Posts tagged ‘Craig McDonald’
September 21, 2018
Review published on September 21, 2018.
Whichever version of Head Games you choose to read, the novel or the graphic novel, you’re getting a juicy slice of Americana to feast on. I decided to tackle both books because I thought it would be interesting to read one straight after the other (starting with the novel, which was written first, so that the images in the graphic retelling weren’t influencing my idea of the characters in the novel). Head Games is noir with a touch of humour, in fact I may be underplaying that a bit because I suspect McDonald was having a lot of fun writing this novel and turning it into a graphic read too. Still, Head Games has that hard-boiled feel to it, in the best tradition of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s. A treat for fans of the classic adventure thriller but there are a few knowing twists along the way that gives the give the books an edgy feel.
As McDonald put it in the introduction to the graphic novel, “….you’ll be riding shotgun in a ‘fifty-seven ragtop Bel Air….” [with Hector Lassiter]. That’s because Head Games has revolution, grave robbing, betrayal, ambush, a treasure map, a secret society, political corruption and a host of shoot outs. It’s an homage to a golden age of crime writing with a modern twist – there is so much fun to be had in these pages for fans of the classic American crime story and noir cinema.
It’s rare to get a chance to compare the original novel with the graphic rendition, these two seem apt for the experiment but to be very boring about it, you get the same kick, the same excitement from both (there are a few differences I’ve noted below). Head Games has a double meaning, it refers to the skullduggery in the plot (sorry!) but also to the fact that this novel is a bit of a mind game for the reader too. The main protagonist Hector Lassiter is a writer, he’s also the narrator of most of the novel, so we see things through his eyes but maybe we should take some of the things he says with a pinch of salt? It’s a playful format.
It’s 1957, South of the border. Three men are sitting at a table in a seedy cantina in Ciudad Juarez. There’s Eskin ‘Bud’ Fisk, a short-sighted reporter, poet, here to interview Hector Lassiter, a playwright and crime novelist turned screenwriter. Then there is Bill Wade, a mercenary, con man and a drunk. Wade pulls a bundle out of his duffel bag and unwraps the skull of Mexican general and bandit Pancho Villa. Lassiter knows in his water that the skull, with wisps of hair still attached, really is that of the general. Not least because of the mandibular prognathism (pronounced jawbone, an under-bite). Lassiter tells Wade to put it away before they attract attention. The locals would happily kill three gringos for such a prize and it wouldn’t be a pleasant end. Wade’s idea is for Lassiter to smuggle the skull across the border into the good old US of A. He has a buyer lined up, probably the guy who organised the grave robbing theft in the first place thirty years ago – Senator Prescott Bush. He is prepared to pay $80,000 (rumour has it that he personally stole the head of Geronimo some time past). The men should have been paying attention to what was coming because four Federales burst into the bar waving shotguns.
Lassiter just has time to get Fiske down when the shooting starts. In the gunfight Wade, ironically, gets his head blown off and Bud Fiske, the young journalist, saves Lassiter’s life. The problem is Federales usually come in a big posse so they need to get out of town sharpish. The two men torch Wade’s car as a distraction and flee. Across the border, they head for Lassiter’s house, not that he spends much time here, there are bad memories. That’s where they run into three more armed men. Most likely theory is that the good senator decided to reduce costs by having the skull repossessed by the hired help. Fiske and Lassiter give up the skull but this is only the beginning of the trouble. More than one person out there wants that skull badly! Including a couple of supposedly long dead bloodthirsty hombres.
There’s a healthy dose of violence and killing that follows, pretty much starting form the point I left off. Burned out cars riddled with bullets, amateur bounty hunters, stone cold killers, more grave robbing, sleazy politicians and bent spies not to mention the Skull and Bones secret society, an early forerunner of the “deep state”.
Lassiter and Fiske detour to Venice California where Orson Welles is filming Touch of Evil (one of the great noir movies). Lassiter knows Welles but he’s a big ‘friend’ of the Kraut, aka Marlene Dietrich. I won’t tell you what this is all about but it reinforced the noir credentials of the novel and adds to the playfulness of the story. When Welles is jealous about Marlene he abuses Lassiter, who notes as he leaves the set:
“I heard Marlena say to Welles, ‘Stop it you fool what does it matter what you say about him? He’s a man…..that’s all.’”
Thus insinuating himself into film history as the last line of the movie is:
“He was some kind of a man….What does it matter what you say about people?” [Tanya/Dietrich]
It’s a nice in joke/conceit. Lassiter also picks up a girl friend, Mexican beauty, Alicia Vicente.
Both the novel and the graphic novel have potted histories that add a bit of background colour (although it’s in black and white in the graphic novel): Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arango in 1878, and was a bandit by the age of 17, having killed the man who attacked and raped his sister. In his early twenties he changed his name to Villa and became a robin hood style bandit. Originally fated by the Americans, General Black Jack Pershing was impressed when he was sent to parley with the Mexican Revolutionary, Villa, in 1913. In 1916, Villa’s men were blamed for a raid on Columbus, New Mexico, killing local inhabitants. Pershing was sent south to catch Villa dead or alive, a mission that was called off when the war in Europe ramped up. It wasn’t until Villa had retired that he was gunned down in the street, shot in the back, in 1923. His body was dug up in 1926 and the head taken, it was rumoured to contain a map to Villa’s treasure.
The dialogue is pure hard-boiled heaven – snappy, witty, cutting. There are echoes of the road movie and a great sense of place as the novel shifts from location to location. Lassiter is a great character and some of the set pieces are solid gold. As a bonus the novel contains a readers’ guide, a short story and an essay on Lassiter.
The novel has a breakneck pace but the graphic novel ramps it up a bit – spare, crisp and action packed. The drawings reinforce the dark atmosphere and the text bubbles are sparingly used, which is an indication of the clever visual interpretation of the original but the hard-boiled style is maintained. The images lead you to the double meaning of Head Games pretty quickly. I loved the sequence in Venice, CA, where the opening shot of Touch of Evil (one of the most iconic movie scenes) is recreated in the graphic novel – it’s a nice doffing of the cap to Welles and the masterpiece of the cinema. The shot of Wade reaching for the skull in the duffel bag makes his face look like a skull presaging his coming end. There are a few heads that get blown off in this story! The simplified story here is more direct than the novel but essentially the same. I’d have no problem recommending the novel or the graphic novel depending on your taste, both are entertaining and exciting reads.
February 26, 2018
Original review published on February 25, 2018 here: http://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/02/borderland-noir-edited-by-craig-mcdonald/
I came across this anthology when I was looking into a feature on Mexican crime fiction, also published this month on BookNoir. I’m glad I did because there is some fine writing here; there is a genuine connection between the stories based at La Frontera, the border. Equally there is a decent variety of interests, style and purpose in these tales. Naturally I have some favourites but I found each piece engaging and thought-provoking, for the main part the fiction is edgy, exciting and original. I think this is a gem for real noir fans.
McDonald has collated eleven short stories, a couple of excerpts from longer works and two short essays. Borderland Noir has contributions from Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Sam Hawken, Martín Solares and several other respected crime writers.
“All roads lead to borderlands of one sort or another”, says Craig McDonald in his introduction. La Frontera has a mystical hold on the imagination of the crime reader, it’s not so much the reality as the myth. “That delicious, dark-eyed myth of the border”, Tom Russell (song writer). The border conjures images of The Day of the Dead, Narcotraficantes, refugees, mariachi and the north/south divide (the rich and the poor). McDonald is keen to point out that borders are a state of mind, it’s not just the physical border, it’s not just about a place or a geographical location. You can imagine it even if you’ve never been to the borderlands.
These pieces reflect on people’s experience as refugees, economic migrants, victims and perpetrators as well as on their desire and desperation. Wider themes are memory, history, corruption and crime – the value of life, and it’s infinite variety along the border. What the frontier does to people and the light we see them in. Villains include a rapist, people slavers, right-wing border guards and vigilantes. These stories are influenced by the best noir traditions, by writers like James M. Cain, novels like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and literary writers like Graham Greene.
Coyote’s Ballad by Mike MacLean deals with two mules (people smugglers), Cruz and Miguel, transporting ten pollos (chickens/people), across the border to sell. Humans as commodities. A young girl is raped and murdered. Rough justice is served but not for the sake of the girl, for greed and for expediency.
To Have To Hold by Ken Bruen (an Irish man surely knows about borders!). Charlene is a mad Johnny Cash fan and she is in a pickle for killing a man.
Trailer dear Fuego by Garnett Elliott. Tench beats a prisoner to make a point for the inmates and the other guards, to establish that ‘the jungle’ has enforcement if not law. Actions have unforeseen consequences in a case of poetic justice.
Reading the Footnotes by John Stickney deals with two men in a car, Federal Agents or killers or both. Postulating on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and echoes of Breaking Bad.
The Work of Wolves by Bradley Mason Hamlin. Devin is pondering the nature of evil. Talking about getting away from his family, going to Universidad, all the while torturing and murdering a man who can’t escape and has to listen to his rambling monologue.
Traven by Martin Solares is an homage to Ben Traven, writer of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Sam Hawken deals with a man murdered in his hotel room with a six-inch stiletto and Tom Russell muses on murder and recent history around Ciudad Juárez.
There are two brilliant essays. One on Touch of Evil, the Orson Welles movie, and the other on Pancho Villa, revolutionary and bandit. Zeltserman tells the story of one of the great noir movies, a tale that happens across the border. Vargas, Charlton Heston, a narcotics investigator in Mexico, witnesses a murder. A businessman and his stripper girlfriend are blown up in their car. As the explosion occurred on the American side of the border Hank Quinlan is called in to investigate, Orson Welles. Marlene Dietrich is brothel owner Tanya. Quinlan frames a boy but he turns out to be guilty, Vargas knows he is framed. A battle for the truth develops between the two men. Dietrich delivers the classic noir line at the end of the film:
“He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about People?”
Pancho Villa is a potted history of the notorious bandit, raising his own army, his role in the revolution, decline into banditry, raids on the US, falling out with other leaders, tawdry death. Short but not lacking in insight.
Both are excellent encapsulations of important border stories.
The anthology is sectioned into North, South and on the Border. The tales are spare; noir prose, short meaningful stories, pithy dialogue and all direct to the point. This is the heart of noir. Darkly entertaining, a really interesting mix of stories and essays.
November 27, 2017
Vote for your favourite Betimes Books cover for a chance to win a print copy of one of our books!
- The Prize Draw is open to people aged 18 and over who provide their email address by voting for their favourite cover and would be happy to provide their postal address if they win.
- Please select your favourite cover and send us your vote by email, to firstname.lastname@example.org with “My favourite cover” as Subject.
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- Only one entry per person. Entries on behalf of another person will not be accepted and joint submissions are not allowed.
- Two winners will be chosen from the draw of votes: the person who was the first to vote for the most popular cover + one random draw.
- The winners will be notified by email on Monday, December 4, 2017.
- The prize will be sent to the winner by post.
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- The closing date of the Prize Draw is 23:59, Dublin time, on the 3rd of December 2017.Votes received outside this time period will not be considered.
All our covers are designed by JT Lindroos.
If you wish to have a closer look at each cover, go to our Home page.
You can also see the back covers of the print editions on Amazon. We’ve provided the links below.
List of Titles
- The Painter’s Women
- Permanent Fatal Error
- The Red-Handed League
- The Death of Tarpons
- La Frontera
- The Last Island
- Central Park West Trilogy
- Dirty Pictures
- Silk for the Feed Dogs
- The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal
- Borderland Noir
- The Angel of the Streetlamps
- Killarney Blues
- The Starved Lover Sings
- Reach the Shining River
- In Love with Paris
- One True Sentence
- Forever’s Just Pretend
- Toros & Torsos
- The Great Pretender
- Roll the Credits
- The Running Kind
- Head Games
- Print the Legend
- Death in the Face
- Three Chords & the Truth
June 8, 2017
The Running Kind by Craig McDonald … crime novelist Hector Lassiter is reunited with an old mate from prior adventures in the Lassiter series, Jimmy Hanrahan. It’s 1950 and too close to Christmas when Hector and Jimmy (a cop) are huddled indoors from an Ohio blizzard and a young girl approaches Hector with a plea for help. Her mom and aunt are in danger because one of them is a Cleveland mafia boss’s wife and the other his girlfriend (comare—pronouced Goomarr if you’re from the East Coast).
Hector’s been having a few with Jimmy, but there’s no way he’ll deny the young girl’s request for help. A battle quickly ensues, which is the start of a cross country adventure that involves several notables, to include Elliot Ness and J. Edgar Hoover (and his G-men), still ambivalent about this so-called mafia thing (which is about to hit the television airwaves). There’s also an appearance by a young Rod Serling, and by adventure’s end, old Blue eyes himself, accompanied by the woman he couldn’t wait to own (and never would), Ava Gardner. Frank is there with a message from Momo (Sam Giancana).
As it turns out, the mom and comare have something on the mob boss and are looking to turn witness, which is a tough sell when there are so many in law enforcement enthusiastically on the mob’s payroll. It’s one treachery after another, until it becomes the safer play to head out of town. It is in Missouri where Hector, who’s already had a little fling with one of the two women (the mother or the girlfriend?), and winds up falling for the mother of the mother, as did this reader, has to draw battle lines.
It’s a raucous ride wherein Hector is eventually matched up against a hitman with a scary nickname and mad tracking abilities. Seems everybody is running in this terrific read, and one can only hope Hector can make it back alive for the life he’s often dreamed of, and with a woman he’s always hoped he’d fine.
It’s a start to finish thriller featuring honorable men in a dishonorable world of corruption. Hardboiled and ready to burst, with a wonderful touch of Americana and celebrities. One more from a wonderful series—a hell of a read.
June 1, 2017
Ten years, ten novels… And a graphic novel coming out this Fall. Hector Lassiter has been through good and bad times. But tough times don’t last. Tough men do!
Happy 10th anniversary to Hector Lassiter and his creator, Craig McDonald, and many happy returns!
Click here to view the Hector Lassiter Series
TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF A HECTOR LASSITER NOVEL
HECTOR LASSITER – Created by Craig McDonald
Pulp novelist and Black Mask contributor HECTOR LASSITER is more manly than you.
Or the United States Marine Corps, for that matter.
In [these] romping, stomping, wickedly imaginative historical crime novels […] by Craig “El Gavilan” McDonald, Lassiter, a combo of Ernest Hemingway and Rambo, manages to romp all over the twentieth century.
Along the way, he runs into – and generally kicks the ass of – serial killers, Mexican banditos, crooked cops, hurricanes, misguided revolutionaries, the CIA, assorted tyrants and thugs, and various participants in the Spanish Civil War. He also bumps into everyone from Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Salvador Dali, John Huston and John Dos Passos to Papa himself, and lives to tell the tales.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. And Hector is just that man, a hard-living, hard-loving, hard-drinking, hard-fighting and hard-writing son of a bitch who lives by the credo of writing what you know. And sticking his nose wherever the Hell he damn well wants. […] Trust me – the Hector books are a hoot.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith
Click here to see the original article
June 1, 2017
To mark the 10th Anniversary of Craig McDonald’s Hector Lassiter series, we are running a competition in which
the authors of the best three reviews of a Hector Lassiter book
posted on any Amazon website and live by June 12, 10am Dublin time, will win a signed copy of a Hector Lassiter novel!
Click here to view the Hector Lassiter Series.
Read and review of a book of your choice.
Contact us when your review appears on Amazon.
Please note that we’ll need your mailing address to send you “the trophy”!
May 18, 2017
Review by Marvin Minkler: @MarvinMinklerModernFirstEditions
“Quite alone, yet somehow quite happy, Hector drove on through the sweet-smelling autumn rain, back to his home and family.”
This one true sentence, from the ending of the newly finished novel, Death in the Face, by Craig McDonald, an Edgar and Anthony Awards Finalist, brought to a close my nine-novel journey through the mid-20th Century world, with Hector Lassiter, the man who “writes what he lives and lives what he writes.”
Death in the Face takes place in 1963 and finds Hector at 62 years of age. He is starting to feel that the modern world is passing him by and that he might be slowing down a step or two. He has lost some dear friends and lovers, and, at night, he is haunted by realistic dreams and visions of his life’s love, Brinke Devlin. Brinke’s tragic death still tears at him.
Hector is invited to come along with his old and slowly dying friend, British author, and former spy, Ian Fleming, to the land of the rising sun. Ian is finding late success with his bestselling James Bond series of novels, which have just begun to be made into movies, starring Sean Connery.
Long ago, just after World War II, Ian and Hector, who were intelligence agents at the time, had tried to get their hands on a deadly biological weapon, developed by the Japanese, that could spell doom for whatever country it was used on. While in Japan this time, Ian is determined to find it again, and Hector is along for the ride, with the hope of recovering some previously unknown writings by Brinke Devlin, which are also supposedly there.
As usual with a Hector Lassiter novel, there is plenty of action, deadly villains, a fetchingly beautiful spy, with her eye and gun on Hector, James Bond-type gadgets, intrigue, twists and turns, sexy romps, tragedy, loss, and many reflective moments where the sheer poetry of Craig McDonald’s writing stops the reader in their tracks. There are places where a passage is so moving that it must be read all over again.
I admit to feeling a bit sad about finishing my last Hector Lassiter novel. The books have taken me on a journey all the way from Paris in the 1920s, to Key West in the 30s, Germany and France during World War II, 1950s clashes with the Cleveland mob, assassins in the South-west, and Hollywood, Nashville, and finally Hawaii.
I have met historical characters that have come to life fully fleshed, due to the author’s genuine depiction and understanding of them. Ernest and Mary Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Orson Wells, Eliot Ness, Robert Shaw, Yukio Mishima, Mitsuharu Kaneko, Lester Dent, Rod Serling, and George W. and Prescott Bush, and many more.
Thanks, Craig McDonald, for these wonderfully entertaining and deeply felt novels. I feel Hector Lassiter is the best on-going character ever created in fiction. Truly the last man standing. There is not enough praise that I can give you for your mighty creation and your masterful writing.
Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions, May 2017
The full Hector Lassiter Series is available to buy on Amazon here
April 20, 2017
No happy ending ever started in a bar.
After the tumultuous events that took place on the world’s stage during World War II, and after, in the last Hector Lassiter novel I read, and my ninth, Roll The Credits, expectations were a bit lower as I began The Running Kind. Mistake on my part.
Hector was in a Youngstown, Ohio hotel bar during the December 1950 blizzard, reuniting with his dear, old Irish cop friend, Jimmy Hanrahan. While sharing drinks and war stories, they are suddenly interrupted by a young hysterical girl, who pulls at Hector’s sleeve, pleading: “Please, mister, my mommy needs help.”
Never hesitant, off Hector and Jimmy go, guns and fists at the ready.
After a violent confrontation with some thugs in the bathroom of the hotel and outside, the men rescue the girl’s mother, who is the wife of a Ohio mobster chieftain, and the mistress of the mobster, who Hector notices right away, resembles Veronica Lake. The girls are on the run, trying to find a way to testify against the mob boss, at the Televised Hearings on the Mafia, being held by Senator Kefauver.
Never to shy away from a dangerous and deadly challenge, especially when outnumbered, Hector and Jimmy commit to helping them get to Dayton to testify. Off they go with mobsters, hit men, crooked cops, hired thugs, and FBI agents, joining the cross-country chase through the blizzard, culminating in events that will alter Lassiter’s life forever. Alter in a way that he never would have imagined. One hell-of-a way for the original running kind to celebrate turning 50.
One of the things I so enjoy about reading the Hector Lassiter series, is the way novelist Craig McDonald introduces historical and cultural figures who play roles in the different books, through different eras. In The Running Kind one of the people who help Hector out of a deadly jam, is Doc Savage’s writer, Lester Dent. A young writer, Rod Serling sits with Hector in a bar outside the Antioch campus, and tells Hector of his idea for a new dark anthology series he is writing for television.
Untouchables hero, and now down on his luck, Eliot Ness, puts down the bottle, and picks up a gun to give Hector and Jimmy much-needed help. Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner make an appearance late in the novel, bringing a message from Sam “Momo” Giancana, that will lead Hector back to Cleveland, for revenge, and a terrific climax.
There is also a subtle undercurrent of loss and regret throughout The Running Kind. For Hector, at three am in the morning, it will always be the dark-haired beauty, and fellow writer, Brinke Devlin, his life’s greatest love. Like Hector, she was a running kind, and her memory will run through his thoughts forever.
I have been asked on more than one occasion, which Hector Lassiter novel I liked the best. It is safe to say that it has always been the last one I read.
March 26, 2017
Hector Lassiter is one of the most compelling literary creations of recent years– a crime novelist who ‘writes what he lives and lives what he writes’. Lassiter was born January 1, 1900, and he witnesses some of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. Whether he finds himself at the heart of a murder mystery with the Lost Generation in 1920s Paris, or dodging the bombs and bullets with Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, Lassiter is never far away from violence and intrigue. Three Chords and the Truth is the ninth and final novel in the Lassiter series, and, needless to say, it was eagerly anticipated by the many fans of the series.
Craig McDonald is the author behind the author, the creator of Hector Lassiter and the writer of five more novels outside the Lassiter series. McDonald began his career as a journalist and still works in that…
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December 22, 2016
“Dream as if you’ll live forever;
Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”
“Christmas is a holiday that persecutes the lonely, the frayed and the rejected.”
Hector & Victoria
It was warm and crowded in the café. The liquor was flowing and everyone was laughing and wishing one another a Happy Christmas. Back slaps, cheek kisses and toasts all around.
Victoria sat in a corner of Le Select next to a sprawling, slightly overweight cat, watching Hector at the bar chatting with his fellow writer, Hemingway. The two authors had already spent most of Christmas Eve together. Victoria envisioned a good deal of the day and perhaps even the holiday evening would be spent with the Hemingways, as well.
Oh, Vicky liked the Hemingways just fine. They were fellow Americans, and Midwesterners, at that. Hadley and Hem recalled the people Victoria had grown up with back home. But they also had a young son, “Bumby” or Jack. The Hemingway child was a kind of knife twist for Victoria just now.
Quite soon, she would be going back there, back to the States, and going with Hector who had at last decided to return home after several years roaming Europe, an unintended odyssey that began with his ill-fated service in the last war.
Hector had met Victoria under bizarre circumstances earlier in the year, right around Valentine’s Day, she guessed. Hector had actually saved her life, rescuing her from a killer. She had heard another woman close to him—his lover before Victoria, a woman named Brinke Devlin—had fallen prey to the murderer.
Although Hector had eventually taken Vicky into his life, then into his bed—although he was paying her way back to the States—he’d always made it clear he wasn’t looking for a permanent entanglement with her. Hector had warned Victoria from the start that the New Year would find him returning to America, and then moving on from New York alone, headed for parts unknown.
Yet it should be different now, she thought. Hadn’t they been mostly happy together these past few months? Seemingly, Hector respected Victoria’s remaining secrets, and she respected his—including the sense that some other woman evidently waited for him back there in America. She never confronted Hector about that. She never put the question to him directly.
But sometimes the pale-skinned, raven-haired Victoria caught Hem or Hadley looking at her with this curious mix of affection and concern, almost as if she reminded them too vividly of someone else, someone Victoria could only believe must have been close to Hector. Maybe it was the dead woman? Perhaps it was this Brinke?
It should be different, she thought again, watching the handsome young author.
It was Christmas, and they were lovers, and Hector had at last secured publication of his first novel. They should be returning to their homeland as a triumphant married couple, Victoria thought. Returning to celebrate Hector’s new novel and their departure from this old European city that had stripped so much from them.
But it wouldn’t be like that.
Tonight Hector would be in her arms of course.
This Christmas night he would be hers, but not in the ways that truly counted or mattered most to Victoria. And of course it wouldn’t endure.
This night in the City of Lights, engulfed in laughter and music, Victoria already viewed Hector Lassiter as the one who got away.
December 21, 2016
At long last, readers can discover an eight-page sample from Craig McDonald’s forthcoming graphic novel “Head Games”, adapted from his Edgar- and Anthony-shortlisted novel (written by Craig himself and illustrated by Kevin Singles). A few more month to wait until the October release, but have a look at the dedicated page on the Macmillan US website.
And if you haven’t read the novel, click to preview below.
December 19, 2016
A wonderful review by a true connaisseur:
Three Chords & The Truth Rings True Like a Finely Tuned Guitar, December 18, 2016
This review is from: Three Chords & The Truth: A Hector Lassiter novel (Volume 10) (Paperback)
The first Hector Lassiter novel I read was the Edgar-nominated debut from Craig McDonald, Head Games. History is the author’s canvas and it is vast, colorful and detailed. From Paris in the 1920’s with Ernest Hemingway to Memphis in 1958, where this exciting and latest novel begins. Craig McDonald gives us a rich, authentic take on the country legends of our time who changed the way the music was then. Along with high tone babes, racial tensions, vengeful hooligans, and a chilling plan being hatched, Hector and his Chevy Bel Air could get blown off the road before it all is over.
Although I initially began this one to savor it some, after a few pages in, it was a flat-out race through the pages. Superb writing, swift plotting, and as usual, interesting real life figures from the country scene then, along with some of Hector’s old friends, and enemies.
I can’t recommend it enough. Three Chords & The Truth rings true like a finely tuned guitar.
November 29, 2016
Not the end of something?
By Craig McDonald
In autumn 2007, HEAD GAMES was published by Ben Leroy and Bleak House books.
It went on to earn best first novel nominations for the Edgar Award, the Anthony, and the Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France, among others.
It also launched a series of ten novels featuring protagonist Hector Lassiter, pulp magazine writer, crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter.
Betimes Books has just published the climactic novel in the series, THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH, set in Nashville about a year after HEAD GAMES, and bringing back several characters from that first novel.
CHORDS was always envisioned as a kind of HEAD GAMES sequel and definitive circle-closer.
I actually wrote the “last” Lassiter novel many, many years ago, much of it in situ in Nashville, Tennessee. I interviewed various songwriters and sat in on sound-checks to gather source material and atmosphere.
But mostly, I focused on putting a capstone on the Hector Lassiter saga.
Few are the mystery series in my experience that round out with the fulfillment of a charted character arc or larger story.
Most series simply trail off into oblivion because of soft sales, or the death of their author.
If the series is particularly popular, when the creator dies, some other writer is brought in to keep churning out inferior, never quite satisfying continuations, again toward no planned end.
There are very few exceptions to this rule of the never-ending series.
Most of those that occur still don’t typically deliver a unified story arc carried to a planned climax built toward across the span of the series.
More often, some poor author gets a dire diagnosis and so races the clock to close out their series before they too are “closed out.”
Others elect to do something mirroring Agatha Christie’s strategy of writing a series closer well ahead of time, then holding it in reserve for posthumous publication.
(Though in the Dame’s case, even killing off her character didn’t stop others from publishing further Poirot novels following the appearance of CURTAIN.)
I’ve long acknowledged James Sallis’ cycle of Lew Griffin novels as the inspiration for the Lassiter series.
Sallis wrote an interconnected and finite series of novels that together tell a larger story and build to a final revelation regarding his central protagonist.
With the Lassiter series, I wanted to do something similar: Construct a series toward a known end, allowing each book to stand alone, more or less, but in sum telling a much larger story regarding the character of Hector Lassiter and his eventual fate.
It was an audacious or perhaps even foolish goal to write a whole series ahead of any contract commitments. Certainly, given what I now know of the vagaries and failings of much of the publishing industry, it was a very naïve and hopeful thing for a baseline cynic like myself to undertake.
Yet I wrote first drafts of the novels in the series in the space of about three months per title, back-to-back, working toward the known conclusion of this last, Nashville-set series-closer.
The later entries in the series were mostly well into composition before the second novel, TOROS & TORSOS, was even contracted for publication by Bleak House Books.
Please let me run a highlighter over that point: Most of the series, including the last volume, was virtually written before the second book reached the galley stage some time in the summer of 2008.
There was never any guarantee the books would all see print. There was every chance the project might stall around book four or five and the rest of the novels would remain in limbo.
But the series has hung in there, collecting an international audience through translations in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean and Mongolian, among others.
In English language form, the Lassiter series currently encompasses four different publishers.
HEAD GAMES was also quickly optioned for graphic novel adaptation by First Second Books, prior to its Bleak House publication. I wrote the script for that project over a weekend nearly ten years ago (the art came much more slowly).
Next October, nearly ten years to the day that HEAD GAMES the novel was released, HEAD GAMES the graphic novel will at last appear.
A short story collection will also follow next year from Betimes Books, which now prints uniform editions of the entire series.
The short story collection will feature a never-before-published Lassiter novella set in the 1920s that roughly approaches the word count found in HEAD GAMES.
So while THREE CHORDS does represent the climax of the Hector Lassiter series as originally set forth, the Lassiter saga still has some moves left.
Hector has opened remarkable doors for me and provided international travel opportunities for my family.
He is forever there somewhere in my head, sometimes whispering in my ear. When you write this much about a single character for so long, you actually begin to see the world through his eyes.
Telling this storyteller’s story has resulted in years of wonderful correspondence and conversation with readers of all ages, nationalities and interests who’ve followed his saga.
I very much look forward to hearing the reactions to this “last” Hector Lassiter novel.
Contact us for a free electronic review copy!
November 22, 2016
“If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a minotaur.” —Pablo Picasso
Craig McDonald’s novel Toros & Torsos is based on a theory that the famous Los Angeles “Black Dahlia” murders were inspired by the Surrealist masterpieces of the 1930s. McDonald took this idea even further and created a murder masterpiece that suggested a conspiracy of serial Surrealist killers. A particular inspiration was Man Ray’s “Minotaur” in which the pose of the subject was eerily similar to the body of the Black Dahlia.
The surrealists were always captivated by the myth of the Minotaur. The beast trapped in the maze became the symbol of the surrealist subject lost in the labyrinth of his own subconscious desires. The artists embraced the beast for its representation of the self-reflexive nature of monstrosity that comes from the Minotaur being created from both human and animal.
Although never a subscriber to the movement, Picasso was nevertheless interested in the Minotaur, and the animal is increasingly present in his work in the 1930s.
For Picasso, the Minotaur acts as the keeper of taboo sexual secrets and also the subconscious fulfilment of them.
Scroll down to read an excerpt from Toros & Torsos in which the myth of the Minotaur is described.
A limited edition hard cover copy, signed and fingerprinted by the author, would make the perfect Christmas gift for any crime & mystery lover.
Available to order HERE for €40.
“Hector lit a cigarette and said, “Bishop, I’ve been looking over Le Minotaure some more. What exactly is it with the bulls…the Minotaur thing? What’s the significance to you surrealists?”
Bishop pulled out one of his own cigarettes and then fastened it to the end of a long, black cigarette holder. Hector lit the little man’s cigarette with his Zippo and then lit another for Rachel. Hem, a nonsmoker, scooted his chair around a little closer to Harriet, who also wasn’t smoking.
“Partly, I think it’s just a preoccupation of our times, driven in no small part by this man, here.” Bishop gestured at Hem. “First with The Sun Also Rises, and now with Death in the Afternoon. Hem has made us all fascinated with the myth and ritual of the bullfight. And many of us in the surrealist movement are Spainophiles and aficionados in our own rights. But it is also the myth of the Minotaur that fascinates us and made us choose the Minotaur to serve as our kind of surrealist emblem.”
Hector said, “I’m just an old boy from Southern Texas. My Greek mythology is, well, it ain’t great. I mean, I know it involves something about a maze, or something, and some fella going into to kill the half-human, half-bull who lived at the center, but…” He shrugged. “But that’s as far as I go.”
Bishop said, “Harriet here is quite an avid folklorist. You tell Hector, dear.”
She smiled and blushed, her gaze darting around the table. It was apparent the little woman was intimidated by her story-teller company, but she pressed ahead:
“The story goes that Poseidon, the sea god, gifted the king of Crete — Minos — with a white bull. Minos was supposed to sacrifice the white bull, and when he didn’t, Poseidon retaliated by making the king’s wife, Pasiphaë, fall in love with and actually couple with the bull. Their offspring was a hideous creature, the Minotaur, a giant human hybrid with a bull’s head. Minos then hired Daedalus to construct the labyrinth to contain the Minotaur. Once a decade, Minos sent seven men into the labyrinth to their deaths — and to be food for the beast inside. Finally, a hero, Theseus, volunteered to be one of the seven sent to their deaths. Theseus was in love with Minos’ daughter, Ariadne. He planned to kill the Minotaur. Ariadne provided Theseus with a long spool of thread, so that after he had killed the monster, Theseus could follow the thread back out of the labyrinth.”
Hector blew a smoke ring and said, “Things went to plan, and then this Greek boy and the king’s daughter, Ariadne, they lived happily ever after?”
“Oh no,” Harriet Blair said, shaking her head. “Theseus abandoned Ariadne soon after. He was off on his next adventure.”
From Toros & Torsos, Craig McDonald, © 2008
November 10, 2016
“Set in 1962, McDonald’s fine ninth Hector Lassiter novel (after Print the Legend) takes the 62-year-old writer and an old friend of his, 54-year-old Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond), to Japan. Ostensibly, Fleming is to do research for an Asian-set 007 novel, and Lassiter is covering Fleming’s trip for Playboy magazine. In fact, the pair are on a mission to secure the secret plans made by the Japanese in WWII for a devastating biological weapon. Both men formerly performed intelligence duties, including an attempt, during Operation Flea, to recover the plans immediately after the war. McDonald pays frequent homage to Fleming and his novels, while Lassiter, like an aging James Bond, foils assassins and follows a trail that leads from Japan to Turkey.” —Publishers Weekly
DEATH IN THE FACE is available to buy here
November 2, 2016
You may not know it, but one of Craig McDonald’s many talents is producing spectacular video trailers for his books.
Discover the trailer for the Hector Lassiter series and meet “the man who writes what he lives and lives what he writes”: Tender, violent, intelligent, unwise, wanderer, fool for love, righteous, amoral, brave, elusive, arrogant, magnanimous, lonely, convivial, self-absorbed, great-hearted Hector Lassiter.
On Craig McDonald’s blog, you will find trailers for each individual title,
including the forthcoming THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH:
August 4, 2016
Thanks to all who attended last night’s reading in Dublin!
For those who weren’t there, here is a recording of the event: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ypKdPmjArRKW
If you want to read the excerpt that Craig read last night, the first chapter of Head Games, click here:
And here is Craig McDonald‘s speech and a few pictures of the venue and the event.
“One character, ten novels.
Please allow me to introduce you to Hector Lassiter, author, screenwriter and adventurer.
He’s my primary protagonist and a guy who’s high-jacked an obscene amount of my personal head space.
At base, Hector’s a man always in pursuit of strong sensations and experiences he can lay down on the printed page.
For the purposes of tonight’s reading, I ask you to imagine it’s 1957. We’re sitting in a drinking establishment, not in Dublin, but rather in some dusty, sweltering cantina hard up against the Rio Grande as we call it in The States.
The Mexican’s call the same body of water that divides our countries the Rio Bravo. You see, on my dark side of the Atlantic, even the rivers have aliases.
Tonight you’ll be riding shotgun in THE classic American car: a Fifty-Seven, Chevrolet convertible Bel Air. We’re on the road with Hector and his sidekick for this particular escapade that I’ll be reading from, a young and aspiring poet named Bud Fiske.
In his peculiar corner of pop culture, Hector’s also known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”
He’s the protagonist of a finite arc of the ten novels I referenced a moment ago. The last, Three Chords & The Truth, will appear this November courtesy of Dublin-based Betimes Books, who hosts our gathering this evening along this la frontera of the mind.
The novel to come this fall is a kind of sequel to Head Games, which is the first and mostly widely published Hector Lassiter novel, and one that will also appear as a graphic novel next fall. Head Games is the book I’ll be reading from tonight.
With border tensions, Donald Trump and his huge, beautiful wall—such a great wall—as well as all-too real, cross-border terrorism fears looming large back home, Head Games is arguably more timely than ever.
So here’s the thing: If any label best describes the Hector Lassiter series, it’s probably “Historical Thrillers.” My novels, or maybe Hector’s, always combine myth and history.
The Lassiter novels spin around secret histories and unexplored or underexplored aspects of real events. They’re set in real places. The also frequently incorporate real people.
As a career journalist—yes, I still toil in that uncertain trade, despite my swanky secret life as a published novelist—I’m often frustrated by the impossibility to definitively nail down people or events.
Read five biographies of the same man, say, of Ernest Hemingway, or Orson Welles, and you’ll close each book feeling like you’ve read about five different people.
So I’ve reluctantly concluded defining fact as it relates to history is like stroking smoke or tapping a bullet in flight.
History, it’s been said, is a lie agreed to.
But maybe in fiction we can find if not fact, something bordering on truth. With that possibility in mind, I explore what I can make of accepted history through the eyes of this man.
The “hero” of my series, your guide through my books, is Hector Mason Lassiter, a shades-of-grey man who’s a charmer, a rogue, a bit of a rake—a handsome rover, if you will—and, himself, a crime novelist.
Some others in the novels say he bears a strong resemblance to the actor William Holden. Hector smokes and drinks and eats red meat. He favors sports jackets, open collar shirts and Chevrolets. He lives his life on a large canvas. He’s wily, but often impulsive. He’s honorable, but mercurial.
He often doesn’t understand his own drives. That is to say, he’s a man. He’s a man’s man and a lady’s man. He’s a romantic, but mostly unlucky in love. Yet his life’s largely shaped by the women who pass through it.
Hec was born in Galveston, Texas on January 1, 1900. He came in with the 20th Century, and it was my aim his arc of novels span that century—essentially, through each successive novel, giving us a kind of under-history or secret-history of the 20th Century.
Tall and wise beyond his years, as a boy Hector lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He accompanied Black Jack Pershingand participated in the general’s abortive hunt down into Mexico to chase the Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa who attacked and murdered many American civilians in the town of Columbus, New Mexico.
Villa’s was the first and only successful terrorist assault on the United States homeland prior to the events of September 11, 2001.
Much of that part of Hector’s life figures into Head Games: You’ll catch some glimpses in the reading to follow.
Head Games originally was published in 2007.
Its follow-up in original publication sequence, Toros & Torsos, opens in 1935 and features Ernest Hemingway as a kind of sidekick. Subsequent books about Hector similarly hopscotched back-and-forth through the decades upon original publication.
The current Betimes Books releases of the Hector Lassiter series present the novels in roughly chronological order—at least in terms of when each story opens.
Call me audacious, or call me crazy: The Lassiter novels were written back-to-back and the series mostly shaped and in place before Head Games was officially published. Let me run a highlighter over that point: this series was largely written before the first novel was even contracted for publication.
It’s very unusual in that sense: a series of discrete novels tightly linked and that taken together stand as a single, larger story.
My approach as a writer has always been to try and describe the movie I’m seeing in my head.
Tonight’s film is a kind of mash-up of Sam Peckinpaugh, Quentin Tarantino, and if you believe several book reviewers, the Cohen Brothers.
So. Welcome to the world of Hector Lassiter.
It’s 1957, and we’re in a bottom-rung cantina in Ciudad Juarez—these days regarded as the murder capital of the world. We’re in this cantina with Hector and Bud.
From somewhere, there’s a tune playing on piano or accordion. Some piece of Mexican music… Maybe it’s Volver, Volver, or maybe Cancion de Mixteca…
A fight’s looming, and to coin a phrase, this is no personal brawl—anyone can join in.”
Craig McDonald, Dublin, Ireland, August 3rd, 2016
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March 31, 2016
“Hector sat in a booth alone in the back of the Italian restaurant. The freezing rain was lashing the windows and the trees lining the streets of Georgetown looked like glass sculptures. He took another sip of red wine and pulled the letter from his pocket. He read it five times:
Poor dearest Pickle:
There is no surprise in this.
I’m awfully sorry for the mess.
The body’s been dying for some time (from the moment really, that second plane went down at Butiaba), and the rest has raced in pursuit these past months. It has all finally gone to pieces and I am beat to the wide beyond promise of recuperation or recovery.
Now it’s over and you can get on with your life.
I’ve spent my mornings since the last war working at four books I can’t finish. And all of these last, unfruitful years spent rummaging through the remise of my memory for likely material has only stirred up old ghosts and guilts. Untenable regrets that all of the bottles of giant killer I am now denied and all of the last bits of love that you might still muster towards me cannot palliate.
A writer who can no longer write can no longer live.”
The letter continues in PRINT THE LEGEND, available here.
“A novelist who has a main character first use[d] The Hemingway Review as a doorstop and later set another issue on fire and fling it out a window probably isn’t holding his breath waiting for a favorable review of his book in that particular publication. But Craig McDonald’s Print the Legend (its title taken from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the 1962 Western directed by John Ford) deserves the attention of Hemingway aficionados… McDonald tosses off throw-away allusions and inside jokes with apparent effortlessness… McDonald is a writer’s writer, so the book is also, improbably but effectively, a meditation on the art of writing fiction.” —THE HEMINGWAY REVIEW
“Through Hector’s musings and actions, we are treated to an intimate view of Hemingway’s writings as well as his life. And as Lassiter tries to protect the woman he loves while pursuing a personal enemy, he evolves into a credible romantic figure. This book will appeal to readers who read outside the crime genre.” —VERONIKA PELKA, HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY (Editor’s Choice Selection)
March 24, 2016
Kindle edition for only 99 cents!
“Nothing short of a surrealistic masterwork.” —Chicago Tribune
“McDonald’s imaginative tale takes an enjoyably different approach to art and murder.” —Publishers Weekly
“In his lush, sprawling novel Craig McDonald draws together both the timeliest markers of mid-century America—modernism, surrealism, film noir, pulp fiction, communism—and the eternal touchstones of classic crime literature—desire, chaos, obsession and loss. It is a bold, bloody landscape, but McDonald never lets its scale become so big that we lose sight of the lively characters at its dark center. Wily and wistful Hector Lassiter, a complicated, rueful and haunted Ernest Hemingway and dozens more draw us close to their chests, anchor us, win our favor and, in the end, break our hearts.” —Megan Abbot