Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Never Be Afraid to Try New Writers

Sigh … Just last January on this page, I lamented that I had reached a fresh low in the quantity of books by new-to-me authors that I’d consumed during the preceding 12 months—29. Yet, here I am, declaring that in 2019, I again read works by only 29 writers whose talents I had not previously sampled. (My statistical high point so far came in 2015, when I counted 47.) Part of this discouraging coincidence may be due to the reality that at this point in my life, I have simply enjoyed a great many more books than I had when I initially undertook the task, in 2008, of cataloguing my annual author “discoveries.” Part of it may also have to do with the fact that this year, as was true of 2018 as well, I was on assignment to compose several stories for other publications that compelled me to consume tales by wordsmiths already familiar to me (notably Ross Macdonald), and multiple novels by single authors, such as Aaron Marc Stein (writing as both Hampton Stone and George Bagby) and Roderick Thorp.

Despite many other responsibilities, and a stairway accident in September that left me with broken bones (and seriously hampered my ability, for many weeks, to read comfortably in bed), I still managed to polish off 81 books this year, not all of them crime or thriller yarns. Most, however, were penned by writers with whose talents I was already quite familiar. Those included novels by Philip Kerr (Metropolis), James Sallis (Sarah Jane), John le Carré (Agent Running in the Field), Lisa Grunwald (Time After Time), Martin Cruz Smith (The Siberian Dilemma), Edward Marston (Fear on the Phantom Special), Max Allan Collins (Killing Quarry), Jon Clinch (Marley), Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake), and William Shaw (Deadland); and volumes of fine non-fiction by the likes of H.W. Brands (Heirs of the Founders: Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants) and Jeff Guinn (The Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s Ten-Year Road Trip).

That more of my reading time wasn’t spent exploring writers new to me is a minor failure that I can only hope to make up for in the approaching twelvemonth. We’ll see how it goes.

Enough with all of this ruminating, though. Let us move on to the lists of my 2019 discoveries. I’ll begin with the novelists, listed below. Debut works are boldfaced. Only one of these books—Finding Dorothy—does not belong on the crime, mystery, and thriller shelves.

K.K. Beck (We Interrupt This Broadcast)
Stuart Brock (Just Around the Coroner)
• Curt Colbert (Rat City)
Agnete Friis (The Summer of Ellen)
• Frank Goldammer (The Air Raid Killer)
• Chris Hammer (Scrublands)
Mick Herron (Joe Country)
Elizabeth Letts (Finding Dorothy)
Bonnie MacBird (The Devil’s Due)
• John McMahon (The Good Detective)
• Tim Mason (The Darwin Affair)
• Niklas Natt och Dag (The Wolf and
the Watchman

• Laura Shepherd-Robinson
(Blood & Sugar)

James Runcie (The Road to Grantchester)
• Craig Russell (The Devil Aspect)
• Crawford Smith (Jackrabbit)
Hampton Stone (The Corpse in the Corner Saloon)
Jon Talton (Deadline Man)
• Roderick Thorp (The Detective)

I try each year to integrate non-fiction works—especially those dealing with historical events and characters—into my reading array. This field introduces me frequently to new authors, as I am generally more interested in the subject matter than I am in keeping up with the intellectual output of particular writers. In 2018, I sampled non-fiction books by only nine authors with whom I wasn’t formerly acquainted; this year, I count 10—a small increase, but nonetheless satisfying. That number includes the mysterious author of A Warning, a frightening book—reportedly composed by “a senior Trump administration official”—that confirms the American public’s worst fears about Donald Trump being impulsive, erratic, narcissistic, dishonest, vindictive, bigoted, shortsighted, unwilling to listen to contrary points of view, and equally unwilling to learn anything from his numerous mistakes. I can only assume that I haven’t read books by “Anonymous” before, as I have no special insight into his or her identity.

• Anonymous (A Warning)
• Christopher Benfey (If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years)
Philipp Blom (Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present)
• David Grann (The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly
Obsession in the Amazon

Claire Harman (Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London)
Stacy Horn (Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century
New York
Peter Manseau (The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost)
Hallie Rubenhold (The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack
the Ripper
• Milton Shaw (Joseph T. Shaw: The Man Behind Black Mask)
Steven Ujifusa (Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Fastest Clipper Ship)

So what new author discoveries did you make over the course of 2019? I hope you’ll let everyone know by dropping a brief note into the Comments section at the end of this post.


FurryBootsCityBoy said...

If you haven't heard of it, you have to track down "Shamus Dust: Hard Winter. Cold War. Cool Murder." by Janet Roger and read it as soon as possible. Published in October 2019, it is one of the best noir mystery novels of the past 50 years and more.
Set in London in 1947, it features a private eye (an American living in London) who'd give Philip Marlowe a run for his money. I've no connection with the author aside from the review I wrote of her book on goodreads. Janet Roger is a first time author and deserves wider recognition.

Ross Wallace said...

A much shorter list (and not entirely of the past 12 months) but here goes...

- Jake Hinkson's "Dry County" reads like a lost work by Jim Thompson, so much so that I'd be surprised if anyone who has read Thompson (and who on this site hasn't?) could resist devouring it in a single sitting
- Adrian McKinty's "The Chain" is, as advertised, an absolute white-knuckle... I'd say thrill ride but for readers with kids it's more like an eyes-wide-shut, there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I wind sprint along a razor's edge
From 2018, but I only got to them this year:
- Kent Anderson's "Green Sun" was such a riveting, character-rich and humanistic procedural that upon turning the last page, I immediately sought out and read the Vietnam vet author's two previous novels featuring the same protagonist, who like the author was a soldier in the conflict that haunts America to his day.
- James A. McLaughlin's "Bearskin" features an anti-hero straight out of a James Lee Burke novel, a plot reminiscent of Urban Waite's much-beloved (by me) "The Terror of Living" and echoes of David Morrell's "First Blood" but thanks to some form of Appalachian alchemy it manages to make of this concoction a highly satisfying (and pulse-pounding) read
- Michael Farris Smith's "The Fighter" was my gateway drug to this phenomenal writer's fast-growing body of work -- I've since read his two other novels and one of his novellas -- and much like McLaughlin's novel above, he takes what at first might seem like stereotypical characters and situations, in this case a punch-drunk pugilist who's beholden to the wrong people and a "fallen woman" with a heart of gold who promises to redeem him -- and makes of their twisty-turny story something that approaches the transcendent. To say I'm looking forward to Farris Smith's forthcoming "Blackwood" would be something of an understatement...

J. Kingston Pierce said...

That's a great list, Ross, though you're right--not all of those books were published in 2019.

And to Furry Boots: I recently began reading Roger's "Shamus Dust," but have not yet finished it. I look forward to seeing how it ends.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the McMahon "The Good Detective" book, looking forward to his follow up. Also, the Frank Goldammer "The Air Raid Killer" was a pleasant surprise, he also has a follow up published.

Jeff, many thanks for all your hard work during the year, it is greatly appreciated.


Lesa said...

I read 172 books so far this year, with a few more days to go. Of those, 48 were new to me thriller/mystery/suspense authors. Some have been writing for quite a long time. I'm not going to bore you with all 48. Instead, I'll just mention the ones I will definitely read again.

Jess Montgomery - The Widows (already have the 2020 release, The Hollows)
Margaret Dumas - Murder at the Palace
S.C. Perkins - Murder Once Removed
Connie Berry - Had a debut & a second book in 2019 - A Dream of Death and A Legacy of Murder
Matt Goldman - Only caught him with his third Nils Shapiro PI novel, The Shallows
Bree Baker - Live and Let Chai
Kristen Lepionka - Again, her third one - The Stories You Tell
Rob Leininger - Gumshoe Rock
Traci Wilton - Mrs. Morris and the Ghost
Sara E. Johnson - Molten Mud Murder
W.C. Ryan - A House of Ghosts
James Sallis - Sarah Jane (I know. I should have read him years ago.)
Stephen Mack Jones - Lives Laid Away
Jane Harper - The Lost Man
Anna Lee Huber - penny for Your Secrets

And, the best book I read this year - Allen Eskens' Nothing More Dangerous

Thank you, Jeff, for everything you do, and for linking to my blog and reviews.

Lesa Holstine

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Wow, Lesa, 172 books! You must be a faster, more focused reader than I am. Eskens' "Nothing More Dangerous" is one of the novels I haven't found time for yet this year, but your recommendation moves it to the top of my TBR stack.