A (Partial) Atlas of Texas Crime Fiction

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

A hard land with a difficult history, Texas has always lent itself well to crime fiction. From the crime fiction greats who helped define the genre to those writers shaping the landscape of crime fiction today, Texas has a long tradition of social critiques and sendoffs of hypocrisy (the hallmarks of Texas crime fiction, in my opinion) delivered via murder mystery. Tales of Texas history may gaslight their audiences into believing in the state as a land of triumph, but we crime fiction readers know the dark, murderous truth about the land we call home….

Below, you’ll find an incomplete (of necessity) guide to Texas crime fiction, brought to y’all in honor of Texas Mystery Writers Month (that is, May). Emphasis is placed on well-known classic writers and the wide array of new crime fiction released in the past few years. We know we’re leaving out quite a few of the Texas mystery writer greats, and many of the good one-off novels. Some have gone out of print; others have simply dropped off our radar as we find new voices to champion.

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50 Mystery Novels by Women Crime Writers, Read in a Year

  • Post by Molly Odintz

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.

With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.

Many of the books below are part of the zeitgeist – you’ll see a lot of girls in the title. I’ve also tried to focus on reading some of their antecedents, and you’ll see works on the list from Dorothy Hughes, Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, and other classic women crime writers of mid-century America, plus a couple of golden age works from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. You won’t find many representatives of the tough second-wave protagonists of the 80s and 90s, or many works in translation – both areas, I’m sorry to admit, I neglected in the past year.

You will find quite a few books set in Texas, and some that have yet to be released; both quirks of a bookseller’s reading habits, as we tend to dive deep into the literature of our areas, and often receive early copies of upcoming releases.

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Letters to Santa: Tom Ripley Edition

MysteryPeople will feature letters to Santa from beloved (or infamous) mystery characters throughout the month of December. Our first letter comes from everyone’s favorite 1950s psychopath, Tom Ripley, and takes place between the first and second in the series. 

 

Dear Santa,

talented mr ripleyWhile I have many desires for this Christmas season, there’s no room to detail them all here. I’ve had quite a productive year, traveling across Europe, sailing the Mediterranean, acquiring the wealth and status I have always dreamed of, and acquiring the elegant company I have so desired. I certainly have miles to go to ensure a long-lasting happiness, and to secure my status in the world, and to these ends, I do have a few small requests.

  • I would like to secure a certain measure of security, as well as status. To this end, please send the documents and companions necessary to fully take on the life of a (particular) upper class gentleman.
  • I would like swimsuits to be banned, and for all to wear full linen suits with Italian leather shoes to the beach.
  • I would like a fine companion, all to myself.
  • I would like the deed to an Italian villa, preferably secluded.
  • I would like a standing reservation for skiing in the alps.
  • I would like (as has been the case before) to have little notice taken of me, that I might live in the shadows and achieve my wildest dreams.
  • And of course, I would like a yacht. Make that two yachts. One for the Riviera and one for the Cote D’Azure.

Best regards,

Tom Ripley

You can find Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels on our shelves or via bookpeople.com. The series begins with The Talented Mr. Ripleyand continues with Ripley Underground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripleyand Ripley Under Water

31 Crime Novels by Women: A New Year’s Resolution Progress Report in Honor of Women’s Equality Day

  • Post by Molly Odintz

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.

Minotaur Books Created This Stunning Image to Celebrate Women's Equality Day
Minotaur Books created this stunning image in celebration of Women’s Equality Day (this year, Friday, August 26th).

With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.

This year, to my surprise, I’m a bit further on the path to completing my reading goal, so time to brag and share it with you all, despite my failure to complete it as of yet. Hey, I’ve got four more months left, so why not put the cart before the horse and smugly tell you all about my accomplishments? After all, I’m 31 books in, 31 crime novels by women that I can now confidently recommend in the store and on the internet, because I have read and enjoyed them. Before I (prematurely) rest on my laurels, I’d like to trace the origins of this mighty goal.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Sarah Weinman

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

For the past few decades a sense of a crime novel canon, a set of essential classics, has taken on form and substance. We can all acknowledge the innovators and masters of the genre,  yet unless we contemplate golden-era British detective fiction, most of the authors already incorporated into the crime fiction canon are male. And yet, those names make up only a part of crime fiction’s history.

“I think it’s important to note that feminism is something that is present in terms of a reflection of the lives these women led, not necessarily because they themselves identified with the cause…The wonderful thing about feminism is it includes everyone, whether they really want to be there or not, because the tenets are so simple: equality for both genders.”

Women have always made up a substantial chunk of the most popular writers in the genre, whether writing golden-era detective novels, thrillers, noir, or the recently repopularized domestic suspense novel, yet women in genre fiction tend to go out of print as soon as they stop writing new fiction unless they have established a wildly popular series. When classics of the genre have been brought back into print, most often, publishers have chosen to privilege works by men – until now, with Library of America’s Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 40s and 50sreleased last year.

 As International Women’s Month draws to a close, feast your eyes on an interview with Sarah Weinman, editor of the incredible Library of America collection, Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 40s and 50s. The two-volume set, also sold seperately by decade, contains eight novels, four per decade. The collection’s companion website includes thoughtful essays on each book included in the LoA collection from some of the premier figures of the detective novel world, including contributions from Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, and Sara Paretsky, among others.

“Criticism requires a somewhat different toolbox than does journalism, than certainly does fiction or reading, but all are informed by the other and inform each other. I sure would not have it any other way, except maybe making more time for fiction…”

Sarah Weinman is previously the editor of the anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wivesand has been instrumental in bringing long-neglected classic crime and suspense stories by women authors back into print and into the public eye. Thanks to Sarah for letting us send these questions along!


Molly Odintz: It must have been incredibly difficult to decide which volumes to include in this collection – how did you assemble the works that made it in?

Sarah Weinman: We certainly had many spirited meetings over selections, but the truth of the matter is, most of what constituted Women Crime Writers was a fairly speedy consensus. The LoA publisher and editor, Max Rudin & Geoffrey O’Brien, and I agreed quickly on In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes,The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and Laura by Vera Caspary, so that was 3/4 of the 1940s volume. O’Brien suggested The Horizontal Man, which I knew about but hadn’t read, and once I did I realized it had to be in there. For the 1950s, we knew we had to have a Charlotte Armstrong and a Margaret Millar and they would *probably* be Mischief and Beast in View but we did talk about some other 1950s titles just in case — but then settled on those two. Dolores Hitchens was a strong choice early on but getting a hold of a copy of Fool’s Gold was not easy, and in the meantime we also really came close to including Dorothy Salisbury Davis (I really, really love A Gentle Murderer.) So weirdly enough, the Highsmith came late, and it took a couple of tries for me to really get into The Blunderer, but once I did, I think it was the final connective glue for the entire collection that really solidifies the whole group.

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Murder In The Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: THE PRICE OF SALT by Patricia Highsmith

The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets the third Tuesday of each month at 2 PM on BookPeople’s third floor. Please join us Tuesday, October 20, at 2 PM as we discuss The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith. 

  • Post by Molly

price of saltFrom time to time, my attention focuses in on a novel that may or may not be a mystery novel, but can arguably fall under the category of noir. I then assign these novels to my mystery book clubs, wherein my book club members scoff at how little violence actually occurs in the book. Well, scoff away, for The Price of Salt, while it may be shelved in the mystery section, is not a mystery novel at all. It is a love story, written by an author known for her mystery novels.

After her first novel, Strangers on a Train, forever labeled Highsmith as a “suspense writer,” Highsmith wrote The Price of Salt under a different pen name, so as not to be newly labeled by the publishing industry as a lesbian writer. Renewed interest in Highsmith in the 1980s led to the reissue of The Price of Salt under her own name, and the novel is now being adapted to the screen, with a projected release date of later this fall.

Rather than a dark exploration of the worst aspects of the human psyche, Patricia Highsmith, in The Price of Salt, tells the story of two women, drawn together by a chance meeting at a crowded department store, who are initially convinced their attraction is as dark and forbidden as any other action by a Highsmith character. As they spend more time together, and leave their past commitments behind in favor of their growing attachment, they (uniquely for Highsmith characters) leave their ill-health and obsessions behind in favor of growing happiness and fulfillment.

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7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN by Patricia Highsmith

On Monday, October 5th, the 7% Solution Book Club meets to discuss Patricia Highsmith’s debut, Strangers on a Train. November’s book is The Murder of Roger Ackroydby Agatha Christie. As always, book club selections are 10% off at the registers in the month of their selection. 

  • Post by Molly

strangers on a trainPatricia Highsmith, in her long career, became one of the world’s most renowned crime novelists, and was one of the first women to be accepted into the mystery cannon as a master of psychological suspense. She has stayed in print continuously, when most of her female contemporaries had no hope of a classic reissue.

Her often-filmed Ripley stories catapulted her into long-lasting fame; yet even her debut novel, Strangers on a Train, was made into a classic noir by Hitchcock with a large following to this day. While many of the greatest mystery plots have been replicated often enough that it is difficult to notice the creativity of even the original, Highsmith’s unique simplicity of narrative, especially in her debut, stands alone, and feels as disturbingly plausible today as when it was first published.

Highsmith had many obsessions throughout her life, including at times, a preference for the company of snails over that of people. In her writings, she is fixated on obsession itself, and with the violence hidden within an ordinary individual, brought out by the repressive dysfunctions of a conservative society. She concerns herself with the point at which obsession becomes compulsion, and the moment when that compulsion becomes action. Highsmith’s style is almost synonymous with the definition of noir; her novels are characterized by as much atmosphere as action; she follows ordinary people changed by violent acts, and has no easy division of character into good or bad, cop or criminal.

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