Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Long Lost (Myron Bolitar) by Harlan Coben

I knew I loved Myron Bolitar but this novel reminded me exactly how much. Leaving the old PI-like setting behind for a more action thriller kind of plot the wisecracking agent and his wealthy psychotic sidekick Win give Jason Bourne a run for his money.
Traveling to Paris to track down the ex-husband of a former lover of his he gets involved with the French police and some very dangerous terrorists. Heaping plot twist upon plot twist and action scene upon action scene it all gets a bit too unbelievable at times but Myron is such an endearing protagonist the manages to keep you involved with the story and your disbelief suspended.
Laughs, thrills and chills... What more could a reader want really? A great read on a holiday.
I really hope Harlan Coben will have Myron reappear very soon.

Q & A with Mark Arsenault

Q: What makes Billy Povich different from other (unofficial) PI's?
Billy Povich is an everyman. He’s not physically imposing. He doesn’t carry a gun. He’s much better at taking a punch than delivering one. He can’t meet a supermodel in Chapter 3 and get her in bed by Chapter 4. The idea of taking a human life—while he has considered it—is daunting to him. In other words, he’s not a cartoon. I think it’s easier for the reader to slip into the role of the protagonist if the hero of the story feels like a real person. And I also believe that the heavily armed action hero who thinks nothing of blasting a dozen bad guys over 300 pages has become a cliché.

However, a hero must have heroic qualities, and Povich has plenty. He’s extremely tough-minded. He is dogged. He’s a risk taker. And he maintains a dark sense of humor, no matter how dangerous the circumstances. That’s why readers root for Povich. The hero’s most important job in a crime story is to get the reader on his side.

Q: How did you come up with the character of Billy Povich?
First off, I named him after my Polish grandfather, who died when I was 16.
Then I put Billy in grim circumstances—he is a newspaper obituary writer in a dying business, who lives above a funeral home and investigates murders. To balance all that darkness, I gave him the weapon of humor. Suspense and humor are opposites. When you put them together both become more intense, like colors on opposite sides of the color wheel.

Q: Lucid dreaming is a part of Gravewriter. Is it something you are interested in?
Absolutely. I’ve only been able to experience it a handful of times myself. A lucid dream can occur when you realize you are dreaming, and in that state you have some control over the dream. A lucid dream can feel as real as being awake—if you’re standing in the dream, for instance, you might notice the weight of your body on the bottom of your feet. I’ll try to condition myself for a lucid dream before I sleep by reminding myself to look at my hands. It’s just a cue. With that suggestion planted in my mind, there have been a few occasions that I’ve remembered to look at my hands during a dream, and immediately I’ve become aware.

Q: What's next for you and Billy?
I’m probably going to take a brief break from Billy Povich. I’m currently writing a stand-alone novel with different characters and less of a noir tone. Doing something different keeps me fresh. I have a vague idea for a plot for the next Povich book, and I’m hoping a little time away will allow that plot to germinate in my mind.

Q: How do you promote your books?
My promotional campaigns are a blend of old and new methods. I’ve done some traditional radio interviews and local television in Providence, Rhode Island, where the books are set. I also do conferences, such as Bouchercon and the New England Crime Bake. St. Martin’s is good about getting the books to reviewers, including reviewers who write for popular blogs. I’ve also done a blast of Web advertising, Facebook advertising, and an extensive blog tour, in which I’ve written essays for a number of excellent Internet sites. A blog tour is a tremendous amount of work, from organizing it, keeping track of the deadlines, and delivering so many original essays. But writing those essays helped organize my thoughts on the craft of writing.

Crime fiction web sites, such as this one, have become so influential in introducing readers to authors. I’m very grateful to appear here.

Q: Do you have any favourite Sons of Spade yourself?
Here’s an obscure character that I love: Sam Holt.

Holt was the creation of the great Donald E. Westlake, better known for the Dortmunder comic caper novels under his own name, and for a series of dark crime books under the pen name Richard Stark. In the mid-1980s, Westlake, by then a well-established writer, wondered if he would make it as a crime writer if he were just starting out. So he signed a deal to write under another secret pen name, Samuel Holt. The four books in the Holt series are hard-boiled with a sprinkle of humor. Sam Holt—the main character’s name as well as the pseudonym—is a former actor, too typecast to find new work. He lives a rich man’s life and keeps steady girlfriends on the East and West U.S. coasts. Then one day somebody tries to run his car off the road for no apparent reason, and a new crime-fighting hero is born.

Westlake, my favorite author, died in 2008. I deeply regret never having met him. Still, his writing continues to teach me.

Oh, I almost forgot that Westlake’s experiment writing as Samuel Holt was ruined when the publisher leaked to the bookstores that this hip, new crime fiction author was really one of the masters in disguise.

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 consider myself part of that coming generation. I’d name James Lee Burke as an influence, for writing so damn beautifully. And Carl Hiaasen, and others like him, including Westlake, who have expanded the boundaries of the genre.

Q: Russel Atwood came up with the following question: Why do you do it?
The reasons I do this continue to change. Ten years ago, I was a newspaper reporter in an old mill town in New England. I was working on a fascinating story about a group of heroin addicts who lived under a railroad bridge, when my editor suddenly killed the story. He didn’t care to read about those people. I was furious, and decided to write the story as a work of fiction. That’s why I started. As that manuscript slowly grew, I wrote because I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a crime novel. I didn’t expect to sell it, but when I did, I wrote because I had a contract for another book. Now I write because I want to better what I’ve already done. Writing is difficult, and difficult things are satisfying.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
My question: In the fictitious world of your last book, does God exist?

My answer: Yes, and He is extremely ticked off.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Judgement & Wrath (Joe Hunter) by Matt Hilton

Matt Hilton seems to be determined to be the new Lee Child. His hero Joe Hunter is every bit the action hero Mr. Reacher is. In this second outing he is hired by a wealthy man to get his daughter away from a rich wifebeater.
When he observes the girl however he has to prevent her from getting killed by a sinister hitman called Dandalion.
This second novel worked better then the first, the plot seemed to flow more naturally and the action was easier to follow.
While Dandalion was a great villain he was a bit too over the top maybe, more in James Bond territory then I like.
Hunter is a great tough guy though and I'm eagerly awaiting the third one. I do hope however that the structure where a Hunter-chapter is alternated by a chapter from the villain's point of view is not present in it.
I'm afraid this idea might get a bit stale too fast.

The Dying Hour (Jason Wade) by Rick Mofina

Rookie reporter Jason Wade gets involved with the disappearance of a young woman. He endangers his job and his life.
Jason is quite an everyman-character, making it easy to relate to him. His growth as a character is almost as important as the thrilling plot.
The forensic details are great, the plot pulse-pounding and the villains scary. The only thing that dissapointed me a bit was the lack of surprise when the bad guys were revealed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gravewriter (Billy Povich) by Mark Arsenault

Reporter and gambling addict Billy Povich owes some bad guys a lot of money. After the car crash that killed his wife he lost his job and now is writing obituaries. He has a deep need for revenge, wanting to kill the man he holds responsible for his ex-wife's death.
When he is called for jury duty he gets personally involved when his reporter instincts tell him the man on trial is innocent of murdering an escaped convict.
There's a lot that makes this a terrific read. There's Billy's bond with his son and dad, the colorful lawyer he helps out, the dark themes of the book that never get really depressing...
Billy is absolutely an original character, different enough from the PI-types we've seen before but still has enough of the archtype in him to be popular with fans of the genre.

Q & A with Russell Atwood

Q&A with RUSSELL ATWOOD, author of LOSERS LIVE LONGER, a Payton Sherwood mystery novel

Q: What makes Payton Sherwood different from other (unofficial) PIs?
A: He is a post-Singing Detective detective (referring to the British mini-series by the late-great Dennis Potter). For years people have been making fun of (often brilliantly) the traditional hardboiled private eye hero, from The Firesign Theater's Nick Danger to Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir, and currently in the new HBO series, BORED TO DEATH (to name but a few). It's gotten so bad that many PI writers avoid using what's come to be known as "Chandlerisms" in their writing for fear of being laughed at (unintentionally) and/or mocked by reviewers. So Payton Sherwood is painfully aware that in many ways he's a living-breathing pastiche. His problem is that he believes in all of that. He originally got into the PI game because he wanted to be Philp Marlowe and Sam Spade. So it's difficult for him to complain now that he has ended up as a loner and a loser, since that's basically what he wished for. On the other hand, he knows in his bones there's still something honorable in what he does and how he does it, so as cynical as he pretends to be, he at least feels his life has some meaning, whether as an avenging angel trying to set things right, or simply as a punchline in some cosmic joke.

Q: How did you come up with the character of Payton Sherwood?
A: Originally I tried writing the typical, ordinary, two-fisted PI who was the best man for the job. But because I write in the first person, all my friends laughed at me and criticized my tough guy's actions with the refrain, "You'd never do that!" So to avoid their derision, I just told the truth instead. So Payton Sherwood is very much born of my own personal experiences.

Q: What would a soundtrack for your novels sound like?
A: Traffic noise played on a scratchy LP.

Q: What's next for you and Payton?
A: That's largely dependant on the success of LOSERS LIVE LONGER, for both of us. We'd love to stay in New York City and continue to "fight the good fight," but for financial reasons we both might have to relocate elsewhere, as if the city is expelling us like some foreign object from its system. So, if you're reading this because you're a fan of the book or the detective himself, I urge you to make a difference and buy as many copies of the book as you can afford and give them away as birthday presents, Christmas gifts, or else just leave them in public places like a message in a bottle. Help to make LOSERS a WINNER.

Q: How do you promote your books?
A: With great difficulty. I have neither the time nor the resources to make a good job of it. So I try to do everything that is free (Facebook, e-mail blasts, my website, even blogsite Q&As) and mail out comp copies to anyone I feel can give the book's sales a much-needed lift.

Q: Do you have any favourite Sons of Spade yourself?
A: Yes. They are (in no particular order):
Michael Collins' Dan Fortune, Lew Archer, Tucker Coe (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)'s Mitch Tobin, Fredric Brown's Ed Hunter, Fletch, A.A. Fair (a.k.a. Erle Stanley Gardner)'s Donald Lam, the Continental Op--oh, cripes, the list goes on and on, frankly I love 'em all. However, one of the biggest influences that made this new book (Losers Live Longer) work was my devouring of the entire QUILLER series by Adam Hall. Of course, Quiller is a spy and the storylines strictly espionage, but the narrative style is straight out of Raymond Chandler. No other writer has taught me more about how to convey peril and white-knuckle suspense than Adam Hall (the pen-name of Elleston Trevor, who also wrote the classic Jimmy Stewart film FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX).

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 heard--second-hand--that a very well known and influential book critic gave a speech at a mystery-writers conference reporting that the private eye novel is dead, or at least on its last legs and wouldn't survive another generation. I believe the justification of this opinion was that crime-detection in the modern world has become far too complex an affair for a one-man operation to handle. Increasingly more and more people will start to only write about this archetypical character within some earlier historical context. It's certainly true that a "cheap" detective just can't get the job done nowadays, because so many of the necessary tools are tied into expensive technology--Internet databases, industry-specific search engines, DNA testing, etc.--all of which doesn't come cheap. So one guy standing in a shadowy doorway--out of the rain--waiting for his prey to go on the move, will be completely ineffectual, because the crooks are warm inside video-conferencing or else texting each other to get their stories straight before the detective can confront them about discrepancies in their accounts of an incident he's investigating.

I don't agree with this assessment, but I know where it's coming from and acknowledge that it's a real problem. So actually I don't know who, if anyone, will influence the coming generation, except for maybe Michael Connelly (and none of his heroes are private eyes anyway), for the simple reason that success always spawns imitators.

Q: Mike Knowles came up with the following question: What are you tired of seeing in PI fiction?
A: I have to say I'm tired of reading passages about the detective's personal life unless it bears directly on the case he or she is working. Frankly, I don't even like to hear my friends and family prattle on and on about their lives, so I have even less patience for it when I'm reading fiction. Invariably I skim those passages in a book, and yet find I'm still able to follow the storyline without feeling I've missed something (so, I ask, why put it in at all?). But that's me, I'm a murder maven, and it's probably more a reflection of my pin-hole limited scope on life than other writers' quality and purpose. My ideal detective novel is RED HARVEST, in which you never even learn the private eye's first or last name.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: Why do you do it?
I mean, for the majority of us, there's really no money in it. Nor fame for that matter (if I wanted to be world-famous, my time would be better spent by creating a 40-second YouTube video than in writing a 60,000 word novel).

And my answer to this question: I don't know.
Then again, one of the things I've learned over the years is that our motives really don't matter all that much. We tell ourselves we do things for a particular reason, but more often than not our actions thwart those goals to begin with. So basically, to preserve my sanity, I've stopped asking myself why and instead just put my head down and go on doing it. I've tried to quit a number of times, but it never takes. I guess I'm a lifer, so why fight it? However, I would still like to hear other writers' responses to this question. Maybe if I ever read one that makes sense to me, I'll adopt it as my own.