Meike Reviews Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River”

9780525540670_d2f6fPart-time bookseller and full-time mystery enthusiast Meike reviewed one of 2020’s hottest thrillers, Liz Moore’s Long Bright River for the BookPeople blog. Check out her thoughts on the novel below.


Long Bright River is one of those genre-defying thrillers that straddles literary fiction and crime fiction with a gripping police procedural that illuminates multiple aspects of the opioid crisis.

Michaela “Mickey” Fitzpatrick is a beat cop patrolling the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia—the
same streets where she spent a difficult childhood. Her younger sister Kacey lives on those same streets, turning tricks to feed her addiction.

Once inseparable—the sisters even shared a bed as children in their grandmother’s home—they haven’t spoken in years. But Mickey has always felt responsible for Kacey—
she never stops worrying about her, and always keeps an eye out for Kacey during her patrols.

When a series of mysterious murders rocks the neighborhood, Mickey realizes that she hasn’t seen Kacey in the past few months. Her worries escalate into a borderline obsession with finding her sister — and the killer. Her search forces her to come to terms with trauma that both sisters sustained as children, something that each dealt with differently.

The story is narrated by Mickey, and that makes the narrative a particular gift to the reader — Mickey is not one to share her innermost thoughts with anyone. She’s a woman of action, and keeps her thoughts and fears hidden from most. This structure conveys the bleakness of the deteriorating neighborhood in which Mickey and Kacey have spent their lives. Almost every resident has some connection to the drug epidemic, and has lost someone dear to them. Both Mickey and Kacey have lost pieces of themselves to
Kensington as well.


Long Bright River is available for purchase now from BookPeople in-store and online now!

About the author: Liz Moore is the author of the acclaimed novels Heft and The Unseen World. A winner of the 2014-2015 Rome Prize in Literature, she lives in Philadelphia.

All Too Real: The Power of Voice and Sisterhood in Julie Buntin’s Marlena

Marlena by Julie Buntin made my top ten list for 2017 and with good reason.  Marlena, Buntin’s debut novel, is anything but a beginner’s work.  It is filled with wisdom, finely crafted, and utterly heartbreaking in the best of ways.  This is a book I have read countless times, one of those books I turn to for comfort and solace even if sometimes they hold exactly the opposite of this.  Buntin’s novel is a miracle and a masterwork, and the reasons behind this are both incredibly obvious and entirely elusive.

The novel revolves around a woman named Cat, who now lives and works in New York City, but once lived in a podunk town in Michigan where she was forced to struggle to get along with a dysfunctional mother and a less than satisfactory life.  Eventually—well, almost immediately—Cat meets Marlena, and a beautiful but terrifying friendship begins.  It is known from the beginning that Marlena will die.  It is known from the beginning that her death will be tragic, and that it will haunt Cat for the rest of her life.  It is known from the beginning that this is not a happy story, and perhaps these are the reasons I consider it a genuinely real crime novel: the fact that this book is filled with the inevitable darkness that envelops us all, the ways our mistakes come back to haunt us, and of course, you know, there’s crime in the novel.  So, there’s that.

Buntin is a master at writing.  Her prose is lyrical, and there have been several sentences I have read again and again (having read the book maybe six times now easily since its publication last year) where I have said, aloud, to myself or my partner, “I wish I had written that. I wish I could write that. Write like this.” It’s true. I wish I could write as effortlessly, as flawlessly, as Julie Buntin. There is no doubt this novel was years in the making, but it feels as effortless as a quickly jotted down diary entry (that has been meticulously planned, scrutinized and understood again and again to perfection).  The perfection of the prose is not off-putting or unfortunate in any way.  Instead, it feels like a woman trapped in a past that is imperfect, telling her story in the most brilliant way possible.

How many stories have we read about young women and their friendships gone wrong? Megan Abbott has a novel coming out this year (and Abbott has praised Marlena, if that’s not a reason to purchase it alone) about a friendship turned upside down by a crime.  There are, of course, numerous—maybe innumerable—other novels, including other books coming out this year.  But Marlena stands out to me in a way similar, but different, than Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand.  It is a divine examination of a friendship gone wrong, a love lost—not necessarily a romantic love, not necessarily I say again, but something more profound.  An instant in one’s life that has changed this woman forever, and that she can never get back, and never be unchanged by.

Similarly, I cannot be unchanged now that I have read Julie Buntin’s beautiful book.  Cat’s voice is as alive as the voice in my head.  Buntin’s first novel more than delivers: she excels, she succeeds, she is the Superman of debut novelists.  I do not regret a single time I’ve read Marlena again and again.  The most beautiful part of the novel is how genuine and authentic the novel feels, like this is a true story—and who knows, there may be lots of truth to it.  No, I take this back—any book this real, this alive, leaping from the pages, has to be based on some experience Buntin or any other remarkable writer has felt in his or her life: we are lucky to have Buntin to express this truth for us.

Alison Gaylin Defies Genre: If I Die Tonight

Image result for alison gaylin authorAlison Gaylin is one of the many women leading the evolution of the crime fiction genre.  Her prose is precise and glowing, with characters that are alive and, to be cliché (which she never is), “come right off the page.” Less complex but equally as riveting as 2016’s What Remains of Me (still one of my favorite mysteries of all time), If I Die Tonight concerns a hit-and-run, a mysterious young man, and multiple relationships that are only moments away from surfacing as the novel progresses forward.  Gaylin is, once again, at the top of her game in this novel due out in March, 2018. But what makes Alison Gaylin such an amazing writer and why is everyone from Megan Abbott to Laura Lippman singing her praises?

It begins with Gaylin’s plots.  No one plots a novel quite like Alison Gaylin does, and any author or fan will speak up to this fact.  Her novels are so tightly plotted, it’s hard to imagine Gaylin without an outline by her side at any given moment during the writing process.  Yet, when asked about how she goes about plotting out her novels, her process seems more loose and less strict than that of other authors who stick firmly by their pre-written outlines.  Gaylin somehow creates a magic that is bewitching both for the reader and the critic, finding a way to mystify and conjure up a spell that will entrance readers throughout the entirety of the novel, and almost effortlessly so.

Another compelling aspect of Gaylin’s writing is her thoroughly developed characters, all of whom get equal page-time.  There’s Jackie, the mother of Wade and Conner, who’s trying to do her best as a single mother after her husband has left her years prior.   Conner, likewise, is struggling to keep up social appearances while his older brother Wade is somewhat of an outcast, someone who easily becomes suspect when a hit-and-run occurs in the beginning of the novel. Enter the rest of the vivid and vast cast of characters, from the novel’s victim, a high schooler who’s essentially the boy next door, his girlfriend and her friends, along with a pop singer well past her heyday and now desperately clinging to any sort of fame.  Also at the center of this mystery is Pearl, the newbie detective who just wants to have a suitable workplace and also may be running away from a past she cannot escape.

Obviously, there are a million places this novel can go, and Gaylin pushes each of her characters, as well as the plot and the reader, to his or her limits.  Gaylin is not afraid to push the taboo, as seen in What Remains of Me, and here she does so again, proving exactly how dark she can get in an already dark genre.  Those new to Gaylin are well past her breakthrough, what with her Brenda Spector series, and her fantastic standalone novels.  Now it’s simply time for the world to be aware of her genius, which seems as imminent as the ending of her novel: we know something is coming, we may even know what is coming, but when will it hit us exactly, and how?

Try to guess the ending of If I Die Tonight. Try and guess the killer, who is culpable and who is not, and you will find yourself shocked again and again with each turn of the page. In the end, everyone is culpable in one way or another, and no one is left getting off free. This book will warm your heart and rip it out again all in one paragraph, so be forewarned: Gaylin is not for the reader afraid of feeling, afraid of guessing, or afraid of turning into an investigator themselves.

A true master of the genre, each new book by Alison Gaylin is a book to be treasured.  In 2018, a year full of books by masters of the genre like Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Lori Roy, Alafair Burke, and others, this is truly a book that stands out among the rest.  Give If I Die Tonight a try.  You will not regret it.

MysteryPeople Review: WAIT FOR SIGNS by Craig Johnson

wait for signs twelve longmire stories

Wait For Signs by Craig Johnson
2015 will mark ten years for Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series. It’s fitting as we approach the holidays and this anniversary that fans can now get Wait For Signs, a collection of all the short stories Craig has written about the Wyoming sheriff. It fills in the history of the character, catching him at quieter times between all the murders, escaped convicts, and conspiracies. In these stories, the reader learns that Walt’s life is still not totally quiet.

Much of the collection is composed from the annual stories Craig sends to his newsletter subscribers around Christmas, but they deal with more than just the holidays. “Thankstaking” allows Walt’s Cheyenne buddy Henry Standing Bear not only an opportunity to save the day, but the chance to voice his opinion on a certain November celebration. One of the Christmas stories takes place before the series, at one of the lowest points in Longmire’s life, when he is mistaken for the son of God. On New Year’s Eve, he and previous Sheriff Luican Connally solve a crime both old and new at The Durant Home For Assisted Living. Even the Jewish New Year is used for suspenseful and humorous effect. Johnson avoids the schmaltzy trappings of many holiday stories, making them appropriate to read at any time of the year.

There are also other pieces of short work. The very first Longmire story, “Old Indian Trick,” puts the myth of the criminal mastermind to rest. Two e-book specials “Divorce Horse” and “The Messenger” are available in mass print for the first time. “The Messenger”, a comedy of manners, errors, and situation involving Walt, Henry, foul mouthed deputy Victoria Morretti, a bear, and an owl trapped in a Port-A-Potty, is worth the price of the book alone. There is also a new story “Petunia, The Bandit Queen” that tackles domestic discord, Wyoming history, and sheep.

The collection gives a clearer picture of Walt, seeing him more in his day-to-day life. In many of the Christmas stories we get a deeper understanding the effect that losing his wife Martha had on him and how he got through it. Two stories that seem to happen back to back, one with a hitchhiker, the other with a marine, reminds us that Walt’s main goal is to heal, even though he avoids opportunities to find his own peace. We also see more of his connection to spirituality than he typically admits to.

Without the need to deliver the tropes of a mystery, we see Johnson’s strength’s as a writer on full display. Without a grim murder, his use of humor is able to flourish. We also get to fully appreciate his gift for misdirection that we associate with how he takes our attention away from who done it. Here he often shows how it helps provide theme and internal conflict without being heavy handed.

Wait For Signs gives us an extra glimpse at one of the best mystery heroes of this new century. We get a better understanding of his strengths, flaws, and what sustains him. All in all, we get the hope that old fashioned virtue can trump even the most modern problems. Boy Howdy.


Wait For Signs by Craig Johnson is now available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: REMO WENT ROGUE by Mike McCrary

remowentrogue

Reviewed by Scott

Some of the most entertaining crime fiction is simply about nasty people trying to get one over on each other. There is a visceral charge to get out of people unrestrained by morality. Mike McCrary understands this completely in his new novel, Remo Went Rogue.

The first chapter is a story of violence, told during sex. The violence involves a bank robbery committed by the Mashburn Brothers, who leave no witnesses. The sex is between Remo Cobb, their defense attorney, and the assistant district attorney. Remo has got the Mashburns to tell him where the money is and now he’s throwing the case, with the plan they’ll get either life or death.

But they don’t. When they get out they go looking for Remo with a Jesus loving psychopath and a lot of guns. Remo finds refuge with a contract killer he’s defended.

McCrary knows exactly what kind of book he’s writing and he delivers. He gives us a tight read, under 200 pages, that never stops moving. The action is clear, punchy, and visceral. All of of the conniving and brutality is viewed with a jaundiced eye that barely blinks. Any time the story seems to veer towards sentimentality, Remo’s slimy viewpoint swings it back on to the rough road.

Remo Went Rogue is a fun, fast ride. It is a mean, hard boiled novel with a fresh spin on the genre and filled with rich black humor. Now if someone will make the movie.


You can find Remo Went Rogue on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: THE GOOD LIFE, by Frank Wheeler, Jr.

the good lifeReview By Molly

Frank Wheeler Jr. has just published his second novel, The Good Life, and boy, is it a doozy. Wheeler’s first book, The Wowzer, was well received as a debut novel upon its release in 2012. In The Good Life, Earl Haack Jr., raised by his policeman father to take a rather flexible approach to civil liberties, corruption, and brutality, works to take control of the drug trade in his hometown and carry on the family legacy. Haack is joined by his idiot brother and formidable ex-wife in his efforts to extend control over a huge and warring territory in what feels like equal parts Bad Lieutenant, The Godfather, and The Killer Inside Me.

The Good Life goes well alongside MysteryPeople’s September Pick of the Month, Benjamin Whitmer‘s new book Cry, Father – both star characters that go by Junior and have been virtually destroyed by the legacy of their fathers. While Whitmer’s tale focuses on the ways in which a father can try hard and still mess up, Wheeler’s novel takes a much more Machiavellian approach, showing the damage that can be done by a powerful and dangerous figure who deliberately sets out for his children to follow in his (bloody) footsteps.

Each part of Wheeler’s latest is both terrifying and tongue-in-cheek, starting with the title. “The Good Life” is the state motto of Nebraska, from whence the author hails and where the novel takes place. Another meaning for the title comes from Haack’s belief that he is creating a better world.  By taking out the most violent drug traffickers and moderating the level of violence in the community through his own control of the drug trade, Earl Haack, Jr., thinks he can establish “the good life” for his hometown. Earl also understands that through his corrupt actions, he also gains for himself and his ex-wife “the good life” of a gangster, in stark contrast to any morally driven part of his character. The novel, like the title, draws attention to Earl’s hypocrisy throughout, and although the novel consists mainly of snappy dialogue and extreme violence, Wheeler takes just the right amount of time to meditate on the nature of morality.

Wheeler’s new novel is not only impeccably plotted but also perfectly choreographed, with stylish dialogue and hard, tight writing. Wheeler grounds the narrative well in his native Nebraska, but abstracts the struggles of his characters to represent much of the struggle of modern America as a whole. The Good Life reads like rural noir, but feels like a gangster flick. The entire novel is cinematic in its scope, and if Quentin Tarantino teamed up with Francis Ford Coppola to make a movie about small-town corrupt cops in Nebraska starring Mathew McConaughey and Salma Hayek, it might look something like this book.  Hint, hint, Hollywood.


Copies of The Good Life are available via bookpeople.com and are coming soon to our shelves.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: CRY FATHER, by Benjamin Whitmer

cry father

MysteryPeople Pick for August: Cry Father, by Benjamin Whitmer

Review by Scott

When I got my hands on Cry Father, I knew I was going to love it. Benjamin Whitmer‘s debut, Pike, had caught the attention of every hard-boiled fan with its masculine prose and unflinching look at people on the margins and the brutality in which they find themselves trapped. Before even opening it, I knew it would be in my Top Ten of the Year. Whitmer delivers a novel for the decade.

As the story opens, we follow Patterson Wells, a tree cutter who clears limbs and wrenched timber from disaster sites. He also tries to clear the wreckage of his own life caused by the death of his son. Part of his attempt involves writing letters to his son that are interwoven beautifully throughout the story. On his way home to Colorado, he stops by a friend’s place and finds his buddy high on meth and his friend’s girlfriend hogtied in the bathtub. Patterson’s decision to free the woman, plus his involvement with Junior, a drug courier with severe father issues and a hair-trigger personality, unspool several brutal encounters that challenge Wells’ humanity.

While Cry Father shares many of the character types and ferocity of Pike, it has a wider scope. Pike‘s tighter structure compressed the genre tropes and more dramatic elements together, with violence present throughout the book. Here, Whitmer takes a more self-assured pace, allowing the characters, thematics, and bloodshed to settle into the story and dominate it less. The result is a book that is multilayered with a threat of violence vibrating through it like a rattle on a diamondback that will strike in due time.

Whitmer brings his version of the modern West and its people vividly to life. As desperate and brutal as the  circumstances are, it doesn’t come off as your standard rural noir. We simply follow people dealing with their lives without the middle-class advantage of being able to put a mistake behind them. Struggle permeates the book more than doom.

Cry Father finds a way to be deep, nuanced, wild, and dramatic all at the same time, making it difficult to fully comprehend in one reading, much less encapsulate it in one review. Its sense of loss and portraits of people in search of grace without a road map make the story linger. Whitmer honestly deals with what he tackles. He realizes there are things we can not get a grip on or put behind us. We’re best judged by how we carry them and can expect to stumble at times with that weight.


Cry Father hits the shelves September 16. It is available for pre-order now at bookpeople.com.