Scott M.’s 10 Best Crime Novels of 2020

MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery joins us on the blog just before year’s end to share the ten best—in his opinion—crime novels of 2020.

Crime fiction writers came through in a year where we needed them the most. They helped us escape and examine our times with some of their best writing. It was also a year of discovering either debut authors or ones that finally got the limelight they deserved. Here are my eleven favorites I was able to squeeze into a top ten. I could easily give ten more.

9780525522539_90cdc
Next To Last Stand by Craig Johnson
In another year, I may have put one of the darker novels below in this spot, but if there was ever a time for smart comfort reading Craig Johnson rode in like The Lone Ranger with this funny and warm mystery that also delivers an engaging history lesson. Walt Longmire, Craig’s Northern Wyoming sheriff, becomes involved in the world of western art when it appears the famed Custer’s Last Fight painting, believed to have been lost in a fire, is actually still around with several shady characters out to find it. While entertaining, Johnson uses the tale to examine points of view in history, war, and the men who fight in them with a humanistic eye.
9781250252685_1f3e69780062968944
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby & Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Both of these authors used their culture to infuse excitement into the traditional hard-boiled novel. Cosby gave a much needed Black voice to rural noir with his story of a former getaway driver pulled back into one last job to save his family and dignity. Weiden introduces us to Virgil Wounded Horse, a half-Lakota enforcer citizens hire on the Rosebud reservation to get justice, forced to hunt down the people who bring in heroin into the rez to clear his nephew. Both use the crime novel to examine family, race, and male identity.
9781524745950_dde98
The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel
This book starts with the murder of two twelve-year old girls and gets bleaker as the working class mother of one of the girls seeks justice in her small town, coming up against the local police, her mother who she always feared of becoming, and her own dark past. Engel keeps the story tight and focused in her heroine, finding grace notes in the unlikeliest of places.
9780593085073_d1df5
The Poison Flood by Jordan Farmer
A reclusive hunchback musician witnesses a murder during a chemical leak that plagues his Appalachian town, setting off several events that force him to face his life and make human connections. Farmer finds a sad humanity in all of his characters, creating one of the most poignant reads of the year.
9781643133188_af811
City Of Margins by William Boyle
Boyle creates a literary mural with several people effected and entwined from a past murder in a Brooklyn neighborhood. Funny and tragic, Boyle creates a story of the inertia of a community told in a style somewhere between Scorsese and Altman.
9780316528511_59305
The Less Dead by Denise Mina
A middle class doctor—adopted as a child—discovers her birth mother was a prostitute and victim of a serial murderer. As she uncovers her mother’s killer she also gets to know the woman she never knew. Mina’s latest masterpiece is one of class, society, and crime.
9780735212947_cdb18
Lost River by J. Todd Scott
Scott creates an epic tale that takes place during one violent day in the life of a Kentucky lawman, DEA agent, and EMT. Scott, a practicing DEA agent, provides an intimate look at the opioid crisis.
9780062988904_306a2
Broken by Don Winslow
This collection of new novellas from one of crime fiction’s best range in mood, style, and sub-genre. He introduces us to new characters and revisits old ones, some we haven’t seen in a long time, linking them into a shared world that spins a little faster than our own.
9781641291095_f585d
Scott Phillips returns with a jaundiced, funny vengeance in this tale of California scheming with a down-and-out attorney devising an art fraud plan with a questionable group of characters, reminding us he mixes black humor, sex, crime, and scumbags like no other.
9781947993891_2e2cf
Line Of Sight by James Queally
My favorite private eye novel of the year introduced Russell Avery, a former reporter who used to uncover police corruption, now working as an investigator who specializes in clearing cops. When asked by a political activist to look into a questionable shooting of a drug dealer, his ideals and life get put on the line as he navigates a no man’s land between cops and criminals where even the closest to you are hard to trust. I hope this isn’t the last time we see Avery.

You can find the titles listed here online at BookPeople today.

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.

9781524745950_dde98

 

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.
9781643133188_af811
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.
9781616963231_80377
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.
9780593085073_d1df5
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.
9780062988904_306a2
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.
9780316450553_8fd28
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.
9781641291095_f585d
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.
9781951709174_a49cb
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.
9781549121296_62c66
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.
9780735212947_cdb18

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.

Casting Call: Who Would William Boyle Cast in the Film Version of ‘City of Margins’

The blog spot My Book The Movie asked William Boyle who he would cast in his latest and our Pick Of The Month, City Of Margins. Bill knows his movies, founding the site Goodbye Like A Bullet that focused on crime films from the seventies. City Of Margins captures the grit, tone, and language of those films.

9781643133188_af811


While our doors remained closed to the public through March 29th, you can grab your copy of City of Margins by ordering online or giving us a call at (512) 472 – 5050 to request curbside pick-up service.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: ‘City of Margins’ by William Boyle

MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month for March 2020 is William Boyle’s City of Margins. It hits shelves on March 3rd, but before you purchase it, check out what Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery had to say about Boyle’s latest.


9781643133188_af811Anybody around me for the last twelve months heard me rave about William Boyle’s A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself. The mix of crime fiction and dramedy was a fresh breeze blowing into the genre. The book created some slight trepidation when I cracked open his latest, City Of Margins. I expected a strong piece of writing, but feared it would come off lesser in comparison. Those doubts vanished by the first chapter.
At first glance, City Of Margins, appears to revisit his debut, Gravesend, with him examining the impact of a crime on a Brooklyn community. This time, it is the murder of a degenerate gambler who owed money to the burrough mobster “Big Time” Tony Ficalora. Tommy sends a cop on his payroll, Donnie Rotante, to collect. Donnie’s already problematic temper has recently been pushed by the suicide of his teenage son. Donnie ends up tossing the man off of a bridge. The death is believed to be a suicide.
Two years later, Donnie has been bumped off the force for striking a superior and works full time for Big Time Tommy. The victim’s son Mikey Baldini, dropped out of college and returned home to his mother, Rosemarie, who struggles to pay her husband’s debt. Tommy propositions Mikey to work for him as a collector to erase it quicker.
Instigating much of the action is Nick Bifulco, a weasley high school teacher who wants to break out of his dismal life my selling a screenplay, even though he has no knowledge about the art form. He decides to base it off of Donnie, due to an incident where he went after Mikey with a ball bat years ago. It leads to Mikey going over to Donnie’s ex, Donna. The woman is still trapped in the mourning of her son with a roomful of records. The two find a connection as they and other characters crash into each other, either helping or hurting.
Boyle uses a full author’s pallet to tell this story. Where Gravesend always carried a somber tone, Boyle goes deeper into his into his characters and the reactions to their situations. He discovers they each contain different feelings in combat with each other. Instead of relying on quirks, like lesser writers, Boyle knows these people so well he is able to play off their experiences and degrees of desperation to make each of them stand out. with pathos, humor, and the overhanging threat of violence, he ties the community together and depicts its inertia.
Boyle makes City Of Margins a gritty crime version of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. It looks at two different generations struggling with the despair their lives have trapped them in and the missteps and moves they make to break free, William Boyle brings them to life in all their sad, funny, brutal glory.

City of Margins is available for purchase in-store and online today.
About the Reviewer: Scott Montgomery has worked over a decade as a respected bookseller and authority on crime fiction. His articles and interviews have appeared in crimespree, Crime Reads, and his own site, The Hard Word. His short fiction has appeared online in Slag Drop and Shotgun Honey and the anthologies Murder On WheelsLone Star Lawless, and The Eyes of Texas. He is the co-author of the novella Two Bodies, One Grave with Manning Wolfe.
About the Author: William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His books include: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which is nominated for the Hammett Prize; and, most recently, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM BOYLE

I’ll be very surprised if William Boyle’s A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself is not on my Top 10 at the end of the year. This humorous and at times harrowing look at a mob widow and retired porn star who connect over a stolen Impala, a bag full of mob cash, and some very bad men is one of the most unique and entertaining crime novels in some time. Boyle steadily building his reputation and in a perfect world, this would put him over the top. Bill was kind enough to take some questions bout it.

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Rena and Wolfstein are such unique characters. How did they come into mind for the book?

William Boyle: A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself started for me when my neighbor in Brooklyn told my mother and me a story about being invited over to our other neighbor’s house on the corner. When she got over to his house, he put on a porno movie and made a move on her. She left immediately, rushing home to her apartment. My brain was lit up with what ifs. What if she’d lashed out at him? What if she was a former mob wife, now a widow, who had felt protected her whole life but no longer had that sense of safety? My brain went there because the apartment she now lived in, the same one I had grown up in, was where the gangster Gaspipe Casso lived for years. What if, on top of that, she was intensely lonely, estranged from her daughter and granddaughter? That’s how Rena Ruggiero came to be.

The character of Lacey Wolfstein grew out of my desire to explore someone who was the polar opposite of Rena in so many ways: someone who had depended on friendship her whole life, someone who had lived hand to mouth, who had flown by the seat of her pants, who had been daring and wild and who could teach Rena to see the world in new ways. I’d always been fascinated by adult film star Lisa De Leeuw, who faded into obscurity and then disappeared, the legend being that she’d used dying of AIDS as a cover to assume a new identity and exist off the grid. I wanted to imagine an alternate history for someone like her, someone who had struggled after being spit out by the adult film industry and then thrived.    

MPS: The thing that sets them apart from most crime fiction heroines is that they are over fifty. What did you want to explore with women of that age?

WB: I love noir about older characters. Louis Malle’s Atlantic City comes to mind. One of my favorite lines in all of cinema is when Burt Lancaster’s Lou looks out and says, “You should’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean back then.” It allows you to do reflection and nostalgia in a different way, to really dig deep with regret. I wanted to explore the mythology of New York City from the perspective of women who know how to survive.

MPS: Your first two novels were a bit more somber. Did you set out to write something funnier?

WB: I like depressing stuff a lot, but I wanted to write something more in line with Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys or Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob and Something Wild. Those films are main go-tos, and they bring me a lot of joy when I’m feeling unsure of things. So, yeah, I wanted to write something that—to me, anyway—was funny. I just didn’t know if it’d be funny to other people.

MPS: What I like about the humor in the book is that it plays to the characters instead of the other way around and it is grounded in some very harsh realities in these people’s lives. Can you tell us how you approach humor with the people you write about?

WB: Thanks! That’s a great compliment. I don’t know if I really have an approach of any kind. There’s a lot of humor in the way people talk to each other, for sure. That comes from people I’ve known, my grandparents, my mother, all this drama in the little things. My mom’s not generally a very funny person (I love her, but that’s just not who she is), but one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard is when a light bulb blew out in her kitchen and she said, “Nothing ever works out.” I laughed my ass off. My grandfather and grandmother were both hilarious. As a teenager, there was nothing I enjoyed more than coming home and have my grandfather recap what he’d watched on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that morning: “Mr. Rogers took us to the crayon factory today,” or whatever. My grandmother was just fun and lighthearted, even when she was worried as hell. I think much of my sense of humor comes from them, this kind of mix of pessimism and joy.   

MPS: Was there a particular reason to set the story in the early two thousands?

WB: Part of the book is set in a Bronx neighborhood where I lived for a couple of years. My wife’s family is all from there. We moved there in 2006. So, for practical reasons, I thought it’d be good to set the book in 2006 since I haven’t been back to that neighborhood since we left in 2008. It’s also a time when not everyone had cell phones yet (I got my first flip phone late in 2006), so I was glad not to have to account for that and still exist a bit in what was left of the old city: getting lost with no map, needing a payphone, whatever. The city’s changed so much in the last thirteen years. It had already started before then, but things really amped up by the late aughts.    

MPS: Your mobster characters have a great feel of authenticity. How do you approach them?

WB: I was really fascinated with mobsters as a kid. Of course, I loved Scorsese movies. I read and watched anything I could get my hands on. I listened to neighborhood stories. As I was writing this book, I reread Jimmy Breslin’s The Good Rat to get me in the right head space. But, ultimately, I was just making stuff up, having fun, building off of the sorts of legends I’ve heard my whole life.

REVIEW: A FRIEND IS A GIFT YOU GIVE YOURSELF BY WILLIAM BOYLE

William Boyle is steadily making a name for himself  in crime fiction. He looks at the working and criminal class of his native Brooklyn with both an unflinching and sympathetic eye. In his latest, A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself, he demonstrates his range with that talent.

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover ImageRena Ruggerio, a mob widow of “Gentle” Vic Ruggerio, defends the advances of her elderly neighbor Enzio with an ash tray to the head. When he hits the floor and there’s blood everywhere, she panics and takes off in Enzio’s classic Impala to the Bronx where Angela, the daughter she hasn’t seen since she discovered she was involved with Richie, Vic’s right hand man. Angel turns her away but she meets up with her granddaughter, Lucia, at the house next door occupied by Wolfstein, a retired porn star who supplements her income scamming men. Lucia wants to live with Rena, because her mother is hooking up with Richie. Due to Richie’s slaughter of several crime family members, an old mark showing up at Wolfstein’s house, and a bag packed with mob money they end up with the three ladies hitting the road in the Imapala to Wolfstein’s freind Mo in Florida with Richie and a killer named Crea behind them. Oh, and Enzio is still alive and wants his car back.

This book differs in some ways from Boyle’s first two, Gravesend and The Lonely Witness, that both carried more somber tones. They showed the effect of isolation and how people become trapped in their lives and behavior. This story starts that way, with Rena contemplating how anything past her block is foreign to her. However when circumstances pull her with the brasher and more outgoing Wolfstein, she sees a larger world and place for her in it. Boyle tells a believable story of connection, particularly the female variety, and the give and take that plays out in it.

There are a lot more laugh out loud moments than you may be used to in Boyle’s work, but the humor services the characters instead of the other way around, which often happens in books of this type. In fact there is a touch of melancholy to some of it as is Rena and Wolfstein choose to laugh instead of cry at what is dealt to them. These women refuse to be punchlines and he respects that.

A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself  is a look at female friendship up against the worst men can produce. It’s funny, thrilling, and scary at times. Boyle may have broadened his canvas, yet keeps that tone grounded and his characters real. If this one won’t get you to love him, I don’t know what will.

From the Web: William Boyle on Daniel Woodrell

One of our favorite rising stars of crime fiction is William Boyle. His status in the states, while high, may be eclipsed by his popularity in France, where he’s in the running for several prizes and his novel Gravesend has been published as part of the prestigious Rivages/Noir collection. Recently, for LitHub, a website that agglomerates the best of the literary web while also bringing readers original, provocative content, he wrote this piece about a favorite author of his (and many), Daniel Woodrell.

As fans of both Boyle and Woodrell, we suggest getting one of the Woodrell books mentioned in Boyle’s article, then getting his own novel, Gravesend, and see how Woodrell’s tales of the Ozarks influence Boyle’s gritty new York burrough. Rural noir has been perfected and defined by Daniel Woodrell, and we’re glad to see growing interest in his work. Tomato Red, Woodrell’s most famous contribution to the genre, soon hits the big screen, so start with this one before you see the film and work from there!

Read William Boyle’s ode to Daniel Woodrell. 

You can find copies of Boyle’s Gravesend on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

You can find copies of Woodrell’s works on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Crime Fiction Friday: “Far From God” by William Boyle

 

 

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

  • Introduced by Scott Montgomery

William Boyle will be joining us for our New Voices In Noir Panel, coming up Tuesday, August 2nd, at 7 PM. His work has the tone and style of great crime fiction and movies from the Seventies, like this little piece that has those crime staples of country music, a trip across the border, a questionable girl, and a loaded gun.


“Far From God” by William Boyle

“Things had not gone well in Bay Ridge. Rufus had lied. Ganyuk had been waiting for them at the club. But they had got what they had gone there for, even if it meant cutting down a couple of the Russians. 

Now he was just sitting there, in the kitchen, with a bottle of Rheingold. He had put on the radio. They were playing “Lost Highway” by Hank Williams. It was one of his favorite songs. He wondered what station was playing it. It was rare these days to have a station play Hank. Now it was all bad rap and bad pop. He took a long pull off the Rheingold and relaxed. Lit a Lucky Strike. Thought about Donna. Her straight black hair. The anchor tattoo above her right tit. The little knife she kept in a holster around her ankle. Her breath on his neck.”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with William Boyle

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

 

I’m looking forward to introducing our readers to William Boyle this upcoming Tuesday, August 2nd, at 7 PM at our New Voices of Noir panel discussion. Boyle joins Bill Loehfelm, Alison Gaylin, and Megan Abbott for the panel discussion. His short stories and Gravesend, his first novel, feature hard-luck people stuck in life. To give you an idea of him, here’s a quick interview we did.

MysteryPeople Scott: Gravesend is an ensemble novel, set in a decaying working class part of New York that is a character itself. Did you start with the idea of the place or the people?

William Boyle: I grew up in the neighborhoods of Gravesend and Bensonhurst. I knew I wanted to write about the place. I’ve mostly lived away from Brooklyn since college, though my family’s still there—I’ve spent time in the Hudson Valley, in Austin, in The Bronx, in Mississippi—but I carry the neighborhood with me. So, it started with that feeling, I’d say, of being trapped by the place you’re from, whether or not you’re physically there. A lot of the action of the book actually takes place away from Gravesend—upstate, in Manhattan, in other neighborhoods—but it’s still and always about people made and shaped by that specific place. The people are the place. My characters are stuck there, for the most part, except for Alessandra, who’s just returned after living in L.A. for years. A lot of how I feel about the neighborhood—how I fall into old struggles and fall victim to old sadnesses when I’m back there—went into her character.

Read More »