MysteryPeople Review: YOUNG AMERICANS by Josh Stallings

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  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

I am a sucker for a heist novel. Whether it’s amateurs pushed to economic extremes, “Born To Lose” punks with thirty-eights, or precise pros, the story of someone taking something from someone else always draws me in, no matter how well I’ve gotten to know the scores. I was excited to find out that one of my favorite hard boiled authors, Josh Stallings, was comitting his own style of literary larceny with Young Americans.

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MysteryPeople Review: LEAVING BERLIN by Joseph Kanon

leaving berlin

Post by Molly


I’ve always been a fan of spy fiction, since I discovered John le Carré, Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, and of course, the great Graham Greene. At its silliest, spy fiction is a collection of gadgets, gizmos, guns and girls (in that order). At its greatest, such as in The Spy Who Came in From The Cold, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, spy fiction becomes a moral minefield; treacherous, duplicitous, paranoid, and thrilling. Agents lurk behind every corner, no one is who they seem, and each stab at connection, empathy and affection is brutally punished by manipulative handlers and their far-away, jingoistic bosses. Berlin, as the secret agent center of the Cold War for nearly a half century, stands out as a setting for spy fiction, and Joseph Kanon, with his latest novel, Leaving Berlin, uses the city just as well as Le Carré. No wonder – Kanon has already made Cold War Berlin his own in such novels as The Good German, and Leaving Berlin is no exception.

Leaving Berlin starts with a perfect set-up. In 1949, Alex Meier a German-Jewish writer with a Dutch passport and a communist past, refuses to testify at the House of Un-American Activities Committee and is promptly deported from the United States. He receives an invitation to move back to Berlin, a city he has not seen since 1933, and join the community of returning Communist exiles, including Bertolt Brecht, determined to help build a new Germany.

Meier, however, does not plan to stay in Germany long – he’s received a promise that, should he provide enough information on his new friends to the CIA, he will be allowed to return to the United States, where his ex-wife and son still reside. The CIA recruits Meier as an agent partially because Meier’s family is dead, and thus they think he has no connections in his former home. Meier proves his handlers wrong, and immediately goes on a quest to find the Junker family who provided him with the funds and opportunity to escape the Nazis after a brief turn in a concentration camp. He finds some of them, including his old flame, still alive, and he decides to help those he can to escape to the west as well.

With such a great setup, its hard to believe that the book could possibly have an equally amazing conclusion. And yet Leaving Berlin ends with one of the best resolutions I have ever read in a spy novel – everyone receives their comeuppances, but not before several double agents, even more murders, a hint of romance, and a thrilling chase sequence during a production of Brecht’s prescient anti-war drama Mother Courage.

Kanon chocks his novel full of historical details. The characters are a veritable who’s-who of East German intellectuals, and the city is described so well as to be almost the protagonist of the novel – in fact, the city, with its ever-shifting sectors and alliances and ever-present construction crews, changes throughout the novel more than any other character. Leaving Berlin, had it been written in 1949, would not have been published, for the censorship at the time on both the Soviet and American sides was far to strict for discussion of certain topics. Kanon’s characters explicitly discuss the mass rape of German women by Soviet soldiers at the end of WWII (encompassing over two million victims and two distinct stages, the first in East Prussia and the second in Berlin). Similarly, characters discuss purges, one-way trips to Siberia, and Stalinist oppression more openly than was possible at the time. Leaving Berlin does, however, read like a novel written in 1949 and hidden in a desk drawer for a day when it could be published, and this is the highest praise I can give to any American writing about the Soviet era.


You can find copies of Leaving Berlin on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. For those spy fiction aficionados who may be reading this post, we are relaunching our MysteryPeople Double Feature film series at the end of April. Join us May 10 at 6:30 PM on BookPeople’s third floor for a screening of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, followed by a discussion of the book and film. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.

Scott’s Top 10 Crime Fiction Reads of 2014…. So Far

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.

1. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride & The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

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.

2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

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.

3. The Fever by Megan Abbott

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.

4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

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.

5. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

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.


6. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

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.

7. Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

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.

8. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

A brilliant use of flashback and cold case murder investigation. Lippman weaves a tapestry of family, identity, religion and class with a strong, suspenseful thread.

9. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

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.

10. Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva & Ways Of The Dead by Neely Tucker

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.

MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Fest!

MPCFF-logo

7 Crime Fiction Authors

Double Feature Film Series

International Crime Month

 

June is an incredible month for crime fiction here at MysteryPeople. There’s so much going on, we’ve decided to pull out all the stops and celebrating with a month-long
MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Fest!

Join us this month for one of our many free, fun events!

 

AUTHOR EVENTS

7 Authors Are Lined Up To Visit BookPeople this month!
Dates & Info Available Here.

BookPeople events are free & open to the public. 
Books signed at BookPeople events
must be purchased from BookPeople. 

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DOUBLE FEATURE FILM SERIES

Join us for a brand new summer film series!

We’ll screen movies based on some of our favorite crime fiction novels, up on the third floor of BookPeople.

The screenings are FREE & open to the public.
Escape that summer heat & join us!

 

June 25   6PM
Double Indemnity

Double-Indemnity

 

July 9  6PM – Purple Noon
(The Talented Mr. Ripley)

 

July 23  6PM
The Long Goodbye

Long-Goodbye

 

August 6  6PM
Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil-in-a-Blue-Dress

 

August 20  6PM
Winter’s Bone

Winters-Bone

 

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INTERNATIONAL CRIME MONTH

June is International Crime Month! We’re celebrating crime fiction writers around the world with a brand new series on the MysteryPeople blog that delves into the authors writing crime fiction around the globe and the publishers here in America who put those books on our shelves.

International Crime Month is a month-long initiative highlighting internationally acclaimed crime fiction authors, editors, critics, and publishers. Four of America’s most influential independent publishers—Grove Atlantic, Akashic Books, Melville House, and Europa Editions—have joined forces to promote one of the most vital and socially significant fiction genres of our time. We’re happy to join them!

Look for a special in-store display in MysteryPeople highlighting books from these publishers. Watch the MysteryPeople blog for regular posts throughout the month focusing on international crime fiction. 

International Crime Writing Series

international_crime_month~post by Molly

When it comes to international crime writing, the Scandinavian novel has dominated the scene long before Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy was ever published. I like to brag about taking a Scandinavian detective fiction class back in college, and that the history of Scandinavian crime fiction stretches back fifty years. Sometimes, I find it hard to remember that international detective fiction comes from anywhere outside of Scandinavia. However, dear readers, I am here to launch a blog series to prove just this fact – that international crime fiction is truly international.

Each month (and more often now, during International Crime Month), I will be profiling either a different international crime nexus or particular author. I will explore how their work fits in with their locale, history, and specific crime writing scene, as well as giving a few recommended reads. I will be profiling mainly hard-boiled and noir writing, with the occasional police procedural or thriller. I will closely examine how each author or set of authors solves some of the basic plausibility difficulties of the genre within their geographical context. Some international locations have a fictional murder rate exponentially higher than their citizens’ capacity to kill, while other places match grimy noir to a violent reality.

I aim to bring awareness to the numerous translated works available in MysteryPeople, but I also plan to include analysis and exploration of common themes. Some of the locales I aim to explore are: Marseilles, Dublin, Japan, Mexico City, Italy, the former Soviet Union, Havana, Israel/Palestine, and wherever else my world tour through the mystery section takes me.

I will be focusing my energies on those reads which evoke a certain time and place, as this is one of the joys of international fiction. On the other hand, I do plan to occasionally profile those foreign authors whose plots could take place next door. I will also bring attention to American authors who have an international focus and analyze to what extent they draw strength or weakness from their emotional and physical distance.

In honor of International Crime Month, or, as the calendar says, June, I will be discussing two different locations this month. I will also profile several publishers doing the down and dirty work of bringing these detective tales from foreign shores to ATX. Look here on the MysteryPeople blog for my first post in the series on June 9, where I will be profiling the scintillating scene of Marseilles.

THE KRAKEN PROJECT: Audiobook Excerpt

Douglas Preston Credit Deborah Feingold
Looking ahead to this Saturday, May 24 at 4pm, we are lucky to have Douglas Preston in-store discussing his latest book, The Kraken Project. We’ve already shared our own thoughts in the MysteryPeople review, so it’s time to hear it for yourselves. Scott Sowers reads this thrilling excerpt from The Kraken Project audiobook, which we’re excited to share with y’all.


Douglas Preston speaks about and signs The Kraken Project here at BookPeople this Saturday, May 24 at 4pm. If you can’t make it but would like a signed copy, you can order a signed, personalized book via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Philip Kerr


~post by Molly

Philip Kerr takes a break from his Bernie Gunther character to write Prayer, a contemporary story of an FBI agent going after religious extremists in Texas. Molly caught up with Mr. Kerr and gave him a grilling in this Q&A. Also, take the time to read Molly’s outstanding review of Prayer.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: In your new novel Prayer, there is quite a bit about not just religious people but religious theory and theology. What was your inspiration for exploring religious concepts in such detail? Where does the root of your enjoyment of religious theory lie?

PHILIP KERR: I was brought up in a very religious home. My parents were evangelical Baptists, and until the age of 14 I went to church as many as three times on a Sunday. At home we never started a meal, without speaking to Jesus. But I knew I was never going to hack it as a Christian. There was too much going on inside my head. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist; I think a more respectable intellectual position is to say that logically one cannot prove the non-existence of God any more than one can prove his existence. But God is different from most organised religion which seems like nonsense to me.  What it boils down to is this: if your truth and my truth are very different, we have to agree, logically that neither of us has a monopoly on truth. However religion doesn’t work like that. Religion says that if your truth is not the same as my truth than you are an infidel or a heretic, or an apostate, or some other pejorative beloved of religion. Which makes for a good place to start a crime novel.

MP: Some of the later scenes in Prayer can be described as, well, spooky, and much of the plot reads more like a horror story than a detective novel. Did you deliberately set out to bring in a bit of Edgar Allen Poe to your writing or did the crimes you conceived for the novel lead to that naturally?

PK: It’s meant to be Gothic, yes. Texan Gothic. Sounds good, huh? Don’t get me wrong; I love Texas. I brought my wife and kids when I was researching Prayer and we had one of the best vacations ever in Houston. We stayed at the Houstonian. We got a personal guided tour of the Johnson Space Center by a shuttle commander who likes my books. We visited Galveston. We went to Dealey Plaza. The weather was great. I hung out with the FBI, who couldn’t have been more accommodating.  I  wanted to make a standard police procedural turn into something else, in the same way that Bill Blatty did with The Exorcist. I have always loved that book. And the film. But I wondered how Blatty might have approached his story if he was writing it today. And that was my starting point.

MP: I noticed that a commonality between the Bernie Gunther novels and this new novel, set in modern day Houston, is that you draw from right-wing extremism for villains in both. What brings you to a particular fascination with the crimes perpetrated by those who are motivated by racist and anti-Semitic doctrine? And why focus on religious extremism in particular when previously you have been more concerned with the extremes of political doctrines?

PK: I think there’s just a lot of intolerance around, especially in religion. My truth is better than your truth etc. The world would be a lot better off if people just decided to let God look after his own reputation, honour, etc; if he is God he doesn’t need the help of men to fight his battles for him. Anti-Semitism I find especially baffling; surely after what happened in WWII it’s time we all agreed to let the Jews off the hook – so to speak – for what happened to Jesus. Haredim aside Jews are just ordinary folk like you or I. Let’s pick on someone else for a change.

MP: Two things struck me as particularly of the zeitgeist in the book. First, you introduced several gay characters. Second, you also spent some time on the main character’s OCD, which to me felt like part of a new awareness of mental health issues across the board. Do you feel that writing fiction set in the present day allows you to explore modern themes more easily than when saddled with the attitudes of the past in your historical fiction?

PK: It’s very liberating, yes, to write a present day story. Interestingly the gay character in the book didn’t reveal herself as gay to me, until I had to write that page. It was a big surprise, but I like it when characters take charge of their own destinies like that. The OCD thing was interesting to me because I think a lot of detectives are obsessives anyway. They have to be. Watch True Detective and tell me that those two characters are both normal regular guys; they’re not; they’re fucked up. Big time. I loved that show.

MP: Much of your book could be set in, forgive me for saying, any old southern town. Why Texas, and why, in particular, Houston? You seem interested in the history of Texas as a history of violence, particularly politicized violence, and is this a significant part of your choice of setting?

PK: Well, let me come back to my love for Texas. If you come from Scotland like I do, you’re reared on a love of the idea of Texas from a very early age. I was weaned on John Wayne films. That plus the fact that my Dad worked for an American firm, and many of his colleagues were from Texas meant I always wanted to go. When I first went to Texas I thought it would be very red neck and in fact it wasn’t like that in the least. I found Texans to be very thoughtful, courteous people. But why did I pick Texas? Simple. Everything is larger in Texas – everyone knows this. Which is probably why they have the largest churches in the world. That’s why I picked Houston.

You can read Molly’s review of Prayer by Philip Kerr here.



Philip Kerr will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, May 10 at 4PM. You can p
re-order signed copies of Prayer now via bookpeople.com