Meike’s Top 10 Mystery Reads of 2020…So Far!

The first half of the year is in the books and Meike’s ready to unveil her ten favorite mystery titles of the year…so far! Read on to see what Meike’s been savoring and see how your personal list compares to hers.


9780525540670_648f9Long Bright River by Liz Moore 

Long Bright River is a genre-defying thriller that straddles literary fiction and crime fiction with a gripping police procedural that illuminates multiple aspects of the opioid crisis. Michaela “Mickey” Fitzpatrick is a Philly beat copy in the deteriorating Kensington neighborhood where she grew up, and where almost every resident now has a connection to the opioid epidemic. When a series of mysterious murders rocks the neighborhood, Mickey realizes she hasn’t seen her sister Kacey in several weeks. Kacey has been living on the streets, turning tricks to support her drug habit. Although the sisters are estranged, they were inseparable as children and Mickey has always felt responsible for her younger sister. As she hunts for both Kacey and the killer, Mickey is forced to come to terms with the long tail of trauma both girls experienced as children. 

 

9781641291095_f585dThat Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips 

This darkly hilarious crime spree features a cast of characters who are all pretty terrible people, but you just can’t help but root for them. At the book’s heart is attorney Douglas Rigby—he’s facing bankruptcy as his latest shady deal falls apart, so he comes up with yet another swindle that will put him back on top. He enlists the help of his wife (who’s cheating on him with the local golf pro), his girlfriend (who happens to be the wife of his recently deceased business partner), an art forger, the embittered nurse of his last remaining client, and that client’s money-hungry nephew. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, to riotous results.

 

9780062838209_a4012Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson 

Any avid reader of crime fiction will love this homage to some of the most well-crafted mysteries of all time. Malcolm Kershaw is pretty much living my dream life—he’s the owner of The Old Devil’s Bookstore in Boston, with a capable staff that allows him the freedom to come and go as he pleases (and the financial security to live within walking distance to the store and enjoy the occasional excellent glass of wine). But the dream is threatened when an FBI agent comes calling—it seems there have been a series of murders that bear an unusual resemblance to a blog post Malcolm once wrote called “Eight Perfect Murders” and which extolled the virtues of some of literatures most unsolvable murders (from Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train to Christie’s ABC Murders, the best of the best are well-represented).

 

9781250154224_5fd08Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier 

Marin Machado led a charmed life until the day 16 months ago when her young son Sebastian (“Bash”) went missing. Marin was holding his hand in a crowded Christmas market; she only let go of his hand long enough to answer a call from her husband Derek, but suddenly Bash had vanished. Clues have dried up and the FBI have all but given up, so Marin hires a private investigator to resume the search. But what the PI finds isn’t Bash—it’s the younger woman named Kenzie that Derek is having an affair with. Determined not to lose her husband as well as her son, Marin enlists the help of her best friend Sal to fix the Kenzie problem—for good. Hillier is masterful at exploring the dark thoughts hidden in her characters’ psyches; this time around she ratchets up the tension and then blindsides the reader with a gut-punching twist.

 

9780062367686_93c1fA Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight 

Part domestic suspense, part legal thriller (the perfect “marriage,” if you will) this book examines just what compromises, secrets, and even lies are sometimes required to keep a marriage intact. Against her better judgment, attorney Lizzie Kitsakis agrees to defend her former law school classmate Zach Grayson when he’s accused of the brutal murder of his wife Amanda. She soon learns that Zach and Amanda’s seemingly perfect marriage was anything but, and along the way she’s forced to confront the cracks in her own marriage. Anyone who has ever even contemplated marriage will enjoy this exploration of what exactly a “good” marriage entails. Fans of Big Little Lies will love this one!

 

9780525658658_89f89The End of October by Lawrence Wright 

This one might not technically be crime fiction, but it crosses into thriller territory and couldn’t be more timely. A novel coronavirus breaks out in Asia and threatens to spread across the globe (sound familiar?), and epidemiologist Henry Parsons races to contain the virus before it decimates the human population. Wright’s eerily prescient imagining of how a pandemic might play out in the lives of ordinary people throughout the world is backed by extensive research— the reader will come away both highly entertained as well as better informed about the major historical event of our time. Wright is a masterful storyteller and his journalistic background lends a chilling realism to the novel.

 

9780062656384_adbbdThese Women by Ivy Pochoda 

Five very different women who live in the West Adams neighborhood of South LA are connected by a serial killer—but this is their story, not his. Told in a kaleidoscope of overlapping viewpoints, this beautiful story shines a light on women who are frequently overlooked and examines why their stories often don’t seem to matter to everyone. Pochoda imbues these women, who are often dismissed by society, with grace and dignity.

 

 

9781250206923_a07f3Hard Cash Valley by Brian Panowich 

This is the third installment in Panowich’s Southern Noir trilogy, set in the fictional north Georgia McFalls County. Ex-arson investigator Dane Kirby is pulled into an FBI investigation when a mutilated body is found in Jacksonville, Florida. His investigation soon circles around to his own backyard where he’s forced to confront some of the baddest Southern outlaws imaginable while at the same time coming to terms with a tragedy that threatens to destroy him.

 

 

9780525620785_a8a32Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 

Naomi Taboada, a wealthy and glamorous young debutante, receives an urgent letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom. Naomi heads to her cousin’s new home, High Place, an isolated manor in the Mexican countryside. Her cousin’s new husband—an enigmatic and handsome Englishman—and his family are far from welcoming, and Naomi soon learns that High Place is rife with secrets and danger. Naomi is a fearless heroine facing an unimaginable horror, and the resulting chills are a delightful diversion.

 

9781633885523_2d883Turn to Stone by James Ziskin 

It’s late summer 1963 and “girl reporter” Ellie Stone has travelled to Italy to attend a symposium honoring her late father. She’s invited to spend the weekend at an elegant villa just outside Florence, and a possible German measles outbreak means no one can leave. But when the symposium organizer is found floating in the Arno and foul play is suspected, Ellie begins to wonder if any of her new friends could be capable of murder. If you spent your quarantine time anywhere but an Italian countryside villa well-stocked with delicious food and drink then you’ll want to read this wonderful novel to see what might have been… 


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

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Scott’s Top 10 Debuts of 2015

– List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Usually I only pick five novels in this category, but this was such a great year for new voices, the list needed to be expanded. I even had to cheat a little and allowed two to tie for the top.

978039917277997803991739671. Where All Light tends To Go by David Joy & Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Both these authors proved there is still a lot of life in rural noir. Writing with the skill and emotion of seasoned pros, they bring the mountains of South Carolina and Georgia to vivid, poignant, and painful life with their tales of fate, family, and violence.

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Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

Crime Fiction Friday: “Ceiling Fan In My Spoon” by Brian Panowich

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

Anybody who has stepped into the store recently has heard me rave about Brian Panowich’s debut novel Bull Mountain. Brian is a former musician and the book has as much in common with Johnny Cash and Steve Earle as it does with his literary influences. Signed copies of Bull Mountain are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. This story, featured in Shotgun Honey, has all the feel of a dark country murder ballad.

“Ceiling Fan In My Spoon” by Brian Panowich

“I’ve been here fourteen years.

Today’s the day.  Sammy brought me a steak.  He’s a pretty good guy, I hope he gets the fuck outta here before this place kills him on the inside.

I deserve to be here. Day in, day out, twenty-three hours in this box, and thirty minutes in the yard.  I did the math once, it added up to a hundred and six days of daylight.  Less than a year of fresh air to show for my adult life.  I never complained though, like I said, I deserve to be here.  I killed a little girl.  A beautiful little eight-year-old girl named Stacy.  I know she was beautiful from her pictures in the paper and the photos they showed in court.  I shot her and her old man point blank with a shotgun loaded with double aught buck.  I don’t remember doing it, but I’ve heard the playback so many times over the past fourteen years of courtroom reenactments that I can recite every detail…”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Brian Panowich

Brian Panowich joins us Saturday, July 11, at 5 PM on BookPeople’s second floor for a Happy Hour celebrating the release of his debut novel, Bull Mountain. Panowich is joined by special musical guests The Dan Adams Band, who will perform a song written for the novel.


Interview by Scott M.

Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain is an attention-getting debut dealing with two brothers on the opposite sides of the law. Brian will be joining us for a discussion and signing of the book on July 11th and was kind enough to accept this opening barrage of questions.

MysteryPeople: Family plays a big part in Bull Mountain. What did you want to explore with that idea?

Brian Panowich: Mainly that family, not only relationships between fathers and sons, but mothers and daughters, siblings, and even husbands and wives inform your every decision, whether you’re aware of it or not. It’s the strongest bond imaginable between any group of people, and simply deciding to not be a part of where or who you come from isn’t nearly as easy as it may seem. Even that decision was informed by blood. Especially in the South, where a family’s heritage is entrenched into the land they live on. A family goes way beyond just its name and traditions, and this book digs deep into how those bonds can blur the lines–and in some cases completely erase them–between what is considered good and evil. What one person thinks of as evil, may very well be what another thinks is the right thing to do by their family.

MP: Does family take on something different in the place you write about?

BW: I think so. I’m an army brat and my small family of four was like a satellite circling the rest of my relatives who were spread out all over the country, but after meeting my wife, a native of North Georgia, and setting root here, I was fascinated at how interconnected her kin were with the area they’re from. The sense of pride and belonging to something that is just for them is overwhelming in the South. It’s unlike anywhere else I’d ever lived. The idea of leaving, or not being a part of the place they love isn’t even an option to them. Home is absolutely not where you hang your hat. Home is the familiar dirt and land that has sustained them for decades. As a kid, I never lived anywhere for more than two years at a time. I’m not in touch with a single person I’ve ever known from the years before my father retired in Georgia, and just the idea that my wife not only knows, but still remains close, to people that were born in the same room of the same small county hospital as her is mind-bending to me.

MP: Clayton Burroughs is such an interesting character in the sense, he has the possibility of going any direction. What was the trick to writing him?

BW: The appeal of writing Clayton was that the conflict he struggled with was never about him wanting to “do the right thing” or “to right his family’s wrongs”. His internal conflict came from knowing he wasn’t cut from the same cloth the rest of the Burroughs clan were. He knew he was a disappointment to his father. He knew he couldn’t do the things his brothers were capable of doing to preserve their way of life. He’d known it since he was a boy, and that guilt of not living up to the Burroughs name forced him to make hard decisions that would eventually put him at odds with the same people that reared him. I don’t even think Clayton was drawn to the law as a way to make amends for his family’s sins as much as it was a way of sticking it to them, like getting the last word. That non-allegiance to either side made him unpredictable and volatile, and that’s the kind of character I wanted to write.

MP: This being a debut, did you draw from any influences?

BW: I have no doubt I incorporated a ton of what I’ve learned by reading other people into this book. I don’t think it’s possible not to. Elmore Leonard’s books taught me so much about dialogue, world-building, and how to make every word on the page necessary, so I’m sure my love of his books will come through to his readers, and the epic scale that I wanted to convey in Bull Mountain is clearly drawn from my love of Cormac McCarthy and James Ellroy. I’m sure there is a lot more of my influences in there too, folded and stirred into what I wanted this book to be, but the end result I think is uniquely me, and uniquely Georgian. I also think as long as I continue to read great writers, great writers will continue to help me refine my own voice.

MP: Each of your chapters come off as these well-crafted short stories. How did you approach constructing them?

BW: I knew the first chapter and the last before I even sat down to write the first word. I made a one page outline committing a sentence or two to each chapter in between those bookends as a road map, and then I just let the rest of it unfold as I went. If I thought the story needed to go back in time, I wrote a chapter from that era. If I thought someone else I hadn’t originally planned to expand on had more to say, I wrote a chapter from that person’s perspective. I really didn’t follow any rules. I wasn’t even sure what the rules were. I’m still not sure I know now. I just wrote the story the way I thought it should be told. Not a lot of the process was spent on compiling it them right way. Of course my agent, Nat Sobel, and my editor, Sara Minnich, came on board and helped streamline the narrative and flesh out some back story and I’m incredibly grateful to have them on my team. They are the best there is in this business.

MP: You play with time in the book, dipping into the past several times. Other than allowing reveals to strike at the right moment, what else did the non-linear method allow for the story?

BW: Believe it or not, the only way I was able to allow the reveals in the book to unfold the way I wanted them to was to write it the way I did. Before I sent the book off to my agent, as an experiment, I took all the chapters and rearranged them in a linear sequence according to the timeline and it was a completely different book. It wasn’t the book I wanted to put out there. I wasn’t sure if the format I decided to go with would work or not, but it felt like the only way to get across to people what I needed them to know about the Burroughs family. So I went with my gut, and sent it as I originally wrote it. I’ve read a few complaints from a few reviewers about it being a tough book to follow, but I’ve had a lot more people say it’s one of the book’s strengths. I suppose we’ll see.

MP: It seems like you are the latest in a wave of rural noir authors. What makes the South a great setting to explore the darker side of our nature?

BW: I think the vast amount of unexplored terrain and endless string of backroads that lead to unknown places lend itself to that mystique. Violence and darkness have almost come to be expected in an urban setting, it’s par for the course, but it’s entirely different in the woods. Where the rules don’t apply. Things could be fine at the end of that dirt road, or it may get very ugly, very quickly. It’s beautiful here for sure, but at the same time can be fierce on a moment’s notice. That balance makes a remarkable setting to tell stories like this one, and it’s nice to see the South being represented by all these amazing authors I have the honor of being bunched in with.

I think for the most part, the south gets a bad rap. Considering the way TV (especially reality TV) and film have perpetuated the myth of the toothless hillbilly over the years, it was important to me that Bull Mountain showed the world that wasn’t the case. Not even close. The Burroughs clan may be fictional, but the folks that reside in the foothills of North Georgia have been in the same game other places like Kentucky and Virginia are famous for…without ever getting caught. They have managed to stay under the radar for decades, because family was the point. Not the fame. And I think that speaks volumes about the intelligence and strength it must have taken to pull it off.


You can find copies of Bull Mountain on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Click here for additional event information.

MysteryPeople Review: BULL MOUNTAIN by Brian Panowich

bull mountainBrian Panowich joins us Saturday, July 11, at 5 PM on BookPeople’s second floor for a Happy Hour celebrating the release of his debut novel, Bull Mountain. Panowich is joined by special musical guests The Dan Adams Band, who will perform a song written for the novel.


Post by Scott M.

Rural noir seems to be the debut genre for 2015. David Joy’s Where All Light Tends To Go and Jamie Kornegay’s Soil have already earned much deserved accolades with their darker sides of North Carolina and Mississippi. Now we go to Georgia with Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain.

The story centers on the relationship of two brothers. Halford Burroughs keeps his family’s outlaw tradition, lording over a small meth empire that started with moonshine generations ago. His brother, Clayton, is the white sheep of the family, becoming sheriff in an adjacent county.

“Bull Mountain is a brilliant piece of brutal poetry.”

An ATF agent tells Clayton that he’s after a biker gang Halford is doing business with and will give his brother complete immunity if he flips. Wanting to save his remaining family member (his other brother recently shot down in a standoff with the law). Clayton treks up Bull Mountain to meet up with his brother, getting himself up for one hell of a fall.

Brian Panowich’s writing is a great example of craft meeting art. He constructs each chapter as its own well-crafted short story, often moving deftly and clearly between past and present. He expands past Clayton and Halford’s relationship to look at different shades of family and ideas of honor tied to it. The result in a narrative mosaic that builds in drama and emotional punch, the clearer the full picture becomes.

Bull Mountain is a brilliant piece of brutal poetry. It takes its characters on their own terms and allows us to understand them and the cycle of violence they generate. Pretty much cemented my belief that rural noir genre has many unseen places to go.


You can find copies of Bull Mountain on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.