PICK OF THE MONTH- WRONG LIGHT BY MATT COYLE

Matt Coyle has proved himself to be one of the best when it comes to tapping into the voice of the traditional private eye novel. The mood he creates between his series detective, Rick Cahill, its San Diego setting, and emotion of the story evokes Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald without treading into literary nostalgia. In his latest, The Wrong Light, Coyle finds a new tone for that melancholy voice.

Wrong Light (Rick Cahill #5) Cover ImageA radio station hires Nick to protect their sultry voiced evening host, Naomi Hendrix, from a stalker. As her tormentor closes in, Cahill learns of the secrets Naomi has been hiding, connected to a criminal past. Before long, he is in the middle of a deadly scam involving the FBI, Russian mob, and Irish gypsies.

Coyle develops a strong bond between, character, plot, and setting in the book. Coyle sets up an instant rapport with Rick and Naomi through the dialogue in their first meeting, that lends to his drive to help her and the possible heartbreak the job could lead to. Rick knows San Diego like the ex-cop he is and its changes reflect his age and connection to it. The book never forgets the detective moves the story. We watch every detail of Rick’s job, the stake outs and surveillances through his city and the interviewing of its people. Coyle builds a separation in these interaction, giving the feeling of private detection as lonely man’s work.

After the last book, Blood Truth, I was curious what Matt Coyle would do with Rick after wrapping up a major arc for the character. Right now, he seems to be a man in search of purpose, deciding to be the knight errant, tarnished armor or not. I look forward to going down many mean streets with Rick Cahill.

 

Interview with Martin Limón

BookPeople made The Line, Martin Limón’s latest mystery with Ernie Bascome and George Sueno, two U.S. Army cops stationed in early seventies Korea, our October Pick Of The Month.  It starts with the two called to a murder scene on the demarcation bridge between North and South Korea that leads into a mystery involving the South Koreans that work for the U.S. Army. While trying to find the real killer when an innocent G.I. is locked up, they also have to locate the missing wife an officer. Martin was kind enough to give us some in-depth answers to some questions about the book, the series, and the state of both Koreas. Martin Limón joins us Friday, November 2 at 7pm to talk about the book with author A.R. Ashworth and Scott Montgomery.

The Line (A Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Novel #13) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: The Line has one of the best openings of the year.  How did it come about?

Martin Limón: I’ve been to the Joint Security Area (JSA) a few times, starting in 1968.  It’s always been an intense place and there have been more than a few skirmishes over the years.  One of them, the August, 1976 axe murder incident, resulted in two U.S. soldiers being hacked to death by North Korean guards.  Ironically, the JSA is also called “the truce village of Panmunjom.”

At some point it occurred to me that this would be a good place to set a murder.  Of course, I knew who would be going up there to examine the crime scene, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom.  Then all I had to do was decide who would be murdered, what time of day they would be going up there, etc.  Once I had all that I decided to place the corpse right on the most contested spot in the world—the Military Demarcation Line—and imagined what would happen.  Not difficult. There would be an armed standoff; the North Koreans on one side, the U.S. on the other. Sort of a difficult setting for detectives to exam a crime scene but, undaunted, our boys take up the challenge.

MPS: You have George and Ernie work both a murder and a missing person case.  How did you deal with the challenge of two mysteries?

ML: I like plots and subplots, both as a reader and when I’m writing my own stories.  The challenge is to get them to blend together in some way that’s (hopefully) believable and, more importantly, for their essences to somehow complement one another.  In this case I had the Korean Noh family, who had suffered the grievous loss of their son, in the main plot and the American Cresthill family, experiencing the anguish of marital breakup, in the other.  I hope the two stories worked well together. I was actually contemplating a third subplot; that of the Korean-American lawyer, Corrine Fitch, searching for her birth mother. But it was too much for my meager intellect to work out.  Instead, it remained implied but not fleshed out.

MPS: I felt this book looks at women in both Korean and Army society.  What did you want to explore with the female characters?

ML: Military spouses and other family members often feel isolated.  Sometimes physically, as at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert where the nearest town is forty miles away.  Or at 8th Army headquarters in Seoul. Even though the 8th Army Yongsan Compound sat in the heart of a city of over 10 million souls, that city was South Korea’s capital and a teeming Asian metropolis if there ever was one.  Some of the Americans on base felt as if they were floating on a small raft atop a churning sea. And the military expects those family members (which they call dependents), and especially the wives, to follow a precise and lengthy list of unwritten rules.  Don’t ever dare embarrass your husband, number one. Accompany him to the many and varied command social events where you must smile, smile, smile. Volunteer your time to charities specified by the spouse of the commanding general. Some women rebel, by turning inward.  Others act out. I’ve seen it and it is sometimes not pretty, but always very human.

With Corrine Fitch I had the ambition (probably not realized) of depicting the ambivalence of someone returning to the country of their birth but being fundamentally a stranger.  What must that be like? What questions must arise? I didn’t take that part of the story as far as it needed to go but it still intrigues me.

MPS: How would you describe George and Ernie’s relationship with the Army?

ML: Love/Hate.

What George loves about the army is that it gives him a sense of purpose.  A job with a very specific aim: to solve crime and rescue the innocent.

What Ernie loves about the army is that it encourages him to replace heroin addiction with the perfectly acceptable alternative of alcoholism.  As a bonus, the pomposity of the army brass gives him a world of blowhards to rebel against.

What George hates about the army is their overwhelming bureaucratic desire to cover up any and all bad news.  Especially crime.

What Ernie hates about the army is they make him wear a hat, which he believes is a plot to cut him off from the universe.

MPS: Your latest books have been some of your best.  What has experience lent to your work?

ML: When I started writing, over 30 years ago, I realized immediately that this was a craft or sullen art (to quote Dylan Thomas) in which I would always keep learning—and never master.  I do think my books and short stories are a little better now, mainly because of the help of editors and agents and critics and even the occasional reader. Reader complaints, of which I’ve had some which were extremely bitter, feel like a hot needle shoved into a raw nerve.  However, I crave them. First, it proves that the person read and cared about my work. Second, it gives me a chance to evaluate the criticism and decide whether or not it is valid. Usually, it is. And once that needle sinks into tender flesh, I can never forget it. And the next time, when a similar case arises, I’m prepared to do better.

MPS: North and South Korea have been in the news even more.  What should people in the U.S. know about the culture?

ML: Someone asked me if I wrote The Line because the North Korean crisis is so much in the news lately.  The fact of the matter is that I conceived and wrote the first draft long before Donald Trump ever made his fire and fury or little rocket man comments.  In fact, back then when I started no one imagined he’d ever become president.

Since 1953 the Korean DMZ has always been in crisis.  In January 1968 a North Korean commando unit unsuccessfully attacked the Blue House, the South Korean version of our White House.  In the same month, the North Korean navy committed an act of war by boarding and commandeering the USS Pueblo on the high seas. They held the American crew in a brutal captivity for almost a year.  In April 1969, North Korea shot down an EC-121 US Navy reconnaissance plane, immediately killing 31 sailors. And there have been plenty of violations since then. South Korean military deaths, at least back in those days, were common and many of them went unreported in the international press.  The US Army averaged about one American death at North Korean hands per year.

Now these friendly fellows have the bomb.  I, for one, don’t believe they’ll ever give it up. No matter how many bows and handshakes our president provides.

Culturally, on both sides of the border, the desire for Korean reunification is great, and it’s the official policy of both governments.  From what I’ve read, Kim Jong-un’s goal in life is to reunify the peninsula under his regime. To him, mutual nuclear disarmament means that the US would withdraw our troops from South Korea and remove the South Koreans from the protection of our nuclear umbrella.  Once that happened, I believe, he’d feel free to start bullying the South Koreans and use political and military pressure to gain his aims. He knows that if he did manage to reunify Korea, even under such a brutal totalitarian state as the one he now runs, his place in Korean history as a great hero would be assured.

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.

Pick Of The Month: A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum

Readers of this blog have likely noticed the diverse tastes reflected by its contributors, so it’s rare that 2 of us will agree on one of our year-end Top 10 selections.  Robin Yocum made it happen last year with A Welcome Murder, so there was a bit of a tussle when the ARC for his latest, A Perfect Shot, arrived in our offices. This writer prevailed, and was definitely not disappointed—the ride was just as wild, with twists and turns that made it a blast.

A Perfect Shot Cover ImageNicholas “Duke” Ducheski is probably the best-loved citizen of the eastern Ohio steel town of Mingo Junction.  Some 20 years earlier, he orchestrated what is remembered to this day as “The Miracle Minute”; in a span of 63 seconds, Duke put up enough points to propel the Mingo Indians’ high school basketball team to the state championship. Hardly a day passes that someone doesn’t want to talk about “the game,” and you can replay the recording on local jukeboxes.

But Duke’s pushing forty and thinks it might be time to leave his high school glory days behind. He decides to capitalize on his popularity by opening a restaurant he christens “Duke’s Place.” Things are popping until disaster strikes—“Little Tony” DeMarco (a known mob enforcer who just happens to be Duke’s brother-in-law) comes into the restaurant and murders Duke’s oldest friend. DeMarco thinks he’s untouchable, but Duke has other plans—he thinks he’s found a way to take DeMarco down, but it would mean leaving Mingo Junction (and his identity as the town hero) behind forever. And if he’s not the Duke of Mingo Junction anymore, then who would he be?

Fans of Yocum’s work will recognize similarities between Mingo Junction, Briliant, and Steubenville (settings of his previous novels). It’s an area Yocum knows well, and the reader senses his deep love and respect for this hard luck region of the country. These towns saw better days when the steel industry was booming; most of its natives have moved off for jobs, and those who stay behind often struggle to get by. For many of them, high school was about as good as it got; in Duke that created a yearning for something more. And when circumstances conspire to keep Duke down, he has to figure out just how far he’ll go and how much he’ll give up to become who we wants to be.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Philip Kerr


~post by Molly

Philip Kerr takes a break from his Bernie Gunther character to write Prayer, a contemporary story of an FBI agent going after religious extremists in Texas. Molly caught up with Mr. Kerr and gave him a grilling in this Q&A. Also, take the time to read Molly’s outstanding review of Prayer.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: In your new novel Prayer, there is quite a bit about not just religious people but religious theory and theology. What was your inspiration for exploring religious concepts in such detail? Where does the root of your enjoyment of religious theory lie?

PHILIP KERR: I was brought up in a very religious home. My parents were evangelical Baptists, and until the age of 14 I went to church as many as three times on a Sunday. At home we never started a meal, without speaking to Jesus. But I knew I was never going to hack it as a Christian. There was too much going on inside my head. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist; I think a more respectable intellectual position is to say that logically one cannot prove the non-existence of God any more than one can prove his existence. But God is different from most organised religion which seems like nonsense to me.  What it boils down to is this: if your truth and my truth are very different, we have to agree, logically that neither of us has a monopoly on truth. However religion doesn’t work like that. Religion says that if your truth is not the same as my truth than you are an infidel or a heretic, or an apostate, or some other pejorative beloved of religion. Which makes for a good place to start a crime novel.

MP: Some of the later scenes in Prayer can be described as, well, spooky, and much of the plot reads more like a horror story than a detective novel. Did you deliberately set out to bring in a bit of Edgar Allen Poe to your writing or did the crimes you conceived for the novel lead to that naturally?

PK: It’s meant to be Gothic, yes. Texan Gothic. Sounds good, huh? Don’t get me wrong; I love Texas. I brought my wife and kids when I was researching Prayer and we had one of the best vacations ever in Houston. We stayed at the Houstonian. We got a personal guided tour of the Johnson Space Center by a shuttle commander who likes my books. We visited Galveston. We went to Dealey Plaza. The weather was great. I hung out with the FBI, who couldn’t have been more accommodating.  I  wanted to make a standard police procedural turn into something else, in the same way that Bill Blatty did with The Exorcist. I have always loved that book. And the film. But I wondered how Blatty might have approached his story if he was writing it today. And that was my starting point.

MP: I noticed that a commonality between the Bernie Gunther novels and this new novel, set in modern day Houston, is that you draw from right-wing extremism for villains in both. What brings you to a particular fascination with the crimes perpetrated by those who are motivated by racist and anti-Semitic doctrine? And why focus on religious extremism in particular when previously you have been more concerned with the extremes of political doctrines?

PK: I think there’s just a lot of intolerance around, especially in religion. My truth is better than your truth etc. The world would be a lot better off if people just decided to let God look after his own reputation, honour, etc; if he is God he doesn’t need the help of men to fight his battles for him. Anti-Semitism I find especially baffling; surely after what happened in WWII it’s time we all agreed to let the Jews off the hook – so to speak – for what happened to Jesus. Haredim aside Jews are just ordinary folk like you or I. Let’s pick on someone else for a change.

MP: Two things struck me as particularly of the zeitgeist in the book. First, you introduced several gay characters. Second, you also spent some time on the main character’s OCD, which to me felt like part of a new awareness of mental health issues across the board. Do you feel that writing fiction set in the present day allows you to explore modern themes more easily than when saddled with the attitudes of the past in your historical fiction?

PK: It’s very liberating, yes, to write a present day story. Interestingly the gay character in the book didn’t reveal herself as gay to me, until I had to write that page. It was a big surprise, but I like it when characters take charge of their own destinies like that. The OCD thing was interesting to me because I think a lot of detectives are obsessives anyway. They have to be. Watch True Detective and tell me that those two characters are both normal regular guys; they’re not; they’re fucked up. Big time. I loved that show.

MP: Much of your book could be set in, forgive me for saying, any old southern town. Why Texas, and why, in particular, Houston? You seem interested in the history of Texas as a history of violence, particularly politicized violence, and is this a significant part of your choice of setting?

PK: Well, let me come back to my love for Texas. If you come from Scotland like I do, you’re reared on a love of the idea of Texas from a very early age. I was weaned on John Wayne films. That plus the fact that my Dad worked for an American firm, and many of his colleagues were from Texas meant I always wanted to go. When I first went to Texas I thought it would be very red neck and in fact it wasn’t like that in the least. I found Texans to be very thoughtful, courteous people. But why did I pick Texas? Simple. Everything is larger in Texas – everyone knows this. Which is probably why they have the largest churches in the world. That’s why I picked Houston.

You can read Molly’s review of Prayer by Philip Kerr here.



Philip Kerr will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, May 10 at 4PM. You can p
re-order signed copies of Prayer now via bookpeople.com