Compact Genius: Laura Lippman’s Sunburn

This book is by far the most delicious book of the year, and not because of all of its vivid descriptions of foods and eateries.  Sunburn is something you enjoy slowly, when you take it in it’s like breathing it in, a delicate treasure to truly ponder over and think about.  I have already read the book three times and it has yet to fail me with its twists and turns and its dramatic conclusion, not to mention the oh-so-human element that makes up most of Lippman’s writing.  Lippman is a master storyteller, but a master at understanding humans, too, and this is clear now more than ever in Sunburn, her return to glory after two years since the fantastic Wilde Lake.

Releasing February 18, 2018, this is a book to be anticipated.  Each Laura Lippman novel is a treasure, something to be pondered over and wondered in, as with a favorite of mine, After I’m Gone (which I’ve admittedly read countless numbers of times).  The story revolves around Polly, who has just deserted her family on a vacation and may have an even darker history than she’s let known.  Her torrid romance and another crime that occurs—that of a house fire, with a solitary victim—puts Polly in the spotlight of the novel, along with several other mysteries revolving around her existence.

This book is not just fun.  It’s a masterwork.  Based around the writings of Anne Tyler and James M. Cain, this is hardboiled noir at its finest.  Ms. Lippman has admitted that this is perhaps her favorite book yet, and it’s easy to see why.  Sunburn is nothing is not a rollercoaster of fun and emotional suspense.  Her language is cutting and sharp, as precise and to-the-point as Cain at his finest, and the book is reminiscent of both Mildred Pierce and The Postman Only Rings Twice.

Don’t let the rollercoaster of fun fool you: this is a heartbreaking (and, simultaneously, heartwarming) novel.  It will rip you apart.  Which is part of the fun of engaging in a reading experience with Laura Lippman.  She always knows how to tug at those heart cords one by one, and she knows exactly when and where to pull the hardest, and for what reason.  There is, like in most of Lippman’s books, a revelation in the final moments of the book which is perhaps the most delicious moment of the entire novel, in which the whole truth of a part of the novel, and a greater truth at that, is revealed in its entirety. This is sure to stick with you well into the night after you stay up reading the novel, desperate for its conclusions.

If you’re anything like me, you will re-read this novel again and again.  There are Easter eggs and clues and twists that you will miss the first time around, and with such a short and compact novel, that is certainly a feat.   Lippman’s newest novel is not a book to be taken lightly, no matter how many Best Beach Read articles she makes this year.  Lippman has redefined what it means to be a noir writer in the twenty-first century—especially a woman writer—and she has done so with ease and precision and love. Here’s hoping you love this book as much as Ms. Lippman does (and as much as I did—again and again).

Mazes of Mystery: Lisa Unger’s The Red Hunter

Lisa Unger’s sixteenth book, The Red Hunter, is a non-stop thrill ride.  This is not an uncommon way of describing Unger’s books, which all almost always feature nonstop twists and turns, dark characters and even darker worlds around them.  The Red Hunter stars two women: Claudia Bishop, who moves into the house where Zoey Drake’s parents were brutally murdered, seemingly in cold blood.  As the novel opens up and unravels, there seems to be a lot left unsaid about these crimes—the crimes that haunt this house are not all that they seem, and may in fact be much more than the reader first guesses.  But that’s for the reader to find out, as Unger masterfully tells the stories of these two women, including one who is eager for blood, and to seek out justice for past wrongs.

I’ll try to say little else about the plot for now.  After all, that’s part of Lisa Unger’s art.  She is great at plotting out a serious suspense-thriller, and is one to unravel the mystery slowly and in a tight labyrinth of twists and turns, always ready to send her readers in for a shock.  Known for her prolific writing and her impeccable style, Unger has written nearly twenty novels that continue to get better and better, novel after novel.

Unger is unafraid to cross genres and dig deep into the darkness of her characters and their situations, exploring the taboo and the uncanny as easily as most writers author sentence after sentence.   Unger is one of America’s leading crime writers because of her ability to truly twist the worlds she creates, both in a dark and fantastical way, but also in a crooked and unassuming way, creating situations and storylines that will leave the reader unable to guess what’s coming next.

With books like Ink and Bone, a mysterious and magical thriller, and In the Blood, a book that came highly recommended to me and did not fail to disappoint, Unger reveals her ability to craft unique and riveting tales that defy the expectations of fans and critics alike.  Indeed, it is a pleasure and a challenge to tackle Unger’s extensive bibliography, and lucky for readers she is prolific enough to provide books for readers to continue to enjoy again and again.  Her books are also complex enough they may need more than one read to fully appreciate all of their intricacies.

One of the greatest aspects of reading a Lisa Unger novel is always thinking one knows what’s happening and finding out later they do not.  Unger is a genius when it comes to creating scenarios the reader thinks will be easily discovered, only to have the reader dive deeper and deeper into a maze there may be no escape from.  The Red Hunter is no exception.

Read Lisa Unger’s latest, and catch up on her brilliant list of books, each more exciting than the next.  She is certainly not an author to be overlooked—and as a best-seller, being overlooked is certainly not a problem for Ms. Unger.  Everyone seems to have a favorite Lisa Unger book—what will be yours?

Top 5 Texas Crime Novels

This year Texas crime fiction had two distinctive elements. One was a deeper look at race relations in our state that serve as a microcosm for our country. the other was the return or the heroic Texas Ranger. Both helped create books that were socially aware, were packed with fun action, or both. Here were what I thought were the five finest.

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

This book fuses the western with crime fiction with a black Texas Ranger trying to solve a murder involving white supremacists to look at the politics involved in race and and culture. A great entertaining genre read as well as insightful social study.



Rusty Puppy by Joe Lansdale

Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard take a case involving an African American’s murder that puts them up against a corrupt police force in a nearby town and an illegal fight game in an abandoned saw mill. One of Lansdale’s best plotted with all the fun we’ve come to expect from the man.

An Unsettling Case For Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

Shames takes us back to Samuel Craddock’s first case as  police chief involving an arson and murder that picks at the town’s racial tensions. Shames further proves her talent at delving into the society of a small town and delivering an engaging whodunit.



Hawke’s Prey by Reavis Wortham

If Larry McMurtry wrote Die Hard. The citizens of a small south Texas town are held hostage in the local court house by a cadre of terrorists. Ranger Sonny Hawke and a rag-tag crew of citizens outside are ready to teach the bad guys a lesson in “Don’t Mess With Texas.”

Sierra Blanca by Don M. Patterson

A washed up CIA agent teams up with a ranger in the eighties to take down a soviet plot  involving a drug cartel and stolen plutonium. Full of gun fights, frayed machismo, and the right amount of self awareness, this rollicking action story keeps moving until the final period.

Gifts For The Hard Boiled Crime Aficionado

If you’re shopping for someone who loves reading about guys in fedoras with gats, where the more lurid the cover the better, or you are one of those people and need to make a suggestion, here are three books that will fit the bill.

9780997015034Death Is  A Lovely Dame edited by Jeff Vorzimmer

Vorzimmer has collected hundreds of the great lines from hard boiled crime fiction and puts them in a book along with sharp photos of the lurid covers. This book could put hair on your chest.



Hardboiled, Noir, and Gold Medals by Rick Ollerman

A collection of Rick Ollerman’s essays on the work of crime authors that focus on the paperback period of the fifties and sixties. A great way to discover new books and writers, that definitely deserve a look.



The Big Book Of Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett

Hammett’s biographer and granddaughter put together this complete collection of his stories of the nameless, fat operative for The Continental Detective Agency, including the two serialized novels that became Red Harvest and The Dain Curse as they appeared in Blask Mask before a heavy edit. A must for fans of the godfather of the modern private eye.

Good Crime Fiction Collections, Good Causes

While shopping for your crime fiction fan for the holidays, or wrapping something for yourself, you may feel like giving to a good cause. These anthologies are packed with some of today’s best talent and support some fine causes.

Protectors & Protectors 2 edited by Thomas Pluck

In these two volumes are over 70 writers contributing very short fiction for these anthologies that help fund The National Association To Protect Children and PROTECT, an organization that lobbies for legal rights of abused kids. It is a great way to find new writers to enjoy.

Trouble In The Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen edited by Joe Clifford

Dennis Lehane starts the ignition to this baby that moves like a muscle car through over forty stories inspired by song titles from the Boss. Many of the authors like Jordan Harper, Hilary Davidson, and Jen Conley make a stand like a working class Springsteen hero and the proceeds go to The Bob Woodruff Foundation that helps wounded veterans.

Unloaded edited by Eric Beetner

As a way to raise money for the United States Against Gun Violence, Eris Beetner collected authors like Reed Farrel Coleman, Joe Lansdale, and Alison Gaylin to prove they didn’t need a gun to tell a crime fiction story. This is  collection of top talent at the top of their talent.

If You Like Alison Gaylin…

Alison Gaylin is known for her well-conceived, incredibly intricate and deeply-plotted thrillers.  She is not afraid to steer toward the taboo, and has written everything from books involving incest to pedophilia and rape.  She is one of the rising stars of the mystery genre, a woman whose talents cannot be measured easily or gauged casually.  She is incredibly talented, with praise from Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott to top everything off.  Her novel What Remains of Me remains a favorite at MysteryPeople and was also an Edgar-nominee for Best Novel of the Year.  Her upcoming novel If I Die Tonight is a thriller to be reckoned with, with multiple leading characters and infinite threads that combine in an utter explosion.  Check out below for some suggestions for reads you might enjoy if you enjoy Gaylin’s work.


Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman:   Girls on Fire is a thrilling mystery debut that deals with two girls whose friendship may be too close to comfort.  Like Gaylin, Wasserman is not afraid to steer toward the taboo and her brilliant use of language and thrilling back and forth between characters leads to a surprisingly and ultimately incredibly dark conclusion. This is a book not to be missed.



Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran: Claire Dewitt is a character reminiscent of Gaylin’s series character Brenda Spector.  Equal parts humor and serious, thought-provoking mystery, Gran is a great writer who ropes in the reader and keeps them hooked from beginning to end.  This mystery revolves around the death of a white, wealthy man in New Orleans soon after Hurricane Katrina.  Issues of race and sexuality are prevalent in this narrative that will leave you begging for more (and luckily there is a second book in the series!).


Good as Gone by Amy Gentry: A favorite of MysteryPeople, not to mention a fellow Texan, Gentry is a writer well beyond her years.  Her debut novel is a riddle filled with more riddles—there’s the issue of a kidnapped daughter returned home, only is she really the daughter her parents have been looking for, or an imposter—someone else entirely? This is a book that any mystery lover will enjoy (even though, quick trivia note here, the novel was not intended to be a mystery, so what a wonderful surprise for us all!).