MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames

We’re happy to be hosting Terry Shames tomorrow, January 24th, at 7 PM, right here at BookPeople, for a panel discussion on small town crime fiction with Melissa Lenhardt and James W. Ziskin. Her latest, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, looks into the earlier days of the central Texas police chief. Meike Alana was able to ask Terry a few questions before the event. 

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock takes us back to Samuel’s earliest days in law enforcement. What made you feel it was time for a prequel?

Terry Shames: After my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, came out, my editor said he would like me to write a prequel. I loved the idea, but I already had several current stories in mind, so I put it on the back burner. Eventually I had enough Craddock books published so that people knew Craddock and were invested in him, so it seemed like the right time for the prequel. I knew all along that I wanted to explore how Samuel became the kind of man he is in the later stories, a man of integrity and responsibility, with compassion and a strong sense of ethics. And I also knew the true story that I was going to base the book on.

MA: When your series debuted Samuel was an aging widower, and fans of the series know of the deep love and admiration he had for his late wife Jeanne. In this novel, we get to witness their relationship in its earliest formative period. Was Jeanne as a character already fully formed in your imagination, and was this a chance for the reader to get to know her too? Or was the novel an opportunity for you to explore and discover what Jeanne was really like?

TS: I always knew that Jeanne was not the person the readers saw in the first novels through Samuel’s eyes. He was grieving, and as many people do when they are in the first stages of grief, he made her into something of a saint. I knew that as the books progressed he would start to remember her more clearly. When I tackled the sequel, I knew there would be some things about the young Jeanne that might surprise people. It may even upset some readers who thought they knew her. You have to understand I actually see my characters as real people. If they didn’t have some negatives traits, they would be boring. And as a writer, I feel strongly that sometimes you have to surprise readers with a little dose of reality.

MA: Samuel initially takes the job as police chief thinking it will an easy gig; right away he’s confronted with a multiple murder, drug dealing, and corruption—all while dealing with family drama surrounding his brother. Without giving anything away, can you tell us about how these contribute to Samuel’s character development?

TS: Samuel did not have an easy upbringing, and that could have made him a bitter and irrational person. But he stepped out of that life and went into the Air Force and on to college. Both are institutions that take over of a lot of the choices people have to make while they grow into adults. In a way they are protected from the outside world because there are strict rules that have to be followed if you are going to succeed. When Samuel comes back to Jarrett Creek, he is a different young man than the one who left. He hasn’t decided what he’ll do with himself, and in fact his choices are limited in a small town.

When the job of chief of police is offered to him, he thinks it will be easy—after all how much can a small town of 3,000 people get up to? It turns out they can get up to the same things people get up to in cities. When a horrendous murder is committed in his town, he is not actually responsible for the investigation. State law enforcement agencies are responsible for that. Only when he realizes that the person who in charge is going to do a shoddy job does he confront himself with his choice—will he be a man of character who pursues the true guilty party, or will he let it slide? To force the issue, I conjured up a reporter who is ten years older and who is fiercely dedicated to reporting the truth. She challenges Craddock, and it moves him ever closer to his crisis. I loved this part. It says so much about people and circumstances.

MA: In the titular unsettling crime, a local black man is arrested for murder and Samuel is certain that he’s been wrongfully accused. Knowing that the law works differently for black men, he goes to grea lengths to clear the man’s name despite receiving threats. The racial themes resonate even (or maybe especially) today. What was your inspiration for tackling such a difficult and complex topic?

TS: I grew up in Texas at a time when racial prejudice was rampant. But I grew up with high regard for my grandfather, who once said, “I don’t care what color a man is. If he can work alongside me, he’s okay by me.” That made a great impression on me. I know that Texas has gotten much better at racial inclusion, but there’s still a lot of racism and bigotry alive and well. Not just in Texas, but all over the United States. I really think that as a serious writer, it is up to me to explore these issues. You say it’s difficult and complex, but in reality, Samuel has a core of decency that made the book easier to write than you might think. When decent people take it on themselves to confront a corrupt system, things can be rectified.

“I think for many of us the place where we grew up is deeply embedded. I do return to the town where these books are set and I always have a strong sense of homecoming. The smells peculiar to the town; the taste of the water; the sights of pickup trucks and gravel and the railroad tracks and the vegetation; the sounds of people’s accents are all familiar.”

MA: Which character from Samuel’s past was your favorite to explore?

TS: I enjoyed trotting out Samuel’s mother. I hoped she would not become a caricature. I have actually known people like that who never seem to be able to say a kind word and who live with resentment and bitter judgment. It might have been interesting to explore why she is the way she is, but this story was not hers.

MA: “Terry” is one of those names that could be masculine, and when I started your series I was quite certain it was written by a man living in Texas. I was pretty surprised to learn you are actually a lady living in (of all places) California. I know you spent your younger years in Texas, but you write so convincingly about a place that isn’t actually still your home. Do you write just from memory? Do you make frequent research trips to Texas?

TS: I think for many of us the place where we grew up is deeply embedded. I do return to the town where these books are set and I always have a strong sense of homecoming. The smells peculiar to the town; the taste of the water; the sights of pickup trucks and gravel and the railroad tracks and the vegetation; the sounds of people’s accents are all familiar. That said, Jarrett Creek is really a town that lives in my head. I first wrote about it in the 80s when I wrote some short stories set there. The town in my head bears a lot of resemblance to the real one, but there are also “convenient” differences. For example, in the book I’m working on now I’ve erected a whole line of homes near the lake that don’t actually exist. That’s the value of not sticking to reality.

MA: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

TS: I’m working on the next novel in the series, set in current time. It has a very dark core. I usually like to add humor into the books, but his one is going to take some work to put in light moments. The last Craddock book I wrote was a prequel, so I haven’t written about Samuel Craddock in current times for two years! I found it hard slogging to get back to things as they are now. I keep wanting to refer to people that were in the prequel, but they aren’t part of the story anymore. It wasn’t a problem I envisioned, and it’s slowly subsiding. The book is called A Reckoning in the Back Country. I’m interested when certain words crop up in book titles. Only after I had settled on the title did I hear of another book with the word “Reckoning” in the title, Louise Penny’s current book. It gives me a chill to think of that word roiling through the current zeitgest and cropping up in titles.

You can find copies of An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Terry Shames comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by James W. Ziskin and Melissa Lenhardt, fellow masters of the small-town mystery. 

MysteryPeople Review: AN UNSETTLING CRIME FOR SAMUEL CRADDOCK by Terry Shames

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

97816338820961Terry Shames introduced us to aging lawman Samuel Craddock just over 3 years ago in A Killing at Cotton Hill, the first in a Texas-based mystery series that has quickly become one of our favorites at MysteryPeople. Set in the fictional small town of Jarrett Creek, the series features the former Chief of Police; at loose ends in retirement and mourning the death of his beloved wife Jeanne, Samuel steps in as acting police chief until the bankrupt town can afford to hire a replacement.

Macavity Award winner Shames’ latest, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, is a prequel that takes us back to Samuel’s early days in the 1960’s as a woefully inexperienced 20-something police chief confronted by his first serious crime. The Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to extinguish a fire in the outskirts of town (a section the residents refer to as “Darktown”) and makes a horrific discovery—the blaze seems to have been set to obscure the grisly murder of 5 black youths.

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Three Picks for January

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

This month all three picks to look out for in January are from authors soon to visit BookPeople to speak and sign their latest.

9780425283271Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman

One of the best of 2016 will be out in paperback at the beginning of 2017. Coleman introduces us to Gus Murphy, an ex-cop picking up the pieces of a life shattered by loss. When a criminal he used to arrest asks him to look into the murder of his son, he finds himself up against a dying Mafia and some of his old colleagues. A moving wounded character whose emotions never take away from the hard boiled tale. Reed will be here to speak and sign his second Gus Murphy novel, What You Break, on Friday, February 10th, at 7 PM. He’ll be joined by actor and author Robert Knott. Where It Hurts is just out in paperback! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

9780316342575Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin

A retired Rebus looks into an old unsolved case, while Clarke and Fox catch a new one when a local tough is severely assaulted, possibly by Rebus’ old nemesis Cafferty. Rankin gives us a great plot tied to characters we love to hang out with. Rankin will be at the store to speak and sign his latest on Thursday, February 16th, at 7 PMRather Be The Devil comes out January 31st – pre-order now!

9781633882096An Unsettling Case For Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

Shames goes back to Samuel Craddock’s early days as Chief Of Police dealing with an arson and murder with racial implications. Shames does a wonderful job of capturing her hero in his younger days.Terry Shames will be here to speak and sign her latest, along with two other writers who use small town settings, Melissa Lenhardt and James W. Ziskin, on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM. You can find copies of An Unsettling Case for Samuel Craddock on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Meike’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2016

Meike Alana truly became a trusted member of MysteryPeople this year. As author Josh Stallings said, “She looks normal, but she’s just as crazy as we are.” Her tastes run the gamut to traditional, to thriller, to noir, but as you can see in her top 10 for 2016, she has great taste. The listing is in no particular order.

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

97803162310771. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott 

No one plumbs the depths of teen girl depravity quite like Ms. Abbott and she’s done it again in this gripping tale of psychological suspense.  Gymnast Devon Knox is a prodigy seemingly destined for gymnastics gold, and her family will go to any lengths to help her fulfill those dreams.  When a handsome young man is violently killed, rumors begin to swirl and it becomes apparent that her dreams may be at risk.  

97814516866302. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be all that hard  to adopt a new identity—cut  and color your hair, get some glasses, throw on a hat and some baggy clothes.  Tanya Dubois must do exactly that after she comes home to find her husband dead—although she knows it was an accident, she’s sure the police will suspect her so she packs a suitcase, changes her look, and heads for Texas.  There she’s taken in by bartender Blue; running from her own past, Blue soon convinces Tanya to trade identities with her and things get a little crazy.

3. Young Americans by Josh Stallings9780996948005

Throw a heist story in a blender with glitter, drugs, and disco; add characters like a stripper who learned the fine art of safe-cracking at her grandfather’s knee and a badass ex-Marine transsexual; you get a rollicking thrill ride of a mystery. Groove to the sound of David Bowie as you blow through the year’s best heist novel! 

978163388205814. The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens

When a wealthy socialite is brutally murdered, suspicion immediately falls upon her husband.  Although he claims to have an alibi, a neighbor reports seeing him at the scene on the night of the murder and he’s arrested and charged with murder.  The investigating detective is convinced the police have the right man in custody; his good friend, who is counsel for the defense, is equally certain his client is innocent.  Both men will go to any lengths to prove their position, even though it threatens to destroy their friendship.  Fantastic twists in this one!

97816338817785. The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor

I’ve been a fan of Pryor’s Paris-based series featuring Hugo Marston, head of security at the US Embassy, since his debut with “the Bookseller” several years ago.  In this latest, Pryor tries his hand at the classic locked room mystery when a body is discovered in the basement of the American Library in Paris and Hugo is called to investigate.  Stock up on croissants, you’ll be craving them with café au lait as you read this atmospheric European thriller.

97816338812666. See Also Deception by Larry Sweazy

Marjorie Trumaine lives on an isolated North Dakota farm with her  disabled husband Hank, where she works as an indexer to make ends meet.  When her friend Calla Eltmore, the local librarian, is found dead the police believe she committed suicide, but Marjorie is certain that’s not the case and sets out to uncover the truth.  In the process she uncovers myriad small town secrets  that put her safety in peril.

97816338818397. Heart of Stone by James Ziskin

Ziskin’s protagonist, Ellie Stone, is one of my favorite characters in the genre—a  confident 1960’s twenty-something girl reporter with a taste for strong whiskey and fast men.  While Ellie enjoys a late-summer holiday at her aunt and uncle’s Adirondacks lake property, two dead bodies are found on a nearby beach.  The local police chief believes these were victims of suicide, and asks Ellie to photograph the bodies as evidence.   But Ellie believes something more sinister may be behind the deaths and becomes determined to find out what really happened.

978163388120418. The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames

This latest installment of Shames’ series, set in the fictional small Texas town of Jarrett Creek, finds police chief Samuel Craddock investigating the murder of a young  woman who has recently returned to her home town after a lengthy stay in a mental institution.  Craddock soon finds himself dealing with not only murder, but multiple layers of secrets and deception that someone is determined to keep hidden.

978161695610319. His Right Hand by Mettie Ivie Harrison

Harrison is a practicing Mormon and has written an incredibly unique  series featuring Linda Walheim, the wife of a bishop in the Mormon church.  Linda’s tight-knit LDS community is thrown into upheaval when their ward’s second counselor—one of the bishops’ right hand men—is found murdered.  But when the autopsy reveals that this devout Mormon, a loving husband and father who was a pillar of the community, was a biological female, church officials seem more concerned with covering up the murder than with solving it.  Linda must step in, and in the process Harrison explores the LDS stance on gender and sexual identity.  The series provides an unprecedented glimpse inside the secretive Mormon Church and presents multiple sides to some of the complex issues its members and leaders are grappling with today.

978194422500110. Dollar Signs by Manning Wolfe

Austin attorney Merit Bridges likes her wine chilled and her men hot (and on the younger side).  In order to protect one of her clients, she goes after a shady corporation  that’s taking property from innocent people—aided by her bad-ass office manager Betty (she of the Ann Richards hair, motherly attitude, and smart mouth) , uber-fashionable paralegal Val, and investigator Ag (who wants more than friendship from Merit).  A fantastic debut, and Austin residents will have fun identifying local landmarks.

You can find all of the books listed above on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

Coming Up on May 21st: Our Annual Free Crime Fiction Workshop!

 

Presented by Sisters in Crime and MysteryPeople

Our annual free workshop to celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month with Sisters In Crime will start at 9:15, Saturday May 21st. Throughout the morning and afternoon Texas writers will share their knowledge. It is great for aspiring authors in any genre and for readers curious about the author’s process. This year we have a broad range of criminal wordsmiths. Our schedule is below:

9:15 AM

Orientation

Meet the authors and get a brief overview of the creative day to come!

9:30 – 10:30 AM

George Wier On Action Writing

George Wier, author of the successful Bill Travis series, puts you through the paces of a fine tuned action sequence and shows you how to ratchet up the tension.

11:00 AM- Noon

Terry Shames On Character And Setting Interaction

Terry Shames’ Samuel Craddock novels have been praised for their depictions of small town life. The award winning author shows how to make setting another character with whom your protagonist has a relationship.

Noon – 1:30 PM

Lunch Break

Don’t just use this time to eat. Ask a fellow attendee you don’t know to join you and start networking.

1:30 – 2:30 PM

Brent Douglass & James Dennis On Collaboration

Brent and James make up 2/3rds of the pen name of Mile Arceneux with their friend John Davis. They will show you how to write about murder without killing your partner.

3:00-4:00 PM

Panel Discussion With Authors

Is there something the authors didn’t cover or was there a subject we didn’t hit upon? Here’s your chance. After a quick Q&A with the authors by MysteryPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, the authors take questions from you.

Attend which topics you’d like or stay all day. It is completely free. Books by the authors will be on sale. Bring, paper, pen, and your criminal mind.

Crime Fiction Friday: “When The Hammer Comes Down” by Josh Stallings

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

We’re looking forward to hosting Josh Stallings this upcoming Monday, February 1st, at 7 PM, along with Terry Shames and Scott Frank. His novel Young Americans is a heist novel set in the glam rock 70s. Here he takes a look at the war on drugs in the late 80s, with appearances from Daryl Gates and Nancy Reagan. The story originally appeared in Protectors 2: Heroes, edited by Thomas Pluck, an anthology we’re proud to sell here at BookPeople. Profits from Protectors 2: Heroes go to PROTECT, an organization that lobbies for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Click here for more details about the event. 


“When The Hammer Comes Down” by Josh Stallings

“3:23 PM Los Angeles.

April hit like a firebomb. It was murder your best friend weather. Too hot to fuck weather. Watch what you say or this shit steps off weather. The only thing Angelenos hate more than rain is excessive heat. When you live in paradise anything less than perfection is an attack on your birthright. Traffic on the Harbor Freeway was building into a snarling mess. At under ten miles an hour no air moved throughthe Caprice’s open windows. Sweat dripped off Detective Madsen’s Neanderthal brow. “It is hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock.”

“Two rats huh? Guess it is.” Detective Lunt wanted a cool drink in a cooler restaurant, instead he was driving across town for a P.R. bust and grin. “Apologize to Caselli. Eat a little shit and he’ll have our air blowing cold in bang time.”

“That walleyed inbred needle dick wrench monkey deserves nothing but my boot in his ass.”

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Screenwriter and Author Scott Frank

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Scott Frank is a screenwriter and director of exquisite talent. He has adapted Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and Minority Report. As both writer and director, he has given us two of the best crime films in past decade, A Walk Among The Tombstones (from the Lawrence Block novel) and The Lookout.

Frank has now added “novelist” to his already impressive resume with his debut, Shaker, a crime satire that takes a New York hitman to L.A. just in time for one of California’s worst earthquakes. The book looks at gangs, the media culture, and politics, all in a style that allows for human depth and darkness as well as laughs. Mr. Frank took a few questions about the book and the switch from screen to prose. He joins us Monday, February 1st, at 7 PM, appearing alongside authors Terry Shames and Josh Stallings. 


MysteryPeople Scott: You mainly are known for your work in film. What made Shaker more suitable to tell as a novel?

Scott Frank: It was a story that depended so much on understanding the history of several characters. You couldn’t really go forward without knowing what had come before. So it just seemed more of a novel to me for that reason.

MPS: What did you enjoy doing in prose that you couldn’t do in a screenplay?

SF: When you write a film, “show not tell” is always your mantra. You don’t ever get a chance to go deep. You want to define scene and character as quickly as you can. And if you do go backwards, it can’t play as digression. It will feel like a mistake. We just don’t watch movies in the same way we read books. In a book, a digression can be the most satisfying part. It was so much fun writing about what happened before the book began, and then making it pay off.

MPS: The book has an interesting interplay between plot and backstory. On the surface, it plays like a Carl Hiassen crime satire, yet you slowly get introduced to everybody’s dark history. Was this planned going in or just happen since you were dealing with some pretty unsavory characters?

SF: It just sort of evolved. I realized that if I wanted a reader to actually care about these people, I couldn’t always write them as jokes. I thought it might be interesting for introduce someone, make an impression, then subvert that with their backstory, so that you cared about them, no matter how unsavory they turned out to be. The tone in those past sections, then, had to be more serious, but still had to somehow dovetail with the rest of the book. Was the hardest part for me. But I just heard those parts differently in my head.

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