Posts tagged ‘historical crime fiction’
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.
January 16, 2018
Kansas City, 1935. Emmett Watson, a county prosecutor of Irish decent, is married to Fay, a high society woman, who is the daughter of one of the movers and shakers in the city, and unhappy in her marriage. At a closed-door meeting with his father-in-law, and other high rollers, Emmett is asked to investigate the brutal murder of a local black, jazz piano player, and he soon finds himself taking on a corrupt political machine, mobsters and cops on the pad.
All around Emmett, is fear and silence surrounding the murder, and blatant racial hatred, that puts his life and career at risk.
One of the most engaging characters in the novel is Arlene Gray, the jazz
singer whose voice can still the room in a smoky Kansas City nightclub.
Arlene, a woman of tremendous grace, and vulnerability, is the mother of Wardell, the young boy who found the bullet-ridden body on a bank by the river. She also was the murdered Eddie Sloan’s lover. She is determined to
protect he son at all cost, and her anguish at losing Eddie, is a deeply moving part of the novel.
There is a bluesy, jazzy ebb and flow throughout the novel. Swirling and dipping in language and imagery. While reading it I often had music by Billie Holiday, Bud Powell, Lester Young, and Bill “Count” Basie playing
across the room. The music supplementing the rhythm and phrasing of the writer’s words. The richness of the many characters, and the honest writing that cut right to the quick.
It is always a pleasure to discover a novel and a writer whose vibrant prose, and dialogue, make me reluctant to turn the final page. Reach the Shining River is such a novel.”
–Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions
Link to the original review on Facebook: here.
October 2, 2017
Voilà à quoi ressemble Killarney à l’aube de ce siècle nouveau. Il y a des bagels. Et c’est le genre d’endroit dans lequel elles viennent prendre un café : un bistrot élégant, bien éclairé, minimaliste, avec des tableaux de bon goût sur les murs, des décorations végétales spectrales en forme de bâtons sur les tables et des fauteuils qui vous aspirent, des fauteuils qui vous vaudront des problèmes de vertèbres à terme mais qui sont paradisiaques le temps de ce bref répit, alors que les sacs de shopping lacèrent atrocement les bras fins. »
Colin O’ Sullivan, inconnu au bataillon avant ce premier roman (on lui doit paraît-il de nombreuses nouvelles et des recueils de poésie), a un ton, un style et un univers. Il n’a par contre pas grand-chose en commun avec les innombrables auteurs de polar et de thriller actuels.
Situé à Killarney, ville irlandaise touristique, son Killarney Blues ne compte que deux flics (en uniforme) venus arrêter un type dans un bar. La scène se passe à la page 231 d’un ouvrage qui en compte 270. Elle se termine à la page 234. C’est dire que l’intrigue policière n’est pas au centre de cet ouvrage qui vous happe pourtant dès les premières pages pour ne plus vous lâcher.
[“This book grabs you at the first page and won’t let you put it down.”]
Car Colin O’ Sullivan fait naître une galerie de personnages d’une formidable justesse auxquels on s’attache instantanément.
[“Colin O’Sullivan creates a gallery of characters so true and real that you get attached to them immediately.”]
Au centre de ce petit monde, on trouve Bernard Dunphy, grand amateur de blues et jarvey de profession. En clair, Bernard promène des touristes dans la ville à bord de sa calèche tirée par la jument Ninny. Bernard est un drôle de type, solitaire, un peu inadapté au monde, puant la sueur et portant toujours un gros manteau noir.
Autour de Bernard, il y a sa mère, dure et forte, qui s’occupe de tout pour son grand fils un peu décalé. Et qui porte en elle le souvenir de son mari, noyé dans le lac tout proche. Il y a aussi la belle Marian, dont Bernard est amoureux depuis toujours et qui semble l’ignorer. Elle passe son temps avec ses deux copines, Mags et Cathy, à faire du shopping, à s’envoyer des vannes et à se murger tous les week-ends dans leurs bars préférés tout en s’inquiétant de n’avoir pas encore trouvé l’homme de leur vie à près de 30 ans.
Un récit choral
Il y a encore Jack Moriarty, que Bernard considère comme son seul pote mais qui ne voit pas tout à fait les choses de cette façon. Jack le séducteur, Jack le joueur de foot gaélique incapable de canaliser sa fureur, Jack qui traîne aussi ses fantômes du passé. Et puis il y a Linda la serveuse qui se mue en chanteuse à la nuit tombée, Laura la touriste américaine et son frère, amateur de blues lui aussi…
Tout un petit monde que l’auteur met en scène et suit entre passé et présent, bondissant de l’un à l’autre, tissant un récit choral où les dialogues se réduisent à la portion congrue au profit d’une écriture qui embrasse tous les aspects de l’intrigue, emporte tout sur son passage, tend la main au lecteur pour l’emporter au cœur de ces vies banales et pourtant porteuses d’une multitude de petits et de grands drames.
Au fil des 270 pages, chacun se découvre petit à petit. Tout ce qui semblait évident dans les premiers chapitres prend de nouvelles couleurs, de nouvelles directions, de nouvelles raisons d’être. Le passé resurgit sans cesse et vient le plus souvent pourrir le présent. Heureusement pour Bernard, il y a le blues. Cette musique qui l’habite littéralement, sa passion pour Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, B.B. King et tant d’autres. Dans une Irlande où les clichés culturels croisent sans cesse un nouveau mode de vie mondialisé, Bernard va petit à petit se révéler, ainsi que tous ceux qui l’entourent. Pour le meilleur ou pour le pire.
Porté par un véritable souffle d’écrivain, Killarney Blues est un roman noir, plein de mélancolie et de rêves inaboutis où surgit malgré tout une étonnante lueur d’espoir. Sans la moindre naïveté. Une révélation.
[“Carried by a genuine writing talent, Killarney Blues is a Noir novel full of melancholy and unfulfilled dreams with a surprising glimmer of hope at the end. Without the slightest naivety. A revelation.”]
Roman noir. Killarney Blues, Colin 0’Sullivan ; Tr. de l’anglais par L. Bouton-Kelly, Rivages, 272 p., 21 €, e-book 14,99 €
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
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
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 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 17, 2016
Following on from the success of “Francesca” by Donald Finnaeus Mayo, we are delighted to announce the new release of the Ebook edition of Kevin Stevens’ novel “Reach the Shining River” by the UK’s leading independent digital publisher, Endeavour Press.
Our own trade paperback is also available here: viewBook.at/REACH_Stevens
“Not only a solid murder mystery, but equally a colourful and thought-provoking study of a moment in time. With the rhythm and cadence of the prose, echoing the blues soundtrack that underscored the whole book, Stevens easily achieved that balance between crime fiction and literary fiction due to his exceptional characterization and engaging prose.” —Raven Crime Reads
Kansas City, 1935
The effects of the Depression are still being felt, gangsters are running the show, and the police are corrupt. Emmett Whelan, an idealistic county prosecutor who has left behind his Irish roots and married into the country club set, takes on the city’s corrupt political machine when he investigates the brutal murder of a black musician. Emmett starts poking around and soon finds that there has been no investigation into the man’s death. He starts to wonder why a gentle man like Eddie was murdered?
As Emmett probes the case and meets another outsider, black jazz singer Arlene Gray, he discovers the city’s underbelly of racism and criminality.
Emmett hires a PI to help him, Mickey McDermott lost his job as a cop when he wouldn’t play by the rules. Soon they see that Eddie’s death is connected to some pretty powerful men in town. But as Emmett works harder and harder for justice, his marriage starts to disintegrate. And the more he digs, the more he sees he’s being played.
The closer he gets to the heart of the corruption, the more he sees that it is deeper and closer than he has ever suspected. When the truth finally unfolds – about the killings, the machine, Emmett’s wife – a surprising and devastating climax reverberates at every level of the city…
Reach the Shining River is an urban crime drama about money, race, and class. Tense and full of memorable characters, it has the smell of a big river, the atmosphere of 1930s America, and a soundtrack that is pure jazz and blues.
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
P.S. WE STILL HAVE A FEW COPIES OF CRAIG McDONALD’S BOOKS SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR!
DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO PURCHASE ONE! CONTACT US
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
February 29, 2016
An exceptional, in-depth, interview with Craig McDonald by Steven Powell, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK.
Steven Powell is the editor of Conversations with James Ellroy (2012) and 100 American Crime Writers(2012). He has written several articles for the British Politics Review, blogs about crime fiction at VenetianVase.co.uk, and co-organized the “James Ellroy: Visions of Noir” conference at the University of Liverpool. His most recent work is James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).
“If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous.
Lassiter is a brilliant creation…”
Craig McDonald is an author and journalist. He has written fourteen novels, including, to date, nine books in the award-winning Hector Lassiter series. I have kept up a correspondence with Craig these past few years as we are both avid readers of James Ellroy. I’m also a massive fan of the Lassiter novels, and when Craig agreed to be interviewed by me, he also kindly supplied an advance copy of the final novel in the Lassiter series, the forthcoming Three Chords and the Truth. If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous. Lassiter is a brilliant creation– a crime writer who learned his trade with Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s. He is also a man who seems dangerously prone to violent intrigue, doomed love affairs…
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February 15, 2016
I loved traveling with author Hector Lassiter, his fellow friend Ian Fleming, and his devastating companion along the way, Haven Branch. Felt like I was right there with them on the planes and trains and in the restaurants, cafés and clubs. Combining writing, spying, and secret lives was perfectly executed and totally believable. Returning to Japan to claim his dead wife’s final writings, Hector is caught up in a conspiracy he can’t avoid. Once more the unlikely hero is called on to save the world, and by god, he’ll do it or die trying. He’s not quite a James Bond type, but he’s cut from a similar cloth. Smart, witty, resourceful and a lady’s man, even in his 60s, you have to admire his style. Great dialogue, good plot, and just enough neurotic angst to sound like a real author. Plenty of fast-paced action, dangerous villains, good whiskey, and humorous characters. I haven’t read the other Hector Lassiter tomes, but I think I’ll have to get started on them now. With Ian Fleming as his muse, Craig McDonald gives us more of the Bond flavor in this period novel without being a parody. Loved it, can’t believe now that I’ve found him, there’s only one more novel to come. But then, I’ve got all the previous ones to enjoy.
~Review by Sandy Penny, Founder, SweetMysteryBooks.com – Five Stars