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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
9. Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy
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.