Friday, January 30, 2009

Chasing Darkness (Elvis Cole) by Robert Crais

The World’s Greatest Detective, Elvis Cole is back!
The dead body turns up of a man who was suspected of several killings. Years ago Elvis managed to prove his innocence. With the body pictures are found of the victims, giving the impression he was guilty after all. This gives Elvis a personal reason to investigate, clashing not only with several cops who hate his guts but also with the family of one of the victims.
There’s one chapter told from the perspective of the star of Demolition Angel, now a regular in the Cole-series, Starkey. Although I enjoyed it seemed a bit out of place and I’m guessing that if Robert Crais wasn’t a superstar writer and editor would’ve asked him to cut the scene. All other chapters are from Cole’s perspective, giving the novel more of the feel of the older Cole novels.
There are several plot twists and the pacing is quite okay for the most part. The ending left me a bit wanting though. It seemed to come too sudden and too easy.
So, as a final verdict: not as good as Crais can be, but still a good read.

Q & A with Russel D. McLean

Q: What makes McNee different from other (unofficial) PIs?
I think probably the fact that he is Scots helps a lot, and not in a cliched, "och aye" kind of way, but in a way I think reflects us as a nation - dogged and determined and yet weighed down with a kind of guilt that is inherent in our country's psyche.

Q: You published a lot of short stories in AHMM which I heard is pretty hard. How did you manage that?
I wish I could tell you, but honestly I don't know! I guess it was luck and perseverance more than anything. And paying attention to criticisms about my writing until it was the best I could possibly make it. But mostly it was a case of not giving up - - they rejected far more stories than they have ever accepted.

Q: What would a soundtrack to you novel sound like?
Probably a heady mix of Tom Waits, Jim White and Nick Cave with Bob Dylan and Alabama 3 thrown in for some good measure. Not exactly what you'd call a Scots soundtrack, but in terms of mood, these guys were all on the playlist while I was writing the sucker.

Q: What's next for you and McNee?
A second novel, LOST SISTER, which has already been bought by Thomas Dunne in the US and is waiting for a UK deal. While I don't like to talk too much about something until its finally complete, the plot centres on McNee's attempts to find a missing teenage girl. Of course, as we all know by now, nothing's ever that simple...

Q: How do you promote your books?
I wish I had a plan... but I try whatever works. So far its been done on instinct - - doing interviews, reviews, meeting booksellers, attending cons (the ones where the readers go) and the occasional bookstore signing etc. A good website doesn't hurt, and when its finished, should be looking very nice indeed. In the meantime, its got a nice design and all the info you need while my blog, continues to provide news and the occasional silly diversion.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
I came up reading Block's Matt Scudder series, so he counts. I came late to Ross McDonald (someone saw paralells in some of my work, so I had to seek him out) but I love the Lew Archer novels. Then we've got Easy Rawlins - Mosely is possibly one of the finest writers out there - - and And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective or Ken Bruen's brutally brilliant Jack Taylor novels. And finally, a hat tip for the future is Sean Chercover's Ray Dudgeon who, if there's any justice, is going to be around for a very long time.

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 Hammett and Chandler will remain influences; there's a reason their books endure even now. Ross McDonald, if there's any justice, will have a resurgence (and if not, then guys like me will keep discovering second hand editions). Its hard to say until someone's had a good enough run at it. Damn good writing is what influences, and clearly we're seeing Bruen as the writer other crime writers tend to read at the moment, so I'd say he's a safe bet. And Lawrence Block's Scudder books are a master class in both respecting PI conventions and turning them on their head (although he inadvertently may have created some new conventions, too, that someone else will have to shatter someday). As to the current crop, I think here are some people who have staying power, but in the end, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Q: David Levien came up with the following question: What was your first dose of the genre?
Technically, when I grew up, the first PI novels I remember reading when I was more mature (ie, sixteen or seventeen) was Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder books (I think the first one I read was A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN). But when I was much younger, I got a huge kick out of Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigator series and Anthomy Horrowitz's first three Diamond Brothers novels (THE FALCON'S MALTESERS, PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 2 and SOUTH BY SOUTHEAST - what fantastic titles!)

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
What defines a private eye (or a son of spade) for you?

For me, I think its that White Knight syndrome thing that does it every time. The private investigator of fiction should have his own moral (or amoral) agenda that he relentlessly pursues. It doesn't have to be a conventional moral agenda, but its this pursuit for their own ideal of justice that often defines an investigator for me as a reader.

Or if that's been asked:

Everyone talks about getting rid of cliches from the genre... which one would you most like to save?

To which I'd say... Probably that bottle of borboun in the drawer. I have a weakness for the alcoholic/addictive screw ups of the genre. The Matt Scudders and the Jack Taylors. Yeah, if we had to save a cliche, lets make it the booze. At least it keeps things interesting for the protagonist.

An ironic thing to want to save, of course, considering McNee has no trouble with alcohol at all!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Fourth Victim (Healy & Serpe) by Tony Spinosa

With this novel Reed Farrel Coleman shows us why he received a Shamus Award for the work under his own name. The Fourth Victim is the second novel under his pseudonym Tony Spinosa.
Healy and Serpe, the ex-cops who now own an oil business investigate the death of another ex-cop in the same business. What seems to be a simple string of robbery-related killings turns out to be something a lot more complicated.
What makes this such a wonderful novel is the sheer hardboiledness of it all. From the writing itself to the attitude of the main characters there’s a very blue collar, white-knuckled feel about it. Also, where most crime writers seem to need 400+ pages to tell their story Tony / Reed manages to give us a full-fleshed narrative with twists and turns, action and good characterization in little more than 200 pages.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Some credit where it's more than due

It seems I forgot to give an important person and site the credit it deserves. The description used in the back cover of Tough As Leather is based on a description of the character of Noah Milano by Kevin Burton Smith, head honcho of the Thrilling Detective website,

It was on that site the first Noah Milano short story appeared and the same site that introduced me to a lot of the great writers who offered the forewords in the collection.

If you like PI-fiction be sure to visit the site today, there's a great new issue online.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tough As Leather is OUT NOW

It’s finally available: TOUGH AS LEATHER – The Noah Milano Collection by Jochem Vandersteen, webmaster of

NOAH MILANO is a Los Angeles security specialist who's not afraid to get a little action in. And who has more than a few "family" problems. Because, in his case, his family is "the family."You see, he's the estranged son of a mobster and this, as his creator puts it, "creates a big deal of tension and more than a few problems." Fiercely independent, and determined to sever all ties with his past, Noah has to adjust from being a spoiled mobster son to being an independent operator with little money. Fortunately he's learned a great deal about security from his years as his dad's personal bodyguard. Perhaps in penance, he now uses these skills to earn an honest (well, relatively) living.
- As described by Kevin Burton Smith on

In this collection all of his short stories are collected in one handy volume, featuring introductions by great PI writers like: Lori B. Armstrong, Les Roberts, Robert J. Randisi, Dave White, Wayne D. Dundee, Mark Coggins, Ace Atkins and Sean Chercover.

Praise for the Noah Milano short stories:

‘’Noah Milano character rings completely true as a tough, lone-wolf private eye.’’ - Jeremiah Healy author of Turnabout and The Only Good Lawyer

“Terrific stuff.’’ - Lori G. Armstrong, author of Snowblind

'Noah Milano walks in the footsteps of the great P.I,.'s, but leaves his own tracks." - Robert J. Randisi, founder of PWA and The Shamus Award

Jochem's deep and abiding love for classic pulp fiction comes through on every page, and his stories continue the time-honored tradition of the hardboiled American PI." -Sean Chercover, author of Trigger City.

The book is available via:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Greasing the Pinata (Cape Weathers) by Tim Maleeny

Cape Weathers and his sidekick Sally are back! That means lots of witty banter, colorful characters, almost pulp-style action and a good ride.
Cape is hired to find a former senator and his son in Mexico. Not only will ha have to face the mob and Mexican thugs in his investigation but also a very bizarre almost vampire-like killer called Priest. Good thing he can count on his ninja friend Sally to save his ass.
An enjoyable adventure once again, although even more over the top than the first two novels.

Q & A with David Levien

Q: What makes Frank Behr different from other (unofficial) PIs?
He's flawed, taciturn, has a shattering event in his past that shaped him, he is reluctant to use violence, but ultimately qualified to do so and willing to beat information out of someone if he has to, and is dogged to the point of near obsession once he has his hooks into a case. These are qualities perhaps shared by some other fictional PIs. The main individualizing character marker for Behr is: he is aware of and isn't immune to the emotional residue of the crimes he encounters, and the actions he takes while trying to solve them. He knows intimately the cost of his life and career, but does what he has to anyway.

Q: What do you enjoy more, writing novels or screenplays?
Writing novels has always been a passion of mine, and a large part of what I do. Some stories are best told as movies, some best when they begin as a book and end up on film, some just as books. Writing a screenplay is creating a blueprint for a future work. While the screenwriter does need to take a reader on an emotional journey, he often indicates use of music, a sense of editing, and mainly a visual template for the way the story will ultimately be told on film. With a novel the entire experience has to be created on the page in its finished form. The reader has to be engaged, kept, taken for the ride and left satisfied. This puts a lot more pressure on the detail in the writing. On the other hand, the novelist is able to use interior monologue to get at the characters' inner voices and states of mind in a way that is not usually possible in screenplays. I suppose I more enjoy whichever one I'm not doing at the moment.

Q: How did you get published?
Several years back I got a screenwriting job on the film adaptation of "The Runaway Jury" by John Grisham. It was a project that a lot of money had been invested in and which had stalled for various reasons. The draft that me, and my screenwriting partner Brian Koppelman, wrote got the project rolling and produced. The movie turned out quite well, our script was nominated for an Edgar for best adaptation, and importantly won the favor of John Grisham. We got to know John a bit, did a television pilot of "The Street Lawyer," and began spending a lot of time with John's longtime agent David Gernert. Gernert had run Doubleday and launched Grisham's career with The Firm. When I had finished a draft of City of the Sun, I submitted it to Gernert. He told me he loved thrillers and would consider the manuscript as long as whatever results, or lack thereof, wouldn't affect our friendship. I agreed, and he became the first big fan of the book. He submitted it to various publishers, and got multiple offers, but ultimately Jason Kaufman at Doubleday was the most effusive so we landed there. They were terrifically supportive as a publishing company, and now that Random House has closed the Doubleday imprint, I will move with Jason to Knopf for publication of the sequel.

Q: What's next for you and Frank Behr?
Frank Behr will be back in Indianapolis as of Summer 2009, in WHERE THE DEAD LAY. On his way to morning jiu jitsu training, Behr discovers his friend and instructor shotgunned to death. Behr gets caught up in the pursuit of the killers, just as his old boss, police Captain Pomeroy, comes to him with the veiled promise of getting back on the force if he'll look into the disappearance of some high-end private detectives. Behr must call on his street contacts and all his skills as the search for the two detectives thrusts him into a web of crime, violence, corruption and evil. Rather than leading him away from answers in his friend's murder, Behr uncovers a possible sinister connection that places him in the path of a formidable, new type of organized crime family.

Q: How do you promote your books?
I do interviews--television, radio, print, internet--as well as readings and appearances. I'll be at the Harrogate Crime Festival in England this summer. I'll do pretty much anything, hell even ladies' teas and renaissance fairs, to make readers aware of my books as long as there is some willingness out there.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Though he's known mostly as a literary novelist, I have to say Cormac McCarthy. His crime writing, No Country For Old Men, for instance, and his understanding of human behavior, and use of the language, most recently in The Road, has taken things to a new level.

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?
Lawrence Block, who is now an old pro, for his no-nonsense style, his consistency, and his skillful writing. Michael Connelly for his veracity both in the practical sense, and in regard to character. Kem Nunn for his gravitas and sense of milieu. George Pelecanos, for being willing to go convincingly lo-fi, and who writes both great novels and great scripts ("The Wire"). And James Ellroy for his audacity and his amazing take on history and the motivations of human beings.

Q: Jeri Westerton came up with the following question: What sort of experience do you have that informs the subject you write about?
I first began following disappearance stories about 20 years ago. Countless newspaper articles true crime shows, Bill Curtis shows, John Walsh's story, investigative reports, etc. of child abductions have haunted me since then. The specific details fell away, but horrifying tragedies like these striking in seemingly bucolic settings where children and their families are unguarded, made the story of Jaime Gabriel one I had to tell.

I have a stepfather who had a very decorated career in law enforcement--he was LAPD and U.S. Secret Service--before going on to private investigation for several decades. He worked some kidnapping cases, and while there were no elements particularly similar to my book, his accounts further fueled my fascination.

Through my screenwriting career I have also spent lots of time with high-end private investigators and law enforcement ranging from DEA to ex-CIA, FBI and countless NYPD officers and detectives. These sources were invaluable in writing about Frank Behr.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
What is your writing practice? I write in the mornings, mostly on a MacBook Pro, sometimes by hand, and get a lot done on the train from my home in Connecticut on the way to my office in New York City. Fridays at my town library are very productive as well.

If that one has already been done, then:
What was your first dose of the genre? Mine was Mickey Spillanes' I The Jury. The combination of violence, sex and atmosphere blew my ten year-old mind.