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By Joyce Sáenz Harris

Dallas native Harry Hunsicker leads something of a double life. In his day job, he runs his family business as a commercial real estate appraiser. But in his spare time, he writes Texas-centric thrillers.

“My day job has meant that I have been to just about every corner of the city, places most people don’t know exist,” Hunsicker says. “That’s what really colors my writing, the starting point of almost every story, the sense of place that a vibrant town like Dallas has to offer.”

In his newest book, The Devil’s Country (Thomas & Mercer, $15.95), Hunsicker introduces a new protagonist: a former Texas Ranger from Dallas. Arlo Baines gets off the bus in a dusty West Texas town and finds himself in the middle of a mysterious, cult-related murder, with two kids’ lives in the balance.

Hunsicker’s story moves at a relentless pace, with all the twists and surprises his readers have come to expect. Fans will have the chance to meet Hunsicker at the Dallas Book Festival on Saturday, April 29. We asked him to do this Q&A in advance, via email.

Before this, you published your first three-book series, the Lee Henry Oswald Mysteries, and more recently a second three-book series, the Jon Cantrell Thrillers. So, with a new protagonist in The Devil’s Country, have your readers seen the last of Hank and Jon?

Never say never, but the natural rhythm of my characters seems to follow the trilogy format. I never understood authors who stopped writing series books, complaining about where to take their characters next, until I sat down to work on the second Oswald book, The Next Time You Die. On page one, I got it. There are only so many emotional arcs you can put a character through before his/her reactions seem stale and unrealistic.

The Devil’s Country introduces Arlo Baines, a former Texas Ranger who is a damaged soul with a tragic recent history. Why did you decide to make Arlo a Ranger rather than a PI? 

I wanted to try something new. Also, I have always wanted to write a police procedural, but since I have no law enforcement background and too much research tends to bog down my writing, I figured an ex-cop was the next best thing. In terms of Arlo Baines’ character, I wanted him to be completely cut off from his old world — family, job, even where he lives — so he had to be an ex-something. After thinking about the setting, the badlands of West Texas, I decided it made sense for Arlo to be an ex-Texas Ranger, drummed out of the corps, so to speak.
There are some personal things about Arlo that we still don’t know by the end of this book. Will his loved ones’ names surface with more of his memories and secrets in a future Arlo novel? 

Yes, without a doubt. Arlo is forever scarred by what happened to his family. The events that preceded his appearance in The Devil’s Country have altered him in many ways, his worldview, the way he interacts with others, etc. Put simply, Arlo has more baggage than a luggage store.

The Devil’s Country’s narrative thread weaves back and forth between what’s happening to Arlo in the West Texas town of Piedra Springs and what happened to him in the past, particularly nine months before when tragedy struck. This shows us why Arlo is where he is both physically and emotionally, but how tricky was it to write the dual narratives? 

I like books with multiple points of view, but I am a better writer when I stick to the first person. So it just seemed very natural to write from two different Arlo perspectives — the current-day and nine months before the story began. That was much easier than writing from the point of view of two different people.

Your mother was the late Dallas jewelry designer Foree Hunsicker. How was your creativity encouraged when you were growing up? 

I was blessed to have wonderfully supportive parents, both of whom were interested in the arts and fostering my creativity. From a very early age, I loved to read, and my parents — my mother especially — encouraged me to read anything and everything, no limits. (Note: I’m not sure Mom knew what all happened in Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight when I read it at age 13.) So I devoured all types of fiction all throughout my school years, which is the primary education a novelist needs.

Dallas appears in flashbacks as the place where Arlo, his family and his in-laws lived. You’re a fourth-generation native of Dallas through your mother’s family, so you know that our city has a certain image in pop culture. What do you know about your hometown that you wish more people knew?

 Dallas is more than cowboys and concrete and women with big hair. The city has an incredible mixture of people and outlooks. You can visit completely different worlds without leaving the county. The Korean section in northwest Dallas, Indian neighborhoods in Richardson, Little Vietnam in East Dallas, and the list goes on. And that’s before we get to the arts scene, which is robust and expanding every year.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

 

 

 

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By Joyce Sáenz Harris

Deborah Crombie, a native Texan who lives in McKinney, is the author of the popular Kincaid-James mystery series, which regularly appears on The New York Times‘ best-seller lists. The first novel was 1993’s A Share in Death; the new Kincaid-James novel, Garden of Lamentations, is the 17th in the series and will be published Feb. 7 by William Morrow.

 

Deborah Crombie 2017

Deborah Crombie at home in McKinney. PHOTO: Rex Curry, DMN

Crombie’s protagonists, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his former investigative partner, now wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, are senior officers at the Metropolitan Police, a.k.a. Scotland Yard. Besides their police work, the two detectives also share a home, friends, several cats and dogs, and a blended family of three children. 

All of Crombie’s novels take place in London and the United Kingdom, where she lived for a time. She spends part of each year there to absorb atmosphere, do research and begin drafting the next book in her series. Crombie regularly blogs with seven other women writers of crime fiction at jungleredwriters.com. She is an avid reader who enjoys “good old-fashioned mysteries” more than psychological suspense. She also has mastered the art of brewing a perfect cup of tea.

FGarden of Lamentationsans can hear her speak Feb. 7 at Barnes & Noble on Northwest Highway as she gears up for a multicity book tour. She spoke with us first, from her historic Craftsman cottage, which she shares with with a husband, three cats and “two very demanding German shepherds.”

While your novels are police procedurals, they are very much about the characters’ personal and work relationships, as well. Ever since your protagonists got romantically involved and then married, the story arc has gotten more complex. Did you always know Gemma and Duncan would end up together?

No, I didn’t know that when I started out. One of the interesting things in the series has been the decision to marry Duncan and Gemma, because it was such a big thing. I had a lot of soul-searching, a lot of people saying, “Oh, you’ll kill the series if you have them get married.” But I thought their [married] relationship was going to be interesting, and it was going to get more complicated.

I must admit I got a little nervous about the work-related strains in Duncan and Gemma’s marriage this time around. Was it important to show the toll that the job takes? Even when you have personal knowledge of the stress … 

It’s still not easy. Especially when your partner won’t share with you. And both of them are suffering from some degree of PTSD [from the previous book’s events]. There are only about three scenes where they’re together in this book. It was hard to write because of that. Everyone’s at cross-purposes.

What is it about Duncan and Gemma that keeps you coming back to their story? I assume it’s not just contracts and publisher’s deadlines. 

No, I really love them. I love not just Duncan and Gemma, but the whole cast; I love the kids, the dogs, the cats, and Doug and Melody and Hazel. It’s like a slice of life, where I’m just dropping in on them for a week.

Writing and researching these books is a meticulous process for you, isn’t it? 

This book absolutely took me two years to write. And it was 650 pages in manuscript! Luckily my editor, Carrie Feron, is just great. I’m a slow writer … and now they’ve stretched me out to two years on my deadlines, because I am so slow and they don’t want to put up with me being late. I’m still looking for the magic bullet after 25 years.

All mystery writers have a history with Sherlock Holmes. What’s yours? 

I started reading the stories as a teenager. Now I have a Sherlock story in the new Echoes of Sherlock Holmes collection (Pegasus Books, $24.95), and Jungle Red’s Hank Phillippi Ryan and Hallie Ephron are in there, too. This is the first thing I’ve ever written in first person, and it’s a completely different character that has nothing to do with my series. Mine’s not a period Sherlock story, it’s a future Sherlock, “The Case of the Speckled Trout.” John and Mary Watson’s daughter is 18, and Sherlock, who’s her godfather, has gone missing. So she’s determined to find him. She goes to Scotland to work in a hunting lodge and find Sherlock. And the daughter is named Sherry, after her godfather, Sherlock. It was great fun.

Who are your favorite writers, besides your Jungle Red crew?
My preference for teenage reading was more fantasy and imaginative literature, T.H. White and J.R.R. Tolkien. If it had occurred to me that I’d grow up and be a writer, I probably would have thought that would be the kind of thing I would write.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Charles Todd. I love Louise Penny’s books; I love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books. I’m a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books. And I’m a huge fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books. They’re set mostly in London, and they’re police procedurals, but there’s magic. That kind of goes back to my fantasy thing — everything I love.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

Garden of Lamentations
Deborah Crombie
(William Morrow,  $26.99)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US cover of "Go Set a Watchman"

US cover of “Go Set a Watchman”

http://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/books/20150713-review-some-will-rejoice-others-resent-harper-lee-s-go-set-a-watchman.ece

By JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS

Special Contributor

Published: 13 July 2015 10:48 AM

When last we saw young Scout Finch of Maycomb, Ala., it was 1935. Scout had survived a murder attempt, had finally met her mysterious neighbor Boo Radley and was safe at home with her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus. That is, as every reader knows, the ending of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird — the most beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning book in history.

So from the moment it was announced in February that the Go Set a Watchman manuscript had been discovered in Lee’s archives, her readers entertained doubts and hopes.

Harper Lee. Photo by Penny Weaver/AP

Harper Lee. Photo by Penny Weaver/AP

The reality: This companion piece to Mockingbird, published Tuesday, will complicate Lee’s legacy in ways we never expected. Some readers will actively resent Lee’s revelations, while others will rejoice in her unsentimental realism. Both camps, though, will enjoy the many additional flashbacks to Mockingbird days and Scout’s teen years.

Watchman begins in the early 1950s with Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, 26, returning to Maycomb from New York City for a family visit. Atticus, beset with rheumatoid arthritis at 72, is still practicing law and still the moral center of Jean Louise’s universe. But everything else in Maycomb seems to have changed.

Brother Jem is two years gone; he dropped dead of a heart attack, just as their mother did. Her old friend Dill also is gone, if only to Italy. Atticus sold his house and built a new one; the Finches’ old home has been torn down and an ice-cream stand built in its place. Aunt Alexandra moved in to care for Atticus when their old housekeeper, Calpurnia, retired; and Uncle Jack, the doctor, has retired to Maycomb with his ancient cat.

Though the old guard of Maycomb resists change, the town has acquired a new middle class in the postwar GI Bill baby boom. At Finch’s Landing, the family mansion has been sold to become a hunting club. A sawmill has eliminated swimming at Barker’s Eddy. Even at the Finches’ Methodist church, modern influences threaten their best-loved hymns.

Readers will immediately notice that where Mockingbird was a first-person narrative through young Scout’s eyes, Watchman is told in the third person. Yet Lee puts us right inside the adult Jean Louise’s head, and we know this is indeed our old and dear friend, the “juvenile desperado” just grown a little older.

So when Jean Louise finds her adored father consorting politically with racists at the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, it is the worst shock of her life. Her discovery is a punch to the gut, making us nearly as ill as it makes her.

How is it possible that Atticus Finch, the inspiration and role model for generations of real-life fathers and aspiring lawyers, is not the man we believed he was?

That we’ve waited 55 years for this thunderbolt makes it all the more stunning, for the pop-culture cult of Atticus the Good is one we boomers grew up and grew old with. So we ache with Jean Louise when she realizes in horror that “she was born color blind” while her father was not.

Atticus is indeed a gentleman, kindly to everyone; he reveres the law above all things. But he has fallen from his pedestal, and Jean Louise feels betrayed. So do we.

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience,” Uncle Jack tells his niece. He knows that in order for Jean Louise to become her own person, she has to see his brother as a fallible human being. Instead of believing Atticus to be the best, wisest man she knows, his daughter must accept him as a man who will “always do it by the letter and the spirit of the law. That’s the way he lives.”

Watchman is far from perfect. The text wants editing, and careful readers will spot several notable continuity gaps from the Mockingbird text. Aunt Alexandra’s son has the wrong name; Boo Radley isn’t mentioned at all; and a rape trial is recalled very differently from the one we know as Tom Robinson’s.

But 60 years after she began creating Scout’s story, Harper Lee demonstrates that it is indeed timeless. Today the nation still grapples with the harsh realities of race and civil rights; societal shifts still are divisive. Empathy too often eludes us, and children remain reluctant to let go of the cherished belief that a beloved father always knows best.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer who first read To Kill a Mockingbird 50 years ago.

Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee

(Harper, $27.99)