MysteryPeople Presents Shotgun Blast from the Past: GET CARTER, by Ted Lewis

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Ted LewisGet Carter, originally known as Jack’s Trip Back, was a turning point in British crime fiction. At the time of its publication, the U.S. was known for the tough, hard boiled style, while English crime  was associated with the more genteel drawing room side of the genre that Agatha Christie made popular. Lewis put a shotgun in Jack Carter’s hand, blowing away the Venetian vases and the stereotype.

To call Jack Carter an anti-hero is putting it mildly. Both calculating and reckless, violence is often a convenient tool for him and he makes the Mad Men guys look like feminists. Carter works as an enforcer for a London syndicate run by Gerald and Les Fletcher. He is also involved with Audrey, Gerald’s wife, who he plans to run away with, along with a chunk of the Fletcher Brothers money. He is somewhat of an English cousin to Richard Stark‘s Parker, with less distance from the reader.

In Get Carter, Jack goes back to his home in middle England, to attend the funeral of his brother Frank. Frank died in a drunk driving accident, though he wasn’t known to be a heavy drinker. This puts Carter on the road to answers and revenge, running up against the town fixer who is connected to the Fletcher Brothers.

The book gives a bleak look at England. The pretty countryside, associated with those English cozies, is populated and polluted with smokestacks. Most of the denizens of the town are rough, ugly, and seem to have a touch of inbreeding to them. It’s no wonder Carter would do anything, including crime, to get out. Yet we see how it is a part of him. Much like Hammett and Cain, Lewis used the hard boiled novel to make subtle social commentary on his country. Despite his many dark qualities, we follow Jack Carter because of his willingness to be his own man in both the criminal and British class system.

Get Carter proved that while the U.S. may have invented hard boiled crime, they didn’t have a patent on it. One can’t help but wonder how this book hit British readers in the late Sixties. A new publisher, Syndicate Books, has released Get Carter, following it with the two others in the Carter trilogy, Jack Carter’s Law and Jack Carter And The Mafia Pigeon. I can’t wait to spend more time in Jack Carter’s world.


Get Carter is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

MysteryPeople Review: ROSE GOLD, by Walter Mosley

On Wednesday, October 22, at 7 pm, BookPeople is proud to host the eminent and prolific novelist, Walter Mosley. Mr. Mosley has been writing for almost a quarter century and has published books in a variety of genres. He is the recipient of PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award and is one of the most respected and dynamic writers in America today. He will be joining us to speak and sign his latest Ezekial Rawlins novel, Rose Gold.


Post by Molly

Walter Mosley wrote his first Easy Rawlins detective novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, nearly a quarter century ago. Despite taking breaks from the series to write numerous other novels (including sci-fi stories, general fiction, and other crime series), he has just released Rose Gold, his thirteenth novel to star the character of Easy Rawlins. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading the series has been following Easy Rawlins through three decades of American upheaval. Mosley set the first book in the series in the 1940s, and twelve books later, Ezekial Rawlins has made it to the smack-dab middle of the sixties. Mosley’s last novel in the series, Little Green, followed Easy as he dove head-first in the Summer of Love trying to hunt down a wayward teenager. His next novel starts immediately after Little Green left off.

Rose Gold, loosely based on the story of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, continues Rawlin’s journey through the chaos of mid-century America. At the start of the novel, Easy is in the midst of moving houses when a corrupt cop with a hidden agenda tracks him down and offers him some mortgage money fast. Easy reluctantly agrees to find a wealthy debutante, Rosemary Goldsmith, kidnapped out of her dorm room and held hostage by a group of wannabe revolutionaries.  The debutante’s father, a high-profile arms dealer, hires Rawlins to infiltrate the radical black power community, but Easy soon figures out this is easier said than done. His first step is to find the revolutionary group’s leader, a black nationalist ex-boxer named Uhuru Nolicé, and he quickly figures out that the police are searching for Uhuru much more assiduously than for Rosemary, and with much worse intentions.

As Easy continues the search for Rosemary, he takes the time to fix a few problems for his friends and family on the side, and throughout the novel, the reader finds frequent reminders that Easy Rawlins is happiest when defined by his relationship with his community. Walter Mosley, in the character of Easy Rawlins, has created not only an ass-kicking private eye, but also an ideal role model. One of the great pleasures of reading a novel starring Easy Rawlins is witnessing the actions of a character both likable and moral – a rare protagonist in the detective-novel world.

In the murky world of 1960s revolutionary politics, lines quickly blur between kidnapper and kidnapped, victim and perpetrator, and revolutionary and poser. Mosely’s characters use 1960s radicalism as a way to try on new identities and act out personal vendettas, and the radicals that Easy meets have a difficult time distinguishing the difference between performance and belief. Mosley does an excellent job of both portraying a society in motion and showing the parts that remain static. In particular, Mosley draws attention to police abuse towards young black men in a story that, stripped of its revolutionary framework, could be seen in a newspaper today. Both timely and timeless, Rose Gold provides an excellent addition to the canon of Mosley and a new modern classic for our shelves.


Please join us on October 22 for a visit from Walter Mosley, who will be speaking and signing his latest Easy Rawlins novel, Rose Gold. Copies are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public. The signing for this event will be ticketed.

MysteryPeople Review: THE DAY OF ATONEMENT, by David Liss

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Post by Molly

David Liss left his dissertation on 18th century British literature to write historical detective novels full-time, and after enjoying many of his novels, I firmly believe he made the right choice. His first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and he has now written eight novels, almost all of which are firmly immersed in an eighteenth century world. Liss has recently published his first novel since 2011’s The Twelfth Enchantment, and his new book, The Day of Atonement, makes for a perfect Jewish New Year read.

While Benjamin Weaver, the thief-taker hero of many of Liss’ books, makes a cameo appearance, The Day of Atonement is a stand-alone novel. The plot follows Sebastian Foxx, born Sebastião Raposa, raised and trained by Benjamin Weaver. Ten years before, at a tender age, Sebastian was forced to flee Lisbon after the arrest of his converso parents by the Portuguese Inquisition. After years of anger, a new commitment to practicing Judaism, and not much resolution of his childhood traumas, Foxx decides to return to Portugal and find his revenge. Sebastian aims to not only avenge himself against his family’s betrayer, but also to target a priest of the Inquisition, and possibly reconnect with his lost lady love. Upon his arrival in Lisbon, Sebastian quickly becomes tied in the fortunes of those around him and builds a group of allies to aid him in his quest. As the novel continues, Foxx finds himself embroiled in complex schemes and facing much more than a simple quest as he weighs his own goals against the safety of those around him.

Liss’ enthusiasm for the time period is present in every corner of this novel. He carefully constructs the world of eighteenth-century Portugal in a way that brings the Lisbon setting alive while also firmly grounding the reader in the novel’s historical context. A small brushing-up on the Portuguese Inquisition may be in order (I scanned the Wikipedia page), but the plot is as engaging as the historical context is detailed, and readers at all levels of interest in the time period will find Day of Atonement to be just as satisfying as the rest of David Liss’s oeuvre.

While I was reading The Day of Atonement, I couldn’t figure out if the book was more of a Jewish version of The Count of Monte Cristo or a Inquisition pastiche of Europa, Europa mixed in with Inglourious Bastards, but whichever of these comparisons you choose to appreciate more, know this: David Liss can write some seriously ass-kicking Jewish characters. Despite the book’s title, The Day of Atonement may be a bit too enjoyable to read on Yom Kippur itself. I recommend reading it the day after.


Copies of The Day of Atonement are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: THE MINOTAUR’S HEAD, by Marek Krajewski

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Post by Molly

Melville House has just published Marek Krajewski’s The Minotaur’s Head, his last in the Inspector Mock Investigation Quartet, excellently translated by Danusia Stok. Krajewski began the series in 1999 with Death in Breslau and now has four translated volumes available from Melville International Crime. Despite the fact that The Minotaur’s Head is the last in a series, I came to it as a stand-alone, casually picked up in my spare time. I read it through in a day and a half and now intend to read the whole series. Krajewski is committed to providing background for the characters. Despite not having read the previous novels in the series, I felt quite at home in the narrative.

The Minotaur’s Head is set partly in the Polish city of Lwów and partly in the Silesian city of Breslau. The story takes place in 1937, close to the start of World War II, and in a world already preparing for brutality but still immersed in a prewar miasma of small crimes. Krajewski begins the novel with the murder of a child and accusations of blood libel in 1939, and then moves backward in time to 1937, where several women have been found murdered, each violated and cannibalized by an elusive stranger defined only by his hideous face.

When a German citizen is murdered in Lwów, Inspector Mock, of the Silesian Police, is happy to leave behind Nazi-dominated Germany to go to comparatively free Poland in search of her killer. Detective Edward Popielski, his Polish partner on the case, is less than enthused about their high-profile task as he becomes more and more worried for his daughter’s safety. The detectives spend as much time being hungover and eating herring as they do searching for any criminals, and have petty personal vendettas of their own, but these qualities only enhance the jazzy rhythm and historical cadences of the narrative as it moves toward a shocking, modern crescendo.

Period detail seeps into every part of the narrative. The Minotaur’s Head not only fills the book with historical tidbits, but makes the book feel as if it was written during the time period it portrays. His characters are lively and rebellious against the strictures of their world, yet perfectly conform to the range of attitudes available at the time in both their liberalism and intolerance. Inspector Mock, in particular, evokes the hedonists of the 20s, in futile and subtle rebellion against his new Nazi masters. Marek Krajewski has done what many have tried to do – capture the multi-ethnic and culturally vibrant world of Poland before the destruction of WWII in a way that is simultaneously affectionate, terrifying, stylish and realistic.


The Minotaur’s Head is available on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: PERFIDIA, by James Ellroy

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James Ellroy‘s Perfidia is a monster of a book, in scope, size, and ambition. Perfidia takes place in LA during America’s first month in World War II. The book runs close to seven hundred pages, with at least four lead characters and what feels like hundreds of supporting ones. Most of them are corrupt or are about to be. Ellroy’s version of “The Greatest Generation” is blinded by ambition, fear, xenophobia, greed, or just the pure thrill of putting the hurt to someone. if you are up for a plunge into the ink-black heart of history and humanity, this book is for you.

Ellroy’s central character, Japanese-American Hideo Ashida, works as a forensics specialist in the LAPD. He is assigned to a murder case involving a Japanese family the day before Pearl harbor is attacked. The investigation puts him in the middle of an inter-department war between soon-to-be Chief Parker and Dudley Smith, the gangster-cop who served as a villain in Ellroy’s LA Quartet. The case also entwines in a scheme involving the internment of Japanese Americans.

The book is is packed with characters from both Ellroy’s LA Quartet and Underworld USA Trilogy. Tarnished cops Lee Blanchard and Buzz Meeks work in Dudley’s squad and FBI Agent Ward Little also comes in at one point. Kay Lake, an important character in The Black Dahlia, has a prominent role here acting as spy for Parker against some feared but mainly harmless leftists. Ellroy emphasizes noir’s rich theme of fate through the use of familiar characters and historical figures. .

What Ellroy captures so well is the collective mindset of an embattled USA. Mass emotion feeds into riot and murder. The thin line between patriotism and rage is vividly demonstrated when the character of Kay tries to enlist and a group of men attack her for being a leftist and “red”. We see how greedy and unscrupulous men are given allowance to move against the constitution and plain decency. As one character says, “There is no proportion. Pearl Harbor took care of that.”

While taking his characters further into their past, Ellroy creates a novel for perfect for our present. With it’s political hysteria, a right wing running rampant, a left that only preens and poses, and cops on overkill it is difficult not to relate in this post 9-11 and Ferguson world. Ellroy may be holding a dark mirror in our collective faces, but it is hard not to see the truth in it.


 

You can find copies of James Ellroy’s Perfidia on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Mystery People Review: BRAINQUAKE, by Samuel Fuller

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Review by Scott

Writer-director Samuel Fuller was a filmmaker from the fifties and sixties whose work still seems fresh, modern, and bold. His grab-you-by-the-throat intensity of style influenced the likes of Goddard, Scorsese, and Tarantino. What some may not know is that he wrote novels from the 1930s up until the the time of his death in 1997. Hard Case Crime gives us a look into this side of his talent by bringing us Brainquake, a Fuller novel that has just been published in the US and in English for the first time.

Fuller’s belief, “If the first scene doesn’t give you a hard-on then throw the goddamn thing away,” is applied to the first line of the novel: “Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park.” The murdered father is a mobster. Before the baby and mother are killed, Paul Pope, underworld bagman, saves them. Paul suffers from mental seizures which he refers to as “brainquakes,” where his mind spins into pink tinted images accompanied by piercing flute music. It is easy to picture Fuller’s avant garde camera cut loose during these passages. Paul falls for the mob widow, who he refers to as “ivory face”, setting up a series of events that ripple through the New York crime syndicate that employs him. The mob puts Father Flannigan, a contract killer who dresses like a priest and crucifies his targets, on to Paul as Flannigan’s next target.

Brainquake has the feel of a Sam Fuller film. The detailed life of a bagman is reminiscent of the attention brought to the lifestyle of the pickpocket Richard Widmark played in Pick Up On South Street. It portrays New York City with gritty realism mixed with pulp stylization. The dialogue blasts out  like gunshots and his tabloid inspired prose has the punchy feel of his editing. The emotions are raw and heightened. Everything is heightened, yet retains the truth in its main characters.

Brainquake is full on Fuller. Those who have seen his interviews can hear his boisterous cigar stained voice in the writing. It is uncompromising, wild, tough, and goes right at you, giving a fresh perspective on a great, often under appreciated artist, while delivering a slam-bang read.


Copies of Brainquake are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.