Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beathing the Babushka (Cape Weathers) by Tim Maleeny

There's a reason why Cape Weathers made it as my favorite new PI for 2007. This novel is it. I enjoyed the first Weathers Investigation (Stealing the Dragon) but I just loved this one. Without the interruptions of Sally (the beautiful, Ninja-like 'psychotic' sidekick)'s back story we had in the first outing now Cape really gets the chance to shine. I was reminded at how much I enjoyed the first Elvis Cole novel (Monkey's Raincoat) because it was just so much fun to read. This one fits in the same mood. It's not a very deep and dark tale but it IS one hell of a fun-filled ride! Cape's wisecracks are great as are the funny lines uttered by the other characters. The action is fast and furious (just read how Cape takes on henchman Ursa) and the movie business background interesting.
Cape is hired to find out if a movie producer really killed himself. Along the way he visits movie sets, New York and Industrial Light & Magic. He takes on the Russian mob, is declared dead, plays chess with an aging mobster and uncovers a brilliant scheme to make a lot of money out of the movie business.
I'm looking forward to see Cape and Sally return in 2008!

The Non Compos Mentis Blues (Ray Dudgeon) by Sean Chercover from Chicago Blues

The reviewed short story appears in the anthology Chicago Blues, edited by Libby Fischer Hellman.
Ray Dudgeon is hired to prove to a woman her husband is cheating on her. She makes him an offer he CAN refuse however. In just about 5000 words Sean gives us a nice PI story with enough atmosphere and twists to make it a very fulfilling read. It starts out with a copy of Ray's inestigative report. With Sean's experience as a real-life PI it gives the story a nice piece of authenticity and a great, original way to start of the story. If you want to know why Bad City, Bad Blood was my favorite debut of the year you can read this short story as an example.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Songs of Innocence (John Blake) by Richard Aleas

Ex-PI and administrative assistent at Columbia University John Blake returns in this very noir novel. Classmate Dorrie seems to have committed suicide, a fact which the cops seem to take for granted. She made a deal with John however to call him before she would commit suicide, which she didn't. This raises enough questions for him to investigate further. He gets involved in the shady world of massage parlors, Hungarian gangsters and family secrets. He's captured, tortured, on the run for the cops and faces just how far he's willing to go for justice.
The ending is dark, depressing but almost the only possible one. Not my favorite book of the year, but it could be the one that will stay with me the most.
As an added bonus: as always with Hard Case books the cover art is stunning!

Best of 2007

With 2007 coming to an end I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts like the rest of the Blogging World about what I liked best this year...

Best Novel: Shallow Grave (Julie Collins) by Lori G. Armstrong
Best Debut Novel: Big City Bad Blood (Ray Dudgeon) by Sean Chercover
Best New Son of Spade: Cape Weathers (Stealing the Dragon / Beating the Babushka) by Tim Maleeny
Best Action Scenes: The Watchman (Joe Pike) by Robert Crais
Best Wisecracks: Runoff (August Riordan) by Mark Coggins

I'd love to hear what you thought were the best!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Weekly Wisecrack

He didn't shout or scream. He seldom did. His hoarse whisper said it all. His eyes it all. His eyes were bloodshot and he was breathing hard through his nose, like a boxer psyching himself up for a bout.
"You've changed brands of mouthwash," I said. "I think I like the old one better."

- Amos Walker, in The Midnight Man by Loren D. Estleman

Friday, December 21, 2007

Candy from Strangers (August Riordan) by Mark Coggins

A student of Hammett and Chandler Mark Coggins puts a nice spin on their works with the third August Riordan novel. It's not so much the suspense or mystery that got me to like this one but more so the ride over there. Almost every line was entertaining, that witty is the writing.
August is hired to track down the missing daughter of an alcoholic cop and discovers she's a webcamgirl. There's also the matter of a stolen bass and the dead body of a tattooed Japanese girl ending up on his doorstep. Facing bodybuilding tattoo artists, a drugdealer with the nickname The Professor and some help by his transvestite sidekick Chris he manages to solve the mysteries and wisecrack his way around on every page.
Although the subplot of the stolen bass seemed a little unnecessary to the rest of the book and I was a bit disappointed by 'whodunnit' I really enjoyed the read. I'll be sure to read the rest of the series.

Q & A with Sean Chercover

Chicago author Sean Chercover, writer of the very well received BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD was kind enough to provide the Q to our A.
Q: What makes your P.I. Ray Dudgeon different from other fictional
private eyes?

I think every fictional P.I. is different from every other (at least, the good ones). But there are P.I. conventions that can easily devolve into cliche, and of course that's something to avoid. Ray Dudgeon is cynical, for example, but at heart he's a wounded idealist, and self-doubt is his constant companion. He's not a former cop, but a former newspaper reporter who couldn't accept the ethical compromises demanded by corporate journalism. He's well aware of his psychological problems, and he wants to become a better man, but he's afraid of introspection. And he's got a boatload of anger.

Some of what makes Ray different comes from what I learned when I worked as a P.I. In real life, you don't mouth-off to cops and criminals whenever you feel like it, or you wouldn't last long. So most of Ray's smart-ass remarks are to himself, not said out loud. In real life, you don't take a beating and then jump into bed for a romp with your girlfriend after a hot shower and a slug of bourbon, so when Ray gets in a fight, it hurts for days after. Sometimes longer. In fact, in the upcoming novel, TRIGGER CITY, Ray is still dealing with the physical damage that he sustained in BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
As a reader, I love the psycho sidekick. Hawk is my hero, as is Joe Pike, although I would argue that they aren't true psychos, they just have a system of ethics that is very different from most people. Clete Purcel is perhaps more truly psycho, and Mouse is my all-time favorite psycho sidekick.

But as much fun as they are, the downside is that having a psycho sidekick shifts the moral burden off or your P.I.

Going back to what makes Ray different, I purposely did not give him a psycho sidekick to do his moral heavy-lifting. When something bad needs to be done, Ray does it himself, and he alone must carry the moral burden of his actions. I know that this will turn off those readers who want a "pure" hero, but I'm not interesting in writing White Hats and Black Hats. I'm more interested in the messy, murky grey area in between, where real life takes place.

Ray has a friend named Gravedigger Peace. Gravedigger has a very violent past, and he's aware of his social weaknesses and chooses to live on the fringes of society. He could qualify as a psycho sidekick. But I forced Ray to take on the heavier violent action and didn't give it to Gravedigger.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes. You could count my time working as a private eye as some intensive research. These days, I spend time with cops and run questions by them regularly. Just a few weeks ago, I was given a tour of the new Chicago FBI headquarters, and I've got a couple of FBI agents who I call on regularly. It pleased me immensely when the FBI mentioned BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD on their website as a book that offers "an accurate portrayal of the Bureau".

I also use real places in my fiction. I go to the neighborhoods, eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars. That's my favorite kind of "research".

Q: What do you consider your strongest points as a writer?

Commas. I'm an artist with commas.

Seriously, I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question. And while I'm extremely grateful for the enthusiastic reaction I've gotten from reviewers and readers, it would be immodest to quote what they think is strong in my writing, so I'll just shut up now.

Q: How do you promote your books?

I have a website ( which is a great way to stay in touch with readers. I did a book tour, speaking at bookstores and libraries. I took an ad out in Crimespree magazine. I sent out extra ARCS, to augment what my publisher was doing. I go to the conferences and speak on panels. I blog with six other Chicago crime fiction authors at The Outfit ( And I've done interviews with newspapers and magazines and radio stations and blogs (like I'm doing right now). And Jon Jordan got me a television appearance in Milwaukee, which was very nice of him.

Speaking of promoting . . . BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD makes a fine Christmas gift (and the story even takes place during the holiday season) so pick up a copy before they're all gone.

How was that for promoting?

Q: What's next for you and Ray?

There's a Ray Dudgeon short story in the CHICAGO BLUES anthology (edited by Libby Hellmann) which is out now. And another Ray Dudgeon story in the KILLER YEAR anthology (edited by Lee Child) which comes out January 22. There's a Gravedigger Peace story in the HARDCORE HARDBOILED anthology (edited by Todd Robinson) which comes out May 27. And the next Ray Dudgeon novel, TRIGGER CITY, will also be out next year.

After that, who knows?

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

Oh God, yeah. Current ones include Jack Taylor (Ken Bruen), Amos Walker (Loren Estleman), Matt Scudder (Lawrence Block), Elvis Cole (Robert Crais), Easy Rollins (Walter Mosley), Jack Keller (J.D. Rhoades), Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue (James Crumley), Lee Henry Oswald (Harry Hunsicker), Spenser (Robert B. Parker), John March (Peter Spiegelman), Dave Robicheaux (James Lee Burke) . . . the list goes on and I'm sure I'm forgetting some favorites. I'd put Jack Racher (Lee Child) on the list, even though he's not a P.I. I've got some favorite daughters too: V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky), Lydia Chin (S.J. Rozan), Tess Monaghan (Laura Lippman) are the first that spring to mind.

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 and in what way?
I really don't know. Hell, I predict that the Cubs will win the World Series every year, and it never happens. I guess I'm not much of a prognosticator.

Q: Marc Coggins came up with the following question: If your PI and Sam Spade were having a drink at a bar, what would they talk about?

Oh, I should've mentioned Marc's P.I. August Riordan in my list above. Another great Son of Spade.

Okay, Spade and Dudgeon in a bar. Naturally, they'd be debating the relative merits of various brands of rum. Spade was a Bacardi drinker, back in the day, but I suspect he'd drink something else these days. Ray's favorite is Mount Gay Extra Old, but he's also partial to Appleton Estate 12-year old and El Dorado 15-year old. I imagine that they'd have to order a few of each so they could make a fair comparison.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
How long did it take you to write your current book?

My answer: Don't ask.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New Milano short story!

A new Noah Milano short story was just published in Darkness Before Dawn. Aldo (CrimeDawg), the editor of this great zine had this to say about it:

"Over on my longer fiction site Darkest Before the Dawn, Jochem Vandersteen offers a wonderful Noah Milano tale called REAL WILD CHILD. I have been a big fan of the Milano stories and it was a great holiday treat to be able to publish one of Jochem's stories."

Thanks, Aldo!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Q & A with Mark Coggins

In a very interactive Q & A we present the author of the August Riordan novels, Mark Coggins.

Q: What makes your P.I. August Riordan different from other fictional private eyes?

That’s a tough one. If you read reviews of my work, you’ll often see a reference to the writing of Hammett or Chandler, which some see as a sign of a lazy reviewer or lack of talent or ability to innovate on my part. But in The Immortal Game, Candy from Strangers and, most recently, Runoff I am trying to pay homage to Chandler—particularly with usage of similes. In Vulture Capital, I explicitly tried to pay homage to Hammett’s The Glass Key.
Furthermore, Riordan actually lives in Sam Spade’s apartment, works in the building that Hammett worked in when he was a Pinkerton and has a habit of tapping the Samuel’s Jeweler’s street clock in San Francisco—which is the clock that used to be in front of the jewelry store Hammett wrote advertising copy for—although the Hammett connection is never mentioned in the books.

What I’m trying to relate, I suppose, is that there is an explicit intention on my part to emulate—and hopefully update for the 21st Century—the work of Hammett and Chandler.

The differences between Riordan and, say, Spade or Marlowe, undoubtedly come from my personality and background. He is more fickle than either, less hardboiled compared to Spade and less romantic compared to Marlowe. Jazz and jazz bass are what chess was to Marlowe and he is far less successful with the ladies, certainly than Spade and probably than Marlowe. Although he remains a technophobe at heart, he is thrust into cases that involve present day technology and cultural phenomena—such as the Internet—and has to sort them out. He has also learned to be more tolerant of diversity than Spade or Marlowe ever were.

His sense of humor is closer to Marlowe’s, but he’s got a goofier bent to his, and he dresses worse than either. He might be able to out-drink the other two men, but I wouldn’t give good odds on him in a fist fight.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

As I say in this blog post, the “PI Helper” character as I call him is often used to simplify plotting by doing off camera some of the work that the PI might otherwise do, and perhaps more concerning, serve as a “firewall” between the PI and morally questionable things done in service of justice or resolution of the crime.

The problem with having the PI undertake shady things him or herself, of course, would be that the PI could lose stature in the reader’s eyes. Thus, the PI Helper tortures someone to get the information required to solve the mystery, or calls a favor in from the crime boss or murders the bad guy in cold blood.

Contrast this with characters like Hammett’s Spade or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, who in some sense have the courage of their convictions and don’t rely on others to do their dirty work. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, PIs like Chandler’s Marlowe who have such an (improbably) romantic or idealized view of the world that they would never condone those methods to resolve a case.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes, I do—two kinds. The first is the research I do on locations. I usually walk around a neighborhood I’m going to set a scene in, taking both pictures and notes that I use to jog my memory when I get to the actual writing.

The other sort of research I do is about the theme or social issue I’m using to drive the plot. Most recently in Runoff this was electronic voting and the possibility of defeating the security of voting machines to rig an election. To do that research, I interviewed computer science experts on the topic and also talked with poll workers who had an “on the ground” understanding of how the machines are used in a precinct.

Another example is the research I did for Candy from Strangers with a young woman who has a web site where she solicits anonymous gifts.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?

As I describe in this blog post for the Rap Sheet, August was actually born in a short story in an issue of The New Black Mask that was published in 1986. Since I wrote that first story when I was nineteen, I can say—thankfully—that my writing has changed since then. It, like the character of Riordan, has hopefully gotten more mature and more nuanced. For instance, I would like to think that I do a much better job with dialog and with characterizations.

Q: How do you promote your books?

The selling of books is quite an arduous task, and getting more arduous. I’ve tried just about everything from doing the traditional signings at bookstores and libraries to working to get on radio and TV programs to placing advertisements. In the end, I think what matters for an independent press author like myself is establishing good word of mouth about your work. Interviews and reviews on sites and blogs like Sons of Spade are a good way to make that happen.

Q: What's next for you and August?

I’m in discussions for a new contract with Bleak House Books. If those go well, I’ll be bringing back August in another novel I’ve tentatively titled The Dead Beat Scroll. The title refers to a previously unknown novel by Jack Kerouac that is discovered when the house he once lived in while working on On the Road is demolished. The new book is worth a lot of money, both as a collector’s item and as a publishing opportunity and lust after it—like lust after The Maltese Falcon—drives the plot. (As you probably know, Kerouac wrote on long, continuous scrolls, so that fact and his association with the “beat generation” are what’s hinted at in the title.)

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

Absolutely. My favorite would be Milo Milodragovitch. That was why I was so thrilled to get a blurb for Runoff from James Crumley.

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 and in what way?
I think Crumley has been very influential, including on Lehane himself. Looking out further to more recently emerging folks, if you’re talking strictly PI writers, I quite like Peter Spiegelman and his character John March. I think he may be influential because he has found a way to update the PI and drop him in 21st Century cases that a PI might really have in today’s world, all while retaining the best from traditional PI yarns.

Q: Tim Maleeny came up with the following question: The PI is usually the one standing up for the underdog, the person who takes on the powerful and the corrupt on behalf of the little guy. Do you have any favorite targets (or people) at which you like to take aim through your characters?

A question I might have for Tim is does his wife know exactly what he’s been up to on a recent signing with me!

Seriously, I wouldn’t say that I always have an “agenda,” but I did have a bit of fun with the venture capital industry in Vulture Capital, and in Runoff, have written a sort of cautionary tale about electronic voting. But most of the time, it’s ex-girl friends and acquaintances who need to worry about having bits of themselves portrayed in books.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?

Q: If your PI and Sam Spade were having a drink at a bar, what would they talk about?
A: Spade would ask Riordan how he managed to turn his (Spade’s) apartment into such a dump.

For more info about this author visit:

Prodigal Sons: Thomas Black (by Earl Emerson)

I was planning to ask Earl Emerson if we'd be seeing Thomas Black again (last seen in 1998's Catfish Cafe). I visited his site and discovered this good news:

"Next up after PRIMAL THREAT is my first Thomas Black in ten years. I'm working on that now and we expect it to be published in early 2009, also with Ballantine."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weekly Wisecrack

I looked like an ad for Banana Republic. Maybe Banana Republic would give me a job. They could put my picture in their little catalog and under it they could say: Elvis Cole famous detective outfitted for his latest adventure in rugged inner-city climes! Did Banana Republic sell shoulder holsters?

- Elvis Cole in Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais.

Unborns Sons: Up from Tupelo by Gary McDonald

We present another novel that's not published yet. This is a story about a retired Army investigator who works as a P.I. He is hired by an insurance company to locate Elvis Presley. He thinks it’s a joke but pursues the effort because it’s a paying job.

Up From Tupelo


Gary McDonald

Chapter One

Post modern society is a chaotic scramble; a never ending battle of wits and values. Conservatives, liberals, radicals are all fighting for their stake in the so called American dream. They don’t know the dream is dead. Money killed it. The nastiest players in this cultural war are the wealthy. These are people who occupy the highest places of power. They finance the drug business both legal and otherwise, the sex business, and foreign wars. These people are the oil barons who manipulate gasoline prices, run big tobacco and all the rest. Crime runs rampant in the boardrooms of corporate America.

My name is Richard Dickerly. I’m a professional body hunter; a dick. I work out of my house on 57th avenue and Wadley Boulevard. My blog site screams Dick For Hire in contrasting colors and swirly gigs. It was built by my second ex-wife’s cousin-in-law who’s a computer genius. He likes me. Sure I get a lot of wise ass emails but I also get serious investigative work. I work for people like Mr. Nicholas Bradley who called one evening out of the blue.

“Richard Dickerly?”
“Ya got him”
“The private investigator?”
“A dick’s dick.” Silence. This means the guy is either confused or re-thinking the call. I want the work so venture forth into the unknown.
“I specialize in missing persons.”
The ploy works.
“You were highly recommended Mr. Dickerly.”
“With whom as I speaking?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Nick Bradley. I’m the senior Vice President for Empire National Life Insurance Company and need you to find a client.”
I don’t respond so after a pause it’s as if he needs to impress me. “A very famous client.”
He’ll have to do better.
“I’m not cheap Mr. Bradley.”
“I fully understand. Meet me here in my office tomorrow morning at 9:00 sharp. It’ll be worth your time. We’re in the center of downtown. You can’t miss us. It’ll be easier talking face to face. I’ll explain everything.”
“I’ll be there.”
I hang up wondering who the famous client might be when Margo wafts into the room.

She smiles flashing beautiful white teeth and says, “Give it up big dick.” She leans over exposing everything from the waist up and kisses me. She’s wearing a sheer red teddy which compliments her naturally blonde hair nicely. Satin smooth skin is everywhere making it impossible to think about anything but Margo. I succumb and wrap my arms around her small waist burying my face into hair and skin. She smells like lilacs and Champaign. The rest of the evening is spent with the sexiest woman on the planet.

Gary Mc Donald is a retired Purchasing Agent who devotes himself to grandchildren and writing. His background includes a Master’s degree in management and several professional certifications in the procurement field. He's published a dozen articles in the Kansas City Commerce and its sister publication in St. Louis, Missouri. He's written a script that successfully sold automated cake decorating equipment. He's also in the Daily Bread published by Herald House. This is an annual devotional book in which he has 5 inspirational stories published. Currently he's still trying to get detective fiction published.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Q & A with Ronald Tierney

Ronald Tierney author of the Deets Shanahan series sat down with us to talk about private eyes and his work.

Q: What makes your PI Deets different from other fictional private eyes?
In my mind, “Deets” Shanahan was going to be a trueoriginal. Having not previously immersed myself in PI fiction, I thought about creating a kind of blue-collar,70-year-old private eye who lives and works in a citylike Indianapolis rather than New York or LA. I thought this was a first. It wasn’t, but it wasn’tstandard either, because Shanahan not only faces death as part of his job description, he feels it nipping athis heels because of the actuarial tables. This colors his life.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
This type of character allows the central character tostay relatively clean and likable while the reader andwriter are able to get some satisfaction by makingsure evildoers get what they deserve. For me, that’s vigilantism. Without judging someone else’s motives —and these are fictional characters after all —Shanahan’s character wouldn’t tolerate it. The out-of-control sidekick also adds dramatic tension. And as a writer’s tool, he can facilitate plot. His unreasonable action is believable because he’s crazy.I suspect this can come in handy.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
A lot? No. Not for the Shanahan series. Forensics plays a small role in the series. Finding out why someone is killed is more interesting to me than how. Outsmarting a suspect is more interesting than findinga hair that can be matched to DNA. Clues shouldn’t be that easy to invent. Also, the timeframe is now, which means I don’t often have to research other eras,though I have. On the other hand, now that I’m living in San Francisco, I sometimes have to research what’s going on in my hometown, Indianapolis, where the series is set. I visit from time to time and I have abrother there who helps tremendously. And of course,thank you Google.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
A little more humor, maybe. The situations aretougher, but there’s a lot of fun thrown in. I would expect my writing to have improved over the years simply because I’ve spent years writing. I certainly hope so. And I still love to write. I continued to write during the ten years no one published my work. I have several unpublished non-Shanahan manuscripts.

Q: How do you promote your books?
First, thank you for the interview. Normally, I tryto let the libraries and independent bookstores know about new books. Other than that, I haven’t been as active as I should in the process. After the next Shanahan is published, I’m writing the first book in acompletely new series for my publisher, Severn House. I’m going to approach that launch with greater intensity.

Q: What's next for you and Deets Shanahan?
I’m finishing Bloody Palms, the ninth in the Shanahan series. It should be out late spring or early summer 2008. At the moment, I see one more Shanahan beyond that.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
While I’m writing, which is most of the time, I don’t do much reading. It’s a shame. There are not onlym any American writers I haven’t read, but also many,many foreign writers now in translation. So outside ofthe usual current group — Walter Mosley, Ken Bruen,George Pelecanos among them — I have to admit that I am fond of the outsider cop premise, which is very much like the PI. In that group, I’d put Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and John Burdett.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves ofPI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
That question took me out on the edge of a cliff and left me there. I don’t know what kinds of detectivenovels 20- and 30-year-olds are reading now, what they might like to read if it was available, or if they are reading detective novels at all. So I don’t know ifthere is someone out there who can influence the next generation. Maybe because we are beginning to see translations of great crime fiction from writers in all parts of the world, the next Hammett will comefrom Japan or Morocco.

Q: Thomas Keevers came up with the following question: Does alcohol stimulate your creativity?
Yes. But not while I’m sitting at the keyboard. It’s rare that I have anything other than coffee at my computer. In the evening, a glass or two of wine might lubricate the thought process enough to take me down aroad I hadn’t imagined. But, by far the most helpfulstimulant to thought for me is walking. San Francisco is a great city for walkers. Parks, hidden stairways,alleys, horrendous hills with spectacular views,fascinating neighborhoods. Walk a few blocks andyou’re in another country. I usually write at leastpart of the next morning’s work in my head while Iwalk.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer weinterview and what is your answer? Disqualifying detective or mystery fiction, who areyour favorite authors? Ian McEwan and Haruki Murakamiare two I look forward to reading.

For more info about this author visit:

Straits of Fortune (Jack Vaughn) by Anthony Gagliano

The story seems to start slow but when it starts to get rolling it just sure starts to get rolling! Ex-cop and personal trainer Jack Vaughn is hired to sink a yacht that contains the dead body of a blackmailing porn producer. The killer? Jack's former lover Vivian also the daughter of his ex-boss the Colonel.
When he sets out to do the deed the Colonel's thug tries to kill him. Then Jack's on the run from the cops and from the Colone's hitman. Luckily he's got a large crew of people helping him- all of which he met as their personal trainer.
More suspense than mystery this is an action-packed thriller starring a cool macho kind of character.
The writing style was brooding and still straight-forward literate and still easy to read.
An impressive debut.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Prodigal Sons: Harry James Denton (by Steven Womack)

Steven Womack ( wrote some great novels featuring Harry James Denton in the nineties... We haven't seen Harry around since 'Murder Manual' in 1998. Sons of Spade tracked Steven down and got the low-down on the state of his character.

1) Will Harry James Denton return?

I hope so. After six books with Harry, he was a big part of my life. In the last book, Dirty Money, Harry left Nashville and went to Reno, Nevada to attend the birth of his daughter. At the end of the novel, he was on his way back to Nashville. I would like to pick up his story there and somehow integrate his child into his life and see where that goes.

The reason I haven't written that book is one based primarily in the rather cruel realities of the publishing business. I wrote six books in the Harry James Denton series, and every one of them either won or was nominated for a major mystery award--winning an Edgar and a Shamus. But for reasons I've never been able to fathom, the publisher never really got behind the books. When I went back to contract for the last two books--which became Murder Manual and Dirty Money--the publisher agreed to publish them in hardcover and make them monthly lead titles. Then when I turned in the manuscript to Murder Manual, my editor told me the suits had decided to not only renege on the hardcover deal, but to actually cut the print runs.

Basically, I could see the writing on the wall. Contemporary publishing is a numbers-based business, and my numbers weren't impressive enough. It's a "Catch-22" kind of arrangement: your numbers are bad so we won't promote you, but your numbers are bad because we haven't promoted you.

Of course, the majority of published authors probably have the same gripe.

I left the original publisher and asked my agent to move the series to another publisher. She started shopping the books around and all sorts of editors were interested, but when they saw my sales figures, the had to turn me down. Again, that's some catch, that Catch-22.

2) Why haven't you written about Harry for some time now?

See above...

3) What's up next for you?

I didn't want to start another mystery series; I'd been down that rough road twice before. So I had an idea for a suspense thriller based on the idea of a New York Times best-selling author who bases the plots of his novels on murders he commits himself. It's a long story, but the idea basically came about when I was anonymously accused of committing a murder myself. That book became By Blood Written. It was published in the summer of 2005 in hardcover by Severn House, a British publisher, and the paperback version was just last month published by HarperCollins.

I have another book making the rounds in New York right now. I also have an idea and am doing the research for a trilogy of books set in World War II--which would be a complete departure.

In the meantime, I continue teaching. I'm the Chair of the Watkins Film School here in Nashville, Tennessee, and I also teach Film Studies at Vanderbilt University. I'm also a parent, with two lovely young daughters.

Weekly Wisecrack

“Business is fine,” I lied. “For this time of year.”
“Training anybody interesting these days?” The colonel asked.
“Just Elvis, but he’s missed a few appointments lately. I’m starting to get worried.”

-Jack Vaughn, ex-cop and personal trainer in Straits of Fortune by Anthony Gagliano.

Shallow Grave (Julie Collins) by Lori G. Armstrong

Lori outdoes herself in her third and latest Julie Collins novel. Again she presents us a multitude of plots (the unsolved murder of her brother, the appearance of that brother’s kid, a pregnant friend, an undercover job for her lover and badass biker Martinez, the murder of a Native American girl) but she manages to tie things up better than in the first two novels.
The action is fast and furious, there’s murder, deceit, sex and violence enough to satisfy any hardboiled mystery fan. Julie is again tough, sarcastic, smoking, drinking and kicking ass, hanging around with tough guys like her lover Martinez, partner Kevin and psycho sidekick Jimmer. More than ever though she’s a very emotional character in this one. I really felt for her, went through the same surprises when she unmasked the killers, felt my heart beat faster when she confronted the killer of her brother and understood her when she admitted how she always tried to deal with her pain on her own.
All 500+ pages I was reading to get to the ending, but when I got there I felt disappointment. Not because the ending was not satisfying but because I was going to have to wait for October 2008 for Julie to return in ‘Snowblind.’
Recently Lori Armstrong got a nice big publisher deal… If you read this one you’ll understand why.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Q & A with Thomas Keevers

This time our Q & A is with Thomas Keevers, author of the Mike Duncavan novels like The Chainsaw Ballet.

Q: What makes your P.I. Mike Duncavan different from other fictional private eyes?

His warts, I think, his inner demons are more obvious than most, maybe to the point of being a turn-off for some readers. Also, he is both a former lawyer (disbarred) and former cop (fired in disgrace), a background I believe to be fairly unique. He's only a P.I. because there's nothing else left for him, but he draws on both experiences in his work.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

If it works for you, it's great. It doesn't work for me.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes. I scout all my locations. I run through most of the physical feats Mike is called on to perform. Much of the current novel, The Chainsaw Ballet, takes place in strip clubs. You bet I did research, a lot of it.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
I don't think so, but a number of my readers have said that the writing has become leaner with each new book. I don't know, I thought it was pretty lean to begin with. I'm a big believer in Elmore Leonard's caveat: cut out the parts readers tend to skip over.

Q: How do you promote your books?

Badly. I do a few signings, but otherwise I am a terrible promoter, which is why I hired a publicist for my latest. Her name is Carol Haggas, and she's great.

Q: What's next for you and Mike?
Don't know yet, I haven't started on the next one. I took a leave from writing Mike to work on a different kind of book. It took a year and a half, and I just finished. It isn't a mystery, it's a mainstream novel, a coming-of-age story about an idealistic journalism student who takes on, as a semester-long project, an investigation into the infamous raid on Black Panther headquarters in Chicago in 1969. His peg: how did the cops get away with murder? He gradually becomes convince that they didn't, that conventional wisdom got it all wrong. Falsely accused, the cops were made the target of a witch hunt that lasted 10 years and devastated their lives.

When I was with the police I had some involvement with the case. I have always felt that the other side of this story needs to be told. The novel tells it in an oblique way, through the eyes of the student.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

Ken Bruen. I love Joseph Wambaugh and Scott Turow, but they don't really qualify.

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 and in what way?
I don't have a clue.

Q: Tim Maleeny came up with the following question: The PI is usually the one standing up for the underdog, the person who takes on the powerful and the corrupt on behalf of the little guy. Do you have any favorite targets (or people) at which you like to take aim through your characters?
No, I consciously avoid it. Writers who do this inevitably wind up sounding shallow and preachy, setting their cardboard bad guys lurching about a two-dimensional stage like Punch and Judy. You see this a lot in Hollywood films. A recent example: Shooter, with Mark Wahlberg. If they had an ounce of literary integrity they'd be embarrassed. Now there's a whole new spate of these coming out about the Iraq war.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?

Q. Does alcohol stimulate your creativity?

A. No. I often think so, then I sober up.

For more info on this author visit:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Deadly Beloved (Ms. Tree) by Max Allan Collins

This novel reads like a comic book and that’s no surprise, because it used to be one. It’s very fast-paced, straight forward, frequently larger than life and over the top, colorful and violent. Max Allan Collins takes his PI Ms. Tree (hardboiled female PI before there was a Warshawski or Milhone) from comics to prose in a Hard Case Crime original that I really enjoyed.
A woman kills her husband when he catches him in bed with another woman. A lot doesn’t add up though and it seems after Ms. Tree investigates it’s a setup. Ms. Tree discovers a link to the murder of her own husband and a sinister assassin they call The Event Planner. The framing sequence where Ms. Tree tells the whole story to a shrink we’ve seen before, but it works well.
I’m a fan of the comic book series and was delighted to see Ms. Tree back in action, with a cover painting by art. Springing from the question ‘What if Mike Hammer died and his Girl Friday would avenge him’ she’s the same kickass character from the comics. All familiar faces return, true to form. The revised origin works perfectly and there’s a very modern setting that I enjoyed. Therefore I hope Ms. Tree will return, guns blazing and ball-busting as before. If you’re into deep, genre-breaking stuff you can ignore this one. If you love Mike Hammer, comics and a fast-paced story you can’t miss this one.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Announcement by Faves Lori & Jeff

Lori G. Armstrong one of our favorite writers and her blog partner Jeff (also a Sons of Spade fave) did a video blog announcement check it out:

Congrats, Lori!

Proof of Purchase (Jack Grant) by Richard B. Schwartz

Richard B. Schwartz is an English professor and that shows. The phrasing is excellent and you can see a lot of thinking went on in every line on the page. It’s like this guy is just channeling Raymond Chandler on every page. Kind of like early Robert B. Parker.
The plot is pretty straightforward, though I hesitate to call it thin, because that could be seen as a negative remark. That would be unfair, because I really found the ‘simple’ plot a refreshing read after reading too convoluted plots that in the end had an unsatisfying payoff.
About the plot… PI Jack Grant is hired to track down his ex-lover, a beautiful lawyer. At the start of the novel she’s already found dead and mutilated. Of course he sets out to find the killer. Aiding him is a shapely, tough female cop. Together they manage to solve the case and of course get in bed, stabbed and shot along the way. The ending, which would make Mike Hammer proud, was pretty satisfying and I enjoyed the ride to it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Q & A with Tim Maleeny

Today we talk with Tim Maleeny, author of the Cape Weathers series.

Q: What makes your P.I. Cape Weathers different from other fictional private eyes?
Cape is probably more self-aware and perhaps a bit more neurotic than your typical P.I. Unlike a lot of fictional characters who don’t seem to read or go to the movies, Cape reads crime fiction, and he’s a film buff, so he’s aware of how P.I.’s are portrayed. He doesn’t think of himself as a fictional tough guy and he’s definitely not invincible, but he’s stubborn enough to get into some pretty dangerous situations. I think of Cape as that voice inside your head saying the things you wish you could say, or that alter ego that does the outrageous things we can only imagine doing in civilized society.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
I think the sidekick is a critical archetype, the other side of the coin to the P.I. In the case of Cape and his deadly companion Sally, I sometimes think of them as two aspects of the same character, sort of a conscious and subconscious balance of personalities.

I think the main difference between the P.I. and the sidekick is that the sidekick is not conflicted about his or her actions. The P.I. character is usually the most flawed, human, and empathetic of the two characters, with the kind of doubts we’d all have if faced with life or death decisions. But the sidekick has no doubts, doesn’t hesitate, and isn’t going to lose sleep over bending or breaking the rules. The sidekick provides the clarity of action the P.I character often lacks, and which we wish we all had in moments of crisis.

Real life is messy, and justice is often ambiguous if not elusive. Crime fiction appeals to us because it has a clear moral compass with characters willing to do the right thing regardless of the sacrifice, the law, or the constraints of society.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
I do a lot before I start writing. Enough to get a sense of place, language and history of the characters. Then I put the research aside and start writing as fast as I can. After the first draft I go back to the research, maybe do some more, and add texture to what I’ve written.

I think it’s possible to get lost in your research and literally forget to write, or lose the pacing of your story because you’re staying too close to reality or obsessing about procedural details. I try to never forget I’m writing fiction; I want the story to be an adventure, not a documentary.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
I write faster because I have a better sense of my own voice and that of my characters, but the actual process hasn’t changed that much. I’m still making it up as I go along, telling myself the story and hoping it all makes sense by the last page.

Q: How do you promote your book?
Sites like this are a huge help to new authors, and the independent booksellers are the most important people in the world. I’m on panels at all the major crime conferences, contribute to several websites and do what I can to spread the word, but the most important step towards finding your readers is visiting the bookstores. I’ve met some extraordinary people over the past year, both the booksellers and their customers. And librarians are great; they love books and read constantly, always on the lookout for something new. Can’t say enough nice things about librarians.

Q: What's next for you and Cape?
The second investigation, a book with the unlikely title Beating The Babushka, was just released. It involves a collision between the Russian mob and the movie business. After that, the next book to feature Cape and Sally comes out next year and is entitled Greasing The Piñata. It takes place in Mexico and deals with the drug cartels’ involvement in U.S. politics.

I’ve also recently completed a novel called JUMP, which introduces a new set of characters. JUMP has been described as comedic noir. Not sure if that qualifies as a new sub-genre, but it seems to fit.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Loren Estleman is as good as it gets, as authentic as Ross MacDonald and as fresh and original as anyone writing today. Robert Crais is bulletproof. Lee Child knows how to strip prose better than anyone and is a master of pacing. Rick Riordan is writing one of the best PI series in recent memory with his Tres Navarre novels. Ross Thomas raised the intellectual ante by creating such smart characters and elaborate plots; he had the perfect voice for describing a long con. Robert Ferrigno has a gift for taking seemingly mundane problems and spinning them into impossible situations that lead to barely controlled mayhem. Elmore Leonard is the master of creating characters you love, even the bad guys, with an ear for dialogue I think every writer alive must envy.

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 and in what way?
I don’t think those original influences ever go away, because the crime fiction community has a great sense of history, as this site so beautifully demonstrates. My own novels have been compared to Hammett, Fleming, and even pulp writers from the 30s and 40s, which I consider high praise indeed because those were my influences as a reader when I first discovered mysteries.

But those writers mentioned earlier, like Crais, Riordan, and Leonard, among others, will be the dominant influences on the next generation because they managed to fuse a classic genre with a contemporary voice. They proved that a hard-boiled drama can be infused with references to pop culture, social commentary and humor. I think that’s what is so powerful about crime fiction; it’s both timeless and immediately relevant when done right.

Q: Richard B. Schwartz came up with the following question: Crime and detective fiction is an identifiable, carefully delineated genre. What is it about that genre that enables you to discuss the kind of things that are important to you?
Crime fiction deals with eternal questions, matters of life and death. In that regard mysteries share the same ambition as Greek tragedies, Shakespearean dramas, opera, you name it. That might sound dangerously “literary”, but I think there’s a reason that mysteries are as old as storytelling.

But the other, often overlooked aspect of crime fiction is that it allows you to explore questions of the here and now. Popular culture, social commentary, politics, entertainment --- they all belong on the canvas of a well-drawn mystery. The big underlying themes of mysteries might be timeless, but the books themselves feel like they were written for you, today, no matter whom you are or where and when you’re reading them.

And most importantly, the genre acknowledges that reading should be fun, not something that feels like a chore. Mysteries both entertain and challenge the reader at the same time, and that’s what reading is all about. Books should keep you up at night turning the pages, not put you to sleep.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
OK, here’s one that might get some interesting responses:
The PI is usually the one standing up for the underdog, the person who takes on the powerful and the corrupt on behalf of the little guy. Do you have any favorite targets (or people) at which you like to take aim through your characters?

I can’t abide being lied to, so in my novels I tend to go after the hypocrisy of institutions that act above reproach but all too often are picking your pocket with one hand while patting you on the back with the other. Politicians and the media are easy targets, especially today. Dig below the surface of any major criminal enterprise and you’ll probably find someone using your tax dollars to subsidize it. I think P.I. fiction can bring some perspective on that absurdity, a society in which we’re all seemingly in on the joke and yet the same scams keep occurring. That’s a very human condition, so it seems perfect for fiction.

For more info on this author visit:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Prodigal Son Nick Travers (by Ace Atkins)

As always here in the feature Prodigal Sons we try to find out what's been going on with characters we haven't seen in a while. Today we asked Ace Atkins what's been going on with blues historian and PI Nick Travers...

We wanted to know:
1) Will Nick Travers return?
2) Why haven't you written about Nick for some time now?
3) What's up next for you?

Ace answered us:

Thanks much for the interest in Nick. Yes, he hasn’t been around since 2004 and Dirty South.

I’m not sure if Nick will return. I’d like to see a new book with Nick – I think there are some great untold stories – but right now I don’t have any plans. I’m with a new publisher and moving in a new direction as a writer. I’ve finished two literary novels for G.P. Putnam’s Sons about infamous true crimes both in Tampa, Florida and Cuba with WHITE SHADOW and a forthcoming novel about the wickedest city in America of the 1940s and ‘50s in WICKED CITY out in April.

Both are crime books but free of the traditional mold I felt myself caught in with the Travers’ books.

Also I believe in 2004 that I’d reached a plateau with writing about Nick Travers and took him as far I could go – with the same excitement for myself and readers – in Crossroad Blues, Leavin’ Trunk Blues, Dark End of the Street and ultimately Dirty South.

I believe the four novels are absolutely related and represent a total journey for the character. But in the years since, I’ve thought about bringing him back at some time. The books can be tremendous fun to write.

For more info visit:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Q & A with Richard B. Schwartz

This time we interview Richard B. Schwartz of the Jack Grant novels.

Q: What makes your P.I. Jack Grant different from other fictional private eyes?

Jack’s military experience is based on that of a real officer with whom I had the privilege to serve. Both were hit by Chinese grenades in Vietnam. The difference is that Jack retired after twenty years of service and became a PI. My friend stayed on, commanded a Corps in Operation Desert Storm, and recently retired as a four-star general. Jack has a master’s degree in History and sees things both from a realistic/military perspective and a thoughtful/historical perspective. He lost his wife during the war and his memories of her (which he never discusses) positively affect his relationships with women.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

In Nice and Noir I call this figure the ‘avenging angel’; he (or potentially, she) is now a genre mainstay and represents many things. One is the invincible side of the PI. It is very interesting to see how this figure is used. For example, Robert Crais has been showing us a softer/more sensitive side of Elvis Cole’s sidekick, Joe Pike. Spenser’s friend Hawk remains largely inscrutable as well as (largely) invincible. Jack Grant’s friend Charles White serves this function in the Jack Grant novels—a short, wiry and very lethal retired noncom.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Sometimes. It depends on the book. I believe (following Samuel Johnson) that you absolutely must have seen that which you are attempting to represent. Sometimes I’ll return to the places that I’m describing just to get a feel for their sights and sounds and smells. I believe that setting is very important in genre fiction and much of my research involves familiarizing myself with the places in which my narratives are set.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
No, I don’t think so. Each book is different, so the writing changes to that degree. The first is a classic case of detection, the second a revenge story, the third a love story and the fourth a broad-canvas international thriller. Each type of book presents its own challenges.

Q: Could you tell something about your book Nice and Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction?
Nice and Noir is a study of around 700 recent novels, with special attention to common themes and motifs (like the ‘psycho sidekick’ referenced above). A number of individual novels are used as exemplars. The book focuses on crime and detective fiction rather than English mysteries or cozies. Though it is built upon some scholarly materials it is not a book written specifically for scholars. Readers of crime and detective fiction will find it accessible and, I hope, interesting.

Q: What's next for you and Jack?
I haven’t said good bye to Jack, but I’ve been working on a new series. Chronologically, Jack would be in his sixties now. While these heroes can be presented in a timeless fashion, many of the key events in his life are increasingly distant in time. The new series features a figure in his early 30’s. I’ve also just completed a nonfiction book—a sequel to my earlier memoir The Biggest City in America. This one deals with my military experiences, particularly the time I spent teaching at West Point. It’s tentatively entitled Accidental Soldier.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Many. Most of them are probably also the favorites of your readers. Check out the list on the FAQ section of my website:

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 and in what way?
Chandler and Hammett, along with some other key Black Mask writers, established the form, so their influence endures. Macdonald continues to inspire the so-called ‘softboiled’ school. I love Lehane and Parker, who are both very influential, particularly Parker. I think for raw, jackhammer suspense there’s no one quite as effective as Lee Child and for setting and atmospherics no one better than James Lee Burke. The crime writers all love James Crumley and everyone loves James Ellroy, though his staccato style is very hard to imitate without being obvious about it. I’m a huge fan of Don Winslow and Robert Ferrigno, both of whom have developed into world-class writers. For economy of style there’s no one like Lawrence Block, for broad humor no one like Carl Hiaasen, and for a darker narrative no one like Andrew Vacchs and his pal Joe R. Lansdale. I still love Joseph Wambaugh, Charles Willeford, and the master of genre fiction, Elmore Leonard. For procedure there are few as effective as Ed McBain, Thomas Harris and Jeffery Deaver. Tom Holland is an impressive new voice in this field (and, with Jim Burke and Jeffery Deaver, a University of Missouri graduate). I miss Neal Barrett’s crime writing, though I respect his science fiction and I always look forward to new books from April Smith and Sandra Scoppettone. Donald Hamilton just passed away recently. I loved the Matt Helm books as well as his standalones. All of these writers will continue to be influential because they’re all so expert at what they do.

Q: Declan Burke, author of the Big O and Eightball Boogie came up with the following question: Is it absolutely essential your writing is published, and why?
It certainly doesn’t hurt. I love to write and can’t really live without doing it. The crime and detective fiction market is very tough, but where there’s a will there’s ultimately a way. I also enjoy writing nonfiction; that is much easier to place. It’s very important to me to reach a receptive audience. The audience doesn’t have to be huge, though we would all like it to be so. I have received the most personal responses (letters, emails, even phone calls) on my memoir about my adolescence in Ohio, because it deals with a particular place which is very important to the twenty thousand people who live there. My book Daily Life in Johnson’s London has sold over 10,000 copies and still sells briskly more than two decades after its publication. We all write alone and it’s very gratifying to hear return voices in the darkness.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Crime and detective fiction is an identifiable, carefully-delineated genre. What is it about that genre that enables you to discuss the kind of things that are important to you?

Readers of this kind of fiction expect your novels to be faithful to the genre but also to stretch the genre in fresh ways. Each book has to be new and different, but also take its fundamental inspiration from the genre as established by Hammett and Chandler. This presents special challenges and attracts writers who have a special affection for craft. Chandler also specified a set of attitudes with regard to politics and society (in “The Simple Art of Murder”) and these issues and attitudes have not lost their interest or relevance. These issues interest me deeply. Also, as a historian of eighteenth-century England my stock-in-trade is an understanding of the way that high ‘civilization’ coexists with gritty reality. Eighteenth-century women used ivory-handled scratchers to relieve themselves of the work of insects within their carefully-powdered wigs. They used mouse skins for artificial eyebrows. The men loved blood sports and bet on whether or not the victims of street accidents would live or die, sometimes keeping the physicians at a distance until the bets were settled. We still carry our hunter/gatherer brains along with our iPods and cell phones. This kind of fiction is the perfect vehicle for discussing the fine line between ‘civilization’ and barbarism.

For more info on this writer visit

Stealing the Dragon (Cape Weathers) by Tim Maleeny

Made for the movies. That could be said about the adventures of Cape Weathers. In his first novel we follow him in his investigation of the murder of several men on a boat full of illegal immigrants from China. The killings seem to bear the markings of his friend, assassin and sidekick Sally. Her backstory is told in chapters in italics. Although an interesting story it did detract a bit from the main storyline making me a bit unsure if it was fitting for a first novel. I’d rather have gotten a better idea of the relationship between Cape and Sally first, then gotten the background on her in a later novel like Robert Crais did with Joe Pike in LA Requiem. Almost more of an exotic thriller than a traditional PI story Cape does have the sense of humor of the aforementioned Elvis Cole and the white knight traits of his other contemporaries. The plot involving the Dragon of the title brings back memories of the Maltese Falcon, the villains make you enter into Fu Manchu or maybe Eric van Lustbader (from books like “Ninja”) and Warren Murhphy’s Destroyer territory. I could picture Kurt Russell in ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ perfectly as Cape.
All in all, an enjoyable read for people who like PI’s but are looking for something just a little different. I, for one, am looking forward to reading “Beating the Babushka” to see what’s in store for Cape and Sally in the future.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Q & A with Declan Burke

This time our Q & A is with Irish writer Declan Burke, writer of Eightball Boogie and the Big O.
Q: What makes your P.I. Harry Rigby different from other fictional private eyes?
A: I could be literal and say he’s the only one from Sligo, Ireland … This is actually a difficult question for me to answer, because of the way Harry originated, which was as an exercise in style. I never had any intention of writing a full novel – I started out writing a chapter in which a PI meets a potential client for the first time, just to have fun with it. Harry’s a PI who is aware of all the tropes, he’s a fan of the hardboiled movies and books – so while he’s a PI, he’s also aware of fiction’s PI heritage, Marlowe, Archer, et al. It says something that my favourite PI movie isn’t THE BIG SLEEP, it’s Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE. Which is a roundabout way of saying Harry Rigby is different because he’s so knowingly similar to all his fictional predecessors. Except for the fact that he’s from Sligo …

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
A: I guess if it’s done well then it’s valid, and if it’s not, it’s a cliché. I take every character on its own merits. My instinct is that it could work well as a one-off, if the protagonist has a pyscho sidekick foisted on him, but that it wouldn’t make any sense, if you want your stories to have any kind of realism, for a PI – someone who earns their living through stealth and subterfuge – to associate with a psychotic person for too long. They’d attract too much notice. It’d be like hunting tiger with a hippo in tow.

Q: What would a soundtrack to your novels sound like?
A: Pretty bleak, probably, although it’d depend on the circumstances – if your protagonist found him or herself in a karaoke bar, say, then the clientele is highly unlikely to be belting out Leonard Cohen songs (although I like the idea, now that I think of it). In general, there’s quite a bit of fatalism in my stories, so the soundtrack would ideally be composed of artists such as The Tindersticks, Leonard Cohen, Antony and the Johnsons, Radiohead, Townes Van Zandt, Jacques Brel … melancholy stuff, glimmerings of hope in the darkness, that kind of thing. Mind you, I have Abba in my car stereo at the moment …

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
A: I’m probably more aware at this stage of how bad a line is when I write it, but as for my ability to improve that line … I don’t know. No, probably. In saying that, I’m interested in writing in different kinds of styles, so it’s hard to judge. EIGHTBALL BOOGIE (the first Harry Rigby novel) was a homage to Chandler, and was written in that kind of style. THE BIG O was styled as a homage to two American writers I read for pure, unadulterated pleasure – Elmore Leonard and Barry Gifford. And, once I finish the sequel to THE BIG O, I have a story bubbling away on the back-burner that’s heavily influenced by some of my favourite writers from the ’40s and ’50s – David Goodis, Gil Brewer. That probably sounds as if I’m spending all my time ripping off other writers, but that’s only partially true – it’s early days in my writing yet, and I’m happy enough to learn whatever craft I can from studying the writers I like. I don’t have the time to go copying out their novels, the way Hemingway did, so this is the next best thing. That’s my excuse, anyway.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
A: It depends on the story, really. I wrote a book set on the south coast of Crete that involved a hell of a lot of research – I probably spent longer reading up on the various subjects that went into the story than I did writing it. For the most part, though, my stories aren’t all that high concept. They’re fairly stripped-back, character-based tales about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, so they don’t need a lot of research. In saying that, I’m generally very particular about detail – I can be quite disappointed if I come across a glaringly wrong detail when I’m reading, it can ruin a story for me. So I try to get it as realistic as possible within the parameters of the story.

Q: What's next for you and Harry?
A: I’ve written a follow-up to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, in which Harry witnesses a suicide and is then asked by the dead man’s mother to investigate the reasons why a seemingly happy, well-adjusted person would kill himself. At the moment, though, Harry has retreated to the snug of The Cellars bar and is enjoying some quiet drinking time, because the emphasis is on THE BIG O and its sequel, both of which have been signed up by Harcourt in the US – THE BIG O will be published in the US in Fall ’08.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
A: I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to any of the names on this fine site, and I appreciate that it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but for me there’s only one son of Spade, and that’s Marlowe – everyone else is competing to be nephews, grand-nieces, etc. I say that in full awareness of Chandler’s flaws in terms of plotting, and all the other flaws attributed to him. But I think what Chandler achieved with Marlowe goes beyond his ability in terms of style. Yes, he was reacting to Hammett, but I think Chandler shaped the paradigm of the private eye to the extent that everyone since has been writing according to his rules – obeying them, bending them, breaking them, parodying them. When you look at the non-crime fiction writers who dabbled as a once-off because they believed the form was worth exploring – Norman Mailer, say, or Hank Bukowski, Ray Bradbury, Jonathan Lethem – the model they reshape is Chandler’s.

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 and in what way?A: I’m going to sound biased here because he’s Irish, and because I know the guy personally, but I think Ken Bruen will exert a massive influence on the next generation of PI writers. His Jack Taylor series is genuinely breaking new ground, given that it’s a post-modern appraisal of the notion of the PI and the PI novel – Bruen has gone beyond the conventional three-act investigation of a crime, gone beyond the protagonist as a righter of wrongs, a man or woman who uncovers dirty deeds and precipitates a satisfactory resolution. In Taylor’s world, everyone is equally culpable, and Bruen has inverted the focus of his PI’s gaze so that it’s himself he’s investigating, his morality, the part that he plays in creating the kind of world where good, bad and indifferent all jostle for pre-eminence. What Bruen is doing for crime fiction right now is akin to what Camus and Sartre, in their different ways, did for philosophy sixty or seventy years ago – although a more appropriate, Irish, reference would be that of Samuel Beckett.

Q: Ed Lynskey, writer of the Frank Johnson novels, came up with this question: "Would you have the patience and grit to work as a PI?"A: Definitely not. The reality of PI work is bone-numbing drudgery spent checking facts and figures, and endless hours wasted in surveillance, more often than not with no positive result. The wastage of time would drive me insane in a week. I’m also quite a private person. The notion of prying into other people’s lives – knowing that your prying will very probably have a devastating effect on their lives – offends my sense of mutual respect. In other words, if I don’t pry into your life, and you don’t pry into mine, all will be well. Of course, that’s the diametric opposite of the dynamic that propels the PI narrative …

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Q: Is it absolutely essential your writing is published, and why?
A: No, and for two reasons: One, there’s far too much rubbish on the shelves already. Two, I need to write every bit as much as I like to write, and I’ll keep on writing long after it’s decided that I’m no longer worth publishing.

For more info on Declan Burke visit

Friday, November 16, 2007

Award for Bill Pronzini

I just learned Bill Pronzini, author of the long-running “Nameless” PI series, has been chosen by the Mystery Writers of America to receive their 2008 Grand Master Award. Well deserved!

Q & A with Lori Armstrong

This time our Q & A is with Lori G. Armstrong, who’s latest Julie Collins novel Shallow Grave is out this month!

Q: What makes your P.I. Julie Collins different from other fictional private eyes?
Julie doesn’t take any shit and she doesn’t apologize for it. She doesn’t need to be rescued, but she’s not adverse to being feminine. She’s smart. She tells it like she sees it and doesn’t particularly care if it’s PC or if it pisses people off or makes them uncomfortable. She swears. She drinks. She likes sex. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends but comes from a screwed up enough background that those friends are few and far between. She thinks she has a strong sense of right and wrong, yet, the more fully realized she becomes, life and her reactions to it aren’t as black and white as she imagines. Julie is a bit of a loner. Does that make her the stereotypical lone wolf? At times. That gets her into trouble because she does have that ‘I’m invincible’ mentality and doesn’t want anyone’s help or is too stubborn to ask. I will say, she is getting better about that.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

I will admit I like them – Crais’ Joe Pike in particular. But I’ll also admit it feels a bit like cheating to me, and it did even before I’d heard the ‘psycho sidekick’ phrase or penned my own PI novel. Speaking in general terms at least for me as an author, you don’t want your readers to think your protagonist is anything but noble—not perfect and squeaky clean, mind you, but someone you can root for to do the right thing, even if that thing is not 100% legal. What separates crime fiction is the bad guys need to get caught. Every time. That’s why there should be a clear difference to the readers on who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy, yet, Mr. Rogers solving crimes is as disingenuous to me as Dexter (Darkly Dreaming Dexter) hitting the bloody trail. So how do you show your protagonist does brush up against violent people and situations in the course of a workday and a tough case and can handle it? Simple. Your ‘tough’, edgy character…has to bring in someone else to do the dirty work? Huh? Why? It’s more interesting to me to see that dark side and light side in ONE character, rather than two. And I especially think this becomes a problem when that secondary character becomes more interesting than the main character.

Another writer friend of mine pens great crime fiction with an older main male character, and the sidekick is younger, female. The female swears a blue streak, tells it like she sees it, and makes no bones about her sexuality – which is cheating in my book too, no differently than the ‘psycho’ sidekick. Why? Because it makes the main character look noble…but at what price? Again, it’s like, - leave all the undesirable traits (the love of sex, of booze, of shocking people) to the lesser character to make the protagonist look good. Hey, wait a minute: those are the FUN things to write about. Why shouldn’t your main character be bad to be good?

One of the best compliments I received as a first time author was from my buddy Dusty Rhoades. I have a minor, sort of ‘psycho’ character in the series named Jimmer. After Dusty read my book, BLOOD TIES, he emailed me and said he was relieved I didn’t make my sidekick do the dirty work or swoop in and rescue my little damsel. He also said he was impressed the Julie didn’t act like a girl. Very high praise.

Q: What would a soundtrack to your novels sound like?

I’ll probably get shot, but I do not like jazz. At all. I tolerate blues. I’m a hard-rock girl and I’ve passed that love on to Julie. I often say the three things I have in common with Julie are: 1) we’re both blonde 2) we both live in South Dakota, 3) we have the same taste in music. When I’m working on a Julie book, I listen to AC/DC, Van Halen, Godsmack, Audioslave, Nickelback, Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains, Velvet Revolver, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, a little Metallica goes a long way for me, and other rock bands, but the catch is the music has to have a melody. Death metal is not my thing. But I prefer it to saxophones.

I cannot write and listen to music at the same time. I start singing along and forget what the hell I’m supposed to be doing. I listen to music in my car – if my teenage girls don’t complain and make me turn it off.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?

I hope so. Now there’s more intricate plotting. The books seem to get longer, not intentionally, it just takes more words to tell the story. And since my setting is almost as important as the characters, I feel the need to make sure that gives readers who’ve never been to South Dakota, who know nothing about Lakota Sioux, or modern day ranchers, or the large ‘biker’ population around Sturgis, an accurate idea on sense of place. Plus, it’s so much more fun to wind 5 or 6 plot threads together than 1 or 2.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes and no. Yes, in that I want facts to be accurate. In BLOOD TIES I chatted with cops, and feds, about the different jurisdictions in South Dakota – federal land, tribal land, state land, county land, city limits, sometimes all that converges in one spot, so you have to make damn sure you don’t put a body in the wrong place. In HALLOWED GROUND I did research on the Indian gaming industry – I used some of what I found but didn’t need in SHALLOW GRAVE. No, because I really, really like to make shit up. And research is my very least favorite part of writing. I like hands on research, such as, I’ve gone on ride alongs and I graduated from the Rapid City Citizen’s Police Academy, I hang out at ranches, rodeos. I did some tequila taste testing too, just so I knew Julie was drinking the very best.

Q: What's next for you and Julie?
The 4th book, SNOW BLIND is scheduled for publication in October 2008.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
I don’t want to leave anyone off, because I’ve met so many great PI writers in the last few years – so your list on the sidebar is a good place to start.

Oh, did you mean Daughters of Spade? I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew, but Sue Grafton – my biggest influence ever. Sara Paretsky. Karen Kijewski. Margaret Maron. PD James.

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 and in what way?

Not trying to be sexist, but female authors have influenced me probably more than any of those guys on the list, with the exception of Lehane. I think the influences of Grafton, Paretsky, Muller, Maron have already made a huge impact on modern PI fiction and will continue to be lauded as pioneers.

Q: Ed Lynskey, writer of the Frank Johnson novels, came up with this question: "Would you have the patience and grit to work as a PI?"
Yes. Okay, that’s a lie. No. I don’t have the guts. But that said, I don’t think my character would have the grit to do what I do on a daily basis either.

For more info about Lori G. Armstrong visit

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hallowed Ground (Julie Collins) by Lori G. Armstrong

Character is key. This is what Lori Armstrong seems to understand perfectly. Julie Collins, already such a strong character in Blood Ties returns even more full-fleshed. Julie is cranky, smokes and drinks a lot, engages in shallow sex, enjoys rock music and is one tough woman.
The convoluted plot starts out with a missing persons case. Looking for this Native American kid the dead bodies start to turn up quickly when the mob gets involved and rival casinos take on each other. Also love blooms for Julie in the person of the shady owner of a biker bar.
Although the book is a bit too long (almost 500 pages) there’s enough action and surprises to keep you entertained.
I loved the characters, the action and writing. What could make this book even more perfect was maybe cut it down in size somewhat and trim a few plot elements.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Some interesting sites to visit

Two interesting sites to visit if you're into PI-fiction (and why are you here if you're not?):

The new issue of Back Alley Webzine will be online 19 November and features Keith Gilman, who won the PWA/St. Martin's Best First PI Novel competition this year; Bryon Quertermous, the editor of Demolition Ezine; Megan Powell, the editor of Shred of Evidence Ezine; and two new authors named Warren Bull and John Weagly, who are very exciting. They're also beginning a serialization of Frank Norris's classic naturalistic noir novel McTEAGUE. Go to to read it.

Also, if you want to read about the shifty character bringing you this site check out:

Monday, November 12, 2007

How to Defuse a Terrorist (Frank Johnson) by Ed Lynskey

“Frank, you’ve been awfully closed-mouth,” said the big man behind the steering wheel.
“Just thinking, Gerald.”
“Solid,” said Gerald.
Solid? I mused. Well, that was Gerald Peyton for you—Shaft on steroids. I’d asked him along to be more than a sidekick—he had my back. For now, we cruised down a desolate stretch. Why did Interstates always take the butt-ugliest path? We’d flown by toxic waste dumps all colors of the rainbow, blasted out phosphate quarries, and a farm of rusting junk cars.
America the Beautiful? Yeah.
“This lady, Mrs. Saxon, you say her son died,” said Gerald. “I’m vague on the details. What killed him?”
“He was Quincy Saxon, age 23,” I said. “Exposure to radioactivity killed him. His morgue photos showed third-degree burns smothering his body. He looked like rotisseried chicken.”
Gerald whistled through his teeth. “Bad news. The lady wants answers and we’re her answer men.”
“Solid,” I parroted back to him.
Gerald’s grin broadened. “Okay, what about Quincy’s boss? Is he some sort of a whack-job scientist on a mountaintop playing with fire?”
“That pretty much covers it,” I said. “The investigating authorities accepted his explanation that Quincy’s death was a work-related accident. Shit happens, right? His mom didn’t sign off on it.”
“I don’t blame her,” said Gerald. “Don’t sweat it. We’ll get to the bottom of things.”
Gerald’s reassurance didn’t quell my queasiness. Appalachia was a third-world nation stuck up in the leafy hills. The smart young folks counted off the days until they could eject from it. Many enlisted to go wage our holy oil wars. Our destination there was an old, defunct dam condemned by the TVA. The last worker leaving it ages ago had switched off the lights and padlocked its gate shut.
“Hey, are you packing heat?” Gerald asked me.
“My mama told me to leave my guns at home,” I said. “But I bet you brought along some pyrotechnics in your duffel bag.”
“Yep,” said Gerald. “Cause, you see, my mama told me just the opposite.”
After a while we approached a pale blue limestone cliff. Pointing at it, I asked for Gerald’s opinion. He squinted to look through the dirty windshield and agreed. It did appear to be a half-finished portrait of Mr. Reagan, our fortieth president, carved into the cliff.
“What a monumental waste of limestone,” Gerald said. “How do we get started at the dam?”
“Nothing to it,” I said. “We do some snooping around.”
“Solid. Now, tell me about this asshole doctor.”
“Dr. Ames, a nuclear physicist educated at Yale no less, took the facility out of mothballs,” I said. “His experiments with radioactive stuff centered on how to counteract bad guys with a hard-on for Americans.”
“Things got out of hand and he nuked this Saxon kid,” said Gerald.
“Hell, you must’ve been there,” I said. “At least that’s the official version.”
“Where is Dr. Ames nowadays?”
“Probably lounging on a beach in the Azores,” I said. “He was exonerated of all criminal negligence.”
“Yeah, he’s about as harmless as a goddamn boxcutter,” Gerald said, his grim tone sending an icy chill up my spine.
We sidled up a series of switchbacks climbing the face of a jagged mountain. My ears popped twice. Gerald let off the gas pedal and geared down. A lift in power got us to the top. At the last dogleg turn in the narrow lane, we braked to a standstill. Below us in a shallow crater, a concrete monolithic dam bottled up a deep arsenic-green lake.
The tallest spiral staircase in the world went down to the crackerbox buildings. It was the only way in and out. Recent rockslides from a hurricane had blocked the road. I half-expected to see a crack in the concrete dam and a dutiful Hans Brinker with his thumb stuck in it.
After unbuckling, Gerald and I hauled out of my car. He notched his nuts and I spat. Both rituals denoted disgust.
“I guess we have to snake down that staircase,” said Gerald.
“You’re a good guesser.”
“All right then, wait up.” Mumbling dark obscenities, Gerald stalked around to key open the trunk. I ignored him until he returned brandishing two sawed-off 12-gauge riot shotguns and bandoleers heavy with fresh shells, buckshot load. “Here,” he said. “Take this. Stay sharp.”
I accepted his martial gifts. At the stairhead, I didn’t look down until vertigo hit me. My mouth went dry and my heart hammered. Gerald came after me, one-handing a loaded pump shotgun. We started down the staircase.
“Any idea what we’re after down here?” asked Gerald.
“Any bad shit,” I said. “We’ll know it when we smell it.”
“Right. I got a nose for sniffing it out, dawg.” Gerald’s face took on a wild, crazed look I didn’t like.
By the time we reached the dam’s bottom, we were breathless but too amped on adrenaline to notice. The facility’s locked steel doors didn’t deter Gerald. He blew away all the offending hardware. Cordite stung our eyes. My ears screamed in protest.
I coughed, waving away acrid gun smoke. “Gerald, hold up a second.”
“Man, it’s creepy inside this concrete tomb,” said Gerald. “Where’s the fucking lab?”
“Mrs. Saxon told me it’s in a large room near the front.”
Gerald thumbed more shells into his shotgun, then pointed. “I see lights up ahead. Behind that concrete column.”
“Man, we need a Geiger counter,” I said, as we advanced into the musty gloom. “Who knows how hot the radioactivity is in here?”
“I thought you said this Ames skipped the country, Frank.”
“That’s what I heard.”
“Well, I hear somebody or something talking.”
“Probably the dead souls your shotgun blasts woke up,” I said.
“I love teaming up with you, Frank. Never a dull moment. Nope, not on your life.”
“Shut it up. Keep moving.”
In single file, we prowled deeper into the cavernous space. Some electrical source lit the way. The smell of charred human flesh grew sweet and oppressive. We swung around a corner, shotguns hoisted at the ready.
“Gentlemen,” said the nasal, reedy voice. “You’re here in time for your tanning session. Most excellent.”
“What the hell?” said Gerald.
“Just keep your weapon fixed on the crazy bastard,” I said. My eyes cut back and forth. Four tanning beds lay open, awaiting their next victims.
“Who will go first?” the man asked. I blinked at a tall, lanky man with a swatch of jet hair combed back off a bulbous forehead.
Gerald growled. “Mister, keep your hands where I can see them. Any funny moves and…”
“…we’ll blow your shit away,” I said to complete Gerald’s thought.
The gaunt madman frowned at us. “I’m Dr. Ames. Aren’t you my one-thirty appointment?”
“Appointment for what?”
“Why, to soak up a tan,” said Dr. Ames.
“Where do you stash the cobalt?” I asked.
“Why, in its lead container, of course,” Dr. Ames said. “Now, which of you will go first?”
“Frank, I believe I’m satisfied with my pigmentation,” said Gerald. “Why don’t you hop on one of those tanning beds, boy?”
I caught a certain sly tone in Gerald’s voice asking me to play along. “Sure. I’ve been meaning to get rid of this pasty Irish look. Where do I lay down, Doc?”
Dr. Ames beamed at us. “Take any one you like. Meantime, I’ll go fetch the cobalt.” He strutted the opposite way through an arched doorway.
“The lead container must be inside that hideyhole,” Gerald sidemouthed to me. “What now?”
“Send Ames to the happy hunting grounds,” I said. “Before he sends us. I don’t see any other exit out of this shit-storm.”
We hoofed it at a snappy pace ducking through the doorway where Dr. Ames had disappeared. We heard his spectral voice rattling off something excited and demented. Death permeated the oxygen-starved air. Our scuffing shoes alerted Dr. Ames as we invaded his Inner Sanctum.
“Doc, step away from that box,” said Gerald.
Defying our wishes, he unsnapped the clasps. “Oh put up your shotguns,” he said. “You’ll only scare the other customers.”
“He’s starting to crack the fucking lid.”
“No way that can happen,” said Gerald. “No other choice now. Let’s rock-and-roll, Frank.”
Our 12-gauge shotguns flamed out blasts like a double-necked electric guitar’s first riff.
The End

The Day after Yesterday (Joe Hannibal) by Wayne D. Dundee

Joe Hannibal's been around since 1982 and is the creation of Wayne Dundee. In this novel Wayne shakes up the status quo of his protagonist up when he kills off his sidekick Bomber Brannigan. Of course Joe intends to find out who was responsible for this. At first it seems like an accident induced by too much sex and booze but we, the readers, of course know better.
Facing a crazy militant guy, hard-nosed lawmen and hot babes wherever he goes there's a pulpy feel all over the book. I was kind of sorry that there was a big setup for a terrorist plot to blow up Mount Rushmore but it wasn't taken very far other than just introduce the plan. It does keep the novel grounded in the crime genre though instead of having it plunge off in thrillers / espionage mode, which is good news to me.
At the end the stage is set for a new setting, which might freshen up stuff a bit. Because of that, this one might be a nice place to start reading Joe's stories.
Some of you might get irritated at the descriptions of hot women every time, or the very hardboiled, blazing .45 style of narrating. That is, if you like to read about Kay Scarpetta. However, if you dig Mike Hammer, you'll dig Joe.