Recommended books

Like most writers, I like to read. I’ll post here occasionally about books that aren’t from the best-seller lists, but are good reads, including many I found at the local library.

The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos – Best known for his Washington, DC based crime novels and writing/producing the TV hit The Wire, Pelecanos does roam DC’s mean streets in this eight-story collection, but also takes us to Brazil and behind the scenes of a (fictional) crime TV show. The characters breathe and the storytelling is haunting. For a break between novels, read one of these stories a day for a week or so. They’ll stay with you.

Proof of Intent by Walter Sorrells (series character by William Coughlin) – A superb legal thriller and a mystifying whodunit involving a crime novelist, Proof of Intent keeps readers guessing until nearly the last page. The killer’s motive (when finally revealed), might trigger skeptical head shaking from some, but should also create plenty of hand clapping for plotting and storytelling.

Flash and Bang (ed. J. Alan Hartman) – From those wonderful folks who sponsor the coveted Derringer Awards for best short mysteries of the year, Flash and Bang is the first-ever anthology by members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. In these nineteen tales, talented SMFS authors strut their stuff across a full range of mystery subgenres and styles. For detailed reviews, click here and here.

Con Ed by Matthew Klein – A lifelong con man sets up an elaborate multimillion dollar Big Con in Klein’s breezy grifter romp. Along with details on what makes a Big Con successful, we learn other secret tricks of the con man trade, such as The Pigeon Drop, The Honey Trap, and The Cacklebladder. Fun storytelling, interspersed with serious reflections on love, trust, and loyalty.

The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson – A tough, hard-luck bar bouncer and his combative buddy punch their way through the seedy side of Boston as they search for a missing teen girl. Sharp investigative intuitions, fresh characters, and hardboiled storytelling come together in this cool debut from Robinson (aka Big Daddy Thug), the founder and editor of legendary crime ‘zine Thuglit.

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta – I enjoyed Koryta’s private investigator series some years ago; his newest thriller, Those Who Wish Me Dead, absolutely floored me. After witnessing a murder, a teen boy is chased by an odd pair of relentless killers. The pursuit concludes in the Montana wilderness during a massive forest fire, testing the boy’s spirit and newfound outdoor survival skills. Brilliant writing and storytelling.

The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker – A string of deaths and missing persons prompt a damaged reporter to sniff out big news, a serial killer. The author, a Washington Post reporter shows us DC’s meanest streets, its power politics, and tense newsroom conflict between reporters and editors. I’m not a fan of serial killer yarns, but this one works because it’s a keen mystery, and the character’s investigative procedures are whip-smart.

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (1978) – A private eye tracks missing persons via hard-drinking road trips across the West in the 1970s. Features a beer-swilling bulldog, a runaway porn princess, and a roaring-drunk, best-selling poet. Crumley dishes up a hardboiled crime story with hairpin plot twists, cracking dialogue, and sharp insights about life and love. Wonderfully written.

The Good Cop by Brad Parks – Series character Carter Ross returns in 2014’s Left Coast Crime award winner for best humorous mystery novel and Shamus Award winner for best novel. This time around, wise-cracking investigative reporter Ross digs into the suspicious apparent suicide of a local cop, catching the attention of a mysterious group of gun smugglers. Fans of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole might especially enjoy Parks’ series. Smart investigating and wry, go-to-hell humor.

A Good Death by Christopher R. Cox. A newspaper reporter turned private eye travels to Thailand to investigate a suspicious death report. The author, a journalist who has worked in Southeast Asia, knows the territory and brings the setting alive. Well-written, nice complexity. Parental warning: some X-rated scenes in a Bangkok bar.

Criminal Karma by Steven M. Thomas. The main character is a smart, professional criminal, so the point-of-view and insights are about how to commit crimes instead of how to solve them: Different ways to crack a safe, plan a robbery, reduce risk while committing a burglary, etc. Fine storytelling, interesting change of perspective.

Southside by Michael Krikorian. An investigative reporter who covers LA street gangs gets shot in what looks like a gang assassination attempt. He recovers and investigates the mysterious shooting. The author is a veteran reporter who covers gangs for the Los Angeles Times. A riveting read from a writer who’s been there.