Scott’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2014

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, Eleven)


This was quite a full year for crime fiction. Raymond Chandler came back and Moe Prager left. Emerging voices like Benjamin Whitmer  and Matthew McBride made a stand and veterans like James Ellroy came back. Matt Scudder was in a great movie and the poster couple  for toxic marriage in Gone Girl got beautifully adapted. Needless to say it was difficult to make a top 10 list, so I found a way to  shoehorn in eleven.


cry father1. Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

This book, following the dark criminal adventures of a tree cutter in disaster sites in mourning for his son, is a perfect piece  of brutal poetry. Raw in its emotion, it speaks to and for the people society pushes to the margins. I plan to read this book at  least every ten years for the rest of my life.

 


hollow girl2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

The final Moe Prager novel deeply involves Coleman’s recurring theme of identity in a way that forces one of the most human private detectives ever put on the page to deal with his own concept of self. A pitch perfect swan song.

 


fever3. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Mysterious seizures hit a group of high school girls, causing hysteria in an upstate new York town. Abbott blends mystery, horror, and  coming of age, digging emotionally deep into community, family, and female friendship with an aching and dark mood.

 


swollen red sun4. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

A masterpiece of rural crime fiction. When a Missouri sheriff’s deputy steals $72,000 out of a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of  weakness, it sets the spark that sends a corrupt county up into flames. A relentless novel that moves like a muscle car on an open  road.


the drop poor boys game5. The Drop by Dennis Lehane & The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

Both of these books tapped into the emotional core of their stories with poignancy while still delivering a bad-ass hard-boiled tale.  Lehane’s lonely bartender being batted about by the mob and Tafoya’s damaged U.S. marshal who has to fight the mob off are characters  who will stay with you for some time.


last death of jack harbin6. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

The second Samuel Craddock novel has the retired police chief looking into the murder of a disabled war veteran. As he investigates, Samuel  becomes a witness to the sins of his town and society in this moving mystery.

 


the forty-two7. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

A tension filled thriller that effectively uses early Eighties Time Square as a backdrop in all its seedy glory. Kurtz uses grind  house theaters, peepshows, and greasy spoons like Hitchcock used Mount Rushmore and The Statue Of Liberty.


forsaken ace atkins8. The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

The fourth Quinn Colson novel has the Mississippi sheriff dealing with race issues, biker gangs, county Kingpin Johnny Stagg, and an  old crime connected to his father who disappeared years ago. Entertaining dialogue and action with strong thematic undercurrents.


mark pryor the blood promise9. The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

A great thriller with vivid characters and a plot that ties a modern treaty signing to an event during The French Revolution. Further  proof of why Pryor’s Hugo Marston is one of the best new heroes.

 


after im gone10. After I’m Gone by Laura Lipman

Lippman looks at the disappearance of a shady businessman through the wife, daughter, and murdered mistress he left behind. Lippmann  uses the lives of these ladies as a clever window into family, class, religion, and feminism in the last half of the twentieth  century.


Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

Molly’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2014

post by Molly

As the year comes to a close, it is time to compile as many lists as possible of our favorite books of the year. Here are my top ten –  you’ll see quite a bit of overlap between my top ten international list and this one, but I’ll also profile a few books from inside  the states. You may notice a paucity of female authors – one of my New Year’s resolutions is to read more female mystery writers, so you will see more on the list next year. The following  books are in no particular order of preference – all are equally fantastic.


in the morning1. In The Morning, I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty  
McKinty brings his Troubles Trilogy to a (literally) explosive close as Detective Sean Duffy gets assigned by British secret service  to track down an old classmate turned IRA bigwig.


fever2. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Abbott takes on middle class paranoia and the dangerous lives of adolescent girls in this modern update to the Salem Witch Trials.  Teenage girls are falling ill in a small, polluted New England town and parents, teenagers, and the CDC work to find the cause before  the contagion can spread.


williammcilvanneylaidlaw3. Laidlaw by William McIlvanney

McIlvanney wrote this early Tartan Noir in the mid-1970s, and several decades later, it’s back in print and available on our shelves.  DI Laidlaw is a dour but compassionate man, working to find a criminal and put him in custody before a murdered girl’s family can take  their own revenge.


day of atonement4. The Day of Atonement by David Liss

Liss takes a break from his Benjamin Weaver character to take us into a stand-alone tale of revenge best served cold – a Jewish Count  of Monte Cristo, if you will. A young converso, after fleeing to England, embraces his Jewish heritage and returns to Lisbon to visit  revenge upon the inquisitor who betrayed his family.


the good life5. The Good Life by Frank Wheeler

Wheeler takes us deep into the messed-up head of a corrupt Nebraskan sheriff taking control of the drug trade in his small town. As  the body count got higher, my willingness to ever visit rural Nebraska got steadily lower. But hey, that’s what people think of Texas,  too.


ghostmonth6. Ghost Month by Ed Lin

Ed Lin sets his latest novel in Taipei’s historic Night Market as a college dropout/food vendor tries to find out who killed his ex- girlfriend. Full of vast conspiracies, bizarre foods, and a whole lot of Joy Division lyrics, Ghost Month is the best kind of  international noir.


last winter we parted7. Last Winter, We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura

A reporter is assigned to write a book on a photographer imprisoned for burning his models alive in a quixotic attempt to capture  their essence. As the reporter learns more about the photographer and the photographer’s sister, he begins to question the nature of  reality while at the same time getting ever closer to discovering the pair’s nefarious secrets. The most literary noir I’ve read this  year.


rose gold8. Rose Gold by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley’s long-running protagonist Easy Rawlins returns to the page in this wild romp through the swinging sixties and the  nascent Black Power movement. Mosely creates a sympathetic portrayal of characters marginalized by society and once again immerses us  in his diverse vision of historic Los Angeles.


the black hour9. The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day

This was my favorite debut of the year. Rader-Day crafts an intricate mystery set in the echoing halls of the Ivory Tower, addressing  school violence, battles over funding, and just about every other collegiate controversy you can name. I can’t wait to see what she  does next.


final silence10. The Final Silence – Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville has actually written a believable serial killer narrative set in Northern Ireland and seamlessly integrated into the  history of the Troubles. I thought it couldn’t be done, and I was wrong. Thank you, Mr. Neville.


secret history of las vegasHonorable Mention: The Secret History of Las Vegas, by Chris Abani

I just started reading this one, so I don’t want to put it on the official list, but judging by the first ten pages, this will be one  of the most beautifully written mysteries I have ever read. Given the psychopathic crimes, conjoined twins, and Las Vegas setting,  this will also be one of the creepiest.

 


Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Scott and Molly’s Top Eight Reissues of 2014

This was a great year for publishers bringing back classics into print. It’s important to keep legacy publishing going, to inspire writers and readers alike. Here are eight books brought back into print this year that are well worth your time today.


Molly’s Top Four Reissues


williammcilvanneylaidlaw1. Laidlaw by Ian McIlvanney

When Ian McIlvanney took some time off writing poetry in the 1970s to write the Detective Laidlaw trilogy, he had no idea that he was  quietly creating the genre of Scottish Noir, or as some like to refer to it, Tartan Noir. Europa Editions reissued the first and  second volumes of the DI Laidlaw Trilogy this year – Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch – and the third volume, Strange Loyalties,  is due out April 2015. In a city as grey and dismal as Edinburgh, especially in the 1970s, it should be no surprise that Detective  Inspector Laidlaw is about as noir as it gets.


borderline2. Borderline by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block is one of the most prolific and admired authors writing today, and after a 60-year career, Mr. Block has quite a few  novels to bring back into print. Borderline, a relic of the porn paperback industry, was initially published in the 1950s, and what  read as salacious at that time now reads as coy and clever. Borderline takes place in El Paso and Juarez as several desperate  characters, including a serial killer, collide in a murderous take on the Beatnik experience.


mad and the bad3. The Mad and the Bad, by Jean-Patrick Manchette

This classic, crazed French noir, originally written in the 1970s,and now reissued through New York Review of Books, stars a spoiled heir, a suspicious  red-headed uncle, a nanny recently released from the mental ward, and a professional killer suffering from ulcers, all with a severe  penchant for violence. Follow the nanny and the heir as they are kidnapped by the professional killer, and be rewarded with the most  violent road trip across France since the D-Day invasion. The novel’s ending is explosive and stylish, reminiscent of the recent film  Hanna in the fairy-tale setting of its final showdown.


gb844. GB84 by David Peace

Originally released in 2004, and never before published in the United States, possibly because of its radical politics, GB84 is David  Peace’s epic and intense depiction of the 1984 Coal Miners’ Strike in Great Britain. Through shifting perspectives and shadowy goings  on, lurking Special Branch agents and striking miners beaten by police, Peace merges history and crime novel to create a portrait of  Margaret Thatcher’s England more Orwellian than even George Orwell could have imagined.


Scott’s Top Four Reissues


get carter1. Get Carter (AKA) Jack’s Trip Back by Ted Lewis

Syndicate Books kicked off their publishing enterprise earlier this year with Ted Lewis’ trilogy featuring cold to the bone London mob enforcer Jack Carter. In  this first book, Carter is in full ruthless form, returning to his Northern England home town to hunt down the folks who killed his  brother.


pop12802. Pop 1280 by Jim Thompson

Mulholland books have reprinted almost all of Jim Thompson’s work with elegant new covers, with many having introductions by famed  authors. Daniel Woodrell introduces this violent and satiric tale of a crooked sheriff in the the early 20th century American South. The book looks at race,  greed, corruption, and love with a jaundiced yet inventive eye.


hardcase3. Hardcase by Dan Simmons

Mulholland also brought this hard boiled gift back in print, introducing us to Joe Kurtz, a private eye who makes Mike Hammer look  like a Hardy boy. You can feel Simmons love for the genre as spins this tale of Joe setting himself back in business after a ten year  prison stint, working for the mob boss who’s son he saved in the joint. The follow ups, Hard Freeze and Hard As Nails, will be out in  2015.


elmore leonard library of america4.  4 Novels From The 70s by Elmore Leonard

One of our most influential authors gets the American Library treatment. This first of three volumes features 52 Pick-Up, SwagUnknown Man #89, and The Switch. The reader can track the progress of an already seasoned writer developing a voice that would leave  its mark.

 


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com. All books listed above as forthcoming are available for pre-order on our website.

MysteryPeople Q&A with TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND editor Joe Clifford

One of my favorite books this year is Trouble In The Heartland, forty stories from some of today’s top crime writers, each playing off the title of a  Bruce Springsteen song. These tales capture the emotion and hard luck characters of the singer/song-writer’s work. Joe Clifford was kind enough to talk to us about the project.


MysteryPeople: What was the most difficult part of this project?

Joe Clifford: Honestly, probably the cover. There are two publishers for this thing. It came out with Gutter Books, but Zelmer Pulp’s involved too. There were some (minor) differences of opinions about the cover. Small stuff. But important to the artist. In this case, Chuck Regan, who designed the cover (and obviously did a magnificent job). Still, Gutter has its own aesthetic. I was the bridge between the two camps, so I’d often get caught in the middle. There was a little “don’t kill the messenger” at times, because everyone has their own ideas, and they are, rightfully, passionate about those ideas. But that was it. Overall, it was very smooth sailing.

MP:  Why do you think Springsteen resonates with so many crime writers?

JC: Because he writes about the hopeless, the downtrodden, the beat-down losers who refuse to stay down. The romantics with broken hearts. The dreamers still trying to carve out a better lives for themselves against all odds. Like the Boss sings in “Something in the Night” (which was covered by Mike Creeden in our anthology): those of us “looking for a moment when the world seems right.” Pretty much noir and crime, right?

MP:  What in his music do you hope to capture in your own writing?

JC: Bruce was the first real literary figure in my life. He doesn’t write books, but he’s an author. I didn’t read growing up. Teachers told me to read. So I said no. A little like “Growing Up.” “When they said sit down, I stood up.” Springsteen showed a confused kid in a podunk cow town that a better, bigger world was possible. I wasn’t popular. Wasn’t good at sports. Felt unappreciated. “It’s a town full of losers; I’m pulling out to win” was a driving mantra. Until I pulled out. Still not sure if I’ve won. But I made my move. And it’s that spirit I try to capture. The everyman looking for something more, following that inner voice to be who he or she has to be. Because there is no other way. Win or lose. And there is something inherently romantic about that, I think.

MP: Was there any author who surprised you with how they interpreted their song title?

JC: I’m not just saying this because I edited the thing, but this is as strong an anthology as I’ve ever read. Editing this, I had to read each story half a dozen times, if not more. And the mark of a great story is that it gets better with each read, which is what happened here. I’d love to single out every story, because every author made this a pleasure. A lot of work. But a pleasure. All that said, James R. Tuck’s “I’m on Fire” and Jordan Harper’s “Prove It All Night” were the one that surprised me most (obviously in the best possible way). Chris Holm’s “Mansion on the Hill,” too. But when you have a collection with Dennis Lehane, Hilary Davidson, James Grady, Chuck Wendig, et al., you’re getting the best of the best. Also Rob Pierce’s “Rosalita” still makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. An exercise in economy.

MP: Most authors edit an anthology so they can have a story in it. You don’t have one in here. Any particular reason?

JC: I don’t know. I also feel like putting one of your own stories in an anthology or magazine you edit is tantamount to throwing a surprise party for yourself. I mean, that’s just me. I know a lot of editors do it, and that’s cool. Mostly it’s about hats. When I am a writer, I wear the writer hat, and when I am an editor, I wear the editor’s hat. Those hats don’t go together. When I edit something, I need that perspective. I didn’t want to muddle up that requisite objectivity with having to edit my own story. Writing invites an emotional attachment that the best editing eschews.

MP: How did the Bob Woodruff Foundation become the choice of charity?

JC: We knew we wanted to do something to help veterans, and the BWF were very receptive to the idea. They’ve been great to work with. Not to mention, when you open their webpage, you’ll see a picture of the Boss. So the marriage just made sense.


Copies of Trouble In The Heartland are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

If you like Craig Johnson…

Craig Johnson is one of our closest friends. For close to ten years, he’s given us mysteries full of humor, humanity, and western flavor with his Wyoming lawman Sheriff Walt Longmire. While you’re waiting for the next for the next book, here are three other writers in the same vein you might enjoy.


death along the spirit road1. Death Along The Spirit Road by C.M. Wendelboe

FBI agent Manny Tanno is forced to go back to the Lakota Reservation where he grew up to look into a murder after his brother is named prime suspect. To make things worse, his high school rival has become the tribal police chief. Much like Craig, Wendelboe gives his American Indian characters humor and humanity.


a killing at cotton hill2. A Killing At Cotton Hill by Terry Shames

Retired chief of police, Samuel Craddock, is brought back onto service in his Central Texas town when a woman he grew up with is murdered. A great look at aging and community.

 


windigo island3. Windigo Island by William Kent Kruger

The latest Cork O’Connor novel has the former Michigan sheriff turned PI looking for a missing Ojibwa girl from the Bad Bluff reservation tied to a legendary creature. Craig and Kent are often compared to each other due to their rich characters and feel for setting.


Also, you still have time to sign up for Craig’s newsletter and get his latest Walt holiday story sent to you on Christmas Eve. Here’s the link….

If You Like Laurie R. King…

-Post by Molly

Laurie R. King is one of my favorite authors of historical crime fiction, and ever since my sister finally convinced me to read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, King’s first novel starring Sherlock Holmes and his assistant (later to be his spouse) Mary Russell, I’ve been hooked on the series. King’s appeal is certainly not based on riding the coattails of the Sherlock Holmes phenomena – instead, King uses one well-established character, Holmes, drops him in the middle of the 1920s, and creates a companion for him worthy of the change in setting. Here are a few recommendations for the Laurie R. King fan…


day of atonement1. Day of Atonement by David Liss

David Liss has been writing historical fiction with Jewish characters gallavanting about the 18th century world for some time now, and his latest, Day of Atonement, set in Lisbon around the time of the great Lisbon earthquake, is a masterpiece of historical crime fiction. Framed as a revenge thriller, Day of Atonement is a fun fact-filled and action-packed thriller. It’s either the Jewish Count of Monte Cristo or the 18th century Inglourious Bastards, take your pick.


maisie dobbs2. The Maisie Dobbs novels, by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear writes mysteries starring the working class girl, wartime nurse, and amateur private detective Maisie Dobbs, who spends her time in post-WWI England solving crimes with their roots buried in the war. Recent additions to the series include A Lesson in Secrets, Elegy for Eddie, and Leaving Everything Most Loved. For those who enjoy Laurie R. King’s chosen time period, Winspear’s novels are a must-read, especially upon the 100th anniversary of World War I.


jack of spies3. Jack of Spies – David Downing

Good espionage novels set around World War I are unfortunately few and far between. With the help of David Downing, already known for his brilliant series of spy novels named after different European train stations and set during the dark days of World War II, this may change. Downing published Jack of Spies, his first novel in a new series set during World War I, earlier this year, and here’s to hoping that he writes just as many installments of his new series as of his previous John Russell series.


Copies of the above listed books can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Top Five Texas Authors of 2014

One thing about us Texans, we have a lot of state pride. Luckily we got the talent to back it up. Here’s a list of favorite crime novels this year written by our fellow Lone Stars.


reavis wortham vengeance is mine1. Vengeance Is Mine by Reavis Wortham

Wortham’s Central Springs lawmen and their families deal with violent actions and their consequences when a mob hitman moves into their town. Works as an engaging shoot up as well as a meditation on retribution.

 


nine days2. Nine Days by Minerva Koenig

This highly entertaining debut introduces us to Julia Kalas, whose marriage to her murdered gun-dealing husband has lead her to a small Texas town under Witness Protection. When the new man she’s seeing becomes the main suspect in a murder, she cuts across the state, using her criminal contacts to clear him in this fresh, hard-boiled gem.


a song to die for3. A Song To Die For by Michael Blakely

The Seventies Austin music scene serves as a fun back drop for a guitar pickin’ country legend looking for a comeback (as well as a way to beat the IRS). When a Mafia princess turns up dead, a Texas Ranger goes looking for her murderer and crosses paths with Blakely’s musician protagonist. Blakely, a musician himself, gives us a great look at building a band.


tim bryant spirit trap4.Spirit Trap by Tim Bryant

Fifties Fort Worth PI Alvin “Dutch” Curridge investigates the pilfering of a dance hall and the disappearance of a musician accused of the murder of his family. An involving who-dunnit that gives us a great flavor of the Texas music scene back then.


ransom island5. Ransom Island by Miles Arceneux

A Gulf Coast honky-tonk gets caught between the and the Klan when they get Duke Ellington to play for New Year’s Eve. A fun trip to a lost era and place.

 


All of the books listed above are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more top lists later in December!