It’s hard to argue against the fact that we’re living in a golden age in crime fiction. It’s only the middle of the year and I have more than enough to fill out a Top Ten list. So to fill in your summer reading time, I’ve come up with 10 (okay, 12) books that you need to read in August.
Both of these books showcase the wide range of rural crime fiction. McBride’s relentless noir novel and Atkin’s latest book starring heroic lawman Quinn Colson are both skilled gothic spins on communities and their underlying corruption.
2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman
Moe Prager takes on his last case with the humanistic toughness we have come to expect from Coleman’s work. This book delves into the series’ recurring theme of identity in a new way and lets Moe go out with class.
3. The Fever by Megan Abbott
Abbott’s take on the mysterious seizures of several high school girls in a small town borrows moods and tones from several genres. In The Fever, Abbott has created a unique thriller about populace, sexuality, and parental love. Another Megan Abbott book that’s hard to shake.
4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya
Tafoya’s latest reads like Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neil. A damaged ex-US Marshall tries to protect what’s left of her family when her father, a corrupt union enforcer, breaks out of prison and sets out on a brutal trail. The emotion is as intense as the gunfire.
5. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames
Retired police chief Samuel Craddock gets pulled into the murder investigation of a returned vet and ends up acting as a witness to the sins of his town and country. A moving mystery about a very relevant topic.
6. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz
This suspenseful ode to the sleazy Times Square of yesteryear stars a young grindhouse addict who ends up in his own horror show when the girl who sits next to him during a slasher double-bill is stabbed to death. One of the best uses of setting I’ve ever read.
7. Blood Promise by Mark Pryor
The latest Hugo Marston thriller has the embassy security head involved with a conspiracy linking French Revolution history to current politics in this fun and involving story with many strong characters. Proof of why Mark Pryor is one of the fastest rising talents in the thriller field.
8. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
A brilliant use of flashback and cold case murder investigation. Lippman weaves a tapestry of family, identity, religion and class with a strong, suspenseful thread.
9. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson
A botched blackmail attempt combines with a botched kidnapping for a tale that contains an ever-changing set of sub genres and points of view. The story moves from black comic noir to detective story to thriller, all the while presenting engaging characters and a relentless plot.
If newspapers are dying, the newspaper mystery isn’t. In Providence Rag, DeSilva’s series character Mulligan is pitted against a crusading reporter whose exposé of prison corruption could release a serial killer he helped put away. Tucker’s debut, Ways of the Dead, has his D.C. journalist covering a murder case that links the city’s lower class and the power class. Both books show the untapped potential of the newspaper subgenre.
Read these bokos, take a breath, and brace for Fall with more books from authors like James Ellroy and Jon Connolly. Four members on today’s list will publish a second novel this year, as well, so look for new books from Terry Shames, Reed Farrel Coleman, Mark Pryor, and Ed Kurtz before 2014 is up.
S.J. Rozan is one of the most resected crime fiction writers out there. Her intertwining series featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith have a master crafts-person’s fusion of story and character. In Falconer, at Akashics’ Mondays’ Are Murder site, she goes to different setting to deal with a different kind of crime.
“‘Ulan Bator, Republic of Mongolia
Tuguldur didn’t like the city.
His father had never come, nor his father’s father. Nothing called them. They drove their herds to the ridges, within sight of the distant towers and haze, and sold them to middlemen. They turned their horses when the business was done and rode back to the steppe, to the autumn camps and their families and the young, strong animals that would survive the howling winter and fatten in the spring…”
Chris F. Holm is one of our favorites. His work has appeared in such publications as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. He’s been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and a Spinetingler Award winner. He has a wonderful gift for mixing genres like this cross between noir and horror (with a touch of comedy) that recently appeared in Beat to a Pulp.
“‘… leave …‘
When Simon heard the voice, his mouth went dry, his palms went slick with sweat, and his heart pounded like a drum line in his chest. It wasn’t so much what the voice had said that spooked him, or the menace its throaty whisper conveyed. What spooked him was that it was so clear, it sounded as though it’d spoken directly into the digital recorder in his hand—and yet he hadn’t heard the voice at all until he played it back. Add to that the fact there wasn’t another living soul for miles around—the old Amalgamated Paper mill had been left to rot damn near seventy years ago, and Simon himself had been forced to scale one fence and shimmy through another to even get inside—and that voice seemed downright otherworldly.
The thought sent gooseflesh spreading down Simon’s arms, and slapped a dopey smile upon his face. After all, that’s why Simon was here…”
I came by James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much when it was recommended to me by Joe R. Lansdale. Daniel Woodrell had suggested it to him. Even Raymond Chandler was a fan. Last year, Mysterious Press came out with a reprint of the novel (including a forward by Woodrell). The book shows that rural noir could be just as mean, nasty, and engaging as it is now, possibly more so.
Our narrator is Jack McCall. When is his farm goes bust, Jack throws in as a manager with Smut McCall, the charming local bootlegger, who opens up a road house. Smut’s saviness and ambition are only outmatched by his lust for the wife of the town operator, who he sees as often as he can. When Smut pulls Jack into a crime, holds out on his share of the profits, the two play a cat and mouse and mouse scenarios that out Tom & Jerry to shame.
The book is a mix of Chandler and James Cain soaked in Southern barbecue. The prose style grabs you from the first paragraph, makng Jack’s dialect and manner as its style. Much of the suspense is built through his desperation. Ross gives us detail in the day-to-day business (both legal and not) of running that road house, showing the constant moral compromises these men make and thier justifications. It’s not a shock when murder is treated indifferently.
They Don’t Dance Much is more than just a look at one of the first rural noirs. it’s an involving, seedy tale of compromised men who become thier own undoing with enough twisted humor to satisfy a Lansdale fan. Read it and you’ll recommend it.
“Did you hear about Milton Smith getting his head blown off?” My mother was calling me from West Texas. I was in Austin.
“Wha…no…what?” I stammered.
“You remember Milton,” she wrongly assumed “He has that Texaco station where they take care of my car. He and 4 or 5 big shots play cards down there every Saturday. Well, Sunday morning they were found shot to death. And everyone of them was holding a pistol.”
From that phone call, so many years ago, my novel Slap Noir was conceived. The painful gestation period covered decades. For years I would forget about that shootout. But it would always sneak back into my consciousness when least expected…like in the shower when I ran out of hot water, or while sitting in traffic on an L.A. freeway for no good reason. All I knew was that nobody ever figured out exactly what happened. Or if they did, they weren’t telling.
Then five years ago, I sat down to write about my Vietnam experience. Or maybe about my days pitching story ideas and dealing with Hollywood. Somehow the poker shootout took over. It was the story I had to write.
I wanted to focus on how such a tragedy could impact the people of a small community. How it was dealt with. And hopefully come up with a satisfactory explanation, not though an examination of the facts, but through the freedom of my imagination.
The story had to be dark. A noir mystery. I love noir, from Chandler to Thompson to Phillip Kerr. Lately I have been reading a lot of Scandinavian noir. For a place with all that bright snow, they sure can celebrate the dark.
The problem? I prefer stories with some humor. Existence is indeed dark and hopeless if we cannot laugh at its absurdities. The Scandinavians are not all that funny. Neither are Kerr’s murder mysteries set in Nazi Germany.
No worries. I decided humor could be found in abundance in the chaos surrounding the investigation of my poker shootout. Just allow the action to come from the characters. They did not disappoint me. Now it is up to you, noble reader, to decide if I found the proper balance between mystery and humor.
~Post by Molly
On Monday, July 7, the Seven Percent Solution book club had the distinct pleasure of discussing Rick Riordan’s great Texas noir, The Big Red Tequila. This intriguing foray into the criminal world of San Antonio in the late ’90s is Riordan’s first novel to star Jackson “Tres” Navarre. Tres has a unique skill set: he is an English PhD, T’ai chi master, and all-around force to be reckoned with.
As the novel begins, Tres has just returned to San Antonio after a ten year absence. Why so long away? Tres’s sheriff father was murdered there the last time Tres was in town, and now he’s looking for answers. He also hopes to reunite with his high school sweetheart, who soon goes missing amid conspiracy coming to a boil.
Luckily, Tres Navarre and his enchilada-eating cat, Robert Johnson, have the talent and drive to find his girlfriend, solve his father’s murder, and drink some margaritas on the way. He gets some extra help from his old boss and his brother in Austin, and he and his brother pass some time complaining about the tourists out for the South Congress bat colony. This scene combines with descriptions of the developing I-35 corridor, the burgeoning tech industry, and fights over gentrification to make Riordan’s tale as relevant to Texas today as when it was first published.
We agreed at book club that Riordan’s descriptions provide a heightened sense of reality, and that his knowledge of San Antonio and Texas shines throughout the novel. One member described feeling the Texas heat in particular, so you might want to read this one inside. We also came to a consensus that Robert Johnson was an amazing cat, and that Tres’s old flame might not be the best person to date. We agreed that as long as Texas keeps growing, this novel will never become irrelevant. Finally, we all made up our minds to read the Devil Came Down to Austin, to see what the hero makes of our fair town.
Next up for the book club, we are reading Paper Towns, by John Green. We’ll meet to discuss on Monday, August 4th. This novel won the Edgar Award for Young Adult fiction and since we’ve all been dying to read something by John Green, we were delighted to realize that Paper Towns qualified for our book club. You can check our facebook page to vote on the Seven Percent Solution’s book for September. As always, we meet on the first Monday of each month at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. Books discussed are 10% off for those who attend the meeting.
All of BookPeople’s book clubs are free to attend! No reservation necessary.
Lori Rader-Day has been in the crime world for a while – she teaches mystery writing in Chicago and is active in several mystery author organizations. The Black Hour is her first novel, and hits on some fairly heavy themes for a debut, including suicide and a
mysterious campus shooting. Random acts of violence are on America’s mind, and they seem to have been on Lori Rader-Day’s mind as well. Since the novel is set in academia, the fierce competition for prestige and funding in higher education plays a prominent role. There are, it seems, quite a few more reasons to kill someone in the ivory tower than one might realize before starting this thrilling descent into the depths of the near-Ivy League.
The Black Hour begins with a professor returning to work after being gut-shot by a student a year earlier. Why? No one knows – some assume the two were having an affair, but most accept it as random violence that cannot be understood. Dr. Amelia Emmet, however, studies the sociology of violence for her living, and with the help of a secretive graduate student and a persistent reporter, she just might find out the truth. Realistically, it might take a while – every moment she gets closer to a resolution, she hits yet another hurdle in her recovery from injuries and her repairing of relationships wrecked long before her shooting ever took place. The narrative might develop gradually, but Rader-Day’s ear for dialogue and compelling characterizations keep the pace from ever feeling slow.
This is a very human story – Lori Rader-Day shies away from sweeping condemnations of society in favor of a more nuanced take on a woman’s struggle to find closure. Curiosity, personal and professional, also play a part, and Rader-Day enjoys bringing to the fore the central irony of the story – a professor specializing in the sociology of violence has become the victim of that which constitutes her livelihood. The identity crisis caused by this intimate violation of academic distance allows Rader-Day to delve more deeply into the psychology of murder, and sparks additional discussions of class, gender, privilege, disability, and asymmetrical sexual relationships. She presents this all with a dry wit and cynical edge, while drawing towards a suspenseful and satisfying conclusion. The Black Hour is one to read, and Rader-Day is definitely one to watch.
The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
~Post by Scott M.
The Hard Word Book Club is known for its share of tough guy fiction, but we get real manly on July 30th with the anthology Blood & Tacos edited by Johnny Shaw. It is a great tribute to the men’s action paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s.
Shaw rounded up some of the best talent, including Thomas Pluck, Josh Stallings, and himself. Each contributes a story he “found” from the era, along with a bio of the author (which can be as entertaining as the tale). The stories range from straight up homages like Gary Phillips’s The Silencer Strikes or semi-parodies, such as Todd “Big Daddy Thug” Robinson’s story featuring the deep-sea-diving and womanizing he-man Studs Winslow. Many are funny, all are fun.
The discussion should be a blast with Johnny joining us on the phone. We start at 7PM, on the third floor, Wednesday July 30th. Books are 10% off to those who attend. Check bookpeople.com for more info.