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Fuminori Nakamura's Dark, Existential Thrillers

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Fuminori Nakamura tells me exactly how he would steal my wallet. In Japanese, he explains that the trick is to lift it out of my back pocket with his three middle fingers. By foregoing the thumb (the clumsiest finger), it makes the rest of his hand more difficult for the victim to detect. Nakamura also says that if he were a better pickpocket, he would be able to lift my watch. (I check my wrist, even though I don't wear a watch.)

Nakamura doesn't steal wallets for a living, but he learned a lot about it while doing hands-on research for his novel The Thief, which concerns itself very much with the life of a Tokyo pickpocket. After a botched robbery, the nameless protagonist finds himself at the mercy of the thugs who set up the job. There's a sense of dread that pervades each page, and a surprising Camus-like ennui that provokes existential and deterministic motifs. The Thief is a swift but gloomy literary thriller, light on its feet but sinister in its intentions (much like a good pickpocket).

But for how grim his books are, Nakamura is a surprisingly affable, almost giggly presence. I have a hard time imagining that such a pleasant person could spend so much of his time exploring the darkest recesses of humanity. We meet at Café Grumpy in New York. Nakamura is visiting the States for the first time, both to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where The Thief is a Book Prize nominee, and to support his newly translated thriller, Evil and the Mask, out June 10.

Tonally, the books are similar. But where The Thief maintains an anonymous, distant narrator, Evil and the Mask is very much concerned with its anti-hero's name, or more specifically, escaping one's name. Fumihiro Kuki is born into a wealthy family set on being "a cancer on the world." The one bright spot in Fumihiro's life is an adopted sister of whom he feels protective (and with whom he has a disturbing relationship). To keep her safe, he is often forced to do terrible things. Evil and the Mask is concerned with a twisty sense of morality: is Fumihiro born evil, and can he escape the cruelty associated with his surname?

Whereas The Thief succeeds because of its simplicity, Evil and the Mask is a muddier affair. It's a longer, much more ambitious novel than The Thief, and perhaps a better one. And without giving away the ending, there's actually a bit of optimism in the closing pages of Evil and the Mask--not a lot, but when something is so bleak, even the slightest hints of hope are a welcome surprise.

When we arrived at Café Grumpy, it was sunny outside; by the time we leave, it's overcast and starting to rain. Even though I don't have a jacket or an umbrella, I don't mind. I'll look for cracks where the sun shines through.

Graphic Novel Friday: The Mystery and the Creep

The-Creep_HCAny great detective needs a flaw, and Oxel Karnhus, a private detective afflicted with Acromegaly and, well, his name, fits the bill in The Creep. The disease takes its toll on the once-handsome man--his face is exaggerated, grotesque--and Oxel is all too aware of his affliction. The neighboring teens make fun of him as he exits his apartment; a former flame attempts to hide shock at his appearance; and he breaks out in sweats and headaches due to the agony. The deformity is what gives the recently published compact hardcover its title--Oxel, no matter his good intentions, is an abnormality to everyone upon first glance. He is “the Other,” a creep.

In The Creep, a young boy commits suicide following the death of his friend. The former’s mother is convinced that there is more to her son’s death than depression. Oxel takes the case and it leads him to a secret so shocking that the final revelation left me stunned, even when I was sure I’d correctly read all the dreams and symbols that writer John Arcudi leaves along the book’s path. It’s to Arcudi’s credit that The Creep does not rely on the big secret to drive the story. Instead, it’s Oxel who carries the book. He’s sympathetic--falling in front of the cruel boys who lurk at his stoop, to their laughter and his nosebleed; he makes poor decisions and fumbles toward a resolution without a grand redemption.

And it’s artist Jonathan Case whose beautiful line work takes this story and makes it all the more memorable. Case previously worked on another Dark Horse title, Green River Killer, which was one of Amazon’s Best of the Year picks in 2011. Here he works in color, adding that extra vigor to psychotic hallucinations and Oxel’s fever dreams throughout the book. His Oxel is not a monster--the deformity is prominently displayed without gothic shadows or familiar visual tricks. It’s a frank look at an uncomfortable visage, and Oxel is not alone in Case’s expert portrayal. Characters emote without exaggeration. Readers witness shame, grief, and horror in genuine display, all of which makes the final chapter so vivid. In one flashback panel, the colors appear scratched out of a section, the memory too real to witness in full.

Despite Dark Horse and John Arcudi’s history with supernatural tales (see Arcudi's B.P.R.D., a paranormal investiagtion series), The Creep is a story full of whispers depicted at great volume. The mystery that unfurls is all too human.

--Alex

 

An Evening with Dan Brown

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How do you welcome an author who has sold 200 million books worldwide to New York’s Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center? Show the 2,000 fans in the audience where he lives, of course. At this launch event for Dan Brown's latest Robert Langdon thriller Inferno, Today Show host Matt Lauer introduced the author with a clip from an interview he conducted at Brown's home in Exeter, New Hampshire. This rare glimpse into Brown's life reveals that his house closely resembles his novels--full of beautiful old-world furnishings and secret passages hidden behind paintings and rotating bookshelves. (Imagine Tolkien creating a life-size replica of the Shire in his backyard.)

This turned out to be the perfect kick off to the evening, during which Brown opened up about his personal life and the road to his international success. Taking the podium, Brown talked about how his upbringing influenced the major theme of his novels: the conflict between religion and science. As it turns out, this tension manifested itself at a very young age. Brown's mother was the church organist and choir leader and his father was a math teacher. To illustrate their different beliefs, Brown held up the vanity license plates his parents had when he was a child: one read KYRIE (the Latin word for Lord) and the other said METRIC.

He thanked his parents for their lifelong support, noting that if you encourage your kids to pursue creative fields, you will either end up with a happy kid whose rent you'll be paying forever, or they will be popular enough to speak at Avery Fisher Hall and make fun of you.

Continue reading "An Evening with Dan Brown" »

2013 Edgar Award Winners Announced: "Live By Night" Gets Best Novel

Edgar "Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin's feet were placed in a tub of cement. Twelve gunmen stood waiting until they got far enough out to sea to throw him overboard, while Joe listened to the engine chug and watched the water churn white at the stern. And it occurred to him that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life--good or bad-- had been set in motion the morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould."

So begins Live by Night, the latest novel by Dennis Lehane, acclaimed author of Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River, and the recipient of the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

The annual dinner and ceremony celebrating the year's best writing (according to the Mystery Writers of America) took place Thursday night at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, where attendees were "Dressed to Kill" and nominees vied for the prize in Best First Novel, Best Fact Crime, Best Short Story, Best Television Episode Teleplay, and more. 

The full list of winners and nominees can be found here, including:

Best Novel

Live by Night

Best First Novel

The Expats

 

Best Paperback Original

The Last Policeman

 

 

Best Fact Crime

Midnight in Peking

Best Critical Biography

The Scientific Sherlock

Young Adult

Code Name Verity

 

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees. Visit TheEdgars.com to see the contenders and outcomes all fifteen categories.

 

Marvelous Books on Marilyn Monroe

"It was a strange feeling, as if I were two people. One of them was Norma Jeane from the orphanage who belonged to nobody. The other was someone whose name I didn’t know. But I knew where she belonged. She belonged to the ocean and the sky and the whole world." –Marilyn Monroe

Metamorphosis-MMSince Marilyn Monroe’s death on August 5, 1962, at age 36, hundreds of books have emerged, some celebrating her legacy, others scrutinizing her life in obsessive detail. Controversies still swirl, but we know many of the facts: She grew up in foster homes, devoutly religious and shy. She married her first husband at age 15, and when he went off to war, she started modeling and found the power in a snug sweater to keep up troop morale. She worked her curves on and off camera, propelling herself from wholesome girl next door to ultimate platinum vamp—a transformation most stunningly depicted in David Willis’s Metamorphosis. We learn from Marilyn in Fashion that she often worked with designers to create looks to enhance the Marilyn image, defining sophisticated '50s style. She had dozens of affairs (some public, others deeply private), but Norman Mailer noted—in his seminal 1973 biography, Marilyn, later paired with Bern Stern’s photographs in a lavish Taschen tome—that her “greatest love affair was conceivably with the camera.”

Much of her life beyond her legend remains enigmatic. Marilyn famously said she didn’t want to be rich, she just wanted to be wonderful, and too often she didn't realize that she already was. On film, we saw Marilyn luminously at home in her body: Lawrence Schiller, who photographed her on the sets of Let's Make Love and Something's Got to Give, describes her in Marilyn & Me as a tough, ambitious agent in her own career and a self-assured model.

But her incandescent confidence was a veneer barely concealing her vulnerability and self-doubt, a conflict masterfully dramatized by Joyce Carol Oates in her novel Blonde. Marilyn grew to deeply resent and resist the prison of the sex symbol role in which she had cast herself. She longed to be taken seriously, and despite her stutter and deepening battles with addiction and depression, she devoted herself to becoming a great dramatic actress (beyond the comic genius so evident in Some Like It Hot), and she showed every sign of getting there.

MM-My-StoryShe made up for a missed education by devouring books, writing poetry, and developing intense friendships and affairs with artists, intellectuals, and, most (in)famously, politicians like the Kennedys. Some believe that her autobiography, My Story, was altered after her death to the point that it’s not entirely reliable, but her genuine wit and intelligence is undeniable. Lois Banner's MM—Personal offers the most revealing look inside her everyday life (photos and art and other objects that mattered to her), while we see the introspective, intellectually hungry Marilyn most directly in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, which culminates in a spread of her most cherished books.

 Many assert that Marilyn was coming into her own as an artist and learning to speak with her own voice just as her life ended. Adam Braver's new novel, Misfit, centering on her last weekend at Frank Sinatra's Lake Tahoe resort, brilliantly imagines her struggle to create an authentic identity and the tragic consequences.  Several writers and historians contend, citing convincing detail, that she was decisively silenced: Donald Wolfe makes a meticulously researched    homicide case in his nonfiction work, The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, and J.I. Baker's The Empty Glass is a breathlessly paranoid noir thriller that draws on much of the same evidence.

MM-Passion-ParadoxI feel the full loss of her when I imagine how a well, vibrant Marilyn—a woman who pushed the cultural boundaries of the 1950s until they strained at their seams—might have expressed her creative and intellectual self over the course of a full lifetime. Her husband Arthur Miller observed that "to have survived,  she  would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” Lois Banner describes in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox how Marilyn's private funeral, arranged by Joe DiMaggio (whom Marilyn had planned to remarry that same week) ended with fans rushing her grave "in one big wave," tearing apart every floral tribute in their frenzied desire for souvenirs—much like people had tried to take pieces of her dress or hair when she was alive. Marilyn gave too much to deserve that. Books make much more marvelous souvenirs. –Mari Lynne Malcolm

See more of our favorite books about Marilyn Monroe.

Exclusive: "Road to Perdition" Writer on Going From Book to Screen, and Back Again

Lady, Go DieMax Allan Collins writes movies, graphic novels (Road to Perdition) and mysteries (Lady, Go Die, released last month). In this exclusive guest post, Collins talks about the challenges of writing for the screen vs. novels (and graphic novels), and how lessons of independent filmmaking help him make the transition.

I’m a storyteller.

That’s how I think of myself, and describe myself. Everything else is a compartment: mystery writer; screenwriter; comics writer; non-fiction writer; songwriter; and so on … almost always with “writer” part of the description, but “storyteller” at the heart of the beast.

Those various compartments grow out of two things: enthusiasm and necessity. Enthusiasm is what drives me — I get an idea for a story, and I want to pursue it. Necessity is the need to keep the writing projects flowing, because this is my profession and I need to make a living. You know, to keep the lights on in the joint.

That means I need to be flexible and versatile. Starting out, I thought of myself as a mystery writer, and writing mystery novels was the goal. But I was always a big fan of movies and comics, so when I’ve been given the chance to work in those fields, I’ve grabbed it.

On the other hand, a lot of writers can’t make the transition into another form. The list of novelists who are miserable screenwriters is a long one; and the list of screenwriters who become successful novelists is a short one.

The ability to write both novels and screenplays well requires developing an appreciation and an understanding of each form. The novelist who wanders blithely into screenwriting will inevitably write scenes that would work fine in a novel but are inappropriate for a film. A novelist will typically write a dialogue scene that is either too long, too short, or not necessary. Novelists have no budgetary restrictions in fashioning a novel, a freedom that is death on a screenplay, where every dollar — like every second — counts.

Having directed independent films, I know things most novelists don’t — like the need to minimize the number of actors and locations. These kind of basic technical concerns are a must in screenwriting.

But the most important factor is understanding that novels are interior and films are exterior. A novel is told from inside a character or characters, and a film is told from the outside of the characters, reporting their actions and reactions.

Read more at Hollywonk, the official blog of Amazon Studios.

Edgar Award Winners Announced, Including Best Novel: "Gone"

EdgarIn Mo Hayder's Gone, a carjacking is actually a kidnapping, potential clues lurk inside a tunnel, and almost nothing turns out to be what it seems to be. That's what the keepers of the Edgar Allen Poe spirit must be looking for each year when they (the Mystery Writers of America), in honor of Poe's birthday, dole out the prestigious Edgar Awards. Hayden's sinister and suspenseful Gone won the best novel award, and more than a dozen other winners were announced Thursday in New York, in such categories as best paperback original, best critical biographical, best short story, and best TV episode.

The full list of winners and nominees can be found here. Among them: 

GoneBest Novel

Best First Novel

Continue reading "Edgar Award Winners Announced, Including Best Novel: "Gone"" »

Exclusive Video from Author Patricia Cornwell

We at Amazon had the pleasure of receiving this exclusive video from Patricia Cornwell, author of the popular Scarpetta series--which, as a body of work has won just about every award available to mystery/thriller writers, as well as being a cult favorite among fans. In anticipation of the latest Kay Scarpetta installment, Red Mist, Cornwell offers a meta-perspective of her character's psyche as she delves into the past to solve an old murder.

Best Mystery and Thriller Books of the Year

This year's best Mystery & Thrillers span the genre, from psychological or technological thrillers to murder-mysteries. But they all have one thing in common: they kept us reading late into the night, desperate to find out what happens next.

S. J. Watson's debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, BeforeIGotoSleepgripped our imaginations back in June and has haunted us ever since. Christine forgets everything while she sleeps at night. When she wakes up, she depends on her husband, Ben, to fill in her memory for her. She keeps a daily journal in an attempt to jog her memory, and one morning she opens it to read: "Don't trust Ben." Equal parts fascinating and terrifying, Before I Go to Sleep is impossible to put down. The questions it raises (how can our past define us if we can't remember it? What happens if you can't trust anyone--not even yourself?) will linger long after the last page is turned.

Continue reading "Best Mystery and Thriller Books of the Year" »

J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch Review Barry Eisler's "The Detachment"

The_DetachmentBestselling authors J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch are the co-writers of the thriller Stirred, available on Kindle November 22, 2011, and in paperback on February 21, 2012. We asked them to review Barry Eisler's latest thriller, The Detachment... and did they ever review it. Read on for one of the funniest guest reviews we've seen in a long time:

J.A. Konrath: I'm delighted to be the author asked to do a guest review of Barry Eisler's latest John Rain thriller, The Detachment. I really think this book--

Blake Crouch: Hold on. I thought I was the author asked to do a guest review.

J.A.: You were asked, too? Well, I'm pretty sure I was asked first.

Blake: I doubt that. You were probably the back-up in case I was too busy.

J.A.: I'm 100% positive you were the back-up, because I'm 100% sure I liked The Detachment more than you did. I think it's Eisler's best book, and I really liked the other eight, plus his Kindle short stories The Lost Coast and Paris Is A Bitch.

Blake: I agree The Detachment is his best, and that's not blowing smoke. I read this book on a 12-hour flight, after I'd already been up for 18 hours. Anything less than flat-out riveting and I would've instantly been asleep. It was like literary adrenaline.

J.A.: Well, I was invited to go to the White House to drink beer with Obama, but I said no because I was so engrossed in the story.

Blake: You were not invited to the White House.

J.A.: I was. And the President wanted to give me a medal. But I had to find out how The Detachment ended, so I was forced to decline. That's how much I liked the book.

Continue reading "J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch Review Barry Eisler's "The Detachment"" »

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