There are few authors who push themselves like Megan Abbott. In doing so, she has expanded noir as well, demonstrating the elasticity of the genre. She has blazed a trail from seedy bars and back allies to suburban homes and high school gymnasiums. In her latest, Give Me Your Hand, she proves science can be full of sin.
The book centers on the relationship of two scientists. Kit Owens toils as a researcher for the prominent Dr. Severin. She is in the running to be part of Severin’s team for a prominent study of premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Her chances are good, until Severin unknowingly brings in someone from the darkest part of Kit’s past.
Diane Fleming moved to Kit’s high school with whispers of her past and possessing the kind of discipline and drive Kit lacked at the time. Their friendship drove the other to be their best, physically and mentally. Abbott is able to describe their relationship with nuance and subtleties to portray something much deeper than competitiveness. The bond becomes severed when Diane shares a dark secret with Kit, not as much for the revelation itself but the fact that Kit is burdened to hold it. Now that Diane has returned to her life in this manner, the secret becomes even heavier.
Abbott deftly uses that secret as the centerpiece of the book. It drives the front part of the narrative with the story building tension by the withholding of it and juxtaposing Kit and Diane’s teen years with their reunion. Both the timing and the subject turn the reveal into a well executed bomb. The rest of the book’s suspense come from where and how hard the fragments crash after the explosion.
The lab setting would seem less fitting for noir, but Abbott uses the world to her advantage. The competition of the study sets up subtle back-biting that could lead to back stabbing, A certain job involving an incinerator comes in handy. The antiseptic environment makes for an interesting contrast to the messy emotions that play out in the harsh sterile light.
With Give Me Your Hand Megan Abbott ratchets the tension at page one and never stops as she delves into female friendship, different forms of sexism in science, and ambition. While seated deep in noir, it never goes for the obvious tropes. Once again, she takes the genre on her her own terms and takes no prisoners.
Make sure you’re here July 24th at 7pm when Megan is here to discuss the book along with Ace Atkins.
Come by this evening, Monday, June 13th, for a screening of Hitchcock’s classic film Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, followed by a discussion of the film and book. The screening is the first of our Noir Double Feature Film Series, where we screen film adaptations of the crime fiction we love all summer long.
To prep for the screening and discussion, I picked up du Maurier’s novel a few days ago, expecting to read just enough before the screening to stumble through discussion afterwards. Instead, I finished the novel in two sittings, staying up late on my night off from work and unabashedly involving myself in one of the greatest romantic suspense stories of all time. Hitchcock’s film is fairly faithful to the original novel, and that’s a good thing – the novel is as gripping and surprising as the film, and the two compliment each other; the film merely manifests in image what du Maurier described in the novel so well, including the lush, forbidden landscapes of Manderley, subject of the novel’s famous first line, “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” Also, Daphne du Maurier passes the Bechdel test throughout the novel, including every conversation between Mrs. Danvers and the second Mrs. de Winter.
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Our last Noir At The Bar of 2014 (happening tonight, November 24, at 7pm at Opal Divine’s) has us going out with top talent. The line up is composed of first offenders and hardened felons. We’ve got both rural and southwestern noir authors and a guy who mashes up so many genres that we don’t know what the hell to call him. And of course, we’ll be joined by our own Jesse Sublett
C..B. McKenzie is the recent winner of the Tony Hillerman award for Bad Country. The book introduces us to cowboy-turned-private eye Rodeo Grace Garnett. McKenzie gives a rough and tumble feel to an unromanticized American west.
Glenn Gray’s The Little Boy Inside And Other Stories has been getting great buzz. The tales, which range from crime (especially involving illegal steroid use) to sci fi to body horror, are almost always funny and disturbing. Don’t eat while Glenn reads.
Matthew McBride instantly became a MysteryPeople favorite with his gonzo hard boiled debut Frank Sinatra In A Blender. He has received more rave reviews for his intense rural crime novel A Swollen Red Sun. The book deals with the repercussions of corruption in a Missouri county overrun by meth and violence.
Austin author and musician Jesse Sublett will perform some of his murder ballads, as well as reading (his latest is Grave Digger Blues) and everyone will be on hand to sign books afterwards. Before you’re put upon by holiday cheer, join us at Opal’s and celebrate the noir side of life.
Dennis Lehane‘s The Drop had an interesting journey to becoming a published novel. It was originally a manuscript he shelved years ago, then later used a piece of for his acclaimed short story “Animal Control” that first appeared in Boston Noir. He later adapted the story into a film featuring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini that will be released on September 12th. When asked if he’d be interested to do a tie-in novel, he took elements from the the manuscript that started it all. The result is a tight, emotional ride that will please old fans and find new ones.
The main character is Bob Saginoswki, a man life and circumstances have left behind. He works as a bartender for Cousin Marve, a one-time small-time gangster, whose bar is now owned by the Chechen mob as a temporary hiding place for their ill gotten gains, A drop bar. Living alone, with only visits to a local church, he has little outside Marve and the bar.
Two events upend this solitary, quiet existence. One is the discovery of an abused and abandoned pup in the trash outside the apartment of Nadia, a woman who has seen her share of damage. The two develop a tentative relationship after she helps him with the dog after he adopts it. Then Cousin Marve is robbed. The Chechens want their money from Bob and Marve or else. Both story lines entwine when the psychotic owner of the dog comes back to claim the animal.
This is a compact book with a lot packed in it. Everything locks into place perfectly. The story is well-paced as it builds to a wonderful, hard-boiled climax. Lehane introduces information, then holds back, revealing it’s importance at just the right time. With Bob, he gives us a lead we feel deeply for, hinting at something dark underneath. He’s Paddy Cayefsky’s Marty with a slow burn fuse. You don’t only root for him to get out alive, but still have his heart intact.
The Drop is everything a Dennis Lehane lover wants, especially fans of Mystic River and his Kenzie-Gennaro series. He mainlines human emotion from tough people in a hard world with little compromise and still give a slam-bang read. Now we wait for the Broadway musical version.
Borderline by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Molly
Lawrence Block is one of noir’s most prolific writers, and his more than fifty novels cover all kinds of sub-genres. His latest contribution to society, Borderline, is a relic of the early fifties porn paperback industry and takes place in the alcohol-soaked hipster paradise of Juárez. This book has aged exceedingly well. The innuendo for a more conservative time now reads like a sly, welcome relief from the bluntness of a less-censored industry. Block’s stylish, stripped-down prose does not detract from the power of his erotic moments but instead seamlessly incorporates them into the overall narrative.
Borderline reads like a sexier, more disturbing On the Road. Characters speak in hip slang at cool coffeehouses and sexual proclivities of all kinds are not only tolerated, but encouraged. The story takes place over a few days and not too much happens. There are a couple murders,here and there, and a lot of sex without a whole lot of love, but the story carries with it a strong beatnik vibe that fits its picaresque narrative perfectly.
A divorcee, a runaway, a professional gambler, a jaded sex worker, and a serial killer see their paths cross in the steamy bars and permissive atmosphere of life across the border from a puritanical post-war America. Some characters are lucky to meet each other, others not so much. Descriptions of the sex industry combine with the homicidal urges of a stalker to portray a world none too friendly to women, but the female characters hold their own in dialogue and moxie.
In Borderline, Block has created a fascinating critique of Cold War conformity. In the taboo-free zone of Juárez, his characters find outlets to satisfy their pent-up urges, and the consequences are tragic and inevitable. In particular, the story’s resident serial killer is egged on in his obsessions by horror comics, and believes he is justified in committing murder as it elevates his victims out of obscurity.
Included in the volume are three short stories showcasing Block’s talent for the nasty, brutal and short as his characters occupy a Hobbesian world of endless struggle and arbitrary violence. Each story is a self-contained gem that reads well on its own or with the others. Add Borderline to your list of hard-boiled classics.
You can order copies of Borderline now via bookpeople.com, or, find the book on our shelves in-store at BookPeople.
We believe our latest Noir At The Bar, coming up on Monday, May 12 at 7PM, might be our best yet. Boasting one of our more eclectic lineups in recent memory with a New York Times bestseller, two up-and-comers, and an Austin legend, perhaps the only thing you can count on for the evening is that it will certainly be entertaining.
Our headlining author is Ace Atkins. Nominated for just about every crime writing award out there, Ace has also found a home on the best seller list. With his Quinn Colson series, he’s given us a Southern spin on the hard boiled hero and was handpicked by Robert B. Parker’s widow, Joan, to continue the Spenser series. Ace will be reading from his latest Spenser book, Cheap Shot.
Jim Wilsky is an author whom we are proud to introduce to you. His short stories have been published on sites like Rose & Thorn and BEAT to a PULP, and his collaboration with Frank Zafiro has given us the acclaimed Ania series. The first book, Blood On Blood, had a knock-out ending and the latest, Closing The Circle, has Ania pitting her wiles against warring mobs, crooked cops, and a savvy insurance man over stolen jewels.
We’re always glad to have our pal George Wier join us. George is the creator of the Bill Travis series, a self-publishing sensation featuring a protagonist who could be compared to a Lone Star Travis McGee. While we’re not sure what George has in store for us, you can bet that it will have more Texas flavor than an Elgin sausage.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a Noir At The Bar without writer and musician, Jesse Sublett. As is tradition, he’ll be kicking everything off with a few murder ballads and then finishing things with a reading. The murder and mayhem begins Monday, May 12 at 7PM. Meet us then at Opal Divine’s, 3601 S. Congress. Books by the authors will be available for purchase. Come, drink, eat, mingle with our authors, and live noir!
We’re always happy to have our buddy George Wier join us for a MysteryPeople event. He’ll be joining Ace Atkins, Jesse Sublett, and Jim Wilsky for our latest Noir At the Bar on May 12Th, 7PM, at the Opal Divine’s on 6031 South Congress. To get folks ready, we have an excerpt from a little piece of noir published in Dreaming…, because no matter what George writes, he’s able to give it a Texas spin.
“It’s 1986 and they sure make good potatoes at the Mayhill Cafe. But
Dalton has no idea what year it is.
‘Yeah, the secret is to cook ‘em with real butter. Not deep fried, but
fried in a pan, just the right heat. That way the butter don’t burn up
and you ken cook more of ‘em for the next customer. Just keep addin’
butter. Yep. They sure—’
‘make good potatoes at the Mayhill Cafe,’ I mouth the words to the
ceiling as he speaks them.
It’s 1986 and two weeks to go until I walk out, a free man…”
Click here to read the full story.