Three Picks for September

the white vanThe White Van by Patrick Hoffman

My favorite debut of 2014 is now out in paperback. A “functioning” drug addict gets manipulated into being a front for a bank robber, but takes off before she hands over the money. Russian criminals and a crooked cop then pursue her on a mad chase through San Francisco. Hoffman delivers a relentless, gritty thriller with a cast of characters way out of their depth. Out today! You can find copies of The White Van on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Patrick Hoffman


Patrick Hoffman’s The White Van made our Top 6 Debuts Of 2014. A bank robbery kicks off a careening story of desperate criminals and cops in a situation way over their head in the grittier sides of San Fransisco. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on thriller writing with Patrick and Jeff Abbott and was happy to catch up with him to discuss more about the book, how to creating tension,his day job as a real private detective, and why he considers himself an equal opportunity crime writer.

MysteryPeople: The White Van has an involved plot where the fates of several characters interlock over a bank robbery. What was the initial idea for the book and how did it come about?

Patrick Hoffman: First off, can I take a moment to say that you are my favorite book seller in Texas, and I am so happy to talk with you about my book, and so happy to have met you! So, lets see, where was I…I was working as an investigator at the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, when I heard about an interesting case. That case supposedly involved a group of people that were taking women to hotel rooms, plying them with drugs, cleaning them up, making them look more professional, and then forcing them to cash fake checks. I said to myself, that would make a great start of a novel. I think I just sat on that idea for about six months or a year before I finally began writing it. Once I started writing, I started becoming curious about the other characters: okay, lets see, if we have a group that is taking women to hotels, why are they doing that? What would force someone to do something like that? That’s when the story became more interesting to me.

MP: The first chapter has a Gas Light quality where you are never on solid footing where you’re not sure what’s going on and you assume the people Emily is dealing with are the villains, but you are not certain. It’s quite effective. What was the goal to that approach?

PH: My goal at all times was to keep things tense. Not knowing what is happening is one way to make a scene tense, but you don’t want to just confuse the reader. I wanted to create a scene that is inherently tense–bringing a woman to a hotel and having her become incapacitated by drugs while be tended to by a male and female pair of Russian gangsters seemed like a tense situation, but then, I also wanted to drag that scene on for a while and not let you know what they were planning on doing with her. I was also trying to play with the character’s perspective, I mean here she is losing control of herself to a drug cocktail that she doesn’t even entirely know she’s receiving, so, of course, you have her perspective, too.

MP:  You learn later on that Emily’s antagonists are in over their heads. In fact, practically every character is. Was there a certain reason for that choice?

PH: Again, tension, tension, and tension. But that also goes back to my criminal defense background. I think I was interested in looking at why these characters would do these bad acts, and try and come up with a defense for those acts. It’s all a search for mitigating evidence, right? I would say, okay, this guy or gal did this thing, but look at why he or she did it, she had X, Y, and Z reasons for doing it, and she had to do it! Ladies and gentleman of the jury, you must acquit!!

MP: Your police characters are ethically challenged to say the least, but are quite human. As someone who has had to deal with law enforcement, what did you want to convey about those in the profession?

PH: Under the advice of my attorney, I am going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. What are you trying to do, get me killed? Just kidding. Look, here’s the thing, in my decade of working in and around the courts of San Francisco, I saw a lot of shady behavior by police officers. I think one of the biggest problems with our justice system is that the police (and prosecutors) have decided that they can lie with impunity (and, usually, they can!). But I didn’t want to get super preachy, that would be boring! I wanted to treat the cops in my book with the same amount of respect that I treated the drug addicts, and the gangsters. I’m an equal opportunity thriller writer, I make bad things happen to everyone!!

MP: This book is full of fun, seedy characters, who are morally compromised. Was one really fun or easy to write?

PH: I don’t like writing about good people. I think they’re boring. But, I also don’t like cliched bad guys either. I think they are equally boring. My goal was to make everyone a mixture of both good and bad.Once I had those people, I wanted to let them loose on each other and insert them into very stressful situations and see how they responded.

MP: As a private detective, I have to ask, what’s the biggest thing private eye fiction gets wrong?

PH: Private investigation can be super exciting, but it can also be incredibly drudging. My job sometimes feel like all I do is go from one empty house to the next, ringing doorbells along the way. If somebody is home they are usually not the person I’m looking for. Also, and I love this part of it, but sometimes you’re just going over somebody’s phone records with a fine-tooth comb, color coding them, so you know what’s happening, or listening to hours and hours of interview tapes, because you have to listen to everything. I love that kind of work, but private investigation fiction usually leaves the boring parts out. Maybe that’s why there are no private investigators in my book!


Copies of  The White Van are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Scott’s Top 6 Debut Novels of 2014

I know, you’re only supposed to have five. I wrote a list of these favorites, got six, and could not bear to take one of them of the list. Read them all and you’ll understand and be happy for the future of crime fiction.


the ploughmen1. The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan

A Montana sheriff’s deputy guards an old hired killer, hoping to get information about his past crimes. What ensues is a hard meditation on sin, death, regret, and friendship. A book as harsh and beautiful as its winter setting.

 

 


2. The White Van by Patrick Hoffmanthe white van

A somewhat functioning drug addict is manipulated into being a part of a bank robbery. When she takes off with the money, she’s soon on the run from the criminals, the law, and a bent cop. Hoffman makes us feel the desperation of his characters in this steet-wise thriller that is part Elmore Leonard, part Hitchcock, yet completely unique.


 

life we bury3. The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Joe is a poor college student with a drunk mother, autistic brother, and his own baggage. When Joe gets an assignment to write a biography, the project leads him to a dying Vietnam vet, still proclaiming his innocence for the rape and murder for which he was convicted. As Joe searches for information to prove the vet’s innocence, he soon endangers himself and those he loves. A great new voice in the mainstream thriller.


 

stinking rich rob brunet4. Stinking Rich by Rob Brunet

The tender of a Canadian pot farm runs afoul of his biker gang bosses in a situation involving a dead dog and a lot of cash in this comic crime novel. Brunet infuses his likable losers and bad guys with humanity and dialogue that keeps you laughing. The closest I’ve read to Donald Westlake. I almost forgot, there’s a lizard involved too.

 


 

dry bones in the valley5. Dry Bones In The Valley by Tom Bouman

Bouman’s affable, fiddle playing lawman, Henry Farrel, takes on a murder investigation that could light up his rural Pennsylvania county, already turned into a tinderbox by meth, poverty, and family history. Reminiscent of Craig Johnson in the way the hero interacts with his community.

 


 

cb mckenzie bad country6. Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie

McKenzie introduces us to meet former bareback rider turned PI, Rodeo Grace Garnett, who has to maneuver around wild women, shady good ol’ boy politics and business, questionable local law, and a rough and tumble Arizona that would make most big city detectives run for the safety of their own mean streets. I couldn’t help but hear echoes of James Crumley in the way it deals with people living a life on the margins.


All of the books listed above are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more top lists later in December!

MysteryPeople Review: THE WHITE VAN, by Patrick Hoffman

the white vanThe White Van, Patrick Hoffman‘s debut novel, is hard to define in subgenre. It shares the pace and plotting skill of a Jeff Abbott or Meg Gardiner thiller, but has a grittier style. Both heroes and villains in Hoffman’s masterful work would feel comfortable in the worlds of James Crumley or Andrew Vachss. One thing is certain, this is one effective book.

In the first chapter we’re introduced to Emily, a somewhat functioning drug user in San Fransisco. Her addiction leads her to follow a man to his hotel for a hit. The drug she takes knocks her out. When she awakes, others are in the room.

We feel Hoffman’s skill immediately, through a series of lucid moments Emily has between black outs. Hoffman keeps us in suspense; we are as off balance as the character. Her captors attempt to manipulate Emily into partaking in an identity theft scheme in return for a cut.  It’s too late when she learns it is a bank robbery and she’s been framed to be the suspect. With money in her hand,having come to her senses, Emily takes off.

We then meet Leo, a cop with more than questionable ethics. After his behavior gets him and his partner into a jam that only a lot of cash can solve, he hears of the robbery and Emily’s description. Now she has the honest cops, the outlaws, and the corrupt cops all after her.

Hoffman could have titled the book ‘desperation.’ Every character is in over their head. When we learn the circumstances of the people who set up Emily, we even feel for them a little. If the definition of ‘noir’ is one bad decision leading to a series of other decisions that are even worse, then The White Van is the epitome of noir. For Hoffman, a fast pace isn’t a goal for turning pages but a way to immerse us in the relentless situation his characters are in.

Like the rest of the novel, the ending has a unique feel. We take inventory of the people we’ve gotten to know through their trying and violent time. We are not sure if we have changed our minds about them, but we feel a deeper connection. Like Elmore Leonard, we have gotten to know Patrick Hoffman’s shady characters. Through these people we get the chance to see a shadow San Fransisco; one which rubs up against the work-a-day one. Will Patrick Hoffman’s next novel take the same approach on an international level? Wherever he wants to take the reader, I’m ready to go.


Copies of The White Van are available on BookPeople’s shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Texas Book Festival Wrap-up!

~post by Molly and Scott

MysteryPeople’s Molly Odintz and Scott Montgomery were invited to be moderators at the 19th Annual Texas Festival Of Books held at the state capitol last weekend. It was Scott’s fourth time moderating at the festival and Molly’s first time ever. They both survived to tell the tale to report back.


SCOTT

Crime fiction had its strongest presence yet at the festival with six panels and three one-on-one interviews with the likes of Walter Mosely and James Ellroy. Even before the actual festival got underway, I got to sped some time with the authors. Timothy Hallinan, author of the Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty series, shared some BBQ as we talked books and his time working with Katherine Hepburn. I also got to spend some time with friends Harry Hunsicker, Mark Pryor, and the three authors who make up the pseudonym Miles Arceneaux before they went to their panels. Then I had my own.

First up was an interview with Craig Johnson, who’s latest book, Wait For Signs, is a collection of all the short stories featuring his Wyoming sheriff hero, Walt Longmire. He told the audience that Walt’s last name came from James Longmire who opened up the trail near Washington’s Mount Rainer and had the area named after him. He felt the combination of the words “long” and “mire” expressed what his character had been through. He added it also passed the test for a western hero name in that it could easily be followed by the word “Steakhouse.”

My panel discussion, Risky Business, had Jeff Abbott and debut author Patrick Hoffman looking at the art of thriller writing. The discussion got interesting when when it got into the topic of being categorized in a genre. Jeff said he wanted to get pigeon holed, “That way I know I’m selling.” He added it has never interfered with the type of book he wanted to write. We also got into an interesting talk about use of location. Patrick Hoffman talked about how he would often use his company car to drive to the location of his San Fransisco centric, The White Van, and write there on his lunch hour. Jeff and I also had fun drawing as much attention we could to our friend, author Meg Gardiner, who was in the audience and should have known better.

By the time the festival was over my body dehydrated, my voice was shot, and my blood alcohol content was questionable. Can’t wait til’ next year.


MOLLY

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of moderating two mystery panels at the Texas Book Festival. This was my first try at moderating panels and I am so thankful to MysteryPeople and the Texas Book Festival for giving me the opportunity to channel an NPR interviewer.The first, a panel on International Crime, featured authors Kwei Quartey, on tour with his latest Darko Dawson novel, Murder at Cape Three Points, and Ed Lin, with his new novel Ghost Month. Kwei Quartey’s novels take place in Ghana and increasingly focus on the economic and social imbalances of modern day Ghanaian life. Ed Lin has previously written novels depicting the Asian-American experience, including his Detective Robert Chow trilogy, set in New York City, and Ghost Month is his first to take place outside of the country.

We talked about what it means to write international crime fiction, the place of food in the detective novel, fiction as a method of dealing with historical and current societal trauma, and how to escape from a crashing helicopter. Both authors are published by SoHo and you can find their books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

The second panel, looking at crime noir, brought together authors Rod Davis, with his latest, South, America, and Harry Hunsicker, with his new novel The Contractors. South, America follows a Dallas native living in New Orleans as he finds a dead body, gets tangled up with the dead man’s sister, and must go on the run from mobsters. The novel reaches deep into the twisted Louisiana web of racism and poverty to write a lyrical portrait of two desperate people.

Harry Hunsicker is the author of many previous novels, and his latest, The Contractors, explores the blurred lines between public and private when it comes to law enforcement. His two protagonists are private sector contractors working for the DEA and paid a percentage of the value of any recovered substances. They get more than they bargained for when they agree to escort a state’s witness from Dallas to Marfa with two cartels, a rogue DEA agent, and a corrupt ex-cop following them.

We talked about the meaning of noir, the craft of writing mysteries, the purpose of violence in fiction, and stand-alones versus series. South, America and The Contractors  are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.