<i>Date with Malice</i>: Excerpt Date with Malice: Excerpt Julia Chapman The second book in the Samson and Delilah Mystery series. Discount: <i>The Nearest Exit</i> by Olen Steinhauer Discount: The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer Crime HQ Get a digital copy for only $2.99! Review: <i>The Silent Companions</i> by Laura Purcell Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell Gabino Iglesias Read Gabino Iglesias's review! Review: <i>Last Ferry Home</i> by Kent Harrington Review: Last Ferry Home by Kent Harrington Kristin Centorcelli Read Kristin Centorcelli's review!
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Q&A with Christi Daugherty, Author of The Echo Killing
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Q&A with Sebastian Rotella, Author of Rip Crew
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Showing posts by: Thomas Pluck click to see Thomas Pluck's profile
Mar 22 2018 12:00pm

Review: Second Story Man by Charles Salzberg

Second Story Man by Charles Salzberg is a thrilling novel that develops into a cat-and-mouse contest between the two lawmen and a master burglar (available March 26, 2018).

I love a good no-good thief.

Now, I am also inordinately fond of Bernie Rhodenbarr, Lawrence Block’s Burglar who will rob you blind but may also solve your murder if he stumbles on your still-warm corpse during a job. But even Bernie usually does so because he’s been blamed for it, not out of the goodness of his larcenous little heart. If you’ve ever been robbed or burgled, you know that the violation is a lasting wound. Even if you can afford to lose what was taken, knowing that a stranger was in your home pawing over your things is hard to forget. So I’m not a fan of making fictional thieves honorable—or worse, angels with sticky fingers.

They don’t have to be murderous, though the basis for one of my favorite movies, Thief, was home invader Frank Hohimer (pseudonym of thief John Seybold), author of The Home Invaders. In the movie, he cut through safes with thermal lances; in reality, they broke into rich people’s homes and stuck a gun in their faces—and in one case, allegedly raped their daughter. Not quite as romantic. I don’t want to read a sympathetic story about thieves like that. Parker, who wouldn’t work with a rape-o like that, is much more palatable.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of Second Story Man...]

Mar 20 2018 1:00pm

Why You Should Be Watching Hap & Leonard

Because it’s Joe Fucking Lansdale.

That really should be the end of this article. If you don’t know the work of Joe R. Lansdale, Hap & Leonard is a wonderful introduction to his most popular books. If you already enjoy his work, watching the series on Sundance is like reading the books for the first time again. They capture the tone and spirit perfectly and bring the characters to life, right down to Hap’s hippie soul and Leonard’s irascible, rugged individualism (and Nilla wafers). Which is quite a feat because, while Joe is a champion storyteller, his voice is a large part of what makes his work so enjoyable. Like Robert Parker, Walter Mosley, and Laura Lippman, he can write about something mundane and make it as gripping as a thriller because he writes with a voice that we follow like the little bouncing red ball over song lyrics, if you’re old enough to remember those.

[Read more about why you should be watching Hap & Leonard!]

Mar 13 2018 12:00pm

Review: This is How it Ends by Eva Dolan

This is How it Ends by Eva Dolan is a standalone psychological thriller that examines friendship, suspicion, and betrayal (available March 13, 2018).

Best known for her Zigic and Ferreira crime series, This is How it Ends is Eva Dolan’s first standalone thriller, and after reading it, there is no doubt that her career is in zero danger of ending anytime soon.

Disclaimer: I have been an online friend of Eva Dolan’s since I began writing crime fiction in 2010. I haven’t read her series, but I am a fan of her short fiction, and I was eager to read this book. So I had very high hopes for it. You know, the kind of hopes that are often dashed when a book doesn’t meet your expectations?

Well, no worries here. The book exceeded my every expectation. It is a masterful thriller that slowly ramps up the tension and keeps the needle pinned until the very last page.

Set in the ever-more-gentrified London, she wastes no time in introducing the story: Ella, a young, anti-gentrification activist, calls for help from Molly, an old leftist with a sharp tongue and sharper mind, because she is in serious trouble. They are at a party to benefit the tenants of a mostly-abandoned apartment tower slated for demolition—if the few remaining occupants can be lured into taking payoffs or forced to leave. In one of the abandoned flats, we find Ella with the body of a young man.

It was an accident.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of This is How it Ends...]

Feb 19 2018 4:00pm

Review: Down the River unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Down the River unto the Sea by Walter Mosley is the first book in a new series featuring Joe King Oliver, a disgraced former cop turned private detective in New York City (available February 20, 2018).

Walter Mosley writes with a voice that flows as easy as that river of the title, and he introduces a series character who is both familiar and new with his latest. Set in modern-day New York City, we meet disgraced cop turned detective Joe King Oliver, 10 years after a rape accusation on the job killed his career, put him in solitary in Riker’s for three months, and left him with ugly scars inside and out. Not an easy character to sympathize with. We get Joe’s side of the story first, and according to him, it was entirely consensual. But I wasn’t sure if Mosley was writing an unreliable narrator. Here’s a paragraph that encapsulates Joe King Oliver:

There was a chill in the morning air but I had my wind breaker on, a sweater beneath that. Pedestrian traffic was still pretty light at that time of day and the breezes can get a little stiff. The combination of solitude and cold somehow imparted the feeling of freedom; so much so that I was on the brink of laughter. I knew these emotions indicated an instability of mind but I didn’t care. A man can live his whole life following the rules set down by happenstance and the cash-coated bait of security-cosseted morality; an entire lifetime and in the end he wouldn’t have done one thing to be proud of.

By the end of Down the River unto the Sea, he will have done that one thing.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of Down the River unto the Sea...]

Jan 26 2018 2:00pm

Thomas Pluck Excerpt: Life During Wartime

Thomas Pluck

Lifetime During Wartime collects the best stories of Thomas Pluck—a blackjack 21 of stories of people caught up in crime, facing bleak horrors, or spun in the whirlpool of human absurdity (available January 29, 2018).

Take a ride on the neuter scooter in “The Big Snip,” selected as one of the best crime stories of 2016. Follow a mountain man who’s not what he seems into a snowbound frontier town where evil has sunk its claws. Dine at the most exclusive restaurant in New York, where “Eat the Rich” takes on a whole new meaning. And meet Denny the Dent, a hulking 350 pounds of muscle who wouldn’t harm a fly … but who’ll glad crush a bully’s skull. And read the Jay Desmarteaux yarn that takes off where Bad Boy Boogie ends.

Read the stories readers call “hard-hitting bombs” full of “gut punches and belly laughs” … and be ready to get Plucked.

[Read an excerpt from Life During Wartime...]

Jan 2 2018 4:00pm

Review: Robicheaux by James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke’s most beloved character, Dave Robicheaux, returns in Robicheaux—a gritty, atmospheric mystery set in the towns and backwoods of Louisiana.

My favorite James Lee Burke is angry, old James Lee Burke.

With Robicheaux—his 21st novel starring the eponymous retired NOLA Homicide cop turned PI turned sheriff in the Elysian Babylon of Iberia Parish—Burke has written another operatic novel of human perseverance and frailty that will be familiar to fans of his work without being predictable or boring. By this time, we know his themes, his leitmotifs, and his riffs. Think of it like the framework of a sonnet, a canvas and palette, or a murder ballad rocker’s beat that allows the artist to create something new using hooks and phrases we know well.

Burke has seen what’s happening in our country before, and here, he seemingly predicts the Hollywood sexual assault scandals while he writes a story that makes knowing nods to Huey Long and Bud Schulberg’s A Face in the Crowd and spins a tale of a folksy son of a ruthless oil baron who rises in populist politics. Jimmy Nightingale is young, hides his narcissism well, and wants to be a good man—unlike the “outsider” politician he most assuredly is modeled after. He embraces the disgraced Klansman and politician Bobby Earl, who is not the Duke of Earl if you can’t figure out the Louisiana hatemonger he’s jabbing at. The one who inspired my favorite political bumper sticker: VOTE FOR THE CROOK! IT’S IMPORTANT. That was when David Duke ran against a convicted pol and lost, unlike today when an Alabama child molester nearly defeated a war hero. A different time.

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

Nov 1 2017 11:00am

Review: World Enough by Clea Simon

World Enough is an intriguing, hard-hitting, intricately-plotted mystery set in Boston’s clubland and marks an exciting new departure for cozy author Clea Simon.

It's only rock 'n roll, but I like it.

Clea Simon brings us back to the '80s Boston rock club scene with her newest mystery, World Enough. A journalist by trade, she calls on her own experiences and tells a story unfettered by nostalgia, spinning a twisted tale of rockers, critics, fans, bouncers, club owners, and groupies—warts and all.

Tara Winton has left the rock zine life for that of a corporate office, surrounded by touchy people who consider her the “edgy” one. Her ex Peter got her the job, possibly to kill her dreams of greater things as a journalist, and he lingers in her life like a bad smell—who she sometimes returns to because it's a comfy bad smell.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of World Enough...]

Oct 29 2017 10:15pm

The Deuce Season Finale, 1.08: “My Name Is Ruby” Episode Review

Take what comes. But show no ambition.

Sandra learns that corruption and power are perpetual motion machines. Her source won’t go on the record. He’s taken a deal of his own and left her without a story of a city complicit in the sex trade. Rather, he’s given her “the same old story” of country girls lured in by the Big Apple and preyed on by men who monetize them.

We have seen men exerting their power over women in The Deuce in the most extreme way: with violence. We've seen less of them abusing authority and workplace power to extort sexual favors. Abby takes the lead in her relationship with Vincent and lets him know from move one that she’s driving. Harvey the porno director weasels a date out of Eileen in this finale. They go to the premiere of a big-budget porno that changes the game completely and “made thirty grand in its first week.”

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of The Deuce's Season 1 finale...]

Oct 22 2017 10:00pm

The Deuce 1.07: “Au Reservoir” Episode Review

Well, I am a degenerate.

I can be a nitpicky viewer, and last time I pointed out the lack of heroin in The Deuce’s fairy tale of New York. And what do you know? We get an overdose this time around, though I won’t say who. About midway through the episode, I started wondering where the violence went, and they satisfied my curiosity. Not that I want to see working girls get beat up, but the new parlor game doesn’t mean we’re watching Pretty Woman. And the ugly reality comes back, right on time.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of “Au Reservoir”...]

Oct 15 2017 10:00pm

The Deuce 1.06: “Why Me?” Episode Review

After last week’s emotional high point, you have to expect a low, and this is an enjoyable coast toward the inevitable. We learn the why behind the “No Go Zone” of Times Square. The culmination of free speech rulings allowing pornographic films to be filmed in the United States and the Knapp Commission scaring the hell out of police bigwigs downtown.

That doesn’t stop Lieutenant Sweeney from waltzing into the massage parlor to let Vinnie know the street tax is $500 a week, even if they have the blessing from town hall. They know the ax is coming, and they are stealing all that they can before it comes down on their necks. 

Elaine starts working with Harvey the porno director, who we learn is working for the Genovese crime family when they sit in on a court case where the judge finds their smut films have “socially redeeming value” and dismisses the charges. But Elaine wants to work behind the camera and keeps pushing for it. There isn’t enough filming happening yet, but the sluice gates are about to open.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of “Why Me?”...]

Oct 8 2017 10:00pm

The Deuce 1.05: “What Kind of Bad?” Episode Review

She was an American Girl, raised on promises…

We see a lot of promises broken this episode, ones made to others and to themselves. Maggie Gyllenhaal breaks our hearts as Elaine runs from stoop to lamppost to corner fleeing Method Man Rodney’s best game after a robbery and a beating from a john leaves her bloody and bruised. And we learn it’s not the first time, nor the third. Her rage, defiance, and tears are a claw to the heart. The show sometimes dips into sentimentality, but it always brings us back to the ugly truth of the life and its brazen, unfettered capitalism. She’s not the salesperson, she’s the product. 

[Sex sells...]

Oct 1 2017 10:00pm

The Deuce 1.04: “I See Money” Episode Review

The last shot of the wonderful opening credits sequence always makes me gag; that barefoot splashing into a filthy Times Square puddle. Walking in sandals in New York City is still a gamble, and I wonder if podiatrists have to treat rare bacterial diseases of those who dare. But enough about feet, this episode is about the Mouth of Death. Lisa Lutz of the Spellmans series wrote this teleplay, and it’s one of the best so far. We're halfway to the finish line.

I’m glad that gays and lesbians are finally getting their piece of the pie. Paul the bartender opens up in this episode, dating, tending bar with his guns out, and ignoring when Vincent calls his last place of work a “fag bar.” That would be what it was called then. Watching an old episode of Will & Grace, I was surprised at how often the word was used for laughs just a decade or so ago. If anything, the cops in Vincent’s new bar are less homophobic than they would have been back then.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of “I See Money”...]

Sep 24 2017 10:00pm

The Deuce 1.03: “The Principle Is All” Episode Review

They found the smoke! Abby needs a job. She’s following the want-ads, and the office she interviews at is full of old white men and looks hazier than a dirty fish tank. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is another fine episode that gives us a look into the power structure of ‘70s New York, with Lindsey and Muskie, the Westies and Italians, and how “The Deuce” was the Hamsterdam of its day—if you recall that season of The Wire, as well you should. So grab a Cutty and water, sit down with me at the bar, and let Simon, Pelecanos, Megan Abbott, and Lisa Lutz bring us back to the dirty Deuce…

[Nothing sounds more perfect...]

Sep 17 2017 10:00pm

The Deuce 1.02: “Show and Prove” Episode Review

“There’s not enough smoke.” That’s one criticism I overheard about The Deuce, HBO’s 8-episode series set on 42nd Street in the ‘70s. Everyone lights up, but there’s no cancerous haze across the barroom; you can actually see people. That’s one thing I don’t miss. 

I’ll admit, I never frequented bars in Times Square back in the day. I was too young to order a drink, and I didn’t have a fake ID. I was more like the “birthday boy” from the pilot. My uncle owned a bar and came home with crates of kickback booze and half-empty bottles of crap that didn’t sell, so I never wanted for liquor. Of course, sometimes that meant getting schnockered on Harveys Bristol Cream instead of Jack Daniel's, but you don’t piss and moan on the gravy train.

[Free booze is free booze...]

Sep 7 2017 1:00pm

Back in the New York Groove with The Deuce

As nostalgic as I am for the '70s and ‘80s Times Square, I’m glad that George Pelecanos and David Simon’s new show The Deuce wastes no time getting the first mugging out of the way. Vinnie Martino is dropping the bar receipts in the night deposit box when two goons in a Barracuda shake him down and make him pay for not having the money. We know immediately that we have landed in Old New York, home of The Seven-Ups, The French Connection, The Exterminator, Night of the Juggler, and Serpico. There’s no hint of nostalgia or otherworldliness like in American Hustle, we are there. 

Modern Times Square is a tourist-clogged nightmare where you’re more likely to be accosted by an aggressive busker in a counterfeit Elmo costume than a PCP-addled thug wearing a long leather coat—but it’s also about as interesting as counting pimples at a middle school dance. You start wondering why the hell you went there in the first place.

[Times Square? More like a square time...]

Jun 20 2017 3:00pm

Review: The Force by Don Winslow

The Force by Don Winslow is a haunting and heartbreaking story of greed and violence, inequality and race, crime and injustice, retribution and redemption that reveals the seemingly insurmountable tensions between the police and the diverse citizens they serve.

His old priests might have told him that there are sins of commission and sins of omission, that it’s not always the things you do, but the things you don’t that cost you your soul. That sometimes it’s not the spoken lie but the unspoken truth that opens the door to betrayal.

Don Winslow has a unique voice, one that’s partly shaped by public transit. He said his chapters were short in the early days because he wrote on the train to and from work: a 21-minute ride. Yet, he persisted.

My first Winslow was The Winter of Frankie Machine, about an old wiseguy who just wants to surf but gets pulled back into the life by a mobster’s kid who wants to make a name for himself. No matter if he writes about a silverback mobster, a New York cop, a Mexican journalist, or a woman drug lord who’s twice as ruthless to keep the wolves at bay, he inhabits his characters. If you haven’t read his thriller Savages, you are missing out on a prime piece of crime fiction built on an astute knowledge of drug cartels and a mastery of character. Ben, Chon, and O are unforgettable. His epic The Cartel brings the horror of the drug war to life like no other work of art.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of The Force...]

Apr 26 2017 11:00am

A Field Guide to Sociopaths, Psychopaths, Narcissists, and Other Abusers: An Interview with Zak Mucha

Fiction is about getting inside the heads of people, whether they are like us or unlike us. When writers depict a sociopath, how close can they get? Is it possible to represent a mental state we can’t experience? Even therapists and psychologists can get it wrong. When we are talking to a person who, by definition, lies for their own benefit, can they let enough of their true self slip through their mask so that an observer can truly know how they think?

Zak Mucha, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who worked on the streets of Chicago treating mentally ill homeless clients before he moved into private practice. He is the author of Emotional Abuse: a Manual for Self-Defense, which explains the behavior of emotional abusers of all kinds and, more importantly, how to deflect their attacks. It is a short, pragmatic, and concise book that explains how to recognize different types of systematic diminishment and the expected response. 

Last year, I asked my fellow writers what frightened them more: someone without empathy or conscience, or someone who has these qualities but willfully chooses to ignore them to get what they want. Part of the question was to prod at the current fascination with the psychopath or sociopath.

Fictional examples include the social climber killer in Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying, Amazing Amy from Gone Girl, Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, Jimmy the Gent from Goodfellas, and so on. Then, there are characters who seem to successfully wrestle with their conscience, such as Tony from The Sopranos and Walter White from Breaking Bad.

I asked Mr. Mucha about these characters to see which, if any, get it “right.”

[Read the full interview below!]

Apr 12 2017 11:00am

A Dangerous Dance: A Conversation with Alex Segura & Thomas Pluck

You’d be hard-pressed to find crime-fiction protagonists more different than Jay Desmarteaux and Pete Fernandez. One is a grizzled ex-con, the other a washed up ex-journalist struggling to be a PI. And while they’re not really running in the same social circles, both come from the minds of two crime-fiction contemporaries in Thomas Pluck and Alex Segura.

The 1st Jay novel, Bad Boy Boogie, is out now, and the 3rd Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery, Dangerous Ends, hit on April 11. We grabbed both authors and stuck them in a virtual room together to talk about their influences, how their series came to be, and what’s in store for their characters in the pages of their new releases.

[Read the full conversation below!]

Mar 29 2017 1:00pm

Review: Conviction by Julia Dahl

Conviction by Julia Dahl is the 3rd book in the Rebekah Roberts series.

The 3rd book in Julia Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts series makes me feel like a schmendrick for not having read the first two books, Invisible City and Run You Down. Good thing that Conviction works flawlessly as a standalone—and a potent reminder of what crime fiction can accomplish when a writer is at the top of her game. 

Daringly set in the aftermath of the Crown Heights riots, Dahl alternates between the violent Brooklyn of the 90s and the gentrified, trendy borough of today. Roberts is a journalist at the least-respected paper in the city, angling for a big story that will get her noticed for her investigative reporting. She chats with a true crime blogger who has a letter from an inmate who’s been locked up for twenty years: DeShawn Davis, convicted of the brutal murder of his foster parents and their toddler daughter. 

It was an infamous crime at a time when Brooklyn racked up four or five murders a day and an overworked justice system handed down harsh sentences to “superpredators”—many of whom have since been exonerated. DeShawn’s story doesn’t sound like any “I didn’t do it” prisoner letter. He recanted his confession, plead not guilty, and was punished for not taking a plea.

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

Mar 15 2017 10:00am

Bad Boy Boogie: New Excerpt

Thomas Pluck

Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck is the 1st book in the new Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller series (available March 20, 2017).

Read an excerpt from Bad Boy Boogie, then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of the 1st Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller!

When Jay Desmarteaux steps out of from prison after serving twenty-five years for murdering a vicious school bully, he tries to follow his convict mentor’s advice: the best revenge is living well.

But questions gnaw at his gut: Where have his folks disappeared to? Why do old friends want him gone? And who wants him dead?

Teaming with his high school sweetheart turned legal Valkyrie, a hulking body shop bodybuilder, and a razor-wielding gentleman’s club house mother, Jay will unravel a tangle of deception all the way back to the bayous where he was born. With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.

[Read an excerpt from Bad Boy Boogie...]