Scott’s Top Ten of 2015

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

If there was a common thread through the best books of 2015, it was ambition. Authors stretched themselves by taking on large subjects or writing something much different, or taking their series characters down a different path. All of these authors raised the bar for themselves and leaped over it.


hollow man1. Hollow Man by Mark Pryor

Pryor’s smart use of point of view puts us in the head of Dominic – Austin prosecutor, musician, and sociopath – who gets involved with a robbery and to continue to tap into his darker nature when things go bad. One of the freshest and best neo-noirs to come down the pike.


the cartel2. The Cartel by Don Winslow

Winslow’s sequel to The Power Of The Dog reignites the blood feud between DEA agent Art Keller and cartel head Adán Barrera in epic fashion to show the disastrous effect of the war on drugs in Mexico. A book that both enrages and entertains.Read More »

MysteryPeople Q&A with Wallace Stroby, author of the Crissa Stone novels

  • Interview by MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery

Wallace Stroby’s The Devil’s Share is one of my favorite books of 2015, with a reappearance of one of my favorite characters, heistwoman Crissa Stone. In this book, Crissa is hired for an inside job to steal Iraqi art meant for repatriation. Stone is hired by the art’s new, illicit owner, who does not wish to part ways with the artifacts. Hicks, the art collector’s security man, works with Crissa as both ally and spy, creating a new relationship that could be fruitful or deadly. We got in touch with Wallace to talk about the book and his heroine.

the devils shareMysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to Iraqi art as the MacGuffin?

Wallace Stroby: I liked the idea of a big cultural crime – stealing ancient artifacts from their place of origin – being facilitated by a smaller, intimate crime, like hijacking a truck on a desert highway. And certainly there was theft on an enormous scale of priceless artifacts immediately following the invasion of Iraq. In the novel, a corrupt art dealer argues that the stolen artifacts are better off with him in the U.S., then at the mercy of whatever regime is in power in their homeland. And oddly, ISIS has since proved him right, by aggressively destroying artifacts and bulldozing archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria, because it considers them anti-Muslim idolatry. A lot of these items go back to the beginnings of civilization, around 3,000 B.C., and ISIS has released videos of their soldiers cheerfully destroying them with sledgehammers and power tools. All this happened long after the book was written though.

MPS: This was the novel where it appeared Crissa had changed a bit without completely putting my finger on it. At what place do you see Crissa in her life?

Read More »

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

Wallace Stroby Shows The Hard Word Book Club How To Plan a Heist

kings of midnight


The Hard Word Book Club meets Wednesday, July 29, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s third floor, to discuss Kings of Midnight, by Wallace Stroby. Stroby calls in to make this a special Hard Word occasion. All book club books are 10% off in the month of their selection.


July’s Hard Word Book Club looks at one of the best crooks since Parker. Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone is a heist-woman doing scores to get her mentor and lover out of prison. Crissa Stone, as a professional thief with a sensitive side, brings a fresh take and and stronger emotional core to the heist novel while still being very hard-boiled. One of the best examples of Stroby’s Stone novels is Kings Of Midnight.

In Kings Of Midnight, Stroby uses true crime as a part of his crime fiction, using the 1978 Lufthansa Robbery made famous by the film Goodfellas. After the robbery it was believed most of the robbers were murdered by their ringleader or the mafia. While some money was found, over five million was never recovered. Kings Of Midnight uses the premise that the remaining loot could or could not be in the home of a mob boss. At least that is what Crissa is told by Benny, a former mobster loosely based on informant Henry Hill. if she can trust a former snitch, it’ll be a big pay off. Either way, the troubles she already has with the mob will expand.

There is a lot to discuss about Kings Of Midnight: the anti-heroine, using real crime in crime fiction, honor among thieves. Luckily, Wallace Stroby joins the Hard Word Book Club in a conference call the day of discussion to help us out. Join us on BookPeople’s 3rd Floor at 7PM, Wednesday, July 29th. The book is 10% off at the register to those who attend.

You can find copies of Kings of Midnight on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: THE DEVIL’S SHARE by Wallace Stroby

the devils share

Crissa Stone, created by Wallace Stroby, has gotten to be one of my favorite series characters for this millennium. Stone works as a professional thief, raising funds to get her lover and mentor, Wayne, out of prison. She provides a certain amount of heart to this hard and streamlined heist novel while keeping her professional cool. Both the character and her relationship are tested in Wallace Stroby’s latest, The Devil’s Share.

A collector doesn’t want to give up his ill-gotten Iraqi art, soon to be repatriated. He hires Crissa to  steal it from his own convoy. She can pick her own crew, but the owner’s security consultant and war vet, Hicks, will provide the weapons and act as a chaperon on the job.

The relationship between Crissa and Hicks really makes the book. A night at a bar where they feel each other out is filled with both electricity and tension. As they work closer together, Crissa starts to question her loyalty to Wayne. Since we know to trust no one in these stories, Hicks becomes a formidable and complex ally or adversary.

Stroby hits the genre like a master craftsman, understanding the importance of brevity in the heist sub-genre. His style is concise, driving moving most of the story through action and dialogue. He keeps the emotion below the surface, creating a sense of tension in each character’s relationships. The artful hi-jacking is executed with a smooth efficiency interrupted by a couple of heart-stopping glitches and the coming aftermath tightens on its characters like a vice.

The Devil’s Share is hard-boiled heaven. Stroby gives a fresh take on the tropes we love with more depth than you might expect. The man knows how to mix his style and substance.

You can find copies of The Devil’s Share on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Double Feature: THE LONG GOODBYE

This Wednesday, July 23, at 6 pm, we will be screening Robert Altman‘s film adaption of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye as part of our double feature film series. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.

Ask any Raymond Chandler aficionado about Chandler’s best book and most will say The Long Goodbye. Rich in Southern California detail and somber meditations on friendship, it is the the closest we get to understanding his private detective, Phillip Marlowe. Although The Long Goodbye, as a novel, has achieved near-universal acclaim, Robert Altman’s film version has drawn controversy for its unconventional interpretation.

While Playback is technically the last book in the series, The Long Goodbye feels like Chandler’s true farewell to the character. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler uses the classic noir structure of two seemingly unrelated cases that soon become intertwined. One case deals with his friend, Terry Lennox, whose wife is found dead after Marlowe gives him a lift to Mexico. Soon Terry is also assumed dead, but Marlowe thinks the truth is otherwise. As he tries to figure out Terry’s whereabouts, he takes on the job of hunting down a drunken novelist, Roger Wade, to whom he ends up acting as part-time nursemaid.

With the Lennox mystery, Chandler looks at Marlowe deeper than ever before. This is the first time Marlowe is truly personally involved in a case. We watch him try to balance his friendship with Terry and his famous personal code. We also get  a stronger sense of his loneliness, making The Long Goodbye one of the most existential private eye novels out there.

What makes the book even more personal is Marlowe’s relationship with Wade. Wade and Marlowe share a similar history, especially when it comes to his drinking and marriage. Even when he’s reading one of Wade’s books, Marlowe criticizes him for overusing similes, the simile being something he was known (and often parodied) for. It was as if he was using his detective to investigate himself.

“It’s certainly his most character-driven book, and a lot more ambitious than the other Marlowe novels,” said crime novelist Wallace Stroby when I asked him about the book and movie.  “And Terry Lennox is a unique creation. I can’t think of any other crime novel beforehand, except maybe for Dashiell Hammett‘s The Glass Key, in which male friendship is so central to the plot. It’s probably Chandler’s most autobiographical novel as well. It deals pretty straightforwardly with alcoholism. It’s also been hugely influential on the genre. James Crumley‘s The Last Good Kiss is in many ways his take on The Long Goodbye.”

In Altman’s film version, Marlowe is at a distance. Shot in his famed long takes in large frame with a flashing technique he developed with cinematographer Vilmos Zigmund, the movie has a hazy feel about it. Altman said he approached the material as “Rip Van Marlowe”, with the detective coming out of a twenty year sleep that he started right after World War II and then woke up post Vietnam. This time lapse matches the twenty years difference from the release of the book to the premiere of the film. Gould plays him as if he’s sleepwalking through the cases, getting sharper as he figures out he’s getting played, ending in a confrontation far different from the book.

The movie has become a form of debate among Chandler fans. Some believe the film portrays Marlowe in way respectful to the original, while others feel that the film trashes the novel completely.  Some place Altman’s cynical depiction of L. A. as in keeping with the Chandler tradition. Some, like myself, have a different reaction each time we see it.

“It’s a love or hate proposition,” says Stroby. “I love it. But I think you have to look at it more as a Robert Altman movie than a Raymond Chandler adaptation. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and very much of its time, but it has some real noir cred, too. It was written by Leigh Brackett and has a great late-career performance by Sterling Hayden (as Wade). In fact, the whole ensemble cast is terrific. I’d much rather the filmmakers took the approach they did, than to just make another Marlowe pastiche set in the ’40s. I think it’s right up there with the best films based on Chandler’s work.”

The major concept that both film and novel share is the idea of Marlowe in changing times. Chandler starts The Long Goodbye in the ’40s, when he meets Terry Lennox, then gets the plot going in the ’50s. Marlowe feels time slipping away and his values slipping with it. With “Rip Van Marlowe” it’s already gone when he wakes up. For both PIs, time is the most dangerous and deceptive femme fatale.

 

DOUBLE FEATURE STATS FOR THE LONG GOODBYE

Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5): 2 (The ending is very un-Marlowe)

Adherence To Quality Of Book: 3 (Many will argue I’m being either too kind or unkind)

Suggested Viewing: Marlowe, Chinatown, Devil In A Blue Dress (Which you can see at our next Double Feature Wednesday on August 6th) Suggested Reading- Moving Target by Ross McDonald, Brown’s Requiem by James Ellroy, Concrete River by John Shannon

And for the record: The Long Goodbye is not Wallace Stroby’s favorite Chandler novel. “‘That would be Farewell, My Lovely, for its characters, mood and plot that – unlike the other Marlowes – is actually fairly simple.”

Come join us Wednesday, July 23, for a free screening of Robert Altman’s film interpretation of The Long Goodbye. It’s sure to spark a great discussion! As always, events are free and open to the public. Come join us at 6pm on the third floor.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Wallace Stroby

Wallace Stroby’s latest Crissa Stone book, Shoot The Woman First, was our December Pick Of The Month as well as making our top ten. We talked to Wallace about his character, crime, and one of his biggest influences.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: Do you think Crissa has changed since Cold Shot To The Heart?

WALLACE STROBY: She’s had to grow tougher, colder and more ruthless since the events of that first book, just by virtue of what’s happened to her in the interim. At the beginning of COLD SHOT she’d never even fired a gun in anger, much less killed anyone, and there have been a lot of bodies under the bridge since then. I wanted her to be aware of that though, with a sense of the cost she’s paid along the way, and acknowledging the inevitable results of the lifestyle she’s chosen.

MP:You have Crissa caring for a traumatized girl in much of the second act and we know that she has a child living with some of her relatives. Did you want to show what Crissa is like as a mother?

WS:It’s something she’d like to be, but, again, the choices she’s made kind of preclude that. But she can’t help but respond to this little girl, both out of the obligation she feels to the girl’s father, and her own sense of loss over being an absentee mother.

I was also thinking about a lot of the Asian crime/action films I love, and how many of them, from the Zatoichi films on, prominently feature neglected children whom the protagonist attempts to protect. A great recent example is the Korean film THE MAN FROM NOWHERE, which has a really touching relationship between the hero – an ex-secret service agent – and a lonely little girl. In my living room, I have a framed U.K subway poster of John Woo’s film HARD-BOILED that features a shotgun-toting Chow Yun-Fat protectively cradling a baby in one arm.

MP: Your crooked ex-cop Burke is a standout antagonist. How did he come about?

WS: I’d originally intended Burke to be a current Detroit cop, but the logistics of how he would get on Crissa’s trail became too complicated. Making him an ex-cop with a history of corruption seemed to work better, because it made him an outsider as well, with his own issues. And with all that’s gone on in Detroit recently, the police there already have enough on their hands. I didn’t see the need to beat up on them any more.

MP: Much of the action takes place around Detroit, instead of your Jersey and Florida stomping grounds. What prompted the change in setting?

WS: In one way, these books are very much post-recession novels, and I always thought Detroit was the most extreme – and fascinating –example of a major American city fallen on apocalyptic hard times. Trouble was, events there were changing so quickly that it was hard to keep up with them when I was writing the book. When the city filed for bankruptcy in July, the ARCs were already being printed, so I had to squeeze a reference to that into the final version.

MP: Some of your dialogue, particularly with the Detroiters, reminded me of Elmore Leonard’s. I know you were a fan of his. What did you learn from reading his books?

WS: When in doubt, I go back to his “Ten Rules of Writing.” Every single one of them has an exception (No. 1 could be “Never open a book with weather, unless, of course, you’re James Lee Burke”), but taken together, they’re as solid a foundation as you can get for learning how to write well. He’d also mastered how to put the key elements together – character, plot and setting – and do it quickly. His books were straightforward, energetic and uniquely American. That he was able to sustain such a quality output for so many years is amazing. No other American writer – in any genre – has had a career like his, or been so good for so long.

That said, I’m partial to his darker, late-‘70s, early-’80s books such as CITY PRIMEVAL, FIFTY-TWO PICKUP, SWAG and CAT CHASER. I dedicated SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST to him, both because of its Detroit setting and as an acknowledgment of the debt I owed him. Unfortunately, he passed away before the book came out.

This was a rough year for literary deaths. When it comes to writers who most permeated American popular culture, we lost two giants: Leonard and Richard Matheson. We’ll never see their like again.

MP: While many of your characters are stone cold pros in the spirit of the genre, you get a sense of weariness in their lives. What do you want to convey about a life of crime?

WS: That we’re all capable of making choices which, though they seem right at the time, can lead us down some very dark paths. And that sometimes the things that make us feel most alive are the ones that can kill us quickest.

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Copies of SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.