Top Dozen Favorite Crime Novels Of The Last Decade

This last decade redefined crime fiction in many ways with just one book: Gone Girl. We saw the rise of domestic suspense, more awareness of female voices, and publishers worrying less about the characters being “likable”. Craig Johnson’s success ushered in a small wave of cowboy crime fiction. More small presses gave us  more unique and diverse voices. Streaming and cable channels even turned to our genre more, allowing us to influence another media. There was a lot a great work by a lot great authors. Here is what stuck with me.

1. Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
After I finished this novel, I vowed to read it at least once every decade of my life, knowing I didn’t have the experience to fully appreciate what Benjamin Whitmer was doing. This story of a man who clears the debris after disasters whose perpetual mourning for his dead son drives him into criminal and violent situations is poignant as it is unflinching. The author gives a searing portrait of people on the edge and shows what happens when they are pushed.
2. Dare Me by Megan Abbott
No crime fiction author accomplished as much in this decade as Megan Abbott. This book about the power dynamics in a high school cheerleading squad and the murder tied to it is already on it’s way to being a classic. It serves as a fine example of the author’s talent for telling beautifully dark stories that delve into the extreme emotions involved in competition, ambition, and desire, especially from a female perspective.
3. The Long Drop by Denise Mina
This could possibly be the author’s masterpiece. She weaves the true events of one of Glasgolw’s most infamous murder trials in the fifties through a pub crawl from Hell with the man on trail and the husband and father of two of the victims. Mina’s look at the media, the dark  side of male nature, and the sins of both commission and omission won’t leave you soon.
4. Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson
These two books showed the range in this ongoing series about the most put upon sheriff in Wyoming that came into it’s full popularity and voice in these last ten years. Junkyard Dogs demonstrate Johnson’s humor in all it’s colors and tones as the sheriff gets embroiled in secrets and scandals between the town’s most prominent family and the one of the more notorious. Hell Is Empty gives us a relentless action thriller that makes you feel every bump and bruise Walt acquires while chasing down a cunning killer on a mountain.
9780670021826   9780670022779
5. The Ranger by Ace Atkins
This novel kicked off one of the best series of late featuring Quinn Colson, an army ranger who takes his fight to the homefront in standing up to the tide of corruption and crime in his Mississippi town. Atkins taps into his many loves from Faulkner, fifties crime fiction, seventies southern-set action films, and The Andy Griffith Show for a character that grows with more complexity in a modern small town setting that is far from simple itself.
6. Where It Hurts and What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman
It’s a shame this series featuring Gus Drury, a former Long Island cop, still deep in the loss of his teenage son, who finds himself in cases both emotionally and physically harrowing, came to an abrupt halt. No one uses the private eye novel to examine the human condition at Coleman’s level and he was reaching new heights with Gus. Hopefully a savvy publisher will allow Gus’s literary life to continue.
9780425283271_28599   9780399173042_2590b
7. The Kings Of Cool by Don Winslow
This prequel to Savages not only looks at the early lives of Ben, Chon, and O, three friends bound in the marijuana business, but their parents as well, when the earlier generation found themselves together in the Southern California of the 1960s. Winslow not only gives us a great crime thriller but a meditation on two generations. One monologue from one of the parents almost completely explains how a generation who fought against one war in the jungle allowed another one in the desert to take their children.
8. Hollow Man by Mark Pryor
This underrated psycho-noir that follows the execution and fall out of a robbery planned by Dominic, an Austin prosecutor, musician, and sociopath is chilling in its mood and tone that never judges. After spending some time in this anti-hero’s mind, you might find Tom Ripley more warm and cuddly.
This heartbreaker of a debut novel about a young man caught between love and the loyalty to his criminal father’s way of life brought a brilliant new voice to the rural noir genre that the author has since built upon. I could have easily put his last book, The Line That Held Us, in this spot.
10. The Cartel by Don Winslow
Winslow’s sequel to The Power Of The Dog, which turned out to be the second in an unplanned trilogy, follows the war on drugs in the nineties and turn of the millennium as DEA agent Art Keller goes back to war with cartel head Adan Barrerra. Winslow finely and clearly weaves several subplots and characters, often based on true events and people, to give the reader an epic view of the war and it’s devastating effect on the Mexican people, informing both mind and heart.

These titles and other great thrillers are available for purchase in-store and online at BookPeople now.

MysteryPeople Interviews Matt Coyle

9781608092451_79262Our Pick Of The Month, Lost Tomorrows, is the latest novel to feature Matt Coyle’s haunted SanDiego private detective, Rick Cahill. Rick has to confront his past when he goes back to San Diego, where he was a cop and accused of murdering his wife, to attend the funeral of his former partner. His partner’s sister, Leah, believes her death was murder and hires him to look into it, forcing him to go up against cops who think he is a killer and one who could be. Matt will be joining Lara Oles, Tim Bryant, Billy Kring, Tim Maleeny, and Jeff Vorzimmer for our discussion on private eye fiction, Watching The Detectives, January 11th at 2PM on BookPeople’s third floor. 

Matt Coyle was kind enough to sit down with MysteryPeople’s very own Scott Montgomery to take a few questions about the progression of his P.I. series.

Scott Montgomery: What made you want to go further into Cahill’s past?
Matt Coyle: Halfway through the first draft of my first book, Yesterday’s Echo, I realized I was writing a series and that, at some future point, I’d have to reveal the truth about Rick Cahill’s wife’s death. Readers never meet Colleen, as she was already dead before the beginning of the first book, but her death is the impetus for Rick’s quest for redemption. I didn’t think I was ready to tell the story yet in Lost Tomorrows, but once I started writing I realized that, not only was I ready to write the story, I had to write it. I wanted to write it. It was the story that had been hidden inside me for seven years.
SM: Much of the time, the case has him in Santa Barbara. What did the change of venue allow for?
MC: Even though Rick had gone to college and been a cop in Santa Barbara, he hadn’t been back there in fourteen years. The town was, somewhat, foreign territory for him and he was completely on his own. He didn’t have his guard dog and faithful companion, Midnight, or his P.I. partner and best friend, Moira, by his side. He felt isolated and vulnerable. A perfect place to put him.
SM: What did you feel where the two differences between the towns?
MC: To Rick, it comes down to how he’s perceived. Santa Barbara is the city where Rick is forever stained with the label of the cop who got away with murder. In San Diego, Rick is seen as a bad dude by law enforcement and some of the media, but also as a good man by many civilians and the other half of the media.
SM: Many of the previous novels had Rick proving his innocence. This case forces him to confront something he was guilty of. How did that affect the way you approached the story?
MC: Rick’s whole life since his wife was murdered has been a quest for redemption. Even though he didn’t kill her, he feels responsible for Colleen’s death due to actions he took the night she died. He can never escape that guilt. I knew that if Rick was going to discover who murdered Colleen, all the darkness he’d felt since she died was going to have to come out with a vengeance in Lost Tomorrows. I wanted him to confront the man he’d become and decide if he could reconcile that with the actions he felt he had to take.
SM: Rick’s relationship with Leah is handled really well. How did you approach her as a character?
MC: When I started the book, I didn’t know the journey Rick and Leah’s relationship would take. Leah was grieving the sudden loss of her sister and desperate to learn the truth about her death. She saw Rick as a kindred spirit, still grieving the death of his wife and now dealing with the loss of Leah’s sister, Krista, his former partner on SBPD. I realized that Leah and Rick would be drawn together through their shared grief and, because of Rick’s manic need to find the truth, that Leah would see him as the perfect person to seek the truth about her death.
SM: As a writer, what makes Rick Cahill a character worth coming back to?
MC: Well, to begin with, he’s deeply flawed and incomplete. He lives by his own code of justice and is on a lifelong quest for redemption. Those two things put together open up unlimited opportunities to make bad and dangerous decisions. For me, Rick’s life is a constant battle between light and dark. Both in the external world around him and deep inside himself. Each new scar, physical and emotional, pushes him closer to the darkness. Forcing Rick to confront that darkness and battle toward the light will always keep Rick interesting to me.

Lost Tomorrows is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now. And don’t forget to stop by BookPeople on January 11th at 2PM when Matt Coyle joins Scott Montgomery and a fun bunch of crime writers to discuss PI detective fiction.

Meike’s Top 10 Mystery Reads of 2019

2019 was a fantastic year for crime fiction and I constantly found myself rearranging my TBR pile in an attempt to read as many books as possible. Below are a few I particularly enjoyed—I hope you’ll check them out!

  1. The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

I’ve been a huge fan of Lutz’s work since The Spellman Files series so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. New teacher Alex Witt arrives at a second tier boarding school and uncovers secrets that have the potential to destroy the school, but Alex has secrets of her own and an unknown enemy who may know a little too much about them. This is a twisted and timely female revenge fantasy, and a must-read for fans of MysteryPeople darling Megan Abbott.


  1. Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Cha brings a unique perspective to racial conflicts in L.A. while spinning a propulsive noir mystery. In the wake of yet another policy shooting involving a black teenager, a shocking crime brings together two families—one African-America, the other Korean-American immigrants—who are forced to deal with a long-buried secret. An explosive and dark thriller that you’re going to see on just about every top 10 list this year!


  1. Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Pampered Jewish housewife Maddie Schwartz walks out on her family, determined to create a life with meaning. She helps the police solve a murder which leads to a job with the afternoon newspaper. When the body of a young black woman is found floating in a park, Maddie seizes the opportunity to make a name for herself by reporting on the investigation. What I loved most about this one is the unique structure—the story is told from the shifting viewpoints of a variety of characters which only someone as gifted as Lippman can weave so seamlessly.


  1. The Book Artist by Mark Pryor

The first book in Pryor’s Paris-based Hugo Marston series, The Bookseller, is perhaps the single title I find myself recommending more than any other—I love this series and want everyone to discover it! It features the straight-laced Texan Hugo—a former FBI profiler who now works as head of security for the US embassy in Paris—and his free-wheeling, hard-drinking, womanizing best fried Tom (who steps in to help out when less reputable crime-solving methods are necessary). In The Book Artist, bibliophile Hugo attends an art installation of sculptures created solely from rare books. When a museum guest is brutally murdered, Hugo steps in to help the police solve the murder—a task that gains urgency when they arrest someone whom Hugo feels quite certain is innocent. Meanwhile Tom has gotten himself into a difficult situation in Amsterdam, one that only Hugo can help resolve.


  1. Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin

In the 1970’s, a teenage couple go on a 13-day crime spree which leaves a dozen victims dead before the killers die in a fire. But modern day true crime podcaster Quentin—whose own life was affected by the killings–has reason to believe that the female killer may have survived and sets out to find her. Meanwhile NYC film columnist Robin Diamond is dealing with her own issues—but when she gets a phone call from Quentin and then her home is broken into, she has to confront the fact that she may not know her mother as well as she thought. Gaylin weaves the various storylines, some of which are told in flashbacks and letters, brilliantly—we’re huge fans of hers over here at MysteryPeople and love getting her books into our customers’ hands.


  1. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

The lovely Millicent and her husband seem to have it all—a beautiful home in a prestigious gated community, successful careers, 2 great kids, and a marriage of over 15 years–but things have gotten a little stale in the bedroom. Most couples take a vacation or buy some “toys”—but this couple finds murder to be the best aphrodisiac. Any book that combines sex and murder is not to be missed!


  1. Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Ware is a master of suspense and this latest is her thoroughly modern take on Henry James Turn of the Screw. London nanny Rowan Caine is looking for something completely different online when she stumbles across a dream job—private nanny to a family living in a luxurious Scottish Highlands manse. But the dream dissolves into a nightmare when one of the children dies and Rowan is arrested and charged with murder. Told in the form of letters Rowan writes to an attorney from prison, explaining the events leading up to the tragedy, Ware builds the suspense slowly and then ends with some gut-wrenching twists.


  1. Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry

Gentry wowed us with her debut, Good as Gone, and her sophomore effort is every bit as thrilling. Latina stand-up comic Dana Diaz is struggling to make it in a comedy scene dominated by men and rife with sexual harassment. One night she fends off a particularly vulgar heckler, and audience member Amanda offers to buy her a congratulatory drink. One drink leads to many as the women bond over shared stories of injustice and misogyny—and the evening ends with the women striking a kind of Strangers on a Train deal that has a distinct #MeToo flavor. Gentry shines a harsh light on the myriad inequalities women face every day while spinning a well-plotted tale that will have you ripping through the pages.


  1. Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

We’re always so excited when our local Austin authors garner national attention and were thrilled when Baker’s adult debut (she’s published 5 YA novels) was chosen as the July pick for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club (side note—the September pick was The Secrets We Kept by Austin author Lara Prescott!) A group of female coworkers sue an executive in their Dallas athleisure firm for sexual harassment, but when he falls to his death from the 18th floor it isn’t immediately clear whether he jumped or was helped over the edge. This one is a timely examination of the many facets of workplace inequality explored in the context of a keep-you-up-past-your-bedtime thriller.


  1. The Right Sort of Man by Alison Montclair

In post WWII London, 2 very different women—one an aristocratic war widow with a young son to support, the other a tough and impetuous young woman with considerable street smarts—start The Right Sort Marriage Bureau in an effort to establish some independence while also bringing joy to a town still suffering the ravages of war. But when their newest client is found murdered—and the man they matched her with is arrested and charged with her death—their new livelihood is threatened and the women launch their own investigation to clear their client and restore the reputation of their flegling enterprise. Each brings a unique set of skills to the task, but what I loved most about this book is the snappy dialogue—both smart and funny, it kept me tearing through the pages and now I’m completely in love with the characters and hope there’s more to come in what promises to be a fantastic series.


Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time mystery reader at BookPeople. You can find her top 10 titles in-store and online now.

And be sure to let us know what you thought of this list! Is there anything you’d like to add to add? Did you discover something new?

Scott’s Ten (Okay, Twelve) Favorite Crime Novels Of 2019

It was hard to pair down my list for this year with great books this year. Books that would have been here on any other year and are sure to be on other people’s list had to be sacrificed, like Craig Johnson’s latest Walt Longmire, Land Of Wolves, Rob Hart’s great dystopian thriller The Warehouse, and David C. Taylor’s fifties cop turned political thriller Night Watch. Even with the elimination, I had to find a way to squeeze twelve into my top ten. All these books share a great storytelling skill that delivers the goods of their subgenre while also provoking thought or delivering a different perspective to the reader.

If you follow MysteryPeople, you need to read this. Boyle’s road trip of a retired porn star, a mob widow, and her granddaughter in a stolen 63′ Impala with a bag of mafia cash is often funny, at times terrifying, and always defying expectations. This book is much more than it’s great buddy premise as it looks at how we deal with life’s choices and the strength of female friendship. Once again, two actresses over fifty need to snap this property up.
Dry County by Jake Hinkson
Hinkson examines small town life and the many forms of faith as we follow a domino effect of crime, sin, and violence on the Easter weekend of 2016 when the local minister is blackmailed by one of his parishioners. Hinkson shows a true understanding of his characters and delivers my favorite last line in a book this year.
Trigger by David Swinson, Galway Girl by Ken Bruen, and Metropolis by Phillip Kerr
The beautiful swan songs of three of my favorite private detectives. Addict detective Frank Marr deals with his new found sobriety and develops a relationship with a new partner that has me hoping Swinson will return to him. Ken Bruen finds a grace note to leave his beleaguered Galway “finder” Jack Taylor and delivers one of the best endings of the year, and Phillip Kerr, knowing he was dying, summed up Bernie Gunther in a poignant fashion, by taking him back before any of the previous books, putting him on his first case as a homicide detective. If you have to say goodbye, these three authors show you how to do it.
9780316264259_86923     9780802147936_bb963     9780735218895_e554a
Conviction by Denise Mina
Mina delivers her most accessible book without compromising in this thriller about a dumped trophy wife traveling with a male anorexic former pop star to do a podcast  that will exonerate a man from her secret past. One of Mina’s funniest books, it never backs away from the messiness of her characters, creating an ode to the power of broken people.
End Of The Ocean by Matthew McBride
McBride fuses Graham Greene and Elmore Leonard together with his own unique voice as he looks at love and smuggling in Indonesia. His rich character study leads into a harrowing thriller that culminates it one heartbreaker of an ending.
End of the Ocean
The Border by Don Winslow
Winslow winds up DEA agent, now director, Art Keller’s involvement with the war on drugs, bringing the history to the present and our country’s sins on our doorstep. The author juggles several story lines and a dozen characters, keeping you involved, informed, and enraged.
Paper Son by S.J Rozan
New York private detectives Lydia Chin and Bill Smith return in a mystery that takes them to the Mississippi delta to clear Lydia’s cousin of a murder rap. Rozan delivers a well crafted detective tale while giving us a tour of the Chinese-American culture in the deep south.
The Book Artist by Mark Pryor
Pryor pushed his craft by telling two stories featuring his hero, Hugo Marston, head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris. In one, Hugo has to clear his lover, Claudia, of murder and he has to deal with a killer from his friend Tom Green’s and his FBI past. The author deftly pulls them off, using both stories to question love and friendship.
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz
When a new teacher at a second rate boarding school learns about the secret of “dark room” that diminishes the female students, she sets up a plot with some of the girls that lead to dire consequences. Lutz’s deft use of humor and her examination of gender politics creates a perfect thriller for our times that may become timeless.
Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin
A podcaster looks into the thrill killing couple responsible for his mother’s death and opens up a string of violence when he learns one of them could still be alive. Gaylin creates a thrilling novel, delving into media, family, and perception.

Look for these thrilling reads and more when you shop with us in-store and online!

Five Favorite Debut Novels of 2019

With a lot of the heavy hitters knocking out some of their best this year, it was great to see some newcomers announce their presence. Here are the five favorite debuts of MysteryPeople.

Three-Fifths by John Vercher
This book dives into race like no other with a young man hiding his racial identity and dealing with witnessing his Aryan Brotherhood friend beat a black man into a coma. Vercher creates true, lived in characters on the hard luck side of life, struggling with the traps and divisions they’ve created for themselves.
Ain’t Nobody Nobody by Heather Harper Ellet
A funny gritty rural crime novel about family, land, and Dr. Pepper with a former sheriff seeking redemption by solving the murder of the local pig hunter. Ellet precisely captures country life and people in their wit, dark impulses, and community.
The Girl In The Rearview Mirror by Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A nanny with secrets uncovers those for the family she works, putting her charge and herself in danger. Dimberg creates strong and unique moods from intimate human behavior and putting evil out in the harsh sunlight of her Arizona setting.
Murderabilia by Carl Vandernau
The son of an infamous serial killer is framed for murder by a mysterious adversary. To clear his name, he must deal in the grotesque world of people to buy and sell art by famous murderers and face his father. A tight, well developed thriller with an ending both poignant and unsettling.
Murderabilia Cover with quote
Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins
Austin genealogist Lucy Lancaster becomes involved in a murder and assassination plot when she discovers the ancestor of one senatorial candidate may have murdered the other’s ancestor. Perkins creates a great amateur sleuth, using her skills and city to great effect.

You can find these great mystery titles in-store (along with other thrilling reads) or shop with us online!

Men In Transition: An Interview with Larry Sweazy

In The Lost Are The Last To Die, Larry Sweazy brings back Sonny Burton, a former Texas Ranger who lost his arm chasing after Bonnie and Clyde. This time he is tasked with helping his ranger son, Jesse, track down an escaped prisoner he has a history with, Billy Bunson, who has taken the warden’s wife. The novel works as both a suspenseful cat and mouse chase as well as a study of the two men and their times as Larry weaves in stories of the two adversaries in their past and how it shaped them, creating a character study of two men in violent times. Larry was kind enough to take some questions from MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, about the book.

Scott Montgomery: I was very happy to see Sonny back again after a few years. What kind of story needed to click to bring him back?

Larry Sweazy: The Lost Are The Last to Die is based on the short story, “Point Blank, Texas,” (published in the anthology, Lone Star Lawless by Wildside Press). I have a habit9781432857233 of trying out ideas in the short story form, and with this anthology being Texas-themed, I thought it would be a good place to explore a little more of Sonny Burton’s story. After the first book, A Thousand Falling Crows, I thought I was finished with Sonny’s story, but I was wrong. Sonny’s life before he encountered Bonnie and Clyde and lost his arm kept nagging at me. It was like I had a rock in my shoe that I couldn’t get rid of. I needed to know more about Sonny when he was whole in body and mind, who he was when he was younger with his future stretching out before him. I was glad to have revisited Sonny. His life was even more richer than I thought it was.

SM: This could have worked alone as a simple pursuit story, but you go deeper with both Sonny and Billy diving into their pasts. What drove you to that character study side?

LS: Sonny always thought that he could save Billy. But confronting the truth that he couldn’t change him was an acceptance of failure for him, one that paralleled his relationship with his own son. I was interested in the father and son dynamics in this book, about how our actions influence other people in positive and negative ways. Considering that, I had to start at the beginning of the story when Billy was a boy, and when Sonny still hoped he could be the human being he wanted to be; kind, generous, stern, and demanding. The character side is so much more interesting to me than a simple plot story.

SM: You delve into Sonny’s experiences in The Great War. How do you think that affects him, particularly as a lawman?

LS: Sonny’s war experience arches back to the first book. I used Thousand in the title as a9781633880849 term of affliction more than anything else. A lot of men came home with “the thousand yard stare,” including Sonny. He holed up in his house after returning from France. He didn’t want to experience the real world. He had PTSD, shell shock, but there was no treatment for it in 1919. Time and will were the only medicines available, and they didn’t help a lot of men. Being urged back to work as a Texas Ranger saved Sonny, but I think his war experience made him harder, less forgiving in all aspects of his life. He avoided violence after the war as much as he could, which made him more reliant on his mind, on reasoning with a criminal instead of leading with a gun barrel. After the war, Sonny understood what is was like to kill a man. He was able to enter the mind of a killer much easier, tightening that fine line that exists between good and bad. The war gave him tools as a lawman that he didn’t have before. He was on even footing with the bad guy.

SM: By having Sonny work with his son, Jesse, not only is the family and professional tension there, but a comparison of the different era of Texas Ranger. What do you think was the biggest change in the job from Sonny to Jesse’s time?

LS: Along with the father and son dynamic, this book is about transitions, at least for me. The structure demanded that the transitions were clear and concise for the reader to follow along. World War I saw the transition from horse power to tank and mechanical power, as did the world that Sonny lived in throughout the book, between 1909 and 1934. This is a period of huge transitions. When Sonny started out as a Ranger he rode a horse, but as he chased after Billy, he did so in an automobile with a V8 engine. The policing aspect didn’t change much on the surface of things. There were no radios in cars yet, so a Sonny and Jesse were still on their own left to make decisions on the fly without any influence from the higher ups. But there were technological changes that aided police work in the 1930s; the growth of fingerprint analysis, handwriting analysis, the uses of polygraph machines, and the birth of forensics. I think the biggest change for Sonny would have been in the advancements of thought and strategy. Jesse is more by-the-book, influenced by a modern education of professional protocols, while Sonny relies entirely on his experience and his gut.

SM: How did you approach Sonny as a character?

LS: He can be anti-social and aloof, but he has a conscience that guides him out of the darkness. Without empathy, he wouldn’t have cared enough to influence Billy, or Jesse for that matter. So, I approach him as a complicated man, full of contradictions, trying to make his way in an uncertain world the best he can—not as a sociopath. He is opposed to violence, but will engage in it if it means his survival, or someone else’s. He knows he is judgmental, close-minded, jaded by his years of experience, but tries to listen, to understand what he sees in front of him. After the loss of his arm, he struggled with his own self-worth, his wholeness, and fought off the temptation to end his own life. He’s a strong man with a big collection of fragile pieces of his heart that he carries with him wherever he goes. Just like every man, which I hope he is.


SM: You reflect Texas in the 1930s as its own world. What did you have to keep in mind about that time and place?

LS: I have always been drawn to the Great Depression. I listened to my grandparents tell stories about the “old days” for hours. I knew people didn’t have a lot, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have drama, sadness, and joy in their lives. Those stories led me to the Dust Bowl in the panhandle, and I was curious about the people who stayed, who didn’t pack up and head west in search of a better life. How would staying in Texas affect them? Where was the hope? And I found a strength that Texans always seem to carry with them. I had to find the pride, the square shoulders, and the determination of not only the people, but the land. Texans never quit. That what’s I found, what I knew had to come through in this novel.

The Lost Are The Last to Die, along with other titles by Larry Sweazy are available for purchase in-store and online now at BookPeople.

larrydsweazy68851About the Author: Larry Sweazy is the author of fifteen novels, He won the WWA (Western Writers of America) Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013.  He also won the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for books the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer award in 2007 (for the short story “See Also Murder”), and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010.  Larry was awarded the Best Books in Indiana in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. And in 2013, Larry received the inaugural Elmer Kelton Fiction Book of the Year for The Coyote Tracker, presented by the AWA (Academy of Western Artists). He also won the 2019 Willa Award (Best Original Softcover). His books have been translated by major publishers in Italy and Turkey.  Larry has published over seventy nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled, and several other publications and anthologies. He currently lives in Noblesville, Indiana with his wife, Rose, and his dogs, where he is hard at work on his next novel.

MysteryPeople’s Five Favorite Texas Crime Novels of 2019

It’s that time we start making our lists of favorites. This year had several great novels about crime in Texas. They ranged in subgenres and authors, capturing different flavors of Texas. Once again, our authors proved, like the state’s music, there’s something special about Lone Star crime fiction. All of these are either sequels or part of a book series, proving you can’t keep a good Texan down.

1. The Lost Are The Last To Die by Larry Sweazy
Larry brought back Sonny Burton, the Texas Ranger who lost his arm with a shoot out with Bonnie and Clyde, from his novel A Thousand Falling Crows. Tasked with hunting down an escaped convict he has a history with, he finds himself facing his limits and violence in his life. Sweazy paints a vivid portrait of two men and how they have both dealt with their brutal world.
2. Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
Another return of a Texas ranger, this time it’s Darren Matthews. The black lawman is assigned to find the missing son of an imprisoned Aryan Brotherhood leader, taking him to a town that celebrates antebellum life. Locke takes a precise examination of race, history, and point of view in the Trump era.
3. This Side Of Night by J. Todd Scott
Sheriff Chris Cherry faces both his first election and a cartel across the border in his latest gritty adventure for him and his deputies. Scott infuses the feel of an epic western into his crime novel through human and honorable heroes, hard ass bad men, and a mix of history and legend. All that and the writing’s just damn good.
Small town Chief Of Police Samuel Craddock takes on a personal case when his close friend Loretta goes missing. Shames builds a suspenseful plot with the right amount of humor and rich character development as she dissects Texas town life.
5. The Elephant Of Surprise by Joe R. Lansdale
Lansdale throws his boys Hap And Leonard into a relentless series of fights and chases when they rescue an albino Asian America woman with her tongue partially cut in half, all with a large storm coming down. Lansdale pares the series down to its basics, delivering a perfect punch of pulp.


You can find these tiles and many more of our mystery favorites in-store and online at BookPeople!

Tough Men In Tough Times: A Review of Larry Sweazy’s “The Lost Are The Last to Die”

9781432857233Larry Sweazy intended his period thriller, A Thousand Falling Crows to be a standalone. However, the compelling lead character, Sonny Burton, a former Texas Ranger who lost his arm during a shootout and car chase with Bonnie and Clyde, asked for further examination. Luckily, the author was inspired to bring Sonny back in The Lost Are The Last To Die, going both deeper into the man and the world he inhabits.
The Rangers pull Sonny out of retirement to assist his son, Jesse, with a prison break. Billy Bunson, charming sociopath, has busted out, taking the warden’s pregnant wife as a hostage. Sonny’s history with Billy makes him the most likely to understand his moves. Sonny knows him well enough to realize there is more going on than what it seems.
Sweazy could have simply given a thrill-a-minute pursuit novel and it would have been great. However, he decided to go deeper by weaving in the history of Sonny and Billy from the day the lawman caught him stealing. We learn how the two men react to violence and how they dealt with it, particularly with Sonny and his experience in The Great War. When these two face off in the climax it means so much more.
Not only does the author look deeper into his characters, but in the place and time as well. His 1930s Texas is a world of its own. It has the Pekinpah feel of a place caught in transition where many are still stuck in the old ways. The Wild West is still hanging on with some with back trails and unbeaten paths for outlaws who are now assisted by fast cars and guns more powerful than a six shooter. Not only do Sonny and Jesse hold a father and son’s tension, but one of two different generations of rangers as that institution is in change as well. Of course, the real gap is between Sonny and his adversary. Sonny looks for a way to deal with this new world and how to maneuver through it and the wounds it gave him. Billy is both its product and adversary.
The Lost Are The Last To Die knows its characters well and mines them for all they are worth. It brings us into a tangible world of people dealing with life and death struggles, trying to find ways to rise above them without being broken one way or another. Hopefully Larry Sweazy has some other ideas for Sonny Burton now.

The Lost Are The Last To Die by Larry Sweazy is available for purchase in-store and online at BookPeople now.

Define Your Characters with Snappy Dialogue and A Keen Sense of Place: A Guest Blog by Jim Nesbitt

Author, Jim Nesbitt

I’m a Chandler junkie. As in Raymond Chandler. Always have been, always will be.

One of the founding fathers of the hard-boiled school of crime fiction, Chandler’s at the head of a semi-long list of writers who taught me a lot about the trade before I ever tried my hand at it.

Most of them are dead. Which means they won’t be calling me out for hanging their names on what I’m about to say about character and dialogue. Not even Chandler, although his cantankerous spirit might just give it a go.

What I learned from Chandler was the importance of character and dialogue over plot. Chandler was, more or less, a ‘pantster,’ the term the modern wags use for writers who tend to make it up as they go along rather than outline elaborate plots and character sketches before they start telling a story.

One of his famous quotes, usually taken out of context: “When in doubt, have a man

Raymond Chandler

come through the door with a gun in his hand.” This line appears in one of the two published versions of his classic essay on the need for realism in crime fiction, The Simple Art of Murder, which is also a diatribe against the set-piece cozy and amateur sleuth who is an ace at deductive logic.

Chandler dropped this line while explaining the need for constant action in the short crime fiction stories of the pulp magazines where he learned his new trade. But when you line up that quote with the body of Chandler’s work, it takes on a broader meaning that represents the second primary lesson I learned from him — use action and concrete descriptions of place to drive a story largely told through character and dialogue.

Character and dialogue are intertwined. You show a character’s traits — you define them — through dialogue, either snappy exchanges with other characters or the internal dialogue they have with themselves.

Dialogue between characters is a dance where they reveal themselves by what they do and don’t say and the way they say it or stay silent. Internal dialogue is a character dancing in the dark with themselves, but the same revelations occur. Or should occur. If they don’t, a writer has blown a golden opportunity to define a character and give the story life, depth and context.

I’ll give two examples from my latest work, The Best Lousy Choice: An Ed Earl Burch Novel. My main character, Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch, is a cashiered vice and homicide detective. He’s also a terminal smartass who doesn’t know when to shut up. I don’t tell you that — I show it through dialogue with a crooked West Texas sheriff looking to frame him for the murder of a prominent local rancher who died in a suspicious barn fire.

“You run the ID on those shooters I blew away? Bet they’re either freelance talent or connected to some other drug lord slimeball. Looks like you got a little turf war going on. Or maybe Dirt Cheap crossed his cousin. Just guesses on my part. But either way, it ain’t a good look for an anti-drug crusader like you, Sheriff.”

Burch looked at Willingham. The anger that colored his face and flashed in his eyes was gone. He wore the stone mask of a poker player and his voice was a husky whisper as he asked a quiet question.

“You a barnburner, son?”

Burch was flummoxed. No smartass quips, no barbed conjecture. All he had as a comeback was the brass to meet the sheriff’s stare head-on and not flinch.

“Let me put it to you this way — are you a man who could set another man’s barn on fire, burn up his horses, burn up the man himself? Are you that kind of murderin’ sumbitch, a fire worshiper, a man-burner?”

“Jesus, Sheriff — you need to make up your mind what you want to frame me for. First you have me as a gun for hire workin’ for this Malo Garza fella, now you got me as the second coming of Ben Quick’s daddy in The Long Hot Summer. I’m way too ugly for any frame job that needs me to look like Paul Newman.”

“Ugly will do, my friend, if I find out you did the crime.”

Burch also has frequent conversations with his dead partner, Wynn Moore. Burch blames himself for getting his partner killed while they were tracking a narco and murder suspect in Dallas years ago when he still carried a gold shield.

These conversations are real as a dime to Burch and show both the guilt that still gnaws at him and the left-handed relief he’s found when Moore appears. They also reveal the simple and brutal approach to police work Burch learned from Moore.

He felt shaky from his session with Bustamante and fished out the bottle of Percodan and a dented nickel flask from his bag. He shook out a pill, broke it in half and popped it on his tongue, washing it down with a long pull of Maker’s. It wasn’t quite noon but he needed a Percodan cocktail to get rid of the jangles and keep the demons in their holes.

He stood under the fan in his boxers, smoking another Lucky until he felt the half-hit and e-less whisky take hold, then carried the Colt into the bathroom and placed it on the porcelain top of the toilet tank. He reached into the shower stall to turn on the water and wait until it was as hot as he could stand it, then stepped into the scalding spray.

You ain’t right, sport model. Poppin’ them pills, sluggin’ whiskey and it ain’t hardly noon yet.

Keeps me sane, Wynn. On track and movin’ down the trail instead of curled up in a corner screamin’ about demons and snakes with wings.

Turnin’ into a goddam junkie and day drinker, you ask me.

I ain’t askin’.

Never could talk sense to you, sport model. One more thing, then I’ll shut my yap. You fly the black flag on this one. Take that rulebook we usta have to work around and chuck it right out the fuckin’ window. You sabe?

Rulebook already chucked, Wynn. No quarter. No prisoners. No judge and jury.

Good deal, sport model.

Chandler’s novels and short stories are packed with detailed physical descriptions of the rooms, places and streetscapes where his stories take place.

These “concrete descriptions” help create a Los Angeles that is so real that it becomes a character unto itself. Far more than mere backdrop, these descriptions of place define the characters that live and move through this landscape. So much so that it’s hard to imagine Marlowe anywhere else but L.A. Or James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux without New Iberia and New Orleans.

This struck a chord with me, largely because of my upbringing and lineage. I come from a long line of North Carolina hillbilly storytellers. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins told stories of our kin and the mountains my ancestors called home, creating a keen sense of family and place in my sister and me, even though we grew up in suburban Philadelphia.

The Best Lousy Choice (2019)

As a journalist, I was always fascinated with how the land shaped the people who lived there, even as they struggled to make a living from it. I also fell in love with the harsh beauty of West Texas, with stark mountain ranges that look like the bones of the earth on display for any and all to see.

It seemed like the perfect place for the bloody tales of revenge and redemption I was trying to tell in my Ed Earl Burch novels, a land so forbiddingly beautiful and demanding that it shapes the characters in my books and gives resonance to their dialogue.

It’s another way of revealing who your characters are. And showing instead of telling is the essence of the writer’s trade.

Jim Nesbitt is the author of three hard-boiled crime thrillers set in Texas and northern Mexico that feature Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch, a cashiered vice and homicide detective. His latest, The Best Lousy Choice, is available at BookPeople in-store and online now.

Alana Meike Interviews Joyce Carol Oates on Editing ‘Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery & Crime By Women Writers’

9781617757624_e3553In Cutting Edge: New Stories Of Mystery And Crime by Women Writers, celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates got several of the top women in fiction to write a noir story. Authors include, Margret Atwood, Steph Cha, and S.J. Rozan. Our Meike Alana caught up with Oates to talk about the project.

Meike Alana: What was the origin story of this collection? Where did the idea originate and what was the original concept?

Joyce Carol Oates: I have done two previous anthologies for Johnny Temple at Akashic Books, New Jersey Noir and Prison, Noir.  I had suggested to Johnny that I would like to assemble a collection titled Female Noir, but Johnny thought that the Noir series had to remain geographically specific rather than thematically.  I am not sure that there was an “origin” story— the original concept was my own.

 MA: As these contributions came back to you, did your concept morph into something different? In other words, did the finished collection turn out the way you anticipated or did it end up being quite different?
JCO: We had no particular concept when I began to read submissions other than an intention to select unusual and well-written stories.  I am not interested in polemics or any sort of propaganda, though the #MeToo movement is certainly a sympathetic one, and may have overlapped with the writing of some of these stories.
MA: The collection is organized into 3 categories: Their Bodies, Our Selves; A Doom of One’s Own; and Manslaying. Was this the original intent, or did the contributions naturally fall into these categorizations?

JCO: Dividing into sections is a feature of the Noir anthologies at Akashic Books.  The divisions are suggestive rather than precise, though in this case the final section is accurately titled.

MA: What was the process for collecting the individual contributions?

JCO: We contacted likely writers, who in turn introduced us to others, and these to others.  This is the usual way anthologies are organized.  I have many writer friends whom I invited to contribute but, unfortunately, not all could accept.

MA: What challenges did you face in putting these stories together?

JCO: The major challenge is always to acquire the very best work that one can; the reality is that a number of writers will have to decline because they are simply over-committed to other projects.  Among these were Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman.   I would have liked to include one more graphic artist, but this did not work out.

MA: Was there an author whose work particularly surprised or excited you?

JCO: I can’t single out any individual work.  Each is unique in its own way.  But I was particularly happy to be able to include work by a young woman artist, Laurel Hausler, who should be better known.  Her elegantly lurid cover and unsettling illustrations are  just right for the book.

MA: Your introduction makes the case that ‘the great works of American noir have been by men,” but this collection of female noir demonstrates that the genre is undergoing a shift and indeed there is great variety in the female noir perspective. Can you share your thoughts about the future of the genre?

JCO: The future of the genre?— this is a massive question.  really, I cannot predict.

MA: You’ve been writing crime fiction for a number of years. What changes in the genre have been most exciting to you?

JCO: The mystery/crime genre is immense, and grows more complicated and all-inclusive each year.  Regional, ethnic, idiosyncratic— there are no boundaries.

MA: What/who have you read recently that excited you?

JCO: I’ve been admiring the richly researched historical “thrillers” of David Morrell; I am currently reading Inspector of the Dead.  Quite a tour de force, to create a mystery in which Thomas de Quincy is a primary figure!

MA: Any work you would like to recommend to our readers?
JCO: I am an avid reader of Pushcart Prize: The Best of the Small Presses, as well as the Best American Mystery Stories yearly anthologies, for which my friend Otto Penzler is the series editor.
MA: Can you tell us what your current project is?
JCO: I have just completed a long family novel titled Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.  (title from a beautiful short poem of Whitman.)  it is, in part, a crime novel, since the entire action of the novel is set into motion by an act of police brutality that occurs within the first two or three pages.

Cutting Edge is available for purchase at BookPeople in-store and online now.

Meike Alana is a part-time bookseller and full-time Mystery/Thriller enthusiast. You can find her recommendations in-store.