Review of TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION by P.D. James

Aside from digging her work, particularly the Commander Adam Dalgliesh books, James has many brilliant insights on both British detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers as well as American hard-boiled fiction by Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.  Anytime a master of the genre writes what amounts to a How To Write and/or Interpret Great Detective Fiction book, a mystery novelist would be well-advised to read and take notes. . .which I did. I’ve cobbled together my favorite bits below.

James on using setting, from pages 129-131:

Place, after all, is where the characters play out their tragicomedies, and it is only if the action is firmly rooted in a physical reality that we can fully enter their world…the setting is where these people live, move and have their being, and we need to breathe their air, see with their eyes, walk they paths they tread and inhabit the rooms the writer has furnished for them.

James on Raymond Chandler’s contributions to the detective genre, from page 86:

He showed crime writers that what is important goes beyond an ingenious plot, mystery and suspense. More important are the novelist’s voice, the reality of the world he creates and the strength and originality of the writing…he rejected the editor’s insistence in cutting out all descriptions on the grounds that the readers disliked anything that held up the action.

James on serial detectives, from page 153:

A serial detective has…particular advantages: an established character who does not have to be introduced afresh with each novel, a successful career in crime-solving which can add gravitas, an established family history and background and, above all, reader identification and loyalty.

James on why readers are drawn to mysteries, from page 14:

(Mysteries–my word) provide not only the satisfaction of all popular literature, the mild intellectual challenge of a puzzle, excitement, confirmation of our cherished beliefs in goodness and order, but also entry to a familiar and reassuring world in which we both involved in violent death and yet remain personally inviolate both from responsibility and from its terrors.

 

Bottom line, this book offers a treasure trove of great stuff, and it would be enjoyable for the avid mystery reader and educational for any mystery novelist, whether aspiring or already established. Often when you read a non-fiction book by a fiction writer, you can see why the writer’s novels are so good, and Talking About Detective Fiction is an excellent example of that.

talking-about-detective-fiction

 

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Eli Sharpe Mystery #2. . .in the works

My publisher Camel Press has green-lit the second Eli Sharpe mystery, and we’re currently editing it for publication, which is tentatively scheduled for next Spring or early Summer.  Very loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear (if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best!), Split to Splinters (tentative title) is about a Hall of Fame pitcher turned wildly successful real estate investor named Jim Honeycutt.  Honeycutt has four daughters ranging in ages from fifteen to thirty-six, and they’re all vying for his affection, attention, and, of course, his money.  And he has a lot of it. Close to $15 million.

The MacGuffin?  Honeycutt’s 300th career win game ball, an important piece of baseball history and a damned valuable one, vanishes. Enter Eli Sharpe. After a brief investigation, he soon discovers that the missing ball is just the tip of the iceberg, for the Honeycutt clan is crawling with subplots–blackmail, embezzlement, and other fun backstabbing hijinks–and that each of the daughters Honeycutt is more cunning than the last.

More on this come . . . as well as my other so-called writing, including a new series featuring the Rook: a “problem-solver” who builds custom coffins, plays chess, watches birds, and carries a .45 Chief’s Special.

Cheers.

Press Release for GO GO GATO

Camel Press Announces the August Release of Go Go Gato, by Max Everhart: A Ballplayer Vanishes

Seattle, WA.—On August 1, 2014, Camel Press will release Go Go Gato ($14.95, 278 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-911-4), by Max Everhart, the first book in a new mystery/suspense series featuring Eli Sharpe, a former baseball player turned detective.

From its hero to its milieu to its eccentric, three-dimensional characters, Max Everhart’s GO GO GATO is a terrific read. The North Carolina minor-league baseball scene feels authentic and beloved, and I was always rooting for protagonist Eli Sharpe. The best news is that this excellent mystery is first in a series. Fans of Harlan Coben will want to check out Max Everhart, a major new talent!

–Steve Ulfelder, Edgar finalist author of WOLVERINE BROS. FREIGHT & STORAGE

Go Go Gato is the debut entry in a promising new series by Max Everhart, and it’s a fast-paced, entertaining tale. Eli Sharpe is a very appealing character who combines just the right amounts of wit, humor, intelligence and courage, and it will be fun to watch him in action as the series continues to grow and develop.

–James L. Thane, author of UNTIL DEATH and NO PLACE TO DIE

When Almario “Go Go” Gato, a handsome young Cuban baseball player, goes missing mid-season, his agent Veronica Craven hires a private investigator to track down her best client. No police. No press. Enter Eli Sharpe, an Asheville, North Carolina-based ex-ballplayer turned private detective who specializes in investigating professional athletes.

Eli begins by questioning Maria Gato, Almario’s roommate and fraternal twin. Maria watched while both her parents drowned on the boat ride from Cuba to America, so she is naturally desperate to get her only brother back. She tells Eli a secret: Almario may have a problem with drugs and alcohol.

Eli tracks down Almario’s supposed girlfriend, a rich sorority girl, but is soon led to another woman in his life, Sheri Stuckey, his cocaine supplier and fiancée who works in tandem with a gay bartender named Dantonio Rushing. Stuckey, a drug abuser and single mother, claims Almario split because she wanted the two of them to check into rehab. But Rushing, dazzled by Almario’s boyish good looks, tells a different tale: Almario has taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on himself and named Stuckey as the primary beneficiary.

With the help of his a mentor—a former homicide detective—and five ex fiancées who still care about him, Eli follows Go Go’s trail, determined to locate the elusive ballplayer before one of the nasty people in his life—or his own bad habits—do him in. Max Everhart had this to say about his protagonist:

Eli Sharpe is an amalgamation, a Frankenstein I cobbled together out of spare parts just lying around the junkyard in my brain. From television, I constructed my detective from Atlanta Braves games circa mid-1980s, reruns of The Rockford Files, the first season of The Wire, and the Fletch movies. From hard-boiled PI books, I borrowed elements from Lew Archer, Philip Marlowe, C.W. Sughrue, Archy McNally, and dozens of other fictional detectives. From my own life, I drew on half-remembered conversations between my father and me, fragmented images from my time in Asheville, and god-only-knows what else. But in the end, Go Go Gato is the kind of story I like to read, and Eli Sharpe is the type of detective that I, as a reader, would become obsessed with. Hopefully, other readers will share my obsession.”

Go Go Gato is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com. After August 1st, it will be also for sale in eBook and print editions on BN.com, the European Amazons, and Amazon Japan. Bookstores and libraries can order by contacting info@camelpress.com or through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, or Partners West. Libraries can also order through Follett Library Resources or Midwest Library Service. Other electronic versions can be purchased on Smashwords or at any of the major online ebook stores.

http://www.amazon.com/Go-Gato-Max-Everhart/dp/1603819118/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399319850&sr=8-1&keywords=go+go+gato

Book Review: The Year of the Storm by John Mantooth

I’m a pre-maturely middle-aged curmudgeon, who no longer enjoys reading coming-of-age stories.  There, I said it.

Now let me say something else: The Year of the Storm, a crime/horror/literary coming-of-age novel, is a fantastic book.  Told through two perspectives, one a fourteen year old boy named Danny, the other an old man named Walter, the story revolves around two missing people: Danny’s mother and sister, who are presumed by many to be dead.  When the novel begins, Danny is desperate to know what happened, and then Walter, a chain-smoking wreck-of-a-man, appears on Danny’s doorstep in the middle of the night. Turns out, Walter may know something about Danny’s mother and sister, but in order to find them, Danny will have to engage in “slipping,” which, essentially means using the power of imagination to slip from the real world to another one.  Entered into via a hidden storm shelter, this other world is guarded by a purely evil man who is holding Danny’s mother and sister as well as two other innocent young girls. In the end, Danny faces his fears and goes into this other world, so you could also call this a quest tale.  As for plot, I don’t want to say much more.

There is much to praise in this jewel of a book, but I’ll start with the prose. Reminiscent of Ron Rash, the writing is elegantly spare with a depth of insight and heart not often seen in novels, let alone debut efforts. Throughout the narrative, I felt as if I were sitting on a back porch somewhere, cold beer in hand listening to these two men tell me a very personal, very engaging story.  It is a testament to the strength of voice in this novel that early on in the story I no longer thought of Danny and Walter as characters, but as two men, flawed and conflicted, yes, but fundamentally decent human beings, ones I could relate to and root for. Great care was put into every sentence in this novel, and it is worth reading for the prose alone, but I also appreciate–on many levels–the use of the storm shelter and the storms themselves as literary devices. Granted, bad weather–tornadoes and lightning storms, in particular–are overused tropes in literature, and in the hands of a lesser author, they might have come across as passe or trite.  But in this book, they fit perfectly and add layer upon layer of meaning.  Danny is fourteen, which, as many of us know, means he is not a boy anymore, but he is not a man either, and the storms mirror that chaotic swirl of emotions that occur during that time in adolescence. Too, the storms make for a useful metaphor for fear, or, more specifically, facing down our deepest fears.  A final element I enjoyed: this book is thematically dense while being extremely enjoyable. Weaved near-flawlessly into the fabric of the narrative are half a dozen themes: good versus evil; belief in magic; human sympathy; conquering deeply-held fears; friendship; and many more besides. And what’s particularly impressive about this is the author manages to nail pretty much of all of them.  Readers of all ages could pick up this book and find something profound about human experience, something worth reflecting on.

In the end, The Year of the Storm manages to walk confidently on that tissue-thin line between a horror/crime novel and what is known as a literary book. It manages to make a reader turn pages AND think AND feel.  That, I think, is a feat in and of itself . . .and a fairly stunning one at that.  Read this book immediately.

The Year of the Storm

http://www.amazon.com/The-Year-Storm-John-Mantooth/dp/0425265749

Book Review: Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage by Steve Ulfelder

The fourth book in the Conway Sax series, Wolverine Bros. starts off with Sax going to L.A. to track down Kenny Spoon, the has-been TV star son of Eudora Spoon, a wealthy ex-alcoholic and close friend of Sax.  Dying of cancer, Eudora wants to reconnect with her youngest son, and Sax, a part-time mechanic and full-time problem-solver, agrees, no questions asked.  Only this time, he probably should have asked some questions.  Once in Los Angeles, Sax, with the help of an ex-cop friend named McCord, discovers that Kenny Spoon is being held hostage by a tough-as-nails Brazilian gang.  Resourceful as ever, Sax manages to extract Kenny from the situation and fly him back to Massachusetts to see Eudora.  .  .but then the very next day she is shot and killed.  Questions abound as to the motivation for the killing.  Was she murdered by the Brazilian gang as payback for taking Kenny Spoon? Or was it someone after her considerable land holdings, land where a casino could be built someday? Whoever is responsible, Sax makes a solemn vow:

“No gray. . .Not this time. Everybody pays.”

Like the other installments of this series, the plot in Wolverine Bros. is engaging, fast-paced, and action-packed.  I was particularly impressed with the monologue-type feel to Sax’s narration, the way you can actually hear the narrator’s distinct voice as you read, almost as if Conway was sitting in your living room, iced tea in hand, telling you a wild story. Another impressive aspect: the clipped prose and short paragraphs, both of which keep the story move, move, moving, and give the narration a sense of immediacy and urgency.  But what I really think is genius about these books is the well-rounded (and constantly-evolving) protagonist Conway Sax.  As a reader, I can easily identify with Sax, for he is practically everything good fathers attempt to teach their sons: he is tough, honest, reliable, capable, and persistent.  And those qualities are sorely missing in people in general and men in particular these days.  In my book, that makes Conway Sax a bonafide hero, a flawed yet honorable man who knows the difference between legal and moral, between right and wrong, AND has the guts to do more than just talk.  But if you require more evidence that this is a truly dynamic character, here’s a quick quote from page 77 of Wolverine Bros.

“It struck me once while watching the National Geographic Channel. . .that I was a certain kind of pilot fish. . .They’re parasites–they swim alongside sharks, waiting for a kill, surviving on fallen morsels. . .I don’t wait for a kill and snap up morsels.  I ease the need. . . I find need. I attach myself, swim alongside. . .It’s the attaching that bothers me. What would I be, I sometimes wonder, what would I do if I was purely on my own?”

This is but a small sample of what makes Conway Sax the most realistic and most compelling of PIs out there today, what makes him the natural successor to tough-but-moral private eyes like Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. Any serious fan of the PI/hard-boiled genre should be reading Ulfelder’s books. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

http://www.amazon.com/Wolverine-Bros-Freight-Storage-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00GEU763E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397489412&sr=8-1&keywords=wolverine+bros+freight+and+storage

JH-01027

Short, Sharp Interview: John Mantooth

Went to graduate school with John at UAB. He’s a very talented writer. Pick up The Year of the Storm immediately.

Paul D. Brazill

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PDB: Can you pitch THE YEAR OF THE STORM in 25 words or less?  

(I’m terrible at these things) If you like your horror with a healthy dose of mystery, Southern-fried grittiness, and some narrative experimentalism, give THE YEAR OF THE STORMa shot.

PDB: Which music, books, films or television shows have floated your boat recently?

Like everybody I know, TRUE DETECTIVE took over my life for a couple of months.  As far as books, I’m loving Claire Vaye Watkins’ collection, BATTLEBORN.  Some great short stories in there.  Also dug Jeff Vandermeer’s novel ANNIHILATION.  And I was lucky enough to read and advance copy of Paul Tremblay’s new novel,A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS, which I totally loved.

PDB: Is it possible for a writer to be an objective reader?

I don’t see why not.

PDB: Do you have any interest in writing for films…

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