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A Literary Mystery With a To-the-Death War Between the Sexes



Livia Llewellyn is a writer of dark fantasy, horror, and erotica, whose short fiction has appeared in over forty anthologies and magazines and has been reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies and two Shirley Jackson Award-nominated collections, Engines of Desire and Furnace. You can find her online at liviallewellyn.com and on Instagram and Twitter.

Start Reading Darwin’s Blade

This week, Mulholland is proud to introduce our second reissue of a classic Dan Simmons suspense novel, DARWIN’S BLADE. Hailed upon publication by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as “a literary thriller like no other;” by the Denver Post as what might have happened “if Donald Westlake, John Irving, and Robert Parker had sat down to collaborate on a novel,” and by the Houston Chronicle as “an exciting novel full of shoot-outs, computer-aided investigations, duplicity and humor,” DARWIN’S BLADE is classic Dan Simmons in top form, now available in trade paperback for the first time ever. Start reading it right here! Then head out to your favorite bookseller or e-tailer for a copy of your own.

1

“A Is for Hole”

The phone rang a few minutes after four in the morning. “You like accidents, Dar. You owe it to yourself to come see this one.”

“I don’t like accidents,” said Dar. He did not ask who was calling. He recognized Paul Cameron’s voice even though he and Cameron had not been in touch for over a year. Cameron was a CHP officer working out of Palm Springs.

“All right, then,” said Cameron, “you like puzzles.”

Dar swiveled to read his clock. “Not at four-oh-eight a.m.,” he said.

“This one’s worth it.” The connection sounded hollow, as if it were a radio patch or a cell phone.

“Where?”

“Montezuma Valley Road,” said Cameron. “Just a mile inside the canyon, where S22 comes out of the hills into the desert.”

“Jesus Christ,” muttered Dar. “You’re talking Borrego Springs. It would take me more than ninety minutes to get there.”

“Not if you drive your black car,” said Cameron, his chuckle blending with the rasp and static of the poor connection.

“What kind of accident would bring me almost all the way to Borrego Springs before breakfast?” said Dar, sitting up now. “Multiple vehicle?”

“We don’t know,” said Officer Cameron. His voice still sounded amused.

“What do you mean you don’t know? Don’t you have anyone at the scene yet?”

“I’m calling from the scene,” said Cameron through the static.

“And you can’t tell how many vehicles were involved?” Dar found himself wishing that he had a cigarette in the drawer of his bedside table. He had given up smoking ten years earlier, just after the death of his wife, but he still got the craving at odd times.

“We can’t even ascertain beyond a reasonable doubt what kind of vehicle or vehicles was or were involved,” said Cameron, his voice taking on that official, strained-syntax, preliterate lilt that cops used when speaking in their official capacity.

“You mean what make?” said Dar. He rubbed his chin, heard the sandpaper scratch there, and shook his head. He had seen plenty of high-speed vehicular accidents where the make and model of the car were not immediately apparent. Especially at night.

“I mean we don’t know if this is a car, more than one car, a plane, or a fucking UFO crash,” said Cameron. “If you don’t see this one, Darwin, you’ll regret it for the rest of your days.”

“What do you…” Dar began, and stopped. Cameron had broken the connection. Dar swung his legs over the edge of the bed, looked out at the dark beyond the glass of his tall condo windows, muttered, “Shit,” and got up to take a fast shower. Continue reading “Start Reading Darwin’s Blade”

The Lineup: You by Austin Grossman Edition

Austin Grossman has been all over the ‘net this past week to celebrate the publication of YOU, his new novel of mystery, videogames, and the people who create them.

Check out Austin’s photo essay “Seven Myths about Videogames and the Seven Games that Prove them Wrong” on Huffington Post for Austin’s picks on some of the most influential video game narratives of the past twenty years. Austin also has an interview up with Kotaku’s Evan Narcisse about YOU, his work as a game design consultant, and more.

For a sneak peek at the world of YOU, there’s Austin’s essay up on Kotaku re: the classic games that inspired the canon (fictional!) mid-90’s game studio Black Arts. More at Black Art’s (quite real!) website.

Austin joined the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, presented by Wired.com, to discuss YOU, his first novel SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE, Dr. Horrible envy, Looking Glass Studios, and more. Finally, there’s Austin’s Polygon essay on learning to write through his career as a game designer.

Still craving more? Did you get a chance to read the Boston Globe review, the Harper’s magazine review by Tom Bissell,  the raves by  i09 and Boing Boing, not to mention bloggers including Bookgasm and The Review Broads? Or go pick up YOU from your favorite bookstore or e-tailer! Stay tuned–we’ll be back with an excerpt of YOU for Mulholland readers next week.

What Is a Mystery?

fascination*Every once in awhile, when my (ahem) amazing job comes up in conversation, someone will ask me, if not: “What is a mystery?” outright, another question along similar lines. Could be someone curious how the category has evolved in the years since Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Dupin and Hercule Poirot. Or it could be an avid reader just discovering a love of suspense, yet finding themselves somewhat flummoxed by all the subcategorization—with police procedurals, cozies, psychological thrillers, and so many more, the permutations can at times seem endless.

So what is a mystery? I’m sure for Mulholland Books readers, the answer comes easy. A mystery involves a crime, and centers around the investigations of a protagonist who endeavors to bring justice to its perpetrators. We often refer to this as the “solution” to the mystery, despite the fact that the crime most commonly depicted—murder—is irrevocable and, thus, unsolvable. (See: Detective Ramone’s penultimate speech in Pelecanos’s The Night Gardener.)

The other, slightly more slippery version of this prompt: What’s the difference between a mystery and a thriller?

Conversationally, readers often use the terms interchangeably to discuss any novel that engages the tropes of the crime fiction genre, or operates within the suspense paradigm. But the terms aren’t actually as exchangeable as we make them out to be. The answer has a lot to do with Hitchcock’s famous speech on the art of creating suspense—the bomb under the table, a very neat example from a master storyteller and a useful example for also highlighting the differences in the genres:

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

Hitchcock’s version of events is a classic thriller premise—a crime is about to be committed, one which readers have been alerted to. But begin this story fifteen minutes later, just as the bomb explodes, and you have yourself a crime and mystery—the identity of the perpetrator—in need of a solving.  It’s all in the timing—start in one place, and you have a novel centered around anticipation, a thriller. Start later and you’ll find yourself in classic mystery territory.

Does this mean a mystery can’t be suspenseful? Certainly not—the path to each mystery’s solution is often littered with mid-novel scenes just like the thriller premise that Hitchcock describes, in which our protagonist’s life has been placed in danger and the survival, or successful unveiling of the truth itself, has been placed in suspense. Which is where the term mystery/thriller comes in handy, and why the two categories have become more and more confused in the past few years. Many of our most successful crime novelists have become masters at blending the categories so that suspense is as much the name of the game as the investigation at hand.

Take, say, Lee Child’s Reacher series. Most if not all of his novels are actually mysteries, despite Child’s reputation as one of our best thriller writers around. The Affair finds Reacher wrapped up in an unsolved murder case that will change the course of his life—and readers don’t discover the identity of the murderer until the novel’s climactic scenes. The Hard Way finds Reacher in New York City, investigating the kidnapping of a wealthy paramilitary figure’s wife–and we as readers won’t find out why or how she was taken until very late in the game. We often talk about these stories as thrillers, and quite understandably—they both certainly thrill—but given the unsolved crimes at their center, both are actually mysteries, strictly speaking. If Reacher were just a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, gorilla-faced guy who happens to be an ace in a fight, would readers really care for him in quite the same way? I doubt it—he’d still be in Carter Crossing, Mississippi, interviewing murder suspects, having never quite resolved the events of The Affair in the first place!

All of which begs the question, Mulholland Books reader: How do you prefer your bombs? Still ticking? Or already gone off?

Wes Miller is Mulholland Books’ Associate Editor and Marketing Associate. If Mulholland were a crime novel instead of an imprint that publishes them, Wes would be its PI—the stalwart presence resolving its issues, making sure at the end of the day, justice gets served and good prevails—at least until tomorrow comes. Reach him through the Mulholland Books twitter account (@mulhollandbooks), on Tumblr (mulhollandbooks.tumblr.com) or right here on the Mulholland Books website.

The Disapearance of Lynette Dawson

Oceans, hearts and ghosts.Twenty-eight years ago, a young mother disappeared from her home in Sydney’s northern suburbs, leaving behind two daughters and a handsome football star husband.

 Lynette Dawson, a nurse and childcare worker, has never been seen since, but the mystery of her fate continues to haunt her family, friends and neighbours. It also provided the seed for bestselling author Michael Robotham’s thriller, BLEED FOR ME, now available in paperback in bookstores everywhere. Here, he explains how …

I was a young journalist working for an afternoon newspaper in Sydney when Lynette Dawson disappeared in January 1982. It didn’t make the headlines or cause a ripple of publicity, because nobody reported her missing at first.

Her husband, Chris Dawson, was a PE teacher at Cromer High School, on Sydney’s northern beaches. He was also a champion rugby league star for the Newtown Jets, playing alongside his identical twin brother Paul, who coincidentally taught at the same high school.

Former students say they were the coolest, most popular teachers and parents remember them as being incredibly charming and handsome. Both men had done modelling work and moved on to play rugby union.

According to his police statement, Chris Dawson dropped Lynette off at Mona Vale shopping centre on the morning of January 9, 1982. She had organized to meet her mother at Northbridge Baths that day, but didn’t show up.

Chris called his mother-in-law and said that Lynette ‘needed some time on her own’ and had gone off for a few days. On that same day he also called his 16-year-old lover, Joanne Curtis, and said, ‘My wife has gone away. She’s not coming back.’ Continue reading “The Disapearance of Lynette Dawson”

Noir in the Sunshine

IMG_8815So some years ago I was writing this series of P.I. novels about a detective in St. Louis. He wasn’t exactly your classic shamus but he did have Sam Spade DNA and he did walk some pretty mean streets in a gritty industrial city. But what I wanted to do was a second series, something different from what I’d been writing. More of a classic P.I. instead of my St. Louis guy who, while having some of the classic P.I. characteristics, was also a star-crossed schlemiel with a nervous stomach and a suicidal girlfriend. He also had his office over a doughnut shop, and smelled like a doughnut. This turned some women on, some off. Not classic. But the book market being what it was (is), I was going to write another series more in the classic vein, yet in some ways different.

Immediately I thought of California. I’d always enjoyed the California P.I. novel and its great practitioners, Hammett, Chandler, Lyons, Pronzini, Macdonald.

Wait a sec.

Continue reading “Noir in the Sunshine”

Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen

Blank TVIn the opening pages of A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Scudder mentions that his friend Mick Ballou is married now, to a much younger woman named Kristin Hollander.  Readers may recall Kristin from Hope to Die and All the Flowers Are Dying, but her relationship with Mick may come as news to them.  It was in fact noted in a vignette I wrote a couple of years ago, “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen,” but that was written for a limited-edition broadside published by Mark Lavendier; it sold out in a hurry.

I expect I’ll tuck it into my next collection of short fiction.  But in the meantime I thought some of y’all might like a look at it:

MICK BALLOU LOOKS AT THE BLANK SCREEN

“At first,” Mick Ballou said, “I thought the same as everyone else in the country.  I thought the fucking cable went out.”

We were at Grogan’s, the Hell’s Kitchen saloon he owns and frequents, and he was talking about the final episode of The Sopranos, which ended abruptly with the screen going blank and staying that way for ten or fifteen seconds.

“And then I thought, well, they couldn’t think of an ending.  But Kristin recalled the time Tony and Bobby were talking of death, and what it would be like, and that you wouldn’t even know it when it happened to you.  So that was the ending, then.  Tony dies, and doesn’t even know it.”

It was late on a weekday night, and the closemouthed bartender had already shooed the last of the customers out of the place and put the chairs up on the tables, where they’d be out of the way when someone else mopped the floor in the morning.  I’d been out late myself, speaking at an AA meeting in Marine Park, then stopping for coffee on the way home.  Elaine met me with a message:  Mick had called, and could I meet him around two?

There was a time when most of our evenings started around that time, with him drinking twelve-year-old Jameson while I kept him company with coffee or Coke or water.  We’d go until dawn, and then he’d drag me down to St. Bernard’s on West 14th Street for the butchers’ mass.  Nowadays our evenings started and ended earlier, and there weren’t enough butchers in the gentrified Meat Market district to fill out a mass, and anyway St. Bernard’s itself had given up the ghost, and was now Our Lady of Guadalupe.

And we were older, Mick and I.  We got tired and went home to bed.

And now he’d summoned me to discuss the ending of a television series.

He said, “What do you think happens?”

“You’re not talking about tv.”

He shook his head.  “Life.  Or the end of it.  Is that what it is?  A blank screen?”

I talked about near death experiences, all of them remarkably similar, with the consciousness hovering in midair and being invited to go to the light, then making the decision to return to the body.  “But there’s not a lot of eyewitness testimony,” I said, “from the ones who go to the light.”

Continue reading “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen”

Searching New York for Matthew and Bernie

cheersThe following article was originally written by Lawrence Block for his Chinese publisher, but it will be of interest to anyone who has ever wondered about the locations mentioned in Block’s books in New York City.

I remember the time some fifteen years ago when I walked into Jimmy  Armstrong’s saloon.  Jimmy  himself  was at the bar, and he told me about a recent visit by a group of visitors from Japan.  It seems they had come to see the place they’d read about in my Matthew Scudder novels, and they spent an hour there, taking pictures of the bar, taking pictures of Jimmy, and taking pictures of each other in the bar and in poses with Jimmy.

“It was fun,” he said. “They were excited to find out that this was a real place.”

I was reminded of this on my recent visit to Beijing, when I met some Chinese fans who are members of a virtual club called Armstrong’s Bar that has meetings online.  It was my sad duty to tell them that the real Armstrong’s Bar no longer existed, and that its owner, my old friend Jimmy  Armstrong, had died in 2002.  (A nephew of Jimmy’s took it over and ran it for a couple of months, but then he sold it to somebody else, and the name was changed, and that was the end of that.)

I know that those Japanese readers who dropped in on Jimmy are not the only tourists who have combined a visit to New York with a search for traces of Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr in the city they call home.  This can be difficult, because some of their locations are hard to find for several reasons.

Some of the places mentioned never existed.  The books are works of fiction, and some of the locations are fictional as well.  A favorite restaurant of Matthew and his wife, Elaine, is one called Paris Green.  Fans sometimes look for it, and I can understand why; I’d eat there myself if I could!  But no such place ever existed in reality.

The same is true for many of the places where Bernie Rhodenbarr hangs out.  His bookstore, Barnegat Books, is fictional, and so is his pal Carolyn’s dog grooming salon, The Poodle Factory.  The two often eat lunch from a neighborhood restaurant that keeps changing its name as different nationalities run it:  Two Guys From Addis Ababa, Two Guys From Bucharest, Two Guys From Phnom Penh, etc.  It sounds like a fine establishment, but don’t look for it.  Or for the Bum Rap, the saloon on Broadway where the two friends meet after work for a drink.  It’s fictional as well.

Continue reading “Searching New York for Matthew and Bernie”

Chapter 1 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

Continue reading A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF which hits bookstores on May 12th. Missed the Prologue? Start reading here.

I

I COULDN’T TELL YOU the first time I saw Jack Ellery, but it would have to have been during the couple of years I spent in the Bronx. We were a class apart at the same grammar school, so I’d have seen him in the halls or outside at recess, or playing stickball or stoopball after school let out. We got to know each other well enough to call each other by our last names, in the curious manner of boys. If you’d asked me then about Jack Ellery, I’d have said he was all right, and I suppose he’d have said the same about me. But that’s as much as either of us would have been likely to say, because that’s as well as we knew each other.

Then my father’s business tailed off and he closed the store and we moved, and I didn’t see Jack Ellery again for more than twenty years. I thought he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him right away. I don’t know whether he would have recognized me, because he didn’t get to see me. I was looking at him through one-way glass.

This would have been in 1970 or ’71. I’d had my gold shield for a couple of years, and I was a detective assigned to the Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village when the prewar building on Charles Street still served as the station house. It wasn’t long after that they moved us to new quarters on West Tenth, and some enterprising fellow bought our old house and turned it into a co-op or condo, and tipped his hat to history by calling it Le Gendarme.

Years later, when One Police Plaza went up, they did essentially the same thing with the old police headquarters on Centre Street.

Continue reading “Chapter 1 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff”

Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

Next month we are publishing A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block, the newest installment in the celebrated Matthew Scudder series. Start here with the prologue to the novel Booklist, in a starred review, called: “Genius…the prose, as always, is like the club soda Scudder sips in the opening pages: cool, fizzy, and completely refreshing.”

LATE ONE NIGHT . . .

“I’ve often wondered,” Mick Ballou said, ” how it would all have gone if I’d taken a different turn.”

We were at Grogan’s Open House, the Hell’s Kitchen saloon he’s owned and operated for years. The gentrification of the neighborhood has had its effect on Grogan’s, although the bar hasn’t changed much inside or out. But the local hard cases have mostly died or moved on, and the crowd these days is a gentler and more refined bunch. There’s Guinness on draft, and a good selection of single-malt Scotches and other premium whiskeys. But it’s the joint’s raffish reputation that draws them. They get to point out the bullet holes in the walls, and tell stories about the notorious past of the bar’s owner. Some of the stories are true.

They were all gone now. The barman had closed up, and the chairs were on top of the tables so they’d be out of the way when the kid came in at daybreak to sweep up and mop the floor. The door was locked, and all the lights out but the leaded-glass fixture over the table where we sat with our Waterford tumblers. There was whiskey in Mick’s, club soda in mine. Continue reading “Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block”