Jayne Anne Phillips is best known as a respected writer of literary fiction, having won the Sue Kaufman Prize and and anAcademy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and she's been a finalist or shortlisted for other prestigious awards such as the Orange Prize and the National Book Award. 2013 brings us her fifth novel, Quiet Dell. It is based on a true crime; back in the early 1930s, an unsavory Bluebeard type conned women via lonely-hearts matrimony services and killed them and stole their money. Quiet Dell focuses on one of his last victims, Chicago-area widow Asta Eicher and her three children, including the precocious Annabel. Emily Thornhill, a reporter from Chicago, travels to West Virginia for the subsequent trial to help bring the killer to justice and to make sense of the incomprehensible actions of the killer.
I recently spoke with George Pelecanos. He is known for his high quality work as a novelist, as well as writing for some of the most-respected television shows around like The Wire and Treme. He's written over 20 novels including the Nick Stefanos series, The Night Gardener, The D.C. Quartet, and 2011 brought us The Cut, the first novel in the Spero Lucas series. Little, Brown has recently released the second book, The Double.
In June, Amazon announced the winners of its annual Breakthrough Novel Awards. Journalist and formerly self-published novelist Jo Chumas won the mystery and suspense category with her historical thriller, The Hidden. It's the story of a young widow named Aimee in Egypt in 1940. WWII is on the verge of spilling into the land of the Nile. She receives a journal written by her mother, whom she never knew, from her life in 1919 during similarly turbulent times in Cairo. Conspiracy, secrets, and danger are all afoot in this prize-winning novel.
We’ve got a double header this time around. Up first, I recently spoke with Edgar Award winner Tom Franklin and Pushcart Prize winner Beth Ann Fennelly. Tommy and Beth Ann are married and both teach at the University of Mississippi, where she is his boss as the chair of the creative writing program.
Beth Ann is a prize winning poet and essayist, and Tom's literary novels full of crime and violence have brought him much acclaim, including the CWA Golden Dagger for Crooked Letter Crooked Letter. They decided to team up for the new novel, The Tilted World, a story of orphans, moonshiners and revenuers set against the backdrop of America's greatest natural disaster, the Mississippi River flood of 1927.
Up next, if you've seen the documentary Cocaine Cowboys about the Colombian drug trade in America in the 70s and 80s, the name Griselda Blanco may send shivers down your spine. She was one of the cruelest of an already mean lot to come to the States and make piles of cash while selling piles of blow. Blanco was murdered last year in her native Colombia.
This episode of Mysterypod is a bit different, as the true crime book in question, Murder in Mississippi, isn't available in the USA yet. However, I'm a huge fan of Australian author John Safran's (not to be confused with American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer)radio and television work, and the murder in question took place in Mississippi, just a couple hundred miles down the road from my current home in Memphis. Richard Barrett was a notorious white supremacist from Rankin county, Mississippi who was murdered in 2010. The previous year, John Safran had interviewed and pranked him for his television mini-series John Safran's Race Relationson ABC1 (Australian Broadcasting Corporation television). Hearing of Barrett's death, allegedly at the hands of a young African-American man named Vincent McGee, Safran came to Mississippi to research what he thought would be a rather straight-forward story of a black man killing a virulent racist. What he found was a lot of contradictions in each of the men's lives. We talk about Safran's growing up as a secular Jew in Australia, his satirical documentaries, and paint the broadest of strokes about his insightful and often funny book dealing with the lives and a death which were way more complex than outsiders could even imagine.
John Dufresne is a Guggenheim fellow, playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. His first two novels, Louisiana Power and Light and Love Warps the Mind a Little were named New York Times notable books of the year. He's now trying his hand at crime fiction with No Regrets, Coyote, the story of middle-aged therapist Wylie Melville who gets caught up in in a tough situation when he's called into consult on a murder case on Christmas Eve down in south Florida.
Marcus Sakey writes books. Marcus Sakey wins awards. Marcus Sakey hosts a TV show. Is Marcus Sakey part of the one percent?
Marcus Sakey's new novel, Brilliance, is set in alternate current-day America where for the past 33 years extraordinarily gifted children have been born and have grown into adults who have talents which make MENSA members seem like Jersey Shore cast members, Bolshoi dancers like Gerald Ford, and Jim Brown like Tina Brown. Once percent of children are so talented that it scares the other ninety-nine percent, and America has employed men like Nick Cooper to ensure that the best of us doesn't dominate the rest of us, and then the crap hits Dyson fan. (OK, that really didn't work since Dyson fans don't have blades, but then again, I'm not in the one percent, so what do you want from me?)
photo by David Hayward, who co-wrote Heads You Lose with Lisa. He's funny, too... for a poet.
This has been a long time coming. I've been reading Lisa Lutz's Spellman series since it started in 2007 with The Spellman Files. They started off as an odd but warm family of private eyes, but as the series has progressed, the characters have deepened with complexity and a melancholy streak which defines them as humans and not just authorial puppets. The Last Wordlooks at Izzy Spellman's nascent reign as head of Spellman Inc., and power has corrupted her already shaky soul. Revolt is brewing in the office and trouble is at hand in her major investor's venture capital firm.
Up first, I speak with Daniel Silva about his thirteenth Gabriel Allon novel, The English Girl. Gabriel Allon is a restorer high-end paintings and a high-end operative for a branch of the Israeli secret service known as The Office. Not every Allon novel is based on the Palestinian and Islamic threats to the Israeli state, and that is the case with The English Girl. Allon is called in to help the British government when a young politico goes missing while on vacation in the Mediterranean.
Up next is my chat with Michael Harvey. Michael Harvey is the co-creator and producer of the hit A&E television show Cold Case Files. He has earned a law degree. He's also an instructor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He also owns a bar in Chicago called The Hidden Shamrock. And to make you feel like a lazy bum, he also writes crime novels. He's published four starring the former Chicago cop and current PI Michael Kelly, and Knopf has recent published a standalone thriller which marries his love of journalism and criminal law in The Innocence Game.
David Berg is one of the most feared and respected trial attorneys in America. His brother Alan Berg was murdered in the spring of 1968. Charles Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, was tried for the murder. David has recently published Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of Murder in My Familywhich looks at David's tumultuous family history leading up to the time of Alan's death, and the effect it and the subsequent trial had on him and his family.
Scott Phillips is probably best known for his debut novel, The Ice Harvest, which was made into a film with John Cusak and Billy Bob Thornton. Following were The Walkaway, the western Cottonwood, the story collection Rum, Sodomy, and False Eyelashes, the sci-fi novel The Rut, and The Adjustment. Counterpoint has just released his novel Rake, the story of an American soap opera actor who gets in over his head when he tries to make a movie in Paris.