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.

In The Worst of Scenarios: An Interview with Don Bentley

9781984805119_e5d4fIt’s difficult to read Don Bentley’s debut novel, featuring Matt Drake — a former ranger pulled back into a mission for The Defense Intelligence Agency. He’s returned to the place that brought about his PTSD, got men killed, and crippled his friend Frodo who now helps him out. Mr. Bentley flew Apache helicopters in Afghanistan as was awarded The Bronze Star and Air Medal. It was an honor to talk to him about his novel.


Scott Montgomery: Which came first, Matt Drake or the plot?

Don Bentley: Great question. Matt definitely came first.  I wrote three books that didn’t sell before writing Without Sanction, and I like to say that each book brought me closer to Matt.  I’m a huge fan of Nelson DeMille and what he does with his witty, first person protagonists, especially his John Corey series. I remember reading Plum Island the first time and telling my wife that I would read a book about John Corey going to the grocery store, just so that I could listen to him talk.  I decided to give something similar a try while writing my third book, and while that book didn’t sell, it did give me Matt. Looking back, I think that was a pretty good bargain!  In the military thriller/espionage genre, plot is what keeps your readers turning the page, but characters are what bring them back for the next book. Hopefully, Matt resonates enough with readers to keep them coming back for the next book.

SM: You show a relationship between Matt’s mission and a crisis in the White House. What did you want to explore with that?

DB: Thank you for noticing!  The technology that connects warfighters to civilian decision makers has improved exponentially since September 11th.  Even so, there’s still a dissonance between what the men and women on the ground are seeing and thinking and what is going on in a crowded situation room thousands of miles removed from danger.  In the best of circumstances, decision makers give warfighters their marching orders and then stay out of the way while the professionals do their jobs. Often times this isn’t the case. Sometimes this is because the decision makers truly are privy to details that warfighters aren’t.  But in the worst of scenarios, politicians make short-sighted, politically motivated decisions that result in devastating consequences for warfighters operating in harm’s way. This is what happens in Without Sanction.

SM: Frodo is a great character. How did you go about constructing him?

DB: When I started writing Without Sanction, I knew that Frodo was going to be an integral part of Matt’s story.  Frodo needed to be from Matt’s world, but still wholly different from Matt. One of the things I cherished about my time in the Army was the opportunity to serve with people from every creed, color, and religion.  It didn’t matter where we grew up or whether we went to church on Sunday. What mattered was that we all wore the same green uniform and swore the same oath to defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  I wanted the relationship between Matt and Frodo to reflect this dynamic. Frodo and Matt are two very different people, who if not for the military, would have never crossed paths. But through love of country and a desire to serve, they become brothers in arms.

SM: As somebody who was in combat situations abroad, what did you want to convey about that experience?

DB: That’s a hard question.  I don’t know that I set out to convey anything about combat as much as I wanted to give the American public a glimpse of the men and women who are fighting on their behalf.  I am not Matt Drake, but I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some people who could be. Three of my close friends are veterans of the Army’s storied 75th Ranger Regiment, just like Matt.  Rangers are famous for a great many things, including their strict adherence to the Ranger Creed.  Non-Rangers might mistake the six stanzas comprising the Ranger Creed for just another organizational mission statement or HR-generated set of values, but nothing could be further from the truth. To a Ranger, these simple, yet powerful words form a code which still governs their lives long after they leave the military.  Less than one percent of Americans serve in the military. This means that most American’s don’t have a veteran as a close friend or family member. I would love to help bridge that gap.

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Author Don Bentley

SM: How do you deal with the challenge of writing about events and regions that are changing with the news on a daily basis?

DB: It’s not easy.  I took much longer than I should have to lock down Without Sanction, and in an earlier version of the book, ISIS played a more substantial role.  While I certainly celebrated the destruction of the Caliphate, it caused me no small amount of rewrites! That said, I don’t try to “beat the headlines” or base my story on something that could change tomorrow. My novels are character driven, so if I have to change a few details here or there, it shouldn’t adversely affect the novel.

SM: This being your first book, did you draw from any influences?

DB: Absolutely. There are so many excellent writers in this genre, and I feel lucky just to be able to share shelf space with them.  People like Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, and Vince Flynn built the modern version of this genre, while authors like Brad Taylor and Mark Greaney have brought even more readers into the fold.  I’m also thankful for writers like Alistair MacLean and Jack Higgins who were their predecessors. The Eagle Has Landed is still one of my all-time favorites, and I grew up wanting to be Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie version of Where Eagles Dare.  Still, of all the great authors I mentioned, Nelson DeMille and Daniel Silva have been particularly impactful.  Nelson DeMille’s witty, first person protagonists gave me the courage to find Matt’s distinct voice. In the same vein, I think that Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series has some of the best story telling the genre has to offer.  I tend to re-read Daniel’s books when I’m editing or just need inspiration.  He’s a true craftsman, and my life’s ambition is to be counted as a friend of Gabriel Allon!


Without Sanction  is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

Meike Reviews ‘The Sun Down Motel’

9780440000174_212bcThirty five years ago, Viv Delaney vanished during the middle of her shift as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, NY. There were hints that she didn’t leave on her own–her car was left behind in the parking lot, her purse (and her money) were left behind in the office. Oddly, no one reported her missing for 4 days. The police made a half-hearted attempt to find out what happened to her, but young girls had a habit of disappearing from Fell in those days.

Her aunt’s mysterious disappearance has always haunted Carly Kirk so she travels to Fell to see if she can come up with any clues. On visiting the run-down motel where Viv worked, Carly sees a notice that the hotel is looking for a night clerk—the same position that her aunt disappeared from—and on a whim she decides to apply, thinking it might give her some insight into what happened to Viv. The seedy motel doesn’t seem to have changed at all since her aunt worked there, and Carly quickly comes to realize that there’s something very wrong with the Sun Down Motel. Lights flicker for no reason, doors fly open all on their own, and there’s a mysterious scent of cigarette smoke even when Carly is sure she is quite alone. Certain the motel holds the key to Viv’s disappearance, Carly goes back every night until she’s thinks she might have figured out what happened all those years ago. But is the motel ready to give up its secrets?

 I normally don’t read books that edge toward the paranormal, but the amazing cover on this one pulled me in and once I started I couldn’t put this down. The motel itself is as much a living, breathing character as any of the people in the story. It’s seen bad things over the years, and can sense when bad people come around. St. James does a masterful job revealing the story in alternating time lines, switching back and forth between Carly’s story and that of her aunt Viv. The Sun Down Motel is a captivating and chilling psychological thriller.


The Sun Down Motel is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now!

“Nothing Is as Vivid as the Theater of the Mind,” An Interview with Meg Gardiner, author of ‘The Dark Corners of the Night

Meg Gardiner’s latest UNSUB novel takes FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix to Los Angeles to track down The Midnight Man, a killer who strikes families, leaving the children behind to tell the tale.The book is our Pick Of The Month and her most chilling yet. Meg will be at BookPeople February 22nd at 5PM to sign her book and be interviewed by author Amy Gentry. We got the chance to talk to her earlier about the book and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

9781982627515_ae431Scott Montgomery: In the first two UNSUB books, the antagonists were loosely based on real infamous serial killers. Are there any seeds of reality in The Midnight Man?
Meg Gardiner: Yes—the Midnight Man had his genesis in the Night Stalker. I drew on the residual dread I’d felt while living in Southern California during the Night Stalker’s attacks. That was a bright yet chilling time. A killer was loose who could strike anywhere. He silently invaded family homes—sometimes attacking twice in one night. It seemed like there was no way to keep him out, and nowhere to hide from him. He owned the night, and no matter how vigilantly we tried to keep watch, we all had to sleep sometime.
SM: There is a major and unsettling reveal about The Midnight Man’s profile. Was that something you knew from the beginning?

MG: Not consciously. The identity of the Midnight Man gradually became clear to me as I wrote my way into the story. A bit like the way Caitlin Hendrix analyzes the unknown killer and realizes who she’s actually dealing with.

SM: How did you come across the idea of setting it during Christmas?

MG: I wanted to set the novel near the start of winter—to have the the nights grow

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Meg Gardiner, author of The Dark Corners of the Night (2020)

longer and colder as the story progresses. That meant it would take place in December. Christmas came along with the dark, starry skies.

SM: This time Caitlin and crew are tracking a killer in L.A. What did that setting provide you as an author?
MG: The glittering sprawl of Los Angeles provides a backdrop for Caitlin and her team that’s both beautiful and disorienting. L.A. has beaches and mountains, skyscrapers and abandoned buildings, nightlife and coyotes. And it’s stitched together with hundreds of miles of freeways. The city is constantly in motion. Which makes it fiendishly difficult to pin down a killer who invisibly roams anywhere and everywhere.

SM: Particularly with the UNSUB series, you’ve developed a reputation for knowing how “to bring the creepy,” yet most of those moments aren’t gory or violent. Are there certain writer tools or things you keep in mind when writing those more unsettling passages?

9780307947307MG: The thrillers I write aren’t about violence, but about its impact on the characters, and the choices they make in its wake. Novels take readers on an emotional ride, and a little bit of violence goes a long way. I’ve never forgotten something Jeffery Deaver said: Nothing is as vivid as the theater of the mind. Hint at a few details, and each reader will fill in the rest from their own imagination.
SM: What is the most unsettling (in a good way) book you’ve ever read?
MG: The Stand, by Stephen King. It showed me how a novel about an apocalyptic plague could be completely riveting, because it’s all about character—and community, and courage. I read it in college, and even today if I see a crow sitting on a telephone wire, or hear the scuff of cowboy boots on a sidewalk, I shudder and think of the villain, Randall Flagg. That’s great writing.

The Dark Corners of the Night is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online. And don’t forget to catch Meg Gardiner in person on February 22nd at 5PM for a discussion and signing of this featured title.

About the Author: Meg Gardiner is the critically acclaimed author of the UNSUB series and China Lake, which won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original and was a finalist for NPR’s 100 Best Thrillers Ever. Stephen King has said of Meg Gardiner: “This woman is as good as Michael Connelly…her novels are, simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.” Gardiner was also recently elected President of the Mystery Writers of America for 2019.

The Dark Corners of the Night will be the third novel in her Barry Award-winning UNSUB series, which received three starred reviews from the major trade publications and was sold to CBS Television.

“A Bonfire at the Beginning with Liberal Amounts of Gasoline Along the Way”: An Interview with Kathleen Kent, author of ‘The Burn’

9780316450553_8fd28Kathleen Kent, a well respected historical fiction writer, won over crime fiction fans with her novel The Dime, featuring Dallas Narcotics detective Betty Ryhyz. She returns with Betty in The Burn, with our heroine going rogue to figure out the connection between heroin stolen from the Sinola Cartel and confidential informants that are popping up all over town dead. Kathleen was kind enough to talk about the book and writing with Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.


Scott Montgomery: How did it feel writing a second novel with Betty Ryhyz opposed to the first?

Kathleen Kent: This is my first series–all of my previous historical fiction novels were stand-alone—and I had to rethink how to structure not only the book I was working on, but future books in the series.  An important thing I learned from my editor was that the “Sophomore book” is crucial to keeping a reader’s interest going forward. You may like the first book, but the second will often determine whether you want to read the third, or fourth.  Writing The Dime was an exercise in learning the genre of contemporary crime fiction: pacing, narrative tone, and maintaining suspense.  But developing The Burn necessitated a deeper dive into not only Betty’s character, but of those who populated her world.  There were a lot of rewrites to The Burn to get it right, and I had to remind myself at times to maintain a balance between the darker themes of the book, of which there are plenty, with lighter, more comedic elements.

SM: I really felt the Dallas streets and the working relationships of the narcotics squad. What kind of research did you do?

KK: I grew up in Dallas but moved to New York once I’d finished college. After living and

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The Burn author, Kathleen Kent

working in Manhattan for twenty years, I decided to move back to Dallas. Big D had changed drastically in those two decades in terms of urban development. But a lot had stayed the same and was distressingly familiar in terms of social intolerance.  Once I had committed to writing a crime novel, I channeled some of my experiences of feeling like an “outsider” into Betty’s character. Doing research with law enforcement proved to be quite a challenge.  While writing historical fiction, I found there were always experts willing to talk about their unique knowledge of history. Active law enforcement, especially those working undercover, can’t speak to a civilian about their operations for obvious reasons. One workaround was to talk to retired police officers, one of whom was the first female detective in Dallas.  She gave me a lot of hilarious, and hair-raising stories, that I incorporated into both crime novels. My most important source, though, was a close cousin who, in his thirty-year career, worked both narcotics and vice undercover, as well as SWAT. I was also invited to several police retirement parties, and it’s amazing what you can learn by sitting quietly in a corner holding a glass of Jameson whiskey, and just listening to the stories unwind.

SM: I was happy to see Jackie’s uncle play an important part. He’s one of my favorite characters in the series. What do you like about him as a writer?

KK: He’s one of my favorites as well. There’s something noble about people who, despite their frailties and vices, continue fighting to stay afloat, to be useful, to be of service to other people.  James Earle has a dignified past as he served in Vietnam as an MP, and he understands the difficulties and pressures prevalent in law enforcement. In many ways he’s a stand in for Betty’s beloved Uncle Benny, the man who was Betty’s polestar growing up.  I’m happy to say that James Earle will be a constant character going forward.

SM: You wrote several acclaimed historical novels and fell into this gritty cop series where you both deliver and subvert the genre goods like somebody who has been writing this kind of book for a decade. Were you a fan of the genre before you started?

KK: I’ve always been a huge fan of crime novels, the darker, the better! My sister and I grew up reading, and watching on TV, a lot of British crime series, which our mother read as well. The three of us used to talk at the dinner table about the finer points of Murder Most Foul, often horrifying our dad with the gruesome details.  Even in my works of historical fiction I never shied away from violence. The Heretic’s Daughter is based on my nine-times great grandmother, Martha Carrier, who was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. The Outcasts is set in post-Civil War Texas and has hangings, torture and murder.  The themes of villainy are often the same, regardless of the time period.  The challenge for me as a writer, though, was to change the way the story was presented, which is to say I had to pay close attention to pacing, keeping the reader on the edge of his or her seat.  I would liken historical fiction writing to a slow and steady burn, while crime writing is often a bonfire at the beginning with liberal applications of gasoline along the way.

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SM: What has writing contemporary novels allowed you to do that you couldn’t in the historicals?

KK: I think writing contemporary crime novels has allowed me to indulge in more absurdist fantasies.  In my historical novels, I often tried to stay close to the actual true events of the time. This “reality” construct was used as a framework, or scaffolding, to build my fictional story.  In both The Dime and The Burn I felt less constricted to that model.  Some of the contemporary narrative started as a newspaper headline, for example, but I was able to move the resulting action in unexpected directions.  I’ve really enjoyed bumping riiiight up against what stretches credulity.

SM: Has it presented any challenges?

KK: A lot of readers had grown accustomed to my works of historical fiction.  And some were surprised at the seemingly abrupt shift to contemporary crime.  So, it was a challenge to entice those people to read these latest two novels, especially if they weren’t enthusiastic crime readers to begin with.  But, happily, many of those readers have now eagerly embraced Det. Betty and her adventures. I think it points to the importance of having relatable, courageous characters and compelling stories no matter the genre.


About Kathleen Kent: Kathleen Kent is the author of the Edgar Award-nominated The Dime, as well as the bestselling historical novels The Heretic’s Daughter, The Traitor’s Wife, and The Outcasts. Kent lives in Dallas, TX.

About Scott Montgomery: A legendary crime bookseller, Scott Montgomery runs MysteryPeople, the mystery bookstore within BookPeople. He also runs The Hard Word blog, covering hard boiled fiction. Always a crime fiction fan, Scott worked on the sales staff of the acclaimed and influential The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles for four years. He is a regular contributor to Crime Reads and his fiction has appeared on the site Shotgun Honey and in the anthologies Murder On WheelsLone Star Lawless, and Eyes Of Texas. His Bullet Book, Two Bodies, One Grave, debuted Fall 2019.

The Burn is available for purchase in-store and online now.

REVIEW: Kathleen Kent’s ‘The Burn’

9780316450553_8fd28Kathleen Kent, known for historical novels, proved her ability to cross genres with The Dime. The gritty police thriller, featuring Betty Rhyzyk, a New York narcotics detective who transfers to Dallas to be with her wife, breathed new life into the cop novel and won her praise from the likes of Joe R. Lansdale. Luckily Kathleen and Betty are back for The Burn.
It’s not too long into the book, Betty’s head-first attitude lands her into desk duty. It and other things are not helping the relationship with Jackie. Her frustrations grow when word on the street  hits that several kilos of The Sinola Cartel’s heroine got stolen and confidential informants are popping up dead in the sleazier parts of The Big D. Her colleagues leave her behind as they look for El Cuchillo (or The Knife), a Sinola enforcer with a nasty reputation believed to be behind the killings. When Betty gets information that some of the players could be involved with the department and with Jackie, she jumps out from behind the desk and goes rogue.
Kent builds an exciting world of The Dallas Narcotics division and the Texas toned underworld they operate in. She shows camaraderie between the police with undercurrents of infighting, often disguised as joking around.The cheap motels and dive bars where Betty hunts down answers are gritty and hard, either bathed in shadows or reflecting the glare of the Lone Star sun, everything and everybody plays with perception.
All of this fits into Betty’s point of view.. She charges in, not always looking and a situation with few people to trust leads to some justified paranoia. Since there are very few she can trust, she turns to outsiders, recruiting a pregnant dealer’s girlfriend and Jackie’s Vietnam vet uncle, James Earle, into her cause.
The Burn proves to be even better than The Dime. The plotting is well crafted with strong action passages and a believable, dangerous setting with characters who pop. At the center of it all is a complex heroine who couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you like her or not. Here’s hoping Betty can always get out from behind the desk.

Kathleen Kent’s The Burn is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now!

Meike’s Top 10 Mystery Reads of 2019

2019 was a fantastic year for crime fiction and I constantly found myself rearranging my TBR pile in an attempt to read as many books as possible. Below are a few I particularly enjoyed—I hope you’ll check them out!


  1. The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

I’ve been a huge fan of Lutz’s work since The Spellman Files series so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. New teacher Alex Witt arrives at a second tier boarding school and uncovers secrets that have the potential to destroy the school, but Alex has secrets of her own and an unknown enemy who may know a little too much about them. This is a twisted and timely female revenge fantasy, and a must-read for fans of MysteryPeople darling Megan Abbott.

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  1. Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Cha brings a unique perspective to racial conflicts in L.A. while spinning a propulsive noir mystery. In the wake of yet another policy shooting involving a black teenager, a shocking crime brings together two families—one African-America, the other Korean-American immigrants—who are forced to deal with a long-buried secret. An explosive and dark thriller that you’re going to see on just about every top 10 list this year!

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  1. Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Pampered Jewish housewife Maddie Schwartz walks out on her family, determined to create a life with meaning. She helps the police solve a murder which leads to a job with the afternoon newspaper. When the body of a young black woman is found floating in a park, Maddie seizes the opportunity to make a name for herself by reporting on the investigation. What I loved most about this one is the unique structure—the story is told from the shifting viewpoints of a variety of characters which only someone as gifted as Lippman can weave so seamlessly.

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  1. The Book Artist by Mark Pryor

The first book in Pryor’s Paris-based Hugo Marston series, The Bookseller, is perhaps the single title I find myself recommending more than any other—I love this series and want everyone to discover it! It features the straight-laced Texan Hugo—a former FBI profiler who now works as head of security for the US embassy in Paris—and his free-wheeling, hard-drinking, womanizing best fried Tom (who steps in to help out when less reputable crime-solving methods are necessary). In The Book Artist, bibliophile Hugo attends an art installation of sculptures created solely from rare books. When a museum guest is brutally murdered, Hugo steps in to help the police solve the murder—a task that gains urgency when they arrest someone whom Hugo feels quite certain is innocent. Meanwhile Tom has gotten himself into a difficult situation in Amsterdam, one that only Hugo can help resolve.

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  1. Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin

In the 1970’s, a teenage couple go on a 13-day crime spree which leaves a dozen victims dead before the killers die in a fire. But modern day true crime podcaster Quentin—whose own life was affected by the killings–has reason to believe that the female killer may have survived and sets out to find her. Meanwhile NYC film columnist Robin Diamond is dealing with her own issues—but when she gets a phone call from Quentin and then her home is broken into, she has to confront the fact that she may not know her mother as well as she thought. Gaylin weaves the various storylines, some of which are told in flashbacks and letters, brilliantly—we’re huge fans of hers over here at MysteryPeople and love getting her books into our customers’ hands.

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  1. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

The lovely Millicent and her husband seem to have it all—a beautiful home in a prestigious gated community, successful careers, 2 great kids, and a marriage of over 15 years–but things have gotten a little stale in the bedroom. Most couples take a vacation or buy some “toys”—but this couple finds murder to be the best aphrodisiac. Any book that combines sex and murder is not to be missed!

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  1. Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Ware is a master of suspense and this latest is her thoroughly modern take on Henry James Turn of the Screw. London nanny Rowan Caine is looking for something completely different online when she stumbles across a dream job—private nanny to a family living in a luxurious Scottish Highlands manse. But the dream dissolves into a nightmare when one of the children dies and Rowan is arrested and charged with murder. Told in the form of letters Rowan writes to an attorney from prison, explaining the events leading up to the tragedy, Ware builds the suspense slowly and then ends with some gut-wrenching twists.

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  1. Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry

Gentry wowed us with her debut, Good as Gone, and her sophomore effort is every bit as thrilling. Latina stand-up comic Dana Diaz is struggling to make it in a comedy scene dominated by men and rife with sexual harassment. One night she fends off a particularly vulgar heckler, and audience member Amanda offers to buy her a congratulatory drink. One drink leads to many as the women bond over shared stories of injustice and misogyny—and the evening ends with the women striking a kind of Strangers on a Train deal that has a distinct #MeToo flavor. Gentry shines a harsh light on the myriad inequalities women face every day while spinning a well-plotted tale that will have you ripping through the pages.

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  1. Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

We’re always so excited when our local Austin authors garner national attention and were thrilled when Baker’s adult debut (she’s published 5 YA novels) was chosen as the July pick for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club (side note—the September pick was The Secrets We Kept by Austin author Lara Prescott!) A group of female coworkers sue an executive in their Dallas athleisure firm for sexual harassment, but when he falls to his death from the 18th floor it isn’t immediately clear whether he jumped or was helped over the edge. This one is a timely examination of the many facets of workplace inequality explored in the context of a keep-you-up-past-your-bedtime thriller.

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  1. The Right Sort of Man by Alison Montclair

In post WWII London, 2 very different women—one an aristocratic war widow with a young son to support, the other a tough and impetuous young woman with considerable street smarts—start The Right Sort Marriage Bureau in an effort to establish some independence while also bringing joy to a town still suffering the ravages of war. But when their newest client is found murdered—and the man they matched her with is arrested and charged with her death—their new livelihood is threatened and the women launch their own investigation to clear their client and restore the reputation of their flegling enterprise. Each brings a unique set of skills to the task, but what I loved most about this book is the snappy dialogue—both smart and funny, it kept me tearing through the pages and now I’m completely in love with the characters and hope there’s more to come in what promises to be a fantastic series.

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Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time mystery reader at BookPeople. You can find her top 10 titles in-store and online now.

And be sure to let us know what you thought of this list! Is there anything you’d like to add to add? Did you discover something new?

June pick of the month: James Ziskin’s A Stone’s Throw

This month’s pick of the month was reviewed by Meike Alana, from the BookPeople event staff and a guest blogger for MysteryPeople. 

A Stone's Throw: An Ellie Stone Mystery Cover ImageJames Ziskin is a perennial favorite here at MysterPeople, so it’s no surprise his latest Ellie Stone mystery, A Stone’s Throw, is our June Pick of the Month. The Edgar-nominated series is set in the early 1960’s and features twenty-something girl reporter Ellie Stone. She’s one of my favorite characters in the canon—wise beyond her years but at times naïve and impetuous, steady as they come with the occasional flare of irresponsibility, deeply moral but hard-drinking and promiscuous. Ellie is a realistically flawed, equally strong and vulnerable female character—in other words an authentic young woman–and that can be a novelty on the darker side of the genre. The fact that she’s penned by a man who is—well, let’s say his 20’s were a few years ago—is nothing short of incredible and speaks to Ziskin’s tremendous talent.

This time around Ellie becomes entrenched in the world of horse racing, particularly the seedier side populated by gangsters and thugs. On a sleepless night she follows a police scanner call about a fire at an abandoned stud farm outside Saratoga. While investigating a story for her newspaper, Ellie almost literally stumbles over two bodies that have been burned beyond recognition. She sets out to discover the identities of the two victims; when she learns the fire was sent intentionally she becomes determined to find their killer as well.

To do so she has to convincingly enter the world of horse racing, one to which she’s had no exposure. She needs a guide, someone who understands the history of the sport and the ins and outs of placing a bet. It turns out that Ellie’s best friend Fadge Fiorello is just such an expert. He does show her the ropes at the track and educates her about the key players; unfortunately he’s too busy studying the Racing Form to realize that this just could have been his chance to really impress Ellie. (Instead he has her worrying about his gambling habits….) Through old-fashioned, methodical detective work Ellie is able to piece together the story that caused those 2 individuals to lose their lives.

One of the unique things about this series is that each installment deals with a particular social issue of the time—homophobia, misogyny, sexism.  Ziskin’s done his research here because he never strikes a false note with his depictions of the past. There’s no nostalgic sugar coating—he’s careful not to cast a rosy glow over what was often a turbulent time. While the world of horse racing can be a glamorous one, it has an unseemly side which Ziskin delves into here.

The Ellie Stone mysteries have been recognized by a slew of awards—winner of the Anthony and Macavity and nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Lefty awards and all of those accolades are earned. Ziskin is a linguist by training and that shows in the lyricism of his prose. We hope he can come up with many more titles involving the word Stone so we can keep watching Ellie grow.

SCOTT BUTKI’S INTERVIEW WITH RUTH WARE

Ruth Ware’s fourth book, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, is another one of her great psychological thrillers.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway Cover ImageWare previously wrote three excellent novels: In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game. The latter two were on the top ten bestseller lists of The New York Times and the U.K.’s Sunday Times. All three books have been optioned for screen.

This book is good, similar fare full of twists and suspense. The story revolves around Hal, a young tarot card reader, down on her luck. She attends the funeral of a woman who has left her a mysterious inheritance. But it appears Hal was not truly the intended recipient which leads to many complications, plot twists and difficult situations

Ware was nice enough to let me interview her by email. My sister, Ellen Butki, helped me formulate the questions. Thanks to both of you.

Scott Butki: How did this story about this young woman develop?

Ruth Ware: I always find it hard to unpick all the threads that come together to make a story, but I suppose that having written three books about women who found themselves in a life changing situation mostly through no fault of their own, I wanted to write something about a character who brings the action down on themselves – someone who sets out to commit a crime. But I found it impossible to write Hal as a true anti-hero. She makes some questionable decisions, but I liked her more and more as the book went on. 

Image result for ruth wareSB: What do you think of those who compare you to Agatha Christie, as both of you not only are famous for twists but also for putting characters into situations that can lead to paranoia and violence?

RW: I take it as a huge compliment! I’m a big fan of Christie and I think her plots are pretty much second to none – so many of the features we take for granted about the genre today, she more or less developed. I would be very happy if I wrote something even a quarter as twisty and genre-defining as And Then There Were None.

SB: In your writing process, which do you see first: the overview (characters/setting/plot), the ending, or the major twist?  Do you add more twists while editing?

RW: It’s really hard to pick apart because they all come together more or less at the time, and different books develop differently. With Cabin 10 I had the ship first of all – the first image that came to me was of a woman waking up in the middle of the night in a locked cabin and hearing a splash. But who that woman was and what happened next developed at the same time, because the one influenced the other.

In a Dark, Dark Wood the physical entity of the glass house only came to me quite late on, about a quarter of the way into the book – but again the motives of the protagonists and their particular characters developed hand in hand. Character is plot, and plot is character. What we do and why is shaped by who we are – and vice versa. The twists are a bit separate – I have to figure those out as I go. Sometimes the pieces don’t fall into place until really quite late.

SB: Identity seems to be a common theme in your books. Is that intentional? Do you want readers to take away something about identity or some other lesson while reading your books?

RW: Do you know, I had never really thought about this before, but you are right! I am not sure why that is – except that I’m endlessly fascinated by people and the versions of themselves that they show to the world versus the people they are inside. I guess it’s that fascination showing. I don’t really write with an intentional lesson or message in mind – I would never presume to dictate to my readers what they should or shouldn’t find in my books, though of course there are always subjects I’m interested in, and I suppose I do often hope to make people think and question some of their assumptions.

SB: Do you believe that deeply buried secrets will/must always be revealed (in books and/or in life)? Where does this belief stem from?

RW: Actually, I am a firm believer in healthy repression 😉 Of course in books secrets usually come out – it’s back to that Chekovian idea of a gun above the mantelpiece. If you reveal that a character has a deep dark secret, there’s no point in putting it in the plot unless it’s going to come out at some point, otherwise you may as well not bring it up at all. In real life, though, we all have secrets – large and small – and bringing things out into the open isn’t always the right course of action. I think my books often show the enormous damage that can be done when secrets surface.

SB: What are you working on next?

RW: Another book of course! It’s a bit too early to talk about it though – I don’t want to jinx myself.

Review of Laird Barron’s Blood Standard

Scott reviews Blood Standard ahead of Laird Barron’s visit to the store on Friday, June 1st at 7pm.

Laird Barron, an author mainly known for his horror and weird fiction, has only has dabbled with crime fiction in the past. He has written a novella and a handful of short stories that work as tributes to hard boiled fiction. In Blood Standard, he charges into the genre, guns blazing.

He gives us a great hard boiled protagonist is Isiah Coldridge, a Moana working as a mob enforcer in Alaska.  When a situation over a walrus causes him to high tail it back down to the lower forty-eight, he lays low at a horse farm in upstate New York. Soon the owners’ troubled granddaughter goes missing, and Coldridge sets out to find her along with another hired hand with a violent past due to his time in Afghanistan. His questioning and punching leads him further and further into a dark underworld the girl is trapped in.

Barron proves to be an apparent fan of the genre. Coldridge is cut from the same cloth of David Rabe’s Daniel Port and Dan Lewis’ Jack Carter. The style is terse and straight forward and the world uncompromising. There are few chapters void of an action sequence of some sort.

However, his background in horror allows him to give a special spin on the tale. He injects the anything can happen quality of a horror story, grounding it in a more physical, though still fantastic, world of hard boiled. It places both Coldridge and the reader on less solid footing and allows us to buy into the darker reveals.

Blood Standard proves to be a must read for hard boiled fans, told in a way that would make Hammett proud. Isiah Coldridge is a tough guy with his own voice and several directions to go. I hope Laird Barron more time on this side of the playground.