Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Dana King on White Out

Scott's Note: Dana King guest posts this week.  He's back to tell us about his new novel, White Out, the newest book in his Penns River series.


Take it away, Dana...



Location, Location, Location


by Dana King


Last week I learned of my panel for this year’s Bouchercon: The Place It Took Place: Setting in Mystery, where Mary LoguePatricia Skalka, Oskar Magnusson, Sylissa Franklin, Albert Tucher and I will talk about how setting influences and sometimes determines the mystery in our stories. (Sunday, September 11 at 9:00 if you’re going to Bouchercon. I’ll give away a book for one lucky early riser.) I have since received several kind messages from friends telling me how well suited I am for this panel, which flatters me no end

 

The panel assignment has also prompted me to think in more detail than usual how my setting – Penns River in seven of my eight most recent books – does affect the stories. Anything that prompts me to contemplate such things is good, as it’s easy to take them for granted, which can lead to missed opportunities.



For those unaware, Penns River is a small 
city twenty miles northeast of Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River. The economy collapsed when the mills closed in the 70s and the town has not recovered. It’s now a decaying Rust Belt exurb with the hulks of abandoned factories still looming over the old downtown section. Such a setting conjures, and accepts, some stories much more readily than others.

Making too direct an association between crime and poverty (“The hungry man stole a loaf of bread”) is too facile. The low-income status of most Penns River residents makes them more susceptible to temptation, but working-class people in depressed towns are no more - or less - inherently criminal than the upper class living in Manhattan condos. The working-class crimes just aren’t as glamorous.

 

What kinds of crimes are we talking about? Here are exampletaken from earlier books in the series.

 

A low-roller casino opens in a long-abandoned retail facility, prompting a power struggle between those who want to take over the ancillary businesses (loan sharking, prostitution, drugs) and the criminals already running those businesses.

 

The renovation of a different run-down shopping center into a religious-themed mall lies too close to the center of the town’s drug business, prompting a power struggle.

 

A car thief who has been preying on the casino parking lot finds someone in the car he has targeted and kills him.

 

A mass shooting distracts the already overworked police, providing an opportunity for a fugitive to undertake a series of robberies in supermarkets and check-cashing facilities.

 

A hit-and-run homicide almost falls through the cracks as the overworked detectives can’t pay as much attention as they’d like to the investigation.

 

A man shot through both ass cheeks at the culmination of an argument over who ate the last of the chocolate chip cookies in a house across town. 

 

The theft of construction equipment parked overnight where front yard meets the street. 

 

Various flavors of domestic altercations.

 

An old woman with dementia wanders off in sub-freezing temperatures.

 

Purveyors of (mostly) legal moonshine find themselves targeted by the Dixie Mafia. 

 

A meth cooker needs window coverings for the trailer and steals small flags from local businesses and homes to cover them.



The new book, 
White Out, (available as of yesterday) starts out with a tragedy that has become too routine in this country: a cop shoots an unarmed man. The differences here are:

The cop is Black, the victim white;

The victim was a white supremacist;

Other white supremacists rally in Penns River for the funeral, which is on the same day as

The casino has a poker tournament with a million dollars cash on the gaming floor, and

A massive storm drops over a foot of snow on the town.

 

No white-collar crime. No suburban psychological suspense. No elaborate schemes. Crime in Penns River is opportunistic accidental, or a struggle over the same slice of pie when there aren’t enough slices to go around. Small stuff. The fate of the world does not hinge on any of these cases. What matters here is how the locals respond to attempts to make their already shitty lives even worse. 

 

The national news doesn’t cover Penns River. Few outside of town will ever know what happens. That doesn’t make it any less important, or terrifying, to the people who live there.

 

***


Dana King writes the Penns River series of police procedurals, the newest of which, White Out, became available from Down & Out Books` on July 11. Dana’s Nick Forte private eye novels have earned two Shamus Award nominations from the Private Eye Writers of America. His work has appeared in outlets such as Thuglit and Mystery Tribune and numerous anthologies, most recently The Eviction of HopeYou can get to know him better on his website (https://danakingauthor.com/), blog (https://danaking.blogspot.com/), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DanaKingBooks), or Twitter (https://twitter.com/DanaKingAuthor).

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