A Conversation With Benoit Lelievre

Benoit Lelievre is one of the most trusted reviewers of mystery/crime fiction working today. Through his site Dead End Follies, you’ll find reviews on everything from Crime to Mystery to Horror to Dark Fantasy. DEF has become one of my personal go-to sites for news and reviews, so I was thrilled when Benoit said he was available for this chat via Facebook Messenger. I’m presenting this to you with minimal editing, because it shows the oddity and charm of a Canadian/American conversation about crime fiction.

Dan: Cool man. So let’s start at the beginning: What was the book that made you a fan of the crime fiction/ mystery genre?

Benoit: If there was a definite moment, it probably was reading Dennis Lehane’s novel Mystic River in college. It was then I knew what kind of stories and what kind of people I wanted to read about. I mean, it’s a succession of things. I was into detective novels/comics long before even knowing who Lehane was, but it really was my moment of clarity. How about you?

Dan: If anyone is going to make you a lifelong fan of crime fiction, it’s Lehane.

Benoit: I don’t like him as much as I used to, but yeah. I don’t disagree.

Dan: Growing up, I came from a reading house. So there were always books around. When I discovered Block’s Berne Rhodenbarr and Coben’s Myron Bolitar, my mom and I would pass them back and forth. But I was already a huge comic book guy, and I was reading every Stephen King book I could get my hands on.

Benoit: How old were you back then?

Dan: Oh man. The first Lawrence Block “Bernie Book” I read was The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart. So maybe 21?

I think it’s because of Block and Coben that I’ve always been drawn to the wisecracking protagonist. How about you: do you like humor in your crime fiction?

Benoit: When I was that age, I was studying literature in college and was reading everything from Flaubert to the back of shampoo bottles. I didn’t “find” Lehane until I was maybe, 24?

Benoit: It depends. I like fiction that has “range.” That can be funny and tragic within the same scene. Television show Justified is a good example. True Detective had its moment as well. I’m not into anything that tries too hard to be one thing in particular, does that make sense? That said, I’ve never read Harlan Coben.

Dan: That makes total sense. Some authors tend to skew “funny” or “hardcore serious.” Early Coben was pretty lighthearted, but then got more somber as the character matured and his parents got older. That was a realistic progression of the character. I can read heavy emotion or violence as long as somewhere in the narrative someone cracks a joke here and there.

Dan: So you found crime fiction at 24. At what point did you start to review, and when did Dead End Follies come around?

Benoit: It was eight years ago, so that would’ve made me 26 years old. I was working tech support at a call center back then, trying to finish my master degree and hating my life. I didn’t know what to do when the phone didn’t ring. A guy on the floor had a very successful Atheism blog, so he showed me how to get one off the ground and find my audience. So, I started writing about what I knew best: books and movies.

Dan: I know I found your blog through the mystery community on twitter. Your site has become one of my most trusted sites for reviews. And I hope you are no longer hating your life

Benoit: I don’t, thanks for asking! Tell me, Dan. What prompted YOU to start writing about books? This is such a strange hobby we have.

Dan: It was all Duane Swierczynski’s fault. I was brand new to twitter, so I was following authors I liked. I had read Severance Package and it knocked me out. So I was reading Wheelman, and took a second to tweet Mr. S how much I liked it. He actually responded back! I couldn’t believe it. Someone who didn’t know me had read my message and took a minute to respond. So, through these conversations, I met Jon Jordan of Crimespree magazine. After the 2011 Bouchercon he asked my wife Kate and I to submit to the magazine, and that was that. But it’s still that sense of community that crime fiction fans and creators have that keeps me involved.

Dan: When you meet folks that aren’t big readers, or only read literary fiction, what do you recommend to them?

Benoit: That’s something I didn’t fully wrap my head around yet, the sense of Community. My friend Eryk Pruitt is working on that, though. He’s trying to get me to Toronto later this year, so we can get hammered and act rowdy.

Dan: Go. The feeling of being surrounded by your tribe is amazing. But you then need to go to Bcon 2018 so we can toast each other with ginger ale.

Benoit: The non-readers I try to leave them alone, to be honest. I try and find any other common ground with them. If they’ve got it in them, my reading habits will rub off on them (it did, several times). If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Some of the best people I know never read a book. Same with literary readers. I talk literary books with them because we have that in common. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see myself as a preacher of some form. I just want to read awesome stuff, find people who are as obsessive as I am about it and share the love. The rest, you can’t force it. At least, that’s what I believe.

Dan: I hear you. I’ll talk sports or comics with anyone. But if it comes up in conversation… I’ll always recommend SHOTGUN OPERA by Victor Gischler or the Hank Thompson trilogy by Charlie Huston.

So we’ve established you’ve got a literary background. What do you read when you’ve filled up on crime? When you need a palate cleanser?

Benoit: I haven’t read Gischler much, but he does strike me as a good gateway drug. His work is uncomplicated and fast paced.

Benoit: I’ve sacrificed a whole lot of traffic on Dead End Follies over the last two years trying to forge an identity outside of crime, but it’s been quite successful. I’ll read anything that’s dark, really: horror, bizarro, dark fantasy, whatever Blake Butler and Brian Evenson are writing about. How about you?

Dan: It’s not that I need an identity outside of crime fiction. It’s more that sometimes I’ve read too much of the same style of writing. Last year I put down more unfinished books than I ever had before. It was really frustrating. I need to read more graphic novels in between books, watch more movies after I’ve finished a book, let my mind reset. After all, I’m not getting any younger.

Benoit: You’re a superhero guy?

Dan: BIG TIME.

Benoit: Interesting. What do you find satisfying about them?

Dan: I discovered them at the right time: I was a little kid on vacation with my folks. So back then it was wish fulfilment. As I got older, I really got sucked into the legacy aspect of DC comics: the sidekick taking over the mantle and all that. I firmly believe that super hero comics are like crime/mystery books: you can use the genre to tell whatever kind of story you want to.

Benoit: I guess. These guys have to come up with stories so often, I’m sure they’re willing to explore and redefine the boundaries of what they’re capable of doing.

Dan: My last prepared question: What is your policy at DEF about publishing negative reviews? Some sites won’t do them, some want more critical, ect

Benoit: It’s a tough one, because you cultivate so many personal relationships in this business and the internet can turn on you at such speed, it takes balls to write one. I’ve had so many horror stories with negative reviews it took me years to be able to write a coherent one. In the end, I’m motivated by two things: 1) I do this for people reading my site. It’s them I want to have a conversation with. They’re my tribe, like you say. If the writers like, they like. If they don’t, well. What can I do? 2) I think critical insight is worth more to someone who’s not wholly successful than blind praise. I called wolf on a couple books everybody praised I thought were terrible over the last year and while no one agreed with me publicly, I had a lot of thank you notes in private. In the end, I believe my reasons to do what I do are sound, so I can face the backlash of a bad review.

Dan: I love this response- you’re right though- it does take balls to follow through on. I think this is a good wrap up as well. We covered a ton of stuff. Talk more soon. Au Revoir, Benoit!

Benoit: lol! Have a good evening. Say hi to Kate for me.

 

 

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