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.
The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.
With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.
This year, to my surprise, I’m a bit further on the path to completing my reading goal, so time to brag and share it with you all, despite my failure to complete it as of yet. Hey, I’ve got four more months left, so why not put the cart before the horse and smugly tell you all about my accomplishments? After all, I’m 31 books in, 31 crime novels by women that I can now confidently recommend in the store and on the internet, because I have read and enjoyed them. Before I (prematurely) rest on my laurels, I’d like to trace the origins of this mighty goal.
We’re happy to have Lisa Sandlin joining us next Thursday, June 23rd, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by Cara Black, author of the Aimee Leduc series, set in Paris. Lisa Sandlin’s novel The Do-Rightmade the list of our Top Five Texas Crime Novels of 2015. The Do-Right follows Delpha Wade, just out of prison, as she rebuilds her life and finds a new career in Beaumont. She starts working for a former oil worker turned PI, Tom Phelan, and the two take on cheating husbands and corrupt oilmen, all against the background of Texas during the Watergate hearings. We caught up with Lisa earlier to talk a little about the book, her characters, and Texas.
“The wax-and-wane chorus of tree frogs, crickets, cicadas was our soundtrack afternoon and night, and everybody’s bread and butter was the refineries.”
Molly Odintz: Your book is so Texas. How did you capture such a strong sense of place?
Lisa Sandlin: Born and raised in East Texas, except for three years in Italy. Long as I can remember, there was the surround of tall pines, filtered sunlight, brown pine needles underfoot, logging trucks on two-lane. My grandmother lived in Livingston close to the Big Thicket. (My other grandparents lived for years in Gatesville.) The wax-and-wane chorus of tree frogs, crickets, cicadas was our soundtrack afternoon and night, and everybody’s bread and butter was the refineries.
List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
This year authors from our home state showcased the wide breadth of story material to be found in the state of Texas.The novels below take a look at past and present, with settings ranging from small towns to our big cities, often showing how the Lone Star State effects the United States.
An involving story of a lawyer with a murder client tied to a current election in the early Nineties, Attica Locke’s latest novel delves into Houston’s black society and the relationship between Texas and U.S. politics. Locke uses a legal thriller set-up and private eye approach to show how the social and institutional interact. You can find copies of Pleasantville on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.