MysteryPeople Q&A with Robert Knott

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Author and actor Robert Knott has just released Blackjack, his latest continuation of Robert B. Parker’s novels featuring Territorial Marshals Hitch and Cole. The book is a western whodunit – a Denver lawman’s wife has been murdered, and the chief suspect is Boston Bill Black, a gunman and gambler opening up a new gambling hall in Apaloosa.

Throw in a bounty hunter with ties to Cole’s past and a new love interest for Hitch and you have a novel that continues the fun you expect out of the series. Robert Knott will be speaking and signing his latest here at BookPeople on Friday, February 5th, beginning at 7 PM. He was kind enough to take some early questions about the novel and writing in the west.

MysteryPeople Scott:  Blackjack has a different flavor than most of the Hitch and Cole novels. What did you want to accomplish with it?

Robert Knott: Well, hum, I did not set out to bring about a different flavor but I suppose this book is – to some degree – more human, more sensitive? There is also some “whodunit” happening with Blackjack. I also feel – as I move through this journey of life with Hitch and Cole that they need to learn, grow and change. I know, I know, I know, it is one thing to make sure your serial protagonist does what is expected but then there is also – for me – a need for an evolution to go with what is expected. Evolution of character interests me. Basically relationships and characters need to change otherwise, like in life, without change we become stagnant, stale. In regard to accomplishment – and I can say, this is by design – I like the idea of not setting up an antagonist that we know in the end is going to get what is coming to him. I like that flavor, don’t get me wrong but I also like not knowing, and that is what is happening here with Blackjack. Another character element I always think about – and that is: characters are not good or bad but rather they are simply victims of circumstances.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Screenwriter and Author Scott Frank

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Scott Frank is a screenwriter and director of exquisite talent. He has adapted Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and Minority Report. As both writer and director, he has given us two of the best crime films in past decade, A Walk Among The Tombstones (from the Lawrence Block novel) and The Lookout.

Frank has now added “novelist” to his already impressive resume with his debut, Shaker, a crime satire that takes a New York hitman to L.A. just in time for one of California’s worst earthquakes. The book looks at gangs, the media culture, and politics, all in a style that allows for human depth and darkness as well as laughs. Mr. Frank took a few questions about the book and the switch from screen to prose. He joins us Monday, February 1st, at 7 PM, appearing alongside authors Terry Shames and Josh Stallings. 

MysteryPeople Scott: You mainly are known for your work in film. What made Shaker more suitable to tell as a novel?

Scott Frank: It was a story that depended so much on understanding the history of several characters. You couldn’t really go forward without knowing what had come before. So it just seemed more of a novel to me for that reason.

MPS: What did you enjoy doing in prose that you couldn’t do in a screenplay?

SF: When you write a film, “show not tell” is always your mantra. You don’t ever get a chance to go deep. You want to define scene and character as quickly as you can. And if you do go backwards, it can’t play as digression. It will feel like a mistake. We just don’t watch movies in the same way we read books. In a book, a digression can be the most satisfying part. It was so much fun writing about what happened before the book began, and then making it pay off.

MPS: The book has an interesting interplay between plot and backstory. On the surface, it plays like a Carl Hiassen crime satire, yet you slowly get introduced to everybody’s dark history. Was this planned going in or just happen since you were dealing with some pretty unsavory characters?

SF: It just sort of evolved. I realized that if I wanted a reader to actually care about these people, I couldn’t always write them as jokes. I thought it might be interesting for introduce someone, make an impression, then subvert that with their backstory, so that you cared about them, no matter how unsavory they turned out to be. The tone in those past sections, then, had to be more serious, but still had to somehow dovetail with the rest of the book. Was the hardest part for me. But I just heard those parts differently in my head.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Ian Rankin

  • Interview by Scott Butki

Ian Rankin brings three investigators – Rebus, Clark, and Fox – back together for his latest novel, Even Dogs In The Wild. Ian Rankin joins us at BookPeople Sunday, January 31st, at 3 PM to speak and sign his latest. Regular contributor to the MysteryPeople blog Scott Butki interviewed Rankin about his latest novel, writing the iconic Rebus, and his writer friends. 

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?

Ian Rankin: Someone in a bar told me the story of a drug dealer who supposedly hid a large stash of dope and money in some woods outside his village. When he died of natural causes, the villagers went on a treasure hunt. That gave me the notion of the treasure hunt, which I turned into a story involving gangsters on the trail of something stolen from them. Then one night an image came into my head of someone pointing a gun at another person. The gunman is in the garden of a house and it is night and the intended victim can’t see them. I wondered: who is the gunman, who the victim, why is this happening and what will the intended victim do about it? I had the beginning of my novel.

SB: I saw on the Internet where you mentioned, before the title was made public, that the title of your next book was also the name of a catchy song. Were you surprised to then have fans trying to guess the song title?

IR: It was part of the fun, letting fans know the book would be named after a song and then seeing if any of them could guess what it might be. (Nobody did, but then it is a pretty obscure song.)

“I feel sorry for fans who make the pilgrimage to the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh, seeking Rebus out and finding only his creator seated at the bar. I’m a bit of a let down – not as dark, brooding, complex or dangerous as Rebus!”

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Reed Farrel Coleman

Our January Pick Of The Month, Where It Hurts, is another exquisite detective novel from Reed Farrel Coleman, delivering a detective as compelling as his plot with Coleman’s latest creation, Gus Murphy. Gus is a former cop hanging by a thread after the death of his son. When the son of a criminal Gus had previously arrested is murdered, the situation sucks Murphy back into the maelstrom of a cop’s life and causes him to reevaluate his life. Reed was kind enough to talk about characters new and old, and writing in general. He joins us Saturday, January 30th, at 5 PM to speak and sign his lates.t 

MysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to create a character like Gus Murphy for a series?

Reed Farrel Coleman: Gus is one of those rare characters that appeared in my head at the same moment as the plot and setting. I don’t think I could separate Gus from the narrative from the setting. That is always an encouraging sign for me as a writer. When I feel the protagonist is of the place and of the story, it gives me a big advantage when setting out on a new project. I am always suspect of novels when I don’t feel the protagonist is of the setting. Sure, it’s interesting to put your protagonist in an unfamiliar setting to see how he or she reacts, but I never want to feel like you could plug protagonist A into setting X, Y or Z and have it work together. The rare exception, a character like Reacher, sort of brings his own personal setting along with him.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Josh Stallings

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Josh Stallings took a break this year from his dark and brooding hero, Moses McGuire, to give us one of his best so far: Young Americans, a heist novel set in the glam-rock scene of seventies-era San Francisco. One of our Top 10 Of 2015, Young Americans works as a tight crime novel and a coming-of-age tale of friendship. Josh will be joining Terry Shames and Scott Frank on our Writers To Watch For panel, starting at 7 PM on February 1st. He was kind enough to talk with us ahead of time about his book and the life that inspired it.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did it feel working on something lighter than a Moses book?

Josh Stallings: Really freeing. Three novels in, Moses’s voice had been in my head for five years, his world view is heroically dark. I needed to come up for air and he begged to be left on a beach. I decided I needed to write a disco glam-rock heist novel. Didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded fun. And it was a blast to work on. With Bowie and Donna Summer playing, it’s hard not to smile.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Jeff Abbott

  • Interview and Review by Scott Butki


In The First Order, Jeff Abbott has written yet another great thriller about his protagonist hero, Sam Capra, and his continuing adventures and mishaps.

This is Abbott’s fifth novel in the Sam Capra series and I keep thinking one of these is going to be a dud – no offense, Jeff – but he keeps pulling it off. Each has enough excitement that it should come with a warning: Don’t read before going to bed… because there’s enough adrenaline to keep you awake.

“Usually when an idea with this many facets comes to me, I know it’s one good enough for a book.”

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Denise Mina

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Denise Mina’s latest Alex Morrow novel, intriguingly titled Blood, Salt, Water, is more of a ‘why done it’ than a ‘who done it.’ The detective inspector looks into what she initially suspects to be a mob killing, but the case proves both knottier in resolution and in morality when her investigation leads her to Helensburg, a small tourist town. Denise was kind enough to take enough to take some questions from us across the pond.

“It was a strange year, when I was writing this book. We had a referendum about whether Scotland wanted to leave the UK and become an independent country so EVERYTHING became about identity politics. It was like we all became teenagers again, the way teens are working out their identity obsessively and see everything as a statement about themselves. Even now, the Syrian War is discussed in terms of ‘what does this say about us’?”

MysteryPeople Scott:  Many of your novels are based on a true crime. Was this one?

Denise Mina: It was. Helensburgh is a beautiful town on the west coast of Scotland but there was a horrible house fire there and it turned out it was arson. The story that came out was that there had been a series of fires out there, caused by a gang of drugs dealers in the area. The town seemed to be waiting for permission to name the arsonist. Then there was a TV appeal featuring a reconstruction of the setting of the fire. A policeman played the part of the arsonist and the public were informed that CCTV was available. A lot of people called from the town, naming the same guy responsible, saying they recognised the guy in the film. I went to the court case when the guys were finally charged. It was bizarre.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with James Lee Burke

MysteryPeople contributer Scott Butki interviews James Lee Burke about his latest novel, House of the Rising Sun

A bit about the book…

James Lee Burke is one of the best fiction writers around and I have yet to be disappointed by anything he has written. His renowned series about Dave Robicheaux has won many impressive awards, including the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Mr. Burke may be best known for his Robicheaux series, but he has also started two other series, one starring protagonist Texas attorney Billy Bob Holland and one starring Billy Bob’s cousin, Texas sheriff Hackberry Holland.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Tom Pitts

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Two of the greatest reading experiences I have had this year were both provided by the same author, Tom Pitts. Hustle tells the story of two male prostitutes who try to blackmail  their high-powered attorney client,  and cross a psycho speed freak with designs on the same lawyer. Their survival depends on teaming up with Bear, a biker who works for the lawyer. Knuckleball, Pitts’ recent novella, relates the murder of a police officer, played out against the backdrop of a weekend series between the Giants and the Dodgers. We caught up with Tom to discuss the books, their inspirations, and what he hopes a reader gets out of them.

MysteryPeople Scott: Hustle is drawn from your life on the streets. What did you want to get across about that experience?

Tom Pitts: The part I drew from my own life was the drug addiction. I get asked a lot if I was involved in prostitution, and the answer is no, but the sleazy hotels with the blood on the ceilings? I lived that. The relentless sickness and the insatiable need for drugs? Yeah, that was me. I was frustrated by reading novels featuring drug addicts whose addiction only played into the story when they were introduced. When the plot starts moving, a lot of writers forget their characters have habits. I wanted to be consistent with the reality of addiction. That, no matter what, after a few hours, junkies have to fix—they have no choice. The drugs are never far from their minds, no matter how much peril they’re in. They use in any situation. They find a way. That’s what it means to be a junkie.

Every job I’ve held was somehow tied directly to the streets of the city. It’s my canvas. I can visualize a block or corner with ease, if it’s a one way, or a busy street, or has a view of the bridge, that kind of thing. That being said, the current gentrification is killing SF as a backdrop for crime.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Alen Mattich, author of the Marko della Torre novels

  • Interview by Molly

Molly Odintz: So, I’ve read a few novels set in former Yugoslavia this year, and Zagreb Cowboy is by far the most adventurous. What made you stay away from the mournful and focus on the amoral?

Alen Mattich: Zagreb Cowboy takes place just before the start of the Yugoslav war, before people realized quite how serious and tragic it was to become. There were local upheavals and stand-offs. A few shootings. But despite the tensions, mostly it was a time of uncertainty and unease rather than mourning. Many people had more pressing concerns than politics, not least how to make ends meet during a time of great inflation. In doing so, many behaved “amorally” — everyone was looking for an edge, everyone was gaming the system, corruption became a necessary way of life just to get food on the table. This was true for people in all walks of life. Economic laws that failed to account for economic reality were routinely ignored. Of course, some people do it better than others. In these circumstances, there are always Strumbićs. And I knew one who was equally lively, equally full of life and schemes and had done very well for himself. It’s hard not to admire people like that, notwithstanding their utter amorality.

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