Tom Franklin Book Reading

The idea of an author reading from his or her novel in public had always struck me as strange, bordering on the absurd. But that was the Younger Me, a broody post-adolescent clinging to the belief that an author was required to be a grouchy, reclusive genius who wore tweed coats with elbow patches and only listened to jazz.

So when I went to Francis Marion University last Thursday to hear Tom Franklin do a public reading, I was reminded just how thick Younger Me really was. Franklin, the award-winning author of Poachers, told riotously funny stories about his teenage years, provided thoughtful (and expansive) answers to all questions, and managed to make eye contact with the audience while reading from his 2010 mystery novel Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.  Best of all, he drew a possum on the book I bought (see picture below). If you get the chance, I strongly recommend you hear Franklin do a reading. In the meantime, pick up Poachers, a brilliant collection of short stories, and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, a literary mystery novel set in rural Mississippi.

To review what I learned from Tom Franklin: one, an author need not be unpleasant and anti-social; in fact, he or she can be funny and friendly and still be a serious writer. Two: elbow patches, while cool, are not required to write a fantastic book; Franklin’s written several great books, and, at least on the occasion in question, his jacket was sans patches. Three: a writer can listen to something other than Coltrane or Davis; during the Q&A, Franklin mentioned that he saw Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg at the same concert venue in Oxford, Mississippi. Jealous I missed that one.


Highway 61 by David Housewright

One of the reasons I read (and write) crime novels is to experience danger without suffering any of the consequences. Call it what you will. Escapism. Wish fulfillment. Fantasy.  But whatever label you want to put on it, I would argue it is a healthy way to indulge, and David Housewright’s PI novel Highway 61 is one thoroughly satisfying indulgence, a book totally worthy of adverbs.

In Highway 61, Rushmore McKenzie (great name!) is a recent millionaire and unlicensed PI who does favors for his friends, or in this case, the daughter of the woman he loves. The daughter’s father, a lowlife with a taste for barely legal girls named Jason Truhler, is being blackmailed.  It doesn’t take McKenzie very long before he figures out Truhler has fallen victim to the classic Honey Pot scam. A bit more digging and all manner of unsavory characters come crawling out of the dirt: a pair of murderous brothers referred to as the Joes, a serial arsonist named Bug, a Machiavellian fixer called Muehlenhaus, and a teenage callgirl-come-blackmailer named Vicki Walsh at the center of it all. With a sordid cast of characters like that, the action is bound to reach a fever pitch, and in a hurry, which it does.

Aside from the requisite car chases and physical confrontations between McKenzie and the bad guys, all of which are expertly written and kept me up past my bedtime, this novel does something quite interesting: it uses Highway 61 as both a setting for the action and as a metaphor.  The highway represents moral decay, and McKenzie must traverse this highway and save the day, all while maintaining his own moral compass. Pretty deep stuff, especially for such a fun read.

This was my first encounter with Rushmore McKenzie, but it won’t be my last. I’m planning my own trip down the highway soon. . .to pick up another of Housewright’s novels. Hopefully, I won’t come across any blackmailers or armed assailants as I prefer to keep my fantasy life separate from my real one.

highway 61

Writing Mystery is Murder

For anyone interested in reading or writing mystery, this blog is excellent. I especially love the most recent post entitled “Success and Writing–What Keeps Us Going.”  You can also find great articles on the ins and outs of writing, editing, and promoting your mystery books.  I recently began following Writing Mystery is Murder and haven’t come across a single post that wasn’t well-written and insightful.  Check out the link below.

The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

I envy Boone Daniels, the hero in Don Winslow’s novel The Dawn Patrol.  And why the hell not? His life is totally enviable.  He surfs. He eats fish tacos. He hangs out in Pacific Beach with his surfer friends, one of which just happens to be a gorgeous blonde who’s also a world class surfer. Even better? When Daniels isn’t living the California fantasy life, he works as a PI, which ranks near the very top of my All-Time Dream Jobs List.

The Dawn Patrol starts off simply: a beautiful and ambitious lawyer named Petra persuades Daniels to locate a witness in an arson case.  From there, the case gets complicated, and midway in, Daniels realizes he’s dealing with much more than an arson case, namely, a sexually-abused girl, a murder masquerading as a suicide, a child prostitute operation doubling as a drug smuggling ring, and, of course, a missing witness. Throw in the back story of Daniels being thrown off the San Diego PD years before for failing to locate a little girl named Rain, and you’ve got more than enough meat on the bone for readers to chew on.  These elements kept me turning pages, but it was the memorable characters that really hooked me, starting with Daniels himself. Laid-back, capable, soulful, and completely void of ambition or pretension, Daniels is a good guy, a flawed hero a reader can root for.  For those reasons I put him in the same class as some of my other favorite modern day PIs like Conway Sax, Elvis Cole, and Spenser.

The Dawn Patrol is a fairly stunning literary achievement in that it is both character-driven and plot-driven.  The casual reader will find it a fun (and quick) read, while the more serious reader will surely notice the many interesting literary devices.  For example, the chapter-lengths, which are sometimes short and chock full of action and other times long and slowly-developing, are surely meant to resemble waves in the ocean. As the narrative builds to a climax, the chapters get shorter and shorter, while the tension is turned up to eleven. (Think: waves crashing on the shore.)  Another cool element for the literary crowd is the shifting narration. Winslow does a near-flawless job of shifting from one character’s head to another, all the while managing to keep up the quick pace of the narrative.

Bottom line, I read the last page of this novel and immediately felt envy…for Daniels’s fictional life and for Winslow’s immense skill as a novelist.


the danw patrol

Compulsion #53: Private Detective Novels

When I was in graduate school at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, I (on a whim) took a course entitled EH 592: Noir Fiction and Film. There, I read my first ever private detective novel, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Philip Marlowe was everything I wanted to be. Tough. Resourceful. Fair-minded. Quick-witted. Too, Marlowe (like almost all great detective characters) is an iconoclast. He has an overwhelming desire to investigate crimes and right wrongs, but he doesn’t need the police force or the government or any other organized body to tell him what is right and what is wrong. He has his own moral compass. Even better, he has a real problem with authority (as do I).

Below are some of my all-time favorite PI novels. Each of these novels has memorable characters and an engaging plot, all elements I strive for in my writing.

Don’t Ever Get Old, Daniel Friedman

Purgatory Chasm, Steve Ulfelder

Trigger City, Sean Chercover

The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

The Drowning Pool, Ross MacDonald

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

The Monkey’s Raincoat, Robert Crais


Writer/ Wearer of comfortable pants