Audiobook Review: <i>Murder on the Orient Express</i>, Read by Kenneth Branagh Audiobook Review: Murder on the Orient Express, Read by Kenneth Branagh Danielle Prielipp Read Danielle Prielipp's review! Review: <i>Stealing Ghosts</i> by Lance Charnes Review: Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes David Cranmer Read David Cranmer's review! <i>Killin Pace</i>: Excerpt Killin Pace: Excerpt Douglas Schofield A high-octane, heart-pounding tale set in Everglades City, Florida, and Sicily, Italy. Review: <i>A Season to Lie</i> by Emily Littlejohn Review: A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn Amber Keller Read Amber Keller's review!
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November 17, 2017
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Writing the Private Detective vs. the Police Detective
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Why the Time Is Ripe for the Farming Cozy
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Q&A with Jessica Keener, Author of Strangers in Budapest
Jessica Keener and John Valeri
Showing posts by: Thomas Pluck click to see Thomas Pluck's profile
Wed
Nov 1 2017 10:00am

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...]

Sun
Oct 29 2017 9:15pm

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...]

Sun
Oct 22 2017 9:00pm

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”...]

Sun
Oct 15 2017 9:00pm

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?”...]

Sun
Oct 8 2017 9:00pm

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...]

Sun
Oct 1 2017 9:00pm

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”...]

Sun
Sep 24 2017 9:00pm

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...]

Sun
Sep 17 2017 9:00pm

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...]

Thu
Sep 7 2017 12:00pm

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...]

Tue
Jun 20 2017 2:00pm

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...]

Wed
Apr 26 2017 10:00am

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!]

Wed
Apr 12 2017 10:00am

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!]

Wed
Mar 29 2017 12:00pm

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...]

Wed
Mar 15 2017 9:00am
Excerpt

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...]

Thu
Feb 23 2017 3:00pm

Reviewing the Queue: Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

When discussing the oeuvre of Whoopi Goldberg, it’s important to remember that she started off with an incredible performance in The Color Purple. While it hasn’t always been downhill from there, it took a long time for her to get on her comedic feet in the movie business. It wasn’t until Sister Act that she found the persona people wanted. Her stand-up, one-woman-show special for HBO was a knockout that showed off her acting chops and versatility while also exploring social issues.

Unfortunately, the offers she received and choices she made didn’t always live up to that promise—like Burglar, the abysmal adaptation of Lawrence Block’s beloved Bernie Rhodenbarr novel, which was really not her fault. And let’s not even mention her cop-buddy-dinosaur disaster Theodore Rex. But good movies are sometimes overlooked, like the cop flick Fatal Beauty and one of my favorite computer espionage comedies, Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

[I was born in a cross-fire hurricane...]

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?]