Saturday, March 31, 2012

Q & A with Mike Cooper

Q: What makes Silas Cade different from other (unofficial) PIs?

Mike Cooper is a novelist. In his latest, CLAWBACK (Viking, March), an assassin has begun shooting the rottenest, worst-performing financiers on Wall Street. “Don’t bail them out, TAKE them out!” – it’s a good tagline for a thriller, and Mike really hopes it remains fiction. More at
This is the interview I had with him.

Q: What makes Silas Cade different from other (unofficial) PIs?
A: Not too many enforcers have a CPA :) Silas’s niche is sorting out financial issues for CEOs who don’t want to wait around for the audit committee, and he brings an unusual combination of accounting acumen and over-the-top combat experience to bear on gray-zone problems.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: I have a finance background myself. Anyone who’s sat through interminable budget meetings, stared bleary-eyed at vast spreadsheets for hours at a time, or tried to explain basic accounting to those numbskulls in operations – they know: the idea of bringing automatic weapons to work has real appeal. Silas first appeared in a few short stories, which I wrote mostly to amuse myself – the idea of a hitman accountant was pretty funny, in an inside-joke kind of way.

Q: Why did you decide on the whole financial setting?
A: Silas was already established, and then Wall Street cratered the world economy – it seemed like fate. Penny-stock fraud is one thing; taking down the banksters responsible for global economic collapse is a mission Silas couldn’t pass up.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
A: For years I was expecting ebooks to take off … and they went and finally did so. Anything that gets good writing into the hands of more readers is a good thing. Of course, the sheer ease of publishing electronically has also resulted in a deluge of bad writing. The key buzzwords are Gatekeeping and Discovery. Gatekeeping is dead, smashed, obliterated, pulverized; anyone can publish anything now, and just about everyone seems to be. So it’s all about Discovery. How will readers sort through the vast fields of possibility? Plenty of people are trying to solve this problem, and I don’t think we’ve seen the answers emerge yet.

Q: What's next for you and Silas?
A: Silas appears in ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE next month, and in a sequel from Viking next year. As Silas himself has pointed out, when your job is taking down corrupt bankers, you won’t want for work any time soon. With luck he’ll be around for some time yet, helping Wall Street heal itself.

Q: How do you promote your work?
A: Oh, the usual – Facebook, Twitter, website commentary, guest blogs (like this one!), some radio interviews and so forth. It’s hard work.

Q: Tell us a bit about the Shamus Award you won.
A: Another series characters of mine is a Japanese private detective, and his second story “A Death in Ueno” earned the Shamus in 2006. I do have a novel-length manuscript featuring him, but have been unable to sell it.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
A: Literary fiction in the realistic school, history, technology and plenty more. In high school I read nothing but science fiction and fantasy; a few years ago I got back into that, and someday I hope to publish an SF story or two. For anyone interested, I post the books I’m reading over at Goodreads.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: I wouldn’t tell Pike to his face that he’s a psycho :) Sidekicks are an effective device, though often somewhat underdeveloped. That Pike is now starring in his own standalones is interesting – I’m not sure that Hawk, fun character though he is, could hold up an entire novel by himself.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
A: Sadly, I think the strongest influences now come from Hollywood – high speed, action, quick-cuts, absurd violence. The PI novel as a genre has been in eclipse for some years. I’d like to think a renaissance will occur, but when it does, I think it will be less about fedoras in the rain and more about exploding Ferraris.

Q: James Tucker came up with the following question: Have you ever been involved in a crime?
A: Ha! Good one. The closest I think I’ve come to crime is changing money illegally – I spent years in Asia when I was younger, and in countries with controlled economic regimes, buying local currency on the black market was more or less essential. At least for penniless backpackers. But it’s been the straight and narrow for me otherwise.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: “How many copies of your book should I buy?” Excellent question! – one for every friend and relative you have. Or two.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Cut (Lucas Spero) by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos does PI's again! After several standalones he's back with a great new series character, Lucas Spero. This ex-soldier works as a PI for a lawyer and specializes in getting recovering stolen items.
Hired by a jailed drug dealer to get his stuff back he has to confront a dangerous crew of criminals, endangering one of his brother's (a teacher)students.
This is a crime novel, not a mystery but there's some nice twists along the way.
Spero is vintage Pelecanos, a new version of his earlie series character Nick Stefanos. He's got some Greek roots, loves Spaghetti westerns and pulp fiction, smokes weed... He also loves to ride a bike and likes to kayak.
The writing is nice and hardboiled, as always with Pelecanos the little peek into the life on the mean streets of Washington is interesting and feel authentic.
Bonus scenes include the parts where Lucas' brother teaches kids about great writers like Elmore Leonard and Richard Stark. They might not be totally necessary for the plot, but they made this novel stand out from the rest I read this month.

Storm Damage (Cliff St. James) by Ed Kovacs

After hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans people were left homeless, a city was wrecked and crime was at an all-time high. Post-Katrina is the world where Cliff St. James, ex-cop and martial arts expert operates in. Hired to find out who killed a Vietnamese lady's father he confronts the FBI, CIA and several criminals.
St. James is a cool character. He enjoys fancy coffee, cigarillo's and martial arts. He's scarred by his divorce but tries to love women again. Luckily there's a great woman to help him out a bit, awesome lady cop Honey Baybee (really!) who I personally fell in love with immediately.
Ed makes good use of the New Orleans setting, serves up anything fans of PI fiction OR Lee Child style thrillers could want.

New appearances on the web

Two other cool sites were nice enough to have me appear... I'm interviewed here and I've got a new short story up at the awesome Shotgun Honey.
Go check them out!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Guest Post: Hard-boiled Fiction and Film Noir by Steve Brewer

This week, I introduce eighteen college students to Sam Spade.
We're viewing the John Huston film "The Maltese Falcon," watching Humphrey Bogart outsmart Mary Astor and pals as they pursue "the black bird."
The students are enrolled in a class I teach in the Honors Program at the University of New Mexico. The class is called "Hard-boiled Fiction and Film Noir." I've taught it before, and always come away amazed at how little these very bright students have been exposed to private eyes in fiction and film. Most have never heard of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald before they take this course. A few have never watched a black-and-white movie before.
They do have a sense of what a private investigator is and what he does, but it's a vague notion of fedoras and trenchcoats and window-peeping. Until we talk about it in class, they're not aware of the place the private eye holds in the fiction tradition of the lone hero facing overwhelming odds and an uncaring society.
For those of us who write contemporary P.I. series, this lack of knowledge in the next generation of readers feels daunting and worrisome. Is there no place for the private eye anymore? Do today's youth only care about Harry Potter and sparkly vampires and Grand Theft Auto?
Here's the good news: It takes only a little exposure to get young people jazzed about private eyes. Once they've read some stories, they uniformly love the Continental Op and Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. My students will debate long and loud over the merits of other types of hard-boiled stories or films noir, but they always recognize the private eye as a heroic figure, even when he doesn't act heroically. The students respect a man who does his job, no matter how nasty or dangerous it becomes. And that's been the lure of the private eye all along.

(Steve Brewer is the author of 20-plus crime novels, including nine stories featuring Albuquerque private eye Bubba Mabry. The latest in the series is the new novella PARTY DOLL.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Cleveland Creep (Milan Jacovich) by Les Roberts

I'd almost forgotten what a great example of solid PI writing Les Roberts is.
Milan Jacovich is back in action, trying to track down a missing young man with a perverse hobby. This draws Milan into the world of porn and gets him to clash with the FBI and puts his friendship with a mobster at risk.
He gets some help this time from ex-soldier K.O. Bannion, a young man who has the tendency to think with his fists instead of his brains.
I was a bit worried at first that Milan would loose his toughness with the introduction of this sidekick, but luckily it's made clear Milan may have gotten older but he is still pretty tough.
All in all, Les serves up a solid tale of PI fiction in the classic style of the nineties, to me one of the best and underrated periods in PI fiction.

Thanks for the support!

A note of thanks to everyone who had good things to say about Redemption and the people who invited me to guest blog. I appear here and here .

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Available under a buck: Redemption (A Noah Milano novelette)

My new Noah Milano novelette is out now... I'm really happy with the cover and editing done by the fabulous Anne Tyler Duck... An excerpt of her husband's cool novel Triage is included in the novelette.
Here's the details about it...

REDEMPTION - a Noah Milano novelette
Twenty years ago he tortured and killed a young boy. Now he is out of prison, ready to find redemption confronting the victim's parents.
He hires Noah Milano, security specialist and son of LA's biggest mobster to protect him.
When the unexpected happens it's up to Noah Milano to do what he thinks is right and make sure justice is done.

Praise for Noah Milano and Jochem Vandersteen:

Jeremiah Healy, author of TURNABOUT and THE ONLY GOOD LAWYER: "J. Vandersteen takes us back to the glory days of pulp fiction. And I mean the genre, NOT the movie. His Noah Milano character rings completely true as a tough, lone-wolf private."

Wayne D. Dundee - author of the Joe Hannibal series: The difference is mainly in the character of Noah Milano himself, a man struggling both internally and externally to break free from his "Family" ties and to walk his own path toward what he deems Right and Just. This is good stuff. Read and enjoy."

Les Roberts, author of the Milan Jacovich series: "Noah Milano is all too human, which makes him more appealing."

"Terrific stuff.'' - Lori G. Armstrong, author of Snowblind

'Noah Milano walks in the footsteps of the great P.I,.'s, but leaves his own tracks." - Robert J. Randisi, founder of PWA and The Shamus Award

Jochem's deep and abiding love for classic pulp fiction comes through on every page, and his stories continue the time-honored tradition of the hardboiled American PI." -Sean Chercover, author of Trigger City.

''The writing is fresh and vivid and lively, paying homage to the past while standing squarely in the present." -James W. Hall, author of Silencer.

''Great pop sensibility with a nod to the classic L.A. PIs.'' - David Levien, author 13 Million Dollar Pop

It can be found here...

Q & A with Dick Lochte

Dick Lochte, author of the Leo Bloodworth novels and mystery critic is coming out with a new series featuring Dave "Mace" Mason. We interviewed him about it...

Q: What makes Dave Mason different from other (unofficial) PIs?
Well, let’s see. He doesn’t wander from town to town staying under the radar. He’s not a sports agent with a psychotic friend, doesn’t work for a newspaper, wasn’t a sniper during a war, is not a former cop and isn’t even a recovering alcoholic. To answer the question seriously, what makes him different -- at least in the beginning of the book -- are his flaws, most of them the product of his promising future being derailed by an incident that happened in college. He did something heroic and was punished for it. That same thing happened again and, that time, he was sent to prison. It left him unmotivated, withdrawn, overly suspicious and angry. He’s a guy in need of purpose, action and romance and, in the course of the book, that’s what he gets, for better or worse.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
I have the actor Robert Mitchum to thank for that. Many years ago, at the start of my journalism career, I interviewed him. We spent several hours talking and drinking and, later, I decided to write a film for him, whether he wanted it or not. As it turned out, he didn’t. The hero of that script was Mace, a little older and less defined but basically the same as he appears in Blues in the Night. Other than that, there’s not much similarity between the novel and the screenplay. But for me Mace is pretty much the Mitchum of Out of the Past, only with a slightly rosier future.

Q: Why did you decide on an ex-con as a protagonist and LA as the setting?
I’m interested in the way people and places change over the years. One of my earlier, official private eye novels, The Neon Smile, consists of two parts. The first covers the investigation of a series of crimes in 1960s New Orleans. The second, set in NOLA in the 1990s, follows PI Terry Manion as he reworks that case and we see how three decades have changed the city and the involved characters. I wanted Mace to return to Los Angeles, after having been away for a long time, to find a city and friends and enemies who have changed enough to confuse him and add to his vulnerability. Making him an ex-con solved the problem of where the years went. It also toughened him and explains his cynical mood and surly attitude at the start of the novel.
Why L.A.? It’s that old bromide of writing what you know. I’ve lived primarily in three cities, New Orleans, Chicago and Los Angeles. Of them, modern day L.A. is the one I know best and I wanted the city to play a big part in Blues.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
Short answer: I like it. More people are reading. More writers are making a few bucks. More forests are being saved. My two New Orleans books, Blue Bayou and The Neon Smile , are getting the eBook treatment (and being put back into print) by Perfect Crime Books. My early PI novels, Sleeping Dog and Laughing Dog, are on their way to eBook formats, through my own company, Laughing Dog Entertainment. So I’m happy as a clam.

Q: What's next for you and Mason?
I’m just finishing book two. In it, Mace tries to protect a young woman from a hit squad that has successfully removed six other witnesses to a murder. I had hoped to call it Midnight Sun (like Blues in the Night, a Johnny Mercer song title), but I just discovered that Stephenie Meyer is using that for her new Twilight series addition. So maybe I’ll have to go with something else.

Q: How do you promote your work?
These days, most of my promotional activity is via the Internet, though I’m happy to visit and do readings at libraries and whatever book stores are still standing. I also hit as many mystery conventions as I can. There are, in fact, quite a few ways of getting the word out, but there are only a limited amount of waking hours and you have to use some of them to write the next book.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I used to read a lot of science fiction and humorous shorts and novels, but once I began reviewing crime novels for the Los Angeles Times in the Nineties, that changed. Now it’s pretty much crime all the time, interspersed by some non-fiction, mainstream and the occasional graphic. If you want to get into genre-splitting, I’ve always had a preference for PI novels and, thanks to Chandler providing my introduction, to PI novels with hardboiled humor.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
What with today’s political correctness and technology, crime writing has become a tough racket, creatively speaking. You have to twist plots into pretzels to get your detective into a situation he can’t phone his way out of. And try hiding the identity of a killer when every street in town is monitored. If sidekicks, psychotic or sociopathic, can ease the burden, more power to them. Not only do they give the hero a free pass on the nastier elements of the job, they also carry some of the exposition load, and, in some cases (Mouse, Bubba, Clete Purcell), provide a touch of dark humor and/or pathos. In my books about Terry Manion, I use a New Orleans homicide cop named Eben Munn who everybody assumes is certifiable. Props to Bob Crais for elevating his sidekick to lead, a brave move that paid off.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
Interesting question. I have a hard time narrowing stylistic influences. I still pretty much subscribe to Macdonald’s comment that we all came out from under Hammett’s black mask. Or, to use your analogy, our characters are all sons of Spade. There was a time when it seemed that Grafton and Paretsky would be the big influences on the new PI generation if for no other reason than gender. But that trend drifted off into chick lit which seems to have hit a dead end. I guess I feel that the coming generation is going to be influenced by the same top three, Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald, with Parker adding the sociopath sidekick and bits of the PI’s personal life. But the biggest influence will come from the marketplace. By that I mean it’s the thriller novelists, the ones writing what publishers call “big books”, who will hold the biggest sway over the new PI writers. You can see the evidence in even a seasoned hand like Crais whose recent books read more like adventure yarns than detective novels and feature as many points of view as the average spy yarn.

Q: James Tucker came up with the following question: Have you ever been involved in a crime?
Directly involved? If you mean holding the gun, no. But while I was in college in New Orleans, I made a few extra bucks working for a detective agency, mainly helping to repo automobiles or sitting in a parked car, witnessing a husband (or the occasional wife) entering and leaving the house or apartment of someone other than their spouse. Some nights, I’d go to one of the French Quarter clubs (the drinking age was 18), where I’d sit at the bar, try to stay sober, see how much of the money that crossed the bar failed to reach the cash register and make out a report for the owner. I did this until the night a waitress whispered in my ear that the bartender suspected I was a “spook” (the term then used for someone who did exactly what I was doing) and had sent for some friends to teach me a lesson. That’s the closest I came to an involvement.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
I guess the question would be: what made you want to write PI novels?
I know exactly how that came about in my case. I was in my early teens, visiting a friend’s house, when I saw a paperback book resting on a table. It belonged to my friend’s older brother. On its cover, a guy who looked like the actor Gregory Peck, dressed in hat and trench coat, had opened a door on a beautiful naked girl tied to a chair. Would his brother mind if I borrowed the book? Not at all. That’s how I wound up reading The Big Sleep, prowling through bookstores for more Chandler. And then Hammett Followed by Macdonald and Parker . Some fifteen years and hundreds of PI novels later, I decided to write my own, Sleeping Dog. It was nominated for the Edgar, the Shamus and the Anthony and won the Nero Wolfe Award and I was on my way.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Background Check on Bone Polisher with TImothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan, member of the Hardboiled Collective has a new ebook on sale, featuring one of my favorite PI's Simeon Grist. Get it here, and read all about it in my interview with Tim.
Tell us what the novel is about.
THE BONE POLISHER is a private-eye mystery set in West Hollywood, back in 1995, when the cops tended to be less than enthusiastic about investigating crimes against gay people. My protagonist, Simeon Grist, is hired to investigate the murder of an older man, a former television actor, who is known in the community for his generosity and kindness. Things grow complicated fairly quickly as it becomes obvious that the killer has struck before and is undoubtedly planning to strike again. And it's about a detective—Simeon—who is on the verge of losing his nerve, and has to deal with what that might mean, to both his career and his self-image.

How long did it take you to write the novel?
The books in this series tended to take about six months, but this one took longer because I was trying not to commit any howlers about the gay community of the day, which I knew relatively little about. So I was asking a lot of questions and relying heavily on readings of the manuscript by two gay men who very generously gave me their time, and who had an enormous positive impact on the story as a whole. Bless them both.

Did it take a lot of research?
No. I did some checking on the demographic and political history of West Hollywood, which was (and still is) a unique enclave, but the rest of the writing was mainly letting the characters loose and following where they went, with occasional corrective readings by my two experts.

Where did you come up with the plot, what inspired you?
I was arrested for drunk driving in 1994 and sentenced to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. This curdled my blood. When I thought of Alcoholics Anonymous, I imagined dingy rooms with curling linoleum floors in which a bunch of unshaven, toothless men in raincoats chain-smoked and gummed uninteresting confessions at each other. Sort of like bad film noir, but a lifetime long and without a plot.
But that was not to be. I lived in West Hollywood, which even then had a demographically anomalous number of gay people. When I walked into my first AA meeting, I was expecting a budget production of “The Lower Depths,” but what I got was more like the moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy opens the door to reveal that Oz is in color. The room was full of the best-looking group of men I'd ever seen, although some of them were painfully thin. It soon became apparent that quite a few of them were there because they were determined to die sober—AIDS was in full rage then—and others had come to support them. I saw more grace and courage in that first hour than I'd ever seen in such a concentrated period in my entire life. And I learned I was definitely an alcoholic, and that I was in good company.
A lot of the guys in those meetings are gone now. When I started The Bone Polisher, I was thinking of them.

Which scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
The book's climax is a three-chapter-long party, a combination West Hollywood Halloween celebration and a wake. It's got dozens of characters, all in costume, one of whom is a serial killer, one of whom is a vicious and violent cop, and all of whom are getting drunker by the moment. Oh, yeah, there's a fountain of holy water, too. Several main story strands play out in this section, which I think is both funny and exciting. This is the kind of big show I used to undertake but don't do so much any more, mostly because of the amount of sheer energy involved.

Who is your favorite among the characters in the novel?
My favorites are usually the equivocal ones, and in this book I particularly like Ferris Hanks, an evil little swine who for years was one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood, with a stable of (mostly gay) guys whose names he made up on the spot. His time has passed, though, and what's left is about 140 pounds of high-density spite. He has a memorable rant about how times were better when gay men were in the closet: “We were united then. We shared our problems, our jokes. The straight world was there for us to plunder, like King Solomon’s mines or the Hall of the Mountain King. We were the Knights of Malta, a secret society, smarter and prettier and funnier than they were, and we had what they wanted, and they didn’t know what it was or even why they wanted it. They had one little life each, and we had as many as we wanted. You can develop a lot of useful skills if you’re leading a secret life, or three or four. God, it was a glorious time. And look at it now. The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name has become The Love That Cannot Shut Its Trap. Gays have become the one thing they never were: boring. Look at them, a bunch of bank tellers and dental assistants, holding hands on the sidewalks and mooning at each other. Joining neighborhood watch organizations. The fucking Kiwanis.” Lot of venom there, and pretty funny, too, I think.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about the novel?
When I read it for re-publication, I hadn't looked at it in years. I'd completely forgotten huge chunks of it, including the twist ending – when Simeon, after the party, goes into someone's house, I thought, What in the world is he doing? I hadn't remembered the book with much fondness, but reading it again, I could see why the critic for BOOKLIST had liked it so much. He wrote, “Read [it] as a straightforward detective novel, or read it as a slightly off-kilter philosophical tome, but do yourself a favor and read it!”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Silence Is Deadly Again!

My story Silence is Deadly featuring Noah Milano is reposted at Tony Black's Pulp Pusher.
One of my favorite authors, Wayne Dundee called it "Tight, tough stuff with a sad, tragic ending."
It's a bit darker than most Milano stories, but if you like hardboiled fiction you will like this one as well.
This story is also included in the Noah Milano collection, Tough As Leather, available here.

Racing The Devil (Jared McKean) by Jaden Terrell

Because this great novel by a Hardboiled Collective member is coming out with a new publisher here's a repost of my review...

Is it because the person behind the writer's name is a woman that protagonist Jared McKean is one of the most emotionally developed of new private eyes? With a gay friend, a son with Down's syndrome and a gothic nephew Jared McKean has plenty of baggage to keep his personal life interesting.
The story starts off with a bang though when Jared picks up a woman in a bar and sleeps with her only to find out it was all a setup to turn him into a murders suspect. Jared shows he can take of himself, using Tae Kwando moves to keep fellow prisoners away from him when he's temporarily incarcerated.
He also shows he's a pretty dogged investigator when he sets out to prove his innocence. The successful merging of the personal side of Jared's life and the murder mystery made this an absolute favorite for me.

There's also an interview to be found here.

New Jack Tunney out by Wayne Dundee!

Here's another cool novella inspired by the old boxing pulps with Jack Tunney mentioned as an author. Each entry in this series is written by a different writer under the Tunney-name, however. They alreday has some great talent doing these (like Paul Bishop) and now they even got Wayne Dundee, one of my favorite writers (of the Joe Hannibal novels fame) doing one.

The story is set in Milwaukee, 1954, and features Danny "The Duke" Dugronski, an ex-Marine who's earned a respectable reputation as a solid regional heavyweight --- until the Mob tries to muscle in and force him into some rigged fights. Before it's over, they find out that Danny is a fighter who's willing to stand his ground and slug it out with any opponent, no matter who it is.

Check out Counterpunch here.

Guest Post: Private Eyes, Public Lies

C.E. Lawrence wrote a guest post for us to promote the new Lee Campbell thriller Silent Slaughter, coming in 2012.
Crime has been with us for a long time. And, contrary to the old saw, very often it does pay – quite handsomely, in fact. One might even argue that crime – rather than the usually cited occupation – is the world’s oldest profession. It seems to be part of human nature; wherever there is a society, there will be criminals.

You Like Your Private Dick Hard Boiled?
The world of crime writing is wide, and getting wider all the time. From tidy cozies to nail biting political thrillers, people all over the world devour books about the darker side of human nature. And somewhere in between the perennially overcast world of John le Carre and the sunny, well-trimmed lawns of Agatha Christie lives the detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler. They more or less defined the genre of PI stories, for all their imitators and offspring who came later.

Their lonely loners in search of justice, and the women who haunt them, have become remarkably sturdy archetypes. Though Chandler himself admitted in the end that even he couldn’t explain the labyrinthine plots twists of The Big Sleep, along with Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, it helped defined the genre that slunk into prominence in the 1930’s.

Depression era life was rough for everyone, and Hammett’s hard-drinking, unlucky-in-love Sam Spade quickly became a template for a certain kind of private dick who might be street smart and tough as nails, but had a soft spot for dames who could melt a mixed metaphor faster than you could say whiskey sour. He was no pushover, though – faced with a snarling cop, he gave as good as he got.
Here’s Sam Spade talking with a copper pal:
“You’ll tell it to me or you’ll tell it in court,” Dundy said hotly. “This is murder and don’t you forget it.”
“Maybe. And here’s something for you not to forget, sweetheart. I’ll tell it or not as I damned please. It’s a long while since I burst out crying because policemen didn’t like me.”

You get the picture.

Raymond Chandler took up the baton, inventing some pretty memorable bad guys along the way, as well as some snappy dialogue. Their brand of detective fiction faded somewhat though the years, though James Ellroy revisited that territory later in his well-crafted noir detective novel, L.A. Confidential.

Whatever the genre, whatever the setting, all private eyes have a common goal: to expose lies and pursue justice in the face of all obstacles. And they do it, more often than not, without the help of institutionalized law enforcement – in fact, often in opposition to local law enforcement. Like Greek heroes, they are doomed to fulfill their noble but tragic destiny, driven by their own sense of justice and just plain stubbornness. The best private dicks are ornery, single-minded and utterly determined.

Detective fiction has remained remarkably resilient and pliable – modern masters of the genre include Tony Hillerman, with his spectacular use of the setting and culture of Native American tribal life in the Southwest. Carl Hiassen’s comic mysteries take advantage of their Florida setting. Sometimes detective fiction follows the form of classic murder mystery, and sometimes it doesn’t – like all great genres, it’s pliable. In detective fiction there is usually an independent investigator of some kind, often a professional, but he or she could be an amateur, or a member of a police force. The key here is that the detective is working more or less on his own. In that sense, the Conan Doyle stories qualify as detective fiction, for example – though Holmes often works with the London police, he is very much out investigating on his own.

Somewhere in between the hard-boiled world of Hammett and the foggy streets of Holmes and Watson’s London lies the Police Procedural. Sometimes dry, reading at times more like a documentary than fiction, these books focus on the methods and types of police investigative techniques. Jack Webb’s Dragnet is a perfect television example of this genre; today’s writers of the genre include Sweden’s Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. In this variation of the crime fiction genre, the criminal is sometimes known to the reader before the crime is solved, and the pleasure lies in following the detective through his paces (remember Peter Falk in Colombo?) These types of books, rather than Who Done Its, are How Solve Its.

There are other kinds of crime fiction, certainly – the “caper” novels of Donald Westlake, for example, but it is rare to find a reader of crime fiction who will sit through an entire novel, no matter how amusingly written, to find out who stole the jam . . .

The Mists of Time
There seem to be historical novels in every genre – romance, vampire, lesbian vampire romance – you name it, and crime fiction is no exception. Historical crime fiction is merely crime fiction with a historical setting. One of the most well known historical detectives is Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peter’s medieval monk whose knowledge of potions and passions combine to make him a terrific predecessor of Sherlock Holmes. But there are others: though the writers are all post Conan Doyle, their detectives are not. Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and its sequel, Angel of Darkness, are both historical crime fiction, taking place in 19th century New York City.

Of course, PI’s are not always loners with a drinking problem, and they are not always unlucky in love. But we like them that way. Or, as Raymond Chandler so eloquently put it:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid . . . He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Distracted (Shell) by Phillip T. Duck

This novella is a great way to meet Shell, the enigmatic hitman of Phillip T. Duck's creation. This mysterious outlaw / hitman with interesting morals reminded me of Burke and Parker, two favorites that also operate outside of the law with only one name.
Shell is forced to take out a criminal when five women, that serve as a sort of answering machine service to him, are kidnapped.
Shell takes on the criminal and his men as well as the kidnapper in a solid dark tale of mystery and revenge.
Very entertaining, fast read. I recommend you get it here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Q & A with James R. Tuck

There's a number of hardboiled operatives running around in the urban fantasy setting. I interviewed the author of one of the coolest of those...

Q: What makes Deacon Chalk different from other (unofficial) PIs?
Well, he's a monster hunter. Five years before the events of BLOOD AND BULLETS Deacon's family was horribly, ritualistically murdered by a monster. He decided to track it down and kill it. While hunting for this monster he came across an Angel (yes, a real Angel Of The Lord) who had been captured by the bad guys. She was being abused repeatedly in an attempt to creat Nephilim, which are half-human/half-Angel offspring. Deacon couldn't just walk away from that so he rescued her and continued on with his hunt. Once he found the monster responsible for the death of his family he went after him.
And, being only human he got himself killed.
The Angel shows up and returns the rescue, infusing him with her blood, or whatever it is that Angels use for blood. She ressurects him, bringing him back a little bit stronger, a little, bit faster, and a little bit tougher than human. He also has the ability to sense the supernatural. Using these new abilities he got his revenge.
Now all he wants is to go and be with his family, but he's a devout Catholic so he cannot take himself there. Suicide is a mortal sin and would send him straight to hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. So he now throws himself at monsters hoping for the day that he is just that little bit too slow, that little bit too weak, theat little bit too human and one of them sends him on his way.
He's a damaged character with a death wish and a high propensity for violence.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
Deacon Chalk actually pulled a Conan on me. Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, once said that Conan sprang fully formed in his mind, as if he had walked out of the mists of time. Deacon did this to me. He showed up in my imagination one day, complete. I knew who he was, what he could do, and his backstory. He basically showed up in my head and said: "Point me at the monsters. I'm here to kick ass."

Q: Why did you decide on an urban fantasy setting instead of a more traditional crime setting for Deacon Chalk?
I love urban fantasy. It and crime fiction are my two favorite genres to read. Deacon is an urban fantasy just so I can write about how the world might really be if monsters actually existed and there were people who fought them. It would be dark, bloody, and violent. And the people who would choose to mount up and fight the good fight would be pretty fucked up.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole ebook revolution?
I like it. I am a little conflicted, but overall, right now, I am okay with it. I own a Nook. I read about an even split between ebooks and paper books. Now, that being said, I am a fan of both authors being able to go directly to readers, but leary of giving one marketplace the majority share of control. I also love traditional publishing, and while they have some changes to make to their business model, I think that anyone who thinks they are dead in the water is mistaken.
I know a lot of self-published authors personally who are doing ebook sales. Some are wildly sucessful, bringing in 10,000+ a month in royalty checks but some are still waiting to break 20 sales of the book they put out a year ago. No one has all the answers, but it seems to me that the people having huge success in self publishing ebooks all have a traditional publishing backlist and a built in customer/fan base. The folks who are just starting off with selfpublishing still have a HUGE pile of competition that is really, really difficult to overcome.

Q: What's next for you and Chalk?
There is a second e-novella titled SPIDER'S LULLABY that hits in July from all fine e-tailers and book two BLOOD AND SILVER is on bookstands world wide on August 7th.

Q: How do you promote your work?
I work my balls off. lol. I do blog tour stops, interviews like this one, all my social media work, as well as traveling and guesting at conventions like the upcoming Con Carolinas and later this year, Dragon Con. It's a lot of work. You really have to put yourself out there. I also network with other authors and we support each other.

Q: What other genres besides urban fantasy and crime do you like?
I'll read almost anything if it is well written. But most of what I read is urban fantasy or crime fiction and comic books. I LOVE comic books and have since I was a wee child. Give me superheroes and I am happy.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
They give the author a chance to have a really decent main character, a genuine good guy like Spenser, but also someone who lets them explore doing the things that need to be done, the things that really mean getting your hands dirty. I love the Spenser/Hawk combo. Plus, borderline psychopaths are a lot of fun to read about.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
In crime fiction I think you are seeing a darker turn. Crime is pretty ugly and now writers can really explore that. I hope the influence will be folks like Tom Piccirilli who is one of my favorites. Man, he can go dark with the best of them, pushing deep into the heart of how jacked up things can get in the crime scene.
I also think you will see more and more crime writers who take their inspiration from movies and television instead of reading. This can be good in the hands of talented writers, there is a lot to be said for a good crime movie or show (like Justified. That is an excellent, highly recommended show). It gives you a visceral, visual way of seeing storytelling. However in the hands of the untalented it could lead to some truly horrible, boring storytelling.

Q: Mike Dennis came up with the following question: What criteria did you use to choose the setting for your PI?
I went with write what you know. Now I don't live in the Deaconverse where monsters fill the night, but I do live in the South. The South is the southeastern part of America, not including Florida. It is a weird mix of metropolitan and rural full of guns, rednecks, country music, hotrods, superstition, religion, survialists, urban culture and racial predjudice. The South is something that makes for unique stories. I grew up here. I love it here. This is the place you can find Shotguns and Jesus in the same home and it makes no one blink.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Have you ever been involved in a crime?

I was held up once. I was working overnight at a gas station in a small town. Cleveland, Ga. Now Cleveland is a little bitty town. Population about 2800 people. It has only 5 main roads and the town proper is about 4 blocks square surrounded by miles of rural area. Home of the Cabbage Patch Kids and a vast array of chicken houses. The gas station I worked at was one of three in town and one of only two businesses that stayed open past 10PM.
3:40 AM this scrawny kid with a bandanna over his face, holding something in his hand tucked inside his jacket walks through the door. I am on the otherside of the counter behind the register. There are four other people in the store shopping. Like I said, your choices are pretty limited in Cleveland, Ga if you're up at 3:40AM.
He walks up. His voice was thin and shaky. Sweat ran between sores on a whitewashed complexion. He had the classic meth-head jitter to his eyes. "Give me all the money."
"Why would I do that?"
"I have a gun."
My finger punched the button. The register sang open. "Do you want the change or just the bills?"
"Just the bills, fuck the change."
I pulled the money out, about $60 crumpled bucks, and dropped it on the counter between us. "You know all the cops drink their coffee here right?"
He scooped up the cash, half of it fluttering out of his hand and onto the floor, turned and ran out the door. I walked over, locked the door behind him, because that is what I was supposed to do according to procedure, just like I was supposed to hand over the money. He drives past the door in a beat up old Monte Carlo. I caught part of the tag as he tore ass out of the parking lot heading south on the main drag.
Toward the trailer park.
Turning to the people in the store I said, "Don't be alarmed, but we just got robbed. You'll have to stay here until the police show up." Then I called 911.
One minute later all three police cars and all five police officers in town were inside the store, getting a description from me, the tag partial I had written down, and the direction he was headed.
They caught him, sitting in his underwear in his momma's broke down trailer doing a line of fresh bought crank, down the road in less than 15 minutes.