Donnybrook by Frank Bill
Frank Bill announced his presence in 2011 with Crimes In Southern Indiana, a collection of connected short stories that take place in a meth ravaged Midwest town. His terse prose, blood soaked violence, and colorful characters who live on the fringes were a literary punch to the gut. With his first novel, Donnybrook, he proves there’s no slowing down.
Much like Crimes In Southern Indiana, Donnybrook connects the lives of several characters. However, these characters all have a single destination, Donnybrook, a three-day bare-knuckle boxing competition held by a Midwest gangster; where the last man standing wins $20,000. The book starts with one fighter, Jar Head, robbing his local gun store for the thousand-dollar entry fee. Ned Newton is paying for his by stealing a batch from a crank cooker, Chainsaw Angus, with the help of Angus’s sister Liz. Now Ned has to contend with Chainsaw as well as lawman Ross Whalon and Fu Xi, a debt collector with some martial arts skills and few scruples, who are already after him. These and a few more red neck ne’er do wells travel a strange, rollicking, funny, often violent road to get to the fight and when they get there, Bill ups it in a great convergence of a conclusion.
Everything great about Crimes In Southern Indiana goes double for Donnybrook. The dialogue pops and the characters are defined through extreme yet believable actions. Bill gives Elmore Leonard a run for his money when it comes to criminals who aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. He’s also gotten to be someone who writes one hell of an action sequence. The violence has a visceral feel and each fight is written in detail; each is specific to the two characters that are fighting, the situation and emotion. When talking with hard-boiled writer, Christa Faust about the book, she said, “Frank writes fist fights like John Woo directs gun fights.”
Donnybrook proves Frank Bill is one of the great emerging talents out there. Like Joe R Lansdale, he captures the voice of his region, turning it into a literary voice of his own and he delivers a rush that’s often more associated to cinema than to books. I’m already waiting for his next one.
Genre classifications are funny things, and the marketing strategies associated with books can get confusing. Some books are appropriately marketed within their specific genre distinction, but often times books are marketed as one thing when in all actuality they will likely appeal to fans of multiple genres. The following books are ones I feel will satisfy mystery nerds, but they aren’t located in the mystery section.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes is a fantastic Science Fiction novel in the time-honored style of Space Opera, but that in no way means it won’t appeal to mystery fans. The great thing about this stunning debut novel is it offers something for everyone. There is plenty of interstellar action for sci-fi fans to drool over, but there is also a pretty classic Private Eye story built into the plot. The juxtaposition of these two genres works beautifully, and fans of mystery who are afraid to stray from the cozy confines of their beloved genre will be shocked at how engaging this story is.
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
This collection of three novellas (City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room) is filled with mystery and suspense. In City of Glass Writer/Detective Quinn receives a phone call in the middle of the night, which sets in motion a series of strange events. In Ghosts Blue is hired by Brown to Spy on White, but Blue soon realizes that White is spying on him. In The Locked Room a man disappears, leaving behind a wife, child, and a room filled with extraordinary novels, poems, and plays. The New York Trilogy offers three great stories that are more than deserving of your time.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon’s alternate version of Alaska is one where Jewish refugees settled in the state following WWII and created their own little world on the panhandle. Now, sixty years later, their descendents are threatened by the coming reversion of control back to Alaska. In the midst of all the political and social turmoil Detective Meyer Landsman investigates the death of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. When word comes down that Landsman must drop his case, things start to get complicated. A fascinating detective story told in a beautifully crafted alternate future. A joy to read for fans of literary fiction and mystery alike.
February is the month of Valentine’s Day, and it’s the perfect time for those who love mystery. Favorites from last year like Nukamura’s The Thief are coming out in paperback and established loves of ours like Denise Mina will release new books in the coming weeks. You can also go on a “first date” with debut authors like Todd Robinson. Whether you have a Valentine or not, it’s a great month to snuggle up with a murder.
Hammett Unwritten by Owen Fitzstephen
An intriguing premise that ties The Maltese Falcon into Dashiell Hammett’s own biograghy. With appearances by Lilian Hellman, John Huston, and supposed real life counterparts to those in the book about the black bird, Unwritten Hammett looks at broken dreams and the frustrations of the creative life.
Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan
Little Elvis’ is the second book starring Junior Bender, a burglar and Private Investigator for criminals. This time around Junior is operating in the even more nefarious world of the music business as he tries to help a mogul beat a murder rap.
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
One of my favorite books from last is out in paperback. This story of a Tokyo pickpocket who’s pulled into a violent home invasion is a great mix of character study and crime thriller that also looks at current Japanese criminal society. A must for crime fiction fans who are looking for a unique story.