Monday, November 02, 2015

Soho Press Night at The Poisoned Pen!

It had been a while since I'd last jumped into the Jeep and headed to The Poisoned Pen Bookstore. I'd gotten out of my routine. So I did a thing or two differently when I went to see four Soho Press authors last Tuesday, and it seems to have sprinkled me with a tiny bit of fairy dust.

The things that catch your eye...
Timothy Hallinan is on my Five Star Author List. Any time he's in town, I'm going to be there. But Hallinan wasn't the only author appearing that night. I've also enjoyed Martin Limón's excellent Sueño and Bascom mysteries set in 1960s-1970s Seoul, South Korea, and he was also a headliner. But wait-- there's more! Add James R. Benn, writer of the excellent Billy Boyle historical series, and Matt Bell, whose newest book is Detroit-set Scrapper. How could I lose?  

When I walked into my favorite bookstore, the staff asked where I'd been, and as I selected and purchased my books, we caught up on the latest news. I was so early that the chairs for the event hadn't even been set up yet, so I took a seat at the round wooden "authors' signing table" at the back and began to read, although the occasional book cover caught my eye-- like the one above.

When the chairs were set up, instead of facing the outside wall as usual, they were facing an interior wall. We were going to be talking with James R. Benn via Skype, so everyone had to be able to see the large flat screen television. I could see it where I was sitting. I thought about the zoom lens on my camera. I could take pictures from where I was sitting. I could also set my notepad on the table and not have to balance it on my knee and try to take notes and photos at the same time. I decided to stay put.

Did I just squee?

What a wonderful decision! Another favorite author, Donis Casey, is a Hallinan fan too, and when she saw me, she came over to sit with me. We sat and talked about her book, All Men Fear Me, that will be released on November 3, and of the various directions her Alafair Tucker series could take in the future. We also talked about how each of us met our husbands.

Then what should happen but Tim Hallinan comes in, sees Donis, walks over to give her a big hug and then puts an arm around me before he sits down with us. My Inner Fangirl died and went to heaven! (Hopefully I still looked calm on the outside....) Tim immediately began talking about the Junior Bender Christmas book he's working on, and when he spoke more about his writing, he began to use the same allusions to writing-as-archaeology that Donis had used moments before he arrived. I sat there and listened while refraining from pinching myself.

James R. Benn

Barbara Peters and Robert Anglen talking to James R. Benn via Skype.

The party had already started for me, but the official proceedings began with host Barbara Peters and Robert Anglen of the Arizona Republic talking to James R. Benn via Skype. Benn writes a series set in World War II featuring Billy Boyle, and the newest book in the series is The White Ghost.

Available Now!
The book is based quite heavily on the events surrounding PT-109, the boat future president John F. Kennedy was aboard during the Solomon Islands campaign of World War II.

"I learned more about the Kennedys than I wanted to," said Benn. "For example, Joseph Kennedy's money sheltered his children to such a degree that JFK didn't know about the Depression until he went to Harvard.

"PT-109 shaped him. After he was released from the hospital, JFK became a stone cold killer and a risk taker. His men were worried by all the chances that he took."

Benn was also privileged to be able to interview 93-year-old Ted Cummings, a veteran of Guadalcanal, who died in his sleep a week after being interviewed. Anglen praised Benn for his depiction of the fighting. "The war with Japan was different, and you didn't sugarcoat it." Benn agreed, saying that he had to walk a fine line in telling the truth without overemphasizing the violence.

The next time we see Billy Boyle, it will be the eve of D-Day. The working title of the book was The Court Martial of Billy Boyle, which tells us some of the plot of the book. It is now titled The Blue Madonna, and besides that court martial, it also involves stolen art.

Barbara Peters told Benn that The White Ghost contains "one of your more ingenious plots." She went on to say that she enjoys Boyle's sidekick, Kaz, a Polish count who lost everything in the war. Benn likes Kaz, too. "When your books are written in the first person, having a sidekick is very useful because that character can go off to do other things then come back to report.  My 2017 book will have a larger role for Kaz."

Tim Hallinan & Martin Limón

Far to Near at front of audience: Tim Hallinan, Robert Anglen, Martin Limón

After the Skype connection with James Benn is dissolved, it was time for us to hear from Tim Hallinan and Martin Limón, who were also being interviewed by the Arizona Republic's Robert Anglen. Hallinan writes the Poke Rafferty series set in Bangkok, Thailand, and Limón crafts the Sueño and Bascom series set in 1960s-1970s Seoul, South Korea.

Available Now!
Anglen told us, "Martin's dad said that all Martin's characters do is go from one bar to another."

"Yes," replied Limón, "and it's taken me thirty years of painstaking research!" to laughter throughout the bookstore.

Although Hallinan and Limón's series are set in different times, they both show a wonderful sensitivity to the Thai and Korean cultures-- which is one of the reasons why I read them. Limón spent twenty years in the Army, with five tours in Korea after arriving there in 1968.  "I love the country, and I love the culture," he told us. "90% of the crime being committed in Seoul at the time was committed by Americans, and my first job when I arrived was to monitor all the press releases because the military didn't want the folks back home to know what was going on. Military culture and how it interacted with the Korean people fascinated me."

"Your two main characters don't seem to like following orders," Anglen commented.

"Oh-- Orders are to be negotiated," Limón said with a twinkle in his eye.

Available Now!
Hallinan told us that "Poke begins in Patpong because I began in Patpong." His first trip to Bangkok was arranged by someone unfamiliar with the city. His Ramada Inn was right on Patpong Road, at the time the most notorious red light district in the world. "I wasn't very sympathetic to old guys when I was first in Thailand," Hallinan continued. "I learned better. The old men in The Hot Countries represent the first men to survive the meat grinder of the Vietnam War who settled down to live there. When they first arrived, the entire sex trade was aimed at the Asian market. 'The Golden Mile' and Thai Heaven were created to satisfy the needs of all the foreign men pouring into the city. At one point in their lives, these men were warriors, and I liked having them take part in the action of The Hot Countries."

Someone once told Limón that it was unrealistic for his character George to be the only soldier to speak Korean out of the 2,000 men who were stationed there. "Unrealistic?" Limón asked. "Yes-- because in reality none of the soldiers spoke Korean!"

Barbara Peters asked about Hallinan's character Varney, the baddest man in town. Hallinan nodded. "At one time I lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the saddest country in the world, and Varney is based on someone from my Phnom Penh days-- someone who gave me insight into the darkest heart of the human experience. And may I just say that the way Martin Limón handles Korea inspired me in the way I portray Thailand."

Matt Bell

Matt Bell and Barbara Peters

In Matt Bell's novel Scrapper, Kelly finds himself back in a ruined Detroit, moving into abandoned buildings to strip them of their copper, appliances, and anything else that is usable and salable. When Kelly rescues a kidnapped boy, he briefly becomes a hero-- then he becomes obsessed with finding the boy's kidnapper.

"Your setting is relentless and bleak," Barbara observed. "It's not the real world, but it is real for the characters."

Matt nodded and said, "Every building that Kelly enters is based on the research I did in Detroit in 2012. In Michigan and the Midwest, Scrapper is being reviewed as 'realistic,' while outside that geographical area reviewers are calling it 'SciFi' and 'Post-Apocalyptic'."

Available Now!
"What many people don't realize," Barbara said, "is that Detroit is coming back. For example there is now a lot of truck farming in the area, and people are saying that the Rust Belt is transforming itself into the Green Belt."

"Yes, Detroit is coming back," Bell said, "but it isn't returning to its glory days. It will be something different. The manufacturing base is gone. There's no work force immigration from the South. Detroit is the only city in America that had a population of over one million to go back down below one million. There are now just 700,000 people living in Detroit."

When Peters asked him about the possibility of a series, Bell chuckled and said, "I don't know if I've ever left any of my characters in good enough shape for a series!"

His next book? It's probably going to have something to do with the destruction of ancient art in the Middle East.

After a brief question and answer period, it was time for the signing line. I was on Cloud Nine the entire way home!

My latest Poisoned Pen book haul!


  1. That evening sounds fantastic. Thanks for writing it up.

    I would like to read a book by Limon about south Korea.

    And I am reading the fourth book in the Salander series and it is actually evolving into a better read than I first thought.

    1. Denis is reading it, too, and told me that he's enjoying it.

  2. Oh, what a great time you had, Cathy! I think it's interesting, too, that they had a night based on publisher (i.e. Soho night). That's a really effective way to get authors and readers together.

    1. They've "gone publisher" before... I think it was Berkley Prime Crime Night, and it is very effective.


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