Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Forgotten Addiction (Bird) by Michael Lion

This is one dark tale...
Protagonist Bird is an information broker, not an official PI. In this book he is hired to find a missing daughter but ends up investigating her father's death.
While that in itself is not the most original plot the satisfying slow but gritty way the story is told as well as the originality of Bird's occupation and the sheer coolness of this character makes this one a great read.
Often I was reminded of Vachss' Burke novels or Lawrence Block's Scudder series. Yep, that good.
Bird is really a hardboiled detective, owing more to the Black Mask boys then Parker or Crais. The story is set in the nineties which makes sure the internet and cell phones don't spoil some of the story, so Bird has to knock on a lot of doors to find the answers he needs.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Favorite Sons of 2014

Every year I tell you all what my favorite PI reads of the year were...
Well, here are my favorites again...

BEST PI NOVEL: Wolverine Bros Freight & Storage (Conway Sax) by Steve Ulfelder
BEST DEBUT: Silent City (Pete Fernandez) by Alex Segura
BEST NEW PI: Gypsy Moran (in Wink of an Eye) by Lynn Chandler Willis
BEST ACTION SCENES: Jianghu (Randall Lee) by Charles Colyott

I also want to thank Keith Dixon and Sean Dexter for helping me bring out my own stuff again.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Skeleton Crew (Non-Fiction) by Deborah Halber

I'm not known for reviewing non-fiction but sometimes I read a book that makes such great background material / research for PI writers I make an exception. And hey, there's a blurb by PI writing star Sue Grafton on the cover.
In this book we read how amateur investigators manage to help solve crimes while surfing the web.
The author details in an engaging almost thriller-like style how citizens helped give the Trent Girl a name and solved other mysteries. The focus isn't just on the cases though, we also get to know the dedicated sleuths that dedicate their free time to these investigations.
An interesting, easy to read book that will inspire my fellow writers for sure, written by a true crime writer that Vance Custer would look up to.

Wink of An Eye (Gypsy Moran) by Lynn Chandler Willis

Michael ''Gypsy" Moran returns home to the town called Wink after a few years as a PI in Vegas. One of his sister's students' dad has killed himself... At least that's the official story. Gypsy is asked to unravel the truth about this death, an investigation that has him investigating the sheriff's department and missing female illegal immigrants.
Aside from those investigations he also has to deal with his ex-wife making life hard for him as well as his feelings for a beautiful reporter...And then there's this nasty snake.
This is the winner of this year's PWA Best First Private Eye Novel, so it has to be good, right? Right.
What this one has going for itself are a PI that is very human and fallible, but still a good professional investigator AND some pretty good character development / depth.
Lynn writes in a very convincing male voice, but manages to give it all just that bit extra with her female insights, making the female characters just that extra bit believable.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Crickett (Dev Haskell) by Mike Faricy

Here's another fun AND dark novel in this enjoyable series.
Dev Haskell spots and old flame (he seems to have had thousands) in a bar. She's called Crickett and has a kid that has him wondering if he's the dad. Crickett's sometime lover was arrested with a whole lot of drugs. Dev is asked to prove his innocense, getting into a conflict with crime lord Tubby Gustafson and his psychopathic enforcer, Bulldog.
That's where stuff gets pretty dark as our hero has to survive a very dangerous situation. A situation involving a large special kind of bubble in a very cinematic and creepy scene that is the most exciting part of the novel.
Enjoyable as always.

The Dead Never Forget (Peter Bragg) by Jack Lynch

I have to applaud Brash Books for bringing back some awesome PI novels like the Streeter-series and this one...
Korean War vet and ex-reporter Peter Bragg is hired by retired mobster Armando Barker to find out who is threatening his daughter. The investigation takes Bragg to small California desert town that seems to be at war.
This is one 100% classic hardboiled PI novel that really echoes books like Red Harvest. There is little to distinguish tough and cynical romantic Bragg from any other PI but that's part of what made this one so enjoyable. It's simply everything you want in a PI novel if you're a fan. Tough guys, hot babes, mystery, gun fights... You get the picture.
I'm already looking forward to more Bragg...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Q & A with Tom Hilpert

I was pleasantly surprised with Tom Hilpert's novel Superior Justice and decided to ask him some questions and see what makes him tick...

Q: What makes Jonah Borden  different from other hardboiled  characters?  
All of this is only from my own perspective, of course. But I love the fact that Jonah is a hard-boiled pastor. He’s a man of God, but he still has these hard-boiled instincts. Partly, that’s just who he is. But maybe some of it also came from his father, who was a policeman. The faith element means that he has to struggle with his hard-boiled side more than some of your typical sleuths. He is more complex than a simple, straightforward tough guy. I really enjoy writing that interplay and that internal conflict.

Q: I noticed Jonah is a pretty good fighter, but reading the first novel I never really learned how /where he learned to fight like that and how he got that tough. Can you explain?
Yes, it’s true that I didn’t explain that very much in the first book. A little more of that back-story actually comes in in the third book, Superior Secrets. It’s not a big deal, however. It’s a combination, as I said, of who he is, being raised by a policeman, and spending his entire childhood and youth in martial arts to temper his aggressive nature.

Q: How did you come up with the character?  
That’s actually a very complex question. And truthfully, I’m not sure that I have the complete answer. There’s something mysterious about the writing process, and in some ways Jonah just sort of appeared on the page in front of me.
I’m sure that you can tell I was influenced a little bit by Chandler, and Robert B Parker.
I will say this – Jonah’s copious coffee habit is a riff on the traditional hard-liquor consumption of traditional PI’s.
But I was also influenced by my own experience of knowing that many pastors are completely unlike the stereotypes that people have of them. I enjoy the idea of blowing up those stereotypes. And it seems to me that Jonah is a pretty real character, both in his hard-boiled nature, and in his commitment to faith. But mostly, he just showed up in my head one day.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I love e-books. 10 years ago, I couldn’t do what I’m doing with writing. And frankly, I’m a voracious reader also. The e-book revolution has made it much easier for me to acquire and read new books. I used to carry two or three books with me wherever I went – even to the doctor’s office or someplace like that. Now I carry a slim, light tablet on which I have over 500 books.
I think that publishing companies, by and large, have still not yet come to terms with what e-books mean for the industry. They seem to be stuck in the old print-book retail price-point model. It is simply ridiculous for publisher to ask $10 or more for product that costs them almost nothing. And it is criminal for them to expect to pay an author a mere dollar or two of that while they collect the rest.
Eventually, some publishers will figure it out, and the others will go out of business. I don’t know what things will look like then. But I’m thrilled to say that for now, authors like me can take advantage of the new technology, and grow an audience, and be successful.

Q: What's next for you and Jonah?
Well, in case your readers did not know, there are three published Superior Mysteries altogether: Superior Justice, Superior Storm, and Superior Secrets. I have completed the outlines of two more Jonah Borden books after those, and I’m pretty confident I will be releasing at least one new Superior Mystery sometime in 2015.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
Well, I guess I might as well puncture the bubble. Most of the authors in the world do not make a full-time living at it. Philip Craig was a college professor. William Tapley was a high school teacher until he retired; even Robert B Parker was a college professor until after his first several books had been published. Alas, writing is not yet my full-time living either. Maybe your readers can spread the word, and eventually change that situation for me. It certainly is growing already. In the meantime, in my “day job,” I am a pastor in a small town; however not on Lake Superior.
In my time off, I hang out with my family, hike, and fish.

Q: How do you promote your work? 
For now, the best way has been through free giveaways on Amazon Kindle.

 Q: What other genres besides crime do you like? 
I’m a pretty omnivorous reader. I usually read about three books at once, and finish maybe one of them each week. So I do read a lot of mystery, also some fantasy fiction; sometimes I’m in the mood for good Western, or a spy/suspense novel. I usually also read something else at the same time, like maybe a biography, or some sort of history book, and/or something spiritual.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike? 
There are times when both Parker and Crais overdo those characters – just at times, they seem a little too perfectly drawn. Even so, on the whole, I love both Hawk and Pike. In my own writing, though I am sometimes inspired by others, I don’t think you could say I’m an imitator, and so it never even occurred to me to include someone like that. It’s not because I don’t enjoy those characters, is just because those are not the stories I happen to be telling.

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?
I have no idea. I’m still reading those guys. Recently, I also started reading Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe). It’s clear to me that Parker was also influenced by Stout’s Archie Goodwin. Maybe there’s nothing new under the sun. By the way, I mention Stout because I think he is often overlooked, and he started writing not too long after Hammett.
I do think there’s a good future for well done, unique female PI’s like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, though there are host of these that don’t play nearly as well as Plum. Perhaps the future will also include some guys like Jonah Borden, who have a more complicated vulnerable, sensitive side.

Q: Why do you write in this genre? 
I think there are two main reasons. I read a lot of mysteries, and I like to write the same sorts of things that I like to read. I like to think that with Jonah Borden I have some small part to add to the genre. Second, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun to write this stuff.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hard Return (Cyril Landry) bu J. Carson Black

Cyril Landry is ex-Special Forces. He also has a wife and kid who think he's dead. In reality he's gone underground after a drama in Florida. When his daughter's boyfriend is killed by a high school shooter he tries to find out why this man suddenly shot all those kids. What he finds is the interesting culture of Insane Clown Posse fans, several old pals and enemies from his Special Forces days as well as a female deputy that was part of the drama in Florida.
This will surely appeal to fans of Lee Child / Jack Reacher. Landry is a macho guy who sleeps around and knows how to investigate a crime. What sets Landry apart from Reacher is his psychological development. Now, make no mistake I thought Landry was even more of a hardass than Reacher, but his feelings towards his past and family are investigated in a subtle but effective way. I also thought the female characters were very well written. Turns out author J. Carson Black IS female, so that might have something to do with it.
Hardboiled action fans, fear not though. This is not the work of a romantic suspense author, not even comparable to harderboiled female writers such as Slaughter or Hayder. No, this is a real, tough action and adventure story with a good mystery most fans of my blog will enjoy.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bubble Screen (Burnside) by David Chill

This is one solid series. While the stories don't stay with me for long, these books are always solid, dependable PI stories.
LA PI Burnside is hired to investigate some thefts from a warehouse. Meanwhile, he also takes on a case for a woman who got scammed by a contractor.
Burnside goes undercover to install cable, which makes for an interesting insight into that business. I was afraid the story might get a bit boring with the undercover work, but this actually was a small part of the book. There's enough plot twists and danger to keep the pacing up. Also, there's some big developments between Burnside and the love of his life and the football player background is played up in a few scenes sports fans should love.
Solid, enjoyable stuff for fans of  writers like Les Roberts, Robert Randisi, David Housewright.

Twinkle Toes (Dev Haskell) by Mike Faricy

This is the perfect way to get into the Dev Haskell series. It captures the tone of the novels perfectly and will cost you just a buck! What's not to like.
Anyway, as usual PI Dev Haskell gets into trouble due to a woman. This time it's his old love Zoe, who is kidnapped. Trying to track her down he enlists an ex-NLF player to do the heavy lifting.
The tone is funny but never goes into parody style.
Groundbreaking? No. Short, enjoyable and witty? Yes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nasty (Nate Jepson) by Bret R. Wright

Retired Navy SEAL Nate "Nasty" Jepson meets a man on the run, carrying a bag full of beef sticks. When the guy gets killed and Nate manages to get away safe with the beef things get dangerous. When his landlady gets kidnapped things get even more personal.
While he struggles to stay alive and tries to get to the bottom of things Nate Jepson also finds some time for romance.
Nate is a pretty cool and competent PI, but not the kind of superman you might expect if you read that he used to be a Navy SEAL. Sure, he can take care of himself but he also gets scared a little and is not a flawless fighter.
The book's biggest strength is also the weakness. We really get in the head of Nate as he tells the story. It's a nice voice, and I really liked the guy. In some places all his asides started to slow down the pacing a bit, though.
If the writer tightens the writing just a tad this will be a great new series.

Killer (Alex Delaware) by Jonathan Kellerman

I was really happy with this novel, one of the best of this writer in years. Where most of the last few novels seemed a bit by-the-numbers and more of an episode of Law & Order then the great mystery series this used to be this one has Mr. Kellerman returning to form.
When psychologist Alex Delaware gets involved in a custody case the losing party bears him a lot of ill will, endangering his life. When people start getting killed and an innocent child goes missing he, together with gay detective Milo Sturgis investigates.
What makes this one so great is that we see Alex do more than just investigate crimes. There's a whole plot other than him just helping out Milo. It made the story more varied and enjoyable. Also, there was a bit more action than the endless theorizing and interviewing of the last few novels.
Here's hoping Mr. Kellerman continues in this way.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Q & A with Bret R. Wright

I was excited when I learned about new PI Nate Jepson's debut in the novel "Nasty" and was happy his creator Bret R. Wright was more than willing to do an interview. So here we go...

Q: What makes Nate Jepson different from other hardboiled characters?  
Nate’s this ordinary, typical gumshoe kind of guy, but he reveals more of himself than he thinks he does.  There’s a lot of dramatic irony that goes into writing him.  I think he’s a blend of what a typical American is these days. He’s kind of conservative in a lot of ways, but then he’s surprisingly open-minded and matter-of-fact, too.  So, on the one hand, you have this ex-military bad-ass who can shoot straight and has no problems or hang-ups with bringing the hurt to the bad-guys, while on the other he may flip a $50 spot to a prostitute and tell her to go have a nice meal and take a load off for a bit. He understands that you have to meet people where they are, not where you want them to be.  He has a wry sense of humor that comes out as he watches the world, and that gives him an approachable air.  He’s just this guy you want to have a beer with and listen to.  I hope so, anyway.

Q: How did you come up with the character?  
That’s an easy one.  I was reading the other characters out there, and while I like and respect them, I found that I kept filling in blanks I wished were there. Does that make sense?  The popular PI’s out there right now are great, but they aren’t what I would write, so I decided to write the PI I wanted. One Ignatius Jepson was the result.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
First and foremost, I am a solid binding-glue and paper guy, beyond that, however, I really do love the eBooks. You can carry an entire library with you. From an author’s perspective, since eBook versions tend to be cheaper than paperbacks, the sales seem to be increasing in the electronic versions, and that’s always good.  Being a literacy advocate, anything that gets people reading is just fine with me.  

Q: What's next for you and Nate?
There are at least two more Nasty books coming, but I’d like to see the series go on from there, as he’s got a lot to talk about and a lot to work through.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
I’m a freelance writer for a local indy paper, and I’m a teacher. I teach middle school Social Studies and English. When I’m not writing, or working, I’m generally spending time with my family. I like to play bass, and I fish. I enjoy cooking, and spending time exploring all the interesting local establishments and sites where I live.  I split my time between Colorado Springs and Santa Fe, and between the two there is always something new in the offing.

Q: How do you promote your work? 
I do a little blogging, post on book promotion sites, do the whole social network thing, and book signings.  I’ve taught classes at the local writers conference off and on for years, as well. Now I have a novel to lean on as far as establishing my bonafides, as well as the time I spent as an on-line e-zine publisher, editor, short story author, and freelance writer.  My character, Nasty, has his own page on Facebook, where he posts about the things he’s doing on an every day basis, plus drops a few hints here and there as to what he’s currently working on.  The idea is to let him have an on-line life, of sorts.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like? 
I like a lot of different genres, but I spend time reading fantasy, sci-fi, and people like Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Moore, and Nick Hornby when I’m not reading crime fiction.  Being a Lit. major (yeah, I’m one of those) I like to revisit the classics, as well. Poe is a favorite, although since he’s considered the father of the modern detective mystery, that’s not really a genre change, is it?

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike? 
I like Joe Pike a lot.  Of course, I’m a huge Crais fan, so that’s to be expected.   I think the attraction there is that sidekicks that are a little (or a lot) off-center give the reader a visceral thrill to react to.  Characters like Pike and Spenser’s sidekick, Hawk, give the reader a chance to see what might happen if the main character were to remove all stops and just get after the bad guy, or the world around them,  on a very primitive level.  Kind of like watching someone doing a waltz while there’s a mosh pit off to the side. It’s that kind of foil that makes for some interesting dynamics and tension.

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?
Oh, Robert Crais, for sure. Loren D. Estleman is a master of the genre. Have you read Motor City Blue?  A masterpiece.  I also love Sara Paretsky’s V I Warshawski.  Sue Grafton is fun, though a little main-stream for hard-boiled. Still, she has some very nice character development and knows how to sustain a series.  I think we’ll find that she influences the genre quite a bit after all is said and done.

Q: Why do you write in this genre? 
Oh, it’s the chance to write the character!  His voice, the way he looks at the world and who lives in it. I could write him in a thriller or military thriller setting (which I plan on doing one of these days) but detective fiction really allows me to showcase his thought processes and the unique situations that live in the grey areas of our culture. It’s the perfect platform for Nate, and I love taking readers there. It’s thrilling, and there’s something about writing with the ghost of a smoky  saxophone playing in the background that is too perfect to ignore.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Blind Spot (Jesse Stone) by Reed Farrel Coleman

I am a big fan of Reed Farrel Coleman's work. I am also a big fan of Robert B. Parker's work. So I figured Parker's characters in Coleman's hands should be a match made in heaven. Turns out I was right. So, after Michael Brandman now Mr. Colleman chronicles the story of Jesse Stone.
Reed seems to "get" Jesse Stone even better than Parker himself if that's even possible. By that I mean the character really, really came to life for me. The time Reed spend researching about the character to write an essay in the non-fiction "In Pursuit Of Spenser" pays off here.
When a young woman is murdered in Paradise police chief Jesse Stone finds a connection to his old baseball team. Falling in love with a pretty undercover Special Agent, saving damsels in distress from bikers, battling against the bottle all keep him pretty busy. In the end though, Jesse solves the case... Kind of.
Aside from great work on Parker's characters Coleman introduces a few great ones of his own creation, like the thug-in-love Breen. These characters are just as fascinating as Parker's.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Superior Justice (Lake Superior Mysteries / Jonah Borden)

When you hear the main sleuth is a pastor you might think this is a cozy. Wrong! Pastor Jonah Borden is absolutely a Son of Spade. Just read the chapter where he takes on 3 tough guys in prison.
When a member of his church is arrested as a suspect in a vigilante killing Borden investigates. He learns, from the man's confession that he cannot be the killer. Bound by his oath he cannot tell the cops the man's secrets though, so he continues the investigation on his own, getting involved with a beautiful TV reporter.
I loved Borden's witty dialogue and Hilperts writing style. It reminded me of Robert B. Parker in his best days. The pacing was good, the characters cool, the action hardboiled. Everything I want in a crime novel. A winner!

Desert Rage (Lena Jones) by Betty Webb

When the family of a 14-year old is slaughtered she and her boyfriend both confess. PI Lena Jones is hired by her the girl's biological mother to prove her innocense. Soon there's someone after Lena, going so far as torching her house.
Lena investigates the secrets of the girl's family, meeting a lot of suspects and finding out what a peculiar man the girl's father was.
Lena is a pretty lively character and the Arizona setting is brought to life very well. The mystery itself is pretty satisfying, and there's a nice amount of twists. I did however think the pacing was a bit slow, the book could have done with 50 pages less for me.
All in all, solid enough for fans of female PI's.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Japantown (Jim Brodie) by Barry Lancet

This is a Ludlum action-adventure spy novel disguised as a PI novel... Think Barry Eisler, Eric Van Lustbader, Lee Child...
Jim Brodie is an antique dealer in San Fransisco who als inherited his dad's security firm based in Japan. He also consults for the local cops on matters Asian and antique.
When an entire family is slaughtered in the San Fran neigborhood called Japantown the cops ask him to show up because there's a mysterious Japanese character painted there. Brodie is more than interested because the last time he saw that character it was at the scene of his wife's death.
As he investigates he travels to New York and to Japan where he joins the guys from his dad's firm to find out who is behind the murders. What he encounters is an ancient and very dangerous group of assassins that endanger not only his life but that of his daughter as well.
There's a lot of mysterious ancient Japanese secrets and societies, martials arts and conspiracy stuff. Basically, the scale is a bit bigger and international than I usually like, but Brodie is a capable leading man and the story very well researched.
Read it if you're a fan of the authors mentioned at the beginning.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Writer Under the Influence - A Guest Post by Ben Solomon

Aside from being a swell guy, Ben Solomon had a story in the Shamus Sampler and writes the kind of hardboiled PI fiction in the style that started it all. Because his stories are now being collected in a handy volume I figured it might be nice to have him tell all of you about his influences...

A Writer Under the Influence
By Ben Solomon

The Great Edgar with his great head propped upon a scarecrow frame, awash in absinthe or opium or both. Dylan Thomas spitting and slurring poetry through sprays of whiskey at the White Horse Tavern.
Romantic images, after a fashion. Bleak and dark, stark takes on the artistic life. The stuff of sickness, ill spirit, madness. The stuff of creative myth and bloated legend.
A pathetic panorama of writers and painters sprang to mind when Sons of Spade suggested I riff on my influences. My reflection pales and runs and hides behind vast quantities of coffee, an over-indulgence in vaping. Tame egresses by anyone's comparison.
Of course they had in mind the influences behind my latest book.  What inspired me, moved me and otherwise sparked the fire behind "The Hard-Boiled Detective 1"? It sure wasn't no contract with Doubleday. No Helen of Troy, either. Chalk it up more to the likes Rocky Sullivan and Cody Jarrett.
You could say I grew up with James Cagney. The golden age of Hollywood, presented on late night TV, dazzled and captivated me throughout my childhood. Fairy tales, King Arthur and other bedtime stories gave way quick to "Angels With Dirty Faces," "I was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang" and "Flash Gordon." I'm not talking about glitz and glamour or sheer spectacle. What got me most were rough and tumble characters telling a hard-nosed tale, larger than life performers dominating the silver nitrate, their patter and manner and dress. The energy and spirit of those flicks captured me like nothing else.
For a crash course in narrative form, you can't do any better than the Warners gangster cycle. Plotting, pacing, character arcs and dramatic arcs, comic relief and the big finish—those movies had it all, with plenty of action and sex thrown in, too.
The work of Bogart, Huston and Hawks led me to books. S.S. Van Dine, Hammett and Chandler led the way, the simplicity and strength of Chandler making the greatest impact on me.
Funny thing, it took a bad boy writer of the form to impel my taking a crack at it. My first read of a trio of Mike Hammer stories by Mickey Spillane knocked my socks off. Sure, this wasn't no Dashiell Chandler, no great shakes in the literature department. But Spillane was like Black Mask grown up. Adult comic books in words. For me, this work translated that hard-boiled spirit from the cinematic screen to the page.
It's awful subjective when a piece of creative razzle-dazzle knocks the stuffing out of you. But I saw plenty in Spillane's work. I could taste Edward G. Robinson's cigar, feel Bette Davis's stiff swagger, run with George Raft down the sidewalk.
Those yarns made me want it, to capture the zest of those films, to interpret and reinvent every flavor I got from those movies into the black and white combination of letters on the page.
Call it homage. Call it a valentine. Short stories on mugs and molls and murder, a celebration of a vanished era, a world where losers outnumber winners, where right and wrong spar like some two-headed jack-in-a-box. Call it "The Hard-Boiled Detective 1."

Ben Solomon, a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, lives and writes in Chicago.  He launched his ongoing, short story series in February 2013, offering three yarns a month to subscribers. His sleuth has appeared in e-zines across the web as well as the 2014 anthology "The Shamus Sampler II." Another adventure is scheduled to appear in an upcoming anthology published by Fox Spirit Books.

"The Hard-Boiled Detective 1," the first collection from Solomon's series is available in paperback from Amazon.

The eBook is available from many distributors, including:
Untreed Reads
Barnes & Noble
and coming soon to Apple iBooks, etc.

Subscription info about his series and samples can be found here:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Hollow Girl (Moe Prager) by Reed Farrel Coleman

The swansong of Moe Prager is here...
His bad luck never ends, after surviving a battle with cancer his girlfriend Pam is killed in an accident, sending Prager on a bender, crawling into the bottle to hide from his pain. Then a woman from his past shows up, asking him to track down her missing daughter, who used to be some kind of internet hype. Prager walks the streets of New York city, trying to find out where she is, encountering all sorts of people who loved and hated her. Finally, the stakes are raised when he has to race against a ticking clock, trying to save the girl where the FBI is failing.
This is a tragic book. You have to feel for Prager for who life is always so unfair. There's people who lose their soul when they try to improve their outer looks. There's guys getting paid for sex by lonely people. And there's madness of internet hypes.
In the end though, there seems to be some kind of happy end for Prager in sight. The only sad thing about that of course, is that we won't be seeing him around anymore. Luckily, by now we now we can look forward to more of Reed Coleman's hardboiled but poetic writing with a new series coming soon and the Jesse Stone series he's taking over.

Phantom Limb (Daniel Rinaldi) by Dennis Palumbo

Daniel Rinaldi is a more two-fisted version of Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware and is a bit more of a Son of Spade because of that.
In this novel the psychologist and police consultant / ex-boxer gets involved with a kidnapping case when one of this patients is snatched from his office. The patient is an ex model and B-movie star, married to a guy who can really spare the ransom money. Time and time again the kidnappers manage to get Rinaldi involved with the case, resulting in some plot points that belong in a Hollywood movie but at times seem a bit too comic book like for a mystery like this one. In fact, this is absolutely more of a thriller than previous books in this series which made me like it less, but might appeal to a whole new group of readers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Poverty Bay (Thomas Black) by Earl Emerson

I bought this one years ago and finally got around to reading it... I got the original paperback copy but it is available for Kindle now as well.
Thomas Black is hired to find the son of an old racist who has inherited a lot of money. It is obvious the father is more interested in the money than the kid. Thomas discovers the son had a relationship with a beautiful black woman and had been living among the homeless for a long time.
As he delves deeper into the young man's life he encounters some dangerous people that want the money and gets closer to his friend, Kathy.
An enjoyable, well write, slightly standard PI novel. It was first published in 1985, a time where a lot of good PI novels were published. What makes this one rise out above the competition is the many interesting characters that are far from the usual stereotypes we often meet in these kind of books.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jeremiah Healy (1948-2014)

Like many other writers I was shocked to learn Jeremiah Healy passed away recently. I loved his work, having picked up the first John Francis Cuddy books because I had read most Spenser books and was looking for something similar. Of course, besides the Boston PI thing there's little they really had in common. The Cuddy books had their own style and Cuddy wasn't the superman Spenser was.
So sad that now both Robert B. Parker and Jeremiah Healy have passed away.
I will always be grateful for the blurb he provided for my Noah Milano books:
 "J. Vandersteen takes us back to the glory days of pulp fiction. And I mean the genre, NOT the movie. His Noah Milano character rings completely true as a tough, lone-wolf private."

That goes to show you what a wonderful man he was and how friendly he was to his fellow writers, always ready to help them along.

He will be missed by readers, writer and family.

The Black Bullet (Sean O'Brien) by Tom Lowe

Tom Lowe's Sean O'Brien goes Jack Reacher style in this one. It shows how versatile a character O'Brien is, working in more standard PI mysteries as well as more thriller oriented stories as this one. That's because he's got a background as a cop AND a Special Forces guy, so he's got the skills to investigate a murder AND fight terrorists.
During a fishing trip O'Brien discovers a downed submarine and material for a dirty bomb. When it becomes national news he's contacted by the granddaughter of a man who got killed sixty-seven years ago. It turns out the submarine and the murder are connected. O'Brien has to fight Russian mobsters and terrorists for the uranium and uncover the mystery behind the 67 year old murder, dealing with all kinds of agencies.
There's a lot of action in this book. I usually have a hard time with big budget action flicks style action in books because they're hard to read, but Tom pulls it of.
Looking forward to more of O'Brien, in many ways the ultimate series protagonist. He's got everything a hardboiled hero needs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Kula (Kai Cooke, Surfing Detective) by Chip Hughes

Kai Cooke is a pretty laidback PI in the Hawaiian islands who's also known as the Surfing Detective because he loves spending time on the board. When he's hired by a wealthy guy to track down his dog he's intrigued that his client's wife is also missing.
During his investigation he enlists the aid of an old friend, who is an actual pet detective, but a hell of a lot tougher than Ace Ventura. Together they search for the dog and uncover the secrets of Cooke's client and encounter how cruel man can be to animal.
On the private side Kai is dating a married woman and he's not sure how he feels about that, maybe his old friend the pet detective is a better match for him?
I thought the start was a bit slow, but in the second half of the novel the pace picks up pretty good. Kai is a relaxed and nice guy in the Elvis Cole / Rush McKenzie mold that I like so much. I was also intrigued by his relationship with a married woman, something the nicer PI's usually aren't involved with.
I also noted that there was some violence in the book but it was never described in bone-crunching detail which makes this book lean a bit towards softboiled, and will make it a great read for cozy lovers as well as the hardboiled fan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Lost Ones (Quinn Colson) by Ace Atkins

With every book in this series Ace Atkins makes me a bit less sad he isn't writing the Nick Travers series anymore...
Ex-Ranger and sheriff Quinn Colson polices Tibbehah County and sets out to track down a child-traficking woman through her daughter. There's also a gun smuggling ring to round up and he's aided by FBI Agent Dinah Brand for that one. An attractive young woman (she really came to live for me through the great writing), Quinn ends up sleeping with her, to the dismay of his deputy Lillie (one of the strongest female characters I've read the last couple of years). Involved in the gunrunning is Quinn's old pal, ex-Army man Donnie Varner which shows you the road Quinn might have taken if the Army didn't push him in the right direction.
There's also some flashbacks to some of the darker moments of Quinn's youth, some personal trouble with his sister and his family as well.
All in all, there's a lot going on in this book. Enough for the actual investigating to take a backseat to the goings-on of the characters involved in the story which gives it a little literary band. Don't think it ever gets pretentious though, compare it more to James Lee Burke's stuff. There's enough action and hardboiled stuff for every crime reader.
I loved the whole Southern atmosphere of the book, really feeling I was transported over there. And hey, you got to love Quinn who says he needs nothing besides coffee, whiskey and books. I can relate to that!

On the Street Where You Die (Stanley Bentworth) by Al Stevens

Stanley Bentworth calls himself a softboiled detective and he kind of has the name to go along with it. He always intends to stop smoking, drinking or sleeping with a woman who uses him for rebound sex. I was expecting a character along the likes of Stanley Hastings (by Parnell Hall) or even Lenny Parker (my own PI who appears in The Shamus Sampler II), but in all honesty I thought Bentworth was pretty hardboiled. He's not a bumbling amateur but an ex-cop fired because of excessive violence. In this book he smacks someone around with a shotgun and he can act pretty tough. Still, he can use the help of Sanford, a hitman who is a cool sidekick.
Anyway, in this book he is hired to find out who is blackmailing a guy who's in the Witness Protection Program and has to take care of a stalker who's also with Military Intelligence. Along for the ride is a hacker kid who wants to become a PI as well. I'm afraid I don't like hacker characters that much in PI stories, they remind me too much of the sci-fi kind of hackers in TV shows like Criminal Minds or Arrow, being used as deus ex-machina a bit too much. I do have to admit he's a funny character, though.
I really loved the witty voice of Bentworth and the pacing was good, the book not too long and the mystery satisfying. So, although it's not what I expected it to be, I liked it and hope to read more in this series.

Maxwell Street Blues (Jules Landau) by Mark Krulewitch

Jules Landau is a college man with a family that has been doing things on the shady side who now makes a living as a PI. In his first story his father hires him to find out who killed the family's best friend.
Among the characters he meets during his investigation are crooked cops and a kinky tattoo artist.
I really liked the laidback and relatable vibe of Jules' voice, like a less witty Elvis Cole. The mystery has a nice amount of twists and turns and the story is very decidedly set in modern day Chicago.
I think this books was originally selfpublished before it was picked up by Random House's Alibi imprint. Although I really liked the book I'm a bit surprised by that fact because it really isn't that much more than a standard PI book and I didn't think the bigger publishers still liked that. Well, if they do, I guess that is pretty good news.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Q & A with Chip Hughes

Since Magnum I have liked PI's in the Hawaiian area. Because of that I was eager to learn more about the Surfing Detective and the author Chip Hughes.

Q: What makes Kai Cooke (the Surfing Detective) different from other hardboiled characters?  
The definition of the classic hard-boiled PI (or the cliché that it has sometimes become) fit less well a laidback surfer in Hawai‘i than it does the tough-talking, trench coat-clad gumshoes in the cold, hard cities on the mainland.  Kai Cooke musters toughness when he needs it, but his approach is generally more low-key and soft-spoken, in keeping with the way things are done in the islands.  He owns a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, though seldom uses it.  He quietly contemplates his cases while sitting on his board and waiting for the next wave.  “Sherlock Holmes had his pipe,” he tells us in Murder on Moloka’i.  “I have my surfboard.” Wherever a PI operates, he or she needs to adapt to local circumstances.  So in this way, I suppose, Kai is not unlike other PIs—except he probably bangs fewer heads and enjoys more sunshine.  And, of course, more waves!

Q: How did you come up with the character?  
In keeping with the island theme of the series, I felt my PI should be someone who was uniquely of the islands.  Kai Cooke (originally named “Keahi”) was first conceived as part-Hawaiian and a sailor.  Then two things became clear:  1) As a non-Hawaiian, I could not write authentically from the point of view of a native Hawaiian.  So I decided that Kai would be haole (Caucasian) and hanaied (adopted) by a Hawaiian family.  2) Kai would also be a surfer (rather than a sailor), because surfing is Hawai’i’s gift to the world.  It made sense that a mystery series attempting to capture the flavor of the islands would have a surfer as its PI.
Kai Cooke’s first name means “sea” and his last name comes from a famous kama’aina (longtime island resident) missionary family. He was adopted by Hawaiian relatives at eight when his parents died and left him an orphan.  As the series begins he’s thirty-four and single.  He rides a longboard, drives an old Impala, and has no wife, no children, and no pets. When he gets lonely, he has a knack for falling for the wrong person.  Usually with dire consequences.  He has no shortage of dates, and no shortage of lonely nights.  He carries his board with him wherever he goes inside his car.  And under his khakis, aloha shirt, and sandals he wears board shorts.  Surfing is his sanctuary.

 Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
What eBooks—and also print-on-demand books—have done for self- and Indie-publishing can only be described as you have: a “revolution.”  Before this happened a small number of national and regional publishers essentially controlled what books were printed.  Now any individual can publish his or her own book in digital and paper form at very little expense and, via the internet and social media, can promote books in a way that was never imaginable before.   A true breakthrough for the little guy.   Amazing.

Q: What's next for you and Kai?
My plan from the beginning for the Surfing Detective series was to write six books, each featuring one of the six main inhabited islands in the Hawaiian chain.  The four books that have been published so far haven’t exactly followed the plan, but close:  Murder on Moloka‘i, the first book, is set on the Friendly Island; Wipeout!, the second, features the famous surfing breaks of Oahu’s North Shore;  Kula, the third (about a stolen golden retriever), takes place on three islands (O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i); and Murder at Volcano House, the fourth, at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.  I plan to set the two remaining books on Kaua‘i and Maui, respectively.  We’ll see what happens!  In any case, you can expect more island-hopping sleuthing from Kai Cooke.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
My wife and I both come from large families on either US coast.  Since family is a big part of our lives, we travel a lot to see them and they frequently come to see us.  I also surf when time allows.  I am a member of the Golden Retriever Club of Hawai‘i and participate in rescue (that’s how we got our golden).  I am a member of the Porsche Club of America, Hawai‘i Region.  Finally, after retiring from college teaching I’ve taken up the piano; I adore the instrument and its repertoire.  Other tidbits:  I eat mostly vegetarian (my wife is a superb cook), she and I jog and walk and do a little yoga, we’re into sustainability and are transitioning to all-solar power for our Hawai‘i home, our cars run on 100% biodiesel (except the Porsche—we’re waiting on Stuttgart to offer an all-electric or biofuel car), and we are advocates for peace (I am a Vietnam-era veteran) and have been known to march and carry signs to that effect.

Q: How do you promote your work? 
The Surfing Detective website & blog—http://surfingdetective.com—Facebook, Twitter @surfingdetectiv, and giving away free ebooks every Sunday.

 Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?  
When I’m not reading mysteries to see what other writers are doing, I read mostly non-fiction.  Right now I’m reading The Geography of Bliss by Eric Wiener.  My favorite author of all time is Henry David Thoreau.  My favorite book, Thoreau’s Walden.  Here’s the passage from Walden that has most inspired me:  
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike? 
I don’t want to repeat what others have already said, so I will simply concur that sidekicks in the Robert Crais and Robert B. Parker novels—and a myriad of other PI novels—provide excellent foils for their gumshoes.  And I will add that the sidekick role goes back to the beginnings of the genre with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Those two were not technically the first, but they are probably the most remembered.  Whether psychotic (like Hawk) or not, sidekicks provide a balance and a contrast to the PI, and, in the case of Dr. Watson, narrate the tale and aggrandize the sleuth.  In my own Surfing Detective series, PI Kai Cooke generally works alone, but he’s frequently on the phone or eating Chinese out with his attorney friend Tommy Woo, who sends cases his way.   And in Kula, Kai teams up with his high school crush and pet detective, Maile Barnes, to rescue a famous surfing dog.  After one dicey moment with Maile Kai laments, “That’s why I don’t work with a partner.  Each of us had a job to do that directly affected the other’s and neither of us knew for sure if the other could deliver.”

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?
I just finished judging a PI hardcover novel contest that included 70 books by well-known authors and newcomers alike.  What I learned encountering all of these books is that the sub-genre of the PI novel (the main genre being “mystery”) is proliferating into various sub-sub-genres, each with its own writers and (apparently) readers.  For example, there are books featuring animals and pets; ghosts and vampires; cooking and culinary arts; CSI and forensic procedure, historical periods and events, including westerns; priests, nuns, and religious orders; stories with an essentially comic tone, etc.  Fewer books than one might imagine followed the Hammett and Chandler hard-boiled school—while Parker’s books continue to be written by surrogates under the auspices of his estate.  (Dennis Lahane did not enter the contest this year.)  Since the PI novel has proliferated with new writers who bring with them interests in other genres and other subjects, the pertinent question might be not “who” will influence them, but how many new and different directions will they take?

Q: Why do you write in this genre? 
I started writing in the genre in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was, in my opinion, the golden age of “Mystery!” on PBS.  Night after night I watched British productions of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, John Thaw as Inspector Morse, David Suchet as Hercule Poroit, Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, and others.  These actors are (the last episodes of Poroit air this year) and were masters.  And the productions they starred in are of extremely high quality.  I wasn’t a mystery reader at the time, but these excellent television programs lured me to the printed works from which they were adapted.  I began to teach a mystery course at the University of Hawai‘i, and not long after tried my hand at writing a mystery.  So I guess you could say I was inspired to write a book by a TV program!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Herbie's Game (Junior Bender) by Timothy Hallinan

Junior Bender, burglar and PI of the criminals is back... And this time it's personal. When he's asked by Wattles, a criminal who sets up hits, to find out who broke into his home he ends up discovering the dead body of his old mentor, Herbie. Of course, Junior sets out to avenge his death.
Along the way he meets a colorful cast of criminals among which some great female criminals who are attractive and strong.
There's laughs, but don't be mistaken... This is no cozy! The deaths are violent, most of the plot is pretty dark.
As always I enjoyed hanging out with Junior, he's got a very engaging voice and really brings the reader right into the story. It was interesting to find out a bit more about Junior's past, finding out how he became the man he now is.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Aftershock (Dell) by Andrew Vachss

I was very sad to see the Burke series end, but was confident Andrew Vachss would still give me the best entertainment and food for thought in fiction with his new Cross series. That series doesn't beat this new series featuring ex-Legionnare Dell though. With this guy and his love, former Médecins Sans Frontières nurse Dolly Mr. Vachss has found the perfect guides into the world of sexual violence and the advocates for justice for the abused, just like Burke and his crew were.
When a teenage girl shoots a fellow student in the hallway people try to compare it to Columbine. The girl's not talking at first, but Dell sets out to investigate her reasons for shooting the student and discovers their hometown has a dark secret.
This story is a perfect combination of court room drama and vigilante justice as Dell enlists the aid of a lawyer and a really cool and original forensic psychologist to find out the truth.
Great, dark and chilling hardboiled prose, the best dialogue Vachss has written so far and a lot to think about.
A winner.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Q & A with Ingrid Thoft

Making waves with her new novel and a Shamus Award Ingrid Thoft was a natural to interview for me...

Q: What makes Fina Ludlow different from other hardboiled characters? 
I think that the need to maintain and manage Fina’s various personal relationships sets her apart.  Although she is fiercely independent and very headstrong, she isn’t a lone wolf.  Fina has friends and a mentor, as well as a complicated family life.  Even though she spends her days tailing potential perpetrators and meeting with unsavory characters, she also attends family dinners and cheers on her young nephews at their soccer games.  The issues with which she struggles are universal:  How can she be true to herself, but also be a good daughter, sister, and friend?  How much should she sacrifice to be a part of a particular family or group?  Fina isn’t a P.I. because she’s alone in the world and free to flout society’s expectations and conventions; she’s a P.I. because she’s good at it and loves the work, but she has to do it within the context of a dominating family and a social network.

Q: How did you come up with the character? 
I wanted to create a strong, funny and flawed female protagonist who would push the limits and do all the things I’m too well-mannered to do!  What sets Fina apart, as I mentioned above, is also what makes her a fun character to write.  Like so many readers, I was fascinated by the Lisbeth Salander character in the Stieg Larsson books.  She is strong, brash, and violent and operates outside of society's norms.  That character was born of abuse and neglect and didn’t have a “normal” family.  I wondered what would happen if you created a character who was also strong minded and independent, but came from a domineering family unit and had to operate within the bounds of that family.  If you have nothing holding you back and nothing to lose—like Lisbeth Salander—your actions can be extreme.  But if you're trying to operate within a family system and maintain your standing in that family, you have more to lose, and the stakes can be quite high.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I’m a fan of anything that gets people reading, and if people are more apt to read on an electronic device, than that’s what they should do.  I do worry at times that since the epublishing process is so quick, readers forget that it still takes the same amount of time to write the book.  It may show up on your device instantly, but there was nothing instant about it from the writer’s perspective!
Personally, I prefer physical books to ebooks, although I’ve been known to use a device when I travel to lighten the load. I’m one of those people who loves bookstores and physical books.  I like being able to pull a book off a shelf and examine it.  The tactile experience of flipping through the pages or admiring the cover art is part of the whole experience for me.  I also miss being able to see what other people are reading!  It was fun to scope out other people’s choices at the airport!

Q: What's next for you and Fina?
I’m answering these questions having just sent a first draft of book #3 to my early readers so the next thing for me is probably a nap!  I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, but have a short break before I go on tour for IDENTITY.  I was on the road last year for LOYALTY, and it was an amazing experience.  I love meeting readers and visiting bookstores, which are like little oases sprinkled across the country.  Once I’m back from tour, I’ll turn my attention to book #4 in the series, but I’m not ready to go there just yet!
I can’t say too much about book #3 at this point, but Fina tackles a new complicated case that is fraught with difficult questions.  There will be fallout from the actions she took in her personal relationships, and she’ll continue to pay a price for the choices she made in LOYALTY.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
Read, read, read!  I love to read, and I’m so lucky that my work and hobby overlap.  It sounds trite, but I also love spending time with family and friends.  Travel is a central theme in my life, both to relaxing spots like Hawaii, but also to more far flung locations like Eastern Europe, Vietnam, China, and Australia.  I like to eat good food—Seattle has a fantastic restaurant scene—and fortunately, I like to exercise also!  Movies and TV also make me happy, and my interests are eclectic; I always try to see the Oscar nominees, but I’m just as likely to watch “Top Chef,” “Longmire,” and “Nashville.”

Q: How do you promote your work? 
I’m fortunate to have a wonderful publishing team at Putnam who do a tremendous amount to support my novels.  I also work hard to get the word out, particularly through social media.  I have always characterized myself as “a lurker and a liker” on Facebook and other sites, so it’s been an adjustment to be more proactive.  I do love the ability to interact directly with readers, however; it’s fascinating to learn people’s perspectives and interpretations of characters and storylines that I’ve created.  When something has been in your own head for so long, it’s amazing and a little startling to hear it discussed by readers!  The other thing that helps with promotion is keeping in mind that everyone is a potential reader, and you are your own best promotion when you go out in the world on a daily basis.  I’ve had the most amazing conversations with unlikely people in random places about a shared love of certain books and characters.  You never know who your next reader might be.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like? 
When I’m not reading mysteries and thrillers, I tend to gravitate toward contemporary fiction.  I also enjoy some nonfiction, particularly things related to social behavior, because I’m fascinated by humans and how they live.  I’m generally not drawn to historical fiction or science fiction, but have been known to dip into those genres if someone I trust makes a strong recommendation.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike? 
The sidekick is important in relation to the main character.  Winning combinations of protagonist and sidekick happen when the chemistry and balance between the two is just right.  Both Hawk and Joe Pike provide excellent foils to their leading men; the extremes in their behavior allow Spenser and Elvis to stay above the fray, but still get things done.  In my books, I consider both Milloy and Cristian to be sidekicks of a sort.  The difference, however, is that those two are more measured and risk averse than Fina, so the roles are reversed.  Also, sidekicks often stand in for the reader; they voice the questions and desires that crop up for the reader.

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?
I hope that we’ll see more women—both writers and characters.  I often cite Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth George, and Laura Lippman as just a few of the writers who have influenced my work, and I imagine that they will continue to influence future generations.  Despite technological advances, a lot of investigative work still requires pounding the pavement and interacting with people so I think that older influences will still hold sway.  Even if some information can be ascertained online that doesn’t make for exciting reading.  Would you rather read a description of a computer search or a battle of wits between a P.I. and a reluctant witness?  Memorable characters are the heart of the P.I. novel whether it’s little old Miss Marple or kick ass V.I. Warshawski.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
I write in this genre because it’s the genre I love to read.  Many people say “write what you know,” but I’ve always said, “Write what you want to read.”  It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book, and as the author, you are your first reader.  If you aren’t engaged than how can you expect other readers to be?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Q & A with Earl Emerson

Earl Emerson was one of those great PI writers of the nineties that stopped putting out PI books when that genre became less popular. Luckily, Earl and his PI Thomas Black are back now, the self-published way. A good reason to have a talk with him...

Q: What makes Thomas Black different from other hardboiled characters?
A: I'd say what sets Black apart are his world view, his wry observations of the people around him, and particularly his self-deprecating humor. Black doesn't drink and doesn't have much of a social life, either. Other than that, it's the voice. He’s prone to sarcasm but isn’t easily provoked, and he doesn’t mind being the butt of a joke. I think the key is his willingness to poke fun at himself.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: When I started The Rainy City my basic models, more or less, were Travis McGee, Phillip Marlow, and Lew Archer, who oddly enough, I veered away from right away. Archer is much more circumspect with regard to his private life than I wanted Black to be. I just couldn't pull it off, keeping that much distance. So I tried to mold a character one of my friends would be drawn to. I had a particular friend in mind. Then, as I wrote, Black more or less evolved into a better, stronger, less profane version of myself. Funny how that works.

Q: What are you thoughts on the whole e-book revolution?
 A: Well, things are certainly changing rather quickly. The entire Internet thing has been incredible. Twenty years ago we had none of this. Now many people have almost no use for a traditional library. In some ways it's sad, but then, all change involves loss. As an author, for the first time ever, I am able to publish novels on my own. And what's even better is the stigma of self-publishing has vanished. My royalties are higher and so is my satisfaction level. I'm not saying I'll never publish traditionally again, but the circumstances will have to be very special.
I love real books, love the smell and feel of them, but in many ways I'd rather read on an electronic reading device. For one thing, you have an electronic dictionary available at the touch of a button. You can size the print to your own whims. You can buy a new book and have it available instantaneously, even when all the stores are closed. E-books may not be killing off prints books, at least not completely, but they've certainly vacuumed out the last reserves of the paperback market. When I began publishing in the Eighties, paperbacks were the mainstay. Most of my readers read me in paperback. Now, most of my readers read me electronically.

Q: What's next for you and Thomas?
A: Two Miles of Darkness dabbles with a suicide theme and probably will be published at the end of the summer or early autumn. I find myself going back to the theme of suicide. Probably because my brother committed suicide when I was nineteen. I've been thinking about taking time out to pen a memoir and maybe exorcise the theme once and for all. The idea of a memoir has been weighing on me for a while now. But if I go on and write another Black after Two Miles of Darkness, I'll have fun doing that, too. I really like writing the Blacks. So right now my plans are up in the air.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
 A: Right now I'm re-reading some Michael Connelly. I just finished a novel by James Salter and A Natural Woman by Carole King. I like movies, too. I've always been a film buff. Other than writing, reading, and watching movies, I spend a lot of time outdoors: cycling, hiking, and cross country skiing. I wanted to be a professional cyclist when I was younger, and I'm still very involved in what most people would call radical fitness activities.

Q: How do you promote your work?
A: I don't have much of a promotional apparatus right now. I have a website, which I think points a lot of people to my e-books, but they have to Google me first. I'm not very active on it, although I'm always telling myself I will rectify that. In the past I've done extensive and not so extensive book tours for my former publisher, Ballantine Books, traveling to various bookstores in distant cities, giving interviews or speaking on the radio or TV when the publicist could arrange it, signing autographs and giving public talks. As the traditional publishing industry slid into the doldrums, these tours became less and less significant until I think, in the end, they weren't doing much good at all. And it wasn't just me. Many of my favorite venues simply disappeared. Many of my favorite authors stopped touring. It was the same everywhere.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
A: I especially like memoirs, history, and biography. One thing I don't read is sci-fi or fantasy. I can’t say why. I just don’t. I read historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell, although lately I've lost my patience for those. I don't know why. I remember avidly reading Elmore Leonard for years. I couldn't get enough of his stuff. And then one day, I found his prose disconcerting and I haven't been able to go back. Somebody who does hold up for me is Charles Willeford. I recently re-read his memoir, Something About a Soldier. He was such a brilliant writer.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: Very few interviewers would ask that question, but it's a trend that I find disturbing. It's too bad writers feel they have to resort to the sidekick who will kill all the enemies at the end, thus sparing our hero from getting his hands dirty. These sidekicks are actually psychotic and what people don't realize is that psychotics are not people you want to be around. Nor do they make trusted and loyal friends like they do in these books. The picture is completely skewed from reality. On top of that, if you accompany someone when they commit a murder, you're an accessory. People have gone to the chair for it. Frankly, I don't understand how certain writers can get away with it, writers who seem to revel in a "code" of behavior. I don't understand why their readers don't call them on the rampant immorality even as these same writers tout the moral code of the PI. It's a strange phenomenon, one I've never really been able to explain. On the other hand, Thomas has his friend Elmer Slezak, while not a psychopath, he’s sure trying to imitate one, sometimes to comic effect.

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?
A: I honestly have no idea. I'm guessing TV will have a larger influence on future writers than books. But that's just my skepticism talking.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
A: It's hard for me to quantify the appeal of the detective story. It has so many things going for it, not the least of which is enough predictability to assure the reader they won't be disappointed by a series of left turns somewhere in the middle wherein the author sits down and begins navel-gazing. The stories have to move. The basic plot format was developed a long time ago and it's flexible enough that one can plug in almost any type of story line and still make it work. There's a little of the Old West in it, too, that American concept of the lone figure grubbing around trying to reap justice for the little guy, the unsung hero. Then too, first person narrative has a lot of pluses going for it. I've known readers who said they simply couldn't read first-person, but I find those readers few and far between. Good first person writing creates an intimacy between the author and reader you can't sustain any other way.

The Disposables (Bruno Johnson) by David Putnam

There's an original twist here... The main character is not a PI although he is certainly a tough guy. In fact, he's
part criminal, part hero. Ex-cop Bruno Johnson has set up an underground railway-system for abused / neglected kids together with his girlfriend and his dad. To finance this he sometimes does jobs for a criminal.
When a cop he used to work with bullies him into going after a high-profile pyromaniac / killer his life becomes even more complicated.
The writing style reminded me a bit of Walter Mosley at times, especially his newer series work.
The author has been involved with law enforcement most of his life what gives this book an extra realistic edge. I hope most of the people Mr. Putnam had to work with were a bit nicer than the cops introduced here, though.
While the plot might have been a bit tighter or more logical at times the realism and original subject matter still makes this book a winner.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Devil May Care (Rush McKenzie) by David Housewright

It's so good to have someone in your life you can depend on. McKenzie is one of those guys for me, even if he is fictional. Every year there's an entertaining new novel coming out that never lets me down.
In this one the cop-turned-millionaire-adventurer is asked by the daughter of an old enemy to track down her missing lover. It turns out this lover might not be who he said he was and soon McKenzie is involved with a psycho badguy, the FBI and Mexican Mafia.
Besides this main plot we see how the relationship between McKenzie and his spunky lover Nina contintues in what might be the best relationship in a PI novel since Spenser & Susan.
I read this one in no time. David doesn't exactly leave out the parts people skip like Elmore Leonard but has a fun, easy to read style that has you turning the pages quickly and the tone is so perfectly mixed between light and dark you are always in the mood for more.
Looking forward to the next one next year.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Loyalty (Fina Ludlow) by Ingrid Thoft

VI Warshawski for the new millenium... That's how you could describe Fina Ludlow. She's the black sheep of a family of wealthy lawyers. She isn't afraid of some casual sex (with a fuckbuddy / massage therapist) or threatening people with a gun. In fact, she's a pretty tough cookie although she does get beaten up several times in this novel.
She investigates the disappearance of her sister-in-law and discovers some dirty secrets of her brother and his daughter. Secrets involving high-class callgirls and gangsters.
I liked Fina. She's a spunky girl and certainly hardboiled without becoming a man with boobs. I liked the story in general but thought the novel might have benefited from cutting some scenes. The plot just doesn't seem to ask for more than 400 pages. At 300 it might have been better paced.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Q & A with David Putnam

David Putnam has a background in law enforcement and got some nice praise by names like Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker for his debut novel The Disposables. Of course I had to talk to this guy.

Q: What makes Bruno Johnson different from other hardboiled characters?
 Bruno has more compassion than other hardboiled characters. He doesn’t do anything out of greed or self-promotion. Now, it’s all for the kids. He has drive and is highly motivated toward a legally and morally ambiguous goal. He is going against societal norms, knowing in his heart he is doing the right thing.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
 I worked the streets in South Central Los Angeles and also street narcotics. Though the book is a work of fiction I drew heavily from my experiences and some of the events in the book are real to me because of it. Bruno is an amalgamation of several people I have worked with. A blending of the good and the bad, but really a bad deputy who has seen the light and has shifted to, what he believes is morally correct.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
 I wish I published my first book a lot sooner. The publishing industry is in the middle of a huge transition the same as the music industry went through. Ebook’s and word programs make it easy to publish a book. Last year 350 thousand self-pub books came out. The gatekeeper of old, the publisher, is fading into the background. It is getting increasingly more difficult to rise above the white noise of the masses of books out there.
The publishing industry is still finding its way. I think, personally, there has to be more give with the publishers on the ebook percentage to authors. An example of this (from what I understand, I read that this happened in a reliable blog) is that Lawrence Block, recently self-published his next “Burglar” series novel.

Q: What's next for you and Bruno? 
The next Bruno book The Replacements comes out Feb 2. The publisher is very excited about it and bought it after reading the first thirty-five pages.
I am just finishing the third book in the series called, The Squandered. I also have ideas jotted down for the next two.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
I retired with 31 years in law enforcement. My wife and I live and work on two avocado groves with our two dogs Jax and Bandit. The groves are seasonal with most of the work coming in spring and fall—lots of work when you have 1200 trees.
I read many books every year, I write, work in the grove and chase my wife around while I’m still young enough to do it.

Q: How do you promote your work?   
We promote the book wherever possible. My wife and I attend every major book conference we can. I try to get on the panels at these conferences. I arrange and attend every book signing possible. My wife is a techo-geek and she helps a great deal with a social media presence. She is also very artistic. If you noticed the cover of the book, my wife painted the side of our house with graffiti. The publisher loved it and used it. My wife makes bookmarks with a bullet shell casing attached. These are getting a lot of attention at conferences.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like? 
 I read anything that is well written. I read literature and science fiction. Some excellent books outside my genre I have read recently are: The Wind up Girl, The Drown Cities, Ship Breaker, Starters, Old Man’s War and Woe to Live On. If you haven’t read any of these take a look, great stories and great writing.
I have written a scifi called Dark Lady Laughed that is touring New York publishers, as well as a young adult called Three Days of June.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
 Psychotic is a tough description for most sidekicks. I can only think of two that fit, Clete Purcell in James Lee Burke’s series, which he is only occasionally psychotic and Mouse in Walter Mosely books. Mouse I think fits firmly into that category all the time.
The other two you mention Hawk and Pike are more foils that are needed in writing. Writing is a delicate process. The number one thing that carries the book or story is the voice, which relies heavily on motivation, action and reaction and point of view. Without getting to deep into Dave’s idea of writing here it is in brief: The main character has to be the good guy (unless its an anti-hero situation then he is still the good guy just doing heinous things that he thinks is just). So when it comes time to take care of business does the author really want to tarnish his main character with heinous actions. Hence, Mouse, Clete Percell, Joe Pike and Hawk. Second, story is not story, character is story. So a well-written book is told through action and dialogue. To make this easier it works to have a foil to talk to and explain things in dialogue and action instead of “telling” the reader what’s happening. Sorry, as you can see I’m a little outspoken when it comes to the craft of writing.

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?
 I think Daniel Woodrell is an undiscovered talent, (by this I the masses). His writing craft is superior to just about anyone out there for what he is doing. Now again this is Dave on writing. I believe there are to ends of the spectrum when it comes to a successful novel. One end is the literary side, tea and crumpets and the other end is the thriller, the chocolate and popcorn. There are great writers mining both ends of this spectrum with excellent success and I read and enjoy them at both ends. That being said, I think Woodrell transcends both ends, a lot like Cormac McCarthy. 

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
I write in this genre because I know it so well. I worked narcotics, and SWAT and a violent crimes task force. I have experienced first hand shooting and violent confrontations. Writing is about emotions and emotion is all about conflict.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage (Conway Sax) by Steve Ulfelder

I await each Conway Sax novel eagerly. Not only because I love the character but also because the writing improves with every new book. And by that I don't just mean the plotting or the pacing but also the rhythm of the writing. I am fascinated with the spare, effective prose. You can't really compare it to the overly short style of James Elroy or the leave-out-the-parts-people-skip style of Elmore Leonard or Robert B. Parker. It's more like an incredible merger of those styles, infused with some James Lee Burke darkness. The start of each sentence, the way the paragraphs are structured... It's all brilliantly used to get the story across, to get Conway's feeling across. Steve Ulfelder surprises me every time, each novel better than the one that came before.
After his dangerous adventures in the last novel Conway Sax, mechanic and fixer for his AA buddies, is out on his one, having fallen out with his wife. That gives him an extra, hardboiled edge that was tempered a bit before by his marriage. He's more agressive then ever, more open to using force to help out or avenge his friends.
He manages to rescue the son of a friend who's in his AA group from a few thugs in LA. When he gets back home the friend is killed by a sniper, starting Conway's search for her killer. That gets him into conflict with some dangerous baddies such as the cool-named Lobo Soto. He finds betrayal on every corner and gets caught in a deadly trap. In fact, this deadly trap went well with Conway's nickame as the "Batman of alkies". Conway has the coolness of a superhero but is still very real and believable, not a crackshot or master detective but a tough guy who's just been through so much he's able to do the things we're not tough enough to do.
It seems inevitable we have my favorite novel of the year here already.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hope for the Wicked (Larry Laughlin) by Edward Lorn

I've read some pretty hardboiled books in my life but this one kinda takes the cake. No wonder this one is labeled as horror instead of crime.
Larry and Mo are retired hitmen now working as PI's. Their dog is called Curly. That sounds funny, right? Well, a laugh-fest it's not. You see, they weren't just your average hitmen but specialized in killing pedophiles in gruesome ways, survivors of sexual abuse themselves. The scenes of torture when Larry tells about his past hits are pretty shocking.
The PI's are hired to find a missing daughter and as an added bonus request to kill her abductors. What follows is a series of flashbacks, gunfights and scenes of rape and torture that make Hostel look like a Pixar movie. I figure it's also the first time I've seen bestiality appear in a PI tale.
Still, I was able to stomach the gruesome scenes thanks to some pretty crisp writing and the original premise. If you like horror as much as PI novels you might like this one. If you think Robert Crais novels are violent, just don't pick up this one. And hey, they get in a fight with killer luchadores, so that's pretty cool, right?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thread of Suspicion (Joe Tyler) by Jeff Shelby

I praised the first in the Joe Tyler series before so it shouldn't be a big surprise I liked this one as well. I just think Joe is one hell of a character and the idea of a lone man trying to find his daughter while helping out finding other people help their children is a great concept. Together with the sparest and most effective writing style since Robert B. Parker Jeff writers my kind of book.
This time Joe ends up in Minneapolis, brought there by a picture of his daughter with another girl. He meets a woman who helps runaways and aids her in finding the missing son of a mobster. During his stay he gets some surprising clues about his daughters whereabouts.
I loved this one, but not as much as the first novel. Part of it might have been the fact the surprise effect of this great protagonist was gone, part of it was the story seemed a bit thinner than in the first one. Nevertheless, if you like hardboiled fiction you need to read the Joe Tyler series. Period.

The Rules (Ava Rome) by Mark Troy

I know Mark Troy's work from his Val Lyon stories that used to appear online in the past. I was eager to check out his new Ava Rome series. I love novellas, so that was an extra plus for this one.
Like my own Noah Milano Troy's Ava Rome is a security specialist, specializing in bodyguarding. In this novella she's hired to protect a wealthy young man. When she's starting to get attracted to him and a hurricane is nearing things get pretty dangerous for Ava.
I liked this one. A fast-paced quick read which did a great job at introducing Ava Rome, a very strong female lead and managed to surprise me a few times.
I'm happy to tell Mark Troy will have an Ava Rome story appear in the second Shamus Sampler, coming soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Contractors (Jon Cantrell) by Harry Hunsicker

As a fan of Hunsicker's previous book (the Oswald series) I was excited to read this new novel, especially since it's been quite some years since his last one.
What can be found between the pages of this one is the same dark vision of Dallas, fast-paced plot and dialogue and a fair amount of action. The tone is bit grimmer though, where the Oswald series had a fairly goofy bunch of characters this one's characters are a bit darker and less prone to quips. The action is even bigger than in Hunsicker's last Oswald book. Yeah, where the Oswald books were mysteries in the vein of Robert Crais this is a thriller in the vein of Lee Child.
Jon Cantrell is a private contractor, working for the DEA on a commission basis, which I found an interesting situation. Together with his partner and sometime-lover Piper he ends up in possession of a star witness. What follows is a road trip through Texas with several violent encounters with past and new enemies. There's some time for good characterization among the explosions and firefights though, as a result of Cantrell's dysfunctional family, ex-cop past and Piper's remarkable hobby.
All in all an action-packed and dark ride that will appeal to lovers of general action thrillers but probably less to readers craving a bit more mystery.
I will be sure to pick up the next one in this series to see what happens to Cantrell and Piper.