Tag Archives: crime fiction

Delta Blues Sings

I’m in Vegas, baby!  And it’s a crazy time in Vegas, full of dentists, business and revelry of one kind or another.  I’m also trying to finish an edit of my first Paula book in time to get it in for the Malice Domestic competition (publication and cash money from St. Martin’s Press to the winner).  But I still found time to finish an anthology, Delta Blues, edited by Carolyn Haines.

The book has 19 stories by authors you know and love, including Charlaine Harris, John Grisham, and James Lee Burke.  What they have in common is the feeling of the deep south, the riff of R&B, a pinch of evil, and the bone-deep awareness that what is gonna be, is gonna be.

There’s a lot to like in the book, and my two favorite stories are the last two.  John Grisham’s story, Fetching Raymond,  is an affecting and realistic look at the last hours of a man awaiting execution, as seen by his family.  He’s an empty shell of a braggadocio.  And they love him.

Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly team up with What His Hands Have Been Waiting For, a nice story of redemption.  Three souls bound for ruin come together – and save each other. 

I got Delta Blues for free by going to Bouchercon – part of my Bouchercon booty, but I’ve got to say, I love short stories and this is an anthology I’m happy to own and would cheerfully paid for.

Panels, panels, panels

Panels are the mainstay of fan conferences.  They’re typically five authors,  one moderator, and a topic.  Bouchercon has almost 100 panels, but the most you could go to is about 20 since there are five going on at any one time.

I’m not getting to 20, that’s for sure – my goal is three good ones a day.  What makes a panel good?  If it sounds like it would apply to my own writing, it goes to the top of my list.  If I particularly want to hear one of the authors on the panel, it goes in the middle.  Never heard of the authors and don’t get the topic?  Never mind.

So Comedy in Crime Fiction with Jerry Healy, Gary Alexander, Allan Ansorge, Jack Frederickson, Alan Orloff and (the lone female) Robin Spano was a winner for me – my Paula books are ostensibly funny and it would help to get some tips and ideas.  Needless to say these were funny people.  Key findings:

  1. How do you know something is funny?  You laugh.  It’s nice if other people laugh, too.
  2. Got something that’s hilarious but somewhat distasteful?  Don’t give it to your protagonist, give it to another character.  Is it really terrible?  Your main character may disapprove.  This falls into the eating your cake and having it, too, category.
  3. Mean humor?  Sparingly.  Self-deprecating humor?  Good but don’t overdo this either.

The Mermaids are Singing (a Taste of Magna Cum Murder, the Muncie conference that happens annually around Halloween) was on the list because it featured Val McDermid, Caroline and Charles Todd, and Parnell Hall.  Also on the panel was John Gilstrap, Stuart Neville, and moderator Kathryn Kennison.  Did I learn anything?  Yes, that Magna Cum Murder would be a ton of fun to attend and that Parnell Hall is a big ham.  See the proof here.

A Clear Cut Case of Murder was back to the “I will learn something good here” mode.  It featured moderator Leslie Budewitz, Jan Burke, Jonathan Hayes, Stefanie Pintoff, Doug Starr, and former O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark.  Highlights:

  1. The history of forensic science is long and Europe was way ahead of us.  The late 1800’s, early 1900’s was when it all began.
  2. Jan Burke is involved with The Crime Lab Project, raising awareness of the lack of funding for forensic science – huge backlogs of rape kits, DNA testing, etc., caused entirely by a lack of resources.   Now I want to work this my work.  Perhaps a short story.
  3. Marcia Clark shared that you have to push detectives into requesting forensic analysis.  OJ’s socks had his blood on them.  And Ron and Nicole’s.  And she had to nag a storm to get the analysis done.  Side note – when forensics isn’t enough.  If you don’t believe the chain of custody and you think the whole thing is faked, then you don’t care what the tests show.
Needless to say, more to come.

Halfway through Chicago Blues

Yesterday I hit the Book Table looking for a couple of presents and snatched up a copy of Chicago Blues.  This anthology of mystery/crime stories is edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann and features tons of familiar Chicago authors.  I am supposed to be working on minutes of a staff meeting and an agenda for an advisory group meeting at work… and I don’t wanna!  Chicago Blues has me totally hooked.

I’m transitioning from fun to work with this blog post.  After I finish the book, I’ll write again to say what stories were particularly good… but I have to tell you, I’m halfway through and there is not a clinker in the bunch.  Thumbs up.

Also – thanks to the Book Table!  This great Oak Park independent bookstore has books and more, all at a discount, and there are always great finds.   As it is Small Business Saturday, I will suggest that my dozens of readers all stampede down there right away to support them… or, if impractical, stampede someplace closer to support your local independent bookstore.

Noir crime panelist stand-out Christa Faust

Q:  What do Neil Anthony Smith, Scott Phillips, Sean Doolittle, Victor Gishler, Brian Azzarello and Christa Faust have in common?

A:  They were all in the line-up at Murder & Mayhem in Muskego’s panel on noir crime fiction.

Fiction with a dark edge, where characters you like are in real danger, sex and violence often go together and a happy ending is the opposite of guaranteed.   The guys on the panel are all white.  All in that broad range of years in the middle of life.  And all very interesting.  Gishler wrote Go Go Girls of the Apocalypse.   Azzarello writes graphic novels.  Phillips’ first novel was made into a big-name movie with John Cusack (The Ice Harvest).

But still, the stand-out on the panel was Christa Faust.   The first woman published by Hard Case Crime, Christa’s memorable.  She’s attractive.  Tattooed. Her style is a bit on the biker chick side.  And she’s generally accompanied by her Boston terrier, Butch.

More importantly, she’s knowledgeable, assertive, well-spoken, and entertaining. I loved watching the gray-haired ladies at Murder & Mayhem (which I can totally say because I have gray hair and have passed that 55-year-old birthday myself!) visibly restrain themselves from clucking when Christa dropped the F-bomb.   One lady near me, when the Q&A started, asked the panelist to define “noir.”  And not in a “what’s your perspective on noir?” but the “what are you guys all talking about?” kind of way.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the pulp fiction kind of noir, the classic 50s noir with detectives, damsels in distress, and whiskey in the bottom drawer, but I like a good, dark story where somebody’s heart gets broken and somebody gets killed.  Christa and the guys have convinced me to take a look at their work. And I guess that’s why they hit the road!

#3 on the journey to the Edgars

Just finished Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis!  Amazing, multi-layered crime fiction, heavy on fully developed characters but just as strong in terms of plot, with plenty of twists.  It’s the third nominee for the MWA Edgar award for Best Novel that I’ve read over the last few days, along with The Missing by Tim Gautreaux and John Hart’s The Last Child.

Nesbo’s Harry Hole is a detective who has finally found some peace with girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg.  So he passes up the opportunity to reconnect romantically with an old flame.   But the next day, he’s had an alcoholic blackout… and she’s dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.  But the gun’s in the wrong hand.  That’s a mesmerising premise for any book – but it’s just one of the mysteries at the heart of Nemesis.

The other plot involves a bank robbery that becomes a murder when the robber sets a time limit for the money to be handed over.  25 seconds, no more, or the teller gets it.  At 31 seconds, the robber takes aim, the teller says a few words, and then she’s dead.   Why?  Unravelling the mystery takes Harry and his partner, Beate Lonn, down a long, compellingly twisty path.

The only disappointment – and it’s a minor one – is that I expected more from Beate’s fusiform gyrus.  That is, Beate has a rare skill: the ability to remember every face she’s ever seen and where’s she’s seen it.   My hope is that the next Jo Nesbo book will feature Beate more prominently!  In the meantime, I’ll be going back to read the two previous books in the series (after the Edgar nominees, of course).

My intention was to rank the nominees and pick a winner.  The Last Child had the edge over The Missing.  It’s getting tough, but so far, The Last Child is still at #1, followed by Nemesis, followed by The Missing.  Still to read:  The Odds (Katherine George), Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (Charlie Huston) and A Beautiful Place to Die (Malla Nunn).