A Bit of Dis and a Bit of Dat (July Edition)

Lawrence Block has a new eBook with Open Road and it is titled Afterthoughts; you can get it for the Kindle platform for .99 cents right now (the book will be available for every other platform on August 2nd). Mr Block has over 40 eBook titles with Open Road, but Afterthoughts is different: it "is the book friends have been urging me to write for years. (...) All my crime novels are here, from Grifter's Game and The Girl with the Long Green Heart all the way to Random Walk. Then there are the dozens of early books I wrote under pen names. For years I wanted to disown them, but time has brough acceptance, and in Afterthoughts you'll find essays and reminiscences of the days I spent as Lesley Evans and Anne Campbell Clarke, as Sheldon Lord and Andrew Shaw, as Chip Harrison and Paul Kavanagh and Lee Duncan."

The Criterion Collection's new releases in Blu-Ray DVD include Akira Kurosawa's nerve-wracking thriller High and Low (1963). While you're there, take a look at their Noir and Neonoir titles. You'll remember (or discover) Godard's Alphaville and Breathless, Clouzot's Diabolique, Yates's The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Mamet's Homicide and so many other classics from a long list of French directors like Louis Malle, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jules Dassin, Francois Truffaut et Jacques Becker, but also Neil Jordan, Robert Aldrich, etc. (more than 50 movies in total). This is definitely my favourite movie collection; maybe one day I'll own them all!

Peter Spiegelman (winner of the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel for Black Maps) has just published his fourth novel with Alfred A. Knopf, a stand-alone titled Thick as Thieves. Here's a little promo video about it. 
The book is blurbed by none others than Lee Child, Daniel Woodrell, Reed Farrell Coleman, Edna Buchanan, Don Winslow and Jeffery Deaver. If you like intense crime novels with great characters, sharp dialogues and many good twists, Peter Spiegelman is your man.

Very soon, I will be posting my review of Megan Abbott's new book The End of Everything along with an interview I did with her when she was in the editing process of that book. I can tell you right now that The End of Everything is a beautiful novel where Megan Abbott transports the reader in the mind of a 13-year old girl, Lizzie Hood, who's best friend disappears. Lizzie's teenage world suddenly shifts towards (or into) the world of adults, a whole new and scary reality in her life. It is a story about the fragility of everything that we take for granted in and around us, especially when we are kids. It is about the shift into adulthood; an abrupt and terrifying shift for some.
I invite you to read Megan's essay about the world that inspired her for the novel (and how the mind can sometimes play tricks on you).

And speaking of inspiration, here's Laura Lippman's take on an old case she covered while working as a journalist in Baltimore. Her new book, The Most Dangerous Thing, will be published in August by Harper Collins. It is my next read and I will review it afterwards. (update: the blog can now be found on her website which has been updated recently and now looks great).

Early this month, on July 1st, the excellent crime writer Craig McDonald wrote a very interesting essay on his blog, about Ernest Hemingway's death 50 years ago. Craig McDonald also recently announced two more forthcoming books; in addition to one we already knew about, his next (stand-alone) novel El Gavilan due out in the fall, McDonald also revealed the title for the next Hector Lassiter book Never Send 'Em to the River and for a new book of interviews from Tyrus Books that will be titled 'Til Somebody Dies (some of the authors interviewed are Megan Abbott, Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman). Details about pub dates should be announced soon. I just can't wait!

Don't forget my giveaway for an advance reader's copy of Louise Penny's new book A Trick of the Light. Inspector Gamache is back.

Dat's it for now!
July 29, 2011

William Ryan's The Holy Thief/Le royaume des voleurs

This review is in french. Click on the title to be redirected to our famous Ze Room Noire section.


Lehane 'Dot' .com

The first part of the interview was done in early October 2009, right after the publication of The Given Day, while the presidential race was going on with Obama/Biden vs McCain/Palin and also while Shutter Island was being filmed by Martin Scorsese.
The second part of the interview was conducted at the time of the French publication of Moonlight Mile (the 6th Kenzie & Gennaro book) in late June 2011, when the Boston Bruins hockey team were winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years.  Many thanks to Dennis Lehane for taking time out of his busy schedule. 

Part One
Let’s start with the most recent book, The Given Day

## Can you talk about how the whole idea came to you, and how you pieced everything together; the characters, the era, the fiction and non-fiction elements, the Babe Ruth story, etc? How did you decide to have Danny the main character and not someone else?

D.L.-- The Police Strike is something you hear about growing up in Boston, it’s back there in the historical mist somewhere. About the time I was writing Shutter Island, I came across a reference to it somewhere and one aspect of it—that almost the entire police force left the job—stopped me cold. I couldn’t get my head around it—a city with no cops for 3 days, followed by four months of military control—so I started doing some more digging.  That led me to the only non-fiction book about the strike, A City in Terror by Francis Russell, which led me to other books about the twelve months before the strike, which led me to the May Day riots, the assassination attempts on Attorney General Mitchell Palmer, the first Red Scare, the Molasses Flood of January '19, and then the Great Influenza Pandemic of '18, which ultimately led me back to Ruth and the '18 World Series. It was all pretty backward, which is usually how I construct a book. As for Danny, I was writing about cops going on strike, so I needed a main character who was a cop.

D.E. Meredith's Devoured

Devoured is a story that will be enjoyed by readers who like literary historical mysteries that are on the cozy side, with a few grisly murders à la Hannibal Lecter thrown into it. These are original, devious killings, far from the usual strangling or simple gunshot: one victim is pinned to the floor and opened up like a specimen under study; another one is eviscerated, stuffed and sewed back together in leather. An interesting aspect of the story is the intriguing parallel plot that has taken place before the actual story but is revealed through letters sent from Borneo. Benjamin Broderig, an entomologist/specimen collector, sends these letters to a Lady Bessingham. The missives become the reason for some of the killings because they narrate the events of a scientific expedition and its discoveries, disputes and deaths. Their content is considered sacrilegious and heretic by many, but groundbreaking and scientifically important by others.

The era is described accurately throughout the book and the locations are depicted in precise details. The reader gets immersed in the London of 1856 with its bad smells, dirty streets, dark alleys and constant bustle; but where the author succeeds even more is in creating a sense of paranoia and chaos between science and religion. Also, Meredith demonstrates some of her writing skills when describing the jungles and wilderness of Borneo: “Ants crawl across the paper as I write. Geckoes hang, pink embryos, winking knowingly at me. For this is a world where spirits dwell in every rock and crevice. They weave in rivers and lie waiting, breathless in the ground”,  “Nature isn’t tamed here, as it is in Ashbourne. It bursts out and clamours. It creeps, weaves, and glistens.”  It all made me a bit more interested by what happened there during the scientific expedition; I was always looking forward to the next letter where I’d learn more about the cause of what was happening in London.

Lady Bessingham was murdered because of her great interest in the progress of science and more specifically in the new theories of evolution; the scientific view instead of the holy one. She wanted the letters to become public knowledge, to be published, but Benjamin Broderig wanted to wait a while, afraid of the dangerous repercussions. Other people, for different reasons, were ready to go through a lot of trouble –and mischief and murder-- to get their hands on these letters.

The natural first suspect is usually the husband or lover or close friend of the victim. Why Mr. Broderig is not right away the prime suspect left me doubting the capabilities of Scotland Yard’s Inspector Adams, supposedly famous because of the success of previous cases. But as we learn, Mr. Adams has other things on his mind and his investigation of the murders is a bit uninterested and very flawed. So here come Hatton and Roumande to save the day. Professor Adolphus Hatton is a pathologist and Frenchman Armand Roumande is the morgue assistant, an expert of the human body. Together, they work closely to try to perfect the art of finding the causes of death. They work almost in secret, although Scotland Yard is starting to see the usefulness of their science and calls on them more often than not. Still, their work is controversial.

D.E. Meredith shows a lot of restraint in developing the story slowly, from many points of views (maybe a few too many), and the suspense builds up nicely. The characters seem to follow the same leisurely pace, going from one spot to another (sometimes from one crime scene to another) either on foot, by coach or train. The rhythm picks up towards the last quarter of the book, sparked by the reading of the last letter, and the story concludes on a few more surprises and deaths.

The main problem here is that the story is a bit uneven, sometimes focusing on unnecessary details and following too many characters around; a focus on Hatton and Roumande would have been preferable from start to finish, while still keeping the letters throughout the story.  

I enjoyed reading Devoured and the few negative aspects won’t deter me from reading the next D.E. Meredith’s novel. After all, this was her debut and I’d rather read a first novel with some flaws, followed by a second one that is better, than reading an almost perfect first book and be disappointed by the next one.

Minotaur Books/St.Martin's Press 
You can visit D.E. Meredith at www.demeredith.com

July 2011

P.S.: The text would have needed a little editing and a lot of proof-reading –or at least a spell-check—because there were many misspellings and a few typos; these are to be expected in an advance readers or proof copy, but I’ve read the story from a published hardcover. You might say that it’s only a minor irritation, and I’d agree if it would happen only once or twice, but I counted at least a dozen. Obviously, I don’t hold it against the author.





## Rene Unischewski is your real name; how did you choose your pen name? Is it true it’s inspired by your father’s and brother’s names?

C.S.—You answered the question for me! Yes, “Chevy” was my father’s nickname, from the pronunciation of our last name, and some of my friends also used to call me that. Steven is my brother.

## Is Unischewski from Polish ancestry? 

C.S.—My grandparents on my father’s side were Russian, but my father was born in Germany.

## Was becoming a writer always the main plan, even before you were a realtor, or did you just decide to go for it when you had the idea for Still Missing?

C.S.—Growing up I dreamed about being a writer, but I became involved in the arts instead and was planning on getting a Fine Arts degree. When I dropped out of college, I started working, mostly in sales, eventually moving into real estate. Then one day the idea for Still Missing came to me and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ed Lynskey's Lake Charles

"Our quest (...) paralleled Lake Charles, a dark mirror held up to our souls, and I didn't care to see its reflection."

I'm ashamed to say that this is my first experience with what I realize is a very good crime writer. Mr Lynskey deserves to be widely read, at least for this one title, his fifth; I can't vouch for his previous work, but I'd be surprised if he 'became' that good all of a sudden. It is clearly the writing of a man who's been developing his skills for many years. I'm glad I finally caught up with the Lynskey train because what a ride this is. I'm even happier just knowing that I've got all of his backlist to go to now

So okay, what's the fuss about Lake Charles, you say? Well, pretty much everything. Lynskey has created some genuine characters that cut through the page; they seem sculpted with a rusted knife. And they act accordingly. "(...) had spilled Herzog on the turf, manhandled him to his knees, and shoved the .44's stubby muzzle between his teeth clinking on the steel like fragile china."  The dialogues are as straight and effective as a close-range bullet from a .44. And there's plenty of both. Here's an example: 
"--Will you be my bodyguard? I can afford to pay top rates.
--I'd be honored. My friend Cobb can lend me his .44s.
--Hey, I'm not kidding," she said, miffed at hearing my flippancy.
--All right, simmer down and I'll do it. Are you in any immediate danger?
--No, but what I have in mind is very dangerous."

And here:
"--There's more pressing stuff to do.
--First we hide the corpse.
--That dog doesn't hunt, Cobb. I've decided we'll bring in the sheriff.
--Sure, get reamed up the ass. Great idea. You should patent it."

It's 1979, in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, where dusty backroads, wilderness and a murky lake create a rugged landscape perfect for this noir story. Brendan Fishback is accused of murdering Ashleigh Sizemore, the daughter of a well-known trial attorney, on a night of drinks and drugs and doing the do. He had woken up in the morning with a dead Ashleigh beside him in bed. Although Brendan doesn't remember much he's sure of one thing: he didn't kill Ashleigh. But then, who did? Throughout the novel, in slivers of daydreams where the 'spirit' of Ashleigh talks to him, Brendan pieces together the events of that fateful night. Even if he sometimes thinks he's a bit crazy "The dead never speak to mortals. Whom had I been talking to all this time? If not her, then who? This is nuts."

While awaiting his trial, out on a bail that emptied his bank account, he organizes a little fishing trip to Lake Charles in the hopes of helping his twin sister Edna and her husband (Brendan's best friend) Cobb Kuzawa, get back together. The trip starts badly enough on the water when the bass doesn't show up, but then it turns really bad when Edna disappears, most likely kidnapped by local drug traffickers. Later that night, when the situation gets even worse, help is called in: Cobb's father, Jerry, an Army vet only a few years out of Vietnam --albeit only physically-- arrives "extra pronto" and fully prepared (think 12-gauge shotguns and "I can get my hands on any C-4 explosives we might need.") They decide to take on the gang of drug traffickers to save Edna. Or, as Cobb simplified it "Creep in and overpower the bastards. Pick up Edna. Go on home. Drink PBR. Life is good."

Lake Charles is a modern western where pick-up trucks replace horses --while raising a lot more dust, dirt and devilish deeds--where friendship and revenge are pinned on your dirty shirt like a sheriff's silver star and where bullets and hunting arrows are shot as much as bottles of beer and whiskey are emptied out. Think Daniel Woodrell with a splash of Cormac McCarthy, stirred with some of Ken Bruen's poetic ruggedness and voilà, it's the Lynskey special concoction. In short, something that the Coen brothers were born to direct. 
And if they ever do, I'll be first in line to see it.

Visit Ed Lynskey on Twitter @edlynskey and Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ed.lynskey  

July 2011
(read from pdf of uncorrected proof)