Saturday, May 25, 2024

Add Tom Straw and Matt Goldman to Your Summer Reading List


Scott D. Parker

I walked into Murder by the Book on Wednesday knowing one author. I left knowing two.

I’ve enjoyed Tom Straw’s writing before I knew who Tom Straw was. Back in the fall of 2009, the second season of “Castle” premiered on our TV screens, but HEAT WAVE, the first book “written by” Richard Castle, showed up on bookshelves. What was this meta magic? Nearly every fall after 2009, when a new Castle season started there was a Castle book. What made the books great was this: unlike the TV show characters Castle and Beckett, their counterparts, Jameson Rook and Nikki Heat, actually got together. It was the mirror universe of the TV show.

 But who was the actual author? It was a fun parlor game as the years went on, a game I didn’t play because I reckoned the identity of the author would be revealed one day. And then it was. Tom Straw, veteran writer for Night Court, Nurse Jackie, and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, was the man behind the keyboard on the first seven Richard Castle books. Once I knew his name, I didn’t forget it. 

So imagine my delight when not only is there a new Tom Straw novel released in May but his tour was swinging by Houston’s Murder by the Book. The book in question is THE ACCIDENTAL JOE and the premise is wonderful: what if a celebrity chef like Anthony Bourdain uses his travel and food show as a cover for the CIA? Even if the idea hadn’t come to Tom, I’d have bought that book in a heartbeat.

Not One But Two Authors

When the folks at the bookstore announced the date of the event, there was another author on the bill, a writer named Matt Goldman. I’ll admit going in that I wasn’t familiar with Matt’s work. Turns out in the hour-long conversation, Matt’s got quite the resume. A New York Times bestselling author, his writing for television includes Ellen, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and a little show called Seinfeld. Oh, and he’s won an Emmy award. 

The author of seven books, he was in town promoting his latest, STILL WATERS. The premise of Matt’s book, much like Tom’s, sold me in a sentence: Adult twins receive a phone call telling them their brother is dead only to also receive an email from their dead brother saying that if they are reading said email, he’s been murdered. Again, sold!

A Good Conversation

In the course of the event, Tom and Matt mentioned that they are part of a small group of writers who meet regularly via Zoom. Their talk on Wednesday was akin to joining that group. The pair discussed their new books, their careers, and techniques for writing good books people want to read. Central to good stories, both writers said, was character. Without it, you’ve only got cardboard characters going through a plot. 

What really struck me during the event was the warm friendship Tom and Matt share and their mutual respect for each other’s work. Tom complimented Matt’s “kinetic energy” in his story of the two twins who have to unravel all the mysteries and secrets in the small town while confronting and addressing their own flaws. Matt sang the praises of the “organic humor” in Tom’s book. “He does action well,” Matt said. “You get the feel of the danger without the blow by blow narrative.”

Tom and Matt reflected on their time writing for television and how episodic storytelling ingrained the essence of good pacing and structure in their stories. It has helped Matt write his novels without outlines, feeling his way through the tale. It also paved the way for a complete upheaval of a book. THE ACCIDENTAL JOE we buy in stores is actually the second version. Turns out, early readers liked the story but really loved the first person “voiceover” narration of Sebastian Pike, the main character. So Tom did what any sensible author would do: take the feedback and completely rewrite the novel entirely from Pike’s POV. Viola!

I had a blast at the store on Wednesday night. I got to meet an author I enjoy and discover a new one. And now I’m introducing them to you. Start your summer reading with THE ACCIDENTAL JOE and STILL WATERS.

When the CIA enlists celebrity chef Sebastian Pike to use his food and culture travel show as cover for espionage, it kicks off a high stakes mission full of danger and romance. From Paris to Provence, there’s peril, double dealing, plus a minefield of complications from the hot romance that sparks between the bad-boy chef and his CIA handler.

Liv and Gabe Ahlstrom are estranged siblings who haven't seen each other in years, but that's about to change when they receive a rare call from their older brother's wife. "Mack is dead," she says. "He died of a seizure." Five minutes after they hang up, Liv and Gabe each receive a scheduled email from their dead brother, claiming that he was murdered.

The siblings return to their family-run resort in the Northwoods of Minnesota to investigate Mack's claims, but Leech Lake has more in store for them than either could imagine. Drawn into a tangled web of lies and betrayal that spans decades, they put their lives on the line to unravel the truth about their brother, their parents, themselves, and the small town in which they grew up. After all, no one can keep a secret in a small town, but someone in Leech Lake is willing to kill for the truth to stay buried.

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