Friday, October 31, 2008

Nervous Laughter (Thomas Black) by Earl Emerson

I picked up several Thomas Black novels at the Partners & Crime bookstore when I was visiting NYC this summer. This was the first one I read of those and it brought me back to the nineties which was a great time for PI-lovers. Together with Steven Womack’s stuff this was one of my favourite writers of that time. This one proved again why.
With witty, direct prose Earl Emerson tells us the tale of Thomas Black and his platonic girlfriend Kathy. Thomas is hired to follow a man who is suspected of adultery. When he follows the guy he turns up dead, along with a teenage girl. It seems like a murder-suicide deal but his wife, Deanna doesn’t think so and hires him to prove it.
I loved the characters like Seymore Teets (bawdy and sleazy PI), the attractive femme fatale Deanna and the villains who aren’t professional gangsters but to the unarmed Thomas just as dangerous. Those, combined with the easy-to-read and fast-paced writing made this a heck of a read.

Justice For All (Zac Hunter) by Steven Hague

Steven Hague proves he uses his inspirations with great skill. With this first offering he manages to marry successfully the twists and turns of Harlan Coben with the feeling of authenticity and mood of Michael Connelly.
Ex-cop Zac Hunter beat the crap out of a suspect child killer / molester. While out of the job he still won’t let the case of this killer rest however. Helping him out along the way is an aging detective (my favourite character in the book)..
There’s also a Russian vigilante killer who dishes out violent justice to various unsavoury characters and a female lawyer who seems to be more than meets the eye.
All these characters cross paths in this exciting tale of vengeance.
During the course of the novel we begin to see that Zac may be an unrelenting champion of justice but is by no means a ruthless vigilante. Pitting him against a killer that is one is a great choice for a first novel in this series. It makes sure you don’t mistake Zac for a Punisher (Marvel Comics) or Executioner (Don Pendleton’s novels) kind of character. These are thrillers / crime novels, not mindless, action-packed men’s adventures. So the movie version would star Mark Wahlberg, not Steven Seagal.
Zac Hunter is THE loner, the epitome of the character Dashiel Hammett invented with the Continental Op. He has no private life to speak of but a thirst for justice and the truth that makes him the ultimate detective.
I really enjoyed this one. Not only was I satisfied with the writing style, direct but not written as a documentary, characters that might become larger than life but still ended up as feeling very real, a satisfying amount of action and lots of surprises and plot twists. Also, as a Dutch writer who has decided to set his series in the same city (L.A.) as British writer Steven I must compliment him on his excellent research. I know how tough it can be sometimes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Q & A with Steven Hague

We interview British writer Steven Hague, authof of Justice For All.

Q: What makes Zac Hunter different from other (unofficial) PIs?
With Hunter, I’ve tried to create the kind of lead character that makes the reader question whether the end justifies the means. He’s not your all-American hero – he’s a good guy to have in the trenches but a bad guy to have on your case. A maverick ex-cop who’ll walk through walls to bring down the bad guys, his desire to see justice served stems from the fact that his father’s murderers were never identified. He’s tough, taciturn, and sardonic, and he’s not afraid to cross the line. Plus he’s a loner – someone that’s self-reliant and unencumbered by the day-to-day baggage that a wife and family can bring. And most of all, he’s a man of action – someone that’s focussed on where he’s going rather than where he’s been. That way, the reader learns about him as they see the world through his eyes.

Q: How does music influence your work?
I’m seriously into rock music, and I like to work mentions of some of my favourite bands into my novels. I use music to help set the scene – it can provide an insight into a character’s thoughts or feelings, and it can give the reader a sense of the familiar to help ground the plot in reality. I try to use a mix of instantly recognisable bands and some that are less well known, as in this way I feel that I’m doing my bit in bringing a wider public audience to some deserving acts!

Q: How did you get published?
Before I put pen to paper on Justice For All, I undertook a fair amount of research then set about creating a plot outline. Some authors plunge straight in and see where the journey takes them, but that approach isn’t for me – I like to have a rough idea of where I’m headed before I set out. Once I had a first draft, I decided to hire a freelance editor, as I wanted my manuscript to be as honed as possible before I submitted it to agents.
I then drew up a hit list of agents that specialised in crime thrillers, and two days after sending out a handful of submissions, I got a call from Broo Doherty of the Wade and Doherty Literary Agency, who offered to represent me. Broo then set about finding me a publisher, and a few weeks later I’d signed a two-book deal with MIRA books. The final stager in the process was to work through some editorial suggestions from MIRA, which helped turn Justice For All into the lean, mean, and moody beast that it is today. The whole process – from writing the very first line to seeing the book hit the shelves – took around two years to complete.

Q: What’s next for you and Zac?
Next up for Zac is the follow up to Justice For All, entitled Blood Law, which will be released in summer 2009. When Hunter answers a distress call from a beautiful Latino girl from his past, he finds himself sucked deep into the murky world of L.A. street gangs, where illegal drugs are the major currency and automatic weapons are the main negotiating tool. With a child’s life at stake, Hunter finds himself in a race against time to discover who’s behind the recent upsurge in violence, and why they’re so keen to see the streets run with blood. As for myself, I’m currently hard at work on the first draft of book three in the Zac Hunter series, provisionally entitled The Beholder.

Q: How do you promote your books?
By using any method I can think of! I have a publicity firm, MIDAS PR, working on my behalf to generate column inches in the press, as well as getting me invites to appear at literary festivals, book signings, etc. For my part, I’m trying to build up my on-line presence, as this seems to be the most cost effective way for new authors to reach a large audience. I have a website – - where you can keep up to date with my writing, as well as pages on Facebook and MySpace. But the most innovative thing I’ve done thus far was to go to two of the UK’s biggest rock festivals – Reading and V – with nine of my friends and family, each of us wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the cover of Justice For All, which created a fair bit of interest as you can imagine!

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
I’m a big fan of John Connelly’s lead character, Charlie Parker. He’s tough, damaged, and driven by the desire for vengeance, plus he’s got two of the best sidekicks in the business in gay assassins Angel and Louis. I also love Burke, the lead character in most of Andrew Vachss’ novels, as he operates as far outside the law as you can possibly get!

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?
Harlan Coben has achieved a lot of success by becoming the modern day master of the plot twist, while Michael Connelly’s attention to detail and sheer realism is unsurpassed. Both authors are adored by readers and critics alike, thus I wouldn’t be surprised if they influenced the next generation of crime writers.

Q: Raymond Benson came up with the following question: Would you want to be a PI yourself?
In the course of three novels the following things have happened to my lead character, Zac Hunter: he’s been shot at, drugged, beaten, tortured, caught in the crosshairs of a sniper, involved in two car crashes, and even forced to fight off the amorous advances of a love crazed octogenarian. Would I want to be a P.I.? What do you think?

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
If you had to choose to write in a genre other than crime, which one would it be and why? I’d like to have a crack at horror one day, as it has many of the same traits as the crime genre – suspense, action, sex, violence, etc – while also allowing you to make stuff up without fear of being corrected!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Trigger City (Ray Dudgeon) by Sean Chercover

Sean Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood was my favorite debut of 2007 and this one's a good contender for my favorite PI novel of the year!

Sean marriages the classic Chandler-feel with a modern day setting with great skill. Ray Dudgeon is hired by retired Colonel Isaac Richmond to find out the truth about the seemingly senseless murder of his daughter, Joan. Joan's killer committed suicide after his violent act. Ray discovers, through the killer's widow that there could be some interesting motives behind the murder. Drawn into the world of private military companies, Chinese student movements and political prisoners this novels travels on totally different roads then Chercover's debut but with the same quality.

Ray still suffers from the torture he was subjected to in Big City, Bad Blood which show the way this series will stand out from the rest. Here events have lasting consequences, and Ray is more than an archetype. His emotions and longing for his ex-girlfriend are described in such a moving way that you really feel for him and the fact you care for him makes the dangers he faces all the more exciting.

With Trigger City Sean Chercover takes the best of those that came before him and shows those that come after him what can be done with the genre in the future.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Q & A with Thomas B. Cavanagh

Q: What makes Mike Garrity different from other PIs?
In some respects Mike Garrity is a relative of many other literary PIs: he’s an ex-cop, drinks too much, has two ex-wives, has a pretty cynical view of life, and complains about his gold handicap. But the main thing that sets Mike apart is a terminal brain tumor he has affectionately named “Bob”. Writing a character with a death sentence was a challenge, but Mike’s slow journey from grim acceptance to fighting to live comprises the character arc through the novel. Although the specter of Death follows Mike around, the novel is actually pretty funny. Really, it is.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
If done well, it can serve its purpose. The psycho sidekick is justice unleashed with no societal restrictions and the PI, with his (her) own code of ethics, can be the voice of reason. Or he (she) can be the judge that unleashes said justice. The risk, of course, is degenerating into cliché. The closest I come to a psycho sidekick in Head Games is Bob the brain tumor, who really isn’t a character. But Mike imagines him with a petulant personality. In the sequel, Prodigal Son, Mike does enlist a partner, but I don’t want to dwell too much on the partner or else inadvertently reveal some plot surprises. Let’s just say that a sidekick can be effective at doling out justice without necessarily being a psycho.

Q: Why did you set your book partly in the music business?
I live in Orlando and spent some time working in kids’ television for Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. I saw the pop culture production machine up close. With Central Florida being the home (at one time, anyway) of several boy bands, it seemed like a natural fit for an ex-Orlando cop. In Head Games there is a scene where, in the background, a staffer for the boy band sits at a conference table and autographs a stack of 8x10 group photos of the band, forging each member’s signature with a different color pen. I witnessed that exact event once while working on a television program featuring The New Kids on the Block. I didn’t have to do very much research.

Q: How did you get published?
My first novel (Murderland) was published by a small press as the result of many mailings and a refusal to take “no” for an answer. I was able to land an agent at Writers House for Head Games on the strength of a cold query and the first few chapters. My agent placed the book at St. Martin’s (Thomas Dunne Books) and they asked me to write a sequel, Prodigal Son, which was released in July. Among the accolades that Head Games has received is a starred review in Library Journal, selection as a Killer Book by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, the Florida Book Award in Popular Fiction, and a Shamus nomination for Best Hardcover (we’ll find out the winner on 10/10/08 in Baltimore).

Q: What’s next for you and Mike?
Excellent question. I’m not exactly sure. Alas, Mike Garrity may have run his course. The publisher has indicated that they will not be able to continue with a third book. Unless someone else shows an overwhelming desire to pick up the character, I will move on to another character and another story. I have a few ideas percolating.

Q: How do you promote your books?
The usual stuff: signings, reviews, e-mails, interviews like this one ;-). I usually do a series of signings around Florida. I’ll be at Bouchercon in October, moderating a panel and sitting on another. I will be speaking and signing at the big Miami Book Fair in November. Because Head Games won the Florida Book Award and was a Shamus finalist, that offers some of the best promotion possible because other people go to great lengths to promote on my behalf. And my reviews have been great, which always helps.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
I am very traditional in my tastes. I like the same guys everyone else likes. They’re popular for a reason, right? Speaking of psycho sidekicks, I’ll mention Myron Bolitar by Harlan Coben. I’m a big Coben fan. Seeing my book on the new releases shelf next to his latest was a kick. I don’t have any cool, obscure recommendations, although I wish I did. I will say that I am thrilled to be in the same company as William Lashner, Michael Koryta, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Declan Hughes—my fellow Best Hardcover Shamus nominees. Heady company, indeed.

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 that way?
In reviews I have been favorably compared to Hiaasen, Westlake, John D. MacDonald, Peter Abrahams, Michael Connelly, and Robert Parker. For reviewers, at least as they try to get a handle on me, they seem to be the genre’s cultural touchstones.

Q: Raymond Benson came up with the following question: Would you want to be a PI yourself?
No, I don’t think so. While it seems glamorous in books, movies, and on television, the reality is a workaday world of people just trying to make a living. There aren’t many blonde bombshells with missing husbands or stolen krugerrands. More likely your day will be spent serving subpoenas, videotaping worker’s comp cheats, and doing skip traces.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Where can I buy your books? They are available through all Internet retailers or for order through your local bookshop. :-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Snowblind (Julie Collins) by Lori Armstrong

As loyal readers of this blog know by now I'm a big fan of Lori's work and this novel doesn't disappoint. Julie Collins, tough cigarette-smoking, cursing, tequila-swilling PI is hired to check out the assisted living home of a young woman's father. Her partner, Kevin quickly falls in lust with this woman, complicating things. Soon they found out there's a lot of rotting schemes out there, involving a group of volunteers that only seem to be about the old people's money.
That's not all there is to investigate for Julie though as a dead body is found on her dad's property and her lover, bad biker boy Martinex is threatened.
Even more than in her previous efforts Lori displays a crisp and direct writing style and manages to tie up all of the plot's loose ends. There's a very satisfying amount of sex and violence while still giving us insights into Julie's damaged psyche and painful past.
This is probably the last Julie Collins mystery and I'll be missing her a lot. Good thing to know Lori has started writing a new series.

A Hard Day's Death (Spike Berenger) by Raymond Benson

As a rock reporter I always enjoy a crime novel set in the music world. With this new series Raymond Benson treats me to a setting that I would surely enjoy. The main protagonist, Spike Berenger is a PI who works for the music business. In this novel he is hired to prove that a rocker's son isn't the one who killed his dad. This father seems to be a mix of John Lennon and David Bowie with all the exes you might expect as well as a connection to some kind of cult. During his investigation Spike also encounters two gangs who seem to be modelled after Slipknot and The Ramones, playing music in the streets but also dealing drugs.
Aiding Spike are his beautiful ex-goth female partner, a Rage Against The Machine fan slash computer wizard and an ex-FBI agent.
Raymond clearly knows the music world and gets the most out of the setting without turning it into a gimmick. Spike is a likable and tough main man. The plot is surprising enough to make the mystery part satisfying. The only problem I had with the story was with the street gangs. Although an original idea it felt a bit too much like a comicbook to me.