MysteryPeople Q&A With Meg Gardiner

meg gardiner
~interviewed by Molly

This coming Saturday, June 28th at 4PM, MysteryPeople will be welcoming Meg Gardiner to the podium to discuss and read from her latest, Phantom Instinct. Molly already reviewed Phantom Instinct, but was able to catch up with Meg before Saturday’s event to get the full scoop.

Molly O.: Your two main characters, Harper and Aiden, are hobbled in their pursuit of justice by Harper’s past as a juvenile delinquent and Aiden’s traumatic brain injury, which leads him to see enemies everywhere. Their flaws drew me in to their characters much more so than any of their more heroic attributes, especially in the case of Aiden. What was your inspiration for creating such flawed characters?

Meg Gardiner: I want to write about characters who have their backs up against the wall. For a novel to be suspenseful, the characters must be vulnerable to real danger. If they have no flaws, no limitations, then they face no real challenge. That story’s boring.

Even Superman has Kryptonite.

The only real way to find out what characters are made of is to crack their world in half. Then you learn whether they can fight their way clear of the debris, rescue people who need help, and rebuild from the wreckage.

Harper Flynn was forced into crime in her teens. To escape, she broke the world she grew up in. It was a dirty getaway. She has always feared that it would come back to haunt her. Now it has.

Aiden Garrison wants justice for the victims of the shootout where he suffered the traumatic brain injury. But that injury has smashed his life as a lawman to pieces. He’s searching for some new way to soldier through.

Phantom Instinct is about how Aiden and Harper try to fight past all these flaws to stop a killer before he gets to them and the people they love.

MO: Where did you get the idea for Aiden’s condition in particular?

MG: Fregoli Syndrome is a kind of face blindness. It causes the mistaken belief that the person you’re looking at is actually someone else in disguise. I stumbled across it while reading, and thought: there’s trouble for a cop. A delusional misidentification disorder.

Aiden can no longer trust his own eyes. And the department no longer trusts him with a gun—after all, at unpredictable moments he becomes convinced that a friend, colleague, or the kid bagging his groceries is actually a hired killer in disguise.

MO: Much of the dramatic tension in Phantom Instinct stems from Harper’s difficulty in convincing anyone that she and her loved ones are in danger, and the suspense is doubled by Harper’s struggle to deal with her life in danger but also to convince others that her life actually is in danger. Do you think that this atmosphere of paranoia and disbelief is integral to the thriller?

MG: Some thrillers work brilliantly when you know exactly who’s good and who’s bad. But this book is about trust. Harper and Aiden are drawn toward each other, but with everything they learn, the less they trust each other. They need to work together, but every secret that’s exposed sends them further off kilter. They have to decide: who should you trust? When do you take a leap of faith? Their lives depend on jumping the right way.

MO: Was Harper’s incredible resourcefulness a motivation in denying her help early on?

MG: Never make it easy. Trouble builds character. That’s Thriller Writing 101.

MO: I particularly enjoyed the combined use of cyber-crime and good, old-fashioned thievery by the modern criminals of Phantom Instinct. Many thrillers focus on technology based crime as entirely separate from thuggery, but in Phantom Instinct, one strategy leads naturally to the other. Do you think that these tactics are indicative of the future of criminality, or do they belong more in a thriller than in reality?

MG: Law enforcement agencies including the FBI will tell you that cyber crime is a growth industry. Street gangs and organized crime have realized they can make serious cash without butchering the competition.

But at some point, thugs gonna thug. As they do in the book.

MO: How much of these tactics did you see in your law career?

MG: My practice was in commercial litigation, not criminal law. The only crooks I wrestle with are the ones I invent.

MO: You’ve written series and stand-alones, and are adept at each. What do you get from writing a stand-alone that you can’t get from a series, and vice versa?

MG: With a series you can explore the characters’ world, build it up, blow it up, and put it back together again. Over the course of multiple books, you have the scope to dive deep into the characters lives, and to let them develop. And some characters need more than one adventure.

But some stories demand to be told that don’t fit with a series. That’s when I write a stand-alone. A novel about an ex-thief who teams up with an injured cop to catch a killer before he kills again… that story needs to have the ex-thief and the cop at its heart. So Harper Flynn and Aiden Garrison are the heroine and hero in Phantom Instinct.

MO: I really enjoyed your strong sense of place when writing about Los Angeles and surrounding Southern California. You lived in the UK for quite some time. Was it the change of place that made you want to revisit your home and explore the territory for darker themes?

MG: I started writing about California when I moved to the UK. I loved England, but missed Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I also came to realize that the British saw Southern California as wildly exotic. I was only too happy to write about a place I adored, and which fascinated my new friends.

MO: What attracts you to writing about Southern California in particular?

MG: There’s a dream version of California: wide open cities, seas, deserts, huge skies, hope and promise and endless possibility. Of course, pain and darkness inevitably churn beneath the bright sun of paradise. The juxtaposition makes California a fertile ground for novels—thrillers, noir, pulp, you name it. It always has. In my novels, empty souls want to drag down those who try to make a place in the sunlit world.

I love California. Now I’m living in Austin, and still love writing about the state where I grew up.


Meg Gardiner will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, June 28th at 4PM! You can pre-order signed copies of Phantom Instinct now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store. Also, check out Molly’s review of Phantom Instinct on the MysteryPeople blog!

International Crime Month: Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö 1
~post by Molly

As Scandinavian detective fiction has exploded onto the international scene over the last twenty years, it is sometimes easy to forget that the genre has been experiencing international renown since the late 1960s. With so much attention paid to contemporary authors, it is time to contextualize the recent history of Scandinavian detective fiction in terms of the region’s most classic crime writers, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

These two authors, over the course of ten years and ten novels, single handedly created the modern police procedural. Their oeuvre has been the model for Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and pretty much every detective show on television. Their cast of detectives, cantankerous, flawed, and with all the personality clashes of long-time coworkers, have become the template for cop dramas at home and abroad. Their detective, Martin Beck, has been played by Walter Mathau, which by itself indicates their commitment to portraying the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Their story, too, has been the model for many an author’s journey.  The two began in investigative journalism and from there decided to put political opinions to paper in a popular and accessible format. Inspired by the social criticism in such authors as Dashiell Hammett and George Simenon, they chose detective fiction as their medium.

Unusually, however, they wrote as a team – Sjöwall and Wahlöö lived together as a common law couple and each night, after putting their children to bed, each wrote an alternating chapter. The next day, they would switch chapters and edit each other’s work. In this way, they wrote one novel a year, for ten years. In the tenth year of their collaboration, Per Wahlöö died, and Maj Sjöwall never wrote again.

As a collaborative team, they found common ground not only in their mutual affection, but in their shared left-wing politics. They established a model for social criticism in Scandinavia still used today, in which they focused on examining the shadowy nature of capitalism embedded within the post-war welfare state. They wrote in a time of social and political upheaval, especially in terms of gender roles, and the crimes investigated are carefully chosen to match the spirit of the times. Many of the Scandinavian crime writers we most associate with the genre draw heavily from the allegorical nature of Sjöwall and Wahlöö ‘s crimes, and in such pointed pieces as Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo we find increasingly refined and yet somehow less immediate variations on a theme.

Despite their politically motivated message, the two never wrote in a heavy-handed manner, choosing to embrace the simplest prose and the most compelling discourse as a way of creating Marxist critiques accessible to all. Their police procedurals are humanistic and humorous, with plots carefully crafted to entertain and flawed detectives with whom any reader can empathize. Their detectives hem and haw at the demands of the state, try to get out of riot cop duty, and try to solve as many real crimes as possible. When it is winter, and a character smokes too many cigarettes, he gets a cold.

Their vision has endured; forty years after their original publication, their work is still in print. Their message is as immediate and urgent as ever, and their combination of humor and humanism is still unmatched by their peers. Read them in order for the best experience, but to get hooked, start with The Laughing Policeman.

For fans of:

Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Craig Johnson, Carl Hiasson, and or any TV show about cops. Seriously, any. They all draw from this series.

MysteryPeople Review: PHANTOM INSTINCT by Meg Gardiner

phantom instinct
Phantom Instinct
by Meg Gardiner
~reviewed by Molly

Meg Gardiner has been known for some time for her strong female protagonists and tense, electrifying plots. She won the Edgar Award in 2009 for her novel China Lake and has continued to produce new, award-winning material almost as fast as her growing fan base can read them (almost). Although Gardiner writes from England, her latest thriller, like many of her others, is set in LA and the surrounding desert. Phantom Instinct slowly ratchets up the suspense, as a young ex-thief and a brain-damaged policeman play cat-and-mouse with a psychopath. Their task is complicated by the system’s refusal to believe such a killer exists. Throughout, Gardiner mixes good, old-fashioned criminality with a fair share of techno-crime, lending freshness and modernity to the thriller genre while still creating compelling human stories.

As Phantom Instinct opens, Harper Flynn, Meg Gardiner’s latest heroine mourns her boyfriend, shot dead in a nightclub attack. On the anniversary of his death, she notices herself being followed by a mysterious figure. She immediately suspects him of being a third gunman from the nightclub; never apprehended at the scene and believed by the FBI to never have existed at all.

Harper has only one ally on the side of the law. Detective Aiden Garrison believes her to be telling the truth. Unfortunately for Harper, Aiden suffers from a traumatic brain injury sustained during the nightclub fire. He now sees false enemies everywhere, obscuring his ability to spot a real threat and occasionally turning him into one.

Harper and Aiden must work together to protect Harper from her unknown stalker and convince the law that anyone is endangering her at all. In the meantime, past revelations about Harper and her relationship with the criminal underworld place her increasingly in danger and her story increasingly in doubt.

In her characterization of Harper and Aiden, Gardiner has created realistic depictions of flawed and vulnerable individuals. In their struggle to resolve enduring questions from the nightclub fire that killed Harper’s boyfriend, they also must resolve their own issues and find new compromise with old and painful memories. Their external struggle mirrors the internal as the two descend further into Harper’s past in order to protect her right to a future. Gardiner makes good use of her native Southern California city glitz and desert starkness to echo Harper and Aiden’s journey. Momentum builds as someone Harper cares for dearly is endangered, and the plot rushes forward at breakneck pace towards Phantom Instinct’s strong and satisfying conclusion.


Meg Gardiner will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, June 28th at 4PM! You can pre-order signed copies of Phantom Instinct now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

 

MysteryPeople Review: THE FEVER by Megan Abbott

fever
The Statesman Selects Pick for June:
The Fever by Megan Abbott
~reviewed by Molly

The Fever, Megan Abbott’s latest exploration into the dangerous lives of adolescent girls, depicts mass hysteria in a small town, as popular teenagers begin falling ill from indeterminate causes. At the center of this drama is Deenie, shy, uncertain, ridden with guilt and determined to find the cause of the mysterious plague. On the sidelines, Deenie’s brother and father worry for her health and interpret the situation as best they can.

What could be causing this mysterious illness? The theories are numerous as to the cause of the girls’ condition, and each has its root in a different paranoia of modern-day society. Some suspect vaccines to be at fault. Other theories include pollution, sexually transmitted diseases, and perhaps even biblical retribution. Abbott plays games with mixing all these fears together. When girls discuss receiving the vaccine, the reader might mistake their conversation to be about having sex for the first time. Parents condemn the school for requiring the HPV vaccine in one moment and speculate about the possible sexual origin of their daughters’ illnesses the next.

Fears of vaccines, teenage sexuality, chemical toxicity, and the power of conformity are all contemporary concerns. The book draws much of its inspiration from a real life case of mysterious teenage illness in a New York City suburb. As the town begins to suspect a contagion with no identifiable origin, the CDC intervenes, and their concern becomes futuristic.

The Fever also taps into something much older. In many ways, The Fever reads like a retelling of the Salem Witch Trials, if the accusations of delusional teenagers had led to a thoughtful investigation as well as a mass hysteria. Abbott’s characters use YouTube instead of the pulpit to bring attention to their bizarre sufferings. Some of the characters dabble in mysticism, but all believe in modern science. The convulsions, seizures and accusations, however, fit right in with sixteenth-century style madness, and at the end of Abbott’s novel, we are left with the sense that when it comes to those most intimate connections in our lives – friendship, family, a crush – very little changes over time.


Megan Abbott will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM, and will be joined by Alison Gaylin! You can pre-order signed copies of The Fever now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

 

 

COME, SWEET DEATH!: Funny, Full of Suspense

come sweet death
Come, Sweet Death! by Wolf Haas
~reviewed by Andrew H.

Wolf Haas has a voice to be reckoned with. His series of novels starring Detective Brenner is already wildly popular in his native Austria and in Germany, and it is only a matter of time until the United States catches Brenner fever.

What makes Come, Sweet Death! so irresistible is its unnamed narrator, who takes on a God-like quality. God has a sharp tongue and frequently interjects, surmises, and gives his own very funny opinion on the goings-on of the characters. The humor is largely dark; it is a crime novel after all. Brenner is an ex-cop who doesn’t ever want to go back to it, but finds himself again dragged into his detective work.

After taking a job as an ambulance driver in hopes of escape from the corruption of the crime fighting life, a mysterious death throws Brenner right back into his natural talents of getting to the bottom of things. His ambulance company has competition, competition that mysteriously gets to every scene before they do. Brenner uncovers corruption and races to tie every thread together before another body (maybe even his own!) gets thrown on top of the pile.

Come, Sweet Death! is hilarious and Wolf Haas’s writing can easily be compared to Carl Hiaasen with a darker sense of humor. It’s not only a funny novel, it’s a great crime novel full of suspense. Come, Sweet Death! is the fourth in the series of Brenner novels translated by Melville International Crime. This is the first I have read but after finishing it, I plan on starting at number one.


Pre-order Come, Sweet Death! via bookpeople.com. Copies of Come, Sweet Death! will be on our shelves on July 8th, the novel’s national release date. Thank you for supporting a local, independent bookstore!

MysteryPeople Review: ANY OTHER NAME by Craig Johnson

cg any other name
Any Other Name by Craig Johnson

In last year’s Serpent’s Tooth, Craig Johnson turned the world of Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire upside down. A supporting character was killed and Walt got some news that would change his life forever. In the latest book, Any Other Name, Walt is kept in that dark wilderness.

The beginning has echoes of the classic noir novel, Willaim P. McGivern’s The Big Heat, and the Fritz Lang film of the same name (for the record, Craig has said he was unfamiliar with either before finishing the novel). At the start of Any Other Name, Walt and Lucien, the Absoroka County sheriff before him, go to a nearby jurisdiction to look into the suicide of Lucien’s friend, Detective Gerald Holman. Lucien has doubts that he actually killed himself. When Walt starts looking into Holman’s case files, he realizes at the very least there is some unfinished business.

Walt’s investigation takes him through the seedier side of the state of Wyoming. Johnson picks one ugly industrial town after another as he interviews (or chases down) the denizens of bars and strip clubs. The rare time Walt gets to the outdoors, he’s attacked by the wildlife. Many of the people he encounters have lost themselves to the darker side of their lives. In many ways, the book is a study in non-absolutes. The mystery Walt unravels deals with the conundrum many lawmen face between doing what’s legal and what’s right. As he goes deeper “right” only becomes a more subjective term.

Any Other Name is a perfect title for this book, since the slipperiness of identity plays a major part. Many of the characters have aliases which Walt has to uncover. Many of those lost souls he deals with are trapped in the societal expectations of class, race, and gender. Even Walt has to deal with who he is after the fallout from Serpent’s Tooth. Don’t expect the laconic lawman to deal with these issues head on. What he’s dealing with seems almost too painful to share with the reader. In the early books, Walt Longmire was dealing with his relationship with his community. Now, he is figuring out who he is to those closest to him. Much Like Holman’s death, the answers aren’t easy and may be dangerous to discover.


Craig Johnson will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Wednesday, June 11th at 7PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Any Other Name now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.


MysteryPeople had the chance to catch up with Craig a couple weeks back for an interview. Exclusive here on the MysteryPeople blog, the topics discussed range from Wyoming to a new Carhartt jacket.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE FARM

farm
MysteryPeople June Pick Of The Month: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Everyone wishes for their parent’s retirement to be the best time of their lives: after a hard life full of work and family, we all wish that our mothers and fathers have a good time now that their responsibilities have shrunk and they have time to themselves. Daniel, the protagonist of The Farm, is no different; he is elated when his parents buy a small farm in Sweden and move there. But when his father suddenly phones Daniel to tell him is mother is ill and has been committed to an asylum after a psychotic breakdown, he immediately books a flight – only to cancel when his mother calls him and confides in him to not believe a word his father says. She tells him she will see him soon and explain the black conspiracy that has led her to trust her only son over her husband.

When I first read Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, I was struck by the masterful plotting and well nuanced character development. This was a vibrant and intelligently written mystery set in Stalin’s Russia. Then I discovered, much to my surprise, that this was his FIRST novel! I was astounded by his talent and hungrily sought out the other books he wrote as soon as I could find them. As a trilogy, his works easily compare to the best of Martin Cruz Smith and John LeCarre, and as a fan, I have been looking forward to what this erudite author would attempt next. The Farm has been worth the wait.

Riveting and utterly impossible to put down, Smith masterfully structures most of the story as a deposition by Daniel’s Mum and the meticulous arrangement of what she experiences on the farm. The evidence she carries in her satchel lends credence to a provocative story with dark overtones. But is it the truth? Only a great storyteller could draw you down a path that is compelling and thrilling only to deliver a twist that will blow your mind!

Be aware that Smith’s writing style has evolved and so has the grace of his story development. There are layers to Daniel’s Mum’s story and even the good son may not be telling the entire truth. But this is what I want, a puzzle that challenges what the reader perceives to be the correct version of events. A book that makes you think. I want surprise and I’m sure that other fans of his work would agree. Pick up a copy of The Farm by Tom Rob Smith for yourself or as a gift for someone you love.You’ll find that, like me, you’ll read it cover to cover and reread it again, then look forward to whatever Smith may write next.


The Farm by Tom Rob Smith is now available on our shelves or via bookpeople.com