MysteryPeople Double Feature: COUP DE TORCHON

This Sunday, June 7th, at 6:30 P.M., MysteryPeople presents a screening of Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon, the film adaptation of Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, followed by a discussion of the book and film. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.


Nobody understands noir like the French, which makes sense since they coined the term. The get that noir does not so much represent literary style, but rather stands for the relationship man has to the darker side of his nature. Director Bertrand Tavernier’s Coupe De Torchon, an adaption of Jim Thompson’s gothic noir classic, Pop. 1280, takes the dark American fiction that inspired French literary theorists to introduce the term “noir” post-WWII, and puts it on screen in a French context that preserves all the complexity of the original novel.

Pop. 1280 is almost a play on one of his other revered novels, The Killer Inside Me. As in that novel, the protagonist is a questionable small town lawman, Nick Corey, sheriff of the small Southern county of Potts in the Nineteen-Teens. Nick is lazy, talkative, corrupt, and upon first meeting, appears incompetent. He’s Forrest Gump with a badge, gun, and few scruples. When he shoots two pimps who publicly humiliate him, it starts an escalation of violence and a power play involving his wife, mistress, an opposing Sheriff candidate, and the disenfranchised African Americans. The book often reads as a social satire,with murder as a redemptive act.

Coupe De Torchon moves the setting to French Colonial West Africa on the eve of World War Two. The lawman is Lucien Cordier, a village constable played in a bumbling low key demeanor by Phillipe Noiret. The film follows the book almost plot point by plot point, the setting fits perfectly for the sheriff’s benign brutality as he commits crimes in the glaring African light with a matter-of-fact-presentation.

In fact, the main difference is the film’s more reserved tone. Much of this may be translation, for little of Thompson’s ripe prose and Southern dialogue comes through clearly in the film, although the film compensates for the translated dialogue with physical humor that feels very French. That said, it captures the novel’s themes of class and one society repressing another, both with more clarity and slyness. The title is roughly translated into “A Clean Slate”, which fits perfectly as the film and novel are both looks at regeneration through violence.

Coup De Torchon, along with the many other Thompson novels adapted for cinema, proves the malleability of Thompson’s work. The way he looks at violence and the practice of power through violence is timeless and universal in its application to the human condition. Both the novelist and the filmmaker he inspired had a lot to sat about this subject.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence to Book (Out Of 5):

4.5

Adherence to Quality Of Book:

4 (Not As Humorous)

Other Reading:

They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross, Donnybrook by Frank Bill, and anything by Daniel Woodrell

Other Movies:

The Bride Wore Black, Macon County Line, Mississippi Mermaid, Black and White in Color

Fun Fact:

When Pop. 1280 was translated into French, the title became Pop. 1275. Tavernier joked “I don’t know what happened to those five people  on the trip over.”

Copies of Thompson’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Coup de Torchon on Sunday, June 7th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast.

MysteryPeople Review: DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK by Bill Loehfelm

doing the devil's work

Books are, even in today’s world, still the best narrative medium for contemplation. The reader has enough control to stop and extrapolate a bigger idea after a sentence, allowing the reader and book to have a dialogue. Prose gives both an intimacy and distance to take in everything intellectually and emotionally, allowing us to draw further conclusions.

I was reminded of this from a dialogue exchange in Bill Loehfelm’s Doing The Devil’s Work, the latest with cocktail-waitress-turned-New-Orleans-policewoman Maureen Coughlin. Halfway through, Maureen realizes she’s been pulled into a bribery exchange to protect the heir to an old money family. When she argues with her fellow officer, Quinn, for getting her into this, she refers to the poor, minority area she patrols –

“Ask the folks on Magnolia Street what good people Caleb Heath is.”

Quinn’s reply- “Fuck them. Why don’t I ask what they think about you, or anybody in uniform while I’m at it.”

That quick moment made me think about how the division between police and some of the the lower class communities they patrol can encourage corruption. By making those people the other, it becomes easier to collude with the upper class, being co-opted as enforcers for the rich and powerful.

Doing The Devil’s Work is obsessed by this idea and explores it with nuance. The story begins with what starts out as a routine traffic stop with a couple after she’s discovered a body. Loehfelm captures the mix of dread and humiliation when pulling over a belligerent person. When she arrests the man and holds the woman, she gets pulled into and compromised by a plot involving militia groups, a drug dealer she’s been wanting to bust, the obnoxious rich boy Caleb Heath, and her fellow officers.

It’s this look at city corruption that makes this book a standout. By making Coughlin a street cop, new to the streets as both citizen and cop, we get a ground level view of corruption and its impact. For Maureen to survive on the job where she has to rely on her fellow officers, she has to compromise herself in the go-along-to-get-along understanding of her department. It makes it close to impossible for her to draw the line. It’s her ability to to see herself in those she patrols that allows her draw her own lines.

Doing The Devil’s Work is like mixing The Wire with Treme together. It gives you a feel for one of this country’s most atmospheric cities while looking at its cycle of corruption that both fuels it and holds it back. What makes Maureen a heroine is her messed-up past that allows her to identify with those she serves and sometimes arrests. I’ll be rooting for her to keep that ability in books to come.


You can find copies of Doing The Devil’s Work on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Bill Loehfelm joins us Monday, February 16, for Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s. Come join MysteryPeople for an evening of booze, books, and crime fiction with some of our favorite authors.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE by Lou Berney

long and faraway gone

It’s not too long into reading The Long and Faraway Gone that you sense Lou Berney’s ambition. The plot involves at least three mysteries, two of them taking place over twenty-five years ago and interacting with the present, and the thematics raised have no easy answers. Even with these challenges, the author proves to be more than up for the challenge.

We are introduced to two mysteries that begin in Nineteen-Eighty-Six Oklahoma City. One is the robbery of a movie theater after closing, where all but one worker is executed. The other occurs about a month later at the State Fair when Genevieve, a girl in her late teens, leaves her little sister behind to meet up with a carny. She tells the little girl, she’ll be back soon. She never returns.

Berney then takes us to the present to follow two people struggling with each crime. Wyatt, the survivor of the theater massacre, is working as a private detective in Vegas. A favor sends him back to Oklahoma City to help a former cocktail waitress who inherited a club from a millionaire she used to serve. She thinks she’s being harassed by the man’s relatives to give up the property and needs proof. Still haunted by survivors guilt, he grows more obsessed with the question of why he survived when he learns that the men who were accused may have not been the ones to commit the crime.

We also follow Juliane, the little sister left behind on the midway, also weighted with an unsolved past. Not even knowing if her sister is dead or alive, she has warring feelings toward Genevieve. When she learns the carny her sister left to meet is back in town, she sets herself up as bait.

Both stories run parallel to each other. Do not expect a grand James Ellroy conspiracy tying them together. Bernie leaves the complexity for the emotions, knowing to plot as simply as possible for an elegant effect. He gives us just enough tropes in both the PI and thriller genre and gives us fully realized characters to mark each plotline. The book is more concerned with Wyatt and Juliane coming to terms with their history. Solving the crime is just part of the process. It’s fitting that the setting is post-9/11 New York. It did remind me of Ellroy’s My Dark Places, the memoir of the author looking into his mother’s unsolved murder.

What’s amazing is how such an emotional and meditative narrative never loses a brisk pace. Part of this is done by embedding Wyatt’s case with the bar owner into the story. It gives us a more traditional, involving mystery, while it brushed the two main stories up against one another. His main plan of attack is by focusing on revelations more about the victims than perpetrators. It keeps propelling the book forward while challenging Wyatt and Genevieve’s perceptions about the past and the people they love, allowing the subtext to surface.

The Long and Faraway Gone is a book that aims high and hits the mark. It gives us an involving tale that explores loss, history, and obsession. Its emotions are both nuanced and visceral. I look forward to the next bar Lou Berney sets for himself.


Copies of The Long and Faraway Gone hits the shelves Tuesday, February 10 and is available for pre-order via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople International Crime Fiction Review: BELFAST NOIR & SINGAPORE NOIR

 

– Post by Molly

In 2004, Akashic Books published Brooklyn Noir, their first collection of original noir short stories, set in Brooklyn and written by a combination of local authors and writers from all over. Since that time, Akashic has released collections for almost every major American city and region (including, for Texas, Lone Star Noir and Dallas Noir) and, after covering much of the United States, has moved on to collections set in cities around the world.

Akashic’s motto is “Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World.” Some collections profile the fraught and violent underbellies of some of the world’s most prominent centers of tourism and business. Others focus in on the humanity and humor within a place already possessing a reputation for violence. Whatever the setting, Akashic, in their noir series, succeeds admirably at this goal. Akashic releases new collections faster than I can read them, and alas, I am now woefully behind on my world noir anthologies, but two recent releases from Akashic particularly stood out to me: Belfast Noir and Singapore Noir.

Belfast has always had a rather noir reality, but over the past decade or so, Northern Ireland has also become known for an incredible outpouring of noir fiction, dubbed the “new wave” of Irish crime fiction. Belfast Noir draws upon two of my favorite authors from the region in editing the collection: Adrian McKinty, author the Troubles Trilogy and many other novels, and Stuart Neville, author of The Ghosts of Belfast, Collusion, Ratlines, and most recently, The Final Silence, and includes original crime fiction from many more.

McKinty and Neville, as editors of the collection, have crafted a fine introduction, distilling the past several hundred years of bloody history and a relatively recent economic resurgence down to three pages and a minimalist map. They chose to organize the collection into four sections to reflect Belfast’s changing narrative, post-Troubles: City of Ghosts, City of Walls, City of Commerce, and Brave New City. Each section includes stories by authors as varied as the times and city they represent.

It would take far too long for me to write and you to read a description of what I liked about each story, so I’ll describe just a few. “Taking It Serious,” by Ruth Dudley Edwards, tells the story of a young boy whose mental illness leads him to embrace the motto “Free Ireland” to dangerous levels after his uncle spends a little too much time telling his nephew about the glorious old days of the IRA. In “Belfast Punk Rep,” Glenn Patterson teaches us that not only is Belfast the noirest city in the world, but even the punks of Belfast are a bit more hardcore than anywhere else as well. “The Reservoir,” by Ian McDonald, blends ghost story, murder mystery, and cross-generational smack-down at a wedding for a perfect Northern Irish celebration gone awry.

Steve Cavanagh‘s “The Grey” uses electric meters to tell us a story of love, revenge, and consequences, while Claire McGowan, in “Rosie Grant’s Finger,” writes about teenagers reenacting the high drama of the Northern Irish Troubles in a very, very petty way. Eoin McNamee, in “Corpse Flowers,” structures the story of a young girl’s murder entirely through images seen through cameras, a poetic twist on the surveillance state. Each story, layered on top of the rest, provides another nuanced viewpoint with which to construct a portrait of Belfast today – perhaps not a complete portrait, but a beautifully complex and ever-growing one.

Belfast, with its long history of violence and division, and its more recent history of capitalism run rampant, seems to be an obvious setting for Akashic to have chosen. Singapore’s darkness, however, rests a little more below the surface. As S. J. Rozan writes in her story “Kena Sai,” “Singapore, it’s Disneyland with the death penalty. Jay-walking, gum-chewing, free-thinking: just watch yourselves.”

Many of the stories in Singapore Noir structure their narrative around this contrast between appearance and reality, particularly emphasizing the contrast of luxurious and poverty-stricken settings; the corruption and organized crime behind the facade of democratic government; the city of expats and migrants within the city of Singaporeans. Singapore Noir is edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Singapore native and current New Yorker, who describes Singapore as “the sultry city-state,” and if this description brings to mind the cutthroat Italian city states of the Middle Ages, you’re not far off.

The voices included in this collection are as diverse as the residents of Singapore itself. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s story, “Reel,” tells a story of heat and lust set in the kelongs, old fisheries on stilts, while Colin Goh’s tale “Last Time” takes place in the glittering high rises of the city and involves international pop stars, corrupt businessmen, and powerful mafiosos. Simon Tay, writing as Donald Tee Quee Ho, in his story “Detective in a City with No Crime,” tells the story of an ordinary policeman stuck in a world of interchangeable people, where he can aspire only to lust, and never to love.

Philip Jeyaretnam’s “Strangler Fig” uses the natural environment of Singapore to structure a story of obsession and possession, while Colin Cheong’s “Smile, Singapore” uses a murder mystery to represent all of the frustrations of modern Singaporean society, and also fufills Chekov’s adage that if you introduce a gun in act 1, you had better use it by act 3. Each story is more poetic than the last, and Singapore Noir, like Belfast Noir, once again proves that Akashic Books’ noir series is better than any travel guide.


You can find copies of Singapore Noir and Belfast Noir on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Crime Fiction Friday: THE CALLING, by Gary Phillips

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72
This weekend many of us crime fiction fans are in Long Beach, the site for the 2014 Bouchercon, the international mystery conference. This Crime Fiction Friday gives a nod to the conference with this story set in Long Beach by L.A. writer Gary Phillips. Phillips is one of our favorite writers here at MysteryPeople. The story first appeared in Akashic’s Mondays are Murder series.

“The Calling,” by Gary Phillips

“You’re it, Hank. Who the hell else could I lay this burden on?”

Mark coughs up more blood and I do my best to comfort my dying friend. He’s dressed in a suit I’m quite sure costs more than my parish generates in two months. His leaking blood creates a Rorschach test gone awry on his light blue shirt.

“The ambulance is coming.” I say this even though I don’t hear a siren. Which is ironic, given there’s always a peal around here, in the neighborhood where Mark and I grew up.

He smiles up at me with his red-stained teeth. “We both know that they’ll be too late. Sit me up, will you, and reach into my pocket.”

Click here to read the full story.

MysteryPeople Review: THE WHITE VAN, by Patrick Hoffman

the white vanThe White Van, Patrick Hoffman‘s debut novel, is hard to define in subgenre. It shares the pace and plotting skill of a Jeff Abbott or Meg Gardiner thiller, but has a grittier style. Both heroes and villains in Hoffman’s masterful work would feel comfortable in the worlds of James Crumley or Andrew Vachss. One thing is certain, this is one effective book.

In the first chapter we’re introduced to Emily, a somewhat functioning drug user in San Fransisco. Her addiction leads her to follow a man to his hotel for a hit. The drug she takes knocks her out. When she awakes, others are in the room.

We feel Hoffman’s skill immediately, through a series of lucid moments Emily has between black outs. Hoffman keeps us in suspense; we are as off balance as the character. Her captors attempt to manipulate Emily into partaking in an identity theft scheme in return for a cut.  It’s too late when she learns it is a bank robbery and she’s been framed to be the suspect. With money in her hand,having come to her senses, Emily takes off.

We then meet Leo, a cop with more than questionable ethics. After his behavior gets him and his partner into a jam that only a lot of cash can solve, he hears of the robbery and Emily’s description. Now she has the honest cops, the outlaws, and the corrupt cops all after her.

Hoffman could have titled the book ‘desperation.’ Every character is in over their head. When we learn the circumstances of the people who set up Emily, we even feel for them a little. If the definition of ‘noir’ is one bad decision leading to a series of other decisions that are even worse, then The White Van is the epitome of noir. For Hoffman, a fast pace isn’t a goal for turning pages but a way to immerse us in the relentless situation his characters are in.

Like the rest of the novel, the ending has a unique feel. We take inventory of the people we’ve gotten to know through their trying and violent time. We are not sure if we have changed our minds about them, but we feel a deeper connection. Like Elmore Leonard, we have gotten to know Patrick Hoffman’s shady characters. Through these people we get the chance to see a shadow San Fransisco; one which rubs up against the work-a-day one. Will Patrick Hoffman’s next novel take the same approach on an international level? Wherever he wants to take the reader, I’m ready to go.


Copies of The White Van are available on BookPeople’s shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Discussing DEATH ON TOUR, by Janice Hamrick

For this month’s Murder In The Afternoon Book Club, meeting Tuesday, November 18th, at 2 pm, we get to discuss the book with the author. Janice Hamrick is one of our favorite writers. Her series featuring Austin high school teacher Jocelyn Shore consistently entertains us with light, humorous mysteries. Hamrick’s novels avoid being cute with with a truthful look at human nature and a bit of an edge. We’ll be reading the first book in the series, Death On Tour.

Death On Tour introduces us to Jocelyn and her extroverted (to put it mildly) cousin, Kyla, as they take a vacation on a discount tour to Egypt. When a member of the group falls to her death from a pyramid, Jocelyn is swept up in a plot involving an old necklace, a new love, and murder. The book has the plot of a mystery, the pace of a thriller, and the style and approach of a good romantic comedy.

The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club will meet on Tuesday, November 18th, at 2 pm on BookPeople’s third floor. Janice will be joining us through conference call and you’ll find her as funny and as entertaining as her books. Come for the discussion, stay for the laughs.


The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets the third Tuesday of each month at 2 pm. Please join us Tuesday, November 18th, as we discuss Death on Tour, by Janice Hamrick and, for this special occasion, with Janice Hamrick. Copies are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club members receive 10% off of their purchase of their monthly book club title.