Dec 292012
 

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

SHAKE OFF‘s Michel Khoury is a veritable encyclopedia of the espionage tradecraft that is essential to his life as a spy, which Mischa Hiller gleaned from access to someone with direct knowledge of the tricks of the trade. Want to learn how to become a skilled agent? Here are a few of the tips from Mischa’s novel:

Concealing documents and cash? Use a newspaper.

“They are easy to ditch, and you can carry one under your arm even as your bags are being searched.”

Know your cover.

“If you can believe just a bit of your cover story then you can convince your listener (and even yourself) that it is all true.”

Incriminating evidence to ditch? Use the restroom.

“It is easier to flush soaked paper than dry.”

Disguise yourself.

“Hospitals have no security to speak of.  You can wander almost anywhere unchallenged, particularly if you don a white coat – best acquired from the doctors’ lounge in the A&E department.  Or go dressed in a suit carrying a briefcase and pretend you are a drugs salesman.”

Watch your back.

“You should always sit at the back of the bus when you get on, because surveillance like to sit at the back to get a good view of you embarking without having to turn around.”

Beware the honeytrap.

“It is easier to believe that a woman finds you irresistible than that she is trying to ensnare you.”

Tired of looking over your shoulder?

“Take a few days off, go to the cinema, sit in the park, stay at home and read a book….Make them bored. A bored surveillance team is a careless one.”

Blend in.

“Be gray, not colorful, my trainers in Moscow had said.  I always matched my shoes to my clothes.  I’d heard that immigration officers checked for illegal immigrants by looking at their shoes.”

Finish the job.

“To kill someone you need to shoot them at least four or five times in the head, just to make sure.  And it needs to be up close with a hand-held weapon.  You have to put it right up against the head or very close to it, otherwise you could miss; some weapons give a massive kick, and any shot following the first could go wild.  If you can’t get close enough to kill the target with your first shot, then you will need to incapacitate them with a body shot first and finish the deed close up, a coup de grâce.

Mischa Hiller is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the Best First Book category for South Asia and Europe. Raised in London, Beirut, and Dar El Salaam, he lives in Cambridge, England. Visit him at www.mischahiller.com.

SHAKE OFF, selected by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker as one of the best books of 2012 (“Hiller’s novel has the benefit of mining every trope of the thriller genre while being absolutely original at the same time. I will read anything by Hiller from now on”), is now available in bookstores everywhere.

Oct 112012
 

Contrasted ConfinementWe made it out to Bouchercon last weekend to see Duane Swierczynski’s FUN AND GAMES win the Shamus for Best Paperback Original PI Novel–congrats, Duane! All the more reason to look forward to April of next year, when POINT AND SHOOT, the final in the now accolade-winning Hardie trilogy, hits bookstores… The Rap Sheet has a great write-up of the festivities if you were unable to attend. Here’s looking forward to next year’s event in Albany!

Michael Robotham embarked on a US tour straight from the convention and can be seen this Friday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop and on Saturday at Scottsdale, Arizona’s Poisoned Pen.

While Robotham’s been on tour, SAY YOU’RE SORRY has been raking in rave reviews from the likes of Kirkus, John Valeri at Examiner.com, Publishers Weekly, P.G. Koch of the Houston Chronicle. More to come!

Don’t let all the great news about SAY YOU’RE SORRY distract from the fact that THE HOUSE OF SILK is now out in paperback. Some guests posts from Horowitz here and here from our initial hardcover publication. “An intricate and rewarding mystery in the finest Victorian tradition” (Vanity Fair)–what’s not to like?

Asbury Park Press reviewed Mischa Hiller’s SHAKE OFF, and the Washington Post reviewed Chase Novak’s BREED, calling it “the best American horror novel since Scott Smith’s The Ruins.”

Speaking of BREED, don’t miss Chase Novak in discussion with Barry Lyga, Daniel Kraus, Jonathan Maberry and more at the New York Comic-Con this Saturday. Austin Grossman will be at the Con earlier that night, talking about his forthcoming novel YOU with Evan Narcisse of Kotaku.

Looks like someone on the set of NBC’s CHICAGO FIRE, co-created by our own Derek Haas, intercepted the shipment of a certain thriller from our warehouse…

That’s it for now. See you all next week!

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch at mulhollandbooks@hbgusa.com or DM us on Twitter.

Sep 072012
 

Contrasted ConfinementIt’s been a great summer summer at Mulholland Books, and we topped it off with our August publication, SHAKE OFF by Mischa Hiller, which received glowing praise from the likes of Kirkus, PW and Booklist, as well as great reviews from blogs like the Murder By the Book Blog, BestsellersWorld.com, Tzer Island, and The Review Broads.

Now that Labor Day is behind us, BREED has hit bookstores! The perfect literary chiller to kick off the fall season, written by National Book Award winner Scott Spencer under the pseudonym Chase Novak, BREED has been getting strong reviews from the likes of Janet Maslin in the New York Times, who proclaims the novel “reads like the work of a serious writer with keen antennas for sensory detail,” Brian Truitt of USA Today, who calls the novel “a thrill to read.”

Transit ads for BREED are now featured in New York City subway cars! We like the look of them so much we can help but share them…

In wider news, the Toronto International Film Festival has been taking place this week, and LOOPER, which arrives in theaters across the country later this month, recently kicked off the proceedings in stellar fashion. Check out this talk with writer/director Rian Johnson (also the writer/director of BRICK, a Mulholland favorite) and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis if you’re in the mood for a good conversation (just skip to the twenty-minute mark!)

Speaking of films, it’s been a minute since we shared trailers of films we’re looking forward to–are you following THE MASTER, or Tarantino’s latest, DJANGO UNCHAINED?

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch at mulhollandbooks@hbgusa.com or DM us on Twitter.

Aug 232012
 

This review first appeared at Grift Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

I thought I’d burn through Mischa Hiller’s Shake Off, but I read the first half at an incredibly slow pace, partly out of necessity (I was moving) and partly because the narrative demanded my attention in a way I hadn’t expected.

The first chapters are weighted down with exposition about Michel Khoury, the book’s narrator, a young PLO operative whose family was murdered by extremists at a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. The short, Sallis-like chapters kept me reading when my attention waned. My first impression was that the book was trying unsuccessfully to balance being a spy novel and a history lesson. But those early chapters are merely a foundation for a story that gets moving around 70 pages in and then is impossible to put down once you reach the halfway mark.

Michel is an agent for a man named Abu Leila, who has taught him all that he knows and has become his surrogate father. I won’t go into great detail about their relationship except to say that what at first seems ordinary is later revealed as the great mysterious core of the book. Michel believes that he, as Abu Leila’s pawn, is working to resolve the Middle East conflict peacefully. Needless to say, nothing in this book is that easy.

Part of the book’s charm is that there are no simple heroes and villains. We have questions about every character that we meet, including Michel, who—in a couple of very surprising scenes—uncovers his true motives for becoming an intelligence agent. When he’s forced to go rogue and face his demons, Michel becomes even more intense and complicated.

One of the most compelling characters here is Helen, a young postgraduate anthropology student who Michel lives next door to and falls in love with. Helen, even more than Michel and Abu Leila, was a mystery to me as I read. I wondered about her motives constantly. Was she an agent? What was her endgame? When I realized I had taken on Michel’s anxiety about her, I felt that Hiller had succeeded in a significant way.

The book is, in some ways, about paranoia. Early on, Michel tells us how he sees the world: “Everyday objects must be considered potential concealers of microphones or cameras. Every person you meet could either be an agent waiting to get close or a possible recruit to the cause. Every woman that talks to you wants to trap you with the promise of sex. Every postcard has a hidden meaning. Everybody behind you could be following you, and it is your job to shake them off.” I was put in mind of Trelkovsky in Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (based on Roland Topor’s novel) in terms of how Hiller portrayed Michel’s pathological alienation. Unlike Trelkovsky, though, Michel’s search leads him away from madness. Ultimately, Shake Off is all the things it’s billed as—infectious, thought-provoking, and entertaining—because Michel is a character who exposes the dark complexities of being human.

May 252012
 

Thoughts CaptivityA recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

A common way to end the description of a book or film you’ve seen to someone who hasn’t is with, “…but I won’t tell you what happens, I don’t want to spoil it for you.” On the whole this restraint is received with gratitude. The term ‘spoiler alert’ has become standard on the web, preceding text that reveals critical elements of a plot, and could, in my view, precede many reviews that read more like synopses, but I digress. The point is, when one sees this warning, one can make an informed choice about whether to read on or not. So, for Professor Stanley Fish to posit that knowing the outcome of a story does not ruin our enjoyment of it may be an interesting academic exercise, but it is disingenuous. Yes, one can re-read a book or re-watch a film attuned to previously overlooked clues that point towards the known outcome (stories with a major reversal like The Sixth Sense being an obvious case in point) but a large part of enjoying new stories is going on an unknown journey whilst trying to anticipate where it is heading.

As a writer one strives to make an ending inevitable without it being predictable, and for the reader to have this exposed up-front is akin to seeing a picture of someone naked just before you go on a date with them for the first time –  you have essentially robbed that person of the choice of how and when they reveal themselves to you.

Professor Fish’s assertion that books can only be ruined by spoilers if they are shallow, because they rely solely on suspense, willfully ignores every book written than has both suspense and literary merit (Dickens, Professor?). So, a book that offers ‘multiple pleasures and insights’ could also be ruined by listing all the ‘insights’ it contains for instance. All this is academic, of course, until publishers start to put a detailed synopsis on the back of every book. Which leads me nicely onto blurbs…

Mischa Hiller is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the Best First Book Category for South Asia & Europe. Raised in London, Beirut, and Dar El Salaam, Hiller lives in Cambridge, England.

Hiller’s acclaimed, first thriller SHAKE OFF has been called “deadly, poignant, and powerful” (The Economist),”Smart and tense and real enough to be scary” (David Morrell), and “A spy thriller of the highest class” (Charles Cumming). Mulholland Books will publish SHAKE OFF in August 2012.

Visit Mischa at www.mischahiller.com.

Feb 212012
 

One of the pleasures of writing and reading fiction – and thrillers lend themselves to this rather well – is the weaving of fact and fiction. And a fact I happily weaved into the fictional world of Shake Off was that one of the few American fiction writers you could buy in English in the 1980s Soviet Union was Dashiell Hammett. This is not integral to the plot of the book, nor is it a particularly startling revelation, but it illustrates a mindset: the Soviets allowed Hammett to be sold in a Moscow bookshop because he was a communist (the Hollywood chapter of the Communist Party was founded in his house), although his flaky allegiance to the party might not have impressed them.

Another, perhaps less well-known fact, was that at the same time, although you could not buy John Le Carré novels in a Moscow bookshop, they were required reading by KGB trainees to get an insight into British Intelligence and its workings. I have a pleasing image of a Russian translator working away on his secret Le Carré translations. It must have been a coveted job: enjoying banned fiction under the legitimate cover of doing it for the good of the party.

The WalkBack to Hammett, though, and why I’m pleased to get a reference to a writer of hard-boiled detective fiction into a spy novel. When I left Beirut to return to London in early 1983 I had trouble adjusting to ‘normal’ life, with its distinct lack of air-raids, roadblocks and – Northern Ireland aside – sectarian killing. The world I had returned to was, to be honest, boring compared to the one I had left. It did, on the other hand, put the latter into unflattering perspective. To escape this cognitive dissonance I took refuge in books. I devoured everything I came across, high-brow, low-brow, I didn’t really care, as long as it was well and unpretentiously written. If it spoke to me in some way then I read it. After ploughing through some Russians (Dostoyevsky yes, Tolstoy no) I turned to the Americans, happening upon a rich vein of crime fiction. I tapped it relentlessly. Starting with Raymond Chandler, I moved to Hammett, Jim Thompson and Ross Macdonald – and more recently to George Pelecanos, Lawrence Block, James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. Perhaps what attracted me to these stories, apart from the pure escapism, was the inherent struggle to right wrongs. A struggle of flawed (read human) characters amongst which the (often but not always) lone detective (i.e. the reader) attempts to mete out some sort of rough justice – a justice frequently absent in real life. I don’t want to overdo the analysis, but the attraction for me then was clear, and it is no exaggeration to say that these books helped me through a difficult time of adjustment. It is also fair to say that a lot of this early reading rubbed off in terms of developing a no-nonsense writing style.

Voyeur

My reading taste has meandered and broadened since then, but I’ll always have a soft spot for hard-boiled crime fiction – indeed within its form you’ll find some of the best-written books you can read (a fact lost on genre snobs).
Eventually I managed to fictionalise some unpleasant events in Beirut into my first novel – not a crime novel, but a novel about a big crime – before deciding to move on to something with wider appeal set against the tribulations of the Middle East. But how to turn this topic into something palatable that would avoid the cliché and makes readers want to turn the page?

To my mind the thriller form is most appealing when it has a political backdrop (I’m a sucker for political thriller films) and I wanted to write something from a unique point of view: a foot soldier in the spy chain – not someone moving chess pieces, but someone who is a chess piece, and a lowly one at that. What’s more, let his unlikely spymaster be the Palestine Liberation Organization. So I took an unsophisticated refugee-camp kid who had been orphaned in the events of my first book and moved him, like a fish out of water, to the west, drawing a little on my own initial alienation upon returning to the UK. And, with a little serendipity and much research, Shake Off was formed. Thanks Dash, and welcome to my world.

Mischa Hiller is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the Best First Book Category for South Asia & Europe. Raised in London, Beirut, and Dar El Salaam, Hiller lives in Cambridge, England.

Hiller’s acclaimed, first thriller SHAKE OFF has been called “deadly, poignant, and powerful” (The Economist),”Smart and tense and real enough to be scary” (David Morrell), and “A spy thriller of the highest class” (Charles Cumming). Mulholland Books will publish SHAKE OFF in August 2012.

Visit Mischa at www.mischahiller.com.

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