Sunday, November 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW/AUTHOR INTERVIEW: "To Hell And Gone In Texas" by Russ Hall

Trouble big as all hell.
Retired sheriff’s detective Al Quinn hasn’t spoken to his brother, Maury, in twenty years. When Maury lands in the hospital under suspicious circumstances, though, Al reluctantly abandons his quiet country seclusion to look into the matter. A second attempt to take Maury out drives the brothers back to Al’s lakeside home, where Al knows the territory, but they’re not alone for long. ICE agents demand that Maury rat on his silent partner, city cop Fergie Jergens comes investigating the murders of Maury’s lady friends, and someone takes a match to Al’s house.
Al soon learns his problems are only getting started—his brother’s in trouble on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Caught in a ruthless power struggle between the ICE and Los Zetas, a vicious Mexican mafia bent on ascendancy, Al learns the hard way who he can trust—and who’s willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.
With everything he loves on the line, Al will learn just how far he’ll go to protect his own.

It's a little bit of Dallas, a little bit of Graceland, a modern style Louis L'Amour meets James Patterson, and a whole lot of fun!
In the latest from Russ Hall, To Hell And Gone In Texas, we meet a retired detective who just wants to fix up his house and go fishing but doesn't get the chance when his estranged brother gets in deep trouble.
While this book has romance, danger, violence and a good dose of Texan swagger, what I found the most endearing about it was the relationship between Al and Maury: why they were estranged, Al's reluctance to help him and what he slowly discovers about Maury's shady past.
This is definitely a character-driven novel, and what a cast of characters! Maury, despite spending a good amount of time unconscious, is definitely the biggest standout, but we can't count anybody out, from the biggest to the smallest, including the woman who has to leave town for helping Al search for people online to Maury's nurse.
The book reads steadily, shortly gaining momentum a few chapters in with drive-by shootings from boats to arson, to jilted loves and dark pasts. It's a western cop drama for those who don't usually read traditional westerns and crime novels.
Great book, great writer!

4/4--great read!

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1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I hand-wrote stories and recipe books in crayon, advanced to typing a family newspaper on an old Remington standard. By high school I wrote mostly poetry, and cranked out over a thousand poems in my senior year, which I fortunately later threw out. I moved to New York City and started to work for Harper & Row to learn more about publishing and ended up traveling and doing acquisition with a number of major publishers. Weekends I would be in coffee shops across America writing. My mother, a librarian, had a heart scare in the late 1990s and I decided to spend more time writing. Since then, I’ve had twenty thrillers, mysteries, westerns, poetry, nonfiction, and young adult sci fi books published.

2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?

Twain, Steinbeck, Doyle, Poe, Conrad, Chandler, Hammett, and (let’s be honest) Mickey Spillane, John D. McDonald, Ian Fleming, Richard Prather, Chandler and a lot of others printed on paper that has long ago turned yellow. In truth, I was a voracious reader and had a personal library that got up to twelve thousand or so books once. Most of which had to be stored in a room above my mother in my traveling publishing days; she thought it would be a fitting end for a librarian to be crushed by books in the night. I went on a book diet after that and still have too many books, but not that many.
These days I get excited about several new writers, in the mainstream and in the genres. The excitement begins with a good “voice” and is maintained when I find characters I like to be around. I’ve read Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri series multiple times, liked the faraway John Burdett novels, reread all of Stuart Kaminsky’s Inspector Porify books, as well as Ross Thomas, Robert Campbell, and the rereleased Georges Simenon series featuring Maigret. 

3. What was the inspiration behind your latest release, To Hell And Gone In Texas?

This novel started as the story of two estranged brothers, how they had grown up together, how they differed, what had caused the rift, and then their having to reconcile enough to face danger that soon encompassed them both. During the editorial process the publisher and I agreed to trim out ten thousand words of the backstory and cut-to-the-chase of the really engaging and action-driven storyline. There was still room to show emotions and character development. As for the setting and situation, the growing threat of danger from Mexican drug cartels was growing, and I had been through a Texas-sized drought. That was enough to get this book off to the races.

4. Will we ever see these characters again in the future?

I’ve already written the next two books in the series, The Turtle’s Roar, and Throw the Dog a Bone. I’m happy to say that there is plenty more of Al, Maury, Fergie, Bonnie, Sheriff Clayton and others I and the readers came to enjoy in the first book.

5. What would you do if you were Al?

Well, since I feed the deer in my front yard, play chess by myself, and enjoy classical music, and crave solitude,  I’m close enough to Al to not exactly know what I’d be doing that I’m not already doing. It’s that question of what would you do if your solitude was intruded upon, disrupted by danger, that drives much of the tension for Al. It would make me a little “Bongo in the Congo” too, so I used that in the book.

6. Was there any particular reason for Texas to be where the novel was set?

The setting is the Texas Hill Country by a lake, which is where I live. One advantage to that is that when I moved from New York City to Texas I had something of an anthropologist’s eye for what was different and quaint about Texas, and how it could color a book. The setting owns the desired combination of being a beautiful place at times that can also harbor real danger.

7. What other genres would you like to try your hand at?

I’ve written in many genres, but my bucket list includes writing something mainstream. When I read Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, I long to lose myself in the process of turning myself inside out and writing like that just once. I think any genre book can be as well-written as literature, and I seek to do that in all I write, but I’d like to write one little old To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone With the Wind.

8. Would you please tell the readers a little about your previous works?

Island and Wildcat Did Growl are set in the Bahamas and feature people like us getting in danger over their heads. I wrote Wildcat as a challenge to myself to feature a strong female lead. One cozy series of mystery books features Esbeth Walters, a retired school teacher, who does her private detecting in spite of the local law telling her not to. She’s a hoot—her stories even crack up me. The Blue-Eyed Indian is featured in one collection of stories and a couple of novels. His stories can make me laugh or put a lump in my throat.

9. Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?

I prefer fiction, because who doesn’t like to lie and get paid for it? I did co-author some fun non-fiction books, like one on design by the former head of design at Apple, and one on identity by Oprah’s companion Stedman Graham. But I love to get lost in the research and enjoyment of working on fictional worlds.

10. Would you like to see the To Hell And Gone In Texas in theaters or on TV? If so, what actors would you like to see play your characters?

Al is a retired sheriff’s department detective, who is still fit and quite compos mentis. I’d love to say Jack Nicholson, but no. Mel Gibson, or Tommy Lee Jones? Robert Duvall is probably past it, but since Brad Pitt is starting to do some older roles . . .I’m just saying!

11. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?

I’m going to be writing until they pry the pen or keyboard from my fingers. I’ve been on The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling lists with non-fiction. I’d like to see a fiction book of mine get some serious traction.

12. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?

I suppose I’d be writing about writing. It’s really hard to imagine. There’s nothing right now to keep me from writing every day, so that’s what I do, that’s what I am.

13. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?

I have three books written for a detective series featuring a 15-year-old genius, who irritates just about everybody (kind of on the order of Justin Bieber). The interesting person there is his partner Sylvie Thomas, who drives the car, carries the gun, and keeps people from putting the genius over their knees for a spanking. I have one final book of poetry in the mix and I want to concentrate on that mainstream novel. I have a couple of collections of short stories I’m polishing and still writing as well. That should keep me busy.

14. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?

I think Kurt Vonnegut would be a blast. But, of the living I’d have to come back to Colin Cotterill, although he’s doing just fine on his own and I don’t know what I’d bring to the table. Maybe Janet Evanovich or Carl Hiaasen, just to go a little wild!

15. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?

For a short spell I was once the Outstanding Black Poet in America, until the award committee asked for a photo.
I went in for mountain climbing for a while and climbed Mount Rainier.
I was a policeman at night once, while going to college by day, studying things like Ancient Greek, and did the entire police log for one night in Ancient Greek, a feat for which I’m still known in that town.

Find Russ Hall online via:

Official site (has mailing list and Facebook links)