Fans of the fast-paced, twisty Gone Girl will want to plunge into Reconstructing Amelia. Already battling working single-mother guilt, Kate is stunned to be called to her daughter’s private school after allegations of cheating. On arrival she stumbles into emergency workers surrounding the crumpled body of a student and is shattered to be told her own Amelia has committed suicide. Weeks later, Kate is sent a text which reads simply, “Amelia didn’t jump.” Told in alternating voices by mother and daughter, Kate’s quest to find out what actually happened unearths startling revelations. Was Amelia not the good girl she appeared to be? Would someone wish her actual harm? Kimberly McCreight’s mesmerizing debut makes the most of painful secrets and devastating betrayal.
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Todd Robinson, also known as Big Daddy Thug, is similar to Pat Benatar in one essential way – he hits you with his best shot. His debut novel, The Hard Bounce, is a fast-paced, heart-pounder of a gritty mystery. Unlike Benatar, who shoulder shimmied her way out of knife fights, Robinson looks like he could punch a knife out of your hand, catch it mid-air, and fling it past your ear as a warning without breaking a sweat. He’s broad, bearded, often in black – and thank the literary gods – a peaceable author, too busy writing to get in many fights.
Robinson is the Chief Editor of Thuglit, a crime fiction journal dedicated to “writing about wrongs”. His novel, The Hard Bounce, came out in January. It focuses on Boo and Junior, two regular guys who are bouncers at a Boston punk rock bar. Their security company, 4DC (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap), is hired to find a missing girl. What begins as an easy job quickly spirals out of control.
Robinson kindly took time out of his editing and writing to speak a piece to the Mount Prospect Public Library.
Mount Prospect Public Library: Where did the idea for The Hard Bounce come from?
Todd Robinson: Many years ago, I worked at a legendary rock club in Boston called The Rathskeller that would throw all-ages punk shows on Sunday afternoons. One afternoon, this young girl in pink dreads caught my eye. I remembered her, because I marveled at the courage of that kid—to do her own thing at an age when most kids try anything to “fit in”. A few hours later, her father showed up at the bar looking for her. I guess she broke curfew. He had a picture of her that showed a clean-cut kid, not the dreadlocked individualist I’d seen only a few hours later. Three things stuck with me from that incident. The first was that I never found out what happened from that point. The second was: what turned that kid from the one in the picture to the one I saw? The third was: were I suddenly put in a position to find that kid, how would I go about it?
MPPL: The Hard Bounce is set in Boston. Do you think this story could have been told anywhere else?
TR: I don’t know. I live in New York now, and I know that the same story couldn’t happen here the way it did in Boston. I’m not even sure that it could unfold the way it does in today’s Boston. I more or less dropped the story into the old Boston that I knew and loved—that really isn’t there anymore. It’s a love letter to a particular time and place in my life.
MPPL: Is The Hard Bounce a standalone novel or can we expect to see more of Boo and Junior?
TR: As of right now, it’s a standalone simply because I only have a one book contract. Hell, right now my “career” is a standalone. However, I always planned out the stories of Boo & Junior as a series, and am working on #2 right now.
TR: Less like they’ve been on a wild ride, but that they’ve shared a particularly rough and tumble episode in a person’s life. That’s what I want the entire series to feel like. I want the reader to experience moments within the character’s lives more than skipping through individual episodes. I want there to be repercussions in book 4 from book 1.
MPPL: Have you ever been called to write in a genre outside of noir or mystery?
TR: Matter of fact, I was working on a horror novel when the call came in on The Hard Bounce. Frankly, I’d given up on it. I wrote one horror short story, and then adapted it into a screenplay. That screenplay made it very far in the Nicholl Fellowships Competition, so I thought I should try my hand at horror on a larger scale.
MPPL: You are the creator and Chief Editor of Thuglit. What has editing others taught you about your own writing?
TR: Man, nothing has taught me more about the flaws in my own writing than nitpicking the work of others. It’s an epiphany when you find something that you absolutely hate in someone else’s work—and then realize that you do the exact same thing.
MPPL: Recently on The Daily Beast, Frank Bill asked, “Is Masculine Writing Dead?” He laments the loss of physical labor and ruggedness represented in contemporary fiction. Do you agree with this? Do you feel yourself to be a “masculine” writer?
TR: Beyond him being one hell of a writer, I consider Frank Bill a friend, so I’m not going to go into detail on the piece (since the Internet has already praised to high heaven AND torn it a new butthole). So, without sounding judgmental or getting political and avoiding the question, I’ll just say this about the piece: I agree with a lot of the sentiment within the opinion, but I don’t necessarily agree with Frankie’s narrow definition of masculinity.
I do consider myself to be a writer of masculine fiction, which is why I’m a little surprised at the incredibly positive response that The Hard Bounce has been getting from female readers. Just goes to show you how much I know about women. (Sighs)
MPPL: What are several classic crime novels or short stories that everyone should read?
TR: John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series is a must. They were just re-issued. Start with The Deep Blue Good-by. He created the classic template for the modern American crime series. Then read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George Higgins. It’s THE classic Boston crime novel. More people need to read it. I’m amazed at how little known it is outside of the hardcore fans.
MPPL: What about several newer writers you’ve enjoyed lately?
TR: I already mentioned Frank Bill, so let’s add Josh Stallings, Matt McBride, Johnny Shaw, Chris Holm, to name the most recent that I’ve read. Two guys to watch out for are Joe Clifford, Justin Porter, and Jordan Harper. All of these guys absolutely kill it on the short story scene and have in-the-works novels that I’m really looking forward to reading.
TR: It is. I like setting a musical tone to write to, to help set a scene in my head emotionally. For the longest time, I couldn’t listen to anything with a lyric. I was such a bad typist any external words would f— up my own. I did most of my writing to jazz and opera—opera not counting, since I couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying.
MPPL: What albums are always on your rotation?
TR: Anything by Social Distortion, Clutch, The Cramps, and Tom Waits. Those are my big four. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, and Florence and the Machine. I know that’s all over the place, but it’s what I dig.
MPPL: It took 10 years, 5 agents, 4 publishers, and 37 drafts to get The Hard Bounce out…how’s the timeline looking for your next novel?
TR: No better…(Sighs)
MPPL: What does success mean to you? How do you know when you’ve “made it”?
TR: I pay my bills with bartending. Every once in a while, somebody comes in and asks, “Hey! How goes the writing?” My answer is always the same. It’s, “I’m still on this side of the bar, ain’t I? You’ll know it’s going well by either my absence or when I’m sitting at the bar next to you.”
Be sure to check out Todd Robinson’s tough-talking, hard-hitting first novel, The Hard Bounce. Then come to the Fiction/AV/Teen desk to share your thoughts or get great suggestions on what to read next.
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: The Big Sleep
Author: Raymond Chandler
Page Count: 249
Genre: Mystery, Pulp Fiction
Tone: Witty, Gritty, Fast-paced
1. What did you think of Chandler’s constant barrage of setting details?
2. Do you think General Sternwood had given up on being a parent? What would you have done differently?
3. Vivian visits Marlowe’s office to try and figure out if he is looking for her husband. Why doesn’t she just go to her father?
4. Vivian tells Marlowe, “People don’t talk to me that way.” (p. 19) What does this tell us about Vivian? What does this tell us about Marlowe?
5. Marlow comes in contact with thugs, lowlifes, cops and the rich. Does he speak to everybody the same?
6. Marlowe seems almost unmovable. Almost. What are some examples of Marlowe being human?
-p. 61, Marlowe blushes after Vivian leaves
-p. 190, interaction with Eddie Mars’ wife
7. Do you count The Big Sleep as a classic of American literature? Why or why not?
8. What makes a character classic?
9. What are the charms of Marlowe?
10. Do you think Phillip Marlowe has an equal in crime fiction?
11. Did you see Marlowe as Humphrey Bogart?
12. Who could play Marlowe in this day and age?
13. What did you think of Carmen?
14. Is Carmen not very smart or does she have health issues that can account for her behavior?
15. Rusty Regan, the missing, bootlegging husband, always carried 15 grand on his person. What does that say about him?
16. Why do you think Chandler never lets us see Rusty Regan, alive or dead?
17. What does it say about Phillip Marlowe that he carries a gun and a bottle of rye in his glove compartment?
18. When you read the book, did you see it in black and white in your mind? Color?
19. Why would Vivian “loath masterful men?” (p. 20)
20. Did Carmen getting the drop on Marlowe surprise you? (p. 210)
21. Eddie Mars’ wife says she still loves her husband, even knowing what a criminal he is. (p. 196) Were you bothered by her stance? Why?
22. If you could go back to 1939, would you want Marlowe’s job? What job would you want?
23. What does it say about Marlowe that he is a private investigator instead of a police officer?
24. Did the slang ever bother you?
25. Is everybody (men and women) a smooth talker in The Big Sleep?
26. Any favorite quotes from the book?
27. On page 48, the doctor can’t easily tell Owen Taylor’s time of death. How would this bit of information help establish the novel’s era?
28. There ended up being a good number of characters and quite a few of them dead. Did you ever have trouble following along?
29. One of Chandler’s most famous quotes is, “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” (The quote originates from “The Simple Art of Murder,” found as an introduction essay to his novel of the same name.) Did you see examples of that in The Big Sleep? Is this a good writing practice?
30. Think of characters and their status levels. Is there any social critique within The Big Sleep?
31. Do women have power in this story? If so, what kind?
32. How does Marlowe see women?
33. Does Marlowe have a code of honor?
34. Some of Raymond Chandler’s biggest literary influences were Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Henry James. Do you see any connections in his work to these authors?
-Ex: Dickens wrote convoluted plots, Hemingway wrote in short, to the point sentences, and James wrote in very dark tones
35. What influence do you think Chandler has had on crime novels?
Raymond Chandler’s website
Extra discussion questions on Spark Notes
Wikipedia page on pulp fiction
Ian Fleming interviews Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler’s 1945 essay for The Atlantic about writing in Hollywood
Original 1939 New York Times book review of The Big Sleep
Extra books on Chandler: Raymond Chandler: A Biography and The Raymond Chandler Papers
If you liked The Big Sleep, try…
“Today I will shoot a policeman. In the leg. And every day I will shoot a policeman, until you charge the murderer.” It isn’t enough that Cape Town homicide detective Benny Griessel is tasked with the cold-case stabbing of Hanneke Sloet; he also has to contend with the ticking clock of a sniper who insists the police are engaged in an active cover-up. South African sensation Deon Meyer writes tense crime thrillers against a backdrop of racial conflict and complex personality. With no apparent motive, no viable suspects, and no new leads, how will Benny solve a 40-day-old mystery while at the same time protecting his colleagues? British narrator Simon Vance steers listeners through Seven Days of dire circumstances to create a riveting audiobook experience.
For 25 pieces of gold a day, sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse will take on almost any case. His office is above Angelina’s Tavern. One slow night, an occupied, oversized coffin is delivered to Angelina’s. All the regulars egg Eddie on to tell them who is in the coffin and how he could possibly know without prying the lid off. Eddie tells of a long-ago case on the island kingdom of Grand Braun, where King Marcus Drake is beloved by his people and Queen Jennifer is accused of adultery and murder. In Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe, Eddie unravels if Queen Jennifer is a killer and who is in the coffin so many years later.
Also, if you love audiobooks, Dark Jenny is a great listen, read by Stefan Rudnicki.
Fringe is more than you think it is. Yes, it began with X-Files-like investigations into strange events, and you’ll certainly find episodes with the best storytelling elements of science fiction, fantasy, and even horror. However, it grows beyond formulaic genre fare. Fringe became a complex and poignant exploration of parenthood, identity, and humanity. Terrific performances, most especially that of John Noble as the repentant, Red Vine-loving mad scientist, expose the beating hearts beneath dual worlds. Not many series boast episodes that include a noir musical, an LSD-fueled jump into animation, or a twenty-five-year fast-forward into dystopia, but that’s par for the course on a show that embraces the full spectrum of human emotion, from the creepy to the heart-tugging.
In one of the most fascinating starts in recent fiction, Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a London park surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves, and she has no idea how this happened or even who she is. A note in her jacket pocket begins, “The body you are wearing used to be mine,” kick-starting a story that escalates in both action and intrigue. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is masterfully read by Susan Duerden, who rises to the challenge of voicing two versions of Myfanwy — one of whom is revealed through stacks of preemptive letters, and the other who is trying to ferret out a conspiracy in the secret organization which battles supernatural forces in Britain.
If you knew the world were going to end in six months, would solving crimes still matter? Young Detective Hank Palace insists it does, and he is determined to prove that the apparent suicide found in a former McDonald’s restroom is really a murder victim. In The Last Policeman by Ben Winters, the impending asteroid strike has led most people to abandon their jobs and embrace life without consequences, but Palace won’t let this go. Reader Peter Berkrot’s superb narration balances the earnest with the hard-boiled, leading us through changing directions and multiple red herrings while keeping us thoroughly invested. The Last Policeman is a satisfying mystery that takes full advantage of its pre-apocalyptic setting, offering keen insights into human thought and behavior.
When Julie is 25, her Aunt Rose dies, and Julie’s inheritance is a key to a safety deposit box in Siena, Italy. The safety deposit box contains a silver crucifix, a pile of paper, a promise of family treasure, and a battered, old copy of Romeo and Juliet. Julie knew the story of Romeo and Juliet, but she didn’t know Shakespeare based his play on real families in Siena, not Verona – and she was a descendent of Giulietta Tolomei, the real Juliet. If you like historical thrillers like Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, try Anne Fortier’s fast-paced Shakespearean conspiracy, Juliet.
It is four days before Christmas. Old Saint Nick is practically here. You have officially, almost, survived the holidays without running over any Scrooges in the mall parking lot. But that doesn’t mean that someone else hasn’t.
Click here for cozy mystery Christmas books.
Click here for thriller/suspense holiday novels.
If dead bodies under the mistletoe aren’t your scene, click here for fantasy and sci-fi holiday novels.