Saturday, August 13, 2022

A High School Reunion and a Murder: Girl Most Likely by Max Allan Collins

Scott D. Parker

Last week, I mentioned a new way to consume a story, via a Kindle ebook and its corresponding audiobook. The book in question was Girl Most Likely by Max Allan Collins. Well, I’ve finished the novel and here is the promised review.

The lead character is Krista Larson, a twenty-eight-year-old who serves as the police chief for Galena, Illinois, a small, Midwestern tourist town. This makes her simultaneously the youngest police chief in the country and the youngest female chief. As we’re told throughout the novel, her department consists only of a dozen people, herself included.

Her father, Keith, was also a cop, but one from a larger town across the river. They live together now in the wake of her mom’s passing. They have a good relationship, nothing like the oil-and-water relationships you see on TV or in other books.

Speaking of TV, Collins intentionally set out to write “an American variation of the [Kurt] Wallander novels, and such Nordic TV mini-series as The Bridge, the Killing, and (again) Wallander.” Being a fan of those programs myself, that was pretty much all it took for me to download the ebook and audiobook and start reading.

There’s a certain style of mystery—mostly thrillers, I guess—where there’s running on page one or a murder on page one and that sets the entire tale in motion. That’s here in this book, too, but via a fun writerly quirk: all the times the killer in on stage, Collins writes those scenes in second person, that is, from the killer’s point of view. It serves more the one purses. The obvious one is that you get a peek inside the killer’s mind, what drives the killer to kill. The other obvious thing is that Collins hides the identity of the killer. By the time a reader reaches the end of the novel and know who did, it’s fun to return to those chapters and see how the veteran writer spooled out the clues.

Other than the opening chapter, the bulk of the novel sets the stage via its characters and surrounding environment. It’s a day-to-day life of Krista and her friends as they prepare to attend their ten year high school reunion. We get nice portraits of the folks who never left small town life as well as those who return from bigger cities. As the title of the book indicates, there is one character—Astrid Lund—who is the girl most likely to succeed, and boy has she. Astrid (a nice nod to the Nordic) has blossomed into a stunner who works in TV broadcast news up in Chicago. She broke up more than one relationship back in high school and her presence at the reunion threatens those same people. Most everyone reacts to her in one way or another. She’s like the sun: her gravity either pushes or pulls all her classmates.

What I found particularly fun is how Collins weaves the characters in and out of the story in such a way that you almost wonder if you are merely reading a traditional drama rather than a murder mystery. You kind of have an idea of who is going to be killed, but you still wonder when it'll happen, but when it does, it's visceral. Three people end up dead in this story, so this small town police chief ends up having a triple murder investigation. She draws on her father’s experience as a homicide detective while keeping the investigation local and not calling in the state police.

As a writer, describing a character is always a challenge. How much do you give? How to you give it? Do you do it every time a character walks on stage? Collins does it nearly every time, but he usually dispatches the description in a sentence or two. Interestingly, he goes a step further and details their voice, usually in the form of a musical notation: his baritone, her soprano. Being a musician like Collins, I dug that and, frankly, it never even occurred to me to do that.

Like the BBC shows that inspired Collins to write this story, this is a full-on police procedural. Krista and her dad ask lots of questions and follow leads. You definitely have to be in a mood for this kind of story, and it’s where I have an issue with the sub-title: A thriller. I don’t consider this a thriller at all. Sure, there is the ending, but when I think thriller, I think lots of running and shooting and more running and reading so fast that you quickly start to turn the pages or increase the narration speed. Girl Most Likely moves forward in a determined manner where you know you’re being given some red herrings and try and decipher the clues before the characters.

I enjoyed Girl Most Likely quite a bit. It was exactly the type of story I wanted and it easily met my expectations. In fact, I liked it so much that I already downloaded both the ebook and audiobook of Girl Can’t Help It, the second novel featuring Krista Larson. And, since I enjoy reading “seasonally,” I was pleased to note Girl Can’t Help It takes place around Labor Day. I’ll give you zero guesses when I start the book.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Podcast: The Scandalous Hamiltons

 By Steve Weddle

I spoke with Bill Shaffer about his new book, The Scandalous Hamiltons

Listen to the podcast here.


An Alexander Hamilton heir, a beautiful female con artist, an abandoned baby, and the shocking courtroom drama that was splashed across front pages from coast to coast—this is the fascinating true story behind one of the greatest scandals of the Gilded Age, and the story that gave rise to the sensational tabloid journalism still driving so much of the news cycle in the 21st century.

“Fans of Erik Larson–style histories and anyone who just loves a fun, gossipy read will love The Scandalous Hamiltons.”—Apple Books, Best of the Month Selection

"Adultery? Check. Attempted murder? Check. Baby-trafficking? Check. These are just a few of the missteps of the woman who rained humiliation onto the House of Hamilton." —Marlene Wagman-Geller, author of Women of Means: Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls

It’s a story almost too tawdry to be true—a con woman prostitute who met the descendant of a Founding Father in a brothel, duped him into marriage using an infant purchased from a baby farm, then went to prison for stabbing the couple’s baby nurse—all while in a common-law marriage with another man. The scandal surrounding Evangeline and Robert Ray Hamilton, though little known today, was one of the sensations of the Gilded Age, a sordid, gripping tale involving bigamy, bribery, sex, and violence.

When the salacious Hamilton story emerged in during Eva’s trial for the August 1889 stabbing, it commanded unprecedented national and international newspaper coverage thanks to the telegraph and the recently founded Associated Press. For the New York dailies, eager to capture readers through provocative headlines, Ray and Eva were a godsend.

As lurid details emerged, the public’s fascination grew—how did a man of Hamilton’s stature become entangled with such an adventuress? Nellie Bly, the world-famous investigative reporter, finagled an exclusive interview with Eva after her conviction. Hamilton’s death under mysterious circumstances, a year after the stabbing, added to the intrigue.

Through personal correspondence, court records, and sensational newspaper accounts, The Scandalous Hamiltons explores not only the full, riveting saga of ill-fated Ray and Eva, but the rise of tabloid journalism and celebrity in a story that is both a fascinating slice of pop culture history and a timeless tale of ambition, greed, and obsession.

“Historical true crime buffs will be engrossed.” – Publishers Weekly

“Shaffer has an appealing writing style and a talent for sneaking up on the reader with each big reveal…Rich period detail.” – Booklist

Listen to the podcast interview here

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Tick, tick, boom


This week, Beau surveys some recent(ish) crime fiction.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Old Man Rider - Cover Reveal and Interview with Beau Johnson

By Paul J. Garth

You stick around crime fiction long enough, you come across these characters, these singular expressions of humanity that stick around, always on a relentless quest for something they can never have. Harry Bosch is one of the most famous. Jack Reacher is another. Spenser, of course. Miss Marple. Sherlock Holmes. They all have their charms, which spur their longevity. They appear across books and short stories, that final goal always just out of reach. And then there is Bishop Rider. 

A one man (except when he has teammates, including one who eventually betrays him) death squad, Bishop Rider has hunted down pedophiles and anyone who relishes in sexual violence across almost 100 short stories. And then he died. 

But even after he was dead on the page, Bishop's creator, Beau Johnson, knew there were stories left to tell. Parts of Bishop's life that still could be explored. So he wrote and gathered those final stories in Johnson's final Bishop Rider collection: Old Man Rider: 

It’s all come down to this. The past, the present, and the conclusion of man who’s chosen to end so many colliding for the final time.

From an unimaginable start within the pages of A Better Kind of Hate to a bitter, bloody end throughout All of Them To Burn, Bishop Rider remains what he’s always been. What a certain type of predator forced him to become. His life and struggle not only a journey of choice driven by necessity, but one decades in the making.

There will be carnage. There will be blood. But through it all, a sliver of hope. And perhaps, if he’s lucky, a chance at brighter days.

Time to go to work.

Hot damn. And the cover, which Beau was kind enough to "officially" let me reveal below, is also stunning: 

Beau and I spoke recently, about Old Man Rider, his first memories of Bishop, and how it feels to hang it all up. Read it, and when you're done, don't forget to preorder Old Man Rider right away. I can promise, you won't want to miss it. 

Okay: a few questions. Let’s go back to the beginning. Do you remember the first time Bishop Rider showed up in your head? How long did it take you to realize he’d have the kind of longevity he’s had?

Let's see, the youngest is almost sixteen, he was almost two when I got back to writing, so carry the one...fourteen! It's been roughly fourteen years since Bishop entered my head. It took me about four or five stories to realize I had something with legs, which was awesome in itself, but as for his longevity, yeah, it took me a bit longer to realize that aspect.

If you had to name your best Bishop Rider story, which one would you pick?

Ha! Man, there's so many now.  I really don't think I could pick just one, but since you asked, of the ninety-six that make up Rider's life, I guess I'll go with A Better Kind of Hate. It's short, it's punchy, it's Rider to a T.  And if I'm not mistaken, I believe it's the first time I had two different versions of Rider in the same story. 

Bishop, kind of famously, is dead. But the stories kept coming. When he died, did you know you were going to go back and fill in more stories from before, or was that your first attempt at leaving him behind? 

Well, there's two stories there. Because I write Rider's story out of sequence there's always some wiggle room to revisit, hit another perspective, or make up whole parts of his life in general.  Most of his stories have a built in sequel/prequel element to them too, if it's an angle that interests me enough.  It doesn't always play out this way, but it happens enough that I can't deny it. But anyway, back to killing the man..  Yes, that was the plan.  Right after I saw that Infinity War trailer with Downey's Stark saying 'part of the journey is the end', it got me thinking about the end of Rider---that it at some point would occur.  The question that followed was would it either be in a blaze of glory or would he get to do what he feels he has to for the remainder of his days.  Well, I chose the latter, giving him forty years of slaughter to play with, knowing I might have a story or two down the line as there were some plots threads I'd left open. However, as I was doing edits for ALL OF THEM TO BURN (my 3rd book and the one Rider dies in) something happened, and this thing, I've mentioned it before: writing begets writing begets writing. So really, choosing to kill Rider as I did gave birth to both BRAND NEW DARK and OLD MAN RIDER, which combine to close out Rider's life. Some of this I foresaw, sure, but not all of it was planned.  Nope, not all.

You’ve said that this is your last book. That, now that Bishop is done, you are too. How did it feel to write the last line of the last story? Was there a grieving period? Also, how sure are you this is it? Is there any chance of Beau coming back, maybe with a new character?

I'll never say never, but yeah, I think that's it for this Canadian. And don't get me wrong, I'll always write, and from time to time I'll probably drop a story or two on the internets, but as for publishing books, yeah, I'm tapped. As for the last line and how it felt, well, I had that particular line in my head for a couple years now, so I knew where I was heading, which had me pretty much prepared.  Still a little sad, sure, but just between you and me, Paul, I might have given Bishop a little hope there at the end.  The world being the state it's in on an almost daily fucking basis, I felt it was the least I could do. But please, that stays just between us. I have a reputation to keep!Anyway, thanks for having me Paul. Thank you for your time. Great questions. 

Preorder Old Man Rider now on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Nolan, Kubrick, Herman and Joe, and Girls on Film

I'm coming close this year to the end of the movie talk series I do every year in Bryant Park in Manhattan, and once again, one of the pleasures of the series has been not just the talks themselves but the books I have to read in preparation for the talks with particular guests.  Here are the books I've read this summer for the talks, all of which I'd recommend as enjoyable and informative film books.

Competing with Idiots by Nick Davis

This excellent book by the grandson of Herman Mankiewicz is both a dual biography and a kind of family memoir about the famous Herman and Joe, the brothers Mankiewicz, as brilliant and productive a pair of siblings as Hollywood has known.  Nick Davis, cousin of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and, in the family tradition, a director and producer himself, writes trenchantly and movingly about both brothers.  He's done tons of research for the book, and it's chock full of inside Hollywood stories.  You have two supremely intelligent guys, and the older brother, Herman, was the one with the greater pure talent, but this is partly a tale about how discipline and focus and a kind of calculated use of one's abilities can get one farther than, say, the spark of genius.  This is a very absorbing read. 

Stanley Kubrick american filmmaker by David Mikics

Over the years, so much has been written about Stanley Kubrick, not to mention the documentaries made about him.  But David Mikics' book, part of the Jewish Lives series from Yale University Press, is a good addition to all that's been said.  It's concise, 204 pages, yet full of interesting anecdotes and insights.  A quick read and one that will appeal even to hardcore Kubrick aficionados who've read much about Stanley K over time, like myself.  I had a few bones to pick with some of Mikics observations about Kubrick's films, but that's par for the course when you're reading someone else talking about one of your filmmaking favorites.  

Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies by Alicia Malone

Best known for her hosting role on Turner Classic Movies, Alicia Malone is an excellent writer as well.  Her book from a few years ago, The Female Gaze, Essential Movies Made by Women, is a collection of essays she edited about fifty-two movies made by women.  A superb guide.  Her newest book, Girls on Film, is a fast read that's part memoir and part exploration of what it means to be a woman who loves classic film.  She touches on movies that have inspired, amused, or annoyed her, movies that have made an emotional mark in her life.  Her knowledge, of course, is vast, her enthusiasm contagious.  If you want a good movie book for the beach, I think it's fair to say, something you can zip through but that has plenty to chew on, this fits the bill.

The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries, And Marvels of Christopher Nolan by Tom Shone

A film critic for the London Sunday Times, Tom Shone has written a comprehensive study of Christopher Nolan and his films, a beautifully put-together book loaded with photos and illustrations in all manner related to Nolan's movies. This is not a coffee table book, though.  It's an incisive and analytic look at Nolan's work by someone who clearly loves Nolan's movies.  And with Nolan, there is always lots and lots to discuss and debate.  I'd call it a must for Nolan enthusiasts.