Picks of the Month
August ’12 Pick: Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott proves how malleable noir fiction is. In her first books, she approached the postwar setting and the genre’s other tropes with a feminine perspective (and I don’t mean “girlie”; you don’t get any cute romances or crying with Megan’s characters). She also honed in on the way noir portrays people driven by their emotions. The approach found its perfect pitch in last year’s The End Of Everything, set in the Detroit suburbs of the nineteen-eighties with a thirteen-year-old girl who discovers disturbing neighborhood secrets when her best friend goes missing. Abbott’s latest, Dare Me, takes the genre known to be about outsiders and losers and drops it in the middle of an in-crowd, a high school cheerleading squad.
July ’12 Pick: The Last Minute by Jeff Abbott
In Adrenaline, Jeff Abbott introduced us to Sam Capra, a betrayed CIA agent and parkour enthusiast, who at the end of the book comes into possession of over thirty bars around the world. The book had characters, dialogue, and action pieces that put Hollywood blockbusters to shame. Abbott now wraps up Capra’s origin in The Last Minute.
May ’12 Pick: As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson
One of the best things about Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series is his ability to consistently deliver everything we love about his books without writing the same story over and over again. Since it is humor, characterization, and sense of place that are associated with these mysteries about the put-upon sheriff in a small Wyoming town, he has room to play with pace, plot, and even sub genre. In As The Crow Flies, he takes Walt out of Absaroka County jurisdiction for a murder on the Cheyenne Reservation.
March ’12 Pick: The Devil’s Odds by Milton T. Burton
Last year we lost one of the best crime crime writers in Texas, Milton T. Burton. He had a unique and knowledgeable take on the the state’s people as well as its sordid history. He left us before he had the chance to have the career many of us hoped he’d have. His posthumously published The Devil’s Odds demonstrates his great promise.
February ’12 Pick: The Next One to Fall by Hilary Davidson
Hilary Davidson earned many an accolade for her debut novel, The Damage Done. She showed you could have a unique voice without being heavily stylized and showy. She brought a gritty feel and dark, complex psychology to the thriller. Her sequel, The Next One To Fall, proves she’ll be impressing us for some time to come.
January ’12 Pick: A Quiet Vendetta by R. J. Ellory
RJ Ellory has been an acclaimed author for some time in his native England, and is lesser known here in the states even though he always uses U. S. settings. Starting with the stunning A Quiet Belief In Angels and the shadow history-serial killer hybrid A Simple Act Of Violence, his work has started to come over here. The latest Ellory book to hit our shores, A Quiet Vendetta, solidifies him as one of the top crime writers today.
Read the rest of the review.
December ’11 Pick: Ranchero by Rick Gavin
“The Delta is different” is a repeated phrase in Ranchero, Nick Gavin’s rollicking debut. He proves that statement time and again in a crime adventure with a satirical bent that takes us through a Mississippi that makes Carl Hiassen’s Florida seem normal.
The story itself is relatively simple. Most of it could have been the plot for a ’70s Southern exploitation movie with young a Burt Reynolds and Warren Oates. It starts when Nick Reid gets cold cocked by a shovel when he tries to repossess the TV of one Percy Duane Dubious, who takes his watch, wallet, and cell phone. If that’s not enough, Percy takes the Ranchero wagon Nick borrowed from his landlady and lets out of town with his wife, Cissy, and their baby. With the help of his hulking African American buddy, Desmond, Nick hits the road to get it back. Soon the two friends get drawn into a touchy triangle between Percy, Cissy, and a very violent meth supplier.
Ranchero shows off two of Gavin’s gifts. He has the ability to use a lot of humor without lessening the impact of the violence. Like Elmore Leonard and Joe R Lansdale, he does this by grounding the story in his colorful, weird, yet believable characters. A lot of the wit comes from Nick’s observations of the Delta, and it’s the great feel of the place that also make it a winning novel. From yuppies in converted slave shacks, to the intricacies of male Southern honor, to comparisons of Sonics from town to town, Gavin gives a fun, action packed tour through the new South with plenty of grit and grease. If only Burt were still young enough for the movie version.
November ’11 Pick: Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman
Reed Farrel Coleman’s Jewish part-time investigator Moe Prager is my favorite modern PI. Poignant and believable, in previous books we’ve followed Moe and his city from the mid-70s to post 9/11, discovering that this PI keeps as many secrets as he’s uncovered. Hurt Machine brings us to the end of his journey and looks at the toll those secrets have taken on his life when Moe is diagnosed with cancer.
To take his mind off the upcoming surgery and maybe even his daughter’s wedding, Prager agrees to help his ex-wife whose sister, an EMT, was stabbed to death a week after she and her partner refused to help a dying man. Moe’s investigation into both deaths brings him to the conclusion that we are all hurt machines that cause pain, intentional or not.
Both the case and Moe’s health make him consider life and time. Moe views his suspects’ grudges and obsessions as petty compared to the big picture, wondering if those things would enter their mind when death comes knocking. Coleman’s voice puts you in Prager’s skin as he deals with these people and struggles with his disease. Being a keeper of secrets, it’s his instinct to hide the news from those close to him.
Reed has said this is his last Moe book (not counting a prequel that will take place in his police days). If so, one of the the best PIs has left as good as he entered.