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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Meike’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2016

Meike Alana truly became a trusted member of MysteryPeople this year. As author Josh Stallings said, “She looks normal, but she’s just as crazy as we are.” Her tastes run the gamut to traditional, to thriller, to noir, but as you can see in her top 10 for 2016, she has great taste. The listing is in no particular order.

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

97803162310771. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott 

No one plumbs the depths of teen girl depravity quite like Ms. Abbott and she’s done it again in this gripping tale of psychological suspense.  Gymnast Devon Knox is a prodigy seemingly destined for gymnastics gold, and her family will go to any lengths to help her fulfill those dreams.  When a handsome young man is violently killed, rumors begin to swirl and it becomes apparent that her dreams may be at risk.  

97814516866302. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be all that hard  to adopt a new identity—cut  and color your hair, get some glasses, throw on a hat and some baggy clothes.  Tanya Dubois must do exactly that after she comes home to find her husband dead—although she knows it was an accident, she’s sure the police will suspect her so she packs a suitcase, changes her look, and heads for Texas.  There she’s taken in by bartender Blue; running from her own past, Blue soon convinces Tanya to trade identities with her and things get a little crazy.

3. Young Americans by Josh Stallings9780996948005

Throw a heist story in a blender with glitter, drugs, and disco; add characters like a stripper who learned the fine art of safe-cracking at her grandfather’s knee and a badass ex-Marine transsexual; you get a rollicking thrill ride of a mystery. Groove to the sound of David Bowie as you blow through the year’s best heist novel! 

978163388205814. The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens

When a wealthy socialite is brutally murdered, suspicion immediately falls upon her husband.  Although he claims to have an alibi, a neighbor reports seeing him at the scene on the night of the murder and he’s arrested and charged with murder.  The investigating detective is convinced the police have the right man in custody; his good friend, who is counsel for the defense, is equally certain his client is innocent.  Both men will go to any lengths to prove their position, even though it threatens to destroy their friendship.  Fantastic twists in this one!

97816338817785. The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor

I’ve been a fan of Pryor’s Paris-based series featuring Hugo Marston, head of security at the US Embassy, since his debut with “the Bookseller” several years ago.  In this latest, Pryor tries his hand at the classic locked room mystery when a body is discovered in the basement of the American Library in Paris and Hugo is called to investigate.  Stock up on croissants, you’ll be craving them with café au lait as you read this atmospheric European thriller.

97816338812666. See Also Deception by Larry Sweazy

Marjorie Trumaine lives on an isolated North Dakota farm with her  disabled husband Hank, where she works as an indexer to make ends meet.  When her friend Calla Eltmore, the local librarian, is found dead the police believe she committed suicide, but Marjorie is certain that’s not the case and sets out to uncover the truth.  In the process she uncovers myriad small town secrets  that put her safety in peril.

97816338818397. Heart of Stone by James Ziskin

Ziskin’s protagonist, Ellie Stone, is one of my favorite characters in the genre—a  confident 1960’s twenty-something girl reporter with a taste for strong whiskey and fast men.  While Ellie enjoys a late-summer holiday at her aunt and uncle’s Adirondacks lake property, two dead bodies are found on a nearby beach.  The local police chief believes these were victims of suicide, and asks Ellie to photograph the bodies as evidence.   But Ellie believes something more sinister may be behind the deaths and becomes determined to find out what really happened.

978163388120418. The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames

This latest installment of Shames’ series, set in the fictional small Texas town of Jarrett Creek, finds police chief Samuel Craddock investigating the murder of a young  woman who has recently returned to her home town after a lengthy stay in a mental institution.  Craddock soon finds himself dealing with not only murder, but multiple layers of secrets and deception that someone is determined to keep hidden.

978161695610319. His Right Hand by Mettie Ivie Harrison

Harrison is a practicing Mormon and has written an incredibly unique  series featuring Linda Walheim, the wife of a bishop in the Mormon church.  Linda’s tight-knit LDS community is thrown into upheaval when their ward’s second counselor—one of the bishops’ right hand men—is found murdered.  But when the autopsy reveals that this devout Mormon, a loving husband and father who was a pillar of the community, was a biological female, church officials seem more concerned with covering up the murder than with solving it.  Linda must step in, and in the process Harrison explores the LDS stance on gender and sexual identity.  The series provides an unprecedented glimpse inside the secretive Mormon Church and presents multiple sides to some of the complex issues its members and leaders are grappling with today.

978194422500110. Dollar Signs by Manning Wolfe

Austin attorney Merit Bridges likes her wine chilled and her men hot (and on the younger side).  In order to protect one of her clients, she goes after a shady corporation  that’s taking property from innocent people—aided by her bad-ass office manager Betty (she of the Ann Richards hair, motherly attitude, and smart mouth) , uber-fashionable paralegal Val, and investigator Ag (who wants more than friendship from Merit).  A fantastic debut, and Austin residents will have fun identifying local landmarks.

You can find all of the books listed above on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

If you like Tana French…

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

French has a reputation across the world for designing cases that bring her protagonists’ darkest desires into play, and creating murder victims that psychologically mirror (and sometimes physically, as in The Likeness) the detectives working on the case. Her latest, The Trespasser, features a model-thin corpse, a bunch of good ole’ boy detectives, and Antoinette Conway, odd woman out at the police station, driven to solve the case by the mocking challenges of her peers, plus the usual Tana French resonance between the case and Conway’s past. Here are three stories that exploit unstable identities, distorted reflections, and the weight of the past to comment upon the anxieties of our times.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz9781451686630

In Lisa Lutz’s latest, The Passenger, two women on the run meet in a bar in Austin, form an alliance, and switch identities, hoping to outwit their pursuers. Lutz has created a fascinating meditation on the changeable nature of identity – but her slow reveals and tense travel sequences keep The Passenger moving at highway speed. You can find copies of The Passenger on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9780143108573Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Flynn Berry’s debut, Under the Harrow, takes the reader to a remote village, where city girl Nora has just arrived to visit her sister Rachel, only to find the sister and her guard dog murdered. An attack by a slasher marred her sister’s teenage years, and police have in mind a recently released convict for both crimes, yet Nora suspects the village, and its secrets, may have more to do with Rachel’s death. Like Tana French, Flynn Berry weaves past and present together for their themes – not their coincidences. You can find copies of Under the Harrow on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9780765336378Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

In Rachel Howzell Hall’s L.A.-set debut, Land of Shadows, Eloise “Lou” Martin is a homicide detective with a porsche, but she won’t let herself forget that she comes from a poor neighborhood in South Central La and her porsche showed up as a “sorry, baby” gift from her cheating, game-designer husband. When a cheerleader is found murdered at a controversial construction site, real estate moguls clash with neighborhood leaders as the investigation stalls construction. Martin is out to get justice for the young woman, whose murder reminds her of her sister’s disappearance 20 years before, and she’s out to get a little justice for the neighborhood too. Personal vengeance mixes with housing policy to create a complex, multifaceted tale of murder, investigation and consequences. You can find copies of Land of Shadows on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: THE PASSENGER by Lisa Lutz

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781451686630If you pick up a copy of Lisa Lutz’s latest, The Passenger, make sure you clear your calendar first—you won’t be able to move off the couch until you finish this thrill ride of a book.  

“In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death.  I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it.”  And so we meet Tanya Dubois—who upon discovering her husband’s body (the victim of an apparent tumble down the stairs) packs a suitcase, cleans out his gambling stash, and hits the road.  

She soon trades in her car, dyes her hair, takes on a new name, and heads south until she lands in Austin.  There she meets bartender Blue, who recognizes a kindred desperation in Tanya’s eyes and offers her a place to stay.  But things get a little crazy and it seems whatever Tanya’s running from might be catching up with her.  Blue proposes a solution—she and Tanya trade identities, and soon Tanya is on the run again as Debra Maze–new day, new name, new car, new hair color.  As she zigs and zags from town to town, desperately trying to outrun her past, she dons and discards identities at a dizzying pace.  

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MysteryPeople on the Radio!

MysteryPeople will appear on Hopeton Hay’s KAZI Book Review the last Sunday of each month, to discuss our most anticipated upcoming reads!

  • Post by Molly

Starting this past January, MysteryPeople (in the corporeal form of Scott Montgomery and Molly Odintz) will join Hopeton Hay on KAZI Book Review to talk about our favorite mysteries of the past month, as well as our most anticipated read for the up-and-coming month.

Our next appearance on the show is this upcoming Sunday, March 27, where we will join Hopeton Hay and Tim Chamberlain for a live interview of author Lisa Lutz to discuss her latest novel, The Passenger. Lisa Lutz is one of our favorite authors here at the store – we love her Spellman Files series, and we’re excited about her latest, which takes a departure from her previous work. After the interview portion, we’ll discuss our favorite mysteries of March, and our most anticipated reads out in April.

Tune in to 88.7 FM the last Sunday of each month between 12:30 and 1 PM, or stream live, to finally put a voice to all those book reviews you’ve been reading. If you don’t live in the Austin area, you can stream KAZI Book Review online – just go to their website and click “listen live” to stream. Check out the KAZI Book Review Blog for recorded interviews with a diverse array of writers, including many of our favorite mystery novelists.

Hopeton Hay, on his show KAZI Book Review, has interviewed many of the best authors writing today, including Harlan Coben, Reed Farrel Coleman, Philip Kerr, Attica Locke, Walter Mosley, National Book Award winners James McBride and Jesmyn Ward, and Pulitzer Prize winners Liaquat Ahamad and T.J. Stiles, in a diverse array of genres. Mr. Hay contributed to our compilation of MysteryPeople’s Top 100 Crime and Suspense Novels, and he’s currently organizing a book festival to take place in Pflugerville at the Pflugerville Public Library. Included in the festival, among many other panels, will be a panel dedicated to discussing the MysteryPeople Top 100 list.

The Pflugerville Book Pfestival will take place Saturday, April 16th, and Sunday, April 17th. We’ll bring you more information closer to the date, and in the meantime, go to their event page to find out more.

We’ll be back on Hopeton Hay’s Book Review on Sunday, March 27th, and we hope you all tune in!

You can find copies of Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All of the books recommended by Scott and Molly are available either on our shelves, by special order, or via bookpeople.com. 

Women’s History Month: Recommendations of Women (and Men) in Crime Fiction, From Women in Crime Fiction

-Post by Molly

March is Women’s History Month, so at the beginning of the month, I reached out to many of my favorite female authors writing in crime fiction today for some thoughts and recommendations. Jamie Mason, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Megan Abbott, and Lori Rader-Day all sent replies along, posted earlier this month (Mason’s response posted separately), and now we bring you some of their amazing recommendations. Not all the authors listed below are currently in print (although some soon return to print), and this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the best crime writers today (a virtually impossible task). I’ve added quite a few of the following to my “to read” list. Enjoy!


monday's lieJamie Mason Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Josephine Tey
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Agatha Christie

Second Wave Authors:

  • Ruth Rendell
  • PD James
  • Patricia Cornwell
  • Mary Higgins Clark
  • Sue Grafton
  • Kathy Reichs

Contemporary Authors:

  • Gillian Flynn
  • Tana French
  • Laura Lippman
  • Megan Abbott
  • Tess Gerritsen
  • Kate Atkinson
  • Lisa Lutz
  • Mo Hayder
  • Sara Paretsky

phantom instinct

Meg Gardiner Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Shelley (as innovator of suspense fiction)
  • Patricia Highsmith

the unquiet deadAusma Zehanat Khan Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Ngaio Marsh
  • Dorothy L. Sayers (and the Jill Paton Walsh continuation of the Wimsey/Vane series)

Contemporary Authors:

  • Deborah Crombie
  • Imogen Robertson
  • Charles Finch
  • Charles Todd
  • Alan Bradley
  • Louise Penny
  • Susan Hill
  • Ariana Franklin
  • Anna Dean
  • Martha Grimes
  • Morag Joss
  • C. S. Harris
  • Stephanie Barron
  • Laurie R. King
  • Laura Joh Rowland
  • Elizabeth George
  • Peter May (in particular, The Blackhouse)
  • the late, great Reginald Hill

feverMegan Abbott Recommends…

The following books are soon to appear in the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, edited by Sarah Weinman

  • Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place
  • Vera Caspary’s Laura
  • Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall
  • Margaret Millar’s Beast In View

the black hourLori Rader-Day Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Lois Duncan
  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Higgins Clark

Contemporary Authors:

  • Tana French
  • Catriona McPherson
  • Denise Mina
  • Clare O’Donohue
  • Sara Gran
  • Gillian Flynn
  • Alan Bradley
  • James Ziskin

If you like Janet Evanovich…

Janet Evanovich has a talent for keeping readers laughing as they turn the page with her Jersey girl bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. If you are a fan who has read all her books or are shopping for one, here are are other novels featuring fun and funny female crime fighters, two of them the first in a series.


sophie hannah bad day for sorry1.Bad Day For Sorry by Sophie Littlefield

This book kicks off the series featuring Stella Hardesty, a woman who, after killing her abusive husband with a screwdriver on her fiftieth birthday, goes into the business of helping women get back at the bad men in their lives. Littlefield captures western Missouri and its people, particularly the women, with perfect pitch and tone. Has the feel of a fun Miranda Lambert song.

lisa lutz spellman files2. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Isabel “Izzy” Spellman is a tough private detective working at a San Fransisco agency run by her parents with her siblings as co-workers. When they aren’t working surveillance for a client, they are spying on each other. A wonderful satire on family love and dysfunction that hits you with depth when you least expect it.

 

joe lansdale sunset and sawdust3. Sunset & Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale

Starts off with another woman killing her abusive husband. This time it’s in Depression era, East Texas, and the lady, Sunset Jones, takes over her other half’s job as town constable. Lansdale uses place and time perfectly with his sharp dialogue and and colorful style.

 


Copies of the above listed books can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.