I’ve been wanting to put this together for a while, but since nobody is pressuring me, I haven’t until now. January 2013 is nearly over, and I want to be active on this blog even if it means only a couple of people will read it. So here are a few of my favorite reads of last year. (Please note I’m usually 2 -3 years behind in my reading.)
Crimes In Southern Indiana - Frank Bill
Extreme poverty and family codes that run deeper than the rule of law drive the inhabitants in Bill’s collection of short stories into devising schemes, enacting violence, and on rare occasion an unexpected touch of mercy. His prose is terse, and each story often ends with a punch to the reader’s gut.
Rock Paper Tiger - Lisa Brackman
Lisa takes us inside the scattered mind of a wounded Iraqi veteran living in China while going through a divorce with her shady, private contractor husband. This is background before she is sent on a search for her part-time lover and avant garde artist who befriended the wrong dissident. The novel travels to grimy areas in China where no tourist would ever intentionally go. The reader feels Ellie’s frustration as she is pulled and intimidated by shadow organizations demanding her cooperation.
Hide and Snoop - Sue Ann Jaffarian
Del Shannon, a tough-as-nails bounty hunter from Arizona, is teamed up with an ATFE agent to go undercover to infiltrate a Kentucky religious cult which may be holding her long lost mother. Darrell pulls off a feat of successfully having multiple points of view, giving the many narrators distinct, individual voices as well as quirks and personalities. The novel, not unlike Elmore Leonard’s works, ties everything together in a very satisfying read.
Beat - Stephen Jay Schwartz
Stephen has created a cop with an addiction like no other. Hayden Glass is a sex addict, and in this follow up to Boulevard it would seem like the detective has improved his condition going from sensual massages and back alley blowjobs to internet porn. But it is far worse, as he finds himself in San Francisco, yanked from the arms of an internet performer, shot, beaten senseless, and finally run over by cable car. And that is just the first chapter. It is a brutal tale that I highly recommend for those who like their noir dark and the psychological health of their protagonists twisted.
Last year I read Don Winslow for the first time, and I have to admit I have a full on man crush for him. His prose is hilarious (especially Bobby Z), violent, and succinct, rarely wasting a word. When it comes to Savages, the prose is experimental with two word chapters and screenplay format in places. Don is successfully pushing the boundaries of crime fiction specifically and literature overall.
Favorite Audio Book
The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
It is epic fiction, and I loved it. It was even better listening to it read by Michael Boatman, who supplied voices with accents, layers, and passion that made the already vivid characters come alive. I think Lehane, like his side character Babe Ruth, was swinging for the fences and smashed it way over the wall. Many of his fans saw it as a foul ball, but I loved the history of Boston post Great War, the Influenza epidemic, Tulsa’s Greenwood district, police men’s strike, social mores and the intense conflicts and contradictions of a powerful Irish police family. Powerful writing from a master.
Favorite Podcast... Ever?
The History of Rome - Mike Duncan
I walk about three miles to work and home everyday and listen to my iPod. More often than not, it is podcasts, with an occasional book or music. I usually listen to fiction or history along with movie reviews and interviews. But nothing out there, I believe, matches up to work that Mike Duncan did, practically solo, in a 179 episode series tracing the entire history of the Roman Empire. From its mythical beginning with Romulus and Remus to the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD, Mike painstakingly researched multiple sources and relayed the stories in a witty and humorously dry narrative. I believe it took him over five years to record all of this, which included a breakdown in the middle, as he went from a bachelor in Seattle to a father in Austin. There are over 70 hours of history, but if you want to see a great survey of men (and it is 90% male) with their ambitions, political maneuverings, battle strategies, self-destructive impulses, occasional benevolence, and more, I can’t recommend this enough. There is much we can learn from the past as the US seems to be heading on a similar downward trajectory. http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/
Favorite Short Story
Peaches - Todd Robinson
This story, published in Grift Magazine, clung on to me and wouldn’t let go. It is the story I want to write. One where you put the story down say something like Keanu Reeves' famous line, “Whoa.” Without giving away too much, the story involves a hood from a crime family and his former babysitter. All of the others stories in the Grift collection were great, but this, in my opinion, was the best of the year. http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-kenyon/grift-no-1/paperback/product-20062248.html
Favorite Flash Story
Watch Dog Crew - CS DeWildt
I read a lot of flash fiction from sites like Shotgun Honey, Powder Burn Flash, Yellow Mama, and Flash Fiction Offensive. I’ve read many great stories that pack a punch from established noir writers and first timers. I had planned to rate them and keep a list, but alas, I haven’t, and I know I’m forgetting some great ones. However, “Watch Dog Crew” written by CS DeWildt in late November on Shotgun Honey stood out to me. The strong voice of an entitled tagger who is 100% baditude (see Winslow’s Savages) and has the arrogant swagger of youth is so real and vivid, I know I’ll remember it for quite a while. http://www.shotgunhoney.net/2012/11/watch-dog-crew-by-cs-dewildt.html