Scott’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2014

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, Eleven)


This was quite a full year for crime fiction. Raymond Chandler came back and Moe Prager left. Emerging voices like Benjamin Whitmer  and Matthew McBride made a stand and veterans like James Ellroy came back. Matt Scudder was in a great movie and the poster couple  for toxic marriage in Gone Girl got beautifully adapted. Needless to say it was difficult to make a top 10 list, so I found a way to  shoehorn in eleven.


cry father1. Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

This book, following the dark criminal adventures of a tree cutter in disaster sites in mourning for his son, is a perfect piece  of brutal poetry. Raw in its emotion, it speaks to and for the people society pushes to the margins. I plan to read this book at  least every ten years for the rest of my life.

 


hollow girl2. The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

The final Moe Prager novel deeply involves Coleman’s recurring theme of identity in a way that forces one of the most human private detectives ever put on the page to deal with his own concept of self. A pitch perfect swan song.

 


fever3. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Mysterious seizures hit a group of high school girls, causing hysteria in an upstate new York town. Abbott blends mystery, horror, and  coming of age, digging emotionally deep into community, family, and female friendship with an aching and dark mood.

 


swollen red sun4. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

A masterpiece of rural crime fiction. When a Missouri sheriff’s deputy steals $72,000 out of a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of  weakness, it sets the spark that sends a corrupt county up into flames. A relentless novel that moves like a muscle car on an open  road.


the drop poor boys game5. The Drop by Dennis Lehane & The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

Both of these books tapped into the emotional core of their stories with poignancy while still delivering a bad-ass hard-boiled tale.  Lehane’s lonely bartender being batted about by the mob and Tafoya’s damaged U.S. marshal who has to fight the mob off are characters  who will stay with you for some time.


last death of jack harbin6. The Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

The second Samuel Craddock novel has the retired police chief looking into the murder of a disabled war veteran. As he investigates, Samuel  becomes a witness to the sins of his town and society in this moving mystery.

 


the forty-two7. The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

A tension filled thriller that effectively uses early Eighties Time Square as a backdrop in all its seedy glory. Kurtz uses grind  house theaters, peepshows, and greasy spoons like Hitchcock used Mount Rushmore and The Statue Of Liberty.


forsaken ace atkins8. The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

The fourth Quinn Colson novel has the Mississippi sheriff dealing with race issues, biker gangs, county Kingpin Johnny Stagg, and an  old crime connected to his father who disappeared years ago. Entertaining dialogue and action with strong thematic undercurrents.


mark pryor the blood promise9. The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

A great thriller with vivid characters and a plot that ties a modern treaty signing to an event during The French Revolution. Further  proof of why Pryor’s Hugo Marston is one of the best new heroes.

 


after im gone10. After I’m Gone by Laura Lipman

Lippman looks at the disappearance of a shady businessman through the wife, daughter, and murdered mistress he left behind. Lippmann  uses the lives of these ladies as a clever window into family, class, religion, and feminism in the last half of the twentieth  century.


Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A With Ed Kurtz


Ed Kurtz joins us this Friday, August 22nd, at 7 pm, to speak about and sign his new book, The Forty-Two, set in the Times Square of the early Eighties with the feel of the grindhouse movies that played there. Kurtz started out writing horror but has since expanded into noir, and we hope he keeps writing in the mystery section for quite some time. After the event, we will screen Vigilante, a classic of the genre. Ed was kind enough to take some questions from us about the book and the films that inspired it.


MysteryPeople: Which came first, the story or wanting to set one in Times Square?

Ed Kurtz: I’d been wanting to write about the 42nd Street scene the way it was for some time, and between reading Bill Landis’s Sleazoid Express and Jimmy McDonough’s terrific biography of Andy Milligan (upon whom Andy Donovan is based), I decided it was time. The set-up seemed a natural fit to me—a grindhouse fanatic getting involved in a murder right in one of the Forty-Two’s most infamous theaters.

MP: Times Square exists in the story as another character and a complex one at that. How did you go about writing about a place in a previous era?

EK: Quite a lot of research—and quite a lot of maps and photos. As I state (apologize about?) in the acknowledgments, I was born in the wrong time and place to have experienced the Deuce firsthand, but as a lifelong exploitation addict it’s in my blood. That said, I needed to know late 1970s/early 1980s New York well, so I read voluminously, studied all those maps and photographs, and kept my writing space strewn with all of that stuff to completely immerse myself in the milieu. I even got my hands on old copies of the Village Voice so that the films playing in the book are accurate. My biggest fear was messing it all up, of course, so I sent it to a friend and colleague, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, to give it a brutal analysis once it was done. To my delight he told me I’d only flubbed one minor detail. I’m not saying which.

MP:  At times the book has the feel of a grindhouse film to it. What did you want to take from those movies to apply to your own work?

EK: The down-and-dirty electric energy of the best—or at least most entertaining—of the exploitation pictures from that period is what I wanted to emulate in The Forty-Two. I hope when people read the book they can see the grain and spots and cigarette burns on the celluloid, hear the crackle of the overused film print. I love this stuff every bit as much as Charley does in the novel, and I wanted that little obsession of ours, mine and my character’s, to bleed through the narrative. You have to wallow a little bit to really get what makes the sleazehound tick, I think, and the novel allows the reader to slum with Charley without all the danger he faces!

MP: You’ve been writing a lot of crime fiction lately. What attracted you to it?

EK: I have always loved crime fiction, particularly with a noir bent, for its attention to darker impulses among human beings that tend to be more subtle than that found in a lot of horror. Themes like obsessive love and revenge, for example, strike such deeper chords than buckets of blood—though I’m certainly attracted to that, too! I started out in horror, and I think that much is evident in a lot of my crime output like The Forty-Two, but I also don’t think the two are all that different. I’m interested in the choices people make, good and bad, and how it can change them and affect their circumstances. How choices can bring out the best or worst in a character, which seems to me a crucial part of crime fiction storytelling.

MP: As someone who has written in several genres, do you see the point in those divisions or is a story a story to you?

EK: For the most part, the latter. When I wrote A Wind of Knives, I set out to create a story about love and revenge, and found myself puzzled that to most commentators it was a “gay Western.” I can’t see the need in ghettoizing literature to that extent, apart from pointing out those aspects that might be most interesting to particular readers, I suppose. My love for grindhouse and the Times Square scene comes directly from my love of horror, so the two are inseparable in my head—so although The Forty-Two is a crime novel, the horror aspects are there, too. Sometimes I like to say I write about people doing bad things to each other, if I’m forced to categorize. But even that is probably oversimplifying. It reminds me of how aggravated I get when I hear someone refer to a novel as “literary,” when a novel is by definition literary, whether it’s William Faulkner or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

MP: If someone was wanting to understand grindhouse cinema what three films would you have them start with?

EK: Just three? I could give you three hundred, and I’d be happy to do it, but I’ll play nice. Just to spread things around a bit, I’ll touch on some different genres that were common to the place and time Charley McCormick is haunting the Forty-Two.

Five Fingers of Death, aka King BoxerCheng Chang Ho’s 1973 kung fu classic got a bit lost in the shuffle when Enter the Dragon was released the same year, but it was a mainstay on 42nd Street and one of the very best examples of the sort of violent martial arts extravaganzas that opened the door to the kung fu craze…and was a perfect fit for the grindhouse scene and tastes. Highly recommended.

Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SSDon Edmond’s infamous 1974 smorgasbord of sleaze and poor taste introduced Dyane Thorne in her first turn as the sadistic Ilsa, classlessly using the Nazi era as the backdrop for as much nudity, violence, and kinky sex as he could get away with. By no means suitable for everyone, the film nonetheless was a major presence on the Deuce and paved the way for countless mimics. Predecessors from Italy like Pasolini’s Salo and Cavani’s The Night Porter may have set the stage for this sort of WWII-era degeneracy, but no one did it more outrageously than Ilsa. (Fun fact: it was shot on leftover Hogan’s Heroes sets! Bob Crane probably loved it.)

Zombie, aka Zombie 2 — Intended as a cheap, unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was released in Italy as Zombi), Lucio Fulci’s made this gut-munching gore masterpiece a classic all its own and filled it with so many wild set pieces—from the underwater zombie/shark fight to one of the most stomach-churning bits of eyeball violence you’ll ever endure—that the picture is every bit as unforgettable as the American counterpart it was meant to capitalize upon. Bleak, unrelenting, and gritty as hell, it may not be Fulci’s best outing (which is probably The Beyond), but an unbelievably entertaining piece of trashy 70s Eurohorror and another pillar of the Forty-Two.


MysteryPeople welcomes Ed Kurtz to BookPeople Friday, August 22, at 7 pm on our third floor. He will be speaking and signing his new book The Forty Two. The signing will be followed by a screening of Vigilante, a grindhouse classic. Copies of The Forty Two are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.

MysteryPeople Review: THE FORTY-TWO by Ed Kurtz

the forty-two
The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

Setting has always been an important element in crime fiction. Whether Hammett’s San Francisco, Chandler’s LA, Hillerman’s Four Corners, or Pelecanos’ DC, the protagonist has an intense relationship with their hometown. Ed Kurtz shows his understanding of this in his novel, The Forty-Two.

The title refers to New York’s Times Square of the early Eighties. Kurtz brings it to life in all of its sleazy glory with the hookers, junkies, peep shows, and questionable dining establishments. Most important to our hero, Charley McCormick, is The Forty-Two‘s
grindhouse theaters that crank out exploitation films from their projectors. The first chapter is a beautiful introdution to Charley and the Square on a Friday night as he looks for his film fix, the bloodier the better.

Charley gets more blood than he bargained for. A young woman sits next to him during a slasher double bill, even though the theater is half empty. When the first feature is over, Charley discovers she’s been murdered. He’s plunged into a nightmare involving mobsters, arson, an archaic form of porn, and the future of his beloved Forty-Two. Kurtz uses his tools as a horror writer, ratcheting the dread and tension like a dark craftsman and delivers the emotion and Charley’s observations with the skill of a veteran hard boiled poet.

It is in the depiction of Times Square where the book really shines. Kurtz transports you back to a time and place with details that pop, but never overwhelm. We get the sights, sounds, and (be forewarned) smells of the place which express Charley’s love for it.

The Forty-Two terrorizes, entertains, and transports us. Ed Kurtz hits all the genre tropes with a fresh, lurid spin. He gives us an involving read that serves as a look, both subtle and deep, at the places we attach ourselves to.


Ed Kurtz will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Friday, August 22nd at 7PM! You can pre-order signed copies of The Forty-Two now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.