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.

A (Partial) Atlas of Texas Crime Fiction

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

A hard land with a difficult history, Texas has always lent itself well to crime fiction. From the crime fiction greats who helped define the genre to those writers shaping the landscape of crime fiction today, Texas has a long tradition of social critiques and sendoffs of hypocrisy (the hallmarks of Texas crime fiction, in my opinion) delivered via murder mystery. Tales of Texas history may gaslight their audiences into believing in the state as a land of triumph, but we crime fiction readers know the dark, murderous truth about the land we call home….

Below, you’ll find an incomplete (of necessity) guide to Texas crime fiction, brought to y’all in honor of Texas Mystery Writers Month (that is, May). Emphasis is placed on well-known classic writers and the wide array of new crime fiction released in the past few years. We know we’re leaving out quite a few of the Texas mystery writer greats, and many of the good one-off novels. Some have gone out of print; others have simply dropped off our radar as we find new voices to champion.

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Top Five Texas Mysteries of 2016

  • Selected by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The stories below are as diverse and wide-ranging as the state itself, making full use of their setting and the quirky folks residing therein.

97803163294081. Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale

Hap & Leonard are back as private eyes in a case that involves a used car/escort/blackmail ring, a transgender pimp, and inbred cannibal assassins. Not for the feint of heart, politically correct, easily offended, or those who have anything against shoot-outs, great dialogue, and fun. You can find copies of Honky Tonk Samurai on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.  

97803991763402. The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott

An intimate epic in South Texas between a deputy, crooked sheriff, and the sheriff’s son who believes his dad killed his mother. Scott shows talent for strong characters and hanging the threat of violence over them live one huge black storm cloud ready to rain down. You can find copies of The Far Empty on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

97816338808493. A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy

A Texas Ranger who lost an arm chasing down Bonnie and Clyde tracks down a man’s daughter who fell in with a bunch of Dillinger wanna-bes and finds himself up against a serial killer. A moody, character driven crime novel that puts you on a Depression era dirt road in a speeding coupe with the bullets flying. You can find copies of A Thousand Falling Crows on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

97815227491034. Cold Rains by George Weir

A bounty hunter gets tangled up with a Texas cutie in all the wrong ways. A tight entertaining throwback to the Gold Medal paperbacks with a lot of Lone Star flavor. You can find copies of Cold Rains on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

5. Dollar Signs by Manning Wolfe9781944225001

An Austin lawyer goes up against the Texas boot king in a case that starts out over bill boards, but ends up in murder. A fun legal thriller with colorful characters and great use of the Austin setting. You can find copies of Dollar Signs on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople’s Guide to the Texas Book Festival

Hey Folks! Overwhelmed by the number of amazing panels at this year’s Texas Book Festival? Can’t see the forest through the trees? Never fear, MysteryPeople is here with a guide to mystery, thriller and true crime happenings at the fest. Here’s a link to the full schedule, but in the following schedule, you can see we’ve picked out some of the highlights for crime fiction fans.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with J. Todd Scott

J. Todd Scott’s debut, The Far Empty, tells about a deputy pulled into the cold emotional war of Stanford “Judge” Ross, a crooked Texas sheriff and his son, Caleb, who believes he murdered his mother. It is an uncompromising look at masculinity, western society, and emotion. Mr. Scott was kind enough to talk about the novel, its Texas setting, and writing. He’ll be at BookPeople to speak and sign his debut, joined by fellow novelist of the Southwest C.J. Howell, this Friday, June 10th, at 7 PM. 

“I came to Texas (and El Paso) sight unseen; I knew nothing about the area, but quickly fell in love with its rich cultural heritage, the history, and the austere beauty. It’s a unique place, and even now still has a certain “wild west” feel unlike any other place I’ve lived. I wanted the reader to experience that if possible.”

MysteryPeople Scott: I was telling some retired Texas lawmen about The Far Empty and they recalled events it reminded them of. Is it based on an actual situation?

J. Todd Scott: The story of former Presidio County Sheriff Rick Thompson, who was originally given a life sentence for his role in smuggling more than a ton of cocaine from the small Mexican village of San Antonio del Bravo to a ranch outside of Alpine, Texas (and that was ultimately discovered in a seized horse trailer in Marfa) is well-known in the region, and is definitely echoed in The Far Empty. Sheriff Thompson was an iconic lawman recognized as an anti-drug crusader and a pillar of his community, and claimed at the time of his arrest that he was actually conducting his own reverse undercover sting operation to catch drug traffickers in Dallas! While there are some conscious similarities, my Sheriff Stanford Ross was not specifically based on Thompson, whose life sentence was cut to thirty years in January of this year.

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE FAR EMPTY by J Todd Scott

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780399176340The 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.

Each chapter follows the point of view of one of the citizens of of the fictional Murfee, Texas or one of their neighbors on the other side of the border. The first one is if Caleb Ross, an awkward teenager and the only person whose side gets told in first person. He discusses his life and the disappearance of his mother. Caleb believes it was murder and knows who the killer is, his father Stanford “Judge” Ross, Murfee’s mythic sheriff.

New deputy Chris Cherry, a young man who returns home after his football career and marriage have been waylaid by an injury, discovers a decomposed, flex-cuffed body. Caleb is convinced it is his mother. Soon, they are in a deadly dance with the judge, pulling a school teacher, drug runners, and others into their tempest of violence.

Scott’s Murfee appears to be a stand in for Marfa, Texas, a town that shares some of its sordid history and mysterious light formations. He uses the state’s legends, history, and its legacy of bloodshed. He examines violence by what parks it and creates a circle of it, avoiding literary distance by tying violence to his characters and making it utterly human.

The Far Empty is is a look at a land and how its history shapes those who live on it today. It’s a place where even the innocent become corrupted. The big land is empty of many things, especially mercy.

The Far Empty comes out Tuesday, June 7th. Pre-order now! J Todd Scott, joined by C J Howell, will be speaking and signing his debut on Friday, June 10th, beginning at 7 PM. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.