pig and fires. It turns out he shot and killed Carol “Sissy” Brewer who was in the woods stealing the man’s gen sing. To make matters worse, Sissy’s brother, Dwayne is one of the town’s most violent criminals.

Darl goes to his buddy, Calvin Hooper. A brother from another mother, Calvin helps him bury Sissy behind Darl’s barn. They agree not to tell anyone, but secrets are hard to keep secret in a small town and Dwayne Brewer is out for vengeance.

The simple tale is told with emotional complexity. Its straight forward plot leaves room to to delve deep into his characters and their world without dragging the pace. Calvin, who soon grows into the protagonist role is a perfect everyman plunged into darkness. A hard working, reliable, blue collar guy you’d want on the job to drink a beer with, he finds himself facing the morality of his actions with Darl as well as danger as Dwayne closes in. He is at that stage in life where friendship can be equal to family and has to deal with a decision for one that puts the other in jeopardy. As a working class man in Appalachia with deep roots, his view of the newcomers who could be saving the town , but killing its culture on par with Dwayne.

Dwayne could simply have been written as thriller psychopath, but Joy proves to know this man well. He introduces us to him with a scene where he threatens a tween bully in a WalMart. It establishes him as dangerous and a man who takes something immediately to its extreme, but we know he has a code and a belief for avenging the weak. We learn how this was honed by his relationship with Sissy. The further his actions go, we never accept them and we fear for Calvin and Darl, but we understand where those actions come from. Instead of an antagonist he becomes more of a counter-protagonist.

The Line That Held Us demonstrates David Joy’s gift in relating to all his characters. We understand the society he portrays through its people and their struggles. Most of them are sinners, but many of them would like to be saints, and in the end the author reminds us we are our brother’s keeper.

SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST- UNDERSTUDY FOR DEATH BY CHARLES WILLEFORD

Charles Willeford pushed the boundaries of what we define as crime fiction. Many of his books just skirted with a crime, but his portrayal of characters you had to take on their own terms, examination of life in both quiet and loud desperation, and frank depictions of sex that were rarely romantic placed him as a stalwart of the genre. Recently Hard Case Crime brought back a book that is indicative of Willeford’s style that has been out of print for over half a century, Understudy For Death.

Understudy for Death Cover ImageThe story is driven by Marion Huneker, an upper middle class woman who shoots her two sleeping children, then pulls the trigger on herself. The book opens with the news story in the local paper that even prints the suicide note she left that explains little more than her seeing this place as a cruel world. The editor would like to use the incident for a several issue exposé on suicide and puts his night man Richard Hudson on it.

Hudson reluctantly takes the piece. For one, he is not one of those driven reporters out for the truth and a scoop. He dreams of quitting his job to be a famous Broadway playwright even though he has been working on the same unfinished script for years. He also has no sympathy for a woman who killed her two children.

He interviews several people who knew Huneker. A bartender at her club, a girlfriend, who he has a fling with, and her husband give murky puzzle pieces to her life. Her creative writing teacher, a hack short story man for the magazines, proves the most insightful to the woman as well as probably conveying Willeford’s thoughts on the writing business at the time. Hudson becomes much like the reporter in Citizen Kane, peeling each layer of the woman’s life through the people that knew her, but there is no Rosebud.

In fact, the more Hudson digs, the story becomes more about marriage than suicide. He and his wife Beryl, are in a stale part of their relationship and he chafes at matrimony’s constraints. As the secrets of both the late Mrs. Huneker and Beryl are revealed to him, he ties the suicide to happiness (or lack there of) in being a wife and mother.

Willeford captures the surrealness of a group that lost someone to suicide. He avoids any pat answers and delivers a subtle mood to portray the void that now hangs over everything. As someone who lost a co-worker to suicide the day between finishing the book and writing this review, I can attest to its emotional accuracy.

He also gives us an unconventional point of view to take it all in with Richard Hudson. The reporter is self involved, petty, and commits a handful of misogynistic acts. We mainly follow him because of his worldview and possibly identify with him in ways we would rather not. He embodies a perfect example of suburban ennui. He would love to be a rebel, but he lacks the courage, so he simply holds things in contempt. At the end, we are not entirely sure if he completely learned the lesson or learned it right.

Understudy For Death is elusive in its themes as it is in the reason for Marion Huneker’s suicide. It is the study of a fresh void and the life around it. Like many of Willeford’s novels, it portrays death as that unavoidable thing and the way we deal with it in our lives. Willeford held up a mirror to the reader and didn’t care if you liked what you saw.

INTERVIEW WITH WALLACE STROBY

We talked with Wallace Stroby about his latest, Some Die Nameless.

MysteryPeople Scott: Some Die Nameless is a bit different from your other work. How did the idea for it come to you?

Image result for wallace strobyWallace Stroby: After the fourth Crissa Stone novel, The Devil’s Share, I decided both she and I needed a break. The end of that book had left her damaged, disillusioned, and on her way to Europe, so it felt like a natural time to do a standalone. I was also interested in writing about the lingering effects of war. The main character, Ray Devlin, is a former mercenary haunted by atrocities in which he’d participated. And one of the chief villains, Lukas Dragovic, is an orphan who lost his entire family in the Balkan wars of the early ‘90s, and bore the effects of that. Lukas has a substantial chip on his shoulder, and for good reason.

MPS: One of the protagonists is a journalist. What did you want to express about your former profession?

WS: I miss it, though the business has changed dramatically – and not for the better – since I left it in 2008, after 23 years. I’d at one point considered pairing Devlin with a female FBI agent, but that seemed too much of a cliche. I realized if I was ever going to write about journalism and newspapers, now was the time. The business has been savaged in the last few years with layoffs, cutbacks and closures. Papers have been gutted by hedge-fund managers, and thousands of journalists have been thrown out of work. Things have only gotten worse since, with a violent attack on a Maryland newsroom in June, and a U.S. president who regularly refers to the free press – a cornerstone of democracy – as “the enemy of the American people.”

MPS: How did you go about constructing a character like Ray Devlin, who could have turned into more of a Jason Bourne type, instead of the more down-to-earth vein you were going for?

WS: I love those types of films and books, but don’t think I could write one. I wanted Devlin to be in his mid-to-late 50s, with physical limitations consistent with his age. He can handle himself in a fight, but not as well as he used to, and the aftereffects last longer. Also, Devlin was never any sort of elite special forces operative. He was just a grunt who left the Army to join a private firm, and whose primary function was to train indigenous forces in basic military tactics.

MPS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is the first time you have two protagonists working together. What was that dynamic like for you?

WS: I guess I got tired of writing about isolated loners, and though both Devlin and Tracy are that (Devlin by choice, Tracy not so much), I liked the idea of bringing them together. They each have pieces of the puzzle, without knowing how it all fits together – if it fits together at all. As they figure it out, it puts them both in danger. So they’re wary of each other at first, then drawn together for self-preservation.

Some Die Nameless Cover ImageMPS: You’ve dealt with political corruption before in your books, but not at this high a level. Were you wanting to explore something about our country’s policies? 

WS: I think it was less politics and policies than just the general tone I’m feeling in the country these days. Everyone’s unapologetic-ally on the grift, using their offices to enrich themselves, punish their enemies and reward their friends and investors. Ethics are for losers. It’s disheartening on a daily basis. We left normal in the rear view a long time ago.

MPS: Were there any other books or movies that worked as an inspiration for Some Die Nameless

WS: I wanted to do something where there was a street-level crime linked to a much-bigger conspiracy, an idea I explored a little in Devil’s Share, where a simple truck hijacking was tied to the looting of Iraqi artifacts. So I had that general concept even before I knew what the plot would be. I also had in mind books like William Goldman’s Marathon Man and Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, in which everyday crimes – muggings, dope dealing – were actually part of global conspiracies, but only experienced by the characters at the personal levels in which they were involved.

At the same time, there are homages in there to two of my favorite crime writers – John D. MacDonald and James Crumley. Like MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Devlin lives mostly on a boat (though not a houseboat). And in Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, his detective, C.W. Sughrue, drives a Chevy El Camino. For Devlin, I switched the model to a Ranchero, which was Ford’s version.

MPS: What are you working on next for readers?

WS: Another change of pace. Working on a standalone, a relatively small-scale suspense novel. No title yet. I’ll also have a Crissa Stone short story in an upcoming anthology, At Home in the Dark, edited by Lawrence Block. That should be out at the end of this year or beginning of next. And hopefully at some point she’ll be back in a novel.