Friday, September 30, 2011

Collector's Corner: New and Urgent for Noir Collectors

Flash from Dave's desk today: Dave Zeltserman's crime novel A Killer's Essence was released this week and this is the best crime novel I have read in the last year. Here is one quote that I provided to the author and publisher after reading A Killer's Essence. And a note to our friends who are collectors: I would rush to purchase a copy, because the first editions, first printings will sell out fast. On another note, A Killer's Essence has already been optioned for a film.
Praise for A Killer's Essence:
 "Last night I finished the best crime novel I have read in the last year -- an advance reading copy of Dave Zeltserman's book A Killer's Essence, which will be published by Overlook Press in September. The story line was superb as well as the characters . . . [Zeltserman] nailed the atmosphere of New York City and Brooklyn. There is no question that our customers will love this book. And there is no question that I want a copy for my collection, when this comes out." --Dave Kanell, co-owner Kingdom Books in Vermont

Sunday, September 25, 2011

One Cover to Another: James R. Benn, RAG AND BONE (2010), Moves to Paperback

The softcover, just released (2011).
The 2010 hardcover.

A couple of days ago we enjoyed describing the new Billy Boyle World War II mystery from James R. Benn, A Mortal Terror. As Soho Crime released this 2011 title, the press also brought its predecessor, RAG AND BONE, into a softcover edition. Check our writeup on that title here -- and meanwhile, consider the drastic shift in cover design for the two versions, hard and soft. I'd love to hear some thoughts on the effects of the covers.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Long Overdue Tribute: GERRY MULLIGAN, an online magazine

I've had copies of the first and second issues of GERRY MULLIGAN, a terrific poetry magazine, for ages. Dave scanned the cover and table of contents of Number One for me and I'm putting images here. My only excuse for not getting around to saluting this publication sooner is, I've run out of time for some of the best and most complex things coming my way, in the effort to keep up with earning a living and getting some books of my own into print. So, Ben Tripp, my apologies -- and, way to go!

Best yet, for readers hungry for a connection to this NYC-area author and editor's stream of work: GERRY MULLIGAN is now online! Yes, there's an online archive, including the third issue. Hurrah!! What an opportunity -- here's the link:

Oh, for those baffled by the insertion of poetry connections on a mostly mysteries blog: It's all about impact. Images, rich language, incisive narrative and effective metaphor -- good writing takes a balance of these. For me, as both a reader and writer, poetry adds to the tool kit. To life!

Vermont's New Poet Laureate, Sydney Lea

I'm overdue in sending up an online "Hurrah!" for Vermont's newest Poet Laureate, Sydney Lea. His appointment to the honor was announced by Governor Shumlin on Sept. 9, and there's a great ceremony planned for Nov. 4 at the Vermont State House.

Syd is a person of depth and integrity, and his polished yet intense poems, firmly grounded in northern New England's landscape of fierce weather, intriguing wildlife, and tradition-tending residents, have been among my favorites for years. I'm hoping his planned 2013 release from Four Way Books may come a bit sooner, as a welcome side effect of this announcement. (Martha, is it possible??)

Congratulations, Syd; may this be the year (or two, or more) that brings your work to many more readers, and may it blossom in more taut and tender poems for all of us to enjoy.

STOLEN SOULS, by Stuart Neville: Irish "Very Noir"

Readers looking for emotionally sweet material, skip this one. Those interested in how true evil erupts and how it's effectively battled via determined police work (of the honest sort), this one's for you. Make sure the door is locked and the motion-detector lights are working, though. Stuart Neville holds back nothing in crafting high suspense and terror. If you can survive the intrigue and risk, there's a highly satisfying result.

This is the third in Neville's Belfast series. Like Leighton Gage's Brazilian police procedurals, its portrait of the local underworld, international crime connections, and sacrifices called for from investigators are the last thing the local tourist bureau would want you to read. But for courage and dogged determination to "serve and protect," STOLEN SOULS is right on track. There's also a steady dose of the paranormal here, as in the two books that preceded this one (The Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion, prize winners both). From what I've read so far among today's Irish mysteries, whether sweet or dark, that seems to come with the territory.

In STOLEN SOULS, it comes with the child Ellen, to whom Detective Inspector Jack Lennon is a late-arriving but legitimate father. Ellen's night terrors erupt when her dreams include the violence that persistently connects to Lennon and to Ellen's mother's family. She doesn't seem to see the future, but experiences instead the horrors of the present for a selected set of victims.
Lennon knelt beside the bed, placed a hand on her small cheek. He had learned not to take the child in his arms when she awoke pursued by night terrors, the shock of it to much for her.

"It's me," he said. "Daddy's here. You're all right."

Ellen blinked at him, her face softening. He'd almost forgotten how old she looked when she emerged from her nightmares, a girl of seven carrying centuries of pain behind her eyes.
Neville never over-explains, but through all three books, it's clear his characters aren't the only ones carrying centuries of pain. It's the Irish condition. Come to think of it, any kind of peace in Ireland is a miracle, considering what's happened over those centuries.

This time there's a serial killer who, for a wonder, is not directly after one of Lennon's own. But the detective inspector commits to dealing with the twisted mind of the criminal and capturing him. It's not always a wise route he's on, as he reflects late in STOLEN SOULS:
Jack Lennon was an idiot when he joined the police. He was an idiot when he refused to accept a commendation for saving the live of a fellow officer under fire. He was an idiot when he left his unborn daughter when she was still in the womb. He was an idiot when he drove a killer called Gerry Fegan across the border to settle a score.

Lennon knew he had been an idiot all his life, but it never stopped him. He drew his pistol and made his way deeper into the house.
A Lithuanian criminal syndicate, human bondage, brutality -- how much can Jack Lennon tackle? Who'll support him when he risks his life again and again?

Already available in the UK, STOLEN SOULS hits the US market on October 4. Worth ordering in advance, really. I'll be one of the readers looking for a chance to meet this author of consistently powerful crime fiction, who paints a soul freighted with some of history's worst nightmares. Check out Neville's website for details on upcoming appearances over the next few months; his first US tour for the book is ending this week, as he heads back to the Emerald Isle for its Irish premiere.

A MORTAL TERROR, by James R. Benn

The newest Billy Boyle World War II mystery from Connecticut historian, librarian, and author James R. Benn reveals a deft touch in turning "we know what happened" into suspense, with a fine investigative thriller embedded in 1944's European theatre of war. Well done, and worth the reading!

Series readers already know Boyle as the Boston Irish rookie cop, recruited to assist "Uncle Ike" -- General Eisenhower, a family connection by marriage -- with delicate police matters best kept behind the scenes, so that dignified warfare can continue. This is the sixth volume; the others, Billy Boyle, The First Wave, Blood Alone, Evil for Evil, and Rag & Bone, have taken aspects of the Second World War's varied locations and themes, and woven them into lively murder investigations by this appealing young man whose sense of honor and determination to solve crimes have by now netted him some appealing friends and an attractive -- and undercover -- long-term lover, Diana Seaton.

In A MORTAL TERROR, Diana makes only a brief appearance at the start, although Kaz, Billy's very European pal in police work -- Lieutenant Baron Piotr Augustus Kazimierz, late of Poland and now on the general staff -- comes through as a working partner as Billy labors to discover who in Italy is killing an escalating set of powerful officers. And, more to the point, why.

Not only does Benn handle the twists of plot smoothly and effectively, but he's mastered the very challenging skill of making "known history" into a packet that includes questions, uncertainties, and dubious outcomes. Here's a passage as an example of how he also weaves in just enough detail on military terms and procedures to keep me informed enough, but not distracted:
I decided to radio Colonel Harding and ask for Kaz to be sent down from London.

The column finally passed and the traffic moved along, toward Caserta. I ran through the leads that I had to follow. Pay a visit to Bar Landry in Acerra and see what the scuffle was all about, and why Landry and Flint went down there to pay damages. Find out whom Louie owed his next paycheck to. Go back and find Major Arnold, Schleck's second-in-command, and see if he'd be more talkative. Ask Sergeant Jim Cole why he didn't tell me about knowing Landry and Galante. An infantry division is a big place, about fourteen thousand guys and full strength. He should have mentioned it, even if it was only a coincidence. He didn't, and I wanted to know why. I also needed to find out how Galante had gotten a squad killed, and why Cole was supposed to know about that. Maybe it was just a rumor that Schleck glommed onto, but if true, it would be a motive for revenge. Then ask the same question around the 32nd Station Hospital, and see what Galante's colleagues had to say.

It was a lot of legwork, and none of it might end up being important. But it gave me the illusion of being on the right track, and I might get lucky and stumble onto something I'd recognize as a clue.
I love this series, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a rattling good tale. From the ending of this one, it's clear the next volume will contain a strong dose of what I especially like in Benn's books: challenges to Billy's growth and depth as a person and an investigator (in his family's Boston cop tradition!), and to his ties among his friends and his beloved. So -- grab a copy, and get up to speed.

Yes, you can read this one on its own, but it's a much better read if you've consumed the earlier five in the series. You'll understand better how important Kaz is, and why the book's final twists hold such significance. Go for it!

Shelve this one with your Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear books. And that in itself should tell you what an unusual "war" series this is -- equally accessible to war junkies, readers who savor emotional development, and those who just love a good plot. Thanks, James R. Benn. Here's a tip of the hat to you, and to Soho Crime, a publisher with great taste in fiction.

PLUGGED, by Eoin Colfer -- Wicked Funny Crime

Even the author's website begins with how to say the name of this Irish author -- "It's pronounced Owen!" What a relief ... a little knowledge is not only a dangerous thing, but a bit of ease to the inner ear.

Speaking of inner ear: PLUGGED is a darkly funny crime novel set in New Jersey. And between the Irish twist taking place in the thoughts of Daniel McEvoy, and the apparent haunting he's suffering, there's a lot to tickle the ear. And that's putting it cleanly. Smooth, quick, bounced between wry smiles and quick snickers and "omigosh" grins, the suspense in this classic caper takes off from a low-end casino in New Jersey, where Daniel is the doorman/bouncer, in classic love or lust with at least one of the working girls on the scene. And helpful in sweet little ways ...
I shepherd them into the time-out room, which is barely more than a broom closet; in fact there are a couple of mops growing like dreadlocked palms out of a cardboard box island in the corner.

"You okay?" I ask Connie, glad to see she's not smoking. Six months and counting.

She nods, sitting on a ratty sofa. "Dude licked my ass. Licked it. You got any wipes, Daniel?"

I handed her a slim pack. You always carry a pack of antiseptic wipes working a bottom-rung New Jersey casino like Slotz. There's all sorts of stuff you can catch just hanging around.
Okay, if you're not grossed out, go get a copy of this book and pretend you don't know that Colfer made the first massive wave of his writerly reputation doing kids' fantasy (Artemis Fowl). He's got a sometimes icky but always lighthearted new direction here that could make him the next in the group that includes Donald Westlake and Dave Zeltserman.

And if you're appalled at the language and imagery, skip over to a different one of our reviews. I've got a lot of territory to cover today. The truth is, mysteries and crime fiction come in a lot of genres -- and if they're well written or significant, I hope we're taking a look at almost all of them.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Beth's New Book Releases on Friday -- Come to a Party!

Yes, that's why Kingdom Books is waiting for mystery author events until October (thank you, Archer Mayor -- Oct. 15 -- and Paul Doiron -- Nov. 19). Beth -- your usual correspondent here on the blog -- has a new novel coming out at the end of this week. It's THE SECRET ROOM, a Vermont adventure set in a fictionalized version of North Danville. Here's the scoop:
Shawna and Thea are working together on a math project for their eighth-grade class. But the numbers don't add up, and they make a startling discovery: a secret room in the basement of Thea's house, an old Vermont inn. The code on the walls makes the girls and everyone in town wonder why there was a secret room. Was it part of the Underground Railroad, or perhaps something less, well, heroic? Discovering the truth is harder than they would have thought, especially when the truth is not what some people want to hear.
The first review for the book came from New England novelist Howard Frank Mosher, whose books Disappearances, Where the Rivers Flow North, and A Stranger in the Kingdom are much-appreciated classics on our shelves. Mr. Mosher wrote:
American history, friendship, family ties, nature, community. These are some of the themes that Beth Kanell explores in this beautifully written and ever-so-timely novel. The Secret Room is at once a superb, young-adult suspense story, and one of the best, and most realistic, literary mystery novels I've ever read. At its heart are two wonderful young friends and not-so-amateur detectives, Thea and Shawna. What they learn about themselves, their community, and their state and country, past and present, will astonish and delight you. The Secret Room is a masterwork in which every sentence is lovingly crafted and written straight from the heart.
And as you can tell, this is an author who quickly recognizes work "straight from the heart" because that's what he does in his own novels. Thank you again, Howard!

If you're a Goodreads fan, you can find teacher Tim Averill's appraisal of the book online there; if you like Amazon, you'll see what MamaBear wrote.

Best of all, find an independent and order the book there. Or, in New England, come to one of the celebrations that begin this week:

New North Danville Adventure Story!

by Beth Kanell

Meet the author:
Fri. 9/9, Open Party, St. J. Athenaeum, 4 p.m.
Sat. 9/10, Cobleigh Library, Lyndonville, 11 a.m. (sponsored by Green Mountain Books)
Sat. 9/10, Boxcar & Caboose, St. J., 2 p.m.
Mon. 9/12, Danville Inn, Danville, 9:30 a.m., with coffee and donuts provided by Steve Cobb, who appears in the book!
Sat. 9/17, Davies Memorial Library, Waterford, 10 a.m.
Sat. 9/17, Littleton (N.H.) Library, 2 p.m.
Tues. 9/20, Galaxy Books, Hardwick, 7 p.m.

Books can also be ordered at
from the publisher, Voyage/Brigantine, St. Johnsbury, VT

Autumn Arrives -- Along with the New Joe Gunther Mystery from Archer Mayor, TAG MAN

You can see the color in the trees now -- that's how we say it up here, as the Green Mountains become freckled with patches of scarlet. Come hurricane or climate change, autumns colors arrive, and proclaim the crisp days and cold starry nights ahead.

With the change of season, we've learned to expect the new police procedural from Archer Mayor, whose Vermont mysteries feature Joe Gunther and various members of his team. My favorite part of this series is how familiar the team members become, like parts of the family: wounded and a but nuts at times, but you love them anyway. TAG MAN, scheduled for September 27 release, will be a welcome addition to the Archer Mayor shelf.

The book opens with a new criminal in the Brattleboro, Vermont, area, a man whose pleasure includes slipping, undetected, into the homes of sleeping citizens, peering at them as they sleep, and leaving a short note to say he's been there. It's a profoundly unsettling form of crime, and when the silent visitor appears involved in more than just high-tech peeping, the community demands police action.

For Joe's team, that's easier said than done. Willy Kunkle, erratic as always, is a new father; Sammy Martens is involved with the new baby the two of them have welcomed; and Joe himself, well, he's on leave. The psychiatrist he's seeing sums up the reasons, which readers of the preceding book, Red Herring, will recognize as the doctor spells them out:
"I do know a few things. I know that Governor [Gail] Zigman was then running for office and that the gunman had been aiming for her, thinking she was still your girlfriend. I also know that while she and you had been a couple for many years, that the young lady who died was in fact your new companion. Is that essentially correct?"

Joe's expression was rueful. "In clinical terms, yes. Nice detached way to describe a train wreck."
With his personal life in pieces, what use can Joe be to investigation of the crime spree in the region? How might "organized crime" be involved? What dangers face new parents Willy and Sam, and can an emotionally damaged team leader protect them?

Polished, carefully paced, TAG MAN is a classic Joe Gunther novel, and opens an intriguing Vermont window on community and its ability to handle diversity. It's a must for seasoned fans of the series; newcomers should start with Red Herring (or earlier; Tag Man is number 22), to catch up with what's at stake. Thanks, Archer!
Fans new and old: Come meet Archer Mayor here at Kingdom Books on Saturday October 15 at 2 p.m. Fair warning -- two years ago, this man of many hats arrived in bulletproof vest, delayed a few minutes by a training exercise; last year, as I recall, he needed to watch the clock because a dead body was awaiting his signature, as a state "death examiner." And after you read TAG MAN, you'll have many more questions to ask this investigator and author!