MysteryPeople Q&A with Patricia Abbott, author of CONCRETE ANGEL

patricia concrete

Patricia Abbott’s debut novel, Concrete Angel, is the involving tale of Eve Moran and the twisted, decades-old relationship she has with her daughter, Christine. The book is an engaging character-driven thriller about love and dependence gone awry. Patricia took some questions from us dealing with her book and relationship with her own daughter, acclaimed noir novelist, Megan Abbott, whose most recent crime novel, The Fever, is soon to hit the small screen in a television adaptation.

MysteryPeople:  What about the idea of Concrete Angel appealed to you as a first book?

Patricia Abbott: I really liked the idea of flipping the plot of Mildred Pierce. But how exactly to do it? When I read about a mother and daughter being convicted of various incidents of fraud and other small crimes and that the daughter claimed her mother made her do it, that seemed like the right fit. How could a mother make her daughter (in her twenties, in this case) commit numerous crimes over many years? I needed more insight into their situation. And then I remembered a childhood friend whose mother had enormous power over her because of her dependence on her mother. It was just the two of them in a pretty scary world. That was also somewhat the setup in Mildred Pierce (after a younger daughter died). Except in that case, Mildred’s extreme love for Veda made her the victim of her monstrous daughter. In Concrete Angel, it’s Christine’s love and dependence on her monstrous mother that sets things into motion. And since that childhood friend lived in my native city of Philadelphia I could set it there. This made it work because I knew their house, the places they went, the bakery they shopped in even. Many of the incidents from the section of the book where Eve marries Micky DiSantis are based on their lives.

MP: Was there a particular reason to send a lot of the action in the seventies?

PA: I wanted to recapture the Philadelphia of my youth and early twenties. Although the book goes well into the seventies–up to 1982, in fact, it is mostly the sixties that I write about in detail: going downtown to glamorous movie theaters and stores, a slower time before towns like Doylestown and Hatboro became outer suburbs. In the mid-sixties they were country towns. I had access to how Philly was changing until my parents left in 2003 or so. But what I remember best were the Kennedy and Johnson years.

MP: Eve is one of those characters you feel compelled to read about, even though you probably wouldn’t want to deal with her in real life for ten minutes. What did you want to get across to the reader about her?

PA: Originally the entire book was set in the third person. But Eve took over every scene until I gave Christine her own voice by putting her sections in the first person. I wanted you to fear and dislike Eve, but she is the more memorable character. She is funny and seductive. Christine can’t hold your attention as a reader because she’s been stunted as a person through dealing with her mother for almost every minute of her life. Likewise Hank, who may escape her, but to what. I wanted you to feel sympathy for Eve from time to time though. She has a few good moments here and there. But on the whole, she is a parasite. She will never see beyond her own needs.

MP:  As someone who was both a mother and daughter. was there anything you could apply to your own experience to such a twisted mother-daughter tale?

PA: I hope not. My mother and I had a difficult relationship in my childhood. She felt pressure (from her mother and sixties norms) for her kids to be perfect. I think she wasn’t that interested or adept in mothering–although not one could admit that in the fifties and sixties. But she was a great mother to an older daughter. We got along beautifully as adults when she no longer felt responsible for me. As for Megan, she was a very easy child to raise. I hope I encouraged her to set goals and pursue them, but mostly it was something inside her. Nobody works as hard as Megan–nobody demands more of the her self. I hope the pressure didn’t come from me, but I can’t say for sure. After a while with children like mine, the expectations may be too high whether you are aware of it or not.

MP: Your short work is well respected. Besides length, what is the major difference between writing a novel as opposed to short story?

PA: I wrote the average short story in about a month to six weeks. This was when I worked on a story every day for 3-4 hours. I began each day by editing the story from the beginning. Of course, I could not do this with a novel and that made me very nervous. I felt as if I lost control of it from time to time. And also, I had to expand the cast of characters considerably and give them all more to do. And, I was used to being rid of them and onto a new idea in a month or so. I wanted to be done with Eve Moran badly. That’s why I give her all the jokes-or what I hope are jokes. I was in danger of drowning in her evilness. I felt like Christine most days. The length of time you must spend with your characters was probably the hardest thing to adjust to.

MP:  Concrete Angel had a long and arduous road before it found a home at Polis Books. How did it feel to see it on a bookstore shelf for the first time.

PA: It felt great although so far it has only been in pictures I’ve seen on the Internet. Book Beat, where I did my first reading, sold out of them so there were none on the shelf. I am realistic about the likelihood of seeing it on many shelves. Perhaps in stores specializing in crime fiction, perhaps in New York stores. But if it succeeds at all, it will be because people like Scott Montgomery hand sell it.

You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

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Joe R. Lansdale and Megan Abbott to have works adapted for televison!

MysteryPeople brings you the latest on two television projects involving two of our favorite writers:

JOE R. LANSDALE:

James Purefoy, best known for playing Marc Anthony in Rome and the diabolical killer, Joe Carrol, on The Following, will be playing Hap Collins in The Sundance Channel series, Hap and Leonard, based on the series of books written by Joe R. Lansdale (the first book in the series is Savage Season; the most recent novel is Devil Red). It appears that the series will take place in the Eighties  – the original setting for the novels. Hap’s bad-ass gay, African-American, Republican buddy has been cast – Leonard will be played by Michael Kenneth Williams (aka Omar from The Wire). You can find more details here.

MEGAN ABBOTT:

Megan Abbott’s The Fever will also be coming to television. Sarah Jessica Parker’s Pretty Matches Company will be producing the show based on Abbott’s latest novel. The Fever tells the story of a strange condition affecting several teenage girls in an New York town. Megan will be writing the pilot. You can find more details here.

Congratulations to both.

Women In Detective Fiction: A Wider Look


– Post by Molly

At the beginning of March, I contacted many of my favorite women in crime fiction. In honor of Women’s History Month, I asked for a few thoughts on the history of women in crime fiction, the future of crime fiction for female authors, or women’s representation in detective fiction. I also asked for some recommendations to pass on – look out for a thorough list of all the recommendations I got in the next week. I received wonderful responses from Lori Rader-Day, Megan Abbott, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, and Jamie Mason (read her response here), each highlighting the long history of women in crime fiction, the prominent place in the genre of many female authors today, and passing along some great recommendations.

Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel, The Black Hour, came out last year, and she’ll be releasing her next one, Little Pretty Things, in July. Megan Abbott’s most recent work is The Fever, and her books run the gamut from historical plots set in the golden age of noir to, more recently, plots focusing on the dangerous lives of adolescent girls. Meg Gardiner writes breakneck cyber-thrillers starring extremely capable women. Her latest is Phantom Instinct. Ausma Zehanat Khan recently published her first novel, The Unquiet Dead, to much acclaim.

There is a vast and diverse body of work written by women and shelved in the mystery section – almost an overwhelming amount, when attempting an analysis, especially one written for a blog. Lori Rader-Day, in her response, brought up how “one of the greatest things about crime fiction is how many brilliant women write it. There’s such a long tradition of fantastic women crime writers that I could read for the rest of my life (and that’s my plan) and never catch up.” Meg Gardiner responded, “Women have been the backbone and animating force in crime fiction since the beginning. From Agatha Christie to Patricia Highsmith to Gillian Flynn, women have defined, deepened, and blown up the genre.” Ausma Zehanat Khan, in her reply, mentioned that “most of the mysteries I read are written by women, and I also think women are very well represented as equals in detective fiction, although possibly not as much in higher ranks, which is likely more a reflection of the real world.” I think that we can all agree – women in crime fiction are here to stay.

Do women write crime fiction differently than men? Ausma Zehanat Khan responded, “Generally speaking, I think women write better detective novels with deeper characterizations and greater empathy, although I’m never really sure that you can generalize.” Women are certainly more likely than their male counterparts to have strong female protagonists, yet many male authors do write powerful and intriguing female protagonists. Lori Rader-Day, after writing “I look forward to anything new by Tana French, Catriona McPherson, Denise Mina, Clare O’Donohue, Sara Gran, and Gillian Flynn,” made sure to mention that “I read male authors, too, of course, and I can be enchanted by a male author who captures a female protagonist well, like Alan Bradley and James Ziskin.”Perhaps, in analyzing fiction, we’ve moved beyond wide generalizations based on gender, and this is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

While women may be well-represented in the ranks of detective novelists today,  not many classic female detective novelists (with certain exceptions, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Parker and the great Patricia Highsmith) have stayed in circulation. The history of women in crime fiction is long, yet consistently undervalued. Many of those women who helped to originate, develop, and explode the genre of detective fiction are no longer in print. Those who have remained in print are generally from the British tradition of detective fiction, rather than American noir. Others who helped to originate the detective genre have found a home in classics, their history as genre fiction subordinated to their position as literature.

Meg Gardiner, when asked about the history of women in crime fiction, responded: “Hell, go back to the earliest days of great fiction—who wrote the original novel of tension, terror, and adventure? Mary Shelley. She gets credit for sparking science fiction and the horror genre. She’s also a founding force for suspense fiction!” I had contemplated Mary Shelley as an originator of horror, but had never thought of her before as paving the way for thrillers. I’m adding a belated New Year’s resolution to my already long list: I resolve to remember that the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is a fine and porous line, and like any definition, fraught with ambiguity.

However, the prognosis for our ability to appreciate classic female detective novelists is good. Megan Abbott, in her discussion of the history of women detective novelists, brought to the fore “the Library of America’s upcoming volumes devoted to female crime writers from the golden age of noir. These volumes will be edited by Sarah Weinman and will finally push back into print some of the true masterpieces of the genre.” (The Library of America’s collection of Women Crime Writers comes out this September. Preorder now.)  Abbott points out in particular the inclusion of “Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place, Vera Caspary’s Laura, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall and Margaret Millar’s Beast In View. These were books that were wildly successful in their day, and had a huge impact on crime fiction to come, but have been unjustly forgotten. It’s a thrilling development.” That the Library of America has chosen to bring back into print these volumes is a statement of confidence in the canonical status of each writer included in the collection. People have always read the novels of women crime novelists writing at the time, but now is our chance to explore the lesser known classics that paved the way for women writing in crime fiction today.

While many of us fans of crime fiction by women did not grow up reading the classics of female noir, we did benefit from the splintering and diversification of the detective genre in the 1970s and 80s. Not only did the feminist movement spur a vast array of more widely politicized detective fiction by women – this time period also saw a diversification of voices in regards to ethnicity, class, and sexuality. Many of these authors have stayed in print and are still read widely. There is a strong continuum of forward momentum from this point onwards, and women are now near-equally represented in the genre.

The forward momentum of increasing diversity, however, has slowed in the intervening decades, and the representation of authors of color, of any gender, has fallen woefully behind. Ausma Zehanet Khan responded, “What I’d like to see more of in detective fiction is more diversity – more women and men of color in leading roles, and also as writers of detective fiction. I love learning about different perspectives on the world, on crime, and culture. For example, I loved Attica Locke’s ‘The Cutting Season.’ And although I’m starting to see secondary characters who are from diverse backgrounds, there is still a long way to go.”

As a female reader of detective fiction by both male and female writers, I believe the biggest gendered problem in detective fiction right now is not a lack of female authors, but an intensification of violence against women by some male and some female writers.  The detective genre is certainly a violent one, to its core, and gendered violence is a world-wide issue that cannot be simply subsumed to a socialist realism narrative – when I read a detective novel, I want a nutshell version of a realistic society, and that includes violent, gendered crimes. However, I have lost track of the number of detective novels I have read that not only hideously torture and murder women in uncommon-in-real-life ways, but deny those women any kind of voice, spending more time describing a dead body than a vibrant soul, lost to the world and yet deserving of remembrance. Women are not just corpses – they are characters.

The more women writing crime fiction, the less we will see female characters treated as disposable playthings and the more we will see women enacting their own stories and determining their own agency. There are also plenty of male authors out there bucking the trend – writing strong female characters and taking a responsible attitude towards the representation of violence against women. I’d say the future of women in crime fiction – as authors and as characters – is looking pretty darn good.

Scott’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2014

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, Eleven)


This was quite a full year for crime fiction. Raymond Chandler came back and Moe Prager left. Emerging voices like Benjamin Whitmer  and Matthew McBride made a stand and veterans like James Ellroy came back. Matt Scudder was in a great movie and the poster couple  for toxic marriage in Gone Girl got beautifully adapted. Needless to say it was difficult to make a top 10 list, so I found a way to  shoehorn in eleven.


cry father1. Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

This book, following the dark criminal adventures of a tree cutter in disaster sites in mourning for his son, is a perfect piece  of brutal poetry. Raw in its emotion, it speaks to and for the people society pushes to the margins. I plan to read this book at  least every ten years for the rest of my life.

 


hollow girl2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

The final Moe Prager novel deeply involves Coleman’s recurring theme of identity in a way that forces one of the most human private detectives ever put on the page to deal with his own concept of self. A pitch perfect swan song.

 


fever3. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Mysterious seizures hit a group of high school girls, causing hysteria in an upstate new York town. Abbott blends mystery, horror, and  coming of age, digging emotionally deep into community, family, and female friendship with an aching and dark mood.

 


swollen red sun4. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

A masterpiece of rural crime fiction. When a Missouri sheriff’s deputy steals $72,000 out of a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of  weakness, it sets the spark that sends a corrupt county up into flames. A relentless novel that moves like a muscle car on an open  road.


the drop poor boys game5. The Drop by Dennis Lehane & The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

Both of these books tapped into the emotional core of their stories with poignancy while still delivering a bad-ass hard-boiled tale.  Lehane’s lonely bartender being batted about by the mob and Tafoya’s damaged U.S. marshal who has to fight the mob off are characters  who will stay with you for some time.


last death of jack harbin6. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

The second Samuel Craddock novel has the retired police chief looking into the murder of a disabled war veteran. As he investigates, Samuel  becomes a witness to the sins of his town and society in this moving mystery.

 


the forty-two7. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

A tension filled thriller that effectively uses early Eighties Time Square as a backdrop in all its seedy glory. Kurtz uses grind  house theaters, peepshows, and greasy spoons like Hitchcock used Mount Rushmore and The Statue Of Liberty.


forsaken ace atkins8. The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

The fourth Quinn Colson novel has the Mississippi sheriff dealing with race issues, biker gangs, county Kingpin Johnny Stagg, and an  old crime connected to his father who disappeared years ago. Entertaining dialogue and action with strong thematic undercurrents.


mark pryor the blood promise9. The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

A great thriller with vivid characters and a plot that ties a modern treaty signing to an event during The French Revolution. Further  proof of why Pryor’s Hugo Marston is one of the best new heroes.

 


after im gone10. After I’m Gone by Laura Lipman

Lippman looks at the disappearance of a shady businessman through the wife, daughter, and murdered mistress he left behind. Lippmann  uses the lives of these ladies as a clever window into family, class, religion, and feminism in the last half of the twentieth  century.


Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

Molly’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2014

post by Molly

As the year comes to a close, it is time to compile as many lists as possible of our favorite books of the year. Here are my top ten –  you’ll see quite a bit of overlap between my top ten international list and this one, but I’ll also profile a few books from inside  the states. You may notice a paucity of female authors – one of my New Year’s resolutions is to read more female mystery writers, so you will see more on the list next year. The following  books are in no particular order of preference – all are equally fantastic.


in the morning1. In The Morning, I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty  
McKinty brings his Troubles Trilogy to a (literally) explosive close as Detective Sean Duffy gets assigned by British secret service  to track down an old classmate turned IRA bigwig.


fever2. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Abbott takes on middle class paranoia and the dangerous lives of adolescent girls in this modern update to the Salem Witch Trials.  Teenage girls are falling ill in a small, polluted New England town and parents, teenagers, and the CDC work to find the cause before  the contagion can spread.


williammcilvanneylaidlaw3. Laidlaw by William McIlvanney

McIlvanney wrote this early Tartan Noir in the mid-1970s, and several decades later, it’s back in print and available on our shelves.  DI Laidlaw is a dour but compassionate man, working to find a criminal and put him in custody before a murdered girl’s family can take  their own revenge.


day of atonement4. The Day of Atonement by David Liss

Liss takes a break from his Benjamin Weaver character to take us into a stand-alone tale of revenge best served cold – a Jewish Count  of Monte Cristo, if you will. A young converso, after fleeing to England, embraces his Jewish heritage and returns to Lisbon to visit  revenge upon the inquisitor who betrayed his family.


the good life5. The Good Life by Frank Wheeler

Wheeler takes us deep into the messed-up head of a corrupt Nebraskan sheriff taking control of the drug trade in his small town. As  the body count got higher, my willingness to ever visit rural Nebraska got steadily lower. But hey, that’s what people think of Texas,  too.


ghostmonth6. Ghost Month by Ed Lin

Ed Lin sets his latest novel in Taipei’s historic Night Market as a college dropout/food vendor tries to find out who killed his ex- girlfriend. Full of vast conspiracies, bizarre foods, and a whole lot of Joy Division lyrics, Ghost Month is the best kind of  international noir.


last winter we parted7. Last Winter, We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura

A reporter is assigned to write a book on a photographer imprisoned for burning his models alive in a quixotic attempt to capture  their essence. As the reporter learns more about the photographer and the photographer’s sister, he begins to question the nature of  reality while at the same time getting ever closer to discovering the pair’s nefarious secrets. The most literary noir I’ve read this  year.


rose gold8. Rose Gold by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley’s long-running protagonist Easy Rawlins returns to the page in this wild romp through the swinging sixties and the  nascent Black Power movement. Mosely creates a sympathetic portrayal of characters marginalized by society and once again immerses us  in his diverse vision of historic Los Angeles.


the black hour9. The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day

This was my favorite debut of the year. Rader-Day crafts an intricate mystery set in the echoing halls of the Ivory Tower, addressing  school violence, battles over funding, and just about every other collegiate controversy you can name. I can’t wait to see what she  does next.


final silence10. The Final Silence – Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville has actually written a believable serial killer narrative set in Northern Ireland and seamlessly integrated into the  history of the Troubles. I thought it couldn’t be done, and I was wrong. Thank you, Mr. Neville.


secret history of las vegasHonorable Mention: The Secret History of Las Vegas, by Chris Abani

I just started reading this one, so I don’t want to put it on the official list, but judging by the first ten pages, this will be one  of the most beautifully written mysteries I have ever read. Given the psychopathic crimes, conjoined twins, and Las Vegas setting,  this will also be one of the creepiest.

 


Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Megan Abbott Talks Twin Peaks

megan abbott

Most of you have heard the Nineties noir soap, Twin Peaks, will be returning to Showtime. The news prompted one of our favorite authors, Megan Abbott, to write a piece for Vulture about the influence the David Lynch-Mark Frost show had on her own writing. Abbott’s latest novel, The Fever, revolves around a group of girls struck by a mysterious illness, a rather perfect pairing with Laura Palmer’s story. Megan Abbott is the author of seven novels, and her last three books – The End of Everything, Dare Me, and The Fever – have all focused on the dangerous lives of adolescent girls.

 

Molly’s Top 10 of the Year So Far

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

The year is far from over, but these days, a good list is appropriate for any time. The first chunk of this year has been a whirlwind. It’s been a combination of great authors in the store and great books on our nightstands, and we can’t wait for what the rest of 2014 will bring. For now, Molly provides some of her favorites:

Molly’s Top 10 OF The Year So Far

 

1. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone – Adrian McKinty
McKinty proves that the third in a trilogy can be just as good as the
first and second in his explosive conclusion to Detective Sean Duffy’s
trials and tribulations amidst the Northern Irish Troubles.

2. Laidlaw – William McIlvanney [reissue]
Europa editions proves their commitment to international crime
classics once again by reissuing William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, the
first Scottish noir.

3. The Fever – Megan Abbott
Abbott’s latest exploration of the dangerous world of adolescent girls
is stunning in its complex attitudes and twisting plot points.

4. Borderline – Lawrence Block [reissue]
Hard Case crime has released this little-known relic of the porn
paperback industry, and when you pick it up, prepare yourself for some
wild 1950s hipster eroticism on the Texas-Mexico border.

5. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – Joel Dicker
Joel Dicker has written an intricate mystery in the guise of a love
story, and his exploration of murder in Maine exists on several
levels.

6. The Black Hour – Lori Rader-Day
Lori Rader-Day tackles issues of school shootings, suicide, and
vicious academic competition to create a thoroughly enjoyable and
highly topical debut novel.

7. Wolf – Mo Hayder
In Mo Hayder’s latest Jack Caffery novel, Wolf, a family is trapped in
a country mansion by psychopaths and Caffery must race to secure their
release in order to follow his own quest to find his brother.

8.  Federales – Christopher Irvin
Christopher Irvin plunges into the dark world of drug cartels in
Mexico in this violent and heart-wrenching novella.

9. Prayer – Phillip Kerr
Phillip Kerr heads to modern day Houston to write a stylish thriller
about the horrors of religious zealotry and the power of belief.

10. Phantom Instinct – Meg Gardiner
Meg Gardiner writes a new tough heroine for her stand-alone
techno-thriller Phantom Instinct, and brings the suspense and the
satisfaction.