An Interview with Jeff Vorzimmer, Editor of ‘The Best of Manhunt 2’

9781951473051The Best Of Manhunt, a collection of over twenty-five stories from the great crime fiction magazine of the fifties and sixties, was one of our most popular anthologies. We were happy the demand caused a follow up with The Best of Manhunt 2, knowing there were still wonderful crime stories from Manhunt that hadn’t been republished. Editor Jeff Vorzimmer talked with us about making the second dive in.

Scott Montgomery: Besides there being so much great Manhunt material still left to dive into, what made you take on the task again?

Jeff Vorzimmer: We had so many stories left over we couldn’t squeeze into the first volume and the fact that we had so many advance orders on the first volume, it just seemed like a no-brainer. The original selections were decided on by Bill Pronzini, me and Peter Enfantino. Bill and Peter are the only two people I know who have read every Manhunt story. The only thing I insisted on was including every story in the Manhunt anthology published in 1958, but I also wanted to include enough other great Manhunt stories so that any potential reader who had read that volume would still find our anthology worth buying. But I guess the biggest reason for the second volume was that we hadn’t included ten or so of the twenty-seven stories that Bill had wanted to include. Ultimately we included seven more of his selections in the second anthology. A few I vetoed, two sci-fi stories, for example, and two where the author estates didn’t want to include stories.

SM: Do you see any kind of defining differences in the two volumes?

JV: When we did the first volume, we knew that we had to include stories by big-name authors as a draw, which, unfortunately squeezed out a lot of equally good, if not better, stories by lesser-known authors. We knew that if the first volume sold well, we could include these really great stories in a follow up volume, since we would already have an audience, who would trust us enough to read a volume of stories, some of which were by lesser-known authors.

SM: Who are some lesser known authors you were happy to include here?

JV: Jack Ritchie (again), C. L. Sweeney, Robert Edmond Alter (one of my favorite authors) and Edward D. Hoch, who you wouldn’t know unless you were an avid reader of mystery magazines or short story anthologies in the 60s and 70s.

SM: Was there a particular story you wanted in the first one that you put in this one?

JV: Oh, yes, and they were all Bill Pronzini selections—“Protection” by Erle Stanly Gardner, “A Question of Values” by C. L. Sweeney, “Shatter Proof” by Jack Ritchie and “The Old Pro” by H. A. DeRosso, the famous western author.

SM: I was happy to see you had a story featuring William Campbell Gault’s Joe Puma. What do you enjoy about his writing?

JV: Another of Bill Prozini’s selections I had originally wanted to include in the first volume. Part of my growing up was in California in the early- to mid-60s and Gault really captures the essence of what L.A. was like back then. He includes details like the names of real clubs and restaurants.

SM: You also edited a book that unearthed three books about beats. What drew you to that?

JV: As I mentioned, part of my growing up was in California in the early sixties in the L.A. area and in Carmel. At the time Carmel had a laid-back, artist colony vibe to it. Rent was cheap then and the beatniks would gather on the beach every night around bonfires. Joan Baez lived there with her sister Mimi and Mimi’s husband Richard Fariña and Dylan for a while. I thought they were all so cool. I grew up reading Kerouac, Ginsberg, Brautigan, Braly and Ferlinghetti. It was later I discovered Beats-ploitation books—books that were written to cash in on the whole beatnik craze as it went mainstream. These books were, for the most part, crudely-drawn caricatures of the beatnik scene, but yet there was more of a feeling of what it was really like since these writers were as intent on recreating the whole milieu as they were on any story line. I thought it would be fun to reprint some of them.

SM: Any plans for The Best of Manhunt 3?

JV: It’s a good possibility. There are enough good stories left. Peter Enfantino is pushing for it. He and I are currently working on The Manhunt Companion, a book of capsule reviews of every Manhunt story as well as a complete content list of every issue and various indices. There’s even a list of every TV episode created from Manhunt stories. It’s due out in March of next year.


The Best of Manhunt and The Best of Manhunt 2 are available for purchase in-store and online now.

About Jeff Vorzimmer: Jeff Vorzimmer is the editor of The Best of Manhunt. He spent twenty years at The Austin American-Statesman and is currently a member of the team at Stark House Press. His writing has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2600 and Cool and Strange Music.

Crime Fiction Friday: ‘The Little Angel’ by Billy Kring

We are happy to have Billy Kring’s latest Hunter Kincaid novel, A Cinnabar Sky, on our shelves. Even better, he wrote a short story featuring a border patrol agent in the time of COVID for our Crime Fiction Friday. Settle in and enjoy.


The Little Angel

Hunter and Raymond squatted on their heels Indian style behind a clump of greasewood to observe the crowd below them on the bank of the Rio Grande. Both Border Patrol agents wore their face masks to protect each other during the pandemic, both of the masks were a desert camo fabric. 

At the edge of the crowd, a man stood on a ledge of rock and orated to them like a preacher, using wide arm gestures and other theatrical hand movements to lure the people closer. He wore no mask, but everyone in the crowd did. Hunter could hear him, but Raymond could not. “Too many gunshots with no ear protection,” he’d said.

Hunter said, “You’re not missing much. Guy calls himself Colonel Hardin, of the Light Brigade.”

 “As in, ‘The Charge of’?”

She pointed, “Look over there, his two assistants are unfurling a banner on the side of the mini-van.” Two women in sequined one-piece bathing suits hung a bright red and yellow banner on the vehicle. It read, Colonel Hardin’s Patented Corona-Virus Cure. Raymond read it out loud, “Made from rare jungle plants and special minerals only found at the peak of the Andes where the Amazon River originates. Blended by medicine men and chemists, and guaranteed as a cure to COVID-19, leprosy, and cancer.”

“No wonder he’s down here pedaling that stuff.” The crowd was good-sized for this area of the Big Bend country, and the two agents studied the men and women comprising it. Hunter spotted one woman off to the side, standing quietly and leaning on a wooden cane as she watched Colonel Hardin. There’s something about her, Hunter thought, then her attention returned to Hardin as he continued his sales pitch. 

Hardin spoke in perfect Spanish, saying, “We have with us today, a distressed individual riddled with the Corona-virus, and on death’s door. He was brought on a burro from a village at the foothills of the Sierra Madres, and he has barely made it with his life.” The man was grey-faced and sallow, and panted as he struggled to breathe.

Several people carried him on a stretcher to the ledge of rock and placed him at Hardin’s feet. Hardin knelt beside the cot, and the crowd pushed forward, all except the woman on the cane. 

Hunter stood up, “Let’s go down there and see this miracle worker up close.” 

Raymond stood, “As you wish.”

“You watched The Princess Bride again last night, didn’t you?”

“With my two nieces. It was great.”

“How many times have you seen it?”

“How many times has it been on television?” Hunter grinned, shaking her head.

They were off the hill in no time, coming to the crowd and having the people part when they spotted the badges. Hunter went first and was at the rock ledge when Hardin gave the wheezing man a small bottle of elixir. Hunter looked at his face as he glanced at the crowd. Light brown eyes in greyish skin showed his illness. He turned it up and drank a swallow, then staggered backward, almost going off the ledge. Hardin moved closer, and was a foot away from Hunter when he turned his eyes to her.

She felt the shock, for they were the blackest she had ever seen. The crowd rustled behind her, and Raymond was suddenly beside her so close their arms touched. Hardin frowned at him, and made a gesture at Raymond’s face, like opening all his fingers, and Raymond’s mask fell to the ground, and the man blew into Raymond’s face.

The sick man rolled to his feet and stood, and his eyes had changed and were as black as sin. A woman gasped and backed away from the ledge as she crossed herself.  

That was when the little woman with the cane nudged through the crowd and stood at the rock ledge by Hunter. Hardin backed from her, making a sound almost like a hiss. The woman said to him, “It is time for you to leave.” She didn’t shout it, but the man left without another word, driving away in the van, and leaving the river bank as if no one else had been there.

The crowd’s mood seemed to lift, and they also dispersed, leaving only Hunter, Raymond, and the small woman. Hunter asked her, “What is your name?”

“Angelina.” She was tiny, maybe five feet tall at the most, but her eyes were lively and she had beautiful smile. “I’ll be going now.”

“Do you live around here? We can give you a ride.”

“No need. I’m from just around the corner.” She touched both Hunter and Raymond in farewell, then left them, walking downriver from their position.

It was two weeks later when Raymond came down with Coronavirus, and came down bad with it. He struggled to breathe, and ran a fever that had him delirious, talking about the devil, and angels, mumbling and coughing in his fever dreams.

When Hunter, and Connie, Raymond’s wife sat together and worried about if he would die or not, A knock came on Connie’s door, and when she opened it, Angelina, the small woman from the river was there. She smiled and talked to both, then asked if she could see Raymond. Connie said, “He’s contagious, and not talking right now.” She cried, “We aren’t sure if he will make it through the night.”

Angelina reassured her that she was immune to Corona, and would only be a moment, so Connie let her enter. When she came out of the bedroom, she smiled at both of them and said, “He seems to be breathing better. Good night.”

Raymond recovered rapidly, and before long, he complained because his bosses wouldn’t allow him to go back to work for a few more days.

Hunter felt as if a big weight had been lifted, now that she knew her best friend was going to be okay. On a whim the next day at work, Hunter drove down to the river, where Hardin had been situated. She turned downstream, wanting to see if she could locate Angelina. Around the river’s curve were the long-abandoned ruins of a small village church, and a cemetery. One Grave marker remained from all the years that floods had washed over the location. She walked to it and read the inscription: Angelina Milagro, born 1801 died 1888 – The angel who watches over our town.

Hunter sat down on the grass, took off her hat and remained there for ten minutes, touching the stone. Then she rose, dusted off her pants and said, “Thank you, Angelina.”


You can find more from Billy Kring when shop at BookPeople in-store and online.

MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month: ‘The Galway Epiphany’ by Ken Bruen

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott M.  reviews The Galway Epiphany by Ken Bruen, MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month for November. Read more below.

 
9780802157034_ee1dbThere were reports last year that Galway Girl would be the last last novel in Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series. Luckily, that was a rumor. The misanthropic Galway detective is back in one of his best yet with The Galway Epiphany. And while Taylor may have found a better outlook on his life, but it’s still a bleak life.
 
We find Jack possibly at his most peaceful, living on the country estate of his friend, ex-Rolling Stones roadie and hawk trainer, Keefer. A trip of personal affairs brings him back to Galway where he is hit by a truck and robbed by two children as he passes out. He awakens in the hospital unscathed and is soon hired by a questionable order of nuns to find the two kids, who Jack learns are two refugees from Guatemala deemed “miracle children.” The trail puts him up against an arsonist and he is also hired to avenge a young girl’s suicide caused by a cyber-bully. As Jack learns more about the children, he discovers two kids who were molded into sociopaths, particularly the girl, Sara. To say more would ruin the emotional jolts the author designed.
 
Bruen uses all of the tropes he has established in the series to deliver something in relationship to the progress Taylor has made. He knows we don’t want a chipper Jack. The sudden brutal violence, black humor and the dark journeys to the heart are all there. Now they become a bigger threat to Taylor, who has a newfound and fragile sense of himself. He has become less victim and more survivor. All of it is put in a precarious position as he is pushed to a hellish decision.
 
Many look at Jack Taylor as an anti-hero, but his world is making him a hero. Much like Sara, circumstances have hardened him to do the dirtiest of jobs. However, probably due to being an avid reader, they have not not obliterated his heart or empathy to be the Chandler tarnished knight when the chips are down as his cases in The Galway Epiphany run along the backdrop of Trump and Brexit news barreling near the COVID-19 discovery. Let’s hope Ken Bruen keeps Jack around for our time.

The Galway Epiphany and other titles mentioned in this post are available at BookPeople in-store and online now.
 
About the Author: Ken Bruen imagereceived a doctorate in metaphysics, taught English in South Africa, and then became a crime novelist. The critically acclaimed author of twelve previous Jack Taylor novels and The White Trilogy, he is the recipient of two Barry Awards and two Shamus Awards and has twice been a finalist for the Edgar Award. He lives in Galway, Ireland.

MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month: Next To Last Stand

MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month is Craig Johnson’s Next To Last Stand. Read on for Scott M.’s thoughts on the latest Sheriff Longmire caper.


9780525522539_90cdc“Unless you know your craft, you can not express your art.” – Alfred Hitchcock

This quote kept popping up in my mind, starting at page one and all the way to the final sentence of Craig Johnson’s latest Sheriff Walt Longmire novel, Next To Last Stand. Johnson tells this story with such a light and humorous touch, it can be easy to miss many of the themes and ideas he explores, seeing it as one of his “funny books.” That said, you would be numb to miss the emotion those themes touch.
It begins with Walt chatting with The Wavers, a group of elderly vets who sit in their souped-up wheelchairs outside the Wyoming Home For Sailors And Soldiers, waving at passing motorists. In Walt’s position we view and understand these men the traveling families don’t see through their windshield. It subtly leads into one of the main themes of the book concerning men who will never stop being soldiers.
One of the Wavers, Charlie Lee Stillwater has passed. A Black vet and amateur student of western history and art, Charlie was a favorite of Walt’s daughter Cady. He appears to have died of natural causes. The mystery concerns a million dollars found under his bed in a shoebox.
Also found in Charlie’s room is an artist’s study of a cavalry soldier fighting a Native American. Walt soon matches it to the painting Custer’s Last Fight by Cassilly Adams, made famous by the Anheuser Busch company from the reprints they sent to practically every bar in the country. History says the original burned up in a fire at Fort Bliss in 1946. However, that may not be the case and Charlie may have had the painting in his possession, brokering a deal. Soon Walt is plunged into the western art world, dealing with high Wyoming society, dangerous Russians, and history versus legend.
Johnson may have given mystery fiction its best MacGuffin since The Maltese Falcon. The painting itself holds a fascinating history that engages both Walt and the reader, his deputy and lover, Vic, not so much. It also has him donning a tux to go undercover at an art auction with comic results. Also, much like The Maltese Falcon, Johnson makes one of the mysteries concern its actual existence.
It also serves as a touchstone for many of the book’s themes. One is the “Print The Legend” controversy often associated with the west. The painting itself holds many inaccuracies, including Custer wearing his hair long and the attacking tribes having shields that were more appropriately carried by Zulu warriors in Africa. One of the funnier chapters has Walt struggling to explain what he was taught about the battle to Vic while his Cheyenne buddy Henry Standing constantly lobs history from the Native American point of view all while the highly inaccurate Custer Of The West plays on the TV above the bar.
He also uses painting and plot to examine the ghosts combatants carry when the war is over. Craig ties this to what Walt is dealing with from the events that occurred in Depth Of Winter that has brought out his darker side of him, partly created by his Vietnam experience. A wonderful moment that ties these themes together occurs during a chess game with Walt and his predecessor Lucian, a World War Two vet, as they discuss how the many famous battles are lost ones.
The book ends poignantly, in a sentence he sets up for in the beginning and alludes to at certain points without drawing attention. Between these chapters is an entertaining yarn of art, history, old soldiers, and the battles they continue to fight. Ironically, his craft has created a finer piece of art than the historic painting he writes about.

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Next To Last Stand is available for purchase in-store or online from BookPeople today.

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Above the Influence: An Interview with Joe R. Lansdale

9780316479912_22712Joe R. Lansdale’s latest, More Better Deals, takes a few cues from one of his influences—James M. Cain—who gave us one of the great templates of noir with his books The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. This time the male is Ed Edwards, a used car salesman in early sixties East Texas, carrying a family secret. When he goes to repossess a Cadillac, he soon finds himself in the arms of purchaser’s wife, Nancy Craig. She would like to see her husband gone and Ed would like to have her, and the husband’s businesses as well, as part of some insurance money to help his sister. Yes, the set up is familiar, but Lansdale uses it to create a novel wild, funny, and completely his own.
Joe was kind enough to take some questions about the book, Cain, and the effect of where he lives on his writing.

Scott Montgomery: More Better Deals is an homage to one of your favorite writers James M Cain. You once described him as a “clean writer.” What does that mean to you?

Joe R. Lansdale: His prose is uncluttered. He doesn’t even tell you who’s talking, and you always know. He writes tight, little stories without adornment, but his prose is still fast paced and muscular and understandable.

SM: While I see the classic Cain plot setup, the voice, characters, and theme are all yours. How do you try to use your influences in your work?
JRL: Well, this is a more obvious one than usual. I have wanted to play with the Cain structure—at least the one he developed for his two signature books in my view, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twicethen undercurrent it with social commentary without it being too overwhelming, and I wanted to give it my voice and more humor, though it is certainly dark humor.
SM: The setting puts a fine spin on the template. What about East Texas makes it skew a story in a different way?
JRL: It’s my background, and East Texas to me is far more interesting than Los Angeles because it can be deceptive. It’s wooded and lots of water and hospitality, but underneath that hospitality is a razor’s edge and a turd in the punch bowl. Not everyone, of course. Like anywhere, East Texas is a mix of good and bad, but I’m writing crime novels, so the bad are more prominent, but I think there’s a kind of squirming difference here, a mild gothic undertone due to Southern roots, and it not being like the myth of Texas. No deserts, no mountains in this corner of the state. Woods and water and smiling racism, and the old days police work with a black jack and a phone book.
SM: Ed carries a secret that takes this out of the normal Cain template. Were you aware of that going into the story or did it develop as it went along?
JRL : I knew it going in. I don’t know that I thought about it consciously, but I knew.
S.M. : How did you approach Nancy so she wouldn’t be the standard femme fatale?
JRL: I  based her on people I knew, who I’m sure didn’t commit murder, but who had inclinations for something better but were living in a time when a female brain surgeon, or any kind of job of that ilk was generally out of the reach of ambitious and smart women. I thought of Nancy as being the kind of woman that had she had a different upbringing and a chance at greater education might well have been more successful, even in those times. I envisioned her as having a burning hunger for what she didn’t get to do, and that, along with her background, gave her a less savory viewpoint.
SM: You also released a very funny road trip book. Jane Goes North. What inspired that story?
JRL: I’m not sure what inspired that. I have written about road trips before and I enjoy books and films about road trips, and it developed out of that. To very different characters traveling across country for very different reasons, not really wanting to be together, but being forced together. They were also the type that were so constantly disappointed that even the most absurd event that occurred they were not truly surprised or shocked. I wanted to write a kind of insane fable. I think they were both good people who had made bad choices and couldn’t get out of what I’ve seen so many people fall into. The repeat of past mistakes with the mythology that next time it’ll work out, when of course repeating mistakes rarely leads to a different outcome. The road trip was their break with those mistakes and a kind of revelation for them. I had so much fun with that book and consider it one of my best.

More Better Deals is available at BookPeople in-store and online now.

“…Pulled through the mud on a short rope.” — An Interview with James Wade, author of ‘All Things Left Wild’

Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott M., sat down with author James Wade ahead of Wade’s virtual event with BookPeople on Thursday, June 18th at 7PM CDT. The two discuss the novel’s main themes and talk a bit about the narrative choices made. It’s a novel at the top of MysteryPeople’s favorites of June 2020.
Read the interview below.

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All Things Left Wild (2020)

James Wade sets his take on the vengeance tale, All Things Left Wild, in a place and people caught between the fault lines of two periods. In 1910 Texas, Caleb Bently is on the run toward Mexico after his older brother, Shelby, kills the son of Randall Dawson when they attempt to rustle horses from the man’s ranch. Goded by his wife, Dawson, more poet and scholar than gunman and cowboy, pursues them with the help of a ranch hand, Tadpole, and Charlotte, a Black woman who knows her way around a pistol. As the two parties close in, they travel across borders of land, identity, and societal norms.

Mr. Wade was kind enough to talk about his world and the people and ideas he populated it with.

Scott Montgomery: How did you choose the particular time period for All Things Left Wild?

James Wade: I liked 1910 for the book because it’s a great example of the disconnect between the “civilized” America we think of by that point in history and the American West, which stayed wild for much longer than the rest of the country. That was due in part to the geographic challenges and lack of transportation infrastructure, but there were also murky legal standards because much of the Southwest was still divided into territories rather than states. This is also the year when political tensions in Mexico boiled over into the first battles of the Mexican Revolution.
So it was a tumultuous time, but something I hoped to show is how even during historical turning points, individuals are still struggling with very personal, very human issues. We tend to think of people in the past only as they relate to whatever event or movement was taking place at that time. In reality, most people were also dealing with the same issues we face: family, finances, finding a purpose, etc. But those things obviously don’t take up the same historical real estate, so they aren’t focused on as much.
SM: Like Blood Meridian, this book uses a historical period to create an other worldly feel. How did you use research of the time to build your fictional world?
JW: Researching this time period was fascinating. The country was only one generation removed from the Civil War, and yet it was also at the beginning of what would be the most remarkable century of progress in human history. We were essentially trying to find our footing as a nation, while also seeing the world around us modernize at an unprecedented pace. This sort of disruptive technology, disruptive forward momentum, is something we’ve dealt with ever since. And in the Southwest, you had a remarkably large, unregulated swath of land and resources. This became a breeding ground for corruption. And, as a result, we begin to see the gap between rich and poor growing rapidly during this time– much like it has in recent years. From the post-Civil War 1870s through the Great Depression, the country saw a massive income inequality, which led to economic anxieties, which ultimately led to more crime. I tried to create a world where economic tension was always present in the background. For example, almost every supporting character we encounter is poor. And if they are rich or have power, they are most likely corrupt.  
SM: Did splitting the point of view between Caleb and Randall provide any challenges?
JW: I actually believe the split narrative made it a little easier to tell the story, and certainly made it easier to create some of the moral ambiguity I was hoping for. I wanted readers to get to know both characters, and see the flaws and redemptive qualities of both of these men, then have to decide who was right and who was wrong– or decide if it was more complicated than that. The decision to have Caleb tell his story in first-person, and Randall’s story be told in third-person, was based on the evolution of the characters. Caleb, despite his youth, pretty much knows who he is, and pretty much understands the way of the world. So he is competent enough to tell his side of things. Randall goes through a confusing transformation, which makes it more appropriate for someone else to describe, as Randall himself may not quite understand what’s happening to him until much later.
SM: Male identity plays a big part of the novel. What did you want to explore with that theme?
JW: Another great question, and a theme that no one else has asked about yet. I definitely wanted male identity, particularly conventional masculinity, to be pulled through the mud on a short rope. Almost all of the women in the novel come off as more rational, mentally tougher, and more patient, than the men. That wasn’t on accident. One of the real tragedies, in my opinion, is the shift we see that takes place in Randall. He starts out as a kind, sensitive man, but the circumstances and the world essentially turn him into a much different person by the story’s end. The tragic arc of Tad’s character is driven by his need be a conventional, masculine hero. With Shelby, he sees fear as a type of power to hold over others– another masculine trope. Even Randall’s wife plays a role in the perpetuation of toxic masculinity by chiding Randall for not being “manly” enough, which Charlotte later debunks as foolishness. Basically, the pitfalls of male identity are all over the book, and I hope folks take notice.
SM: One of your stand out characters is Charlotte. How did you construct her?
JW: There’s a strength to almost all the women in the novel, but certainly Charlotte is the bellwether of that strength. Her character was built by asking myself: who is the complete opposite of Randall in terms of wealth, privilege, and survival skills? Charlotte– a poor, black female, gunslinger– fit the bill. But once I wrote her first scene, I started to expand on her past and her experiences, and I think it really opened her up more and better informed her eventual relationship to Randall and Tad. Her ability to be a badass, but also maintain a softness for the world, is something that sets her apart from most of the other characters.
SM: Much of the violence is described very swiftly and often happens off page. What prompted this approach?
JW: I went back and forth on this, particularly the shootout between the Lobos and the Rangers, but decided to have some violent portions of the story take place off page for a couple of reasons. One, there is still a good deal of violence that is described, and I didn’t want to lessen the impact or significance of those scenes by having the reader become numb to it. And two, the majority of violence in the world is not some Hollywood, dramatized event. Rather, it’s quick and shocking and then it’s over and we’re left to pick up the pieces. One of the less visible themes of the novel is how we all believe our stories are the only stories or the most important stories, but to everyone else, it’s just another story. One of the few times– maybe the only time– I put my foot down during the editing process was insisting we keep the scene where two nameless Rangers are having a conversation in the aftermath of the big shootout. For readers, something huge has just happened, but for the Rangers– who are much further removed from the story– it’s a pretty casual day at the office. Playing with the notion of what the reader gets to “see” and what they don’t, is another way of driving home the point that the world doesn’t bend itself to our narratives.

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All Things Left Wild author, James Wade


All Things Left Wild is available for purchase from BookPeople today. And don’t forget to register for our free virtual event with James Wade on Thursday, June 18th at 7PM CDT.

NOTE: Because this is a virtual event that will be hosted on Zoom, you will need access to a computer or other device that is capable of accessing and sufficient Internet access. If you have not used Zoom before, you may consider referencing Getting Started with Zoom.

Scott M. Reviews Laird Barron’s ‘Worse Angels’

Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, reviews Laird Barron’s latest, Worse Angels. Read his glowing review and be sure to catch Laird Barron and Scott live on Zoom, Monday, June 22nd at 7PM CDT. More details can be found here.


9780593084991_22075Not only does Laird Barron serve up a kick ass hard-boiled series with his character Isaiah Coleridge, he examines different aspects of the genre and even storytelling itself. The saga of the former mob enforcer, not trying to do good as a private detective, finds both emotional depth and genre commentary through his journey. In his latest, Worse Angels, Isaiah must deal with the fate of the anti-hero and the price to be paid.

Isaiah is hired by  Badja Adeyemi, a former dirty cop heading to prison for his involvement in a scandal connected to his boss Senator Gerald Redlick. Adeyemi’s nephew dies working on a super collider project the senator was behind. The death is ruled a suicide, but all the facts don’t add up. He wants a badass to look into it.
Coleridge and his partner Lionel Robard go to the upstate New York town to where the collider project has stalled. The citizen’s are tight lipped and it takes some work to get some answers, not all of it by the rules. They get deeper into a plot involving a cult and weird science.
Barron doesn’t just dive into crime fiction, he shades it with horror, sci-fi, and even fantasy. Fans of his pre-Isiah work could see this a him returning to earlier weird fiction form a little. It all allows him to look at the anti-hero in all forms. He references the character types’ place in literature, film, and other media, including a salute to Mike Grell’s comic book Warlord.
He never allows it to get too meta, applying it to Isaiah’s own struggle. As somebody who has tried to change his life to be a servant for good, he finds that his darker nature can best solve the problem. He also wonders what he is handing down to Devlim, the son of his girlfriend Meg. Isaiah has become more aware he is most effective in taking on the worst of the worst is when he unleashed his own demons.
Barron deftly uses this theme as a thread to sew Isaiah’s external conflicts. He gives us no easy answers about fighting evil on its level. He doesn’t judge Isaiah’s actions. He does ask us to consider the price that is paid when those actions are taken.
For Further Reading:

Worse Angels is available from BookPeople today. Purchasing from BookPeople automatically registers you to attend our virtual event with Laird Barron on Monday, June 22nd at 7PM CDT.

A Certain Kind of Ruthlessness: An Interview with Scott Phillips

9781641291095_f585dScott Phillips is one of those authors other authors revere (or are downright jealous of). He often uses the crime novel as a frame for satire, but never lets his characters simply fall into types or symbols. His latest target is Southern California with attorney Douglas Rigby, who lost all of his money, actually his last client’s money, on a drug deal. To get it back, he hatches an art fraud scheme involving his wife, mistress, and a forger dealing with a painting owned by the client, Glenn Haskill, a t.v. producer in sixties and seventies with fond memories of his casting couch. The book is funny, profane, and engaging as all hell. Scott will be joining Jon Bassoff and Jason Pinter for our Crime Writing Outside The Lines discussion on March 16th, but went solo for this interview we did with him.


Scott Montgomery: You’re mainly known for covering the Midwest, what set your sights on L.A.?

Scott Phillips: I lived there for more than a decade. It’s really about Ventura and Santa Barbara than LA, about an hour to two hours away, depending on traffic.  I think I can only write well about places I’ve lived or spent lots of time. Parts of this one are set in St. Louis, where I live now. This was one I couldn’t have set entirely in the Midwest — the old TV producer, Haskill, wouldn’t have fit in, for one thing. Also the desperation of the real estate business and the equally desperate need for a certain kind of Southern Californian to maintain a level of conspicuous consumption.

SM: What is the major difference in writing about the two areas?

SP: There’s a certain kind of ruthlessness to life in Southern California, be it show business or real estate or the law or getting your kids into the right school.

SM: How did you come upon art fraud as the center of the story?

SP: I’ve always wanted to write a book about art forgery. Forgers like van Meegeren, the Vermeer forger who’s mentioned in the book, and Elmyr de Hory, about whom Orson Welles made his documentary F for Fake, have always fascinated me. Originally the book was much more about the forgery and the relationship between Paula Rigby and the old forger, but that didn’t work for me so I trimmed it way back and made it more of a crime novel.

 

SM: This crime novel has even more moving parts to it than The Ice Harvest and The Rake. How do you approach something like this without the characters being drowned out by the plotting?
SP: As I said, this book was originally much more about the forger and Paula, with the other characters being much more minor. When I started concentrating on the plot, each of the characters started taking on more heft. Because a character like Keith, the golf pro, becomes more important to moving the plot forward (one thing I always knew was that he and Rigby were going to have a beat down of some kind), I have to dig a little deeper and figure out what motivates him.

SM: Glenn, the old producer, is a character I like despite myself. How did you go about constructing him.

SP: One thing that I love about Southern California is the presence of the ghosts of Hollywood. I know and knew some old character actors, and they all had great stories about the old days in TV and movies. The fact is that predatory creeps like Haskill were all over the place then, and they’re all over the place now, as the Weinstein trial just demonstrated. Haskill’s not based on any one person, but there were lots of guys just like him. I wanted him to have a little kernel of humanity, which shows through his devotion towards his nephew back in the Midwest, a devotion that doesn’t work out very well for him.

SM: I was happy to hear that SOHO is also reprinting two of your earlier books, The Walkaway and Cottonwood. How would you describe these books, particularly

SP: The Walkaway is a followup to The Ice Harvest, more than a sequel. I started with the premise of the money in the satchel–what happens to that money? It all started one day when I was getting on the 405 freeway near the VA hospital (where my grandfather used to work as a barber) and I saw an elderly man in a suit trying to hitch a ride on the onramp. Later it occured to me that he might have been attending a funeral at the National Cemetery nearby, or he might have just walked out of the VA hospital. SO that was the hook: man with dementia walks out of a nursing home looking for some money he vaguely remembers having hidden years earlier. Cottonwood is the story of the Bloody Benders, serial killers on the Kansas prairie, and it’s also the story of the birth of a town. Its protagonist, Bill Ogden, is the ancestor of a lot of characters in my other books, mostly illegitimately. I’m really grateful to SOHO for bringing them back.


That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available for purchase in-store and online today through BookPeople. And be sure to catch Scott Phillips alongside Jason Pinter and Jon Bassoff for MysteryPeople’s Crime Writing Outside the Lines discussion of crime fiction on March 16th at 7PM!

Three Picks for March

Scott Phillips returns with a conniving lawyer at the end of his rope when he loses his only client’s money on a drug deal gone bad. To get back in the black and ahead he hatches an art fraud scheme that depends on a forger, his wife, and his mistress. Tight, funny, and populated with the sleaze bags he writes so well, this caper novel skewers L.A. life with precision. Scott will be joining Don Bassoff and Jason Pinter for our Writing Outside The Lines discussion at BookPeople on March 16th at 7PM.
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The Lantern Man by Jon Bassoff
Bassoff mixes psycho-noir with the gothic tale in the tragic story of the Grenier siblings in Leadville, Colorado. After one is drowned in front of the other two, the brother is arrested for murdering a classmate. The remaining sister’s charred body is found in a burned up cabin along with her diary in a safe that proves nothing may be as it seems. Bassoff uses the diary, newspaper clippings, and other media along with his moody prose style to deliver a unique thriller with one hell of  reveal. Jon will also be at the Writing Outside The Lines Discussion on March 16th.
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Are Snakes Necessary? by Brian DePalma & Susan Lehman
The acclaimed director of films like Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, and The Untouchables collaborates in prose for this entertaining potboiler of a photographer, his two lovers, and a ruthless senator’s aid who weave around each other in a tale of sex, politics, and murder. The book contains the style, pace, and quirky, dark humor of many of the director’s films.
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You can shop for all three titles in-store and online this month at BookPeople. And be sure to catch Scott Phillips and Jon Bassoff in-store for their MysteryPeople-hosted panel discussion on March 16th at 7PM.

Tight and Tough: A Review of “Trouble Is What I Do”

MysteryPeople’s Scott Montogmery review’s Walter Mosley’s latest Leonid McGill novel, Trouble Is What I Do.

9781549121296_62c66Leonid McGill is quite possibly my favorite Walter Mosely creation. The ex-boxer and former underworld “fixer” who now tries his best to do honest work as a private detective, often reverting to his old ways to get the job done. Leonid is tough, capable, funny, and knows the score. It’s a joy to have him back in the short novel, Trouble Is What I Do.
An elderly black bluesman, Catfish Weary, hires Leonid, on a referral from an assassin McGill crossed paths with. He needs the detective to get a letter he promised to deliver from an old lover to a granddaughter about to be married, revealing her mixed race she knows nothing about. In McGill’s way is the woman’s well connected banker father, who can’t afford to have the secret out. In fact, right after he hires McGil, someone puts three bullets into him. Leonid hits the streets with some of his associates, including his son Twill, who is even more of a rogue — working hustles, alliances, and underground contacts to get around the power broker and his minions.
Mosely demonstrates his brilliance in creating worlds that exist under or to the side of the mainstream one. Leonid McGill negotiates his quest through a colorful array of criminals, killers, and street personalities. They make up a shadow city where everything could end, including your life, with the wrong step or word. It is how our hero moves through it that makes him so cool.
Leonid McGill and Walter Mosley carry this tale on a wonderful voice. McGill’s dialogue and interior thought have the ring of electric blues, capturing his life’s humor, humanity, and violence. It’s great to have this visit with him. I hope he comes around more often.

Trouble Is What I Do is now available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.