John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel, due to release at the end of this month, has the author working in top form. This time the Maine detective (and possibly fallen angel) finds himself in a town of dark secrets. It is a story that lends itself perfectly to Connolly’s talents.
Charlie gets word that a homeless man he knows wants to hire him to find his missing daughter, a junkie who also finds herself on the street at times. By the time he is able to contact his client, he learns the man has been hung, with the death ruled a suicide. To fulfill the man’s last request, Charlie takes the case.
The trail leads to the town of Prosperous. The place seems to reflect it’s name, thriving in economic conditions that have ruined other towns, with citizens who have suffered little. The good fortune may be linked to some bad secrets, connected to a church brought stone by stone from Europe centuries ago. That secret is also tied to Parker’s nemesis, The Collector.
Connolly is at his best here. He’s created an involving mystery which the supernatural elements and social themes subtly settle into. The writing is so good, it will have you yearning for Parkers’ next next as soon as you are finished.
The Wolf in Winter will be released on October 28th and John Connolly comes to BookPeople November 18th at 7PM to sign and discuss the novel. Pre-order your signed copy today in-store or via bookpeople.com
On the heels of Benjamin Whitmer’s Cry Father, comes another dark look at the modern west with Kim Zupan’s debut, The Ploughmen. The novel meditates on the subjects of death, violence, and evil, finding humanity, but not a silver lining in those dark clouds. Even its main theme of human connection brings up more cold questions than warm answers.
The book features two men on opposite sides of the law. John Gload is a hired killer, practicing his trade for over half a century until an accomplice rats him out. Valentine Millimaki works as a sheriff’s deputy in Central Montana with a marriage failing due to life’s pressures. Both men have a history with death. Gload killed his first man at fourteen. As a boy, Millimaki discovered his mother’s body after she hung herself and it seems the last several missing persons he’s searched for have been found dead.
Valentine becomes John’s guard during the night shift, as the killer awaits trail, asked to pull more information of past murders from him. What develops is a relationship that drives the novel. Millimaki resists calling him a friend, yet realizes he’s the closest thing to a person who understands him. Zupan writes Gload with the right amount of distance from the reader for us to get his charm but never quite trust him, even though we want to. Much of the suspense in the book comes from the effect each man will have on the other.
Zupan uses the Montana winter setting for all it is worth. The harshness and desolation mirrors the lives of these two men. The bareness and lack of population also shows how the cold, wide, empty space can make people on opposite ends simpatico. Like a skilled western film director, the author often allows the landscape to speak for his characters.
There is a belief that friends are the only people you choose to be a part of your life. The Ploughmen questions that thought as well as the nature of friendship itself in an approach both realistic and poetic. I look forward for the next subject Zupan chooses to look square in the eye.
The Ploughmen is currently available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
Setting has always been an important element in crime fiction. Whether Hammett’s San Francisco, Chandler’s LA, Hillerman’s Four Corners, or Pelecanos’ DC, the protagonist has an intense relationship with their hometown. Ed Kurtz shows his understanding of this in his novel, The Forty-Two.
The title refers to New York’s Times Square of the early Eighties. Kurtz brings it to life in all of its sleazy glory with the hookers, junkies, peep shows, and questionable dining establishments. Most important to our hero, Charley McCormick, is The Forty-Two‘s
grindhouse theaters that crank out exploitation films from their projectors. The first chapter is a beautiful introdution to Charley and the Square on a Friday night as he looks for his film fix, the bloodier the better.
Charley gets more blood than he bargained for. A young woman sits next to him during a slasher double bill, even though the theater is half empty. When the first feature is over, Charley discovers she’s been murdered. He’s plunged into a nightmare involving mobsters, arson, an archaic form of porn, and the future of his beloved Forty-Two. Kurtz uses his tools as a horror writer, ratcheting the dread and tension like a dark craftsman and delivers the emotion and Charley’s observations with the skill of a veteran hard boiled poet.
It is in the depiction of Times Square where the book really shines. Kurtz transports you back to a time and place with details that pop, but never overwhelm. We get the sights, sounds, and (be forewarned) smells of the place which express Charley’s love for it.
The Forty-Two terrorizes, entertains, and transports us. Ed Kurtz hits all the genre tropes with a fresh, lurid spin. He gives us an involving read that serves as a look, both subtle and deep, at the places we attach ourselves to.
Ed Kurtz will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Friday, August 22nd at 7PM! You can pre-order signed copies of The Forty-Two now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.
MysteryPeople Pick for August: The Iron Sickle by Martin Limón Reviewed by: Scott M.
Martin Limón‘s series featuring George Sueño and Ernie Bascome is a must read. The cases of these two CID Army detectives in the South Korea of the ’70s explore culture, bureaucracy, and the hard pursuit of justice, with an approach both hard boiled and human. The latest, The Iron Sickle, is the epitome of this.
The title refers to the weapon used by a killer who went on base and murdered two personnel. Some think it is the work of a North Korean agent, given the communist symbolism of the sickle. The plot becomes even more convoluted when Bascome and Sueño find themselves in an investigation where neither the U.S. Army nor the Korean government want to be responsible for finding the perpetrator. With the help of a female Army psychologist, who is after Sueño as well as the killer, the two follow a trail of violence that leads to a mountain village and its dark history, where the line between victim and victimizer blurs.
Limón always creates a vivid sense of his investigators’ time and place. Like Sueño, he has an understanding and respect for the cultural surrounding. We learn much about Korean society through the detectives and their interactions with customs and protocols. He also covers the Army politics and bureaucracy that get in the way of investigations. Sueño has an amazing explanation of how their civilian dress code makes them stand out while trying to work.
The book is also one of the best examples of Sueño and Bascome’s friendship. Sueño is an orphan from the L. A. barrio who has fallen in love with the world he’s landed in. Bascome fought through three Vietnam tours and is driven by action and an adversarial nature. The two are more than a cop-buddy relationship of opposites. We see their subtle effect on each other. Both are comrades united by a clear sense of righteous purpose that doesn’t fit the group they are in.
The Iron Sickle is a great introduction to the Sueño-Bascome series while building on what came before. Limón looks at history and culture, and at the sins of each, with two heroes who understand the true meaning of justice. You’ll be going back for the other books after you’ve read this one.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that we’re living in a golden age in crime fiction. It’s only the middle of the year and I have more than enough to fill out a Top Ten list. So to fill in your summer reading time, I’ve come up with 10 (okay, 12) books that you need to read in August.
Both of these books showcase the wide range of rural crime fiction. McBride’s relentless noir novel and Atkin’s latest book starring heroic lawman Quinn Colson are both skilled gothic spins on communities and their underlying corruption.
Moe Prager takes on his last case with the humanistic toughness we have come to expect from Coleman’s work. This book delves into the series’ recurring theme of identity in a new way and lets Moe go out with class.
Abbott’s take on the mysterious seizures of several high school girls in a small town borrows moods and tones from several genres. In The Fever, Abbott has created a unique thriller about populace, sexuality, and parental love. Another Megan Abbott book that’s hard to shake.
Tafoya’s latest reads like Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neil. A damaged ex-US Marshall tries to protect what’s left of her family when her father, a corrupt union enforcer, breaks out of prison and sets out on a brutal trail. The emotion is as intense as the gunfire.
Retired police chief Samuel Craddock gets pulled into the murder investigation of a returned vet and ends up acting as a witness to the sins of his town and country. A moving mystery about a very relevant topic.
This suspenseful ode to the sleazy Times Square of yesteryear stars a young grindhouse addict who ends up in his own horror show when the girl who sits next to him during a slasher double-bill is stabbed to death. One of the best uses of setting I’ve ever read.
The latest Hugo Marston thriller has the embassy security head involved with a conspiracy linking French Revolution history to current politics in this fun and involving story with many strong characters. Proof of why Mark Pryor is one of the fastest rising talents in the thriller field.
A botched blackmail attempt combines with a botched kidnapping for a tale that contains an ever-changing set of sub genres and points of view. The story moves from black comic noir to detective story to thriller, all the while presenting engaging characters and a relentless plot.
If newspapers are dying, the newspaper mystery isn’t. In Providence Rag, DeSilva’s series character Mulligan is pitted against a crusading reporter whose exposé of prison corruption could release a serial killer he helped put away. Tucker’s debut, Ways of the Dead, has his D.C. journalist covering a murder case that links the city’s lower class and the power class. Both books show the untapped potential of the newspaper subgenre.
Read these bokos, take a breath, and brace for Fall with more books from authors like James Ellroy and Jon Connolly. Four members on today’s list will publish a second novel this year, as well, so look for new books from Terry Shames, Reed Farrel Coleman, Mark Pryor, and Ed Kurtz before 2014 is up.
With echoes of both William Faulkner and Elmore Leonard, the latest Quinn Colson novel by Ace Atkins, The Forsaken, goes deep into both Colson’s character and his culture. Like Southern literature’s best novels, Atkins centers his narrative around themes of family and of the past, with a few great action sequences thrown in to keep things interesting.
As The Forsaken opens, Chains LeDoux, leader of The Born Losers biker gang, has just finished up a twenty year prison stretch, and he comes out gunning for Sheriff Colson’s nemesis town fixer, Johnny Stagg. Quinn, himself, is looking into a cold case involving a a man who raped one girl and killed another when the town was celebrating the Bicentennial.
The town quickly decided to lynch a black drifter for the crime, but evidence has arisen years later pointing to his innocence. As Quinn looks into what really happened, he finds much resistance from the town. Like Faulkner, Atkins uses the mystery structure to look at the past’s relationship to the present. Many chapters take place in the ’70s and feature Quinn’s estranged father, Jason, and his involvement with a neighborhood gang called The Born Losers, all leading up to that dark July 4th. The back-and-forth structure creates a conversation between Jason’s prior actions and his son’s current investigation. This past and present dynamic enriches the book and gives it its authenticity.
We get a realistic modern Southern town in Jericho. The classic country from the barbershop mixes with the hip-hop from a passing pick up. Quinn’s mother still cooks lard-fried bacon and eggs with biscuits and gravy, but he has to make due with a salad when spending the evening with his girl. Ace also shows how ignoring the past can drag progress made towards the future.
With The Forsaken, Ace Atkins digs into the specifics of southern life, mining universal truths of history, family, and society. His characters are both true and entertaining (Leonard fans will love the dialogue of his villains) and the world he creates breathes with a lived-in quality. All that and kick-ass action too.
Lori Rader-Day has been in the crime world for a while – she teaches mystery writing in Chicago and is active in several mystery author organizations. The Black Hour is her first novel, and hits on some fairly heavy themes for a debut, including suicide and a
mysterious campus shooting. Random acts of violence are on America’s mind, and they seem to have been on Lori Rader-Day’s mind as well. Since the novel is set in academia, the fierce competition for prestige and funding in higher education plays a prominent role. There are, it seems, quite a few more reasons to kill someone in the ivory tower than one might realize before starting this thrilling descent into the depths of the near-Ivy League.
The Black Hour begins with a professor returning to work after being gut-shot by a student a year earlier. Why? No one knows – some assume the two were having an affair, but most accept it as random violence that cannot be understood. Dr. Amelia Emmet, however, studies the sociology of violence for her living, and with the help of a secretive graduate student and a persistent reporter, she just might find out the truth. Realistically, it might take a while – every moment she gets closer to a resolution, she hits yet another hurdle in her recovery from injuries and her repairing of relationships wrecked long before her shooting ever took place. The narrative might develop gradually, but Rader-Day’s ear for dialogue and compelling characterizations keep the pace from ever feeling slow.
This is a very human story – Lori Rader-Day shies away from sweeping condemnations of society in favor of a more nuanced take on a woman’s struggle to find closure. Curiosity, personal and professional, also play a part, and Rader-Day enjoys bringing to the fore the central irony of the story – a professor specializing in the sociology of violence has become the victim of that which constitutes her livelihood. The identity crisis caused by this intimate violation of academic distance allows Rader-Day to delve more deeply into the psychology of murder, and sparks additional discussions of class, gender, privilege, disability, and asymmetrical sexual relationships. She presents this all with a dry wit and cynical edge, while drawing towards a suspenseful and satisfying conclusion. The Black Hour is one to read, and Rader-Day is definitely one to watch.