Monday, February 20, 2017

Wicked Is the Whiskey (Sean McClanahan) by Tom Purcell

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Q & A with Glen Erik Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How do you promote your work?

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

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?

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

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

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

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?

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

Q: Why do you write in this genre?

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

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

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

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

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

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

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

Tell us what the novel is about.

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

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

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

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

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

Did the writing require a great deal of research?

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

What scenes did you most enjoy writing?

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

Who is your favorite among the characters in the book?

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

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

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