The Look Out: HOP ALLEY by Scott Phillips

Look Out For: Hop Alley by Scott Phillips
On Our Shelves 5/13/14

Scott Phillips is one of the best authors currently working. One of his best books the Western noir Cottonwood. There is a point in Cottonwood where the photographer, saloon keeper, philanderer and criminal protagonist, Bill Ogden, mentions time in he spent in Denver prior to the novel, which has him wind up in San Francisco. Denver holds a bloody history for Ogden, and you’re left with a lot of questions. In comes the short novel Hop Alley where Phillips answers those questions and shows us what exactly happened to Ogden’s during those lost years in Denver.

Odgen is scraping by under an assumed name because of the events in Cottonwood. He has a photography studio and is having an affair with a laudanum-addicted dance hall girl named Priscilla. When the father of one of his employees is murdered, it is pinned on two men from the city’s Chinatown section. Things start to spiral out of control from here. With the city about to riot and Priscilla’s constant manipulations, Bill’s personal life and the tumultuous air in Denver come crashing into one another.

Phillips weaves historical fact, satire, and a fresh spin on noir tropes into a book just as unique as Cottonwood, that serves well as either a standalone or companion piece to the original book. It is a fun visit from one of the most complex anti-heroes in Phillips’s rogues gallery. You can get reacquainted with Bill on May 13th, when Hop Alley officially hits shelves.


Hop Alley is now available for pre-order via


We are looking forward to our Fathers Day Noir At The Bar Summit this Sunday. Austin founders Scott Montgomery and Jesse Sublette are meeting up with Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres at Opal Divine’s  (3601 South Congress) for a night of music and crime fiction readings. Here’s a little background: Scott Phillips’ latest, Rake, is a tale of an American actor in Paris juggling four women, his violent temper, and a crime while trying to execute a movie deal. We sold out our initial run of Jed’s A F*ckload Of Shorts (there will be more at the event), and if you’re offended by the title don’t bother cracking the book. In fact you may want to avoid the interviews we did with them.

First, Scott-

MysteryPeople: I believe this is your first time to get out of the Midwest for a novel. I know you spent time in Paris, but other than experience what drew you to use it?

Scott Phillips: It was originally written for a collection of novels from a French publisher, La Branche, all of which were intended to be made as TV movies. That plan never went anywhere, but the idea was that it had to be a thriller, it had to be filmable in Paris, and it had to have Friday the 13th in it somewhere.

MP: I didn’t realize until after the book that your protagonist has no given name just the one of the doctor he plays on TV. Was there a specific intention of that?

SP: Not really, but at a certain point I realized I hadn’t given the actor his own name and I left it at that. The friend I based the character on was really a soap opera actor, the star of a show called Santa Barbara, which was enormously popular in prime time in France, and it occurred to me that almost no one in France knew his name, the fans always referred to him by his character’s name. We really did try and make a movie about the arms of the Venus de Milo; in retrospect we’re probably lucky we failed. A lot of the events in the book are exaggerated versions of things that really happened back then.

MP: As a writer, what makes him a fun character?

SP: He’s a self-deluded narcissist, always trying to convince the reader (and himself) that he’s a swell guy, always looking out for other people. And that sort of supreme self-confidence of his is amusing to write. Not dissimilar to Bill Ogden, from The Walkaway and The Adjustment.

MP: While you show the film business, warts and all, isn’t the normal skewering of it that you get with many authors that use it as a backdrop. As somebody who is involved with the industry, how do you view it?

SP: As I say above, many of the events described in the book really happened in the course of trying to get that movie made. People are always trying to get people to work for free, always trying to scam money out of backers, always trying to screw their way into the movie business.

MP: Sex plays a large part in Rake as well as your other work. What’s the best way for an author to approach it without coming off as porn?

SP: I have no idea. I love to write about sex, but it never occurs to me that anyone might find it arousing. I suppose I try and depict it in a matter-of-fact way, awkward and sometimes embarrassing and often thrilling. The worst kind of sex writing, I think, is when the writer tries to idealize it, all arching backs and glistening torsos and simultaneous orgasm. Also terrible is the sort of thing where the author gets overly hyperbolic and starts comparing genitalia to foodstuffs and planetary bodies and automotive parts.

MP: You’re doing our Austin Noir At The Bar with your friend and cohort, Jedidiah Ayres. What do you like about his writing?

SP: He has a willingness, or maybe it’s a compulsion, to go too far. Where a more psychiatrically stable writer might pull back, Jed plunges ahead, damn the torpedoes. The one about the groupie, the dead rock-star and the groupie’s boyfriend is one of the funniest and most disturbing stories ever written, and yet he manages to bring a kind of sweetness to it.

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Scott Phillips is an author whose books are always at the top of my reading pile. His smart prose and conscience-deprived anti-heroes turn crime fiction into social satire. His latest, Rake, further proves his talent for making noir funny.

The book starts with a nameless actor knocking out an arms dealer who tried to kill him for a having an affair with his wife. The actor calls his screenwriter, Fred. When Fred runs over to his place they work on a solution for their dilemma.
We then flash back to a little over two weeks earlier, where half of the story takes place. The actor has gained fame in France as Dr. Martin Crandall, the character he played on a American daytime soap-opera  that became a sensation when it aired there. He decides to use this fortune to get a movie financed with him as the star. He finds Fred, an anti-social bookseller and author of an obscure novel filled with sexual perversity. In classic Phillips form, the “Dr. Crandall” scheme also involves four different women the actor is simultaneously sleeping with; one of which is the leading lady who is married to a possible financier, the arms dealer. The book follows his wheeling, dealing, and screwing, which all lead up to the violent act that starts the novel. They then scramble to deal with the repercussions while still hustling to get the film made.
With Rake, Phillips has once again created a protagonist whose voice suits his writing style. You might dislike him, if he wasn’t so cavalier and intelligent. While he gives us wild justification for his actions there exists a little hypocrisy in him, at least when he tells his tale. It’s also hard to admit we’d behave differently if we could get away with it. One could say that Scott Phillips  gives us a cold look at his characters, and the film business, but the narration and the protagonist’s devil-may-care attitude give Rake a sleazy warmth.
Rake is Scott Phillips at his most entertaining. His wonderfully amoral and hedonistic characters, with their scheming and trouble shooting, provide a subtle yet laughable loud look at how the US has exported its worst traits abroad. Who knows, maybe someone will make a movie out of it?

An Appreciation Of (And Apology To) Scott Phillips

After our MysteryPeople Top 10 Of 2011 list was published on our blog, I realized I made a grave error. I had forgotten to put Scott Philips’ The Adjustment on it. Not only was it a book I loved, pushing the genre in a unique direction, and the fact that he’s one of my favorite writers, but he’s also on one of my good friends (at least up until then).

Scott has a history of great work that has never quite gotten the attention it deserves. Even though his work exists in a shared universe, he never writes the same novel twice, making him difficult to categorize for some. In many ways, he is as much a satirist as anything else, using gene to frame his commentary without drawing attention to it.

No book did that better than his debut, The Ice Harvest. The story follows Charlie Arglist, a morally bankrupt Kansas lawyer spending his Christmas Eve going from bar to strip club, tying up loose ends after executing a mysterious plan, before he skips town. He careens around a beautiful, icy strip club owner, a drunken ex-in law, his partner, and several other shady, two-faced citizens, who pose as much danger as the town’s winter streets. This book gets funnier as it gets darker, leaving you with one of the most talked about endings among noir enthusiasts.

Ice Harvest also introduced us to Wayne Ogden, an unscrupulous character who plays an important part in that ending. He became the lead in Scott’s next book, The Walkaway, which starts over a decade after, as well as sometime before, The Ice Harvest. Phillips switches from chapter to chapter with an Alzheimer-stricken Wayne’s search for the only woman he truly loved and the sordid details of their affair. Scott has said it is the closest he’ll get to a happy ending. That said, don’t expect Danielle Steele.

And don’t expect Zane Grey when Scott goes to post-Civil War Kansas to look at Wayne’s photographer and saloon owner grandfather, Bill, in Cottonwood. Bill becomes partners with a businessman who says he knows the railroad will be coming through town. As that prospect becomes doubtful, he has an affair with the man’s wife. Part noir, part western, with a lot of humor and a mass murdering family thrown in, Cottonwood pokes holes in the ideas of rugged individualism and founders of the community as well as exploring a point in time where the West became The Midwest.

Scott has continued the Ogden saga. The family has appeared in various short stories. A humorous standout, “The Girl Who Kissed Barnaby Jones” that appears in LA Noir, has Wayne’s grandson dealing with a crazy actress/waitress. He also visits a member of the clan in the dystopian future with his novel Rut.

Last year Scott returned with Wayne, just out of the Army, in The Adjustment. He’s back at his job, which mainly consists of protecting his philandering boss and missing the action he saw in the war. For Wayne, that action was in how he used his supply sergeant position to be a pimp and black marketer. He chases his boredom by cheating on his pregnant wife and getting involved with pornographers and a blackmail scheme, all while getting mysterious letters from someone who knows about his war time past.

The book is so suspenseful, raunchy, hilarious, and just down right fun it’s easy to forget how skillfully written it is and the subtle yet scathing comments it makes on our past. No matter how repugnant the characters, Scott’s genius ear for dialogue gives them a voice you can relate to. His pornographers have as much decency as his preachers. All are trying to find their way back to “normalcy”, having lost the definition after five years of war. Some, like Wayne, redefine it or maybe forget about it all together. The Adjustment looks at The Greatest Generation from an angle Tom Brokaw missed.

It is Phillips’ ability to show the ugly side of these sacred cows that make him an important author. We live in a period when many use those cows to take us to the slaughter. Phillips shows the hypocrisy in those legends and the ones who exploit them. His books are great reading during election years.

Scott has said he writes dirty books for a living. If so, there is something very sacred in his profanity.He gives an entertaining yet unblinking tour of America and a heartland that is dark at heart.

I only hope he can find it in his own heart to forgive me.

Going Home Again: An Interview With William Boyle

The real emotion and strong sense of place made William Boyle’s The Lonely Witness our Pick Of The Month for June. The book concerns his character Amy, who played a smaller role in his debut novel Gravesend, who has put her wilder ways behind her, delivering communion for the shut ins in her Brooklyn neighborhood. The job leads her to witnessing a stabbing and dealing with it in a way that both puts her in danger and has her flirting with her past life.

Bill was kind enough to let us ask him some questions about the book, it’s location, and influences.

MysteryPeople Scott: When you were writing Gravesend, did you know Amy had a bigger story in her?

William Boyle: I wasn’t thinking about a bigger story involving Amy as I was writing Gravesend but when I finished it she was a character that I really wondered and worried about. I named her Falconetti after the actress Renée Maria Falconetti from Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, one of my favorite films, so that—just that great name—was a draw to return to her. Pretty soon after I finished Gravesend, I was thinking about the poster for Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim, that iconic shot of Parker Posey, and I imagined a book called Falconetti. I didn’t know exactly what my approach would be—I didn’t wind up starting work on the book (which became The Lonely Witness) until early 2017—but I saw Amy as some kind of cross between Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and Willy Vlautin’s Allison Johnson. I liked the idea of her and Alessandra having had this whole relationship that we don’t see and then she stays behind in Alessandra’s neighborhood. My grandmother’s 90 and she was getting communion delivered at home, and I just started to see that this was what Amy’s life had become. I knew some things about her past from Gravesend; others revealed themselves as I wrote.    

MPS: You dig into that noir concept of the past coming back in a unique way. What did you want to explore with that concept?

WB: In a lot of ways, I think the book is about the ghost of past identities, how we can be all the versions of ourselves we’ve ever been simultaneously. I like the double action of the title. Amy witnesses crimes, but witness also has religious connotations. The book is haunted and even driven by Amy’s tortured spirituality. It’s not just that she was shaped by the crime she witnessed as a teenager; she was shaped by her mother dying, by her father leaving, by her Catholicism. All of these things are ghosts she can’t shake, which leads to a life of trying on new versions of herself, seeking something that fits. I love the idea of having a character like her driving a noir narrative—someone that’s neither one dimensionally good or bad, but who is a complicated and confused yearner. I just watched this great film, Christina Chao’s Nancy, and Andrea Riseborough’s character in that film really brought me back to Amy in a good way. Nancy does worse things than Amy, but they’re both searching for meaning, trying to understand how to exist in the world. They’re outsiders, on the margins of normal existence.

MPS: Besides familiarity, what does Brooklyn provide for you as a writer?

WB: It’s the landscape of my imagination. I spent—and continue to spend—so much time there that I can just think of a battered house on my block, and it’ll spark a story. It’s familiarity, definitely, but it’s also the mythology of it. To think of all the stories, the way it’s changed and changing. My part of Brooklyn is not the hyper-gentrified part people think of—the changes are interesting and really speak to a lot of what’s still great about New York City. I also like the idea of the way things change around people. My grandparents were in their house for sixty years, and everything changed around them. The house tells those stories. The sidewalk out front tells those stories. The weeds in the backyard tell those stories. I like walking around and seeing old signs that have been covered up or faded away. I also feel this melancholy when I’m back there that, I think, informs everything I write. I’m interested in people who are trapped in the neighborhood, chained to it, who live—essentially—a small town life in a big city.     

MPS: Scott Phillips once told me you can only really write about a place once you left it. Does the distance help you in any way?

WB: That’s definitely been true in my experience. But there’s also something about returning to a place a certain way. I’m back in Brooklyn a lot, probably two months a year, and when we’re there we stay with my mom and we visit my grandma in her nursing home in Coney Island (where she’s been about a year), and there’s something about being there that way that’s so intense, that brings me back so fully to my childhood and formative years, that really feeds my imagination. I’m hanging out with my mother, visiting her at work, meeting people at my grandma’s nursing home, seeing neighbors, taking lots of walks up to the avenue for groceries and coffee and to-go food. I’m back on the ground. I’m seeing all the same religious statues in yards, I’m seeing the same houses, the garbage in the streets, the El rumbling by, and I’m thinking about time in a way that I never quite have. I don’t know what it’d be like if I was totally removed from it—that’s just distant to my personal experience. Frankly, it scares and saddens me to think that someday my connection to Brooklyn might be more tenuous.

MPS: All your characters are vivid, even someone at the end of the bar for one page. Do you have a particular approach when writing those “smaller” characters?

That’s one of the real joys of writing for me. There are many writers and filmmakers I admire who make the most of every bit part, but I don’t know if anyone does it as meaningfully as David Lynch. Look at Twin Peaks: The Return. You’ll meet a character once—like Max Perlich in his brief cameo—and you wonder about him and marvel at his existence in the show. That’s the kind of thing a lot of people would cut—there’s no purpose, they’d say—but it adds layers of mystery and builds the world. You can have this whole story-within-a-story that’s moving and unexpected. I think my approach with those characters is just to see them as fully as I can, to try to witness their pain, to have this whole other story under the surface that brings the world to life. In The Lonely Witness, one of my favorite minor characters is Lou, who hits on Amy at Homestretch. He wasn’t there until he was, and that’s part of the joy, too. Painting away from the edges of the scene in the name of discovery.

MPS: Will the next book be in the shared world of Gravesend and The Lonely Witness or something completely different?

WB: The next book is set in the same Brooklyn neighborhoods with some parts in the Bronx and even a stretch up in the Hudson Valley. It takes place in 2006. It’s pretty much the same world of Gravesend and The Lonely Witness, but there are no direct connections beyond place. It’s really inspired by Jonathan Demme’s great screwball noirs, Something Wild and Married to the Mob, with maybe a little Shane Black mixed in there. It’ll be out this time next year, maybe sooner. The new book I’m working on is set in my neighborhood in 1991. The one I’m thinking about for after that will take place in the ‘80s. Again, the connection there will just be the place, though there might be some very minor character crossovers here and there.                                                                                                                                                         

Three Picks for August


  • Post by Scott Montgomery

August brings us new works from favorite authors, new explorations of old cities, and new variations on old themes for a set of books that do justice to the classics while forging their own path.


The Sixth Idea by P.J. Tracy

After almost a decade, The Monkeewrench crew is back! Here, they put their skills to use with a mystery that goes back to the cold war. The mother-daughter team of P.J. Tracy are masters of mixing humor and vivid characters into their suspense. The Sixth Idea comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via


St. Louis Noir edited by Scott Phillips

Finally Akashic looks to the city with the highest U.S. crime rate. Scott Phillips has assembled a talented group to explore the race, class, and social divisions of this decaying city, providing levity with some dark comic relief. St. Louis Noir comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via


Rough Trade by Todd Robinson

Robinson’s follow-up to Hard Bounce has his bouncers Boo and Junior pinned for the murder of a man they playing a hand in beating up. Using a touch of humor and humanity, Todd Robinson proves he is one of the masters of modern tough-guy fiction. Rough Trade comes out August 9th. Pre-order today! 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Glenn Gray


Glenn Gray’s The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories has won us over, but the collection has earned fans beyond MysteryPeople. Both Joe Lansdale and Scott Phillips are fans of his work. A practicing radiologist, he often uses medical anomalies to launch into his genre-bending tales. We put a few questions to Glenn and here’s what he said.

MysteryPeople: In simple genre terms, you’re all over the place. How would you describe your work?

Glenn Gray: Some kind of twisted medical type stuff maybe? Not really sure. I’ve heard it referred to as body horror, weird fiction and medical noir. I never really thought much about genre, I just write and see what happens. The medical stuff seems horrific to some readers, but to me, it’s often funny. I write the kind of stories I’d want to read, and I found over time I got a kick out of writing certain types of stories. Certain genres overlap in my mind anyway, like noir, horror and crime. To me, it’s all just dark. If I had to pick one description of my work, friend and writer buddy David James Keaton early on dubbed my
stuff as Cronenboiled or Cronenbergian noir, which I really dug. I owe DJK for that one.

MP: Much of your work comes from your experience in the medical profession.  What do other writers who are non-practicioners get wrong about the field?

GG: I’m an anatomy nut, so any description of anatomy has to be correct. And things have to make sense from an anatomic or physiologic standpoint. For example, if there’s a knife or gun wound to the neck, and the jugular was sliced, it wouldn’t be pumping fountain-like arcs of blood. The jugular is a vein, it doesn’t pump. It’s a minor point because it’s next to the carotid artery, which will pump, so if one is cut it’s likely the other will be too. Those are the kind of details that stand out to me. Fun part is, I’ve had writer friends message me and ask all sorts of wild questions, like the proper way to rip someone’s head off with bare hands, or if something with a medical element sounds plausible. It’s great fun being able to help out that way.

MP: Who are your influences?

GG: Roald Dahl, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Chuck Palahniuk and Joe R. Lansdale, to name a few. Mostly because they write what I like to read and write, dark and often with a humorous component. And usually a little twisted or with a fantastical element. I like stuff that goes off the rails but has some basis in reality, however minor. So the reader thinks, this is a little crazy, but I wonder if it could really happen? They all write a lot of short fiction too, which is cool because I love reading the short stuff.  And they’re hard to pinpoint on genre, which helps enforce the notion that it just doesn’t matter. Write whatever the heck you want, what makes you happy first, then worry about it later. That’s the way I see it anyway.

MP: Do you have any interest in doing a novel?

GG: Working on it. I just finished a sci-fi novella and I’m working on a second collection of short fiction as well. The novel is turning out to be a mix of genres like the short stuff.  Some medicine, some crime and some weirdness.

MP: What is your main aim for the reader when you write?

GG: First and foremost is to entertain. I want the reader to have fun. The bonus is if they feel something. Something visceral. Queasy maybe? And think about their body in a way they haven’t before. About how complex the body is, how we’re all just one mishap away from disaster. How so many organ systems keep functioning in concert day after day. It’s amazing to me that more doesn’t go wrong more often.

MP: Is there anything too gross to write about?

GG: Nah. Don’t think so. And I’ve learned that everyone’s definition of gross is very different. I think any topic can be written about, it’s just how you do it. It’s all about the angle.

Copies of The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories are only available on our shelves at BookPeople. Stop by or give us a call at (512) 472-5050 to pick up your copy today!



Glenn Gray’s The Little Boy Inside And Other Stories was suggested to me by several respected opinions before I picked it up to read. Authors Matthew McBride and Scott Phillips raved about it. Joe R. Lansdale put up a glowing post recently on Goodreads. Now that I’ve finally finished the collection, I can say everyone knew what they were talking about. This is a book worth picking up.

Gray, a radiologist, uses his medical background to write about the bad relationships people have with their bodies. Many of his stories are mash-ups of horror, sci-fi, and crime fiction, while others defy genre entirely. The most noir of his stories involves the illegal use of steroids in “Jacked,” an intense tale of a user caught between cops, fellow criminals, and his habit. Just about all of these stories have disturbing vibe. “Expulsion” is a satirical take about a man who “gives birth” to an organism. “A Blind Eye” is a somber look on medical ethics.

While many of these stories aren’t for the weak of heart, it is the skill, not the shock value, that make this writing stand out. Whether working as a slow-burn or grabbing you with an alarming first sentence, Gray knows what cards to show and which to hold close to the vest in order to keep you in the game. Every word has impact and meaning.

The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories is like crossing Richard Matheson and filmmaker David Cronenberg. These are masterfully crafted stories playing to the worst fears of our own bodies. Don’t eat while reading.

Copies of The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories are only available on our shelves at BookPeople. Stop by or give us a call at (512) 472-5050 to pick up your copy today!

MysteryPeople Road Trip!

scottprofileI’m gearing up to go on the road trip of my crime fiction life this month: Dallas, St. Louis, Memphis, Oxford, and New Orleans. I’ll be hanging out with (okay, leeching off of) a lot of my writer friends, including Harry Hunsicker, Scott Phillips, Jedidiah Ayers, Ace Atkins, and, winner of the University Of Mississippi Johns Grisham Writer In Residence fellowship, Megan Abbott. I have advance copies of Ace and Megan’s books (Cheap Shot and The Fever) packed to take with me, along with a collection of Mississippi writer Larry Brown’s stories.

If you need help finding a good crime novel at the store while I’m gone, introduce yourself to our new employee, Molly. She knows her stuff.

See you when I get back for the discussion on Thursday, Thursday, April 24 at 6:30PM with Hilary Davidson, who will speak about and sign her latest thriller, Blood Always Tells.

I promise to take pictures of sights along the way.

MysteryPeople Top Ten Novels of 2013

As usual, I cheated a bit putting together this list and doubled up on books that share the same theme. Also know Mark Pryor’s The Crypt Thief and Duane Swierzcynski’s Point & Shoot could have easily made this list. Also if I had gotten a chance to read some books that time just didn’t permit, like Urban Waite’s Carrion Birds and Adrian McGinty’s I Hear The Sirens In The Streets and Rules of The Wolfe by James Carlos Blake, I probably would have tried to squeeze them in, as well.

1. The Double by George Pelecanos

Pelecanos takes the simple set up of his retrieval specialist Spero Lucas recovering a stolen painting from a gigolo conman and creates a hard boiled novel rich in character dialogue, social awareness, and good straight up action scenes. Only problem is that I can’t wait for the third Spero novel.

2. The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell

In fewer than 180 pages this book covers more depth than some authors’ massive operas. Through time shifts and chapters that serve as mini-character biographies, Woodrell builds a literary mosaic about a mysterious explosion and the devastating effect it has on one town.

3. Little Green by Walter Mosely & Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman

Two of the greatest private eye heroes, Easy Rawlins and Moe Pager, walked the mean streets of the late ’60s this year. Read back to back, you get a look at the period from different age, racial, and coastal perspectives with two well defined heroes each in a beatifully crafted mystery.

4. A Serpents’ Tooth by Craig Johnson

This game changing book in the Walt Longmire series has the Wyoming sheriff dealing with a well armed religious cult, the CIA, a unique crime, and his most lethal nemesis. Johnson’s humor and humanity finds a way to both highlight and offset the story’s dark undercurrent.

5. Donnybrook by Frank Bill

This rough and tumble tale of different red neck ruffians and their pursuers heading for a bare knuckles competition takes hard boiled writing to new and sometimes disturbing heights. Bill keeps his characters grounded no matter how wild the story gets and gives us some involving blow-by-blow fight scenes.

6. Evil In All It’s Disguises by Hilary Davidson

Everything comes to a head in the third installment of this series featuring travel writer Lily Moore. When looking into the disappearance of a fellow writer in Acapulco, Lily finds herself in a creepy hotel and a plot involving her ex-boyfreind. Davidson blends noir, the traditional thriller, and her edgy sensibility, putting her into a class all her own.

7. The Return by Michael Gruber

Gruber’s South of the border revenge tale proves to have more depth than you might expect. A wealthy book editor and his slightly unhinged buddy from Vietnam travel to Mexico with a camper full of guns to settle a mysterious score. Gruber’s rich prose style and sense of place create a book that lingers.

8. The Rake by Scott Phillips

This year’s book with the most laughs follows an American soap opera actor in Paris, trying to broker a film deal and juggle several lovers, one of whom is a possible financier who’s an arms dealer. Phillips is one of the best tour guides for bad behavior.

9. Shoot The Woman First by Wallace Stroby

A heist novel with humanity. After a double cross from robbing a drug dealer, Crissa Stone tries to get her dead partner’s share to his family with a bunch of bad guys on her trail, including Burke, a crooked cop who proves to be one of this year’s best villains. Stroby finds a way to give entertaining action and dialogue while showing the toll a life of crime takes.

10. Ratlines by Stuart Neville

In Neville’s dark, James Ellroy-style historical noir, an investigator is trapped between different factions relating to the Nazis who found asylum in Ireland. The book is a hard punch to the gut that leaves you reeling.


These authors weren’t on the list list because their books didn’t quite fit the category of 2013 novel, yet they are well worth reading.

Nightmare Range by Martin Limon

A collection of all the stories featuring Sueno and Bascome, two CID cops in ’70s Korea. Great procedural story telling with a strong sense of mood and place. Read as a collection you get the sense of futility our heroes face in doing their job and the right thing.

Paying For It & Gutted by Tony Black

Finally an American publisher (kudos to NewPulp Press) brought Scotland’s prince of darkness to bookstores in this country. Black’s Gus Dury, a fired journalist hack turned half-assed PI, is a great damaged anti-hero and perfect guide through Edinburgh’s meaner streets.