Thursday, January 19, 2017

Q & A with Nichole Christoff

There's not just Sons of Spade... There's also a healthy amount of Daughters of Spade. Nichole Christoff created one, Jamie Sinclair. I asked her all about the character and her thoughts on PI fiction...

Q: How did you come up with the character?
In many ways, the character of Jamie Sinclair has been with me all my life. Even as a young girl, I gravitated toward stories with a strong female protagonist in the lead, so I’m not surprised that that kind of character is at the forefront of my own work as an adult. As for Jamie specifically, I would go to events at embassies and official residences during my days as a military spouse, and among the members of the security teams, there would be plenty of highly-trained men keeping us safe, but there would be highly-trained women, too. These professionals’ deep-seated desire to take on what, traditionally, hasn’t always been considered a woman’s cup of tea stayed with me. By the time I began work out the crime at the crux of my first Jamie Sinclair novel, THE KILL LIST, I knew that for my protagonist to come out on top, she would need to embody the professional capabilities of those interesting women I’d met. I also knew there needed to be a vulnerability and even fallibility to Jamie—not because she’s a woman, but because that’s what it means to be human.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
eBooks have come a long way since their inception. Distribution and discoverability are certainly not the hurdles they once were, though they can still be a challenge, especially for authors who go the independent or small e-press route. On the bright side, however, I think readers now regard eBooks as high quality works. Years ago, as you may remember, eBooks were often regarded as the books of authors who weren’t very good writers. That has definitely changed. In every genre, talented writers have authored eBooks and eBooks have found a new appreciation among readers. They’ve also found a new appreciation among publishers. Many major publishers have e-original imprints now and I think that’s indicative of eBooks coming into their own as a respected form.

Q: What's next for you and your characters?

The fifth Jamie Sinclair novel will hit the virtual bookshelves in late 2017 or early 2018, with more to follow. Jamie continues to be challenged by hard circumstances and tough characters, and readers can count on that. I’m also working on a brand-new project, which should be finished later this summer.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
I don’t know any writers who aren’t thinking about writing, reading for writing, or talking about writing when she isn’t actually writing. I definitely do those things, too. Also, I live in an old house, so I always have a do-it-yourself home improvement project going on. I love to get outside with my dogs and clear my head, too. The trouble with clearing your head, of course, is that you’ve made room for so many more ideas pop into it.

Q: How do you promote your work?
Fortunately, I have a terrific publisher who is very interested in promotion. In addition to their efforts, I’m always open to invitations to guest blog or to write articles. Also, I give presentations and workshops for students and writers’ groups. I belong to a number of writers’ groups as well, and while attending conferences or networking isn’t strictly promotion, connection with others is never a negative, in my opinion. Further to that, I’m on social media and I’m quite active on Twitter. If you follow me there, the person you get to know is very much who I am, and I think it’s this sense of getting to know me, as much as getting to know the Jamie Sinclair novels themselves, that has opened the door for readers to promote me to their family, friends, and coworkers.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I appreciate any genre that holds up a mirror to our society and asks us tough questions we normally may be too skittish to answer, and that means I love really good Science Fiction. William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition continues to be one of my favorite novels. I re-read it nearly every year.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
I’m not sure I’d consider Hawk and Joe Pike to be clinically psychotic, but maybe I’m an optimist. I’d rather think Hawk and Joe live closer to true justice than the rest of us. Joe Pike is one of my favorite characters because he also lives closer to honor and mercy than many of us can or do. Robert Crais’ L.A. REQUIEM, where I first met Joe Pike, had a profound impact on me as a developing writer for a number of reasons, but mainly for the depth Crais creates in Joe. Joe Pike is not a one-dimensional sidekick. With that being said, sidekicks can add extraordinary richness to a novel. I do think a PI protagonist can benefit from a sidekick, and the best sidekicks, in my opinion, are more than a reflection of the protagonist. They may be foils, or they may be something else altogether. I’m often asked about “old soldier” Matty Donnelly, Jamie Sinclair’s sidekick in my first novel, THE KILL LIST. He echoes Jamie or enables her in that book, but he hasn’t made a come-back so far in the series. Rather, Lieutenant Colonel Adam Barrett has become a recurring character, because as a sidekick, he’s uniquely positioned to bring out Jamie’s best traits, and her worst ones, sometimes in the same scene. On some level, Barrett is always challenging Jamie even as he supports her. It’s that dynamic that can make a sidekick an integral part of the PI’s story.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
I hope we all will. I hope the next generation will not just define our work as “good” or “bad,” but rather in us discover a multitude of ways to approach the PI story, and that this discovery will prompt them to find a new style or approach of their own. As for specific writers, I definitely think the coming generation should look to Steve Hamilton, not just for his Alex McKnight series and great novels like THE LOCK ARTIST, but also for the way he chooses to approach the writing life in a way that’s personal, and true to his vision and goals. I also see Sue Grafton and Walter Mosley as writers who’ll continue to influence the future of the PI novel. The out-of-order storytelling of Lisa Lutz should be on the next generation’s reading list, and that’s a list that’s very long.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
At my very first writers’ conference, Bloody Words in Ottawa, Canada, I attended a panel which discussed that whether mystery and thriller writers write because they need to see justice in this unjust world of ours. And I think this theory may be true. I’d never go as far as Joe Pike or Hawk in righting wrongs, but in a small sense, writing novels may be a way of seeing some good come about, at least in fiction.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Streets of Mayhem (Booker) by John W. Mefford

When a white supremacist group blows up a bus, Booker T. Adams is worried his daughter was in there. Luckily that's not the case but still he feels compelled to investigate. Booker has just been fired from his job as a beat cop following a case of police brutality he stopped.
Now he strikes out on his own as a PI and he's got his hands busy trying to stop the terrorist from making more victims.
Booker was a cool enough character with enough of a backstory and supporting cast to make him interesting. There was a generous amount of action as well.
Still, something in the pacing felt off. I wasn't really compelled to keep reading. Also I didn't care too much for the terrorist plot that was a bit too much in thriller territory for my liking.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Favorite Sons of 2016

Favorite Sons of 2016

This hasn't been my most active year as a writer or a reviewer, personal issues and work as well as my gig as rock journalist taking up a lot of my time. Still, I read some good stuff this year and here are my favorite PI reads of the year...


BEST PI NOVEL: An Empty Hell (Jackson Donne / Matt Herrick) by Dave White
BEST DEBUT: TThe Red Storm (William Fletcher) by Grant Bywaters
BEST NEW PI: Gus Murphy (in Where It Hurts) by Reed Farrel Coleman
BEST ACTION SCENES: The Second Life of Nick Mason (Nick Mason) by Steve Hamilton

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December Boys (Jay Porter) by Joe Clifford

Jay Porter, after some traumatic events involving his brother's death in Lamentation is back. He's working as an insurance investigator now. He learns while investigating a claim that a young boy went to a hardcore behavioral modification center for a minor crime. When he finds out there's a lot of similar cases he decides to find out what is going on, aided by an attractive young clerk. It turns out there's some ties to his brother's death as well.
This is a true hardboiled, noirish tale. Porter is having a hard time dealing with his relationship with his wife, his brother's death and just himself. An upbeat tale this is not. It is dark, moving and rich.
I do recommend reading Lamentation before you read this one though.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Debt to Pay (Jesse Stone) by Reed Farrel Coleman

Jesse Stone is invited by his ex-wife to be at her wedding. Loyal readers of this series might understand this will be challenging for him.  When Mr. Peepers, a recurring villain and psychopathic assassin is back with revenge on his mind Jesse understands he will have to be at the wedding, if only to protect his ex-wife from Mr. Peepers. Good thing his new girlfriend is ex-FBI and willing to go with him.
Mr. Peepers is almost to Jesse what The Joker is to Batman. Very skilled but also very crazy we see him in action a lot and are treated to his dangerous mind. I usually dislike to many POV's from the villain but Mr. Coleman made it work for me.
As alway, Reed shows an understanding of the Jesse Stone character that makes you forget no he, but Robert B. Parker created him. His development of formerly minor character Suit is impressive as well. I guess that's where this novel shines, not in the fairly standard plot but in the understanding of the characters in it.
I was shocked by the death of a long-running Parker / Spenser character in the first few pages that had me put down the book for a few minutes. Still not sure about what I think about that, although I must praise Mr. Coleman for his guts to shake things up a bit.