Mike Shea

Articles by Mike Shea

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

Jul 31, 2006 By Mike Shea

One might suspect that gremlins erased all the peaceful democracies from BEN FOUNTAIN’s office globe, so fascinated is the Dallasite with the world’s trouble spots in BRIEF ENCOUNTERS WITH CHE GUEVARA, a collection of eight finely crafted short stories. Touching only quickly on the revolutions and coups of his settings…

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Jul 31, 2006 By Mike Shea

THE LOOMING TOWER: AL-QAEDA AND THE ROAD TO 9/11 might be the bracing splash of ice water that alerts the Great Satan America to how little it knows about the radical Islamic culture that spawned its bête noire, Osama bin Laden (the seventeenth of 25 sons and one of 54…

The President’s Counselor: The Rise To Power Of Alberto Gonzales.

Jun 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

Those looking for clues to the Bush administration’s seeming assault on civil liberties—from warrantless wiretaps to allegedly condoned torture—will find much to ponder in THE PRESIDENT’S COUNSELOR: THE RISE TO POWER OF ALBERTO GONZALES. Journalist BILL MINUTAGLIO posits that Gonzales’s background as a lawyer at Houston’s Vinson and Elkins trained…

The Next Time You Die

Jun 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

THE NEXT TIME YOU DIE, HARRY HUNSICKER’s second detective caper featuring hard-luck investigator Lee Henry Oswald, should earn Dallas a colored pushpin on the wisecracking-gumshoe map for its double-trouble combo of mean streets and meaner thugs. Hunsicker is wily and playful, with the audacity to name his series’ protagonist with…

The Worthy: A Ghost’s Story

Jun 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

The Greek system sure must have pissed off WILL CLARKE during his brief stint as a college lad in a toga, because he returns the favor in his second novel, THE WORTHY: A GHOST’S STORY, by mercilessly satirizing frat boys and their obsessions: sex, beer, and beer—in roughly that order.

James Lee Burke

Jun 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

The Houston native celebrates his seventieth year on earth by publishing the twenty-sixth novel of his forty-year career. Pegasus Descending is the latest book in the Dave Robicheaux crime fiction series. What is it about Robicheaux that appeals so deeply to your readers? Well, I think it’s that he’s based…

An interview with Ron White

May 31, 2006 By Mike Shea

An interview with Ron White The notoriously boisterous—and blue—comic has come a long way, from his oil patch birthplace of Fritch to sold-out standup tours and multimillion-unit DVD sales. His new book, I Had the Right to Remain Silent … But I Didn’t Have the Ability, melds his real-life misadventures…

Telegraph Days

May 31, 2006 By Mike Shea

Meet Nellie Courtright, the resourceful, charming, and enthusiastically copulating protagonist of LARRY MCMURTRY’s Wild West saga TELEGRAPH DAYS. Her father has just “suicided himself,” leaving the 22-year-old and her teenage brother, Jackson, to fend for themselves in the barren no-man’s-land north of Texas. But Nellie goes one better and acquires…

The Vinegaroon Murders

May 31, 2006 By Mike Shea

Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe THE VINEGAROON MURDERS, the dust-blown supernatural murder mystery that makes up volume two of JAMES A. MANGUM’s Dos Cruces trilogy. For starters, the narrator is an angel, though decidedly not the stuff of Sunday school: Shyanne, a seraph, drops the F-bomb with alarming frequency…

The Flamenco Academy

May 31, 2006 By Mike Shea

As a novelist, Sarah Bird is not exactly prolific—it’s been five years since the  Texas Monthly writer-at-large gave us the fine The Yokota Officers Club—but at long last she has delivered the stunning and ambitious THE FLAMENCO ACADEMY, a tale of obsession and, yes, gypsies. Against the backdrop of Albuquerque’s…

Standing Eight

Apr 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

At age 33, Austinite Jesus “El Matador” Chavez is the champ: He currently holds the International Boxing Federation’s lightweight title. But his career has been anything but charmed. In STANDING EIGHT, journalist ADAM PITLUK tracks Chavez (born Gabriel Sandoval in Hidalgo del Parral, Mexico) through a life of misadventure: an…

Riley’s Fire

Apr 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

Crafting a story about a seven-year-old burn victim is a risky move given the very good chances your novel will career into the maudlin and the morbid. Nevertheless, El Pasoan LEE MERRILL BYRD gives us RILEY’S FIRE and its rambunctious kid protagonist, Riley Martin, whose curiosity about matches and gasoline…

Riding with John Wayne

Apr 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

RIDING WITH JOHN WAYNE has a split personality. AARON LATHAM’s latest novel plays at being a murder mystery, but at heart it’s a gentle satire drawing laughs from that wellspring of excess: Hollywood. Latham drags his legendary Goodnight clan (familiar from Code of the West and The Cowboy With the…

An interview with Keith Graves

Apr 30, 2006 By Mike Shea

An interview with Keith Graves The award-winning Austinite has just published his seventh kids’ book, The Unexpectedly Bad Hair of Barcelona Smith. Graves’s words are whimsical; his illustrations are bold and surreal enough to intrigue the grown-ups in the house. While you’re writing and drawing, do you have a mental…

Susan Wittig Albert

Apr 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

As one of Texas’s most prolific writers (thirty-plus works), the author of the best-selling China Bayles mystery books is still going strong: This month’s Bleeding Hearts makes fourteen in the herbalist sleuth series. Does China Bayles still surprise you? She certainly surprised me—surprised herself too—in this book, with…

Demon Theory

Apr 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

DEMON THEORY, we’re told at the outset, is STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES’s “three-part novelization” of a fictitious film trilogy, adapted from a best-seller “inspired by the case notes of Dr. Neider,” as originally published in the journal P/Q, as . . . well, you get the idea. The conceit is fairly…

Challenger Park

Apr 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Everyday life is a complicated thing, and with his finely nuanced novel CHALLENGER PARK, Austinite (and Texas Monthly contributing editor) STEPHEN HARRIGAN makes it clear that the glamour boys and girls of NASA don’t handle the slings and arrows any better than the rest of us. Case in point: Lucy…

Come Together, Fall Apart.

Apr 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Dallas’s CRISTINA HENRIQUEZ has assembled a heart-stopping collection of stories set in Panama in her first book, COME TOGETHER, FALL APART. She hints at the nation’s poverty—overcrowded homes, ramshackle furniture—but doesn’t dwell on it, instead finding rich narratives in mundane events. Take the poignant “Ashes,” in which young Mireya is…

Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes

Mar 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

T Cooper strews ambiguity like clues at a crime scene throughout Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes (Dutton), a potent second novel. Was the author really born in the Texas Panhandle? Did Jewish refugee Esther Lipshitz really find her lost son’s body in a Central Park pond? What’s the relationship…

Are You Happy?

Mar 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Those who’ve witnessed faculty brats running amok on a small college campus will immediately recognize Houston memoirist Emily Fox Gordon and her preteen cohorts as they roam the grounds of fifties-era Williams College in Are You Happy? (A Childhood Remembered) (Riverhead), the follow-up to her well-reviewed debut, Mockingbird Years. Gordon…

Sinners Welcome

Mar 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Before diving into the 43 poems of Sinners Welcome (HarperCollins), consider skipping straight to the back for poet/author Mary Karr’s sardonic essay on prayer and poetry. Agnostics, atheists, and skeptics will find her wise-ass insights a helpful lens through which to view the many forthrightly devout poems from this self-proclaimed…

A Strong West Wind

Feb 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic Gail Caldwell shines such a persistent light on her Texas family (especially colorful dad Wild Bill Caldwell) that she becomes nearly invisible in her own mem- oir, A Strong West Wind (Random House). When she does write herself into the spotlight, we see an immensely likable,…

The Secret Sisters

Feb 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

The Secret Sisters (Harper Collins) opens with Pia Ramone’s husband keeling over at one of Houston’s glitzier black-tie-and-tails affairs—a cringe-inducing lapse into melodrama. But Joni Rodgers, best known for her memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair, regains her footing in time to craft a modern tragedy that joins…

The Night Journal

Feb 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Austinite Elizabeth Crook builds a sumptuous, surprise-filled third novel, The Night Journal (Viking), on six volumes of diaries by fictional New Mexico protofeminist Hannah Bass. The handwritten notebooks from the 1890’s have become the quiet battlefield in a cross-generational war between Bassie, the daughter who edited them into a…

Glory Road

Jan 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Don Haskins, the coach of Texas Western’s 1966 NCAA champion basketball team, professes to be a highly reluctant subject of Glory Road (Hyperion), his autobiography as told to Dan Wetzel. Which makes it doubly amazing that this average Joe wearing a clip-on tie (when he absolutely has to) emerges as…

Dog Days

Jan 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

Devotees of Wonkette—the snarky political blog of Texas-bred Ana Marie Cox—will cotton to the elbows-propped-on-the-bar style of her first novel, Dog Days (Riverhead). And they’ll find a soul mate in young campaign flack Melanie Thorton, who can’t spin fast enough to keep Democratic presidential candidate John Hillman from catching a…

Worst Hard Time

Jan 1, 2006 By Mike Shea

The image of thirties “Exodusters” fleeing dirt storms and drought is imprinted on the American consciousness. But in The Worst Hard Time (Houghton Mifflin), Pulitzer Prize–winner Timothy Egan considers instead the nearly one million Dust Bowlers who stayed put—whether from stubbornness or circumstance—to scratch out a meager existence. Egan follows…

Against Gravity

Dec 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

An immigrant’s tale—the specter of a life abandoned, the perilous promise of a better future—can make for compelling drama. Author Farnoosh Moshiri’s forced flight from revolutionary Iran in 1983 (she would end up in Houston for a time) provides an intriguing back story for her searingly beautiful novel Against Gravity…

Havoc

Dec 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Austinite R.J. Pineiro hits plenty of high notes in his near-future techno-thriller, Havoc (Forge). The year is 2009, and a spiffy military-strength robot orb stolen from the U.S. Nanosolutions compound in Central Texas is loose in Europe. It has switched into survival mode, replicating itself and resolving to wipe out…

Ringside Seat to a Revolution

Dec 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez, 1893–1923 (Cinco Puntos) is a horseless carriage ride back to the dawn of the twentieth century, when revolution seemed to be carried around the world on the wind. And as portrayed by David Dorado Romo in…

Six Bits a Day

Nov 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

ELMER KELTON has been recognized by the Western Writers of America as the best western author of them all, and he shows no signs of slowing down with SIX BITS A DAY (Forge). Set in the 1880’s, his latest novel visits the cowboying origins of Hewey Calloway, Kelton’s popular character…

Under the Wire

Nov 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

When the United States dallied unforgivably long before entering World War II, young Texan WILLIAM ASH forfeited his American citizenship to join the Royal Canadian Air Force and fight Hitler. UNDER THE WIRE (Thomas Dunne Books), co-authored with Brendan Foley, captures Ash’s short but impressive career as a Spitfire fighter…

Dermaphoria

Nov 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Dallas native CRAIG CLEVENGER burrows deep into the sordid and paranoid realm of illicit recreational drugs with his second novel, DERMAPHORIA(MacAdam/Cage), a fictional crash course in the where and how of designer-drug manufactories. Eric Ashworth’s gruesome tale begins with his regaining consciousness cuffed and chained, covered with bandages, and knowing…

The Color of Law

Sep 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

The shadow of To Kill a Mockingbird looms intentionally large over THE COLOR OF LAW (Doubleday). Atticus Finch is quoted at the outset, and protagonist A. Scott Fenney’s mother admonishes him to “be like Atticus. Be a lawyer. Do good.” Quite a display of brass for first-time novelist MARK GIMENEZ.

Waterloo

Sep 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

The journalists, politicos, and barflies who inhabit Texas Monthly writer-at-large KAREN OLSSON’s first novel, WATERLOO (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), could have strolled right off the streets of Austin, real-world counterpart to the title’s fictional Texas capital. This wonderfully observed tale traces the personal and professional struggles of Waterloo…

Panic

Aug 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

PANIC (Dutton), Austinite JEFF ABBOTT’s first stand-alone thriller after seven serial detective offerings, is chock-full of the bold twists that make for a tell-your-friends page-turner. The plot is not groundbreaking: Young Houston documentarian Evan Casher finds his mother murdered in her Austin home; he learns that both his parents were…

Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal

Aug 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

The Giddings State School is home and high school to 325 boys and 65 girls who have been convicted of heinous crimes—rape, murder, arson, and the like. But these hard-luck kids caught a break when they were sentenced to this rare youth correctional facility, which genuinely seeks to rehabilitate, not…

The Rogues’ Game

Jul 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

Aspiring writers embarking on their first caper novel will find much to emulate in The Rogues’ Game (St. Martin’s), a rollicking debut by Tyler’s MILTON T. BURTON. It features all the excitement that a 1947 West Texas oil town can muster: a mysterious out-of-towner in a Lincoln convertible, a sassy…

Body Scissors

Jul 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

The year is 1991, the city is Austin, and a young black girl is killed by a stray bullet meant for her political activist mother, Virginia Key. So opens Body Scissors (Viking), the notable second thriller from MICHAEL SIMON featuring the Capital City’s lone Jewish homicide detective, Dan Reles. The…

In Perfect Light

Jul 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

El Paso’s BENJAMIN ALIRE SAENZ doesn’t do easy. Death, racism, child molestation, and U.S.-Mexico border issues are just a few of the topics he grazes in his dignified but heart-wrenching novel In Perfect Light. Meet Andrés Segovia and Grace Delgado. Segovia is a conundrum, an intelligent and en-gaging man whose…

Mission Road

Jun 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

San Antonian RICK RIORDAN returns the Alamo City’s most offbeat private investigator to action in MISSION ROAD (Bantam), the most fully realized of his six Tres Navarre novels to date. The road in question was the scene of multiple unsolved sexual assaults and homicides. When the cases, cold for at…

No Country for Old Men

Jun 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

The 1,081 citizens of Terrell County will recognize their desolate swath of Texas-Mexico borderlands as the backdrop of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Knopf), CORMAC MCCARTHY’s first novel since 1998’s Cities of the Plain. It’s in this harsh territory—prime country for illicit trafficking—that retired welder Llewelyn Moss stumbles across the…

Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles: A Spy Novel (Sort Of)

Jun 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

There is a stylistic no-man’s-land where many an alleged comic novel has crashed with a resounding thud. But Dallasite WILL CLARKE navigates the terrain with reckless abandon in his wry and inventive debut, LORD VISHNU’S LOVE HANDLES: A SPY NOVEL (SORT OF) (Simon & Schuster). Meet Travis Anderson, whose psychic…

Professor, Banker, Suicide King

May 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

In the wake of America’s obsession with Texas Hold ’Em comes the tale of Andy Beal, the Dallas banker and amateur numbers-theory whiz whose poker-playing exploits are chronicled by MICHAEL CRAIG in THE PROFESSOR, THE BANKER, AND THE SUICIDE KING: INSIDE THE RICHEST POKER GAME OF ALL TIME (Warner). In…

Bitter Milk

May 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

BITTER MILK (Picador) doesn’t lack for offbeat and entertaining citizens to populate Chilhowee Mountain, the backwoods East Tennessee setting of Austinite JOHN MCMANUS’s first novel. There’s Avery Garland, who suffers from gender dysphoria. And her overweight nine-year-old son, Loren, and his prattling alter ego, Luther. And patriarch Papaw, who’s…

36 Yalta Boulevard

May 31, 2005 By Mike Shea

Former Austinite OLEN STEINHAUER (currently of Budapest) invents a fictional Soviet bloc nation circa 1967 as the setting for 36 YALTA BOULEVARD (St. Martin’s Minotaur), the third in a series of brainy espionage novels featuring commie spy Brano Sev. Sev has fallen out of favor with the comrade lieutenant…

Chasing the Rodeo

Apr 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

Chasing the Rodeo (Harcourt) is Austin journalist W. K. Stratton’s personal assay of the rodeo arts and the sport’s colorful history and personalities, from western star Tom Mix to legendary bucking-bronco rider Jackson Sundown. It’s also an ode to Cowboy Don, Stratton’s absentee father, who spent much of his life…

Still River

Apr 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

Cheers to Dallasite Harry Hunsicker for giving us Hank (né Lee Henry) Oswald, a most welcome and worthy heir to the legacy of wisecracking private eyes like Robert Parker’s Spenser and Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole. It’s unfortunate (but entertaining) that Oswald spends much of Still River (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Minotaur)…