Saturday, December 16, 2017

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017,
Part III: Linda L. Richards

Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer, and the author of 15 books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of award-winning January Magazine. Richards is currently based in Vancouver, Canada, but you can find her wherever her laptop decides to rest for awhile.

Every Breath You Take, by Mary Higgins Clark and
Alafair Burke (Simon & Schuster):

While on the surface of things, this fourth entry in the Higgins Clarke/Burke partnership might seem like an outlier in a best-of-the-year round-up, I just can’t help but love these books that much. Their Under Suspicion series is high-end candy for suspense lovers. Or maybe top-of-the-line caviar. The good stuff, anyway. In Every Breath You Take, Higgins Clark and Burke have us again spending time with TV producer Laurie Moran as she goes about solving another cold case. This time it’s the Met Gala Murder, and the goal is to discover who shoved wealthy widow Virginia Wakeling to her death from atop Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although Wakeling’s much-younger boyfriend seems like a ready-made guilty party, as Laurie begins to probe the crime, she discovers that the victim’s super-rich family has a lot to hide … and they might even prove dangerous to Laurie herself, if provoked. Higgins Clark and Burke are both master plotters in their own rights. But get them together? This is the kind of novel for which the term “unputdownable” was created. The only thing I don’t like: the authors are going to make me wait a while for the next entry in their series.

Invisible Dead, by Sam Wiebe (Quercus):
Sam Wiebe is one of the few writers I would read no matter the topic or genre or day of the week. Margaret Atwood is another. Stephen King. Salman Rushdie. A mixed bag, certainly, but good company, any way you figure it. This young author’s second novel (after 2014’s Last of the Independents) is a stunning accomplishment. Wiebe here grabs at a whole bunch of the tropes of crime fiction and turns them around, pulling them masterfully beyond the cliché. Dave Wakeland is an ex-cop turned private eye. In Invisible Dead he’s hired by a terminally ill woman to find her adopted daughter, who vanished a decade earlier. Like Sheena Kamal’s debut yarn, highlighted below, Wiebe’s tale deals at its core with the disappearance and loss of indigenous Canadian women from Vancouver, British Columbia’s Downtown East Side, and the horror and travesty of the fact that not more has been made of their loss. Both books are brilliant, though in starkly different ways. Wiebe navigates crime fiction’s mean streets in a manner that absolutely honors the heritage of his subgenre, yet pushes it towards sharp new directions. Ever wanted to find the perfect P.I. novel? This is it.

The Lost Ones (aka Eyes Like Mine), by Sheena Kamal (Morrow):
The thing I like least about Sheena Kamal’s debut work is that it was published under different titles in North America and in the UK. This may confuse readers who are trying to figure out which of her books they’ve already picked up. Relax: until sometime in mid-2018, there is only one. Like Sam Wiebe’s Invisible Dead, the action in these pages focuses around an indigenous Canadian woman gone missing from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. And while, on the surface of things, that would seem to make them very similar books, they just could not be more different. Both are magnificent in their own right. A lot of the tension and, in fact, the success of The Lost Ones comes to us through Nora, Kamal’s damaged and world-weary narrator. In reviews, this story has often been compared to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—and not without reason. There is an equivalent darkness and edge to the two novels, and thanks to the British Columbia backdrop of The Lost Ones, even some shared feeling of spiritual and emotional overcast. There is an unexpected virtuosity in Kamal’s pen. This is the first installment in a promised trilogy, and though the story concludes solidly, The Lost Ones leaves us, quite appropriately, wanting more.

Montreal Noir, edited by John McFetridge and
Jacques Filippi (Akashic):

Montreal, Quebec, isn’t like other places. It’s a holdout from old Europe, nestled in a traditionally largely Anglo country. That juxtaposition hasn’t always been entirely comfortable. Montreal is not like the rest of Canada, that’s what I’m saying. Culturally, physically, and emotionally, Montreal is not like any other place at all. The totality of its differences play a part in the melting-pot soup that is Montreal Noir. This diverse collection of short fiction, like the city itself, is not always easy or even. It’s not always comfortable. The 15 stories gathered here were written originally in English and French, the latter having been translated for this latest volume in Akashic Books’ Noir series. The writers contributing to this work will mostly be unfamiliar to readers outside (and possibly even within) Canada: Samuel Archibald, Michel Basilières, Arjun Basu, Tess Fragoulis, Peter Kirby, Robert Pobi, Patrick Senécal, Geneviève Lefebvre, Ian Truman, Johanne Seymour, Howard Shrier, Martin Michaud, Melissa Yi, Catherine McKenzie, and Brad Smith. In their introduction, editors McFetridge and Filippi say that “Today, the city has its own language: Franglais (or Frenglish). Maybe the first word spoken in that language was noir …” Appropriate, then, to have it said here in so many ways. For me, this was an eye-opening collection, showing off parts of my country that I didn’t know existed, in ways that I won’t easily forget.

The Seagull, by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur):
During a recent interview, bestselling author Ann Cleeves told me that The Seagull is her most personal book to date. That’s because it is set in the English seaside town where she has lived for many years. But it also may be because Cleeves’ best-known and best-loved creation, Vera Stanhope, is dealing here with a case that has deeply personal roots, leading back to Detective Inspector Stanhope’s very own late father and some of his cronies. There is something of a British Columbo about Vera Stanhope. She has a sort of bumbling energy, is the furthest thing one can imagine from a fashion plate, and occasionally seems to solve crimes despite herself. Even so, Vera is no fool and there is no element of comedy—except as it is naturally found in life—about either her or the action in The Seagull. The fictional nightclub that gives this book its title looms over the story, even though it was destroyed many years before the book’s present day. It was a luxury establishment, run by the son of a Scottish mobster, and the illegal goings-on that took place there were always suspected though never proven. The themes in this story are the family ties that bind and how old secrets can eat through the heart of a community. This is Cleeves’ eighth outing for Vera Stanhope, in a book series that has received a great deal of attention, not only because of the excellent BBC-TV production based on it, but also because of Shetland, which is based on Cleeves’ newer series featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez. In both series the writing—and also the television!—is top-notch. Anne Cleeves has always been a fantastic writer. It’s good to see her getting the attention she deserves.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bill Crider: A Man and His Blog

(Editor’s note: This piece is submitted as part of today’s celebration of Texas author and blogger Bill Crider, hosted by Patti Abbott. Find additional such tributes by clicking here.)


(Above) Bill Crider takes a selfie with “VBK” Gilligan.

In the piece that may, sadly, turn out to be the final entry in what he’s called his “peculiar blog,” 76-year-old Bill Crider—who, as I understand it, is currently in hospice care with a “very aggressive form” of the cancer carcinoma—lamented having to cease activity on the Web site to which he’s been posting for more than a decade and a half:
The blog has been a tremendous source of pleasure to me over the years, and I’ve made a lot of friends here. My only regret is that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block’s fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins’ latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Stand, which is a collection of two novellas, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and “The Last Stand,” the last thing that Spillane completed. It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I’ll never read. But I’ve had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it. Much love to you all.
I don’t remember exactly when I began reading Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine, this Alvin, Texas, writer’s much-loved blog, but it certainly wasn’t as far back as 2002, at the time he commenced amassing its contents. Few people are likely to remember this, but his blog was very different at its birth than it has become. No less humorous and occasionally homespun, but not as concerned with the interests of its audience—which was then probably pretty minuscule. In his first post, dated Sunday, July 28, 2002, Crider explained:
I’m starting this blog on my 61st birthday, and about one month before I retire. I have no idea what’s going to be here, but for now I’ll just use it as a diary.

For my birthday, we made peach ice cream, the first time
we’ve done that in years. We used the old wooden freezer that has a hand crank. You have to earn your ice cream around here. [I] had to root around in the attic for quite a while before I found the freezer, but it was in great shape. The ice cream was as good as I remembered. My mother’s recipe. My wife, Judy, fixed lasagna, and our daughter, Angela, came over. Our son, Allen, lives in Austin and couldn’t be here, but we talked to him on the phone.
Any readers he could claim during his initial year of irregular blogging would certainly have benefited from knowing the outline of Crider’s history, just to give his postings some context. As he points out on his author Web site, “I was born and brought up in Mexia (that’s pronounced Muh-HAY-uh by the natives), Texas. The town’s most famous former citizen is [model, actress, and former Playboy Playmate] Anna Nicole Smith, whom my brother taught in biology class when she was in the ninth grade. I’ve always lived in small Texas towns, unless you count Austin as a large town. It wasn’t so large when I lived there, though. I attended the University of Texas at Austin for many, many years. My wife (the lovely Judy) says that I would never have left grad school if she hadn’t forced me to get out and get a real job. I eventually earned my Ph.D. there, writing a dissertation on the hard-boiled detective novel, and thereby putting my mystery-reading habit to good use. Before that, I’d gotten my M.A. at the University of North Texas (in Denton), and afterward I taught English at Howard Payne University for 12 years. Then I moved to scenic Alvin, Texas, where until 2002 I was the Chair of the Division of English and Fine Arts [at Alvin Community College]. I retired in August 2002 to become either a full-time writer or a part-time bum. Take your pick.”

Although the topics of Crider’s earliest posts ranged from his opinions on yard work (“Except for a few years when I was in college and later when I lived in apartments, I’ve been mowing the yard. Probably 40 years of yard-mowing all told. No wonder I hate it.”) to his book-buying addiction and his daughter’s occasional car troubles, many of them had to do with the process and prospects of retirement. “I’m looking forward to the free time,” he asserted at the end of July 2002, “but I’m not looking forward to poverty, which is what I may experience if the stock market doesn’t turn around soon. I’m hoping to make a few book sales over the next few years, but that’s not going to help immediately.” (Crider had published a wide variety of fiction—both novels and short stories—prior to his departing Alvin Community College, but there were many more to come once he was un-tethered from academia.) His transition into the non-work world had its bumps. “When I went to the college mail room this morning,” he recalled in late August of that same year, “I discovered that my mailbox had been moved from the regular faculty line-up to the Old Guy’s area. It must be that my retirement is official. I still haven’t finished cleaning out the office, though. That may take a while.” He followed that up three days later with this: “OK, it’s official. Any way you look at it, I’m retired. Yesterday was the last day of the summer semester, and registration for the fall begins on Monday. I was employed through the end of the summer. So now it’s over. After going to school every fall since 1947, I’ll be staying at home on Monday. As the ’60s saying went, today is the first day of the rest of my life.”


The latest banner atop Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.

Crider was obviously concerned that his retirement would leave him without sufficient material about which to blog (“Writing this stuff down and reading over my earlier comments makes me realize what a dull life I lead. Eating Mexican food for dinner will be the highlight of my day.”). Yet he carried on … and on. Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine filled up with comments about movies, music, Hollywood stars, and of course, books—new and especially old; his own and others’. He refrained for the most part from potentially controversial subjects such as politics, but got digs in every once in a while. (“I’m completely at a loss to explain George W. Bush’s appeal,” he remarked at the end of December 2002. “He can’t speak English, he’s a doofus most of the time, and yet people love him.”) The habitually thin Crider was a jogger; as he related on his Web site, “I run five or six days a week. I used to run in the afternoons, but now that I’m retired, I run in the early mornings. In scenic Alvin, Texas, it doesn’t make much difference. It’s always hot.” So, naturally, his exercise routine became a subject for his blog. As did his high school reunions, his love of the Kingston Trio, TV shows, his various technological challenges, and his visits to writing conventions (Bouchercon and the science-fiction gathering ArmadilloCon, in Austin, appear to have been his favorites). Oh, and then there was his marriage to the former Judy Laverne Stutts, about which he wrote with unflagging enthusiasm. “Today,” reads his post of June 4, 2003, “is my 38th wedding anniversary. Judy and I got married in Thornton, Texas, and honeymooned in Colorado Springs. It was the first time that I’d ever been out of the state, if you don’t count a day trip across the border into Mexico when I was a kid. These days, most kids have traveled more than that by the time they’re out of kindergarten. Anyway, we had a wonderful time, so it was a good start to the marriage. Now that we’ve lasted this long, maybe we’ll make it for a few more years.”

Perhaps because he took up blogging in the wake of a teaching career, rather than embarking on this enterprise after working in the news business (as so many of us have), Crider didn’t even bother to give his posts headlines until July 2004. Before that, they’d been text-only, a reflection—intentional or not—of his original view that he was composing a diary of sorts, rather than a publication to be widely followed by others. Yet his blog was followed, and he started receiving suggested post topics from a list of friends and colleagues that included “Cap’n Bob” Napier, Art Scott, and Steve Stilwell. Crider never seemed terribly concerned whether his site came off as a “professional product” (he periodically made posts out of press releases, without making that clear, and some of his entries appeared in different typefaces than others). But what he may have lacked in journalistic standards, Bill Crider more than made up for with the humor and nostalgic warmth found in so many of his posts. “I do wish that Bill [Clinton] wrote mysteries,” he said after the former president released his memoir, My Life. “If he did, his books would be shelved right next to mine, and maybe someone would buy my books by mistake.” And I remember a longish piece he put together two years ago, about his first car (a 1963 Ford Galaxie), that I have hit on a few times while reading his blog, and always find amusing. Crider’s annual posts commemorating Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, in which he honored his parents’ memories, were no less wistful.

Over the years, Crider developed several regular varieties of posts, including those showcasing vintage paperback covers, crocodiles, baseball players, and folks who had by some means stumbled across great wealth (Bill was never so lucky). He put in his two cents on periodic slights committed against Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, and Nicolas Cage; embedded “Song of the Day” videos in his blog, as well as out-of-date advertisements; marked the deaths of celebrities and other notables; updated followers on the status of his three rescued felines, the mischievous “VBKs” (or Very Bad Kitties); and under the heading “I Miss the Old Days,” provided links to photos and stories recalling historic roller skaters, classic women’s swimming attire (OK, we’re talking bikinis here), and products from years gone by that would be a whole lot more valuable now, had you hung onto them. As I mentioned earlier, Crider liked films, so he’d write weekly about overlooked big-screen features—some of which deserved to have been ignored. And from the beginning of Patti Abbott’s popular Web-wide “forgotten books” series, back in 2008, Crider was a regular contributor, commenting on dusty works (crime fiction, science fiction, Westerns, and more) by authors on the order of Harry Whittington, Donald E. Westlake, Robert Bloch, Marvin H. Albert, and W.P. Kinsella. Abbott mentioned recently that “Bill Crider was the first person I asked to write a review [nine] years ago when I began FFB. I expected him to write one for the first week. Instead, he has written over 500 reviews of books, never missing one that I remember.”


Judy and Bill Crider at Bouchercon 2005 in Chicago.

Unlike many bloggers (yours truly included), Crider wasn’t afraid of sentimentality or exposing himself in print. Some of his best blog work, in fact, was the most heart-felt. It took awhile after his wife, Judy, died on November 27, 2014—the victim of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma—before he could write much about their life together and what they’d gone through during her last years. When he finally approached the subject at any length, though, it was with remarkable love and candor. This comes from a post of June 4, 2015, which would have been their 50th anniversary:
I haven’t written much about her illness here because she didn’t want me to. She was a private person and stoic in facing her illness. She was steel. One day a few months before she died, we were talking about what might happen, and my voice cracked. I probably had tears in my eyes. Judy said, “Don’t be maudlin. If I die, I die, and that’s it. We’ve done all we can.” Steel? Titanium is more like it. Never once did I see her cry or weaken. It must have been tough, because she went through a lot. Some of the chemo treatments were brutal, though I’m the only one who ever knew because to everyone else, she was relentlessly cheerful and polite. Whenever anyone asked how she was doing, she’d always say, “Fine.” Nobody was ever going to hear her complain, except me, and that was the way it was. I may have mentioned before that one of the nurses called me and said this about Judy: “That Mrs. Crider was always a lady, always dressed so nice, she never complained, not once.”

The last week that she was in the hospital, I asked if she wanted to watch
The Young and the Restless, and she said she didn’t. “But it’s your favorite soap,” I said. “Bill,” she said, “you just don’t know how bad I feel.” That's a close as she ever came to complaining.
That write-up seemed to provide some sort of release for Crider, because after that he penned a number of additional, wonderful posts about Judy, whom many readers of his blog knew from their joint appearances at various Bouchercons. Look for those pieces here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I don’t know what will happen to either the delightful VBKs or Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine if the Alvin author doesn’t make it home from hospice. I imagine the cats (Keanu, Ginger Tom, and Gilligan) will have no trouble finding new accommodations, darn cute as they are. I hope Crider’s children will be protective, too, of their father’s blog—if only by leaving it alone and keeping it available to browsers. Over the course of 15-plus years, the man born Allen Billy Crider let readers into his family, into his world, and into his heart by way of what would once have been called his “Weblog.” He found a welcome in many of our homes and offices on a daily basis. No one who hasn’t tried to maintain a blog knows the commitment necessary to keep such a thing lively and interesting. People who haven’t been reading Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine for years deserve a chance to go back and see what the author was able to do with it. Crider’s books and stories offer insights into his character, priorities, and enthusiasms, but his blog really reveals the beating heart behind his byline.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017,
Part II: Jim Napier

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction critic based in Quebec, Canada. He’s also the creator of the award-winning Web site Deadly Diversions, which features more than 500 reviews and interviews with leading crime-fiction writers. In the spring of 2017, Napier’s own crime novel, Legacy, was published by FriesenPress. It’s the opening installment in a series of Britain-based police procedurals.

Cold Earth, by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur):
Even in today’s interconnected world, Scotland’s far-north Shetland Islands remain inarguably isolated, their inhabitants’ lives shaped largely by the bleak local weather and the cloistered existence typical in that remote corner of the world. As Cold Earth opens, we find Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez having joined a group charged with burying Magnus Tait, an elderly resident of the nearby village of Ravenswick. But they’re interrupted in their labors by a sudden and ominous rumbling. It has rained heavily in recent days, apparently loosening the ground and now sending a mammoth wall of mud and stone hurtling down from an adjacent hill toward the mourners. Perez and his fellow grievers scramble out of the way, with the DI pulling one of their older members to safety. Happily, when the excitement has run its course, no one seems to have been hurt. However, the slide has engulfed a nearby and supposedly empty cottage, and a search of the debris reveals the body of a woman in a red silk dress. Someone had been living there, after all. Perez and his team initially focus on the routine task of identifying the deceased. But their work takes on a new significance when the pathologist reveals that the victim had not died in the mudslide. She had been strangled, and as their efforts morph into a murder enquiry, revelations will turn the quiet village upside down. Cold Earth is perfectly paced and structured, the plot enhanced by Cleeves’ masterful misdirection. It is also a compelling portrait of a people at once simple and straightforward, and yet harboring dark secrets from one another. A superb read.

The Late Show, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown):
In the jaded jargon of the Los Angeles Police Department, the duty shift between midnight and 8 a.m. is known as the Late Show. That’s not only because it comes at the end of the day, but because it’s when a lot of the criminal elements surface at local nightclubs and on the streets, at 24-hour service stations and convenience stores, taking advantage of the darkness to ply their illicit trades. Thirty-something Detective Renée Ballard works the Late Show. It wasn’t her choice. After reporting that she’d been sexually harassed by her superior officer, her then partner—who could have confirmed Ballard’s allegations—didn’t stand up for her. As a result, she was bounced from Robbery-Homicide down to exile on the Hollywood Division’s post-midnight stint. It’s a slot few officers like. For one thing, the incidents she encounters on the street during those early hours are turned over to daytime teams at the end of her shift, so there’s no continuity, and given their caseload, often no follow-through. This is frustrating for Ballard, who only wants to close cases and see justice done for the injured parties. While working one routine graveyard shift, checking out the transgender victim of a vicious assault who lies in a coma in a nearby hospital, Ballard is called away to a club known as Dancers, where multiple attacks have just taken place. Four people are dead and a fifth victim is fighting for her life. Even in L.A. that’s a big deal, and all available police detectives and forensics support folks are focused on this case. Leading the investigation is Lieutenant Robert Olivas. That’s bad news for Ballard, because he is the senior officer she’d accused of sexual harassment two years ago. Hoping to sideline her, Olivas assigns Ballard to notify the victims’ next of kin—his not-so-subtle way of saying he doesn’t want her anywhere near the Dancers case. But Ballard doesn’t let go of things that easily, and when another cop working the same investigation, Detective Kenny Chastain—Ballard’s former Robbery-Homicide partner—is found executed in his own driveway, she decides to get to the bottom of these crimes, regardless of her orders. The Late Show marks yet another milestone in Michael Connelly’s already impressive fiction-writing career. With an engaging protagonist, a complex back story, and Connelly’s characteristically crackling dialogue and diligent attention to detail, this series premiere has me clamoring for a sequel. And I bet I’m not alone in that.

Munich, by Robert Harris (Hutchinson UK):
The prizewinning English author of 11 previous novels and five non-fiction works, Harris this year delivered a compelling thriller about the interwoven fates of two men—one British, the other German—whose paths cross on the eve of the Second World War. Both of them had attended Oxford two decades earlier, but they haven’t seen each other in half a dozen years. Now, though, during four eventful days in May 1938, with tensions growing across Europe, they find themselves on opposite sides, as each of them struggles to head off another global conflict. Hugh Legat is a junior private secretary to UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain; his friend Paul von Hartmann is a German diplomat who’s also a part of a resistance movement hoping to launch a coup against Adolf Hitler before the Führer can put his cataclysmic plans for the invasion of Czechoslovakia into action. Formidable opponents stand in the way of these two players. Legat must contend with the naïveté of a leader whose sole aim is preventing another war destined to damage Britain, and who refuses to accept the fact of Hitler’s deviousness; Chamberlain’s intransigence is abetted by Cabinet sycophants and senior War Office figures who understand that Britain is woefully unprepared for major hostilities, and are playing for time. Meanwhile, Paul Hartmann is surrounded by Nazi loyalists who distrust him and watch his every move. The faces of Hitler, German officials Joachim von Ribbentrop and Hermann Göring, and Italians Benito Mussolini and Gian Ciano are to be seen in these pages, but their roles are secondary to that of a Gestapo officer who suspects Hartmann of being far too close to his old college friend, Legat. Munich is a high-stakes tale of individuals pitted against historic forces that were set in motion by the flawed treaty ending the First World War, and of men whose friendship and, indeed, very lives, are at risk in this examination of loyalty and betrayal, family and country. Meticulously researched and incorporating authentic characters and incidents interwoven with Harris’ fictional ones, Munich is a fine, gripping story about power and self-deception, and an insightful portrait of the people, attitudes, and events that led to the outbreak of the 20th century’s worst military conflict. The U.S. edition of Harris’ latest novel is due out in January from Knopf.

Shallow End, by Brenda Chapman (Dundurn):
When sexual offenses become the focus of a crime novel, seldom are convicted sexual predators portrayed effectively and in depth. Canadian author Chapman tries for a better result in Shallow End, giving full dimensionality to a woman imprisoned for assaulting a young person in her care. It is an ambitious effort, and succeeds brilliantly. Jane Thompson, a former English teacher, has recently been paroled from prison, where she’d served a four-year sentence as a child predator. Her already fragmented life is soon further shattered by the discovery of a body on the shores of Lake Ontario. It doesn’t take long for the corpse to be identified as that of 17-year-old Devon Eton. His head has been bashed in, and his mother is certain she knows who did it: Jane Thompson, who had been one of Devon’s instructors four years earlier, and been convicted of violating the boy. The evidence produced at her trial was persuasive and damning: text messages exchanged between Devon and Thompson setting up meetings; naked photos of Devon on Thompson’s home computer; a witness who’d supposedly seen the two in “compromising positions” and testified that Devon had confided to him that he and his teacher had been having sex together; and Thompson’s DNA found on clothing in Devon’s gym bag. Against such proof of misbehavior, the teacher’s denials and her claim that she’d been set up appeared pathetically flimsy. A year after her conviction, she’d confessed to the charges. In the end, Jane Thompson lost her family, her job, her reputation, and her freedom. Now she’s the most likely suspect in Devon’s demise, and no one—certainly not the police—takes her assertion of innocence seriously. Nonetheless, Detective Kala Stonechild of the Kingston, Ontario, police department pursues the facts surrounding Devon’s murder. Something of a loner, Stonechild has challenges of her own to grapple with as well. A native Canadian from a First Nations reserve, she has faced all the tribulations common to people of her heritage. She lived on the streets for a while, and after that fact became public she lost custody of her niece, Dawn, while the girl’s parents were in prison. On top of that, Stonechild’s partner, Paul Gundersund, is going through the breakup of his marriage to a woman who is convinced that Gundersund will go running to Stonechild if she gives him up. More than enough on Stonechild’s plate, then. But not enough to keep her from getting to the bottom of things. Brenda Chapman has written a textured, nuanced account of people caught up in the whirlwind of a major criminal investigation. She sensitively explores the shifting boundaries between accusation and guilt, public image and self-worth, and Shallow End ranks among the very best of recent Canadian crime writing.

Finally, a book from 2016 that I only caught up with in paperback this year …

Night Work, by David C. Taylor (Forge):
When former movie and TV screenwriter David C. Taylor launched his debut crime novel, Night Life, back in 2015, I predicted good things for his future. Night Life (which went on to win the 2016 Nero Award) was a stylish noir yarn, set during the McCarthy era of the 1950s and perfectly capturing those troubled times. In his protagonist, Michael Cassidy, Taylor concocted the portrait of an honest New York City police detective facing off against a powerful adversary that was both compelling and impressive. The sequel, Night Work, picks up Cassidy’s story four years later, not long after Fidel Castro’s revolution turned his Cuban homeland into a Communist showpiece a scant 90 miles off America’s coastline. Castro has plenty of mortal enemies, and when he schedules a visit to the headquarters of the United Nations in Manhattan—in part, so he can thumb his nose at capitalist imperialists—his personal safety is seriously tested. Cassidy is dragooned into the security detail responsible for keeping the Cuban leader alive, but he’s not at all sure the people pulling the strings want him to succeed. Complicating matters further, when Cassidy was in Havana only months prior to all of this, he ran into (and eventually rescued) an old flame, a woman he’d thought was dead but who’d been sent to the Caribbean by the Soviet KGB as part of a blackmail operation against American political figures. It falls to Cassidy to protect Castro, while he simultaneously assesses just how far he can trust his former lover. Drawing on the steamy history of the early 1960s, and revealing its intricacies through multiple viewpoints, Taylor delivers an exceptional, perfectly paced tale that captures the drama and fear of a period when superpowers stood toe to toe … but it was ultimately left to the “little people” to make sure the entire world didn’t come unglued as a consequence. Readers should be pleased to learn that, by the end of this novel, Taylor ties up all of his plot’s loose ends, but leaves enough room for another entry in this lush, riveting series about the America of an earlier, but no less violent, time.

Competing for Top of the Heap

Before I post The Rap Sheet’s second “Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017” list, let me point you toward some other fine year’s-end choices being made elsewhere on the Web. The Real Book Spy, for instance, selects what it says are the best thrillers of the year, in a variety of subcategories. Critics with Crime Fiction Lover are in the midst of rolling out their individual preferences. For The Irish Times, novelists Declan Burke and Declan Hughes identify “The 20 Best Crime Books of 2017,” not all of which were written by Irish authors … or even by Irish authors named Declan. In his blog, A Couple of Pages, Jon Page clues us in to his “Top 5 Reads of 2017,” which include Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. And the Strand Magazine blog carries AudioFile’s “Best Mystery & Suspense Audiobooks” picks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017,
Part I: Kevin Burton Smith

Kevin Burton Smith is the Montreal-born founder and editor of the almost 20-year-old resource, The Thrilling Detective Web Site, as well as the Web monkey for The Private Eye Writers of America and a contributing editor of Mystery Scene. He lives in Southern California’s High Desert region, where he’s working on a non-fiction book about married detective couples with his wife, mystery author D.L. Browne (aka Diana Killian and Josh Lanyon).

The Driver, by Hart Hanson (Dutton):
As if he’s living in some fever-dream Sixth Sense, former Special Forces sergeant-turned-Los Angeles limousine driver Michael Skelling sees dead people, and has learned to heed their warnings. So when the ghost of a Chechen jihadist he killed in Yemen a decade ago pops up, alerting Michael to impending danger while he’s waiting for his passenger, Bismarck Avila, a millionaire hip-hop/skateboard asshole, to emerge from yet another trendy L.A. hotspot, Michael doesn’t hesitate, but springs into action. He is just in time to stop two “sk8r boi” gunmen from blowing away Bismarck, who then decides he wants Michael to be his personal driver. Or else. Yeah, I know—it sounds like the typical pulp-fiction meet-cute setup you’ve seen a zillion times. Avila even has a drop dead gorgeous trophy girlfriend to whom Michael is instantly attracted. And sure enough, Michael soon finds himself up to his neck in “shitloads of trouble and desperation.” But this violent and suitably grim book—a first novel from the creator of the TV series Bones and The Finder—rises above expectations over and over again, thanks to colorful storytelling and Michael’s surprisingly affable and darkly humorous narration. But mostly it’s the unexpected heart he displays that sets this one apart from the prefab set-up. Seems Michael brought back more than a cockeyed sixth sense from Afghanistan—he also brought back friends. His small limo service (just three cars) employs a messed-up hat trick of extremely loyal misfits: Tinkertoy, his mechanic, a pin-up girl for skittery paranoia; Ripple, a ticked-off, barely 19 double-amputee dispatcher; and Lucky, a chatterbox Afghan translator Michael smuggled into the United States. It’s this bracing loyalty between the four war-ravaged comrades that is The Driver’s saving grace, rooting the overused ex-vet trope in some much-needed humanity, and making me want to see them all again. Given the copious amounts of writing mojo, hard-boiled grit, and even harder-boiled heart Hanson serves up in these pages, you can deal me in for whatever he writes next.

The Ghosts of Galway, by Ken Bruen (Mysterious Press):
Irishman Bruen is arguably crime fiction’s greatest and most distinctive stylist since Raymond Chandler. The books in his long-running series featuring cheerfully profane, woebegone private investigator Jack Taylor are instantly recognizable, marked by Bruen’s ballsy, lyrical prose: a sort of staccato stream-of-consciousness free fall that soars. Bruen doesn’t so much craft sentences as throw groups of words at the page in a tumble of lists, dialogue, snippets of exposition, digressions, dream fragments, and snatches of poetry and song lyrics that somehow always hit their mark. Only Jack’s black humor, fueled by a brooding swirl of sadness, regret, and profuse quantities of whiskey, holds it all miraculously together. Bruen’s books aren’t long, but they cut deep. You don’t so much read them as feel them. And now Taylor, down but never quite out, is back. In the series’ 13th outing, The Ghosts of Galway, we find him having just survived terminal cancer (a fucked-up diagnosis) and a suicide attempt (also fucked). Desperate, he’s working nighttime security at a factory owned by a wealthy Ukrainian with the unlikely name of Alexander Knox-Keaton, who throws Jack an under-the-table bone: the assignment to find The Red Book, a notorious work of heresy, allegedly written around A.D. 800, and currently in the possession of Frank Miller, a fugitive priest hiding out from the Vatican in the western Ireland city of Galway. It’s an offer Bruen’s P.I. can’t refuse; however, things are rarely simple in Jack’s world. Sure, he’s no fan of the clergy, but he is an ace manhunter, and he soon tracks down Miller. Not long afterward, though, the holy man turns up dead, with pages of a book jammed down his throat. Then the remains of slaughtered animals start to appear in the Galway streets—courtesy, apparently, of an ultraconservative religious group. Jack’s former friend on the Guards, Sergeant Ridge (a “real cold cunt”), warns him off the developing case, while his charming but deadly goth pal Em (a “punk psycho storm of murderous intent”) seems to be involved somehow. Before long the ghosts of Jack’s personal dead begin to appear, though Jack isn’t quite sure whether they’re authentic or manifestations born of too much Jameson. Bruen is in top form with Ghosts, and as expected, everything his man Taylor touches turns to shite. Still, the P.I. faces it all with such a dogged humanity and Everyman defiance (and the conclusion is so cathartic), that you can’t help but cheer for the miserable old bastard.

Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper):
Traditional British mysteries? Meh. Sure, I can enjoy an occasional cuppa, but only if there’s absolutely nothing else to drink in the house. So it’s embarrassing to admit that Anthony Horowitz’s decidedly non-hard-boiled Magpie Murders may be my favorite crime-fic read of 2017. It’s certainly the most fun. Partly it’s because of the sheer cheekiness of this mystery-within-a-mystery; and partly it’s Horowitz’s clever insider-skewering of the British Industrial Crime Fiction Complex. Horowitz is an ideal candidate to deliver such a skewering. He rose through the trenches, composing children’s books (The Falcon’s Malteser), young adult novels (the Alex Rider series), and finally adult thrillers (including works featuring such English icons as Sherlock Holmes and James Bond), while also working steadily in television on everything from Robin Hood to Agatha Christie, before going on to write for such beloved (and PBS-approved) TV fare as Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. So when Horowitz pens a yarn set in the industry itself, it’s time to pay attention. Pining for the Golden Age? Rest assured that Horowitz “writes them the way they used to.” Well, sort of. He’s not afraid to shakes things up. Call it Murder on the Disorient Express. We are told in this novel that author Alan Conway’s long-running series featuring Poirot-like sleuth Atticus Pünd is so successful that, despite her personal dislike for him, editor Susan Ryeland keeps her trap shut. The truth is, his stories are all that’s keeping her employer, tiny Cloverleaf Books, afloat. But Susan’s not the only one bored with Pünd—so is Conway, who’s been threatening to bump off Pünd for years. But this time he means it. Much to Susan’s dismay, the final chapters of Conway’s latest, just-delivered manuscript are missing. And the author has jumped from the tower of his stately country estate. Or was he pushed? As Susan searches for the final pages, this reluctant amateur sleuth finds herself caught up in the very sort of mystery the obnoxious Conway himself might have penned, complete with a slew of suspects (a gay lover, an ex-wife, an unpleasant neighbor, a wronged student, an abandoned son, an unscrupulous TV producer, etc.) and a manuscript full of word games, anagrams, hidden codes, secret messages, and shout-outs that suggest Conway may have been having a bit of fun with all of them. As does Horowitz. I mean, Agatha Christie’s real-life grandson even drops by. How meta can you get?

Roughneck, by Jeff Lemire (Gallery 13):
Canadian comic artist and writer Jeff Lemire (Old Man Logan, All-New Hawkeye, Extraordinary X-Men, etc.) brings it all back home with this one-off graphic novel about former pro hockey player Derek Ouelette, who’s a long way from his glory days as a celebrated “enforcer.” Now he’s eking out what remains of his time in a dead-end town in northern Ontario, getting pissed, and pissing off the few friends he has left. Then his estranged sister, Beth, shows up, fleeing an abusive boyfriend, hoping to reconnect with her big brother. And suddenly the unpleasant son of a bitch is off the bench and back in the game. Old family wounds are revealed, and new ones are inflicted, and it’s all set against the backdrop of a cold, barren, snow-filled wilderness that is as unforgiving as life itself. Lemire, who’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers, taps into something universal and recognizable here, picking at the familial wounds that never heal. He’s at the top of his game in not only words but art, capturing a stark, hostile world of hurt that draws the reader in—bleak in its deliberate minimalism, with Lemire employing a scratchy, raw-edged drawing style and using a palette of mostly drab, watery shades of gray (color being reserved, mostly, for flashbacks). It’s all as rough and raw and non-pretty as the lives this author-artist depicts, but like Derek in his big-league days, he gets the job done. The story here doesn’t so much unfold as unravel, in slow-burn detail—nothing seems to happen for entire pages, only to be punctuated by sudden explosions of brutality, both physical and emotional. The hardcore lives of people caught up in endless cycles of alcohol and substance abuse, violence and pain they can’t even understand, is as wrenching as almost any crime fiction I’ve read this year, but Lemire is just a primo storyteller, burrowing into his characters with a sensitivity and empathy that slams you hard against the boards. Call it gloves-off, bench-clearing noir, tempered by a true love of the game.

Last but not least, one choice from the crime non-fiction shelves ...

Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie Klinger (Liverwright/W.W. Norton):
Anyone who writes or reads crime fiction—no, scratch that, anyone who claims to give a damn about crime and punishment (which, one would hope, includes everyone) should read this book. In a year when the very idea of truth has been polluted and perverted, twisted beyond recognition, and the very concept of doing the right thing (or even what the right thing is) has been publicly crapped on by those in power, this work is a fierce reminder that justice can not only be blind, but vicious, petty, and stupid as well. As if we need another reminder. You think everyone in jail belongs there? Think again. This book is crammed with example after example of innocent men and women sent to prison for not days or weeks, but years and even decades, only to ultimately be released, due to the biggest motherfucking technicality of them all: they were innocent and should never have been there in the first place. Blame it on systemic corruption, racism, incompetence, cowardice, ambition, politics, dishonesty—blame it on whatever you want—but nobody, from “average” citizens and “helpful witnesses” to the police, lawyers, judges, and politicians, gets away unscathed. Each chapter in Anatomy of Innocence follows a different victim of injustice, focusing on a different aspect of what went wrong, from arrest to (eventual) release and beyond. And every story is penned by one of this genre’s finest storytellers, including Sara Paretsky, Lee Child, Laurie R. King, S.J. Rozan, Brad Parks, Jan Burke, Gary Phillips, Jamie Freveletti, Michael Harvey, and Sarah Weinman. There’s even a never-before-published essay by the late playwright Arthur Miller. Axes are well ground here, and considerable literary weight is brought to bear. Each tale tears off another little piece of your heart; each story of wrongful accusation is another nail in the coffin of smug complacency and naïve belief that The System always works. There may be better books released in this scorched-earth year of partisan “truths” and rampant lies, but there won’t be a more important one.

Did Somebody Say Macdonald?

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of Kenneth Millar’s birth in Los Gatos, California. After a childhood relocation to Canada and a much later return to the Golden State, Millar would become—with the adoption of a pseudonym—Ross Macdonald, the author of 18 novels featuring compassionate Los Angeles private investigator Lew Archer, beginning with 1949’s The Moving Target. As The Thrilling Detective Web Site opines, Macdonald “arguably forms the third point of what is now considered the Holy Trinity of hard-boiled detective fiction, the other points being, of course, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and is, to many, the most critically and academically respected of the three.” Or, to quote from The New York Times, Macdonald was “a mystery novelist who didn't so much transcend the genre as elevate it, showing again (like Hammett, Faulkner, Collins, Dickens, Greene, and many others since Poe) how the crime story can at any time become art.”

Between his birthday and reports in the news this week about fires raging around Santa Barbara, California—much as they did in Macdonald’s splendid 1971 Archer novel, The Underground Man (though he called Santa Barbara “Santa Teresa” in that story)—now seems a rather ideal time to revisit the subjects of Macdonald’s life and fiction-writing career. We’ve written a good deal about both in The Rap Sheet over the years. Here are links to some of the principal stories comprising that coverage:

Archer’s Return Engagement” (July 11, 2006)
A Master’s Last Bow,” by Tom Nolan (July 2, 2007)
‘Heyday in the Blood’: A Never-Before-Published Lew Archer Tale” (July 3, 2007)
A Saint with a Gun” (July 29, 2007)
‘Distinction Is Everything’” (December 13, 2008)
The Third Man” (August 3, 2009)
Graves Goes to His Grave” (March 14, 2010)
On the Case with Tom Nolan” (April 28, 2015)
Macdonald Mines His Own Life” (May 3, 2015)
At 100, Ross Is Still Boss” (December 13, 2015)
‘Other People’s Lives Are My Business’” (September 19, 2017)

In 1999, long before I created The Rap Sheet, I edited a special package of features for January Magazine, timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Moving Target’s original publication. You can find all of those stories—including my first interview with the author’s biographer, Tom Nolan; Frederick Zackel’s memories of being mentored by Macdonald; and my own fond recollections of meeting Millar/Macdonald in Santa Barbara years ago—by clicking here.

Check out, as well, this attractive collection of Macdonald book fronts from my other blog, Killer Covers. And this column I wrote for Kirkus Reviews, in which I recall how my high school librarian ignited my interest in crime fiction by giving me a copy of Macdonald’s first novel. There are also plenty of links here to Macdonald tributes composed in 2013 as part of Patti Abbott’s Friday “forgotten books” series.

In association with a contest, held in 2011, to give away reprints of Macdonald’s early novels, The Rap Sheet asked readers to choose their favorite Archer yarns. Here are the top-five vote-getters:

1. The Chill (1964)
2. The Underground Man (1971)
3. The Galton Case (1959)
4. The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
5. The Instant Enemy (1968)

Finally, Ross Macdonald died of Alzheimer’s disease on July 11, 1983, at 67 years of age. Here’s his obituary in The New York Times; The Washington Post’s obit can be found here.

(Hat tip to Frederick Zackel.)

Ready to Launch

Even as we have been keeping track of which works of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction reviewers from other publications believe are the “best of 2017,” The Rap Sheet’s regular company of critics have sought to weigh, measure, reassess, and conclusively nail down their own genre favorites from the last 12 months. What’s interesting is to see that only one novel (care to guess which it is?) has shown up on multiple lists—from three separate Rap Sheet contributors.

Later this afternoon, we will begin posting those “Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017” lists, a new one each day for the next week. Please let us know what you think of our selections, and whether there are also other 2017 releases you especially enjoyed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Revue of Reviewers, 12-12-17

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.




A Poignantly Timed Release

I haven’t yet seen a copy, but I understand the second issue of Down & Out: The Magazine is now available. In addition to contributions from Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Nick Kolakowsi, Tim Lockhart, and Ben Boulden, as well as a vintage Race Williams adventure by Carroll John Daly and my own “Placed in Evidence” column, this edition features a new Sheriff Dan Rhodes tale by Texas author Bill Crider.

I remember hearing some time ago that Crider would headline an early issue of D&O, but that was long before he entered hospice care for cancer. I feel honored to have my work included alongside what I fear may be—without benefit of a small miracle—one of Crider’s last published works.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Wanted: Keen-Eyed, Discerning Readers

Unbelievably, it’s nearing mid-December—time to commence pulling together our longlist of nominees for The Rap Sheet’s annual Best Crime Fiction Covers competition. Last year brought a fairly definitive winner in Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl (Knopf), with its clever, somewhat sexy, and comic-bookish front. As we look over the potential candidates for 2017, though, it’s harder to spot a similarly certain victor. Yet there are myriad outstanding candidates—and perhaps more than we realize. So we would like to solicit your aid in making sure we don’t neglect any worthy contenders.

You’re all well read and extraordinarily sharp-eyed, right? So which crime, mystery, and thriller book fronts—first released in 2017, in either hardcover or paperback, from either side of the Atlantic—do you think really stood out from the crowd? Which demonstrated remarkable use of typography, photography, and/or original illustrations?

If you are curious to know which jackets have drawn applause in the past, click here. Then drop us an e-mail note with your own best-cover nominations for the present year. Be sure to include the name and author of any novel you suggest, plus—if at all possible—a link to where we can view the cover art online. Working from your choices as well as our own finds, we’ll collect 10 to 15 covers we think deserve recognition, and post them on this page later in the month, inviting everyone to vote for their favorites.

Let us know soon which book fronts you think merit appreciation.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Gifts for December: Bounteous Bennetts


Beware the Curves (Pocket, 1960), by A.A. Fair, aka Erle Stanley Gardner; and The Savage, by Noel Clad (Permabooks, 1959). Artwork on both novels created by Harry Bennett.

American artist-illustrator Harry Bennett (1919-2012), who created some of the most recognizable paperback fronts of the 20th century, is being honored in my book design-oriented blog, Killer Covers, with a month-long succession of posts showcasing some of his best work. As I explain in the introduction to that series,
The paintings he produced for U.S. publishers ranging from Permabooks and Pocket to Gold Medal and Berkley could be seductive or shocking, ominous or humorous, but they were rarely less than outstanding. During a more than three-decades-long freelance career, Bennett—who passed away just over five years ago, at age 93—created the anterior imagery for everything from detective novels and Gothic romances to Hitchcockian thrillers and tales about amorous young nurses. “Literally millions of people have seen hundreds of paintings by Harry Bennett, but few would know his name,” writes a blogger who calls himself NatureGeezer and lives in Ridgefield, the historic western Connecticut town where Bennett also resided for most of his life. Along with artists such as Robert McGinnis, Mitchell Hooks, Paul Rader, Harry Schaare, Ernest Chiriacka, and Victor Kalin, Bennett made 20th-century paperbacks worth collecting simply for their covers.
Today, Killer Covers celebrates the fourth day of its Bennett tribute by posting a scan of the 1963 Pocket Books edition of Erle Stanley Gardner’s This Is Murder, a book the prolific Gardner originally published in 1935 under the pseudonym Charles J. Kenney. You can keep up with the full series by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

“6” Is Lamanda’s Lucky Number

Maine’s Al Lamanda has won the 2017 Nero Award for his fifth John Bekker mystery, With 6 You Get Wally (Five Star). That announcement came this last weekend during the Black Orchid Banquet, held in Manhattan and hosted by the New York City-based Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin fan organization, The Wolfe Pack. The Nero Award has been presented annually, ever since 1979, for “the best American mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories.”

Contending as well for this year's prize were Death at Breakfast, by Beth Gutcheon (Morow); Home, by Harlan Coben (Dutton); and Surrender, New York, by Caleb Carr (Random House).

Previous Nero Award recipients include David Morrell, Chris Knopf, Walter Mosley, S.J. Rozan, Laura Lippman, and Brad Parks.

ADDENDUM: I noticed that, while there was news online about Lamanda capturing this year’s Nero Award, there seemed to be no information available on who had won the 2017 Black Orchid Novella Award (BONA)—even though both prizes were reportedly presented on December 2 during The Wolfe Pack’s Black Orchid Banquet. So I sent an e-mail note to Jane K. Cleland, author and chair of the BONA committee. She responded with word that “This year’s BONA winner is Mark Thielman. His novella is ‘The Black Drop of Venus.’”

Bragging Rights

British books critic and American Noir author Barry Forshaw kindly invited me recently to add my two cents to a survey of “the great and the good from the world of crime-fiction reviewing,” the task being to select the 10 most outstanding crime, mystery, and thriller novels published in 2017. He has just posted the results of that sampling. They find me in remarkably esteemed company, with other respondents being Marcel Berlins of the London Times, writer-editor Maxim Jakubowski, Laura Wilson of The Guardian, Jake Kerridge of The Daily Telegraph, and Sarah Ward of the blog Crime Pieces. Some of our most frequently touted releases of the year: Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird; John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies, Don Winslow’s The Force, and Jane Harper’s The Dry. My own 10 picks are confined to works originally published in 2017, meaning I have excluded UK novels re-released on this side of the Atlantic during the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, Oline H. Cogdill is out with her own “Best Mystery Novels of 2017” list for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Her 25 choices (presented in one of those annoying slideshows) include The Blinds, by Adam Sternbergh; He Said/She Said, by Erin Kelly; The Fallen, by Ace Atkins; The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel; The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne; and The Late Show, by Michael Connelly.

Crider’s Tough Path

While the last year has brought painfully little good news on the U.S. national scene, it was always possible to find a modicum of hope and brief escapes from reality in the world of crime and mystery fiction. But then came this note yesterday from 76-year-old Texas author, blogger, and all-around nice guy Bill Crider:
Things could change, but I suspect this will be my final post on the blog. I met with some doctors at M.D. Anderson today, and they suggested that I enter hospice care. A few weeks, a few months is about all I have left. The blog has been a tremendous source of pleasure to me over the years, and I’ve made a lot of friends here. My only regret is that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block’s fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins’ latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Stand, which is a collection of two novellas, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and “The Last Stand,” the last thing that Spillane completed. It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I’ll never read. But I’ve had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it. Much love to you all.
As I noted last year, former English teacher Crider has what he’s called a “very aggressive form” of the cancer carcinoma. Chemotherapy treatments had given him the tenuous promise of keeping that disease at bay, and they allowed him to attend both this year’s Bouchercon in Toronto and the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. However, even modern medicine cannot cure all ills, and Crider’s post suggests he is learning that truth the hard way.

I know what an ominous thing going to a hospice can be. My wife’s mother was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago, and she was in and out of hospices for months before finally passing away. It looks as if her husband, my wife’s stepfather, is currently bound down the same road. So I have no illusions about miraculous recoveries. But if anyone deserves that sort of enviable luck right now, it’s Bill Crider.

In the short term, author-blogger Patti Abbott has suggested that contributors to her Friday “forgotten books” series devote their posts for December 15 to Crider’s plentous works of fiction. “If you would like to participate,” she writes, “either with a book review of one of his books or a remembrance, or a review of a short story ... [Y]ou can post it on my blog or your own should you have one. If you message me, I will give you my e-mail [address] to send it to. If you can get it to me a day or two before then, that would be great. Even Facebook reviews will work. All reviews are welcome.”

I hope to take part in this tribute, though at the moment I am uncertain of what approach I’ll take. What I do know is that Bill Crider has given a great deal to the crime-fiction community over the years. It’s time to give back, even if only in a small way.

READ MORE:Heartbroken for Bill Crider,” by Lee Goldberg; “Bill Crider—One of the Best,” by Kaye Barley (Meanderings and Muses).

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Puzzles and Pleasures

While a handful of mystery-type yarns featured among The New York Times’ recent “100 Notable Books of 2017,” that paper’s lead crime-fiction critic, Marilyn Stasio, has now submitted for our assessment and amusement her own choices of “The Best Crime Novels of 2017.” With the exception of Hart Hanson’s The Driver (which managed to elude my radar), her 10 picks are pretty mainstream:

The Thirst, by Jo Nesbø (Knopf)
The Force, by Don Winslow (Morrow/HarperCollins)
Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips (Viking)
The Driver, by Hart Hanson (Dutton)
Lightning Men, by Thomas Mullen (37Ink/Atria)
Two Kinds of Truth, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
The Midnight Line, by Lee Child (Delacorte)
Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)
An Echo of Murder, by Anne Perry (Ballantine)
Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly)

Stasio isn’t the only reviewer, though, who has recently offered up his or her list of what they believe have been the preeminent crime, mystery, and thriller novels first published over the last 12 months. Craig Sisterson, who usually blogs at Crime Watch, decided to present his own top-10 selections on Twitter. Since not everyone uses Twitter, I’ll go ahead and transcribe his preferences below:

A Killer Harvest, by Paul Cleave (Atria)
The Late Show, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Watch Her Disappear, by Eva Dolan (Random House UK)
The Dry, by Jane Harper (Flatiron)
Reconciliation for the Dead, by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda)
The Damselfly, by S.J.I. Holliday (Black and White UK)
Insidious Intent, by Val McDermid (Atlantic Monthly Press)
The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, by Mindy Mejia (Quercus)
The Long Drop, by Denise Mina (Little, Brown)
The Intrusions, by Stav Sherez (Faber and Faber UK)

Meanwhile, MBTB’s Mystery Book Blog presents a “best of the year” rundown featuring 18 titles. Most of them (like Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, J. Robert Lennon’s Broken River, and John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies) first saw print in 2017, but a few appeared originally last year.

And, last but not least, the British Web site Dead Good Books asked 20 authors familiar with this genre—Simon Kernick, Nualla Ellwood, and Nicci French among them—to name their favorite hardcover or paperback releases from the year. Those preferences include Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, Imran Mahmood’s You Don’t Know Me, Helen Dunmore’s Birdcage Walk, and Joe Ide’s Righteous.

* * *

No sooner had I put up this piece in The Rap Sheet, than I saw that UK critic-author Barry Forshaw had posted his “Best Crime of 2017” inventory in the Financial Times. There are seven works on his list:

Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke (Mulholland)
The Force, by Don Winslow (Morrow/HarperCollins)
Resurrection Bay, by Emma Viskic (Pushkin Vertigo)
Fever, by Deon Meyer (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Spook Street, by Mick Herron (Soho)
A Necessary Evil, by Abir Mukherjee (Harvill Secker UK)
The Long Drop, by Denise Mina (Little, Brown)