>Murdered in Houston

>Last week I had to make a last minute trip to Houston, TX. I wasn’t too happy about it initially, because it was one of those things that come up on a Friday when the whole next week is chock full of hilarity and excitement, and those plans then get hosed. But I sucked it up and decided to make the best of it.

Somehow over the last few months during my binge on crime fiction I came across Murder by the Book, which, conveniently, is located in Houston. I decided I’d make sure and find time to visit while I was there. While I was between flights in Minneapolis, I logged onto my twitter account and there was an update from them that caught my attention:

Since I knew they are generally open only until 6:00, and I had no idea what my work schedule would be, the fact they would be open later for the reading seemed like a perfect opportunity to head downtown the moment I arrived. So that’s what I did — got my rental car and made the drive from the airport to their store on the other side of downtown. I actually enjoyed the drive, despite the traffic I blundered into. After leaving the frost of Missoula, it was great to cruise down the highway with the windows down. I made it just in time.

Things were just getting started for the reading, so I didn’t get to look around much at first. Just inside the door, though, was this rack of awesomeness (I’m a huge fan of the Hard Case Crime stuff; Christa Faust‘s novel for them, Money Shot, was one of those books that really blew the door open for me when it comes to this kind of fiction):

I had not heard of Lucha Corpi before the reading, but I really enjoyed her. Her book Death at Solstice is the 4th installment featuring her Chicana detective Gloria Damasco. It is published by Arte Publico Press, which is also based in Houston. I particularly enjoyed her anecdotes about the research she did for the book — including trips to a casino and a seance experience — and how she had to justify the receipts when the IRS came knocking. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have a signed copy. And I have to say this was the first time an author ever hugged me after signing my book.

After the reading, I met David Thompson, the publisher behind Busted Flush Press. He’s put out some great books. His wife McKenna owns the store. Another member of the family was on patrol as well, but I didn’t catch her name.

We had a great, if brief, conversation, exchanged cards, etc. David loaded me down with a few more books on top of what I was already getting, then invited me back Thursday night for another reading. Then it was back north to check into my hotel and prepare for the “real” reason I was in Houston. Here’s the obligatory shot out my hotel window, taken the next morning, as well as the fine establishment just outside where I indulged in a true breakfast of champions.

Mmmm, convenience store breakfast. I’ve been craving one of these little bastards ever since I saw Zombieland!

As for the work-related part of the trip . . . I’ll just say it sucked. Last minute is never a good omen. And the bigger the company is, the more of a clusterfuck it will turn out to be. Good thing you don’t come here to learn about my stupid day job.

Thursday night I was back to Murder by the Book for another reading. This one featured Susan Kandel, author of Dial “H” for Hitchcock. It also featured a talk by Dan Sneed, Houston’s resident expert on Alfred Hitchcock. It was interesting; Sneed talked about Hitchcock’s influence as a filmmaker, some of his cornerstone techniques, the artwork, the “cool blonde” archetype, etc. Then he turned it over to Kandel, who actually did a powerpoint presentation discussing her books, her main character, and the research she did into Hitchcock for the book. It was very entertaining — I came away wanting to revisit the classic Hitchcock films. It was different from any other reading/signing I’ve been to, and I thought it was pretty cool.

After the reading, I looked around some more, picked up a couple more of David’s suggestions (how do you pass on a book whose opening line reads “Chase’s first day on the job they took the sobbing chauffer out back, gutted him, then handed Chase the cap and the little white gloves“?)(that first line courtesy of The Coldest Mile by Tom Piccirilli, I might add), and basically just lusted over a store full of titles I’d happily have in my reading queue.

All in all I bought way too many books, and it barely all fit in my suitcase. But what the hell — I’ll read them all, eventually.

The next morning I was up bright and (too) early and at the airport for the flight home.

It turned out to be an awesome trip. Met some great people, and actually look forward to going back to Houston. Who knows, maybe my work will appear under the Busted Flush banner one day.

Speaking of which — I know I link books I talk about to Amazon, but I do that just for the purpose of providing a little more info about them. Please avoid buying from those sons a bitches whenever possible, though. If your local indie shop doesn’t carry something, they can probably order it. And all of the books I mentioned in this post can be ordered directly from Murder by the Book — autographed copies too. So do that, and the odds of your eternal soul rotting forever in the deepest cess pools of the abyss will be greatly reduced. Trust me.

14 thoughts on “>Murdered in Houston

  1. Rachel Brady

    >Glad you found my favorite store. šŸ™‚ We in Houston are lucky to have it!Good luck with NaNo! I'm a first-time NaNo participant this year. The shine is wearing off that apple!

  2. April

    >"Please avoid buying from those sons a bitches whenever possible, though."hahaha, Yeah and if you don't have a local bookstore, Powell's is a great option, too. I always try to link to them when I'm plugging a book.

  3. Chris

    >April: yeah, you're right, I need to make more of an effort to find the Powell's link. A lot of time they don't have as much information on a given book, I've found. But they are definitely a better option.Rachel: Thanks for the comment! This is my first go-round with NaNo as well. Let's just say that running around Houston BUYING books didn't do my daily word count any real favors when it comes to WRITING them.

  4. Sutton

    >Damn, Chris–just when I've been getting onto a crime fiction binge myself. Have you read the Parker series by "Richard Stark" (I.e., Donald Westlake)? Nobody Runs Forever starts with about as much of a bang as the chauffeur-gutting scene you quote. Downtown library has about 10 of them. I read all 10 in about two weeks. Anyway, I will definitely check out some of the titles you mention. Late in life (well, relatively), I've been getting back into books that are actually fun to read (and write, one gets the impression).

  5. Chris

    >Sutton, Stark's Parker series is one of the things that really started this bender for me. It was actually Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel version of the The Hunter that really kicked it off. Have you seen that? It is just fantastic.I think I've read 3 or 4 of the books but own about double that — I've been forcing myself to intersperse them with my other reading. But yeah, it's fantastic stuff. Hell, we even binged on a couple of the Parker-based movies; Point Blank starring Lee Marvin and Payback with Mel Gibson. Darwyn Cooke is the only one that Westlake actually let use the name "Parker" though, which is pretty cool. I think he is going to do 2 or 3 more graphic versions of the books as well.

  6. Dan Sneed

    >Hey Chris. I'm glad you were at the "Dial H for Hitchcock" event and included a write-up and pictures on your blog. It was great fun to be a part of the event and the participation by several of the folks there was rewarding. I hope you get back to houston again before long. Murder By The Book is a great store and I've known David for many years. If you have time when you're here again, head down the street to Hollywood Frame Gallery which is owned by Ricky and Kathleen Connaghton. They've framed most of my Hitchcock poster collection as well as other pieces. They do a great job and are closely associated with David and MBTB. They also have many great pieces for sale in their store.You have a great blog!

  7. Anonymous

    >The dog's name is Jock – a male Papillon, who belongs to McKenna -or is it the other way round? It's a wonderful bookstore – one of the major assets of living in Houston!Joyce

  8. jcoco

    >The only person who was RUDE during a week long work trip all over Houston was a very large, unpleasant soul at my long awaited visit to MBTB! I had been ordering books from MBTB on a regular basis from my home in Florida, I thought I had struck a great rapport with David and was really looking forward to meeting him…and his wife. I know about the store from my many friends who live in H and love MBTB. I flew half way across the country, got my rental car, worked the afternoon, plowed thru traffic and got to the store an hour before closing, knowing that this shopping spree would be my one personal treat of the trip.I had placed an order with David before I left Fl, with the plan of having some delicious goodies to read on the flight home and adding to my bedside stack. I opened the door to a din of female yapping and gripping, 4 or 5 clerks at the counter complaining about CUSTOMERS, the dog (seen in your blog, the one lady hates the dog), problems with the dog, and walker, order snaffus, and on and on. This would have been a slight nusiance, just a blip on my radar until my order was "non-existant", David was OUT and I was given the 3rd degree about what I ordered and when and we don't lose orders!(the books I ordered had been sold to someone else). It was a tragic experience, until I finally asked if someone would talk to me about books. I was enthralled with the brilliant Michelle. She's read every mystery, I've read everything but mysteries…my new genre. I'm not sure I'll ever go back to MBTB. They had 4 authors in town during my week and I had planned to go each night with my friends and I just had to pass. I love bookstores and they are my second home in every major city; Heywood-Hill in London is orgasmic, and Taschen in Paris, Vincom in Barcelona, etc. I am not a novice. But who wants to spend the hard earned dough in that kind of environment? Jenny C

  9. Chris

    >Dan — thanks for the comment. I enjoyed your presentation very much; I probably should have said so during the event. You are responsible for several additions to my NetFlix queue! I will definitely follow your recommendations re: next door the next time I'm in Houston!Joyce: Thanks for providing Jock's name. We take dog names very seriously in my household. Most of our neighbors we know by their dog's names, not necessarily theirs (as in, "Oh, that house over there is Shiva's house!").Jenny C: I don't know that this is the right place for sharing your negative experience with MBTB; I'd suggest you take it with them. I had nothing but the best experience. And during my visit — and this will come as a surprise to some of the women who frequent this page — I can state unequivocally that there was absolutely no female gripping during my visit.

  10. wagsalot

    >I've been started on many a writer from MBTB…David, mostly, some McKenna and Dean, and others. They know their stock!But, I gotta tell you – I enjoyed this Blog entry – turn it into a crime story and do your own signings.

  11. Sutton

    >I got onto Parker because I read a review of that graphic novel. I think it was described as "one of the few novel adaptations that actually works just as well or better in graphic novel form," and I think I can guess what they're talking about. I'll have to check one out.

  12. Chris

    >Wagsalot — thanks for the comment, and the encouragement! When the day comes, it will be with a huge thrill to hopefully return to MBTB as a signer instead of a signee!Sutton — I'll happily loan you my copy of Cooke's version of The Hunter, if you want. The first 20-30 pages are pretty much narration free, and just show him going about his business of getting money, clothes, etc. on his return to New York City. It is brilliant.

  13. jim

    >The Dog in MBTB just happens to be named Jack Reacher, in honor of the Lee Childs hero. Of course Reacher is 6-6 or so and weights maybe 250 pounds and the dog weights few pounds less, maybe 5-6.


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