Scott’s Top Ten (Eleven, Actually) Crime Fiction Books of 2020 So Far

Meike joined us on the blog earlier this week to discuss her ten favorite mystery reads of 2020 so far. Now it’s Scott M.’s turn to chime in. Read on to see what he’s been vibing with during this…unusual…year. It’s no mystery that books have been sustaining us all throughout this ordeal.

This year the halfway point list seems more important than ever. Many great books got lost when the pandemic hit. MysteryPeople was down, unable to crow about many of these fantastic reads. So here are the books that impressed me the most in the first six months of 2020.


1. The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

A waitress looks for answers and justice in her Ozark town after her twelve year-old daughter is murdered along with her friend. The deeper she goes, the more she becomes the woman she’s always feared being- her criminal mother. This rural noir packs one hell of a punch.



2. City Of Margins by William Boyle
This story looks at how a murder in the past effects several citizens who feel trapped in their Brooklyn life. Funny and heartbreaking, Boyle understands his characters like no other author.
3. Of Mice And Minestrone by Joe R. Lansdale
The author delivers a half dozen short stories that look at the formative years of his characters, Hap and Leonard. The stories run the gamut from fun genre romps, bittersweet nostalgia, and poignant character studies, showing some sides you haven’t seen from them.
4. Poison Flood by Jordan Farmer
A hunchback songrwriter is pulled out of his reclusive life during a storm that causes an enviromental disaster in his Appalcahian town from the chemical plant leak and leads to him witnessing a murder. Farmer hits to the emotional bone of his wounded characters.
5. Broken by Don Winslow
Winslow delivers five novellas that range from a fun cat and mouse  game between a cop and thief to a gritty story about a family of New Orleans police out for vengeance. He introduces us to new characters and revisits old favorites, proving in each piece the master storyteller he is.
6. The Burn by Kathleen Kent
Detective Betty Rhyzyk returns in this exciting police thriller. When informants are getting murdered and word on the street that several kilos have been stolen from the cartel, Betty has to escape from desk duty when the killings hit close to home with one of her fellow cops possibly involved.
7. That Left Turn At Albuquerque by Scott Phillips
A lawyer has to make up the money lost on a drug deal gone wrong through an art scam. His partner in crime, his wife, mistress, and an oddball forger all make this crime being far from perfect. Funny and profane with characters you love either despite or because of their lack of morality.
8. Lockdown edited by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle & Both Sides edited by Gabino Igesias
These two anthologies, one dealing with a year-long pandemic and the other looking at the many angles of human migration, run the gamut of tone, style, and perspective. Some are funny, many horrifying, and all break down their subject to its most human elements.
9. Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley
Mosley brings back New York PI Leonoid McGill as he tries to get a message from an old Black bluesman to his soon-to-be-wedded granddaughter. He has to use his street smarts and contacts to get past the woman’s rich and powerful father who wants to keep his mixed heritage a secret. A great, tight piece of pulp, packing social weight.
10.  Lost River by J. Todd Scott
Scott examines the human devastation of the opioid epidemic in this gritty, epic thriller of a one violent day that entwines a Kentucky lawman, DEA agent, and EMT. Some of the most vivid writing about the drug war since Don Winslow.

These titles and more are available to order from BookPeople today.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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.
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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!

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!


2019 is proving to be a great year for crime fiction. Authors are stretching themselves in creative ways. Nobody’s timid. I’ve already read three books over five hundred pages. There was also great work in a range of subgenres. I couldn’t just pick the usual ten in what I see as the standouts from January to June .

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover Image1. A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle

One of the freshest pieces of crime fiction to come around for a while. Also one of the funniest, with a mob widow and an ex-porn star on the road to Florida in a stolen classic Impala with a bunch of mob cash and several unsavory men on their trail. Every character is fully drawn out, and the relationship between these two ladies who find each other is complex and nuanced.


Metropolis (A Bernie Gunther Novel #14) Cover Image2. Metropolis by Philip Kerr

A beautiful swan song for the late Kerr and his character Bernie Gunther. Ironically, he delivers a fitting ending by taking him back to his beginning on his first homicide as a KRIPO detective, hunting a killer of prostitutes and homeless vets. It puts him in touch with many of Berlin’s artists of the time and provides heartbreaking foreshadowing of things to come.


Conviction Cover Image3. Conviction by Denise Mina

Mina delivers a suspenseful and often humorous thriller with wonderful touches of humanity in a tale of a dumped trophy wife with a secret past and a male anorexic former pop star out to solve an old murder through podcast. A great example of an author delivering a more accessible novel without compromise.



The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog #3) Cover Image4. The Border by Don Winslow

Winslow puts an end to his Drug Wars epic with one big literary exclamation point. Populated by characters who live in a world where the choices are between bad or worse, no matter what side of the law you operate, this book serves as a great argument for legalization.



Trigger (Frank Marr #3) Cover Image5. Trigger by David Swinson

Swinson wraps up his trilogy with drug addict PI Frank Marr, with Frank trying to clear his former police partner of a bad shooting. Full of human and thematic ambiguity that defines a great detective novel. Here’s hoping Frank Marr can pick up another case now and then.



This Storm: A novel Cover Image6. This Storm by James Ellroy

The second installment of Ellroy’s World War Two L.A. quartet explores the allure of fascism as it continues to follow the investigations, crimes, and sins of his LAPD members and the women drawn to them. A huge, big picture kind of book that gives a wild ride through a Hollywood Hell.


End of the Ocean Cover Image7. End Of The Ocean by Matthew McBride

Elmore Leonard meets Graham Greene in this tale of an American licking his divorce wounds in Bali, who becomes involved in smuggling to be with the island woman he fell in love with. Use of finely drawn players, an intriguing setting, humorous dialogue, and harrowing suspense create a character driven thriller that probes the idea of love.


The Book Artist (Hugo Marston #8) Cover Image8. The Book Artist by Mark Pryor

Pryor’s latest Hugo Marston novel, has the head of our Paris embassy’s security trying to clear girlfriend Claudia of murder and teaming up with buddy Tom Green to put an end to a ghost from their past. A well crafted, cleanly written mystery and thriller that also looks into the complications of relationships.



A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary: A Samuel Craddock Mystery (Samuel Craddock Mysteries) Cover Image9. A Risky Undertaking For Loretta Singletary by Terry Shame

Police Chief Samuel Craddock tries to find his missing pal Loretta, taking him into the world of computer dating. Shames’s knowledge of small town life and her characters help create a believable, suspenseful, and at times humorous mystery.



Night Watch Cover Image10. Night Watch by David C. Taylor

Fifties New York cop Michael Cassidy returns, catching a homicide that leads to the CIA, former Nazis, and a tenacious assassin. Once again, Taylor brings time and place to vibrant life.




Murder Once Removed (Ancestry Detective #1) Cover Image11. Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins

An Austin genealogist gets involved in politics and murder when she discovers the ancestor of a senate candidate possibly murdered the relative of his opponent in the past. The beginning of a light mystery series that shows richness, humor, and promise.



The Elephant of Surprise (Hap and Leonard) Cover Image12. Elephant Of Surprise by Joe Lansdale

In this stripped down and relentless Hap and Leonard yarn, the boys try to protect a young albino Chinese American woman from an ever growing number of killers during one of the biggest storms in East Texas. The actions and banter are non stop as Joe gives us pure pulp pleasure.

Scott Montgomery’s Top 10 Crime Novels Of 2018

Emotion was the consistent thing that made crime fiction great in 2018: whether the lead was a hard boiled detective or Brooklyn woman looking for redemption, the lead lived in the suburbs of New York State or Ancient Rome, each author mined what they were going through with their bruised hearts speaking to ours. Here are the ten I thought spoke the most clearly.

The Man Who Came Uptown Cover ImageThe Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos

A truly humane hard boiled tale of a man fresh out of jail, blackmailed into going back to his life of crime, who finds solace in a job well done, books, and the prison librarian who turned him on to reading. Pelecanos aims for the quieter moments in this story to deliver real people and emotions.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Another piece of beautiful, dark prose poetry from the queenpin of noir set in the world of science a tale that female competition, friendship, and the burden of secrets. Abbott continues to push the genre in new directions without ever clipping off its roots.

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle

A former party girl who has retreated into a more enclosed life finds herself returning to her ways of the night when she witnesses a murder. A gritty crime novel that explores society, mind, and heart with eloquence and pathos.

Depth Of Winter by Craig Johnson

Sheriff Walt Longmire searches for his kidnapped daughter in Narco Mexico and a final confrontation with his nemesis Tomas Bidarte. Johnson proves he can retain the humanity of his hero, even when placed in the most inhumane of situations.

The Line (A Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Novel #13) Cover ImageThe Line by Martin Limon

Limon starts out with the best opening of the year with Army CID investigators Sueno and Bascome examining a murder victim on the demarcation bridge with North Korean and U.S. armies pointing rifles at each other, then unravels a mystery that examines the plight of women in both Korean and military society. This series has hit its stride with no evidence of faltering.

The Line That Held Us by David Joy

Joy gives us a rural noir set up of a poacher who has his friend help him bury the town tough’s brother he accidentally shot and sets us on an intimate tale of friendship, adulthood, and grace. Best introduction of an antagonist (who may be the protagonist) this year.

In The Galway Silence by Ken Bruen

Bruen somehow finds an even more harrowing rabbit hole for his Jack Taylor to go down, facing off against a killer who calls himself Silence out to take the remains of his shattered life. A crime thriller of style, wit, and madness that perfectly reflects our times.

What You Want to See: A Roxane Weary Novel Cover ImageWhat You want To See by Kristine Lepionka

In the second Roxane Weary novel, the Ohio PI tries to clear her client for murder and dives first into a real estate scam where the con artists have no problem with killing to cover their tracks. Lepionka brings all the goods for a great private eye read.

If I Die Tonight by Allison Gaylin

Gaylin weaves through the dark side of suburbia and social media in this thriller concerning a teen killed while supposedly saving a former teen pop star from a car jacking. Through a jigsaw puzzle of several perspectives, the reader puts together a narrative that questions how we interact with one another today.

Throne Of Caesar by Steven Saylor

Gordianus The Finder is confronted with another historical crime while dealing with the assassination of the emperor during The Ides Of March. An entertaining blend of well researched history that brings time and place alive and skillfully drawn characters (both historical and fictional) that does the same for the emotions.


Scott Butki reads about 70 books, and interviews about 30 authors, a year, while also using book discussions to help create change and educate, particularly in social justice areas. An index of his interviews with authors is here

These first two I read this month for upcoming interviews in MysteryPeople. Both books come out in January 2019.

No Mercy by  Joanna Schaffhausen –  I was hooked as soon as I read the opening line:  “You kill one guy, one time, and suddenly everyone thinks you need therapy…” The protagonist, a police officer, is famous because she killed a particularly brutal murderer. He’s in prison, she’s involuntarily suspended.

While dealing with harassment, unwanted attention and personal threats for her actions she’s pushed to join a group therapy consisting of other survivors of terrible crimes. As she and an FBI profiler began to investigate the cases of two of the survivors in the group they find thing are not as simple or clear as one would expect.  There are many twists and turns as well great character development.

Scrublands by Chris Hammer – The author, a former journalist, writes about a journalist, Martin, sent to a drought-ravaged town in Australia where the one year anniversary of an event is coming up: A year earlier a priest stood on the church steps with a gun and shot several people before being killed himself.

Martin finds things are not as it seems as far as the story told about the incident and while investigating there’s fires, a fatal car accident and he falls in love with a local resident. The old journalism rule about not becoming part of the story is broken repeatedly. This book has twist after twist including Martin publishing stories that seem accurate, at the time, but soon turn out to be otherwise. This is great writing that will keep surprising you.

Bluebird, Bluebird Cover Image

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke – There have been plenty of white male authors who have written about real or fictional white male Texas Rangers. But in 2018, and for the next few years, I vowed to read less books by white males, both to coordinate with anti-racism work I do, and to get the perspectives of writers who might be outside my usual comfort range. That led me to this great novel.

With Bluebird, Bluebird, Locke, a black female author, writes about a black member of the Texas Rangers as he tries to solve a double murder of a white woman and black man in a town filled with Aryan Brotherhood members and local law enforcement who wants to ignore the racists and the drugs they deal.

With Ranger Darren Mathews, a native of east Texas, Locke has created a fascinating character who is torn between doing the right thing and doing what law enforcement, both local and the state, is telling him to do. All this in a backwater town that used to be a plantation.

The Midnight Assassin: The Hunt for America's First Serial Killer Cover ImageMidnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal And The Hunt For America’s First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth – I don’t usually go for true crime books but this was an exception: A book about a serial killer in Austin, TX, believed to be the first known serial killer in the United States.

This is an excellent, true account of a weird infamous part of Austin’s history, that there was a serial killer in the late 1800s back before serial killers, finger print analysis, etc. was a known thing. To read this is to see how backward things were, from police trying to stop the killings by repeatedly arresting innocent black men, even when they were victims of the crimes, to how they would treat, or mistreat, crime scenes. After each killing, local leaders would walk all over the crime scene and when someone would finally bring a bloodhound it couldn’t even get a scent.

The killer was never caught but the killings stopped. Some think the killer may have been Jack the Ripper because after the killings stopped in Austin the killers began in London and there were similarities. The book is full of color and great details.

Splinter In the Blood by Ashley Dyer – If you like mysteries with lots of twists you need to read this book. The story starts out with a bang, literally, with a scene in which Detective Chief Greg Carver, the lead investigator of a serial killer named the Thorn Killer has been shot. He is sprawled on his seat in his own home. OK, maybe there are other mysteries that have started this way.

But I’m not done setting the stage because Carver remembers the shooter standing in front of him. Soon, by the end of the next chapter, he has remembered who shot him: His partner, Sgt. Ruth Lake, who after shooting him takes away his files, compromising the crime scene.

As the book proceeds there become two investigations: Who shot Carver and who is the Thorn Killer? Lake, of course, doesn’t tell anyone what she did, and is not supposed to be working on the former investigation but can’t stay away.

Gradually, we began to understand her motives, her disdain for Carver as a person and as an investigator. And Lake and the Thorn Killer are both fascinating characters…

I interviewed the author for Mystery People here.

Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead--My Life Story Cover ImageMake Trouble By Cecile Richards – I was looking forward to reading Cecile Richards’ memoir even before I was given the generous offer to interview her about it for BookPeople.

The book has something for everyone. Want to know what it’s like to be the daughter of former Texas Governor Ann Richards? Check. Want to know what it was like for Cecile to testify before a Congressional panel over those bogus fetal tissue videos? Check. Want to know what Cecile is going to do next, now that she’s stepping down as leader of Planned Parenthood so that someone else can step into that role? Well, that’s one thing that’s not in the book, but it’s a question you can expect authors, including me, to interview her about.

Near the book’s start, Richards shares some great stories about her early experiences making trouble, such as when she shocked a teacher by refusing to say the Lord’s Prayer and announcing her family did not read the Bible in their home. “It was the first time I remember having to decide: Do I accept things the way they are, or question authority? I chose the latter, and from that point forward was branded a troublemaker,” she writes. “Once the initial shock wore, it became a badge of honor. I’ve been making trouble ever since – which, to me, means taking on the powers that be, being a thorn in someone’s side, standing up to injustice, or just plain raising hell.”

Some of my favorite parts from the first half of the book talk about Cecile’s early work organizing unions to help nursing home and garment workers in East Texas and working with other activists. She writes something I suspect all activists can relate to: “Fighting for what you believe in can be discouraging, defeating and sometimes downright depressing. But it can also be powerful, inspiring, fun, and funny – and it can introduce you to people who will change your life. That’s the message I want to spread far and wide. That’s why I wrote this book”

As someone long fascinated by Ann Richards, I especially enjoyed Cecile talking about what it is like having your mother run for and win state elections all the way up to the governor’s race. Cecile is frank about all the sexism Ann put up with everywhere while running — from other politicians, the media, etc. I love Ann’s approach and attitude. “My brother once asked how she managed to stay calm when dealing with Clayton Williams (who had joked about women and rape). ‘You know,’ she said, ‘my blood pressure drops. I go into cool mode. Here he is, another guy who lives a privileged life and doesn’t give a damn about women. Now I get to expose that to the world. He doesn’t get under my skin any more than the rest of the people I’ve dealt with all my life.” On that page, there’s a photo of Williams pointing his finger in Ann’s face with the caption: “Ann Richards versus Clayton Williams. He was a classic good old boy who wanted to put women in their place. It didn’t work.”

Cecile describes in detail a story many in Texas know: Wendy Davis’ filibuster. She details her own experiences while in the rotunda of the capitol. Then she tosses off this gem: “At one point even Barack Obama tweeted to a cool 41 million followers, ‘Something special is happening in Austin tonight.’ Someone read the tweet out loud in the rotunda; it was a real morale boost, and possibly the one time in recorded history a president’s late-night tweet actually did some good.”

Sunburn: A Novel Cover ImageSunburn by Laura Lippman – Lippman can do no wrong in my book and this novel is definitely one of my favorites. I have read all of Lippman’s novels (about 25 of them) and even got to interview her for some of her earlier ones, back when she was writing her Tess Monaghan series.

Since Lippman, a former newspaper reporter for the Baltimore Sun, switched to stand-alones her books have garnered her, deservedly, more praise and acclaim as well as getting some of her books on the New York Times bestseller lists. I’d encourage you to check out any of her books as they have fully developed characters, great plots, good twists, and excellent dialogue.

For her latest book, Sunburn, she crafts another great story, set up in a way so you, the reader, have no idea where things are going to go.  As the book starts a guy named Adam is meeting a woman named Polly in a small bar in a dive town, Belleville, Delaware. He’s interested in her from the start and while we think it’s just a brewing romance we gradually realize he’s also investigating her.

Polly has an even more complicated story. She has, we learn, just walked away from her husband and daughter and it was while leaving them that she stopped in this city. We gradually learn more about why she left, why Adam is investigating her and why a third and fourth person are also paying attention to Polly’s actions. It’s a great page-turner, one which is difficult to put down.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo – This author has written a great new book, White Fragility, a term she coined years ago. In it she not only explains in depth what the term means and how to address people when they are experiencing it but she covers many other issues about racism, specifically regarding white people working on their own racism-related issues.

I confess to having a few “a ha! she said it too!” moments when she said things which I’ve been saying in anti-racism work I do at my church and in discussions about books about race such as this.

Specifically, she notes something about progressives which I also find myself pointing out about too many of the Unitarian Universalist church and social justice related groups I work with, namely that the folks that people of color, and anti-racism educators like her, find the most frustrating are fellow progressives. The problem is the logic becomes “I’m progressive and care about social justice, therefore I know everything I need to know about this topic.”

The reality is those are often the people who need the most work, need the most help. These are the folks making microaggressions, not realizing how their works and actions can be hurtful, people who can and do learn a lot when they accept they can be educated in this area.

One of my mantras in this work is that the focus should be on the impact, not the intent, a topic she also touches on. It’s easy when someone white says or does something racist to retreat to the position of “but that was not my intention.” That good intention, though, does not change the impact on the person harmed. Think before you speak and act about whether your well intended actions may be perceived or taken in other ways.

This is why she and I and others talk about this work being uncomfortable and difficult for it’s in those places where the real work is done. The work done in polite conversations is often of less depth and doesn’t usually go far enough.

I encourage you to read this book, join discussions and conversations about this and other books about race and open yourself up to doing work that may be uncomfortable but can potentially be life changing.

Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan – This is the third in the author’s engrossing series about Esa Khattek and Rachel Getty, who work for Canada’s Community Policing department. In this new book Esa is on leave, traveling in Iran when the Canadian government asks him to investigate the death of a renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker. This gives the author an opening to talk about Iranian culture. Parts of the book are based on real life events including the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election. The series does an excellent job of providing a mystery-thriller while also educating the reader.

So You Want to Talk About Race Cover ImageSo You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – I have read a lot of books about race and racism while doing antiracism work in recent years and this is the best one I have come across yet in terms of being prescriptive. It is by a woman of color who addresses all the questions folks have, from “How do I know when an issue is about race?” (answer: if a person of color says it’s about race then it’s about race), “how do you address those who try to switch debates of racism into debates of classism?” (point out that the tools we need to destroy classism are not the same as those needed to stop racism, not to mention the reasons a white person might be working class might be different than those of a person of color), “What if you mess up when talking about race?” (You will, don’t sweat it,) etc.

I have personally recommended this book to about 50 people and led two book discussions on it.

Honorable Mentions:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – Reading this was a wild ride. I could not get into the story or the main character of Ove but persevered since I was reading it for a book club. Then the last 30 pages had me all crying and emotional as I realized the book had affected and touched me way more than I realized. Others I know had similar experiences.

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke – One of his best books in years and with my favorite protagonist of his, Dave Robicheaux. All of his books have amazing prose and descriptions to die for but this one has an even better plot than usual. I was lucky enough to interview him about his new book here

Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, And One Intact Glass Ceiling by Amy Chozick – The author covered Hillary’s campaigns first for The Wall Street Journal and later for The New York Times. She does an amazing job explaining what it is like to essentially put your personal life on hold while you, yes, chase Hillary, along with lots of other reporters, from event to event, struggling to find new ways to report daily on the campaign even when the speeches are identical.

For me, who entered into journalism in college thinking one day I would be covering presidential campaigns for The New York Times, the most interesting parts involved having to deal with a campaign staff trying to manipulate her and editors not always on the same page as her, not to mention what it was like when the campaign, and the journalists covering it, realized their polling involving Trump was so off.  


This year’s Texas crime novels all came from series, even one not normally set in Texas. Even our fiction is too big to fit in one book. I will admit some bias may have played a part, seeing that only one novel doesn’t have at least one passage set in Austin.

Dominic: A Hollow Man Novel Cover ImageDominic by Mark Pryor

Austin’s sociopathic prosecutor is back, tying up the loose ends of his crimes in Hollow Man. Pryor creates the unsettling, yet no less entertaining feeling of collusion with his anti-hero.

High White Sun by J Todd Scott

Scott’s follow up to his no-holds-barred border noir, The Big Empty, has his lawmen going up white supremacists and bad history. Scott’s knowledge of history and people on both sides of the law gives a gritty epic feel to his work.

Into the Black Nowhere: An UNSUB Novel Cover ImageInto The Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

Gardiner’s second book to feature Caitlin Hendrix has the newly minted FBI agent chasing down a charming, Ted Bundy-type killer who operates along I-35. Meg truly brings the creepy to this one.

Tooth For A Tooth by Ben Rehder

What seems like a simple fraud case for Austin legal videographer Roy Ballard puts him in a crossfire between criminals. A fresh take on the traditional PI novel with great use of Austin locations.

Gold Dust by Reavis Wortham

The police of Cedar Springs get split up with different cases involving murder, cattle rustling, and a biological agent the CIA may be involved with. A great look at Texas in sixties. A chapter featuring The Broken Spoke is worth the price alone.



Since there’s a few more weeks left for summer reading, I thought it might not be a bad idea to share my top ten crime novels so far for 2018. Many of these books pushed the boundaries of the genre, showing that it is still growing and has places to go. I also know there is some great work that would be on this list if I read it yet, like May Cobb’s Big Woods or Sunburn by Laura Lippman. Still, I’ve read enough good stuff, I couldn’t just limit this list to ten.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott – Abbott once again dives through the stylish surface of noir and hits its darkest depths, pushing its boundaries in this tale of science, female competition, and the burden of secrets.





The Lonely Witness Cover ImageThe Lonely Witness by William Boyle- Boyle shows his skill of examining lives of quiet desperation, then turning up the volume. A former party girl, now living a quiet life, flirts with her past ways when she witnesses a murder and trails the killer who ends up stalking her.




Dominic: A Hollow Man Novel Cover ImageDominic by Mark Pryor- Pryor brings back his Austin sociopath, tying up loose ends from Hollow Man. A great thriller that has you catching yourself rooting for the bad guy.





If I Die Tonight: A Novel Cover ImageIf I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin – A harrowing trip through the social media age with a suburban crime that causes rumors to get way out of control. Gaylin uses an ensemble of characters to show how one act can effect a community and the multiple points of view that fracture and event.




What You Want to See: A Roxane Weary Novel Cover ImageWhat You Want To See by Kristine Lepionka – Roxane weary returns for a second case, clearing a client for the murder of his fiance’, taking her into the dark world of real estate fraud. In just two books, Lepionka proves to know her detective, the craft of great plot, and the art of a great shoot out.




High White Sun Cover ImageHigh White Sun by J. Todd Scott – In this follow up to The Far Empty the law of Big Bend County contends with an Aryan biker gang. Scott uses the Texas backdrop and history for one hell of an epic gritty crime novel.





Blackout: A Pete Fernandez Mystery Cover ImageBlackout by Alex Segura & Potter’s Field by Rob Hart – Both of these authors take their troubled private detectives through great changes with cases that hold a mirror to their lives. Along with Lepionka, these two prove the future of the PI novel is in good hands.




Blood Standard (An Isaiah Coleridge Novel #1) Cover ImageBlood Standard by Laird Barron- Mainly known for his horror writing, Barron introduces us to his hard boiled series character Isaiah Coleridge, a former enforcer on the outs with the mob. I can’t wait for the next book about this bad ass.




A Tooth for a Tooth Cover ImageA Tooth For A Tooth by Ben Redher- The latest in the Roy Ballard series has the legal videographer on a fraudulent accident claim that turns out to reveal bigger crimes. A fun classic PI yarn with some fresh spins on the genre.





Bottom Feeders Cover ImageBottom Feeders by John Shepphird – A fun fair play mystery with the cast and crew of a made for cable movie getting arrows shot into them. Shepphird, who has directed his share of cable movies, captures