Scrambling to Survive: MysteryPeople Q&A with Patricia Abbott

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Patricia Abbott’s Shot In Detroit was one of my favorite crime novels of 2016. It follows Violet Hart, a down-on-her-luck Detroit photographer who sees her last chance at a big artistic break with her growing collection of photos of the city’s dead young black men. Abbott gives us complex looks at art, race, and morality with a protagonist to match. This bleak satire of art and urban decay is the kind of book you want other people to read, so you can talk about it. Luckily, I had the opportunity to talk to the author herself.

“The idea for Shot In Detroit came from asking myself if Detroit were a person, what would he/she be like? How could I combine the rough, lonely, beaten- down Detroit of 2010 with the brave, humble, and pugnacious one that was still there too. How would that person (a woman in this case) navigate the 2011 streets?”

MysteryPeople Scott: It sounded like the idea for this book had been with you for some time – what was the spark of it?

Patricia Abbott: The idea for Shot In Detroit came from asking myself if Detroit were a person, what would he/she be like? How could I combine the rough, lonely, beaten- down Detroit of 2010 with the brave, humble, and pugnacious one that was still there too. How would that person (a woman in this case) navigate the 2011 streets? Then I came upon an New York Times article about a photographer (Elizabeth Heyert) whose gallery show and book (The Travelers) photographed the deceased in Harlem. That seemed like a perfect fit for Violet Hart. Photographing the dead was something most of us wouldn’t be able to do. Even in the hands of an artist, it might be viewed as distasteful, exploitive, sinister. Hopefully I was able to persuade the reader that it was art by the end of the book. Although getting to that end was treacherous.

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Congrats to the Edgar Award Nominees!!!

edgar-awards-logo

We were happy to see many of our favorite books and authors nominated for this years MWA Edgar Awards. Many of the books that made it into our Top  10 lists of the year, like Reed Farrel Coleman’s lyrical noir Where It Hurts and Alison Gaylin’s tale of celebricide What Remains Of Me, made the cut. Two of our favorite debuts of the year, Flynn Berry’s Under the Harrow (a tale of sisterly revenge) and Joe Ide’s IQ (an imaginative take on Sherlock Holmes, set in South Central LA), made the list for best first novel.

This may be the first year of mother-daughter nominees, with Patricia Abbott up for Best Paperback Original for Shot in Detroit and Megan Abbott up for Best Short Story for her contribution to Mississippi Noir. Some of out favorite anthologies, including Mississippi Noir, St. Louis Noir, and In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired By The Painting Of Edward Hopper had at least one story nominated for Best Short Story.

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Scott’s Top Ten of 2016 (Make it a dozen. Okay, fifteen or sixteen.)

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

This was a great year for crime fiction. Established authors experimented with new ideas or pushed what they were doing further. People with great debuts in 2015 proved it wasn’t just beginners luck this year. 2016’s new releases were so good, it was difficult to narrow them down, so I put a few together and made it a dozen.

97803991730351. Anything and All Things Reed Farrel Coleman

This year Coleman started a new character, ex-Suffolk-County-cop-turned-sorta-PI Gus Murphy (Where It Hurts), ended the series featuring dwarf detective Gulliver Down (Love & Fear), and delivered a Game Change in the life of Robert B Parker’s Jesse Stone (Debt To Pay.) All of it was executed with a poet’s choice of words, haunting emotions, and believable leads in a struggle to find who they are and what matters to them. He also had brilliant short stories in the anthologies Crime Plus Music and Unloaded. It wouldn’t surprise me if Reed made out some moving grocery lists as well.

97803995743202. The Second Life Of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Possibly one of the best crafted crime novels in a decade. Nick Mason finishes a twenty-year stretch in five due to a criminal kingpin who runs his empire from the inside. Upon Mason’s release the kingpin’s lawyer hands him a cell phone that is the condition of his release – he must answer the phone at any time and do whatever he is told on the other end. Everything Hamilton sets up in the first few chapters falls beautifully into place by the end.

97803162310773. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

This dark, morally complex tale looks at ambition and the dynamics of family support for their gymnastics prodigy daughter as the family and community react to a murder that occurs in their sporting community. Abbott further pushes the boundaries of noir.

97805254269434. An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

Sheriff Walt Longmire, Henry Standing Bear, and Deputy Vic Moretti find themselves having to solve a mystery in a town overrun by a motorcycle rally. Guns, outlaw bikers, federal agents and a woman from Henry’s past all play a part in unraveling the final mystery. Johnson strips down the cast to his most essential characters for one of the most entertaining books in the series.

97800623698575. What Remains Of Me by Alison Gaylin

A multi-layered psychological Hollywood thriller, in which a present-day murder of an actor is tied to the past murder of a director, and the same woman gets blamed for both. Gaylin’s character development beautifully dovetails with a plot that is never revealed until the final sentence. Beautiful, stunning work.

97803991739506. The Innocents by Ace Atkins

The latest and angriest of The Quinn Colson novels has our country boy hero and Sheriff Lillie Virgil solving a torturous murder of a former cheerleader, dealing with the worst aspects of Southern small town society. A book that enrages as it entertains.

97803079612737. Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman

Spiegelman introduces us to his new series character, a doctor who keeps his Skid Row clinic afloat by making “house calls” with his mercenary pal to the rich, famous, and criminal, who don’t need anything reported on medical records. A very interesting, complex hero, and an interesting look at L.A.

97812500099688. Murder At The 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane

In Murder at the 42nd Street Library, Con Lehane introduces us to another great new character, Raymond Ambler, Curator of the Crime Fiction Collection for the New York Public Library and amateur sleuth. A satisfying mystery with a lived-in, warm look at friendship and a worker’s look at New York.

97819438181749.City of Rose & South Village by Rob Hart

The seconds and third installments following unlicensed private eye Ash McKenna takes him to two very different places, tracking down a stripper’s daughter in Portland and a solving a murder on his friend’s Georgia commune, charting a progression of a broken man putting the pieces of himself together. Plot and character meld seamlessly into this compelling tale of a lone hero who feels he can not be a part of the society he helps.

978076537485110. Night Work by David C Taylor

This follow up to veteran screenwriter David C. Taylor’s debut, Night Life, has police detective Michael Cassidy protecting Castro during his famous New York visit. Taylor makes the city and period a living, vibrant thing coming off the page.

11. Shot In Detroit by Patricia Abbott9781940610825

This story about a photographer who gets obsessed with a project involving young black men challenges us at every turn about race, class, and art and crime fiction itself. It is a book where the author complements the reader by assuming you are as intelligent and open to difficult topics as she is.

978098913299212. Genuinely Dangerous by Mike McCrary and Kiss The Devil Goodnight by Jonathan Woods

Two dark wild rides through a pulp hell that is pure Heaven for crime fiction fans. if Barry Gifford was still running Black Lizard he would have signed these guys up.

MysteryPeople Review: SHOT IN DETROIT by Patricia Abbott

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781940610825Patricia Abbott’s Shot In Detroit is a book that challenges the reader. Abbott takes on several uncomfortable topics, more interested in their human truth than couching them in a gentle tone. Set in 2011 in a Detroit still reeling from the financial crisis, Shot In Detroit is half murder mystery, half extremely dark comedy. She even comes close to confronting the reader with the very book in their hand.

Even the protagonist can be initially hard to accept for some. Violet Hart struggles from a few bar mitvahs and weddings as a freelance photographer. At 39, she feels the doors closing on her opportunity to be considered an artist. When her lover, Bill Fontanel, a black mortician, asks her to snap some photos of one of his deceased, she becomes obsessed with a gallery idea, pictures of young dead black men. She gets a gallery interested, working Bill to supply the subjects. When she hasn’t filled the number of subjects she needs, a story that was dark to begin with goes pitch black.

Abbott is less interested in making Valentine relate-able than in nailing her complexity. She realizes you need to know her toughness and self involvement as well as the artistic desperation that she captures spot on, that moves her into her colder actions. She creates an interesting reader-heroine relationship, tightening the reader’s bond with Valentine as she spirals deeper and deeper into an abyss of her own creation.

The story covers many hard issues race, class, death and how we deal with it, and art all tangle upon one another, leading toward the issue of appropriation. Valentine’s photo collection mirrors that of many crime fiction writers, often white, who use the lives and deaths of the disenfranchised, often of color, for their work. Abbott looks deeply into this matter, yet turns any true judgment to the reader.

Fans of the fifth season of The Wire or the cult classic Man Bites Dog should enjoy this modern take on the classic quandary of shooting violence on camera. Abbott judges the reader and her protagonist equally for their shared obsession with observing death, and carefully explores the easily-crossed border between documenting suffering and causing it. Shot In Detroit is a book worthy to read and discussed. Patricia Abbott is honest in both subject and emotion. It may be heavy lifting for some, but it is well worth the weight.

You can find copies of Shot in Detroit on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Scott’s Top 10 Debuts of 2015

– List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Usually I only pick five novels in this category, but this was such a great year for new voices, the list needed to be expanded. I even had to cheat a little and allowed two to tie for the top.

978039917277997803991739671. Where All Light tends To Go by David Joy & Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Both these authors proved there is still a lot of life in rural noir. Writing with the skill and emotion of seasoned pros, they bring the mountains of South Carolina and Georgia to vivid, poignant, and painful life with their tales of fate, family, and violence.

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If you like Gillian Flynn…

– Recommendations from Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
9781940610382Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott
This book follows the crimes and misdemeanors of a mother and daughter, centered around when mom talks her thirteen year old in taking a murder rap for her. This debut does for mother-daughter relationships what Gone Girl did for marriage. You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9780425278406Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt

With the help of her psychiatrist, a woman tries to find her missing child, even though she has no proof or memory of when her child was taken. Burt mixes vivid characters, a strong sense of pace, and the perfect amount of biting satire to make this a one of a kind. You can find signed copies of Remember Mia on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
The roots of Flynn and her contemporaries. This book gives us eight authors who truly deserve their due in helping create the domestic suspense sub genre. An entertaining eye-opener. Accompanying essays online allow the crime writing enthusiast to explore the history and themes of suspense writing through the decades. You can find copies of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.