Stephen Usery interviews authors of mysteries, thrillers, and crime fiction.

Memphian Mark Greaney has just published the fourth installment on his Gray Man series. In Dead Eye, former CIA assassin Court Gentry finds himself in Eastern Europe being hunted by his fellow Americans. When he receives assistance from an unexpected source, Gentry must decide if it is worth the risk to take someone at their word.

Download here:

Direct download: CASE046-MARK_GREANEY-DEAD_EYE.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 9:06am EST

Jayne Anne Phillips is best known as a respected writer of literary fiction, having won the Sue Kaufman Prize and and an Academy 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.

Direct download: Case045-JayneAnnePhillips.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 5:05pm EST

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.

Direct download: CASE044-PELECANOS-CHUMAS.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 11:19am EST

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. 

Jennie Erin Smith is an American journalist, who published the highly entertaining book, The Stolen World; A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skullduggery. She researched Blanco's life and death, turning up a lot of never printed before information for the original feature piece: Cocaine Cowgirl: The Outrageous Life and Mysterious Death of Griselda Blanco,The Godmother of Medellin.

Direct download: CASE043-FRANKLIN-FENNELLY.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 9:55pm EST

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 Relations on 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.

You can listen to his current radio program here:
Sunday Night Safran

And here is his recent radio mini-series interviewing true crime writers:
John Safran's True Crime

The book Trailer for Murder in Mississippi:

John Safran's Murder in Mississippi from PenguinAustralia on Vimeo.

An excellent sketch from John Safran Vs. God where he acts an atheist missionary in Salt Lake City, Utah:

Direct download: CASE42-JOHNSAFRAN.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 9:22am EST

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.

Direct download: Case041-JohnDufresne.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 6:55am EST

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?)

Direct download: CASE040-MARCUS_SAKEY.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 11:18am EST

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 Word looks 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.

 And Lisa is serious about wanting your money. Two Spellman-associated titles were also recently released, How to Negotiate Everything and Isabel Spellman's Guide to Etiquette.

Lisa losing her dignity:

Here's Dice Clay being meta, I think, maybe, I'm not sure...

Direct download: CASE039-LISA_LUTZ.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 9:38am EST


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.

Direct download: CASE038-SILVAHARVEY.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 10:52am EST

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 Family which 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.

Direct download: CASE037-DAVID_BERG.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 2:19pm EST

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.

Direct download: Case036-Scott_Phillips.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 11:01am EST

Ace Atkins has grown to be one of America's most successful crime fiction writers. He started off with a series about New Orleans private eye Nick Travers, and then wrote four critically-acclaimed novels based on true crimes. Now he's currently running two series. He was chosen by Robert B. Parker's estate to continue on the Spenser series and has hit the New York Times best seller list with the two he has written so far. He's released three book in his Quinn Colson series, featuring an Army Ranger who returns home to a small town in the hill country of north Mississippi to find the corruption there untenable. It began with The Ranger in 2011 followed by The Lost Ones, and both were finalists for the Edgar for best novel. Putnam has just released the third in the series, and it's entitled The Broken Places.


On February 2, 2013 famed Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were murdered at a gun range in Texas. Accused of the crime is fellow veteran Eddie Ray Routh. Anthony Swofford,former Marine Corps sniper, novelist and author of the memoir Jarhead, has written an essay entitled "Death of an American Sniper," which looks at Kyle's and Routh's lives and the facts around the murder as they are known to date. "Death of an American Sniper" is available as an e-book at, which offers digital quick reads from writers like Chuck Palahniuk, Margaret Atwood,and Richard Russo.

Direct download: CASE035-ACE_ATKINS.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 11:57am EST

Charles Graeber is an award winning journalist and contributor to numerous publications including Wired,GQ, The New Yorker,Outside Magazine,Bloomberg Businessweek,and The New York Times.

His work has been honored with prizes including the Overseas Press Club award and the New York Press Club prize. He's had several National Magazine Award nominations, and his work has been selected for anthologies such as The Best American Crime Writing and The Best American Science Writing.

His first book, which is already a New York Times bestseller, The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness,and Murder is the true crime story of Charles Cullen, who may well be America's most prolific serial killer, and the business practices of several hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania which made his almost two decade long murder spree possible.

Direct download: Case034-Charles_Graeber.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 9:47am EST

I'm going to have a lot of interviews coming up this month to make up for the trickle that has been so far this year. today Fiona Maazel, next week Charles Graeber, author of The Good Nurse, the true crime story of Charles Cullen who could be America's most prolific serial killer. There are also several interesting authors scheduled to stop by the studios of my other show Book Talk, and I'll be sharing these interviews with you. Assuming all things go well, Ace Atkins, Scott Phillips, and Michael Harvey will be coming at your ears over the next few weeks.

I first spoke with Fiona Maazel in 2008 about her debut novel, Last Last Chance which was the story of a drug-addicted young woman trying to get sober while the threat of a super-plague is causing the country to freak the hell out. Graywolf Press has recently released he second novel, Woke Up Lonely. Woke Up Lonely has all the hallmarks of a thriller. A man named Thurlow Dan leads a cult called The Helix which promises to take away the loneliness which seems endemic and epidemic to contemporary American life. His estranged wife Esme, a former CIA operative, is currently freelancing and spying on her  husband.  A botched recon mission has led Thurlow to keep the team hostage, as Federal and local law agencies begin a siege on his compound in Cincinnati. Oh yeah, North Korea also gets involved, and there's a miles-long criminal underground labyrinth beneath the Queen City. But the story is really about the damage we hold inside ourselves which prevents us from making connections with the people we care about. After the interview proper is over, stick around as Fiona and I talk about the Eurovision Song Contest and the appeal of Nigella Lawson. 

And for those very curious types: Denmark Eurovision 2013 winner.

Montenegro being awesome:

And the OMGWTF that was Romania:

Direct download: case-033-_fiona_maazel.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 1:27pm EST

Sorry for the period of radio silence, victims and perpetrators. I'm going to try to get at least two interviews per month uploaded each month. I figured it was time for a little punishment to go with all our crimes. OK, maybe a lot of punishment. I drove over to Nashville and talked to Vanderbilt history professor Joel Harrington about his new book, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century. Frantz Schmidt was the master executioner of Nuremberg in the late 1500s. His father was forced into the execution profession, and Frantz had little choice but follow, yet he worked tirelessly to restore the family's honor.

Direct download: CASE032-JOEL_HARRINGTON.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 2:51pm EST

Here's my interview with Maureen Johnson about her new novel The Madness Underneath, the second book in the Shades of London series. Louisiana high-school student Rory Deveau is recovering from a run in with a killer who imitated the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and now she has to make some tough decisions while being pulled in different directions by family, friends, and government while attending boarding school in London.

Direct download: CASE031-MAUREEN_JOHNSON.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 2:52pm EST

In this episode, I talk with Jenny Milchman about her debut novel, Cover of Snow.  It's the suspenseful story of Nora Hamilton, a home restoration contractor, who wakes up to find her world turned upside down. Her small town becomes difficult to navigate as the Adirondack Mountains snow piles up, and she doesn't know if she can trust anyone to tell her the truth. 

Direct download: CASE030-JENNY_MILCHMAN.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 10:13am EST

credit Jonathan Worth

Here's my interview with author Cory Doctorow about the sequel to his best-selling novel, Little Brother. The new book, Homeland, also a New York Times bestseller, picks up with Marcus Yallow, a teenage hacker who took on the Department of Homeland Security over their illegal tactics, as he tries to get his life straight and work for a congressional candidate. However, government operatives want revenge and some members of the hacking community think he isn't doing enough.We also talk about Creative Commons Licensing and the tragedy of Aaron Swartz's death.

Direct download: CASE029-CORY_DOCTOROW.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 9:50am EST

Here's an interview with George Saunders about his new collection of short stories Tenth of December that I originally conducted for, the literature website for HumanitiesTennessee.  George Saunders isn't normally thought of as a crime fiction writer, but almost all of his stories have a crime, an act of violence, or another moral wrong at their centers. It's an interesting conversation with a man whose book was called "the best book you'll read this year" by The New York Times.

Direct download: CASE028-GEORGE_SAUNDERS.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 11:55am EST

This week I'm going to kick off a run of three interviews with writers who mix in varying levels of science fiction into their work. In two weeks, I'll have an interview with George Saunders, who some say is currently the greatest writer of short stories in the world. His stories often have violence or a crime at the center of them and hints of science fiction weirdness at the edges. The New York Times recently called his new collection of stories, Tenth of December, "the best book you'll read this year."

In four weeks, I hope to have an interview with Cory Doctorow. Known for his crusading work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, he has a sequel to his hit novel Little Brother, coming out today. It's called Homeland, and it is set in a dystopian near future where a hacktivist is working against a repressive government in a thriller aimed at young and full-fledged adults. 

But for this episode of Mysterypod, I have a book that is also being released today, Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell. It's the story of a time traveler who gets together with different-aged versions of himself for a birthday party. The narrator for the story is the thirty-nine year-old self known as "The Suit", and he has to figure out how to stop his forty year-old self from being murdered at the party. 

Direct download: CASE027-SEAN_FERRELL.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 6:00am EST

The Big Interrogation: Aric Davis lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and has set his new novel there. Rough Men follows Will Daniels, a writer dragging himself out of the gutter, and the path he takes after his son Alex is killed. Complicating matters is the fact that his son had just robbed a bank and killed a customer. Justice for Will, in this case, is difficult to reconcile with his new, more legit life.

Direct download: Case026-AricDavis.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 12:07pm EST

The Big Interrogation: Thomas Maltman's first novel, the Civil War-era set The Night Birds won an Alex Award, a Spur Award, and the Friends of American Writers Literary Award. His new novel, Little Wolves is set in a small Minnesota town at the end of summer in 1987. A high school boy walks into town and kills a sheriff and then himself. His father and his English teacher both search for understanding in a town that has hidden many ills over the years.

Direct download: Case025-ThomasMaltman.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 6:30am EST

Sorry victims and perpetrators, but I don't have an interview ready to go for this week. I hope to have one for next week.

Category:general -- posted at: 1:16pm EST

Day Twelve: Another tale of true crime for the last of the 12 Crimes of Christmas. Alex Heard reminds of us of one of America's highest profile rape trials that became an international story. The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South was an Edgar finalist for true crime book of the year  

Direct download: DAY_12_-_ALEX_HEARD.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Day Eleven: Here's brief interview with Charlaine Harris about Deadlocked, the 12th and penultimate Southern Vampire Mystery, a.k.a. The Sookie Stackhouse Books. The final book in the series, Dead Ever After, will be released in early May 2013.

Direct download: DAY_11_-_CHARLAINE_HARRIS.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 9:29am EST

Day Ten: Eoin Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, but in 2011 he released his first grown up crime novel, Plugged. I got a chance to interview him at Bouchercon in St. Louis that year.

Direct download: DAY_10_-_EOIN_COLFER.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Day Nine: Here's my 2010 interview with Laura Lippman about her stand-alone novel, I'd Know You Anywhere. I truly think this is one of the best interviews I've ever been a part of. Please listen.

Direct download: DAY_9_-_LAURA_LIPPMAN.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Day Eight: Here's a 2011 interview with Bill Loehfelm about the first book in his Maureen Coughlin series, The Devil She Knows.

Direct download: DAY_8_-_BILL_LOEHFELM.mp3
Category:Arts - Literature -- posted at: 6:00am EST