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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With The Promise, Robert Crais has taken on a difficult challenge. The Promise combines two sets of characters from separate books and puts them all in a new book. I think we have all read books where authors have tried something like this and it just didn’t work. Well, good news – this one works! Crais takes K9 handler Scott James and his dog Maggie and brings them together with smartass private eye Elvis Cole and his business partner Joe Pike.
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Jason Starr is one of the leading names in modern noir. His latest, Savage Lane, deals with how the projections of several people in a community lead to murder, working both as a involving thriller and satire on suburbia. Jason was kind enough to take a few questions about the book and writing on the edge.
MysteryPeople Scott: What spurred the idea for Savage Lane?
Jason Starr: The idea of a recently divorced woman, trying to get on with her life in a small, insular community. The suburbs can be a fish bowl, what with everybody getting into your business, making assumptions, and when you’re divorced in a community of mostly married people you become the subject of gossip, and perhaps unwanted fantasies. Then I though more about who this woman is, and about a friendship she has with an unhappily married man, and I knew this situation would provide plenty of fodder for a crime thriller.
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In The Guise Of Another, Allen Eskens’ follow-up to his award-winning debut, The Life We Bury, police detective Alexander Rupert (the brother of The Life We Bury‘s cop hero, Max) gets involved in a false identity case that could take his soul as well as his life. Allen was kind enough to talk about the book and the art of character.
MysteryPeople Scott: What prompted the decision to use two of the supporting characters from The Life We Bury in this novel?
Allen Eskens: I am a strong believer that plot moves the reader forward and that character draws the reader in deeper. I believe that a protagonist should undertake a journey over the course of a novel. He/she should be changed in some way by the time the story concludes. While I am a fan of the mystery-series format, I sometimes feel that the storyline can suffer from familiarity (fans of Lee Child will probably disagree).
So to give myself an array of characters with personal journeys to undertake, I decided to move among my secondary characters from The Life We Bury, telling their stories. My hope is to create a small community of people who will interact with each other to varying degrees as the novels branch out. The Guise of Another is the first in a three-book arc for Max Rupert. I have a sequel for The Life We Bury planned, and I have a stand-alone, which is the backstory of Boady Sanden, partially written.
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Bryon Quertermous’s debut, Murder Boy, follows struggling writer Dominick Prince, who attempts to kidnap his instructor in order to pass his class. The initial kidnapping leads to a crime spree involving the professor’s mistress, her psychotic bounty hunter brother, a criminal who writes better than Dominick, and a few killers in wedding dresses. It is an all out pulp-crime explosion that also looks at the life of the mind (feeble or otherwise). We caught up with Bryon to talk about the book and his own writing life.
MysteryPeople Scott: What made you want to write a violent crime novel about writing?
Bryon Quertermous: For a long time I didn’t and it drove me insane. I was writing violent hardboiled PI novels that sucked and didn’t have any spirit or heart while I was also writing these twee literary stories starring writers that didn’t have any structure and couldn’t get past 2-3k words. It was a handy metaphor for how I was feeling as a writer at the time. I was in a graduate creative writing program but not fully committed to an academic writing career and then at night I was writing crime fiction that I wasn’t respecting and was trying to knock out for the money (ha!). It wasn’t until I started reading the online crime journals from guys like Neil Smith and Victor Gischler and others who did a great job of mixing transgressive crime fiction with the fun of meta literary stories. Once I finally went all in on merging all of my experiences and influences and ideas into one book instead of several I hit my stride and finally had a novel I think really represents my whole self as a writer.
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- Interview by MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery
Wallace Stroby’s The Devil’s Share is one of my favorite books of 2015, with a reappearance of one of my favorite characters, heistwoman Crissa Stone. In this book, Crissa is hired for an inside job to steal Iraqi art meant for repatriation. Stone is hired by the art’s new, illicit owner, who does not wish to part ways with the artifacts. Hicks, the art collector’s security man, works with Crissa as both ally and spy, creating a new relationship that could be fruitful or deadly. We got in touch with Wallace to talk about the book and his heroine.
MysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to Iraqi art as the MacGuffin?
Wallace Stroby: I liked the idea of a big cultural crime – stealing ancient artifacts from their place of origin – being facilitated by a smaller, intimate crime, like hijacking a truck on a desert highway. And certainly there was theft on an enormous scale of priceless artifacts immediately following the invasion of Iraq. In the novel, a corrupt art dealer argues that the stolen artifacts are better off with him in the U.S., then at the mercy of whatever regime is in power in their homeland. And oddly, ISIS has since proved him right, by aggressively destroying artifacts and bulldozing archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria, because it considers them anti-Muslim idolatry. A lot of these items go back to the beginnings of civilization, around 3,000 B.C., and ISIS has released videos of their soldiers cheerfully destroying them with sledgehammers and power tools. All this happened long after the book was written though.
MPS: This was the novel where it appeared Crissa had changed a bit without completely putting my finger on it. At what place do you see Crissa in her life?
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With Gil Malloy, author and journalist R.G. Belsky has created one of my favorite new characters. Malloy is a journalist who, as Belsky used to do, worked as a journalist for the famous New York Daily News. Malloy has gone from being the star reporter to being mocked and embarrassed for making bad choices.
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In Martin Limón’s latest Sueño-Bascom novel,The Ville Rat, his Seventies Korea-stationed Army detectives George Sueno and Ernie Bascome take on two cases, each of which pits the detectives against one of the toughest Army units operating on the North-South border. Limón takes a unique look at the black market and racism within the military. We caught up with Martin to talk about the book and the series, influenced by his own army experience.
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Nathan Ward’s The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett is a great look at the early and productive life of the father of hard boiled fiction. We got a hold of Nathan to talk about the book and his subject.
MysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to Hammett’s early years?
Nathan Ward: I came to write this book because it did not yet exist and I wanted to read something about what kind of detective had Hammett been before he wrote some of the iconic detective books of the 20th century; the best reason to write something is, as Thomas Berger answered when asked why he wrote novels, “Because it isn’t there.”
Hammett has what in comic books is called an origins story: once a real-life detective, he nearly died from Tuberculosis, then while flat on his back with the disease he began sending out crime stories. The rest is supposedly history. I wanted to test this myth and find out more about his incredible transition, especially to learn what kind of real detective he had been, if possible.
“My theory was that if I focused primarily on the formative years, did a sort of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Pinkerton, I would have room enough to explore his unique transition.”
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On September 30th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor, we will be hosting Mark Pryor, author of the popular Hugo Marston series and, more recently, the standalone novel Hollow Man, our September Pick Of The Month. Hollow Man differs greatly from his Paris-set Hugo Marston series, following an Austin prosecutor and musician who is also a sociopath. Here is a quick discussion we had with Mark about writing such a different book than we’re used to from him.
MysteryPeople Scott: Hollow Man is completely different from the Hugo books. Were you deliberately wanting to write something different and darker or simply following an idea that popped into your head?
Mark Pryor: I would say the latter, except that it didn’t so much “pop” as germinate and gestate. Elements of the story had been rolling around in my head for a couple of years but it wasn’t until I was told about a real-life Ambrosio Silva-type character that the whole novel began to take shape. In fact, originally, the girl in the green dress was to be the protagonist, not Dominic. I suppose in some ways she remained the driving force but unlike most of my books, this one was very much a slow cook.
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