Thursday, January 18, 2024

Adding to My Authors Life List

Were one to judge my writing and reading performances in 2023 solely on the basis of statistics, I might look fairly unimpressive. Yes, I published 331 new stories in The Rap Sheet last year (which is 81 more than went up in 2022—and puts me well on my way to a total of 9,000!), but the postings in my other blog, Killer Covers, dropped to just 44 (24 fewer than the year before). And though I never lacked for a book in hand, my reading consumption declined from 2022.

An embarrassing feeling of indolence always washes over me when I read about people such as Lori Lutes, who wrote in her blog, She Treads Softly, that she devoured 240 books in 2023; or Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine editor George Easter, who says he made it through 130 mysteries, crime novels, and thrillers during those same dozen months. I didn’t come anywhere near achieving my reading goals last year. This may have been due partly to the fact that I chose to tackle some fairly hefty titles (notably World’s End, the 1940 opening installment in Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series, weighing in at 740 pages). But I also started a large number of books that, for one reason or another, I did not finish—something I almost never do. On the plus side, almost half of the books I completed were composed by women.

Because the total quantity of works I managed to read in 2023 was down, so was the number of new-to-me authors I sampled. I’ve been keeping a record of these annual “discoveries” since 2008. I’m not somebody who turns over and over again to a small number of writers for entertainment. Yes, there are people whose regular output I gobble up, such as Max Allan Collins, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Edward Marston, Loren D. Estleman, and Denise Mina. However, I also crave frequent exposure to new literary voices.

My high-water mark in trying new wordsmiths on for size came in 2015, when I polished off 47 books by writers whose prose I had not previously perused. That count nosedived to just 26 in 2020, the year COVID-19 clobbered the planet and, as a result of Donald Trump’s ignorance and disregard, 400,000 Americans died. You’d have presumed that my being trapped at home for months, starved of social contact and with a reduced work schedule, would have led me to read more than normal; instead, I allowed (not unreasonable) health concerns to distract me, and when I did pick up a book, it was usually by somebody whose efforts I had appreciated in the past.

Checking my records, I see that over the run of last year, I buried myself (most often happily) in 29 works by authors I had not investigated before. That equals my disappointing results from both 2018 and 2019. Still, two of those titles found places on my “Favorite Crime Fiction of 2023” list, and one—Mariah Fredericks’ The Wharton Plot, a January 2024 release that I read early, in November—has every chance of appearing among this year’s “bests.” Of the 29, the following 18 came from the Crime Fiction category. (Evidently, I didn’t try any mainstream stories by new-to-me writers in 2023.) First novels—not all of which debuted in 2022—are boldfaced.

E.A. Aymar (No Home for Killers)
Katharine Beutner (Killingly)
• Amy Chua (The Golden Gate)
Brad Crowther (Murder Takes the Cake)
Erin Flanagan (Come with Me)
Mariah Fredericks (The Wharton Plot)
Dolores Hitchens (The Alarm of the
Black Cat
Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (The Innocent Mrs. Duff/The Blank Wall)
Mur Lafferty (Chaos Terminal)
Vanessa Lillie (Blood Sisters)
Amulya Malladi (A Death in Denmark)
H.L. Marsay (The Body in Seven Dials)
Sujata Massey (The Mistress of Bhatia House)
• Richard Osman (The Thursday Murder Club)
Philip Pullman (The Tin Princess)
• Oriana Ramunno (Ashes in the Snow)
Elaine Viets (The Dead of Night)
• Bridget Walsh (The Tumbling Girl)

As satisfying as the majority of those yarns were to digest, it was some of the non-fiction by writers formerly unfamiliar to me that I found most interesting in 2023. Darrell Hartman’s Battle of Ice and Ink, for instance, tells an outstanding story about the rise of newspapers in late 19th and early 20th century New York City and the concurrent (occasionally controversial) ambitions of the Arctic explorers those broadsheets chose to champion. Meanwhile, Jennifer Wright’s Madame Restell is an engrossing biography of Ann Lohman, a British-born American provider of midwife and abortion services in Victoria-era Manhattan, that reiterates how feminist struggles, hateful misogynists, and puritanical hypocrites are nothing new in the world. These 10 fact-based titles all rewarded my attention:

Paul French (City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai)
Richard J. Goodrich (Comet Madness: How the 1910 Return of Halley’s Comet (Almost) Destroyed Civilization)
• Darrell Hartman (Battle of Ink and Ice: A Sensational Story of News Barons, North Pole Explorers, and the Making of Modern Media)
Victoria Kastner (Julia Morgan: An Intimate Biography of the Trailblazing Architect)
Gary Lovisi (A Mystery, Crime & Noir Notebook)
Charles McGrath (The Summer Friend)
• Anne Meadows (Digging Up Butch and Sundance)
Reid Mitenbuler (Wanderlust: An Eccentric Explorer, an Epic
Journey, a Lost Age
Susan Wels (An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President’s Murder)
Jennifer Wright (Madame Restell: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York’s Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist)

So far as my continuing campaign to explore fresh authorial voices goes, 2024 has gotten off to a strong start. I’ve already notched books by Norwegian fictionist Victoria Kielland and Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov, and relished the first of Peter Steiner’s Willi Geismeier historical thrillers. Tales by C.B. Bernard, Robert Dugoni, Lori Brand, and Hake Talbot all await my enthusiastic scrutiny.

But how about you, dear Rap Sheet followers? Which authors (of either fiction or non-fiction) did you encounter for the first time last year? Please let us all know in the Comments section below.

1 comment:

HonoluLou said...

Well, I'll confess I'm lucky to get through two novels a month, plus my Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines subscription. However, I did thoroughly enjoy, "What Child is This" (2023) by Bonnie MacBird with illustrations by Frank Cho--A Sherlock Holmes Christmas novella.

I don't know why, but I prefer mysteries with Chapter headings. And I found this one unique (to me) in that the author first broke it up into five parts, each titled to a song: Part I-Hark The Herald, Part II-Angels Sing, Part III-Glory To..., Part IV-The Newborn King, Part V-Peace on Earth. Then, beneath each part were four chapter headings. Plus, the illustrations added to the experience for a wonderful holiday read.

Otherwise, as I do every Christmas season I reread "Maigret's Christmas" a 1976 short story. It's a melancholy holiday read I've always felt best depicts Maigret and Madame Maigret's relationship.