Reviews
Oline Cogdill

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Alex Segura, left, is a novelist, comic book writer, musician, and journalist whose debuted with Silent City, set in Miami.

Silent City revolves around Pete Fernandez who squandered his once promising career as an investigative sports reporter. Since his return to Miami following the death of his police detective father, Pete spends most of his time drunk, routinely coming to work late and making serious mistakes in his job on the Miami Times’ sports desk. A coworker’s request to find his estranged daughter who has vanished lulls Pete out of his angst.

Here’s what Segura has to say about his career.

Q: Currently, you edit the Archie superhero graphic novels and have written the Archie Meets KISS series. How does your background in graphic novels infuse your crime fiction?
A:
Comics are very visual—and the really good ones are cinematic and almost fluid in how they present a story. You don’t feel like you’re looking at static images. So, if there was any influence, it was about being concise with words but also clear about the visuals and action. I wanted the prose to be easy to follow and effective and a little rough. The latter was probably more because I was new at it than any grand design. I always envision what I write like a movie—what’s the opening scene? How do we cut from one scene to another? Comics are about merging the visual with the mental, and that's what I tried to bring to the book: a prose story you could see in your mind without much prodding or over-explaining. Whether I succeeded or not is up to the reader.

Q: How different is it in writing crime fiction as opposed to a graphic novel?
A:
Comics are much more collaborative. You have a writer, an artist—sometimes more than one—a letterer and a colorist. You have to relay your vision to one person and then, like a game of telephone, it continues down the line. Novels are very solitary. You still have people giving input, but it’s usually an editor or agent and it’s usually after you’ve spent a long time writing a draft. It’s much lonelier and less about brainstorming with someone else. It’s more about creating and fine-tuning on your own and then turning it over to someone to give you notes on a completed thing. Whereas comics are about creating parts and leaving other spaces open for others to chime in. It’s more musical, like jamming. Comics—at least writing them—are more akin to putting a puzzle together: I need to fill 20 pages with X amount of action and I have this many panels to play with on a given page. Novels are more free-form, which is great and also hugely intimidating.

Q: Had you considered making Silent City a graphic novel?
A:
The thought had crossed my mind. But part of me wants to keep the two worlds separate for now. Most of my comic writing has been with Archie—Archie Meets KISS, a few one-offs and I have a few more in the pipeline—which is pretty light, humorous fare. My novels are crime books—gritty, noir, violent, not PG. I don’t want to say never—because who knows, the opportunity may arise—but for now I’d like to keep my crime writing in the prose world and stretch my genre muscles in comics if I can.

That being said, I love me some crime comics. Stuff like 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Stray Bullets by David Lapham inform all of my writing. That's just the tip of the iceberg, too.

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Q: You also have a background in journalism and started as a reporter. Obviously this played a big part in Silent City.
A:
It did. I think that, plus the setting and a lot of things about Pete, the protagonist, goes back to just writing what I knew at the time. Not because I felt that was a rule, but because I was comfortable doing that. And I also wanted to show a realistic version of Miami and create a person I could see myself hanging out with or knowing back home.

The journalism stuff came naturally because I’d worked as an editor and interned as a reporter in Miami [and in] South Florida. I knew that world and tried to be honest about it. Pete is at a low point in his life, too, so everything is terrible in his eyes. Even though, from an outside perspective, he has a decent job and seems to have friends who care for him. But that’s the case with anyone going through a dark time.

Q: Newspapers have changed a lot since you were a reporter, what kind of research did you do to make your scenes in the newsroom so authentic?
A:
I have a lot of friends still in the business. I did the first draft based off my own memories and ran them by some beta readers. My editor at Codorus is still in journalism to some degree, and he vetted a lot of it. His validation was really important, because I wanted real journalists—not someone who dabbled for a few years and went on to something else—to read the book and not get jammed up by incorrect details or tonal errors. So, when he and a few others read it and agreed the journalistic descriptions were accurate, I was happy.

Q: While you are a Miami native, it has been a long time since you lived in the Magic City. Why set your novel in South Florida?
A:
I’ve lived in New York for almost a decade, but Miami still feels like home. I’m not sure that’ll ever go away. And when I first started writing Silent City, I felt completely overwhelmed by New York. I had no sense of the personality or history of the city and felt wholly unprepared to write about it. That’s faded somewhat since then, so I’d feel more comfortable doing a N.Y. book now. I’ve toyed with the idea of bringing Pete to N.Y., but nothing beyond idle thoughts.

Also, a big reason for setting it in Miami was because I hadn’t really read a Miami mystery that spoke to me—aside from Vicki Hendricks’ amazing Miami Purity. Which isn’t to discredit people who have written about Miami or South Florida. I’m sure there are great books that I haven’t read yet. But I wanted to write a story about my hometown as I remembered it, with the kind of characters that I would recognize and that others would, too, or at least find compelling enough to hang out for a while.

Q: What next?
A:
I’m revising my second novel, Down the Darkest Street. Once that’s locked in, we can figure out when it’ll hit shelves. I’m halfway through a third Pete novel, too, which I’ll shoot to finish once the second one is off. I’m writing some more comics--a few issues of the main ARCHIE title. I also have a short sci-fi story in the upcoming anthology Apollo's Daughters, edited by Bryan Young (Silence in the Library Publishing), and a horror comic short in another upcoming anthology. Those last two are with a co-writer I’ve been friends with for a long time. I also have another Pete short story working its way out of my brain. All tricky to execute with a day job, but so far, so good.

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill

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Beware the overlooked man.

The frustrated, inept, ignored man seething with unresolved violence day and night.

Beware this dormant volcano who one day erupts and cannot rein in his violent tendencies.

That describes insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, a sad sack of a man played to perfection by British actor Martin Freeman in the compelling and disturbing drama Fargo, airing 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX.

For years, Lester’s diabolical nature has been submerged as he just tried to get through life, knowing that no one had any respect for him—not his wife, his brother, or his boss.

This 40-something man was still being bullied by his high school nemesis who now has brought in his lughead sons to continue the harassment of Lester.

Then one day, Lester has a strange encounter in the emergency room with a drifter named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).

fargoTV_billybobthorntonIn a kind of Strangers on a Train meeting, Malvo, a remorseless killer, somehow encourages Lester to unleash his demons.

Before he knows what is happening, Lester kills his wife and witnesses Malvo’s murder of the police chief.

And there is no turning back in this Fargo.

Although the TV Fargo shares the same name as the 1996 movie, the same frozen rural Minnesota landscape, and droll dark humor, this version is not a continuation of that film by Ethan and Joel Coen, who are listed among the executive producers. Most of the story doesn’t even occur in Fargo, a kind of joke.


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The TV version of Fargo is created by Noah Hawley, a producer, screenwriter, composer, and author. His other TV credits include writing and producing the television series Bones.

Hawley also created The Unusuals and My Generation. Hawley’s novels include A Conspiracy of Tall Men, Other People's Weddings, The Punch, and The Good Father.

Marge Gunderson, so wonderfully played by Frances McDormand who received a best actress Oscar for the role in the movie, is nowhere in sight in the TV version.

Presumably, hopefully, Marge and her husband Norm have a wonderful life with more children, and his career as an artist for stamps is thriving. And Marge is still the police chief and she never again has had to witness the carnage she had to endure that day.

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In this Fargo reboot, the moral center is another woman cop, this time in Bemidji, Minnesota. Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is an insightful cop who the police chief had been grooming to become a detective and eventually police chief.

But that was before he was murdered and now Officer Solverson is saddled with a new chief, Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk), who is as clueless as he is dismissive of her abilities.

Despite her boss’ orders to leave Lester alone—after all, a milquetoast like him could never harm anyone—Molly continues her own investigation.

She finds an ally in Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), a fellow police officer over in Duluth, Minn. Gus had an unsettling encounter with Malvo, and he and Molly find a link between Lester and this stranger. But Gus is a reluctant partner. He never wanted to be a cop and, as a single father, his priority is his bright pre-teen daughter.

Tolman and Hanks are terrific in their roles as ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations, witnessing violence they cannot comprehend. The two actors also subtly show the loneliness of their characters and the growing attraction each has for the other.

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I’ve never cared much for Thornton, even in Sling Blade, but he really gives an outstanding performance as Malvo.

With his odd haircut and steely glaze, Thornton oozes evil. He is not a man but a true evil monster who has no compassion for anyone and kills without thought.

Freeman is such an enjoyable actor who embraces every role, from of Dr. Watson in the new Sherlock Holmes, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the nude body double looking for love in Love Actually, and Tim in the U.K. The Office.

A consummate character actor, Freeman embraces his growing diabolicalness, which was made even more clear in last week’s episode. Lester’s brother sums up his character perfectly: “There’s something wrong with you, Lester. There’s something missing. You’re not right in the world.”

Fargo is beautifully shot, making the most of this snowbound area, showing its beauty and lethalness. Last week’s shootout in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, with myriad whiteouts, was brilliant.

Dark comedy swirls in the FX Fargo, as humor is found the absurd situations. The comedy works well in this series.

The violence often doesn’t.

While the film version had violence, the Coens were careful to show most of it off camera, saving the real impact for that woodchipper. And even in that scene, the viewer—and Marge—came in toward the end, seeing enough of a glimpse to know what was going on without a gratuitous long scene.

The TV Fargo has a level of violence not often seen on the small screen. Even the brilliant Justified, which also airs on FX, or the even more brilliant The Wire, didn’t go this far. And those are stronger series for their restraint.

Fargo’s sixth episode, which aired this past week, was especially disturbing. It went too far in showing every detail. We know when someone is being killed, we don’t need that close-up view. Compelling storytelling shouldn’t make the viewer cringe.

This season of Fargo will have 10 episodes and its ratings have been quite good. It hasn’t been announced yet if the series will be renewed for another season.

I hope we get to visit Fargo again, and please, please bring back Tolman and Hanks.

PHOTOS: From top, Martin Freeman; Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks. Bottom photo: Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg), left, and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), right, surround Lester (Martin Freeman). FX photos

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill

bouchercon2014b
Most astute readers will recognize the majority of authors and their books listed in the Anthony nominations, which were announced. But it is always interesting to note how many of the authors also have won this year’s Edgar and Agatha awards.

Among the Anthony Award nominees are William Kent Krueger whose Ordinary Grace took this year’s Edgar for best novel and Alex Marwood’s The Wicked Girls, which won the Edgar for best paperback original.

The authors who had been nominated for an Edgar in best first novel who also are up for an Anthony in the same category are Roger Hobbs (Ghostman); Becky Masterman (Rage Against the Dying); and Kimberly McCreight, (Reconstructing Amelia).

Stephen King’s Joyland landed a nomination for an Edgar and an Anthony in the best paperback original.

While Robert Crais’ Suspect was not an Edgar finalist, he was one of this year’s Grand Masters, an honor that comes from the Mystery Writers of America. He shared that honor with Carolyn Hart.

John Connolly’s short story, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository,” won an Edgar and is now up for an Anthony.

Daniel Stashower took home an Edgar and an Agatha in the best fact crime category for The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War and is up for an Anthony in the same category.

Hank Phillippi Ryan won this year’s Agatha for best novel for The Wrong Girl; Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Through the Evil Days had been nominated for that same category.

Chris Grabenstein won an Agatha for his children’s book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. As he was for an Agatha, he is again up against Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing, and Penny Warner, The Code Busters Club: Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure, for an Anthony.

Art Taylor’s short story, “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants,” took home an Agatha and is now nominated for an Anthony.

This year’s Anthony Awards include eight categories of novels, television, audio books and short stories.

Bouchercon 2014—nicknamed “Murder on the Beach”—will present the the Anthony Awards during the 45th annual Bouchercon World Mystery Convention to be held in Long Beach, Calif.

Bouchercon, a do-not-miss conference, will be Nov. 13 to 16 and is expected to be one of the largest Bouchercons. This year’s guests of honor are J.A. Jance and Edward Marston with Eoin Colfer as the YA guest of honor and Jeffery Deaver taking the Lifetime Achievement Award. Toastmaster is Simon Wood.

The Anthony Awards will be voted on during the convention and presented on Nov. 15. The Anthony Award nominees have been selected by vote of the Bouchercon membership.

Here are the nominees for 2013 publications.

Congratulations to all the nominees:

Best Novel
Robert Crais, Suspect
Sara J. Henry, A Cold and Lonely Place
William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace
Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Wrong Girl
Julia Spencer-Fleming, Through the Evil Days

Best First Novel
Matt Coyle, Yesterday’s Echo
Roger Hobbs, Ghostman
Becky Masterman, Rage Against the Dying
Kimberly McCreight, Reconstructing Amelia
Todd Robinson, The Hard Bounce

Best Paperback Original Novel
Chris F. Holm, The Big Reap
Darrell James, Purgatory Key
Stephen King, Joyland
Alex Marwood, The Wicked Girls
Catriona McPherson, As She Left It

Best Short Story
Craig Faustus Buck, “Dead Ends”
John Connolly, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository”
Deni Dietz, “Annie and the Grateful Dead”
Travis Richardson, “Incident on the 405”
Art Taylor, “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants”

Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work
Maria Konnikova, Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes
Cate Lineberry, The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines
Josh Stallings, All the Wild Children
Daniel Stashower, The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
Sarah Weinman (ed.), Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

Best Children’s or Young Adult Novel
Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing
Margaux Froley, Escape Theory
Chris Grabenstein, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Elizabeth Keim, Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy
Penny Warner, The Code Busters Club: Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure

Best Television Episode Teleplay First Aired in 2013
Jon Bokenkamp, The Blacklist, Pilot
Allan Cubitt, The Fall, “Dark Descent”
Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad, “Felina”
Kevin Williamson, The Following, Pilot
Graham Yost, Justified, “Hole in the Wall”

Best Audio Book
Christina Cox, reading Crescendo by Deborah J Ledford
Robert Glenister, reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
Mauro Hantman, reading Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell
Davina Porter, reading Death and the Lit Chick by G.M. Malliet
Tracy Sallows, reading Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill
grecian_alex
Many authors of crime fiction also write graphic novels and comic books. Often times the authors’ works in these two genres parallel each other.

Alex Grecian’s works are vastly different.

Grecian, left, sets his crime fiction in Victorian times with a look at Scotland Yard during 1890 when the shadow of Jack the Ripper loomed over London. This was a heady time for Scotland Yard as crime soared and the use of forensics was in its infancy.

Grecian’s novels are steeped in the history and culture of Victorian times. His latest The Devil’s Workshop is a chilling look at what happens when some of London’s worst killers escape.

Here’s a look at the trailer for The Devil’s Workshop. Grecian currently is on tour for The Devil’s Workshop.

As for Grecian’s comics, that’s a whole other world.

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Along with artist Riley Rossmo, Grecian created the Proof series of comics that revolve around John “Proof” Prufock who is a sasquatch.

“As a Bigfoot, he is vastly larger and more powerful than a human being,” Grecian writes on his website. “Proof is exceptionally cultured for a feral beast; he is often seen wearing expensive suits and custom-made shoes.”

According to Grecian’s description, “Proof works for a top secret government agency, The Lodge, hunting cryptids with his partner Ginger Brown.”

Cryptids, apparently, are animals whose existence have been suggested, but never proved.

Like a Bigfoot.

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill

downing_jackofspies
Our fascination with WWI should never end.

This so-called Great War was a game changer in so many ways in the way it restructured combat, politics and society.

I think our fascination has nothing to do with Downton Abbey, though that has increased some awareness, and everything to do how we view our history.

David Downing has explored the Second World War in his six excellent espionage novels about John Russell.

But now Downing turns his attention to the First World War in Jack of Spies (Soho), for which the British author will be touring the U.S. for the first time. Jack of Spies will be published on May 13.

Some of the best and most involving espionage novels aren’t about super-spys, the James Bonds, but about ordinary people caught up in circumstances beyond their control.

And that is what Downing does in Jack of Spies. Set in 1913, on the eve of WWI, the novel’s hero is Jack McColl, a Scottish luxury car salesman. McColl has a knack for languages and he served England during the Boer War. Being a globetrotting car salesman proves to be the perfect cover to gather some light intelligence for Great Britain.

But “light espionage” won’t cut it when the world is on the brink of disaster, when war—a horrific war—looms over the U.K., Germany and Europe.

Jack is kind of playing at being a spy, supplementing his Royal Navy pay with his sales commissions. He’s in China showing a magnificent bottle-green Maya automobile, strolling along the harbor and snapping photos and watching the movement of ships. He’s not above paying the occasional prostitute to tell what her German clients talk about.

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But this is not the time to dabble in spy craft. And as the situation intensifies, Jack is pulled into the spy business. In addition to the politics that will result in WWI, Downing also fills Jack of Spies a look at Irish and Indian revolutionary causes that were shaping the political landscape.

Jack of Spies is set in Tsingtao, San Francisco, New York, Tampico and Dublin, on steamliners and cross-country trains, reflective of the time.

Jack of Spieshad received a lot of pre-publication buzz, and had been chosen by the American Booksellers Association (ABA) as its June IndieNextList, It’s also been picked as one of the Top Ten Mysteries & Thrillers Pick for Spring 2014 and is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick for Spring 2014.

While I post interviews on this blog that I have conducted, the Soho site has an interesting discussion with Downing about his new series and his thoughts on WWI and WWII.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

On why Downing decided to write about WWI: “The Second World War was more horrendous than the First in many ways—most notably in the number of civilians killed—but I’ve always felt that the latter was more of game-changer, and I wanted to write a series that reflected the move away from conflicts between established nation states, and the increasing importance of the class, gender and colonial conflicts raging inside them.”

On Downing’s new hero: “I wanted a protagonist who would find these changes hard to cope with, but struggle to do so nevertheless. In the ‘Station’ series John Russell was always politically-motivated, and his views at the end have hardly changed at all, but in the new series British agent Jack McColl is more of a blank slate, politically speaking. The events he witnesses and the people he meets will confront him with many uncomfortable choices.

On the political landscape of the time, including the Irish Republican movement; the Indian independence movement; the Paterson strikes and workers’ rights; the Tampico Affair: “In 1914 there was no shortage of places where the British Empire was being threatened in one way or another. In Jack of Spies he turns up in China, the US, Mexico and Ireland, but it could have been any number of exotic destinations. And my female protagonist, Caitlin, a radical New York journalist, would have been all too aware of the Paterson strike and its aftermath in 1913-14.”

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