INTERVIEW WITH C.M. WENDELBOE

C.M. Wendelboe is a western writer, no matter what genre he writes. A veteran of decades of law enforcement in Wyoming and the Dakotas his books show an understanding of the land and its people while delivering a well crafted and highly entertaining tale. In his latest to feature Arn Anderson, a retired Denver cop turned hired consultant for one of the city’s news stations, we have Arn also doing detail as as stock detective tracking down sheep rustlers. When he stumbles upon a murder he realizes “The Midnight Shepard” may have witnessed it. We talked to Mr. Wendelboe about Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler, how his writing is tied to his former profession, and the western life.

Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler (Bitter Wind Mystery #2) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Part of the plot deals with the crime of sheep rustling. Is that more common than most people think?

C.M. Wendelboe: Sheep rustling is still a common problem here in the west, as is cattle rustling. With sheep thefts, it is as I describe it in Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler where a trained dog can herd enough sheep to fill a small trailer (usually 25-30 head) and the rustler gone from the pasture within ten minutes.

MPS: What did tying the two mysteries of the killer and the “Midnight Shepard” allow you to do?

CMW: It allowed me to establish a continuity and a sense of purpose to Arn. Since he retired from the Denver Metro Detective Division, he has done what many retired lawmen have done after they hang up their shield—nothing except sit around watching soaps and drinking beer. Suddenly, the consulting gigs that Ana Maria snagged for Arn give him direction once again. He can use what has been his defining trait as an investigator—the ability to look at things from, first a broad perspective, and narrowing his thinking down into a laser-like focus to solve the cases.

MPS: As in the first book, you occasionally have a chapter from the killer’s point of view. How difficult is that to do without tipping the reader off?

CMW: I have wanted to use the killer’s perspective for some years now. When I was a law officer, I interviewed numerous genuine psychopaths and sociopaths, and each time I came away with the same perspective—they were highly intelligent killers whose intellect eventually were their downfall. To a man (and one woman) I talked with, each thought they were too clever—either because they were inherently intelligent—or that they were too ruthless to drop their guard.

Those chapters were the most difficult in the book because I am unlike the killer, and because it would be so easy to slip up. Of course the last thing I wished to do—aside from the foreshadowing—was give the reader too much information where he or she could solve the identity of the murderer before I was ready to reveal it.

MPS: One thing I like about Arn is that he is an older protagonist. What are some advantages in writing a hero with a few years on him?        

CMW: Arn is a lot like I was in my law enforcement career: the older I became, the more time I took to process things. This wasn’t due to a slowing of the mind, but rather an awareness that I missed many clues, many insights as I rushed headlong to find the answers. As an older character, Arn has grown out of the “puppy lawman” phase and thinks things through logically. Even though it takes him more time to do so.

MPS: Like Craig Johnson, you mainly give a sense of place through its people. What did you want to get across about the citizens of Cheyenne?

CMW: This series has a western flavor to it. Apart from Frontier Days (“The Daddy of ‘em All” rodeo), people here still live the western lifestyle even though most rarely set a horse or participate in brandings. But there are enough things in the community to point to the western heritage and makeup of the town, from the daily wagon and carriage rides seen on the streets in the summer to the lesser rodeos held nearly year-round to the abundance of large cattle and sheep herds within minutes from city center. A person can still see doors opened for others and women escorted away from curbside and men tipping their hats when introduced to strangers. But strangers not for long as the western hospitality will shine through.

MPS: You also have a new western with Tucker Ashley. What can you tell us about that?

CMW: I developed Tucker Ashley in the true sense of what folks think of the buffalo hunter/part time army scout/gunfighter. But I also wanted to showcase his abilities as a man tracker. Folks often assume that every frontiersman was track-savvy with the abilities to follow a gnat across choppy water. This was not so back in the day. Tales are full of men who misread sign and wound up lost or hundreds of miles off their presumed destination. Competent trackers back then were sought out, as they are today.

MPS: You will be calling in to our Murder In The Afternoon Book Club on November 19th for your discussion of your first Bitter Wind Novel, Hunting The Five Point Killer. Is there anything we can’t ask?

CMW: Sky’s the limit. Look forward to it.

 

INTERVIEW WITH MELISSA LENHARDT

Melissa Lenhardt’s Heresy is a smart and fresh take on the western outlaw tale. Several different women from several backgrounds escape the lot post-Civil War life on the frontier has cast them and become outlaws, dressing up as men and conducting well executed robberies. Told through diaries and interviews with historians, Heresy is western shoot em’up with poignancy as it examines “herstory” and female friendship. Melissa will be joining Reavis Wortham (Gold Dust) at BookPeople on October 9th to sign and discuss their books. We were able to get some questions to her early.

Heresy Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Heresy is such a unique story in so many ways. How did it come about?

Melissa Lenhardt: The simple answer is I saw the trailer for the Denzel Washington version of The Magnificient Seven and while being impressed with the diversity, I wondered why they didn’t go a step further and include women. Which of course led me to say, I’ll write an all-female version. The long answer is that during my historical research for Sawbones, the lack of historical information about women and their experiences was glaring. I wanted to write a book that compared women’s versions of historical events with the official historic record, and in doing so challenge the idea that women were bystanders and played a very little part in the creation of America.

MPS: How did the choice of using diaries and interviews to tell the story come about?

ML: I assumed I would write the story from one point of view as I did with Sawbones. I realized pretty early on that wouldn’t work. There were too many characters, too many points of view that needed to be shared to tell the full story. By staying firmly in one point of view I would be doing to my marginalized characters – a former slave, a woman struggling with her sexuality and her place in the world – what historians have done with women writ large. So, I knew I had to have multiple points of view. I chose to tell the female points of view through journals and an oral history because that is how women’s history is discovered. Of course, I had to have the “official record” as well, to highlight how the truth of a thing is manipulated into myth.

MPS: Did it present any challenges in the storytelling?

ML: Lord, yes. This book was technically the most difficult book I’ve ever written. Telling one story from three divergent points of view, with one told fifty years later, was a challenge in and of itself. Making sure the timeline worked across all versions, but also allowing for different perspectives, different memories, without confusing the reader with too many contradictions. When I finished I thought, “That sucked. I’m never doing that again.” But writing something that challenges you, that pushes you to your creative limits is a bit like childbirth. You swear you’ll never go through that pain again but then you hold your baby in your arms and think, “Yeah, it’s worth it.”

MPS: I enjoyed the fact that the robberies had more of a heist feel than just running in and shooting like a lot of other western bandits.

ML: Before I started writing I thought it would be more of a heist book, like Ocean’s Eleven in the Old West (this was before Ocean’s Eight was announced as a movie). But, my mood and the mood of the country changed drastically six days after I wrote the first word and I knew that I couldn’t tell a lighthearted story. It just wasn’t in me. There was a moment in time when I thought it was going to be about vengeful women cutting a swath of destruction across the West. That idea was way too on the nose for this era. I found a happy medium, I think, in the final story.

MPS: Were there any books and movies in your mind when you were writing it?

ML: It was pitched as Thelma and Louise meets The Magnificent Seven, so those two, obviously. The Magnificent Seven in an obvious way, a gang trying to right a wrong and the final big battle between the good guys and bad. But, I think Thelma and Louise is the bigger influence on Heresy. Thelma and Louise are running from a patriarchal system that is trying to catch them, to control them, a system that will judge their reactions to assault more harshly than the assault itself. Along the way, these two very different women become platonic soul mates, two halves of the same whole. Neither could survive without the other. Friendship, loyalty, and family in its purest form. I wanted to capture that platonic love with Garet and Hattie’s relationship. Really, the entire book hinges on it. Thelma and Louise is the greatest platonic love story ever told, and I strove to capture that essence in Heresy.

Hard Word Hits the Trail with…Mickey Spillane

The Hard Book Club meets to discuss The Legend of Caleb York by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins on Wednesday, September 28th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor.

Hard Word Book Club to discuss: The Legend of Caleb York by Max Allan Collins, based on the screenplay of the same name, by Mickey Spillane

9780786036141Our Hard Word Book Club always makes a point to discuss a western once or twice a year. This time, we are reading one from an author mainly known for writing about danger in the big city. In the mid fifties, Mickey Spillane was at the height of his his career, due to his tough guy private eye Mike Hammer. During this period, he was asked by none other than John Wayne to write a western screenplay. Unearthed after his death, it was adapted into the book The Legend Of Caleb York by Spillane’s friend and collaborator Max Allan Collins.

The story is a play on the classic stranger comes to town idea. A crooked sheriff works to push a crusty rancher and his pretty daughter off of their land. The rancher sends word for a gunman who made a name for himself by killing the famed gunslinger Caleb York. Not long after, a man rides into town, dressed as a dude. He quickly dispatches some of the local ruffians. When he signs the hotel ledger, he gives the name of Caleb York. The mystery of this man slowly reveals itself as both factions make their play.

The Legend Of Caleb York is a fun read that should inspire a great discussion about genre, Spillane, and script versus book. We will also be watching the hour long documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, directed by Max Allan Collins and featuring many crime fiction greats talking about the hard boiled author. We will be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, September 28th, at 7PM. The book is 10% off to those who attend.

The Hard Book Club meets to discuss The Legend of Caleb York by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins on Wednesday, September 28th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor. You can find copies of The Legend of Caleb York on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Book Club selections are 10% off in-store. 

Trenchcoats & Ten-Gallon Hats- The Creative Relationship Between The Western And Crime Novel

 

Robert Knott, the author chosen to continue Robert B. Parker’s Western-detective mash-up series starring sheriffs Hitch and Cole, comes to visit to BookPeople tonight, Friday February 5th, at 7 PM. He’ll be speaking and signing his latest extension of the series, Robert B. Parker’s Blackjack. 

Why post about an upcoming visit from the author of a Western novel on a mystery blog, you might ask? Well, as Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery, a fan of all tough-guy fiction, explains below, the two genres may have more in common than you might think….

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery, all quotes taken from interviews via email

G enres have always have conversations with one another. They find reinvention in themselves or each other from borrowing from one another. Few do it as much as the crime novel and the western.

“The historian Richard Slotkin is most famous for making the argument (and I believe he’s right) that the detective hero of hardboiled fiction is a literary descent of the Western or frontier hero,” says crime fiction author and expert Megan Abbott. “The dangerous frontier becomes the dangerous city, and the “savage” Native Americans are replaced by various “others” in hardboiled novels. Further, the Western or frontier hero is often a loner, someone who can mix in “both worlds” and who resists the “civilizing” influence of women–something else you can see in the detective hero.”

An argument can be made that the cross pollination came from first pulp and later paperback markets where both forms were highly popular. The markets fueled a populist readership from both urban and rural communities, demanding both escapism and something they could relate to. Authors like Max Brand, Zane Grey, Fredrick Nebel, and Raoul Whitfield usually worked in more than one genre. This lead to experimentation.

“I think when you’re talking about genre you’re talking about a contextual relationship with the reader, a line of commonality that’s something of an insider language,” says Craig Johnson, author of the lauded Sheriff Walt Longmire series. “That means it works on different levels and allows you to use as much or as little as you like.”

“The dangerous frontier becomes the dangerous city, and the “savage” Native Americans are replaced by various “others” in hardboiled novels. Further, the Western or frontier hero is often a loner, someone who can mix in “both worlds” and who resists the “civilizing” influence of women–something else you can see in the detective hero.”

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The Look Out: HOP ALLEY by Scott Phillips

Look Out For: Hop Alley by Scott Phillips
On Our Shelves 5/13/14

Scott Phillips is one of the best authors currently working. One of his best books the Western noir Cottonwood. There is a point in Cottonwood where the photographer, saloon keeper, philanderer and criminal protagonist, Bill Ogden, mentions time in he spent in Denver prior to the novel, which has him wind up in San Francisco. Denver holds a bloody history for Ogden, and you’re left with a lot of questions. In comes the short novel Hop Alley where Phillips answers those questions and shows us what exactly happened to Ogden’s during those lost years in Denver.

Odgen is scraping by under an assumed name because of the events in Cottonwood. He has a photography studio and is having an affair with a laudanum-addicted dance hall girl named Priscilla. When the father of one of his employees is murdered, it is pinned on two men from the city’s Chinatown section. Things start to spiral out of control from here. With the city about to riot and Priscilla’s constant manipulations, Bill’s personal life and the tumultuous air in Denver come crashing into one another.

Phillips weaves historical fact, satire, and a fresh spin on noir tropes into a book just as unique as Cottonwood, that serves well as either a standalone or companion piece to the original book. It is a fun visit from one of the most complex anti-heroes in Phillips’s rogues gallery. You can get reacquainted with Bill on May 13th, when Hop Alley officially hits shelves.

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Hop Alley is now available for pre-order via bookpeople.com.

THE THICKET: Not Your Traditional Western

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It’s been some time since Joe R. Lansdale tackled a traditional western. The last time he wrote westerns without supernatural elements, Blood Dance and Texas Night Riders, it was in the early Eighties under pseudonyms for the paperback market. Of course even though there are no zombies or werewolves in this wild frontier, calling The Thicket “traditional” could be something of a stretch.

While there are echoes of True Grit, The Searchers, and Lonesome Dove, it quickly moves into Lansdale territory. When teenager Jack Parker leaves his pox ridden town with his sister and grandfather in turn of the century East Texas, they run across a bad bunch of outlaws who murder the old man and take the girl. The only help available to find his sister and bring the men to justice is Shorty, a sharp shooting dwarf bounty hunter, the son of ex-slaves with a penchant for drink, and a large hog who follows him. Along the way they pick up a young prostitute and a scarred lawman.

This is a perfect story for Lansdale. The loose plot fits his character driven style, while a race against time still provides tension. By using the classic American hero genre and populating it with his offbeat characters, the book explores the idea of heroics in a new way. It both subverts and embraces the western.

The Thicket is a great meeting of story and author. It will please both fans of westerns and fans Joe Lansdale. Hell, it’ll please anybody looking for a good yarn.

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Joe Lansdale will be here at BookPeople this Thursday, September 12 at 7pm to speak about & sign copies of The Thicket. He’ll be joined by his daughter, Kasey Lansdale. Copies of The Thicket are now available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

GET TO KNOW: STEVEN HOCKENSMITH

Post by Scott Montgomery

Steven Hockensmith loves telling a story. I had the pleasure of moderating a BoucherCon panel with him where (to the chagrin of co-panelist, Craig Johnson) we reenacted your average Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup ad from the Seventies. His love of a fun tale comes through in his Holmes On The Range series.

The series characters, Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer first appeared in short stories published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Big Red, who has had some schooling, travels with his older, illiterate sibling getting work as cowboys. At night, he reads stories from different magazines to his brother by the campfire. The ones that take hold of Old Red feature Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, giving him the idea to make a living out of “deducifying”. Big Red becomes his Watson, chronicling their exploits, in hopes of selling then to magazines and becoming a writer.

The first book, Holmes On The Range, is a take on the locked room mystery (this time, a locked outhouse). When the rich upperclassmen make a wager he can’t solve it, Old Red goes into action, dragging his little brother behind. The book sets the structure and tone for the rest of the series, a traditional fair play mystery mixed with Western gunplay and a fair amount of humor. It also conveys an authentic feel for cowboy life, making the work less than romantic.

The books also serve as a look at class and the American dream. Both Old Red, as a detective, and Big Red, as a writer, need to prove their worth to people who view themselves as their “betters”. In the second book, On The Wrong Track, they compete against a Pinkerton operative, when he is mistakenly hired as a railway detective. We see the meritocracy of America pushing at the European class system to define our country. In The Black Dove, Hockensmith looks at it through the immigrant experience when Big and Old Red go to San Francisco and get involved with the Tongs.

The Crack In The Lens, while still being humorous, is possibly his most serious book. Old Red returns to a Texas town where the love of his life was murdered ten years ago; believing he has enough skill to find her killer. The town wants to keep its secrets buried and they’ll bury anybody who pokes around. The Crack In The Lens leans the heaviest on the western elements, including a great barroom brawl, with a touch of noir and ripe with emotion. It’s an adventure sad cowboy songs are made of.

The last book in the series, The World’s Greatest Sleuth!, have Big and Old Red brought to the Chicago World’s Fair for a contest in mystery solving. When the organizer is drowned in a vat of cheese, the game becomes real. It has a great sense of fun with a droll cast list of characters in the beginning.

Hockensmith has moved from cowboys to zombies in the last few years. He’s written Dawn Of The Dreadfuls and Dreadfully Ever After that serve as prequel and sequel to the popular Pride & Prejudice, & Zombies. He recently published Cadaver In Chief that deals with an election during the zombie apocalypse.

Steve has said he’s pretty much done with the Amlingmeyer brothers. He did put out a collection of The Ellery Queen stories, Dear Mr. Holmes, which can be found on KOBO. Maybe there’s hope for Big and Old Red and their west that is authentic as their work and romantic as their dreams.