Scott M.’s 10 Best Crime Novels of 2020

MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery joins us on the blog just before year’s end to share the ten best—in his opinion—crime novels of 2020.

Crime fiction writers came through in a year where we needed them the most. They helped us escape and examine our times with some of their best writing. It was also a year of discovering either debut authors or ones that finally got the limelight they deserved. Here are my eleven favorites I was able to squeeze into a top ten. I could easily give ten more.

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Next To Last Stand by Craig Johnson
In another year, I may have put one of the darker novels below in this spot, but if there was ever a time for smart comfort reading Craig Johnson rode in like The Lone Ranger with this funny and warm mystery that also delivers an engaging history lesson. Walt Longmire, Craig’s Northern Wyoming sheriff, becomes involved in the world of western art when it appears the famed Custer’s Last Fight painting, believed to have been lost in a fire, is actually still around with several shady characters out to find it. While entertaining, Johnson uses the tale to examine points of view in history, war, and the men who fight in them with a humanistic eye.
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Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby & Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Both of these authors used their culture to infuse excitement into the traditional hard-boiled novel. Cosby gave a much needed Black voice to rural noir with his story of a former getaway driver pulled back into one last job to save his family and dignity. Weiden introduces us to Virgil Wounded Horse, a half-Lakota enforcer citizens hire on the Rosebud reservation to get justice, forced to hunt down the people who bring in heroin into the rez to clear his nephew. Both use the crime novel to examine family, race, and male identity.
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The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel
This book starts with the murder of two twelve-year old girls and gets bleaker as the working class mother of one of the girls seeks justice in her small town, coming up against the local police, her mother who she always feared of becoming, and her own dark past. Engel keeps the story tight and focused in her heroine, finding grace notes in the unlikeliest of places.
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The Poison Flood by Jordan Farmer
A reclusive hunchback musician witnesses a murder during a chemical leak that plagues his Appalachian town, setting off several events that force him to face his life and make human connections. Farmer finds a sad humanity in all of his characters, creating one of the most poignant reads of the year.
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City Of Margins by William Boyle
Boyle creates a literary mural with several people effected and entwined from a past murder in a Brooklyn neighborhood. Funny and tragic, Boyle creates a story of the inertia of a community told in a style somewhere between Scorsese and Altman.
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The Less Dead by Denise Mina
A middle class doctor—adopted as a child—discovers her birth mother was a prostitute and victim of a serial murderer. As she uncovers her mother’s killer she also gets to know the woman she never knew. Mina’s latest masterpiece is one of class, society, and crime.
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Lost River by J. Todd Scott
Scott creates an epic tale that takes place during one violent day in the life of a Kentucky lawman, DEA agent, and EMT. Scott, a practicing DEA agent, provides an intimate look at the opioid crisis.
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Broken by Don Winslow
This collection of new novellas from one of crime fiction’s best range in mood, style, and sub-genre. He introduces us to new characters and revisits old ones, some we haven’t seen in a long time, linking them into a shared world that spins a little faster than our own.
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Scott Phillips returns with a jaundiced, funny vengeance in this tale of California scheming with a down-and-out attorney devising an art fraud plan with a questionable group of characters, reminding us he mixes black humor, sex, crime, and scumbags like no other.
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Line Of Sight by James Queally
My favorite private eye novel of the year introduced Russell Avery, a former reporter who used to uncover police corruption, now working as an investigator who specializes in clearing cops. When asked by a political activist to look into a questionable shooting of a drug dealer, his ideals and life get put on the line as he navigates a no man’s land between cops and criminals where even the closest to you are hard to trust. I hope this isn’t the last time we see Avery.

You can find the titles listed here online at BookPeople today.

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.

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

You can refer to this page to understand availability and find our more about curbside pickup service here.

Casting Call: Who Would William Boyle Cast in the Film Version of ‘City of Margins’

The blog spot My Book The Movie asked William Boyle who he would cast in his latest and our Pick Of The Month, City Of Margins. Bill knows his movies, founding the site Goodbye Like A Bullet that focused on crime films from the seventies. City Of Margins captures the grit, tone, and language of those films.

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While our doors remained closed to the public through March 29th, you can grab your copy of City of Margins by ordering online or giving us a call at (512) 472 – 5050 to request curbside pick-up service.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: ‘City of Margins’ by William Boyle

MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month for March 2020 is William Boyle’s City of Margins. It hits shelves on March 3rd, but before you purchase it, check out what Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery had to say about Boyle’s latest.


9781643133188_af811Anybody around me for the last twelve months heard me rave about William Boyle’s A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself. The mix of crime fiction and dramedy was a fresh breeze blowing into the genre. The book created some slight trepidation when I cracked open his latest, City Of Margins. I expected a strong piece of writing, but feared it would come off lesser in comparison. Those doubts vanished by the first chapter.
At first glance, City Of Margins, appears to revisit his debut, Gravesend, with him examining the impact of a crime on a Brooklyn community. This time, it is the murder of a degenerate gambler who owed money to the burrough mobster “Big Time” Tony Ficalora. Tommy sends a cop on his payroll, Donnie Rotante, to collect. Donnie’s already problematic temper has recently been pushed by the suicide of his teenage son. Donnie ends up tossing the man off of a bridge. The death is believed to be a suicide.
Two years later, Donnie has been bumped off the force for striking a superior and works full time for Big Time Tommy. The victim’s son Mikey Baldini, dropped out of college and returned home to his mother, Rosemarie, who struggles to pay her husband’s debt. Tommy propositions Mikey to work for him as a collector to erase it quicker.
Instigating much of the action is Nick Bifulco, a weasley high school teacher who wants to break out of his dismal life my selling a screenplay, even though he has no knowledge about the art form. He decides to base it off of Donnie, due to an incident where he went after Mikey with a ball bat years ago. It leads to Mikey going over to Donnie’s ex, Donna. The woman is still trapped in the mourning of her son with a roomful of records. The two find a connection as they and other characters crash into each other, either helping or hurting.
Boyle uses a full author’s pallet to tell this story. Where Gravesend always carried a somber tone, Boyle goes deeper into his into his characters and the reactions to their situations. He discovers they each contain different feelings in combat with each other. Instead of relying on quirks, like lesser writers, Boyle knows these people so well he is able to play off their experiences and degrees of desperation to make each of them stand out. with pathos, humor, and the overhanging threat of violence, he ties the community together and depicts its inertia.
Boyle makes City Of Margins a gritty crime version of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. It looks at two different generations struggling with the despair their lives have trapped them in and the missteps and moves they make to break free, William Boyle brings them to life in all their sad, funny, brutal glory.

City of Margins is available for purchase in-store and online today.
About the Reviewer: Scott Montgomery has worked over a decade as a respected bookseller and authority on crime fiction. His articles and interviews have appeared in crimespree, Crime Reads, and his own site, The Hard Word. His short fiction has appeared online in Slag Drop and Shotgun Honey and the anthologies Murder On WheelsLone Star Lawless, and The Eyes of Texas. He is the co-author of the novella Two Bodies, One Grave with Manning Wolfe.
About the Author: William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His books include: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which is nominated for the Hammett Prize; and, most recently, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.