This follow up to Murder At The 42nd Street Library has crime fiction curator Raymond Ambler and his comrades involved in two murders that may be connected one of new coworker and the other of a labor boss that a childhood friend of Ray’s has been serving time for. Ross delivers a streamlined plot and sense of melancholy that echoes Ross MacDonald.
Stark House reprints this crime paperback masterpiece of a con who breaks out of prison with the help of a benefactor to do a job. When the only person to meet him is his patron’s wife trouble naturally awaits. Adams packs all the twists, sudden violence, sultry women, and cynicism you’d expect in a moody fifties noir and then some.
The latest Poke Rafferty novel has the trouble prone travel writer looking for the missing father of his daughter’s boyfriend. Knowing the man enjoyed Thailand’s sex trade, Poke fears the man was taken for his money and has little time before his life follows. Hallinan gives us another provocative look at the city balanced with a very human feel for family.
Laura McHugh is a writer to be delighted in—a crime author who both seems old to the genre while creating incredibly new and ambitious works of fiction adored by fans and critics alike. Her debut novel, The Weight of Blood, won the International Thrillers Writer award, lining up McHugh with the toughest of her competition. Ms. McHugh is known to be a night writer, and this comes through with many of her scenes in her two novels to date—including her most recent stellar accomplishment, Arrowood.
Arrowood is at once a dark tale of crime and corruption and a vivid family saga. McHugh incorporates some of the best of her own locale and the history of her characters in creating one of the most vivid and suspenseful reads I’ve come across in quite some time. While The Weight of Blood is frankly flooring, Arrowood takes the idea of memory, family, and the unreliable narrator to such new heights it’s remarkable this novel even exists.
One immediately thinks of fellow-heavyweight Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places when approaching Arrowood’s premise. A young woman returns home after many years—and creating and cultivating many secrets of her own—only to be contacted by the leader of a group of people who try and solve murder mysteries, a man who believes he has solved the mystery of what happened to her sisters decades before. It’s a spicy premise but the similarities between these two great novels pretty much stop here. Arrowood is a novel not to be defined by comparisons, defying all expectations inside its pages.
Arrowood is at once strikingly brilliant, incredibly frightening (so much it makes one seem vulnerable in the best and worst of ways), intriguing in its mystery and enchanting in its incredibly elaborate setting. McHugh weaves a nearly perfect narrative, with a pitch perfect voice for the story, around a decades old mystery that seems both impossible and inevitable to be solved. The reader learns early own how they will be completely satisfied with the conclusion of McHugh’s sophomore effort, if only because of Ms. McHugh’s writing abilities, so all-encompassing and wise-beyond-their-years.
Returning to the comparison between Gillian Flynn and Laura McHugh—and there really is no true comparison, these are two women who write in their own right, in their own way, in their own settings, in their own voices, with stories like loaded pistols ready to be fired right in their readers’ direction—the crossing of ideas and storylines, the telling of two similar stories by two completely different writers seems inevitable here. Just as Gillian Flynn had to expose the murky, dirty side of one untruth, so Laura McHugh has to expose her own. If anything is to be learned from McHugh’s novels, it’s that we know nothing, not the novel’s ending, not the novel’s twists and turns, and certainly not ourselves, either as the reader or the narrator. But what narrator really knows their own story?
As for McHugh’s third book, little is known about the follow-up that can probably only be described as “epic.” Count Laura McHugh with other Lauras (like Ms. Lippman), with the Gillian Flynns and the Megan Abbotts and the Alison Gaylins of the world. She deserves the credit that’s due to her, and any reader deserves the chance to find themselves lost in the pages of her novels.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that we’re living in a golden age in crime fiction. It’s only the middle of the year and I have more than enough to fill out a Top Ten list. So to fill in your summer reading time, I’ve come up with 10 (okay, 12) books that you need to read in August.
Both of these books showcase the wide range of rural crime fiction. McBride’s relentless noir novel and Atkin’s latest book starring heroic lawman Quinn Colson are both skilled gothic spins on communities and their underlying corruption.
Moe Prager takes on his last case with the humanistic toughness we have come to expect from Coleman’s work. This book delves into the series’ recurring theme of identity in a new way and lets Moe go out with class.
Abbott’s take on the mysterious seizures of several high school girls in a small town borrows moods and tones from several genres. In The Fever, Abbott has created a unique thriller about populace, sexuality, and parental love. Another Megan Abbott book that’s hard to shake.
Tafoya’s latest reads like Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neil. A damaged ex-US Marshall tries to protect what’s left of her family when her father, a corrupt union enforcer, breaks out of prison and sets out on a brutal trail. The emotion is as intense as the gunfire.
Retired police chief Samuel Craddock gets pulled into the murder investigation of a returned vet and ends up acting as a witness to the sins of his town and country. A moving mystery about a very relevant topic.
This suspenseful ode to the sleazy Times Square of yesteryear stars a young grindhouse addict who ends up in his own horror show when the girl who sits next to him during a slasher double-bill is stabbed to death. One of the best uses of setting I’ve ever read.
The latest Hugo Marston thriller has the embassy security head involved with a conspiracy linking French Revolution history to current politics in this fun and involving story with many strong characters. Proof of why Mark Pryor is one of the fastest rising talents in the thriller field.
A botched blackmail attempt combines with a botched kidnapping for a tale that contains an ever-changing set of sub genres and points of view. The story moves from black comic noir to detective story to thriller, all the while presenting engaging characters and a relentless plot.
If newspapers are dying, the newspaper mystery isn’t. In Providence Rag, DeSilva’s series character Mulligan is pitted against a crusading reporter whose exposé of prison corruption could release a serial killer he helped put away. Tucker’s debut, Ways of the Dead, has his D.C. journalist covering a murder case that links the city’s lower class and the power class. Both books show the untapped potential of the newspaper subgenre.
Read these bokos, take a breath, and brace for Fall with more books from authors like James Ellroy and Jon Connolly. Four members on today’s list will publish a second novel this year, as well, so look for new books from Terry Shames, Reed Farrel Coleman, Mark Pryor, and Ed Kurtz before 2014 is up.
June is an incredible month for crime fiction here at MysteryPeople. There’s so much going on, we’ve decided to pull out all the stops and celebrating with a month-long MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Fest!
Join us this month for one of our many free, fun events!
June is International Crime Month! We’re celebrating crime fiction writers around the world with a brand new series on the MysteryPeople blog that delves into the authors writing crime fiction around the globe and the publishers here in America who put those books on our shelves.
International Crime Month is a month-long initiative highlighting internationally acclaimed crime fiction authors, editors, critics, and publishers. Four of America’s most influential independent publishers—Grove Atlantic, Akashic Books, Melville House, and Europa Editions—have joined forces to promote one of the most vital and socially significant fiction genres of our time. We’re happy to join them!
Look for a special in-store display in MysteryPeople highlighting books from these publishers. Watch the MysteryPeople blog for regular posts throughout the month focusing on international crime fiction.
When it comes to international crime writing, the Scandinavian novel has dominated the scene long before Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy was ever published. I like to brag about taking a Scandinavian detective fiction class back in college, and that the history of Scandinavian crime fiction stretches back fifty years. Sometimes, I find it hard to remember that international detective fiction comes from anywhere outside of Scandinavia. However, dear readers, I am here to launch a blog series to prove just this fact – that international crime fiction is truly international.
Each month (and more often now, during International Crime Month), I will be profiling either a different international crime nexus or particular author. I will explore how their work fits in with their locale, history, and specific crime writing scene, as well as giving a few recommended reads. I will be profiling mainly hard-boiled and noir writing, with the occasional police procedural or thriller. I will closely examine how each author or set of authors solves some of the basic plausibility difficulties of the genre within their geographical context. Some international locations have a fictional murder rate exponentially higher than their citizens’ capacity to kill, while other places match grimy noir to a violent reality.
I aim to bring awareness to the numerous translated works available in MysteryPeople,but I also plan to include analysis and exploration of common themes. Some of the locales I aim to explore are: Marseilles, Dublin, Japan, Mexico City, Italy, the former Soviet Union, Havana, Israel/Palestine, and wherever else my world tour through the mystery section takes me.
I will be focusing my energies on those reads which evoke a certain time and place, as this is one of the joys of international fiction. On the other hand, I do plan to occasionally profile those foreign authors whose plots could take place next door. I will also bring attention to American authors who have an international focus and analyze to what extent they draw strength or weakness from their emotional and physical distance.
In honor of International Crime Month, or, as the calendar says, June, I will be discussing two different locations this month. I will also profile several publishers doing the down and dirty work of bringing these detective tales from foreign shores to ATX. Look here on the MysteryPeople blog for my first post in the series on June 9, where I will be profiling the scintillating scene of Marseilles.
We’re always happy to have our buddy George Wier join us for a MysteryPeople event. He’ll be joining Ace Atkins, Jesse Sublett, and Jim Wilsky for our latest Noir At the Bar on May 12Th, 7PM, at the Opal Divine’s on 6031 South Congress. To get folks ready, we have an excerpt from a little piece of noir published in Dreaming…, because no matter what George writes, he’s able to give it a Texas spin.
“It’s 1986 and they sure make good potatoes at the Mayhill Cafe. But
Dalton has no idea what year it is.
‘Yeah, the secret is to cook ‘em with real butter. Not deep fried, but
fried in a pan, just the right heat. That way the butter don’t burn up
and you ken cook more of ‘em for the next customer. Just keep addin’
butter. Yep. They sure—’
‘make good potatoes at the Mayhill Cafe,’ I mouth the words to the
ceiling as he speaks them.
It’s 1986 and two weeks to go until I walk out, a free man…”
DennisTafoya got the attention of both hard boiled fans and writers alike with his debut, Dope Thief, before quickly following it up with the equally emotional The Wolves Of Fairmount Park. His deeply felt novels look at family and the working poor and have drawn as many comparison to Bruce Springsteen as to Dashiell Hammett. His latest, The Poor Boy’s Game, has already been getting glowing reviews. It deals with Frannie Mullen, a disgraced US Marshal, who has to protect her dysfunctional family from her own father, a union enforcer who broke out of prison. To promote the novel, Dennis will be teaching his One Hour Mystery Class at BookPeople on Wednesday, May 1st at 6:30pm. We caught up with the man to ask a few questions.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Even compared to your other books, Frannie is a truly damaged character. Is it a challenge or more freeing to write for such a flawed lead?
DENNIS TAFOYA: More freeing, definitely. I wanted to write about somebody on the right side of the law, who lived an upright life, but I saw Frannie as somebody who leans on a hard sense of right and wrong as a way to draw a line around herself. She’s trying to wall herself off from the consequences of what she sees as the bad decisions other people make out of weakness, even if that means being remote from her family and keeping friends at a distance. The Poor Boy’s Game is structured as a thriller, but I hope that the real attraction of the book is watching Frannie’s elaborate defenses break down as she is forced to come to grips with her past.
MP: The book kicks off with an intense shoot-out. How do you approach your actions passages?
DT: I spend a lot of time thinking about the action in those sequences. I want them to be exciting, but I want them to reflect the ambiguity and messiness of real life. It’s ridiculous how much research I do and how much time I spend looking at streets and intersections in real life and online. I also try to read as much as I can by people I think do that well, folks like James Dickey and Denis Johnson. In everything I write, I try to keep coming up with a way to make things new. I’m always worried about cliché and familiar language and situations.
MP: I really enjoyed your criminal characters. They reminded me of George V. Higgins characters with a darker shade. How did you approach writing them?
DT: Love Higgins! I can’t imagine a better guide to writing criminals as fully realized people. In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Eddie himself is a bundle of contradictions, and Higgins is never afraid to show his main character as a blowhard or a guy who thinks he knows the angles when the reality is that he’s being manipulated and outmaneuvered by his friends. Writing guys like the career criminal Jimmy Coonan are a lot of fun because they’re guys you could see yourself having a beer with, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.
MP: While reading The Poor Boy’s Game, I felt it had as many cinematic influences as literary ones. Is that a fair assessment?
DT: Sure! I love crime movies, just like every crime writer I know, and I think it’s pretty clear now that there’s an interplay between page and screen that goes both ways: books become movies, and movies influence writers. I especially love the small, independent films like Frozen River or Hard Eight, films that show criminal behavior as human behavior with complex motivations. There are the big films, too, like Heat – I think it would be tough to write gunplay without a film like that coming up as a reference in your head.
MP: Broken families appear in much of your work. What draws you to that dynamic?
DT: I think we all wonder how much we’re made by our families of origin and how much by our circumstances and character. It’s a question I think we spend our whole lives thinking about, and our perspectives shift as we age. We want to believe we’re independent actors, but are we, really? Certainly, even if we’re in perfect control of our lives, For better or worse, I think the way we’re raised provides a context and a way of thinking about experience that is very hard to leave behind.
MP: You’re giving your short mystery writing class at our store on Thursday, May 1st. Can you tell those attending what to expect?
DT: I hope it will be a fast, fun introduction to writing crime fiction. We’ll do some quick readings from a number of crime classics and talk about how some of the masters like Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block have approached character, setting, plot and the other elements of fiction. And we’ll do an exercise or two, because writing is always more fun than talking about writing.