April ’17 Pick: A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum
“Both the pacing and the dialogue are razor-sharp—the pages almost seemed to turn themselves, and I’m glad I started this on a weekend so I didn’t have to call in sick to work to finish. The novel has that rare mix of dark depravity and utter hilarity; there’s sex and violence, but plenty of dry humor to lighten the tale. The plot is well-crafted and brought to a supremely satisfying conclusion with plenty of delightful twists. The reader will alternately gasp and laugh out loud—this one is not to be missed!”
March ’17 Pick: The Weight of This World by David Joy
“David Joy got our attention in 2015 with his debut Where All The Light Tends To Go. The searing rural noir proved there was still a lot to mine from the subgenre. Now Mr. Joy picks up his tools and goes down down even deeper into that dark hole with The Weight Of This World.”
February ’17 Pick: The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt
“Burt is a master at creepy domestic suspense. As the parallel story lines progress, the reader becomes increasingly aware of an underlying evil that is brilliantly foreshadowed. Aurora typifies the dying small Texas town, filled with decaying buildings and struggling small businesses, and lends itself perfectly to the eerie tale. Pick up a copy of The Good Daughter—you’ll never look at a cricket quite the same way again.”
January ’17 Pick: For Time and All Eternities by Mette Ivie Harrison
“Despite their reluctance, Linda Wallheim and her husband Kurt accept an invitation to visit their future [polygamous] in-laws at their remote family compound. Not long after they meet patriarch Stephen Carter, Linda begins to feel that something is terribly wrong at the compound–each of Stephen’s five wives appears deeply troubled. While Linda is repelled by the concept of plural marriage, she finds herself unexpectedly sympathetic to the plights of the women and their combined 22 children. Before Linda can find any convincing evidence of possible wrong-doing, a family member is found brutally murdered. Afraid that law enforcement might take advantage of the wives’ naiveté, Linda agrees to stay at the compound until she can identify the murderer.”
December ’16 Pick: In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, edited by Lawrence Block
“Sunlight Or In Shadow not only shows the in influence of Hopper on the writers, but how their imagination pushed that influence. Each story defies what we see on the the surface of the painting. Many go inside the painting, like a skilled jazz master with a standard, turning it inside out. It is fitting that an anthology concerning Hopper reminds us there is no boundary between art and artists.”
November ’16 Pick: The Fisher King by Melissa Lenhardt
“When an abandoned house burns down with two bodies inside, Jack immediately senses that the local drug turf war is intensifying. He believes that the mastermind behind the drug trade is the most influential business man in Stillwater, Joe Doyle—who happens to be running against Ellie in the race for city council. Doyle has convinced many Stillwater residents that the increasing crime rate can be traced to the day Jack took the job as chief of police, and is determined have him fired as just as soon as he wins the election. Soon two more bodies turn up, and Jack has to work quickly to solve the murders before he’s removed from office.”
October ’16 Pick: The Trespasser by Tana French
“French continues her particular brand of psychological thriller in her latest. The inscrutable Antoinette Conway, who we met in The Secret Place as the partner of protagonist Stephen Moran, now appears in the starring role, making her French’s first female protagonist since The Likeness. Disliked by her squad but supported by her partner, Detective Antoinette Conway’s experience working in Murder is at the start of the novel a mixed bag…”
September ’16 Pick: An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson
“The book is the literary version of an acoustic set, stripping the series down to his three essential characters. Walt and and his Cheyenne buddy Henry Standing Bear go up to Hullett, a town near Devil’s Tower hosting a motorcycle climb, in which Henry is participating. The climb has been organized as part of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, bringing 50,000 bikers to a town of 400.”
August ’16 Pick: You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
“Abbott uses the crime story to delve deep into the dynamics of a family with a prodigy. She shows the subtle role each parent and sibling play. Like her cheerleader noir, Dare Me, the creepiness factor settles in before the actual crime, manifesting as the intense obsession for perfection and winning that has taken hold of the family.”
July ’16 Pick: The Innocents by Ace Atkins
“The book picks up roughly a year after Quinn being kicked out as sheriff in The Redeemers. He returns home from training Afghani security forces policing techniques. He takes a new job as deputy under the new sheriff, his friend, Lillie Virgil.
Soon they get a strange and horrible case. Milly Jones, a former cheerleader, is found walking along the highway on fire…”
June ’16 Pick: The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott
“The Southwest has become a popular backdrop for crime fiction of late. It operates in both the parallel worlds of modern drug trafficking and historic legend of the old west. Authors utilize a brutal landscape and its history in combination with the brutality of humanity. J Todd Scott, a former DEA agent who worked in that area, uses it to full effect in his debut novel, The Far Empty.”
May ’16 Pick: The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton
“Hamilton’s craft touches art in this book. He presents us with a great premise that he builds on and never betrays. Every plot point, character, and theme has fallen perfectly in place by the last page. He never gets in the way of his story. Instead of bogging down the novel with alliteration, he chooses a crisp Dashiell Hammett style with just the right minimal amount of words to evoke the world Nick has to navigate.”
April ’16 Pick: Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg
“Rarely, a detective novel can combine a tricky, unpredictable and satisfying murder plot with a glimpse at how people live. Without sacrificing the dark tone of her murder plot, Ginsburg perfectly depicts a blase and non-judgmental attitude towards sex, drugs and employment.”
March ’16 Pick: A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
“A Man Lies Dreaming splits its narrative between Shomer, a writer of Yiddish pulp fiction, or shund, imprisoned in Auschwitz, and Wolf, a German refugee living in London upon the eve of the Second World War. The reader slowly realizes that Shomer’s perspective is told from within our own historical reality, while Wolf occupies an alternative reality (possibly existing only in Shomer’s dreams).”
February ’16 Pick: Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale
“Honky Tonk Samurai is everything you want from a Hap and Leonard novel. There is a lot of laughs and some well put together shoot outs, and at the core a friendship that gives Butch and Sundance a run for their money. For the fans of the series, it is like getting together with an old friend, especially the one that just got out of prison.”
January ’16 Pick: Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman
“Gus is a former Suffolk County cop, whose job and marriage have crumbled away after the death of his son. He works as a courtesy van driver for a fading hotel. A criminal he had arrested comes to him for a favor. His own son has been murdered and the police seem to have written it off. With the help of his former priest and an immigrant co-worker, Gus delves into a tangled web of drugs, remnants of the mafia, and city corruption.”
December ’15 Pick: His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison
“Her second novel, His Right Hand, sets aside her previous novel’s focus on violence against women in favor of an exploration of gender identity and the struggle for LGBT acceptance in the Mormon community. Linda Wallheim reappears as Harrison’s protagonist, this time with as much to say about the constraints of male gender roles within the church as female ones.”
November ’15 Pick: Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
“Gordan MacAlpine’s new novel, The Woman With a Blue Pencil, is a masterpiece of meta-fiction. McAlpine has created a playful, yet responsible, work.The Woman with a Blue Pencil functions equally as critique and as driving detective novel. ”
October ’15 Pick: Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville
“Neville’s most recent novel, Those We Left Behind, follows the pattern of The Final Silence, his previous book, in its depiction of a modern Northern Ireland, beset by both historic and contemporary difficulties. British institutions continue to clash with Northern Irish citizens, but in modern, individual ways. In Those We Left Behind, a young man is released from prison to be reunited with his psychopathic brother. The two had murdered their foster father long before, and their former foster brother is out for revenge. A police officer and a probation officer try to prevent violence as the three men grow closer to an explosive confrontation.”
September ’15 Pick: Hollow Man by Mark Pryor
“Hollow Man is one self assured novel. It avoids the heavy alliteration of many neo-noirs, having enough faith in its mood and story. Mark Pryor cleanly gives us a tale of dirty people. I hope he takes another trip over to the dark side.”
August ’15 Pick: Zagreb Cowboy by Allen Mattich
“When Alen Mattich first left Croatia as a child, he (probably) had no idea that he would spend the next few years in exile, eventually settling in London with a career as a financial journalist. He also (probably) never suspected that, twenty years after becoming a citizen of the world, he would merge his experiences, those of his countrymen, and crime novel conventions in Zagreb Cowboy, a rollicking good ride through the black market wilds of collapsing Yugoslavia, just before its constituent parts embarked on years of nationalist and ethnic conflict.”
July ’15 Pick: French Concession by Xiao Bai
“…French Concession is reminiscent of Lust, Caution in its mind-bending portrayal of East Asian espionage and revolution. Although Bai’s setting is complex, and his characters multifaceted, Bai includes maps, historical notes, and a tight, explosive conclusion to wrap one of the best international espionage thrillers I have ever read…”
June ’15 Pick: The Cartel by Don Winslow
“Ten years ago, Don Winslow gave us his masterpiece, The Power Of The Dog, Winslow’s look at the first twenty-five years of our war on drugs. His portrayal of a feud between two former friends, DEA agent Art Keller and cartel boss Adán Barrera, gave us vivid characters and strong action while showing the United States’ mismanagement of and Mexico’s corruption in that war. It entertained and enraged. With his sequel, The Cartel, Winslow tells us those twenty-five years were just the beginning.”
May ’15 Pick: Robert B. Parker’s Kickback by Ace Atkins
“By this point, everyone should know that Ace Atkins is the perfect caretaker for Spenser. He has captured Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based hero-for-hire in both attitude and action. Lately he appears to have taking a more relaxed approach, injecting his own sensibilities that mesh perfectly with Parker’s. His latest continuation of Spenser’s adventures, Kickback, continues to meld the two writing styles.”
April ’15 Pick: All Involved by Ryan Gattis
“The L.A. Riots of 1992 is and the police brutality case that spurred them are some of those events that will always be remembered by us that watched it play out on live TV. The riots brought up the still resonant issues of class, race, and police brutality, and became an even more a divisive event since it happened during a presidential campaign. In All Involved, Ryan Gattis takes us through working-class Los Angeles during six days after the Rodney King verdict to show us the human side to the history.”
March ’15 Pick: Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy
“As a reader, making that discovery of an author you know you are going to read forever is one of the best things that can happen. Immediately locking onto a voice that is fresh yet one you have faith in for future work is always a gift. It’s like starting a romantic relationship, but with more trust. It is the way I felt when reading David Joy’s Where All Light tends To Go.“
February ’15 Pick: The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
It’s not too long into reading The Long and Faraway Gone that you sense Lou Berney’s ambition. The plot involves at least three mysteries, two of them taking place over twenty-five years ago and interacting with the present, and the thematics raised have no easy answers. Even with these challenges, the author proves to be more than up for the challenge.
January ’15 Pick: The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife is the most talked-about mystery of 2015. The novel gives us an insider’s perspective of The Mormon Church with a story loosely based on a true crime connected with a Utah temple, a fact which has already brought the novel considerable attention. The Bishop’s Wife also shows the author’s acute understanding of faith, family, and female position in Mormon culture and wider society.
December ’14 Pick: Easy Death by Daniel Boyd
Hard Case Crime gives us a fun hard boiled entry for the holidays with Daniel Boyd’s Easy Death. Set in 1951, the book is written in the style from that era. It feels like you picked it off the spinner rack at a drug store instead the shelf of a modern bookstore. However, he weaves in a modern sensibility to keep today’s reader engaged.
November ’14 Pick: Last Winter, We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura
Fuminori Nakamura is part of a new generation of Japanese detective novelists known for their spare prose and dark explorations of alienation in modern society. His novel, The Thief, was his first to be translated into English and won prizes all over the world for its terrifying beauty and relentless pace. His latest novel, Last Winter, We Parted, is our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for November, and for me, this is a perfect novel for a Texas November. I recommend reading it at a coffee shop at twilight when the chill finally begins to settle in – at such impersonal thresholds much of the book takes place.
October ’14 Pick: The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan
On the heels of Benjamin Whitmer’s Cry Father, comes another dark look at the modern west with Kim Zupan’s debut, The Ploughmen. The novel meditates on the subjects of death, violence, and evil, finding humanity, but not a silver lining in those dark clouds. Even its main theme of human connection brings up more cold questions than warm answers.
September ’14 Pick: Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
When I got my hands on Cry Father, I knew I was going to love it. Benjamin Whitmer‘s debut, Pike, had caught the attention of every hard-boiled fan with its masculine prose and unflinching look at people on the margins and the brutality in which they find themselves trapped. Before even opening it, I knew it would be in my Top Ten of the Year. Whitmer delivers a novel for the decade.
August ’14 Pick: The Iron Sickle by Martin Limón
Limón always creates a vivid sense of his investigators’ time and place. Like Sueño, he has an understanding and respect for the cultural surrounding. We learn much about Korean society through the detectives and their interactions with customs and protocols. He also covers the Army politics and bureaucracy that get in the way of investigations. Sueño has an amazing explanation of how their civilian dress code makes them stand out while trying to work.
July ’14 Pick: A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride
“This book is relentless. With no chapter breaks, Mcbride jumps from character to character. He has honed his prose style to where every word has punch and velocity. While travelling down some of the territory of fellow Missourian Daniel Woodrell, he goes for a more terse, visceral feel. Less interested in contemplation, he wants you in the moment, no matter how dark or violent.”
June ’14 Pick: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
“Everyone wishes for their parent’s retirement to be the best time of their lives: after a hard life full of work and family, we all wish that our mothers and fathers have a good time now that their responsibilities have shrunk and they have time to themselves. Daniel, the protagonist of The Farm, is no different; he is elated when his parents buy a small farm in Sweden and move there. But when his father suddenly phones Daniel to tell him is mother is ill and has been committed to an asylum after a psychotic breakdown, he immediately books a flight – only to cancel when his mother calls him and confides in him to not believe a word his father says. She tells him she will see him soon and explain the black conspiracy that has led her to trust her only son over her husband.”
May ’14 Pick: The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman
It’s rare for an author to finish with their series character. Usually, an author’s life ends before the adventures of their creation come to a conclusion. With The Hollow Girl, however, Reed Farrel Coleman actually puts his acclaimed private eye character, Moe Prager, to bed. Suffice to say, our hero leaves the stage as elegantly as he entered it.
April ’14 Pick: Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson
I’ve said before that Hilary Davidson is somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde author. Her short fiction has a hard noir style, usually showing the worst of humanity. Her series featuring travel writer Lily Moore consists of edgy thrillers with a damaged-but-decent heroine confronting her problems. With Blood Always Tells, a stand alone thriller, Davidson fuses both sides of her writing personalities.
March ’14 Pick: The Accident by Chris Pavone
Pavone mines the publishing backdrop for all it is worth. He not only delves into into the mechanics of the business, but the personalities, as well. He takes away a lot of the romantic notions and shows the resigned hardships of folks working in a business with a thin profit margin and how a bombshell of a book written by an unidentified author can affect it. He truly makes us believe a book can be a matter life and death.
February ’14 Pick: The Last Death of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames
Terry Shames’s debut novel, A Killing At Cotton Hill, was our pick of the month in August of 2013. Now her retired Texas Chief Of Police Samuel Craddock has returned in her second novel, The Last Death Of Jack Harbin. This is a poignant mystery with Samuel looking into the murder of a wounded Iraqi vet.
January ’14 Pick: The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor
With his first two novels, Mark Pryor established himself as one of the best thriller writers out there. His head of US embassy security, Hugo Marston, has become one of the most engaging good guys out there. With his latest, The Blood Promise, he ups the ante and the emotion.
December ’13 Pick: Shoot The Woman First by Wallace Stroby
One of my favorite series in recent years features Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone. The professional robber’s capers and their fall outs carry all the great criminal characters, well executed crimes, and violent outcomes we relish from a heist book, with a bit more humanity. The latest, Shoot The Woman First, continues the hot streak of this engaging series.
January ’13 Pick: The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson
Our two heroes are Boo and Junior. Combined, they make up 470 lbs (mostly Boo) and over $10,000 in tattoos (mostly Junior’s). Their friendship started in a state home and continues at The Cellar, a Boston nightclub where they work as bouncers. Robinson, who has spent a large part of his life in the bar business, brings this professional culture to life.
August ’12 Pick: Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott proves how malleable noir fiction is. In her first books, she approached the postwar setting and the genre’s other tropes with a feminine perspective (and I don’t mean “girlie”; you don’t get any cute romances or crying with Megan’s characters). She also honed in on the way noir portrays people driven by their emotions. The approach found its perfect pitch in last year’s The End Of Everything, set in the Detroit suburbs of the nineteen-eighties with a thirteen-year-old girl who discovers disturbing neighborhood secrets when her best friend goes missing. Abbott’s latest, Dare Me, takes the genre known to be about outsiders and losers and drops it in the middle of an in-crowd, a high school cheerleading squad.
July ’12 Pick: The Last Minute by Jeff Abbott
In Adrenaline, Jeff Abbott introduced us to Sam Capra, a betrayed CIA agent and parkour enthusiast, who at the end of the book comes into possession of over thirty bars around the world. The book had characters, dialogue, and action pieces that put Hollywood blockbusters to shame. Abbott now wraps up Capra’s origin in The Last Minute.
May ’12 Pick: As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson
One of the best things about Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series is his ability to consistently deliver everything we love about his books without writing the same story over and over again. Since it is humor, characterization, and sense of place that are associated with these mysteries about the put-upon sheriff in a small Wyoming town, he has room to play with pace, plot, and even sub genre. In As The Crow Flies, he takes Walt out of Absaroka County jurisdiction for a murder on the Cheyenne Reservation.
March ’12 Pick: The Devil’s Odds by Milton T. Burton
Last year we lost one of the best crime crime writers in Texas, Milton T. Burton. He had a unique and knowledgeable take on the the state’s people as well as its sordid history. He left us before he had the chance to have the career many of us hoped he’d have. His posthumously published The Devil’s Odds demonstrates his great promise.
February ’12 Pick: The Next One to Fall by Hilary Davidson
Hilary Davidson earned many an accolade for her debut novel, The Damage Done. She showed you could have a unique voice without being heavily stylized and showy. She brought a gritty feel and dark, complex psychology to the thriller. Her sequel, The Next One To Fall, proves she’ll be impressing us for some time to come.
January ’12 Pick: A Quiet Vendetta by R. J. Ellory
RJ Ellory has been an acclaimed author for some time in his native England, and is lesser known here in the states even though he always uses U. S. settings. Starting with the stunning A Quiet Belief In Angels and the shadow history-serial killer hybrid A Simple Act Of Violence, his work has started to come over here. The latest Ellory book to hit our shores, A Quiet Vendetta, solidifies him as one of the top crime writers today.
December ’11 Pick: Ranchero by Rick Gavin
“The Delta is different” is a repeated phrase in Ranchero, Nick Gavin’s rollicking debut. He proves that statement time and again in a crime adventure with a satirical bent that takes us through a Mississippi that makes Carl Hiassen’s Florida seem normal.
The story itself is relatively simple. Most of it could have been the plot for a ’70s Southern exploitation movie with young a Burt Reynolds and Warren Oates. It starts when Nick Reid gets cold cocked by a shovel when he tries to repossess the TV of one Percy Duane Dubious, who takes his watch, wallet, and cell phone. If that’s not enough, Percy takes the Ranchero wagon Nick borrowed from his landlady and lets out of town with his wife, Cissy, and their baby. With the help of his hulking African American buddy, Desmond, Nick hits the road to get it back. Soon the two friends get drawn into a touchy triangle between Percy, Cissy, and a very violent meth supplier.
Ranchero shows off two of Gavin’s gifts. He has the ability to use a lot of humor without lessening the impact of the violence. Like Elmore Leonard and Joe R Lansdale, he does this by grounding the story in his colorful, weird, yet believable characters. A lot of the wit comes from Nick’s observations of the Delta, and it’s the great feel of the place that also make it a winning novel. From yuppies in converted slave shacks, to the intricacies of male Southern honor, to comparisons of Sonics from town to town, Gavin gives a fun, action packed tour through the new South with plenty of grit and grease. If only Burt were still young enough for the movie version.
November ’11 Pick: Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman
Reed Farrel Coleman’s Jewish part-time investigator Moe Prager is my favorite modern PI. Poignant and believable, in previous books we’ve followed Moe and his city from the mid-70s to post 9/11, discovering that this PI keeps as many secrets as he’s uncovered. Hurt Machine brings us to the end of his journey and looks at the toll those secrets have taken on his life when Moe is diagnosed with cancer.
To take his mind off the upcoming surgery and maybe even his daughter’s wedding, Prager agrees to help his ex-wife whose sister, an EMT, was stabbed to death a week after she and her partner refused to help a dying man. Moe’s investigation into both deaths brings him to the conclusion that we are all hurt machines that cause pain, intentional or not.
Both the case and Moe’s health make him consider life and time. Moe views his suspects’ grudges and obsessions as petty compared to the big picture, wondering if those things would enter their mind when death comes knocking. Coleman’s voice puts you in Prager’s skin as he deals with these people and struggles with his disease. Being a keeper of secrets, it’s his instinct to hide the news from those close to him.
Reed has said this is his last Moe book (not counting a prequel that will take place in his police days). If so, one of the the best PIs has left as good as he entered.