Scott’s Top 10 Crime Fiction Reads of 2014…. So Far

It’s hard to argue against the fact that we’re living in a golden age in crime fiction. It’s only the middle of the year and I have more than enough to fill out a Top Ten list. So to fill in your summer reading time, I’ve come up with 10 (okay, 12) books that you need to read in August.

1. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride & The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

Both of these books showcase the wide range of rural crime fiction. McBride’s relentless noir novel and Atkin’s latest book starring heroic lawman Quinn Colson are both skilled gothic spins on communities and their underlying corruption.

2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

Moe Prager takes on his last case with the humanistic toughness we have come to expect from Coleman’s work. This book delves into the series’ recurring theme of identity in a new way and lets Moe go out with class.

3. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Abbott’s take on the mysterious seizures of several high school girls in a small town borrows moods and tones from several genres. In The Fever, Abbott has created a unique thriller about populace, sexuality, and parental love. Another Megan Abbott book that’s hard to shake.

4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

Tafoya’s latest reads like Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neil. A damaged ex-US Marshall tries to protect what’s left of her family when her father, a corrupt union enforcer, breaks out of prison and sets out on a brutal trail. The emotion is as intense as the gunfire.

5. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

Retired police chief Samuel Craddock gets pulled into the murder investigation of a returned vet and ends up acting as a witness to the sins of his town and country. A moving mystery about a very relevant topic.


6. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

This suspenseful ode to the sleazy Times Square of yesteryear stars a young grindhouse addict who ends up in his own horror show when the girl who sits next to him during a slasher double-bill is stabbed to death. One of the best uses of setting I’ve ever read.

7. Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

The latest Hugo Marston thriller has the embassy security head involved with a conspiracy linking French Revolution history to current politics in this fun and involving story with many strong characters. Proof of why Mark Pryor is one of the fastest rising talents in the thriller field.

8. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

A brilliant use of flashback and cold case murder investigation. Lippman weaves a tapestry of family, identity, religion and class with a strong, suspenseful thread.

9. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

A botched blackmail attempt combines with a botched kidnapping for a tale that contains an ever-changing  set of sub genres and points of view. The story moves from black comic noir to detective story to thriller, all the while presenting engaging characters and a relentless plot.

10. Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva & Ways Of The Dead by Neely Tucker

If newspapers are dying, the newspaper mystery isn’t. In Providence Rag, DeSilva’s series character Mulligan is pitted against a crusading reporter whose exposé of prison corruption could release a serial killer he helped put away. Tucker’s debut, Ways of the Dead, has his D.C. journalist covering a murder case that links the city’s lower class and the power class. Both books show the untapped potential of the newspaper subgenre.

Read these bokos, take a breath, and brace for Fall with more books from authors like James Ellroy and Jon Connolly. Four members on today’s list will publish a second novel this year, as well, so look for new books from Terry Shames, Reed Farrel Coleman, Mark Pryor, and Ed Kurtz before 2014 is up.

MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Fest!

MPCFF-logo

7 Crime Fiction Authors

Double Feature Film Series

International Crime Month

 

June is an incredible month for crime fiction here at MysteryPeople. There’s so much going on, we’ve decided to pull out all the stops and celebrating with a month-long
MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Fest!

Join us this month for one of our many free, fun events!

 

AUTHOR EVENTS

7 Authors Are Lined Up To Visit BookPeople this month!
Dates & Info Available Here.

BookPeople events are free & open to the public. 
Books signed at BookPeople events
must be purchased from BookPeople. 

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DOUBLE FEATURE FILM SERIES

Join us for a brand new summer film series!

We’ll screen movies based on some of our favorite crime fiction novels, up on the third floor of BookPeople.

The screenings are FREE & open to the public.
Escape that summer heat & join us!

 

June 25   6PM
Double Indemnity

Double-Indemnity

 

July 9  6PM – Purple Noon
(The Talented Mr. Ripley)

 

July 23  6PM
The Long Goodbye

Long-Goodbye

 

August 6  6PM
Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil-in-a-Blue-Dress

 

August 20  6PM
Winter’s Bone

Winters-Bone

 

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INTERNATIONAL CRIME MONTH

June is International Crime Month! We’re celebrating crime fiction writers around the world with a brand new series on the MysteryPeople blog that delves into the authors writing crime fiction around the globe and the publishers here in America who put those books on our shelves.

International Crime Month is a month-long initiative highlighting internationally acclaimed crime fiction authors, editors, critics, and publishers. Four of America’s most influential independent publishers—Grove Atlantic, Akashic Books, Melville House, and Europa Editions—have joined forces to promote one of the most vital and socially significant fiction genres of our time. We’re happy to join them!

Look for a special in-store display in MysteryPeople highlighting books from these publishers. Watch the MysteryPeople blog for regular posts throughout the month focusing on international crime fiction. 

International Crime Writing Series

international_crime_month~post by Molly

When it comes to international crime writing, the Scandinavian novel has dominated the scene long before Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy was ever published. I like to brag about taking a Scandinavian detective fiction class back in college, and that the history of Scandinavian crime fiction stretches back fifty years. Sometimes, I find it hard to remember that international detective fiction comes from anywhere outside of Scandinavia. However, dear readers, I am here to launch a blog series to prove just this fact – that international crime fiction is truly international.

Each month (and more often now, during International Crime Month), I will be profiling either a different international crime nexus or particular author. I will explore how their work fits in with their locale, history, and specific crime writing scene, as well as giving a few recommended reads. I will be profiling mainly hard-boiled and noir writing, with the occasional police procedural or thriller. I will closely examine how each author or set of authors solves some of the basic plausibility difficulties of the genre within their geographical context. Some international locations have a fictional murder rate exponentially higher than their citizens’ capacity to kill, while other places match grimy noir to a violent reality.

I aim to bring awareness to the numerous translated works available in MysteryPeople, but I also plan to include analysis and exploration of common themes. Some of the locales I aim to explore are: Marseilles, Dublin, Japan, Mexico City, Italy, the former Soviet Union, Havana, Israel/Palestine, and wherever else my world tour through the mystery section takes me.

I will be focusing my energies on those reads which evoke a certain time and place, as this is one of the joys of international fiction. On the other hand, I do plan to occasionally profile those foreign authors whose plots could take place next door. I will also bring attention to American authors who have an international focus and analyze to what extent they draw strength or weakness from their emotional and physical distance.

In honor of International Crime Month, or, as the calendar says, June, I will be discussing two different locations this month. I will also profile several publishers doing the down and dirty work of bringing these detective tales from foreign shores to ATX. Look here on the MysteryPeople blog for my first post in the series on June 9, where I will be profiling the scintillating scene of Marseilles.

Crime Fiction Friday: THEY SURE MAKE GOOD POTATOES AT THE MAYHILL CAFE by George Wier

George Wier

We’re always happy to have our buddy George Wier join us for a MysteryPeople event. He’ll be joining Ace Atkins, Jesse Sublett, and Jim Wilsky for our latest Noir At the Bar on May 12Th, 7PM, at the Opal Divine’s on 6031 South Congress. To get folks ready, we have an excerpt from a little piece of noir published in Dreaming…, because no matter what George writes, he’s able to give it a Texas spin.

“THEY SURE MAKE GOOD POTATOES AT THE MAYHILL CAFE” by George Wier

“It’s 1986 and they sure make good potatoes at the Mayhill Cafe. But
Dalton has no idea what year it is.

‘Yeah, the secret is to cook ‘em with real butter. Not deep fried, but
fried in a pan, just the right heat. That way the butter don’t burn up
and you ken cook more of ‘em for the next customer. Just keep addin’
butter. Yep. They sure—’

‘make good potatoes at the Mayhill Cafe,’ I mouth the words to the
ceiling as he speaks them.

It’s 1986 and two weeks to go until I walk out, a free man…”

Click here to read the full story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Dennis Tafoya

Dennis Tafoya got the attention of both hard boiled fans and writers alike with his debut, Dope Thief, before quickly following it up with the equally emotional The Wolves Of Fairmount Park. His deeply felt novels look at family and the working poor and have drawn as many comparison to Bruce Springsteen as to Dashiell Hammett. His latest, The Poor Boy’s Game, has already been getting glowing reviews. It deals with Frannie Mullen, a disgraced US Marshal, who has to protect her dysfunctional family from her own father, a union enforcer who broke out of prison. To promote the novel, Dennis will be teaching his One Hour Mystery Class at BookPeople on Wednesday, May 1st at 6:30pm. We caught up with the man to ask a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE:  Even compared to your other books, Frannie is a truly damaged character. Is it a challenge or more freeing to write for such a flawed lead?

DENNIS TAFOYA: More freeing, definitely. I wanted to write about somebody on the right side of the law, who lived an upright life, but I saw Frannie as somebody who leans on a hard sense of right and wrong as a way to draw a line around herself. She’s trying to wall herself off from the consequences of what she sees as the bad decisions other people make out of weakness, even if that means being remote from her family and keeping friends at a distance. The Poor Boy’s Game is structured as a thriller, but I hope that the real attraction of the book is watching Frannie’s elaborate defenses break down as she is forced to come to grips with her past.

MP: The book kicks off with an intense shoot-out. How do you approach your actions passages?

DT: I spend a lot of time thinking about the action in those sequences. I want them to be exciting, but I want them to reflect the ambiguity and messiness of real life. It’s ridiculous how much research I do and how much time I spend looking at streets and intersections in real life and online. I also try to read as much as I can by people I think do that well, folks like James Dickey and Denis Johnson. In everything I write, I try to keep coming up with a way to make things new. I’m always worried about cliché and familiar language and situations.

MP: I really enjoyed your criminal characters. They reminded me of George V. Higgins characters with a darker shade. How did you approach writing them?

DT: Love Higgins! I can’t imagine a better guide to writing criminals as fully realized people. In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Eddie himself is a bundle of contradictions, and Higgins is never afraid to show his main character as a blowhard or a guy who thinks he knows the angles when the reality is that he’s being manipulated and outmaneuvered by his friends. Writing guys like the career criminal Jimmy Coonan are a lot of fun because they’re guys you could see yourself having a beer with, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

MP: While reading The Poor Boy’s Game, I felt it had as many cinematic influences as literary ones. Is that a fair assessment?

DT: Sure! I love crime movies, just like every crime writer I know, and I think it’s pretty clear now that there’s an interplay between page and screen that goes both ways: books become movies, and movies influence writers. I especially love the small, independent films like Frozen River or Hard Eight, films that show criminal behavior as human behavior with complex motivations. There are the big films, too, like Heat – I think it would be tough to write gunplay without a film like that coming up as a reference in your head.

MP: Broken families appear in much of your work. What draws you to that dynamic?

DT: I think we all wonder how much we’re made by our families of origin and how much by our circumstances and character. It’s a question I think we spend our whole lives thinking about, and our perspectives shift as we age. We want to believe we’re independent actors, but are we, really? Certainly, even if we’re in perfect control of our lives, For better or worse, I think the way we’re raised provides a context and a way of thinking about experience that is very hard to leave behind.

MP: You’re giving your short mystery writing class at our store on Thursday, May 1st. Can you tell those attending what to expect?

DT: I hope it will be a fast, fun introduction to writing crime fiction. We’ll do some quick readings from a number of crime classics and talk about how some of the masters like Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block have approached character, setting, plot and the other elements of fiction. And we’ll do an exercise or two, because writing is always more fun than talking about writing.


Thanks again to Dennis for answering our questions. Check out a review of The Poor Boy’s Game here on the MysteryPeople blog and be sure to stop by the store Thursday May 1st at 6:30for a free Mystery Workshop with the author.

The Look Out: THE KILL SWITCH by James Rollins

The Kill Switch by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood

In his Sigma Force novel, Bloodline, James Rollins introduced us to the side characters of Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his working dog, Kane. They proved to be a fun duo and Rollins had talked about bringing them back. With the help of Grant Blackwood, Rollins has given them their own story, The Kill Switch.

After a very suspenseful job (protecting a Russian millionaire) where Tucker and Kane hunt the hunter, they are contacted by Sigma Force to stay in the former Soviet Union for an undercover job. The mission involves smuggling a pharmaceutical magnate out of the country. If you’ve read any of Rollins’ books, you know this is the tip of the iceberg. Soon, we’re dealing with weird and dangerous science, a connection to the historic Boer War, a form of life that could be used as a bio-weapon and a search for what can counteract it – its kill switch.

We get plunged further and further into Rollins’ world. Tucker, Kane and their questionable allies are pursued by a Russian intelligence officer and his ruthless mercenary, have to fight African warlords, explore an underground fort, and dodge bullets, boulders, and several other deadly things. Blackwood gives a military edge to to Rollins’ pulp bravado, giving it a more realistic vibe.

Kane is the real star of this book. Fitted with a special Kevlar vest and equipped with gadgets worthy of a canine 007, he proves just as capable, sometimes more so, than the humans. Rollins and Blackwood make him a full character. He’s the comrade I’d want in a foxhole.

The Kill Switch is high adventure grounded with realism and grit. It has classic themes of trust, brotherhood, and man versus nature, modernized with two unique and capable heroes. I hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship between Tucker and Kane.

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The Kill Switch will be on our shelves May 13. You can pre-order a copy now.

MysteryPeople Review: THE POOR BOY’S GAME


The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

If there was any justice in publishing, Dennis Tafoya would be a name everyone would know.  With only two books, Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park, his ability to convey the hardship and raw emotion of people on the margins has already made him a respected voice in the genre. No punches are pulled in his delivery, and though it’s been a few years, Tafoya’s back in full force with his third novel, The Poor Boy’s Game.

Following Frannie Mullen, a US Marshal, the book begins with a well-crafted buildup to a shootout in downtown Philadelphia. Frannie goes into what appears to be a routine take-down in a sports memorabilia store, but then, things go wrong. And once the shooting starts, Tafoya captures the brutality of every bullet, including the one that takes out Frannie’s partner.

Blamed for the shooting, Frannie resigns from the Marshals and is caught in a dark limbo connected with her past. That past suddenly comes charging back when Frannie’s father, Patrick Mullen, a brutal union enforcer, escapes from federal prison, leaving behind a bloody trail of witnesses. It’s up to Frannie to protect her newly sober sister, Mae, and Patrick’s pregnant girlfriend from her father, putting Frannie between the feds who think she helped him escape and union boss Adolf White, who knows the truth behind Patrick’s rampage.

While The Poor Boy’s Game has all the trappings of a great hard boiled novel, the story is, essentially, the portrait of a family. Tafoya shows us the cracks and fissures parents can create in the relationships between siblings. He shows how familial love, no matter how broken or twisted, can survive. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not this is good or bad.

The Poor Boy’s Game is Dashiell Hammett slammed into Eugene O’Neill. It puts us in the grimy world of the Mullens, letting us feel every drop of cold sweat. The dialogue is that of a darker Elmore Leonard and can be as harrowing as some of the fight scenes. The Poor Boy’s Game is a crime thriller that shows how a bruised heart still beats. Welcome back to the game, Dennis. It’s good to have you.

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Dennis Tafoya leads a free writing workshop here at BookPeople this Thursday, May 1 at 6:30pm. Bring a pen and paper and join us up on the third floor. No registration or RSVP required.