Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Results poll

We ran a poll in 2008 to find out which Prodigal Sons of Spade you were most eager to see return. These were the results:

41% John F. Cuddy
20% Thomas Black
16% Milan Jacovich
10% Harry James Denton
10% Nick Travers

I've been tossing around several new story ideas in my head. In the new poll you can help me decide what protagonist to go for.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Best of 2008

It is nearly the end of the year again… So it’s time to tell you what Sons of Spade thought was the best of 2008:

BEST PI NOVEL: City of the Sun by David Levien
BEST DEBUT: Paying For It by Tony Black
BEST NEW PI: Zac Hunter (in Justice For All) by Steven Hague
BEST ACTION SCENES: Snowblind by Lori Armstrong

We hope to see a lot more from these talented writers in 2009!

From Sons of Spade to all you loyal visitors of this site: happy holidays!

Cross (Jack Taylor) by Ken Bruen

Ken does it again…. He tells us a story that is as much about a man and his place in the world as a crime story. In fact, the first part of it is mostly about how Jack Taylor tries to come to grips with the failures of the past and the guilt that haunts him. Also, he is our tour guide to the ever-changing, Irish city Galway.
As the story progresses however, we also see how he tries to solve a grisly murder (a crucifixion) and encounters true evil in the form of a young girl. Jack remains utterly hardboiled but also shows his compassionate side when he learns of the medical condition of his friend Ridge.
Every page a gem in some way or another, every line one to reminder, full of great quotes and a fantastic sense of place and atmosphere Ken Bruen again shows us why his work created all the buzz in the hardboiled community.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A new Noah Milano short story!

A new Noah Milano short story by your humble host of this site went online on http://www.powderburnflash.com/
Check it out if you love your PI short stories!

Q & A with Jeri Westerson

This time we interview Jeri Westerson, author of the medieval noir Veil of Lies.
Q: What makes Crispin different from other (unofficial) PIs?
Actually, he is official. I believe he is the first medieval private eye, specifically set up as a private detective, but calling himself the Tracker. He is also of the hard-boiled variety—definitely a son of Spade, since he is based on Sam Spade. That's why I styled my medieval mystery series as "medieval noir." He's a disgraced knight, exiled from court and all he has ever known. He restyles himself as a private detective, using his wiles and fighting skills to solve crimes and to follow his knightly code even though he can no longer be called a knight. It his his self-imposed penance to do this work on the mean streets of 14th century London.

Q: Why the medieval setting?
My interest has always been in the Middle Ages. I grew up in a household that revered history, particularly English history and that is the bent my imagination naturally took. We tend to think of the medieval period—well, any historical period, really—as somewhat romantic and exotic. A little distance by time can make a great deal of difference. It was a colorful period of raw power asserting itself; of sharply delineated levels of society; the costumes, the pageantry. But it is easy to be drawn in by the romance of it all and forget the harsh realities. I like to bring that back into focus for my novels, the dark grittiness of the era, with a little less focus on the pageantry and a little more on the middle and lower classes.

Q: How did you get published?
The old-fashioned way: through hard work and perseverance! I started out writing historical fiction. But it's a very tough market to crack and after writing my various novels for about ten years I was getting nowhere fast. Then a former agent suggested I switch to medieval mystery, as mystery/crime fiction was a bigger market. Once I changed gears and got involved in the mystery community, things started to turn around. But I didn't have any interest in writing the traditional medieval mystery. I wanted my own twist on the genre and chose to go darker and edgier. I wanted to cross-pollinate my interest in medieval history with my love of hard-boiled detective fiction, and it was then that "medieval noir" was born. But all told, it took me fourteen years to get published. I am the poster child for perseverance!

Q: What's next for you and Crispin?
Crispin returns in the Fall of 2009 in Serpent in the Thorns. The legendary Crown of Thorns is brought to England as a peace offering...or is it instead a French assassination plot against England's King Richard II? When Crispin becomes the prime suspect, he must find the true assassin before he falls prey to the king's justice.

Q: How do you promote your books?
I started with a website (www.JeriWesterson.com) and my blog "Getting Medieval" (www.jeriwesterson.typepad.com) which is a magazine of history, mystery, and rants and drabbles. Then I go to fan conventions like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime and get myself onto panels. I give library talks and talks to gatherings as well as booksignings in bookstores. I'm happy to go just about anywhere to talk about the Middle Ages and my book. My book launch was a fabulous show with a couple of medieval knights sword-fighting on the sidewalks of Pasadena, with food, champagne, and medieval music. I don't guarantee that at every appearance, but I do bring my display of medieval weapons and helm.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Crispin Guest, of course. And I was quite fond of Brother Cadfael, the first medieval sleuth, though he was an amateur sleuth, not a pro.

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?
Graphic novels are already influencing the culture through movies and video games. A lot of it seems to be going darker, so I'm on the crest with that one. I really like graphic novels and Japanese Manga. The illustrations are fabulous, whether realistic or stylized. I was a graphic artist for many years before I turned to writing novels, and I have a great appreciation for interesting renderings that tell a story (and I grew up loving comic books like Spider-Man and Creep Show. I wish I still had those!) Steampunk, too, is graphically interesting and has the flexibility to go dark or light.

Q: Steven Hague came up with the following question: If you had to choose to write in a genre other than crime, which one would it be and why?
Historical novels. But even though I never considered writing crime five years ago, I'm really enjoying it now. I get to indulge in playing with the various sharp weapons I am fond of (I own a broadsword and a few daggers), and I had never written a series before. To get the chance to revisit these characters again and again and delve deeper into their lives has been most interesting and a lot of fun.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
What sort of experience do you have that informs the subject you write about?

Well! I wanted the experience of stabbing with my dagger and using the sword on a body, but since volunteers are few for these endeavors, I utilized my local Costco (warehouse store chain) and bought myself the biggest slab of meat I could find. I nailed the sucker to the post of my son's swing set (when he wasn't home, of course) and indulged in a little backyard CSI. Hoping the neighbors weren't peering out their windows, I got my firsthand experience with getting medieval on someone. And it was great fun. And the body was easy to dispose of. We ate him!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

City of the Sun (Frank Behr) by David Levien

I read this one in two days. It was that good, I just couldn't put it down. In very direct prose David Levien (screenwriter of movies like Rounders) tells the story about Paul and his wife whose son is missing and of ex-cop Frank Behr. The plot doesn't offer any real surprises or isn't very original. After all we've read many PI-tales about missing children and seen many tough, divorced ex-cops with traumatized pasts like Frank Behr.
However, the pain of losing a child is described incredibly well without overdoing the drama. Read it and you will soon enough feel with Paul and his wife, the emotions and situations feeling very real.
Frank may not be an original but the spare prose of David really brings him alive.
The strength of this novel is in the characters and the hardboiled writing style.
If David would bring this one to the screen however I'm sure it would give movie-versions of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone a run for its money.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bad to the Bone (Casey Jones) by Katy Munger

I managed to pick up this book at a very low price but it was worth more. Casey Jones reads like a more hardboiled Stephanie Plum or a precursor of Lori Armstrong’s strong female lead.
When she gets involved in a child custody case where the father allegedly abducted the kid her ex-husband also gets involved and someone turns up dead.
With the help of a handsome cop, her PI-partner and her own stubborn attitude Casey manages to find the killer, sleep around, drink, smoke and serve up some fantastic oneliners. While there is a lot to laugh during the novel it can at times get pretty dark as well, making this a very entertaining ride.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Q & A with Arlene Hunt

We had the pleasure of doing an interview with Irish writer Arlene Hunt.

Q: What makes Sarah and John different from other (unofficial) PIs?
I suppose it's because neither of them are mavericks or even particularly good at what they do. But they have tenacity and they have heart and if you pare back John's insouciance and Sarah's hard front you find yourself dealing with two flawed yet ultimately decent people who are trying to make a difference.

Q: What are the biggest differences of having a PI story set in Ireland as opposed to where the genre originated, the USA?
We have a different class of criminal and law enforcement and a tighter scope with regard to geography. Also because Ireland is quite small, it's entirely feasible that people unconnected might know someone who knows somebody else.

Q: How did you get published?
I wrote my first novel and was lucky enough to gain an agent from it- although not a publishing house. But with my second book I joined Hachette.

Q: What’s next for you and Quick Investigations?
The book I am currently working on is a stand alone called Blood MOney about the illegal trade in body organs. What's next for John and Sarah and Quick? I cannot say at the moment, but there will have to be some soul searching for both of my detectives.

Q: How do you promote your books?
I have my own website and when ever a book is launched I do the usual round of promotions and signings.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.

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 believe the reality based gritty realism of David Simon ( the wire) will have a huge influence in future books. I think we're moving away from a stylised form of novel and entering into a visceral and ultimately more tangibly violent era.

Q: Steven Hague came up with the following question: If you had to choose to write in a genre other than crime, which one would it be and why?Romantic fiction- but with a high body count.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
When faced with opening an closing your office one hundred time a day, should you A) put in a cat flap, or B) Leave the buggers outside.
Answer, B.

Prodigal Sons: Alex Rasmussen (by David Daniel)

We tracked down David Daniel to get to know if there's a chance we'll be seeing Alex Rasmussen again any time soon. He answered this:

''Many thanks for your "missing persons" inquiry about Alex Rasmussen. Briefly, I've got three additional AR novels in development:

The Croak Factor, about a sinister killer who has taken several victims one rainy spring in Lowell, MA, and Rasmussen joins forces with the police to hunt him.

Chin Music, about a professional baseball player accused by one of Rasmussen's friends of raping her.

Rounded with a Sleep, in which an again stage actress is convinced she is being stalked and hires Rasmussen to investigate.

At the moment, however, my publisher (St. Martin's Press) is more interested in a more mainstream mystery/psychological thriller that I've got in progress, Dragonfly Summer. So, bottom line, Rasmussen in on an extended unpaid vacation. If you know of any publishing houses looking for new books, let me know.''

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 – www.stevenhague.com - 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.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pretty Girl Gone (Mac McKenzie) by David Housewright

Rushmore McKenzie always strikes me as Spenser if he were a real person. By that I mean he can be witty, he can be tough and take on the bad guys but without turning into a superhero. Sure, he might take a bullet wound with a bit more ease than your average joe, but his character keeps being believable, even if he is a rich ex-cop doing favours for friends (a premise perhaps less believable). Also, while he loves his girlfriend, in this novel he is unfaithful to her, sleeping with a pretty sheriff. Not nice, but human.
Bringing him to this sheriff is a favour he’s doing for an old flame who’s married to a governor. She’s being blackmailed by an unknown party that says her husband killed his girlfriend many years ago. Mac sets out to investigate this in the small town called Victoria. There he delves into the victim’s past, stumbling on meth-cookers. While several people try to keep him from finding out the truth, McKenzie perseveres and uncovers several shocking truths.
Very readable, a good mystery with a satisfying amount of action and drama.

Q & A with Raymond Benson

This time our Q & A is with the author of the new Spike Berenger series, Raymond Benson.

Q: What makes Spike Berenger different from other PIs?
He works in the world of rock 'n' roll... he's a rock 'n' roll musician himself... and he's a former military CID officer who's now a music geek. He runs a music business security firm, but hires himself out on the side as a PI for the rock stars. He has not one sidekick, but rather a whole team that supports him and his activities. He's a walking trivia book on rock music and has a wry sense of humor.

Q: Why did you set your series in the music business?
Because I love music! I'm a musician myself (I play piano two nights a week in a bar) and I'm very knowledgeable about rock, having grown up with it. I was in front of the TV when the Beatles first played Ed Sullivan. I also thought it might be a good idea because it hadn't been done. It gave me an opportunity to create a series with funny titles based on popular rock albums-- "A Hard Day's Death", "Dark Side of the Morgue"...

Q: How did you get published?
I'm the author of twenty published books and have been at it a while. I may not be a NY Times Best-seller name, but I'm fairly well known in the publishing industry. I was the official author of the James Bond novels between 1996-2002. So, my agent usually doesn't have a problem getting publishers to look at any new material I write. Granted, I don't always sell my stuff-- like any writer!-- but I'm something of a veteran at this.

Q: What’s next for you and Spike?
The second book, "Dark Side of the Morgue", comes out in March 2009. I'm sure there will be a third book, but I don't know what it is yet. In the meantime, an anthology of some of my James Bond novels will be out in October 2008, entitled "The Union Trilogy." My novelization of the popular videogame "Metal Gear Solid" came out last May and I'm currently working on the sequel to that. There's always something in the works!

Q: How do you promote your books?
Not as well as I'd like! Authors these days have to do everything they can to promote their books, because publishers rarely do anything. A personal websites, MySpace, Facebook-- these are all good tools. Personal appearances, speaking in public, attending writers' conferences-- they help. Sending out press releases, postcards to bookstores-- you name it, I've tried it.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
I'm a fan of Michael Connelly's work. My favorite living author is Ruth Rendell. She has a long-running series since the 60s featuring Inspector Wexford (not a PI but a police detective). There are plenty of others.

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?
I imagine Connelly will. He's made quite a career for himself and is very well respected not only by readers but by his peers.

Q: Reed Farell Coleman came up with the following question: Faced with telling the truth or producing a just result, which should the PI choose?
I think that depends on the PI's character. There are some PI's who might feel a moral obligation to tell the truth no matter what. Others are a little more hard-boiled in their life outlook and merely want a just result.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Would you want to be a PI yourself?
My answer: No. Absolutely not! :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Head Games (Mike Garrity) by Thomas B. Cavanagh

Mike Garrity has one thing all other private eyes don't have... A tumor in his head calle Bob. Furthermore he's a divorced ex-cop with a big sense of justice. Yep, it's what we all love in a PI with a nice twist.
Mike wants to leave some money for his daughter and make her proud of him before he dies. He gets a chance at both when he is hired to track down a missing member of a boyband. Taking on the side-effects of his tumor as well as the mob we are offered a moving tale that never gets sentimental and a very real and likable protagonist.
I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes the Shamus Award winner this year!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Q & A with Reed Farrel Coleman

Today we offer a Q & A with the talented author of the Moe Prager (and other) series, Reed Farrel Coleman.
Q: What makes Moe Prager different from other PIs?
A: I realized that I was fairly bored with reading retreads and imitations of Spade, the Continental Op, and Marlowe. I felt that no matter how well I might be able to do it, my version of the Christian-white guy-wisecracking-alcoholic-gun happy-quick fisted-loner would only be another iteration of what had been done as well as it could be done. So in creating Moe I decided to take all the cliches, conceits, and conventions of the PI genre and turn them on their ear. I didn’t want to destroy them, just play with them. So yes, Moe is white, but Jewish. Yes, Moe is an ex NYPD cop, but not a detective. He was just in uniform and he wasn’t very distinguished at the job. Yes, Moe was hurt on the job, but not in the line of fire. He slipped on a piece of paper and ruined his knee. Yes, Moe is haunted, but not by anything he did on the job. He is haunted by something he’s done after retirement. And what haunts him is an act of ommission, not commission. Moe drinks, but he’s no drunk. He’s happily—for the most part—married, has a family, a steady source of income, a mortgage and a car payment. The trick for me was to still produce entertaining books in spite of going against the tide of cliches.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
A: I am hesitant to criticize my colleagues for choosing to employ what I call the psycho ex machina in their books. The psycho sidekicks have been used to great effect by Walter Mosley, Lawrence Block in the Scudder novels, and many other PI writers. For me, however, it spoils the opportunity for the PI to confront great moral dilemmas. If the PI can simply turn to an already lost soul to do the nasty work, then what is it that the PI has to face? In many ways, PI novels are built on moral dilemmas. So distancing your protagonist from the most powerful moral taint works against that.

Q: You are of course also the writer of the Dylan Klein books as well as some under the Tony Spinosa name. What happened to Dylan and why do you continue writing under the Spinosa name?
A: I had never written any long fiction before trying the Dylan Klein series on for size. Amazingly, the very first long piece of fiction I ever wrote was published as Life Goes Sleeping, my first novel. I actually used the series to teach myself how to write crime fiction and to work through all the issues—overwriting, perspective, plotting, etc.— nascent authors must write past. I just happened to be lucky enough to be published while I was teaching myself. You can actually see my growth as a writer and the development of my skills during the course of the three books. What happened was the series ran out of steam and I felt a need to move on, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Dylan. So much so, my son is named Dylan!

I came up with the invention of Tony Spinosa(Hose Monkey, The Fourth Victim) because I was at the end of my contract with Viking/Plume and I didn’t know if they would renew me. But I needed to write and I wasn’t willing to sit on my hands and wait to see what their decision would be. So I invented Tony and wrote under his name. His books are different from mine and I enjoy writing in third as opposed to first person. It helps me grow as a writer.

Q: How did you get published?
A: I wonder that myself sometimes. I did it in a way that would not be possible in the States any longer. I had no agent, wrote no query letters, and broke every rule. I simply mass mailed two thirds of the manuscript to every publisher in New York. And as I always say to my writing students: One yes is worth all the nos.

Q: What’s next for you and Moe?
A: Moe is kind of on hiatus now. I needed to change the series if it was to keep me interested and for me to move ahead. And if you read the fifth Moe book, Empty Ever After, you’ll see that I moved the series up just prior to September 11th, 2001. Moe’s older now and his life has taken a radical change. I’m done with the overriding story arc of the first several books and want to explore Moe as an older man, closer to my own age(52). I want to see what Moe can do with the future instead of the past. Can he, I wonder, move on? I’m now negotiating for new books with Bleak House.

Q: How do you promote your books?A: I do most of the traditional things: tour, post cards, conventions, guest blog, etc. But I’ve also begun to do some non-traditional things. This coming November, for instance, I am booked at three large Jewish book fairs. My publisher for the Tony Spinosa books is trying to book me with trucking associations(Tony’s protagonist Joe Serpe drives a truck). I teach writing at Hofstra University(founded by a Dutch family, by the way) in the summer and am trying to develop a summer mystery conference. I try to do as many writing related activities as possible because name recognition helps with sales.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
A: As I mentioned, I love Block’s Scudder books. I too love Peter Spiegelman’s John March. I love Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor. I adore SJ Rozan’s Bill and Lydia books. Frankly, I’m a sucker for PIs.

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?
A: Tough, tough question. I don’t think that’s a knowable thing because you can’t look at the current slate of PI writers, even the biggest names, and know. It’s like the old argument about the lasting impact of the Beatles vs the Beach Boys vs The Rolling Stones. Oddly enough, it’s the Who and the Kinks most later bands point to. I hope my work has some influence. I think Ken Bruen’s has a chance to make an impact. Maybe Daniel Woodrell. I think you can already see the effect of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher on various sub-genres. The concept of serial stand-alones is genius. Sorry, I know that’s kind of amorphous.

Q: Christopher G. Moore came up with the following question: “When does an author of a PI series decide to bring a series to a final end?”
A: That one’s easy for me because I’ve been there. When I have nothing left to say through the words and actions of that series’ particular protagonist, it’s over. Pay me enough money, though, and I’ll bring Dylan Klein back to life faster than Lazarus!

Q: Faced with telling the truth or producing a just result, which should the PI choose?
A: A just result. The truth nearly always makes things worse.

Sanctuary (Jack Taylor) by Ken Bruen

We offer you a guest review by talented writer Tony Black...

SANCTUARY is the seventh, and possibly final, instalment in the Galway-based Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen...if this is the end, and God forbid that's true, then Jack's going out on a high.

The booze-soaked sleuth has been battered and bruised in just about Biblical proportions from book one (The Guards) and this latest outing offers no, er, sanctuary for him.

Jack is up to his neck in bad shit from just about page one, when he receives an anonymous list of 'victims' including two guards, one judge, and a nun, signed only by the mysterious, Benedictus.

Followers of the groundbreaking series will know Jack's a man who's never been overly keen on the 'finding business'; in fact, if he's interested in finding anything, it's an escape from his own misery. He seems close to doing just that at the outset of SANCTUARY -- he even has his tickets for New York in hand -- but then the case dramatically draws him in.

And what a bitch it turns out to be.

To the list of victims is added...a child.

Bruen is a master of the slow burn, adding fuel to the mounting fire of Jack's rage, until finally, the reader has scorched fingertips and the threat of spontaneous human combustion seems a real possibility.

Unputdownable is an overused catch-all these days but SANCTUARY demands the description. The relentless incident, the mounting doom and the unshakable knowledge that here is a tale told by a master storyteller -- at the peak of his form -- makes for one b'Jesus of a read.

The beauty of the prose can only be described as that of a genius. Bruen applies a finesse to his slickly-crafted sentences that's unmatched. It's a Salinger-esque trip told with the kind of insight you'd expect from an author with his own unique, cultural X-ray vision. And, in SANCTUARY, the new Ireland, in all its complexities, is never far from his field of view.

Those of you who have stayed the course throughout the bestselling Jack Taylor series are duly rewarded with the return of a host of recognisable characters -- savoury and otherwise -- that Jack has drawn around him. Jeff and Cathi. Ridge. The odious Father Malachy. And none are mere cameos. They all earn their right to be there, contributing the kind body-blows you'd expect from Bruen. But be warned, the revelation about Serna May is a particularly lethal hurley smack to the nut.

If SANCTUARY spells the end for Jack, he has earned his rest. But for those who don't want to believe it's so, Bruen leaves a tantalising prospect in the final few lines...which I won't reveal here. All I will say is, let's pray Jack's back...and soon.

Tony Black's PAYING FOR IT is out now. The nice folk at Crimespree said: "I’d put him up there with Rankin and Kernick and Billingham with just this first novel." Visit his site at: www.tonyblack.net

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Q & A with Christopher G. Moore

Q: What makes Vincent Calvino different from other PIs?
The cultural and political dimensions of the Calvino series. Vincent Calvino is an investigator living in Thailand. He’s an outsider. And through his eyes the day-to-day realities of a non-Western legal system unfolds. It is one thing to take a holiday to an exotic place; it is another to investigate murder and other crimes in a foreign land and in a foreign language. You might think you understand the crime, but you need to find the local language to express the consequences of what follows, how the players are exposed, caught, tried (or not), and what that means emotionally for those caught up in the system. The series has been published since 1992 and in the nine novels to date, the reader finds a chronicle of fairness, justice, and transparency in Southeast Asia.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
“Psycho” and “sidekicks” are clichés. Any novel peppered with stand in characters that are “types” or “categories” should come with illustrations. Hopefully we haven’t passed beyond the minimal expectation that a novel contains an attempt at originality of character, story and plot.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
I only need open a local newspaper, walk out the door, and I live in Bangkok, a city of 12 million people. I need a wall around me to keep from being buried in research. It helps if an author is receptive, then the inspiration and information, like water, finds a way to seep through. Call it research; call it paying attention to what is closely observed. The contemporary ambiance is tapped out in many places or is so derivative, a recycling of other similar locations so the story becomes indistinguishable from any other book. The most essential research is finding a country and city rich in history, intrigue, and culture that has not served as a platform for a private eye series. Years ago, an agent in New York came to me with a suggestion for Spirit House. Why not change Bangkok to Boston, a publisher had suggested. And I wrote back (pre-Internet days) and leave everything else the same?

How did you get published?
An agent submitted my first novel His Lordship’s Arsenal to a New York publisher on a Friday in 1985. On Monday, he phoned to say it had been sold. Nothing since has ever been that easy or straightforward since.

Q: What’s next for you and Vincent?
The 10th novel titled Paying Back Jack in the Vincent Calvino series comes out next year. My publisher Atlantic Monthly Press (US) and Atlantic books (UK) will have it out in Autumn 2009. Meanwhile, there is a film option on the Calvino series. Keanu Reeves is slated to star as Vincent Calvino. The schedule calls for the shooting to begin in 2009. Whether the complicated structure that organically must first come together actually occurs is another question altogether.

Q: How do you promote your books?
The last promotion was a deal between Grove/Atlantic and Amazon. Spirit House was offered as a free download for two weeks. Thanks to the Internet, living in Thailand, is not longer a problem. Between email and Skype giving an interview the distance is no longer relevant. Critics and reviewers are never more than a few strokes on the keyboard away. I also occasionally blog: http://www.cgmoore.com/blog/index.asp

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?A few books that I like might fit the bill: Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Paul Theroux’s Saint Jack, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, Paco Ignacio Taibo’s The Shadow of The Shadow, Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, and Georges Simenon’s Dirty Snow.

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 jazz musician might be influenced by Charlie Parker or Miles Davies. But ultimately when he climbs on stage, the audience wants to hear him play. Not Bird or Miles Davies. The same idea applies to novels and novelists and their relationship with readers. Readers want to hear your voice as the writer, otherwise they’d buy and read Hammett, Chandler and the others. Writers, as a group, are more likely to be influenced by drugs or alcohol than other writers. And basically such influences are never good for a long career in music or literature. A writer’s must discover his/her own voice. That’s the instrument, and until it’s found no amount of other influences will be sufficient to fill the void.

Q: Tony Black came up with the following question: 'Does film influence your work?'
I watch films to understand the structure. I like noir such as In Bruges (a brilliant film) and more mainstream movies as the Crash, Babel, The Mexican, 28 Days, 12 Monkeys, and The Cooler. So far I’ve resisted using a number in the title of my books.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
(‘When does an author of PI series decide to bring the series to a final end?) The Calvino series will end when I feel I no longer have anything original to contribute to the ongoing debate about the direction (and speed) of change in the political, cultural and social institutions found in South East Asia. So far it is a bumpy, unpaved road. One day, like everywhere else, it will be a modern expressway. Meanwhile, Calvino continues to take cases from those falling into the uncovered manholes.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Speak of the Devil (Fitz Malone) by Richard Hawke

I thought this one was going to be a new favourite… I was wrong. Fitz Malone, son of a former police commissioner steps in to fight a shooter during the Thanksgiving Parade. It draws him into the police investigation of a blackmailing mastermind called The Nightmare.
Fitz never came alive much to me and neither did his girlfriend. His psycho sidekick Jingles gets some nice lines but seems to pop up out of nowhere and disappears in the same way. The plot was a bit too much James Patterson for me and although Fitz is a PI his working for the police made him too much of a cop to really make use of his profession.
Luckily the surprises and twists in the ending make up for a lot of my qualms, but still it left me disappointed. Hope the next one is better.

Dirty South (Nick Travers) by Ace Atkins

I am really sorry Ace Atkins has not been giving us new stories featuring blues historian Nick Travers. This last novel in the series is a good example why. The atmosphere is fantastic and Nick a tough but very human kind of character. The feeling of the novel is very ‘modern’ while it still has that good old hardboiled flavour we all love.
Both the blues world and the rap world are described very vividly as Nick tries to help out an old friend, now rap producer who owes a dangerous man a lot of money. Too bad his newest, 15-year old star (a fantastic character!) was just conned out of a lot of cash himself. People get killed, Nick’s life is threatened, shady characters show up and mysteries are solved. Great stuff!
As good as Ace’s newest more literate novels might be I still hope he’ll be returning to Nick soon.

The Last Striptease (Joe Kozmarski) by Michael Wiley

Michael serves up some classic PI-fiction in this one! Joe Kozmarski is one of those alcoholic ex-cops with a past to make up for. He’s enlisted by a judge who wants him to prove his assistant is innocent of murdering a Vietnamese girl. Apparently she used to be kind of a wild child but that’s nothing compared to her trigger-happy brothers with who Joe tangles along the way. On the personal side he has a nephew to take care off, an ex-wife to get together with and his feelings for a female cop to deal with.
What makes this book a winner is not the fairly standard plot or characters but the fantastic pacing. At 245 pages, not too many subplots or characters and plenty of action you’ll be sure to be reading it in one go. The ending satisfies and still makes you want to read the next book.
With so many 500+ page books with an endless number of plots and way too many characters these days I loved reading something like this. All in all a solid debut, which earned it a Shamus nomination!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Paying For It (Gus Dury) by Tony Black

I've met nicer guys than Gus Dury in PI-books, but not often more lifelike ones. Ex-reporter Gus Dury went to find comfort in the bottle when he lost his job. During the novel he doesn't exactly fight with alcoholism but tries to function while being drunk. He is asked by a friend to look into the murder of this friend's son. Along the way he confronts an over the top gangster, a true femme fatale and other unsavory characters. The setting of Edinburgh is used to great effect but never overdone so no worries that it will read like a traveling guide!
A cross between early Pelecanos, Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor novels and Ian Rankin this makes for fantastic reading. What made me really enjoy the book were the pop culture references and quotes that seemed to pop up on every page, making every single page interesting to read. Guys truly comes alive in the narrative, making you sometimes root for, sometimes pity him.
We already may have Sons of Spade's Favorite Novel of 2008 here!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Q & A with Tony Black

Q: What makes Gus Dury different from other PIs?
A: Gus Dury isn't a PI as such, he's more of a down-on-his-luck hack who has fallen into the role, but he has a lot in common with the great Hardboiled heroes, he's a drinker and a brawler for a start and his personal life is hell.
With Gus being such a damaged man I had to show more of his emotional side that you normally see with PIs, hopefully explaining why he's so screwed up and spends most of his time wailing like a nut-house on meds night.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
A:I think it has to be used very carefully if it's not to be a blatant device. I gave Gus two sidekicks -- an ex-con called Mac the Knife and an old school friend called Hod. The pair kind of balance each other out and share the sidekick role between them, but I had to be careful not to have them behave like the old 'devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other' . . . all characters have to be lifelike in their own right to earn their space in a book and be effective.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
A: I liked what Spillane said about research: 'I don't research anything. If I need something, I'll invent it.'
I'd love to be that relaxed but I have to know what I'm writing about is actually accurate; it's probably a hang-up from being a hack for ten years. I don't go overboard though, too much research, like too much planning, and you're in danger of leaving the fight in the gym.

Q: What would be the soundtrack to your first novel?
A: Gus is about as far from the detective with a taste for jazz as you can get -- can't see him opting for any music that has a beret as required dress code! So it would have to be something he'd listen to, like punk.
The Sex Pistols would work, and there's a great Aussie punk outfit called Frenzal Rhomb -- Gus actually bigs them up in PAYING FOR IT, they have a song called 'Russell Crowe's Band' which takes an even bigger swipe at Crowe that South Park's 'Fighting Round the World'.

Q: What’s next for you and Gus?
A: The next one is called GUTTED and kicks off with Gus turning up a fresh corpse in Edinburgh. It's another delve into the 'genteel' city that the tourists never see. There's a vicious dog-fighting ring that seems to be tearing itself apart after the jailing of their guvnor, but as Gus finds out that's just the surface of what's really going on. A family that wants revenge for a child's death, bent coppers, and gang deals gone wrong have him fighting for his sanity and his life.

Q: How do you promote your books?
A: All the usual ways . . . but I've also hired a team of 1,000 Swedish 'body artistes' who will spell out PAYING FOR IT with their naked forms in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens on launch day, July 17.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
A: Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor is the one that always comes alive for me. I grew up in Bruen's Galway -- I actually went to the same school as the man himself -- and every time I pick up a Jack Taylor book it's like I'm back in my old home town. Bruen is an out-and-out genius and Jack is one of his greatest creations.
And Andrew Vachss's Burke series consistently blows me away. Vachss's made that whole urban family vibe his own. He's a fantastic stylist too, one of the all-time greats. The series remains so fresh that's it's incredible to think that TERMINAL was book number seventeen.
Another one I'm massively impressed by is Ray Banks's Cal Innes. I only recently came to Banks's work but I'm bloody glad I did, NO MORE HEROES is one of my books of the year. I'll be hanging out for the next from Banks, which I believe is called BEAST OF BURDEN.
I'm also a big fan of Martyn Waites's Joe Donovan series, which although not strictly a PI series, is well-worth a mention. Waites is another brilliant stylist, I love his lean prose. What I always take away from his books though is the depth he gives to his subject matter; he's a writer who cares about the issues he takes on. Nothing is faked. Look at his latest WHITE RIOT -- the man's a class act.

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: We're already seeing Bruen's influence on a whole new generation of crime writers and I'm sure that will continue. Bruen has created such brilliant characters, with such fascinating interior lives, that he's almost reinvented the way we think of the form. When I talk to new writers now it's always Bruen they namecheck and I'm sure he'll have a knock-on effect well into the future.
Andrew Vachss is another writer who has already had a huge influence. His style, the darkness of his subject matter, the sheer economy of his storytelling is all incredible. A stand-out writer of his generation who will be read for generations to come.

Q: Michael Wiley came up with the following question: Where can I get a copy of your books?
A: In the UK at Waterstone's, Borders, Blackwells -- all the main stores. And, of course, for all of you living elsewhere, there's Amazon.co.uk.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: 'Does film influence your work?'
Big time. Things like China Town, L.A. Confidential, Michael Mann's Heat, and all the Tarantino stuff like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Killing Zoe have influenced me over the years.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Now & Then (Spenser) by Robert B. Parker

Spenser is back… And he’s brought the rest of the gang with him! Chollo, Vinnie and Hawk all show up to help him out, not to mention most of the contacts in all sorts of agencies.

When he’s hired to find out if a woman is cheating on her FBI-husband she turns up dead. Of course Spenser gets involved, especially because he identifies with the husband since he’s reminded of the time his lover Susan was with another man. This personal stake makes the novel a bit more interesting and personal than most novels. Also, Spenser investigates why and if he and Susan should get married.

It’s like Parker managed to get the emotional feel of the recent Jesse Stone novels and insert them into another wisecrack- and action packed instalment of the Spenser series, giving us a satisfying read.

I’ve been a Spenser fan for about 15 years now and novels like these will make sure I can stay one.

Saturday's Child (Cal Innes) by Ray Banks

Ray Banks brings us cricketbat-wielding loser unlicensed UK-based PI Cal Innes in his first full-length novel. Cal is an ex-con who takes on a job for a notorious gangster. The job is first described as tracking down a runaway, thieving casino dealer but the case turns out to be not exactly the same as the first impression was.

In some chapters the viewpoint alters from Cal to the gangster’s son, a very unsympathetic character. While both viewpoints are in the first person it’s easy to distinguish them because of their language. In fact, the language of the gangster’s son, Mo, made reading a bit difficult sometimes because of the dialect used. Non-UK readers might have a tougher time reading those chapters.

Like many other eyes Cal drinks way too much, takes a lot of beatings and isn’t exactly good mates with the cops. Not too much originality there, but it’s a nice, dark and violent read with colourful characters. This would make a nice Guy Ritchie movie!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Q & A with Michael Wiley

We interview the winner of the PWA best first PI novel contest Michael Wiley...

Q: What makes Joe Kozmarski different from other PIs?
He’s not so different. But I like to think he’s very good at being who he is. I’m a big fan of classic hardboiled detectives, and when I decided to write a PI novel I wanted my guy to play in that line. Joe Kozmarski is a forty-three year old Polish-American ex-cop working in present-day Chicago. He has an ex-wife and a current lover. His eleven year old nephew lives with him. He has high standards for himself and he constantly fails to live up to them. He’s a man of 2008 and a detective of the 1930s.

Difference for the sake of difference doesn’t make for an interesting character. Not that there’s anything wrong with difference. It just isn’t necessary, even in a character-driven genre like the first-person PI novel. If a PI is well written, he or she will be fresh, interesting, funny, real. That’s what I’m aiming for.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
Okay, so that’s how Joe Kozmarski is different. He doesn’t have a psycho sidekick.
Like the well-written, truly “different” PI, the well-written psycho sidekick can be a lot of fun, and I admire anyone who writes a character well. Pike in the early Elvis Cole books is hard to beat. But a psycho sidekick can become an excuse for failing to face what’s dark and troubling in a PI, and that’s no good. So I prefer the troubled and troubling PI, the one who might do something totally unexpected and hurt someone irrevocably, especially himself.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
Writing PI novels gives me a reason to research really interesting things. I get to go to gun ranges and strip clubs, churches and courthouses, all in the name of work. Best, I get to read other PI novels to see how others are doing what I like to do. Yes, I do a lot of research.

Q: Why did you choose to write about a PI?
For me, the better question is, Why doesn’t everyone write about PIs? A lot of the great stories are murder mysteries, even when we call them something else. Even Hamlet. But unlike Hamlet, the PI gets to carry a gun, deal with sexy people, and sometimes take home a paycheck. Think of what Hamlet might have been like if he’d gotten to carry a Glock. Ophelia still would have died, but she and Hamlet would have had a steamy sex scene first and she, not he, would have killed her father. Just for starters.

Q: What’s next for you and Joe?
I’m working on the second Joe Kozmarski mystery now. It’s called The Bad Kitty Lounge and it involves a dead nun with an inconvenient past and an indiscreet tattoo. It’s set a month after The Last Striptease and involves the same cast of good guys and a bunch of new bad guys.

Q: How do you promote your books?
I go on the road to independent bookstores and conventions (from Israel to Alaska with The Last Striptease). I send letters to newspapers and magazines where I have connections. I talk on the radio and TV when I can convince someone to talk with me. I e-mail friends and acquaintances, present and past. I haven’t resorted to putting on a costume or doing embarrassing stunts. Yet.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Philip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, Bill Smith, the early Elvis Cole – Anyone who does the job well.

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’ve never been good at calling horse races. But we’ve been living in a time of anxiety and so I figure the time is right for writing and reading PI novels since they register anxiety and work through it – or laugh at it – better than anything else on the pop fiction shelf. The writers I’m excited about reading in the coming generation will capture the new global fears in local ways (as Hammett did in the 1930s and beyond). They’ll be young and dark and hilarious.

Q: Martyn Waites came up with the following question: Do you think that there is still space in the PI genre for it to expand and grow, or is it just a collection of stylistic tics left over from the last century?
I figure the PI novel has a place in the world as long as we remain interested in sex and death and the possibility that an underpaid man or woman, with or without a psycho sidekick, can look at a bloody mess while blinking a little less often than most of us do.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?Where can I get a copy of your books? At your independent book seller and anywhere else fine books are sold.

For more on this author visit: http://www.michaelwileyonline.com

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Q & A with Brendan DuBois

We had a Q & A with Brendan DuBois of the Lewis Cole novels...

Q: What makes Lewis Cole different from other (unofficial) PI's?
While he’s not paid and would otherwise be considered an “amateur” PI, he’s quite professional in his dealings with law enforcement and other people he encounters along the way while investigating things mysterious. Due to his past as a research analyst with a secretive Department of Defense intelligence agency, he also has a way of sorting through fact and fiction to find out what’s going on, and also due to something that happened to him while working for the Department of Defense, he has a true thirst for justice.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
I guess it depends on one’s definition of “psycho.” Most PIs do have a sidekick with expertise in weapons and hand-to-hand combat, and Lewis is no different. His sidekick, Felix Tinios, a former mob enforcer from Boston and a security consultant, does assist Lewis here and there, and does this from affection and a sense of kinship with Lewis. I like to think that Felix is Lewis’ dark shadow, his dark brother.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
It depends on the book. For my novel BURIED DREAMS, involving the possibility of Viking artifacts being found on the coast of New Hampshire, I did research on archaeology and Viking settlements in North America. However, my latest Lewis Cole novel, PRIMARY STORM, concerns the presidential primary season in New Hampshire, and to do research for that novel just involved me growing up here.

Q: What's next for you and Lewis ?
I’m currently outlining a new Lewis Cole novel, tentatively titled BARREN COVE, about a murder taking part during an anti-nuclear power plant demonstration on the New Hampshire seacoast.

Q: Has your writing changed a lot over time?
It has, and in odd ways. I find now that my writing seems more direct, more to the point. I tend now to strip out a lot of description and scene-setting. Hopefully, that’s been an improvement. I also don’t do as much outlining as before, letting things happen in the novel by chance or happenstance, just to keep me (and the reader!) surprised.

Q: How do you promote your books?
I promote my works through my website – www.BrendanDuBois.com -- which doesn’t get updated nearly enough, by doing local signings and events, and by appearing in fine blogs like these.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Being from New Hampshire, I tend to lean towards the New England authors because I know most of them and enjoy their work, from Jeremiah Healy to Linda Barnes, Robert Parker and William Tapply, and of course, Dennis Lehane.

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?
Beats the heck out of me. I have a hard enough time keeping my own stories straight without thinking about the coming generation and what will influence them. But whatever they do, they should worry about first telling a good story. Nothing else matters.

Q: Martyn Waites came up with the following question: Do you think that there is still space in the PI genre for it to expand and grow, or is it just a collection of stylistic tics left over from the last century? Yes, there’s always room to expand and grow, and to do so in areas we can’t even imagine. That’s the joy of writing, of bringing something to life that never existed before.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
With so many PIs and so many PI series, how do you keep it fresh? My odd answer… I try to read outside of the genre as much as possible, so I don’t get into the trap of being imitative… and I also try to turn convention on its head. In my very first Lewis Cole novel, he’s best friends with a female police detective… I wanted most readers to say, a-ha, Lewis is going to have a romantic relationship with the female police detective, until I reveal early on in the book that she’s a lesbian. And through six novels, they’ve remained best of friends, without even a hint of anything possibly romantic occurring.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Head Wounds (Sam Acquillo) by Chris Knopf

Sam, ex-boxer, engineer and troubleshooter's back! After a fight with a local builder who ends up dead he's suspected of killing him. Not so surprising because the murder weapon is covered with his fingerprints. In fact, at one point you start to wonder that he may indeed be a killer and just doesn't remember anymore, caused by the head trauma he received as a boxer. Unfortunately this angle is not explored very much during the course of the story. A shame, because it was a refreshing element.
The story isn't very thrilling, but as usual Sam feels like a very real character, and the local feel is very well written. I must also admit I didn't gues 'whodunnit', making the ending surprising and satisfying.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Baby Shark (Kristin Van Dijk) by Robert Fate

Kill Bill meets VI Warshawski in this original first novel by Robert Fate. We follow Kristin Van Dijk in her journey from abused daughter of a traveling poolplayer into avenging angel. Her father is killed by a couple of thugs, she's left for dead, beaten and raped. Slowly she recovers from that trauma and learns the skills to avenge her dad aided by an Army veteran and a private eye.
The action is furious, the setting almost like a spaghetti western. Robert needs little words or pages to get the story on paper, making this an easy and thrilling read. After turning the last page I was happy to know there's a sequel on the racks and another one coming up.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Easy Innocence (Georgia Davis) by Libby Fischer Hellman

Libby introduces a new PI in this engaging novel. Georgia Davis feels like a real person, with her own doubts and faults without turning into a dark, angst-ridden alchoholic kind of character. Hired to absolve a mentally deficient sex offender of murder charges she is drawn into the world of teenage girls and prostitution.
The mystery is interesting enough, there's enough action and just the right bit of social commentary. The portrayal of the youtful society felt very real, terrible as it may be. Fans of Libby's Ellie Foreman series will be happy to see mentions of her in several pages.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of Georgia, absolutely a Daughter of Spade to be reckoned with.

Jack Wakes Up Again!

Jack Wakes Up, brainchild of podcaster and writer Seth Harwood has just been bought by Crown/Random House for a release in 2009 as a trade paperback original! Exciting news!

Q & A with Marty Waites

We speak with Martyn Waites, author of the Joe Donovan novels.

Q: What makes Joe Donovan different from other PI's?
Firstly, that he's not really defined as a PI. He's an information broker. Secondly, that he doesn't act alone. He's got the rest of Albion, his organisation, with him. But he is traditional in many senses. The over-riding arc of the series is him searching for his missing son. Along the way he takes on Jamal, a black street kid, who becomes his surrogate son. The other two Albion members are equally scared. Peta is an ex-policewoman and recovering alcoholic turned private eye. When her business goes under she joins up with Donovan bringing Amar, her partner and technical whizz kid, with her. He has his own set of problems, mainly to do with drugs. Together the four of them form a kind of dysfunctional family unit and the novels are as much about them reaching some kind of compromise with themselves and their own personal demons as much as the cases they work on.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
Well Donovan doesn't have one (unless you count Peta) so I suppose that says it all, really. I think they exist to get the hero off the hook. So that the novel can be filled with violence and death but the hero figure can be relatively untroubled by it. It's a writer having their cake and eating it, telling a moral story but squeezing in as much bloodshed and violence as possible. When they're done well - such as Walter Mosley's Mouse or James Lee Burke's Clete Purcell they can genuinely add another layer of depth, another dimension to the book. When they're used as described above, I tend to switch off.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
I write about things that make me angry, or that I want to understand more. I don't like to shy away from important issues. But I tend to do my actual research after I've written or during. I don't like it getting in the way of what I'm working on. However, having said that, I do visit locations that I'm going to be using in a book, take photos, make notes, etc. And then I'll go away and let that place settle in my imagination before it can be recreated in my novel. The recent books have included people trafficking, selling children for sex, the far right and Islamic extremists. I do talk to people if I need their specialist knowledge and I have a network of people who can get me into places I wouldn't otherwise be allowed to go. However having said all that, I still think the most important research is that of the human heart. Ultimately it's all facts and opinions. If you don't create good characters and have them behave as well rounded human beings, if you don't fearlessly examine your own emotional resonses, no amount of external research is going to save your book.

Q: You like comic books, just like I and my protagonist Noah Milano do. What makes comic books so attractive?
I grew up reading comic books. Where as some kids were schooled in the classics, I studied the holy trinity of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. I learned so much from them in terms of storytelling, visual impact, everything. In fact, at school I wanted to be a comic illustrator but I wasn't good enough. Later on I came across Will Eisner whose work I still revere, and Alan Moore who changed my mind completely about the medium. I was really lucky to be coming up when comics were really coming into their own and developing their own unique narratives and languages of communication somewhere between film and prose but taking the best bits of both and making something completely new. I love the fact that now writers and artists are proudly working in that medium and that they don't have to justify it as some kind of fine art slumming. In fact, I would love to be a comics writer. Couldn't think of anything better.

Q: Has your writing changed a lot over time?
I think it's gone through phases and even within those phases there have been phases. My first three books all featured Stephen Larkin, a burnt out investigative journalist. I look back on these as my apprenticeship where I developed my own voice, learned how to write, tell stories, create characters and hopefully make the reader laugh, cry and think. Then there was Born Under Punches and The White Room which have come to be known as the Secret Histories. These are the books I became a writer to write and I'm still inordinately proud of them. They weren't really crime novels as such, more mainstream literature utilising the tropes of crime fiction. Then came the Donovan series which is where I am now. The latest one, White Riot is the best yet, I think. I feel I've successfully managed to fuse the depth of the Secret Histories with the pace and verve of a crime novel. I'm very pleased with it.

Q: How do you promote your books?
As loudly as possible! Before I was a writer I was an actor so reading aloud in front of an audience holds no terror for me. I love doing readings and talks (God, I can talk . . .) and will do them whenever I'm asked. I've recently been doing some events with Shiela Quigley and Ken McCoy, two British writers, as well as events with Laura Wilson and Natasha Cooper. I'm also doing some stuff with Ray Banks too. I always think that if I can get an audience to come hear me, I can sell them books. It's a bit of a slow and laborious way, but I'm good at it.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Well apart from Spade himself, there's Hammett's Continental Op. I'm a big Hammett fan, same with Chandler. They were the guys who got me started. There's also Ross MacDonald who I love. I'd even go so far as to say he's a better writer than either of them. Pelecanos and Lehane came along and reinvigorated the genre, also Walter Mosley and James Lee Burke. I love Burke. I don't think he's capable of writing a dull sentence. He's the writer I want to be when I grow up. And Mosley's Little Scarlet is one of the best PI novels ever. I also have a real soft spot for Arthur Lyons' Jacob Asch. Really sad when he died recently. I've read the lot.

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 James Lee Burke will (he certainly has with me) because he's demonstrated time and time again that crime writing, and PI literature in particular, is not second rate literature. He's often criticised for writing the same novel over and over again, but god, what a novel! People used to say that about Ross Macdonald but it didn't stop him being brilliant. Burke is the same. His work is so complete, there's everything in there.

Q: Libby Hellman came up with the following question: why did you choose the PI vehicle through which to tell a crime fiction story, as opposed to a police procedural, amateur sleuth tale, or thriller?
I think it kind of chose me in a way. When my publisher asked me for a new series they gave me a shopping list of things they did and didn't want. One of the things they wanted was a detective figure but not a policeman because they thought they had been done to death. I agreed with them - I don't mind reading other people's police detectives but the thought of me researching and writing one just seemed like a recipe for boredom. But I had a bit of a problem because to my mind, with one or two noble exceptions (Ray Banks springs to mind), the PI character doesn't work in Britain because we don't have that kind of lone gunslinger mentality. So I had to make him operate as a PI in all but name. I came up with the idea of him being an information broker and although he does some of the stuff the traditional PI does, I kept the lines that he operated on deliberately vague, or I should say open, so I can use him as I see fit.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Oh god . . . Do you think that there is still space in the PI genre for it to expand and grow, or is it just a collection of stylistic tics left over from the last century? I suppose my answer would be naturally defensive. Yes, it can still grow as a genre, and I think that Joe Donovan, information broker with his dysfunctional family unit, is proof of that. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chasin' the Wind (Mad Mick Murphy) by Michael Haskins

Mad Mick Murphy is our guide to the darker side of Key West as this reporter's friend is murdered and he sets out to track down the killers. Mick is aided by his girlfriend, some Key West locals and his old friend, government spook Norm. The murder turns out to be tied to a government conspiracy, drug cartels and Cuban exiles. Good thing Mick's got a loaded Glock and a guy like Norm at his side!
This is a pretty fast and satisfying read, combining action, mystery, drama and some social commentary. All parts serve the story and it nowhere the plot speeds up too fast or goes to slow. Through it all Mick stays a believable protagonist, who's tough but human. Most of the locals didn't really come alive for me however and were just names on paper. Mick, Norm and Key West will however stay with me and will have me looking forward to the second novel in this series. A pretty solid debut.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Q & A with Michael Haskins

We interview Michael Haskins, author of Chasin' the Wind...

Q: What makes Mick Murphy different from other (unofficial) PI's?
I wanted Murphy to be a mixture of many of the characters I’ve met in Key West. Like so many people here, he came to get away (running from his past, as hinted at in the novel) but he needed to be on the water. He’s not a hero and doesn’t want to be one, but he has his beliefs and will defend them. Unlike many of today’s PI characters, Murphy won’t be superhuman in his actions. Bruce Wills will not play him in the movie, because the action is more around him than involves him. If you beat him, he’ll bleed and, if you shoot him in the head, he’ll die! Too many superheroes already, I wanted a character that represented the majority of people – a character who is trying to get on with his life, but doesn’t want to be pushed around.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
I don’t think Murphy’s ‘friend’ Norm is a psycho sidekick and I didn’t want him to be. He is a person experienced with black-bag work for the government, which gives him a different outlook on things than Murphy has, but within reality, (I hope). I think the psycho sidekick works for some, especially when used as comic relief. I am not good a comedy.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
Yes. As a reader, it bothers me when I find mistakes in story lines or facts. I do my best to research subjects, facts, locales. In my sequel, I deal more closely with drug cartels and picked the brain of a friend in military intelligence, whose job it is to chase the cartels outside the country. I spent hours listening to his stories, taking notes and he has read the manuscript, as I wrote it, chapter by chapter, and gave me corrections and suggestions and explained why something I thought was a good action was not.

Q: What do you see as your greatest strengths as a writer?
I don’t know, it isn’t as if I have much choice when it comes to writing. I think it might be that I love what I am doing and want the reader to love what they are reading. I believe in my characters, the good guys and the bad guys.

Q: How do you promote your books?
I have my website – www.michaelhaskins.net – and I’ve personally visited many bookstores in Florida, S. California, and NY. In most cases, I set up possible signings in all those locations and followed up with sending copies of the ARCs and later with copies of reviews. In Key West, I have had good radio coverage, but can’t afford to buy time in the other locations, so I am counting a lot on the store’s email list and visitors to my website.

Q: What's next for you and Mick?
I am about three chapters from finishing the sequel – Free Range Institution. It deals, as I said above, with drug cartels, corrupt politics in Key West.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
John Cuddy, Jerry Healy’s PI character. He is another down-to-earth guy, Cuddy, I mean! Just kidding, Healy’s a pretty good guy, too. I also discovered Irish writer Declan Burke’s writing and expect him to be a big hit in America when his book comes out later this year. He brings some old time grit to the genre.

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?
Wow! Now that’s a loaded question! There ain’t just one! Lehane is definitely one from today, but so is James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, Healy (again), Bob Morris, Tom Corcoran, Jim Hall, Randy White, Declan Burke, Ken Bruen – all their characters are private eyes, even if it’s not what they call themselves. As the world becomes more complicated and smaller, I think readers can relate to the characters of these authors. They can escape through them, but also, I think, readers can personally relate to, if not the character than the situation the character finds himself in and his actions. Pulp heroes were bigger than life; todays are a little more realistic (in some cases). I think today’s readers are more aware because of the 24-hour news stations, better educated than people were 50-60 years ago and looking for more realistic fiction, as strange as that may sound.

Q: John Rickards came up with the following question: What do you bring to the genre that few others have?
It’s a little early in the morning to be hit with all this! Thank God, I am on my second café con leche. Hell (can I say hell?), I think each writer brings his/her unique view of life and death and justice and all that’s right/wrong with the world, government, people to their works. If not, all the stories would be alike. When I was in my early teens, I wanted to write, live in the tropics and sail. I am now out of my teens (a few times over) and I write, live in the tropics and sail. An ex-wife pointed out to Celine that I was the only person she knows who continued working toward a dream throughout his life that didn’t make many changes. I still believe in things as I did years ago; now, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been adjustments in what I believe. But the big picture has remained the same. So, what does all this have to do with your question? I believe I bring strong beliefs to what I write. I am not a formula writer, who sits down and follows a flow chart. I spend a lot of time thinking about the story line, knowing it will take on a life of its own once I begin to pump my blood into it. I want to entertain, as well as bring opinions to my writing and they don’t have to be opinions that I believe in. Think of how much Archie Bunker did to show the world the ridiculousness of bigotry! A really well written bad guy can say a lot about his/her beliefs. I don’t know if that answers your question or not, but I got a lot off my chest!

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
I always wanted to ask James Lee Burke where he came up with his ideas. I know it’s a very popular question from the rank and file, but I wonder how honestly it is answered by writers.
My answer: For Chasin’ the Wind, the idea came when my cousin, Kevin Hart, from Boston, sent me the book, The Black Mass. It was a true account about Whitey Bulger, and Irish hood, and how he corrupted FBI Agents while ratting out the Mafia. Of course, Whitey ratted out the Italians and then took over their rackets when the feds busted them. And, the good point being, the feds new what Whitey was doing, but busting the Mafia was more important.
I got to wondering how to apply this unbelievable idea to Key West. I changed Irish bad guys with Cuban exiles and was off and running. So, I guess my ideas come from reading. I read newspapers, news magazines, watch the news and often find myself say, “what if.”