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From The Blog
February 21, 2017
Page to Screen: Mildred Pierce
Brian Greene
February 20, 2017
Happy President's Day to the Most Famous Lawyer/Thriller-Writer In History (It’s Not Who You Think)
Barry Lancet and Anthony Franze
February 16, 2017
Page to Screen: The Birds: du Maurier & Hitchcock
Scott Adlerberg
February 14, 2017
Ladies First: Groundbreaking Women in Crime Fiction
kristen lepionka
February 14, 2017
Celebrate Valentine's Day with These Criminal Couples
Dave Richards
Showing posts by: Thomas Pluck click to see Thomas Pluck's profile
Mon
Feb 6 2017 2:00pm

Review: The Freedom Broker by K. J. Howe

The Freedom Broker by K. J. Howe is the 1st book in a new series featuring the elite kidnap and ransom (K&R) specialist Thea Paris (available February 7, 2017).

I love a book where the author delves into a subject and learns everything about it, then crafts a story around it. David Morrell does this often; he’s learned to fly a plane to make scenes believable. Megan Abbott studied pro cheerleaders and gymnasts when writing her two latest. And now, K. J. Howe has dug into the terrifying world of Kidnap Rescue, where government and private agents work with families faced with the unimaginable: the loss of a loved one held for ransom by people who will not hesitate to kill or maim them for profit. 

Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State depicted this from the point of view of a victim kidnapped in Haiti and explored how she dealt with both her captors and her family during and after the crisis, which left her changed for life. In The Freedom Broker we get into the heads of the kidnappers, the family of the victim, and the people who rescue them.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of The Freedom Broker...]

Fri
Jan 20 2017 12:00pm

Take Me Down to Kickback City: The Noir of Ian Rankin and Rory Gallagher

I didn’t even know who Rory Gallagher was until I got a postcard from Ken Bruen.

To my shame, my knowledge of Irish music is limited. I loved the Pogues but didn’t realize Van Morrison and Thin Lizzy came from the Emerald Isle until I should’ve known better. I lived a bizarrely exposed and yet sheltered life. I knew that certain Italian mobsters liked to spend the night with transsexual prostitutes before I had listened to the Beatles other than the White Album.

My grandfather emigrated from Ireland, but thanks to the hip bottle of Jameson he drank every day of his retirement, I could barely understand a word he slurred. I lost that part of my heritage, and we mostly bonded by watching pro wrestling and boxing matches while sitting on the carpet, our backs against the couch, playing with my uptight grandmother’s two Yorkies. I inherited a shillelagh he brought back after a trip “home” to give the family homestead to friends they took in during the Depression. But like many third-generation immigrants in America, I had lost touch with my “roots” and was eager to reacquaint myself, so I was a diehard fan of the Pogues.

[Phil Lynott is God...]

Fri
Dec 2 2016 1:00pm

Review: In Sunlight or In Shadow, Edited by Lawrence Block

In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, edited by Lawrence Block, is a newly-commissioned anthology of seventeen superbly-crafted stories inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper (Available December 6, 2016).

Edward Hopper is probably the first—and possibly the only—famous visual artist you’ll think of when discussing noir. His Nighthawks encapsulates the essence of the genre—gloomy, alienated, down on your luck. So how come no one thought of an anthology based on Edward Hopper’s paintings before?

It took Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Lawrence Block to take the call, and a herd of the best writers around came running when asked if they would like to contribute. Stephen King. Joyce Carol Oates. Michael Connolly. Lee Child. Megan Abbott. Craig Ferguson…? Trust me, he can write. There’s not a bad story in the bunch, and I’m not even talking about a forgettable one. And, there’s quite a bit of range, which is difficult with a themed anthology—I should know, I’ve edited three of them. 

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of In Sunlight or In Shadow...]

Thu
Nov 10 2016 4:30pm

The Peepland Times Square Tour with Christa Faust

Hard Case Crime—look for the yellow label, the label of quality!—has expanded into comic books. And they did it with a bang, with titles from noir kingpins Christa Faust and Gary Phillips as well as director Walter Hill.

Triggerman #1 by Hill—best known for The Driver, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, 48 Hrs., Hard Times, and The Long Riders­—is out now. Peepland, by Faust & Phillips, streets on October 12th. I was lucky enough to get a peep at the New York Comic Con special issue, and these two noir vets capture the feel of lost, dirty ‘80s Manhattan like it was yesterday.

Faust was at NYCC to promote the comic with Hard Case honcho Charles Ardai, and I had the pleasure of touring Times Square with the author. Faust is not only a paperback pulp historian and famed writer, but also a former peep show girl. What better tour guide than this daring Angel?

Faust is best known for her Angel Dare series for Hard Case Crime—Money Shot, which kicks off in the California porn world; Choke Hold, which dives into the seamy underbelly of mixed-martial arts; and the upcoming The Get-Off, which follows Angel into the violent rodeo circuit.

[Take the tour!]

Tue
Nov 1 2016 12:00pm

Review: Leadfoot by Eric Beetner

Leadfoot by Eric Beetner is the 2nd fast and furious thriller featuring the McGraws—a family who will transport anything you require and won't ask any questions.

The Dukes of Hazzard. “Thunder Road.” White Lightning. The moonshine-running driver hitting the backroads with suped-up Detroit iron and a trunkful of corn liquor, racing the revenuers, the sheriffs, and the competition…

The Rumrunners series by Eric Beetner takes this into Iowa corn country with the McGraw family, who’ve got hard driving in their blood. Unlike the archetype of The Driver as a silent motorhead who is magic behind the wheel and under the hood but can’t or won’t deal with people well—as in classics Sallis’s Drive and Vachss’s The Getaway Man—in Beetner’s hands, Cal McGraw is a country-fried combo of Parker with a little smart-ass Grofield in there.

[Is it weird that I'm now hungry?]

Wed
Oct 5 2016 12:00pm

Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

Stranded by Bracken MacLeodStranded by Bracken MacLeod features an apocalyptic storm and a crew's fight to survive the elements (Available October 4, 2016).

Stranded by Bracken MacLeod is a gripping existential horror thriller that will appeal to crime fans. Though it is compared to classics like The Thing and The Mist—and it does have the creepy base elements that make those stories work, such as paranoia of your fellow man when trapped in a survival situation beyond your comprehension—to me, it read like a thriller with just a touch of the supernatural. But that touch is disturbing and puts the reader just as off-balance as it does the characters who must confront it. The author of Mountain Home focuses his sharp eye for depicting humans crumbling under pressure to a colder, unforgiving landscape.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of Stranded...]

Fri
Sep 16 2016 2:00pm

Things to Do in Carcosa When You’re Dead

If you’re going to Bouchercon in New Orleans, I’m afraid you won’t have any luck finding the King in Yellow or Lost Carcosa. But you can still have a lot of fun exploring a state known for its criminal history. Louisiana was the perfect setting for the first season of True Detective because you can believe corruption is so expected that Rust Cohle’s nihilism and misanthropy feel like the only normal reaction.

I’ve loved Louisiana and its culture ever since I drove down after college to see the places I read about in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels—and after dinner at Mulate’s and wandering down Bourbon Street I was hooked. I worked down at the port there a while, visiting local haunts like Charley’s Steakhouse—featured in my story “Gumbo Weather,” which is in the Bouchercon 2016 anthology Blood on the Bayou, available for order at Down & Out Books or at the convention. My wife is from Baton Rouge, and we met in Manhattan by pure chance. But maybe her sassy ways appealed to me because of Mr. Burke and my visits to the state.

So, if you find yourself in New Orleans, here are my suggestions for a tour of the state for the criminally minded:

[Take the tour...]

Fri
Sep 16 2016 9:00am
Excerpt

Protectors 2: Heroes

Thomas Pluck and Holly West

The good folks who run Bouchercon have announced the 2016 Anthony Award nominees, and I’m thrilled beyond belief that Protectors 2: Heroes is not only nominated for an Anthony Award for best anthology, but that Holly West’s story “Don’t Fear the Ripper” from it has also been nominated for best short story. It has also been chosen to appear in a Ripper anthology from Mysterious Press; thank you so much, Holly, for writing the story and letting me publish it in the anthology.

Protectors 2: Heroes benefits The National Association to Protect Children, specifically the HERO Corps, which trains wounded veterans to assist federal and local law enforcement to hunt sexual predators online. Some of the contributors include: Joyce Carol Oates, David Morrell, Hilary Davidson, Laird Barron, Joelle Charbonneau, Reed Farrel Coleman, Angel Luis Colon, Charles de Lint, SJ Rozan, Harlan Ellison®, Wayne Dundee, Alison Arngrim (you may know her as “Nellie Olsen” from Little House on the Prairie), Bracken MacLeod, former ThugLit editor Allison Glasgow, Josh Stallings, Chad Eagleton, Martyn Waites, Gary Philips, Scott Adlerberg, Linda Rodriguez, Rios de la Luz, Joe Lansdale, Graham Wynd, Alex Segura, Albert Tucher, Clare Toohey, Laura K. Curtis, Andrew Vachss, and Anthony nominee Chris Irvin. It’s a monster of a book to fight monsters in our midst.

Holly is the author of two historical mysteries, Mistress of Fortune and Mistress of Lies, which were gripping and gritty enough to make me care about whether an English king lived or died—which is tough for the grandson of Irish immigrants. They’re great noir yarns. Holly was gracious enough to let me share an excerpt from “Don’t Fear the Ripper,” which you can find below.

One of the other anthology contenders is ThugLit Presents Cruel Yule: A Holiday Anthology, in which my story “Letters to Santa” appears. Johnny Shaw’s Chingon tale “Feliz Navidead” is in there, and also nominated for best short story. Also nominated is Erin Mitchell’s “Old Hands,” from Dark City Lights: New York Stories (ed. by Lawrence Block), in which my story “The Big Snip” appears. Snip wasn’t chosen for an Anthony, but it was picked for The Year’s Best Crime & Mystery Stories 2016, edited by Kristine K. Rusch, so I’m pretty thrilled about that, too.

The Anthonys are a fan award and they mean a lot. It’s an honor to be nominated along with so many champions of the genre and also good friends, like Josh Stallings’s Young Americans—my favorite heist novel of recent vintage—Joelle Charbonneau’s Need, Rob Hart’s New Yorked, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s What You See, Chris Holm’s The Killing Kind, Adrian McKinty’s Gun Street Girl, and Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone.

As they say, it’s an honor to be nominated. But if you enjoyed Protectors 2: Heroes and are going to the convention, your vote will help sell the book and generate more revenue for Protect: The National Association to Protect Children. The book’s sales have generated over $4500 in donations so far. Let’s keep it going for the HERO Corps!

[Read an excerpt of “Don't Fear the Ripper,” nominated for Best Short Story]

Mon
Sep 12 2016 10:00am

Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

I wouldn’t say there’s been a dearth of good crime films lately; we haven’t had a renaissance, but we have gotten some good ones. It’s not a genre that is considered a genre—crime can fit into horror (Don’t Breathe), it can be a thriller (Gone Girl), or it can be a drama (At Close Range). But, Hell or High Water is one of the first to tackle the recession hitting the working class. The adaptation of George V. Higgins’s novel Cogan’s Trade (aka Killing Them Softly) touched on it, but kept its characters firmly in the underworld. This one, written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and directed by David Mackenzie, the British director of the excellent prison film Starred Up, pulls few punches when it comes to giving its antiheroes a motive.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of Hell or High Water...]

Tue
Sep 6 2016 3:30pm

13 Books to Read If You Loved Stranger Things

Great news! They’ve confirmed a Season 2 of Stranger Things.

I loved the first season of the Netflix original series. Only eight episodes long, but it never feels rushed. The Duffer Brothers did a great job giving us characters we care about and a monster that truly terrified me.

It's set in the early '80s and begins with four young kids playing a Dungeons & Dragons game. After the game ends, one never makes it home. The cast is excellent, the police are not jerks or incompetent, and even the bullies have depth. It's not perfect, but it's very close. And, it doesn't have a smarmy facade of nostalgia, the early '80s were good and bad. A little anachronistic in behavior, but that's expected.

It borrows and riffs off many beloved stories in the horror genre: Stephen King’s Firestarter, It and “The Mist,” Carrie and its clone The Fury, and the magnificent coming-of-age film Stand by Me based on King’s short story, “The Body.” It also draws on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Poltergeist, Akira, the video game Silent Hill, “final girl” slasher films, and even Sailor Moon. There are nods to Aliens, and the nerdy kids (who all ring perfectly true) reference things they love like The Hobbit and the Star Wars movies. And, their favorite teacher is a clueless science nerd who thinks a great date is watching The Thing on VHS.

I’ve read some other “if you like…” lists that mention everything from Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” to Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which are both great reads but really don’t evoke anything like what you get from Stranger Things.

So, here are 13 books I've read that reminded me of the show, in a good way:

[See what made the list!]

Tue
Aug 30 2016 1:30pm

Review: The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke

The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke is a Holland Family novel and an atmospheric, coming-of-age story set in 1952 Texas, as the Korea War rages (Available August 30, 2016).

My experience with the jellyfish seemed to characterize my life. No matter how sun-spangled the day might seem, I always felt a sense of danger. It wasn’t imaginary, either. The guttural roar of Hollywood mufflers on a souped-up Ford coupe, a careless glance at the guys in ducktail haircuts and suede stomps and pegged pants called drapes, and in seconds you could be pounded into pulp. Ever watch a television portrayal of the fifties? What a laugh.

Hold on, James Lee Burke is taking on the Fifties. He is best known for his Dave Robicheaux series set in modern Louisiana, but some of his greatest works have been his recent standalone novels about the Holland family. Hackberry Holland has his own series, but these involve Weldon Holland and Aaron Broussard, distant relatives of the Texas lawman who brought in John Wesley Hardin.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of The Jealous Kind...]

Mon
Aug 29 2016 9:15am

The Night Of Series Finale: “The Call of the Wild” Episode Review

My neighbors Shannon and Natanya agreed with me: what we saw of The Night Of was Naz’s interpretation of events. The show lingered on surveillance footage to remind us to only trust what we see with our own eyes. But, in the end, it didn’t matter. That was not the story.

The story was, once again, crime fiction taking the Dead Girl Trope and using Andrea as a catalyst for a story about how she ruined a young man’s life by getting savagely murdered after luring him with sex and drugs. So, the undertaker Mr. Day was the one who was right in the end.

[The undertaker always gets the last laugh...]

Sun
Aug 21 2016 9:00pm

The Night Of: “Ordinary Death” Episode Review

I’ll take evidence over a confession, every time.

Seven episodes, and we have no idea who stabbed Andrea to death in the bedroom. It’s to the show’s credit that we keep tuning in. The story is strong, but the beams are built entirely of character:

  • Chandra, the strong but unsure lawyer who gives it her all this episode. 
  • John Stone, who no longer stands on feet of clay (or eczema, for that matter).
  • Freddy, the boxer-turned-criminal who runs Rikers Island. (Even though it’s a jail, they treat it like it’s a prison where he’s a long-timer, but I’ll let that pass. Suspects have lingered in Rikers for up to 3 years before trial, but it’s unlikely Freddy would get transferred there from upstate prison, even if he had a buddy pin a murder on him and he’s waiting for trial). 
  • And, of course, the mysterious Naz, whose good boy exterior has transformed into a tattooed, head-shaved, heroin-smoking, hard-faced man over the months, with a street name of “Sinbad.” 

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of “Ordinary Death”...]

Sun
Aug 14 2016 9:00pm

The Night Of: “Samson and Delilah” Episode Review

Judges 16. That’s all a man needs to know.

The long-awaited trial begins midway through the episode, and it is oddly anticlimactic. We’ve seen hints of strife and trial by media—a Nancy Grace lookalike eviscerates Naz whenever there’s a TV in the shot; his brother vandalizes the school because he’s getting bullied with no recourse; Mrs. Khan is let go from her job for the same reason and no one wants to hire her; and his father is still without his cab.

The final flourishes of the investigation are the meat of the story, and we get an unsettling look at the reality of the justice system. On both sides, we’re getting the best that overworked but dedicated people can give us. Once a suspect is charged, the investigation focuses on conviction. Last time, we saw D.A. Helen Weiss coaching a statement from the medical examiner; this time around, she’s getting a doctor who’ll testify that the cocktail of drugs Naz was on wouldn’t necessarily put him to sleep. He might have been able go on a Manson-style knife spree. 

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of “Samson and Delilah”...]

Sun
Aug 7 2016 9:00pm

The Night Of: “Season of the Witch” Episode Review

You got some secrets in you. And some rage. I like it.

The defense attorney has been pilloried since the dawn of the court system. The advocate of the Devil. And today, we still disrespect them as if their job is to keep criminals free instead of providing citizens accused of a crime with their constitutional right of a defense. Stone speaks in front of his son’s high school class and they vilify him. “Would you defend Hitler?” “My Dad’s a deputy, he puts these guys away, you try to set them free.”

The concept of innocent until proven guilty eludes us. We want vengeance, not justice. What is justice? We can’t bring back the dead or erase the scars predators leave on a victim’s soul. And, even with the best defense, someone who is as innocent as Naz appears to be faced with a plea deal: 15 years, or life in prison if he dares proclaim himself not guilty.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of The Night Of: “Season of the Witch”]

Sun
Jul 31 2016 9:00pm

The Night Of: “The Art of War” Episode Review

How do you look a man in the eye without looking him in the eye?

That’s the conundrum for Naz at Rikers. This episode felt a little muddled, as he loses one nameless black mentor for another, all the while Freddy watches him from the tier. 

Stone is back to representing low-end clients who plea out, but he can’t let it go. He keeps calling the shelter about the cat and watching Andrea’s brownstone. He learns she was in rehab and stakes out the facility. One of the counselors (Max Casella) gets him her file—for a price. He attends her funeral, where Detective Box warns him off. He’s not Naz’s lawyer anymore, and he has no reason to investigate. That doesn’t keep him from photographing Taylor (Andrea’s stepfather) arguing with a young bearded man we haven’t seen before. 

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of “The Art of War”]

Sun
Jul 24 2016 9:00pm

The Night Of: “The Dark Crate” Episode Review

He looks like a normal college kid, and we need to fight that.

The Dark Crate is Riker’s Island, which is Naz’s new home. He’s not a gang member, so he doesn’t get protective custody, he goes into general population and sleeps on a bunk in a dorm.

Shortly after, we see the institutional squalor of New York City’s enormous jail, and we see the penthouse cell where Freddy (Michael K. Williams of Boardwalk Empire, Hap & Leonard, and most famously as Omar in The Wire) holds court, outfitted with a television and a dozen mobile phones. A former boxer with a reach that extends far past his cell and Riker’s itself—a tattooed prisoner tells Naz that if Freddy “holds up five fingers, five men die in the Bronx!”—we get a quick taste of his power as he’s led from his cell by a female guard for sex. Then, she tells him she can’t do it anymore—they’re giving guards lie detector tests. “You don’t have to keep paying my rent,” she tells him. 

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of “The Dark Crate”]

Sun
Jul 17 2016 9:00pm

The Night Of: “Subtle Beast” Episode Review

The truth can go to hell. Because it can’t help you.

The Night Of wastes very little time but never feels rushed. Another short miniseries in the vein of Show Me a Hero, this time HBO gave them a little more room to breathe—and it helps immeasurably. Based on the BBC series Criminal Justice, it feels fresh and in a world of its own making, somehow unlike all the Law & Orders and CSIs and SVUs that preceded it. 

With the merest of recaps, we are back in the story. The arresting officers give statements, as Naz sits in a holding cell waiting for a bail hearing and his family frantically looks for him. The confusion of the New York City criminal justice system becomes a very unsubtle beast of its own, comprised of thousands of people working in ancient buildings without sunlight. The cinematography has been excellent, and in the second episode, we feel the walls closing in on Naz as the system swallows him whole. I don’t think we see a tree for the entire episode. 

[I think the same could be said for most of New York...]

Wed
Jul 13 2016 2:30pm

ThrillerFest XI: Sights, Sounds, and Screams

If you’re not familiar with ThrillerFest, it’s the official convention of the International Thriller Writers, held every July in New York City at the Grand Hyatt hotel. The basic convention is two days, Friday and Saturday, with the Thriller Awards banquet held Saturday evening.

But, there’s a lot more if you include CraftFest, Master CraftFest, and PitchFest, where writers can attend special instructional panels led by master thriller writers and then pitch their books to agents at PitchFest.

The biggest problem with ThrillerFest is that you want to attend so many of the panels, and they start at 8:00 am. The first panel I attended included Lawrence Block, Julia Dahl, and Kim Powers, and it was about what inspired you to keep going—coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and little tricks they used.

[Maybe a few Pick Your Poison cocktails???]

Sun
Jul 10 2016 9:20pm

The Night Of Series Premiere: “The Beach” Episode Review

Richard Price is probably more famous for his writing on The Wire than his sprawling crime novels, but they both deliver the same incredibly detailed vision of how crimes occur and how a city deals with them from every angle. The eight-episode miniseries The Night Of, which airs officially on HBO beginning July 10th, is no exception. This the perfect show to dive into now that Game of Thrones has left us until March. Because, while there are no dragons, there are many layers and webs of interconnected intrigue. 

The story revolves around a nerdy young student named Nasir, or “Naz” (Riz Ahmen, Nightcrawler), whose family came from Pakistan and runs a garment shop. His father also splits a cab with two other drivers. 

Like any second generation immigrant, Naz knows how to hustle, too. He tutors his fellow college students. He’s a good-looking kid, a little shy, carries an asthma inhaler but dresses cool, and he’s excited when one of his tutoring clients tells him about a hot party that night downtown…that his parents won’t want him to go to. Easy enough, he slips into his father’s cab, after his parents are asleep, and roams the streets, which leads to a couple comic interludes because he can’t figure out how to turn the Off Duty lights on.

Which is when She gets in his cab.

[Her?]