Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Snitch (Shea Stevens) by Dharma Kelleher

I liked the first novel in the Shea Stevens a lot because of the original protagonist and the rock 'n' roll vibe of the whole thing. I was less happy with the prose and the pacing sometimes. In this second Shea Stevens story Dharma Kelleher shows us what she has learned from writing that one. The pacing this time is excellent and fast-moving and the prose is tight and a pleasure to read. The protagonist is just as cool!
Forced to go undercover with a feminist group of bikers as part of a Criminal Informant contract she has to face off against some old biker enemies and her ex. Shea is taken to the edge of depression and death but manages to keep riding, shooting and punching her way out of trouble.
With trangenders, lesbians and gays as characters you might mistake this book for one catering to the LBGT-niche but that's absolutely not the case. While the sexual orientation of the characters carries some importance to them their main roles are not defined by this.
This is just a great, hardboiled en very action-packed mystery novel. In fact, I think Dharma did a fantastic job in writing easy to read but exciting action scenes.
Looking forward to Shea Stevens # 3!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Descending Memphis (Tommy Rhodeen) by Robert Moss

Like SW Lauden, Robert Moss is a punk rocker turned crime novelist. That little fact peaked my interest immediately when I was asked to review Descending Memphis. The music scene involved in this tale isn't the 1980s punk rock when Robert Moss was actively playing. Instead we find ourselves in the rock 'n' roll of the Fifties. Tommy Rhodeen is a PI who recovers stolen property for his clients, a bit like Travis McGee (or the later Lucas Spero) and plays guitar. Two cool things for a private investigator character. But when Tommy gets hired not to track down stolen items but a missing teenage girl, his life gets complicated. To solve his case, Tommy must deal with crooked cops, politicians and thugs as well as the racism that existed during the time the story takes place. Yet Tommy not only solves the mystery, he gets in some recording studio time.
There is a nice historical fiction undertone to the story and Robert captures the era perfectly. Above all Descending Memphis is a solid hardboiled mystery with a cool protagonist. The prose is tight and easy to read and the pacing excellent. Guess there's still some punk rock roots bleeding through on the page. Nice one!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dangerous Ends (Pete Hernandez) by Alex Segura

Pete Hernandez is back! Now sober and with a life more or less back together things seem to be looking up for the reporter-turned-PI. When his friend Kathy is asked to write a book about a murder case where the cop was imprisoned for the killing of his wife he is hired to help. The cop and his daughter say he is innocent and they hope Pete and Kathy can prove it.
Soon things get very dangerous as both Pete and Kathy's lives are endangered frequently. Even their ex-FBI agent friend Harras and ex-criminal Dave can't protect them fully.
Every Hernandez novel seems to shake up the status quo of the character and while this one starts out as a pretty standard mystery novel soon Pete get personally involved, especially when we find out there might be a link with the murder case and the death of his grandfather.
Lively characters, clear prose, a good mystery and a satisfying amount of action make this one another winner and the last chapter made me very eager to read the next one in the series.
The first two novels reminded me of George Pelecanos but this one and the Pete-Kathy duo reminds me of the McKenzie - Genarro series by Dennis Lehane. So, if you like those authors, be sure to pick up this one.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Still Among the Living (Matt Jacob) by Zachary Klein

Matt Jacob doesn't want to be a PI. He just wants to smoke dope and watch TV. When his shrink hires him to find out who stole her files he gets involved in a complicated investigation however which forces him to take his job seriously.
Matt is a vulnerable protagonist and quite the anti-hero. He uncovers enough dirty family secrets to make Lew Archer blush in this dark mystery story.
Finally back in print thanks to Polis Books this classic is still very relevant and readable today.

Bad Boy Boogie (Jay Desmarteaux) by Thomas Pluck

After 25 years in prison for killing the school bully Jay Desmarteaux is released from prison. When he comes back home he sets out to find his parents and get some revenge. Helped and endangered by the mob he has to deal with bad cops, his old love and his old friends and enemies while wielding his trusty Vietnam war hatchet.
It's clear Thomas loves Andrew Vachss and Richard Stark. There's a lot of Burke and Parker in the character in the cold and professional way he breaks into houses and takes out his enemies. It also has some of the direct but haunting prose of those greats. There's also a strong theme of sexual violence that reminded me of Vachss.
Don't expect a breezy Robert B. Parker kind of tale. There's a lot of darkness in here and Jay is probably a sociopath. There IS a lot of good characterization, a surprising amount of action scenes and nice tributest to rockband AC/DC, in fact the title of the chapters and of the book itself are lifted from AC/DC songs.
Brutal, dark and engaging. Worth your time.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Q & A with Bob Kroll

Author Bob Kroll is doing a blog tour for his latest novel The Hell of it All, featuring TJ Peterson. I was happy to have him visit over at my blog for a nice set of questions.

Q: How did you come up with the character TJ Peterson?

In one form or another, Peterson has been following me around for most of my adult life. He has been like a shadow, both literally and figuratively. He is a tragic figure seeking to find purification for a failed life. He is everyman.

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

As he seeks retribution for criminals, Peterson must further descend into his own living hell before he can climb from its sordid depths. Will he make it, and if so how? That intrigues me, and drives me to keep writing.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?

I have been making a living as a writer since the 1970s. I write everyday, from 8 am to noon. When I’m done writing, I spend time with my wife, and now my grandchildren. I also make furniture.

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 think Richard Price will leave a mark, as will those writing cutting edge crime dramas for television and film. Steven Knight comes to mind for his writing in “Peaky Blinders,” “Taboo”, and “Locke”.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?

Writing crime novels allows me the freedom to explore the depths of human degradation, as well as the righteousness of retribution. The world I create is a dark one, but there is always some light that penetrates the darkness. Also, I don’t believe people are good all the way through, and it is the veins of badness that fascinate me.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Wicked Is the Whiskey (Sean McClanahan) by Tom Purcell

World-famous Pittsburgh resident John Preston jumps off a bridge and dies. PI Sean McClanahan investigates the death while also working in his own bar.
Sean is a nice enough, but tough when necessary kind of guy in the Spenser vein. He's also fond of describing exactly how he makes his sandwiches. The whole story has a kind of breezy vein and it never gets very dark. The prose is easy to read and the characters are fun.
One gripe is that sometimes the progress of the story leans a bit too hard on coincidences and Sean gets away with too much too easily like breaking into cars but also escaping capture. It makes this story fun, but never very thrilling.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Q & A with Glen Erik Hamilton

The series featuring ex-con Van Shaw by Glen Erik Hamilton seems to be quite popular, winning several awards and good reviews. Time for me to interview Mr. Hamilton...

Q: How did you come up with the character Van Shaw?

I started with the idea of writing a character raised with a different set of moral standards than mainstream society.  Given my love of crime thrillers, that quickly progressed to the world of lawbreakers, in particular independent thieves unaffiliated with organized crime or gangs.  I wanted Van to have broken away from that life on the cusp of adulthood, only to revisit it with a different outlook years later.  Simply having him move away seemed weak, and it was logical that a tough young man with no job prospects might enter the military to build a new life.   That's where we find Van at the start of the first book, having served with distinction -- accumulating scars both physical and emotional -- for ten years.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?

Anything that gets books into the hands of readers is a plus.  Ten or fifteen years after the first rush to market, eBooks have never quite gained momentum into the anticipated revolution to overthrow the old world of publishing.   They became a new frontier all their own.  While eBooks have opened huge new opportunities for authors, readers, and publishers, evidence shows the reading public still has a serious hunger for physical copies, and for independent booksellers.   That's all to the good.

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

My third Van Shaw novel will be out in July.  With each book, I invest a lot of thought into where Van is at the start and how the book's events -- often violent, often morally challenging -- leave him at the end.  I'm not interested in having Van remain status quo.  The concept of families, both blood and chosen, is a running theme.  Van thought he could do without that for a long time, with the exception of his brothers and sisters in the Army.  Now, he has people around him he loves, and that means new responsibilities.  And new risks.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?

In those precious hours that aren't taken up by the day job or writing, I'll play with my family (Legos and re-enacting scenes from the Harry Potter books are current favorites), get in some reading (see below), and exercise (boxing, mainly, with no delusions of being a bad-ass).

Q: How do you promote your work?

I'll invest time in the usual social media platforms, and often write guest articles or do interviews when a book launch is nigh.  There's also attending conventions, which can be a great way to meet readers as well as other authors.  But in truth, I'm not certain if all of that really helps book sales to a large degree (a small degree, yes -- and careers can be built on small degrees).  Mostly, being part of the writing community is fun -- and if it's not fun, why do it?

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?

Leaving aside other branches of mystery fiction -- I enjoy everything from cozies to espionage thrillers -- I like history, biographies, and the occasional how-to manual.  It's amazing how often real life is far more bizarre and magical than we could ever get away with in writing fiction.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?

Your examples are solid evidence that it's been done, and done well.  Ideally, the sidekick gives a reflection on the main character -- the limits of what he or she is willing to do -- and provides complications.  Mouse might get Easy Rawlins out of trouble, or just make the situation immeasurably worse by murdering people.  Unfortunately, the tough sidekick can also become a weak cop-out, killing off the villains while letting the main character retain the moral high ground.

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?

Lehane of course is still producing great work to influence the newest generation, including me.  Looking at private eye writers who have broken out in the last decade or so, and who are likely to have long and influential careers ahead, there's Julia Dahl, Duane Swierczynski, Alison Gaylin. And my friend Ingrid Thoft, writing the Fina Ludlow series set in Boston.  All award winners, and all superb at making a reader turn the next page.   There's no shortage of serious talent out there.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?

Crime is endlessly fascinating.  It exists in every society, for many reasons: greed, power, protest, or simple survival.  The kinds of crimes that flourish or wither are reflective of that society.  And the individuals who choose crime, fight crime, or are victims of crime have their own motivations and their own viewpoints.  Viewpoints make characters, and characters make a book more than just a recounting of what happens next.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Grizzly Season (Greg Salem) by S.W. Lauden

I was a huge fan of the first Greg Salem novel by Mr. Lauden, Bad Citizen Corporation. Especially because I'm a big fan of punkrock and the main character played in a punkband which gave that one a lot extra.
In this second one in the series Greg (ex-cop and former frontman for punkband Bad Citizen Corporation) is still recovering from the events of the first novel, more or less hiding in the forest. When he and his friend stumble across a marijuana farm they are captured. Greg manages to escape, but his friend Marco doesn't.
As he tries to find back Marco Greg also gets involved with people from his punkrock past and tries to keep a kid on the straight and narrow using punkrock while he gets into a serious relationship with a young woman who fled the drug dealers along with him.
There's a lot happening in this book, but it never becomes unreadable. Lauden keeps the prose tight and the action coming at just the right moments.
Cherry on the pie are the mentions of great punkrock songs that Greg plays in his car. I would love to see a Spotify list for that.
Yep, this is gonna be one of my favorites this year for sure.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (various) by various writers

I love PI short stories! I was overjoyed when I learned about this great anthology. I was even happier when I found out most stories were fairly traditional PI stories. That is exactly the reason why some readers might not like it, but most loyal readers of my blog will.
We've got experienced PI writers like Robert J. Randisi (with a Ratpack tale), new popular PI writers like Matt Coyle (introducing a new PI) and a short story debut by a new series PI (Stephen Nicholson as written by Thomas Donahue). There's a PI in the Wild West (by John M. Floyd) and a team of PI's by Gay Totl Kinman. Michael Bracken served up a very noir little tale.
Personal favorites were the Nick Ventura story by J.L. Abramo and the almost softboiled but witty PI who isn't really a PI story by Art Taylor. I'd also like to see more of the PI introduced by Andrew McAleer in King's Quarter.
Although the concept was pretty cool and would make a great TV show I cared less for the almost journalistic writing of Gay Totl Kinman and the clue that gave away the killer that was a bit too cliche.
A great anthology for any fan of this blog. Also, if you like this kind of stuff don't forget about the two PI anthologies I edited, The Shamus Sampler and The Shamus Sampler II.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Background Check on: Communion of Saints (John Ray) by John Barlow

It's been five years since the last interview I had with John Barlow, writer of th John Ray / LS9 thriller series. With a new book coming out I thought it was about time I interviewed him once again, all about his new novel THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.

Tell us what the novel is about.

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS is the third novel in the John Ray / LS9 crime thriller series. It’s a stand-alone novel, like the others in the series, although once again it features John Ray as the main character. He’s a reluctant amateur investigator, and is dragged into murder cases because of his family background (his father was a crime boss in Northern England), which means he sometimes has the sort of access to the criminal world that a police detective would not have. The novel deals with the issues of historical abuse and blackmail, but in fact it’s more about the twin themes of what it means to belong somewhere (a family, a home, etc.) and what happens when this is taken away. It’s about belonging, essentially, and the destruction of the sense of belonging.

Where did you come up with the plot? What inspired you?

I was playing around with plots involving blackmail. Historical abuse is so prominent in the news at moment, and I can think of no more destructive accusation against someone than that. But I wanted the accusations to be aimed at something rather than someone, and the sense of destruction to be more wide-reaching than simply a person’s reputation. So in the plot we have a religious home for boys and, in parallel, a large business run by someone connected to the Home. Rather than the plot focussing on abuse, it explores the opposite: people who have tried to achieve something good in life (the ‘saints’ of the title) and what happens when this is attacked.

How long did it take you to write THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS?

A year. Books always seem to take me a year! I don’t mind writing slowly. In fact it took two years in total, since I was working on a few other projects at the same time. One thing that happens when you give yourself more time with a story is that broader themes become clearer, in this case ideas about religious devotion, the importance of domestic stability, and, of course, the motivations behind violent crimes. They fall into place in a way which is sometimes very gratifying indeed. I’m happy that I let this one emerge slowly.

Did the writing require a great deal of research?

Not as much as in previous books in the series, which involved researching counterfeiting (money, perfume), the second hand car business, terrorism, off-shore finance… This one was far more a matter of thinking deeply about what certain things actually mean in our lives and the emotions they arouse, especially the notion of a home, a place to which you can always return, a safe haven.

What scenes did you most enjoy writing?

When I began to explore ways of bringing religion into the characters’ lives more clearly, I saw how the plot began to tighten up. It was quite sudden, just a couple of scenes, but from those scenes came not only the title (which is from the Catholic communion mass) but also a lot of backstory and motivation for the characters. It was as if the spiritual themes were there all along, and about two thirds of the way through I discovered them.

Who is your favorite among the characters in the book?

John Ray’s ‘partner’ this time around is Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk, of the West Yorkshire Police. She was in the previous books, but as a peripheral character. Here she is involved in the investigation, and also develops a personal relationship with John. That’s not much of a spoiler, they’re getting drunk together by chapter two… Her role in the plot turns out to be more complex than I had at first intended, not least because I came to enjoy writing her character; she’s not easy to understand, and she has her own agenda. She’ll be back in future novels!

Is there anything else you would like to say about the book?

Looking at three John Ray / LS9 books, I think with this one the whole the series really settles down and finds itself. There seems to be less authorial intrusion on the page, no stylistic tricks, and the plot is more rounded and satisfying as a mystery. Finally, the artwork, by American artist Carl Grimes, is wonderful! I think Carl really captured the atmosphere of the series perfectly.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What You Break (Gus Murphy) by Reed Farrel Coleman

Anyone who was worried when the Moe Prager series came to an end can stop worrying now for sure. The first one in the new Gus Murphy series wasn't just a lucky strike.  The second one is just as good.
Former Suffolk county cop Gus is hired to investigate why the adopted daughter of a wealthy businessman, uncovering a dark past. Meanwhile, he also gets involved with the dark past of his friend Slava, having to face a dangerous Russian mercenary. Gus' relationship with his ex-wife has some important developments as well his relationship with his new girlfriend deepens.
The writing is as solid as ever. There's enough investigating going on, the characters are lively, their dark pasts interesting. There's also a fair bit of action, more than in the Prager books.
This is really shaping up to be a solid new series, a hardboiled story that has firm roots in the pulp tradition but adds a haunting dark poetic style to it.

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.