Saturday, March 26, 2016

I Have Seen the Future of DC’s Cinematic Universe and It’s…

Scott D. Parker

NOTE: There will be spoilers. I advise you not to read this review of the movie until you’ve seen the film or never plan to.

NOTE 2: This is long, but I have a lot to say.

It took me almost the entire movie of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to figure out what kind of movie it really was: a 1970s Treasury edition comic. Typically, the treasury editions were reserved for reprints of older titles a 1970s kid could never find. But the special editions of these types of comics were reserved for the special titles. Superman vs. Spider-Man (twice). Superman vs. Shazam. Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Batman vs. the Hulk. Superman vs. Wonder Woman. Events like these were just too big for a regular comic. You needed the space for a story to breath and, with it’s 64 pages and an 10 x 14-inch size, it was the best place for epics like this.

And, in each and every case, there would be some convoluted reason the heroes fight each other. One of my personal favorites is in the second Supes vs. Spidey book where Superman faces the Hulk and, after Hulk knocks Supes across the bay, Big Blue flies back and just stands there while Hulk wails on him. Anyway, the heroes have their fight—and neither side ‘wins’—and then team up against the read bad guys, usually another team up.

That’s what this movie was: a giant Treasury edition of a movie.

Before we start, a word. Look, I understand the need to have Batman and Superman to meet and have disagreements. They have different philosophies. That’s part of the modern way of these characters since John Byrne’s reboot. I know you can’t have them be ‘super friends’ right off the bat.

First of all, there are lots of things to enjoy.

  • In the opening credits, Bill Finger's name is finally given credit as co-creator of Batman. It only took, what, 70 years or so. About dang time!
  • The opening of the movie, where you get the flashback to the end of MAN OF STEEL but from Bruce Wayne’s (and every non-powered person) point of view is gripping and truly harrowing. It gave a great sense of peril. The image of Bruce Wayne running into the destruction. That's what makes this man a hero.
  • The ‘mystery’ plot that takes up the bulk of the first half of the film I enjoyed. I liked how different characters were all searching for something just out of reach and just mysterious enough to move the story forward.
  • I loved the introduction of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince via espionage. Turns out she and Bruce Wayne are after the same thing. It’s information Lex Luthor has on metahumans.
  • Overall, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is awesome. When she shows up and fights Doomsday, there is almost glee on her face. Reminded me a bit of Legolas and Gimli in The Two Towers charging into battle with grins on their faces. And she’s far from a shrinking violent. She is just badass, whacking off one of Doomsday's arm with her sword, then lassoing him to prepare him for the finale. Her movie, coming out next year, should be golden. Gadot is just the right type of alluring and beguiling. More of her. Please.
  • The sequence with Batman taking on a roomful of goons is truly the comic book of Batman come to life. It’s magnificent to finally—FINALLY!—see this type of Batman on screen. He was using batarangs, ropes, and every non-lethal means at his disposal to take these guys out. And it isn’t easy, but he’s still brutally efficient. Arguably my favorite sequence in the film. Had a goofy grin on my face the entire time.
  • And can I get a high five for Batman finally using a voice modulator?
  • Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne is a great choice, especially as a Batman who has been in the trenches for 20 years. I liked his physical presence in scenes, but he still came off as aloof. Guess that was his “Bruce Wayne” act. Definitely what the modern Wayne in the comics—i.e., Bat-God, the man who is 10 steps ahead of everyone—is like. I tend to prefer my Batman more man than god. Nonetheless, props to Affleck. He did a great job and I look forward to more of his Batman.
  • Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Please give me the Alfred prequel. Heck, I can’t wait for the solo Batman film. Loved Alfred in this film. Much more like the “EARTH ONE” version of the comics. The chemistry between him and Bruce is a wonderful treat.
  • The *visuals* of Superman are almost all great. It was actually kind of shocking when the headlights of the Batmobile shined on Superman's suit and the true blue comes out. I was like "Hey, it's color!"
  • I did like the idea that Lex, using the Kryptonian technology not only builds Doomsday but, it seems, paves the way for Darkseid to come to earth. That’s pretty neat.
  • The visual of Batman atop the huge crane at the pier. A living comic book splash page.
  • The MAN OF STEEL musical cue. I still love this. No, it’s not John Willams’s march, but that’s okay. It’s arguably one of the more joyous things of the film. 
  • Speaking of musical cues, Wondy has one that rumbles along when she shows up. Makes me wonder what a true theme might've been.
  • I like that most everyone knows everyone's secret identity, even Lex. That'll be interesting later on.
  • The cameos! We got glimpses of Aquaman, Cyborg, and the non-Grant Gustin Flash. More than that, we actually got Flash in costume in a completely wonderful vision to Bruce from the future. Loved that part. Obviously we'll have a moment, probably late in Justice League Part I, where something will happen and Flash will have to warn Bruce from the past. Actually, that starts to sound like the Rock of Ages story from JLA by Grant Morrison back in the 1990s. They could do worse.

Okay, so before I get into the bad stuff, let me say this: BvS is all set up for something in the future. That’s all well and good, but the filmmakers’ first responsibility is to tell a good story in *this movie.* They didn’t do as good a job at that with this movie. As a comic book geek, I saw the through line, weak though it was, and was able to follow it. Heck, I even mostly understood it. I think. But it bored my wife. How in the world can you bore people at a SUPERHERO movie? That takes talent.

  • It’s a long, long film. To be honest, I am okay with it. We’ve waited this long to have Bats and Supes in a feature film together, just bring on more minutes. But do it in a good way. Some of this stuff could have been trimmed. Do we need yet another flashback sequence to Wayne’s parents being murdered? Not really, although I *did* appreciate the connective tissue between the two Marthas. [How did I read comics for 40 years and never realize Bruce’s mom and Clark’s mom both were named ‘Martha’?]
  • Superman/Clark Kent. Henry Cavill looks stellar as Superman and even Clark Kent. But it’s okay for him to smile once in a while. Most of the time, he just stands there or hovers there and scowls. I understand Clark having a crisis of conscience, but he’s kinda had one for two movies now. Get over it already. Remember the scene in MAN OF STEEL when he learns to fly and he laughs? More of that. He can do things no one else can. To borrow a theme from THE DARK KNIGHT, Superman needs to show the world, by his example, that he's good. He can take the worst of the world and not be deterred, just like Batman took the rap for Harvey Dent's death.
  • Humor: frankly, it’s so out of place in this movie that it jolted me out of the movie. You’ve heard one in the trailer when Bats and Supes comments on Wondy. The only other one—not kidding here—that I can remember is when Bats saves Martha Kent. It felt weird. If you're going to make a serious movie and, in your world, "serious movie" means grimdark, then go all in. Don't try and shoehorn in jokes. By comparison, the Marvel movies have high stakes and funny lines from day one. Heck, even in Avengers 1 when NYC is being pummeled there was room for lightheartedness. It’s a comic book movie. Lighten up.
  • Okay, sure, the filmmakers say they want to get serious. I’m okay with that. I was a teenager just when The Dark Knight Returns comic was released. I was ready for it, being more mature and all. But that story was forty years in the making. It had earned the fight between Supes and Bats. BvS didn’t.
  • And the Big Fight. At lunch afterward, I asked my wife “Okay, so Lex’s plan was to blackmail (using Martha Kent as bait) Superman to fight Batman and kill him so that Supes could be exposed to the world as a fraud that Lex thought he was? Or was it that Lex hated Batman for some odd reason? The aliens from Superman vs. Muhammed Ali (1979) has a better storyline than this. Beside, Lex had already created Doomsday. Why?
  • Moreover, when Supes lands, he *immediately* tries to talk to Bruce into helping him. But Bats doesn’t listen. He won’t listen. He’s too friggin’ blinded by his insane desire to kill Superman. Really? The World’s Greatest Detective doesn’t have time for chit-chat? Come on. That’s not Batman. If the filmmakers are going to make a Bat-God version of Batman, give him the brains as well as the brawn. On the other hand, Supes might've gotten less angry so fast. He should have kept talking, trying to reason with Bats.
  • Superman’s death. Way too soon. Yeah, he ain’t dead, but still: way too soon. I understand now that director Zack Snyder is helping the world love Superman by having him sacrifice himself. I guess all the saving of other people throughout the world wasn’t enough.
  • Oh, and Batman kills. WTH? What is it with comic book Bats hardly ever killing and movie Bats (1989-2016) blowing stuff up with goons inside. Yeah, they’re goons, but still. I *think* what the filmmakers are trying to infer, as voiced via Alfred in his “…make good men cruel” line, is that the arrival of Superman made Batman darker. Not sure why, but whatever. Even my wife commented on that.

I think I’ve gone on long enough. A few more stray thoughts.

  • Just three short months ago, the doorway to my childhood was opened again with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That was a joyous film, even with the downbeat ending. I was hoping for a second helping of that. Didn’t get it.
  • As a diehard DC guy, I enjoyed—and caught—most of the references. This movie will likely not work for the general audiences. It’s a real shame, too.
  • I’ve said before seeing this movie while enjoying the wonderful DC shows on TV that I’m looking forward to the next generation of DC movies after all this grimdark stuff. Still am.
  • My wife is a good barometer as a general audience person. She’s not a huge fan of superhero films, but enjoyed BATMAN BEGINS and really loved THE DARK KNIGHT. Loved IRON MAN, too, but that was because of Robert Downey, Jr. She had two quotes that I literally wrote down they were so good.
  • “I don’t like a movie that makes me not like Batman.” [To her, heroes fighting each other is stupid. They’re good guys. Good guys don’t fight each other. When I pointed out that they often do in comics, she was nonplussed.]
  • “This is not the blockbuster it pretends to be.” [Sheesh!]

So, I Have Seen the Future of DC’s Cinematic Universe and It’s…

Worrisome. Is this how all the movies are going to be? Is it too late to change the tone of some of these future films, maybe lighten it up a tad?

But, fear not. Happiness is on the horizon, and it's only three days away! All you have to do is turn on your television. This Monday, tune in to Supergirl on CBS for the crossover with The Flash. It’ll make you smile, it’ll show you a couple of heroes who don’t fight each other, and you’ll be reminded of how much fun live-action superheroes can be.

Here’s a little video of the cast talking about it. Key phrase from Supergirl herself: “…they have such good chemistry because there’s such joy about them, and humor, and lightheartedness.

Superhero films do not have to be all happy happy, bright and shiny, but it sure as heck shouldn’t all the other either. A blend is what makes this stuff work. And the blend of BvS was too much of grimdark dour and none of the joy. To borrow a phrase from the Star Wars prequels, there's no Han Solo in this film. Perhaps that's Flash's job?

Don’t be saddened by my thoughts. I saw BvS on a regular screen. I will still go see it again on IMAX. And I’ll buy the DVD later this year mainly to see the extra 30 (!) minutes and how those new scenes fit in the movie. But I’m officially a little nervous about Justice League. Not Wonder Woman solo or Batman solo, but Justice League. 

Yes, it is good finally to see Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman on screen together. Yes, there really are lots of little nuggets that are really, really neat, especially for a comic book guy (DC in particular) like me.

I wanted to love this film. In the end, I like it a lot despite all the issues. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter - Crime Time

In Norway, the tradition of reading crime fiction over their longer-than-usual Easter break is so entrenched in the culture that if you search "Easter Crime" you get a page full of results discussing the phenomena. This is particularly interesting because when you search "Easter" and a specific crime, like say, murder or robbery, the page fills with local and international tales of complex heists, family disputes gone bad, and people knocking over ATMS.

What is it about Easter, our goriest of holidays, that leads us straight into the open arms of sin, rather than, you know... Jesus?

I'm not a psychologist or a sociologist, so rather than trying to answer that, I'm going to share a few of my favorite Easter true crime stories. Some of these are ripe for adaptation.


This year, in Chicago, clergy ask their city for an Easter without violence, as the city is plagued by violence and murder every day of the year. Do they know, I wonder, how Easter Sunday has been plagued by violence for what seems like eons? The first occurrence of "Easter Massacre" I found was in 1916. Also called "Easter Rising" and "Easter Rebellion", Easter week of 1916 marked a bloody insurrection in Ireland against English rule.

A bronze angel with a bullet in her chest still stands at the site of the insurrection, who's history seems to change significantly depending on who is doing the talking.

The other result for "Easter Massacre" has no such nuance. It's a tragedy that, in our current climate is all too imaginable, but still gut churning. 

An early Easter, much like this year's, prompted the Ruppert family to come together for an Easter egg hunt at Grandma's. Jimmy Ruppert shared the home with his mother, and though the house full of children and happy laughter should have been a welcome celebration, instead, his brother said something that clicked with his mounting paranoia. "Uncle Jimmy" went back upstairs to his gun collection, then came down and calmly shot each member of his family multiple times.


So you're sitting in the car with your baby while your husband gets some cash out after a long, and hopefully happy, Easter Sunday - now a bunch of men with guns are coming at you, and they want the cash your spouse is getting from the ATM.

Not the best way to cap off the Easter holiday, but at least the four jack-offs were almost immediately apprehended, and no one was harmed.

Easter Sunday and armed robbery seem to go together like Peeps and hollow bunnies - gas station attendants left alone to sell candy and cigarettes to people who've had too much candy and not enough cigarettes seem to be the people most at risk for a gun in the face on Easter. It's not always a lone desperate man or a group of teenagers testing the limits of their newfound criminal mindset - no, there are love stories, too.

Russel Frohmuth and Ashley Wells are hardly Bonnie and Clyde. They didn't have the glamour, the guts, or the vision. What they did have was a box cutter and the lack of forethought to hold people up in public parking lots. In a crime spree not even fit for a Dateline episode, they held up three different people around town before being caught and having all their ill-gotten gains recovered from their mini-van.


You may be familiar with Hatton Garden if you're really into jewelry and have been to London a few times. It's the center of the UK jewel trade and home to a bank of safety deposit boxes rumored to hold billions of dollars worth of jewelry. With plans for the local stores and traders to be closed for Easter, just about everything in the district was locked up tight in the boxes, and the people of London set about their holiday.

There was just one problem - a gang of retirees, ripe for a crime movie, were ready to pull off "one last job." A fire was set just before the weekend, and authorities thought that was the end of their bad luck, but when everyone was gone, enjoying their time off, these men cut a hole in the wall and lowered themselves into the vault. Over a period of two days they cracked the safety deposit boxes and filtered the jewels out, until one of them accidentally tripped an alarm, cutting their heyday short. 

The seven men, all senior citizens, made off with about 300 million dollars worth of diamonds and other jewelry, that was thought to be out of the country and on it's way to buyers before the heist was even discovered.

The men were eventually caught, but that was hardly the end of the story. The leader of the gang, known as "Guv'nor", facing jail time and the end of his nearly forty-year career as a professional thief, has a bone to pick about how the investigation of a previous robbery was handled. No, he isn't trying to get off on a technicality - he's horrified that the photos he and his gang left on the floor of the vault - photos that allegedly showed a high profile British politician sexually abusing children - were ignored. He claims the gang found them in one of the boxes and purposely left them for authorities to find, but nothing seems to have come of their attempts to reveal the horror.

It seems there is honor among thieves, and his speaking out has lead to an investigation, though the politician's name has not been released.

I'm surprised the movie adaptation isn't already in development, but maybe Hollywood isn't paying attention to what's going on in London.

One thing all of these Easter crimes have in common, though, is that the perps all got caught. So this Easter, maybe focus on eating ham, not going HAM.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A conversation with Neely Tucker

By Alex Segura

You should be reading Neely Tucker.

Whenever someone asks me for a crime fiction author suggestion, one that might be flying a little under the radar, Neely comes to mind. He writes great mysteries and makes it seem easy - an impressive feat.

Tucker’s Sully Carter books - The Ways of the Dead and Murder, D.C., out now, with a third, Only the Hunted Run, on the way - paint a realistic, compelling and eye-opening picture of the nation’s capital through the eyes of a flawed and all-too-human protagonist. It has the ingredients of some of of my favorite private detective series - think Lippman, Pelecanos, Connelly and Lehane - with a flair and rhythm all its own. Carter’s petulant, smart, thick-headed and brave. He’s a guy you can root for and curse at in the space of a few pages. Tucker’s prose is vibrant but compact, befitting a journalist of his pedigree. The only downside to his novels? I usually read them in a few days and have to wait for the next one.

I was first introduced to Tucker through mutual journalism friends and finally had the pleasure of meeting him in person at Miami Book Fair last year. Trust me when I say you won’t regret picking up his books.

Thanks to Neely for swinging by and chatting. This interview was edited for space and clarity. A version of this interview will show up in my newsletter this week, too - you can sign up for that here.

Neely, thanks for taking the time to chat. Can you give readers a quick introduction to you and your work?
Sure. By day, I'm a reporter on the Washington Post's national desk, currently assigned to the 2016 Presidential campaign. By night, I'm a novelist and non-fiction author. I've been a journalist for thirty years,  sixteen of them at the Post, eight of them abroad. Worked in sixty plus countries or territories in Europe, Africa, the Mid-East, lots of it in conflict situations. Published four books (three fiction) and a chapter in another. Three kids. Wife. Dog. Grill. Football. Bourbon. Seventh-generation Mississippian now living just outside D.C.

What was the inspiration for the Sully Carter books? What made you want to shift to writing fiction after your success in newspapers and nonfiction?
When I came back to the U.S. in 2000,  the Post assigned me to the courthouse as a way of getting to know the city. There was a fascinating case of the last serial killer to work in D.C., a guy named Darryl Turner. He killed prostitutes in a rough part of town. Got away with it for years. That was the inspiration for the novel. In the first draft, Sully  was just one of several primary characters involved the case. He was a reporter who'd come home from covering the Bosnian war, damaged psychologically and physically. He was an amalgamation of things that I and a lot of other reporters had been through. My agent thought he was the strongest character in the draft, and, besides, he had the possibility of being the narrator of a series. So I rewrote it from his point of view.

As to the switch....I wanted to be a novelist since I was a kid. I grew up outside of a tiny little town in Mississippi and loved to read and write stories. I don't know why. My parents were very conservative but they'd let me read just about anything in the town library. So I was reading "Lord of the Rings" and Hemingway and Stephen King and the Hardy Boys and Faulkner and "The Exorcist" and Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote and Eudora Welty, even when a lot of it was WAY over my head.

I got interested in journalism only halfway through college. Willie Morris, the first actual writer I ever met, said that since I wanted to travel as well as write, there was always a newspaper where ever you wanted to go, and then you could meet interesting people all the time and never have to get a real job. Plus, you need to learn how to write sentences, and newspapers can teach you that. I may be the only person who  took career advice from an inebriated southern writer at a Saturday night baseball game and didn't wind up in a holding cell.  

And the advice paid off! 

Like some of my favorite detective series, the Sully novels feature a strong sense of history and place. I know you’re not a native of DC, but what made you want to set the first few books there? And why was it important to give Sully a journalism background?
Practicality, mostly. I wanted the books grounded in reality, but I also wanted them to have a natural way of taking place in a national spotlight. Ergo: Gritty crime in D.C. that gets tangled up, one way or another, with the "ruling class" of federal D.C. In the first book, the teenage daughter of a powerful D.C. appellate judge who might be the next Supreme Court nominee - hello, today's headlines! - is killed in a bad part of town. Like that.

As far as the sense of place....thank you. I think reporting from so many different places around the planet gives you a pretty good idea for what's distinctive about a place, and how to dive into that. 

The second book in particular, was steeped in D.C. history - some fictional, most real. What was the research for that like? Do you find that aspect of writing fiction - the research and organization of data - easier to handle with your background as a journalist?
Murder, D.C. is about the death of the scion of one of the city's wealthiest black families. He's killed in a waterfront park that's long been a haven for drugs. Which, as it happens,is on the site of a former slave-holding pen before the Civil War. The park is wholly invented, but not that much -- the nation's biggest slave-selling auction house was just across the Potomac in Virginia, a distance of about half a mile.

I would argue that the background as a journalist both helps and hurts the research. It helps in that you know how to find what you're looking for and how to synthesize large amounts of information. It hurts in that you tend to rely on that too much.

In fiction, readers don't care if you describe the interrogation room exactly as it is. It only matters you describe is so authoritatively that they believe it. I once profiled Richard Price, who is famous for doing tons of research. He'd go out riding with cops and hanging out in bars and take all these notes and then....never look at it. Never opened a notebook while writing. He said his job was to understand the plausible and then lie responsibly. I thought that was brilliant. (Even in "Clockers," perhaps his most famous book, the title is not actually slang for a street dealer. He just made it up, but now everybody thinks that it was real. The Oxford English Dictionary even called him about it.)

That's a great Price story - and such a relevant point about fiction. It's all about making someone believe your story. My own novels feature a washed up journalist in Pete Fernandez. Sully’s career is much more successful, though they both seem to suffer from similar problems - drinking and a dangerous curiosity being the most obvious. How important was it for you to have a protagonist who wasn’t a seasoned detective, per se?
Very. Sully needed to be a reporter in order to bring in the mysterious workings of the media (some good, some not so much) in these high-profile murder cases. That was something I wanted to write about. Also, so that  he could be a surrogate for the reader. He's not a cop or detective. He doesn't have subpoena power. He can't make people talk to him. He doesn't get to analyze fingerprints or DNA or shell casings. He is bound by a fairly strict ethical code. So he's just this guy on the street, behind the yellow tape,  trying to figure out a violent crime. Of course, everybody's lying to him about their role in it, or might be, or they might be telling the truth as they know it, but they might be factually mistaken. He has to figure out who's telling the truth, then publish the public narrative of the crime...but if he gets it wrong, he gets fired. Or worse. High stakes all around.  

Your third Sully book is on the way. What can you tell us about it?
Only the Hunted Run, is based on the very real assault on the Capitol Building by a schizophrenic named Russell Weston. In 1997, he made it into the building and killed two security guards. In "Hunted," a killer makes it much further into the Capitol and eventually winds up at St. Elizabeths (no apostrophe), the gothic-era  mental hospital on a hill in Southeast DC. Happily, in real life, it really does overlook the rest of the city, which it also does in "Hunted." (Take that metaphor as far as you wish.) Sully is in the Capitol when the shooting starts. Like all the Sully books, it's sort of a crime story about the American Dream gone really, really wrong.

I can't wait to read it. Now, I have to ask this, because his books played a huge part in my own decision to write crime fiction, and I see a lot of echoes of his work in your own - are you a fan of George Pelecanos’s work? The D.C. you portray isn’t identical to his, nor would I expect it to be, but you touch on a lot of the same issues afflicting the city. Mainly things like the dangerous racial divide and the stark contrast between the political elites and the nameless poor that are sometimes just a mile apart. Can you talk about that a bit?
George and I are both greatly influenced by the late great Elmore Leonard, particularly the dialogue. I think what you're seeing in both of us is the ghost of Dutch. I worked in Detroit and got to know him. We were friends for twenty years. You learned from Dutch just by being around him. Lovely, lovely man.  I've only met George once, but we've talked several times by phone and e-mail. He's great. We share a lot of the same likes and dislikes, and I really admire his writing. I stopped reading him, though, as soon as I started my books in the city. I didn't want to be unconsciously influenced in how I was doing my stories set on the same turf. You've got to do your own thing. But, man, I'd love to work with him on a script or something. How fab would that be?

Sign me up. I see the Leonard influence, too - that makes a lot of sense. What an amazing person to learn from.

Are there any books or movies that you’ve been enjoying lately?
I've got two jobs and three kids. I'm way behind on everything. The wife and I just watched all five seasons of "Game of Thrones" in about three weeks. It was awesome. Just read All the Light We Cannot See, which I really liked. Read So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell's classic. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Into the Heart of the Sea. At the moment, I'm picking through stories in The Annotated Lovecraft. As a journalist, I should be thrilled that "Spotlight" won the Academy Award for Best Picture....but I would have voted for "Mad Max: Fury Road."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lori Rader-Day: The LITTLE PRETTY THINGS Interview

by Holly West

The only thing better than reading one of Lori Rader-Day's books is getting to sit down and have a conversation with her. I recently had the opportunity at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix and let me tell you, my cheeks were hurting from laughing so hard.

After I read her latest novel, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, I knew I wanted to interview her about it and she kindly agreed, in spite of her busy schedule. And in spite of the fact that I keep calling the book PRETTY LITTLE THINGS.

HW: First, I want to talk about LITTLE PRETTY THINGS. I’ve been pretty vocal about how much I like it, so I was happy to see it was nominated for the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award like its predecessor, the Anthony Award-winning THE BLACK HOUR. Tell us, briefly, what it’s about.

LRD: LITTLE PRETTY THINGS is about Juliet Townsend, who is ten years out of high school and stuck in a bad job, cleaning a hotel in her small Indiana hometown. She used to have a lot of potential as a high school track star, beaten by only one person, her best friend, Maddy Bell. The two friends have been estranged since things went sour over their last race, so when Maddy sweeps into Juliet’s workplace and then is found dead the next morning, Juliet decides to take on the task of figuring out what’s happened to Maddy and also what went wrong in her own life. Friendships between women, regret, and I got to take my readers into the yearbook staff room, which is where I spent my high school career.

HW: One of the things I like most about LITTLE PRETTY THINGS is the setting, which might sound odd considering it’s a little (okay, a lot) depressing. There’s just something about cheap roadside motels, which are the only places my family ever stayed on our yearly vacations, that mixes a sense of dark hopelessness with a sense of freedom and even anonymity. Obviously, the perfect place to set a murder. What inspired the location and were there other menial jobs you considered for your protagonist, Juliet?

LRD: I love old buildings, and not just the architecturally significant ones but the ones that remind us of our own childhoods. I was inspired to create the Mid-Night Inn by two very different hotels near where I grew up. They’re both gone, now. One was a classic single strip of five or six rooms right alongside the highway called the Sunset Inn. By the time I was young, it was ruins, but the nearby building was being used as a café. It’s someone’s house now, believe it or not. My grandparents used to take us there for “coffee”—my sister and I got cheeseburgers. The other hotel wasn’t nearly as dilapidated as the Mid-Night, but I borrowed its location almost precisely. My dad recognized it, so I must have stolen very liberally. I actually had a few ideas for what Juliet could do next—different jobs, in case I wanted to continue Juliet’s story. I haven’t ruled that out, actually, so I’ll just say that Juliet was always a hotel cleaner for LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, but she has plans to get out of there and move up.

HW: Like Juliet, you grew up in Indiana, but you’ve lived a very different life beyond that. Is there anything else of her in you? In what ways do you relate to her and is that relating important to the writing of this book? I suppose the larger question is whether we as writers need to write about something we can relate to, sort of like “write what you know.”

LRD: I don’t think we have to write only what we know, but what we know can inform what we write. People who know me pretty well find plenty in my books to attribute directly back to me, which makes sense since I’m the one who wrote them. For LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, I did borrow from my hometown and other places I have lived but I also borrowed from the what-if file of my own life to create Juliet. I was wondering one day what the hell I’d be doing for a living if I hadn’t gone to college, and it was not too out of the realm of possibility that I might have Juliet’s kind of job. I worked for a couple of factories and a restaurant as summer jobs on my way to paying for college. I didn’t like that work at all, but lots of people don’t get the choice to like what they do. I come from a long line of blue-collar workers, and I think that perspective needs to be visible in our fiction. The problem is that most people who work those long hours don’t have the luxury of sitting down and learning how to write. Juliet is important to me in that way and, even though she gets a lot of stuff wrong, I like her.

HW: LITTLE PRETTY THINGS has sparked comparisons to Megan Abbott’s recent novels, and for me particularly, her novel, DARE ME (which if you haven’t read, you should, because it’s great). There is, I think, an inherent darkness in the world of teenage girls that I didn’t quite realize when I was actually a teenager but am now aware of and it discomfits me somewhat. I certainly wouldn’t want to revisit that time in my life. What made you want to explore this world and in effect, go back to it?

LRD: I’m a pantser, so to ask me why I did something like go back to high school in my books—well, you’re asking an impossible ouroboros question I’m not sure I can answer. I wanted to talk about friendships between women and I find that many of my close women friends I have today are from when I was younger—college, for me, and in my early jobs. I wanted to write about someone who was just at the moment where she might rescue herself or she might not succeed, someone who has, in fact, a lot of potential, even if she doesn’t realize it. Also, I think that when you’re writing about young people or about people still living in the towns they grew up in, it’s pretty easy to think that their high school lives aren’t as far away as it might be for someone who doesn’t drive past their school every day, who won’t be sending their own kids there someday. Plus, yeah, there’s a lot of material for drama when it comes to high school girls. I love Megan Abbott’s books!

HW: With two books published and a third soon to be released, do you feel like you’ve finally got this writing thing down?

LRD: Oh, hell no. I got to see Mary Higgins Clark speak once a couple of years ago and she said with every book she still thinks, “Maybe is the time I can’t do it.” So if Mary can admit it at book eighty-whatever, I feel OK about the truth.

HW: I’m a big advocate of becoming involved in local writing communities. You’re currently the president of the Midwest chapter of MWA, but your involvement in your own local community began long before that. Would you say it’s had a significant impact on your writing success or has it mostly been about the support such communities offer?

LRD: The best advice I could ever give a writer hoping to make headway in their craft and career is to find a tribe. I found two—I got an MFA in creative writing from Roosevelt University in Chicago and am still friends with many of the writers I met there. We read for each other, encourage each other. When I first found out I was a mystery writer (yes, I had to be told), I didn’t know many mystery writers, so I went to my first Bouchercon knowing only one person in the building. Overwhelmed is an understatement. But I met Clare O’Donohue there, who gave me golden advice: go join Mystery Writers of America. I got highly involved, made myself useful, got to know so many great people, read some great new books, and listened in as people who were further along this path than I was talked about the business. Now I’m the person talking about the business to people who want to learn, but I still get a lot from going to meetings and events, and I’m still meeting wonderful people.

Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, THE BLACK HOUR, won the 2014 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second novel, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, also a finalist for this year's Mary Higgins Clark Award, received a starred review from Booklist and was named a 2015 “most arresting crime novel” by Kirkus Reviews. She lives in Chicago.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Casual Comic Book Fan Weighs In

by Scott Adlerberg

So let's see where we are - I'm having trouble keeping up - in the world of TV and film superhero adaptations.

When I last looked at where we stand, this is what I found:

1) Deadpool (Marvel) opened a few weeks ago and has done great at the box office.
2) Daredevil Season Two (Marvel) started streaming on Netflix on March 18th.
3) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (DC) opens this coming Friday, March 25th.
4) Captain America: Civil War (Marvel) opens May 6.
5) X-Men: Apocalypse (Marvel) opens May 27th
6) Suicide Squad (DC) opens August 5th.
7) Doctor Strange (Marvel) opens November 7th.

I'm putting aside weekly superhero shows like Flash and Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. Aside from these, as far as big superhero releases for 2016 are concerned, am I missing anything?  I might be, but in any event, that's plenty.  Or is it?  Because one thing I've come to realize is that it's tough being a casual comic fan in a writing community full of serious fan people. It's only over time that I've come to understand the intensity of the fan people's love for these characters and stories. Their love and their passion.  Their quickness to anger over what they dislike in these adaptations.  Don't get me wrong.  I like superhero narratives (I read comics as a kid; I was a DC person big time over Marvel), and I'm not saying anything here about the fan people to be critical or sarcastic.  It's just shall I put this...As someone who doesn't take the superhero films and the characters and the universes created all that seriously, I've come to appreciate how others must feel who are, let's say, casual baseball fans when they get caught in a bar filled with baseball fanatics.  In that scenario, I'm the fanatic, ready to talk stats and minutia and history, I'm the person with opinions galore, and I can only imagine what I must sound like to the person in that bar who's thinking, "I just want to relax, have a beer or two, enjoy the game and go home.  Why is this guy telling me about the beauty of small ball, a player's OPS, and how that game and specific play reminds him of a game from 1978?"

But it's kind of fun listening to all the enthusiasm and debates on Facebook, the detailed analysis given to brand new superhero film trailers, the certainty with which it's stated this movie will be good and this one will stink.  (Captain America: Civil War, based on the trailer - thumbs up; Batman v Superman - tagged with a definite thumbs down).  And who knows? People may very well be right in their prognostications.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier was excellent, and I'm stoked for the coming installment. And yes, Marvel has been killing it on the big screen, while DC......oh, well.  But with a 10 year old son who's really psyched to see Batman v Superman its opening weekend, am I put off enough by what I see in the trailer to nix seeing it in a theater?  A better question might be this: does the portrayal of Superman, begun in the last Superman movie and admittedly not very much in line with the expected portrayal of Superman, bother me enough to damper my kid's excitement by disparaging the film within his earshot before we see it?  It does not.  Actually, neither he nor I liked the last Superman film, but he's still eager to see what's gonna happen when Batman and Wonder Woman enter the scene, and so what the hell?  As a casual comic book fan, I can't get all that bent out of shape by what they might do with the characters.  Damn, the Japanese created their own King Kong just so they could set up a fight between Kong and Godzilla. And if  the movie sucks, well, who's the loser?  The real loser.  Not the adult viewers. Not even the kids who watched.  Like with novels, the original sources are out there and you can always go back to those or direct your kid to those. (Or to the animated features DC does, which indeed are well done).   No, the loser, yet again, would be the DC company, and even my son wouldn't be shocked by that since everyone above 5 with half a brain knows who's winning between DC and Marvel when it comes to the big screen (and Netflix) adaptations.

Anyhow, I should wrap this up. So let me bring things around to where they started, and if I may, I'll give my take on the seven adaptations listed above.  Remember, this is coming from a casual comic book fan.  My knowledge and interest are akin to the knowledge and interest of the baseball fan who doesn't even know the meaning of the word sabermetrics.

1) Deadpool: Self-aware, witty, and clever.  I enjoyed it.  Proof positive that even when they make an R-rated superhero film, Marvel aims to make it fun, not gloomy.
2) Daredevil Season Two:  I watched a couple episodes in season one and the character and story just didn’t grip me. So no interest in season two. 
3) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Will it be good or bad? Who knows? Zach Snyder directs, so odds are it won't scintillate. But it's hard not to root for a movie so many people are convinced will be terrible.
4) Captain America: Civil War: Second film this year that will have two icons fighting.  Captain America wears blue, Iron Man red, so I assume the film about a team divided is a metaphor for the red state-blue state divide plaguing the United States?  Kidding.  That doesn't seem to be what the dissension in this story is about, but I do hope the film stays up to the level of its not afraid to be politically relevant predecessor.
5) X-Men: Apocalypse:  When I saw the trailer for this in the theaters, at least three other films previewed showed the world under attack or about to end, and all that utter destruction gets tedious fast.  I liked the last X-Men movie, though.
6) Suicide Squad: As director David Ayres said, this will be The Dirty Dozen with super villains.  Could be fun and deserves a shot.
7) Doctor Strange:  Hard to resist because of the cast.  But all I can think is what if you had Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejifor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelson, and Tilda Swinton in a crime film. That's something I'd be dying to see.

Well, let the annual superhero film festivities begin...

Monday, March 21, 2016

Some upcoming releases I'm looking foward to

This isn't a complete list but I just wanted to take a moment to give a shout-out to some upcoming books that I'm looking forward to reading.

The Rib From Which I Remake the World by Ed Kurtz (September 13, 2016)
In a small, rural Arkansas town in the midst of World War II, hotel house detective George “Jojo” Walker wearily maintains the status quo in the wake of personal devastation. That status quo is disrupted when a “hygiene picture” roadshow rolls into town with a controversial program on display and curious motives in mind. What begins with a gruesome and impossible murder soon spirals into hallucinatory waking nightmares for Jojo—nightmares that converge with his reality and dredge up his painful, secret past. Black magic and a terrifying Luciferian carnival boil up to a surreal finale for the town of Litchfield, when truth itself unfurls and Jojo Walker is forced to face his own identity in ways he could never have expected.
The Exiled by Christopher Charles (April 19, 2016)
Back in the 1980s, Wes Raney was an ambitious New York City Narcotics Detective with a growing drug habit of his own. While working undercover on a high-risk case, he made decisions that ultimately cost him not only his career, but also his family. Disgraced, Raney fled-but history is finally catching up with him.

Now in his early forties, Raney has been living in exile, the sole homicide investigator covering a two-hundred-mile stretch of desert in New Mexico. His solitude is his salvation-but it ends when a brutal drug deal gone wrong results in a triple murder. Staged in a locked underground bunker, the crime reawakens Raney's haunted and violent past.
Without the Moon by Cathi Unsworth (July 5, 2016)
Hush, hush, hush Here comes the Bogeyman . . . London during the long, dark days of the Blitz: a city outwardly in ruins, weakened by exhaustion and rationing. But behind the blackout, the old way of life continues: in the music halls, pubs, and cafés, soldiers mix with petty crooks, stage magicians with lonely wives, scandal-hungry reporters with good-time girls — and DCI Edward Greenaway keeps a careful eye on everyone. But out on the streets, something nastier is stirring: London’s prostitutes are being murdered, their bodies left mutilated to taunt the police. And in the shadows Greenaway’s old adversaries in organized crime are active again, lured by rich pickings on the black market. As he follows a bloody trail through backstreets and boudoirs, Greenaway must use all his skill — and everything he knows about the city’s underworld — to stop the slaughter. Based on real events, Without the Moon is an atmospheric and evocative historical crime novel demonstrating Unsworth’s masterful grasp of the genre.
The Nice Guys by Charles Ardai (May 10, 2016)
Holland March is a private eye with a defective nose and a broken arm. Jackson Healy is the tough guy who put him in a cast. Not the two most likely men to team up to hunt for a missing girl, or look into the suspicious death of a beautiful porn star, or go up against a conspiracy of the rich and powerful that stretches from Detroit to D.C. Hell, they’re not the most likely pair to team up to do anything. But there you go. And if they somehow survive this case, they might just find they like each other. But let’s be honest. They probably won’t survive it.
Crime Uncovered: Private Investigator (May 15, 2016)
The private investigator is one of the most enduring characters within crime fiction. From Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade— the hard-boiled loner trawling the mean streets—to Agatha Christie’s Captain Hastings—the genteel companion in greener surrounds—the P. I. has taken on any number of guises. In Crime Uncovered: Private Investigator, editors Alistair Rolls and Rachel Franks dive deep into crime literature and culture, challenging many of the assumptions we make about the hardy P. I. Assembling a cast of notable crime fiction experts, including Stephen Knight and Carolyn Beasley, the book covers characters from the whole world of international noir—Giorgio Scerbanenco’s Duca Lambert, Léo Malet’s Nestor Burma, and many more. Including essays on the genealogy and emergence of the protagonist in nineteenth-century fiction; interviews with crime writers Leigh Redhead, Nick Quantrill, and Fernando Lalana; and analyses of the transatlantic exchanges that helped to develop public perception of a literary icon, Crime Uncovered: Private Investigator will redefine what we think we know about the figure of the P. I. Rolls and Franks have engaged here the tension between the popular and scholarly that is inherent in any critical examination of a literary type, along the way unraveling the mystery of the alluring, enigmatic private investigator. Crime Uncovered: Private Investigator will be a handy companion for any crime fiction fan.
Blood, None, and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews (May 15, 2016)
The first full-length biography of one of the most unlikely figures in twentieth-century American literature, a writer who emerged from a dirt-poor South Georgia tenant farm and went on to create a singularly unique voice of fiction.
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley (October 4, 2016)
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars.Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation - the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan's new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion's gravity well to the very belly of the world. Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion's destruction - and its possible salvation. But can she and the band of cast-off followers she has gathered survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it? In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre's most celebrated new writers.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (October 25, 2016)  

Certain Dark Things combines elements of Latin American mythology with a literary voice that leads readers on an exhilarating and fast-paced journey. Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Here in the city, heavily policed to keep the creatures of the night at bay, Domingo is another trash-picking street kid, just hoping to make enough to survive. Then he meets Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers. Domingo is smitten. He clings to her like a barnacle until Atl relents and decides to let him stick around. But Atl's problems, Nick and Rodrigo, have come to find her. When they start to raise the body count in the city, it attracts the attention of police officers, local crime bosses, and the vampire community. Atl has to get out before Mexico City is upended, and her with it. 

Stranded by Bracken MacLeod (October 4, 2016)
the story of a ship that gets trapped in the arctic. Icebound and unable to summon help, the crew of the ship find themselves succumbing to a mysterious illness that leaves only a single deckhand, Noah Cabot, unaffected. As their distrust of him grows, Noah must lead the crew in a struggle against the elements, the ghosts of the past, and ultimately themselves. It’s scary and cold and perfect for reading during the Halloween season.
One or the Other by John McFetridge (August 9, 2016)
On the eve of hosting the 1976 Summer Olympics, the Montreal police are tightening security to prevent another catastrophe like the ’72 games in Munich. But it isn’t tight enough to stop a bold daytime Brinks truck robbery of three million dollars. As the high-profile heist continues to baffle the police, Constable Eddie Dougherty gets a chance to prove his worth as a detective when he’s assigned to assist the suburban Longueuil force in investigating the deaths of two teenagers returning from a rock concert across the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Were they mugged and thrown from the bridge? Or was it a murder suicide? With tensions running high in the city and his future career at stake, Eddie Dougherty faces the limits of the force and of his own policing, and has to decide when to settle and when justice is the only thing that should be obeyed.
Willnot by James Sallis (June 26, 2016)
A brilliant new protagonist and his memorable community are introduced in the latest masterpiece by acclaimed novelist James Sallis. In his celebrated career, James Sallis has created some of the most finely drawn protagonists in crime fiction, all of them thoughtful observers of the human condition: Lew Griffin, the black New Orleans private investigator; retired detective John Turner; the unnamed wheelman in Drive. Dr. Lamar Hale will now join the ranks of Sallis' finest characters. In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have suddenly been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Hale, the town's all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon, and conscience. At the same time, Bobby Lowndes -- a man being followed by the FBI -- mysteriously reappears in his hometown at Hale's door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot. And when a gunshot aimed at Lowndes critically wounds Richard, Hale's world is truly upended.
Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay (June 21, 2016)
A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts. “A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare,” raved Stephen King about Paul Tremblay’s previous novel. Now, Tremblay returns with another disturbing tale sure to unsettle readers. Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her thirteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park. The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend Tommy’s disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration: the local and state police have uncovered no leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were the last to see Tommy before he vanished, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock. Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connects them. As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened become more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.
The Fireman by Joe Hill (May 17, 2016)
From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman. The fireman is coming. Stay cool. No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe. Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child. Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged. In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.
Central Station by Lavie Tidhar (May 10, 2016)
A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper. When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return. Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change. At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive...and even evolve.
Infomocracy by Malka Older (June 7, 2016)
It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line. With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?
Judenstaat by Simone Zelitch (June 21, 2016)
On April 4th, 1948 the sovereign state of Judenstaat was created in the territory of Saxony, bordering Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia . Forty years later, Jewish historian Judit Klemmer is making a documentary portraying Judenstaat's history from the time of its founding to the present. She is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband, Hans, a Saxon, shot by a sniper as he conducted the National Symphony. With the grief always fresh, Judit lives a half-life, until confronted by a mysterious, flesh-and-blood ghost from her past who leaves her controversial footage on one of Judenstaat's founding fathers--and a note: "They lied about the murder." Judit's research into the footage, and what really happened to Hans, embroils her in controversy and conspiracy, collective memory and national amnesia, and answers far more horrific than she imagined.
I am Providence by Nick Mamatas (August 2, 2016)
For fans of legendary pulp author H. P. Lovecraft, there is nothing bigger than the annual Providence-based convention the Summer Tentacular. Horror writer Colleen Danzig doesn’t know what to expect when she arrives, but is unsettled to find that among the hobnobbing between scholars and literary critics are a group of real freaks: book collectors looking for volumes bound in human skin, and true believers claiming the power to summon the Elder God Cthulhu, one of their idol’s most horrific fictional creations, before the weekend is out. Colleen’s trip spirals into a nightmare when her roommate for the weekend, an obnoxious novelist known as Panossian, turns up dead, his face neatly removed. What’s more unsettling is that, in the aftermath of the murder, there is little concern among the convention goers. The Summer Tentacular continues uninterrupted, except by a few bumbling police. Everyone at the convention is a possible suspect, but only Colleen seems to show any interest in solving the murder. So she delves deep into the darkness, where occult truths have been lurking since the beginning of time. A darkness where Panossian is waiting, spending a lot of time thinking about Colleen, narrating a new Lovecraftian tale that could very well spell her doom.
Shot in Detroit by Patti Abbott (June 14, 2016)
Violet Hart is a photographer who has always returned to cobble out a life for herself in the oddly womblike interiors of Detroit. Nearing forty, she’s keenly aware that the time for artistic recognition is running out. When her lover, Bill, a Detroit mortician, needs a photograph of a body, she agrees to takes the picture. It’s an artistic success and Violet is energized by the subject matter, persuading Bill to allow her to take pictures of some of his other “clients,” eventually settling on photographing young, black men. When Violet’s new portfolio is launched, she quickly strikes a deal, agreeing to produce a dozen pictures with a short deadline, confident because dead bodies are commonplace in Detroit and she has access to the city’s most prominent mortician. These demands soon place Violet in the position of having to strain to meet her quota. As time runs out, how will Violet come up with enough subjects to photograph without losing her soul or her life in the process? A riveting novel of psychological suspense, Patricia Abbott continues to cement herself as one of our very best writers of the darkness that lies within the human heart.
How about you, what are you looking forward to in 2016?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Two New-to-Me Authors

By Steve Weddle

DSD Note: Steve is filling in today for Kristi. We apologize in advance.

As the luckiest man alive, I somehow got to moderate a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book this weekend, a panel featuring Mary Louise Kelly, Rebecca Drake, Sarah Weinman, and Lisa Lutz.

I chatted with some swell people there. Friday was dinner outside in great weather and Saturday was dodging puny hailbits. Welcome to spring, eh?

Two "new-to-me" authors I had the pleasure of chatting with are Mark Pryor and Mary Carter/Carlene O'Connor.

I haven't read their books -- shut up, I've been busy. But I bought them, which, as we know, is the important part.

Lee Child says to add Mark Pryor to "your must-read list," so I did, despite Mark's being a West Ham fan. (Go Gunners.)

I bought The Hollow Man, which seems to have garnered some swell praise:
Fans of characters such as TV's Dexter, Sherlock, and House will take a shine to Dominic, a British expat living in Austin, TX, and working for the DA's office. He's having a terrible day: he has to switch to a job that pays less money, and he's barred from playing in a local club. On the plus side, there's a mysterious woman he takes an interest in- she's intriguing, sexy, and the older sister of a boy appearing in juvenile court, where Dominic happens to work. They, and his friend Gus, begin to plan a heist, one that seems simple and will solve Dominic's money woes. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and the protagonist has to tidy things up if he's going to avoid detection and jail. The twists and complications are a little fanciful, but readers will enjoy the mix of legal information and heist. Is Dominic a psychopath? His lack of emotion and empathy might suggest yes. Will he get the girl? Teens will happily read on to find out. VERDICT A great choice for those who want more suspense than mystery and who don't feel they have to empathize with or like the main character.-Laura Pearle, Library School Journal
Also, the Oprah website said Mark is "gritty."

I also chatted with Mary Carter and Carlene O'Connor, who seemed to be one person with two names, which is the exact opposite of Charles Todd, also in attendance.

The newest Carlene O'Connor book is Murder in an Irish Village.

Here's what Laurien Berenson, author of Live and Let Growl, had to say on that one:
If Janet Evanovich and Maeve Binchy wrote a book together, Murder in an Irish Village would be the result. The Irish setting rings with authenticity and Siobhan O'Sullivan is a character to savor. She's funny, feisty, and fearless. I want her to be my new best friend. I also want another book by Carlene O’Connor to read. This one is delicious fun.
Anyhoo, check them out. I also got to meet Jamie Mason, Matthew Iden, and Eric Rickstad in the persons. I have some stories to tell you about them, but I have to clear some approvals first.

As always, the Virginia Festival of the Book was a great week. Keep your clickers hovering here for next